CELAYA BROTHERS GALLERY

Celaya Brothers Gallery (Mexico City), in collaboration with INEZ SUEN (Brooklyn)  is pleased to announce its first participation in TX Contemporary Art Fair

Celaya Brothers Gallery is presenting a selection of artworks by Agostino Iacurci (Italy), Camila Rodrigo (Peru), Josh Reames (USA), Juan Carlos Coppel (Mexico), and Mathew Zefeldt (USA) at Booth 517 at George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas October 4-7 with special exhibitions by Houston’s own, Rene Garza (USA).  TX Contemporary will begin with the Opening​ Night​ Preview (Thursday, October 4, 6-10pm) and will open to the public October 5-6 (11am-7pm) and October 7 (12-6pm).

The exhibition pieces discuss the relationship between man and nature by way of still lifes, burning landscapes and eroded mountains. The artists explore -in various disciplines such as photography, sculpture, and painting and in a wide range of styles – how capitalism has driven societies to perceive progress as a (de)construction and to understand humanity as the opposite of nature.

Agostino Iacurci – Through his work with synthetic forms and bright colors, by means of an essential language, Agostino Iacurci is able to manage multiple layers of interpretation. This approach sets his tales on the perennial threshold between innocence and artifice, serenity and catastrophe; on a magnetic tension that is the interpretative key to our very existence. His recurrent themes include self-perception, uncertainty, imagination, and play. His work has a cynical and critical vision of reality —pessimistic at times— setting the stage for drama, and at the same time sublimating it, alleviating it. Iacurci’s work challenges the limits of sinuosity by presenting an image that seems familiar and innocent but is, fundamentally, malicious. And in that uncertainty lays its richness, a half-open door that leads to other interpretations.

●  Agostino Iacurci’s work has been exhibited at the MACRO Museum in Rome, Italy; the Italian Cultural Institute of New York, USA; the Media Library of Orly in France and the Biennial of Urban Art in Moscow, Russia.
●  Has collaborated with Adidas, Urban Outfitters, Penguin Books, La Repubblica, TBWA, Mailchimp, Laterza, Minimum fax, Herman Miller, L’ Unità, Orecchio acerbo, Sugar Music, Edizioni Lapis, , Cielo Tv, Smemoranda, WALLS_Contemporary Public Art, Rat Creatives, Roma 3 University, B5 Production and more.

Camila Rodrigo works with photography, sculpture and installation to reflect on the effects of erosion and wear, focusing on the idea of progress as a (de)construction, a contrast between past and future. Her images examine the passage of time, the transformation of the natural space parallel to the reorganization of society.

●  Finalist in the 2010 Lacoste Elysée Prize
●  Exhibited at the National Museum of Lima, Peru; the Museum Rosphoto in St. Petersburg, 
Russia; the Musée de L’Elysée in Lausanne, Switzerland; and the Palais de l’Árchevéché in Arles, 
France
●  Part of several private collections such as Juan Mulder (Lima, Peru), Eduardo Hoeschield (Lima, 
Peru), Jorge Villacorta (Lima, Peru), Fola (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
●  Published in: 77 Artistas Peruanos Contemporáneos by Mario Testino, YOUTH by: Prestel 
(Random House), Re Generation: tomorrow photographers today (Aperture foundation), and E l Placer es más importante que la Victoria (Tasneem Gallery), among others.

Josh Reames’ paintings use contemporary tools available on the Internet to create surreal patchworks of contemporary signs and symbols that portray the flattening of artistic hierarchies in our postmodern world. Reames employs computer drawing applications and Google images to create assemblages of “modern hieroglyphs.” His work considers abstraction and painting in relation to the Internet and is informed by the strange, new space where a majority of viewership takes place: online through blogs and websites. His conceptual framework functions as a kind of filtration device for cultural byproducts and its attending relativism, flattening signs, text and symbols, cultural objects and icons to the same-level composition, thereby removing their hierarchy.

●  Represented by industry leading galleries.
●  Named one of the 30 Emerging Artists During Frieze Week by Artsy
●  Juror’s pick in the 2011 New American Paintings, Midwest Edition #95
●  Was artist-in-residence at Ox Bow (funded by Joan Mitchell Foundation)
●  Exhibited at the Museo Di Capodimonte in Naples, Italy; Urban Institute of Contemporary Art in 
Michigan; Luis de Jesus Gallery in Los Angeles, The Hole in New York, and Guerrero Gallery in 
San Francisco, among others.
●  Published in Artcritical, Artnews, Artsy, Hyperallergic, New American Paintings, Chicago Tribune, 
Chicago Art Review, among others.

Juan Carlos Coppel 
The burning of tires is a practice carried out by farmers to raise the temperature of the fields and avoid the crops to frost during the winter preserving months of work, one of the main economic activities of the state. This procedure poses an ethical and environmental problem related to the ecological devastation of the agricultural field, even in the context of a rationalized production. The images, taken in a field to the north of Sonora, play ironically with the nineteenth-century painting by pondering, on a romantic mood, a concern of our time.

●  Took specialized courses in photography with Jay Dickman (Pulitzer Award winner) at the National Geographic, in Paris with Manuel Abellán and at the International Center of Photography in New York.
●  Won the Acquisition Prize in Fotoseptiembre and the Acquisition Prize in the XV Bienal de Artes Visuales del Noroeste.
●  Exhibited in the National Center for the Arts CENART (MX), Sonora Museum of Art MUSAS (MX), the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (USA), among others.
●  He was invited to the 4th edition of Salón Acme (MX), the XVII Biennial of Photography in Centro de La Imagen (MX), the VII Biennial of Visual Arts MIRADAS in Tijuana (MX), Guatephoto (GT) and Foto España (SPA).
●  He was member of the 2016-2017 Young Creators Program of the National Fund for Culture and Arts FONCA and the Contemporary Photography Program in North Mexico.
●  He is part of the private collections of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in California and the Sonora Museum of Art in Mexico.

Mathew Zefeldt – His work uses representational imagery as an element within a larger composition. It’s less about what the repeated image represents necessarily, but rather the interplay and relationships of the parts to the whole, and each other— reflecting the pluralist landscape we find ourselves in today. Zefeldt uses images from our life and culture, to reproduce them in an almost lifeless, systematic way. His interest in the aesthetics of digital collage is addressing the multiple visual languages and bringing them together in one plane, creating an overlay of styles and gestures that echo the fragmented, heterogeneous nature of contemporary reality.
●  One of two national recipients of the Dedalus MFA Fellowship in 2011
●  Exhibited at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, the Contemporary Art Museum of St. Louis, the 
Minneapolis Institute of Arte, the Minnesota Museum of American Art, the Marin Museum of 
Contemporary Art, Circuit 12, Joshua Liner Gallery, and Lisa Cooley among others.
●  Published in LA Times, Art Ltd., New American Paintings, and Art Fuse, among others.

Rene Garza is a New York based Artist that is in residency in Houston, TX where he was raised. Garza has spent over 15 years as a fashion and celebrity stylist traveling the world in a business ruled by visceral aesthetics. Using this time to create a body of work that reflects his long standing love of conceptual art. As an artist in many mediums, Garza notes his inspirations usually comes from travel, minimalism, geometry, dark gothic and romanticism. Garza currently has a public art installation in Houston, Texas called “A Moment” that covers an entire building’s facade and is meant to inspire calmness in our busy lives. “A Moment” follows up the exhibition of a drawing of graphite on paper at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

ABOUT Celaya Brother Gallery – IG @celayabrothers

Celaya Brothers Gallery (CBG) is a unique space that challenges the creative limits of the participating artists. A contemporary art gallery with a proactive offer that invites international artists to develop unique concepts and defy the parameters of their time.

ABOUT INEZ SUEN  –  IG @inezsuenart

INEZ SUEN is a multi-service international creative company for a changing art market. INEZ SUEN offers a wide range of services such as strategic planning, advising and consulting, and art exhibition production.

ABOUT TX Contemporary

Texas Contemporary, Houston’s leading contemporary and modern art fair, brings top galleries to the area’s discerning collector base. Now going into its seventh edition, Texas Contemporary 2018 will feature 65 exhibitors and an innovative program of special projects and public installations.

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

LUKE EDWARD HALL

Charmingly-maximal, Luke Edward Hall’s whimsical take on interiors offers an escape from the mundane white box of minimalism.

Photography by Wikkie Hermkens | Styling by Sonny Groo | Interview by Dustin Mansyur
Full look by Burberry 

Peruse through Luke Edward Hall’s instagram feed, and one will find a story vibrantlylayered in color-clad interiors, candy-colored hues of hand painted ceramics and drawings, and peppered with images documenting the 27-year-old creative’s quixotic travels. Stylishly dandy and tousle-haired, Hall curates a dreamy world as if seen through the most decadent shade of millennial pink lenses. A visit to his North London studio enforces the idea, with it’s bubblegum-painted walls and scatter of colorful tools and materials strewn across his work table. Daring fabric remnants, bouquets of colored pencils and brushes sprout charmingly in a collection of vintage mugs and vases, vintage photographs, magazine clippings, and the occasional tchotchke clutter the artist’s space like a decorated nest. In the center, a spot is cleared away, just big enough to entertain a drawing in progress.

Hall has been dubbed by Vogue.com as the ‘interior design world’s wunderkind’, a hefty seal of approval for a budding artist and designer. With a variety of blue-chip collaborations with companies like Burberry, Drakes, and Stubbs & Wootton already in his portfolio, Hall is positioned thoughtfully for longevity. His idyllic watercolor brush strokes, and gestural, simplified drawings elicit an understanding of the same subtleties of Matisse or Picasso’s more expressionistic works, while an array of products he’s created in-house suggests similar branding sensibilities of such design heavyweights as Jonathan Adler or Kelly Wearstler. The romance exists in the visual language Hall uses to couple his creative vision with commercial potential, resulting in the fanciful prism of his nostalgia inspired work.

Here IRIS Covet Book offers a glimpse into the auspicious world of Luke Edward Hall.

‘Gervase by the Pool’, 2017 (has been sold)

You actually studied menswear at Central Saint Martins before you established your studio in 2015. Your career has really blossomed as an artist, but also as a designer of objects. What influenced your decision, or what shifted your focus, I should say rather, post-graduation, so that you went down this career path as opposed to choosing to stay in men’s wear design?

I always had an interest in antiques and interiors as well as fashion. While I was studying menswear, I was also selling antiques online. When I graduated I met an interior designer in London, whose style I really admired. So I ended up going to work for him, and that’s how I got more involved with interiors. It wasn’t something that I decided, it happened quite naturally.

Then what helped you to make the decision to venture out on your own after working with that architect that you mentioned?

I always knew that I wanted to have my own thing. When I was working full time, I started designing fabrics. I began putting more work up online, and I started doing much more drawing. Then, eventually, I got a few commissions — enough that allowed me to set my own thing up. I worked quite hard to get my work out there, so that I could be able to go out on my own.

What avenues did you pursue to increase your exposure?

Obviously, I’ve had a lot of work up on Instagram from the beginning. But, early on, I started making products like cushions, fabrics, and prints of my work. I had a lot of product that I could sell. I just tried to make sure that I had my work out there as much as I could. Eventually it began being published in magazines.

Do you do all of your fabrics in-house or are you licensing your designs through a fabric company?

It’s full-time in-house. Coming from a fashion and interiors background, I always appreciated good fabric. After I sketch up the design, I’ll print them out and work with a factory to produce them in very small runs to be used in my cushions and other products.

Can you describe what your studio’s like? Do you share space with others? What is it like when you are there?

I work with my friends in an art gallery where I have a space in the back. It’s really nice because it’s very close to where I live, five minutes away. I have this corner of a room that I’ve painted pink. It’s where I work on all of my projects.

What’s a typical day in the workroom like for you?

I go in every day because there are lots of new things happening. I always have meetings and a variety of projects to work on. Sometimes I’m working on foreign accounts, sometimes I’m drawing, other times I’m painting pottery or sourcing fabrics.

Voluta and Luca Cushion by Luke Edward Hall

You describe your aesthetic as being informed by a love of history, an appreciation of beauty, and a sense of playfulness. Do you have any specific historical influences that you find inspiring from which you pull inspiration?

I draw inspiration from history because often I’m inspired by the stories. I love looking back at ancient Greek myths and legends, also English folklore. I love reading about times in history, like the 1920s and ‘30s, especially in London. I’m quite nostalgic.

Your work is very sophisticated. How do you draw the line between playfulness and something that’s considered kitsch?

The thing is, I do like a little bit of kitsch, but I don’t want what I do to be so gaudy and outrageously mad that it becomes off-putting. I think you can be playful with color and print without sacrificing elegance and sophistication, which is a nice balance for interiors. I love playing with tradition or history, and trying to achieve the balance of pairing something very old with something very new. Curating the right pieces together is always a fun process.

I feel like today people consider minimalism and modern design as being somewhat synonymous, especially when we’re talking about interior spaces. Your approach is anything but minimal and yet reads as modern. Do you think there is a shift in the consumer market towards a more “decorated” approach?

There’s a general shift toward people being more interested in a more maximal approach, which I think there’s lots of reasons for that. Like with fashion, things come in cycles. I don’t really think of my lifestyle as maximal…it’s more that I just like being surrounded by my “stuff ”. I like having lots of color and pattern, and that look is typically classified as maximalism. The thing with maximalism in the interiors I like, is that it offers a little bit of a fantasy. I guess that’s why I look at the past, as well. I like the idea of creating something magical into which you can escape. The world we live in at the moment is quite grim at times. I think that’s partly why more people are taking to this trend because perhaps they need an escape from the everyday as opposed to living in a white box.

Based on your Instagram, it appears as though you travel a great deal. Is it a source of inspiration as well?

Travel is a huge source of inspiration. Italy is a really inspiring place for me to visit and work; I go there a lot and bring inspiration back. I always feel refreshed after going to the countryside in England because I find the city to be quite intense. Travel for me is just as important as my studio days. When I travel, I end up working every day, and always get re-inspired by the many things I come across.

You’ve collaborated with so many high profile companies already across several different luxury consumer markets, Burberry, Drakes, Christie’s, Stubbs and Wootton, and even Samsung, what have been some of your favorite collaborations to work on and why?

They’ve all been great for their own reasons. I only collaborate when it feels like the right fit. It has to be something that I feel really passionate about and connected with. Burberry is an amazing company to collaborate with because their reach is worldwide. It was very exciting when that opportunity happened. I also have always loved Stubbs and Wootton, so it was really fun to work with them to turn my drawings into embroideries for their slippers. Drakes was also a great collaboration that gave me the opportunity to see my drawings on silk for ties and scarves. It’s a great experience working with other people when they do something really well. It allows me to add my touch to it, and we come together and create something beautiful.

Luke Edward Hall x The Store ‘Face Bowl’ (available from The Store x Soho House Berlin and The Store x Soho Farmhouse)

Vases From Left: Lemons, 2016, Flower Prince, 2017 (Personal Collection)

You’re working on many different projects that span different disciplines, do you do all the your own business development or do you work with an agent?

It’s sort of a mixture. I don’t employ anyone. I just work by myself. I have an agent for Europe and they get me more illustration jobs. Most of the work comes to me, though. If the project involves working with a bigger company, I may hire someone short-term if needed, and I have relationships with vendors to produce what needs to be done.

I feel like drawing, itself, is such pure, analog art form. Now, we’re living in a post-digital world, all connected to a screen, advertising ourselves online on whatever platform we can. Do you think that social media and the Internet are simply just an extension of the artist’s tool kit?

I don’t think everyone has to engage in social media. I completely appreciate the people being like, “Oh, I’m not doing it. I’m not doing Instagram,” and that’s totally fine. For me, I like having a visual diary to see and process what I’m working on. I’ve always liked working on blogs and documenting what I’m doing. I’ve received lots of work through Instagram. When I got my first big job, which was for the Parker Palm Springs, it came from Instagram. So I owe a lot to it really, because it’s helped me. If you don’t need it, fine, but it can definitely be a great tool. If you can get greater exposure, then I think, why not make the most of it?

Warhol said, “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art.” You have an ecommerce portal on your website, you also have 1stDibs shop, and you did a pop-up shop last year. I’m curious what entrepreneurship means to you. How do you maintain the balance between art and commerce, being commercial without sacrificing your vision?

I’ve always been fascinated by retail. And while I like drawing and painting, I also like making products. When I first started selling antiques online, I’d go buy old antiques and restore them for resale on 1stDibs. I love graphic design and the process of branding things, so creating a variety of products with my artwork was natural. Now, I’m thinking about doing a little exhibition next year, so I’m setting aside time to work on those pieces. Maybe people think, “Oh, well, you’re not a real artist, you’re more of a designer.” I don’t really mind what label I’ve got. I think you can have all of these worlds that fit together, and I quite enjoy doing it.

I saw images online of your pop-up shop. Do you ever think you’ll venture into doing a little shop, a flagship store, for all your creations to live within?

At some point, I will probably do some shop type of thing. The thing is that at the moment I’m doing one-off pieces. I almost went down the route doing more products, but I’m now fixating more on hand-made ceramics, which are hand-painted and all one-off pieces. During the holiday season, I make more pieces and products for online and pop-ups. Right now my focus is on projects like the exhibition next year, which is going to be drawings, prints, and ceramics.

Do you have any advice that you might give to a young person considering to choose this as a career path?

Make sure you feel it pulling your heart; be brave. Go for it and believe in yourself. When something is completely yours, I think people always pick up on that. So do what makes you happy, because that’s what people respond to. You need to couple that with being on it as a business, thinking about social media, and having a bit of a strategy to give you direction. I do think you do need to have both sides – a creative side and a business side – in order to make it a success.

You’ve worked on many of amazing projects and I’m sure you only want more, but what do you envision for yourself in your future?

That’s the thing. I don’t actually have a plan. I’ve got so many exciting stuff happening, like the exhibition next year, and I’m going to carry on doing more interior projects. I’ve only been doing it for two years by myself so there’s still a lot that I want to do. I’d love to do a book and I like the idea you have, maybe, opening some sort of showroom. But for now I’m also just playing it by ear. I’m happy to just let things happen.For more information visit lukeedwardhall.com

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

 

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

STUDIO VISITS – CHLOE WISE

Chloe Wise is the New York artist capturing a 21st century zeitgeist through dark humor and fake food, dripping alfredo sauce over gluten-free ideas, the artist’s work offers an at-times scathing critique on capitalism that challenges our obsession with health, beauty, and luxury in modern America.


Portrait Photography by Tiffany Nicholson Interview by Ashleigh Kane
Dress (worn as a blouse) by Marc Jacobs, trousers, hat, and shoes artist’s own

“I can’t remember a time where art wasn’t the focus of my life. Even as I’m speaking to you now, I’m drawing. It’s just what my hand is always doing.” Chloe Wise is speaking over the phone from her studio in Alphabet City, New York, reminiscing about growing up in an energetically creative household. The 26-year-old artist recalls being a child and sitting in restaurants with her mom and drawing portraits of one-another on the paper table cloths. Born in Montreal, Canada, Wise says that she’s been making art since she was six or seven-years-old. She laughs when she realizes her style is essentially the same, two decades on. Always encouraged to pursue what she “obviously showed an interest in”, Wise moved to New York in the midst of graduating high school in 2013 and completed the remainder of her classes online. Once there, she began to work as an assistant to Brad Troemel, one of the artists behind the Jogging, a tumblr blog which tapped into the viral possibilities of art on the internet.

In late 2014, friend and fellow artist India Salvör Menuez wore one of Wise’s sculptures to an event – a life-like cream cheese bagel bag adorned with a Chanel logo. The internet went into meltdown. It didn’t take fashion sleuths long to realize that the bag wasn’t from the French fashion house but was instead created by a then-little-known artist named, Chloe Wise. It was her moment, but it’s also a milestone in her career that she doesn’t want to talk about, explaining, “If you want to copy and paste everything I have said before, you have my permission to do that.” But it’s for no reason other than she’d rather tell you about her latest work. Her most recent exhibition was hosted by Paris’s Almine Rech Gallery. Titled Of false beaches and butter money, it was a witty takedown of wellness culture that included oil paintings and sculpture, and contained the elements that have thus far been key to Wise’s success: great aesthetics and even better humour, the latter which she says she uses as an “access point” to draw people in. Come a little closer and you’ll quickly realize that Wise’s work is about more than a punchline, and below she let’s us in on the joke.

Lactose Tolerance, 2017

Inceste de Citron, 2017

Can you talk about your first experiences making art?

I was making video art when I was six or seven-years-old. One time I made a fake brand which was a combination of Sprite and some other found liquid in the fridge and I made a commercial for it.

When I was 13, 14, I had a webcam and I would take it off of the computer and bring it with me to school or to Florida. I made this film about lettuce being the essence of beauty which was a parody of Zoolander where water was the essence of wetness. Everyone is just holding pieces of lettuce and it has a Sigur Rós song in the background, but it’s pretty funny. It makes me think I have the same sense of humour now that I had when I was 14.

At the time did you realize that what you were making was art?

It wasn’t so thought out but growing up all my notebooks were always covered in drawings. I was always creating something. I guess I was making work with the tools that were available to me. There was no awareness of what that meant or what it would come to signify. I think it was mostly just a reflex to the muscles that were growing as the internet started to gain popularity.

When do you think you really began to embark on your career as an artist?

I don’t think I knew I was doing that, I was just making stuff. After I started assisting Brad, I began to be in group shows with friends, and that felt like a very natural thing. We were all supporting each other, putting on shows, and working together in whatever capacity. I got offered a solo show, and that’s when I stopped working for other artists and started taking my art seriously as a full-time job. The show was in Montreal and it was called Pissing, shmoozing and looking away (2015). I was also offered another solo show which would exhibit later that year called, That’s something else, my sweet (2015). During the process of making those, the bread bag thing happened. It was like this whirlwind, and from then on it was very clear to me that there would be nothing else except for the continual creation of the things that I felt like I had to make.

Was that sudden glare of a spotlight scary?

No. I’ve never been someone who has been shy, self-conscious, or freaked out about an overwhelming amount of involvement. I am best under pressure, and I’m always under pressure. It was funny, exciting, overwhelming – but in a nice way.

Food has always been present in your work. Why are you drawn to food?

It’s not that I’m drawn to food. Food has always been apart of this conversation with art history, or with us just communicating our Zeitgeist, or our moment in time. Aside from the landscape, it’s one of the most obvious subjects in traditional painting, and I think my work is traditional in that way. Regarding food now, we have such abundance and availability in terms of variation. Walking into a store decades ago would’ve looked a lot different than it does now. There’s this idea around the way that things are marketed to individuals, and how the more that we seek to be individuals, the less we assimilate.

My use of food also talks about other parts of humanity and human experience, such as desire and mortality. The human body comes into this beautiful full form and then it decays and dies, and that’s reality – and that’s the same conversation we can have about food.

Your titles are always brilliant. Tell us about the meaning behind the title of your last show, Of false beaches and butter money?

The ‘false beaches’ part is from Picasso, who, in three different poems he wrote ‘false as a beach’. It kept running through my head, and I realized that this false beach is like a Corona ad; an idyllic paradise image with a blue sky and a yellow umbrella. I was thinking about that falseness and the contrived nature of some utopian ideas and to me, that was a really interesting segue into how my work is about real versus fake. I

t’s a real sculpture, but it also looks like the real thing it’s based on so there is this line between how you even define what real is and what fake is. At what point would the real thing become less valuable? Because the real thing would be a piece of lettuce or something.

The other half, ‘butter money’, is a french idiom that goes, ‘Vouloir le beurre, l’argent du beurre et le cul de la crémière’, which means, ‘you want the butter, the butter money and the milk maid’s ass’. It has the same meaning as ‘you want to have your cake and eat it too.’ It’s about this human desire to be doing the right thing, even though we are just truly ruining the entire planet.

For example, you think that choosing quinoa is the healthy choice, but quinoa completely deforests South America, and is making it completely unsustainable for anybody living there to even come close to meeting their needs. They can’t even eat their own quinoa because they can’t even afford their own quinoa because you’ve priced them out. There’s no real right thing to do, so we’re constantly settling for what we think is an okay decision in a vast array of bad decisions.

There’s no real moral thing and if we spiral too deep into that then we realize everything sucks. It’s hard to not partake in a Capitalist society because we all have a part in it. As humans, we are flawed and we are critical of our decision making processes, and that’s what my show is really about. The ‘want to have your cake and eat it too’ idea is a very distilled version of this desire that we have to be congratulated, or at least to be excused from the conversation because we did our part and now we can stop trying.

 
Dress (worn as a blouse) by Marc Jacobs, trousers and shoes artist’s own

You would have been a castle for a moment, 2016

 

You’ll Go Blind Looking For It, 2017

Your works over the years have explored different issues and politics, have the issues you explore over the years changed?

I think everyone has become a lot more politicized in the sense that it’s become urgent, and it’s not a luxury anymore. Politics is something that we have to speak about. The difference between my politics then and now is my sense of responsibility, because I have a bigger platform. I’m not perfect; I don’t understand exactly what needs to be done or how I will go forward. I’m inconsistent like every human is, but I think that’s what all my art is about; human inconsistency. But I’m figuring it out and learning to share. It’s very natural for me to share what I’m thinking about.

The content of my work is the same, I’m just thinking of other ways of being critical of consumerism and capitalism. As well as trying to exist within it, and benefit from it. Then realising at the same time, that benefiting from it is a problem. So it’s this weird place that we’re in as consumers. As Americans, every single thing that we do is utilised for the benefit of the big brands. Every single thing we do is “Big-Brothered”, in a sense.

There’s something cynical about thinking about this and there is also something very important in acknowledging it. I was acknowledging that on a smaller scale at different times in my life; when I was vegetarian, or when I was making the tampons (Irregular Tampons, 2014). It’s always been the same voice, it’s just a matter of how and what is coming to the table.

You’ve worked widely across various mediums, do you find yourself gravitating towards one in particular now?

It’s just based on what I have to do at a certain time. I like to construct because I’m so all over the place and multifaceted that I need something to give me direction. The mediums are all interconnected and they all inform each other, but painting seems to have a lot of commercial demand, so that’s something I’m focusing on.

Can you talk about the way you use humor? On first glance, people might think of your works as ‘funny’ but looking deeper and hearing you speak about them, it’s clear that they are not just ‘funny’.

I think you can say that they’re funny because when it comes down to the obviously dark and depressing aspects of the works, I don’t think that is what you read when you first see them. It would be cool if it was but then maybe the work wouldn’t have the same impact. I think that satire and comedy have long been the way that we can negotiate, unpack, and work through life’s most unfunny cruelties. That’s how we handle getting through this conversation without dying of a broken heart. That’s part of the human need to create art in general – or create anything – by re-negotiating it, or re-representing it in a way that could be funny, beautiful, moving or sad. Being ‘too real’ doesn’t necessarily get the job done, so I think calling it funny is not a disservice. Humour is my cheap trick and I use it as an access point, but it would not be the final destination.

What advice would you give to someone who needed it?

Don’t question yourself.

 

Hair by Austin Burns using Oribe, Makeup by Tonya Riner using NARS cosmetics, Art Direction by Louis Liu, Editor Marc Sifuentes, Production by Benjamin Price.

All Artwork © Chloe Wise / Photo Rebecca Fanuele / Courtesy Chloe Wise and Almine Rech Gallery

For more information visit chloewise.com

STUDIO VISITS – RACHEL ROSSIN

Exploring the fine line between reality and our digital avatars, coder-turned-artist Rachel Rossin pulls us into her virtual worlds before ejecting us back out. In the disorientation of the experience we are left to wonder — what is reality?


Portrait Photography by Tiffany Nicholson | Interview by Haley Weiss

Sweater and Shirt by Versace, Skort, Socks and Shoes Artist’s Own

While Rachel Rossin was growing up in West Palm Beach, Florida, like many American children of the late ‘90s and early aughts, she read Harry Potter books, cared for her virtual creatures on Neopets, and repeatedly played SkiFree, a game on her mother’s Windows ’95 computer — even though she knew its likely end: “death by yeti.” However, unlike many of her peers, she could code by age eight, although she didn’t yet define it using that term; picking apart websites and hacking video games were simply fun and ordinary activities. “It felt natural, probably in the same way that three year olds now are intuitively using iPhones,” the 30-year-old recalls. “Escapism is natural for some people. Without a lot of access to culture, especially where I grew up, I felt pretty isolated, and so this was my community.”

Years later, after running her own web design company, playing her fair share of Call of Duty, and furthering her technology tool-kit at university, she began translating her digital experiments into art. When she moved to New York in 2010, she was already making “crude” VR (virtual reality) videos using 3D modeling software. By the time of her first-ever solo show, n=7 / The Wake In Heat of Collapse at SIGNAL in 2015, viewers could experience her VR work on an Oculus Rift headset, making their way through the fragmented digital world she created. She also started painting; for her 2015 show LOSSY at Zieher Smith & Horton, she showed a VR piece alongside canvases that recreated scenes from that virtual space. She’s continued to push the medium’s boundaries, showing her work at institutions like The New Museum, where she was a Virtual Reality Fellow.

For her second, recent solo show at SIGNAL, Peak Performance, she thought about body awareness; after building virtual world after virtual world, she felt disembodied, and wanted to work with VR in a way that would allow her to be in touch with her emotions. She modeled 3D environments, as she has in the past, but with an acute awareness of what she was experiencing. Throughout the process she asked: “What does my body feel like in this moment?” From the VR models that resulted, she made paintings, plexiglass sculptures, and aquarium-like tanks — all of which were shown without the original VR experience. Rossin’s work summons the question of where reality lies: on the headset or in person, online or offline, or — the more nebulous, likely conclusion — somewhere in-between.

Mirror Milk, 2015 Lossy, Zieher Smith & Horton, New York, NY Courtesy of Zieher Smith & Horton and the Artist

After, Horizon with Oranges, 2017 Peak Performance, Signal Gallery, New York, NY Photo courtesy of Signal Gallery

Obviously the reality within VR is disorienting, but the moments you put the headset on and take it off are equally as disruptive to your sense of the world. I wonder if you’ve watched people experience your VR projects, and what registers with them that you’ve found interesting?

It’s funny you ask that. The way I tackled this for the SIGNAL show, which was the first time I did a VR show and that was in 2015, is there were things in the VR space that were also art objects in the physical space. Then what people were seeing was also projected up on the wall, so when you exited, which is a pretty sensitive and disorienting time or transition, I had things that were registration points that left a feeling or a residue of what you had experienced in my VR piece. And then with my show LOSSY, those were paintings that were made from the VR piece, so you had an acquaintance with the paintings when you first entered the room, and then after you left the VR piece, you saw that same reference material but now as static windows that you just experienced or felt. That’s always been interesting, because there’s something about the gradient of reality, for lack of a better word, where right now these things are very polar. That’ll probably change, but they’re very binary: you have the virtual world and the physical world. There’s a moment that you can get into very, very quickly that’s in-between those two worlds when you’re making physical objects, and if it’s a show that’s not so much about programming, if it’s a show about that disparity, then that’s what I try to find.

Then there are the pieces that are about programming, like the piece that’s at Kiasma [Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki, Alembic Cache Passes (Time-snark) (2016)], where it’s time moving. It’s a piece that I’ve been working on for a while. There’s a type of VR where you can map time; I found a way to map time to where a person is in a room, so the piece is aware of where the person is, and that’s sort of the human scrubber of time, and so two-dimensional time becomes three-dimensional time. With that piece, the floor is the same in both worlds. That’s another way I think of trying to find registration points. It’s like putting people through the uncanny valley, squishing them through the uncanny valley. Sometimes, the uncanny valley, the disparity [between the virtual and physical], is pretty brief.

In art it does seem like it’s a binary; something is either multimedia and tech-based or it’s not. But in daily life, that’s not how we experience technology. Our digital and real memories are all intertwined, so I wonder why it is that there’s such a gap in art.

I always think about the advent of the cursor as a parallel to this, because part of that consideration is that it’s natural. You have the advent of the cursor — everything is command line before this moment — and then there’s the advent of the operating system, the advent of GUI, Graphical User Interface. We didn’t have a way to really put ourselves in VR, put ourselves in the digital space, until the cursor was invented. And then, at that moment, there was a representation of our hands that was on the screen that you could use, which is pretty interesting if you think about what’s coming next for us. I really hate making predictions about what’s going to happen in the future because it seems so frivolous, but it does seem like, if I had a gut instinct or a hunch about that, it’ll probably shrink — that disparity, that feeling will naturally shrink with time. I don’t know if that’s fortunately or unfortunately.

Our emotional lives, especially our superego, can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not because it still hurts when whatever slight happens on the Internet, or if there’s a threat made on the Internet, my god, my reptilian brain certainly reacts to that. But our bodies definitely can tell the difference. My body can follow my reptilian brain, but it still feels pretty separate in this sphere, while our emotional lives, our primitive brain and our pheromone brains — our more primal or animal instincts — live in technology pretty seamlessly. That’s kind of incredible because we assume that it’s not like that, but it is. If you just take a temperature of your body in real time, [the reaction to something taking place virtually] is completely the same as in real life, if not increased — the fear is increased, it seems like. I find that to be enchanting in a dark way.


Sweater and Shirt by Versace

For your second show at SIGNAL you don’t have any VR headsets. But the plexiglass pieces, do they follow the same process as the paintings where it begins as a photo, is put into a program, and then is made physical again? What’s the process behind these works?

Not everything starts as a photo. Sometimes it does, but I use almost every tool available, and sometimes it starts with me purely modeling things in 3D. Sometimes I use a VR sculpting program. Sometimes it’s me ripping stuff, like for the Call of Duty piece, Man Mask [(2016)], it’s me literally hacking Call of Duty figures out of their little shells and texturing them. So depending what the body of work is, it’s always going to be different. But for these plexiglass pieces, what they are is VR. I have paintings and then the plexiglass pieces and then there are these strange tanks. The paintings and the plexiglass pieces are made from the same seed, the VR space; we’re using VR as a loose term to talk about 3D microcosms that have their own physics and their own light. What I’m doing is I’m using the same scene [for both the paintings and the plexiglass pieces]. I paint from that microcosm or that VR world that I’ve sculpted, I’m [physically] making paintings of that space, and then I’m printing them out on plexiglass — it’s almost like they’re part three of this gradient. Then I wanted them to begin with the body and then end with the body, so what I did for the plexiglass ones is they’re then blow-torched while I’m nestling in them for as long as I can take it. If it gets too hot I have to leave. But it gets pretty soft, and I sort of hug them around me.

In your mind, how do the aquarium-like sculptures play into this? Because visually they seem like a departure, but there’s something weird going on there that seems similar in a lot of ways to the VR works, like, what’s the original piece, what’s the “real” part of it? How are you thinking about these?

Something about building computers and building machines feels very intimate, like building worlds or building microcosms; they feel like building cities or VR worlds. That’s something that, before I was even coding [as a kid], I was breaking stuff and trying to see how computers worked — bless you, Mom. So I’ve been building computers for a long time, and then I became fascinated with the idea of the show and going back to the body. Of course there’s a little bit of a knee-jerk response in the idea of water combined with some sort of technology; that’s the part of it that’s amusing or silly. But they feel like vivariums or like geological core samples of a VR space.

All of the screens in those tanks are literally the VR spaces; you see them through these very pixelated LED screens. I wanted to make something that very much felt like the body, sort of crudely self-contained, that wasn’t VR, that felt that there was a way of describing the landscape, as aquariums do, really — “here’s a slice of the ocean.”

Timescrubbing, Maquette, 2017 ALT FACTS, Postmasters Gallery, New York, NY Photo courtesy of Brooke Nicholas

Safe Apron, Safe Cape, 2016 My Little Green Leaf at Art In General and Kim, Riga, Latvia Photo by Ansis Starks, Kim and Art in General

You talking about body awareness and the act of forming these plexiglass pieces around your own body is interesting, because it grounds VR in the human form literally. How did you start thinking about body awareness and what made you want to physically cocoon yourself in these pieces to make them more human?

When I was growing up, being online was a safe place despite the perverts. It was this place that I felt like was pretty necessary, like my community was there. There was an adventure. It could be because I’m getting older, but I felt in light of… I don’t know if it was a response to technology or politics, that’s what I’m trying to figure out. I think I was wanting to make work that was more introspective, that was simpler and less about technology and less about process, and more, “These are the tools I have right now.” I wanted to strip it down to something very literal. I’ve been making a lot of VR work and I’ve been existing in VR and in digital spaces because I had back-to-back museum shows, which was amazing, but they were all VR installations. I was existing kind of without a body and then not making anything physically.

I think it was a response internally, and it was also a response to the fact that any time I went on social media or went on to where I thought I had community, it was chaos. Because it was chaos and, frankly, pretty stressful, I started thinking, “What is my response? How do I feel right now as I’m reading this horrific news story or my aunt’s Facebook posts? Right now I just feel like a pile of lungs.” One of the paintings is kind of about that. It was about using fear responses or technology as the prompt for that type of body awareness exercise: I have a fear response, and it’s in a space where I don’t have a body, so what is my body doing? But the baseline of what we’re talking about is that I wanted to make something where the work wasn’t serving technology, technology was serving the work.


Sweater and Shirt by Versace, Skort Artist’s Own

Hair by Austin Burns using Oribe, Makeup by Agata Helena @agatahelena using NARS cosmetics, Art Direction by Louis Liu, Editor Marc Sifuentes, Production by Benjamin Price

For more information visit rossin.co

STUDIO VISITS – SAM MCKINNISS

In 2016, Brooklyn-based artist Sam McKinniss made waves in the art world with his sophomore solo show, Egyptian Violet, which featured a memorable, moody portrait of the late musical phenomenon Prince. Known for his signature romantic and sometimes campy color-saturated paintings of baby animals and pop stars, McKinniss walks the line between high and low-brow culture.


 Sweater and Pants by Coach, Shoes and Socks Artist’s Own
Portrait Photography by Tiffany Nicholson | Interview by Anna Furman

Thirty-one-year-old painter Sam McKinniss grew up in a small town in central Connecticut where, as he told me, “there’s an apple orchard and a lot of golf courses and trees and lakes to jump in.” The now Brooklyn-based artist oscillates between sincere admiration for his subjects and a gleeful, ironic take on pop culture–blurring the lines between low and high cultural signs. Disney characters, B-level celebrities, ’80s pop stars, and true-crime characters filter into his work through careful brushstrokes and lush color palettes. In the studio, he listens to baroque opera and pop music (Rostam, SZA, St. Vincent), exclusively.

McKinniss speaks with a sort of world-weary droll, but comes off as anything but–he is attentive to his subjects, and treats each portrait with measured thoughtfulness. On a balmy day in late September, I spoke with McKinniss about his collaboration with singer/songwriter Lorde, the far-reaching influence of late ’60s hippie subcultures, and his upcoming show Daisy Chain in Venice Beach.

Michael Jackson, 2017

Prince (Under the Cherry Moon), 2016

Hi! What are you working on today?

I just started a painting of a lamb smelling some flowers. It’s kind of cute. I recently finished a portrait of JonBenét Ramsey, which might have led me to paint this lamb. She just seems too young to be that made up and that glamorous. She looks so innocent and now she’s so dead–a lamb seems like it would be a nice contrast to her figure.

Maybe generic pictures of cute animals on the internet offset some of the darker, meaner subjects out there or give us some sort of emotional retreat from more violent material.

Tell me about your studio practice.

I like to work every day and I like having a set work day schedule, so I try and start between 10 and 11 and leave by 6 or 7. That way I have time to draw or think out problems, and then look hard at the paintings and decide how they need to be fixed. If I’m going to paint, I need at least four uninterrupted hours. Lately, I’ve been trying to slow down. I want to be a little more thoughtful and courteous to the material. For a couple of years, I would whip through paintings, sometimes finishing one small piece a day. But I’m happier when I take my time and the paint looks better.

What do you mean by “better”?

I mean it in terms of mark-making. Composition–how you design, how you set a picture inside of a rectangle– definitely benefits from taking more time. Every time I hit the canvas with a brush loaded with paint, it’s a succinct moment in real space and time. It can be just one, you know, flick of the wrist. If it’s done exactly right, it looks effortless and the paint can articulate a physical attribute. I’ve noticed that when I’m more patient with a painting, I experience those moments more often. I can touch the canvas with the brush and it sets up gorgeously and it looks like it was just breathed on there. And the paint looks good! It’s important to me that the paint looks good–I want it to be seductive. I want the paint to call attention to itself, almost in an amorous or erotic way. I want the paint to be desired; it has to attract people. It’s sexy when it looks good.

You painted Lorde for her Melodrama album cover. How did that cover project come about?

Last year, a mutual friend put us in touch and she wrote me an email asking if she and I could get together to talk about the album she was working on. She came and visited my studio, saw the work I was making for Egyptian Violet and then described her vision for Melodrama, for which she had total creative control. I agreed to do the cover, which was sincerely a lot of fun for me. The process turned into a very meaningful collaboration.


Sweater and Pants by Coach, Shoes and Socks Artist’s Own

If you were to create an album cover image for another musician, dead or alive, who would you choose?

Prince. But what I’d really like is for someone to soundtrack one of my exhibitions. I won’t say who.

You have an upcoming show at Team Gallery in Venice Beach, opening this winter. It’s called Daisy Chain. Where did that name come from?

Well, I like it as a cliché. Poetically or melodically or something, it appeals to me. Also, in Lana Del Rey’s song ”Summer Bummer”, the lyric is ‘wrap you up in my daisy chain.’ It just seems violent, but also sweet, which basically equals erotic. That album came out in July, which was right when I was getting serious about the focus of this show. ‘Daisy Chain’ just leapt out at me. It seemed appropriate for the kind of pictures that I wanted to look at and make paintings about.

What are the paintings in Daisy Chain about? Are they mostly portraits?

There’s a double-portrait of Lana Del Rey kissing A$AP Rocky that I took from the “National Anthem” music video. There’s a portrait of Drew Barrymore from the mid ’’90s, when she posed nude for Rolling Stone magazine. She’s wearing a pixie cut and her hair is decorated with a daisy chain–like, literally a string of daisies. There’s also a portrait of Joan Didion wearing chic, oversized sunglasses–she looks sort of old, severe, and mature. It’s a recent photo, not from the ’’60s. And there’s a portrait of Beck taken from the Sea Change album cover, which was made by the artist Jeremy Blake. Oh, I also made a portrait of one of the kids from Lord of the Flies, taken from a paperback book cover re-released in the late ’’80s. It was the cover I had when I was in middle school. It’s one of the kids from the island, and he’s wearing a crown of palm leaves or ferns or something.

Did you tailor the subjects of these paintings to fit into a California narrative or did the location of the show affect which subjects you chose to include?

For sure. I was trying to get closer to a California mood. I reread Joan Didion’s The White Album recently and have been listening to a lot of Lana Del Rey’s Lust for Life album. I read Helter Skelter, the true crime book about Charles Manson’s trial, and thought about how some of the murders were committed in Venice. I’ve been thinking about violent crime, mass murder, and how we’re living through such a violent era right now. I don’t know if it’s more or less violent than 1967, 1968, or 1969, but I am trying to organize a group of pictures that could be said to reference 1969. I’m looking for elements of the youth culture that have impressed itself upon my consciousness. I want to invoke–in a vague or nebulous way, which is my way–style signifiers derived from a hippie subculture. I’m wondering if there is a counter-culture and if there are alternatives to our dominant political discourse. Can pop culture have a positive impact on political change? Like, does style equal progress, or can it? I don’t have any answers, but the direction that I’m focused on is one that asks if these celebrated figures affect more than just our understanding of style.

Lana & Rocky, 2017

JonBenét, 2017

In your 2016 show Egyptian Violet, the portrait of Prince was understood to be the focal point of the collection. Is there a painting in Daisy Chain that is comparable – as in the rest of the show hinges around it?

I don’t know if that’s for me to say. I knew the painting of Prince was going to create a stir and that people were going to remember it, but I didn’t know that critics or members of the art world were going to decide that it was the focal point of the show. It has been meaningful, for lack of a better word, to try and conceive of a new show after Egyptian Violet. Egyptian Violet was a darker palette and definitely more of a nighttime art show, whereas Daisy Chain is a little sunnier and a bit more daytime. The floral motif marches through work in both and a daisy is certainly a nice contrast to a violet.

I read that you used to work in a floral shop. Can you tell me about the first three jobs you had?

I worked for a florist for a long time when I was in college, and that was really fun. I did a lot of the dumb gay retail shit that gay guys often get trapped doing, especially if they have a creative degree like a BFA. I also worked at a used and antiquarian book store for a while. That was a good job, I read a lot of books on my lunch break.

Do you paint certain photos as practice? Are there exercises you do to stay nimble before diving into another work?

I took a lot of time off this summer and got out of New York City. I was in East Hampton for two weeks and made, like, 4 or 5 drawings a day. It helped me get thematically and conceptually organized so that when it’s time to go back to work, when I walk into the studio, I know what kind of work I want to make. I like to reacquaint myself with drawing and remind myself that it’s a worthwhile and enjoyable activity. It’s good for my hand, my eye, my brain. Also, I go to The Met a lot to study the paintings. I look at the same works over and over again to try and learn them. To be intimate with them.

Do you remember the last thing you took a screengrab of?

Yesterday I screen-grabbed an image from the New York Times front page of video coverage of the Las Vegas shooting. Horrific. Like a frontier scene by Frederic Remington. Awful. I rarely use photojournalism for my work but I admire it quite a lot.

Have there been any words used to describe your paintings that you either disagree with or were surprised by?

To be fair, no. I think all criticism is fair. I don’t think that an artist totally owns a work after he or she puts the work out into a public arena. Some people understand my work to be about nostalgia. That’s fine. There’s totally an argument for that, but I don’t relate to it. I don’t feel nostalgic for when I was a teenager or for any other time in my life, and it’s certainly not why I make paintings. All the images are taken from some moment that I remember, but I don’t know that memory is the same thing as nostalgia.

Is there a subject that you are interested in making work, but haven’t quite figured out how to approach yet? In other words, what subject is next?

Sure. I do a lot of image-gathering and these images kick around in computer folders. Sometimes I print them out and they sit in literal, physical folders on my studio desk. I shuffle through them periodically. I really want to do a painting of Arnold Schwarzenegger from Terminator 2. It just seems really gross and of the moment–in terms of popular celebrity culture making a parlay into national politics. I’ve been thinking about it for at least two years because it seems loaded, even though it’s kind of a cute movie. It just seems really loaded to paint the former Republican governor of California as The Terminator. Or, Maria Shriver’s ex-husband.

That would be a good title for the piece. “Maria Shriver’s Ex-Husband.”

Yeah (laughs) ‡


Sweater  by Coach

Hair by Austin Burns using Oribe, Makeup by Agata Helena @agatahelena using NARS Cosmetics, Art Direction by Louis Liu, Editor Marc Sifuentes, Production by Benjamin Price

All artwork © Sam McKinniss, images courtesy of the artist
For more information visit sammckinniss.com

STUDIO VISITS – CAMILLA ENGSTROM

Swedish-born painter Camilla Engström’s work explores autobiographical issues through her lens of humor and figurative expression. With a third solo show that opened earlier this year at Brooklyn’s Cooler Gallery, Engström opens up about processing her anger through phallic symbols, her cartoon-like characters, and her quest for inspiration.


Portrait Photography by Tiffany Nicholson | Interview by Haley Weiss
Dress and shoes by J.W. Anderson

If Camilla Engström were to make a self-portrait, she would draw a rollercoaster. That’s not to say the 28-year-old artist from Örebro, Sweden is out of control; in fact, she’s in tune with her emotions — the ups, downs, and contortions in-between. From moving to New York in 2011 to study at the Fashion Institute of Technology, to dropping out in 2013 to pursue a broader art practice, trusting her creative impulses has given her the freedom to build a body of work that includes drawings, paintings, apparel design, and sculpture. In recent months, it’s also meant accepting that she doesn’t know what she’ll do next; when we visit her Brooklyn studio this fall, for example, she says that she’s simply been “releasing pressure” by painting.

“I don’t even know what I’m making,” she admits, assessing the colorful canvases that fill her wall, although there’s one obvious commonality. “It’s just a lot of sausages,” she adds with a laugh. One painting features a long and artfully twisted sausage, while another shows a sausage being stepped on by multiple feet. This new subject is unsurprising given Engström’s history of irreverent, humorous compositions. She explores sexuality, consumption, and the banal (e.g. bathing, cats) with a wink. It began with her roguish alter ego, Husa, the curvy pink figure who’s appeared in Engström’s pieces since she was first sketched years ago. Husa has many activities, including reading or drinking wine while naked on a picnic blanket, and sitting in a reclining chair, drooling, with food resting on her lap. And she, like her creator, is also capable of change; in 2016, at what Engström describes as a “zen” time in her life, she depicted Husa as a contemplative figure. The result was Faces, Engström’s first-ever solo show at Deli Gallery in Queens, in which Husa appears in various states of undress, transforming beneath a sun-like orb. In one painting from that series, Husa disappears entirely, leaving her dress suspended in mid-air, as though she’s transcended the bodies and cultural norms Engström so often points to in her work. It turns out that with an open approach like Engström’s, one recurring figure can address both the commonplace and the ecstatic.

Big Bear, 2017

You’ve described drawing in the past as not actively thinking; you’re just letting it out. Are you surprised by what you make?

Yes, sometimes. I like to start small because that’s less intimidating. That’s usually when I’m like, “Whoa, what’s going on in my head?” For the last few months, I’ve been kind of controlled in the way I’ve been painting. Now I want to be a little bit looser I think, which is frustrating because I wish I could paint the same way and stick to it. I just can’t.

When you’re painting and you’re stricter, does that happen naturally or is it a conscious decision?

It also happens naturally. I think more before I make the painting. Whereas these messy ones, [gestures to sausage paintings] I don’t really think at all, which is nice. I like both ways. With the more controlled ones, I definitely feel like I’m more relaxed, and even though I’m thinking more beforehand, I’m just focused, getting the paint in there. Whereas painting the messy ones, I feel sweaty afterwards; it’s almost like an exercise. I try to make them really quick and I try to make many of them.

Why do you think sausages are reappearing, if you were to do some self-analysis?

Before I used to paint dicks a lot. [Engström published A Book of Dicks in 2016.] I wanted to make a new dick book. I feel like I have so many dicks in my brain; I need to get them out there. I like to turn them into sausages because I feel like I can’t paint the dick. I’m just so mad at dicks right now. Sausages are easier for me to handle. They’re less intimidating.

You said you’re mad at dicks. Could you elaborate on that? Is that a cultural frustration, one with politics, or—

I think it’s politics to be honest. When every hurricane, every disaster happens, I’m just playing with a dick [in my work]. I feel like if we backtrack, it’s all the dicks’ fault. I was just reading about Harvey Weinstein and I want to destroy him. Now he’s destroying himself. How could he do that for so many years? It makes me want to cry but it also makes me so mad. It’s all of that coming to me at the same time.

It also makes me think about when I’ve been sexually harassed by men, and it makes me think about my sister, who’s 10 years younger than me. I just realized, I never said to her, “You have to say no.” I never had the conversation with her: “This is how you deal with a bossy guy.” She’s almost 20 now, and she’s in college and she studies international finance. There are a lot of men there, and they drink and they party all the time.

I was watching her Snapchat almost having a heart attack. That’s when most of that shit happened to me. You’re drunk, you’re with guys, and you feel pressure to be accommodating, and then it all goes downhill. I just texted her today: “We need to have this conversation. You are the boss over your own body and I see how you’re with guys all the time. I’m sure most of them are nice, but even the nicest guy, if he wants something from you and your body, you need to be able to say no.” I wish that our mom had told me that because I feel like maybe I would have been more brave and not so terrified every time. I’m definitely frustrated with the dick this year. I’m hoping next year it will all be about the beautiful vagina.

Do you remember your first drawing of Husa?

Yes. I remember I was looking at a lot on Pinterest at the time — because that’s what you do when you work in fashion, you sit on Pinterest all day (laughs) — and I was looking at all of these sculptures. I wanted to paint a round figure because I had been painting so many fashion illustrations — I was also very influenced by Picasso. Then I started to paint a round figure but it was very serious. It just didn’t feel like me. I was painting her over and over and over again. Then finally I just gave her a face, and it made me giggle, because I could see it come to life. It just all came together and I was like, “Okay, this is my friend that I’m going to paint for a long time.”

Hairier and Hairier, 2017

Dress and shoes by J.W. Anderson


When you moved from fashion to being an “artist,” what was that decision like? Were you tired of fashion; was there a certain attitude you wanted to get away from; what was it?

I was frustrated with fashion. I felt like I was so creative — a typical millennial kid that’s just like, “I deserve more attention.” I wasn’t good at dealing with technical stuff. I could create things, but no one wants the creative person because they already have that. I felt like I was going to explode because I had so much to give but I couldn’t. There was never an opportunity. Then the tasks they gave me were easy but so unfulfilling.

I still love fashion and I love clothes. I think I have like a healthier relationship to fashion now. I feel more relaxed about it. When I left fashion, I didn’t want to leave completely. I still love working with textiles and I did this little embroidery thing with the Swedish brand called Monki; we did a clothing collaboration. I’m sure there are some artists that really don’t want to see their work on clothes, but it makes me so happy.

I know a lot of people won’t be able to buy my work — I could never buy my work — but they could buy a T-shirt. It makes me so happy to see someone wear my T-shirt or tote bag.

What are you inspired by at the moment? Is there anything you’re reading, listening to, seeing?

I took a break for two weeks; I went to Japan. I just got back. I felt like going to Japan was going to change my life and that I was going to come back and be like, “This is what I want to paint now.” It was definitely inspiring to be there, but it just made me more confused.

Had you been there before?

No, it was the first time. I love Yayoi Kusama so I wanted to go there and see her work and see what kind of environment or culture she grew up around. I wanted to experience it. I came back and I was like, “I don’t even know what I want to make anymore.” Sometimes I’ll go see a show and I’ll be so inspired to make something, so it was super frustrating. I’m still inspired by Kusama a lot but it’s almost like I looked at her work too much. I think I need to step back a little bit.

I went to MoMA; I looked at the Louise Bourgeois exhibition. I tried to feel something and I just didn’t. Then I picked up ArtForum; I went through it and I just thought, “Fuck.” You know when you’re inspired, it’s just this feeling, and I haven’t had that feeling yet. I’m going to push myself and try to be inspired by myself. I hope it comes soon because I really need to work — to work with a confidence.

Hairier and Hairier, 2017

Food Coma, 2017

When you say you need to work, you need to as in you have to be making things?

I feel maybe like a guy that hasn’t had sex in a long time; I feel like the energy’s there, the need is there. I’m so frustrated. I feel like I can’t create, like something’s missing. I’ll get there. I reach this point probably like five times a year. I’m okay with it.

Do you force yourself to paint every day? What does your day-to-day life look like?

Yes, I force myself because I feel like I have the energy. If I don’t have the energy, I don’t even try. I just stay at home and cuddle with my cat. But now, because I have all this amped up energy to paint, I force myself because I feel like maybe I’m thinking too much. Maybe I just need to paint and then it will click, and that’s where I’m at right now. I’m hoping that maybe tomorrow or the next day something’s going to happen. We’ll see.

When was the first time you can encountered a work of art while you were growing up?

I grew up with this huge painting that disturbed me so much.

In your house?

Actually it was in my grandfather’s house. It was so big, it had to be the centerpiece. It was dark blue and it was a forest at night and there were animals running away. I remember at night I would always run past that painting, because there was this owl sitting in the middle with its bright yellow eyes staring at me. But then during the day, it was right next to the couch and I had to deal with that painting. When my grandfather died, it moved into our house in the same spot towards the couch. It was really bizarre.

I knew there was something special about that painting, that it wasn’t just a painting or a picture on the wall. It was something that really, really bothered me. It made me feel something, and knowing that a piece of art could make me feel something, that was the first time I understood that it was art, and it was important. Being around that painting for so many years, even the scale of it… It’s always going to be with me.

Dress and shoes by J.W. Anderson

Hair and Makeup by Agata Helena @ agatahelena using NARS cosmetics, Art Direction by Louis Liu, Editor Marc Sifuentes, Production by Benjamin Price

All art work © Camilla Engström images courtesy of the artist
For more information visit camilla-engstrom.com