Retiring from AS220 as founder and artistic director, Umberto Crenca kindly took time this week to discuss art, his creative expression, the importance of art expression education and why AS220 was founded. The interview was conducted in his Providence studio that he shares with his wife.
Carrie Decker (Motif): Do you feel settled about the goals you set for AS220?
Bert Crenca: Beyond! AS220 has grown beyond what I could imagine. There was such a huge participation and involvement among creative people when we began. We started with nothing in an unheated building. The concept was to let people create what they want and stay true to the original tenants. It has grown into a huge complex with many programs. I never imagined its growth to scale. It has received both national and international recognition, and has served as a model for a lot of people and organizations around the world.
CD: Art can be defined in many ways; how do you create today versus 1985?
BC: I create with a lot more experience and knowledge today and stay up-to-date with different news sources. With the experience and creation of art through AS220 I am a different person today. I think there is something fundamental in all of us that’s signature and unavoidable on what we make and how we express ourselves. Today I have an idea of what I want to make, and I make it. There is always some level of struggle. I think it’s telling when art is not a struggle and something much more approachable and visceral when there is a struggle. Too much highly stylized work can become mechanical and that is just not me. I had a lot of passion with limited skills. So now the skills have caught up with the passion, and my work is closer to what I hope to express.
CD: Have you found success?
BC: How do you define that?! I have two honorary doctorate degrees and built a multi-million dollar organization. I’ve traveled all over the world to speak about the work, I teach and co-teach at Roger Williams University with my colleagues. In March this year, I will be in Baltimore consulting with some artist groups and attend as a keynote at Rhode Island College Diversity Conference. I am retired but will still be engaged as a consultant for AS220. I am remarkably successful, always striving, but never satisfied.
CD: As a founder of AS220, has the journey for yourself and artists paved a way to be heard?
BC: AS220 is there for everybody. There have been tens of thousands of artists who have participated in the development and growth for themselves through the organization. Even seasoned artists have had the opportunity to experiment with an open environment. There was no other place like it in Providence. It came about through processes and influences of other people to create an environment that was unjuried and uncensored. It is consistent of what I believe in and it was a 33-year distraction. The intent was for me to just be an artist and create a place where I felt welcomed. People were fearless on what they were looking to explore, discuss or debate. I still find conversations inviting with younger people and professors discussing things like ‘Origins of the Earth;’ it’s very enriching to me. Now, I think and worry about my art and not about AS220.
CD: How is AS220 different from other organizations?
BC: The organization is unjuried, uncensored admission, equal pay policy and a non-judgmental approach to providing access to space, knowledge, tools and what we do. With all the programs we umbrella, there is no other place like us. We have gotten the attention and like the inspiration of what we have created.
CD: Your favorite work to-date?
BC: What week?! That’s a complicated question. There are pieces that I did that were direct responses to conditions in my life. Sometimes for an artist to make a great piece of work you need to be emotionally invested and be detached. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite piece as it could change by week, day or hour or even from year to year. It’s all how people respond or react that I thought would actually not respond well or respond at all. If someone responds well to a piece, that affects my knowledge vault of information. I may look at things differently now. Art is communication. You learn from that process, it is part of the cycle and an attempt to be an artist. It’s a vehicle to communicate and causes identification. Artists share and communicate, for better or worse, with all of us.
CD: Has technology and social media affected the art world?
BC: Of course, immeasurable, it always has. Artists were grinding their own pigments and mixing it with linseed oil and then someone started figuring out how to do it commercially and putting it in tubes; then they started using tubes. That’s technology! Artists are always the ones to push the limits of technology; that’s what we do. We use what we can to express ourselves in a meaningful way. The culture can get immune to a particular medium, and artists try to penetrate it and strive for originality. We use these tools to shake things up and rattle the brain! We need to be in the present and to keep this experience in the short amount of time we have in any given moment. That’s a huge part of what artists do; to stay highly focused and in the present. It’s a profound way to live!
BC: People are my primary passion. Art and people. I love to travel and that comes with learning about history. AS220 has given me the opportunity to do that with a sense of purpose. Meeting interesting people and experiencing culture and history. Every moment is infinitely complex with visual stimulation. The mystery of life and how we decipher it in this form and what do we do with it.
Umberto (Bert) Crenca will show a series of 61 new drawings near NicoBella Restaurant, at 82 Weybosset St, PVD, on Thursday, January 19 from 5 to 8pm.