Tuesday, December 29, 2009

cope2 online gallery at curbs and stoops!

my good friend jeffrey over at curbs and stoops just put up an online gallery of exclusive new works from world famous cope2! we also collaborated on an interview with the legend that should be up soon. i'll keep ya'll posted.

Cope2 grew up in the public housing projects in the late 1970s. He
came to graffiti like everyone else in those days, at an age when
young men and women began to explore the urban labyrinth where we all
lived. Active in the graffiti scene since 1978, Cope2 has grown to
become an ambassador for New York graffiti. Cope2 has a roster of
accomplishment including commissions by Time Life Magazine, an
apperance in Marc Ecko’s 2006 video game, Getting Up: Contents Under
Pressure and a documentary on his life. Despite his success, Cope2
remains the same rugged graffiti artist he was in the 1980s.

You can find the interactive gallery show at :

Any help in spreading the word would be appreciated.

About Curbs and Stoops:
Curbs and Stoops is a non profit organization that is working towards
increasing the accessibility of art across a diverse range of
socioeconomic and cultural communities. Like our name suggests, we
promote art at the thresholds that define our cities, our curbs and
our stoops. This way, art is not a destination, like going to a
museum. Instead, it is a part of our journey. We fulfill our mission
by implementing public art projects, community installations and
street art. We attempt to exploit the extents of interactive media in
order to provide fine art to those who cannot afford gallery prices.
We believe in the necessity for the accessibility of art. Art is no
longer for bankers and heiresses.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

team work makes the dream work!

(image: brooklyn yards, se portland)

the good news continues!!!!

art stars, i appologize about the delay in blogging!

worked my tail off and saved enough to replace my long ago stolen laptop. i was unable to replace the macbook due to lack of fundage, so i took a gamble on an hp... i will not be jetting off to vegas any time soon, as my risk assesment skills seem to be askew... the hp's mother board crashed within two weeks of me owning it, so i was subject to yet another sad bout of off-lineness. however, after some seriously nerve frying trouble shooting and a three week computer hospital stay, my new computer seems to be on the mend and ready to work!

i spent my first couple of months in portland heavily ensconced in a world of constant work, in a perpetual state of confusion about where i was. i love portland very much, but in terms of infrastructure it is more than a little confusing at first. as i mentioned, i got a job bartending at a spot on north mississippi. loved it during the summer, but like any restaurant job the charms quickly wore thin (not in small part because customers who caught wind of the fact that i once worked at an art gallery never tired of reminding me of what a "step down" my job was). my position at casa ended a couple weeks ago (many high end restaurants in portland are on dangerously uneven footing due to the economy, as well as clever pdxers' food cart revolution - more on that later), which would have been PANIC inducing had i not had a very special project, very close to my heart to work on. this coming month will mark the opening of my first curatorial endeavor here in pdx!

jon macnair, hide and seek, ink on paper, 11"x14"

the image to the left is by baltimore artist jon macnair. it was created as a submission for Play for Keeps a group show of new works on paper at The Tribute Gallery in old town china town, pdx. (we used this image for our promotional material. i will post images of our flier, created by the lovely yamille at cloudstop design, as soon as i have the appropriate file type!) my good and brilliant friend elizabeth lamb worked with tribute's wonderful owner brian t. wilson previously, and when they decided that elizabeth would guest curate a show at the gallery she brought me on board.

we made our call to artists in november, and put it out in the universe not knowing what to expect. elizabeth is a brilliant arts adminastrator who works as coordinator at white box gallery, and who i've known for many years as a close personal friend and beloved dance partner. i was extremely flattered that she chose to involve me in her project, and very pleased to discover that we make quite a dynamic team. we mulled over many thematic ideas for the show. working with brian to hone our vision and clarify our thought process when it came to what kind of art we wanted to exhibit was a really interesting experience. i had never been on that side of the fence, and i enjoyed the flexibility and humility it required of me. i am very excited for brian to see the final result. i think that he's going to love the show, and so will our friends, audience and participating artists!

joshua witten, running with scissors, graphite and ink on paper, 8.5"x11.5"
we were very lucky to recieve a high volume of exceptional submissions. i was astounded at the outpouring of talent. we got a bunch of really cool submissions from local portland artists, but also artists from all around the nation. we have participating artists from nyc, florida, dever, los angeles, indiana... the list goes on and on! i'm honored to mention that jon macnair, patrick haemmerlein, and joshua witten, who all participated in my menace to propriety show, will be exhibiting with us. i also have art coming from a dear friend (and coordinator of the awesome international mail art program that i tend to hinder with my lateness) in florida, breanne rupp, who will be shipping off her pieces before a cross country move to the bay, and four wickedly inventive paintings by an old college buddy and portland resident (a talented artist and entrepeneur - check out his hard work at hasbeen design) huy nguyen, whose work i have been wanted to exhibit for a very long time. though it was fun to draw talent from all over the nation, it was extremely rewarding for me to get a glimpse of the depth of talent in my new home town, like the beautiful and gifted ashley sloan, whose charming graphite drawings will certainly be a highlight.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

great news!!!

art stars!!!!

i am so excited to finally be getting settled into my new city. it was a big transition, with many unexpected twists and turns, but i am finally starting to feel at home in portland, and let me just say it feels good.

i've made it to a few art openings in the past few weeks, but my internet access is currently limited to my wonderful roommate's dinosaur of a laptop with pirated internet that hadn't been working in a while. so while i've been getting to know the scene i've been taking mental notes for when i finally get cooled down enough to get focused.

steel bridge at night, pdx

the art that i have seen so far has been amazing. portland is a crazy city in that almost everywhere that you go is some form of art venue. coffee shops, restaurants, boutiques. everyone has got art. sure this mass proliferation means that not every artist's work that you see is going to blow your socks off, but it is exciting to see so much creativity in such a small area, and additionally to see so much support for the arts from the city itself!

art lovin' portland mayor sam adams

our mayor sam adams has instituted some amazing support systems for the arts in portland in his brief, scandal ridden career as portland's mayor. say what you will, but the man is on my team. i got a job bartending at a great place on mississippi avenue. last week we catered the opening of the q center down the block, which is the new lbqta center for north portland. sam adams was hosting and though i restrained myself, i really wanted to just give him a big 'ol uncomfortable waist hug for showing the arts so much love.

everett lofts, pdx

last first thursday i had a great time visiting studios near everett. i am planning on revisiting two of the shows to take notes for pieces that i'll write later this week. portland's first thursday is a zoo. its a very see and be seen kind of atmosphere, but what makes me very happy to see is that most of the attendees are actually talking about the art, taking the time to digest and discuss, rather than simply hover around the free booze.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

when life gives you lemons... throw them at a passing car...

dear art stars, 

i sincerely apologize for the blatant lack of posts over the past couple weeks. as is true with anyone's life, mine has been a series of peaks and valleys over the past few years. the month of may has brought me nothing but trouble this year. stopping short of spewing a diatribe about all the miserable luck that has befallen me, i will rehash only the detail that seems most prevalent to this blog. last weekend i got robbed, and my lap top was stolen. 

upon waking and seeing the destruction and chaos that was my apartment i immediately called the police to report the kidnapping... for the record the police do not consider the loss of a laptop to be a kidnapping, as they do not consider the bond between computer and blogger to be that of mother and child - despite my best efforts to explain the unimaginable loss that i felt. 

i've been trying to put the pieces of my life back together after the incident (they also stole my purse so i had the arduous task of re-obtaining all of my i.d. and such). i believe strongly that when things like this happen you have to do your best to find the silver lining. yes, my stuff got stolen and my privacy was violated, but on the other hand the universe gave me a grand opportunity to simplify my life. 

instead of replacing the fancy iphone that i had, that to be perfectly honest intimidated me from the get go, i went to a local electronics recycling place and got an old refurbished phone. instead of spending my money drowning my sorrows in expensive vodka presses at the local watering hole, i've been not drinking and running in the free sunshine. instead of blogging from my macbook pro in my lovely little apartment i've been slaving over an old desk top at my 'rents' house. it may not be glamorous, but i've been enjoying reconnecting to the simpler pleasures in life, and by taking an ardently positive approach i've succeeded in reminding myself daily that the thing that i lost are just that... things.

on top of the copious amounts of theft that i've been dealing with it is a transitionary time for me at the gallery. i'll be leaving fenario at the end of june, and though i don't know what my next step will be, i know that i'm ready for it. i've lived in eugene all my life, and though i live fenario and the challenges it provides, the city itself and the art scene here is not as challenging as i'd like it to be. as i've explained to friends, living in the city where i grew up, with the built in safety net of a town that you know intimately, i often feel like i'm sitting in a wheel chair despite the fact that my legs work fine. 

i'm hungry for the next big thing. 

if there's serious gaps in posting, please know that i'm simply spending my time trying to get to the next step, and whatever that is will only serve to broaden my interest in and passion for art. i'll do some posting this week to try to get back on the pony, and from there we'll see where it goes.

Monday, May 4, 2009

joshua witten: allegorical alchemist

joshua witten, the tea party (detail), ink, oil and pencil on canvas, 30"x24"

joshua witten is an artist and illustrator living in the great state of indiana. he is a participant in this months' "menace to propriety" show and agreed to answer some of my questions about his art. witten's images were a hit at friday's opening, and his "the magic show" painting was used for the promotional material for the show. his clean, eloquent illustration style is what caught my eye first, but his clever themes and concepts are what made me a super fan. 

CG: tell me a little about where you live and work.

I live in the great state of Indiana and am currently a framing manager at Michaels, the arts and crafts store.

CG: what kind of media do you prefer?

I can’t really say that I prefer one media over another. I suppose if I had to pick one it would be graphite as it was my first love. There is something about the simplicity of pencil and paper that is very appealing to me however I love painting, printmaking and sculpture as well.

CG:  you have a really unique technique when it comes to painting. the two canvases that you sent me for the "menace to propriety" show both include oil paint as well as ink, which it appears is used to define the more graphic elements of the composition. how did you come to this style?

How did I come to this style? That is a very good question. I think it began with hieroglyphs. Seemingly all cultures used a hieroglyphic method at some point in their artistic history regardless of who they were or where they were. To me hieroglyphs are like a universal human language that transmits information across time and space. With this in mind I had been making various drawings and prints that combined these ancient elements with ideas of modernism and postmodernism in order to create something new that was also rooted in the past. The two canvases that I sent to you for the “Menace to Propriety“ show are part of a larger series of ten entitled, “Occam’s Razor and Other Short Stories.” The series was an opportunity to take everything that I had done on paper and apply it to canvas with the idea of making paintings that looked like my drawings and prints. I tried a lot of different techniques before finally settling on ink, oil and pencil. The final result was an amalgamation of media, like a hybrid of graphic minimalism with heavy emphasis on black. I suppose in the end I would say that I came to this style through constraint. Charles Eames once said that design depends largely on constraints and I think he was right on the money.

CG: what is your working process? can you tell us a little about how you go about transforming your ideas from thoughts to material objects?

I always have ideas floating around in my head. Some get written down, some don’t. Some come to the forefront while others stay back. Typically, I start thinking of certain ones more than others for varying reasons. Sometimes I don’t know the reasons until much later if I ever know them at all. In any case, those ideas that I think about most are usually the ones that I start doing research and preparatory sketches for. These become the foundation that I use to make the final artwork, be it a painting or a drawing or a print.

CG: what do you draw inspiration from?

Anything and everything.

joshua witten, the executive, ink, oil and pencil on canvas, 20"x16"

CG: fellow artists that you admire? alive? dead?

There are a lot of them so this could be a long list. Let’s start with the dead ones...they are in no particular order…Picasso, Warhol, Degas, Klimt, Frida and Diego, Hockney, Schiele, Balthus, Basquiat, Franz Kline, Pollock, Tamara de Lempicka, Mary Cassatt, Vincent Van Gogh, Gauguin, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Harunobu, Osamu Tezuka, and Rockwell. Now moving onto the living…also in no particular order…Audrey Kawasaki, Amy Sol, Sylvia Ji, Murakami, Walton Ford, Frank Miller, and Julian Schnabel.

CG: you have a fantastic piece called the antigravity machine that depicts a boombox and a break dancer. are you a dancer yourself? a music lover? what kind of tunes get you in a creative space?

I wouldn’t call myself a dancer per say but I can shake it if I need to because I truly am a lover of music. “The anti-gravity machine” represents my great fondness of the hip hop culture and aesthetic. At the time I was listening to a lot of Common and At The Drive-In and if you look closely enough you can see those influences in the work for sure.

CG: where have you shown your work? where will you be showing in the near future?

I have shown my work in a number of places. I have shown locally in Indiana at Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery and at The Spurious Fugitive Gallery which I am sorry to say closed its doors in March. I have also shown at Eclectix Gallery and Gallery Nucleus which are both in the great state of California. In the near future I will be showing at Artlink Gallery and the Fenario Gallery for your show, “Menace to Propriety.”

CG: how do you feel being asked to participate in the "menace to propriety" show? is your work intentionally provocative? 

I feel honored to be asked to participate in this show. I really haven’t ever considered my work to be intentionally provocative until thinking about the literal meaning of the words, “menace to propriety.” I might say now that some are definitely more provocative than others because they contain a subtle message that sometimes asks viewers to question authority.

CG: occam's razor is the theory by which i live my life. simplify, simplify, simplify. you have a series calles "occam's razor and other short stories." can you tell me a bit about this series and about your relationship to the theorem of occam's razor?

As I said before, “Occam’s Razor and Other Short Stories” technically speaking was an opportunity to take everything that I had done on paper and apply it to canvas with the idea of making paintings that looked like my drawings and prints. At the time I was thinking about globalism, world trade, and the environment. So, thematically the series began to develop with these ideas in mind. “The Tea Party” for example is as much about China and the United States as it is about as it is about Alice and the March Hare…which leads me to the overall title of the series, “Occam’s Razor and other Short Stories.” Originally, I planned to have the entire cast in my interpretation of the tea party however constraint led me to cut out the Mad Hatter and Door Mouse and focus solely on the relationship between Alice and the March Hare. Following suit, I simplified the content and imagery in all of the other paintings in the series. As this simplification process continued, and technique and theme began to merge together, I remembered the idea of Occam’s Razor and felt it would be a good fit for the series.

CG: "the golden age" is a complex series that seems to be dealing with the commoditization of icons, and our societies lust for logos and branding. can you tell me more about this series? is it ongoing?

“The Golden Age” is an ongoing series that was originally going to be about mythology of various sorts and while it still kind of is, it has also become a commentary on the “commoditization of icons, and our societies lust for logos and branding” as you so eloquently put it. While attending art school there was a visit from the artist Robert Stackhouse. He told one of the students to paint something from this day and age like a Nike Swoosh and the idea of art and logos and branding has stuck with me. So, of course my golden apple of the hesperides is represented by an Apple Computer Logo.

CG: what do you do when you get stuck on an image?

I start another one.

CG: how do you reward yourself when you finish a piece?

I don’t reward myself when I finish artwork, but it sounds like a good idea. Maybe I will buy the new Prince album when I finish with the next one.

CG: anyone ever get any of your images tattooed on them? seems like they'd make for great ink!

A couple of people have actually tattooed themselves with my art. I recently drew one for my good friend who is a union man in Indianapolis. It is a bit daunting to think of my art permanently etched onto another person, but when it is I can’t help but feel the love.

CG: favorite children's book growing up?

“The Little Engine That Could”

joshua witten, the magic show, ink, oil and pencil on canvas, 16"x20"

CG: favorite board game?

Trivial Pursuit

CG: if you had a super power what would it be?


Monday, April 27, 2009

aaron johnson: mad scientist

aaron johnson, a nyc based painter of epic talent, is the kind of innovative artist that i hunt for in my oft-daily art safaris on "the internets" (term borrowed from henry rollins, who is a hilarious, volatile, though incredibly long winded speaker). not only is his visual style unique, but the process through which the artist creates his pieces is wholly original, and in many ways its complexity adds to the singularity of the compositions. johnson's themes range from carnival like characters to the circus of modern politics, and every shade of horror and chaos in between. and yet despite the carnal quality of johnson's work his playful palette and lyrical passages of filigree champion the beauty within the macabre. 

aaron johnson, the gunslinger, 2007 acrylic and collage on plastic construction netting

CG: You live and work in NYC, arguably the epicenter of contemporary art. How does the city inspire you?

I find that the chaos, frenzy, crowds, and action of the city provide the right balance to my studio, which is the opposite, a place of solitude, isolation, and singular focus on the one big thing: making art. The two extremes compliment each other.

CG: Do you attend many art shows in NY? Favorite galleries? Working artists who's work you really enjoy?

I get out to see art in galleries and museums and friends' studios at least once a week. It's important to know what's going on in order to engage in some kind of a common discourse. I'm a fan of too many working artists to name, but here's a few: Jim Lambie, Daniel Richter, Paul McCarthy, Barnaby Whitfield, Tom Sanford, Debra Hampton, Tracey Snelling, Benji Whalen, Kristen Schiele, Laura Schnitger, Peter Saul, Urs Fisher, Trenton Doyle Hancock, John Newsom, Allison Elizabeth Taylor, Judith Supine.....that's a few off the top of my head.

aaron johnson, the second coming of uncle sam, 94"x66" acrylic on polyester flag

CG: Your imagery is at once deliciously grotesque and delicately beautiful. How do you strike a balance? How did you come to this style of imagery?

For me my works are successful when I've reached something that's visceral to the point of making the viewer's skin crawl, visually charged to the point of making the viewer's retinas quiver, and layered in suggestions of narrative that make the viewer psychologically uncomfortable. My visual vocabulary draws from several sources: my degree in Molecular Cellular Biology; the influence of Indian art and culture which was all over my house growing up; and of course a long list of painters I admire from Otto Dix to Bronzino to Peter Saul.

CG: Where do you draw your inspiration from?

The motivation to always make my new works better than the previous ones is a big drive. Listening to talk radio about current events inspires me to make work that deals with our contemporary human condition. Listening to endless music keeps me going in those passages of details that can seem endless (today it's Beirut, Gang Gang Dance, Carbon/Silicon, and Sun Kil Moon).

CG: You have an amazingly complicated technique, that essentially requires you to think backwards to create the final image. Did this process come naturally to you or was it a struggle to train your brain to plan in such a way?

The process started by playing around with drips of paint that I would peel off the plastic covering on the floor (back in the days when my studio was in a corner of my tiny apartment). I'm always experimenting with ways to make a painting. Otherwise I get terribly bored and the works gets stale. The process evolves really naturally. I've been making paintings according to this weird reverse painted acrylic polymer peel process since about 2002, but that process is always in flux and always evolving. The constant has to be change.

aaron johnson, the sword swallower, 106"x97"acrylic and collage on construction debris netting

CG: You've received some seriously impressive accolades in the past few years from publications as lauded and influential as The New York Times and Art News. Any particular compliments/reviews that meant a great deal to you? Whose opinion do you cherish the most when it comes to your work? 

Hmmmm.......well, my work is "difficult" for a lot of people, because it deals with ugly realities, brutality, violence, sexuality, and the dark aspects of The American Dream. Getting positive reviews from some real authoritative critics makes some people take my work more seriously. I really appreciate it when critics support work that is challenging and relevant. There's a nice recent article by Scott Indrisek in Whitewall magazine (you can read it online www.whitewallmag.com pages 64-65)

CG: I loved your studio visit on Fecal Face. Great space! Your space is full of work in various states. It would seem that your process is fairly involved. Do you work on one piece at a time, or jump from piece to piece?

I work on 2 or 3 at a time, and then when one particular piece really grabs me full-force, then I'll focus on just that one while the others wait. Some of them get started and then sit around for 6 months before I figure out where they're going.

CG: Here's a funny one for you: A lot of your sort of lacy details remind me of geodes, mineral formations and fossils. Have you ever been a rock collector? Do you draw inspiration from patterns in nature?

When I was a kid I had a "nature museum" in this walk-in closet in our house, which I filled with specimens I collected in the woods. I would display these things (hornets' nests, dead dragonflies, tree fungus, bones, etc) on shelves and I would document each object with a drawing. Years later, like I mentioned, I was a science major in college. In a way it's always been art and science hand in hand for me.

CG: How do you celebrate when you've successfully finished a piece that you're pleased with?

I stare at it for an hour and start the next one.

CG: With the use of the stretched plastic, I can't help but draw a comparison between some of your pieces and Duchamp's The Large Glass. They share that great quality of being at once traditionally two dimensional as well as containing a sort of deeper sculptural quality, inspiring in the viewer a strong desire to look deeper and see beyond the surface. Any past artists whose work inspires your process or who you like to reflect on? 

I see a kinship between my process and the work of Sigmar Polke. He really considers painting as the chemical reaction that it truly is, and he doesn't take anything for granted; everything is chosen for a purpose in the physicality of his works (he has worked on transparent materials, too, and has done reverse paintings on glass).

sigmar polke, beyond the rainbow, 2007, 142cm x 124cm, mixed media on fabric

aaron johnson, commander's feast (in blood and fire), 2008, 53"x44" acrylic polymer and pigment on polyester flag, 

CG: Best pizza in NY?

Grimaldi's in Brooklyn

*Agreed! My cousin (ironically also named Aaron) sent me there when I stayed with him in Williamsburg, best pizza I've ever had!

CG: Favorite Brooklyn landmark/hang out?

Landmark: the Navy Yard (where my studio is)
Hang out: Havana Outpost

CG: If you could instantly acquire a new skill this instant what would you want it to be?

To play guitar like Muddy Waters

CG: Clown or magician?

I hate clowns, and I have no interest in magicians. You could argue I'm a clown and a magician in my artwork, but maybe more a mad scientist, and a court jester.

CG: Night or day?


CG: And finally, if you were going to make a grand entrance, what song would be playing to say "Aaron Johnson has arrived"?

I like to sneak into the room unnoticed.

aaron johnson has an upcoming group show at new image art in los angeles entitled "octo pusses" beginning may 2nd. check it out if you're in the area. new image art is an amazing gallery.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

this week i read...

yeah i'm one of those weirdos who still reads... books that is. quite voraciously actually. in some ways reading is my cheap replacement for continued schooling that i can't afford. i figure just because i can't afford to be a lifelong student doesn't mean i can't spend the rest of my life in the pursuit of knowledge. 

but let's not get it twisted. i'm not out there every day devouring tolstoy and nitzche. i looooove steven king. adore him. and i love cheesy murder mysteries and lurid true crime novels. but i also take great pleasure in reading tomes that are challenging and give pause. this week has been a calm before the storm; a relatively slow week before i dive into the hang for next week's group show. one of those weeks where the phone just doesn't seem to ring and there are many empty, quiet hours to spare. 

i spent those hours reading....

yes, i do on occasion judge a book by its cover. the quirky illustration by matthew green (jacket design by faber) caught my eye in a portland bookstore. also, can't escape the intrigue of the title. i have to hand it to nathan englander for this one. a charming surprise the ministry of special cases carries on the tradition of magical realism with a clever and at times laugh out loud story that takes place during argentina's dirty war. the story, that of the affable yet confounding kaddish poznan, a man's who's job it is to chip the names off of gravestones for families who would rather forget their controversial pasts, dances back and forth between passages of hilarity and mirth and scenes of great tension and terror. i found the book surprisingly heavy given the frequent humor. it had the sort of narcotic but arresting pace of gabriel garcia marquez, though i think that englander fell a bit short of the narrative power of marquez at his best. 

krakauer at his finest. i was a bit wary of this one. i'm a notoriously unspiritual person, and though i see validity in trying to understand religion as an extraordinarily powerful social force, i have difficulty wrapping my mind around what i perceive as the extremity of blind faith. under the banner of heaven starts with a flash and doesn't let up until the final chapter. even the final passage was pitch perfect, and i think that the quote that krakauer chose to conclude his book with couldn't have been more apt. meticulously researched and powerfully written krakauer's book takes an in depth look at america's complex homegrown religion, framing the tragic tale of the murders of brenda and erica lafferty at the hands of two devout fundamentalist relatives with compelling chapters detailing the religion's history and significant leaders. rather than attack mormonism as the direct source of such a violent act, krakauer explains how mormonism's fundamental tenants open the religion up to periodic splintering and wide interpretation. some of the stories about the various fundamentalist groups that have cropped up over the years are extremely harrowing in their graphicness. mormon fundamentalist groups are rife with institutionalized racism, blatant and often violent sexism and condoned acts of statutory rape and even incest. krakauer, a great adventure writer, alleviates some of the tension with wonderful passages describing the natural environment in the mormon kingdom of utah, and finds heros in unlikely places to champion in stark contrast to the antagonists of the story. a quick read and highly informative. only draw back? i may be rethinking that hiking trip i was planning to zion. 

i pull this book out every few months to peruse the brilliant essays on topics ranging from process to figuration. this morning i was re-reading a great interview with roy lichtenstein conducted by g.r. swenson in 1963. what a g.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

hungry lion


because i bet you didn't know i secretly moonlight as a grimey festie kid.

party like an art star's auteur at langerado '08 - south florida

filthy feet! trademark of all good music gatherings. whooooie those are some white legs!

max kaufmann

max kauffman, if this is any indication

i am admittedly one of those horrible seaboard dwelling americans who has a veritable blank spot in my mental map when it comes to the midwest. 

ohio? really?

missouri? no idea.

basically my working knowledge of midwestern states comes only from the music festivals they hold each summer. 

michigan? rothbury!

minnesota? 10,000 lakes!

illinois? summer camp!

well fortunately looks like illinois has much more to brag about than summer camp '09. originally from chicago, illinois artist and illustrator max kauffman spent his idyllic youth in south bend, indiana rolling between the countryside and the city on four wheels and a deck. this fluid relationship between the urban and the bucolic can be seen reflected in the organic and simultaneously architecturally constructed compositions of this very talented and free spirited artist. 

max kauffman, power exchange, 12"x12" mixed media on watercolor paper

kauffman left the midwest for arizona in 2000 and finished up an art degree at arizona state university in 2004, with a focus in ceramics. he also earned himself a minor in anthropology, which seems to have had a formative influence on the sort of folkloric, mythological imagery that pervades kauffman's work. much of the artist's oeuvre consists of imagery that alludes to the tenuous relationship between science and nature. though science is often a tool used to understand nature, in recent years science has often been applied in such a way as to move further and further from the natural order of the earth. more and more often we see science used as a tool to tame, corral and subjugate nature to suit our human needs, rather than a lens through which we can explore the best ways that we can live simply on the earth. 

power exchange is a great example of this theme. the composition depicts a robot, easy read as either imposing in its forward thrust posture and agape mouth or somewhat sad in its blank eyed stare and imploring body language, offering a totemic bird figure a hand full of what appear to be batteries. however, the batteries could be alternately read as worms or grubs, being the power source for the bird. i love the bird figure, because it has a very ancient, emblematic presence that reminds me of early animal renderings done by long ago cultures. many of kauffman's works include bird and animal figures that have an sort of raw, native presence. his tangible interest in the relationship between man and machine belies the influence of artists like h.r. giger. 

max kauffman, (thriving) culture

i love kauffman's use of color. his color relationships are natural, appealing and mature. though he certainly never shies away from vibrant, saturated colors kauffman doesn't force contrast for the sake of flash. the artist explains, "color always begins every piece; line and texture fall in line after." using media such as watercolors, ink and washes kauffman successfully carves figures from the meat of his tonal landscapes. texture plays an important part in the artist's style. at once painterly and graphic, the works move seamlessly between carefully controlled passages of color, and loosely rendered, cerebral shapes and lines. his work utilizes a sort of hallucinogenic abstraction to depict the protagonists and landscapes of his own personal imaginary world, replete with a strong sense of conflict and tension. 

max kauffman, birding in egypt, 11"x14"  hand embellished two color silk screen, 2009

kauffman's interest in ancient cultures and their lasting impression on our contemporary world can be seen in pieces like birding in egypt, a piece that employs hieroglyphic like elements to pay homage to the historical relevance of early cultures. in some ways, it seems to me, that this consistent use of ancient symbols serves as a reminder that the concerns, dreams and fears of communal cultures stay relatively the same from century to century. as human beings we are linked from generation to generation, by our desire to fulfill the same needs, answer the same questions and seek the same comforts. 

max kauffman, symbiote, 11"x11" watercolor, sepia and ink, 2008

max's art also calls to mind more contemporary art movements, like modern skateboard art. kauffman, who has himself done skateboard design and sights skateboarding as a major source of inspiration, has an aesthetic that immediately makes me think of skate design greats like thomas campbell and barry mcgee. his line quality has a frenetic, extroverted energy that encapsulates the free-spirited, unconventional style of great skate art. 

max kauffman, motet poster (*big ups to jans ingber who's father is a good buddy of my 'rents)

and lastly, i have to give a shout out to kauffman's great taste in music. a music lover, and a frequent adventurer into the world of live music, max sights the spontanaeity and constantly changing structure of live music as a great source of inspiration. 

art research in today's day and age can be funny. more and more, artists who don't have the time or the resources to create a complicated personal website (kauffman's is currently under construction, though he has a charming and inviting start under his belt) rely on social networking sights like myspace and facebook to promote their art. the first time i had to go to an artist's myspace to get more info i felt like i was invading their privacy. mixed in with the straight forward shots of art pieces are party pics, personal anecdotes and commentary from friends. on action i find myself falling a bit in love with the artists that i look into, or at least find myself wanting to buy them a beer. max is no exception. seems like the kind of kid i'd like to hit up if i make it to summer camp this year (i'm on a mission with my buddy joseph to make it to a new festival each year in a state we haven't been to, and the midwest has plenty of states i haven't been to, and shows i've been meaning to catch). and i'll certainly go out of my way to see his art first hand next time he has a show in the NW. 

kauffman recently finished up a solo show called "ghosts of industry" at push gallery in asheville, nc and has/had a show in april at andenken gallery in denver (where the artist is currently based). he has an impressive list of shows coming up in the next year including a june group show at seattle's halogen gallery (formerly suite 100 gallery) and a self-curated show in october '09 in chicago through oh no! doom

Thursday, April 9, 2009

May 1st Fenario Gallery will be debuting a group show entitled "Menace to Propriety". The show will feature over a dozen artists from all over the nation, including Gilbert Oh, Patrick Haemmerlein, Joshua Witten, Leslie Ditto, Grace Weston, and more. The theme "Menace to Propriety" was designed by curator Chloe Gallagher to underscore the importance of the incendiary side of art. Art's power lies in its ability to inspire discussion and debate... even controversy. With this show the gallery hope's to embrace the controversial and the innovative, breaking boundaries and engaging the fine lines between provocative and the truly shocking. With music and libations provided, and several of the featured artists in attendance the opening is sure to be an exciting night of refreshing art and stimulating conversation. As Gilbert Seles once said, "All great ideas are controversial, or have been at one time."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

urban 1028


i love patrick haemmerlein's work. it speaks, with a gritty urban voice, to the beauty of simplicity. not simplicity of composition, as haemmerlein's works are often explosive, multilayered mixed media melees, but simplicity of intention... clarity of verse, certainty of voice.

a move to los angeles in 2000 led to an "obsessive photographic cataloguing of the city" that created a foundation of imagery for haemmerlein's developing interest in graphic design (quote from artists' site). the artist is at LEAST a double threat with his superb photographic eye, and his ability to eloquently apply those images in more complicated, urban inspired designs (who knows, he might be an amazing character actor too. triple threat potential for sure). in most cases, rather than mining the depths of communal imagery, or worse, as some choose to, plundering other photographers' work and justifying the theft with a shield of "artistic license," haemmerlein produces his own imagery from the ground up. i have an enormous amount of respect for haemmerlein's multiple talents, and the seamless manner with which he integrates them. 

above is an interesting side by side comparison from haemmerlein's site. on the left is the original photograph the artist took, and the right is the completed amalgamation. the photograph is lovely on its own, well composed, good lighting and direction of the subject. i love that the final piece is unexpected. the photograph is sort of softly glamorous, and while the design image retains the woman's engaging gaze, the composition takes on elements of toughness, disorientation and fantasy. the woman in the picture becomes a creature of the city, a natural urban native whose own body sprouts infrastructure.

the ny native's work is kinetic. the images leap from the page with youthful exuberance. behind the busy, often glutenous compositions are clear, concise messages of community, identity, and a call for compassion in the urban jungle. with a distinct graphic design aesthetic, haemmerlein's works read like headlines. they are bold, arresting and can elicit a gamut of emotions from shock to joy, and even that particular strain of shame that results from having the truth dumped in front of you and being forced to look it in the eye and acknowledge its presence.


haemmerlein has done many images, like the two above, that record in a sort of archaelogical manner the synthetic detritus of the living city. these works remind me of kevin cyr's cars and trucks, in that they imbue nonliving figures with personality, grace and a hint of nostalgia. i love that the compositions, though focusing on dominant machines, contain allusions to the city as its own ecosystem. small trees germinate from the underbellies of slick american motor vehicles, constant, persistent reminders of the natural world that we are all connected to; a mother nature that is too resilient to ever be fully buried under concrete. 

haemmerlein's work is multilayered in several ways. the intended messages of the pieces are complex and easily open to various interpretations. the city is a system, and everyone has their place. a resident's reaction to the pieces of the city haemmerlein records will vary depending on which nitch that resident resides in. new comers to the city may still find their heart breaking at the sight of an earnest eyed homeless man with dreams in his stare, but those who have been exposed to the callousness for longer may already have their blinders on. for those who have (arguably) had to steel themselves to the ugly realities of urban life, these pieces might be pretty reminders of their helplessness and apathy. i love the above piece because it exemplifies the relationship between figure and environment in haemmerlein's work. in this piece the city skyline is dwarfed by a tree, next to which an elated figure dances in pure abandonment. 

haemmerlein's pieces are physically and visually multilayered as well. each piece is carefully built up, either with layers of paper and media in his more painterly pieces, and with layers upon layers of text and imagery in his graphic design pieces. take for example the obama piece below. not only is the imagery rich and florid in its depth, but the words themselves "hope monger" are open ended. "monger" is a word that is most often understood as pejorative. in the complicated political climate of today's america, images such as this successfully speak to hope and jubilation while carefully reminding us of the importance of inquisitiveness and a constant questioning of the status quo. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

April Fenario Gallery Show!

marlis, night owl, oil on canvas

This April Fenario Gallery will be hosting a two person show with local Eugene artist Marlis, and Portland based painter Ashley Montague. We will be presenting these two artists as essentially side by side solo shows, so each show has its own title and theme. I've been working towards this format, because I feel that it is a better utilization of the space. We've been in the habit of hosting solo shows, and while this is a great opportunity for many artists, it is limiting for us at the gallery, and on top of it 

marlis, forest through the trees, oil on canvas

Marlis is a California native, living and working in Eugene, with an eye-catching folkloric style to her insightful, moody acrylics. Her show is entitled “From Here to There: A Journey Towards Outward Expansion,” and showcases the evolution of her painting style, from a expressionist approach to more realistically rendered forms that retain their passion and emotional resonance. Marlis has been earning a growing local following with her art exhibitions and frequent live paintings at performance events. This exhibit will be an opportunity to show her fans, new and old, the exponential growth of her talent and vision.

marlis, reptilian attack, oil on canvas

Ashley Montague has been active in the NW art scene for many years. His graffiti inspired aesthetic transcends the oft-expected confines of street art inspired style, incorporating elements of mixed media, graphic design and installation. His exhibit, entitled “Mine Flew Away,” consists of new works on canvas. Montague, who is also a DJ, has been working on pieces that he describes as “visual re-mixes,” that utilize material recycling, multi-layered compositions, and re-worked canvases to create visual parallels to the musical re-mixes that Montague works with in his DJ sets. The opening reception for this two-person show will be held during the First Friday Art Walk April 3rd. The opening will include wine and refreshments and the artists will be present for questions. Later in the evening we will be having an after party DJ-ed by Ashley Montague. Please join us for a night of fresh art, free wine and a turn or two on the best dance floor in Eugene.

ashley monatgue, tone patterns, live painting, 4'x6'

This show is the next step in Fenario Gallery's effort to create a unique niche in the Eugene art community, where vision, singularity and contemporary relevance reign supreme. As art director, I have been working to create an exhibition program that is unique for the local scene, and affords exhibition opportunities to artists whose style and content speak directly to the concerns of modern society. As a team, we at Fenario have worked hard to refine and rework our mission statement and create a singular vision for the future of this art space. Though we are enormously proud of our history thus far, we are working towards a consistent level of quality and talent and attempting to hone in on a genres of art that are exciting, provocative and engaging. We will be focusing on pop-surrealism, urban contemporary, graffiti art and contemporary visionary art, art movements that are gaining momentum in the global art scene and that are generally under-represented in the Eugene art scene. April will mark the start of our new exhibition program, leading into May's group show "Menace to Propriety."


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

hot spot - tommii lim

tommii lim, solo, mixed media on a puma shoe box

in the dreary grey of an early oregon spring, i often hunger for color. 

its dark here. i mean... really dark. its hard to get out of bed because it's black like midnight until mid-afternoon. the only recourse is to throw on all the lights in the room as soon as your alarm goes off to try to fake the funk and get your body to respond as if its seen sunlight more recently than last september. 

when i start feeling light deficient i visit tommii lim's blog. lim lives and works in long beach, ca. lim's vibrant, alive mixed media works are joyful in their resonance and complex in their intent. his work highlights the anxieties and hang-ups of a technologically driven, fractured society. as lim himself sums it up, his paintins "problematize the paradigms governing the (in)activity of "minority" races and of hollywood against an urban american landscape rife with social, cultural, and political challenges."

tommii lim, lol, mixed media

i love that lim's pieces manage to be bright and whimsical, and yet extremely politically provocative and contemporarily relevant. there is dark humor in the details. i love the cigarette and missing finger in lol. his most recent works place skeletal figures in threatening or destructive scenes, with complex juxtapositions of bright colors and calamitous figures. the piece below was made for the "living lines" show at the jflynn gallery, a show which lim co-curated himself. the show exhibited a group of artists who, as lim described it, "work with drawing as painting."

tommii lim, we see everything (the protect america act of 2007), mixed media on wood panel, 48"x36"

tommii lim is also an accomplished graphic designer and dj. you can check out his music on his myspace

how perfect...

just as i am writing this the sun is coming out. thanks tommii!

gilbert oh - oh my!

gilbert oh, elizabeth, acrylic on canvas, 16"x12"

gilbert oh, is a nyc based artist whose haunting acrylics portray such pitch-perfect female figures it is easy to believe that he may be a real lady-killer, so in tune is he with the inner workings of the female psyche. oh's gorgeous women are painted in a luxuriously candid manner, that lends a sense of voyeurism to the often allegorical scenes. his rich colors, and classic execution lend and emotional resonance to the dark scenes. oh often employs caravaggio-esque light and technique to create an intense, dramatic atmosphere. 

gilbert oh, doll's house, acrylic on canvas, 16"x20"

as oh explains, "my work is about the sexuality of women, their fears, fantasies and nightmares." and oh what fantasies and nightmares. oh's women are often antiquated in their dress and environment, but the types of sexual hang-ups, insecurities and desires that the pieces represent are timeless. in doll's house (a new version of which is posted on gilbert's site, with dancing figures in a bucolic, arcadian background) a woman poses stiffly with a riding crop, her head ensconced in a birdcage housing her tormentors. the birds blithely peck at her eyes, bringing forth unsettling streams of gore. this entrapment could be an allegory for sexual repression, and i think that it is telling that the shadow on the wall appears without the birdcage and seems more like a lurking male figure than an echo of the woman's frail, imprisoned frame. 

gilbert oh, raising helen, acrylic on canvas, 16"x12"

i love everything about raising helen. the slightly alien alignment of her features. her long, thin fingers punctuated in alarmingly candy pink nails. i love the cast to her skin and her high, high forehead. there is something old-hollywood nostalgic about her look, but with a modern tint in the neon tone of her nail lacquer and the hungry, self-empowered look of her predators gaze. 

gilbert oh's work will be featured in our may group show, "menace to propriety" at the fenario gallery. i so very much look forward to working with this extremely talented and intelligent artist. his lush paintings are currently featured in the femme fatale group show over at alcove gallery in atlanta, ga.

Friday, February 27, 2009

nathan spoor

nathan spoor, the actuarium, acrylic on canvas, 25"x32"

nathan spoor is at the top of his game. finding success in a myriad of ventures, nathan has been sharing beautiful art with the world for years. as an artist, writer and curator nathan is a busy, busy man, but he took the time to answer some of my most pressing questions this week. 

CG: You're from Texas, home of the bluebonnet, where you also attended art school. How did you enjoy life in the Lone Star State?

NS: That’s a pretty broad question, since there’s so much to enjoy about being in Texas. I suppose the best way to answer that is to say that I was brought up in a very loving home and had the opportunity to appreciate quite a bit of my surroundings. We moved around a bit, due to Dad being a youth and family minister (Church of Christ). So I got to meet a lot of people and be around a broad range of individuals. It was quite an experience. Dad’s also a master craftsman, so I also had a healthy understanding of work outside of “work”. Mom is a third grade teacher, so I got the psychology and good parenting all around. Life in Texas is pretty groovy, especially since hindsight is 20/20. Summers are seriously hot, and winters are generally cold, super windy and wet. I have allergies, so the Texas weather is pretty miserable for me. Southern California is much better for me in that, and many other respects.

Since I got to grow up in a loving and creatively nurturing environment, I’d have to say I had it pretty good growing up in TX. Skateboarding and drawing were my main pastimes. Through Jr. High and High School we lived in Houston on the outskirts of a great community around Sugar Land called the Meadows. On the other side of our back yard fence was a mall that was closed for years, so I grew up during that time on a skateboard, hitting the mall up daily. I explored as far as I could get on a board or a bike and my friends had similarly cool parents, so we all had fun.

I've heard that in its own sparse way, the topography of Texas is very beautiful. Was there a great deal of artistic inspiration there?

I might say no at first, but if you get a chance to spend time in Texas you’ll see the most amazing skies. The sunsets are amazing and the clouds are a great show. The good thing about Texas is that, being mostly flat you can get a great view of incoming storms or open skies from many vantage points. The downside can also be that it’s so open that there’s not much hope for shade in the heat of summer or the storm season, when hail can get up to baseball size (actually happened a couple years back).

But yes, there is a large community of artists that draw vast inspiration from the Texas landscapes and natural beauty found there. I’d go so far as to say there’s no shortage of Texas art to be found.

As a native NWer I admit to some ingrown biases about the culture down in Texas. How misinformed am I? I hear Austin is hip, but that can't be the only lovely part of your home state!

I don’t know really. No, we don’t all have horses or ranches or herd cattle or drill for oil. That does exist, but usually with the more prominent families that have been doing that for generations. I think these days it might be a more die hard lifestyle - that “True Texan” thing. But when you get to more populated areas it’s pretty much the picture of civilization. My parents moved to a smaller town during my senior year of high school, so I got a dose of small town vs. big town. Houston is a much larger and more multicultural experience than Snyder. To let you know the ratio, I was going to a high school of about 9000 with a graduating class of 900+, and we moved to a town where the entire high school might have been around 900, with a graduating class of maybe 100. So every extreme exists, but you have to know where to look for it perhaps.

nathan spoor, the arrival, acrylic on canvas, 18"x34" 

For the most part though, if you think of Texas as being predominantly Christian, Bible Belters with a moral standard and low tolerance for change, you might be right. But that’s just one aspect of it, though a large one, and if you asked another Texan what it’s like they might give you a different picture.

Austin is pretty amazing. The music scene there is so rich and vibrant. The landscape is pretty great too, making it a kind of oasis of the flat Texas surroundings. Growing up in Houston, where it’s super humid and has its own mosquito population, places like Austin or San Antonio were places that were great to escape to. I didn’t really do that too much until college though. That’s too far to get to on a skateboard when you’re a kid.

I understand that you now live and work in Los Angeles. What drew you to LA?

Art. I got to a point in my life where I was experienced enough as an Art Director in Dallas that I was ready to move forward. It was just a few years, but after spending time designing all day and weekends, and coming home to paint a few hours before resting up for the next day of the same thing, I was ready for a change. I had built up my first body of paintings and had just done a show in Venice at some friends’ furniture store on Abbot Kinney during the Venice Art Walk. I got a great response and knew I was going to choose LA, or it had chosen me. It was that or New York. And no offense, but NY is just too cold.

Plus, I had this dream of standing out in a crowd and a fellow Art Director had given me a couple issues of Juxtapoz. It wasn’t long (a month or so later) after that that the company I was working for closed its doors, and the next week I was moving to LA. Through my first couple issues of Jux I found out that people were doing their own thing around LA, and had been for years. It was fortuitous I guess. At that time, in 2001, the magazine was still gaining momentum and there were very few places to show work. But I got lucky and met some cool people and did freelance work until I started showing and selling regularly. I still do, actually. That need to constantly grow and move forward isn’t going to stop.

Do you find that the proximity to such a large, progressive art scene stimulates your creativity and keeps you on the ball?

I’d have to say yes. But the reality is this, I’ve already been confronted with the fact that I’d be painting and pursuing my work in this epic narrative even if I couldn’t show or support myself in galleries. You only find that out when confronted with it. If you don’t stay on the ball you fall from grace in a way. I think I would be denying my gifts and insulting things far beyond my understanding if I was to try to navigate away from this “destiny” of sorts.

And yes, it’s essential to live in or with direct access to a place like LA. If you want to be involved or relevant you have to be close to where it’s happening. That’s not the case for every artist of course. But for me, it’s been true. Proximity and access make all the difference. If I couldn’t just pop in and bother a gallery for a check or drop off / pick up my work I’d be in a disadvantage.

And then there’s the personality aspect. Maybe some people are just built for certain things. I believe that. That acceptance of one’s self and true nature is directly related to your success or failure. That gets us into another topic that I’m no expert in though.

nathan spoor, citizens of the war, acrylic on canvas, 26"x20"

Your work seems deeply rooted in a world of fantasy. Much of your work depicts chimerical, otherworldly landscapes, do these pieces represent views of one particular imaginary world that you visit in your mind, or is your imagination constantly taking you new places?

I wish I had a great response for that one. I can tell you what I think it is, even though that is an evolving answer in itself. I call the body of work I’ve been painting through since I moved to LA in 2001, The Intimate Parade. I feel that the work represents a physical manifestation of a combination of my personal and spiritual particles, as well as experiences and insights into various realms.

There’s a certain aspect of sight involved as well. I do have strange visions or see things that I can’t explain and wouldn’t know how to access normally. There’s an “in between” that appears in some form of meditative communication. I wish I could go into it further but I’d go on and on and on and wouldn’t make much sense. So yes, let’s just say my imagination and universally conscious selves are very active and productive.

nathan spoor, the emissary, acrylic on canvas, 36"x36"

One of my most precious thrift store finds of all time was an old denim trapper keeper that feel open to reveal that it was a twenty year old Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual (with HUNDREDS of mint condition monster illustrations with their moves, and powers, etc.), disguised as a seventh grader's math folder. Did you play any role playing games, or have exposure to that old school fantasy style illustration when you were growing up?

I always wondered where that went!

No, I never played role-playing games or anything, they weren’t allowed. And fantasy art was too graphic or suggestive for us kids (I have one younger brother). I guess my influences as a kid were Star Wars, comic books, and things like that. Super heroes were a big thing. I liked Spider Man, Captain America, things like that.

I appreciate that your work varies, from pieces that are somewhat haunting in their emptiness and simplicity, to pieces that are fecund with imagery, characters and action. Does the finished result reflect your state of mind when you were working on the piece?

I like the word “fecund”. It’s like you’re going to talk about poo and then it’s very intellectual. Like high-class poo. And that brings us back to art. I’m not sure if it overtly reflects my state of mind, but I do think that it always has that imprint. I try to let the piece grow as it needs and not over think or overdo it. 

Were you a fantasy reader/watcher when you were young, or, for that matter, are you still?

Yes and yes.

I find your work incredibly romantic, in that rich, literary sense... a la King Arthur or Beowulf. Are you a reader as well as a writer?

Thank you, and still the answer is yes. We read those books or stories in high school and I enjoyed them. I thought the whole translation bit for Beowulf and the Canterbury Tales pretty crazy. Everything was written in a highly intelligent code or foreign unused language in today’s means. I always enjoyed English and Lit classes, and had a good time with the course work. Science was different story. That was challenging and exciting and so foreign. I’m no scientist but I took away as much as I could and try to listen to science podcasts and things.

Do your literary or cinematic choices contribute to the formation of your fantasy landscapes?

I’m sure they do. I watch movies to relax and read to keep sharp.

What is your workspace like?

It’s small, in what would be the tiny dining area corner of the apartment here. It’s in the corner between the kitchen and living room. I keep only paintings in progress on the walls, so I can switch things up when I need to switch gears and get into different works.

What kind of inspiration do you surround yourself with?

Music, ufo and science podcasts, paranormal news, mystery and thriller books, and all the paintings in progress on the walls and floors.

nathan spoor, the pleasant plunder, acrylic on canvas

Are you a prolific artist, or do your pieces take time?

That’s two questions, yes and yes. I work on about a dozen pieces at any time. They take months to finish, and are very detailed and time consuming. I’ve very fortunate to be able to paint as much as I do.

Are you the type to work a piece through several stages and mediums, with sketches and under drawings, or do you find that the piece is already waiting on the canvas simply waiting to be revealed?

I generally get solid ideas for entire pieces or sections of works. Then I sketch out the ideas and order stretcher frames. Then I stretch them, prep them, sand it up and get started painting. I don’t sketch onto the canvas. I like the challenge of only painting, loosely, then tightening it up as I go along. I’ll leave plenty of room for things to switch up if the idea needs to go a different direction. It’s an organic process, and needs to grow at its own rate to become a really successful piece.

I see a relation between your work and the works of other visionary artists, like Hieronymus Bosch and Max Ernst. I also read your interview with visionary art Mack daddy Alex Grey. Do you consider yourself a visionary artist?

I’d say so. Those artists are far more advanced than I am, but I’m going to go the distance and see what happens.

Fenario Gallery, the art space that I direct/curate, started out as a visionary art gallery and we've been lucky to put on shows with artists like Robert Venosa, Martina Hoffman, and Bill Kruetzmann. When I got started visionary art wasn't my expertise so I made the time to visit the American Museum of Visionary Art when I was out East. Though they did have pieces by contemporaries like Alex Grey, a lot of their curatorial choices seemed to highlight an altered mental state, most often "confirmed", diagnosed mental illness, as the source of "visionary art." Though multiple definitions can certainly exist, my limited knowledge of visionary art had, up to that point, been defined by a notion that visionary art is that which depicts freely and without censorship a deep and natural connection to fantasy and myth. How do you define visionary art?

Well, I feel that most any forum of thought remains open to a wide variety of opinions and expectations. The defining of anything so open almost limits its potential. I don’t think we can help but have a limited view of what “visionary art” is. I think if it’s a poignant and rich visual, coming from somewhere beyond our understanding and created in the spirit of education or love, it’s relevant. See, I can’t even pinpoint an answer really. Fantasy art is fantasy in my opinion. Visionary art is such a rich and stigmatized term that I think I could only use it as a partial explanation for what I do. But all in all, I don’t try to define visionary art.

It's funny, when I first started at Fenario and I was told that it was a "Visionary Art" gallery, I had a real syntactical problem with the term visionary art. To me, all art is visionary, so the title seemed overly broad and prone to misunderstanding. I often find myself asking artists to define things for me, only to realize my syntactical error in using the word "define," because I too think that art terms should be plastic. 

Have you had a chance to visit the AMVA?

Not yet.

How do you feel about their curatorial practice?

I don’t know. I did find this online: http://www.avam.org/
If that’s the place you’re talking about then I’m not really feeling it. The site was cluttered, on the cheesy side, and I couldn’t really take it seriously. Visionary art deserves a much more respectable forum to tell you the truth. The artists you mentioned, plus so many others, deserve far better than to be associated with a sideshow representation of their immensely talented and undying efforts. I could go on, and hopefully there’s another place you were thinking about. But that one is insulting (no reflection on you of course, always thankful of new things to see!).

I couldn't agree more. I went to the AVMA hoping to see works by artists like A Andrew Gonzalez, Alex Grey, H.R. Giger, Robert Venosa, Martina Hoffmann, and Oleg Korolov, and instead found predominantly historical work where the didactics seemed to extort the artists mental illness and outsider status. There were a couple Alex Greys hung in sort of half-hearted spots in the front hall, but the majority of the work was set up almost like a circus freak show! The beauty of the art seemed undermined by the fact that descriptions of the immensely talented artists focused primarily on "reports of hearing voices" or "erratic" behavior, as if their greatest triumph was managing to create despite their "disabilities" rather than the execution of profound, unique art. Though I enjoyed viewing the art I was really disheartened by the fashion in which it was presented. Particularly because the AMVA is, at the moment, the only large scale exhibition space for so-called "Visionary Art" and those who visit the museum without previous knowledge of the genre risk leaving forever thinking that it is an unimportant, trivial artistic sidebar!

nathan spoor, the age of innocence, acrylic on canvas, 20"x26"

Aside from your successful fine art career you've also had your hands in other pots, such as curating art shows at several great national galleries, like your recent curatorial effort at Bold Hype "Say When." How do you enjoy working with other artists in a more organizational, administrative capacity?

I like it, in the respect of working with fellow artists and trying to find better ways and situations to showcase talent. I don’t think I’m especially talented at it, if one can be as such. But I do enjoy the possibilities of working with new potential spotlights for the individuals that I find visually captivating and personally gifted.

What got you into curating?

Same as above. I guess I fell into it in some ways. As it’s not my prime intention, I see it as an opportunity to be of service, or as an intermediary of fine talent or artist placement in a specific spotlight. If I think about it, I had opportunities to curate shows when a space would make itself available. Generally it would be a nontraditional location that I could figure out how to work a group show out for. Sometimes I would get offered a solo show and turn that into a group show, just to test out the space or feel out the market there. Now I occasionally get the chance to work with places I know or trust and curate with, or the new gallery that just seems to have a really nice vibe or cool owner. Having had some sketchy experiences I tend to not jump at most opportunities. You just get a feel for it or can tell what will be positive and what might not work out.

You've been in the game awhile, do you find yourself calling on artists who you know and admire and already have an established following, or do you try to push younger, less exposed talent that you believe in and want to see do well?

Both. That’s the beauty of having the opportunity to curate from that position. Putting together a balanced show, whether new or established talent is something I aspire to be better at.

What do you put a premium on when organizing a show: a good theme? An aesthetic resonance between artists' styles?

The opportunity and audience are premium, mostly. It makes a big difference to work with someone that will put in as much energy or offer a good platform to showcase individuals. I look for, or enjoy working with opportunities, rather, that will really get behind the idea. The artists really need to work with someone respectable that will not let them down or drop the ball. It also really helps to work with folks that will follow through on their word, especially since handshakes are the most common deals around. I work with people on their word, so when they lay down on the deal, it only hurts the growth of what we might have been able to do with them. The premiums are on trust, opportunity, audience, possibility, forward momentum, etc.

nathan spoor, the night visit, acrylic on canvas, 18"x34"

You've also been lucky enough to work with Hi-Fructose and BL!SSS and other great art publications as a writer/interviewer. Have you always been a writer?

Yes and no. I’ve always enjoyed writing for my own enjoyment. It wasn’t until Greg Escalante asked me to help out on interviews he had the opportunity to do with Juxtapoz that I really got into art writing. I’m no pro by any means but I do enjoy it and have a genuinely good time and somewhat of a knack for some aspects of it. We write for whoever comes our way and puts it in print that he gets along with, art rags, books, online. I’m now assisting Hi Fructose with fun things and content as a Contributing Editor and Writer for their online and occasionally in print. Without the happy accident of assisting Greg in our Juxtapoz articles and stories I wouldn’t have really thought about doing this sort of thing. But I love it and would like to continue pursuing it and see where it goes.

Is the interviewing something that you pursued, or did it sort of come with the territory as you became more and more active in the scene?

I didn’t pursue it at first. I would go about my business and Greg would / will call up and see if I’m free to do an interview and we get on a three way call with the artists and I type as fast as I can and create my own shorthand version of the conversation. It’s gotten me more proficient in typing for sure! As time went on, I started to see opportunities to be more active in the interviews, and Greg always encourages me to jump in. Being as active as I’ve been definitely helps. And now I’ve been coming up with new ideas that we’ll talk over and see how they go.

What do you get from the practice of hearing about other people's processes and inspirations?

It’s really interesting to hear artists that I respect and admire talk about their craft and their approach to bringing their work to life. We all seem to have some visionary aspect to our work, and each individual has his or her own unique brand of seeing it into reality. It definitely helps to hear people talk about their work and process though. It helps me formulate my own responses to the same questions we all get asked and have a more appropriate answer. It also helps me understand what not to ask or how to go about being more creative in asking questions so that an artist can have more freedom to express themselves when responding.

nathan spoor, a wink for safe passages, acrylic on canvas, 26"x20"

What is your best advice for young people entering the gallery world, as either artists or administrators?

Well, I always say that you have to really love what you do if you want to keep doing it. It’s also going to be clear as to whether or not you should be pursuing something or not. Be sensitive and listen more than you talk, and when you answer, be clear and direct. I guess the most important thing is to just do what you feel is your thing; don’t be upset when or if people don’t respond instantly to your genius ideas. Patience is key, timing is imminent, and at the right moment it will all click into place. But if I was getting into this again I would make sure I was really ready for it. Everyone has an opinion about your work. Some are right on and some are jealous and mask themselves in friendship to keep you at a mediocre level. Don’t accept mediocrity, but understand when the right person is giving you advice that’s gold. Things might take a while to make sense, and if you’re really lucky, it might happen really fast. If that’s the case, just trust yourself to do the right thing, keep a level head, and know whom you can trust around you.

Administrators? Well, I guess, the approach would be the key. If you’re working with artists, always follow through. Be open and explain things when they’re murky or difficult. Be very patient, be available when you can be, and try to understand that everyone is learning and everyone is going to forget things. Be on top of your records and keep a good calendar!

If you were a fantasy creature what would you be?

A time traveler.

Favorite Saturday morning cartoon of old?

I didn’t know cartoons came on on Sundays. We were always at church, so cartoons were on Saturday for me. I think the best was Bugs Bunny / Looney Toons. There are tons more, but those are the classics for me. The ones with Friz Freleng and Mel Blanc are the best.

If you could loose Paul McCarthy's ill-fated inflatable dogshit piece on anyone's picnic who would it be? 

I think the irony would be if Paul McCarthy was having a picnic with Jeff Koons and it landed on top of them and they ended up smooshed on top of each other, and came out with chocolate pudding on their faces (we think it was pudding). The chocolate Santa buttplug is brilliant.

That would be truly spectacular. I remember reading about the transformation of the Maccarone gallery into McCarthy's chocolate butt-plug factory and thought to myself, Michele Maccarone has got it made. I'll know that I've made it in the gallery world when I have the resources and the cajones to turn my entire gallery into a chocolate butt-plug factory. To be able to delve so deeply into artistic fantasy and to stand so assuredly in the face of potentially REALLY shocking people for the sake of artistic liberty seems like a great state to be in. 

nathan spoor, the immaculate correspondence, acrylic on canvas, 32"x25"

nathan spoor has several upcoming exhibits of his work, including march's group show old skool vs. new skool at PULSE new york, march 5-8.