Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Variations at Pirate: Contemporary Art

Catalyst III (left) with wood printing blocks leaning on the far wall. Infinite Drawing Series (right) on the wall.

Here are a few images from my latest exhibition Variations at Pirate: Contemporary Art in Denver. I had the opportunity to show next to Tsogo Mijid, a Mongolian painter who now lives with his family in Denver. His work was in the front room and since I am a new associate member I was in the back space, a very unique and challenging space.
2200 Feet Squared (left) resin sculpture and tissue paper sculpture on a Plexiglass stand. A light box work from 2005 (right) called Accumulations and Variations displaying 23 transparent and stacked prints.
Envisioning and designing a show is an extremely important part of curating. In this instance co-op gallery artists are free to do pretty much whatever they want and with this freedom comes the ability to contextualize, direct, and inform the viewer without the filter of a second or third party agenda, namely a commercial gallery or museum space. On a larger scale the hanging and presentation of the exhibition by the artist becomes a work in and of itself. Even if artists worked two dimensionally, in this format we are forced to create in a three dimensionally. I find the idea and execution of exhibiting just as fascinating as making the work. A great philosophical question arises, is it art if only the maker has seen it or does it become art once it is seen and judged by another? I believe in the latter. Making the work public transforms its meaning and in this instance it becomes or is declared based on the space and proclamation by myself and/or someone else whom recognized it as being art. Of course it can always become much more than that, more than the sum total of its parts if put in a different context, possibly another culture.
Tsogo Mijid's paintings and drawings in the front room of Pirate.
 There was some skepticism as to how the overall show would look with Tsogo and I have such different types of work and backgrounds. For myself it was never an issue. Art is a universal language and people are adaptable and tend to find similarities and ways of transitioning that seem unfathomable. Contemporary curating at museums and galleries throughout the world are proving that a percentage of curatorial direction comes from the viewers, not a prescribed and proven way of doing things. Adam Lerner, the MC at the Denver Museum of Contemporary Art is constantly doing this. His programing of the museum is rooted in paradoxical values and the unfathomable. The traditional sterile museum vultures of a staunchy dust collecting bins whom like to classify and group art according to dates, periods and styles would gasp and choke at the mention of how Adam has revolutionized the perception of the art museum.

Tsogo and I had a great time and the show was very successful. If you have the opportunity please check out your local co-op galleries. It is a beginning for most artists and it is in spaces like this that you can find some of the more interesting and cutting edge work being done in your community. Pirate: Contemporary is open Fridays 6-10 with an opening reception every 1st Friday of the month. Saturdays and Sundays 12-5. For more info visit pirateartonline.org.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Meditative Environmentalism and Neo-Sublime

Beau Carey's Ceph and Colorado Sarin
Beau Carey’s paintings may be simplified spaces, reducing the landscape to bands of color and open forms but this type of painting is much more complex. It’s a compositional challenge to know just how much to include leaving the artist no place for error. Everything on the canvas is an integral and essential part to conveying the image. Though Carey recently graduated with a Masters in fine art his work reflects his 10+ years of painting experience. Artists working in Carey’s genre of painting make distinct changes in their work over time. They either simplify or include more visual information as their ideas become more complex and insightful.

Some artists easily fall into the habit of being contained by the edges of their canvas. Their aesthetic choices, placement of forms and space become manipulated by the picture plane. Innovative painters tend to buck the formalistic norms. Everything in painting, from the type of paint, the type of surface, the layering and texture of the paint can all play a part in the communication of the concept. Intentionally the subject can be dead center or fall off the edge. In the end art is an illusion that alludes to something else in reality, be it an object or feeling or message. Art exists most powerfully in the mind and imagination. What is not said can be more important. Letting the viewer fill in the blanks is sometimes more potent. In some way Carey’s little spots of information about the landscape and placement of objects can be considered traditional formalistic decisions based on the picture plane. He is contained and allows the canvas edge to dictate the weight and placement of the forms but this is what makes his paintings beautiful. Beauty is partially in the image but mainly in the idea.
Turner's Hannibal and His Army Crossing the Alps, 1812 and The Burning of the Houses of Parliament, 1835
In an art world and information age that champions slick consumer culture, eye candy through neon illumination and cluttered surfaces, the openness of Carey’s paintings and muted colors are meditatively nostalgic. There is a sublime sense of contemplative calmness to his work. Some of the first atmospheric types of work referred to as sublime were done by the English painter Joseph Mallard Turner in mid to late 19th century. His inspiration to suspend a moment of terror and mystery for contemplation was sparked by thick London fog, soot filled skies stoked by a coal driven industrial revolution, monumentally disastrous fires, and treacherous alpine and ocean storms. Though he was a meticulous architectural draftsman Turner had another side. His images were obscured and abstracted as evinced by his scribbling and scrubbing style of drawing and painting. He attempted to capture a specific moment in time, both physically and emotionally as it unfolded. Turner’s sublime was based on nature’s powerful and violent conditions. He presented them in the form of blinding atmospheric affects, transforming danger into beauty. Over half a century of sublime romanticism is evinced in seascape works by Caspar David Friedrich and to Gustave Courbet.
Friedrich's Monk by the Sea, 1808-10 and Courbet's The Calm Sea, 1869
Carey’s sublime is a bit different, smooth, more esoteric, akin to a color field painting. Unlike Turner’s focus on nature’s destructive tendencies or the literal tactility of sky and sea by Friedrich and Courbet, Carey with airbrush strokes envelopes us in an infinite expanse of sky and land (possibly the calm before the storm). Vast amounts of lonely quiet space make some people feel insecure, vulnerable, and threatened. In a painting this solitude is palpable, controlled, nonthreatening, and eventually gleaned as beautiful. He describes his paintings as ‘spaces of potential’ drawing our attention to what we would otherwise deem boring and plain thus challenging our perception of desolation.    

He says his work is “critically aware of important issues concerning land use”. I’m not sure he successfully conveys this because what may be mismanaged land use, under utilization, or ugly is made beautiful and complimentary of the surrounding environment. What I do see is the immensity of the sky in relation to a sliver of landscape spotted with tiny buildings, a sublime revelation of how little of the Earth’s surface we occupy. It may be a disaster scenario that says we are on thin ice dependent on a fragile oxygen filled membrane for survival. Under the weight of that infinite sky it could collapse at any moment. 
Philip Govedare's Black Lake, 2011 and Excavation, 2010

Fern Shaffer and Othello Anderson, painting and performance wearing a raffia costume.
Based on what Carey is saying about his work I immediately thought of Philip Govedare’s paintings that depict aerial views of poisoned and decimated natural environments. Though Govedare’s paintings are aesthetically pleasing they quickly read as man-made disasters. Contemporary environmental concerns in art date back to the 70’s and the Eco Feminist movement. More recently Fern Shaffer performs solstice rituals that bring awareness to the denigrated plight of wetlands while her partner Othello Anderson photographs the performances. Their work is manifest in a variety of mediums that include sculpture, installation, and painting. 
Beau Carey's Lakeview and Petro
In Colorado there is a proliferation of contemporary landscape painters. To stand apart is a difficult task. Carey’s paintings have a sophisticated edge that remains consistent throughout his work. Unlike some of his peers who just paint great looking traditionally composed landscapes his work has an intellectual depth informed by social awareness. Carey says, “it is my job to engage fully with my community, allow that engagement to inform my work, and thus allow my work to spur positive action within that community.”  To inform and educate is potent introspection to being an artist. Coupled with a strong sense of formal aesthetics Carey’s paintings will only get better. Beau Carey is an artist in residence at Redline Gallery, Denver.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Porcelain Pleasure

Tsehai Johnson's Exploding Carpet, Wall Shift #1 (Green), and Pattern Control

An artist and their work are two separate entities. The artwork should communicate on its own some of what the artist feels or intends to say.  Sometimes what is more important is what is not communicated, and what the artist says may be more interesting than what they are making and vice verse.  Some of the critical discourse that surrounds Tsehai Johnson’s porcelain objects and installations categorize the work as having a feminist agenda. There is a history of female artists being pushed in the direction of social and politically based feminist art that have a different idea of what their art means to them. Part of this push begins with educators, and the institutions ability to label, categorize and elevate its own political and social agenda. It continues through the artist’s career with positive feedback by historians, critics, curators, and galleries that think that art without a social or political agenda is not good art.

Jeff Koons' Michael Jackson & Bubbles, and Puppy. Disney's Mad Tea Party ride 1960.

For me looking at Tsehai Johnson’s ceramics does not bring any of the baggage to mind that seems to enamor, engulf, and drive the international art world. Her objects are slick succulent and lustfully dripping pieces of eye candy. Each work is the desired transformation of an ordinary domestic everyday pattern or object into a more nonfunctional piece of pop art consumable. For this reason parallels can be drawn to Jeff Koons sculptures but with the dark abstract undertone that haunts Alice in Wonderlands tea party. 

Eva Hesse's Repetition Nineteen III, 1968
Repetitive and process installations that require multiple pieces date back to the advent of 1960’s minimal and conceptual art as evinced in the work of Eva Hesse. Minimal and conceptual art focused on the object, space and tactile quality of the object in and of itself questioning the very foundations of art. It lacked the narrative depth and context to daily life that Johnson’s work imbues. More recently artists that share similar mediums and/or content with Johnson are Betty Woodman, Shalya Marsh, and Dalia Berman.

Betty Woodman, Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit, and Balustrade Relief Vase #70-1
Shalya Marsh and Dalia Berman exhibit.

In the gallery and hopefully in someone’s home these fantastical objects have crossed over from Neverland to become part of our everyday world. Johnson’s work is grounded in representation because it looks like something that we are familiar with but not the same. They are beautiful liquidic objects frozen in time and space for our enjoyment. This may be the only intention that her work has to achieve. To look any deeper could be a detractor and disservice to the simple fact that her ceramics and their display are innovative, beautiful and perceptually challenging. 

Tsehai Johnson's Field #10, Cup 4, and Spill 4.  

Tsehai Johnson shows at Plus Gallery, Denver.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Reality and Relevance of Frank Martinez

Frank Martinez 5-10 and 5-14
Most often the first place that we see artwork that attracts our attention is on a postcard or published in a magazine. From a reproduced image we can discern only so much information about the artwork but it is this initial and intuited attraction that is very significant. We trust that the image does not lie (appear to be something that it is not) when we see the work in person and this is the responsibility and integrity of the gallery and the artist.

I first saw a Frank Martinez painting on a postcard and my gut reaction was confirmed once I saw the work at Plus+Gallery, Denver.  What attracted me to the image on the card was the geometric clarity, sophisticated transparent application of paint, and uniquely grayed down tones of color. In person these works are far more textural and complex than can be conveyed in a photograph. There is an expressive formula to his work but not overt in the traditional sense of expressionism whereby the artist gives in to the medium by splashing, throwing, running, and smearing colorful liquids. The age of this traditional form of abstract expressionism in art has become more synonymous with decorative art or sofa art. Today’s abstraction is less metaphysical and more intellectually associated and indicative of a technologically planned and manipulated global culture, containing hints and glimpses of textures relevant to the environments that we experience everyday.
Frank Martinez Untitled 5-7 and 5-6
Though Martinez's paintings have varied in style and methods over the years his work is a great example of contemporary painting that leaves more of the expression in the conceptual and planned phase of making rather than a play by play reaction to every brushstroke on the canvas. The forms, be it organic or hard edged geometric, have a distinct feel for how and what we experience in our daily lives without the trap of literally representing those experiences. His latest work is grounded close to physical reality through color and form. The fact that he uses numbers for titles (a functional method to catalog as well) adds to the realism. The work becomes a functional document with the intent to beautify, allowing the viewer to investigate without linguistic interference or a staged preconception by the artist. 
Richard Diebenkorn Untitled ocean Park 1974 and Ocean Park No27, 1970 and Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson The Soul of the Souless City
Something is not born from nothing and every artist has influences and as viewers we make our own references. After some time looking at Martinez’s paintings I started making correlations to the manipulation of space in Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park series of paintings. Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson’s, late 30’s and early 40’s, city and landscape paintings have similar angles and coloration. Most striking is Charles Sheeler’s depiction of modern industrial sights and cityscapes that use dramatic angles, flat geometric shapes, and heavy gradated colors.
Charles Sheeler New England Irrelevancies, 1953, Ore Into Iron, 1953 and Church Street El, 1920
Martinez’s latest paintings titled 5-1, 5-6, 5-7 etc. are exceptional in color and the method of painting. Knowing how to aesthetically fragment and divide space on a canvas is an art form in itself. Knowing how to lead a persons view into a 2 dimensional space and how to let them leave that space is art 101and an extremely important lesson that cannot be underrated. Once mastered the artist can use it or not and an experienced viewer can detect this intention. Martinez masters this affect and it may be more prevalent because the paintings are so articulately designed like mid-century modern graphics. Even the coloring has a nostalgic presence that is so popular today. 

Frank Martinez latest show “Out / Line” runs from December 8th, 2011 through January 21st, 2012 at Plus+Gallery, Denver.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Alex McLeod's Fantastical Digital Photography

McLeod, Frozen Boat

For most of Alex McLeod’s photographs of staged shoe box like dioramas, complexity and interest reside in the image’s multiple focus points, high contrast of vibrant colors, and reflective surfaces of the objects. No artist can go without comparison to artists and movements that have come before. History draws parallels, distinctions, and helps decipher what we are seeing and experiencing. It is true, there is nothing new under the sun, the human condition remains the same and everything answers to that condition. McLeod’s work is part of a decade long resurgence in surrealist themes akin to a lineage of artists that stage surreal events. 

His work draws  similarities to artists such as Gregory Crewdson and his 1990’s Natural Wonders Series and Mat Collishaw’s fantastical 2008 spinning carousel Throbbing Gristle (above). A slick, shiny, and smooth textural edginess is indicative of technological capitalism that has emerged as a signifier of contemporary pop culture. It appears in the paintings and sculptures by Jeff Koons and installations by Sylvie Fleury. McLeod is not afraid or fooled by a gimmicky deception. His dioramas are plastic and sterile self contained narrative landscapes that deliver this contemporary edge with a beautiful underlying hint of reality and imperfection indicative of the human condition. It is as if we are peering through the holes of Duchamp’s Étant donnés door and catching a glimpse of a nearly real world that we cannot quite contextualize at first glance because of the placement and visual complexity of the scene.
McLeod, Frozen Cascade

Viewers of McLeod’s work will want to visually dissect and label the various objects used to construct the image but they are constantly interrupted and distracted by the overall composition. It’s an awesome and refreshing world that allows us to take a break and stray just far enough from our everyday reality. McLeod’s work is one example of photography and digital manipulation at its best. To see more of Alex McLeod’s work visit Plus + Gallery. His work is also on view at Angell Gallery, Toronto, Ontario.
McLeod, Magic (left), Honey Town (right)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Some Ideas about Looking and Collecting Art

I can only speak from my own perspective considering the amount and variety of art that has been and is currently being shown and promoted by critics, theorists and historians. The art world is a chaotic conglomerate, a mish-mash of eclectic practices that reflects and celebrates the acceptance and diversification of many cultures, societies, and individual views and beliefs. How does anyone navigate and discern the plethora of art and information at their disposal? It begins with knowing yourself and bringing that understanding and experience of living to the art. The artwork is always in relationship to you because you are all that you can know. Locating yourself, meaning your spiritual, mental and physical position in relation to the artists, artwork, institutions and people that talk and show art is an important introspective step in looking and understanding. One of the benefits of looking and possibly collecting art is that it is a continuous educational experience. Engaging with art is a life altering process whereby views, ideas, aesthetic sensibilities, and perceptions of the world are constantly challenged. Selecting work based on personal identity and experiences is confirmation of a person’s growth through the constant changing and evaluation of their ideas and values.

One method to evaluate and understand art is to simply look at the work. The art world (meaning the events, reviews, people and spaces that surround and support the work) is a distraction. Being informed and educated about the art and artists is crucial but in the end it comes down to the art object. Most often I find myself attracted to a piece for a moment but not overly excited or convinced of its value and ingenuity to convey a relevant idea. Some work is an acquired taste. As I investigate more about the artist, other works, and their ideas I may develop a greater appreciation. For myself I find the concepts and development of their work as expressed through interviews more exciting and definitive than the actual art they produce. At some point the art may become a signifier of their ideas, enhancing my appreciation of the object. Beauty is relative and lies not only in our view of the art object but concept that underlies its production. For myself I am attracted to art that achieves a balance between thought and beauty. Some of the more successful works as accepted by the art world engages on multiple levels, evoking levels of investigation by way of ideas and visual attraction. Beauty and complexity may be subtle, almost unseen and detected by a small percentage of people, and possibly unbeknownst to the artist themselves. For the viewer this is a revelatory insight, meaning the work connects on deeper conceptual, spiritual and/or physical levels. The art confirms, absorbs or melds, and reflects the viewer’s energy back to the viewer or in this case the experiencer. It literally feels like an electrified, high energy experience whereby the work is all that the viewer sees because the engagement is so intense.

Two examples of looking at artwork with preconceived notions and expectations and having my ideas radically change after experiencing the actual work happened years ago during a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago. I wanted to see Willem de Kooning’s painting Excavation, 1950. Janson’s History of Art and other books I had read championed this work as a pivotal and historical benchmark piece in DeKoonings rise to abstract expressionist stardom. The painting is his interpretation of an excavation site for the foundation of a high rise building in New York City.  I stepped into the room that the painting was located and with a quick scan could not find it. It took awhile before I realized the painting was directly in front of me, smaller than I imaged, somewhat under lit, and greyer than in the text books. There was no energy. Seeing the work in person deflated my expectations of this historical masterpiece. The painting died before my eyes. The work is important, it retains historical relevance and is a phenomenal piece for when it was painted but for me Excavation lives a better life on the glossy pages of art books with the accompanying text. In the same room I turned to my left and pow! It was a monster all black painting by Clyfford Still, 1951-52 that resonated with me. In the lower right corner he used a different sheen of black paint that set the image in motion. My eyes swept over the paintings toweled surface and eventually dropped and gravitated to this small contrasting section. It was that small difference that provided relief, a place I could go and exist the picture plane, an area of hope amidst all that powerful black paint that envelopes the viewer. That was my first exposure to Still’s work and an artist that I immediately began to learn more about. 

Up to that point, on the same day at the museum in Chicago, I had reservations about Andy Warhol. My impression was that he was a partier, lazy, a user, and self proclaimed art star. That preconceived notion of Warhol changed as I turned a corner and was memorized by his gigantic silk screen Mao, 1973. At that moment it clicked for me, I had a better understanding of who Warhol was and what he was doing. This perceptual shift about Warhol made it easier for me to cultivate an understanding and acceptance of artists like Jeff Koons, Martin Creed, and Pipilotti Rist. The Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh is amazing and has great temporary exhibitions, and don't forget to check out the Mattress Factory for unique contemporary art.

A Look at Denver’s Regional Modern Artists
In the late 90’s, at the time that I left Denver the modern art scene was limited to a hand full of cutting edge professional and co-op galleries. Some have come and gone while others like Rule, Pirate, Spark, Core, and Robischon are going strong. While living on the east coast for many years where I received an MFA from the University of Connecticut and an invaluable education about the NY art world, Denver’s modern art scene flourished exponentially. Denver as well as Fort Collins, Boulder and Colorado Springs have some exceptional museums, commercial galleries and artists. For the Apeiron Art + Design Blog I intend to highlight and promote those artists whose work and/or ideas that I find interesting, relevant, and exceptionally engaging. Look for future posts about what I consider some of Denver's and the regions better galleries and artists.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Craftsman's Jungle Gym: The Amazing Wharton Esherick House

While still in PA we took the time to make a reservation and drive out to the Wharton Esherick House and Museum. One of the great benefits of working at a major art museum is all the artwork. My first encounter with an Esherick piece was a wood carved fireplace hearth and mantel at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, on permanent display in the American section, close to the Thomas Eakins galleries. It is an amazing display of wood craftsmanship. Unique and customized in every way. This is Esherick's signature, his ability to use and reuse wood and transform ordinary into extraordinary.

We where fortunate enough to have the previous director of the museum/house give us the tour. As one of the stories goes, a neighbor had scrap wood lying around, Esherick asked if he could have it. Weeks later the wood appeared in Esherick's house as a uniquely shaped and stained floor boards. He had the neighbor over and showed him the floor. Jokingly the neighbor said, 'that's the last time I give away scrap wood to Esherick.' A typical Esherick story. He seemed to have a fascination with monkeys and his house is a crooked exotic spiraling carved monkey's jungle gym with a plethora of inventive gadgets to make all the requirements of everyday life fit and work in such a small multi-level home.

Though photography is not permitted inside, photography would not do justice to the actual experience of the smells and textures. Guests are invited to touch the work, and it is very appealing to touch. It is one of the most unique and interesting museums/ homes. The tours are small since the sp
aces in the house are small. Everything inside is either collected or built by Esherick. A fascinating individual. This is passion, ingenuity and commitment at its highest level on display. No woodworker or artisan should miss a tour of this amazing place. I love it when I leave a place or experience and feel that my work is totally inadequate. It steps up your game and makes you want to create something more than ever. About a 30-40 minute drive outside of Philly, to learn more check out the Wharton Esherick website.