Saturday, April 27, 2013

Jay Katelansky at Moore College of Art & Design

 Jennifer 'Jay' Katelansky with her work, "The Need To Adorn", on view at the Moore College of Art's Senior Show

My photos don't really do the work justice, but these were the best of the batch that I took. The wall text says in full: "To you the privilege I will not be quiet for your comfort you cannot have this not ever so step the fuck off, baby!"

Since January of this year, I have been acting as an external thesis advisor for Jennifer Katelansky (Jay), who is graduating from Moore College of Art & Design next month. Back in November, I attended an open house event at Moore at the invitation of another Moore student that I used to work with at my job, Stephanie Potter. After visiting Stephanie's studio, I wandered upstairs to the senior studios and wound up having a long conversation with Jay about what she was doing. I was intrigued by some of images that populated Jay's workspace, which included some rough, spare drawings of nude or partially nude black women in various poses, which I later learned were earlier works, while the second work wall was covered, collage-like, with line drawings, books, screen prints, text-based pieces, and photographs. All of these referenced black life from the standpoint of "adornment", which was the basis of Jay's thesis: the use of adornment by African-Americans to stand out visually, as a means of counteracting  negative stereotypes as well as to claim visibility in a society that often seems to want to erase or "whitewash" American history of black culture.

The next evening, I received an email from Jay asking me to be her external thesis advisor (students at Moore are able to choose to have one person from outside of the school to be their thesis advisor, in addition to a Moore instructor). I accepted and thus began a four month journey for both of us that wound up being a challenging, but ultimately very rewarding experience. Working with Jay was a pleasure because she's an engaged thinker, is not afraid of challenging herself nor her audience, is passionate about art-making, and perhaps most importantly, is very open to change and eager to learn. 

For my part, this experience showed me just how much of the practical and experiential knowledge that I've gained over the years I sometimes take for granted and forget about on a conscious level. Like walking or riding a bike, you internalize a lot of information that you can call up at the drop of a hat. In this situation, I not only had to call up that information, I had to also explain it, as well as be conscious of not interfering too much and overlaying my aesthetic ideals over Jay's work. It was important that I respect her vision and still be able to help her with suggestions. I'm sure that this is something that most people who teach art have to deal with all of the time, but this was new to me. I've talked to students in the past and have been a visiting artist, but I've never been in an advisory role for a sustained amount of time. 

All of that has led to this: On Wednesday night (April 24th), the Senior Exhibition at Moore opened and I got to see the completed installation, but the icing on the cake was that she won the "Best of Show" award! I'm very proud of and very happy for her. The past four months were a crucial and challenging time for Jay and her work, but she worked hard came through with a really strong piece that's the start of something great.  Congratulations, Jay!! 

The Moore College of Art Senior Show continues through May 18th, 2013.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Required reading

One of my goals for this year has been to read more often than I have in the recent past. Not only to read new (or new to me) books, but to also FINISH books that I've started to read in past years, but for whatever reason(s), never completed. When it comes to books that I want to read, I get that kind of "Oh, shiiiinnnny..." feeling. I'll hear about something through an interview with an author or will be browsing in a bookstore or check into what people are reading online and want to read almost all of it. Of course, I don't have the time to read everything that I want to at the pace that I want to, or I simply lose interest. A couple of other things figure into my reading issues, as well: 

1) I read more when I had to commute on the subway and buses more often. I'd read while waiting and on the vehicle, ensuring that I covered most of a chapter each way. 

2) I'm a slower reader than I used to be. Probably because I fell out of the habit of reading a lot once I had access to the internet. Now, my challenge is to not only read more, but to make sure that my reading comprehension keeps pace. 

I went through a period over the past couple of years where I was doing a ton of crossword puzzles and doing very little reading of novels or non-fiction. Before that, I was reading books a lot. I suppose that this is something of a cycle with me. What's interesting is that I just looked over at a bookshelf with a pile of half-read books, browsed the titles and my initial feeling is that I'm not as interested those books now as when I first purchased them. However, that is a mental block that I need to get past by just picking up one of them, reading and deciding if I want to finish it. If not, then I'll move on. 

Anyway, all of this is leading to what's below. There are two art-related books that I have been engaged in reading recently. Both are artist biographies separated in time by four centuries. The first review of sorts is about Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting by Dietmar Elger and the second one I am currently reading is Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane by Andrew Graham-Dixon. What's interesting is that I really like the work of both of these artists, and yet, prior to reading these books, I knew very little about, aside from their work and bits of information that I've picked up about them. I know that this might sound odd coming from a painter, but there are a lot of artists whose work I like, but I haven't done a ton of reading about. I think that is what this year is about for me-filling in some of the gaps in my art-historical knowledge. 

The photos accompanying this post are part of a series that I'm calling "After Lunch", where I take photos of the books and other things that I might read or do after I've had my lunch at my job. 

"After Lunch (with Gerhard Richter)"

A while ago, I posted about reading Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting. I finished it almost a month ago and liked it. Of particular interest to me was how he came to develop his signature photographic paintings as well as his later abstractions and reading Gerhard Richter answered a lot of my questions and more. I've followed his work for a number of years, but knew very little about his early life and how his life as a child in WWII Germany and as a student during the Cold War impacted his art making and ambitions. 

In fact, the meatier part of Gerhard Richter is in pulling together the story of his early days. The latter part of the book that focuses on his work in the 70's on seemed to fall a bit flat to me and then suddenly stops. I suppose that's what happens when you read about someone who is still alive and still very active with his work. Another thing that bothered me were the many references to works that were not illustrated in the book, like the many 'Atlas' works that were referenced. Of course, you can easily  search the artist's site for images of those non-illustrated works, but it was still annoying because so many of them were mentioned. With that said, I still recommend Gerhard Richter because it gives a fuller picture of the life and development of a masterful contemporary artist.

"After Lunch (with Caravaggio)"

I'm currently reading Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane, by Andrew Graham-Dixon. I'm about half way through it and, so far, I'm enjoying Graham-Dixon's carefully researched depiction of the life and work of Caravaggio in the 15th and 16th century. AG-D makes use of old and new research about the life of Caravaggio in an effort to fill in the blanks of the turbulent life of this post-Renaissance master. To his credit, the author goes to great lengths to stick with factual information and avoids much of the hearsay that surrounds the short, turbulent, and somewhat mysterious life of Caravaggio. 

The author's ten years of research definitely shows, but he relates this information in a manner that isn't just a dry recitation of facts, but rather moves the reader along into the gritty world that Caravaggio inhabited in a way akin to how Caravaggio sought to bring a stark realism to the religious subjects he painted. AG-D writes in a way that allows the reader to know a great deal about the artist's life and details about his major works. As a result, there are points where you do have to slow down a bit to take it in but, overall, the book moves along without skimping on important details. 

Caravaggio offers not only a vivid depiction of what life was like for artists and others in Counter-Reformation Rome, but it also discusses the painter's major works in detail, particularly the symbolism of almost every object and figure in the paintings discussed in the book. One point that I really like so far, is the author's deliberate avoidance of sensationalism when it comes to the lives of Caravaggio and the people around him. The one problem that I have with this book so far, is the size of the reproductions. Because of the limits in scale and book size, a lot of the details are lost in the darker areas of the reproductions. 

Even though I still have half of the book to read, I highly recommend Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane. It's a very good artist biography that sheds a lot of light on a creative life shrouded in mystery and whose works continue to inspire and influence others across four centuries. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Locked out and lost...

"Late Glow"
Early evening spring light filtering through my studio windows before I took the plastic off for the season.

Locking yourself out of your apartment is bad. Losing your apartment and studio keys is worse. I've done both recently-the latter just this evening. A couple of weeks ago, I locked myself out of my apartment. I realized what had happened just as the tongue of the lock clicked into the groove of the jamb. I'm sure many of you reading this know that awful, sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach as you realize that you've locked yourself out out and there's little that you can do about it. My wife was at work and I'd left my phone inside. There was nothing else to do but to walk over to the realtor's office, only to find that one of their maintenance men had taken ALL of the keys to the rentals so he could inspect the stairway treads. 

One of the agents placed a call to the maintenance man only to connect to his voicemail, so I had to cool my heels and wait. He called back in about 10 minutes and I had to rush back to the apartment in hopes of meeting him. Unfortunately, I'd left my phone in the apartment, so no one could call me in case he arrived before I did. Anyway, I walked as fast as I could and did make it back before he'd arrived. 

One of the most alienating experiences is to not be able to access the place you live in. Even though you have every legal right to be in that place, you can't because you don't have access because you've locked your keys inside the place. As I stood outside the building, a three story row house that had been chopped up into apartments years ago, waiting for the maintenance man to show up, I felt an acute sense of displacement, a feeling that I'm not used to having so close to home. I'm used to getting up the stairs, unlocking the door, shutting it and continuing on to the apartment. Now, I was stuck outside wishing that I could magically turn the doorknob and everything would be ok. After another 5 minutes of waiting, the guy shows up with the keys and I'm left with a HUGE sigh of relief. 

Tonight...oh, tonight was a different story altogether. I'd been in the studio for a little while working when the time came for me to leave to head out to an opening for Amze Emmons over at Works on Paper. The plan was to leave, check out the works, congratulate Amze, hang out, and return to work some more. Well, you know what they say about the best laid of plans. 

I left the gallery, walked over to Barnes & Noble to browse through art magazines, and took the El back to 2nd Street. I get to my studio door, reach down to where the clip is for my keys and they aren't there. "Fuck!" was the most eloquent I was going to be in that moment (and those after). That sinking feeling hit once more and harder this time around. It's one thing to lock yourself out from somewhere, it's whole different thing to actually lose your keys. My apartment, studio, and bike lock keys were all gone. The reason that they were gone is because I had my key holder clipped onto my belt in a different place than usual-more forward than usual. My theory is that I lost them on the subway. The keys must have come unclipped due to pressure from having my bag on my lap. I didn't hear them drop because the seats on the El are covered in plush-like fabric. 

So, I start to retrace my steps, hoping that the keys had dropped on the platform and I didn't hear it because of the noise, but that wasn't the case. If I'd lost them on the actual subway car, then that was a lost cause. Even if someone found them, there's no identifying information on the key rings. Lucky for me, my wife has the other set of keys to the apartment and studio that I can have copied and I have a spare set of bike lock keys. I'm a bit paranoid about losing the new set I'll have and am thinking about all kinds of almost over-the-top ways of insuring that I don't lose them again. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Berries in my boot

Those, my friends, are blueberries. Those are blueberries that fell into my boot. The boot is one of a pair that I wear throughout the winter months in the studio. Those are the blueberries that I did not eat...

Friday, April 05, 2013

Studio 4.03.13: Ephemera

Sometimes, when I'm in the studio my mind drifts into daydreams about some of the stuff in my working environment. This happens far more often than I can count. In these daydreams, I sometimes ponder the potential usefulness of some of the collected ephemera left over from art-making. Most of what I'm thinking about is how the dust, paint-streaked tape, dried paint and random studio items piled together mark different points in the narrative of recent studio life and then wonder if I can make anything worthwhile out of it.

"What should I do with this?" is the constant mental refrain as I'm removing tape from the sides of completed canvases and panels. Most of the time, the answer is "collage", as in converting the blue painter's tape now covered to varying degrees with paint and mediums that have dripped or been scrapped down the sides of paintings into something that might be considered art. I've already embarked on a series of tape and paint collages with the used left-over tape and paint. Some are successful and others, not so much, but main thing is that I took the chance to give these leftovers a second life. It's either that or get rid of it, because some things are just meant to trashed or recycled.

I also look at studio ephemera as part of the on-going narrative of studio life and nothing more. I'll look at a bit of canvas or see the odd sketch on a random piece of paper and remember what I was working on at a particular time. In those moments, I also remember that this recollection of past actions is only relevant to myself and contributes to a personal history that is being built upon with every moment that passes.