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Inside/Out: Secret Artists


Recently, I was thinking about the artists I look up to and who play an integral part in my art practice. What immediately popped into my head weren’t the well-renowned high-end gallery artists, but the secret artists. The artists with full-time jobs, drawing on scraps of paper and spending evenings hunched over a small desk cutting out tiny bits of paper. These are people I work alongside within the arts as registrars, art preparators or in administration.

As an art preparator myself, I enjoy viewing the artwork in progress. Seeing the ins and outs of how the work was made and the constant upkeep before and after transportation. This is what draws me (maybe even more so) to the secret artists. I am allowed into their world—able to discuss inspirations, experimentations, and collaborations.

In daily life, we share our artwork with each other: images on a phone of the beginnings of a project and sometimes materials and mediums that we have on hand. It’s these sorts of everyday, small interactions with art that make me feel happy to be among my fellow secret artists. For instance, while building a wall in a gallery, one of us may make a small drawing on the inside of the wall that no one will see until it is torn down and thrown out. These daily art pieces become a type of performance art, neither recorded nor documented—just enjoyed by those lucky enough to be a witness.

Below is a selection of some of those secret artists' work:

Mary Provenzano makes large organic shapes using screen printing and colored pencils. When we first met I only knew of her music and couldn’t help but find a comparison in the melodic mood of her new 2D work.

Mary Provenzano

Nicole Duennebier is my big sister and all time favorite weirdo artist. She works with imagery of nature and day-to-day objects, covering them with muck and decay. Possibly they remind me of our childhood—running around in the woods and finding beauty in disgusting things.

nicole duennebier

Jack Arbaugh methodically makes quiet, surreal collages and could quite possibly be the illegitimate child of Geoffrey Farmer. I find comfort in Jack’s images as they remind me of the covers of the 1970s sci-fi novels that my father often read.
jack arbaugh                 jack arbaugh
Damon Bishop is great. Sometimes I wish he were my grandpa.

About Author

Caitlin Duennebier is an artist based in Boston, MA, where she creates work under the name "Oh Papa." She earned her BFA in photography at MassArt, and studied abroad on scholarship at University of the Arts London. Her work has been shown at Space Gallery, Boston Sculptors Gallery, Lincoln Arts Project and Thomas Young Gallery.


  1. It’s nice to see some exposure for unknown artists, people who have maintained an art practice throughout their lives, while holding full time jobs and raising kids, leaving precious little time to promote themselves. We made the choice to spend our time making art consistently during off-hours, resulting in little notoriety as we find ourselves retired from the full time job, now with plenty of time to make art, but finding it difficult to get exposure, since we are no longer young artists (who are in such demand today); I suppose it is presumed that we have no ‘contemporary’ ideas worth presenting. I’m glad these “secret artists” have a community of sorts; it seems that the nurturing of such community was also a casualty of the job/kids/artmaking focus, making it still more difficult to ‘break out’, so to speak. A bit of advice: nurture that little community; keep helping each other get exposure; and don’t stop making art. Great article!