August 7, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Painter Maggie Mailer pulls on her artistic heritage to expand her interest in narrative. Paint and text unite on the gallery walls to further her end of the world art epic.
Mailer’s new show, “COVET – The Starry Outpost” opens Saturday, August 4, at 6 p.m., at the Ferrin Gallery, 437 North St.
Previously, Mailer has created a body of work with a loose narrative regarding intense destruction — perhaps even the end of the world — and the reaction that gets from the people enduring it. In “The Volcano Sitters,” Mailer crafted her own response to the attack of 9/11 — which she viewed live from the Brooklyn home of her father, Norman Mailer — as a series of paintings pulling from classic landscape painting styles of the 18th Century and depicting scenes of catastrophe and the genteel society dealing with it.
Her follow-up, “The Balloonists,” took the narrative further. The upper crust had taken to hot air balloons, narrowly floating above the destruction, gadabouts on the cusp of potential extinction.
Now, Mailer has partially formalized the story, or at least offered that option to viewers. The paintings in COVET will be accompanied by snatches from an imaginary novel that will give some hard background to the images presented, a narrative that is available to anyone who wants to grab onto it.
“It’s not the only way to read the paintings,” Mailer said. “It’s one way into the paintings.
I hesitated to do this for several years because I never wanted to do something that set up a definite interpretation. But then I decided, why not do it and it can always be optional.”
The story follows the travels of an architect and his secret love. They are part of a crew of aristocratic end-time enthusiasts in the 18th Century who are waiting for deliverance to a distant star called “The Starry Outpost” and the race of Tantric Beings that live there.
The architect suffers from amnesia and builds a palace designed to hold any memories he retrieves. Meanwhile, the secret lover is a painter, recording the events unfolding at the end of the world as part of a field study.
“She develops this method of allowing the paintings to complete themselves by way of her magical brushstrokes,” said Mailer. “For me, the story relates back to painting, the painting process and the idea of finishing something, or even not being able to finish, and wanting it to continue forever.”
“I was alluding to these ideas before and thinking of the paintings back then as machines that generated their own momentum and continued to generate energy and continue to complete themselves after I stopped working on them, and that’s something that I continued in this storyline.”
Mailer says she has been thinking about these ideas for a long time, endings in context of painting, as she says, “the end of the brushstroke and what it means for the next brushstroke.” The narrative she created for this new series is as informed by her thoughts on the nature of time in the process of her artwork as it is by any historical research she did.
Mailer’s plan is to install each text chapter above and possibly below the paintings, in order to create a loop that will require viewers to walk from one end of the display to the other and then back again in order to read the writing. The paintings will not be placed together in a narrative order, but rather a thematic one, pulling on aesthetics and theme. It will be as if time registers differently in the visual aspect of the show than it does in the written, and the truth will be somewhere in between, or even in, both at the same time.
“If you decide to enter it via the narrative, then it takes a bit of work to figure out how everything is related,” Mailer said. “I like to make things as complicated as possible.”
By placing the narrative in a loop, Mailer creates a circular story that constantly hints at an ending without forcing one onto the viewer. An end might be viewed as something imposed on a story, and by reducing time to its purest form and removing sequence as a human understands it, Mailer can be seen as playing with temporal perception in a way that mirrors her own painterly practice.
“I’m talking about traveling through time, and the way that I paint relates to that,” she said, “because I’m always scratching back into previous layers and going under the surface, or sanding things down or going back to something I worked on three years ago. So because of that process and that attitude, the paintings and the narrative shift around.”
And despite the circular nature of the presentation, this all does point to a future for the work. Mailer’s plan is to relate whatever work comes out of her to this current body.
“I can structure the narrative so that it would form a framework for any future work that I do,” Mailer said. “I do have this habit of wanting to work on lots of genres, like landscape and portraiture and abstraction and diagrams, and they don’t always fit together in any obvious way, so the narrative is informed by structure for the paintings to relate to each other.”
The previous series of paintings were focused on things coming to an end, but Mailer believes her focus has changed into a more horizontal approach that allows her to flit between the moments she captures to build the narrative. Part of this was accomplished in the process of paintings first and writing second.
Mailer says that the writing was integral in that it helped her see things in the paintings that weren’t previously jumping out at her. It created a dialogue bet ween her and her own work and another dimension that began to exist somewhere between her visual and literary halves.
“I feel happiest because I’m able to explore and flesh out these two needs that I have, but it makes me a little uncomfortable,” she said. “I’ve been presenting paintings only and I haven’t presented writing in any serious way, so for now, it’s fun. But we’ll see. I might switch into writing.”
Mailer says books are at the center of her inspiration. Her current reading material, Sal mon “Satanic Verses,” has pro vid ed her with structural guidance she didn’t expect when she first picked it up, and her father’s legacy is also a part of that for her.
“He’s always there,” Mailer said. “He was probably one of the main inspirations for me to work every day. I think writing is in the blood. I think it’s something I’ve been trying to avoid for a long time, but it also feels a little bit like coming home. It’s kind of a relief.”
“I still find that when I’m stuck, I turn to books. I don’t go enter the fields and draw trees. If I lose interest in working, I’ll probably pick up a novel, and that’s what keeps me going. The writing is be coming more and more important. That’s where this is headed. I guess the idea of a book is my savior. It’s what I turn to when all else fails, so it make sense, the next destination.”
Though it would be an obvious move, Mailer doubts she will retroactively go back to the previous bodies and add text to them. There’s always the fu ture, though, and Mailer’s particular work method is one that leaves her with possibilities, and she’s surrounded by these as she goes through her daily creative process.
“I have 30 paintings going at any given time,” she said. “Some of them lie around for years in the studio and I wonder if they’ll ever have a life, and then when the time comes, I’ll pick one up and it does turn into a new painting. The layers of time and the layers of paint, and ideas and thinking and experience, that go into each canvas, it’s hard to replicate them. But there’s a lot of them lying around, so there’s a lot of material to work with.”
April 16, 2010 § Leave a Comment
In a new book from photographer Barry Goldstein, the Iraq experience unfolds through the eyes and minds of the armored battalion of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team
As the end result of a project that has taken five years, Goldstein’s book, “Gray Land,” was recently published by W.W. Norton. It is more than a photography book. Combining Goldstein’s portraiture work with his journalistic efforts on location in Iraq, the book also allows the soldiers to speak for themselves. When all the parts are brought together, it stands as a documentary in book form that captures the real lives of the troops in Iraq with dignity and compassion.
Goldstein visited Iraq with the platoon in the summers of 2007 and 2008 for a month at a time. Part of his mission was to rise above the politics — obviously as a human being and an American citizen, he has his own opinions of the war, but the point of the project was not to express those, but to present the stories and experiences of the people who fight it. Goldstein felt that was important information to know — it turns out the soldiers he became involved with did also. He found that one thing the soldiers had in common was the desire to be understood.
“They don’t get a choice in where they are sent or what war they get to fight in,” he said in an interview this week. “The points I think that they would often try to convey is that, regardless of where they were sent, they were just trying to do the best they could, both for their colleagues in terms of protecting them and very often the people in the area where they were working. There was a really genuine sense of wanting to improve their lives, both in terms of providing security as well as civil improvements.”
In getting to know the members of the battalion, Goldstein had worked documenting their training at Fort Benning, Ga., taking portraits and interviewing them about their backgrounds — it was never in the plan to go to Iraq. It was during a training session in California that he had accompanied the battalion on that he realized going to Iraq was a crucial part of the project. The training involved simulations of Iraqi villages, with people playing the parts of insurgents and villagers the soldiers had to deal with.
“I realized how different it was hearing all these stories and experiences involving people and activities and equipment, and actually seeing it,” Goldstein said. “At that point I realized that I probably should go and see them do what they spent all this time training to do. I made that decision, and of course training is very different from being in Iraq because nobody’s shooting at you.”
He went ready for the danger — he took a course designed to prepare journalists for conflict areas as part of his preparation — and was confident he was in good hands. If he was well prepared for the actual physical threats, though, he had not anticipated the toll they take on a person psychologically, without even ever happening.
“What I was unprepared for was the level of constant stress that exists in the war zone,” he said. “Of course this exists if you’re out on patrol or in a vehicle riding around, but it even exists if you’re in a relatively safe place like a base, because the base would be subject to mortar fire, random harassment fire. While you eat and sleep and wash and do all the things you would normally do on a day-to-day basis, there’s this constant stress. That was a new experience for me.”
Goldstein went out on a number of patrols, both in vehicles and on foot, and spent some nights in combat outposts. He also attended District Action Council meetings — liaisons between local neighborhood organizers and military representatives that tackle the job of the day-to-day running of the neighborhoods. The meetings covered everything from hygiene to security to budgets, and gave Goldstein a chance to meet with some of the locals.
“You get to see this whole other side of the Iraqi people and the sense of dedication of the people who would come to these, because obviously they’re at great risk from the people who didn’t want this to happen, and yet they’re quite passionate,” he said.
His mission was to capture the more routine elements of war that would usually not be the interest of war photographers — the grind of war. He would be less apt to seek out combat shots and more likely to spend a day with vehicle maintenance workers, capturing their role in the process and how they deal with that.
“I got a real appreciation for the idea that while some jobs are more dangerous than others, none of them are going to be easy,” Goldstein said, “and if you’re a clerk working in a hardened building, you’re away from your family for a year and you’re working seven days a week. We talk about 24/7 in the civilian work, but on deployment, that’s reality. People are working around the clock on generally very little sleep and have a lot to do. When you add on top of that the physical demands and then the dangers, you get to see how difficult this job really is.”
Goldstein was careful about the places he chose to go with patrols. He wasn’t tailgating the horrors of war and so consciously chose not to capture the evidence of them. His concern was with the inner life of these troops — the outer life figures into the work only in regard to how it affects the psychology of the people who live it. Besides, Goldstein never felt the amount of time he spent there really justified deep analysis of the actual situation of war.
“I’m always clear to point out that I was just a tourist there,” he said. “A couple months doesn’t begin to educate you about the complexities of this.”
One thing he did talk about with soldiers was conduct overseas — specifically how their approach toward Iraqis affected the job they were there to do. One young platoon leader expressed the maxim of “be professional, be polite, be prepared to kill” explaining the correlation between courtesy, the ease of their job and the probability of getting it done correctly and safely. Courtesy might be the area most difficult and crucial for a soldier.
“The most important thing where you need to use your head is to be polite, because not only is this the right thing to do, it’s also tactically valuable,” Goldstein said he was told. “They replaced a unit in this neighborhood that was very ‘kick butt and take names,’ and the people just didn’t trust them. When there were people outside the neighborhood who came in, the unit never heard about it, and their casualties were high.”
The platoon leader explained to Goldstein that his unit make it a policy to be as open with the Iraqis as possible. For instance, if a situation demanded a door being knocked down, the platoon would return the next day to explain and compensate — the idea was to promote trust and cooperation as a way of avoiding violence.
“That really had a big effect on me,” Goldstein said. “This was coming from someone in his mid 20s, and for someone at that age to have that attitude was pretty impressive, and it was representative of the attitude that I generally saw in all my interactions.”
With the project behind him, Goldstein has been busy with some promotional work in conjunction with the book and reflecting on his experience privately. After devoting so much time to the experience, he is now in the position of looking toward his next thing — and what that might be is currently a complete mystery to him.
“After an experience like this, some things that were interesting before are not interesting now, but I know that something will come up — and when it does, I’ll know it,” he said.
March 29, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Artist Erin Ko’s work centers around China — and now some of her creative time does as well. Ko currently has a show in Beijing, following a residency in the city — and there’s much more to come.
Her show, “Free Money,” is featured at Imagine Gallery in Beijing through March. She resides locally in the Eclipse Mill.
Ko’s imagery pulls from the classic Maoist imagery that Americans equate with the old-fashioned communist era of the mid 20th century and mixes it up with symbols of good, old-fashioned American consumption. In her work, you might encounter a mash-up of American and Chinese money or the encroachment of McDonald’s emblems on the propagandist imagery of the communist government.
Ko says the remnants of these images are only really seen in China as kitschy tourist items — a consumer commodity that speaks to her larger thesis of the transformation of Chinese culture into something closer to the American one she grew up with.
“It’s the kind of imagery that seems to hit a nerve in the American psyche,” she said, “I think because people are still from 1950s and before, they have this notion about communism — even to the degree that they don’t know how to separate that from socialism. They don’t really know what these things are, and so I feel like it’s a very easy way for me to get an emotional reaction.” « Read the rest of this entry »
March 19, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Filmmaker Penny Lane has taken her experimental video-making and passed it along to her students at Williams College — as with any good experimental art, she was surprised by what her students came up with.
Lane’s class, “Experimental Television Production,” gave her the chance to pass on her expertise in the area — and discover how differently those younger than she viewed television as a medium.
The students created the experimental comedy show, “The Mountains,” which aired on Willinet Community Access and can still be viewed online.
“I really think that the students were unconsciously thinking about what television is in the age of the Internet,” said Lane, “because what they really made was a lot of Internet videos, and they could show each one separately — each one stands on its own.”
“The Mountains” was the result of Lane’s efforts to teach her students traditional live television production in their Williams studio and the students’ decision to ditch the formal lessons in favor of a format that reflected their generation’s standards.
“They were good, and they learned it, and they did all the exercises, and then they pitched their show to me, and it had nothing to do with the studio, absolutely nothing,” Lane said. “I was like oh, OK, so you don’t want to do anything in the studio, and they said, ‘No, it’s kind of outdated. We want to do a reality TV show.’”
Specifically, the students wanted to do a collection of shorter comedy videos that were strung together — they later worked on a framing device for the show — rather than the more traditional cable-access type format, like a public affairs discussion show or some form of call-in show.
Lane — who viewed herself more as an advisor on an independent study than a teacher harnessing her students into a set curriculum — helped them divvy up into groups to arrange the production and usher it into reality. While the format of the show didn’t turn out quite as she expected, the spirit of the creativity did.
“You have this impression that television is slick, and you have this production value that’s required, and all these rules about what TV can and can’t be, and I really wanted them to embrace the cable-access aesthetic — the DIY, whatever you can do is what you can do, embrace your limitations and make something of them anyway kind of idea — which is not an idea that my students are used to applying to TV,” Lane said. “Maybe to video, but not to TV, so they were really excited that there was a local station where they could make work that would air it. It became very much about ‘experimental’ in terms of not being bound by what they thought TV was.” « Read the rest of this entry »
December 4, 2009 § Leave a Comment
Artist Laura Christensen specializes in taking figures from the past and giving them new surroundings — and meaning.
Christensen’s works are multi-leveled creations that combine several creative elements at once — finely-crafted wood assemblages that contain appropriate vintage family photos altered by Christensen’s artistic hand, originally in pencil but more recently oil paints. The effect is surreal and mysterious, as if the figures in the photos are being simultaneously honored and examined.
Christensen began this kind of art-making in the 1990s while in graduate school in Utah, spurred on by some thrift shop purchases for cardboard picture frames that left the unused photos within laying around in her studio.
“I filled the frames with little drawings that I made that had nothing to do with the photos,” she said. “I had all these photos sitting around the studio, and one day I went in and I didn’t know what to do. I was at a loss, so I just thought I would play around and do whatever I wanted. That helped me get something else started.”
It was after an initial exploration in the fine art of doodling that the idea began to form that she could do something further with the old photos.
“I started drawing on the old photos, and it was only a step above taking a felt-tip marker to a magazine picture and adding a mustache or blackening out a tooth,” Christensen said. “I used color pencil mostly, and I would cross-dress a really prim and proper man. I’d give him lipstick and little curls on his forehead, eyelashes and flowers on his white collar. So that’s how it started. It was really fun and totally hilarious — at least that’s what I thought.”
The reaction to her initial presentation to the outside world wasn’t what she expected, though. One of her studio classes took a look during a critique group — Christensen warned them before they went in that she was working on something a little different.
“They started walking around, and no one was laughing. It was so silent you could hear a pin drop, and I’m like, ‘Oh, god, they’re not even laughing,’” she said. “They started talking to me, and they were totally offended. They were like, ‘What if this person’s granddaughter saw what you did to their grandfather?’”
That started Christensen on a thought process about the meaning of photos in our culture — and personally. To her, the exercise might be funny, but to others, the photos meant something that she had no clue the altered photos would tap into — photos were really a psychological stand-in for actual people, often lost to the past.
“Why is it that so many people will hold a photo up of their grandmother and say, ‘This is my grandmother,’ when obviously it’s not, it’s a piece of paper with tones and colors on it?” Christensen wondered. “And there’s that question — if your house is on fire and you could take one thing, what would you save? Lots of people say their family photo album. So I began to think about that a little more seriously and realized what I was doing was way more subversive than I thought it was — to some people, anyway — so I explored it even further.”
She said she definitely knew she was onto something. Her thesis show featured 13 altered photos displayed in handcrafted wooden constructions. She had taken a woodworking course in order to craft her own stand, inspired by Shaker furniture and somewhat resembling a plant stand.
“I didn’t want to frame them and hang them on the wall,” she said. “I didn’t want them to be part of that architecture, I wanted them to have their own architecture, so I explored ways to do that and that’s how the woodworking came up.”
Christensen’s woodworking has since grown in craftsmanship, as has her visual methodology and subject matter.
“My initial alterations were cross-dressing, picture of a man kind of thing,” she said. “Then they became more invasive on the photos, so I would sand and scratch away a lot of the photo and then add in color pencil — these abstract, swirly forms that you can’t necessarily name. There was a spout coming out of a guy’s head that swirled around his back and his shoulders, like morphing into something like the alien bursting out of somebody’s core in the movie ‘Alien.’ You know how the body gets all bumpy like that? It was those sorts of alterations.
“I did get inspired by a little bit of rebellion against the conservatism of Utah. I would undress a woman and draw her breasts instead of the 19th-century gown that she was wearing.”
Christensen started out with drawing but now works in oils, after being taught in the form by her husband, painter Gregory Scheckler. This grew out of her desire to go beyond the abstract, which she began in pencils, but also from her need to move past the restrictions of the medium.
“It was limiting with pencil after a while,” she said. “You could only do so much, and you always had to sand away a layer of some sort to add pencil because so many of the photos were glossy and didn’t take pencil. With oil paints, I can leave the photo as is, coat it or scratch away part of it, and then seal it with an acrylic medium and then paint on top of it with oil paints, and have so much more flexibility of color and texture. I’ve pretty much been refining that ever since.”
Many of the photos she uses are found in thrift shops, although people also give her pictures they find in their family albums. It’s never known relatives but rather those strangers who pop up in everyone’s collections that perhaps their grandmother knew, but no one alive remembers. Christensen believes she is making those forgotten by time known again by giving them a presence.
“I used to counter people who complained — or who were offended — by saying that these photos were lying in a heap in an antique store and now they have a singularity again,” she said.
Christensen never knows what will bring on a new work. She usually begins by sifting through her collection and brainstorming and writing notes. Sometimes, she will have an idea already, or a personal incident she wants to draw on, and will search her piles of photos to see if anything clicks.
“If I’m starting a new artwork and don’t know what it’s going to be, I’ll go through all of my photos, looking at each one and imagining what I would add to this if I were to add anything,” she said.
Her work is all handcrafted — she feels working digitally would be at thematic cross purposes to the photos. Her imagery takes advantage of photography’s casually artistic past. Our current era of digital point-and-shoot stands in contrast to the time that Christensen pulls from, when photography was more complicated, less casual, and required time to set up. The outdated processes that resulted in these images reinforced a meticulous creativity on the family photographer’s part that takes the images outside the realm of snapshots.
“Every now and then, in piles that people give me, there’s a color photo from the ‘50s or ‘60s, and they’re just really ugly to me,” she said. “I hang onto them because I think that maybe someday I’ll be interested in doing something with this, but they’re not right. It’s partly the color. Unless you’re really careful, the color in color photographs looks weird — acidy.”
Christensen’s work is humorous, but it’s also creepy — and that’s something she likes a lot. Images of old-fashioned, ordinary people, stuck in time and surrounded by dream-like art figures and animals, bring to mind the idea of an unseen world revealed. Her work can often remind the viewer of turn-of-the-century fake photos of mediums, with gauzy specters captured lurking behind them during a seance that no one in the room notices.
“I like that creepy is a little subversive,” she said. “I’m not outwardly that subversive a person — in my world, to me — but I sort of like that it’s creepy.”
And being creepy is something that Christensen has gotten used to.
“I did a lot of figure drawing when I was first in school,” she said. “I don’t know what about my drawings that made people say this, but they would look at my drawings and look at me and say, ‘But you seem like such a happy person,’ as if my drawings were sad or creepy or something that they didn’t associate with my personality.”
June 19, 2009 § Leave a Comment
Karylee Doubiago’s quilts pierce through surfaces to reveal what lies inside a human — literally. Doubiago’s quilts are not always the kind you would want to cuddle under — at least not those that she imprints with x-rays of human bodies.
“Skeletons are just really interesting,” Doubiago said in an interview this week.
Doubiago — who has three children — became interested in x-rays five years ago with an emergency trip to the hospital. Her young twins had apparently swallowed marbles.
“Something about them struck me as funny, even though it wasn’t really a funny situation,” she said. “It was my making lemonade from lemons. The next week I went down there and purchased the x-rays and made the ‘Marble Run’ quilt.”
To make one of these quilts, Doubiago has to re-photograph the x-rays because they don’t scan well. Once that is done, she works with the image in Photoshop and then has it put on a pre-treated, paper-backed fabric. She then might add paints or dyes, as well as bits of fabric, to fashion the final quilt.
“Usually I start with an x-ray or an idea of where I want to go,” she said. “I’m never quite sure where the piece is going anyway — it just kind of happens. Sometimes I’ll think it’s going somewhere, and then it has to sit — I say they have to age — sometimes for months, before they go anywhere.”
X-rays are not the easiest things to come by — confidentiality rules are an obstruction in obtaining them, so Doubiago often relies on friends who purchase their own x-rays and send them to her, including one who provided her with the brain scan.
“A lot of friends have broken things and sent me their x-rays — I’ve collected just about a full body,” she said.
Doubiago prefers imperfect body sections — she has purchased some educational x-rays that she says look a bit too pristine.
“I tend to like ones that have something wrong with them, and that’s why they’re there in the first place — maybe one with pins in it would be cool, screws, that kind of stuff would be interesting. I’d love to do a full body with metal parts from different people — someone with screws in their legs and screws in their hips. That would be fun.” « Read the rest of this entry »
May 8, 2009 § Leave a Comment
Artist Steven P. Levin’s paintings are swirling and artfully cluttered collections of small images that create a kind of super-image from the components. Inside the design on the canvas you can find animal parts, human figures, plants, man-made objects and abstract, decorative motifs all mixed together into a whole that well represents the man behind the image.
The paintings are figurative versions of the 17th-century phenomenon known as wunderkammers — or cabinets of curiosity, as Levin prefers. Twenty-five years ago, Levin’s work began as more literal still-lifes of wunderkammers of his own invention and has evolved into the current form over the years. Levin’s interest began with the allure of painter William Harnett, whose imagery of hunting paraphernalia and cluttered table tops entranced him. Levin soon found a precedence for in the early 17th Century — more obscure artists who depicted actual wunderkammer collections rather than figurative ones.
Inside wunderkammers could be found the breadth of human knowledge at that point in time — a typical collection would include exotic specimens from nature and examples of technological achievement, as well as art and antiquities.
“In putting together the collection, you were summarizing — here’s the natural world, here’s the man-made world, here’s the world of the sciences, the artistic world,” said Levin. “It was a model of the whole world and all of human knowledge put together in this cabinet.”
Levin liked the format, but saw the opportunity to put his own personality into the wunderkammer format. His version was far less lofty.
“My own paintings were never anything like that — the furthest thing from it,” said Levin, “but I would see things and think that this is kind of a marvel, too, even though it’s something that came from Wal-Mart rather than someplace more refined.”
Levin began setting up his own mini-cabinets — made of handmade boxes and objects within — but over time the structure of his art began to change. The first big alteration was that he started to keep a sketchbook of objects that he saw in museums that he could later place in the paintings. Some time after that, the boxes he utilized in them began to slowly began to evaporate from the imagery.
“The box started to become less and less important,” said Levin. “Occasionally, the box would be there, but it wasn’t very well defined, and pretty soon there was no box there. The stuff was just floating right on the surface of the painting. It was this move away from the idea of the kind of completely rational structure.”
At first, the metamorphosis was a bit of a mystery, but Levin eventually realized his movement to a looser structure on canvas had much to do with his newfound collecting obsession. He had begun to amass scrapbooks from the 19th Century and study their design with as much attention as he had wunderkammers previously. The notion of compiling information became the thematic link between the two forms and Levin’s paintings became the surface on which they met.
“They had rather few things at their disposal and they would sometimes very, very painstakingly cut out pictures that were of interest to them for whatever reason and they’d put them together on the pages,” said Levin. “Occasionally you’d get someone very orderly and the pictures would be put together in a nice, symmetrical arrangement and were thematically grouped — and those were completely uninteresting.”
After a time of structuring orderly paintings that reproduced the actual physical space within the boxes being captured, Levin found a kind of beauty in the less precise scrapbooks.
“You’d have the ones that were just people who were little haphazard, maybe just a little more hurried in the way they put things together,” he said. “They would put things on the page in a way that wasn’t strictly geometric and ordered — they would just clip out everything they liked and see if they could they could find a spot to squeeze it in on the page and if they could it went on.”
Once Levin figured out that his paintings were taking on the characteristics of these wild collages from the past, he forged ahead with his altered aesthetic.
“They were more about this idea of accretion,” he said, “that you have something and then something else gets added to it and then something else gets added to it, etcetera, etcetera, until you’ve filled the whole void until there’s not a bit of void left. A couple of the paintings got frighteningly so.”
Those particular paintings took the crowded pages of the scrapbooks Levin loves as a means to sometimes transform into unmanageable monsters.
“I’d say, okay, there’s that bird head, let me mix up a little bit of red because I’m going to change the color to this red, so I’d go to my palette and mix my color, and then I’d go back to the painting and spend 20 minutes trying to find where the damn bird was again,” Levin said. “It was getting so completely covered with stuff that I had to literally search through it to find stuff. That’s the one where I started to feel that there is actually a limit to this. You can’t keep adding and adding and adding forever until the thing gets so clogged like this. It was a little over the top.”
Levin’s artwork is representative of another passion in his life — collecting objects. His house is an amateur museum of items, wall-to-wall examples of his personal passion.
“The house is filled with shelves and all the shelves are crowded with objects,” Levin said. “I’ll find someone selling an old display type case and use that to fill up another case with more objects. People would say that the house looks a little bit like a very low rent natural history museum and I think that would be fair. People have pointed out that the house looks like my old cabinet paintings and vice versa.”
It’s become hard for Levin to tell if the paintings beget the objects or vice versa.
“I actually think I took up the idea of still life as an excuse to collect stuff,” said Levin. “I like objects a lot and I’m a very avid collector, but not of valuable and highly sought after things.”
Levin’s home is filled with taxidermy, insect specimens, musical instruments and loads of figurines — and their arrangement through the house is similar to their arrangement on his canvases.
“I like the look of everything being dense — that’s the part that drives my wife crazy,” he said.
What Levin’s taste in decor also shares with his work is their importance together. It’s not so much that Levin likes an item — he likes an item when it’s next to another one. Like the wunderkammers of old — and the content of his paintings — the reality of the objects in union is more important than any single piece.
“I like the range more than I like any particular one object,” said Levin. “I’m not so different from those people with their curiosity cabinets. I like this idea of a representation of the whole world, that you could have a collection so big that it includes everything — not literally, but metaphorically.”
July 11, 2008 § Leave a Comment
From his work with his band The Books to his own creations, artist/musician Nick Zammuto pursues the idea that you can see sound. Zammuto’s upcoming installation at the Williams College Museum of Art, “Laser Show: Six Perspectives on a Chaotic Resonator” is the latest incarnation of this pursuit. In it, Zammuto employs six lasers, a screen, a hand-fashioned mirror, a speaker and low frequency soundwaves to create a collaboration that has the lasers put the soundwaves into visual form.
For the piece, Zammuto has mounted six lasers onto the speaker. The sounds from the speaker cause vibrations that move the lasers, which are aimed towards the oddly-shaped mirror that he has create from flexible mirror material that you can get at any auto parts store. Different frequencies cause different types of vibrations — when the beams bounce from the mirror to the screen, it creates patterns to be viewed from the other side.
“It draws pictures in a screen, a rear projection, so when you walk into the gallery you see a screen with fixed laser points and they’re all moving,” said Zammuto. “When you look at these six pictures relative to one another, you can tell that they’re related, they’re looking at the sound from different perspectives.”
Zammuto has found that he can predict pictures, it just takes research and testing to figure out what sounds make what movements — from there, he’s moved onto combining sound in order to get more complicated imagery, as well as create patterns that will change. He then uses audio software to catalog what visual each sound causes in order to create a rhythmic, visual composition.
“If I’m just using sine waves, I can get circles or figure 8s, pretty simple lines, depending on the frequency,” said Zammuto. “If I put another sine wave on top of it, say two octaves or three octaves or two and a half octaves above that, then I can get a second frequency riding on top of the first one, so there’s a flower-shaped thing, that’s the combination of two simple frequencies. I can change the volume over time to create pictures that are either growing or shrinking and I can ramp the frequencies up and down so the pictures change over time.” « Read the rest of this entry »
January 25, 2008 § Leave a Comment
Photographer Gregory Crewdson has seldom been considered traditional, but a new exhibit shows he has something in common with the past as he moves his art forward. Crewdson is showing some of his work at the Williams College Museum of Art, alongside the paintings of Edward Hopper. One image in particular bears an uncanny resemblance to one of Hopper’s and features a woman staring out of a bedroom window, filled with lament. The major difference between the two works is that Crewdson’s woman is in underwear and the full spectacle of the room is explored, while Hopper’s woman is nude and its perspective more intimate.
Crewdson was as shocked as anyone when the similarity was pointed out to him. Although a huge fan of Hopper’s work, he had not set out to do any sort of homage or pastiche, he was just focused on making the best image he could.
“Artists always have a relationship to the tradition in which they work,” said Crewdson, “so I think that maybe on an unconscious level, previous images saturate you in some way or another.”
While the photos do share similarities in subject matter and mood, Crewdson’s work is filled with similar imagery — it’s just not that hard to find a half-naked woman with a haunted visage inhabiting some ghostly moment in the twilight of consciousness. Crewdson acknowledges as much, but tends to not analyze too closely.
“I know I’m interested in a particular type, a certain kind of hauntedness or loneliness, a beauty and a certain kind of nakedness,” he said. “Anything more than that, I’d be hesitant to try and articulate, I like to keep it a mystery in a certain sense. To myself, I mean.” « Read the rest of this entry »
December 27, 2007 § Leave a Comment
The documentary “Free Spirits” functions an amazing window to a lost world, infiltrating the lives and minds of participants in an actual hippie commune, created in the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts the late 1960s by Mike Metelica, prone to childhood visions and an interest in being a rock and roll bad boy.
The commune — originally known as the Brotherhood of the Spirit and later as the Renaissance Community — began as a treehouse in Leyton, Massachusetts, that attracted other kids to hang out — it blossomed into a naïve but fully-formed alternative society of young adults that imagined itself poised to transform the world into a new era of beautiful socialization and peace. The story, however, is not that simple — this meticulously gathered oral history reveals the ups and downs of the community, the challenges of the many to function as one, the trials of Metelica to live up to his initial reputation as a spiritual leader.
At its peak, the community had around 400 residents, all fulfilling various functions and rising to the occasions that needs demanded — if they need a building, members learned how to construct one; if they need bathroom facilities, members taught themselves plumbing. They also had plenty of time for artistic and spiritual exploration — and sexual as well — but no society can remain stagnant and the community was no exception. Their extended vacation from the harsh realities of modern America was to send them on a nosedive involving finances and drugs and rock and roll and a cult of personality that divides the community and, eventually, causes it to dissipate into the smallest pockets.