John Gutoskey and Peter Sparling — Multi-Media Artists
Creators and Keepers — S1, E2
In this episode of Creators and Keepers, Aubrey Martinson interviews artists and married partners John Gutoskey and Peter Sparling about their innovative artwork and their shared “Liminal Landscapes” gallery show. Liminality is defined as a disoriented, in- between state, and a state that facilitates the disruption of both spatial and temporal dimensions.
Moving freely between video, dance and painting, Sparling creates hybrid liminal worlds based on the moving body with calligraphy-like brush strokes on black canvas and large-scale murals. Traces of motion accumulate to create kinetically charged impressions or energy fields of a dancer’s presence.
As a gay artist, Gutoskey “queers” his mixed-media monoprints (with collage, maculature, pochoir, and alcohol gel transfers) and invests in them a site for transformation, transition and self-reflection.
Watch, listen-to, or read the interview below:
Creators and Keepers is an episodic interview series by CultureVerse, a Michigan-based charity that uses 3D scanning and immersive technologies to support artists, educators, and preservationists.
About Peter Sparling:
Peter Sparling is the Rudolf Arnheim Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Dance and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor Emeritus at University of Michigan. A graduate of Interlochen Arts Academy and The Juilliard School, Sparling was a member of the José Limón Dance Company (1971–73) and principal dancer with Martha Graham Dance Company (1973–87). As Graham’s assistant, he coached Rudolf Nureyev and collaborated with her on many new works. He has performed and staged Graham’s works all over the world and has appeared with the company twice on PBS Dance in America. His video curtain warmers, Beautiful Captives: Martha Graham and the Cinematic Id, Variations of Angels and Sacred/Profane have opened three of the company’s New York seasons.
About John Gutoskey:
John Gutoskey is an artist, designer, printmaker, & collector living and working in Ann Arbor, Michigan. John earned his BFA in theater design with a minor in sculpture from Webster University in St. Louis. He earned his MFA from the University of Michigan’s School of Art & Design where he studied printmaking & installation art, and also completed a certificate in LGBTQ Studies. John has shown his work across the US, including the Detroit Institute of Art, Grand Rapids Art Museum, Society for Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh, Indianapolis Art Center, Kinsey Institute, Ella Sharp Museum, and in galleries in Chicago, NYC, Detroit, Toledo, & Ann Arbor. His series of monoprints honoring the victims from the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida in 2016, “PULSE Nightclub: 49 Elegies”, won the prize for Best Juried 2D at Artprize X 2018 and the Alpha Omega Award for Religious Art 2018. John is the owner of JG Studio and the A2 Print Studio in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
(Full transcript below)
Aubrey Martinson: Welcome to Creators and Keepers. The podcast of CultureVerse.org. CultureVerse is an organization which exists at the intersection of culture and technology. We seek to use 3d technology and immersive digital experiences to bring unseen art and artifacts to the light of day, we serve the creators and keepers of art and culture
CultureVerse is sponsored by art training and is based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. You can learn more about our organization, our projects, and how to get involved by visiting CultureVerse.org. Our production staff consists of Matt Grossman, Shanley Carlton, and Dave Sharp. I’m Aubrey Martinson.
Welcome to creators and keepers, a project of culture verse. Our guests today are Peter Sparling and John Gutoskey and Arbor artists and married partners. Peter and John share an exhibition of their works for the first time at culture verse gallery on exhibit through January of 2022 here in Ann Arbor at 309 south main street, as part of our partnership with Peter and John, we also created virtual galleries of their work, which can be viewed at our website www.cultureverse.org
Welcome to Peter and John. The title of your exhibit is liminal landscapes. And I’m just beginning to explore this concept of liminality myself, but I find it resonant. Can you each talk about the title of the show liminal landscapes and what it means? Exhibition and your work.
John Gutoskey: Sure. Hi, thanks for having us. I think we’re kind of living in a liminal.
It’s kind of hard of the zeitgeist right now. This liminality that I keep reading about everywhere. It’s something I studied in grad school when I was studying queer theory. And it’s kind of a way to theorize what queerness is and it means in between or in between. Comes out of anthropology and the idea of a ritual.
But in terms of queerness it’s sort of how, how, what does it mean to be queer in the world? Right. You’re not really masculine. You’re not really feminine in your figure to somewhere in between. And. You’re mostly in the world in heteronormative spaces. So there’s, I think there’s this negotiation that happens a lot.
If you’re a queer person that makes you feel like you’re living in a liminal space, right. Cause you don’t really belong and things can feel sort of strange and out of the ordinary and you, you have to negotiate like, is it okay if I hold my husband’s hand in public when people get mad or if I out myself in a place where I don’t know people, will I be accepted?
Right. There’s these negotiations you’re making. That creates the sort of feeling of living in an in-between place. And I it’s just, I think a way that queer theorists have used liminality to help sort of figure that idea out.
Peter Sparling: Yeah. I think art is a liminal space. I mean, I look back at my 34 years at university of Michigan and my memory, my sense is that I felt more other.
Or different as an artist have faculty artists or working artists. And I did as a gay man. So I think the arts can be a liminal space. My experience or my works that are displayed here I think demonstrate the liminality between, motion and status or stillness, what can be placed on a wall and remained.
And what are the sources that come from the moving body flow? So I think flow is a liminal space. I think the space between a moving body between a painting and between a video camera that that space that’s created in the act of an interdisciplinary practice is very limited. I think for me, the piece I made I’m really think I’m addressing sort of the internal states of liminality, the sort of emotional and mental spaces, one in habits when you’re negotiating, you know, what is a heteronormative world.
John Gutoskey: And so I think mine are minor a little bit more internally focused in a way, and I think Peter’s are more physical, more physically focused.
Peter Sparling: Well what does your mind do as I move from here to there? To there, to there, to this. Do you remember what I did the first move and how is that different than moving through it as a, as a flow? How does your mind retain any imagery and in particular movement imagery? So that, that is my liminal space.
Aubrey Martinson: So Peter, when I met you, I met you as a dancer and choreographer at your dance company, Peter Sparling dance company and dance gallery foundation. And while we were working together, you were heading out on sabbatical, but not as a dancer, as a painter. And so I’ve always been really curious about the interdisciplinary nature of. I’ve always been really curious about the interdisciplinary nature of you as an artist. So can you talk about that?
Peter Sparling: Yeah, actually that, that trip to France was as a video artist and a choreographer because I was researching the painting and the life and the work of Paul Cezanne.
I’ve always had a fascination with painters. The brilliance, the color, the form. Throughout the history of the visual arts has always been an major inspiration to me. I, I think that I grew up with a rather arrogant assumption that I could do anything. I don’t know where that came from. I think it was from supportive parents.
I also think that. I stubbornly insisted that I do anything I wanted to do, you know, and I was fortunate to be able to pretty much do that. With supportive parents being in a middle, a middle-class family in Detroit quote baby boomers, I was lucky to find excellent musical training as a kid, which led me to Interlochen.
At Interlochen I was able to move from music into dance and going to New York, et cetera. I, the first place I would always stop whenever touring the world, but dance companies or freelancing was the local museum. It was the visual arts that were always interesting to me. Uh, interdisciplinarity the I word was, began to be a concept and, and a practice.
When I first came to U of M as a faculty member in the mid eighties. And I was collaborating with architects, with musicians, composers, visual artists, costume designers. That’s how I met John. You could say interdisciplinary is really an in-between this, you know, liminality is in between this you’re working between fields or media, right?
So you’re not really working the anthropologists, isn’t just working in anthropology and the artist isn’t just working. You’re kind of trying to meet somewhere in between. And the painting part of it really was. Sheer physical response to my aging, to the fact that I wanted to find an extension to my practices of mover, which would be a little less labor intensive physically.
And I found that by picking up the paintbrush and emulating my motion, I was dancing. There was no difference in the sensation and in the sentence satisfaction and in the kind of the wiring that was active. Between the eye and the stroke of the brush and the kinesthetic empathy, I was feeling towards my subject. So, yeah, I think that’s the best that I can describe.
Aubrey Martinson: And your work definitely is, um, it captures that moment, that movement and the motion that’s happening in the real world that you’re watching. And, um, it’s, I think it’s lovely. And your work as individual artists hanging in this gallery, I can see Peter’s work on one wall.
I can see John’s work on the other wall is we’re having this interview and it’s so different. Peters is definitely very kinesthetic and all about movement and Johns is about the color, but there’s also some construction elements. So, John, I know that, you know, in these, in these prints, there’s also some layering and some collage that’s happened and you’re also an assemblage artists. So I’m curious about how those two practices play off one another.
John Gutoskey: Right. So, you know, I, I originally started as an assemblage in collage artist. I made a lot of stuff out of found objects. And when I went back to graduate school, I wanted to learn printmaking. I never made a print before, and I learned quite a lot about printmaking, but it wasn’t really jelling for me until I got at a school and a friend showed me how to make a monoprint and it was sort of like, It’s sort of that particular way of working, allowed me to sort of work how high I had worked as an assembler.
And a print meaning that I, you know, it sort of unlocked this key where I could just bring everything I learned and use it all on one print, as opposed to trying to make an addition or, you know, multiple prints of the same thing. It’s it was more like making a painting, but using printmaking, I wasn’t, I was, it was a one, one print.
I wasn’t going to make another one of it. It just somehow freed up the process for me. And I realized, oh, I could work how I worked in assemblage in printmaking. And then from there I just started, it’s sort of opened up for me, the printmaking work. And that’s what I’ve been doing from decade now is mostly printmaking, still a little assemblage, but it’s largely very layered prints.
Peter Sparling: I think that that evolution is demonstrated in the depth of your prints. It is a flat surface, but you can go back into it. It takes you miles back. There was a foreground, there’s a background and everything in between.
John Gutoskey: So I think a lot of that comes out of my theater background really is. I mean, I can see these as almost stage sets that one could inhabit. I do think that that does really did influence how I work visually my background in theater design, set, design, and costume design. I do feel like quite often I’m creating little worlds when I’m making my prints.
Peter Sparling: I mean, we, we both are captivated by the procenium frame by the rectangle. I mean, that is. Our boundary and it also is our safe zone. It also compresses and energizes anything that is within it. I mean, I see the frame of the TV monitor and my final cut pro editing as the same as the canvas is rectangle or the stages rectangle you’re you’re in a sense, choreographing entrances exits forward, back crossing. Encounters, groupings, solos, arias, et cetera. So, yeah…
John Gutoskey: And I think for me, you know, that what the theater lacked in a way was my own singular voice. You know, when you work as a designer in the theater, the director is the one sort of has the voice and your, you know, your, your voice is there, but somebody else is sort of controlling what the show is going to be. And I, for me, the studio was a place where it was just. Right where I could do whatever I wanted, that there was no negotiation between other people. And I think for me, it was just more freeing after having worked so many years in the theater to the bit behind and just fully go into being a visual artist.
I had already always sort of done that on the side, but I just needed to get to a point where that was all I was doing was working in a studio. It was a very different, it’s a very solitary experience, you know, theater is such a community, you know, you’re working with a bunch of other people. And I loved that, but there was just something about being able to have that make that space for myself in my studio.
Aubrey Martinson: That’s fascinating. I feel like when I was, you know, sort of following a path of, of being a studio artist, I found it so stifling to be alone and I like need community. And that’s one thing I realized early on was, um, that it really being a studio artist wasn’t for me, that I felt much more compelled to bring people together. And, and have that kind of community building and bridging be in some ways, that’s my art form and form of expression. But in other ways, it’s just, I need that energy to provide before…
John Gutoskey: we need the social. And that’s how I recharge. Like, because I’m alone all the time and in a way that’s why the pandemic has been hard. Right. I, we were both used to being alone and working alone and working at home all day. That part, wasn’t the hard part. It’s like, I couldn’t go recharge myself by being out in the world, you know, being amongst people. Right. Being in the world where you’re around people you don’t even know. Right. Just, just being in that energy. I need that to recharge myself and I’m I miss it.
Peter Sparling: It’s interesting to talk about one’s social, one’s need for encounter and engagement, communication connection is that I I’ve been experiencing since I retired since I stopped dancing publicly, actually the shift in what, what my audience consists of. I mean, I need to be seen I don’t and that, and it’s a two way thing. It’s just not narcissistic exhibitionist kind of moment. It’s like, I want to know that someone is receiving me and seeing me, and then I moving them and that they are receiving and being moved as well. So, to move from dancing on a stage. To being a performer in front of a camera and then editing that material to then send out to festivals and hopefully have that video on a monitor somewhere or on a screen at a film festival. That was a huge leap for me. Uh, and now seeing my paintings on a wall is yet another big shift. Where I still find it such a novelty to walk into your space here and to see my paintings on the wall. As I had left them, as I had last seen them a week ago, dancers don’t experience that we’re like, it’s such a fleeting moment. You have to recreate it every time. So I get such a kick out of the visual arts and paintings because they’re there to make you do the work as a, as a witness or a viewer, you have to compose and create the time element of it as you experience it and move into the painting.
Aubrey Martinson: And so this is the first time you two have exhibited together in the same space.
Peter Sparling: Yes. Well, outside of like group shows, we’ve done a few things where we’ve had, but not just our work. I mean, I haven’t dared consider myself at John’s level until fairly recently. I mean, I’m a newbie Martha Graham used to say that takes 10 years to make a dancer. Well, I still have a few more years before I can officially be a painter, but then I just had a show a few months ago and I I’ve kind of moved into this new, I call it the motion pictures, project that fuses video projections of improvised movement with my painting. And I felt like I had a body of work that was sufficient. And, but that also had something to do with the idea of liminality, which came from John’s series actually. But I felt, no, I think that these works would compliment Johns and they would, they would be at a similar level of intense. Color-wise scale-wise and would I think create an interesting dialogue.
Aubrey Martinson: Lovely. Well, we certainly appreciate you spending time with us and sharing your work with us. I know I, myself had a amazing night when we had your opening reception. Yeah. Just such lovely energy. And I attribute that in large part to the folks that you have gathered around you in your life in Ann Arbor, it was just a very lovely and uplifting night. And we were really glad to share that with you. I’m curious, what’s next for both of you?
Peter Sparling: What’s next? Well, often what’s next is what is on the easel or in the studio at the moment, because oftentimes I don’t know where it’s going. So what’s next is being in the moment and allowing for that to happen, even though I may not know where it’s going. I’m still working, videotaping motion and finding different applications through the brush stroke. Scale was interesting to me. I’d like to work large. I would love to work with some software developers to figure out a way that, that there could be a technology or software. We could project a video and then very quickly it’s transposed or translated to my brush stroke. Do you guys know anybody who might know how to do that? Cause we know some folks, but no, I heard the right place for them. I have some projects with various local, small Michigan dance companies where I’m back into the studio, making dances or setting work. And Writing doing lecturing writing. Yeah, but again, it’s the mystery of the moment. I don’t know quite where it’s going to go, John.
John Gutoskey: What’s next for me? I have a piece I did called Pulse Nightclub 49 Elegies, which was in response to the mass acre at a LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando Florida a few years ago. And it’s going, it’s been shown in Orlando last year as part of the museum down there. And it’s going to go to a university on site in Newark, New Jersey in February for three months called Kean university. And they. Have a focus on sort of, activism and they have a gallery where they feature sort of works that relate to that subject of activism. So I’m really thrilled that that’s going to be seen again. And I have a solo show coming up in the fall at gallery 22 north in Ypsi that I need to start thinking about. So, that’s, that’s about all I have on my plate.
Aubrey Martinson: Well, it sounds like quite a bit. And we’ve we’ve really enjoyed spending time with you creating the virtual galleries with you. And of course, putting up this exhibit and sharing the space with you. So thank you for sharing your creativity and your time. And thanks for sitting in with me today.
John Gutoskey: Thanks for having us.
Peter Sparling: Thank you.
Aubrey Martinson: CultureVerse is an organization which exists at the intersection of culture and technology. We seek to use 3d technology and immersive digital experiences to bring unseen art and artifacts to the light of day, we serve the creators and keepers of art culture and knowledge. CultureVerse is sponsored by Artrain and is based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, you can learn more about our organization and how to get involved by visiting CultureVerse.org. Our production staff consists of Matt Grossman, Shanley Carlton, and Dave Sharp. I’m Aubrey Martinson.