The Doors at Orr Street Studios
Created by the artist Chris Teeter, the presence of our doors have provided us with a special charm, and over the years, have continued to attract people to Orr Street Studios. With their variety, and sheer inventiveness, they stand as portals to the creativity at work within each studio.
The Orr Street Doors
(Commentary by the artist, Chris Teeter)
People often ask me to talk about the doors and what they mean, so here are a few comments and thoughts about the project as well as my thinking on each door.
I was brought in on commission to create the studio doors before the whole project had begun. Each artist studio would have a large 6 x 9 foot door that would slide to the inside of the wall, giving the space an open feeling. Initially, there were plans for 16 studios fronted by my 16 doors. Five smaller studios were to be added later.
I started work at the same time that the building construction began, working from floor plans only. [For a clearer picture of what was going on with the construction of the building, see the History page.]
I set up shop in the warehouse down the street, and cut and welded the frames in preparation. Construction was going on all around me, and, since cost was a factor, I decided to use what I could from the demolition of the original buildings.
I had no clear plan what any of the doors would ultimately look like. Fortunately, Mark Timberlake, the owner and builder, had given me free rein in their design, based on general preparatory maquettes and models that I had shown him when he first approached me about the project. Previous to that, he had seen an exhibit of my welded steel sculptures and thought I would be a good fit for the project.
I decided to begin, logically enough, by focusing on the idea of doors and the nature of their connection with the space they hide, represent, and reveal. Beginning in the southeast hall, I would have four actual doors in a row facing four other doors across the hall, but opposite in concept.
So, with doors in mind, the first door turned out to be a wall without a door, but a window instead. I liked the idea that doors front the hidden spaces behind them, and that what is hidden can be more interesting than what is revealed. Windows, unlike doors, let insubstantial things like light and air come and go. Doors, on the other hand, divide and protect inside from outside. This window is placed too high to see into, and the face in it looks out like an eye, next to a curtain of tangled branches. This barrier door used the rusted siding of the old warehouse along with the remnants of a fence. It is/was a good beginning for all the ideas to come. A wall, the implied unseen space behind it, a face looking out on the world next to a mystery.
The Trouble with Art
This door of a door, and a window, and a door touches on one of the basic premises of art. Three dimensional frames are an essential part of the presentation of two dimensional pictures. After welding these door frames and seeing them all leaning against the wall as what they were to become, namely frames for artwork, I was very aware of reversing the process. Usually the frame comes last; the picture is first. Over the years I have drawn, painted and sculpted. So, I liked the idea of making a very large frame that would hold a sculpture of a door that serves as a frame for a picture representing its own frame’s frame.
Also, in a personal way, I knew the backstory of all the materials I was using. In this case, this actual door was the door of a very disheveled and forgotten office. Offices hold people at work and, if there is one thing that marks successful artists, it is their capacity for hard work. This whole project was a lot of work for me so I especially liked the notion that behind this door frame of art there would someday be an artist hard at work.
This mysterious door was made from a stack of car siding that I found in the warehouse next door. I spent some time in Greece and the Mediterranean when I was young and I loved the white stucco and brightly colored doors and windows there. So, from the beginning, it was in the back of my mind to have a door from that part of the world.
I liked the suggestion of inner things that the other doors were conveying. Here, the galvanized metal is gone, and the stucco is whitewashed, the door is old but very strong, with many coats of paint on it worn through by constant traffic. There is no knob, but rusty pull rings and a chain instead. The ‘window’ here is reduced to a grated peep hole that those that live in this dwelling can use to see who is at their door. Very private, secret, and probably quiet in there.
As you may have come to realize these first four doors are also descriptive of artists and the lives they lead. Artists are usually private individuals who work in seclusion. They are watchful and observant of the world they live in, and relish its wealth, but quite often live simply with rich inner lives.
An Imagined World
Rough stucco, a narrow knob-less door, rusty metal, dirty dark windows, cobbled together shutters barred from the outside, and a worn sill. Some details in the window: tubes of paint, an antler, flowers, and a book titled An Imagined World. Descriptors for a reclusive inhabitant, unconcerned with status, focused on essentials like color, beauty, oddities, and imagination. A frugal person with a rich inner life, living in a world apart.
Because of the configuration of the studios in this part of the building, it seemed natural to have two opposing sets of four doors facing each other across the common hall. I didn’t want to be confined to making all of the doors facades as in the first four completed doors. I needed to come up with some ideas that would unite the next four doors and be the opposite in concept and appearance from the first four.
I began the search for ideas, as artists do, with pencil on paper. I liked the thumbnail sketches I was doing, and while puzzling out construction problems it occurred to me that it might be interesting to make nine foot sculptures of the drawings themselves while preserving the black and white format of pencil and paper.
These four doors, conceived of as a set, read left to right as you face them. The doors across the hall opposite them are all closed and suggestive of hidden interiors. These doors invite you inside to explore an imagined space of ideas, symbols, and shapes.
From Out to In
A knob attached to an inner swinging door invites you away from a real world landscape of trees and a small red sun. Perspective lines hint at the illusion of depth, while horizontal lines maintain, in this case, two dimensional flatness. The space inside seems to be blackness, the door shapes are bound to the right margin like pages in a book.
After leaving the physical world via the previous open door, one enters into the imaginative space beyond, where the artist creates. A multi-armed figure, with a lock set for a head, stands among brushes over the creative process itself. The grate below glows red hot, while above, shapes take form and blow around a cursive letter “i,” his eye, his self, his intentions. The knob above is an invitation for the hand to turn and act.
The large stacked shapes on the right have ideas of their own and have arranged themselves according to an unseen rationale beyond his control. Against the best intentions of the creator, the lines are wiggly and loose, the upper and lower shapes have found nooks to rest in, while the middle shape hovers, hesitating to touch the nearby edge.
Where Ideas Come From
All artists at some point in their careers have been asked the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” The answers are as numerous as artists. But, the truth is clear and simple: ideas come from involvement, participation, and collaboration with the creative process. That is, from careful listening to the inner voice, from constant experimentation, and from good old-fashioned hard work.
I have envisioned it here, where the artist lives in a small inconsequential house warmed by ideas, perched atop a massive shape moving through blackness. Smaller shapes rest inside, poised to begin their own lives. The five lines of the music staff pass through it, noteless and serenely quiet.
It has been said that Art has the power to raise you above the level of the physical world but not deliver you from it. This fourth door concludes the journey from outside to inside the world of the imagination, delivering you far above street level. Through a door’s key hole you see, far below you, the buildings and streets of Columbia. In the center right is Orr Street Studios.
Point of view is important in art. It asks, What is the nature of the work? Where is the artist? Where is Art? Where are you? Your perspective, above it all, is key.
The Main Building
The second eight doors form a series and are all made from welded steel utilizing scraps, pieces of junk and parts from machines. They start at the corner of the ell of the building and move in a long line, going towards the west from right to left. Except for the first one here, the backgrounds of the doors are visible and alternate roughly between a predominant red on black and a predominant black on red. Steel is heavy and, since there was a practical limit on overall weight, it seemed natural to put the metal constructions against a flat field of color and keep the steel to a minimum. I also felt it was important to not utilize too much variety in color since most of the work that was to be displayed would be paintings that dealt with color in some way.
In addition to weight, two other challenges were ever present. Cost dictated the use of found, recycled and up-cycled raw materials, but also presented a creative opportunity that would come to characterize the feel of the entire project. The other challenge, from a sculptor’s point of view, was the limit of depth. The door frames are three inches deep and slide to the inside of the wall, so everything I created had to be less than three inches in depth.
I decided that these last eight doors would be based on new ideas to differentiate them from the previous eight.
Meeting of the Minds
At the beginning, the studio at the corner of the ell in the building was intended to be a meeting room where a variety of activities could take place. (It has since been converted into an art studio). We’ve all been to meetings and know how frustrating, tiresome, and just plain annoying they can be. The salient point, though, always seems to be that people with very diverse points of view come together and try to make themselves understood in relation to a common goal. This door utilizes a nine pane window frame, eight outside panes are all connected to each other via the central pane, a communications circuit board partially obscured by a translucent piece of plexiglass. The eight small compositions vary wildly, as people do, each uniquely themselves, but coming together as if at a table talking.
Signs are rectangles that convey information visually. Graphic designers try to make them look good so they catch your eye. On a basic level, this is similar to the artist’s job. Much of the time art struggles with the rectangle as a given. What if art sprouted up all over the world as signs? What if every street had a little free library on a post? What if a composer’s music was specific to a location? What if drawers contained works of art? What if art escaped galleries and museums and was everywhere and anywhere?
This rectangle—a window?—containing landscape elements rises above a black fence. A tree offers support. Behind another fence, a sun and moon in a silver sky turn to gold but only inside the border of this rectangular world. A wavy breeze connects rectangle to rectangle to wall.
The Royal Couple
This door is the only door with clearly figurative subjects. I wanted one door in the main area to have figures in it, as if they were presiding over events. The inspirations for them were Max Ernst’s large sculpture Capricorn at the National Gallery in Washington D.C., and any number of Egyptian sculptures of pharaohs and priests. Spatial considerations made the Egyptian use of profile relevant too.
A stage holds the figures, with the stodgy king on the left sitting on the throne, legs crossed, holding a small bedraggled flower. He sports a whisk broom beard, a phallic oil can (close to his mind), machine-like inner workings, with a tangle of wire near the core of his being—a pressure gauge. The queen seems to be beseeching him to act, her tiny hands reaching imploringly towards the flower he holds. She has a rake for a face, and wire that has been neatly woven into a nest near the core of her being, her womb. She has a thermostat for a mind.
The Wealth of the Landscape
Finding small things that will work in a three inch space is easier than finding large things that have less than a three inch profile. I had a lot of small interesting pieces I had been saving and, as they came together, they suggested some landscape forms. This landscape stands in tribute to landscapes and their enthusiastic artists.
The lower portion of forms, the structures on the horizon, are held up by a pedestal that stands on the ground. Movement is horizontal from left to right, ending with the tree occupying its own little niche. The curvilinear shapes above are the wind, clouds and the sun moving left to right. The rusty vertical bands hang like drapery on the pedestal but stand like buildings on the sky shapes. The gold forms stand as complements to rust, their opposite.
The Easel Painting
When one thinks of art, the first thing that usually enters your mind is the notion of a painting. Paintings are rectangles with paint on one side, and most of them started their lives on an easel. I began my artistic career painting and one of the things I really enjoyed was the French easel I used for plein air painting. It breaks down to a box with a handle but unfolds to become an easel with three legs, a palette, and a drawer for paint and brushes. I can assure you that every artist has some love for the tools of their trade and delights in their use. This is heightened by confronting the full glory of Mother Nature and attempting to capture something of her essence on canvas.
In this tribute to plein air painters, the easel on the left has legs and walks the world. It holds out the mechanism of art trying to capture light from the sun that swings from the heavens, nurturing artist and world alike. It has managed to capture the wind (space) and has secured it by a chain, all this beneath the watchful gaze of the moon, the inspiration for countless works of art.
Inspiration and the Music of the Spheres
A final nod to the idea of the door. Only the frame remains, tilted at an angle and cut off by the floor. The knob invites a hand to connect to the dynamics at play. The five parallel lines just to the left of it are the lines of the music staff, with odd shapes notating intangible sounds and ideas.
The spheres originating from the upper left descend into the frame of the door where the mind of the artist, glowing red, sits listening, at rest on the only horizontal. Now you really know where artists get their ideas from.
The Creative Process
If the making of art involves such intangibles as inspiration, it also must be kept in mind that it is a very practical process as well. A useful analogy is that of cooking. You have a kitchen and various implements, to which you bring ingredients, and then, based on your knowledge and experience, you combine all the flavors together into a final dish that is served to appreciative diners for their enjoyment and sustenance.
So it is with this stove where ideas spring into mind and slowly make their way down to the stove, where they are given form and offered transformation to the ether, in spite of criticism in the form of large and dangerous shears, ready to tear them to pieces.
There’s something rather glorious about art, about creating. Even if people, for the most part, see art as valuable entertainment, civilization values it almost above all else. When history sums up what is best about cultures that have come and gone, the first thing they bring out for examination is the artwork of the time. How powerfully does it speak for us all? What does it have to say about who we are? What are its ideals?
In Classical and Gothic architecture, niches are usually flanked by columns and have hemispherical vaults; they are set aside for statues glorifying those worthy of praise. (Think of any number of Madonnas presented in the niche format.) In this niche stands a multi-planed and energetic figure, striding over mountains, holding a beautiful, round, heavenly body of some kind. It has either descended within grasp by grace, or it is ascending upward as an offering.
Creating the Doors
Early August 2006 to early January 2007)
(photos courtesy of Chris Teeter. Click to enlarge)