Friday, December 4, 2015

Austin Lee

Image courtesy of the artist and Postmasters Gallery

Me and My Dad, 2015 
Image Courtesy of the artist and Postmasters Gallery

IJ: What’s intriguing about your current solo show at Postmasters is that each painting is different from the next, and yet there’s cohesion, your voice is present throughout the exhibition.

AL: The aesthetic is important in some ways, but that’s not the only thing that matters. There’s always something more that’s underlying.  

IJ: You’re also conveying a wide range of emotional states within these paintings. Our emotions change from moment to moment, similarly to the way your paintings in the show change from moment to moment.

AL: Yes, I would agree. That’s a good way of looking at it.

IJ: Would you say that these paintings are self-portraits?

AL: Most paintings I make are self-portraits I’d say. Even with the stranger paintings that I don’t fully understand, part of me is still there.

IJ: That’s interesting because you’re calling the show, “Nothing Personal.”

AL: I made all these quick drawings for a digital sketchbook with Spheres publication. I wanted to make it a really raw book of drawings made without thinking, similar to a real sketchbook. I ended up using the drawings as starting points for the paintings, and as I worked through them I realized that they were all still connected to who I am even thought I was trying to escape that.

IJ: Something that you do is you take these classical themes, but you reinvent them using your own voice and the digital tools you have at your disposal.  You reinterpret the mother and child theme, as well as bathers, among many others.

AL: Those are just things that I experience. I’m not necessarily reinterpreting it through art history; it’s just showing human experiences. That’s the more interesting part, what is it like to be alive right now? As far as the digital aesthetic, that’s just how I think about drawing, it’s a natural tool to use. The way we see is so related to the culture that surrounds us.

IJ: We can’t escape it; it’s all around us.

AL: I often think about how a drawing looks in 3D modeling versus how a drawing in Photoshop looks. If there’s a new computer program that I can experiment with, that aesthetic will come into the work. I want to investigate how we are creating images today.

IJ: That connection you were talking about to the human condition, more than art history seems to be present in your mother and child painting.  There’s something about it that reminds me the horrors of motherhood found in Louise Bourgeois. Like Bourgeois, there is an element of nurturing, but it’s also so grotesque.

AL: I didn't want this painting to seem grotesque. I don’t have to plan something for it to happen, and for me that’s the most interesting part. I wanted to make that painting really sweet, but it didn’t come out that way.

IJ: It’s more psychological that way. As artists, I think we’re more aware of the fact that we don’t always have full control over what comes out of our hand. I think it’s really boring when artists have everything planned out beforehand, and there’s no room for spontaneity and improvisation.

AL: That's the whole point for me, the excitement of something new and finding out what the next painting will be. It would be super boring if my paintings looked how they looked five years ago, I don’t think I would bother making them anymore.

IJ: You also spend a great deal of time taking into consideration the installation of your paintings, which I think is really important. For many painters, the installation becomes an afterthought.

AL: That becomes another way to connect things. Each painting is its own thing and I make them all individually, but through looking at them altogether that begins painting this other picture. It’s like connecting the dots, and I’ll begin understanding what I was thinking in this larger way. It creates a more open-ended experience, where one painting will open something up for another painting, or make you think about something differently. They’re just always adding to each other.

IJ: There is a sense of openness to your work; you allow a lot of room for various interpretations to take place.

AL: When I’m making a painting I’m sharing one way of looking at something, but for me, I love when someone else brings some new thinking to it, and they tell me something else that they thought when looking at it. There’s no right or wrong way, they’re just different thoughts.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Matthew Craven

The content of Matt's drawings and collages address an intricate web of interrelated ideas. Alternating between using his hand and found images, Matt delves into the way we construct meaning and belief, our conflicting longing for permanence in a temporary world, as well as the inexplicable complexity of our existence itself.
Working on the backs of vintage movie posters, and cutting out photographs from old textbooks, imbues Matt's work with an awareness of time. There's both a fragility and tenacity to these beautiful worn pages; although easily destroyed, they have somehow managed to withstand decades.
A sense of intimacy results from each of these images being cut by hand. The presence of touch makes the work personal. There is something Sisyphean in Matt's continual quest to fill these pages with innumerable images of artifacts. This isn't the appropriated, photo-shopped, quick fix that we are so used to seeing. Although a critique of originality and authenticity emerges, the ideas that Matt presents us with aren't the ones that we necessarily anticipate. Baudrillard saw the simulacrum as devoid and emptied of all meaning, and theorized that the more times an image is reproduced the more removed it is from its initial content and symbolism. In contrast, for Matt, the simulacrum is a point of entry to engage with meaning and to tap into a nonlinear history of belief. By presenting us with these reproducible, yet disparate objects, Matt presents us with a platform on which to consider the way in which the human impulse to create, construct meaning, and the need to worship has remained consistent throughout time.
There is a feeling of reverence for these creators of the past who are no longer alive, and an attempt to connect with their humanity, in both the collages and drawings. In this piece, WEAVE, Matt references and reinterprets both textile patterning, and early iconographic language. The multifaceted drawing alludes to Chinese symbols, Egyptian hieroglyphics, Assyrian script, and the pagan alphabet.

Jung was the first to realize that archetypes are both universal and instinctual, existing throughout all cultures and time periods. Later on, Joseph Campbell took on Jung's findings and investigated common threads between myths throughout the world. Similarly, Matt finds parallels between varying epochs and civilizations, calling attention to our common similarities as human beings rather than our differences. No matter how much beliefs and cultures shift over time, our existential situation remains the same.
This excerpt from Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces, especially relates to what Matt seems to be getting at:                                                                                                                                                                           Full circle, from the tomb of the womb to the womb of the tomb, we come: an ambiguous, enigmatical incursion into a world of solid matter that is soon to melt from us, like the substance of a dream. And, looking back at what had promised to be our own unique, unpredictable, and dangerous adventure, all we find in the end is such a series of standard metamorphoses as men and women have undergone in every quarter of the world, in all recorded centuries, and under every odd disguise of civilization.

To add to this sentiment, here is a passage from William Barrett's Irrational Man, explaining how a shift in how we perceive our existential situation occurred in the last century, and how that change was reflected in Modernist art:
                                                                                                                                           Reality, too, reveals itself to the artist not as the Great Chain of Being, which the tradition of Western rationalism had declared intelligible down to its smallest link and in its totality, but as much more refractory: as opaque, dense, concrete, and in the end inexplicable.

Regardless of what we believe, we as humans have a tendency to ascribe meaning to our lives and we all subscribe to ideologies in one form or another. Freud viewed art as another form of religion, and it definitely has its parallels, in that it is a belief structure that defines its values, and also relies heavily on faith. Even science must depend on faith, which is a theme running throughout Alan Lightman's incredibly engaging book, The Accidental Universe. Lightman uses the multiverse theory as one of his example of how physicists apply faith to their thinking. The multiverse theory is the idea that other universes exist outside of our own universe, a likely hypothesis, but not one that can be confirmed. Although an atheist, Lightman is not dismissive of religious thinkers, since he realizes not only that none of us really have all the answers, but also that we all rely on faith to navigate our way through this world. Here is an excerpt from The Accidental Universe, explaining the significance of faith in our lives:
                                                                                                                                           Faith, in its broadest sense, is about far more than belief in the existence of God or the disregard of scientific evidence. Faith is the willingness to give ourselves over, at times, to things we do not fully understand. Faith is the belief in things larger than ourselves. Faith is the ability to honor stillness at some moments and at others to ride the passion and exuberance that is the artistic impulse, the flight of the imagination, the full engagement with this strange and shimmering world.                                                                    

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Michael Dotson

There's an alluring sense of nostalgia in Michael's paintings. Disney has inundated us all with shared, collective childhood memories of characters and events that have never taken place. The past is comforting in its finitude, especially if we have positive associations with it, and it also lacks the chaos and uncertainty of the future. Through nostalgia, we shape the past in order to fit our own desire to idealize and control our memories and perceptions.
Michael's sexy centaur is taken from a Fantasia still. Fantasia is arguably one of the most ambitious, complex, and successful Disney movies ever made. Aside from how much the film has influenced Michael; it's also made a huge impact on Dan Colen, Alan Prazniak, as well as my own practice. The film encapsulates the feeling that anything is possible, and it manages to do so without pandering or losing any of its sinister beauty and mystery. The idea of boundless capability is so thoroughly tied to the American dream and the ethos upon which this country was founded. The ideal can be easily viewed as pernicious if taken to the extremes of Manifest Destiny, however it can also be a very powerful and transformative belief. It's the same desire that lies at the heart of so many of Nietzsche's writings, this yearning to make the most of ourselves, even if we do exist in a world that's no where close to perfect, and also what makes reading Nietzsche such an invigorating and profound experience.
I am drawn to how Michael blurs the line between childhood and sexuality, especially since the division is artificial. As much as our society at large would like to pretend that children are sexless, mindless, puppets, we can control on a string, we are born into this world as sexual beings with powerful drives, and instincts that no amount of denial or moralizing can suppress.
Many of Michael's paintings remind me of Agnes Varda's Le bonheur. The New Wave film is a brilliant critique of happiness, monogamy, and the institution of marriage. Varda used the music of Mozart, and the aesthetic of Impressionism to evoke an ebullient and cheery environment, beneath that simmers a dark and callous reality. Varda views Impressionist paintings as being some of the saddest ever made, because the Impressionists tried so hard to evoke this bucolic sense of joy. Similarly, Michael appropriates images from Disney that when taken out of context often reveal a disturbing and insidious undercurrent. Playfully riffing off of Munch's Scream, as well as Francis Bacon's bellowing, alienated figures; Michael achieves a concurrent sense of dislocation and detached horror. Using a female subject on the verge of mental collapse is also a departure from modernist paintings that romanticize the emotional breakdowns of men.

Michael's Cinderella, shares a parallel with Anne Sexton, who found her voice through satirizing fairy tales, and interjecting an autobiographical feminist critique. Here is an excerpt from Sexton's Cinderella:

He went to their house and the two sisters
were delighted because they had lovely feet.
The eldest went into a room to try the slipper on
but her big toe got in the way so she simply
sliced it off and put on the slipper.
The prince rode away with her until the white dove
told him to look at the blood pouring forth.
That is the way with amputations.
They just don't heal up like a wish.
The other sister cut off her heel
but the blood told as blood will.
The prince was getting tired.
He began to feel like a shoe salesman.
But he gave it one last try.
This time Cinderella fit into the shoe
like a love letter into its envelope.

There is an unsettling psychological intensity as well as ambiguity coursing through this painting; it's both comical and horrifying. Ariel's facial expression is not unlike Bernini's orgasming Saint Teresa. Are they drowning or cuming at the same time?! The scene not only brings to mind Richard Bosnan's despair ridden depictions of people drowning, but also Mike Kelley's very funny and elucidating essay, Notes on Caricature, in which he mentions, "a current television game show called Double Dare," that, "features on-the-verge-of-adolescent boy/girl teams in sports activities that often require them to cover each other in gooey foodstuffs. At certain points they must fish into facilely suspect substances labelled 'brain juice', 'mashed maggots', 'fish lips', 'dead worms', and so on, in order to win prizes. Part of the show's attraction to youth of that age is surely their fear of their dawning sexuality, which is associated with taboo, or 'disgusting' activities and substances...Double Dare occasionally brings on parents, whose submersion in gunk obviously has a different meaning: this is the pure pleasure of defiling an authority figure."

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ryan Schneider

Visiting Ryan's studio and seeing his mesmerizing paintings before they were installed in his solo show at Two Rams was incredibly fun!! Ryan's show is up right now through the 28th of this month!

Ryan's steamy, tropical paintings are filled with rich symbols and archetypes that align them with Jungian psychology. The mask represented the persona for Jung, and the word "persona," literally translates to "mask" in Latin. According to Jung, in his essay, Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, "The mirror does not flatter, it faithfully shows whatever looks into it; namely, the face we never show to the world because we cover it with the persona, the mask of the actor." Paul Klee's etching, Comedian, 1903, exemplifies this Jungian belief. Klee peels off the jovial mask of the comedian only to reveal a solemn, brooding individual underneath. Jung believed that we wear different masks depending on who we are with. He thought that we put on these masks in order to protect ourselves from the scrutiny and criticism of others. People's public selves are often unlike their private selves, an idea that Gillian Wearing also delves into in her videos of masked individuals confessing to things that they otherwise would not want to admit to.
Ryan's powerful paintings emanate a sense of wistful longing. The hauntingly enigmatic beauty of Ryan's paintings reminds me of Coleridge's Kubla Khan. This painting especially reverberates with the Abyssinian maid's intoxicating song, Coleridge's sense of deep darkness, and an idea of paradise gone awry.

Ryan follows the surreal logic of dreams, and produces cryptic paintings, using archetypical symbols. The evil eye is one of the most prevalent and universal symbols, and is usually used as a protective talisman that wards off wicked spirits. In Turkey, the superstition is that the evil eye absorbs the envy and negative energy of others. For the Turks, even compliments can be laced with hidden resentment. Ryan fuses the symbol of the evil eye, with another symbol of protection, the crab. Simultaneously seductive and repellent, the figure evokes a mysterious sense of perplexity.
Monkeys are especially fascinating to us, because they remind us so much of ourselves. The monkey was a life long motif for Picasso, who began depicting them very early on in his work. For Picasso, who was preoccupied with accessing the primal and raw within us, the monkey was a perfect subject. Although we share so much in common with our fellow primates, monkeys are more direct with their drives and emotions; they don't bother wearing masks and disguises.

Ryan creates a dramatic sense of mood by staging his paintings at night. This beguiling and synesthetic painting resounds with the songs of the birds that it depicts.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Scott Indrisek

Scott's droll wit as well as the playful and kinetic way in which he references pop culture reminds me of Fischli/Weiss. Like the Swiss duo, his allusions to everyday vernacular are contemplative and subdued. The graphically appealing image of what would otherwise be a discarded object, also seems to be mischievously poking fun at the oft-quoted structure of the grid.
Scott's paintings share the intimate scale of books and reflect Scott's background in literature. His diptych simultaneously reiterates the inherent physicality of both the novel and the adjoined paintings. It made me think of Camille Paglia's belief in the physical concreteness of text, to her, "text exists as an object; it is not just a mist of ephemeral subjectivities." It's always difficult to discern between when Paglia is being bombastic, and if she is being sincere, but between all the grating bravado she does have moments of brilliance. Although dismissing subjective experience is completely ludicrous, the idea of thinking of text as a physical entity is fantastic!

The intimacy of the scale accentuates the private and intriguingly enigmatic quality of Scott's paintings. There's a seductive aspect in the richness of the paintings' tactile surface, and a compelling tension that exists between the abstracted and illusionistic space.
I love Scott's painting within a painting!! The tenderly painted monochrome on the left side of the canvas pays homage to a painting that Scott's father made. The strong personal element that is present within all of Scott's paintings emanates an aura of emotional complexity and depth.

Scott also keeps several blogs in which his deliciously biting satire debunks the absurdities and power dynamics in the art village. The hilarity in much of Scott's writing relies on replacing words that have become ubiquitous and generalized, with descriptions that expand meaning with exactitude and precision. When Scott refers to Jeff Koons as an industrial fabricating tycoon, in his blog, Brant Watch, he gives a more incisive and accurate depiction of what it is that Koons represents rather than if he were to refer to Koons simply as an artist!

Satire and caricature have always shared a common language, and Brant Watch is reminiscent of George Grosz's scathing portrayals of society. Although our situation isn't nearly as dire as what was happening during the Weimar Republic, our unpromising current climate is a stark contrast to the economic prosperity during the Clinton administration. Especially as technology replaces people in the workforce, the middle class continues to be eradicated, and the dollar consistently loses its value, not only does it seem unlikely that the economy will ever recover even closely to what it once was, but the widening of the economic gap becomes even more conspicuous than ever, making Brant Watch especially timely.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Alison Kuo

Knock knock. Who's there? Banana. Knock knock. Who's there? Banana. Knock knock. Who's there? Orange you glad I didn't say banana?!
Each time I enter the elaborately convoluted labyrinth that is Alison's universe, I feel as if I'm not entirely sure which way is up or down anymore. The cacophony of symbols and their extensive possible meanings inundates the senses, in a way that mimics the overwhelming complexity of the world itself. Is it a peach or a uterus? The easily recognizable, BPA-laced goo that we recognize immediately as canned fruit seems even more revolting in this recontextualized version, and instead looks like vomit or the mutilated pulp of internal organs. I am reminded of DFW's short story, Little Expressionless Animals, in which the three year Jeopardy champion, Julie, finds comfort and respite from the burden of her encyclopedic knowledge in univocal words, which are words with only one possible meaning. Alison's maximalist project seems to be the antithesis of univocality.

By mashing together seemingly unrelated and perplexing symbols, Alison inculcates her viewers with her love of the bizarre and unexpected. Her intoxicating sense of pleasure and play belies a dark and insidious undercurrent. Framed in a new context, the insulting way in which early humans are typically depicted in natural history museums seems some how more apparent. Lifeless and lacking in any characteristic idiosyncrasies, the wax figures have been stripped of their humanity and individuality within how they've been represented. The Othering that Alison brings our attention to is not altogether different from Gauguin's imperialistic portrayals of Polynesia, although Gauguin invested more attention and care in romanticizing and eroticizing his primarily female subjects. Gauguin's paintings are so beautiful, that people often fail to recognize the inherent exploitation in finding paradise in another culture, and the blatant misogyny that they represent. He was very strategic and knew how to manipulate his audience with his apocryphal depictions of utopia. Instead of painting the missionaries or the venereal diseases that they brought with them to paradise, Gauguin painted what people wanted to see rather than how things actually were.

The way in which information is disseminated is a dominant subject in Alison's work.  Alison presents us with ideas and never preaches or moralizes, always maintaining a sense of ambiguity and complexity. Her anachronistic mix of both old and new pop cultural imagery is as intriguing as it is puzzling. By distorting linearity and time, Alison calls attention to how spurious conceptions of sequential time are.

Food, for Alison represents sustenance and growth, the body in its fallibility and vulnerability, the tactile, and sensory parts of everyday experience, the wonderfully slimy and gooey aspects of sex, the beauty, the cruelty, the pain, as well as the transitory, and absurd nature of life itself.
The indispensable significance of the role of food in rituals and celebrations is also a central theme in many of Alison's performances. Concocting strange and slimy potions and treats that ooze, explode in your mouth, and tickle your throat, Alison toys with impressions by transforming an otherwise banal encounter,  and infusing it with humor and mystery.

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.