Friday, February 26, 2016

Erin Lee Jones

Last Friday night I went to the opening of Casino Cabaret at Safe Gallery, a very cool new spot in Williamsburg run by artist and curator Pali Kashi. It was the New York art scene at its best: great art work, accompanied by a high energy screw-ball speakeasy and a keg of beer. Melissa Brown, master of all things casino and cabaret (and curator of the show) vivaciously MC-ed the performance portion of the evening. It kicked off with Michael Mahalchick singing "Cabaret," almost better then Liza, to a swooning audience. Even with all this intermittent excitement, I was somehow able to make an impromptu appointment to draw Erin Jones' studio before her own opening at Safe Gallery next week: a two person show with Kari Cholnoky. The spirit of connectedness on Friday night carried over into our visit. Jones' studio housed some of the most stimulating works I have seen in awhile. Her space was electric, with terrazzo filler, towel fragments, tin foil, and a Minion Snake Goddess balancing a cat on her head.

Jones' process involves making her compositions before making their surfaces. In other words, she is painting inversely, and the freshness that this gives the work is unmatchable. Smoothing wet Hydrocal over a wide variety of materials laid out in her mold, these wall sculptures transform as they dry, resulting in surprises not only for Erin, but also the viewer. Highly saturated Harlequin patterns ooze over the cold white surface like melted Crayolas, uniting the busts of two curiously wide-eyed characters. And the subtlety of the tinfoil lines that hover just beneath their surface, makes the touch of their palms all the more tender. Like Dubuffet's Art Brut, her use of unorthodox materials and directness of image making excitingly lives just outside of art norms. The tactile qualities of the work made me want to experience them with more than just my sight; they begged to be touched.

At the end of the day we settled into a beer and talked over the restraint it took for Jones to not flip over the piece she had been working on before it was fully dry. We also talked about our shared feelings on the growing art world, our artist community, and how having nice people out there still made all the difference. The power of a smile and a hug are often overlooked. Go see this show on Sunday February 21st at Safe Gallery and connect with these awesome new works like I did. To see more of her work go here

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Brie Ruais

“Music is liquid architecture; architecture is frozen music” - Goethe. This is the quote that came to mind when I first saw the five large pieces that hung on Brie Ruais' studio walls. In her case, it is as though choreography is liquid art and art is frozen choreography. Description of movement and gesture is something that we see often in painting, but in Ruais' work, it transcends description and becomes real. I was captivated while imagining the actions that took place in the first steps of these beautifully realized ceramic wall sculptures. Having met Ruais for the first time when I came by to draw, it took me a while to take my eyes off the work and onto our introduction.

 The painted glazes Brie adds to her ceramic sculptures (in between their multiple firings) are as exquisite as their surfaces. The warm colors of a winter's dusk contrast with charcoal grays that are accentuated with shimmering metallics. As the light dances in their grooves, craters, and foot indentations, you can see the body in a sitting upright position, legs lengthening, pushing the wet clay away from the center. The studio is the platform where, in a recent project, Ruais is directing people to make a sequence of movements on the clay she has laid out for them. She then does the same sequence of movements on a separate piece of clay that, once glazed and fired, she gives to her volunteers in exchange for their time and work. The spirit of collaboration and shared experience in this project wakes up the usual ideas of art making and brings them to life.
I had a lovely day with Brie. It was warmer in her studio than outside; not just because of the heater, but also the company. We listened to NPR and commented on the goings on of the week as we worked. Please go see her sculpture in the group show, LOW, organized by Michael Delucia and Ethan Greenbaum at Lyles and King that opens February 14th and runs until March 13th. And to see more of her work go here

Friday, February 12, 2016

Butt Johnson

I love drawing, and get really excited when I encounter someone who has a similar enthusiasm for it. I went to see Butt Johnson's extraordinary show, Quaint Abstractions, at CRG Gallery recently, which is up until February 21st. The drawings in the show eluded my understanding of the form, so I immediately sought out a visit with him. After spending the day in his studio, I started to get the sense that these color concentrated abstractions are more like a subversive version of the space-time continuum than the usual pen and paper hypothesis. He is making his own conclusions about drawing and dimensionality, and taking us on that journey with him.

Some of the steps in Johnson's process, like the erratic swirl of a line, take seconds to make, while other steps, like the repeated start-and-stop of a ball point pen, take months. This is where space and time get sublimely confusing. The closer you get, physically, to the drawings, digesting their various bold (and often trippy) color patterns, the further you are from understanding how they came to be. The bright flurry of jelly roll and ball point pen marks that cluster on the outskirts of some pieces are a stimulating place for the eye to wonder and let loose. But I am always happy to get back to the meat of the work and imagine it from every angle of its conception. 

By the end of the day, we put down our pencils and pens and assessed our progress and the amount of cramping in our hands. It was pretty meta to draw a drawing while it was being drawn. You can also see his work in Drawing, up now at Kerry Schuss through March 6th, and We Are Not Things, at Invisible Imports until the 14th of February. To see more of Johnson's drawings go here