Critique Collective

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Tag: abstract painting

Robert Szot Relentlessly Pursues the Seduction of Lyrical Abstract Painting

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

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

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Early Voting, oil on linen, 64″ x 53″


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philistine, oil on linen, 23″ x 16″

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Szot:
Forever and Never.


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

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Sage Cruz Field Discusses His Interdisciplinary Practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Olivia Boi’s Intuitive Abstract Paintings

Olivia Boi is an artist whose work hinges on the emotional abstraction of the human form. Boi has exhibited in The Last Brucennial and multiple exhibitions in Sideshow Gallery as well as a wide variety of local galleries throughout Massachusetts. Having recently graduated with a BFA from Montserrat College of Art in 2013, she participated in the orientation week of the New York Arts Practicum at the same time as fellow Critique Collective interviewee, Corey Dunlap. Boi’s work is also available for view on her website.

Dancing with You 2014

Dancing with You, 60″x108″, acrylic paint on canvas, 2014


Paul Weiner:
Given the rise of new media artists working with all kinds of digital tools, how inclusive does the art world seem for young painters like you right now?

Olivia Boi:
Well, it is challenging for myself and my friends as recent graduates of art school. Mostly, I believe it is important to be consistent with the motivation in your process as a painter. You have to continually put yourself in a position to be aware of what is going on around you in the art world. It is crucial to share your work with the public and talk about it with as many people as possible. That being said, I strongly feel that there is an urgency for painting in the art world today, and artists will respond to that. The success of the artist is based on the artist’s needs and goals, whether they are new media artists or painters, and it is always a struggle.

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In the Bathtub, 42″x42″, acrylic paint on canvas, 2013

Paul Weiner:
Tell us a little bit about how you begin a new work of art both conceptually and physically.

Olivia Boi:
I start a new work when I feel compelled to relay something I have experienced or seen into a more permanent state. It all starts out pretty overwhelming, but it is a familiar chaos that is my starting point. I get this feeling, and I don’t want to do anything else except to start figuring out this painting, to work. I first ask myself about the scale, and then I usually mix a palette based on my sensations to start at that. I lay out some general lines and movements from which I’d like to build. It is a really intuitive process that is different every time I start or revisit a piece. I work in layers according to color, to work out some internal logic of the painting. Lately, I have been favoring paint heavily, making up most of my practice. I am inspired by the figure and how it can be abstracted and reinterpreted. Currently, I am working on a series of scrolls that are meant to hang all together, and right now I have about 9 of them, each 43” x 84”. Usually, when I am considering a painting, I think of myself physically in my studio. My space is an area where I can leave everything the way it is as I am done working. I am very particular about my work environment in order to set up my work ethic. It needs to feel lived in, to generate a fluid spatial movement that allows a sort of meditative quality to my work. When I paint, I feel like I come in contact with another side of myself that is never brought out otherwise.

The Night of December 25th- 2014

The Night of December 25th, 43″x84″, Charcoal and Oil Stick on Paper, 2014

Paul Weiner:
How did your experience with New York Arts Practicum impact your life as an artist?

Olivia Boi:
After I left the program, I became more grounded both as an individual and an artist, which was, in part, due to my experience attending Practicum. I am very interested in showing my work in New York City, and I have been exhibiting there for the past three years, notably at the Side Show gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Currently, I have a painting in The Last Brucennial, a biennial survey put on by the Bruce High Quality Foundation in Manhattan. I am really proud about that, especially about showing next to legendary artists such as Joan Mitchell. I realized at this point in time in my life, I am happy to work in New York without living there. I would like to get to things on my own time and by doing them my own way.

holding on to the blue 2014

Holding on to Blue, 48″x64″, acrylic paint on canvas, 2013

Paul Weiner:
In your paintings, do you focus primarily on the formal aesthetic concerns of composition or are there more conceptual reasons behind your work?

Olivia Boi:
The main focus in my work is composition through color, line, and form. You could say my work is conceptual in its contingency through my daily life. By that, I mean I investigate my own emotions, intensities, and desires in each piece through a formalist language of paint.

Each painting is made up of constant decision making, meaning I don’t know what it will look like until I have worked through everything. It is a visual conversation I have with the work in my studio.

Standing on My Own 2014

Standing on My Own, 30″x78″, oil stick, acrylic paint, and charcoal on paper, 2014

Paul Weiner:
Do you consider yourself an abstract expressionist or are you using abstraction as a medium for a different kind of thinking than modern masters like De Kooning and Pollock?

Olivia Boi:
I am very inspired by the abstract expressionists. I think that studying their work has created a path for my artistic practice. De Kooning and Pollock are two of my favorites. They used abstraction as a medium, as a language. Obviously, I don’t have the same concerns as they did in the 1950’s in New York, but I admire their unique and intense visual language, and I’m looking to create my own. It has to do with a love of and a need to paint. My current work definitely has a relationship to Abstract Expressionism, and it can be understood through similar formal concerns, but I’m not looking to make my work look like theirs. They are an inspiration among many others.

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Hearing About Everyone Else, 60″x64″, acrylic paint on canvas, 2013

Paul Weiner:
You mentioned that you took part in the last Brucennial. Tell us a little about your experience with that exhibition.

Olivia Boi:
I was invited into the last Brucennial by girlfriend Sara Benson. She attended the Yale Norfolk Art program. She was invited by a friend of hers, and Sara then invited me.

I shipped my painting to New York from Beverly, MA. I didn’t know how many people were going to be in the show, and I had no idea that the work of Joan Mitchell, Cecily Brown, and Louise Bourgeois would be included as well. They are some of my top favorite painters, and to exhibit my work with theirs was a huge honor. I submitted a small, 16 x 20 inches, painting called Separation, which consists of a light green and black palette. I was not able to get down to see it in person, but my father attended and documented the exhibition for me. I feel really lucky and proud to be included in that amazing experience.

Paul Weiner:
As a young artist, what kinds of publications do you read?

Olivia Boi:
I read publications such as Art in America, New American Paintings, Artforum, Sculpture Magazine, and The Brooklyn Rail.

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My Parents Marriage, 74″x66″, acrylic paint on canvas, 2013

Paul Weiner:
To what extent do you find art education important for contemporary artists, both on the undergraduate and graduate levels?

Olivia Boi:
It is important to have an education about art so you can understand the context your work exists in. There is so much to know. You can go to school and study contemporary art theory and history or you could choose to not go to school and try to educate yourself in the same topics. I think it would be really challenging to learn everything school has to offer on your own. Either way, it is up to your personal motivations because there is so much to learn, even for people who have completed both undergraduate and graduate studies. It is important to educate yourself about everything you can as an artist, which is separate from pursuing a masters of the fine art world. But I think that education in art and studying art history is crucial to a career. It is necessary to know about the people who have practiced this kind of work and theory before you so that your work can be included in the larger conversation. It is important to see other artists’ work
and specifically how they work; it can help shape your own practice. You really have to read and watch everything you can get your hands on, including documentaries and biographies. Education is not an option. It is expected. You need to know what you are talking about to be taken seriously.


Please view Olivia Boi’s work on her website and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Michael Becker’s Positive Outlook on Life Shines through Abstract Paintings

Michael Becker is an emerging artist in Los Angeles who works with textured abstract paintings to reflect an optimistic view on life. Becker has previously worked in the energy efficiency industry, and his current work deals with environmental themes. He is also the publisher of 1421Art, an organization attempting to make a positive impact through art. More of Becker’s work will be on view during his upcoming group exhibition, ONE THIRD WHITE, which will be on display at Artspace Warehouse in Los Angeles from March 15th through April 25th.

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Paul Weiner:
Tell us a bit about where your art comes from.

Michael Becker:
My inspiration is derived from the balance of our natural environment, as well the impact of human intervention. I enjoy acrylic and the use of texture, as it helps me create what I see as a natural ebb and flow of geological as well as biological construction and destruction. I want to drive positive discussion across all topics of humanity’s concern, raise public accountability, and affect real change in real time.

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Paul Weiner:
How did your 1421Art project come about, and what are your goals with this organization?

Michael Becker:
1421Art was formed to service humanity through the arts. I believe in the power of personal positive choices and how these decisions have a rippling effect for the benefit of our species. As such, all of my content is aimed at driving global discussion in all arenas where human beings and our natural environment are of concern. Our ultimate goal is to establish and self fund the FWPM Global Arts and Eduction Foundation where we will provide grants to deserving individuals around the globe. Our focus is in identifying, preventing, and healing the challenges people face daily and providing them with the tools to keep their lives positive.

Paul Weiner:
How do you see your art as an agent for change?

Michael Becker:
I create art out of my need to live freely within my own skin. Within this magical place, I find a world that makes moral sense. Hopefully, my paintings give birth to discussion and reminder to daily actions that a positive choice is a good thing.

Paul Weiner:
When did you find your interest in creating art?

Michael Becker:
I’ve always taken to various creative outlets to express my emotions as well connection to nature’s balance. From an early age, I started to realize the joys of depth to be discovered within a still life. Especially so, within the background of paintings I found myself innately drawn. My interest was cemented upon learning with each new painting that I could naturally push myself further in technical development as well as keep true to the spontaneity I require when working.

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Paul Weiner:
How did the environment come about as an inspiration for your work?

Michael Becker:
From as early as I can remember, I have been an explorer of the outdoors. I have always found solace when absorbed by nature. It was only natural to utilize my canvas as an extension of nature’s gifts.

Paul Weiner:
Describe the process you use to find a subject and begin a painting.

Michael Becker:
My subject and resultant process are similarly one. Every painting is motivated by spontaneity of a moment captured in my memory. I then translate my recall of that picture through the use of non-traditional tools and textural painting techniques to recreate depth.

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Paul Weiner:
Do you experiment with any special materials, mediums, or techniques to develop textures?

Michael Becker:
I begin each painting with loose canvas and stretcher bars. Within the wrapping process, I become familiar with the weave of each piece of canvas. You could say an intimacy between artist, catalyst moment, and pending output begins at this moment. To create textures, I utilize bamboo sticks, various sizes of wood blocks, straight edges, my hands, thinning and thickening, and drying times throughout the depth creation process. Primarily, I stick with acrylic and occasionally will incorporate terra firma and lots of water. I also work over my canvas and often manipulate the surface when required for a desired effect.

Paul Weiner:
Who are your favorite artists, whether contemporary or historical?

Michael Becker:
Jackson Pollock and Gerhard Richter are two of my favorites.

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Paul Weiner: Tell us a little about your upcoming show.

Michael Becker:
Hosted by Artspace Warehouse in LA, the ONE THIRD WHITE exhibition is composed of primarily black and white artworks that explore the multifaceted dimensions found in each of us.


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

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Meet the Young Faces of Contemporary Painting

Undergraduate painting students at Syracuse University’s Department of Art are proving the lasting power of painting in the 21st Century.

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Mary Luke’s Painting

Samantha Glevick's artwork

Samantha Glevick’s artwork

Maritza Feliciano's Paintings

Maritza Feliciano’s Paintings

An exhibition of recent work by students in the undergraduate painting major at Syracuse University is on display in the school’s Shaffer Art Building from March 2 – March 15, and the depth of talent is startling.

Jenna Race’s expansive chicken tryptic overwhelms viewers as they enter the senior show, evoking thoughts about meat factories and the way animals are processed and treated for human consumption. This tryptic, about twelve feet in length, possesses hauntingly accurate forms of repeated and disemboweled chickens rendered in oil paint and encased in hints of skin-like latex. A few feet away are Mary Luke’s expressionist portraits, which exist somewhere between Jenny Saville’s figurative prowess and Cy Twombly’s expressive force. They are followed by Talia Haviv’s paintings of nude men in suggestive poses, Julia Grosso’s bodily collages, Samantha Glevick’s works that question the meaning of home and identity, and Maritza Feliciano’s colorful depictions of nude women. Juniors, sophomores, and freshmen are displaying their work on the fourth floor of the same building, featuring a wide variety of abstract and representational painting talent.

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The Wall at Syracuse University

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Syracuse University Painting Program Undergraduate Juniors

Kevin Larmon, a Syracuse University professor and painting department coordinator whose work is featured in prominent art collections such as the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is proud of his blossoming students. He claims that “this is the most exciting group of undergrads I’ve had in years.”

Despite the anemic economy and heavy college loan burdens, these students have followed their passion for painting. As a result, their work transcends the pastiche, market-driven repertoire dominating the safe establishment art scene. Led by lauded artists and professors Sharon Gold, Andrew Havenhand, Kevin Larmon, and Jerome Witkin, the undergraduate painting majors at Syracuse University are spearheading the return of stimulating, eccentric painting in the 21st century. From criticism of the average American diet to commentaries on internet politics and the use of paint in a contemporary fashion, there’s no denying that these paintings are energetically, dangerously, forcefully fresh, emphasizing the potential for the next generation of painters to reinvigorate the legacy of American painting.

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Julia Grosso’s painting

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Junior Victoria Carrigan’s Paintings

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Freshman Hannah Moore’s painting

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Junior Painting

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Lilly Thomann’s artwork

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Jeffrey Thompson’s Patterned Abstract Paintings and the Wonder of Mathematical Systems

Jeffrey Thompson is a painter from San Francisco who relies on a mathematical, grid-based concept in order to develop abstract paintings. Recently, Thompson has exhibited his work at the University of Southern Oregon and in the SF Weekly for their “Masterminds 2013.” His art is available online at http://jtarts.com/.

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Untitled | Linear Grid 1


Paul Weiner:
How do you usually begin a painting? I’d like to hear about how you plan (or don’t plan), develop concepts, and engage in problem solving.

Jeffrey Thompson:
Ideally, each painting informs the next, so I usually begin the process by reviewing any relevant past work. At the outset, I make some general decisions about the way forward. I decide, for example, whether the new work will try to expand on any previous effort, or explore different territory. If the surface I’m planning to work on has a predominant characteristic, horizontal or vertical, I decide how to treat it in the composition. That is, I decide whether to employ it, or to somehow defeat it.

When I begin to attack the canvas, the process is largely mathematical. First, I determine the basic interval upon which the surface is based. For example, a 30″ x 30″ surface would likely use a 3″ basic unit. I then break down the composition based on those dimensions. I may then further divide the surface into smaller regions or grids. When establishing the drawing, I’m typically trying to emphasize the relationship between the painting surface and the layout.

At the point when I have the drawing in place, I make some fundamental choices about mediums, color, and content to cover everything from paint to the source materials I’ll be using in the collage. These collage elements are critical, as they determine a great deal about the overall impact of the piece. Newsprint carries a lot of populist imagery that, when broken down, becomes increasingly ambiguous. I find this desirable up to a point. Through experience, I’ve discovered that, if these materials are broken down too far, all meaning is obliterated. If not far enough, they seem to endorse more than is necessary.

I should note that I’m not after a specific message here. Rather, I’m trying to incorporate elements of the culture as a whole. Ironically, my objective is not unlike a good newspaper. I see myself as a kind of visual editor seeking an objective and balanced overview.

In contrast to newsprint, I sometimes opt for finer, clay-based papers in the collage, which typically come from fine art magazines or professional journals. These materials emphasize subtle color and advanced typography, and when using them, I focus on those elements.

I spent much of the past twenty years working with type and color as a graphics specialist and journeyman lithographer. My career in design and printing influenced my interest in graphic or text-based imagery and also financed my work in fine art.

I most often work with a combination of acrylic, oil, and enamel paints. I layer the acrylic paint first, with the solvent-based paints on top, in order to create a more or less stable paint structure. These paints are used out of the container in an unaltered state, although I do mix for color. I apply the paint directly, frequently manipulating it with pallet knives, spatulas, and other tools, rather than relying on brushes exclusively. The paint is alternately removed, sanded, or reduced and reapplied until it achieves sufficient density and form.

While the work is underway, I often photograph it in order to make decisions about direction, proportions, content, etc. When problem solving, I will use whatever tools are readily available, or most appropriate. This includes everything from mirrors to Photoshop. My only rule when using these tools is not to rely on any one of them too much. In order to see the work objectively, I will also hide it, turn it to face the wall for a period of time, or simply look at it upside down to take it out of normal context.

The final step is, of course, finishing the work. This is often the most subjective part of the process. It involves deciding that some or all of my original goals have been met, and that what has been achieved cannot be taken much further without losing what has been gained. It may also include approving any discoveries I may have made along the way. I will almost always embrace a positive random occurrence or other happy accidents.

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Paul Weiner:
Since your process relies on a mathematical process based on the surface you’re working on, how do you think it would change if you were to paint on a non-rectangular surface?

Jeffrey Thompson:
I have occasionally worked with random shapes when I come across what I call found surfaces. This has led to some interesting adjustments, but, in terms of an intentionally irregular or curved surface, I don’t think much would change. A two-dimensional grid can be applied to any non-linear shape. Even an irregular cloud like mass can be mapped and diagramed.

I will admit that type of presentation is less appealing to me. I don’t, however, think this is simply bias. I believe that the rectangular format is somehow intrinsic to the way we think about things visually. A theatre uses a linear proscenium; televisions are linear; and even books are rectangular. Some of that is a by-product of technology and tradition, but I think some of it is hard-wired in us.

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Paul Weiner:
What is the ideal forum for displaying your artwork? Do you prefer it in a commercial gallery, museum, public space, or other art space?

Jeffrey Thompson:
The ideal environment for this work would, in my opinion, be a permanent installation that would be site-specific. I have envisioned the work, especially the horizontal abstractions, in some sort of fixed setting along the lines of a viewing chapel or chamber, where the experience could be fully integrated. These paintings seem to thrive in intimate spaces and often take on unique and personal narratives and associations within this type of space.

That being said, I have found that work from this series seems to adapt well to most environments. I have shown the work in spaces that range from intimate local galleries in San Francisco’s Mission District to large academic environments such as the one at Southern Oregon University. In each, the work takes on a unique and compelling personality. In the case of a recent commission, the work seemed to transform before my eyes after being installed. As comfortably as it fit in the studio, it seemed equally at home in its intended environment. I think because the work is essentially geometric in nature, it not only echoes the surface on which it lives, it also naturally embraces and compliments the architecture of the room in which it is hung.

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Ulysses | Linear Grid 2

Paul Weiner:
How did you happen upon the striping and grid formats that are prevalent in your recent works?

Jeffrey Thompson:
This format evolved out of a combination of early influences from art school and my professional exposure to commercial graphic design standards. While studying lithography and etching under Kenji Nanao and Misch Kohn, respectively, at Cal State – Hayward, I became aware of the significance of the grid as an integral, albeit silent, partner in the printmaking process. Everything involved in the planning of a print, or painting for that matter, relies upon and is constrained by the essentially rectangular format of the process. This encompasses every aspect, from the paper to the press itself. The vast majority of litho stones and most etching plates echo this format, and, so, the planning involved in printmaking necessarily becomes an extension of that underlying geometry.

When my career extended itself into the commercial environment, this relationship only grew. Everything produced in a commercial print shop relies heavily on the geometry of the press and, by extension, the grid. Later on, as commercial lithography came to rely almost entirely on computer-generated graphics, the underlying grid became more and more significant. This is especially true in print design for publication, where every square inch or millimeter has a defined value, both literally and figuratively. A full page ad in the New York Times is valuable real estate, and the designs created for that environment are necessarily based on columns and margins, which are themselves based on the underlying grid.

Eventually, I took this fundamental premise and adopted it as the basis for a series of paper collages. This soon expanded to larger and larger paintings. There was something compelling and universal about the structure, and I quickly discovered that the potential for variations on this theme were numerous.

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Paul Weiner:
Would you consider your work as expressionist, purely aesthetic, conceptual, or something else?

Jeffrey Thompson:
This is probably the hardest question to answer, and I would gently resist any temptation to put a definite name on my work. I suppose it would be ideal if others cared enough about my work to decide that for themselves. Frank Stella, whose early black, linear paintings were a big inspiration to me, considered his work to be minimalist and post-painterly abstractions. I, of course, would be thrilled to have my work associated with either of these disciplines although, technically, I lean towards a more painterly approach.

However, I believe what truly defined Stella’s work was his ability to reinvent himself and his paintings throughout his career, thus defying a strict classification. My greatest desire would be to emulate that ability, to continue to grow my work and reinvent my process over time. However, if pressed, I would say that I am generally an abstract painter who leans heavily on aesthetics, conceptualism, and expression, not necessarily in that order.


Please view Jeffrey Thompson’s artwork online at http://jtarts.com/ and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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