Tuesday, March 03, 2015

And Today’s Mask Is?

“These aspects of tribal [behavior] are a code of communication, which signal
to others "I am this."  In most cases, we are not.”
Ryan Ostrowski 

With Facebook having over a billion active users each month Andy Warhol’s 1968 dictum In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes" seems to have become a fact. If anyone notices is another story, although if you break a social taboo they most certainly will. Just ask Lindsey Stone. A picture of her flipping the bird at the Arlington National Cemetery went viral after a friend posted it on Facebook. Stone lost her job and was ostracized from her community; it took four years for people to forget and for Stone to regain a normal life.

“Contemporary America goes to such lengths to fabricate a specific way to be, advertising is a big culprit here, but it's heavy in celebrity culture too,” American film maker turned self taught painter Ryan Ostrowski told the Art Book Guy.  

Ostrowski’s paintings reflect his long held interest as a film maker in facial expression and the masks adopted especially by celebrities to massage that expression to fit a desired message. As the British Art Historian Edward Lucie-Smith wrote in his essay Ryan Ostrowski - What Happened After Pop Art?Celebrities tend to present a mask to the world, which is in fact a kind of simplified alter ego – not the true self, but nevertheless subtly related to it. The celebrity face, for example as seen hovering above the red carpet at a film premier, is a carefully edited and enhanced presentation of a commercially valuable individuality.

Masks and their tribal significance is a subject familiar to Ostrowski. “When you grow up in a rural environment and you're gay, there's a kind of mask that you wear; the emphasis is on hiding and concealing these qualities. Converged with that and I think very incidentally and especially once you leave the rural environment like I did and inhabit an urban environment, there's a greater sense of a "tribe" in the gay community. It's always been a huddling around this commonality that we share to, in some way, come to terms with this, and this coming together is very tribal, ” he says.

Using pop icons, which range from Lady Gaga to Van Gogh, Ostrowski overlays their faces with tribal markings that are not all that far removed from the facial tattoos employed by New Zealand’s Maoris. As he has said “As a contemporary artist, tribal insignias not only became a way for me to express unity in the chaos, but on a social level, it's really about bringing awareness to this enormous cultural mask.  I am using Primitivism as a means to describe not tribal, but my own cultural dilemma.”

A dilemma many more of us may have to consider as social media with its celebrity overtones  increasingly integrates itself into our lives.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Translating Observations

I want people to identify with the situation and, if possible, 
take an offbeat look at the world we all have a part in.”
Marie Jacotey

A few weeks ago I had cause to contact the Italian artist Monica Barengo, unsure of her command of English I sent the email in Google Italian. Her response in part was “your Italian with google translate is fun :)).” Fortunately Monica’s English was much better than Google’s Italian and we proceeded accordingly.

So it is to a degree for the newly minted French artist Marie Jacotey. Currently living and working in London, having recently graduated from the Royal College of Art, English is her second language.

Working in a comic book style, Jacotey sources a lot of the imagery for her imaginative works from the internet. As she told the Are You Realism website “I find internet platforms such as Facebook and Tumblr especially helpful for imagery, as I like observing people, relationships, conversations and an online presence is a huge part of that now. I don't think people realize how funny they can be sometimes, posting pictures of themselves, being so self aware; including myself of course! I don't feel that I am mean, rather cynical sometimes maybe, but my gaze on people tends actually to be quite tender.”

As to be expected with genre she is working in, text is an integral part of her work both interpretatively and as part of her expression. As she explained “English is my second language, when I was working in France all of the text was in French. When I arrived in London I realized how important it was to my drawings for people to understand the text. I sometimes find misspelled words way after I've finished a piece, or an awkward way of structuring a sentence. This used to bother me but now I think it actually adds to the way the images speak. So I decided to embrace any of my mistakes, after all it's how I think in English, and make them becomes part of the humor or the awkwardness of the situation."

As Jacotey navigates her way through the personal and the cultural, the banal and the profound, her observations depict the human condition informed by sound bites, existential angst and the internet. As she has said “I essentially tend to depict women but the point of view I am drawing from isn’t usually clearly gendered, my ‘voice’ can be in turn masculine and in turn feminine. I am by no means trying to give a moral opinion of mine through my pieces but rather wanting to share my observations about human beings and their social interactions.

Jacotey’s current exhibition Move On! Get Over It! is on show at London’s heike moras art until the 26th of March.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Looking into the Landscape

"The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one's 

self of the chains that shackle the spirit."
Igor Stravinsky

The British painter and printmaker Bridget Riley used this Stravinsky quote to explain the early days of her journey into abstraction in her 2009 London Review of Books’ essay At the End of My Pencil.

Riley was in her late 20’s and copying the work of the French pointillist artist Georges Seurat to learn how color interacts with its neighbors when she decided to abandon figurative painting. “And then, on a very spectacular summer day looking over a valley near Siena, sparkling and shimmering in the heat, I made my own attempt. I made studies, and later, a painting. I was quite pleased, in fact, with what I'd been able to do, but it had nothing to do with what I had actually experienced in front of this landscape. So I decided to start again to find a new beginning — to start from the themes themselves, that is to say, shapes, lines, and so on. That led to my making a black-and-white painting and seeing what it would do: and it moved," she told the Guardian newspaper’s Charlotte Higgins. "Movement, shimmering, sparkling and reflecting … all those things that happen in landscape," Riley added.

For Riley capturing all that she sees in a landscape, not its narrative, is that which informs her work. As she told the Financial Times Jackie Wullschlager, “I was walking past a hedge yesterday and the shine of a leaf was astonishing, the next leaves were matt, they were lit by light, but they did not reflect the sky.”

Riley learned this way of looking from her mother during the dark days of the Second World War. They were evacuees in Cornwall and her father was missing in action, later to become a prisoner of war. “My mother was an enormous influence, I not only loved her, I liked her, she would and could greet a beautiful day, see it, point it out. This would take her mind off her anxieties, and she in turn would take my mind off, into this world of looking. We were given sight. I knew that somehow I wanted to pursue this looking,” Riley recalled.

And pursue it she did, becoming the queen of the Op Art movement after her inclusion in New York’s Museum of Modern Art’s 1965 exhibition, The Responsive Eye. Riley’s kinetic black and white paintings, whilst questioned by the critics, were a hit with the people and eagerly appropriated into the popular fashions of the day.

It took Riley seven years to incorporate color with her dancing monochrome forms which she achieved by adding grey to her works and eventually substituting it for color. As she wrote in At the End of My Pencil,At the core of color lies a paradox. It is simultaneously one thing and several things – you can never see color by itself, it is always affected by other colors.

By tightly controlling the geometric forms of her abstract colored renderings they proved to be as intriguing as the one’s that made her name. For as she maintains “all painting is about [the] relationships of color, shape and line, whether abstract or figurative.

A retrospective exhibition centered around her printmaking Bridget Riley
Prints 1962 – 2015
is currently on show at London’s Sims/Reed Gallery until the 20th of March.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Change is the Only Constant


“The distinction between the past, present and future 
is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
Albert Einstein

One of the major preoccupations in the Arts is the preservation of the holdings entrusted to its care. From museums restricting exhibition times for light sensitive works to the digital imaging industry’s ongoing research for archival inks that can last centuries rather than decades. Longevity is the name of the game.

But one artist bucking this trend is the American abstract painter Cornelia White Swann. With a long held interest in what she calls the “poetics of time and space” White Swann explores the relationships between the built environment and the people who inhabit the created spaces along with nature’s interaction with the same terrain. As she says “I’m interested in the dialogues that can occur when two disparate forms exist in the same environment. This curiosity evolved with my observations of the urban landscape; the strong architectural lines of a building existing with the organic forms of clouds passing behind it or the desire paths left by pedestrians seeking the route of least resistance.”

Until recently White Swann had been using synthetic acrylics as used by the advertising and sign printing industries on synthetic paper to record her observations whilst using her studio floor as an easel. As she explained “The fluid paints blend into each other creating new colors, leaving behind meandering striations over time. Desire paths emerge on the paper, responding to the uneven surface of my studio floor. The outcome of mixing these processes is a unique conversation between the two forms.”

Her latest works have seen her abandon the long lasting acrylics in favor of pigments derived from the natural world of flowers, fruits, vegetables, herbs and other plants with their subjective reaction to light. As White Swann expounds in her artist’s statement about these works “Depending on the amount of exposure to light, the color derived from plants evolves over time. The vivid colors of purple and magenta hues of blueberries and pomegranates slowly turn to ambers and greys.

The life cycle of these works will be recorded photographically with the works being displayed again in a year’s time. Like the changes that inspire her work the works will impose their own changes upon themselves. The persistent illusion of permanence will be erased by the imperative of living in the moment.

The first of White Swann’s exhibitions Fugitive Color 1 is currently on show at San Antonio’s French & Michigan gallery until the 25th of April. The second exhibition is scheduled for the spring of 2016.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Observing the World

“to my solitude I go
from my solitude I come”
Luis de Gongora

The British painter Edward Burra was to all intents and purposes was a cripple and whilst not confined to a wheel chair he was chair bound. From childhood he suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and a blood disorder that induces anemia. Due to these afflictions he could only observe a world in which he couldn’t fully participate and observe that world he did.

Painting with watercolor, he was physically unable to meet the demands of painting in oils and forced to paint sitting at a table, Burra’s paintings are vibrant reflections of the world that swirled around him. From his Paris and New York paintings with their sexual illusions and celebration of Jazz and B grade movies of his youth to the English landscapes of his latter years with their environmental concerns, Burra’s watercolors are mostly drenched with a strong use of color.

Between these two bodies of work Burra painted dark and foreboding, almost at times surreal, depictions of a world ravaged by war. As a child he experienced WWI, was in Spain at the start of their civil war and lived in the coastal town of Rye, the front line in the Battle of Britain, during WWII.

Blessed with an almost photogenic memory, Burra never made sketches from life. He would return to the family home after his travels to recuperate and create his pictures. Burra’s love of the cinema and theatre in all its forms (opera, ballet, drama and comedy) saw him also design stage settings and costumes that were, even for him, reproduced on a massive scale.

Described by the Jerwood Gallery as “one of the most enigmatic and intriguing British artists working during the 20th Century,” Burra’s reluctance to talk about his work helped to maintain the mystery. In a rare interview, said to be the only one, with the BBC, Burra did say “I never tell anybody anything – so they just make stuff up – I don’t see that it matters.”

An exhibition of Burra’s work A Rye View is currently on show at the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings Old Town until the 7th of June.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Of Tabloid Art & Selfies


“I take headlines and turn them into art, that art then turns back into headlines. 
It’s taking a tabloid journalism style approach to art. 
It’s taking all my art shows online and out of galleries, which have always kind of bored me.
Jesse Willesee

The Australian Government created more outraged headlines than usual when they announced in their 2014 budget in which Australians would have to pay more to visit their doctor and under 30’s unemployment welfare would be cut. The Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, created a flurry of more headlines with his “wink that sparked a thousand tweets on talk back radio. Abbott was filmed winking to the programs host as he took a call from a 67 year old phone sex worker with medical problems.

It was manna from heaven for the Australian conceptual artist Jesse Willesee confirming his resolve to push through with his Cam Girl/Cam Boy flash/mob event. An installation of five hotel rooms with models and actors simulating live sex cam workers in each that were streamed to an in-house computer. The audience was free to consume the event how they wished. As Willesee told the Wentworth Courier “You can walk from room to room and photograph, look at or watch or however you want to consume the art is up to you.”

Willesee contends that sex cam work could be an attractive option for unemployed people under 30. “What’s going to be the fastest, easiest job for a 19 or 20 year old girl or boy to get if they lose their job and can’t get the dole? They can hop on a live cam website and start making money the same day. Even to get a job stacking shelves at Woolies you need to go through an interview process,” he said.

Controversial is the most common adjective attached to the name of this artist who grew up in a media savvy and socially aware family. Both his father and his uncle were very well known local journalists and TV presenters who were not immune to controversy. 

Willesee’s latest venture Andy Warhol with Better Features was a reworking of the earlier project Product Placement but with a dig at galleries.

Product Placement was a photographic flash/mob event, a record of which can be seen on his Tumbler page. As he told AUreviewI noticed a trend for people to pose with products in their pictures. And I thought that was interesting. In the past that was product placement - where a company gets you to use your image to help promote themselves. Now it’s kind of happening in reverse. I feel like a lot of people want that iconic imagery that these companies have created.”

Whilst Andy Warhol with Better Features was Willesee’s response to Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art’s banning of the selfie stick. In collaboration with Valentina Penkova he was photographed as he took selfies in front some of the museums artworks using a selfie stick. During the event as Willesee told Art Daily “People were taking photos of Valentina taking photos of me while I was taking photos of myself. No one was looking at the art. Other people’s art is just a prop in your own self made art.

Examples of Willesee’s work can be seen on his website, here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

“That's art, right?”

“The works aren't trying to be paintings or photographs, 
but rather just a combination of things I look at and what I like.
Tamar Halpern

For the New York based mixed media artist Tamar Halpern the free association of ideas motivates her art, both in the way she makes it and the response she wants from her audience. As she told the Interview’s Noor Brara a few days before the opening of her latest exhibition “It's a very malleable process and it goes back and forth. I'm responding to what I'm seeing. There's no fixed initial idea or purpose.

Coming from a photographic background Halpern was frustrated by the mediums limitations. “I used to work for a traditional photographer and I would spend hours in the darkroom building multiple developers, testing paper and things like that, but I don't really fit in with that kind of photography. So I started creating compositions using photographs on the computer,” she said.

As Halpern’s enquires developed so too did her methods expand, from digitally manipulating content Halpern added diverse printing techniques, collage and painting. As she says “I wanted to find my own way. My way of working straddles both photography and painting, and because painting is both an additive and subtractive process, I take it step by step. It's a collage of layers between mediums, yet the images are photographic as (a) whole.

Explaining further Halpern says “The process is usually the same for each work: I'll print a layer, then make a collage over it, then take a photo of it and load the photo on the computer. I can delete part of the image and then layer only a certain portion over the print.

The results are difficult to categorize and have been variously described as “impossible monoprints” (Artforum),  unruly and unhinged (Time Out) and “enigmatic and cinematographic” ( As the press release for her 2013 exhibition Six Minutes of Pleasure stated “Tamar Halpern’s works simultaneously explore, amplify, and disrupt the legacies of modernist abstraction.

Or as Halpern would put it “It’s like the image of the cat in one of my works—it's representational, but it's still abstract. There are traces of meaning and then not. That's art, right?”

Halpern’s current exhibition My Voice at the Pace of Drifting Clouds is on show at New York’s On Stellar Rays  until the 29th of March.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Light Art From Skylines

“I need to connect to the image”
Rosan Sison-Holmes

Necessity, it is said, is the mother of invention and when her sister, boredom, joins the party, together they often become the imperative for a creative ménage a trios.  Such was the case for the Filipino photographer Rosan Sison-Holmes.

She is a corporate high flyer with a photographic hobby, but as she told The Expat in an email interview “once I was past the family get-together shots and the wonderful sunsets, there came the sudden itch . . . to do something different, unique, and untried (at least by me). It wasn’t going to be another macro shot, another portrait nor another landscape shot.”

In Singapore at the behest of her day job, Sison-Holmes found herself in another anonymous hotel room whilst outside the city’s evening skyline twinkled. Drawn by the lights Sison-Holmes took her camera out onto the balcony to better enjoy the view. As she said “I stepped out onto the hotel balcony which directly faced the marvelous Singapore skyline, and for the very first time, I created random images from light that emanated from the structures before me.  If I was a musician making music . . . the music could be described as dissonant but interesting. What started almost as child’s play to pass the time quickly developed into exploring a fine-art photographic pursuit.

As The Philippine Star newspaper wrote about her first solo exhibition Eureka, “Through self-study and continuing experimentation, she has refined what were once raw, unstructured and even chaotic images. She painstakingly works on each shot until she finds “The image within the image.” Rosan’s patience and her exacting nature are a perfect fit to what she does.

Sison-Holmes has broadened her subject matter for the creation of her “Light Art.” She now includes car headlights and taillights, street lamps, neon signs, even the light from kids’ toys and electronic gadgets, and along with the city skylines they all have their place in her repertoire.

Still involved in the corporate world with her own company, Exsellsys, Sison-Holmes regularly flies around Asia to deliver sales training courses and visit skylines that range from Australia to India.

Sison-Holmes “Light Art” can be seen on permanent display at Makati City’s Cattelan Italia showroom.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Painting as Paradox

“How do you want to live your life, and what does that look like?”
Clayton Colvin

Reading is a favored pass time for the Birmingham, Alabama based American abstract artist Clayton Colvin. As he told The Curating Contemporary Blog last year “I just closed a show at the University of Montevallo where I included a lot of the books I had read over the last year to make that [their influence] clear. Art students feel pressure to read theory and art history, and that’s great, but it is a big world. I like fiction. I like writers who open up my thinking more. I read a lot during the summer especially. It is hot here. Being still is advisable.” The writing of Kelly Link is a significant influence, about which Colvin says “Her writing has a way of expanding and contracting that I really respond to, and I saw that plasticity as analogous to the way I think about painting.”

A second interest is sport, with his child’s soccer exploits being of particular concern. It’s an activity which also infiltrates Colvin’s work. “Patterns are really interesting to me. A lot of my visual language comes from my experience with field vision and the game of soccer or football. Players are naturally good or trained to read things in their periphery and anticipate events in space. So, creating space through unlocking patterns and exploiting breaks or lapses is a way I like to think of the technical act of painting,” he explained.

But drawing is the pivotal aspect of Colvin’s multimedia creations. The gallery director of the Eichold Gallery, Wanda Sullivan, said of his work “The paintings actually remind me of giant sketchbook pages. There is‘immediacy’ about them that I particularly admire.”

A sentiment shared with Artforum’s Rowan Ricardo Phillips, who wrote “At times, painting seems to give way to drawing, and at other times, drawing seems to give way to painting. Erasures and additions reveal and conceal other layers, complicating ideas of before and after, original and addition, right side up and upside down. The paintings thrive in paradox: They can seem crowded and full of movement, a sense of unsettled energy populating their spaces; after sustained viewing, however, a calm and measured contemplativeness saturates the canvases. The paintings seem to move when you don’t look at them and stand still when you do - each striving to represent both the noise in which contemporary life finds itself ensnared, and the quiet meditation that can free it.”

Colvin’s current exhibition New Way to Forget is on show at Birmingham’s Beta Pictoris Gallery until the 27 of March.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Here’s a Little Shot I Took

“I like the survival stories. And that’s what it’s like being an artist, it’s surviving and it’s your next body of work. You’re all alone and nobody’s coming to save you.”
Tracy Moffett

In a 1998 interview with Bomb Magazine’s Coco Fusco the Australian artist Tracy Moffett said “Literature often influences my work. I’m thinking of Southern American writers like Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Carson McCullers in particular. Her stories remind me of where I come from. Queensland and the northern part of Australia is a very beautiful place, but also very redneck; a kind of paradise to grow up in, but you can’t wait to get the hell out.” And get out Moffett did.

The half Aboriginal Moffett grew up in a white foster family home in the working class suburb of Mt Gravatt East in the Queensland capital city of Brisbane. At the age of 18 Moffett took off to go backpacking round Europe for nine months. Upon her return she enrolled at the Queensland College of Art. Moffett’s next escape, the year following her graduation, was to Sydney where she started to consolidate her reputation as an artist. Fifteen years later Moffett moved out of her comfort zone, relocating to New York. As she told The Saturday Paper’s Rebecca Harkins-Cross “You’re 37 years old and you go back and live like an art student again.

It was a move that paid off. With exhibitions in the Aperto section of the Venice Biennale and at New York’s Dia Foundation in the same year, Moffett’s star became a permanent fixture in the international firmament.  

Moffett describes herself as a “director of photo-narratives” which sees take on the roles of performer, film maker and photographer, sometimes she even wears all three hats simultaneously. Although the photographic influence dominates, as she told Catherine Summerhayes for her book The Moving Images of Tracy Moffett “I am constantly thinking composition in a photographic sense, and framing and photographic textures are very important in my movies.”

 “I’m a socialist who for lives for designer clothes” Moffett says of herself. An attitude reflected in her work as she mixes the political with the personal to make enigmatic staged documentary narratives about which she is exceeding coy. “The reading’s got to come from the viewer. The minute I say what the narrative is, I really believe it’s the end of an art work. I never say what it is,” she states.

Moffett’s latest exhibition Kaleidoscope is the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts’ Festival of Perth contribution. The video Art Calls is on show along with photographs from the Spirit Landscapes series until the 15th of April.