Monday, April 16, 2012

Katherine Bradford

Twenty minutes after leaving my place, I was greeted by Katherine Bradford at her studio building just off of Bedford Avenue. As she took me up to the second floor, I asked how long she had been working in this building -- since 1985 she explained. She said Williamsburg was more of a working class neighborhood back then, just a place where people lived. She said it wasn't so easy to get folks over to her studio. The art world didn't often visit Brooklyn, even though for her it was only one stop over on the L train. Funny to think how things have changed, since the majority of my visits have been in this borough. Kathy's space is pretty excellent -- ideal for any painter's practice. There are multiple working zones, an area for smaller paintings and mini-sculptures, a wall for viewing and painting on larger pieces (one side for oil the other acrylic), and a serene sitting area set up in the middle for checking out the works in progress. We started our afternoon talking over the paintings she has made for her solo exhibition opening at Edward Thorp Gallery this Thursday, April 19th. Some of them being two years in the making.

Where do I begin?  Maybe by saying how delighted I felt to be getting to see these works in their original setting before heading to the gallery, maybe by saying just how much they inspired me. Kathy's  paintings ask the viewer to let go. They allow for connections to be made between the compelling imagery and space within them freely and without a push from any kind of direct narrative. Like reading a poem that never overtly connotes its subject, the viewer's imagination is as active a participant while observing as Kathy's must have been while making. One recurring theme in this body of work might be buoyancy or ethereality. And then there are these two powerful, almost monumental figures used in most pieces -- a big ship or a Superman, both being held up by the elements much like we might hold them up in importance. It got me thinking, maybe all things rely on something else to hold them up, regardless of what we might think of their strengths. And maybe the paint itself could be seen as an element -- earth, wind, fire, water and paint, as though Kathy's application of paint could give buoyancy. I liked to think of Superman as he headed for the clouds, levitated by Kathy's chroma saturated world, almost stuck to the canvas like my eyes were to the painting. My mind was running wild.

We talked a bit about process. Kathy does a lot of adding and removing when working on a painting. There are these supremely subtle and delectable shifts of color and mark making found in every inch of her work. When I looked closely I could see a house hidden behind the large supernatural polka-dot ball that seemed to have landed softly, lighting up the night sky.  I asked about her smaller works, if making them gave her any kind of immediate pleasure that the bigger works could not. She laughed and said yes. They are so satisfying to look at too. Scaling down the ships so that they might be held in a hand seemed like yet another way to question their importance and weight.

Our time went by so quickly. As I stared at the painting of Superman with his legs crossed, as though he was sitting for a portrait, I got lost in all the its magic. I was telling Kathy that often people don't view a work for as long as I do when I draw it, that I get to experience the paintings in a different way, really studying them, each part from top to bottom. By the end I thought I could have lived under those floating colored puffs of air gliding above the man in red and blue. She also gave to me one of the beautiful catalogues she had made with a grant she received from The John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, with photographs and images of her sculptures and paintings, an amazing work of art in its own right. I so enjoyed getting to talk to Kathy and hearing all of her stories. Our conversations were as rich as the visuals. I strongly encourage you to go see her solo exhibition, to get lost like I did. And to see more of her work go to:

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Michael Berryhill

 It occurred to me that much of the time you look up in this city you could be peering into any number of creatively-charged spaces. The buildings around us so often being inhabited by artists, stealthily at work, engaging in one of NYC's most respected and beloved practices -- art making. A couple weeks ago, I was directed to what was labeled as a storage facility in the outskirts of Red Hook, but turned out to be yet another artist anthill, the labyrinthine hallways ultimately leading me to painter Michael Berryhill's studio. I was excited by the chance to spend a studio day with him, already looking forward to his upcoming solo show at Kansas, which opens May 17th. Imagination plays a big role in Michael's practice, as he dreams up unmade sculptures or nonexistent spaces. But how does he come to this collection of  fantastical and hypothetical artworks and constructs? Michael sat down with me to draw that day in his studio. We were studying the same subject, his paintings. And in doing so a lot of questions were answered.

The walls of Berryhill's studio read as a saturated salon of works: from those that are in the whispering steps of progress, to those that are modeled drawings of pieces to come, to those that are fully realized paintings, or even sculptures, as I quickly discovered. He described to me one of the steps he takes within his process. He often maps out a painting's next move by drawing it on separate pieces of paper many times over. He uses different combinations of color for each drawing, sometimes adding structural formations or spatial elements not already existing in the original piece. While one painting leaned in anticipation against the wall, Berryhill recaptured it six different times with vibrant colored pastels, the drawings becoming works in their own right. There is something about this part of his practice that seems so generously focused, giving each piece careful consideration in its development of form and color. It is as though he is making a theater set mock-up, retroactively. So that he might see if structure is sound and perfectly placed on the stage -- before it is ready to perform its dazzling visual acts. In some cases Berryhill has begun to recreate these peculiar sculptures in actual three dimensional form as separate completed works. I especially liked peering through one's perfectly illogical doors to catch the backdrop that was his own painting on the other side.
 On the other hand, Berryhill allows himself to fully reinvent a painting after he has finished making it. He told me that some might have a history of multiple pieces hidden within it, that he is not afraid to cover up older works.  I became engrossed with trying to imagine what was beyond the first stratum of some of the pieces up on the wall. I recently read an article about a Van Gogh painting that had only been discovered after x-rays revealed an image of two half-naked wrestlers underneath a previously anonymous still life. Van Gogh had written a descriptive letter of these wrestlers being in a painting to his brother around the same time it would have been made. I am sure if you lifted the layers of a Berryhill you would find different stories, a catalogue of past imagery -- letters, if you will, of his many different worlds. There is something in his work that seems to be paying homage to the greats of the early part of the 20th century, be it in its use of drawing, or in the tradition of landscape and space as subject. I also see him giving a nod to the early Renaissance, with his paintings awkward staging of perspective, iconic placement of form and charged approaches to color.

Berryhill and I listened to Bossy Pants (Tina Fey's autobiography) while drawing, laughing, and discussing Fey's ultimate coolness. He introduced me to some local bands I hadn't heard of and we talked about the importance of matching the music's speed to the speed of the art you might be working on from one moment to the next.  Having gathered the data I needed for my project I left Berryhill to figure out which drawings of the six would be the right one to work from. I liked the blue and orange rendition myself. I can't encourage you enough to make it out to see his show opening at Kansas this May, it is going to be something else. To check out more go to