After Vasari

writings on artists and artworks and where they exist

Tag: Essay

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.

Calling All Sorts: Gestures & Junctures, Questions & Quotes

by Paul D'Agostino

Gestures&Junctures-catalog-montage-pic

Calling All Sorts: Gestures & Junctures, Questions & Quotes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What, then, of all this?

Most simply: It takes all sorts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Energies & Echoes

by Paul D'Agostino

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

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

 

Energies & Echoes: Recent Paintings by Dumitru Gorzo

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

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

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

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

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

Radiantly Provocative

by Paul D'Agostino

Untitled (Target, Ripple and Zig Zags) 2016

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

 
Radiantly Provocative: Rico Gatson’s Power Lines

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

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

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

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

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

Untitled (Three Diamonds) 2016.jpg

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

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

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

Kin and Not

by Paul D'Agostino

Image courtesy Mille Kalsmose.

Image courtesy Mille Kalsmose.

 

Kin and Not: Mille Kalsmose’s Substitute Families

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy Mille Kalsmose.

Image courtesy Mille Kalsmose.

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

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

Essay: Osamu Kobayashi – Gioie condivisibili / Sharable Joys

by Paul D'Agostino

First Curve, oil on linen, 2015. Photo courtesy the artist.

First Curve, oil on linen, 2015. Photo courtesy the artist.

Gioie condivisibili nei dipinti di Osamu Kobayashi  (English translation below)

È proprio nel movimento operativo, nel gesto pittoriale, apparentemente lento e meditativo, che l’attento osservatore comincia a percepire, nei quadri squisiti e celebrati del giovane pittore americano Osamu Kobayashi, un fortissimo senso di gioia non solo formale, cromatico e composizionale, ma anche procedurale, inerente, materiale.

È la gioia, questa, dell’applicazione stessa dei colori—talmente ricchi, brillanti e puri, nei quadri di Kobayashi, ma anche selettivi, ridotti strettamente a quelli più necessari—del processo, sia temporale che creativo, di spostare, da un punto della tela all’altro, del materiale, e di inciderlo, in quella maniera misteriosa e intrigante che è il territorio vero e proprio dei dipinti più riusciti, con un ché di espressività, di atto unico e individuale, e di novità. Profondamente incise nei colori di Kobayashi, e quindi subito visibili e visibilmente tangibili nelle sue composizioni osservate all’intero, sono anche le tracce stesse, spesso lunghe e indulgenti, del pennello, le tappe fondamentalmente creative e strutturali di un viaggio per sentiero che si vede, si sente e si segue—e che si può rintracciare veramente al di dentro, al di sotto e al di là del quadro stesso.

La gioia di cui si parla è condivisa. Appartiene tanto al pittore quanto all’osservatore. Kobayashi lo invita a partecipare non soltanto al viaggio formale e pittoriale incorporato nel suo processo di eseguire dei quadri, ma anche a sentire—sia insieme a lui, sia a meno—la felicità effimera e scorrevole del dipingere. Si sente, guardando, il gesto del braccio, e forse anche la resistenza dei colori. Si vedono le prove dell’atto creativo; le si seguono da una forma all’altra, da un angolo all’altro, da un colore luminoso all’altro.

I quadri più recenti di Kobayashi—una selezione dei quali fanno parte dell’esibizione OK!, presso la galleria A+B contemporary art—manifestano questa gioia, ovvero queste gioie, più che mai. I suoi azzurri che suggeriscono cieli e mari coinvolgono l’osservatore nelle loro presenze leggermente mosse e ondeggianti. Un suo sole sottilmente viola risplende e brilla per raggi incisi in un cielo rosa. Linee cruciforme delimitano e interompono i colori che gli muovono attorno. Qui, ci si gira. Là, ci si ferma. Altrove, sa va sempre avanti.

Altroché statico, questo senso di gioia. Buone osservazioni, quindi, e buon viaggio.

Heat Spell, oil on linen, 2015. Photo courtesy the artist.

Heat Spell, oil on linen, 2015. Photo courtesy the artist.

Sharable Joys in the Paintings of Osamu Kobayashi

It is in his very operative motion, in his ostensibly slow, meditative pictorial gesture, that a careful viewer begins to perceive, in the exquisite works of the young American painter Osamu Kobayashi, a fervid sense of joy that is not merely formal, chromatic and compositional, but also procedural, inherent and material.

The joy in question is that of the physical application of paint, of the laying down of colors—so very brilliant, rich and pure, in Kobayashi’s works, yet also selective, as he limits his palette only to those colors deemed most necessary. It is the joy of the very process, both temporal and creative, of moving material around from one part of the canvas to another, and of incising it, in that most mysterious and intriguing manner that is a hallmark of successful paintings, with airs of expressivity, novelty, and uniqueness and singularity of act. Also incised deeply into Kobayashi’s works—and thus readily visible and visibly tangible in his compositions in their entirety—are the very traces, often long and indulgent, of the artist’s brush, a record of the elemental stages that both form and inform each work. So immediately perceivable, so palpable, so easy to follow, these traces are legible like footprints along a path in a journey of looking—and they can be read within, beneath and beyond the paintings themselves.

To be sure, this is a most shareable joy. It belongs to the painter and the viewer alike. Kobayashi invites audiences to join him not only in the execution of works, which might be likened to a formal, pictorial journey, but also to feel—alongside him, as well as in his absence—the certain sense of happiness, however fleeting or ephemeral, that is an integral part of making a painting. While looking at his works, one can sense not only the gesture of his arm, but also the resistance of the paint. Evidence of his creative act, therefore, is everywhere apparent; it can be seen from one form to the next, from one corner to another, from one luminous color to the luminosities of all the rest.

Kobayashi’s most recent works—a selection of which constitute the exhibition OK!, at A+B contemporary art—demonstrate this joy, or rather these joys, more than ever. Suggestive of skies and seas, his bright blues carry the viewer along in their subtly shifting, undulatory motions. A barely purple sun bursts brilliantly in rays incised into a broad pink sky. Cruciform lines both delimit and interrupt the colors that move alongside and around them. Here, a turn. There, a halt. Elsewhere, lines and incisions move on straight ahead.

It is anything but static, this sense of joy. Enjoy the act of looking, as such, and buon viaggio.

Pixy, oil on linen, 2015. Photo courtesy the artist.

Pixy, oil on linen, 2015. Photo courtesy the artist.

Both the original essay in Italian and the English translation are by Paul D’Agostino. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @postuccio. Osamu Kobayashi’s exhibit at A+B contemporary art, in Brescia, Italy, is on view from 2 July to 19 September 2015. More information here.

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