Saturday, December 26, 2015

It’s Art that’s Immortal

“Pictures are spiritual beings. The soul of the painter lives within them.
Emil Nolde

It has been said that the German expressionist artist Emil Nolde had read only one book during his life and that being the Bible during his childhood under the influence of his protestant peasant parents. An influence that regulated education secondary to that of inspiration for the artist.

And about which Nolde has said “What an artist learns matters little. What he himself discovers has a real worth for him, and gives him the necessary incitement to work.

Born as Emil Hansen, he adopted the name Nolde from the village adjacent to his parent’s farm in his mid-thirties after moving to Berlin in 1902.

As a child Nolde, unlike his siblings, drew and painted whenever he could and at the age of 17 he studied to become a carver and illustrator and as a young adult worked in furniture factories whilst painting and drawing in his spare time. The proceeds from a series of postcards he produced in his early thirties gave him the financial security to become an independent artist.

Working with oil paint, watercolors and printmaking Nolde’s depictions of urban nightlife, biblical scenes, flower motifs, and landscapes along with the primitivism of his exotic figures and masks, inspired by a visit to the South Seas, are considered to be amongst the best of German Expressionism.

Although being a member of the Nazi party from the early 1920’s, Nolde was declared to be a degenerate artist in 1937 and four years later banned him from making any art at all. During this prohibition Nolde made some 1300 watercolors in secret many of which became the basis for his later works made after the Second World War.

For as he has said “Art is exalted above religion and race. Not a single solitary soul these days believes in the religions of the Assyrians, the Egyptians and the Greeks... Only their art, whenever it was beautiful, stands proud and exalted, rising above all time.

The exhibition Nolde in Hamburg is currently on show at The Hamburger Kunsthalle until the 10th of February 2016.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Chaotic Journey in Paint

“I try to set up those conditions where there’s,
like, a certain amount of total disregard for the logic of the painting.

Steve DiBenedetto

The New York artist Steve DiBenedetto is constantly looking to move his work forward from being a symbolist painter he has recently started to embrace abstraction. From the ongoing motifs in his paintings that include octopi, helicopters, Ferris wheels and, more recently, architecture in his heavily layered works to the abstraction inherent in his latest offerings.

As he said about his process to Time Out New York’s TJ Carlin in 2009 “Usually they have to go through some really unpredictable stages. Typically, a painting will start and feel like it’s moving in a linear fashion, but then it ends up feeling completely dysfunctional—or actually too functional—and usually needs to have something traumatizing happen to it. So I end up getting ensnared. I feel like that’s ultimately my process: It’s sort of like having to weasel my way out. Usually it means doing something to the painting that runs the risk of possibly destroying it or ruining it. Like, Oh God, you shouldn’t do that! But usually it ends up being fairly liberating in some weird way.”

So too did the inclusion of the geometry of buildings into his more organic depictions, as he told Bomb Magazine’s David HumphreyThe buildings are outgrowths of geometric forms that have been occupying my paintings, like the Ferris wheels. The amusement park is where we go to experience outrageous disorientation. When you’re being traumatized on some roller coaster, you’re in this ahistorical dimension, utterly in the moment… Human beings are constantly searching for ways of escaping the trauma of dealing with the passage of time, death.”

Likewise, with his exhibition at New York’s Derek Eller Gallery, Mile High Psychiatryin March/April of 2015 about which Hyperallergic’s John Yau wrote “In an age of signature gestures and stylistic branding, artists who change and, more importantly, are able to expand the possibilities of their work are few and far between. The most obvious difference is that in his current show DiBenedetto has mostly jettisoned the symbols of the helicopter, octopus and Ferris wheel that routinely showed up in his work. But he has also become more open to impulse and spontaneity.”

DiBenedetto’s current exhibition Evidence of Everything, his first major solo museum exhibition, is on show at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum until the 3rd of April 2016.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Dark Paintings with Colorful Camouflage

“It is amazing to me that a world so beautiful can also be so violent.”
Sarah Emerson

The American artist Sarah Emerson paints imaginative landscapes in a colorful pop art, almost paint by numbers style, that camouflage a dark underside for presentation on gallery walls and as street murals.

As she told Creative Loafing’s Henry Samuels “I'm inspired by actual landscapes and how they are affected by time and human intervention… In the imagery I usually mix a little darkness with the beautiful because that is the nature of the life I am familiar with. But aside from the picture, I want the viewer to feel like they own my work both psychologically and physically. I use a lot of familiar archetypes as a visual alphabet and I see my paintings as odes to a continuous circle of paradise lost and found.”

After a nomadic childhood the 24-year-old Emerson graduated from the Atlanta Collage of Art and two years later left London’s Goldsmiths College with her Master of Fine Arts.

Her highly stylized landscapes that combine geometric patterns and mythic archetypes incorporate themes ranging from battlefields, war propaganda, literature, and idyllic gardens.

As she states in her artist’s statement for her current exhibition The Unbearable Flatness of Being “The paintings depict a make believe world dominated by terror management theory and symbolic totems that represent our collective desire to be optimistic and innocent in tumultuous times. Each painting is an amalgamation of events happening at once, flattened into one picture plane, with shifting layers of debris that distort and fracture the horizon. Like a cartoon cel there is repetition in the structure of the paintings and repeating symbols that can serve as common landmarks from section to section. In my paintings no event happens separately, it is perpetual wreckage piling up in one place.”

The Unbearable Flatness of Being is on show at Atlanta’s Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia until the 6th of February.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Navigating the Everyday

“I am a sponge and observe everything and adopt things into my work.
Jiha Moon

Not only does the Korean born, American based artist Jiha Moon observe things she is also an avid collector of ephemera.

As she told Blouin Art Info’s Ashton Cooper “I collect many things from all over the place. I have hundreds of souvenirs and knick-knacks in my studios.” 

And often images of and from her memorabilia find their way into her paintings, prints and ceramics; her cartographic explorations of the cross cultural influences that make up our increasingly globalized world.

As she explained to the New American Paintings Blog’s, Paul Boshears “The cultural maps I make explore the ways in which an image can be read in one way in one culture and have a totally different read in another culture. Translating cultural incongruities is one of the most exciting and nerve-wracking experiences I have. They happen every day. I’m not digging through a book of art history or philosophy; my work is concerned with the everyday experience. The images I use are commonly experienced, they’re everyday experiences that are familiar to anyone, but I twist them. I make these icons less recognizable with many layers and draw the audience into these weird positions where the images feel familiar, but they can’t name it quickly. In this sense, the maps that I am building are more of a ‘mindscape.”

A mindscape that is concerned with misunderstands that can arise in our instant communication that ignores the different meanings an icon can have in different cultures.

About which Moon has elaborated, stating “Iconography is the most important layer to understanding my work because icons mean a lot in our everyday lives. Everyone today has a computer or a cell phone and they employ icons to mediate the intention of the users. If you want to communicate with others, there is an icon that has to be pushed or selected in order for you to communicate. It’s everywhere, like a visual dictionary of communication. In this way, I think of the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. I use his smile a lot in my work. He can be a very humorous addition, but he’s also very misleading. A lot of the time, presupposing identification can mislead you. I might use a rainbow flag that would have a strong meaning in a Korean context, but it might also be read like it was the gay pride flag. My work is largely concerned with misreading and communication between people.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Catherine Fox wrote about Moon’s 2010 exhibition Blue Peony and Impure Thoughts, saying “Moon moves effortlessly between abstraction and figuration, flatness and depth. She has begun to add collage. She miraculously corrals all these elements into energetic but sane compositions. The artist fuses references from cartoons to colophons with similar aplomb. The delicate blue peony, a symbol of good fortune in East Asian art, coexists with toothy Pac-man figures made of colored stickers and Atlanta peaches drawn from graphics on souvenirs.”

Moon’s current exhibition Double Welcome, Most Everyone's Mad Here is on show at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts until the 6th of March next year.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Sunday Painter’s Explanations

“I want my art to go with your brain, not with your couch.
John Slaby

In the opening talk for his 2005 exhibition Crimes Against Art the painter John Slaby stated “In my art I have tried to combine the beauty of the decorative movement with the mental stimulation of the modernist movement without the pitfalls of each. I want my art to have beauty and to stimulate the mind. I want to avoid the trite forms of decorative art and the adolescent anger of modernist art. I want my art to be active in that it provokes thought rather than passive… I want my art to be infused with meaning and intention - to provoke thoughts and feelings by sharing my thoughts and feelings on a variety of topics from our shared human experience. This creates a connection between the viewer and myself. A connection based on our shared human experience. And it is this connection that provides the spirituality in art. I crave this spirituality and it is the reason I paint. I often wonder if I would paint if no one were to see the art. Perhaps not. I wonder if this is a good thing because so much of my happiness depends on the response of my audience. One of the hardest challenges for me is to remove myself from these expectations.

With a PhD in engineering Slaby paints in his spare time and produces a variety of conceptually inspired realist narrative works in the landscape, figurative and still life genres.

About which he says “In a way I am very lucky because I have a good day job which I kind of like and only have to do part time. I think the composer Charles Ives is my prototype. He was successful in the insurance business and composed music in his free time. Knowing he didn’t have to make money from his music liberated him to compose as he wished – and he did some mighty strange things, some very groundbreaking things.

A lapsed Catholic, Slaby has replaced his religion with his painting.

As he said at the opening of his 2008 exhibition Somethings to Think About “If anyone asks me if I go to church, I reply with the wonderful double entendre “I never miss church on Sunday”. I usually spend my Sunday’s painting. Painting is my spiritual experience. This comes from two aspects. The first is the creation of something from nothing. The blank canvas taking on form. Beauty ex nihilo. That’s what I get on my Sunday’s. The second is the showing, the connection with others. That’s what I am getting tonight and I hope that you can share in that. This is my spirituality. This place is my church.”

With subject matter that ranges across sex, violence, religion and death combined with the realization of his own mortality, Slaby’s latest works have shifted from the intellectual towards the emotional and to ensure that their points are not missed each comes with a wall plaque.

As he has said “Tonight I have all these paintings here and everyone has a description on it.”

Slaby’s current exhibition Death and Desire is on show at Houston’s Archway Gallery until the 7th of January.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Challenge of Improvisation

“The what of the painting is incidental to the how.”
Robert Ryman

For the American painter Robert Ryman his paintings are a place where things happen rather than a place that depict events be they real or abstract. With a musical background Ryman uses the improvisation process inspired by the Jazz idiom as the catalyst for his works.

As he explained to Art21I came from music. And I think that the type of music I was involved with—jazz, bebop—had an influence on my approach to painting. We played tunes. No one uses the term anymore. It’s all songs now, telling stories—very similar to representational painting, where you tell a story with paint and symbols. But bebop is swing, a more advanced development of swing. It’s like Bach. You have a chord structure, and you can develop that in many ways. You can play written compositions and improvise off of those. So, you learn your instrument, and then you play within a structure. It seemed logical to begin painting that way. I wasn’t interested in painting a narrative or telling a story with a painting. Right from the beginning, I felt that I could do that if I wanted to, but that it wouldn’t be of much interest to me. Music is an abstract medium, and I thought painting should also just be what it’s about and not about other things—not about stories or symbolism.

As the Tate Gallery’s Simon Wilson told the Independent newspaper “Ryman's playing games with what a picture is . . . He's thinking about paint, questioning the nature of paint. It's a painting about painting, questioning the nature of reality.”

After a two-year stint in the United States army reserve corps the Nashville born saxophonist moved to New York to study Jazz and in his spare time visited the City’s Museums and art galleries. To earned his keep Ryman got a job as a security guard at the Museum of Modern Art and later at the art department of the New York Public Library.

About which he told the Brooklyn Rail “At that time, it was a perfect job, because, well, I had no money, and I had to live by my wits, kind of. And so that was a job where I could be close to painting, close to art, every day. I could see the workings of the museum. It was very valuable, in that sense, and of course the hours were good too. The museum, at that time, was open from eleven until six at night, so I had the mornings. And it paid enough just to pay the rent, and buy new materials. And it wasn’t a demanding job, where you were expected to grow with the business; it wasn’t that kind of a thing. It was just a simple job. And I learned so much from that.

Intrigued by his surroundings Ryman started trying his hand at painting and at the age of 25 created what he considers to be his first professional painting Untitled (Orange Painting) (see above). An experimental work that defined his approach to painting upon which he has built his career.

About which he has said “My approach tends to be from experiments. I need the challenge. If I know how to do something well, there’s no need to do it all the time because it becomes a little monotonous. So, I like to find a challenge. Of course, all these things are rooted in the basics of painting. It’s not that I do anything crazy, but I tend to work within a structure and see what other possibilities there can be.

The Dia Art Foundation is currently presenting a Major Survey of Robert Ryman’s work at Dia:Chelsea until the 18th of June 2016.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Painting Portraits with a Camera

It´s much more of a challenge to take an insecure girl
and change her into Queen Elizabeth."

Hellen van Meene

When she was in her teens the Dutch photographer Hellen van Meene was given a pink camera by her mother and she did what most adolescences would do and took photographs of her friends. Now 40 years later armed with a high end professional camera, 15 year olds are still her preferred subject matter.

As she told Vice ID’s Rory Satran "The faces are so open and you can have different interpretations. I prefer younger faces because it's like an open book."

A fascination she reiterated on Conscientious Extended website saying “I think that young people are so inspiring, and I love to be inspired by them. They’re so open and new and fresh, they have to explore everything, and I love to guide that. Maybe when I’m much older, say in my sixties, I will think about forty-year old models, but not right now.

Van Meene selects her models from the teenagers she meets on the streets.

About which she has said "It has nothing to do with being beautiful or not; it's more about chemistry. And this can be based on the mood they have, or the hair, or the skin, or if they are fat, brown, freckled. It's just there is something inside them that I feel. It's more like I am looking with my belly rather than my eyes…  I guide my subjects a lot. I always ask models that have no experience as models. They’re just girls and boys from the street. Because of that I always guide them, because I think a good photographer should know what they want from a subject. Once you have a model posing in front of you it is good to help them, by telling them in what direction to look or what pose to choose. That way, you can help them to have confidence, and to also feel relaxed with you."

Van Meene also works in natural settings using daylight rather than a studio.

As she says “In a studio I would feel too limited. There, the light has already been set up, and if you would want to change it you are less focused on the model and more on the light equipment in the studio. I like to be more focused on the model, and daylight is so beautiful!

It is a process that gives her photographs a painterly feel.

As she explained to Bleek Magazine’s Olga Bubich “My work also has so much resemblance to paintings because of the natural feeling the way I work with the model creates. Before I finally take a photo, it sometimes takes ten or twenty minutes. First I give my model all the attention she needs, I really look very closely and concentrated at her before I photograph her. This approach is far from just taking out your camera and snaping, snaping, snaping away. What I do is really like a painter working on a painting – looking, making decisions.”

Van Meene’s current exhibition Five is on show at New York’s Yancey Richardson Gallery until the 23rd of January.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The King is Dead, Long Live the Queen

“It’s just a conceptual idea. I don’t know how to build anything.”
Yoko Ono

The Japanese born conceptual artist, musician and social activist Yoko Ono is best known as the widow of the Beatles co-founder John Lennon. Although she started making art in the 1950’s it was not until her marriage to Lennon in 1968 that she started to gain the world wide notoriety she enjoys today.

They turned their honeymoon into a public spectacle with their Bed-Ins for Peace, two weeklong anti-war protests firstly at Amsterdam’s Hilton Hotel and two months later at Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth Hotel.

About which Ono states in the documentary The U.S. vs. John Lennon “Up to then, people who were promoting world peace were kind of like intellectual, anemic kind of people, just sort of like passing out pamphlets that nobody wants to read, you know? And so, John was saying, "No, no." That’s why we wanted to do it this way, you know? And I think we did a great job.

It was in Montreal that they recorded the anti-war anthem Give Peace a Chance with their newly formed Plastic Ono Band that has been credited by many as being instrumental in the breakup of the Beatles.

As Ono told W Magazine “And there’s that hatred that came to me because of what? Jealousy, maybe. That I was with John. Art is the most important thing for me, and if I had been concerned about what people said, I wouldn’t have made those pieces. But they didn’t stop with attacking me; they were attacking John as well. I was concerned that just because of love, he was destroying his career. Well, he certainly didn’t destroy it. But nearly.”

After Lennon’s murder on the street outside his New York home in 1980 Ono has worked hard to preserve and enrich his legacy as well as building her own career as a conceptual artist with exhibitions worldwide.

Thanks to her peace activism, public art projects, recordings, and use of social media Ono has developed a highly visible persona that belie Lennon’s quip about his second wife as “the world’s most famous unknown artist. Everyone knows her name, but no one knows what she actually does.”

Ono’s current exhibition The Riverbed is currently on show at New York’s Andrea Rosen Gallery until the 23rd of January and Galerie Lelong until the 29th of January.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Exploring Architecture Through Painting

“I like color. I’m not afraid to use it.”
Will Alsop

Best known for his flamboyant and often controversial buildings the British architect Will Alsop often uses painting as the entry point for his building designs.

As he states in his book The Noise "One of the reasons for painting is that you are not really in control of what you are doing - and that interests me a lot. Instead of having a specific starting point, which perhaps, in architectural terms, would lead through to a series of logical thoughts working towards a designed building, you can start anywhere." 

It is a process that enables Alsop to create his architectural designs with their unusual forms and colors.

As Tom Bloxhma, the chairman of the developer Urban Splash, who have used several of Alsop’s designs, told the Guardian Newspaper "His architecture has always looked like sculptural painting. It was always big swirls of the brush and big gestures."

And for Alsop, his painting and his architecture are intricately interwoven in his life of "drawing, painting, dreaming and working on architecture."

As he explained to The Guardian Newspaper’s Steve Rose “Painting to me is a way of exploring architecture. It's all the same thing. If I spent all my time painting, it wouldn't mean I'd given up thinking about architecture. I can sit in my studio on a Saturday morning and find something on a large piece of paper, and the feeling that you get is almost as good as having finished a building that's turned out all right. It's not about designing something, it's about discovering what something could be – and I think that's a very important distinction."

Alsop’s current exhibition Making Life Better is on show at Munich’s Art & Space Gallery until the 6th of February 2016.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Collector, Artist, Filipino

“You have to evolve, or else you get stuck.”
Benedicto Reyes Cabrera

The Philippine artist Benedicto Reyes Cabrera aka BenCab has an almost rock star status in his home country especially after being proclaimed a National artist in 2006 and the establishment of his own museum in the mountains next door the premier summer city destination of Baguio in 2009. Like many Filipinos he spent many years living and working overseas but, unlike the majority, Cabrera used the time to refine his art rather than being employed as the hired help.

As he told Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Eric S Caruncho “I went to London to get away from the old, and to see what was new with the world. At that time the big thing was minimalism, flat squares. I thought, why should I jump on the bandwagon of what’s current? It wasn’t my culture.

It while he was in London that Cabrera started on his Larawan Series of paintings which the art critic Cid Reyes described as “images of Filipinos as exiles, deracinated creatures seeking their place in distant lands, impelled by artistic and economic exigencies.”

And about which Cabrera has said “I started the “Larawan” series in 1972. I was buying a lot of Filipiniana books in London with old photographs from the colonial era. I was showing the parallelism between the past and present... When I showed the “Larawan” series here [Manila] in 1972, it was a big hit. Most people thought it was about nostalgia, but it’s actually commentary, my personal feelings about what was happening with martial law. But I think, beyond that, what I was really trying to show was my skill as a painter.”

The youngest of nine children Cabrera grew up in humble surroundings in the sprawling city of Manila and was introduced to art by his elder bother Salvador, an establish artist. A deft hand with a pencil the young Cabrera was able to earn pocket money by providing the drawings for class mates assignments.

After dropping out of the University of the Philippines’ (U.P.) College of Fine Arts to work as a commercial artist which included a two stint as a lay-out artist for the United States Information Service, the 22-year-old Cabrera discovered his iconic muse, Sabel.

As he explained “I would see the derelict woman who would become “Sabel” when I was still living in Yakal Street [his parents home]. I saw her only from a distance. I didn’t have any interaction with her, but I would do a lot of quick sketches of her from life, mabilis lang (snap), parang (like) abstract. When I moved to Malate, I lost track of her but I would continue to paint her from memory.”

A point he elaborated upon to the Wall Street Journal stating “Sabel started as a symbol of the oppressed and conditions of the country where we have a lot of poor people. In the beginning, she was social commentary... It became my icon.

Cabrera is also a lifelong collector, from comic books as child to Santos (statues of Spanish colonial saints) in his twenties which he sold to finance his move to London. He currently has one of the largest collections of Northern Philippine tribal objects, hundreds of Filipino works of contemporary photography, painting and sculpture and Filipiniana that concentrates on postcards, photos and maps.

As he has said “In the 1970s, when I was living in London, we started dealing in these things... We rented a stall in a flea market. This is where I met other collectors and I started concentrating on Filipiniana. Then you could get maps of the Philippines for cheap. My first map I got in Rome for a dollar. Now it is worth about 35,000 pesos ($755). It dates from 1575.

The housing and display of his collections as well as his art was the inspiration to build his own museum.

As he says “I want to put some of my things in a proper setting... I want to display other things aside from my own work for people to admire, so I have tribal art and contemporary art.

The Metropolitan Museum of Manila currently has the retrospective exhibition BenCab: The Filipino Artist on show until the 27th of February and Manila’s Yuchengco Museum is showing BenCab in Two Movements until the 16th of January.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Influenced by Popular Culture and Plumbing.

“When you can’t be a player, you become introspective.”
Stephen Nothling

The Australian painter Stephen Nothling was the kid in the playground with the coke bottle glasses who was unable to catch the ball and consequently excluded from team sports. He was born with the genetically inherited oculocutaneous albinism, a condition that left him with 10% vision in his right eye and a cataract in the left that he describes as the “black hole of nothingness.” 
As he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation "I began painting because I wasn't very good at anything else. I was born with a sort of quite severe problem with my eyes which affected me for a really long time. I'm nearly blind in my right eye and there's problems with my left eye and that kind of restricts you when you're a kid. I couldn't catch a ball, I still can't catch a ball, I always used to sit in the front row at school in the front row of the class. This sounds really pathetic but it's not, you just sort of go inward and I think I just started to draw.”

In his early twenties whilst studying at the Queensland Collage of Art he threw away his glasses and started working up close and personal with his painting.

About which he says "The one thing that defines my work is that once I step away from a painting, more than a couple of meters, I can't actually see what I've done, so I just work very closely… I just invented what I wanted to be and I invented how to paint.

Now in his early fifties and because of his condition, a non-driver, Nothling’s subject matter reflects his backyard and most recently the suburban Brisbane street he calls home and walks along on a daily basis.

As he said about his 2014 exhibition On Special at the Woolloongabba Art GalleryThe still lifes are full of objects that surround me at home. The landscapes are places where I’ve been and show incidents that have occurred. Sometimes I make things up but not very often. The portraits are generally me although I’m not a very good narcissist.”

With a sentiment Nothling encapsulated in his statement to The Art News Portal’s Briar Francis “I’ve attempted to portray an acceptance and celebration of the everyday and the possibility of a little bit of poetry in the ordinary.”

Nothling’s current exhibition The Last Street in Highgate Hill is on show at the Museum of Brisbane until the 31st of January.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Stepping Out from the Stereotype

“The best art is low art because it’s from the heart.”
Charles Uzzell-Edwards

To say that the British artist Charles Uzzell-Edwards aka Pure Evil is the poster boy for the commodification of street art maybe a bridge too far. But with his 2014 365 Street Art Project, which saw him paint, stencil or wheat paste a public space each day for a year, to decorating plates for the venerable British tableware and collectables company Royal Doulton along with his ownership of the artist’s space gallery named after his street tag, Uzzell-Edwards comfortably has a foot in both the underground and high street art communities.

The son of the anti-establishment Welsh expressionist painter John Uzzell-Edwards, the younger Uzzell-Edwards grew up surrounded by art and its creation.

As he told the Evening Standard Newspaper’s Nick Curtis “There were long lunches and discussions of Picasso and pop art. I knew how to stretch a canvas and hang an exhibition from the age of 10.”

As a 20 year old Uzzell-Edwards decamped from what he calls “the ruins of Thatcher’s Britian” to spend a decade “producing clothes and screen-printing t-shirt graphics and becoming involved in the electronic music scene in San Francisco.”

Upon his return to England, with “no further entry to the USA” stamped in his passport, Uzzell-Edwards developed his weird fanged bunny rabbit graffiti motive, a guilt trip he indulges for having shot a rabbit as a child.

The Exit Through the Gift Shop protagonist Banksy gave Uzzell-Edwards a job at Santa’s Ghetto; the iconic street artist’s Oxford Street pop-up art concept store.  

About whom Uzzell-Edwards told The Telegraph NewspaperAny street artist making a living in the 21st century has a lot to thank Banksy for.

And Uzzell-Edwards credits Banksy’s month-long residency in New York along with the discipline it required as the inspiration for his 365 Street Art Project.

As he explained “It’s nice to have a structure and a set of rules you abide by. Although graffiti and street art are supposed to be an anarchic thing, there are rules about painting over other artists, which is a no-no, though it does happen… this is what I do, I don’t just sit in my gallery making money selling prints.”

As Uzzell-Edwards said about his Pure Evil gallery “I opened up the gallery almost accidentally. After a few months of working on Santa’s Ghetto [Banksy’s annual pop-up Christmas stall], I started producing more prints and artwork, and eventually found the gallery space. If I’d really thought about how to run an art gallery, it would probably have put me off. If you go into it thinking, ‘Oh, I’m in this space, I’d better paint the walls and pay the electricity bill,’ then you’ve pretty much got a gallery going. You can worry about the logistics later on.

The commission to paint Royal Dalton plates and mugs was Uzzell-Edwards tilt at immortality.

As he has explained “There are plates cherished now from the 16th century whereas the average wall gets painted over in two weeks… I like the heritage of Royal Doulton and what they stand for. And in the back of my mind, I had it that my plate might appear on the Antiques Roadshow [the BBC One antiques show] at some point in the future. If that ever happened, it would be the pinnacle of my career.”

And as Uzzell-Edwards freely admits “I don’t really fit the stereotype of the urban street artist. I like opera and am quite happy to talk on Radio 3 about Kenneth Clark and Civilization, because I don’t want people to feel you have to be one kind of person to fit into any kind of movement.”

A point he elaborated upon with the Financial Times in 2013 stating “When you have a family and a baby and a constant supply of nappies to pay for, I am not going to worry about a 19 year old complaining that I am a sell-out.”

Uzzell-Edwards’ current exhibition Teenage Kicks: New Works by Pure Evil is on show at London’s Saatchi Gallery until the 3rd of January.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Lines of Photographic Thought

“I enjoy operating between representation and abstraction,
creating conditions where you don’t really know what you’re looking at.”
James Welling

If you’re thinking about looking at images produced by the American photographer James Welling you would be well advised to have some time at your disposal. For his works are not quick studies, they bring together many lines of thought that need to be contemplated to decode their many layers.

As he told Afterall’s Anthony Spira “The idea of coming into recognition, slowly understanding what you’re looking at, is important to me. This is one of the reasons that I like to make images that have multiple meanings. I prefer to make images that are not pictures of the world, that are not street photographs and have no simple reading. You have to work to provide the meaning of the photograph.”

As a teenager he was introduced to modern art indirectly through his father.

About which he told Art in America’s Steel Stillman “My father worked for a printing company that did projects for the Whitney Museum. In fact, a catalog that my father’s firm printed for a 20th Century survey exhibition at the Whitney was my first exposure to modern art.”

It was in his mid-teens that Welling started to take art seriously making paintings inspired by Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper. Reading publications such as Newsweek and Art Forum introduced Welling to contemporary art. Whilst studying at the California Institute of the Arts he took up video and in his early twenties taught himself the intricacies of still photography.

And it is photography that has engaged him for the last 40 odd years. Making works that range from Polaroids to gelatin silver prints, from photograms to digital prints, Welling’s diverse subject matter includes tin foil, handwriting, drapery, gelatin, railroads, buildings, European cities and factories, his front yard and landscapes from his childhood, all layered with history and ambiguity.

In the early years of this century Welling started to work digitally and in 2007 his architectural digital photographs were printed in the New York Magazine.

About which he has said “I’d already photographed Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House when I approached [the] New York magazine about photographing Phillip Johnston’s Glass House, which was soon to open to the public. Most of the images that appeared in New York [in the May 13, 2007 issue] were made on my second visit there – when I decided to work digitally, in order to move more easily and to see the results more quickly than I could with film. At that point I became hooked and went back as often as I could. Shooting Glass House was something of a performance: I worked holding an array of color filters and diffusers in one hand while firing the camera with the other. Though the images look like they were done in Photoshop, very little of what you see in the photographs was added later.”

The computer in general and Photoshop in particular has become central to his work since then. His 2014/2015 body of work Choreograph sees black and white photographs of dancers superimposed upon landscapes and buildings and then manipulated by Photoshop’s blue, red and green color channels along with hue/saturation and selective color filters to create images reminiscent of double exposures in analogue photography.

For as he says “When I was at Cal Arts [California Institute of the Arts] my ambition was to create dense objects, works in which many lines of thought converge. That is still my goal."

Welling’s exhibition of his Choreograph prints is on show at David Zwirner’s West 19th Street gallery in New York until the 16th of January next year.

Friday, December 04, 2015

An Outcasts View of Paris

“I paint things as they are. I don't comment. I record.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Although best known for his posters advertising Parisian nightlife the 19th Century artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was an artist who depicted the outcasts of polite society with an honesty that today would see him labeled as a feminist.

As his friend and frequent model the cabaret dancer Jane Avril wrote about his relationships with prostitutes “They were his friends as well as his models. In his presence they were just women, and he treated them as equals.”

For Toulouse-Lautrec was as much an outcast as they, perhaps even more so having fallen from a greater height. With a body of a man on a child’s legs, the 4’ 11” Toulouse-Lautrec was the only son of a wealthy aristocratic family whose mother and father were first cousins; an inbreeding that is often blamed for his deformity.

Disinherited by his father, the count’s estranged wife supported her son for most of his short life with the artist reportedly dying in her arms at the age of 36 from tertiary syphilis and alcoholism.

For most of his adult life Toulouse-Lautrec lived in the working class Paris suburb of Montmartre that was known in the latter half of the 19th Century for its cafes and their bohemian clientele, its brothels and the Moulin Rouge situated on its outskirts.

But even there Toulouse-Lautrec was seen as being an outsider with his fellow student at the Leon Bonnet’s Studio, Fran├žois Gauzi, saying “Lautrec is seen only as a midget . . . a drunken, vice-ridden court jester whose friends are pimps and girls from brothels.” 

But such was the power of Toulouse-Lautrec paintings of the world in which he lived that the Guardian Newspapers Jonathan Jones described him as “one of the most radical, raw and courageous of all modern artists…  There always have been two Toulouse-Lautrec’s. His posters glamourize sex and the city. They do it well. But the real greatness of his art is elsewhere, in his unvarnished, rough and tender portrayals of the true nature of the demi-monde he inhabited. Wild, savage dances, raw desire, aching loneliness and fragile intimacy make this other, less famous side of Toulouse-Lautrec far more significant.”

The exhibition Toulouse-Lautrec: The Budapest Arts Museum Collection is on show at Rome’s Museo dell'Ara Pacis until the 8th of May next year.