Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Jay Gaskill

I have been following Jay Gaskill's work through all three years of his time at Hunter. As he approached his MFA thesis show, I had the chance to head uptown to make that stressful leap across Dyer Ave to the Hunter graduate studios to see one of his paintings in its final stages. It was during open studios, but fittingly, his door was closed and I was the only viewer allowed in that day. His space was surprisingly tidy, but I could see the remnants of frenzied production. The final painting Jay was working on is 8 1/2 by 18 1/2 feet in size; it swallowed me up as I entered the space, leaving me to only imagine the extreme anxiety that there must be on the maker's part in pulling off such a large piece, but Jay, as cool as a cat, was perfectly calm and focused, as expected. We walked around as he showed me other works he had made in his final year. And then, as there was a lot for both of us to do, we got down to it with our Balentines in hand, "Hunter style," as he put it.

Jay's pieces are extremely well considered; they would have to be for how seamlessly they are painted. I spent quite a while gazing at the one that he had just completed prior to beginning to work on his thesis. I found there to be a vast amount of visual navigation to do on the viewer's part. Does this corner's formation mirror that of the others'?  Does the center act as a mandala or are there breaks in its repetition? How is the white used? If not as a background, then as its own color? Tricking my eyes with its twists and turns, I occasionally arrived at somewhat familiar imagery. It was as though I was finally making sense of the pattern, the colors themselves subtly bringing to mind palettes from another era, the forms reminiscent of graphics familiar yet elusive. But alas, to my increasing bewilderment, the images would begin to blur into the background or be quickly pulled away from the vibrating surface. If this was a maze, I was happily lost, all the possible conclusions put before me quenching my intellectual thirst. Unsolvable can be so gratifying.

The corner of the studio had accumulated a pile of acetate that had obviously been used somewhere in his process, as Jay pulled out a few large sheets to show me which matched what painting it became clear how complex his process is. Obsessively deciding how the piece will be laid out, he paints onto the acetate possible patterns and then holds it up to the canvas. Not always satisfied, he might repaint the acetate and hold it up once again. He repeats this action over and over, making new configurations each time, until, in a moments notice, the right composition is found. Jay explained to me how much deliberation there was in working out his largest painting yet, -- the one he was propped up on a ladder for while I was there. Stupefied by this act, I realized how completely he is using time-honored systems of painting.

There is nothing quite like the juiced-up energy that exudes from an artist about to finish up a program. Jay warned me he was going to be working hard and late. He told me that I was welcome to stay as long as I wanted, but that he would be there well into the evening; he was right, I tuckered out after only 6 hours. I had such a fabulous day there with Jay, talking about our art, the art world, and our busy lives. He also filled me in on some crucial NFL developments. We took a break to walk around and visit some other studios, stopping to talk to various students in the hallway. It was obvious that everyone was as much a fan of Jay and his work as I am. I can't wait to see his thesis show next week! It opens on Wednesday the 14th (6-8pm) at the Hunter MFA Thesis Exhibition. Be sure to check out more of Jay's rad work at

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Jess Fuller

I used to rent a studio in Greenpoint where I had the opportunity to get to know artist Jess Fuller. I was excited at the opportunity to revisit with her the other week in her very spacious live-in studio in Clinton Hill. Shortly after I arrived and was introduced to her lovely cat Buster, we sat down to have the tacos that she had prepared for us during our visit.  It was a soft fall evening and as we put away our dishes and got out our respective art materials, Jess began to walk me around the place, sharing with me her studios' most recent developments. She explained that she was preparing to ship her work to Denmark for a two person show with Sam Moyer at Galleri Tom Christoffersen that opens December 2 and that she was currently in a group show at SOUTHFIRST in Williamsburg. Her work and materials took up nearly every part of the apartment, hanging from the walls, made into mountainous-like piles in the corners, and organized factory style on the floor awaiting their next step of production. It made the place feel more like an installation than home or studio, perfect for a night of art making with full bellies.

Jess' current work wonderfully embraces and wrestles with one of the most common materials used in painting: the canvas. She delves into this historic fabric, meticulously tearing it apart with a gentle hand, freeing it from its usual two dimensional form and allowing it to arrive, anew, three dimensionally. Many things come to mind when looking at the "marks" she has left; they might create a downward swooping gesture (as though the piece is taking in an exuberant breath), or form a pendulous open-mouthed grin, or mimic torn skin where letters are spelled out from the scarring left behind. While I was there Jess was sitting in front of her couch methodically pulling away thread after thread from the center of a small sheet of canvas. This is just one of the many steps she takes in arriving at her works. Before she begins this part of the process Jess adds pigment to the material, canvases might be fully coated (as in the large black piece that hung ominously in room behind us), or hit with hints of color, as a wink to the minimalist gesture. Jess then puts it through a wash at the local laundromat to further frey the edges and distress the color. 
Photo I took at the group show TEXT/IMAGE at SOUTHFIRST

Lately, Jess has moved away from putting her altered canvases on stretchers which she had done in the past. Instead, she is using glue as a starch to stiffen the space around the canvas where the stretchers would regularly be. This, referencing the the ridged formations of the wood, while allowing the paintings to settle into themselves, giving the work an even more animated, or anthropomorphous feel. As one painting's body slouched down from the wall I couldn't help but touch it, captivated by its life-like girth.

Buster and art
Installation view of Fuller and Moyer's work at Galleri Tom Christoffersen, 2011
This was an evening visit, and before I knew it we were well past the midnight mark and onto the next day. I so enjoyed talking to Jess, looking up at each other from time to time as she expressively told me about all her life, where she grew up, her connection to the ocean and her endless travel experiences. I am totally taken by her work and excited to keep following it. Please go check out the group show TEXT/IMAGE at SOUTHFIRST and check back with Pencil in the Studio soon, I will post some pictures here of the show at Galleri Tom Christoffersen .