Review: Andrew Kuo, Water Lilies

Broadway, April 10-May 15, 2021

Andrew Kuo, Water Lilies, 2021, acrylic on linen, 65 x 76 x 2 in 

Andrew Kuo works in infographics, is a popular podcaster, writer, painter, father, native New Yorker, but foremost a thinker. His conceptual abstractions imagine a delightfully (ir)rational system for mapping poetic exuberance and personal truisms. The wit within runs the gamut, from wry, to cutting, to hopeful, to angry to sad. I measure art by how much it makes me feel and his exudes a great emotional variety while managing to turn the salt of life’s wound into realizations inherent in refused expectation.

By using what appear to be complicated info graphic visualizations, Kuo maps his daily poetic reveries and longings, providing the viewer with a key at the bottom of each piece. The keys unravel the meaning of color and form as succinctly as a scale shows size on a map. Inside, particular hues or timetables correlate to giddy, probing, disheartening, immeasurable thoughts.

In the painting Extra #2 (3/7/21), Kuo’s personal command to “Get wiser but also younger and more Chinese with no back pains” is deemed equivalent to all patches of light gray.

Andrew Kuo, Extra #2 (3/7/21), 2021, acrylic and carbon transfer on linen, 65 x 76 x 2 in
Detail of  Extra #2 (3/7/21)

The title of this series is Waterlilies, as in Claude Monet’s. Monet built an artificial lily pond as a homage to Japanese culture for his garden home in Giverny, France. This pond simulation, bristling with feeding koi and rainbow unreality, inspired many of the modernists most cherished works.

Many of Kuo’s paintings, including Flower #2, Water Lilies, The New Yorker! #3 (4/2/21), The New Yorker! #2 (10/10/20), and Well! (2/21/21), combine the language of information graphics with gestural expressionism, drippy ab ex, and color field spirituality. The stems of these referenced movements grew from roots roused by Monet’s impressionist works, whose formalist principles (along with the painterly phenomenological and expressionistic explorations of so many other seminal abstraction fore-bearers, too many to name here but think of the much earlier El Greco as example) chip western cannon piece by piece off of its monument of narrative figuration toward a pile of Greenbergian pure abstraction. The problem I have always had with abstraction is that in its dire effort to birth a new language from nothing, from our reds, yellows, blues, triangles, circles and squares, it inescapably escapes from universal meaning and interpretation to end up floating freely in the ether of unmeaning, maybe trying to justify itself through juxtaposition of textures, historical provenance, or emotions. Maybe its meaning is seen by the ivory tower collegiate who don’t mind exhausting themselves in small white male histories of which man painted white on white monochromes, or which man claimed blue and dragged naked women through it, or what did Malevich really cover up (a racist joke)with his boring black square? For all of these reasons I have truly never connected with abstraction, more I’ve looked at it as a not so fun and very exclusionary dead end (the color field spirituality being my one exception), but this dilemma is cheekily solved by Kuo, in that he has the perfect tool to assign meaning to his splotches and drips. He makes them maps with a key to his internal dilemmas.

Andrew Kuo, Well! (2/21/21), 2021, acrylic and carbon transfer on linen, 45 x 33 x 2 in

I want to take a moment to further consider Monet’s water lilies and the name of this exhibition. Japanese visual aesthetic was one of the great inspirations (cultural appropriations) of the Modernists. Monet had a collection of profoundly influential Japanese wood block prints (including ones by Hokusai) which are still on display in his Giverny residence. In the 1800’s the British forced violently an end to Japan’s long held national isolationism, and out poured the riches of an advanced society here-to-fore barely glimpsed or imagined by Europe and the Americas. The way Gauguin violently claimed the images and culture of Tahiti, western male art modernists stormed the cultural shores not theirs and pillaged, like they have long pillaged, naming the “new images” they found their own innovations and great cultural advancing victories.

As a descendant of a Taiwanese writer father and an art historian mother, it is clear to me Kuo contends with the violence, racism, and ignorance of being American and rooting his career in the historical trajectory of what amounts to endless cultural abuses. As our country begins to admit its history of violence, I’m very excited to see new minority American voices take hold of power and hold court in the art world, but I fear the Wizard of Oz old white men behind their curtains who are adroit at finding new ways to make riches off of voices not theirs.

To conclude, Andrew Kuo’s exhibition is glowing with wit, candor, and intelligence. His poetry and thinking match the beauty of his visual formalism. Waterlilies encourages its audience to ask a poetic question normally kept dormant but close to the surface of consciousness. That is the question of our spirit’s desire weighted against the automated grid of everything bigger, next to the humbling clockwork of existential largeness that demeans our personal hopes in the grandeur of its instrumentation. The bigness is maned, tuned and focused by God knows what, maybe God, chaos, simulation, or…? It’s the cosmic question that, when it comes down to it, all provoking art is asking, what orders us and how, and wouldn’t it be nice to have the key?

Andrew Kuo, The New Yorker! #2 (10/10/20), 2021, acrylic and carbon transfer on linen, 65 x 80 x 2 in  

Kris Kuksi in conversation with Jacob Hicks

A Presumptuously Pagan Celebration, mixed media assemblage, 43” x 33” x 12”


Jacob Hicks: It is an honor to interview you, I have loved your work for a long time. I see in it an infinite kind of maximization. Experiencing it makes me imagine running through a city with a microscope magnifying glass machine simultaneously allowing me to see everything giant and minuscule at once. It also reminds me of those exponential distance videos where the camera eye starts zooming away from an individual object at rapid speeds, moves up through the atmosphere to reveal outer space, moves through space to reveal our solar system, then through the galaxy and so on forever outward. Even though your sculptures have boundaries it is easy for me to imagine them extending on indefinitely, and it is not an easy feat to capture the concept of infinity in a work of art. Tell me about your relationship or thoughts on miniaturization and immensity…

Kris Kuksi: Since childhood I’ve been obsessed with miniatures. As a child I made a small scale winnebago out of construction paper at my grandmother’s house. It was a fascination with a fine line between the real scale world vs. pretending I was really only 4 inches tall. My action figure toys were the players of my world and a rich rural outdoor access without the distractions of cable TV and video games just fueled artistic ventures. I built shrines to dead animals found around her farm with bricks from a slowly collapsing barn. Watching a barn slowly collapse over the years really influenced my artistic ideas. Time was another subject I always felt drawn to, such as looking at a large amount of time within a short perception of distance. I had hours of time. Rural life was slow, very slow, but considering the tree whose roots I had a makeshift fortress for my action figure occupants to dwell, I must have only been a split second of that tree’s life experience. Realizing the selfish human application of measuring time against nature made me appreciate our limited time on Earth.    


Prosperity, mixed media assemblage, 48” x 46” x 12”

I know you are an accomplished realist painter, and those works seem very unlike what you do sculpturally. Does your painting influence your sculpture, how does each mode of making resonate with the other and do they ever live together in a single work?

It certainly was a very necessary fundamental background for my sculptures. It was like a simulation game before jumping in, I’m thinking mostly from a compositional ability to place things in relation to each other to create harmony. I love the compliments objects can have to each other. In my college years my painting instructor taught me to look at the negative space between positive forms to find relationship and balance. I had a huge advantage painting the sculptures after they were built because I understood painting. I experienced a hard life lesson realizing my true following was the 3-d realm, though my ego wanted to be a painter. I had to come to grips and surrender to being a ‘builder’ when it came to the real world calling me.

Reclining Nude, acrylic on panel, 24” x 48”

Who are your primary influences? I see a lot of iconography, the baroque (in terms of frozen or expressed motion) pop culture (in the detritus of works based in assemblage), and a lot of H. R. Giger. Am I off-base? What artists move you and most strongly influence you?

You are definitely correct there. I’m influenced not only by visual artists but also by architecture. I have a fondness for the works of Louis Sullivan, who is largely overlooked because he was the mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright. But it’s also design, ornamental decor, and the relation between the human form and the occupancy within built structures. We as modern humans build our nests as elaborate and complicated places to live, much like my sculptures. I had to provide the setting for the characters and architectural influence is a crucial part of the compositional nature of my works.  

Reign of Ceasar, mixed media assemblage, 46” x 34” x 9”

I’m interested in your fairly consistent choice to maintain a monochrome reality in your assemblage. This is also really fascinating seeing you are a capable and talented colorist in your painting. Tell me about the decision to keep your world monochrome?

It’s interesting because I do actually use a lot of subtle color in my works. There are rusty tones, cool tones, greens, turquoise, etc. Photographs tend to blur or wash those out but its intentional to stay close to neutral zones. It’s a unifying method to make it look as though all the forms are of the same material. Something is always admired in a timeless manner for sculptures of monochromatic finish. I tend to think color defines trends or trends assign color schemes, I try to steer away from being locked into a period of time. I seek to remain ‘timeless’ in what I do. Again, there is that subject of time; ‘all time together’ is a vision I like to explore.

Churchtank Type 6.6F, mixed media assemblage, 12” x 4” x 13”

In your artist statement you talk a lot about cultural decadence and decay, how people’s amassing of material wealth, clutter, and general “stuff” is ultimately their undoing, and how your works are a reflection of death in this regard. They are also extremely elegant, delicate, and beautiful. Tell me a little bit about that conundrum, the beauty and elegance of decadence and decay...

It drives our wants and desires. We make material goods responsible for our happiness and self-worth. I’m probably on the low end of materialistic though I salivate at owning a castle someday while driving a late 70’s Pinto or very run down Mercedes. I’m obsessed with the opulent lifestyle but also ‘fake wealth’ persona. There’s a lot of ‘acting rich’ that goes on and we live to trick others into believing this. So there’s a destructive element to our conditioned response to material needs. My most valued possession is a Civil War era wooden prosthetic leg. For one it’s old, two, it carries an experience with it as it was a necessary tool to help in that person’s life after what trauma they must have experienced. Like you said, it has beauty and decay together. Furthermore in my life of meeting an amazing collection of people, I’m blessed to have had the experience to sit and chat with a homeless person and see the expression value in his views on life. I painted his portrait and it was accepted into a big portrait competition at the Smithsonian years ago.  I really brought the world to him where he was oftentimes overlooked by society. On the flip side, I once sat down to a meeting with the world’s richest man over a proposal for an art installation of mine (in just one of his many homes). We laughed after he felt comfortable in saying “I’m glad I’m not the only crazy one here!” 

A New Divinity, mixed media assemblage, 36” x 36” x 9.5”

If it was the end of the world and you could run into any museum and take out with you one work of art, what would it be?

I’d refuse to take anything. Instead I would just wander around the museum (The Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna) and look at master works while the world ended. I’d like to be a corpse in that museum for the end times!

How are you doing through the pandemic, and has this global event impacted your practice?

Doing fine. I’m mostly a hermit by nature so it hasn’t been such a change. And I still managed to keep sales going through it all. If anything it’s been a blessing for making art but I did manage to get a mild form of the virus for a few days.

Do you have any upcoming exhibitions, events, or publications you would like to share?

I’m coming out with a chess set. That is probably the most exciting news I have, a few other top secret things, maybe.

Eros at Play, mixed media assemblage, 21” x 16” x 8”

What is your advice for young artists, the ones who are driven by a passion for making but maybe don’t have the resources and stability of a lot of the successful artists making their way through this difficult field?

It’s a tough road ahead. I’d advise finding the fine line between making art true to your personal vision, but also making what the world wants a piece of. It’s not always predictable. I never thought the sculpture that I did would be taken seriously, but the world wanted it and it was definitely a very enjoyable path to take. It takes lots of luck too and being visible to the world as much as you can. Say ‘no’ a lot. Say ‘yes’ to challenges. Stretch your abilities. Cut down on the sleep, it’s bad for artists. Eat lots of caffeine, sugar, and carbs, as they help with creativity. Give into your impulses, moderately. You don’t have to be popular, just know your limits. Don’t copy anyone. But if someone does copy you, you’ve made it pretty far already.

Review: John Krausman Lark

Man in Four Places, oil on linen, 54 x 66″

ARTSY Online Exclusive

February 9, 2021 – April 30, 2021

Untitled Space

by Jacob Hicks

John Krausman Lark’s paintings are a very intelligent, hypercritical and condensed deposition of the Americana of late capitalism. A glitching nightmare of commercialized young bodies lounge in suburban utopia. They interweave and exchange form in an ecstasy-less orgy of excess and propagandistic tropes, pornographic desires and manufactured personas.

This is a metaphysical reality where no figure is ever allowed wholeness. The viewer’s present spirit is a kind of tortured consciousness floating outside of the picture plane, forced to remain silently aware of and obedient to the directions of an internal omnipresent incubus bound within and directing the painting’s confines.

These images are psychoanalytic tombs, sarcophagi, time capsules, or eulogies to a dying society. They are forms of documentation of the mutilation the United States commits against the identities of its constituents.

Priest Triptych, far right panel, oil on canvas, 12 x 33″

As children we must separate our true persona, hold that delicate thing up to a mirror of a simulation of a “better” culturally approved identity. Little boys are given white soldiers, monster trucks, tepidities of violence. Little girls are presented busty plastic, make-up-stained, emaciated dolls and rubber babies to practice feeding. No line shall be crossed. Even the aware are staggeringly weak against the collective delusion, a fortified drone dream doppelgänger casting a spell across the world. A phantasmagoria, this unattainable, corrosive white male American vision of post-war picket fenced lawns, ice cubes in summer, swimming pools flanked by voluptuous pink wives and mistresses, baseline salaries and cigars with men in the garage after church, fireworks on the fourth and sports. Endless ignorant self-sacrifices through Dionysian drug-fueled revelries.

Officer, oil on canvas, 40 x 30″

The society celebrates those who mutate their appearance and behavior best. It lauds those who reassemble personhoods into passing reflections of its zombie doppelgänger. Those who are too far removed from the dream are banished, thrown down the rungs of the ladder of social stratification and denied privileges bequeathed all whose selves conform, in theory, at least. In practice, this plastic surgery of the soul is not so rewarding if, say, you are not born into a well-off family, if all the self-disfigurements can’t change your skin color.

The grotesque doppelganger is sculpted from the clay of religious indoctrination, of visual and textual media heavy in propaganda so superfluous as to be commonplace invisible. The sculptor is a sniveling patriarch irreverent to and scornful of absolutely everything, including himself, but most especially an evolving non-white, non-male demographic. Imagine Mitch McConnell’s little veined monster hands in a sandbox, something like that.

Horror, oil on linen, 54 x 50″

What has formed in the dying breath of an American anthropophagi, whose appetite cannot be satiated, is a death cult. Watch it charge the capital and shoot up schools. Watch it rape and pillage and destroy in the name of liberty, commit suicide by filling the skies with the exhaust of its fossil-fuels and the methane of its animal holocaust farms. Watch it round up children along its border, execute innocent black bodies as sport, and finally dance in the plague of a half million dead and growing.

As Americans we are one of two things, a consciousness already broken and shaped or a consciousness floating outside of the confines, aware of them. We are either the oblivious brainwashed or the horrified observers and unwitting participants in the twisted nightmare-scape, close to powerless to halt the gears of a centuries old, violent machine.

Lark’s paintings are a vibrant mirror to our deeply unhealthy cultural consciousness. If we are lucky and observant, our eyes open to the illusionistic perversity of a cultural simulacra directing us, we can use our talents and intelligence to analyze, create, educate, and unbuild this living dystopia, planting seeds of opposition that we water and develop in young minds and future generations.

Western, oil on canvas, 18 x 24″
Yana # 2, oil on canvas, 12 x 16″

Review: Your Wings by Kazuki Takamatsu

Corey Helford Gallery, January 16 – February 20, 2021

by Jacob Hicks

3 CHOICES, acrylic, acrylic gouache, medium, giclee on canvas, 39.4″ x 31.6″

Kazuki Takamatsu uses a “unique depth-mapping technique” where an initial composition is sculpted digitally, every graphic pixel is then tonally matched from the computer model in acrylic gouache and painted painstakingly by hand to canvas. From what I understand the pixel tonal gradient diminishes in brightness equivalently using quadrilateral symmetry. This produces an eerie, uncanny valley aesthetic of unnatural monochromatic perfection.

In my research the descriptions of the making of the work have been vague, and I hope the truth of the process doesn’t include an army of studio assistants creating art like little machine arms in a factory at the behest of an artist. I also wonder why it is necessary to paint the images when they might live just as beautifully as purely digital entities? That aside, the final results of Takamatsu’s labor-intensive paintings are magnetic and exciting.

IT IS TIME TO RELEASE (A PIECE OF THE RAINBOW) – RED, acrylic, silkscreen on panel, 71.6″ x 36″

The work is indebted to Japanese pop cultural history like Kibyoshi, the Edo period’s wood block adult comics, Shoujo manga, a form targeted toward a teen female demographic, kawaii aesthetic and anime. Cyborg aesthetic and science fiction in general are important to Takamatsu’s vision. All his paintings feature undead phantasm doll shells of feminine fantasy. They are hybrid zombie Goddesses enshrined with swords, chains, skulls, goldfish and flowers. In the nude or in negligee, all poses are careful not to “reveal” too much. The paintings manifest a prudish boy fantasy of lifeless femininity, elevating their figures to Godheads void of humanness. Like the corpse of neoclassical Ingres’ Grand Odalisque, or Parmigianino’s Madonna with the Long Neck, the female forms are stretched posthuman spaghetti noodles.

YOUR WINGS (TRIPTYCH) acrylic, acrylic gouache, medium, giclee on canvas, 76.3″ x 102″

Though I really enjoy the paintings, I think it’s important to address the sexualized male gaze on these female forms, their child-like physicality, and their separation from humanness. Takamatsu is a cultural producer from Japan, and so I am careful to not be too critical of culture and history that I am not a part of and so cannot fully understand. From a contemporary western perspective, I think the simultaneous empowerment of these subjects (suggested through iconographic compositions and decorations and tokens of power like swords and wings), and disempowerment (suggested through undergarments or nudity and idealizations of lifeless form) beg the question: is a Lolita-like nymph in 2021 a trope worthy of repetition?

The artist’s job is to build from the mud of the muse of their choice, and Takamatsu’s fantasy images of robot doll Goddesses harness a computer-based futuristic power, both beautiful, awe-inspiring and menacing.

I NEED FREEDOM EVEN IF I AM A DOLL, acrylic, acrylic gouache, medium, giclee on canvas, 20.8″ x 17.9″

Review: the likes of others by Jeremy Olson

Unit London, January 6-February 13, 2021

(Images courtesy of the gallery)

by Jacob Hicks

Squaring the Circle, oil on canvas, 61 x 51 cm

The conception of science fiction in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus illuminates the horror of desiring immortality, which is never-the-less sought continuously, from our earliest surviving literature-The Epic of Gilgamesh, (and surely before) to now. After the death of his companion Enkidu, a wild man built by the god’s, Gilgamesh invariably learns that “life, which you look for, you will never find. For when the gods created man, they let death be his share, and life withheld in their own hands.”

Transhumanism, born of and fodder for so many works of science fiction, exudes this same impulse, the longing for physical immortality and the innate terror of death. Could we, as humans, manipulate the world according to our own irrational precepts, our fear of death and our egocentricity, to stave off the loss of self, using technology to metamorphosize into something both us and other?

As I speak, we are doing it. We have always been doing it, since the first stone thrown, stick sharpened, pair of glasses worn. Consider the commonplace practice of replacing bones with titanium simulations. Consider transporting our consciousness inside the rapidly evolving realm of virtual reality. Is our quest against expiration innate and natural or unholy like the Frankenstein’s corpse amalgam? Does it dehumanize and isolate us like the characters in Jeremy Olson’s exhibition, or is it what makes us human?

I bring up these stories, concepts and questions because I see them proposed at a slant, that is to say poetically, in the transformed tomes of humanness that are the characters in Olson’s work. Isolated science fictions, the inanimate animated, and cartoon revelries-both charming and unnerving-inhabit stylish interiors nested in a further distanced dystopian vista parallel to the one we all find ourselves, in the real world, in. Chopped down forests and dilapidated alleyways sit as tertiary views beyond the containment architectures of Olson’s caricatures. They are pacing, gazing or bored in repose in safe recessed equilibriums.

housesitter, oil on panel, 61 x 51cm

In housesitter, an asymmetrical pipe with asymmetrical breasts and piercing asymmetrical blue eyes- lounging on a yellow and orange retro designer couch-gazes with one eye to a flame burning from a glass oil lamp, and with the other eye at itself in a mirror. Both eyes are turned away from a chemical green sky and looming mountain-scape just outside a round window. The sitter is divorced from what exists outside of its apartment biosphere. It itself is a leaky pipe, some putrid pollution is pooling on a wooden floor.

boundaries of sentiment, oil on canvas, 91 x 76 cm

In boundaries of sentiment, two wolf octopodes in retro science fiction containment ships shyly hold intestine-like tube hands and watch a sunset under a minimalist concrete balcony (which reminds me of the 80’s downtown Dallas brutalist architecture used as settings in the movie Robocop).

flesh horizon, oil on panel, 51 x 41 cm

In flesh horizon, a menacing green-eyed head of cauliflower grimaces before a deforested landscape. It doesn’t look happy to be exposed to the dystopian elements that its brethren creatures of neighboring paintings are all mostly sheltered from. Hewn tree stumps are tangled below a red horizon.

The characters Olson paints are not cartoons or fantasies, they are surreal amalgams of captive and distorted humans, held hostage by the broader systems of hierarchy and control they unconsciously create and enforce. They recall seminal surrealists like Max Ernst, particularly his image The Elephant Celebes, where machine parts and the debris of industrialization animate into beastly figures before a polluted sky.

These pieces also make me think about the similarities of contemporary privileged upper-middle-class Americans and animals in zoo exhibits as defined in John Berger’s grouping of essays called Why Look at Animals.

The animal and the upper-middle-class American are both privileged in being constantly afforded the necessities of existence-shelter, food, clean water, etc. but both are also trapped in an external system out of their control. Both have the immediate appearance of safety and advantage, a controlled aesthetic made to look like nature for the animal or pleasure as material wealth for the person. Both have the constant and pressing existential threat of instability. For the animal it is the instinctual and omnipresent fear of the intruder, for the person it is the potential to lose the stability of income, safety, or health (which is more and more constantly threatened as our social order degenerates under the weight of a waning democracy and the purposefully uneducated masses). The threat of exposure to the unregulated realities of a chaotic truth outside the illusion of stasis brings both a satiating comfort and an irrefutable frustration at being trapped. I like to think the animal’s dream becomes the desecration of its captor, the American’s anger at captivity is satiated through substance and consumerism, both are their own kind of violence. It is important to understand that the threat of upset to equilibrium is key to the survival of the system itself, it creates commerce for the human who needs to constantly consume goods and services to placate their unconscious discomfort in captivity and it brings the potential of exciting danger for the zoo visitor.

Installation view

John Berger compared Francis Bacon’s room-bound ghost-faced men to the animal human hybrids of Walt Disney. Think of Mickey Mouse or Goofy, both have clothed human bodies and the head of animals. The thing that is most funny about a man with the head of a dog is his powerlessness, his utterly apparent placeless-ness, tragedy and humor being the same.

Do you remember the cartoons where Goofy is going about the daily business of a 1950’s middle-class American? For example, he is driving to work at rush hour with a male narrator explaining this everyday ritual like an ethnographer. Berger says the disembodied ghosts of Bacon’s compositions illicit the same muse as Disney’s composite characters, the muse of the imprisoned, the caged, the out of place. I see Olson as a direct continuation of this strange lineage, one further down the line that is closer to an imminent unraveling of humanness in the age of the Anthropocene.

As the caged animal we have two options. We can sit in our temporary cells of comfort and frustration and ignore the unraveling, staring at our social media mediated reflection and pretending that this dead end can lead us to immortality rather than to a digital Necropolis.

Our other option is more challenging, because it requires us to sacrifice the illusion of comfort. It is to escape our individual containers by pushing against the tide of dystopian truths with community, humanism, art, education and the sciences, embracing and healing alongside cultures we have so long desecrated, remembering our immortality rests not in sewing new versions of dead pasts together and willing them back to electric life to repeat a tired cyclical history like Frankenstein’s monster, but from planting the memory of our actions while living in the soil of the reality we share.

panic on holiday, oil on canvas, 76 x 61 cm

Sunstone, An Exhibition

*Aleah Chapin *Amber Hany *Alan Macdonald *Alannah Farrell *Angela Fraleigh *Angela Gram*Anna Mond *Anthony White *Ben Howe *Brandi Twilley *Buket Savci *Christina Duarte *Corinne Beardsley *Daniel Maidman *Eric Mavko *Eric Wert *Hannah Murray *Heidi Elbers *Jamie Martinez *Jacob Hicks* Jessica Damsky *Jiannan Wu *Kaitlyn Stubbs *Kiley Ames *Kristin Kwan *Margaret McCann *Mariano Ching *Meg Franklin *Melanie Vote *Michelle Doll *Miguel Carter-Fisher *Nehemiah Cisneros *Rob Plater *Susannah Martin *Sui Park *Vini Nascimento *Zachari Logan

Sunstone is a silicate mineral occurring in igneous, a type of rock formed of molten material. Mineral platelet positioning within sunstone creates aventurescence, a phenomena of visual radiance, a sparkle. The platelet orientation and density within influences the perceived hue of the stone, forming a radiant topology.

2020 has been a singularly challenging year. Artists, as always, continue to seek reprieve and triumph over obstacle and tragedy in the expression, translation and embodiment of feeling into object. We continue to make the unseen seen, to manifest form through the transformation of materiality. We give life to the most remote elements of the unconscious. The muse ignites us and is like the metallic glitter scattering through igneous rock. Dazzling, short lived, but birthed by every angle, every new challenge, it is a radiance inside the artist like inside the sunstone that prolongs us, that carries us forward.

Thank you to all who submitted work, more generally, thank you to every artist. The work you do is fundamental and courageous.

Click work to expand.

Vini Naso, The Raven, digital, 30 x 40 in

Website: Vini Nascimento,

Instagram: @vininaso

Anthony White, Exposure Control, pla on panel, 36 x 36 in

Website: Anthony White

Instagram: @culturalcrisis

Jessica Damsky, Carnal Garden, oil on panel, 16 x 12 in

Website: Jessica Damsky

Instagram: @jessicadamsky

Susannah Martin, Bavaria, oil on canvas, 170 x 240 cm

Website: Susannah Martin

Instagram: @susannah_martin

Buket Savci, Brooklyn Happening, oil on canvas, 28 x 46 in

Website: Buket Savci

Instagram: @buketsavci

Zachari Logan, Esta Selva Selvaggia, Installation, Collateral Project of the 58th Venice Biennale Thetis Foundation, pastel on black paper, 59 x 288 in

Website: Zachari Logan

Instagram: @zachari_logan

Angela Gram, Transfigured Night, oil on linen, 50 x 60 in

Website: Angela Gram

Instagram: @angelagramart

Margaret McCann, Freudian Still Life, oil on linen, 24 x 30 in

Website: Margaret McCann

Instagram: @margaret_mccann_art

Meg Franklin, Waterfall Night, velvet, wood, foam, rocks, pins, glue, 16 x 11 x 6 in

Website: Meg Franklin

Instagram: @gabooldra)

Alan Macdonald, The Temple of Reason, oil on linen, 70 x 80 in

Website: Alan Macdonald

Instgram: @alanmacdonaldart

Anna Mond, The Milkmaid, After Vermeer, acrylic on canvas, 50 x 40 cm

Website: Anna Mond

Instagram: @annamond

Hannah Murray, Hearts of Gold, oil on canvas, 46 x 36 in

Website: Hannah Murray

Instagram: @hannah_murray_artist

Kristin Kwan, Tiger, Tiger, oil on panel, 11 x 14 in

Website: Kristin Kwan

Instagram: @kristinkwanart

Eric Mavko, Vulture, mixed media on canvas, 50 x 32 in

Website: Eric Mavko

Instagram: @emavko

Alannah Farrell, Midsummer Night 2nd Street, oil on canvas, 60 x 36 in

Website: Alannah Farrell

Instagram: @alannah.farrell.studio

Kaitlyn Stubbs, September 15, 2020, oil on canvas, 9 x 12 in

Website: Kaitlyn Stubbs

Jacob Hicks, Tribute to Toni Morrison, oil on panel, 24 x 32 in

Website: Jacob Hicks

Instagram: @jacob_hicks_studio

Corinne Beardsley, Missing Touch, The Companion Series, video

Website: Corinne Beardsley

Instagram:@corinnebeardsley

Nehemiah Cisneros, Playfully Serious, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 84 in

Website: Nehemiah Cisneros

Instagram: @nehemiahcisneros

Eric Wert, Nimbus, oil on canvas, 60 x 48 in

Website: Eric Wert

Instagram: @ericwert33

Daniel Maidman, Tanya, The Pond, Morning, colored pencil on paper, 15 x 11 in

Instagram: @danielmaidman

Christina Duarte, Venus with Usagi, oil on canvas, 18 x 26 in

Website: Christina Duarte

Instagram: @cmdoart

Rob Plater, Awkward Imitation, ink on paper,  8 x 10 in

Website: Rob Plater

Instagram: @tmoplater

Angela Fraleigh, Our World Swells Like Dawn When the Sun Licks the Water, oil & acrylic on canvas, 90 x 198 in

Website: Angela Fraleigh

Mariano Ching, Float In Rainbow, oil on canvas, 60 x 60 in

Website: ariano Ching

Instagram: @bangawsabaw

Kiley Ames, A Story of Beauty and Blindness, oil on linen, 80 x 50 in

Website: Kiley Ames

Instagram: @Kiley Ames 

Jiannan Wu, Trilogy Ⅱ, Acrylic on resin, wood, 8 x 10 x 3.4 in

Website: Jiannan Wu

Instagram: @jiannan_wu

Heidi Elbers, Swampland, oil on paper, 14 x 11 in

Website: Heidi Elbers

Instagram: @heidielbers

Miguel Carter-Fisher, Aparna Feeding Violet, charcoal on toned paper, 15 x 23 in

Website: Miguel Carter-Fisher

Instagram: @MiguelCFstudio

Melanie Vote, Recumbent, oil on paper on panel, 9 x 12 in

Website: Melanie Vote

Instagram: @melanievotestudio

Brandi Twilley, Summer Morning, oil on canvas, 14 x 26 in

Website: Brandi Twilley

Instagram: @branditwilley

Michelle Doll, Family (MF2 Micro), oil on panel, 10 x 13.25 in

Website: Michelle Doll

Instagram: @michellelynndoll

Sui Park, Keyhole, black cable ties, 59 x 24 x 4.5 (H) in

Website: Sui Park

Instagram: @park.sui

Amber Hany, A Portrait of my Kitchen Window, digital painting, 2100 x 2800 px

Website: Amber Hany

Instagram: @amberhany_art

Ben Howe, Dream, oil on canvas, 122 x 160 cm

Instagram: @benhoweart

Jamie Martinez, Metamorphosing Into an Octopus, paint, spell, marker and scratches on clay, 9 in round

Website: Jamie Martinez

Instagram: @triangulism

Aleah Chapin, Deborah, oil on panel, 20 x 30 in, courtesy of the artist and Flowers Gallery, New York/London/Hong Kong 

Website: Aleah Chapin

Instagram: @aleah_chapin

Review: Willehad Eilers, LA BLAGUE

Galerie Droste, 5 Dec – 19 Dec 2020

DAS SCHWEIN, oil on canvas, 145 x 190 cm

Willehad Eilers or Wayne Horse, the German painter, asks us to participate in la blague-the joke-that is excoriated from asking “what remains when food and other essential goods are always available? When war is only known from the news and you never have to fear for your life? When money and infrastructure are always available?” 

“What remains is your own self-optimization and self-realization. However, the range of what is ‘offered’ as success, happiness or a fulfilled life is relatively small. Thus, not only a general alarming shift of self-related problems can be observed, but also a repetitive and unrealistic representation of life as a single high, as a single party” (text excerpt via Galerie Droste).

Eilers paints this electrifyingly gruesome perpetual party. The work elicits tarts or war head candies, undulating between opulence and disgust, sour and sweet. They are monumentally-scaled, in the vein of the great history paintings. They are surreal conflagrations parallel to German expressionism and its counter Neue Sachlichkeit forbearers who explored their era’s identical fever dreams of deadening excess, the roaring 20’s of the Weimar Republic. It is somehow difficult for us to learn human time is a record on perpetual loop. 

Dreh Dich Nicht Um, oil on canvas, 160 x 240 cm

A fertility trope of woman as rabbit travels through the paintings, represented by the Playboy bunny ears sitting on the various heads of female party-goers. Empires rise and fall like anthills, this is forgotten in the weight of human instinct and hunger. The desire to propagate one’s influence and stake in the future, to revel in the lack of need given to the few who efface it for the many, rules the stretched, broken forms composing these apocalyptic orgies. 

Baby with You, oil on canvas, 52 x 39 cm

The paintings are grandly base and biting, pulling the viewer into a common pit dug of endless surplus, into tornado earthquake zombie hoards of the “well-to-do,” so drunk and empty on account of deadening blackhole enjoyments.

Their is a dangerous pathology that afflicts the global affluent, the hegemony that will not relinquish its power and refuses empathy for those not positioned on top. The obscenely wealthy minority of white males who control the distribution of human resources do not concern themselves with a human communal fate but with their individual comfort and, secondarily, a familial fate. This group has waged a multi-generational war conquering as much of the world’s resources as possible through the widening boundaries of globalized reach, and they have won this war to the detriment of the world, humanity ecologically, and (most ironically) themselves. Morals play no part, truth and honesty play no part, just the basest instinct for more. The distinct and succinct goal of a conqueror is to claim everything for himself, though this subjugates, imprisons, and restrains any hope for change for the majority of humanity.

DER SCHERZ, oil on canvas, 145 x 190 cm

The longing for accumulation, material and control is an incessant human instinct that prevails in the uneducated, fearful and unconscious. Unlike what might be historically perceived, a lack of true education (this excludes an education purchased or performed) is a fundamental feature of the present global aristocracy. Why would an ill-informed hegemon venture to consider empathy when life-long entitlement demonstrates the only necessity is that the world consider him?

Capital He is trapped in his personally sickening fumigation, this thoughtless roach, this image constructed and desired not only poisoning those without, but those within. Notably, the tyrant is profoundly unaware of his own brittleness and stupidity, the decay of his state, exhibit A: Donald Trump, or The General in His Labyrinth, by Gabriel García Márquez, or any number of fumbling or poised dictators or corporate male managers, landlords, or business owners.

Installation View

Eilers applies an accessible and cruel visual language to illustrate all of this, it is an important critique on a sweepingly infirm world and it comes at a crucial time.

Artist portrait: Willehad Eilers/ Wayne Horse

Review: Apostasy by Super A

Thinkspace, December 12-January 2, 2021

“Skeletor” (2020) Acrylic on linen, 20″ × 30″

“The abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief.”-Oxford Languages

Apostasy, by Dutch artist Super A /Stefan Thelen, is one of the first slated exhibitions at Thinkspace Project’s new gallery.

These images are indebted to the act of wrapping, obfuscating and exposing. The history of art finds perpetual eroticism in forms simultaneously revealed and hidden; excitement pools in the act of almost seeing, in the frustration of quieted revelation. Super A wraps Stefan Thelen (himself) in a duel identity. He, like his art, is both hidden and seen.

“The Itchy & Scratchy Show”(2020) Acrylic on linen, 28″ × 34″

The works are palimpsest shrines, pristine painted illusions to Saturday morning cartoons and adolescence. American pop culture is a ribbon enveloping actuality, or what actuality is boiled down to. For example, The cartoon He-Man’s Skeletor wraps up a skull, Disney’s Big Bad Wolf a true wolf. 

Visual form as we know it in the natural world contains so many kinds of reality: action, emotion, sense, impulse, impression, association. One thing is never one thing. It is the task of the artist to reveal, to peel the proverbial onion of subjectivity aroused by reality. Super A’s act of apostasy is refusing the surface identity prescribed by a culture that equates maturity with the renunciation of itself from myth and metaphor, scrubbing away magic and ceremony and childhood. The paintings are bold and rich, but the repetition of wrapping one “thing” in only one “ribbon” might be a limiting tendency, a minor criticism for a beautifully realized body of work. 

“Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” (2020), Acrylic on linen, 71″ × 51″

Contemporary America, as I learned it in the suburbs of West Texas, fears the perpetual layers of the real, the depth of infinity sinking and rising from every life and object. It is in this animism one reveals dream to free themselves from the bonds of institution- church and state, god and country. Institutions maintain control by halting personal and cultural evolution. By their very nature they resist change; change demands new order. The integrated self cannot be compartmentalized, the goal of the oppressor is to cut the Möbius strip, the task of the artist is to heal it.

“Fata Morgana” (2020), Acrylic on linen, 32″ × 40″

Review: Merlin Carpenter, Paint-It-Yourself

Reena Spaulings Fine Art, January 31-March 1, 2020

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five of 10 very blank canvases

Let’s first say, the trying task of finding this gallery probably adds to the allure of Reena Spaulings as a space, a downtown second-floor hideaway above a bustling (and I’m going to add delicious) Chinese restaurant. The entrance stairwell, lightless, is accessed by venturing through a gaping door maw above a subway exit. I made friends with a lost Australian filmmaker on her first month of a Visa with an artistic curiosity.

We ascend the stairs together, all the while my friend insisting we must be trespassing as I’m suspecting the feeling of exclusion and threat is most certainly of design and desired by the gallery- an escape room of sorts for gentrific 20-somethings seeking their soul’s calling in “the mystery” of art. At the second floor a statuesque, black-clad gallerina closes the door in my face before we might enter, so I proceed to knock.

Now here is where the arc of this art mystery steadies and declines. We gain access and pass through German speakers drinking seltzer fresh from an-ice filled, over-sized garbage can. We pass through cold, conspicuous stares and anxious glancings of young gathering spectators. I see the elevated gallery, wall to wall with maybe 5 x 5′ blank and pristinely-prepared canvases.

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“Paint-It-Yourself” instructs the press release along with maybe 10 introduction-to-philosophy-level paragraphs on the artist’s “oeuvre” sprinkled with thoughts on mirrors, climate change, and politics. It was all pretty self-important.

Low and behold, the Germans and twenty somethings crawl toward the box of oil paints in the center of the space and begin to paint, I can’t shake the notion I’m attending the 11th hour-planned birthday party of an unloved, well-off child. The party has nice dressings, a fancy entryway, a spectacle and activity, but is ridden and heavy from a lack of care or meaning.

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I decide to paint rather than continue in the causal “should we or shouldn’t we” on-looker dialogues and social constructions I’m sure Mr. Carpenter claims within which can be found his true intent. It is such an over-explored intent, Merlin, and the shouldn’t is found in you making money from this or making more work of undergrad Foundations critique caliber. I’ve seen your other art, next time, paint it yourself.

Addendum: I will admit, I enjoyed painting for a few minutes-I’m a painter, so I also know you shouldn’t encourage young adults and children in attendance to finger-paint with cadmium red. That’s both a liability issue and a health hazard.

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my frog contribution

 

Review: Aaron Gilbert, PSYCHIC NOVELLAS

Lyles and King, March 1 – April 7, 2019

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There is magical realism when reality in a work slips into reverie. Aaron Gilbert’s Psychic Novellas strobe between unflinching social realism and nightmare.

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Like Gothic altarpiece, Neue Sachlichkeit, and George Tooker, careful brush strokes built meticulously, one clipped touch next to or on top of another, riddle the surface with vibrating anxiety, a sometimes obsessive, sometimes hastened application imbuing each painting with schizophrenic, violent energy.

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Narrative is the blood of these paintings. It courses within screaming and whispering trauma, abuse, oppression, sex, violence. One story here is not hopeless, the motif of the child present as either ghost, pregnant belly, interior keyboard player, or 3/4th’s regal standing portrait.

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The painting I wish was the best is the above image of the artist holding a child, on Gilbert’s head is a crevice moon scar suggesting a healed, gnarly surgery. I wish it was the best because it is so hopeful, but where the artist truly sings is within nightmare, like he has experienced too much of it and become it, like the swirling dead eyes of the people he paints belong only to him.

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Review: Cirrus, Katrina Fimmel

 

Lime, 2017. Watercolor, marker, gouache, acrylic on canvas
Lime, 2017

Within the new Tribeca gallery Lubov, upstairs and unassuming, I found the paintings of Katrina Fimmel. A grouping of large, oddly beautiful and reverie-laden mixed-media transparencies are hung on walls painted like midday clouds. I must admit, at first I felt rebuked and removed from the art. I searched for an entry point, but I think the lack of focal consequence ends up being the point, a kind of confrontation with a void made visible. In contemporary life, where we swim through visual information inconsequentially, almost all of which has a hidden capitalistic agenda, to look through becomes an act of seeing.

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Installation View

How is one allowed inside an image when every inch is transparent?  The Francis Picabia retrospective at MoMA is a good historical relative to this work. He too has a series of transparent paintings where, like Fimmel, lines and form confuse layer and focus.  Both artists expose a disturbing cynicism toward modern (in Picabia’s case) and post-modern/late-capitalism (for Fimmel’s) daily life. Value can be found in not trusting an image, in using our imagination to swim past a visual surface.

Dadaism, Picabia’s heart, exposes absurdity through the expression of it. In times of political and social turmoil, when the corrupt disposes us of what we know as truth, a heartfelt expression of nonsense we are expected to accept thrown back at society seems just. 

When pieced back together the broken images of Fimmel are strong longings for childhood. They speak of injury, fleeting time, adolescence, Saturday morning cartoons. They are genuine and cynical simultaneously, innocent and suspicious. I would recommend keeping an eye out for more of her work, it is strong, and dare I say, layered.

Zoom, 2017. Watercolor, marker, gouache, acrylic on canvas
Zoom, 2017

Ponytail, 2017. Watercolor, marker, gouache, acrylic on canvas
Ponytail, 2017

Christian Rex van Minnen in Conversation with Jacob Hicks

 

2016

I fell in sort of angry love with the paintings of Christian Rex van Minnen (what a name: a religious predatory dinosaur Dutch Master). This is true art floating through the thick fog of contentless, deskilled, rapidly produced art world uneducated wealthy person chicken feed that saturates and obstructs true voices.  He lobs technical precision into the birthing of sugary monstrosities, articulated insanities, perfectly formed pustule mirrors reflecting rupturing cultural delusions and illnesses no one dares look at but everyone proliferates.

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Your paintings are the equivalent of quality production blockbuster movies: technical precisionism rooted in old master practice, totally compelling illusionism; all of this adds up to an uncanny, stomach-turning, semi-computer generated (but with a quattrocento instagram filter) horror that is very time/generation specific. You are Cronenberg without a budget cap and tempted by cgi. How do you relate to cinema and what is your specific kind of grotesque’s aimed societal comment?

I do like movies. Cronenberg, Werner Herzog and David Lynch are my favorite directors. I knew movies way before I knew art so they have naturally had a strong influence on my work. I’ve always loved directors who intentionally aim to destabilize the viewer in a benevolent sort of way. Disturbance is ok, but if it isn’t followed with some heart and good intentions you’re just an asshole.

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You know that feeling as a child on Halloween had from consuming too much candy? All of the excitement before in the amassing, the lack of restriction during consumption, the little pings of oncoming sickness, finally the inevitable ache. I feel in your work a deep celebration of that gut sickness and the wildness that leads there. All sorts of floating, metaphysical crystalline sugar confections bloom within your picture planes. What is your relationship to sweets, these mass produced and beautiful little poison pellets we are trained to revere, though they sicken us?

I can identify with that in so far as what you are describing is a commingling of contrasting emotions and feelings. To be completely honest I didn’t realize that they would be almost universally interpreted as candy. That wasn’t my intention, as naive as that may sound. I was mining for a new range of imagery and a technical approach that could increase contrast, both technically and conceptually. These bright, ultra-luminous, transparent, often weightless whimsical objects were the solution.

What is it about the ugly sensation, cankers, cancers, horrors, that so provokes you to your result, and why so much precisionism in its depiction?

I don’t really know. I think that those forms come from noodling the paint. Just making things up as I go, things look distorted, cancerous, bulbous. I drag those images through a division of labor that makes them believable. I like the result! It has certainly led to a lot of interesting imagery and post-rationalizing of concept. But, in the end, it’s fundamental surreal, automatic drawing/painting. I aim for believability rather than representation.

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Tell me about your relationship to the Dutch still-life. That golden age was one of excess wealth and so for the first time a wide array of non-religious art appeared. Yours is that but in a cult of death sort of way, an exuberance for rotting fills the religious void.

That too is a result of a confluence of interests. First and foremost, that era produced paintings that I am most visually attracted to. It’s oil painting at it’s zenith. So much of it was about technique and that had a lot to do with the market being detached from the church. Then there’s the issue of legacy. My father is from South Africa, and many generations before that, Flanders. There is some dark history there in the middle. I was raised to think a lot about legacy and atonement and how to right the wrongs of the past. Consequently, I have thought a lot about my connection to Europe and what it means to be an American of European heritage.

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Who are your major influences, painting, music, literature, etc…?

Rembrandt, hip hop, Cormac McCarthy, David Lynch, Otto Marseus van Schrieck, Aphex Twin, Bukowski. Those are some that come to mind.

How political is your work–what do artists do during our current climate of American unraveling?

I don’t know. People say that it’s all political right? Let’s go with that. I was in the studio watching it all happen, the election, and it was like that scene in Alien. Seemed like it was going ok then the convulsions and the chest bursting and this fucking shit. I felt both bewildered but also emboldened. This is my work, I’ve been training for this. This is a spiritual war.

2015

How did you start exhibiting with Poulsen? Give me a little of your working/personal history/trajectory that got you from point A to B.

I met Morten the first year I moved to NYC. A couple of the artists there, also friends of mine, told him about my work. He came over to my studio, basically a closet in my apartment, and liked what he saw and then things just took off. He is a force, that Morten Poulsen. Not to be underestimated. I’m very grateful for what he’s done for me and my family.

Do you have any upcoming projects or exhibitions you would like to share?

I am making a new body of work for a 4 person show at Postmasters Gallery here in New York in March that I’m really, really excited about. Then preparing for my first solo show with Richard Heller Gallery out in LA late fall. It’s a big year and I’m just excited that I can go into that studio everyday and make work that people are into right now. Very grateful.

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Sui Park in Conversation with Jacob Hicks

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Sprout, 2

I have followed Sui Park’s intricate and beautiful sculptural works for the last several years after meeting her through an artist residency at Brooklyn Art Space. Her art contains something intimate though expansive; it is filled with the force of geometry and nature, little small truth’s obsessive repetition that insists until a collective simplicity becomes god-like, like a pedal to a flower, a leaf to the tree.

How did you begin making your sculptural structures?  What relationship does the work have to traditional female handcraft, to the spider?

I apply traditional weaving or basketry methods to create contemporary art forms that incapsulate my sentiments and values. My background is in fiber art and interior architecture. With fiber artwork I always try to create a perspectival view. My main interior architectural work attempted to augment traditional space with organic forms through methods and materials largely used in fiber art. I think I combine the two pretty well. I always wish I had eight hands, but I’d never be as good as any spider!

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Flow, 2015

Do you ever recreate biological geometry, or are your forms improvised?

I think my work lies in between. Each of my pieces follow a process of sketching to structuring. Most of the emphasis is on creating forms that encapsulate a theme. Finding a right match between the form and the theme is always difficult. Some works are intuitive, while some are delayed.

I see these little entities as thoughts on a micro world, do you?  Are the forms more about life or structure, about space or soul?

I don’t think I have any intention of making forms from the micro world. I follow my materials and my work is about capturing and representing a moment of change. I think about the structures and space creating ambiance and sentiment.

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Bloom, 2015


If you were one of the objects you make, would you be large or small, living or not?

That is a good question and also a difficult one. I think each piece has a little bit of me within it, like how I know someone else’s song, book, or artwork without knowing the author’s name.

Who and what influences you…art, music, literature, biology, etc…?

I admire the architect Peter Zumthor’s work. To quote him: “Architecture is not about form, it is about many other things. The light and the use, and the structure, and the shadow, the smell and so on. I think form is the easiest to control, it can be done at the end.”

I learn from his masterpieces how he has perfected the expression of his own remarkable character. His work helps me figure out how I can bring out “mine.”

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Cell I and II, 2014

The material of making is readily available and inexpensive plastic, is this due to formal or conceptual concerns?

Cable ties and monofilaments are the two materials that I mostly use these days. They are mass produced industrial materials that are relatively inexpensive and easy to find. However, they seem to do lot of things for my work. They have flexibility, which is effective in creating curvatures and allows me to easily fabricate the shape I want. They also have enough durability and strength to hold the structure that I want.

It may be ironic to create organic forms and represent our changing sentiments with artificial and mass produced plastic materials, but I think the irony is well preserved and blended into my work, creating illusionary or mystical ambience.

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Shell, 2011

How important is the location of exhibition to the work?

Different factors can change how my work is perceived, and location is certainly one of them. Rather than trying to control the location to bring out my best work, I try to find a matching environment and bring out the best of the environment. I like how my work is perceived differently in various environments. Sometimes it’s less than what I expect, but sometimes it surprises and amazes me; I think that’s one of the reasons I enjoy site-specific installations so much.

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Mostly Cloudy, 2015

Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or projects you would like to share?

I have a three-person show scheduled at the Catskill Art Society in Livingstone, New York in March. I plan to introduce my new 2-dimensional cable tie series “Portrait.” I’m also exhibiting my large 3-dimensional works in a group show “Dismantle the Core” at Elaine L Jacob Gallery, Wayne State University in Michigan over the summer, and throughout the 2017 Sculpture X Symposium.

Kurt Kauper in Conversation with Jacob Hicks

maria-callas-at-covent-garden-3-1997
Maria Callas at Covent Garden #3, 1997

I see in your work a levity reached through naivety and then grounded in cynicism with a magician’s trick. Let me explain: you create a beautiful homage to a cultural nostalgia, say, a president’s wife, an attractive hockey player, an actor or a diva.  You paint true that feeling of falsity and kitsch that all powerful propaganda musters in a celebration of it. Finally, you deviate-magician’s trick-by removing the hockey player’s clothes, or maybe heightening the color to a too dream-like tone, or maybe increasing the sense that all flesh, concrete, environment are made of plastic, are eerily unreal. How do you respond to this reading?

I do like that you used the word “levity,” in that it suggests humor in relationship to subject matter that typically demands seriousness; I certainly wanted that in relationship to some ideas I was interested in–the male nude, presidential portraits, even sexuality. And that’s a good definition of satire, which I’ve always been interested in–I love Hogarth, Goya, John Currin, and, above all, Picabia for that; even Ingres, although I don’t think his satire was intentional. I don’t think of my paintings as cynical.

I hope that the last points you made are true about my paintings. I want them to come out of well known traditions–both artistic and otherwise–but in a modified form. Not radically modified, and maybe even modified without it being apparent to the viewer, so that the expectations associated with those traditions aren’t quite fulfilled. I love the Russian Formalist concept of “estrangement.” The idea that the role of art is to estrange reality so that perception doesn’t become automatized. For me, that constitutes the art experience at its most profound. I always try to create that experience for the viewer by making paintings that occupy an indefinite place somewhere between the real and the artificial, the familiar and the unfamiliar, the obvious and the oblique.

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Man Lying Down, 2015

Are you a political artist?  I think the two options are…a) you are truly celebrating the dream bubble of this Americana, and b) you are poking holes in it by augmenting its surreal nature. And, I guess c) a little bit of both a and b.

I like the description “poking holes in it by augmenting its surreal nature.” I would be happy if my work did that!

Having said that, I don’t think of my art as political in the typical meaning of that phrase: I don’t intentionally make work that is meant to address a specific and present political condition and advocate for immediate change. Not in the sense that John Heartfield or The Guerrilla Girls or Dread Scott are political. But in another way, I think that all good art is political, in that if it’s good–and experienced authentically–then it alters consciousness. And that’s ultimately political. I think the question of the political (broadly defined) value of art is particularly relevant now: Trump’s election has made it absolutely clear that Adorno was right in his analysis of art and the culture industry: that by and large cultural experience in advanced societies is one of mass distraction, and that has destructive consequences. I take an old point of view: that there’s such a thing as high art, and experiencing it offers an alternative to the manipulations of the culture industry. I don’t think that anybody who consistently challenges themselves with complex art experiences could ever fall for the mass manipulation that led to the election of Trump. I think a sustained engagement with art forces people out of habitual patterns of thinking. That helps create a social consciousness that has critical thinking at its core. In that way, Wallace Stevens is as valuable politically as any overtly political artist. I would hope that my work operates politically in that way. Whether it does or not is a different question.

 

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Michelle Obama, 2010

The imaginary clothes removal makes me think of Goya’s clothed then Nude Maja. Tell me about your influences (literary, musical, visual)…

The artist I love more than any other is Ingres. From very early on, he was my favorite artist, and that remains true to this day. I adore his color, his form sense, his reinvention of the body, his unintentional but gloriously perverse way of seeing the world; I love the way his paintings push resolution beyond the point of the real, into a destabilizing artificiality; I love that he thought of himself as upholding the glorious classical tradition of the Ancients and Raphael, but was in fact producing a kind of proto-modern uncanny. There’s nobody I’d rather look at. I also love Holbein and David. I find them both strange in some ways similar to Ingres, though there are many differences; I also love many individual paintings by artists whose entire bodies of work I don’t necessarily love: for example, at the National Gallery in London, there are paintings by Vincenzo Catena, Thomas DeKeyser and Hendrick ter Brugghen that I am obsessed with. Among Modern Artists, some I’m most moved by are Lyubov Popova and Russian Constructivism in general, Florine Stettheimer, Alice Neel, Meredith Frampton, Picabia, Warhol, Ed Ruscha, Richard Artschwagger, many others….

I’m not sure I can clearly articulate his influence on me, but I’m obsessed with Bach’s music. I listen to him almost to the exclusion of anything else. I don’t think there’s any art of any kind more moving and inexhaustible than his.

And then my favorite writer is probably Roland Barthes. I’m reading his book “The Neutral” right now, and it’s a stunning example of his idiosyncratic, inexplicable, poetic intelligence. I love that he shifted from a kind of disenchanter in his early semiological texts to a writer who, in his late work, created an entirely new way of analyzing and understanding enchantment. I also love Kant, Marx, Adorno, John Donne, Wallace Stevens, many others.

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Cary Grant # 1, 2001

How did you get gallery representation, and how did you get involved with Deitch Projects?

Somebody once said to me that there are as many ways to get gallery representation as there are Artists. And I think there’s some truth to that. I was very lucky. When I was at UCLA, Randy Sommer from ACME., a terrific gallery in LA, came to UCLA to do a lecture on the Artists he represented, and to do studio visits. He visited my studio, and showed some interest. He took my card. A year later, after developing a body of work, I called and asked if he would do a studio visit. He came by, and we started working together. ACME. was my first gallery, and they still represent me in LA. One of my first Diva paintings was reproduced in Flash Art, and Jeffrey Deitch saw it and got in touch with me. I started working with him after that.

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Portrait of Mie After Harpers Bazaar July 1958, 2012

Who are your favorite contemporary painters; what do you foresee for our field of practice in relation to the age of the internet, and contemporary political maelstroms?


Some favorite contemporary painters: Kerry James Marshall is brilliant. He’s a humanist painter on an epic scale, which is rare today. I was really moved and confounded by Tomma Abts’ show at the New Museum several years ago, and have continued to think about her work ever since. I love Cynthia Daignault’s attitude toward painting, and the simple gestures she uses to generate bodies of work. Maureen Gallace’s weird familiarity and unexpected formal sophistication is something I’ve been moved by since first seeing it 20 years ago. I love Nicola Verlato. I think he’s an incredibly accomplished, idiosyncratic technician, and I love the way he builds emotional content through layered historical references. I think Alexi Worth is a really interesting painter: he genuinely creates objects that defy easy categorization. Many LA painters I was introduced to when I lived there remain important to me: Judie Bamber, Monica Majoli, Ginny Bishton, Lari Pittman, Tom Knechtel. And I’d just to add that I love Christopher Williams and Charles Ray, even though neither are painters.

As far as how painting will change in relationship to the internet? I’m not sure I can give a good answer. New models of thinking and new technology obviously change painting. But I’m not sure I can make a broad prediction about how that will happen, at least not now. Contemporary politics? The disaster that we’re experiencing? I think I addressed it a bit above. I’ll just say that it’s more important now than ever for Artists to make work that does something more than reflect back to viewers the reality we live in, or that just adds to the meaningless noise of most culture; artists have to offer an alternative way of engaging with and experiencing the world.

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Diva # 4, 1994


Do you have any upcoming projects/exhibitions?

I have a solo show scheduled at Almine Rech Gallery in January of 2018.

Jacob Hicks in Conversation with Alessandro Sicioldr

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Oracolo, 2016

Alessandro Sicioldr follows in a long tradition of visionary artists. His works are directed by an informed unconscious, by the Jungian depths of communicative symbol. I discovered it through social media, and have watched in wonder as his pool of active, beautifully haunting imagery changes in content, but never in quality.  Sicioldr employs a luminous visual voice, and so I reached out to discuss his process and motivations.

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L’enigma del sogno o il risveglio, 2016

I see in your work a dream language, an undeniable root to Jung’s collective unconscious, an internal human truth in archetype that resonates so loudly with me. Talk about a few of these elements/motifs in your work

*The double, The Tree, The Sphinx, The King, The moon, Water…

It’s always been hard for me to talk about my images, since they speak through a visual language which is ambiguous, sibylline. I come from a scientific background, (I have a degree in computer science) so I am very careful when talking about mind, spirituality, symbolism and topics involving facts that are impossible to prove with rational means. Rules and boundaries are useless when dealing with metaphysics, so I just let my inner world speak without asking questions. These images are important for me and when I think about them I get a particular feeling. They need to be represented and they follow their strange irrational rules. Why do I put an element there, or use that particular color? It is because it should go there, these are the rules of the painting. I don’t think about symbolism because deliberate and intellectual reasoning can spoil the purity of a composition and the result can easily be fake. I recently discovered that a lot, maybe all of my paintings are composed within the rules of the golden section without knowing, I find this incredible but this is how human minds work.

 

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La Soglia, 2016

What does your process of making look like-do you improvise in paint, do you start with a sketch or composition? Do you work primarily from imagination (I suspect), and how does reference play into your procedure?

I do not have a rigid scheme for the conceptual part because art is like love. There isn’t a routine for falling in love, you just do it, you just feel it and your soul is inclined toward that particular thing. I am a compulsive sketcher, I sketch everything and when I feel that something is important I begin the painting process. The painting process is a mix of craftsmanship and improvisation. I use traditional and contemporary means, I aim for the best not for the old fashioned, so if I prepare myself the raw linen it is because I like it more than industrial ones. I have no rules for references, often I paint from imagination because it is hard to find models like a giant bird chariot with a strange head inside moving on roots with heads inside and pulled by sacerdotes wearing red capes in an icy landscape. But I use some photographs and models to help me a little bit. The fact that I have no real reference is the hardest part of my technique, it is easier to work with a model.

 

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Adam’s dream, 2015

Tell me a little bit about your education-who you studied under/major artistic influences…

I am a self taught, as I said before I have a scientific background but I always nurtured a passion for art, for literature. My mother and my father are both people with great culture, plus my father is a painter and he gave me some basis but I’ve never received a technical lesson in my life. I see paintings, I make copies, I study a lot. The problem with many artists is the lack of culture and experience in fields that are not related with art. I think that a creative should devour tons of books, visit museums, and be curious about things that are difficult. My main and unique influence is my inner world, but i have a deep love for the primitive art, the art of ancient civilizations (I live in the land of etruscans) the byzantines, the medieval and oriental art, the Italian and flemish primitives, Piero di Cosimo, Titian, Lotto, Paris Bordone, Bronzino, Parmigianino, symbolism (Kubin, Redon, Moreau, Spilliaert, Khnopff, Klinger, Kobliha), Felix Vallotton, Gauguin, surrealism (mainly Max Ernst, Kay Sage), the first De Chirico and so on… I also like a lot of contemporary artists!

 

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The Well (Salome), 2015

What do you do to pay the bills? What galleries do you show with? Do you have advice for working artists on how to get their work seen?

I sell paintings and drawings to pay the bills, both alone and with galleries (in and outside Italy), I’m still young and I hope to grow and to reach a wider audience. The only advice I could give is: make great paintings. Do not aim for success, that is a consequence. Money is important but if that becomes the main issue there is something wrong and it is better to get a day job. A day job will allow you to be free, that is the most important thing, not career..

 

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La Sibilla, 2016

Do you have any news, projects, or upcoming exhibitions you would like to share?

No news in these months, I am taking a small break from shows and I am focusing on creating new works. I often need a period where I just paint.

Jamie Adams in Conversation

by Jacob Hicks

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Niagara Pink Pair, Oil on linen, 60 x 48 inches, 2015

Jamie Adams  creates metaphysical realms of collapsed time and indeterminate gravity punctuated by acidic color and sexuality.  He weaves classicism, the old masters, old Hollywood, disco, nature, and modernism into floating, lucid, beautiful dreamscapes.  I have admired his work since I first ran across it.  I was lucky to engage him in the conversation that follows.

JH:  Where are you in relation to your image?  Are you omnipresent-is the whole image you?  Are you nowhere within? 

JA:  I think images created are ultimately more about the artist than the image represented.  I see my work as psychic portraits or representations of an interior life regardless of the subject.  This is not to say that they mirror the artist completely.  In fact, it is a rather imperfect form of expression like any other; sometimes awkward, frequently revelatory.  My relationship with my work is often conflicted.  I don’t know that I ever consider my works to be finished.  I suppose they can be viewed as either some kind of private entertainment or public confession.  It’s what motivates me to continue making.

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Blue Marilyn, Oil on linen, 78 x 83 inches, 2016

JH:  If you were a character in the space of one of your own paintings 

a.) where would you be… 

JA:  I construct spaces that I wish to inhabit and explore.  They are often reminiscent of places I have been or imagined in a dream.  To give an example, in 2005 I was drawn to Jean Seberg’s bedroom apartment in Jean Luc Godard’s film Breathless. What piqued my interest was how it seemed inaccessible, remote, yet strangely familiar.  I imagined its quality of ambient, north-facing light in this filmic space to be a suitable space for a painter’s studio. Creating the jeannie series of paintings was the outcome, the project lasted seven years from 2005-2012.  Currently I am working on a group of paintings I am calling “Blondie Bubba”.  The impetus for the work is to re-imagine different scenarios from my father’s youth.  I want to preserve what has been lost.

b.) who would you be if not you, if you were maybe under the mask by Marilyn or a beautiful black body, or a Titian-esque statue 

JA:  I empathize with the characters in my paintings. My relationship to them—either viewing them as self or other can fluctuate over time.  As a result they often develop with a certain amount of fluidity.  The paintings generally go through multiple iterations, even when I have made preliminary sketches.  The narrative reveals itself within the process of making as the characters reveal themselves to me — almost like auditioning actors for a play, the characters morph and change, sometimes playing a kind of masquerade in order to find the appropriate role.  I am interested in portraying characters in a state of flux or an indeterminate state of being.  I think it has to do with my interest in conveying a certain kind of psychic dimension and complexity, but I will leave that to the viewer to decide.

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Jeanniebigbed 2, Oil on linen, 84 x 96 inches, 2011

JH:  Titian, Giorgione- I see a lot of Venetian influence-what else-Psychedelic 60’s, melodrama Hollywood 50’s, hip hop, pop culture, internet post-modern floating, deeply understood indirect painting.  Tell me what I’m missing-the meat of your work-the reason for making…

JA:  I grew up disco dancing, singing in quartets, and singing in musicals, so whatever flamboyance or theatricality one might find in my work emanates from that place I suppose.  The Italians come into my sightline most recently. I have been teaching a summer in Florence drawing course now with a colleague and friend Buzz Spector via Washington University in St. Louis where we work as faculty.  Seeing the massive Tintoretto’s at the Scuola di san Rocco remind me of Lucas films…and simple things like the slave’s ribcage at the center of “Miracle of the Slave” has captivated me since I was a boy.

JH:  Who is a contemporary painter you love the work of?

JA:  Lisa Yuskavage’s work was featured earlier this year at the Contemporary Art Museum here in St. Louis. I always read her work as more of a provocation, something like a collision between Precious Moments or Pixar and Penthouse.  But after hearing her talk about her work, I understood them much differently.  I read them as coming much more from a place of vulnerability as well as protest.  They reveal trace of a former self that I was not immediately appreciating.  They quite moving when viewed through the lens of life as an accumulation of experience.  Formally, I think she is a marvelous colorist.  Her images have a strong coherency of light, a color clarity.  They remind me of Tiepolo’s quartet at the Chicago Institute.  Her frequent use of green light is curious to me.  It reminds me of an important aspect to making paintings today. It’s useful, maybe even critical, for the painter to set up certain challenges.  It’s one way to find new territory.  Brilliant greens everyone knows are difficult to manage.  They easily can become overbearing.  It makes me think of things soaking in formaldehyde like Jenny Saville figures (interesting in their conversation with late Renoir…) or Kim Keever dreamscapes (which I love)…but Lisa keeps even this so pleasant and visually enriching, where color passages meander through a range of warms and cools.  Her recent piece “Triptych” (2011) I think is a great example of this on a grand scale.

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Blondie Bubba and the Red Porch, Oil on linen, 96 x 84 inches, 2016

JH:  Do you think Picasso’s vision has been surpassed-he is our time’s Giotto, so who will be the future’s Picasso?

JA:  Philip Guston is someone I look to.  He appropriates from both of these artists and across many genres, and creates profoundly disquieting new form in his late period that is still relevant to contemporary issues–political, social, human. I will say that Giotto’s masterful frescoes at the Scrovegni Chapel still speak to this contemporary viewer.  I had occasion to visit Padua and see it again this summer.  His visualization of hell is terrifying, and the use of mixed spatial systems are incredibly inventive conceptions of the co-existence of temporal and eternal realities.  He certainly serves as an important bridge between a more austere Byzantine aesthetic and the grandeur of the Renaissance as a humanist project.  I am most attracted though to Masaccio’s work at the Brancacci Chapel—the cinematic narrative of Tribute Money, his awkwardly beasty bodies in the Expulsion and Baptism panels.  I think Picasso certainly saw this work and assimilated its form in many of his blue period paintings, one being the couple portrayed in “La Vie”.

JH:  What are computer’s doing to our thoughts and visions as artists?

JA:  Probably like most people I have a love-hate relationship to many of the new technologies.  The digital world is collapsing histories, and the smartphone gives me access even more easily, but I am finding it incredibly distracting in the end.  In the past I admit that I have enjoyed watching television for cheesy sit-coms, infotainment and sports—light hearted stuff, but most of it today is simply mind numbing.  Our kids rely a great deal on Snapchat and texting to communicate.  It’s a great form of communication for it’s speed and efficiency.  But like any other form of communication, it has its limitations, and is sorely lacking if used exclusively.….It’s been quite unavoidable for any of us to not be affected by so much of this–the proliferation of ‘screened’ imagery given the power of cinema, the ubiquity of the smartphone camera, etc… For myself it remains quite paradoxical–equally a problem as much as a solution when you think about how you experience life through so many mediated forms…and this is one of the reasons why I utilize collage and allow certain disparities to exist in the work.  The use of visual tropes via film, lens, or print matter to construct my narratives are useful in this way.

I suspect with the advent of the camera people probably lost a great deal of their capacity to visually remember things because the picture could do it for them. With digital media becoming even more pervasive language becomes marginalized, and any expression, as Norman Bryson states, can easily seem after-the-fact.  So it’s important to find a balance.  There is evidence that typing on a laptop keypad for instance is not as effective as actually taking hand written notes for students in the classroom. You can type faster on the computer, access more information, and so on, but comprehension and the ability to utilize information is less.  This is where media forms such as drawing and painting, embodying the trace of touch and sensual materiality, seem suitable conveyers of human experience, desire and loss.

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Jeannistand, Oil on linen, 78 x 83 inches, 2011

JH:  Do you ever work from life or all of your images sourced from other 2-d images?

JA:  I generally use whatever visual information seems necessary at the time…. I often stage still life props or clothing on a mannequin. Lately, I’ve been working more from memory, as well as developing a more elaborate diorama of characters to work from. Regardless of the source material I think it’s important to leave the references behind and develop the painting on its own terms.  It’s my accommodation to wanting to experience and remember things more directly.

JH:  What do waterfalls mean to you-their metaphor you can’t and don’t resist?

JA:  My first encounter with Niagara Falls was as a boy: it was a euphoric experience of both beauty and terror.  I remember being captivated by the spectacle of its scale.  Its raging torrents of water plunging over the edge (roughly 6 million cubic ft. of water go over the crest line of the falls every minute!)— I had a visceral reaction, a fear of falling, of being swept away with this encounter. I felt immediately small and finite in the presence of such a dynamic force of nature.  And I felt like I was in a film.  To this day I am drawn to certain films, especially vintage from a bygone era—Euro-American ‘art’ films, French and American noir, Italian (spaghetti) Westerns and Giallos, etc. I think American melodramas from the 50s  with the oversaturated Technicolor seems an appropriate expression of underlying cultural anxieties.  I chose to focus on a number of films as visual reference for my Niagara series, one being Henry Hathaways’ 1956 American noir film Niagara, starring Marilyn Monroe and Joseph Cotton, the falls seem to personify this foreboding presence, like a spectre of doom.

Like most painters I have long admired a number of the American Luminist painters: Church, Bierstadt, Moran, etc., for the magical qualities found in their grand portrayals of Niagara Falls, and the American landscape more broadly. These large format paintings were meant to serve, in part, as propaganda, the new masterpieces, created as an expression of national identity and the country’s manifest destiny. They seem to prefigure the cinematic impulse, to elicit an expansive, all encompassing visual experience.  I want to see contemporary paintings continue to perform this function.

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Bride Falls, Pink Pants, Soggy Socks, Oil on Linen, 84 x 96 inches, 2016

JA:  Do you have any upcoming projects or exhibitions you would like to talk about and share?

JA:  Currently, I have a number of paintings in an exhibition for the month of September titled “Porch and a Vista” at Zolla Lieberman Gallery in Chicago.  The show’s title and much of the work has been inspired by Pierre Bonnard’s painting “Earthly Paradise” (1916-20), located at the The Art Institute of Chicago Museum.  Bonnard’s piece likely references the severe devastation of Europe following World War 1 (by way of William Morris’ epic poem) and utopian dreams.

Melanie Vote: Overgrowth

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Night Visitor, 2016, oil on wood, 40 x 22 x 2 in. Courtesy of Melanie Vote and Hionas Gallery

According to Jungian theory, the presence of a house in dreams is an archetypal representative of a return to our first house, the womb, and the way it reveals itself to us informs our understanding of the human psyche. Each room offers an opportunity to discover untold secrets of the subconscious. Stepping from the hustle and bustle of New York City’s Chinatown neighborhood into Melanie Vote’s solo exhibition, Overgrowth at Hionas Gallery, one enters into what appears to be the abandoned bedroom of a young girl. Her small portrait, painted in muted monochromatic shades of magenta and violet, hangs on a wall covered in a stenciled pastel pattern. Her clothing and hairstyle tell us that she is not of this time. Referenced from an antique photograph Vote discovered in a remote second hand shop, Rhapsody in Magenta and Violet (2016) portrays a deadpan facial expression with a creepy but fascinating quality associated with 1800’s Victorian post mortem photographs. On the opposite wall a tromp l’oeil painting of a window looking out onto a dark night, from which a frog is seen leaping in the reflected light of the room, looks onto a small iron bed frame supporting a mattress torn in the shape of a body, filled with dirt and an assortment of edible and non-consumable plants. Vote combines the symbolism of the frog, a sign of rebirth or transformation, along with the flora in place of the temporal body to suggest that death is in fact simply a change in the state of being. The effect of this fictional space is that it simultaneously feels like a dream and a memory creating the uncanny sensation for the viewer of being both a participant and trespasser.

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Rhapsody in Magenta and Violet (unknown girl, celebrated), 2016, oil on wood, 10 x 10 in. Courtesy of Melanie Vote and Hionas Gallery

The very absence and implication of the figure in the first room, underlines the corporeal reality of the artist’s self-portrait in Place Like Home (2008-2016) situated in the second room of the installation. Painted in realistic and pain-staking detail, Vote presents herself dressed in her own wedding gown and laid out on a mosaic tile floor in a corpse-like pose, holding a bouquet of flowers and plants and lit by an ethereal glow while plant life encroaches around the edges. The isolation of this single painting ensconced in an otherwise bare room has the feel of a modern day reliquary, minus the incense and votive candles. Vote’s recent visit to Rome, Italy (in particular the crypts of the Santa Cecilia in Trastevere church) provided much of the inspiration for this piece. The purported history of Saint Cecilia is such that on her wedding night she claimed a vow of virginity and angelic protection inspiring her husband to seek the proof of which led to his conversion to Catholicism. For this and the crime of converting others, she was to be suffocated in the baths but didn’t die nor shed a single drop of sweat. Following this, an executioner was ordered to behead her, but after striking her three times, he was unable to decapitate her, so he left her there where she continued to live three days further before dying from her wounds. When exhumed her body was discovered uncorrupted, beautifully dressed and exuding a mysterious and delightful flower-like odor.

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Place Like Home, 2008‐ 2016; oil on wood, 16 x 25 1⁄2 in.Courtesy of Melanie Vote and Hionas Gallery

 

Overgrowth culminates with Vote’s large-scale painting Excavation of Life and Death (2016), set on cement blocks. A nude female body lies in a pit, her right arm flung out behind her and her left leg slightly bent beneath her, giving rise to some fairly macabre thoughts, perhaps more so because of the figure’s gender. The artist’s stated intention is actually that the body is embraced by and reclaimed by the soil. Vote’s mother died of cancer, an overgrowth in itself, and by her own admittance this body of work is a direct result of that experience. By this analogy, the figure seems to be returning to a metaphorical womb of Mother Earth, the grass and negative space forming a subtle reference to the female body. The naked vulnerability of this passive form, entangled in a mass of roots and dirt, is contrasted by the position of her head turned away from the viewer, denying full access to her identity.

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Excavation of Life and Death, 2014‐2016; oil on canvas, 84 x 102 in. Courtesy of Melanie Vote and Hionas Gallery

In an attempt to bring levity to an otherwise weighty narrative, Vote has painted this scene over a pastel version of Twister [a game invented by Charles Foley and Neil Rabens in which players must place hands and feet on large colored circles determined by the spin of a dial (created in the mid 1960’s)]. This use of nostalgic childhood toys and figures is a recurrent device employed by Vote in previous works in tandem with psychological and dream-like scenarios, such as in Frog Ballet (2014). Sub-contextually, Excavation of Life and Death also carries a connection to the painting in the middle room, Place Like Home, in its metonymical use of use of Twister (another name for tornado) giving the whole installation a secondary read related to the film The Wizard of Oz (1939). Vote’s own family farm was destroyed by a tornado in November of 2015. The artist’s exposure to this threat of destruction in her native Iowa and personal loss seems to have given her a unique perspective on the sovereignty of nature and the cycle of life. In this sense the exhibit, which represents a house, itself an internalized representative of a home in various manifestations, from bedroom to cellar, to the very foundation it is built upon, is a richly contextual meditation on impermanence.

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Growing Bed, 2016; mixed media, 33 x 60 x 42 in. Courtesy of Melanie Vote and Hionas Gallery

Zachari Logan in Conversation with Jacob Hicks

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Feeding 5 (From Wild Man Series)

JH: How do you feel about nature so commonly being anthropomorphized  and made female?  In your art there is an inversion, so the paradigm of nature becomes your male body; tell me about this…

ZL: I have always inserted the male body into the realm of observed passivity, a placement that as you rightly mention is all too often reserved for the female body. This strategy allows me to call into question perceived notions about a fixed idea of masculinity that is fictive, usually working in an attempt to locate heterosexist white males in a state of superiority. In my earlier work, I often undercut notions of stereotypic maleness through the use of my own body as the object of a returned gaze. Portraying characters and constructions from history and visual culture, the shift to include or rather focus on flora and fauna is a reiteration of this strategy, evoking ideas of vulnerability through a sensual encroachment with animal and plant-life.

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Emperor’s New Clothes

Also I think its worth noting that another feature of hegemonic masculinity includes within its own rhetoric, domination over all animals and plant-life, through supposed intellectual superiority, (which in contemporary life can take the form of scientific manipulation of both sentient and non-sentient creatures). I often entangle and sometimes obliterate my body as a critique of these ideas, and their possible outcomes, while placing a queer lens to the world around me, mixing plant and animal life at will, offering visual metaphors for sexual diversity the multiplicity in nature.

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Thistles (from Eunuch Tapestries)

JH: You are clearly a naturalist.  How do you deal with the anthropocene, the death of the natural, and the current mass extinction of flora and fauna?

ZL: I try not to romanticize a ‘better’ time, I try not to think of humans as separate from other animals. We are one species among so many, and what we are doing- the polluting, the overpopulating, is in a way a natural occurrence, it is within the spectrum of natural animal behavior. For example, beavers were brought to Argentina to be farmed in the last century, because of lack of natural predators and weather conditions, they quickly overpopulated and destroyed much of the landscape they were inhabiting, (beavers obviously cannot be blamed for this) they don’t have a conception that what they did was problematic, the problem in this example was human intervention of course, but this is a microcosmic example of human activity, we simply have the knowledge and brain capacity to know we are overpopulating and polluting. The difference between human animals is our ability to recognize we are destroying our environment… the conversation shouldn’t be about Natural Vs Unnatural when discussing the anthropocene, ANYTHING of this world is natural. It should be about good choices Vs bad choices… about the positive impact (or negative) that human animals make, because we are capable of choice. Obviously our current modes of consumption and reproduction are killing our fellow inhabitants at a shocking rate. Ideologies of nationalism, religion and the market are propelling this mass extinction, and collectively our preventative activities (for example) recycling, reusing and reducing are failed exercises.

Feeding 1, from Wildman Series_high
Feeding 1 (from Wild Man Series)

JH: I feel a political element to your work; your male form is sometimes aestheticized/sexualized passively, which traditionally (and unfortunately) has been the duty/burden of the female body. As a thinking devil, I want to ask if there is liberation or just more entrapment within this kind of purposeful objectification.

ZL: I see this element in my work of role and gaze reversal, about challenging gender norms and ways in which bodies have been and continue to be codified socially, but I extend this queering of convention to the conversation of challenging notions of speciesism that is rife throughout Human culture and society. Most humans feel superior to other animals. We are not. We can take advantage in certain ways because of our biology, but we are not an inherently better species, in fact, in my opinion, in many ways we are collectively an inferior animal. In my series of drawings from the Feeding series, which is an offshoot of my ‘Wild Men’, I depict myself being fed by birds; this simple shift or reversal of roles revels my thinking on this matter.  It is very common throughout the world to see people in parks feeding birds, I just reversed this act as a question to viewers- would you ever be fed by a bird? What might that feel like? It would be a revolutionary act to listen and allow other species to teach humans about the world around us. This also reminds me of a much earlier drawing from 2011, Emperor’s New Clothes, in which I depict myself swarming with Monarch butterflies. The title, a double entandre, referencing the monarch as emperor, my own nudity and ideas of collective conformity, but its genesis as an image ingrained itself in my mind after hearing from a cousin who’d visited the mariposa in Mexico, that at times there are so many of these insects on a given tree that branches can break off due to their weight; and so, in imagining my body as that tree, I had an extreme desire to embody that experience, as a spectacle of nature.

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Enigma, Root # 2

JH: What is your spirit, what is my/anyone’s spirit, what is nature, God, myth, religion?  Are all of these things one thing, different things, real, fake, etc…?

ZL: Humans have language to describe feeling, ideas and experiences. God, religion… myth are all ways of expressing the otherwise inexpressible through language and ritual, through the visual. I suppose I would describe individual character defined and shaped by personal experiences as that which makes up one’s spirit.

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Leshy 3

JH: I see the broad expanse of your perceptions and references to the great depictions of nature in western art, from a Botticelli Venus to a Rembrandt weed field or rabbit, from the obvious Arcimboldo/ Audubon to Walton Ford.  Who else are your greats?  I’m more interested in those long dead that history has had time to digest and refine, though now I want to know if there are any living artists whose work you are crucially indebted to?

The trove of art historical sources are mainly where I mine reference, but there are several artists whose work I feel indebted too… David Hockney, Ross Bleckner, Betty Tompkins, Alison Norlen, Evergon, Sophie Calle, Ellsworth Kelly and Walton Ford…

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Eunuch Tapestry # 5 (installed at the Leslie-Lohman Museum)

JH: What is your most successful work, through the terms in which you define success?

Conceptually my works all link- and I work in groupings or series, so there isn’t a singular work I feel exemplifies superiority over others. Perhaps my practice as a whole… I feel successful in the sense that I am able to maintain a full-time studio practice, to do that which I am passionate about.

JH: Tell me about your recent residency at Wave Hill Botanical Gardens in the Bronx?

ZL: It was magical to say the least. I had a remarkable studio called the “Sunroom” located within the Glyndor Gallery on the grounds of Wave Hill, a public Botanical garden in the Bronx along the Hudson River. The gallery is located in what was once a family home, a Victorian mansion from the turn of the last century. (I felt as though I was doing a residency in a Bronte novel!) During the winter months Wave Hill turns their museum spaces into an artist residency with 6 separate studios and through an invitational process selects artists whose work relates to botanics in some way. Every day I had full access to the collections in the alpine, succulent and tropical hot houses on site as well as access to the grounds themselves. I utilized the surroundings and collections for inspiration in the development of new drawings, and established framework for a new direction in my drawings, furthering existing themes of pictorial space.

JH: What are you working on; do you have any exhibitions or events you would like to discuss?

ZL: Yes, I am working on several projects at the moment, one of which is a large-scale drawing installation that will be featured in an upcoming group show at the Textile Museum of Canada in Toronto this May. The exhibition is called ‘Bliss: Gardens Real and Imagined’, and it features both historical works form around the world and contemporary artist working with floral or garden motifs. I’m very excited to be placed in this context, in particular to be exhibited alongside British artist William Morris. Overlapping this show in Toronto I will also have a solo exhibition at Paul Petro Contemporary Art. And as well in June, I have a 2-person exhibition in NYC at Julie Saul Gallery with American ceramicist Christopher Russell, where much of my work completed at Wave Hill will be exhibited alongside Russell’s ceramics. In the fall I will participate in a second 2-person exhibition with senior Canadian artist Jane Buyers at AKA Artist Run in Saskatoon, and I am also working on a solo project that will open in November in London at New Art Project’s recently renovated 5000 sq ft space in Hackney- so I’m keeping busy!

Jacob Hicks in Conversation with Martin Wittfooth

Martin Wittfooth’s work uses the formal tools of baroque lighting (high lit shape advancing from deep shadow) and baroque compositional structure (energetic triangulation on the diagonal). Through the mastery of the baroque and indirect oil painting technique-the stacking of transparent glazes to achieve optical color mixture- Martin constructs surrealistic dystopian visions of an abrupt reintegration of exotic animal life into the ruins of industrialization.

What follows is an interview with the artist.

Cycle, 38%22 x 31%22, oil and gold leaf on canvas, 2015.
Cycle, 38″ x 31″, oil and gold leaf on canvas, 2015

JH: How does the sacred influence your painting?  I see visual parallels to Hindu and Catholic iconography, both embedded and explicit, but the holy space you create is occupied by nature, an inversion I consider both intelligent and subversive.  Tell me your thoughts on this…

MW: The historical archive of our species is full of forgotten deities, gods and goddesses nobody prays to anymore, and of course some that have endured to modern times, often by systems of oppression, bloodshed, and gnashing of teeth. I happen to believe that all of this persistent yearning for a divine agency or higher power of whatever you want to call it has its roots in ancient practices of dialoguing with nature, by varying forms of shamanism, with what psychedelic philosopher Terence McKenna called “the felt presence of direct experience.” I realize that that may sound silly to some people, but I do think that there are ways by which one can alter one’s perspective or consciousness in such a way as to see nature itself (herself?) as a sacred entity, that the world we all emerge out of is far more interesting and worthy of our respect and I daresay worship than our species gives it credit for. This departure I think accounts for so much of the trouble that we find ourselves in, from the religious tensions across the world to the pandemic of depression seen in populations in “developed” parts of the globe, to the wanton abuse of the earth, our home. In my work I seek to bring attention back to nature as the sacred temple it needs to be treated as, not the junkyard we’ve reduced it to. To sum up the notion I’m trying to express in the work, I can quote Joni Mitchell’s song “Woodstock”:

“We are stardust

Billion year-old carbon

We are golden

Caught in the devil’s bargain

And we’ve got to get ourselves

Back to the garden.”

Amen.

Domini Canis, 64%22 x 64%22, Oil on canvas, 2011
Domini Canis, 64″ x 64″, Oil on canvas, 2011

JH: There is a deep rare magic in wildlife, a magic which badly needs to be presented to the general public in the name of conservation, ecological health, and history.  I think the expression of this is one facet of the success of your paintings.  How do you define success, i.e, monetarily, educationally, painterly/formally, all, none, etc…?

MW: I would define success simply as the state of being in which one feels free, yet connected. What I mean by that is being free from any preset mode of thinking, liberated to express oneself as one pleases, yet also feeling a deep sense of connection (though not attachment) to the things one chooses to do during their life, and the people and beings one can share that life with. I think that overcoming challenges, facing obstacles rather than ignoring them or looking for shortcuts, is success. To me I feel a sense of success if I take on something that I might feel apprehensive or fearful about, and doing it anyway, and then realizing that not only could I do it but I could also learn something new in the process. To me, being open to always learn something is to be successful.

JH: We are experiencing a rapid human-caused mass extinction, a collapse of our ecosystem (we talked a little about the book The Sixth Extinction, which details industrialization’s desecration and destruction of the natural world).  When the animals you paint so beautifully are gone, our children will only know their majesty through photography, film, video, and art.  Your art, in the figurative and formal western tradition, will serve both as artistic and historical artifact, enlivened by the trace of essence of the animal life you manifest within each canvas.  This is a big responsibility; how do you want your work remembered in the eyes of posterity?

MW: I think that art at all times through history has served the purpose of being a time-capsule for the future to look back at and get a sense of what was going on when it was made. In this way I think my work might be seen as some strange and subjective snapshot of some of these current issues and the worries surrounding them. There’s this old Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.” Our era is certainly an interesting one, and I want my work to reflect an aspect of that. That said I’m not making it for anyone in the future, but rather feel that it’s just a way for me to process these things on a personal level, though it’s an interesting notion to sometimes think about, that the work might be viewed at some later date when the world and its inhabitants are yet again in a different stage of transformation.

The Aviary, 80%22 x 120%22, oil on linen, 2013
The Aviary, 80″ x 120″, oil on linen, 2013

JH: Is it annoying to have your work considered through the lens of environmental activism (if so sorry)?  Does that play an active role in your imagery, or are endangered animals just one tool for your visual language to speak through?

MW: It’s not annoying, and in fact I’d be flattered if it was considered that to some degree, as it would mean that the work reached people on a deeper level than simply wall decoration. I think that the greatest challenge of our time on this planet is to find our way back to an equilibrium and balance with it, and an area in which we need to do a great deal of work collectively is in our treatment of the natural world, which for quite a while now we’ve attempted to dominate and push to the margins. The subject matter I choose gets at this notion pretty regularly, though there are often other layers to the work than just a focus on environmental concerns. Much of my work also deals with the problematic human condition in a broader sense, not least of which is the suppression of our own consciousness: the wellspring of all the trouble to begin with.

Rainsong, 73%22 x 100%22, oil on canvas, 2015
Rainsong, 73″ x 100″, oil on canvas, 2015

JH: What is your favorite memory or experience with nature/wild animal life?  Is there a childhood happening that solidified your passion?  Was your passion for wildlife (as mine was) informed through secondhand experience-zoos, pet stores, photos, books?

MW: I grew up on the southwestern coast of Finland, and would spend every summer of my childhood on an island in the Baltic Sea peninsula. There was so much for me to explore there as a kid, and I think it instilled in me a pretty significant appreciation for nature and the myriad ways in which it plays a kind of harmonized symphony with itself. A couple of decades later I tried some psychedelic mushrooms in a field surrounded by a forest, and let me just summarize by saying that I was profoundly reminded of the magic that I knew and felt so strongly as a child.

Marosa, 30%22 x 24%22, oil and gold leaf on canvas, 2015.
Marosa, 30″ x 24″, oil and gold leaf on canvas, 2015

JH: What is your masterwork to date, your most successful painting?

MW: I don’t have a singular painting that I feel that way about, though one rare painting from 2014 that I’ve decided to keep in my own collection for some unexplainable reason that I feel strongly tied to is called “Incantation.” I painted it in my first year of living on my property near Woodstock in upstate New York, and in that time I started to develop a really strong connection to the land up here. Some of that feeling ultimately got trapped inside of that painting. People who see it tend to respond to it pretty favorably.

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Incantation (central panel of a collaborative triptych with artist Jean Labourdette), 75″ x 69″, oil and gold leaf on canvas, 2014

The Addict, 20%22 x 16%22, Oil on linen, 2012
The Addict, 20″ x 16″, Oil on linen, 2012

JH: What parts of art history do you most strongly identify with?  I feel a lot of influence from the Baroque, magical realism, surrealism, Islamic geometric painting, Hindu iconography…

MW: In terms of painting technique, I think I get a lot of influence from the late Renaissance in Northern Europe, the Mannerists, and painters of the 19th Century. Though I can’t pinpoint a particular favorite, as I tend to look at artwork from all time periods and regions of the world pretty often. As someone who grew up in Europe and influenced by its artwork, I find it an interesting practice to borrow the look of classical European painting but to simultaneously weave in elements of Eastern and mystical symbolism and thus expand my own dialogue, in a time when cultures and ideas are incredibly fertile for cross-over.

Emissary, 14%22 x 11%22, oil on panel, 2009
Emissary, 14″ x 11″, oil on panel, 2009

JH: Who are your favorite painters?

MW: The list is too long to put down here, but some that come to mind are Arnold Böcklin, Henry Raeburn, Jules Bastien-LePage, Jan Van Eyck, Robin Williams, Vincent Desiderio, Justin Mortimer, Christian Van Minnen, and Julie Heffernan.

Media, 32%22 x 31%22, Oil on canvas, 2012
Media, 32″ x 31″, Oil on canvas, 2012

JH: Are there any upcoming or current exhibitions of your work you would like to share?

MW: I have a solo show opening in the Fall of this year at Corey Helford Gallery’s new gallery space in Los Angeles. In 2017 I will have my first major museum exhibition at the Long Beach Museum of Art in Long Beach, California in the Fall of 2017.

The painting, “Incantation,” that I mentioned above will be included in a large show curated by Hi-Fructose Magazine at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, opening this May and running through to the end of the year.

The Sacrifice, 64%22 x 50%22, Oil on canvas, 2011
The Sacrifice, 64″ x 50″, Oil on canvas, 2011

Digital Exhibition #2

Curated by Jacob Hicks

QuantumArtReview hosted an open call through the New York Foundation for the Arts asking for the submission of work in any medium to be considered for the second in our online exhibition series.

I was thrilled with a large response, this being a new sort of experiment for me in how to build bridges to a wider and further-reaching artistic community.  Through technology, we as artists can access one another’s work in new and unparalleled ways, ways not dependent on a traditional and exclusionary gallery model.  There is an immense pool of talent whose voices are diminished, if not muted, because of a lack of resource and connectivity to a secluded, exclusive, and unregulated market driven by the knowledge of no artistic or learned authority but by the tastes of the generally uneducated, gambling rich.

So lets bypass them.

Thank you for all of the submissions.  If your work is not included, please know I enjoyed the chance to look and consider it, and that anything made with care, concern, patience, and learned skill is beautiful and worthy in my book.

Ekaterina Vanovskayahttp://www.vanovskaya.com/

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Ekaterina Vanovskaya, Man and Boy, oil on linen, 36 x 30” 2015

 

Jennifer Croninhttp://www.jennifercronin.com/

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Jennifer Cronin, What was Once a Home (South Throop Street), carbon pencil on toned paper, 17″ x 25.5″, 2015

 

Lauren Amalia Reddinghttp://www.laurenredding.com/

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Lauren Amalia Redding, Self-Portrait Study, gold-point on panel, 9 x 6 1/4”, 2012

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Lauren Amalia Redding, Do Not Weep, War is Kind: Carlos, silverpoint and gold point on gessoed bristol paper, 14 x 11”, 2015

 

Jenny Rappaporthttp://www.jennyrappaportart.com/

maninsuiteJenny
Jenny Rappaport, Man in Suit, oil on paper, 10 x 12”, 2013

skullandbonesJenny
Jenny Rappaport, Skull and Bones, oil on paper, 10 x 12”, 2013

 

Ceaphas Stubbshttp://www.ceaphas.com/

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Ceaphas Stubbs, Composition in Yellow with Lovely Rose Buds, archival inkjet print, 2014

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Ceaphas Stubbs, The Wandering Eye, archival inkjet print, 2013

 

Sharon Navagehttp://sjnavage.com/

Navage_ Abandon Things
Sharon Navage, Abandon Things, collograph, intaglio and found objects, framed: 28 x 28”

 

Ashley Thompsonhttp://ashleythompson.net/

bravery_andGrace
Ashley Thompson, Bravery and Grace Go Hand in Hand, oil on canvas, 60″ x 48″, 2015

 

Donna Festahttp://www.donnafesta.com/

Judy S.
Donna Festa, Judy S, 6 x 6 inches, oil on panel 6 x 6”

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Donna Festa, Woman Wearing Black, oil on panel 6 x 6”

 

Torreja (work created in collaboration with Narcossist)http://torreja.nyc/

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Torreja (work created in collaboration with Narcossist) “060375” Mixed media, 18×24″

 

Miriam Ancishttp://www.miriamancis.com/main-page.html

Miriam AncisAroundCorners 1SteelEnamel 96 x 60 x 5 2015
Miriam Ancis, Around Corners, steel enamel, 96 x 60 x 5”, 2015

 

Shelley Feinermanhttp://throughabluewindowco.ipage.com/

shelley feinerman
Shelley Feinerman, Six Hundred Sunsets, mixed media collage and spray paint on paper, 18 x 14”, 2015

 

Rose Materdominihttp://www.rosematerdomini.com/

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Rose Materdomini, Washington Sq. Park, digital print, 20×30”, 2014

 

Sub Post Tropical Monsters

Tilo Baumgartel, Jacob Hicks, Julius Hoffman, Francesc Ruiz Abad

Curated by Jacob Hicks

The Latin origins of the word monster, monere/monstrum, mean to portend and instruct.  A monster’s instructive function is abundant within the span of Western mythos: do not be, do, go near, or engage.  Interaction with this other is a form of becoming.  Prophetic knowledge gained through forbidden interaction transforms the interactor beyond self-recognition, so the lure of the monstrous is its power to transform.

The monster is all things not yet mastered, and this wildness simultaneously seduces and repulses. To answer this paradox, culture, through transformative contact with the other, consumes what was once wild into established precepts of being.  The monster, though, is an ancient portent revealing the illusion of domination and the limits of human understanding.  Something will always be other, and that otherness will always be monstrous to cultural establishment.

The role of the artist is “other,” so he or she dresses in the skin of the monster.  The artist’s role is to rail against the institutionalization of the human spirit, while teasing and seducing society with the luminous potentialities of moving closer to creative, social, and spiritual freedom.

The included artist’s images exist in the liminal space between transformative and seductive darkness.  Such work is crucial in a time of global unrest in the form of great migrations due to dissatisfactions with “the other,” whom we brutalize because we fear.  The artist’s attraction to the “monster” is the sticky cohesive between their oeuvres, as they paint what we fear.

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Julius Hoffman, Welpe, 2011, 150 x 210cm, Acrylic on Canvas

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Tilo Baumgartel, Escort, 2008, 161.5 x 138.5 cm, Charcoal on Paper

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Francesc Ruiz Abad, Dietrich, 2015, 160 x 120cm, Oil on Canvas

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Jacob Hicks, Christ Becomes a Spider, 2014, 36 x 48″, Oil on Panel

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Julius Hoffman, Luxor, 2011, 80 x 100cm, Acrylic on Canvas

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Tilo Baumgartel, Patron, KGervas Collection

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Francesc Ruiz Abad, 2015, 27 x 42cm, Pencil on Paper

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Jacob Hicks, Cyborg, 2015, 16 x14″, Graphite, Oil on Panel

Tilo Baumgartel (Leipzig, 1972) is a seminal painter of the well-known Neue Leipziger Schule.  He has exhibited his work extensively throughout Europe and The United States.

http://www.galeriekleindienst.de/kuenstler,tilo_baumgaertel,45.html

Jacob Hicks (Midland, 1985) is a Brooklyn-based painter.  His work has been exhibited throughout the East Coast and in Texas. Internationally Hicks has shown in Germany, Japan, and Spain. He is a painting assistant for artist Dustin Yellin and a freelance writer.

http://www.jacobhickspainter.com

Julius Hoffman (Göttingen, 1983) is a painter and intermedia artist based in Leipzig, Germany. Hoffman has exhibited his art throughout Europe and Asia, and was a student under Neo Rauch. He is represented by Galerie Kleindienst in Leipzig, Germany.

http://www.galeriekleindienst.de/en_kuenstler,julius_hofmann,369.html

Francesc Ruiz Abad (Palamos, 1990) is an interdisciplinary Spanish artist whose practice encompasses diverse conceptual project, publication, film, and painting. He has received several national grants, regularly holds lectures in Barcelona, and has exhibited his work internationally.

 

Aron Wiesenfeld in Conversation with Jacob Hicks

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The art of Aron Wiesenfeld has a particular and peculiar relationship to the microscope.  The visual field of his images, sometimes given from an ariel perspective (the all-seeing eye/the third-person omniscient), allows the removed observer to glimpse a hermetic totality vibrating with atmosphere, energy, myth, temporality, the suburban familiar, and many liminal transitions, e.g. nature and architecture, night and day, mystery and commonplace, magic and realism.  Through a cultivated relationship with Western Art cannon- here and there direct references to Goya, the post-Renaissance Mannerists, and the Pre-Raphaelites- Wiesenfeld rebirths formal tradition within the lens of a surrealistic and folkloric narrative reality.  What follows is an interview with the artist concerning his practice.

The Source
The Source

JH: Your work is generally set in the liminal space between nature and suburban infrastructure.  Tell me why and how this boundary speaks so to your imagination?

AW: That space is in-between, not label-able or categorizable, and I always felt at home in places like that, kind of outside everything, away from people, there is a sense of freedom there and possibility just because of the fact that it’s outside of other people’s radar.  I can be myself and be stupid and make mistakes, all the things you need to be able to do to make art.  I want my studio to be like that, like an invisible, forgotten, in-between place, where I can lose track of time.  As it bears on my work, that’s why I want to paint places like that.

The Garden
The Garden

JH: Another boundary your work confronts is that between magical realism and realism.  Because the formal structure of your art is so thoroughly developed, each image resonates with an organic and substantial phenomenology actualized enough to enmesh the viewer in a convincing virtual reality.  It is here that  myth is revealed quietly, in an integration, rather than in a disruption to the structure.  How do you blend reality and magic so thoroughly, and is their a particular cultural heritage, myth, or story that influences your painting?

AW: I don’t really think of it like that when I’m painting.  I work sort of intuitively, and make decisions based on what feels right.  I think what mythology is there is something that was already in me, from childhood experiences, genetics, books, music, friendships, whatever- all the things that are “me”, and becoming an artist has been the trial and error of shedding all the things that are not “me”.

The magic realism aspect I think is a lot easier to explain.  I work from imagination, and use reference material in the finishing stages, so a painting has an invented, unrealistic structure with a more naturalistic exterior. It’s something I see in most of the artists I admire, and I think most of them worked that same way.  A Titian portrait for example, doesn’t look “real” in the way we think of it now that we have photography, it has this organically universal quality which, my theory is, comes from the fact he painted much of it from imagination.

Dog
Dog

JH: Why are your protagonists generally female and is their a heroic female in your life that embodies and/or influences your oeuvre?

AW: There have been a lot of powerful women and heroic women in my life, but my heroic female is more of a useful cypher for the stories I want to tell.  I think women just fit into my stories better than men, especially young women at that vulnerable age between childhood and womanhood.  Vulnerability is a very heroic quality.

Fish Gatherer
Fish Gatherer

JH: What is your art’s relationship to nature, to the tree, and to the flower?

AW: I love trees.  Sometimes I’ll see a tree that’s so beautiful I just stand there staring at it, trying to understand why it’s beautiful, or at least to just experience it’s beauty.  Flowers not so much.

God of the Forest
God of the Forest

JH: What is your art’s relationship to architecture, to the brick, and to the bridge?

AW: They usually have only a utilitarian function in my paintings, for example a bridge connects two places, and goes above another place, it’s not about the bridge. It’s hard to generalize though, sometimes it is about the bridge.  I don’t know. I love modernist architecture, especially when it was made with an ideology like socialism, communism, and (though not modern) Nazi-ism.

The Crown
The Crown

JH: The time of day and the season of year are an important element of your art.  I think I could guess pretty accurately the atmospheric temperature of each piece. How much does season and time affect your work, considering both the season you are making your art during, and the season you are setting your work within? Do they correspond?

AW: Not at all actually 🙂 The seasons and the time of day are used as the subject requires it.  For instance, I don’t like to paint cast shadows, I think they are distracting. I would rather the shapes be of forms, not light.  So I generally don’t paint sunny days.  Overcast light is what I need to do that. Also I prefer to have the figures really stand out against their surroundings- night time, snow, or dark forests, etc. work very well for that purpose.  Obviously it’s not as simple as that, if an element like a dark forest is put in, with all it’s meaning, which can be played with, the story evolves along with the graphic problem solving.

Delayed
Delayed

JH: Who are your biggest influences, literarily, artistically, musically…?

AW: My favorite writer at the moment is Kazuo Ishiguro.  He doesn’t write a lot, but each book has meant a lot to me.

I get really obsessed with one song, and put it on endless repeat.  Right now that song is “The Owl and the Tanager” by Sufjan Stevens.

There are so many artists I should list as influences, but for the sake of your patience here’s a short list of some favs:  Velasquez, John Currin, Titian, Jacob Van Ruisdael, Corot, Caspar David Friedrich, Neo Rauch, Waterhouse, Bonnard, Andrew Wyeth August Sander, Hammershoi, and Chris Ware.

JH: What current projects/exhibitions/publications are you working on?

AW: I’m working on a solo exhibition that will be in November 2016 at Jonathan Levine Gallery in New York.

Jane LaFarge Hamill in Conversation with Jacob Hicks

Jane LaFarge Hamill and I met when I invited her to participate in a curation project at the now liquidated Lounge Underground Artist Collective.  I distinctly remember unwrapping the first of two small paintings she delivered to the space; I was taken back in the revelation of the image.  A delicately realized portrait (possibly referencing 19th century French Academic practice) sat submerged in an asphalt darkness.  The visage was punctuated, vibrated, violated by a registry of palatially desicive palate knife gestures- a violence constructed of deeply saturate hue.  The aura of this thing hit me, like I was holding something living.  I realized what I was holding was consequential, maybe very important, and I held it much more carefully.  I later realized what I experienced was the aura I seek in all art, that all true art must contain and share this- that presence that can only be felt before the object itself and not through photography or any sort of reproduction.

What follows is a discussion with Jane about her work, which is continually growing stronger.  I say with no lack of consideration that Jane is an immense and gifted artist, and I’m honored to watch her progression.

Bringing Down the House, oil on panel, 2015
Bringing Down the House, oil on panel, 2015

Jacob Hicks: What does a face mean and what does the absence of a face mean?

Jane Lafarge Hamill: There’s no way to tell a person’s character by looking at their face. But of course we all look for clues of it in expression, for physicality that communicates more truthfully than what we say- and that’s part of what I’m interested in representing. It’s about what clues to keep in, and what to leave absent.

I prefer to think of what I’m painting as a head, not the face. It’s important for me to try to bring out what’s behind the face- to break down and pull apart the facade just enough that the interior bits- the rich parts, can come out. I’ll borrow Nicola Tyson’s term ‘psycho-figuration’ for the kind of painting that I’m making.

Solvi, oil on panel, 2015
Solvi, oil on panel, 2015

JH: Your paintings ebb between so many dualities- continuity and dissolution, presence and absence, matter and space, anger and passivity, ghost and flesh, death and vitality, abstraction and true form, the ancient and the modern. Why is it important to express these borderlines, how do you do it? Tell me about your process of making…

JLH: The borderlines are important because that’s where you’re pushing and pulling between states of static. Static is quite a boring and debilitating space; it’s where we get comfortable and stop growing. It’s on the edges between the dualities you mention- where the discussions are.

And the process…. well, it changes, because I want to do something new every time.  Which I guess is pretty weird for me to say, because I’ve been painting the same subject on the same scale for 2 years now! But the improvisation in brushwork, and changes in what the subject is saying, move each painting beyond the previous.

Fuck Salad, oil on panel, 2015
Fuck Salad, oil on panel, 2015

JH: To me your paintings are expressions of fragmentations of selfhood visiting/haunting you.  Do you find the same expressions manifesting over and over-are their personas or states that are repeated in the history of your works?

JLH: It would take me some serious time with a psychologist to figure out what fragments of selfhood keep haunting my work! As much as we have to be accountable for our work as artists, much of the time you can’t make good work while being completely aware of it’s meaning. That comes later. We explain ourselves to ourselves. But I’m way too close to the paintings to be able to step back right now farther than a few feet- it may ruin the whole progression. Not to say I don’t walk up to my studio looking at the gravel thinking: so what the hell am I painting about today? Which I do, every time. 

Portrait of Humans, oil on panel, 2015
Portrait of Humans, oil on panel, 2015

JH: Who is your favorite dead and gone painter, who is a contemporary painter whose work is interesting? Favorite movie? Director? Musician? Time period? Artist?

JLH: This question reminds me of those articles in women’s magazines that asks someone what’s in her purse….

So- dead (but not gone) painter is my absolute favorite painter- Euan Uglow. I was introduced to his work while studying at the Slade in 2001 just after he died. He’s why I became a painter. Seeing his work is a bit like going to church. It’s a touchstone.

My favorite contemporary painter for the last 3 years, has been Peter Krauskompf. Please check him out if you don’t already know his work.

And for movies, I’ll always go back to Emir Kusturica’s Underground- particularly the very last finale scene.

For a favorite time period, I’ll define favorite by most interest in? 1919-1933 Weimar Germany. I’ve always been interested in what happened during this short, unstable, chaotic, but politically, intellectually, and artistically creative time between wars. Wild times. I would have liked a few nights out on the town in 1920s Berlin, taken in a Paul Klee lecture at the Bauhaus, talk to Adorno, you know…

Favorite Music- changes daily. It’s schizophrenic.

John Lafarge in Tahiti
John Lafarge in Fiji

JH: What is the influence of the artist John Lafarge-your great great grandfather-on your art?

JLH: I think the influence of my great great grandfather’s art was actually mostly important as an influence on my becoming an artist.

Seeing his work hung on the MET walls as a kid, made it seem normal that people you might even be personally connected to could have their work in museums. The human quality in that- understanding at a young age that all those pieces of great art were made by actual, real, normal people, was a lesson.

Yes, John LaFarge was best known for his stained glass work, but he was a remarkably versatile artist, and it was during a show of his paintings at Yale a few years ago that I felt a deeper connection to his work; on top of my familial pride to him as a man. The Yale show concentrated on his travels throughout the South Pacific begun in 1890. (He was painting in Tahiti before Gauguin, and their versions of the same places are complete contrasts.) There are 12 surviving sketch books from those South Seas travels that contain landscape and figurative drawings, but also copious notes on culture and language… in very tiny lettering. The photo I’m including is of John LaFarge (right) and his travel companion Henry Adams (left) in Fiji. Hard to see, but I inherited his nose.

It’s a practice that seems to be following in the family- my husband Jason Bereswill is also a travel painter, documenting time and place with sketches wherever we go. He does the same as LaFarge, coming back to the studio to flesh field work into larger paintings. Although the two differ in that Jason paints a bit of human folly/clumsiness within the majestic natural landscape, and LaFarge was more romantic with his graceful figures working with nature.

Vagabond, oil on panel, 2015
Vagabond, oil on panel, 2015

JH: Do you have any upcoming or current exhibitions or projects you would like to share?

JLH: As I’m writing this I just had a show come down. And now I’m thankfully working quietly on a new series in my studio. My new studio just got built on our farm, so I’m breaking it in and getting used to the space. It’s amazing how important all of the little tweaks are- like the warmth of the lighting for painting at night. Coming up this Spring, I’ll be in LA on an artist residency I was awarded at the 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica. Road trip!

Lexicon Infernali at Stephen Romano Gallery

September 3rd – October 25th 2015

By Kim Power

Aficionado of the esoteric and champion of the outsider art aesthetic, Stephen Romano has reopened his gallery in Bushwick with an invitation to those of curious mind to peruse and ponder. With the intent of displaying what he describes as, “metaphorically speaking, entries into a fictitious lexicon,” Romano has curated an eclectic assemblage of painting, photography, antiquarian books and objet d’art, inspired by the Dictionnaire Infernal (1863), a French dictionary of demons published by J. Collin De Plancy which includes a set of 69 illustrations created by M. L. Breton, seen on display front and center in the gallery. Loosely structured with the idea of creating a dialogue between the artworks that is not necessarily linear, we are given the impression of entering a mystical and psychologically complex wunderkammer.

Shawn Thornton, Brahmastra for a New Age (UFO/TimeMachine), oil on panel, 27 x 9 1/2 inches, 2013
Shawn Thornton, Brahmastra for a New Age (UFO/TimeMachine), oil on panel, 27 x 9 1/2 inches, 2013

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Stephanie Lucas, Welcome, acrylic on canvas, 3 1/8 x 21 3/4 inch

If the devil is in the details then welcome to his playground. There is plenty to discover in the highly complex visionary worlds of Shawn Thornton and Stephanie Lucas. Thorton’s Brahmastra for A New Age (UFO/Time Machine) appears, at first, to be a very colorful example of an integrated circuit with thin lines connecting hieroglyphic symbols. A winged saint seems to be manning the helm of a penis-shaped vessel and one almost expects it to move forward with kinetic energy. Lucas’s Welcome is no less frenetic but grows more organically in a Gaugin-like jungle populated by monkey figures and fantastic creatures dancing, hiding and playing in a celebratory tapestry of paint.

William Mortensen, Mark of the Borgia, Silver Print, Courtesy of The Museum of Everything, 10 x 13 inches, 1926
William Mortensen, Mark of the Borgia, Silver Print, Courtesy of The Museum of Everything, 10 x 13 inches, 1926

Romano’s ongoing fascination with William Mortensen’s photos is represented by Mark of the Borgia, portraying the quasi-religious imagery of a woman and man tied to a stake just outside of a distant village. Its presence might seem out of place unless you are familiar with Mortensen’s other occult imagery. His work was a large influence on the founder of the Church of Satan, Anton Szandor LaVey.

A. Fiorello, Budgets Measure the Will to Kill, painted, carved plaster 19 x 20 2/4, c. 1960-1980
A. Fiorello, Budgets Measure the Will to Kill, painted, carved plaster 19 x 20 2/4, c. 1960-1980

The sacrificial female figure is represented again in A.Fiorello’s Budgets Measure the Will To Kill, a hand-painted plaster relief that Romano acquired for his collection. Nothing is known of this artist beyond the work he has left behind. A wild-eyed fire-breathing dragon is seen feasting on human flesh while the skull of Lady Liberty peaks behind his scales. Scratched into the perimeter are a series of phrases, “At the dragons well; we need a world liberation front; budgets measure the will to kill; the right to arm is the right to kill; arms fire; freedom to kill arms the world,” in mantra-like repetition.

David Molesky, Acteon, oil on canvas, 18 x 25 inches, 2015
David Molesky, Acteon, oil on canvas, 18 x 25 inches, 2015

Moving on in this panoply of visions, we find Acteon painted by David Molesky. According to Greek myth, Acteon was a hunter who, upon seeing Artemis bathing naked, was turned into a stag and hunted down by his own dogs. Molesky portrays the scene at the point of capture before the final metamorphosis is complete. In some ways it can be seen as a less dynamic, pared down version of Paul de Vos’s 17th century Stag Hunt and speaks to a very primal urge for survival.

Elizabeth Shupe, Beautiful Creature I, acrylic, oil, and mixed media on panel, 16 x 20 inches, 2015
Elizabeth Shupe, Beautiful Creature I, acrylic, oil, and mixed media on panel, 16 x 20 inches, 2015

Elizabeth Shupe, Beautiful Creature II, acrylic, oil, and mixed media on panel 16 x 20 inches, 2015
Elizabeth Shupe, Beautiful Creature II, acrylic, oil, and mixed media on panel 16 x 20 inches, 2015

Elizabeth Shupe, Beautiful Creature III, , acrylic, oil, and mixed media on panel 16 x 20 inches, 2015
Elizabeth Shupe, Beautiful Creature III, , acrylic, oil, and mixed media on panel 16 x 20 inches, 2015

Elizabeth Shupe displays the spoils of such a victory with a triptych (Beautiful Creature I, II, and III) of resin coated acrylic paintings portraying a ghostly trophy rabbit and a deer head which peer at us with double pink eyes. The body of a dead bird perches stiffly on the silhouette of a flower filled hand. Each creature is pierced by the symbol of an arrow and adorned with pink paint decorated with reproductions of 19th century botanic wallpaper designs. The words “But I love you, but I love you, good thing,” and “So beautiful, so beautiful my dear,” are written in scrawled writing implying a valentine from cupid that has gone badly wrong.

Cendrine Rovini, Kali, mixed media on paper mounted on board, 15 1/4 x 20, 2015
Cendrine Rovini, Kali, mixed media on paper mounted on board, 15 1/4 x 20, 2015

This theme of sweet innocence gone astray is carried over in Cendrine Rovini’s Kali in which she portrays the Indian deity as through the body of a four-armed child, waving a knife with red stained hands and mouth as she sits on the image of a man while holding the head of another in one of her four hands. It is as if traditional Indian artistic convention conspired with Balthus and Nicoletta Ceccoli.

Caitlin Karolczak, Unspoken, oil on board, 17 x 21 1/2 inches, 2015
Caitlin Karolczak, Unspoken, oil on board, 17 x 21 1/2 inches, 2015

The theme of the possessed or supernatural innocent accentuates the uncanny as in the pallid young girl in Caitlin Karolczak’s Unspoken. Her vacant stare has echoes of the character Wednesday in The Adam’s Family or a post-mortem Victorian portrait subject, as she gazes eerily out from a crimson-curtained booth, a large plaque pendent of an ear resting on her tunic, unexplained and emblematic.

Rithka Merchant, Luna Tabulatorium, Syzygy, gouache and ink on paper, 27.5” x 20”, 2015
Rithka Merchant, Luna Tabulatorium, Syzygy, gouache and ink on paper, 27.5” x 20”, 2015

Almost as a panacea but no less mysterious, Rithka Merchant’s Luna Tabulatorium, lives amongst these mythic and maligned creatures, protected by the walls of a separate room, Merchant’s gouache and ink series of fifteen drawings embody a personal mythology drawn from various cultures all linked by the symbol of the moon. Color and format similarities to Navajo sand paintings reinforces the sense of ritual imbued in these works, as does the carefully folded pleats that are impressed in the paper, giving it a feeling of a precious document or map. One wishes to be witness to the implied ceremony.

Pandora’s box and all it’s contents seem to have been emptied in this wide reaching exhibit of over forty artists. Here, I have given you only a finite view of the plethora of works represented in this animalarium of strange and fantastic creatures that represent primitive ancient and personal psychological beliefs.  In keeping with the definition of outsider art, the works are indeed out of the mainstream of the art world and its institutions. Others simply embody a sort of idealism of the esoteric. All are chosen as an encyclopedic compendium of imagery guaranteed to arouse the curiosity of both the connoisseur and the uninitiated.

Rob Plater in Conversation with Jacob Hicks

Rob Plater is an exceptionally gifted draftsman and artist.  Growing up in Brooklyn, he was educated through comics and graphic novels, mastering stylistic variation, anatomical proportion, perspective, and dimensional geometric thinking well before beginning his formal education.  His interests gave him a leg-up in foundational artistic understanding, something many successful contemporary artists are sorely lacking.  It is the key to the expression and fluidity of Rob’s thought, which concerns politics, art history, isolation, race, selfhood, street culture, and childhood-to state a few.  what follows is a dialogue about his work.

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JH: I know you as a very skilled studio painter, but you are rapidly expanding your practice as a street artist; that carries with it so many political dimensions.  The work becomes less permanent physically, but can endure in the minds of a larger audience, and not a “fine art” audience, but a real world one. What is your art’s message, and who is its intended audience?

RP: I never expected to jump so quickly into mural work, but it has now become a release.  There is no dollar value affixed to the work and It truly is a piece of the landscape. There is also an incredible feeling of freedom since I can express any idea and I am free  from the constraints of the fine art realm and pressure to sell an idea. The message behind my wall imagery is intended for all audiences and this message has everything to do with my opinions and my story about the world we live in. Whether it is a commentary on political and social issues or simply a rendition of a time in my life, I want every wall piece to provoke thought and change the way in which street art/graffiti is perceived.

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JH: How does your experience change when you are working in collaboration with another painter?  Tell me about your collaborative projects…

RP: Collaborations are always very exciting although they aren’t always available. I am usually pretty impulsive when it comes to my own creative practice, but when I’ve worked alongside other artists I’m always impressed with the outcome. Working with another creative mind presents a great challenge with regard to concepts and the aesthetic with which we would want to approach the collaboration. Overall it’s a great learning experience and at times humbling. Outdoor murals are my favorite collaborations mostly because the impact of the imagery is stronger considering both artists have a larger space allowing for more opportunities to blend and intersect imagery.

Elephant, acrylic on canvas

JH:  You blur many categorical lines in your work, you are a traditional painter influenced by the Italian Renaissance, a Brooklyn-raised street artist, and a graphic illustrator/story-teller.  Which of these do you feel most at home in, and do you foresee your practice widening into further fields?

RP: It’s easy to say that comic imagery and illustration along with Graffiti were my first loves and are heavily responsible for my transition into traditional painting. With that said, I cannot choose one because all of these influences provide me with constant inspiration and challenges for new work. Sometimes it can be a nice surprise to have multiple languages at your disposal when you hit a creative wall. As far as practice, I am totally open to widening my practice and entering other fields as well. I would still love to work as a comic book cover artist or even jump into concept design for films and games.

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JH:  How was your experience getting an MFA (which we did together at the same institution)?  I know, from my end, it was great to learn but shitty to be forever indebted.  I’m glad I did it, though there are so many consequences as well: art as competition, institutional political nonsense, favoritism, a mixture of incredible professors with unbelievable morons.  What do you think about that whirlwind of an experience?

RP: I constantly find myself cycling through a variety of emotions associated with my experience at Grad School. What I was able to realize was that a lot of programs don’t necessarily help artists develop the same survival skills considering our very unique experience. From start to finish, The New York Academy of Art broke me down and humbled me in a way that was necessary for me reach my full potential. With every doubt-filled thought and failed attempt, I grew and continued to use these experiences as fuel for bigger and better work.  I was determined to prove to myself that my vision and my work was relevant and bigger than any one wealthy patron or Art institution. The school equipped me with the tools to reach this newfound confidence in myself that beforehand was nothing but insecurity. I do have mixed feelings about paying for this experience monthly for the rest of my life but it also gives me a big reason to continue raising the bar.

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JH: We talked recently about balancing survival in the real world with art-making. You are doing very well at it.  Do you have any advice for those newer to these kinds of trials?

RP: My biggest advice is to develop some thick skin and not be easily discouraged. Artists are extremely sensitive (myself included) but when things are difficult I always try to push a little harder for the sake of my artwork. The work is only as good as the vessel that carries it and for that very reason we have to persevere and continue to push through obstacles.

JH: What current projects are you working on?

RP: I’m currently working on a few concepts for mural projects down the line. I’m also building a body of work for an exciting two-man show at Grumpy Bert in Brooklyn. Last but not least, I’ll be the guest artist doing painting demos for Boundless Brooklyn at Comic-con this October.

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Artist Interview with Holly Ann Scoggins

By Jacob Hicks

Light from its Load the Spirit Flies, oil on canvas

  Holly Ann Scoggins is a figurative painter and professor at Polk State College in Florida. The viewer’s of her art peer through lattices of patterned textiles on the picture plane’s surface (like vines and underbrush in a dense forest) that tangle, reveal or obfuscate female portraiture and rural narratives set in the American South.  Scoggins was raised in North Carolina, whose culture plays a continuous and significant role in her painting.  The sense of location, I think, is so defined in the narrative works that imagined humidity might raise beads of sweat on the forehead of the audience. Her work is executed quickly, but with a sophisticated emotional and formal precision.  I was lucky to talk with the artist about her paintings; our discussion follows.

JH: You grew up in the deep south, to me your paintings are effuse with the weight of that cultural history.  Speak a little about how your origins feed your art.

HAS: Old Graveyards, magnolia trees, abandoned homes, lace curtains, stoic women, trailer parks, dirt roads, fake flowers, church pews… these are the images that have stuck with me throughout my southern upbringing. I guess you could call me a Dark Romantic in a sense. Like many southerners, you are unknowingly haunted by your own landscape. I was raised in Church and taught by example about southern “femininity.’ This concept is unveiled on Easter when you show up in your pretty church dress…..you know that your true femininity (identity) lies somewhere in-between working yourself to death, respecting those around you, and submitting to God.

Graveyards have always been a source of ambivalence for me- loving the aesthetics but disliking the morbidity, knowing this world is temporal yet trying to make it beautiful. I am convinced there is an unsafe romance with death for some southerners; at least this is my experience. My artwork is unabashedly inspired by the spiritual and visual components of my southern history, as well as the power of the female form.

Mary Elizabeth Quigley, Oil on canvas
Mary Elizabeth Quigley, Oil on canvas

JH: Favorite painter who is dead, favorite painter who is alive (and why?)…

HAS: Hands down Vuillard, I call him the pixilated prince of painting. It’s as if you squinted and the world flashed before you and you capture the emotion of that moment. A sudden silhouetted experience of figures in light, shadow, and muted color. The economy of his brushstrokes leaves me in lust for the rest of the story. There is a beautiful mystery to his work that I will never quite understand, but always respect and wish to emulate. I am particularly interested in his work because his female figures are often entangled in patterns of the time.

A contemporary artist I currently admire is not a painter, but a sculptor Petah Coyne. She sculpts the way I wish to paint. The simplicity of imagery and sublime mood captivate me and break my heart at the same time. I wish to build a room of her work and live in it.

JH: Your subjects are generally females shrouded in a layer of textile intricacies that form a sort of metaphysical veil.  These intricacies both hold your figures together and allow them to dissolve. Expand on this metaphor-it feels like the state of being female, human, saddened, fragmented-am I on the right track?

HAS: Intricate textiles symbolize many opposing concepts. The act of making these items can be laborious and tedious work yet it represents beauty and idealized femininity. Lace as a tangible item ties the greatest female monarch to a prostitute. Lace and pattern florals wrapping over female skin become the unifier visually and metaphorically. My figures often have eyes closed and are internally reflective. I want them intriguing, fragmented, distant, protected, shrouded, pensive, silently implied.  My figures present an “ In the world but not of the world” idea. The visual concept of dissolving, veiling, and layering speaks about simultaneous struggle and assurance that there is something greater to hold onto no matter what the circumstance.

Melissa, oil on canvas
Melissa, oil on canvas

JH: As a professor of art, how does teaching inform your practice?

HAS: Teaching is a constant renewal of the foundations of art, and it often purifies my motives for making art. My students teach me how to simplify in so many ways.

What is a rectangle but a white space for an illusion to be created? The fundamentals of design are invaluable. Everyday I teach design students shapes, lines, colors, patterns, textures, and everyday it re-informs me of the simple things you can do with format and white space.

Every image within that rectangle stems from personal background and experience. But, as complex as the human existence is, the artist chooses what portions of their lives to expose, selectively choosing what subjects to place inside. A trail of paintings is a secondary road in an artist’s life that (in my case) makes you observe, memorialize, and ponder your own mortality.

JH: Do you think a formal education in the arts is expansive or subtractive to the experience of making?

HAS: Formal education in the arts has been expansive for me personally. As a first generation graduate, my education has been invaluable and I would not mind being a professional student for the remainder of my life. However, there comes a point for each art student where they can fall into the pit of consuming themselves with other artist’s/philosopher’s theories and concerns rather than their own. If an artist gets so far as to forget why they initially picked up a paintbrush, they have missed the mark.  I think of what CS Lewis wrote in the Pilgrims Regress about the Landlord. “We have it right in front of us the whole time, we just don’t know what to do with it and who to believe!”

So often contemporary art becomes detached and dry; no human touch or influence is evident. This is when it becomes subtractive. The big picture is that we are human beings creating objects and items with no inherent value but with immense cultural importance. Authenticity is priceless!

Called Hence by Early Doom How Sweet a Flower in Paradise Bloom, oil on canvas
Called Hence by Early Doom How Sweet a Flower in Paradise Bloom, oil on canvas

JH: In a very poignant series, you painted textile veils over the portraits of murdered women, some famous, some anonymous, and I know the process was research-intensive.  Did you feel bonded to these women? Do you re-victimize them through your work?

HAS: These paintings are a memorialization rather than a victimization. I work out my own fears and questions through the act of painting while drawing attention to their stories. The series “ When a rose speaks to the grave” consists of a series of portraits of women that are as equally individual as they are self-portraits. I feel bonded to their story. In these artworks, I separate the viewer from the viewed and the subject is no longer vulnerable.

The writer Julia Kristeva states “the transcendence of death through art leads to a rebirth, in returning, through the event of death, towards that which produces its break; in exporting semiotic mobility across the border on which the symbolic is established, the artist sketches out a kind of second birth.”

Lace is a fabric that has symbolically stood at a gap. In one regard lace is fragile. It is delicate and used for mourning. On the other hand it is sexual and commercial.  In contemporary culture, a veil or “ Burka” is seen as an object of female repression. The lace works as a shroud in my paintings protecting and covering the woman’s face. But why the spaces between the threads if the fabric is meant to cover?  The viewer is still able to see her gaze through the veil. In the book “Over Her Dead Body,” Elizabeth Bronfen wrote that depicting a deceased woman in an artwork is a “displaced representation of the viewer’s own mortality….the knowledge that the image is inanimate and a belief that a gaze can animate the portrait and resurrect her absent body, but above all the possible substitutions of the dead woman’s image for your own”

Banaz, oil on canvas
Banaz, oil on canvas

JH: Who are some of your inspirations?

HAS: My recent paintings are partially inspired by Charlotte Perkins Gillman- the short story The Yellow Wallpaper. It’s a Gothic horror tale, character study, and exquisite commentary on women’s rights.

Each painting is a painting of a young woman wrapped in floral pattern-work.  They show a constant flux between light and shadow shapes. I am using light as a metaphor to depict an internal spiritual dissonance. Informed some by the work of Francesca Woodward, patterns run across the camouflaged flesh blending in and out of the mimicked backdrop I have created. In contrast to the murder series, I am now painting the young women in my life, getting to better know them in the process and applying a pattern as I formally see fit. The patterns begin infiltrating the skin, blurring the lines between the viewer and the subject.

Gray Magic- Madame Cézanne

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, November 19, 2014-March 15, 2015

By Jacob Hicks

For the first time Paul Cézanne’s portraits of Hortense Fiquet (including the smaller intimate domestic sketches) are brought together in a blindingly beautiful exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Due to lacking concrete knowledge about the character of Fiquet-lover, model, mistress, and eventual wife to the artist-history has painted her dubiously and coldly.  She is un-flinching and desolate in the portraits; Cezanne doesn’t ask her to play a role for posterity- he is interested in visual truth, not sentimentality nor posed expression.  He allows his muse to exist as any model holding statue-still for hours on end would: honestly, starkly, meditatively.

Portrait of Madame Cézanne, 1877

Hortense Fiquet was something masked and continuous in the life of Cézanne.  Though he was devoted to his mate,  he hid their relationship and spoke in disfavor of her material desire.  No matter, he continuously used her as a source for visual inspiration.   

Approaching the two open-winged, perpendicular, center-line hung walls of portraits, I knew I was encountering something significant.  Conceptions of Fiquet’s history became mutely important as I was surrounded by the breathing, almost agonizing immediacy of these images.  The portraits express an exuberant Kantian disinterest in the subject before him that is only attained through the strictest attention to a contemplated hyper-visual consciousness-the kind of observational methodology evident in his paintings of nature or Mont Sainte-Victoire.

Mont Sainte-Victoire with Large Pine, 1887
Mont Sainte-Victoire with Large Pine, 1887

 This is the game that crowned him the father of modernism in the eyes of so many, including Picasso.  Fiquet is his mountain is his tabletop-a force capable of such studied visual transcendence. His disciplined removed searching for the essential sparkle in the phenomenology of visual/material reality allows for the separation of viewer and subject, artist and subject, subject and self.  Cézanne Captures this existential split, this twitching gray magic that paradoxically permits the spirit of his observed to radiate fully-right in the moment of having her whole truth spilled back to material mud and then re-substantiated.  The artist kills what he sees to rebirth what can only be felt, the fecundity and illusive flutter of material brought to life,  the first form being actual life, and the second its mimesis.

Madame Cézanne in Blue, 1890

So what separates Hortense from an apple painted by the artist (an art historical insult once lobbed at the vague interpretation of the character of Madame Cézanne)?  They are both living and beautiful, both are vague and distant.  They both reveal love and obsession, along with the skewed realism of bi-cameral vision made into three-dimensions within the human brain and then re-invented through paint.  They both are formal architectural blueprints bearing the weight of the creation of modernism.  The comparison is less an insult in my eyes and more an interesting viewfinder illuminating the new sight at the turn of the 20th century that defined so much of how contemporary humans see.

Portrait of Madame Cézanne, 1885
Portrait of Madame Cézanne, 1885

Michelle Doll: “Between Love and Me” in Review

Lyons Wier Gallery

542 W 24th St, New York, New York 10011

On view 1/8 – 2/7

Reviewed by: Angela Gram

Couple (AJB3) 2014, Oil on canvas 60 x 60 in / 152.4 x 152.4 cm
Couple (AJB3) 2014, Oil on canvas 60 x 60 in / 152.4 x 152.4 cm

Michelle Doll’s solo exhibition “Between Love and Me” at Lyons Wier Gallery is impressively bold and delicately introspective.  Four large scale paintings dominate the gallery with vigorous brushstrokes and areas of lively color, yet they announce the quiet beauty and depth of personal intimacy, vulnerability, and tactility.  It is this tension between the subject matter and scale of Doll’s work that makes these pieces especially intriguing.  Her looming human figures engulf the viewer.  They impose moments of physical and psychological exposure and thereby transcend the reality of such private experiences.

Doll reenforces her concept through a unique and technically adept use of materials.  Her visceral brushwork and  use of exposed underpainting are most successful when they interrupt the extremities of flesh and fracture each figure into a half rendered, nebulous space.  Here Doll’s figures, while embodying the tactile and vulnerable, narrate an innermost void of uncertainty that must be bridged within human relationships.  This can be most effectively seen above in “Couple(AJB3)”, where a man and woman embrace.  When his hand meets her arm it becomes a tenuous moment and his body slowly recedes into obscurity.  Is he less physically present because of insecurity? Or perhaps he is open to understanding his partner without boundaries.

By observing the sensuality and complexity of such personal experiences, Michelle Doll stands in a timeless and universal dialogue of navigating one of humanity’s most powerful emotions.  “Between Love and Me” successfully asserts these values and refreshingly contrasts amidst a general cultural landscape of dwindling artistic authenticity.

Mother and Child (KA2) 2014, Oil on canvas 60 x 60 in / 152.4 x 152.4 cm
Mother and Child (KA2) 2014, Oil on canvas 60 x 60 in / 152.4 x 152.4 cm

Couple (JT5) 2014, Oil on canvas 60 x 60 in / 152.4 x 152.4 cm
Couple (JT5)2014, Oil on canvas60 x 60 in / 152.4 x 152.4 cm

Mother and Child (KA1) 2014, Oil on canvas 72 x 48 in / 182.9 x 121.9 cm
Mother and Child (KA1) 2014, Oil on canvas 72 x 48 in / 182.9 x 121.9 cm

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Michelangelo and Raphael: The Sublime and the Beautiful

by Miguel Carter Fisher

Michelangelo – Sistine Chapel Ceiling
Michelangelo – Sistine Chapel Ceiling

I recently read Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King. The book, which admirably balances fluid story telling with a comprehensive perspective, tells the story of Michelangelo and Pope Julius II during the years the Sistine Chapel Ceiling was painted.

There are many passages which are worth reflecting on, but the portion of the book that seems to have struck me the hardest was about Michelangelo’s rival Raphael’s reaction to the unveiling of the first half of the ceiling.

Raphael – School of Athens, Stanza della Segnatura
Raphael – School of Athens, Stanza della Segnatura

Over a year had passed since Raphael completed the School of Athens, and yet after viewing the chapel ceiling, Raphael went back to the fresco and added the fifty-sixth figure. This figure, as seen below, which resembles Michelangelo is thought to be the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. Some have interpreted this to be an homage in admiration of Michelangelo and his achievement in the Sistine Chapel.

Raphael – Heraclitus
Raphael – Heraclitus

King writes:

If Michelangelo was in fact the model for Heraclitus, the compliment was double-edged. Heraclitus of Ephesus, known as both Heraclitus the Obscure and “the Weeping Philosopher,” believed the world to be in a state of constant flux, a proposition summed up by his two most famous sayings: “You cannot step into the same river twice” and “The sun is new every day.” But it is not this philosophy of universal change that seems to have inclined Raphael to lend him the features of Michelangelo; more like it was Heraclitus’s legendary sour temper and bitter scorn for all rivals. He heaped derision on predecessors such as Pythagoras, Xenophanes, and Hecataeus. He even abused Homer, claiming the blind poet should have been horse-whipped. The citizens of Ephesus were no more popular with the cantankerous philosopher. Every last one of them, he wrote, ought to be hanged.

King continues with one of my favorite paragraphs in the book which describes the aesthetic difference between the two artists.

One way to understand the differing styles of the two artists is through a pair of aesthetic categories developed two and a half centuries later by the Irish statesman and writer Edmund Burke in his Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, published in 1756. For Burke, those things we call beautiful have the properties of smoothness, delicacy, softness of color, and elegance of movement. The sublime, on the other hand, comprehends the vast, the obscure, the powerful, the rugged, the difficult attributes which produce in the spectator a kind of astonished wonder and even terror. For the people of Rome in 1511, Raphael was beautiful but Michelangelo sublime.

The word beautiful in conversation often refers to everything from attractive women, to pastoral landscapes, but generally refers to something pleasing to the senses. It is an adjective which implies human desire and satisfaction. The sublime is that which is powerful but not necessarily a reflection of human need. The sublime can be both a blessing or terrible. The same sun that gives warmth and life can also burn and dehydrate. The sublime humbles us.

Raphael was clearly disposed towards beauty and desire. When one looks at Raphael’s biography one sees an individual who was a popular instructor, sociable, handsome, and not so pious as to refrain from various love affairs. He seems to have lived in pursuit of the pleasures of life and even died by them. When he passed on his 37th birthday Vasari states that the cause was that he “indulged in more than his usual excess.”

Raphael – Self Portrait
Raphael – Self Portrait

Michelangelo, in contrast, had a disposition towards the sublime. I believe that this disposition may be an unappreciated cause for comparison to Heraclitus. If one agrees that “you cannot step into the same river twice” than you are accepting the inherent instability of existence. Meditation on this instability may drive one’s aesthetic inclinations toward the sublime. While Heraclitus rooted this existential instability in the perpetually changing universe, Michelangelo rooted his own existential instability in fear of God.

As an adolescent Michelangelo was inspired by the sermons of Girolamo Savonarola, a friar famous for his fiery sermons calling for Florence to change its sinful ways or suffer the wrath of God. Michelangelo became deeply pious and rather than focusing on the forgiving God of the New Testament like many of his peers, he focused on the punishing God of the Old. King writes:

He was fascinated, instead, by tragic, violent narratives of crime and punishment such as those -complete with hangings, plagues, propitiations, and beheadings…

This disposition is reflected in his depiction of the prophet Jeremiah, which like Heraclitus is also thought to be an image of Michelangelo:

Michelangelo – Jeremiah, Sistine Chapel Ceiling
Michelangelo – Jeremiah, Sistine Chapel Ceiling

If Raphael built upon the aesthetic achievements of the earlier Renaissance masters such as Leonardo, Ghirlandaio, and Perugino. Michelangelo marked the beginning of a new aesthetic trend which would influence later artists, known as the mannerist, such as Jacopo da Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino.

Now, nearly five centuries later, I think about the world as it is today, and I speculate about my own work and that of my peers and wonder who we resemble more, Raphael or Michelangelo.

“I Seek Stillness” Ecka Blaire Faulds

By Miguel Carter Fisher

“August (A light on a hill)” 2012, Acrylic, ink, charcoal, gouache on paper
“August (A light on a hill)” 2012, Acrylic, ink, charcoal, gouache on paper

Often, the loudest voice isn’t the one worth listening to. In a culture of spectacle, where novelty trumps content, it is a true pleasure to have the opportunity to speak with an artist like Ecka Blaire Faulds. She has a sensibility akin to artist like Fairfield Porter or Erik Satie whose work is not appreciated for it’s demonstration of facility, but for the beauty of the overall composition. Too often representational painters like myself trick ourselves into believing that the success of our work can be quantified by the degree to which it is rendered. Ecka never seems to make this mistake, not even for a moment, and I envy her for that.

She dedicates herself to the solemnity of the casual walk. She sees the sensibility of idle moments in nature which has provided her insight evident in her artist statement:

Reacting to the weight of memory my work observes the delicate relationship between figure and environment. By depicting moments of interaction or ignorance of the figure to its surroundings, I aim to bring to light our own complicated relationships with nature.

At times a work carefully and knowingly makes clear the boundaries felt between humankind and the natural realm as it crisply delineates the composition into two parts. Both the figure and a representation of nature – most often the cultivated trappings of an aquarium or garden – are contained in such a way as to question who may be truly caught and forced to bear the burden of isolation.

Other moments find the figure dwarfed and swallowed by its surroundings. In its immersion the idea of ‘personhood’ – of singularity – is less than possible. Edges defining ‘this’ and ‘that’ and ‘you’ and ‘me’ grow murky and wild, allowing the identities of figure and place to acquire the same significance.

I speculate that a work made through meditation, takes a meditative viewer to truly appreciate. Ecka’s work, like the subjects she paints, can easily be overlooked by the impatient observer. I encourage you the reader not to do so.

“The Bathers,” 2013 Acrylic on paper. 24 ¼” x 22 ¼”
“The Bathers,” 2013
Acrylic on paper. 24 ¼” x 22 ¼”

MCF: Your artist statement begins with “Reacting to the weight of memory my work observes the delicate relationship between figure and environment.” Could you elaborate on what you mean by the weight of memory and what role these memories play in the development of your work?

EBF: Memory has always been a tricky thing for me. I don’t often remember particular details with the clarity that many of my friends and peers seem to have, but instead recall my emotional reactions. The images I’m drawn to have this feeling of existing outside of time, caught in this serene space where I can wash away some of that emotional baggage

“Page Three,” 2014 Oil pastel on paper. Approximately 6 ½” x 6 ½”
“Page Three,” 2014 Oil pastel on paper. Approximately 6 ½” x 6 ½”

MCF: While your work has a very impressionistic quality of light, it has always struck me not as the capturing of light in a mad rush before it fades, but as the capturing of it on the periphery of one’s recollection. How would you describe the emotional or psychological vantage point in your work?

EBF: Sometimes the images have a dark energy hiding out somewhere, no matter how peaceful the contents first seem to be. I think that speaks to who I am. I’m very sensitive and hold onto things even after I thought I had let them go. I’ve found myself in situations, especially growing up, where I felt unsafe and therefore betrayed… and that is not a weight that falls easily from one’s shoulders. And so perhaps that’s what I’m constantly looking for – safe space, all the while knowing it’s easily darkened and intruded upon.

“The Dream of Roots and the Mirage of the Journey,” 2012 Acrylic on paper. 22 ¼” x 26″
“The Dream of Roots and the Mirage of the Journey,” 2012
Acrylic on paper. 22 ¼” x 26″

MCF: How does memory bring you in touch with place, or more specifically the relationship between humankind and the natural realm?

EBF:  I seek stillness.

I’ve always felt most at home in nature, identified greatly with all non-humans, and wondered about the thoughts and feelings of other organisms. I believe that our egos limit us: everything here on this Earth has value, has a reason for being here, but those reasons are closely intertwined with the lives of others. Nothing exists singularly.

In my childhood I spent so much time either reading (usually about animals) or observing nature. I could get lost in gazing at the pattern of leaves or watching an ant make its way around. I think that shows in my work as I’m constantly invested and interested in these places where slow observations are possible.

‘A Barrier Between’ 2011. Acrylic & gouache on paper
‘A Barrier Between’ 2011. Acrylic & gouache on paper

MCF: Throughout the history of painting artist have used composition to express man’s relationship to nature as conceived in their time. I think of the sense of natural order and clarity in the work of Poussin, versus the swirling turbulence of Turner. You state that in some of your works “Both the figure and a representation of nature – most often the cultivated trappings of an aquarium or garden – are contained in such a way as to question who may be truly caught and forced to bear the burden of isolation.” and that “Other moments find the figure dwarfed and swallowed by its surroundings. In its immersion the idea of ‘personhood’ – of singularity – is less than possible.” Am I correct in concluding that you’re invested in capturing mankind’s self alienation from the greater natural world?

EBF: You nailed it! Can I just take a moment to say how much I appreciate that you understood me?

In my work I seek out points in time and compositions where the boundary has blurred a bit. For instance, the delicate reach of a leaf into the space of a human figure – a reversal invasion, where nature reclaims the space.

“Page Eight,” 2014, Oil pastel on paper. Approximately 5 ½” x 9″
“Page Eight,” 2014, Oil pastel on paper. Approximately 5 ½” x 9″

MCF: Members of our generation are often defined as self-absorbed, yet the more I talk with our peers, the more I realize how pervasive this idea of immersion into the sublime, or loss of personhood is. Do you have any thoughts on why that might be? and why is it important to you?

EBF: I think our generation is beginning to understand what’s at stake here with the changes in our environment, and we’re affected by it.

I also feel that we’ve been swallowed whole by consumerism. We’ve experienced recession while being saddled with great debt at a young age. Due to all this – which is incredibly overwhelming – I think we’re looking for meaningful connections, trying to find our place in the big picture – which means embracing community, both natural and man-made.

As for myself…I maybe watched Fern Gully one too many times as a child. (And still do!)

“The Keepers,” 2012-2014, Acrylic and gouache on paper. 9 ½” x 12 ½”
“The Keepers,” 2012-2014, Acrylic and gouache on paper. 9 ½” x 12 ½”

MCF: The color in your work is often unconventional and seems drawn from personal expression rather than convention. How did you arrive at your palette, and what does it lend to the content of your work?

EBF: I find it so funny when you say that! What’s so unconventional about it?

But I think you’re right. I never really think about my palette, I just paint with it and always find myself so attracted to the cool tones. Maybe because they imply a certain amount of distance or sentiment. I can’t really say.

I’ve had the same palette since college, and I can tell you exactly where I picked it up from – Derrick Quevedo! At the time I was very interested in painting on site, especially at night. He encouraged me to simplify so that I could be more mobile.  White, deep brown, and a warm and cool version of the primaries. That’s all I have. I can tell you I use a heck of a lot of manganese blue, maybe I’m too excited about that pigment in particular!

Untitled study, 2011, Acrylic on paper
Untitled study, 2011, Acrylic on paper

MCF: Why do you use acrylic as opposed to oil?

EBF: Back in college I started getting terrible chronic headaches that I’m still living with now. They’ve gotten less intense over time but persistent pain really interferes with productivity.

The headaches prevented me from working large at a time when I really wanted to explore larger scale works, and I was forced to adapt. I did this by choosing to paint very small on a pad of paper. Oils, with their long drying time, just didn’t work and I was also really concerned about the vapors from mineral spirits. So, I very begrudgingly switched to acrylic.

I’ve really come to love them now. They’re low maintenance, and they allow the paper to act in a way that I really appreciate. I’m very loyal to Golden’s Open line as I can still get some of the flexibility of oil. All I really miss from oil is the smell of the paint. Other than that, I don’t really look back.

Study for “The Dream of Roots…” 2012 Acrylic on paper. Approximately 9″ x 10″
Study for “The Dream of Roots…” 2012 Acrylic on paper. Approximately 9″ x 10″

MCF: We both were privileged to have had Stephen Brown as a mentor. He championed artist who were, as he put it, “without bells and whistles.” Like the artist Stephen admired you paint like you have nothing to prove to anyone. I am sure I am projecting but when I look at your work I imagine someone confident in their solitude. Do you see yourself as being somewhat of an outsider or independent voice?

EBF: Oh how I miss him! What I took away most from studying under him was to “paint what’s in your backyard.” Don’t go looking for a subject: paint what you know, what interests you, and run from there. Let everything come about naturally. It’s all about paying attention to yourself and going after what you feel is best rather than letting someone dictate that for you. Don’t apologize for your voice.

I’d say I’m confident in my solitude most days, but definitely not always! But yes, I’ve always felt like an outsider. I don’t have an easy time connecting myself with people and generally prefer to watch how they interact with one another and their surroundings. But it’s also from a really loving place as I catch a lot of tenderness, and I always feel honored to witness it. People care about each other and their surroundings far more than they let on.

Untitled study, 2011 Graphite, acrylic on grey paper.
Untitled study, 2011 Graphite, acrylic on grey paper.

MCF: What do you hope people walk away with after viewing your work?

EBF: I hope it inspires them to pay more attention to their surroundings. To see how they love and are loved, how they hurt and are made to feel hurt in return. To care about what’s beyond and outside of themselves, while also finding peace in their solitude.

“Page Five,” 2014 Oil pastel on paper. Approximately 6″ x 9″
“Page Five,” 2014 Oil pastel on paper. Approximately 6″ x 9″

MCF: What direction is your work currently heading in?

EBF: I’m very interested in foliage at this point. Even having grown up in Connecticut and feeling so in debt to my natural surroundings, I’ve only very recently started to explore green. It’s so active and overwhelming!

In the newer works the foliage takes over the foreground, interrupting the forms of the figures or delicately reaching towards them. Nature is gaining more personality and feels more individualized at this point. I’m very excited to see what happens next!

Untitled study, 2012, Acrylic on paper
Untitled study, 2012, Acrylic on paper

Ekaterina Smirnova in Conversation with Angela Gram

Living on the planet Earth, taking our place on it, being occupied with our daily routine is our destiny as human beings. Each of us is just a little part of the Universe, so versatile and limitless. I would like to understand our place in it, our triviality in the universal and our significance in the planetary scale.

– Ekaterina Smirnova

Ekaterina Smirnova was born in 1981 in Novosibirsk, Russia. She started her art education in a Russian art school in Siberia in 1991. Shortly after moving to New York, USA in 2006 she became a member of the Art Students League of NY where she has been developing her style ever since. Ekaterina has received numerous awards in juried shows by the The Salmagundi Club, Allied Artists of America, the Brooklyn Waterfront Artist Coalition, and other art organizations. The past few years Ekaterina has had solo shows in Russia (Novosibirsk Center of Visual Arts), Spain (Villa del Arte Galleries, Barcelona),  Austria (Neuhauser Kunstmühle Gallery, Salzburg), and Japan (City Hall, Kofu City, Yamanashi).

Ekaterina’s watercolors strive to break the medium’s typical physical boundaries, overflowing onto 2.5 meters tall rolls of paper, revealing new possibilities. She paints with large hardware brushes on rough textured paper, splashes, sprays, and wipes, washing away accuracy and exactness. In all of her explorations, Ekaterina seeks to move beyond established norms of the watercolor community. Recently she is working with interactive electronics, implementing them in her watercolor paintings. Ekaterina’s future goals include continuing to work in collaboration with scientists, musicians and engineers.

More of Ekaterina’s work can be seen at http://ekaterina-smirnova.com

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Ekaterina Smirnova “The Shift Blue” Watercolor on rough Arches paper 87×196″

QAR:  Your work deals with perhaps the most innate existential questions defining our species, such as ‘who are we on a universal scale’?  Carl Sagan once stated, “we are a way for the cosmos to know itself”.  Do you see your work as an extension of this in some way?  What aspects of the cosmos inspire you most?

ES: I have started my series of cosmic works with a piece that was based on the photograph that was taken on February 14, 1990 by NASA’s Voyager 3.7 billion miles away from the Sun. Planet Earth appears as one of the droplets on my watercolor painting. That photograph gives you an idea of the dimension of space and our small place in it. This fact has set me in a frame of our nonentity comparing it with the infinite greatness of space. By doing this I have tried to put my mind on a more mathematical and scientific track and be true to the facts, rather then approach the subject in a fantastic way. To understand the universe is to know also our place in it. Knowledge is a strength of ours and not knowing is what drives you to attempt to know more. 

There is not a single thing about nature and space that does not impress me. I would say though that one of the most interesting questions I like to ask myself is trying to imagine the universe being infinite. We all have studied that everything has an end, so to imagine a boundless universe is quite a big task. Every time I think of it, my boundaries expand further and further.

Ekaterina Smirnova "A Speckle Named Earth" Watercolor 40x52"
Ekaterina Smirnova “A Speckle Named Earth” Watercolor on rough Arches paper 40×52″

QAR:  By condensing such immense philosophical questions into imagery, your work invokes the grandiosity of Romanticism.  The universe can be simultaneously terrifying in its vastness yet also transcendent in its beauty.  What does the sublime mean to you?

ES: I am in deep awe of the universe, so much is being discovered and so often do we see amazing imagery that was taken by our advanced mechanisms. We truly live in a special time. And yet, the universe is unknown to us. So much we lack to know and can only guess. In our guesses we perhaps dream and use our imagination to find an answer, fantastic stories drive us to create more and more instruments that will help to acquire new information. This constant relation between creative arts and science is one of the sublime moments of the discovery of the universe. Just think of it, how is it possible to unite mathematical and lyrical aspects of the human brain so successfully?

Before starting this project I was nursing it in my mind for a very long time. And for a long time I could not find the right moment to start it. One of the reasons that I was frightened to be alone while working on the project, there was so much information I have studied about the space (some of which was very terrifying) that I simply was afraid to get into a depressed mode.

Space is so much bigger then us, it is often overwhelming. Now that I have studied how to handle the heavy aspects, I have realized there is even more excitement and positivity. The enormous power of space is what attracts me the most.

Ekaterina Smirnova "Twilight" Watercolor 70x52"
Ekaterina Smirnova “Twilight” Watercolor on rough Arches paper 70×52″

QAR:  You have recently begun incorporating electronic sensors into your paintings that can be interactive with the viewer.  What is the significance of this?  Are you inspired by installations or performance pieces at all?

ES: That is true, in my latest works I play a lot with electronics. By making my artworks interactive I am trying to raise the question of how human actions change the world we live in. Many of my pieces are carrying environmental statements and by implementing sensors I invite my viewers to change the “universe” created by me, as a parallel of the world being changed by humanity on a daily basis. For example, I have a piece called “The Invisible Visible”,  when a viewer approaches the piece, it is only partially visible, as they interact with three sensors (light, sound, and temperature), bursts of lights glow and fade, revealing more of the painting. The piece is always different depending on what actions were taken by the viewer.

Ekaterina Smirnova "Meteor Shower" Watercolor 70x52"
Ekaterina Smirnova “Meteor Shower” Watercolor on rough Arches paper 70×52″

QAR:  You seem to have a very analytical approach to aspects of your work, have you ever collaborated with scientists?  What fields of science and technology most appeal to you?

ES: I often talk to different scientists: astronomers, geologists, hydrologists, physicists, biologists…

I find a lot of inspiration from these conversations. I enjoy studying more about our planet and closely follow the discoveries in space. But personally, I am really close to nature, I was studying about it since my childhood and not only at school but also through my grandmother. She has helped me to understand nature and not to be afraid to plant or forage. If I would to do anything else, then I probably would become a botanist.

Ekaterina Smirnova "Urban Cluster. New York" Watercolor 70x156"
Ekaterina Smirnova “Urban Cluster. New York” Watercolor on rough Arches paper 70×156″

QAR:  The correlation between the galaxy cluster paintings and your cityscape imagery seems to be the universe manifesting itself on a macro and micro scale.  I find this a very striking juxtaposition since it also contextualizes human civilization as being so transient and fleeting.  What other aspects of cityscapes attracted you to that imagery?

ES: During the search for our place as humans in the universe I have realized that we are more a part of the multiverse that we think we are. Even going to a more micro level then you are referring to, molecular level that is, each of us contains about a tea spoon full of matter that was created during the Big Bang. When I look at the city-scapes, especially in the rainy night, I can’t help but notice the likeness to galactic lights. We have studied how to use energy, turning it into light, projecting it artificially. In space this light is projected by natural causes. Both of the lights are still the same energy and to me this likeness becomes even stronger then. But yet, our human light is fleeting. It is amazing how fast can we achieve things, how fast we progress. Would we be able to realize our actions as fast to make the right turn? 

urban_sky_1_2_90x52_9.2013_ekaterina_smirnova_watercolor_b
Ekaterina Smirnova “Urban Sky” Watercolor on rough Arches paper 90×52″

QAR:  How do you see this series evolving?  What is your next artistic endeavor?

ES: I have studied in my art career that it is impossible for me to plan ahead. I am always impressed to find out that it is pointless for me to be placed in an organized pre-planned schedule. As far as I am concerned, I may be going to the Moon tomorrow, or will be trapped in the discoveries of the molecular universe. What I know for sure though is that I would continue to create pieces that will hopefully make you think a little deeper about our existence and our behavior.

“Playground” A Preview of Buket Savci’s Solo-Exhibition at Olcay Arts in Istanbul

By Jacob Hicks

Secret Garden, 2013, oil on canvas, 48 x 70 inches
Secret Garden, 2013, oil on canvas, 48 x 70 inches

Buket Savci is a Brooklyn-based figurative painter.  Her first solo-show, “Playground,” is opening November 4th at Olcay Art in Istanbul, Turkey.  What follows is a formal and conceptual analysis of her work.

Savci’s large-scale paintings feature breathing and fleshy figurative tumblings of intimacy, tension, and play.  These pieces are photo-realistic psychologies; one can become lost in the mass of close-cropped human mazes, desiring to know how disembodied clusters of extremities (teasing confusions of arm or leg ownership) can appear simultaneously so intimate and yet so jarring.  Piles of patterned covers, comforters, pillows, and sheets dissect forms further; an especially rich amount of painted delicacy is apparent in the textiles.  No intimate detail is left ill-considered; each nook and corner invites, singing a visual ode to Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space.

 

Warm, 2013, oil on canvas, 48 x 36 inches
Warm, 2013, oil on canvas, 48 x 36 inches

Passion, whether love or play, is to divest from self and move into other.  It is to extend beyond the internal and to momentarily co-mingle.  The way the artist stages her scenes, which are based on an initial photograph, is a reflection of the fight for the preservation of passing intimacy.  Savci’s formal skills as a painter successfully breath warmth and life in translation from photographic source material to canvas.  This is key to the success of the work; though she is following in the historical tradition of photo-realism, she is also enlivening the “flat eye” of the machine with the purposely indiscreet warmth of painterly addition and decision.  Here a mechanism’s perception is consecrated by an experiential nostalgia.  It is important to remember nostalgia is an edited, abbreviated, and modified construction of chosen reality, but I feel that in Savci’s case, the romanticism and fiction of the image is the purpose-an ideal to seek and dream of and in.   Her authoritative and gentle handle of color, form, and tone transforms a cold mechanical image into one that is a human and burning dream.

Candy Crushed, 2013, oil on canvas, 48 x 70 inches
Candy Crushed, 2013, oil on canvas, 48 x 70 inches

From time to time oddities of color pop up; a man holds a green and white striped popsicle (phallic in nature), or a woman a rainbow lollipop.  A fish balloon, smiling, floats over the scene; these elements are enforcers of the length to which Savci is willing to push a continuation of treasured moments.  The hot fever dream of passion and joy become her “playground,” of which she cleverly identifies in the title of her exhibition.

As Buket’s studio-mate, it has been a pleasure to watch her artistic development and perseverance.  Her work speaks softly but authoritatively, and this is an exhibition not to be missed.

Roommates, 2013, oil on canvas, 66 x 60 inches
Roommates, 2013, oil on canvas, 66 x 60 inches

James Lee Byars “1/2 an Autobiography,” MoMA PS1- A Selective Response

by Eric Mavko

All photos courtesy the author for QuantumArtReview

It’s difficult to look directly at James Lee Byars, and no doubt he meant it that way.  During his career he presented himself in a number of different guises (even as a disembodied voice) and produced a diverse and at times confounding array of sculptures, works on paper, works on paper that “perform” as sculptures (sort of), performances, letters both typed and handwritten, telegrams, books, and, acting as the World Question Center, collected an unending list of questions from artists, scientists, philosophers – frankly anyone – from all over the world (notably as the first artist-in-residence at CERN), in the pursuit of what he termed “The First Totally Interrogative Philosophy.” Byars was the first to place a totally immaterial performance piece in the permanent collection of a museum.  He has been described variously as a conjurer, a shaman, a mystic, a minimalist, and an outrageous personality.

(left to right) Byars’ gold lamé suit; Is, 1987, gilded wood; Portrait of the Artist, 1993, gold leaf on paper

At age 37 he staged a performance that he titled his “1/2 Autobiography,” from which this exhibition takes its title.  It is also a reference, as the press release states, to the impossibility of truly giving a complete sense of an artist and his career, even via a museum retrospective.  This may be more true of Byars than most other artists, as so much of his work was ephemeral, and was for most of his life inextricable from his everyday existence.

A closely researched account of the artist’s formative years is badly needed.  Most of the accounts that I have read contradict one another in the details, but it is certain that after studying art and philosophy at Wayne State University in Michigan, (one article I found avers that he abandoned his studies…) Byars went to Kyoto, Japan, and stayed there for 10 years, visiting the US from time to time.  I’ve read alternately that Morris Graves introduced him to a network of patrons there to support his stay, and that he supported himself teaching English – perhaps both are true (he definitely taught English to some extent).  Regardless, it is clear that what he absorbed in Japan of Shinto ritual, Noh Theater, and Zen philosophy would inform his work for the rest of his life, as he brought aspects of them crashing into a western setting: enacting a giant cleansing ritual in midtown Manhattan, performing abbreviated theatrical pieces that filled a gallery or museum, for a moment, with a breath or a murmur, a gesture or the flash of a smile.  He rolled a sphere of red lava (cooled and solidified) through the streets of Amsterdam, and once spent a day, clad all over in billowing pink satin and platform heels, chasing tourists in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, trying to grant them invisibility.

The Figure of The Interrogative Philosophy, 1987/1995, gilded marble

Looking at all of this on the surface, it’s easy for a declarative like “What a loon” to bubble up in one’s mind, and the provocateur’s persona was something that he kept up for most of his career.  But looking carefully at certain of his sculptures and videos, we can find a sense of humility, a sensitivity, a delicately implied presence that hovers about his body of work. 

Byars’ performable paper works exist in a complicated state of potential.  Not quite sculptures, not fully performances, they exist as one and both only when they are physically activated.  Inert, they are beautiful in themselves and it’s tempting to view them as sculptural objects, nor are they mere props for performance.  They are the performance and the object, and since obviously they are not automatons, it is only possible for them to fully exist when being manipulated by a person.

A well-known example is the Performable Square, composed of 18 x 18” squares of Japanese flax paper hinged together that comprise a 600 x 600” square that folds up into a cube.  Another is the Mile-Long Walk, made again from flax paper, 75 sections are joined together by rivets so the piece can be opened or re-folded like a folding ruler.  Both works exist in a temporal dimension as well as the physical, and it is tempting – though perhaps a bit over-heated – to view the Performable Square as a tesseract, and the Mile-Long Paper Walk, when collapsed into a summation of itself and therefore traversable in a single step, as implying a sort of time dilation. When these pieces were acquired by the Museum of Modern Art Byars accepted no money, and stipulated that they be entered into the collection as received from anonymous donors. 

Two later works in the exhibition, The Play of Death and The Diamond Floor, derive from a concept that Byars called “5 points make a man.”  Formally this can be taken to mean the physical 5 points of the star, referencing the extremities of hands/feet/head in DaVinci’s universal man.  The Play of Death is an actual wall-mounted black star, and in the Diamond Floor the star has been reduced to the five points alone, marked out by crystals placed on the floor of a blackened room, picked out by a single light.  There is an elegant conceptual correlative in the five skandhas, or aggregates, of Buddhist phenomenology.  Our perception of existence is a result of our experience of the five aggregates; a fallacy of reification, where abstract experience leads us to believe that we are something concrete. This conjuring of the light of existence out of a void is emblematic of the artist’s ever-deepening meditations on death and the transience of worldly phenomena as his career progressed.   

Table of Perfect,1989

I’ve jumped from the very beginning of Byars’ career to the very end in the above discussion. The exhibition as well seemed divided into things that were relevant to the artist’s prolific writing and the World Question Center, and things that were not. It’s the nature of Byars’ oeuvre that any attempt at linearity is going to end up non-sensical.  What I was most concerned at pointing out was the deep empathy and humanism embedded in his work that is so easy to miss.  The implied necessity of human presence in the paper works, and the depiction of existence as but a dream of light in a void in the later works, displays a deep reverence for the time we are allotted as humans.

A video from 1970 illustrates this again: a one-minute film, completely dark save for a single frame in the middle where we glimpse a white silhouette, unmistakably the artist in his trademark suit and broad-brimmed hat, for just an instant.  The title Autobiography is a humble one.  At mid-career, his work having reached across the globe, Byars gives us a Zen meditation on death.  Our lives are but an instant in an all-consuming void. 

One of Byars’ final works, not included in the exhibition, is a monumental sculpture in marble, a final distillation of his “Five Points.”  5 Curved Forms is just that, columns set in a line rather than as points of a star, they gently curve in the same direction as though by a gentle breeze.  They exude calm, a gentleness, genuflecting as Byars, smiling, hands folded, his eyes covered by the brim of his hat and a hint of a smile on his face, steps back into the shadows.

Thoughts on Repetition, War, and Art: “To err is human, to persist is of the devil.”

By Jacob Hicks

History is mythology: a construction.  To reflect on time is to devolve the infinite dimensionality of reality into a one track linear narrative.  My memories alone are fabrications enough; they are directed by my subjectivity and are forever limited next to the expansiveness of phenomenological actuality.  History is this kind of hallucination multiplied exponentially; it is the multi-generational co-mingling of subjective interpretation of event, and the subjective interpreters are the conquerers and hierarchical dominators.  The dominate power structure hallucinates our history for us, and we cling to non-truths doggedly. The conflicts we pursue and repeat intra-culturally are based on the fever dreams/hallucinations of our dominate power structures.

AP1528-come-into-the-factories-zec-war-poster-1940s

They are simulacra-copies and repetitions of an unreal origin.  The conflicts are not real so how can they resolve? In the 21st century we are fighting a cold war, a border war, a race war, a gender war, a war over the holy-land. These conflicts are cyclical, seemingly unresolvable, and repetitious beyond measure. 

Dick Cheney

I believe that like Freud’s theory of repetition compulsion(1), wherein which a patient unconsciously repeats behaviors caused by unconquered neuroses in an attempt to face again and defeat the point of psychological disruption, man’s collective unconscious causes a communal repetition of original conflict that parallels Freud’s theory of individual compulsion. So, cultural conflicts are based on the created histories decided by those on top of our hierarchies.  The conflicts repeat in a collective unconscious push toward resolution.  Repetition compulsion can only be resolved through manifesting the origins of the damaging conflicts within the conscious mind.  The origins of our damaging conflicts are abusive power structures that need to be dissolved and/or restructured. Resolution can be sought only through a cultural realization of the unreality of linear history.

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I long for the stability of the repetitious and I am not alone in this.  I go to the same places, eat the same foods, look in the same directions, have the same conversations, on and on. I make the unfamiliar familiar through repetition.  My mirror neurons allow me to imitate how I see others act.  I feel in my body (nerve cells fire) when I witness human action. My physicality is the repetition of my species for our whole biological existence. My thought patterns are formed by this repetitious biological structure.  I am the architecture of an objective history of repetition.

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Eukaryote(cells with organelles and a nucleus) undergoing replication multiplication, also known as mitosis

Art is formed through a cultural and unconscious repetition.  When an artist lands upon an original formal language, a resonant visual analog of a deeply rooted archetype, that vision is repeated in a directly mimicked formal visual language ad-nauseaum due to the human pleasure and basic comfort gained from the act of mirroring. Like a biological system, particular innovators and technologies mutate the set formal structure within which the speaking archetype is depicted. Dogma and political structure also put force and strain upon this type of cultural evolution.

Rogier Van Der Weyden’s Deposition, 1435
Rogier Van Der Weyden’s Deposition, 1435

Rogier Van Der Weyden’s “The Deposition of Christ,” was copied ad-nauseam after its spark of genius lit fire to the imaginations of the 15th century Flemish circle of artists.  It is perhaps one of the most recreated and influential Christian paintings in all of art history.  Like a great jazz standard or a classical piece of music, the work’s content evolves from artist to artist, it is muted, manipulated, and re-birthed continuously, but the pleasure of the repetition of its core composition resounds.  Repetition penetrates its immediate structure, for each figure there is another forming an expanding symmetry.

Master of the St. Bartholomew Altar, The Descent From the Cross
Master of the St. Bartholomew Altar, The Descent From the Cross

Unknown Flemish Master, The Deposition (active 1470s in Brussels)
Unknown Flemish Master, The Deposition (active 1470s in Brussels)

So what kind of conclusion can be drawn when our inescapable and pronounced urge to do, be, make and act exactly the same again and again and again blooms conflict and war right next to art and culture?  This repetition is in our genes, our biology, our planet, our psychology; how could or should this bubble burst, will it or how laughably and clearly wont it?  We are wheels, cogs in a machine, like Islamic geometric prayer patterns creating the illusion of movement in the eyes of one meditating on us.  Like the retold story, the end can forever began again.

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1.The Repetition Compulsion. To paraphrase Sigmund Freud’s 1914 work, “Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through,” a patient unconsciously repeats behaviors caused by unconquered neuroses, yet these behaviors fly in the face of the pleasure principle, the most fundamental of human motivations.  This confounded Freud and lead him to formulate “Beyond the Pleasure Principle,” in which he introduced concepts of the death drive.  He also theorized that behavior repetition was the psyche’s longing to confront again the situation that scarred it in an attempt to overcome and heal. The psychoanalyst believes this can only be accomplished by making conscious within the patient the event of scarring activity from which the neurosis developed.

Art and Science: An Introduction in Search of a Quantum Union

By Glenda Lindsey-Hicks

We know the origins of science, at least in part, lie in alchemy— at the longing for a convergence of the physical with the metaphysical. We know that a portion of Aristotle’s considerations of the natural world were referred to as metaphysical, but this was less because they were detached from or beyond the physical and more because of their physical placement in the text. The very word, science, from the Latin, scienta, means knowledge. The word scire means to know, and there is no signal in the definition that this knowing is in any way limited concerning how or what one knows.

Still, it’s important to understand that the word science in its origins clearly concerns itself with separating or distinguishing, since scient or scire, is related to scindere from its root skei which means to cut or split. But that same root, insofar as it relates to the animal world, sheers off in what appears to be another direction to become the word shed. In its verb form to shed indicates the things animals lose—hair, feathers, teeth, our barest fortifications. In its noun form, shed offers further defensive considerations in the shape of huts, homes, masks, clothes. It is here, clutching John Donne’s proverbial and misogynist mandrake root and perhaps as William Wordsworth suggests, “murder[ing] to dissect” (line 28, “Tables Turned”), I dread the possibility of impaling both science and art as they meet in the body of language which includes the narratives of myth and religion.

Groping toward understanding I find myself complying with Donne’s injunction that I, a fallen woman,  “Goe, and catch a falling starre,/ [and] Get with child a mandrake roote” ( Lines 1-2 “Song”), but in so doing, I fear as William Shakespeare suggests, I, a  “living mortal,” must certainly “run mad” (Romeo and Juliet, IV, 3) considering the mandrake root’s division and the multiple emerging taxonomies separating and converging in the consideration of our incredibly bifurcated world.

It is also here that I find myself trying to remember that though art (from Latin, ars) is a craft or skill, whereas from the Greek arti it means just, complete, and suitable, artus; from its German root ar, is to fit together or join. Such a joining is and must be expressed in infinite disciplines and mediums since the craft of art is never far from its copulative (pun intended) verb form, to be, and always the story of who we are and who we wish to become in our knowing.

Here follows such a quest— this one, poetic, painterly, and scientific.

Sandro Boticelli, La Nascita di Venere

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Caravaggio, Narcissus

John William Waterhouse, Echo and Narcissus

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Behind the Curtain, A Preview of the Exhibition, Mark Miller Gallery, October 8 – November 9

by Jacob Hicks and Angela Gram

Titian for Gentile and Giovanni Bellini, Michelangelo for Domenico Ghirlandaio, Raphael for Perugino-art history has a long track record of the master and apprentice relationship wherein-which tutelage from an older generation of skilled craftsmen/visionary artists establishes and readies the next.  In an ideal world the style and vision of the master is carried forth in an act of education and generosity; the pupil is encouraged to learn and expand the precedents of those who he or she follows, thus creating a natural artistic evolution based in learning, skill, foresight, and growth.

“Behind the Curtain” is a rare moment of transparency where the contemporary relationship between master and assistant revels in the public eye.   It is an intriguingly multifaceted conversation where the assistant’s work exhibits its own individual power within a larger sphere of their employer’s ideologies.   In many cases these ideologies include the aforementioned vision of educational encouragement that can permeate a younger generation of artists.  These relationships can often be seen through mutual influence and support of an emerging career.  Yet perhaps the most striking dialogue of this exhibition occurs with the introduction of economics.  Those with an eye for authenticity will know the following questions must be addressed:

Karl Koett (assists Yigal Ozeri), Peeled Fruit and Pear, 16”x19”, oil on linen, 2012
Karl Koett (assists Yigal Ozeri), Peeled Fruit and Pear, 16”x19”, oil on linen, 2012

What happens in a world where the master artist doesn’t touch the work he or she makes, in a world where he or she views the artist/artists creating 100% of their work through a purely financial lens, i.e. as cheap and replaceable labor?   What happens when the employer outsources that “cheap labor” to skilled and even lower-paid workers in other countries?

Does it matter if the master artist is not capable of making the work they take credit for and sell at a premium price?  How is it that having an idea and a large pocket book is enough to become a canonical voice?  Does it matter if the actual creators have no voice, receive no credit, make no money, and are disallowed the time, instruction, and resource necessary to further their own work?

Will Kurtz (assisted Red Grooms and Kate Clark), Artie Sniffing the Ground, Papier-mâché, life-size dog, 2014
Will Kurtz (assisted Red Grooms and Kate Clark), Artie Sniffing the Ground, Papier-mâché, life-size dog, 2014

Reality has never been as simple as what would be ideal. Titian rarely encountered the elder Bellini who was of an advanced age and hardly touched his later works. Do you really believe that Rubens had a hand in the creation of every painting in his seemingly endless body of work?  Money and power has and will always direct, take precedence, and be of primary concern in our capitalist era.  The illusion is that the current state of things differs from our deeper history.

Jacob Hicks (assisted Murakami, Yigal Ozeri, and Sharon Louden), Red Mother, 8”x11”, 2014
Jacob Hicks (assisted Murakami, Yigal Ozeri, and Sharon Louden), Red Mother, 8”x11”, 2014

Yet lets return to the ideals of the first paragraph that defiantly exist in the minds and practice of many successful contemporary artists.  Red Grooms for example, shares his studio space and materials with his assistants and encourages the growth of their personal expression.  Mana Contemporary provides a studio residency and stipend to many of its employees and artist assistants, through the generosity of the Eileen S. Kaminsky Family Foundation (ESKFF).  The moral shadings of the current state of artist assistantship overwhelm the mere black and white.

Chie Shimizu (assists Sol LeWitt) Sol Maquette No.7 1/5 edition 22”h x 20”w x 9”d (without base) sculpture/2013
Chie Shimizu (assists Sol LeWitt) Sol Maquette No.7 1/5 edition 22”h x 20”w x 9”d (without base) sculpture/2013

Another good bit of business happens when a curator like Trek Lexington makes opportunities for these usually underrepresented and unsung artists with “Behind the Curtain.”  I am excited to see and take part in the exhibition, I wish these wonderful craftsmen and creators great success, and I hope they will run their future studio practice keeping in mind the ideal relationship possible between the master artist and his or her apprentice.

 

Bryan Christie: Our Hidden Infinite Nature

Bryan Christie interviewed by Miguel Carter Fisher

For more of Bryan Christie’s work visit http://www.bryanchristie.net/

Original link to interview on Miguel Carter Fisher’s blog

The divine is made evident through tangible and sensual experience; without our physical selves, we would not experience moments of wonder and the mysterious.”

“Remembrance Lowers the Cup”, silk and encaustic on panel, 2014
“Remembrance Lowers the Cup”, silk and encaustic on panel, 2014

Bryan and I first met when I was working at Soho Art Materials. While making his regular purchases of wooden panels he would engage us with updates on his progress in the studio. Unguarded, he never hesitated to speak with us about the self-doubt, desperation, struggle, and perseverance he experienced. He often articulated problems which are universal to all those who are pushing their creative pursuits into realms unknown to themselves. In a field where so many try to compensate for their insecurities, his blunt honesty was at once full of black humor, visceral, and compassionate. Soon our conversations evolved to encompass not only our studio practices but struggles with depression, love of music, and philosophy.

“Elaine”, 20″ x 16″, silk and encaustic on panel, 2012
“Elaine”, 20″ x 16″, silk and encaustic on panel, 2012

It didn’t take long before Bryan invited my coworkers and I to his studio. I was shocked by not only the amount of work he had in piles around his studio, but by the rich feeling the pieces carried with them. His beautifully crafted anatomical paintings immediately caught my eye but to refer to them merely as such is limiting. They could also be nebulae or super novae bursting apart in deep space. The resemblance to x-ray photography and Hubble photography both carry forward a scientific aesthetic, but his ability to encompass both in a single breath qualitatively broadens the aesthetic into an expression of deep spiritual feeling. The cosmic body and the individual body melt together seamlessly reminding us that the atoms which build our seemingly concrete form existed in space long before us, and will again long after we are gone. For me these works are honest attempts at expressing the wonder of the human condition as we understand it in the light of contemporary scientific discovery. This marriage of the scientific and the spiritual, or as I often think of it the analytical and the sublime, recur in Bryan’s work in multifaceted ways and I encourage the reader to bear this duality in mind through the following interview:

“Tanya”, 20″ x 16″, silk and encaustic on panel, 2013
“Tanya”, 20″ x 16″, silk and encaustic on panel, 2013

MCF: I have a vague understanding of your process. I know you use a combination of both digital rendering and encaustic. How did you arrive at combining a process so contemporary with a process so old? and how does the technical construction of your paintings relate to their content?

BC: I’ll first describe my process. Using 3D software I create renderings that are visually similar to MRIs. To create the imagery I pose an anatomically correct human model with its internal system in virtual 3D space. I spin the camera around the figure and make renderings at every 30-60º. I then composite 3-12 layers  in photoshop. From there I print each individual layer on silk. Covering a panel with encaustic I lay a layer of silk on it and then weld it to encaustic using a blow torch and heat gun. I the add another layer of silk and repeat the process. I don’t use pigment in the wax. All of the imagery is created digitally. I began experimenting with this process about three years ago. I wanted to add warmth to the the cold and precise 3D medium I work in.

In regards to the technical aspect relating to content: by using layers I’m obscuring some of the imagery. My experience of life is that much is obscured; from the emotional to the physical to the spiritual. Our epidermal layer obscures our fat and musculature and skeletal system. Emotionally I am unclear most of the time with what is bringing up the feelings I experience. I rarely experience the wonder and mystery of life; this is obscured by the grind of daily life and the realities of corporeal existence. I believe this obscuring and layering is what physical existence is all about. I believe my ultimate purpose in life is to cut through these fleeting experiences (layers, if you will) in order to experience our ultimate reality and hopefully be a beneficial force to the people in my life. I consciously attempt to connect to this intent every morning before I get to work and pick up a paint brush.

“Untitled”, 20″ x 16″, silk and encaustic, 2013
“Untitled”, 20″ x 16″, silk and encaustic, 2013

MCF: Your work while very new carries a timeless sense of existential searching. How do you see yourself in relation to artists of the past? Do you have any kindred spirits?

BC: Painters from the Italian renaissance are my greatest influence. Da Vinci spent time in morgues dissecting corpses and drawing in minute detail what he saw. This, and his scientific study of light, completely informed every brushstroke of his painting. This scientific exactitude was the bedrock upon which da Vinci expressed profound aspects of the human spirit. I feel a kinship with him; my background as a medical and scientific illustrator has informed the art I make. The imagery in my paintings are derived from anatomically correct 3D source files. In fact, they are the same models I use for the medical and anatomical illustrations. I’m not deviating from human anatomy or “making anything up” so to speak. But within these constraints I’m hoping to depict the human form in all of its emotional and spiritual splendor.

“Every Angel is Terror”, 20″ x 16″, silk and encaustic on panel, 2014
“Every Angel is Terror”, 20″ x 16″, silk and encaustic on panel, 2014

MCF: The majority of your paintings, or at least from what I have seen, were composed with a central iconic form. Are these pieces icons for you in the religious sense or just in composition?

BC: When I began painting I was working intuitively. After a while I realized I was approaching my pieces from a “religious”, or if you prefer, “spiritual” perspective. I looked at my works as meditations on our hidden infinite nature. Also, when I first started making these pieces, I was predominantly drawing inspiration from sculpture. I was painting as a sculptor and not a painter; I was not paying much attention to the edges and not thinking much about compositional harmony on the picture plane. At this time I was mostly interested in creating pictures that had luminosity and depth. This led me to placing the images centrally on the panel.

“Sabina”, 10″ x 8″, silk and encaustic on panel, 2012

MCF: In your most recent work you have moved away from this. The new work has darker dissonant elements which bring your following statement to mind:

“Our lives start with trauma as we are brought into the world from the safety of our mother’s womb. We eventually die, experiencing the loss of all that is dear to us. Yet transcendence and the experience of the sublime are rooted in this fleeting material existence. The divine is made evident through tangible and sensual experience; without our physical selves, we would not experience moments of wonder and the mysterious.”

Are you allowing more trauma into your work?

BC: I think so. I’m interested in conveying the full spectrum of human emotion and experience. And unfortunately trauma is a integral aspect of what it means to be human.

“Every Dancing Atom II”, 30″ x 22″, silk and encaustic on paper, 2014
“Every Dancing Atom II”, 30″ x 22″, silk and encaustic on paper, 2014

MCF: I recall our conversations about Fra Angelico’s use of black in his otherwise pastel compositions and wonder if you feel discord is a necessary element in capturing life authentically?

BC: I think of it more in terms of tension. But this translates well to “discord”. Most western music needs the tension of the dominant’s tri-tone. Without this tension (or discord) there would be nothing to resolve to. So yes, I think tension is an important aspect of my new work.

“Telling Pleasure”, 24″ x 18″, silk and encaustic on panel, 2014
“Telling Pleasure”, 24″ x 18″, silk and encaustic on panel, 2014

MCF: You are a trained Jazz musician and a big fan of Thelonious Monk. What instrument did you play and has music influenced your work?

BC: I played tenor saxophone and piano. When I paint I think in groups or variations on a theme. Bach is my favorite composer. The fact that he can write an infinite amount based on a single short theme is beautiful to me. I feel a relation to him in that I am reusing the base 3D models of a human to create all of my work.

“Distilled from Old Desire”, silk and encaustic on panel, 2014
“Distilled from Old Desire”, silk and encaustic on panel, 2014

MCF: Now I want to talk to you about one of your films. Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to see one at a gallery in the lower east side. It was a black and white film where the viewer moved through cross sections of the human body as if navigating three dimension x-ray scans. The body itself was still as if turning slowly in space, but one only got glimpses of it in its near entirety. Most forms, a head, a spine, a foot, came in and out of view like ghostly apparitions. Scored by Bach’s final fugue, the piece was long, meditative, and tender.

This film is clearly about mortality, but it is also about the miracle of existence. Is this work another expression of your statement that “transcendence and the experience of the sublime are rooted in this fleeting material existence” and what impact do you hope it makes on the viewer?

BC: I look at the world as having three aspects: creation, sustenance, and dissolution. This could be looked at as birth, growth, and death. The emerging and dispersing forms in my video work are informed by this concept. I’m trying to hint at the unchanging infinite divinity behind this ever changing aspect of our physical world. I believe this ever changing and fleeting nature is what brings beauty to the world.

“To His Soul But Softly”, 24″ x 18″, silk and encaustic on panel, 2014

MCF: Some might expect a film like this to have a more experimental or atonal soundtrack. Given the interconnectedness between the technical development and content of your work, it seems safe to say that this particular piece carries significance to how you wish to represent the human body in the film. Could you tell us about this piece of music, and why you chose it?

BC: I chose Glenn Gould’s recording of Bach’s final piece, The Art of The Fugue (Contrapunctus XIV). Bach died as he was working on it so it abruptly ends with no resolution. It’s quite haunting. I see a similar intent and process with Bach’s work and mine. Bach, especially with his fugues, is taking a theme that is stripped down to it’s essentials. The theme’s the “bones” of the piece. Once the theme is stated he explores it, turning it around, transposing it, playing it backwards etc. I’m using anatomically correct structures and systems of the body in my paintings and videos. Using these “bones” I’m able to make abstract imagery. I explore the body from different angles and perspectives. The video travels through the body forwards and backwards. Bach’s piece has a manuscript. By reading and playing this manuscript over time the music is created. I look at the body in my videos as  the “manuscript”. Like Bach’s manuscript, the body doesn’t move on its own and is inert. By changing the focal plane over time the imagery is created. Metaphorically I look at it as strumming the inner strings of the body.

“Every Dancing Atom I”, 30″ x 22″, silk and encaustic on paper, 2014
“Every Dancing Atom I”, 30″ x 22″, silk and encaustic on paper, 2014

MCF: What are you working on currently and what can we look forward to seeing in the future?

BC: Lately I’ve been attempting to activate the picture plane in a more deliberate way. I’m thinking about pushing the edges. I’m being more intentional with color and have begun to develop a consistent color pallet that I’m exploring and seeing how far I can push it.

I’ve recently started making works on paper. These works are more figurative and they go back to the more “iconic” works you referenced. I’m excited by how the process is made more evident with the paper; the layering of silk is more apparent because the edges of the silk aren’t registered perfectly.

“Permanence Lost”, 14″ x 11″, silk and encaustic on panel, 2014

MCF: When you state that “the divine is made evident through tangible and sensual experience,” are you denying mind-body dualism? and if so how would you define transcendence and hope in the face of death?

BC: It’s a matter of perspective. As I navigate through life I experience my mind and body as two distinct and separate entities. Yet the same energy that composes my body composes my thinking faculty. I look at it as divinity existing in a timeless, objectless space that isn’t constrained by anything, including the rules of Newtonion physics. This divinity then concretizes itself into the physical world including my psyche and body. These two aspects of ourselves are built from the same “stuff”.

Physicists and mystics have been gently suggesting to us we are composed of infinite energy. In physical death my “energy” will merge back into itself. My “small self” will die, certainly. But I believe my Self (with a capital “S”) will never die. So it becomes a question of what am identifying with. Am I identifying with the ego, with all of its likes, dislikes, and desires? Or am I identifying with something greater? Am I identifying with the the timeless, spaceless divinity that I believe is the “DNA” of everything including my mind and body? THAT state is how I see transcendence. I’ve had a handful of these experiences. Twice it’s happened around art: when I saw Michelangelo’s Pieta in the Vatican and when I saw the Rothko retrospective at the Whitney. In these two incidences, as my statement says, “the divine was made evident through tangible and sensual experience.”

These experiences changed the direction of my life; they galvanized my intent to make art. My job as an artist is to attempt to create things (that are experienced by the senses) that act as windows we can look through to get a glimpse of who we truly are.

Trey Speegle in Conversation with Jacob Hicks

Mosaics and puzzles are ancient and continuous modes of human thought wherein which a single unit combines into a whole; both are art forms whose nature calls for unification. Trey Speegle’s paintings (http://treyspeegle.com/) are directed puzzles/mosaics, an assemblage of fractions combined to elicit unity that often invite communal action or viewer involvement. His inheritance of the historically important collection of antique paint by number kits, originally assembled by Michael O’Donoghue, has been seminal to his oeuvre to date.  His works generally begin as large-scale re-creations of particular pieces from the collection.  The act of working through this re-born/re-scaled and re-directed linear/numbered architecture as skeleton for a new painting is the act of playing and pushing between a set super-ego stricture (paint all number 3’s blue, all 4’s green) and a rebellion (smear paint gesturally, invite an audience to paint within their own set of interior guidelines).  Speegle’s work resonates with an immense innocent pop happiness tinted by the flavor of an adult awareness and sometimes, but more rarely, an adult irony.  It uses convention to push the very boundaries it declares.  What follows is an e-mail conversation I had with the artist concerning his work.

Trey Speegle "Be Here Now"
Trey Speegle “Be Here Now Triptych”, archival pigment, house paint on canvas, 48 x 138”, 2014

QAR: One of your first paint by number works was a reference to Braque/cubism.  I feel a strong relation between the paint by number schema and the 20th century’s cubists/futurists.  The Braque mention makes me think you do as well. Talk to me a little about this…

TS: Well, to give you a little history, one of the first paint by numbers produced was based on a Braque/ Picasso-esq still life. I’m working on a new photo series using this piece. I’m inserting a vintage painting (it’s from 1952) into a variety of residential interiors to produce a portrait of the person(s) living there. I got the idea to do it because of the specific kind of California light… and also my friends have very different, but equally interesting spaces in LA that I knew would accommodate this image. What I wasn’t prepared for was how perfectly Abstract Number 1 fit into every room I put it in. I almost left it behind three different times it looked so good in each temporary home.

As far as art movements, I happen to think that paint by number kits were the first pop paintings and the first pre-packaged conceptual works too. You are asking someone to paint a piece you’ve prescribed and yet, each one becomes an original. There’s a lot more there than meets the eye. I’m continually “mining” this source.

Trey Speegle "Little Did They Know", archival pigment, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 60”, 2009
Trey Speegle “Little Did They Know”, archival pigment, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 60”, 2009

QAR: Your projects often take on a collaborative/performative aspect where in which the viewer is encouraged to paint within the paint-by-number boundaries you define.  You ask your participants to use color to find a personal creative freedom within two layers of predetermination. Do you think stricture helps to awaken a creative aspect in others? Does it in you?

TS: I was asked to be in this book “CREATIVE BLOCK Advice and Projects from 50 Successful Artists” and one of the exercises I give addresses this specifically. As I say in the book, you need to create a specific vision with a set of parameters that are fairly tight, but allow you enough room to play with them, explore and expand. This is an issue with making prescriptive work that is inherently organic.

QAR: You talk about information delivery systems in relation to the various modes of how your work is seen, i.e. your gallery, your collaborations with retailers and fashion designers.  In what way do you feel most happy with your work being seen?  How can young contemporary artists break out of the gallery system as the singular delivery system?

TS: It sort of depends on the kind of work you are doing. Paint by number started out in the mass market, so it naturally goes back that direction pretty easily. I think however you can get your work into the world that still keeps its integrity, go for it. The walls have been crumbling between the different contexts over the last few decades and younger artists are quite comfortable with newer “delivery systems”… (Instagram, Twitter, retail collaboration, luxury goods, street art…) I think the gallery system is still necessary and can be fantastic, but it can be very restrictive as well, whereas a collaboration, like I did recently with Squarespace at the Newport Folk Festival, can be seen by thousands and thousands of people that might not seek out my work in one of my gallery exhibits.

Speegle’s collaboration event , “All Over This Land” with Squarespace at Newport Folk Festival

QAR: A handful of your works deny the cleanliness of boundary through gestural expression (paint drips, Twombly-like scribbles) on top of or next to the number schema.  Are you more comfortable outside or within lines, in which voice do you think your art sings louder?

TS: Well, I think I’m more known for the text based pieces incorporating vintage paint by number on canvas and I think that is still the core of my work, but I’ve branched off into new disciplines of late which are looser and sometimes devoid of text that I like just as much.  As I said before, within the parameters I’ve set for myself, and that I continue to refine, I let myself play and expand. However, once you are known for a certain type of work you can feel obliged, by expectation and even the market, to stay in that box to some degree. Creating works that you are recognized for can be both a blessing and a curse – but I’m not so well-known that my fame has become a burden just yet.

Trey Speegle "Buddha Barb", mixed media on canvas, 18 x 24”, 2008
Trey Speegle “Buddha Barn”, mixed media on canvas, 18 x 24”, 2008

QAR: Tell me about your current body of work and the direction in which you see your art moving…

TS: Well, I don’t know how to talk about it honestly.  I have ideas for several new series that I’m still working out… without visuals and not having worked through the concepts myself, I’m afraid it wouldn’t be interesting to the reader and I myself would look back and say, “That was stupid –NOT where that series was headed at all.”

Trey Speegle "Leave a Mark (grey road)", silkscreen, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 60”, 2012
Trey Speegle “Leave a Mark (grey road)”, silkscreen, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 60”, 2012

QAR:  I would love to hear about your upcoming projects and give our readers a sneak peek at your current body of underway work…

TS: I’m in several upcoming shows that have yet to be worked out entirely; one at the Cornell Museum in Florida called “Language Art,” another in San Francisco with the artists from the book “Get Unblocked” and possibly a solo show in Seoul… and a solo show in New York next spring. Right now, I’m exploring the idea of making the NY show a “studio visit” where I essentially recreate my studio within the gallery and create work during the run of the show. It wouldn’t be static… you could visit it multiple times and see different work on display and in the process of creation…. I’m still trying to define the concept but I’m excited about doing this type of show.

I just finished these two commissioned pieces here, “Welcome Home” and a mural “Be Here Now”. Those plus the painting, mirror and chalkboard series “Abstract Lighthouse” and Abstract Sailboats” and the mural “All Over This Land” comprised my summer.

Speegle’s most recent mural, “All Over This Land” at the Newport Folk Festival. Painted by 500 over the course of three days.

Timothy Wilson in Conversation with Angela Gram

Timothy was born and raised in rural Maine. Upon graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design he enrolled briefly at the Grand Central Academy before moving back to Maine to work as a creative designer for a clothing company. Not long after, he decided to leave the portence of a successful career and pursue a life as a frustrated painter. In November he will be undertaking a two month Fellowship in the Hudson Valley courtesy of the Art Students League. Timothy keeps his studio in Portland, Maine where he occasionally cat sits for his sisters purebred Persian. His solo exhibition at the Steven Amedee Gallery in New York City opens in October.

More of Timothy’s work can be viewed at http://www.timothypowerswilson.com

Timothy P. Wilson "Mutiny"
Timothy P. Wilson “Mutiny”

QAR: Let’s begin with your technique. Your work has a very unique tactility and organic feel to how you approach painting. Would you consider yourself an expressionist? How did you develop these skills?

TW: I had never really thought of myself as an expressionist before, but in a way; yes. Painting is becoming more about my own experience with the medium. The work is certainly getting selfish; more about me and less preoccupation about the viewer. My subject matter is getting lessened as i find out what is meaningful to me. Overall, I would say my approach to painting has been developed through a lot of frustration! I used to work and study rapaciously throughout my childhood and schooling. But I was self destructive, and for all the time spent laboring I wasn’t satisfied. I kept on throwing out my work and starting over constantly. There was a lot of hesitation, and alot of obsessive research and failed experiments. I think failure is essential. Difficult, but essential.

I went to school for illustration, and it happened to be at the cusp of the digital art vogue. I couldn’t place why it bothered me at the time, but I needed tactility and interaction with the medium that the computer screen just didn’t offer. There was too much of a separation. I needed something real; sticky, smelly, sweet. Something you needed to change your clothes from after. There is validity in any form of art or materials, but I need that dirt in my fingertips.

I spend a lot of time analyzing, looking, adopting things into my manual vocabulary. That way I can pull and manipulate form without really needing reference. Increasingly, thick, bulky materials seem to be getting my attention. Asphalt, tar, wax; things that offer a tug and pull. In trying to domesticate those materials, I spend less time in minute renderings and more time actively interacting. I tend to work from my head, and find I often go through a debilitating hesitation; not wanting to destroy the image I have in my mind, but can’t seem to get out through my cumbersome hands. Hesitation rarely yields results. So I gradually began to adopt a way to channel that hesitation in something more productive. I just start scribbling; letting my hand swirl around, layering, sanding, letting things happen until an image emerges. It’s more exhilarating that way, but requires alot of blind hope. And a lot of aborted work. In trying to figure out the image in my head, my palette has become very sparse. I try to deal mostly with just tone, making substance of the thought, and not worrying about color harmonies, temperature, saturations. That stuff is just too intelligent for me. I certainly have a fear of making art, and my self destruction still rears it’s ugly head every now and then, but I’ve tried to embrace it. I have had numerous artists I shared studio buildings with mention they used to pick through the trash after I had violent purges of art, and have the trashed art hanging on their wall. Part of me feels strange about that. But it is also just tremendously endearing. And hilarious: that means a handful of my collectors walls are festooned with free trash. You’ve got to have a sense of humor if you are going to be an artist. Otherwise, that’s going to be a pretty rough road.

Timothy P. Wilson “Burnt Face”

QAR: You very naturally blend the disciplines of illustration and contemporary painting. I sometimes catch a glimpse of perhaps, Phil Hale? Who are your main influences from both fields?

TW: Phil was one of the first contemporary painters that caused me to look at illustration in a different manner. I didn’t realize it at the time, I was just spellbound by his imagery and control of tonality, but he was using illustration as a platform to search for his own identity as a painter. He would just keep on painting the things that were dear to him; things you can tell he was intrinsically connected to. It was him redeveloping the same imagery over and over again. But it’s really good imagery. To be honest, I have started looking less and less at illustration: I absolutely love it, but it is a less personal experience than viewing a painting. I feel a stronger kinship with paintings that you can tell encapsulate the artists emotions. In saying that I immediately fall into a trap, as most of the historical painting is completely illustrative, Rubens, Rembrandt, Titian…but I need to draw a line somewhere.

Nicola Samori has been tremendously inspirational. Not because of the palette or imagery, but because for years I struggled with the concept of wanting to recreate historical paintings in my own hand. I felt in doing so I would be labelled as a fraud. His confidence to do whatever he wants is thoroughly inspiring. I love the tension he creates in his images, they are almost at the point of juxtapositional unbalance, but he captures that moment of tension perfectly. I love the handling of Ann Gale, the way her nest of brushstrokes describe the subject and simultaneously cause a total deconstruction into the abstract. Abstraction needs to have subjectivity. You need to understand the essence of your subject in order to relate its form, or the deconstruction of form. That’s my big gripe about a lot of abstract work; it’s not really abstraction of anything, it’s just marks. Nicolas Uribe and Alex Kanevsky are two painters I think really straddle the line of representation and fragmentation of form. It is deconstructed through their process of trying to find the image. There is a poignancy to Nicolas’ recent imagery. He gives you an intimate glimpse into his world. There are so many artists I am exposed to every day that captivate me, but I am so overwhelmed with the constant deluge that I quite honestly forget the names that I would want to mention. I don’t know if that is a good thing or bad. Really, I think my favorite artists are the ones that I have a personal connection to. I am able to see how they translate their lives and experiences to the canvas, and I find that thrilling. I really love almost everything. I love seeing the discarded piles of paper palettes in artists studios. I think those are just as poignant as any work produced; they show the history of labor even more than the canvases themselves.

Timothy P. Wilson "The Grim Grumble"
Timothy P. Wilson “Grim Grumble”

QAR: The ethereally monstrous faces of your Hauntling series most strikingly evoke a note of darkened Romanticism that resonates throughout your work. What does the abject sublime mean to you?

TW: I think we are all just primitive creatures just catering to our bodily functions. We need to eat, sleep and fuck. Yet within that native drive, we are absurdly complicated and have an awareness for information and growth. It’s a balance. I love that you can get dressed up and go to a fancy restaurant and order the finest food; yet three feet away from your table, behind a thin wall, someone is pissing in your direction into a urinal. It’s great.

There is a rawness to nature and to our physical bodies that we should be able to experience without the constancy of rational explanation. When I sit watching the ocean during a storm, I don’t want to think of the growth rate of a wave caused by a distant weather pattern: I want to think about the raw power of the force battering against the rocks. I want to be scared. The Romantics were in touch with myth and the desire to escape the new horror; the rationalization of life. They realized that the intrigue of existence would be purposeless without the element of the ineffable. People are fearful of the unknown, of mortalities. But fear isn’t a bad thing; it is actually quite beautiful. It is real. It brings a truth of emotion bubbling to the surface. There is beauty in death; even in torture. Look at the martyr paintings of Jusepe Ribera, or the macabres of Goya. Flesh is being ripped, bodies bent on wheels and stretched for quartering, ghouls flocking in the night, and the brutalities of primitive man in battle; and yet there is an irrepressible sublime to the image. There is a tenderness to the figures and gesture, and in the murky shadows and ethereal wisps, something of the divine is represented on the canvas and therein connected to the mortality of suffering. It is the depiction of the things that just can’t quite be explained, but you feel it when you see it. When you bring in the dimension of the artist acting as scribe, painting can embody the romance of the ineffable like nothing else.

Timothy P. Wilson "Fuckmoonlight"
Timothy P. Wilson “Fuck The Moonlight”

QAR: Describe the role of the figure in your work. Your figures seem to be futilely engaged between two worlds. They seem nebulous and vulnerable.

TW: I find my work is naturally dualescent. The figures are caught. I mentioned before my tendency for hesitation and indecision, my figures are the literal embodiment of that. When I see a figure in my head, I am not able to make out quite how they are supposed to exist, what they are gesticulating for. It is somewhat indefinable. What I love about the stillness of the picture plane is that the audience needs to create the movement. I am doing everything I can to put the image on the canvas, but I am only giving a fragment of the action. There is something compelling in the unknown. One of my favorite recurring comments from collectors is that they didn’t know why they bought a painting: but they felt compelled to, they had to buy it. I think if work can transcend the borders of the ‘here and now’, ‘this is that’, and can exist without concrete definition, it gets into the subconscious that we all collectively share. Sometimes I wish I could make decisions, and actively describe a specificity to the figures. I’ve tried, but it just makes me feel so unnatural. I will certainly admit that at the moment, I am in a strange place in my work, I am trying to figure out what it is that I am trying to do. Painting is exceedingly difficult for me, in fact of all the creative avenues, it is the one that just causes pure and constant frustration. Yet, for some reason, it is the one I doggedly pursue. If the fact that in dedicating myself to that pursuit in spite of all that frustration, someone can subconsciously feel that energy, well, that’s a pretty great compliment.

Timothy P. Wilson
Timothy P. Wilson “Tide”

QAR: The atmosphere of New England and of Maine especially, carries a rich history of culture and landscape. How does your environment influence you?

TW: There certainly is a pervading isolation to the landscape, that’s for sure. But it lets your mind create. I think too much of the world is reliant upon constant stimulation, it’s really depressing. It wasn’t until just the past few months, when I was having difficulty in my studio, that I realized I needed to actively document my experiences in nature. The elements of space, landscape, even the mood of an empty room, have always been so integral to my happiness. Suddenly for my job as a painter it was imperative to be aware of my experiences.

New England has all the seasons. That’s pivotal. Seeing the process of decay and rebirth. In recently taking up plein air painting to document my experiences in nature, a lot has changed for me. Painting in my studio is rife of the frustration I mentioned, but documenting nature, watching the subtleties that I would never consider, has been wholly enriching and meditative. It’s made me think of the strange middle ground that artists need to dwell in. We need to find a way to experience the tangibilities of life, and yet, we also need to be able to immediately step back, and into a further dimension to separate ourselves and act as documenter, transcriber. Whether it be an immediate physical documentation, or merely a mental note. Awareness, that is key as fuck. I feel very fortunate to have some of my favorite artists as friends and neighbors. Maine has a wealth of creatives, and they are all over, but they come here for the same romantic sense of isolation and seclusion; you need to search for them. And when you find them, you find a bond stronger than most anything else.