The Ink Wants to Speak: An Interview with the Curators of The Needle Has Moved

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The Needle has Moved: A Retrospective Exhibition Celebrating the Fifty-Year Career of Tattoo Artist Rick Harnowski is the most recent installment at the Bush Art Center Galleries of exhibitions that have generated physically palpable and widespread excitement across the campus community as well as the greater Green Bay community.

Spreading across all three gallery spaces at the BAC, The Needle Has Moved is a visual, auditory, and tactile experience that refuses to be contained by any single medium. The show is about tattoo artist Rick Harnowski and while the walls are plastered with photographs of his tattoo work, it is so much more than that. The show a wunderkammer of memorabilia from Harnowski’s life. With examples of his painting, drawing, graphic design, photos from his childhood, news clippings, an actual motorcycle, and reflections on his immigration from Poland at a young age, this show is a study of Rick Harnowski himself.

In hopes of diving behind the scenes of The Needle Has Moved, I was lucky enough to be able to sit down with the curators of the show themselves—Brian Pirman and James Neilson—and discuss the workings of the show, and find out just what makes this show tick.

Curators and Rick
From left to right: Brian Pirman, Rick Harnowski, and James Neilson

Katie Hopkins: Curating a retrospective exhibition for Green Bay tattoo artist Rick Harnowski is no small feat when considering his accomplishments, but for those who don’t know, what has made Harnowski so monumental in the tattoo scene that raises him above and beyond other artists?

Fr. James Neilson: Well the staying power, having a career of fifty years has its merits of course, but Rick was so instrumental in recognizing the need for reform in the industry. He appealed to government agencies and the state itself to have higher standards of excellence for the safety of the clients as well as for the practitioners of this artform.

Brian Pirman: Another part of the equation [in curating this exhibition] is his son Josh, who Rick shares the studio with. Basically Rick has a chair, and just down the way Josh has a chair. Josh went here to St. Norbert, studied art, graduated in 2007, and he’s become part of the equation over at Tattoos by Rick. Knowing Josh, is how we got to know his dad. We actually took a couple of Art Thursday* field trips out there and that started the beginning of this relationship. But to Jim’s point, you know, working with local government to make sure that it’s safe, he won’t tattoo anyone that’s underage, and there are certain tattoos that he refuses to do. He has these ethics that apply to hygiene as well as symbols and concepts.

*Art Thursday is educational programming put on for the Art majors and minors here at SNC.

Tattoo Wall

KH: Looking at Harnowski’s work, the artistry, care, and technique behind each piece, it’s not hard to see why you’ve decided to dedicate an entire show to his career, but tattoos—no matter the quality—are often met with social prejudice based on appearance and assumed personality traits.

What do you hope the response to this show will be based on the marriage between the subject matter and the formal gallery setting?

JN: I hope there’s a greater consideration for the history of this artform by having it here. I’m actually offering a tutorial to twenty honors students in conjunction with this, so we actually have an embedded educational experience. After twenty five years in the art department, I’ve noticed a shift among the students who have ink. A greater number of students today have ink than they did fifteen years ago, so we want to of course recognize and acknowledge this. We want to think deeply together about what’s going on here. I think the personal narrative of tattooing is always fascinating and the ink wants to speak. These images want to speak and so this is about a dialogue, this is about a huge conversation across campus, within the local community and this is a world phenomenon as well. It’s hardly isolated right here, but we have one of our own who has dedicated his life and has passed his skills onto the next generation and that’s worthy of celebrating.

BP: Speaking more to this sea change within the last ten to fifteen years, there’s been a shift when it comes to people acknowledging, appreciating, and getting tattoos. It used to be the biker who would get the Harley logo, or the sailor who would get the anchor, and its really evolved into something much more. Tattooing has gone from pieces of spot art or line art, like an anchor or a ladybug, something that’s high contrast, to highly illustrative pieces and Rick and Josh both have embraced that. And in some regards I think that they’re the best there is in terms of the quality of the work they do. I think the main thing is that there’s that sea change. Now as far as what’s caused it, personally I think it’s professional athletes. Dennis Rodman, twenty years ago, had tattoos all over his body and many people thought he was strange or a freak, but more and more athletes started getting tattoos and I think it eventually meshed itself into the culture of who we are.

Rick Harnowski Portrait
I had the pleasure of meeting Rick when the exhibition was getting its dress rehearsal check, and he was nice enough to let me take his photograph.

KH: Since I have two art professors here to speak to my next query, I want to ask about tattoos from an art history perspective. Tattooing has been around for centuries, and anything that’s survived that long, albeit undergoing transformations, has to have inherent value. What is it about marking our bodies that speaks to us on such a basic level that it has allowed this art form to endure for so long?

BP: I’ll let Jim answer that one—how long have tattoos been going on?

JN: Oh, some say prehistoric times. We can find the evidence with mummified figures. This is ancient. This is a way we understand who we are. It’s as much about memory as it is communicating correctly and mysteriously with others. It’s all part of the whole notion of how we reveal ourselves. Tattoos can be rewards, our own specialized memories, or so many other things. We reveal ourselves through mystery, memory and symbols.

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KH: Besides simply coming and enjoying the exhibition as a viewer, are there other opportunities for community members to get involved with The Needle Has Moved?

JN: We’re going to be having live tattooing in here so people can observe how this looks and sounds, and see the process of the artist himself at work. We’ll be teaching the students how to use the tattoo guns, under the supervision of Josh Harnowski, a tattoo artist himself. They will be working on prosthetic skin, learning the basics as Josh learned from his father, which I think he learned on grapefruits maybe.

*Interested parties can keep an eye out for information on these special events through the BAC Galleries Blog, the Gallery website, the SNC Art Facebook and Instagram pages, and SNC News.

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KH: Any parting thoughts or tidbits about the show you would like to pass along to the readers?

JN: There is no typical type of tattoo, there’s a huge variety and we hope that the show reveals this. Tattooing has evolved—what was popular in the 50’s or even the 90’s is no longer popular now. It’s a response to the sign of the times and I’m very very curious with new technologies and new ways of thinking to see how this will be understood, received, and inked into the future.

BP: I think the biggest part of this is just to acknowledge Rick Harnowski and his involvement in the community in terms of making tattoos a respected art that follows good hygiene. Rick puts on an international tattoo show every year, but he’s kind of a quiet guy and not much of a self promoter, so I think it takes others like Jim and I to basically get him out front and center to the local population. And from what I understand there’s going to be people visiting this show and reception from not only the United States, but from France and Germany as well. So the reception, I think, is going to be a big to-do and it’s all about paying respect to Rick.

End.

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Rick interacting with the timeline of his life located in the Permanent Collection Gallery.

To see this exhibition for yourself come stop by during the gallery’s regular hours, MTWF, 9am-3pm, and Th 9am-7pm. Keep an eye out on all SNC Art media avenues for information on extra events in conjunction with this show and make sure to attend the gallery reception on Thursday, October 11 from 5-7pm.

 

What’s in the Galleries: Jan 22-Feb 16

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The show, Lightforms, in the Baer gallery.

Interested in what we are currently showing in our galleries, but couldn’t make it to the reception last Thursday? Read below to find out what is currently living in the Baer, Godschalx and Permanent Collection Galleries, and then come on down to see the work for yourself.

Lightforms: Heather McKenna, Maria Rendón, Paul Simmons, and Nicholas Szymanski

The show, Lightforms: Heather McKenna, Maria Rendón, Paul Simmons, and Nicholas Szymanski, is guest curated by Kate Mothes and resides in the Baer Gallery. In the statement provided at the exhibit, Mothes emphasizes the influence of the enigma of light on the works in the show, particularly the relationship between “light, form, and space.” The artists represented in this show hail from Brooklyn, NY, Los Angeles, CA, Brooklyn, NY, and Grand Rapids, MI respectively, bringing a wide variety of style and experience to St. Norbert’s campus.

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Gold, God, Glory III (left), and Yellow Rising (right) by Maria Rendón.
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Untitled (related but unrelated all the same, 1) (left), Untitled (related but unrelated all the same, 2) (middle), and Untitled (related but unrelated all the same, 3) (right) by Heather McKenna.
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Works by Nicholas Szymanski (all untitled).
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Daylight Savings (Green) (left), Daylight Savings (Pink and Green) (middle), Daylight Savings (Yellow, Yellow) (right), and Daylight Savings (Violet on Mint/Green) (far right) by Paul Simmons.

Rafael Francisco Salas: Ballads of the Middle

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In his solo show in the Godschalx Gallery, Salas reflects on “American culture and identity,” and our “indignant desire for a dream continually just beyond reach,” as he so eloquently expresses in his artist’s statement. Using mixed media and a motif of musicians as witnesses to the “dispossessed and forgotten” Salas creates a show that is both comforting in its familiarity and nostalgia, yet unsettling in its demonstration of its intimate knowledge of the American public.

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Musicians and a Patch of Dirt by Rafael Francisco Salas.

Preserving the Landscape

Preserving the Landscape is guest curated by one of SNC’s very own students, Kasey Pappas. The exhibition features four photographs by James Cagle, pulled from SNC’s own art collection. Check out this previously written blog post to find out more about the show and read an interview with Pappas herself about her experience curating her first show.

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Preserving the Landscape

Student Curator Interview: Kasey Pappas

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If you’ve visited the St. Norbert Art Galleries recently you may have noticed a humble, yet entrancing show tucked away in the Permanent Collection Gallery. This exhibition, Preserving the Landscape, features four photographs taken by former SNC art faculty member James Cagle, but is very special for one other reason as well: the show was curated by SNC sophomore Kasey Pappas.

Pappas curated Preserving the Landscape as a requirement of the Admissions Fellowship in the St. Norbert Art Galleries that she was offered her during freshman year. In the short booklet provided at the exhibition, Pappas explains her process curating the exhibition from entering SNC’s permanent collection storage, to researching Cagle and his work, and finally, deciding what pieces to show.

I won’t delve into too much of what is said in the booklet here as I believe standing in front of the artwork and reading Pappas’ eloquent discourse a rather magical experience that should be given its due, but I am honored to say that I was able to relay some additional questions to Pappas regarding her experience curating her first exhibition. Pappas’ answers reveal the depth of thought and heart that was put behind this show, something I believe that could only have been pulled off by an especially intentioned and hardworking student.

Q: In the booklet you’ve created to go with the exhibition you write very passionately about preserving nature and landscapes no matter their perceived beauty. What relationships have you had with nature in the past that fuel this passion? Are there specific locations or spaces that you feel connected with?

A: I grew up in Spring Green, WI which is a very small town and lived in a home surrounded by pines and oaks so nature was an aspect I came into contact with in my everyday life. The area I grew up in has always been heavily influenced by the surrounding landscape. This interest in landscape also derives from my past experiences working for the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation. I was able to see art through a different perspective and developed a love for art that incorporates nature and learned more than I could ask for while working for that preservation. Since I had lived in Spring Green for over 10 years, the reasoning for choosing Cagle’s work was because I missed the type of influential landscape I had grown up around and his photographs reminded me of those places. I ultimately wanted to curate this show to push for a greater appreciation towards preserving the landscape.

Q: What have you learned from your first experience as a curator? Has it changed the way you perceive art?

A: I learned more than I anticipated while curating this show. Despite the show being relatively small, I was able to conquer a lot of obstacles while curating it. I learned to take my time instead of rushing through finding what information to put in the booklet that is included in the show. I also learned to not shy away from asking for help; I worked with the research center on campus and Shan Bryan-Hanson who worked with me to curate this show. It was a goal of mine to do the best I could do and grow while doing so. Curating this show did alter the way I perceive art; there is so much more that goes into displaying work than just hanging work onto a wall. The way a show is curated and displayed can be what can makes the work more or less attractive and I enjoyed learning how to successfully curate artwork.

Q: Has curating this exhibition influenced your future career goals?

A: Definitely! I was interested in curating a show the moment I applied for the fellowship and saw it as an opportunity to expand as a person and gain better insight to what goes on behind the scenes. I am also appreciative to have been able to experiment and work outside my comfort zone. Since I had never curated anything before, I was doubtful at first but this experience resulted in being able to better how I conduct research. Throughout the research process, being able to collectively put information into a small booklet and design the front and back cover helped me to realize the passion I have for graphic design. Curating this exhibition influenced an even greater interest in design and working with others to display art.

Pappas further elaborates on her appreciation of landscape in the aforementioned booklet and believes Cagle’s black-and-white photographs of scenery around Dartmoor National Park to be exemplary in doing just that: in the absence of color the viewer must turn their eye strictly to the natural form and composition of the land. Cagle’s work in Preserving the Landscape is timeless and reminiscent of a golden age of photography–when everything viewed through the lens was exciting and novel, and brought new appreciation and light to easily overlooked beauty. We owe a debt to both Cagle’s work Pappas’ curation for reminding us in our busy world to stop and enjoy the simple beauty of nature.

To see these works for yourself and to celebrate Pappas’ achievement join us Thursday, January 25 from 5-7p.m. for the first gallery reception of our spring season, and while you’re there, take the chance to view our other current shows: Lightforms: Heather McKenna, Maria Rendon, Paul Simmons, and Nicholas Szymanski, and Rafael Francisco Salas: Ballads of the Middle.

Preserving the Landscape will run from January 22 to February 16 2017.