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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — For over thirty years, the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition, or OVAC, has led the way for artists and creators of all kinds across the state and throughout OKC in particular. 

By offering everything from education and resources for young and up-and-coming artists to assistance and patronage for loads of local organizations and schools, OVAC has sustained its place as one of the most important forces within the Oklahoma arts community since its creation in 1988.

‘12X12’ is back!

And of all the countless shows and arts programs that OVAC organizes, none is more time-honored or beloved than the annual “12×12” fundraiser.

“Our organization is thirty-three years old this year, and ‘12×12’ is one of the first programs that we instilled, and has always been our major fundraiser,” said OVAC’s Associate Director Alexa Goetzinger. “So now artists just know we’re going to do it, so they just make pieces that are twelve-by-twelve in anticipation of it.”

The event’s name, and the specific dimensions to which Goetzinger referred, come from the one, singular, strict criterion imposed on the accepted artworks: they must all be no more than twelve inches by twelve inches. That one, seemingly simple limitation can lead the showing artists of the night into some wildly creative places.

12x12
The eastern skyline over Dunlap Codding Law Firm where the open air OVAC 12×12 art fundraiser was held. (BRETT FIELDCAMP/Okla City Free Press)

Works

The piece “Equinoctial Line,” by Tulsa’s Taylor Painter-Wolfe, is hand-sewn from dyed wool. The striking, minimalist “Triangle Fog,” by RC Morrison, is constructed from gently illuminated LEDs. “Pyramids,” by Bill Hawk of OKC, is made by the process of lost wax glass-casting.

One of the night’s most talked-about pieces was “Pyrite ISO 102,” by Oklahoma City’s Lawrence Naff, a deep, black velvet background sporting rhinestones and inset computer chips. Naff is a mixed-media artist with a unique way of incorporating his many interests, like computers and technology, with his personal experiences, such as a time spent living in Osaka, Japan.

“I work in IT. I’m actually a systems analyst,” Naff told me. “I tried to find the beauty that was inside the computer and incorporated that into the work. This is a thing that I’ve learned when I was in Japan, how to decorate with rhinestones.”

Most of the pieces on display, though, were actually more traditional paintings, each conceived and created on its own simple twelve-by-twelve canvas.

There was Maurice Perez’s “Greater Than, Less Than,” a vividly colorful acrylic scene showcasing a group of figures laying out a rock formation beside a beach. It’s the most recent in an ongoing collection of pieces that Perez has painted as recreations of old photographs from his father’s adolescence in Puerto Rico.

“This is, I think, my sixth ‘12×12,’” Perez told me. “From here on, I’m really ready to start experimenting with some different stuff, mainly oils.”

Massive following

Many of the night’s 175 showing artists were repeat guests like Perez. OVAC boasts a massive following of local artists that owe a great debt to the support of the organization, and they all make it a point to submit work for the fundraiser every year.

“They had a huge impact on my art career,” said Kerri Shadid, another one of the night’s featured artists who is also a longtime, repeat guest of the event. “I got started with [OVAC’s yearly under-25 year old showcase] ‘Momentum,’ and they were one of the first organizations to really support me.”

Shadid’s piece was another traditional canvas painting depicting a shining, stylized owl. There were numerous pieces on display all around that featured outdoor scenes, nature, and animals, lending something of a loose, sub-textual theme to the night of reconnecting with nature in a year of social distancing and isolation.

Indeed, ‘12×12’ was one of the unfortunate event casualties of the lockdowns and distancing last year. The 2020 installment of the ‘12×12’ fundraiser and auction was hosted entirely online for the first time ever.

Open air for safety

In order to allow guests and artists to gather in-person this year, OVAC created a fully outdoor, open-air event space at Dunlap-Codding in Film Row, with huge pop-up walls to hang the artworks.

“Those walls are plywood, too. They’re not just drywall,” said Emily Tate, a volunteer coordinator for the night and a longstanding supporter of OVAC. “They are heavy, and we still have to break them all back down tonight.”

Alexa Goetzinger echoed that same sentiment, as she changed out of her heels into a comfortable pair of tennis shoes.

“We still have a long night ahead of us here.”

You can view many of the artworks shown at “12×12” 2021, and get involved with the organization as a volunteer or a visual artist, on their official website at ovac-ok.org.