Critique Collective

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

Connecting 3-D Printing and Nature: Andrew Werby

Andrew Werby is a sculptor and the founder of United Artworks. Werby has worked with a host of tools throughout his career, from traditional lost-wax casting processes to cutting-edge 3D printers. Further images of his artwork and information about his business can be found at juxtamorph.com.

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Paul Weiner:
Explain your idea of a “juxtamorphic” style.

Andrew Werby:
While I love art history, particularly the artifacts of ancient and distant civilizations, I felt the need to create a form of art that derived directly from nature, without reliance on my – or any human’s – cultural background. To me, anyway, natural objects speak a language of their own, which is independent of any artistic style developed by man. People have certainly used natural forms to develop styles of ornamentation before, generally abstracting and conventionalizing them. The Greek acanthus leaf is an example – in art history, one can see it progressively degenerate through generations of copying and reuse until its original vitality is entirely dissipated.

By capturing natural forms directly and using them in combination with each other to concentrate their innate power, I’m trying to build an aesthetic system like a mathematical proof, starting from what can be considered axioms: the natural forms that have surrounded mankind since its beginning. If we have any clue about what beauty might consist of, it seems to me, it has to be based on them. By carefully considering these forms, searching for affinities, mating one with another, and building up a work of art based on respect for their formal values, I’m trying to circumvent the unfortunate human tendency to identify, classify, and dismiss all this beauty without really seeing it for what it is.

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Paul Weiner:
Would you say that this attempt to build a “system like a mathematical proof” has in any way determined your affinity for computer printing over less accurate casting methods?

Andrew Werby:
I didn’t mean to imply that making a piece of art in the Juxtamorphic style was as automatic and predetermined as going through a mathematical procedure. What I meant was that in constructing an aesthetic system from first principles, using the works of nature as “givens”, I felt I was building on a firm foundation, in the style of a theorem. The actual process of making art this way is very much a matter of trial and error.

In opting for this digital method of constructing sculpture, I’ve actually had to relax my standards of accuracy a bit. The traditional casting process will accurately reproduce everything one can capture in a rubber mold, which includes detail finer than a fingerprint. But no 3D scanner I have access to can capture detail like that; there’s always some loss in translation. And while detail is concentrated when one starts with a large object and scales it down, often I’m going in the other direction, with a consequent loss of detail. There’s also some detail lost in 3D printing itself,depending on the part’s scale and the type of printer used. I think this is justifiable in view of the flexibility afforded by a digitally-mediated process, but it’s still a sacrifice.

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Paul Weiner:
Could you explain the process you employ for a 3D printer?

Andrew Werby:
Different 3D printers require somewhat different inputs and are suitable for different purposes. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, which have to be considered when choosing one for a particular project. For instance, the color printer I use allows me to use photographs on the surface of my pieces, much like projecting them onto a blank form, except that the color on the surface is an integral part of the piece, and is built along with the rest of it. I have another one that prints in clear plastic. These prints are a lot more durable than my color prints, but the detail on the surface, which is better, is harder to see because of the clarity, although that does produce some interesting visual effects. Another printer I’ve been using prints small objects with extremely high detail in a resin that’s suitable for investment casting, so I can transform these prints into jewelry or other parts in a range of metals.

Paul Weiner:
What kind of programs do you use in order to tell the printer what to make?

Andrew Werby:
There are a few different steps to my process. The first is 3D scanning, to create a library of forms that become my primary source material. Each scanning system consists of the hardware that actually captures the scans, and the software that enables it to work. I use a variety of these, ranging from simple touch-probes that record a single point at a time to laser scanners that can capture a whole object in great detail.

Once I have some scans to work with, I use one of a series of programs to combine, mirror, duplicate, scale and distort them in various ways, and to subtract one from another. My favorite program for doing this is called Geomagic Freeform. It’s a hardware/software system that has the unique ability to convey a tactile impression of the objects one is working on by varying the resistance of an articulated arm that’s used to manipulate them, so it’s a lot like using a real tool on a physical material, and is excellent for making subtle transitions from one surface to another. I also use more traditional CAD (Computer Aided Design) software for tasks which require hard geometric forms and measured relationships between them. Often I’ll use a combination of different software programs on a single piece to deal with different aspects of its intended function and appearance.

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Paul Weiner:
How did you make the transition from bronze casting to 3D printing?

Andrew Werby:
The techniques of “lost wax” bronze casting traditionally were something that was left to foundry technicians to execute, based on a clay or plaster model that an artist would deliver, often at a much smaller scale than the large metal sculpture they’d produce. This led to a certain level of disengagement on the part of the sculptors, and to sculptures that lost something in translation. Fortunately, I was taught bronze casting by some sculptors who had revived foundry practice as a hands-on skill that artists could master themselves. One of the things we learned was mold-making. This was a revelation to me; I loved the idea that I could capture the surface information from one object and create another one in a different material, like wax or bronze, that still displayed the exact configuration of the original. I became particularly fascinated with doing this to natural objects, since they display such a mysterious richness of texture and detail. Soon I’d amassed the beginnings of what would become a formidable mold library, initially drawing on the resources of my school’s departmental collections, and had begun casting sculptures that combined all sorts of different animals, minerals, and vegetables.

I carried on with this for a long time after graduation, building a foundry of my own and expanding this basic technique into various other media. When personal computers started becoming powerful enough to combine photographic images, I delved into that a bit, but as a sculptor I was unsatisfied with making only 2D images, although I was intrigued by the ease and seamlessness of the transitions I could achieve in digital photo-collage. I started wondering if I could do the same thing in 3D and create actual sculpture from virtual models of natural forms. But everyone I spoke to about it at the time told me it was impossible, at least for an individual artist without corporate backing. I kept researching this, however, and my timing was right, because companies making CAD software and hardware peripherals were waking up to the mass market that was created with the spread of powerful personal computers, and making products available at much lower prices than before. I discovered some relatively inexpensive tools that allowed me to prove the concept, capturing a seashell in 3D, importing and manipulating it in a software environment, and then using a small CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) milling machine to carve it into a piece of wood.

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I really like the CNC process, since it allowed me to expand what I could previously only do with casting and approach carving in much the same way. One is fairly unconstrained in the materials that can be used, and the scale of a part can be as large as the machine allows, while the level of detail is largely dependent on the time one is willing to spend carving it. I could use it to create models for casting in other materials, or create a final part in a permanent material like wood. The machines that do it are relatively simple, and I was able to build some for myself that extended the size range of the parts I could make. I’d found some 3D scanning equipment that was faster and produced models with better detail, and discovered software that let my imagination loose on them. But to carve something with a CNC mill, the tool has to be able to reach every area of the part’s surface, and there are some constraints on the designs one can accomplish. I found myself constructing things I couldn’t carve, and thinking about 3D printers.

There are quite a few different varieties of 3D printers. At the low end, they are basically just CNC machines with a hot-glue gun instead of a spindle, although they use more rigid plastic as a feedstock. The layers of material they deposit are individually visible on the surface and tend to obliterate all but the strongest surface textures. And the forms they can make are not unconstrained; the hot plastic, if not completely supported, will droop to the bottom of the build platform. I couldn’t see any particular advantage to using them instead of CNC carving.

However, there are some other technologies, like powder-bed printing, where a layer of powder is consolidated selectively and another is added on top, that allow the piece to be supported by the unconsolidated powder as it’s built up layer by layer. This allows a lot more freedom in design. Another method involves shining a laser into a vat of liquid photo-reactive polymer. This requires support from the bottom of the vat, but not nearly as much as the hot extruded filament, so the supports that are used can be easily detached.

A third technique also uses photoreactive resin, but cures it using a projector from underneath, which allows it to build particularly fast, since a whole slice is exposed at a time. By making each slice very thin, it can produce very fine detail fairly quickly. This resin is suitable for “lost wax” casting, since it burns out cleanly in a mold, so I’m able to cast it in bronze, just like the wax I started out with.

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Paul Weiner:
Would you consider your work fine art sculpture, design, or somewhere between the two?

Andrew Werby:
My work can be arranged on a continuum between purely artistic sculptures and completely functional designs. I don’t make a big distinction between art and craft; my most influential teachers were among those artists of the 20th century who worked hard to obliterate that divide and I basically agree with them about the uselessness of segregating the two. I might make something that has no earthly use except as an object for contemplation; in that case there’s nothing else to call it but fine art. I also make things which can be put to some kind of use – a vessel, for instance, or a piece of jewelry. Its functional aspects may not be such as to overshadow its basically decorative nature, so it would rank somewhere in the middle. But I don’t forbid myself from acting as a designer first and an artist second, if the task warrants it, and in that case the intended function will largely dictate the form I produce to accommodate it. That would be placed on the other end of the spectrum.

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Paul Weiner:
Do you enjoy making work that functions as a tool more, less, or equally to making work purely for aesthetic pleasure?

Andrew Werby:
I like doing both things. I don’t feel any compulsion to be purely an artist or exclusively a designer. Perhaps these different things are satisfying in different ways, so I do one or the other as the mood strikes me or the need for it presents itself. It’s good to identify an unmet need and fulfill it, so for instance I’ve launched into a project of designing the ultimate electric cello, which is more or less a pure design effort, where the goal is to achieve as good a sound quality as possible while preserving the ergonomics of the acoustic instrument. In the course of making a piece I often find I need some tool or machine that doesn’t exist, so in order to do something I’ve set my mind on, I’m obliged to shift gears and go into tool-making mode.


Please view Andrew Werby’s artwork online at juxtamorph.com and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Ruthie Schneider Vast Library of Photomanipulation

Ruthie Schneider creates photomanipulation artwork by sampling from a vast library of her own photography in order to create aestheticall pleasing compositions. Her abstract compositions are also available for viewing online here.

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Paul Weiner:
Tell us a bit about how you got involved in this type of photography and manipulation.

Ruthie Schneider:
Up until about two years ago, I had been doing primarily street photography in my travels and still life photography of things that caught my eye in my environment. I was somewhat bored with my work. I had been to a painting workshop out in Oregon and was experimenting with abstracts. My closets are littered with unfinished paintings!

When I saw what one could do with post processing methods, a light went on in my head about merging an existing photograph with another, or several. This is a challenge, as I have to visualize the shapes and composition of the images, and make a decision as to where the strongest elements are. I go through a process of changing the rotation, RGB curves, contrast, and such until I find two or three images that work.

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Paul Weiner:
Was your photography similar stylistically before you began using digital tools?

Ruthie Schneider:
Not at all. I was raised on the Zone System of photography back in the 70s and followed in the footsteps of the “f/64 club.” After I sold my darkroom equipment and focused on raising babies, I transitioned into doing travel – street and still life photography.

Digital manipulation has totally opened up a new world for me, one which allows me to utilize both my painting skills and photography to reach a happy medium. I actually feel as if I am producing a canvas. It is always a pleasant surprise to see two, three or sometimes four images merge to produce a totally different result.

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Paul Weiner:
Is your photography influenced at all by abstract expressionism in painting?

Ruthie Schneider:
Absolutely! That and my keen awareness of shadows, textures and light.

Paul Weiner:
How do you balance raw camera images and Photoshop as tools for abstract photography?

Ruthie Schneider:
Well, I actually don’t use Photoshop for my work. I use a free online app called PicMonkey, which I use for enhancement and occasional manipulation. I have a huge library of photographs from my travels and day to day stuff. I have photographed many unfinished, abstract paintings that my daughter and I have done that are languishing in our house! I also utilize images of various ‘textures’ as you will; rust, peeling paint, shadows, etc.

When I set out to make a new image, I pick something from my library that perhaps doesn’t make it on its own, but that can come to life when merged with a texture or painting.

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Paul Weiner:
How do you find a subject for your work?

Ruthie Schneider:
As I mentioned, I draw upon my vast library of images that go way back. I revisit photos that need help!

In my travels and walkabouts, I like to shoot from the hip so that, often, I leave out what is happening at eye level. I enjoy this method as it gives a skewed look. Since I have started merging, for lack of a better term, I also shoot textures.

I had a grand time behind Walmart, photographing all of the pallets with plastic shrink wrap that had water droplets beading everywhere. There were also flattened boxes with layers and layers of color and texture. Old cemeteries have endless opportunities, and we are fortunate to live in New England, land of historic graveyards. Other places that have wonderful subject matter are airports. Cleveland comes to mind, but just about every airport gives me great inspiration, especially when spending hours hanging around while flights are delayed. Farmers markets, food, and dogs in the street strike my fancy as well.

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Paul Weiner:

Is your chief concern aesthetics or are these photos all connected conceptually?

Ruthie Schneider:
I have groups of images that share the same element of texture. For instance, I will use a photo of a shadow and merge it with several scenic, still life, or street photos. So, you will see that connecting theme, but that would be the only connected concept.

Paul Weiner:
What types of cameras and equipment do you use?

Ruthie Schneider:
I keep it simple. I am not one of those with two cameras and long lenses hanging around my neck—the smaller and lighter, the better. I began with a Nikon D40 when I first started using digital, and it was strictly for travel. Right now, I am totally enjoying a Fujifilm X100, which reminds me of a Leica, extremely quiet. It has a fixed lens, which forces me to compose more carefully.


Please view Ruthie Schneider’s artwork and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Stephen Mauldin’s Experimental Painting Techniques

Today’s interview is with Stephen Mauldin, a painter and instructor living in Oregon with great interest in creating new painting techniques to express content he has developed for over forty years. Mauldin holds an MFA with a concentration in painting and printmaking from the University of Idaho as well as a BA in art from Oklahoma City University. He has exhibited his work in many galleries throughout the Northwest and beyond. Read the interview, and then find more information and artwork online at http://www.mauldinart.com.

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Paul Weiner:
How has your experience as an educator affected your artwork in terms of process and aesthetic preferences, if at all?

Stephen Mauldin:
I can’t say that my teaching experience has affected my process or aesthetic preferences. Teaching basic design and color theory has certainly deepened my understanding of basic design principles and the intricacies of color, but I think what teaching does most is to keep things fresh. All the knowledge and skills one uses as an artist are eternally fresh for each new group of students. Their enthusiasm for receiving that knowledge and acquiring those skills prevents one from taking it all for granted. Plus, one continues to learn as one teaches. My knowledge of art history ,though still limited by most standards, I think, has expanded exponentially over the years due to teaching.

The deal is, I’m a single-minded guy. I think it was Matisse who said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that every artist has one idea they refine for a lifetime. That’s certainly been true in my case. I’m still addressing the same issues I was nearly forty years ago when I left undergraduate school. I bring more life experience and artistic experience to bear on those issues, but the core issues are still the same. Where I live and what I do for a living has never had any immediate impact on my work as an artist. If I hadn’t taught, I think my work would have still taken a similar path.

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Paul Weiner:
As an artist who has been trained in smaller art markets like Oklahoma City and Moscow, Idaho, how do you feel about the commercial art system that clusters around major cities like New York and Los Angeles?

Stephen Mauldin:
In the digital age, it seems a little silly since most things can be done anywhere now due to the internet. However, not many people are going to buy a large, expensive painting over the internet, sight unseen, so galleries are still necessary. The key issue, though, is the “critical mass” of collectors necessary to sustain a commercial art system. That’s what New York and L.A. have that other cities don’t. That allows them to create the gallery infrastructure that draws collectors from elsewhere, as well. That’s one of the biggest complaints here in Portland, Oregon where I live. We’re known as a creative magnet and there are thousands of working artists here with more arriving every day, but there are nowhere near enough collectors to support them all (not even including the collectors who occasionally travel here to buy art). It’s a frequent complaint in Seattle, as well.

The downside of the system is that it lets a handful of people define what is the “best” art of any generation and limits the variety of art being seen by the public. There’s art being produced every day all over this country that’s as good as anything made in New York or L.A., but few people see it because of this system.

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Paul Weiner:
You mentioned the rise of the internet as having an impact on art collection. Since many patrons are unwilling to buy expensive paintings online, do you feel that the value of contemporary art is diminished when it is sold on a store like Etsy?

Stephen Mauldin:
Not necessarily. What I was suggesting is that I doubt many people are going to drop several thousand, or tens of thousands, of dollars on a piece of art they’ve only seen online. Much of what any piece of art offers is too subtle to be seen online. If the piece can be sold for a few hundred dollars, people are more likely to take a chance. On the other hand, I think serious collectors prefer to see the art “in the flesh,” as it were, since they are more discriminating by and large. That said, much of what is on sites like Etsy is what I would call “wall décor,” not to be mistaken for Art. As my basic design students learn, Art has three essential elements: subject, form, and content. Subject is what the art depicts; form is how it is organized; and content is what it communicates. Wall décor usually has the first two elements, but is often thin on or completely lacking the third. Also, whereas collectors are usually most interested in content, people who buy wall décor are usually most concerned about whether it will match the couch. There may very well be some excellent art on Etsy’s site, but I doubt if many serious collectors rely on Etsy or similar sites to add to their collections. Frankly, I wouldn’t expect anyone to buy work off of my site without seeing it first.

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Paul Weiner:
Could you explain your concept for your String Theory series?

Stephen Mauldin:
The String Theory series didn’t begin with a concept, per se. I experiment with paint frequently. Robert Henri noted in his book The Art Spirit that mastering a medium does not come from being taught what he calls “stock phrases.” He suggests there, quite accurately I think, that mastering a medium comes from thoroughly understanding the properties of that medium. To that end, I am constantly playing with paint in order to more fully understand what it can and cannot do.

So, one day, while paying with paint, I taped an ultra-fine straight pin to the end of a palette knife, dipped it into some paint, cocked the palette knife back, and slung a very small quantity of paint onto a piece of paper. The resulting mark was absolutely electric, playing out into lines smaller than a human hair and crisper than one could ever create with a brush. It immediately struck me as the perfect visual signifier for the “strings” of string theory, electric little knots of energy. With the paintings in the String Theory series, I took that idea and married it to those issues I mentioned earlier. The face is actually derived from a mannequin head I bought while in graduate school, which has come and gone in my work ever since and is used to signify some sort of “higher intelligence” in the universe. What I’m trying to suggest is a universe teeming with intelligence on multiple levels. By the way, a palette knife breaks in half after about two hours of slinging paint like this, so I had to devise an alternate tool.

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Paul Weiner:
Tell us about this alternate tool you’ve developed!

Stephen Mauldin:
I wish I could tell you that it’s something amazingly complicated that took natural engineering skills to develop, but I simply stuck the pin in the end of a Colour Shaper. They’re like paint brushes with some form of rubber shaped like bristles instead of having actual bristles. I had bought a bunch of them years ago but found that I didn’t like them. They had been laying around the studio for years, so when I was looking for a solution to the failing palette knife problem, they were there, and they worked. They wear out, too, but it takes months instead of hours. I prefer one particular type that’s hard to find, so I just bought about $150 dollars worth of them in case I can’t find them in the future or they’re discontinued.

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Paul Weiner:
How would you define your style of art?

Stephen Mauldin:
I don’t know that I really have a “style” since my work changes rather significantly every few years. The issues stay the same, but the way the paint is applied changes dramatically. In the beginning, I used brushes and applied paint directly to canvas or panel, as most painters do. Then I started shaping the canvas over objects and applying paint with an airbrush to simulate the play of light and shadow on those objects, stretching the canvas after the fact. That was continued on rip-stock nylon for a while to get finer detail. After that, I made all the marks for paintings on glass first, and then collaged them into “paint assemblages” of sorts. Next, I used a tool designed for putting stripes on picture frame molding to draw directly with paint and produce pieces infused with a dense web of spirals and arcs to suggest the patterns of sub-atomic particles. That was followed by extruding thickened paint into actual webs that were about a half-inch deep. Later, I stamped the image onto canvas using rubber stamps that I carved myself. Now I sling paint with pins.

Actually, it dawned on me recently that I have always been led by the paint. As I have played with it over the years, it has continually revealed new things to me and suggested new technical directions. Ben Shahn said, “The painter who stands before an empty canvas must think in terms of paint.” Over the years, as I’ve addressed the issues I do, that’s what I’ve done – thought in terms of paint and how I can make it convey more clearly what I’ve been trying to communicate.shadow1

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Paul Weiner:
Is there a certain type of paint you prefer? Also, would you consider your revelations about paint and its application to be equally important to the actual products you create?

Stephen Mauldin:
I’ve used NovaColor acrylics for thirty years. I started using them when I worked with an airbrush because they’re slightly less viscous than tube colors and require less thinning to be sprayed. It’s a high quality, heavily pigmented artist’s color and is much less expensive than any other brand I’ve found, so I’ve stuck with it. They’re great people to deal with, too. Producing the electric little mark that I’m so infatuated with now is all about viscosity. If the paint’s too thick or too thin, all you get is little dots or a big mess. Curiously, only the warm colors with NovaColor will do it. I think it’s the properties of the pigments, so I’ve taken to modifying the cool colors with Utrecht’s extra stiff colors. I tried gel mediums and everything else I could think of with no success until I stumbled upon the Utrecht solution almost by chance.

I don’t consider my revelations about paint to be of much importance since they would be of little use to anyone else. They’re a reflection of my temperament and have resulted in painting methods that are extremely time consuming and mind-numbingly tedious by most people’s standards. Actually, the importance, in my mind, lies not in the products or objects I create, but in the content contained therein. The paint and the objects are only means to an end.


Please view Stephen Mauldin’s artwork online at http://www.mauldinart.com and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Maxwell Coppola Intertwines Innocence and the Digital Age

Maxwell Coppola is an artist who explores the duality between childhood innocence and disturbing images. He recently stumbled into the world of internet-based art with a series of work reliant upon Google image searches. Check out Maxwell’s work online at http://www.maxwellcoppola.com.

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Paul Weiner:
Could you describe the process you went through in order to capture the images in your word searches series?

Maxwell Coppola:
I developed the concept for my word search pieces while looking up references for my paintings. I’m always searching the Internet for images to help formulate my paintings, and I do so much of this through Google’s image search. After doing some more experimental projects, I decided to give the word search series a shot.

To create the pieces, I search for a word or phrase, write down the time and day of the search, and take screenshots of the output. The screenshots are then pieced together to form the piece.

I like how many different concepts these pieces touch upon: pop culture, mass media, the internet, search engines, fair use, copyright, abstract vs. figurative, aesthetics, perception. I think these pieces have a lot of potential talking points.

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Paul Weiner:
This process is intriguing because it points out the extent to which Google informs our perceptions and opinions on ideas, objects, and people. How is it that you determine the compositions for these works? Do you create the compositions intuitively and aesthetically or with rigid conceptual requirements like an algorithm?

Maxwell Coppola:
An image search engine follows an algorithm to determine which images it will display. Google creates the algorithm, but the images themselves are out across the Internet. I think the search offers a sort of current aggregate perception of a word or phrase.

I’m still exploring how I want to continue this process, actually. Searching for a celebrity like Oprah Winfrey is much different than searching for, let’s say, the color blue. The one thing I will always do is write down the search time and date. How different might a search for “World Trade Center” be in 2000 versus 2002?

I try to be conceptual initially, but I certainly think about aesthetics and whether my initial concept will ultimately work as a visual piece. I like your idea of incorporating an algorithm to create the pieces. I could definitely explore that.

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Paul Weiner:
Why have you chosen to create artwork which questions your own identity in reference to child-like and disturbing imagery?

Maxwell Coppola:
I’m not sure I’m really trying to question my identity with these. There are some images within these paintings that relate to my childhood directly, but those are usually thrown in as little Easter eggs to myself.

I’m really influenced by members of my own family and my own experience working with children. My mother works with children aged 2-5; my aunt is a principal at a grade school; I have a lot of young cousins; I have my own history of working as a camp counselor for 5 years. I’m also influenced by pop surrealist artists, who seem to use a lot of children in their artwork. I think the disturbing and twisted imagery makes for good contrast against the innocence of childhood, but that could just be in my own head.

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Paul Weiner:
I’ve noticed that many of your works use stuffed animals as a symbol for childhood. Are the stuffed animals in your images directly related to you or simply made up for the paintings?

Maxwell Coppola:
I remember the characters, and they were a part of my life in some capacity, but the images used as references were taken from the Internet.

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Paul Weiner:
Do you view aestheticism as a chief concern in the creation of your images or is it secondary to the concept?

Maxwell Coppola:
The aesthetics are always a concern for me; however, they are not the first on the list. The concept is always first, but I do my best to make a professional looking piece. I’ve always had the mindset that my paintings should be beautiful from afar, but twisted when you get closer and actually see what’s going on.

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Paul Weiner:
Describe the process you use in beginning a work of art. How does this change when creating photography, conceptual art, and painting?

Maxwell Coppola:
Whether creating photography, conceptual art, or paintings, I start the same way. I’m always trying to generate ideas that are weird, ironic, controversial, funny, unexpected, gross, beautiful, and some mix of all of that. The main test an idea has to pass in my own mind is:

1. Is it interesting?

2. Is this me?

One interesting part about number 2 is that I probably would not have started my word search series if I hadn’t let myself experiment with my mixed media pieces. I started as a painter, and I was planning on working strictly within that medium. I think by allowing myself to explore different media and ideas, it helped me become more open minded about my artwork and who I wanted to be as an artist.

Paul Weiner:
Your Word Search series seems to move away from the theme of childhood. Is that a direction you’re planning on heading in for future work?

Maxwell Coppola:
That’s a good question. I think that I will continue to paint as I am. However, I love exploring new concepts and ideas and working with different materials. Also, you never know what might catch on in the art world.


Please view Maxwell Coppola’s artwork online at http://www.maxwellcoppola.com and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Beautiful Figurative Paintings and Conceptual Masterpieces by Pablo Mercado

Pablo Mercado is a Spanish artist living in Berlin who holds a Masters in Art, Creation, and Research from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid and BFA from the Universidad de Bellas Artes de Sevilla. In 2013, his artwork has exhibited in the Freies Museum Berlin, Säulensaal des Berliner Rotes Rathaus, and Museo Arte Contemporáneo (MAC) in A Coruña, Spain. Pablo Mercado has also exhibited in various galleries throughout Germany and Spain. His artwork is available online at http://www.pablomercado.es.

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lomo1

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Paul Weiner:
Do you think that it is more important for artwork to be conceptually strong or aesthetically strong?

Pablo Mercado:
That is an interesting question, which I have often discussed with artist friends. I think we should find a balance between the two ideas, but, for me, the aesthetic is very important to communicate with the spectator. In a world saturated with information, it is important to draw the spectator’s attention to tell them something. You have to establish a dialogue with the spectator, and the first step is to say “hello” with a scream. Well, that scream, to me, is the aesthetics. However, if there is not a strong concept behind it, the conversation between the work and the spectator becomes trivial and superficial.

photobooth

recalldrawing

recall painting

Paul Weiner:
I definitely agree with your idea about saying “hello” with a scream. Do you think the same kind of “hello” can also be produced through conceptual shock? What if artwork is so erotic or violent that it attracts attention?

Pablo Mercado:
I think that conceptual shock is a part of the conversation. It is deeper than that. Personally, I do not like erotic or violent art when it is used just to attract attention and not because it is necessary for the concept. I find it superficial, or maybe too easy. I prefer a more subtle way to do it, something a little bit more cryptic that makes the spectator question himself.

Paul Weiner:
Do you find exhibiting in Germany to be different from exhibiting in Spain? If yes, how?

Pablo Mercado:
I have only shown in two German cities, Leipzig and Berlin. But, essentially, I think the public has no boundaries. We can talk about different audiences, but not because of their nationality. In Berlin, there is a great interest for art and especially in the openings.

Paul Weiner:
Describe your interest in the human memory.

Pablo Mercado:
Three years ago, when I moved to Berlin, I became interested in the aura of melancholy that surrounds this city, as well as the taste for the past with flea markets, vintage fashions, and analog technology. This idea that previous times were better is a postmodern characteristic that has always interested me very much. However, the human brain is full of defense mechanisms that make it impossible to give a true picture of the past. The brain interprets and selectively forgets memories to survive. I am very interested all these mechanisms and the idea of selecting fragments that retain and others that are hidden somewhere.

substitution

Substitution

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Substitution

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Substitution

Paul Weiner:
Interesting. Could you explain or define a few of these mechanisms or processes for memory?

Pablo Mercado:
I have several works based on these mechanisms, for example, Encoding, Recall, and Substitution. The human brain has two mechanisms of defense against trauma or negative memories. These mechanisms are suppression and substitution. Suppression interrupts the recovery of memories, and substitution replaces unpleasant events with others that are more enjoyable.

In Substitution, I started from two puzzles based on two well-known works in art history. One traumatic work was Five Deaths from the series Death and Disaster by Andy Warhol, and the other was A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat.

I deleted traumatic parts from Warhol’s image and inserted fragments of Seurat’s work. Thereby, the recumbent bodies crushed by the car are replaced by reclining figures and the river of the Grande Jatte replaces the trail of blood. However, because the pieces of the puzzles are not the same size, I cut and modified both until they fit properly. The result is imperfect, full of little mistakes that come with works of the naked eye, but with deeper observation it clearly shows errors in the system.

Encoding

Encoding

Encoding

Encoding

Encoding

Encoding

Paul Weiner:
Tell us about your project, Encoding, and how you came to the idea of creating a sculpture to represent the process of creating memories.

Pablo Mercado:
Encoding is the brain’s ability to transform information into items that can be stored and recovered during the evocation process.

The memory of a complete experience consists of fragments of memories that are stored in different regions of the brain. Thanks to the hippocampus, which recomposes stored memories, these pieces of information are reunited from disparate parts.

In this recovery process, the brain reinterprets and modifies the memory, so the more times something is remembered, the difference between the original memory and the current memory becomes greater.

This series of works refers to the process of recovery and how the past may not be exactly as we remember it. That is, our idyllic conception of the past is unreliable.

In this installation, as in other examples of my previous work, I started with a vintage object to fragment and then suspended the parts in the air by fishing lines, creating rhythms that are reminiscent of smoke patterns. In this case, I have included the recall process. Therefore, the memory is fragmented and reassembled again in a new memory with modifications and with parts that do not fit correctly.

Lomopaintings

Lomopaintings

Lomopaintings

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Lomopaintings

Paul Weiner:

Do your Lomopaintings deal with the same idea as Encoding, as far as memory goes?

Pablo Mercado:
The Lomopaintings series was the beginning of my current line of work. In those works, there are models abstracted in time and space. They were like empty presences with the idea of a loss of faith in the present or the future, and the shelter in the past are two of the bases of these paintings. From these paintings, I came to be interested in the topic of memory. I try to talk about what means to take refuge in the past when our mechanisms to remember are so precarious.

This series of paintings mimics the aesthetic of lomography, or obsolete technology, as the new mobile devices, iPhone, smartphones, etc., do. It is just a way to use a melancholy analog medium, painting, considered obsolete.

wallpaper


Please view Pablo Mercado’s artwork online at http://www.pablomercado.es and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Jonathan Wright’s Dynamic Painting Exploration

Jonathan “Jono” Wright is a figurative and abstract painter living in Denver, Colorado. He holds a BFA from the Metropolitan State University of Denver and has also studied painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Boulder Academy of Fine Arts, and the Studio Art Center International in Florence, Italy. Jonathan’s work is available online at http://www.jonowrightart.com.


Paul Weiner:
What are you currently working on?

Jonathan Wright:
Currently, I’m working on a collection of abstract pieces that are 12”x15” for a boutique called Moxie. I’m really excited about this project, as there is a sense of collaboration with fashion, something from which I find a lot of inspiration. Hopefully I’ll be able to strike a balance between true aesthetic exploration and commercial viability.

Paul Weiner:
Since you’ve studied art at various programs in Boulder, Denver, Philadelphia, and abroad, which of these experiences has shaped your artwork the most?

Jonathan Wright:
It’s hard to say which educational experience has shaped my practice the most, as they all play a part in my current approach. For example, my early interest in graffiti and the training that I got as a teenager from Elvie Davis gave me a real appreciation for drawing and having a sense of attention and elegance to line quality. The training I got in Phillly gave me an introduction into how to paint the figure and how to mix colors. What I got from Metro was a sense of approaching art making in an elemental way such as line, volume, composition, focal point and so on.

Having all these different experiences presents me with the challenge of unifying my vision, which is something I’m learning about right now in my practice. I feel like I have a good technical foundation and a decent level of skill, so the question that is in front of me now is what do I really want to paint. What really turns me on? Also, what is commercially viable? So there’s a balance that has yet to be found.

Paul Weiner:
As an emerging artist, would you say that you feel limited or not by the commercial art market? Do you feel that the commercial level of art gets in the way of your attempt to unify your work in the way you would like to?

Jonathan Wright:
I would say that I feel influenced by considering the retail viability of my artistic ideas. Sometimes I make work that I strongly intend on selling, such as still-lifes or landscapes, while other times I make work that is focused on exploring something just for my own enjoyment.

What I’m finding about Denver is that it seems to be a market where you have to ride the razor’s edge of producing work that is decorative enough so people feel comfortable hanging it over their couch while simultaneously being edgy enough that it still has a spark of authentic exploration. That’s a tough road to navigate. Sometimes this dynamic feels limiting, but it can also feel like an interesting challenge. It really depends on where you want to take your career. If you want to be really avant-garde than your retail viability will probably be minimal, so you make your living doing something else. I suppose I’m trying to ride that razor’s edge of selling interesting and beautiful work.

To answer your question about unifying my work I would say that yes, this dynamic does make it hard to find unity. It takes a while to sort through all the educational influences and all the art market influences to come up with something I truly want to focus on that’s also commercially viable. But I feel ok with that. I think that’s what a true artist has to cope with.

8 vision outside of the oasis Niya, 2012, acrylic on paper, 36x48

9 loulan, 2012, acrylic on paper, 36x48

Paul Weiner:
Take us through your process for starting a new painting and developing a concept.

Jonathan Wright:
My process begins with an aesthetic impulse like a color or a form. It can come from nature or other art, such as painting or dance, something I’ve sketched in my book, or maybe something I’ve seen on the street. Oftentimes I find inspiration from fashion or textiles.

One thing I think is interesting is when multiple artists begin putting out similar aesthetics independently, as if they are responding to a similar impulse floating around in the culture that they then explore independently of each other.

But back to me. I begin with an impulse and sketch it out. However, my process and interests are kind of bipolar at this point. Sometimes I like to hone my skills and make highly realistic work, while at other times I’m interested in exploring something non-objective. Thus, depending on what I feel like making, whether it’s realistic or non-objective, my approach is quite different.

If I’m going to paint something realistic, I’ll use Photoshop to collage an image from which to reference. Then I begin the classical process of painting with oils, starting with an underpainting and continuing with opaque layers of paint. If I’m interested in exploring something non-objective I like to use acrylic on paper. With this approach, the medium is really forgiving, and I can edit, destroy, and create as I go along.

In all honesty, I find the non-objective approach more interesting as far as process goes because there is more that is unknown and more to discover. However, I still really like the results I can get when painting realistically. So one of my long-term problems, and remember it’s the problems that keep us going, is to get comfortable enough with my figure painting that I can incorporate the destroying/creating dynamic into that process. Artists like Alex Kanevsky, Kent Williams and a host of others are inspiring to me in this vein.

As far as “concept” goes, that term is something that I find terribly inadequate to describe the nuances of what visual art communicates. Painting especially is incongruous to this notion. The information that develops in a painting during its creation comes from the merging of the physical world of the materials and the subjective world of the artist.  During this process, one has to let go of expectations and conceptual rigidity. Some initial impulse to create is needed, which could be conceptual, but you have to release your expectations and just let go at some point. In my opinion, art is most interesting when it presents something fresh and unknown, which is kind of antithetical to conceptual art.

the lake 5

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the lake 5

Paul Weiner:
I like the idea of bringing abstraction and figure together for the sake of dynamism. To that extent, how do you feel about Anselm Kiefer’s way of melding expression and figurative art?

Jonathan Wright:
Although I haven’t studied Anselm Kiefer a lot, I would say that he is fairly post-modern in that he is drawing from representational painting and sculpture in a way that activates their culturally collected meanings. He utilizes that history and then adds some expressionism into the mix. And he is successful with that mixture. It’s been a while since I’ve seen one of his works in person, which I expect is more impactful than on the page or online, but I believe it must deliver quite an impression. But, in speaking to the representational/non-objective dynamic, I think it’s a really vibrant solution to the legacy of Abstract Expressionism, which kind of became too subjective, too limited.

There’s a long history at this point of artists negotiating this terrain, from Willem de Kooning, Diebenkorn, and Neri to contemporary masters like Sangram Majumdar, who totally blows my mind. In the case of Majumdar, he transcends representation by dancing with materiality, illusion, and, most important of all, spontaneity. It’s his ability to include it all, so to speak, that’s so interesting. He harmonizes  the result oriented approach of realism with the subjective spontaneity of Abstract Expressionism.

Another aspect that I see within this dynamic of what we could call form and formlessness is that it speaks to the transience or impermanence of our time. On the one hand, there is a lot of fragmentation going on in the collective psyche and on the other, we see that nothing lasts forever, which is a very Buddhist point of view. It’s a tumultuous time, which is being reflected in this aesthetic device.

6 record keeping 3, 2012, oil on paper, 9x9

7 record keeping 2, 2012, oil on paper, 9x9

Paul Weiner:
What do you find most appealing and most frustrating about the Denver art scene?

Jonathan Wright:
I think Denver has a specific flavor of energy that is unique and interesting. I’m not sure if I can really articulate it, but is has everything to do with geography and history. It’s dry and dirty and a bit outlawish. This is Denver’s strength, but I don’t think it can ever be pinned down.

That being said the art culture here can definitely feel out-of-touch and a bit late on the scene. Denver is kind of catching on to the ideas that originated in the big art centers five years prior. This, in my opinion, gives no one in this town the right to be snobby or exclusive because the people running the show here aren’t all that tapped in anyways. So Denver’s isolation is a strength and a weakness. It’s got an underdog vibe, which is invigorating, but also an air of exclusivity based on insecurity. Take it or leave it, I guess. Overall, it does provide a good emerging art scene, someplace to get your feet wet and perhaps continue to show even after one is more established.

It’s great. It’s home.

Paul Weiner:
You mentioned how Denver is a great place to get your feet wet, which makes plenty of sense. Are you considering making a move to a larger art market like New York or LA at some point?

Jonathan Wright:
At some point, I think it’s inevitable if you want to keep going with your art, as I do, to make that move. Some artists have stayed in Denver and have made a good name for themselves; maybe Phil Bender would be an example. But, yes, I would like to make a move to the West Coast within a year or so. Like New York, there’s a lot of great figurative work going on in LA and other styles of painting as well.

This whole thing has a lot to do with money. There’s simply more money in LA or San Francisco, perhaps also a more sophisticated market, not to mention a more diverse demographic. That equals a more vibrant and commercially viable art scene. I’m excited

to get a few more exhibitions under my belt and to develop a stronger artistic identity before I make the move. That being said, I would never turn my back on the community here in Denver. I’d still love to show here if the opportunity were to arise.


Please view Jonathan Wright’s artwork online at http://www.jonowrightart.com and like Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Konnie Laumer Exposes the Beauty of Denver in Paint

Konnie Laumer is a self-taught painter from Denver, Colorado exploring figurative and abstract art through acrylic, iridescent, and metallic paint. Her work can be found online at http://www.artbykonnie.com/.

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Paul Weiner:
When did you begin painting, and how did you settle on becoming a painter?

Konnie Laumer:
I’ve been creating art since I was a child. My father was very artistic and saw that I had an interest at an early age, so he started helping me and teaching me how to draw people and the basics of perspective. I picked up on it very easily and was a natural. Then, after I graduated from high school, my aunt gave me lessons in painting. I was hooked. I didn’t start showing and selling until around 2007. I was freelancing as a web and graphic designer and just got fed up with bad paying clients, so I started pursuing my painting at the urging of friends and family. Then I showed as much as I could wherever I could. As soon as I sold a few pieces, I was hooked.

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Paul Weiner:
How do you start your realist paintings? Is it any different from how you begin your abstracts?

Konnie Laumer:
My realistic city scenes are drafted out in pencil on canvas first, measuring every line and calculating with a reduction wheel that converts the size. This is very time consuming and can take days before I put any paint down on the canvas. This way, I don’t have to guess if I’m getting it right and I can focus on the colors, shadows, lines, and technique.

My portraits just take constantly looking at the photo or subject, back and forth while painting, until I see my subject materialize on to the canvas. Sometimes it feels like magic. Before I know it, I’ve captured the subject’s soul, which usually reveals itself through the eyes, be it animal or human.

My abstract work is quite different with each technique. Some are free flowing, paint in the moment. Others are somewhat drafted out, first with a primer blocked out in black and white. This way I get rich, dark areas and bright, light areas. For example, blues look much different laid on black than they do when painted on white. The same goes with all the colors, metallic, and iridescent paints that I use.

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Paul Weiner:
How do you find your subject for a painting? Is this process usually conceptual or intuitive?

Konnie Laumer:
I see a photo that jumps out at me, or a color pallet from something I see that screams “this needs to be put on canvas.” Some of my best abstract pieces were just spontaneous and flowed with the music I was hearing at the time, like a two panel piece I did when I had my studio. Another studio in the gallery was practicing live, funky, jazzy music. That painting just flowed out of me while I listened to the great sounds. So, I guess you could say both.

Paul Weiner:
You mentioned your use of metallic and iridescent paints. How do you feel the qualities of these paints affect your work in ways that traditional oil or acrylic paint might not?

Konnie Laumer:
The reflective nature of metallic and iridescent paint is seen differently in day and at night, depending on the lighting giving a different feel at different times of day.
Using them is sort of a signature style I’ve developed mainly because the reflective value they contribute to a painting is something you just can’t achieve in any other way. I love challenging myself to paint sometimes entirely with metallic paints other than the use of black and white, like in my wildlife paintings. Nearly all of the animals, as well as the surreal cityscapes, were painted with gold, bronze, copper, and array of silver tones. Although more difficult to have scanned for prints, when you’re buying an original from me, you know you have the original because the metallic paint would cost a fortune to get printed and would never translate the same way as the original.

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Paul Weiner:
I noticed that you offer painting instruction together with art parties. Have you found this an effective way to balance the commercial and personal sides of your art?

Konnie Laumer:
I offer instruction because I love sharing the experience of painting and find it very rewarding to show people that we all have an artist hiding inside each of us. Most left-brain thinkers believe they have no talent whatsoever and are pleasantly surprised to find it a very rewarding and freeing experience. The art parties are a great way to get together with your friends, do something new, and show off a hidden talent you never knew you had.

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Paul Weiner:
Have you found the Denver art scene particularly accessible? Do you ever feel limited by living in a relatively small art market?

Konnie Laumer:
Denver has a great art community with some amazing talent floating around in surprising places. I have trouble with accepting the way some galleries charge so much for wall space to show art. They become less picky on what they show, and artists with so-so talent pay the gallery bills while rarely selling anything. I feel the art market is what you make it. If you produce great art, at some point it will sell no matter where you are. The internet has done great things to improve the ability to sell wherever you are. You just have to think outside the box at every turn. It is a never-ending process to market yourself and your talent. You need to be willing to open every door of opportunity when it comes your way.

Paul Weiner:
Pay for space consignment does seem to be unfortunately prevalent here in Denver.

Konnie Laumer:
Unfortunately it is not only Denver, but now is becoming a standard practice with many galleries around the country, which I feel is a shame. As with any industry, sometimes you have to pay to get exposure.


Please view Konnie Laumer’s artwork online at http://www.artbykonnie.com and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Coffee and Rebecca Jacob’s Figurative Painting Skills

Rebecca Jacob earned her BFA at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia. She has also studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the School of Visual Arts in New York, the Art Students League of New York, and the Cleveland Museum of Art. I picked her brain on her own art practice and thoughts about the commercial art world. Rebecca’s artwork can be found online at rebeccajacob.com.

raspberry jam and java

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Paul Weiner:

How do you choose a subject for a series of work? For instance, how did you happen upon coffee as a motif?

Rebecca Jacob:

Ah, the hardest question to answer! Prior to my coffee art phase, I brought in a painting to show a gallery director. His mot to me was, “you’re cute but you need to find a gimmick.”

At that time Starbucks was new, and coffee shops were just starting to become popular – hence the inception of my coffee art series. I even painted with actual coffee! Recently, I am focusing on reproducing, on linen, plant life and landscapes from my personal world. I also love literature, despite my extreme lack of writing skills. I pull from various sentences, stanzas, poems, etc. to use to title my paintings.

the morning repast

tea with sugar and cream

perhaps solitude is your preference

Paul Weiner:

Let’s talk about the landscapes and nature, then. Do you prefer to paint en plein air or in your studio? Also, do you find photography and other digital advances like Photoshop to be a useful tools or simply annoying crutches for figurative painters.

Rebecca Jacob:

I love the concept of painting en plain air but I can never seem to set aside the time. Hence, the photos in my studio where I can work at night. I use my own photos, but do not use photoshop.  Whereas it saves an artist time to use crutches, I try not to because my drawing skills suffer if I do.

Ireland Storm

Environmental

Are the Tulips too Excitable_10x10_oil on belgian linen

Paul Weiner:

Do you find, as a figurative artist, that the commercial art world has become overly focused on abstraction?

Rebecca Jacob:

With regard to the commercial world of art, don’t get me going! Art is now completely about monetary investment; if a gallery of note says it’s valuable, then it is. Art is stock for investment, nothing more. Artists seems to justify their work in saying that it is there to convey a message, but art, especially art that needs to be explained, is not the best way to convey a message.

Any element of the aesthetic has become irrelevant; this is now expected from the current fashion in the art world. Any skill involved in creating art is also irrelevant, indeed frowned upon, as old fashioned and therefore unworthy. The two basic tenets of what constitutes good art are now ignored. This is why people get away with posing as artists, and the world believes them. I feel that the figure is the hardest element to draw and paint, and should be conquered first and foremost before venturing on.

Paul Weiner:

Do you view your work as conceptual or intuitive?

Rebecca Jacob:

My work is both conceptual and intuitive depending on the day and my mood.

Paul Weiner:

Interesting. I would imagine that most people would find your work worthy of merit in an academic setting in terms of skill. So, would you say that your concepts are driven more by the commercial art world or your own curiosities?

Rebecca Jacob:

I have to admit I am driven by the commercial art world. Who doesn’t want to be a successful artist, especially after the 1980’s!  On the other hand, I also am driven by my own curiosities.

hannah

portraitmak

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Paul Weiner:

Take us through the material process you use as a painter. What materials do you like to paint on and with?

Rebecca Jacob:

I generally work small, so I can afford to use the best quality canvas and paint. I have had several mishaps with low quality oil paint chipping off. I also love to work in oil due to the history of it and the lasting power of oil.

Paul Weiner:

Oil painting is certainly a traditional technique. Do you see your style as being rooted in history? Perhaps you could name a few artists who you’ve found influential.

Rebecca Jacob:

I have always been drawn to artists via their stories more than their actual work. For example, take Jackson Pollock. I enjoy reading about his life more than his actual work. Although, when I visited his studio this past fall, I found that I do love his work. I have been obsessed with the lives of artists in Paris from when Paris was the center of the art world. On visiting Paris, I was more interested in finding their haunts and residences than viewing their works. Currently I am drawn to Johannes Vermeer after reading girl with a pearl earring. I also am fascinated with how he created and ground his own colors and the materials they used back then. I currently am trying to use the colors he used in his palette.

Display Blooms Sublime, 20x20, oil on belgian linen

nmex5

nmex3


Please view Rebecca Jacob’s artwork online at http://www.rebeccajacob.com and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Simone Rene’s Patterns and Fabric Collage

Simone Rene is a fabric collage artist from Brooklyn, New York who holds a BFA in Illustration from the School of Visual Arts. Her artwork is available online at http://www.simonerene.com/.

11.75"x16", cloth

City Background B5, 11.75″x16″, cloth


Paul Weiner:
When did you decide to begin with the medium of fabric collage?

Simone Rene:
I began working in it about 4-5 years ago. At the time I was doing some mixed-media pieces, paint/graphite/paper/found objects and making clothing, but I couldn’t commit to either because I was torn between my love of fabric and making visuals. I was making a quilt for my nephew, one of my first. It had figures of cute monsters and their toys on it. As I was cutting, positioning, and sewing, the direction I wanted to go in suddenly dawned on me – I know, I know – Duh.

Paul Weiner:
Having studied illustration at the School of Visual Arts, do you see that impacting your style today?

Simone Rene:
I have always loved the figure, and it is pretty central in most of my work. I studied Fashion Illustration in high school and took it at SVA. I think that I am prone to elongating and manipulating the figure to sell the story much the same way fashion illustrators do in order to sell clothing.

The Ancestors A1, 10"x31", cloth

The Ancestors A1, 10″x31″, cloth

Paul Weiner:
The idea of selling a story is interesting, and I can certainly see how fashion is incorporated in your work. So, as far as stories go, do you read your artwork as a narrative?

Simone Rene:
I think of my images as grasping at just a phrase pulled from a whole story, and for me that is where the emotion is.

Paul Weiner:
How do you start one of your fabric collages? It must be tough determining which fabric to use.

Simone Rene:
Usually my concept begins with a thought, words followed by a visual that is accompanied by color. Sometimes I just find a piece of fabric that wants to be something. After I have the concept, I sort through my large fabric collection and go on hunts, both new and used, for just the right fabrics. Once I have the dominant fabric color or pattern, things seem to fall into place. I experiment with combinations and sometimes make variations of the same image. It may take a while, and I may have to return to that image over and over again while I work on other pieces, but it’s ok because art is about exploration.

The Ancestors A5, 12"x31.5", cloth

The Ancestors A5, 12″x31.5″, cloth

Paul Weiner:
Is there a particular color or pattern that has intrigued you?

Simone Rene:
I find myself drawn to black and white patterns, cerulean blues, fuchsia pinks, and flesh tones that are cool – not really into the warm autumn colors.

City Background B3, 15"x27", cloth

City Background B3, 15″x27″, cloth

City Background B1, 17"x21.5", cloth

City Background B1, 17″x21.5″, cloth

Paul Weiner:
You’ve mentioned that your family has resided in Brooklyn since the late 1700s. Could you talk specifically about your “City Background” work and how that relates to your own identity?

Simone Rene:
I grew up embedded in family and surrounded by generations of relatives, both by blood and marriage. We were American, we were New Yorkers, and we were Brooklynites.

When I was little, I don’t ever recall wondering who or what we were. I thought that the diversity of my family was normal. It wasn’t until I began middle school and began to be asked to define myself by ticking off a box that I began to consider “What was I?” note not “Who I was.” It was confusing and disheartening to be asked to define myself and by doing so chance wiping away generations of ancestors that may not be stereotypically present in face or person. It made me a bit of a rebel. I checked all the boxes and when called upon could defend that choice because I knew my family’s stories and history.

I think being generations in the city allowed for the ambiguity that did define my family and I. It allows me to explore aspects of my history with familiarity as well as distance.


Please view Simone Rene’s artwork online at http://www.simonerene.com and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

Subscribe to the Critique Collective newsletter for additional content, faster updates, art tips, and insider information absolutely free.

Melding Metalwork and Painting: Virginia T. Coleman

Virginia T. Coleman is an artist residing in Denver, Colorado as a member of the Next Art Gallery. She holds an MFA from the Academy of Fine Arts in San Francisco, as well as a Bachelors of environmental design from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a Masters Certificate in welding from the Tulsa Welding School. Her artwork can be found online at http://www.virginiatcoleman.com.

Here is an installation photo from Virginia T Coleman’s recent exhibition, The Lines of a Woman.


Paul Weiner:

Take us through the process of making your work. How do you balance painting with metal?

Virginia T Coleman:

My approach varies depending on the type of work. When it comes to the more conceptual, abstract pieces of my metal art, it begins randomly. I say that because I usually will just be staring at a pile of metal or some scraps I might need to use up, and I begin to arrange them compositionally. This then will lead me to begin to think of a concept that will drive the final arrangement of the elements. The finished product is an exercise in taking the abstract and morphing it into a tangible concept.

If it is a predetermined concept that is larger and more complex in scale, I will begin with a doodle and then a scaled model. The model is usually made out of cardboard to scale so I can think quickly, make changes, add and subtract color before I begin to fabricate it out of metal. Once you begin working with metal, you quickly recognize how you can do something to metal that will take you hours to correct and sometimes correction is not possible.

When I work with metal, I try and use the inherent characteristic of the material before I begin to even consider adding my own personal color. Some pieces in the end require very little added manipulation. others need color to be added. Whichever way the work wanders, I try to make my decisions slowly and methodically.

Willis Polk's Catalyst for Modernist Steel in San Francisco; 2009; stainless steel, wood, oil paint, acrylic paint, and plastic; 25"x28"x11"

Willis Polk’s Catalyst for Modernist Steel in San Francisco; 2009; stainless steel, wood, oil paint, acrylic paint, and plastic; 25″x28″x11″

Linear Deception of Space; 2012; steel; 72"x50"x20"

Linear Deception of Space; 2012; steel; 72″x50″x20″

Paul Weiner:

Out of your metalwork, paintings, and photography, which medium do you find the most challenging?

Virginia T Coleman:

I find challenges out of all the mediums; however, they all fuse into the medium to which I most desire to master, metal. I recognize, however, that I can never master metal because metal is such a dynamic, living entity. Metal gives me challenges everyday through my job as a professional welder to my work as an artist. Metal has become my life challenge.

San Francisco; 2012; steel. acetylene torch, oil paint, and enamel spray; 24″x10″x2.5″

New Orleans; 2012; steel acetylene torch, oil paint, and enamel; 24"x10"x2.5"

New Orleans; 2012; steel acetylene torch, oil paint, and enamel; 24″x10″x2.5″

Paul Weiner:

Could you explain the connection your work seems to have to architecture, both conceptually and materially?

Virginia T Coleman:

Architecture is really the basis for every aspect of my art. I was trained as an architect first, a fine artist second, a sculptor third, and craftsman fourth.

With that being said, I have been enamored by buildings since childhood – the pure power yet delicate embrace a building has on the context of our environments. Buildings are the wallpaper, the tunnels, the dreams, the horror and the magic of our world. Architecture is a platform for taking a concept and morphing it into a tangible, inhabitable object. My architecture training taught me how to draw, to doodle, to think outside the box, to find parallels in seemingly disparate trains of thought, and to dream larger than life.

It seems very logical to me today as a metal sculptor that my material of choice should have always been metal, but I didn’t see that link as clearly as others. It wasn’t till my late twenties that I took my first welding class, and I have never glanced back. I am utterly fascinated by metal and steel structures. The pure power which the material possesses is humbling and its delicate ability to weave together, a technical challenge. It still baffles me the capacity steel has; it can bend across great rivers, cantilever weights into space, or teeter to unimaginable heights. It leaves all of us breathless.

When you start to look at metal or at structures closely, you begin to look at the material metal not as an object to build with, but also as a beautiful canvas both inherently and potentially. You can use the rusted autumn of Corten steel, to the shimmery transparency of stainless, to the purple majestic range captured while heating steel, to all metals abilities to be used as a canvas. Metal is a painting in and of itself. So, as I began my career working with metal, I began to take my years as begin trained a painter as a spring board in coloring metal.

I grew up in a mountain town in Colorado that was in the tidal wave of major development. My playground became construction sites, and I loved it. I would go around touching all the raw materials and seeing how the whole house was being put together almost nail by nail; it was an educational childhood. I knew from a young age that I wanted to learn how to make objects, to be hands on with the actual physical fabrication aspect of design.

Architecture is the thread through all my work.

The Glow of Coit Tower; 2009; wood, oil paint, acrylic paint, and steel; 56″x27″x7″

Paul Weiner:

You’re a member of the co-op at Next Art Gallery here in Denver. How would you describe the vibe of a co-op in comparison with a commercial gallery?

Virginia T Coleman:

I was recommended to it by a fellow artist who was telling me how great the gallery space was, so I decided to give it a try. I have not found a commercial gallery that has really grabbed me yet. I hold strong to my freedom to create unhindered by outside influences. I am not opposed to commercial galleries but have not found them conducive at this juncture.

With the Co-op, I am learning a tremendous amount about how a gallery is run. I can’t say I ever want to run a gallery. I’ll leave that to others, but it is interesting. I am in charge of reviewing potential new members portfolios. It is fun to see what other artist in the Denver area are creating. Every member has his or her own unique voice and we support and encourage all of the members to push their art.


Please view Virginia T Coleman’s artwork online at http://www.virginiatcoleman.com/ and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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