Monday, December 30, 2013

Austin Lee

Austin's been making such fresh and exciting paintings!!! I was so inspired and blown away by visiting his studio. 
This incredible gem is going to be in the pink show that I am putting together at Cathouse FUNeral!!  Our opening will be January 18.  
Both the subject matter and composition of this painting remind me of Bacon's paintings of the boxer, George Dyer. I love how performative it is. The boxing arena becomes a stage. There is a tension between the isolation of the boxer and the faceless mob. Having just been knocked down, the boxer is vulnerable to the judgments of his audience.  
Close-up of the crowd. The painting also has a biographical aspect, since Austin was a boxer in the past.

This painting is electric!! Austin is an example of a painter who utilizes technology as a tool, rather than making it the sole subject of his work. There's a sense of freedom, complexity and curiosity in Austin's work that distinguishes him from much of the current trend of paintings referencing the digital realm and technology. 
The element of caricature as well as the structure and palette of Austin's painting remind me of George Grosz. Grosz's depictions of the Weimar aristocracy, drunks, and prostitutes are among my all time favorite works of art. Like Goya, Grosz showed people as they are rather than how people imagine themselves to be or how they would like to be seen.
 The rawness and brutality of this painting reminds me of the utter despair of Goya's drowning dog that hangs in the Prado. When looking at this painting, I can only begin to imagine the vulnerability and dread of being this demon's patient.
This diptych has such a visceral intensity, that it brings tears to my eyes. The thick opacity of the paint application on the authoritative physician imbues him with power and certainty. The hazy technique Austin used to portray the patient; emphasizes her fragility and uncertainty, a stark contrast to the concrete physicality of the physician. The tiny dots that stand in for her eyes almost fall into the depths of her skull, an implication that in her time of extreme confusion and fear, the patient prefers to turn her vision inward.
The tears have such a compelling and tangible, physical presence, that they act as a barrier separating the viewer from the helpless woman. It calls to mind all those portraits that Picasso painted of Dora Maar crying. When Kippenberger learned that he was dying, he painted a series of Picasso's women crying over his own death. People were surprised by how beautifully and skillfully Kippenberger had painted this last series, few people knew that he was capable of such technical excellence. Beauty and technical facility was something that Kippenberger was deeply suspicious of his entire life, because he was more interested in expressing something more human and honest. Nietzsche writes about how virtuosity and a mastery of technique are a disguise that artists use to hide beneath. Anyone can become a skilled technician; it's much harder to become an artist.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Adam Green

Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting Adam's spectacular Manhattan studio.
I was a fan of Adam's music long before I knew him through his visual art. He is a brilliant musician, and his quick wit along with his mordant sense of irony was something that I responded to immediately. I was excited to discover his paintings during his solo show at The Hole a couple of summers ago. 
Adam has another upcoming show at The Hole called, "Hot Chicks," where he'll be showing his new drawings alongside the works of other artists that he selected for the show. The opening will be January 1st.

Adam's transgressive use of humor, as well as the bustling exuberance, movement, and rhythm are reminiscent of Robert Colescott. Colescott always had a set of drums in his studio and grew up in a family of musicians. There is a distinctive lyrical fluidity in the paintings of visual artists who also play music; in the same way it's easy to spot the dancers in a yoga class, based on the way that dancers approach the technical aspects of each posture.

I started rereading Dave Hickey's Air Guitar, and his description of Donald Duck in the essay, Pontormo's Rainbow, reminded me of Adam's Donald Duck paintings. Hickey describes Donald Duck as being the only Disney character who had "any soul, any edge," and he likens him to being the Dizzy Gillespie of cartoon characters!
We talked about the decadent nature of Garfield the cat, which also keeps reappearing in Adam's work. Growing up I had the entire collection of Garfield books, which had taken me years to complete and that I would read every Saturday morning. At age 12, my new puppy devoured and shredded each and every last page in my entire collection. I burst into tears shortly after discovering the annihilation. I felt like my childhood had been eaten. Eventually, I rationalized the horror and destruction by realizing that when it came down to it, I loved my dog more than Garfield. 
Garfield was huge for our generation. It's not difficult to understand his mass appeal among the children of the eighties, not only was he a symbol of decadence but he was also an anti-authoritarian figure as well. He did whatever he wanted and listened to no one, which definitely appeals to a child's fantasies or anyone's fantasies for that matter! Children are always being reprimanded and controlled by adults, often for merely telling the truth or just being themselves. 
Although Adam's subject matter shares a connection with pop art, his approach also shares a history with Art Brut and Arte Povera. The hybridization of combining pop cultural elements with expressionism, is likewise exemplified in both the paintings of Joyce Pensato and Llyn Foulkes.

Adam had a solo show of all yellow paintings this past summer in Rome. 
This painting was my favorite! It's entitled "piano lesson," and I saw it right before it was shipped to Vienna.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Talia Shulze

The languorous light was just beginning to fade when I visited Talia's Bushick studio...  
Taoists recognize the value of languor. According to Lin Yutang, "If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live." The tenets of Taoism are typically anathema to most city slickers, which makes quoting the Taoists all the more enjoyable in the wildest depths of the urban jungle! 
During our visit, Talia talked about what a huge impact the Matisse show at the Met last spring had on the New York art world, and how that correlates with the resurgence of the current interest in the pastoral in art. 
I tend to associate the pastoral with the sublime, since they are both ways of interpreting the natural world. Despite certain obvious congruencies between the two, the two perspectives are more different than alike. The pastoral conjures up mental images of giddy nobility running through pastures and swinging merrily under willows in Watteau paintings. Within the pastoral way of thinking, there is this contrived effort to portray nature as pleasant, benign, and even kind. The sublime is more vicious; it's more like the pastoral's evil, complicated twin. There is this fantastic Francis Bacon interview, which touches upon the sublime, where Bacon talks about how even under the most beautiful landscape, insects are fighting for their lives and biting each others' heads off. It's been a while since I've read it, so I might be butchering it completely, but you get the gist, gentle reader. 
Camille Paglia writes about how we interpret nature as being beautiful because the sheer terror of the tremendous power and brutality of nature is too much for us to bear. I would agree with that, but I also believe in the theory of Biophilia and that the further we remove ourselves from nature the more out of place we feel. Humans are attuned toward plant life as well as other life forms because we are biological beings who long to be amidst nature. Nature is beautiful, even if one ascribes to Carl Sagan's belief that the universe seems neither benign nor hostile, but merely indifferent.  
At the very beginning of Jerzy Kosinski's Being There, there's a passage that compares and contrasts the differences and similarities between plants and people.

"Plants were like people; they needed care to live, to survive their diseases, and to die peacefully."

"Yet plants were different from people. No plant is able to think about itself or know itself; there is no mirror in which a plant can recognize its face; no plant can do anything intentionally: it cannot help growing, and its growth has no meaning since a plant cannot reason or dream."

Although Kosinski avoids anthropomorphism in that passage, he still measures plant life against the human standard. He does the opposite of Morandi, who imbued each of his tenderly painted bottles with anthropomorphic warmth and intimacy; instead his terse and blunt prose describes a form of life that is entirely impervious to our struggles and aspirations. The effect makes us aware of the vastness and magnitude of existence, and the limitations and smallness of our own point of view. It's what Baudrillard is talking about when he talks about the pretension of culture melting away in the desert.

Talia infuses her depictions of the natural world with a sense of humanity. There is something deeply private and sensual, even erotic, about these paintings. The inherent sensuality of Talia's paintings as well as the anthropomorphic, narrative quality is reminiscent of Indian miniatures. The way in which the palm trees wrap around one another is similar to a lovers' embrace, and is a recurring leitmotif in many Indian miniatures.
The sense of mystery, the sensuous, wavering line, and the enveloping color also remind me of Mary Heilmann. However, Talia's layers and transparencies create an illusionistic depth which is very different from Heilmann's paintings which live on the surface of the canvas and never venture fully toward representation.
The playful ease of the confident gesture creates a feeling of pleasure and fun.
Talia's paintings convey a wide range of thoughts and moods. The unyielding conviction of the minimal painting furthest to the right creates a contrast to the comical and endearing, pensive intimacy of the figurative painting second from the left.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

I took a brief break from blogging this summer to pursue other projects, but now that fall is almost here, I'm excited to resume blogging and post the recent studio visits I've been on!! In the mean time, please check out these two interviews I did recently for NY Arts Magazine with artists Caitlin Cherry and Brent Birnbaum. Enjoy!

image courtesy of the artist
image courtesy of the artist and Brooklyn Museum
link to Caitlin Cherry Interview

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Paul DeMuro

I had the pleasure of seeing Paul's fantastic paintings right before they were shipped to Galerie Z├╝rcher in Paris.
Paul's newest paintings reference AIDS quilts. The first time I saw photographs of the AIDS quilts was in LIFE magazine at age five. My mother showed them to me, just as she showed me many magazines, hoping to expand my young mind. Although my mother rarely cries, I remember she was crying, because she felt such tremendous sympathy for the victims and their loved ones. I was aware of the immense tragedy of the epidemic from such an early age, that I can't remember a time that I didn't know about AIDS.
 I was moved by the personal and psychological intensity that Paul's paintings possess. The personal is the political, as Marcia Tucker would say. Paul's limited, red, monochromatic palette is both pithy and poignant, and it is satisfying to see a painter using color conceptually. Many of the paintings' surfaces bear an unsettling resemblance to coagulated blood. Paul's palette as well as the textures he uses are reminiscent of Philip Guston, although Paul's content as well as his approach are very different. Even though there is a haunting sadness in these paintings, it's not the same as the utter despair and hopelessness of Guston; Paul's paintings are more open-ended. 
Paul and I discussed how growing up, we were both convinced that we would contract AIDS. During that time there was a lot of confusion and mass hysteria linked to the disease. Paul thought he would get AIDS as a child because he was gay. My own fear was caused by the scaremongering tactics used in teaching safe sex in the public schools I attended. Instead of being taught to protect ourselves, we were taught to dread and fear our own bodies as well as everyone else's bodies. "The only safe sex is no sex," was a popular catch phrase I would hear ad nauseam during these informative lectures. I am convinced that the moralizing way in which much of my generation was taught safe sex, was just as insidious and detrimental to a healthy view of sexuality as religion was to prior generations.  
What terrifies so many people about sex is that it's an instinctual and immutable force of nature that cannot be controlled or stopped or ever even successfully repressed. The view that Judeo-Christianity is the only cultural tradition at the root of sexual repression, is too simplistic. Even the ancient Greeks whom we imagine today to be free and wild sexual libertines, commended and revered philosophers who abstained from sex and chose to live the life of the mind, rather than succumbing to the lowly pleasures of the flesh. Eastern Philosophies also place an emphasis on asceticism. Karen Horney, the psychoanalyst who famously countered Freud's penis envy with her own theory of womb envy, believed that the ascetic impulse is a neurotic one, and that people who choose the life of a nun or a monk, do so because of their inability to fit in with society at large.

Thankfully, AIDS is no longer a death sentence. Paul's paintings would take on an entirely different meaning if he were painting them 25 years ago. Time changes the way we interpret everything. Nothing is timeless because our ideas and attitudes keep shifting and changing alongside the world we inhabit.   

Leo Bersani wrote an incredible essay during the height of the AIDS epidemic, called Is The Rectum a Grave? Bersani is one of the most riveting theorists I've encountered, with his beautiful and unorthodox writing style as well as his no bullshit, incisive powers of analysis, he turns theory into an art form. Is The Rectum a Grave? helped elucidate so much of the injustice and homophobia that surrounded the AIDS epidemic. Before reading that essay, I wasn't aware of how deeply the cruelty and injustice pervaded popular culture at the time. I was baffled by how the media coverage was aimed at heterosexual groups who were at the time at low risk, and excluded the high-risk groups almost entirely. 
This painting has the closest reference to an AIDS quilt with its rich narrative details. Despite the grave subject matter, this painting contains a magical vitality. Paul's paintings celebrate life even though their subject matter addresses death. The ancient Greeks knew all along not to fear death. One of our greatest struggles in contemporary life is to accept our own finitude. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Erik Parker

I recently visited Erik Parker's gorgeous Williamsburg studio. 
Erik has a gift for storytelling. His expansive breadth of inventiveness creates the impression that anything can and will happen within these paintings.
The exuberant humor and the fantasy-based surrealism in Erik's paintings reminded me immediately of the Chicago Imagists. The way in which Erik utilizes the visual complexity found in the vernacular of pop culture is also reminiscent of the movement. Erik and I discussed our kinship with the Chicago Imagists and we spent some time looking at his elegant Ray Yoshida catalogue. Since I grew up in Chicago and studied under Barbara Rossi while I was at the Art Institute, I feel strongly connected to the Imagists.
The Imagists' defiant sense of autonomy seems so thoroughly Midwestern to me, now that I've spent some time living in the East Coast. Chicago's visual culture is saturated by the Imagists, and I remember always being immersed in their aesthetic, whether I was seeing Karl Wirsum's mural, PlugBug, on a daily basis, or looking at the Jim Nutts at the MCA. During lunch breaks as a student, I used to visit the hauntingly beautiful Ed Paschke, that hung, of all places, in the Modernist furniture section of the Art Institute. With Paschke's highly individualized and otherworldly palette as well as his bizarre sense of subject matter, it's interesting to consider how much of an impact he had on his most famous student and assistant, Jeff Koons.
Many of Erik's stylizations have a nostalgic quality that seems to share an affinity with the golden era of animation. However, Erik disrupts the nostalgic aspects of the imagery, by introducing bright, pulsating color as well as incorporating collage elements that reference a more recent time in the history of pop culture. By mixing references to various time periods, Erik creates an idea of time in which elements from the past and present simultaneously coexist.
All of Erik's work has a sense of rhythm and movement, even when it is not referencing animation directly. This is an edition from a series of prints that Erik has been working on. Each of the prints in this series has individual elements  and colors that separates it from all of the other prints. Each print is a one of a kind, in its own right!
Erik's work shares a history with the grotesque, which can even be traced as far back as ancient times.  During the beginning of the Renaissance, Europeans tried to emulate the neatly contrived, Apollonian tenets of Greek Classicism into their own art. Later on during the Renaissance, ancient Greek carvings were discovered in the grottoes, that entirely undermined the idea that the Greeks were only invested in Classicism, which in turn forced the Europeans to rethink their simplistic conceptions of ancient  Greek culture. The discovery of these splendidly wild and humorous carvings of animal headed beings fucking, eating, and celebrating corporeal reality defied any prescribed conventions of figuration, as well as perspective and space.  These carvings seemed to follow their own internal logic,and embraced a  Dionysian sense of excess.  The word "grotesque," was taken from the root word "grotto," and is used to describe all work that contains incantations of the chthonic. 

This is a detail from the painting below. I love the contrast between the matte and shiny paint and the way that Erik painted the water. The decision to include a vista in the upper left hand corner made me think of Titian, since he often did that in his paintings of odalisques.
This painting was still in progress when I visited Erik's studio. Notions of Utopia are conjured up in many of Erik's paintings. The cool and lonely desolation of the room is contrasted by the boundless, warm hues of paradise, that seep in and break through in the periphery. That's the most literal interpretation of this painting, it can also be viewed as a dream sequence, or as a metaphor for the self, contrasting the internal world of the individual with the external world that contains everything else. This painting has a personal, anthropomorphic quality. The room seems to be human and alive although the antiquated television, that operates like a brain, appears to be numb and detached, despite being the most specific and complex object in the painting. It seems as though the beauty of the external world  will never infiltrate the cool emptiness of the room.