RAUL DE NIEVES

Among a menagerie of rainbow-hued, glittering, plastic beaded life-sized figures, standing like a proud father overlooking his artistic creations, the charmingly unique Raúl de Nieves shares his artistic rituals with us in his cathedral of creations.

Photography by Tiffany Nicholson | Interview by Mariana Valdes Debes

Blending the lines between the human and the artificial, Raúl de Nieves’ instantly recognizable shoes, masks, and humanoid figures are at once fantastical, desirous art pieces, yet remain relatable and human. Located in the heart of Bushwick, Brooklyn, NY, de Nieves has created a studio filled with beads, fringe, ephemera, and anthropomorphized beings who appear to dance and interact with each other.and it is within that studio where we met the artist and sat down to discuss his art and unique perspective.

Born in Michoacan, Mexico, immigrating to the United States at the age of nine to California, and following the winding path to New York City, Raúl has made a name for himself and cut a swatch of color through the country. In our current state of political turmoil, climate change, and war, it is a breath of fresh air to see the talent that emanates from each piece of art that de Nieves creates as well as from the artist himself.

Here, Mariana Valdes Debes, an international art promoter of Mexican artists, sits in conversation with Raúl for Iris Covet Book.

Hello Raúl!

Hi Mariana, it’s nice to talk to you.

Nice to talk to you as well, I think your work is amazing! I want to start from the beginning and ask how growing up in Michoacan, Mexico influenced your decision to enter into the world of art?

Growing up in Mexico, especially in Michoacan, was really enriching through the different cultures, craftsmen, and artisans. My family was always really pushing for us to see what Mexico had to offer. I remember seeing artisans working in their community, and I came to the United States with that knowledge and those memories. I’m not trying to emulate what I saw, but I am creating these narratives through performances and storytelling, painting, installation, and at the end it’s about creating experiences for yourself and for others to be part of.

Your exhibition last summer “El Rio” was an analysis of the western cultural view of death and the antithetical idea of death as an “ecstatic mystery of life” – how did that concept come to fruition?

I’ve experienced a lot of death in my family, with my friends, and it’s something that we all have to face at one point. My father passed away when I was very young, and it helped me understand that it’s a part of life. Obviously we mourn when someone passes away, but how do we continue to celebrate their lives and what does that mean? To understand that they are not physically here, but emotionally they are closer to me now than ever. Having a really close family member pass away is one of the scariest things, yet it’s also like becoming closer to that person. It’s something that I had to experience and move past.

The majority of your body of work is comprised of fantastical humanoid creatures made of glued beads and other miscellaneous non-traditional material— how did the decision of using these materials come about?

The bead has been utilized by many cultures, but somehow we forget that it’s this beautiful little piece of material that can transform in so many different ways. I went to New Orleans during Mardi Gras and came back with a suitcase full of beads. From then on it just made a lot of sense. All of a sudden they just started to appear more and more in my life.

Well the beaded shoes you created in your earlier work are really just to die for. Every time I see them I just wonder what it feels like to wear them.

They are actually really uncomfortable. I think that’s the best part about it—they are beautiful objects of desire, but when you actually put them on they hurt. When I wear these objects in my performances, it becomes part of this struggle to portray myself as this specific character. I don’t know, it’s kind of magical. Sometimes we want these beautiful objects, but they are obviously not the most practical things we should long for, but we still do.

In an interview with MoMA, you stated that one sculpture, Day(Ves) of Wonder, took you seven years to complete but you never gave up on it. How does the process of creating each labor-intensive sculpture strengthen or teach you as an artist, and do you think that the number of years changed the idea behind the piece over time?

The work is made completely of beads and was a very complicated piece to build. I started to make these huge sculptures and was fantasizing about what it would be like to create a full, life-size figure out of beads. It took me so long because there was a lot of trial and error. The piece spoke back to me and taught me that every time I felt like I was failing, there was a possibility that it could continue to work as long as I had the ability to go forward. Till this day, it’s one of my favorite works. Day(Ves) of Wonder derives from my mom’s daycare called “Days of Wonder”, and I was thinking how interesting it is for my mom to have these small periods of time with these kids as they grow up. I think this piece had this same idea of learning from each experience. I don’t know when I’ll have another moment to work on something for that long, or if I need to, but it really gave me so much understanding to know that every time I went back and started working on the piece, it was teaching me something in return. Maybe that’s why that piece is so celebrated, because people feel that energy within its expression and within its movement.

You never gave up and you went through stages creating the piece, becoming a master of the process.

Yeah, exactly! There’s beauty in creating this object that doesn’t have a moving life or a soul. Through our emotions and the experiences that we project into these objects, the energy that resonates with the viewer creates the idea of a life behind it. To me, the sculpture is of a seven year-old child because of the time that I spent with it and how I saw myself growing. It was an ambitious task to take on and I don’t want to reproduce another one because this piece lives on to be a celebration of an experience and a time. I still question what that piece actually continues to mean to me. That’s the beauty of art, you can work on something forever. As humans we’re constantly doing that; we’re always working on who we are and trying to figure out what it means to be human.

That brings me to my other question. Surrounded by these figures every day, do they develop personalities and life stories of their own as you become attached to them?

Yeah, of course! It’s amazing to build each piece with its own identity, and this identity can be processed through the relationship of the other works next to one another. I like to believe that we live in a fantasy world and we should give ourselves some freedom; life doesn’t necessarily always have to be so concrete. As children, we get this beautiful time of our life to dream and imagine, and then we get to a certain age and give up on that. I constantly imagine myself to be this fantastical person, even if it’s just for a moment.

The performance aspect of my work allows me to tap into these roles that I can’t necessarily inhabit on an everyday  basis. It’s a great gift to be able to perform these silly experiences or cathartic moments through these characters, and there’s comfort in putting on a mask and allowing yourself to not really be seen as human, but to be something fantastical. Having this ability to tap out is really cool and I think that’s why a lot of cultures use costumes and perform these beautiful dances, plays, and fables to tap out.

I want to ask about your use of vibrant colors. How did your very maximal use of colors develop over time?

Colors can create very emotional experiences, and I guess that’s why I tend to use so many bright hues of colors. I’m trying to learn how to really control what the color can do, what it means, and what it can put out into the world. In a way, color is like language, it allows for people to feel a certain way. The simplicity of these tools that we already have and putting them into artwork is not necessarily about following rules but following common sense and what feels natural.

Like just going toward the aesthetic of it, the feeling and the emotion that comes through the first time.

Yeah, for awhile my least favorite color was red, so for a year I only wore red to understand why. I had so many different experiences with strangers asking me why I was wearing all red. People would come up to me and try to tell me what they felt red meant to them. It was really interesting to do this exercise for a year, but I’ll probably never do it again.

Well that must have felt like a performance. Yeah, exactly. I wasn’t really intentionally trying to make it a performance, but it was a very interesting exercise. As a Mexican-American artist, how do you feel about the political climate in both countries? Do the current political events inspire or influence your work?

The current President having these views towards Mexico is very archaic. But I realize it’s been happening since the beginning of time, as hard as it is to believe. I try not to be too political about it, because I know it’s not just the United States versus Mexico; it’s the world against one another. When will it end? Who knows? You would think by now we could unite and make this place even better than it is. We are made of the same matter; we need to understand that we will be stronger together. The idea of immigration is beautiful. It has allowed me to believe in acceptance for all. It is beautiful to know that you can somehow be who you are and be accepted and be part of a new nation. That idea has influenced a lot of my work. Everyone has a different experience with immigrating, and in the end I am thankful that I was accepted into a new culture, and that maybe I can influence more people to believe that this is a positive possibility.

A quick scroll through your Instagram reveals an interest in religion and historical references. Where does this interest come from?

Well, I’m a spiritual person. I have a lot of faith, and not just in history or the idea of religion. I like feeling that there is a higher power, or that perhaps believing is what creates a higher power. For me, spirituality is a way of life and it helps to ground myself and cope with all of these catastrophes happening around us.

What do you view as your biggest personal accomplishment to date and why?

Self-acceptance. I’ve been able to really accept myself, and not just myself, but also the people around me. In a way, that’s a huge accomplishment. I think it’s self-love and acceptance that’s made me as open as I am, and as a result I can be my true self.

What can we expect next from you?

I’d like to make art more accessible, to create more experiences that can be accessible not just inside the art world, but also outside. I don’t know whether that means creating public artworks, or if that even changes anything, but I just want to really feel like there is more openness to everything.

And in 10 years?

In 10 years? Maybe I’ll have a dog.

CIRCADIAN LANDSCAPE BY JESSICA ANTOLA

Jessica Antola’s debut monograph is set in contemporary Sub-Saharan Africa and debuts with Damani Books. For the project, Antola traveled mostly by car to capture everyday life in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Senegal, and Ethiopia from 2011 to 2014. Each image reflects the astonishing variety of ways people create and define themselves daily through dress and ritual, work and play.
 
The photographs follow a nonlinear path and trace the variety of ways people live their lives. None of the images were posed; none of the backgrounds were created — there are two men dressed head-to-toe in elaborate African wax textiles who share a motorcycle; a gold jewelry-clad Kumasi king performs a warrior dance; and a girl in an oversized straw hat steers a boat affixed with a patchwork sail. 

Tofinu Girls, Benin 2014

“The Tofinu people of Ganvie built houses on stilts in Lake Nokoué during the 16th and 17th centuries to escape capture by Fon warriors and avoid being sold to European slave traders. This location provided a safe haven for the Tofinu people, who still live here and use boats for transport.”

Lundi and His Shoes, Burkina Faso 2014

“We drove deep into Burkina Faso to visit the Lobi people, ‘the children of the forest.’ Their strong ties to the spirit world were evident from the shrines around their clay homes. Lundi, who was born on a Monday, was wearing an oversized patterned shirt that had been carefully repaired several times. I felt his pride in his clothing and indestructible shoes.”

Brothers at the Mami Wata Festival, Benin 2014

“African and Dutch wax textiles are important to West African history, folklore, tradition, and identity. Numerous times I saw a mother with her children all dressed head to toe in the same print. Bridal dowries often include several symbolic wax fabrics to ensure desirable things for a marriage, such as fertility, prosperity, and love.”

 

 

 

Egungun Child Spirit, Benin 2014

“The Egungun masquerades represent the spirits of the departed Yoruba ancestors, but locals say that they actually are the deceased. During this Egungun ceremony in the Dassa region, spectators immediately collapsed as if they had died when spirits touched them. Moments later, they were resurrected to rejoin the celebration.”

 

African Soil, Ghana 2014

“This photograph was taken on a road in rural Ghana that was under construction by a Chinese company. The earth was being leveled and red dust blanketed the landscape. The first time I visited Kenya, the rich, red soil stained the white soles of my running shoes. I liked carrying this physical reminder of Africa with me once I returned home.”

 

 

 

 

Hamar Woman, Ethiopia 2013

“Around 430 BCE, the Greek historian Herodotus wrote of Libyan women in garments of goat leather with hair “fringed at the edges, and colored with vermilion.” I was reminded of this in the Omo Valley when I saw Hamar women with their hair covered in a mixture of red ocher and ghee wearing beaded goat skins.”

 

Khat Market, Ethiopia 2013

“Ethiopia has dangerous roads and thus sometimes apocalyptic scenery, like overturned cargo trucks with blood on the driver’s seat and bees swarming the crushed produce in the back. The faster the trucks move, the more money the drivers make. Khat, a legal narcotic and major cash crop in Ethiopia, is used heavily by truck drivers and contributes to the carnage.”

Circadian Landscape by Jessica Antola is available for purchase at Damiani Books

A CONVERSATION BETWEEN MARY BOONE AND PETER SAUL

Through her illustrious career, revolutionary gallerist Mary Boone has represented some of the most influential artists of our time. In a rare opportunity, we get to sit in on the conversation between one of America’s best known fine-art painters, artist Peter Saul, and Mary Boone at her gallery located on 5th Avenue in New York City.

Portrait Photography by Dustin Mansyur

From the beginning of her career, Mary Boone made a name for herself as a brash, subversive, enfant terrible of the New York art scene. David Salle, Julian Schnabel, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Barbara Kruger, Francesco Clemente, Jeff Koons, and Ai WeiWei all have been represented by Boone. Early in her career, Boone revitalized the New York art scene by creating exhibitions for young, unorthodox, avant-garde downtown artists and giving them a new platform made up of influential international collectors. Boone’s keen instinct and bold moves revolutionized the art of dealing, making her the first to have waiting lists of collectors vying to purchase works yet to be created. New York magazine once dubbed Boone “The Queen of the Art Scene”, and now over forty years later and with two New York galleries that remain internationally respected, her crown remains firmly in place.

Of the many controversial artists in Mary Boone’s kingdom, Peter Saul, known for his cartoonish lampoon of American political figures and anti-war commentaries, is perhaps one of the leading contenders. Saul’s fantastic representations of American politics painted in his signature psychedelic, hyper-saturated palette, paired with historical influences and intellectual irreverence, have opened the interpretive, and at times controversial, dialogue between politics and pop culture. Educated in Europe in the 1950’s and keeping his art career under theradar through most of his life, Peter Saul found a champion in Mary Boone, who helped him claim his rightful title as one of the top contemporary artists in the US.

In the library of her uptown gallery in New York City, Iris Covet Book captured a conversation between the notoriously pressshy Mary Boone and Peter Saul as they discuss the history of the gallery, the politics of fine art, and painting Donald Trump.

So, Peter, to start from the beginning, you began your career in Europe in ‘56, correct?

Yes, and I started showing here in New York in 1962; it was my first show in New York City. I’ve been showing all these years but it hadn’t been appreciated until recently. I’ve had some success in Europe over the years, which is great. That’s really kept me going a lot of the time. In the ‘90s I sold a lot of work in Europe, very inexpensively, but for a college professor it seemed like a miracle of finances. Like, “Wow, 20,000 bucks!” You buy a new car and it’s just wonderful. I didn’t look any further than that. I suffered from modesty somewhat, and now I’m much less modest. Now I grumble at small amounts of money. (laughing)

My early days as a gallerist…I mean it was really a hard struggle too. People kind of think it must have been really glamorous. I worked as a secretary at Bykert for Klaus [Kertess], then the gallery closed and I went off on my own in ‘77. And when I was at Bykert, I met an artist named Ross Bleckner. I put him in a group show in Bykert, and he was showing with me and with Paula Cooper. In those days artists would try different galleries and find which one sells, which one fits. So when I opened my own gallery, he introduced me to a lot of his friends from CalArts, and that included David Salle, Eric Fischl, Barbara Kruger, Julian Schnabel and Jeff Koons and a lot of other artists. So, I met artists through word of mouth from other artists.

But you have to remember that at the time no one believed in any of the artists I was showing, no one believed in them. No one wanted to see them or hear about them. They were either unknown or too hyped. People didn’t believe in Schnabel or Basquiat or Sally or Fischl, or even Brice Marden. Jean-Michel [Basquiat] and I met when he was 19; he decided he wanted to show in my gallery because he wanted to show with all these other artists who he thought were really good artists. And I was really very, reticent, like, “Is this right?” but he was really a wonderful person, so sweet to me and really a good artist. I showed Francis Picabia in 1983 and got a scathing review from The Times about it.

They’re so dumb!

They said it was a terrible show and that I was just trying to trick the art world. There was this conspiracy theory that I was making fun of art or artists, but eventually they started to believe in them.

It is easy to kind of glamorize things in retrospect, but mostly I like artists that are challenging. I mean, you are challenging. Even though you were not young chronologically, you were really young as an artist. The paintings weren’t just flying off the wall like they are now. It was hard to sell them, but to me you are such a master and such a forward thinker; everybody should want to be grabbing them up. But it takes a long time to make an artist. How were you exposed to the art world in your early career?

Well, I met [art collector] Allan Frumkin, he was very important to me. I accepted a certain amount of money every month for my work. He would show up one day of the year and pick which pieces of mine he wanted and then leave again, and I could do whatever with the ones that were left. This lasted for about 30 years; it was a long relationship. From 1960 through 1990. The last time he arranged a show of my work was ‘97 I believe, so this is 37 years of activity. During this time I took the opportunity to not mess with business. I just enjoyed my life. Unfortunately, I was looking backwards when I decided to be an artist in 1950. I was looking to the 19th century: you have a lot of cigarettes to smoke, wake up late in the morning,  work on your picture, there is a beautiful woman in your life, there is a room you call a studio, you look at the painting, and that’s it. That’s your life, you know. You don’t worry about any business or anything, and I was encouraged in this attitude by my art teachers.

My life was very simple, and not lived fully up until the decision to move to New York City in ‘97, and I thought “Why not normalize my career?” I realized at that point it depends a lot on the artist. You have to present yourself to the buyers, and I hadn’t done this before. I simply hadn’t shown up. I did everything I could to make my paintings attractive and interesting, but I personally didn’t show up, hardly ever. This was weird, and I suddenly realized this was weird, so I said [to myself ], “Hey, from now on, be normal.” So, we showed up. By then I was with Sally, we were in Austin, and I retired from my job at age 66 and came here to proceed with you.

Peter Saul, Nightwatch, 88” by 128”, acrylic/canvas, 1974-1975 ©Peter Saul. Courtesy Mary Boone Gallery, New York.

Peter Saul, QuackQuack, Trump, 78” by 120”, acrylic/canvas, 2017 ©Peter Saul. Courtesy Mary Boone Gallery, New York

We were meant to be.

A lot of it is just showing up and being a nice person. Sally and I show up, we’re nice people, we get along, and that is very attractive because most of the time artists who are married don’t get along. I didn’t know this, but this is the way it is. This has helped us to be liked by important people in the art world who think we are attractive to work with because we get along with each other. It’s crazy, but it’s the truth. You have to be a nice person.

That’s true!

It’s not enough to make an interesting picture or whatever.

Do you think the newfound appreciation you’ve been experiencing has to do with the times?

I guess so.

I remember remarking at your first show that the average age of the audience was like 22. There was us and then all these 20 year-olds. You have become a mentor to a lot of young artists.

It’s true. It’s a blessing; it’s a good sign.

In speaking of mentorships, influencing and teaching, are there any important mentorships or up-and-coming young artists that you are working with, Peter?

Well for example, Erik Parker is an artist that was in my art class, he showed up at some point in the ‘90s and is now in the art world. He has shown some flexibility, he’s stuck around, and he is now going to have a show at this gallery. So I have him and others from Texas. I don’t know… people introduce themselves to me and say, “I remember your art class!” and then say something I never would have said, but that’s okay, I just let it pass. I don’t concentrate on what has already happened, I try to keep my mind open for the painting I’m working on and that’s pretty much it; I’m not a historian.

Well that’s good, because then you’re not looking in the past, you’re always looking forward.

Yeah it’s important not to get hung up. If you’ve been around for 40 or 50 years, it’s easy to begin getting interested in research into those years, and what did you do and all of that stuff, but that’s deadening. Likewise, I like to show at a gallery where there is one person in charge and it’s not a corporate thing. What I don’t like is when a gallery has a selection of people that is based on age and gender and stuff. When they’re like, “Well, we have four male artists in their 70’s, so we got enough of them. Let’s get three women between the ages of 30 and 40.” That kind of thing is nonsense. I like the individuality of this gallery, that’s why I’m here really.

Oh, I love that you said that! I do think of artists in terms of their individuality, I’m not trying to make a movement. So many of the galleries now are going towards assigning different staff members to artists, and I think it is impersonal. I always thought the greatest thing was becoming friends with the artist and having a relationship.

Yes, we want to, sort of, “skip” the corporate scene, don’t we?

I think that it’s ruining the art world. What are your thoughts on the art world today?

Well, I’m seeing a lot more shows than I want because my wife, Sally Saul, who makes ceramic sculpture, is extremely interested in art and what’s going on. She insists that I see a lot of shows. Today we’re going to the Outsider Art Fair, I think, and then to the Tom Laskowski opening, and then a group show where a painting of mine that belongs to Joe Bradley is being shown. Sally insists on a certain number of days a month we go see art. So, I see more art.

And you live in Germantown, so you have to travel a couple of hours to get here.

Yeah, but it’s relaxing to be on the train. You want to take a pause often from the painting so you can rethink certain areas that you’re working on. Painting for me is a slow thing, it gets done in various stages, it develops. And the next development came clear to me this morning so it can happen tomorrow.

We had a chance to show your recent Trump pieces a few months ago. What has the response been to them and have you experienced any backlash?

No, I don’t think so. I’ve treated Trump tenderly compared to the other Presidents I have painted. The most psychotic looking one was actually one of the first, Nixon. I tore the guy apart like he was in the hands of a serial killer or something: bad news. I hope for no particular response, but Trump is a good subject. I didn’t vote for him anymore than anyone else I know. 83% of New York voted for Hillary. I don’t know why she isn’t President. She won the election, but because of the electoral college she isn’t sitting in the Oval Office. As far as I know, Trump is not aware of me. He probably thinks of me as some loser artist. He looks at my prices and goes “This is cheap! He’s a loser, he’s a loser!”

“It’s fake! It’s fake art!” (both laughing)

No, but I’m not looking for trouble. I’m looking for subject.

For more information visit maryboonegallery.com

EXCLUSIVE: LAURIE ANDERSON BY ANOHNI

Shirt and Jacket  by Comme des Garçons Comme des Garçons

Photography by Jason Rodgers | Styling by Shala Rothenberg | Interview by Anohni

Famed artist, musician, director, and visual/sonic pioneer Laurie Anderson releases a new book and discusses her decades-long career with other-worldly talent Anohni.

Laurie Anderson’s retrospective book, All the Things I Lost in the Flood published by Rizzoli, chronicles her lengthy career in the world of art and music, marriage and collaborative career with the inimitable Lou Reed, and the power of books and language. Anderson’s artistry encompasses composing music, performance art, fiction writing, and filmmaking. A true polymath, her interest in new media made her an early pioneer of harnessing technology for artistic purposes long before the tech boom. Two years ago Anderson began looking through her archive of nearly forty years of work, which includes scores of documentation, notebooks, and sketchbooks.

In this exclusive interview for Iris Covet Book, Anderson speaks with a fellow pioneer. singer, composer, and visual artist Anohni, about art, VR (Virtual Reality), American culture, and the edge.

Hi Laurie, shall we begin? Going back and looking at the accumulated works of your long career, how did working on this book cast new light on your life’s work?

It cast a lot of light! I thought I was doing new projects one after another. As it turns out, I’m doing the same ideas. I can’t believe it. It wasn’t like psychoanalysis, but it was something close to it. I found a lot of things that were really shallow, too, that I put in the book anyway because I had thought at the time, as a young artist, that they were what art was about.

We’re working on a book of Lou’s early poems called Do Angels Need Haircuts?  There was one night in 1972 on St. Mark’s, he was reading his poems, and I realized that I was a couple of blocks away that night with my friend Lucy Lippard, the art critic. We talked endlessly about ‘the edge.’ That was really important to us. We’ve done too many images, too many colors and too many lines. What art is about now is how we see things. That’s what we felt. We were making things that called attention to the fact that we were paying attention. So this all was very meaningful at the time. You could write long, long essays on ‘the edge’, the edge between this reality and the other.

For me, it meant doing minimal sculptures. I was making things. And they looked pretty much like something you would see at any construction site, a piece of sheetrock leaning against a wall, or a line bisecting the room. And that’s what we talked about and that’s what gave meaning to our work. Now if you try to talk about that now, people don’t have the slightest idea what you’re talking about.

Was that conversation a foundation for what we’re talking about now? In terms of seeing multiple points of view? Intersectional thinking, spectral thinking… you were pioneering that.

John Cage was pioneering it when he said, “Everything is music.” Robert Morris was pioneering it when he said this cube is a work of art, this plywood cube, because it forces you to look at the edge and your displacement and your position versus it. It forces you to use your eyes.

Eventually I began to use images again, and I thought, “Am I going backwards?” But then I wasn’t bothered by it anymore. I no longer see my life as progress. I just see it as trying different things at different times. One art form isn’t truly more advanced than the other. I just came from a conversation about how sound works in virtual reality. How can you make music and sound that doesn’t have a beginning and an end? What does that stuff look like? That’s the way we’ve always made music through history… with a beginning, a middle, and an end. But our lives don’t work that way so much either. Mine doesn’t have a beginning, middle and an end. I was born at one point and I’ll die at one point. The stories of our lives just don’t have any plots. Mine doesn’t really have a plot.

The only thing I’m pretty sure of is that we are evolving towards complexity. We are not sliding back down the evolutionary scale, slowly becoming toads and single cell creatures.

Jacket by Issey Miyake, Shirt by Comme des Garçons, and Laurie’s own Morgan Le Fay Trousers.

Shirt by Comme des Garçons, and Laurie’s own Morgan Le Fay Trousers.

The series of drawings you did about the life and death of your terrier Lolabelle in the film you created Heart of a Dog are so beautifully illustrated. There was a strong sense of the space itself in those drawings, supporting the figures and objects. I loved that you brought the aesthetic of your hand drawings into VR. It’s markedly different from every other experience of VR that I’ve had.

It’s because it has dust in it and smudges, and also because we made the atmosphere out of tiny little letters, so you would be able to see the air. It was full of infinitely small, dust mote letters. Most VR is airless. It’s like going into this really sterile boardroom. Like there’s no atmosphere whatsoever.

In the new book, you refer to your work as a combination of narrative and visual language. How have your stories changed over time? What stories are you interested in telling today?

They haven’t changed that much. That’s another thing I realized. I’m a short story teller, and a short story can be a two-sentence story. And if you can get it done in two sentences, then just do that, because who has time?

It’s vivid, and our mind can wrap around it without moving through much time. I think it’s harder for 21st century people now to read, to sit down with Crime and Punishment and absorb all those atmospheres, all those characters, all those days, all those roads, and all those moods, stringing them together. We’re more visual than that now.

You were saying to me recently that you feel like film will soon be relegated to museums… and the future of popular storytelling will be in VR.

VR and MR.

What’s MR?

Mixed reality. I don’t know how to do MR, but I’m really interested in learning. These are lighter weight viewing devices, and of course everything will get lighter until there’s no weight to it at all and it’ll just be retinal. In MR you will have a glass on this table, exactly like this real glass, with the reflections from your computer and of your shirt in there, and it will move, but it won’t be there. It’ll be a virtual glass that is beyond real.

It’s really wonderful for disembodiment, which has always been my personal goal as an artist. To have no body, to fall into a work of art and not be able to get out, ever. Just fall into it. And you can fall into a book, too, identifying so much with the character.

You mentioned in the introduction that the book is about language in live performances, the difference between spoken and written words, the influence of the audience, the use of the first, second and third person voices, metaphor, politics, the story of dreams, songs, misunderstandings and the new meanings that are created when languages are translated. How do you think language can change the world?

I think it might be one of the only things that can change the world, that can really let you see it in another light. Like the wall we’re building between the U.S. and Mexico. It’s actually not a wall. The wall doesn’t exist yet, but the wall is so real in our minds and it’s such a contentious thing that it’s more than real. And you have to remember, the wall is just somebody’s idea. It’s a wall of words. People react to it as if it were a real wall. We’re already living in a virtual world, you know? It’s not there yet. We haven’t even collected the money to build it. So you have to remind yourself that we live in a fantasy world, a dream world, where half the things that we’re talking about don’t actually exist.

I think it’s supported by contemporary technologies and media. It’s almost a tenet of fascist propaganda, that if you say something five times it becomes real. And I think that’s very much what Trump did with the wall. He said it so often that it became a specter in our minds and imaginations. And that leads me to a question about mythology and storytelling. Do we have a moral responsibility to write other stories besides the ones that seem most likely to happen?

I think we have a moral imperative to tell stories that turn out better than we think they might.

Last December, the Sag Harbor Theater burned down. They asked a bunch of people to pick the film that they think best embodies American values. I picked American Psycho, and we screened it on Sunday. It was a little beyond the veil for people in South Hampton. Even after the Valentine’s Day massacre, they don’t want to tell the story of a white psycho-killer who wants to kill people because he just doesn’t have enough stuff. He doesn’t have it the way he wants it. Frankly, I find the most frightening part of that story was the way the guy treated women, the cartoony-ness.

It was really disconcerting. You tell the story that you feel like telling. To me, American Psycho is very representative of what people love in this country: status and beautiful things and power and lording it over other people, and men being these absolute creeps. The prostitution was the thing that bothered me most. That was much more horrifying than the cartoony, meat-chopper stuff. People reacted to the chainsaw stuff because it’s horrible. He grabs a woman’s leg and tries to eat it. But the truly scary stuff were the things that were very real to me, which is the dismissive way that these hedge funders were talking about women, saying, “Have you ever seen an intelligent woman? I haven’t.” But people didn’t see that part of the film, because that’s so much a part of the culture.

Is this kind of storytelling the same thing as myth? In one way, it’s a discourse talking metaphorically about what’s happening. But does it reach even deeper than that?

Think of the Greeks – —Medea, Electra…all about hacking the head off your mother and eating the bones. I mean, horror movies are Greek. They’re really Greek. They’re about the hatred and rage we feel towards each other, particularly the rage towards mothers and fathers. So those are our DNA stories. But then you have these stories about heaven and particularly the ones that are trying to convince you to behave in a certain way. I don’t think they’re so much about morality or rules. I think they’re about time, ways to explain time to people, where you came from. Where are you going to go after you die? You’re going to go to heaven or you’re going to go to Nirvana or you’re going to stay in the cycle of suffering, or you’re going to be with a bunch of virgins. Time is the biggest mystery to us.

When the Christians concocted the ascent to heaven and the final coming and fire and brimstone, that was all a projection into the future.

I think it’s not very clear, because they disguised a story as something that is about human personality, and then distorted it to punish people for being bad people, because that’s the other important part of the myth. There’s something very wrong with you, and you were born with something wrong with you, and you’re going to be punished unless you do this. And that gets various shadings, like the King James Bible, for example. Jesus had always been in the Christian Bible referred to as Master or Teacher. King James wrote his Bible, and he paid for this Bible. It was the first time Jesus was called King of Kings, Lord of Lords. He became a secular, powerful person, not a teacher.

So everyone is using these structures and these stories for their own ends to get what they want, particularly power. That’s what religion mostly has come down to. It’s about control.

 

Shirt, Jacket and Trousers by Comme des Garçons Comme des Garçons

Shirt, Jacket and Trousers by Comme des Garçons Comme des Garçons

Did it work? Did they get that control through the use of story? Or did the story tell of the power that they had already acquired? Is there a power in storytelling that can define the future, or even form the future?

Sure. That’s why I think women telling different stories is fantastic. Even in American Psycho, some of the greatest shots were the reaction shots of the women. Everyone is focusing on the men. But these cameras pan over to the women and they’re going, “What? Can you believe this asshole?” They’re not saying anything, but you can see it, it’s fantastic. This silent language of this woman filmmaker is telling a very different story. She’s telling it on a bunch of different levels. It’s a really complicated film.

Today, marginalized groups are sharing their narratives to ever increasing and attentive audiences. How has this recent cultural phenomena affected your work and your outlook on the work you’ve done?

When I was a young artist in the early ‘70s, I was part of a group of women artists. I joined it because I thought “OK, finally a group of people are joining together because we have different things to say than men,” and we do. But what was the focus of it? How to get into galleries. And I understand that on a professional level, but that’s not what I was there for. I was trying to find commonality with this group and be part of something.

And this was at the same time as separatist inclinations in various self-advocacy groups nationally. But you’re sort of describing a scene downtown that was more utopian.

I hope I’m not painting it as something it wasn’t, but I have some great memories of how much we did help each other. We saw ourselves as workers, somehow. That was the main thing. There were a lot of things that had opened people up in ways that were pretty wild. A lot of drugs around, a lot of sex, a lot of fun. Helping each other on every level. As soon as money came into it, things changed. We never thought we would make a dime from our work. That was the furthest thing from our minds. We all had little jobs, and you didn’t need that much money either. That’s another very important point. You needed almost nothing. You didn’t think about it.

I’m thinking about a photo of you in the book, standing in a crowd playing the violin. You’re talking about not really aspiring to get into galleries, as much, and there you were sort of just outdoors being scrutinized by these gangs of passersby. That image just reminded me of some of the stories you’ve told me of things you’ve done over the years, hitchhiking to the North Pole, just being out there in the wind.

Yeah. I did always want to get out, that’s for sure. I wanted to be part of an art world. But not one that was chummy, more that was supportive. So I was lucky enough to hit that NYC wave at the right moment.

For young artists, where do we go from there? How do we move forward?

To a young artist today, I would say “Don’t listen to me.” That would be number one. Each person finds it for themselves, and that’s the whole great thing about this. No one can tell you what it is. It’s your responsibility to find it. We have a million roads out from here, as many roads as there are artists to follow them. So question all sorts of things, even the idea of progress itself.  One of the things I’m interested in, as you are as well, is the ends of stories and what happens. So I asked my meditation teacher, “What happens to karma when there’s no one to embody your karma, and the whole system, the great dharma wheel, crashes?” It’s built on continuity and giant eons of time, the big wheels of time. So when that wheel stops and we’re not on it anymore, what happens? And he said that’s why the Buddha talked about other universes. I just loved that so much. It was so freeing to me.

It’s a kind of independence.

It’s your freedom to go anywhere and to realize that the rules are idiotic. I mean, maybe that’s one thing I would say, is that there are no rules, so don’t worry about that part. There are zero rules. It’s hard to be free.

Pants by Issey Miyake, T-Shirt by Tai Chi, and Laurie’s own gloves and jewelry.

Hair by Elsa Canedo Using Kerastase, Makeup by Kento Utsubo, Photo Assistant Jordan James, Special Thanks to Rizzoli. Laurie Anderson: All the Things I Lost in the Flood, Available on rizzolibookstore.com

MATTHEW STONE

Beginning his career with an involvement in numerous counter-cultural movements, and rising to notoriety as a founding member of the South London art collective, !WOWOW!, Artist and Art Shaman Matthew Stone is bringing bodies together through his life-sized digital paintings.


Photography by Wikkie Hermkens | Styling by Sonny Groo | Interview by Ashleigh Kane

In the early 00s, Matthew Stone took the teachings of Andy Warhol’s Factory era and the concept behind Joseph Beuys’ Social Sculpture and transplanted them to London, where he and a group of friends had just graduated from Camberwell College of Arts. Consciously eschewing the rental market, they founded !WOWOW! and housed it, and themselves, in an abandoned store in South London with a revolving roster of exhibitions, residencies, studios and parties. “When I was young, I had a really strong vision of how I wanted to live my life”, Stone recalls over the phone from his studio in Hackney, “and I was specifically interested in squatting.” Having grown up with his family in a cottage on a canal in Bath, England with no permanent source of electricity – just a generator which Stone says was often not in use – it’s not hard to understand his draw towards other people. Now 35, content with living alone and much less the party animal he once was, Stone’s work is still crowded with bodies. He contributes to his own series titled “Interconnected Echoes” whereby he interviews the people he admires, has participated in several group as well as solo exhibitions, photographed the cover of FKA Twigs’ M3LL155X album cover, and most recently exhibited his life-sized digital paintings at Somerset House under the title Healing With Wounds.

Here he talks to IRIS Covet Book about connection, spirituality, and shares some invaluable advice for young artists.

Upper World Portrait, 2017

Can you talk about the process in which you make your paintings?

I physically paint and then photograph the strokes individually and create really high-resolution images of each brush stroke. Then I cut them out in Photoshop and use them to texture 3D models that I make of people. I’m working in 3D CGI software and using virtual cameras and lighting setups. Then with a printer, they’re finally printed onto linen with a technique that I developed. I only ever print each once so they live like actual paintings in the sense that there is only one of them.

Why did you want to work in a digital realm?

I didn’t want to make something that was backwards facing. I wanted people to look at them in a way that they look at contemporary imagery, in that they have not seen something else exactly like it before. To look at it with that freshness, with those eyes, and then start thinking about their bodies and each other. For a long time, I wondered whether that was through photography, or pushing photography into sculpture. With this technique, I feel like I’ve nailed the method (laughs) and now I can get on with just making paintings. The majority of the work was developing the technique and there were years when I worked on it without showing anyone any development. I went through waves of development without over-excitedly sharing it with everybody, and that was a big education for me.

One of the reasons that I’ve stopped doing lots of other different things and focused on the paintings is because I’ve realized that I can do everything I need to do within other realms, within this world of painting. Because of the way that I work in 3D virtual space, I can’t help but think of them, when I hang them on the wall, as a window into that space. Increasingly, I’m doing things in life-size so as you look at them, you’re looking into a virtual reality or mixed reality.

The people who appear in the paintings are not based on real people, they are completely invented like avatars that I’ve posed and painted. But those figures have started reappearing through different images, so it’s almost as if I’m investing in these metaphysical beings that live in the world that is my painting.

You came to London from Bath at age 18 and began to study at Camberwell College of Arts. What artists did you admire back then?

I wrote my dissertation on the spiritual content in Andy Warhol’s work and argued that you could read a religious trajectory in his work. Then I came across Joseph Beuys and was really interested in his work from a performative perspective. Through him, I developed these ideas around the artist as Shaman.

Were you always intrigued by spirituality?

My mum was a Catholic and as a result – and as a reaction to that – she was very much like, ‘You are not going to be indoctrinated in any way.’ We were left to work that stuff out on our own. Looking back, I had an interest from a very young age in mysticism; The X Files and UFOs, which I feel were very much of the times.

Can you talk about the out of body experiences that you have had?

They’re not something that I had a ton of but there are some significant ones – and I wish I could go into them at will, but I can also go into altered trance-like states. I used to do a series of performances where I would perform under the stage name “The Art Shaman” and the structure of the performance was that I would get a cover band to play Paint It Black by The Rolling Stones, and I would use the song to enter altered states.

What was the significance of Paint It Black?

Maybe something about the drumming. It has this rhythmic pull. In a sense, me talking about myself as a Shaman stemmed from that period. At that time it was very playful, essentially. But people, other artists, have found it intensely problematic. Someone wanted me to publicly apologize – which is almost as pretentious as me calling myself a Shaman (Laughs).

Why did it bother people?

I think they thought that it shouldn’t be a self-bestowed title. There’s definitely a question about using something like that – like spiritual appropriation – but, for me, the word itself, in its contemporary usage, describes behavioural patterns that are different on every continent and so it doesn’t feel super specific as a term, it feels quite general. I’m not trying to cut into any tradition that I’m not a part of. It’s more in an abstract sense that I’m trying to push the boundaries, or trigger thoughts, about the role of the artists and whether that extends beyond an individual creating expensive objects.

I use it to trigger intellectual debate because increasingly I’m interested in intuitive moments of thinking. There are certain points when I’ve thought – because of explaining it, over and over again – ‘why am I doing this?’ and that maybe I should just say that it was a phase, but I realized that me having said it had its own resonance and power anyway and that I have to live with the consequences of that – whether or not they are uncomfortable. More recently, I feel like I’ve gotten a bit more of a practical and personal practice that relates to it – there’s more humility. But I’m not going to take it off my Instagram account.

After university, !WOWOW! was founded. Did that come about because of situational circumstances or was it planned?

When I was young, I had a really strong vision of how I wanted to live my life and I was specifically interested in squatting. In college, I was obsessed with reading about Warhol’s Factory and had this idea of collaborative and collective living. I was thinking about Joseph Beuys’ Social Sculpture, which was the idea of an evolving artwork that was multi-author – it was all of society.

Once we graduated, we were like ‘let’s not pay rent, let’s go and squat!’ and so we started it and invited people in and it spiraled from there. My hope at that time was that people would perceive some of my activities within it as being a kind of living artwork and certainly not one that I’m the only author of. I was really interested in the idea of presenting a network of people as an artwork and I always had a great reticence to concretely transfer that to a gallery – in terms of installing people into a gallery. So yes, it felt like something that was situational in a sense because if you took it out of the environment that it had sprung from, it would become an illustration of it.

Feminine Teachers, 2017

Other People’s Energy, 2017

You mentioned earlier that you want to see if the artist can be more than someone who is just making expensive objects. What do you think the role of the artist is today?

Everyone as an individual has a political responsibility, so obviously, that includes artists. I don’t think my work has ever really been about art or the art world. Obviously, it emerges from the history of art and in lots of ways my work is very much about the history of religious art in terms of the use of the body and flesh, but I feel like my work has always been about interactions between people. Looking at the idea of collaboration over competition. Coexistence and compromise in conflict and how complex networks of power and connection occur. When I was younger I felt like I had the answers for things, but as I go on my thinking changes. Now I know that my thinking will probably change again in the future. I feel, with my work, I’m trying to frame the development of that thinking more than my thinking specifically.

Healing With Wounds featured the Somerset House show titled Utopia. Is utopia something you explore in your work?

I’ve always been interested in the idea of being engaged in developing ideas or using creativity to envision a more just world, but I’ve never claimed to be an activist. Essentially my thinking about optimism and utopias has always been about questioning if these dialogues are useful? Is it better to acknowledge the violence that already exists by making violent work? Or should I, as an artist, focus on promoting visions of a post-violent world? I’ve looked at art and culture that has explicitly been violent and understood it as potentially being part of a critique of violence, but instinctively, I’ve never said, “well I’m going to make violent imagery because that is a way to show people that it’s a bad thing.” I feel uncomfortable thinking in that way and I don’t know if that’s because I’m naive and I can’t deal with reality, or it’s because that type of imagery can be traumatic and does little to destabilise violence.

I go back and forth between thinking about how the power structures unfold in the images I make and how they deal with violence and what they suggest. More recently, I’m realizing that there is a lot of ambiguity in the ways in which you can read the body language of the people in my paintings. That’s quite important because I don’t think the world needs simple illustrations like “violence is bad” because the world is more complex and intelligent than that. If I can create anything where when people look at it and think about what’s happening, then that feels like the more useful contribution. Ultimately, when people look at my work, I want them to feel something and I want them to think about what they feel.

What advice do you have for young people coming up?

I always say, “listen very carefully to the advice that you give others because we verbalize our own insecurities when we criticize other people, when we give them advice.” The other thing is, “pay attention to your own mistakes, they might be the only original ideas you have.”

    Matthew Stone with his dog Beau. Follow Beau @ beauthehound on Instagram 

All art work © Matthew Stone images courtesy of Choi&Lager
For more information visit matthewstone.co.uk

AI WEIWEI

Ai Weiwei’s fight for the human rights of others has meant that his own have been jeopardized. Creating work that is both dangerously loud and quietly considered, the artist-activist is a true revolutionary of his time. By using the internet as his soapbox, he has become a global figure for those without a voice.

Portrait Photography by Zachary Bako
Essay by Ashleigh Kane

“I consider myself more of a chess player. My opponent makes a move. I make a move. Now I’m waiting for my opponent to make the next move.”

This is how Ai Weiwei responded in Never Sorry, the 2012 documentary about his life, when asked how he would describe himself. Aside from a chess player, Weiwei has been called many things; artist, curator, filmmaker, activist, philosophist. Also dissident and criminal. While the Chinese government has gone to extreme measures to stop Weiwei raising his voice, his fellow Chinese people have heralded him as a figure of worship. As have many of us in the wider world. Technically into his third decade as an artist, Weiwei’s art became increasingly reactionary and prevalent ten years ago, after he launched a citizen’s investigation into the devastating 2008 Sichuan Earthquake.

The tragedy pushed his frustrations with China’s oppression, surveillance, and lack of transparency to a boiling point, and he began to create works that questioned the mechanics of the country he called home. Weiwei also found the tension between old and new China fascinating, and the ways in which it denied the advancements of the Western world, particularly the internet – a realm which he has wholeheartedly embraced, and, in turn, has embraced him. Since relocating to Germany in 2015, Weiwei has become most recognised for his work with the ongoing refugee crisis. Seeing no distinction between the artist and the activist, earlier this year he told CBS, “I think artist and activist is the same thing. As artist, you always have to be an activist.” When pressed by the interviewer whether one had to be political to be a good artist, he responded, “I think every art, if it’s relevant, is political.”

A self-described “natural outsider”, the seeds of Weiwei’s rebellion were planted by his father, the famous poet, denounced traitor and accused ‘rightest’, Ai Qing. Shortly after Weiwei was born in 1957, Qing, along with his family, was exiled to Heilongjiang, followed by Xinjiang. In 1976, at the end of the Cultural Revolution, the family was allowed to return to Beijing. But Weiwei’s growing fascination with art led him to leave his home in 1981 for New York where he attended Parsons School of Design. Inspired by Marcel Duchamp – who said anything can be art – and Joseph Beuys – who said anyone can be an artist – Weiwei’s only art show in New York, Old Shoes, Safe Sex, was held at Art Waves gallery in 1988 and featured a series of readymades, such as a trenchcoat with a hole and a condom attached (Safe Sex, 1986). In 1993, his father’s incurable illness brought him back to China, after 12 years abroad. Bringing with him the lessons of the artists he’d come to admire.

Above: Sunflower Seeds (5 tons) Installation: Mary Boone Gallery, 541 West 24 Street, New York, January 2012

 Tree with The Animal That Looks Like a Llama but is Really an Alpaca wallpaper Installation: Mary Boone Gallery, 541 West 24 Street, New York, November 2016.

At home, Weiwei submerged himself in the underground art scene by creating a series of publications which profiled American artists such as Andy Warhol, Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer, as well as contemporary Chinese artists. Described as “a free space” where “you could write anything”, “Black Cover” (1994), “White Cover” (1995) and “Gray Cover” (1997), were only available through word-of-mouth. In 2000, Weiwei was included in Feng Boyi’s exhibition, FUCK OFF – an alternative to the Shanghai Biennale. The show debuted his series, “Study of Perspective” (1995-2010), alongside “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn” (1995). The latter an early documentation of Weiwei’s growing penchant for smashing or modifying Chinese antiques, and one he would continue throughout his career. Such as “Neolithic Vase and Coca-Cola Logo” (2010), which crosses capitalism with a classic cultural relic.

In 2003, Weiwei began work on the Bird’s Nest, the stadium for Beijing’s 2008 Olympics. But after seeing the impact of the event’s looming arrival on local homes and businesses, he became critical of it. In 2008, he was the first prominent Chinese person to oppose the games when he published an article on The Guardian, titled, “Why I’ll stay away from the opening ceremony of the Olympics”. Three months later, the Sichuan Earthquake struck, killing 70,000 people – 5,000 of them children. Devastated by the government’s refusal to release the death toll, Weiwei and his volunteers collected the names and birthdays of all the children who perished and published them on his blog on the tragedy’s one-year anniversary. Authorities shut down the platform, but Weiwei found a way to subvert the Great Firewall (of China) – he joined Twitter.

It would be a disservice to Weiwei to think all of his work is overt middle-finger-up, in-your-face art-activism. His 2010 installation, “Sunflower Seeds” (2008), at London’s Tate Modern, which included 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds and covered 1000 square meters with a depth of 10cm, shows a more considered side to the artist. The piece, which took two-and-a-half years to create, is a nod to China’s conformity and censorship. At a distance, the seeds all look the same, but on closer inspection, viewers will find signs of individuality. “Tree” (2010) is another work that peacefully pushes Weiwei’s message. The sculpture is made up of different species of trees. It pays homage market vendors who sell branches, roots and tree trunks as decorative items to be displayed in homes, but a more complex political reading symbolizes the rapid urbanization and economic growth of China.

Below: Neolithic Vase with CocaCola Logo, 2010

Surveillance Camera and Plinth, 2015

Despite this, no matter the volume of Weiwei’s messaging, his refusal to cease making work about his home country led to the Chinese authorities detaining him on 3 April 2011 for 81 days. Initially reported as missing – news which sparked a worldwide #FreeWeiwei campaign – authorities claimed they had arrested the artist on suspicion of tax evasion. While he was never charged or convicted of a crime, Weiwei’s passport was confiscated for four years and he was banned from leaving the Beijing for one year. After his release, Chinese authorities installed at least 15 cameras outside of Weiwei’s Beijing studio. He retaliated by launching “WeiweiCam”, a self-surveillance project which live streamed from within his own house. Later, he would create “Surveillance Camera and Plinth” (2015), a marble reincarnation of the CCTV cameras.

With the return of his passport in 2015, Weiwei relocated to Germany. Initially unsure what his purpose would be in a foreign country, he quickly found his cause; the refugee crisis. Weiwei set to work creating 70 meter sculptures from inflatable life boats (“Law of the Journey”, 2017) and building 100 fences and to be displayed in New York (“Good Fences Make Good Neighbors”, 2017). He even set up a studio on the Greek island of Lesbos to facilitate his increased artistic output. More recently, Weiwei premiered Human Flow, a documentary which put a face to a crisis which has seen more than 65 million people flee their homes after famine, war and climate change claimed their safety.

Even as one of the most recognisable artists in the world, Weiwei continues to place other people’s fight for freedom above his own safety. Like all true revolutionaries of their eras, many have tried to quell his voice and his spirit, only for him to show that no matter how many people, or governments, want to silence him, Weiwei’s voice will only get louder.

All artwork courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery New York
For more information visit aiweiwei.com | maryboonegallery.com

 

ISSA LISH BY NOBUYOSHI ARAKI

Photography by Nobuyoshi Araki | Styling by Shun Watanabe | Model Issa Lish @ Women Management

Known for his prolific exploration of Kinbaku-bi (緊縛美), “the beauty of tight binding”, subversive still-lifes, and controversial erotic imagery, iconic fine art photographer Nobuyoshi Araki teams up with top model Issa Lish in Tokyo, Japan for an invitation into his world.

Coat by Adam Selman, Bodysuit by Wolford, Boots by Christian Louboutin

Dress by Moschino, Shoes by Manolo Blahnik

Jacket (on the daybed) by Tom Ford, Bodysuit by Stella McCartney, Boots by Alexander Wang

Coat by Miu Miu, Chemise by La Perla

 

Tights by Tom Ford, Underwear by Wolford and Shoes by Gianvito Rossi

Makeup by Ken Nakano, Hair by Koji Ichikawa using LAICALE, Manicure by Yuko at reAulii, Art Direction by Louis Liu, Editor Marc Sifuentes, Stylist Assistants: Leonard Arceo and Yohei Yamada, Makeup Assistant Sunao, Hair Assistant Hiromitsu Yahune.

IRIS VAN HERPEN

Iris Van Herpen, Paris, France, 2017

At the intersection of science, art, heritage craft, and fashion lies a singular point, the inimitable and pioneering couturier, Iris Van Herpen. Known for seamlessly blending lazer-cut fabrics, 3-D printing technology, cutting edge fabrics, and haute couture hand-work, Van Herpen’s work is a summation of the old world and the new.

Photography by Maya Fuhr @ The Canvas Agency | Interview by Benjamin Price
All clothing (not including models’ own) Iris Van Herpen Couture

Untitled I, Paris France, 2017

Amid the canals and stone-paved streets of Amsterdam lies a haute couture atelier led by a woman who is equal parts scientist, architect, artist, dancer, and designer. Iris Van Herpen sits at the helm, diving deep into different multi-disciplinary worlds to push fashion design further into the future. She is known as one of the most innovative and pioneering fashion designers in the world. Through her experimentation with different materials and collaborations, Van Herpen has created fantastic, awe-inspiring pieces that have defied previous ideas of what fashion can be.

At first glance, Van Herpen’s iconic designs look like sinuous creatures from mysterious planets, chemical reactions, waterfalls frozen in time, and skins of unknown species – but in reality they are the results of copious research, experimentation, and countless hours of handwork. The fusion of technology and heritage craft work is what makes Van Herpen’s designs so unique. From the initial research stage to the fashion show presentations, every iota of information is explored and disseminated to produce magical worlds that hold a mirror to our own reality of climate change, space travel, and the global stage.

Iris sat down with me, thousands of miles away in her studio, speaking through a computer screen – our conversation punctuated by the atelier cat running across the keyboard. The studio team draped, melted, 3D printed, and slice through materials for the upcoming couture collection in the background. Here is our exclusive interview with Iris Van Herpen and Iris Covet Book.

Guadalupe, Paris, France, 2017

What does a typical day look like in the Iris Van Herpen studios?

It really depends on what we are working on… right now we are working on the new collection. There is a lot of experimenting and creating with new materials. I’m a bit in-between my own space where I do design work, guide the process, and give feedback to the team, then going to meetings with different collaborators for certain projects. The atelier is filled with people with fashion backgrounds and people from other disciplines.

I was going to ask if you have sculptors, plaster specialists, or mold-makers in studio. Traditional fashion labels have a lot of draping and patternmaking, but I was wondering if there are physicists and artists, etc…

I work with people outside of the fashion world a lot such as architects, scientists, or other artists. It is sort of spontaneous. I won’t have them here all the time; it’s a day here and a day there with different disciplines, and sometimes I will go to their studio.

In the past, what has been one of your most fruitful collaborations?

One that is very special to me is my work with Philip Beesley who is an architect and artist from Toronto, and I’ve been working with him for four or five years now. Our process has become very intertwined… like a friendship. He’s always exploring with his team, and we share a lot of the process and experimentation together. If I find a new material, then I’ll send it to him and the other way around. So, it’s really like a collective intelligence there, which is a nice way of sharing. On a much more personal level, I would say that my work with choreographer Benjamin Millepied was special because I come from a dance background. I found huge inspiration in the work he does and the way he works; it was very special to see our worlds coming together.

Looking at your designs, your earlier work specifically, it appears like there is conflict between movement and form. How does your understanding and love of movement and the materiality that you’re using work together?

Well, dance is where I learned how to transform my own body, but also how to use the space around me. In the early years, I was questioning not only how to design for the body, but also discovering the space around it and how it can be transformed. That was like principal research, which I’m still doing, but it became more sentimental along the way – maybe because dance is still part of my work, but it has grown bigger with art, architecture, and even scientific collaboration. I have just expanded my focus, and therefore become more reliant on the materials I use to express the relationship between body and space.

Henry (Film Strip), Paris, France, 2017

Henry, Paris, France, 2017

Speaking of materiality, there’s a material library here in New York City that has every new material that you can think of. Every time a new one is created they send it to the library to be catalogued. Do you use spaces like that to gain inspiration or do you have custom materials that you make?

In the first years of the studio, I would find materials and then use them in my own way. By now, the process is a little bit more personal and elaborative. Mostly we don’t use the material as it is. We either develop a new material, sometimes as the result of a collaboration, or we use existing materials that we then transform into new hybrids. So, a big part of the design process actually depends on the material design. We start developing the techniques and materials and I start draping – where in the beginning I would just shop for the right material and then drape. It’s evolved over time.

I want to now switch gears and talk about the conceptual inspiration of the collection. When you begin researching, what sparks your interest? Is it something small or something more meta such as an intangible theory?

Well, it can be both actually. I’m thinking of [the collection] “Micro” where we explored microscopic structures that I found inspiring. Everything around us, like my own body and materials surrounding me on a micro level. Then there are collections like “Magnetic Motion” which was inspired by the conversations I had with scientists about really big subjects like parallel universes and the whole perception of life, which was a lot more philosophical. Sometimes it’s simply in the material that is next to me, and sometimes it’s a super inspiring theory that changes my way of looking at life.

Growing up, were you very interested in studying nature and science?

Yeah, absolutely. I grew up in a very small little village next to the water. So, nature was really part of my youth; it shaped me. My parents stimulated my interest in the arts, so nature and art together were an integral part of my growing up. I think it’s important to understand, or at least appreciate, how the world works around you and the importance of nature.

How do you see your design reacting to global warming and these heightened more chaotic political spheres?

Well, I think there are two paths in my work: one of them is within the material and technique, and the other is looking at the materials as part of the process of sustainability, but it’s not something I want to communicate. Sustainability has become a PR tool, and I personally find that it is happening too much. For me, it is a natural focus because we want to move forward and still live on this planet in 20 years. I don’t think it should be the central message because it can easily become everything you do, and as an artist or fashion designer, I think a specific environmental issue isn’t a long-term vision. It’s part of the process, but the message that I want to communicate is much bigger than that. I believe that in the long term fashion will change slowly. The materials we use and the way we use them will become better and more sustainable. I hope to help a little bit there, but it’s not something I can do on my own.

Untitled II, Paris France, 2017

Do you think that fashion – because it is one of the top polluting industries in the world – will change in the future? How do you hope consumer relations will change?

I think a very big step in this would be that the whole system becomes more personal again and less globalized. The problem is that most things are made in bulk, and more than half of everything that is being made is not being bought. I believe that the future will be technology that will make the process more personal again because I think through technology there is more direct communication possible between customer and designer. If we go to smaller productions again, we can reduce half of the waste because we’ll start making what people actually need rather than making twice as much. Hopefully we can begin utilizing the materials that can be 100% reused again like with 3-D printing. These are the two big steps that need to be made, and it will take awhile.

Well, speaking of technique and new technology I think that a lot of the interest in your early work was your use of techniques like laser cutting and 3D printing which were not as normalized as they are now. How do you foresee these two worlds of technological futurism and craft heritage melding?

I see the diversity of new techniques and new tools as equal to my hands, and I would not use one over the other: it’s a hybrid between them. For me craftsmanship is as valuable and as important as the newer techniques that I work with. I noticed that by using various techniques we can actually improve the others. Sometimes we want to work on a piece that we simply cannot make by hand, and a 3D printer can inspire the process where we are actually able to make it by hand. So, it’s really interesting how the knowledge from one goes into the other, and I think in the beginning the processes were quite separated. I would work on 3D printed garment, and I would work on a handcrafted garment, but now we have blended the processes. In one dress there can be 3D printing, laser cutting, hand molding, and stitching all in one and no one is able to see the differences anymore; I think that is very beautiful. In the end it is not about the technique behind it anymore, but about the freedom to combine different techniques. I’m able to go into the absolute maximum of intricacy if I’m not limited by one technique because every technique has its possibilities and its limitations.

I think that the future is – I don’t want to say cyborgs – but humans and computer technology coming together to create. You can see that in your fashion shows, which have been very viscerally engaging and surreal. Where does that inspiration come from? Does it come from your concepts? What does this theatrical element add to the show?

It’s really part of my process. I try to translate the energy of the experimentation that I feel from the work into the collection. When I started working on Aeriform I had my collaborators performance in mind, and really working with the empty gravitational aspect of their work, and the way of working that conflict together. So, I work to make those elements the base of designing the garments, while keeping the whole performance alive. Some shows are very minimal in their setting because the inspiration comes from something physical like an artist or work of art, and I want to show people my process and concept. Sometimes the collection comes from a completely different world, and I let the collection be itself.

Chen Chen, Paris France, 2017

You have worked with Bjork, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Tilda Swinton; do you feel the context of your work changes with the visibility and the popularity of these artists?

Well, I guess it connects to different people. They are very specific identities. They all created their own worlds, their own system, and fan bases. The body itself is my source of integration, and these people bringing it into their own world and their own vision creates a new perspective of my work. I think it’s very important because I don’t want my work to be this very controlled and linear thing.

In reference to the “worlds” that you design into, do you often build worlds in your mind when designing?

Not really to be honest. My interest is in the here-and-now because the inspirations that’s translated into my work comes from architecture, art, or things that I see around me. To me, the world we live in is actually so fascinating and it has so many sides. So, I want to look at different perspectives. Some people think I’m inspired by science fiction, but I think the world we live in is magical. It’s really more like zooming in and zooming out – focused on where I am at this point.

Magical and terrifying all at once.

Yeah, yeah, it has everything in it.

In the past you have referenced your work as “New Couture”, what does that mean to you?

It’s a place where innovation is possible. It’s a place where craftsmanship is possible. To me, it’s a place that has real humanity and personality in the work, and it has its place in the digital age and in the digital transformation that we are going through. To me, it’s really about finding the relationship between the world we come from and the world we’re going to. We have to learn how to use all of these great tools in combination with our humanity. I think those tools can be used to create art and beauty, not just functional technology to make our lives quicker and easier.

That’s beautiful. I think that we are at crossroads of so much negativity in politics and in nature, but the world also has a lot of positivity and beauty. What do you want to say to the world as a designer, as an artist?

I think fashion is not only a form of art, but also a place of innovation and progress. I think it is important that we we start collaborating with science and art because all of these disciplines have to change. If we talk about sustainability and moving forward, design is needed everywhere, and I don’t think we’re making progress if we keep on only focusing on one method of thinking. I think disciplines have to cross over to create a collective intelligence to direct the sustainability of design. We’re never going do it on our own. I think that one of the bigger messages behind my work is that the power of collaboration will affect future change.

Francesca, Paris, France, 2017

Makeup by Jay Kwan | Special Thanks to Fanny Moal @ Karla Otto Paris
For more information visit irisvanherpen.com

MICKALENE THOMAS

With a dedicated studio practice that spans multiple disciplines, Mickalene Thomas explores and challenges societal understandings of beauty, femininity, and identity through her work. Known for her bodacious collage-style, rhinestone-clad paintings, the refreshingly-uncontrived, artistic mastermind is the embodiment of chaos and control.


Photography and Interview by Dustin Mansyur
Unisex Suit and Shirt by Vivienne Westwood, Sunglasses Artist’s Own

The ground-floor, sprawling, warehouse studio that Mickalene Thomas runs is anything but the archetypal cluttered creative hub one might picture when visiting an artist’s studio. Instead, its organization suggests a need for clarity and control required for the artist to create. Small-scale collages, paper and material remnants drape across a single work surface like a patchwork tablecloth, with a pair of scissors propped suggestively on a roll of electric green tape as a centerpiece to its cacophony of color. In a far corner of the studio, a heavy vinyl curtain is swagged aside revealing a space reminiscent of a car-paint room, the color-spattered work table in the center is cleared with equipment tucked away. Adjacent to it, a barrage of carts are trolleyed up neatly, loaded like pack mules with a rainbow of oil pastels, paint tubes, mixing utensils, and a spectrum of boxed rhinestones. Mickalene pushes one with a generous smear of cobalt paint and a pair of knives towards an unfinished piece that she’s “mucking up”, its wheels singing furiously like an operatic aria of the paint’s destiny. Flanking the walls, large-scale canvases of works-in-progress commune with one another, while awaiting canvases are filed away orderly in gargantuan cabinets. The multi-disciplinary artist needs space to breathe and listen to the dialogue of her work as it banters across the nucleus of the studio floor. A library elicit of her groovy, soulful sets offers an inviting corner to entertain studio visits, but we will stand and talk today as Thomas works on a diptych.

An alumni of Pratt and Yale and a United States Artists Fellow, Mickalene Thomas is a dichotomy of soft-spoken eloquence and outspoken intellect, a juxtaposition that feels arresting and gravitational. With a separate office space that runs the length of the studio and a quarter its width, it’s evident Thomas runs a tight ship over her studio practice and team. The role of boss aside, Mickalene Thomas is a distinguished visual artist, filmmaker, and curator whose work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally, and is housed in many permanent collections including Guggenheim, Brooklyn Museum, MoMA PS1 New York, and Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, among others. Her work embraces art-historical, political, and pop-cultural references. Employing the disciplines of photography, painting, collage, sculpture, and installation, her exploration of the complex notions of femininity challenges prevailing definitions of beauty and aesthetic representations of women.

Here IRIS Covet Book shares some studio time with the artist as she articulates on adding to the dialogue of the conventional canon of Western art history.

Racquel Reclining Wearing Purple Jumpsuit, 2016

Were there any influencing factors in your childhood that really helped nurture your love of art? What motivated you to pursue this as a life and career for yourself as an artist?

Being raised by an adventurous, industrious and resourceful single mother who exposed me and my brother to art at a very young age. Around the age of 7 to 12, my mother enrolled my brother and I into various art programs in New Jersey and New York. My fondest memories are at both the Newark Museum and the Henry Settlement in the Lower Eastside. In our house there was a constant engagement with art, fashion, and music. My mother’s eldest brother was a trained fashion illustrator. He illustrated for magazines and designed some record covers, as well. I loved looking at his drawings, they remind me of Bill Traylor’s work. The biggest inspiration on this “jersey girl” was New York City.

We ventured to the city on every weekend we could afford, to attend the Met Museum and to see Broadway shows, mostly Off Broadway. My mother surrounded us with her creative friends. They organized house parties and fashion shows around Newark and East Orange. She and several in her group of her friends produced these events. Their parties were called “Better Days” and one of the plays I remember was called Put A Little Sugar in My Bowl. My mom’s friend gave me the script to the play. Looking back and reading the script reminds me of Tyler Perry plays, excluding the religious banter. I guess you might say that art chose me. I’m a product of my mother’s creative environment.

You work in so many different disciplines. You do photography, collage, painting, sculpture, and installation. Presently, what disciplines are you utilizing in your work?

Including performance, video, and the other five disciplines you mentioned, I oscillate among all of these disciplines, depending on the scope of my project, the concept, or idea; eventually making a decision on which discipline is best to execute the idea. Currently, there are two main techniques that are a major thread in my work, which I use in tandem–photography and silkscreen. I employ silkscreen as a way to bring forth the photographic elements into my painting. Silkscreen is used in my work as a tool to convey that language. It’s extremely important to me that the photographic images on the painting, appear as a collaged element rather than literally gluing or pasting a photograph onto the paintings. Photography plays a primary role in my studio practice, and it’s the strongest thread throughout my work. I shoot all of my resources for my work; for found resources, after scanning, them I put them through a photographic process to claim them as my own. What excites me currently as an artist is transforming my photographic images into a painting language. Although, sometimes my photographs and collages serve as blueprints for my paintings. Now I’m thinking about how I could use these disciplines within performance. My new body of work is video based and performative. Working in film has given me license to explore the moving image as the editing process relates to collage.

Combining all these different disciplines…is it in anyway a metaphor for the complexities of your identity?

I think all of our identities are complexed, and these different disciplines provide a platform for me to navigate and explore my identities. As my art morphs and transforms, so do I as a person with my ideas and sense of self. I’m not the same person I was 10 years ago, neither is my art. I harbor various complexities in the same way as I oscillate within different disciplines. My mythos isn’t to be defined by the work that I make, in the same way that it’s an extension of myself. I can’t escape the methodologies of these disciplines because they are all pertinent for me to tell my story by any means necessary.

The strongest discipline in my work is photography. I see it as one of the most powerful tools constructing or deconstructing our identities. It’s our own black mirror, within the constructs of us having the need to constantly see ourselves instead of really seeing each other. Photography is it’s own visual language, it’s how we communicate–it’s on all our devices, it’s the new handshake, it’s the how are you today, and our third eye. I’m interested in using the photographic lens and other devices that will allow me to see myself and others.


Unisex Suit and Shirt by Vivienne Westwood, Sunglasses Artist’s Own

Where do you begin? How do you start a piece? During our photo shoot, I noticed there were several smaller collages on a work table.

The small collages are an iteration of my practice through a photographic process. I make a series of collages based on the photographs taken during photo shoots. The collages aren’t necessarily one-to-one with the paintings, they are research, resource, and a discovery into the the process of my paintings. The collages have their own strength that I try to bring into the paintings. The exploration within the collage materials allow me to be uninhabited and free of constraints. The discovery of making the collages is allowing the scissors to do it’s magic by cutting shapes and forms that tell a story with the images that I’m using. All my cut scraps are reusable for new images. I have piles and piles of images and materials, organized and chaos, colored and textured, pattern and glittered, layered and integrated. It’s exciting to think about all of those materials and how they will juxtapose with one another.

How did the rhinestones come to be such a touchstone part of your work?

I started experimenting with rhinestones when I became interested in the notions of pointillism during my time at Yale. In relation to my work, rhinestones seemed to be the most relevant material, and I realized that they provide a perfect combination of content, process, and materials not as an accoutrement. They serve to challenge my ideas of what paintings are, and can be. As my work evolved and developed stronger, the rhinestones started taking on other meanings as I expanded them into my practice.

I love that you really embraced that. Even though you referred to them as non-traditional material, you have given it this life to become its own medium, like oil or acrylic.

They are just as important as the acrylic and oil paint, the silkscreen, the oil sticks, and gestural marks. They play the same role as these materials and formalities. All of the elements or materials that I employ, represent the notions of artifice, constructed ideas, and means of how we consider adornment on ourselves and in our environments. How we can utilize and manipulate them to exude a certain quality, beauty or light. Also, rhinestones are a very interesting material to work with, the challenges are vast, and it possesses a multiplicity of ideas and notions that I feel like I could grow with as an artist. Figuring out how to use them in my paintings, but also as a material like paint is very exciting for me.

All of the collages in the interior spaces that you present within your work…I’m so fascinated by them because they look like such an interesting world to reside within. What does the interior as a subject matter mean for your?

For me, the interiors are just as important as the portraits because I think of interiors as portraitures. I think you can tell a lot about a person by the things they surround themselves with and how they live. There’s this residue of life, of cultural history, of storytelling, and all that is domestic that describes the home. How we surround ourselves to complete who we are, and the home or interior, is one of them; the landscape is another. I’m interested in how we reside within these spaces, and how these spaces tell a story of who we are.

I’m mostly trying to reference my childhood, and the environment that I found to be most comforting and inspiring as a young girl. I don’t necessarily think of it as being representative of a specific cultural or ethnic identity–while that may serve as one of the inspirations, it really is meant to reflect on the extensions of my own identity and history.

You just opened a show at Rice University in Houston that featured one of your installations. Are the installations something that you utilize as an extension of the set from the photographic process, or a three-dimensional form derived from the collages or paintings of the interiors?

Yes they are. In some ways they’re really about me trying to make sense of home. I moved around a lot as a kid, and I think that a home is the constructed safe space for families. One of the things that we identify as the “American dream” is having a home. Most people aspire to obtain home as an object of gratification or fulfillment of success regardless of demographic socially, financially, or culturally. There’s still this overarching aspiration of security once you have a home. My environments started in graduate school, when I was photographing myself. I would put up fabric backdrop to create self portraits. So when I started photographing my mother, I started adding things to the environment to formally figure out the compositions for my paintings. Overtime the blank wall was filled and covered with fabrics and wallpaper. I’ve been doing this for the past 10 years, but it’s just been the past three or four years that these environments have been recently exhibited. This part of my practice has developed and expanded into various iterations site-specifically expanding from tableaus in the corner of my studio into major installations where the viewer can activate the space.


Naomi Looking Forward #2, 2016

 

Installation at Newcomb Art Museum 2017 Variable Dimension

Do you usually have several pieces going simultaneously so that you can take a step back, think about it, and process it while working on another piece?

Yes, I work on several projects and works simultaneously. Sometimes chaotic, and then focused. Each project informs the other, allowing the works to have a strong dialogue between themselves. Sometimes I will struggle with one body of work, but then it makes sense in the other, and the works start speaking to each other, and the challenges erupt and make sense. The experience of making art is that it does not lie to you. It starts speaking to you in a certain way, and you have to listen to it. If you’re honest with yourself.

You take classical subject matter – nudes, portraiture, landscapes, interior spaces – and you re-appropriate them based upon your own cultural vantage point and perspective. When you first began your career how was the work received and has that changed over time?

It’s important to me that my work changes overtime. As I grow as a person I want my art to grow with me. It’s important as an artist to find your own voice and be authentic, and hopefully you’re adding a new dialogue to the discourse, to expand it, and to make it richer. I’m interested in using Western art historical canon by deconstructing the traditional notions of beauty within art. By bringing forth the women and beauty that have been removed from the stories, erased, and rewritten.

Art history is known to be so Eurocentric and non-inclusive.

What I’m excited about is the large circle of African American individuals as art historians: as our leaders within art history who are going to be in the position to allow these discourses to be put forth within the institutions. When you look at museums that start to embrace young African American curators, then there’s a shift because they’re entering a new paradigm that is going to allow new conversations to emerge and change in museums and other institutions. I think we need to encourage people of color to be a part of the creative field if they have that interest. There’s a huge generation of younger creative intellectuals that are coming forth that are really exciting. To me, those are the individuals I’m embracing because those are the people that are going to write our legacies and stories.

Earlier, you spoke about the photographic language acting as a kind of “black mirror”. Is that really what art is then, for you, a way of holding up the mirror to society?

I’ve read some of Lacan’s philosophy and something that really inspired me is his theory of the “mirror stage”. That our innate desire and notion of ourselves is to be validated by others, the desire is to be seen. Therefore, whena person gazes at you,it validates that existence because they’re looking at you. This idea of the gaze is very powerful and the notion of validation, and incorporating its existence into Art. Without it, we don’t see ourselves until others see us, which, in turn, gives us our sense of validation: recognizing something familiar in someone else. When we recognize our familiar selves in others, then things will change [in society].

Empathy is such a scarce quality today. How does this quality affect your work?

There’s always a greater part of empathy in artists. We are the most empathetic people. We are the leaders of the world and are capable of allowing people to become their better selves through our creativity. No matter how egotistical and selfish some artists can be, I think there’s still a greater part of empathy to making art. As an artist, we gift so much of ourselves to the world, the fiber of our existence as artists is to help others see the world through our eyes to create change.

Your work also focuses heavily on our understanding of beauty and expanding that. In fashion advertising the big buzzwords right now are diversity, inclusion…How do you think that society’s understanding of beauty is going to change in the coming decades?

The understanding of beauty today is going to become compacted with a deeper meaning of who you are, not necessarily what you look like.

You have this amazing space. It’s so huge, it’s orderly, and it’s still warm and inviting. It appears that you’re anything but the proverbial starving artist.

(laughter) I am! I am, really! I’m not starving, but I’m always hungry. I’m starving for women to sell their art at the same price point as their male counterparts without complaints of it being too expensive. I’m starving for inclusivity, and for being in the right collections, museums, biennials, on the art historian tongues, in the ear of curators, and working with the best galleries nationally and internationally. I’m starving to see more people of color and women having major retrospectives. I’m starving for auction houses to pay artists residuals.

I’m curious what you’ve had to overcome, either personally or professionally, to get to this place in your career. I feel like creative people often have a strong internal dialogue with themselves.

I persevered throughout my life. Everybody has a story, there was a glimpse of my story told in the documentary I directed about my mother in Happy Birthday To A Beautiful Woman.

What advice, then, would you share with any young person who is wanting to choose this for themselves as a life and career?

Despite your personal obstacles, it’s really important to maintain a strong studio practice and a sense of self.

Do you have a glass ceiling? What does success mean to you?

I once heard someone say, “the sky is not the limit it’s just the view”. There’s no glass ceiling for me because I’m hungry and greedy. One of the quotes that I love by Toni Morrison is “…if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.” This is success to me. I can only keep trying to do more than my best.


Hair and Makeup by Nina Soriano using Elemis, Production by Benjamin Price, Special Thanks to Susan Grogan at Mickalene Thomas Studio

All art work © Mickalene Thomas images courtesy of the artist
For more information visit mickalenethomas.com

 

THOMAS COLE’S JOURNEY: TRANSATLANTIC CROSSING AT THE MET

The Mountain Ford, 1846, Image Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Text by: Rishabh Manocha
All artwork by Thomas Cole, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Last month (Jan 30, 2018) witnessed the opening of an unprecedented exhibition, celebrating the life and legacy of English-born American artist Thomas Cole. The title Transatlantic Crossings signifies his immigrant status to the fledgling new country – the United States.

It is also reflective of embarking on a purposeful journey. The latter years would reveal Cole’s significant contribution to American art.

Cole’s forte of landscape painting is sublime, romantic and deeply piercing. The beauty of the American wilderness is a predominant theme of his work. But, what lies beneath that unfettered beauty is truly penetrating. From purely lyrical depictions of the landscape, of which he was a pioneer in the new continent, much of his critical work comprised of incremental narratives, often dichotomous in nature.  These narratives talk about man’s penchant of incessant desires. Born in the heyday of industrialization, Cole witnessed first hand the shocking effects of mass production on the ecological cycle. The soot ridden valleys and smoke of chimneys indeed played a pivotal role in shaping his understanding of man’s relationship to nature.

One of Cole’s most acclaimed works, The Course of Empire depicts mankind’s emergence, prosperity, and eventual diminishment. From the reeds of landscape, to the material pomp and glory of man, and finally to the disappearance into the same enigma of landscape, Cole depicts the course of so-called “civilization”.  It is almost as if the series depicts the course of empire, but pays ode to the permanence of landscape.

Yet another exemplary work is The Oxbow. Here, Cole depicts the tamed nature of landscape in juxtaposition to the lush and rampant existence of nature. The cropped fields of Massachusetts set against the northwestern forests depict American landscape as a panoramic refreshment.

As one looks at Cole’s work and himself as the patron of the Hudson River School, one begins to delve deeper into the subject of dichotomy. It is apparent in his first generational roots as an immigrant, having founded the first institution of its kind in the United States. It is apparent in his usage of landscape as means to distinguish the contrived and the natural. And, it is apparent in his choice of human depictions in composition, most times either sparse or plenty.

The exhibition also includes direct comparisons between his work, and the work of his contemporaries JMW Turner and John Constable. The influence is indeed apparent, but the perspective is rather anew. It isn’t though his work isn’t impressionistic  in technique like Turner’s or largely painterly like Constable’s. However, his work is more than just the interplay of paint and canvas. It is but an assessment that’s made through each landscape. The exhibition runs through May 13, 2018.

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Landscape with Tower (from McGuire Scrapbook),  Image Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm—The Oxbow, 1836, Image Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Titan’s Goblet, 1833, Image Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 For more information regarding this exhibition and more, please visit www.metmuseum.org