1982, 2015. Found objects covered in sewn glass beads 14 × 23 × 4 1/2 in

1982 is so named because it evokes a time when a dual cassette, oversized boombox and the music it played seldom left my side.  As much appendage as appliance, I brought it to work, on road trips and to the beach.  I played it at home and shared it with the company I kept.  This object, now rendered silent by layers of tiny glass beads and thread, is about a time of innocence, a time of celebration.  It is also about the coming turbulence that would come to define that decade for me, and for so many of my friends

Purchased with my first credit card, a boombox, and the music it played, provided an introduction to the mysterious realm of the adult.  Like me, it came with a collection of knobs and buttons I didn’t quite know how to operate but that seemed compelling, nonetheless.  At twenty-two years old, I had very little experience with love, loss, heartbreak or sex, The music I listened to allowed me to conjure my life to come and to feel vicariously what I had yet to experience for myself.

I didn’t know it then, but I clearly see it now. The music we listen to is instinctual and tribal. It draws people to us and keeps others at bay. The thumping drone of disco or the smoky voices of people who had experienced life in ways that I had not, helped me to find my familiars and prepared me as best it could for what was to come.

As I set out to try everything and unwrap every gift of my youth, I imagined a future full of possibility. It was exhilarating, but just as I experienced so many firsts; many friends, too many to count, would soon discover that their futures were to be cut short by a terrifying new virus.  I can no longer hear the music I listened to then, without thinking of all those I once sweated the dance floor with.  The 1980’s for me are the embodiment of bittersweet.  This object evokes the echo of music that decorated my path in a time before grief and is in remembrance of so many members of my tribe who sang along.

June 11 – July 25, 2021

Scout’s Box

The opening scene of the 1962 film version of Harper Lee’s, To Kill a Mockingbird begins with a view of Scout’s box.  It is an ordinary cigar box, but as we see her hands tentatively approach it and lift the lid while quietly humming to herself, we understand that this box holds something of importance. We have been allowed to see something private and meaningful; we are sharing an intimate moment with this young girl.  As this collection is revealed, our minds make associations.  The pocket watch, the marbles, the piece of string and length of ball chain, they are all clues, but we do not yet know to what.  In the absence of this knowledge, we superimpose our own experiences with these objects.  By doing so, we find commonality with this fictional person.

Artist David Chatt lives in a small one-bedroom apartment that someone recently compared to an adult version of Scout’s Box.  This is a comparison he very much enjoyed.  As long as David has been able to form thoughts and clasp objects, he has collected things. Even with limited real estate he owns an unreasonable amount of furniture with small drawers.  In each and every drawer you will find collections big and small of things that spark something in him.

This exhibition moves the objects from the drawers and into the gallery and like Scout’s reverently presented collection it begins to tell a story, in part, of the person who did the accumulating. Chatt however, has chosen to move them closer to anonymity, muting his own recollections and reflections with the hopes of telling a universal story. Monochromatic beads halt the movement of the pocket watch, the cassette player will no longer open, the kitchen mixer doesn’t mix. The objects have been covered by meticulous beaded needlework over the course of hours, days, and years. Shiny red beads mummify plastic army men that David played with as a child; a glass bottle, beaded shut, still hold some of the sand he collected at the beach. The result is an immediate sense of familiarity coupled with confusion: I understand what this is but is it still this thing? We admire the brilliant handwork that tames and exalts the object but there is a bittersweet tang as we retrieve our own stories of these common objects.

And they are common enough. An egg, a whistle. A now frozen-in-time boombox that in the artist’s words, “once provided an introduction to the mysterious realm of the adult.  Like me, it came with a collection of knobs and buttons I didn’t quite know how to operate but that seemed compelling, nonetheless.” It’s Complicated, a neckpiece made of beaded hearts also includes small, folded pieces of paper, the words illegible, the kind that could have easily been found in Scout’s box. Are they notes passed in class? Letters from a sweetheart? The fraught prose of a child on the precipice of adulthood? David Chatt taps into our own stories with this body of work, asking us to connect with his collection and make it our own.

” I am a big gay white guy, a self-taught artist, and unlikely champion of a medium known more for kitchen table craft than fine art.  As a young artist someone told me that beadwork could not be art. I did not agree and resolved to make work that could open minds. In doing so, I have accumulated a box of experiments.  This box leaves a sprinkling of beads when moved and can make me squirm. In it is evidence of an early attraction to sparkly foil lined beads in colors I now find garish, and flowers, from an aesthetic long since abandoned. It is a collection of innovations and a feast of color. It holds the clues to all that I have discovered as I reach for the edges of my potential and that of this medium.  This ever-growing collection has accompanied me all over the world.  It is unpacked when I teach.  It was included when I lectured at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Bellevue Arts Museum exhibited it in a retrospective of my career.  This accumulation of starts and stops has threads, not ended properly, that get tangled with other threads. It is a souvenir from every moment I could muster, a forty-year obsession to discover something new in a medium as old as humankind. In this box I see my mind, my hands and my heart.”

David Chatt is a pioneer, inventor, and a maker of curiosities. A self-taught artist, Chatt is considered a master of his material. A former Penland Resident Artist, Chatt’s work is in the collections of the Corning Museum of Glass, New York’s Museum of Art and Design, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Tacoma Arts Museum, and the Racine Art Museum among others. Works from this exhibition were recently part of A New State of Matter at Grand Rapids Art Museum. In 2020 Chatt received the highest award in the Ireland’s International Glass Biennale and in the fall Chatt’s Love, Dad was acquired by the Smithsonian Museum of American Art’s Renwick Gallery. David Chatt lives and works in a one-bedroom apartment in Seattle, Washington with lots of drawers.

If She Knew You Were Coming, 2014 – 2016. Found objects covered in sewn glass beads, wood table. 23 x 40 x 57 inches

My mother loved to gather good people around a table.  I am the fifth of six children so one could make the case that she already had plenty enough to feed, but we were forever adding leaves to our old walnut table to accommodate a few more chairs and place settings.

Her kitchen was her studio.  She read recipe books like novels and never tossed the food section of a newspaper without first clipping a few recipes she looked forward to trying. Her guests were as varied as her cuisine.  There were small town folk and big city people, artists, teachers, hippies and John Birchers. Atheist, Mormons, conservatives and liberals dined at our table; homosexuals and missionaries, world travelers, people of color, and there were even a few people with little or no color that snuck in now and again.

Interesting conversations peppered with laughter lingered long after dishes were cleared, and kids were not encouraged to hurry away. These people and the stories they told were a window to the world for my siblings and me.  Through them I began to imagine a life of travel and adventure.  Through them I saw a creative life that did not follow a usual path.