Saturday, January 28, 2012

Rob Nadeau

For the third time now, I headed to Sunset Park to give a studio visit in the building that also hosts the studios of Hauser, Heidkamp and until this past summer, Wozniak. This time I was happy to be visiting with Rob Nadeau who has come to the building from Dumbo. These spaces are super sweet, always a nice amount of room for storage, fabulous windows for daytime light and famed sunset, and more then ample wall space. In the far right corner, bellow a couple of windows outlining the fast pace of the BQE, Nadeau had a keyboard and a bass guitar set up. Stuck on the wall behind the keyboard where some words with musical notes written out above them. His space acts, not only as an art studio, but also a music studio. What a great thing to be able to go back and forth from painting to playing in just a couple of steps. I imagine it would keep you active in those oh so frustrating down times in the process of making. Nadeau had up several pieces on the wall that where fairly new and had one piece laid out on the floor, a work in progress.
Nadeau's new works, with their array of hyper-subtle paint strokes, appear much bigger then they already are when looking at them for the first time. It is easy to feel your body engrossed by their otherworldly expanse. The pigments he uses are often laced with flecks of metal be it graphite or metallic paint. The surface glistens at times, its high and low lights changing depending on the stance of the viewer. It brought to mind the wash of water over a bed of mineral infused rocks or, as Rob spoke about quite extensively, the effects made by a step in photo processing. It is as though the large canvas had been agitated in a development bath, where the light and chemicals played on the surface, leaving behind flowing traces of movement.

Nadeau explained that he often works on the canvas on the floor before stretching it. You can almost see  the action of the swing of his arm in the marks. There were a bunch of rags used for this swing piled on the floor next to the painting. Rob and I talked about the time it takes to live with a painting when the placement of the paint can take seconds, but the next move can take weeks. You have to use a special kind of restraint to make this kind of work, in order to leave behind the details most important untouched. Nadeau has got it down.

He shared with me online images of the two sculptural-painting installations he had done a few months ago, one at Georgia State University in Atlanta and one at The University of Tennessee in Knoxville. It was a busy fall for Mr. Nadeau it would seem. For both of these shows he shipped completed work down from Brooklyn and went foraging to various locations around the two cities he was visiting to gather the rest of the materials for the installations. City site specific.
Installation view, Georgia State University, Welch Galleries in Atlanta, GA

There was so much to look at in Nadeau's studio, I wanted to lift up every piece of paper or drawing, to find the one underneath. I was lucky enough to have him bring out some small drawings he had made while teaching a semester at UT. He said he had used graphite stones from the shore of the Narraganset Bay in RI for much of these small works, drawing with the stones. One of them looked like it could be a ten foot tall painting as I held it in my hand gently not to disrupt its faint marks. I didn't get to hear Rob play his music during this studio session, but had heard him play weeks prior when he busted out some tunes on a piano at a party we were both at. Man can he jam, and so can his paintings.  Please check out more of Nadeau's work at

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Joe Ballweg

Pre-holiday craziness, I made my way to Ridgewood, Queens to visit the studio of Joe Ballweg. He has a very large ground floor storefront space which had previously been a knitting factory. The building  was sold to Joe and his two friends as the company was moving to South America, romantic in its history. The studio is organized for both the viewing and making of his work, a helpful step in any practice. Joe, being partial owner of this two floor building, not only has the cozy upstairs apartment to retire to, but also a tranquil backyard complete with bonfire. I was stoked to see several new pieces and the new directions they have taken. We talked over these new works, and had an extensive chat about the pop-up shows he has started to have in his studio. The second of these shows having just happened a week prior. Once he puts away his own work, there is a nice amount of wall-space for these exhibitions that he curates with artist girlfriend Andrea Bergart. He explained how he likes to show artists that don't already know one another in order to facilitate new connections between them.

Joe's paintings strike me at first as a kind of collage that operates without any actual foreign matter being attached to the surface, an optical illusion of sorts, the kind of illusion found only in the history of the work's process. Thoughts of maps, silhouetted figures, or meandering river beds also come to mind when looking at his sometimes intensely colored canvases. By butting one large winding form up close to the next, Joe leaves the viewer to decide which space operates as the negative and which as the positive, creating a charged vibratory line in-between the two. By playing with multiple abstract fields subtly, but with obvious direction, he allows the surface to capture these carefully considered lines, letting them act predominately along side of the other formal elements in the paintings.
 Each slight movement of the brush on the canvas, be it a splatter or a swoosh, showcases as a satisfyingly whispered detail. While I  was there, he had laid flat a painting on a couple of sawhorses. Mixing oil colors on the palette next to him, he gave the surface varied and exploratory gestural movements using multiple tools. My interpretation of the paintings resembling collage was confirmed when I saw that Joe does in fact layout pieces of paper on the painting's surface (as well as cut pieces of tape) to block out one section while working on another. By doing this, it is like he is working on more then one painting on the canvas at a time. And, later, at the end of the process, the two seamlessly come together as though worked on simultaneously.
Close up of a painting

As the visit winded down and we prepared to go upstairs for tea, Joe and I had a talk about our contemporaries, where we are as artists and how charged the scene in Brooklyn feels. His charmingly sarcastic grin reminded me that you have to take it all with a grain of salt to get the work done in the first place. Later, we were off to a yearly POI holiday party with White Elephant gifts in hand. Joe and I had a couple of swaps within this gift giving game. I ended up with the pure maple syrup I wanted after convincing Joe that the scarf I had been swapped out for would suit him better then me. Thanks for being a good sport, Joe. To see more of his lush oil paintings go to and keep an eye out for the next pop-up show in his studio.