Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Painting with Light

A photogram is like a painting:
you have a blank sheet of paper and you create a picture on it.”
Floris Neusüss

The German photogram artist Floris Neusüss considers photography to be the direct opposite of what he does. As he explained to the Telegraph Newspaper’s Lucy DaviesThe only thing the two have in common is the use of light sensitive materials and the prefix ‘photo.’ Photography records an image projected through a lens: all that is captured is reflected light. A photogram is a kind of drawing with light, in which, as Moholy-Nagy put it, the light can play as central a role as the pigments do in a painting.

Inspired by the early 20th Century avant-garde artists Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray, Neusüss has dedicated his artistic life to extending the practice, study and teaching of the photogram.

Along the way he has increased the size of the works produced from the small works traditionally associated with the medium enhancing its appeal for the modern audience. 

As he had said “The size of photograms is one of the sources of their particular power: they always portray their subjects to scale, unlike photography, in which the size of the image is arbitrary, and most usually depends on the size of the print, rather than the object that has been photographed. In 1960 I captured the image of a female nude as a photogram, on a two meter length of paper. I discovered that in one sense the fact that the woman in the photogram is life sized communicates intimacy, but in another sense it creates detachment: the picture has no surface detail, so you can’t identify distinctive features. The figure appears to be floating in space. It eludes realistic capture. You could say that a photogram removes and idealizes its subject at the same time."

Neusüss has also incorporated the developments in photography into his work to underscore the photogram’s uniqueness in a world that is awash in photographs. As he says “One attraction of photograms is the continual freshness of the aesthetics they can create, another is the colorful effects they can feature today – for a long time, photograms could only be black and white.”

As Beeline’s Lisa Jennings states “Removing the camera feels like it allows artists to get closer to the source of what interests them - often elemental forces such as light, time, energy or the ephemeral. Rather than documents, they appear more like dreams, memories, fragments or signs, exploring an inner rather than an outer world."

Los Angeles Von Lintel Gallery is currently showing Floris Neusüss Dreams + Photograms 2015 until the 15th of August.

Monday, June 29, 2015

About Painting, Collecting and Legacy

“I imagine that the very great artists attach you even more to life.”
Gustave Caillebotte

Until recently Gustave Caillebotte’s art has been over shadowed by the support he provided to impressionist artists like Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, Camille Pissarro, and Alfred Sisley. 

Independently wealthy from a parental inheritance, Caillebotte was able to indulge his interests that during his twenties and early thirties included painting and which later in life switched to gardening, an interest he shared with Monet, and the building and racing of yachts.

His main support for the impressionists was as a patron buying their works when they were being ridiculed by Paris art establishment. At his death he left some 70 works to the French government stating in his will “I give to the  French State the paintings which I have; nevertheless, since I want this donation be accepted and in such a manner that the paintings go neither in an attic nor in a province museum, but well in the Luxembourg Musem and later in the Louvre Museum, it is necessary that a certain time passes before execution of this clause until the public, I do not say understand, but admit this new painting. This time may be twenty years at the maximum. Until then, my borther Martial, and at his defect another of my heirs, will preserve them. I request Renoir to be my executor.”

The French Government reluctantly accepted 38 of these “drifts of an unhealthy art” upon the death of his brother of which two were by Caillebotte. The majority of the unaccepted works were purchased by Albert C. Barnes and now grace the walls of Pennsylvania’s Barnes Foundation.

About Caillebotte’s paintings the New York Times’ art critic Holland Cotter wrote in 2009 “Gustave Caillebotte is an artist who was an Impressionist by association rather than by style or temperament. His three best-known pictures, "The Floor Scrapers," "Le Pont de l'Europe" and "Paris Street; Rainy Day," all urban scenes from the mid to late 1870s, have more to do with academic realism than with the scintillations of Monet… He fits into no pantheon, matches no ready profile, art historical or otherwise. Or maybe just one, that of the brilliant enthusiast, the prodigious amateur, the obsessed imperfectionist.”

Cotter’s critique almost mirrors that written 130 years earlier by the eminent French writer and critic Emile Zola “Mr. Caillebotte is a very conscientious artist, whose style is a little dry, but who has the courage of great efforts and who seeks with the most virile resolution.”

The National Gallery of Art in Washington is leading a resurgence of interest in Caillebotte’s work with the exhibition Gustave Caillebotte: The Painter's Eye which is on show until the 4th of October.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Beauty in Mathematics

“I consider myself more of a mathematician than an artist.”
M. C. Escher

The Dutch graphic artist M. C. (Maurits Cornelis) Escher was recently described by the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art’s senior curator Patrick Elliot as a "one-man art movement." And with reproductions of his works adorning adolescent bedroom walls too numerous to count Escher’s works have found favor with an audience that ranges from hippies to mathematicians.

Apart from posters, Escher’s impossible depictions have graced record album covers, biscuit tins and tea-towels with precise, illusionary, patterned and graphic works executed by a draftsman second to none. Whilst not a surrealist, Escher has managed to successfully portray a whimsically unique world of existential abnormalities.

As he told New York’s Metropolitan Mathematician’s Journal in 1948 “I first started doing graphic work in 1913, when I was 15 years old, but then I did simple black and white wood cuts. I gained recognition and was encouraged by my parents. I had gained a lot of fame and popularity for my complex lithographs (a complex system of printing) depicting worlds merging together by the time I began experimenting with regular divisions of the plane. I can date this back to around 1936. My first tessellations were based on old Arabic decorations, but I soon began to develop my own style. But it wasn’t until the mid 1940's that my technique had been perfected. It was a very gradual process, developed mostly by experimentation, because the complex mathematics of it escape me. I first mastered this technique with squares and rectangles, later moving on to triangles and finally hexagons and parallelograms. I am currently experimenting with irregular shapes (shapes with both positive and negative angles) that tessellate.”

Like the honeycomb in nature or the repetition in Islamic art that inspired Escher’s development of his art, tessellation has been a major ingredient in the themes that inform his art.

As he has explained “There are four [themes/styles] that are my most popular. Firstly, I have always been interested in portraying the illusion of three dimensionality onto a two dimensional surface, in other words, making something on a sheet of paper look round. Secondly, I am very famous for another kind of illusion. I make images (again using the illusion of three dimensionality) that cannot really exist. They can only be drawn on a flat surface, this is because a flat surface is not really three dimensional and does not have to follow the laws of reality. Thirdly, I express transformations in reality. I often do this by having a mirror in my picture reflect a scene that does not fit at all. Sometimes I make subtle changes to my picture that by the other side makes it completely different, a flock of birds changes into a city scape. In this style I often use tessellating figures gradually shifted to become something else. This brings me to my fourth and by far favorite style, regular divisions of the plane or tessellations. This is when a plane (or a section) of one represented by a sheet of paper is divided over its entire area by a regularly recurring series of lines. These must divide the plane into discernable shapes that repeat throughout its entirety. Or to put it in simple terms, a giant jigsaw puzzle in which all of the pieces are the same. Ever since I began experimenting with regular divisions of the plane, it has been my favorite thing to draw.

And underpinning Escher work is the creation of beautiful pictures. As he has said “I do my art because I think it is beautiful. That is what I believe art should be, a thing of beauty.”

The beauty in his work can be seen at The Amazing World of M. C. Escher currently on show at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art until the 27th of September.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Rock’n’Roll Bands in the Abstract

“That’s the job of art: to undo the logic of the world.”
Sean Scully

For the Irish born abstract painter Sean Scully the world outside the studio is a major influence in his work.

As he told Blouin Artinfo’s Scott Indriek “My abstraction has never been, let’s say, theory based. It’s always been rather experiential. I’ve always used metaphors that relate to things outside painting… I’m not one of these painters who just refers to the history of abstract painting. I’ve always tried to have windows to the world. It’s often associative.

And one of those associations is music. A musician himself, Scully owned a Blues club and played in a band in London in the 1960’s before coming under the spell of visual artists Mark Rothko and Bridgette Riley and taking up painting.

It is an influence, he told The Irish Times that can be seen in his work. “I think that I make chords when I paint, so I think you would be listening to the cello. It’s deep and it’s resonant. A lot of people have compared me to Brahms – that slightly melancholic sensuality that’s highly structured. Well, that describes my work right there.”

Although being born in Ireland, Scully grew up in London and now, as a US citizen, lives in New York, but is seriously considering opening a studio in Berlin. As he explains “the city is kind of shut, though it sells itself as the opposite. Welcome to the Big Apple! But it’s already eaten. The problem for Manhattan in particular is that the rental value of the space is so compressed that it squeezes out that sort of risk taking and now you’ve got just powerhouse galleries that I wouldn’t want to show in, you know Zwirner, Hauser & Wirth. They are monster galleries and they seem to feed on artists. It reminds me of Goya’s painting of the Colossus eating his own children. I wouldn’t want to be eaten by one of those galleries. I show with Cheim & Read, it’s a nice little family affair.

Such a move would be easy for the nomadically inclined artist. As he explains “I’m essentially a European who has migrated, so in a sense my work is like a fusion of American and European influences: the American scale and compositional aggression or frankness, but with a lot of European knowledge in it. And in that sense my position is unique, because I’m bringing the information back and forth. When I’m in Germany for example, I am seen as quite American. There’s a guy who’s going to open the newly reformed Sprengel Museum in Hannover. And he’s hanging a big painting of mine with Don Judd and Agnes Martin. So he sees me as American. But in New York, the city of Jeff Koons, Ellsworth Kelly, and Wade Guyton, I would be seen as quite European. I’m a fusion.

But wherever he is located the urge to work is a constant along with the need to re-examine what has gone before. As he says “Recycling material. Intellectual and physical. I am recycling these bands in my paintings, I’ve been doing it forever, once I stopped painting figuratively. I started recycling, and rejigging, shape-shifting bands and blocks and bars. Some people call them stripes, but I like the term bands because I like rock ’n’ roll so much.

A selection of Scully’s Landline series of works is current on show at Dublin’s Kerlin Gallery until the 29th of August.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Of Monsters and Maidens

“Monsters are just as beautiful as maidens.
George Condo

“Rembrandt on crack” is how the Financial Times Julie Belcove described the paintings of American figurative artist George Condo.

The artist himself is a little more circumspect stating “There not the kind of people you want to spend a lot of time staring at – they’re not on the covers of magazines. When you see a crowd of people coming out of a subway and one crabby old lady is elbowing some guy to get out of her way and some strange bickering starts to take place, those kind of expressions are far more interesting to me.”

Condo is renowned for his portraits of mostly very odd looking imaginary people. As he told Bomb MagazineWhen you add them all up, it’s quite a crew: Indian chiefs, cavemen, office bosses, the nun, two-bit hustlers, low-life criminals, people with one tooth, one eye, protruding chins, enlarged facial features…Listen, if you grow up in New England, you see an old fisherman on the pier very differently from Norman Rockwell, who sees him as a stereotype, which is patronizing and condescending. There’s no sympathetic equality involved. I absolutely feel there’s no intrinsic difference between people. Somebody might say, “George, you’re completely full of shit. Fishermen and bums don’t live in apartments on Madison Avenue or in expensive hotels.” But I say this . . . “Yes, they do . . .”

For over 30 years Condo has been producing his Looney Tunes inspired renderings of Europe’s old masters. As he says “My painting is all about this interchangeability of languages in art, where one second you might feel the background has the shading and tonalities you would see in a Rembrandt portrait, but the subject is completely different and painted like some low-culture, transgressive mutation of a comic strip.”

Dissatisfied with New York art scene Condo spent a decade in Paris during the 1980’s and 90’s where he refined his art and met his wife. About which he tells the story “I stayed for a month at the Hotel Lotti and every day, when I came back to the room after lunch, the curtains would be drawn. I finally asked the maid, in my high-school French, why she did that. She pointed to my drawings and said, ‘Monsieur, le soleil nest pas bon pour vos tableaux!’ (Sir, the sun is not good for your pictures) And I thought, this is the only place in the world where that could happen.”

His return to New York saw Condo continue to develop what he calls his “psychological cubism” which he described to London’s Time Out Magazine as being art that “wear[s] an expression that ‘goes between a scream and a smile; that reflects simultaneous emotions or conversations with the conflicting voices in your head.”

For as he told the Interview Magazine "The topographical aspects of the human face are frightening and when they resemble the average person, rather than a magazine cover, viewers recognize themselves..."

His latest exhibition George Condo: Works on Paper is on show at BrusselsXavier Hufkens gallery until the 11th of July.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Paper Back Portraits

“I love what designers do with books—they get your attention.
Richard Baker

The American still life painter Richard Barker likes books, so much so that for over a decade he has been painting their portraits, literally.

As he told the Poets & Writers Magazine "Books have always been important to me—from the first set of World Book Encyclopedia in my childhood home, through my first jobs in bookstores, to my readings in college and beyond. They always contained promise, optimism, and desire. They empower, ennoble, entertain."

But in this age of Nook and Kindle it is the dog eared, well traveled paper back that attracts Baker’s attention. As he has said "As our personalities are changed (or not) by them, so too do they absorb impressions of our lives. Each book becomes its own unique individual, most especially true of the lowly paperback…They come to stand for various episodes of our lives, for certain idealisms, follies of belief, moments of love. Along the way they accumulate our marks, our stains, our innocent abuses—they come to wear our experience of them on their covers and bindings like wrinkles on our own skin."

Baker elaborates, stating "As physical objects they are powerful fetishes, icons, containers of every conceivable thought and/or emotion. We cart them from home to work on our commutes and they accompany us on vacations. We move them carefully packed in boxes from one domicile to another, from one phase of life to another."

An important element of Baker’s book portraiture is the adventure of finding the appropriate sitter, “fishing the used bookstores in search of the right thing,” he says: “no precious first editions, no rare things—just your common companions.”

With each sitting taking up to three weeks to complete Baker’s relationship with a subject grows along with the memories of past associations. As he says "As my involvement with this act of 'portraiture' has continued, the reasons for choosing which titles and editions have evolved and become more various, though it remains of paramount importance that they be familiar and of no special pedigree. In the end, these paintings stand against loss and for reverie, memory, optimism, desire, and love."

Baker’s latest exhibition The Doctor is Out, depictions of vintage book covers related to psychotherapy, is on show at New York’s Tibor de Nagy Gallery until the 31st of July.

Monday, June 22, 2015

A Search for Identity

“My subjects are always people in an urban kind of environment”
RaQuel van Haver

The Columbian born artist RaQuel van Haver was nine months old when she was adopted by a Dutch couple and along with her Sri Lankan sister grew up in Amsterdam. Her interest in art was sparked by the time she spent with her grandparents.

As she explained to Amsterdam 2.0 “Because my parents were both working we spent a lot of time with our grandparents. My grandfather was an artist, so that is how I got acquainted with art. I used to spend a lot of time in his studio and he would give me all sorts of pencils, paint and crayons and shit to draw and play with.”

After gaining her BFA from the Hoge School voor Kunsten Utrecht van Haver embarked upon her career as a figurative painter producing works that have the need/search for identity as a central issue.

As she has said “Everyone you meet in Amsterdam, no matter where they’re from, they’re always searching for something. There are all sorts of people in this city with all sorts of ideas but in some way, because of the environment, these ideas really connect and come together. Everybody’s open minded and accepting. And I really miss that sometimes in other cities.”

Mostly working on a large scale with oil paints made to her own recipe, van Haver collages her sketches with photographs to make non-existent, fragment interpretations of the real world. As she says in her artist’s statement “She rearranges reality and our perception by confront[ing] the viewer with their own identity (the identity of the beholder) and the identity of the Other, the other person. 

Van Haver elaborates, stating “these people are people from all strata of society put together, and I’m interested in how they interact…I’m very curious as of how these people collaborate in an urban environment.”

Her debut exhibition in England RaQuel van Haver: Metro 54 is current on show at London’s Jack Bell Gallery until the 3rd of July.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Painting and Collecting

“My painting grows out of interest in depicting a personal vision of life
and the products of life as it surrounds in the American environment.”
Roger Brown

The Alabama born and raised painter, sculptor and dedicated collector Roger Brown was one of the leading lights in the Chicago Imagist movement of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. A movement that personalized New York’s Pop Art concentrating on surrealism, Art Brut, and comics rather than commercial advertising and popular illustration.

As Brown explained in a Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago video. “I think they [New York pop artists] chose these things as sources and presented them at a very refined traditional representational manner that came, that really grew out of the western tradition. And I think that the way, our approach to it was not to use those things as sources so much as to kind of parallel the kind of energy as art themselves. Like, oh finding ads and labels and things from the 30’s or toys and things like that and instead of painting pictures of them and cropping them in certain ways so they looked very aesthetic, I think our intention was to say those things are beautiful in themselves. Can I make art that equals that?”

It is practice that was underpinned by Brown’s avid collecting of artifacts and ephemera from flea markets, thrift shops, and art dealers. In 1968 he expanded his repertoire to include landscapes along with works inspired by his love of Art Deco cinemas, comic books and toys from his childhood.
A little over a decade later Brown started painting in a circus freak show banner style informed by the banners he had been collecting from his student days. Although his freaks were corrupt politicians, immoral corporations along with the bigoted and twisted that sought the public eye.

Whilst presented as historic advertisements that often displayed an ironic reading of the subject matter it was not always apparent as in his 1986 painting Presidential Portrait (see below). About which Brown told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1987 “It’s ambiguous … I really wasn't making a statement for or against. It goes back to history painting. I decided I was going to do my portrait of a president.

Upon his death from AIDS related complications in 1997 Brown bequeathed his collection of thousands of objects along with his properties in Chicago, Michigan and California to his alma mater, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

A collection that included American self-taught and outsider artists, folk and tribal art from around the world, pop-culture memorabilia, travel souvenirs, toys, textiles, furniture, baskets, ceramics, and glass. As the curator of the collection, Lisa Stone, told the Chicago Reader “from Roger's point of view, there was no distinction between high and low art."

The current exhibition of his work Roger Brown: Political Paintings is on show at New York’s DC Moore Gallery until 31st of July.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Photographed Life

“I had thought I could stave off loss through photographing.
But the pictures show me how much I've lost.”
Nan Goldin

For the American photographic artist Nan Goldin her photography is all about memories which she combines with music to create slideshows that narrate the often multi-faceted stories to which they allude.

As she explained to foto Tapeta “My genius, if I have any, is in the slideshows, in the narratives. It is not in making perfect images. It is in the groupings of work. It is in relationships I have with other people.

Employing a snapshot aesthetic, it’s the relationships between her subjects in her content as much as in her presentation which along with her questioning of the accepted social zeitgeist that intrigues. As she told the Observer Newspaper’s Sheryl Garratt “The music we were brought up on, the TV, the movies, the images our parents gave us aren't of what relationships are really like. They didn't prepare me, at least, for the ambivalence that's normal in any real relationship.”

Goldin came to attention on the mainstream art world in her early 30’s when her 800 image 45 minute long slideshow The Ballad of Sexual Dependency was shown at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art.

What started out as an entertainment for and staring her friends living of the fringes of society over time evolved into a confessional depiction of the difficulties of communication between the sexes and the desires that bind people together in general and Goldin’s relationship in particular. Which she has described as “this big love affair that was sort of a threesome between him and me and drugs.”

With a vast archive of images, a camera has been Goldin’s constant companion for over 50 years, she continues to add to it with photographs of her current friends. All of which she edits and re-edits creating new interpretations of the past and often juxtaposing them with the present.

At the presentation to Goldin of the 53rd Edward MacDowell Medal in 2012 the writer and critic Luc Sante stated “Nan Goldin’s photographs of her life, her friends and her family — unflinchingly honest, nakedly emotional, sometimes brutal, but most often tender — redefined the autobiographical use of photography and influenced everyone who has come after her. In addition, her use of the slideshow as a medium just about constituted a medium unto itself, halfway between still photography and cinema. Along the way, her approach to love, gender and sexuality has forever altered the depiction of woman and gay and transgender people.”

Goldin’s current exhibition Scopophilia is on show at Hanover’s kestnergesellschaft until the 27th of September.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Paintings with a Musical Resonance

“I paint large scaled, nature-based abstractions in wax, with a blow torch.”
Betsy Eby

As a classically trained pianist music is an integral part of the life of American lyrical abstract painter Betsy Eby and as such informs her work to a major extent.

As she told The Paris Review’s Liz Arnold “When you start playing music at the age of five, it’s just all in you. It’s the way that you move through the world and perceive it—you see rhythms everywhere. You see what you look for—the phrase—and what you become steeped in; that shapes the lens through which you see the world. So certainly the music is in me. It’s in me inherently.

However Eby found her artistic voice not in music, but in encaustic painting; the century’s old method involving beeswax, damar resin and pigment applied in translucent layers that are fused together by heat which in Eby’s case is supplied by a blow torch. 

Eby came to this ancient art form that dates back to the 4th Century BC through her study of history. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Art History from the University of Oregon with the emphasis being in Greek, Roman and Asian antiquities. An interest also informed by music, as she has explained “I think my study of antiquities grew out of my primary study of classical piano, perhaps, because that’s a nod back to ancient composers.”

Essential self-taught, Eby experimented with oils and acrylics before settling on encaustic painting. As she told the Ledger – Enquirer “They become these solid, solid objects, yet solid objects and heavy objects trying to convey weightlessness and things that are actually immaterial…The process is sort of tough, but the content I’m addressing is ephemeral and delicate.”

With her paintings having been described as being “more of a verb than a noun” her visual voice resonates with a musical ambiance. As she has said “I wanted to give a voice to the unsayable. What is it about a resonating musical line that sends you into nostalgia or melancholy? That’s that world of the unsayable. That sense of ambiguity, of trying to create something that isn’t absorbed just at first pass—I think that taps the quality of musical sound.

Eby’s museum touring exhibition Painting with Fire is currently on show at the University of New Orleans’ Ogden Museum of Southern Art until the 25th of October.  

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Mixing the Old with the New

“Discovering beauty always changes you.”
Fernando de Szyszlo

The Peruvian lyrical abstract artist Fernando de Szyszlo has a profound attachment to the land of his birth and the pre-Columbian art that informs it. His adoption of the European aesthetics associated with cubism, surrealism and abstraction when combined with the aesthetic of his local art has enabled him to produce work that has been collected far beyond the borders of his South American home.

As he told Santa Monica’s Latin American Masters gallery “The content was everything and the content was the one that gave me form…the form is the result of a very powerful content.”

Szyszlo was in his mid 20’s when he first came face to face with the masters of European art like Rembrandt and Van Gogh. “It was a shock to discover the modern world,” is how he described the experience to The Economist. Prior to his arrival in Europe Szyszlo had only been exposed to pre-Columbian pottery and textiles about which he lamented as being “the only original art that was within our reach.”

During the first half of the 1950’s, mostly spent in Paris and Florence, Szyszlo immersed himself in artistic movements of the time with a particular interest in the European adoption of African motives. It was a process he would invert upon his return the Peru adopting aspects of cubism, surrealism and abstraction that could enhance the reproduction of pre –Columbian masks, feather mantles, clay figurines, symbols and colors in a modernist style that he made distinctly his own.

Such was his success that the 2010 Nobel laureate for literature, Mario Vargas Llosa wrote in his essay Szyszlo in the LabyrinthLike Latin America itself, Szyszlo’s art dips into the night of ancient civilizations as it rubs elbows with more recent ones that have arisen throughout the globe.  His art stands squarely at a cross-roads:  eager, curious, craving, devoid of prejudice, open to any influence.  And at the same time, he is stubbornly loyal to the secret depths of his heart, to that submerged and ardent intimacy where experiences and lessons metabolize in a place where the rational is at the service of the irrational, where the personality and genius of an artist can emerge.”

Szyszlo’s current self-titled exhibition is on show at Medellin’s Duque Arango Galeria until the 18th of August.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What a Difference an Emoji Makes

“There definitely is a pop aesthetic in my work,
much of which streams from my Google searches
 and social media observations, etc…,
i.e. web 2.0 culture
Carla Gannis

In 2012 ArtCritical’s David Cohen described the digital artist Carla Gannis as “a geek pioneer of manifest painterly sensibility, an artist – in an appropriately but still unforgivably awful mix of metaphors – who gets her digital hands dirty.”

Three years later Gannis expanded on Cohen’s observation telling Digicult’s Filippo Lorenzin “As a visual storyteller, I narrate through a “digital looking glass” where reflections on power, sexuality, marginalization, and agency emerge. Humor and absurdity are important elements in the telling of my sociopolitical narratives; and image search engines, software and hardware enable me in the showing.”

It was her retelling of Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights using Emoji icons that catapulted the Assistant Chair of The Department of Digital Arts at New York’s Pratt Institute into the lime light.

As Gannis tells the story “In December of 2013, Zoë Salditch & Julia Kaganskiy curated the Emoji Art & Design Show at Eyebeam Art+Technology Center in New York. They put out a call for artists, and I decided I wanted to submit something, but thought I needed to push the Emoji iconography more in a new piece that specifically examined what kind of stories could be told with this highly popular contemporary glyph system.

So I sat down at my computer, thought about what I’d like to produce, and after 5 minutes, like an animated Emoji light bulb turning on, I decided Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, with its broad cultural appeal (like Emoji), was a work that I wanted to transcribe, to “emojify.” Although the triptych ranks as one of my personal favorite artworks of all time, I only know it through reproductions, making it as virtual in a sense as the Emoji characters I used.

I produced a small digital print version of Bosch’s hell panel from the triptych for the Eyebeam exhibition, and then spent the next year of my life, with the studio assistance of Rafia Santana, producing a 13ft x 7ft digital print that re-imagined Bosch’s entire triptych as The Garden of Emoji Delights. I also produced an animated version of the triptych as well as 12 video vignettes, a number of animated gifs, a humorous Bosch Emojification prototype app, and a 3D printed sculpture that I worked on in collaboration with artist Everett Kane.

In terms of Bosch’s relevance to artists who are exploring networked culture and digital life, personally as one engaged in this practice, I’m fascinated by The Garden’s… resonance with contemporary viewers. Bosch’s depictions of a sprawling humankind engaged in folly, vice and debauchery align, even in symbology, with many of our own fascinations and concerns culturally in the 21st century. Even though the painting is a triptych to be read left to right, there is so much imagery in each panel, your eye scrolls down the painting top to bottom and back. To me the work feels “hyper mediated,” filled with an overwhelming amount of content. I really enjoyed transcribing into a contemporary visual sign system all of the different clusters of figures that provide unique and darkly humorous narratives.”

Gannis’ The Garden of Emoji Delights has since been shown at second gallery in New York and in Chicago last year and is currently on show at New York’s Hudson River Museum until the 26th of September.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Big People

“I describe in a realistic form a nonrealistic Reality.”
Fernando Botero

The Columbian painter and sculptor Fernando Botero is best known for his depictions of large people that he insists are not fat. As he explained in a Reuters interview about his book Circus: Paintings and Works on Paper, "Well, in the circus there are, for example, fat women. In the circus one sees the difference between the fat woman and volumetric woman, which I do."

The inspiration for his depictions comes the 15th Century Italian Renaissance artists he discovered whilst living in Europe on his winnings from a national art prize in Colombia.

As he explained to ArtNews in a January 2013 interview, “One night, I was walking and passed a bookshop that had a book in the window on the Italian Renaissance by Lionello Venturi. The book was open to a reproduction of Piero della Francesca’s The Queen of Sheba Adoring the Holy Wood, one of the series of frescoes on The Legend of the True Cross in the Basilica of San Francesco in Arezzo, Italy. The frescoes opened my eyes, and Piero changed my life. I saw it and thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I couldn’t believe it. I had never heard of Piero. The next day, I bought the book. That began my obsession with Italian art—the sensuality, the voluptuousness of the forms.”

Botero’s distinctive style which has almost become a trademark attracts its fair share of criticism. As Sotheby's Carmen Melián told Art in America, "Many people don't know his history and the political history that it springs from. Some of it's envy, some people don't like figuration, and some don't approve that it has mass appeal, rather than just intellectual appeal."

But Botero is unperturbed. “Some people love my work, some people hate it,” he has said. “You can’t be liked by everybody. There has been opposition in some places. I represent the opposite of what is happening in art today. But I don’t complain. It hasn’t hurt my career. I’m happy to have the success I have had.”

And whilst the majority of his work is of the familiar from time to time politically sensitive issues appear in his work such as his depictions in 2005 of the victims of the abuses at the Abu Ghraib  prison in Iraq.

Although now in his 80’s Botero still puts in a 10 hour day in the studio with his latest series of works a suite of portraits entitle “Santas.” About which the publicity states “For this body of work created in 2014, Botero has turned his attention to the iconic depictions of female saints from the Christian canon, reinterpreting one of the quintessential genres of Western art history through his unique style by which these revered unearthly heroines reemerge as distinctly worldly society ladies.”

The “santas” exhibition is currently on show at Zurich’s GalerieGmurzynska until the 31st of July.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Child is Always There

“It’s weird how much I look like Iceland.” 
Roni Horn

As a newly minted graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design the American artist Roni Horn visited Iceland for the first time at the age of 19. The island nation on the cusp of the arctic spoke to her and has informed a large amount of her work from photography and books to sculpture and installations.

As she told W Magazine’s Julie Belcove “I had the need to keep going back, it wasn’t a conscious thing—it was more like a yearning. I always think of it as a migration because I prefer to keep my metaphor with the animals, and I had that sense of physiology to it…The cloud cover was always low. You couldn’t really see—you just saw a tease. So I really believe that for a good 10 years or so I was going back to see a little bit more of what I couldn’t see.”

Whilst she has moved on from the glaciers and hot springs it is a concept that continues to inform her work. As she has said “I don’t necessarily think of myself as a visual artist primarily. A lot of my work is really very conceptual, and it has very little visual aspect to it, the sculpture especially. That work is more powerfully about experience and presence than it is about a powerful visual experience.”

As the New York Times’ Roberta Smith wrote about Horn’s 2009 Whitney Museum of American Art’s exhibition Roni Horn a k a Roni Horn. “Ms. Horn has a tendency to appropriate big ideas for her work: Emily Dickinson, Iceland, water, androgyny. The problem is that she doesn’t actually do much with them. In a way her most complex creation is her own persona, as suggested by a recent work titled “a k a.” Lining the walls of a gallery at the Whitney, it consists of 15 pairs of photographs of Ms. Horn. Usually a snapshot of the artist as a beguiling youngster is paired with an image of her in or on the brink of her maturity. Often the angle of the pose and the facial expression seem to match. As you watch her grow up, and her sense of identity and sexuality mutate, the work becomes a poignant reminder of how much change a lifetime can bring, and yet how much the child remains parent to the artist.”

Two Exhibitions of Horn’s drawings which she says are “absolutely essential to me, although not to my viewer. My drawing was always about my relationship to it, not the audience’s,” are currently on show.

Butterfly Doubt has taken over both of Hauser & Wirth’s London galleries and is on show until 25th of July whilst the Vincent van Gogh Foundation in Arles has Butterfly to Oblivion on show until the 20th of September.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

It’s Make Believe

“I owe a lot to my tenants, I put them in my pictures.”
L S Lowry

The British artist, best known for his cityscapes of northern England’s factory towns, Laurence Stephen "L.S." Lowry never gave up his day job. For 42 years Lowry tramped the streets he would paint at night to collect the rent from the clients of the Pall Mall Property Company.

It is a personal characteristic that he applied to his painting. As he says in the BBC documentary LS Lowry 1957 “You get used to painting and you paint and you paint and you paint, whether you are in the mood for painting or not in the mood makes no difference. If you’re not in the mood when you start you get used to it and carry on just the same. And I think from my own experience the less of the mood for painting the better pictures you paint.”

For the best part of 23 years Lowry studied art part time firstly at the Manchester Municipal College of Art and later at the Salford School of Art although it was a missed train that started him painting his best loved works.

As he tells the story “One day I missed a train from Pendlebury, a place I had ignored for seven years, and as I left the station I saw the Acme Spinning Mill: the huge black framework of rows of yellow-lit windows standing out against the sad, damp charged afternoon sky. The mill was turning out. I watched this scene, which I’d looked at many times without seeing it, with rapture."

And it is the deportment of the people in Lowry’s cityscapes, his “matchstick men” that intrigue as much if not more than their settings. About which he has said “I paint the people as I see the people in my mind’s eye. I don’t mind at all if they’re of today or yesterday or any other time, I simply paint the people as I see them.”

But Lowry’s paintings are not a historical record, for like all good fiction his paintings, whilst based on facts, are designed to underscore the story he wants to tell. As he has said “After all it’s only a picture, it’s make believe, it’s not reality and the whole thing is can you get away with what you want to say?”

The exhibition LS Lowry: The Art & The Artist is currently on show at Manchester’s The Lowry until further notice.