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Seconds after walking into Jack Warren’s Pratt Institute studio, it becomes immediately clear why he and his collaborative partner, Caleb Scott, call their work Combustive Arts.

The walls are almost coated with paintings. The pieces are everywhere, raw and overflowing with energy; untreated canvases with frayed edges, covered with black-and-white text and images applied in paint or charcoal. In some places, the paintings are overlapped three or four deep, like Post-It messages for someone who has been away for quite some time. It’s as if the flame of creation that they lit turned into an inferno, which they couldn’t control even if they wanted to.

"Our creative process is fast and furious," says Warren. "It’s been seven or eight months of the faucets being turned on full-blast."

The two Williamsburg-based artists have an exhibit running now until May 25 at the Steuben Gallery on the Pratt campus in Clinton Hill. Not only do they display the copious amounts of work produced in the last year, but for the run of the show, Warren, Scott and other members of the artists’ collaborative known as the P.A.L.M. Guild of Art Mechanics will transform the gallery into their studio and work space.

As part of the show, the artists will create new paintings in the gallery, allowing the public a chance to witness their creative process, and perhaps even participate.

"I want people to experience our world a little bit," explains Warren, adding, "We’re here to make people’s lives more interesting." Rest assured that whatever the P.A.L.M. Guild has planned, it will be anything but the typical, staid art show.

Asking Warren and Scott to explain the P.A.L.M. Guild and its relationship to the Combustive Motor Corporation (CMC), is like asking Masons to show you their secret handshake. Although almost as enigmatic, some insight can be gleaned from the introduction to the P.A.L.M. Mechanics Manual, a manifesto-like pamphlet published and distributed by the artists.

The origin of the CMC seems to date back to 1996, when Warren, who grew up in New England and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill with a bachelor’s of fine arts degree in painting, met fellow artist William Taylor in North Carolina. The two realized that they shared an artistic vision and began collaborating on paintings.

A semester after Taylor left to pursue his MFA at Pratt, Warren followed, and the artists continued to collaborate on paintings in Brooklyn until last year, when Taylor accepted a teaching position and returned to North Carolina.

While looking for someone to fill the collaborative void left by Taylor’s absence, Warren was introduced at a bar to Scott, a Dartmouth-educated writer and poet with an interest in the visual and performing arts. Scott had been considering working with other artists after being influenced by the work of Robert Creeley, the modern American poet who collaborated with such visual artists as Robert Indiana and Francesco Clemente.

Warren and Scott decided to try working together, first on poetry, and then on painting. The latter collaboration was an instant success, and the two soon formed the P.A.L.M. Guild, under the CMC umbrella.

Warren and Scott stress that the collaborative process itself is the most important aspect of their work. Although they are certainly proud of their paintings and appreciate the positive response they have received, they feel that the point of their art is the combustive synergy that spontaneously occurs when artists work together.

"The experience of being together; two or three or four or five people making a thing - that experience is the art. The resulting paintings are secondary," explains Scott.

"The reward for what we are doing, is what we are doing," adds Warren.

Although they are the principle participants in the P.A.L.M. Guild, Warren and Scott are not the only members. The project enlists the help of many other Brooklyn-based artists and writers including John McGarity, Troy Hicks, Dana Dollar and Jim Dawson, all of whom contribute wholeheartedly their vision, skill and time to the collaborative process.

And because of their success, members of the P.A.L.M. guild are very encouraging of other artists seeking people with whom to collaborate.

"Art isn’t solitary," explains Scott. "I think we should all make communities of ourselves."

Warren and Scott are already making ambitious plans to expand their communities. The CMC and members of the P.A.L.M Guild plan on opening their own performing arts theatre in East Williamsburg to be called Combustive Arts. They hope the theatre will be a place where artists can push their ideas as far as they can go.

Warren and Scott have already been inundated with requests from other artists and performers wishing to participate and that’s just fine with them, since the theatre will have an open-door policy.


Combustive Arts presents "P.A.L.M. Mechanics: The World of Jack Warren and Caleb Scott" through May 25 at Steuben Hall East, ground floor, Pratt Institute, 200 Willoughby Ave. Gallery hours: Monday-Saturday, noon-5 pm. For more information, call (718) 390-8825. The exhibit is free and open to the public.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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