Saturday, April 30, 2016

With Lace in the Limelight

“I loved being on stage.”
Mark Flood

The Houston based artist/musician Mark Flood has been making art and music for all his life but only found commercial success in his early 40’s.

During Flood’s high school years, he was obsessed with art “Making art was just this way of processing my emotions or [that] tried to give my life meaning,” he has said.

Whilst studying art in college Flood developed an interest in Punk rock and performance by becoming the vocalist for the Industrial Punk band Culturecide who played underground venues and espoused establishment angst.

As he told the ANP Quarterly’s Brendan Fowler “I tell you, Brendan, the thing about me is that I like to connect with an audience, I think the audience is a necessary part of the equation, but for whatever reason I really don’t give a shit what the audience thinks. As long as they’re not killing me; that’s my boundary. I feel like you have to have an audience, I don’t want to do stuff in obscurity, but I’m not living for the roar of the crowd. My main satisfaction is just making the stuff.”

To support his music making and his art during the 1980’s and early 90’s Flood work at a variety of jobs that ranged from being a clerk for Texaco to an assistant at the Menil Collection. And his art, like his music, was always seeking the edge as a critique of the status quo.

About which he has said “All my attempts to be in commercial galleries with my art were never very successful. It was always a bad fit… As every struggling artist knows, it’s a bitch and it grinds your soul down to the nub. And yet you have to do it, because otherwise you’re doing your art and just sticking it in your attic. I never thought the lace paintings would be commercial, I had never had any commercial success, but I’d come to see that to keep doing new stuff you had to have a new technique. If you use old techniques, you can only express old ideas.”

Flood’s new technique was to use lace sourced from Thrift shops as part of the process in making his paintings.

As he told the Interview Magazine’s Joseph Akel “I was entirely inspired by David Hickey’s 1993 book, The Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty, how ugly art can exist when you have an art bureaucracy providing an audience. But, for an artist wanting to give an audience otherwise, beauty is one way to do that. That was news to me. And it begged the question, what exactly is beauty? So I started studying, looking for technical means, and as soon as I started looking for it, it kind of popped up in front of me.”

Flood’s lace paintings, that some have called “spinster abstraction” have been a commercial success beyond the artist’s imagining.

And as he told the New York Times’ Randy Kennedy “I didn’t know they would be popular, though people sometimes assume that it was some calculated sellout on my part. Because if I could calculate how to sell out, I wanted to wait until 2000. My life changed dramatically. I no longer need some art professional Standing there saying, “This is good because of Jasper Johns, because of Duchamp,” because someone was coming up to me saying: “That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Here’s $5000.” And then I quit my job.”

The survey exhibition of his works Mark Flood: Gratest Hits is currently on show at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston until the 7th of August.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Avoiding the Political

“I’m too old to have faith in politics, but I do have faith in art.
Ray Smith

With works that incorporate magic realism, Surrealism and Modernism the bi-cultural artist Ray Smith has two birth certificates; one American the other Mexican.

As he explained to Expatica’s Kirstin Bernardi “I’ve always had two names – Mexican and American. The day after I was born in the US, my father went across the border and paid someone and got me a second birth certificate in Mexico. My birth certificate in US says Ray Smith, and on the Mexican one, Raymundo Smithe Iturría. I lived in México for 25 years, until 1985 when an earthquake damaged our house. My wife is Mexican and we still have a house in Cuernavaca.

During his time in Mexico Smith studied mural painting and was exposed to the politicization of the Mexican Mural Renaissance.

“I studied muralism in Mexico when I was growing up. I worked with another expat who came to Mexico after WWII who had been an apprentice to the muralists. He knew all of the muralists: [José Clemente] Orozco, [Diego] Rivera, [Frida] Kahlo,” Smith recalled.

He is also drawn to the work of Spanish artists with Picasso and Dali having had direct influences in his work to date.

As he says “It is about Spanish painting, but it’s not trying to chase after Spanish paintings. Picasso is the master of metaphysics– he’s sort of all over the place, this big icon. If I were going to take anyone else on, it would be Goya or Velazquez. The complete, absolute magic of Velazquez’s Las Meninas and some of his religious paintings – the Christ, the bird with a piece of bread in his mouth… this man has made unbelievable paintings. I come to Spain about five times per year, and it never gets old.”

The contorted and morphed figures that populate his work are reflections about his view of the human condition; the absurdities of society, family, culture and war, but not the political.

As he says “I think one looks more towards the humanity of things rather than the political. By the simple fact of mentioning politics, there’s an inhumanity already. Art should be wordless, and politics is full of words… The only way I can address the humanity of man is not through politics, it’s through art... maybe.

Smith’s current exhibition UNguernice Drawings & Paintings is on show at New York’s Stux & Haller Gallery until the 28th of May.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Painting as Conversation

“Color is more important to me than anything else.
David Reed

For the American abstract painter David Reed painting is a two-way conversation that both links the past and the present and the artist with their audience and for the latter color is an integral introduction.

As he explained to The Oregonian’s DK Row “In the world today, we see a lot of wild and strange color -- commercially made color, the color of cars, plastics, combined with the natural colors of the world, combined with the media colors on television and movies and computer screens and strange lights from all of those sources. All of this is affecting us all of the time. But we don't have emotional connotations for those colors. Painting is a way to deal with those emotional connections and integrate them into this wonderful history that painting is.

But the history that Reed is interested in is not the history found in academic tombs but that which can be found on the street between like-minded people.

As he told the Brooklyn Rail’s John Yau “I love that about painting. I can find my own way. The street history is a conversation, a long conversation. Dave Hickey says it started when two guys sat down over cappuccinos at an outdoor café in Rome about 1620. One said he liked the Farnese ceiling by the Carracci and the other said he liked Michelangelo’s Sistine better. They argued. Dave says that conversation is still going on and if you want to join in, you can.

It is the rational that in part drives Reed’s work. “One of the reasons I love Baroque paintings so much is that they have all those religious themes, but the paintings are not about that religious subject matter. There’s a second meaning underneath. The painters used the religious themes as metaphors to get at other subjects… What interests me about paintings are the connections to life. Paintings are very subtle, true to emotions and feelings, which are very hard to describe. These emotions and feelings are especially hard for me to understand and describe verbally. Somehow through painting I can get to them,” he says.

And it is through abstraction that Reed endeavors to entice his audience to join this conversation.

As he says “I want viewers to choose to participate and have their own thoughts. I don’t want to control their thoughts at all. What’s important is the connection and collaboration with the viewer, rather than control. It’s easier to do this with abstraction, rather than figuration.

Reed’s current exhibition of New Paintings is on show at New York’s Peter Blum Gallery until the 25th of June.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Photographic Abuse

"I used Photoshop to create images
but I used it in a way that people who do image correction would not like:
I used it in an amateurish way.
Setareh Shahbazi

For the Iranian born digital artist Setareh Shahbazi the free association of ideas is integral to her work.

As she told the Middle East’s English language newspaper, The National’s Kaelen Wilson-Goldie "I really abuse photography. I even take pictures but I never show them as photographs. For me it's a way of seeing and extracting things, and putting them together in a different or theatrical way."

At the age of seven, Shahbazi and her family fled Iran for Germany, her father was on the losing side of the 1979 revolution. Over the next 25 years Shahbazi studied Scenography and Media Arts at the State Academy for Art and Design in Karlsruhe and pursued a career in the visual arts.

About which’s Negar Azimi has said “[Shahbazi] is best known for her precise, computer-generated images in Marvel Comics-inflected pastel shades that sit somewhere between the aesthetic of Pop art that of a child’s coloring book. Those works, often inspired by archival images, evoke the frame as a stage – a place of hugely unlikely encounters. And so, a lush jungle might mingle with a Corbusian housing complex, or a lion might roam around the Giza pyramids alongside an oversized naked baby. That particular image universe is a sea of moving parts, each infinitely interchangeable with the click of a mouse.”

Shahbazi now spends her time between Berlin and Beirut and travels regularly to Iran. On a trip to the country of her birth in 2009 she obtained a collection of family photographs from her early childhood in 70’s and 80’s which precipitated the creation of her Spectral Days exhibition and book.

About which she told Now.comIt was a long, long procedure of choosing which ones to work with, scanning them and working out how to work with them… I went through different phases until I found a discourse. I think the end result has really matched the aesthetic of how I do remember things... It’s not a narrative with a beginning and an end, it’s a bit trippy, it’s got flashbacks. Psychedelic bits appear and then disappear again.” 

Shahbazi’s latest works Binary is a False Idol is currently on show at Cairo’s Gypsum Gallery until the 24th of May.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Abstraction of Pop

“The prime mission of my art, in the beginning, and continuing still, is to make figurative art as exciting as abstract art.
Tom Wesselmann

Tom Wesselmann was in his early twenties when he taught himself to draw whilst doing his draft time in the army. His intention was to pursue a career as a cartoonist after he was demobbed.

With help of the GI Bill Wesselmann was able to attend New York’s Cooper Union School of Art and during his 3 years there he changed from cartooning to fine art, from drawing to painting. Although heavily influenced by de Kooning and Matisse Wesselmann was determined to forge his own course.

As he told the Smithsonian’s Oral History’s Irving Sandler “when I threw out de Kooning I tried to throw out every influence I was conscious of, including Matisse. So I wanted to find a way that in a sense was the opposite of it. De Kooning worked big; I'd work small; de Kooning -- also Dine and all the guys I knew worked sloppy; I'd work neat. I wasn't all that neat, but I was neat by comparison… They worked abstract; I'd work figurative . . .  At the same time there are other things here, like I deliberately wanted to work figurative because it was the one mode that I so scorned . . . It was the only way to go. . . I had no point of view, and I was really approaching figurative art as a naive. . . I had no point of view about figurative art. I had never seen any, except Norman Rockwell. And that was kind of intriguing to start off that way.”

This approach to his work saw Wesselmann lumped into the Pop Art genre although his use of everyday objects was as an aesthetic object rather than a critique of their consumer status.

“I dislike labels in general and 'Pop' in particular, especially because it overemphasizes the material used. There does seem to be a tendency to use similar materials and images, but the different ways they are used denies any kind of group intention,” he has said.

In his mid-sixties Wesselmann chanced upon an abstract version of his figurative works.” I cut up this Mylar painting before throwing it away. These numerous small sections, now totally abstract, were interesting. When overlaid and moved around they had an irresistible appeal to my eye. I rather quickly laid out an abstract painting. Perhaps, I’d actually do it sometime. I even toyed with being another artist to see if the art world would welcome this artist more than me. Monica [my studio assistant] laid one cut section down, not purposely, atop a Matisse book. My overlap atop the abstract Matisse was a quite beautiful work. I resolved to follow this through thoroughly.”

For the next decade until his death in 2004, Wesselmann incorporated these abstract works, often made from cut out aluminum, with his figurative paintings. A process he has described as “going back to what I had desperately been aiming for in 1959.”

A retrospective exhibition of Wesselmann’s paintings is currently on show at New York’s Mitchell-Innes & Nash Gallery until the 28th of May.

Monday, April 18, 2016

It’s Child’s Play Actually

“In America this idea of freedom means I can have any ice cream I want.”
Chris Martin

Although designated primarily as an abstract painter, the American artist Chris Martin’s work incorporates the landscape and the figurative in his attempts to communicate the energy of his life experiences.

As he told the Brooklyn Rail in a conversation with Craig Olsen “The actual performing of a painting involves giving oneself over to a series of actions and trusting in the body and what the body knows. And when I step back to look at this thing, I’m still trying to figure it out just like everybody else.”

Martin was in his early teens when he determined to become a painter.

“I actually decided that I was an artist, at age fourteen, while listening to James Brown. I was drinking Coca-Cola, high on sugar, listening to James Brown’s “Mashed Potato Popcorn,” and painting these bad Picasso paintings. I remember just knowing— “Oh this is it,” he said.

In the mid 1970’s Martin dropped out of Yale where he was studying painting and touch football and went to New York to paint. He sustained himself through odd jobs during the 1980’s.

As he explained “I was a guard at the Guggenheim, I unloaded trucks, worked for art movers, did part-time jobs through the ‘80’s. In 1983 I took a trip to Asia and married Karin Gustafson in Thailand. India had a huge influence on me. We came back and bought a building in Brooklyn in 1984. Our daughters were born in 1986 and 1989. I started selling paintings but then the art world crashed in the early 1990’s. I went back to the School of Visual Arts and got a college degree in art therapy. I got a job at an AIDS day treatment program in Chelsea—and I did that work for about fifteen years—in Harlem, Red Hook, and at Rivington House on the Lower East Side… It certainly gave me a perspective on what I thought were my problems. I had all this education, I knew all this stuff about painting. I began to question whether any of that was really so important... There is no intrinsic value in painting. It’s never valuable because it’s well made, or because it’s beautiful like fine furniture. The only true value is communication. If it transmits energy, then it serves its purpose.”

A view point Martin elaborated upon with The Believer’s Ross Simonini “All the children of America, up to age seven or eight or nine or ten—they’re really great artists. So here we’ve got this amazing work that very few people pay any attention to, and it’s not valued by the culture. In fact, one of the great dismissive lines by popular culture on painting is “My kid can do that.” And of course the truth is their kid could do that, but could they do that? Their kid’s a genius! They’re the ones stuck in some uptight vision of they can’t do it. And so one sees examples of paintings that we don’t understand, a wild energy or freedom. We see it all the time, looking at paintings that you find on the sidewalk, half-finished paintings, thrown-out paintings. You could buy paintings online made by elephants these days. And elephants are pretty good painters. So if an elephant can make a good painting, then who needs an MFA from Yale? I mean, maybe we should start accepting elephants into graduate school.”

Martin’s current exhibition Saturn Returns is on show at Los Angeles’ David Kordansky Gallery until the 21st of May.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Street Art Heading Indoors

“When I go to a gallery, I like to find the art on my own.

The Irish street artist Maser started his artistic career on the streets as a 15-year-old.

As he explained to Lovin Dublin’s Emma KenneallyIt was a great outlet for a young teen to express himself. No rules, outdoors, exploring the city and painting, ticked all my boxes.

From his teenage tags, Maser soon incorporated typography, letterforms and sign painting into his street work and after studying visual communication at art school his work transitioned to graphic representation and geometric abstraction.

About which he told Berlin Art LinkIt’s very different now, but that could be because I’ve changed too. It was a lot simpler when I started — you wrote your name on a wall, in as many places and as stylized as possible. It was a hobby then, taking up more and more of my time until I realized that I’m an artist and ‘this is what I do. This sub-culture has become something much bigger than I could have imagined, I feel blessed to be a part of it. Exciting times are ahead.

And part of those exciting times has seen Maser travel the world from Australia to Berlin, from the Czech Republic to New York for commissions, residencies and exhibitions. Due to the nature of his work a camera is an import tool in his painter’s arsenal.

As he has said “Photography is essential. Because I work mainly in the public space, anything can happen once I leave the piece. It’s exposed to the elements. Sometimes the photo becomes more precious than the piece. 95% of my outdoor work from over the past 16 years no longer exists. All I have is the photo.

As Maser’s career trajectory moves from the open to the confined so does his presentation of the work.

Maser explained the difference between these approaches with regard to his Olympus Photography commission held in Berlin’s former opera workshop, the Opernwerkstätten. I like to see people react, take notice, and maybe question why it’s there. It especially works in public space because it doesn’t belong there. Space like the Olympus Photography Playground is different, because people come expecting to see art, so I like the idea of narrating their movement by creating an art environment. The piece only has its true purpose when people engage with it and within it.

Be that on the street or in the gallery.

Maser’s latest gallery exhibition Orbiting on the Periphery is currently on show at London’s Lazarides gallery until the 5th of May.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Conceptual Fashion Design

“Submerging yourself in non-stop art morning to night,
is the best thing you can do for artistic growth.

Erik Jones

The American mixed media portrait artist, who describes his work as conceptual fashion design, Erik Jones realized he had an artistic talent when, whilst still in short pants, his mother proclaimed him to be the next Pablo Picasso.

As he explained to Supersonic Arts Zach Tutor “The first time I knew I could draw was around the age of 6 or 7. I vividly remember eating a bag of Cheetos, looking at the cheetah on the package and thinking, “I can draw that.” I sat down with a #2 pencil, some loose leaf newsprint paper and 4 hours later, after meticulous shading and erasing, emerged a well-defined Chester Cheeto. My mom found the drawing and proclaimed me as the next Pablo Picasso. It was her enthusiasms which made me realize I had some sort of talent.

After obtaining his BA in illustration from the Ringling College of Art and Design in 2007, Jones traveled the country earning his daily bread from cover illustration work and exhibiting at comic conventions. After two years on the road Jones reached his ultimate destination, New York.

As he recalls “It was a spur of the moment kind of thing. I moved with $81 in my pocket, a garbage bag full of clothes and a computer. I’ve never looked back. It was one of those things where I felt like I just had to do it. I wasn’t getting any younger and all my dreams and aspirations were based out of New York, primarily gallery work. I was able to move because of the jobs I was getting in comics. Comics have never been a passion of mine, actually not even a hobby. However, the bright colors and strong line quality in my older work lent itself to comics and they took me in with open arms. I made a living by doing cover work and showing at comic conventions all around the United States. Fun for a while but it was tiresome doing something I didn’t have my heart into completely.”

Once in New York Jones concentrated on creating works specifically for galleries and in late 2012 early 2013 he found a voice that resonated.

As he explained “In late 2012 I was asked to create a body of work for a show here in New York. I took it as my chance to focus my creative explorations to one specific “style.” It was in the middle of creating this new body of work that I found an aesthetic I wanted to cultivate. The piece that made it all click was Armor (see below). An extremely large piece this painting was extremely challenging and yet so much fun to do. The arrangement of the forms cladding the figure were originally meant just as graphic, nonrepresentational elements with no distinct purpose other than to simply heighten the beauty of the figure. The forms have now evolved to something that could resemble conceptual fashion design. Which is where I’d like to take these concepts/paintings.

Jones’ current exhibition Twenty Sixteen is on show at New York’s Jonathan LeVine Gallery until the 30 of April.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

For Now, It’s the South West

We run the risk of losing our culture if we base all of our joy and importance
on reality TV and the entertainment industry.
Logan Maxwell Hagege

The Los Angeles based artist Logan Maxwell Hagege is inspired by the American Indians of Southern California, their art and the landscape they inhabit which his depictions of have been described as “a unique contemporary vision of traditional western subject matter.”

As he explained to the ArtBookGuy’s  Michael K. Corbin “I'm not Native American. I think it’s a really interesting culture. Art has been such an important part of their culture. Even before anything was being made to sell, the early tribes were making pottery with amazing painted designs. Everything from Kachina dolls to weavings that are great. The simplified design is really interesting to me.

Hagege’s artistic journey began tracing characters from comic books as a child and after a flirtation with animation he decided fine art was where his future lay.

As he has said “I started doodling as a kid. I believe it was during second or third grade on weekly trips to the library that I started. Instead of reading, I began to trace pictures out of the, "How to draw Marvel Comics" book. It wasn't until after high school that I started to get really serious about studying art… I got really serious about art when I started to study figure drawing and painting from life at Associates in Art, in Los Angeles. When I started studying there, I was interning at an animation studio. I quickly learned that I wasn't interested in the animation industry and wanted to focus on fine art. I definitely felt a sense of mission when I started to get serious about learning to draw and paint better.”

A family dive through the desert to visit his grandmother introduced Hagege to the subject matter that was to become the mainstay of his work.

About which he has said “I was inspired by the simplicity of the desert, which is what I am attracted to in art. The desert became a subject because of its bold, simple characteristics… I lived in the Northeast for a few years and on Cape Cod for a bit. I did paint landscapes of that region as well as some fishermen as subjects. But, while living there, I still painted Southwestern Landscapes and portraits.

Now in his mid-thirties and pretty much pigeon-holed as ‘a Western artist’ it may not be always so.

As he says “I'm not really concerned with the tags or categories that people may put me in. I don't approach a painting with the thought, "I'm a Western artist, what should I paint to fit that mold?" Instead, I paint whatever I want and whatever I'm inspired by. I paint all kinds of subjects and themes. Some of what I paint I do for myself and other work is seen by the public. As an artist, it is important for me to paint what I want.”

Hagege’s current exhibition The West is on show at Culver City’s Maxwell Alexander Gallery until the 7th of May. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

A Young Talent

"I'm just a girl who pursued her love of painting."
Autumn de Forest

It is a rare distinction for a 14-year-old to be given a solo museum exhibition, but such is the case for the Las Vegas based painter Autumn de Forest. About whom the Butler Institute of American Art’s director, Louis Zona, has said Autumn de Forest is by any measure, a child prodigy.”

De Forest made her first painting, Equator (see above) when she was five.

As she told Key Magazine’s Bailey Powell “What really happened was one day in my late five I went out and I found my dad in the garage staining some wood because sometimes he makes furniture for the house. I said, “Could I experiment a little bit?” And he said sure, so I experimented and realized that it’s so fun! You can express yourself, you can use your imagination, and in just that little time I wanted to change the world for the better. After that wonderful experience I thought, how about painting?”

Her father was impressed with his daughters first effort.

As told the Tampa Bay Times’ Terri Bryce Reeves "It was simple, but I felt, profound. It looked like a Rothko."

Along with his wife, they nurtured their only child’s talent giving her museum quality materials and a steady supply of art books. Within a year de Forest rewarded their indulgence with an art-in-the-park exhibition. Others were impressed with her talent and by the time she was eleven her father estimates she had grossed over a million dollars.

As she explained to the Daily Beast “I started out letting the paintbrush guide me, seeing what popped up in my head or seeing what I could create just by jumping into it. Then, as I had more experience and did more research, I realized I loved taking classic paintings and throwing in some of my personality and making it my own.”

The inevitable celebrity status that followed has seen de Forest appear on television, speak at Harvard University and be commissioned by Disney to create a series of Disney Princess paintings amongst other accolades. And throughout it all she has displayed a maturity and humility beyond her years.

As she explained to teenswannaknow.comOne thing I have learned is the empowering nature of creativity. It has enabled me to help others and to express my ideas. I can tell you it is a privilege to have people listen to my ideas. I am just a little girl on a big world but through people listening, it has made me hopeful that I might do some good.

Her current exhibition Autumn de Forest: The Tradition Continues is on show at Ohio’s Butler Institute of American Art until the 26th of June.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Sculpture as Concept

“The body is going but the mind is okay, so I will just keep using it.
When it goes I’ll be the last to notice.” 
Lawrence Weiner

The 73-year-old American artist Lawrence Weiner is widely referred to as “a seminal Conceptual artist.” It is a label he dislikes.

As he explained to The Art News Paper’s Louisa Buck “The Conceptual artist moniker makes no sense to me. I don’t like the term. I think it was created by some people who wanted to make sure their work was differentiated from other artists. Why not just say Sculptor? I never quite understand why the shit hits the fan when sculpture is presented in the form of language.”

A point he expounded upon with Dazed Magazine’s Harry Thorne “In relation to sculpture, there’s some kind of miscomprehension that inevitably sculpture is static. In fact, it’s not, it can and will affect things. It gets back to the old Ad Reinhardt thing: you can tell it’s sculpture because when you turn off the lights you trip on it. And anything I make, you can push it out the way but if you remember it, the concept itself, you’ll trip on it – one hopes.

And it is a hope that shops worldwide. As the New York Time’s art critic Roberta Smith said of Weiner’s Whitney Museum of American Art’s 2007 retrospective As Far as the Eye Can SeeHe folds together the skills of a Russian Constructivist graphic designer, a Socratic philosopher, a Dada-Fluxus joker, a Concrete poet and a Madison Avenue ad executive with an astute sense of both semiotics and public display.”

Which he presents as cryptic and/or suggestive phrases often with witty twist over walls, ceilings and floors that leaves or even demands the viewer’s imagination to fill in the blanks. A situation that puts Weiner at odds with the commercial art market as he ignores the production and manufacture of salable objects.

About which he has said “I don’t have a problem with this, and so I ended up with genteel poverty as a choice… We should not confuse the conversation of the art world with the art market… when that becomes the playing field, then the conversation turns into who’s better than who, or who has more value, when the conversation should be about who has more use.”

Weiner’s current exhibition Made to Be is on show at Los Angeles’ Regan Projects until the 7th of May.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

A Photographic Journey

“It’s like being a juggler, you keep trying to put more balls in there.”
Roger Ballen

With a BA in psychology, a MS in geology and a PhD in Mineral Economics the South African based American photographer Roger Ballen was 13 when he got his first camera from his Magnum member mother. It was a gift that has kept on giving for Ballen as he pursued his mining career in parallel with his photography. As he delved into the ground he concurrently delved into his own psyche.

As he told the Guide to Unique Photograph’s Katherine Matthews “There was something implicit in what I was doing that fitted my personality, fitted the things that I was contending with psychologically. So, I could make the leap between looking at the earth surface and trying to project inward to the type of things that motivated me in my photography. Yeah, that’s probably why I really enjoyed that profession, even though the profession is a science, and a business, and it’s environmentally destructive as well. But there was something very linked to my personality and linked to the type of issues that were driving me to do photographs.”

Over a span of 50 odd years Ballen’s black and white documentary style has remained constant while his subject matter has progressed from his early landscape works to his confrontational psycho-drama explorations into the darker reaches of the human condition.  

As he explained to American Photo’s Marc Erwin Babej “It’s always been part of my photography and psychology to reveal the more basic aspects of the human personality: violence, the will to power, sexual domination. And above all, that most fundamental of human instincts: survival.

Although Ballen contends that his photographs aren’t dark so much as an illumination of the shadows “If you go into a supermarket, nobody’s upset with the 500 dead chickens there. Or go into the sushi restaurant where tuna are being destroyed in the interest of natural foods. It’s everywhere. So, that’s what I’m saying: when people see it as dark, they should see it as a revelation that is actually the reality that is pervading the planet and pervading most of their behavior,” he says.

His exploration of a subject can and often does take five or more years to complete, a mile stone that is marked by the publication of a book.

About which Ballen says “I work in a very disciplined way; I don’t rush anything. I’m not there to please anybody, I’m just taking these pictures for myself. I’m not there to please a publisher, or make a deadline. I’ve been doing this the same way for 50 years, this is the way I do things, this is why I’ve stuck to it, and this is why I’m committed to it, because it’s been my own journey.

Ballen’s current exhibition The House Project is on show at Cape Town’s Galley Momo until the 28th of April.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

The Female Voice

“The painting, and my experience in the studio
— and I think most painters would say this —
is really all there is.
The rest of it is fluff.
Louise Fishman

Whilst for the American abstract painter Louise Fishman the exploration of being a woman, a lesbian and a Jew may have driven her painting, it is her works revelatory ability that has sustained her practice.

As she told the Brooklyn Rail’s Sharon Butler “One thing I will not do is make paintings that don’t teach me something. I often destroy something—not destroy it and throw it away, but scrape it down or repaint it or something, unless it really does something that’s like, “Oh!” and teaches me something.

Fishman grew up in Philadelphia with her mother Gertrude Fisher-Fishman and her aunt Razel Kapustin who were both recognized painters in their own right. And whilst she claimed little influence form them saying “I don’t think I’ve really paid attention to the connections with my mother and aunt. I’ve always said, “Oh yeah, they were painters but I wasn’t interested in what they were doing.” A joint exhibition in 2012 at the Woodmere Art Museum Generations: Louise Fishman, Gertrude Fisher-Fishman, and Razel Kapustin forced Fishman to re-evaluate their influence.

As she explained “That is so striking to me now; during the last few months as William Valerio, the director of the Woodmere Art Museum, began putting the works together by the three of us, my mother, my aunt, and myself, I was stunned by the connections he was able to make. He has worked hard to restore Razel’s reputation. She was a major artist in Philadelphia and he’s told me things that even I never knew about her. He has pointed out things visually that I had never seen.”

Both of the elder women were figurative artists, her aunt in particular. As Fishman told Artsy’s Alexxa Gotthardt “My aunt didn’t believe in abstraction because Pollock was in her class with Siqueiros. According to her, Siqueiros used enamel way before Pollock, and Pollock just stole his ideas.”

Ignoring this advice Fishman became an abstract painter ranging from minimalism to expressionism. It was during the 1960’s and 70’s that she embraced Feminism and came out as gay. In part due to the male dominance of art history.

As she said “there’s not one woman in these books. Mary Cassatt wasn’t even there. And I thought, ‘I must be a fake, because everybody in this group of painters I was friends with were men.’ And then I thought, ‘That’s it. I’m gonna start from scratch, and I’m gonna do only what comes out of me and is not identified with a male artist… My work changed a lot around then, and what changed it most dramatically was being involved in the women’s movement—I found my voice there.”

And it’s a voice that still resonates today, although with a prevailing caveat “If I couldn’t introduce new experiences, materials, ideas into my work, I would be bored and there would be no reason for me to continue.

Her current exhibition Louise Fishman: A Retrospective is on show at Purchase Collage’s Neuberger Museum of Art until the 31st of July.