The fine folks at Hobbs Architects in downtown Pittsboro are powering our Meet This Artist series this year. Architecture is art, and the Hobbs crew values art in our community. They join us in inviting you to take a look. Meet your very inspiring neighbors. Meet This Artist . . .
The uncertainties—or open possibilities—begin with her name. Is it Felix Obelix or Wendy Spitzer? Yes.
Is she a visual artist or a musician? Yes. Then we can enter into the world of how to describe the visual art and the ways in which she makes music and sound installations. Perhaps we would do well to quote from her website.
Wendy Spitzer is an interdisciplinary musician and artist with a diverse output spanning music composition and performance, visual and community artmaking, writing, research, and modes of participatory inquiry. Her projects have been funded by Raleigh Arts; Downtown Durham, Inc.; the Durham Arts Council; the Orange County Arts Commission; the Crosshatch Center for Art & Ecology; and the Strowd Roses Foundation. Under the moniker Felix Obelix, she has released two albums of original compositions: The Tick of the Clock, the Beat in the Chest on the Pox World Empire label (2010) and The Ringtone Album on the Potluck Foundation label (2013). Other experiences have included a time capsule project, the organization of a genre-bending music festival, original scores composed and performed live to silent films, studio session work, a choir commission, theatre and soundtrack scoring, as well as solo and group visual art shows. She has a Bachelor’s of Music in Performance from UNC-Chapel Hill and a Master of Music in Creative Practice from Goldsmiths College, University of London (UK), which culminated in a final thesis entitled, “Trust Them With Your Weird and Strange Notes: An Arts-Based Research Perspective on Vulnerability and the Social Dynamic in Creative Collaboration.”
When Grayson Haver Currin interviewed Wendy Spitzer for The Indy in February 2010, nearly ten years ago, Felix Obelix was the name of her band, but it was clear even then that the band was formed around music and musical ideas emanating from and firmly controlled by one composer, Wendy Spitzer. She studied oboe and classical music for decades until she reached the end of that path, put down the oboe for a couple of years, learned to play bass in a rock and roll band, and then created Felix Obelix, referred to in the aforementioned The Indy article as an “elegant art-pop ensemble.” Again with the hyphens. And back with the woodwinds.
In an interview by Lena Geller in The Indy about a year ago, July 11, 2018, Spitzer is quoted as saying, “Felix Obelix has changed over time, and it’s always in flux. Initially, it was a band that I put together to play my own music, which I used to write by myself and everyone just played all the parts. Over time, it morphed into more of a solo project, where basically me as a musician is Felix Obelix.” In recent years her work has focused on collaborations, one of which involves the Durham-based actor, playwright, podcaster, and all around theatre-magician, Tamara Kissane, for whom Spitzer is working on an original score —with another collaborator, Barnabas Poffley, as Pennee Miles—for Kissane’s audio drama based on Ibsen’s The Master Builder. That’s a lot of influences. Kissane describes the process by which Spitzer nurtures her own creative work and her relationships with other artists as “extraordinarily thoughtful.” Kissane says, “Wendy not only asks great questions, she also listens carefully to the answers. She allows her work to be influenced by conversations with her collaborators, and then she overlays her expertise, instinct, and wisdom to create something that is more than the sum of its parts. She nurtures trust and maintains it during the creative process, which, for me, is the key to making fearless and fierce work together.”
Her visual art is informed by what seems to be a fascination with color and with bits and pieces, perhaps of memory, or lost memorabilia, looking at the ways other artifacts come together to form new assemblages, collages, a process of rearranging and renaming to recover something lost or, perhaps, to stand, clear-eyed, in contemplation of a narrative that will never be perfectly clear.
FROM THE ARTIST
Full Name: Felix Obelix (a.k.a. Wendy Spitzer)
I live: In downtown Pittsboro.
I knew I was an artist when: …I’m not sure I know I’m an artist. To know that would be to have a working definition of art—something aesthetics philosophers have been disagreeing about for centuries. I know I make things that weren’t there before, but am I an artist when I bake a cake very badly? When I rearrange some books on a shelf by color? When I knock down that shelf of books as a performance? By myself? With intention? By accident? Some people might say I’m an artist because I work in artistic media (music mainly, but also participatory art, visual art, writing), but then we have to agree what artistic media are. If we do that, then when does something become accepted as a new art form? We might all rightly think of photography as an art form, but there was a point in recent history when photography didn’t exist, and thus photographers didn’t exist, and thus artists who are photographers didn’t exist. On which magical day did photography as an art form come into being, and with it, all the artist-photographers? I guess I’m still working on this question.
My favorite artists are: Too numerous to name, and the favorites are always changing. Many, if not most, are local, and I know them personally. Please check out the full roster of a local label I’ve worked with: PotLuck. The new Sun Studies record is in my current heavy rotation.
Childhood memories: I have a vivid memory of a man coming to my first-grade French immersion class and asking which student wanted to read a short book in French to the Lambton County Board of Education. Every student except me wanted to—I kept my hand unraised, as I was shy and didn’t like to be in the limelight. “So, that’s everybody, right?” he asked, and I failed to correct him. My mother got a call that night on the black telephone on the wall in the kitchen, and, some days later, I was zipped into a frilly dress and made to read a short book in French to the Lambton County Board of Education, likely, in retrospect, to save the French immersion program or just to show it off. I later received in the mail a handwritten thank-you card from the members of the board, who complimented me on my fine French accent. The whole experience soured me on authority. Later, in third grade, I first learned—in what context, I have no idea—that every person gets to be famous for fifteen minutes. This information was presented as factual—just something everyone knew to be true. I seethed inside, recognizing that I had already wasted my fifteen minutes reading to the Lambton County Board of Education, something I hadn’t even wanted to do. I became, then, distrustful of frilly dresses.
Some jobs I’ve had are: Paper route deliverer (complete with Dobermans in pursuit, like in a movie of a childhood paper route); lackey for a wholesale jewelry store (complete with giant scorpion necklaces); administrative doer-of-many-things at the NC Writers’ Network and UNC Law; private oboe instructor and maker of oboe reeds; reader of undergraduate applications for Duke University; tutor for UNC student-athletes in their music courses; teacher of English to Czech businesspeople in Prague; scientific editor in a proteogenomics lab; freelance editor (current); musician (current); artist (current). These are, of course, the paying jobs.
When I’m not making art, you might find me: Thinking about art. Worrying about my abilities. Sleeping.
The craziest thing I ever did was: I just finished an audio piece called Dix in Sound in Situ. Have a listen at https://www.felixobelix.com/dix—I’m very proud of it. This was a very large project—a thirty-eight-minute-long audio installation—about mental health treatment past and present, completed in about six weeks. In this same time period, I also made another audio piece for the UNC Southern Oral History Program’s Sonic South audio competition; attended a few arts workshops; traveled to the UK to collaborate with Genevieve Dawson to finish writing our album as the musical duo Private Cathedral and with Barnabas Poffley writing production music; and edited about eight-hundred pages in public health, oncology, neuropathology, and genomics. It was “crazy” to attempt this number of projects simultaneously, but here I am, not quite collapsed, with only one public art project left to finish this month. However, I mention my Dix project first because I’m sensitive now, in a way I wasn’t a few months ago, to how casually we throw around the word “crazy.” “She’s so crazy!” “Last week was crazy!” “The craziest thing I ever did was…” People—real people you probably know—are suffering daily with mental health issues. They have to listen to us toss this word around like a beach volleyball, airy and fun, when it probably feels more like weights tied around the ankles and not quite enough air to breathe.
Next on my bucket list is: Barnabas Poffley and I, in our duo Pennee Miles, are writing the original music for Tamara Kissane’s audio drama Master Builder. In a month or so, I hope to finish draft number five of the middle grades novel I’m writing collaboratively with my partner in all crimes, Billy Sugarfix, tentatively titled The Rise and Fall of Skinny McSmall. I will also finish two albums of collaborations: one for Private Cathedral and another in a collaborative band called Jeezle-Pete, with Josh Starmer and Robert Cantrell.
On my bedside table you’ll find: Earplugs, a book, a phone, a lamp—and a cat knocking over earplugs, a book, a phone, a lamp.
Most people don’t know I: Have lived in four countries.
My favorite places to go in Chatham County are: Jordan Lake Seaforth Recreation Area; thrift stores; Central Carolina Community College’s student farm, where I volunteer; and every single Mexican restaurant.
Three Chatham County artists I admire are: One, Billy Sugarfix, an artist without parallel. Musician. Guitarist. Custom songwriter for Custom Serenade. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given his previous life as an elementary educator and with his ear for words, he is also turning out to be quite the writer of middle grades fiction. Two, Eric Haugen, guitarist and guitar educator. His YouTube channel will set you straight. Three, Mystery Person X I have not met yet. I’d like to imagine you are living deep in the woods, biding your time before you show the world your craft. Or maybe you are just starting out (in Chatham County!) and aren’t sure yet who you are or what you’re doing. Newsflash: none of us knows these things. If that’s you, and you’re reading this, and you’re holding back, know that we’re all insecure, and you should put the work out there anyway. Because we’re all going to die at some point, and maybe it would be nice for you to get some feedback on your work before all the worms and ashes.
Photo credit for Wendy Spitzer photo at top of page: Billy Sugarfix.