Making art for more than forty years, Christine Oartman has created work ranging from large-scale outdoor work and public art projects to intricate assemblages. Her upcoming exhibition at the Athenaeum is an installation that loosely replicates a 1950’s elementary school classroom. Stories of Innocence and Experience comprises twelve tableaux as stand-ins for learning in an actual classroom. Each tableau contains mid-century children’s books that have been altered with the addition of contemporary content. These altered books determine the thematic essence of each tableau. The body of work reflects Oartman’s private responses to topical issues through the lens of pedagogy, based on decades of teaching experience, as well as her classroom memories growing up in 1950s San Diego. The touchstone of this project is William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience which was written, etched, printed, and hand-colored by the artist in the late 18th-century.
“The books I chose reflect the general happy-go-lucky optimism of American culture after World War II. Because the children’s books of this time often were bland in terms of content, they provided an ideal foil for the juxtaposition of issue-oriented information. Just as the post-World War II period corresponded with my childhood (“Innocence”), so the 1960’s and 1970’s coincided with my coming of age (“Experience”) and offered a plethora of historic events to consider for possible inclusion. My altered children’s books offer a kind of mediation (“bridge”) between the many conflicting realities that characterize our increasingly polarized world; for example, abundance and scarcity, kindness and cruelty, generosity and self-interest. In choosing “the classroom” as the metaphor of this installation, it is unambiguously pedagogic. It suggests that we teach what we need to learn.”
A life-long San Diegan, Oatman returned to the area in 1971 after receiving her BA from Scripps College and MFA from Cranbrook. In San Diego she began making temporary outdoor works dealing with the California landscape. Oatman’s work has been shown locally and internationally at the Seibu Museum in Tokyo, Brooklyn Museum, Kansas City Art Museum, San Diego Museum of Art, and Cannon Art Gallery in Carlsbad, with solo shows at the University Gallery at SDSU, Boehm Gallery at Palomar College, Contemporary Crafts Gallery in Portland, Oregon, Visual Arts Center of Alaska in Anchorage, and San Diego International Airport.