After Vasari

writings on artists and artworks and where they exist

Tag: Pocket Utopia

Schizzo: Au delà du rideau

by Paul D'Agostino

Nocturne 6: Les acteurs et le drapeau

Nocturne 6: Les acteurs et le drapeau / The Actors and the Curtain, acrylic and watercolor on paper, mounted to panel, 24″ x 12″, 2012.


Au delà du rideau

Juste avant de se masquer
pour rentrer en scène
(toujours poudrés, visage et cheveux;
toujours habillé, costume
classique, traditionel)
l’acteur se regarda
un instant dans le miroir
en prenant une petite gorgée d’eau:

“Suis-je, moi-même, convaincu?”
il se demanda.
“Puis-je vraiment, moi-même,

Un instant après
il sortit, masqué.
Plus là,
lui-même, son lui-même.

Sa mémoire reste cachée
dans le miroir
quand même.


Beyond the Curtain

Just before putting on his mask
to take the stage again
(still powdered, his face and hair;
still dressed in classical,
traditional garb)
the actor looked at himself
in the mirror a moment
while taking a sip of water:

“Am I, myself, convinced?”
he asked himself.
“Might I really, myself,
forget myself?”

An instant later
he exited, masked.
No longer there,
he himself, his himself.

His memory still concealed
in the mirror



Artwork & texts, P. D’Agostino


* A number of other paintings from the series Nocturnes, as well as collages, sculptures and drawings from several other bodies of work—the latter also gathered into a book, Floor Translations—are currently featured in Twilit Ensembles, a solo exhibition of my artwork at Pocket Utopia Gallery, located at 191 Henry Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The exhibition is up through 21 April 2013. More information at


Gallery visit: Sharon Butler at Pocket Utopia

by A.L. McMichael

Sharon Butler, "Blue Fences," 2013. Pigment and silica binder, staples on laundered linen tarp, 16 x 18 inches. (Photo courtesy of the artist and Pocket Utopia)

Sharon Butler, “Blue Fences,” 2013, Pigment and silica binder, staples on laundered linen tarp, 16 x 18 inches (photo courtesy of the artist and Pocket Utopia)

Last week I snagged an invitation to a small gathering of art appreciators at Pocket Utopia and had a chance to chat with Sharon Butler, whose solo exhibition, “Precisionist Casual,”  will be open there until February 17, 2013. Several people in our group commented on the colors Butler uses throughout the show—deep terracotta pink, muted tangerine and teal, and shades of grey painted onto linen canvases of pumice and beige. Quietly active and sophisticated, the color palette manifests itself in a series of paintings consisting of shapes that are mostly geometric. They demonstrate that the artist is, in fact “drawn to urban settings, structures, and HVAC architecture,”  as promised on the Pocket Utopia website, yet the linework maintains a handmade line quality.

Just before we dispersed, I commented on the shimmery, grey paint that appears throughout the exhibition. Butler responded that it functions like the mineral sparkle we see in sidewalks on a sunny day. It certainly does have that effect in paintings like Blue Fences and Soaked (Hurricane). But for me it was also a reference to the pipes and steel beams that make architecture a three-dimensional creation. It is as if the reflective paint could be a visual shorthand for ‘metal’ and the negative spaces that sculptural and architectural creations surround. This is further emphasized by the relationship of the canvas that is frayed and stapled to the front of the stretcher, which Paul D’Agostino calls a concatenatory teasing of materials and dimensions. Butler’s display is a gentle step away from the two-dimensional paint on canvas, but one that provides an easy mental leap to built spaces. On Sunday I read Tom Micchelli’s interview with Butler in Hyperallergic Weekend; he also comments on the metallic paint and likens her work to sculpture, noting particularly that the colors in Underpainted HVAC are remniscent of a “dusty, rough-hewn limestone slab.”

Sharon Butler, "Soaked (Hurricane)," 2013. Pigment and silica linen tarp, 18 x 24 inches. (Photo courtesy of the artist and Pocket Utopia).

Sharon Butler, “Soaked (Hurricane),” 2013, Pigment and silica linen tarp, 18 x 24 inches (Photo courtesy of the artist and Pocket Utopia)

The graphite color also conjures up mental images of pencil sketches, of motions creating quick linework, making a gestural statement on flat paper. Some days I can’t stop being a Byzantine scholar, particularly when musing about that link between color and motion. Today, this shimmery paint bridges the gap between contemporary art and medieval mosaics. Art historian Liz James has written about the medieval Byzantines’ use of gold and gems in art—the shimmer activated spaces; reflections of light made the viewer feel as if the space between him and the art was full of energy, drawing him into the image and providing a link to a mystical, heavenly realm.

What’s interesting here is that for both Micchelli and me, Butler’s use of color brought forth connotations of three-dimensionality. That ‘color psychology’ is a nebulous term (and a concept that varies wildly between cultures and individuals) in no way negates the fact that color and emotion are intertwined—we often think of color as an artist’s choice that sets a mood or sends a message. I’d like to emphasize, though, that it’s not just hues but attributes of color—opacity, depth of tone, reflectiveness, (yes, shimmer)—that engage us. Viewing art creates an energy, and the urban quietude of Butler’s canvases harnesses it in a colorful experience that is thought-provoking without resorting to kitschiness or snark.

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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