Byrne’s brushwork is luxurious and his palette both subtle and bold, revealing a sophisticated colorist. His people look more fully developed and ‘alive’, than if he’d relied solely on photographs, and like Balthus, he captures emotion and mood in the dynamics between the figures, the viewer and the landscape. The patterns that he weaves into objects and backgrounds recall Matisse and Vuillard. The guy can paint.
Byrne has shown before at Tews, but as the press release stated, not in 15 years:
In this group of paintings Byrne continues with his familiar imagery of figures engaged in uncertain activities situated in imagined park-like settings to explore the psychological conditions embedded in human relationships, exploring new themes such as aging, reflections on the past and journeys forward. Byrne, however, has pushed into a greater degree of abstraction, expanded color interactions for emotional effect and created more spatial ambiguity. He is inspired by Persian manuscript illuminations, Chinese landscape painting, Early Italian Renaissance painting and the Early Moderns. In this body of work Byrne has moved into the metaphysical, symbolic and emotional realm, creating a poetic dream space. Recurring throughout many of his paintings are images of kites and boats along with objects of childhood, play, fantasy and escape. Figures relating or not relating to each other along with these objects are caught in their own interiority, serving as a means of reflection for the viewer, asking questions without giving answers.
Water’s Edge, 2013
I had wanted to do an interview with Jim after seeing his work, to explore his influences and background and to further investigate the psychological mysteries in his work. He graciously complied.
VW – What led you to become a painter?
JB Like many others, as a kid I always liked to draw. I also have two older brothers that are very creative and they made a lot of things that were around the house when I was younger, from hand-made action figures to a model replica of an old general store. These things really captured my imagination and inspired me to want to make things myself.
Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, with a father who was an engineer, I didn’t have much other exposure to the arts in my house. At some point I became fascinated with painting and would spend many hours after school in my bedroom making these moody barn-realist landscapes. Then, when I was in high school, my class took a field trip to the Art Institute in Chicago where there was a major Edward Hopper exhibition on view. It impacted me profoundly. Hopper’s light and austere depiction of space cut to the emotional bone. This fueled my desire to paint.
When I went to college in Champaign -Urbana I began as an art major, honestly, thinking that I would switch into something else. But the more people I met who were artists, or had alternative lives, the more my mind opened up and my world view began to change. Getting a good job seemed less important than taking a risk and following a path that led towards something I cared deeply about. I stayed very focused on painting the entire time yet remained very uncertain about the future, conscious that at any moment I may have to drop it and get a real job. Incrementally, with a lot of support from teachers, monetary support from schools and art institutions, and emotional support from family (being the youngest of nine kids, given the maturity of their age, my siblings and parents always encouraged my freedom to be what I wanted to be and to place emotional well being over any monetary interests) I became a painter.
VW - You went to school in Chicago and at UNC, Chapel Hill. Now you’re teaching at a college on Long Island. Do you find being near NYC an advantage?
JB Art comes from art. Having access to the greatest collections in the world in the NYC museums and continuous exposure to so much contemporary art through the galleries has been critical to my development. The frequency of contact with great works deepens my understanding of the history of art and the casual contact to new ideas in the galleries creates moments for creative connections and discovery.
Last week, to give just a few examples, I saw Stanley Lewis’s drawings at the National Academy shortly after seeing Leon Kossoff’s drawings at Mitchell-Innes & Nash. What a fantastic dialogue those two artist’s works had in my mind. That same day I saw an exhibition at Gagosian gallery of the Poloroids Balthus used for reference in his late work after having seen the beautiful show of his work at the Met the week before. Within an hour I was back in front of those Balthus paintings with a new understanding of his process, intentions and his sensibility. You can’t have these kind of experiences unless you are physically there and as great as the internet is, it is no substitute.
VW – On a similar note, I’m curious about whether you’ve found galleries in NYC receptive to your work. Abstract art seems to currently be a very strong trend, but galleries like the Forum prefer figurative works and I noticed that you showed there in the mid nineties.
JB I was fortunate to show with Forum in the nineties and appreciate Bob Fishko’s support of my work in the past. At the time, the art world seemed very segregated between different art factions with little cross-over between those associated with figurative/realist galleries and others. Things may have loosened up a little, ironically, because of the explosion in abstract painting and the revived interest in the pleasure of painting and belief in the many possibilities of painting. This, along with the expansion of the gallery scene and greater exchanges and exposure through the painting blogosphere, may have allowed for more cross pollination and fewer divisions between artistic approaches and the venues where they are seen. Then again, maybe I am just being idealistic. It’s not hard to make an argument the other way.
River Bank, 2013
VW – Describe your daily painting/working routine and what inspires you to paint a particular piece. Do you make sketches or draw on a regular basis? Do you set up your scenes via photographs or are you working from life and multiple sittings? (or both)
JB I’m very disciplined with my studio routine. It is important to me to go in everyday, and even when I have no ideas, I hope something will come from the time spent getting my hands dirty. I work from a lot of different source material – life drawings, photos, plein air landscapes and abstract color studies. I’ve drawn from the model since college but a few years ago I made it more of a focus of my practice where I have hired people to come sit for me in the studio. I have hundreds of life drawings that I use when making paintings. I’ve also been doing a lot of drawing in my sketchbook where I draw things from my imagination with an effort to encourage free associations. Any of those sources can serve as the starting point for a painting.
At the start of a painting I am often thinking of a kind of gesture or relationship between people or between a person and an object or a space that resonates with some symbolism that seems relevant to ideas I have at the time. As the painting develops I’m open to many possibilities and will freely make changes. At some point the painting will take form and begin to have its own internal logic. From there I try to let that be the guide while making use of intuition as much as possible. The source material will again aid in the later stages of painting to make the image more concrete.
VW – Your artist statement on your site mentions a raft of influences, including the Early Moderns. I’m not sure I know what period that term encompasses, except that I can see a hint of Baselitz and Eric Fischl. My immediate reaction to your work recalls Vuillard’s patternings and palette, with a little Morandi thrown in. There is also the formalism of the early Renaissance landscape as a backdrop that contrasts nicely with your characters’ mysterious, almost mystical personae.
Can you talk about the context of the paintings and any ideologies you may have as an artist? And are there current painters whose work excites you?
JB Vuillard was an important early influence, as was Bonnard and the other members of the Nabis. The Post-Impressionist, especially Cezanne, and then into Matisse and the Fauves, early Mondrian, Expressionists like Max Beckman, you name it, all those painters that bridge the end of the 19th into the beginning of the 20th century excite me. That was a time when painting was just exploding and all these artist were challenging ideas of perception and expectation.
Eric Fischl was important to me in college, especially his way of speaking through an ambiguous narrative, not to mention the content of his work at the time was placed in a familiar world, similar to the one I had experienced in the suburbs. He also was someone who painted the figure and was embraced by the larger art establishment. So in that way, he was a model for what was possible.
In general, I am drawn to a kind of psychological condition in which a paradox is presented. The figures in my paintings have a kind of heaviness of being at the same time the space dematerializes into pattern. There is a kind of particularness to the representation of the figure while there is a Classical feeling of eternal order to the setting in my paintings. In certain historical art, the inwardness of gesture that is paired with a formal beauty and strength of pattern and color is exceptionally moving to me. This can be found in paintings from the 15th century, especially Fra Angelico and Sassetta.
As far as how this fits into a contemporary context of the history of art, I’m not sure, but I think I have stopped worrying about it. When it comes to contemporary art, the artist that excite me the most are mostly abstract painters, among them I would include Bill Jenson, Thomas Nozkowski and Brice Marden. Some figurative painters that interest me include Dana Schutz, Sangram Majumdar and Amy Sillman. I’m looking forward to seeing Sillman’s show in Boston soon. When it comes to those that deal with imagery, I am often more interested in photography. I just saw Thomas Demand’s current show. The way models function in art to explore fantasy and truth fascinates me.
VW – You have been teaching art for over twenty years. Does this allow you more time for painting or did you need a sabbatical to create, say, this newest body of work?
JB It is what it is. I have found a balance in my life so I can do both. This new body of paintings, although they were all completed this year, really represents 6 years of work. I work in the mornings a few hours before I teach and during the summer I am in the studio full-time. I used to live in the city and commute out to teach but several years ago my wife and I made the decision to move to be nearer to the school so I could have more family and studio time.
VW -There is a group of work from 2012 on your website that is nothing like your figurative paintings. Completely abstract, they seem to investigate color, dynamics and motion. Could you speak to these and what your intent was in breaking away from figuration?
JB About four years ago, after feeling a little lost with my work, I began painting completely non-objective works. I had been thinking about it for a while, and as I said, most of the contemporary paintings that interested me were abstract, so I decided to try it just to see what it would feel like. In my work, although it had been narrative, I had become more and more interested in exploring the language of painting than in telling a story. It is through color, space, light, balance and harmony that I was most interested in conveying an emotional condition. It was extremely liberating and stimulating and it gave the jolt my figurative work needed.
VW – Some artists suggest that the studio is too private for them, that they require a social forum for their work. Does networking with other artists and developing community have much bearing on your life as an artist and if so, how does it inform your work and process?
JB I thrive on the solitude I get in the studio. However, the access to the work and ideas of other artists, and their critical response, is essential. It’s difficult though because there is only so much time to be divided up and for me the time in the studio is the most important. I think blogs like yours, the Painter’s Table and others are extremely helpful. It does a lot to stimulating thought and you can come to it when you are in the right place mentally and at a convenient time so it doesn’t conflict with the studio. However, at times I do feel isolated where I live and it is important to connect to people and share ideas and get feedback. It is an essential part of the creative process.
VW – I’m always curious about how painters are utilizing social networking. I know artists who have been successful marketing their work online, even while they’re represented by a gallery. You obviously have a website, but have you explored some of these or other alternative ways to either exhibit or sell your paintings or prints of your work?
JB I am only really just beginning to try to use social networking and have any online presence. I feel like I’ve been working in a cave for the past ten years. I’ve just come out of the dark and my eyes are trying to adjust to the light.
VW – Any immediate plans for exhibits and/or the next series?
JB None right now. I’ll go into the studio tomorrow and we’ll see what happens.
You can view Jim’s work on his site, and at the Timothy Tews Gallery. Local critic Jerry Cullum’s review can be found at ArtsATL here.]]>
For my first two days I stayed in an AirB&B flat on Brannan, a short walk from the company office. The private room and bath were spotless and great for a change from a pricey hotel. And considering that most of the hotels close to downtown were booked months in advance, there wasn’t much choice.
The newly designed DeYoung museum was in the last stretch of a Richard Diebenkorn retrospective; The Berkeley Years. Too bad they didn’t allow photographs. The show was magnificent and the museum’s grounds were dotted with sculptures. Visit the website to see various video clips of Diebenkorn talking about painting, his daughter on his life and art, and others. How often do you get to hear Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond on a museum site? Never. If you go, sit outside at the café for a warming cappuccino and small bites.
For all you foodies, friends treated me to dinner at the fabulous RN74, a new place on Mission, part of Michael Mina’s empire. Another friend and I ended up at Osha, across from the Embarcadero. We tried to land at Slanted Door, an excellent Vietnamese restaurant that had opened back in the day on Valencia. A group of us went back then for a special lunch that chef Charles (or his mom) created, he was a friend of one of our colleagues. Tourists and locals now pack the place.
In Los Alamitos, a new Thai place is the superb Coconut Rabbit, run by a friend of a WestEd colleague there. It rivaled Marnie Thai in the inner Sunset, my old neighborhood in San Francisco.
In Mill Valley, Greg and I lunched at Joe’s Taco Lounge, a local haunt that offers vegetarian tacos and extras.
Images below include the show, gardens where I used to spend hours sketching in Golden Gate Park, my retreat in Mill Valley and an early morning trek out to Point Reyes and its lighthouse. First, a stop at the Bovine Bakery for provisions, coffee and pain d’amande. There’s a gray whale skull on display at the lighthouse visitor’s center that I’d forgotten about. After a fantastic lunch at the Farmhouse restaurant in Olema, down Rt 1 in my little Fiat that could, back through Stinson Beach and stops along the way at Muir Beach overlook.
I dropped into Claudia Chapline’s gallery at Stinson and finally had a chat with her after having been there a few other times since the late 1980s. I now own one of her small abstracts and her signed memoir, Falling Up the Stairs.
Berkeley No. 13
Diebenkorn in Berkeley
Figure on Porch
Getting the gardens going in early spring meant a dump truck bringing in 5 cubic yards of mushroom compost. The hard part was hauling it out in the wheelbarrow to various beds. The soil here is high in mineral content, low in loam. Worms love my lazy sheet composting, but they don’t work fast enough. And now I’m deep in strawberry season, having to pick daily to keep up. On my second year for the 25 each of Honeoye and Ozark Beauty plants, it’s another bumper crop, planted in the fall of 2011. This happened before, when I lived in Chester County, PA. I had to buy a small freezer to hold all the berries from the then 5 year old plants.
Alfisols, the second best soils in the country, are found in that part of Pennsylvania, the bedroom suburbs of Philly. Second only to the Mollisols found in the midwest and in California’s central valley. Here in Georgia we have what are known as Ultisols or commonly, red clay. It’s typically acidic. Strawberries love acid soils, but they were easier to grow in the southeastern PA garden. I never had a problem with ants eating them there, or with mold. Next fall I’ll mulch with pine straw to keep them dry and clean. Lucky for me that the birds have bugs in their sights, not berries. Even the bluebirds nesting in the birdhouse overlooking the strawberry beds are oblivious.
Once I added spent mushroom substrate (compost) to my Atlanta gardens, the worms, collards, kale, spinach and strawberries, love it.
What to make with my bounty? I finally have a bundt pan, thanks to a colleague’s shared cake recipe. Inspiration.
I found a beautiful blog called Manger on food with artful photographs by the writer’s husband. From the Médoc region of France, it’s enough to just peruse the gorgeous layouts that look like Dutch still lifes.
This cake is a simple meringue with flowers and berries. And whipped cream.
I may just settle for strawberry scones, found on Confessions of a Tart. And I’ll make some time for a jam making session.
Garlic Soup with a dollop of duck fat (what, they’re in France already) and a peony head from the Manger blog. I miss having peonies, so next fall will be planting time for the beauties from Klehm’s Song Sparrow Farm and Nursery.
While abstraction has never receded much from the art mainstream (and as Jerry Saltz has claimed, ‘all two-dimensional art is abstract’), very few critics or writers have been able to adequately describe either the process or the final result. Donald Kuspit’s excellent essay on Peters’ work is one of the best I’ve read.
Forgotten: intermediate; enigma
48 x 60 inches, Oil and mixed media on canvas
What led you to become a painter?
SP I grew up in an artistic household. My father was an artist and we had art materials handy. He had a sign business and that was his job and my sister and I would spend countless hours there watching him work, us playing with the tools of the trade. I would sweep floors and do general cleanup on weekends and after school. Most of my father’s fine art would be commissions that someone asked him to paint. I remember a great watercolor with a knight crouching behind a rock, ready to decapitate a 3-headed dragon – an illustration that he did for a bedtime story.
Can you describe how living in Little Rock, Arkansas influences (or doesn’t) your work?
SP Most of it is unconscious. Arkansas is very humid and very green and to my eye it has a faint rose-colored tint that blankets everything. For example, when we visit Santa Fe or other destinations in the west that are high and dry, colors seem to be different, more saturated. I suppose that being away from the centers of the art world has its pluses and minuses. I seem to respond to the relative quiet and slower moving pace in Arkansas. I lived for almost a year in the San Francisco Bay area in the mid 1960’s, and found it difficult to paint there.
Primary: integrated; process
36 x 60 inches, Oil and mixed media on canvas
Describe your daily painting/working routine and what inspires you to paint a particular piece. Do you make sketches or draw on a regular basis?
SP I like to arrive at my studio relatively early 5 or 6 days a week and paint until I get tired, usually between 3 and 5 pm. I’m not an artist who likes to wait for inspiration to paint, usually the act of painting is my inspiration to keep exploring. I go through cycles where I like to paint large or relatively large (5×6’ or larger) and at other times the cycle of paintings gets smaller and smaller, down to 15×20 inches or so. The specific imagery of each piece develops during the process of painting.
In all but a few cases, I have no idea about the evolution of the image or where it’s going until I’m finished. I find that color seems to also work in cycles. Sometimes my palette is more neutral, at others it’s much more saturated with color. I do make sketches and draw.
Determined: interlocking; identity, 2007
48 x 60 inches, Oil and mixed media on canvas
I am interested in the fact that you don’t offer an artist’s statement on your site. The catalogs and writings about your work have probably saved you from that exercise. Could you offer a brief idea of what you’d write in your own statement if you were pressed?
SP I’ve never written an art statement that I was happy with. My very first one is embarrassing for me to read now. Very cocky and mocking some 1960 era artist’s pretentious statements. Maybe part of the problem is that I don’t think in terms of verbal solutions and planning ideas for paintings. Each of my paintings seems to be a cosmos of its own and when I try and put into words what my painting is about, I draw blanks. I also might find myself trying to make what I do sound intelligent and it’s anything but that. It is, I suppose, just something that I have to do. If pressed, I wouldn’t be able to explain my breathing or heartbeat. It’s just there. And besides, I have read very few art statements by other artists that I find interesting.
You’ve mentioned that Diebenkorn was a strong influence, but that deKooning is your favorite Abstract Expressionist. I see more of Diebenkorn’s formal compositional structure in your work, there seems to also be an effort at opening up a space in many of your works – kind of like the windows in Matisse or Bonnard’s works. Can you talk about the context of the paintings and any ideologies you may have as an artist? And are there current painters whose work excites you?
SP The Diebenkorn/Matisse connection was one that I recognized very early on and I’m sure you are right about me finding a way to utilize compositional structure the way that Diebenkorn understood Matisse’s structural devices. For me, DeKooning was the pick of the litter of the New York School of action painters. Whether he’s an influence I’m not sure. Over the years I’ve liked a number of current painters, but none quite as inspirational as those that I discovered in my youth. I like Sean Scully and Anselm Kiefer along with some of Gerhard Richter’s and Sigmar Polke’s work. But I also don’t have a lot of time to look at other artists work. Yesterday, a friend sent me a list of current kitsch influenced painters to discuss and I hadn’t heard of or at least couldn’t associate an image to most of their names. When I was younger, I knew the work of most of the then current painters.
Acceptance: contrasted; conflicts, 2007
72 x 72 inches, Oil and mixed media on canvas
Material: reality; transformation, 2007
40 x 30 inches, Oil and mixed media on canvas
I also notice that yellow is a recurring color in your palette, it figures prominently in many of your recent works, mixed with white or orange. From 2001 to 2005 black seemed to be predominant in areas or as an accent. Any comments on your choice of palette or how it has changed over time?
SP I mentioned how my work seems to evolve in cycles. It has been that way since the beginning. Black is one of my favorite colors and lately I seem to use a lot of yellow, as you mentioned. Blue over the last few years keeps showing up, white is a regular in my palette. I use a lot of colors that are hard to describe; some might call it mud, I would say a greenish red, or a purplish yellow. Putty is a nice shade of gray.
Recognition: presence; concealed, 2005
84 x 168 inches, Oil and mixed media on canvas
Engage: Form, Contradiction 1992
33.5 x 49.8 inches, mixed media on canvas and wood
Have you been able to make a living solely from your painting? I have read that you took over your father’s sign business beginning in your early years, and that obviated the need to make a living with your art, which must have been an exceptional freedom. You also refrained from moving to NYC, like so many artists. Another stroke of possible luck, in that it allowed you to concentrate on your voice alone and not be distracted.
SP I’ve been making a living on my paintings for less than 10 years. I’ve maintained a studio most of the time since the early 1960’s. Occasionally, I shared a studio with another artist. I think it did give me a sense of freedom knowing that I could raise a family without worrying about sales of the paintings. I don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about “what if?”. I do try to make forays from time to time to New York, but I usually don’t look at new painting when I’m there. I keep going back to the Met or to MOMA and see works that I’ve seen many times.
You approached galleries at a later age than most artists, with a business sense defined by your ‘day job’. What advice would you give to young or even older emerging artists who may not yet be represented by major galleries?
SP Most of the younger artists seem to be savvier about the use of technology to help further their careers. I didn’t try to market my work until the early 1980’s and the era was entirely different from the way things are today. I’m sure I could learn more about web sites and blogging and it might be helpful in getting my work to a larger audience, but I can’t seem to find the time. I found it more difficult to try to market my paintings than anything I had ever done before. I guess because it is so personal. Today we can visit many galleries online in various cities and see their stable of artists. If a gallery specializes in prints and photographs and you are a painter, then you’d know not to present your work to that gallery. There are also online artist development sites that cater to artists who are trying to break into the market; some are pay sites but some offer free advice. Some galleries will give a certain protocol for their submissions, accepting them at certain times during their year. It’s a must to have a portfolio of your work and my best advice is to utilize the most professional format one can, for making a presentation of the work.
Question: articulated; experience
48 x 60 inches , Oil and mixed media on canvas, Courtesy Alan Avery Art Company
Nurturing: forgotten; presence
68 x 90 inches, Oil and mixed media on canvas, Courtesy Alan Avery Art Company
I have heard young (especially male) artists say that they “just want to kick his/her butt”, a reference to aspiring to be better than either their artistic idols, or the current art stars. Usually this comment can be interpreted to mean creating something new – what hasn’t ever been done before. That’s quite a challenge for painting. Perhaps you could talk about the gallery scene in recent years. In one interview you suggest that someone who is continually “searching out the new as a constant” could be characterized as “…having a shallow or neurotic approach to life.”
SP I could have phrased that more gently. There’s nothing wrong with “new”, it’s just that if novelty and innovation are the goals of the art world/ gallery/museum systems today and artists invest in that concept, it breeds shallowness and seems neurotic to me. It’s a tall order simply to be a serious artist and always has been. I remember a Brahms quote; “You will never know what it’s like to work with the tramp of Beethoven behind you.” I understand where the “butt kicking” impetus comes from and when I was younger, I’m sure I said similar things. Our lives and technology are moving faster and faster and I think it’s speeding up the “recognition to adoration to repulsion” quotient as it applies to art.
You’ve talked about losing your ‘rhythm’ when you were jumping back and forth between abstraction and figurative painting during your children’s formative years. And you’ve also mentioned that many painters evolve a stylistically serial result, whether that’s intentional or not. How do you approach painting now that you’ve developed a larger body of work?
SP Diebenkorn and Guston come to mind as artists who bounced back and forth between abstraction and figurative. My loss of rhythm was mainly the result of a 7-year hiatus during the 1970’s. When I stopped, I had been doing figurative work for less than two years, during the previous ten years I had been painting abstractly. I just wasn’t sure where my time in the studio would be spent. I had to see where the brush took me.
Some artists suggest that the studio is too private for them, that they require a social forum for their work. Does networking with other artists and developing community have much bearing on your life as an artist and if so, how does it inform your work and process?
SP I think it’s entirely personal. I have a need to be alone in the studio for long hours and can’t imagine my lifestyle any differently. I do have artist friends, and locally we meet for lunch about once a month. I try to answer emails and keep in touch with galleries and friends that I’ve made in communities where I show my work. But what I do is very removed from networking.
Synthesis: internal; completion, 2009
30 x 40 inches, Oil and mixed media on canvas
I’m always curious about how painters are utilizing social networking. I know painters who have been successful marketing their work online, even while they’re represented by a gallery. You obviously have a website, but have you explored some of these or other alternative ways to either exhibit or sell your work?
SP No, I’ve never tried to market online. I’m curious about it and I know there are artists who are well versed in marketing that way. I know that the brick and mortar galleries also use an online presence to help market the artists that they represent, and I imagine that trend will increase as time goes on. I’d love to have a crystal ball and see what place all this will have in the future.
Any immediate plans for exhibits and/or the next series of work?
SP I have a show at Atlanta’s Alan Avery Art Company in early spring, the opening is March 8th and I look forward to seeing the city again. I’m also looking forward to a show at LewAllen Galleries in Santa Fe in June.
You can view more of Sammy Peters’ work at his website.
Elyse showed us her recent work, along with beautiful photography (her own) and a video that artist Ande Cook had created, of DeFoor’s installation this past fall at the Atlanta Arts Exchange. Titled ‘Relics of Marriage’, the work consisted of about thirty used wedding dresses – one unused – all hung from exterior scaffolding. The dresses withstood rain, wind and falls during the exhibit, to the pavement below. The analogy to the rigors of marriage is obvious, the beauty of the installation surprising.
Her own wedding dress, used in the piece, was draped across a chair in her living room, next to the piano. DeFoors states on her site: “These public experiences are inviations to dialogue on the changing concept of marriage today.”
Upstairs, large manipulated photographs on mylar hung in the dining room. These are from DeFoor’s 2010 exhibit “Via Dorso”, shown at the Wm Turner Gallery .
The artist’s newest pieces still depict a kind of figurative female form and dress, but it is more difficult to pinpoint her motivation. What appears to be black crumpled iridescent paper pinned with a single thumb tack to backdrops of black paper rolls, netting attached at the base of one roll, these two sculptural forms are reminiscent of Rauschenberg’s black paintings. Texture is difficult to see in a photograph, but is discernible in the light of her studio space.
Abstracted and mysterious, these two pieces could be seen as a response to the institution of marriage, especially in light of DeFoor’s prior series. A more facile interpretation is that they reflect the inevitable crumbling of relationships. There was mention of decay as a descriptor, during the studio visit.
However, I would suggest that these are the artist’s attempt to go beyond the tradition of harping on male/female tension and the tedium that results. DeFoor has said that she was interested in a spiritual connection during her Via Dorso series. In this new work, a more internalized emotionalism widens her role as an artist. In Rauschenberg’s early black series from the 1950′s, he experiments with the formal aspect of painting to reduce its qualities to pure experience.
Like Rauschenberg, DeFoor’s new work may be intellectual experimentation with an idea that doesn’t necessarily dictate destruction or any other emotional extreme. If her paper had been white, that color and its symbolism could have just as easily played into the viewer’s reaction. His response to critics who found similar associations to his black paintings in an interview now transcribed in the Archive of American Art; “there had been a lot of critics who shared the idea with a lot of the public that they couldn’t see black as color or as pigment, but they immediately moved into associations and the associations were always of destroyed newspapers, of burned newspapers. And that began to bother me. Because I think that I’m never sure of what the impulse is psychologically. I don’t mess around with my subconscious. I mean I try to keep wide awake. And if I see in the superficial subconscious relationships that I’m familiar with, cliches of association, I change the picture. I always have a good reason for taking something out but I never have one for putting something in. And I don’t want to, because that means that the picture is being painted predigested.”
DeFoors’ strength as an artist is that she continually changes the picture and expands her vision.
Good to see all the painting at Miami Basel – from afar, that is. I’ve been vicariously visiting by viewing Joanne Mattera’s blog posts about the arts fair. She even posts about what to wear while you’re there. Following photos courtesy her site.
Smaller paintings are getting the nod at a lot of galleries lately, as well as at art fairs. I’ll have four small works in a ‘Miniature Perspectives” exhibit coming up in January at the Ferst Center for the Arts, at GA Tech. The collage below is by Alfred Leslie, from the Allen Stone Gallery.
Aqua Art: Sara Bright at George Lawson Gallery, San Francisco/Los Angeles
Aqua Art: John Zinsser at George Lawson Gallery
NADA: Bret Slater at Elaine Levy Project, Brussels
Another great rundown on Miami Basel can be found at Sharon Butler’s Two Coats of Paint blog, with Tatiana Berg’s picks. Photos courtesy Two Coats of Paint.
Tal R, Fog Over Malia Bay, 2011, oil and dispersion on cardboard in artist frame. 47 1/2 x 36 1/2 inches, at Cheim & Read.
Ellen Berkenblit, Flowers, 2012, oil on canvas, 90 x 76 inches, at Anton Kern Gallery
The Command, 1988. Oil on canvas 84×91 inches. On loan from the High Museum of Art.
The Shield, 1991. Oil on canvas 84×80.5 inches. Courtesy the artist.
Starting in the late 1980′s, the work during these decades spans several incarnations, including figurative, abstract and computer assisted work that relates to the Iraq war. The early works bring to mind Bay Area figurative artists like Manuel Neri and Nathan Oliveira. Some of the grid making on paintings like “Time” echo those of Cy Twombly or Mark Tobey.
Time, 1995. Oil on canvas, 84×154 inches. Courtesy the artist.
October 23, ’06, No.1. Pastel, oil pastel, pencil on paper. Courtesy the artist.
Rodriguez seems to limit her palette to warm colors, with the exception of additions of pale blue in early works. One pastel from 2006 includes a deep ultramarine upper quadrant with what could be construed as stars in its half oval. Black, orange and red are predominant colors that she uses throughout.
Saffron Hands, 1994. Oil on canvas. On loan from David Joel.
In 1996 on a 3 month residency in Rome, Rodriguez began experimenting with decorative motifs, inspired by architecture and memories of her Cuban childhood. The museum brochure states that her work during this period rejected a “modernist attitude that was inclined to view beauty as a superficial concern.”
Roman Codex I, 1997. Oil on canvas, 77×84 inches. On loan from the New Orleans Museum of Art.
I especially like that Rodriguez is not shy about stating her stance in support of beauty, in opposition to what is an “acquired response in art circles.” She questions whether the beautiful can’t be provocative or engaging. She notes that she doesn’t “ascribe to absolutes, and my paintings don’t depend on theoretical positions but on the experiential.”
In 1999 she returned to Italy and spent time working on pieces in which she deconstructed and rubbed out the subject matter.
Slit and Trace, 2002. Oil on canvas, 60×82 inches. On loan from David Joel.
From 2005 to 2009, Rodriguez developed a series based on photographs and maps of the Iraq war. Her palette concentrates on earth colors similar to those found in the desert; reds, ochres, dark browns, on what appeared to be raw canvas in some cases. The artist has said that the basis for using red in some of these works is the obvious symbolism for conflict, but her choices in color are normally intuitive and not contrived.
The Round City – Baghdad, 2007. Oil on canvas, 72×120 inches. Courtesy the artist.
Using her computer to upload her own drawings and photographs, she devised the basis for these large works. These do remind me of imagery generated by computers, especially beta versions of paint programs that I used in the 1990s when computer animation and automated rotoscoping tools were first being developed.
Rodriguez again shifted styles in the early 2000′s, returning to expressionist brushwork and reducing content. Some of these works combine media; pastel, pencil and oil or oil and acrylic. In the latest paintings, she combines architectural elements with gesture and achieves emotional resonance through spare color combinations.
Orange Trace, 2012. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 72×78.5 inches. Courtesy the artist.
Totem, 2011. Oil on canvas, 69.5×92.75 inches. Courtesy the artist.
A review in Art in America can be found here. You can also view Rodriguez’s works in the High Museum’s permanent collection. Rodriguez’s website offers a conversation between the artist and critic and curator Lily Wei.
The museum also has a fairly good contemporary collection, if small, and a similar mix of Ashcan and American impressionist works. Slightly disconcerting are teaching moment blurbs next to the permanent works, describing the piece and offering a somewhat subjective analysis. As in Alice Neel’s ‘Swedish Girls’:
Louise Nevelson. Silence-Music 1, 1974-1982. Painted wood. Gift of Mrs. Richard Jennings by exchange.
Robert Motherwell. Massive Image, 1991, acrylic on canvas. Museum purchase made possible by various donations.
Ida Kohlmeyer. Passage #2, 1963. Gift of the artist.
More on the collection in my next post.]]>
Means is only 24, a 2011 graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art, yet he’s been active in the Atlanta arts scene and has installed public works in various locales; a mural at Little Tree Studios where he has his own space, at the Eastern Shore where he painted an abandoned fishing boat, and in DC where he’s been working with the Atlanta artist Alex Brewer (HENSE) on painting a church. Jerry Cullum, former senior editor of Arts Papers and an Atlanta arts critic and reviewer, wrote this piece after a recent studio visit with Means. There is a typo on the site, the date should be 2012, not 2007.
Means may be influenced by Basquiat and perhaps Egon Schiele, his loose drawings and pen and inks reminded me of Picasso’s etchings and drypoints. However, his sense of color is dynamic and sophisticated for an artist of any age. Yellow green interspersed with black and pale pink stripes is reminiscent of Vuillard’s and Matisse’s patterned interiors. Means uses red to an advantage in making a strong statement, but it never overwhelms the painting. His economy of color is refined and line and form come first.
A figurative painter who fully abstracts the human form, Means seems to be interested in content as a secondary theme to the work. Color serves as a symbolic and emotional way to read the paintings. There may be relationships between his characters, but my initial impression is that these are for the viewer to discover and interpret.
The artist hints at forms like flowers and structure within the frame, further obscuring whatever literal content can be derived. Stylistically, some pieces use Beardsley-esque figures in black that depict a kind of dark portent.
It will be fascinating to see how this artist progresses as he develops his body of work. I plan a studio visit soon and hope to report back.]]>
Surprisingly, I knew four of the artists myself; Ken Kewley, Philip Koch, Paul Behnke and Harry Shooshinoff. Some I know from Facebook, others post in various blogs that I follow.
It was interesting to find a gallery culling from online for an exhibit and whose work the director may have never seen in person beforehand. Many of the artists are connected by residencies or teaching, or because they’ve found each other through social networks like Facebook.
I met Ken Kewley on Facebook and we share a history of living in Easton, PA. I first discovered his work through the 2010 notes he wrote about color on the blog Painting Perceptions. And I especially like that he uses a lot of greens, a color that one gallery director once advised me to change in my own work. He teaches art at PAFA, has taught at the Jerusalem Studio School Certosa program in Siena, Italy, and gives summer workshops in Michigan. I really enjoy his posts on FB about Braque and other artists. His three small figurative works of women in dressing rooms were just lovely. My camera isn’t so great in low light, so I’m including some work from Deans’ catalog and the artists’ websites as substitutes.
Ken Kewley. The Pink Skirt, oil on board, 10 x 5 inches, 2012.
Ken Kewley. The Light Gray Wrap, oil on board, 10 x 5 inches.
Ken Kewley. The Gray Skirt, oil on board, 10 x 5 inches.
Several of these artists show quite often, like the abstract colorist Paul Behnke, who is featured this month in Richard Rosenfeld’s august gallery in Philadelphia with a catalog write-up by critic and The Brooklyn Rail editor John Yau. I discovered Behnke from Brett Baker’s Painters’ Table blog and have been following his Structure and Imagery for a while. I’m impressed with how many exhibits he writes about and appreciate his bold sense of color. He lives in Brooklyn.
Paul Behnke. Little Je-Je, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 24 inches.
The next two paintings weren’t in the show, but Behnke graciously allowed some grabs off his site:
Paul Behnke. Vandervoort Place, acrylic on canvas 36 x 38 inches, 2012.
Paul Behnke. Orange Rampart, acrylic on canvas 48 x 46 inches, 2011.
Philip Koch, another painter whose blog and Facebook posts interest me, has exhibited widely and is greatly influenced by Edward Hopper. In fact, he’s painted in Hopper’s studio during the 14 residencies he’s spent in the S. Truro, MA residence. He paints from direct observation and memory, rather than from photographs. Koch is also one of the few painters I know, who acknowledges the Canadian Group of Seven, specifically Lawren Harris, as influences.
Philip Koch. Deep Forest Pool, oil on panel, 30 x 40 inches.
Philip Koch. The Birches of Maine, oil on panel, 15 x 20 inches.
Harry Shooshinoff is an amazingly prolific painter whose work I first discovered online. He lives a couple of hours north of Toronto in Ontario and paints the landscape that surrounds him. I love his small collages and paintings of snow covered fields and icy lakes that remind me of Nova Scotia, where I lived in the early 1970′s.
Harry Stooshinoff. Early August Green (Toward Tommy’s), acrylic on paper, 7.5 x 9 inches.
Harry Stooshinoff. Hedgerow (Overcast), acrylic on paper, 7.5 x 9.75 inches.
Harry Stooshinoff. Edge, torn acrylic collage on Arches paper, 7.75 x 6.25 inches. This was not in the show, I took it from one of his online sites to show his collage work.
Donald Beal, whose work reminds me of the Bay Area Figurative movement from the 1940s to the 1960s, teaches art at Dartmouth and talks about struggling with the figure in this video. Interestingly, he notes that although he’s competent enough to paint an anatomically correct hand, it didn’t work in an abstracted figurative piece – so he changed it. Like Behnke, who says he has no preconceived idea about color or form when he begins a painting, Beal discusses using tension and form to create a figurative work.
Donald Beal: Portrait of an Artist; Carol Pugliese producer from Provincetown Community TV on Vimeo.
Donald Beal. Seated Woman, charcoal and pastel, 23 x 18 inches.
Donald Beal. Inlet, oil on canvas, 20 x 24 inches.
Bill Gingles. Birth of Venus, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 32 inches, 2011.
Mitchell Johnson, South Carolina born and living now in Redwood City, CA, has had his paintings featured in many films. He first traveled to the Swedish island Gotland in 1989, and returned in 2008 to paint.
Mitchell Johnson. Gotland, oil on linen, 18 x 25 inches.
The next opening was up on E. Paces Ferry at the Alan Avery Art Company, showcasing two artists; Michele Mikesell and Gabriel Benzur. I was impressed with the posh spread, the gallery is in the heart of Buckhead and seems to be doing well. I spotted Jerry Cullum noshing. Trying to back out of the small lot afterwards, and not sideswipe the red Ferrari parked a tad too close to my pickup was one of my main concerns.
Sorry that I missed the August exhibit with Caio Fonseca.
The gallery showed abstract painter and collagist Sammy Peters‘ exuberant mixed media works in the front room.
Sammy Peters. Enigmatic: determinal; form, oil and mixed media on canvas, 30 x 40 inches.
Sammy Peters. Deferred: precise; solicitation, oil and mixed media on canvas, 12 x 12 inches.
Finally, I went over to Mason Murer Fine Art, where two old artist pals have been showing for years, Marc Chatov and Sidney Guberman. Figurative artist Suzy Schultz was one of the group featured last night, she has a studio around the corner over here in Avondale Estates, and offers watercolor workshops there. I had never been to the gallery before and at 24,000 square feet, it reminded me of the Phillips de Pury auction house in Chelsea, a gigantic arts warehouse. Overwhelming on first visit.
The gallery had a Purvis Young piece I covet.
Purvis Young. Untitled, mixed media on wood, 56 x 96 inches.
Coming up in early October is the Westobou festival if you find yourself in Augusta. Many performances and events like the visual arts project are free to the public.]]>
I had read about Brian’s book art in a New Yorker article last year and was intrigued. It was great to finally meet him and see his work in progress. The totem below is being prepared to be cut into.
Originally from Chicago, Dettmer has been carving into Encyclopedia Brittanicas and other books that pre-date 1970, since he stopped painting almost a decade ago. He suggests that the physical form of information is becoming a thing of the past and in his statement says that “material and history are being lost, slipping and eroding into the ether. Newer media swiftly flips forms, unrestricted by the weight of material and the responsibility of history.”
Dettmer works as a kind of archaeologist, not knowing what might be found as he cuts into the books. He notes that there is an interaction between himself and what has been communicated in the pages. His work is fascinating, but any book collector might argue that the form itself is worth preserving. The philosopher and critical theorist Walter Benjamin, a book collector, said that “one of the finest memories of a collector is the moment when he rescued a book to which he might never have given a thought, much less a wishful look, because he found it lonely and abandoned on the marketplace and bought it to give it its freedom- the way the prince bought a beautiful slave girl in ‘The Arabian Nights’….To a book collector, you see, the true freedom of all books is somewhere on his shelves.”
Dettmer hasn’t had to take a day job in some time and his bookshelf is dotted with books he’s been in, one of his works graces the cover of Book Art, Iconic Sculptures and Installations Made from Books, published by Gestalten Press. He uses mostly non-fiction books and admitted as a reader he wasn’t much interested in fiction, although the transformation of burned Danielle Steel paperbacks into a sculpture in the form of a door might suggest otherwise.
In this interview with Gestalten.tv, Dettmer talks about his process and what books may mean in an age of increasingly rapid information and data transfer.
Dettmer’s solo show Elemental, at MocaGA, opens on October 20th. His new flag motifs will be displayed, along with a triptych reminiscent of early pixelated computer graphics. His background as an animator seems to have influenced some of the work.
A totem standing in the living-room.
Early work with a figurative theme.
Be sure to check out his website for more amazing work.]]>