After Vasari

writings on artists and artworks and where they exist

Tag: abstract

Calling All Sorts: Gestures & Junctures, Questions & Quotes

by Paul D'Agostino


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.


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.

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

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