by Sarah Squires
Art is most often a physical thing steeped in permanence; once the final lick of paint dries to its canvas home, it becomes a stagnant kind of beauty.
But one local artist has had to redefine his art several times, and his latest endeavor is aimed at transforming the way we think about art into a fluid, changing, moving concept, one that leaps oceans and crosses every boundary imaginable.
It’s called ARToVANCE, born in a dark time for Ron Gramling, owner of Art 56 Gallery at 56 East Second Street in downtown Winona. The idea came to him after the longtime painter lost the use of his hands, and recreated his artistic style using his feet — specifically his big toe swathed in a paint-soaked tube sock.
But several years ago, just as Gramling was getting the hang of his new style of painting, his foot also locked up, and he was unable to paint at all. “I started meditating on the thought: if you can’t do art, how do you do art?” he said. “So I came up with the thought that everybody else is the artist, society is the art.”
The physical side to ARToVANCE is simple: a series of booklets thick with blank pages, waiting for art — any kind of art, from the young and the old, from the professional artist and the young child, to the photographer, poet, to the artist that is in all of us. A person creates something on a page, and then wraps the booklet in postal paper and sends it on, each binder taking on a life of its own along its own unique journey around the world.
Alongside that physical element, artists are encouraged to take a photo or scan their image, then post the art online, allowing people to track the project, to follow the vivid blur of its movement around the globe.
“It’s a physical and social network. It is tied to the philosophy that we have lost the passed note in class,” said Gramling of how society and human interaction has become so computerized. And he said that part of the idea is that we are all artists, from kindergartners to nursing home residents. “It’s open to everybody, you can do anything on the page. It’s an unpredictable physical form, reaching from person to person.”
It’s only been a week since Gramling really began sharing the booklets and the ideas, and ARToVANCE has not only already scaled oceans, it has exploded. A company in Spain wants to print and distribute more books and create a web site to help track them. Someone is about to take a picture of the book at Radio City Music Hall in New York, then affix the photo to a page and hand it off to an unsuspecting tourist. A woman in London, England, is geared up to promote the project there, a Milwaukee area art teacher would like to integrate the project into her classes.
“This is taking off beyond my wildest dreams,” said Gramling, who was followed around by an interested videographer on Thursday. He’s got an assistant, Mary Bohman, who is helping to run a Facebook page (search Artovance Art To Advance at facebook.com) as well as to help field the throngs of inquiries about the project.
And as the booklets go out, the masterpiece manuscripts, Gramling says there is more to this concept, an idea that will outlive those physical pages. It’s a word, an idea: ARToVANCE, and the meaning that is evolving with it. “The word itself is something,” said Gramling. “It is part of the art, meaning that if some kid in Alaska hears that word, he can go online and find it, and now he is connected to the project. People will start saying ARToVANCE is here, ARToVANCE is here. It means Art To Advance, from person to person, and whatever meaning that has for people, they can apply it to anything — like their art in the future. It is more than this book. What if you can create eternal art?”
For now, as the project and its “father” have been bombarded with people interested in finding out more, the best place to connect with the project is by visiting the Facebook site. As things develop, and they are developing rapidly, more information about how to participate will become available and will be posted online. Copies of the booklet are currently available at both Blooming Grounds and the Acoustic Cafe, as well.
Gramling said he’s left his own mark in one of the booklets. Someone did a drawing that represented part of Gramling’s artistic life — depicting his foot, a hand, and tear drops. The next page is a simple image, Gramling’s footprint, his new artistic vessel, a symbol of the journey that has helped bring him to his newest personal chapter, one that transforms art from person to person, moving and whirling and coming alive all around us.