Monday, March 16, 2015

Yevgeniya Baras: Of Things Soothsaid and Spoken

Baras is a young artist with an old soul. Perhaps the immigrant experience informs her persona, arcing generations of Russian Jews relocating to the Promised Land of the New York art world.
Baras is not your typical, well-rounded visual artist. Her monkish devotion to esoterica, psyche, and nature coalesce as iconographic altarpieces, harkening to her Russian/Jewish origins. There is a focus on low-tech materials. Her imagery is devoid of cynical gestures or any overt quest for political relevance.   
She is not concerned with décor, or becoming fashionably elite. These are encouraging traits in an artist just beginning to catch on, and indicates a creative identity oblivious to the distractions of art as a day job.
Baras’ vernacular vocabulary effectively informs her content; folksy references to rustic emblems enable the casual offhandedness seen in her impastoed frames. The artist’s informal technique lends an outsider feel to the textured reliefs. Some surfaces are rooted in craft-like traditions of weaving and stitching, invoking references to peasant culture.
Yet there is a compellingly sublime undertow of mystical provenance. Baras uses color to imbue a sensation of nature and atmosphere, which manifest as landscape felt through a highly charged notion of ancestral memory. This essence of chroma as a succinct psychic property, informs the artist’s work with an indistinct sentiment, seemingly historical in origin.       
There is an inherent dichotomy of intimacy and detachment. The pieces are not personal biographical narratives. They project a chilly sensitivity, you don’t cozy up to her compositions, so much as decipher them. Baras’ symbolist iconology tends to dictate a certain message; belief that physicality of medium can trans-mutate into spiritual revelation. 
Her work becomes most accomplished when her scratchy engraving carves into darkly brooding backgrounds that anchor child-like semiotics. Yet these are not simplistic images. They may recall lost notions, but encompass dense moments of intuitive prowess. They could be dream-like visions of the material world transformed, channeled through the sludge of the here and now. The tracks Baras leaves with her cryptic placards lead us to the inevitable conclusion that this artist has found a path she can follow. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Farrell Brickhouse

Life On Mars

Brickhouse may not have been born with a silver spoon on his pallet; and appropriately his blue collar past contributes to an unfashionably casual vernacular. 
Accordingly these paintings are fashioned the old-fashioned way. They are of no use as eye candy, and I’d guess his brushes are encrusted with a patina of poignant memory.
Brickhouse’s work is all about sensation and persona. Although not exclusively autobiographical, they largely stem from original sources of recalled life experience. Artist’s need strong hands. To this end Brickhouse worked on a fishing boat in his youth, an avocation that still reverberates in his imagery. 

The Sparrows 
oil on cavas. 
22" x 28"

Yet this artist thrives on a sensitivity tuned in to psychic implications. The potential for a mythic narrative is not so much heroic, as bashful. References to imaginary identities have vague correspondencies with the ancient Greeks, but morph into elusively phantasmagorical fictions filtered through an interpretive lens.
Akin to a child’s bedtime fable, utterly non-mechanical fairies dance and prance to some indistinct tune heard only at the onset of sleep.

Cave's Light III 2014 
oil, glitter and silver pigment on canvas. 
30" x 20"

The gelatinous, monochromatic architecture of these interiors become part of a larger continuum. A persistent left to right procession inhabits the semiotics of the artist’s picture plane. We are witnessing only a small portion of a hallucinogenic stage play that extends beyond our visual sightlines. 
I prefer the artist’s wall pieces most when not encumbered by 3D paraphernalia, which I find tends to weigh them down.
Left to their own devices, Brickhouse’s brushy notions acquire a kind of sloppy finesse.
They engage an illusionistic flux that free up his potent symbols, without need for compositional depth or overly textured impasto. The flat paintings are based on patterned, repetitive motifs that resonate with a delicate physicality. 
This reflective approach culminates in “Moving Wood II“. Ostensibly a re-creation of time spent lugging plywood from his house, this painting exudes a goofy splendor. Possibly a fragment from some postmodern ballet, or a Daffy Duck cartoon, it vibrates with figurative intensity. 
Brickhouse’s work inhabits his being, which is his medium as much as paint. This totality of creative momentum, lends credibility to his swervy little world. We should appreciate this private realm gone public, as a rare glimpse into a minds eye.


Moving Wood II 
oil on canvased wood panel. 
36" x 31"

Monday, September 29, 2014

Todd Bienvenu; Borrowing Tomorrow’s Fun.

I’d like to think Bushwick will end up spawning creative talent identified as part of a particular time and place. The Bushwick scene has been primarily a youth movement, which I see as vital to the continuity of contemporary visual art, and historically as a connection to previous art communities.
I’d hope that Bienvenu’s early artistic identity will always be linked to the ungentrified origins of Bushwick’s burgeoning crowd of rambunctious rebels.  
Bienvenu’s bad boy pictorial antics helped land him some notoriety, but those paintings are also some of his most convincing work.  Poking fun at pop culture porno relieves the artist from over-burdening his canvases with excess sentiment. The artist’s most pressing concern in these paintings is that they not be taken too seriously.

Bienvenu’s use of iconography serves his instinct for layered texture nicely. The painting “Talking About Abstract Painting” with a skull and caption bubble, delves into a nihilistic nether region of scraping and over-painting, expressing an intuitive warning of some impending psychic calamity. 

Talking About Abstract Painting
The painted works on paper sustain the artist’s ability to isolate and magnify moments of painterly prowess. These succinct, off-the-cuff gestures could be frames from some outré comic strip.
Bienvenu’s more ambitious, larger scale works vacillate from tour-de-force, to less complete manifestations. I find his key to resolution rooted in texture and physicality.
The condensed architecture seen in “Perspective” contains a neo-abstract grid of loosely sketched facial symmetries. It’s like looking at ten Basquiat’s stacked in a pile. This no-holds-barred conglomeration is actually a highly refined process of improvisational mark making, resulting in a visual synthesis of pigmented tapestry.  


The artist can get a bit carried away by his rock concert conceit, indulging in acrobatic maneuvers that can come off as a little flat. But when textured nuance takes priority, he becomes more of a painter, and less of a raconteur. 
Yet narrative content is a crucial aspect of Bienvenu’s figurative inclinations. Whether a vulgar reference to a sex act, or a sociological documentation of tattooed biker trailer trash, the artist usually has a story to relate.

However they are not morality tales, and despite his enthusiastic renditions, Bienvenu does not cast judgment. He likes to watch. His powers of observation, supported by a savvy grasp of R Crumb-like illustration, are abetted by his knack for painting theatrically constructed compositions. He paints dramatic moments in progress. This might be considered a new version of New York action painting, via Southern Culture On The Skids.
I like that the artist has worked through his influences of decadent Beckman and ironic Crumb, et al, while managing to sustain his youthful exuberance. This work provides a respectful nod to historical references, and then quite literally gives us a joyful finger.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Arnold Mesches-Eternal Return

Life On Mars

Mesches is a stud of a painter. 90 years young, he exudes a macho strut. This confluence of wisdom and pluck is reflected in the muscular, confrontational strata of his painterly architecture.
His no-nonsense scenery, influenced by Soviet Social Realism, derives from a colorful life on the left coast. Born to an orthodox Jewish family in the Bronx, he became a left-wing Zionist interested in Marxism. I’d assume he was sympathetic to the American Communist Party, (he was a friend of Paul Robeson) and the enlightened tradition of the Hollywood Comintern in the 30s and 40’s before Stalin’s crimes and McCarthy’s paranoia took its toll on the movement.
In the tradition of socialist atheism, Mesches embraces a secular perspective. His paintings do not indulge in speculative metaphysics. They are festooned with feisty decorations that may not soothe the soul, but are soulful. 

Detail Coming Attractions 5

Detail, Coming Attractions 6

In Coming Attractions 5, clothes hanging from a line rudely interrupt the interior of a cathedral-like space, playfully nudging our frame of reference, while perhaps belittling organized orthodoxy.     

 Coming Attractions 5

The urban collages contain a reflective presence. Eternal Return 3 features a foreboding skull, conjuring up medical imagery, while foreshadowing a sense of doom. Possibly an elder’s reference to the impending urgency of mortal decay. 

Detail, Eternal Return 3

Eternal Return 3

There is a rough elegance to Mesches’s collages. They may not be technical tour-de-force’s, but what they might resist in symbiosis with the viewer, they more than make up for in compellingly authentic visual narratives. These rambunctiously riotous compilations of city sprawl contain haunting imagery that evokes an apocalyptic notion worthy of that gloriously noir LA tradition.   


Mesches’s art is laden with character metaphor. This cogent ability to infuse compositions with symbolic versions of person and personality lend a kind of veiled intimacy to his representational prowess. But you don’t really get to know the artist, so much as respect him. Cryptic revelations imbued with fire conjure up Charles Burchfield’s burning houses without the spiritual ascendancy. This conflagration consumes an artist consumed by a desire to paint succinctly forceful gestures. 

Detail, Shock and Awe 23

Shock and Awe 23

His expansive interiors coalesce as references to dream sensations that offer up a splendid dichotomy of loose and tight/dark and light. In Coming Attractions 6, skeletal archetypes span a voluminous void, inhabited by iconographic constellations of dinosaur fossils floating about an allegorical realm. 

Coming Attractions 6

The crowd scene paintings foment a lustrous visage of pigment, spread about with less of a regard for pictorial realism, and thus end up becoming more pure compilations of chromatic intensity.
They merge towards a filmic synthesis; a long shot zoomed in, impelling an almost abstract result. These works epitomize the artist’s figurative gestures. Casually staged and painted, they belie a highly charged picture plane chock full of incipient drama. Like blossoms bursting they release an outpouring of life energy that affirms this painters humanist mission.
Mesches is an old school, lunch pail artist whose workman-like oeuvre has hammered out a well-deserved niche. Probably the last of his generation, it is amazing to see such a prolific artist still painting his ass off.

Eternal Return 10

Eternal Return 4

Detail, Eternal Return (?)

A good synopsis of Mesches’s career:

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Vapors and Squalls, or Mediums

At Centotto

Keeping up with Paul D'Agostino is no easy task.
Not only does he have a Ph.D. in Italian Literature, a mind attuned to the constructs of visual art’s dialogue with writing and philosophy, but he also sees a lot of exhibitions, has a well-versed eye, and makes unpredictably intriguing art that lends credence to his intellectual prowess.
Our official resident scholar of Bushwick.
Ensconced in his art cave/aerie, D'Agostino delves into stimulating narrative comparisons of literature and art. This interaction between images and words compliments the nature of each medium, while expanding the possibility of creative connections by crisscrossing a linguistics approach within a visually intuitive framework.
Vapors and Squalls, or Mediums ventures into realms of climatic metaphor, exploring the inner/outer aspect of moody atmospheres, perhaps as Plato might have envisioned it:  So it is with air: there is the brightest variety which we call aether, the muddiest which we call mist and darkness, and other kinds for which we have no name...”

The exhibit employs literary quotes found by the artists that expound on their images, of which I have excerpted below.
Karen Marston's vortexes and crashing waves, seen in her “Disaster” series, import a graceful notion of gloom and doom, in a cautionary, quasi-representational weather report.
“I see the whirlwind hanging from the black sky”
From Medea, Euripides

By contrast Jonathan Quinn’s monochromatically inclined quietude, transports us to sublime doldrums of eloquent pigment. Coupled with intricate, small photos of less placid conditions, these serene mediations connect well with:
 “Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink”,
From The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner

Kate Teale’s sultry grids suffused with graphite, conjure up a curious dichotomy between wet and dry.  Perhaps illustrating the ebb and flow of tidal forces are more to her liking than making any overt references to nature:
“One summer blizzard is much like another”
“You may sleep dreamlessly nearly all the time”
“or drowsily you may visit other parts of the world, while the drifting snow purrs against the green tent at your head.
But outside there is raging chaos.”
From The Worst Journey In The World-Antarctica, 1910-1913, Apsley Cherry-Garrard

Wendy Klemperer’s howling, snarling beasts may portend Mother Nature’s cruelty, or Gaia’s primeval instincts. The artist portrays her creatures as players in Darwin’s grand scheme of survival. Could there be a moral to this story?
“Full in this rapid wake, and many fathoms in the rear, swam a huge, humped old bull, which by his comparatively slow progress, as well as by the unusual yellowish incrustations over-growing him, seemed afflicted with the jaundice, or some other infirmity. Whether this whale belonged to the pod in advance, seemed questionable; for it is not customary for such venerable leviathans to be at all social. Nevertheless, he stuck to their wake, though indeed their back water must have retarded him, because the white-bone or swell at his broad muzzle was a dashed one, like the swell formed when two hostile currents meet. His spout was short, slow, and laborious; coming forth with a choking sort of gush, and spending itself in torn shreds, followed by strange subterranean commotions in him, which seemed to have egress at his other buried extremity, causing the waters behind him to upbubble.”
From The Pequod Meets The Virgin”, chapter 81, Moby Dick, Herman Melville.

As a summary I quote;
Zephyrs, gales
and protean waters
work through mediums,
often, to become visible.
As do depictions of the same.
Or visions thereof. Like
moistures in winds
nearby, above.
Confluences, disturbances
terrestrial, celestial.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

City, Country, City Paintings by Gandy Brodie.

The Painting Center.

This latest compilation of works on canvas by Gandy Brodie is something of a mini survey that focuses on the artist’s relationship to his immediate environment. This is a relevant concept since Brodie was always tuned in to local nuance, whether it was a dead bird on a sidewalk of SoHo, or a fictional tree falling in the vegetive density of a forested picture plane. 
Later on in his life Gandy did divide his time between New York and Vermont, but my feeling as a former student at his atelier in Newfane, was that he felt more at home in Vermont.
He and his wife Jocelyn owned a modest bungalow in Townsend, close to the barn he rented in the center of Newfane.
The barn had two stories. The students worked downstairs in various niches that may have once stored hay, or corralled livestock. Gandy had his own working area upstairs, a dark little rafter that suited his nesting instinct nicely.
I recall watching him paint on a self-portrait that had been in progress for many years. In typical Brodie fashion the paint had been relegated to a state akin to the historical layers of an archeological dig. What may have started as an innocent reflection of facial symmetry had now become a thickly brooding notion of insightful trepidation. What had he wrought? A visage worthy of Rembrandt, yet rooted in a profoundly insecure and vulnerable personality. Gandy always said he would’ve only taken lessons from Rembrandt or Cézanne, but I think that bravado may have masked a deeply ingrained belief that he and his art were riddled with idiosyncratic faults.
I watched in awe that summer as the self-portrait gradually glazed over into an image of a bumpy icicle, reeking with metaphorical implications.  
Gandie’s lower east side origins never left him; he loved the dense architecture of life in a busy metropolis. I was told in no uncertain terms that to be a real painter I had to leave Vermont, and go live in a cold-water loft in New York.
I only knew Gandy in New York for a couple of years before he died, but this exhibit revisits his earlier tenure in the mean streets to good effect. Much of the work from the mid fifties and early sixties was done before he lived in Vermont, and employ a gritty persona of figurative compositions that exude a tough, bluesy poetry.
The city tree theme encompasses a pervasive sense of the struggle for renewal in Brodie’s perpetual duality of self/nature in conflict. The epic tale of Brodie’s legacy is not so much a sweep, as it is the plodding progress of inspired determination.
The epitome of Gandy’s oeuvre culminates in his floral paintings. The workman-like stance that inhabits his cityscapes, combines in these still lives with a reverence for the natural world. Pigment bubbles up like some gurgling spring, exuding the essential essence of a delicately fragrant sensibility.
Yet these blossoms are encrusted with substantial weight. Their surfaces mask a tremendous burden, exhausted by an exquisite finality. Its as if the slightest additional mark might result in a psychic collapse. This art has reached a peak state of painting that cannot be exceeded.       
I believe Brodie was a naturalist at heart. His figurative work (both animal and human) inevitably leads to a humanist celebration, but always in the context of architecture as a naturally occurring phenomenon.      
Kudos to Steven Harvey and Jennifer Samet for making this exhibit happen. I was particularly impressed by the wonderful catalog available for free, due to the generosity of the Wolf Kahn, Milton Avery, and Hans Hoffman foundations. 
Brodie’s work is now way over due for a major museum retrospective. I know there are hundreds more paintings and drawings that could be assembled for an in-depth survey of this artist’s invaluable contributions to twentieth century painting.   

A link to the exhibition catalog: 

I don’t know if Gandy ever witnessed this event himself, but I’d that guess he did. The Birth Of A Fawn series resists conventional sentimentality and representational coyness, in favor of investigating the mysterious sensations of birth and origin.  

Friday, January 31, 2014

Socrates Sculpture Park; 2013 Emerging Artist Fellowship Exhibition

Socrates SculpturePark was an abandoned riverside landfill and illegal dumpsite until 1986 when a coalition of artists 
and community members, under the leadership of artist Mark di Suvero, transformed it into an open studio and 
exhibition space for artists and a neighborhood park for local residents.”

Socrates is certainly one of the more engaging art viewing destinations east of the East River. Di Suvero’s studio lot lurks large adjacent to Socrates. His massive steel sentinels peer in upon the park with an impervious, yet benevolent gaze.
A stroll through it’s relatively unimproved environs features a landscape littered with leftover remnants of industrial detritus. Yet there is an element of quietude that envelops the place. Hidden nooks and crannies are scattered about, and then the grand vista of the sprawling East River, framed by Socrates’ own little beach, contribute to a hushed contemplation at the intersection of art, architecture and nature.
Wandering about the hardscrabble grounds is always an art adventure. The eclectic nature of Socrates’ installations ranges from the overt (politically as well as visually) to the nearly invisible. (As an aside to social stratification, KennethPietrobono has interred innocuous looking plants that blend into the background scenery in his park-wide installation Selections from the Modern Landscapes.)
Celebrating a low-tech revisionist vision of colonialism, and race relations, JustinRandolph Thompson’s tour de force Brutus Jones, inspired by Paul Robison’s boisterous visage, integrates insurgent guerilla theatricality, with a fond sentimentality for the black cultural icon of quilting. 

Dredging up a 1949 Dodge Power Wagon similar to one Robison used in a performance during the Peekskill riots of 1949, the artist invokes all sorts of connotations relating to black rural agrarian traditions, as well as a scathing indictment of racist intolerance.
Quilting installed under a floppy awning serves as a kind of abstract bulletin board or storefront, relating a visual throwback narrative that evokes Gees Bend gentility. 

Thrusting across the ramshackle flatbed is a crossbeam based on a Roman battering ram, encrusted with quilted barnacles, and mounted with the head of Paul Robison instead of the traditional ram horns. 

This configuration could be considered in an allegorical context. Portraying Robison’s visage as an heroic symbol may belie manipulation by Soviet propagandists, but he was indeed a champion of civil rights, and his voluptuously booming voice served as bullhorn for mid century black autonomy.
Although Thompson may have overloaded Brutus Jones with polemic, I’d think that was the point. This is art that revels in a zeal for confrontation; the artist as an impassioned ideologue wherein agenda takes priority. Perhaps if he had embedded a more literal historical narrative, viewers might have taken away a more succinct perception of Thompson’s protest.
But to his credit the artist has avoided overt agitprop, and fashioned a visually compelling sculpture as set design that morphs in and out of stridency. Brutus Jones could work perfectly well purely as an existential jungle jim on a playground derived from the artist’s psyche, and encompass a notion of cultural identity that might trump his earnest activist intent.     
Thompson’s art succeeds from an aesthetic standpoint with a kind of funky outsider look, even though the artist received a formal education. His rejection of traditional art media helps sustain rebel credibility that rubs up alongside a populist pundit sensibility seen in Thompson’s predilection for performance video. His enthusiastic axing of a podium during a performance on the Power Wagon could've been an amusing reinvention of Who guitar smashing.

BrutusJones - Trailer from Bradly Dever Treadaway on Vimeo.

Yet I doubt Thompson endeavors to become an art/rock star. This underground artist seems to inhabit a nether region of the art world mostly neglected by a predominately white collector base. As such its good to see art created by one of the precious few African American descendents in the contemporary art scene.
I hope we will soon be seeing more of Thompson’s uncompromisingly entertaining commentaries on Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.
You MyungGyun’s monumental dollop of sculpture eschews social dogma for a commentary on nature and the moment. 

This South Korean artist joins the ranks of a burgeoning movement of Asian artists that have injected a freshness of spirit into contemporary art.
Like his compatriot Jong Il Ma’s 2008 installation at Socrates, Gyun has made a large scale sculpture that transforms its bulky architecture into an expansive ode to nature and contemplation.
Fabricated from the ubiquitous blue plastic re-cycling bag, still photos don’t capture the ethereal monochromatic flutter as the feathery plastic coat catches a breeze. The textural nuance gained from such innocuous art supplies infuses the surface with a suppleness that transcends the mass produced matériel.
The ponderous form achieves a kind of lumbering grace, perhaps the way a dinosaur would graze on the upper reaches of a tree. It’s massive frame remains connected to the ground, yet somehow gains lift, perhaps a billowy, airy blue pillow yearning for the sky. 

TamaraJohnson’s sly brand of humor seen in A Public Pool jolts our sense of place into a disjointed perception of where things should/could be.

She is adept at counter-intuitive association; a pool filled with grass, density encroaching on space, or memory impeded by distraction. There could also be a sardonic poke at suburban largess; you can almost feel Dustin Hoffman’s alienated Graduate soul buried in dense layers of dirt and irony.
Johnson’s work recalls the familiar, and then alters our experience of that certain reality by distorting an expected syntax. The concept appears simple enough, but could only have been conceived in a minds eye dedicated to disruption. 
Anyone up for a dip?
Aida Šehović’s Obstacle Course: Patriot Challenge offers a rousing dose of irony and could be symbolic of nationalist fervor. A native of Bosnia-Herzegovina, I’d think she knows whereof she speaks concerning the dangers of ethnic militancy.
There seems to be an interpretive intent going on, the course is set up so that viewers can undertake their own attempts at basic training. Perhaps this is a strategy to humanize the military mindset and help us appreciate the individual dedication and sacrifice of those committed to making the world a safer place.
The artist may also be expressing a cautionary morality tale concerning the risks of social conditioning and violence as a means to an end.

Is it surprising that Thordis Adalsteinsdottir’s woodsy ode to a love bite from nature has created such an astoundingly prudish uprising (pun intended) among the ranks of the good citizens of Queens? Or is the old adage that good fences make better neighbors at work here, or perhaps a case of out of sight, out of their minds? 

Another cliché may also apply; that bad publicity is better that no publicity. Although a Chelsea gallery exhibits Adalsteinsdottir, she is by no means a household name. Revenge may be best served here if this crudely erotic, tempest in a teapot results in her becoming better known.
Disclaimer: I had the adventure of shipping one of her pieces to a collector.  Getting the reindeer into my truck without snapping off one of the delicate antlers was tricky, but the beast never complained and arrived no worse for wear. 

The 2013 EAF pieces are a stimulating bunch of offbeat, oddball selections that amuse as much as inspire. Socrates is probably one of the art world’s most egalitarian and eclectic exhibition venues. New York’s art exhibition hierarchy is anything but a meritocracy, so when a program like the EAF comes along that’s not all about whom you know, authenticity and diversity have a chance to thrive.  
Post Script:
Speaking of diversity, another reason to visit Socrates is their semi feral cat colony. They are not too skittish, and some of them will come right up to you expecting pets.