After Vasari

writings on artists and artworks and where they exist

Calling All Sorts: Gestures & Junctures, Questions & Quotes

by Paul D'Agostino

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Calling All Sorts: Gestures & Junctures, Questions & Quotes

One artist’s operative modes, procedural preferences, concepts and contexts, and embedded or openly conveyed metaphors and meanings might be many and varied, and might change significantly over time or from one body of work to the next. Another artist’s perhaps less stratified or ranging approach to artmaking might appear to be far more focused, resolved or streamlined, its ultimate overall yields of ostensibly greater formal or material cohesion.

One artist, in other words, might seem to be all over the place, or to feel most inspired or challenged by working as such, while another might seem somewhat devoted to a specific creative locus, process or directional sense.

One artist’s creative output might look like an explosion. Another’s, hermetic and meticulous.

One’s work might seem nearly nonsensical. Another’s, resolutely rational.

One artist’s personality might be described as Type A, or whatever that’s called these days. Another’s might be described as Type B, or whatever that’s called these days. One artist is introverted, the other extroverted. One is left-brained, the other right-brained. One is instinctive, shoots from the gut. The other painstaking, pensive, cerebral.

And yet, such labels might serve little purpose. Personalities are far more nuanced than such descriptors generally allow, which is particularly true when it comes to discussions of artists—and when considering how and why they do what they do as agents of creative endeavors, as creators of cultural products.

Moreover, artists are rather contrary to being labeled. And rightly so. Who wants to be put in categorical boxes? Artists of all sorts, after all, are the people whose specialty is to think outside of them—much of which derives from posing good questions to answer, and finding good problems to solve.

In other words, to be an artist is to maintain an ever-inquisitive, problem-solving mind and creative disposition. For some artists, this is almost a passive act. For others, a firmly conscious, decisive one. Some artists pose questions and problems in a way that gives them rules to follow. Others throw rules out the window—perhaps even as a rule.

Some of the questions and problems leading eventually to artworks are veiled, implicit, unstated—so inherent to the creative process, even, as to be easily forsaken. For instance:

How would that field look if rendered in watercolors or graphite?

The other aspect of this particular idea about sexuality and art history has never been explored.

Can I carve a cloud with pink lining from a slab of marble?

The art world lacks and therefore needs my parodical video piece on the preemptive museumification of post-nuclear sound art.

Other questions and problems, meanwhile, are explicit, blatant, overt, perhaps even inscribed into the work itself so as to engage a viewer, if not society at large, directly. To be sure, such questions and problems can be of variable complexities, and they might well have no real answers or solutions.

What, then, of all this?

Most simply: It takes all sorts.

All sorts of artists, all sorts of artworks, all sorts of creative personalities, all sorts of approaches, all sorts of introversions and explosions, and of course, all sorts of questions and problems.

What has charmed me the most about working with the inspired and inspiring group of MFA students at Queens College is that they quite literally are, in a collective sense, all sorts. Some work in traditional media and processes, others in advanced technologies and social practice. Some dig into personal narratives and experiences to address complex issues of sexual, racial or national identity; others take creative cues from more directly visual sources, including urban environments, nature and folk traditions. Some seek to create active exchanges with their viewers, or to compel them to regard themselves as ‘other’ to foster understanding; others aim to inform or disarm their viewers by presenting themselves intimately, sincerely, provocatively.

Indeed, the wide range of inputs and pursuits relevant to this group of artists is readily conveyed by the terms they came up with themselves when asked, individually but within a group setting, to try to sum up their respective creative practices in just one word. Here’s what they offered:

chaos, exploration, pattern, connection, empathy, bound, experimental, digestive, emotional, nostalgia, descriptive, poetic, schizophrenic, narrative, weird, understanding, stillness, scientific, cliché, quiet, dignity, hungry

It was from the content of that initial discussion, and from a great many deeply enjoyable and reciprocally enriching studio visits, that I developed the ideas for Gestures & Junctures, Questions & Quotes, an exhibition that I hope does as much to showcase the breadth and quality of the artworks produced by this talented MFA class, as it does to incorporate its viewers into its intermittently audience-inclusive fold. To that end, what you’ll find in the show and in these pages is an array of variably mediated, often interdisciplinarily informed artworks that I have dared to describe loosely as ‘gestural’ and ‘junctural’—created with painstaking care or palpable explosiveness by one of the most driven, creatively variegated groups of art students I’ve ever encountered.

What you’ll also find in these pages are questions these students would like to pose—to themselves and to you—and quotes they’ve selected—for themselves and for you.

And now, for you, a note of advice with which I’ll conclude:

Don’t keep an eye out for these artists. Keep your eyes on them.

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The above text is my catalog essay for Gestures & Junctures, Questions & Quotes, an exhibition I curated for the CUNY Queens College MFA Program, on view at Sideshow Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, from April 7th-30th, 2017. Featured artists: Arbër Dabaj, Alejandro Salgado Cendales, Alix Camacho, Amy Cheng, Edward Majkowski, Effi Ibok, Eliesha Grant, Erin Turner, Floor Grootenhuis, Jeff Kasper, Jenna Makuh, Julian Phillips, Len Antinori, Maria K. Karlberg-Levin, Michael Ferris Jr., Nancy Bruno, Paula Frisch, Pedro Ventimilla, Tara Homasi, Uno Nam, Zaid Islam.

Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D. is an artist, writer, translator, curator and professor living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More information about him is available here, and you can find him as @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.

Evolutionary States

by Paul D'Agostino

 

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Evolutionary States: Ruth Hardinger

Ever since following her learner’s instincts, anthropological curiosities, researcher’s mind, ecologist’s sensibilities, and artist’s hands and eyes along a creative path leading her to work in landscape art in the 1970s, Ruth Hardinger has passed the ensuing decades seeking out keener, more elementally informed, more environmentally conscious, and more responsibly, relevantly collaborative modes of crafting her consistently arresting sculptures, paintings, drawings, tapestries, site-specific installations and exterior interventions. She ranks among the pioneers of a certain earthy, earthily timeless aesthetic—a middleground of sorts between the quietude of paintings by Agnes Martin, for instance, and the hulking monumentality of sculptures by Richard Serra—that renders some of her works in abstraction no more abstract than a mountain, say, and that has inspired so many artists following in her wake. Working in an astounding breadth of media, yet never adding to her material docket without conceptual reason for doing so, Hardinger is also a boundlessly prolific artist, and an apparently tireless one at that.

Close inspection of Hardinger’s techniques and materials evidence that she employs the former to somehow compel the latter into states that might be described as evolutionary. She uses graphite in all manner of drawings and sometimes sculptures not merely for its technical utility, but also for its materially intriguing virtues as a kind of essence of carbon. She uses concrete in her generally minimalist sculptures—which are at times large scale and subtly anthropomorphic, and often wont to bow in deference to the ancients while referencing a kind of future antiquity—not merely because of its spartan look, grave heft and functional practicalities that nod to infrastructure as well, but also because its constituent elements make it materially kindred to the bones and shells of animals of the land, the sea and the air. She employs select fabrics for their undying anthropological pertinence and rugged tactilities; she uses certain finishes for the ways in which they impress deeper temporal stamps into the grains and veins of surfaces; she incorporates cardboards and other pulp-based materials for their fibrous strengths, familiarity and recyclability; and she maintains subdued palettes so as to prevent chromatic ornament from mounting experiential barriers between viewers and the hearty thingness of her creations. For certain bodies of work, Hardinger has even collaborated with traditional artisans in distant villages to imbue her artworks with the broadened knowledge of so many past generations, and to readily place her activities as a maker of fine art within a vaster chronology of object making in general.

Hardinger’s works are anachronistic, in a sense, and sympathetically rustic, yet always presented with considered pristineness and rigor. To regard them is to ponder the vastness of time, the relative eternity of certain materials, and the mysterious confluence of elements and circumstances that place us here, where we are, wherever we are. In light of the urgency of environmental issues in today’s sociopolitical discourses, now is an auspicious and important time for this inspiring, ecologically enlightened artist to receive the brighter spotlight she richly deserves.
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This essay was composed for David & Schweitzer Contemporary as an accompaniment to the gallery’s solo presentation of works by Ruth Hardinger at Volta Art Fair during New York Armory Week, from 1 to 5 March 2017. The fair is held at Pier 90, and David & Schweitzer’s showcase is located at booth C23. More information about Volta Art Fair is here.

Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D. is an artist, writer, translator, curator and professor living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More information about him is available here, and you can find him as @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.

Take Us Lying Down

by Paul D'Agostino

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Take Us Lying Down: Lisa Levy & Paul Gagner at Spring/Break Art Show

With just the right mix of awkward humor, self-effacement and intelligently irreverent seriousness to evade didacticism while making observations that are both piquant and relevant, Lisa Levy and Paul Gagner poke fun at and gainfully critique artists, the art world, art history, and people in general all at once—implicating all the while, perhaps even principally so, themselves.

Lisa Levy’s performative therapy sessions and related engagements with her audience are funny, to be sure, and at times pointedly cynical. But these same interventions are also sincere attempts at coming to an understanding of how people think, and of why they do the things they do—creative people, primarily though not exclusively. Through actions including a variety of performance pieces as well as her radio show, “Dr. Lisa Gives a Shit,” Levy gets into people’s minds and probes their pasts, not invasively but also not really pulling any punches. Her casually non-clinical approach—she’s not really a doctor, after all—truly caring disposition and well-honed humor are utterly disarming, indeed even charming, encouraging her interlocutors to open up in surprisingly candid ways. At the same time, all this ‘therapy,’ as Levy readily shares with her subjects, is also very much about her—about her own insecurities and shortcomings, about her own creative and social anxieties. In a most literal way, Dr. Lisa’s therapy sessions are also a therapy of the self.

Enter Paul Gagner, a painter whose past few years of output have resulted in scores of similarly amusing, self-reflective, art-refractive works of quasi-clinical criticality. Pictorial analogs to Levy’s practices with performative therapy, Gagner’s abstractly figurative paintings question the viewer’s and artist’s agency and mental stability all at once, yet in a way in which the humor is so blatant as to even factor into the painter’s own self-portrayal in many compositions, as well as in his rather intentionally chunky, at times almost clunky material handling. Most exemplary of these tendencies are Gagner’s paintings featuring ‘books’ that have been ‘written’ by a certain Dr. Howard Moseley, M.D., with disquietingly hilarious titles such as A Beginner’s Guide to Home Lobotomy, Coping With Imaginary Foes, and Do It Yourself Coffins. The absurdity of such titles, and of the goofball ‘book jackets’ Gagner creates for the volumes, make them invariable crowd-pleasers. At the same time, there’s a profound honesty to the works as well, as they must also be read as only subtly exaggerated expressions of Gagner’s own insecurities regarding his capacities as a painter and interpersonal savoir-faire.

Take Us Lying Down will bring the materially divergent yet conceptually linked practices of these two artists into spatial and interactive confluence. The setting will be a therapist’s office of sorts—complete with an obligatory chaise longue—where Levy will offer her ‘expert’ counsel to any and all passers-through who are willing to lie down for a few minutes and open up. Prior to engaging in such ‘sessions’ with Levy, however, visitors will have to navigate a bookstore-like ‘waiting room’ featuring a selection of paintings and faux Moseley volumes crafted by Gagner. Gagner himself will be there too, a kind of strange but friendly receptionist who happens to be surrounded by canvas-bound depictions of himself.

Visitors to Take Us Lying Down will be amused upon entry, then probed in the rear. And they’ll receive bespoke snacks and silly tchotchkes for all their ‘troubles.’ On levels literal and euphemistic alike, this fully realized apparatus of somewhat dark, generally humorous, in part charlatanic, overall sincerely empathic ‘therapeutic’ interactions quite fittingly reflects ‘black mirrored’ notions of self. Care to schedule an appointment?

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Lisa Levy is a conceptual artist, comedic performer, painter and self-proclaimed psychotherapist with a professional background in advertising. Her visual art has been widely exhibited at many venues, including The New Museum, The Bronx Museum, Pulse Art Fair, The Brooklyn Academy of Music, and Christopher Stout Gallery. Levy also performs live. Her most popular character is Dr. Lisa, S.P., who psychoanalyzes people on screen, stage and on the street, and whose ‘patients’ have even included celebrities such as Joe Gordon-Levitt and Amy Schumer. She currently hosts a weekly radio show called “Dr. Lisa Gives a Shit,” in which she conducts funny, emotionally revealing ‘psychotherapy sessions’ with creative guests.

Paul Gagner received his BFA from the SVA in 2005, and his MFA from Brooklyn College in 2009. He has exhibited throughout the US, including at Halsey McKay, Driscoll Babcock, Lesley Heller Workspace, The Maryland Institute College of Art, the Housatonic Museum of Art, and The Richmond Center for Visual Arts. Gagner has been featured in New American Paintings, Baltimore City Paper, Art 21 and Hyperallergic. The Museum of Modern Art holds a series of Gagner’s collages in its print collection. Paul Gagner lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.
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This essay was composed as a curatorial statement for Take Us Lying Down, featuring Lisa Levy and Paul Gagner, on view at Spring/Break Art Show during New York Armory Week, from 28 February to 6 March 2017. Spring/Break Art Show’s location this year is 4 Times Square, 22nd and 23rd floors. Take Us Lying Down is situated in a duplex office setting on the 22nd floor, Suite 2246. More information about Spring/Break Art Show is here.

Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D. is an artist, writer, translator, curator and professor living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More information about him is available here, and you can find him as @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.

Energies & Echoes

by Paul D'Agostino

Dumitru Gorzo, Energies & Echoes, 2016. Image courtesy Slag Gallery

Dumitru Gorzo, Energies & Echoes, 2016. Image courtesy Slag Gallery

 

Energies & Echoes: Recent Paintings by Dumitru Gorzo

Dumitru Gorzo’s new body of paintings, an exquisite and compositionally electric series the Brooklyn-based artist produced while visiting a remote studio outpost in his home country Romania, evidence him taking his characteristic, indeed unmistakable mark-making into formal territories as relatively uncharted as the isolated, mountainous landscapes that surrounded him as he worked.

These large canvases have an air of being fervidly executed rather than merely painted, of being impetuously layered and energetically composed, then reined in and hewn as opposed to envisioned, planned and produced. To an extent, this is much like Gorzo’s creative practice in general. Whether painting, sculpting or drawing, he is wont to leave readily palpable traces of his procedural strata at the surface, and to allow his often extemporaneous approach to initial mark-making to guide his compositions into most unforeseeable spheres comprising abstracted figures and curious creatures, or what might even register as organically inflected, technologically implausible architectures and machinery. His trademark summer-vine greens, turquoise blues and subtly blanched, softened pinks come into atmospheric, airy confluence in his backdrops, in which all manner of smallish, darkly inscribed subjects seem to dart about in sparely described, middle-grounded hinterlands. In many of his foregrounds, then, these same colors are deployed as either expressive drips or chromatic bursts seeping through or filling in interstitial voids in much more robustly marked, candidly delineated, physically bizarre yet somehow sympathetic figures and forms.

With these new works, Gorzo’s painterly agency is that of a cave dweller with a preternatural awareness of Philip Guston and Hieronymus Bosch. In other words, this is Gorzo as usual, yet with the energy and volume turned up a notch. One can almost hear all of his figuratively evocative echoes bouncing about throughout mountains, forests and valleys.

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This essay was composed as an accompaniment to Fend Off, Dumitru Gorzo’s solo exhibition at Slag Gallery in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The show opens on September 9th and runs through October 9th, 2016. More information and images here.

Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D. is an artist, writer, translator, curator and professor living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More information about him is available here, and you can find him as @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.

Radiantly Provocative

by Paul D'Agostino

Untitled (Target, Ripple and Zig Zags) 2016

Rico Gatson, Untitled (Targets, Ripples and Zigzags), 2016. Image courtesy the artist and Ronald Feldman Fine Art.

 
Radiantly Provocative: Rico Gatson’s Power Lines

Robustly chromatic, visually potent, at times compositionally labyrinthine and physically imposing, Rico Gatson’s mixed-media paintings, sculptures and collage-centric drawings are always, thanks in part to their carefully honed economy of forms and means, declarative, assertive and indelible—and unmistakably, unwaveringly his. On levels aesthetic and conceptual alike, Gatson does not imbue, but rather inundates his works with definitive, invariable force, executing them with just enough colorful vibrancy, linear keenness and mystical curiosity as to allow his viewers to almost—yet only almost, and this is crucial—miss or overlook their certainly important, equally cogent, subtly layered, variably strident socio-political content.

All of this has been true of Gatson’s work for quite a while, but it is now much more so in the new series of mixed-media pieces he has produced for Power Lines, a solo exhibition at Samsøn Projects. The artist’s characteristic palette of patently Africana-associative chromatics—bright reds, greens and goldish yellows often framed, interrupted by or sectioned off with swaths of deeply flat or slightly lustrous blacks, all arranged in variable abstractions that might even, at times, feature embedded texts—has become bolder, brighter, richer and punchier than ever, and thicker sections of color and black alike make his compositions register as weightier, more declarative, somehow exigent. Some pieces, however, especially a fresh new series of small panels, as well as certain tall, lean-to like sculptural works, Panel Paintings, evidence Gatson taking a bit further his recent explorations of chromatic switchings—transposing the complementary balancing he usually achieves via reds and greens with value-like harmonies via purples and greys, maintaining his lush warm yellow to keep the violets at bay.

Gatson’s recent boundary-breaching explorations hardly stop at color swaps, however, and it is in some of his newest compositional tweakings that viewers are reminded to look very deeply into the information he’s providing to extract therefrom certain latent, open-endedly abstract statements regarding contemporary race relations. What does a small panel covered in colorful dots mean, for instance, when it’s formally disrupted by a veil of orderly black lines from one end to the other? In the artist’s series of ‘fun-looking’ Panel Paintings, what might it mean for so many Africana-colored pieces to be ‘infringed upon’ by one that is simply, and thus in some sense openly, black and white? Such compositional and installation-related choices bring viewers into more intimate closeness with the objects in question, for certain, encouraging them to decode those featuring formally obscured texts, for instance, or inlaid images. But are viewers looking at them enough to look into them? Are they really, on a certain level, reading them? This is indeed the self-reflexive crux of the matter in Power Lines: Are we truly and honestly—as viewers of art, or as a populace with presumed awarenesses—reading the racially relevant signs that are all around us? Within the context of Gatson’s work, are we actually reading, for instance, the collaged bits of generally civil-rights-era imagery he has been inserting with increasing pervasiveness across his œuvre? Are we pausing to consider that the ever-bright colors in his paintings are achieved with simple domestic paints, thus making their presence an oft-overlooked omnipresence, and granting their flatness not just visual frankness but also critical candor?

Gatson’s chromatico-formalisms are more blatant than ever in Power Lines, and the blatancy, boldness and volume of his sociocultural critique is markedly amped up. The artist has long posited his work as a platform for discussions of racial inequalities, and his voicings of the same, in his new body of work, now have notes of stridency. He now seems to be demanding for his work to be regarded as such. And now is a crucial time for us to regard it thusly, for these discussions have been heating up dramatically in so many places, on so many fronts. To be sure, the best way to cool the temperature of the debate would be to actually engage in it, actively and honestly. With Power Lines, Gatson seems to be putting himself forth as a moderator.

In the context of all this, then, it becomes very intriguing to take a closer look at the series of Radiant Icon collage-drawings that Gatson has been making for years and years, and of which he presents a new suite here. That is, in the context of Gatson’s recently amped-up volumes and greater formal overtness, it becomes clear that the artist has been waiting for these discussions to burst open for quite some time. In our faces all the while—now latent, now strident—have been his powerful, colorful, radiantly provocative lines.

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Rico Gatson, Untitled (Three Diamonds), 2016. Image courtesy the artist and Ronald Feldman Fine Art.

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This essay was composed as an accompaniment to Power Lines, Gatson’s solo exhibition at Samsøn Projects in Boston, MA. The show opens on June 3rd and runs through July 17th, 2016. More information and images here.

Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D. is an artist, writer, translator, curator and professor living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More information about him is available here, and you can find him as @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.

Kin and Not

by Paul D'Agostino

Image courtesy Mille Kalsmose.

Image courtesy Mille Kalsmose.

 

Kin and Not: Mille Kalsmose’s Substitute Families

Mille Kalsmose probes and mines the definitively trying, variably traumatic aspects of her own familial history to question interpersonal relationships, social mores, maternities and paternities, kinships and kindredness, filial similarities and otherness, and the differently meaningful strangeness of strangers as they embed themselves into our lives as friends and acquaintances. Whether her works assume form as installations, photographic series, sculptures or broadly variant visual essays, they amount collectively to so many investigations of the ethical, physical, existential and socio-spatial malleabilities of our regards for one another, related or otherwise—as well as our regards, both obliquely and directly, for ourselves.

In her newest body of work, Substitute Families, Kalsmose expresses the presumed rigidities and sometimes veiled fragilities of familial rapports through materials and selective placements. Crafted out of iron, wood, silk and pigskin, this sculptural series consists of a number of very similar individuals qua family members of variable heights and spatial relations to one another. Hard and heavy, the iron elements are at once the individuals’ bodily sticks, cranial frames and standing perches, as each figure appears in several forms, suggesting perhaps maturation and the passing of time. Delicate and liminal, and stretched taut into their iron frames—then fastened firmly in place with most visible, ‘rigidity’-implying rivets—the silk and pigskin elements make up certain body parts and facial forms. As these features grow and ‘age’, they eventually become the iron-bound wooden templates that gave them form, to some extent, in the first place.

Bereft of truly individualizing features—although certain shapes do suggest that one might be a little girl, another a boy, others parents— these standing figures scan as curiously looming stand-ins for some sort of ambiguously ‘related’ collective. At once human-like and not at all, they are markers of the subtle individualities and samenesses that define us not only as beings, but also as groups, and their differential proximities to one another leave viewers pondering their interpersonal intimacies, closenesses, distances. They might be a family properly-so-called; they might be a family only circumstantially; they might not necessarily be a true family at all.

Are they facing toward or away from one another? Are they coming together or cleaving apart? These figures’ formal simplicities and spatial suggestivities leave them posing splendidly unanswerable questions of ethical, philosophical, socio-cultural and psycho-familial sorts. At the same time, viewers might simply find them pleasant objects to look at, walk among, be around. In a way, we all hope to be a bit like that, too, sometimes.

Image courtesy Mille Kalsmose.

Image courtesy Mille Kalsmose.

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This essay was composed on the occasion of Kalsmose’s Substitute Families series being included in Afterimage, a group exhibition at InCube Arts, located at 314 West 52nd Street in New York City. More information here.

Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D. is an artist, writer, translator, curator and professor living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More information about him is available here, and you can find him as @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.

In : Out :: / Out : In ::

by Paul D'Agostino

_Caput_ _Procedure_ invite

 

In : Out ::

In, inward, into, within, endogenic, ingressive, inside: Many are the modes and forms of inner-tending, variably interiorizing terms and motilities that one might associate with Tom Butter’s artworks. His paintings and sculptures alike are wont to turn, gyrate and churn, at times toward real or implied centers—the paintings, via gestural strokes, directional linearities and compositional flow; the sculptures, via a range of generally less-than-presumable yet ever-plausible, sometimes aberrant or amusingly jarred kinetics that seem now barely centrifugal, now subtly centripetal. With all their flux and functional switchings, with all their ins and outs, Butter’s works could perhaps quite nearly, not unlike certain prepositional analogies, engorge one another, then devour themselves.

A most peculiar, mechanically genial, bizarrely balanced, disturbingly jocular and behaviorally confounding sculpture is Caput, a piece whose apparently simple, somewhat centripetally erratic motion would be consistent if it weren’t for the friction of certain surfaces, the presence of certain finishes, the interference of a wall, the tensile resistance of a twisting, force-conveying metal belt, and the irregular form and considerable mass of a captivatingly piece-capping albeit floor-bound wooden ball. Caput’s spasmodic motion is its function, its spasmodic function is its motion, and since both are intermittently stunted, thwarted and blunted like the day is long, the piece’s repetitive yet not fully predictable comportment makes it not merely uniquely Sisyphean, but also an exquisite commentary on being and becoming, on doing and making, on trying and conceiving, on coming and going, on failing and flailing, on flunking and clunking—not to mention on the useful futility, or futile usefulness, of tedium. Caput is the anachronistic Caput Mundi of a busted world, perhaps, or perhaps it’s so captive to its inherent natures that it eludes or precludes its own usefulness, purpose or success. It is also, in a way—as a spiritedly animated object, or as an ersatz pet—quite adorably pathetic, simpatico, endearing.

There is something affirmatively friendly about Caput, in other words, an observation of indirect relevance that makes broader formal sense, nonetheless, when it’s considered in an expanded context that would include, also, a painting called Procedure, a companion work of sorts whose linear arcs and compositional dependencies between spatially disparate, energetically bundled forms display just enough visual analogousness to make the pieces appear readily kindred. Procedure, however, thanks in part to the placid qualities of its subtle pinks, greys and variably striated compositional horizontalities, reads like a realm of resolve, repose, relief or release, or perhaps even, at some remove, salvation—metaphysical, merely material or elsewise. Between one wall-knocking of its head, as it were, and another, Caput itself might dream, and dizzily so, of retiring to Procedure’s sphere of fluidity, quiescence, calm.

But then Caput’s mechanical condemnation kicks comically back into gear. And there it goes all over again—spinning itself, clubbing itself, lugging itself up some implied hill of numbingly eternal cumbersomeness. It gives in to itself, knocks into its surroundings, struggles inward for something, yet also for naught. If only there were, as it were, a clear way out.

— 502 :

 

_Working_ _Core_ invite

 

Out : In ::

Out, outward, out of, out from, exogenic, egressive, outside: Many are the forms and modes of exteriorizing, variably outer-tending motilities and terms that one might associate with Tom Butter’s artworks. His sculptures and paintings alike are wont to churn, gyrate and turn, at times away from real or implied centers—the sculptures, via a range of ever-plausible yet generally less-than-presumable, sometimes amusingly jarred or aberrant kinetics that seem now barely centripetal, now subtly centrifugal; the paintings, via compositional flow, directional linearities and gestural strokes. With all their functional switchings and flux, with all their outs and ins, Butter’s works could perhaps quite nearly, not unlike certain prepositional analogies, devour one another, then engorge themselves.

The resting state of the painting Core is, by and large, hardly restful at all. Rather, it is restive, tumultuous, turbid and roiling, a primarily bright-orange convulsion that might be a sort of geological extrusion, or a fulgor or flare dancing about eruptively on some distant astral surface, or a writ-large close-up of a wee little blossom, or perhaps just a heaving, surging, stirring chromatic effulgence. A certain darkness, however, in Core’s lower right register seems to hint at an interior otherness, or an unknowable beyond or subsurface pitch, or a titularly relevant central force that serves to dial the composition’s frenzy down a notch. What’s more, a rather curiously string-like line, also quite dark, darts up and curves down from one side to the other, a loose girding or spatially placeless garland of sorts that makes of so much stridency something ultimately melodious.

In formal harmony with that very line, then, is a meticulously braided circuit of pink twine that truly does gird loosely, in veritably garland-like fashion, the relatively circular upper portion of a sculpture called Working, a piece whose consistent, delicate, somewhat peaceful rotation is just deliberate enough to suggest potential centrifugality, and whose terrifically haunting, perhaps haunted gloves—because handless, because armless, because body-less, because worker-less—locked firm into a torqued, wrenching grip around the structure’s central axis, are at once a hint that something in the ‘works,’ or in the ‘workings’, has gone significantly awry, and a focalizing synecdoche for all the toil, ache and struggle that go into conceiving, creating, ‘working on’ and making things. The ‘work’ at ‘hand’ in Working is repetitive, in a way, yet not redundant; it is visually tangible and spatially present, even if also, in a structural sense, only barely there. The implied welder whose means of manual protection have been abandoned was flung away, perhaps, when Working’s slow spin went rogue-fast for an erred moment, or the ‘worker’ has gone missing for some other unknowable reason—and he remains the machine’s inherent secret, its enigma, its ghost.

Working worked its worker to the bone, worked him all the way away. As a viewer, a somewhat empathically disarmed one at that, you become one with this phantom’s wearied body in his phantom space. As he, too, might have—or still might—you might wish that the machine would invite you in.

— 502 :

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These essays were composed as accompaniments to Tom Butter’s solo exhibition, In : Out :: Out : In, at Studio 10 Gallery in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The exhibition opens on the evening of 2 January 2016, from 7-9pm, and runs through 31 January. More information here.

Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D. is an artist, writer, translator, curator and professor living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More information about him is available here, and you can find him as @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.

Images featured in this post are courtesy Tom Butter. For more information about him and his work, visit  www.tombutter.com.

Studio Visit: Matthew L. Rossi

by A.L. McMichael

Minnow Egg

“Minnow Egg” taken May 2015.

There’s a table in Matt’s apartment on which generations of Rossis have rolled out the family ravioli recipe, where he composed twelve short stories that encompassed an MFA thesis before tackling several hundred pages of a novel, and where an electric kettle boils water every morning for the French-press coffee maker sitting beside it. I know all of these things because I share the kitchen where this patinaed wooden surface is positioned between two windows. The view is of urban backyard gardens and the Empire State Building, its spire a glowing beacon after dark. Over the last few months, though, the table’s role has morphed from office to laboratory to studio. The growing body of photographic work Matt does there captures dozens of miniscule flora and fauna, the kinds of lives I probably unknowingly squash with a flip-flop on any given trip through the yard.

Matthew Rossi's handcrafted field microscope, with water from a Brooklyn creek and assorted found objects.

Matthew Rossi’s handcrafted field microscope, with water from a Brooklyn creek and assorted found objects. (Photo: A.L. McMichael)

“What looks to the naked eye like a jar full of mud is teeming with little creatures,” he asserts with the glee of a kid returning home from summer camp. Sure enough, a tiny sac of minnow eggs looks like a submerged trove of pearls in the blue light of his microscope camera (top photo). Indeed, the visual effects of his nature photography are surprisingly sophisticated, a powerful harnessing of cardboard, e-waste, and nature’s detritus. To record these images, he created a field microscope using the lens from a CD-ROM drive mounted to discarded computer packaging in order to see a nearly-invisible creature by viewing it on an iPhone screen through its camera. The glass microscope slides are backlit by an LED bulb from a bicycle safety light (a process akin to shooting on a lightbox), lending the subjects an ethereal affectation and often constraining the picture frame into a circle. From there, Matt composes larger-than-life photographs of the minuscule world.

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“Amphipod,” photo of a crustacean from Sea Isle City, NJ.

An image of an amphipod’s veins and surfaces (above) recalls the velvet richness of chiaroscuro paintings, wherein shapes and stories emerge from darkness. The resulting aesthetic lies somewhere between Man Ray’s minimalist surrealism and the fervor of a Goya etching. But to me the subject matter also calls to mind Northern Renaissance artists’ social commentary embedded into paintings—references to death, redemption, and new life emerging in the painstaking accuracy of depicted flora and fauna—and I’m tempted to silently salute Rachel Carson with every newly identified citizen of the ecosystems in Matt’s photos. The amphipod’s delicate lines are striking against the deep ocean of bokeh. There’s both serenity and danger in this velvety deep. The paper-thin slides on which it swims are in sharp contrast to the vastness of oceans and rivers where such creatures live.

Nature photography like this is an art of transformation, relying on changes in scale, in light. The act of seeing the invisible and reframing it at such a vastly different scale, “strangely opens up the world in a way [that is] different than other things I have experienced,” Matt explains. Creatures like vorticella (protozoa) are “not hanging out, but forming gelatinous structures.” He continues, “I think of them as floating mind-maps.” Their cilia (tiny, moving hairs) move all the time, catching occasional prey while colonies of vorticella seem to the untrained eye to be simply hanging out in the water.

He likens describing the natural world to analyzing formal elements in art: “When you blow up their world to our size, you get texture. You get clusters. [The plants and animals] have structures.” When he invites a formal analysis of nature itself, as well as the photographic context in which it’s captured, historical nature writers like Charles Darwin and John James Audobon reverberate in the work. To Matt, part of the naturalist’s role is to recognize and identify the inspected creatures, giving them a certain dignity. A brownish grey moth wing is “unremarkable at a distance” but, under the microscope, it has textured “brushstrokes,” and scales become an assembled series of gradient browns with the dimensionality of little structures that assemble themselves into an insect. The arrangement of cells in a leaf reveals “how much more textured the world is than what we see.”

One outcome of this kind of sustained formal analysis and appreciation is a responsibility and empathy for the unseen, a recognition that we are part of a larger universe. Matt cites Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Radiolab talk, “Space“, on how the telescope opens up the vastness of the universe to humans, who become the microscopic creatures in that equation. He also counts Timothy Morton’s ecocriticism as influence toward the conflation of art and science to drive that conversation. He’s fond of using Morton’s term “Earth magnitude” for the notion of thinking about things “on a scale so much larger than you can conceive of,” like Morton’s example of systems as objects, or for thinking of a species as it exists as a continuum.

One half-joking series of inquiries is what Matt has christened, “Things That Peeve Me,” which looks at mosquitoes, pollen, mold, and the like. He performs a style of catch-and-release photography for it, wherein he examines the offending creatures and then lets them go, either back into a little tank or their original habitat. Tormented by mosquitoes all summer, he finally captured a larva, which will have a chance to “grow into a mosquito, which I will put outside.” I pressed him a bit about the altruism toward predatory insects: “Looking at it in this form is different,” he argues, because there’s a difference between a pest in a pot of dirty water and an animal with a functioning digestive tract. “I see it contract, responding to me,” so that it’s “not just eating me, but me-sized.

“So, are you on equal footing as creatures?” I ask.

“Well,” comes the response. “It’s like me in some ways, but really nothing like me.” The larva in question squirms away, its muscles contracting. Indeed, in a video of mosquito larva, the sounds of life in our apartment—water running, background music, our yowling and impatient housecat—highlighting that the ecosystem we call home includes constant imposition of the odd and invisible.

This nudibranch (a kind of sea snail) came from a tidal pool under the Manhattan Bridge in November. Video shot through a macro lens. (NudibranchMatthew Rossi via Vimeo.)

The natural world maintains its own agency in the workflow, one in which images and movements are revealed to the photographer rather than him manipulating a preconceived subject. Matt does not always know what’s in the water or mud before it hits the slide. The creative output, then, is an ongoing documentation of investigating nature, channeled into a series of images selected to represent that process. What the eye sees through a microscope is incredibly hard to capture, making the photographic process a return to the seeming randomness of the found object in nature. In defining art as finding new ways to see or represent something, harnessing the power of tiny lenses to illuminate and magnify becomes a deeply investigative creative process.

This studio visit took place June 14, 2015. For more of his photographic work, see Matthew Rossi’s Vimeo stream. You can read his contributions to the Foldscope Explore: Exploring the Microcosmos community online, including the essays, “Why, As an Artist, I’m Excited About the Foldscope,” “A Model Creature: A Complete Drosophila Life Cycle,” “In DUMBO,” and “The Itch Part Two.” To chat with him on Twitter: @mlrossi80.

 

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.

Friedman.5

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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