Sammy Peters

I discovered the painter Sammy Peters during an Alan Avery gallery opening this past fall and mentioned him in the post that I wrote about it. His work stood out as pure, structured, and fascinating abstraction in the midst of the surrealistic and figurative paintings being shown. We exchanged some notes during emails and he agreed to an interview, included below. I’m excited to have the opportunity to meet him, he’ll be exhibiting his work at the Alan Avery Art Company in early March.

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.

Recently I read this unattributed question on the internet:  “If we can’t communicate persuasively what art means to us, how can we expect others to gain a clearer sense of why they should get more involved?”
I don’t think that it’s easy, but I do think clear writing is something that artists should aspire to. Good artist statements are few and far between.


Peters wrote the following in 2007 and suggests it was the last statement he has written. He says: “I don’t think it adequately describes what I do in those hours alone in the studio with my thoughts.”
Sometimes I see painting as a car or vehicle. The painter serves as the vehicle designer/mechanic. The purpose of the vehicle is to take the artist where she needs to go to find answers to her questions. Paintings by other artists as well as nature are signposts that suggest to  the artist/mechanic possible routes to take and which to avoid.  It seems to me the more illustrational the signposts, the more likely that they will always have the same information; that is, seen from the early viewing and not adding to the information later in the artist’s life.
The artist is seeking sources for answers regarding life structures. The car can take the artist to the sources. The better the artist builds the car, the better she drives the car and the more she regards the signposts in a highly perceptive state, the closer she comes to the clarifications she’s seeking.

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.


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Seek Atlanta visits artist Elyse DeFoor

Two weekends ago, Seek ATL held a studio visit with the Atlanta artist Elyse DeFoor. Her studio is on the lower level, underneath a labyrinth of rooms in her Chamblee home. Elyse has been on the Atlanta art scene for some time, and has developed several bodies of work that deal with societal relationships and marriage. The artist admitted to having been married four times and suggested that those partnerships have played into her work.

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.


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Miami Basel

Haven’t missed snow shoveling since I’ve been back in Atlanta, but here are some shots to get into the Christmas spirit – from the Feb. 2010 Snowmegeddon in West Chester, PA.


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 RFog Over Malia Bay, 2011, oil and dispersion on cardboard in artist frame. 47 1/2 x 36 1/2 inches, at Cheim & Read.

Ellen BerkenblitFlowers, 2012, oil on canvas, 90 x 76 inches, at Anton Kern Gallery


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Rocio Rodriguez – Divergent Fictions at The Columbus Museum of Art

Last Saturday I caught the final weekend for the Rocio Rodriguez exhibit at the Columbus Museum of Art in Columbus, GA. I had never been to the space before and was pleasantly surprised. The painter had an exhibit at Sandler Hudson gallery in Atlanta earlier this year, but sadly I missed it. A 24 year retrospective in the third floor galleries, the show in Columbus included a selection of her works from 1988 to 2012.

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.

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Taylor Means at Bill Lowe gallery

I know Taylor’s mom, Marghe Means, from the Avondale Arts Alliance board. The youngest artist that the Bill Lowe gallery represents, Means is currently in a three person show titled Unravel the Mystery, with Kathleen Morris and Barbara Brenner, up until early November. I went to the opening on October 12th and was stunned by the size of the place.  Another on my list of ‘to see’ galleries after a long haitus away from Atlanta, Lowe’s space is multi-roomed with huge ceilings and a balcony where an overflow of work was hung. Waitpersons, wine and food were on hand for guests.

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.

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Thomas Deans Friends of a Social Network show and two other openings

“A Web of Artists: Friends of a Social Network” is the official title for one of the three openings that I went to last night at Thomas Deans Fine Art in Atlanta. Previously on Bennett Street, the gallery has moved to Miami Circle. It’s an intimate space and the gallery did a great job of hanging the artists’ work. Not all artists in the show are represented here, you’ll just have to visit the gallery. The show is up until October 13th.

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.

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SeekATL, studio visit with artist Brian Dettmer

The latest SeekATL visit this past Saturday was held at Brian Dettmer’s studio and house in Doraville. Some of those in attendance suggested that while having a studio in house offers a more personalized view of his/her lifestyle, that glimpse isn’t usually relevant to the work and could serve to distract. I enjoy being in areas that I would otherwise never visit, and don’t expect the space to define the artist’s production. Dettmer’s neighborhood just north of the city is dotted with circa 1960s mid century modern ranches and his narrow, light filled studio/entry room reminded me of my own studio, once a back porch.

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, 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.

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Summer Salon at Get This Gallery!

This past Saturday I stopped in at two galleries that have been going strong in Atlanta since after I left town in the late 90s; Get This! and Saltworks next door.  Saltworks is relocating. The director Brian Holcombe told me he may evolve more of their focus on art fairs and with an online presence. I didn’t take any photos there, but visit the site for more information.

The last day for the Summer Salon group show was featured at Get This!, with six artists’ work on three walls. Lloyd Benjamin was in house to describe one of his visions for the exhibit – to have a view of the smallish works within the gallery space from one vantage point.

Benjamin noted certain parallels in placing say, Atlanta based artist Gyun Hur’s reworked striped found photographs, next to Andy Moon’s densely patterned pieces and mandalas – both have Korean influences. The stripes in Hur’s case may reference her mother’s traditional wedding blanket, noted in her prior installations.

Gyun Hur. Untitled (Diptych). 2010, acrylic on found paper, 20 x 11 inches.

Andy Moon. Untitled. 2010, mixed media on paper, 10 x 10 inches.

Moon has been a professional textile designer and cites the abstract symbolist painter Simon Gouverneur (1934-1990) as an influence.

Many of the works on paper were tacked to the wall, without frames. The lack of mounting did not detract from the thoughtfulness and delicacy of the work that lingered long after my time there. Often, group shows with a surfeit of work allow for little breathing room, but this small exhibit succeeds brilliantly by limiting the space and the number of pieces; the jewel like watercolors, pen and inks and gouaches hold their own.

Dawn Black. Back From the Market. 2012, gouache, watercolor and ink on paper, 19 x 14.25 inches.

Dawn Black. Look What We Found. 2012, gouache, watercolor and ink on paper, 13 x 18 inches.

A few works reminded me of a more surrealist Ben Shahn or Saul Steinberg. In the same tradition of political satire, some of these artists seem to be making a subtle (or not so subtle) point about feminism, society and materialism.

Jill Storthz. Glass Palace. 2007, ink and colored pencil on paper, 22 x 24 inches.

Jill Storthz. Lantern. 2010, ink and colored pencil on paper, 14 x 17 inches.

Harrison Keys. Untitled. 2012, watercolor, pen and pencil on paper, 7 x 10 inches.


As a former printmaker, the standouts for me were the musician and artist Rick Froberg’s black and white etchings. The linework in his Cockroach, Rat, and Scorpion is slightly reminiscent of Arthur Rackham or Don Marquis’s Archy and Mehitabel comic strip. However, Froberg’s etchings offer more acerbic commentary, closer to Daumier or Goya in its darkness and sardonic humor.

Rick Froberg. Cockroach,  Rat and Scorpion. 1996, etching, 8.75 x 10.5 inches

Rick Froberg. Untitled. 1996, etching, 8.5 x 10.5 inches

Rick Froberg. Untitled. 1995, etching. (sold)

In contrast to shows that might remind one of Sharon Butler’s article last summer in the Brooklyn Rail in which she discusses the ‘New Casualists’, these artists seem to be going in the opposite direction of abstraction; that of deliberately intricate pattern and constructed symbolism. Whether drawn from personal experience and mythology, or from politically charged ideologies, the work is expressive and detailed.

Get This! features the San Francisco based artist Ben Venom in an opening this coming Saturday, August 25th, his first solo exhibit at the gallery:

“Ben Venom’s practice is one of extreme juxtaposition. The Atlanta native combines the unexpected tradition of handmade crafts and the historical art of quilting with a musical genre that has a rich history in its own right, Heavy Metal.”


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Interview with Ryan Coleman

I visited Ryan’s airy studio near Atlantic Station at the end of July. His spends all day painting, arriving around nine in the morning and leaving at five-ish. After spending over eight years as an assistant to Jeff Koons, I’m not surprised at his discipline. Even more impressive, the day I made the appointment to visit was his birthday.

We chatted while I took photos of his studio and work, and he sent me his own photos to round out the interview. I coveted a few of his prized books – one on Cy Twombly and a present from his wife, Vitamin P2, a book of new contemporary painting published by Phaidon. Coleman grew up with creative parents; his dad Steve Coleman worked for Disney in LA and his mother has worked in interior design.

In his statement Coleman notes that a diverse set of elements informs his work; cartoons, historical references to art, graffiti – and many of these are evident in the postcards and clippings tacked to a wall in the studio.

After eight years in Brooklyn, Coleman moved back with his wife to Atlanta in 2011 and has been showing at various galleries around the city. He shows at Pryor Fine Art and was recently in a group exhibit at Poem88.

The following interview is compiled from questions written before the visit, my notes during our meeting and from Ryan’s thoughtful written responses.

VW What led you to become a painter?

RC  I’ve always been creative as long as I can remember, and it was encouraged from both sides of my family. My mom was an interior designer, and my dad a cartoonist (both are semi-retired). Though separated when I was young, I was exposed and greatly influenced by both of their creativity. My mom always encouraged being creative because she was so much herself, finding unique ways to decorate our home, and working on projects constantly.

My dad inked a comic strip when I was young, and I would watch him work, and was fascinated by the sharp, crisp line he would make with a brush and ink.

He was also extremely passionate about animation and had tons of animation books lying around. So art was always there, but it wasn’t really until high school where I knew I wanted to be a painter from then on out.

VW  Can you describe how NY or Atlanta has influenced your work? Talk a little about working in Brooklyn and your time as an assistant to Jeff Koons. Your work is so different in that you’re an actual painter and not doing conceptual work.

RC  I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida where I attended Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, a magnet school. In 1996 I was accepted into the Atlanta College of Art, and coming to Atlanta from Jacksonville was extremely exciting for me at the time. There was a great arts scene going on. Atlanta for me was really a jumping point, and an introduction to the greater art world. My junior year at ACA, I was accepted into a studio program called the New York Residency Program, and went to live in NYC for a semester in 1999.

This changed and matured me in so many ways, and I knew immediately that I needed/wanted to move to New York City. You hear it all the time, but there really is nowhere else in the world like it, especially for art. The museums, the galleries, the city itself, is massive and bursting with energy. It affects you big time. I came back to Atlanta, finished up my BFA, freelanced briefly doing animation for Cartoon Network and had my mind set on moving to New York.

Untitled (Surprised by Joy), oil on paper, 22×30″, 2012

The opportunity came shortly after my good friend, Todd Wahnish, asked if I wanted to move with him, and I excitedly took it (this was 2003). For the next 8 1/2 years, I immersed myself in the city; going to shows, making art, and working full time as an assistant to Jeff Koons. This was one of those life changing experiences – working with a wonderful and talented group of people, and being part of something so large and exciting. Seeing and experiencing how an artist on that scale operates was amazing. It entailed a lot of problem solving and working as a collective to execute Jeff’s vision.

You’re mostly focusing on the production of the material and paying extreme attention to detail, with 100 or so other people with similar interests. The drawback of working full-time anywhere is the amount of time you sacrifice on your own work, and between that and going out, it leaves a small window of time to produce your own work.

Untitled, (detail) oil on paper, 22×30″, 2012

In early 2011, my wife and I decided to move back to Atlanta to take a bit of a break from the city and focus on our own thing. Fortunately, I’ve been able to devote most of my schedule to my own work, and I’m excited to participate in the art scene here. That was a very long answer to a short question… Both have had positive influences on me and my art, in different ways.

 on the right – Untitled (Jungle), oil on canvas 40×48″, 2012.

VW Describe your daily painting/working routine and what inspires your paintings? Do you make sketches or draw on a regular basis?

RC  To sum up the things that inspire me in painting are: art history, evoking a mood or emotion in the work, and elements of cartoons and graffiti art. I’m equally fascinated with the illusion of depth and narrative you’ll find in pre-Modernist painting, the immediacy and impact you find in Abstract Expressionism, and the color and pop of animation and street art. My overall mission as a painter has been to portray a little of each in my work. I’m also inspired by the sublime and optimism. I do make sketches and draw on a regular basis.

Detail from Untitled, oil on canvas 40×48″, 2012.

VW  I see a little Pat Steir in some of the larger pieces and a sort of Japanese calligraphy in the smaller works on paper. The dynamic and motion in the work almost reminds me of cell animation, an abstraction of movement. Can you talk about the context of your work and any ideologies you may have as an artist?

RC  I think the context is trying to incorporate an acknowledgement of where painting has been, where it has come from, and where it is now. I tend to lean toward abstraction and obscuring the subject matter or imagery into something which contains a shroud of mystery. I’m drawn to work that has a bit of this mystery in it, and one artist in particular who comes to mind in regard to this is J.M.W. Turner. I saw an exhibition of his a few years ago at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and was deeply moved by his paintings. I was also struck by the size and commanding presence they emit, and that they teeter between abstraction and representation.

Untitled (Heaven & Earth), oil on canvas, 40×48″, 2012

VW Which artists have had the most influence on your work? And are there current painters whose work excites you?

RC  Very much so… I’ll try and keep this short (the list is long): Leonardo da Vinci, Peter Paul Reubens, Corot, Monet, Picasso, John Singer Sargent, Cy Twombly, Robert Rauschenberg, Jean-Michel Basquiat, James Turrell, Vernon Grant, Cecily Brown, Inka Essenhigh, Takashi Murakami, Os Gemeos, Kristine Moran.

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?

RC  I enjoy both the privacy of working in my own studio, and networking and socializing with other artists. For me it goes hand in hand.

Phoenix, oil on paper 22×30″, 2012.

VW  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. Have you explored some of these or other alternative ways to either exhibit or sell your work?

RC  Yes. It’s amazing how these days you can share your work with someone half way around the world in real time. I’ve done commissions and sold work both domestically and internationally – all through online communication. It’s a real thrill to get an e-mail from someone that you’ve never met who’s interested or moved by your work.

VW  This next question may dovetail with the previous one; are you able to make a living solely from your painting, or do you work a ‘day’ job?

RC  I have several avenues I utilize to make a living with my work, with some being more glamorous than others. I feel extremely fortunate though, to be able to work in my studio full-time. Of course, the best is when a work sells for what it is, it’s really an amazing feeling. I’ve done portraits, unique commissions/installations, and am about to begin work on two very large graffiti-styled backdrops for a private event. I’ve also been developing an online shop for my more illustrative/cartoony work, which I hope to launch soon.

VW  Any immediate plans for exhibits and/or the next series of work?

RC  I just participated in group shows at Poem88 & Pryor, and an event at Site95 in Brooklyn, NY. I’m currently working on a new body of work which I’ll be posting on my website and blog soon. I’m looking to expand showing opportunities locally and beyond!


You can view Ryan Coleman’s work online at his website, follow him on Twitter and Tumblr.


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Serenbe, an eco-development

Took an interesting road trip this past Saturday with my sister, Gina, to Serenbe, a planned community about an hour south of Atlanta near Palmetto. It looked like an easy drive, until we missed the very first exit on the directions. Ending up in Newnan, it was a bit of a backtrack from overshooting the route – but we finally found the compound, thanks to phone directions from the Hill’s desk person.

Steve Nygren, a local entrepreneur who made his fame and fortune with the Pleasant Peasant restaurant chain, is the visionary behind Serenbe. He and his wife bought the first 60 acres in 1991 and have developed with a focus on environmentally sound practices and the preservation of 70% green space while they added 40,000 more acres over the years. A good history of their work and the resulting Chattahoochee Hill Country Community Plan can be found here and the master plan concepts here.

I wanted to see the community and Gina needed corn from the organic farmers market – produce from Serenbe Farms. We made it just before it closed at noon.

Steve Nygren was walking towards us while we hit the Farmers Market.

Next on our list was lunch at The Hill restaurant. One pizza, one flatbread w/smoked salmon & fresh greens. Fresh blueberry pie for dessert.

Gina with her crispy pizza.

We ended up having a nice chat with Nygren at lunch. He was kind enough to draw directions back to Atlanta on our paper tablecloth.

The entire village is friendly and has an upscale eclectic feel in its design and layout – reminiscent of some small towns in southeastern PA, where I last lived near Philly. A recycled door to townhouses or condominiums could just as easily be found in the Westside arts district of Atlanta.

Atlanta’s own supreme garden designer and philosopher, expert on old flowers and passionate visionary for all things green, Ryan Gainey, worked on the landscaping for the community and has been retained as the horticultural advisor.

Cottage-y looking certified Earthcraft houses with no front lawns allowed! No noisy lawnmowers or leafblowers = fewer emissions. Water comes from the city of Atlanta and while there is plenty of landscaping, much of it is geared towards low maintenance.

I hadn’t expected the  zero-energy Bosch house to be so designer focused, but it was lovely to tour. I readily admit to a lack of interest in decorative accents, so you can review Southern Hospitality’s wonderful blog post for the look.

Equipped with a geothermal heat pump, solar panels on the roof, an electric heat pump water heater and Toto toilets and sinks, Bosch’s first zero-energy house in the US  is just that: highly energy efficient and designed to sell back excess energy to GA Power.  An AJC journalist recently produced a good article about geothermal energy and the house. Hardwood floors look like reclaimed wood, but come from managed forest resources and certified by the Forest Stewardship  Council.

I was taken with the Bosch smaller footprint washer/dryer and their accompanying enclosure. And that drying rack, set in the wall next to the appliances, is a marvel of old fashioned design. I want one.

We missed touring the HGTV Green Home, but you can read about it here.

This video shows Nygren talking about Serenbe and some shots of the community. A Flickr set shows more downtown architecture and some of the surrounding land.

And Terry Kearns has another fantastic architectural overview and video of Steve Nygren’s ‘Artist Talk’ at his blog, Architecture Tourist, here.

Finally, the New York Times has a great write-up from 2009 here. Well worth the drive, don’t miss the exit for South Fulton Parkway just past the Atlanta airport!


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