Tuesday, February 24, 2009

all that glitters.... jamie vasta

jamie vasta, stepsister, glitter on stained panel, 36"x48", 2007

as a curator, i'm often content driven. i want to be sure that when i commit the time, energy, and resources it takes to put on an art show, that the work has something to say, and that the stories told are unique, relevant and empowered. 

i don't just want art that simply has something to say, i want art that conveys a message that will infect you... stay with you like a fever.... flavor your daydreams like strong, rare spices pillaged from a long sunken merchant ship. 

but as an art lover, i'm still a snob for execution.... that's not to say that i simply put aside technique when i am reviewing portfolios for the gallery, i'm simply saying that luckily most of the portfolios that i receive come from artists who have taken the time to master their technique, whatever that may be, and that is obivious enough to make the major factor in my decision making process whether or not i am moved by the content, voice, and themes. i have favored mediums: i love printmaking, contemporary craft like assemblage, i love charcoal, panel, encaustic, ink (god i love ink)... but i can appreciate any medium used appropriately and interestingly. in fact, what i really dig, is new materials/new media. i'm a bit of a techno-phobe, so while i dig video art and all the new applications of digital technology in art, i'm not overly comfortable judging it, due to my basic lack of technical understanding. what i really like to see is people using classic art materials in new ways, or using unexpected materials in surprising fashions. 

i love souther salazar's lightbulb hot-air balloons, 

and emily barletta's corporeal crochet works, 

of all the amazing young artists that i've discovered through the internet super highway over the past couple years using unique media, the artist who had my jaw dropped the furthest has to be jamie vasta. she's the perfect blend of interesting, relevant content and unique technique and execution.

jamie is a rochester, ny native who... well... works in glitter. it honestly took me a minute to believe that's what i was seeing the first time i laid eyes on one of jamie's pieces. mostly because my judgement was clouded by rapidly increasing excitement caused by the discovery. the first piece of jamie's that i saw was 2007's stepsister (see above), a claustrophobic, violent composition that seems to depict a female figure being gently garroted with a blood red sash by a placid, sisterly second figure. once i confirmed that the piece was indeed executed in carefully placed swaths of good old fashioned glitter, i checked the dimensions on the piece. somehow i was convinced that if jamie had the patience, determination and vision to execute such a complicated piece that it would have to be small in scale. i sat down heavily when i read that the piece was in fact 36"x48". the large scale of the piece only mad it seem that much more impossibly awesome.

jamie vasta, cottontail, glitter on stained panel, 30"x24"

jamie's work seems fine-tuned to my own taste in titillation. her works are powerful, dramatic, violent, and epic. and the use of glitter is at once attractive and intriguing and simultaneously sort of unnerving in its unexpectedness. i seem to reference eva hesse about fifty times a day, but her brilliant piece accession (1968) is to me the perfect example of a piece that creates an intimate relationship between attraction and repulsion. the sculpture appears from a distance to be a box lined with fur like hairs. it creates a desire to get closer, to touch the object and experience it tactilely, but upon closer inspection the hairs are actually rows and rows of sharp nails. jamie vasta's dark scenes have that same effect on me: i'm drawn in like a magpie to the shiny, nostalgic medium, and at the same time startled and unsettled by the violent, eerie imagery. 

jamie vasta, in the rushes, glitter on stained panel, 60"x48"

i love that jamie isn't afraid to be bold. her recurring theme of beheadings reminds me of one of my favorite art discussions i had in college. while learning about caravaggio and the baroque era, my professor briefly touched on artemisia gentileschi a female artist from the same period. the slide that he used was artemisia's rendition of judith slaying holnefronese. we had seen a version of the same scene by caravaggio earlier in the week, and a lively discussion ensued on the various treatments of the story, in which judith beheads holnefronese while he sleeps. though caravaggio's is masterfully painted, his judith demures even while she slices the head of the usurper, while gentileschi's judith leans heavily and determinedly on the sword causing great swaths of gore. if a woman is going to sneak past deadly guards to off someone, she's going to do it with relish. jamie vasta's murderous women are similarly gutsy in their executions. 

her most recent series, shown at patricia sweetow gallery in san francisco, entitled kills focus on scenes of young girls and their hunted prey. for me, having grown up in a veggie-loving gun-hating liberal valley, the scenes of very young girls holding rifles and carrion are shocking, but in a hilariously ironic way. their unadulterated violence (you can almost smell the blood in the snow) executed in cheeky, sparkling glitter make me smile so big it just errupts into laughter: the juxtaposition of dead animals and little girls, guns and sparkles is just too much. these pieces have exactly the character that i'm looking for in pieces for the "menace to propriety" show. they're challenging in a clever, sophisticated way without being heavy-handed or overwrought. in virginia an angelic blond of five or six smiles with the straw of her big gulp in her mouth holding a shotgun to her side that towers over her petite frame. another, bristol, seems to show a young bristol palin with her gregarious mother happily lording over the bloodied carcass of an elk. early sara palin portrait in glitter complete with gory wildlife corpse? love it. 

jamie vasta, becky, glitter on stained panel, 16"x20" 2008

i particularly like the fact that vasta's pieces make me empathize with a group of people i normally wouldn't have much of a connection to. i'm not much into guns or hunting, though i have no moral problem with hunting for food purposes if the animal is used appropriately and there is minimal waste. i don't know ms. vasta well enough to tell whether these pieces are meant to be mocking towards hunting culture, but the fact that these young girls all seem to be having fun reminds me that it is not my place to judge other people's past times. the faces in vasta's snapshot aesthetic compositions seem genuine. my childhood stories of wild hippy festivals and barefoot berry picking could be just as hilariously scandalous to someone who grew up in a significantly different kind of culture. 

jamie vasta, skylar and madi with geese, glitter on stained panel, 30"x40" 2008

jamie vasta, heather, glitter on stained panel, 30"x40" 2008

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