Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Chelsea Seltzer

When I visited Chelsea's studio, this painting was still in progress. I love how it has the pacing of a well told joke, although a joke in which the viewer isn't necessarily privy to the punchline. In a culture that is as obsessed with celebrity as ours, Chelsea's depiction of dead pop stars actually humanizes these cultural icons in their grotesque fallibility. We see an inversion of the typically glamorous depictions of celebrity in Chelsea's rendering; these men are the antithesis of sex appeal. This painting also reminds me of the Richard Prince joke paintings, only it's less didactic and it has a lot more freedom and fun in the rules of its construction as well as in its interpretation. This painting resonated with me since it's one of the freshest and least predictable paintings I've seen in some time. There's a looseness and ease in the color and handling of the paint which is reminiscent of Matisse, but the content which depicts the clichéd Utopic paradise as a comi-tragic destination, brings to mind Friedrich Kunath's ominous interpretations of Shangri-La.
I was just reading Sheena Wagstaff's essay, Comic Iconoclasm, which reminded me of Chelsea's work, especially when she writes:
"By using comic iconography, artists do the same thing as make a joke: perturbing, provoking laughter, attacking presuppositions and conventions. By annexing the comic character, they recontextualize it, thus altering its 'meaning.' Like the original Joke, the Fall, it threatens the established order of things. As well as appearing to blur the distinction between so-called  'high' art and popular culture, its seeming abandonment of seriousness has given art of this persuasion its special philosophical character."

Chelsea and I also discussed ideas of ritual and the occult, and the importance of both in her work. I used to think about ritual in relation to meaning in art whenever I would visit the African wing of the Art Institute of Chicago as a student. The masks and objects that had once been integral to religious ceremonies were removed from their initial purpose and presented as artifacts in the museum setting. The same can be said of the El Greco that had once hung in a cathedral. Throughout time, art was inseparable from ritual and faith. The more secularized and scientific our culture became, the inevitable schism from religion occurred in art. Despite our occidental tendency to idolize reason , we never lost our ability to mythologizing our lives. The philosopher Mary Midgley, writes about this condition in Myths We Live By, when she gives the example of the lone scientist, existentially isolated in the world, fighting heroically for truth in a world devoid of meaning. That is a prime example of a cultural myth that we are all so used to encountering, that it is easy to overlook how heavily imbued with subjectivity the tale of the heroic scientist is . At the core, we are all highly emotional and irrational beings, a fact that politicians enjoy exploiting regularly in their devious monologues of how concerned they are for the well being of our children, puppies, and kittens.

Chelsea has several developed bodies of work, and I appreciate her pluralistic approach to painting. This is a detail of her previous painting referencing the occult. She has an instinct for revealing oddness, and in this series she ruptures meaning by dislocating familiar symbols. The end result is a mysterious painting, comparable with David Lynch's nonlinear approach to film making.

Chelsea also has an ongoing series of shaped canvases. This beautiful painting shares a lineage with 17th century Flemish and Dutch paintings, only Chelsea's birds are happily alive, and not piles of little bird carcasses waiting to be devoured by some hungry nobility!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Colleen Asper

Colleen is a Renaissance woman!!! Seriously, is there anything she can't do?! I was blown away by her gorgeous painting. I love all the references to the old masters she employs. The way she left the left side in shadow and less modeled than the right is such a Rembrandt move! Her adroit handling of the paint and the glowing luminescence of the flesh is reminiscent of Vermeer. In addition to referencing De Stijl with the sleekly painted geometric forms,  her portrait is also a nod to those incredible Vilhelm Hammershøi paintings of interiors that typically portray the female subject seated with her back turned to the viewer. 
Aside form being stunning paintings in and of themselves,  the paintings are also conceptually rich and laden with Colleen's encyclopedic knowledge of theory and philosophy. Much of her current work addresses Colleen's background in dance. She explained how different the perspective of a dancer is from that of a painter. It's the difference between finding personal expression in following predetermined, choreographed moves and having full control in orchestrating the entire work of art from start to finish. 
Colleen manages to paint the anti-self-portrait, self-portrait, in that the identity and ego of the artist is obscured. However, anytime a woman is depicted in an oil painting, the subject of the male gaze cannot be avoided. There's a definite defiance and independence in turning her back to the viewer, and by depicting herself in such an athletic pose, Colleen is taking ownership of her body and how it is portrayed. The pose Colleen chooses is a stark contrast to those vapid, docile odalisques of Titian and Renoir whose only role is to passively wait for the Great Male narcissist phallocrat to pounce on them! DFW actually coined the term "Great Male Narcissist" when he was writing some serious smack about John Updike in his reviewCertainly the End of Something or OtherOne Would Sort of Have to Think. 
At first, I found these pieces to be quite comical, but the more time I spent with them, I realized that it was a nervous reaction, the same sort of reaction that comes from seeing a Beckett play. There is a relationship to Theater of The Absurd in Colleen's work both in terms of content and presentation. The black talk bubbles are actually rich, black velvet, which is difficult to see in the photograph. The figures cloaked in the pillow cases are interchangeable as well as the words in the black void of whatever it is they are communicating. They could be anyone, saying anything. Their situation does seem more straight forward than that of Vladimir and Estragon, since they are not waiting for anyone or anything, although whether they are aware of their predicament is another question. As a couple, they are defined by their solitude and are forever separated by the space in between them.  

This is Colleen's portrait of the protester. She explained that the protester could be simultaneously protesting everything or nothing. It's intriguing how a minimal drawing such as this can paradoxically evoke the exact opposite idea of vastness. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dawn Frasch

Dawn holding her loyal studiomate, Bacon!

There is such a complete sensory overload in Dawn's maximalist paintings, that I began noticing so many specific details later in the photographs I had taken that I had missed during our visit! I love Dawn's fusion of the art historical with the Slasher film aesthetic. There is a levity and a self-awareness to the gore that Dawn orchestrates, and just as for Godard, "It's not blood, it's some red."

Is that a green, pig-faced, absinthe-cherub-demon having a make-out take-out with a dolphin? Why, yes it is!!! Upon further inspection, this scene turns out to be a menage trois between a dolphin, a cherub, and a cherub demon!! As you may already know, gentle reader,  I'm always a sucker for anything relating to interspecies polyamory, but something about this moment in particular filled me with inextinguishable mirth!

This is Dawn's interpretation of Géricault’s Raft of the MedusaGéricault never lived to see his thirty-forth birthday, but his iconic painting influenced artists as diverse as Max Beckmann to Kippenberger to Dana Schutz to Thomas Hirschhorn, to create their own versions of the tragic exemplification of hopelessness and anguish. In contrast to Dawn's depiction, Géricault refrained from painting the violence, murder, and cannibalism that had actually taken place on the French ship, choosing instead to depict the crew members' desperate cries for help.  Kippenberger knew he was dying when he chose to paint his self-portrait depicting himself as each of the crew members of the  Raft of the Medusa . It's one of the most painful, heart-wrenching series he ever made.
Visiting Dawn's studio  reminded me of one of my favorite passages from Fellini on Fellini:

"Nothing is sadder than laughter; nothing more beautiful , more magnificent, more uplifting and enriching than the terror of deep despair. I believe that every man as long as he lives is a prisoner of this terrible fear within which all prosperity is condemned to founder, but which preserves even in its deepest abyss that hopeful freedom which makes it possible for him to smile in seemingly hopeless situations. That's why the intention of the real- that is, the deepest and most honest writers of comedy is by no means to amuse us, but wantonly to tear open our most painful scars so that we feel them all the more strongly. This applies to Shakespeare and 
Molière as well as to Terence and Aristophanes. On the other hand there is no true tragic poet- I'm thinking of Euripedes, Goethe, Dante- who does not understand how to keep a certain ironic distance from even his most terrible sufferings."

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Emily Ludwig Shaffer

Emily showing the way!!!
Emily has an ongoing series of these chameleon paintings, all of which are the same scale and are an identical depiction of the chameleon, in an unchanged pose. It's almost as if Emily is conducting a scientific experiment in her approach to this series; the chameleon is the control group and her countless approaches to the painting are the variable. With this painting in particular, I appreciate the witty ease with which she pokes fun at the ubiquitous grid. The seriality of the repetitive forms allude to Warhol's silkscreens, although they are different in that they are hand painted and directly addressing the idea of originality.    

The chameleon becomes a symbol for both art and the artist. The idea that the more each painting changes the more it stays the same, manifests itself through the repetition of the chameleon's form. The chameleon is imprisoned in the land of infinite possibility. There is a critique of the idea of artistic freedom that also emerges, because no matter how much each painting changes from one to the next, the interminable image of the chameleon still mockingly surfaces. 
The chameleon is the antithesis of authenticity, easily blending in to its environment. This desire to be authentic and original always seems to be a preoccupation for so many artists, and it continues to be a clichéd struggle even in these postmodern times of ours, despite the fact that we no longer acknowledge originality as a valid intellectual position. In Aldous Huxley's Point Counter Point, the character of the successful writer who is based on Huxley, Philip Quarlesis continually preoccupied with being a fraud; nothing more than a configuration of other writers' thoughts and innovations. In Fellini's 8 1/2, we have a similar example in Marcello Mastroianni's character of Guido Anselmi, a famous film director, who delivers a speech on how he wanted things to be different in the last film he made and how he wanted to make something "that would put an end to lies." Woody Allen later satirized 8 1/2 and the proverbial artist's struggle in Stardust Memories, with the character of the acclaimed film director, Sandy Bates, who is misunderstood by his fans who prefer his earlier, light-hearted comedies in comparison to his current, darker dramas.

I love Emily's wine glasses!!! There is something so funny, poignant, and deeply human about them. Although she uses the Modernist trope of employing a simplified and confident black contour line, there is an awkward humor and self-consciousness in the wine glasses that gives the drawings an endearing quality.

Amazing. Is it wine or is it sausage? Who doesn't love a good sausage? I'm Polish, so I'm particularly partial to the kielbasa, especially after it has been aerated and allowed to breathe! I personally prefer a full-bodied, mature sausage, not too oaky, but definitely one with a complex bouquet.

I mentioned the Fran Leibowitz quote during our visit, because it reminded me so much of Emily's wine drawings. "Great people talk about ideas, average people talk about things, and small people talk about wine." 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Michael Mahalchick

Mahalchick made these awesome new pieces using Crest White Strips! I was reminded of seeing the Gehard Richter retrospective years ago at the Art Institute with my friend Stephanie, and how she was appalled by people checking themselves out in the shiny surfaces of his reflective, minimal paintings!  There is an idea in psychology that seeking out one's reflection in the mirror is actually an act of self-protection and self-affirmation, quelling deeper fears of mortality. I learned that as a young coed from my psychology professor, so it must be true!

According to DFW, there are two types of narcissists; first degree and second degree, and all people belong to either one group or the other. First degree narcissists check themselves out in the mirror unabashedly, completely impervious to who may or may not be watching them. Second degree narcissists steal furtive glimpses at themselves in the mirror when they think no one's watching. 

In all his work, Mahalchick seems to be raising a mirror to his audience. When I look at any of his collages I immediately consider Michael's connection to the ephemera he uses, my own relationship to the objects, as well as the broader socioeconomic implications of the work.  Mahalchick does not sugar coat anything, and in doing so, we become aware of the sickening and inescapable bombardment of commercialism that exists on all levels of our lives, and that is often just as prevalent in the art world. Do we really need more shiny, pretty, polished things to distract us from larger questions of existence? Many would argue yes!! In The Gay Science, Nietzsche writes about how when an artist becomes too slick, polished, and virtuosic in his or her craft, it is a form of lying; a way of concealing who one really is by hiding under the glossy veneer of technique. 
Mahalchick toys with our expectations. Here there are no comforting, decorative cues we are trained to expect in most art, other than a fragment from a stained glass lamp; a symbol of domestic warmth and comfort. Everything else, with the exception of the painted flag stencil, would be typically regarded as trash. In the banal reality of these items, we are forced to reevaluate our notions of value and meaning and how we project these beliefs onto inanimate objects. By placing these discarded articles onto the ubiquitous and clichéd, white canvas, Mahalchick is elevating the value of things that would be otherwise be deemed completely worthless. 

It is important for Mahalchick to maintain the integrity of the original object, which is why he never alters the objects that he uses. He also talked about his interest in the transformation of an ordinary thing into a work of art, which isn't an actual transformation although it gives the illusion of being one. These perceptions belong to the same value game; objects aren't transformed when placed in the arena of art, it's our conception of them that changes.

Like much of Mahalchick's work, this mise-en-scène addresses time fleeting with pathos and humor. Aside from playfully referencing Haim Steinbach and Koons, it also becomes a contemporary momento mori. The antiquated zip disk points to how provisional and ever changing knowledge and ideas are, but it also becomes a metaphor for our own shelf life and impermanence. The psychologist, Howard Gardner, wrote that Freud wasn't a megalomaniac because he was aware of his own mortality. I often think about that line. Any awareness of death has a way of robbing us of our hubris. Feigned humility is repulsive, but a genuine awareness of one's place in the world is the embodiment of resigning oneself to reality. The Buddha was definitely onto something with his belief in the joyful participation in the sorrows of the world.
An incredible piece, an older work of Michael's. The record behind it is The Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers.

The best close-up I could take for you, gentle reader! I took about thirty photographs and no matter how much I reconfigured my elbows against my bosoms, the shots still came out blurry!!

Tempus Fugit! Enjoy yourself, it's much later than you think!!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Matt Jones

There is a sense that almost any otherworldly and inexplicable phenomenon can take place within Matt's universe! This ostensible potential for anything to happen along with Matt's exuberant punk aesthetic hearkens back to a time in adolescence when everything was new, exciting, and the future was limitless. Just as through the lens of Physics we become aware of how wildly inaccurate many of our presumptions about the world are, through the eyes of Matt, we become mindful of the unfathomable intricacy that exists even in the most banal of moments.
Matt offers us a revitalizing respite from the prevailing flavor of our times; he re-mystifies the world for us. It's hard to believe that there are academics and artists who still talk about "the demystification of art!" That's such a dull, pretentious and outdated conversation to have. As if anyone in the art speaking world really needs to be elucidated on the monkeyshines of Art! Let's place a permanent moratorium on any conversation pertaining to either the demystification of art or the anti-heroic.
Beings emerging out of portals!!! For these plywood sculptures, Matt uses the same methods that street artists use when pasting posters to walls. The DIY method along with the economical and accessible materials Matt uses in this body of work, embody the inclusive sense of community in the punk ethos.  

After being exposed to Matt's infectious enthusiasm and optimism, all I wanted to do was  rush back to my own studio and start painting!!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Osamu Kobayashi

These are Osamu's newest paintings. He explained how his process has evolved from a series of premeditated, deliberated moves into a more fluid and improvised approach. Osamu begins his paintings with no predetermined plan, his paintings develop out of a succession of impromptu interactions between the paint and the forms on canvas. Through this highly personalized and intuitive approach, a record of time emerges.

What interests me most about Osamu's paintings is how two conceptions of time manifest; Osamu accesses the universal through the personal. (*Fear not gentle reader, when referring to the universal,  I am not attempting to push some silly, outmoded and spurious meta-narrative on you, I embrace postmodern dogma fully and unabashedly. When I refer to the universal, I am referring to an idea of time that goes beyond the limitations of human bias and understanding.) The forms in Osamu's often operate like afterimages, optically altering any constancy and undermining any supposedly complete explanation. Within the absence of delineation, time operates like memory; past and present overlap resisting any neat division. This occurs especially in the two large paintings Osamu is standing in between in the previous photograph as well as the painting pictured above on the left.
These grey paintings employ a different language than the previous body of work. In their physicality, they become less experiential and more concrete. 

 Looking at this series, Jasper Johns, the great grandaddy of grey paintings comes to mind. The Johns' grey paintings show at the Art Institute was a fantastic show. What I loved about that show was that Jasper Johns managed to turn painting into a philosophical pursuit removed from its solipsistic, self-congratulatory history. Johns grey paintings are a battleground for espousing Buddhist beliefs in a historically myopic, Occidental medium. There is a violence in many of Johns' grey paintings that belies their introspective calm.Osamu's grey paintings contain within them more of a self-consciousness specific to our generation of painters, and have a quiet, contemplative quality that I respond to. They are also frangible despite their thickness, which is also a reflection of the current milieu.
This is an especially gorgeous painting in person. I associate black monochromatic paintings with a somber Thanatos that resists the vitality of bright, expressive color. Some of my favorite paintings are black paintings. The allure of the color black has seduced artists as diverse as Goya, Rauschenberg, Ad Reinhardt, and Ellen Gallagher, to name a few. Goya's famous Black paintings are one of the most haunting and psychologically intense ruminations on the human condition. Goya painted them toward the end of his life when he was completely deaf and confronting his own mortality. They contain within them an understanding of the inexorable brutalities of life that most of us would prefer to avoid, but that also paradoxically offer us solace in their maniacal brand of satire.  Laughter always provides us with the greatest form of release. It was Lao Tzu who said, "As soon as you have made a thoughtLaugh at it."