My name is Sono Osato and I’m an artist. I also throw studio parties as an insouciant but effective form of social practice. This habit spans three decades from Oakland, California, to DUMBO, Brooklyn, and now Austin, Texas. My inspiration comes from legendary maverick artist communities, primary among them Wallace Berman’s Semina Culture which was the West Coast epicenter of the Beat Movement, and Tom Marioni’s Cafe Society in Breen’s Bar on the ground floor of the Museum of Conceptual Art, which he founded and gave birth to the Bay Area Conceptual Art Movement in the 1970’s . It continues to this day as the Society of Independent Artists (of which I’m a member).
What’s potent about this form of community building is that it’s driven by artists, independent from and unmediated by any external patronization from the power structure of the art world, thus exerting its own agency. It’s scrappy. And genuine.
This old school approach to generating ideas and cohesion in real time and space is needed now more than ever as artists are called upon to justify their work in more and more superficial ways. A cursory scan through art hashtags on IG gushes forth a plethora of artists posing in front of their work in highly manicured fashion shoots. Institutions and curators are now overtly prescribing subject matter and content that neatly fits into their cultural agenda and public image.
Despite this enclosure and domestication, it remains that the untamed wilderness of the work itself, what springs from the heart and instincts of the artist unchained, without anyone telling them what to do or not to do, holds the true transformative power and therefore the true authority. It’s the origin and primary resource of this whole ball game and around which all peripheral networks revolve. And it’s time to say so. Again.
“In most modern instances, interpretation amounts to the philistine refusal to leave the work of art alone. Real art has the capacity to make us nervous. By reducing the work of art to its content and then interpreting that, one tames the work of art. Interpretation makes the work of art manageable, conformable."
“If images don’t do anything in this culture, if they haven’t done anything, then why are we sitting here in the twilight of the twentieth century talking about them? And if they only do things after we talk about them then they aren’t doing them we are. Therefore, if our criticism aspires to be anything beyond soft science, the efficacy of images must be the cause of criticism and not its consequences, the subject of criticism and not its object.”
The Invisible Dragon
“Don’t rely on wall text to do the work.”
How to be an Artist
It’s in the spirit of this defiance of a polished image for strategic supplication for attention that I’ve planned my parties. They exist outside of the strictly networking model. The criterion for putting someone on the guest list is more about them being fun and interesting than important and well connected. In this way it’s egalitarian, or more specifically a form of communitas, meaning an unstructured community in which all people are equal (taken from Victor Turner’s The Ritual Process). In this way, people riff and bond regardless of who’s who because they don’t have to put on their game face. And they’re more apt to relax and have fun.
I originally named these parties, The Gutterblood Happy Hour, with the bi-line “come as you be”. Years back I found the word “gutterblood” in a dictionary of forgotten English. It’s from the 15th-18th century and it’s slang for kids who grew up together on the street. After re-incorporating it into my own repartee at my neighborhood art bar in Brooklyn, I discovered that it’s since been resurrected in Scottish parlance to mean common rabble and persons of low breeding. There’s even a Metal band named “Gutterblood” out of Peebles Scotland who liked me on IG. Using it as a moniker for my parties was a no-brainer. It’s a pithy wisecrack.
Eventually I came up with the idea of presenting an artist during these parties by giving them a 12’x 12’ wall in the front part of my studio to do what ever the hell they want. I started to call it Gutterblood on the Wall.
So far I’ve presented five artists with more to follow.
Because the artists have complete freedom and support to create a piece on their own terms, they take chances, and the results have been magical. For the guests it’s like stepping into an inner chamber, a room of wonder, as privy participants. Gutterblood on the Wall is gaining momentum and a following. And I see it as a growing chosen family not only between the artists but those who show up. Each time I bring in an artist, they bring in new people. In this way, the community is organically grown.
Because this series takes place in my private studio, I have to fund it out of my own pocket, which isn’t deep. I’m a struggling artist, all cliches aside. I didn’t see it coming, that Gutterblood on the Wall would become a thing. That people would want more and the artists would get so much out of it. But it has, and I want to keep it going, which is a bit scary. It’s a big nut.
So, I came up with an idea: an edition of multiples including one piece by each artist. You can buy Gutterblood on the Wall/Edition 1 on this website. And/or you can make a donation. In either case, it keeps the whole thing going. I can keep the 12’x12’ wall and exhibition area open without having to bring in a permanent studio-mate, which would shut it down, and I can offer a residency giving artists a broader window of time and more options to create their piece on site.
For a first hand testimony, watch Jess Gherkin’s wonderful interview about the making of her piece and what it meant to her to be featured.
Thanks for your interest.