After Vasari

writings on artists and artworks and where they exist

Studio Visit: Pamela Butler

by Paul D'Agostino

Pamela Butler in her Bushwick studio.

Pamela Butler in her Bushwick studio.

Comprising installations, paintings, collages, sculptures and drawings, some of them scaled large for window displays, as well as text and video pieces, Pamela Butler’s artwork is, in strictly material terms, densely layered. Her layering is also conceptual, however, entailing strata upon strata of feminism-inflected sociocultural critique—from gender discourses and body politics to issues of ethics, socioeconomic disparities, broadly societal shortcomings and common, mundane anxieties.

Layered, stratified, dense. There is a definitive gravity to Butler’s reflections of the world around her.

Nonetheless, Butler’s point of view is that of a regard, not a glare. She channels her observations and commentaries constructively, artfully, not derisively. Her reflections read more like refractions. Her opinions are apparent—or at least intuitable, surmisable—but never so blatant as to give viewers the whole story.

Pamela Butler 2

Again, her art is about the layers. Or her art is to be located therein.

More simply, perhaps, layers are her art.

From beauty pageant contestants to astronauts, from traditional tropes of femininity to contemporary representations of women in mainstream media, from meditations on ‘female art’ to evocations of women’s variable presences and absences throughout art history, Butler’s subjects are at once generally recognizable and close to her heart, both overtly public and essentially personal.

Much of what we talked about when I visited her studio pertained to notions of the body—as object, as idea, as container, as surface, as malleable, as regularizable, as regulatable.

Such notions, much like Butler’s artworks, are densely layered. Not unlike the dermal tissues that encase and protect our physicality.

So much talk of all of the above brought to mind a passage a philosopher friend of mine, Andrea Borghini, recently passed along. It’s from Imaginary Bodies: Ethics, Power and Corporeality, by Moira Gatens (Routledge, 1996). Here she discusses Spinoza’s views on the divisions and sutures between mind and body by positing the latter as the “ground of human action”:

The mind is constituted by the affirmation of the actual existence of the body, and reason is active and embodied precisely because it is the affirmation of a particular bodily existence. Activity itself cannot be related especially to body, mind, nature or culture, but rather to an understanding of the possibility of one’s participation in one’s situation as opposed to the passive ‘living’ of one’s social, political or even brute existence. This active understanding does not, and could not, amount to the mental domination of a body-machine, since thought is dependent for its activity on the character of the body and the manner in which, and the context in which, it recreates itself.

I’ll close with that.

Thanks, Pam. Thanks, Andrea. Thanks, Moira.

And thanks, Spinoza.

Pamela Butler 3

Schizzo: Shores

by Paul D'Agostino

From a series called "Partenze." Mixed-media drawing on card stock.

From a series called “Partenze.” Mixed-media drawing on card stock.

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.                           .



Caution, no.
On the side of trust
is where one has often erred.
Where one will continue to err
until skies themselves come slumbering
down, until grounds themselves
yawn wide open.

Count on the sun, meanwhile,
to continue to greet you.
And on the moon, too,
to persist in tugging waves to shores
bearing perils, treasures and
the reliable pleasure of that
pure, familiar noise.


.                           .

.                           .                           .

From a series called "Partenze." Mixed-media drawing on card stock.

From a series called “Partenze.” Mixed-media drawing on card stock.

Artwork & text, P. D’Agostino

Schizzo: Nebulous

by Paul D'Agostino

Nebulous, ink, graphite and gesso on paper, 3" x 8," 2013.

Nebulous, ink, graphite and gesso on paper, 3″ x 8″, 2013.

.                           .                           .                           .                           .

Nebulous indeed were the heavens that day.

Nebulous, too, remained the fate of the crew.

.                           .                           .                           .

.                           .                           .

.                           .


This drawing is part of a group exhibit at Lesley Heller Workspace.
Organized by Adam Simon, the show is called Clouds.
It is up until 26.1.2014. More information here.

Artwork & text, P. D’Agostino

Schizzo: Save Us in Echoes

by Paul D'Agostino

.                           .                           .                           .

.                           .                           .

Evento ad avvento / Event to Advent, 1-4
Series of polytype monoprints with cross-diminishing palette
Oil on card stock, 2012. Click on one for slideshow of all.

.                           .


Save Us in Echoes

It seems to only make sense
to want all at once
all the world’s faiths and gods,
and all the world’s science and reason,
all of the eras and errors that feed them,
all of the fairest and worst of seasons,
and every twilight and every dawn,
and every midnight and every eclipse,
and every storm and every calm,
every cloud and dew and mist,
all of the flora and all of the fauna,
all the balm and all the song,
and every whisper and breath and gasp,
every shout, every cry,
and every word of every knowledge
of every number of all things known.

But we know time to be cloven and brief.
We grieve over griefs that have yet to be sown.

And we’ll never grasp fully
the trees nor the seas.

Uttered words mean nothing
to their echoes.


Artwork & text, P. D’Agostino

Juxtaposition: Site-specific sculpture and historical quilts

by A.L. McMichael



Top photo: Victoria Royall Broadhead (American). Tumbling Blocks Quilt, circa 1865–70. Silk, velvet, wood, 64 x 68 in. (162.6 x 72.7 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mrs. Richard Draper, 53.59.1. Brooklyn Museum photograph. Photo by Gavin Ashworth, 2012. Bottom photo: El Anatsui (Ghanaian, b. 1944). Gli (Wall) (detail), 2010. Brooklyn Museum photograph via Flickr.

Editors’ note: Writings on After Vasari bearing the Juxtaposition heading examine the unexpected placement of one object or experience alongside another, offering new avenues for contemplation.

Two curatorial narratives, examined in tandem at the Brooklyn Museum on a summer afternoon, struck me as unlikely counterpoints.* Multi-media sculptures by Ghanaian artist El Anatsui invite exuberant ramblers through the metal, paper, and wood that compose Gravity and Grace. Their quieter neighbors, an exhibition of historical quilts called, “Workt by Hand,” are textiles–dimly lit by necessity, static in their familiar materials, such as thread and cotton, tassels and embroidery–that inevitably produce a softer visual impact.

But both kinds of work are by artists who gleaned leftovers and scraps and handcrafted them into flat sheets that are animated by use: Anatsui’s as rippling, winding sculptures; and the quilters’ as a specific kind of cover, structured by the walls from which they hang or the pieces of furniture over which they are draped.

A quilt’s quality can only be assessed from a close viewing. Durable hand stitching and embroidery create a subtle dimensionality from malleable fabrics. By nature, a quilt is an assemblage of fabric tesserae. Its structural complexity is a close cousin to Anatsui’s minute wires, threading metal ribbons into a chain-link net in Gli (Wall).

The museum describes Anatsui’s work, fabricated from bottle caps and aluminum cans, among other common materials, as “textured hangings that take on radically new shapes with each installation.” That the pieces can be uniquely site-specific at an infinite number of locations is unusual. But the traditional quilters were radical in their own ways.

With the popularity of the Quilts of Gee’s Bend over the last decade, viewers intuit that every quilt is pieced together with a wealth of social data, including undercurrents of labor, domestic activity, and the nebulous (and often meaningless) line diving art and craft. Curator Catherine Morris expressly acknowledges this in the Brooklyn exhibition by incorporating “Hidden Labor” into the title. Hand-stitched objects exude not just charm but dignity, subtle commentaries on participation within exclusionary systems. A collectively-made pictorial quilt from the 1840s sports Freemason imagery in one square, supporting an organization that didn’t allow female members. A whole-cloth toile example with portraits of American presidents was produced long before women were granted the right to vote. While humble examples might be pieced together from household clothing scraps, the presence of quilts at county fairs and over beds emphasizes adaptability and a range of conditions in their use and display over the course of centuries.

On a larger scale, quilts’ associations with humble materials coupled with craftsmanship invite conversations on physical labor and material goods. Art historian Maggie Williams recently reflected on Vik Muniz’s work with the “pickers” of Buenos Ares who sort through trash for items to recycle; she muses over Muniz’s collages and the humanity that emerges from the reuse of throw-away objects into messages and portraits. Williams notes the “essential social and environmental purpose” of gleaners in urban communities, who are often ahead of the activist curve. My thoughts wandered from her examples to Millet’s The Gleaners and Courbet’s The Stonebreakers, casting a wider net over labor and value toward Post-Impressionist social commentary.

Susan Vogel, a scholar of African art, commented to Anatsui in an interview that if he were from Venice, there would be inevitable comparisons between his work and the Byzantine mosaics there. Instead, he is simultaneously African and a participant in the international contemporary art world. His sculptures, reshaped during every installation, are far from the grounded scenes in ancient mosaics. The anticipated noise of clanking pieces, the sharp edges of twisted wires, the unruliness of waves of aluminum discs recall the recent past lives of the appropriated materials.

Quilting is often thought of as women’s work, but its impulse toward collecting and assembling objects and ideas in a logical manner is the driving force behind creativity in many forms. Both exhibitions offer fodder for musings on use and reuse. They confront the roles of display and daily use as attributes with potential to elevate or reinvent objects in their roles as art and craft. Together, these exhibitions highlight the genderlessness of assemblage and expression.

*Both exhibitions are on view at the Brooklyn MuseumGravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui has been extended through August 18, 2013. “Workt by Hand”: Hidden Labor and Historical Quilts is organized by the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art and closes September 15, 2013.
Click here to watch a short video of the installation of El Anatsui’s sculptures in the Brooklyn Museum.

Essay: Temporal Strata

by Paul D'Agostino

This essay was composed ex situ to accompany Brooklyn-based Slag Gallery’s exhibition booth at Volta9 in Basel, Switzerland, during Art Basel 2013. 

A work by Naomi Safron-Hon in Volta9 Basel.

A work by Naomi Safran-Hon in Volta9 Basel.

Working in a range of mixed media practices and to meta-expressive ends now sociological, now environmental, now political, the three artists featured in Volta9 by Brooklyn-based Slag Gallery—Dumitru Gorzo, Hector Dionicio Mendoza, and Naomi Safran-Hon—find common conceptual ground in notions of intersecting, overlapping and materially layered chronologies.

Slag's booth at Volta9 Basel. Left, Dumitru Gorzo. Right, Naomi Safran-Hon. Below, Hector Dio Mendoza.

Slag’s booth at Volta9 Basel. Left, Dumitru Gorzo. Right, Naomi Safran-Hon. Sculpture by Hector Dionicio Mendoza.

Painting atop large prints of color, black and white or ambered photographs of people in either definitively urban or patently rural settings, Gorzo deploys bold colors and energetically sure, candid brushstrokes to create stratified picture planes in which figures portrayed photographically are partially obscured or reconfigured by abstractly painted interlopers, and in which mixed personal nostalgias—at times geographically immediate, at times temporally distant, at times allowing the personal to give way to the societal—feed into and off of one another’s images in uncompromisingly vivacious, profoundly revivified compositions.

Dumitru Gorzo, Gulps, Hiccups and Other Mores, 2013.

Dumitru Gorzo, Gulps, Hiccups and Other Mores, 2013.

Bound to arrayed geographical localities as a result of incorporating found objects into the mix, Mendoza’s sculptures tend ultimately toward the geological. Like the readily legible chapters of time and terrestrial torque in metamorphic rock, the visual divisibilities and material morphings in Mendoza’s creations speak to change over time, environmental and technological alike, and to how one’s sense of self, substance and place might evolve and alter therewith.

Hector Dionicio Mendoza, Nube/Cloud, 2013.

Hector Dionicio Mendoza, Nube/Cloud, 2013.

Sculpturally photographic and photographically sculptural, immediately curious in their delicate muscularity, the works of Safran-Hon are so rich in material and conceptual relief that they appear to cleave away from the dimensions that bind them, or from the frameworks that compositionally bound them. Incorporating deeply tactile photographs of dilapidated homes, peeling walls and domestic desuetude in Wadi Salib, in her hometown Haifa, with the rugged medium of cement and the fragile materiality of lace, the Brooklyn-based artist depicts structural spaces that quake with processes of destruction—that both suffer under the forces of conflict and heave back against them, much like the broader political context imbuing these works with historical relevance.

Slag's booth at Volta9 Basel.

Slag’s booth at Volta9 Basel.

Slag Gallery is located at 56 Bogart Street in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More information about the gallery and its artists at

Studio Visit: Rebecca Litt

by A.L. McMichael


Rebecca Litt’s studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn. On wall at left, “Intution” (oil on canvas) alongside watercolor and charcoal sketches at right.

This weekend, Rebecca Litt will be among the hundreds of artists in Bushwick who open their studios, inviting the public to breech the permeable boundary into her work space and process of creation. When I visited her there last year, many of her now-finished works were still in progress.

Litt drafts charcoal sketches from memory and imagination, sometimes using a mirror or photos of a space while other spaces that are, in her words, “purely invented.” Her charcoal sketches and their subsequent oil paintings tend to appear in groups. For her, “one painting tends to suggest the next one.” The experience of seeing the works as a series invokes my role as an observer of this curated world. It’s not a hostile environment, but the figures rarely make eye contact with each other or the viewer, and they often seem like interlopers in an empty space.


From the “False Fortress” series, “Unraveled” on the wall (center), and “Vacant Lot” on the floor (both oil on canvas), surrounded by sketches.

In the False Fortress series, orange construction netting implies a “loosely narrative” structure. There’s a clear language of symbolism in these works, in the semi-enclosed space created by construction materials, a visual representation of emotional defenses. Litt muses that these are not effective, calling them “permeable barriers.” These “emotional self-portraits” such as Intuition feature brunette women who resemble Litt at a glance. Her work lends itself to psychoanalysis, and it is refreshing for an artist to admit that a work is, to an extent, self-referential, admitting to the insecurities, emotions, and thoughts that are omnipresent in the work. Surrounded by these stories, I revel in the simultaneous unease and delight in being able to empathize with work that is such a personal expression of someone I barely know.

Litt was trained in the Indiana University School of Fine Arts in a department emphasizing figurative, narrative works. But even with the figures she refers to as “characters,” her work hints at abstract underpinnings that are complicated by the introduction of figures in space. It’s as if she has turned surrealism on its head.


From “Going Nowhere,” Panel 4 back (left) and Panel 1 front (right), both oil on panel and polymer clay.

Although the mixed-media piece is titled Going Nowhere, figures with painted torsos and three-dimensional, polymer clay feet react to their seemingly-heavy extremities with inquisitive and lively gestures. The frieze of two-sized, painted boards allows for interactions and conversations between figures, and it reflects an ideology of feet, of shoes. While Litt chalks up their heaviness to the unsophisticated clay medium, the exaggerated feet with unarticulated toes strike me as protection, a shell for the characters. I ponder my own barefoot toes that can get stumped, stepped on. But these clay, club-like feet are sturdy; they could kick back. In the end, though, they’re still bare, exposed, not really protecting the torsos but supporting them, keeping the figures together and negotiating their entry into a carefully crafted world, even while keeping it at a distance.


Outside the studio window is a space where any people—whether artists or third-generation residents or new immigrants—are interlopers amongst the industrial, corrugated aluminum and factories and big trucks, people seem strangely biological, malleable. In these works, Litt has captured the vibrant, conflicted identity of the neighborhood at this specific point in its history.

This studio visit took place on Sunday, April 15, 2012. For a list of Rebecca Litt’s current exhibitions and portfolio, visit her website or attend Bushwick Open Studios May 31-June 2, 2013.

Essay: Movimenti fissi e gioie visibili negli oggetti scultorei di Tyrome Tripoli

by Paul D'Agostino

Tyrome Tripoli

Tyrome Tripoli nel suo studio a Bushwick, Brooklyn, aprile 2013.

Più interazioni che reazioni, più risultati che sculture, più integrazioni che interventi, più evoluzioni antropologico-naturali che creazioni di per sé fondamentali, più montaggi iper-spaziali che riciclaggi essenziali: gli oggetti scultorei di Tyrome Tripoli sono fatti e manufatti tramite manufatturazioni lasciate andate, diffuse o perdute, in un certo senso, per poi venire rimontate come incatenamenti a metà progettati, a metà casuali, eppure quasi sempre, e quasi interamente, visibilmente smontabili. Dalle piccole alle grandi alle grossissime, le opere di quest’artista sono più sculture di altre ‘sculture’ che materiali meramente scolpite—opere invariabilmente ed indubbiamente singolari benché insiemi di prodotti e rifiuti altrui spesso assai meno unici. L’armonia organica degli esiti è straordinaria per definizione: avesse la Natura stessa giocattoli, sarebbero forse molto simili.

Artista americano che si nutre creativamente ed esteticamente più delle strade del proprio quartiere a Brooklyn che della propria città di New York City in generale, Tripoli rimane sempre ispirato sia dal suo passato come studente di biologia, arte e storia dell’arte, sia dal suo presente come fabbricante di mobili squisitamente unici—letti, tavolini, scale a spirale e così via, fatti per la maggior parte di ferro, acciaio o bronzo. L’artista prende spunto da tali insegnamenti e da tali attività nella sua opera di scultore e, al contempo, se ne libera. I metalli pesanti e grigiastri usati nei suoi mobili vengono sostituiti da oggettoni e oggettini di plastica o di legno, per la maggior parte, e di colori e forme svariatissimi, beccati per strada qua o là o forse dimenticati nell’angolino del garage o dello studio di un amico.

Tyrome Tripoli

Sculture, sculturine e altri oggetti vari nello studio di Tyrome Tripoli.

Tripoli sceglie colori lucidi e brillanti, pezzi robusti e rotondi, per poi ‘dipingere’ e scolpire con essi senza modificarli, tagliarli o riformarli, e quest’ultimo fatto gli è chiave. I componenti si manifestano nelle sculture così come sono stati trovati, ma gli insiemi che producono, che diventano, sono di sicuro ben diversi: strutture, creature ed architetture improbabili o impossibili che spuntano su dal pavimento o giù dal soffitto—o su dal tetto verso il cielo, come l’opera immancabile che indica e personalizza lo studio-garage dell’artista. Forme riconoscibili come animali o strutture, quindi, ma solo come suggerimenti: ciò che si vede è stranamente familiare—soprattutto quando vi si notano giocattoli posseduti da piccoli—ma anche veramente strano, oggetti curiosi e divertenti che non hanno nome e non ne hanno bisogno. Distillazioni scultoree, ecco, di animazioni—stile anni ‘70 o ‘80, diciamo. Montaggi sintentizzati in una forma sola, in un momento solo, da cartoni animati interi con tutta l’energia, tutto il movimento, tutta la giocosità di tali immaginazioni rimasti in qualche modo viventi e visibili. Il programma così riprogrammato, però, è sempre lo stesso, ed è forse una cosa che tutti scrivono, almeno in testa: un programma immaginato o immaginabile da creazioni potenziali, riorientazioni di cose viste o pigliate—come personaggi, diciamo—strada facendo—come sceneggiature possibili—intorno allo studio o verso casa.

È ben più che possibile, quindi, che la Natura stessa abbia dei giocattoli, e che Tripoli sia fra i suoi fabbricanti. Ciò che tutti e due vorrebbero comunicare, però, è che siamo tutti capaci—in qualche modo, a livelli diversi, anche se solo tramite immaginazioni—di fabbricarli.   

Tyrome Tripoli

Dondolando pure dal soffitto: sculture finite e pezzi potenziali nello studio di Tripoli.

.                        .                       .

—  Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D., è artista, scrittore, traduttore e professore che vive e lavora a Brooklyn, New York City.

Schizzo: Au delà du rideau

by Paul D'Agostino

Nocturne 6: Les acteurs et le drapeau

Nocturne 6: Les acteurs et le drapeau / The Actors and the Curtain, acrylic and watercolor on paper, mounted to panel, 24″ x 12″, 2012.


Au delà du rideau

Juste avant de se masquer
pour rentrer en scène
(toujours poudrés, visage et cheveux;
toujours habillé, costume
classique, traditionel)
l’acteur se regarda
un instant dans le miroir
en prenant une petite gorgée d’eau:

“Suis-je, moi-même, convaincu?”
il se demanda.
“Puis-je vraiment, moi-même,

Un instant après
il sortit, masqué.
Plus là,
lui-même, son lui-même.

Sa mémoire reste cachée
dans le miroir
quand même.


Beyond the Curtain

Just before putting on his mask
to take the stage again
(still powdered, his face and hair;
still dressed in classical,
traditional garb)
the actor looked at himself
in the mirror a moment
while taking a sip of water:

“Am I, myself, convinced?”
he asked himself.
“Might I really, myself,
forget myself?”

An instant later
he exited, masked.
No longer there,
he himself, his himself.

His memory still concealed
in the mirror



Artwork & texts, P. D’Agostino


* A number of other paintings from the series Nocturnes, as well as collages, sculptures and drawings from several other bodies of work—the latter also gathered into a book, Floor Translations—are currently featured in Twilit Ensembles, a solo exhibition of my artwork at Pocket Utopia Gallery, located at 191 Henry Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The exhibition is up through 21 April 2013. More information at


Gallery visit: Sharon Butler at Pocket Utopia

by A.L. McMichael

Sharon Butler, "Blue Fences," 2013. Pigment and silica binder, staples on laundered linen tarp, 16 x 18 inches. (Photo courtesy of the artist and Pocket Utopia)

Sharon Butler, “Blue Fences,” 2013, Pigment and silica binder, staples on laundered linen tarp, 16 x 18 inches (photo courtesy of the artist and Pocket Utopia)

Last week I snagged an invitation to a small gathering of art appreciators at Pocket Utopia and had a chance to chat with Sharon Butler, whose solo exhibition, “Precisionist Casual,”  will be open there until February 17, 2013. Several people in our group commented on the colors Butler uses throughout the show—deep terracotta pink, muted tangerine and teal, and shades of grey painted onto linen canvases of pumice and beige. Quietly active and sophisticated, the color palette manifests itself in a series of paintings consisting of shapes that are mostly geometric. They demonstrate that the artist is, in fact “drawn to urban settings, structures, and HVAC architecture,”  as promised on the Pocket Utopia website, yet the linework maintains a handmade line quality.

Just before we dispersed, I commented on the shimmery, grey paint that appears throughout the exhibition. Butler responded that it functions like the mineral sparkle we see in sidewalks on a sunny day. It certainly does have that effect in paintings like Blue Fences and Soaked (Hurricane). But for me it was also a reference to the pipes and steel beams that make architecture a three-dimensional creation. It is as if the reflective paint could be a visual shorthand for ‘metal’ and the negative spaces that sculptural and architectural creations surround. This is further emphasized by the relationship of the canvas that is frayed and stapled to the front of the stretcher, which Paul D’Agostino calls a concatenatory teasing of materials and dimensions. Butler’s display is a gentle step away from the two-dimensional paint on canvas, but one that provides an easy mental leap to built spaces. On Sunday I read Tom Micchelli’s interview with Butler in Hyperallergic Weekend; he also comments on the metallic paint and likens her work to sculpture, noting particularly that the colors in Underpainted HVAC are remniscent of a “dusty, rough-hewn limestone slab.”

Sharon Butler, "Soaked (Hurricane)," 2013. Pigment and silica linen tarp, 18 x 24 inches. (Photo courtesy of the artist and Pocket Utopia).

Sharon Butler, “Soaked (Hurricane),” 2013, Pigment and silica linen tarp, 18 x 24 inches (Photo courtesy of the artist and Pocket Utopia)

The graphite color also conjures up mental images of pencil sketches, of motions creating quick linework, making a gestural statement on flat paper. Some days I can’t stop being a Byzantine scholar, particularly when musing about that link between color and motion. Today, this shimmery paint bridges the gap between contemporary art and medieval mosaics. Art historian Liz James has written about the medieval Byzantines’ use of gold and gems in art—the shimmer activated spaces; reflections of light made the viewer feel as if the space between him and the art was full of energy, drawing him into the image and providing a link to a mystical, heavenly realm.

What’s interesting here is that for both Micchelli and me, Butler’s use of color brought forth connotations of three-dimensionality. That ‘color psychology’ is a nebulous term (and a concept that varies wildly between cultures and individuals) in no way negates the fact that color and emotion are intertwined—we often think of color as an artist’s choice that sets a mood or sends a message. I’d like to emphasize, though, that it’s not just hues but attributes of color—opacity, depth of tone, reflectiveness, (yes, shimmer)—that engage us. Viewing art creates an energy, and the urban quietude of Butler’s canvases harnesses it in a colorful experience that is thought-provoking without resorting to kitschiness or snark.


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