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: 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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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.

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.

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

2_Stephanie_Lucas_welcome
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.