After Vasari

writings on artists and artworks and where they exist

Essay: Osamu Kobayashi – Gioie condivisibili / Sharable Joys

by Paul D'Agostino

First Curve, oil on linen, 2015. Photo courtesy the artist.

First Curve, oil on linen, 2015. Photo courtesy the artist.

Gioie condivisibili nei dipinti di Osamu Kobayashi  (English translation below)

È proprio nel movimento operativo, nel gesto pittoriale, apparentemente lento e meditativo, che l’attento osservatore comincia a percepire, nei quadri squisiti e celebrati del giovane pittore americano Osamu Kobayashi, un fortissimo senso di gioia non solo formale, cromatico e composizionale, ma anche procedurale, inerente, materiale.

È la gioia, questa, dell’applicazione stessa dei colori—talmente ricchi, brillanti e puri, nei quadri di Kobayashi, ma anche selettivi, ridotti strettamente a quelli più necessari—del processo, sia temporale che creativo, di spostare, da un punto della tela all’altro, del materiale, e di inciderlo, in quella maniera misteriosa e intrigante che è il territorio vero e proprio dei dipinti più riusciti, con un ché di espressività, di atto unico e individuale, e di novità. Profondamente incise nei colori di Kobayashi, e quindi subito visibili e visibilmente tangibili nelle sue composizioni osservate all’intero, sono anche le tracce stesse, spesso lunghe e indulgenti, del pennello, le tappe fondamentalmente creative e strutturali di un viaggio per sentiero che si vede, si sente e si segue—e che si può rintracciare veramente al di dentro, al di sotto e al di là del quadro stesso.

La gioia di cui si parla è condivisa. Appartiene tanto al pittore quanto all’osservatore. Kobayashi lo invita a partecipare non soltanto al viaggio formale e pittoriale incorporato nel suo processo di eseguire dei quadri, ma anche a sentire—sia insieme a lui, sia a meno—la felicità effimera e scorrevole del dipingere. Si sente, guardando, il gesto del braccio, e forse anche la resistenza dei colori. Si vedono le prove dell’atto creativo; le si seguono da una forma all’altra, da un angolo all’altro, da un colore luminoso all’altro.

I quadri più recenti di Kobayashi—una selezione dei quali fanno parte dell’esibizione OK!, presso la galleria A+B contemporary art—manifestano questa gioia, ovvero queste gioie, più che mai. I suoi azzurri che suggeriscono cieli e mari coinvolgono l’osservatore nelle loro presenze leggermente mosse e ondeggianti. Un suo sole sottilmente viola risplende e brilla per raggi incisi in un cielo rosa. Linee cruciforme delimitano e interompono i colori che gli muovono attorno. Qui, ci si gira. Là, ci si ferma. Altrove, sa va sempre avanti.

Altroché statico, questo senso di gioia. Buone osservazioni, quindi, e buon viaggio.

Heat Spell, oil on linen, 2015. Photo courtesy the artist.

Heat Spell, oil on linen, 2015. Photo courtesy the artist.

Sharable Joys in the Paintings of Osamu Kobayashi

It is in his very operative motion, in his ostensibly slow, meditative pictorial gesture, that a careful viewer begins to perceive, in the exquisite works of the young American painter Osamu Kobayashi, a fervid sense of joy that is not merely formal, chromatic and compositional, but also procedural, inherent and material.

The joy in question is that of the physical application of paint, of the laying down of colors—so very brilliant, rich and pure, in Kobayashi’s works, yet also selective, as he limits his palette only to those colors deemed most necessary. It is the joy of the very process, both temporal and creative, of moving material around from one part of the canvas to another, and of incising it, in that most mysterious and intriguing manner that is a hallmark of successful paintings, with airs of expressivity, novelty, and uniqueness and singularity of act. Also incised deeply into Kobayashi’s works—and thus readily visible and visibly tangible in his compositions in their entirety—are the very traces, often long and indulgent, of the artist’s brush, a record of the elemental stages that both form and inform each work. So immediately perceivable, so palpable, so easy to follow, these traces are legible like footprints along a path in a journey of looking—and they can be read within, beneath and beyond the paintings themselves.

To be sure, this is a most shareable joy. It belongs to the painter and the viewer alike. Kobayashi invites audiences to join him not only in the execution of works, which might be likened to a formal, pictorial journey, but also to feel—alongside him, as well as in his absence—the certain sense of happiness, however fleeting or ephemeral, that is an integral part of making a painting. While looking at his works, one can sense not only the gesture of his arm, but also the resistance of the paint. Evidence of his creative act, therefore, is everywhere apparent; it can be seen from one form to the next, from one corner to another, from one luminous color to the luminosities of all the rest.

Kobayashi’s most recent works—a selection of which constitute the exhibition OK!, at A+B contemporary art—demonstrate this joy, or rather these joys, more than ever. Suggestive of skies and seas, his bright blues carry the viewer along in their subtly shifting, undulatory motions. A barely purple sun bursts brilliantly in rays incised into a broad pink sky. Cruciform lines both delimit and interrupt the colors that move alongside and around them. Here, a turn. There, a halt. Elsewhere, lines and incisions move on straight ahead.

It is anything but static, this sense of joy. Enjoy the act of looking, as such, and buon viaggio.

Pixy, oil on linen, 2015. Photo courtesy the artist.

Pixy, oil on linen, 2015. Photo courtesy the artist.

Both the original essay in Italian and the English translation are by Paul D’Agostino. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @postuccio. Osamu Kobayashi’s exhibit at A+B contemporary art, in Brescia, Italy, is on view from 2 July to 19 September 2015. More information here.

Studio Visit: Barbara Friedman

by Paul D'Agostino

Barbara Friedman in her studio in downtown Manhattan.

Barbara Friedman in her studio in downtown Manhattan. Click on images in this post for larger views.

Barbara Friedman’s broadly expressive depictions of often comically collared, sometimes art-historically identifiable someones are certainly no less, and perhaps a great deal more, than parodically unsettling decapitations of the tradition of portraiture—a tradition that might be considered questionably moralizing, on the one hand, and formally deterministic, on the other—all rendered aesthetically pleasing, and freshly so, by virtue of the artist’s preference for palettes beaming with surprisingly saccharine subtleties, and for now jarred, now divisively defined, now calmly considered compositions and applications.

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All the same facets of Friedman’s works render her parodical decapitations all the more uniquely, curiously unsettling.

And all the more splendidly amusing.

And all the more, in a word, bizarre.

And bizarrely hard to shake.

Like the hint of terror in a rumble of maniacal laughter—even if its source, however creepy, is harmless.

At any rate, here are a few more images of Friedman’s works to jar, confuse and amuse you. Indulge in her gleaming whites, conflagrant oranges, sugary pinks and lustrous blues.

And perhaps listen close for a peculiar cackle.

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Friedman.3

Studio Visits: Spring Breakers at NYSS

by Paul D'Agostino

David Gayle's studio.

David Gayle’s studio.

Over the course of the semester thus far, we’ve discussed and workshopped many artists’ statements, brief critical texts and, most recently, MFA thesis outlines and drafts during our writing sessions at the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture.

Following one of our recent gatherings, a small group of us took advantage of the school’s relatively calm corridors and tranquil airs—it was spring break, otherwise the premises would’ve been far more abustle, especially as students are now gearing up for final shows—to do a round of studio visits.

Lenka Curtin's studio.

Lenka Curtin’s studio.

We went to Lenka Curtin’s studio to see the newest pieces in her family of ethereally inspired yet materially robust, indeed almost perplexingly multi-media sculptures, the collective of which is becoming increasingly suggestive of things Nature herself might see, perhaps, when she dreams. We also looked at Rachel Rickert’s new sequence of paintings, most of them still in-process, that at once capture, expand, re-delineate and sympathetically document most every corner of her current living quarters to question notions of home, safety and comfort as they relate to body, light and space.

Rachel Rickert's studio.

Rachel Rickert’s studio.

Tightly tethered, as well, to notions of space and home, interiors and exteriors, inside-self and outside-self—albeit due to, and sometimes placed within, quite differently restrictive, constricted contexts—are David Gayle’s pensively figurative, nimble works in various styles and mediums, a mere handful of which we had a chance to look at. We also went to the studio of Katelynn Mills, whose mixed media paintings, many of them generously textured with strata of sparely chromatic encaustic, pertain to breaking up or tearing into ideas of composition within two-dimensional spaces—so as to then find formal means for mending them.

Spring break is over, so I’m sure the studios and halls over at NYSS are anything but tranquil these days.

And that’s good, they shouldn’t be.

At least not all too often.

Katelynn Mills's studio.

Katelynn Mills’s studio.

Schizzo: Slackenings

by Paul D'Agostino

Bosco d'inverno, mixed-media drawing on paper, 2014.

Bosco d’inverno, mixed-media drawing on paper, 2014.

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Slackenings

It was still raining a decent bit, but
a thick warm wind began to blow in
from faraway plains,
they say—the very same plains,
they say, that tend rather to send cold and snow
this time of year.

So the air that should’ve been frigid was
moist and sweet;
the raindrops that should’ve been snowflakes
were raindrops.

Seldom are showers and gusts
quite so welcome when arriving in tandem,
but there are times when they’re like gifts
from skies.

There are times when seasons slacken their grip.
There are times when life does the same.

A winter storm will hit hard within days, they say.

But within hours tonight’s breezes and drizzles
will give way to a quiescent, temperate mist.

And the breathing will be good.

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Artwork & text, P. D’Agostino

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* This drawing, Bosco d’inverno, is currently in Sideshow Nation III: Circle the Wagons, a large group exhibit at Sideshow Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on view through 15 March 2015. More information here.

Studio Visits: New York Studio School

by Paul D'Agostino

One of Ana Portela's variably veiled works.

One of Ana Portela’s variably veiled works.

 

After Fran O’Neill asked me to give a talk about my artwork and curatorial practices at the New York Studio School several weeks ago, I had the honor of being invited back to spend an afternoon doing ‘open critique’ studio visits with a number of students whose bodies of work are distinct and diverse from one another in terms of materials employed and formal approaches alike. Here are some images of studios and works that I had a chance to look at and ponder, accompanied by some observations I put together in longer ponderings thereafter.

Katelynn Mills in her studio with some recent works.

Katelynn Mills in her studio with some recent works.

Perhaps more of a canvas-bound interventionist than merely a painter, Katelynn Mills makes visceral, very literally manually executed pieces that are matters of wounding and healing, tearing open and concealing, nurturing and suturing.

Adrianne Lobel in her studio.

Adrianne Lobel in her studio.

Adrianne Lobel in her studio.

Adrianne Lobel in her studio.

Adrianne Lobel, in her variably scaled renderings of empty parking lots, lone delivery trucks and desolate storage facilities, creates compositions full of exuberant light and quiet charm out of what one might otherwise regard as perhaps rather overlookable suburban mundanities. Their loss, Lobel would indubitably maintain—and her gain.

Ana Portela, the only artist I met with working primarily in sculpture—though she’s also been tinkering with a series of drawings turning her sculpted three dimensions back into two—cloaks figure-like yet mysteriously vague forms with multi-media overlays splayed out in classically indicative, momentarily marble-suggestive furls and folds, at once veiling her subjects and subjectifying her veils.

Portela's studio.

Portela’s studio.

Jack King in his studio—with his new muse.

Jack King in his studio—with his ‘new’ muse.

In their shared studio space, Jack King and Darrell Hostvedt work through and against prior careers and professional practices in very different yet equally effective ways. King, inspired by photographic images—sometimes his own—and impressionistically informed palettes, taps into memories and emotions in a way that now channels, now challenges certain convictions he had honed and intoned during his long academic career in psychiatry. What’s more, he has also recently located his true artistic muse in an old wooden chair that has become a synecdochic embodiment not only of his grandmother, to whom the chair once belonged, but also of a vast trove of associations and memories through which he can pick for depictions. Hostvedt, meanwhile, after working in construction for many years, now finds himself peering further and further into detailed segments of a particular landscape to extract its constituent forms, thereby deconstructing a certain glimpse of natural objects to then render them back into larger compositions in watercolor—at times building back onto them with reconstructive, collaged additions.

Darrell Hostvedt with a recent work.

Darrell Hostvedt with a recent work.

A glimpse inside one of the nooks in Jacobs's studio.

A glimpse inside one of the nooks in Jacobs’s studio.

Laura Jacobs, finding herself quite literally overwhelmed with spatially charged inputs and insights upon moving into her quaint, quirky, warmly lit and brilliantly many-windowed studio—a most peculiar cranny within the New York Studio School dubbed Guston’s Kitchen, for reasons that are likely quite clear—traces, molds, reiterates and re-renders her deeply curious surroundings like an archaeologist, an archivist, a narrative-seeking dramaturge in the midst of an ever-shifting stage. While Jacobs used to work in set design, it seems she’s now situated such that a certain set seeks to design itself into her work.

Finally, Stephen Walsh, a painter and draughtsman who knows well the challenges of harnessing abundant light and formal beauties from time spent in Italy, makes his most successful paintings when he is able to work against his own skills in drawing, in a way, such as in his recent treatment of the biblical narrative of the Annunciation, a work that’s quite readily audible in its silent splendor—and thus splendidly fitting for its spiritual context.

Stephen Walsh passing before his treatment of the Annunciation.

Stephen Walsh passing before his treatment of the Annunciation.

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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Shores

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.

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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.

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Nebulous indeed were the heavens that day.

Nebulous, too, remained the fate of the crew.

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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.
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Artwork & text, P. D’Agostino

Schizzo: Save Us in Echoes

by Paul D'Agostino

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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.

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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.

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Artwork & text, P. D’Agostino

Juxtaposition: Site-specific sculpture and historical quilts

by A.L. McMichael

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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.
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