Critique Collective

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

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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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David Phillips Paints with the Spirit of the Contemporary American West

David Phillips is a painter from Tulsa, Oklahoma who is now working in Los Angeles, California. He has shown his work at a wide variety of venues including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Carnegie Hall, and the Downtown Art Center of Los Angeles. Phillips has been featured on CBS News and in the Los Angeles Times. His paintings can also be found on his website.

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Paul Weiner:
Tell us a little about the way you started painting both physically and conceptually.

David Phillips:
I have the first painting I ever made framed inside my house. The painting is an abstract portrait painted in 1983. I was four years old. My grandmother was an oil painter in Oklahoma. She painted flowers, landscapes, and still life. She kept a studio inside her house. When my two younger brothers and I would visit, we would inevitably get into trouble. The adults would separate us into different rooms. I was always confined to the studio. I still remember the smell, the rags, the brushes. I was hooked.

wino-strut Bottles

Paul Weiner:
How did your habit of leaving your artwork places for others to find and take home come about?

David Phillips:
The act of leaving certain pieces of art around Los Angeles has manifested multiples times throughout my career. At first, my studio was simply too packed to hold any more materials. My studio is by the beach. I decided to take all the pages from my sketchbook and put them inside bottles as a take on a message in a bottle. The act of leaving art around town gained traction and became popular in my community. The initial project propagated larger works such as found sculptures and public installations. As of now, I think such public works ran their course, and I no longer do such things.

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Paul Weiner:
Describe your transition from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Venice, California. How was your artwork altered by the move?

David Phillips:
I believe a professional artist must live in a large city. You have to be around the galleries and museums you wish to show. You have to be next to a large market. You have to be directly in the vice grip of struggle. You have to be completely absorbed by the frenetic. Now, I am referring to the artist at the beginning of his career. I am referring to the artist who wants to be collected on a grand scale and be inside major museums, the artist who wants a permanent stamp inside art history. Look at the major contemporary artists post-WWII: Pollock, Guston, Still, Twombly, De Kooning, Rauschenberg, Schnabel, Ruscha, Bacon. The list is endless.

I love Oklahoma. I painted there for years. When I painted in Oklahoma, I painted wildlife. The images I made were more photo recreation or realism. I practiced religiously. I honed my technique. I used oil paints as per their intention, but the paintings fell flat. I had no understanding of the psychological impact of color. I didn’t understand automatism or experimentation. Moving to Los Angeles opened up Pandora’s Box for me artistically. Of course contributing factors such as age, life experience, and maturity come into play. Los Angeles allowed me to live by my terms and become my true self. I completely submersed myself into the life of an artist, a real artist constantly experimenting, always progressing. I completely gainsay the pictorial, the symbolic, the illustrative, and the ever-feared ‘decorative’. I deny the theory that painting has been completely deconstructed. I deny that the contemporary image cannot progress. A new art can still be made. I will die trying to make it.

Kung Fu

Paul Weiner:
Thinking about art markets today, how happy are you with your time around Los Angeles? Would you choose Los Angeles over New York City?

David Phillips:
Whew. Well, that is a question I’d prefer to answer over lots of beer and whiskey. I think a majority of the art in Los Angeles is horrendous. A very large percentage of the artists are “street artists” or have an urban/hip hop vibe that spotlights the twerps making it rather than the actual work. I suppose this is a popular trend in art right now regardless of region, but it is especially prevalent in Los Angeles. The most important lesson to learn by that is to just stick to your vision. Simply put, do not worry for one second what other emerging ‘artists’ are doing. Study your influences relentlessly, and try to stick to your singular vision as an artist. Hone your craft to master prestige. One good thing about having a shitty trend like “street art” being popular is that means there are people with disposable income who are willing to buy. Therefore, it may be slightly easier to sell a picture that was handmade with proper technique. I am continually blown away at the amount of artists in Los Angeles who do not make their own canvas or material. It’s mind blowing. They do not realize that a picture painted on a pre-made, store bought canvas is complete bullshit. If the canvas is pre-made, then the end resulting painting is a collaboration between the artist and the art store. Period. The piece of art’s bio should include “Collaboration Between _____(artist) and Blick Art Supplies” or “Collaboration Between _____(artist) and Hobby Lobby”. They will learn very quickly when they try to get a piece in a respectable museum. I’ve also noticed a majority of artists in Los Angeles do not mix their own colors. They typically paint straight out of the tube.

I love Los Angeles. I love the weather (who wouldn’t?), the beaches, the women, fuck, everything about it. It’s the greatest city in the world in my opinion. The people ruin it, but they can’t take away the great weather and cool vibe. I definitely believe things happen quicker in New York, of course. New York artists also have the luxury of history. When Peggy Guggenheim decided to leave Paris and bring the surrealists to New York, that was it, done and done. The new art world epicenter became New York. Los Angeles will always be on the coattails of that fact. However, that does not mean a new art cannot be made here or important artists won’t prevail. We have numerous examples of very important artists here: Baldessari, Larry Bell, Peter Lodato, Billy Al Bengston, Robert Irwin, James Turrell, etc. From a market standpoint, LA has the advantage of population. We have almost 2 million more people than New York City.

Acid_noir_16x20_oil_on_Canvas_by_David_Phillips

Paul Weiner:
Working seriously in abstraction today can be difficult since the market is so saturated, and so many painters are focused on making abstract paintings purely as commercial objects to be sold. How do you set yourself apart from the crowd of abstract expressionists?

David Phillips:
Well if any artist sets out to create work only to sell,good luck. Don’t get me wrong. An artist obviously needs money just like anybody else needs money. The separating factor is that the need to create the art, the drive, has to be so strong that it supersedes money. Thus, I don’t know how much I believe artists are created. Personally, I think they are born. If the need or will to create is that strong, it means it has been practiced since, well, almost birth. Therefore, once the artists reaches an age of independence or adulthood, the work should be strong enough to warrant sales. Yes, this may alienate the weekend painter or hobbyist, but it draws a very distinct line in the sand between a person who has created or painted his whole life versus a person who wishes he could paint to make money and leave his job. Therefore, I set myself apart in a very major way by being a full-time artist with a working studio. Now, to make it even more niche, I am not just an abstract expressionists. I make abstract paintings, but I also paint realism and portraits, and I make films, music videos, collage pieces, and sculpture. There is an overlaying style or look that I suppose would be recognizable to some, and that is what it is. Different people have called it different things such as avant garde, conceptual, or abstract expressionism. At the end of the day, I just execute whatever idea or build whatever it is I want to accomplish. After that, it’s pretty much out of my hands.

Springtime_in-the_Bars

Paul Weiner:
Museums and collectors have long been fascinated by artists of the American West. Despite differences in style from many of the popular realist Western artists, do you feel that you are the contemporary manifestation of a Western painter?

David Phillips:
I am the contemporary American West.

The_Dead_Gallop_David_Phillips

Paul Weiner:
Do you feel as if artists are properly valued in American society?

David Phillips:
I do feel that artists are properly valued in America. The problem is that it is the wrong artists. You have to be very careful with art because it is a career where hard work might not pay off. The American public has mistaken gimmick for talent. A majority of today’s most celebrated living artists have achieved success through gimmick rather than practice, study, or hard work. You have a guy who screen prints a Ronald McDonald all over town, then you have another guy who picks Count Dracula. This is not art. This is gimmick. Don’t get me wrong. The allure of fame, consistent art sales, and major shows is enough to attract any artist. Now, imagine if De Kooning were alive today and saw that. He was an immigrant who had to sneak his way into the United States on his 13th try. Then he lived through a depression as an artist! Then he navigated his way through the gallery scene with an academic education equivalent of the eighth grade. Imagine he sees the successful or selling artists today. He would pass out, either from laughter or rage. I do feel America has the propensity to properly value an artist. It is simply misguided. It will change over time, just as most fads do.

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Paul Weiner:
You’ve spoken about your perception of artists who use colors straight from the tube and pre-made canvas as making inferior work. Some artists and critics might critique these tools as being the impact of a quasi-capitalist art market where corporations create the tools artists use and corporate collections (e.g. Deutsche Bank, Progressive, Bank of America, and JPMorgan Chase) buy the resulting art. To what extent do you find the use of pre-made materials an ethical dilemma versus an aesthetic one?

David Phillips:
Well, of course there is a huge, huge beauty in a fresh tube of cadmium red, and of course there is nothing wrong with using that red straight out of the tube as long as the artist’s intentional vision justifies the usage. I suppose I was referring to the artists simply making art to sell. I do stand by the thesis that artists should create art as handmade as possible. This gives the artist control over shape, size, coarseness, etc, which, in turn, executes the artist’s vision more precisely. I remember watching the “Who The Fuck is Jackson Pollock?” documentary years ago. I remember by just watching the movie, which included many scholars, and thinking, “How the fuck do they not know that this is not his painting?” I could tell through a goddamn television screen. The pink in the painting was not his pink. The paint used was not enamel or anything close to what he used. The canvas wasn’t built by him. Look at the edges. The answer was in the materials, not the style.

Boogie

Paul Weiner:
Is your goal in painting to create artwork that clearly communicates your perception or is it to evoke a sublime reaction to yourself and your viewers?

David Phillips:
I don’t know how much of a goal I have with any painting. I try not to think about any particular person or client. This would certainly influence the outcome, and it gets back to the art versus commerce debate. I suppose the only goal would be to capture the feeling or essence of any particular object I am painting. I do not paint the apple. I paint what the apple taste like. I paint what would happen if the apple was pissed off or hurt. Of course, any painter would love to evoke a sublime reaction to a viewer. That is probably the best result!

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Paul Weiner:
Many abstract artists have struggled with creating titles, leading some to go so far as to use dates or numerical systems as titles. How do you go about titling a painting and how do you feel about the practice of artists who sign their paintings?

David Phillips:
When you are creating paintings at a very fast rate or high capacity, inevitably you run out of titles. Also, using dates or “Untitled” allows viewers to have their own relationships and create their own stories to a piece. Personally, I enjoy titling each piece, and I feel it is as important to the painting as the materials or subject. I totally get that not all artists create this way. I use the title like poetry. The intention is to only enhance the piece, which would strike all sorts of debate like “Why does the piece need enhancing?” A very simple answer to that would be that it is fun. I constantly write while I work, Sometimes just phrases, sometimes short stories, sometimes just word associations. I’ve found this helps with the frequency of ideas.

I typically do not sign my pieces on the front. My only rule for that is if it adds to the picture, I will sign it. However, a majority of the time, a signature would simply intrude on the composition I just spent 2 weeks or a month making. Therefore, I would never compromise the face of a picture.


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

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Ivan Jenson Blends Painting and Poetry

Ivan Jenson is a pop art painter and contemporary poet whose artwork was featured in Art in America, Art News, and Interview Magazine while selling at auction at Christie’s. Jenson was commissioned by Absolut Vodka to make a painting titled “Absolut Jenson” for the brand’s national ad campaign, and his “Marlboro Man” was collected by the Philip Morris corporate collection. Jenson was commissioned to paint the final portrait of the late Malcolm Forbes before his death. He also wrote two novels, Dead Artist and Seeing Soriah, both of which illustrate the creative and often dramatic lives of artists. Jenson turned to poetry as an outlet for artistic expression, and he is now a prolific writer who is widely published in a variety of literary media. Jenson’s poems were recently published by Hen House Press in a book titled Media Child and Other Poems, which can be acquired on Amazon.

media child


Paul Weiner:
Tell us a little about your history as an artist, writer, and poet. What are some of your greatest accomplishments?

Ivan Jenson:
I came from an artistic family in Los Angeles, and we were encouraged to be creative from an early age. I became obsessed with Michelangelo and Renaissance art at around nine years old. I used to check out sixteen millimeter films from the library about Michelangelo and screen them for myself for hours on end. I made a sculpture at age nine in Costa Rica that was used as a poster for a national exhibit. I then discovered Carl Sandburg, Walt Whitman, and Dylan Thomas at thirteen and began to write. I wrote movie reviews for the Valley News and Green Sheet at that age.

Then we moved to Bloomington, Indiana, where I gave some of my early poems to an English teacher in Junior High School, and he read them over the weekend. On Monday, he made a speech to the class and said, “Ivan Jenson is not only a better writer than me or any other teacher in this school, he is also better than any student here because he has something which cannot be taught. He has the gift of a poet.” My early poems where published in magazines in Indiana. I also wrote my first novel at thirteen after a vivid experience of a summer spent studying art in San Jose, Costa Rica. It was a coming of age story called Walking Wounded, and Delacorte Press wrote me that they thought it was “Catcher in the Rye times five.” Other editors said it was, “raw and brutal.” My father gave a few chapters to Ray Bradbury to read, and he sent me a letter which said I wrote better than he did until he was 30.

My family moved to New York city, where I briefly studied at the Art Students League where I was told that the artist’s life is a lonely one. I consider myself self-taught in both art and writing. My big break came when I hung my paintings on paper with paper clips in Times Square and became an overnight success. Everything I made sold instantly and I was able to quit my job as a caterer for weddings and move into Manhattan at age 20. It was perfect timing because I was catching, and riding the crest of, an art wave hitting downtown New York City in the mid 80s.

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My early career was far from lonely. Though I painted for hours alone, as soon as I was done with the paintings, they were trucked off to East Village galleries and all the top night clubs in the City including the famous Palladium, where my art was seen during a Whitney centennial exhibit featuring East Village Artists. Every single painting I have made has sold. Soon after, I was commissioned by Absolut Vodka to create my own Absolut Jenson painting, which was featured full page in Art News, Art in America, Interview, and other top international magazines. I now shared the same ad campaign gig as Andy Warhol. Later, I sold my most expensive painting. It was of the Marlboro Man, and I sold it to Philip Morris. I befriended Malcolm Forbes, and I was invited aboard the famed Forbes Highlander Yacht to draw my trademark pop art portraits of the “Who’s Who” of the corporate world. I painted the last commissioned portrait of Malcolm Forbes.

Fast forward through the nineties. I continued to make my living as an artist, but little did I know I was gathering material for an unexpected literary career that was brewing inside me. I left New York in 2004 after personal and career burnout and found myself feeling lost in Grand Rapids, Michigan. But then, after a year of culture shock from the change to a much slower pace, I joined a writer’s group. At first, I brought in some unfinished fiction, and after receiving great feedback, I quickly made up for lost time and furiously wrote a series of novels as well as poetry. A girlfriend of mine at the time told me my poetry was as good as anything out there, and so, on a whim, I submitted to three magazines. Well, I forgot all about it, thinking it would lead nowhere, until a few weeks later all three poems were accepted for publication with glowing letters from the editors of the magazines. So I submitted more and got accepted again. Within three months, I was already published by some of the top ten online literary magazines in the country. I became addicted to writing poetry and seeing them published. Now, I have two novels published, Dead Artist and Seeing Soriah both published by Hen House Press, New York, close to five hundred poems published, and a book of poems called Media Child and Other Poems soon to be published also by Hen House Press.

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Paul Weiner:
Do you see your poetry and painting as being intertwined?

Ivan Jenson:
For me, they are very different. My paintings are all about a mix of classical and contemporary aesthetics, bold line, color, and structural balance. Other more painterly works are all about the romance of painting and its texture. But I can say that my adventures and misadventures as an artist living and working and loving in the trenches of downtown New York City for twenty years has given me an endless gold mine of material for my novels and my poetry. I am including my line drawings in my new book of poems.

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Paul Weiner:
As someone who has experienced the New York art world, do you feel as if New York City is a conducive place for artists to make new work?

Ivan Jenson:
For me, it was. My whole career was born when I first sold my art in Times Square, The Upper West Side, Soho, and Union Square. I got to meet, first hand, all my collectors. The streets were my living, breathing internet, and from all that networking, I met the important lawyers, gallery owners, club owners, and VIP collectors. I think that people still love to purchase a painting from a genuine New York City artist. But now New York is so expensive, I don’t see how an artist starting out could afford the overhead unless that artist had half a dozen roommates. My only roommates were the women who lived with me.

Now, for me, living in Grand Rapids, the internet is my new version of New York. I would say that the internet is now a virtual New York City. Thanks to e-mail, I can submit my poems with ease, and they instantaneously zip over to the literary sites. Then, when my poetry is shared on Twitter and Facebook, it is exposed to thousands of readers. I may not live in New York anymore, but New York lives in me. I still walk fast, and I maintain that driven inner pace, and, when I am working, I write often to the beat of Electronica music. And yet, living away from New York City has given me perspective on that seductively fast lifestyle, and coming from New York City has given me perspective on the wonderful subtleties of the Midwest. My novels, Seeing Soriah and Dead Artist, both take place in a fictional city called Gold Haven, Michigan, and key scenes take place in New York City.

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Paul Weiner:
You mentioned that a lot of your material comes from your time as an artist in New York City. What are some other common themes that show up in your poetry throughout Media Child and Other Poems?

Ivan Jenson:
My debut poetry book is a comprehensive collection of my poems written over the last four and a half years when this whole magical renewal of my creative life began. It was all so new and exciting, yet the words and the images fell right into place with immediacy and ease. Nothing was forced; it all just flowed. Every day was a new discovery of what was possible for me in poetry. I dedicated myself to writing at least a poem a day and then reading them aloud to my writer’s group and then unabashedly sending them off. It was a formula that worked famously and which I enjoyed immensely. Some of the poems in my book are autobiographical flashbacks to my East Village days. Through my poetry, I was to find form and meaning behind my former fast-paced lifestyle. It was not long into my newfound poetry career that wordplay appeared in my poems.

Now, I am a quick study, and once I realized I was onto something unexpected and wonderful, I grew in leaps and bounds. There was a phenomena going on both inside and outside of me. Here I was, drawing from my experience, my neurosis, my heartache, my highs and lows, and yet I was treating them with a lightness of touch and never forgot to add wit and universal punch lines to the mix. As I read aloud my poems at my writer’s group I learned that there was power in my knack for humor. Then I began to spin on common phrases, colloquialisms, clichés, and I soon drew from the media as well. Next came a cast of characters including celebrities or brand names, TV shows from Gilligan’s Island to Star Trek, and public figures from Jung to Joan Rivers and Chaplin. They just all showed up unannounced in my stanzas like a profound parade of self-styled product placement. I went as far as to title one of my most popular poems “Name Dropping.”

My poems are designed to work on the page as well as live, and I treated my writer’s group as a training ground for how to act out and really sell my poems in performance. And, soon enough, I was invited to perform them at theaters, bookstore poetry readings, or at the fancy homes of the “Who’s Who” of Grand Rapids. I was always pleased to get laughter right on cue where I wanted it, as if I were a stand up comic. And yet, through the laughter, I knew that the deeper meanings were still coming through. Not only do I make sure my poems open up with a hook, but then I take the reader or listener on a visceral ride and a public display of my deepest fears, phobias, and foibles in a metaphorical mash up with movie stars, literary icons, historic figures, and late night talk show hosts. Then I keep juggling on those phrases we have heard all our lives, and yet I give them new and sometimes twisted twists.

I never knew I had this treasure trove of verbal Americana stowed up inside of me. And yet it all channels through me, with a detailed structure, polyrhythm, sometimes multiple inner rhymes. Some poems are like monologues spoken by characters in a play or a scene from Film Noir. Others are snapshot memories, and others are like short films. My poems have been turned into short films by a talented filmmaker named Cassidy Bisher. He is currently adapting a poem I wrote especially for his production company. Its theme is nostalgia and the passage of time. The film will feature time lapse photography set against the spoken words of my poem. Obviously, this is a dream come true to see my poetry become cinema.

Note To Self a poem by Ivan Jenson

The Way It Should Be a poem by Ivan Jenson

Midwest Juliet a poem by Ivan Jenson

Paul Weiner:
Has your painting style changed at all since you made the move to Michigan?

Ivan Jenson:
Since I moved to Michigan, my paintings have become so much more complex. When I depict van Gogh, as I often do, the paintings have become mosaics, puzzles of color where each color contrasts or has to answer to the color next to it. I am in as good form as ever here in Michigan as I was in my studio in New York City. I turn on urban R and B music, and I fall into cadence with my colors. My Michigan studio is quite big, and I can make a nine foot by nine foot paintings and feel myself engulfed in the vastness of the canvas. When I take a break and turn the music off, I hear the crickets and the birds at night, and then I carry my bucket of brushes through the backyard in the night with the moon shining, and I feel like the expatriate artist, like Gauguin who has found a slice of paradise far from the chiseled edges and the blazingly bright video advertisements of Times Square.

a

Paul Weiner:
I like the idea of the internet being a virtual New York City. What are a few of your favorite web sites that have helped you use the internet to make your work public?

Ivan Jenson:
I have to be frank with you here and say that each morning, when I approach my computer screen with a cup of Starbucks in hand and just the right music playing on iTunes, I am truly reaching through the screen and grasping digital opportunities by the dozen. Google is my tool, and my hard drive is the fire of my inner drive which has never burned out. I am not at liberty to give out my self-styled, highly secretive, and self-developed tricks of the internet trade. But I will be candid and say that my transformation into a writer did not happen by accident.

I do not follow the usual format of submission. If there are standard systems or rules out there on How to Become a Published Author or Poet, well, then I have broken them all. Some of my poems have even been published in multiple publications. But I have never heard of a poet being put to jail for that free-verse transgression. I learned early that I must not only be a fountain of creativity, but that I have to also be a viral, guerrilla marketing maven as well. Usually, getting hyped up on caffeine and diet Coke makes me so ambitious that the pupils of my eyes dilate behind my glasses and I simply will it all to happen.

I admit I am addicted to getting e-mails of acceptance letters from publishers, literary magazines, filmmakers, ect, but to get that I must cast my net on the internet. My confidence comes from knowing that my angst and my ecstasy of words is loved and appreciated by the public and by the always wonderful embrace of literary circles. I am eternally grateful to the editors of online and print magazines and anthologies who have been so generous and receptive of my works from day one. For a creative person, knowing that you have something special is not enough; you must show the world your poems, your novels, your paintings, your sculptures, your quips, your funny asides, your best tragic mask, your pointed dress shoes and observations, your new pair of New Balance shoes, your trendy five o’clock stubble, your smile. And then you must wait, and if you are lucky, the world will answer back with an astounding, “Yes!”

“Name Dropping”

I am trying to be Gandhi about this
But sometimes you make me so Mussolini
You think you are so very Jesus
But really you are much more Britney
Than Mother Teresa
Sure you Isadora Duncan into a room
With your Betty Davis lies
And you expect me to
Cyrano De Bergerac
You on the phone
Or Shakespeare up my e-mails
But I’m just John Doe
I’m no James Dean or Citizen Kane
The point is I want to be
Romeo to your Juliet
I want us to John and Yoko till the end
I want our children to
Be Mickey Rooney and Shirley Temple
In the afternoons
I want them to be Dorothy and Toto
Near a rainbow
I want to be Mr. Brady
and you to be mother Maude
And though I’m no Tiger or Agassi
I still want my boys to be
little Eli Mannings
and the girls will be so Serena or Venus
Look I’ll never be a Bill Gates provider
and you’re no Keira Knightley in our quick-snaps
But still, when I see you I want to
Larry King you with questions
and Oprah you with compassion
We used to be so Brad and Angelina
But now we’ve become so Limbaugh and Obama
Guess it will be this way
until we are old and Castro gray

real5

Paul Weiner:
Is Vincent van Gogh an inspiration for you? Which artists and poets have influenced your work the most over the years?

Ivan Jenson:
Van Gogh is both an inspiration and a concern of mine. I first discovered van Gogh in a calendar in an elementary school classroom, and his vivid yellows and oranges, his use of thick paint seemed to be beckoning to only me. The childlike naiveté and the intensity of his works spoke to me. Van Gogh is a contemporary character along with Picasso in my novel, Dead Artist. In the novel, the artist protagonist, Milo Sonas, sees dead artists. He gets supernatual visitations from these two artists. Each artist represents a different spectrum of artistic recognition. Here we have Picasso, millionaire, South of France mansion owner, and a life filled with societal accolades and many younger wives and sensual mistresses, and then we have the troubled legend of van Gogh, loner, misunderstood, mad, loveless and an artist who never sold a single painting. In my novel, Dead Artist, I even the score and Van Gogh gets a second chance in the modern world when a young college coed sets van Gogh up with her best friend, a girl who is a van Gogh fanatic, who becomes the love of Vincent’s afterlife. In my novel, van Gogh finds love, and he gets to watch from another dimension as his paintings sell for astronomical figures. This is my artistic and poetic justice.

My foremost influence has always been Picasso. I was fascinated by him as a teen, and it was a thrill to know in the 70s that he was living and painting in sandals, shorts and fedora hats in the South of France. Here was a man who could have traveled or lived a life of luxurious leisure, but, instead, he chose to burn the midnight oil of his talent by painting all night long. He chose to spend a lion’s share of his ferocious ability exploring the safari of his artistic abilities alone in his studio. From an early age, I acquired this sort of prolific work ethic. On Mondays in New York City, I would always ritualistically begin a new series of paintings. As for poetry, I have loved Richard Brautigan for his whimsy. I loved Dylan Thoma’s rich Welch delivery of his poetry. And I loved how Walt Whitman stole from the Bible the many wonders of using the word “and”. I am not too proud to proclaim that I was infatuated with the melancholic and sometimes sentimental spell that Rod Mckuen had over the publishing world in the 70s. I let that dream go when I became an artist, but, as fate would have it, I was to become a poet after all.

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 1.29.13 AM

Paul Weiner:
Visual artists are always trying to find innovative ways of working. Today, many new media artists have taken to the web as an opportunity to program web sites that function as artwork. As someone who avidly uses the internet as a powerful marketing tool, do you think the internet is also a potential medium for the creation of visual art?

Ivan Jenson:
People today fall in love because of dating web sites; friends who have lost touch are virtual friends again because of Facebook, and so on. I hear all the time of artists using programs to paint. As a messy artist who lived in an apartment that was splattered with Jackson Pollock drips of color wherever you looked, I will be the first in line to work with virtual art supplies that don’t make a mess. And, of course electronic brushes that don’t have to be washed would be wonderful. Yet, as an artist with one foot in the 20th and the other in the 21st Century, I will always pour out my paint on plates and paint on canvas, if only to keep my spiritual connection with Vincent and Pablo alive. Who knows, maybe one day I will paint on my Mac and e-mail the file to multiple galleries in Paris, London and New York who will then display my art on sleekly framed canvas simulating monitors. And I will appear at the opening night of my international solo exhibits as a hologram of an artist with a glass of Chardonnay in his hand.


Please view Ivan Jenson’s work on his website and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Eerily Uncanny Portrait Paintings by Caroline Green

Caroline Green is an artist working in the Pacific Northwest. Green’s recent paintings have exhibited at Gallery Zero in Portland, Oregon and in various venues throughout the Northwest, and they have been published in Studio Visit Magazine, Catapult Art Magazine, Tribe Magazine, and a variety of other outlets. She is currently dealing with motifs of medical equipment and portraiture, and much of her artwork is available on her website.

Caroline Green_Just a tickle

Gallery Night October 2013


Paul Weiner:
How did your Humanoid series come about?

Caroline Green:
The Humanoid series is a combination of my early works, Admiring the View in 2008, and an experimental series consisting of a saturated color palette and silhouettes. In Admiring the View, I used a limited color palette consisting of a variety of earthy tones, which helped to set the mood to the overall pieces. The content was, to some, rather dark. It was heavily influenced by medicine and the interactions and observations of people that surrounded my life, hence the title of the series. These works are a type of record of my life up to that point. After working on this series, I wanted to create something totally different, so I began to experiment with color and different techniques. I focused more on enhancing my palette and cleaning up my lines. I essentially combined the two concepts. Keeping with the medical theme and introducing brighter colors and silhouettes of various creatures, the Humanoid series was born.

Caroline Green_Recession

Paul Weiner:
Where did your interest in medicine come from?

Caroline Green:
It began at a very early age. I have struggled with my health ever since I was born. I have been in and out of doctor’s offices and hospitals either as a patient or as an employee my whole life. The fear that people get of doctors and such was never really there for me. It was replaced early on with intrigue. My first position at a hospital was when I was sixteen. It was an internship in an OR as a perioperative assistant. From there, I worked in several other areas of hospitals in several departments. In my mid twenties, I worked essentially as an underpaid and unofficial anesthesia tech in surgery. I was not certified, nor did I have the official title, but I performed 99% of the duties.

Myself standing next to my work

Paul Weiner:
You mentioned that some people see your artwork as being dark. What emotions do you associate with your work?

Caroline Green:
I think they are curious and somewhat comical. People are usually puzzled or disturbed by these paintings, and those people usually don’t have knowledge of the world of medicine. People can be frightened of the unknown, especially of medical equipment when they have no idea what it’s for or how it is properly used. But, by working in the medical field, I have become comfortable with the human body and the medical supplies. I think these paintings can invoke a wide array of emotions and thoughts to the viewer. One of my favorite things about these pieces is the feedback. I have heard all kinds of different insights as to why and what these pieces are trying to say.

Caroline Green_Empty Hope

Paul Weiner:
Your recent work strikes me as a kind of mix between pop art and impressionism. Which artists have influenced your work?

Caroline Green:
The Humanoid pieces were inspired from my previous works. When I began back in 2008 I was pretty much fresh to the art world. I had painted a few time before but I was still trying to find my artistic voice. My very early works were all over the place, both in style and technique. It seemed impossible for me to even attempt at painting in the style of all the artists who I truly loved (Dali, Magritte, and Escher). I tried playing around with the brush until I found something totally comfortable, something that just came so naturally that it didn’t even feel like I had to try. I could complete a piece with ease in just a few hours. The very first of these pieces was The Yard.

you and me and the tumor makes three

Caroline Green_Jens Leg

Paul Weiner:
What space would you ideally present your work in?

Caroline Green:
It depends on the work. The Humanoid series is very large in scale and has a very vibrantly saturated color palette, so not only would the pieces need to fit the style of the gallery, but the gallery would have to be able to fit the work physically. It can be rather difficult to find locations that can and would also like to show these pieces. These paintings were first shown at Gallery Zero in Portland, Oregon, a gallery that is a rich red color from floor to ceiling. Since then, they have traveled around town a bit. Ideally for the Humanoid pieces, I would want them to be shown somewhere accepting of alternative contemporary paintings. They have been rejected more times than I can count because of their unusual content.

My pet portrait works are always displayed in pet shops and animal clinics. The Admiring the View pieces are also a challenged to find places to hang, not because of their size but because of their content. The rest of my work is pretty easy to place. I have shown work around town in dozens of locations including galleries, shops, restaurants, and pop-up art shows.

Caroline Green_Rossi_16by20_80USD

Paul Weiner:
What are a few of your favorite materials?

Caroline Green:
I like just about anything I can get my hands on. I love acrylic because of its versatility and easy clean up, but I prefer the maneuverability of oils. Spray paint has a beautifully soft, even effect great for eliminating brushstrokes. I also love to use painter’s tape. It keeps my lines clean and saves time. Occasionally, I will play around with other mediums, but I think my favorite thing is actually my glass palette. I had the window repair man cut a piece of my car’s windshield out. He even sanded the edges for me. I love how the paint slides around, how easy it is to clean up. It is the best thing ever.

CanYouSeeMeNow-CarolineGreen

Paul Weiner:
Tell us a bit about your physical painting process.

Caroline Green:
The physical painting process for the Humanoid series was somewhat taxing. The pieces are a good size, so it’s not like I could just sit there or even just stand in one spot. I was very active in the creation of those pieces. At first, the task seemed quite daunting. I was intimidated by the size of the great, white canvas, so I painted as much color on it as I could in the first day. I washed over all the white. I didn’t want to see a single dimple of white. I sketched out the main shapes and added a couple colors. From there, I built up the painting in layers. I was trying to focus on the painting as a whole rather than treating it in sections. Once the first painting, Can You See Me Now, was complete, I felt this huge since of relief and accomplishment. I now prefer to paint on a larger scale.

Caroline Green_Malfunction

Paul Weiner:
What are you working on in your studio right now?

Caroline Green:
I am currently involved in several projects. I am getting ready for another group show at one of the galleries I am a part of, People’s Art of Portland. I am working on wearable merchandise, something that I hope will appeal to more people. I just began a fourth series that will focus more on aesthetics. I will be combining the techniques I have learned with the last two series and applying them to scenery. I am also collaborating with another local artist on a new project that is very exciting. Of course, I still take in commissions of pet portraits. In between all of that, I create smaller experimental works to try to grow as an artist as much as possible. These are, of course, only things going on in the studio, so I tend to keep very busy. There is always something I want to try. There are always more ideas in my head that I want to get out than I have time or hands for.


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

Laure Nolte’s Interdisciplinary Art Practice

Laure Nolte is an emerging artist currently working in Berlin. She studied at Camberwell College of Art in London and Canada’s NSCAD in Halifax before receiving a BFA in painting and drawing from Concordia University in Montreal. After art school, she briefly worked as a fishmonger. Born in 1986, the young artist has created art in a variety of mediums from painting and sculpture to video. Her artwork can also be found on her website.

The Cutting Room 7


Paul Weiner:
How did your Fishmonger series come about?

Laure Nolte:
Fishmonger happened because I worked as a fishmonger for a year after I graduated from art school. I spent a lot of time in the cutting room processing fish and developed a fascination with the organs that were generally disposed of. I was using a vacuum sealer for the processing of fish, and I started experimenting with composition using the disembodied fish parts. The series emerged quite naturally from there.

The Cutting Room 8

The Cutting Room 10

Paul Weiner:
The Fishmonger series strikes me as a critique of the way we treat animals we plan on eating. Was that your intent?

Laure Nolte:
Fishmonger was not intended to be a critique of how animals are treated. For me, it was an exploration of the human condition. These compositions are metaphors for the human body, for the most part a very female body, for example, Petal or Womb. Each of these pieces is a part of myself, my past self, and, inevitably, my future self.

The Cutting Room 12

The Cutting Room 2

Paul Weiner:
Describe your process both conceptually and materially for Ritual #7.

Laure Nolte:
Ritual #7 is a chronological development of drawings over a one hundred day period. It’s based on Rule 7 from the composer John Cage’s list of rules for students and teachers from the Merce Cunningham studio in New York. I decided before I started the series that each work would be the same dimensions to maintain some sort of visual consistency and that I would draw mostly from observation. I use whatever materials I think the drawing needs, for the most part charcoal and ink, but also nail polish, ripped out pages from a book, and blood.

P1010327

Paul Weiner:
Did working on Ritual #7 help you learn anything about yourself? It seems like this kind of work would leave a lot of artists trying to psychoanalyze themselves and why they draw what they do.

Laure Nolte:
I began Ritual #7 because I wanted to find out what would happen when I worked without fail everyday. I knew that in doing this, I would be facing myself through my art practice in a way I hadn’t before because my studio practice prior to Ritual #7 was almost bulimic in nature. It was a binge and purge cycle, which actually worked well for me throughout art school, but I also ended up being afraid to work when I felt too vulnerable. I realized that I would be exposing myself in Ritual #7 , weaknesses and all, depending on whatever human thing I was dealing with or going through at the time of the drawing. Ritual #7 is maybe the most honest work I’ve attempted. I’ve learned a lot doing this series, particularly that sometimes it takes drawing through a few layers to get to something poignant. It takes patience to go deep and also knowing what battles I need to push through and let go of.

P1010447

Paul Weiner:
Did you ever find yourself wanting to give up on or restart a drawing in your Ritual #7 series?

Laure Nolte:
I have definitely wanted to give up on drawings from Ritual #7. And I have. I have allowed myself to give up on a drawing, maybe three. It was a last resort situation, but a necessary one. For the most part, if I am not satisfied with a drawing, it means I need to try again. But the drawing I am unsatisfied with still has importance in the series. It brought me to where I needed to be. I know when I need to revisit the subject matter, but I give myself some space in between. Redoing drawings has been an important part of Ritual #7 because I can literally see the evolution that has happened by going back to something and pushing it further, understanding it more.

P1010280 copy

Paul Weiner:
Between all of the countries you’ve lived in, where did you feel like artists were most respected?

Laure Nolte:
Since I began pursuing art seriously, at eighteen, I have always been connected to institutions, art schools that have strong communities of artists. These communities thrive on mutual respect and support for one another. I feel grateful for that. I’ve studied in London, Halifax, Montreal, and I’m currently living in Berlin, but I have to say that NSCAD University in Halifax had something really incredible going on with the students and teachers when I studied there. It was magical.

P1010452

Paul Weiner:
As an artist who has worked in a variety of mediums, from drawing to sculpture and video, which is your favorite?

Laure Nolte:
For me, like for many artists, each medium has its own reason and purpose. I make an intentional decision depending on whatever themes I am working with. Painting has been a great love of mine for a long time, but we’ve had a tumultuous relationship. Painting destroys me a little bit, but I let it. Stepping up to a canvas is like stepping up to an unforgiving mirror. Painting is what gives me the greatest adrenaline rush and the greatest frustration. I am fascinated with sculpture, especially mould making. There is a specific language to sculpture, as with each medium, but sculpture is very material. I’m obsessed with Louise Bourgeois. Her career is by far one of the most important ones of the 20th Century. She just knew. Sculpture is very exhilarating, mixing strange toxic chemicals, building structures, discovering new ways to use materials, found materials, producing moulds, and spray painting stuff. You have to use your whole body when you are dealing with sculpture. It’s all encompassing. It’s provocative. And you can create anything, anything in the world you want. There are no boundaries. When you figure out how to make it happen, it’s just the best feeling.

P1010448

Paul Weiner:
What have been some of the most defining times in your career as an artist?

Laura Nolte:
My defining moments always happen in the studio. The studio is where you are free to roam in and out of the underworld. When I was in art school, I always pushed myself to extremes. I would bring a bottle of red wine and work all night in the studio. I would paint until I had nothing left in me, and go outside for a cigarette, having given up completely. Then I would suddenly realize what I had to do next and go back in with a second wind and make it happen. That’s when the real breakthroughs happen. Showing work can be rewarding, too, after long periods of work. It’s always amazing to see my work installed and well lit. But the studio is where it’s at.


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

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Jac Saorsa’s Exploration of Illness through Painting

Jac Saorsa is an artist from the United Kingdom, currently based out of Cardiff. She holds a PhD from the University of Loughborough, a MPhil in Philosophical Aesthetics from Glasgow University, Scotland, and studied drawing and sculpture at the New York Academy of Art. Saorsa has worked and taught all over the world. Her recent work focuses on representations of cancer in the 2D picture plane. Saorsa’s work can be found online.

 Derma


Paul Weiner:
How do you begin a new painting? Describe your conceptual and physical processes.

Jac Saorsa:
Drawing and painting are, for me, so intimately related that a significant part of my process is about finding a way in which the two disciplines can coexist on an equal basis in the same piece. I have an innate need to draw – it has always been there. For me, to draw is a passion, and the practice of drawing creates a fundamental relation between my hand and my eye that is engendered in a parallel relation between sight and insight. I trained in the craft of drawing so that I could have even a chance of realising what intuition and passion dictate.

The process that is my practice in terms of painting is long and often plagued by a struggle between deliberacy and intuitive elation. This struggle is necessary although sometimes it can be as destructive as it is constructive. My innate need to draw fought struggles to find a balance with the sometimes overwhelming passion that is inherent in the way I strive to use paint. My relationship with my work is a negotiation that is perpetuated by a succession of fragile compromises. I would describe the process as a complication between the craft itself and the subject matter, the latter being fundamentally a visual study of human subjectivity. I work towards compatibility between drawing and painting, which is often realised by my literally drawing into the paint using the wrong end of the brush. It is in the details that understanding and meaning breathe and survive.

Head 3

Head 1

Woman's head

Paul Weiner:
Could you explain the concept behind your “Drawing Women’s Cancer” series? How has this series affected you as an artist?

Jac Saorsa:
I am a visual artist and a writer, and I work with the body as form and with the psyche as content. I have a passion for exploring the complexities of existential subjectivity, most especially with what I see as the inescapable conflict between robustness and frailty in terms of our engagement with the perceived reality of our world. In my work, I focus on how my own lived experience is both influenced and sometimes reflected by that of the ‘other’ and I understand my practice as a whole as a kind of creative multilingualism, a process, a perpetual dialogue that derives from an interpenetrative symbiosis between visual and conventional language and which reflects a far more fundamental narrative, the subtext that underwrites our existence both as individuals and in relation to the ‘other’. Despite my interest in the experience of the ‘other’ my work up until Drawing Women’s Cancer has most often been from a detached perspective, and as much as I liked to think I was engaging with humanity, I was, as an artist, isolated in terms of my own making. This changed however, and I felt – still feel – quite vulnerable having had to move out of the protective shadows of my private practice.

The project came about through a discussion with my co-researcher, gynaecological surgeon Dr. Amanda Tristram. She asked me if I could draw how it ‘feels’ to have cancer. I thought I could. The work is fundamentally premised in a conceptual and methodological extension, through visual practice, of narrative medicine, narrative itself, as according to its professed founder Rita Charon, being a powerful “magnet and a bridge, attracting and uniting diverse fields of learning.” The focus of the work is based on what I understand as the profoundly inclusive nature of narrative, wherein writing and imagery can be understood as equal in terms of their capacity for generating dialogue, in this case between creative practice and scientific intervention.

My involvement as an artist is perhaps superseded by my involvement in the project as a human being. I engage with the ‘other’s’ lived experience of illness through having long and often very revealing conversations with women who are suffering gynaecological cancer. These conversations take me to a particular part of our world that Sontag describes as the “kingdom of the sick” and the women citizens of this kingdom welcome me as a kindred soul even though they know that I live, without pain, in the “kingdom of the well.” They understand that actually we all hold ‘dual citizenship’, and through listening to and immersing myself in their stories, I share sharing their certain, yet often unacknowledged sense that divisibility between objectivity and subjectivity is impossible in terms of experience. Their spoken stories then are the driving force of Drawing Women’s Cancer, but at the same time as dialogue dictates my creative process there is a meta-language that the process itself evokes that goes beyond the parameters of individual experience. This is where the work itself becomes far more autonomous than other work I have done. It engenders the meta-language that comes alive through the viewer’s subjective experience of the drawings and the continuing dialogue that this experience provokes.

Diagnosis

Dying Child (detail)

Paul Weiner:
Would you consider philosophy to be an imperative course of study for contemporary artists?

Jac Saorsa:
Philosophy for me has never really been manifest in a particular course of study, it has rather been something that I have lived, and created my art through, even though I may not have been aware of it at the time. Very early on – its not important to remember when any more! –  I read somewhere that Existentialism was not so much a school of thought but more a way of being. That felt so natural to me. I read more and more – mainly continental philosophy – and I did indeed go to university and gain academic qualifications, but it didn’t really feel like study, rather a continuous dialogue I was having with all these writers. My conversation with Gilles Deleuze has been the most prolonged. His ‘manner’, a tempestuous honesty, characterises his chaotic reasoning that persists like Ariadne’s thread through plethora of references that continuously lead off along innumerable tangents, and the way he uses, and clearly loves, literature…all of these things keep me in dialogue with him. He says however – and I agree on the whole – that philosophy is not about communication, or contemplation, or reflection, and indeed these could be conceived as passive. It is rather about the active forming, inventing and fabrication of concepts. He distinguishes philosophical concepts from general ideas, from scientific prospects and from artistic percepts and affects, and this is all well and good but for me, such forming and inventing of concepts remains, in essence, aesthetic process. My practice crosses boundaries between art and medical science and neither takes precedence over the other in terms of the work that ensues from the diverse relations I find between them. Diversity I think is the true basis for my constantly ‘wondering’ approach to the relation between thought, feeling and action that engenders the creative process, and this is inevitably unending, multifaceted and definitely non-linear. Where the open-endedness of process and the constant dialogue between idea and execution is addictive, I have suffered (?) such addiction since birth. A questioning that may or may not be philosophical, yet is certainly derived from philosophical thinking, as it is generally understood, is certainly then a personal imperative that pervades my practice as a whole.

So, and to answer the original question! – imperative is a strong word. But from a personal perspective, where philosophical study has clearly been a crucial aspect of what I do as a contemporary artist, in its sense of urgency and vitalism, imperative may well be the right word. Whether I would consider philosophical study to be imperative for others however is a different issue. I must hesitate. There can be nothing dictatorial in art so I will restrict myself to saying only that, in my view, an intuitive and productive awareness of philosophical thinking, if not imperative, is certainly something that can challenge any ‘shallowness’ in contemporary art practice and is therefore very important. Such awareness is undoubtedly enhanced by academic study, but it is not necessarily tied to it.

Amputee (after Muybridge)

Abjection

Has he eaten

Paul Weiner:
Does working as a teacher impact your own work? To what extent are you teaching the students or are they teaching you?

Jac Saorsa:
It may be a cliché, but the idea that ‘teaching is learning twice’ does resonate with me. I would like to think that I never stop learning, in all aspects of my life, and it is therefore with a sense of exploration that I approach things. Teaching is a ‘living’, organic process for me. Working with students is rewarding in its own right and it also helps to maintain the constant questioning attitude that pushes on my own practice, even while I am helping them with theirs. So yes, I do feel that teaching can be a reciprocal process.

Teaching art is clearly not only about skills and technique, it is far more encompassing of the way we all engage with the world as a whole than that, but sadly, in my experience of teaching in Higher Education in the UK, the emphasis has become less about education of any description, and more about making money and status at the expense of the students’ quality of experience. Skill and craft seem definitely to have become ‘dirty words’ (drawing for example, surely fundamental skill, has little importance in many fine art curricula) leaving students bereft, with albeit plenty of ideas, but lacking in the ability to actually execute them. Teaching is often reduced to setting projects that are undertaken with minimal tutor contact and this situation has, I think, a lot to do with the significant rise in uptake of places at private institutions by students who are dissatisfied with what they are offered at university art schools and more concerned with gaining the skills necessary to express their true potential, rather than simply obtaining a degree certificate. 


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

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Vanessa Compton’s Intricate Collages

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

Sailing the Salton Sea
Prayer for the Wild Things


Paul Weiner:
How would you describe your aesthetic stylistically?

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

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

How the West was Won

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Neighborhood DETAIL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Contemporary Painting and Video Mapping with Justin Wood

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Provoking the Patriarchy: Elle Kennedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Paul Weiner:
Tell us about your interests conceptually.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Ronald Lukas Brings Together Abstraction and Figurative Art

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

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

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

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

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Paul Weiner:
What are you currently working on?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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