By Jackie Lee | Sonoma Valley Sun
Kirk Hinshaw led an adventurous life during the 30 years he spent in advertising, working for prominent ad agencies, before he began his career as a collage artist. The switch was prompted by a fall from a ladder in 1998. In immense pain, he realized he’d been on the fast track way too long, and it was time to slow down and smell the roses.
Kirk, who obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Virginia Commonwealth University in the mid-1960s, became an art director in the ‘Mad Men’ era. The demands of advertising allowed him no time to devote to his personal art. He recalls his first job as a photographer’s assistant was 80 hours per week and he was paid $2 per hour. “Shows you how old I am,” he laughs.
After taking a two-year sabbatical to bicycle around Australia and New Zealand, he saw an exhibition of surrealistic art which gave him the confidence to attend collage classes for three years in Sonoma. “I was attracted to Surrealism,” he says, “so collage was a good fit for me.”
Kirk didn’t begin his art-making process with a plan; it just evolved over time. His collage and mixed-media work is mainly whimsical, and he loves it when people make up their own stories when viewing a piece, especially children, who have their unique way of seeing. Essentially, though, the message is left up to the viewer to discover, including those who see mature themes in some of the work.
Kirk is most comfortable by himself in his studio playing his favorite ’40s and ‘50s jazz music. “I actually prefer to work alone.”
A member of the Arts Guild of Sonoma (AGS) for the last 18 years and president for the 2017-2018 term, he says the job of managing the nonprofit for 30 or so artists had its challenges. “It’s like herding cats,” he laughs. “I was fortunate to work with the current Board of the Guild, all accomplished, professional people.
The co-op structure concept is challenging for creative people accustomed to choosing their own paths. They create work at home or studio as well as take part in gallery duties. There’s always more Guild work to be done than workers to do it.
“We are busy all year round organizing exhibitions for children in local schools, the Boys and Girls Club, Pets Lifeline, a residency program for senior students at Sonoma State, an in-house program to subsidize some of our members, pop-up shows in the area, as well as the Sonoma International Film Festival, and an art show we put on for ‘outsider’ artists, including those who are homeless or have addiction issues.”
But as always, costs are the major factor in operating nonprofits. “Raising funds to support our community programs is problematic,” he says.
Asked for his thoughts on the future of the Guild and nonprofits in general, he said, “That’s a complex issue because it’s difficult to make a living locally even for the most successful artists. The younger generation view art on iPhones; they don’t always seek the experience of viewing art in person. They want to spend their money on experiences instead, an exotic vacation for example, rather than art. Smaller galleries need a niche to survive.” The Guild is grateful to their landlord, the LaHaye Family, for its long-standing support of the arts in Sonoma.
Kirk says while sales have improved slightly each year, they barely covered expenses, although lots of wonderful art is being made by their artists. “With more emphasis on art in all its forms in our culture, traditional art is being challenged. As a whole, we need to adapt to the next generation. AGS has been part of the community for 41 years; hundreds of artists have passed through the Guild and many have gone on to become well-known nationally and internationally. We hold every belief that will continue for the foreseeable future.”