Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Kimia Ferdowsi Kline

For centuries traditional storytelling has used animals in place of humans. From Aesop's fables to George Orwell's Animal Farm, our furrier counterparts direct our moral compasses while exhibiting humanistic traits. Kimia Ferdowsi Kline's studio in Fort Greene was stacked with juicy marked up oil paintings of jackals, cats, horses, and fish all inspired by the ancient Persian book “Kalila and Dimna,” a collection of interrelated animal fables in verse and prose. The jackals, Kalila and Dimna, who narrate the story, sat upright and bright in the foreground of one of Kimia's canvases, illuminating the room as we spent the day working alongside one another in the breeziness of early spring.

I am hooked on the verve a studio has just before a body of work is completed. Kimia's studio was overflowing with it, only a few days away from shipping her new suite of paintings to Detroit, Michigan for a solo show at the Elaine. L. Jacob Gallery, a part of Wayne University. The large stellar painting that she worked on while I was there went from a vibrant red to black to white; the silhouettes of previous coats being saved along the way and seen riffling through her layers. A flock of birds was scattered across her dining room table, as though en route to Detroit. Kimia and I talked over the possible background colors she would use to accentuate their soar when she installed them in the gallery. The playfulness of the neon colors and varied feather patterns gave each of them their own story to tell. On one canvas a woman wearing a startlingly blue jumpsuit stretches a marmalade cat, who takes the focus of the painting, across her arms. The cat's expression fills in for the missing face of the figure and reminded me of the anthropomorphized felines in Persian mythology. I delighted in recapturing these creatures' whimsical and luscious qualities, but even more so in the spontaneity of the painter's imagination.

In the afternoon Kimia whipped us up a blueberry smoothie and we took a break from our work to talk about her other work, curating for the Wythe Hotel. Artists make fantastic curators. With 70 rooms to fill, her project takes her to a lot of studios, and like myself, she gets great joy from it. To see more of her work go here http://www.kimiakline.com/ and if you happen to be in Detroit please see her show "As Above, So Below" at Elaine. L. Jacob Gallery up until June 24th.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Ryan Schneider

Driving under the excitement and relief of the open California sky, I made my way down CA-210 this past March from LA to Joshua Tree. About a half hour outside of our destination, my husband and I started spotting the storied trees themselves. Some of them live to be a half millennium old, and as they twist and turn between a tree, a cactus, and a dancing Shiva, their powers felt intoxicating. Blooming while we visited, their sweet scented waxy green flowers set against the cerulean dessert sky like a vision, waving us into the Mojave. A year ago, I ran into Ryan Schneider in NY at an art fair and he told me that he was spending the winter in Joshua Tree. His eyes and heart seemed wider than usual and he continued on to tell me that he wouldn't be coming back. Having always wanted to go there, I then made it a goal to visit him before the next year was up. His recent work, incorporating the mysticism of trees, the female form, and the heavens shining at night, seems to have found its home in the desert of California. And so has he.

Magnetic sets of eyes stared back at me while I drew, encouraging my concentration. Wise, bright
and curious in their posturing, Schneider's feathered friends winked like the tiny stars that peak-a-boo through the canvases' kaleidoscopic under paintings. As the shape of the owls merged with the patterns of the tree limbs, I was reminded of the harmonious balance between the natural world and nighttime, peaceful, but vibrant, just like Ryan's paintings. Schneider's solo show, which opened at Gerhard Hofland in Amsterdam last week, highlights both his nocturnal tree paintings and his figurative works. The figures bend and arch, much like the native Joshua trees surrounding his studio and imitate the curve of a boulder or a desert horizon line. I relish in the saturation and potent contrast of the colorful lines that repeat around their forms. Parts of Schneider canvases are built up, allowing the oil paint to slowly build a strata, crusting up layers like the earth. He explained that when he started to work in the desert, he battled with the sand that would collect on the paint after the wind had blown. Succumbing to the desire of the desert to become one with his paintings, he then began to occasionally add the carcass of a Joshua trees to their surfaces.

Just before sunset, we hit the road to head to a popular out of the way road house for dinner and to watch the Sunday night house band. The food, music, and conversation was typically Californian and exceeded my highest expectations. The whole experience was as surreal and celestial as Schneider's paintings. That big sky satiated my desire to draw the studios that live beyond city limits and is begging me to do so more often. If you are in Amsterdam please go see Ryan's solo show "Speak to Me, Tree" at Gerhard Hofland, up until April 23rd. He is also in a group show this New York this June at Taymour Grahne Gallery.  To see more of his work go here http://ryanschneiderart.com/

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Alexander Nolan

Three mornings before Alexander Nolan made his way across the Atlantic for his first solo show with Galerie Bernard Ceysson in Luxembourg, I sat in his studio/living room and made a drawing of the fantastical figurative tales that cover the walls while he and his wife, Lauren Luloff, sweetly hushed their newborn Julian to sleep. With the golden spring light just beginning to cut through the end of winter, I was wholly captured by the serenity of the moment. Their new phase of life as inspiriting as the season's passing. Soon, Nolan will be moving studios, a pretty constant ritual for artists. Hopefully, this drawing on the occasion of his solo show will capture a memory for Julian he may not otherwise have.

The characters in Nolan's fictions on paper have all the addictive qualities of a cliff-hanger, juicy romance, or historical anecdote, only with animals occasionally playing the lead roles. I was lost in his narrative while I drew a nursing woman surrounded by suave wolves brushing the woman's hair, sipping martinis and casually riding the train like nothing was out of the ordinary. Maybe a heist was in their future; I could imagine the next painting being of the wolves raising the baby in the woods. Another piece showed an alligator stealing the shoe of a damsel in distress as a passer-by walked matter of factly, an almost too familiar NYC fiction of the stranger who pretends to be oblivious to another in harms way. The loose brushwork of Nolan's imagery is direct and fresh. He is recording his imaginations without hesitation, like any good writer would, and his bold use of color supports the works' dreamlike qualities as it sets the mood, be it playful or suspect. Looking around the studio, I found stacks of art history books, from Bruegel to Magritte, and we talked about the hours Nolan has spent lost among paintings at the Met. The definitive flow of his figure-packed works on paper is evidence of this as he pulls from hundreds of years of art to tell his stories.

After drawing a cat holding a deck of cards sitting smuggly around a table, I sat around a different table with Nolan and his family eating omelettes and talking about his trip to Luxemburg. There was so much energy and happiness at this lunch hour, and soon after, Lauren was asleep with Julian as Alex and I finished up our art conversations in the living room. Nolan is in the inaugural show at Romeo Gallery opening the weekend of April 8th, and, if you find yourself in Luxemburg, his show at Galerie Bernard Ceysson is up until May 21st. To see more of his work go here http://alexandernolan.com/.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Meg Lipke

We all forget to slow down: to take a longer walk, relish in what we eat, or look at art for more than one second at a time. I had the opportunity to spread a visit with Meg Lipke out over a couple of Saturdays last month while she got ready for her solo show at Freight + Volume's new space in the LES. We started our meetings with lunch at Northeast Kingdom, the beloved Bushwick restaurant that Meg and her husband Paris Smeraldo opened in the Fall of 2005, before the onslaught of others quickly followed in their tracks. After eating our juicy huevos rancheros and unstoppable fried chicken sandwiches, Lipke and I would go for a walk, pick up a coffee, and slowly make our way to her studio, letting our extensive conversations about her work and mine marinate. We were taking our time, and in that time I was able to draw the saturated overflow of rich colors and strong soft forms that expand beyond the canvas and imagination in Lipke's studio.

Growing up, I spent many hours in a costume design studio. My father taught in the theater department of a University, and it was my preferred place to be plopped when I was with him on my days off. I watched how the magical recipe of bright fabrics, tight stitches, and stuffing made things come to life. This same recipe is igniting Lipke's work; personalities grow out of the slightest slump of her forms. Skeletal-like structures, painted with the high contrast colors of vintage circus costumes, sway on the wall next to cushioned planks adorned with zigzag patterns and sewn into unlikely compositions. A large architectural configuration comfortably leans back, purposefully faded in color, but not in character. Lipke's paintings, on both stretched and sewn-together canvas, are wonderfully animated, and read like a 21st century re-imaging of the space between abstract expressionism and pop art.
Northeast Kingdom still holds the reigns for the best place to decelerate and eat delicious locally sourced food. Lipke also lives near Hudson, spending a large portion of her time in her studio there and with her three children and Husband. She is not only growing great art, but also a family and food for their restaurant, truly inspirational. I urge you to go see her show opening this Sunday March 5th at Freight and Volume. And to see more of her work go here http://meglipke.com/.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Erin Jones

Last Friday night I went to the opening of Casino Cabaret at Safe Gallery, a very cool new spot in Williamsburg run by artist and curator Pali Kashi. It was the New York art scene at its best: great art work, accompanied by a high energy screw-ball speakeasy and a keg of beer. Melissa Brown, master of all things casino and cabaret (and curator of the show) vivaciously MC-ed the performance portion of the evening. It kicked off with Michael Mahalchick singing "Cabaret," almost better then Liza, to a swooning audience. Even with all this intermittent excitement, I was somehow able to make an impromptu appointment to draw Erin Jones' studio before her own opening at Safe Gallery next week: a two person show with Kari Cholnoky. The spirit of connectedness on Friday night carried over into our visit. Jones' studio housed some of the most stimulating works I have seen in awhile. Her space was electric, with terrazzo filler, towel fragments, tin foil, and a Minion Snake Goddess balancing a cat on her head.

Jones' process involves making her compositions before making their surfaces. In other words, she is painting inversely, and the freshness that this gives the work is unmatchable. Smoothing wet Hydrocal over a wide variety of materials laid out in her mold, these wall sculptures transform as they dry, resulting in surprises not only for Erin, but also the viewer. Highly saturated Harlequin patterns ooze over the cold white surface like melted Crayolas, uniting the busts of two curiously wide-eyed characters. And the subtlety of the tinfoil lines that hover just beneath their surface, makes the touch of their palms all the more tender. Like Dubuffet's Art Brut, her use of unorthodox materials and directness of image making excitingly lives just outside of art norms. The tactile qualities of the work made me want to experience them with more than just my sight; they begged to be touched.

At the end of the day we settled into a beer and talked over the restraint it took for Jones to not flip over the piece she had been working on before it was fully dry. We also talked about our shared feelings on the growing art world, our artist community, and how having nice people out there still made all the difference. The power of a smile and a hug are often overlooked. Go see this show on Sunday February 21st at Safe Gallery and connect with these awesome new works like I did. To see more of her work go here http://www.erinleejones.com/

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Brie Ruais

“Music is liquid architecture; architecture is frozen music” - Goethe. This is the quote that came to mind when I first saw the five large pieces that hung on Brie Ruais' studio walls. In her case, it is as though choreography is liquid art and art is frozen choreography. Description of movement and gesture is something that we see often in painting, but in Ruais' work, it transcends description and becomes real. I was captivated while imagining the actions that took place in the first steps of these beautifully realized ceramic wall sculptures. Having met Ruais for the first time when I came by to draw, it took me a while to take my eyes off the work and onto our introduction.

 The painted glazes Brie adds to her ceramic sculptures (in between their multiple firings) are as exquisite as their surfaces. The warm colors of a winter's dusk contrast with charcoal grays that are accentuated with shimmering metallics. As the light dances in their grooves, craters, and foot indentations, you can see the body in a sitting upright position, legs lengthening, pushing the wet clay away from the center. The studio is the platform where, in a recent project, Ruais is directing people to make a sequence of movements on the clay she has laid out for them. She then does the same sequence of movements on a separate piece of clay that, once glazed and fired, she gives to her volunteers in exchange for their time and work. The spirit of collaboration and shared experience in this project wakes up the usual ideas of art making and brings them to life.
I had a lovely day with Brie. It was warmer in her studio than outside; not just because of the heater, but also the company. We listened to NPR and commented on the goings on of the week as we worked. Please go see her sculpture in the group show, LOW, organized by Michael Delucia and Ethan Greenbaum at Lyles and King that opens February 14th and runs until March 13th. And to see more of her work go here http://brieruais.com/.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Butt Johnson

I love drawing, and get really excited when I encounter someone who has a similar enthusiasm for it. I went to see Butt Johnson's extraordinary show, Quaint Abstractions, at CRG Gallery recently, which is up until February 21st. The drawings in the show eluded my understanding of the form, so I immediately sought out a visit with him. After spending the day in his studio, I started to get the sense that these color concentrated abstractions are more like a subversive version of the space-time continuum than the usual pen and paper hypothesis. He is making his own conclusions about drawing and dimensionality, and taking us on that journey with him.

Some of the steps in Johnson's process, like the erratic swirl of a line, take seconds to make, while other steps, like the repeated start-and-stop of a ball point pen, take months. This is where space and time get sublimely confusing. The closer you get, physically, to the drawings, digesting their various bold (and often trippy) color patterns, the further you are from understanding how they came to be. The bright flurry of jelly roll and ball point pen marks that cluster on the outskirts of some pieces are a stimulating place for the eye to wonder and let loose. But I am always happy to get back to the meat of the work and imagine it from every angle of its conception. 

By the end of the day, we put down our pencils and pens and assessed our progress and the amount of cramping in our hands. It was pretty meta to draw a drawing while it was being drawn. You can also see his work in Drawing, up now at Kerry Schuss through March 6th, and We Are Not Things, at Invisible Imports until the 14th of February. To see more of Johnson's drawings go here http://crggallery.com/artists/butt-johnson/.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Matt Phillips

As the day teetered towards twilight, the thunder of an overhead train on an otherwise stormless summer night silenced the group. In a synchronized movement, we all stretched our heads upward to make sure that the freight, at least 5 stories above us, wasn't heading straight for the platform we were lounging on. The height of the train tracks was comparable to the buildings that surround us in the city, but the embracing trees, river, and serenity of the night was foreign, entrancing, and very unlike home. My husband and I curated a show in July at One Mile Gallery in Kingston, NY, and we were lucky to have Matt Phillips as one of the artists in it. He, along with a handful of other painters in the show, came up for the opening. When I visited Phillips' studio months later, he shared with me two paintings that were inspired by that night and the percussion of the train. The structure's mysterious hugeness was captured in his canvases and so was our joined experience.

Phillips asked me if I wanted to arrange the paintings before I got started. Curating a studio for a drawing is such a thrill. The work was leaving for Matt's double feature solo show at Steven Harvey Fine Arts in less than 48 hours, so, as you can imagine, the pickings were as rich as the paintings. With multiple points of entry, Phillips' work is generously made. The larger canvases, which often depict familiar fantastical structures straight out of a sixties psychedelic animation, beg for being climbed on and around, making a playground for the eye. The paint that is applied to fill these shapes, in both the larger and smaller paintings, pools together at their edges creating rivers of vivid color. The organic quality of these ridges gently persuades you to take time to look, resting your eye on their furry details. Phillips makes his paint by hand, allowing for it to have the right viscosity to play this game of chance on the canvas. I talked to Matt about how he arrives at his overall patterns, and he explained that he listens to the paintings while he makes them. You can see this in their differences and individual voices. There is an ethereal glow to the work, as there is to the artist.

I haven't mentioned Mirabelle yet. She is Matt and his wife Molly's dog, and she is like no other. My adoration for her goes deep. If you get the chance to meet her, do so. Her gentleness and magnetism can only be matched by her owners. Mirabelle spent the day with us watching and listening; the perfect studio companion. Make sure to see Matt's fantastic solo show at Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects. Matt is also currently in a group show at Bannerette, curated by Austin Eddy. Matt will be at MacDowell for the month of January. And if you find yourself in Paris, check out the group show at Le Coeur, curated by Timothée Chailou, opening in February. To see more of his work go here http://paintingpaintings.com/home.html .