Thursday, February 16, 2012
JOSH Artforum Cover Shoot - 2005 - 18 in x 24 in - Photographic Prototype
Ok- My second sick day at home has prompted me to do some much needed blogging. The last blog I did was a year ago- pretty whack, so I'm going to try to get back on it this year. As everyone knows, its hard to find the time to do all of the shit you want to do all of the time in this town.
Obviously over this last year I've been on and received many studio visits and have neglected to write about any of them. So I'm just going to start fucking doing it again. I'll start with the artist Josh Jordan, because he is a great man and a great mystery, and a great painter.
I rode my bike to Josh's studio in Greenpoint on gray Autumn day. Inside he has A LOT of work. He is a fucking hard working artist. Josh's website and contact info are here: http://www.joshjordan.info/
I recommend going over and seeing this work for your self. There's an overwhelming sense of overload as soon as you walk in. There is a lot to dig through- he has a few bodies of work happening at once. His main three focuses are painting, drawing, and video. There are thought strains leading in many of directions, but they all lead back to one thing, and that thing is Josh.
Like myself, Josh Jordan grew up in the rolling, polite flatness of the Midwest (Ohio- him, Indiana- me), in a smallish, idyllic town on I-70 that I used to drive through on my trips to and from art school in Baltimore.
(Side note- among many other things both pleasant and not, Baltimore is home to the Nudashank Gallery, which has an amazing show up right now of the lovely wonderful talented Gina Beavers, my Serious Homie. Did I tell you I just learned how to make hot links?)
Alright, all of that aside, Josh grew up the best artist in a small town in Ohio. I'm sure many of you can relate to this. You are the best and then suddenly you go away to school and you are one of the many bests that are there. Then maybe you manage to become one of the best at your art school and you graduate and move to the Big City and suddenly you are one of the thousands of bests from all of the art schools all over the world and everyone there is grinding, clawing, climbing, running themselves into the ground to try to get a show or make something happen, wishing so much they could again feel that feeling they felt back home where everyone worshiped their skills and told them they were great. I'm rambling.
Well, I feel that as a way of sorting through these things and many other feelings about life as an artist, or just as a person, Josh has created his own fan club devoted to JOSH.
Holding Out For A Hero, 2006 - 44 in x 54 in - Acrylic On Canvas
This "fanclub" mentality is an entryway into this work. It seems strange at first and then it makes perfect sense. To meet Josh you would never call him an egoist or a self promoter. In his work he is neither of these things as well, what he is is honest. To be an artist is to obsess over one's self, on many levels, and take it out to the world and say "Look at me! er, ahem, Look at what I made everybody!". A person's art is always some kind of gateway into their psyche. With Josh, like many others, that fact is more on the surface. But he puts it out there in a very layered way- some subtle layers and some very obvious ones. There's a nice balance in the self obsession. It feels more like self discovery. With the other Josh, the Smith one, it feels like a big "Ha Ha Fuck You, look I'm just making art with my name holy shit!" Though I do like that work. I'm just saying with Josh Jordan there is a sincerity along with the irony, and there is a deep mining of his own personal history- though which part of that history is fantasy and which part is actual is left unclear. I believe in his studio I only saw one photograph he took of himself crying, so there you go.
Though, like I said, Josh makes video and drawings, I choose here to focus mostly on his paintings because they really floored me, in the weirdest nicest way. It's always heartening to go somewhere and expect one thing but get an entirely other thing. Josh works on canvas, in acrylic, though they really feel like oil. There is a slick classicism to the surface. I particularly love how the style of the work varies so much in each individual painting. Somehow Josh makes it feel seamless, even though he's fluctuating between a kind of realism, into a kind of cartoonism, and into flat out caricature in some places. The surface is smooth yet labored. The compositions are pretty flawless. The end result is down right seductive.
Let's Hear It For The Boy, 2000 - 44 in x 54 in - Acrylic On Canvas
There is a real richness and intricacy to these paintings. But its never pretentious. They feel open and honest. There is a theater to them. Josh sort of creates a stage set then sets the characters into it, as though you've walked into a movie in the middle of it during a scene of great choral jubilation, i.e. any Disney movie. Like you are walking in right at the moment where the more minor characters of the story have decided to adulate the protagonist with all of their symphonic devotion. The protagonist here is always JOSH. His likeness and name are everywhere, pasted up and collaged all over like a Tiger Beat (shit it still exists) wall in your middle school bedroom.
These paintings are stuck. They are capturing the fantasized past from the perspective of the fantasized present. Yes they are ironic, but yes they are deadly serious. We have been taught to desire this sort of adulation, that this kind of celebration of one's self by others is the true barometer of real success in whatever one does. But alas- art rarely brings this to the artist. We think it will then it doesn't, or it does once you've stopped looking for it. Show me one Jeff Koons and I'll show you 5,000 artists that are just as good or better but never got recognition. Blah blah blah Its a crap shoot blah. Its like the art world has its own 1% and 99%. Blah the best way to deal with it is to forget about it and voraciously continue to make your art blah. Hey, Fuck em.
Ok tiny violins and sour grapes aside. I feel that these paintings by Josh really embody this sort of fantastical fantasy and dreamy disappointment in the practice of being an artist, in an imaginative way. They also touch on the subjects of family, upbringing, home, sex, fame, persona vs. real personality, and, strangely enough, the seasons. In person they strongly called to mind Inka Essenhigh. The kind of balance of fantasy caricature and darkness, oddness, and the uncanny. You don't know whether to chuckle or feel creeped out.
Cruel Summer, 2007 - 54 in x 44 in - Acrylic On Canvas
I particularly love the painting above, Cruel Summer. The gesture of it is so perfect. The image is so strange but so familiar. The young Josh is adored and worshiped by paint flinging buxom mother types. In a kind of typical Midwestern Summer image that is dear to me- a small wooden house against a flat endless field of some kind. Technically this painting really floored me. The surface is so even, and so easily flows between taped exactness and freehand, layered, Hudson River School paint. There is an illustrative aspect but it never goes too far, the painting always feels like painting.
Do You Hear What I Hear ? 2007 - 44 in x 54 in - Acrylic On Canvas
This one above so completely captures the feeling of Autumn in the Midwest. I love this painting, its so out of left field. It vacillates between an intense realism in the sky to an almost Charlie Brown flatness in the pumpkin patch. But its really working. Our hero Josh kneels in the middle of the patch alone, a sort of proud look on his face, as if posing for a basketball team portrait- which is probably what he was doing. Josh the painter uses old family photographs from his childhood as references. He re-contextualizes old photos of himself into scenarios he lifts from internet sources, magazines, etc. To look through the paintings , one can feel that Josh must have had the perfect childhood. But what is he still doing there? Why, as an adult, is he still in the pumpkin patch in Ohio? I ask my self similar questions every day in my studio. Why am I still stuck in a cornfield even though I live in New York? This painting resonates with me in a big way, very straight to the core. There is a flat jokiness which gives way to multi-layered seriousness. The title, "Do You Hear What I Hear?" says a lot. Its an old Christmas song yes, but thought about while looking at this painting it takes on a whole slew of new meanings. We don't hear Santa Claus or the Great Pumpkin, we hear a kid's isolation.
The Number One Son, 2000 - 44 in x 54 in - Acrylic On Canvas
I really love the theater of the painting above. Its a sort of illustration of your 12 year old fantasy. You are on the team, you are throwing the ball, everyone is staring at you and counting on you to win the BIG GAME. Big breasted women in Kiss paint are watching you and getting off. Its all come down to this, you. A movie trope straight out of Teen Wolf. In actuality, the BIG GAME doesn't depend on you. You're there, you're in it, but if you weren't there it would still go on just fine. This is a hard reality you come to grips with as an adult. Here Josh puts his childhood small self in the middle of a grand scene, like the concert recreation of an Egyptian ceremonial hall. In the middle is Josh, a look of effortless, knowing swagger on his face. He stares straight at the viewer and says, "Yep,". As a viewer you know that this is a recreation of a fantasy, but you still wonder if Josh knows that this is a fantasy. There is a great tension in this. You're in on the uncomfortable joke, but you wonder, is the artist? I would say absolutely, but it's a hard ac to pull off in paint, and he's doing it.
I should note that all of these pieces are still works in progress. Josh is a perfectionist, and painting like this takes a while. Please check out Josh's site to view his video work and drawing, which meditate weirdly on the same sorts of themes. If you like what you see here please get in touch with Josh directly and set up a visit. He is a very nice, approachable guy and would love to have you over.
Josh Frosh 2005 - 8.5 in x 11 in - Pencil On Paper
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Ruby, my grandmother's name was Ruby, it's one of my favorite names. Do you know how you came to be a Ruby?
Thank you! I love my name, is that conceited? It’s a really good name. My Mom had a strong, intuitive feeling I would be a boy and was partial to the name “Rueben”. I’m a girl, so she tweaked it. My dad added “Sky”, and knowing him, it’s probably a long, funny story–I vaguely remember him telling me he received a sign from the “sky” on the day of a Red Sox game, but the details elude me.
Could you explain the inspiration for the title of your show, "Inherited and Borrowed Types"? I think thats such a great one.
Inherited and Borrowed Types is a chapter title excerpted from A Handbook of Greek Sculpture, a dusty old book I found at a yardsale a few years ago. The book talks about the influences on the idealized and highest forms of Greek art (which can, in most cases be traced back to an origin which is not Greek) the term “type” in this context refers to any figurative Greek form.
Could you give a little background info? Where are you from and what lead up to you coming to New York?
I spent a lot of time between places as a kid. I felt both connected and disconnected to the places that my parents lived, (Mom in New Mexico, Dad in Maine). New York is the first place I’ve really felt at “home”. I descended on the city after RISD, and have been basically lurking around for the last ten years, with a grad school interlude at Yale. All my favorite homies and food are here, all the art and inspiration, too. And currently, all the snowdrifts filled with poo and trash.
What materials exactly are these new sculptures made of? They truly have the feeling and presence of stone carved monuments- and I really thought that’s what they were when I first saw them. At the same time that they feel very solid on the ground and present, there is an atmosphericness to them, like somehow they are all around you and not just in front of you. Do you see that?
I love that description. These sculptures are made of foam, acrylic resin and pigment. The materials mimic stone or marble, so they do conjure the impact of those more elevated materials. I think the atmosphere is created because the works reference canonized ancient forms, and there is a distinct way we relate to those special types of objects. I’ve also arranged the works to relate to each other, almost “socially” in this installation, so the space between the figures is active.
I love the unexpectedness of the sculpture- they feel very familiar and comforting, but at the same time I'm always sure I've never seen anything like it when I'm looking. Could you sort of guide us through your process of making one of these new sculptures? What do you do from conceptualization to completion?
It’s an intuitive process. I make a bunch of things and then I jam them together until they create a compelling figurative form. It’s an activity akin to repairing something that was broken. I use a wide range of sources in making the parts: contemporary, ancient and imagined.
I also feel like these works have a lot to do with drawing. Do you consider drawing to be an important part of your practice? Some of this work has a real portrait quality about it, and the modeling of the forms feels very "drawing-esque" to me, i.e., the process of adding and subtracting marks.
I love the drawing part of it. Making marks, or forms with my hands is an important part of my work. I feel like I do my best thinking in my studio, when I’m actually making physical changes to an object. That’s a space where evolution can occur–things happen that go beyond my cognitive expectations. With my most recent sculptures, the two-dimensional quality mimics low relief, a technique typically seen in architectural facades, as opposed to freestanding figurative sculpture. The single sided pictorial slabs also provide an alternative, abstract view that speaks more to the language of 20th century sculpture than ancient art. The minimal shapes that form their “backs” are equally as meaningful as the figuration.
What are some images, time periods, objects, art movements, etc that inspired or fed into this work?
Recently, I’ve been really into looking at Picasso’s concrete sculptures–they are bonkers! The rendering quality in my recent work is looking to Matisse, as well, particularly his portraits (like “Madame Matisse”) in which subjects eyes are black and zombie-like. I like to pull patterns from this book of textiles from the Wiener Werkstätte (a Viennese production community of visual artists around the 1920’s). I pull down my fashion illustration reference books fairly often, too. I’m super inspired by Louise Nevelson, and her monochromatic assemblages.
What would you like to get across with these? What do you wish the viewer to walk away from them with?
That’s a tough one. I’m attracted to objects and artworks that engage the viewer in interpretation. Or are incomplete, imperfect or asymmetrical, and rely on the viewers mental and emotional participation to complete…
Are the collages a way for you to "relax" (even though they are super complex), or do you give them the same consideration as the sculpture?
Yes! They totally are. I’ve never made a system that is foolproof in the way that the collages are. Usually, when I finish one, I’m like “ not what I expected…and, I like it!” My sculptures are hell to make.
How long does it take you to make one of those collages? What is the process?
About 8 hours. And I’m just weaving two pages together. It’s very carpel-tunnelly, but it’s a type of repetitive activity that I really enjoy.
Whats a typical day in the studio like for you? Where is it? Who are your neighbors? Do you bring your lunch or buy it? Do you get there early or in the afternoon? Do you prefer working in the day or night? Have you ever been stoned at the studio?
My studio is in Gowanus. I usually get there at 10:30 and start with coffee. I switch between NPR and shuffling Talia’s ipod (artist Talia Chetrit, is a good friend right next door), and Hot 97. A lot of my friends also have studios in the building: Talia Chetrit, Jill Galerneau, Sarah Crowner, Susan Bricker, Marissa Tesauro…I see them daily. We have tea, and brainstorm about our vermin problems, or synchronize our after dark walks to the train because our studio is on kind of a “murder-y” dead end. I work during the day there until 6-7. Lunch is a problem, I forage in friends studios pretty often. I don’t get stoned any more in or out of the studio. I still want to, but every time I do, I hallucinate that I wet my pants and it’s really distracting.
What are some artists or art movements that you would say have seriously influenced you? That you carry with you while you are working/ coming up with ideas for new pieces?
Always changing. But I mentioned a few back there.
Who are some artists working today that you love or that are inspiring to you?
I think the conversations I have with people in my life, about my work or theirs, are most constructive or inspiring to me. Though usually I love their work too. I can’t possibly name them all. My boyfriend Daniel Gordon, and his work, provides a daily touchstone. I implicitly trust him…when we’re not annoyed over basic roommate stuff.
Can you recall the first sculpture you ever saw that made you say, "I'm going to do that one day"?
Jeff Koons “Puppy”.
How did it come about that you ended up doing your show at Nicelle Beauchene and a project at Derek Eller simultaneously?
Originally, I planned to show only the collages here in NY at Derek Eller’s project space (the full body of work was commissioned/exhibited at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, Fall 2010)-. Derek and Abby are friends, and have a lovely project space. My show at Nicelle’s was scheduled for this coming fall 2011. When Nicelle and I decided to show the full body of work at her space–I took the opportunity to show new and corresponding work at Derek Eller. I need to punch up the drama of that story.
Any last words? Any shout outs?
Shout out to Wu-tang! Shout out to NYC Ballet! Shout out to Ryan Schneider!
THANK YOU SO MUCH, YOUR SHOW IS INCREDIBLY BEAUTIFUL!
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Went over to Daniel Heidkamps's studio last night in the murky Greenpoint/ Bushwick borderland of Brooklyn. I had the immense pleasure of seeing the new work he made for his upcoming show at Lamontagne Gallery in Boston. www.lamontagnegallery.com. The show opens in March- definitely worth the bus fare to Beantown. Lets all go up there and see it.
I was joined by two of my favorite artists- Jeremy Willis and Aaron Johnson. I drank way too much beer. Another great painter, Alicia Gibson was there as well. Her studio is right across the hall from Dan's, so we had the pleasure of seeing her new work too.
Luckily, Jeremy gave me a ride home. Otherwise I may have wandered into Newton Creek and would not be writing this entry. Thanks Jeremy!
Please excuse the cell phone quality photos. I just really wanted to post this work because it looked so great. The first three images are Alicia's and the rest are Dan's. Enjoy!
Ms. Alicia Gibson and friend. Also Aaron Johnson and Jeremy Willis- Brothers in Paint.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Joshua Abelow is a great artist and an asset to New York City. His show just opened at James Fuentes LLC, 55 Delancey Street, and is on view until February 13th. Really, really, really, go see it. Its a very important show for right now and Josh is an amazing guy. I got the opportunity to ask him a few questions about this current body of work. More info here: www.jamesfuentes.com
1) Josh, I was just checking out the images from the show online and chuckling out loud to myself. It's super refreshing for me to have that reaction to a piece of art. Is this a reaction that you're going for or does it even cross your mind when you're working?
I've been pushing the work in an intentionally absurd direction. I love when people laugh, crack a smile or even feel a kind of guilty pleasure.
2) Despite the obvious, what was the thought process, if any, behind the tile of the show, Oh! Abelow?
The exhibition takes its title from a drawing I made last year called "OH! ABELOW." I think it has a nice ring to it. Sounds sexy, you know...
3)What was the impetus/ starting point for this body of work? Did you intend to show all of this together when you started or did things just turn out that way?
I'm in the studio making work whether I have a show lined up or not. I never know exactly what is going to happen, but I've learned to trust my instincts. When James asked me to do the show he told me he thought it would be good to bring everything over and see what works in the space. I liked that kind of openness. I knew I wanted to show drawings and paintings together, but we didn't know exactly which ones.
4) In your mind is there a clear relationship between the paintings and the drawings or do you see them as separate bodies of work? Is drawing an integral part of your studio practice? Do you do these every day?
The paintings and the drawings are absolutely connected and I think my work is best understood when they are exhibited together. They poke, prod, and undermine each other in interesting ways. I don't draw or paint every day, but when I go to the studio I usually do both. Making a drawing sharpens up my mind and gives me clarity. Clarity is everything, because it's so easy to make a big mess of everything - in the studio and out of it.
5) In the drawings, do you ever erase? Or is it first line/ best line?
I never erase. It's all or nothing. Some days the drawings are good and other days I toss out ten sheets of paper just to make one good drawing. A lot of it depends on how I feel when I get to the studio - like if I've had enough sleep the night before or whatever. The best drawings usually happen when I have a very specific idea in my mind and it's just a matter of getting it down on paper.
6) I'm a huge fan of the drawings. They're so crude but so innocent and non offensive at the same time, and they come off as completely sincere all around. They sort of paint the artist as this innocent horny expressive elf who's not trying to hurt anyone. Do you see your self in these drawings as sort of an "every artist" or is more of a character you're projecting?
I was beginning to think I was an egotistical, self-absorbed asshole. I decided to make the drawings as a way to exorcise all this negativity out of me. It has been very liberating. And since there are so many assholes in the world, there are a lot of people who can relate to the subject matter.
7) Could you give a brief history of where you're coming from i.e the years leading up to this show? Where was most of this wok made? I know you've sort of been all over the place- so how did you get to where you are now with your work, your location, and your mindset?
Sure. Well, let's see...I graduated from RISD in 1998. Then I moved to New York. I was fortunate to get a job working for Ross Bleckner, back when he lived in Tribeca. I assisted Ross for seven years. It was an education as valuable or more valuable than any degree. Anyway, in 2006, I decided to leave New York to obtain my MFA from Cranbrook, which is outside Detroit. I wanted to have a completely new type of experience, one that was totally different than my New York years. That turned out to be a very good decision, because I was suddenly in a situation where I could not only focus on my own work every single day, but was encouraged to do so. And, besides, there was nothing else to do! I graduated in 2008 and spent half the summer painting in Pontiac, Michigan. Then I drove across the country with my friend, Lucila. The highlight of that trip was visiting Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty in Utah. We were both in awe of the jetty and the landscape and how they seemed to bleed right into each other. It was very beautiful and inspiring. After two months in California, Lucila and I packed up our bags and went to Berlin together. Just in time for the bleakest winter of my life. I spent a lot of time reading Henry Miller novels in the bathtub. Nine months passed. Then I did a six-week residency at The Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada. After that, I moved back to my hometown outside Baltimore, Maryland. I spent the end of 2009 and most of 2010 in Maryland. That time was productive for me in the studio. My drawings starting getting stranger and more perverse (I think this had something to do with me channeling my teenage self) and my color became more complex. More than half my show at James Fuentes LLC was made at my mom's house last year.
8) Are you psyched to be back in New York?
Yes - I'm off to a great start! Returning to a place where you've put in so much time feels really good. I'm reconnecting with many friends and colleagues (and their children!). I think the art scene is more interesting than it was five years ago - I like what's happening with the LES. Of course, there's still a lot of crap, but I guess that goes without saying. In general, I feel more of a communal vibe here now amongst artists and I like that. My blog has been a wonderful tool for me to connect with many artists.
9)Can you describe the process behind the paintings? Do you do one at a time or a lot at once? I know a few years ago your paintings were larger, how did you arrive at the small scale of this work?
I work on many paintings at the same time. Each painting is an extension of a piece that came before it and a guide to the piece that will come next. I have notebooks filled with notes on color that are the result of many intuitive based experiments. I use these notes to make all my paintings. They tell me which colors to use and how to apply the paint. I'm very specific about everything. Lately, I've been using the palette knife a lot. I used to make large paintings, but making big paintings just started to feel like a chore or an ego trip, so I decided to shift gears. I know this is a generalization, but big painting feels out of date to me.
10) Whats a typical day in the studio for you? Where is it, etc?
My current studio is in a basement on Grand St. in WIlliamsburg near the water. I've been in this space for almost four months. It's okay. A little depressing, but for some reason I'm attracted to basements. My routine revolves around painting and waiting for paint to dry. I probably spend more time pacing the studio waiting for paint to dry than I do painting. My paintings are made over a period of several weeks and/or months while my drawings are made quickly in one sitting. I often make drawings when there's nothing else to do. Or I stretch canvases. I stretched about 100 small canvases before I moved back to New York, so thankfully I haven't had to do that lately. ART BLOG ART BLOG also occupies my time and gives me something to do while I wait for paint to dry. I've been reading a lot -- Richard Brautigan is such a great writer.
11) Do you drink or do drugs in the studio ever? While you're working?
No, I never do that. Specificity and clarity are very important to my work so I don't mix recreational activities with my working practice. I did write a poem when I was very stoned once...It wasn't too bad.
12) Can you name some artists working today that you love or that you think your work has a relationship to? Are there any friends of yours you'd like give a shout out too right now? Any artists you think we should definitely be checking out and watching out for right now?
Oh gosh, you know that's a tricky question because I don't want people getting mad at me for mentioning or not-mentioning particular people. But, ok, let's see...I'm a big fan of my friend, Jeffrey Scott Mathews. My sister, Tisch Abelow. Mark Grotjahn. Noam Rappoport. Ella Kruglyanskaya. I think Jordan Wolfson is very interesting and one to watch. I saw a great show at PS1 the other day --Laurel Nakadate. There are many others, but I don't feel like playing the name game. Seems like artists come and go so quickly that giving any young artist TOO much thought would be a mistake.
13)Is there an artist in history you'd say was a huge influence on you? Do you feel any connection to Blinky Palermo with these paintings or do you think about his work much?
Francis Picabia - I think about him all the time - especially the late work. Sigmar Polke. R Crumb. Alice Neel. Yes, I love Blinky. I love that he just took somebody else's name and ran with it. He understood the power of a name. I love Charles Bukowski - he helped me get through a lonely time in my life.
14) What, if any, is the over arching feeling or vibe you'd like people to come away from your show with?
15) Any last words buddy?
I have an upcoming group show in Baltimore at Nudashank with some great young artists. Please check out the Nudashank website for more information: http://www.nudashank.com
Would love to see all of you there! Oh, and I'm looking forward to visiting your studio, Ryan. Talk soon. --JA
THANKS YOUR SHOW LOOKS FUCKIN AWESOME!
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Chuck Webster is one of the most original abstract painters working today. He is a very singular artist, putting out work that is quirky, graceful, and over all elegant. He has been perfecting his craft over the last few years, and, in my opinion, inspiring a whole school of young abstract painters working in New York right now, as well as inspiring painters he knows to keep working hard in the studio. Chuck is an artist with a vision all his own, a process all his own, and a large, varied body of work. He is continually striving to come up with new things and new ways of composing a painting. No one paints like Chuck, except of course, Chuck. I should mention the dude is also a great friend and great set of eyes to have in your studio- talking painting, food, or wine, you'll always get a sincere opinion and a new way of seeing things. Chuck is represented by the great ZieherSmith gallery on 20th st in Chelsea, and has a show coming up there in the near future. You can contact the gallery for more info on him and his work. Keep an eye out.
Here are a few shots of Chuck's studio right now.
Chuck is an artist I look up to very much. He works incessantly but doesn't expect everyone to kiss his ass, even though they should. Here is some recent work from his show in Boston at Steven Zevitas Gallery .
Heres a review of the show.
So here is my interview with my boy Chuck Webster. Its my first interview. Bear with me.
1) So, how was your show in Boston?
It was great. It was an installation of 11 paintings. Steven Zevitas is an impeccable host, and he and his staff did a stellar job with the catalog and the installation. Lots of friends came through, including John Walker, a memorable teacher from school, and we ended the night with an awesome meal of oysters, seafood stew, and champagne poured tableside by the restaurant owner, a cool guy with a great handshake. Saw a lot of old and good friends.
2) Can you talk some about where your images come from? What things inspire the abstract forms?
It comes from a connection and mental focus on one particular thing or shape, which could be anything, from an Assyrian relief sculpture to the shapes of fireworks to a weird hairdo on a character in an old movie. In my recent show, a lot of the forms came from things that I had drawn on a recent trip to London. When I go to museums, and most everyday, I carry a sketchbook and draw. As I continue to work on a piece, the shapes take on a narrative implication. I like the idea of gatherings of forms, as if they are all part of a larger posse. Like a family of shapes working together.
3) Can you talk about your drawing process?
I draw all the time, whether on the phone, in a bar, or watching a movie.
Ill start out a studio day with looking at a few drawings and sorting some out, working on a few, organizing them. Sometimes I have these mad drawing sessions where I get real inspiration and drawings will just come out, as if there is a bolt of electricity coming down my arm and I know what I want to have all at once. Those times are scary good.
I love drawing with friends, especially my buddy Eddie Martinez. I love the energy of just sitting and drawing with pals and laughing about what we come up with.
4) What is it that makes you know a certain image is worth investing in, and will make an interesting painting?
I have no shortage of images and ideas stored up. Once I put one on a painting, it can sit around for awhile and get sanded down, if it doesn’t seem strong enough. The best images change very little from beginning to end. Some require a few tweaks before they are done.
I will glance through the notebooks for stuff, and one thing or another will strike me. I did something interesting yesterday – sanded out all but a ghost of an initial image and tweaked it a bit.
5) Could you talk about your physical process of painting? How do you begin and how long do you work on them?
I work on a lot of paintings all at the same time. I have two dozen panels up in the studio right now that I am starting out on. I’ll start out with an initial sketch in pencil or oil and look at it for a couple of days.
The process gets really physical – I edit the paintings by sanding them, so I’ll use a power sander sometimes, and do a lot of intense quick work.
I paint on panels, and I use a gesso that is absorbent. I use a lot of thin glazes and wetsand the paint as I put on more. People always think I use wax because the surfaces are so polished and layered. No wax, just glazes, sanding and time. They can take from 5-6 months to years. I just finished “Stingray” that you probably saw in my Grattan St studio in 2007.
6) What is it that signals to you that a work is finished?
My favorite answer to the five-dollar question I’ll steal from Calder –
“When its dinner time.”
But seriously, I think it’s when the irrelevant stuff is out of the picture, and it has just what it needs. I tend to put too many things in one painting, and then take away over the process of the work. The trick is knowing what it needs, and letting that be. The paintings finish themselves a lot. I’ll have one on the wall for a while looking pretty good, then it will just be finished.
7) Do you tend to find inspiration for your work more in organic objects from nature or man made things?
It runs the gamut. I get a lot of forms from things I see in paintings and sculptures. I get forms and narratives from music, from friends, and from nature. I remember my last show at ZieherSmith a lot of the work was drawn from nature, but then one piece was inspired by the shape of those “Bomb Pop” popsicles that you get from the ice cream truck.
8) Can you describe a typical day in the studio? What music do you listen to, how many hours do you work, what is the best music for you to listen to while you work?
If I can, I like to get there early and ease into it by drinking tea, reading the Times and staring at the work out of the corner of my eye. Then I will sit at my table and look. I’ll sort through drawings, do a few things to a few paintings, and then start to really get into one painting. Right now im starting new stuff, so I am making big moves. Its fun as hell. Yesterday was a nice long day. The playlist was NPR, Stephen Malkmus, Grateful Dead, Shellac, Neil Young, Jay-Z, Tomahawk, and John Coltrane. It depends on my mood really, and the time of day. Totally runs the gamut.
When I really get into a particular song, I repeat it over and over. Among my current addictions are this amazing Stephen Malkmus song called “(Do Not Feed The) Oyster”.
I like to work a 8-12 hour day if I can, starting at 9-10 AM or doing the 6 pm – 1 am thing, which rules as well. I like to stay in the studio, keep that energy going.
One thing I do sometimes is that if I have to go get food or whatever, I will leave the music going and the lights on, because I feel that the studio as a place of work contains a certain energy or spirit that I don’t want to lose once it’s on a good level. When I come back it’s like jumping right back on the train.
Music is really important to me. I think it feeds the work. I was in this show once of album covers for The Melvins. That was an honor.
9) What is the color, if any, that you find yourself using most in the paintings?
I’ve been down with grays lately, warm and cool, just letting colors sneak into the white. I also have a jones for Cremnitz White and Old Holland Cerulean Blue and this transparent cherry red they make called Geranium Lake. Now I’m into lots of glazes and layering, mixing weird colors.
I love making my own blacks out of umbers, ultramarine and alizarin, greens.
Im a color geek.
10) Are you ever completely surprised by paintings you do when they’re finished, or do you pretty much have a certain vision for them throughout the whole process?
It is really interesting – sometimes they will just become finished without telling me. They will be on the wall for a month or so and finally say, “Look buddy, what else do you want? I’ve got enough going for me. Find your Sharpie and sign.”
I never know exactly what will happen from the beginning. I turn them upside down a lot and they look better. The really miraculous part is when the exactly right thing to do comes from within the painting, from hours of looking and working.
11) Who would you say have been your biggest influences from the beginning?
My parents encouraged me to draw and paint from early on, I remember going to see a Manet retrospective at the Met when I was 8 or so, and I got posters and copied a portrait in the painting “The Balcony”, in oil, and I loved it. I always drew, monsters, aliens and shit. I was a big Dungeons and Dragons kid, I loved comics, Frank Miller, I loved stories, and inventing worlds to put around them. I think that my work is still very much involved in symbols and stories.
I always like to look at Italian Renaissance stuff – Giotto, Pier, Duccio. That stuff is so weird and noble and amazing and clear.
The pile of books I have out now is Donald Judd Prints, Trenton Doyle Hancock, David Smith, Mantegna and Bill Jensen. You can see by my bookcase I love to look at all kinds of art. Always have.
12) Is there a certain artist that you love but are totally surprised or embarrassed that you love them? Be honest.
I don’t think so. I think one should never be embarrassed what they think is good art. For example, I love Donald Judd’s prints and Ad Reinhardt’s black paintings, even thought they could be against my nature in terms of process and touch. But those things are just amazing to look at. The economy and discipline of them.
13) Who are your favorite painters working in New York right now besides me?
There’s a bunch. My buds Eddie Martinez, Wes Lang, Javier Pinon, Brian Montouri. Dan Walsh’s show at Paula Cooper is really good. Ann Pibal, Chris Martin, Bill Jensen, Brian Belott, Joanne Green Baum, David Dupuis. My friend Don Joint just had a great show of collages at Pavel Zoubok Gallery. I like Glenn Goldberg, Suzan Frecon, Steve DiBenedetto, Carroll Dunham; James Siena’s new prints are sweet. I thought that Nicole Eisenman show last year at Keonig was awesome.
14) I have a great memory of a seriously sloppy drunk barbecue at John Copeland’s a few summers ago where most of the guests were throwing meat at each other but you stepped in and prepared a fantastic meal. That was really impressive. I think you cooked John’s dog’s steak and he was a bit upset. I seem to remember someone getting hit with some meat or something and being not too happy about it. I also remember piles and piles of broken glass, all before the sun had even set. Were you frightened that day? I kind of was.
I was a bit frightened when that pork chop hit my ear. Yeah, that was a doozy-I remember bringing a bunch of duck legs stuffed with truffles and parsley to the party. Many beers. Kane Austen was handing me large portions of meat, and I was marinating them, spicing them, throwing them on the grill, squeezing lemons over them, handing them out to the drunken masses. I think that Rakim’s b-day steak was somewhere in that whirlwind of meat items. I left before the broken glass and tackling happened. What with all those Coronas it must have been a large pile of glass.
I always get a big rush from cooking for a whole group, especially over the grill. I love watching them eat in silence because the food I’ve made is so badass.
15) What is the last meal you cooked and what wine did you pair it with?
On my way back from Boston I visited pals in Vermont, and we picked some fresh spring ramps right out of the ground and ate ‘em with some fresh pasta and mushrooms. Tasty. Forest to table. The wine was not much-a local cheapo red. Ramps rule. I remember we were out at Diner one day, and “Ramps” became a funny word to toss around, as in “Wow, check out those RAMPS”. I love it when a wild leek can have the same name as a form of architecture.
16) Who is your favorite person to cook with?
I love to cook with Javier Pinon – he’s a killer sous when Im in charge, and has a kickass recipe for Brussel Sprouts.
17) What is your favorite restaurant in the city right now?
I’m giving this one out to In Vino, a great place on East 4th St. This place has amazing Italian food and KILLER wines. It is also the only restaurant in the city that I have cooked in. I’ve been doing some food/wine videos there with my man Keith Beavers, my wine guru who owns the place. I cook and we talk about art, food, wine and he pairs the food with a certain wine. The stuff he comes up with with is just off the hook. Red wine with braised fennel. You can see them on food2.com
He also has the Alphabet City Wine Company, which I know you love.
18) What do you have coming up right now? When is your next show and what are your plans for it?
I have a show at ZieherSmith this winter, and I am working on a bunch of new paintings. I am interested in dealing with the paintings closer to how I work on small drawing. More markmaking. Less fussing about. More electricity. I’m bringing some more narrative back into the work. I am showing drawings at Galerie Gabriel Van de Weghe in Antwerp this fall too. But mostly im just excited to be back in Brooklyn.
19) Do you always have a specific vision for a show or do you just make paintings and then edit them, etc?
Usually I make and edit. I work on so many at the same time that I can’t tell which ones will make the cut as the show gets closer. I am starting a bunch now and am really excited about how strange and confusing they will be.
20) Any final words? Thanks for answering all these questions man. I hope most of your dark secrets remain intact.
Man, doing this interview makes me really want to go work. Isn’t it kind of cool how you try to talk about art and explain the process in words and then suddenly you start to work and all the words are meaningless?
I’m coming back to Brooklyn this summer and am really excited to hang out and work my ass off and cook for you all. I love the enthusiasm and energy there. And the tacos.
Thanks for your questions, and for your interest in what I do.
See you soon!
Monday, April 12, 2010
I recently went over to my buddy Ben Dowell's studio out in DUMBO. Ben is currently in the Marie Walshe Sharpe studio residency, and his space there is super clean and orderly and has a beautiful view of the Manhattan Bridge. I felt like I was in a gallery. This was on St. Patrick's day- so naturally we drank a Guinness as we chatted about his new work.
These new paintings caught my attention as soon as I walked into the room. They are blindingly bright. They practically jump off of the wall at you. This is one of the most effective uses of yellow I've ever seen. Expressionist Op Art. These paintings quietly work their way into you until you can't take your eyes off of them. It's extremely mesmerizing and hypnotic. They call to mind Bridget Riley, Joseph Albers, and Robert Mangold. They also made me think about the California light and space artists that were just in that show at David Zwirner. Particularly James Turrell. Ben's paintings really trick your eye- and somehow that trickery translates into a kind of spiritual elevation, like with Turrell's work. The painting above reminded me of a moth's wings. The shape on the canvas moves out to the corners awkwardly, and seems to make the corners move as well, and then the yellow circle simultaneously stabilizes your eye and moves it around the painting. Your eye is going in a millions directions at once. I felt like that yellow circle was brilliant. Totally simple but a totally effective tool to control how the viewer is viewing your painting. And in the case of this painting, the longer you stare, the more you become hypnotized. Ben also has these two paintings hanging slightly off the wall at angles- to great effect. They are just completely strange and wonderful objects.
With the painting above, Ben started with a square in the middle, then slowly painted his way out to the edge. Each new square accentuated the imperfections of the one before it, So the square becomes something more vulnerable. With these amazing bright yellows, whites, and oranges, the effect is uncanny. The painting vibrates and hums. The actual shape of the canvas seems to change- it undulates and breathes.
The work has a very sacred totemic quality without taking itself too seriously. The odd color choices and vulnerable hand keep it laid back. The paintings have a presence and personality that is very serious, but self-conscious, as if they know they are being stared at and can't quite tell if they like it or not. The book "The Quilts of Gee's Bend" also comes to mind. That book had a great effect on me the first time I saw it. So sophisticated yet so casual. Like these paintings. The images expand off of the canvas in your mind- you can see them going out farther and farther.
This sounds corny- but one of the things I love about these is that they make me really happy. They are abstract yet somehow human. They make me think cosmic thoughts and they make me think about painting. They make me want to get stoned and listen to music. I feel like I've seen so much great, bizarre abstract painting lately. If I was going to, I would call this new movement "Kooky Abstraction" or "Kooky-Kosmic-Kraze", and the group would include Ben, Ariel Dill, Christian Sampson, Adrian Crabbs, Patrick Brennan, Clint Jukala, Denise Kupferschmidt, Samuel T Adams, Patrick Berran, Gina Beavers, Ned Venna, and Chuck Webster, among others. There you go, I've coined the name of the next hot movement.
Go check Ben's work out at the next Marie Walshe Sharpe open studios, which will be happening soon and always has a great spread of food and drink. He's a very approachable and nice guy. If you want to contact him about his work, his email is firstname.lastname@example.org