Critique Collective

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

5 Affordable Cities for Emerging Artists

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The art world can be terrifying for young artists, especially with the rising price tags on living in New York City or Los Angeles today. Fresh out of school with a ton of ideas and debt, you might be wondering where you can move to get your career rolling without breaking the bank.
Find your respite in an affordable city with a blossoming art culture so you can spend your money on making art, not living in a glorified janitor’s closet with a microwave.

Philadelphia, PA
While living in a major city on the East Coast is always going to be expensive, Philadelphia is much cheaper than many of its neighbors and a short ride to New York City, Boston, and Washington, D.C. for openings, museums, studio visits, and collectors. Featuring the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Institute of Contemporary Art, Rodin Museum, and too many galleries and colleges to count, Philly is becoming a thriving cultural center primed for young artists. With one of the largest populations in the United States, a strong public transportation system, and cheesesteak to die for who could say no to the City of Brotherly Love?

Denver, CO
Filled with hip museums and galleries, the art scene in Denver is surging into prominence. The new Clyfford Still Museum is practically a Mecca for abstract painters. The scene is heavily involved with local artists, from exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art to the way Redline is nurturing talent and granting opportunities to emerging artists. Between Untitled art programs at the Denver Art Museum, First Fridays at tons of galleries in multiple arts districts, the new Kirkland Museum, and the Biennial of the Americas, Denver is a rising star for young visual artists. With Boulder not far away, additional opportunities abound. Boasting a 7% unemployment rate and a relatively low cost of living, the state famous for skiing and legalizing weed will be a popular art scene in the near future. Critique Collective is currently working on a series of interviews with Denver artists, galleries, and curators. Interested parties should submit their work at https://critiquecollective.com/submissions/.

Miami, FL
You want to move to the beach, huh? Art Basel Miami Beach made Miami quite the destination this winter, but Miami’s consistent growth as an art scene has extended for decades. While Art Basel displayed the luxe and glamour of Miami with the rise of the Pérez Art Museum Miami, growing art districts are the real future of this city. The Wynwood Arts District is full to the brim with galleries, studios, installations, and culture while North Miami includes the MOCA NoMI. Indeed, Miami is sprouting residencies for visual artists at Cannonball, Fountainhead, LegalArt, and Inkhub. While you might not run into Kim Kardashian at Art Basel everyday, you will find yourself immersed in a rising art community in Miami.

Santa Fe, NM
Historically a hidden art jewel in the Southwest, Santa Fe is famous for Georgia O’Keeffe, Western Art, and green chile. With many Americans crossing over from the Northeast to the Southwest, Santa Fe is a growing force to be reckoned with in the art world. With multiple museums (including the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum) and a massive influx of tourists who come for the culture and weather, Santa Fe is a nice place to find collectors despite its small city demeanor. Santa Fe artists can access Albuquerque, Dallas, Denver, and Phoenix in a few hours. Come for the art scene and stay for the sun and Mexican food.

Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN
While you might freeze your nostrils closed, living in the twin cities is a viable option for artists seeking to escape the hustle and bustle of many major art centers. Offering the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, and a multitude of colleges, Minneapolis isn’t a bad place for young creatives to settle down. The Northeast Minneapolis Arts District includes over a dozen galleries, as well as studios, shops, theatre, and music. With a history as a cultural center, Minneapolis is an attractive location for emerging artists who are looking to break into a small yet respectable art scene.

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The Honey Hive Gallery: Local Talent in San Francisco

Looking for a young and fresh face in the San Francisco art scene? The Honey Hive Gallery displays local artists and helps emerging talent gain exposure while supporting the neighborhood’s burgeoning culture. Since it was founded in October of 2013, the space has hosted a variety of art shows, poetry readings, live music sets, movies, dances, and workshops.

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The best part of the gallery isn’t even the giant wasp painting guarding the entrance or the location right by the beach I’d like to be sitting on right now. What’s spectacular about the Honey Hive Gallery is that the management, led by Topher Knoll, is dedicated to the environment it exists in: the Outer Sunset District. Supporting local artists and communities is increasingly important as the art world is becoming dominated by super galleries and the patronage of the lucky few. Remodeled barred-over windows have turned into a welcoming art gallery and community gathering area in the Outer Sunset.

The Honey Hive Gallery is attracting attention from neighborhood residents and working from the ground up in an ethical way, the way that emerging art galleries should work. Entering the Honey Hive will leave you enveloped in breathing, tangible culture featuring accessible artists such as printmaker Myles Dunigan, oil painter Katie Steward, and illustrator Tony Papesh.

So, if you’re a San Franciscan looking to buy art, experience the local culture, or get a free date full of bad puns with your “honey,” stop by the Honey Hive Gallery. Upcoming events include live music January 10 and spoken word open mic nights on January 17 and 21 or get your hands dirty and RSVP for a screen printing class on January 25.

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Rasdjarmrearnsook’s Two Planets Series Astounds

The perfect appetizer for the Denver Art Museum’s Passport to Paris exhibition is hidden in a dark corner on the museum’s fourth floor. Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook’s Two Planets series illustrates perception as a function of social conditioning and challenges the notion that art viewers must be properly cultured to understand a master painting’s meaning. Rasdjarmrearnsook introduces small groups of Thai villagers to reproductions of Western master paintings such as Jean-François Millet’s The Gleaners. As the group interprets Millet’s The Gleaners by finding aspects of its own culture immersed in the painting, Rasdjarmrearnsook exposes how the struggle of every viewer to find meaning in a master painting results in a valuable point of view.

Facing away from the camera, the Thai villagers explain that they can’t comprehend the artistic intent within the Millet painting in front of them. Are the gleaners “digging for bugs” or harvesting rice? And where are the elephants used for field labor? The villagers are candid as they repetitively claim not to know anything at all. But they know as much as we do. The way they struggle with the painting and attribute personal meaning to it is how every art appreciator should.

Define the forms. Apply your own life experiences to the work. Develop an interpretation, whether narrative or conceptual. Paintings are masterworks because they invite varied interpretations, which is exactly why Passport to Paris visitors should experience the enlightenment of Two Planets first.

Rasdjarmrearnsook’s work is a masterpiece itself because of its ability to inspire imagination. I found myself voyaging into an introspective space for nearly half an hour as English translations of befuddled Thai conversations rolled across the bottom of the screen. The sound of birds and wilderness hearkened back to my childhood while camping in the Rocky Mountains and discussing life’s intricacies with my family over card games and an open fire. The humid and growing landscape brought about a crescendo of nostalgia, hope, and satisfaction for a fleeting moment.  How is my perception formed? What does this painting mean given my past experiences? Do I really know anything? I was entranced. Illuminated. Inspired.

“It’s just a bunch of women talking in another language,” muttered another museum goer who peeked in for just a second.

And then it was gone.

Have fun seeing the French masters in the Denver Art Museum, and take the time to appreciate the covert contemporary master on the fourth floor.

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George Zimmerman’s Art Sells for Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars

Another wild story about George Zimmerman is surfacing. Back in July, Zimmerman was acquitted on a charge of second-degree murder and manslaughter for shooting and killing Trayvon Martin. So, what could be the new controversy surrounding Zimmerman: another speeding ticket or domestic violence charge? Not exactly. Apparently Zimmerman has been trying his hand at painting, and he’s listed one of his works on Ebay. In doing so, he’s revealed the nature of the art world’s odd affinity for gossip and controversy.

With four days to to go, Zimmerman’s heavily textured, monochromatic blue painting with “GOD ONE NATION with LIBERTY and JUSTICE FOR ALL” printed onto it has bids up to $100,000 and growing rapidly. While President George W. Bush paints dogs and golf courses, Zimmerman creates an image that plays into the spectacle of his situation and relies upon politics to propel him.

Curiously, Zimmerman seems to be tapping into the public as his own marketing system in a way that would certainly inspire jealousy for most contemporary artists. Admittedly, Zimmerman has primarily evoked contemptuous responses, but all publicity is good publicity when Zimmerman’s first painting is projected to sell for multiple thousands of dollars, and all he had to do was put it on Ebay without any marketing. As Ebay bids tend to explode rapidly toward the end of auctions, Zimmerman’s price is likely to multiply.

While artists certainly shouldn’t follow Zimmerman’s model to selling artwork for extravagant prices, it is important to note how he’s exploited the nature of art collection today. The interest is less in imagery and more in the discussion surrounding the work. Zimmerman has no professional training, nor has he worked his way through the art system with residencies, collectors, and journalists. Rather, he’s coming out of nowhere by abusing his odd, controversial position in American culture in order to make a wave. Indeed, visual art today is more about the spectacle than it is about theory or ideas. Critical theorists and psychoanalysts may define this spectacle as jouissance, the Lacanian notion of orgasm in art. Jouissance is that moment when you see something, it clicks in your mind, and an odd state of pleasure and confusion ensues. Contemporary art brings this jouissance out of the image and into the discussion. That is, because the public hears juicy gossip about George Zimmerman all over Twitter, they value the artwork for it’s ironically controversial attraction rather than its imagery.

What does Zimmerman have to say? He claims that his artwork is therapeutic: “First hand painted artwork by me, George Zimmerman. Everyone has been asking what I have been doing with myself. I found a creative, way to express myself, my emotions and the symbols that represent my experiences. My art work allows me to reflect, providing a therapeutic outlet and allows me to remain indoors 🙂 I hope you enjoy owning this piece as much as I enjoyed creating it. Your friend, George Zimmerman.” Feel free to make your own judgment, but the work is certainly selling.

Bottom line: George Zimmerman’s artwork is valued significantly higher than the majority of trained and respected artists because he creates a whole lot of political hoopla. While many see him as a racist or murderer, he’s poised to make a pretty penny on a mediocre painting because of the odd dynamic of valuing gossip in our contemporary society.

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4 Problems with Contemporary Art on Display at Art Basel Miami

Art Basel Miami is taking the art world by storm. From mattress paintings to Rauschenbergs, Art Basel has it all. Collectors run amok as the Pérez Art Museum Miami opens to great success. Shouldn’t we all be happy to see such confidence in the art market today? Indeed, Twitter is blowing up in an baffling mix of praise, gossip, and terror.

No doubt, these odd and vaguely joyous emotions are all warranted, but some serious and systemic issues are on display at Art Basel Miami. So, without further ado, here are the five biggest problems with Art Basel Miami:

1. Cringe-worthy sales tactics

Take, for instance, Meg Webster’s installation, “Food Stamp Table.” Tactful titles are clearly a thing of the past. This artist displays an egg, ramen noodles, broccoli, and a can of Campbell’s soup as a $4.60 meal bought with food stamps. The price: $12,000.

Even if Webster had good intentions to inform her viewers of the hardships the working poor are enduring today, the price tag ruins it all. Perhaps the price could have been a $12,000 charitable donation or a canned food drive if the Paula Cooper Gallery really cared about poor people. Instead, one lucky rich guy can buy social justice at the fair and display the rotting broccoli for his friends in February while the gallery walks away with his cash! At the end of the day, this looks like abusing empathy for the poor as a marketing tool and smells like Rush Limbaugh’s armpits.

2. Inaccessibility for the struggling middle class

Even as the high rollers of the art scene think they are proving the greatness of our contemporary art moment, watching them incessantly schmooze over postmodernist art spits in the face of ordinary people. There’s nothing like watching a mass of rich, fuddy-duddy collectors, journalists, and dealers observing fine art on a beach in December while everyone else is huddled around a fire and trying to pay heating bills to turn the rest of us Marxist. For those who would like to see visual art reconnect with a broad swath of the middle class, art fairs that point out the ever-growing class problem in our country are not helping.

3. VIP Art Patronage

The art scene may be booming at Art Basel Miami, but it’s booming with rich people. This isn’t exactly a new trend for fine art, but it does represent the systemic movement we’re seeing whereby the new ruling class dominates the art scene. Even as Francis Bacon works sell for $142 million, emerging artists struggle with a a broken economy and masses of student debt. While this may not be a full blown return to middle ages, it would suffice to say that watching big names like Deitch and Diddy at the Art Basel VIP opening suggests that visual arts increasingly pander to the funding and enjoyment of the ultra-rich.

4. No one cares about contemporary artists unless Kim Kardashian instagrams a picture of them with North West.

Check out how much the Huffington Post, MTV, VH1, E!, Us Magazine, and New York Daily News had to say about North West and how little they had to say about the rest of the visual art. Call me a classist, but I’d rather see a photo of Jeff Koons with his artwork than with a baby who is famous because Kimye gave birth.

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Vanessa Compton’s Intricate Collages

Vanessa Compton is an artist currently living in Vermont who holds a BFA in Ceramics from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her greatly detailed collage works deal with surrealist themes. Compton’s work can also be found online at http://www.krinshawstudios.com/.

Sailing the Salton Sea
Prayer for the Wild Things


Paul Weiner:
How would you describe your aesthetic stylistically?

Vanessa Compton:
Surrealistic landscapes have featured predominantly in my work. Time is meant to be loose with past, present, and future existing simultaneously. A major inspiration is migration. I focus on the luxation of figures and structures through landscapes of epic quality and interminable horizons. These are beautiful, dislocated worlds that live behind the gauzy film of dreams. I hope this metaphysical sense of time and place will prove an esoteric experience for the viewer.

When She Comes Away We Go, mixed media collage, 50L x 35H%22

How the West was Won

Paul Weiner:
Tell us about your process for starting a new piece.

Vanessa Compton:
It is essential to my creativity to live in a rural environment, one where I border thick Northern forests and Southern borderlands and live with my feet on the earth in perpetual aesthetic contemplation. To create, I need solitude and the hum of wind and wildness. If it’s raining, snowing, or storming, that’s even better. I love being forcibly holed up in my studio, away from everything and everyone. A good album and disconnected phone is essential, too.

The Hatching, mixed media collage, 30W x 40H%22

Paul Weiner:
How did you decide to open up Krinshaw Studios?

Vanessa Compton:
Krinshaw Studios is the name I use to separate myself from my work. It’s the container for all of it, the collages, the illustrations, the fashion, too. Sometimes it’s a pop-up shop, sometimes a gallery, but it’s most importantly the studio in my mind, the space where my creative vision is born.

Intersections, mixed media collage, 40L x 30H%22

Paul Weiner:
As an artist who feels the need to separate herself from her work, do you keep specific working hours? What habits do you have that help you to keep your art and life separate?

Vanessa Compton:
I should clarify a bit. Krinshaw Studios is the name I use to separate myself from my work after it goes out into the world. There is definitely no separation between my ideas, my dreams, and myself. They are all messily mashed up inside. The only separation I feel the need to maintain is once the work goes out into this big, chaotic world of everything else. The name is part myth, part ego-check and part formal cloaking. Truthfully, in order to create I actually just feel the need to separate myself from most everyone else. That is my struggle and why I am so grateful for artist residencies.

In 2012 I went to Saskatchewan for a month-long residency at the childhood home of the writer Wallace Stegner. The kinds of collages I’ve been making take me on average a month of work for one piece. There’s a lot of visual research, prepping, and, of course, cutting that needs to happen before even starting. Being tucked away in a rural environment far from anyone I know, with every moment to work, allowed me to be my most prolific. In the Saskatchewan frontier land, my muse was strong, and I completed five large pieces during my time there. I will continue to try for these opportunities. They truly are essential to my creative process and the beautiful web of programs out in this world endlessly inspires me.

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Paul Weiner:
Where did you get your training, and how has it influenced your current work?

Vanessa Compton:
I received my BFA from CU-Boulder with an emphasis on sculptural ceramics. My professors were all fabulously talented artists in their own rights, and I am forever grateful for their patience and their push. It gave me a solid backbone to begin working from. Working in clay singularly for 5 years gave me a steely resolve and respect for the medium at hand. Transitioning to collage came out of my own transition from a normative, mostly stationary lifestyle into one more transient in nature. My grandmother was a wildly talented artist and always worked in a variety of media. Since this was my living example, it made complete sense to transition into working with a more nimble medium, one that I could travel with. I got to fall in love all over again and haven’t looked back.

The Neighborhood #2, stoneware, 15 x 15 x 5%22

Paul Weiner:
To what extent do you know what you’ll create before you start making it? Are these surrealist pieces straight from your head or do they develop on their own as you put material down on the piece?

Vanessa Compton:
I begin a piece when I am compelled by a specific image, structure or horizon. This could be a shape like a floating planet or as specific as an image I’ve found and desperately want to use. It’ll hang there in my head, lingering on my conscience, waiting for me to build a world for it to live in. Before I begin, I know what the general scaffolding will be, the color tone, and the general feel. But the details, the magic, that comes during the making. The mind, especially the imagination, has to be wide open. My most successful works are clusters of relationships, interactions both proactive and sedate and dreamily living in an architecturally sound landscape.

Shiprock, NM, mixed media collage, 30L x 40H%22

Paul Weiner:
Do you think that your ceramic work has impacted your collage style?

Vanessa Compton:
Most definitely. With my ceramic work, I was drawn to the intersections of private, voyeuristic, and fantastical worlds. Due to the medium, these were miniature realms that I would then place in ways that forced the viewers to physically bring themselves down to a lower level. However, with collage I can achieve so much more detail-wise and work much larger than ever before. Working with clay was like working with bones. It taught me structure and three-dimensional understanding. I’ve found collage lends itself to a more atmospherical experience, both as artist and viewer. I am now able to take to the sky and help birth brave new worlds for the discarded paper forms. I create entirely disparate realities, and the weight of this artistic responsibility weighs on me with humility and wildness. These pieces celebrate lives lived in non-normative existence. These are worlds caught between shifting dimensions, full of myth and contrast.


Please view Vanessa Compton’s work online and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Contemporary Painting and Video Mapping with Justin Wood

Justin Wood is an artist living in New York City working in the space between the physical space of painting and the digital space of video and photography. Wood has studied at the School of Visual arts, from which he graduated in 2004. His work has been exhibited in man exhibitions, including those at the MoMA in NYC, MOCA Washington, DC, the New Art Center, Orchard Windows, the Lex Leonard Gallery, Blank Space Gallery, and the Thomas Werner Gallery. His artwork is also available online at http://www.justinwood.us.



Paul Weiner:
Take us through the process you’ve been using with video mapping.

Justin Wood:
When the painting is done, I photograph it. Then I run the photo through Resolume to do the mapping and effects and project it on top of the painting. I experiment by layering other videos on top of it. This allows me to be able to see how the video looks on the piece as soon as I am done with it, and it allows me to improvise with the video in an agile way. Then I go into After Effects, create the final video collage, and really spend time focusing on how the video ties in with the painting. For the LCD screen works, the process is the same. The video is made from the photo and is mapped, or aligned, behind the collage.

Paul Weiner:
Where do you find inspiration for your work?

Justin Wood:
I have been following a certain path in terms of process and materials that leads me to make a certain kind of image or style that is very much coming out of the canon of modernist abstraction. I just try and infuse my life into the work. I was performing visuals for bands and DJs, and through learning the technology that went along with live visuals, I got into projection mapping and eventually turned the projector on my paintings. The materials I use come from my first job out of college in a print shop, where I was able to experiment with Inkjet ink and printing substrates. So, the process of living and engaging the world finds its way into the work.

I sort of came of age as an artist at the same time I was seeing a lot of psychedelic electronic rock concerts, so the concert aesthetic is something that inspires me – the dark room, high contrast screens, beaming lights, lasers. I am also inspired by my friends. We spend a lot of time talking about new technologies that we are working with or that we heard about, and we talk about our ideas and try and push each other.

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Paul Weiner:
What is the ideal space for your work to be seen in? Do you like the gallery setting?

Justin Wood:
I suppose the ideal space would be a gallery setting where I was able to spend a lot of time and money in transforming the space, somewhere in the mix of Turrell, Flavin, and a Psy-Trance party. I like the idea of separation between the works, so you only see one at a time, so some kind of multi-room, psychedelic techno immersion installation with lasers.

Paul Weiner:
Explain the concept behind your Cube Projection installation.

Justin Wood:
The cube is a DJ Booth I made, sort of a proof of concept for making a cheap and simple stage set for mapped visuals. So there wasn’t much of a concept behind it. My friend set up a DJ show, and he called it The Cube, so I figured I would try and make a simple DJ booth for the show.

Paul Weiner:
You mentioned your work with DJs. To what extent do you feel that sound is important in your own work?

Justin Wood:
Sound is important, but I haven’t fully explored that area yet. At the Pool Art Fair in 2013, I made my projection painting interactive through a custom Ipad interface, and the user was able to control the video effects, which were connected to sound effects. The audio and video would change at the same time. That is the furthest I have gone with integrating sound. It will continue to evolve, but I foresee more of an overall soundscape that will accompany an entire show rather than soundtracks to each and every piece.

Paul Weiner:
What are some new technologies you’d love to get your hands on?

Justin Wood:
There are 3d immersion rooms that are being created that I would love to mess with. The Spiderman ride at Universal Orlando blew my mind. I talk about it a lot. It combines physical sets with gigantic, high-def 3D video with the 4D effects coming from your car. So, you’ve got incredible wind effects, motion, and heat combined with the mindfuck of the 3D video mixing in with the detailed physical sets. There is definitely something to be explored with that kind of 4D thing. Obviously, this is incredible expensive, and Ride Art is something that I think is just starting, but in a dream world I would love to have the access to that technology and those technicians to make some kind of 4d immersion art ride, something along the lines of Wonka’s boat ride. People would be able to buy pictures of themselves at the end.


Please view Justin Wood’s work online and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Provoking the Patriarchy: Elle Kennedy

Elle Kennedy is a 23 year old artist from the United Kingdom who lives in a state of flux between London, Brighton, and Bath. Having studied design and fashion history at Brighton University, Kennedy’s work deals with the contemporary discourse on fetishization through the lens of a transgender woman.

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Paul Weiner:
How do you begin a new work of art? Take us through your material process.

Elle Kennedy:
My everyday life, the experiences of my friends and family, and the transgender experience internationally are the sources of my inspiration. I usually take a good few weeks to develop an idea for a piece, as I like my final work to have a coherent and strong concept behind it. Most of my ideas come about during bouts of insomnia where I find myself analyzing my life and the lives around me.

When creating pieces which deal with the transgender experience internationally, I take extra care to honor the message about trans women in grim situations, with sensitivity and authenticity. Once I have decided upon my idea, I then decide upon a suitable color palette, which has to compliment the black and white backdrop.I consider the colors of what I am wearing in the image, the colors of additional materials which I may layer onto the piece, and the tone of the photographs which I alter through basic copying and scanning techniques, whether I want a ‘bluey’ moody tone or a bright, flushed tone. I then chuck all my props into my rucksack and use local photo booths to take the pictures. This is an essential aspect of my work.

I’m interested in the ideas of trans women being perceived as violating the heteronormative sphere through using what is essentially such a public, open, generic, and common space to create deeply personal trans-related art that, to me, seems like something of a statement of defiance but also self empowerment. I like the idea that the tiny curtains found in photo booths are shielding me from the criticisms and scrutiny of others whilst I chaotically, and often messily, create my images.

I’m also interested in ideas around on-the-go or fast art, as this fits my lifestyle and mindset. Photo booths facilitate this. Once I have created my images, over a few days, I reproduce the images, often altering them, savagely gluing, layering the images over one another, and changing the order of the images to suit my concept. I use thick, cheap tyre markers, permanent pens, and sometimes paint to complete my aesthetic. I consciously use almost ran-out and old tools to communicate austerity and thrift. I hastily scrawl the slogans and messages onto my work in a way which suggests the pieces are worthless scraps and disposable. I consider this to be branding or labeling my work. The titles of my work are consciously confusing, literal banal, or tacky much like the titles of a porn film, a b movie, or a gaudy flop pop song.

I like to think that my work would look suitable in a gallery, a bin, or a telephone box like a prostitute’s calling card, as if my pieces are cheap pieces of trash easily disposed of. This very much relates to the perception of women, including trans women, being disposable objects to be visually enjoyed then forgotten, disposed of, or even killed. Hence, the last square on my pieces is often black or cut out to symbolize this.

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Paul Weiner:
Have you found it hard to find your place in the art world given your position as a transgender woman?

Elle Kennedy:
I’ve been making art for years, but it’s only recently that I’ve felt confident enough to go public, share, and expose it for opinion criticism and hopefully success. The reason why I’ve taken so long to share my art is some of the pieces intimate nature. Transitioning is an incredibly public ordeal, be it coming out to friends and family, taking those initial baby steps, dabbling with one’s style, voice, etc. whilst facing ridicule, scrutiny, criticism, and possibly violence. I really struggled with the public nature of transition and therefore enjoyed being able to keep my art private, to myself and a few very close friends.

My art is something of a diary. I only feel confident enough now to share that diary with the world. My art directly addresses the public nature of transition – the voyeurism of the critical stranger in the street, the fantasies of the “trannychaser” – a heterosexual male who fetishizes trans women. But, mostly, my pieces help me articulate within my own mind the realities of my identity. I suppose the art world has always been a refuge for those who may be classed as the “other” within society. Despite being a regular gal in most ways, I’m constantly made aware of my “other” status, and I communicate this status within my work. Jean Michel Basquiat, my biggest influence and favorite artist addressed his “other” status within his work. His dignified yet confrontational methods of doing this have been a huge influence upon me.

My work addresses a broad range of topics such as the socioeconomic positioning of women within society and questions about the contemporary female experience. I would hope that this quality of my work resonates with all women, transgender or not.

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Paul Weiner:
Tell us about your interests conceptually.

Elle Kennedy:
I’m very much interested in the ideas of the public sphere, the private sphere, and the blurring of the two. Social networking has enabled this blurring of the two spheres. I’m fascinated by how much people are willing to share about themselves. I personally share very little of myself though social networking, but I choose to metaphorically whore myself out through my art to tell stories of the modern female experience.

Since first stumbling across them as a child, the calling cards of sex workers have fascinated me. Who are these women and men hiding behind false names, dated photos, and cheeky slogans enticing punters? The poses, slogans, and fake name I use in some of my pieces reference the calling cards and the lives lived by these people. I refer to death in many of my pieces to communicate the fate that many sex workers face. The murder rate of sex workers is incredibly high, especially that of trans women. The voyeurism faced by sex workers, assisted by calling cards, may ultimately lead to their death.

I like my works to appear shallow, sordid, and vein, as this is what sex worker calling cards may appear to be. Yet, in reality, we are all guilty of such acts through our own social networking habits or our relentless self promotion, be it on a dating websites, within the employment market, entering into education, or indulging in new lingerie to please a lover. Ultimately, we all end up on our knees. It’s just that some of us are more open than others.

In some of my pieces, I explore the shallow and often cruel world of pornography. Again, behind the façade of glamour, lurks something of a dark world which is rarely discussed yet commonly acknowledged as existing. Through over-the-top depictions of hyper-femininity, my work seeks to remind the viewer of the façade. Being a trans woman endures a degree of fetishization. My work plays up to the male gaze, warping the fantasies of “trannychasers” and mocking the fickle nature of male sexual desire.

Paul Weiner:
Would you say that transgender women and women suffer from the effects of the patriarchy in the same ways (e.g. fetishization, masculine gaze, “othering”) as women born with female physical characteristics, or is the effect different or more pronounced? Do you think race, religion, or mental state can play a similar part in terms of being viewed as an “othered” person within the masculine power system?

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Elle Kennedy:
I think it’s blindingly obvious and rather sad that we still live in a society which remains primarily dominated by privileged white men. I don’t feel I have the right to discuss the “other” status of other minority groups; however, it remains super obvious who comes under that status due to race, class orientation, etc. When creating pieces which explore the transgender experience internationally, I’m keen to acknowledge my relative privilege of living within the UK, having had access to an education, and having medical and emotional support around me.

In pieces such as “Athens is Burning,” I’m utilizing my privilege to communicate messages about trans women who may not be able to get their voice heard, yet suffer greatly. In such pieces, the work becomes almost entirely not about myself- I just happen to be using myself as a medium to channel information and messages about such topics without pitying or patronizing such women. I think there is great progress being made whereby minority groups become slightly less “othered” within society. For example, 20 years ago, gay men in particular were very much considered the “other.” Yet, as a group, they have made great strides and have become less defined by their “other” status.

I see this happening for the trans community very, very slowly. Again, I can only really speak from my own experience, but I think the way that trans women are fetishized is very much down to their passing ability – whether or not people know their trans status, their pre or post op surgical status, who knows this, and how they choose to navigate the worlds of dating and sex. Crudely, it would seem that so much of a trans woman’s life is defined by her appearance and what is between her legs. If a trans woman “passes” and attracts the attention of, say, a wolf-whistling builder or attracts the flirtation of a stranger in a busy bar, this is an experience that may be familiar to both trans and biological women, these are examples of the male gaze being actively exercised and acted upon in the public sphere.

If a trans woman does not pass, she may still come under the curious male maze. However, the voyeur may be less inclined to show sexual interest and may become abusive instead. So I would argue that passing trans women are fetishized in the public sphere along with biological women, yet most trans women, including those who do not pass, are fetishized within the private sphere, for example, within the fantasies of “trannychasers,” curious strangers, and within trans pornography. And, of course, when individuals fall in love, one’s surgical status may become irrelevant, not reviled or fetishized.

In my experience, there are endless conundrums faced by trans women when it comes to romance and sex. For example, do I want to be fetishized? Does this stranger know that I am trans? Such questions pose about the inner and outer self alongside ideas around the public and private sphere. Such questions may resonate with biological women. “Does he only like me because I’m blonde? Am I comfortable being fetishized due to being Asian? Will he be comfortable knowing that I am twice divorced?” All women and, of course, men navigate the struggle of how much of oneself should be kept private, who has the right to know one’s history, and what is the appropriate way to navigate social and personal issues in one’s life. By decoding the images that I have created, the viewer is invited to explore my public and private identity whilst considering and questioning their own.

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Paul Weiner:
This idea of bringing about public activism in a heteronormative public sphere is intriguing. Would you ever consider making public performance art?

Elle Kennedy:
I’ve considered moving into performance art and can see how it may end up being something of a natural progression for me artistically. However, I’m focusing on my current format at the moment, which I suppose incorporates elements of performance when creating such works. I would be interested in performance art, which explores voyeurism and pornography within the next few years. I just need to look into ways of financing and facilitating such art.

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Paul Weiner:
Do you think that your work in any way attempts to disrupt the masculine gaze or simply explain its impact?

Elle Kennedy:
I would say that my work seeks to highlight the masculine gaze in the most literal way through the performing of female sexuality that indulges the masculine gaze. However, through the work’s grubby aesthetic and my trans identity, I seek to challenge, warp, and sordidify male fantasies. I’m not demonizing male sexuality or even the masculine gaze. Through my own style, I may subliminally seek to indulge it. However, I use my work to highlight what happens when the voyeurism and sexual desire of a minority of men gets out of control – violence and even murder.

Naturally, sex workers are more likely to encounter this by having few legal protections and coming into contact with all sorts of clientele. By having reoccurring imagery in my work such as messy hair and black eyes, whilst dabbling with sexualized gestures and aesthetics, my work actively confronts the issues faced by sex workers, trans women, women, and those whom may have “other” status. I stare directly at the voyeur, inviting them to question him or herself and invite them to contemplate their own gaze. In a sense, I gaze back at them. In pieces, such as “Real Girls Take It,” I have purposely communicated a non-passive female sexuality, which may disrupt and confuse the male gaze. That piece is probably one of my most complicated, with various meanings. But, despite being rather crude, I like to think that it contains positive messages about women owning and indulging their own sexualities.

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Paul Weiner:
I know academics and artists such as Jacques Lacan, Toril Moi, Hélène Cixous, and Mary Kelly have dealt with similar concepts in the past. Are there any particular philosophers or artists who have impacted your work?

Elle Kennedy:
To be honest, I’m fascinated by pop and what may be considered “trash” culture. Therefore, I find myself looking for logic and inspiration in the lyrics of sickly Britney Spears songs, in the slurred words of Anna Nicole Smith, or in the dialogue of bad teen films. Photographers such as David Lachappelle, who I admire greatly, choose to portray such culture in a kitsch, camp, and over-the-top style. However, I choose to communicate ideas about such a culture by creating a more stripped-back, barren aesthetic.

I have found the writings of Ariel Levey and Lauren Greenfield incredibly eye-opening when it comes to discussion about such topics, and, of course, Naomi Wolf’s writings remain relevant. I literally think every teenager should have to read The Beauty Myth. Some of the performative elements of my work dabble with Judith Butler’s ideas around gender and identity. There seems to be an abundance of confident and creative-minded young trans writers at the moment, notably the likes of Juliana Huxtable and Paris Lees, who I was lucky enough to meet.

It’s great that the contemporary trans experience is being documented in such a wide variety of ways via visual art, academic writing, blogs, film, etc. I greatly admire the way in which artists and photographers of the 1980s and 1990s, such as Keith Haring and Oliviero Toscani, conveyed social awareness messages though bold and distinctive aesthetics. I also find German expressionist painting incredibly beautiful, for example, the work of Kirchner. The repression and persecution that the artists faced now seems unfathomable and tragic, making such works even the more poignant. I particularly admire the way in which Kirchner coherently told stories about his time through his beautiful abstract style.


Please “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective. Elle Kennedy can be contacted directly at torinaughtylondon@outlook.com.

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Ronald Lukas Brings Together Abstraction and Figurative Art

Ronald Lukas is a painter residing in Southern California who holds a BAE from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has pursued an MAE through the University of Chicago. Lukas has held a wide variety of art-related jobs, including his time as a teacher. His artwork is also available online at http://www.ronaldlukas.com.

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Paul Weiner:
How have your experiences as an educator affected your practices as an artist?

Ronald Lukas:
Ever since my elementary school days, I wanted to be an art teacher. Basically, I was into the visual arts at an early age. For me, as a visual artist, teaching art was a line of work that paid my bills and, most importantly, kept me focused on art. The rewards of my earning a degree in art education and teaching art were not only an income but also obtaining a general art, commercial art, and fine art perspective, appreciation, and understanding.

Teaching is an excellent working environment for a practicing artist if he or she can deal with working/teaching in a classroom environment. Teaching art can help elucidate an artist’s path. It did so for me. It nailed down what area in the arts that I wanted to be eventually involved with, and I worked out how to accomplish the goal. I am now, after performing as an art teacher, advertising artist, liturgical artist, photographer, and an art consultant, a full-time painter.

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Paul Weiner:
What are you currently working on?

Ronald Lukas:
I’m a direct painter, paint on canvas. Right now, I’m involved with expanding my painting process with different base paints.

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Paul Weiner:
How do you usually begin a painting? Take us through your process of finding a subject conceptually.

Ronald Lukas:
I let the process of painting do the work. Then at some point I take over. Someone once said, “I’d rather see a bad painting with an idea than a good painting without an idea.” I subscribe to that! All my artwork is subject and composition oriented. It’s the result of my whole life and many different environments. My painting and subject matter are triggered by the moment. It’s very spontaneous, nothing is planned. It becomes planned when I become involved with the exact painting itself.

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Paul Weiner:
Do you have a preference for a certain type of paint or surface?

Ronald Lukas:
Yes. Artist’s oil paint. The colors are rich, alive, and sensual. I’ll combine it with oil-based enamel and sometimes with an artist’s acrylic paint. The ground is stretched gesso cotton or linen canvas.

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Paul Weiner:
How do you balance dueling interests in abstraction and physical form?

Ronald Lukas:
For me, the main difference between abstraction and realism is that realism, since the invention of the camera, is boring to paint. But I will admit that it’s a people pleaser. I’ll also admit that, when I’m in a wussy state of mind, I will occasionally flaunt my technical realistic painting skills to justify my credibility. All my abstract figurative painting starts off with a quick, fairly realistic image, and takes off from there. If I’m working from a human model, the approach is the same.

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Paul Weiner:
Some artists think that figurative painting abilities are prerequisites for working in abstraction. Do you agree with that idea?

Ronald Lukas:
Nope! It’s a false assumption. Abstractionism is about subjective emotions, not objective reality. The old expression way back when was: “If you can draw the human figure, you can draw anything.” Most well-known modern and contemporary abstractionists never had the skill. Today more than ever, realists project a photographic image on their canvas and trace it. Aside from concept, what’s most important is the artist’s ability to master the dry and wet medium. Generally, realists have a problem. They can’t get past it!


Please view Ronald Lukas’s work online and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Exploring Erotic Photography with Gottfried

Gottfried is a photographer living in Berlin. His artwork spans a large range of work focused on or incorporating the idea of fetishism, and he has been working as an artist for over forty years. His artwork is available for view online.

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Paul Weiner:
When did you start working on art?

Gottfried:
Getting on towards forty years ago, and, in that time, I have conceived and produced works on three continents.

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Paul Weiner:
What subjects do you find most interesting in your art?

Gottfried:
As I have already written in my philosophy, as set out online, “in fact, people, their expressions, and their eyes as windows to their soul, in no matter what circumstances, are much more the meat of my metier.” A lot of my work has involved the erotic and also elements of fetish or, at least, quite a few works carry an innuendo in that direction. It is when a person is in pursuit of his or her fetish, whatever that may be, sexual or otherwise, that one sees the widest range and greatest brilliance of expression. Very often these are expressions, which are reserved for only the most private sphere, are indeed subjectively secret in nature. My style has, as is the case of all artists, developed with the years, but one can still perceive such elements, if one looks closely enough, even in some largely surreal or abstract works, such as ‘Psychedelic Mushrooms’.

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Paul Weiner:
Do you work in digital or film?

Gottfried:
For the most part I have produced works very predominantly in negative and transparency film, but also in oil, crayon, pencil, and mixed media, encompassing various combinations of those materials and techniques. But your question was simple, and the simple answer is film, at least up until very recently, when I partially adopted digital since that has now seemingly become a fairly compelling medium. One has to admit that it greatly simplifies much of the now possible, to use movie terminology, post-production.

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Paul Weiner:
Do you find any inspiration in abstract expressionist painting?

Gottfried:
Yes. I find inspiration in abstract expressionist works or, rather, should I say, I find satisfaction in the production of an abstract expressionist work. In fact, as I remark in my online philosophy, “I value impressionism…because that can add meaning at a more subconscious level. Such added meaning, however, comes with some abstraction; and so the term abstract expressionism was coined.” I realize that your question was specifically directed at paintings, since you asked, “Do you find any inspiration in abstract expressionist painting?” However, to me, although I have produced a couple of such paintings, it is clear that an artwork of this genre can well be other than a painting. Of course, early abstract impressionists such as Mark Tobey who, to a degree, anticipated the all over look of many of Jackson Pollock’s works – very often worked in traditional media, an early example being Tobey’s 1954 “Canticle,” which was produced in casein on paper.

However, traditional media (and casein is, indeed, an ancient medium) exercises, for me, by no means any limitation on the production of abstract impressionist work. I like to think that my “Two Sisters,” for example, is in the vein of mid term artists in that scene, but still an all over style, having a simplified pictorial, color dominated element, although nonetheless it is rather more figurative than many of the works of early artists in that genre. That is, perhaps, simply my interpretation of the average of abstract impressionism.

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Paul Weiner:
How did you find your interest in erotic art?

Gottfried:
I began my photographic career shooting candids at large fairs and exhibitions, and this spun off the occasional newspaper and magazine submissions. Through this, I came to know a quite renowned newspaper photographer of that era. He did a lot of high fashion work, both for a major newspaper and also commercially on his own behalf. He introduced me to fashion work, and I eventually came to have quite a bit of work in that area, shooting for catalogues, magazines, ads, etc. One of the models asked me to take some glamour shots of her for a magazine campaign. Up until then, the usual, frequent enough, visual exposure to that type of work was more the saucy pin-up and the, so to speak, “page 3 girl” type of image, all of which, in my estimation, lacked expression and emotion. In short, they all lacked the “eyes as windows to their soul” element.

I was impressed by many of the nudes of Bill Brandt, but they, again, for me, lacked that direct appeal. Then, it was just at that time that I was attracted by the change in emphasis of the work of Helmut Newton, in which he now pursued overtly sexual themes. His juxtaposition of elements in his photographs was fascinating. These new photos of his were, in a way, tough but polished, aggressive and cold, and often disconcerting. But there was always a balance of eroticism and beauty. The eyes were not the windows to the soul, but the body and the juxtaposition said it all.

So, armed basically with these inspirations, and my own ideas, I took my first steps towards a representation of the erotic world. Fortunately, the product of those first, tentative steps was a success, and I began to receive further requests for such work in relatively quick succession. With that, the basis for expanding and delving further into the erotic and then fetish world had been laid out.

Nonetheless, as with all artists, things change with time. I now tend towards more mundane topics, although, even in a proportion of that work, I cannot resist the temptation, or perhaps it is purely subconscious, to hide erotic or fetish elements within the work.

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Paul Weiner:
With your work in film, do you develop your own photos?

Gottfried:
In the case of black and white, I develop my own film. I find that this is better than working with a lab because I know the circumstances in which the images were shot so I can have a better feel for the development rather than having to shoot so as to align the negative precisely to a lab procedure. By doing it myself, I can tweak the development according to my feel. As for the prints, I make my own b&w prints because, there, I can make many minor adjustments during the exposure and development process, which are simply impractical to have carried out by a lab, or, indeed, largely impossible to convey adequately to the lab operator. However, with color material, where I work almost exclusively with transparency film, I establish a working relationship with a good lab and let the lab process the film. A good lab is able to make quite a sufficient number of variations to the process if these ever should be needed, but I find, generally, that this is needed only infrequently.


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

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