Thursday, September 29, 2011

Elisa Lendvay

I visited Elisa Lendvay's studio most recently. She has a space in Greenpoint in a building chock full of artists. When I first thought of doing this project Elisa was at the forefront of my mind. I had found her sculptures loosely entering my painting which sparked the idea of drawing the work I am drawn to. It was just as I had hoped it would be when I entered her space. Shelves overflowed with sculptural artifacts, grouped together as though they were lined up to be studied, the floor scattered with stacks of flat constructs, large freestanding pieces in the center of the space hit with sections of bright color, and walls jutting out with painted forms having been arranged just so. All of the work appeared animate in its liveliness. It was begging for a still-life rendition.

While I was there Elisa showed me what she had made while staying at the Albee Foundation residency in Montauk for the month of August. I immediately saw the residency's proximity to the ocean as an influence on her newest work. The work, with its cool whites, winding structures, and fence-like shapes looked salted and worn. Elisa, sometimes using found objects and often constructing things under the influence of the shapes she has gathered in her mind and studio, tells the story of a moment, a memory, or a single thought. She depicts these ideas by using repetition of form, color, and material almost obsessively as though it were a song she can't get out of her head. Currently, she is using a scalloped, shingled, or echo repetition in different aspects of her work, be it sculpture, painting, or drawing. It brought to mind sound or water waves and vertebrae. One of the materials Lendvay uses is a type of papier mâché, which adds to the organic look of her configurations. The paper mimics heavy hardened sand, but mysteriously leaves the piece light to pick up.

There is a special energy to Elisa's work that gives it the feeling of being in motion. It seems like if you turned your back on a piece it might move or re-adjust itself. As I as was drawing, this happened quite literally. Elisa was dancing around her space placing one thing next to another, creating and recreating an impromptu installation. She kept telling me it was almost ready. I would be drawing and at a moment's notice something would have moved,  leaving me to start on the next section of my paper. This was totally invigorating. It gave the visit a spontaneously interactive feel. She was installing as I was drawing, a race to the end of the her space's organization and my graphite filled paper.

Elisa talked about the importance of moving the work around and studying one piece's interaction with another. She gathers information this way.  It felt like her studio was set up like a scientific lab, with her specimens being arranged in hierarchical structures and classification schemes.

A view of Elisa's Studio at Albee

Elisa and I had a hard time stopping the chat on a few occasions so that we could get back to the art making. I missed her while she was away at the Albee residency. I was going to visit her there, but it was the weekend Irene decided to visit instead, and we thought it was best for me to not get on the train. I liked to think of her in the barn-like studio she described, hiding out with her sculptures fighting the winds, but I was glad to see her back with all her work intact ready for me to draw. Please check out more of her Elisa's radness at

Monday, September 19, 2011

Kees den Breejen

Also while in California I got the chance to visit Kees den Breejen's studio in Oakland. He is the father of my first Pencil in the Studio visit, Erik den Breejen. I spent the afternoon with Kees (pronounced "case") talking to him about his paintings and profession through the years, learning about his ancestry and life spent in California. He had some fascinating stories for me. His studio is nestled in their wonderful home in the Montclair Hills with a great view of the bay and all of its activity. We even got the chance to visit the Legion of Honor museum together for the exhibition Dutch and Flemish Masterworks from the Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Collection. I saw many connections between this show and Kees's paintings. Kees, having moved to California (by way of Canada) from Holland (Delft to be exact), comes from a long-standing tradition of painting.

Kees's work spawns from his interests in history, his extensive travel, his love of photography and his daily life in the bay area. While I was there he was working on finishing up a self-portrait from a photo he had taken on the subway while visiting NYC. He is currently working on a group of paintings that depict various transit systems. A painting of a trolley car in San Francisco stood out in particular, again reminding me of some of the Dutch paintings we had seen earlier that week. They are like Kees's contemporary take on the Genre paintings of the 1600's.  There is a concentration on narrative and theme. This painting depicts a man and a woman crossing the street in front of the trolley, portaits of an urban society, regular folks. We also talked about his influences, from Thieboud to Vermeer; from Van Gogh to Oakland's Anthony Holdsworth. Kees's work deftly combines elements of California realism, Impressionism, and Golden Age Dutch painting.

His illustrations are just as impressive as his paintings. He explained how for many years he had been making cards for people at the office. Once he made his first, the requests just kept coming.  I was so delighted when he made one for me, a "Jenuwine Kees Kard." What a talent to have. I asked if there were other artists in the family. He told me that when his father first moved to Canada and couldn't speak English he would draw pictures of the things he was looking for at the store in order to ask for them.
    Kees's father, also named Kees, or Cornelus, made the clock on the right by hand, down to the gears.  
    Kees Jr. helped by painting the face.

Kees worked in the graphics department at The Oakland Tribune and, later, The San Francisco Chronicle for many years before retiring, and now concentrates on painting. He explained how things changed from one decade to the next, remembering when they first set an Apple computer in front of him and told him that this was what he would be using from then on, with no word of it beforehand. Can you imagine? The year was 1988; he was also studying painting with Holdsworth and (with help from his father) rebuilding the family house they have in the Sierra foothills. A real Renaissance man!
    Rotterdam Haven, 1970

I adored my time spent with Mr. den Breejen, as I always do. We got the chance to visit the house that he rebuilt with his father in the 80's. In the midst of loaded blackberry bushes there is a petanque court. As always Kees schooled me in a game of it. One of these days I'll take the court. Heres to one of my favorite painters and petanque players! To see more go to