Kimberly Brooks Launches The ImageBlog

New York, NY, March 19, 2013 — HPMG, The Huffington Post Media Group, the leading social news and opinion site worldwide, today announced the launch of “The ImageBlog,” a new feature for invited artists to share their work and engage with the public.

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The brainchild of Los Angeles-based painter Kimberly Brooks, The ImageBlog features contemporary artists such as Shepard Fairey, Annie Lapin, Daniel Richter, Rebecca Campbell, David LaChappelle and many others.   The stream of images, which lives at www.huffingtonpost.com/imageblog and can be found on the front page of the art section and will be accessible via mobile phone.  Artists are asked to submit images of their work, details, works in progress or their studios with a caption.  The ImageBlog stream is updated daily.
“Even though I follow and search for other artists on social networks, I longed for a place where I could see a river of works by stellar artists in one place.  The Huffington Post, with it’s incredible tools for sharing and engagement, offered the perfect forum to make that happen. It’s the ultimate form of public art.” said Brooks from her studio.

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Kimberly Brooks’ is a contemporary American Painter and new media artist.  Her painted work has been featured in numerous juried exhibitions organized by curators from the Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of Modern Art and California Institute of the Arts among others.  Her painting has been featured in New American Paintings, The Art Economist, Vanity Fair, the LA times, Vanity Fair, among many other publications.  New media projects include founding the Arts Section, the Science Section, Art Meets Science, and many others.   Brooks earned her B.A. from UC Berkeley and trained in fine arts at Otis College of Design and UCLA. She lives in Los Angeles and maintains her studio in Venice, CA.  http://www.kimberlybrooks.com

Rockstars, Orphans and Rescue Missions

As I write this, I’m sitting on a stool in the middle of my studio. My solo show is less than five weeks away. I have over fifteen canvases of all sizes strewn about, the finished ones hanging on the walls, the rest facing the walls. I’ve divided the paintings into three categories: Rock Stars, Rescue Missions and Orphans. There’s nothing like a deadline to align all the atoms of the universe so I can see with crystal clarity.

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Kimberly Brooks Studio Five Weeks and Counting

Unlike a typical triage unit on a battle field or hospital where you attend to the worst first, I do the opposite. First I must recognize and admit when a painting is not working and kill it or let it die. This is never easy. So I focus on the Rock Stars– the ones that fly out of my mind (my heart) and onto the canvas with ease. Even if I hit turbulence I know I can still get out of it and it will make it on the gallery wall. I’m jamming when I’m painting them. I’m confident about what’s happening, the palette, the composition, then surprises that always happen in painting are bonuses. They make me feel like a Rock Star. I focus on these first.

Next, the Rescue Missions. They were Rock Stars. What happened? That hand doesn’t look quite right, the palette needs fixing, the detail not enough or too much. But there are Rescue Missions and then there are Rescue Missions. I have one Rescue Mission that I’ve been painting on and off of for five years. It was once the basis for an entire show. Someday, it still will be, but now I work on her in between. Leonardo Da Vinci carted the Mona Lisa around with him for twenty years, touching it up until his death (and to think it started as a commission!). Like Jean Le Feo’s ongoing and never finished painting “The Rose,” or Jacob Wrestling the angel, I don’t know when she will be ready for the public, but I’m not giving up.

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Jay De Feo’s “The Rose”

How many times in my life have I spent too much time on a rescue mission? With the wrong relationship or a lousy job? Relationships, work and ideas– they are all things we have to nurture. I take note of what’s going well. Life is short and I don’t want to spend all my time fixing things.

There’s a common misconception that artists are focused on process and it’s all about “the journey.” Certainly the journey’s great (and challenging and circuitous and rewarding, etc.), but I want beginnings and endings. I want results. Nabokov wrote that there can be no art without facts and no science with out fancy. There’s nothing more satisfying than fact of a finished painting and the dream that it will somehow embody an ultimate aesthetic self.

But truthfully, thinking that any painting might represent the whole vision or spirit of anything is as impossible as attempting to hug a tornado. Rather, each painting or idea represents a single moment and angle of that tornado in motion– it’s early crosswinds, it’s fury, the occasional flying cow or car– it’s just just one piece in a life time of work.

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Detail from “Technicolor Summer” Oil on Linen

Yet the urge to strive for the ultimate “Hero” painting is irresistible. My artist friends and I joke about the “Magic Painting” that we’re going to put on the postcard for a show. As if one painting can summarize an entire show and bring more people in. Which reminds me, I have a solo show in less than five weeks. Time to get back to work. Back to the studio. I have a jam session to attend.

First Person Artist is a weekly column by artist Kimberly Brooks. Her solo show “Technicolor Summer” opens May 10th in Los Angeles at http://www.taylordecordoba.com”>Taylor De Cordoba. Come back every Saturday for more Kimberly Brooks. You can view more interviews and essays at www.firstpersonartist.com

Street Art Stories MOCA Panel with Shepard Fairey

Brooklyn Street Art Invites you to “Street Art Stories”, a presentation and panel discussion about new stories told on the street today, to be held at MOCA Grand Avenue Ahmanson Auditorium, Los Angeles, CA on Saturday August 13, 2011 at 3 pm.

STREET ART STORIES

Presented by Brooklyn Street Art
A Presentation and Panel Discussion About New Stories Told on the Street Today

In Street Arts’ latest chapter, the storytellers are hitting up walls with all manner of influences and methods. More than ever before, formally trained and self taught fine artists are skipping the gallery route and taking their work directly to the public, creating cultural mash-ups and highly personal stories of their own, altering the character of this scene once again. Eclectic, individual, and as D.I.Y. as you can imagine, these Street Artists may have knowledge of who came before them or not, but they are determined to be a part of one art scene that is perceived as authentic, relevant, and alive.
Join Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo, authors and founders of Brooklyn Street Art and contributing Street Art writers for The Huffington Post ARTS, as they show and compare examples of work from New York’s streets today. Then join a lively discussion with knowledgeable panelists about precursors to this storytelling practice and how it may be evolving what we have been calling “Street Art” for the last decade.
Hosted by The Huffington Post ARTS and The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) at MOCA Grand Avenue Ahmanson Auditorium, our panelists are:
• Kimberly Brooks, Fine Artist and Founding Arts Editor of the Huffington Post
• Shepard Fairey, Fine Artist, Street Artist, and Graphic Designer
• Marsea Goldberg, Director of New Image Art Gallery in West Hollywood, CA
• Ken Harman, Managing Online Editor at Hi-Fructose Magazine and Owner and Curator at Spoke Art Gallery in San Francisco, CA
• Ethel Seno, Editor of “Trespass: A History of Uncommissioned Urban Art” and Curatorial Coordinator for the MOCA exhibition “Art in the Streets” at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA
Presenters and moderators, Steven P. Harrington, Editor in Chief, and Jaime Rojo, Editor of Photography at BrooklynStreetArt.com
Location:
MOCA Grand Avenue
Ahmanson Auditorium
250 South Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Date and Time:
Saturday, August 13, 2011, at 3 pm
RSVP:
Admission is free and seating is very limited so please RSVP your request to MOCApanel@BrooklynStreetArt.com today. You will receive a confirmation via email by August 4 __if your request can be honored.

Highlights & Milestones: HuffPost Arts Celebrates 2010

It’s hard to believe we launched the arts section less than six months ago. I consider it an honor to provide so much oxygen to so many artists and different kinds of art. As we approach end of this year, I’ve created a round-up of milestones and highlights since we came into existence.

LAUNCH Here’s the elaborate slideshow that I spent Dec 31st working on ~ slideshow of accomplishments for the Huffington Post SO FAR : )

Miami Basel: Here I Come

On what turned out to be “Black Friday” in the late afternoon, I headed east to Beverly Hills to see Joan Mitchell’s The Last Decade show at the Gagosian Gallery. I found a parking space a few blocks away and fought my way through throngs of shoppers looking for — for what? A gift, an Hermes bag, a deal? They were everywhere. When I walked in the quiet gallery, the paintings hit me like a train and tears started to well in my eyes as I stood before the first piece at the gallery.

2010-11-29-JoanMitchell.jpg Joan Mitchell at the Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles
Art affects us all in different ways. I am currently working on my own large-scale paintings. I’m in the big struggle for less — less strokes, fewer colors, more gesture, more impact — brevity. The simultaneity of the riot and the stillness, on Mitchell’s canvases vs. that perfectly quiet room, especially in contrast to the throbbing streets outside, caught me off guard. Their vibrancy, created towards the end of her life, was equally disquieting.

Another couple entered the room and they were just as hushed. They didn’t have shopping bags and didn’t seem to be shopping at the stores that day either. It was as if we had decided to go to church and worship art instead. What is the difference between the people lusting over Hermes and those looking at the art? What would it look like if we could all walk around with MRI scans hovering above our heads as we took in the sights? Do different parts of our brains light up when we’re taking in a beautiful painting or coveting a cashmere coat?

2010-11-29-MRI.jpg This is Your Brain Shopping (left), This is Your Brain on Art (right) Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Actually, I just made that up. But I’m about to go to Miami Basel this week, and I look forward to the total immersion that is the experience of an artist attending an art fair. It is uncommonly quiet at the fairs — compared to other types of fairs or conventions — each booth is an alter or shrine and people stop by to pray, absorb and if you’re lucky, cry a little.

It’s been five months since we launched the Arts page, and I am more exposed to and aware of what is going on in “the art world” than I have ever been before. And yet, and yet, the imagery more often flies at me digitally, from my inbox in the morning and the evenings, and I hardly have a chance to see shows in person. Of course I make time for the biggies, certain museum shows and certain artists that I love or want to discover, like Joan Mitchell’s. But never often enough.

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The anatomy of the fair goes something like this: The main fair, “Miami Basel,” is located in South Beach, where you see really big artists, many dead ones (Magrittes, Bacons and Warhols, etc.) but far more living. Then the satellite fairs, with cool names like “Aqua, Pulse, Scope, Nada,” are clustered about thirty minutes away and in general feature younger more emerging artists.

John Baldessari once likened an artist going to a fair to catching one’s parents having sex. Artists don’t like to think of their work as merchandise, let alone see their dealers in the “act” of treating it that way. For most artists, the fair hovers around our consciousness like a distant moon or planet that we know is there but that we don’t actually visit. My paintings had attended for a few years with my gallery before I had come in person. But now that I’ve gone several years in a row, I’m hooked. I’m ready for the artist pilgrimage where I will no doubt pray, cry and enjoy some of the best people watching on planet earth.

On the flight home, my camera will be full and I will feel like I always do, like I’ve just gone through a car wash without a car. I hope to see you there!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kimberly-brooks/miami-basel-this-is-your-brain_b_789013.html

Walter Landor and Me

The introduction and subsequent rescinding of The Gap Logo unleashed a series memories of my younger self and the visionary designer Walter Landor.

I was a freshman at UC Berkeley. Being the always drawing-painting-coloring-designing “creative-type” kid, my father thought I might enjoy a lecture at SFMOMA by the legendary designer Milton Glaser who was introduced by his West Coast Counterpart, Walter Landor of Landor Associates. I was raised in Mill Valley so my university, my hometown and the glittering lights of San Francisco were all only a bridge away.

Although I am an artist today, when I was eighteen, my path was not so clear. My first generation American father, was still in the chrysalis of his first career as a prominent surgeon (he would then go on to become a best-selling author). In middle and high school, I often attended Sunday morning rounds and an occasional operation with my him before he picked up bagels and lox for Sunday brunch. I received the book “The Makings of a Woman Surgeon” four Chanukas in a row. Whenever I brought home a report card in high school it was often met with “What?? A ‘B’ in Chemistry? How are you going to get into medical school with a B in Chemistry?!” During our talks about what I wanted to do with my life, he would stroke my hair and say “Honey, you can be anything you want as long as you’re a doctor first. Then worry about the rest.”

Hence, the prospect of enrolling in art school was as inconceivable as visiting on a distant galaxy via jet pack. So getting an internship at one of the premiere design firms in the world while in college seemed like a great way to expose myself to a creative field and one that my father might (*might*) take seriously enough to justify not going to medical school.

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This is how I found myself, at the tender age of eighteen, wearing panty hose, my mother’s silk blouse and fake pearls, smack in the middle of a boardroom on a Ferry Boat called The Klammath at Pier Five as Landor Associates was about to launch “New Coke”. Like the Gap Logo fiasco, the introduction of New Coke, which has now become a source of lore amidst business schools and popular culture, was also met with outrage by a public which was just fine with their existing coke, thank you very much.  Although it had nothing to do with the design itself, the logo, too, which had shed it’s seraphs from “Coca-Cola” and abbreviated itself with to “New Coke”, also seemed like a fraud. Phrases like “Brand Loyalty” and “Brand Equity” were coined shortly thereafter.

But that’s not the exciting part of the story.  The exciting part was… Read whole article >

Painting Evolution: Liat Yossifor

“Falling Into Ends” New Paintings by Liat Yossifor. June 11- August 30 Galerie Anita Beckers, Frankfurt Germany | Frankenallee 74 | D-60327 Frankfurt a. M.

Powerful art and extreme nature have a lot in common. This spring when the Icelandic volcano grounded all European planes and the most arresting images cascaded through my internet browsers – so much so that I had to catch my breath – my mind immediately went toward the work of painter Liat Yossifor.

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Smoke erupting from Eyjafjallajokull volcano. Getty Images 2010

The last time I wrote about Yossifor’s work was 2007. Southern California was engulfed in smoke from the wildfires and the palette of the sky has descended into a muted orange grey — the entire region was thrown into an altered state. At the same time, the daily casualties of the war in Iraq streamed through our televisions and for those of us not in the military– it was all perfectly the abstract. It was through Liat’s paintings of battle scenes in her exhibition “The Tender Among Us” — with the twisted bodies below a similarly muted atmosphere — that I started to feel a connection to the war.

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“The Tender Among Us” 62 x 72 in. Oil on Panel 2007. Liat Yossifor

Yossifor has created a technique where she paints portions very thickly but moves the paint around with a fine sturdy brush which renders the surface more like sculpture. The reflecting light and the painting itself change with each step as you walk toward and around it. While some artists’ work stay within the same series of notes, Yossifor’s work steadily transforms and each exhibition captures a state of that evolution. That her latest body of work has figures emerging from black as thick as the tar washing up in beaches off the Gulf of Mexico is surely a coincidence, (or is it? one never knows), in person she is not dark at all, but a bright, fiery burst of energy and intellect — a painter’s painter. I caught up with her while she was finishing a three month residency at a Kunstverein in Frankfurt and just opened her solo show at Anita Becker Gallery in Frankfurt.

KB: You have been a recent resident at the Deutsche Borse Residency Program at the Frankfurter Kunstverein for three months. What was the program about and what was it like for you?
LY: The residency program hosts two residents at a time: an artist and an art historian, a writer, or a curator. My experience here has been a rich one — from the people I met to the collections in the museum row in Frankfurt to the Kunstverein’s own programming to much more. For example, I finally saw Beckmann’s The Night at the k21 museum in an exhibition entitled Silent Revolution, and I completely lost myself in front of the most beautiful blue and black Rothko. The Städel Museum, just minutes from the residency, has a room with all my favorites: early Baselitz, Kirchner, and Dubuffet. I also love that this particular Kunstverein in Frankfurt exhibited works by Max Beckmann when he was still unknown.

KB: How has this experience affected your new work?
LY: Before coming to Germany, I felt that a shift in my work was coming, and in my mind, I saw the new paintings, but I also felt a little crippled in my LA studio, going back and forth between old and new processes. Then, I came to Frankfurt and encountered the new studio, new light, new experiences, and new materials (I began working on rough linen). All of these changes contributed to the shift in the work.

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“Falling into Ends” 71 x 63 inches. Oil on Linen. Liat Yossifor Courtesy Gallerie Anita Beckers

LY: In some ways I believe that, in Los Angeles, I was making black paint surfaces on panels that were condensed and object-like, while in my stay here I became more interested in pictorial space. The heavy black texture element in my new work is done in layers that are on top of thin layers on linen; whereas before, the thick layer of paint was done at once and all over, sealing the surface tightly. I am not crossing out the heavy object-like “walls” that collapse inward from before for the new thin layers on linen; rather I am imagining them together. There just seems to be more possibilities now.

KB: How would you describe the new work compared to “Tender Among Us” or your other work?
LY: I am using a lot more symbols than in my previous work. I have a large collection of images at this point of statue-like national monuments, of soldiers from various wars, and of paintings of soldiers (specifically from post war I German painting). I think of these references as documents and archetypes and also as ideas that are nostalgic and broken, like painting itself. I see painting as a medium that abstracts and confuses the “subject” — nothing is specific or hierarchal; a shape is a shape. Also, in painting, the idea of a return is not linear because history is always present. My attraction to these qualities in painting is how nothing stays fixed, so the most stubborn symbol or idea falls apart. When I decided to work with old strategies (such as post-World War I German painting), I was not aware of how troubling a relationship it would be. In a way, it made me very aware of today’s post-war reaction in art (or the lack thereof), and things came around to full circle, which was interesting — to be connecting identities (mine and German) across time.

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“The Monument” 180 x 160 cm Oil on Linen. Liat Yossifor. Courtesy Galerie Anita Beckers

LY: (cont.) Ideas flip in my head; for example, the monument is not just a failed idea, but also a shape that still impresses me. I’m working with thin cadmium red lines that separate large black shapes in the paintings. One tiny red mark in a black painting changes the whole composition. Then, when I insist on repeating a small red line, it becomes a “thing” too, not just a guide or a line. It’s fascinating for me at the moment, to allow these symbolic color combinations – often used for propaganda – to mess with me, to let them manipulate the way I see space, and to see the red mark gaining more and more power compositionally as I repeat it and see it deepen. I am painting the soldiers freely in the sense that their medallions, uniforms, hats, and flags are a mixture of various styles and origins. I find myself making a mass of bodies, where the soldiers melt into each other, and are grouped together for the sake of the overall structure of the painting. They seem to me to be celebrating an end of a war, or its beginning; moreover, they seem to be gathering but it is not clear for what. For me, their state of becoming “one” is both heroic and pathetic.

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“Falling Into Ends” Detail 1

KB: I think of your work as one that requires a slow viewing. Has that changed? How do you approach the viewing of your own work now?
LY: I am thinking right now about two experiences when viewing the work: one that is immediate and structured, such as bright red lines separating black space, ultramarine blue peeking through black shapes; and the other that is the experience of making up the slight differentiation between one black shape next to another and of the figures that are trapped in there. The bright red and blue lines work like a quick grid and an armature — they get the eye moving fast. I have been resisting the quick viewing of art for a while now because I wanted to slow down the act of seeing and to challenge myself to accept information in layers. This reminds me that I was just looking at a black Ad Reinhardt at the Falkwang Museum. It was so quite to slowly see the grid, and I felt like the surface was very flexible still, maybe even still wet, because it was changing so much while I was looking at it. But over time, for my own work, that has begun to be less interesting for me, and maybe even a little stubborn of me to continue to focus on slowing down time when seeing can happen in many ways and tempos at once. What’s wrong with fast? Or more accurately, why not have multiple (simultaneous) tempos to view the painting?

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“The Lovers (Soldier and Mask) 70 x 35” Oil on Linen. Liat Yossifor Courtesy Galerie Anita Beckers

KB: What’s next for you?
LY: My next show will be at Angles Gallery in Los Angeles, January 2011

“Falling Into Ends” New Paintings by Liat Yossifor. June 11- August 30 Galerie Anita Beckers, Frankfurt Germany | Frankenallee 74 | D-60327 Frankfurt a. M.

The Huffington Post Names Artist Kimberly Brooks as Arts Editor

The Huffington Post Launches HuffPost Arts

Online Arts ‘Hub’ Features Wide-Ranging Coverage And Fresh, Unfiltered Voices

New York, NY, June 16, 2010 — The Huffington Post (“HuffPost”), a leading social news and opinion site, today announced the launch of “HuffPost Arts,” a newsection covering all things arts and culture related, including up-to-the minute news and commentary from artists and opinion-makers. The section is an online arts ‘hub,’ covering a wide range of subjects, from fine art and sculpture to opera and filmmaking. HuffPost Arts is edited by artist Kimberly Brooks. Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, made the announcement.

“We think it’s natural to apply HuffPost’s blend of real-time news and unbridled opinion to the broad world of arts and culture,” said Arianna Huffington.  “Kimberly Brooks has long been one of my favorite HuffPost bloggers, and we’re thrilled that she’ll be editing a new section about which she’s so passionate. Her open, inclusive approach to the arts is a perfect match for HuffPost and one which we think our community will be equally as excited about.”
Said Kimberly Brooks: “As an artist, I want to be a part of any effort that helps other artists get more exposure for their art, so encouraging Huffington Post bloggers and readers to share their opinions — and their work — is something I especially look forward to.”

About The Huffington Post:
The Huffington Post (www.huffingtonpost.com) is a leading social news and opinion site which in four and a half years has become an influential and oft-quoted media brand, “The Internet Newspaper.” The Huffington Post (“HuffPost”) has over 30 million unique visitors per month (source: Google Analytics) and is the most-linked-to blog on the Internet, per Technorati.  Among those who have blogged on HuffPost are Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Larry David, Nora Ephron, Larry Page, Madeleine Albright, Robert Redford, Neil Young, Rahm Emanuel, Albert Brooks, Mia Farrow, Russ Feingold, Al Franken, Ari Emanuel, Gary Hart, Edward Kennedy, Harry Shearer, John Kerry, Bill Maher, Nancy Pelosi, Madonna, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ryan Reynolds, Craig Newmark, Alec Baldwin, Donna Karan, Kenneth Cole and Donatella Versace. A comprehensive list of the contributors to The Huffington Post can be found in its blogger index:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/theblog/index/.

Artist Kimberly Brooks Launches Arts Page for the Huffington Post

For years, I have had the privilege of interviewing and writing about over seventy eight artists for a column on the Huffington Post called First Person Artist. During that time I made the process of writing and having a conversation with other artists an integral part of my art practice.  On Wednesday, June 16, I am happy to announce that the Huffington Post will have a section devoted solely to the Arts. The Arts Section will cover the full range of arts and culture – from painting to filmmaking to architecture. We are encouraging artists, curators and critics alike to write about their work, review others’ work, write about anything newsworthy that inspires further thought or a strong opinion or curate their own online exhibitions. Here’s Arianna Huffington’s announcement.  Here’s mine.  Here’s the page:   http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arts

KIMBERLY BROOKS Fall Newsletter

Happy Fall, Everyone. Here’s the latest ~

UPCOMING LECTURES, SHOWS & EVENTS

UC IRVINE, CA SEPT 16
INSIDE EDGE LECTURE SERIES
THE CREATIVE PROCESS IN EIGHT STAGES
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NEW YORK, NY OCT 12 – 16
PORTRAIT SUBJECT SITTINGS

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FIRST PERSON ARTIST LUNCH WITH HUFFINGTON POST
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MIAMI, FLA DEC 2-4
ART MIAMI BASEL
NEW PAINTINGS

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UPCOMING INTERVIEWS
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MARILYN MINTER
ROBERTO LUCANDER
JOCK MACDONALD
MELISSA MANFILL
JENNIFER PRESANT
REBECCA CAMPBELL

RECENT ESSAYS & INTERVIEWS

FaceBook and the Death of Mystery

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The Art of the Headshot

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What Climate Change Might Look Like:
Chris Larson’s Deep North

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Dancing with Divorced men:
Allison Kaufman

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Michelle Obama, Master Colorist & Me
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The Art of The Headshot

As I navigate the web, both as an artist and a new media person, I think about the images we use to present ourselves. Other than movie stars and professional personalities such as Oprah and Martha, real estate agents were actually the first profession to use headshots as one of the means of conveying who they are and what they would be like to work with. In the marketing and advertising world they call it “branding”. But since that always makes me think of seared flesh on a cow’s ass I tend I stay away from that expression. Whatever you call it, we’re all doing it now.

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Sharona Alperin, Real Estate Agent Extraordinaire

Take my friend Sharona, for example. Occasionally I receive postcards or web announcements with her face smiling at me. She’s smart, confident and looks it. When I see her picture, I also instantly hear her signature sexy voice. I think to myself, “Man, if anyone is going find me a great house it’s going to be her.” As realtors go, she’s pretty low-key. (She also has the curious distinction of being the namesake of the Knack’s famous song “My Sharona” so she doesn’t have to sell as hard.) But most real estate agents take it much further, putting their faces on everything from billboards, bus stops and print ads. I often wonder when the trend started. It must have been in the seventies, and some blond babe, probably here in Los Angeles, an out-of-work actor, perhaps, thought “I bet if I put a picture of myself on every business card and bus stop, billboard and sign outside the house, people would rather buy a house from me.”

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Special attention must be given to “Bijan”. There’s a corner on Sepulveda and Wilshire Blvds. in Los Angeles where he’s always there spread across two billboards of this major intersection. His face and image are in every picture, always laughing and getting out of a yellow Ferrari or private airplane with his name slathered on it. It’s fabulously ostentatious and not to be missed.
So what is the significance of that single image that you project and how everyone perceives you? When I was college intern working in an international design firm (pre-web), I saw a lot of resumes coming in from around the world. Unlike the American applicants who just submitted resumes, the designers from Europe affixed a passport photo size headshot on the corner. It stunned me how much the picture overrode any impression you could have of how they had spent their entire professional career. The impact on the mostly men who did the hiring was equally poignant. A pretty girl? Who cares where she went to school? Now we all confront it all the time, whether we read the blogs here on Huffpo or whether surveying friends of friends on Facebook.

Whether an activist, writer, blogger, student or artist, everyone is now a real estate agent. Once we admit or embrace this idea, let us examine a couple rules, shall we?

Activists Probably Shouldn’t be Smiling and Baring Teeth.
If your goal in life is to be helpful, like, say, for a real estate agent, smile away. But I’ve always found something a bit aggressive about baring teeth and looking straight into the camera. It must stem from primitive days one animal signaled another not encroach on his meal. Once, an environmental activist friend of mine used a smiling headshot but all words she was writing were “Hey, the Earth is On Fire and We Gotta Do Something About it!” It was a disconnect and when I pointed it out she changed it.

2009-04-13-MaureenDowd.jpgSerious Writers Ought To Go Easy on the Smiling too.
For years when I read the New York Times, I never knew what Maureen Dowd looked like. Suddenly, on the web her picture appeared. At first she looked like how I expected her to look. For a while however, the photographer made her smile and when I read her column on the web it annoyed me. Now her picture looks like wry and witty like her writing again. I can’t imagine reading Virginia Wolfe’s To The Lighthouse and have her smiling at me either.

The Artist’s Image
When I think of Picasso, I think of this black and white photo below. It captures the intensity of his gaze and something even deeper.

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Picasso

The artist’s image is intrinsically linked to portraiture. Before photography, the image of the artist was usually a self-portrait and hence in a state of scrutinization ~ a portrait of the artist staring at their reflection in order to depict his own image. Like this one of Albrecht Durer. My initial self portraits are equally intense.

 

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Albrecht Durer, Kimberly Brooks (Self Portraits)
So then, what kind of image should an artist put out there? Let’s take out the teeth entirely. Artists shouldn’t be smiling, they should be suffering, no? I was recently selected in a juried exhibition in print called New American Paintings which required each artist to submit a picture. When the book came out, most of them were brooding and or looking away. Choosing a picture isn’t easy. I blame modern photography on the frustration– its shutter speed can capture an infinite array of nano emotions but then somehow miss a larger essence.

The Scientist’s Image

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My favorite scientist’s image is this one of Einstein, hair messy, sticking his tongue out. He looks perfectly wacky enough to think of something as out of the box and crazy the Theory of Relativity. My brother-in-law Ken Goldberg is an artist and Robotics Professor at UC Berkeley. His Facebook portrait (below, right) is waiting-for-the-explosion wacky. Now he’s blogging for the San Francisco Chronicle and uses the picture on the left.

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Ken Goldberg, Scientist, Artist, SFGate Blogger
 

For some reason, bloggers like to show a happy version of themselves. Even I did it on this post. But is that the real me? I dunno, sometimes maybe. It will never be the right picture. As I tunnel through this thought experiment, I’m still figuring out the other professions. I’d love to know what you think.

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First Person Artist is a weekly column by artist Kimberly Brooks in which she provides commentary on the creative process, color, fashion, technology and showcases artistswork from around the world. Come back every Monday for more Kimberly Brooks.

Michelle Obama, Master Colorist and Me

There is a riot of color issuing forth from the First Lady’s closet and I cannot wait to see what she wears next. Say what you will about whether or not it was “appropriate” to wear a cardigan to meet the Queen or whether that balloon skirt was flattering, Michelle Obama is a Master Colorist — and I as well as my artist friends could not be more ecstatic.2009-04-05-obamacollage.jpg
A Collage of Michelle Recent Outfits

A woman’s journey through fashion is a life cycle in and of itself. As I look at the bold strokes of Michelle’s color sense today I reflect upon Michelle’s journey in fashion and color as one that might parallel my own and other women like her.

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Behold Matisse

As a young girl, I thought of fashion and color as a means to make myself more attractive to the opposite sex. My grandmother once told me, “Red and yellow, catch a fellow; pink and blue, keep him true.” My entire sense of fashion was about sexualization and objectification. I essentially wanted to make myself look pretty for the boys I had crushes on. At camp I would look at Seventeen, Vogue, Cosmo and Bazaar. But when I went to college, I got serious about my studies and great literature and momentarily shunned fashion or looked down upon caring too much about it. This was not just because I didn’t have any money to pay for it. It was also due to the culture inside the Ivory Tower — and I believe many other Ivy League-type schools — which mostly eschews fashion in exchange for the idea that the main purpose of our bodies is to provide a container for our brains. So while I may have I swooned over the finery described in words during a Proustian night at the Opera, fashion stayed in my head whereas Levi’s, a comfortable Gap t-shirt and a cool leather jacket was my uniform.

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Obama, Matisse and J. Crew

It is often after women leave the university and enter the workforce that a different sense of fashion emerges and we pick up the magazines again, first for ideas and then reading them with new eyes. I started to become more cognizant of fashion as a language. Navigating the workforce was confining for me at first and my leftover sexy sense of fashion led to unwanted passes. Even though my first job was in the design industry, it was a very macho, male-dominated environment, not unlike Mad Men. There was a need to balance looking creative, smart and tough if you were to be taken seriously. I opted for a reinvention/upgrade of my student self and learned that black boots or heels and a crisp white shirt is better for negotiating a room full of men. I lived in San Francisco. It was often grey and cloudy. And with the exception of an occasional red sweater, most of my wardrobe was black. It was very easy to go shopping. While I only touched color with cool scarves, I had unwittingly become a student of the silhouette. Languages, after all, must be learned one word and one phrase at a time.

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Obama, Cezanne, Narcisso Rodriguez

And this is where a lot of us working girls sleep walk well into our late twenties. We’re finally earning money and can afford a fabulous shoe. For me, I had moved to Los Angeles and the working girl uniform from San Francisco was no longer cutting it. (The different fashion styles of San Francisco and Los Angeles is a subject in and of itself.) I suddenly no longer saw fashion as a weapon of either sexuality or power in the work place, but rather as a universe of fabric, texture, color just as vibrant as the ones on my palette in the studio. I often dived into one color at a time, learning what works, what makes sense together and what looks best on me. After gaining a certain confidence, women learn to really celebrate themselves and life itself through what they choose to wear. That is what Michelle Obama is doing with color and so much more.

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Obama, Matisse

In reality, a woman’s journey in color and fashion is a sign of a healthy society. All the most oppressive regimes towards women cover them in black. I don’t care what the faux religious excuses of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan are. The silence of color in an entire culture is emblematic of the suppression of women’s spirit and influence on it’s culture. Michelle Obama’s use of color and fashion is empowering and enlightening to the women in this country. It is the fashion equivalent of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” and awakens in all of us the beauty of life and every day. As an artist, I am doubly appreciative of splashes of chartreuse and yellow, purple and green as fly across my television and computer screen. As an American Woman, I am filled with pride and hope it spreads like a California Wildfire.

Dancing With Divorced Men

My parents divorced when I was fourteen and I used to play evil tricks on my father for the years he was dating and I still lived at home. When a woman called and said “Is Lenny there?” I would say in the sexiest voice “No, I’m sorry, he’s busy right now” then whisper, ‘Stop it!’” then giggle and hang up. During high school, I often accompanied him to the symphony or an art show, and on more than one occasion he would have to explain that no, I was his daughter and not his date. My parents divorce was probably one of the most significant and difficult experiences of my life. Any one who has also been through a divorce would probably agree. It was even the topic of one of my first art shows. Until both my parents remarried, I always felt a bit uneasy until they settled down, as if I were the parents of wayward high school grads who hadn’t applied to college.

When I attended the Miami Basel fair this last winter, I walked by a booth that had a video showing an attractive young woman dancing in a living room of an apartment with a man. The clip would then jump to the same woman dancing with another man, then another. At first glance, I thought I was looking at an engagement announcement. There’s a happy couple surrounded by wedding photos. On closer inspection, it was evident that they didn’t look very comfortable together. And in reality, the couple in Kaufman’s “Divorced Men” series isn’t really a couple a couple at all. After Kaufman’s parents got divorced, Kaufman began to explore the void that is left when someone is removed from a relationship–both emotionally and physically in the sense that there is a real void in the emotional and physical space of the home.

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Allison Kaufman, “From the Divorced Men Series III”, C-print, 16″ x 20″, A4.

 

In the “Divorced Men Series,” Kaufman traveled into divorced men’s homes and took portraits with them and danced with them. In the hours of their meetings, they opened up to one another. In the process of taking the portraits and filming the dancing, Kaufman taps into the emotional vulnerability found not just with the divorced men, but also with the artist and men’s mutual desire to explore a human connection. I find the work both humorous and deeply explorative and touching.
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Allison Kaufman, “From the Divorced Men Series I”, C-print, 16″ x 20″, A2.

Kimberly Brooks: What was your inspiration behind this project? There are so many facets of experiencing divorce, was there a moment when it occured to you to make divorced men your focus?

Allison Kaufman: Visiting my newly-single father’s apartment for the first time was a very significant experience for me, one of many that led me to an artistic investigation of divorced middle-aged men, a demographic I am still working with. It’s very strange to visit the home of a newly-divorced parent and see what they choose to surround themselves with when they are living on their own for the first time in a long time, or possibly ever. Experiencing a major change, particularly in mid-life, necessitates forming a new identity to some degree. Vulnerability, disappointment, and hope, among many other things, are all part of that process and are emotions I’m fascinated with, both in my subjects and myself. In my work, I’ve been interested in the domestic–and its promises and failures–as a site of inquiry for quite some time, and seeing men navigate what is considered a predominately female domain is particularly poignant. The willingness of strangers to participate in the project and be documented in their homes reflected their desire for a sense of connection, something I was certainly looking for from this population for myself and what I believe the work ultimately is about.
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KB: When I found out the concept behind the work, I saw you as taking the place of a phantom limb; as if you were proxy-wife/girlfriend or daughter filling in the void for that instant. What did you take away from the experience of working with these men?

AK: While working with divorced men, I came to realize that the most potent part of our exchange was the temporary relationship that developed during our shoots, which usually only last a few hours. I wanted to record this in some fashion, and to literally make myself part of the work, vulnerable alongside the subject and forced to negotiate issues of persona and performance inherent in all photo/ video. I asked the men to choose a song and style of dancing and I essentially followed their lead, creating an appropriate female counterpart from their cues, and made “Dancing with Divorced Men”.

The project is about the need for human interaction, the search for it and the insecurities around it, in an increasingly cyber-connected yet emotionally disconnected world. For just a few hours, I offer these men the opportunity for human connection and the possibility of feeling a sense of hopefulness, healing and forgiving that I, too, am looking for. Reflecting on the voids existing in my own relationship with my father, interacting with men that function as a surrogate allows me a sense of healing in some way. I realize that the act of meeting these men and dancing with them will not always or entirely fill my desires or theirs, and it is perhaps the tenderness in trying to do so, and the potential for the success or failure of the connection that I am interested in, for it mimics the potential success and failure of all of our most intimate relationships.



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LEFT: Allison Kaufman, “From the Divorced Men Series II”, C-print, 16″ x 20″, A3; RIGHT: “From the Divorced Men Series IV”, C-print, 16″ x 20″

KB: How did the focus on divorced men take it’s form for you? How did it evolve as you got more deeply into it?

AK: I think like most artists, my process is conscious and subconscious simultaneously. Ideas and insights come from in-depth conversations and critiques with fellow artists and friends, and also arise at completely unforeseen, random moments when I’m in the middle of something I would think is unrelated. My work usually evolves over a long period of time and I try to look at a project from many angles–where I start is not very often where I end. I use the camera as a way of sketching, I suppose. When I need to feel creative and active I’m out with my camera making initial investigations into topics, and as I narrow my vision to what is most potent, I return with the equipment that seems most appropriate for that particular project.


KB: Is there a work of art that inspires you or that inspired this project?

AK: I’m drawn to a number of works, undertaken mostly by women, where artists form temporary relationships with strangers and attempt to illicit a genuine, emotional reaction. The pieces often use a relatively simple and sometimes light, or even humorous, structure that still seems to speak of complex issues of connection and loneliness. Prior to making “Dancing with Divorced Men” I was looking at a lot of this work and had not yet realized that this particular investigation of mine could function in that way. Examples of these artists and works are Gillian Wearing’s “Signs That Say What You Want Them To Say And Not Signs That Say What Someone Else Wants You to Say”, Shizuka Yokomizo’s “Strangers” series, and the video piece “Karaoke Wrong Number” by Rachel Perry Welty. All of these works deal with issues of the public versus private, our need to be seen or understood in some way, and our willingness to engage with strangers as a means of connection.

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Gillian Wearing, “Signs That Say What You Want Them To Say And Not Signs That Say What Someone Else Wants You to Say”, 1992-93.
Images found at Tate Collection, courtesy of Maureen Paley/ Interim Art, London

Allison Kaufman is a photo and video artist living in New York City. She received her BFA in Film and Television Production from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2000 and her MFA in Photography, Video, and Related Media from the School of Visual Arts in 2008. Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States at the Aqua Miami and Affordable Art Fairs, Broadway Gallery, ZONE: Chelsea Center for the Arts, Artists Space, and Brooklyn Borough Hall, as well as Galerie Scherer8 in Berlin. Kaufman is the recipient of the Paula Rhodes Memorial Award and an Alumni Scholarship Award from the School of Visual Arts and has been an artist-in-residence at the Constance Saltonstall Foundation of the Arts and Penland School of Crafts. She has taught at a variety of institutions and is currently an adjunct professor at Berkeley College. Updates on Kaufman’s work and exhibitions can be found at www.allisonkaufman.net.

Miami Basel Reflections

I just returned from attending Miami Basel for the first time and a week later all I can still say is WOW.

In seven short years Miami Basel has become one of America’s most important art fairs with an international audience and it turns out that the art is not the only worth staring at— the people watching, the parties, Miami itself– it all combines into an intoxicating brew that will surely take me a year to recover.

I would comment on the art which would require one hundred thousand blogs, so I’ve taken a sampling of photos to share with you below. I was struck most of all by the painting, especially the Germans in the satellite fairs (more on those fairs later.) I initially attempted to record every artist and gallery’s name that I captured along with the image, but that turned out to be too massive an undertaking, so I decided instead to recreate the art blizzard that one experiences– something I could never get away with it in the print world.

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Unlike other types of conventions where people are noisily talking and pitching and selling and meeting, wandering through an art fair, even one as massive as this one filling the entire Miami convention center, is very Zen. People quietly walk from booth to booth, as though visiting a different temples, trying to decide whether to join its religion or not. It fittingly occurs the same week as the Hajj, a pilgrimage Muslims are duty-bound to make once in a life-time. Miami Basel is also something every artist should experience at least once in a life-time, hopefully many times.

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For most artists, the fair hovers around our consciousness like a distant moon or planet that we know is there but that we don’t actually visit. My paintings have attended for a few years with my gallery, but I myself had never gone in person. That said, I hear more and more galleries suffering from fair fatigue and given the economy, I fear the degree to which these fairs will carry on with the gusto they have in the past will diminish. In fact, I met many people who said, “you shoulda seen it last year — there were twice as many Basquiat’s and Warhols…. Clearly the dealers were holding back their best stuff”. That may have been true, but it was still spectacular.

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The trip was especially fascinating since I recently finished the vocational thriller “7 Days in the Art World” by Sarah Thorton about how things really work. She, or perhaps it was John Baldessari, likened an artist going to a fair to catching one’s parents having sex. Artists don’t like to think of their work as merchandize, let alone see their dealers in the “act” of treating it that way. It didn’t bother me one bit.

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The anatomy of the fair goes something like this: there is the main fair, Miami Basel, where you see really big artists, many dead ones (I saw some Magrittes, Duffy, Bacons and Warhols that made my heart stop). The big fair is also in South Beach, near all the swanky hotels and where most of the parties flourish at night. The satellite fairs are clustered about thirty minutes away in what is normally a rough neighborhood. These smaller fairs have cool names like “Aqua, Pulse, Scope, Nada” in general feature younger more emerging artists, such as myself. My work was exhibiting at Aqua Wynwood which was my favorite of the Satellite fairs and not just because I was in it. In these fairs more than the main one, Obama was clearly the star fo the show. And thank you, Florida, for that. As we were shuttled through the neighborhoods of the satellite fairs you could see posters sprinkled along the side walk that said “Mission Accomplished” with Obama dressed as Superman.

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The people might not eclipse the art entirely but they sure come close. The opening night at the main fair is called “The Vernissage” which technically means “varnishing” in French but in this case means private preview. Living in Los Angeles, I can tell you that I have attended my share of sexy A-List parties, but nothing can compare to the chic and sex appeal of an international crowd speaking many languages at this event. Where women in America often dress like grown up version of their teen-age daughers, the European women, escorted by their handsome men in tailored shirts and a scarf casually draped around their neck, slink in the lanes like Catherine Deneuve of every age was put through a cloning machine. It’s fashion/people watching heaven.

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The Miami nightlife or “scene” is certainly dramatically enhanced during the fair, with dinners and parties all over town, especially in South Beach. Often, I thought to myself, “Gee, either there are more people in Miami, or just more people out having a good time.” Every place seems to be teaming with slick looking people, the city has a vibe more like Chicago with better weather and better looking people (sorry Chicago.) It was definitely not a West Coast vibe where most people like to be in bed by 11:00.

What a far cry from the solitary act of painting in my studio in Venice. Miami left me totally inspired. I can’t wait to go back next year.

The Election and Art Swimming in My Head

If every cell in my body had a face, it would resemble that of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”, with each of the mouths getting wider and wider until November 4th is over with.

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As an artist, I have, like the rest of my species, huge antennas and right now I find it simply impossible to make or write or think about art and not think about the election.

Watching history being made in every regard is to see reality afresh; when a few elements are tweaked, whether the first African American or the first woman vice president. Although let’s be real about the latter–McCain’s injection of Sarah Palin into his campaign was less history and more like an over-dosing Uma Thurman getting a shot directly in the heart a la “Pulp Fiction”. I attribute the genuine history making moments to Obama and Clinton. And thanks to them I do not think as a country that we will ever see four white guys lined up on those debate stages again.

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I notice, throughout the elections, and especially when candidates are being interviewed, they interrupt or defend their positions by saying “the fact of the matter is” as if everything said before that moment was sort of mushy and not “fact based”. That said, the fact of the matter is that things are being shaken up and it is fantastic.

This is not to say that we’ve reached the very end of white-male dominated patriarchy and that we can now all hold hands in a circle under the moonlight and embrace our inner pagan witch/goddesses just yet. But it does signify an historic reality tweak, and hopefully, one that will lead us to some new post gender, post racial, post carbon age that transcends anything we’ve known before.

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Electric Cool-Aid Acid Test, Mike Quinn

This week is the 40th Anniversary of Tom Wolfe’s famous “Electric Kook-Aid Acid Test” and I thought it would be high time we take a small moment to reflect upon the influence of drug use on art and culture. In an interview with Time Magazine, when asked if Wolfe thought that the drug culture had been stripped of its intellect, he replied:

“Ha! That’s assuming that it had an intellect–particularly in the case of LSD, which everyone assumed opened the doors of perception. We’ve since discovered that it does the opposite.”

I have to say I heartily disagree. For better or worse, there are ample byproducts of drug culture’s intellect, including, according to Israeli researchers, the Old Testament, where the drug in a popular drink of the time called ayahuasca induced “the seeing of light and profound religious and spiritual feelings.” And anyone who thinks that the Disney illustrators who created Mickey Mouse’s frantic repetitive broom exploits in Fantasia weren’t on anything are frankly, as we say affectionately to someone who is clueless, “smoking crack”.

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Charlton Heston as Moses and Timothy Leary In Photocollage

Certain art, if done properly, can induce an effect reminiscent of a drug trip just by the experience of the space. Rhythm via repetition can imbue art with a rave-like electronic effect and make the viewer feel like a small part of a larger continuum. It can even recreate the weird battery taste that happens in ones mouth after taking hallucinogenic mushrooms or L.S.D…. not that I would have any idea what I’m talking about with regard to such an activity.

But it’s not all bright and technicolor and this is highlighted in recent work of the artist Mike Quinn. Quinn creates installation pieces, sculptures, and paintings using pain killers, pills, anti-depressants, cigarettes (and cigarette packaging), alcohol, soda and more to literally chart the eternal search for happiness and betterment that often plays out through hindrances and impediments while attempting to diet, get happy, move forward, and progress.

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Mike Quinn, Keeping Up Appearances Can Be A Drag (Installation Views), 2007 – 2008,
Cigarette packs, varsity basket ball pins and paint pen, Dimensions variable, Courtesy of Perry Rubenstein Gallery.

Kimberly Brooks: You’ve recently been creating large wall installations. What do they signify to you?

Mike Quinn: They both have a very rational component (the math /physics element) and a very chaotic component (the addiction / the drugs / the need to escape). Using the inherent rationality of math and physics as a way to look at and depict the irrationality of addiction and chaos in life has been successful. In “March Mad Addiction Descent,” there are 31 panels, all with pages from sports sections painted with drugs, installed according to the way a basketball would fall to Earth. It’s kind of math in a vacuum though, so we take some liberties – my dad is a physicist and he helps me with the numbers. We make it work for the idea or the space that we have.

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Mike Quinn, MARCH MAD ADDICTION DESCENT (Installation Views), 2007, Mixed media, 31 framed panels: 14.75 x 11.75 inches- each PRG 979-08, Courtesy of Perry Rubenstein Gallery.

MQ: March Mad is about waiting for something great and exciting to happen and then watching as it ends how your life goes back to how it was and you have to find ways to cope again. In the “Keeping Up Appearances” piece, I had a gravity line that went around the gallery. I used USA Gold cigarette packs to represent this ever-present force that keeps things grounded. Then we calculated the drag force on a basketball as it falls to earth. This was represented by small gold varsity basketball pins with the prescription code for Welbutrin, an anti-depressant, written on them. The reason I like this work is that it makes loss appear like gain. The drag force increases as the ball falls. And drag and gravity are the two forces that impede things from going up which I think makes sense with my work. Things that impede progress. Here there is also a dialogue about self-medication and prescription medication to achieve happiness.

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Mike Quinn, A Few Minor Victories in a Year of General Failure, 2007 – 2008
Cigarette packs, coffee, Sominex and Benadryl packets & streamers in custom plexiglas vitrines, Diptych- Overall Dimensions: 23 1/2 x 45 1/2 x 3 1/4 inches

KB: Was there a single moment that you were inspired to pursue the idea of escapism in your work?

MQ: In 1987, when Jordan was 24, he won the NBA dunk contest. The next year, during the 88 season, the All-Star game was held in Chicago, which must have added another emotional component to the equation for #23. He came out and won it again, this time with a dunk that has become legendary. The image of him taking off from the foul line and soaring has sat in the front of mind since. I remember the next morning going to the basketball court behind my house. Familial dysfunction is difficult, especially to children, and I would go there to escape. I remember being conscious of something, maybe for the first time – that my life and life in general was not fair – that there is hardship and pain and suffering, and that you have to find things to escape into in order to make it all tolerable. Jordan was that for me. While I have several different, concurrently developing bodies of work, they all, in one form or another, began with what Jordan did in ’88, that image and how I have processed it since then.

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Michael Jordan, NBA Dunk Contest, 1988.

KB: Do you have a process of working that might be unique or curious?

MQ: My practice is not relegated strictly to the studio as I’m sure is the case with most artists. I suppose it is less a traditional practice then most however. It sort of takes place at my therapist’s office one night, Madison Square Garden the next, then a bar, then alone in front of the TV watching a game, my parent’s house. The work happens inside all of this. The materials I use in the work are not traditional either. They are the things I use or abstain from. Things we all use. Vodka, codeine, crushed benadryl and sleeping pills, diet coke, beer, robotussin, tobacco, coffee, Mylanta. And I use the left over packaging too. I paint with this stuff, use it in sculptures. Keep it around and see what happens over time.

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Mike Quinn, Jordan Addiction Painting- Steep Decline, 92-96, Four Years As an Indian (For Kevin), 2008
Mylanta, vodka, gouache, pva and crushed sleeping pills on museum board, 23 x 16.5 inches

KB: Which artists inspire you the most?

MQ: I love and hate a lot. I am a sucker for painting in NY from the 40’s through the 60’s. Larry Clark. Fred Tomaselli. If there is someone whose body of work has helped me see that it is OK to make work about the things you love and that it is OK to talk about losing it is Werner Herzog. He is so passionate about his ideas and his subjects. He sees value in struggle and how beauty can be terrible. I find the main characters in his movies to be the kind of losers that I appreciate. Tragic men who are trying to achieve, usually end up failing, but inside that failure something else happens. That is a lot like the discourse that I try and develop in my work.


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FRED TOMASELLI, Airborne Event, 2003, mixed media, acrylic paint, resin on wood, 84 x 60 x 1 1/2 inches

Mike Quinn was born in Hartford Connecticut in 1978 and he received degrees in Art History and Studio Art from NYU. Quinn has had two solo shows in the past year–one at Vanessa Buia and one at Perry Rubenstein. Most recently, he showed his work with Perry Rubenstein at Art Brussels and he is currently in a summer show “Opportunity as Community: Artists Select Artists” at Dieu Donne in NYC with a Closing reception: Friday, Sept. 5, 6-8 PM.

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Artist Mike Quinn


First Person Artist is a weekly column by artist Kimberly Brooks in which she provides commentary on the creative process and showcases artists’ work from around the world. Come back every Saturday for more Kimberly Brooks.  

Artist Porn: 10 Things that Turn Me On

Writing a weekly column about artists that turn me on omits a gigantic portion of what turns me on as an artist. The truth is that more artists don’t turn me on than do– there are a hundred for every one I feature. But there are certain things, not by fine artists, per se, that really turn me on and I affectionately refer to them as “Artist Porn”.

Note, the dictionary definition of porn is: “obscene writings, drawings, photographs, or the like, esp. those having little or no artistic merit.” I certainly don’t use the word by this definition. One of my friends insisted that I was describing a “guilty pleasure.” But, no, that is just not the case. Dark chocolate is a guilty pleasure. Making love before breakfast is a guilty pleasure. Doing it during a conference call, well that’s just plain kinky, but I digress. No, this is clearly “artist porn.” These are things that light up my brain like a hormone-addled teenager gazing upon some moaning glistening assemblage of limbs. Behold this partial list that I encounter in daily life that visually rock my world:

TV Commercial Porn: Ads by Target
These consistently overshadow every program they appear next to. Eyes turn into roses turn into vacuums turn into ballerina dancers. I never know what’s going to happen next and I never tire of watching them.

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Couture Porn: “The Tudors”
The first time I laid my eyes on this Showtime series, I was just undone by the beauty on all levels that just spilled out of my monitor onto the reflection of my living room floor. The costumes are insane. The sets–every scene is worthy of a painting– and did I mention the costumes? The most beautifully embroidered and bejeweled I have ever seen. That the ungodly gorgeousness of the cast (Jonathon Rhys Myers as King Henry VIII, Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn, Peter O’Toole in red velvet as the Pope) holds a candle to it as well is just too much. I almost licked the monitor it was so hot. Natalie Dormer, who I had never seen before, has the most incredible face. Natalie, if you ever Google yourself and read this, please let me paint you, I beseech you.

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Architecture Porn: 15 Central Park West
I read the Sunday New York Times religiously and often find myself dawdling endlessly on the blueprints of a $Bazillion (and up!) apartments splayed as advertisements in the magazine section. In my minds eye, I walk through every room, the galleries and gaze upon the views of Central Park. This is how I discovered and fell in love with the building and website of 15 Central Park West. This paean to prewar New York architecture includes jaw-dropping views of Central Park, interviews with the cuddly architects and developers who belabored every detail of resuscitating the eminence of the era though a building. In fact, I think I’ve developed a small crush on architect Robert A.M. Stern. Hint: go to the “Film.” One day I plan on posing as a house attendant or valet to get a glimpse in real life. Check out the website and blueprints here: www.15cpw.com

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Set Design/Opening Credits Porn: “Mad Men”
What a spectacular show. It is not only fantastically written , but the sets and the details of capturing the Madison Avenue in New York in the 60s are riveting. Nailing England hundreds of years ago, as in the Tudors, seems like a cake walk compared to what they accomplished here. All you’d need is some horses, castles and killer threads. But this is absolutely a not to be missed show for the visuals alone. The opening credits ranks up there with the credits of Six Feet Under, which is sadly off the air. And all on AMC, who knew?

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The Painting Whisperer vs. The Anxiety of Abstraction

Take for a moment the spectrum of Realism and the raucous jazz of Abstraction in painting and slide somewhere in the middle. Over to the left is realism flexing its technical prowess, and it is impressive– posing in the sun like a young Arnold Schwarzennegger. But once the painter leaves it, when reality is tweaked or cracked open and abstraction seeps in, the mind wanders inside the crevasses and when done right, it sets the viewer free, free to interpret or imagine something greater than even what the painter had in store. The longer I paint, the more I leave realism and revere painters who ride that certain edge in between. Arnold looks so silly in that bathing suit anyway.

I have long cultivated the thought of artist as Painting Whisperer; that the better artist possesses some secret frequency to channel the right moves. When one can tune in better, the paintings will just fly out like songs or messages from a distant galaxy. Or like a novelist whose characters develop minds of their owns and “write the rest of the story” themselves. This is also a common fantasy among the critics and viewers not in the trenches. Perhaps Irving Stone helped start it in The Agony and the Ecstasy when he depicted the young Michelangelo coaxing the figures out of the marble slabs, setting them free. But it’s not so simple. How many film students studying Godard revel in some bizarre effect, only to find later that something spilled on the camera lens? It was an accident, dammit! But a great one, like discovering penicillin from the mold on cheese.

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Annie Lapin, “Cast Halving”, 2008, Oil on panel, 96 x 69 inches, Courtsey of Angles Gallery.

Annie Lapin is one such artist whose work lies somewhere in that amazing middle. Her recent paintings deftly disorient and bend the pitch of reality just enough to make you fall inside them. When I look at Annie’s work, I had projected that she must talk to her canvas, how else must these scenes come into being? I’m fascinated by what gets planned and tossed and when. But in talking with her, I learn, she is no painting whisperer– she is not the passive recipient of some canvas telling her what to do. No! She is Charlie Sheen starring in her own version of The Apocalypse, where every possibility is fraught with consequences, and each stroke, like Chaos’ butterfly wing, causes rainstorms elsewhere on the canvas. So the real conversation, then– the whispering– occurs less between artist and canvas and more between the viewer and the final work, which is exactly what great art should do. Her show, “Gruppology” opens tonight at the Angles Gallery in Santa Monica, CA.

KB: How do you start a painting, Annie? I see remnants of photographic imagery and reality but am not convinced that you’re looking at anything when you make it.

AL: On all of my larger works, I work from my head. It is a process of reacting to the image… layering, and allowing it to develop is if it were a photo in emulsion. I also do a lot of watercolor exercises, which tend to be diptychs on little pieces of paper. For these I often paint from photos of current events or other things that seem prevalent in the media. By doing this I get to recharge both my mind and my hand with the tropes of realism, quotations of photographic lighting and reformulations of the images that we all think we know so well. Then those things come out naturally when I compose my larger works on canvas, and I am more able to subvert them because I am not looking directly at a photograph.

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Annie Lapin, “Couple of Narcissists”, 2008, Oil on synthetic canvas, 51 x 30 inches, Courtesy of Angles Gallery.

When you’re working on the bigger canvases, do ever get the feeling that the paintings talk to you while you’re making them and tell you want they want done to them? Like a novelists who invents characters that start having minds of their own? When does that happen? All during or never?

AL: I wish my paintings would talk to me, but sadly, radio silence. It’s a process of trial and error as I search for that unique solution which will allow it to resonate in the way I am after.

KB: No kidding. I have full-blown arguments, wrestling matches and make-out sessions. I’ve been aspiring to be a “Painting Whisperer” trying to listen to the next move as much as I want my mind to control it.

AL: I wish it were that way, but it is definitely not a “painting whisperer” process. I have way way way too much anxiety to be a “painting whisperer.” I always feel the painting could go a million ways, I choose one, and typically, after the initial high, I feel miserable about it. And even after it’s “done” I could see a million ways to destroy it or subvert it, which I often feel compelled to do if the image is too resolved. Once the painting is “done” I am always sure there was another way I could have taken a painting… but I comfort myself by looking at it and just superimposing those ways on the canvas in my mind.

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huffpoheader.jpg

The Painting Whisperer vs The Anxiety of Abstraction

Take for a moment the spectrum of Realism and the raucous jazz of Abstraction in painting and slide somewhere in the middle. Over to the left is realism flexing its technical prowess, and it is impressive– posing in the sun like a young Arnold Schwarzennegger. But once the painter leaves it, when reality is tweaked or cracked open and abstraction seeps in, the mind wanders inside the crevasses and when done right, it sets the viewer free, free to interpret or imagine something greater than even what the painter had in store. The longer I paint, the more I leave realism and revere painters who ride that certain edge in between. Arnold looks so silly in that bathing suit anyway.

I have long cultivated the thought of artist as Painting Whisperer; that the better artist possesses some secret frequency to channel the right moves. When one can tune in better, the paintings will just fly out like songs or messages from a distant galaxy. Or like a novelist whose characters develop minds of their owns and “write the rest of the story” themselves. This is also a common fantasy among the critics and viewers not in the trenches. Perhaps Irving Stone helped start it in The Agony and the Ecstasy when he depicted the young Michelangelo coaxing the figures out of the marble slabs, setting them free. But it’s not so simple. How many film students studying Godard revel in some bizarre effect, only to find later that something spilled on the camera lens? It was an accident, dammit! But a great one, like discovering penicillin from the mold on cheese.

2008-05-16-1.jpg
Annie Lapin, “Cast Halving”, 2008, Oil on panel, 96 x 69 inches, Courtsey of Angles Gallery.

Annie Lapin is one such artist whose work lies somewhere in that amazing middle. Her recent paintings deftly disorient and bend the pitch of reality just enough to make you fall inside them. When I look at Annie’s work, I had projected that she must talk to her canvas, how else must these scenes come into being? I’m fascinated by what gets planned and tossed and when. But in talking with her, I learn, she is no painting whisperer– she is not the passive recipient of some canvas telling her what to do. No! She is Charlie Sheen starring in her own version of The Apocalypse, where every possibility is fraught with consequences, and each stroke, like Chaos’ butterfly wing, causes rainstorms elsewhere on the canvas. So the real conversation, then– the whispering– occurs less between artist and canvas and more between the viewer and the final work, which is exactly what great art should do. Her show, “Gruppology” opens tonight at the Angles Gallery in Santa Monica, CA.

KB: How do you start a painting, Annie? I see remnants of photographic imagery and reality but am not convinced that you’re looking at anything when you make it.

AL: On all of my larger works, I work from my head. It is a process of reacting to the image… layering, and allowing it to develop is if it were a photo in emulsion. I also do a lot of watercolor exercises, which tend to be diptychs on little pieces of paper. For these I often paint from photos of current events or other things that seem prevalent in the media. By doing this I get to recharge both my mind and my hand with the tropes of realism, quotations of photographic lighting and reformulations of the images that we all think we know so well. Then those things come out naturally when I compose my larger works on canvas, and I am more able to subvert them because I am not looking directly at a photograph.

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Annie Lapin, “Couple of Narcissists”, 2008, Oil on synthetic canvas, 51 x 30 inches, Courtesy of Angles Gallery.

When you’re working on the bigger canvases, do ever get the feeling that the paintings talk to you while you’re making them and tell you want they want done to them? Like a novelists who invents characters that start having minds of their own? When does that happen? All during or never?

AL: I wish my paintings would talk to me, but sadly, radio silence. It’s a process of trial and error as I search for that unique solution which will allow it to resonate in the way I am after.

KB: No kidding. I have full-blown arguments, wrestling matches and make-out sessions. I’ve been aspiring to be a “Painting Whisperer” trying to listen to the next move as much as I want my mind to control it.

AL: I wish it were that way, but it is definitely not a “painting whisperer” process. I have way way way too much anxiety to be a “painting whisperer.” I always feel the painting could go a million ways, I choose one, and typically, after the initial high, I feel miserable about it. And even after it’s “done” I could see a million ways to destroy it or subvert it, which I often feel compelled to do if the image is too resolved. Once the painting is “done” I am always sure there was another way I could have taken a painting… but I comfort myself by looking at it and just superimposing those ways on the canvas in my mind.

Rather, let’s just say I am an “illusion junkie,” rearranging and recombining shapes and forms like a heroin addict searching for veins that haven’t been used in order to give myself the best fix I can manage of a satisfactory imagery. And that satisfactory image tends to arise from notions I have about the way the mind works and tries to settle questions about what it’s seeing. I relate more to neurological and cognitive experimentation than I do to a personal dialog with the work. The goal of my experimentation is not something I can readily put into words beyond saying that I strive to encounter the process of cognition through playing with the construction of meaning. That is where I get my high.

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Annie Lapin, “The Players”, 2007, Casein and egg tempera on panel, 56 x 43 7/8 inches, Courtesy of Angles Gallery.

KB: That’s clearly some very good stuff. What is the source of inspiration for your show, “Gruppology”, opening tonight?

AL: I often think about an emotional experience I had when I was sixteen in response to the novel The Moon and Sixpence, by Somerset Maugham. It documents the life of a painter in his journey away from his entrenchment in bourgeois society to arrive finally and metaphorically on a remote island, completing his rift with “civilization.” There he ultimately contracts leprosy and spends the final two years of his life in a single room, alone except for occasional visits from his wife. He goes blind, but over those two years he fills the room from ceiling to floor with paintings. Reading Maugham’s description of that room basically launched me into a visceral and intellectual panic attack that lasted for about a month! Suddenly I found myself grappling with a sudden mistrust in my perception of the world. I saw this painter who created, lived in, and finally died in this painted room, as any human being, living in the world of sensation. I’m not sure how this happened but suddenly I felt like the world I lived in was also just a painted room! At 16 I’d never even heard of deconstruction or phenomenology, which allow us to intellectualize such concepts, so this was a highly emotional – and very strange – experience for me. I think the current work speaks to some of that same anxiety I had back then — that the vision of the world we think to be so stable is as thin, frail, and constructed as a painting and visa versa. On the flip side, there is an optimism if not a euphoria about painting: that it can reflect the whole world and more.

KB: Does the euphoria come from reflecting the world or discovering or being able to depict things you never imagined? I say this because your paintings have a surreal/imaginary quality to them.

AL: I am less interested in the depiction of “things,” real or imagined, than I am in the way certain images play with our minds at various points in history and culture. In my most optimistic moments, I sometimes believe that painting has the capacity to provoke a confrontation with the process of cognition, on both an individual and a societal level. The imaginary or surreal quality of my work probably is a natural bi-product of my experiments toward that elusive end.

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Annie Lapin, “Land Gods”, 2007, Mixed media on panel, 14 x 11 inches, Courtsey of Angles Gallery.

KB: What was your inspiration behind “Land Gods”?

AL: I have a reverence for the constructs of visual illusionism, because I feel that they are constituents of a much larger mechanism, which connects each of us to what we perceive in the world. When I made Land Gods, I was thinking very specifically of the work as an icon to perception and cognition. It gains power and an air of the sacred through its layers of illusion. It is small, about 14″ x 11″. And yet it contains a deep landscape. Additionally there are overlapping images in this painting. The deep space of the landscape also stacks vertically on top of itself to create another image, composed of large faces, that is on a plane that basically parallels the surface of the painting. This component of the painting, the face painted without depth, alludes to Byzantine iconographic space, which was reserved for holy imagery. I call the work Land Gods, because I think that this painting also reflects the multiple ways that people look at the land, as something alternately animated, sublime, or simply as real estate. All these ideas about the landscape haunt our minds any time we conceive of or look at the terrain around us. They are like ghosts… or gods.
KB: Is there a work of art that inspires you?

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AL: Here is an image of a painting I had on my bedroom wall as a child. I spent years staring at this image as I lay in bed, never imagining that there was an artist behind it, or that it was meant to depict something specific. I didn’t think of it as a work of art with an intention. Instead, it was a constantly changing thing as I projected various interpretations onto it. I think most of the time I imagined the two large forms at the end of the road were two hulking monsters, lumbering along together, sometimes with good intent, sometimes bad. Other times I focused on the abstract forms and the symmetry of the image. Though it generated many stories in my head, this thing had no clear meaning to me. I suppose it scared me sometimes, but mostly it was just fascinating. I often feel as if I am trying to recreate my experience with that little landscape painting as I encounter forms on the canvass, and sometimes in the world around me.
Before receiving her MFA from UCLA in 2007, Annie received her BA from Yale University and a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She will have a solo exhibition at Grand Arts in Kansas City, Missouri, in June, 2008. Her work has been exhibited in group shows at Angles Gallery, Roberts and Tilton, Daniel Weinberg Gallery, and the L.A. Weekly Annual Biennial. Gruppology is Lapin’s first solo exhibition at the Angles Gallery, running from 17 May – 21 June 2008. Angles Gallery: 2230 Main Street, Santa Monica CA 90405

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Artist Annie Lapin

First Person Artist is a weekly column by artist Kimberly Brooks in which she provides commentary on the creative process and showcases artists’ work from around the world. Come back every Saturday for more Kimberly Brooks. You can view more interviews and essays at www.firstpersonartist.com.

Photography Undergoes a Sex Change

Over the last ten years, the art of photography has undergone a sex change. The rather masculine act of capturing or “shooting” a moment (“the hunt”) with a sound subject and composition has evolved into one where the real art comes in the editing, not the capturing. The initial “kill” gets skinned, dressed and prepared for a meal by the wonderful witchy post production tool known as Photoshop. The photographer, like a woman putting on make up at her vanity before going out for the evening, edits reality: the best features and colors are enhanced and sharpened, and a new, hyper-realistic art form, with a nod to surrealism of last century, is born.

Of course, there’s no question that a digitally manipulated photograph cannot compare to the majesty of a single moment captured 4 x 5 or 8 x 10 film. In truth, manipulating images with lenses or the dark room has occurred since photography was invented. But the difference is that working in Photoshop overtakes the camera as the instrument of creation. Some art schools and galleries still hold a fundamentalist/purist view that such imagery is not authentic and therefore not art. But the reality is that labs are harder to find, Leica is out of business, and Photoshop’s sorcery are shaping a new aesthetic which is finally being taken seriously as an art form and is injecting itself into the mainstream culture. Limited editions by some artists such as Loretta Lux (below) fetch up to $100K per print and her style was happily ripped off by none other than Van Cleef and Arpels for their recent ad campaign.

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Left: Loretta Lux “The Red Ball” ; Right: Van Cleef and Arpels, Advertisement

The rise of this aesthetic trend is wonderfully chronicled in last week’s New York Times article on Flickr, where the writer documents the exploding popularity of photostreams by artists who manipulate their photographs rather than the ones who upload shots taken “as is.” In fact, when one prankster uploaded a picture by Henri Cartier-Bresson of a bicyclist riding past a circular stairway as his own, unwitting commentators pilloried the “photographer” saying “When everything is blurred you cannot convey the motion of the bicyclist…. “Why is the staircase so ‘soft’? Camera shake?” and “Grey, blurry, small, add crop.”

As a painter, the first time I experimented with Photoshop, I thought I had entered a secret world where anything was possible at an unimaginable speed of realization. Articulating what I could see in my mind instantaneously and in any variation made me feel as if I was handed magical superpowers like becoming invisible or the ability to stop time. More than just an enhancer of images, like making eyes bluer or elongating a supermodel’s neck, Photoshop is an outstanding collage tool. Making collages is most painters’ first art school exercise– to cut images from a random stack of magazines and then assemble it into as a maquette for a painting. For this reason I find the name “Photoshop” woefully inapt, like it should be called “Painter’s Heaven” or “Wonderland’s Magical Cabinet of Potion’s Where Anything Can Happen,” but that’s perhaps too long.

But like any art and especially in this new “transgendered” form of photography, there is a fine line between over-manipulation, and a tilted authenticity. But when it’s done right, it opens the narrative field and transports the viewer into another reality where double takes are welcome. One such photographer is Tom Chambers. In his “Prom Dress” series of younger women donning tulle in strange and disjointed natural settings, he practices his craft in Photoshop to a haunting hyper-realistic extreme that warrants close attention.

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Tom Chambers, “With the Pack,” 2006, Photomontage, 3 sizes, Image courtesy of Wall Space Gallery, Seattle.


Kimberly Brooks: Tell us about your most recent body of work and how you use photomontaging and photography to express it.

Tom Chambers: Most of my work is very influenced by Mexican religious art. Years ago I traveled through Patzcuaro, Mexico and came across a basket full of ex votos (or retablos) painted on tin.

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“Ex Voto” Sample

Ex votos are Mexican folk art paintings often created on tin, copper or wood. They illustrate an occasion when in response to a prayer for help or guidance, the prayer was answered or a miracle occurred. These hand-painted miracle paintings honor the power and mercy of the saints. The subjects of ex votos range from common daily occurrences to truly dramatic events. All ex votos contain a picture of the miracle, an image of the saint to whom the ex voto is dedicated, and a brief description of the miracle. I had been working on photomontage photography at that time, but upon seeing the ex voto paintings, I thought, “Why not push my work in a similar direction, create photographs with magical or religious overtones.” Later, I discovered that this type of artwork is a genre commonly known as magic realism.

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Tom Chambers, Prom Gown #3, 2005, Photomontage, 3 sizes, Image courtesy of Wall Space Gallery, Seattle.

KB: Can you show us an example of where you’ve used several different images to create one? I would like the viewers to see the source material and how it was turned into its final incarnation.

TC: Okay, below is an image derived from three different sources. I have been intrigued by Native American Indian burials, particularly ones using burial platforms in the desert. So I decided to create an image involving a burial platform which would have religious overtones. Because I wanted the viewer to feel the power of nature over humankind, I created a sacrificial image, as if the subject was presenting herself to the heavens. Using a prairie backdrop taken in Yellowstone National Park, I positioned a girl in a gown whom I had earlier photographed propped up on two stools. Then, adding photos of poles made it appear as though she was propped up off the ground. This final photomontage was fairly simple to create, but resulted in a powerful image which was selected as the 2007 Santa Fe PhotoArts poster.

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Pieces of the Process: Chambers combines his photographs of water and salmon to create the finished “Plymouth Rock” below.
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Tom Chambers, Final Image: “Plymouth Rock”, 2004, Photomontage, 2 sizes, Image courtesy of Wall Space Gallery, Seattle.

KB: How do you start the process? Does it always start with the photograph or do you draw first?

TC: I initially sketch out a concept or idea I have for an image. Then, I photograph each piece of the image using a medium format film camera, generally a Mamiya Pro TL or a Fuji Rangefinder, being careful to make sure the light intensity and direction are similar in each of these shots. This process may take as much as a month depending upon how quickly I am able to get all the shots and sort through them, picking the ones which work best together. “Pieces” of the final image might include the landscape or background, often shot in sections, as well as the sky, a human figure, an animal, or another object. The processed film is scanned at a high resolution, approximately 80 megabytes per frame. Then, using Photoshop software with a Macintosh computer I combine each “piece”, thus creating the final image. Lastly, the image is printed with an Epson printer using archival pigment inks and paper.

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Tom Chambers, Prom Gown #2, 2005, Photomontage, 3 sizes, Image courtesy of Wall Space Gallery, Seattle.

KB: Ah, it is clear to my eye from the quality of your images that you’re capturing your source material on film before going digital. What artist in history inspires your work?

TC: Andrew Wyeth… Although his work might be criticized for its overt beauty, the work contains strong emotional currents, symbolic content, and an underlying abstraction. I appreciate his color palette (browns and blacks), use of texture, and winter scenes as backdrop.

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Andrew Wyeth

KB: I’ve always found it sad that overt beauty gets criticized. Indeed, I find your works beautiful. What mood do you hope to impart to your viewers when they see your work.

TC: I would like my work to elicit an emotional response, a moment when the viewer connects, and the story unfolds from within–based on one’s identity and feelings. I am not asking my work to be believable in any literal or representational way, but I am hoping it encourages the viewer to consider my work on an emotional level.

Tom Chambers was raised on a farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and at age 18, he joined the Navy and was immediately sent to Vietnam. After his military discharge, he spent five years hitchhiking around the U.S. and Canada, as well as working his family farm with his four brothers. Later, he attended art school in Florida and eventually moved to Virginia, where he found work as a graphic designer. He began experimenting with photography using the computer equipment available through his work. For the past twelve years he has created photomontages, using photos taken during travels throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Recently Chambers’ work has been featured in large Expos such as Photo LA and Photo Miami and Art Madrid (February 2008). In 2007, he had solo shows in Santa Fe, Seattle, and L.A. Currently Tom Chambers is represented by several galleries including “Photo Eye” in Santa Fe, NM, “Wall Space Gallery” in Seattle, WA, “Chase Gallery”, and “Galeria Clave” in Murcia, Spain, exclusively for Europe. His current show in Boston is at the Chase Gallery and opened May 2nd and runs through the month of May. Chase Gallery, 129 Newbury Street. 617-859-7222.

First Person Artist is a weekly column by artist Kimberly Brooks in which she provides commentary on the creative process and showcases artists’ work from around the world. Come back every Saturday for more Kimberly Brooks. You can view more interviews and essays at www.firstpersonartist.com

The Nudist and the Chemist

As an artist, I consider art on a sort of spectrum in my mind by the manner in which it is rendered. I picture two opposing ends: one a chemist, who has a pristine lab and measures everything in the most precise manner, conducting experiments in a white coat with the thinnest of pipette, a Bunsen burner, and a notepad to meticulously record results. On the other end is the nudist, someone completely of the body who paints without a trace of inhibition, who never decides what to put on the canvas in advance but just instinctually slathers it on with a huge brush or spatula, perhaps even while sipping a glass of wine with the other hand, all while naked. In my mind I call the two types of artists “The Nudist and The Chemist.” With every painting, I fall somewhere in between–with “The Nudist” being my ultimate goal as an artist, like Howard Hodgkin or perhaps the elder Matisse, working in bed into his eighties with yards of fabric, sunglasses and a big pair of scissors.

 

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LEFT: Ethan Murrow, “Lava Collection – Well I definitely heard something” graphite on paper 54″x54″ 2005.

When I first saw the works of Ethan Murrow, I thought they were photographs. I loved the subject matter, the adventures of the people, often the portraits of the artist himself, in the midst of an unknown experiment. Upon second glance, however, when I realized that these are in fact extraordinarily large graphite drawings done with such precision, such sensuality, with a subject matter that deals directly with fear, ambition, and humility, I decided that, nay, he is both a nudist and a chemist and that one can very much be both.Murrow and his wife Vita Weinstein develop plots and film their stories, and then Murrow searches for frames worth portraying by hand. His upcoming show “Dust Mining” debuts March 15th and is his most ambitious to date.

Kimberly Brooks: One of the elements that I find so intriguing about your work is the difference between content and medium. Your medium is highly controlled and photorealistic. Yet the subject is highly dynamic, people are doing strange things with ropes in holes, water and air. How does Marshall MacLuhan’s aphorism “The Medium is the Message” apply to your work?

Ethan Murrow: I think media effects and often controls the message more than most would like to admit, but I don’t think you can say that it always does. That said, media IS often the overarching structure and also the motivation so it’s influence probably outweighs content and concept a lot of the time. For instance, I began these drawing projects in part because of my pure satisfaction with paper, graphite, the atmospheric effect I can create with it, the meditative plodding process, the obsession required and the raw endless simplicity of this approach. But, those things are also very important to me because they relate to my content. Ideas of obsession, perseverance and pig headed-ness are key elements in both media and concept. I like to think the process/media and the content are integrally linked but I do not think one can exist purely without the other and maintain the same effect. In my work content also brought about the media. I aimed to create work that referenced historical documents, black and white photography, monumental glorification and so on. Large scale graphite drawings fit that bill. So the media is at the mercy of the concept too.

 

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RIGHT: Ethan Murrow, “John McCarty, promoter of the mines and professional middleman” graphite on paper 74″x74″ 2007

KB: What was the inspiration behind the way you approached this series, creating a back story in the first place?
EM: In The spring of 2004 I had a chance to do a three-month residency at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art in Omaha, Nebraska. When I arrived there I was in the midst of projects that dealt with landscape painting and, truth be told, I was somewhat bored with the direction of my work. I spent a lot of time talking with and watching some performance Artists who were also in residence at the Bemis at the same time, particularly the group Bushwick Farms whose work revolves around an extended fictitious genealogy. The simple truth was that they were having a blast, using stories from their own lives to help construct scenarios, events and narratives that engrossed both them and their viewers and participants.

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LEFT: Ethan Murrow at Pinto Brothers shoot in Manzanita Oregon 2005.

KB: What led you to the subject of experimentation?I have always been obsessed by flight and that became my first subject. I began jumping off of cars fences, ladders and chairs, flying through the air in Nebraska wheat fields in front of cameras, embarrassing myself in front of some local farmers as I documented the body in motion. I then brought this imagery back to my traditional processes and used it to create drawings and paintings. The new work was exhilarating because it was chaotic and unknown. At the beginning, I wanted to create pieces that documented my prowess at flying through the air. It took me a good year of fits and starts and mistakes before I realized that the work was at its best when it captured my weaknesses, mistakes and innocent moments, instead of fictitiously glorifying what I could not achieve. I began to create narratives that dealt more with failure and the overpowering and blinding need to succeed rather than success itself. Many could have told me this from day one, but it took me a long time to realize that I am at my best as a performer and storyteller when I am making fun of my own ego. At the core, my characters are self-portraits, craving glory, yet eternally doomed to make mistakes.

 

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Ethan Murrow, “Off of Gaspé, ready to dive for the elusive whale”, graphite on paper 60″ x 96″, 2007.


KB: I am a big fan of mistakes. It’s the most exciting and critical part of making art. What is the story within this particular film and how does it illuminate these themes for you?
EM: The Freshwater Narwhal Hoax documents the exploits and downfall of the fictitious marine biologists Banvard and Barnum Orson. Banished from the scientific community due to fraudulent methods and suspect motivations, they are determined to rebuild their reputations and achieve the fame they have always desired. The brothers delve into highly suspect whale research and begin to weave a complicated and fraudulent tale for the press. They focus their attention on Narwhal whales and assert to anyone who will listen that they have located a pod on the St. Lawrence River. Hefting gear of unknown provenance the Orson brothers attempt to prove their bald assertions. Their story is one of obstinence and drive in partnership with chicanery. Like many of my characters their insistence on success at all costs becomes their ultimate downfall.

The things I keep returning to are failure and obsession. It seems to me that there is a fragile line between reckless obsession and brilliant success. My work resides in this area, applauding ridiculous pursuits and cringing at ill-fated experimentation. To examine these issues I have created fictional narratives rooted in the historical fact that humans will attempt anything. I attempt to give credibility to the ridiculous pursuits of my characters by creating a pseudo documentary world full of black and white photo-realism and fake documentary films about their exploits. I want the work to be believable, insane and humorous all at once.

KB: How did this particular story arise?

EM: Working with my wife, Vita Weinstein Murrow, a frequent collaborator, a story began to arise from our discussions in early 2006 about two people who had been driven to the edge of their profession and so turned to desperate measures. The characters we had dealt with up to this point were obsessed by fame and glory but rarely had this caused them to swindle anyone. We wanted to dig deeper into failure and investigate what happened to people who had nowhere to turn. The Orson’s aren’t horrible people, they just use their drive and grit in inappropriate ways.

 

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Ethan Murrow, “Cloud Collecting with the Pinto Brothers: at the moment of launch, the quick release jammed and Huffaker lost his cool.” graphite on paper 72″x144″ 2006.

KB: What is your process and how do you collaborate with Vita to create your work?EM: Half of my time is spent on project development, reading, thinking, researching and planning. Much of this process includes discussions between Vita and me about different story lines, scenarios and logistics, all leading up to performances. The performances are planned yet disorganized. When we began they were two person affairs with Vita shooting video and stills of myself in a variety of costumes. We usually shoot in remote and difficult settings. The entire Cloud Collecting With The Pinto Brothers for example was shot on the Oregon coast over five weekends in 2004 and 2005. Four of those five weekends it was pouring and windy, the fifth it hailed. For that one Vita was in a tent to protect the technology while I tromped around in the sand with various props getting hammered by the hail. I have always felt like these moments of ridiculousness connect me directly with the characters, who all are depicted in equally problematic scenarios. Once the performance imagery has been collected I begin to cull through it on the computer and think about which images connect best to one another to help tell a full story. I then use the collected imagery to create large-scale graphite drawings and short video pieces.

 

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RIGHT: Vita Weinstein Murrow directs two actors for Dust Mining shoot in Dorset, Vermont 2007.
Now some of this process is changing. Working with Vita and Harvest Films we have crafted a new storyline about a group of miners harvesting dust for profit. We are working with a wide array of actors and media professionals to craft a short film with Harvest for my March show at Obsolete in Venice. This piece will be shot over the next few weeks. It is a big jump, forcing us to more carefully consider every step in story development and opening doors to tools and collaborators we have never had access to before.KB: Indeed, has there been an artist who has inspired you in both your interest in film and drawings?

William Kentridge, who creates stop frame animation films about the history, politics and culture he grew up amongst in segregated South Africa, has probably had the biggest effect on my career. His haunting depictions of characters struggling between dream and reality and cause and effect are all rooted in his own experience and figure (meaning he loosely depicts himself as the protagonist in his films). I admire the way he examines his own role in history through his work and formally I can never get enough of his crude yet completely full and confident drawings. Kentridge collaborates with puppeteers, actors, musicians etc etc. and he has served as a model to me in that realm as I have worked to create healthy collaborations with my wife, Vita, and others in different projects.

 

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William Kentridge, Drawings from Mine charcoal on paper 120x150cm each, 1991.

Ethan Murrow was born in Greenfield, Massachusetts in 1975 and is presently based in New York City. He received his B.A. in Studio Art from Carleton College in 1998, and his M.F.A from The University of Chapel Hill in North Carolina in 2002. Ethan’s upcoming solo exhibition will be at Obsolete in Venice, California, opening on March 15th 2008 www.obsoleteinc.com or Ethan’s website at www.bigpaperairplane.com).Selected recent solo exhibitions include: Winston Wachter Fine Art in Seattle, Washington, Bucheon Gallery in San Francisco, Obsolete in Venice, California, Youngblood Gallery in Atlanta and Reeves Contemporary in New York City. Ethan has participated in residencies and fellowships at the Tamarind Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art in Omaha, Nebraska, the Burren College of Art in Ballyvaughn, Ireland and the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont. Ethan teaching experience includes: Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ethan’s awards include an emerging artist grant from Spaces in Cleveland, OH and an Outstanding Student Achievement Award for Sculpture from the International Sculpture Center in Hamilton, NJ. Recent reviews and publications include Time Out New York, The Seattle Times, The Los Angeles Times, Harper’s Magazine, Art New England, Sculpture Magazine and New American Paintings. Ethan’s work is in many public and private collections, including, the Guggenheim Foundation, Twentieth Century Fox, The Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, Liberty Media and the Burj Dubai, EMAAR.

First Person Artist is a weekly column by artist Kimberly Brooks in which she provides commentary on the creative process and showcases artists’ work from around the world. Come back every Saturday for more Kimberly Brooks. You can view more columns and essays at www.firstpersonartist.com

The End of Polaroid with Stephanie Schneider

Last week, Polaroid announced that it would be discontinuing the beloved Polaroid film. Even if it was expected, I became instantly saddened by the news. With today’s digital “take 50 keep 2″ picture-taking mentality, I know fewer and fewer people who even keep photo albums because the sheer editing task is so daunting.

 

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Stefanie Schneider. Untitled 40.2 x 39.4 inch Limited Edition
 

I will never forget when my parents brought home their Poloroid SX-70 Camera. After “say cheese” we would grab the photo from its mouth and flap it around like angry chickens with the misguided belief that this would help it develop. Then, we watched the image appear like a magic trick before our very eyes. Little did we know then that the real magic would occur decades later, when the colors would fade in a yellow green haze and offer an aesthetic aftertaste even richer than the instant gratification of seeing it develop.

During my last show, “Mom’s Friends,” about my mother and her friends in the 70s, I foraged through old family albums and found page after delicious page of distorted photos that to me signified nothing less than the new born freedom of a generation redefining itself.

 

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Stefanie Schneider. The Princess, 128 x 125cm, c-print, edition of 5

It was around this time when I was researching my show that I discovered and fell in love with the work of the German-born artist Stefanie Schneider. Schneider uses expired Polaroid film and lets the medium’s natural distortions and milky opalescence infuse every frame. She creates narratives with a cast of characters who sizzle in what appears to be imported thirty-year-old California sunlight. Like old film stills, the ensuing dreamscapes provide an ideal stage to watch a story unfold. I caught up with her in her studio in Berlin where we discussed light, love, her new film and the reality of obsolescence.Kimberly Brooks: How are you mourning the news that Polaroid is discontinuing your medium?Stefanie Schneider: It’s an era ending again. No more family pictures developing in front of the children’s eyes. A piece of beauty disappearing….a piece of culture. Polaroid material has the most beautiful quality — the colors on one side, but then the magic moment in witnessing the image to appear. The time stands still and the act of watching the image develop can be shared with the people around you. In the fast world of today it’s nice to slow down for a moment. At the same time Polaroid slows time, it also captures a moment which becomes the past so instantly that the decay of time is even more apparent– it gives the image a certain sentimentality or melancholy. Because of that intensity of the moment it seems to change the interaction of the next moment. The Polaroid moment is one of a kind, an original every time.

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Stefanie Schneider, The Days I Saw Him Last, 125 x 150 cm, c-print, edition of 5, 2007.

KB: You’re from Germany, yet you in many ways capture such a California essence. Did you spend time in California before you conceived of your first show shot there? What was your first California experience?SS: California always had been a dream to me. I guess growing up in the 70s with movies like Vanishing PointThe Getaway, and Badlands formed the need for me to leave Germany for California. I’d never even visited before I moved there. When I moved to Los Angeles in 1996 right away I felt at home. Everything was in place and the dream was alive. California looked it and the Polaroids made it even more real.

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Stefanie Schneider, Untitled, triptych 60 x 70 cm each, c-print, edition of 5, 2007.


KB: In Hollywood, it’s a truism that all the best cinematographers are foreigners because they can see a place the way a native can’t. You capture the essence of California better than most Californians do. At what point did your work with Polaroid start your journey as an artist?
SS: It was all a coincidental life source. When I started taking polaroids I didn’t even have a gallery. But I met gallerist Susanne Vielmetter about half a year after I started working with Polaroids and when I shuffled them out of a box onto the table. She loved them right away and we planned a show together.

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Stefanie Schneider, 29 palms lot, 60 x 60 cm, edition of 10, c-print 1999.


KB: I recognize California beaches and Joshua Tree, in your work. Is it all in California or did you venture out?
Almost all my photographs are taken in California, a few in Nevada like the Vegas series and the photographs for the movie Stay have been all taken in New York, of course. Most of my work is being shot in 29 Palms in the California Desert.

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KB: I saw the photos from Stay (featuring Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor). Even though I recognize them as actors, the sequence still allowed me to get lost in the narrative –What were they doing on the top of the building? Why does he grab her arm?”, etc. Have you ever worked on a movie?

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SS: I am working right now on a feature film on Polaroid. In it I explore and document the dreams and fantasies of a group of people living in a trailer park community in the California desert. It will be finished in about five years and is developed online at www.twentyninepalms.ca“. Every year we are having an exhibit to show the bits and pieces already shot. I hope I will be able to finish the film. Due to the closure of Polaroid this project might be in jeopardy. Because I’m working on outdated material I have a little bit more time. This is the first and only film ever made on Polaroid. Right now in Berlin I’m showing the very first exhibition of the project. It’s still on till March 15th.KB: What is the ultimate subject for this medium?SS: Love. There is no past, no future, no present. All seems to be happening at the same time. It breathes a senseless pain that has no place in the present. The ex-lover experiences the residues of love as an amputee experiences the sensation of a ghost limb. It is the tangible experience of “absence” that has inspired this piece below.

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The Princess’ Brother, 128 x 125cm, c-print, edition of 5, 2007

KB: In terms of artistic inspiration, who are some authors or artists you look to?SS: I am more inspired by film, music and books. Like Days of HeavenBadlands2046The Last Picture ShowThe Flaunder by Guenther Grass, the songs by Hildegard Knef and Serge Gainsbourg or Coco Rosie. I am also inspired by the 29 palms, California Group. We inspire each other.

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“Badlands” Movie Still from featuring Sissy Spacek

Stefanie Schneider received her MFA in Communication Design at the Folkwang Schule Essen, Germany. Her work has been shown at the Staedtische Ausstellungshalle am Hawerkamp, Muenster, the Kunstallianz, Berlin, the Institut für Neue Medien, Frankfurt, and the Nassauischer Kunstverein, Wiesbaden, Kunstverein Bielefeld, Kunstverein Recklinghausen, Museum für Moderne Kunst Passau. Upcoming shows includeBerlin: “29 Palms, CA” <> ), Galerie Spesshardt-Klein, Berlin – 10th of February to 2nd of March 2008 – also shown at the Berlinale / Forum expanded
Les Rencontres d’Arles – Photo Festival South of France, 7th to 13th July 2008, curated by Christian Lacroix
Frenzy, Salzburger Festspiele, Sujet of the year presentation
Sidewinder, Galerie Robert Drees, Hannover, Germany
Sidewinder, c.art-Galerie, Bregenz, AustriaStefanie Schneider is represented by Scalo Guye in Los Angeles, California and Galerie Robert Drees in Hannover, Germany.

Why Artists Shouldn’t Have Blackberries

A few months ago, after an unfortunate incident involving a melted chocolate bar and my cel phone in my car’s console which rendered the latter useless, I decided to try a Blackberry. It was something I’d been debating with friends, family and myself for years. I was extremely hesitant. I would regularly interrogate the people I knew who had them as if they’d just casually used the Orgasmatron in Woody Allen’s Sleeper.

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Woody Allen in Sleeper
“What’s it like? Is it weird? Is it really that great?”

“Oh, yes!” They’d always exclaim. “Can’t live without it. It’s saves me so much time. I could be waiting in line at Starbucks and get so much done!”

I broke down at the cell phone store. I was so ashamed that I didn’t even tell my sister when she was the first one to call and I held the thing up to my head.

I am not a Luddite nor a technophobe. Au contraire, I have always been an early adopter– the first to have email, a website, etc. After all, painting is a technology. The very root “techne” derives from the Greek “art” or “skill.” But when I go to the studio I leave all the gadgets at home. I figure that the people who must reach me will have my cell number. Other than that, I had avoided the Blackberry until that moment.

Around the same time, I watched this year’s Super Bowl. During a break, there was an ad for a Bank–I think Chase Manhattan– which showed a couple rock climbing near the top of a dangerous, devastatingly beautiful mountain that resembled Half Dome in Yosemite. In the commercial, as she dangles from the edge of a sheared cliff, her blackberry buzzes and she cheerily checks it and tells her boyfriend that it was her bank letting her know that her checking was overdrawn, but they fixed it. Blech! Did the ad executives really think that would be enticing? But yet, that was me, checking email after every conversation and at every stop light. Me and everyone I know, constantly in touch all the time.

I returned it two days later.

**

Although I have pondered the effects of technology’s impact on daily life before, I do so now within the specific context of how it effects one’s ability to be creative. I have come of age as an artist during the most accelerated period of connectivity our species has ever known. We have all been drunk on technology and only some of us are emerging from our collective haze. Last week, Mark Bittman of the New York Times extolled the virtue of taking an electronic Sabbath; The Dangerous Books for Boys and Girls fly off Amazon’s shelves because young kids are so wired they forgot how to play; Tim Ferris’ Four Hour Work Week is on the desk of every executive and Frontline’s “Growing up Online” chilling account of the first generation of children to literally be connected all the time where texting is a right, and online exhibitionism is second nature. It’s been a little more than a decade since it started in full force. But alas, it appears that we are finally starting to sober up and reacquaint ourselves with the Here and Now. Rules to navigate are being offered for all walks of life. I’m making one now: Artists shouldn’t have Blackberries and here are four reasons why:

#1 Artists Need to Daydream

When I divided the creative process into eight stages (a la Kubler Ross’ five stages of death), I started with Vision, which happens in an instant and sets an artist on the path of creation. But in hindsight, this was a mistake. The real first stage, the most important, doesn’t have a name. It is silent. It’s when the filaments of thoughts, the subatomic particles of ideas, are just lying around in the primordial ooze of your mind. It looks like a daydream or nothing at all, but this is the first real stage of the creative process.

When I studied biology, I remembered a curious anecdote about cell division. When a cell divides it also goes through five phases — Interphase, Prophase, Meta Phase, Anaphase and Telophase. The first phase is “Interphase” and for years, scientists thought that this was when the cell was sleeping. All the visible action happens from Prophase onward– the nuclei divides within the cell and eventually splits apart to form two. Eventually, when microscopes improved, scientists learned that this first phase was actually the most important part of the process when the DNA replicates. Even when I looked up Mitosis on Wikipedia (to provide you with a snazzy picture), they show imagery of all the phases but don’t bother showing “Interphase” because there’s simply not much to look at.

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Whether within a day or a year or a lifespan, moments and periods of apparent inactivity are critical. We’re always processing and receiving. We can’t do this with constant chatter and interruptions. Like a “rest” in music we can’t make music, or art, without it.

#2 Artists Tend to Be Compulsive

I use myself as an example, but before I create I need to have certain things in my own kind of order. I play certain music, I burn incense, get my materials together. Often I’ll go for a walk. If I want to procrastinate, I’ll clean and won’t start until everything is perfect. One more thing to procrastinate or get off my plate before I begin is a BAD thing. I’ve interviewed a lot of artists here and they all have rituals they go through before they get into their “zones.” Counter to our occasional reputation, artists are generally not mentally slovenly people who get to be flakey because they’re “creative types.” Instead, we have to exhibit fierce discipline and this is a crucial part of the process. When I had the Blackberry, I was corresponding with people all day long and more often even. By not compartmentalizing my accessibility, it became yet one more thing that either prevented me from starting or interfering with the zone that I worked so hard to create.

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Kimberly Brooks’ Studio

#3 Being Slightly Unreachable is Cool

Okay, I realize this is facetious but really, must we be available all the time? Whatever happened to the artists’ mystique?

#4 Real Artists Would Have an iPhone

Let’s face it, any self-respecting artist wouldn’t be caught dead with a Blackberry. If you have any sense of aesthetics, you lust the iPhone instead. Just dismantle the email function and you’ll be fine.

The Macho Art World

I considered writing a piece this week relating relationships and art to Valentine’s Day, but found myself struggling with it. This was not because I knew that papers and the Internet would already be dripping with pink and chocolate, nor because there’s any lack of artists who make love with their subject. Rather, I struggled because I find the art world so inherently macho.

That is not to say that artists themselves are necessarily macho: artists are dreamers and essentially romantic, aspirational people- to even call yourself one and place yourself near the canon of artists before you- is a lofty enterprise. An artist’s relationship to his or her ultimate realized self is often just as essential as it is to other people.

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David Hockney imagining himself being drawn by Picasso, whom he never met.
Artist and Model, 1973-74. Etching, 22 5/8 x 17 1/4 in., Courtesy of the artist. ©David Hockney. All rights reserved. Courtesy of LACMA

It is also not macho because art prices are soaring and it is still so male-dominated. Even this Thursday the feminist group called “The Guerrilla Girls” called on its members to send a letter to BCAM demanding that the museum reconsider the curation of it’s predominantly white male collection.

No, I find being an artist in the art world macho for other reasons. There’s a required toughness to stick it out, get to work and put it “out there” — more exhibitions, more galleries, more museums — constantly pushing to get on the radar. And the most macho part of all is the need to reach thirty feet inside your own guts for content. Picture young medical students eating pastrami sandwiches around the cadaver they’re studying to show it doesn’t phase them.

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Photographic Painting of Gerhard Richter’s daughter Betty

Certainly there are other spheres of the art world that are different. There are painters who paint flowers and sunsets on the weekends. But even within that sphere there are ardent realists who seek to recreate reality down to the molecule. This is especially prevalent in the water color world where first prize winners are often indistinguishable from the photograph it was copied from. Realism is very macho. When my artist friends and I swoon over one of Gerhard Richter’s photo paintings, we undoubtedly stalk and make the same noises as young men admiring a red muscle car.

Combine all this machismo with the feminine sensuality of working with paint and color, then the act of being an artist itself forms the ultimate couple.

First Person Artist is a weekly column by artist Kimberly Brooks in which she provides commentary on the creative process and showcases artists’ work from around the world. Come back every Saturday for more Kimberly Brooks. You can view all the columns and essays at www.firstpersonartist.com

Painting While Female in the Middle East

One step forward. Two steps back.

It has been six years since the U.S. congratulated itself for “liberating the women of the Taliban”, and one week since a nineteen-year-old girl and gang-rape victim was ordered the penalty of 200 lashes in Saudi Arabia for the act she allegedly caused because she was caught sitting in a car with a man who was not her relative.

 

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“The Whole Story” Oil on 16 Canvases. Kimberly Brooks.
 

As an artist and woman growing up in the West, one of the towers that fell on 9-11 was my view of what it meant to view and create art. After the cascade of news stories that brought front and center how my sisters throughout the world live in what I consider to be oppressive misogynistic cultures, I thought deeply about what it must be like where there is no visual representational art, where women are covered from head to toe and not allowed to be seen let alone depicted in any form, where billboards also have the female entirely blackened in silhouette and western art history text books are considered “pornographic”. The closest I’ve come to the Middle East is relatively progressive Dubai–the UAE has just made a deal with the Louvre Museum in Paris to build a branch in the tourist-driven area. And even though you can find a forty foot high image of Paris Hilton in the Guess Jeans store at the United Arab Emirate’s Mall (this is progress!), outside the mall there’s not a painting or photograph of any woman in sight except for the framed photographs of the men who rule the country and some abstract designs in all the hotel lobbies. It’s really really strange.

Suddenly late 20th century notions that say, figurative painting was dead, or that women were finally breaking though the glass canvas of the art world, seemed quaint. So for me as an artist, the act of painting figures, nudes – especially women – takes on another meaning and also an act ofdefiance.

One step forward. Two steps back.

In 2003, an underground feminist art exhibition entitled “Women Talking Back” featured work for and by women showed in Tehran. One of the artists in that exhibition was Abelina Galustian. In her series of paintings entitled The Veil Series, she depicts women wearing lingerie and high heels along with the burka. The curator of the show was briefly imprisoned and all of the paintings were confiscated permanently. Shown here are photographs of the paintings which are all that remain.

 

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Abelina Galustian, Photographs of confiscated paintings from “The Veil Series,”
oil and acrylic on canvas, 2003
 

In her recent series entitled Womansword, Galustian looks to classic 19th Century Orientalist painters. She recreates detailed photorealist paintings reversing the gender. In doing so, she undermines the traditional dynamic of the male gaze and the viewing process while pointing to contemporary issues of representation, and the neo-Orientalism rampant in the cultures the western world seeks to “liberate”.

Kimberly Brooks: Where did you come of age, and when did you start to question what women were and were not allowed to do?

Abelina Galustian: I was born in Tehran, Iran. I am of Armenian ethnicity and moved to the U.S. after the Iran/Iraq war. In the beginning of third grade in Tehran, my best friend, Rama, and I would eavesdrop on women’s private conversations [about their Hymen]. I was too young to understand why young, single women gave the intactness of their hymen such great importance. They shared naughty stories about their rendezvous and extracurricular activities as if they were talking about a sport – how they finally made the “touch down” without being “touched down.” These types of “coffee conversations” continued in almost every circle and age of women I sat with in my cultural context.

I now live in the United States. During my last visit to Iran a few years ago, I was sitting with a group of very wealthy, educated, single women who said the same things I heard during my eavesdropping days. I still couldn’t understand why they were all [still focusing on acting like virgins.] My reaction to this hypocrisy was communicated with the Veiled Series. It was a way of telling women to stop interrogating a woman’s worth by the intactness of her hymen, as it only leads to daughters performing virginity and sons who only accept virgins (or at least they think they’re getting virgins) for wives.

KB: What was the spark that led specifically to the Womansword series?

AG: In February 2000, I was in a New Haven bookstore in Connecticut. I noticed a center display of books about the Middle East. One book in particular caught my eye with its painting by Jean-Leon Gerome entitled “The Slave Market.” Although I had seen Gerome’s painting on many different occasions since studying art in America, it was at that point when I noticed for the first time, the message Gerome intended in his composition. Gerome who is a hyper-Realist and a stickler for correct proportions, painted the hand of the nobleman who is purchasing the slave girl, about three times bigger proportionally. I was so appalled by Gerome’s symbolism that I decided to give a critical response to this painting.

 

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Left: Jean-Leon Gerome, The Slave Market, 1867, oil on canvas.
Right: Abelina Galustian, The Slave Market: Womansword 2000, oil and acrylic on canvas.
 

AG: I purposely chose the Orientalist style and Gerome’s painting by reason of its immediate encroachment to the senses. It was necessary for this particular body of work to retain a direction of communication that would be recognizable, distinguishable, and straightforward. The Womansword series of paintings counterclaim some of the socially ascribed roles through the switching of gender roles, a switch that may at first be read as subtle but actually acknowledges a female’s ownership of her body and debunks its male control.

 

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Left: Stanislas von Chlebowski. Purchasing a slave, oil on canvas, signed and dated 1879 (36.75 x 28.50 in). Right: Abelina Galustian Purchasing a slave: The Womansword, acrylic and oil on canvas, 2002 (5 x 6 ft).
 

In nineteenth-century orientalist works, one theme that was given an encore was the captive woman. The harem and slave-market themes were exploited by various artists. The most distinguished and famous of the Orientalist paintings is Jean Leon Gerome’s “The Slave Market” which shows how easily Orientalism of the day could be combined with the taste for violated innocence and female subjection. Since these chosen depictions are almost iconic, quoting from them with alterations that are explicitly construed as political, generates a double-take and immediate scrutiny from the viewer.

 

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A close-up detail from Galustian’s Purchasing a slave: The Womansword, acrylic and oil on canvas, 2002
 

KB: What do you seek, ultimately, from your viewers?

AG: As a feminist artist, I seek to expose seemingly archaic beliefs that are only loosely hidden behind the mask of political correctness. Works that are tacitly looked upon as classic works of beauty and truth in the artistic canon, interestingly enough, become works of irreverence and perversity once the genders are switched.

KB: As an artist who also deals with female/male issues, I find myself not wanting to be known solely as a feminist painter, yet you claim it prominently in your description of yourself. Do you ever worry about being ghettoized as such?

AG: No. Being “ghettoized” for being a feminist artist is not an issue for me. Everything that revolves in and around my work stem from women’s issues. But Middle-Eastern feminist awareness is not always parallel to the West’s understanding of feminism. In my work, female is not just gender but location, therefore, when talking/painting about the female-feminine and male/masculine I’m also talking about the East and West. At the end of the day, it is my work that speaks, not my label.

 

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Artist Abelina Galustian
 

Born in Tehran with family roots in Tabriz, Abelina Galustian immigrated to the U.S. after the Iran/Iraq War. Here, she earned her MFA in studio arts at Cal State LA, her MA in art history at UCSB, and she is also currently pursuing her PhD in art history at UCSB. Galustian’s work has shown in solo and group exhibits internationally and domestically. Likewise, she has been a featured artist and lecturer featuring her own work and topics such as transnational identities, Neo-Orientalism, and performing culture in Toronto, Dubai, and California. www.womansword.com

The Creative Process in Eight Stages

 

I made a great big canvas. For three weeks it sat in the center of the studio like Jack’s massive desk in The Shining. No matter how many “painting miles” I’ve earned, there’s really nothing more terrifying. Of course, I have some ideas, a subject, a palette in my mind. Several in fact. But I’ve encircled it, ignored it, worked on smaller paintings instead. Finally, today, I took six different shades of pink. Some cadmium red light, rose and violet, and I just attacked it. It’s okay, I wasn’t totally committed because I knew it was just the ground of probably ten layers that will live above it. But it was a start.

 

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Like Kubler-Ross’ five stages of death–Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance–I divide the creative process into eight stages. The first two are (1) Vision and (2) Hope. I don’t care who you are or what the medium, whether writer, filmmaker, musician, or lithographer or lawyer, or postman, every person goes through these two phases when they get struck by an idea. Vision tends to come in a flash. Then Hope makes the heart swoon and the mind swell around it. Being a great daydreamer helps. Everyone is an artist.

But the difference between artists who create and artists who walk around pregnant with ideas is the third stage which I call (3) Diving In. That’s the scary one. That’s the one I had to deal with in the studio with the pink paint. My father is a surgeon and I used to watch him operate a lot when I was a kid. I’ll never forget that singular moment, in the theatre of the operating room, when he had to press the scalpel into the flesh and make the cut. That’s a surgeon’s “Diving In”. Mine just had less blood.

The next four stages are (4) Excitement (5) Suspicion (6) Clarity and (7) Obsession. Often I bounce between Excitement and Suspicion–suspicion that perhaps my instincts are wrong; that I’m heading in the wrong direction — (Anxiety! Despair!) Finally I move on to Clarity. Clarity, like Vision, often happens in a moment– when the sky opens and I can hear the angels sing. Then my favorite part is the tireless consuming fever of Obsession, the life force of every artist.

The entire sequence can tend to form an infinite loop. Some artists just barely or never get out of this mobius strip, like the San Francisco Female Painter (whose name I can’t remember) who added paint to the same canvas her entire career with a nervous pack of cigarettes until she died. Although Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony was supposedly actually finished, James Joyce apparently couldn’t help but to add pages every time he edited Ulysess and it almost never made it to the publisher. Then there’s the perhaps sixty percent of you, dear readers, who have an unfinished draft of the next Great American Novel rotting in your desk drawer or hard drive.

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Jerry Belson
Photo credit: Los Angeles Times, Associated Press

A year ago, I attended the funeral of the well-known and beloved TV Writer Jerry Belson (“The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “The Odd Couple”, etc.) whose wife Jo Ann is also an artist. During the eulogy by one of his writer friends, he said that whenever he had massive writer’s block he would call Jerry, exasperated. Jerry would say, “Just lay down shit, babe. Just lay down shit.” What a liberating mantra! Don’t worry if it sucks. Don’t worry about ruining it. Just lay it down and get on with it. Making art is risky. Making art takes work. The mortar of all these stages is Discipline and Faith. Then listen, feel and see what’s going on. All art works, are living organisms — if you get out of the way they’ll tell you the next move.

The last stage is (8) Resolution. Very elusive. The composer Aaron Copland said he didn’t finish compositions so much as abandon them. When it’s finally over, it feels like a whole relationship has ended. And then the anticipated rush of doing it all over begins again.

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Art, Technology and the Long Tail

I was walking down Rose Avenue in Venice the other day and the sky sparkled a fantastic shade of blue above a row of rumpled clouds and faded buildings. I rushed to get my camera to take a picture of the way it was playing out. But you just can’t capture that sort of thing on film. As a painter, light and instinct are the currency of my work. I work on many paintings at once and face the ones that are drying against the wall. When I turn them around I look at them afresh and try and let my gut guide the next move.

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I have two children and I think a lot about what it means to be a mother. It made me think of my mother and how I used to see her as a child. She was so glamorous, hanging out with her girlfriends back in the 1970s. That was the subject of my recent show.
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“The Sophia Loren of Mill Valley” Oil on Wood. Kimberly Brooks.

Even though I’ve always been a visual artist, it took me a few years to show my work and have the courage to pursue it full-time. For many years, I earned a living as a writer or designer and kept my artwork to myself and a few close friends. When I was doing this, I felt as though I was walking around with my hand covering one eye, seeing in two dimensions and half-blind.
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I am so lucky to be alive at a moment in time when technology coalesced to give me the means to express my thoughts in a new way–with images, sound, and video, too. It’s an incredible time to be an artist. But it’s one thing to find your voice, and another to have something to say. When it finally hit me, while horseback-riding under a full moon, a light turned on inside me with the sudden thump and wattage of a klieg light: time to share my work.I used to view individual creativity like a milkshake and that it just depended upon which straw you stuck in there to suck it out. So, whether you wrote, painted, or played the saxophone, it would all come out expressing “you.” But it’s not that simple. Everyone possesses the artistic instinct and lives on a spectrum in his ability to express it.
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“Self Portrait” detail. Oil on Linen. Image Courtesy Taylor De Cordoba.

No matter how beautiful, clever, or cynical the message, the driving force of all artists, be they painters, musicians, writers, actors, is to share, to evoke, to move something significant within the viewer or audience. Until recently, most artists were often confined to a relatively monastic existence where all but a lucky few reached a large segment of the population far and beyond their studios and geographic location. Thank GOD for the Internet and it’s “Long Tail”.This column, “First Person Artist,” will feature myself and other contemporary artists who will share their innermost thoughts on the creative process that culminated in a work of art or body of work. By sharing the ruminations and inspirations behind the works of artists in the first person, I hope to ignite like sparks in readers and then to hopefully set the place on fire.