After Vasari

writings on artists and artworks and where they exist

Tag: collage

Themselves Productive

by Paul D'Agostino


Themselves Productive: New Paintings by Liv Mette Larsen

The more you become acquainted with the foundational forms and material underpinnings of Liv Mette Larsen’s works, the more you come to realize the generally uninterrupted extent to which they are all procedurally interlinked, conceptually interconnected, holistically and harmoniously cross-informed. The nature of this realization is perhaps ultimately the most abstract product of Larsen’s hand-pedaled, factory-like process that is itself generative, manually fabricational, iteratively productive.

One should not mistake any of the above as a suggestion that this now Brooklyn-based painter—Norwegian-born, then eventually NYC-bound by way of a period of teaching and artistic activity in Germany—presents her viewers with compositions full of visual convolution, nor that her pictorial processes and products register as even remotely mechanical. On the contrary, Larsen’s essentially representationally-driven forms are dimensionally simplified distillations of at times complex, at times relatively basic structures that stand as variably recognizable markers of place—localized neighborhood skylines, for instance, or readily distinguishable factories, as is the case in her series Concrete Factory / Slemmestad Fabrikker. Working from photographs or observation, Larsen breaks up, breaks down and flattens her chosen structures’ aspects and facets into a series of characteristic shapes, then carries them into so many lightly, almost happily handled compositional arrangements that serve as her platform to explore the chromatic richness and occasional quirks of her long-standing materials of choice—egg tempera on linen treated with rabbit skin glue.

Larsen’s largely earth-tone colors run a full yet quiescent range. She’s not shy at all about employing purples, yellows, oranges and greens to depict objects that might actually be just grey, in other words, but not even the brightest reaches of her palette shout or cry out. Rather, her colors murmur and hum like the low din of machinery, or like a calm flow of traffic along an urban block, maintaining nonetheless all the chromatic lushness and toothsome textures of the powdered pigments and egg mediums she uses to mix them into life. Backgrounds are sometimes the areas where Larsen allows colors to visually intermingle and bleed through one another, especially in her larger works. Consequently, her montages of middle- and foregrounded forms, often filled in with more uniformly viscous admixtures, begin to come across as depth-creating, footprint-stamping, colorful shadow-puppet-like characters—a troupe of implicitly post-industrial, meta-structural actors, let’s say, playing stop-motion roles of form-holders, chroma-bearers and spatial dwellers on some outdoor stage on a forsaken, extra-urban stretch of land, on a fall or spring afternoon in which mild temperatures and overcast skies cooperate to make the setting that much simpler to enthuse.

In Larsen’s creative landscape, some of the forms, colors, compositions and ‘characters’ she develops will then reemerge in kindred bodies of work. Shapes appear in different proportions in other paintings and collages; collages take color cues from paintings and watercolors; watercolors and collages inform compositional and chromatic choices in paintings. And of course, Larsen keeps an ever-sharp eye on how subtle shifts or surprises in one productive mode might lead her to insights in another. All this from regarding very closely and formally dismantling a building or two, then turning constituent parts into inputs for serialized processes made manifest in interconnectedly generative ways. A landmark fabrikk in Norway, as it were, becomes a manufacturer and remanufacturer of itself. And Larsen’s creative factory just keeps on humming. The characters in her plays keep doing their happy thing.

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This essay was composed for Liv Mette Larsen’s exhibition catalogue for Concrete Factory / Slemmestad Fabrikker, the artist’s solo show at Trafo Kunsthall in Trafo, Norway. Her show is on view from 6 May to 17 June, 2017. More information about the exhibit and Trafo Kunsthall can be found here. More information about Liv Mette Larsen is on her website, here. Installation image courtesy the artist and Trafo Kunsthall.

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: 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).

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