Critique Collective

Critique Collective is your source for information and interviews about emerging and established contemporary artists.

Robert Szot Relentlessly Pursues the Seduction of Lyrical Abstract Painting

For fourteen years, Robert Szot has been a constant in the fluctuating Brooklyn art scene. The artist, who arrived in New York from Texas as a twenty-five year old and has since felt the pressures of New York’s stage, embodies honesty in his work. Szot does not shy away from beauty or painterly skill, instead pushing lyrical abstraction forward while rejecting the ever-present pull of zombie formalism. His work is hard to pin down, evincing canonical references in his formal techniques and relationship with beauty and music that seem connected with the abstraction of Synchromist artists such as Stanton Macdonald-Wright or Morgan Russell, a movement that predated Abstract Expressionism by 30 years. These references, though, are mediated by the history of color field painting, at times reaching washy paint handling and breaks between colors reminiscent of Helen Frankenthaler. Regardless, the clearest position in Szot’s work is a deadly sentimentality, the kind of pride in the American painting lineage that leaves Szot’s work poetic, vibrant, emotional, and unapologetically divorced from the often-cold embrace of contemporary painting paradigms.

Robert Szot is represented by Muriel Guépin Gallery, also the site of his 2014 solo show, Woke Up on Broadway. Szot’s work has exhibited in a variety of galleries across the United States from New York to Los Angeles and Texas. His works have been collected in America and abroad. Szot’s paintings can also be found on his website.

earlyvotingsuperhi

Early Voting, oil on linen, 64″ x 53″


Paul Weiner:
Your paintings are largely created with oil on linen. What draws you to these particular materials?

Robert Szot:
I’ve always used oils. Oil paint is a much more particular and fussy medium than, say, acrylic paint, but once you’re accustomed to its personality, oil paint can be worked with for a much longer time before it dries. That’s important to me because I am a constant editor. I also often utilize underpainting with just a thin layer of overpaint, just a suggestion of another color, and I find I can only achieve that with oils. The linen came into play just a few years ago. It feeds my love of history to use linen prepared in a very traditional way. The linen I use has a medium tooth surface that is sized with rabbit skin glue and then double lead primed. It is extravagant, and I often wonder if I should be ruining it by painting on it. It truly is a love affair I am embarrassed to say. Painting on oil primed linen provides a much slicker surface, too. I find oil just sits on top of it and dries very vibrantly. I use the best art supplies I can afford because when I sell a painting, I want, at the very least, to feel confident in the materials. I hate the idea of selling someone something cheap.

exitcalisuperhires

Exit California, oil on linen, 54″ x 62″

Paul Weiner:
Contemporary abstract paintings are often labeled as being decorative. Do you consider your work as having any decorative influences or would you reject this interpretation?

Robert Szot:
I would reject that interpretation where my own work is concerned, but I understand why that thought is out there. There is so much access now, which I encourage, but with access comes a flood of under developed and under thought-out “abstract” paintings. Really, there has been a flood of under developed work, abstract or otherwise, lately. I think many of these paintings are created for decoration and are not meant to be interpreted or studied as serious creations. It’s the climate we are in now, fame over everything. Be outrageous, show your ass, whatever it takes to get the attention of strangers regardless of its ability to last or how much thought it will provoke. As a result, the impetus for a painting often becomes a couch and not contemplation. I don’t paint like that. I won’t lie to you and say I don’t appreciate attention, but more than that my work is fiercely personal to me, and I won’t customize it to match decor. Often, I will get a request for a commission that comes with conditions from the client: color, size, etc. I get it. It’s an investment, and something you are going to have to live with hopefully for a long time, but I have to politely decline because I am a painter and not an interior decorator. If you ask for a painting from me, you really are asking for a piece of my life during the time it took to complete that painting, so my ability to compromise is very limited. There are plenty of people printing paintings out on a computer that will gladly go into photoshop and change a color to match your drapes. It’s as empty as it sounds.

Paul Weiner:
How do you usually begin a painting as far as the physical process goes?

Robert Szot:
I’ve always been at my best when I am fixing things on a canvas. I must intentionally make things difficult on myself because I make such bad decisions so often. Fixing them helps me advance the painting as a whole, and my frustration with them provides a real velocity to the work. Starting a painting is very difficult for me because there is nothing to solve in a blank space. So, day one for me is really just putting down marks and choosing colors that will hopefully stand out later in the composition. Lately, I have been getting into a lot of line work, almost like a Brice Marden, dark veiny lines cutting off certain areas of the canvas that may or may not influence the final composition. Nothing is permanent, and I will sacrifice any portion of the painting if it’s dragging the composition down. My paints are also mixed with mineral spirits and walnut oil, so everything is very loose and quite thin.

Vulgar Nobodies, oil on linen mounted on panel, 22″ x 16″

Paul Weiner:
How do you come to a title for your work?

Robert Szot:
I get this question a lot. The short answer is that I read too much Walker Percy and listen to The Smiths on heavy rotation. I’ve always liked clever people who could string a punchy sentence together. The longer answer is I keep a running list of things I hear or see during a regular day, little things that sound good to me in realtime that I may or may not come back and use. I’ll give you an example. Last year, I did two paintings with the same title, “Flood Law.” “Flood” and “Law” are two cross streets in New Orleans that I just happened to be on one day, and the two words just fit together. That is the perfect situation for me because not only does it provide a title but it has the bonus effect of leaving a little hint of my life behind for someone to find. That’s very appealing to me, to make up little mysteries for people to stumble into. It’s a long shot, but someone might find those cross streets one day, think of my painting, and then think what a cleaver bastard that Robert Szot was. I have a deep love of history too and find endless titles in textbooks and historical documents. There is nothing like resurrecting a term like “Demirep” to make you feel like you’re freshening up the language a bit.

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Look in Rooms, oil on linen mounted on panel, 22″ x 16″

Paul Weiner:
Do you usually have an idea or emotion in mind before starting a painting or does that develop together with the painting process?

Robert Szot:
I think emotion builds with the painting, and ideas are generated by other ideas as I work. My process is very kaleidoscopic. One decision leads to twenty others and ideas die and are reborn over and over again. I think, though my process can frustrate me, it provides for an original work every time. I mean, I am certain that I have made similar choices in several different paintings, but, depending on how far I took one idea or another, each painting can stand alone. It is very important to create singularities, objects that don’t repeat and can maintain authorship throughout. Doing this naturally creates a history of work that others can look at and actively participate in. It is very seductive to spend time with a piece of someone’s history, especially if it is one that won’t ever be repeated. Your painting has now become a watermark of your life, and more than that, strangers can come and interact, empathize, and discover parts of who they are through your work. It’s a conversation with a person they never had the opportunity to meet. I never got to meet Philip Guston, but I feel like I know him. I think DeKooning and I make the same mistakes. It sounds sentimental, I know, but it’s a reality for me. I love those guys.

Philistine, oil on linen, 23″ x 16″

Paul Weiner:
You mentioned Brice Marden and his style of painting. Are there any artists who you think have influenced your practice, whether historical or contemporary?

Robert Szot:
I like Brice Marden well enough. I wouldn’t say he was a direct influence on my work, though. Going away, Francis Bacon is the best painter. There is no separation between who he was and his work, which I think is the ultimate goal of any artist worth contemplating. We are all expressing ourselves, I guess, but how many really lay everything out for strangers to review? Not many. Egon Schiele falls in Bacon’s camp too. Philip Guston, who I mentioned earlier, ranks big for me. That guy changed direction midstream and didn’t care what people thought of it. That’s great stuff. Maybe it’s not the work so much that influences me, but the people who made it. Certainly, it is difficult to pull Francis Bacon out of one of my paintings. It’s chalk and cheese, but if I am lucky the approach is the same. I want the energy of a Francis Bacon, the recklessness of a Philip Guston, and the sorrow of a Mark Rothko to all come together in one frame, a terrible sucker punch that unfolds into a deeper story.

Contemporary painters are something new for me. I tend to isolate myself and, as much as I hate to admit it, I look at other painters as friendly competition and would rather be free of their influence. Only recently have I been getting to know other artists, and my new affiliations are pleasant and worth having. Galen Cheney and Christina Foard are wild painters who regularly make decisions I am too afraid to make in my own work. Suzanne Kammin is an extremely talented painter out of New Jersey. You can’t leave Patrick Diaz out of the conversation either. He is spearheading the painting scene in Austin, Texas at the moment. It’s a good news, bad news scenario that these exceptional people exist. God love them, but the competition is too much sometimes.

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Fort Worth Collects, oil on linen mounted on panel, 18″ x 24″

Paul Weiner:
You mentioned that you have a sentimentality for some 20th Century New York artists, especially DeKooning and Guston. Is that why you came to New York?

Robert Szot:
Yes. Probably, in the end, it was. I have family here too, my brother, and he will always be important to me.

The very idea of being able to have a shared experience with someone you admire is irresistible, especially when you’re young and idealistic. I think that drives a lot of people with potential. Imagine you have a very small idea, just an ember of desire to want to do something special with your life. Now imagine there is a tangible place where people who you perceive to have a commonality with spent their formative years. You’d go there, of course. New York City was my school, and, never having had any formal art training, it became this incredible do-or-die life for me. You’re here, and you’re working on surviving whilst painting at night and in between whatever job you can muster that month. It all finds its way back into your painting. Then, at some point, it becomes less about what you do and more about who you’ve become. I remember my first studio was on 14th and 6th Avenue, and I would ride the F train very late at night back to Brooklyn, where I lived. One night on the train, it just struck me that I was very happy to be where I was. Broke, yes. Without prospects or interest in my work, yes. But damn alive. I left everything prior to that moment in the past. I resolved that anything that happened before that little moment on the F train at two or three in the morning was just going to be some warm memory like a story I heard in a bar a long time ago. Maybe that is what happened to people like DeKooning and Guston. Maybe they had that same awakening on the shitty F train. I had to come to New York City to dialogue with the same entity that all great artists seem to know so well that they can incorporate it, use it, in the work they produce.

Paul Weiner:
How long do your paintings usually take from start to finish, and how do you know when you are done?

Robert Szot:
Forever and Never.


Please view Robert Szot’s website and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Tom Melsen’s Timely Paintings Address the Drama of Contemporary Life

Tom Melsen’s paintings fuse the dramatic and aggressive into a melancholy that can be seen as a result of his peripatetic travels, a reflection of the places he has experienced. His paintings emerge out of a liminal space between the intelligibility of representation and abstraction’s poetic theatrics. Indeed, Melsen’s paint handling exists in a space that makes odd bedfellows of Peter Doig and Cecily Brown as his compositions blend unsettling passages of quietude and conservative color choices with consistently bold punches of intuitive paint application and occasional layers of glowing chroma. With an unflinching gaze, Melsen captures the jouissance of painterly turmoil through which a balancing act between discomfort and pleasure reveals the psychological essence of captured identities and landscapes. He is at his best when representing fictional, anonymous people such as a man in a brown suit, someone blowing out birthday candles, or a partygoer. These paintings feel free and inventive while maintaining the hawkishly staring study present in his more objective works. This lens is most apparent in his painting of a woman in the hospital, in which Melsen unloads layers of fleshy paint blurred into a bruising, purple container to develop a piercing poetry of desolation and grief.

In 2014, Melsen exhibited his work at Firehouse Gallery in Dublin, Ireland; somoS in Berlin, Germany; P60 in Amstelveen, the Netherlands; and Kunstwerk aan de Winkel in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. This year, he has exhibited at Gallery Nomad in Berlin, Germany with a forthcoming show to open in April at De Kristal in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Melsen has also been nominated for the Palm Art Award, filmed for a documentary by Brazilian filmmaker Leticia Simoes, and collaborated with techno record label Lateral Fragments. Melsen is also a poet and musician who has composed soundtracks for independent films.

tommelsen-thewalk

The Walk, acrylic on canvas, 80 x 60 cm

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Under Folding Branches/Autumn Leaves, acrylic on canvas, 100 x 70 cm


Paul Weiner:
How did you first come to painting as your artistic medium?

Tom Melsen:
Ever since I was a child, I have gone to museums and read books about art. My father studied art history, so we often went to a museum, and he introduced me to many great painters. I remember going to a museum with my father when there was a special Picasso exhibition going on. It was an exhibition with works from his blue period. After seeing that exhibition, I knew I wanted to become an artist. I started reading more and more about Picasso; it was all really inspiring. I became interested in his life and work. At the same time, I started working with acrylic and oil paint, trying out different things.

picasso

Portrait of Picasso, acrylic on canvas, 100 x 70 cm

van gogh

Portrait of van Gogh, acrylic on canvas, 50 x 40 cm

Paul Weiner:
Your paintings often represent historical artists such as Picasso or Van Gogh. Which artists have had the greatest impact on your work?

Tom Melsen:
Besides Picasso, Francis Bacon became a huge inspiration for my own work. I think what drew me to the works of Bacon is that it is very dramatic. The images he portrays, the colors that he uses, and the stories behind his works are very interesting. I love how Bacon portrays intense loneliness, despair, and inner turmoil. I think that is much more interesting than a painting of ordinary flowers or, for example, a man on a horse. When people tell me they think my work is too dramatic, I take that as a compliment. You can never have too much drama. I’ve learned that, and a lot more, from the great painters.

tommelsen-self-portrait-small

Self-Portrait, acrylic on canvas, 90 x 70 cm

Paul Weiner:
When blending abstraction and the human form, to what extent is the human condition or emotion as important as formal concerns such as painterly beauty or composition?

Tom Melsen:
I think the emotion in a painting is very important. That is also why I love doing portraits. You can capture a lot of emotion in a face. I never attended art school. I have no specific way of working. I really just paint what I feel. Composition and painterly beauty is, of course, very important, but I would say emotion in art is what makes a painting unique. I think it’s the same with music; some people may be very good singers, but when there is lack of emotion, it does not have any effect on me.

tommelsen-memories

Memories, acrylic on canvas, 100 x 70 cm

Paul Weiner:
Do you see your poems and musical works as being similar to your paintings or does your thought process change drastically between artistic mediums?

Tom Melsen:
A painting can be an inspiration for a musical piece. For example, when I go to a museum and look at a piece of art, it sometimes happens that a melody pops up in my head, just a certain melody that fits the image. I have often been inspired to write something after visiting a museum. But there is no real connection between my paintings and musical recordings or writings. I keep them separate. Although everything I do seems to have a melancholic feel to it. I don’t know why that is, actually.

tommelsen-maninbrownsuit

Man In Brown Suit, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 40 cm

Paul Weiner:
Tell us a little about the emotions behind your painting, The Walk, which seems to be an abstracted landscape.

Tom Melsen:
I wanted to make a painting of someone who is walking through this landscape, a landscape with a clear, blue sky and tall grass. In front of the painting, you see a man. I’d like to think that this man is on a journey. Everyone questions where their life is going sometimes. This painting is about dealing with yourself and following your own path. This painting was also inspired by some of the landscapes van Gogh used to paint.

womanatpartysmall

Woman At Party, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 50 cm

birthday

Birthday, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 60 cm

Paul Weiner:
You mentioned that your art is often seen as dramatic. Do you see your paintings as being stories that continue from one work to the next or is each painting representing a new idea or emotion?

Tom Melsen:
Each painting is representing a new idea. I like to travel, and when I do, I always carry a small notebook around with me. I’m often scribbling down new ideas for a painting. I’m always exploring different things. I do not want to repeat myself. Over the years, I’ve written so many things down that there is still so much I have yet to paint.

tommelsen-womanathospital

Woman At Hospital, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 50 cm

Paul Weiner:
Who is the subject for your painting of a woman in the hospital and what led you to paint this woman?

Tom Melsen:
This painting is completely fictional. Last year, I wrote a poem about someone in a hospital. It goes something like this:

“you say your mother is ill. She doesn’t get any better. All your life you’ve never learned how to go without her. No roses by the window. No one’s on the phone. And all that you wonder is how to move along. And all the things you’ve never done. You never do them now. You say your mother is ill. The hospital is empty now.”

The original poem was a bit longer, but I made this painting because I wanted to put some of these writings in a book. I cancelled the book, but the painting survived.

tommelsen-treeatnight-small

Tree At Night, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 50 cm

Paul Weiner:
Your painting of a tree at night attempts something formally complicated as you attempt to represent something that, in reality, is barely visible. How did you handle this challenge to create a scene that embodies this tree?

Tom Melsen:
I could say that I studied this or did a lot of sketches beforehand, but that would be a lie. As with most of my paintings, this happened by mistake. I’m not a master painter. I actually don’t really know what I’m doing. My way of working is that when I make three paintings, one of them survives. I have to throw away the other two because I don’t think they are any good. It’s a frustrating way of working, but, when a painting works out, it’s a great, almost magical feeling. With this particular painting, Tree At Night, I knew that I wanted to create a night scene with red tones. I had this picture in my mind, and all these colors in my head, and it, surprisingly, turned out pretty much the way I wanted.


Please view Tom Melsen’s website and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Peter Yumi’s Process-based Collages Evoke Timely Technological Concerns

An aura of technological apprehension envelopes Peter Yumi’s process-heavy collages, an atmosphere of undulation that forms a tornado of imagery. The collages slip into a vacuum of illusory space with limits defined only by the syntax of Yumi’s rigidly predetermined, formulaic process, which would read as a specter of formalist painting if it didn’t act as a signifier for the cold effectiveness implicit in contemporary digital interactions. The collages also evince intuitive tropes as seen in the artist’s working materials from dilapidated selfies to gift-wrapped patterning.

The Denver based artist and former tiger handler for a Las Vegas magic show studied at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and his work has been featured by the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, Palm Springs Art Museum, Andenken Gallery, and various other venues throughout the United States. Yumi was also recently interviewed in Westword‘s 100 Colorado Creatives series. More images of Yumi’s work can be found on his website.

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Faces, collage, Peter Yumi, 2014


Paul Weiner:
How do you find imagery to use in your collages?

Peter Yumi:
Mostly, the materials are found. I collect junk walking around, and people give me a ton of magazines. I also go to estate sales and buy vintage Christmas wrapping paper. I admit it. I have a gift wrapping paper fetish. I started asking friends to pose for me for my newest work. I just send them a text and say, “hey can you send me some selfies?” and they do. The internet is a miracle. I own nearly every single issue of Playboy and decades and decades of National Geographic. I have also taken to collecting soda cans I find or consume on my own and crushing them with my car to use in my collages. I create most of the imagery in the collages on my own, though. I paint quite obsessively. I scan those paintings or photograph them, and they are eventually added to the collages.

ladiesinthehouse2

Ladies in the House, collage, Peter Yumi, 2014

Paul Weiner:
There are often figures embedded within your collages. Who are these figures, and what meaning do they bring to the work?

Peter Yumi:
Most of the images are of friends or of people from current events. Some are from my Playboy collection. I have been working on my artwork pretty intensely the past few years, and I have not been that social as a result, so I started going out to galleries and photographing people I know as well. Mainly, I wanted to have my work express this general feeling of being cut off from what makes us human, being creative and having the balance of being an individual and part of a community. Today, we have all sorts of gizmos like the internet and our smart phones to be part of a world wide global nervous system, but the payoff is to maintain that you have to give up some of the freedoms of being a free spirit. Everything this measured now. In the workplace, keystrokes and other behaviors are measured, but behaviors that can not be quantified are being forgotten: how well did my cashier at the grocery store make someones day? Those types of behaviors are becoming less and less important. We are losing individual expression at the cost of productivity, and that is really a shame. But, at the same time, I am fearful and know others often feel oppressed by our new technological world but love the rewards that it gives. So, the images are supposed to reflect that feeling of being human and being part of technology or the age of technology anxiety. The subject matter is something important to me because I know that I am not the only one who feels this sense of alienation and dehumanization.

city

City, collage, Peter Yumi

Paul Weiner:
Tell us a little about your physical process for collage. What kinds of techniques are you using?

Peter Yumi:
I wrote three different versions to explain how I make these collages. Basically I paint a lot, and as a painter I am very expressive. I have always had a love of patterns and textiles and try to use those in the paintings. I try not to think. I have been a mediator for over twenty years, and that plays an important role in my process. If I start thinking things like “this is really good” or “this is really bad,” I just say to myself, in my head, “you’re thinking,” and I welcome myself back to painting, and I go back to painting. I have created all of these steps to keep as much of my neurotic self out of my process. Once I start making the final collage works, I have a much more methodical means of production.

The work involves a lengthy process of creating paintings and drawings that are scanned and catalogued by color, pattern, and subject matter for later use. Vintage wrapper paper and found photos or selfies and model photos are hole-punched and paper cut involving a process that allows for random cuts to limit the editorial choices. Each and every step of the process involves a set of rules in an attempt to leave the self out of the editorial process. Once the images have been prepped, they are scanned and catalogued. Later, the images are harvested for use in the creation of new images in Photoshop. They are worked through a process that again prohibits many editorial choices and leaves much to chance operations. Once that process is completed, the multiple images are printed out and cut apart using scissors, hole punchers, and circle cutters. They are then laid out on sheets of plexiglass, where they are in turn photographed or scanned. Then the process is again repeated 8, 13, or 21 times. The following rule is used to express the number of layers:

Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 7.17.00 PM

Once the layering is completed, sanding of the finished object occurs. The collage is scanned and then processed in Photoshop using a 3% black layer with noise filter set at 348.21%. The images are then saved and sent to production using an HP5800 large-format printer.

Johnbabcock

John Babcock, collage, Peter Yumi, 2014

Paul Weiner:
Where would you ideally like to see your artwork displayed? Does it fit in a traditional gallery or more of an alternative setting?

Peter Yumi:
I have been looking at joining a few co-op galleries here in Denver. I have spent the past five years or so wood shedding and really editing and working out my process, experimenting. I have been hesitant to show a lot of my work for that reason. I think of the process that writers go through, writing and rewriting and editing and reediting their work, is something that artists should embrace more. In the past, I would make work specifically for a group show, but now I have taken to creating an entire body of work that reads more like a delicious book of poems, and I have found that’s what it requires. I have shown my older work in a number of galleries, but for my newest work I want full control of what I am creating and the environment. I am essentially creating a space that is fully immersible with sound, light, and imagery, so it is important to me to be able to work with the rules that I have set up and do what the work demands. Right now, some of my prints might be ok with a group showing, but ideally they all need to been seen in a space together. They are brothers and sisters. It is my job, like any father, to raise them right and make sure that I provide a good place to nurture them. I work for them. They don’t work for me.

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Playboy, collage, Peter Yumi, 2014

Paul Weiner:
Do you see the images you use from Playboy or National Geographic as having appropriated meaning when taken out of their original context or are they only for aesthetic purposes?

Peter Yumi:
I like using the images from anywhere I can find them, really. Sometimes, I will see an image, and it will really hit me like a punch in the gut or it will make me laugh uncontrollably. I have really been doing my best to use images that are older than ten years old, mainly because I want my images to look very contemporary. I think many collage artists fall into the trap of making work with old images because they are copying collage styles from the past, but, when those artists made much of that collage originally, those were new images to them. It is important to me to see those distinctions between new and old images. If the image in the magazine is old, and I like it, though, I just treat it like any other image. In the end, it is about the result. I remember talking with a collage artists about how he used images from a book printed in the 1930s, just cut them up. He seemed proud of this, but to me, that’s what the work demands of a collage artist. You cut stuff up just like a painter mixes paint. A painter does not regret mixing pure blue with red to make purple, so a collage artist shouldn’t have those regrets either.

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Abe, collage, Peter Yumi

Paul Weiner:
How did you come up with the rules and equations for your process?

Peter Yumi:
John Cage has been an enormous influence on my work. I used to use I Ching to make my rules. Now, I make my rules through planning and observation of what other artists are doing. Sometimes, it will be a simple rule like only one image can be used in this collage, but you can have multiple copies of that same image. Sometimes, it will be no green. Other times, I will construct elaborate rules based off of language of some poets. Steve McCaffery does it so will with poetry, and I borrow a lot from the poets from that school. The equation I shared earlier is an expression of the Fibonacci sequence and it is used by artists all the time. Sometimes, they don’t even know they are using it with golden ratios. For my layering of images with glass, I decided upon the number of images layered at any given time based on that sequence. It goes like this: 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21. I can have one image by itself, that image with a second image, or a third, but, if I add any additional layers of glass, there has to be five because 2+3=5. So on and so forth, it makes it fun to have those limits. All sorts of strange things start happening during that process, things that happen just because of those rules.

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Palace of Water, collage, Peter Yumi, 2014

Paul Weiner:
How may collages would you estimate that you create over the course of a month?

Peter Yumi:
That’s really hard to say. I usually make ten to twenty images a day or more. Then my final finished collage work, I make twenty or more a month. I have created all sorts of ways of automating how the work is shared online with programs like Hootsuite. I use other means to randomly generate tagging of images on social media. I take all that data that is generated from views to my page to create a spreadsheet so I can track the highest number of views and where those people are coming from. That is a project of its own. I am working on a program now that will output all that data visually on my website so people can, if anyone cares but me, see in a beautiful way what they are looking at exactly.

ladies

Ladies, collage, Peter Yumi, 2014

Paul Weiner:
Tell us a little about the Denver art scene. What art venues do you go to when you want to see something interesting?

Peter Yumi:
I mostly go to galleries on Saturday or Sunday afternoon by myself and look at the work when no one is in the galleries. I will go to any space that has shows with friends or folks whose work I am interested in. I am very egalitarian in my choices of artwork. I honestly don’t know a lot about which galleries are currently trendy one or the ones people think are not that great. My thing is that I feel if people are making work that is thought provoking and downright interesting, I am interested in looking at it. I love artists, and anytime someone is making art, I don’t care who they are or who people think they are or aren’t. I feel joy that people are making artwork. We need more people making artwork in our world filled with strife and suffering, creating, getting out of their habitual thinking patterns, and being generally more alive. I just love artists and art.


Please view Peter Yumi’s website and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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David DiLillo’s Documentary Investigation of Nick Drake’s Hometown

David DiLillo’s multimedia artwork has been included in exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Calumet Photographic, Anthology Film Archives, Museum of the City of New York, State of the Art Gallery in Ithaca, Bottleneck Gallery in Brooklyn, Art Takes Times Square, Liverpool Lift-Off Film Festival, on SICTV, and in a wide variety of other galleries, festivals, and publications. He also works as an art instructor and as the Co-Founder/Co-Director of Aquehonga Cinema, a Staten Island community film series. During his interview on Critique Collective, DiLillo illustrates his recent trek to Tanworth-in-Arden, where he documented the town that cult-music icon Nick Drake lived in. Further images of DiLillo’s artwork can be found on his website.

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Three Hours From London; Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire

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Three Hours From London; Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire


Paul Weiner:
When did you originally find your interest in working as a multimedia artist?

David DiLillo:
The exact point in time is hard to pin down. I’ve been shooting photographs since middle school and drawing long before that. I’m immensely lucky and proud to come from a family of photographers and painters on both sides. They taught me that visual art is not only an important act of expression but also a form of preservation. I grew friendlier with a slew of diverse artists during my time in school and beyond who fiendishly got me involved in film production, sculpture, humor illustration, and other mediums. I love creative collaboration, but I also have an often-overwhelming amount of interests and passions, so I try to have my hands in many projects at once.

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Three Hours From London; Wilmcote Station, Warwickshire

Paul Weiner:
Who is Nick Drake, and how has his music impacted you?

David DiLillo:
When a close friend first showed me Nick’s music years ago, I devoured it obsessively only to find myself continually rediscovering new layers up to this day. Nick Drake was born in 1948 in Burma and grew up in Tanworth-in-Arden, a small hamlet in Warwickshire, England. His music never gained the recognition or visibility he desired, and he was eventually stricken with depression. Nick mysteriously died from an antidepressant overdose at the age of 26.

You can read a lot about the details, either known or rumored, about his tragically short life, about how he didn’t quite fit into rigid British norms of the time. What speaks to me most is this: Nick had an almost mystical ability to communicate timeless meditations on love and nature, and I’m one of many who deeply relates to his thoughts and struggles. But I believe he was just trying to share his mind and heart with others in the best way he knew how. His music never gained the audience and response that it deserved, and he was eventually overcome with depression. His lyrics shifted between cryptic psalms and beautifully descriptive accounts, and his guitar style blended English folk, American blues, and even Eastern tonality later on. Nick’s fragile music and words of romance and universal connection have consistently given me new eyes to see myself and the world.

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Three Hours From London; Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire

Paul Weiner:
Do you consider your Three Hours from London series to be a documentary, narrative, or more conceptual sort of project?

David DiLillo:
The phrase Three Hours from London comes from one of Nick’s darker songs about escape. Interestingly enough, it took me about three hours by train to get to Tanworth-in-Arden from the English capital. When I stayed in the village, I solely listened to Nick’s music and shot without a strict objective in mind, which was a bit non-academic and liberating. I was writing, too, but the series is a very personal visual journal of sorts. It can act as a narrative if certain lyrics of Nick’s are paired with particular images, and it can act as a documentary piece about the town and surrounding areas. I shot in black and white to evoke the time in which Nick lived, though – to use another of Nick’s lyrics, a time of no reply. By visiting Nick’s final resting place, I had the chance to bridge the chasm of decades and feel like I was meeting him.

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Three Hours From London; Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire

Paul Weiner:
I like the idea of trying meet a dead artist and experience the town he lived in. When you were in Tanworth-in-Arden, did you meet and discuss Nick Drake with any of the locals or was this more of an immersive experience of everyday life in the village?

David DiLillo:
I spent a large amount of time hiking the area in solitude, unplugged from most technology and my common distractions. I attempted simply to observe and document what was around me – the shades of leaves in the afternoon, the sounds of children playing in the distance, the brushes of wind from the hills. My immersion seemed sacred, familiar, and rustic all at once. It reminded me of Nick’s songs of isolation. This wasn’t a negative feeling but more a type of connection with the graves and green pastures and people around me. In a strange and welcoming way, this demystified the idea of idolizing a musician whom I’ll never truly know and instead helped me to deepen my understanding of him as a young man who lived a vibrantly creative but far too short life.

I was also completely warmed by meeting and talking to those who lived and worked in town. They were brilliantly and immeasurably kind-hearted, open-minded people. Many patrons at the inn heard my accent and might have assumed that I had come to visit Nick Drake, the singer buried among their many other loved ones and friends. One day, in the cemetery, I met a man sitting on a bench close to me where his wife and he used to sit together. He was there in remembrance of the woman he’d spent most of his life with, and I felt as if I were remembering a man I’d never met. We spoke for a long while, and it was a bond I’ll always cherish.

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Three Hours From London; Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire

Paul Weiner:
Are there any particular songs that you used as inspiration?

David DiLillo:
Beyond “Three Hours,” the song “From The Morning” was especially resonant with me. It’s the final track on Nick’s third and last album released during his lifetime, ‘Pink Moon,’ and its lyrics are engraved as the stark epitaph on his tombstone: “Now we rise / And we are everywhere.” Nick’s music is poignantly spiritual, but there are recurring, naturalistic element and motifs without adherence to one single denomination of faith. I interpret this line as a beautiful and hopeful vision of the constantly cycling energy in this world, reborn again and again.

From a different angle, the song “One of These Things First” paints a very stark and grounded image of regret. It’s a perpetually fascinating song. As the litany of paths not taken and responsibilities unmet grows, Nick’s somber words float over brightly swung major chords and piano rolls. I view the piece as an admission and apology to those whom Nick might have neglected while still being an enlightened and wise acceptance of the choices he actually made. I sincerely relate and try to reach this awareness.

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Three Hours From London; Warwickshire

Paul Weiner:
Were you at all surprised by what you saw in Tanworth-in-Arden?

David DiLillo:
I felt like I had been there before in an old dream. The English Midlands are not unlike the hillsides of eastern Pennsylvania, but the newness of the scents and sounds gave a unique and raw experience. The passing of time, or my perception of it, surprised me. The days seemed long but ethereal and illuminated. I was rendered stunned by the emotional impact that one individual artist’s work and life could have on me, and I was taken aback by a town not frozen in history on the countryside but, rather, breathing with lives and stories that come and go.

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Three Hours From London; Warwickshire

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Three Hours From London; Warwickshire

Paul Weiner:
Was this series shot digitally or with a film process?

David DiLillo:
I shot with my father’s Canon AE-1 and used black and white film. I nearly forgot to request that the rolls be checked separately at the airport, an important reminder for all other picture makers and photo takers who still travel with film. I was also collecting digital video footage, but it was important for me to use an older process to shoot this project because of the investment of time and care required. There’s the inherent risk of not knowing the look of images taken until much later, but I put trust in my knowledge with the process and in whatever outcome I’d end up with.

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Three Hours From London; Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire

Paul Weiner:
Has your project with Nick Drake affected your way of thinking when creating new works? Did you learn anything about your own practice either technically or conceptually throughout this process?

David DiLillo:
Going into the project, I knew it would be important for me to present the area around Tanworth-in-Arden from an observer’s point of view. Since then, I’ve tried to take the many creative influences I have and make work that can be seen as a reinterpretation of inputs instead of representation and reflection. The isolation of the project and the trip also had its significance and place, but I think I’ve become more drawn to collaborative work in any medium; exchanging ideas with others has become invaluable to me. And I’m still learning to focus less on how a photograph, or any other creative pursuit or piece of art, might fit into the greater whole of an outlined project and more on how I can best genuinely express my own thoughts through art.

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Three Hours From London; Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire


Please view David DiLillo’s work on hiswebsite and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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JJ Brine’s VECTOR Gallery Explores Cultural Hybridity

VECTOR Gallery is among contemporary art’s foremost installation spaces, located at 40 Clinton Street in New York City and constructed by JJ Brine. The gallery operates in its own futuristic time zone as a means for disrupting reality within what Brine calls the PostHuman movement. VECTOR Gallery stands out from other avant garde installations as a space decoding cultural hybridity. VECTOR assimilates growing cultural movements under its PostHuman conceptual framework with an unabashed interplay between old and new as Brine intertwines religion and identity politics, the internet and physical space, colonial government structures and liberation, the future and the present.

Throughout the interview, Brine uses some terms that he has coined such as nevent, Alan, and antity. Please find definitions of these words in the VECTOR glossary. Further information about the concept behind VECTOR can be found in Brine’s artist statement and updates from the The Government of The Satanic State of VECTOR are also available online.

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Paul Weiner:
Tell us a little about the way VECTOR Gallery and your title, Crown Prince of Hell, came to be.

JJ Brine:
Eye have had that title for as long as Eye can remember and VECTOR Gallery came into being when Eye embraced it.

Paul Weiner:
Many religious and pop culture references are made in your work, including a comparison of Charles Manson to Jesus. Could you describe the religious aspect of VECTOR Gallery?

JJ Brine:
VECTOR is itself a religion, and it manifests according to the observation of its own tenets. It reveals the nature(s) of all who engage it, and at the same time it reformats their nature(s) as it sees fit.

Paul Weiner:
Do you see your work as site-specific and strictly contained within VECTOR Gallery or are you open to exhibitions in other gallery spaces or museums?

JJ Brine:
Eye had a militantly site-specific policy for some time but Eye have developed an expansionistic agenda as of late. One recent manifestation of this is my PostHuman Mass Grave.

Paul Weiner:
Describe your PostHuman Mass Grave and how it came to be.

JJ Brine:
It is the Guarantor of the coming events. You have to bait the reality to make it bite.

Paul Weiner:
Could you describe a few of VECTOR’s religious tenets?

JJ Brine:
Shall Eye invert the entirety of Lord Universe in order to describe Lord Universe Itself? Everything is in alignment with its Antity. There is no need for semantic distinction between “is” and “becomes” when We know that everything is happening All at once – The Infinitoment. The AntiChrist is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is The AntiChrist.

Paul Weiner:
Do you recruit new members to join VECTOR? How many followers do you have?

JJ Brine:
There are infinite ways to count to One, and there is One way to count to infinity. You might find me saying, in some other time and place: “Oh, but this was all prearranged, Baby.” And that would be true. But Eye have no need for followers, for Eye am herding neither cattle nor sheep! If We are to be together, forever, We need only share a passing thought. And in that thought the entire world is following me, and vice-versa.

Paul Weiner:
Would you like VECTOR to expand outside of New York City?

JJ Brine:
Do Eye have a choice? As if it could be contained…!

Paul Weiner:
Do you see your music and installations as aesthetically linked? Do you create them simultaneously?

JJ Brine:
They are different formats for One incantation.

Paul Weiner:
Do you consider VECTOR to be linked to an exploration of sexual identity?

JJ Brine:
VECTOR can be used as a prism for the exploration of any identity.

Paul Weiner:
Do you believe VECTOR is a forum to disrupt historical cultural norms and offer a new kind of history?

JJ Brine:
Yes.

Paul Weiner:
VECTOR Gallery recently hosted a PostHuman wedding. What other kinds of ceremonies or events does the gallery host?

JJ Brine:
We are linking up the beginning to the end, the end to the beginning. We serve the interests of infinity in its infinite forms. We are especially interested in hosting Nevents – events which cannot and will never take place.

Paul Weiner:
Anything you’d like to add?

JJ Brine:
The Satanic State of VECTOR is looking for attachés to appoint to the following territories: Japan, Tunisia, Yemen, China, Zimbabwe, India, Vanuatu, Sweden, Somalia, Argentina, Ethiopia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Brazil, Haiti, Indonesia, Suriname, Mexico, France, Germany, Syria, Lebanon, and Benin, among others. Please be in touch if you know that We are waiting to hear from you.

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Please view VECTOR Gallery’s website and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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The Antic Staatsoper Critiques Contemporary Life through Hybrid Photography

Encountering the Antic Staatsoper’s work for the first time is like watching a romantic date end in heartbreak. The artist, who originally hails from the south of France and currently lives in San Francisco, sets the stage with masteresque, chiaroscuro lighting reminiscent of Caravaggio’s paintings. He fills his images with classical references to various gods and spiritual scenes throughout his beautifully spacious compositions. But then he introduces the critique, illustrating contemporary issues through old figurative, bodily vessels within a digital landscape. The Antic Staatsoper covers material from censorship to perversion and the narcissism of today’s popular selfies in hopes of reviving art’s historically political conversation in a time when many artists are so preoccupied with the new tools at their hands that they forget about content. These pieces take on the contemporary nude, questioning the Puritan covering of the body that can amount to censorship, especially in the digital space. Oddly, the formally romantic setting of this work recalls the reactionary tendencies that the artist critiques, bringing historical context to the forefront of the work.

The Antic Staatsoper’s work can also be found on his website.

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Aborted Goddess of Confidence

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Venus and the Dark Veil of the Censorship


Paul Weiner:
You were born in the South of France before moving to San Francisco, California. Do you feel that your art is influenced at all by geography and the cultures of the places you have lived?

The Antic Staatsoper:
Of course! I’m hungry for all cultures and experiences that life can give me.

On a personal level, I consider myself a lucky guy to have the chance to visit the most famous classic and contemporary museums in Europe. In those conditions, your curiosity is better than any art school. Europe gave me a huge culture, keeping me curious about old and contemporary art or popular and underground culture. I’m still surprised every day by the European culture and its diversity. My art is born in Europe, and I can’t do anything to hide that. I only realized how much my photographs appear European since I have left Europe. I wasn’t conscious of that before. The old Europe raised me, but I felt like a teenager who has read too many books of the Beat Generation, dreaming about things bigger than life, still waiting for a train to come.

I’ve always had a craving to live in the American culture. I’ve played in a lot of indie, rock, post-rock, and experimental bands influenced by American music. Some rock runs in my veins. I’ve eaten up the American literature of the 20th century, adored movies from the counterculture, and finally felt the call of a new kind freedom as a way of expression. I think that my thirst for liberty and the dynamism of my work comes from the United States. This energy, this power that pushes me forward, is my American part. I’m proud of it.

My heart, shared between these two loves, has found a perfect balance. Today, my only dark point remains how to be accepted in the galleries with nude pictures in the United States, even in the fantastic Frisco.

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Perverted Pieta

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Artemis Cutting off Her Hymen

Paul Weiner:
Your works often reference Gods of various different religions and mythologies, as in the case of Venus and the Dark Veil of the Censorship or Perverted Pieta. How do you select the Gods or religions to be used in each work?

The Antic Staatsoper:
“Use what you know” could be my motto. I can’t struggle against my Western culture. I really love the mythology. It seems very human to me. I love the imperfections and the deviant behavior, so simple but true of these gods. There is a real pleasure to play with these creatures. Each character has a specialization. That helps me to focus on my topic. I also like to manipulate their bodies. Their poses, the contraction of the muscles, or the position of each member in the frame can say more than any word can. Also, I need to show naked bodies to remind people that nudity is not pornography. Once again, it’s a way for me to directly ask you some questions about your acceptance of your body as a natural device for communicating with your environment. I don’t understand the prudery today. I tend to see this trend of fearing nudity as the root of many frustrations and conflicts in the world.

I use Christianity too. There are so many things to say, but I didn’t want to walk the easy an outdated path of profanity. Here again, my connections with the painters and sculptors were obvious. Their art take us farther away than the religion they’re supposed to be a part of, like Bach gives you the most powerful perceptions of spirituality with his passions. At the begining, Christianity was the first love revolution of history. But it’s really interesting to see how we have perverted it and used it to abuse others. I show religions as biological systems. This sociological phenomenon is subject to a tragic decay from the dynamic and positive youth to the dark age of its own Apoptosis. However, I think that we cannot ignore the relationship of this system or the people who lead it with their environment. Every religion and their distorted visions could unveil many humorous situations. We are only able to represent our divinities in every religion through our own prism with human or, eventually, animals features. Or, sometimes, religions avoid any representations so as to avoid questions about their origins.

Of course I don’t forget the other religions. For Venus and the Dark Veil of the Censorship, the idea came from many female friends of mine in Europe who told me they could now get in trouble for wearing dresses or skirts in certain places. Some of them have been threatened by puritans asking them to put on veils. I can not let this be silenced. As I said, the body is the key: less gods, more spirit!

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Troie

Paul Weiner:
Tell us a little about the physical process for making these works. To what extent are they digital versus photographic?

The Antic Staatsoper:
It’s hard to answer. I never considered myself as a photographer. I always have doubts when I see the work of other photographers. Actually, I’m just a frustrated painter who is not able to hold a brush or to mix two different colors to get something consistent. I was very impressed by the Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle. He is also one of my favorite contemporary artists. I had the chance to see the five parts of the Cremaster. I discovered that he was, in fact, a plastician. He shot movies only to set up his scenery. I think that is what I do too. My pictures could be movies or paintings or sculptures or even music because in the beginning, I’m a musician. Photography was, well I have to admit, easier for me to manage. Maybe it’s a kind of sketchbook.

My digital process is based on old painting processes. Yes, it’s very old school. The scenery is the same that you could use for a drawing, a very simple set up and a simple light, as natural as possible. I need the models to express struggle and the instability of the situation, the moment before the conclusion. At the end of the process, I try to be a painter, so I use a digital brush because it is less harmful than a real one. I try to paint some texture on the pictures as if I had made and shaped all these pictures with my own hands.

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Alcatraz

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Narcissus Cloning (The Curse of the Selfie)

Paul Weiner:
Tell us a little about your formal interest in merging classical imagery and contemporary, digital methods of creating. Your Decorum series seem to reference, for instance, 17th Century Dutch paintings such as landscapes by Rembrandt and Vermeer while the Gods series has a Baroque feel about it, perhaps sourcing from Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro scenes.

The Antic Staatsoper:
Three years ago, after a long love story, something broke in my relationship with art. I realized that something was missing, but I didn’t know what.

I needed to come back to the classical imagery. I needed to go back to the true aim of art, a way to reach an upper consciousness, a gate to the spirituality. I wanted something less fed by itself, something less self-centered. I was bored by the “me, myself, and I” inspiration. The second point was technology itself. Today, the technique and technology seem to be more important than the intention and the meaning. These perfect tools distract us from our goal. That’s what was missing for me in contemporary art: a real purpose, a yearning, and a real battle for these values. That is what I found in classic art, a strength and a complexity that can haunt you for days and days. In the end, you get your own questions and maybe some answers. This is an active art. It lives inside you. It brings you out of your material contingencies, above the poor representations of the religion and its false perception. This art opened new doors for me. It gave me a window toward spirituality. I use a classical imagery so as to talk about our world.

I also wanted a Lo-Fi approach like in lo-fi music. The aesthetic didn’t need to be perfect, punching digital imagery straight to her face. But using digital technology was necessary too. I don’t want to be seen as passé.

I started the project DECORUM in 2012. At the beginning, I just wanted to ask questions about our uses of these new technologies in art and not about the tool itself. My first intention was to show the lack of sustainability of the contemporary imagery. I imagined digital pictures rusted in our hard drive. Some of its rotten pixels reveal our world like it will remain after us: empty spaces with simple lights, old artifacts of humanity, an old-fashioned vision, the last sustainable form of imagery, and the lights from a vanishing world.

Most of these pictures were taken in the north of France and Paris. The European painters and their uses of natural light were an important influence. In this back-to-the-roots project, I played with the old imagery and its powerful symbolism fulfilled by different meaning and hidden messages. In this way, I began to ask questions about our behavior. It created a place for new experimentations.

I used DECORUM as a starting point for my work-in-progress, GODS. It would be its birth place.

For this project, I chose contrasting imagery. I want you to feel the struggle even in the lighting with only one light above each character, the light of spirituality. The contrast is in the Manichean symbol of their battles. Gericault and Il Caravaggio are my masters, of course. The language of their bodies and the strength of their scenery were decisive and definitely helped me to initiate the project. The body, the pure, naked body in all its beauty is the perfect interface between the material and spiritual world. Only a natural light can express this union, this dialogue.

At this time I realized that I was horrified by a world which is falling again in a new obscurantism and puritanism. Just read the news, and you will get an idea of what I’m talking about. But the thing that scared me the most was the lack of opposition from the world of art. I don’t think that most of our creative producers are really involved in these conflicts.

I needed something powerful in order to ask my questions to the world.

The topics are various, but they all lead to the same basic issues: the misunderstanding between religion and spirituality, the new behaviors between generations, the new medias and how they modify us, large corporations and mass-media, society and entertainment, new relations, empathy, love, fertility, creation, and our ability to reach universal peace. Together.

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Atlas Abandoning Our World

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Cassandra vs. Pandora

Paul Weiner:
How did you begin your Gods series and what emotions are you trying to evoke?

The Antic Staatsoper:
After having launched the Decorum series, I realized that I created a new universe, a Tabula Rasa where I could experiment with more ideas.

I’m very slow at work, and it took me more than 3 months to complete each picture. Each time, I let my ideas becoming clearer, collecting information to enhance the accuracy of my purpose. I stretched all the interrogations and statements I had in this universe until I got the scenario of the scene. It was the starting point.

Decorum is my Mount Olympus. I filled it with characters coming from mythologies and old beliefs. These characters, these gods, were created as a mirror of our own behaviors or trends, playing with distortions to gain more efficiency. Their symbolism still works in our world, but sometimes the conclusions seem to take unexpected paths.

My first God was Altas. He carries the world on his shoulder, but why should he continue? Do we deserve this privilege? All these Gods evolve live in a blurry world in tandem with our world.

I never intend to give emotions through my pictures. I would like to be able to play with your emotions, but I don’t know how. Emotions are correlated to your own life, so they are different for each person. At each exhibition, the feedback always surprises me. The viewers most of the time describe my pictures as disturbing, erotic, provocative, or mesmerizing, and the reasons were always different for each picture. Rather than giving emotions, I prefer to ask questions. My pictures represent the last step before your own conclusions are made. You could guess how it will end, but the conclusion will be your own one.

I would like after seeing my pictures that you keep them in mind, wondering if you agree or not. Are my questions relevant? Does this picture bring you other questions? Do you feel a new need? Maybe this is the kind of emotion I want you to feel.


Please view the Antic Staatsoper’s website and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Donald Gialanella Repurposes Everyday Objects as Monumental Public Sculptures

An eclectic restlessness fuels Donald Gialanella’s artwork as he reclaims objects and conjures a nostalgic awareness of the cultures in which he is embedded. Gialanella is known for his use of household objects such as spoons, pots, and pans in constructing monumental public sculptures. In his private work, Gialanella goes so far as to compare the reuse of objects in an artistic setting to Buddhist reincarnation. The works pair a shrewd sensibility for displaying the contemporary moment with commentaries on the universality of utilitarian objects to develop the kind of discussion that so unfortunately eludes many contemporary artists: pop art that thinks. Gialanella’s works are dizzyingly intricate, filled with materials loaded with cultural significance and masterful, poetic metalwork.

Gialanella, who holds an Emmy for his work on Monday Night Football and a BFA from the Cooper Union, lives and works in Los Angeles. Having taught internationally at Bilkent University in Turkey, Gialanella has returned to public sculpture. His sculptures can be found in Napa, CA; Pasadena, CA; and Albany, NY with a forthcoming piece to be installed at the Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital on the campus of Stanford Unversity in Palo Alto, CA. Last year, he was included in shows at the ADC/Building Bridges Gallery in Bergamot Station, Santa Monica and the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art in Santa Ana, CA. Gialanella’s artwork can also be found on his website.

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Paul Weiner:
Tell us about your interest in creating sculptures out of recycled and reclaimed objects. Where did this inspiration come from?

Donald Gialanella:
I have been working with recycled and reclaimed materials for decades now and can’t put my finger on exactly why I’m drawn to these objects. What I can say is that I have a deep connection to working with odd assemblages of objects, and I enjoy act of shaping metal.

When I begin to work with these materials, I feel the juices flowing and enter into a kind of creative rapture. The process is beyond logic. I can begin working, and something poetic grabs me, and changes me, and the work begins to exist on its own terms. I am there as a medium to guide the process.

The inspiration to use discarded objects to make art started when I was a boy. I used to rummage around in the scrap box underneath my dad’s table saw. I would take these odd shaped bits of wood and glue them together to create little figures of eskimos, genies, knights and animals.

Looking at things differently is the role of the artist. Art reflects our culture and offers a new perspective about ourselves and the world we live in. When I see discarded objects, I think about them as raw materials for art. I look at trash differently than the average person.

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Paul Weiner:
In your LA BUDDHA and LIBIDO works, you introduce the two-dimensional painted surface to these reclaimed objects. I read The Buddha as a symbol, perhaps one for the Buddhist concept or reincarnation, in association with your way of giving new life to objects. Are you consciously constructing these symbolic webs?

Donald Gialanella:
The Buddha series serves as metaphor for the reincarnation of the objects that lived their initial lives and are returning in new lives. I used a two-dimensional or low-relief approach to these wall-hung assemblages.

The pieces explore the problematic juxtaposition of planned obsolescence versus modernity and substance over spirituality. It explores our relationship to materialism and probes how we look at permanence. What emerge are ideas that prompt the viewer to ponder environmental responsibility and our cultural relationship to waste and sustainability.

Art critic Dave Quick wrote about these works, “The genre is also a nod to Southern California multiculturalism. (Indeed, one of the area’s largest Buddhist temples is located in the San Fernando Valley not far from Gialanella’s studio.) All nine works are mounted on recycled plastic pallets, which hang on the wall and create space between the wall and the work to create a more three-dimensional, sculptural effect. The pallets themselves continue the metaphorical reincarnation — pallets that once carried other loads, now carry Gialanella’s creativity.”

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Paul Weiner:
What is your reasoning behind the use of multiple common objects, like spoons and gears, to create your assemblage sculptures?

Donald Gialanella:
The commonplace things we use every day are important elements in our lives: pots, pans, silverware, dog bowls, coffee cups. We have a relationship with them, a kind of emotional bond. We use them to nourish ourselves, to cook with, to put food in our mouths, and to drink out of. They are an extension of our humanity.

People’s connection to these mass-produced utilitarian objects fascinates me. I’m interested in their lifecycle, the almost living lifecycle of the modern object: production, marketing, ownership, and destruction in the end. That’s the typical story of these modern objects. I interrupt this story by using accumulations of these objects in my art.

By disrupting an object’s normal lifecycle, one looks at things differently. A spoon is not just a spoon anymore. A pot is not just a pot. The object’s normal lifecycle is interrupted by using it as an element in my sculpture. It is saved from destruction. It is frozen in time.

When it is embedded in an assemblage, you stop the moment. You see it as a memory of objects that nurtured you all your life.

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Paul Weiner:
Your Youtube account, livesteel, features a wide variety of videos from your own art exhibitions to bison running from a volcano and a mysterious space ball dropping on Namibia. Some of the videos on the odd side have gone viral, gaining millions of views. Is this some kind of elaborate ruse, a foray into video art, or are these just videos you’ve taken and compiled out of your own interest?

Donald Gialanella:
The Youtube channel contains an eclectic mix of videos that range from a slightly skewed look at natural phenomena to some not-so-mainstream people at the fringe. I do think of them as video art.

The content is hard to categorize, as some are satirical send-ups or cartoon-like puns, some are re-edits of available footage, some are raw video of events I shot, and some are elaborate video productions involving a crew and post-production facilities.

These videos are both an offbeat way of telling stories and a way to illuminate environmental issues I am concerned about.

It all started when I photographed a desiccated dead dog I came across while hiking in the high desert of Taos, NM. I put a move on the still photo and posted it as a short video on Youtube. It got a million views and was embraced by the cryptozoologists and conspiracy theorists alike. I made some obvious parodies after that which also garnered big views, the humor in them being largely ignored by people looking for proof of the existence of monsters and aliens.

One section of the channel is dedicated to my art videos, showing a glimpse into the creative process as well as time-lapse creation of artwork, painting videos, welding, art events, and commentary.

 

Paul Weiner:
The sculptures seem to take on the influences of the previous uses for the objects you incorporate, intrinsically loaded with cultural values. As such, the places you find these objects impacts the meaning of the work. What are some of your favorite places to find the objects you use for your sculptures?

Donald Gialanella:
I am always on the lookout for materials where ever I go. It’s a bit of an obsession. House sales, garbage cans, the side of the road, flea markets, auctions, auto repair shops and scrap yards are all places where I find interesting objects. Sometimes I buy things in bulk, a gross of spoons or coffee creamers.

A toy drive was held at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital to gather hundreds of toys needed for building the assemblage cow sculpture I’m creating. The drive yielded seven very large boxes of toys that ranged from matchbox cars, dolls and action figures, to transformers, Legos, animals, and Sponge Bobs.

The toys then have to be processed in order to be able to use, meaning I have to remove all batteries and sort by size, color and material. This makes the search for a particular shape and color toy much easier during the application of the toys to the cow armature, or what I call populating the surface.

A Los Angeles filmmaker, Scott Trosclair, is making a documentary that shows the entire process of building the cow, from inception to installation.

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Paul Weiner:
What originally drew you to creating public sculptures and expanding out from the commercial gallery art scene?

Donald Gialanella:
Twenty years ago, commercial galleries were the main outlet for art sales. Today, that has changed. It just doesn’t make much sense for an artist to give away 50% or even 60% of his sales to the gallery. With the visibility afforded by an online presence, the artist can now present their work to a large audience more affordably than brick and mortar gallery prices. It’s a win/win situation for the artist and their clients.

When I lived in Taos, I met artist Larry Bell, who had studios in both Taos, NM and Venice Beach, CA. I remember him referring to galleries as “upscale consignment shops.” That about sums it up.

However, there is a clear distinction to be made between commercial galleries, the consignment shops if you will, and the academic/museum quality galleries that show cutting-edge work and site-specific installations.

This past summer I was part of an exhibition, Art and Democracy V, at the ADC/Building Bridges Gallery in Bergamot Station, Santa Monica. Also, last summer, my work was included in a three-person show at OCCCA (The Orange County Center for Contemporary Art) in Santa Ana, CA.

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Paul Weiner:
You have quite a bit of experience working with art in a public setting, including your time working with graphics at ABC-TV in New York. Do you see any ways in which your current art reflects your older work with graphics, either in process or in thought?

Donald Gialanella:
My background in computer graphics has helped me greatly as an artist by allowing me to understand and use digital tools that can visualize and communicate ideas through compelling images.

The process of designing a TV project and a sculpture begin in the same way – with sketches to work out the preliminary ideas. There is nothing better than a drawing to quickly realize your design. It’s a valuable skill to be able to draw something in a simple and direct way that contains the basic form and layout of your idea.

Every creative endeavor can benefit from making early adjustments on paper before progressing to construction. It’s easier to use an eraser than it is to use a bulldozer.

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Paul Weiner:
Public sculptures are intriguing because they exist more directly for people outside of the art world. For instance, it isn’t uncommon to see children climbing around on public sculptures or people staring out of their car windows at them. Do you ever return to the sites of your public works to see how the public interacts with them?

Donald Gialanella:
I enjoy seeing my work in the public arena, but I usually don’t have the luxury of revisiting the sites after installation unless the sculptures are damaged, which is exactly what happened to a piece installed on Main Street in Napa, CA. After the sculpture had been up for over a year, I received a call that vandals had gotten on top of the stainless steel orb overnight and rocked back and forth until it was loose on the base and listing to one side. I had to fly up and repair it. The incident taught me a valuable lesson: you must over-engineer outdoor sculpture to be able to withstand the vagaries of public display.

That brings up another point. There is really no way to make a piece of art completely damage-proof. Public sculpture is susceptible from taggers and vandals 24/7. The only thing that can dissuade attacks is the very public and visible placement of the piece, adequate lighting at night, and solid construction and mounting. But, again, nothing is immune.

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Paul Weiner:
You must run into a wide range of structural issues when constructing these sculptures. What are the challenges of building a chassis or armature for some of these works?

Donald Gialanella:
When commissioned to do a public sculpture, it is imperative to have a structural engineer work out details of how weight and size stress the armature and base attachment. Public safety and durability are of paramount concern. Based on the engineering report, I use the specified gauge of materials and recommended welding certification.

The larger the sculpture is, the more challenging it is to construct. It’s many times more difficult to build an eight foot tall sculpture than a four foot tall piece. Safety in the studio is a primary concern as plasma cutting, welding, grinding, and manipulating heavy objects are all inherently dangerous operations.

A new project I am doing in Blue Springs, MO, involves two large pieces of 1/4” thick steel that weigh in excess of 500 lbs. each being delivered to my studio. The final sculpture will weigh over half a ton.

Paul Weiner:
How does your work function within a gallery space? Do you create the same kind of work for a gallery or academic space as you do for public works?

Donald Gialanella:
I approach public art design by focusing on the goals of the project, analyzing usage of the site as it relates to the local culture and community, and finally developing a plan of action to fulfill and balance the complexities of the project effectively and compellingly. My goal is to implement public art in a way that has a lasting positive impact on the local community. This is a much different process from mounting a gallery show.

A gallery show is usually a more personal statement with work that is created with an introspective motivation. It’s a chance to experiment and get feedback about new ideas.

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Paul Weiner:
Which artist, either historical or contemporary, do you feel has had the greatest impact on your work?

Donald Gialanella:
I had the privilege of learning from some well-known artists while I was earning my BFA at The Cooper Union in the late ’70s. My teachers read like a Who’s Who of contemporary art. I studied with Hans Haacke and Vito Acconci, Kenneth Snelson, Jim Dine and Louise Bourgeois. But the greatest impact on my career was made by Louise Bourgeois, who asked me to become her assistant after graduation.

I was both thrilled and apprehensive when Louise asked me to work for her at her home in a Chelsea brownstone. Always the wry provocateur, she tested my resolve on the first day. Ushering me up a flight of stairs, she opened up a closet door and pointed to an inside wall. “You will make a portal,” she said and then walked away. On the floor was a lone pickaxe. When she returned a half-hour later and saw the hole I put in her wall, she smiled and said, “You break through a wall without knowing what is on the other side?” She then added a terse, “Very good.”

I made several more portals in the walls of her house over the years. She used to scurry through these odd shaped archways to escape from exasperated gallery owners and art dealers.


Please view Donald Gialanella’s website and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Sage Cruz Field Discusses His Interdisciplinary Practice

Sage Cruz Field links various forms of visual representation through his diverse body of work. Paintings and prints depicting animals hang eclectically with photographs and forays into the colorful language of abstraction. Manipulated with everything from acrylic to oil and spray paint on substrates such as cardboard and mattresses, Cruz Field’s paintings simultaneously evince sensations tangential to street art, lyrical abstraction, and figuration. These expressive techniques inform Cruz Field’s use of animal and human forms to expose the iconography of the representational pictorial plane as an emotional and psychological space.

Cruz Field currently lives in Syracuse, NY, where he is seeking a BFA in painting at Syracuse University. His works will be exhibited in a solo exhibition open to the public at Spark Contemporary Art Space at 1005 E. Fayette Street, Syracuse, NY on April 18, 2015. Cruz Field’s artwork can also be found on his website and tumblr.

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Paul Weiner:
Tell us a little about your process and aesthetics. How do you usually start a painting?

Sage Cruz Field:
I deliberately start a painting either abstract or realistic. My realistic pieces tend to illustrate a moment in time. Oils are an amazing tool, but I love to exaggerate space or form with the puff of spray paint. I am always drawn to worn materials because they are an immediate representation of time. Lately, I have gone back to acrylics in order to create a pop art sense of space in pieces.

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Paul Weiner:
What artist or artists do you feel have had the greatest influence on your work?

Sage Cruz Field:
My father has been my biggest influence in art. Seeing him working as an artist, whether it be oils, drawing, or murals, shaped who I am today. I am surprised sometimes to see colors and shapes in my pieces that stem directly from him. Seeing an old sketchbook of his one day really made this click for me. I always have to give credit to the graffiti artists I grew up seeing in the streets. Their language has also had a major impact on me. Other professional artists tend to be an afterthought.

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Paul Weiner:
You work in both abstract and figurative painting as well as photography. Is there any difference in how you think about making work across these different mediums?

Sage Cruz Field:
As I said, my realistic work is usually quite calculated even though the narrative may be open-ended. My abstract pieces are a series of experiments that end with victory or defeat. Over the years, I have, of course, tried to evolve the process of my paintings in different ways. Photography has definitely been a catalyst in changing my approach in all mediums. The immediacy of a photograph is powerful and hard to get a grasp on. In my eyes, however, the brush and camera are very similar tools.


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Paul Weiner:
Many of your recent works use animals as the subject. How do you decide on these animals and how does their presence impact the painting?

Sage Cruz Field:
Over time, my use of the animals has changed. I began using them as vehicle to communicate emotions such as grief, joy, or rage. Since then, my connection to these animals has mostly come from personal encounters in which I had the ability to photograph them. Sometimes, I find myself following animals to photograph them or just see where they lead me.

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Paul Weiner:
You mentioned the connection between your work and graffiti artists you see on the street. Is the ideal setting for your work public like graffiti, in a more private space like a gallery, or somewhere else?

Sage Cruz Field:
Like the work of street and graffiti artists, I have strived to become versatile in different environments. Maybe this is why I am attracted to video, design, and photography. I never considered separating myself from a specific platform such as a gallery or the street. Instead, I have tried to understand the power of each and their relationship to the community. I have worked very hard to contribute my work to the surrounding community in various ways. A vast space like the internet is very saturated with artists, and your local neighborhood is always substantially less.

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Paul Weiner:
When did you first start painting and how has your work evolved in recent years?

Sage Cruz Field:
I began seriously painting in high school when I received a scholarship to take free classes at the Steve Carpenter Studio. Steve is an extremely accomplished painter and amazing teacher. I focused here on still life painting. I was also accepted into the New York State Summer School of the Arts while in high school. Here, I focused on figure drawing and installation art. Experience with printmaking has also affected how I approach some paintings. Music has integrated into my art and photography in many ways, mainly through press passes and photo clients. Overall, I have maintained a specific outlook on color and energy that I hope people can recognize.


Please view Sage Cruz Fields’s websitetumblr, and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Mary Luke’s Paintings Merge Existentialist Theories and the Human Figure

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Detail of self portrait, 2013

Mary Luke is known for paintings involving existentialist commentary on the human figure, particularly as it relates to aging. In her monumental oil paintings that often extend five or more feet in either direction, Luke develops a tour de force of painterly figuration, engulfing viewers in voids and distorted body parts. Luke often works on unstretched canvas, applying various papers, paints, tape, and detritus from her studio to create heavy layers of rich, malleable textures and an atmosphere reminiscent of action painters like Willem De Kooning. Better yet, her recent works plunge into the realm of gesture and ephemerality, where her non-archival paintings are given a life span mimicking that of her subject, elderly human figures. Though many of Luke’s recent works may be seen as vignettes, these single figures act as decentralized nodes for a postmodern theoretical discourse when placed in the gallery setting. A visual language emanates from the didactic works, which is punctuated by elegant aesthetic choices including swirls of impasto oil paint, varying line qualities, and enticing pops of color.

Luke recently relocated to Philadelphia after graduating from Syracuse University with a BFA in painting in May of 2014. She has displayed her artwork in the Piazzale Donatello 21 in Florence, Italy, Katonah Museum of Art, SUNY Purchase, and various galleries throughout the Syracuse area such as 914 Works and XL Projects. Further images and information about Luke’s work can be found on her website.

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Installation at Piazzale Donatello 21 in Florence, Italy, 2013


Paul Weiner:
What kinds of materials do you use in your work?

Mary Luke:
Oil paint is the leading medium in my work. However, I am interested in combining oil paint with other mediums including charcoal, graphite, pastel, ink, and acrylic paint. And, although I generally paint on canvas, it is often stretched directly onto the wall, exposing imperfect shape and fraying edges.
This combination of materials and collage-like process along with my informal presentation is key to my work. I allow things to remain unfinished, and I find form in the scraps of paper and other studio debris often recycled from other works.

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Self Portrait, Sitting No. 2, 2014

Paul Weiner:
How has your work evolved over the past few years?

Mary Luke:
I have always focused on the human figure as a subject in my work. And although that has not changed in the past few years, my style, portrayal, and scale of the figure has evolved dramatically. I find it important for artists to develop observational skills through traditional means before being allowed to utilize distortion or abstraction in their work. That way, they fully understand that which they are abstracting. That is why there is a definite transition from my early work, which employs aspects of realism and impressionism, to my recent work, which focuses more on gesture and exposes the process of the painting rather than masking it with fully rendered form and space. My work has also grown in size over the years; I find that my larger works have a greater effect on the viewer and allow them to enter the painting as the subject.

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Self Portrait, Sitting, 2013

Paul Weiner:
Which artists have been most influential to your practice?

Mary Luke:
There are many artists who have influenced my work. Francis Bacon has probably been the most influential, especially in my most recent body of work from the past couple years. I have always admired his distorted depiction of the figure often placed in an equally distorted space. He has an incredible ability to create these figures that make you uncomfortable yet empathetic. I similarly strive to allow for the viewer to place him or herself in the context of the painting; in that way, the work becomes something greater than a painting and allows for a very personal, yet universally human, emotional response to the work.

I have also avidly studied the works of R.B. Kitaj who utilizes bright colours and layers of space and form, mimicking collage. He also creates disorienting environments which provoke a sense of psychotic-ness, similar to Bacon.

Both Bacon and Kitaj stayed faithful to figurative art during times when abstraction dominated the art world. Since then, many artists have continued to abandon the figure as more media is introduced into contemporary art. Despite this, I think the figure will always be a vital part of the art world and my body of work as it is inevitably the most relatable to both the artist and viewer.

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Self Portrait, Collaged, 2013

Paul Weiner:
Do you see painting as being more about expression or is it a tool for conceptual and political commentary?

Mary Luke:
I think that painting lends itself equally to expression and conceptualism. When you think about it, concept comes from expression; at least, that is how it should work. I do think that contemporary art is often over-conceptualized, meaning that the concept is more important and precedes the expression of the artwork itself, leaving little for the viewer to look at and contemplate. Whenever art is described and used as a tool for political commentary, it completely loses its expressive and artistic quality because it is being extorted and manipulated into something synthetic and insincere. There is a fine line between these realms of art, and I think the only way to decipher between the two is to determine if a piece of art can speak for itself or if it needs translation. It is the latter that we need to avoid.

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Old Woman, 2014

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Old Man, 2014

Paul Weiner:
Many of your recent paintings involve elderly figures. Why did you choose this subject matter?

Mary Luke:
There are a few things that attracted me to portraying elderly figures in my recent works. First, it has to do with form; the ideal human form as the media and society is concerned is completely different than the ideal form in figure drawing. Figure needs mass, space, shapes, line, etc. to make it visually appealing as well as interesting to draw in the first place. Though the idea of folds of skin and wrinkles and sagging body parts seems off-putting, these qualities have so much potential for capturing emotion as well as a sense of physical being. I am very concerned with confrontation in my work in that I want the viewer to confront the figure and vice versa; therefore, it is necessary to give the viewer a figure that, though two-dimensional, has a physical presence.

The second reason I have been painting elderly figures is more conceptual than the first. I try to incorporate my studies and interest in philosophy in my paintings. There is an inarguable connection between existentialist theories and my portrayal of these aging human forms who, when you really look at it, are only made up from gestural lines and glimpses of body parts. So, although they seem physically there, it is really the mind and consciousness of the figure that has brought forth its existence on the canvas. Again, I believe that elderly figures have the greatest potential to relay this idea because you can see their bodies aging and deteriorating, further emphasizing the role of conscious existence.

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Self Portrait, 2013

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Self Portrait, Reaching, 2013

Paul Weiner:
Where would you ideally display your work? Does it belong in a traditional gallery setting or a more alternative space?

Mary Luke:
Of course, as an artist, it would be ideal to see my work in a gallery or a museum. However, I find that my paintings thrive most on the walls of my studio, where they were created. Few people get to see my work in that environment, but it’s interesting to see how the space has been transformed by the making of the piece and vice versa. In that way, you can see further into the process, see what was left behind and what was included and how my paintings progress together.


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Focus on Denver: Evan Anderman’s Aerial Photography Provokes Discourse on American Land Politics

Terminus, Eleven Mile Reservoir, CO, 2013.

Terminus, Eleven Mile Reservoir, CO, 2013.

Evan Anderman’s documentation of agriculture and energy development on Colorado’s eastern plains mediates public fascination over aerial photography reminiscent of Google Earth with the energetic expression of shooting photography while piloting an airplane. From commentary on the ethics of human land usage to criticism of the almost imperial land distribution politics at work on the plains, there is no denying that Anderman’s work is dazzlingly, intellectually, perilously challenging as a call for serious discussion about limiting human impacts on the natural environment.

Anderman holds a PhD in geological engineering from the Colorado School of Mines and undergraduate degree in geological engineering from Princeton University. His photography has exhibited at a variety of venues in Colorado including the Denver Art Museum, Denver International Airport, Carmen Wiedenhoeft Gallery, and Robischon Gallery. Anderman’s work is also in the collection of the Denver Art Museum. His Imposition series will be on display in a solo exhibition at the Carmen Wiedenhoeft Gallery in Denver opening on September 12, 2014. Further images of Anderman’s work can be found at evananderman.com.


Paul Weiner:
How is your work as a photographer informed by your background in geology?

Evan Anderman:
I think that photography is all about seeing. You can’t take a good picture unless you can see what you want to take a picture of. As a geologist, I can’t help but see the land differently because once you know how something is made you see everything that went into making it. It’s funny to think back to when I was first taking geology courses at Princeton. I would come home on break and drive up to the mountains through the various roadcuts along I-70 and 285, and it was all right in front of me and suddenly all made sense. It’s lucky I didn’t get in an accident. Once you know what you’re looking at, the rocks tell you their story, and you can see it right there. There are certain characteristics that you look for in the different formations that tell you how they were formed. It’s not just the old igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary labels that everyone learned in school. You really see the small details and how they form the land. To fly over the western United States in an airplane is better than any geology textbook. You get to see examples of practically every different geologic process laid out before you. I always thought I liked being a pilot because of the mechanical aspects of it, but I have only just lately realized that I fly because I want to look at all the geology around me. Taking pictures from the airplane made me realize that because now I have a way to show people exactly what I see when I look out the window of an airplane. My wife never flies with me because she doesn’t like to look out the window. Plus, she says that I chatter all the time because I am so excited.

Inky Patterns, San Juan Basin, NM, 2013

Inky Patterns, San Juan Basin, NM, 2013

Paul Weiner:
Tell us a little about your process for finding locations to take these high-altitude shots.

Evan Anderman:
I’m not really a planner. When I head out to take pictures, I like to be in the moment and just react to what is in front of me. The challenge for me is trying to find that interesting picture wherever I am and whatever the lighting conditions are. That extends to my aerial photography as well. In my airplane, generally I am not heading to a specific location, but rather a general area. Sometimes I don’t even make the decision until I’m in my airplane with the engine started. I’ve been known to change my route in the air, and that always works out for me. There’s an element of serendipity involved with finding locations, and that just fascinates me completely. I have been concentrating on the eastern plains of Colorado and have flown numerous flights over all seasons of the year. It’s interesting to me to see how things change from week to week and month to month. I don’t necessarily visit the exact same location multiple times, but I visit the same general area and see how it has changed. The farmers are always out doing their farming things, and I am always on the lookout for new things that are interesting to photograph.

I have also been trying to branch out a little and visit the various states around us: New Mexico, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska. It doesn’t really matter where I am. I generally can find something interesting to photograph.

Sometimes I do have a specific destination in mind that I want to explore. A couple of months ago I flew up to Gillette, Wyoming to look at the huge, open-pit coal mines up there. It is crazy how much land has been disturbed up there. I also flew over the Pinyon Canyon Army Maneuver site near La Junta; it is crazy how the landscape is covered with vehicle tracks for miles and miles.

It helps to be curious and to constantly be on the lookout for that interesting relationship that makes viewers curious about what they are looking at. Canadian photographer Edward Burtysnsky calls this the essential element, that one thing that has to be in the photograph. Once I see it, I have the technical foundation to be able to capture that element in an interesting way. I tell people that I’m looking for the needle in the haystack. That is what I am collecting.

That being said, there are times when the light is just terrible, so it may be a long time in between when I take a picture because I know the conditions will not allow a decent photograph to be made. You just have to accept the conditions and stay vigilant when they change.

Farmer Palette, Yuma, CO, 2014

Farmer Palette, Yuma, CO, 2014

Paul Weiner:
How large is your archive of photography for your Imposition project, and what considerations influence your selections of photography that you feel is worthy of displaying?

Evan Anderman:
I started working on the Imposition project last November when I flew down to Gallup, New Mexico to meet up with my brother. I flew over the San Juan basin, and the geology was just incredible. I couldn’t help but make photographs of it. This geology inspired the likes of Georgia O’Keefe and is what Eliot Porter called the Black Place. I knew that my Conformation series was winding down, and I was looking for the next thing. This one flight inspired this next series. I wanted to step back from the boldness of the feedlot pictures and concentrate more on the stunning beauty of the land. I also got very inspired by the New Topographics group as I started working on the series and was inspired to try to say something with my pictures as well. So, I decided to show the way that man has done some very curious things to the land in the activities that we need to support our society. Once I had this idea in mind, I started taking more flights and found photographs everywhere I looked.

All this is to say that I have taken thousands of pictures for this project so far and have literally hundreds to choose from for the upcoming exhibition. I really envision this work being presented at a large scale, roughly 4 feet by 5 feet, and the gallery can only handle a limited numbers of works that large. That’s where the hard work starts, narrowing it down to the eight or ten images that will be included in the show. In the first cut, I removed all the pictures that did not clearly illustrate the influence of man, and that reduced the group to about eighty. From that group of images, you could pick several different shows depending on what you wanted to concentrate on. I’ve had a lot of help from my assistant Valerie Santerli, a photographer herself and well-known Denver creative who also runs the Rule Gallery. I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to work with her! Slowly, we’ve whittled it down to sixteen images so far, but have to cut that number in half. That process has consisted of making test prints of the images and laying them all out next to each other to see how they talk to each other. You can see a picture of us doing this on my Facebook page. We move them around and start to get a flow, removing all of the ones that just aren’t working well with the others. It takes some time, and I find it hard to eliminate some because they have become a favorite for some reason or another. And then I complicate matters by going flying and taking more pictures, but they have to be truly special to be added into the mix. I had a great flight a couple of weeks ago and added 4 images to the grouping! That will happen as we move closer to the exhibition. There will be an ebb and flow as new images get added, and the weaker ones are eliminated.

I started working with Carmen Wiedenhoeft in January of this year, and it has been a really nice process. She is interested in my background and identifying the various influences on my photography. She is a very gentle, thoughtful, and intelligent person and has given me the space to make the show mine. This has been really eye-opening for me since I tend to get caught up in the moment and don’t necessarily think about the big picture of how I got where I am now. It is only in the last month or so that we have started thinking about the images themselves, and I am getting very excited about the possibilities with the show.

Turquoise Reservoir, Deer Trail, CO, 2014

Turquoise Reservoir, Deer Trail, CO, 2014

Paul Weiner:
You mentioned the influence of man on the environment. What effects have you observed that human land use have had on Colorado’s eastern plains?

Evan Anderman:
I reached a turning point last summer when I realized firsthand that man has a great influence on the environment in eastern Colorado. I was camping out at the Pawnee Buttes, about an hour north of Greeley on the border with Wyoming. I had taken a hike and shot the sunset around the buttes, and it was a gorgeous evening to be out of Denver. On the drive up there from the south, I noticed all the oil-field activity and found that curious. Additionally, there is a vast wind farm on the buttes to the north of Pawnee that has been there for a number of years. The interesting part came when the sun set. I noticed that the wind turbines each have a blinking red light to keep airplanes from running into them. They all seem to blink in unison across miles of the horizon. And each of the oil wells had a very bright flare from burning off the natural gas that is produced with the oil. It is just not profitable to collect the gas, so they burn it right at the well head. I felt surrounded by all of this light pollution. It made me realize that even in what I thought was a very remote location, it is not so remote anymore. It struck me, and I made a panorama of this to remind me of that moment. I printed it out about 12 feet long and hung it in my studio. You can also see the glow of light from the various cities around that area, and there are ten airplanes in the sky, something I hadn’t noticed when I took the picture.

I don’t know why it was such an epiphany to me to realize that there is basically nothing untouched on the eastern plains. I guess it was a surprise because it is such a vast area, but anyway I’ve realized on all my various flights out there that every square inch has been used in some way.

Obviously agriculture is the predominant use, the cultivation and irrigation associated with farming. Those areas that are not conducive to cultivation are dedicated to grazing of livestock, the sand hills where I guess the soil is just too permeable to hold water or there isn’t water available. I’ve spent a lot of time on Google Maps looking at the satellite photo function. It’s interesting to see where the circles are from the pivot irrigation systems along the Platte and Arkansas rivers and their tributaries. The geology is largely responsible for that. But there’s also an interesting cluster in the northeast corner of the state between Wray and Yuma where the Ogallala Aquifer is. They seem to be irrigating the sand hills. The water must be so readily available that they can’t resist irrigating even though the soil is not the best. Where there’s not water to irrigate with, there is dry land farming, seen on the satellite photos as rectangles rather than circles. I think it covers a larger area of the state than the irrigated land.

Where there is grazing, there are also feedlots, and many of those are so big that they are visible on the satellite photos as well. There’s something about flying over a feedlot, the unnatural jet-black color of the soil that the animals walk on. It just can’t be good for any of us, the cows or humans. I have spent some time studying the photos I made of the various feedlots in northeastern Colorado because I find it fascinating. It is industrial architecture at a large scale. I’ve never been emboldened to talk to one of the feedlots to figure exactly what is happening, so that remains a mystery to me.

Finally, the energy industry has been busy with their various activities. There are a couple of new wind farms, and the oil industry has been very busy in Weld County.

Cultivation Boundaries, High Plains, CO, 2013

Cultivation Boundaries, High Plains, CO, 2013

Paul Weiner:
Seeing these photos of land usage seems to suggest a conversation on environmental politics. Do you find your work to have any inherent political undertones regarding land use and regulation or is the work more of a documentary than a political statement?

Evan Anderman:
I’m glad that you think my photographs would spark a conversation on environmental politics. That is the whole point of what I want to do with my work. I want to show you the beauty in these things and hopefully spark your interest to learn more about these parts of our society. But it is a complex conversation, and I do not have the background to make any conclusions about what is happening in my photographs. I leave that for the experts. I just want to start the conversation.

Drainage Layers, Badger Creek, CO, 2013

Drainage Layers, Badger Creek, CO, 2013

Paul Weiner:
A common trend in contemporary art is the intertwining of science and aesthetics. What is the ideal forum for your work to be displayed in? Would you rather see your work in a museum of science or art?

Evan Anderman:
I would like for my work to be seen in as broad a range of venues as possible, and I would love to hear the conversation that is started in each. I think that the art museum community would have a different take on my images than the science museum community. I look forward to having those conversations and hearing what people think.

Wanderings, Anton, CO, 2013.

Wanderings, Anton, CO, 2013.

Paul Weiner:
Aesthetically, what are a couple of your favorite geological or man-made structures to photograph?

Evan Anderman:
I love to photograph anything geologic, but I guess I am most fascinated by rivers and the forms they create as they drain the land. They are interesting at just about any scale, small or large. I also like to photograph icebergs and glaciers. I have traveled to both Antarctica and the Arctic and would go back to either in a heartbeat. They are surprisingly hard to photograph well, but you get to see some incredible shapes and forms as the ice reflects the light. I should admit that I have actually gotten bored of photographing icebergs on some of these cruises I’ve been on, especially in Greenland where I was distracted by the stunning geology in the Scoresby Sund Fjord complex on the east coast. Rodfjord was especially interesting. It looked like Ayers Rock rising out of the water. It was just incredible with the icebergs floating around in front of it. Now I really want to go back there as well.

Leftover Marks, Flagler, CO, 2014

Leftover Marks, Flagler, CO, 2014

Paul Weiner:
What are some of the technical challenges you’ve found when shooting from an airplane?

Evan Anderman:
It is hard shooting from the airplane because it is moving fast, and I don’t always have time to get the picture that I want. Just to be clear, I only photograph when I have the autopilot flying the airplane so I can divert my attention out the window. Obviously, my priority is to fly the airplane, and I keep an ear open to hear if there is anything unusual happening with the airplane. It generally lets you know. When I first started shooting from the plane, I used a 24-70 zooms lens, and that was difficult because it covers such a wide angle of view. I always shoot with a very high shutter speed and almost wide open aperture. You don’t need a lot of depth of field, but you want to minimize any effects from the motion. I moved on to a 70-200 lens to isolate the various elements that I would see on my flights. Lately, I’ve been shooting with an 80-400 lens, and I really love having all that range to get exactly the picture I want. It was a great investment.

Oval Drive, Beebe Draw, CO, 2014

Oval Drive, Beebe Draw, CO, 2014

Paul Weiner:
Tell us a little about the Denver art scene. What are a few of your favorite galleries and artists to see in Denver?

Evan Anderman:
The Denver art scene is definitely up-and-coming, and there are a lot of exciting things happening. I was part of a group of people that helped convince the director of the Denver Art Museum to form a separate photography department in 2007. I was on the international search committee that hired the curator Eric Paddock, and he is celebrating his sixth anniversary this summer. The Denver Art Museum has a fairly new director, Christoph Heinrich, who has done wonders to really activate the museum, landing the Yves Saint Laurent show a couple of years ago and the Cartier show that will be opening this November. Denver is the only North American location for these shows. The Museum of Contemporary Art is a nice counterpoint to the art museum, under the very able leadership of Adam Lerner. We also have the Clyfford Still Museum, the Vance Kirkland Museum, and the Redline Art Center. All of these are located in downtown Denver.

As for the gallery scene, we have many different art districts in the city that provide lots of opportunities for artists to get their work in front of the public. My studio is located in Denver’s Art District on Santa Fe, and it has a very busy First Friday Art Walk. The Golden Triangle, Cherry Creek North, RiNo (for River North), and Highlands are some of the others.

I’ll just mention two specific galleries here. First, I am very excited that the Carmen Wiedenhoeft Gallery in RiNo will be having my first solo exhibition of my Imposition series opening September 12th. Also, my assistant Valerie Santerli has recently reopened the new Rule Gallery, and I have high hopes for the success of that gallery.


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