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.

Jacob Hicks in Conversation with Alessandro Sicioldr

oracolo-2016
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.

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.

theincantation_web
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

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.