Nabil Nahas on painting with starfish, the reception of his work in the Middle East, and the symbolism of cedar trees.
Born in Beirut in 1949, Nabil Nahas spent the first decade of his life in Cairo before returning to his native country of Lebanon, where he remained until 1968. During the uprisings preceding the Lebanese civil war, Nahas, like many others, left the country to start a new life elsewhere. After studying painting under Al Held at Yale, Nahas moved to New York in 1973, where he has been living ever since. It was twenty years before he began to visit Lebanon again, and those trips would prove to have a profound affect on his work.
Ranging widely from densely textured works on canvas formed with layers of an acrylic and pumice mixture to abstract representations of the native olive and cedar trees of Lebanon, Nahas’s work consistently oscillates between many aesthetic sensibilities, ultimately driven by his almost religious passion for abstraction.
Nahas’s character has the same rapidly shifting qualities of his painting repertoire. His personality is iridescent, shifting rapidly yet gracefully from a serious man weathered by worldly experience to a sage with a sly sense of humor. I visited his Chelsea studio on a cold but bright afternoon in early March. After coffee and a light brunch, we perused the set of newly finished paintings to be included in his solo show at Sperone Westwater and discussed the stylistic shifts in his work, his recent exhibition at the Beirut Exhibition Center, and his relationship to the landscape of Lebanon.
Duane Michals on the benefits of skipping art school, becoming an atheist, and why certain art(ists) make him sick.
Decades after his first foray into painting, photographer Duane Michals recently opened a new exhibition of painted tintypes at DC Moore Gallery in New York. It is evidence of his tireless instinct to challenge the limits of the construction—or deconstruction—of photography as a medium. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Michals is probably most comfortable when reinventing himself and his work, errors and all, and truly takes personally the notion that it is an artist’s duty to evolve and explore, rather than simply keep doing what he does best, what brings him the highest acclaim, or what audiences seem to initially adore. Last November, I had the good fortune of stumbling into a screening and artist talk coordinated during the Paris Photo festival of a new documentary about Duane Michals, entitled the The Man Who Invented Himself. As I sat in the back row listening to this artist three times my age, I couldn’t help but think about how much he has to say at a moment when my own generation is tweeting endlessly yet saying in fact, very little. At 81 years old, he is full of opinions, laughter, outrage, and energy. Mr. Michals was gracious enough to spend an evening with me in his Manhattan home talking about his work, as well as his thoughts on God and his undying interest in the metaphysical.
Duane Michals FIRE AWAY!
Sabine Mirlesse So, how are you?
DM I’m very free, the freest I’ve ever been in my whole life. I like being old, and that certainly is a scary thing to say. You have to remember that the bill always comes due. People don’t understand that.
SM Where do you come from?
DM McKeesport, Pennsylvania. Andy Warhol was also born in McKeesport. . . but they got uppity and moved to Pittsburgh. My dad was a steel worker. The most I could have hoped for given my socio-economic background was to teach high school art in West Smithland, Pennsylvania, have three kids, still be a Catholic, and be suicidal.
Kenya (Robinson) reflects on the end of her MFA program and becoming a professional artist.
Kenya (Robinson) is currently wrapping up her MFA in Sculpture at the Yale School of Art after several years as a working artist. An astute observer of culture, (Robinson) explores a range of issues from race and class to perceptions about gender, privilege, and consumerism. Her newest work places rogue installations within store displays and merchandise to emphasize the act of shopping, beginning with a Walmart in New Haven. All kinds of people encounter art every day, she explains, making this a good moment to think about the American national character and its shifting nature. (Robinson) took a break from searching for fabric, materials, and other supplies for her thesis exhibition to meet with me in midtown Manhattan to discuss how graduate school has influenced the direction of her career and creative practice.
Lee Ann Norman You’re in New Haven now, but where are you from originally?
Kenya (Robinson) I’m from Gainesville, Florida. This is hugely important to my identity, almost as important to my identity as creativity. I’ve long been an artist, but it’s a fairly recent addition to my professional life. In the past, I imagined artists as people with a particular set of skills—painting, carving, drawing—I didn’t recognize that we each create in the context of our personalized experience. Sometimes it includes that level of specific training and sometimes it doesn’t.
But, Gainesville is a small, quirky college town, so it has this amazing dichotomy—being provincial in that way—very southern—
LAN —What school is there?
KR The University of Florida. When I was there, it was 38,000 students, and it’s continuing to grow. Because of that, we have international students, many professional schools, scientists, a lot of medical researchers. . . you have this element of culture that exists there neck-in-neck with that southern fried, Bible Belt thing. You can go downtown and hear some pretty good jazz, but in that same space, there will be a van rolling around with an anti-Muslim sentiment written on the side—that’s the town where that preacher was trying to burn the Qu’ran—
LAN Oh! That’s right!
Christian Patterson discusses the re-release of Redheaded Peckerwood, comparisons to Truman Capote, and photographic secret codes.
After much anticipation, the third edition of Redheaded Peckerwood (MACK, 2011)—Christian Patterson’s widely lauded monograph—is finally available. The self-taught artist, who worked for William Eggleston in the early to mid-2000s, produced his first monograph, Sound Affects, in 2008, which pays homage to Memphis, Tennessee’s music culture. Redheaded Peckerwood is the culmination of Patterson’s five-year study of the murder spree that Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate committed through Nebraska and Wyoming in 1957 into 1958. It is a multi-faceted body of work that includes not just photographs, but actual pieces of evidence from the crimes, re-worked to fit into Patterson’s new narrative. After hearing him speak in late 2012 as part of the International Center of Photography’s lecture series, I was even more intrigued about the process of creating Redheaded Peckerwood, which has come to define Patterson’s style. When I met with him in his Brooklyn studio, he was editing the photographs he had shot on a recent trip back to his hometown of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin for a small-run book he’s working on as a reprieve before tackling his next big project.
Jacob Pastrovich How did you end up coming to New York from Wisconsin?
Christian Patterson I had a camera for a while, but I didn’t become interested in photography until after I moved to New York. I didn’t study art, but I was in a student organization in college that involved coming to New York once a year and like many people, I was very excited and blown away by the city and each year I came back I became more comfortable. When I came here, I had no idea I’d be doing some of the things I did or some of the things I’m doing now. I was offered a job in a completely different line of work and industry but that brought me here initially, and when I got here I began exploring the city, wanting to get the know it more, bringing my camera along, inevitably popping in and out of galleries, museums, and bookstores and seeing work that inspired me to try to make better pictures. It turned into an obsession.
Amy Adler on artist’s rights, the impact of conceptual art on law and Texts from Hillary.
Amy Adler is the Emily Kempin Professor of Law at NYU School of Law. Her practice focuses on art, sexuality, and speech and explores the relationship between law and the construction of culture. At NYU, she teaches Art Law, First Amendment Law, Feminist Jurisprudence, and Gender Jurisprudence. She is also on the faculty of the Visual Culture department. When I first met Adler it was in a class of hers I sat in on at NYU Law. Into the Day-Glo fluorescence of classroom lights—at a time where most art world folk in New York are usually taking an Aspirin and mourning the err in judgment of attending whatever open-bar-gallery-crawl had taken place the night before—Adler strolled in fresh-faced and dazzling in a crisp Chanel suit and pearls. Along with her came a little boy—her own—who promptly seated himself at the front of the class. Not only did her son participate in class discussion (the kid just might have a future in art criticism), but Adler in the next forty minutes proceeded to create correlations between everything from reality TV, to feminist theory, to legal precedence. Nothing was safe. At the end of the session, with far too many questions of my own and too little time remaining, I knew I had to find a way to continue the conversation. It wasn’t until quite some time later that Adler and I found a few hours to lunch and discuss the laws of art, art law, authenticity, collective action, and the notion of provenance in a digital age.
Legacy Russell You have said before that the law “works by creating rules” and yet that “art is somehow bound-up in the transgression of those same rules.” Can you speak to this a bit? And talk about how it relates to the work you’ve done in a concrete sense?
Amy Adler I was just reading a passage today from Adorno where he writes: “Art revolts against its essential concepts while at the same time being inconceivable without them.” We are living in such an interesting moment in contemporary practice. I’ve been playing around with the question: What if art’s longstanding “revolt” against its essential concepts has been a bit too successful? Perhaps “art” as a category has become “inconceivable.” I wonder if we are teetering on that brink. Legal rules are premised on the assumption that art is a stable category, but what happens to law as that assumption becomes unsound? The instability of “art” as a category has implications across a wide swath of legal and cultural stuff. One place we can begin to talk about is in the area of moral rights, which is something that I’ve done a lot of work on and continue to do.
Augustus Thompson on making art in the shower, Instagram and his solo show at Ed. Varie.
For Augustus Thompson’s latest installation at Ed. Varie in New York, the artist has taken on the role of organizer and collagist of cultural information. Building an archival self-portrait by appropriating images from social media feeds, personal photographs, music videos and texts, Thompson layers printed works to form a floor-based collage. Compositions where Chicago rapper Chief Keef’s Instagram “selfies” meet aerial shots of the Grand Canyon are superimposed on images of the artist’s studio, construction sites and consumer objects. A seemingly infinite combination of potential narratives and associations opens up in the juxtapositions of these prints, resulting in a personal image stream where the mundane and everyday meet the extraordinary.
Antonia Marsh For Hold Tight, which will be your first solo exhibition of 2013, you’re preparing a site-specific installation for the gallery, is that right?
Augustus Thompson Yes, the installation will be around 40 or so digital prints on 13”x19” watercolor paper placed on the floor covered with a clear vinyl. I want the audience to walk on the prints, and although hopefully they won’t get damaged. I do want a tension to be there because it feels slightly strange to be walking on artwork.
Aura Rosenberg—whose “The Golden Age” harkens back to the politics of appropriation of her earlier work—discusses her use of pornography with husband John Miller.
Aura Rosenberg began using pornographic imagery in her work about 25 years ago. After a period of intense activity, she stopped and moved on to other subjects, only to return to it in 2011. Much, however, had changed: the porn “industry,” the social acceptability of pornographic images, the kinds of cameras used to produce them and the kinds of media used to disseminate them. In short, very little stayed the same. Instead of taking a “bad girl” stance, Rosenberg raises the prospect of a feminine gaze. In the interview that follows, she and I discuss some of these issues and what they might imply.
John Miller When did you start working with pornography?
Aura Rosenberg It was the summer of 1988.
JM We already had been together for four years at the point.
AR No—more like two years. When we met I was making paintings by imprinting my body on canvas. We were just getting to know one another when you suggested we collaborate on these paintings. You built some shaped canvases—a cross and an x—and painted my body brown. I always felt that was your version of “Come up and see my etchings.”
Patti Astor talks about her new book and her role in the New York art scene of the 1980s.
In 1980, on a lark, Patti Astor and Bill Stelling opened FUN Gallery in the then “undiscovered” East Village. It was meant to be an outlet from the pomp of the ivory (shall we say, white) tower art world that had until then covered its eyes and ears to what was happening on the street.
“To the street!” That was Patti’s battle cry. Whether marching for civil rights, tapping out a performance on Union Street, or crawling through Central Park as Snake Woman for a Tina L’Hotsky film, she was where the action was. Where it wasn’t, she created and became the action. So when this activist/actress applied her skillz to making a gallery, a change had truly come. The FUN Gallery gave minorities and unrecognized artists the chance to cover the walls and floor freely. FUN Gallery can be credited in part for the east coast hip-hop explosion of the ’80s, especially where graffiti is concerned. Patti Astor’s first book FUN Gallery: The True Story, tells all—and, if you know Patti, she tells it like it is! So put on your Converse and get ready for a journey through the beatbox-blasting, Krylon-scented streets of downtown past.
Richard Goldstein How’s everything in California?
Patti Astor It’s good, it’s good. I moved since we last spoke, I actually did an art deal (gasp) and made some money. Finally. I was able to move down to my dream home Hermosa Beach, and I’m in this little kind of ’60s surfer trailer park. It’s awesome. It’s been very, very good for me. I’ve done a lot of stuff since I’ve been here. My dream was always to be here in Hermosa Beach. It’s one of the last small beach towns left. There’s no big hotel on the waterfront. It’s just a cool, small town. There’re no hipsters.
Micah Stansell talks about premeditated experimentation, collaborative production processes, and weighs in on the film vs. video debate.
Micah Stansell is an Atlanta-based video and installation artist. His most recent production, The Water and The Blood, was projected onto the side of the High Museum during the summer of 2012. Stansell has received several awards for his work, most recently a 2011 Artadia Award and 2010 Working Artist Project Award from the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Stansell in his home studio to learn more about his work, from pre-production to installation.
Rachel Reese Let’s start with the most recent work, The Water and The Blood (2011-2012).
Micah Stansell It was first shown at MOCA GA in 2011 and then in the summer of 2012 at the High Museum. That was the work I made as a result of the Working Artist Project Grant for MOCA GA.
RR What were the sound components for The Water and The Blood, specifically for the High Museum installation, as it was projected on the façade of the museum and in Sifly Piazza?
MS The music or soundtrack was broadcast via speakers we had placed on top of the building and it spilled down below; it was really beautiful. And there were two vocal tracks. One was a sort of “verbal score” and the other track was actors delivering monologues and you could hear those via headphones, your smart phone, or little speaker stations. They had a very short radius so you could only hear them if you stood around them.
The Propeller Group discusses Vietnamese graffiti, infiltrating the advertising world and their upcoming show at the Guggenheim.
When Tuan Andrew Nguyen, Phunam, and Matt Lucero started The Propeller Group in Ho Chi Minh City in 2006, achieving their goal of large-scale collaboration with Vietnamese artists proved both complicated and unpredictable. The collective’s work, blending interests in the visual arts, video, media, and popular culture, is both ironic and earnest, with a political awareness that lurks just below the surface. The Propeller Group straddles a new space between the art gallery and the media world, with an interdisciplinary and border-crossing appeal. By playing with cultural boundaries and bringing artists from around the world to Vietnam, they upend viewers expectations and, it appears, the expectations of the artists themselves. You can see their video project, Television Commercial for Communism (TVCC), at the Guggenheim’s No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia exhibit, opening on February 22nd in New York.
This interview was conducted over the phone with Tuan Andrew Nguyen in Los Angeles, followed by a second Skype call with Tuan, joined by Phunam and Matt Lucero in Ho Chi Minh City.
Diane Mehta What inspired you to establish the collective?
Propeller Group Matt and I [Tuan] started doing collaborative projects while we were at CalArts in 2003-2004. At CalArts, we were organizing public events and symposiums and also doing collaborative projects with other artists too.
In 2005, I met Phunam in Vietnam. There wasn’t a lot happening in the arts scene that really intrigued us at the time, so we began to make video and films together. We noticed graffiti in Vietnam for the first time—when we started asking around, we discovered it was this one kid in Hanoi, Linkfish. He was inspired by the graffiti on Mear One’s 1999 Significant One album cover for Limp Bizkit and was trying to figure out what it all meant in a Vietnamese context.
In 2006, with Spray it, Don’t Say it, we began documenting graffiti artists, who were just starting to adopt American-style graffiti and place it in the Vietnamese landscape. Phunam and I continued shooting documentaries but quickly discovered that it was difficult to film in public without the proper permissions. We decided to register as a film production company—forming a company would make it easier to get the paperwork done—but realized that if we set up as an advertising company instead, we could film in public, rent out billboards, buy media space on TV channels, and generally have more freedom.
A critical as well as a creative process, Jules Marquis originates in an experimental awareness shared between conceptual artist Daniel Turner and video artist Colin Snapp. Perhaps less of a collaborative project than an impersonal presence, “Jules”—as Turner and Snapp refer to the works they sign off under her name—is a fictive third-person, a woman, who adroitly facilitates the artistry of Turner and Snapp for her own aesthetic explorations. Her ventures, however, are no masquerade. Among other things that make “Jules” such a rarity, is the fact that she’s so independent- minded. Her work even presents itself as something radically different from—and self-consciously critical of—the work of both her fraternal co-conspirators.
Jules Marquis has been, and will always be, the dematerialized realization of an intensely collaborative dialogue between Turner and Snapp—a dialogue that touches on nonpartisan agitprop, controlled chaos, and mindful criticality toward questionable practices prevalent in the gallery system. What interested me personally, though, was why Snapp and Turner seemingly discontinued this dialogue whenever they engaged in their own individual practices. So when I interviewed them, I was delighted to glimpse how their respective practices and sensibilities fed into the ever mercurial enterprise of Jules Marquis.
In the following conversation, Turner, Snapp, and myself discuss Jules Marquis as a collaborative body of work designed to address the prevalence of media in contemporary society, revealing how Turner and Snapp’s individual practices relate to the works credited to Jules. Through the course of our discussion, we direct our attention to essential projects Jules has engaged in over the past two years.
Jeffrey Grunthaner So tell me about Jules Marquis. What’s the history behind it?
Colin Snapp Jules Marquis started off as collaboration about ten years back, in San Francisco.
Miriam Katz on crying with Aziz Ansari, her new podcast and the role of comedy in the art world.
Over the last few years, Miriam Katz tracked through basement bars and comedy clubs, galleries and museums, trying to split the difference between the high and low of the comedy world. Her recently inaugurated monthly podcast, Breakdown, focuses on a wide range of funny people, from comedians to artists to those in between. In this conversation, we tried to locate Katz’ position in the comedy world. While tracing her engagement through laughter, stand-up, and a lot of feelings, we found our way into some of the darker depths of the comic, but wove our way back, redeemed.
Sam Korman It’s nice timing that we’re conducting this interview during Obama’s oath of office. It is such an important moment, today is his big inauguration speech and we decided that we’re going to sit down on our computers and talk over Skype about comedy. . .
Miriam Katz I don’t know if I’m proud of that. . .
SK I don’t know either. So, you’ve worked in the art world for many years and have recently done a number of projects related to the work of comedians, all of which leads me to ask, why is comedy so important?
MK Partly it feels important because it gives people relief. Also, it allows very difficult truths to come forward. I love the gamut that it encompasses: very serious things and the most playful, childlike things come together. It’s critical and also really fun. That’s one reason I think the art world ought to look at it. The art world is interested in criticality, but often in a very serious way. There’s something about being critical in a joyous way that’s especially powerful.
Mark Mulroney’s visual and sculptural work depicts a body in gross excess: engorged genitalia, numerous oozing bodily fluids, and characters in between ecstatic and sadistic states. Explicitly sexual and mostly NSFW, Mulroney’s work is itself refreshingly hyper and perverse, reinforced by his surprisingly succinct and brightly colored artist statement: “People don’t want to die, and they want to have sex.”
Though thematically juvenile, his work isn’t exclusively such and the labor used to create the works is not forgotten, especially with a section on his website entitled, “TEDIOUS INK DRAWINGS.” Many of his drawings are traditional in execution but subversive in content, with dense landscapes that could take hours to digest. Broad in scope, his works encompass everything from a miniature nude woman carved from wood to a child’s bedroom mural. When his oeuvre is laid out, his aesthetic attention to form affirms that, although not one to evade the crude, he is willing and able to incorporate it in vivid and sophisticated terms.
Mulroney provides levity in an art universe choking with sober academia. Depending on your mental state at the time, any piece could cause an onslaught of laughter or of tears. His playful inventiveness acts as a flashback to youthful fantasies fraught with appendageal obsessions and a reveling in cartoon gore and guts. Though his artist statement addresses adult conundrums, his art conjures memories of a less media driven existence, while providing twisted amusement.
Effie Bowen For your upcoming solo show at Mixed Greens, the subject matter includes islands and vintage issues of Playboy. How did you prepare your material and decide on the content?
Mark Mulroney I just work and see if a theme emerges and go for that. It is winter in Syracuse so I like to look at warm pictures and naked bodies so that is what I am doing now. I suppose when summer rolls around I will be using a lot of cool colors and be drawing a lot of water. I don’t work to tell me where I am. I work to let me go somewhere else.
EB How is life in Syracuse?
MM Pretty solitary with lots of terrible food and college basketball fans. I can’t wait for baseball season and the Syracuse Chiefs to start playing again.
A failed interview with the author of The Address Book, available now for the first time in English.
I thought Sophie Calle was blasting Van Morrison in her studio when I called for an interview. A few minutes later she told me to turn my music down. The hold-songs were a comically misread sign that the third party conference-call site was not in fact recording our conversation. We ultimately forfeited to the mechanical obstacles that foiled our attempts to start over. Had I understood the technology, had we had more time, had “Born to Run” not drowned out our brief interaction, I would have interviewed Sophie about The Address Bookher project from 1980 newly translated into English and published by Siglio Press.
The controversial project has attracted a sizable viewer/readership, but for those who aren’t familiar: it is a compilation of text and images that documents Sophie Calle’s encounters with the acquaintances listed in an address book she found on Rue des Martyrs. Before returning the book to its owner, known to us as Pierre D., Sophie photocopied its contents in order to build a portrait of a missing subject by contacting his contacts. Each documented encounter yields a new impression with a new valence; overlay them all and a figure may start to take shape. Toward the end Calle reflects, “The descriptions merge together. The picture gets more defined and exhausts itself at the same time.” Some examples: Paul B. characterizes Pierre as “a child forgotten in an airport;” Jacques O. remarks on his “well-mastered incongruity;” and Marianne B. describes him as “a cloud in trousers.” Other encounters yield nothing besides Calle’s reconsideration and doubt concerning her work. Pierre’s brother, a psychoanalyst, declined the invitation because the project was “too inquisitive.” The accompanying photos—a chair Pierre liked to sit in, his building’s peeling ceiling, the crotch of an informant—are equally inquisitive, and quietly illustrative.
Architect Carlos Brillembourg’s poetic meditation on Keith Sonnier’s sculptures at Mary Boone Gallery.
Off the re
In my opinion
Clear as a bell
Lighting strikes three or four times
Lisa Radon on her recent PICA residency, the white magic of books, and transforming radical skepticism into Radical Openness.
Lisa Radon makes essays, poems, performances, and publications that carry with them a mesmerizing ethereal quality despite the density of their content. She continues the tradition of the artist who not only postulates, but also creates; devising works that combine her stream of consciousness research with a smart design sensibility.
I corresponded with Lisa at the end of her Resource Room Residency (RRR) at Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA). Begun in 2012, the RRR is conceived for artists whose methodologies utilize text, design, and research. The residents are granted a stipend and unlimited access to PICA’s archive and library for a three-month period.
Mack McFarland Lisa, the press release for your Resource Room Residency, titled WHITE MOUNTAIN, is a lovely bit of prose poetry that does not describe much of what you were doing in the Resource Room, though it does leave us with some tantalizing images. Taken with the quotes from René Daumal’s Mount Analogue: A Tale of Non-Euclidian and Symbolically Authentic Mountaineering Adventures and Blaise Cendrars’s, The Astonished Man, I am sensing a feeling of scientific wonder towards the incomprehensible largeness and stealthy nature of language. You write: “WHITE MOUNTAIN is a constellation.” What are some of the points of that constellation?
Lisa Radon It all comes from and through language (language is my primary medium, after all) and reading specifically (Cendrars says, ”...eating the book is the highest form of white magic.”) – but that’s just where I started.
Adrien Tirtiaux’s architectural installations channel a new form of political opposition.
Recent austerity measures taken by the Dutch government have slashed cultural funding for the Netherlands by 21%. The major cuts to individual artist grants and funds for institutional research will go into effect next month, and while some small institutions subsequently have gone under, others are bracing themselves for the upcoming changes.
The Great Cut is Belgian artist Adrien Tirtiaux’s response to this shift. The project, a performative architectural intervention, was on view at Stroom Den Haag as part of the Fall 2012 exhibition Expanded Performance. The accumulative sculpture occupied 21% of Stroom’s site, imposing a physical obstruction to the center for art and architecture that both mirrored the economic impediment and encouraged conflict and consensus to surface. The work was produced in tandem with a series of discussions with the members of Stroom’s staff, who collectively navigated the conceptual, aesthetic, and logistical problems introduced by the project’s invasiveness. The intervention began in the office spaces, where the budget cuts will be most severe, and moved out into the exhibition space in stages over the course of the exhibition. I sat down with the artist in December, among the sounds of construction at Stroom to discuss the unfolding narrative of The Great Cut.
Annie Godfrey Larmon As the progress of The Great Cut has been inflected heavily by the site of Stroom, perhaps you could talk about how the project was conceived and how it changed when you arrived in The Hague?
Adrien Tirtiaux I’ve noticed that when I am invited to work within a specific context, I am drawn to the problematic situations within a site. I hate working with a white cube. I’ve found it is better to have a bad space, or disturbing elements with which to engage. It’s been interesting for me to thematize problems, rather than provide solutions. I have many Dutch friends, and for the last two or three years, all anyone can talk about are the cuts, the cuts. It seems as though the symbolic problem engages more thought than the work that is shown in the galleries.
Anoka Faruqee’s paintings convert crafted labor into vision, as they seem to dematerialize before our eyes. Her description of these effects, however, seeks to demystify them without diminishing their power to dazzle and confound. Faruqee writes, “A moiré pattern is an interference effect created by the overlay of two or more offset patterns. The fusion of the patterns creates another pattern that is quite unlike and much more complex than any of the individual ones.”
I had seen her work online and read a bit of Faruqee’s writings before I met her, and I was curious to see how her ability to parse complex social and philosophic issues would relate to the woozy optics of her paintings. I finally met her at Yale, where we both teach and where we’ve navigated public conversations during group critiques, but hadn’t had an opportunity to explore what matters most to this recent LA transplant with family roots in South Asia. This fall I had a conversation in front of an audience with Anoka, surrounded by her paintings during a solo exhibition at the Hosfelt Gallery in New York. She describes her work as a balance of worked out process and intuitive experimentation in a way that makes sense but also comes with surprising turns and shadings.
David Humphrey I wanted to start with an epigraph that is more of an apology than it is a question. Samuel Beckett writes somewhere that to restore silence is the role of objects. We’re going to go against Beckett now and restore noise in the form of talking.
Here’s my first question: I feel your paintings almost insist on being described with self-contradictory terms like ephemeral materiality, or speedy slowness. Their vibrating opticality—and the way that opticality arises from your accomplished craftsmanship—reminds me of the Richard Sennett book called The Craftsman, in which he equates making with thinking. I’m curious what kind of thinking emerges for you from the process of making.
Anoka Faruqee That’s a great question. You’re right to say that the work deals with the poles, and reconciling poles. I definitely see thinking and making as part of the same process. I don’t see them as being opposite.
I’ve always been interested in knowledge that’s not passively received, but actively experienced. I guess that’s why I make paintings—or why I believe in making paintings—because the act of making the painting presents the question.
DH What excites me about your paintings is that they are so emphatically material. Undisguised paint and signs of process don’t diminish the effect: there is a disappearance of matter into the visual hum. I feel like this has the possibility of being a metaphor for something—about being in the world, perhaps.
AF These are very optical paintings, some more than others. You look at them and see them very much as image and illusion. There are a lot of things happening with color in the moiré patterns that are kind of illusionistic. Yet I don’t want the materiality to be lost. The materiality is important, even though it’s sublimated somewhat. I feel like I’m sublimating the materiality for the optical experience, and so much of what you are seeing are traces or residues of material events.
Gerald Jackson describes life as a black painter in the Bowery, poetry versus hip hop, and the jazz scene of the 1980s.
I am very pleased to present this short introduction into the world of Gerald Jackson. I think you will find him a very rare and extremely creative human being. I have known Gerald now for over 30 years and continue to find our conversations inspiring, funny and poignant. As an artist, his work goes from video to painting and sculpture to fashion to music and to performance.
Feminine desires past and present in an exhibition, a biography, and a book of poems.
Triple ruffled at the wrist, her lace-gloved hand, cocked—index and thumb extended, covers the lower half of her face above which two dark eyes dare. Punctuating their span, the eyes emphasize the scalene triangle of negative space between her two fingers. The hand, a mask itself in covering, holds the face as if it were a mask—the situation of the double mask. All the while, the eyes float behind both. Oh, Dilon read on. Odilon Redon. This geometry of vogue would be enough to make de Honnecourt swoon . . .
These thoughts rushed through my head as I saw Lisa Cohen’s All We Know: Three Lives. Two of the three women the book explores would probably agree that a good cover is almost everything, this would be one-time fashion editor of British Vogue, Madge Garland, and the much misunderstood socialite Mercedes de Acosta. The third, Esther Murphy, was more active in politics and pontificating than appearances…though, all three women were political in some right by uncompromisingly being who they were; minorities at the center of the culture of their time. Their lives do intersect, and where not directly, their circles do. By bringing these three together, Cohen provides a much needed window on the changing expectations and roles of pre- and post-war (lesbian) women, society, and fashion.
Craig Drennen discusses his current body of work, Timon of Athens, the power of abandoned cultural productions, and life in Atlanta.
Craig Drennen spends years on a body of work. Starting in 2008, he has focused on his eponymous series Timon of Athens, based Shakespeare’s play of the same name. Since moving to Atlanta this summer I’ve become acquainted with Drennen, and his dedicated practice, through a mutual friend. Drennen’s studio is housed in an outbuilding of the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center as part of their Studio Artist Program. Recently we met to discuss the convergence of theater and painting in his work.
Rachel Reese How were you first introduced to Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens and how did you become so invested in this particular piece of literature?
Craig Drennen Well, by late 2007 I had finished up the Supergirl project that I’d been working on for about five and a half years. I’d had Timon of Athens on my mind for some time. I like starting my entire artistic process with something that culture produced but then abandoned—and I’m drawn to things that are both strong and weak simultaneously. Also, I’m curious about acting as it relates to art. Timon of Athens was a perfect subject. It was the worst play by the most idolized writer in the English language. I think I first heard about it in some used bookstore, and from then on it was always on my radar. Timon of Athens is a corrupted text of indeterminate history, with a dubious relationship to the respected canon, and questionable sources. That is to say, it perfectly mirrors my own position within the art world. (laughter)
Multi-media artist Tony Martin talks about his synesthesia-driven take on creating space that draws on human-to-human connection.
In the early 1960s, Tony Martin moved into a loft overlooking the Embarcadero in San Francisco. It was there, with the sound of the ferryboats and street floating in through the windows that he may have begun the process of discovering that “the best stuff comes out of the destruction of our intentions.” After studying painting for years, Martin had become frustrated with his output. One day, he took more than the usual amount of paint to canvas, moving it all at once with three paint brushes and some cardboard to reach a point where it was all wet and glistening. It would take months to dry. “There you are,” he declared. This is one of the pivotal moments in Martin’s personal life to which he would hold all of his best work up to; the rest he would leave out for the sanitation department.
It was during that same period that he met artists and composers Ramon Sender, Morton Subotnick, and William Maginnis—all devoted to working in the tape music medium. With Tony at the helm visually, they worked on various compositions, establishing a network of friendships and collaboration that continues to this day. Combining overhead and slide projectors, objects, liquid, paint, and light, Martin began performing his live light compositions alongside the compositions of sound pioneers such as Terry Riley (In C) and Pauline Oliveros (Bye Bye Butterfly). When the San Francisco Tape Music Center moved to 321 Divisadero Street in the spring of 1963, co-directors Sender and Subotnick asked Martin to join up as their Visual Director. With alchemical precision, he culled together the enduring ideas or what he called the “ingredients” for a lifelong project, with close attention paid to the palette of light and a painterly approach. Martin’s following grew as the culture of psychedelia spread though the later half of the decade and he began producing light compositions for bands such as the Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead at Fillmore Auditorium shows. Because he was a classically trained musician, he was built for the job. Greatly adept at rhythm, he was “painting in time.”
Tony Martin I’m working on a new piece and in the process of putting the piece together I’m allowing a lot of latitude. I incorporated some ideas from earlier work and from last year’s work where I worked with my analogue projection setups, which are really directly related to painting. I use liquids and dry things on overhead projectors. I hand-paint glass slides and those blend in a way that for me is an extension of painting in time. Painting as a moving image. Alongside that is also performing with optical things. Light Pendulum was a piece that began very early on when I was seeing Nam June Paik sometimes and we would talk. He came into my studio at LaGuardia Place and he saw the Light Pendulum in ’71 or ’72 and I was talking about how that was a piece I hoped in 30 years I could work with again. He understood what I meant and sure enough I built a new base for it and used new sensors, but not changing the content of the piece. So for Proximity Switched Installation, 2012 I had these things lying around, the light pendulum, three DVDs from 1970 and three DVDs from last year, and I was just casually trying some things out to find a thread of meaning that would be current for me because I think I’ve become more interested in the way the world is as I’m observing it in the past five years.
Nicky Mao This book was quite the undertaking, since it’s the first of its kind for you. We neglected to explain this one in the book interview. [Pointing to the image of Phase Shift Brush, 1977.]
Stephen Ratcliffe on the Michael Gregory’s “real” wide open spaces.
If, for instance, you were ordered to paint a particular shade of blue called “Prussian Blue”, you might have to use a table to lead you from the word “Prussian Blue” to a sample of the colour, which would serve you as your copy.
—Ludwig Wittgenstein, The Blue Book
The titles of the paintings in Michael Gregory’s Western Construct — Lander, Red Slate, Deep Springs, Saddle Butte, Bitterroot, South Pass, Medicine Ridge, Grangeville, Clearwater, Bodie —are the names of actual (real) places in the world, places Michael Gregory has himself seen (in person) when he travels from his home in Bolinas (on the coast of California, just north of San Francisco) to take photographs of things he finds in Idaho, Eastern Washington, the Palouse–pictures of places such as these, which he will use in the paintings he will make when he returns to his studio.
Sculptor Judith Shea curates an archive of self-portraits by women members at the National Academy Museum.
Entering Her Own Style: An Artists Eye with Judith Shea, at the National Academy Museum last fall, one was greeted by an unusual crowd: a selection of self-portrait paintings by the rare 19th-century female members of the Academy. It was like a parallel universe of pioneering artists, poignant in their struggle to strike poses balanced between unabashed confidence and traditional femininity, between “I’m part of the club” and “I wouldn’t join any club that would have me.” Upstairs galleries of 20th and 21st-century members’ self-portraits surrounded Shea’s three incandescent life-size portrait sculptures.
There was tremendous energy in this gathering. Shea’s work embodies the elegance of restraint: each sculpture feels paired down to its essential form—confident, solid, precise. The figures staring out of the paintings and sculptures seemed to send out shivers of delight at being released from the storage rooms where most had languished for so long. I wanted to ask Shea about this act of wildly inclusive generosity: her choice to mingle barely known, hopeful fore-bearers amongst the famous few. I seized on this opportunity to draw her out about the ideas of solidarity and femininity in this exhibition, and about the trajectory her work has taken over the years, from the ethereal early clothing deconstructions to these imposing portraits.
Jane Dickson How did the idea for this exhibition evolve?
Judith Shea The Academy made an overture about curating something from their collection, which I didn’t know very well. I did not have an agenda. I began by looking at photographs before I began to look at real work; there’s a book that covers the collection up to 1920s. What stood out right away was this extraordinary collection of self-portraits by the member artists. Submitting a self-portrait used to be a requirement of membership.
Artists don’t often get into the back rooms, the storage rooms of museums. It’s this incredible thing. Like any comprehensive collection from this period (the 1820s to the present), for the first century it’s pretty much men—great men, men with names—and then there are women who are usually nude and nameless, or called The Muse, or Liberty, or Naptime.
Painting fast and slow: Chuck Webster gives us a peek inside his studio.
I met with Chuck Webster in his studio last week to talk about painting, and his process of painting. We covered content, context, object, and material, and the unique transformation that happens between material and painting.
Samuel Jablon Are you taking risks with these paintings?
Chuck Webster I am working both fast and slow. I am trying to combine what I was doing in paintings five years ago with what I was doing in the spring. I want to make things that have a long history, and then have marks that are instant and spontaneous. It is as though something has been polished and given a patina of history, and then renewed—worked and worked, and then finished quickly—as though I am making a long, long preparation for a few moments of free, innocent play. (A small debt to Philip Guston’s words acknowledged here.)
SJ When does one of your paintings have an authentic quality, when do you know it’s your work?
CW I put about four or five things in each painting, and two or three of them do not live to see the end. The work becomes authentic when those irrelevant things cancel themselves out and the work has only what it really needs. It sheds off a false skin to become what it really is.
Julian Hoeber on film, intertextuality, and his latest piece, Demon Hill, a disorienting optical illusion come to life.
Following a phone conversation with LA-based artist Julian Hoeber, my almost illegible notes read: Luc Sante, obscure film that does cinema as sculpture, Kelly Nipper, Stories in an Almost Classical Mode, history of Shaker furniture, Mike Kelley, The Tin Drum, recipe for brandade, What is Cinema?, watch Safe again. These ciphers were evidence of a long friendship maintained across distance. In a way, they illuminated Hoeber’s sensbility as an artist—his intense self-reflexivity, his subversive take on art history, even his attention to the representation of violence.
In Hoeber’s September exhibition at Harris Lieberman Gallery in New York, I encounter these concerns in a visceral way. Standing inside the vertiginous architecture of Demon Hill, his optical drawings have a dizzying velocity. Hoeber’s work unsettles. He offers us clues without resolution. For his exhibition with Alix Lambert at Blum & Poe this past summer he borrowed the title No Person May Carry a Fish into a Bar from an archaic LA law. The exhibition asked: what is a crime? Offering up exquisite forgeries, contemporary relics, sculptures, traces from and documents of crime scenes as so many seductive objects requiring our forensic attention, Hoeber cast the viewer in the position of witness or detective.
Jenn Joy I have a flickering after-image from your artist’s talk at RISD a few weeks ago that I want to return to. I love the way you spoke of the ambivalence of the photograph—the multiple histories present in the faces of the Boers staring at the camera—and how this document calls out our assumptions around the heroics of the rebel and the romanticism of the worker. I’m curious to hear more about how photography, specifically the fiction of the document, animates your practice. As an index, documentary photography seems to act as an unconscious side of, or subtext to, your work and your art-making process.
Julian Hoeber Photography is the art that I grew up with. My mother is a photographer and I was her subject for many years. I always have been friends with and surrounded by photographers, but I never have been any good at it myself. Like anyone else, I’ve made a few good photographs, but that’s not being a photographer. It’s been a source of frustration, in part because of having been photographed so often, that photographs are so untrustworthy. None of my mother’s pictures ever gave me much information about who I was. The way photographs confront you with something that looks like a fact, but that turns out to be much sloppier, is central to how I think about my own work.
The Boer picture you mention is filled with contradictions. It’s a wonderful image for contemporary liberals. To our eyes, it looks like Tom Joad and his compatriots after the end of The Grapes of Wrath. The Boers were an army of farmers, but their historical significance is more complex than we can see in the picture. They were put in concentration camps by the British; they altered the course of British colonial rule throughout the world, but they were also a source of inspiration to the Nazis. The photograph can’t reveal that. The conflicts of meaning inherent in photography fascinate me. However, I want the conflicts in my work to be less shrouded. I’ve been better at making videos and movies because they allow more room to open up the discussion of what’s happening in a picture.
In a lot of my sculpture and painting there is a sense that what you know and what you perceive are in conflict. I suppose the odd, nauseating feeling that came with recognizing the conflict between what I knew of myself and what I saw in hundreds of pictures my mother shot of me, has been very productive.
The artist collective Ogun was founded in the early 1990s, the name taken from the Yoruba orisha, the god of metal. The artists located rusty, abandoned automobiles on the streets and in the fields of Detroit, and turned them into “Urban Monumentz,” painted and embellished with found objects in a way that calls to mind African funerary ware and dedicated to fallen musicians, poets, activists or artists. The dedication ceremonies were performances by a collaboration of six to ten musicians, two dancers and several poets. Such rituals have taken place at grounds of several museums, including Cranbrook Art Museum and Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History as well as in Boston, MA, and Kingston, Jamaica.
The core of the collective is African Master of Arts (AMA) Aaron Ibn Pori Pitts, a seminal member of the Detroit arts community; printmaker, videographer, filmmaker and community activist M. Saffell, AMA; painter, printmaker, videographer Lester Lashley, AMA; musician, sculptor Howard Mallory, AMA; found object and assemblage artist Dyenetta Dye, AMA from Wayne State University; and printmaker, painter and collage artist Zola Adjuma, AMA.
Potts, the founding member of the collective suffered a debilitating stroke a few years ago, making it difficult for him to speak. Joining our discussion on his behalf, are two other founding members, M. Saffell Gardner and Dyenetta Dye. Saffell and Dye spoke with me about Ogun, the Detroit art scene and their recent collaboration with Apetechnology for the exhibition Vision in a Cornfield on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit through December 30th 2012.
Cary Loren I’d like to talk about how you both became active in the Ogun art collective.
M. Saffell Gardner I’ve known Aaron Ibn Pori Pitts since the late ’70s or early ’80s, but we got together at one point during the late ’80s to do a two-person show. He had a print shop in Detroit on Hamilton, so we said, “Well, let’s make a poster.” The poster turned into a print, and that started our collaboration. At one point, Ibn started to enter a bunch of marathons. He ran extensively. He trained at Rouge Park in Detroit, and he started to notice cars that had been abandoned. He’d see them—well, everyone used to see them—on the streets. He found one in Rouge Park and he contacted Dye and I, and said, “Okay, well, we’re going to start working together.” Then he got in touch with Lester Lashley, founding member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in Chicago and that started the collaboration. One of the things we did was to recycle abandoned cars and turning them into urban monuments.
CL Once you found these cars, Ibn started to perform a ritual around them.
MSG Yes, we would start working on the car, and then Lester would come in and perform a sort of a ceremony around the car—circling around with one of the shakers he had made. He used to make shakers out of old film canisters that he would decorate. He would give everybody a shaker and we would walk around the car. . .
Samuel Jablon speaks with artist Heather Morgan about scandalous women, female identity, and the “peculiar kind of intensity” that informs her work.
I met Heather Morgan three years ago while I was looking for a studio, and was lucky enough to share a space with her for two years. I was drawn to her paintings of glamorous, charismatic women, though they sometimes left me feeling uneasy. Curious to learn more about her work, and why she does what she does, I asked her to do an interview. Our conversation touches on paint, performance, getting obliterated, and switching identity at will.
Samuel Jablon Why scandalously-dressed women up to no good?
Heather Morgan Why so many women? The question answers itself: women are interesting! The performance of the female gender is fascinating. It’s a performance I myself engage in, and consequently have a lot to say about. The characters I depict tend to be iconic, fringe sorts: their flaws and eccentricities are more readily on display. Their decadence and salaciousness belies their struggle—their acute self-awareness and their individual longings. As the old song goes, if that’s all there is, let’s start dancing.
A poignant vision of our country from the great American photographer Edward Weston is on view now at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
I am finding things out about America. I am reading old books about it and looking at old photographs and remembering the memories of my grandparents.
The photographs come from a series by Edward Weston used to illustrate an edition of Leaves of Grass. Today they fill a single gallery at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where they will be on display through the end of the year. These photographs show an America that is, like Whitman’s, not haunted by its past but given form by it in surprising and unsettling ways.
What can the superhuman tell us about humanity? Jorge Rojas on curating superHUMAN at Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art.
Dulce Pinzon’s photographs endow domestic workers and laborers with superhuman capabilities. Her subjects don the uniforms of superheroes like Spiderman or Superman, all while cleaning windows or babysitting children. A new group exhibition at Aljira Gallery in Newark, New Jersey called superHUMAN brings together work in the vein of Pinzon’s, that draws on fantasy or science fiction “speculative genres” to say something about the human condition. The show asks, how can superhero-type qualities cast light on desires and concerns that are genuinely human.
The artists, borrow from myths, comics, Hindu and Buddhist folklore, graphic novels, and popular TV shows like Lost or Star Trek, not to indulge in romanticized notions of the past or future, but to provide a new and original perspective on political and social life of today. Artist Jorge Rojas sat down with me at Aljira Gallery on a rainy Saturday afternoon to discuss the show he co-curated with David Hawkins.