By Shannon Gallagher
St. Louis-based artist Tim Liddy has had several exciting projects on his hands in 2014. He recently concluded a large project outside the luxury boxes at Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Hunt family, who owns the Chiefs, commissioned Liddy to create ten football related board game paintings on copper. Members of the Hunt family had seen his work at the Dallas Art Fair and thought it would be fun to do a survey of football related board games of various types. The imagery is based on real board games from the 20th century, ranging from 1914 to 1991, the latest being a John Madden Sega game. “Some were games that I used to play with as a kid,” said Liddy. “It was fun doing research and trying to replicate these games. I bought the actual games and looked at the boxes, trying to represent them as faithfully as possible. ”
In typical Liddy fashion, however, each game has a bit of fiction in it. The time frame of this project was about four months, which is not a lot of time for the painstaking detail and work that goes into each painting. “Ten pieces in four months really wore me out to my core,” he explained. “I had assistance in the studio, which I normally do, but they were there full time for this project. Liddy, who is also a professor of art at Fontbonne University, began the project with a month left in the spring semester, and worked diligently throughout the summer and had to forego his family vacation to complete the works. “I think this was a really beautiful venue for these works, because it’s a different type of fan base,” he said. “These are football fans who walk by and might not even know the pieces are paintings unless they take a closer look.” The first time Liddy showed his work was in New York at OK Harris, and they had to put a plaque under his name that said “paintings on copper.” He found watching people’s reactions to the work fun. “There’s a fine line between making them look exactly like a replica of the box top and making it really kind of about the viscosity of the paint. I want to paint to have a role and play it’s precarious line. It’s as much about the paint as it is about the image- there’s something very important about it to me, something that transcends any of the images,” Liddy explained.
Another very impressive project that Liddy recently participated in was the opening of a new exhibition at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. The museum, which opened in 2011, was spearheaded by Alice Walton, daughter of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton. The exhibition, called State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now, focused acutely on providing a venue and a voice for living and working artists in the United States. The Museum’s curatorial team spent a year on the road, visiting art fairs and galleries, conducting studio visits, and meeting with nearly 1,000 artists in every region of the country, talking face-to-face with them about their work, ideas, and processes. “From what I understand, [the curators] had seen my work before and were aware of it, they knew that I was located in St. Louis and the gallery I am affiliated with there. Their decorum was to go through the gallery for most of the artists. It was also easy for them to find me through my website (www.timliddyworks.com). Their first list had about 6,900 artists, which they then narrowed down to 1,000 studio visits, and ultimately, down to about 100 artists for the show.” Along with the exhibition, there was a 3-day summit, with speakers and guests in various backgrounds and businesses from across the country, including Bill Clinton, Maya Lin, Moshe Safdie, among many others.
Liddy was asked to give a talk at the summit. “I never asked how I was chosen to speak,” he said, “but a handful of artists were chosen from the 102 that are in the show. The panel that I was on discussed the personal experience in one’s work. I talked about how I came to be an artist and how that transpired into what I’m doing now.” Liddy relayed the feelings of going back and forth about being an artist, even now that he is well established. He recalled creating a drawing at the age of 5, and having someone say “Oh, you’re an artist!” and then at age 8, being frustrated by drawing bones in biology class and feeling that he had failed as an artist. “Then, at 13, I was an artist again,” he said. “It was up and down, there are doubts of what you’re doing and why, and then there’s a revelation, because it’s important, or cathartic, or whatever, and then you might drop the affirmation that you’re an artist again, and go back to, ‘What the hell am I doing?’ I have these bouts of reality sometimes that I might rather be doing something else or something I might deem to be more important. It was a very frank and personal panel that was, at the core, about heart and who you are as an artist. It was very eye-opening. The curator wanted everything to be really natural, so he didn’t give us any way to prepare for it. He raised a few questions at the beginning, but it was not rehearsed in any way, very off-the-cuff.” The presentation was well-attended, and many people afterwards approached Liddy, giving feedback and asking him to elaborate on things he had discussed.
Liddy went on to describe the summit as a whirlwind of meeting people, dinners, panels, and lunches. “It was crazy how many people I met- influential people, funders, collectors, curators, directors of museums, architects, Hollywood producers and directors, etc.” Liddy attended some of the other lectures, noting that he found David Adey’s talk particularly fascinating, as well as a presentation from funding organization Creative Capital. “It was interesting to learn about how they chooses artists to fund grants for, how they continue to raise money for these artists’ grants, David Adey being one of the recipients.” He also described a “beautiful” talk by Maya Lin, and a great presentation by Bill Clinton on the state of art today. “He had a talk prepared, but felt that he couldn’t follow up Vanessa German’s discussion on inner cities and violence and her experiences going through those things, so he went off-the-cuff and talked about how he experiences art, things that relate to art, what he considers the state of art. It was really powerful; he has so much charisma. That was one of my favorite parts of the summit.” Clinton discussed his relationship to artmaking, what art is, the artists that he knows. “He told a story about artists in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake- he was with his entourage, and they stopped where there was a group of artists selling paintings. He told his group, ‘I want each of you to buy at least three paintings from these people; this is their livelihood.’ As they were leaving, an artist approached him and said, ‘Mr. Clinton, you bought some paintings from me many years ago. I lost my entire family in the earthquake. This is all I have left.’ The former president found the situation to be very powerful, and bought several more works from the man.
Liddy describes the summit as an odd experience. “There were a lot of collectors of my work there, and other influential collectors. It was great to see Beth DeWoody and be able to spend time with her, but the experience, as a whole, was also very strange because there were so many very important people at the summit. The first night, we went to dinner, and this very nice man was sitting next to me. He was extremely nice to me, and I figured he worked at Crystal Bridges,” Liddy said. “I asked what his affiliation was, and he said that he was not affiliated with the museum. He said, ‘I’m the president and director of the Walton Foundation.’ Most of the people there were so down to Earth,” he said. “The wealth that was there, the people that have some kind of influence in our world- it was surreal. It was a small group of people, 150 tops, but the people that were asked to be there are influential, and made an effort to be there because of the show- and that’s incredible.” Although Liddy enjoys creating the game box paintings, and he still has a lot of other ideas in him (especially since he invents many of them- all of the paintings at Crystal Bridges are fiction), he has a lot of totally different ideas in his head that he’d like to explore in the future.
“I try to change things up about every five years. I don’t want to back myself in a corner of a certain style, I try to let the ideas filter through and let the medium I use be best to fit that idea. To me, as an artist, it’s important not to let myself fit only one mold. It’s too limiting. In my studio, I’ve developed many different techniques and styles. I’ve gone back and forth. I started as a sculptor, and I see the game box paintings as much about 3D design as they are about painting.” Liddy says that he has many ideas in the works for future projects, but it’s more about finding the time. He often finds himself getting pulled back into another show or another project pertaining to what he’s doing now. “Eventually, I’ll need to drop what I’m doing here and move onto the next big thing.” Tim Liddy’s work is represented by ZIA Gallery, located at 548 Chestnut Street in Winnetka, Illinois. He currently has work in the gallery and will be having a featured exhibition opening Saturday, June 13th, 5 – 7pm, running through July 25, 2015. Check out www.ZIAgallery.net for more information.