Marcela Florido: Beauty is a Decision

April 16, 2016 |

Marcela Florido is a Brazilian artist who has lived in Rio de Janeiro, London, New Haven, and currently lives and works in Brooklyn. She invited fellow painter Gaby Collins-Fernandez to come to her studio on the occasion of her upcoming show at Galeria IBEU in Rio de Janeiro to talk about geography, abstraction, and learning to have fun in painting.

mf studio 5Marcela Florido in her studio, (all photos courtesy Cristobal Sánchez)


Gaby Collins-Fernandez: Let’s start out by talking about how you’re thinking about representation or realism in relation to a plastic sense of painting?

Marcela Florido: Since early on, I have been interested in confronting painting clichés or stereotypes of different vocabularies. My work has been really wrapped up in narratives of where these vocabularies came from and what histories they communicate.

GCF: It sounds like you had an awareness that there is be a gap in between, let’s say, a political ideology or a certain kind of rhetoric and its necessary manifestation in painting and in using different languages formally, abstractly, you’d be able to make that clear—is that correct?

MF: Yes. I was very skeptical of visual vocabularies at that point. For me, they were all linguistics, all power. It was only through eventually finding pleasure in painting that these thoughts began to be undermined. Like: actually there is something here that is beyond the verbal. The more I tried to prove that these visual languages were discursive, the more I encountered their non-discursive power, and this allowed me to keep painting.

GCF: It’s interesting that it was when you left Brazil and the aesthetic predominance of Neo-Concretism there for art school in London that the sensual immediacy of painting became more important than its rhetorical aspects.

MF: In London, I experienced ugliness, roughness, and the cartoonish in art as a positive trait for the first time. I was looking at painters like Paula Rego, Victor Willing, Stanley Spencer. It really made me question my relationship with certain art trends in Brazil that started to feel reductive despite my deep connection with them: all of a sudden, they seemed to be all monochromatic, sharp angles and elegance. I wanted to have more fun.



GCF: Let’s talk about fun, then, and its relationship to narrative.

MF: In Adrift 3, I thought, there’s going to be a woman and she’s going to have a huge ass and she’s going to be having fun—that was the only thing I wanted when I started the painting. And then it didn’t work at all formally in its logic, space, gestures, color, scale. Narratively, I could check the boxes, but formally it was doing nothing. All of a sudden, formal decisions led the way, which felt very new.

GCF: So in these new paintings it’s not just a further liberation in a sense of what can be, but also liberation from justification as well. In your work with Grupo<>, a collaborative project about Latin American women, immigration and aesthetics with Alva Mooses, Aurora De Armendi, Constanza Alarcón and Mariana Garibay Raeke, you mentioned an interest in talking about authority. In your studio works, politics aren’t immediately clear, so if you’re having a conversation about authority in the work, it could be in terms of genre.

mf studio 1Details: “Signs of Love” & “Seascape, Variation I”


MF: Yes, when the conversation around painting is not defensive. But in other circumstances, that’s not necessarily the case. I feel that anyone who is truly after a kind of openness and freedom will inevitably encounter a lot of resistance.

Because of Brazil’s distinct relationship with painting and the history of painting, this conversation raises a lot more questions there than it does here. I don’t think that my paintings talk about authority in themselves, but because they are kind of tacky, made with bright colors, and are big, I don’t think they are going to be received politely or perform a polite role. And that is fine with me, that’s not the intention of the work anyway. In any case, I’m looking forward to finding out in the show. I don’t have a title yet, but I was thinking of Signs of Love and Recent Paintings. It opens June 14th, at Galeria IBEU in Rio de Janeiro, and I definitely want to try to organize a conversation amongst other young artists and curators while the show is up.

GCF: It’s not like the paintings aren’t in their own way tied to associations. In the new paintings, there are female bodies which are almost caricaturedly sexy, and your palette, too, is “girly”—it’s not like you come to the studio and just make really free curlicues. There are substantial issues that you are painting out.

MF: Yes. Although I have never painted political scenes or events, I hope to be using color and form in ways that talk about politics and politics of gender as well, partly by removing them from the picture.

mf studio 6“Então”


GCF: But what about this relationship between girls having fun, or representations of hot chicks, and a kind of attitude of sexiness in your work—how are you thinking about that? In Adrift 3, there’s a similar idea of strategic prettiness and women’s bodies. It’s also aesthetic, sculptural in the sense of picking exercise routines targeted towards developing or enhancing certain parts of the body.

MF: I do want more females to come into the paintings. What I felt as an over-concern with the body is something that is so present in my life in Brazil. It is a narrative that I grew up in and that literally shapes the bodies of females around me. It is interesting but it is also scary.

Being “ugly” in the work happens to be distasteful. Being “pretty” (and tasteful) also feels like a choice. Often, the kind of beauty people demand from painting is very self-aware. Looking at paintings that are clearly undercooked and having a conversation about how good they are just because they look nice is like running in circles. But this is also a very strategic way to engage the audience. So, it’s also smart, and it’s a decision: it is a version of beauty which is strategic and performative.

Studio Voyeur: Yvette Coppersmith

August 19, 2015 |

Editor’s Note: This most recent installment of Studio Voyeur was generously contributed by James Murnane, an artist living and working in Melbourne, Australia.

Yvette Coppersmith’s inner suburban Melbourne home studio is based in her renovated garage.  In one of her recent bodies of work, Yvette welcomed others to participate the formation of still life arrangements.  In this case, she invited friends over to her home for BBQ’s, in which they would bring personal heirlooms, items of interest, or flowers, leaving them in her studio for her to re/arrange and formally explore in the resulting works on linen.  In order to give the works a little more breathing space, she will often takes pieces across the yard into her home. Yvette is represented by Fort Delta, Melbourne, Australia.   
03 YC07 YC08 YCYC_StudVis_09

In Conversation: Irena Jurek

August 2, 2015 |

Irena Jureks exhibition at Jeff Bailey Gallery, entitled Smooth Jazz, captures a recent collection of drawings, paintings, and sculptures from the artists practice. The exhibition is on view until August 2, 2015. In this interview, SATW contributor Johannes DeYoung dialogues with Irena to explore whats driving her work in Smooth Jazz.

01_IJ Install
Installation View, Smooth Jazz, Jeff Bailey Gallery, 2015


Johannes DeYoung: The work in your current exhibition at Jeff Bailey Gallery is widely varied, including painting, drawing, and sculpture; the references in your work appear equally varied and I wonder if you can speak about that.

Irena Jurek: The references are varied, however there are overlaps between all of my work. I tend to make things that are funny, sexy, complicated, and maximalist. My art fuses the real with the imagined, the autobiographical with pop-cultural, and the hand-made with the ready-made. These binary oppositions reflect my world view. To me, life is this beautiful, convoluted mess, it’s a jigsaw puzzle in which each of us is missing the crucial pieces which prevent us from truly grasping our own reality, as well as the larger reality outside our own realm of experience. In order to achieve this sense of things not adding up, I add elements that confuse or complicate the narrative. This is achieved in my assemblages by combining unexpected objects or symbols together. In the drawings, I use familiar clichéd characters such as the sex kittens, the playboy bunnies, hungry wolves, and teddy bears, and I cast them in unexpected roles, which not only toys with our sense of order, but also paints perception in a new light. My goal is not only to encourage the viewer to dig deeper and to abandon their assumptions when spending time with the work, but also to realize how restrictive and influential these cliches are in forming our beliefs and how they seep into daily life and ideology.

03_IJ Threes a Company
 Three’s A Company, 2015, colored pencil, ink, glitter glue, acrylic and watercolor on paper, 14 x 17 inches 


JD: The drawings in particular seem inspirationally situated somewhere between Ivan Albright and Tex Avery.  I’m thinking specifically about your drawings Three’s a Company and Catch Me If You Can, which have obvious pop-culture references on the one hand, paired with a kind of grotesque material handling and vernacular content that feels ripped from the bedazzled notebook of a youthful romantic.  Your piece Birds of Paradise feels strangely reminiscent of Albright’s Picture of Dorian Gray, yet I find myself waiting for the eyes to bug out, or a tongue to roll across the floor.

IJ: That’s a very astute observation, many of the drawings are definitely situated somewhere between Ivan Albright and Tex Avery. At aged 14, I saw the Albright retrospective at the Art Institute of Chicago, and it definitely left an indelible impression on me. I’m Polish and the whole intricate attention to detail and vanitas thing is definitely something I lapped up with mother’s milk, so Ivan Albright with his weird maximalism and dark humor was something I naturally gravitated towards. Although I was born in Krakow, which is this spectacular medieval city, I grew up in the peaceful Chicago suburbs near forest preserves. The reason I mention this is because when you look at my work there are elements of that old world aesthetic mixed in with pop-culture and nature. I’ve never felt particularly Polish or American, which is a common phenomenon among people who have grown up immersed in two cultures. I realized after watching the Basquiat documentary that as a bilingual speaker, I also tend to translate visual ideas from one language to another. In that documentary, an art historian was talking about multilingual artists, and how they tend to perform this visual translation in their work, and I had this bizarre eureka moment, where I I had an epiphany that I do that, too. Whenever I reference pop-culture, there is this element of something being lost in translation. In “Three’s a company,” there are four main characters. There are three sexy lady bunnies and one highly erect Tex Avery wolf character. Two of the bunnies are pleasuring one another, and another bunny is about to crawl between the legs of the wolf. So the title doesn’t elucidate or clarify the situation, if anything it contributes to the confusion. Who are the three in the company? Is anyone actually left out, if so, who?

06_IJ Spaniel
Spaniel I, 2015, glazed ceramic, 10.5 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches


JD: What’s behind the Spaniel?  Please don’t say another Spaniel; I realize there are two of them in the show.

IJ: Haha There are actually a plethora of spaniels behind the Spaniel! At aged 7, I begged my parents to buy me the most gorgeous red and white English Cocker Spaniel I have ever laid eyes upon. I christened her “Peggy,” because she was covered in freckles, and “Peggy” sounds a lot like the word for freckles in Polish, “piegi” (pye-ghee). About five years later, I begged my parents to buy me the craziest acting and looking dog I had ever laid eyes upon.  Amazingly they obliged me once again. My father named him “Rex,” because of his majestic air. He was an American Cocker Spaniel mixed with an Australian Shepherd, who used to jump over couches, sky scrapers, you name it, and who also ended up impregnating Peggy twice. We kept one of their puppies from the second litter. I was essentially living out every child’s dream. I recently became aware of the fact that I’ve been drawing spaniels for over a quarter of a century. When I asked my mother whether she had foreseen Peggy becoming my lifetime muse, she somehow hadn’t seen it coming.

07_IJ Wall
Installation View, Smooth Jazz, Jeff Bailey Gallery, 2015


JD: Can you talk about the assemblage relief sculptures that adorn the walls?

IJ: I liken my process with the assemblages to jazz improvisation, one move leads to the next, and I never really have any idea what any of the assemblages will end up looking like from start to finish. The drawings are more mapped out and concrete, and although the drawings end up evolving and changing, I generally have an idea of what they will end up looking like at the end. It’s this sense of discovery and element of continual surprise that I love experiencing while making the assemblages. I scrounge craft stores, thrift stores, dollar stores, as well as my own closet for the most unusual baubles I can find. In addition, I also look for more generic and easily identifiable objects, and I throw those into the mix, too. Once I am pleased with my overall composition, I start pouring, squeezing,  sculpting, and smearing paint on top of these objects. It really is like conducting a band, only instead of spicing things up by including more trumpets, I throw in more hot-pink granny hair rollers. This undertaking continues until these toxic discombobulated stews transform into objects of beauty. The notion of beauty was something I fought for a long time, deeming it to be stupid and inconsequential. That’s how beauty is often taught in art schools, and the more I started thinking about it the more I realized what a dogmatic and puritanical perspective that is. When I started embracing the highly subjective idea of beauty, the assemblages not only became more interesting to look at and make, but also more personal.

08_IJ Sculpt
Femme Fatale, 2015, acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 21 x 11 x 6.5 inches


JD: Your show at Jeff Bailey Gallery is titled Smooth Jazz. When you mention improvisational jazz analogues in your process, the field of references and possibilities feels infinite; however, smooth jazz focuses that field within the framework of a specific subset of jazz fusion that has distinct pop-culture overtones. I’m thinking of Bob James’ Angela for instance, the theme song for the 1970s television show Taxi, which became an iconic part of that show’s title sequence. It’s often the case in television and film that the relationship between sound and moving-image comes to define a greater cultural experience; I wonder how you think about smooth jazz in the context of this exhibition.

IJ: I definitely think a great deal about television and film, as well as how I can translate those ideas into visual art. It would be fantastic to have someone write a theme song as good as Bob James’ Angela for the show. Ideally I would imagine a cross between the Benny Hill Show’s theme song meets Bizet’s Habanera! Essentially, I would want Klaus Nomi to write it if he were alive today.

As for the title, I wanted something more elusive, that would hint and allude to certain ideas, but not explain too much. I also wanted a title that was memorable and would make people laugh, and that would tie in all of my various ideas and bodies of work. Smooth Jazz isn’t exactly the first genre that jazz aficionados reach for. I think the title elicits a vision of Kenny G playing into the dead of the city night, his Fabioesque mane fluttering about seductively from a light wind coming in from an open window, in an empty darkened room with rose petals scattered throughout.

JD: How romantic!

04_IJ Catch Me If
Catch Me If You Can, 2011, colored pencil, ink, glitter glue, acrylic and watercolor on paper, 14 x 11 inches


05_IJ Birds of Paradise
Birds of Paradise, 2015, colored pencil, ink, glitter glue, acrylic and watercolor on paper, 14 x 11 inches


All images courtesy of the artist and Jeff Bailey Gallery, Hudson, New York.

Love Child

July 10, 2015 |

Editor’s Note: This article is courtesy of Brooklyn-based artist Zahar Vaks, an active member of Ortega y Gasset Projects. Enjoy!


Love Child at Ortega y Gasset Projects is an exhibition curated by Eleanna Anagnos, featuring seven pairs of artists who offer various modes of collaboration. Each artist has an established practice and in some cases this individual practice is still visible, only now it is intertwined with another’s thought or touch.

Sometimes a collaboration between two people can feel so seamless that you are unable to recognize either of the participant’s thoughts or hands. The result feels like it was made by one person, who offers an entirely different presence from the collaborators. Such is the case with Rachel Dubuque and Justin Plakas. Dubuque’s works are usually saturated with color. They are bold and filled with many different mythological narratives. Plakas makes work that is very minimal. His color is subtle and the forms and imagery appear and reappear slowly. Yet, when they come together to make something, it is as if there is a “3rd author” triggered by their collaboration.

 Rachel Debuque and Justin Plakas, PLUKUQUE 1, Paper, paint, ink, gold leaf, and plastic, 21.5 x17 in. 2015


Jennifer Coates and David Humphrey’s Kitties has a level of transparency in  terms of how it was made. Like Plakas and Dubuque the two artists collaborate regularly. In the case of Humphrey and Coates there seems to be a real sense of each other. It appears as if one artist provided the foundation  and forms with the broad strokes of the brush while the other goes into details with a smaller brush. The painting is playful yet there is a tension that is captured in the expressions of the cats.

Jennifer Coates and David Humphrey, Kitties, acrylic on masonite, 36 x 36 in. 2006


The playful tension mentioned in Humphrey and Coates is echoed in Anna Gaskell and Douglas Gordon’s Documentation of Douglas Gaskel & Anna Gordon: MARCELLOUISE & LOUISEMARCEL. The two artists cut out the faces of Marcel Duchamp and Louise Bourgeois and placed them on the other’s body. According to the curator, this piece has been hidden inside of someone’s notebook and was not discovered until five years later. One can only imagine the response of the person who finds Marcel Duchamp’s serious face plastered on Louise Bourgeois’ body as she holds her penis sculpture while Bourgeois’ smiling face rests on Duchamp’s body as he contemplates at his desk. Both artists share a similar gesture.

Anna Gaskell and Douglas Gordon,
Documentation of Douglas Gaskel & Anna Goron: MARCELLOUISE & LOUISEMARCEL,
Print on paper, Edition of 100, unframed, 22.5 x 30 in, 2015


There is a really lovely relationship between not only Gaskell and Gordon’s collaboration but also with EVA & ADELLE’s Where ever we are is museum. Here we have a couple that has  maintained an ongoing narrative of two artists becoming a living artwork from the future. Where as Gaskell and Gordon switch the identities and the sexes of two iconic figures, EVA & ADELLE are making a new sex. Their unique practice offers something that is exceptionally different from working alone. (more…)

Thinking & Touching Time

April 11, 2015 |

Editor’s Note: This article is courtesy of first-time contributor, Brooklyn-based artist Eleanna Anagnos.  The video companion is a collaboration between Anagnos and Zahar Vaks, Brooklyn-based artist and curator of this show. They are both active members of Ortega y Gasset Projects. Enjoy!
Paul Demuro & Nicholas Sullivan(L-R) Paul DemuroNicholas Sullivan

Thinking and Touching Time is an exhibition curated by Zahar Vaks for Ortega y Gasset Projects. It is the inaugural exhibition in Ortega y Gasset’s new exhibition space at the Old American Can Factory in Gowanus, Brooklyn. The exhibition opened on March 13, 2015 and will run until the closing party on April 12 (this Sunday!). The accompanying video (below) serves as a teaser for the exhibition and gives us an idea of how Vaks would like us to explore the exhibition – by sitting with the work and letting it take you somewhere new.

This exhibition is about looking. Really looking at something, studying it, taking it in, and consuming it requires time. Today, no one’s got enough of it. It’s radical to spend time making non-functional, non-narrative work like those included in this show. It’s even more radical to ask someone else to spend the time looking. The work in this exhibition is the antithesis of fast art, easy art or entertainment. It’s contemplative, complex and can’t be digested, felt, consumed or appreciated in two seconds or even thirty, which is the average amount of time someone looks at an artwork – depending on your source.

Dona and Austin's Gaze(L-R) Dona Nelson, Austin Lee

We, as a species, can’t seem to communicate with each other fast enough. The world today emphasizes speed, even in visual languages. How fast can the product, idea, or art be consumed and turned into sales and revenue?  The Slow Movement (which started in Rome in 1986 in response to a McDonalds opening by the Spanish Steps) represents a cry for an intentional cultural shift towards slowing down life in order to do it well. The emphasis here is on quality, not quantity. It is a call to savor the experience of pleasure and joy.

Like the Slow Movement, the works in this exhibition are about being present and slowing perception. The show celebrates the contemplative creative process, outside of mainstream consumerism. The crux of the works, and the dialogue between them, revolves around the slow burn. It’s meditative, philosophical, and romantic even. It is deep and it takes your time. It’s demanding, to put it simply. The more time you spend with the work, the more it gives to you. Thus, the exhibition highlights how one creates and consumes a work through the passage of time.

Yevgeniya untitledYevgeniya Baras

Zahar Vaks’ curation of the show has the same intensity and instinctive rigor with which he makes his own art. To some extent, each of the artists represented in this exhibition offer a kind of making the way Vaks does. Through the use of time as a transformative element, by layering, breaking down, and then building-up again; through the immediacy of touch and raw material, each artist offers layers of meaning. It is up to the viewer to peel back those layers one at a time. (more…)

Don’t Look At These Paintings On A Computer

April 9, 2015 |

ML002_Sit-ups-Leg-lifts_2012_LRMernet Larsen, Sit-ups Leg-lifts, 2012
Acrylic, string, and tracing paper on canvas, 46.25 x 60.25 in.


Like most art these days, my introduction to Mernet Larsen’s paintings took place on the internet- either through the endless scroll of tumblr or via another show-announcement email from the gallery, I can’t quite remember when it started. On the screen I saw paintings with figures made of sharp boxy shapes and spaces that were in extreme linear perspective, suggesting an artist who ironically uses retro computer imagery to make faux-funky paintings. I shrugged the paintings off quickly, throwing them onto the pile of digital artists currently making paintings- meaning the paintings would optimally be the same in person as seen online. Luckily for me, Larsen got the chance to prove me wrong.  A painting in the Various Small Fires booth at Art Los Angeles Contemporary (January 29 – February 1, 2015) made me swallow my assumptions immediately upon seeing it- in person, the work felt like it didn’t come from digital sensibilities, but from searching within the space of painting (in history, materiality, and presence).

(Please Note: All of the following photos were taken by the author while visiting the show
in an attempt to reveal surface characteristics of the paintings via the internet)


Looking at work on a screen emphasizes the overall image of the work because of its digital bird’s eye view. On screen, Larsen’s works were robbed of their purpose of being explored on a human scale, one on one, with the painting speaking directly to the viewer without mitigation.


In the show, Chainswer, Bicyclist, and Reading in Bed, Larsen is painting from the memory of casual perception or daily observations. We have all experienced the fickleness of memory, especially when it is of mundane fleeting moments. On the subway or at a boring meeting, it is easy for your mind and eyes to wander- not snapping a photographic image of the whole scene but taking it in swiftly, almost generically, with pieces of focus lingering to chew on later. (more…)

In Conversation: Brandi Twilley

January 4, 2015 |

Artists Brandi Twilley and Jennifer Rubell recently collaborated on an exhibition of paintings at Sargent’s Daughters, under the pseudonym Brad Jones. Their exhibition, Diptychs, was on view until December 21, 2014.  For this interview, SATW contributor Johannes DeYoung had the opportunity to have a conversation with Brandi regarding the evolution of Brad Jones.

Artists Brandi Twilley and Jennifer Rubell as Brad Jones


Johannes DeYoung: Your exhibition at Sargent’s Daughters, Diptychs, features a group of paintings, collaboratively created with Jennifer Rubell. The resulting body of work is a collection of painted portraits, purported to be that of Brad Jones, a fictional artist/construction representing the “next sensational, aggressive American (male) painter,” as the press release puts it. Brad Jones is also an anagram, playfully reassembling yours and Jennifer’s first names. Can you describe this body of work and the collaborative process that created it?

Brandi Twilley: This project got started after I responded to a NYFA ad in April 2013 seeking painters and was hired by Jennifer. Since then the project went through many twists and turns before becoming what it is in its present form. It did not start out as collaboration and was originally considered “artist for hire” work that would be appropriated and signed by Jennifer. The project became the collaboration, Brad Jones, only this summer. The body of work in the show can most simply be described as approximately 22 diptych portraits of Jennifer Rubell, who has posed nude for me on a weekly basis for the last year and a half. I paint each diptych side by side and spend anywhere from one to six sessions on them. Jennifer does not direct my painting decisions and we do not discuss the paintings while they are in progress. Posing sessions take place Monday through Wednesday for two hours in the morning. We both prefer quiet in the studio and so we don’t play music and save conversation for afterwards.03_BradJones_GrayBrushtokeFace

Gray Brushstroke Face, 2014, oil on canvas, diptych, 30 x 24 inches each


JD: So, how exactly did your relationship evolve from contractual work to mutual collaboration?

BT: In some ways it seemed like it became collaboration all of a sudden. It was this past summer, I was painting, and Jennifer said that she just didn’t feel quite right about the project. I painted her a little longer and then she said she knew what the paintings needed-not a physical frame, but a conceptual one. That is how the Brad Jones concept came into being. Becoming a collaboration meant that we would share authorship of the work and be two artists working together to make the work, rather than artist and employee or artist and artist’s assistant. I think, though, that over time she became more comfortable with me and also couldn’t ignore my role as a painter.01_BradJones_Install

Diptychs, installation view, 2014, Courtesy Sargent’s Daughters, New York


JD: What’s the bearing of portraiture, especially painted portraiture, paired as diptychs in this project?

BT: I was interested in painting Jennifer’s portrait from the very beginning. I could have focused entirely on her body. I feel like doing this project has given me a glimpse into what it might have been like to do portrait commissions of important people in the past when that was a common part of an artist’s life. Jennifer looks different from painting to painting and sometimes her face is only a blank space. The diptychs show smaller shifts in light, mood, brushwork, and color. The way they relate to each other creates a narrative between them. For example “Gray Brushstroke Face” looks to me like two stages of a storm. In the first painting there’s a face full of dark clouds and veins that resemble lightning running down the chest followed by brighter brushstrokes in the second painting.

Covered Gnomes, 2014, oil on canvas, diptych, 48 x 60 inches each


JD: The first iteration of Brad Jones has a lot to do with the emergence and evolution of collaboration as a conceptual framework for making: that is, making in the material sense, as well as constructing identity.  Now that Brad Jones is born, I’m especially curious to know where you see his future horizons.

BT: This project provides a lot of structure such as the set subject matter and the time and place to work, while at the same time there are aspects that are out of my control. I think that the lack of control is partly what collaborating is all about. For Jennifer that means she doesn’t control what happens in the paintings of her. For me that means I don’t suddenly start painting unicorns instead of what is in front of me, Jennifer. I also do not think about what is next. I can only speak in the most general terms and say that there will be more paintings of Jennifer and perhaps more larger ones, which I am looking forward to because I love working larger.

Where Do We Go From Here?

October 30, 2014 |

On Thursday, October 23rd I went to a talk at the Jewish Museum titled “What’s at Stake for Abstract Painting Today – and Where Do We Go From Here?” The panel piqued my interest because of the lineup of artists whom I respect and admire from near and far: Joanne Greenbaum, Philip Taaffe, and Stanley Whitney.  This panel was rounded out by moderator Bob Nickas, a curator that I was not privy to prior to the event, (although through my post-panel research have come to realize that I know, respect, and love some of his curatorial work and the artists that he has advocated throughout his career).

JewishM_Abstraction_05_760px(Above photo courtesy of Roger Kamholz, The Jewish Museum)

I was entering the room with relatively high expectations, only because a few months ago I went to a similar artist panel at the Jewish Museum on painting that was thought provoking and exhilarating, (it’s the little things). I learn primarily from other artists, and I attend panels and talks to get outside of myself and think about ideas beyond my own practice. I expected that this panel would be nothing short of thought provoking, as I had a deep investment in nearly every component making up the framework for this discussion. However, by the end, I left feeling unsure if I was angry, offended, or simply disheartened – so I knew I needed to sleep on it and write it out.

Perhaps I was being completely unrealistic by assuming that this panel of painters would be talking about abstraction – perhaps referencing at length their own paintings, their history with abstraction as it is rooted in art history, and their opinions, (good and bad), of what is happening in painting today. While these topics were touched upon sporadically, they were often cut short by Nickas, who prompted the pendulum of questioning to swing further and further away from my painterly preoccupations, toward sore topics that, on this evening, rubbed me the wrong way. The topics that would soon drown out any compelling conversation, in this painter’s humble opinion, were the age old conversation about the over-inflated and exclusive art market, the abundance of conservative institutions and curators, and the overwhelming amount of entitled young artists that inhabit these worlds despite their lack of credibility or validity by the standards of this panel.

To be completely honest, this was a difficult conversation for me to listen to.  It is possible that I take it too personally when people are speaking about young artists as a whole, but I am a strong believer that generalizations are never a wise idea. Age is also not the most accurate measure of value, intelligence, or heart. Perhaps what really turned me off of this conversation was the disclosure that Nickas considered having a “young artist” on the panel, but didn’t want them to be “eaten alive.” I found this to be a distasteful comment.  Why not just have a candid discussion featuring amazing painters in conversation about painting? This seems like the most likely formula for success, rather than pushing artists to speak about art as commerce and restrictive institutions for the millionth time. Furthermore, it was a bit surreal to hear a curator on stage at a major institution speak about the faults of curators and institutions, as if there was nothing he could do about it.  As an audience member, imagine how powerless that made me feel!

Listening to Nickas continuously insult and undermine the validity of “young artists” and laugh with a pleased tone left me appalled. His broad strokes across a generation were genuinely shameful– and the laughter from many in the audience around me was equally disturbing. It reminded me of that omnipresent moment while in a movie theater, watching a horror movie, you see someone’s neck sliced open. And then people cheer. And then you wonder if you are the only person that is still human in the room.

Not every young artist is positioned in this idyllic gallery land of milk and honey – and most understand this.  I would rather go to a panel where, instead of complaining about the hot shots, (let’s call them the 1%), the issues facing every other young artist hustling in New York City, (the 99%), would be discussed. Why not be proactive, have a panel with artists speaking of how they made it where they are today, what they had to sacrifice, or perhaps they didn’t have to sacrifice at all? There is no clear manual for being an artist – it would be wonderful to not always have to learn via trial by fire. Everyone has a different story, and that is where I believe these generalities about youth truly mucked up this panel – a panel that could have gone in a completely different, (and far more productive), direction.

There are always going to be “young artists” who don’t work “hard” but get all of the glory – I’m sure this has been going on since the world was round.  However, I’d like to keep the faith that those of us genuinely invested in the love of painting/making are always here, no matter what generation, or what amount of “success,” if that is some sort of quantifiable measure. And hopefully we all want to learn from each other – no matter what age gap may or may not stand between us.

Tammy Nguyen, Studio Visit & Interview

September 19, 2014 |


SATW: You are currently working on a number of different exciting projects and I have always been impressed by your immaculate work ethic and determination. Tell us about some of your current and upcoming projects.

TN: Right now, I have two solo shows up both of which were created during the last year.  One is called Hermes, the Epiphytes at Wave Hill; the other is Chickens of the Torrid Summer, at the Norwalk Community College. They are thematically and materially different but are both continuations of my fascination with human contradictions.

Chickens of the Torrid Summer is my imagination of war and “epic violence”. It is one iteration that displays my wonder with the Vietnam War through the relatable, or at least identifiable, proxy of a chicken— as bird, fighter, rooster, mother, and poultry. I feel deeply a part and totally distanced from the Vietnam War.  I am part of its aftermath and/or afterlife as the American-born daughter of Vietnamese refugees—thriving with no memory of war, constantly frustrated that I don’t understand it.

The show consists of prints and paintings.  The prints diagram chickens twisting around in a rectangular frame, as if embryonic. They also look like illuminated manuscripts sharing information about double-yolked eggs amidst a jungle made of Vietnam War comic book foliage.  A series of paintings display chickens with their skin being removed— their eyeballs roll around in fat, and a thick air of polluted grey. A diptych presents a cock fighter and his eyes/ future eggs/ a nest.

The reflections present in this show have led me to a new project I am working on now.  I am not sure where it is it going yet, but I’ll start from the beginning. Years ago, I was driving around Saigon, and I found an old US military document which is a researched plan to reconstruct Danang, a large city in central Vietnam. This document, written in 1969, identifies Saigon as a “primate city”— a city isolated by rural and inadequate areas that is large and growing so quickly that it absorbs the country’s resources projecting an unstable national future. Thus, this article makes an urgent case for the development of Danang for the prosperity of modern Vietnam.

Part of the reason Danang is so attractive is that its geography can be advantageous:  it has a large river that runs through it, a beach, a bay, and is surrounded by mountains. Danang is also a significant location for military strategy and many world powers had its eye on it— the French got there in the 17th century and named it Tourane. I took the opportunity last summer to use this document as a guide to survey contemporary Danang. I was really compelled by the term “primate city” and I was also lucky to find an endangered species of langurs that live on Son Tra Mountain— the mountain that housed the US military base during the Vietnam War. With the help of a local naturalist, I studied the langurs and I am now developing a new fiction where these primates and the military document can transform into something new, something twisted. Very excited about this, so please stay tuned!


SATW: How did you come upon birds as a main subject in your work and how do they function in your pieces?

TN: The birds became a dominant subject two years ago when I was making a body of work about family, traditionalism, my Vietnamese heritage, and my love-hate opinions of all of it. I was reflecting on ancestor worship and making images of my grandmother transforming into creatures that were sentimental to my childhood such as dinosaurs, robots, cougars, and birds. At this point, the bird stood for what death could transform into, one of my many imaginations of reincarnation. Then, Sam Messer (my professor at Yale), asked me if I had ever thought about studying birds. Of course I hadn’t, but then I did with Richard Prum, a profoundly inspirational ornithologist and evolutionary biologist at Yale.

After taking a course on evolution, ornithology, and then also doing some taxidermy for the Peabody Museum, I began to illustrate stories from natural sciences. But, as if a secret concept, I would interchange the words evolution and tradition so that they could mean the same thing and challenge each other. As I did this, I found myself more free to invent. Stories of strange species freely incorporated themselves into my world. The avian world is just like the human world! There are birds that kidnap others’ children, those that have many lovers, and those that stick to one. Oddly, when I look at the depiction of animals, I can see more about myself and human relationships. I am also more open to how I could be wrong and I feel more tolerant of others. This is destabilizing; I love that and I am still talking about my grandmother.

SATW: I love your mix of the mythological and the scientific in your work and am particularly impressed by the text you’ve written for your book, Hermes, the Epiphytes. Can you tell us a little about this text and that juxtaposition and how you hope it might function?

TN: The texts in these books are my original poems, which simultaneously retell Greek myths and explain specific plant morphologies.  All three narratives are told from the point of view of Hermes who has transformed into epiphytes (the books themselves are shaped in human-plant forms). They intend to seduce, confuse, and then destabilize the reader/viewer. Before I wrote the poems, I spent a lot of time looking, learning, and drawing epiphytes, or air plants. Epiphytes are funny trickster-like plants. They are benevolent and mischievous as they cling onto host plants (like trees) for support.  This is so that they can gain the most nutritious proportions of sun and water. To me, this trait is very similar to humans seeking opportunity; and this comparison became the jumping point for the books.

I asked my friend and colleague Bruce King, a classics scholar, if he had any thoughts on tricksters, or even the connection between botanics and mythology. He suggested that I think about Hermes, the popular trickster of Greek mythology—the messenger for the gods and kind protector of travelers and thieves.  Separately, Bruce also described a frequent Homeric analogy between plants, particularly shoots and flowers, to heroes, youth, and beauty. The perfect death of a hero should be when he is young and beautiful much like a flower that dies in full bloom. As heroes are half mortals, they can only come close to immortality through an early death in their highest moment as they become preserved in literature and poetry. This idea is so beautiful to me; it resonates with horror and delight; it is scary, contains anxiety, yet also hope all at the same time.

From this idea, I wrote the poems with this fantasy: What if Hermes had turned into epiphytes, and each epiphyte was a messenger that sent stories where classic myths were explained and intertwined with biologically true descriptions of plants?  What if the plants among us are the characters in the myths?

“Hermes, the Epiphytes,” is a direct simile, obviously fictitious.  However, as the scientific information emerges in the narratives, and the images waver between illustrative and suggestive— what began as metaphor could feel like it has more real-life urgency. In one book, Achilles is the epiphyte Bromelia neoregelia. Achilles is also the hero who should die in full bloom. In real life, the Bromelia neoregelia turns deep red when it is about to bloom—like the entire plant turns red. Then, soon after the flower blooms, the plant dies and another plant must start anew. I hope that by making Achiles the Bromelia neoregelia, tension is created, like a simultaneity between life and death. I want my reader to feel that myth and biology exist on such a co-dependent equilibrium that their comfort in faith and science is replaced with friction— the kind of two identical magnets repelling each other. (more…)

Samuel Jablon’s Word:Play at Freight+Volume

September 9, 2014 |

by Meena Hasan with Cal Siegel


Text based art practice is not an easy endeavor, albeit a noble pursuit within our hyper-visual, daily lives. Artists attempting these methods find out quickly how vast the shadow cast by Holzer, Ruscha, Nauman, Kruger et al can be. With such a strong tradition, creativity of presentation as well as impeccable text selection are paramount. This is where Samuel Jablon excels. The title of his first solo exhibition at Chelsea’s Freight + Volume Gallery, Word:Play sums up nicely the tone of these paintings as both a visually playful and structurally complicated group.

Word:Play is literalized as the eye bounces between the concrete word and the playful painterly quality of the works. The title expands to Word = Play, Word…Play, Word;Play, (Word)Play, Word(Play) etc. The paintings are perceptually complex, interchanging layers of ready-made tiles with colorful acrylic paints. As a result, many of the works have a slow-read, featuring words within words and multiple dimensions of meaning. Most notably, in Jablon’s piece, ‘Forget’ my first read, due I’m sure to my own silly character as well as the differing tiles used was, “NEED WEED”. This read induced an immediate chuckle, followed by embarrassment when I realized that more words are featured in the painting. Once I read the painting’s entire statement: “ALL WE NEED IS To FORGET”, my shame transformed to understanding and appreciation. Weed can have powerful effects on the memory and, perhaps, my initial read was in fact intended. This experience of looking at ‘Forget’ felt similar to a child-like inside-joke related to the often controversial act of “reading” a painting and, ultimately, I felt welcomed into Jablon’s painted world of language.

Jablon’s mark making tool of tiles emphatically embraces, but also transcends the tiles’ innate decorative qualities as they shimmer and obscure the act of looking. The tiles serve as ambiguous punctuations, and their solidity playfully contrasts with the concrete, signifying nature of the language itself. The use of tiles also allows for a performative quality in the works, tying into Jablon’s own poetry and performance practices where language is transformed through action. For example, in the beautiful monochromatic work ‘America Dreams’, Jablon uses the tiles to stamp out areas, where the absence of paint becomes confused with the presence of solid tile objects. The entire painting has the shallow depth and glisten of a tiled surface. The work also emphasizes a dream-like quality where language and meaning moves in and out of vision, disappearing into a blue void while also rising clearly to the surface.

Samuel Jablon’s first solo show, Word:Play opened August 21st and is on view until September 20th at Freight + Volume, 530 West 24th Street.


All photographs courtesy of the artist.