Last night, I was fortunate to attend the opening reception for a local emerging artist, Dacian Cavender-DeMuth (also known as Sungcinca), at the K.K. Berge Gallery in downtown Granite Falls.*
I was impressed by Cavender-DeMuth’s relative lack of formal artistic training; he has studied at the Montessori school in Montevideo for only a few years, but is largely self-taught, mostly due to the fact that he is six years old.
Still, his show — titled Running Boy Wolf, because, as he explained in his artist talk, “I am a boy, and I am a wolf, and sometimes I am fast” — wove together myriad themes of spirituality, ancestry, and (occasionally) ninjas. Dapper in a blazer over a Hawaiian-print shirt, Dacian shared with us, an audience of around thirty adults and children, his inspiration and artistic process, receiving occasional help from his artist’s assistant, his father, our friend Scott. (He also took breaks for bathroom trips and more sparkling cider.)
In case you’re wondering what people out here in Granite Falls get up to, this is it.
Because I am not a photographer, I took very few photos of the art itself, but I did take copious notes during Dacian’s talk, which was even better than I thought it would be; I’d been excited to attend ever since an opening a month prior at which Dacian had asked multiple probing, relevant questions of the artists, including “But why did you do all this?” and “You made a sculpture of a mammoth, but why is it not very tall?” Plus, Miles (my now-husband) had spent some time with the art in question, helping Scott and Dacian’s mother our friend Autumn to frame and mat it. He assured me that it was very good.
Dacian’s talk ranged from the mundane — discussions of his process, such as the time he, at three years old in this very gallery, broke the rules for an assigned project — to the ephemeral. (Forty minutes in: “Yetis exist! But no one knows they exist. But they are spirits! And you can travel to that spirit world!”
Audience member, jokingly: “Thought you were gonna get into string theory for a second there, bud.”
Dacian’s artist assistant, Scott: “Give him one more glass of juice, and who knows?”)
Cavender-DeMuth explained at its beginning that he had chosen to do this show, the first in the gallery by a kid artist (though there will apparently be more — my heart!), because he fervently believes that kids’ art is as valid as adult art. Waving his hands, he said, “If you have kids, give them real paintbrushes! Real art supplies!”
“But what if they get dirty? Or broken?” said his Montessori school teacher, raising her eyebrows over her mask.
Dacian was temporarily stumped, and leaned against his father (who was wearing an adult version of the same outfit) for support. Then he said, “Well, who cares? Wash them!” And he was right.
While taking notes, I realized that this gallery opening with its matted art and loving title cards was something my parents might have done. Good parents are like this: they tell their children that they can be anything they want to be, right now, and then help them accomplish it. When I was Dacian’s age, my own mom ordered dollhouse parts for me from a catalog, helped me painstakingly shingle my new kit’s roof, and then facilitated my and four other dollhouse-owning friends putting on a show in a conference room at the Shoreview library, our houses illuminated by Christmas lights and set out as a neighborhood, tables covered in a roll of green felt for turf.
Our show was not as successful as Dacian’s — my friends spent most of the day lolling about and playing, while I sat at a table with my teeth gritted, waiting for an eager audience that didn’t really show up — but I do remember it fondly. I will also remember this.
Friend Dani Prados, the artist whose opening we’d attended the month before: “What’s the difference, Dacian, between creating a piece of two-dimensional art and a piece of three-dimensional art?”
Dacian, making a gesture I could only describe in my notebook as ‘exasperated mobster hands’: “It’s a piece of art! What’s the difference?”
As his assistant Scott explained, Dacian distinguishes between ART and just simple finger-painting; he carefully curated the pieces that would appear in this show. (It reminded me of the time a group of us grad students asked Marilynne Robinson what she does between books, if, as she’d said, she doesn’t write fiction unless exceptionally inspired; she said, wearily, “Well, I soil pages.”)
For him, some pictures are simple messing around, childish play. Others are “a blue painting that is a portal to the spirit world where all of us will go!!” and spark him to then tell us how he thinks the world will end — basically, people will stop having babies, and then there will be no more people.
(Dacian’s mother Autumn: “Let’s be clear, we have never let him watch Children of Men.”)
Dacian, when asked to explain the exceptionally beautiful rotated finger-painting four-part artworks behind the audience’s heads: “It’s a portal to space. And space is time, and time is space.”
(There was an audible oooh in response; Miles, the philosophy major next to me, nodded knowingly.)
Would he sell his art? It depended, apparently; he’d gone into the show intent on selling nothing, “No originals! Only prints!”, but now, a few hours in, I could tell he was weakening.
Perhaps he was tempted to — faced with an audience of eager buyers — sell out, even though he (being six) is not entirely sure of the value of money. Or perhaps he was remembering that at the cabin, he’d told his grandparents that he would indeed sell it… and now, as he explained, he didn’t want to be a liar.
Finally he decided: “If you are family, you can just have it.” (Scott clarified: it is important to Dacian that his art go to someone who knows its story — possibly since, as he said at the end of his talk, “all my arts are spirits. Maybe. I’m just saying that. But who knows?”)
“If you are a friend…” He opened his eyes, looking around the room, realizing that his parents have a lot of friends. “One dollar, or how much you want. But NOT for free.”
That’s that, then.
Near the end of the talk, an audience member: “Is there a question you wish we would ask?”
Dacian, hoarse: “Why did you all COME here??”
I should have told him that I could literally not think of a better way to spend an evening, but I was too busy scrawling it all down.
There you have it, folks. In Cavender-DeMuth / Sungcinca’s words, “I want everyone to know that kids can make art. Anyone can make art. You can do anything you want! You can choose any path in your mind.” (We all clapped over our plates of ham sandwiches, finger rolls, and apples cut to look like goofy open mouths with strawberry tongues.)
Dacian raised a finger. We waited.
“Except being mean and evil.”
The audience laughed.
“I’m NOT KIDDING,” he roared.
*I now teach writing classes at this gallery on select Tuesdays, by the way — if you’re interested in spending an evening scrawling in response to prompts that have worked for me, shoot me an email at jessie.rose.hennen (at) gmail, and I will tell you more. They are fun, painless, and go down as easily as multiple glasses of child-friendly sparkling cider.