In Both/And, Maureen O’Leary’s exhibition on view at Cristin Tierney Gallery through May 27, the artist presents a cinematic body of narrative imagery engaging with moments of stillness in nature and in her subjects’ everyday lives. Drawing on modern portraiture and fusing these impulses within the contemplation embedded within the everyday, O’Leary’s ability to evoke stillness in her subjects is indicative of both her competence as a painter and her discerning knowledge of art history. Focusing in this exhibition review on the figurative paintings on view, it is apparent that the artist presents everyday scenes subtly removed from the digital realm. This adds a timeless quality to the imagery in these compositions. One result of this careful presentation is that artist’s portraits and landscapes manage to slow the eye, effectively expressing the psychological charge infusing these painted scenes. The artist’s works freeze individual moments in time, distinctly separating each out from a successive series of events to instead simmer and soak in the silence of these specific snapshots.
In works such as Commuter Platform with Dogwood (My Mother) and High Rise Neighbor, the artist isolates individuals, presenting them within a seemingly static scene. These works maintain a dialogue with an existing impulse in art theory toward slowly digesting the image presented to the viewer, known as the Slow Art movement. In addition, O’Leary’s tendency to present the individual framed within a clearly defined landscape continues the visual lexicon ignited during Modern French painting of the Second Empire: the imagery which defines a potent individualism in painting, overthrowing the prevailing trend of genre painting prevalent at the time.
Arthur P. Shimumura, PhD documented the Slow Art Movement in an article for Psychology Today in 2014. The author outlines that “…the Slow Art movement is grounded on the premise that one should savor artworks in a conscious and deliberate manner rather than simply gulp each one down as “eye candy.” Phil Terry conceived the idea in 2014 when he spent hours at the Jewish Museum in New York focusing primarily on two abstract paintings—Hans Hoffman’s Fantasia and Jackson Pollock’s Convergence.” (1) Aligned with Shimamura’s assertions that one should savor artworks “in a conscious and deliberate manner,” O’Leary’s paintings employ two distinct formal qualities which support a conscious recognition of the imagery presented in her works. In the aforementioned works, the artist renders her subjects in outlines that are clearly defined and distinct from their surroundings. The figure is presented in a different color, contrasting their individual bodies from the nearby environment. The artist also takes the additional step of presenting individual figures who are wrapped in themselves rather than engaging in conversation or activity with any nearby figures. Whether walking alone, pensively, or smoking a cigarette, O’Leary paints her subjects with a deliberate focus on their introspection, encouraging a conscious means of engaging with the composition for her viewer.
Stephen Eisenmann in the historical survey text, Nineteenth Century Art: A Critical History, denotes that the origins of modern painting were formed during the salons held at the of the French Second Empire. The author notes the shift in consciousness espoused by painters at the time, revealing that “Individualism and commodified consciouness – masked and justified by a crude ideology of Naturalism….replaced history painting.” Among the French painters of the mid-1850s, individualism prevailed as a means of expressing unique identity, as Eisenmann specifies that among these French Second Empire artists, ”Individualism was dialectally refined to include both personal autonomy and the popular collectivity,” thus ushering in Modernism in France at close of the Second Empire. (2)
This since ingrained sense of individualism informed many of the earliest photographs and films emerging during the 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly in Western traditions. It is this persistent sense of framing an individual’s psychological experience of the world around them that infuses Maureen O’Leary’s works in Both/And with a potent sense of self-awareness. In Scholar on a Tour, a figure is wrapped in reading an article, seemingly oblivious, on a hero’s journey toward attaining a personal sense of truth and understanding of one aspect of their lived reality – while remaining distant from their physical surroundings. This rapturous, analog sense of self-involvement with reading material in a town square exudes a cinematic sense of discovery, a Cindy Sherman-esque vignette framed within de Chirico-style environs.
In Both/And, the artist brings a keen awareness of the subject to light via a careful attention to color and composition, allowing for a reframing of our experience as viewers capable of navigating this nuanced understanding of stillness in action in contemporary painting.
Both/And : a solo show of works by Maureen O’Leary, remains on view at Cristin Tierney Gallery, 219 Bowery Fl 2 in Manhattan through Friday May 27th.
At the onset of the pandemic, artist Rachael Wren spent more time than usual in nature looking at trees – noticing the subtleties of space and her relationship to it. The constants of the square canvas and gridded plane provide a stable ground for experimentation with other variables such as mark-making, color, line and shape. While ostensibly about trees, these eleven new paintings -completed in the past two years – depict various arrangements of vertical trunks cropped at the top and stripped of branches and leaves. Yet, the underlying gridlines, left visible amid the overlying composition, hint at something more complex. Wren’s use of the tree and the grid provide the scaffolding around which she constructs her richly nuanced conversations about atmosphere as subject. Wren’s paintings convey a sense of proprioception, or kinaesthesia, in wooded spaces she shares with viewers. This is brought to bear in the gallery, along with the visitor’s relationships to the space and paintings within. These connections are heightened by Rick Wester’s sensitive installation.
Anchoring the exhibit from opposing ends of the gallery are two 72″ square canvases, “Already There” and “Thicket.” The large format is a breakthrough for Wren who generally paints in a 48” or 36” square. Moving up in size enhances the experience of physically entering the fictive space of the painting while concomitantly establishing a relationship to the architecture of the gallery and the other paintings. “Thicket” with its greenish-gray palette draws us into the receding space of a dense composition filled with hazy, foggy light from a source on the left. The trees recede into a darker space on the right, giving viewers an opening to enter the wooded scene. “Already There” is more open spatially with an energetic orange palette that shifts in a gradient to blue-gray moving to the top of the painting. The brushstrokes are loose, barely held together by the freely rendered verticals of the trees. The tension is palpable, as if the trees are on the verge of dissolution, merging into the space around them.
Highlights of the show include “Encounter” which seems to glow from within. The large, cantilevered brushstrokes sit atop one another like haphazardly stacked children’s blocks about to topple. This work functions like a visual retort to “Already There” with its loose verticals. “Spring Rain” shows Wren’s penchant for dispersing space as well as her newly expanded visual vocabulary. Introducing new shapes such as quasi-quatrefoils, overlapping horizontals and verticals, and amorphous ‘blotches,’ the composition becomes more abstract than the others. Wren deftly uses a softly contrasting palette of green, gray and lavender to moor the looseness of her gestures and unify the work.
The visual proximity of Wren’s paintings enables one to see the incredible array of atmospheric conditions observed and Wren’s rich lexicon that masterfully depicts the void as subject. As one moves through Still It Grows, fleeting moments in nature are captured for quiet contemplation; dappled sunlight through spring leaves, the enveloping mist of a humid morning, fog rolling through the forest or the dawn’s gentle side light cutting through a copse. Wren is a master of giving form to the formless in these mindfully conceived and unhurriedly executed paintings that must be experienced in person to fully appreciate their complexity and eloquent impressions of atmospheric conditions.
Two separate exhibitions hold court at AHA Fine Art with both Queen Andrea in Letters Forever and Cern and Nola Romano in Urban Encounters through March 13, 2022. AHA Fine Art (56 Bogart Street in Brooklyn) hosts these exhibitions, both of which span the range of physical space in a scale reminiscent of urban art found across the streets of New York City.
Queen Andrea is a prolific artist whose installations feature prominently throughout the five boroughs. Queen Andrea (aka Andrea von Bujdross) was drawn to the growing field of street art in 1990s New York City in her early teens. She cut her teeth with some of the most daring street artists working in the urban area. Her intuitive grasp of a color theory, stenciling and a strongly cultivated personal aesthetic leave a strong impression on visitors to Letters Forever. A prolific fine artist, muralist and designer, visitors have plenty to digest — from her masterful use of organic line, circular and curved elements and carefully applied gradient.
Works such as “Believe” (2022) and “Flourish” (2022) (above) offer positive messages that are presented in bright neon colors across sweeping backdrops. “Flourish” offers a scale in dialogue with her public murals, with cotton-candy tones spanning the canvas in gradients spanning from navy to cornflower blue to burnt sienna. The artist presents powerful meditations on transformation in these recent paintings, harnessing inspiration across multiple formats, including jewelry, sculpture and painting.
Meanwhile, the opposing gallery walls feature a double exhibition of works by Cern and Nola Romano. Entitled Urban Encounters, the show presents figurative works presented in bright colors, with distinctive styles presented that are unique to each artist. As per gallerist Francesca Arcilesi, “Cern is the type of artist whose life and craft are intensely intertwined. The wall, panel or canvas act as an expression of a much deeper, layered mantra and perspective on how to go through life. His art consists of abstract, smooth, blended lines with elements of clearly defined edges and imagery.” This tension between Impressionism and Street art remains present throughout Cern’s artworks on view, creating a harmonious effect that invites the visitor to linger, discovering beautiful, illusory details in these poignant compositions.
Nola Romano’s works balance the personal and the universal, the delicate and the resilient. Her works, primarily acrylic on wood panel, present the complexity of the world: both the idealism of the world to be and the persistent reality of longing, fear and dread. Her portraits of young girls and figures with fantastical attributes create a sense a magical realism, heightened by the visual texture she creates in this painterly vignettes. These paintings communicate transience and endurance in equal measure, presenting the beauty in the world around us through the lens of fantasy.
Make sure not to miss Letters Forever and Urban Encounters in its final weekend on view at AHA Fine Art, 56 Bogart St, from 1-6 pm through March 13.
Artist Pamela Casper’s Earthscapes: Emerging to a Brighter World, on view now at Reeves-Reed Arboretum in Summit, NJ, honors the power that nature has to inspire, to awe, and to overwhelm. Casper is able to capture, ”a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower,” in the words of Romantic poet William Blake. In many ways Casper’s solo show, a mini-retrospective for the artist, brilliantly captures that wondrous sense of natural awe redolent of the Romantic movement, with a nuanced portrayal of natural phenomenon at turns imaginative and insightful. Casper’s works on view span mediums ranging from works on paper to mixed media and sculpture, offering visitors a varied means of engaging with the environment.
Works such as ”Roots and Insects,” ”Gothic Underground,” and ”Underground Glow” allow guests to burrow down into the impression the artist has created of roots expanding deep underground. Rich jewel tones and minuscule, detailed lines trace the most powerful and life-sustaining part of a tree: its root system. Casper’s paintings evoke what they don’t show, giving the impression of destiny with lush, painterly brushstrokes hinting at the rich ecosystem lying just out of view of the human eye.
In addition to the artist’s Tornado series (see cover photo) which brings to life the transformative power of nature and calls into question our tenuous relationship as stewards of the environment, the artist also works with reclaimed materials. ”Abandoned Nest” re-imagines barbed wire as a bird’s nest, painting a bleak future for a world in which scant natural materials are available for creatures to depend on. The sharp angles jutting across one another are juxtaposed with a bird’s feather: a reminder of what’s left for us to lose unless we begin reimagining ways to provide for a sustainable environmental future.
Pamela Casper’s ”Earthscapes: Emerging to a Brighter World” is on view at the Reeves-Reed Arboretum’s Wisner House in Summit, NJ, until October 31st, 2021. Check the Arboretum’s website for hours and special events before attending: https://www.reeves-reedarboretum.org/visit/ .
Earthly Delights winning artist Chantel Ness in conversation with Show & Telephone’s Madeline Walker & Audra Lambert
Thanks Chantel for chatting with us! What about the theme of the open call “Earthly Delights” caught your attention in relation to your artistic practice?
While contemplating the theme of “Earthly Delights”, I was drawn to the notions of clearing and culling to make room for growth and new creation. My artistic practice materialized as a direct result of pandemic isolation. I had been caught in a cycle of overexertion and perpetual burn-out: chasing career achievements for fulfillment. Only once I removed the superficial distractions of my work life was I able to peer inward to discover a well-spring of latent creativity and find my place as an artist. This has been a season to release those patterns and behaviors that once felt so important, but now appear redundant, trivial or even inflammatory.
One of my larger works – “Spring Training: The World Without Us” – was inspired by reading Alan Wesiman’s article “Earth Without People” and his follow-up non-fiction book. His thought-experiment on depopulation prompted me to contemplate the possibility we may never return to the outside world as it was pre-pandemic. This piece imagines an Earth devoid of any future human interference or destruction. Left only with remnants of our infrastructure, the flora and fauna are given space to thrive and evolve into newer, more resilient forms. What could be possible if we surrendered control and let life happen organically?
In “Conservation of Greatness”, I celebrate “Earthly Delights” through the simple freedom of play outdoors. The purest pleasure can be found in fresh cut grass, a warm breeze and connection to the body in coordinated motion. The fusion of indoor/outdoor spaces suggests a disintegration of confinement. The wistful longing for a return to open-air interactions is a base human compulsion: a prescription for fear and isolation.
Can you give us insight into how your upbringing and experience living in rural areas in Canada influenced your work, for example with Controlled Burn?
I hail from a remote town in Northern Saskatchewan called Meadow Lake. It is known for being a vast and empty space populated only by those tough enough to stand the unforgiving winters by playing hockey. In my upbringing, there was such an emphasis on athletics at the detriment of artistic or cultural pursuits. For a time I grappled with self-pity at my interests being swept aside before ultimately embracing my unique positioning. I had been a spectator for long enough to know the world of sports intimately, but maintain the outsider’s vantage point necessary to expand the discourse of athletics through contemporary art. As a way of entering into dialogue with those around me, I use sport as an accessible medium to approach deeper themes of importance to me. I revel at the chance to take subject matter traditionally perceived as “low-brow” and elevate it to a topic worthy of artistic contemplation.
My piece “Controlled Burn” was motivated by the boreal backdrop of my “wildhood”. Taking the life cycle of the tree as a metaphor for ideation: from germination to maturation, with stages of revision and deconstruction before emerging as a finished article. In wildland management, a controlled burn is essential to maintaining the health of a forest or grassland ecosystem. Whether with the intention to re-wild an area that was once urbanized or as a preventative measure, a prescribed burn can mitigate future hazards. While seemingly a violent and destructive act, the burn reveals the soil’s mineral layer and stimulates seed germination. To me, this serves as a poignant symbol as we set about emerging from our pandemic state. Perhaps without the proverbial heat, we might not have undergone this integral process of examination. The Timbersport depicted in this piece is called a “Spring Chop” – apt for my ruminations on the theme.
You have mentioned forest fires and your relationship to individuals working in that industry, can you elaborate on how this impacts your work?
In my community, which is predominantly First Nations, there is a tragic lack of economic growth and development. A trend emerged where persons in dire circumstances were inclined to light forest fires simply to be hired on a team paid to extinguish the fires. In the most extreme cases, these infernos would become uncontrolled causing unintended destruction of homes and infrastructure. My father, a Conservation Officer, became an Arson Fire Investigator tasked with discovering the sources of ignition. His involvement with these blazes educated me not only on fire prevention and management but of systemic inequality for Indigenous Peoples. Recently in Kamloops British Columbia, the bodies of 215 First Nations children were found buried on the site of a Catholic Residential School. Weighing heavy on my heart, the stone border painted on “Controlled Burn” contains 215 markers representing each of those victims. Canada has been broken for a very long time and only now are steps being taken toward reconciliation.
I find some topics are too painful to approach directly. I prefer instead to deploy unusual and humorous contexts to make work that toes the line between lighthearted and sincere. Disguised in a visually optimistic language, my work draws on the various tensions in my sphere of consciousness. Finding a way to constructively parse thoughts of racial inequality, gender disparity, extremism, climate crisis and mental health has been vital to my practice.
What do you have ongoing and/or upcoming that you can share with us?
Prior to taking up painting, I made a career in Interior Design. I think you can see traces of my former métier bleeding into my compositions. A friend of mine has taken over an iconic Sports Bar in Montreal, I have been joyfully commissioned to provide artwork and imprint my design sensibilities. Sneak preview: hand-painted wallpaper depicting former Montreal Expos baseball players in PlayGirl poses. I have been delighted how my practice has built a bridge to other humans: both artists and sports fans in equal measure. To have my voice as a female artist represented in a traditionally male-dominated space is supremely satisfying.
Once COVID restrictions ease, I dream of staging my first solo exhibition “Sports: Illustrated”. Being confined to my loft for the last 16 months has yielded a robust body of work and a yearning to share my work with others in a physical space. Until then, I continue with my self-taught practice, untangling ideas on canvas including some larger-scale pieces currently in progress.
The artist can be found at her website – Chantel Ness, www.minorleagues.xyz and on Instagram: @minor_leagues. -Ed.s
On view through July 4th at Peninsula Art Space in Red Hook, Brooklyn,TORQUE brings a heightened attention to surface detail and the painterly gesture. The show’s title notes of torque that it “is the driving force for all human movement,” and paintings on view form a dialogue around how transitions and movement are expressed in painting. Works on view are by artists Craig Taylor, Georgia Elrod, Graham Durward and Allison Evans. From the painterly figurative stylings of Graham Durward to the jagged aggregations of brushstrokes by Craig Taylor, TORQUE offers a survey of painting that intimates and suggests more than it ultimately reveals.
Durward’s compositions contrast figures against seemingly idyllic backdrops, creating ambiguous figures inhabiting unsettling scenes. Off into the distance, a rising plume of smoke draws attention away from this close cadre of figures cavorting together, inserting another narrative into the scene that feels far removed from the vacation vista presented at first glance.
The scale of works on view also makes a strong impact, with works such as Georgia Elrod’s “Midnight Oils” overwhelming the viewer and beckoning them forward seemingly into a new dimension as they enter the space. The human figure is present throughout the exhibition, but these subjects are seemingly erased from view and/or presented in fragments. Works by Allison Evans form a cheeky commentary by filtering subversive figurative elements through the lens of historical elements such as Grecian urns, painting these in flat yet expressive brushstrokes. Craig Taylor’s works indicates his deft brushwork as a painter, allowing the surface of his paintings to seemingly expand outward through implied movement away from the picture plane.
TORQUE at Peninsula Art Space is open from 12-7 pm on Saturdays and Sundays, and is located at 352 Van Brunt Street at Sullivan Street. Check out their website for more details on their exhibits: http://www.peninsulaartspace.com/ .
Artist Candace Jensen traces illuminated pathways through history, fine art, ecologies and landscapes. She is a self-proclaimed “interdisciplinary visual artist, writer, printmaker, calligrapher, activist and woods witch,” invested in a practice rooted in precepts of Deep Ecology. A Vermont-based artist, Jensen’s practice assimilates a rich range of inspirations, from illuminated manuscripts to poetry, environmental impact, mythology and fictions. As part of this conversation with the artist, a top prize winner of the “Alchemy” open call curated by Writer, Independent Curator and Wedge Studio Owner/Founder Douglas Turner, Jensen shares her reading list in tandem with her current body of work, its concepts and evolution, and a look forward at what’s to come: https://www.candacejensen.com/
(lead image: “Deconstructed Yantra: Gold, Red, White” by Candace Jensen; gold leaf, gouache, inkjet ink on plastic transfer and bronze leaf on paper 11” x 15” (2017))
ANTE mag. Thanks for chatting with us, Candace! Can you tell us what you’re currently reading (as a point of entry into your practice)?
Candace Jensen. Wow that is such a question. My TBR (to be read*-Ed.) stacks are plentiful, and I am a serial polytome reader. I should just send you a bunch of snappy pics of my coffee table, bedside table, the side of the couch the dog doesn’t sleep on… I just finished Mark Leidner’s Returning the Sword to the Stone, and Maria Dahvana Headley’s new translation of Beowulf in the wee hours of the night. They were both wry, and smart and very funny. Cindy Arrieu-King’s new book, The In Betweens, is a slim volume which has nonetheless lasted me a few weeks— she has such a wonderfully deliberate pace to her accounts, which all hover near the anecdotal but stay rooted in the contemplative, or vice-versa. So I’ve been sitting with that one for a while, chewing. I’ve begun reading Kate Soper’s Post-Growth Living: For An Alternate Hedonism, and Nedra Tawwab’s Set Boundaries, Find Peace, for theory and enrichment, but haven’t gotten far enough yet to report much on either (it’s looking good). My guilty-but-not-ashamed pleasure right now is the webcomic Lore Olympus by Rachel Smythe, which I anticipate every Saturday evening… I’ll stop there.
ANTE mag.We were hoping you could expand on the question: what has the artist to offer? Way-finding, escapism, mythical creation, distraction, contemplation, or exploration?
CJ. I am very attracted to this word group, and three triangulate to my work quite well: Way-finding, Mythical Creation, Contemplation. In a piece like Parzival, these are both my process and the verve of the finished piece. It was a messy throwaway scrap drawing, and it moved with me numerous times over a few years before it suddenly materialized into exactly what I needed as a vehicle for the grail myth, which I only recently became enamored with after reading more about it through Martin Shaw’s work.
I’m channeling myths, and echoing myths, and in this way I am hoping to create myths. But mythology by and large seems to me to be a “everything old is new again” kind of thing. They will always be read by the voice of the Zeitgeist, and can be appropriated and disrespected or exalted and magnified by our interest and lack therof.
I think about the meaning of the work a lot in terms of the materials I use: of course, paper is incredibly precious, but we culturally treat it as if it were worthless. The environmental cost of paper-making and the sheer magic of its history in so many different cultural contexts, really it should be revered. But we tear it, trash it, recycle it occasionally. So in a drawing, it can be elevated out of its presumed worthlessness, the lead state, but that requires the contemplation and reflection upon it.
The layers of my illuminations are something to look through, and see around. There is some digging involved, if the viewer is patient. The chance that a person viewing my work will pause to really figure out the language and the layering is about one in twelve, I’ve watched and counted. So there is also a barrier to some people to even get to the point of being able to think through some of the materials I am presenting.
ANTE mag.Can you respond to/speak more on this reflection?: “These ‘Gaia Illuminations’ are chimeras of ecological relationship theory, practiced and recorded systems of knowledge and magic, and both invented and inherited mythology. I investigate nature/culture dualism through the lens of deep ecology, and face my own hopes and skepticisms through layered symbolic and totemic images, organic textures, and text.”
CJ. I am at heart a maximalist, and when I endeavored to casually reinvent calligraphic illumination through the lens of Gaia theory and Deep Ecology, I used that lens. Everything needs to be in it, or reflected, or hinted at, to truly be representative of a Whole large enough that we could consider the Terra entity. So, I don’t weed the garden beds of these illuminations. I plant a few particular seeds, be it a poem or a myth, and then I let a polyculture grow around it without playing gatekeeper (metaphor mixing here, it’s giving me life right now). So the quote above from my artist statement is a dense shorthand for saying “everything including the kitchen sink” and the totality isn’t afraid of itself. The claws are a different animal than the neck and head, but they nonetheless are unified. The result is tricky to read or disentangle, and that is perhaps how it should be— resilience theory emphasizes complexity, diversity, layers, redundancy. And that is not at all the same type of communication we are used to trying for. We are quite used to essaying our damnedest to be understood, to be clear, and are often encouraged to be pithy— no one wants to read your expounding, mile long email. Clarity and simplicity are useful, beautiful, wonderful, or something else, but if the Terrestrial totality is to be the heart of this compendium (series), then it must be much messier and overfilled. The sheer volume of ingredients going into this work overwhelms me, chronic deep thinker that I am. The way the visual poetry of the entanglements hint at, reveal and obfuscate meaning are a way of reflecting, learning and accepting in the end, how little I know, and how small my powers are. Its a humbling process. To think back to the prompt of Alchemy, I suppose the artwork is more the spagyric, the transformational process, and I am the element undergoing its effects. Whether I come out as gold, or dross, is to be seen.
ANTE mag.What do you have upcoming that you can share with us?
CJ. I am juggling a couple of really exciting exhibitions and events this year. On May 13th I will be contributing to an online discussion with a few other very talented and interesting artists through EcoArtSpace, “Getting Off the Planet” at 1pm EST. https://ecoartspace.org/event-4262935I was also awarded a solo exhibition at the Southern Vermont Arts Center in Manchester, VT this summer. There is an opening reception planned (in person! wow) on Saturday, June 12th, and the show will run through July 2021.The planning and construction of the residency I founded with my partner, In Situ Polyculture Commons, continues; we are hoping to be able to announce an opening schedule for sometime in 2022, but in the meantime I have planted dozens of fruit and nut trees and perennials to support an edible landscape for our future guests. Lastly, in hopes that the health of communities abroad stabilize and recover from this last year and a half of pandemic, I will be looking forward to setting sail on the 2021 Arctic Circle Residency voyage in October of this year. Fingers crossed for many reasons!
Editors: Keep up with Candace on her website and/or follow her Instagramfor updates on current and upcoming exhibitions, such as her solo show at the Southern Vermont Arts Center (Summer 2021) and upcoming three-person show at Amos Eno gallery (Spring 2022.)
On view now at The Yard: Flatiron South (234 Fifth Ave) through April 17th, Akeem Duncan’s curatorial magnum opus, “TOGETHER.”, takes center stage, featuring works byMarguerite Wibaux and Dhanashree Gadiyar. The interlocking, tightly executed hybrid of pattern and hue permeate the portraits painted by Wibaux, while Gadiyar’s works on paper astound in complexity and detail. The two artists complement one another in tone, temperament and preciousness. Whether outlining the marvels of the Aurora Borealis or probing the subtle corners of a subject’s smile, these artists focus on wonder, and the connections we seek out that make life meaningful and memorable.
Curator Akeem Duncan (Editor-in-Chief, Quiet Lunch) has come into his own intimate understanding of the space which he is curating, taking time to place paintings in contrast with specific architectural details and with the viewer’s relative position to each artwork in mind. Wibaux’s paintings in particular, with their ornate fabric pattern-inspired swaths directing the viewer’s eye across the canvas, present an interesting opportunity to contrast against white walls and brick in equal measure. Visitors to the exhibition encounter these works, imbued as they are with a playful yet precise air throughout the Yard’s space.
Wibaux’s intimate knowledge of her subject are on display in the captivating in which she paints their emotional state, ranging from anxious to assertive, self-assured to hesitant. The artist’s loose and fluid brushstrokes approximate the subject’s current state, while fabric-inspired patterning flanking each of these portrait subjects brings an alternate reading to the composition. Combined, these two elements create a striking balance in the portrait in an effect that Wibaux notes helps…” to focus on the human figure.” “Generally speaking, my art practice aims to challenge common representations, the way we look at ourselves as a society,” remarks Wibaux. “As an artist I don’t feel I can change the world, but I can help shifting representations. Getting your portrait painted in art history has mostly been a symbol of power. Through my portraits, I want to give power to our young and diverse youth, to give them a voice, to have people really SEE and LISTEN to them.”
Intimate framed paintings by Dhanashree Gadiyar are interspersed throughout the exhibition. Her works frequently depict figures immersed in resplendent landscapes, or brightly colored scenes also capturing bright and undulating patterns. Gadiyar readily reflects on the impact that pattern exerts on her work. “My love for patterning comes from my exposure to the folk art forms of India such as Madhubani, Gond and Patachitra,” explains Gadiyar. “I incorporate these traditional forms of mark-making as well as intuitive and automatic patterning. Also, as a trained embroidery artist, I tend to treat the paper like fabric, filling it in obsessively with my marks.” Also notable is the artist’s use of organic line, curve and color to create rounded and smooth compositions, seemingly expanding off into the distance of the picture plane.
The artist works with watercolor and acrylic on paper, as opposed to canvas, adding a precious quality: a feeling of delicacy. ” I love working on paper,” notes Gadiyar,” since it lets me let go off control and gives me the feeling of freedom.” This freedom is evident in the impression the artist’s works leave on the visitor, who feel emboldened to step into the composition and roam the surroundings themselves.
TOGETHER. is on view at The Yard, Flatiron South by appointment through mid-April. Please email curator Akeem Duncan to schedule a visit: email@example.com
ANTE mag is proud to shine a spotlight on the dedicated artists who are exerting an impact in the art world in 2021. From ongoing or upcoming solo exhibitions, to gaining recognition through artist talks, recognitions, awards and international residencies, these are some of the top artists we have an eye on as we move into the new year.
Below we center on the second group of artists forming our 21 artists selected for 2021. Each artist has images included with their respective coverage below, but click through to their websites linked through their name in the header to view more of their practice and familiarize yourself with your favorites!
Lead image: Medusa Green Screen, Oil and Watercolor on Canvas, 24″ x 30″, image courtesy artist Rina Goldfield.
ANTE mag. You’ve been busy participating in digital performance series (such as INVERSE) in 2020 and co-edited a book that launched last month. How do you feel your artistic practice has shifted in light of less in-person performance and more digital and editorial work happening during the pandemic?
AE. Well, I had to admit Institution is a Verb which I co edited with Elizabeth Lamb, Tsedaye Makonnen, and Esther Neff (who was the main organizer of the project and founder of PPL – the performance space that the project largely archives), was in planning long before the pandemic hit. I was also included in We Are Here: Visionaries of Color Transforming the Art World edited by Jasmin Hernandez, which is available Feb 2nd, but that also was planned a couple years before it came out… so to some people this looks like a pandemic shift in my practice, but in truth those projects just happen to be coming out now, at a time that is perfect for staying home and reading! Pre-pandemic I had been thinking a lot about how archiving (not just photos but written archives) can help elevate performance art, that’s why book ideas and catalogue contributions were on my to-do list.
As for how my performances shifted… maybe thats a more complex answer. I performed a lot on Instagram and Zoom throughout 2020. Early on (March/April) I decided that worrying about having an audience was not going to help me artistically. I decided that it was best to focus on what you CAN DO online in performances that you cannot do in a live performance. For example, I can’t spit into the faces of audience members or expect them to get extremely close to my eyeballs* (*right now) but that can happen on camera. I also showed every area of my tiny apartment online, usually destroying it in some way because I have a lot of pent-up anger. Vulnerability became more important as did looking into the camera. Normally when I perform I don’t look at the camera at all. It happens to be there to document the event, but I feel the important part is the feeling that is given to the audience in person… suddenly in quarantine it became about the feeling given to the audience through the camera. Not to say I felt like I was acting, but more like I used to camera to get my point I was also sick a lot and then went to a lot of protests. I think that coupled with living alone and not having a romantic partner… made my performances shift as I moved deeper into quarantine. Things definitely grew more abstract and darker in theme as the year went on. (I should say though I did go to Chicago for two and a half months to quarantine with my parents and nephew, and the performances were a lot happier then!)
Overall I prefer IG because it is easier for everyone to access and I can control the camera view with greater ease. The one beautiful thing about the pandemic is that i feel access to art has opened up greatly. We are all now buying work, viewing artist talks, shows and performances online and they are all being advertised on social media. NOW watching something online is not the same, but there are a lot of things I get to see online now that I never would have seen before. And there are many artist talks happening now that never would have occurred before. We were so stuck on the interviewer and the artist needing to be in the same room! -plus people are a pinch more open when they are talking to you from home. I also think because we all went through a collective trauma that is hard to explain in words, many people who once thought my way of expressing myself in abstract actions as “weird” or “not for them” now look at the work and say “YES! Drink your bathwater on camera with a half pulled down ball gown on… I feel like that too. Do you.”
ANTE mag.What are some recent, ongoing and/or upcoming collaborations that you want to share with us as we enter 2021?
AE. Aside from the books, I think I am most excited about a collaboration that I just did with University of Michigan. Students in Professor Rebekah Modrak’s Dressing UP and Down Class made these beautiful costumes that I designed and then students from the theater and music department performed a score that I created and wore the costumes from Modrak’s class. They even had beautiful customized masks! The performance was a celebration of Black femmes and the fight, resilience and love of Black people. It took place on one of the Michigan football fields and even some of the cheerleaders joined in to participate. And just as with my own practice there is a large part of it that was improvised in the moment by the performers even though a loose plan was laid out in advance. It’s entitled “You Better Be Good To Me.” The video hsa premiered as part of the Penny Stamps series they have annually on campus, but is now online. I’m super excited about this. It marks a new way of making work for me and feels more expansive than just working alone. online info: https://www.instagram.com/p/CKPYxgYFkVy/
ANTE mag. Your practice has had some incredible coverage in 2020, not limited to the fantastic NYT article featuring you that was published in June 2020 in which you spoke about social and political matters. Can you expand on how your often physically punishing work embodies both a personal and universal component? Feel free to point to a specific example/performance.
AE. For me work that includes deep labor like running to my friend Lisette Morel repeatedly for 3 hours in the summer heat is as much about acting out friendship as it is about the struggle of being a woman of color, or the fact that both of us come from families that worked jobs that involved intense labor while we never had to – hence the running with parasols and matching dresses and yet doing it for hours in the heat is exhausting. Just like trying to make it in the art world… Morel is a painter whoI have known for over 18 years. If you know that about us the work’s meaning deepens. But no matter what, the personal and the political are always present. I like the work to have multiple meanings in this way. For others the act of carrying passersby or audience members at a museum gallery for hours while wearing heels “I Carry You And You Carry Me” (2016, 2017) is a political act that shifts depending on who I carry (a white male, a Black woman… a child, etc.) At the same time, I was thinking about intimacy, friendship and breaking hierarchies when I made this piece. Sometime you carry your friends and sometimes they carry you…and sometimes they drop you, lol. And once you have your legs wrapped around an artist, the typical artist-to-audience-member/collector relationship is broken. We are two people talking in each other’s ear and they are trusting I won’t drop them. No one is better than someone else or acting out “usual” roles in that scenario. For me there is a beauty in that. I hope people take that with them and exercise it in small ways after leaving my shows. It is not social activism in the sense of telling you what to do, but rather showing you what it feels like to do it differently (meaning more freely and fairly) and what it feels like to NOT do it differently (meaning harshly tied to society rules and capitalistic ideals) – Hence the harsh acts of labor.
Lately, I have started to focus more on participatory exchanges than harsh labor so acts like demanding a group of conference participants at the College Arts Association conference to impromptu “Catch this Black body!” are starting to make having my audiences perform the labor with me just as important as my solo actions. I think they both yield similar results.
ANTE mag.What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
AE. rest…. hahah just KIDDING! Rest? Who is She?
Seriously though, I am looking forward to being more balanced in my work life and private life in 2021… People that know I spent two years with a sign on my back that said “I Just Came Here To Find A Husband” will be happy to know I have found a loving relationship, so I plan to take time to nurture that while I make work in 2021. As for the work of making art, I plan to make works that experiment with collaborative groups of people and short films. I think making and showing this work outside of institutions literally projecting it onto buildings is what’s next for me. Making my work bigger in the world is my goal.
ANTE mag. I’m more familiar with your sculptural work but I’ve noticed that during 2020 you embarked on a series of two dimensional works on paper. Can you talk to us about this shift?
MKM. During the initial Covid shutdown and chaos of those early days here in NYC, I, like many people, didn’t really leave my apartment for a long time. And I wasn’t sure how safe it was to go to my studio, let alone finding the mental capacity and physical energy to make work. Those early days were weird and I needed to figure out how I could incorporate my studio practice into this chaotic world of home schooling children and my spouse and I both working from home all at the same time. I gave myself a daily project just to jump start my brain and break out of the worry cycle. I printed out a stack of collagable papers, based on ‘images’ I was already using with my work, of gradients and orbs. I would use the cut paper and rearrange it to create a new work each day. My only rules were to use the same papers over again, and if it got too stressful to put it away and start fresh the next day. There was no commitment. It began as a sketching exercise and then I really got into the work I was creating. They were very abstract and began to focus on color and space in a way that I hadn’t necessarily dealt with in my work before, but it was an interesting tangent. Usually my work is muted in color, lots of greys and blacks with an occasional pop of something acidic, but now I found myself using these really vibrant fuschias, oranges and blues. These collages grew out of a need to let go of what I was focusing on in the studio prior to the shutdown and just work from pure, primal feelings. Maybe the work would have ended up here eventually, but something about the immediacy and unsettling energy of the pandemic pushed it there.
As the project evolved, I began keeping the collages as finished works, gluing them down instead of reworking them the next day. There are a few that are digital prints of small editions from the earliest days, but now most of the works are uniques. I’ve begun making small sculptures that relate to the ideas of space within the collages. It’s going to take me longer though to figure out the sculptural works.
ANTE mag. Early last year you had your work on view in the West 10th Window, which read as an installation. Can you talk about your sculptures and your process in terms of responding to a solo show or a space where you have freedom to create an installation (versus being included in a group exhibit)?
MKM. It was a nice challenge to make work for the West 10th Window. I wanted to use the space in its entirety and it reads as a diorama or a small stage in that format. By thinking about it as an installation, I could experiment with flatness and spatial perception within the window. Recent works had been addressing sculpture and the correlation between flatness and depth within landscape and playing with how our eye perceives that, so I wanted to continue with that tangent. I like finding ways to make sculptures that have width but no depth, the surfaces flatten or grow as you walk around it. The Window was a place where I could experiment with this and create those layers of subtleties. And material-wise, I wanted to go between surfaces and forms that were abstracted yet familiar with materials that were referential to raw sculpting materials like plaster and clay. But then they get all mixed together, so a “rock” is just a blob of clay, and a curved piece of aluminum with wallpaper can read like a mesa or mountain-like form. It’s always exciting when you’re invited to create whatever you’d like. It’s followed briefly by a moment of panic of what that project should be, but then production mode takes over.
I was also there installing for a few days and I got to meet a few of the residents and the super of the building as I occupied their laundry room with all of my tools and wallpapers for the week. I would pop in and out of this hole in the wall. It was one of the more fun, non traditional spaces I’ve had the chance to show with.
ANTE. In my conversations with artists lately I’ve noticed a spirit of innovation, either in response to lens studio time due to more demanding schedules at home or even a lack of studio space. How have you seen your practice innovate in response to quarantine?
MKM. I think we’re all still in survival mode and as artists that’s making work with whatever you have around in whatever place you can. It makes me think back to being in highschool, when you had to work in your bedroom and you’re sleeping in your bed with sketch pads all around. Only now I have an even smaller apartment with an entire family. I split my time between working in my bedroom and working in the studio ( I count my blessings I still have a studio available). Since I can’t get to the studio as much as before, my bedroom floor or the kitchen table is my new workspace. I also think that if the quarantine hadn’t happened I might not have produced the work that came out of it. From those super dark days came this really colorful work that is an exciting departure. Artists persist no matter what, we’re wired for that. It’s not always easy but it seems like everyone is finding a new way to create or present in these weird times. I like hearing stories from friends who are making work in their bathtubs or creating these awesome video projects that never would have happened without quarantine and isolation.
ANTE.What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
MKM. I currently have an exhibition, “Echo Echo,” on view (opened Jan 16th) at Gold/Scopophilia Gallery in Montclair, NJ of work I created throughout Covid times, and another two person show with Douglass Degges at the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute, PrattMWP Gallery in Utica, NY opening Feb 5th. Additionally, I’m really looking forward to purging a lot of old things that I’ve been holding onto and realize I don’t need anymore. I want to keep working on these new tangents and spend a bit of time revisiting the work I had to abandon when quarantine hit. I think going back into those pieces with fresh eyes and new directions will uncover some good things.
I’m honestly just hoping for more time there, and feeling comfortable having people over again.
ANTE.Tell us more about your practice as an artist and the mediums/disciplines you work within (ie – painting, collage/works on paper, etc.)
RG. I make two-dimensional works. I mostly use oil paint and watercolor on canvas. I also make works using ink, acrylic, gouache, watercolor, and pencil on paper. My work is figurative, but of imaginative subjects. I am interested in themes of mythology, loneliness, origin stories, and embodied experience. A lot of my pieces reference collage, but they are not collages. My surfaces are (almost) always a single surface that I’ve worked in a variety of ways. In addition to surface, I am interested in color.
ANTE.In your paintings you evince a methodical and meticulous approach to your process, carefully creating the Milky Way in your “Mother Earth makes the Milky Way” work, for example. How did you develop this particular attention to detail in your work?
RG. It feels important to me to find joy in my practice. I love getting lost in minutiae; my pleasure in that process is why detail shows up so much in my work. I think I’ve always worked this way. Even much earlier, more abstract fabric work included lots of tiny stitches, or painted pinpricks.I get into primordial imagery — snakes, water, stars — and I love the idea of capturing cosmic forces with tiny marks. The contrast in scale feels resonant.
ANTE.You sometimes adopt pop imagery in your work and references to everyday life, while contrasting these elements against nature (Worm with its Lover, Pizza, comes to mind.) How do you mine imagery in your practice to bring together disparate elements in your work?
RG. A lot of my ideas come through language first: phrases like “Worm Climbs Mountain” and “Giving Birth To Yourself Over And Over Again Through Your Head” are starting places. Imagesthen arrive through intuition or osmosis, floating against the frameworks of the phrases. Like everyone, I soak up the visual culture that surrounds me: the digital languages of memes and photocollage; religious imagery; ads; “fine art” painting. All of these sources percolate, and I try not to be too fussy about what imagery I use.Some of the juxtapositions are rooted in online visual culture, especially stock photos. Pizza is apop image, but so is the Apple screensaver galaxy. With “Worm with its Lover, Pizza,” I wanted to make a really lonely painting of a worm with its lover, comfort food, floating in a screen-inspired “galaxy.” I hope the galaxy here is a kind of simulation of a romantic destination.
ANTE. What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
RG. So much!
I’m working on several Goddess paintings. In particular, I am working on two new Medusa paintings, one of her transformation into her snake-haired form, and another of her going on vacation with her boyfriend, a stone head. I am also working on a painting based on a phrase I love from the Odyssey: the “rosy-fingered Dawn.”I’m additionally working on a series of works on paper called “Giving Birth To Yourself Over and Over Again Through Your Head.” This phrase was inspired by myths of head-births, including Athena springing from Zeus’s head and Medusa birthing Pegasus from her severed head. The works have departed significantly from this source material, though. The imagery includes fibonacci spirals, chromosomes, DNA helices, nigella seed pods, and pacman. The process of making them has a lot of components, and includes paper marbling, gouache, and watercolor. They are fun to make! I feel like this could be an infinite series for me, which aligns with the works’ themes of repetition, recursion, and infinite looping.Finally, since the pandemic began, I’ve returned to drawing as a fast, expressive practice. I’ve made hundreds of sumi ink and watercolor drawings. Most of them are really bad. But I hope to gather a selection of them into an artist book.
ANTE. Your commitment to your practice is evident in your participation with Materials for the Arts (2018) The Laundromat Project’s Crate Change program fellowship (2017) and your most recent 2020 artist-in-residence position with the Children’s Museum of Manhattan. It is evident your work speaks to a wide audience, can you speak about your vision for your practice and the audiences you attract with your work?
DO. I think my practice attracts a diverse audience because it speaks to the soul, it sparks thoughts of humble beginnings, especially for people of color who immigrated to the United States. I was able to experience this while in residence at Children’s Museum of Manhattan. I was able to have had conversations with children and parents from places like India, Africa, China, Russia, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. Everyone had a different appreciation for my art making process like mixing acrylic paints, cutting shapes out of paper or vinyl tiles, or adding cyanotype solutions to a vinyl tile. It’s all about stimulating the mind through combinations and experimentations.
At Materials for the Arts, I addressed the loss of my father and created a memorial through the use of their objects inside their warehouse, I made cyanotype prints using their jewelry and crocheted doilies on bedsheets, sculptures out of books and furniture legs. I juxtaposed imitation flowers bursting out of speakers, vinyl tile collages. During the Create Change program with the Laundromat Project I had children and their parents painting lightbulbs as a form of recognizing the light within themselves. It was a response to gentrification and the number of families that have had to move out due to the increase in rents. By painting a pattern and/or writing their name and the years they have been living in Harlem, marks their resilience in being able to continue to live in Harlem despite the significant increase in the cost of living, thus the “Give Me The Light” Project was born.
The found object is sometimes the realism and I study objects to find a way into the practice, it’s similar to jumping rope. You have to pay attention to your timing of when the rope is about to touch your feet to know when you need to jump.
ANTE mag. You hold a BFA from SUNY Purchase and an MFA from Hunter College (CUNY). Can you speak to the professors and mentors who have influenced your practice as it developed along the way over the past 15-20 years to where you are today?
DO. I was fortunate to have some incredible art professors throughout my time in Purchase College. I will always remember artists like Leonard Stokes, Murray Zimiles and Judith Bernstein. They encouraged me to reinvent my process of making art and push the process further, add more steps and examine the effect it has on the piece, then for the next piece take less steps out, and then look at the two and notice the differences, what does it say to you? Or l would focus on how I am using perspective or be mindful of who I chose to include into my paintings. Instead of famous icons I would pay attention to West African rituals that I could juxtapose into my paintings.
At Hunter, I worked with artists like Nari Ward, Juan Sanchez and Paul Ramirez. They pushed me to further develop my vision of the objects I choose to work with, to use the materials and make many things out of it to reveal the possibilities. Sometimes less is more or it needs density to get a message across to the viewer. Not everything has to count to make it a successful piece and yet sometimes it does. I develop the rules behind what and how materials can be activated. I felt as if I was working from the inside out. To be open to suggestions, yet use what you feel will help you along the way of realizing an artwork.
ANTE mag. Can you speak about viability and representation in your work, and the vision you bring to your practice as per your artist statement noting that your work, “illustrates..the Dominican American experience, masculinity, vulnerability, the supernatural, family and spirituality”?
DO. I think the Dominican American experience recognizes the challenges of adapting who you are within the confines of the United States. You have to recognize who you are, your worth and stand by it unapologetically. I think my practice talks about deep abstract feelings that are challenging to put into words and more effectively addressed through the combinations and the treatment of the materials. I am interested in the ownership of what I make. There is freedom behind creating your own rendition of things versus honoring someone else’s. For me, there’s a limitation to working with the readymade, like the vinyl tiles. I can only produce patterns with what is there. It addresses one side of the effects of aspirations behind materialistic artificial objects that evoke monetary wealth. At times, I think about my mother’s style of working as a beautician, she wanted hair to have flare, she wanted the customer to be excited about how they looks, so she was very patient and cognizant of hair and the materials she needs to achieve a specific look and get inventive when things don’t go her way. I think there is a lot of value in recognizing your parents skills and recognizing how some of those characteristics become a part of you. The best part is that I am elevating those traits and passing it off to my son. I think that the evolutionary aspect of inheriting your parents’ skills is always interesting to see in how it manifests itself in the quality of the work. I do want my work to be aesthetically pleasing, however, I want to trigger a memory, make a connection of sorts that is relevant to you. I want to make your cells tingle with a good vibration.
ANTE mag. What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
DO. I am looking forward to using objects that have been affected by another person, for instance, cigarette butts, shattered glass from car windows. I am interested in finding a shining light in these objects that have a harmful effect, yet is used to keep calm or been broken to infringe on someone else’s property.
Editor’s Note – Ortiz most recently exhibited in a solo show with Empty Set gallery in the Bronx, through Jan 7, 2021. The show, titled Heaven and Earth, is visible on the gallery’s instagram – @Empty.set.gallery
ANTE mag.Can you introduce our audience to your practice? And can you speak to whether/how your work invites and encourages collaboration?
LRS. My practice is built around the idea of doing rather than making. An activity is interesting to me, aside from its result or product. It’s not that the result is not relevant to me, but the question I ask myself is not “what do I have to do in order to get xy result?”, but rather “i wonder what the result will be if i carry out xy activity”.I began noticing or understanding this about my work when I was experimenting with sculpture in art school and started videotaping the process of building something until it became much more about the process than the sculpture itself. I started staging performances in which I gave myself the task of climbing through one of the huge rooms at the Art Academy Düsseldorf on a specific axis, for example the diagonal, or along the ceiling. It wasn’t about the acrobatic act, but about the attempt at something that the space wasn’t designed for, an autonomous relationship of the body to (architectural) space, that could also fail, and sometimes did. This was around 10 years ago, but I remain excited by the choreography or the pattern of a process or procedure. A sequence of actions or movements or markings that is the result of a certain plan or idea. This is true for both my algorithmic drawings which use a grid as a structured space for patterns to unfold, and for my performance based work which extends into video as well as into dance and choreography.
The question about collaboration is an interesting one. Although much of my work is designed to be solitary, it is also made for collaboration. When I work on my grid-based drawings or series of drawings I experience time in a heightened way. My attention is directed at observing the visual information that is happening in the grid. This is a solitary process. I become a kind of observer of my own activity, and there is an inner monologue which comments on the sequence of “events” as if I was watching a play. Sometimes I write these comments down and sometimes they find their way into performances or artist books.
This aspect of not being in control of aesthetic choices while in process, of letting chance, random numbers, or outside determinants shape the process is why collaboration is particularly interesting to me. It carries the appeal of the unknown. This is especially true for my choreographic work. Choreography allows me to let go of the linear path that I pursue in my drawings and thus invites collaboration. I love working with dance makers; my world expands by learning someone else’s movements or approaches to movement and space. I also think that the times we are in inspire connection and collaboration on many levels.
ANTE mag.Your practice seems to embrace a wide realm of influences, from theoretical physics to themes of repetition and spatial dynamics. Can you speak to some of the more potent influences on your work and how they inform what you consider when you make work?
LRS. Learning is a strong impetus for my work. I like to dive into a certain area of knowledge for a while. There was a phase in which I was very interested in meteorology. Besides learning about the evolution of the earth’s atmosphere, what fascinated me was the way that meteorologists use data to draw conclusions about the future and how, even if they understood every kind of reaction on a micro and macro level, the sheer number of factors is too large and the scale on which reactions take place too small to really lift the mystery of the weather.
The idea of scale was the main formal principle of my first artist book in which an algorithmic system was repeated page after page but the scale of the grid went from one square being bigger than one page to one page containing a 224 by 224 square grid. When turning the pages of the book the first page and the last page resemble each other, similarly to how an image through a microscope can resemble the sight of star dust through a telescope.
One paper that has influenced my work in different ways by stage artist and evolutionary theorist Rod Swenson is called “Autocatakinetics, Evolution, and the Law of Maximum Entropy Production: A Principled Foundation toward the Study of Human Ecology”. The ideas developed in this paper have influenced the way I think about my work. His paper speaks about order and chaos in thermodynamics and at the same time he applies these principles to other areas like, for example, tornados or cities. He describes them as self-organizing systems. His thoughts inspired me to think about choreography in new ways: a choreographic system which is both rules-driven but unpredictable and allows for both chaos and synchronicity, and also for individual moments. A tapestry of movement, sound, visual elements, and perhaps language in which no one inside or outside of the performance has the full picture, the score being divided between the participants who are operating on cues.
I also draw influences from books about history. I find it extremely interesting and helpful to learn about the past and to be able to see the connections from my point in time. Understanding some aspects of the past empowers us to recognize patterns in the situation we find ourselves in and perhaps understand the roles we occupy. I often draw parallels between things I learn about, and my own work. For example I could compare a dancer’s coincidental position in a choreography to the position any one of us could be occupying in the course of events in a family, a community, a city. This is likewise true for the patterns in my drawings. But I don’t use these comparisons or metaphors as material or scripts. I just see it happen like in a complex mirror and hope that others are inspired or challenged to see something too.
Usually when I read, there is something behind the details that communicates to me a broader idea. And I relate this idea to my work, sometimes to work that already exists. Learning, reading, and working, and also experiencing life as a complex web of relations, of causes and effects, of intersecting timelines – all these things are to me different facets of an interrelated experience.
ANTE mag. I’ve been particularly interested lately in the drawings you feature on your Instagram page that feature repetitive drawings in geometric, linear fashion. These seem easy to access in a moment in which many of us are sequestered at home and repeating our daily lives with little variation due to the pandemic. Can you talk about the genesis of this series and how it is evolving?
LRS. I have been making these kind of generative drawings for about eight years and when I first started using a grid and filling it with simple color sequences it felt like I had discovered a huge playground. It promised so many possibilities. In these drawings I impose a specific rule, using an invented alphabet of lines or shapes, and without knowing what the end result will look like, I fill the page or canvas (or sometimes a wall or a roof) in, like you say, a linear fashion. In some ways I am like a computer, working through the commands of a program or instruction set. Of course, I am a very bad computer and I make mistakes. The mistakes somehow become part of the work even though I have an urge to conceal them. This causes a friction that I find interesting. I like the idea that these drawings are relatable during these times of the pandemic. The repetitiveness of making them resonates with a life of less transit and more seclusion. While the parameters often change, I usually come back to the same rule or algorithm. It is all about repetition and slow growth. I think that that is how the series is evolving, too. I come back to the beginning, and then I go a little further. At the moment I am experimenting with integrating random numbers into the sequence in order to make the pattern less predictable and more opaque.
ANTE mag. What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
LRS. First of all I am looking forward to 2021 in my studio! For all the things that 2020 has been, it has gifted me with the kind of time and focus in my studio which I hadn’t had in a long time. I’m curious to continue experimenting with virtual performances and the layering of screens and places. I’m grateful to ANTE mag and Radiator Arts for creating a platform for virtual performance this past December! There are several projects I’m excited to work on, a residency at MH Project on the Lower East Side and a show at Simultanhalle in Cologne where I want to show a choreographic work. In general, I feel that this will be a year of connecting different parts of my work and bringing people together whose work I admire.
ANTE. – Can you tell ANTE readers more about your practice and the disciplines you work within as an artist?
RS. I am a multidisciplinary artist working in video, photography, painting/printmaking, ceramics, and poetry. Lately I have been mainly focusing on video. I recently transformed my painting studio into a film set and that has been my artistic playground. I have been developing a kind of DIY experimental filmmaking process where I basically do everything myself…the design, shooting, lighting, editing. I worked in the film industry before this so I had some experience in that realm and it’s been exciting to apply those skills to my own vision. My current video projects involve improvisation and character work exploring my alter ego. I get to the studio, put on a costume and some music, get into character, and start shooting. Sometimes I have a clear vision; sometimes I collect footage based on what I am excited about visually and piece it together later. I get really excited about specific props, like my assortment of miniature crystals or my Leonardo di Caprio pillow, and I build work around these objects. Letting myself be playful has been a big part of my process. The external covid world has been so harsh — I really needed a space where I could escape and feel safe and cushioned by warm colors and soft fabrics and my imagination.
ANTE mag. I’ve been impressed with how you’ve developed your artistic practice to acclimate to the restrictions resulting from the 2020 pandemic, including creating evocative animations and digital paintings for your Instagram page. Can you talk to us about some of the themes you worked with in 2020 and how the pandemic and surge of Black Lives Matter protests had an impact on your work?
RS. When the pandemic hit, I was kicked out of my studio at RISD and I turned to digital paintings and animations as an outlet. That was such a difficult moment and I used drawing to process everything I was feeling. I made digital paintings of isolated women sprawled on the couch watching 400 episodes of Love Island, cartoons snuggling, a sad girl making one last toast to Bernie Sanders. Some paintings are comedic and some lean directly into feelings of hopelessness, solitude, loss, transformation. The animations always occur at night with sparkling stars — it has something to do with night being a symbol of the unconscious or the underworld, a space where profound change can occur. I found lots of comfort in sharing these images on social media since I was missing connection in real life. During the surge of BLM protests across the country, I wondered what the artist’s role could be. Direct activism is much more of an urgent necessity than visual art. However, I do feel that it is important to address the situation in my artwork. I thought the burning cop car painting would be good to put out in the world as a visual representation of dismantling the oppressive racist systems that are ingrained in our society.
ANTE mag.Can you shed light specifically on Ashley, your performance art alter-ego and how you’ve envisioned these performances transitioning from 2020 into 2021?
RS.Ashley, my alter ego, is a spiritual woman who is desperately seeking meaning in her life through absurdist measures. This character was born directly out of my own search for meaning and purpose. Over the years, I have turned to alternative healing to get through difficult times. I would find myself chanting mantras I found on blogs, using debilitating nostril breathing exercises to connect with the divine feminine. I both genuinely enjoy these practices and recognize that it’s all getting filtered through a white millennial feminist branding that makes it full of hilarious hypocrisy. Spirituality is hot right now. I am fascinated by how it plays out in capitalist society, technology, on social media, in sexy mysticism-themed tattoos. A major theme of the Ashley project is seeking answers outside oneself and the absurdity of this impossible, never ending task. I grew up Jewish, and I think that being surrounded by religion in my youth influenced my interest in faith and an obsessive questioning of existence. Ashley is surrounded by her spirit guides, her wildest fantasies, her psychological regressions. She has an angel guide who lives in a miniature locker. She is haunted by her love for 90’s Leonardo diCaprio. As I move forward, I’ll be exploring some of Ashley’s shadow side, her weaknesses, and her flaws. This character has been an outlet to work through things that I’m going through, but in an exaggerated way. It’s cathartic.
ANTE mag. What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
RS. This fall, I spent time constructing a film set in my studio which set the stage for Ashley’s world. Now that the set is constructed, I can dive more deeply into creating within that space. I have lots of work to do before my thesis show at RISD this spring. I am amassing materials in the form of video, paintings, writing, and ceramic objects that all belong in Ashley’s world. I am thinking about how I can use humor as a tool to draw people into deeper questions and ideas. I have a vision of transforming a gallery space into Ashley’s world, with purple walls, accompanying video and sound installations, and physical art objects. Overall, I am very excited to take this project as far as it can go.
Lives and works between Amherst, MA and Santa Fe, NM
ANTE mag. Thanks for chatting with us, Ligia! To start us off, can you explain a bit about your practice and the disciplines you work within? Do you ever combine/overlap different mediums when making artwork?
LB. My work is based in sculpture and interactive engagement. But, I also use video, photography, textiles, a wide range of drawing methods, and installation techniques to examine found narratives in the hopes of highlighting the contrast between the ritualistic and mundane, the performative and the genuine, and to ask questions about how we, in our bodies, practices, and institutions, locate ourselves in these spaces. Each of my projects wrestle with issues of functionality as well as narrative, relying on our inherent understanding of household objects, clothing, and tools. My work fully embraces the overlap between mediums as I allow the story I am trying to tell dictate the overall form each piece will take.
ANTE mag. Would you walk us through what considerations and influences you take into account when making new work?
LB. My research around each narrative initially guides the project’s structure. For the last ten years, I’ve been interested in sites that go beyond the physical characteristics of a space or architecture. I attempt to engage with the historical, political, economic, environmental, and social stories embedded in each place. For example, I have drawn upon narratives from classical literature, American comic books and films, fairytales, and documentation of Victorian séances. However, I do not consider myself to be a storyteller. Instead, after first using these found narratives to create shared understanding in my work, I then subvert this initial sense of familiarity, leaving the viewer suspended in an in-between space that highlights the roles and characters we all play in everyday life. I use sculptural objects in multimedia performances and installations to actively engage and immerse viewers. However, the desire to “try on” different identities does not equate itself in my work with a need to become someone or something else. Instead, by recreating these roles, I intend to push against the boundaries of the body in the hopes of enacting an understanding of exactly what makes each body separate from everything else.
ANTE mag. How has your practice evolved as a result of 2020’s lockdown during the pandemic?
LB. The pandemic has been challenging. Initially I did not have access to my studio which is outside my home. In many ways I feel that my own well-being is tied to my daily practice and I find myself adrift if I can’t work regularly. In those early days, I created a space for myself in our basement and tried to work on small pieces. However, it was hard to find meaning in those works in the face of the immense pain and suffering being experienced across the world. Slowly, my home practice has grown and I am only now beginning to unpack the evolution of the works that I have created during this period. Although all of these pieces have ultimately resisted any kind of resolution and remain unfinished, they are evidence of an ongoing inquiry that have given me a sense of accomplishment.
ANTE mag. What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
LB. In early 2020 I was awarded an Artist Research Fellowship from the Smithsonian to do research at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. I want to spend time looking at the Astronomical Photographic Plate Collection which holds hundreds of thousands of photographic images of our universe from as far back as the 1870s. In particular, I am interested in exploring the observations of Henrietta Swan Leavitt, one of the first women “computers” who worked at the Harvard College Observatory from 1895 until her death in 1921. I will use this fellowship to investigate the work and processes of Henrietta Swan Leavitt by tracking variable star clusters on glass plate photographs held in the collection from the 1890s to the 1970s. I hope this will result in a sculptural multimedia installation that will use the medium of kiln-formed glass as a means of reflecting upon shifting celestial light patterns. Harvard is currently closed to visitors until May 2021. I am hoping that by this summer the vaccine will have been widely distributed and I will finally be able to begin working on this project.
A nine-year friendship between Ghanaian-native artist TAFA and Japanese-native artist Tomo Mori forms the heart of I See You, now on view at ChaShama’s 340 E. 64th space until March 8th. As Mori notes, “I feel Tafa and I share a deeply human connection. He knows my work since I stared showing in 2011, when I didn’t know anything or anybody in the art community. I always admired his work and I am extremely honored to do this project together.”
Tomo Mori’s fluid, organic fiber art sculptures are comprised of handmade ropes made from discarded and upcycled fabrics given to her by family and friends. Shown alongside these works are TAFA’s figurative oil paintings are informed by Ghana’s sporting events, public demonstrations and musical performances. Representing the rich diversity and international voices within the New York City arts scene,TAFAand Tomo Moridraw upon distinct imagery and materials imbued with symbolic, cultural and personal meaning, as well as their shared experience as first-generation immigrants: while both of their practices focus on their homeland, they equally embrace their new role as artists residing within the United States.
Personal history and intimate familial connections through material are tenderly woven throughout Tomo Mori’s work. Ropes of discarded baby blankets join together in the artwork Eve to form a loose, heart-like or cradle-like formation, evoking the tender embrace of a mother and newborn child. The prompt, “What do you build when you are given power?” accompanies an all-ages interactive installation of fabric-covered blocks, using social consciousness and inclusivity to shift our cultural narratives about power from division to empowerment. Sanctuary, a dazzling, optically exhilarating patchwork of fabrics, incorporates a vintage kimono, highlighting the comfort, beauty and solace Mori finds within Japanese culture.
Alongside Tomo Mori’s materiality and indirect allusions to place and cultural symbolism, TAFA’s work keeps an eye towards the ephemeral struggles and achievements that mark the human condition. Each painting appears to be in flux, undergoing a state of change, conveyed by thick, rapid brush marks across the surface and expressive, gestural figures with contorted faces in intensely physical acts. From huddled masses gathered around a football stadium to masses in silent protest, the imagery within these artworks underscores the importance of shared social traditions to unify our collective culture in moments of crisis and uncertainty. Where Mori’s works connects in physical space, TAFA’s work unite the excitement of crowds at sporting events in a shared, communal energy. His exuberant painting style captures the enthusiasm and shared sentiments among large crowds. His work shows us an artistic expression of unity.
TAFA and Tomo Mori both approach their work with deep-rooted and complex associations on topics of heritage, history and social structures, stemming from their own experiences as immigrants in America looking back towards the culture of their homeland. I See You encourages active observation, prompting viewers to look closer at their own surroundings and form deeper connections between place and identity.
Supported by ChaShama, the exhibition fulfills ChaShama’s promise to give artists space to present their work while fostering community development through the arts. More information on ChaShama can be found on their website.
The following programs will continue through the exhibition until it closes on March 8th:
Artist Talk: Tuesday, February 25, 6:30 to 8:30pm
Closing Reception, Saturday, March 7, 4 to 6pm
SAT 2/22 Fabric collage workshop by Tomo Mori 2-4pm, all-ages, children with caregiver. RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org
SAT 2/29 Rope making workshop by Tomo Mori 2-4pm, all-ages, children with caregiver. RSVP: email@example.com
SUN 3/1 Kora/Djembe Performance by West African musician, Sunday, March 1, 2-4pm
Regular Gallery Hours: Friday, Saturday, Sunday 11:30am to 6:30pm
Please see the exhibition website in orde to schedule an appointment to visitoutside of these hours: https://www.tomomoriart.com/i-see-you