Just Say Hello: Daniel Rolnik Visits the Santa Barbara Art Scene
Did you know that fear and excitement are the same emotion? Test it out for yourself. The next time you feel afraid to try something new, tell yourself that you are excited and you will see your life change for the better.
I feel that way every time I meet someone new and so I have to make a conscious switch to feel excited to meet them rather than afraid to say hello. And really that’s all it takes to alter your perception of the world – a little hello.
So, while some may say that millenials are an anti-social generation, I disagree. It’s just that we communicate in a totally new way. We make friends with people before we meet them face-to-face. Essentially, we do our research ahead of time, so that when we finally meet someone we can get right into deeper topics of conversation.
To prove this, I ate dinner with thirty artists I had never met before all because of Twitter:
Almost immediately after my post went live, the artist Kimberly Hahn favorited it. Two days later she arranged for me to meet a bunch of local artists. Three weeks later my girlfriend and I were surrounded by Kimberley, the director of the city college’s art museum, professors, street artists, fine artists, and everyone else involved with the local Santa Barbara art scene.
Santa Barbara is a small California town on the coast, which is a two-hour drive north of Los Angeles. It’s technically considered Southern California, but it has a more relaxed vibe than the busy streets of LA. It’s quiet. The tallest building is a concert hall and businesses close relatively early in the night. Nearby are the cities of Montecito (comparable to the fanciest part of Beverly Hills, only more isolated from retail shops), Ventura County (wharf town where you can see lots of dolphins and whales during winter), and Goleta (the suburbs).
So, if the art world is small then the art world of Santa Barbara is tiny. Everyone knows each other and so I was afraid to join their hangout session initially because I would be an outsider to the group. I mean, I had only ever been to Santa Barbara as a child a couple times before to fly kites on the beach. So, my knowledge of the area was limited to that and a ridiculously beautiful movie theater that makes you feel like you should be wearing a suit or gown to see anything.
When that thought of fear came up, I immediately silenced it by pumping my fists into the air and grasping them down to the Earth. Filling my every thought with how exciting it would be to be the only person at the table who didn’t know someone else. And thankfully I was able to make the switch because the artists in Santa Barbara are unbelievably awesome!
Appetizers from Arlington tavern; Courtesy Kimberly Hahn's instagram
We got to the Arlington Tavern early, where Kimberly Hahn and her husband James Van Arsdale were already waiting for us. I had seen Kimberly’s exhibit in Los Angeles at Design Matters gallery and had written about how cool it was that the curator of the show found her work through ArtSlant.
But now I was experiencing everything I had written about. And even though I’ve experienced it before, it always feels new. And it always feels a little scary...I mean exciting. Exciting!
(We got to visit The Can(n)on Studios, which Kimberly and James run in downtown Goleta the day after this event. It’s a cool space they share with three artists with a small exhibition room in the front of the building.)
Kimberly and James ordered some appetizers and coffee, which must’ve picked us up because by the time we left the tavern it was midnight. And it was only ever supposed to be a two-hour hangout session from 5pm-7pm. Wowzah!
I also posted about the hangout session on Instagram in case anyone was around that hadn’t been invited yet via our Facebook event, in addition to searching various hash tags like #SantaBarbaraArt and #UCSBart and commenting on strangers’ photos to let users know about the hangout.
(For some annoying reason when you make a Facebook event invite it doesn’t let you select your friends based on their geographic location. Or, at least, it doesn’t let you select friends located in a geographic location other than the one you currently live in. I wish they would fix that because I’m sure I missed out on inviting some cool artists that lived in the area. I’m sorry if I missed you!)
Unfortunately, a few people from my Instagram comments couldn’t find our table because it was next to the bar area of the tavern and at a certain hour the place got tremendously packed. We learnt that next time we do something like this we should alert the bartenders so they can lead people to us. After all, a gathering of artists looks no different than a gathering of sports fans or music junkies or friends. We’re all people and most of us don’t look weird for weirdness sake.
(Sorry I got distracted. I started checking my Facebook and Twitter pages. I’m obsessed with them. It’s a constant stream of news thrown out by the art world. I like it when people post pictures; those distract me the most.)
The first people to join the hangout session were two art professors from UCSB as well as great artists themselves. Jane Callister and Philip Argent. They’re originally from the UK, then went to grad school in Las Vegas, and later found themselves in Santa Barbara at the university.
When I asked to look at their art, they directed me to their ArtSlant pages. I always like paying attention to what sites people use to showcase their art. ArtSlant is popular in Santa Barbara, but other sites are more popular in various parts of the world. (For example, Thailand has a massive amount of deviantART users and in the UK more artists use Twitter than Facebook, and there are an abundant amount of artists on ETSY who sell better than artists in galleries and have never built official websites or had their work showcased in galleries.) So, this made ArtSlant special to me, more so than ever before. It brought my experience in Santa Barbara full circle.
(Speaking of which, I wish I had brought my iPad; the images everyone is showing me would’ve been bigger. I’ll make a note for next time. Also, the giant case I got for my phone was a good idea because now I’m not afraid of anyone dropping it, even though I’m the only person who seems to do that.)
After we finished eating appetizers, the artist Ethan Turpin arrived, whose work we had seen a few hours earlier at the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum. There, he had a video installation of bees on display in one of the museum’s grottos. And later on, we found out he is part of an awesome studio named the Rondo as well as on the board of Fishbon – a performance art space that hosts workshops and alt theater productions.
Then Andi Garcia came by, who runs a gallery in downtown LA, but lives for most of the year in Santa Barbara. We were able to connect about the street artist David Flores, who wasn’t at the hangout, but is originally from there. I had met Andi a year or so earlier in Los Angeles when I handed her one of my buttons that said “Hi, I’m Daniel.”
I used to do that a lot before I learnt about turning fear into excitement and it’s taken me a long time to actually be able to talk to people without having a card or button do it for me. It’s also really fun to have a card that isn’t too serious as it can twist you up into a bit of theatrics, as Chris Silva was soon to point out.
Laura Krifka, Chris Silva; Courtesy Kimberly Hahn's instagram
You see, I designed my new business cards to look like trading cards, which have my face on the front and some facts about me on the back. So when I gave Chris my card he asked if I could sign it, which is part of the fun of having your own baseball card. But then I carried about in conversation with some of the other guests and when my glance caught Chris’ he turned his phone towards me. He had put my signed, mint-condition, uncirculated trading card on eBay with a starting price of $1,999.99.
The card currently has one bid and is on its way to get verified by PSA.
One of the people I had been talking to before Chris launched the card into cyber famedom was Laura Krifka. She was currently working on a private commission for a collector and had been featured in the exhibit “Rogue Wave 2013” at the LA Louver. Laura got her MFA at UCSB and received praise from Jane Callister who had been one of her professors.
Lauren Kriefka video
Sarah Cunningham, the director of Atkinson Gallery at Santa Barbara City College, and her husband Devon arrived next and told us epic tales of the time they lived in Japan. Plus, we got to trade info on the best places for Japanese vinyl toys and art books in California. Oh and there was also the artist Ursula Szeles, who I didn’t even get to talk to until the very end of the night because there was so much going on.
There were so many interesting conversations and ideas and philosophies and ramblings. Everything was happening in a million different ways and it was incredible – a live-action forum, with users who didn’t miss a single second of detail.
One of the most intense discussions was about the differences between males and females in the art world. It’s something that the Los Angeles-based artist Micol Hebron has been frequently posting on her Facebook page because of a project she’s put together named The Gallery Tally that demonstrates the dramatic differences between sales, ad placements, and acclaim brought upon the two genders.
Another conversation was about public art. Specifically about how in Santa Barbara, a committee had brought a sculpture into town that a majority of the population thought looked like elephant dung. I didn’t see it, so I can’t comment, but it did bring up the notions of how art is perceived by people outside of the art world. How sometimes we as artists and writers and fans get wrapped up in the artsyness of art so much that we ignore the regular civilian world.
Jaw Cooper, Daniel Rolnik; Courtesy Kimberly Hahn's instagram.
All of this was happening because of a simple Twitter post. Something that could’ve easily been missed if Kimberly hadn’t checked her wall at precisely the same time I posted. That’s incredible! It’s so cool that we can live in a world like that! That in the blink of an eye we can see something and then act on it, building new friendships along the way; all because of a simple, hello.
This morning while I was getting coffee I saw a man walk in with a clear bag containing several copies of a hardcover book named Brian Wonders. I had talked to the illustrator of these books via Facebook, but I had never seen what he actually looked like. Could this be him? Could this be the artist I had been trying to interview but due to various scheduling conflicts nothing happened? I wasn’t sure and to be honest I was afraid to ask.
That’s when I lifted my fist into the air and brought it down to Earth. I got excited that this could be the creator of the book and not just a random fan who happened to buy three copies of it. So, with slight hesitation I blurted out:
“Did you make those books?”
“Yes, I did.”
The me from a year ago wouldn’t have done that. But I did because I turned my fear into excitement and met a talented illustrator from it. One who, as it turns out, only lives a few blocks from me. Meaning it’ll be easier than ever to do an interview with him.
All it takes is a little hello to totally alter your life.
To get there, change your fear into excitement because before any stress begins, you have the choice to be excited or afraid.
(Image on top: James Van Arsdale, Kimberly Hahn, Daniel Rolnik, Jaw Cooper at Cannon Studios; Courtesy Kimberly Hahn's instagram.)
Posted by Daniel Rolnik on 12/23/13 | tags: Street Critique