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.

Fresh Breath, Adhesives and Carbonation

July 31, 2014 |

photo 2Full disclosure, as usual:  I’m friends with Phil Cote.  I’ve never seen a show of Phil Cote’s work. I’ve never done a studio visit with Phil Cote.  I’ve been at parties with Phil Cote. I’ve had brunch with Phil Cote. I follow Phil Cote on Instagram. I think Phil Cote has a great sense of humor. Phil Cote slept on my floor once. I know Phil Cote has been making art for a long time, but for some reason we’ve never connected via our art. Now is the time! Fresh Breath, Adhesives and Carbonation is up until August 10th at Bodega! Let’s take the plunge!photo 3

Bodega is in a basement in LES, and from the street both half-bodies and half-paintings are visible.  Walking into the space, I immediately understood that the ceiling was low, but not so low that I had to actually bend my body or crane my neck. It was, however, low enough that two of Phil’s tall and narrow paintings were leaning, one like a forward slash and one like a back slash. Another painting, which happened to be “site specific,” according to the artist, was another tall and narrow rectangle, placed perfectly diagonal within the restricting ceiling to floor relationship.

photo 4

The large canvases are largely raw, but full of information.  Phil collages found objects, oil paintings inspired by other oil paintings, cut canvas and other ephemera. The show reflects a method of working that works well for Cote – let’s call him Phil.  The show card for Fresh Breath, Adhesives and Carbonation reads much like the title- it is full of the necessities for making: a banana peel, (both natural and humorous), a sparkling Poland Spring lemon-flavored zero calorie water, (fancy, refreshing, and quenching), and modest watercolors and paper towels. Cote puts it all out there: he is an artist, both a product of Bodega-chic foods and the simple barebones necessities needed to make art.  This comes through in his paintings – a simple but cared for sketchbook drawing adhered here, a hilariously recognizable signature Fredricks canvas logo there, (and by there, I mean where an artist would typically sign a canvas if that was of the time).  This italicized, elegant, and campy Fredricks cut-out further solidified the mix of slapstick humor,  utilitarianism and wit – the inescapable logic – behind Cote’s work.  To put it simply, he goes with the flow, being true to his autobiographical materials that are readily available to repurpose and make new again.

photo 5

Thanks for the breath of fresh air, Phil.

Eric’s Trip at Lisa Cooley

July 18, 2014 |

I had the pleasure of attending the opening of Eric’s Trip, a group show at Lisa Cooley Gallery curated by Cynthia Daignault and Mark Loiacono, (but for those of you that haven’t seen it, the show runs until August 1). One of the most striking things about this show, upon my first scan of the room, was the true summer vibe of the show – it just felt right.

David Kennedy Cutler‘s pieces are Plexiglas icy monoliths that function both as minimal sculptures and distorting screens. Positioned throughout the gallery, they make the viewer, (or at least this viewer), nervous in the same way one would be nervous to walk into a perfectly clean glass door in public. These piece are the anchors of the group show. They veil the room with a crunchy, clear, distorting filter that, as you move around the room, bend and fold the works of art that surround them. They are a quiet viewfinder, acting as a lens that is also key to the curatorial concept behind Eric’s Trip. According to the press release, “centering on notions of performance, projection and aura, this exhibition examines the process of narrating consciousness, experience, trip and vision.”

Eric's Trip

Jose Lerma’s contribution to the show seems to be a space of worship, consisting of  a truly beautiful and strange rug, a fantasy picnic blanket even, with a Play-Doh floral motif that is worshiping its partner on the wall.  The rug prevents closeness to the piece on the wall, while also promoting adoration of it by locking down a permanent position in the room. This mirroring of image and color made me think about mirroring and what it is to look at something (or look up to something) that you yourself are not but that you aspire to be.

Judith Linhares’ work is also an exciting element of this show for me, because I rarely get the opportunity to see her work in person, even though I am a huge admirer of her strong colorful paintings. The figures in Linhares’ paintings are essentially attendees of this exhibition. They playfully watch over the show, lounging as if they are tanning in the glow of other paintings while they wait to see what we do in the space. I couldn’t help but fantasize that they could see me in the same way that I could see them through Kennedy Cutler’s sculptures.  It was almost as if Linhares’ painting Polly could’ve come to life and lovey Polly could’ve jumped out of the painting and laid down across the room on Lerma’s painting rug.

photo 3-12

Finally, Mathew Zefeldt’s paintings are brand new to me, but seem to be the icing on the cake for my hallucination sunburn fantasy. In one of Zefeldt’s paintings, the gradient of sunset-rainbow-color is emphatically applied in the background while in the foreground an illustrative style depicts a repeat of sculptural portraits that just happen to form a smiley face. To say this was unexpected is a completely honest confession – I didn’t see it coming because I was so distracted by the strangeness of the repeated portrait image – something like an art historical temporary tattoo over and over again, but then Zefeldt really got me with that smiley face. His painting is undeniably smart and funny.

photo 4-10

I wanted to get another perspective on the show, and for that I turned to Cynthia Daignault, half of the duo that curated Eric’s Trip. I presented her with five questions hoping to gain some insight into the thought process behind the show.

SATW: The name for the show, Eric’s Trip, came to us because:

Cynthia Daignault: We love Warhol; we love Sonic Youth; we love Eric’s Trip (the eponymous 90’s band). Actually, the whole show started with Judith Linhares. We knew we wanted to build a show around her paintings, so we were listing adjectives about Judy’s work in order to find the title and organizing principle. Here’s the email exchange from 2013: “Technicolor. Geometric. Psychedelic.” “Maybe we should call it Eric’s Trip.” “I like where this is going.”

SATW: We found the artists that we included in Eric’s Trip by:

CD: All methods. Some of the artists in the show were idols (Judy, Nancy, Sheila), women we really respect who’ve been making incredible work their whole lives. I thought they deserved more, and I realized I could sit around bitching about how the art world is sexist (which it is) and that there are diminishing opportunities for women as they pass 50 (which there are), or I could engender change through positive action. So began the cold calls, and lucky for me they said “yes.” Some of the artists (Jose, David, Margaret) were peers and friends who I’ve met throughout my time in the art world, like David, who I met at 19 in a painting class in Paris. The rest were people we found randomly on the internet and on the streets (Kamau, Mathew, Victoria and Rory). We searched a lot of websites looking at hundreds of artists who seemed to vibe with the show.

Sometimes we knew what we were looking for, a strong black and white photographer, for instance (Rory); sometimes, we just found the artist and then let their work change the show accordingly (Kamau); and sometimes we just met one in the street (Mathew). We didn’t plan for diversity, but we constantly questioned our own biases to leave room for it. I am proud of the range of artists represented. That said, it’s not a coincidence that they are all wonderful people. No assholes. That’s a rule I live by, and that any curatorial project has to follow.

SATW: The most rewarding part of putting this show together was:

CD: Promoting these incredible artists. It’s crazy to get to the point where you have just enough power to help someone else. I mean we’re still at the bottom of the food chain, but I remember Mark saying, “just think how much we will be able to do when we have some real power. We could change the world.” (Spoiler Alert: that’s the plan). I won’t lie. The reality of how easy it is to help other people, gives me a palpable disdain for any artist at the top who does nothing to help anyone besides themselves. It’s nice to think of curation that way, as helping. Art making can be insular in its nature. So, I think it’s important to find ways to get outside your studio and your own head (working, teaching, collaborating, curating). Doing this show, I didn’t need to advance myself as a “curator,” so my only goal was to give these nine artists the place to do what they do.

SATW: As an artist, I enjoy curating shows because:

CD: It was the only 20 days this year that I wasn’t alone in my studio slowly becoming the unibomber. Seriously. Painting is lonely and people are thrilling for an old hermit. I got to hang out with 9 really cool artists and my best friend. What’s not to like? These artists are such cool people, who each made incredible works for the show. I look good as a result of their hard work. And I don’t mean that in a parasitic way. Do you know Baldessari’s piece ‘Choosing Rutabaga?’ It’s a photo series in which he sets up two Rutabaga and asks the participant (seen as a single finger) to choose one. No instructions. No other prompting. Ostensibly, one has to set the criteria for their choice: looks, vibe, size, color, comic value, etc. The point is choosing is everything. It is both the articulation and enaction of a value system. That’s what painting is for me. That’s what looking at art is for me. And that’s what curation is.

SATW: The most memorable feedback we’ve gotten so far on the show was:

CD: Kati Gegenheimer writing this humbling post.

Beyond The Art Supply Store: Beauty Supply Store Edition

March 25, 2014 |

Beauty Supply Stores!  I love going into them and “browsing…just browsing.”  Hopefully I had one specific item in mind while walking into the $3 instant gratification labyrinth that is a Ricky’s in NYC.  It is so easy to buy nail polish, a lipstick, something to make you feel brand new: the spring 2014 version of yourself!

So why not let your work feel like the Spring 2014 version of itself?! Breathe some new life into the surfaces untouched by fresh air since Fall 2013.  Beauty supply stores have amazing products that can be and have been used on paintings!

By my estimations, the number one product at a beauty supply store with indispensible uses is a Hair Color Bottle!

hairdye bottles

I hope that reading that was not the most lackluster moment of your day.  The hair color bottles are great for studios.  If you are a painter- you can put paint in them!  You can fill them with mixtures of mediums and paints for pouring.  They have thin nozzles for precision. If you buy in built, they can alternatively be used as vessels for cleaning supplies.  And if your friend wants to dye their hair in your studio- you’ll be ready for that too!

I am always on the prowl for different brands of squeeze hair dye bottles- large, small, and say you can’t get to a beauty supply store but you happen to be moseying by a restaurant supply store…ketchup and mustard bottles also do the trick.  But restaurant supply stores have many other opportune supplies for another column, but that’s for another day!

Current Obsession: Charvin Fine Oil Colour

March 21, 2014 |

Okay, it’s actually a permanent obsession. And spring is here, so we have to talk about amazing, beautiful, ripe color.

charvin (opt 1)

When I’m not using every other viscous material available to me, I’m fantasizing about tubes of Charvin paint. Charvin is a French brand, and is not very well known as I have discovered in my travels through studios, blogs and art stores. I found out about Charvin while browsing Jerry’s Artarama in Connecticut and came across the beautiful radiant colors that they have to offer. Jerry’s website has some alluring tidbits about Charvin, including that they are based in Cannes in the French Riviera.  They began producing paint in 1830, and it was “once used by great masters like Cezanne, Bonnard, and Ambrogiani.” Fancy, huh?

Beyond having a wide array of fashionable (I said it) ready to use colors, the paint is actually made with linseed and poppy oil. The poppy oil doesn’t yellow and makes the paint creamy and luscious like the ultimate in fantasy frosting if it wasn’t so poisonous. The packaging is simple, with a band of color at the top, shiny silver tube, and of course, a fine and extra fine grade for the most discerning of paint lovers.