Friday, December 12, 2008

jonathan viner

jonathan viner, a discerning youngster, oil on panel, 24"x36, 2008

jonathan viner, conduit of dialogue, oil on panel, 24"x36", 2007

i love jonathan viner's work. it was his palette that first drew me in. the muted, aquatic tones. and then it was the details, the quieter moments, the small peculiarities that i noticed only in my mind's eye as the paintings haunted my imagination later. like the tags on the lamp cord in a discerning youngster, just a simple factor that brings the ethereal scene down to earth. the blue glow of the cell phone screen in conduit of dialogue, an unexpected inclusion of modern technology in a old master style oil painting. i love the contradictory technique and content. it cements the more frivolous aspects of our daily culture in the history that we are sure to leave behind. whether we take them seriously or not, these gadgets will become artifacts of our culture that we will pass along to future generations. things like plastic, radio waves, and computer chips will be the lasting legacy of what our generations have built (check out alan wiseman's the world without us, amazing). rather than making some sad commentary on these trends, i feel like viner's works simply explore this as an inevitability. there seems to be little sadness in these observations, more of a sense of wonder and fascination. 

jonathan viner, the fluidity of power, oil on board, 48"x36"

jonathan viner was born in new york in 1976, and received his BFA from the rhode island school of design. he now lives and works in nyc. since 2002 jonathan has had several prestigious solo shows, including his 2008 show target practice at the jonathan levine gallery. i am particularly drawn to viner's darker images (they're all fairly dark, but some are more fantasy than nightmare). i love watchdogs. viner has an amazing ability to depict architecture that radiates human emotions. i love that the house behind the figure in watchdogs has as much presence as the figure herself, almost as if it is the house bidding her to stand guard. an exemplar of detached observation, is also a beautiful example of a building that seems to breathe (i don't have a big enough image of the piece, so click the link to see an image you can see the details in). 

jonathan viner, watchdogs, oil on panel, 53"x41" 

jonathan viner, an exemplar of detached observation, oil on panel, 36"x48"


Thursday, December 11, 2008

eric beltz: my kind of america

barbara kruger, thinking of you, mixed media, 1999

barbara kruger, your body is a battleground, mixed media

i am obsessed with typography. i love letters, words. i love their forms, their graceful curves and straight-backed uprights. my love of letter forms played a big part in me falling in love with graffiti art and pursuing the interest academically. the first time i got letters tattooed on my skin (albeit greek letters) i was elated by the process of using my own skin as a writing surface. i couldn't believe how beautiful the words looked on the canvas of my skin. i found myself drawn to artists who used typography in their design. barbara kruger, russian constructivists, magritte, william blake. but it's a fine line. when executed well the juxtaposition of visual imagery with written words can be powerful and eloquent. when done half heartedly, or expressing a tepid sentiment, the pairing of fine art and written word results in what essentially amounts to a poorly designed hallmark card. i always had an aversion to art that sloppily paired painting and/or drawing with prose. watercolors of irises with sophomoric poetry about spring showers. it always struck me as ingenuine, as if the words and the design were both too weak to stand alone, and together they only seemed further handicapped by their conjoined status. 

eric beltz, tree of the evil eagle, graphite on paper, 30"x40", 2008

santa barbara based eric beltz easily avoids the latter travesty by imbuing his works with humor, clear articulation, and candid witticism. his politically charged, stunningly rendered graphite works keenly dissect modern political and social anxiety with a sharp sense of satire. beltz' drawings resemble etchings and scientific illustration of the 18th century (another gold star from me) and yet find a sense of contemporary relevance by addressing history as an important indicator of our present. in his series entitled american visions beltz depicts the founding fathers in scenes of defeat, regret and plaintiveness. in tree of the evil eagle washington sits dejectedly before a majestic tree occupied by a malicious looking eagle and a pentagram of text. the chopped lumber surrounding his slumped frame seems to allude to his famous cherry tree anecdote, and perhaps underscores the impotence of honesty as a virtue in politics. in today's day and age, where politicians treat the past like unwanted baggage rather than an important educational tool, beltz' clever indications that generally life's problems stay fairly similar and that we ought to try to learn from the lessons of the past are much appreciated. 

eric beltz, treats breathing problems, graphite on paper, 11"x14", 2006

there is a mystic, mythological element to beltz' work as well. frequent occult symbols and allusions to american mythology and superstition riddle beltz' illustration, such as the pentagram of text in tree of the evil eagle. there is an acknowledgement of the strange and constantly changing history of religion and spiritualism in america; a gentle nod to the american dream and the various ways that it becomes present in our hopes, dreams, and disappointments. he has also done an interesting series on folkloric medical treatments, and at least one piece that reminds the viewer of the positively benign and healthful applications of hemp used by the founding fathers. 

eric beltz, good luck assholes!: thomas jefferson's vision of death, graphite on paper, 22"x28", 2007

and beltz doesn't bother beating around the bush with these issues. rather than veiling his messages in flash and pomp, his clearly articulated style, gracefully utilized passages of negative space, and often bold language practically shout at the near deaf american populace that change is inevitable and disappointments are sure to occur without careful consideration. however, these pieces are certainly not without sensitivity and poignancy. beltz' feather light shading and lovingly depicted flora and fauna, lend grace and beauty to his illustrations. with today's political climate, environmental hazards and never-ending train of scandal and intrigue look for beltz' work to only improve with the ample inspiration. in a society that has a tendency to dissolve into a no-holds-bar shouting match, a level-headed artistic voice with a good sense of humor is extremely valuable. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

goosebumps: thomas doyle

thomas doyle, the reprisal, mixed media, 10"x 12" diameter, 2006

thomas doyle, the reprisal, detail

it's no secret that i have a healthy fascination with the macabre. i like things that make me shiver a bit. a healthy case of gooseflesh never hurt anyone. my mother's rather bizarre habit of reading me edward gorey as a child probably helped. she even got me an edward gorey pop-up book. scared the shit out of me, but she seemed to find it engaging. i guess i just didn't get it, but i also used to wonder why as an adult my mom found the pee-wee herman christmas special so entertaining. it wasn't until i watched it again as an adult and saw the opening scene in which pee-wee says that he's having an addition built to the playhouse and opens a door to reveal a room being built out of fruitcakes by heavily oiled construction workers that it dawned on me. my favorite creepy tome my mom would read to me was the edward gorey alphabet book (check this link, great online copy of the whole text), in which each letter is represented by a child who meets an unfortunate end.

when i discovered thomas doyle's mixed media miniatures i felt the same sense of mutant attraction i used to feel scanning through the pages of gorey's morbid alphabet book. there is something beautiful in the stripped bare, painful moments in life, something that is very difficult to describe in words. despite the fact that we all harbor an inherent interest in the darker side of life, we often fear our fascination with grief and loss will be misunderstood. doyle has an uncanny ability to create scenes both disturbing and familiar. these scenes resonate personally with viewers, even though most of us have never had to dig a shallow grave in the woods.

when i first found his site i must have sat and stared for hours. i had to keep viewing and reviewing each image over and over, each time feeling more and more implicated in the scenes. doyle's use of glass to contain the tiny scenes almost acts as a metaphorical seat belt. you feel yourself falling into each scene, getting closer to the emotions that are drawn in the various pieces, and only the device of the protective glass prevents you from full tidal waves of grief, longing or doubt. like an excellent stage director he works with the viewer's heart strings, orchestrating a ballet of disparaging feelings, from hope to isolation and outright fear. doyle explains, "In much the way the mind recalls events through the fog of time, the works distort reality through a warped and dreamlike lens."

thomas doyle, courier, mixed media, 12.5"x14" diameter, 2007

the works, rendered in 1:43 scale, also afford the viewer a sense of power over scenes that one would no doubt feel powerless in were they themselves the figure under glass. in this way we get a chance to spy on the sadder, angrier moments of life - the times when we are helpless and acting on instinct - without a threat of getting hurt. our sense of morbid voyeurism (rampant in a society of crime scene dramas and serial killer fan sites) is gratified in a clinically detached manner; we walk away with clean hands. "Hovering above the glass, the viewer approaches these worlds as an all-seeing eye, looking down upon landscapes that dwarf and threaten the figures within," writes doyle.

contrary to the implied safety of the viewer's position, the intimacy of scale and the inherent beauty of doyle's execution draws the viewer in despite themselves. there is a transition as the viewer approaches the tiny piece, from an inflated sense of security and omniscience, to a shudder of personal resonance. the tiny expressionless figures are a blank canvas on which the viewer can project their own script of emotional responses. not all of doyle's scenes are as dramatic or narrative as say, the reprisal. some of his little worlds seem to capture moments in life that for one reason or another (the way the light refracted off a porch swing, the smell of roses - so saturated that summer) simply haunt the memory, the kind of formative snippets of a life lived that will landscape our dreams over time. doyle says "the works depict the remnants of things past—whether major, transformational experiences, or the quieter moments that resonate loudly throughout a life."

wondrous how such a small artifact can have such a huge impact.

thomas doyle, the occupation, mixed media, 14.5"x18.5"x12.5", 2006

amy sacksteder and i: seperated at birth?

amy sacksteder, ambition, gel pen and gouache on paper, 8.75"x10", 2007

the facts:

amy sacksteder was born in augusta, georgia. 

i was born in eugene, oregon probably a few years later (unless amy is a super genius, which wouldn't surprise me) as she entered university five years before me. 

amy lived for a spell in the exciting city of chicago, which stimulated her artistic influences and planted the seeds of her organic, contemporary "hipster aesthetic." 

i have yet to escape eugene. 

(possible non-fact) amy loves avocados. 

i hate avocados. 


i believe strongly that amy and i may have been twins separated at birth. and not just because i have an art crush and want desperately to believe that a talent as raw and powerful as amy's is genetically encoded in me and as yet undiscovered. 

when i first saw amy's imagery i was stopped dead in my tracks. one of the reasons that i've always been so enamored with art and artists is that beautiful moment when i find an image created by someone i don't know, never met, that speak directly to my heart. a "killing me softly" moment in which an artist's composition seems to be reading your diary entries aloud. having such an experience with a work of art gives you the chance to feel vulnerable and exposed without dictating what you will do with these senses. i love watching people at art museums and galleries, watching for the moment when they see their own heart laid bare, the look of shock, or comfort, or relief that someone understands. 

amy's body of work artfully waltzes from crisp, voluptuous pieces from nature, to stark, efficient scenes of human isolation and dislocation. the first work of amy's that i saw was a piece entitled in all sincerity, an ambitious large scale work populated with sweeping, silhouetted flocks of bluebirds and queen anne's lace, with texturally sensuous passages of lunaria (also called silver dollar plant, honest plant, and money plant). i was so shook by this painting. it seemed to amass so many of my aesthetic interests and influences in one image, as well as creating a sense of nostalgia with the dried papery silver dollars, and the inviting cadence of the bluebirds. i knew i had to see more. 

amy sacksteder, elegy: just like heaven, oil and gold-leaf marker on gessoed panel, 6"x6", 2008

amy's image ambition (posted at the top of this piece) is from a series that she did entitled the beautiful ones. as i was reading about amy, it was a quote about her influences that started to gel my theory of our tragic separation: " I was simultaneously influenced by the natural world and silhouettes, silk-screened imagery on t-shirts in boutiques, tattoos and band tees on hipsters in Wicker Park. " I may not be an expert on wicker park, but that sounds like a list of loves that i would rattle off. it's funny because amy talks about how initially she wasn't fully aware of her "perpetuation of an already prevalent hipster aesthetic," and how it took moving from her neighborhood in chicago and a visit to etsy (artsy-crafty people porn, i'm addicted) for her to become aware of the aesthetic sub-culture she had unwittingly become a hero for. 

i only recently began to accept my own hipster status. having bartended at eugene's notorious hipster bar, indigo district, for awhile i felt sure i'd had my fill of joy division references, bob dylan sunglasses and cowboy tailoring. a couple months ago i went to a house party at my ever uber-hip friend heather's house. chuckling as i walked up the steps about the abundance of "taste-makers" sure to be inside, i found my outfit (coat of arms amongst hipster sub-sets) an instant hit. it was showing up at a hipster party in skinny jeans, black stilettos, and a t-shirt with two girls in bikinis and boxing gloves covered in blood that cemented my grudging understanding that i am a indeed at least part hipster. like it or not. 

in the beautiful ones amy seeks to "understand the why behind hipster, rock kid, art kid- sanctioned images." she takes an interesting conceptual approach to try to puzzle out how particular images become iconic facets of hipster visual culture. amy explains, "I am interested not only in the preference of certain animals and imagery over others, but also in the process of appropriation---the distance that an animal must travel from its source in the wild, to its translation into slick silhouettes and layered silk-screened images, to its subsequent marketing and distribution; from an individual living creature to a ubiquitous symbol."

with her accomplished technique, thoughtful compositions and her broad intellectual curiosity amy sacksteder is a talent to keep an eye on. she is currently an assistant professor of art at eastern michigan university. she has two solo shows coming up in 2009, The Beautiful Ones, at the Arrowhead Room, Waubonsee Community College, in Sugar Grove, Illinois and still at the paint creek center for the arts in rochester, michigan. she has also expressed possible interest in putting a couple pieces in my upcoming menace to propriety group show, so i've got my fingers crossed that it will happen. she just happened to pick the four pieces i would have hand selected given the chance (it's that twin psychic connection). if amy's work makes it out to the show you'll surely hear me bleating about it for weeks, so keep your ear to the ground for a potential upcoming NW visit (of at least her work, if not her busy self) from the beautiful ms. sacksteder.