Tour de Force:
Photographer's artful images whisk viewers away to the iconic beauty of Venice
Officially speaking, Columbia's sister cities are located in Kutaisi, Republic of Georgia; Suncheon City, South Korea; Hakusan City, Japan; Sibiu, Romania; and Qingdao, China. Were one to judge solely on this summer's artistic offerings, however, he or she might believe Columbia has entered into a familial relationship with several of Italy's most historic cities.
Woody Allen's latest wistful travelogue, "To Rome with Love," recently wrapped a residency at Ragtag Cinema. And, starting tomorrow, the MSA/GPC Craft Studio Gallery, located at the University of Missouri, plays host to a collection of gorgeous images from that grand city of canals, Venice. The scenes were first conceived and composed in the mind's eye of Mike Seat, a local artist whose work has been visible at the Columbia Art League, among a number of venues. These are no mere vacation photos but instead function as a testament to the city's glory while also capturing the quiet gravity and simplicity that upholds it.
Art has been a Seat family value for generations. Growing up in suburban St. Louis, Seat watched intently as his father, who was in advertising, engaged creativity both for professional pursuits and personal pleasure. His father drew and painted, applied his hand to creating very detailed lettering on model train cars and, in an age before digital devices, completed graphic design projects by hand as well.
But witnessing his father's efforts in the darkroom was most magical and memorable. Seat recalled the delight and awe with which he watched his father execute each step in the process of creating a photograph, a wonder that culminated with the image revealing itself, as if by magic. "That just held so much fascination for me, to see that image appear on paper," he said. "I guess it was profound for me, really."
Seat spent the majority of his career in darkrooms of a different sort, analyzing radar screens as an air traffic controller. From time to time, he found ways to blend his passion for photography and his working environs, preserving the majesty of the more unique planes that landed at Dulles International Airport in the nation's capital.
Despite pouring his energy into other matters, Seat and his wife, Sarah, who studied art education in college, continued to place a premium on creativity in their home, leaving the chain from Seat's father to his own son unbroken. Eric Seat, also a Columbia resident, is a highly skilled artist and illustrator, whose work has been exhibited in a number of contexts and was selected to grace the city of Columbia's commemorative poster in 2010. Mike Seat said any artistic emphasis the couple bequeathed was subconscious and simply natural, but the results are difficult to dispute. "We always encouraged him," Seat said. "I think he perceived that we respected art a lot and we placed a value on it."
Mike Seat and Eric Seat enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate in 2010 when CAL held an exhibit titled "Relative Values," bringing together culture-makers from the same family. The Seats created something of a mini-series or multifaceted work, juxtaposing Eric's painting and Mike's burgeoning work in another medium, pottery. In speaking about their work with the Tribune, Eric Seat traced the tangible partnership back to the intangible ways in which his family's creative energy had worked itself out in his acts and art-making.
"Even though my father and I are working in very different mediums, I think our submissions show that the Seats have an urge to create through visual art," he said. "… The piece we did in conjunction for the 'Relative Values' show, 'Seat Plate,' is the first work of art that we've done in this fashion, and I think it exemplifies the quirky and humorous spirit of our family name. The piece also shows how our mediums can work together in an unusual way.
"My parents have been the absolute greatest at nurturing my artistic abilities over the years," he added. "They have always encouraged me to pursue my illustration and painting endeavors, and I am very grateful to them for that."
A Creative Community
The Seats quickly made themselves at home in Columbia, moving here in 2008 when Mike Seat retired. Knowing that the community was a creative one largely informed their decision, and Seat has certainly availed himself of avenues to grow artfully where he is now planted. He is no stranger to venues such as Access Arts, the Craft Studio and, of course, CAL, where he has exhibited and volunteers weekly.
"He's passionate in his enthusiasm for what the gallery does on a week-by-week basis and also for what CAL represents to the community," CAL Executive Director Diana Moxon said in an email. "He is an eternally cheerful and engaged member of the CAL family and a great sounding board for me if I need some advice."
Indeed, Seat's eyes lit up as he described interacting with other artists, saying he feels "part of something, part of a creative movement." As he revolves through various artistic groups, the creative energy he's exposed to has helped his own work evolve. This can be seen not only in the development of his photography but as he ventures into mediums such as pottery, which he had not tried before moving to town.
"It was so exciting to see him start his journey with clay, and I was amazed at how fast he developed his own voice and an impressive level of workmanship," Moxon said.
Moxon amplified her appreciation for Seat and his family, mentioning the ways they've contributed not only to the cultural community but the city at large by advocating for better public transport and more sustainable policy-making. "The day the Seats chose to move to Columbia was really our lucky day," she said.
Water and Light
Seat's forthcoming exhibit captures a journey he and Sarah Seat took this spring, in observance of their 33rd anniversary and both of them turning 60.
"It's just a magical place," Seat said of Venice, before joking, "You can't take a bad photo in Venice. … the hardest part, of course, is there's a tourist in every shot."
What makes the Italian city among the planet's most photogenic is a singular "combination of romance and history and art and architecture," he said. Two of the city's predominant features — water and light — act as main characters in Seat's work, moving through the canon of images like actors in a play, changing countenance and affecting the demeanor of everything and everyone around them in singular ways depending on the scene and setup. "The water in Venice looks different in almost every image," he said. "The light can have such an amazing effect, changing the colors and reflections."
Seat's work certainly captures the exotic allure of Venice: stately bridges, winding waterways, striking colors and ebullient street performers show up, adding to and reflecting the city's inherent charisma and romanticism, much in the same ways water and light interact. Seat also labored to find moments of stillness and sleepiness, times when the city was in a state of repose rather than revelry. Among his favorite images are that captured on the water which flowed through smaller, more out-of-the-way canals.
"Those are scenes you can't get to unless you're on a boat," he said. "… You felt like you were seeing the real intimate side of the city. And, also, you felt more like it was yours because you didn't have so many people around."
While the amplified dynamics that sound through Venice receive most of the attention, Seat also found ways to portray the quietude, drawing out something of the city's normalcy, reminding viewers that real people live and work in Venice — it is not just a historic playground for tourists and art lovers. Among the scenes that add variety to Seat's collection, and remind us of the variety of life, is that of a solitary woman sitting at a vaporetto stop, waiting for a public transport to carry her across the water home. A full day's labor is written across her face, the scene like simple but profound poetry.
Sharing the Experience
Naturally, Seat said one of the greatest joys of the journey was sharing it with his wife. In his exhibit, they bend that common experience outward to the viewer. Initially, he was reluctant even to post his images on Facebook, not wanting to flaunt the excursion. But, after doing so, and receiving a warm outpouring of delight and encouragement, he pressed the matter further, pursuing an exhibit of his own.
Ultimately, he hopes viewers encounter the meaning in a term he has heard used to describe Venice: "elegant decay." Even amid the city's brilliant, enduring history, a tragic and temporal feeling exists as concerns abound as to whether the water that has so beautifully weathered the city could be its eventual undoing. A 2008 CNN article detailed worries about flooding, reporting that UNESCO had warned local officials that rising sea levels could lead to perpetual flooding and dramatic changes in water stages within the next century.
"You get the feeling it is this very fragile, beautiful thing that may not be there forever," Seat said.
In Seat's work, all the art and awe he enjoyed with his eyes are transmitted to the viewer. Whether Venice can remain a siren city, calling travelers to its waterways, the documents he and others provide ensure its spirit and soul remain a part of our common consciousness.
by Aarik Danielsen, Columbia Daily Tribune, July 29, 2012
reposted with permission. Original article.