‘Cracking Up, Breaking Down’ Alludes to Angst, Excess and Emptiness

Cracking Up, Breaking Down (December 11, 2016 through January 08, 2017) was a group show at The Parlour Bushwick located in south Bushwick on the border of Bedstuy. Featuring New York-based artists Ben Pederson, Jack Henry, Nicholas Cueva, and Alex Yudzon, this body of work alluded to themes of angst, excess and emptiness. The show, recently closed, was curated by Rachel Phillips and Janice Sloane, both of whom are artists. Phillips works in a Surrealistic style, allowing the unconscious to guide her practice. The shapes in her drawings and paintings oscillate between abstract and recognizable forms. Sloane utilizes photography, painting and found objects to construct works of art that suggests themes of aging, sexuality, and healing. 

Cozy couches lined a thoughtful selection of eccentric work dynamically arranged in two rooms on the first floor of a townhouse on Bushwick Avenue. Mirrors decorated the walls, and beautiful crown molding adorned the doorways, arches, and ceilings. This setting created an intimate and endearing atmosphere. Using diverse materials and divergent techniques, this body of work suggested a precariousness and unease that reflects the collective state of mind of our generation.

Ben Pederson’s colorful sculptures exude a frenetic quality because of his use of overlapping, bright and contrasting colors, the irrational placement of tiny dots, and the inclusion of uneven, tilted elements. When these elements are combined, they invoke the sensation of being on a precipice. Hollywood Nights is composed of cardboard, plaster gauze, and Epoxy clay. Pederson uses acrylic and vinyl paint to create the brightly colored base, which has solid black triangular structures that jut out from it. In Both Times at Once, it appears the sculpture is trapped inside another work. The surrounding bars are painted black at the bottom and vibrantly colored at the top. This work is more suggestive of architectural elements than of an otherworldly form, contrasting to Hollywood Nights. As viewers walk around these works, colors shift and forms re-shape as if they have caught them in a state of transformation or transition. Is it growing or shrinking, contracting or pulsating, transmuting or putrefying? The sculptures suggest organic and synthetic elements, something of this world yet far beyond it.

Ben Pederson, Junkfood Trees, 2015

Also on view by Pederson are tiny bronzes, dubbed Junkfood Trees. They have hand-painted pieces of food at the edges like pizza, chicken wings, ice cream and other fatty foods. These works suggest the success of the fast food market and the excessiveness in which we consume and unconsciously waste.

 

 

These themes also could be discerned in Jack Henry’s sculptures, column-like structures composed of rebar, Hydrocal, ink, and found objects. A contemporary scavenger, he collects items that are man-made from buildings, ripped billboards, and the side of the road. He collects cultural debris from the places on the peripheral—the places people see but never truly look at. By utilizing the discarded and banal, Henry’s work suggest issues of mass consumption and Post-Industrial America.

Jack Henry, Untitled, 2016

Henry’s sculptures appear to be in a state of deterioration akin to a dilapidated or abandoned building. For the works in this show, the artist assembled dried flowers, straw, plastic tarp, and other pieces of detritus to construct human-size monuments reminiscent of tombstones. The shape alludes to ancient Roman and Mesopotamian burial shrines, calling attention to how the past informs the present and how objects come to stand in for memories. The sculptures are described in Henry’s artist statement as “monuments or memorials to cultural disaffection.” A sublime beauty is found in the castaway, things that no longer serve a purpose but have a past akin to people.

Jack Henry, Sheer 1, 2016

Nicholas Cueva uses a traditional medium to express a contemporary mindset. His oil and acrylic paintings utilize gestural brushstrokes to create playful abstract shapes that contrast to the areas of raw, unpainted canvas. This technique refers to how we create our own narratives about situations and must fill in the gaps when missing information. Cueva often uses still life and portraiture as a departure point. In American Une, some objects can be discerned; for example, a bent hand in the upper left, a green parrot with a gold chain in the upper right and a glass of wine in the bottom right. An eye and a shape of a face appear to be at the center of the canvas, although the artist has scraped oil and acrylic paint off to make a large void at the focal point. It’s as if the face has been effaced by time like a torn advertisement on the street.

Nicholas Cueva, Pick Nick, 2016

The voids are important elements in Cueva’s work and function as psychological and emotionally charged spaces. In Pick Nick, the perimeter has recognizable objects like a bowl of fruit, bananas, glasses, a vase, a table, and the middle has been unpainted or erased. The scattered gaps in form and voids at the center become portals, allowing viewers to navigate through the surface of color. The paintings thus become a vehicle for contemplation. The breakdown of the picture plane into fractured shapes suggest the fragmented nature we perceive reality and recall memories—the splintered way we see the world, ourselves, and how we choose to remember it.

Alex Yudzon’s photographs are meticulously arranged and draw inspiration from Classical compositions by Old Masters. Yudzon studied painting and art history. The latter informed his artistic practice. He was most interested in iconography, 16th and 17th Old Master paintings and still life, particularly the vanitas paintings. The artist explains the genre “combined semi-rotting food with symbolic objects to emphasize the ephemerality of sensual experience.” He often stages fruit and objects, arranging them in front of a backdrop of hand-painted scenes or reproductions of works by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Lucas Cranach the Elder, and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. He then photographs the installations straight on. This juxtaposition of the present and past show how the two are inexplicably intertwined. Yudzon’s photograph is a contemporary work of art now—but in time they will be viewed as work of the past. His art will be situated within an art historical context and he will become part of a genealogy of artists. Unlike the human body, works of art and artists can be immortalized; they do not ossify and deteriorate with time.

Alex Yudzon, Papaya Mountain, 2016, Edition of 6

Yudzon creates centralized, triangular arrangements of objects in his photographs. In Campfire, burning candles are staged in the front of a woods scene. The dark, smoky background recalls the Renaissance technique of sfumato. In the foreground, the wax has melted into a sticky web that is repulsive yet mesmerizing. In Papaya Mountain, the semi-rotting fruit is arranged in a pile on a plate that sits on a brilliantly patterned cloth. It is displayed in front of a mountainous backdrop and the shape of the fruit mimics the form of the mountains. The vehement pink-orange color of the papaya contrasts to the subtle blues and grays in the background. He typically photographs an excess of objects as exemplified in Papaya Mountain and Campfire. The artist described his work as having “an anxiety of collapse through overabundance.” The excess thus becomes a means to the breakdown. In Cocktail, Yudzon places a lobster arm into a cup. In this work, he chose to focus on a static, singular object, instead of creating a mis-en-scene of objects in a transient state akin to the aforementioned photographs. Light dramatically shines on the lobster vase positioned in front of an endless, faded background. The objects the artist chooses are ephemeral or in a state of decay. The decomposition of the things alludes to the fragility of our body, the entropic nature of life, and the transience of each moment.

Cracking Up, Breaking Down is a stimulating show that touches on contemporary issues and collective anxieties related to an unstable American sociopolitical climate. Several galleries in the area, such as Underdonk’s Sister Outsider or Knockdown Center’s Nasty Women, have had exhibitions of work that directly allude to the uncertainty and vulnerability our community feels after the shock of the 2016 election results. Social trauma lingers–a term coined by Mary Kelly when discussing difficult experiences and feminism during the 1970s-80s; however, she had come to find a rupture in the continuity of feminism and the avant-garde. This chasm correlates to the social division that both Democratic and Republican parties face within their organizations. This show is particularly important because it a poignant reminder that only after things fall apart can we begin to build something new. The fractured pieces of ourselves will not be the same size nor fit in exactly the same place, but it will be come together and be more durable, stronger, and resilient. Some say there is beauty in the breakdown, but, as I see it, there is a greater beauty in what lies ahead—what we cannot foresee or fathom yet, what is just out of sight.

Loading Map....

Whorl, Being-in-Emotion at SRO

SRO GALLERY, a  new exhibition space located in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, features works by Ashley Garrett and Zach Seeger, two artists with long ties to Bushwick. AIB interviewed the two artists before the upcoming opening of their exhibition.

Zach Seeger, EYE, Oil on canvas, 28" x 36", 2016
Zach Seeger, EYE, Oil on canvas, 28″ x 36″, 2016
Ashley Garrett, PTK, Oil on canvas, 12” x 9”, 2015
Ashley Garrett, PTK, Oil on canvas, 12” x 9”, 2015

AIB: How long have you been working in Bushwick?

Garrett:  I joined Bushwick-based artist-run collective Underdonk in 2014, and I’ve been frequenting Bushwick often for shows and studio visits with Bushwick-based artists since 2013. I had a solo show and group shows around the neighborhood.

Seeger: Although I no longer work in Bushwick, the impetus of the current exhibition at SRO began at 117 Grattan, where I started using the eye motif a year ago. I have participated in shows in Bushwick and for BOS in 2013 I set up work on the street, and in my parked van in front of 117 Grattan. I also hung a fifteen foot un-stretched painting off the roof of the Active Space.  There is a contagious energy for painting in Bushwick and I feel a kinship to many artists there.

AIB: What drew you to Bushwick?

Garrett: Bushwick was the first community of artists I got to know after I moved back to New York; everyone was welcoming and friendly. After graduating from SVA in 2008 I moved upstate, where I rode and trained horses professionally for three years. Bushwick helped orient me to my new situation. It was great to see and meet so many different kinds of artists with serious practices, from a variety of generations. I met there a lot of the friends I have now, and artists I respect.

Seeger: I was first drawn to Bushwick in 2010 when a friend moved to the neighborhood. I started visiting spaces, studios, and people and spent a lot of time at Wayfarers with the group of artists working there. In 2013 I was thrilled to be introduced to the community of artists at Life on Mars Gallery, where I felt an affinity and closeness to the painterly approaches, attitudes, and images.

AIB: What is the genesis of this two person show?

Garrett:  It came out of the studio visits we did and our discussion of the relationship between my ribbon and Zach’s eye series of paintings.  Zach was engaged in a practice of investigating eyes as I was in seeing and articulating the ribbons.  At RISD, Zach installed this show as pairs of ribbons and eyes with lots of space around them. In SRO, Cecilia Whittaker-Doe and Don Doe’s unique space, we installed a kind of swirling constellation.

Seeger: The affinity to one another’s work was instantaneous. We read each other’s work with an intuitive eye, and understood what each other was trying to do in the work. It was a great pairing and we really didn’t need to talk much over; it was an obvious choice.

 Zach Seeger, EYE (turkey), Oil on linen, 20" x 26", 2016

Zach Seeger, EYE (turkey), Oil on linen, 20″ x 26″, 2016
Ashley Garrett, Lightfoot, Oil on canvas, 20” x 10”, 2015
Ashley Garrett, Lightfoot, Oil on canvas, 20” x 10”, 2015

 

AIB: In this show each of you presents a distinct body of work which reads to me like a series with an underlying theme. Did you work on them with a mutual theme in mind?

Garrett: This series of paintings is based on ribbons I won at horse shows from when I was eight years old until recently. The ribbons represent judgments made by the world of a particular performance. However, the actual experience is less literal and more complex than the color of the ribbon: sometimes last place is a great accomplishment, while first place can be a disappointment. The ribbon paintings break down traditional understandings of winning and losing to see into the wealth of complex and often contradictory emotions within the specificities of remembering a particular place, time, and what happened there. Each ribbon may be a synecdoche or metaphor for the physical performance and the skill levels demonstrated through the struggle with and against oneself. They represent  anxiety, hope, achievement, recognition, failure, loss, weakness, power, sensitivity, resignation, embarrassment, shame, joy, and love. I am interested in holding the memories of each ride, win and loss, as I make each painting, to see and feel the whole range of experience and being-in-emotion.

Seeger: The series of eyes I have been working on is a formal motif to frame images and forms within a peripheral context. The paintings are intended to be simultaneously read as interior and exterior; of the body and looking out through a body. I think of them as psychic objects clumsily camouflaged with paint.

 Zach Seeger, Cyclops, Acrylic on board, 18" x 18", 2016

Zach Seeger, Cyclops, Acrylic on board, 18″ x 18″, 2016
Ashley Garrett, Goblin, Oil on canvas, 14” x 12”, 2015
Ashley Garrett, Goblin, Oil on canvas, 14” x 12”, 2015

AIB: What can you tell me about your thought process when you started working on these series?

Garrett:  This is a body of work I began in the summer of 2014 in upstate New York.  I was working on a previous body of work of small still life paintings based on Christmas ornaments that I had made as a child and I was looking for another form for that kind of personal object, related to individual qualities and emotions. When I saw these ribbons I had won hanging on the wall, I thought of the memories they evoked, an accumulation of years of practice, time and care. I began by painting the ribbons as objects with the experiences in mind. The more paintings I made, the less I looked at the actual ribbon and the more improvisation happened.  These paintings are my way of exploring a variety of forms, feeling, intuitions, and situations in connection to both still life and landscape.

Seeger: These paintings are indebted to landscape and place. Many of them literally painted en plein air before applying the eye motif over the image. Painting is how I see; it is how I understand things; it is how I look at the world. I’m not sure if my work is evolving but I am constantly working. It’s like a nightmare where I find myself entering an apartment with bloodstains on the wall and a dead body on the floor. I check to see if the person is ok, but I get blood all over me. In a panic I try to distance myself from the body; I’m not guilty of this crime! But my bloody fingerprints are all over the victim, walls, and surfaces of the apartment. I try to clean up the mess thinking the police will think it is me who did this horror. It is a cycle of staining, smearing, smudging and scrubbing-in the end I make the scene presentable enough.

AIB: How do your paintings relate to each other and how do they differ?

Garrett:  They both involve the reversal of inside and outside spaces within a limited range of formal parameters.  Also both bodies of work are about different kinds of seeing coming from different points of view: Zach’s eye imagery is specific to his experience, and my ribbon images represent my memory of specific experiences as a young child up until a few years ago.

Seeger: The paintings relate to one another in scale and presence. They are rooted in looking. They are not intuitive expressions or descriptions of things, but rather bleak records of memory embedded in our own baroque sensitivities to paint and form. They are similar but arrive at their distinctive image by different modes of operation and paint application.

 Zach Seeger, EYE (computer room), Oil on board, 14" x 20", 2016

Zach Seeger, EYE (computer room), Oil on board, 14″ x 20″, 2016
Ashley Garrett, Siren, Oil on canvas, 12” x 10”, 2016
Ashley Garrett, Siren, Oil on canvas, 12” x 10”, 2016

AIB: We live in time of transition-social, political, ecological. Do you relate to that in your paintings, and if so, in what way?

Garrett: I don’t think the political has to have a direct effect on work to have had an impact on an artist. I think a lot of artists are making work or are trying to make work with or in spite of their complex feelings about the drastic political changes ahead and that can express itself in a multitude of ways. Because of my focus on the landscape I have been thinking about landscape as it relates to climate change and how the landscape itself can and will become a kind of hostile actor against us pretty soon, and then our relationship to it will change drastically. I’m interested in how that transformation might express itself in my work as well as the work of other artists.

Seeger: I am not a political artist, but there probably isn’t anything more poignant than the real-time collapse of species and witnessing a complete transformation of the earth.  I can say that I am not an expressionist; I am not reactionary. I am interested in the formal language of paint: recording and painting a formal reality that is my world. In that sense I am sharing, but my work is not about communicating some sort of emotional current. I think painting is a medium that allows a viewer to see the world on human terms through viewing of the work.

Whorl

SRO Gallery 1144 Dean Street, Crown Heights, Brooklyn NY 11216

Ashley Garrett and Zach Seeger

Opening Reception: January 12th, 6-9PM

Jan 12 – Feb 19

 

Anki King and John Mitchell are Lone Wolves, Together

Anki King’s and John Mitchell’s living area has been steadily shrinking as their art making has increasingly taken up more of their shared Meserole Street apartment in Bushwick. “We work on either side of the space and live in the middle,” says King, pictured above, with her soft Norwegian accent and a wide smile.

Throughout the ten years of being together, the couple, both painters, have not only established an acute understanding of each other’s daily work rhythms but have also developed a keen awareness of each other’s needs as artists. King says that one of the main reasons their shared work-live situation works well is their awareness of a shared need to spend  time alone.

“We are both lone wolves in our work,” says Mitchell and King adds jokingly, “we get to live alone together.”

This awareness works well in daily life. When they are working on their art in their separate studio spaces for many hours, they can still occasionally find each other in the kitchen or when one of them “yells for help,” as King puts it.

Anki King, Connected, 37"x54", oil on canvas, 2015
Anki King, Connected, 37″x54″, oil on canvas, 2015

It is evident that King and Mitchell share a deep fascination with the figure but they are approaching  their work  in almost contrasting ways, leading to distinct and very different pictorial languages. “We think and work very differently,” says Mitchell.

He paints on stretched canvas. She stretches her canvas to the wall. He cleans his palette after every painting session. Her palette is crusty with layers of paint and seems like complete chaos to him. He does not splash paint around. She splashes paint all over. He makes intaglio prints. She has made a few but doesn’t have the patience for it. He draws in sketchbooks everywhere. Most of her art making happens in the studio.

Anki King, 54"x60", oil on canvas, 2015
Anki King, 54″x60″, oil on canvas, 2015

Indeed,  King’s process is intuitive and organic. Guided by her imagination, materials and drive to search for a still unknown image. She is thriving on surprises. Rather than being in control of a decided outcome, she wants to be in conversation with whatever she is creating. She says that one of her favorite quotes is by the painter Elaine De Kooning, “when you are dancing, you don’t stop to think: now I’ll take a step, you allow it to flow.”

This spontaneous mode manifests in King’s loose brushstrokes which coalesce into dense grayish layers. In many of her canvases she has managed to successfully capture an essence of the fleeting feeling she has been looking for, her linear forms resonate an elusive scent in the Nordic woods where she grew up,  conjuring  primal collective memories  beyond verbalization.

Anki King, One Below, 54"x56", oil on canvas, 2015
Anki King, One Below, 54″x56″, oil on canvas, 2015

Unlike King, who works without preplanning and from imagination, Mitchell works his compositions out before he starts painting and works from direct observation of people and places. He thinks of portrait painting as collaboration.

“The process of painting a portrait is all about spending quality time with the person and getting to know them,” he says.

He also spends time on-site for his landscapes. He started “Three Bridge Painting” for example, by drawing on-site for over two summers and he continues to paint it on-site as often as he can for as many years as it takes. Altogether, his planned compositions, meticulous drawings and long term investigations of his chosen subject, manifest in his canvases , prints and drawings alike. They are precise but not dry. While alluding to painters like Alice Neel and overall deeply rooted in the tradition of representational art, many of his artworks evoke the urgency of the moment, revealing the painter’s inquisitive mind.

John Mitchell, Three Bridge Drawing, graphite on linen, 2014-15
John Mitchell, Three Bridge Drawing, graphite on linen, 2014-15
John Mitchell, Kym Moon, 36x28", oil on linen, 2015-16
John Mitchell, Kym Moon, 36×28″, oil on linen, 2015-16
John Mitchell, Charlie, 30x25", oil on canvas, 2015-16
John Mitchell, Charlie, 30″x25″, oil on canvas, 2015-16

King and Mitchell’s mutual respect for their contrasting artistic sensibilities also translates into a warm support of each other’s work.

“One time I was so stuck with a work that I asked John to put some brush strokes on a piece to break it up,” says King.  They are having a constant dialogue about ways of making, seeing and thinking about art. Moreover, King says that sometimes aspects of each other’s work sneak in.

“For instance,” she says, “I have started making some figures that seem quite alien and John worked on an alien world for several years.” So despite their distinct differences, there is reason to believe that something has rubbed off a bit after all, she sums up.

 

The Irony and Sincerity of Jenny Lee

Double Portrait (oil on canvas) by Jenny Lee, 2014
Double Portrait (oil on canvas) by Jenny Lee, 2014

Puns, doubles, optical illusions, and other visual jokes appear in many works by Jenny Lee. In her studio on Irving Street, one finds mostly small-scale, carefully rendered works that are meticulously executed in a variety of media. In Double Portrait, Lee has selected a found object, in this case a photo frame with the standard, mass-produced portrait as the subject of her painting. Painted in a slow and careful manner with a soft and muted color palette, this painting has strange, beautiful, and slightly eerie qualities. We get an echoing of the woman’s face from multiple angles with an almost Cubist perspective of seeing all dimensions at once. It soon becomes apparent that you are looking at a reproduction of a reproduction and yet another reproduction in the reflected double. This playfulness makes the work something akin to Rene Magritte’s Ceci n’est pas un pipe and the general visual wit of Magritte’s work.

 

Works by Jenny Lee: (left) Untitled (pencil on paper), 2008 and (right) Heath at 40 (pencil on paper), 2010
Works by Jenny Lee: (left) Untitled (pencil on paper), 2008 and (right) Heath at 40 (pencil on paper), 2010
Strangeness and eeriness are not subjects from which Lee shies away. In pencil drawings Untitled and Heath at 40, we find two portraits, one of OJ Simpson, whose eyeballs have been replaced with that of an anime character, and the other of Heath Ledger as he would have looked at age 40. Apparent are references to death and the darker side of celebrity, both of which Ledger and Simpson had some association. Simpson has been reduced to a cartoon character and appears as a soulless, inert object, whereas the imagined aged portrait of Ledger is not only a reference to his untimely death, but also a largely ironic rendering, giving specificity to a nonexistent object. These portraits are full of dark humor and continue Lee’s thread of using visual wit and her masterful technical skills to deal with subject matter that can often be quite heavy.
Untitled (inkjet print in a folder) by Jenny Lee, 2015
Untitled (inkjet print in a folder) by Jenny Lee, 2015
Photography, means of reproduction, and preexisting images in the world are strong presences in Lee’s work. She often paints on found objects such as packaging and appropriates similar items. In another Untitled (image above), we find a portrait of a figure wearing a mask whose face is only partially visible. An inkjet print of the portrait is placed in a folder so only one eye is visible to the viewer. The eye hints at an expression of laughter or a menacing smile, which lends itself to the theme of visual puns on eyes, seeing, how we see, representation, and reproduction, all explored by Lee. The mask in this case starts to take on grotesque characteristics pointing to how reproduction can often lead to distortion.
Hippies on a Slant (oil on canvas) by Jenny Lee, 2015
Hippies on a Slant (oil on canvas) by Jenny Lee, 2015
Distortion of the human form is further apparent in Lee’s oil painting Hippies on a Slant. The canvas and the figures represented appear stretched out and elongated as if affected by some physical force. The scene is chaotic, with multiple figures morphing into one another resembling a mosh pit. The faces lack specificity and appear as stand-ins for people, rather than individuals. Confusion, distortion, and haziness are all visible in Hippies on a Slant, which presents an equally puzzling portrait of human nature.
Untitled (oil on canvas) by Jenny Lee, 2015
Untitled (oil on canvas) by Jenny Lee, 2015
Works by Jenny Lee: (left) Untitled, 2014, and (right) Meditation Stones, 2015
Works by Jenny Lee: (left) Untitled, 2014, and (right) Meditation Stones, 2015
Nature and natural forces can also be observed in Lee’s work. In yet another Untitled, we find a small-scale, loosely painted rendering of a landscape. Here again, the landscape appears as more of a signifier rather than any place in particular. This image is paired with a thick gestural brushstroke to create a curious juxtaposition.  Whether rendered in its tranquility as in the pencil drawing Meditation Stones or its volatility as in the dog fight in Untitled, the natural world provides a source of exploration and contemplation for Lee.
Street view of Sister gallery
Street view of Sister, the window gallery operated by Jenny Lee
Detail of work by Terry Young at Sister gallery
Detail of work by Terry Young at Sister gallery
In addition to her artistic practice, Lee runs a curatorial program in Sister, located at 69 Irving Avenue. Epitomizing the ingenuity of DIY, she built this small gallery into one of the windows in her studio. The current show includes works by Peter Wilson, which can be viewed daily from 5PM to 11PM.
Artist Jenny Lee in her studio; image courtesy of Jonathan Chaplin
Artist Jenny Lee in her studio; image courtesy of Jonathan Chaplin
###
If you missed Hotel California, the exhibition curated by Lee during Bushwick Open Studios 2015, you can still keep up with her latest projects and see her work by visiting her website

A Marriage Made In Art Support: Blick and The AiB Community [BOS Sponsor]

Blick Art Supplies at BOS Community Day 2015
Blick Art Materials at BOS Community Day 2015

There are few brands more synonymous with refinement among Brooklyn’s knowledgeable community of artists, arts educators, and art lovers than Utrecht Art Supplies. What was started by Brooklyn-based painter Norman Gulamerian in 1949 as a business supplying canvasses to other painters would expand to include dozens of products today, ranging from watercolor brushes and easels to its prized line of artist-grade acrylic paints that are valued by artists as much for their consistency of quality, as they are for their affordable price points.

Blick Table
Blick Art Materials table

When the Utrecht Art Supplies was acquired by the Galesburg, Illinois-based Blick Art Materials in April of 2013, many in New York’s art scene wondered what the acquisition would mean for the venerable institution’s line of American-made, artisanal paint. By investing $1 million in modernizing equipment and streamlining production processes at Utrecht’s main factory in Sunset Park’s Industry City, Blick has not only increased the brand’s availability to a wider subset of artists utilizing Utrecht products, but also committed itself to Bushwick’s role in New York City as an epicenter for talented artists and art venues. A commitment that’s been deepened with Blick’s official partnership with Arts in Bushwick’s Community Projects team for this year’s Bushwick Open Studios.

Joe_Bushwick 1
Painting of Maria Hernandez Park by Joe Gyurcsak

For Blick’s Retail Events Coordinator, Todd McGill-Rusynyk, aligning itself with Arts in Bushwick was a natural fit given its support for other community initiatives such as Materials for the Arts, a city program that collects surplus arts supplies and makes them available to educators and area non-profits. “Artists who are educated early in their field are our customers for life,” says McGill-Rusynyk. “Specifically, with this sponsorship, we are looking to support educational initiatives in the arts through dedicated programs that give back to their community and build experiences in the arts.” For this year’s annual Community Day, Blick featured a demonstration of color mixing, palette organization, and Alla Prima painting (which privileges creating an artwork in one sitting), by Utrecht Brand Manager and Blick resident artist Joe Gyurcsak.

20150606_125451
Painting demonstration by Joe Gyurscak

“I think it’s great that we are doing something right in the backyard of our color mill house which has been in Brooklyn for more than 60 years now,” says Gyurscak, who studied at Parsons School of Design and the School of Visual Arts. Amidst a larger discussion on how New York City can continue to remain a home for dynamic artists, McGill-Rusynyk sees demonstrations like those featured by Gyurcsak during Community Day as a showcase that presents not only the paint’s versatility and quality, but also its affordability. In fact, its commitment to keeping jobs in the borough by investing in Utrecht’s factory earned Blick a Brooklyn Made certification from Brooklyn’s Chamber of Commerce for keeping jobs and creative talent in the borough.

Blick Art Materials
Blick Art Materials tabling at Community Day 2015

“Simply put, we want to be a resource for artists’ needs across the spectrum of their creative pursuits, both as a retailer and as a supporter of the arts,” says McGill-Rusynyk. “Arts in Bushwick, with its dedication to showcasing the artistic community in Brooklyn, are doing important work to make sure New York City remains a place where artists can live and thrive, so naturally we want to support those organizations.”

BOS Studio Visit: Julian Lorber

BOS Studio Visit is an ongoing series that seeks to showcase the impressive spectrum of artistic expression on display during Bushwick Open Studios. All interviews were performed during the 2014 BOS weekend.

Julian Lorber 2

[AiB] What do you want me to know about your work?

[JL] I want you to know that it’s individual of the work next to it. This is not a gallery. Each piece has a story, and each piece is a about a larger theme that I’m interested in, which is environmental art and a little bit of science fiction.

[AiB] What is your process?

[JL] Usually when I come up with an idea that I want to work around—for this work it was soot catching on buildings—I create a larger architecture for each piece, because I was looking at buildings in Brooklyn, different skylines, and polluted cities. The color and the light look like Los Angeles and New York. Then I would create that matrix out of a material, and I add mediums and paint, different colors that I would mix using brushes, HVLP guns, and airbrushes. [I work to] emulate the way that materials are applied to buildings, whether it’s pollution or paint from street art. Just looking at how these things affect the buildings, that’s the culture we live in in the urban environment. I used to actually add soot to a lot of works to add texture.

Julian Lorber 1

I use graphite, mica, and sometimes nothing at all, and I can build up paint to get that effect using the controls on different tools. With an airbrush, you can actually enlarge the amount of paint so it dots up so you don’t actually need soot. For some of the sculptures I use actual desk fans, and then I use mediums and an airbrush to paint them the way I want them to look, based on a kind of horrendous effect that has befallen. it looks like it was in a factory at the bottom of the ocean.

When you think about environmental policy, how we approach it is, “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, and we’ll learn from our mistakes.” It’s never about preemptive decisions to make sure nothing happens. A lot of this work was inspired by the urban environment, spills like Deepwater Horizon, and thinking about health and people I know who have asthma who’ve grown up in the urban environment. People flock to these places and architects build these glass fetish-y modern monoliths, and they just don’t address things like how the environment’s going to be affected. “Oh, well, we’ll let the rain take care of it.” It’s the same way economists think about how the environment will be taken care of; they lump all of that into the subject of “externalities.”

Julian Lorber 3

[AiB] How do you know when a piece is done?

[JL] A lot of it is going back and just making sure the image looks balanced. If I don’t want it to look balanced I have to think about why, and what I want people to take from that unbalanced look. Just think about image-making and painting in general. That’s essentially what tells me when it’s done—when it captures the light falling just right and the lines carry you in the direction that I want them to go, whether its horizontally or vertically.

Julian Lorber 4

[AiB] Anything else I should know about your work?

[JL] It has to be seen in person. It doesn’t always look so great online, on cell phones, or JPEGs. Light plays a huge role so it doesn’t photograph so well, and it has a lot of depth and texture. If you think you can see everything in a museum from a JPEG then you’re probably not looking correctly.

 

###

Julian Lorber‘s studio is located at 119 Ingraham Street

BOS Studio Visit: Thomas Legaspi

BOS Studio Visit is an ongoing series that seeks to showcase the impressive spectrum of artistic expression on display during Bushwick Open Studios. All interviews were performed during the 2014 BOS weekend.

Thomas Legaspi 1

[AiB] What do you want a visitor to your studio to know about your work?

[TL] Good question! I’m still grounded in realism. The thing I’m trying to do is integrate a more modern sensibility in terms of narrative. I don’t want it to be just a figure study. I’m more of a storyteller. I still like to explore the conceptual part of the more contemporary art world.

Realism or artistry, I think [artists] shouldn’t shy away from exploring concepts, because I think that’s really the crux of the modern world. Conceptual-based artwork. The other stuff is nice but it’s really academic. A nice study, but it’s not really telling anything further than aesthetics. I think you’ve got to go deeper if you want to be relevant in the contemporary art world.

 

Thomas Legaspi studio

[AiB] I’m picking up some feminist themes in your work?

[TL] Yeah, I hope you can see some of that. This one’s called Shout, and the thing with that is how women have been, for ages, shoved out of a male-dominated world. Here the idea of Shout is that the figure wants to express herself but even though… it’s a gauze, it’s not traditionally thought of as restraining, but it’s still a restraint, that type of feeling.

I have two girls, maybe that influences me! But, yeah, there are definitely female characters in a lot of my work. I have a lot of strong female characters in my family.

[AiB] Makes sense! How has your family responded to your work?

[TL] I think favorably? Let’s put it this way: They’ve never been negative about it, which is a blessing on my part. A lot of people went to art school, and their folks were not totally on board with what they were doing and always said things like “Do you have a backup plan?” But my parents always told me to just do what you want to do in this life.

Thomas Legaspi Studio 2

[AiB] When you’re working on something, how do you know when it’s done?

[TL] I think it’s two things that happen: One, if you feel if you continue to work from this point on you’re just going to end up tearing it up, maybe it’s time to put the brush down. Maybe it’s done for now. Maybe not forever.

And the second thing is when you just look at it and you’re like, there’s really nothing else that I think I can do to it right now. At that point in time, it’s done.

[AiB] How would you say your work has evolved over time?

[TL] I’ve opened up and loosened up a lot. You learn to do it very tight in the beginning because you’re just understanding what you’re doing, trying to understand the paint and drawing aspects. As you go, some of that becomes second nature and you begin to loosen up.

Thomas Legaspi 2

 

###

Thomas Legaspi‘s studio is located at Brooklyn Fireproof at 119 Ingraham Street 

Embrace of Simultaneous Meanings: Karen Schwartz at Life on Mars

2_karen schwartz
Karen Schwartz in front of Phoenix of Sheepshead Bay (2014); all photos by Etty Yaniv unless otherwise indicated

Karen Schwartz‘ paintings in her solo exhibition at Life on Mars conjure a sense of grief with the gusto of life. Equipped with her intense inward gaze as a professional therapist, Schwartz does not shy away from personal references to her mother’s unexpected illness and passing last year. Her canvas surfaces resemble a battleground of mark-making; layer upon layer of intense colors, lines, scrapes and voids, suggesting images of abstracted human figures, animals and sometimes cultural icons.

1_Life on Mars opening_overall
Opening of Down the Rabbit Hole at Life on Mars

Schwartz’s process is highly intuitive and associative. For example, in “Caught by Death’s Arms,” which depicts a woman’s bust and a dark death figure coming out of the ground, the latter was never drawn, nor painted, “It just was there, for me to see and let be. When I saw it, I knew the painting had found its form and was finished,” says Schwartz.

3_karen-sc-Caught-By-Death's-Arms-(72x72)-Mixed-Media-Linen-2014-wt
Caught by Death’s Arms by Karen Schwartz (2014)

Down the Rabbit Hole evolved in a similar way. The linear element in what started as a cartoonish painting of an African woman hooking arms with an animal, gradually transformed into the ears of a rabbit. “I left the sunglasses for the Lady Ga Ga-like absurdity that made the woman’s head a suitable companion to the rabbit pals,” she says. The painting is about as mad as something out of Alice in Wonderland, expressing how the sudden terminal diagnosis of her healthy-looking mother impacted the artist and her family. “It amounted to falling down a rabbit hole into an unbelievable and wholly different relation to life and death,” she sums up.

4_karen-sch_down-the-rabiit-hole
Down the Rabbit Hole by Karen Schwartz (2014)

Schwartz’s personal approach and psychological insight is rooted in her daily experience as a psychologist. She regards therapy and art as different forms of articulating experiences that have not yet been formulated. “I listen intensely as a therapist with a third ear and react mostly with words; when I’m doing art, I look intensely to find meaning with my eyes and then draw or paint.  Tolerance of uncertain outcome, and embrace of simultaneous meanings are part of both painting and doing psychotherapy,” she says.

5_karen sc_totemism
Totemism by Karen Schwartz (2014)

Furthermore, she notices continuity from one practice to another. In her psychotherapy sessions she takes notes without looking down at the page in order to maintain visual contact with patients, in much the way she does contour drawings. “My hand has become like an organ of the listening process, just as it is entwined with seeing and trying to understand what I draw or paint,” she elaborates. In addition, Schwartz observes that images of her paintings and the emotional experiences they contain come to her when she connects deeply with a patient.

6_karen sc_pink lady
Pink Lady by Karen Schwartz (2014)

 

In the project room, Margrit Lewczuk’s collages pair well with Schwartz’s paintings. Much smaller and calmer in mood, Lewczuk’s collages utilize media such as markers and color pencils on layered paper. They resemble elegant, textured and richly colored illuminated manuscripts, drawing upon a wide range of references which allude to the merging of different religions and cultures.

7_margrit_kiev
Grouping of Kiev Collage by Margrit Lewczuk (2013)

At a closer glance, the viewer may decipher images of Assyrian Wall Reliefs, Ukranian Easter eggs and floor tiles from Kiev. For instance, Lewczuk mentions that the image in “Angel is inspired by the angels in the corners of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and that the overall repetition in her work is influenced by Russian orthodox chanting. The collages are “like sculptures for me because I cut and weave and dig into them,” she explains. Both Schwarz’s paintings and Lewczuk’s collages invite viewers to get closer and dig in.

8_margrit_angel
Margrit Lewczuk in front of Angel (2013)

###

The two exhibitions will be on view at Life on Mars, located at 56 Bogart, until May 31st, 2015.

BOS Studio Visit: Jenny Morgan

by Nicole Durbin

BOS Studio Visit is an ongoing series that seeks to showcase the impressive spectrum of artistic expression on display during Bushwick Open Studios. All interviews were performed during the 2014 BOS weekend.

image

[AiB] How would you describe your work and themes to a layperson?

[JM] I’m a portrait painter—I work with people from my life—so it’s all based on intimate relationships. I’m trained traditionally, but I’m incorporating abstract elements and metaphorical language on top of traditional portraiture structure.

[AiB] Could you tell me about your process?

[JM] I photograph everyone myself, then work from [the photo] as a reference. I use certain techniques to abstract the realism, so I either sand down certain parts of the body, blur, or add color glazes to push the work out of the realm of the real to the more conceptual and metaphysical.

image

 

[AiB] How does the work evolve as you go? Do you have a vision when you begin?

[JM] It depends. Sometimes I jump into it with a fully set format that I’ve worked out in Photoshop or just through writing and journaling, and sometimes the painting dictates where it goes, depending on who I’m working on and the person themselves.

[AiB] How do you decide who you want to work with, and why?

[JM] Well, they’re all people close to me, so it usually depends on what’s going on with their life and the moment and if I’m kind of attracted to them.

This portrait on the wall is another artist friend named Sharona, and I was thinking about painting her in a time when I was in this deep lull and I didn’t really know where the next body of work was coming from. I’ve always been really attracted to her work, so I needed to paint her to siphon off some of her energy, in a way! It was a mutual back and forth, but it was about honoring her creative spirit and taking some energy from that.

image

 

[AiB] How would you say your work has evolved over the course of your career?

[JM] I’ve always worked with the figure, but in terms of growth it’s become a little more metaphorical and conceptual, jumping away from photography and photorealism and into other layers of abstraction.

[AiB] What else should people know about about your work?

[JM] That it’s based on people, and relationships, and spiritual connections, and cosmic realities and realms and matrices and…yeah.

image

 

###

For more of Jenny Morgan’s work, visit her website: here.

Duplicate Meanings: Finding What Is Lost at Storefront Ten Eyck

by Etty Yaniv 

image

Eros by Mie Yim, 2013; all photos by Etty Yaniv

 

Typically, crowded openings are not an ideal setting for experiencing the artwork on display. Nevertheless, the current show at Storefront Ten Eyck, featuring Elise Siegel’s ceramic busts paired with Mie Yim’s abstracted figure paintings, thrives in a crowded space. As in a theatrical
experience or a ritual ceremony, the visitors’ presence enhances the
psychological tension that these artworks emit.

image

Overview of opening at Storefront Ten Eyck with sculptures by Elise Siegel (front) and paintings by Mie Yim (on walls)

 

Varying in style, scale, and surface, Siegel’s series of ceramic portrait busts are grouped like a chorus in a Greek tragedy or idols in a
prehistoric rite. Handled with expressionistic sensibility, their raw
surfaces convey an urgent sense of emotional flux. Siegel aims to
capture fleeting moments of inner conflict, psychic turbulence, and
emotional uncertainty. The
visceral presence of her clay figurines, particularly as a group,
generates a psychologically
charged encounter for the viewer. Siegel, who lives
and works in New York City, says that she is working with clay precisely because it
is “the most primal, sensuous and sensitive material, recording and responding
to every thought, impulse, and touch.”

image

Visitors at Storefront Ten Eyck with sculptures by Elise Siegel (front) and paintings by Mie Yim (on walls)

 

Fascinated by the transformative nature of human interactions with objects, Siegel compares her
role as a sculptor to that of a puppeteer: “Once the puppet comes alive, it’s
not really clear who’s in charge,” she explains. This process begins with a
size or stylistic trope in mind. As the piece develops, she gets a glimpse
of who the figures might be, not as portraits of specific people, but rather as
distinct imaginary individuals.

image

Visitors contemplating Tequila Hangover by Mie Yim (painting on wall) with sculpture by Elise Siegel (foreground)

 

Siegel
explains that she is particularly drawn to figurative sculptures that humans
have empowered, such as idols, reliquaries, masks, and even toys. “I have taken
formal cues from the abstracted features and exaggerated forms of the amazing
Jomon dogu figures of Neolithic Japan as well as the hollow window eyes of
terracotta Hawaiian funeral figures from the third to sixth century,” she
elaborates.

image

Portrait Bust with Pink Lips by Elise Siegel, 2012

 

Portrait Bust with Pink Lips is one of the most haunting pieces in the series. Covered with matte patina that resembles worn-away skin, with
slightly smeared pink lipstick and closed eyes, this female figurine conveys complex and opposing states of being. “For me, this piece is looking inward,” Siegel reflects.

image

Young Boy Portrait by Elise Siegel

 

Another vulnerable and inner-looking bust in the show is Young Boy Portrait. “His head is a bit too big and he is looking slightly
up at you, expectantly, with raised eyebrows and his cut out eyes allow you to
look right in. His big buttons make him look like a child or a sad clown,” Siegel
says describing the work. This sense of an underlying duplicate meaning is also conveyed through her
technique. Contrary to decorative glazing convention, which traditionally implies
overpainting Majolica glaze with tight patterns, Siegel overpaints her
glaze with copper oxide in a gestural way, allowing it to melt and run.

image

Mongrel by Mie Yim, 2014

 

Similar to Siegel’s method, Mie Yim’s approach is intuitive, experimental,and deeply personal. With a skill and sensibility of an abstract expressionist, Yim begins by pushing paint. She notes, “Shapes
emerge; the doll-like eyes anchor the form and turn into a portrait…If it’s
all going too swimmingly, I have to ruin it, again. In order to find it, you
have to lose it.” This process of building and erasing is evident in her lush
and layered canvases.

image

Cho-cho-san by Mie Yim, 2014

 

As with Siegel’s sculptures, Yim’s paintings convey a sense of fleeting moments, changing moods, and forms in flux. With a winking
nod to traditional Western portraiture, her forms are well defined in
the
foreground, while her saturated palate alludes to “distant cousins of
Hello
Kitty and other Asian pop culture dolls that are having an existential
crisis,”
as she puts it. Yim, a native South Korean who resides in New York,
successfully conveys
in her paintings the intersection between East and West, abstract and
figurative,
cute and aggressive. In other words, “me,” as she sums up.

 

###

Storefront Ten Eyck is located at 324 Ten Eyck Street, with opening hours 1-6PM on Saturdays and Sundays. Exhibition with works by Elise Siegel and Mie Yim open through 22 February