After Vasari

writings on artists and artworks and where they exist

Tag: Bushwick

David Byrd: Flicks, Bouts, Blocks

by Paul D'Agostino

Balcony With Screen, oil on canvas, 16″ x 21″, 1955.


Flicks, Bouts, Blocks

Flicks, Bouts, Blocks, curated on behalf of The David Byrd Estate in Sidney Center, NY, and hosted by Studio 10 Gallery in Brooklyn, features a chronologically and geographically particular selection of works in painting, drawing and sculpture by David Byrd, an as-yet lesser-known artist who passed away in 2013. Byrd’s personal story and, for so many decades, nearly ceaseless artistic activity form an inspiring testament to the unforeseeable turns one’s life might take, and to the many virtues of maintaining one’s creative drive.

Born in Springfield, Illinois, in 1926, and worker of all manner of odd jobs both before and after serving in the Merchant Marines and Army during World War II, then eventually finding fixed work as an orderly in the psychiatric ward at the Veterans Administration Medical Hospital in Montrose, New York, David Byrd lived a long, experientially rich, consistently difficult yet ultimately quietly, solitarily fulfilling life that made it neither easy nor obvious for him to even desire to express himself through art, much less become an almost astonishingly prolific artist. Yet artist he was, from his youth until his final days, and although he spent the vast majority of his creative years working in obscurity, he did have occasion to savor a few moments of fame and success thanks to a suite of exhibitions that were mounted in the months prior to his passing. Intending to build on Byrd’s budding legacy by exposing his work to a much broader public is David Byrd: Ten Stops, a multi-venue, bicoastal sequence of ten variably themed exhibitions to be mounted between July 1st and September 30th, 2017.

The Brooklyn installment of this ambitious series of shows is Flicks, Bouts, Blocks, a set of works culled together not merely to familiarize a New York City audience with Byrd’s artistic practice, but also to suggest that his many years spent living in Brooklyn, for a time as an adolescent and later on as a young adult, might well have imbued his creative sensibilities in notable, enduring ways. Notes of captured happenstance, for instance, and almost theatrically staged settings—of neighborhood encounters, of acquaintances and strangers in the streets, and of movie-goers, cyclists and Coney Island locales—are everywhere to be found in his paintings produced during and long after his Brooklyn days. One sees such tendencies as well in his many drawings of boxers throwing blows and lovers embracing, and in his now quickly, now meticulously executed sketches of individuals or situations he seems to have simply found strangely intriguing or peculiar. Many of these aspects of Byrd’s early work remain readily identifiable throughout the rest of his œuvre.

Unlike the paintings and drawings in Flicks, Bouts, Blocks, the one sculpture in the show does not date back to Byrd’s time in Brooklyn. However, the piece does seem to imply a later contemplation of the borough’s characteristic front stoops that must have been of certain importance to the ever-curious young artist—given all the people-watching they facilitate, all the variably lit staging they furnish, and all the visual cues they provide for structural delineations and physical forms. Also included in the show is one of Byrd’s earliest paintings, a piece that dates back to the artist’s period of study under Amédée Ozenfant, a noted French painter whose insights and mentorship would prove to be lasting fonts of guidance and inspiration for Byrd. This held true even several decades later, well after he had retired from his job at the hospital and retreated to his hand-crafted home and studio in upstate New York. There, mostly alone and at quite a remove from quotidian interactions and conveniences, Byrd was finally able to devote all of his time and energy exclusively to art, his most reliable conduit for self-expression and creative zeal, and his long-trusted mode of palliative distraction from painful memories of the many challenges life had dealt him.

Nevertheless, Byrd did manage to reserve some time and energy for one of his other great enthusiasms: bottle-collecting. Indeed, the long bottled-up artist who kept so much of his existence and so many of his struggles under wraps was also an avid collector of bottles. A fine one of those is included in this show as well—it too, like Byrd himself now, uncorked.

Toy Store, oil on canvas, 20″ x 24″, 1959.


The above text is my essay for Flicks, Bouts, Blocks, an exhibition I curated at Studio 10 Gallery on behalf of The David Byrd Estate. It is on view from July 20th to August 6th, 2017. In addition to this exhibition, David Byrd: Ten Stops includes exhibits in Peekskill, Delhi, West Point, Franklin, Cooperstown and Seattle, as well as a large exhibit and a number of special gatherings at the seat of The David Byrd Estate in Sidney Center, New York. Detailed information and maps, along with a brief and charming video of the artist discussing his life and work around the time of its revelation to the public, can be found at


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.


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.

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 :


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

Studio Visit: Pamela Butler

by Paul D'Agostino

Pamela Butler in her Bushwick studio.

Pamela Butler in her Bushwick studio.

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

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

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

Pamela Butler 2

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

More simply, perhaps, layers are her art.

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll close with that.

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

And thanks, Spinoza.

Pamela Butler 3

Studio Visit: Rebecca Litt

by A.L. McMichael


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

by Paul D'Agostino

Tyrome Tripoli

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

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

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

Tyrome Tripoli

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

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

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

Tyrome Tripoli

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

.                        .                       .

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

Gallery Visit: Rick Briggs and Adam Simon at Valentine

by Paul D'Agostino


Around where an Associated Supermarket on Seneca Avenue sits cater-corner from a public school playing pitch in the hilltop heart of Ridgewood – a rather borough-resistant, historically pseudo-sovereign neighborhood I have described elsewhere as “yonder-Bushwick, nether-Queens, soft-hilled and arboreally charmed” – one alights upon a truly stunning view of the Manhattan skyline soaring up over the far end of the field, providing what must be, for those who play there, a dramatic backdrop to something as relatively mundane as baseball practice, for example, or a soccer scrimmage, or flying a kite. At the same time, this panoramic spot might only seem so momentous for visitors passing by; for locals, its mundanity might be far greater compared to the setting’s various activities it rises behind. Nonetheless, if this is not your everyday sight, it is certainly well worth a visit – even on, or perhaps especially on a most frigid winter night, when the clarity of cold seems to encourage the city’s familiar lights to shine a little bit brighter than usual, as if they too must do something to keep warm.


Apropos of locals, nestled a few blocks down the street from this vista is Valentine Gallery, directed by artist and curator Fred Valentine, where the current exhibit, a two-artist show of works by Rick Briggs and Adam Simon, might be likened to a satisfying main course for which the above treat would make a fitting appetizer or dessert.

In the gallery’s main room are new works by Briggs, paintings whose generally subdued palette and variably painterly self-reflexivity read like demurred witticisms writ, with great ease of depiction, large. Take, for example – if not perhaps with all too great ease of exemplarity – Brown Roller, in which the self-awareness of creative agency is portrayed not through portraiture or canvas-bound act of creativity, but rather, and far more tellingly, through the portrayal of a lone man in an essentially empty room, his back turned to the viewer with slack and indifference as he toils away with a long-armed roller to light-brown-wash a very plain wall.

Workaday enough is the wit therein, one might say, but Briggs’ one-liner-like commentary can also be more curiously curvilinear. For here he deepens by at least a layer the portrayal of painter-cum-house-painter in the bored throes of going through motions by inverting the understood utility of the roller, its flat-tending intentionality amusingly upended in columns of oblong-stamped – indeed, and in deed, almost terrifyingly spreadsheet-like – traces of itself, exposing for a moment the formal quality of brushstroke as counter-functionality of form.

Brown Roller, by Rick Briggs. Photo courtesy the artist.

Or something like that. One can ponder this one forever – from living room to studio, from cubicle to cave with so much Plato, et al, in between. Of course, one might elect to seek out similarly winking wit elsewhere in the gallery instead, for there is plenty to take in and enjoy. Briggs’ humor elicits cracked smiles with crossed arms, not knee-slaps and guffaws, and his paintings are thereby engaging and engagingly placating.

Paintings by Rick Briggs. Photo by Tom Micchelli.

Pause, by Rick Briggs. Photo courtesy the artist.

At the same time, don’t be surprised if you’re occasionally blinded by bright flashes of yellow or red, or if a small painting of spectacles on a table draws you in, with particular intimacy, until you note the softly undulating brushstrokes follicularly incised into a swath of backdropped taupe.

Once you’re that close, once you’re that inveigled within, you might as well be wearing those glasses yourself.

Now back up. Touch chin.


Or, if you will, exit stage left, for there you will find an exquisite series of works by Adam Simon, one large painting and a suite of somewhat spare yet deeply shadowy, fundamentally transfiguring – not to mention technically transfigural, for they portray figures transferred several times over – drawings.

Simon's drawings. Photo by Tom Micchelli.

Much more ramification of than departure from his oeuvre proper, which consists mostly of paintings (the process and content of which my cohort here at After Vasari, A.L. McMichael, has already described with abundant meticulousness and grace), these new works, executed in variable strata of graphite dust, exude a lingering aura that lures and lurks. In their now crisp, now blurred lines and errant streaks, these transfers of composite images, though largely devoid of details, bring to mind early photographic images à la Daguerre. In fact, given that Simon culls his characters’ delineations from stock photography, one might even see these renderings as a collection of post-photographic fossils impressed, beneath the amber of fixatif, into paper.

Photo courtesy Adam Simon.

Or something, once more, like that. These works also beg further pondering. Yet given their number and gathered display, one needn’t move around too much to linger in the midst of their enigmatic looming, one need only stir ever so barely their still air of mystery and spectral allure. Upon close enough engagement, moreover, one might well be led to wonder, having dined on the entire exhibit, what sort of fare a phantasm like Waiter might lean forth to offer.

Waiter, by Adam Simon. Photo courtesy the artist.

Let us assume – for metaphorical convenience, if not also for presumable gastronomic propriety – that his proposed provisions relate to dessert.

And now let me step into his shoes as I offer you two further exhibitional curiosities to ponder, followed by a sweet visit-ending treat to savor.

Curiosity #1: Where Briggs’ Brown Roller might be likened to a brush-rendered apotheosis of the form of a paint roller, Simon’s works suggest temporary paint-roller apostasy. Rollers are among the primary tools Simon deploys for his paintings, that is, yet here, for his drawings, he abandons them.

Curiosity #2: Where Briggs portrays and probes quotidianity with an eye for and vein of humor, Simon explores the mundane and disrobes it to reveal an underlying stillness of whispery horror.

Adam Simon. Photo courtesy the artist.

And now that we’ve come full circle from the arguable mundanity of a skyline view to the variably captivating quotidianities on display at Valentine, I recommend you make yet another stage-left exit while still at the gallery. Into the gift shop, that is, where you will find, among a great many other artworks, a few very nice, and here very neatly relevant, skyscapes by Kerry Law. You will recognize that spire, no doubt. And once you’re familiar with that nearby panorama, you might well guess in which neighborhood the artist lives.

One of several 12"x12" skyline glimpses by Kerry Law in the gift shop at Valentine. Photo courtesy Valentine.

Take that in as dessert. And if you then head over to the spot on Seneca to behold a shimmery, perhaps dramatic sight, you might consider that vast view the digestivo rounding off your repast.

A bit of Fernet Branca as vista, for instance. Rather bracing like the chill of night. Or if you want to try one of my favorites, have some Cynar, Ramazzotti or Averna in a lowball tumbler filled to the brim with crushed ice.

But now full circle has forayed into fully changed topic.

Which is for me, to wit, absolutely mundane.

Or something like that.


vista 3

The exhibit of artworks by Rick Briggs & Adam Simon will remain on view at Valentine through 5 February 2012. For more information and visiting hours, see the gallery’s website.

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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