See Something Say Something

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.

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 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.

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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.

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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).

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(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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Samuel Jablon’s Word:Play at Freight+Volume

September 9, 2014 |

by Meena Hasan with Cal Siegel

SamuelJablon.Wordplay.FV.Install.1

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.

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SamuelJablon.Wordplay.FV.Install.3

All photographs courtesy of the artist.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Chelsea Cup Part 1

June 25, 2014 |

25th Street: Joan Mitchell v Joan Mitchell v Joel Shapiro

by Meena Hasan

The contemporary art galleries in Chelsea often function as if they were a World Cup football tournament. Each gallery is a distinct team with its own colors and energy (just imagine Hauser & Wirth as the fun-loving, stylish team of Brazil, David Zwirner as cool, clean Germany, Gagosian as well groomed Spain and Sikemma Jenkins taking the odd-ball, unbeatable Netherlands).

A gallery picks, chooses, grooms and manicures their specific team-members over a period of a few years in preparation for their public debut. The teams are then pitted against each other in groups, or in city blocks as this case may be. They embrace their status as participants in their ‘contact-sport’ by competing  in close proximity with each other, shoving, fouling, assisting, dancing, passing and stretching.

On my most recent visit to Chelsea I could see the yellow cards flying through the air and I could hear the sound of friendly butt-slaps as the teams and players sweatily battled it out. Cheim & Read, now showing an energetic exhibition of Joan Mitchell’s Trees, shares a friendly banter with their neighbor across the street, Lennon, Weinberg Inc., currently showing Mitchell’s The Black Drawings and Related Works 1964 – 1967.

The pairing of the two shows offers a comprehensive look at Mitchell’s distinct and physical mark-making, as well as her ideas about color, light and composition. Her Black Drawings, many of which are also of trees, stand strong across the street from her singularly gorgeous painting, Tilleul (Linden Tree), 1978. I appreciate seeing the pages ripped out of her sketchbook that offer not just preparatory views for a big painting, but also intimate and personal works in and of themselves that are full of experiential emotion. There is an admirable variety as each drawing explores the many variations on the color black in a delightfully surprising manner, moving effortlessly between drawing and painting mediums.

Down the street from Lennon, Weinberg Inc. is another show of works on paper by Joel Shapiro at Pace Gallery. I am a big fan of works on paper because, for some reason, they can be treated as less precious and sometimes reveal a directness in the artist’s touch. In other words, the paper can hold all the secrets. So, I was happily surprised to find myself at two shows, back to back, consisting primarily of drawings.

Joel Shapiro’s works on paper are directly related to his sculptures. They depict odd bulbous forms swimming around their pages. The drawings are sometimes folded to create a symmetry of form. They are made of gouache and charcoal, which at times, meet quite happily to create effective textures, patterns and tonal forms. A number of the works on paper, located at the back of the gallery, depict figures created out of the pressure of folds and pushes. The figures are made of mirrored forms, such as pin-wheel arms and levitating spirits that are sometimes lying or sitting at tables, alluding to an autopsy of an alien half-living corpse. These last pictures frame the others in the context of the human body, our own anatomy and human organs.

Both Joan Mitchell’s Black Drawings and Joel Shapiro’s Works on Paper reveal the two artists’ disciplined exploration of their own repeating forms and compositions. Shapiro’s takes on a more formal attitude that just touches the edge of humor, while Mitchell’s works display her inclination towards sincere emotional expression. Many of Shapiro’s works lack the painterly exploratory touch that Mitchell embraces wholeheartedly. Instead Shapiro strives for a pooling of material that creates the effect of a disorienting and weightless accumulation in motion.

Joan Mitchell’s drawings might represent a projection of the inner psyche onto the outside world whereas Joel Shapiro’s might serve as imagined close observations of our own bodies. Both shows have their merits and faults and both are visually playful in their varieties within repetition. Luckily, there are no goals or stats in Chelsea and certainly no objective winner to declare (of course, if I were discussing the buying and selling of art, or anything outside of the simple activity of looking and creating visual dialogues, that would be a whole other story). Instead we remain in an endlessly looped all-star game rife with substitutions, dirty fouls and the occasional mutual respect.