No one ever said saving the world would be easy…but local artist and recent Lamar Dodd graduate, Gunnar Tarsa, makes it look pretty easy. Artists and their big dreams gravitate naturally to Athens like swallows to Capistrano. Our fair city nurtures big dreams, cultivates talent, and provides a helpful cocoon for artists to soak up the necessary nutrients to transform themselves from plodding everyday caterpillars with plans but no wings into captivating, colorful butterflies, ready to spread their multi-hued wings and deposit bundles of joy to the world. That’s what our town does. It nurtures.
Though he came to town with his sketchbook, his brushes and his big dreams slung over his shoulder like a wandering hobo, Tarsa is a near-perfect example of how Athens can transform an artist and crystallize his plans.
After four years in this incubator, Gunnar’s plans to revitalize small Southern towns with public murals, his experimental cross-pollinating multi-art form musical/visual art fests, and his dreams of expanding cultural access to art have been cocooned and transformed. He’s is a big proponent of the idea that art should not be limited to large, urban areas, nor housed in havens of exclusivity as they are in the traditional art gallery set-up. He’s ready to fly. – Bowen Craig
“I want to put art all over Athens,” Tarsa says. “In parks, on roofs, cars, alleyways. Everywhere that could use a little happiness. I’m gonna color the whole damn world when I’m finished.”
ON HOW HE GOT HIS NAME
The story isn’t as great as the name. There was some singer named Ricky Nelson who had a kid while my parents were together. He named his son Gunnar. They liked it and here I am. I’m quite fond of my middle name, Leon…“The Lion-hearted.” If I were a girl I would have been named Savannah after some famous porn star who was murdered.
COLUMN Project – final graduation project from Lamar Dodd School of Art.
Interacting with 3-D(dimensional art) absolutely transcends the experience. It allows for greater impact on those individuals. It forces you to confront it. In other cases it invites you in. It allows for the artist to be the curator of the viewer’s experience to an extent. I love the interaction with the art. Vision is one way to interact with art, but I prefer the more intimate ways. You could impact a person in any way you please. Most people who came up to it interacted with it and came away saying they had a clearer picture of what I am all about, my worldview. It accurately reflects my fascination with the polarity and juxtaposition of the ancient and modern. Don’t worry, I’ll use my powers for good.
I grew up in New Jersey, not too far from the Newark airport. With New York and urban life right around the corner there was always art to stimulate the senses. Graffiti, posters, decaying architecture, public sculptures, textiles, you name it. In my eyes, there are two witnesses for art to work. There is me. Then there is you. The thing is, there are a whole lot more “yous” than there are “mes.” Art is a shared experience, and without you there would be no me. It is of the utmost importance to be able to place an art experience for all to see.
I would love to see my art played on, vandalized, sat on, stared at, experienced in any way that allows for an improvement to someone’s experience of life.
PUBLIC ART IN SMALL TOWNS
Small rural towns are ripe and unpainted. They are cultural goldmines that deserve a lot more attention. Art designed for each town and its history is the plan. This is a big project that works into the realms of human geography and history.
In the case of the mural work we did in Rutledge, GA, those fine folks get to see positive imagery celebrating the veterans. It’s a huge opportunity to teach people and bridge together different aspects of American culture.
CHANGING THE WORLD
Oh boy. Where do I start? I’d like to think there are active communities and members working on our planet who are experiencing a small scale utopia where their communal goods are shared, and they all sing and dance and rejoice in how awesome they are.
We need a global reconfiguration. Money is at the center of most operating systems, especially in our country. Morals have to be the backbone. Life has to be the motive. It’s about time we stop looking at the world like some short-term economic goal, without considering the long-term effects. If the American government truly cared about the survival of its “empire” then we would have been focused on the health of people and the planet. It’s high time we educate people to think freely and debate ideas in a more intellectual manner.
Free speech. Net neutrality. Universal free health care. Higher education as a right. Remove the idea of race. Everyone is born human, the rest is up to you as an individual. Don’t fight broken systems with dogmatism. End the war on drugs. Get big business back in check. Reorganize our “democratic” system with the removal of gerrymandering and recovering the importance of the individual vote. The list goes on…
ON TECHNOLOGY, HIS OWN CHILDHOOD, AND CREATIVITY
The Internet and technology have been a large part of my upbringing. I don’t spend much time on social media, but I do find myself lost in some time loops, watching fantastic memes or reading bullshit for an hour. I grew up playing a lot of video games. Being an only child, I was constantly in battle with boredom. Boredom is the best tool for creativity.
I spent most of my days alone in my room with my toys. The Internet wasn’t really a part of my life until I was older. Its primary purpose as I moved through the school systems was to play games online with my friends. This allowed me to no longer be alone at any given moment. I had my family of friends just a click away.
Out there (in high school) people surrendered to social roles and expectations and formed clicks. I much preferred escaping reality and living through the many characters I played on games, or philosophizing and hypothesizing random shenanigans with my buddies.
We live in an age where all of time exists in some shape or form just a few clicks away. We are finally a part of a collective human archive. Truly one of the most important feats of our existence. The Kings and Queens of a History of Nothingness. It’s a magical and pressure-filled environment to grow up in. Sort of feels like we live in a time outside of history. As if it were happening all at once. I’d have to say there is no time like now, but I’d want to go back to every major time period. I would love to kick it with the Mayans, or way back in the caves of France. A simpler time where I could have been the elder who made cave paintings. Oh, and to dance under that ancient clear sky.
ON HIS SKETCH BOOK AND HIS DREAM PROJECTS
Well, I have a book full of these dreams, but I’ll talk about one that is dear to me. I want to take on the classics. Not Rembrandt or Da Vinci. I’m talking about the ancients. I’d love to spin the ancient wonders. Build giant multi-dimensional heads and goobs made of heavy earthen materials. Work with multiple points of perspective so these mega-structures appear different from different angles. If Bass Pro Shop can have one of the world’s biggest pyramids, then I sure as hell can make a bigger one.
I’d like to celebrate these ancient cultures and ideologies and reinforce their importance to us as the human race. Without them, there would be no us. I will work with the ancestors of those native to these lands here in Georgia or anywhere in the Americas. Rebuild a mound in their honor and color it as bright as the heavens. I just have to find a huge plot of land somewhere in Georgia so I can start my work. If you know anyone who is selling cheap, let me know. I got work to do.
ON HIS SIGNATURE YELLOW GLASSES
I used to get intense migraines around bright lights. Around that time I Googled my name and the results came up with the glasses company, Gunnar Optiks. They make gaming glasses which reduce the blue light found in most lights and screens. I ended up needing prescriptions glasses because another source of of my headaches was things being ever so slightly out of focus at a distance. And then I became The Boy Who Sees Yellow. It makes the world a happy and warm place all the time.
ON ART GALLERIES
Don’t get me wrong, I love galleries and especially museums. [However] traditional set-ups are designed for exclusivity. I think a big issue is that this “high-art” culture is intimidating and confusing to the general public.
I’d like to see more renegade events. Bringing the art gallery into more experimental and public places. We are on the right track with local restaurants hosting art, pop up galleries, or even art parties in houses and venues. Academia and learning is as punk as it gets. So put that cheese plate down and put on some sweatpants, ‘cause we are going to an abandoned warehouse turned gallery. It’s about time we got a little more rogue in all walks of life. The arts are so important to humanity they need to be suppressed by the authority figures. We are living in a time of anti-intellectualism and disinformation. The only right response is to question everything and pursue a life of education.
THE STRANGE TIMES IN WHICH WE LIVE, AND WHAT HE SEES COMING DOWN THE ROAD
I believe we are witnessing the rise and fall of the American Empire. If she sits with her old ways it is assured destruction, but if she changes with the times then we could be approaching a golden age. They say that everything moves in cycles, and I think there are going to be some serious global catastrophes that band the good guys together.
Green energy will beat the capitalistic oil companies and our planet will matter more than our money. The rise of the Bitcoin will continue to grow as the world’s economies continue to be questionable. Basic human rights will find their way into the lives of many where they will be protected by the people and for the people. Engineers will reconfigure the way we travel. The colonization of the stars will begin to take effect. There will be a huge rise in romanticism, spirituality, intellectualism, and emotions.
We will begin to become animals of thought like we have never been before. Issues of race and gender will find themselves settled as we all begin to discuss these ideas and understand one another like we never have before. Thinking about people in terms of race serves no purpose except to group people. There is only the human race. We are going to give back to the earth. Don’t get me wrong, this is the 50 year and beyond plan. Brace for impact, though, because the turbulence sure isn’t over. It’s how we move out from the mayhem that is soon to occur that will determine where our mark on history lies.
ON ONE OF HIS EARLIEST MEMORIES
I watched the movie Scream when I was 3 and ran out of the room. My parents thought I was scared, but I rushed back into the room to place a Band-Aid on the blood on the screen. I didn’t want the characters to die. I’ll have to ask my parental units if I did anything else interesting.
There is no doubt in my mind that if you were to ask his parents they would confirm that their talented son Gunnar Tarsa did, indeed, do other interesting things. Long before he donned his yellow specs and vowed to color the “whole damn world,” the artist’s young soul had to marinate in the juices of creative boredom and dreamy possibility. It’s a safe bet that any kid who cares enough for fictional slasher movie victims that he feels the need to patch their wounds through the screen had other interesting nascent moments in his garden state childhood. If you want to know what they were, ask the artist. But please, don’t disturb his parents. As the parents of an artist, they’re freaked out enough already. – BC
Images © Gunnar Tarsa