Sunday, May 29, 2011

Joshua Abelow

Just up the street in my neighborhood of Williamsburg I did a studio visit with Joshua Abelow. I first met Joshua while drawing the installation of GOLD RECORDS, a show at ART BLOG ART BLOG, the space he is currently running in Chelsea. I have seen his work around town for awhile now, so it was with great pleasure that I dropped by his studio for a chat and a drawing session. Abelow's paintings and studio go hand in hand; both are approached systematically and with care. I just got the best vibe down there in his basement space.

His work brings to mind familiar painting traditions without feeling stuffy or contrived. Instead, it feels incredibly alive. At first glance, his medium to small sized paintings on burlap seem similar to one another, but on closer viewing they become individually captivating. I instantly became intrigued by them. Abelow went into detail on how he arrives at the color combinations that he uses in layers on his paintings. He has been keeping a journal of these combinations for years, making notes of the ones he likes the best. On the back of each painting he also writes down the particular combination he has used for it. Like a mathematical equation he can quickly go back to if he ever wants to replicate the paint's effects.

Abelow's drawings also play a major role in his practice. He has developed a comedic character loosely based on himself that he draws in different scenarios. This references the artist ego in a jokey lighthearted fashion that really hits home; it is humorous, but also true. He also looks to various images he has found, from stills of a film to things he has stumbled across on the Internet, for other characters in the drawings.

Joshua: I think an artist can be a transmitter and receiver of information.

This idea also manifests itself in his very popular blog, ART BLOG ART BLOG.

Joshua: Do you know the book, Peter Halley: Utopia's Diagrams? I read it when I was 22 and I still think a lot about the content of that book in relation to my work.

Parts of the drawings are also layered on top of some of the paintings. Or Joshua may simply refer to the artist character in the drawings by writing his phone number over a painting, a farcical way of restating himself as the artist making the art.
Here Abelow shakes a canvas to create a wind blown effect on the numbers he has painted on top of it.

And then there is Georgia, his lovely little dog that he has been making art next to for 7 years. I just couldn't resist doing a drawing of her.
Abelow's intern, Carlijn Potma, preparing some canvases for him. It was great meeting and talking to her as well. Here is her blog

At the end of the visit we parted ways until we met up again at the opening of Ctrl Alt Delete, a show put on by HKJB. It was terrific to get to know Abelow and his work in such depth. Fab visit! To check out more go to Or go to James Fuentes LLC to view the installation of the show he had there in January.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Vince Contarino

This week I went to Vince Contarino's studio in DUMBO. He is a current participant in the Marie Walsh Sharpe Studio Program. Vince has one of the big spaces in the center of the building. It's enough to make your mouth water. Contarino's work really shines in there. It was such a treat to spend the afternoon drawing it.

As I sat down to draw, Vince began to work.  His paintings are very concentrated on the presence of the hand without an overt self consciousness on the mark making itself. I was fascinated. It is almost like he takes turns expressively putting paint on the canvas and diligently cleaning it up. The tension of this push and pull tells a certain story of abstraction.

Contarino had made a kind of altar using works of his in black and white, photos and printed matter. His flat file acts as the centerpiece.

We listened to a lot of rock and roll while I was there. He talked about music's role in his studio, getting him into the zone.

Vince: I have to have music on while I am working. I can't work without it.

Throughout the afternoon Vince and I discovered all that we have in common besides our love of painting. We both grew up in the same part of Florida; fishing, hanging by the beach, and gater spotting. The Gulf Coast is a very special place.

Vince: When I visit Florida my family always flies me home with a bunch of fish that they caught; there is nothing like it.
His color is thought out, but not over-worked, just like the paintings themselves. I love the collection of colors he has mixed and keeps track of on a grid-like list on a pillar in his studio.

Vince: My steed!

We also got to talking quite a bit about his various other projects. He told me about the show he had just put together with Kris Chatterson through their joint blog Progress Report. The show was called The Working Title and was at the Bronx River Art Center. He shared with me this really cool catalogue they made for The Working Title, with Jon Lutz's questions for the artists and opening comments. You can find it at blurb.

Contarino expressed how wonderful it has been for him being in the Sharpe Studios. I would say he is totally thriving in there. I am excited to keep following his work after my close look at it. You can see his paintings at Also check out KCLOG, another art related blog he works on with Chatterson and others. Go Florida!

Saturday, May 14, 2011


This week I had the unique opportunity to do a drawing session during the installation of a show curated by Jon Lutz of Daily Operation at ART BLOG ART BLOG, a fantastic new space run by Joshua Abelow in Chelsea. I have been a follower of Lutz's work for some time now; he is definitely a curator to watch. Lutz's approach is truly conceptually innovative, bringing a breath of fresh air to the young contemporary art world.

Patrick Brennan, Sara Greenberger Rafferty, Patrick Brennan, Max Schumann

For the show Gold Records, Lutz has chosen a handful of artists he had featured on his former blog The Old Gold. The artists are: Ron Amstutz, Erik den Breejen, Patrick Brennan, Ned Colclough, Stacy Fisher, Jaime Gecker, Sara Greenberger Rafferty, Christopher Knowles, Max Schumann, J.D. Walsh, and Wendy White. Jon chose these artists based on their works' connection to various aspects of culture from the 60's on. He is making a record of artists that are making records of society's sights and sounds.

Wendy White

Jon: Josh tell me if you think this wall is too crowded or if the work is too high, I wanted the paintings to meet at the top.

Joshua: No, they're not too high,  I think it looks fucking great! 

There's nothing quite like watching a curator install their show. This is where Jon's art happens. Where to put what and how high to put it? Jon was moving things from one wall to another in order to get it just right. The space was filled with vivacious anticipation for the opening night. I watched Jon as he unveiled the art that was all wrapped up from delivery. I loved seeing how delighted he was as he reconnected with the pieces he had picked weeks prior in the different artists' studios. I was delighted to see them too. This is going to be one rocking show, I thought.

 J.D. Walsh

And then at the end of the week I went to the opening celebration. It was a great party, everyone was really stoked on the show. As was I. You gotta go see it.

508 W. 26th St. 11th Fl., NYC
Opening: Friday, May 13, 6-9 PM
Closes: Saturday, May 28
Open Hours: Wed-Sat 12-6 and by appointment

Wendy White, Erik den Breejen, Jon Lutz, Patrick Brennan

Monday, May 9, 2011

Ron Amstutz

Yesterday I visited Ron Amstutz's studio in Long Island City. His work contains elements of performance, painting, photography, and video that come together in service of his truly unique vision.  It was a great pleasure to see where the magic happens. What a charged space. Not only did I get to spend time with Ron, but also his two lovely daughters, Celeste (5) and Audrey (8).

Amstutz is deep in the production of a new project. We sat down to take a look at his progress so far as he explained to me his multi-faceted process. For this work, he first recorded the light spilling through his studio windows onto a stage he built in the back of his space. He did this by taking photos at different times of day using a variety of different camera angles -- 9 to be exact. Next, Amstutz painted the reflection of the window's light onto the stage, choosing 21 different photos from the numerous ones he took to work from. This series of photos represents the passing of time through the changes of light. Ron is in the midst of painting the stage 42 different ways corresponding to the 21 photos he has chosen. 42 because he is doing one set in grey scale and one in color, using a very subdued color scheme so as not to overpower the piece. Once the stage is painted, Ron takes meticulous photos of himself in costume while striking many different difficult poses. He is also experimenting with posing in the mirror image of these gestures and taking yet another picture, which adds to the overall visual complexity.

Ron: This is a way of doubling, repeating it without actually repeating it.

 These poses will eventually be put together to make a stop-motion video, creating a wonderfully subtle and awkward choreography. Keep in mind he is repainting and reposing for each still he has chosen from the original pictures of the light spilling through the window. I can barely do this project justice by trying to explain it. It is extremely elaborate and cared for. Amstutz is making magnificent references to the light we use in painting and the feeling we have as artists when making.

Adding to the obsessively systematic nature of the project, Amstutz paints a mark on his costume after each completed phase the stage set goes through. There are two costumes, one black and one white. I love the presence of the character he has invented. It makes for a delightfully bizarre narrative.

Ron: I have one idea and then another one that complicates it, and then another one that complicates that and so on and so on.

As an added bonus I had a couple of drawing partners sitting by my side, the daughters. We had a blast working together. They had quite a bit to say about the project. They are very bright girls. Here are their renditions of the stage:

Above is Audrey's drawing of the stage.
Celeste to the left and Audrey to the right.
Above is Celeste's drawing of the stage.

What a great ride it was to spend time with Ron and his ladies. I am so looking forward to seeing this piece at the end of its production. Ron's intense thinking and layered way of working makes for a truly fantastic experience.

Amstutz is going to be in the group show Gold Records which opens this friday May 13th, (508 W 26th st 11th floor). He will be showing one of his previously made videos. You should also check more of his work out at and WALLSPACE.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Daniel Heidkamp

I visited Daniel Heidkamp's studio in Greenpoint last week. I was so glad to finally see his work in person, and I even got the chance to have my portrait painted by him. He made it clear that when you come to his studio, you take the time to sit in his favorite chair while he busts out a painting of you.  
I was quite drawn to a large yellow canvas that he has visitors sign in oil on their way out; a record of all of his meetings.

Among other things, Heidkamp is currently working on a group of portraits he makes by asking artists to sit for him while they are visiting his space. Some of them are then repainted in a more stylized fashion after the sitter has left. Sometimes, he takes this process even further by repainting a painting yet again as part of a "portrait" he does of his own studio. Super meta. We talked about what happens when you use a painting as a still life in terms of appropriating an image. The conversation took many turns and was quite stimulating.

Dan was delightfully animated as he talked about his work.
Dan: These portraits are like a hushed cheering section or a mute chorus. Now you're in the grandstands too.
Dan: Tables are turned now, you are in my studio -- this is my favorite part!

He then asked, in turn, if I might like to draw him. He sat in his beloved chair with a portrait of the chair above him and I busted out my own portrait of an artist.

We had a funny chat about the mechanics of an art studio, where to put things and liking them to pile up. He told me a story about a shelf that collapsed, how he then just ended up using the boards from the shelf and some crates to stack into a pile. What a rad stack.

It was really nice getting to know Heidkamp and his dynamic paintings and personality.
Check out more at