Sunday, December 30, 2007

Max Schumann

Untitled (Bay Watch), 2005, acrylic on cardboard, 15" x 13"

Untitled (Terror Watch), 2005, acrylic on cardboard, 8" x 15"

Untitled (The Tough New Spirit of Dodge), 2005, acrylic on cardboard,
48" x
All images courtesy of the Artist and Taxter & Spengemann, New York.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Wendy White

High Roller, 2003, acrylic on canvas, 12" x 12"

While Wendy’s work has evolved significantly since the paintings from 2002-2003, they have the same directness and playfulness that exists in her other more object-oriented works. High Roller is an especially appropriate lead-in to works like Hi-fibre of 2007 where she begins to use a more distinct, pared down method of paint application and presentation.

In response to the recent show at the New Museum, I thought it would be nice to discuss it with an artist whose work could be seen in a related vein. Check her website for more images. See below for a recent email interview...

JL: In light of the “Unmonumental” show at the New Museum, I was wondering if we could start by talking a bit about their conception of sculpture today…they seem to see assemblage as a new and radical technique in sculpture...would you agree with that assessment? Isn't there something else going on in many of these works?

WW: Well, I guess the big question is whether that kind of sculpture is over now. The sad thing is that once there’s a big museum show, it’s kind of over. The heavy-hitters have been identified, and their successors have been named. For me, Lambie is miscast in this exhibition while Genzken & Harrison are the ringleaders and Matthew Monahan is the standout.

JL: I can see marking Genzken and Harrison as the headliners, but just as with Jim Lambie, I’m not sure that the rest are a cohesive group of artists with similar interests.

WW: Not just headliners, but the real ringleaders of this kind of work. But I agree with you. The curators seem to be saying that assemblage best represents the zany world we live in now. But how is Monahan or Lambie "unmonumental?" They seem to be saying it's just by choice of non-art materials and a lack of precious craftsmanship. Doesn't really add up unless you evaluate the work solely on aesthetics. With Genzken you really see a manic what-the-fuck-is-going-on-with-the-world urgency - but with the others? Nothing all that political or anything acting as social commentary stood out to me. It's all art about art. Not that that’s bad.

JL: There also seems to be a fixation with placing works away from the wall, as if to define it as “Sculpture” in the most academic sense. Are they insinuating that a dominant characteristic of current sculpture is that they are to be seen in the round?

WW: I'm not sure why everything is just on the floor. I thought it made the space seem really cramped and tough to get your bearings in. Maybe they think sculpture viewed in the round that doesn't fit the "sculpture/pedestal" stereotype is more "unmonumental" than anything that might need the wall for support. Or maybe they didn’t want to mess up the new drywall.

JL: Yeah, while I can see how the tight placement supports the thesis of the unmonumental as a group, the survey aspect is compromised. I thought Nate Lowman and Urs Fischer added an element of humor that is otherwise lacking, but I would have liked to see them with a little more space. Is this arrangement at all detrimental to the work itself?

WW: I thought the show was over installed and that some of the best work suffers because of it. The one cool thing is that having so much big sculpture in the galleries forces you to walk in and out of it, seeing it from all the angles.

Smatter, 2002, acrylic on canvas, 12" x 12"

JL: As an artist who works with found images in various adaptations, could you talk a little about your process of choosing these elements? Has the introduction of 'non-art’ materials allowed you to do or say something that might have been limited in painting?

WW: For me, using found stuff - images, objects, etc (which I'm not doing so much anymore except for sporting equipment) - adds a synthetic/consumerist element or variable. It's like, here's my world of marks and squishes and drags, and here's how a manufactured object adds to it’s story, or steals from it, depending on the imposed context. They're like mirrors. Of course it’s more specific than that, but that’s the basic idea.

JL: What role did your older works play in getting you where you are would you describe you're movement into and away from the use of sculptural/combined parts throughout the years?

WW: These are all from 2002-2003. I was in grad school at Rutgers. I had waited 10 years since undergrad to go back to school, and during that time I did mostly sculpture and installation. I started trying to paint seriously around 1998 and had my first show of paintings in 2000. In these paintings I'm still finding out how attached to images I am. It turned out that I was hanging onto representation mainly because of my three-dimensional work - because of an objectness and physicality that I felt I couldn’t achieve in painting. But the interest in images themselves was waning. I knew how to use metaphors and was getting bored with them, and the nuances of abstract painting had begun to fascinate me. I wanted to combine marks, splotches, and sprays in a sculptural way - to make constructed paintings that didn't rely on imagery. To me it's a much more visceral and unexpected way to work.

So these are the last few paintings that have remnants of images -- a face, a pile of wood. They are kind of sad to me, with their eyes peering out. It’s like they're saying "don't you need me anymore?" And I’m scratching them out and saying, “No!”

JL: Did your interest lie in disrupting the interaction between painting and sculpture, floor and wall, or is it more about the authenticity of what is presented?

WW: I make sculpture to remind myself of the physicality of paint, it's weight and gravity, and it’s ability to function as a construction material. Though I use both the wall and floor I’ve never really been obsessed with the authenticity of either discipline. In 2004-5 I made a lot of assemblages that were pedestals with or without "sculptures" on top. In many of them the pedestal was the sculpture. I also made wall sculptures that were essentially paintings with three-dimensional accoutrements. I guess those could be considered disruptions, but I’ve never really acknowledged any rules so it just seems natural.

Split Track, 2002, acrylic on canvas, 30" x 30"

JL: For me, looking at the two works from 2002, there is lingering sense that they are somewhat “finished” or “complete”. By contrast, the new works have an awkward and elusive presence, but they are also playful…

WW: Do you think it's the "imagery" in the 2002 paintings that makes them seem more complete? I think there's an incompleteness to abstract paintings when they're free from the grid or another kind of imposed structure. I felt that giving up images was also giving up the need to finish things, at least in any sort of traditional or learned way. The paintings I like best now are the ones that clearly defy any sense of ordinary completeness or follow-through. They are open sentences rather than quotations.

JL: In the new works, you have created a friction between the idea of the precious art object and the easily replaceable sports equipment. Is this simply a result of your paring down the use of preexisting images/materials? How have they then departed from their original intent?

Hi-Fibre, 2007, acrylic and spray paint on two canvases, metal, foam
104 x 40 ½ inches

WW: There's an inherent juxtaposition between something that you make with your hands and something that you buy pre-made, and you can see it a mile away. I don't see either my paintings or the sports equipment as precious. I use acrylics and spray paints rather than oils. I've never wanted to be bogged down by archival longevity, plus it would be so hypocritical considering my interests. But yes, I've definitely pared down in the last couple years. I found a combination that feels right without having to make a lot of versions with different materials playing the same role.

I think whenever you combine objects that have preexisting connotations, you impose a new context - even if the individual language of each element is really strong. I hope that when people look at my new work, they associate the energy of an athletic event - the kind that is secretly so rewarding but is impossible to describe to anyone - with the energy exerted during the creative process… the physicality is represented three-dimensionally, yet it’s static, and the intellectual energy of painting is in constant flux.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Liz Linden

Untitled, 2002

Lost Time, 2005, Digital C Print, Ink and Pencil, 29" x 26"

Struck by a note that she once found on the street that read in part, “MUST TAKE MEDS”, Liz began collecting other discarded items that seemed of significance for the previous owner. A working smoke detector, matches with a phone number, a parking ticket, and other items were then placed in a box of her own making and it became Untitled, 2002.

In the more recent piece from 2005, Lost Time, she calculated the amount of time that she wasted in the months prior to an exhibition. Time spent doing anything ‘non-productive’ was converted to a pie chart, each day’s result replacing their respective dates on the calendar.

Liz continues to explore various aspects of reclamation and documentation, using neon, found photographs, text and numerous other modes. You can see these works at the Buia Gallery.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Matthew Fisher

By the Bay, 2003, acrylic on linen, 14" x 12"

In Matthew’s first series, he worked solely with the bewildered and curious Neanderthal. He often planted a lone caveman wanderer within an honest homage to 19th and 20th Century American landscape painting.

Matthew's current subject is the soldier. They are the more complex, yet equally ambiguous sons of the early man. Reverse Migration is an early example; check others out here. See below an interview with Matthew...

JL: Can you talk a little about what came before the caveman?

MF: The basis of my work from the last six years has been "historical". Before the caveman, I was using images from old newspapers and books. I would make sure that I would not leave the picture's caption so that the true "story" of the picture was lost. Not knowing my pop culture history, I finished a painting once and showed to a friend, "Oh, James Bond". I had no idea.

JL: So, how did you stumble upon the caveman and decided to pursue it...why you seemed to have sort of paused with a specific theme for the first time?

MF: I can't remember why I started painting the cavemen. Thinking back, perhaps it was for the same reason I started painting the soldiers. Both series were inspired by used books I bought after work on my way to the 59th Street subway station back in 2002. The used bookstore on 59th St. has a large table outside its front entrance. Each week they have different genre of book for sale: Cook, Art, Music, etc. One day I walked by and it was Science Books. Flipping through I found one that was about early man and purchased it.

JL: So you might say that the initial attraction was purely esthetic? What made you continue to paint them? Was there any attraction to the fact that were not pop or mass-produced culture image like James Bond? I mean, it's not often that you pick up a magazine or newspaper and see a picture of a caveman, or a Napoleonic soldier for that matter. These figures are historical and heroic, but also exotic and mysterious. Is this what you mean by escaping “cultural baggage”?

MF: The caveman attraction could of been purely esthetic. I thought they looked interesting and I felt that I could make them do things that would create an exciting narrative. That's the same reason I was pulled towards the soldiers. An image that is strange but not too strange.

There are a few reasons why I stopped with the caveman. One night, someone asked me if the paintings where "pre-man" or "post-man". That blew my mind to the point I was unable to think about the work the same again. I made one more caveman painting after that. It had a crushed beer can in it to give the painting a post-man read. I was also tired of naked hairy, and finally, America went to war and I wanted to use subject matter that spoke of this horror without being in your face. So I went from cultural baggage to historical baggage.

JL: What were some of the other things that you were looking at as sources? Were there direct appropriations from theses sources or more subjective interpretations?

MF: The landscapes that I surround the cavemen in were lifted from the paintings I was handling at an American Art gallery on 57th Street. I studied these paintings up close and became familiar with how they handled paint: Homer, Heade, Bierstadt, and all of the other thousands of lesser known artist from the past. The two plus years I spent there further my art knowledge of that period in a way that no classroom could provide. The cavemen was a way for me to get past the culture baggage of the images.

JL: And the soldiers?

MF: Like the caveman, one day I walked past the bookstore and they had "Military Pamphlets" for sale. Within the pile there was a few that featured Napoleonic soldiers. Their uniforms where funny and ridiculously over-the-top so I bought them. The pamphlets sat in the studio for several months before I used them and started my current body of work.

JL: I'm curious about your attraction to American painting… because this is certainly not the most popular genre that a contemporary artist would find themselves attracted to…were you ever self-conscious about how the re-use of these precedents might appear? What role does irony or criticism play? Are they really an "honest homage" as I say in the introduction?

MF: My use of American painting was an honest homage. Several of my friends can go on for hours and hours about the great painters of Europe, and for me, I like that work, but it's a little boring. I am more interested in the bastardizing of those great painters by the earlier Americans. I like the idea too that I am American and am pulling from our country's history. But the main thing that excites me about this time period is the great weight of sadness that the work has in it. This landscape, so pure and lush, so beautiful, will in less then 100 years be torn up, divided up, and a Civil War will tear apart the country. It's just one of the most fascinating time periods. It's before the mass use of photography so all we have are paintings to tell the story.

Caveman (Finger), ca. 2003, watercolor on paper, 5" x 6"

JL: Some might assume that the sole man refers to yourself…Do you find that you began to deal with autobiographical issues? The absence of women also suggests an autobiographical element. Why no cave-woman?

MF: Ah the women question. Honestly, I have trouble painting women. Maybe I get too excited; I painted one this year and she looked like me. I really want to paint nude women. There's such a long history of that. I have done a few nude males, so I think it would be OK.

JL: To what degree does your everyday life enter into these works?

MF: Everyday is a strong part of my work. I feel that as an artist, the most important thing I do is look. I want my paintings to reference the real world. I have dozens of books in the studio that help me paint plants, animals, oceans, or landscapes with the most detail I can. Autobiographical issues have to be in the work (especially the earlier soldier works), but now they are buried. Now it's more about this great photo of a stone fence I found. I should use that in a painting.

JL: In general, how do you go about incorporating the relationship between everyday interests (art, music, movies, lit. etc.) and your created, fictional world? Like a Bierstadt landscape, your work is kind of idyllic pastiche where the various elements take on a symbolic character. Are there specific examples where you take directly from real life? How do these appear in translation on the canvas?

MF: I want to bring together elements that make a good painting. It's formal. I am no longer as interested in the American landscape as I was. Now it's about finding interesting pictures. This creates European soldiers in front of the Rocky Mountains, next to a flower that grows in South China, with a mushroom that is native to North America, behind a sky that was outside my window that day. It's a total mash up. The overall visual image needs to be as strong as I can make. The painting in the studio now has a mountain range from Chile in it.

JL: Am I correct that you also began exploring drawing simultaneous with the caveman? How have your drawings developed from the caveman to the soldier? What role does drawing play in you work in general?

MF: Drawing was not important to me for many years. It was something I could do at work so there are a few caveman drawings. I started it again when Shelley Spector asked me if I want to me in show in 2003. Drawing now is like an advance study for a painting. This year I have made only four or five drawings that are successful. I have yet to make a painting out of anyone of them. I love the magic of drawing, how one line can create space, how rubbing the pencil on one side of the line forms space, it's just so simple and the trace of the artists hand is right there, not hiding behind paint, glazes, or brush.

JL: Can you talk a little about figuration in contemporary painting and how it informed your work (if at all)? Were there painters that your were looking at that might have helped to steer yourself into more detailed, dimensional figuration?

MF: Holly Coulis and Ridley Howard are very important to me. Earlier on, I felt I was somewhere in between them, a little subject matter from Coulis, a little styling from Howard. I enjoy looking at our work now, years down the line and seeing how far we have all grown from that point. Rob Matthews is the other artist whose work is saying what I want to. It's more autobiographical then mine, but there is a strong narrative, one that is odd but not strange. The use of everyday is the work and how Rob goes about the business of drawing is so unique and exciting. I like to think in the end, it's the image that is most important to Rob. It carries the story. The act of drawing is an excuse to make the image. I see Jim Nutt as the same way. You can certainly get lost in the great skill he has, but it's the image that keeps you in front of his painting.

Other current painters that excite me are Brian Calvin, how he uses the figure as an abstract element to tell a story, a story that he might know the beginning or the end, but he nails the middle. Peter Doig for his use of the figure and landscape and how he paints. Alex Katz and Neil Welliver's paintings from the 60's and 70's how that this work is 'no excuses painting' Here is what I paint, don't like it? Find another painter.

When I am in galleries today, I fell a bit of an outsider. I don't see many artists who are addressing similar issues or painting like I do. Artists such as James Benjamin Franklin and Robyn O'Neil are a few more who do that. I want interesting images, no matter how they are painted: Chris Vasell, Donald Baechler, Carrie Gundersdorf, James Seina, all make me excited to paint when their approach is as far from mine as can be.

Oddly, there's a current trend of sculpture that is closer to what I want out of paintings. Johnston Foster, Daphne Fitzpatrick, Aaron Spangler, Mike Hein, Lawrence Seward all have the type of narrative and strangeness that is very hard for me to find in contemporary painting.

Reverse Migration, 2003, acrylic on linen, 14" x 22"

JL: You have now been working with the soldier for a few years… What have you been able to do with them that you may not have been able to do with the caveman? What's next?

MF: The soldiers have more of a universal appeal. They are not limited by their intelligence like the caveman. I found with the caveman, certain poses or props I placed with them, the work became too much about evolution, something I was uninterested in. With the soldiers, I don't seem to have problems like that. As far as what is next? Everyone asks that. Right now, I don't think there is a next. Rather, I want to add another body of work to these paintings. I don't think I have to close up the soldier shop, I have worked too long and hard and they are finally getting interesting. If it were nude women, that would add a lot to the soldier paintings. Only time will tell.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Patrick Brennan

Pinky, 2004, 12" x 12"

Abstract Tree, 2003, 36" x 40"

I'm into Patrick's seemingly nonchalant approach to painting and his tendency t0 experiment with materials, form, and color. He is now working on large washes made from moving the work from the floor to the wall and more complex, layered compositions. He lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. Take a look at his new work here.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Aaron Steffes

Untitled (coffee cup), 2005

Mutated Turpenoid, 2004, oil and acrylic on board, 24" x 24"

Untitled, 2004, oil and acrylic on board, 24" x 24"

In and around 2004, Aaron was doing both narrative and experimental videos. He also created a body of paintings which featured pseudo-realistic distortions, pairing various objects that he found close at hand. He currently lives and works in Chicago, IL and is working on new video projects and drawings of popular fiction authors.