Flathead Artists Experiment With Collaborative Art

By Beacon Staff

Four female artists in the Flathead have lost control. The result: 200 to 300 pieces of art and one interesting social experiment.

“Most artists think what they do is a sacred thing and that’s it and that’s what it’s supposed to be,” Deb Stika, a Whitefish artist, said. “With this you don’t have that control.”

Stika, a pen and ink and mosaic artist, formed the group called “The 5-Headed Artist,” which will began its first showing at The Loft Oct. 4 as part of Whitefish’s final First Thursday gallery walk of the season. The show will run through Oct. 30.

Stika’s plan for the collaborative project when it began seven years ago was simple: A group of artists would take five sketchbooks, draw or paint whatever they wanted in them and then trade books with the other artists who would continue whatever work was in progress or begin another piece. Her rules were even simpler. No tearing pages out. No erasing. Respect deadlines. And the artist must do something when the book was in her possession; it could be just a line, but they had to add something.

Over the seven years, there were lulls in the work and artists who came and went, but four artists were consistently present through the project: Stika, potter Sally Askevold, and painters Mikie DiMuro and Linda Katsuda.

While the women said they realized immediately that they would have to give up artistic control, they were surprised to see the project turn into “a subtle experiment of human nature,” where they learned their own limitations and levels of trust.

The results were prolific, both in the styles of art attempted and the amount of work completed.

“It allowed us to go places we might not have gone otherwise; you’re not attached to the piece like you would be if it were your own,” said Askevold. “The creativity, it’s a bit like being a kid.”

Stika and Askevold said the amount of work completed would’ve been impossible individually, when they feel the pressure to finish a complete work for a show or feel the need to have a vision of the work from beginning to end. With the sketchbooks, spontaneity ruled – the artists used everything from “magic markers, pen and ink, and paints to stick pins and magazine cutouts.” And there were no worries of “screwing up” what someone else started: “You know the next artist will come along and save your butt,” Stika said.

To turn the sketchbooks into gallery material, the women cut out pieces of different pages, glued them to painted wooden blocks and arranged them to make about 40 three-dimensional collages. The show will also include demonstrations of how the women’s work evolved: “There are seven images where, thankfully, we had the presence of mind to make color copies before each artist passed it on to the next, so you’re able to see how they changed with each step,” Stika said.

Work with the sketchbooks is done, but the women are planning another collaborative project, and said each artist has probably taken some of the creativity gleaned from one another into their own individual works. Stika plans on writing a workbook detailing the project.

“I think it’s something valuable to pass along, and to encourage other artists to try something like this where there’s no ego, no ownership,” she said.

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