Armed With Art

Have you ever seen a pile of furniture, tires and old appliances sitting out on the curb, waiting to be picked up? Although conventional wisdom holds, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” you probably didn’t stop the car to paw through the pile, even if there was a “FREE” sign sitting on it. When artist William Flynn saw that pile of junk, he didn’t keep going and he didn’t instantly dismiss it. Instead, he saw a potential drawing subject in that pile, specifically in that antique arm chair. Flynn said, “The chair was being thrown out, and I decided to strip it just to see what it looked like underneath.” This simple curiosity has resulted in a thought-provoking collection of charcoal and crayon drawings now on display in Elson’s Gelb Gallery through April 30. The display, entitled “Armed Chair: From Observation to Metaphor,” was featured in Flynn’s artist reception last Saturday. During the reception, he mingled and discussed his artwork with an enthusiastic crowd of students, faculty, friends and Andover town residents. Salena Casha ’09 said, “There was a great turnout [at the reception]. They came from all over—there were a couple of people from Rhode Island, one from California and people from all over Massachusetts.” Flynn, who works as an art teacher at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, originally drew the chairs as part of a still life. He was still drawing the chairs when the war started, and Flynn explained, “I thought it was an interesting metaphor…I never expected it to evolve this way. I didn’t see it evolving – it was just a drawing. As I continued, it started to take on a power of its own.” “The polished parts, the wood, and the spattered areas were how I saw the administration – the residue of war.” Thus, inspiration was born. Over the course of two years, Flynn produced over 250 drawings. He usually drew once a week with friends for six to seven hours, during which he typically produced three to four drawings. The drawings eventually became a visual commentary on the war in Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. As Flynn spoke to someone at the reception, he pointed to one of his paintings and showed the man the shape of a ghost in the top right-hand corner. He said, “That was right around the time of Abu Ghraib.” Those who attended the reception strongly admired and appreciated Flynn’s artwork. James Krendel-Clark ’07 said, “I didn’t know anything about the metaphor going into it, but it was cool to see how he developed that one idea. I would say that the artwork was very powerful and somewhat dark.” Instructor in Art Therese Zemlin, who has known Mr. Flynn for 12 years, brought this poignant exhibition to the Andover community. Zemlin said, “Mr. Flynn approached me about mounting a show of his chair drawings, and the vision for the show was entirely his.” Flynn first became interested in displaying his work in the gallery while another show was on display. He said, “I saw the space and I thought it would really fit my work.” Zemlin presented his written proposal and a portfolio of the chair drawings to the art faculty. After a unanimous agreement to bring Flynn to Andover, the Art Department prepared the space for Flynn’s exhibition. The drawings hanging in Gelb Gallery are a testimony to Flynn’s creativity and perseverance. Flynn said, “I was constantly trying to keep inventing it. That was the challenge – changing the space. I guess the news also fed how I would invent [new drawings]. For example, when the oil crisis went up, I had the chair getting stuck in oil.” Zemlin said, “I think the exhibition is phenomenal. This show illustrates the discipline required to see an idea through to its end. I am most impressed with the shift of the focus of Mr. Flynn’s drawing over time. Initially, his focus was the chair, and gradually, the focus shifted from the chair to the process of drawing the chair, and the expressive potential of making marks on paper.” Although he has been working on this project for over two years, Flynn isn’t finished quite yet. There is a book of the drawings in the works. Flynn said, “I had a lot to say about the drawings and the book actually has a lot about what I think about drawing and these drawings in particular.” Despite the book and over 250 drawings, Flynn is still working on other aspects of the project. He said, “I think what I’m most excited about is that the drawings are up the way I did them. The creativity is kind of about sticking with an idea and watching it evolve. And I’m going to continue on the trail.”