Wednesday, September 19, 2012

“Heroes” a group exhibit created by Julie Torres at Small Black Door Gallery.


An online interview conducted by Eliot Markell.

Julie Torres follows her collaborative instincts with Heroes, a well construed if slightly (but pleasantly) scattered collection of offbeat objects, sculptures, and flat art ensconced in the semi subterranean confines of Small Black Door.
Mz Torres prefaces this diverse group of artists as collectively contributing to support the larger community of visual artists by their dedication to blogging, running galleries, and generally promoting the welfare of creative types other than themselves.
This altruistic premise lends a compelling notion to Heroes; can/will the art world respond to pay-it-forward karma in this era of GO Brooklyn career contests?
Indeed Mz Torres is a genuinely gregarious proponent of art making as a shared group activity. Her proclivity for extended hour art events such as the Camel Art Space “48 Hour Art Making Marathon” and her artwork “My 12 Hours With Austin Thomas” seem to celebrate the social networking nature of art for fun’s sake.

EM: Julie, do you see your curator role as more about revealing personal artistic interactions and process, rather than the traditional presentation of art objects as a means to an end?

JT: Hi Eliot, thanks for writing! Gosh, I don’t know. I guess there are both perspectives in there. I did intend to highlight some cool relationships between several artists’ work, and their distinct ways of working—but also to simply show the work with limited interference. I think that artists who curate other artists’ work typically do wind up revealing a lot about themselves in the process, and I think there is a lot of me and my own process in there.

EM: Well put, Heroes is your creation if not your art.
Could you describe any exhibition strategy you had for the art you wanted for the show? Were the artists given any parameters for what to contribute?

JT: That part was funny! I did find that most artists had very specific ideas about what they intended to show, but I shut that down right away! I was more interested in exploring their studios and really digging through things— one of my greatest pleasures. You learn so much about a person that way. I did a fair share of arm-twisting to show work that was perhaps a little unexpected from their point of view—work that is very personal, that they have never shown, that they perhaps never intended to show. That was the stuff I gravitated to, and it was exciting!

EM: What I find intriguing about your choices in this show are not only the personnel, but also the personal nature of what’s exhibited. Looking at Austin Thomas’s little sketchbook on a shelf reminded me of a diary, could you tell me more about it?

JT: Yes, it IS a diary! Austin made that beautiful little piece, Small Black Book, specifically for the show. It’s an intimate time capsule chronicling the period between her opening of Pocket Utopia on Flushing Ave in 2007, and her current space on the Lower East Side. All the shows, friends, work, gatherings—there is a lot of love in there. It’s one of my favorites.

EM: I also found James Prez’s work reminiscent of Joseph Cornell (with out the box), his intimate and intricate constructions using common looking materials and objects seem freighted with a monkish isolation. What is his role as a “Hero” in the art world? Did you have a specific intent with his art (or any other artist) to anchor the exhibition’s theme?

JT: Jim is probably one of the lesser-known heroes, at least around these parts. Artists in Brooklyn and Queens know him as the guy they see at all the shows, but most folks I talked to weren’t aware that he makes his own work! However, when you enter his home—it’s like an art factory! You can barely move around in there—it’s just work piled floor to ceiling. So he’s a social guy who goes to all the openings, but a very private artist. He’s a talented private curator, an art champion, and a personal hero of mine. Watch out for this guy.

EM:  Lars Kremer’s State Snacks really caught my eye. As an art trucker I’m on the road quite a bit and collect those little state refrigerator magnets. I got a chuckle out of those, what were your thoughts about including them?

JT: Lars is particularly playful in his work— he can be fairly ‘punny’ actually. He recently showed a sculptural piece at Lesley Heller using the letters H-I-D-E, but cutting them off in the middle, so that they disappear into the ceiling. I love the humor that his State Snacks bring to the show, and I have heard quite a few chuckles coming from that area.

EM: Getting back to the idea of an anchor it seems clear to me that Chris Harding steals the show. The way he combines a family narrative and macho construction materials with a delicate perch on the floor, ends up delineating a precarious looking comfort zone.
Did you consider his piece as fundamental to the show; has he made other sculpture in this vein?

JT: I love Chris’s piece. That was a case in which I left it entirely up to him about what he’d show. He’s a very physical guy and I was thrilled that he was building something specifically for HEROES, and that it was centered around this idea of family, gathering—this nurturing yet hard object. He texted me progress shots along the way and I could tell that it was going to be a knockout. He is the coolest, nicest guy—and a doting father, so the piece is just perfect. He said he’s going to use the structure for future cookouts in the courtyard at English Kills—it’s fully functional! I can’t wait.

EM: I also found Rob de Oude’s wall piece to be visually compelling. I’m not usually tuned in to tight geometrics, but the curvilinear optical oscillation derived from his linear hard edge's transcends the notion of straight (the thermostat adds a witty aside).
Was presenting architectural design elements part of your scheme?

JT: The only scheme I had was that I wanted one of Rob’s murals! It almost didn’t happen because Rob is a very busy guy. He’s got 3 shows coming up, he had another opening in New Jersey the same night as ours—and during the day he cares for his twin 4-year-olds! But he showed up the night of our install with a bag full of tape, and he was pretty psyched to play with this idea of showing the tape itself, as the actual mural. Usually, he’ll use the tape to create lines, paint over it, and then peel the tape off. So this was the first time he left the tape layer and simply showed that—It was a great idea, and also a smart way of addressing our time limitations. He finished the tape layer at 1am. I’m so glad he decided to leave it just as it is, because it’s a beautiful showstopper!

EM: Mike Olin’s painting got my attention. I love all the little gestures and textures.  I can’t imagine he was reticent about showing this was he?
BTW, Pioneers Of Inspiration mission’s statement rang true (excerpt):
“POI members also include philosophers, musicians, scientists and moonshiners.”
It never ceases to amaze me how much grassroots action there is going on under the (or at least my) radar.

JT: No, Mike and Joy Curtis (they’re married) were both very open to what I was thinking. I spent a good amount of time walking between their studios in their apartment, and Mike helped me carry some of his larger paintings in and out of Joy’s studio so I could eyeball them. I knew I wanted to show their work together, and that I wanted to create an intimate conversation between the pieces. It wasn’t hard because their work naturally relates and speaks to each other. They are both brilliant artists—I love Joy’s Hydrocal pieces and her drawings, and Mike is one of my favorite painters around.

EM: I liked Ellen Letcher’s pink taped collages. Sometimes artists get too precious hanging unframed works on paper. I'd be tempted to steal the pink tape approach.
What has she been up to since Famous Accountants closed?

JT: Ellen has been quite busy in her studio! The space that Famous Accountants inhabited was actually Ellen’s studio, and for the entire time the gallery was running, Ellen worked in a very small room in the back. So the silver lining for all of us now that they gallery’s not there is—Ellen has her big, beautiful studio back! And you can really tell. Her work is stronger than ever—I was very inspired being in her space and sifting through literally hundreds of pieces. Ellen recently had an exquisite solo show at Austin Thomas’s Pocket Utopia on the Lower East Side. So she’s been busy.

EM: Matthew Mahler’s grouping is quite striking (the founder of Small Black Door, along with Jonathan Terranova). The jailhouse technique of using burned carbon deposits from matches seems to conjure up a tribal iconography with a comic book vibe. Did he create these as a group?

JT: I was over the moon to show these brand new pieces of Matt’s—They are amazing, aren’t they?? He just recently began experimenting with these smoking and burning elements, creating lines and forms right in the wood. It’s so smart and the result is mesmerizing, almost mystical. These are some of the first he’s made of this new series, and I’m sure he’ll be making more. I feel really lucky to have shown them.

EM: How did you end up doing Heroes at SBD? Do you have any future plans for putting together a show?

JT: Having the show at Small Black Door was a dream—it couldn’t have worked out better. It’s one of my favorite spaces. I was sitting in a coffee shop when I first had the idea, and sketched out the basic concept on a napkin. Then I immediately called Fred Valentine because I knew his space was empty (it was August). But Fred wanted to keep his space empty so he could get his own work done, and my next call was to Matt. Matt’s response was, ‘Sounds great. How about September?’ And that was that.
As for future plans…….. I try not to make them. But sometimes they make themselves!
We will have mimosas at the gallery this Sunday, Sept 23, 1 - 6pm

EM: Thanks for all your great work on this interview Julie. Sorry I couldn’t get to everyone in the show, all the work is deserving of mention. Hope to see you for mimosas on Sun!

Liz Atzberger (Airplane), John Avelluto (Bay Ridge Storefront Art Walk), Brett Baker (Painters' Table), Paul Behnke (Structure and Imagery), Deborah Brown (Storefront Bushwick), Sharon Butler (Two Coats of Paint), Kevin Curran (Airplane), Joy Curtis (Pioneers of Inspiration), Paul D'Agostino (Centotto), Rob De Oude (Parallel Art Space), Lacey Fekishazy (Sardine), Enrico Gomez (Parallel Art Space), Chris Harding (English Kills), Katarina Hybenova (Bushwick Daily), Lars Kremer (Airplane), Ellen Letcher (Famous Accountants), Amy Lincoln (The Laundromat), Loren Munk (The James Kalm Report), Matthew Mahler (Small Black Door), Mike Olin (Pioneers of Inspiration), James Prez (artist/organizer), Kevin Regan (Famous Accountants), Jonathan Terranova (Small Black Door), Austin Thomas (Pocket Utopia)

Julie Torres, a blur of motion!

James Prez

James Prez

Matthew Mahler

Rob De Oude

Chris Harding

Ellen Letcher

Lars Kremer

Kevin Curran

Mike Olin

Jeanne is tall, door is small (and black).

Gandy Brodie; Ten Tenements

Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects, June 2012

As a former student at “The Gandy Brodie School of Fine Art” situated in his barn in Newfane VT in 1972, I was of course very pleased to see this small but comprehensive exhibit, and some overdue recognition of Brodie’s iconoclastic career. Lets hope more of the estate gets out into the light of day soon.
This essay is more a remembrance than a review. Please refer to John Yau’s excellent 2-part review in HyperAllergic for a more concise review of the SHFAP exhibit. 
Indeed, my formative experience as a youthful longhaired “wheat germ freak” of an artist occurred on a warm summer day in Newfane Vermont when Gandy invited me into his barn and asked me what I thought one of his paintings looked like.
Responding “it looks like painting” (duh), I established a niche for myself in the barn, and with a certain wickedly subversive delight Gandy took me under his painterly wing that summer.
Gandy grew up a poor Jew on the Lower East Side and was pretty much self-taught. I believe Gandy prided himself on not being a part of any particular art clique, and made a concerted effort to identify himself as a rogue practitioner of paint. Despite his resistance to networking he managed to gain some notoriety as a product of the Provincetown MA and E 10th St gallery scenes in New York in the 50’s. He knew all the Cedar Bar Ab Ex luminaries of the time, and by the 60’s had met with enough success to move to Vermont and paint in a barn.
An excerpt from the essay I wrote on my web site:
“The barn was his studio but he also ran a “school” there. Inclusion for a few of us local post college art kids meant a chance to try out our brushwork around a painterly guru. Although Gandy was a no-nonsense critic and would let you know in no uncertain terms if he thought you were painting something crass, he was also a flower child at heart. His preferred lesson plan for painting from nature was to get outside with only charcoal and paper, feel your flavor, and assimilate random marks.”
I was then given marching orders by my mentor to leave the cushy confines of Brattleboro and move to a “cold water loft” in NYC if I wanted to be a real artist.
Brodie had a small cult following of former students in NY where he had also taken a spacious loft on Greene St. I recall watching one of his large “Astronaut” paintings take shape on Greene St before the Smithsonian acquired it. This heavily armored and painted figure still managed to drift weightlessly in the orgone void. (Brodie was a disciple of Wilhelm Reich and encouraged all his students to get naked and sit in the orgone box. I participated in Orgone therapy with Dr Sobey, a Reichian trained therapist on E 9th St, but it was never deemed necessary for me to enter the dank looking contraption about the size of a phone booth)
Gandy was prone to painting over his canvases for a period of years. I recall watching a self-portrait evolve over a period of years into a painting of an icicle. It was so encrusted with impasto that it must have been several inches thick.
Gandy’s sublime gift was an otherworldly ability to imbue his art with a truly transcendent sensation of tangible psyche. You could look at a simple painting of a small sailboat floating in a sea of monochromatic pigment that was like being inside of his brain as it dreamed of painting the sailboat.
His uncanny ability to make paintings as an extension of self was a primarily a sensually physical act that ended up as a pictorial version of his body reinvented as scenes from nature.
In particular his “Birth of a Fawn” series epitomized this process of transference; to quote John Yau: “At the heart of Brodie’s’s worldview is a profound understanding of neglect and solitariness”.
There were also the “Dead Bird” and “Falling Tree” themes, all worthy of his best work.
I think the sense of fragile decay and the inevitability of entropy in his painting stemmed from a dichotomy of sensation rooted in his pictorial narrative. He always warned his students to be wary of sentimental content, and to avoid sentimentality by embracing an authentic motif of native experience. Simplicity vs simplistic.
Gandy was actually somewhat intolerant of most contemporary art. He was not particularly interested in intellectual investigation. He found abstract art generally lacking the impetus of pictorial substance found in Cezanne, Corbet, and other artists that worked representionally from nature.
Near the end of life Gandy seemed depressed, I remember hanging out with him in SoHo one afternoon, his eyes were wells of painfully agonizingly awareness. He knew he was sick, and had always suffered from a psyche wracked by insecurity and uncertainty. I guess you could say he wore his heart on his sleeve, you knew when he was enjoying life and when it was tormenting him.
But that’s why he was such a great mentor and teacher. His lessons and art were interchangeable, and the wealth of artistic mores and completely non-cynical career orientation his students gained were invaluable. Nobody who knew Gandy ever left feeling like he didn’t give the most of himself; and you were always the better for it.
Brodie collapsed and died on the sidewalk from heart failure after visiting his art dealer in 1975.


 (Sorry I don't have captions for all of these. Please contact SHFAP as most were in his show)

City Tree

Anemonie in Rusted Can
Mixed media on paper


ERIC DOLPHY, Come Sunday (Duke Ellington)

For me this is the most artful (in the context of Coltrane’s improvisational revolution) performance of Ellington’s masterpiece.
Davis’s slow hand bass sounds like a violin, and lends a brooding, pensive stature to sublimely melodic harmonies that meld in a painterly fusion of bluesy tonal bliss.  

3rd track from Dolphy's "Iron Man" Album. Recorded 1 and 4 Jul 1963 NYC.
Eric Dolphy - bass clarinet; J.C. Moses - drums; Eddie Khan - bass; Huey Simmons - alto saxophone;
Richard Davis - bass; Bobby Hutcherson - vibes; Woody Shaw - trumpet; Clifford Jordan - soprano saxophone; Prince Lasha - flute.