BY DAN METZ, 2003
PUBLISHED IN THE CATALOGUE, ANTFARM DECADE TO COMMEMORATE OUR FIRST 10 YEARS
By the time I arrived on the antfarm scene, in the spring of 1994, most of the original members had moved on or were in the process of leaving. While lining up to include pieces in the Yearly Artists’ Hanging in the City Gallery of Contemporary Art in Raleigh, I ran into Heath Satow. I was looking for a space and Heath told me about his group studio, antfarm. After we raced into the gallery and claimed our spots for the show, we drove over to the warehouse in Boylan Heights so I could get a look. That day was one of the major turning points in my twenty-five-year quest of procrastination versus desire to make paintings.
My connection to antfarm really started earlier than the day I ran into Heath. The previous summer, I had gone to the North Carolina Museum of Art to check out the NC Artists’ Exhibition, a triennial show that is considered by artists as one of the top juried shows in the state. I roamed the exhibit and a set of paintings appealed to me; they were made by Brad Watkins, a 22-year-old artist from Raleigh and graduate of NC State’s School of Design. Being 24 at the time, and a design school grad myself, I thought, “Man, if you don’t get started making paintings now, you never will. You WILL be in the next show, three years from now.” By the spring semester of 1994, I was enrolled in painting class at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill with Marvin Saltzman. Under his guidance, I worked six hours a day and produced my first set of canvases. By semester’s end, I had realized my passion for paint and was eager to find an environment to continue.
A week after finishing the class was when I ran into Heath at the City Gallery. We walked into antfarm and I got my first look around. I thought to myself, “WOW! I could make ANYthing here.” The old brick walls and rough plank floors, the volume inside the space just had that kind of electric creative energy that lends itself to making things. I knew I had to be a part of this, it was perfect in so many ways. And to make things more complete, Brad Watkins, the guy whose paintings in the art museum had sparked my start, was a founding and current member! I bugged Brad, Heath, Chris Alexander, and Paul Rodriguez almost daily for a month to let me in. They did.
“…the space just had that kind of electric creative energy that lends itself to making things. I knew I had to be a part of this, it was perfect in so many ways.”
In June of 1994, I moved my things in, got my space set up, and began to learn the ropes of the place. What appealed to me most about the organization was that there was no hierarchy, no leader; everyone had equal say in the group, no matter how long they’d been there. We spent our days and nights on our work. In the winter, we’d stoke the fire in the woodstove. There was something magical about that thing. Chris used to build fires so hot that the outside of the stove would glow red. One time Heath threw a sculpture made of paper in the woodstove and filled the whole upstairs with smoke, trying to extract the thing. That was a turning point in his work. I had a system of buckets around my desk to catch water. Many times while driving through town, if it started raining, I would turn the car around and head to antfarm to set up the buckets.
We discussed creativity, art, design, politics. Everything. We fought over what music to play and had a blast, laughing all the time. Members had to move on; more great people joined after the group interviewed them and agreed that they would be good for antfarm, and antfarm for them. Every December, we would transform our working studio (and all its mess) into a show of our work. The party was always a great time.
“I always gave the same answer when new people moved their things in and started asking questions about how or what to do. I’d simply say, ‘antfarm is yours.'”
Summer of 1996 brought the selection process for the NC Artists’ Exhibition at the North Carolina Museum of Art. Elizabeth Hauser (EJ) and I were selected for a studio visit from the curator. About a month after our visits, all of antfarm, including those who were not selected, gathered to watch EJ and me open the letters that would tell us if we were going to be in the show. Both of us were selected. I had realized my dream from three years earlier.
It was no surprise on December 31, 1999, with parties going on all over, that so many of us gathered on the roof of the antfarm to ring in the new millennium. And blast off some fireworks. Together.
Over the years, as members moved on and new ones joined, I moved from newest to senior member. I always gave the same answer when new people moved their things in and started asking questions about how or what to do. I’d simply say, “antfarm is yours.” Because really, apart from rules such as always locking the door behind you and jiggling the toilet handle so the thing doesn’t run constantly, antfarm is defined solely by the current members and the sum total of their efforts. Their personas. Their work.