Wednesday, September 02, 2015

The Power of Graffiti II

"We want to shift the paradigm of heroism from people with weapons
to ordinary people who actually do something good." 
Kabir Mokamel

The Afghan capital of Kabul is to all intents and purposes is a war zone. And as such the city has become a military base with a mushrooming of towering concrete blast walls designed to protect powerful individuals, government offices, foreign embassies and other international organizations.
This has angered the Afghan artist and graphic designer Kabir Mokamel.

As he told the German Press Agency dpa international "Those who are supposed to protect us are inside the wall. And we are outside the wall, without any security. All the upheaval that you see around is because of the people on the other side of the wall. We have so many security walls in Afghanistan, especially in Kabul, which makes the whole city extremely ugly. If we put images on them, it would at least beautify the city, to some extent, with some really good messages for change."

Born in 1968, the 47 year old sought refuge in Australia in his early twenties before the country introduced its draconian anti-refuge stance. Whilst there Mokamel gained a Diploma in Fine Arts from Seaforth TAFE in Sydney and then went on to study graphic design at the University of Canberra. Four years ago he returned to Afghanistan.

As he told Al Jazeera English "Psychologically, when I come into Kabul I feel under siege. So we're painting some strategic pieces of art in order to educate the public. When you put a picture on a wall, the wall disappears and you are in a new space, that's very important for me."

The latest work An Ordinary Hero - the hero of my city (see above) depicts street sweepers and adorns the blast walls protecting the Afghan Central Bank.

Taking about two weeks to complete, the self-funded project saw volunteers flesh out Mokamel’s design.

"They are just passers-by, they're curious about what we are doing. Sometimes they have a bit of apprehension and we just invite them to come and paint," he says. "They always say they have never painted in their life, we say, just try it, and then they do and some come back the next day."

The self-funding aspect of the project is also very important to Mokamel.

"I want to tell to the international community that we can do this campaign by ourselves, seriously. We just need their moral support, not their money anymore,” he states.

“It's time for Afghanistan and for the world to contribute something else other than weapons and war. We have been through war for the past 36 years, it's really time to give art and artists a chance." 

Monday, August 31, 2015

Size Does Matter

“My ego is fed!”
David Adickes

The 36 foot high semi abstract concrete sculpture, The Virtuoso, which stands in front of Houston’s Lyric Center building was Texas’ artist David Adickes first foray into large scale public art. Completed over 30 years ago, Adickes still enjoys the public feedback he receives about the work.

As he told the University of Houston’s Center for Public History in 2004 “I've painted a lot of pictures in my life, and they're in everybody's house, but only the people that live there and see them, see them. So, you get a lot of feedback, but it's not from the general public, and The Virtuoso was the first one to give me that. That's a very pleasant feeling, which I call the Johnny Appleseed complex, or the David Sculpture-seed complex (Laughs) or syndrome, I guess is the right word. It gave me a lot of positive feedback, which led to other things.”

Adickes started his career as a painter in the 1950’s. After serving in the Army Air Corp during World War II, were he made regular trips to Paris, he gained a double major degree in math and physics and then indulged his childhood passion for art attending the Kansas City Art Institute.

As he told The Houston Chronicle "I was pretty much addicted to art school, the art ambience. Then I headed straight back to Paris.”

“How you going to keep them on the farm when they've seen Paris?" he quipped to the Houston Newswire earlier this year.

Using his GI Bill, Adickes studied under the legendary artist Fernand Leger for two years before returning to Houston.

As he has explained “I came back to the States and started having shows of paintings right away and was very successful from the beginning. I was selling paintings cheap, of course, and then moved on up and made my living painting pictures for years.”

Adickes traveled the world including a summer in Tahiti, “following in the footsteps of Gauguin, one of my great heroes.” A year in Japan, “I loved that Japan experience- painted a lot of pictures, had two shows there, but was sending back paintings every six weeks or so to the gallery here in Houston.”

Eventually Adickes settled in France in the coastal town of Antibes where he would spend nine months of year painting returning to spend his winters in Houston.

In the early eighties Adickes was approached by the Lyric Centers builder Joe Russo to make The Virtuoso.  He has since then gone on to create and install numerous large scale works that range from The Beatles to Charlie Chaplin that include a 67 foot high sculpture of the city’s namesake Sam Houston and a sculpture park of American presidents. Although his first public offering is still amongst his favorites.

As he says “I like it every time I see it. I just think it's funny…I think it's just whimsical funny. I like stuff like that.”

But, not everyone agrees. The Houston art critic, Susie Kalil has said of Adickes public works "They don't have that kind of iconic quality. Adickes' work isn't funky enough. It's not hard-hitting enough. It's not surprising enough. There are absolutely no political, aesthetic or social issues. What is its purpose?”

To which he replies "I personally think my art is as good as that by X, Y or Z. But we'll let history sort that out."

A selection of Adickes early paintings are included Houston’s William Reaves Fine Art exhibition A Midcentury Montage: Art Works by Three Houston Modernists which is on show until the 19th of September.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Old is New Again

“I have a creative mind which is filled with crazy ideas.
Alex Timmermans

The breakthrough into the world of fine art photography came for the Dutch photographer Alex Timmermans through his successful marriage of a 160 year old technology with the reinterpretation of ideas that often have a much longer linage.

A self-taught photographer, Timmermans started out as a teenager playing with the camera his father used to catalogue the inventory of his antique shop. Timmermans graduated to digital photographer at the turn of the century and eight years later abandoned mega-pixels for the old fashion wet plate process of collodion photography.

“I bought my first digital camera around 2000, but never really liked the feeling. It was all too predictable and not challenging enough. However, the wet plate process caught my attention in 2008 and from that moment on, I knew I’d found what I had always been looking for. This process is so challenging — creating an image which begins by mixing your own chemicals, using antique cameras and rather simple, but beautiful, Petzval lenses. It may sound strange, but the amount of work it takes to make just a single picture returned the joy of photography to me,’ he explained to the Lomography Magazine.

Using what was essentially a large bulky studio portrait camera Timmermans dragged it outside to make his often tongue in cheek photographs of his quirky narrative series.

As he has said “I started with shooting portraits with wet plate, as most of the wet platers do. And I still love to make pictures of strong characters. But I wanted to raise the bar for myself and to use this process outdoors. Since shooting landscape isn’t my thing, I started my Storytelling series.

About which he told the PH MagazineAt the moment I am working on a series where the titles have a double meaning. I love to bring a little humor in my photography. Like “Hat”lines and “Hat”hunter (see above) or Darwinian Mill (see below). My series never contain more than 4-5 plates and then I change to [a] different subject. I am challenged by new ideas.”

His exhibition “Storytelling” - Collodion photography by Alex Timmermans is currently on show at Amsterdam’s Eduard Planting Gallery until the 24th of October.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Power of Graffiti

“I'll never get lonely with all these visitors.”
Huang Yung-fu

A week ago the world famous secretive graffiti artist Banksy opened his latest offering, Dismaland. About which he said “It’s a theme park whose big theme is – theme parks should have bigger themes.” 

With the help of 58 other artists Banksy has created an ironic parody of Disneyland.
From the Cinderella Crash in a derelict version of the iconic Disney Castle where Banksy has placed the deceased fairy tale heroine amidst the wreckage of her pumpkin coach surrounded by paparazzi to Darren Cullen’s “Pocket Money Loans” shop with its 5000% interest rate, Dismaland is “a bemusement park.”

As Cullen told the Guardian NewspaperIt is just amazing having this much sarcasm in one place.”

Dismaland is scheduled to run for 36 days and is anticipating the attendance of 144,000 visitors.

Meanwhile half a world away on the island of Taiwan the Rainbow Village is attracting a million visitors a year. Mostly from Asia, the visitors are flocking to see the graffiti of the 93 year old retired soldier Huang Yung-fu.

Originally from Hong Kong, Huang was a member of the nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) army and after its defeat by the communists in the 1949 Chinese civil war he followed his leader Chiang Kai-shek to Taiwan. Along with other veterans he was given a two room bungalow in the Nantun district of Taichung City.

Over the intervening years the 1200 strong community has dwindled down to 11 houses as redevelopment replaced the others

As Huang told Agence France Press (AFP) “"We had a letter five years ago saying the government wanted to knock it down to build something new. They said we could take some money or move to a different house. But I didn't want to move. This is the only real home I've ever known in Taiwan."

It was a lure his neighbors found hard to resist and Huang soon found himself the enclave’s sole resident which is when he started painting. As he explained “I was the only person left in the village and I was bored. My father taught me how to paint when I was five years old, but I hadn't done it since I was a child. The first thing I painted was a bird inside my house."

Once he had covered the interior walls of his bungalow Huang moved outside and started to decorate the walls of his house and then the abandon houses that surrounded his. Depicting dogs, cats, planes and his favorite celebrities, including kung fu legend Bruce Lee, Huang’s cavalcade of images attracted the attention of local university students who agitated for their preservation.

They were successful and Huang’s house has been spared the developers wrecking ball. As he confirmed “The government has promised me they will keep this house and this village."

Now after his daily four hour early morning painting session Huang sits back and watches the crowd. "I like speaking with them and they tell me the paintings are beautiful,” he remarks.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Reality of Reality TV

“I would feel very successful if I did not have to work outside jobs
and solely be able to survive off of my sales from my art work."
 Kymia Nawabi

The Brooklyn based artist Kymia Nawabi is a first generation American with Iranian parents whose work depicts a dark mythical world she has created for herself which she describes as “an allegory of human behavior.”

As she told the Blue Canvas Magazine"My darkness is an inherent part of me from ever since I was very young. I do not mention this part of myself expecting any pity or discomfort from anyone, but hopefully empathy… My gloom is like a life-long scar that will probably always be a part of my work."

Although four years ago the sun did shine through the clouds, if briefly, when Nawabi won the second and final series of Bravo’s reality TV show Work of Art: The Next Great Artist.

But, as she told Hyperallergic’s Alicia Eler Out of the whole reality TV show experience, my exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum has been the most powerful and helpful part for my career. I now have a solo show at a major museum on my CV… The whole experiment of participating in Work of Art is another art adventure to add to my personal history of being a fine artist, which I have no regrets about. I learned so much about myself and my work, that these are the ways the show has impacted my career. It is all very personal and within the confines of my studio and mind.

An impact Nawabi has expanded about stating "The most crucial thing I learned throughout the competition was that I am capable of a lot more than I am even aware of. It is as though I need to be scared stupid to get to these enlightened and transcendental states within making the work. I never knew I could create such a beautiful show and I say that with confidence not cockiness. My work has been so quirky the past few years, I am so happy to have arrived at this new place within my work where there is an elegance and whole new kind of poetry."

Although it is a poetry that remains intensely personal as the Charlotte Observer’s art critic Barbara Schreiber noted when she wrote about Nawabi’s exhibition at Davidson College Galleries earlier this year “Nawabi’s work is not easy to decipher without some guidance, but it is touching, dramatic and cathartic in its mixture of melancholy and hope.”

Nawabi’s current exhibition Soothsayer is on show at Seattle’s Abmeyer + Wood gallery until the 26th of September.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Painting and Sculpture Intertwined

“That’s the way I approach painting.
I approach it like sculpture,
adding pieces until the image emerges.”
Lionel Smit

Although studying at Pretoria’s Pro Arte School of Arts the South African artist Lionel Smit learned the majority of his craft at his father’s knee. As he told Style.No.Chaser “My father is a sculptor, and I grew up playing in his studio, which eventually lead to me making art work.”

Whilst Smit the elder helped his son hone his craft he also taught him the business side of the occupation by giving him a sketch book and a pencil with the expectation that he earn his pocket money.

As Smit the younger told Top Billing’s Jeannie D “My father taught me that you have to pave your own way even if it’s with art. So at the end of the day, when you are forced to do something like that that encourages you to produce good work cos you know you have to sell it.”

At the age of 12 the young Smit considered himself a sculptor but four years later after his parents divorced and Smit had inherited his father’s studio, he switched from sculpture to painting.

As he explained to Opulent Living “When I was starting out, a part of me was trying to run away from being ‘the sculptor, Anton Smit’s son’. I will always be connected to my father, but I really wanted to be my own person. That might be part of why I started going into painting more. It intrigued me and it was something that I could discover on my own, something that wasn’t part of my father’s world.”

As the younger Smit was forging his own identity the elder Smit was in the background, opening doors and introducing his son to influential collectors which culminated in his painting African Girl (see above) being included in the 2009 F.A.C.E.T., Charity Auction at Christie’s London auction house. The work was chosen to grace the cover of the auction catalogue and while Smit rubbed shoulders with the art world’s glitterati the painting sold for three times its reserve price.

But the siren song of his youth could not be denied and soon the younger Smit was following in is father’s footsteps making large bronze sculptures. He currently has two adjacent studios in Cape Town, one for his sculpture and the other for his painting.

About his sculpture Smit is reported as saying in the catalogue for his 2010 exhibition SubmergedI want the sculptures to mimic the paintings, I almost try to merge them in approach, [and] to translate paintings in a three dimensional form. Immediately in my head I see the pieces of clay as brush strokes. At one stage while working on a sculpture I found myself building the plaster of Paris with a brush because I liked to see the brush strokes and the drips.”

Smit’s latest exhibition Close | Perspective is currently on show at Johannesburg Everard Read Gallery until the 30th of September.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Pleasure, Pain and Art

“There’s a lovely Zen melancholia that I’m after really.”
Brett Whiteley

Billed as “The Face that Stops a Nation” the annual Archibald Prize for portraiture along with its handmaidens the Wynne and Sulman Prizes are considered to be the pinnacle of Australian art. The winning of one of these awards is a confirmation by the Australian arts establishment of the artist’s ability.

The Australian painter, Brett Whiteley has won each of these awards twice. And in 1978 he became the only artist, in the award’s 94 year history, to win this trifecta of artistic excellence all in the same year. The multimedia work Art, Life, and The Other Thing (see above) was his winning entry.

But Whiteley was no stranger to art awards. He won the art competition in the annual RSPCA exhibition at Farmer’s Blaxland Gallery at the age of seven.

Whilst maintaining Australia as his base, Whiteley had a career that spanned the world from London to New York via Fiji, Tokyo, Bali and Paris producing a body of work that ranged from the abstract to the figurative, from the landscape to reportage. About which the art critic Robert Hughes wrote “The fact that Whiteley could take a subject so loaded with journalistic associations, and turn it into art, is the measure of his power for transformation.”

As he said in the 1989 documentary Difficult Pleasure: A Portrait of Brett Whiteley. “Go to an art supply house and get some ink and some paper and pens and a calligraphy brush and some charcoal and aim at virtually at whatever’s in front of you, the subject matter is not that important and then try and cheat and deceive and lie and exaggerate and most particularly distort as absolutely as extremely as you can and after some six months or a year or usually in a state of extreme frustration you will see something you truly never seen before and that is the beginning of yourself and that heralds the beginning of difficult pleasure.”

Whiteley died from a self-administered heroin overdose in 1992 at the age of 53.

Whiteley’s 18 piece installation The American Dream is currently on show at the Art Gallery of Western Australia until the 15th of February next year.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Photograph as Abstract

“Life seems very stale without art.”
Fabien Charuau

The 41 year old French born photographer/visual artist Fabien Charuau adopted India as his home in the final years of the 20th Century. And as he told earlier this year “Don’t go by the color of my skin, I’m very Indian.”

Charuau came to India as a mechanical engineer, morphed into a fashion and advertising photographer and most recently transitioned into a visual artist under the influence of his muse, the city of Mumbai.

“I love the city. I can’t function outside or live elsewhere. It is part of me. I have never been in the same place for so long. The man and the artist that I am, was formed by this city, the way I live, the people I meet, and it’s architecture,” he says.

His transition from photographer to visual artist began at the start of the current decade and first saw light of day with his 2011 exhibition Send Some Candids.

As he explained to Send Some Candids was a turning point in my practice. I stopped doing street photography, and taking photographs without the consent of my subject. Also, I didn’t see the point of creating new photographs any more. Photographers are redundant, because so many photographs are being created every day. The way we use and understand images has changed—the image is disconnected from the photographer. It’s the era of the omnipotent digital photograph.

Building upon this Charuau’s transition has become complete as his latest works indicate with their pure abstraction. An achievement he reached by applying a computer algorithm that processes the relationship between pixels to his found images that populate his current exhibition A Thousand Kisses Deep.

“All the photos looked the same—of couples kissing. It was sweet, but had nothing interesting to single out. So, I started looking at the photos as information… My way of doing this was completely jugaad (an innovative fix). I had no control over the outcome. All I knew was that the energy of the pixels was different in different photographs,” he explained.

A Thousand Kisses Deep is currently on show at Mumbai’s Chatterjee & Lal gallery until the 26th of September.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Feminine Goes Pop

“My language is the language of images,
and this language I speak more fluently than German or English
Kiki Kogelnik

The Austrian born artist Kiki Kogelnik is best known for her pop art works created during the 1960s.

After studying at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts as an expressionist, Kogelnik spent a couple of years in Paris before re-locating to New York in the early 1960s. It was there she adopted the palette and the style of the pop art movement. But, unlike her contemporaries, Kogelnik avoided the celebration of commerce and instead concentrated her efforts on the possibilities of the technological advances of the age.

As she has said “I’m not involved with Coca Cola, I’m involved in the technical beauty of rockets, people flying in space and people becoming robots. When you come here from Europe it is so fascinating … like a dream of our time. The new ideas are here, the materials are here, why not use them?”

The recent revival of interest in Kogelnik’s work has concentrated on this aspect of her work with exhibitions in Europe and America. Although in the 1970s the emphasis in her work shifted its focus to what have been called her “Women works” which specifically addressed the portrayal of women in commercial advertising.

"Fashion imagery relates directly to our fantasy expectations of the world. . . expectations which are never met in real life where people are not perfectly attired, posed, cool, aloof and elegant," she once said. "However, my work has many layers of meaning and anyone who sees this merely as a reflection of fashion illustration is missing the point. I am interested in Kitsch colors, somewhat like those used in cosmetics, and, particularly in my most recent paintings. I seem to be dealing with painterly problems of figure and ground in an almost abstract way."

Lauded as Austria’s most important pop artist, Art in America’s Anne Doran wrote in 2012 “Kogelnik’s paintings and drawings, with their fusion of Pop and abstract forms, ambiguous spaces and narratives, now look very up-to-date, with affinities to the figurative work of younger artists.”

The exhibition Kiki Kogelnik: Fly Me to the Moon is currently on show at Modern Art Oxford until the 18th of October.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Norman Rockwell Meets Tim Burton

“The desire to create is the strongest feeling I know.
Victor Grasso

The American realist painter Victor Grasso paints quirky works that resonate with a dark underside. With a Norman Rockwell lightness of touch Grasso channels the macabre surrealism of Tim Burton.

Growing up in the 1990s Grasso was fascinated by comic book super heroes but when he was introduced to the work of the old master’s the impression on the adolescent was profound.

As he told the Huffington Post’s Eddie Parsons “Growing up my dream was to be a comic book artist. I drew characters and super heroes all day and I idolized the comic artists of the nineties. But things changed when my sixth grade art teacher asked me "What are you interested in?" My response was "Death and Animals." The next day she came in with a torn out page of an art book with Peter Paul Rubens' "PrometheusBound" on it. I was blown away by that painting -- it never left me.”

But even at that early age the macabre had him in its thrall. As his mother explained in the trailer for the film Grasso; Beyond the Paint “He went through catholic grade school [and] the nuns would confront me with fact that my child’s creativity was very much demented.”

Ignoring further education after high school, Grasso found work with an Atlanta based mural company on the strength of his “portfolio full of drawings of monsters and goats.” After a couple of years he branched out on his own doing commissions by day and his own work in his free time. After a successful exhibition in his home town of Cape May, New Jersey in 2008 Grasso was “able to focus on my work and show throughout the country.

Now with his work having been shown from New York to San Francisco along with regular solo shows in his home town, Grasso continues to explore the stories sourced from his imagination.

As he explains “I relate to the inner struggle of the anti-hero. So my paintings tend to have a dark or quirky overtone. Realism roots the image down so people can relate to it, something familiar. I love painting the female form, which I think lends a universal appeal to the work… Many of my paintings reflect situations that don't often exist in everyday life, like a woman draped in an octopus or a nautilus shell floating under a woman's chin but I strive to make it as real as possible to bring you into my world. So deciphering details and translating them in paint allows me to bring the uncanny to life.

Grasso’s current exhibition The Naturalist is on show at Cape May’s SOMA NewArt Gallery until the 7th of September.