Sunday, June 26, 2011

Karla Wozniak

On Monday evening I visited Karla Wozniak's studio in Sunset Park to have a chat and do some drawings. It was perfect timing too, since she had not only just packed up a bunch of her paintings to send out west for a show in San Francisco, but is also currently packing up her studio altogether to move to Tennessee. She just got hired as a painting professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Cheers to that! It was a splendid visit with Karla, talking to her about her work, her move ahead, her time in NYC, and her travels.

Karla: I try not to take pictures while driving, but I have been known to do that.

Wozniak's paintings are based, in part, on photos she has taken while on road trips to various places across the country. As soon as I stepped inside her studio loads of questions came to mind. I love it when new paintings evoke that kind of inquisitive feeling. Did you take the photos yourself? Are these all trips you have been on? Is each one a specific place or are they composites of different places? Yes, she takes the photos. Yes, she gets to go on all these fab drives. And each painting is either one specific view or a handful of views of one trip, combined into a single painting. It is like Wozniak is sharing the experience of being in a moving car, passing by all the sights that have caught her eye; giving the viewer a blurred, playful sense of the memories of her travels. The views of the road weave in and out of perspective by way of her use of light and space. Adding to the excitement of her work is the fact that Wozniak is no stickler: she lets the paintings speak to her as she is making them.  For instance, a highly abstracted flat form can lead smoothly to a cleanly painted road sign that juts out from on top of it.

 The road signs in the paintings act as not only a marker for where she has been, but also as a commentary on the ugliness of capitalism when juxtaposed with the beautiful landscapes that make up our United States.
While there, being a pencil in the studio kind of gal herself, Karla drew me drawing her paintings.

Referring to the unfinished mountainous drawing on the wall behind her:

Karla: This one is of Shasta, you are driving down highway 5 and then you see this huge mountain appear out of nowhere.

I felt lucky to be able to catch Karla before she made it on the road to Tennessee. I look forward to seeing her next group of paintings. BBQ signage perhaps? I really really dig her work. It gives me a lot of what I want from a painting, fantastically varied use of paint and pencil, luscious and vibrant abstracted fields of color, and a little day dreaming about where she was when taking the photos. In some ways, Karla is sticking to a long-standing tradition in painting: she went there, she saw something interesting in the place, and she painted it. Hey, if you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair, and go see her show at Gregory Lind Gallery opening June 29th-August 12th. Also check out the rest of her amazing art here:

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Mernet Larsen

My next visit was with artist Mernet Larsen in Jackson Heights, Queens. I have known Larsen's work since I was about three. She was a professor of art at the University of South Florida for some 35 years, where my father was teaching theater. Larsen has also taught at a handful of other universities: Yale, Montana State, and the University of Oklahoma to mention a few. It was quite something to come to her now as an adult and fellow artist. Not only was it exciting to see her second studio in Queens (her first being in Tampa, Florida), but such a thrill to hear of her travels, teaching experiences, and memories of an earlier New York City art scene as a participant of the Art Students League and beyond.

Mernet's current work is, among other things, a humorous and unadulterated look at what it has been like to be involved in academia for as long as she has. Often, her paintings use a more than confusing and extremely engrossing two point perspective. She leaves the viewer at the end of the vanishing-point by putting the larger figures in the back of the space and the smaller figures in the front.  It somehow tricks the eye into thinking this is how the space actually operates, a visual flip of what we all know to be correct perspective. The viewer becomes an almost invisible part of the equation, having no place at the end of the vanishing point. It made me feel like there was no right position to stand in while looking at the paintings. Maybe there is also no right position to stand in while attending a committee meeting? Ha!
                                                           Faculty Meeting, 2008, Acrylic, mixed media on canvas, 58" x 40"

Larson: I am still using the same book I have been using since 1985.

A lot of the perspective space she uses in her paintings have been taken from art images she has found in a handful of books she had gathered from her travels to India and Japan in the 80's. For example, one book she showed me was of japanese scroll paintings. She considers herself to be using the techniques of a Rorschach test to find spaces within the paintings that captivate her. Larsen does this by flipping the books in all sorts of directions and staring at the image until it starts to become something other than what it is. She has been using this technique for some 25 years.
Committee, 2007, acrylic, mixed media on canvas, 36" x 68"
 I haven't even gotten a chance to touch on all that we explored in our conversation. Larsen had so much information to share; I just couldn't stop asking her questions about not only her life as an artist, but also as a teacher and fellow woman. Mernet told me about one of the first teaching jobs she had gotten in Oklahoma. When hiring her, they didn't know she was a woman. They told her that they wouldn't have hired her if they had known, but would keep her on as a teacher anyhow. Larsen said to me, nonchalantly, that she was so glad to have gotten the job it didn't bother her. No shit?! She is so cool. This story blew my mind.
It was such a delight to spend the afternoon there in Mernet's studio settled in the beautiful tree lined streets of Jackson Heights. Reconnecting with her and re-exploring her multiple bodies of work was a truly joyful experience. If you have the chance, please visit Vogt Gallery in Chelsea where she is currently in a show, The Fitting Room, curated by David Cohen. Also check out more of her totally fantastic paintings here

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Andy Cross

My next visit took place over two days at Andy Cross' studio in Bushwick. I can't say that I am unfamiliar with Andy's work or studio, it is even possible that I stop by once a week for a brief chat and update, but it was very rewarding to stay for awhile this time with my pencil and paper. It was almost meditative. Andy has a wonderfully airy space filled with vibrant color and positive energy. And boy does he have a lot of work! From week to week it often seems like whole bodies of work are produced.

Andy lets one group of paintings lead to the next as he moves in and out of different thoughts and ideas. He is constantly experimenting and pushing himself in new directions, which is so refreshing and uninhibited. He travels a lot and the influence of this can be seen quite clearly in his work. His journeys have ranged from camping trips upstate with easel and paint in the back of his van to adventures in Asia with packed canvases in his bag. Images of landscape, mystical figures, people he has met, and animals appear repeatedly in his paintings, all of which are distinctly Andy's.  He also listens to a lot of talk radio. From Democracy Now to This American Life to Krista Tippett on Being. I think this is channeled in his work in all sorts of ways. He is constantly streaming audio information. And when he talks, he intermixes this information with stories he tells of his own life.

When I was there we listened to Amy Goodman's podcast from that morning's show. It was somber news, but, as Andy put it, he is always searching for the truth and Democracy Now is where he can find it.

Andy: I used to think I had to illustrate what I was learning, but now it hits an emotional center that comes out in the mark making, like what kind of brushstroke I make. At times, an overall sadness comes out.
Knowing my secret love for drawing animals, Cross set up a still life of various creatures he had painted.

Andy: Its kind of a throne of a chair, but I don't sit there that much. It is a throne for anyone who sits with me.
Andy's peaceful outlook on life and others around him gave this visit a special kind of artistic healing power. We listened to several different segments he had come across online that spoke of the importance of looking within. We sat and worked on our own in silence as we listened. It was like being in Andy's world for an afternoon. A world that is self reflective and concentrated on creating and understanding.

At the end of the first day of my visit we watched the sunset as we barbecued with artist Erik den Breejen on the roof of their shared studio building. It was Memorial Day and a fantastic sunset. Andy worked on a painting of a Buddhist Monk meditating. What a great way to end that session.

You must go see the show he is in this month, LANY organized by Mario Diaconoi. It opens on the 8th of June at Peter Blum. Here you will be able to see all of what I am talking about. I have witnessed the growth of the four very large paintings that will be on display from the ground up. Let me tell you, they are really something to behold. Also check out more of his work here