Friday, July 8, 2016

Predicting my Future.

This is an examination of my creative process. A proposal to myself of what I plan to do this summer.  Noting my initial expectations before a series of paintings begin and the surprises, disappointments and discoveries that ultimately unfold over time. 

This summer (2016) I plan to make a series of paintings on medium and small canvases. I’ll explore washy (acrylic) pigments as a way to capture subtle detail fluidly, avoiding rigidity. The fluidity of the paint will further emphasize the subject matter.  How fluid are the boundaries between our interior and exterior and between our environment and ourselves?

These paintings will continue to explore my fascination with the figure.  First the figure’s internal spirit’s relation to her external embodiment.  Then the figure’s relation to her context or environment. I’m interested in how these duals interact-the conflicts and communions that continually occur.  How the spirit is materially harnessed and how it immaterially escapes.

The individual’s interior is fluid, transitional and invisible and the exterior is fixed. The weight of the exterior cannot keep pace with the boundless interior. And what if the two do not line up? What if the exterior is not a reflection of the interior? How do we come to terms with the gap? Men and women, young and old, we all to greater or lesser degree feel at odds with our exteriors. A common feeling which most likely accelerates as we grow older. This chronic tension is what interests me.

And troubles me.  Why don’t the two line up automatically? Why must we brand, identify and style ourselves? Why do we care to? Is this superficial, petty, exhausting or futile? Doesn’t the interior spirit exude nonetheless?  As we spend time molding and manipulating our exterior to reflect what we think is a more authentic us who are we fooling?  Ourselves or others?

The figures I paint are female. I paint what it feels to inhabit a female form and the gesture corresponds. More than just feel the feeling I want to see the feeling. Just as a writer writes to know what she thinks.  So I paint to know what I feel.  This gives weight and form to a feeling and therefore importance. Painting suits to record and define a moving unnamed mystery in me. A painting is a fixed visual of my internal invisible spirit and more accurately aligns with my idea of authentic self-expression. More than my physical embodiment can.

This summer I will continue these themes of duality. Starting to focus more on the figure (internal/external combined) in relation to her environment and less on the figure’s spirit’s relation to her physical identity.  The figure will not dominate but be of equal importance to her surroundings.  How fluid will the figures be in their context? How rigid, awkward? As usual the results seen in my painting will most likely be the outcome of my personal developments in life. How free can I be? How much control and protection is necessary and how much is destructive? Where is the boundary between courageous vulnerability and dangerous vulnerability?

Perhaps this proposal is less of a stated prediction of my future production in the studio and more a conscious question.  How will my subconscious answer? The paintings will tell.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Karen Kilimnik Wins at Child’s Play

Karen Kilimnik says f--k you! …with cat stickers. Her recent exhibition at 303 Gallery in New York was hilarious and rebellious.  I love a bombastic Dana Schutz exhibition- don’t get me wrong - but it was refreshing seeing art that was not abiding by Big Boy’s rules.  While Schutz may respond to blows with blows, Kilimnik is staging a sit-in. All artists have the canon ringing in their ears but Kilimnik’s free-spirited artwork reminds viewers that play is the key to creativity. I wish artwork was called artplay.

It’s out of art-world vogue to admit that inspiration has anything to do with making art.  Instead pride is taken in strong work ethic. Perhaps it’s time to revitalize words like inspiration and fun and goofing-off instead of glorifying hard work and grit. Defining art as work-which of course it is-overemphasizes production and achievement rather than the ebb and flow, the ups and downs, the failures and experiments and simple joy of creating: of playing.  Of art-making.  Artwork can define the material production of art but to use it always without interweaving play creates a stagnant imbalance in both artists’ and viewers’ expectations. 

I compare Schutz to Kilimnik because Schutz is any easy bite, playing well within the aesthetic rules we know and know to love- grand scale, clever, complicated composition and powerful color and gesture. Kilimnik’s paintings in contrast seem underworked, washed-out, simple and anticlimactic. Too pretty and benign to be rebellious. But the act is courageous, in a “Frankly, I don’t give a damn” fashion.   Kilimnik’s glittering paintings and sticker sprinkled collages reintroduce free-spirited whimsy by opening what the viewer sees to questions and doubts of - is this good, is this valid, is this finished? A fresh reminder that art involves more than just finished product.  The product is merely a transparent container for the spirit that fills it.

The exhibition of Karen Kilimnik inspired me because it was spirit-heavy and product-light. To make Art that is grandiose, flashy or compositionally sound is not interesting to me because it is not an authentic expression of the human experience.  Where are the flaws, the failures, the struggles? Kilimnik’s art was small but forthright. What was there was laughing and pleasurable and honest. It sparkled, literally. Ultimately I believe that worthy art is authentic art. To authentically express takes time and dedication to peel away layers of adult and become child again. But more importantly it takes courage, to allow yourself to be vulnerable enough to be seen. No clever tricks or fancy tools to mask flaw or fragility or strange originality.

How brave can I be - Kilimnik style? Do I have the courage to put cat stickers on my paintings? The canon is a point of tension in my mind, lurking and judging and comparing. Pointing its’ finger to say - it’s not big enough, it’s not worked enough, it’s not clever enough. Do I have the courage to paint in a way that the canon has not deemed worthy? The wrestling match in my mind grounds my art practice, motivating my drive to strengthen my game. To win at artplay.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Tarot Cards

I titled my latest series of paintings Tarot Cards.  Though I know very little about Tarot I am interested in their relationship to Archetypes.   Jung believed that archetypes were universally and innately understood. That all of us, no matter our culture or education had an inert familiarity to these collection of traits embodied in various mythological figures. Supposedly the Major Arcana of the Tarot deck is based on Archetypes. 

My intention in this series was to allow the process to be the content.  I don’t conceptually premeditate paintings anyway, but the shift here was allowing the process of painting to become focal instead of peripheral. I chose to work on a modest size - 18 x 24 inches of 30 to 40 canvases.  The repetition is journalistic. By starting a new painting every studio session it became a visual record of my unconscious.

After posting some of these paintings on Instagram a friend of mine, who studies Tarot, commented that certain paintings reminded her of specific cards. The Tarot cards she suggested were aligned with what I was feeling/thinking during the time of painting. This confirmed my painting practice as a way for my unconscious mind to communicate with my conscious mind, personally as well as collectively. The images were figurative, mostly singular and somehow totemic.

My source material and inspiration is fashion photography.  Models can be viewed as contemporary versions of mythological figures or gods and goddesses.   Just as models are an exaggerated visual expression of current societal ideals so too are Archetypes and Mythological gods.

The Tarot series and my paintings in general depict my personal ‘Hero Journey’. Pictorially displaying my process of untangling emotions intertwined with contextual identity and self-discovery. Through Tarot Cards we seek objective illumination of our inner struggles and triumphs, finding security knowing that we are not lost on our journey nor are we alone.   

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Ugly love for Louis C.K.

Why do I like to watch Louis C.K.? I need to write it out because every time I tell my friends I fumble on a worthwhile reason. It is worth watching in the way that Lena Dunham’s “Tiny Furniture” is worth watching. And Sheila Heti’s book “How a Person Should be” is worth reading. Because it exposes the UGLY.

It is appropriate for a backlash of this sort to come about with the overuse of photoshop to create visual human perfections. One recent subway ride I stood behind a young boy as he learned how to use Photoshop to erase the lines around an eye and pores on a cheek. The step-by-step process was a step-by-step slide into my morning depression. Why spend time doing this? Learning how to do this? Why is this a high demand job? Why is it even a job? The exposure of our frailties hold a weak link that is a powerful opportunity to connect to others. It shows that we need one another and are not perfectly suited to go it alone.

Louis C.K. pronounces his ugly more than we want to hear. But the force of it, the exaggeration of it is what makes it art. It separates it from the day-to-day mini-doubts that are our realities and not so hilarious. The glaring ugly that Louis exposes is what sticks in our minds as an abstract notion of dirty human-what we all are. But...and of course there has to be a but, because dirty human is not enough. Dirty human is pathetic and a hopeless dead-end.

But Louis C.K. contrasts his UGLY with sublime. Little moments of dripping love show through. These are not grand or glorified, they catch you unaware, that is why they are sublime. And the moments are about love. They are about love for life, love for strangers, when it is awkward and socially clunky, love for ones’ children, messy and unconditional. Sexy, slippery, yucky, mojo love, brotherly love, sisterly love, motherly love, scared love, fearless love, love from behind and straight ahead, in the peripheral and far away.  This is why the UGLY is acceptable, because there is, when you get to the real grit of being human, so much LOVE.

Breathing (city vs. country)

I wrote the following for an application to a residency in the French countryside.
I’m posting it because it expresses my current thoughts about where I am literally located, New York and also where I am in my artistic practice.

I am a painter, living in Manhattan, New York. The city that is famously stimulating and motivating but notoriously overwhelming. I am currently living in New York because I want the energy of the city to influence my work. Contemporary city society attacks our sensitive and vulnerable selves, forcing us to build shields of protection. I am interested in the complex nature of this challenge on the individual. How it creates an identity of superficial truth.

Here there is an obsession with the new and finding the unknown. People flock to New York to put a finger on the pulse, an ear to the ground. This is not a mental strain but an instinctual strain. Authentic engagement with a place comes from one’s presence in it. I trust my unconscious to be smarter than my thoughts, so I consciously place myself somewhere to soak up my surroundings, for better of for worse. My artwork deals with façade and how we present ourselves to the world in a physical, seeable way and also in a spiritual, invisible way. New York or any city, confronts us with a dualistic conflict of ourselves as vulnerable and powerful just by walking down the street.

But I crave time away from the ambitious speed. I crave long time for the freedom of long thoughts. Sometimes in the city the short spurts at which information flies at you causes a breakdown in personalized thought patterns. So consumed we are with catching the information which flies at us incessantly.  I need time to stop playing catch long enough so I can find time and build strength to throw the ball back.

At Camac I look forward to an opportunity to feel relief from the attack of the city. To look at my surroundings without feeling anyone looking back. The natural world is soothing in mysterious ways one cannot predict. I would like to visit Camac with the same method of conscious self-placement with the intention of receptivity to my surroundings. Safety is important in allowing oneself to be receptive. I find the natural world and a lower volume of humanity gives me this safety. At Camac I plan to listen beyond the ambitious NYC soundtrack.

My painting is concerned with the invisible and visible of an individual, particularly a female. In the city appearance is important and in an age of blogging and googling the image has taken an even more central place in how as individuals we navigate ourselves in the world. My previous painting series has dealt with issues of protection in the loosely archetypal guises a woman may choose to utilize, (femme fatale, pin-up grrrl, urban warrior, beauty/beast, #Goddess) within the idealizations found on glossy pages of contemporary fashion magazines.  I paint from fashion photography, reacting to the image with the subconscious-friendly practice of painting, which expresses my conflicting responses to a contemporary city climate.

Previously I have used the exterior as a vehicle to express the interior, now I am interested in using the interior to reveal the exterior. While still painting from fashion magazines I now allow myself to more freely extend beyond the reference material.  I view the Camac residency as a place where I can further explore the interior world because I will have less distraction from the external. I sometimes fear the sentimentality of visually tying nature to an interior landscape, but when I pair the natural world with the artificial world of fashion, seeking similarities and contrasts, I hope to go beyond the stereotype. I am still exploring female identity as seen and felt in contemporary society, though not limiting it to the stunted superficiality of fashion  seen only on the exterior. At Camac I want to allow nature and unseen magic to enter the equation.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Nothing GRAND, just of the moment.

The film, Pina, directed by Wim Wenders makes you cry, but makes you laugh more. This documentary exhibits the results of Pina Bausch, an artist courageous enough to search deep for personal truth. Attempts, brutal and desperate, are what it means to be human and these attempts are never perfect, rarely beautiful and often times awkward, futile and silly. But ultimately, in Bausch’s hands, these attempts are visual gold in spite of themselves, because their honesty touches the brink between joy and sorrow, confusing viewers as to whether to laugh or to cry.

Pina Bausch and Wim Wenders were originally intending to collaborate on this film. But because of Bausch’s sudden death before filming it ended up being an eulogy to her. There is a fresh sadness to the film seen through interviews with the dancers and their dealings with the unexpected tragedy.

The film was discreet concerning Bausch’s personal life and herself as an artistic personality. This was her wish in the collaboration with Wenders. There were no interviews, only quick images and video clips of Bausch. But those few glimpses were captivating. When she was young there was cunning in her eyes and her smile was sexy with irony. Then when she was older, with a face of defining lines, she had kindness in her eyes and openness in her smile.

But the documentation was created to focus on dance. Knowing nothing about Bausch, we are left with the bare bones of dancers who knew her and what she created through their movement. According to a few of their accounts she was a careful listener, commanding respect with an aloof air of seeing to the core of people. She uncovered and revealed bits and pieces from her dancers that they did not know they possessed. She was a facilitator. Bausch created dance out of exasperation with words because it allows meaning to exist without the limitation of one definition at a time.

Pina starts with the 3-D effect in great use. Swooping in on the male and female dancers (who are barefoot on a stage of fresh soil) getting close to the distinct faces, whom we later meet individually. Wenders has an affinity for a dark circus and the opening scene reminds viewers who is directing. The dancers are wet with sweat and dirt and the camera exaggerates the strange in the dancers faces and muscled, nearly naked bodies. This opening dance was abrasive to watch because of violent, self-inflicted gestures that were repeated in mass until the dancers looked bloody and beat, though it was only sweat and soil and they were their own perpetrators. The collective groups, separated into genders, seemed like an army, but instead of directing the violence outward, it was self-inflicted.

The thing that Bausch and Wenders share is an affinity for the grotesquely beautiful. The swiveling of hips in a simultaneously seductive and ridiculous way. The sexy and the silly. The old and the young. The constructed and the natural. Wenders highlights Bausch’s sentiment by weaving his typically outstanding musical selection through spliced moments of dance and interview. Wenders loves to take intimate, private moments to public places. And infuse everyday, normal activity with magic, whimsy, humor and sadness at the same time. These overlapping meanings point to life the way poetry does, without stating exactly, but hinting at the essential.

What struck me immediately about Bausch’s dance was her bold inclination to expose human futility, with humor and pain. The pitiful, willful trying humans do everyday was shown over and over in different dances. A body smacking face first into a wall. Falling, to get back up to fall again and again and again and again. To grossly generalize it can be said that life is encapsulated in these repeated scenes of silly, but silliness for awesome’s sake.

Beautiful free-flowing hair is a Bausch trademark (like trains for Wenders). The women’s loose long hair is at once beautiful and distracting. It gets sweaty and sticks to their faces. They must be aware of it and where it will fall, using it as another limb. Yet it is just one more obstacle for the dancers to encounter and try to surmount. Like dancing through water, or on wet stones, in soil, grass, close to a deep abyss, with other’s bodies or ultimately just with one’s own, the goal of course is an attempt to succeed. Yet what we see when we watch Bausch’s dance is failed attempts, over and over. That is certainly not the pretty package of success but it is beautiful and laughable and livable truth.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Bryn McConnell: Looked

by Rena Silverman Feb 29, 2012

Bryn McConnell at her studio. Photo by Rena Silverman.

Bryn McConnell’s studio door is decorated with a clean grid of inspirations. One piece of construction paper reads, Everything is an experiment, while Art ‡ Democracy, Kunst ‡ Kultur, ART = Humpty Dumpty, ART = YUMMY YUMMY—the words of the German painter Jonathan Meese—mark a small poster. There are fashion ads and post-its, a magazine tear-out of the choreographer Trisha Brown, and just above the door’s handle a small white paper that says, go too far and get messy. On the right, a long, narrow white desk holds a diet coke can, an iPhone, a desk lamp, a bottle of Advil, clear glasses, a copy of John Richardson’s Life of Picasso, The Cubist Rebel, and the wings of an open magazine. Across the SoHo studio—which can’t be more than 300 square feet—two large canvases of brightly colored figures hang from a low ceiling and dominate the room like a pair of eyes.

Bryn McConnell just had her first solo exhibition at the Frontrunner Gallery in early February.Titled Looked, the exhibition featured six paintings of iconic women, each of which McConnell made in the last two years. Linear brushstrokes dipped in vivid colors zigzag about in short rhythmic motions, just barely coming together to form the figures and faces that dominate the frame. Five out of six of these paintings were taken from her Re: self-reflection/refraction/reflexion series.

“These paintings struggle, with grace, to combine the sometime conflicting worlds of the individual’s exterior and interior,” writes McConnell in the exhibition’s press release. “The Form vs. The Formless. The Conscious vs. The Unconscious. The Seen vs. The Unseen. The Identity vs. The Spirit. It’s a battle with the self, in varying degrees of pretty brutality.”

McConnell’s exhibition opened just weeks after Willem de Kooning’s retrospective closed at the Museum of Modern Art, where a whole other set of six women hung in the center of the museum’s 17,000 square foot exhibition. De Kooning’s women started off as figures blending into backgrounds of abstraction and later became what Artinfo recently described as, “a tornado of paint barely contained by the picture frame.”

McConnell, on the other hand, uses Impressionist strokes and a Fauvist palette⁠1 to create female figures who thrive in individual environments. Willem de Kooning curved, swished, and attacked his canvas with heavy brushstrokes of oil paint (“Flesh was the reason oil paint was invented,” he once said, famously). McConnell chops, turns, and leaps across her canvas with the lighter lines of acrylic paint (in a 2010 Blog entry about Georgia O’Keeffe, McConnell wrote, “I curse whoever introduced [O’Keeffe] to oil.”)But—like De Kooning—McConnell can paint a ferocious eye.

Take, Re: Les Demoiselles de Miroir, for example. Here, a woman walks towards us, leaving two sharp reflections behind her. A pale green diagonal line runs down her face, highlighting one harsh, visible eye (the other is fashionably concealed by the dip of her hat). With a piercing gaze, she looks more at us than we do at her. Cold, confident, and draped in royal purple, the woman nearly breaks through the facade of the frame with her gaze.

The title of McConnell’s painting is just one of five that incorporates contemporary communication (“Re:” referencing the subject line of an email reply), but this one also alludes to Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907). Scholars consider this painting, which features five nudes in a brothel—four standing, three masked—the “first exorcism painting.⁠2“Perhaps McConnell’s clever spoof on the title for her own painting, Re: Les Demoiselles de Miroir (Re:The Young Ladies of the Mirror), suggests that a mirror can be just as threatening for a woman as a brothel.

In Re: Narcissister, a woman, presumably seated (although her legs are not in the frame)—with her back straight up against the right edge—bows her head over a large, round mirror, like a wilted flower. Drawn first to the top where her profile lingers, our eyes follow the woman’s gaze down a single trail of thin green paint, which dips into the mirror, revealing a full view of the woman’s face. Here, two bright aquamarine eyes pop, consuming us. We find ourselves devoured by the woman’s reflection, just as she too is by her own. Reds, blues, greens, and alternating streaks of white and black form the fabrics and hair of this woman. The background is a dark deviation from the incorporated palette of Les Fauves and the Impressionist strokes.

In Re: Self-Rejection, a woman is lying down on a bed of ribbed red, knees bent to the side, hair and head thrust to the back. Two dark high heels are the closest thing to our point of view. Perhaps she is somewhere tropical, or maybe on a roof of a Manhattan apartment, or far away in the South of France. We do not see her face, only her body, which, shaped like a receding figure-five, folds backwards into an expression of pain.

Re: Odalisque is what the title suggests, but in vibrant yellows and fiery reds. The “odalisque”—historically the lowest form of a female slave in a harem, often the sultan of Turkey—began as a fantasy subject in the erotic paintings of Orientalism, but became the widely adopted subject matter of 19th and 20th century French artists, most famously Matisse, who arranged an “Oriental” alcove for inspiration.⁠3

The largest painting and perhaps central force of McConnell’s exhibition, titled, Weight, is the only painting taken from her 2010 series, DELETE, in which she chose to obliterate figures with “slash-like” brush strokes. This distinguishable, white, 60×72 inch painting shows a woman lying down wearing nothing but boots, holding a bouquet of flowers.

Bryn McConnell was born just outside of Seattle, Washington to a political cartoonist father and a clinical psychologist mother. “I knew I would either be an artist or a psychologist,” says McConnell. She tried both at Western Washington University, but when it became apparent that art was the better route, she transferred to Pratt in New York. At the end of college, she’d fallen in love for the first time. She had discovered the work of Ree Morton. She gained confidence, and her paintings earned a more whimsical touch. After graduating, Bryn moved to the Czech Republic where she began her career as an artist. It was at this time in Prague that Bryn founded the concept that underlies her current exhibition. “Hiding behind a facade,” she says, “or a figure masked by fashion provided inspiration,” an idea she attributes to living in a foreign country and not knowing the language. McConnell says that she reconciled this problem by using appearance to “declare uniqueness,” in order to “socially present something on the inside.”

In 2008, McConnell returned to New York to earn her Masters at the School of Visual Arts. In 2010, she moved into her studio on Greenwich Street. One year later, McConnell was painting in her studio during an open studio tour, when Edward Symes, co-founder of the Frontrunner gallery in TriBeCa walked in. “We were extremely impressed with her work,” Symes says in a recent phone interview. “It fits in with what we are interested in, which is emerging artists who haven’t had solo show yet, people with a pretty clear social message.” He says. “If you start to look closely you see little hints that allow for a greater understanding of what is just beneath.”

For the closing exhibition party at the Frontrunner Gallery on a February 2nd, McConnell participated in a 13-minute staged piece with the Push Pops, a Bushwick-based performance group led by Katie Cercone and Elisa Garcia de la Huerta. According to their Go! Push Pops website, the Push Pops are a “radical, queer feminist art collective…geared towards engendering ‘Embodied Feminism’…[and] concerned with the expenditure and conservation of the self in relation to the Other.” Ms. Cercone and Ms. Garcia show this by adding a third libero member to vary each performance. On February 2nd, Bryn McConnell was that member.

“The main thing I could contribute [to the collective] would be my concept,” says McConnell, who originally described the group as “Feminist Dada,” one that in performance “usually ends up getting aggressive or somehow a little bit explosive.” The February performance took place against the back-drop of McConnell’s paintings. A triangle made of tape marked each of the girls’ places, where they walked out with scissors and chopped off pieces of each other’s clothes, drawing on each other’s faces with bright pink-red lipstick. At one point, McConnell, who was originally dressed in lacy black skirt, barely had more than a bra and rags on, while the other members had lipstick all over their faces. But somehow it worked. At times, the girls even looked like McConnell’s paintings had come to life.

Bryn McConnell lives in Hells Kitchen and aims for the 11pm-7am sleep schedule. In the mornings she goes to the studio; in the afternoons deals with the “computer stuff”. Yet, no matter what, she finds time to write for half an hour everyday, “Even when it is boring.” A habit learned from her “bible,” The Artist’s Way. “It is good for me to write about what I watch and experience,” she says. “It helps me understand what I am doing in my own work. “

In evenings, you can find her at the gym, spinning or yoga class: “I get really good ideas in spin class sometimes.” Sometimes, however, it’s just about doing nothing, an idea she learned from reading a profile on Marlene Dumas, the South-African born artist and painter who stressed the reality of limitation of the human body and the psychological value of doing nothing. “If I hammer out work day to day it just ends up looking like work,” says McConnell.

McConnell does not like to paint in front of others. Only once, while pursuing “Alice Neel-style” portraits of her friends, did she do it. “I am definitely extremely protective of my alone time to paint,” she says. “It is a heavy weight for me to be seen, which is probably why the content of my work deals with façade!” Lately, however, her curiosities have shifted from fashion-as-facade. “My interest of late is more with older women,” says Bryn, “Women whose power and strength, beauty and sexuality exudes even through faded and wrinkled flesh.”

McConnell, who has not been to her studio in over a month, worries that she will forget how to paint. At the same time, she says it isn’t worth getting too regimented. “Creativity is like looking at the sun, you can’t look at it directly,” she says. “I look instead where the light falls.”

1. King, Sally, interview by Rena Silverman, 27 January, 2011, New York, NY.

2. The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 64.

3. Odalisque, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art Terms. by Michael Clarke and Deborah Clarke. Oxford University Press Inc. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. The New York Society Library. 12 February 2012.