Saturday, October 31, 2015

Painting Pure & Simple

“When I got fired from the Whitney I told myself, They’re kicking me out the back door, but one day they’re going to invite me in through the front.
 Andrew Masullo

And so it came to pass. Thirty one years after being let go as an administrative secretary at the venerable institution, Andrew Masullo’s first job after graduating from Rutgers University, 34 0f his small scale paintings were hung in the 76th Whitney Biennale of 2012.

With numbers for titles, Masullo’s paintings are more often than not described as intimate i.e. small.
As the Los Angeles Times’ David Pagel explained “Some are not much bigger than business cards. Most are smaller than ordinary sheets of paper. Among such pint sized neighbors, the biggest, a 2x2 foot diamond, has the presence of a compressed mural.”

About which Masullo opined to the Two Coats of Paint blog “Have you noticed that painters with little to say often choose the largest canvases on which to say it?

Masullo discovered art whilst studying languages at Rutgers. His epiphany came after attending a lecture about positive and negative space.

 As he told the New York Times’ Carol Kino “That was the moment that I realized this thing called art was not about representation. It was about seeing the world in a different kind of way.”

During the 1980’s Masullo was predominately making objects from found objects.

About which The New York Times’ art critic Roberta Smith wrote in 1989 “As the seemingly countless small works in his fifth solo exhibition prove, Andrew Masullo can make art out of anything: the cover of an old book or its typescript, a found photograph or a junk-shop oil painting, a scrap of plywood or an old powder compact.

A second epiphany occurred in the 1990’s which saw Masullo abandon found objects and concentrate on making paintings. After a frustrating year of making paint by numbers animal portraits he resolved to make works devoid of content.

As he has said “I wanted to make paintings that were completely by me, with shapes and colors and hard edges. I wanted to see if I could make a painting from scratch that had no content other than what it was about.”

But he rejects the categorization of his work as being abstract, stating ““Abstract is one of those terms, like artist, that means nothing. My paintings are nonobjective because there’s no object in them. I didn’t find a shadow or a lily pond someplace that I was inspired by. I work with just regular light bulbs, and I start from scratch, and I never know where I’m starting or where I’m going.”

And about which the co-curator of the 2012 Whitney biennale Jay Sanders remarked “It felt very fresh to us at this moment. It’s not totally backed up by a lot of theory or a conceptual practice. It’s pure painting. And it looks fantastic.” 

His current exhibition Andrew Masullo: Recent Paintings is on show at New York’s Tibor De Nagy Gallery until the 5th of December.

Friday, October 30, 2015

An Existential Photographer

“My subjects evoke the vanity or fragility of our existence.
Valérie Belin

The French photographer Valerie Belin excludes the narrative and documentary aspects of the medium in preference to philosophical approach that explores its abstract possibilities.

As she told the Style.No.Chaser online magazine’s Kwesi AdjinMy work is articulated in series of images based on a subtle play of repetitions and variations that explore a form of photographic abstraction. The absolute frontality of the viewpoint, the radical two-dimensionality, the absence of context, and the monumentality of the formats bestow an iconic value on these subjects chosen for their powerful evocation of the uncertainties and paradoxes of “life.” My work transcends issues of identity and probes a more existential realm.

“I consider myself more an artist than a photographer. I have never worked on the documentary side of photography. I have always viewed my work in the same way a painter would consider painting,” the 49 year old Parisian states.

Studying painting and sculpture at the École nationale supérieure d'art de Bourges in her early 20’s it was her lack of drawing skills saw her gravitate to photography.

As she recalled “From secondary school onwards, I was significantly captivated by lessons connected to creation, literature and the history of art in particular, but I had no specific talent for drawing, I therefore joined the beaux arts (fine arts) with a great lack of awareness! The freedom that I found in this institution very rapidly enabled me to consider photography as a prime tool which allowed me to formalize a relationship with the world… After graduating in 1987, I went to university to study the philosophy of art where I tried to analyze the relationships between American minimalism and the changes in the urban fabric.

Now with museum exhibitions than span three continents Belin continues to explore her interests of illusion and artifice that has seen her photograph live models, masks, mannequins, body builders, plastic fruit and abandoned computers in a search that questions reality.

As she says “The choice of my subjects is always the fruit of a necessity to portray an autobiographical character.  My work may be regarded as an obsessive attempt at appropriating the tangible where empathy with my models plays a major role. I have a marked preference for permanent metamorphosis that objects and people are subjected to by their social environment. In this respect, my subjects become artifacts, provisional displays, fiction; many metaphors of the ‘artificial paradise’ incurred by the globalization and media coverage of living beings.

Belin’s current exhibition Super Models is on show at Edwynn Houk’s New York gallery until the 19th of December.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Abstracting the Colors of Brazil

“At the end of the day, technique is very important in the context of my work.
Beatriz Milhazes

The cutouts of Henri Matisse, the op-art of Bridget Riley and the colors of Brazil’s world famous Carnival are all influences that the Brazilian abstract artist Beatriz Milhazes crowds into her paintings in an explosion of color and form.

About which the Deutsche Bank Collection’s Achim Drucks wrote in his 2012 essay No Fear of Beauty “Milhazes's paintings hover between a stunning ornamental beauty and an overload of forms, colors, styles, and quotes. It is not the kind of beauty in which the eye can rest, however; instead, it absorbs the gaze and threatens to overpower the viewer.”

It is in stark contrast to the majority of her contemporaries in Brazilian art scene.

As she explained in the catalogue for her 2009 exhibition at Paris’ Fondation Cartier "We don't have a strong tradition of painting in Brazil, and especially not painting with color. When I became internationally known as a Brazilian painter, the international audience thought that I came out of a strong tradition of Brazilian painting. This is because there is a general lack of information on Latin American art. Due to Spanish colonization, some countries like Mexico or Venezuela have a strong painting tradition. This is not the case for Brazil. The most important and well-known Brazilian art is conceptual and constructivist. There is no special interest in color. Brazil is a colorful country, but its art isn't. That is why people get confused. I use elements from my culture, and color is one of them, but I'm the only one to do so."

Enthralled by Matisse’s collaged cutouts and equally impressed by the smoothness of Riley’s op-art renderings Milhazes has developed a unique approach to applying paint to her canvases. She first paints a motif for inclusion in a work on plastic which she then glues to the canvas. When the paint has dried Milhazes then peels off the plastic. A process she repeats until the work is complete.

And about which she has said "I like the resulting smooth texture, the way in which the painting seems 'frozen' in time. I love painting, but I do not want the texture of the brushstrokes or the 'hand' of the painter to be visible on my canvases."

Milhazes motifs are abstracted renderings inspired by Brazilian culture, ceramics, lacework, carnival decoration, music, and Colonial baroque architecture.

As she told Dirimart Gallery’s bi-annual publication RES Art World/World Art “I need to have all these elements and put them together. They are in some sort of a conflict that will never really end up anywhere. There are not peaceful surfaces. There should be some struggle on the surface and then create some activities for your eyes.”

Milhazes’ current exhibition Marola is on show at New York’s James Cohan gallery until the 28th of November.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Life Imbued with Color

“Lend your ears to music, open your eyes to painting, and... stop thinking!
Just ask yourself whether the work has enabled you to 'walk about' into a hitherto unknown world. If the answer is yes, what more do you want?

Wassily Kandinsky

It is reasonable to assume that of all the colors available to the Russian born artist Wassily Kandinsky green was his least favorite.

As he is reported to have said “Absolute green is the most restful color, lacking any undertone of joy, grief, or passion. On exhausted men this restfulness has a beneficial effect, but after a time it becomes tedious.

Whereas blue could be considered to be amongst his favorites. He include the color in name of two of the groups he formed with fellow artists. Die Blaue Reiter (the Blue Rider) which went on to publish the Der Blaue Reiter Almanach (The Blue Rider Almanac) which included three of Kandinsky’s essays (On the Question of Form, On Stage Composition and The Yellow Sound) was formed in 1911. Thirteen years later with Lyonel Feininger, Alexej Jawlensky and Paul Klee, Kandinsky became a member of Die Blaue Vier (the Blue Four) which saw them exhibit together for the next nine years.

And about the color he has been reported as saying “The deeper the blue becomes, the more strongly it calls man towards the infinite, awakening in him a desire for the pure and, finally, for the supernatural... The brighter it becomes, the more it loses its sound, until it turns into silent stillness and becomes white.

The son of a prosperous Odessa tea merchant, Kandinsky was born with the gift of synesthesia which in his case meant when he heard music he saw colors, and when he saw colors he heard music.
Encouraged by his father, as a child Kandinsky studied painting and drawing along with piano and the cello. After graduating from the Grekov Odessa Art School he went on to study economics and law at the University of Moscow where he lectured after graduation.

Inspired by Claude Monet’s paintings of haystack’s Kandinsky gave up his academic career and took up painting when he was 30.

About Monet’s haystacks Kandinsky is reported to have said “That it was a haystack the catalogue informed me. I could not recognize it. This non-recognition was painful to me. I considered that the painter had no right to paint indistinctly. I dully felt that the object of the painting was missing. And I noticed with surprise and confusion that the picture not only gripped me, but impressed itself ineradicably on my memory. Painting took on a fairy-tale power and splendor.

He studied at Munich’s Academy of Fine Arts and taught at the Phalanx School of Painting an offshoot of the Phalanx Art Group. For the duration of the First World War Kandinsky returned to Russia but after its cessation he had a falling out with the nascent communist regime and returned to Germany to teach at the Bauhaus School. When the Nazi’s closed the school Kandinsky move to France where he lived for the rest of his life.

Inspired by the spiritual philosophies of the Theosophical society Kandinsky is generally credited with painting the first purely abstract work. Although his theoretical writings on the subject are said to have a greater influence on its practice, influencing many artists from the latter half of 20th Century up to today.

But it is his ability to see and hear color combined with his spiritual investigations that give the power to Kandinsky’s work.

As he has said “Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.

The exhibition Kandinsky. Una retrospectiva is currently on show at Madrid’s CentroCentro cultural and museum center until the 28th of February next year.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Seeing More than the Homelands

“I allow myself to absorb influences and allow those influences
to shift my own perspective on things.”
Jeffrey Gibson

For the Native American artist Jeffery Gibson the influences that have shaped his life and his work are many and varied ranging from a nomadic childhood as an ‘Army Brat’ to being a gay artist in New York.

As he told The Wild Magazine last year “Of course I do make choices about my environment and am aware that those choices somewhat curate my influences. I pay attention to some political conversations, to queer culture, to music culture, to fashion, to education, to people older and wiser than myself, and to people younger than myself.

With a Choctaw and Cherokee ancestry, Gibson was born in Colorado. His father was a member of the US defense forces and Gibson formative years saw him living in both Korea and Germany. He went on to obtain his Bachelor of Fine Arts from The Art Institute of Chicago and his Master’s from the Royal College of Art in London. He currently lives in New York.

As he explained to the Contemporary Native Artists blog “Moving around for the majority of my life influenced my work in many different ways. I did not realize that I was nomadic in so many senses. I don’t have “roots” anywhere in a physical sense and have always considered where I currently live “home”. The experience has made definitions of home, place, identity, time, and culture very complex and multi layered for me. I have also been influenced by the varying aesthetics of each place. Some have had specific cultural aesthetics, language barriers, cultural barriers, and etcetera. These differences funnel through me, a queer Native male born toward the end of the 20th century and entering the 21st century. I consider this hybrid in the construction of my work and attempt to show that complexity."

Working with both painting and sculpture, Gibson is impelled by the notions of assumption and stereotype that relate to his heritage and the parallels between modern abstraction and the images inherent in tribal design.

About which he has said “I consider myself an abstract process based artist and am always intrigued by the relationship between image and abstraction... I [also] think of myself as a contemporary artist who is a number of things - one of the primary things is being Native. Sometimes this term complicates the work in interesting ways and other times it just complicates the work unnecessarily. It is a powerful term that can overshadow any artwork and it is not usually the primary content of my work… There is a separation between contemporary Indigenous artists and the rest of the art world. That is evident by the lack of inclusion or the awareness of Indigenous artists in any mainstream arts media. The larger Native community has shared concerns regarding community, inclusiveness, tradition, tribal definitions, family, place, written histories, language, etcetera - that are not shared by other communities. There is a real and perceived distance between the primary concepts and methods used in each. It is slowly changing, but the question is always about how this new found recognition will change things within our communities.

And it is a change that Gibson is helping to facilitate.

As ArtNew’s Cynthia Nadelman observed in her 2007 essay Tribal Hybrids “Gibson exemplifies the way this new generation of Native artists has managed to carve out a middle ground between honoring their heritage and creating art that functions in any context.”

Gibson’s current self-titled exhibition is on show at New York’s Marc Straus gallery until the 13th of December.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Metaphors for Survival

“Historical markers and tombstones are really not all that different.”
Su Wong-Shen

Infused with a bleak sense of humor the Taiwanese artist Su Wong-Shen paints scenes that comment upon the society with in which he lives that betray an earlier infatuation with abstraction.

Whilst studying at the Fine Art Department of Chinese Cultural University in the latter half of the 1970’s a visiting American professor introduced Su to the hard edge abstract and minimalist styles of painting. With further inspiration from the study of western abstract artists it was a style Su worked to develop whilst ever mindful of the real world.

When Taiwan’s oppressive military rule came to an end in 1987 Su’s interest and consequent depiction of the changing social order began to appear in his work.

As the Taiwanese curator and art critic Chia-chi Wang states in his essay An Aloof and Melancholy Eye -- The Art and Solicitudes of Su Wong-shenSu himself has said he did not wish to express his own individual critique of Taiwan’s political happenings in any overly direct manner and thus chose to use the cats and dogs as a metaphor.

It is a metaphor that over the ensuing years has grown to include other members of the animal kingdom.

As Su has said “My use of cats and dogs to symbolize people was initially relatively clear, later becoming just ‘animals’ and not specifically representing as cats or dogs.” 

Su’s interest in abstraction lingers in his current works through his often adoption of a birds eye point of view that does away with faraway skies and horizons concentrating the view on the “land” below. Upon which his actors interact in a social theatre of survival amongst the often historical human landmarks that shape the stage for their performance.

As Su has observed “Both[historical markers and tombstones] are a kind of totem to a seemingly bygone memory. The significance of these markers may be a kind of gratitude and they may have a kind of mystical effect or perhaps provide a path toward emotional reconciliation.” 

Su’s current retrospective exhibition Animal Farm is on show at Taiwan’s Taipei Fine Arts Museum until the 14th of February 2016.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Defined by Surrealism and War

“I would rather make a picture rather than be one.”
Lee Miller

Such was the appetite for life of the American fashion model, photographer, artist and muse, war correspondent and gourmet cook Lee Miller which combined with her beauty contrived to ensure that her desire was only partially met.

Taught by her amateur photographer father the rudiments of the craft whilst she modeled in the nude for him in her teens, Miller threw over a successful New York modeling career with Vogue to become a student of the surrealist artist Man Ray.

At the age of 22 Miller went to Paris in pursuit of her quarry.

About which the Telegraph reports her as saying “It was intentional on my part, I was chasing him.”
They first met in a Paris bar where she introduced herself “My name is Lee Miller, and I’m your new student.’ Man [Ray] said, ‘I don’t have students.’ He was leaving for Biarritz the next day, and I said, ‘So am I.’ I never looked back!”

Over the next three years Miller was Man Ray’s student, assistant, collaborator and lover. They fell out over the photograph Neck - portrait of Lee Miller (see above) three years later. Taken by Man Ray but rescued from the trash and worked up by Miller they quarreled severely over its authorship.
In 1932 Miller returned to New York and opened a commercial photographic studio. Her Paris work was included in the Julien Levey Gallery’s exhibition Modern European Photography and the following year she had the only solo exhibition held in her life time.

Miller then married the business man Aziz Eloui Bey and moved to Egypt. Whilst she photographed the pyramids, the desert and portraits of the “the black-satin-and-pearls set” expatriates, Miller became bored and returned to Paris after three years of living in the lap of luxury.

When World War II broke out Miller was in London and she took up photojournalism.

Naturally I took pictures. What’s a girl supposed to do when a battle lands in her lap?” the New York Times has reported her as saying.

Before America entered the conflict Miller sent images of the London Blitz to American Vogue. After the “Yanks went over there” Miller became an accredited war correspondent for Vogue and reported, in both words and pictures, many of the atrocities she encountered in Europe. Including the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Dachau and during the war’s aftermath of children dying in a Vienna Hospital.

“I hope no one will ever forget the subject of those photos. Because I won’t,” she has been reported as saying.

And she didn’t. Suffering what today would be diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Miller abandoned her photography and journalism retreating into the arms of alcohol addiction. Although she was able to develop her culinary skills cooking gourmet meals for pre-war friends like Man Ray, Miro and Picasso.

But as her son Antony Penrose, who is the director of his mother’s archive and his father’s, surrealist artist Sir Roland Penrose, collection, has said “I knew she was handy with a camera when I was little — but that was about it. She never talked about the war.”

The exhibition The Indestructible Lee Miller is currently on show at Fort Lauderdale’s NUS Art Museum until the 14th of February next year.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Finding the Story to Fit the Place

“Serendipity is what this is all about.”
Jordan Matter

Prior to becoming a photographer the New Yorker, Jordan Matter was an actor with a photographic hobby. Now his day job is as a publicity photographer specializing in head shots for aspiring and established actors.

As he says on his website “One day I was at a friend’s house, looking through her headshots. Not one photograph said the slightest thing about her. They were very generic, very studio and very boring. When she told what she had paid, I almost choked on my Starbucks. Outrageous! I’ve been the victim of that a few times myself. The next day I grabbed my camera, took her up to the roof and fired off two quick rolls before the sun set. That was it. I was hooked, whether I knew it or not.”

It was a hook that saw Matter realize that success lay in creating a collaborative relationship with his client that will allow the serendipitous moments to occur.

As he explains in the video A Day in my Life “You just allow the environment to inspire you to an idea, as cheesy as that sounds. So you look around, you see what’s available to you, what kind of story you want to tell and find a way to tell the story.”

It is this approach to his craft that Matter carries over to his private projects of which two, Uncovered and Dances Among Us, have been published as books with the latter making it onto the New York Times Bestselling Books list in 2012.

In both instances Matter has in whole or in part used the streets and public places of New York as the backdrop for his subjects’ performances.

With Uncovered Matter photographed a wide variety of topless women in various public locations around the city. He was inspired by the overreaction to Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction.

As one of Matter’s models, Margret Kaiser told the New York Daily News “It was really wild and really fun… Other people didn’t know what we were doing. It was really playful.”

To which Matter added “A lot of people walk right by and don’t even notice,” which he said was the initial point of the exercise. That it became a liberating experience for the participants was an added bonus.

For Dances Among Us Matter has photographed ballet dancers strutting their stuff not only in New York but in other places both rural and urban. Inspired by watching his three year old son playing Matter wanted to recreate that wonder and the excitement of the world and after seeing an dance performance he realized he had found his collaborators.

As he says in his artist’s statement for the project “Dancers are storytellers. Their trained to capture passion with their bodies. They often create a fantasy world or offer us a deeper look into familiar settings. They bring to life what we feel but what most of us, lacking their artistry and athleticism, are unable to express physically. I spent three years shooting dancers around the country and I was humbled by their enthusiasm for their craft.”

The exhibition Dancers Among Us: Photographs by Jordan Matter is currently on show at New York’s Hudson River Museum until the 17th of January next year.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Environment Concerns Us All

“Everything we use is either from mining or agriculture.”
Jeannette Unite

The South African artist Jeannette Unite has for the last two decades explored the effects of mining on the landscape and in her paintings, drawings and glass works generated by this interest she uses an abstract aesthetic to impart her discoveries and observations.

As she told The Mining Weekly’s Jade Davenport “I have chosen to depict the visual imagery in an abstract format because the process of mining in itself is abstract, involving the amalgamation of a variety of disciplines. I want people to respond sensually to things because I think that helps them to access any idea.”

Over this long association with what is considered by many to be a destructive and irresponsible industry Unite has come to appreciate her complicity within the process.

“It’s easy to criticize mining from the outside. I used to feel the same way as a lot of artists – that it’s a dirty, destructive business. But I came to see I was just as complicit because I derived benefits from the industry. Everything I use, all the materials that go into my work, start life in the ground. Those dope smoking artists who want everything to be natural… well, cyanide is also natural. So is uranium,” Unite told African Mining in 2013.

And over her many visits to mine sites to feed her inspiration Unite has gathered minerals, mine tailings and site specific sands to make her own pastels and paint as well as using them as ingredients for her glass sculptures. For Unite, the magic inherent in her raw materials enable her landscapes to be literally made from the land itself.

From necessity Unite has developed a close association with the industry but she is no apologist for it. She is well aware of the environmental crisis caused by the exploitation and contends that the repair should be economic.

As she has said “Mining should be made more expensive. Then we would not be able to randomly take minerals out of the ground. If it cost us more to produce, we would be more careful with what we mine. The value of materials is determined today not by the cost of extracting them but by stock markets. For example, if we used platinum judiciously we would get better value for it. Platinum is a necessary component of modern cars. But nobody buys cars for their platinum content. They use other criteria. So the value of platinum in the vehicle is hidden. If it became a lot more expensive it would be valued more. Commodity brokers think they are working with numbers, when in reality they are working with something that is magical.”  

Unite’s current exhibition Complicit Geographies is on show at England’s Contemporary Art Natural Innovation Centre until the 22nd of January.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Shifting Gears to Avoid a Pigeon Hole

“I never saw art as being a career.
It's just some people want to make things, and some people don't,
and the people who do,
get defined in the world by the things they make.
Julian Schnabel

Whilst arguably best known as a film maker with a Cannes best director award to his credit the American artist Julian Schnabel considers his primary endeavor to be painting.

As he told BoulinArtinfo’s Linda Yablonsky “Painting is like breathing to me. It’s what I do all the time. Every day I make art, whether it is painting, writing or making a movie.

A point he underscored with The Interview Magazine’s Mark Grotjahn “I've been painting since I was little, and I shift gears—I even shifted gears into making films. But I never stopped making paintings.

And even with his paintings Schnabel has shifted gears, at times quite dramatically. He first came to the attention of the art world with his “Plate Paintings” in the late 1970’s and 1980’s. Since then Schnabel has embraced a wide array of mediums for his work ranging from velvet via cowhide and found objects to tarpaulins that have been dragged through the dirt. His current work involves painting over photographs transferred to canvas.

As he says “I see paintings everywhere. I look at stuff and it looks like painting to me. Making a painting is like playing the saxophone. You hit the note and it comes out. I think my paintings are about time—a lot to do with time and different levels of things that are having a parallel life.”

It is an approach that has seen him drift in and out of public favor which combined with an attitude that takes no prisoners ensures his bridges are often burned.

Contemplating consistency in painting Schnabel has said “It is artists believing that their work should always have the same appearance. They're satisfied to let this appearance be the emblem of their art, because it's what people have come to expect them to do. This is either a sign of arrogance, resignation, or atrophy.

As the recently appointed director of the Brooklyn Museum, Anne Pasternak, told the New York Observer’s M H Miller in 2013 People in the arts like to put people in boxes. Julian has been one of those people who is insistent that you can’t put him in a box. You hear people say, ‘Oh, he’s really a filmmaker’ or ‘Oh, the films are better than the paintings.’ This is all bullshit. Julian is an artist, and whatever form suits his need best is what he’s going to pursue, and we need to recognize that.”

Schnabel’s current exhibition Jack climbed up the beanstalk to the sky of illimitableness where everything went backwards is on show at Paris’ Almine Rech Gallery until the 14th of November.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Dealing with Stereotypes

“Dialogue is the beginning of Change.”
Jorden Casteel

According to the Black Lives Matter website “Every twenty-eight hours a black man, woman, or child is murdered by police or vigilante law enforcement.” It is a statistic that for the African-American figurative artist Jorden Casteel cuts close to the bone and has provided an impetus for her art.

As Casteel told The Aesthete’s Antwaun Sargent “As a heterosexual cis[gendered] black woman, it has felt important to share the story of my relationship(s) to black men/masculinity as a daughter, sister, lover, friend, and family member. I hope that through my personal lens, I can draw a viewer into an intimate experience they might not otherwise encounter.”

Casteel grew up in Colorado in a family “dedicated to giving a voice to the voiceless.”
As she explained to The Morning News “My family, through civil rights organizations, education and philanthropy have been dedicated to social justice for multiple generations.”

Casteel embarked upon a liberal arts education in her late teens at Georgia’s Agnes Scott College studying sociology but after attending the University Of Georgia Lamar Dodd School Of Art in Italy Casteel switched to art.

“I realized I was happiest when I was painting with oils, and I wanted to find a way to make it a bigger part of my life,” Casteel told the college’s Alumni News.

After obtaining a BA with a Studio Art major from Agnes Scott, Casteel went on to get her MFA from Yale University in 2014.

With the ink barely dry on her masters Casteel was given her first New York solo exhibition at Sargent's Daughters.

Visible Man was a series of nude portraits of African-American males; friends of her twin brother. A body of work that had a voice she felt was necessary for the times with the Trayvon Martin acquittal being a catalyst.

As Casteel says in a video for the exhibition “It was a call that I got from my twin brother right after that happened, and we were both very emotional, where I couldn’t help but think that it could have been him. I felt that I need to make something more visible.”

Which she has elaborated about stating “To some, my work may be speaking directly to the Black Lives Matter movement through its emphasis on humanizing black bodies, however, I think the way black artists continue to give to the Black Lives Matter movement is by sharing their individual voices in order to bring power and understanding to a united goal — no one person is the same or should be judged as such.”

Casteel’s current exhibition Brothers is on show at Sargent's Daughters until the 15th of November.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Love and Marriage

“We all wore ice skates because this was a marriage on thin ice.”
Barbara Rossi

At the age of 28 the currently Chicago based artist Barbara Rossi ceased to be a bride of Christ and after the divorce she went on to obtain her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and then become a professor of painting and drawing for the institution.

During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s Rossi was an active member the Chicago Imagists; a pop art inspired movement that sourced surrealism, Art Brut, and comics for their inspiration rather than New York’s pop art that sourced commercial advertising and popular illustration for inspiration.

As the Chicago private art dealer Karen Lennox has said, "One was very personal, the other anti-personal."

An observation supported by Rossi in the video Marriage Chicago Style “We were in the middle of the Vietnam War. We had lots of protests against our government, we had also lots of protests against our way of treating certain people. Younger people were actually asked to know what they were about; to know themselves.”

It is this journey of self-discovery that impels Rossi’s work, if at times tongue in cheek, as she explores her original relationship that has become an  ongoing friendship that still exists even after the divorce albeit colored by her travels in India and Asia..

As The Renaissance Society’s Joe Scanlan wrote about her 1991 exhibition of selected works “These paintings could be seen as representing the piling up in one's mind of variously-shaped information, experiences, or memories; as exotic but burdensome "emotional baggage" people often accumulate in their lives; or Rossi's implicit awareness and reversal of society's overemphasis on surface appearances, as in hair styles, plastic surgery, or cosmetics. In these paintings it is the beauty and intensity of Rossi's endeavor that enriches her work and creates its sensual and tactile appearance.”

About Rossi’s 1981 painting Double Crossing Lonesome Valley (see above) the LA Times David Pagel wroteRossi’s shapes, painted slightly different shades of the same colors, evoke a flock of improbable associations, some tasteful, even prim, others sensuous, nearly salacious. If a bouquet of flowers mated with a vase, its offspring might resemble the abstract figures.”

Whereas the artist considers the painting to be “a picture of two sandals making their way through the desert.”

Rossi’s current exhibition Barbara Rossi: Poor Traits is on show at New York’s New Museum until the 3rd of January. 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Rendering the Movement of life

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”
Edgar Degas

The 19th Century French artist Edgar Degas is commonly reference as an impressionist a categorization the reflective studio painter rejected.

As he has been reported as saying “If I were in the government I would have a brigade of policemen assigned to keeping an eye on people who paint landscapes outdoors. Oh, I wouldn't want anyone killed. I'd be satisfied with just a little buckshot to begin with… No art was ever less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and the study of the great masters. Of inspiration, spontaneity and temperament I know nothing.

Born into a wealthy family, Degas studied art in his 20’s in the realistic inclined academic tradition of Paris’ École des Beaux-Arts producing and exhibiting works in the popular historical style of the day. After a chance meeting Edouard Manet when he was 30 Degas’ subject matter moved from the drawing rooms of Paris to the cafes, the boulevards, the shops, the dance studios and the race courses of the city that was to become his muse.

Participating in all but of one of the eight Impressionist exhibitions between 1874 and 1886 Degas held the other members at arm’s length never completely adhering to their philosophy. His interests lay in the depiction of movement that stemmed from a long held affinity with horse racing and the portrayal of truth in the scenes he painted.

As he has quipped “I feel as a horse must feel when the beautiful cup is given to the jockey.” To which he has added “Make portraits of people in typical, familiar poses, being sure above all to give their faces the same kind of expression as their bodies.”

These two interests came together for Degas in his many paintings and sculptures of ballet dancers from the rehearsal rooms and the opera stages of his beloved Paris at time when ballet had fallen from its pedestal much like historical painting in the eyes of his fellow avant-garde artists.

As the art historian John Richardson told Vanity FairBallet had sunk to the level of kitschy interludes in operas—interludes that allowed bored operagoers enticing glimpses of women’s usually concealed legs.

And about which Degas is reported to have said “They call me the painter of dancers. They don't understand that the dancer has been for me a pretext for painting pretty fabrics and for rendering movement.

Likewise the double portrait of his friends the actress and model Ellen Andrée and the artist Marcellin Desboutin in arguably Degas most controversial painting  L'Absinthe (see below) was a scene from his daily life.

When first exhibited in 1876 it was panned by critics, who called it ugly and disgusting. A second showing six years later suffered a similar fate with the Irish art critic George Moore stating “"Heavens! – what a slut! A life of idleness and low vice is upon her face; we read there her whole life. The tale is not a pleasant one, but it is a lesson." Which caused Degas to come to the defense of his friends publically declaring their moral virtue.

Considered by many to be a misogynist in a misogynistic age and an anti-sematic who in later life became a curmudgeon unable to paint due his failing eye sight, Degas art was an unsentimental rendering of the vagaries of the life that surrounded him.

As he has been reported to have said “Conversation in real life is full of half-finished sentences and overlapping talk. Why shouldn't painting be too?

The exhibition Degas & the Dance is currently on show at the Toledo Museum of Art until the 10th of January next year.