Santa Ana gallery's 'Art of Furry Fandom' connects public with Furry past and future
Mark Merlino and his friend Rod O'Riley might be called "first wave" furries from original geek culture, when that meant underground comics, fanzines and pen-pals. They held the first parties that turned into conventions, and WikiFur calls them "founding members of organized furry fandom." Mark owns The Prancing Skiltaire.
Rod's most recent accomplishment is The Art of Furry Fandom, at Avantgarden art gallery in Santa Ana, CA. It opens concurrently with this year's Califur, this weekend. In his journal, Mark calls it a dream he's had for over 30 years.
According to the gallery:
AVANTGARDEN is proud to present "Women Desperately Seeking Escape...a Series" photographically captured on film and digitally by ELLEN SEEFELDT. We also welcome JAY RIGGIO'S hand cut pasted collage work, SHARLYNORA WILKINSON's paintings, and The Art of Furry Fandom, curated by RODNEY STANSFIELD. This exhibit runs June 1–29, opening reception June 1, 7–10pm.
Mark reminded me of a similar show in 2012 in San Jose during Further Confusion, with "more artists, more art, same kind of independent gallery". Actually, there were two: a Slave Labor Graphics show, and "People-Shaped Animals" at Kaleid Gallery.
The Art of Furry Fandom got my attention through a thumbnail on the front page of Fur Affinity. I had no idea that Mark was the poster, but it seemed newsworthy, so I emailed the gallery. The next day, I got an enthusiastic call from Rod, and an invite to call Mark. I looked them up and realized they weren't young'uns, but long time core names. (I'm slow, huh?) Searching Mark's name led back to a comment I left on Fred Patten's "Illustrated Chronology of Furry Fandom, 1966–1996", about the energy of live events.
Looking at this list, many things look like they cross over pop culture and fan culture in a more potent way than today, when things are published to the internet and its' static noise... I could be wrong about those qualities of "furry fan media", but these days I feel like live events is where the most energy is... I think the quality of fursuits and amount of suiters you can see in one place is evidence of that.
Mark's journal talks about the shrinking of art shows at cons. But a Furry show at a public gallery seems like a special live event, however modest the size (eleven pieces of art). As I've said about street fursuiting, I dig the spontaneity of interacting with people who haven't been exposed to Furry magic yet. Here's a photo set of what they will see this month.
I asked Rod: what's the experience been like?
*whew* deep breath. Here we go...
For the past year or so, I had been hitting up the Santa Ana Art Walk in (where else?) Santa Ana, California, which is held on the first Saturday of every month. It had been recommended to me by a friend, and I did in fact notice it was one of the more active and interesting and well-attended art walk in Orange County. (I had been to a few that were rather meh.)
Now my mate (Sylys Sable) and I have been interested for literally decades in getting furry art out in front of the more general public, or at least out in front of an artsy crowd that was not the usual furry convention-going group. Both of us have been in the fandom long enough to see how the general public has come to think of furry fandom as being mostly "about" fur-suiting -- when we know from our own experience just how much more important a factor the art is to many of us. But so few people have a chance to SEE the art unless they go to a furry convention or go searching around furry art sites on The Net.
So, I began gently talking up some of the gallery owners about the possibility of a curated show dedicated to anthropomorphic art. After a few trips, I also started bringing along a paper portfolio with print-outs of various art I had seen on Fur Affinity -- specifically, that art which I thought would be especially impressive to an "art gallery crowd" because of the technique involved.
One of the galleries I tended to frequent was the Avant Garden. It's located in the lower level of the Santora Building, which is sort of "ground zero" for the monthly art walk -- it's three levels of mostly art galleries and art work spaces. [One of the interesting things there is The World's Smallest Art Gallery, which is located beneath the stairs. It's about 5 foot by 8 foot by 4 foot high, and must be crawled into. There is a VERY long waiting list to display in there. Seriously.]
At the Avant Garden I met Ellen Seefeldt and struck up that same conversation. After showing her and a few of her associates the art samples, she mentioned that a furry fandom collection might fit very well as a "back wall" display for her own photography exhibition which would be premiering in June. With that in mind I got to work asking, cajoling, and downright begging various artists around the fur fandom to contribute art for the show and sale. We had 16 feet of wall to fill up!
Eventually after nearly a month of constant song-and-dance, five artists had volunteered material: Steven Martin, Sherwood, Brown Wolf, and the photographer known as Changa Lion. All of them have pages on Fur Affinity under those names -- and, as it turns out, all of them happen to live in Southern California.
On the morning of Sunday the 26th Sy Sable, Changa Lion, and myself trudged the art submitted down to the Avant Garden for set-up day. Ellen seemed very impressed that we had brought our own hanging supplies and even made our own labels for the art -- We had to gently explain to her that we have been working furry and science fiction convention art shows for decades now, and we've learned a few things!
The Art of Furry Fandom officially opened with the gallery that afternoon, and will be open for business on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays until June 29th. The official opening reception is being held during the Art Walk for June, which takes place June 2nd, concurrently with CaliFur in Irvine.
How's that? ^^
Thanks to Rod, Mark, and the artists, a few new fans may discover their inner Furry this month in Santa Ana.