Artist(s) of the Day #70: Hans and Gieves

Visual and musical Arts have had their parallels throughout history. In recent history there has been the relations between Jazz and abstract expressionism. Go back a little further and one can see that the inspiration of both was coming from the same place in religion. But we haven’t paid much attention to how similar they can be when it comes to execution, and in no place is this more palpable than when there is a collaboration of two creative minds. Recently I found myself giving this unique concept a closer glance as I spent some time looking at the work of Hans  Schmitt-Mazen and Gieves Anderson.

Their most recent exhibition of works at Like the Spice gallery in Brooklyn is appropriately entitled Cross-Reference. It illustrates how fluid and organic their work has become after over 10 years of working together. They were brought together over common interests, sensibilities, and of course, geographic location. Despite their very European sounding names, they are both American lads, having met in college at ­­­­­­­­­­­­Middle Tennessee State University, and have since built a relationship over photographs, gestural painting strokes, and of course, libraries.

Early on, much like a young Kurt Cobain and Chris Novaselic meeting in a gagare for their first jam session, their collaboration wasn’t as fluid, but that doesn’t make it any less important or interesting. At first their works were pretty much starting from Hans’ photographs, and Gieves would fill in with paint, what he felt the image needed, and they both happened to like the end result. Over the years this process evolved quite a bit. It is more cyclical. But the strange part is they don’t actually work anywhere near each other. Gieves is in Brooklyn, and Hans has his studio in Tennessee. So maybe early members of Nirvana isn’t the best analogy. Their collaboration is more like that of Ben Franklin and  Thomas Jefferson when they corresponded back and forth about how to organize a government through written letters carried on horseback and boat. Hans and Gieves had it a little easier with e-mail, but it was still quite the process. It makes me wonder how artistic collaboration is going to continue to change, mutate, and progress alongside the progression of technology.

I have looked at a decent amount of collaborative work before, and it rarely holds this kind of rhythm. It often looks more like two different pieces stapled together, instead of one uniform idea. It is like they are no longer two separate creative forces, but one two-headed, four-armed, mythical creature that has come here to create fascinating images for us to meditate upon. Both artists do work individually but say they try to put the shared work first, they simply get restless in the time between when they can get together for a session. I would be interested in seeing an exhibition of their work that they have done individually and collaboratively to really put some thought into what happens in that crossing of their ideas. Perhaps all in due time.

artist of the day #69: Lizzy Waronker

There is something magical about creating a relationship between multiple objects that were never originally intended to meet. Our preconceived idea about each gets shifted a bit and we are brought into something new. Lizzy Waronker is one part found object sculptor, one part installation artist, and one part story maker.

Her use of found objects often adds a specific kind of mood to her work. Everything feels gritty, like it has an intricate past to it. It doesn’t feel old, as much as it feels experienced. And it doesn’t feel dirty as much as it feels mistreated. They would all certainly be much different pieces if the individual pieces were taken straight out of their original package. There also seems to be some specific kinds of objects that she likes to work with. In multiple pieces I see body parts from dolls, birds, or more specifically, crows, small glass containers, and padlocks. With this I see a number of themes through her creations. I see a lot of isolation, separation, and bewilderment.

Lizzy Waronker (what a strange last name, I feel tongue tied just writing it) is certainly creating vast worlds on a small scale. She typically works no larger than a jewelry box but manages to create another existence, a universe where all of these strange objects have a reason to interact. For example, in her piece Incident at Box-Nail, I start to put together a whole story in my head to explain why these people have gathered together, why these giant body parts are on display, and what does the giant hand above them all symbolize.

And I say Lizzy is a story maker because many of her pieces seem to be about a specific event. She gives all of her pieces very well thought out titles that I feel are her way of giving us some sort of a hint as to what she might have been thinking about. For example, a title like Bus Station, instantly makes one think about a traditional bus station in our world, and then about how this new object might relate to that definition. Ms. Waronker is definitely asking more questions than answering.

See more of her work at: http://www.lizzywaronker.com/

artist of the day #68: Shintaro Ohata

Many artist work in both 2 and 3-d but rarely do that work in both at the same time, and never have I seen it done as powerfully and seamlessly as with Japanese artist Shintaro Ohata. His vibrant sculptures meld so well with his lively paintings, it can often be hard to tell that they are separate. I would almost classify his work as being 2.5-d. Also, there is a real sense of warmth to his work. Ohata’s mastery at working with light really makes his pieces come to life.

The pieces are very emotional. He seems to often play with the theme of solitude. Many of the pieces depict one person in a great big busy city and almost never looking toward the viewer or anyone else in the painting. When there is more than one person, they aren’t relating to each other what so ever. The most interaction in any of his pieces is between a little girl and a cat. Also, as real as his pieces feel, he seems to want to play with some level of fiction and fantasy. A few of his pieces have characters that seem to be part animal, or some sort of new species. His work to me is playful yet highly emotional. Each piece comes off like a scene from a movie. And the designs of his characters seem to take influence from both Japanese cartoons and impressionist paintings. Even though they are sculptures they look as though they were made out of sploches of paint.

Unfortunately I can’t attest to what these are like to see n real person. They are currently exhibiting in Tokyo and I spent too much money on skee-ball and temporary tattoos to fly over and check it out. If they are this lively in a photograph, I am sure it is quite the sight in person.

artist of the day#67: Brian Froud

I decided to keep with a theme and talk about another artist who had a big impact on cult classic movies of the 80’s. Brian Froud is one of the most worshipped concept artists of our generation. His work and vision is largely responsible for the look and feel of the films Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal. Think of it this way, he was good enough to inspire Jim Henson. That’s like being the being the guy who made Jimi Hendrix want to pick up a guitar. It means something. These are two films that were created almost thirty years ago and have built armies of fans based on their visual appeal. Even with all of the advances in technology since then, few movies can even be considered to leave as powerful of a visual benchmark.

Froud’s attention to detail and ability to create a mystical realm have earned him the praise of being perhaps the most talented fantasy artist on the planet. His ability to put so much personality into his images easily comes from his passion for the subject matter. Froud considers himself one of the world’s experts on both faerie and goblin lore, not only knowing how they should look, but how they should live. He is said to draw much of his inspiration from Dartmoor, an area of preserved national park in south Devon, England. Dartmoor is home to a mix of lush greens, mysterious rock formations, and strange forests that are often mirrored in Froud’s work. The characters in Froud’s work manage to have a flood of weirdness with a touch of vulnerability. For example, the goblins he has become so well known for drawing are often disgusting, disproportionate, dirty creatures, but they manage to hold a level of sincere sensitivity. I think if Froud has a flaw, I feel he might be unable to create a character you don’t like on some level. This is something that I think comes from the love of what he does. Passion and appreciation goes in, passion and appreciation comes out.

Since his work as a concept artist, Froud has stayed busy. He has illustrated a pile of books and graphic novels and even a deck of cards for Oracle. He has apparently done concept art for a sequel to The Dark Crystal, though a future for these ideas is very unclear. He maintains a home in study just outside of the area that inspires him so much in Devon, England.

Artist of the Day #66: Ralph Bakshi

I have never quite understood this idea that some people have held that cartoons are for children. I mean they can be for sure, but why would anyone think they are for them exclusively? I mean after all, every cartoon you see is made by adults, wouldn’t they want to make something for themselves?  This is not a question that has just come up in the last handful of years with shows like South Park and the slew of mature content found on Adult Swim. Adult themed cartoons have been around since at least the 70’s and perhaps one of the greatest pioneers for the genre was a guy named Ralph Bakshi. Bakshi came from a generation of psychadelic and innovative trouble-makers that helped to change the way people thought about animation. It was not only the content of Bakshi’s work that made people turn their heads, it was his methods.

Ralph aggressively made a name for himself as an animator at a young age. He went from inker to animator at his first job with Terrytoons by claiming an empty desk and asking for things to animate. By 25 he was directing entire shows. He began to push for adult content in his work in 1972 when he adapted Richard Crumb’s Fritz the Cat into a film. It gained him some critical acclaim, which allowed him to take on more projects. One of his most celebrated works was the cult classic Wizards. Wizards conceptually took on heavy subjects like the Nazi regime, and visually tried experimental animation and film techniques like incorporating live footage into traditional animation. This is a method he would continue to experiment with. He went on to make animated versions of The Lord of the Rings series long before Peter Jackson made his big-budget behemoths.

Bakshi went on to direct a handful of other movies such as Hey, Good Looking, American Pop, Fire & Ice, and Coonskin. None of which were huge commercial successes, but all of which caused controversy and introduced new ideas. The biggest in recent enough history was the film Cool World in 1991. Even though doesn’t do much animation these days, he is staying actively creative by painting. He holds a strong population of loyal fans and has influenced a generation of animators. And as long as he is still alive and kicking, he will be looking for ways to surprise us.

 

Even though I think you should watch the whole film, two minutes is enough to see that way back in 1977, Bakshi was doing something different: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCwgQFOEHC0&feature=relmfu

Artist of the Day #65: Alice Pasquini

Graffiti can be aggressive, it can be daring, it can be gritty, but most people wouldn’t say it can be sensitive and even comforting. Well that is the unique little niche that Italian street artists Alice Pasquini is working to fill. She is working on the same canvas as other street artists, but her subject matter and themes tend to be very different than most. She is often depicting couples in loving repose, children at play, or any individuals in a tranquil state. Where other street artists might aim to be shockingly controversial, Pasquini can be shockingly warm and relatable. Her style looks like panels taken directly out of a comic book, and with that sense, I feel looking at her work has you building plots and dialogue around the characters she depicts. She also tends to work with a similar color palette in all of her work that helps to create a sense of connectivity where you can see all of her subjects living in the same parallel universe as each other.

Alice Pasquini lives in Rome and has been spreading her work all over Europe and slowly the world. She has gotten the most attention for her street art, but has also done a lot of work as an illustrator, including work on a graphic novel called Vertigine ed Rizzoli. In her own words “I create art about people and their relationships, I’m interested in representing human feelings and exploring different points of view. I especially like to depict strong and independent women.” One thing I find interesting about her work is Alice seems to work in broad daylight and get no harassment from police or the public. I don’t know if this is because her work is so welcoming, or just that Europe has different views on graffiti altogether. Whatever it is, it seems to work, and we need more of it in the world. To quote another street artist, Mr. Keith Haring, “The public needs art, and it is the responsibility of a ’self-proclaimed artist’ to realize the public needs art, and not to make bourgeois art for the few and ignore the masses.” So much thanks to Alice Pasquini and her fulfillment of this basic calling.

 

Artist of the Day #63: Ralph Baer

I know most of the individuals I have written about here are of the very traditional visual Art world, but once in a while I like to throw out the occasional entry that people are going to question. I believe there are lines to be drawn, but I think everyone needs to have their own when it comes to what they define as “Art.” To me, the work of Ralph Baer, has had more of an effect on me as an artist and as an individual than any one painter I could name. But I wouldn’t expect everyone to say this.

Ralph Baer is commonly known as the grandfather of video games. He created the first video game device that you could use at home, the Magnavox Odyssey. This is where, for the first time, people could play the legendary Pong in the comfort of their own home. This wasn’t the first video game period, but it was certainly the beginning of video games becoming a cultural phenomenon, and it started way back in 1966.

Now, almost 50 years later, Baer is approaching 90 and is still playing around with circuit boards and how they can be used to make something fun. Aside from the Odyssey, Baer is responsible for inventing the “light gun” technology that has been used in games like Duck Hunt and Time Crisis. He has invented a library of different electronic toys outside of the video game world as well. His most famous is easily, the four-colored memory game known as Simon.

Now even though I don’t find time for video games like I used to, they were a huge part of my growing up. Video games was one of the first things I became deeply fascinated by to the point of research. I remember getting into heated arguments with other kids at the age of 11 over why I thought the Super Nintendo was better than the Sega Genesis. I made friends based on their level of interest in video games and which ones they liked or disliked. And as much as some people want to condemn video games for their use of violence, I think some credit needs to be given for the morals they can teach as well. Yeah sure I had good parents, but I also think I turned out semi-decent is because I had good role models like Link, Mario, and Cloud Strife to look after as well. I mean if Link can save Zelda from Gannon for the 17th time, I think I can hold the door for the old lady at the super market.

So I think it is awesome that someone like Baer refuses to stop when everyone expects him to. He has found something that he loves and seems to live for. Not only do I think he is an artist, I think he helped to create an Art form. Now video games are making more money than movies and people around the world are speaking the same language. Now “ÝÝßßÜÞÜÞB A SELECT START,” is understood in more countries than “hello.” Follow the link below for a really cool short biography video of this digital legend.

 

http://www.theatlantic.com/video/archive/2012/03/the-father-of-video-games-reflects-on-his-40-year-old-invention/254408/

Artist of the Day#62: Bert Simmons

A big focus of many video games is their ability to make graphics in the game look like real life. This ability started to really take off when designers got their hands on 3-D modeling software. This enables them to develop aspects of a shape from different angles in a fully 3-D environment. Not only has this technology been used on video games, it is used in all of the popular digitally animated movies that are making billions of dollars. Well one interesting artist, Bert Simmons, decided he was going to use these same resources, and sort of reverse engineer it towards making something in the real world.

The finished pieces of Art are very life-like, even with their slight geometric distortions. To me, the fact they aren’t perfect, makes them more human and approachable, more playful. And one of the things that I really like about his work, is that Simmons is very revealing about his process. He isn’t trying to make it seem like he was granted some sort of mystical powers on a mountain top, he shows you how he did it. It is very inspiring in my opinion. On his website, he even gives you the resources and instructions to build your own Bert Simmons sculpture at home. Simmons says the “clone” sculptures were his answer to a mid-life crisis. Now there are Bert Simmonses all over the planet that will never die.

So where did this idea come from? His website is in Dutch, and google translate isn’t good enough yet, so it’s hard to get his point of view, if he even shares it. So I will give you my theory. I think Bert spent too many hours trying to make things look real on various 3-D modeling programs, that he just snapped and wanted to make something that he could actually hold and touch. It is that important break in sanity that so much artistic inspiration owes credit to. Why should I make this digital image look like real life, when I can make real life look like a digital image instead?

Artist of the day #61: Andrew Masullo

I have been trying to not let myself off with weak answers to the why’s, how’s and what’s of the art I look at. I wanted to say I like the work of Andrew Masullo because it is fun and simple and has interesting colors, but I think it is more complex than that. I think in a lot of ways, it comes down to me as an individual. I say this because I think he is an artist I don’t necessarily expect other people to like, and I certainly don’t expect them to like him for the reasons I do.

The first and possibly biggest reason I like him, is because it reminds me of work I enjoy doing from time to time. Sometimes I find it fun to just to just play with colors and different geometric shapes. I find it relaxing to keep things clean, with sharp edges, and no blending of colors, just solid fields.  If you haven’t tried it you should, it’s cheaper than therapy and probably more effective. So when I look at his paintings I think of an artist of a kindred spirit, someone who thinks like I think. I also find aspects of his work funny. He works in oils, but he never blends his colors, somehow ignoring the main reason most artists choose to work in oils. Also, the images he creates could be created in moments on drawing programs as simple as Microsoft Paint, but he chooses to work with the physical paint to make something real.

The last main reason I like him, is he works on modest sized canvases, rarely bigger than 20 inches in any dimension. If you can fit an interesting idea and concept into something you can hold with one hand, why not. As the artist himself puts it, “I like the idea that I can carry around an entire exhibit with me in a duffle bag.” There are too many artists I come across where the only thing I find interesting in their work is the size of the canvas. It is trying to compensate in physical size for what it lacks in conceptual depth. This is surely not to say that giant paintings can’t be great, but there should just be more to a work of Art than its enormity.

Masullo doesn’t want you to use the word “abstract” when talking about his pieces, his work is non-conceptual. He does not begin with looking at things from real life, and then distort them onto the canvas. He is creating a world of rules and ideas all unto its own. These rules might seems senseless, but there is a sense of order in his paintings, it’s not chaos. It has this balance of random order like so many other things we come across in life; the flow of traffic, crowds on subways, or weather patterns. These are situations that the lines between random occurrence and calculated patterns, to me anyhow, seem split down the middle.

Not sure what else to say, and maybe that’s lazy of me, but there’s a good point or two in there right? Anyhow, a chunk of Masullo’s work can be seen as a part of this year’s Whitney Biennial. Check it out, or go out and buy some paint and copy it, or go get a haircut you damn hippie.

Artist of the Day #60: Reuben Negron

The human figure is the most common subject in the visual art world. It is something probably every artist has attempted at some point in their career and/or training. It continues to challenge both the painter and the patron. And it being such a common subject it can point out the most subtle differences between one artist and another. Two artists from the same town, who went to the same school, and handed the same set of paints to paint the same person, will give you wildly different results. Personally, it is something I struggle with quite a bit, so when I see it done well, I am quite intrigued. So when I came across the work of Reuben Negron, I was very intrigued. His work was not only technically impressive, but had a level of vibrancy and emotion that really made you understand something about the subjects. Whether he is choosing to give a highly detailed background to his subject, or leave them standing in dead space, it does something to intensify part of the subject’s character. He has a sense of light that feels real and imaginary at the same time, like you could step into the work and have super powers or something.

I was originally introduced to Reuben’s work through the recent Art’s not Fair show at Like the Spice Gallery in Brooklyn. Mr. Negron had a very interesting installation of his work. He had three areas set up with the sketches, color studies, and photographs that influenced one of his finished pieces. Then to view the final piece, patrons needed to use their smart phones to follow a link from a QR code. The installation studies come off like the introduction to a story. It is almost like reading the back cover to a novel you might buy. Before you read the full story or view the final piece, your mind is already starting to piece together how the different elements might come together. He calls for you to participate in order to see the final piece. You don’t just move on down to the next chunk of wall space, you have to interact with the QRC code and find the finished piece online. With this, his work becomes very investigative. When you see the final piece you start to see how the developing ideas fed into that completed work. And then within the final piece itself you begin to piece together certain elements about the individual that might have sparked Rueben’s interest and inspiration in the first place. Our homes are often a reflection of who we are, so what are these homes telling us about the subject? Through the nudity of the figures and the natural state of their surroundings, Rueben gives you a full portrait of the individual’s pure physical form and cultural identity.

Perhaps the aspect of this whole experience that I like is the fact that the finished piece is the thing he is keeping from us. The part of the work that took the most time, and he makes us work to get it. Is this a statement that to him, the process is more important than the finished product? Is he trying to comment on the fact that people often only appreciate something they have worked for, rather than something that is just handed to them? Whatever reason he has for this, it is innovative. I have a feeling we will see more of this kind of thing in the near future. His incorporation of this QRC code and the use of popular technology got me thinking a lot how this kind of thing might change the way we experience art. Museums and galleries might end up doing away with the audio tours and provide patrons with QRC codes that connect to an audio file through the phone they are already carrying around. Maybe some artists will do the opposite of what Rueben did and provide links from the finished piece to show interested parties the process they underwent to create the piece. Or it could be a way people leave feedback on art they see for others to reflect on. You could visit a gallery and instantly post your reaction to it for others to participate in some kind of a social interaction based on the art. Perhaps I am going to far with this, but it does certainly get me thinking, which contrary to what some ex-girlfriends might say, I believe is a good thing.

 

* To clarify how the installation was set up, there was an installation of the various studies as in the pic: “Safara Study”, accompanied by one of those weird QR code images. With the right app on your smartphone, this would link you to a high res pic of the finished piece, “Safara,” that was nowhere else to be seen in the gallery.