After Vasari

writings on artists and artworks and where they exist

Category: studio visit

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.

 

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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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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.

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.

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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.

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Studio Visit: Rebecca Litt

by A.L. McMichael

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Studio Visit: Cynthia Hartling

by A.L. McMichael

Cynthia Hartling's studio with a number of canvases including Blear-eyed (oil and gold leaf powder on linen).

Inwood, Manhattan

Cynthia Hartling is immersed in her art. Whereas more than a few Manhattan apartments have studios within, Hartling’s instead offers the distinct impression of a studio that happens to contain living space. Congenial and hospitable, she offered me snacks and tea, which I sipped amidst souvenirs of her travels and adventures, mementos of education and vacations, and most of all, canvases. Filed neatly in corners and under tables and hanging on walls, examples of her work inhabit almost every room, bridging the gap between living and working spaces. Hartling told me that making art is an “essential component” of her life, that being separated from it can make a person anxious, but to make art is a way into understanding the world.

The larger world is, indeed, embedded in the vivid geometric forms of Hartling’s oil paintings. She speaks of the Celts, of the 1960s and 70s in New York, of Native Americans and Europeans, of cave paintings and artifacts, although a viewer might not immediately perceive her abstract, aniconic compositions as carrying the weight of art history. But Hartling’s two-dimensional works actually offer nothing less than an alternative to linear perspective.

The subject of Blear-eyed is, at a glance, dots. But when the artist referred to the shapes instead as “balls,” their connotation as objects in space became irrefutable. As such, they acknowledge a depth and an existence that goes beyond the surface of the canvas. It’s as though she has sculpted space out of a two-dimensional surface, bypassing the need for a vanishing point, figural narrative, or three-dimensionality. The surface is an active space. Oil paint is subtly sculpted on the canvas, raising the plane into the viewer’s space, bridging the gap between surface and viewer.

Hartling has such a visceral and tactile reaction to color that her hand gestures become more articulated and pronounced when she talks about it. She has a deep affinity for color, for the richness and complexity it develops in relation to the canvas and to the emotions or expressions of the artist. In Blear-eyed, layers of melancholy blue-greys beneath sharply contrasting warm tones reveal raised paint and visible brushstrokes in currents of energy that require a close viewing.

Details of Blear-eyed (left) and Now What (right) reveal the artist's textures and techniques.

Larger pieces such as Now What enable a different kind of viewing. Immersion in the space is more immediate because of their larger-than-life size; I was able to stake out a small area to focus on the minutiae: texture, adherence of paint to linen, stray dots of paint. Regardless of their size, these paintings all dispel any notion of non-figural compositions as impersonal. The shapes themselves convey humanity. As opposed to Renaissance geometry, Hartling’s rectangles and circles are drawn without a compass, offering evidence of the artist’s hand; they feel unmechanical. Each layer of cracked pigment or splattered paint represents a motion, a human decision.

Medicine Wheel (oil on linen) with smaller paintings and supplies.

In abstract compositions, responses to human experience are often embedded as well. Medicine Wheel is imbued with a cosmological essence in the geometry and organization, with objects and moments layered upon one another and at the center, white on white.  While I would not have guessed that it is the artist’s response to a white buckskin from a Native American ceremony, the painting does convey ritual organization and the electric excitement of experiencing something vivid and pure.

By channeling a lifetime of travels and experiences into seemingly abstract works, Hartling demonstrates the truism that we are all products of our experience, and that allowing ourselves to be immersed in that experience is a way of making the creative process richer, more personal, and simultaneously more universal.

This studio visit took place on Thursday, November 10, 2011. For a list of Cynthia Hartling’s current exhibitions and portfolio, visit http://www.cynthiahartling.com.

Studio Visit: Austin Thomas

by A.L. McMichael

After an open studio in October, Austin Thomas left a number of collages pinned to the wall.

Saturday, 29 October 2011: Garment District, Manhattan

As I drank hot tea in Austin Thomas’ studio in the midst of a blustery freak October snowstorm, dozens of colorful paper collages transformed the artificially-lit, windowless Manhattan space into a cozy nook with the warmth and optimism of a clever gingerbread house. I knew before meeting her that Thomas once ran the gallery Pocket Utopia and its summer camp, and that she also works on sculptural, site-specific pieces. I wondered whether this small space had lead her creative output toward smaller-scale projects.

Alongside the collages hung an inspiration board, a real-life Pinterest of photos, sketches, objects and architectural renderings under plexiglass. All of these were the driving force behind her in-process Plaza Perch, a gazebo of stainless steel. After receiving the commission from the City of New York Department of Cultural Affairs, Thomas commissioned renderings, built a prototype in wood, and hired a team near Gowanus to form the steel. It will be installed on Humbolt Street in Brooklyn, a gathering space–one that acts as a touchstone for interactions and departures–a community spot.

Although paper is a unifying material, many of her collages include a variety of media: Thomas’ own drawings, some found objects and figurative collages, old books, graph paper. Thomas finds materials, such as sketches or photos, and makes art, including drawings and geometric designs. Many of these also come from her own “travel diaries,” little Moleskine notebooks that she carries around. These works might be made on a trip or in a café, on the fly as “anywhere, anytime art” that can be cut or ripped up and repurposed. Then she meticulously incorporates those pieces of art into collages, essentially incorporating the ‘great wide world’ into each object. In doing that, she embraces the studio as a place for assembly while the actual creation takes place in myriad locations.

Mandala, a collage on paper (left), and an assortment of paper sketches and materials awaiting a second life as a collage (right).

Thomas spoke of sending these objects back out into the world—by selling them, a topic that is often uncomfortable for artists to discuss but a necessary dialogue she undertakes—and of letting other ideas come back in their place. One of the pieces with a price tag was Mandala, a collage anchored by a piece of green-lined graph paper. Like a firework or a burst of confetti, bold organic paper shapes culminate in a mandala that swells into a paper rosette. Spinning into a vortex of red, blue, and black, the paper cut-outs rest on the stark green lines with delirious tension, breaking the grid and reaching off the page, lifelike, radiating energy.

Thomas approaches these pieces ontologically, thinking about the life of the objects, about the kind of world she wants her art to go out into and about making it that kind of world. In taking this approach, a sense of community drives the work. Reflecting on the roles artists play in communities, we touched on the “DIY aspect” of the current era, which often incorporates the artist as “writer, curator, maker.” Thomas embraces these roles with a determined lack of boundaries between projects—the scale, medium, field, and audience are all wildly divergent—and she insists that all aspects of the works inform one another.

I felt no compulsion to ask if there was a unifying message in all the works. In fact, I forgot to. The intimate nature of her collages reveals an artist who is comfortable with ideas of writing, making, and connecting, and the public works reveal a sense of fellowship and camaraderie with all those who encounter them. The underlying theme is personal yet public, gracious and inviting. Even the inspiration wall has an eclectic gracefulness, an assured nature of also being part of the work. From collages, perches, and sculptures to blog entries and Tweets, the facets of Thomas’ work operate like beams of the mandala—radiating in many directions, yet anchored and integrated as necessary elements of a lovingly curated career.

A table in the center of the space allows Thomas to work surrounded by finished projects (left wall) and inspiration for Plaza Perch (back wall under plexiglass).

Studio Visit: Tim Kent

by Paul D'Agostino

Tim Kent in his studio with his pup, Petunia.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011: Bushwick, Brooklyn

Built up and built out and consistently reconfigured in sometimes nearly imperceptibly different iterations, Tim Kent’s home studio is a now completely shifting, now gently morphing composition of spatiality in flux, a locus of nudging and restructuring of layouts and lighting that not only reflects the variant needs of a deeply skilled painter and draughtsman working at times with live models and at times from architectural renderings, but that is also reflected in many of the works themselves. In a number of paintings and drawings, for example, one sees great vaulted ceilings soaring above grandiose interiors inhabited by various fineries of color and décor, yet still visible at times is the compositional logic beneath it all, the traces of planning and retractable traces replanned, the spatial plotting of objects and the rushing in, or trickling through, or pouring on of light. These works are about air, in some sense, and how objects bear weight; they are about light flitting through rooms and making things dance, at times, while other times planting them firm. Figures do occasionally play cameos in these works, but they remain extras in indifferent focus. In these grand spaces, vacuity reigns over realms of marble-clad echoes.

Note: Figures elsewhere, to be sure, are the stars.

And note: Should it sound, so far, like tradition is here abundant, then as Tim too would agree:

So be it.

Exemplary of Tim's spatial renderings is, left, C.H.3 - Rapture, 2011, oil on linen, 64"x68".

Although a constant in Tim’s historical references and stylistic predilections is the rigor of classical mores and molding, his works are nonetheless unmistakably innovative, definitively contemporary. His bold, daring compositions featuring now lush interiors or variably reposed figures, now objects inert or writhing creatures, are rendered electric through masterfully executed, nuanced brushwork. He portrays the aura of atmospheres rather than the mere layout of spaces, the minutiae of fervid moods and moments rather than simply more or less emotive faces. In a single work, Tim might nod knowingly – through his skilled exploitation of the vicissitudinous character of light, for example, or in his firm grasp of the fleshed torque of human forms – to influences and painterly forebears ranging from the Renaissance to the modernist canon, yet the same work will bear his uniquely dexterous stamp per force. His nods to history, in other words, read more like discerning, perspicacious glances: a forlorn gaze evoking the impassioned visages of Pontormo; items on a table rendered in the fragile palette of Cézanne; a playfulness with brushstrokes and borders in works that breathe, with fresh charm, Boldini.

The temperament, however, is subtly different. Apparently softened forms display a distinctive vigor and angularity; sfumature are deployed selectively rather than overall and throughout; countenances are often blank, or blankly fraught, or blankly lewd or lascivious – elusive forms of expressive mystique.

Tradition informs, in other words, then retires from Tim’s primary norms.

Ms. R.L. in Pink and Red, 2011, oil on linen, 82"x60".

Take, for instance, Ms R.L. in Pink and Red, a great canvas that is as effulgently theatrical as it is descriptive, as chromatically festive as it is also, somehow, fearsome. There, in arrested strut, in paused lunge, she is poised: insouciant or intrepid, in some sort of glory unfurled, her subtle sass effervescent in the faint pucker of her face, in the glint in her eyes, in the lithe bend of her wrist, in her fan-grasping hand, in the angling of her hips, in the feathery flaunt of her static ecstasy with fragile flora all around and a great peacock, no less, at her feet. Behind her loom, in enigmatic obscurity, some sorts of spectral gazers; creatures creep about or flutter into the red thrust of the scene, as do a few well-elected hues of piquant blues.

So much emblazonment with decadent, lush magenta, with the majesty of late-empire pomp. The empire in question is largely irrelevant. She is a sly angel from some end time to come.

Note: I do not know who Ms. R.L. is, nor do I know if I want to know her. I know very well, however, that she is only one of Tim’s many stellar figures elsewhere.

And note: To gaze upon any one them is to agree:

So be it.

Evocations reverberant from vast room to plush plume.

Studio Visit: Adam Simon

by A.L. McMichael

Adam Simon in his Bushwick studio on a Sunday afternoon. The large panel painting on the wall is titled, Garden.

Sunday, 16 October 2011: Bushwick, Brooklyn

Adam Simon’s paintings are like towns, each work a microcosm with its own energy and vibe, an almost living amalgamation of figures and shapes, generic and repetitive at a glance, but often imbued with unique meaning upon closer inspection.

The story of his technique furthers this argument, harkening back to the days before internet, when he worked in editorial production and had down time between magazine issues. During this time he had access to stock photo catalogs—the once-ubiquitous volumes that graced the desks of designers before online photo archives were available—offering hundreds of already-shot photos for any occasion, such as carefully-coiffed models enacting a decade of cheerful, harmonious corporate gatherings during which the men are graciously heroic and the women wear pantyhose. Simon uses such figures as a starting point, tracing their outlines onto mylar and cutting stencils from the poses. He then rolls paint over the stencils onto panels, creating layers of figures. After the paint dries, he uses an electric sander to alter the finish, adding texture and subtracting layers of paint figures, letting some fade away while others emerge.

Gone are the pleasant expressions of the stock figures, the dated business casual clothing, the ethnicities of the models. Turning color photographs into contours achieves a subtle but crucial difference in legibility between these and more traditional silhouettes, such as Victorian busts, that are designed to be read as line art. In Simon’s work movements and gestures are muddled. In place of the models are generic figures that require interpretation, loaded with the viewer’s own preconceptions and memories. For me, a painting entitled Garden invokes a forest with figures instead of trees, overlapping, covering, revealing one another.

Simon notes a “nostalgia for the very recent past,” that viewers associate with these works. But there’s a sense of larger human, or at least art, history as well. For instance, Garden is a subtle reference to H. Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, and some of his new work often incorporates figures from art history. Simon’s standardized technique, completed with stock figures and historical silhouettes, asks very personal and pointed questions about universality and and its role in individual identity.

Our conversation about these paintings revolved around Simon’s use of the work to consider ideas of consumerism and the of role of the artist. He notes that as people are bombarded with images and often directed by them in a consumer society, artists offer alternatives to that. (To which I half-jokingly added, “with images.”) He offers these images as a template for the many versions of life happening at any moment, demonstrating that life is a “negotiation between extreme subjectivity and the fact that you’re cloned, there’s a prototype, a template.” When asked if he were bothered that our lives are to some extent templated, he replied “no” and that awareness of our place in society can be positive. Simon indicates discomfort with stereotypical views of the role of the artist in society as one of self-expression. Although he has toyed with the concept of removing the artist from the process, he has also turned that theory on its head, producing My Life in Pictures, Volume 2, a panel diptych on which stock figures carefully placed on a grid represent moments or memories from his own life.

In peeking through the forest (or the Garden, as it were) we are forced to respond to those human silhouettes, relating to or rejecting each one. Simon has made the generic personal. The work presents a collection of cookie-cutter, templated identities that we choose for ourselves, suggesting that we extract uniqueness from even the most generic circumstances.

Acetate stencils hang in the studio window.

A detail of Adam Simon's panel painting entitled, "Garden."

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