Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Elisa Soliven

My mood lifts considerably when the cerulean sky outlines an especially bright cloud or bushy green tree. Such a simple remedy, but I forget to take note of its unyielding powers. Elisa Soliven's combination of pinks, blues and reds have a similar effect on my state of mind, as does spending time with her family. When I came to visit last month, Emil, her delightful second boy of just two months, sat with us for the afternoon along with her Husband and studio mate JJ Manford. Elisa was preparing for her solo show, open now at Sunday Takeout. Her foot gently rocked Emil in his bassinet while her hands engraved a repeated image of me drawing into a large slab of clay. JJ would pick up Emil occasionally to give him a bounce and a burp and then continued working on his paintings. Whenever I consider what keeps me going as an artist, it's days like this that give me an answer.

Multi-colored mounds emerge out of the glistening slabs that lay across Elisa's studio floor.  A Turquoise glaze nestles into their coarse crevasses like cool ocean water. The brightly colored porcelain pieces that she embeds in the slabs play the role of coquina shells catching their breath after each receding wave. Her sculptures are as gloriously individual as the shells and stones found on a bubbling shorelines. The consistency of Elisa's palette is the constant thread in the three dimensional manifestation of her invented reality, each body of work seamlessly related to the next. On a table against her studio wall, she has arranged a crew of lively ceramic commedia dell'arte characters. One, she has attached to its own proscenium, ready for performance. Below that, an upright hunk of clay repeats the shape of a torso in motion. Its metallic glaze catches the light from the window, making its figure with many faces fracture like a cubist painting. Leaning against the walls iron ladders are beautifully corroded with patterned bone-shaped cylinders. Soliven's studio reads like a room full of extraordinary artifacts, she has created a kind of archeology museum out of her own imagination.

 “Gathering Gravity Grows Gray” at Sunday Takeout
 “Gathering Gravity Grows Gray” at Sunday Takeout
“Gathering Gravity Grows Gray” at Sunday Takeou
It was a wonderful way to spend an early summer day. We ate falafel and laughed at stories of our shared experiences over the years. The breeze came in and out of the window and eventually my paper filled up with the joyfulness of Elisa's sculptures. Be sure to see her solo show "Gathering Gravity Grows Gray" open now at Sunday Takeout. She is also in "Figured Out" at Andrew Rafacz Gallery in Chicago and "Fantastic Plastic" curated by Jaqueline Cedar with Crush Curatorial.  In July, Elisa will be a part of the Jay Invitational of Clay in the Adirondacks that Jason Andrew curates every year in Jay, NY. To see more of her work go here: http://elisasoliven.net/.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Kenny Rivero

Upstairs at Elizabeth Dee, in a show curated by Larry Ossei-Mensah, I sat with two striking Kenny Rivero paintings, the artist himself, and his lovely mother at the opening of the exhibition. It was my first time seeing Rivero's work in person and meeting the artist  both such a pleasure. Illuminating a vitrine nearby were the smooth reflective graphite marks of the equally captivating drawings Rivero makes on salvaged book paper. I was eager to set a date to draw together as soon as Kenny had finished moving into his new Bronx Studio.

Tangled up in transversal spaces, Rivero's obscured objects and figures suggest notions of memory or  powerful visions between sleep and wakefulness. In one painting he juxtaposes small details, rendered with the precision of his drawings, next to massive brick walls, translucent structures, and the bottom half of a baseball player with the number 11 on his jersey. The bright white of a baseball stands out nestled in a mitt of gooey black paint. Through Rivero's exquisite mark making the viewer is able to put together pieces from his history and life as a Dominican American growing up in Washington Heights. Kenny often alters the space in which he shows his paintings, as he did for his Spring Break Art Fair project curated by Karin Bravin. Adding colored floor tiles, sweep piles and other debris to sections of the room, he allowed the narratives of his canvases to spill out into the space. Some smaller paintings focus on a single figure in portrait format, but push the boundaries of conventional portraiture. In one, a woman's arms melt into the pink of the background and her face is covered with shades of blue. Another canvas depicts a young man's head shooting out beams of red, yellow and white, while the color of his skin becomes one with that of the canvas.
Installation at Spring Break 2017
Kenny shares his studio, and the floor, with several other artists from his graduate program at Yale. We talked extensively about studio spaces and where they can still be found. He also talked about his experiences at residencies in Miami and New Mexico and his upcoming stint at Skowhegan this summer. I was happy to be able to meet the challenge of drawing the motorcycle that he picked up at one of his residences and now sits in the middle of his studio. Rivero has a show opening this week at EFA Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop featuring oil monotypes and a new lithograph edition. The show runs through June 11th. To see more of his work go here: http://www.kennyrivero.com/.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Walter Price

 From the time I get the word that someone has an upcoming solo show to the night it opens, I like to picture what is happening in an artist's studio: on their walls, in their thoughts, and, in the case of painter Walter Price, on his visionary canvases. Price's opening at Karma last December was mobbed at the start, but somehow his paintings, with their striking colors and puzzling compositions, were able to elevate above the clusters of people and their bobbing heads. I was determined to see each painting up close even though it meant weaving in and out of the crowd. Losing myself in one after another, Pearl Lines was clearly one of those shows you were glad you made it out into the cold to see.

After we took some time to talk about Price's work and his recent solo show, we got out our pencils and paper and began to draw. It became clear just how closely his paintings relate to drawing. From their stream of consciousness content to their limitless range of brush strokes, his works on canvas are able to capture the same kind of spontaneity and directness of mark making that a drawing can while still operating as a many-faceted painting. The surreal juxtapositions that come from their varied subject matter seem to circumvent time like a momentary daydream. Landscapes operate as aerial views with misplaced horizon lines. A first person point of view is described by using the profile of a bust in the foreground of composition, as though it is pondering the image with the viewer. Rich fields of cobalt blues, tangerine oranges, and lime greens open up sections of the picture plane, allowing the eye to settle into pure satisfying color. Mind-bending interiors with jumbles of objects, missing walls, couches, and sprawled out figures with hard-ons suggest a narrative, but leave most up to the imagination. Each short and surreal tale loosely informs the other, but the paintings stand strongly as individuals  much like the artist Walter Price's vision.

I was able to sift through the piles of drawings laying around the studio at the end of our visit. We talked about Price's daily routine and how systematically he approaches his practice. Starting with basketball and weight lifting before dawn to clear his thoughts, he leaves his mind ready for the expanse of his imagination. We should all take his cue and start our days without looking at our phones and instead move around outside before working in the studio. Price is in a large drawing group show at The Journal Gallery that runs through March 26th and to see more of his work go here http://karmakarma.org/tagged/walter_price

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Caroline Wells Chandler

Here we are stuck in the middle of another winter with an incredibly daunting 2017 on our hands and slushy trash-filled snow at our feet. So it couldn't be more timely that I turn my attitude around by reflecting back on a visit I made just before the end of the year. If you don't already know the wondrous world of Caroline Wells Chandler and his celebratory figures, I am thrilled to make the introduction. Caroline and I spent a day together at the end of 2016 sipping on juicy IPA's, eating guac, and engaging in life affirming conversations on the art world and what it needs from us. Most of the work in his Sharpe-Walentas  studio was up on the walls while he got ready for his two person show at Fred Giampietro Gallery opening January 14th. The space couldn't be more prime for drawing.

I first came across Caroline's work at an art fair a few years back. It was a relief to see a wall full of larger than life personalities encouraging me to dance away the stuffiness of the exhibition space. Like drawings, his forms are made up of intertwining marks with contour lines of contrasting values highlighting their free-form shapes. Alternating from neon pink to deep greens to subtle taupes, I find myself taking as much pleasure in their color as I do in their unabashed elation. The wall acts like both a canvas and a stage. But, in suspending ones disbelief, these creatures, or trolls, as Chandler adoringly calls them, begin to float around independently in the space, attached to nothing but a kindred spirit. Some of their titles refer to inspirational contemporary artists by their first name: Kathy, EJ, Tamara, and Jennifer, to name a few  a deserving homage to our community through portraiture. A group of smaller crotchet works synthesize stretched-out legs and vivid sunsets. They hover around the larger figures like musical notes reverberating exaltations and good vibrations. A rounded rainbow on the far wall is joined by two running torsos. The torsos seem to be helping one another along with their burdens by connecting their kaleidoscopic powers. Using the often marginalized medium of crotchet, Chandler is helping us along by expanding our sometimes narrow view of art, its history, how it is made, and who makes it. My favorite work up on the wall was of Caroline, as his younger self, being held in the arms of his partner, Angela. As artists, we can all relate to the capacity of love as encouragement.

I hope the next time you are at an art fair you come across the friends I made sitting in Caroline's studio that afternoon. They have a lot to teach us. Chandler's show is up at Fred Giampietro Gallery until February 14th and to see more of his work go here http://carolinewellschandler.com/home.html

Friday, January 6, 2017

Paul DeMuro

I met Paul DeMuro just outside the N train at the 59th St station last fall. His studio is located deep within the historical Brooklyn Army Terminal. We stopped in to see the desolate, but grandiose railroad tracks on our way. The heavy cement balconies that diagonally line its walls and the massive atrium towering above it astonished me as much as the fact that I had no idea this place existed. Block-long superstructures with slits for windows were connected by a footbridge similar to an ancient aqueduct. The whole compound seemed like a set for a sci-fi movie. But it was no surprise that the real marvel came when we finally got up to Paul's studio. The space positively glowed from the new suite of paintings he was working on. The love was instant.

I remember growing crystals when I was young. I think the recipe went like this: fill a jar with very salty water, attach a string across the top of it, and put it in the sunlight. They took time, but in the early 80's I had a lot of that. Using patience, sensitivity to light and a powerful center of intuition, DeMuro has been growing something even more astonishing in his studio. Three massive paintings were slowly being consumed by clusters of pattern and color, and I was there to watch it. Chaotic phenomena came sailing out of DeMuro's hand hour after hour. His palettes refract light like air on water. It was easy to relate his wildy trippy networks of mark-making to those found in crystalline structures. DeMuro explained that he works on his paintings instinctively, that each section informs the next. He also collages images like his sister playing football or the outline of a bouquet of flowers onto the paintings in order to get the ball rolling. Gradients and rainbows radiate from the collages' centers illuminating them like the sound of a gospel choir during the chorus of a pop song. I have yet to see these paintings in their completed form, but I can only imagine they have the same healing power that crystals and choirs do.

Behind the Brooklyn Army Terminal, Pier 4 juts out into the East River and is lined with fishermen and kids speeding by on their bikes. In the distance you can see a tiny green Statue of Liberty and the tip of Manhattan. Paul and I walked out on it at the end of our session. Our conversations didn't stop that day until we finished our lap and parted ways. It isn't only Paul's paintings that relate to the mysteries and beauties of nature, he does too. Paul has a show opening on January 8th at Essex Flowers and it is up until February 5th. To see more of his work go here http://pauldemuro.com/

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Fabienne Lasserre

Just before the cold swept across NY (in more ways than one), I visited sculptor Fabienne Lasserre's studio in Crown Heights. The air was still gentle for fall. The sun was shining sharply behind me, illuminating the white outline of a partially transparent orb that vibrated in the light. I sat snugly with the blanket Fabienne stretched across my lap and the freshly frothed coffee she had put by my side. Her two year old daughter, Lou, darted around the yard picking the last remnants of summer's tomato plants. Before starting we rearranged some of the sculptures to set the stage for the drawing. The garage door acted like a proscenium while Fabienne's animated, kaleidoscopic, and oversized ensemble came to life in front of me.

Fabienne takes abstraction to new levels by towering it magnificently over her viewers. As I walked through the sculptures that overflowed Fabienne's studio I could feel them gently guiding me through the space like the exaggerated hallways of a Fun House. I lavished in experiencing their expressive surfaces and wide cut out forms. They are wondrously animated in the spirit of Alexander Calder mobiles or Matisse's gouaches découpés. And then she takes her collages one step further by intuitively painting on either side of them. From neon oranges to glossy blacks to mute pinks, her palettes can go from monochromatic to vibrantly polychromatic. While I was there she was in the final stages of getting ready for her two person show with Annette Wehrhahn at Safe Gallery, which is up now until December 18th. Seeing the work in the context of the gallery a few weeks later only accentuated how much the sculptures play off of one another — cropping and framing each other to make entirely new compositions and conversations. They are truly all encompassing of both body and mind.
Image courtesy of Safe Gallery

We spoke about how much her work grew in size once Lou was born. My thought was maybe when your heart grows your art grows. Fabienne also just started working in Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program. The space she was given at Sharpe has a view of the bridge. A wonderful way to make sculptures, I can imagine, looking at the Manhattan Bridge while you do it. I urge you to go and see her show at Safe Gallery, and to see more of her work go here: http://fabiennelasserre.com/.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Liz Markus

My visits are mostly one on one, but spending the day in Liz Markus' studio was more like attending a soiree. Long legged retro models strutted, colorful hallucinogenic aliens snarled, a hippy was playing Jesus (or vice versa) and ceramic cats bounced their moon shaped paws up and down. A real life feline even crashed the party at the end of our session, prancing through the studio from down the hall. She tagged her favorite paintings with her tail before rubbing up against the leopard cub sitting in the center of the space. And all the while, Liz kept a constant beat going over the stereo as we managed to get some work done.

With a lot on her plate, Markus was gearing up for the group show "Domestic Seen" at the Nerman Museum in Kansas City when I visited her. A great energy ignites her space and you can experience it secondhand through her vivacious brush stokes and phosphorescent palettes. The pop culture references that raise the frequency of her high octane paintings are taken from collections of images and collages that fill up her studio walls and the cardboard boxes laying around the floor. Certain themes have come up in Liz's work and fearlessness has come out on her canvases. Recently, Markus successfully recovered from a rare form of ovarian cancer. Liz explained that she wanted to be able to speak about her experience of having cancer without overtly referencing it. She was drawn to images that represented good fortune, like the lucky cats you see hanging out in Chinatown's storefronts. So she painted them to connect the idea of luck and survival to how she felt fortunate to have had her cancer caught early. Sex cord stromal cell tumor is the medical terminology to describe her cancer. Abbreviated to sex cord it sounded to her more like the name of a band so she wrote it out across her painting in ownership of its power. Expressing positivity, frustration and strength as artists we are able to deal with some of life's greatest and least expected struggles. Abundance of creativity and spirit not only emanates from Markus' artwork, but also from Liz herself.

  After things winded down we talked about books and the importance of taking care of yourself. We talked about the big skies of a desert and living in the moment. I left full of life. Markus is in the group show "Domestic Seen," curated by Bruce Hartman at the Nerman Museum in Kansas City, which runs from October 20 – March 26. And "A New Subjectivity", curated by Jason Stopa and featuring artists Katherine Berhardt, Kathy Bradford, Rose Wiley, and Jackie Gendel at the Pratt Gallery Manhattan from February 23 – April 12, 2017. She also has a show at the University of Arkansas in August of 2017. To see more of her work go here: http://www.lizmarkus.com/.