Flash Points

Some Thoughts on the Transformative Power of Walking + Art

Photo of Pocket Utopia's Rolling Gate. Courtesy Sharon Butler

Photo of Pocket Utopia's Rolling Gate. Courtesy Sharon Butler

Austin Thomas is a New York-based artist, curator & sometimes salon host. When I asked her about art + transformation, she offered these thoughts about the transformative power of walking and its impact on her art practice.

“The best ideas come when I’m doing the dishes,” That’s what Tracey Moffatt once told me. (But I never really do dishes.) She also told me, “the best ideas come back” and they do. I get my ideas and do my best thinking when I walk.

After completing Pocket Utopia, a 2-year, community-based salon project in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick, I’ve started organizing art walking tours called “Art Stumbles.” These tours offer up food for thought, refreshments and refreshing perspectives on the art geography of a particular place.

Until recently, Pocket Utopia was a place for showing other artists’ work, and I thought of it as an extension of my own artwork. I re-engaged my ideas by constructing a social space. I learned what it really meant to be an artist running Pocket Utopia.

Being an artist is about creating a community and contributing to that community. It is also about making good work and doing-it-yourself. Artists have to be in charge of their own artist development and they have to chart their own path.

Pocket Utopia is now closed and I am about to enter the studio for a solid 6-month work stint. (My son enters kindergarten this fall.) I’ll start each day by walking to my studio at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, and spend my time drawing and collaging works on paper with idiosyncratic sculptural elements that become spaces.

Although many thoughts come to me by walking, my work is ultimately rooted in drawing. I saw the walls, floors and the people that filled “Pocket Utopia,” and the previous social sculptures I had made, as large collage arrangements. The “Art Stumbles,” which include selecting destinations and routes to tour and explore, are also like collages.

Left: Ben Godward “Untitled” (a wall sculpture), (2009); Right: Amy Lincoln “Bouquet,” (2009)

Left: Ben Godward “Untitled” (a wall sculpture), (2009); Right: Amy Lincoln “Bouquet,” (2009)

The first walking tour stumbled through a small area of Bushwick. We started at the studio of Deborah Brown and proceed to the new loft-occupying gallery called Laundromat to view the work of several artists, including Ben Godward and Amy Lincoln.

It was hot, really hot, and I had to leave for California the next morning, (and of course, I hadn’t packed yet) but we walked, talked, looked at art, ate, drank and something happened. On this journey, spanning the streets of Bushwick cooled by spouting fire hydrants, complimented by contemplative studio visits, we glimpsed other artists’ ideas. Ideas that appear in rare moments, while washing or walking, that transport us somewhere else-be it across town, upstairs or into the undefined territory of the imagination. On this particular walk, we exchanged stories, traveled, socialized and shared a joyful, fulfilling and interesting evening together.

The next “Art Stumble” will take place sometime in September and will tour the Lower East Side.  The activity of walking can transform and become a work of art.

-Austin Thomas