At his artist’s talk on First Friday for the opening of his show, “Thin Ice,” at Bunnell Street Arts Center, Don Decker said putting a show together can be a problem because it often isn’t unified.
“It seems kind of scattered and scatterbrained, but I just can’t worry about it, because that’s — I can’t help myself. This is what I do,” he said.
Self-deprecating and an artist who’s been at it long enough to get the Rasmuson Foundation’s Distinguished Artist Fellowship, Decker said, “I’m at a position of my life where I don’t have to care.”
But despite his misgivings, “Thin Ice” has a solid unity. He hinted at that in his talk when he said he loves the expanse of Alaska, “but I also like the ground beneath my feet.” A spread of paintings on the gallery’s main wall shows that, like a pair of paintings, “Beach Walk: Winter” and “Beach Walk: Summer.” An assemblage of found objects on painted and carved wood, the works evoke what you’d see walking on a beach in the two seasons.
Several more paintings on large plywood discs with holes cut out, the Arctic Circle paintings, show the broad sky of Alaska at the high latitudes, unhindered by tall trees or mountains. The blue and white of the sky and the blue and white of the sea echo each other in colors, textures and feeling.
The title of his show comes from how Decker said he approaches his art.
“Each empty canvas or page is a new beginning,” he writes in his artist statement. “Inherent in the process is the danger of mis-step or failure. It’s like walking on thin ice.”
Tongue slightly in cheek, in his talk Decker said, “Artist’s statements are notoriously ridiculous. … I don’t know that anybody takes much effort to read them, but it will help you understand where I’m coming from with this a little bit.”
In a departure from the usual artist’s talk, Decker read several poems he’d written. One poem, “Undercover,” discusses a romantic association he has with certain places he’s walked over the decades with his dogs. “Fissures in old snows, sped by songs of spring / surrender their garden bones and stones to kinder days,” goes one line.
Another poem writes of those dogs, three of them, one young and one old and one middle aged. “The four of us experience the spring and the seasons of our lives as melting snows of spring pass to wind and sun,” he said.
His last poem of the night circled back to artistic ponderings. Decker said he came from a background where you’re not supposed to brag about yourself, but then he discovered this didn’t make sense as an artist.
“I can play. I can dance. I can draw,” he said. “… It’s like, ‘hey, what do you think?’ And so you put yourself out there for better or for worse.”
“I am an artist,” he said in his poem. “… I stay inside the lines to think outside the box, march to the syncopated rhythm of an offbeat mind, march to the syncopated rhythm of an offbeat mind.”
“I aim to please an audience of one,” he continued, “stand bare against a canvas of mocking white banality, craving to create and needing to care. I am an artist. My voice echoes through my isolation.”
For the full artist talk and a 360-view of Decker’s show, visit https://www.bunnellarts.org. “Thin Ice” is on view through the end of the month. Regular hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.