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.”
August 31, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Painter Maggie Mailer’s new work envisions a time of ultimate disaster and the absurd steps the human race might take to save itself by rising above it all — in balloons.
Her show “The Balloonists” is currently showing at Ferrin Gallery at 437 North St.
Mailer had previously visited a scene of global apocalypse in her work “The Volcano Sitters,” but with “The Balloonists” she has coupled distress with humor and added jaunty hot air balloons as the human solution to extinction.
In each scene, Mailer presents a hot air balloon floating among a vague end of the world scenario, where the survivors exist possibly as 19th-century aeronautical gadabouts, just bobbing above the unpleasantness. It’s like a tea party in the skies as the earth crumbles below.
“The show is really a fairy tale about adult problems and the way that our imagination is tethered by habit,” Mailer said in a recent interview.
In her fairy tale, there is not necessarily a happy or sad ending, but an eternal present among the potential survivors. It’s both fanciful and philosophical.
The narrative backdrop to Mailer’s latest series sprang from the emotions behind the birth of her son and her feelings within that context of the disasters, both natural and man-made, that seemed to be spreading across the planet.
“I found that the painting was a way for me to deal with that reality on a personal level,” she said. “I find that I have to justify a painting to myself on a regular basis, so I decided that if I could think of the paintings as slightly magical objects — and slightly is the operative word because I don’t want to sound ‘new agey’ — that there is in fact a practical use for the paintings. The conceit is that spending time with them might actually alleviate some sort of conflict in the viewer.”
Conversely, Mailer worried that diving into her paintings on the subject was possibly a method to avoid the very things that began to trouble her — a self-created escapism that diverted what might be direct action into a more evasive movement.
“After all, I’m choosing to spend my time making paintings instead of say, doing environmental or humanitarian work, and I frequently question such a decision,” Mailer said. “However, I always return to the conviction that the work I do has benefits that are impossible to track, and that if the world is in fact a dream, I am making an active contribution.”
Perhaps her role is as nurse, helping the devastated deal with the disaster by melding the reality into an absurd fantasy that provides fanciful escape from the horrors through balloons. The quaint and antiquated contraptions function as the centerpiece of limited escape in the narratives of the paintings, but they are also a representation of Mailer’s own psychological experience in creating the works. They are a concrete image that sprang from the painting process itself.
“When I’m able to reach a certain level of concentration, there is the sensation of being suspended, weightless and outside of time,” she said. “The balloons are in part a metaphor for these moments of focused attention which occur while making the painting, and while contemplating the work, once completed.”
Balloons, as a mode of travel, become indicative of another mode of travel — your mind. Mailer’s idea was that art in general and paintings specifically were forms of transportation in which the viewer becomes the passenger. This all came together for her thematically, as well as concretely, and set the series in motion as more than just a fanciful collection of images, but rather one of historical study and commentary.
“Once I decided to explore the theme of ballooning, I researched historical images of hot air balloons and the history of the design, including all the design attempts which failed,” Mailer said. “The Montgolfier Brothers, who are credited with the invention of hot air balloons, are now starting to appear in disguised form in some of the paintings.”
She also found influence in the history of landscape painting — her residency at the Berkshire Museum last year afforded her the opportunity of studying this field through their collections. Mailer qualifies that history as an examination of humankind’s relationship with nature, one that began with the idea of humans having a very small impact on the earth, but has elongated into a more powerful imprint.
These old ideas of nature as captured in the canvases of the master landscape painters of the 19th century and before seem at times outdated, perhaps quaint — other times, they offer a very contemporary confrontation of the furious forces of the world around us. They all find their way into Mailer’s work.
“The possibility of transferring the energy and temperament of nature at it’s wildest– of storms and winds and volcanoes — into the physical form of a painting is an idea which fuels me,” she said. “My reasons for doing this probably have something to do with understanding my own temperament.”
She had no desire to make one single statement about humankind and nature, though, and her paintings alternately evoke escape and levity, sometimes upon the same canvas. To her thinking, both reactions might actually be the same one and as trapped in the moment of response — the action is the same; it’s the psychology of the physical that frames it as a reaction.
“On some level, regardless of personal action, we are always in a suspended state between two points, between past and future,” Mailer said. “There is an impossible logic here which implies that nothing ever actually happens, akin to certain strains of Buddhist thought in which we all exist in a field of pure possibility, and discrete events are illusions performed by the mind.”
Mailer thinks the real scenario she is attempting to portray in the paintings is not one of impending disaster but one pulled out from the constraints of the future. There is no linear timeline to create the coming fear, just moments upon moments that play a kind of psychological pinball as they connect with other moments, apart but with links.
“I’m interested in the way perception interacts with reality,” she said, “in the notion that on some level we construct our world as a dream. The real conflicts we encounter are existential ones, in which the world before us hinges on our momentary consciousness and choice.”
Mailer is also interested in the idea that redemption can come from horror, something that has been posited from the horrible realities of genocide on through the fantastical end of the world scenarios contained in science fiction. The idea is that — much to our dismay as a species — destruction may indeed equal growth to some degree. It certainly has defined our planet over the ages.
Given the inclusion of hot air balloons in an end-of-the-world scenario, it is tempting to frame Mailer’s paintings not only as science fiction, but also as a painterly entrance into the world of steampunk, a fictional and design movement that posits the future as being in the 19th century. Mailer acknowledges her attraction to that but doesn’t believe this was a conscious choice. However, in her own creative journey of creation, there are always surprises to be discovered past the horizons of her own imagination.
“I tend to shy away from labeling something as science fiction,” she said. “I don’t regard my work as either scientific or as fiction! Once a work exists in the world, the reality it presents can perhaps be as concrete as any other, and the possibility of shifting our view of the real is probably what drives most artists. But now that you mention it, I am a big fan of Jules Verne.”
June 6, 2010 § Leave a Comment
As a longtime steel fabricator, sculptor Julian Halpern runs his own furniture and design shop, creating functional items from recycled and reclaimed objects — but his sculptures use the same kind of material to express a more abstract side of his soul.
Halpern’s work is part of “ReObjectification: Art + Object,” showing through June 13 at the Ferrin Gallery, 437 North St. in Pittsfield.
For the Ferrin show, Halpern took his interest in auto transmissions and transformed the design of the valve body into a maze, suitable for hanging. He had used the same transmission part in an earlier work and become interested in utilizing it further. After searching the area for material, he scored multiple transmissions and set to disassembling them.
“I harvested all these parts out of these valve bodies — each one was different from the next, and visually I thought they were really amazing,” Halpern said during an interview this week. “They reminded me of Keith Haring’s work — they called up a lot. I was thinking about how I could utilize them in sculptures and realized they totally reminded me of a maze, so I proceeded to make that piece into a maze.” « Read the rest of this entry »