Visual Vernacular: Curator and Director Ken General
In last week’s edition of Visual Vernacular, we spoke with Jacob Spacek about his latest exhibition and his role at BLUEorange Contemporary. One of his colleagues — and in my humble opinion, art legends in this city — Ken General is our focus for this installment. An insightful artist in his own right, Ken has helped mold and shape many a career here in Houston through his work in a gallery setting and as a curator. Powered by the passion to promote, General — along with Jacob Spacek, Megan Spacek and Cassie Skelly — have crafted a video series entitled Art Adventures. This series, now in their second season, runs off of innovative ingenuity, artistic know how, and handy smartphone technology telling the tales of Texas artists of all styles.
Their most venturesome project to date in regards to this series happens in a few days as they make the lengthy trip to South Korea to experience the culture, art, and fair scene. This installment of Art Adventures delves into the complications and successes of preparing for an international art festival. From the physical task of navigating transportation for twenty-plus hours of oversea travel, with artwork, is a feat in itself with plenty of twists and turns for a documentary. The crew will also share their discussions and personal thoughts as they travel through an unfamiliar landscape and organize a presentation of Texas artists in South Korea at the international art fair Art Busan. General was kind enough to answer some questions before they jet across the globe.
FPH: Tell me about your background in art. What are the mediums you developed skill in? Do you still use them today?
Ken General: I studied as many forms of art as possible while in school at Indiana University but I loved printmaking since I was in second grade, so I ended up with a BFA degree in printmaking. I’ve shown my work mainly in the Midwestern U.S. but also in Europe and Asia. A couple of private and public art collections have my work from early career as an artist. I’m currently on a hiatus from making my art to allow time to explore my interests in being an art director/curator. I do however stay in touch with printmaking by serving on the board of directors for the non-profit art organization, PrintMatters.
FPH: How did you merge into arts administration?
General: During my undergraduate years I was also studying for a second degree in Art History. The last couple of years I was pretty much eating and breathing art. I even worked at a small local art supply store called Pygmalion’s. I ended up knowing many of the art students and faculty so was eventually asked to serve on the Fine Arts Student Association. This was where I developed an excitement for creating exhibitions and events with my peers for the university and community. While exhibiting my artwork after graduation I spent time interning at the Midwestern Museum of American Art and working for a contemporary art gallery just outside of Chicago. While working as an administrator, I started to enjoy creating shows for others more than working alone on my own work so I upon moving to Houston I made a commitment to explore a career building an art scene as a curator/director.
FPH: Tell me about your latest project, the Duende Art Project.
General: The Duende Art Project is a manifestation of something I’ve always done but never really had a name for it. While in college I exhibited my artwork and always gave portions of my sales to charity to help highlight social causes that I wanted to share with people. After the retirement of the last gallery I helped direct, I decided to take a chance pursuing my personal projects. I thought about leaving Houston, but ultimately I love being here and decided to continue adding to Houston’s art community. Instead of doing this project on my own with my own artwork as I’ve done in the past, I wanted to involve others this time around. Duende allows me to partner with artist friends that I believe make incredible art that is genuine and that comes from heart. I hope Duende can be the bridge that helps their artwork connect with as many people as possible. Duende also highlights a growing list of charities, that portions of art sales are donated to, thanks to patrons not only in Houston but from all over world. The artists exhibited are asked if there are causes they want to create awareness for with their show and that helps broaden my own scope as well. The more people that participate in the project, the more good we can do together, and that makes it all that much more fulfilling on a personal level.
FPH: How did you become connected with BLUEorange Contemporary? What has that experience been like?
General: BLUEorange Contemporary is like my second family. Megan and Jacob Spacek, the gallery owners of BLUEorange are dear friends of mine and we’ve been friends pretty much since they moved to Houston and started their gallery 3 years ago. We share very similar outlooks on art and community so when the opportunity to work together presented itself it was a no-brainer. They needed someone to help manage BLUEorange and Duende needed a headquarters. Our two art galleries compliment each other very well. It’s been a great working with the two of them and challenging each other to raise our goals to the next level. To be able to work with your friends and create something special together is a blessing. Hopefully we can add great things into Houston’s art history as part of its next generation of art creators and inspire other to do the same.
FPH: The series Art Adventures examines the visual arts more closely through video. What has the series completed so far and what does it hope to become in the future?
General: BLUEorange Art Adventures is an arts education video project produced by four friends, Jacob Spacek, Megan Spacek, Cassie Skelly, and myself. We volunteer our time to document some of the amazing artists we see in Houston. We’ve completed four episodes so far that you can find on the BLUEorange website, Facebook page and on YouTube. Hopefully we can continue to grow the series and create an awareness for more of the brilliant contemporary artists that we have in not only Houston, but the whole state of Texas as well. We’ve started fundraising for the second season and you can donate to the video project on our website.
FPH: How did you all choose South Korea as a destination? What do you hope to accomplish there?
General: I have a friend involved with an international art fair in South Korea. The art fair was interested in presenting work from young contemporary galleries and my name came up in the conversations so Duende Art Project and BLUEorange Contemporary were invited to present artwork from Texas. Since we also create the Art Adventures video project together we thought it was only right to document our journey into a film that can educate, entertain, and inspire others while we explore the art scene in South Korea.
FPH: Who are some of the artists involved with this trip?
General: Between the two galleries we are showing artists from diverse career levels that have an exhibition history with Houston. We’re really honored to work with these artists and represent the Houston art scene abroad to the international community. It was tough to narrow our lists but for our exhibitions we are presenting: Margaret Craig, Brittany Ham, Charlie Kitchen, Melinda Laszczynski, Adrienne Meyers, Kate Petley, Patrick Renner, Darcy Rosenberger and Howard Sherman.
FPH: What type of dialogue do you hope to start through this trip?
General: We’re hopeful for an exchange ideas on what art is and can be, how it is created, and what role does the community play in their art culture. We’ve been fortunate to have the support of the South Korean Consulate in Houston and friends in Korea. Our itinerary includes visits with art professors and students at the Korean National University of Art and studio visits with the artist residency programs at their Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. We also will have time with one the most respected art masters in South Korea, Mr. Ahn Kyuchul. The generous opportunity we’ve been given is incredibly humbling and we’re extremely excited to share our art adventure with others.
FPH: Is there anything in particular you are looking forward to seeing/doing in South Korea?
General: South Korea has so much to offer and we’ve got plenty on our list that we’re eager to explore. Right now it’s about lunch time and all I can think of is food! We’ll be sampling as much of it as we can, including a recommendation from a friend to try the live octopus. We’ll see, life’s an adventure, so why not?
So far, they have raised over $5,000 in their $8,000 goal to help fuel the filming.