Thursday, September 25, 2008

re-post: the lovely yellena

Yellena James, "Vessel", print of drawing done with pens, ink and markers on paper, 6"x6" (print available on her etsy shop)

i've been gushing for quite some time about yellena james. she's a talented aritst and designer who lives on the oregon coast (currently... she misses the city, i can empathize). orignially from sarajevo, yellena has traveled the world honing her beautiful, dreamlike style of illustration and racked up a laundry list of fans. i've got pages and pages worth of praise for her art, but as I mentioned earlier, the heat has turned my brain into mush. for today i'll let the interview and the images speak for themselves. she's agreed to a show at fenario in october, so i'll have plenty more to say in the coming weeks. yellena sat down and answered some of my questions after a recent trip to hang a show at giant robot in san francisco.

CG: tell me a little about yourself, and how you got started making art.

YJ: i've done art as long as i can remember. i hear this from a lot of artists in interviews, but it's true. i always loved to draw and i have always been fascinated with pens and markers. my sister is also an artist and we used to make things together growing up. during the civil war in sarajevo, i enrolled in an art high school against my parents wishes. where i am from, as most places i'm sure, artists tend to starve. but we all at some point make the decision that doing what you love is most important.

CG: where do you draw your inspiration from? what gets your imagination running?

YJ: oh, this is always the hardest question for me because it is very hard to pinpoint inspiration. i think artists just have that in them. if you love what you're doing you are always inspired to do it no matter what. you get inspired by all things. many of my recent works were inspired by small elements or ideas found in my previous works which begged to be explored furthur. it's a nice feeling to finish a piece and step away with the direction in mind for a new piece.

CG: you have a very distinct, recognizable style of design and illustration. how has your aesthetic developed over time?

YJ: thanks for saying that. a lot of work and time have gone into creating and developing my style. i still feel like there is so much more room to grow. i've had a lot of traditional training, and many great teachers along the way. i had one teacher in sarajevo who made us do line drawings for months until we perfected them. i was so happy when we finally started doing some shading in our studies. i think i started doing my best work when i stopped trying to impress other artists, teachers, critics, etc. and started making art that i enjoy.

yellena james, "bliss" pen and ink on paper, 6"x7.5"

CG: do you doodle when you talk on the phone?

YJ: no, i usually pace around the room when i talk on the phone. when i'm drawing, i'm completely focused on what i'm doing. i almost always have music playing. i'm completely addicted to

CG: do you have a favorite medium?

YJ: pens and markers are still my favorite, although i do love paint. i have literally hundreds of pens in my studio and i am very particular about paper too.

CG: it seems that a lot of your pieces are on a small scale. what draws you to working on small pieces? do you ever work on a larger scale?

YJ: i work in a small scale because my work is so detailed and it takes me forever to finish little pieces. i also like the intimacy of smaller pieces. they invite viewers for a closer inspection, a second look.

CG: you recently moved to the oregon coast. as a native oregonian, i must say, you've picked a truly beautiful, scenic part of the world to call home. how has your change of scenery inspired you? do you have good tide-pooling near your home?

YJ: it's true, oregon is very beautiful. the tide-pooling is top-notch i'm sure. the coast is a great place to work in peace, though i'm definitely missing the city energy these days. we'll probably be living in portland by the end of the summer. there are a lot of creative people there and always something fresh going on. we live next to the ocean right now and i guess that has had some influence on my work. recently, my artwork has been described as resembling precambrian ocean life. i liked this, because during the precambrian era, the seas were just these big pools of potential, and life was just forming - seemingly at random but also by design. all these little elements were taking form and coming alive on their own. this is similar to how many of my art pieces come together. lots of little bits and lines, forming curves, then shapes... sort of randomly, but also by design.

CG: what fellow artists and designers do you admire? who do you have your eye on?

YJ: oh, let's see. i'm a big fan of julie mehretu and matthew ritchie... i also really like apak, sam weber, jeff soto, takashi murakami. there are so many more... i think now is a really exciting time in art. one thing about being close to portland, and also selling on etsy and the giant robot, is that i've been introduced to so many amazing DIY-minded artists. there are just a lot of people right now who are doing things on their own.

CG: what albums do you take with you when you go on a road trip?

YJ: for road trips, i like to bring compilations: interpol, black keys, beck, okkervil river, b.r.m.c., my morning jacket, muse, ours, the shins... that kind of stuff.

CG: if i loaned you my private jet where would you go?

YJ: i have been wanting to visit sarajevo and the adriatic coast lately. it would be nice to see my family there, and show my husband where i was born. then i would probably ask you to loan me your jet again for a trip to japan. then italy, then france, australia, ireland, brazil.... your jet will probably need an oil change when i'm done.

yellena james, "magic" print of drawing done in pen and ink, 8.5"x11" (prints available on her etsy shop)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

california roll

yellena james

there's really no time to rest on one's laurels in this business. as much as i'd like to have the time to sit and revel in the success of the lopez show, i have to give my full attention to preparations for our next show, which hangs in two weeks (ahhh!)

next at bat we have yellena james, who i've been writing about for months now.  i got an email from the artist hesitantly naming the show "stasis". i love the title so much with the work i've seen thus far i'm going to run with it. i have my graphic designer working on a flier (i know, WAY late, it was a opportunity for me to learn to keep my sight on the horizon and never get too caught up in the present, so as to forget the future). i'll get my press out soon, though unfortunately, with this short of notice it would be unfair to ask any press junket to work on a feature story with so little time, maybe we'll get some press retroactively when writers get the chance to see yellena's work and fall in love with her gentle, personable self. 

i'm very excited to see what comes for the show. yellena usually works on a precious scale, but for this show she's produced some larger works, and we're making some large scale prints of her highly detailed work. i am stoked to see how they fill the space. 

i talked with a woman the other day who referred to the gallery as "male-centric". the thought had honestly never crossed my mind, but when i thought back on the past few months i could acknowledge a slightly more masculine energy to the place. we focus on bold art, by male or female artists, but the divergence from a typical decorative presentation makes for a strong presence, which i guess this person read as male. all my co-workers are male... not sure if that really makes it a "masculine" gallery. a couple of people made comments about graffiti being a male art, which made me want to crawl out of my skin. there are plenty of talented, revered women in the graffiti art scene. its about annonymity, about making a name for yourself that transcends the person you are in the day to day. many female writers go unrecognized (as female) because they refuse to make a fuss over whether people think they're a guy or not, as long as their work is being respected. if you're interested in the feminine presence in graffiti art there's an amazing book that i first saw at the whitney museum in nyc called graffiti women: street art from five continents by nicholas ganz that is not to be missed. (i love you reminisce! you are a fucking ninja goddess). 

yellena's show is my "girly" show. not that i think that art ought to be gendered, or that the show will be inherently feminine because the artist is a woman. i call it my "girly" show because the vibe of the art lends itself well to a classy, sensual presentation that may just have a slightly female energy to it. i loved the lopez opening. i had so much fun, and i'm a tomboy who loves beats, breakdancing and whiskey en mass. but i'm relishing the opportunity to have a new kind of opening. i'm hoping to have a wine tasting, maybe some live jazz and i'm planning on bedecking this space with flowers (and possibly balloon art, check in with me next week, i know it sounds wacky but it could be really conceptual). i have a skirt that i could never wear anywhere but yellena's opening. my mom found it at an estate sale. i'm not sure where it came from, it may have dropped out of heaven. its a high waisted skirt made of PAPER (kid you not) and hand painted with taxonomical drawings of exotic butterfly species, not to mention the clumps of vintage rhinestones. it must have been a stage costume or something. with a little perfume , some stockings and pin-curls by my friend dawn, i'll have a real girl night... then i'll wake up the next morning with a rats nest on my head, a potential hangover and want my jeans and grubby hooded sweatshirt back.


i love silhouette. it suits my less is more aesthetic.

while traipsing around etsy the other day i stumbled on opticwaste's store. i was initially drawn in by an image called Clara.

opticwaste, Clara, tea stained silhouette print in a re-purposed vintage frame with no glass. available at her etsy store. 

Clara has all the elements of something i MUST have. it's eerie and yet whimsical and slightly silly. i appreciate the store's design aesthetic, as well as their sense of re-use. i like the re-purposed vintage frames, and the shadow-box, no glass technique they've chosen for the pieces. its nice to see a piece in which every step of the presentation has been given careful consideration. 

i love bats, LOVE bats. when i was in Baltimore recently i had the distinct pleasure of seeing some huge fruit bats in an Australian river bed exhibit. my companion was not a fan, but i find their unique structure and morbid, superstitious presence in human mythology to be appealing. plus, if you can get past the veiny wings and legendary association with Dracula, they're really very cute. and SMART, i love an animal that is adaptive and intelligent (i also enjoy world music, insalata caprese and lively conversation, if you feel like you fit the description ;) 

i also really appreciate the sweet nothings that opticwaste include with their descriptions. under Clara, the artist wrote "cousin Clara had a moment to reflect that storing her hoop skirts in the attic was perhaps not the best idea." i adore an artist with a sense of humor. 

opticwaste produced several of these humorously deranged silhouettes for their series. in the profile write-up for the store the artist talks about how she had collected silhouettes for years before deciding to make some of her own. some of the imagery is original, and some of it is pulled from public domain sources, which lends it a great old/new quality. 

opticwaste, uncle George, tea-stained silhouette print, framed shadowbox style in a re-purposed antique frame with no glass. available at her etsy shop.

opticwaste, Emma, tea stained silhouette framed shadow-box style in a re-purposed antique frame with no glass. available on her etsy shop. 

opticwaste's work reminds me of Kara Walker, though the association is almost purely style based. Kara is an artist who i've been following for years. she does wild, gut-wrenching installations using a sort of antebellum style silhouette technique in which she creates large scale vignettes on gallery walls. her installations are instantly visually attractive in their execution, but upon closer inspection, the lacy, intricate scenes depict graphic scenes of violence and sexual degradation. moments of humor in certain passages illicit uncomfortable chuckles, only serving to highlight the dense relationship between the content of the scenes and the inherent beauty of their technique. i strongly recommend taking any chance you may come across to see the work of Kara Walker up close and in person, pictures just can't do the experience justice. 

* a good friend of mine gently recommended yesterday that i consider being more aware of my grammar on this blog. good advice, surely, but my lack of capitalization was a stylistic choice. in the spirit of compromise, i've agreed to try to check for grammar, and to capitalize names and place names, but i will not be capitalizing "i".... personally i still feel like a lower case i

Friday, September 12, 2008

a must see

wunderkammer: a century of curiosities. please, please go see this amazing exhibit from the moma. its presented here in a flashy, maze-like way that makes me happy.

great art in eugene

(art gallery studies, university of oregon, photo by john crosley)

(folding silk screen, ten symbols of longevity, korean late joseon period 19th century CE, schnitzer)

(carl morris, 1938, lumbering, post office on 5th and willamette)

(campbell memorial courtyard, jordan schnitzer art museum) 

Thursday, September 11, 2008

something amazing

i was just cruising one of my favorite art blogs art addict, a site about collecting contemporary art written by the lovely paige west, and saw something that i thought my left coast friends would appreciate. 

an artist by the name of sighn (who i am rabidly researching because she just became a major art crush) made 1,00,000 thats right one million of these wonderful wood blocks that read ITSOK. each of these pieces is hand carved by the artist, and sold for $20. the icing on the cake is that for every piece sold a tree will be planted. how warm and fuzzy and green does that make you feel? the cut-outs are available at multi polar projects. 

check out paige's blog for a lot of really great insight on contemporary art and tips on how to amass that collection you've been curating in your minds eye (if you're like me and your bank account has yet to match up with your dreams). 

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

i feel this good right now

bodymore mcmurderland art scene

(yellow brick road)

got back from baltimore a couple weeks ago, but haven't had the time to sit and process. i got to see a lot of amazing art while i was in the city. one of the first days that i was in b-more i stumbled upon the american museum of visionary art. i had planned on visiting but i was without the careful instructions that i'd left in my suitcase in falston. my friend patrick and i had just hit up the aquarium on the inner harbor, which was KILLER by the way, and he had to run to sound check at the 8x10 so i was left to my own devices in downtown bodymore mcmurderland. i love getting lost in a new city, its my favorite way to explore. i had my camera, a dead cell phone and my flip-flops so i was well equipped for an urban adventure. i took a stroll up  to federal hill and was taking a nice stalkerish binocular view of michael phelps' million dollar penthouse on the inner harbor and a looked off to the east and this caught my eye:

i saw that and i knew i had stumbled upon something worthy of my time. winding down the hill to covington street i saw giant whirly-gigs and what i thought, and later confirmed to be a psychedelic disco-ball Further style bus complete with rabid, bad-lsd-trip animals from some gory remake of snow white and the seven dwarfs. 

it turns out i had serendipitously found the american museum of visionary art, a stop my boss b had insisted on. the sculpture gardens were incredible and the first gallery that i walked into had some mind blowing sculptures made entirely of matchsticks. one was an eight foot long replica of an old ship ripped down the middle, in exact detail, built by a man of questionably sound mind. that was one of the things that i found very interesting about the style in which the museum was curated. though not exclusive, much of the art in the museum was done by artists battling mental illness (many of which you got the impression from the didactics were simply victims of the misunderstandings and judgements of their time). it certainly gave a specific tone to the word "visionary". one piece that i particularly loved was a carved self-portrait that was hewn from an apple tree. the man was an elderly mental patient who had never once in his life shown an inclination towards making art, but upon seeing a fallen apple tree dragged the refuge inside and craved an image of himself out of the trunk, complete with a concave chest due to years of exposure to tuberculosis. 

i had a wonderful visit with the staff of their amazing gift shop. i got a great original painting for b's birthday for a STEAL! if you're ever looking for a great source of original art in baltimore, visit the AMVA. after stumbling out of the museum in a bit of a crazy art daze i wandered back over federal hill to the 8x10 where my friend patrick was playing with his band, the bridge, who i've shown bloggy love to so many times i hesitate to stroke their ego any further, but for those who haven't been reading along they're fucking great. i had never been to the 8x10, but had heard many times about the memorable shows played there so i was very excited to see one of my favorite bands there. the venue was once two side by side row houses, and has a great balcony with nice views of the stage. it also has an amazing view of the city from the roof top, where i unsuccessfully tried to james bond my way over a few other roof tops in four inch heels only to end up wussing out at the last minute and deciding the view from my originating rooftop was sufficient. the bridge killed that night, and even treated us to a encore that included "smoke two joints" by sublime, "two hits and the joint turned brown" by yonder mountain string band, and the classic "don't bogart that joint". i danced until my feet felt like hamburger, and rewarded myself with a very late night stop for french toast and vanilla milkshakes. 

(dancing + mediocre digital camera = visual nonsense)

the last day of my trip i made it to two more museums. first we stopped by the walters art museum. i didn't really know what to expect and was pleasantly surprised with a decorative-art heavy collection that was both comprehensive and compelling. i was SUCH a nerd in the weapons hall, i'm surprised patrick didn't slip out the back door and turn off his phone. but what's a nerd to do? i turned a corner into a room hung floor to ceiling with broadswords, cross bows, and those awesome spiky-volley-ball things, and suddenly i WAS zelda. if it weren't for my natural reverence in art museums i probably would have challenged patrick to a duel. 

there was also a truly awe-inspiring room called "the hall of wonders" (i think, could be wrong, i was pretty overstimulated at this point). it was a great example of a baroque hang, where paintings are literally blanketed over every wall space and cabinets are crammed with goodies. there were tortoise shells, chalices, torture devices and a stuffed crocodile the size of your mom. my jaw was officially dropped. i also really enjoyed the far-east wing, the egyptian wing and the grecco-roman wing, which gave me the chance to look smart ;)

after that we cruised over to the baltimore museum of art. i hauled ass to the contemporary wing, patrick wearily in tow, pausing only to acknowledge that not everyone's a matisse fan. i was so blown away by the contemporary wing, its construction as well as the amazing curatorial practice exercised there. sometimes i get nervous when bringing someone new to a contemporary art exhibition. contemporary isn't an easy school to digest. lots of it is too highbrow and conceptual for its own good, and every once in awhile i catch my guest giving me a look that says "you don't get this either, do you? you just pretend to like it to look smart." i was tickled pink that one of the first piece that we stumbled on was from andy warhol's oxidation series. how can you not laugh when the first medium listed for a piece is urine? it was a great ice breaker. 

(andy warhol, 1978, oxidation series, that's right he pissed on it)

i saw some pieces in that museum that brought me to tears. i was talking about joseph indiana and was literally stopped mid-sentence, dead in my tracks by a morris louis piece that i silently tractor beamed over to while the end of a word trailed pathetically from my mouth, causing slight concern and certain confusion. i think i worried those around me that i was on the verge of having an epileptic episode. art does that to me, its a drug.

i had an unforgettable time in baltimore. i think the nickname bodymore mcmurderland is unfair and misleading, though i obviously find it funny or i wouldn't use it so much. i had a pretty lux visit to the city, i know there are armpits in the city that i don't want to smell, but i enjoyed the parts of the city that i saw and i commend baltimore for amassing impressive, diverse permanent collections at their major art institutions. i'd love to talk more about how much i appreciated the inclusion of lots of female artists, african-american artists and outsider art, but i've got to go get free food from the 'rents. more later. 

first friday art party


we set our sights high for the lopez opening. i had conceptualized the show as a coming out party for fenario. if a cotillion theme would have worked i would have jumped on it. my boss brent and his team have been working for years to get fenario off the ground, and we've had some amazing shows with extremely talented artists throughout the years. however, the daily grind of keeping an art space open and viable has kept b's hands tied in a lot of aspects of the game and while we've been successful in a lot of areas, creativity flows best when everybody's got their just enough on their plate and not too much.

the steven lopez opening was my chance to show that when me and my team are all working at our highest level we can accomplish great things. sometimes during the grind of the week it can be easy to forget what we're working towards, the kinds of moments that make any stress well worth it. openings are an opportunity for me to remember that i have the greatest job on earth: bringing people beauty, inspiration and awe; sharing with my community something that uplifts the spirits. the opening netted several hundred visitors, and we sent several very happy customers home with their own original steven lopez canvas. while the art walk was visiting it was wall to wall in the gallery. douglas, the president of the lane arts council, a man of exacting taste and consistent, professional honesty gave me some superb compliments that left me floating off the ground for most of the night. i got a lot of comments that the show seemed to be geared toward the younger generation, which is somewhat true (my 'rents had to get to bed before the breakdancing battle started :) but steven and i both wanted the show to be something that could be appreciated by people of any age. i wanted older art appreciators to see that art that stems from graffiti can be mature, complicated and intellectual.  

many of our friends and family came out to support the show. there were so many smiling faces, part of me wondered if their was a gas leak somewhere and everyone was feeling a bit lightheaded. it felt like fenario's first cotillion (complete with fancy dresses) dj matt nelkin opened the night with a hot set of soul and hip-hop, including a deliciously funky remix of my old myspace song "honey" by one of the stars of the evening erykah badu (who's portrait by lopez was central to his triumphant "after midnight" series, see videos posted below or visit lopez's website to see the timelapse movies he made). dj pls and dv8 both helped on the wheels of steel and made the party classy and dance-able, an irresistable combination. 

opening a cash bar, having music and dancing really elevated the mood of the opening beyond just a premier to an out and out art party, exactly what i'm always campaigning for. it was fun to see our friend lou-mega and the r.a. break squad (and  a sweaty guest appearance by our old friend karl - and i do mean old) getting down on our great wood floors. its a pretty dreamy surface for break-dancing, great to see it being put to good use, especially with all the art on the walls and the music blasting. it was great to see people's reactions to the space transforming over the course of the night, from wine and cheese and high heels to whiskey and gangstarr. some visitors were surprised to see our willingness to be so trusting with the space, which afforded me the opportunity to remind people that we love using fenario's space for all kinds of art - performance and otherwise. at fenario we want our art events to be dynamic, and multi-sensory. 

if you didn't make it to the opening, the show will be hanging through the end of september. we've also got a forum co-presented with the lane arts council about the importance of public art and the history and future of mural art in eugene on september 24th. steven and a few other local artists will be there, and its a chance to come see the fabulous dress i have for the event ;) this show is not to be missed, get off your couch, start up your car, or reserve your plane tickets.