Saturday, August 29, 2009

A couple of years ago at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, I had the chance to see an exhibition by German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher. Each image was a small, black and white image of a building structure. Sometimes these structures were arranged in a grid, showing each side of a single building, or several buildings of a similar type. The viewing invited comparison between what the artists consider "typologies" of Western European industrial and residential structures. The exhibition was paired with a large collection of portrait photographs by August Sander, who documented various individuals who typified various subcultures. After viewing Sander's traditional portraits of people, I felt that the Becher exhibition of building structures was also I kind of portraiture.

From the Getty Center website:
"For nearly 50 years, Bernd and Hilla Becher photographed the industrial architecture of western Europe. Using a large-format camera loaded with five-by-seven-inch sheet film, they created an archive of the basic forms that inform our understanding of the industrial era. Rendered with absolute precision in the palette of cool grays characteristic of medium-contrast gelatin silver prints, each structure is centered against a cloudless sky, filling the picture frame. Their choice to limit decisions, effectively employing a "nonstyle"—which, ironically, became an immediately recognizable style—demonstrates the role the Bechers' work has played in bridging the gap between photography as document and photography as art in the second half of the 20th century."

Online book of Becher work

Bernd and Hilla Becher, large, steel storage tank, circa 1960s, silver gelatin print

Bernd and Hilla Becher, "Framework houses, area", collection Ydessa Hendeles, Art Foundation, 1989,Tipologie, Biennale de Venise, 1990.

Bernd and Hilla Becher, Water Towers, France and Germany, German, 1968 - 1972, Gelatin silver prints

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Convergence, by Benjamin Edwards

Benjamin Edwards is a painter grappling with the capitalist/consumerist culture related to urban/suburban sprawl. His paintings are dense, resulting from an obsessive build-up of images, forms, textures, shapes and colors lifted from the commercial milieu he sees around him. The impact is a capsizing of our senses - as if the entirety of consumer visual stimuli has been gathered into a single rectangle - Like drinking from a fire hose.

Here is a statement from one of his writings where he is reflecting on the recent downturn in the economy, as symbolized by the closing of the Circuit City stores:

"Lately it’s occurred to me that the world my paintings have been about all these years is crashing down before our very eyes. If my work was ahead of the curve over the last ten years, visualizing capitalism and consumerism on steroids, now it seems that things have passed me by. Whatever paintings I make now necessarily look back on this era that is ending rather than anticipating something to come. The world as I have always known it, one of growth and sprawl, technological acceleration and anxiety, ever-increasing complexity and capitalist frenzy driven to unseen, dizzying heights—that world has been turned on its head. When I was making Convergence, I wanted to express a feeling that energy and speed were so intense that a flurry of fragments was momentarily held aloft. Now we see that when the consumption stops, it’s all just an illusion." - Benjamin Edwards, Elegy (Nov.19, 2008)

Benjamin Edwards online

Below this image are three detail shots to give you an idea of the close up density Edwards creates...

Convergence, 2000-2001
Acrylic, texture media, foam and spray paint on canvas
97" x 145"

Convergence (detail image)

Convergence (detail image)

Convergence (detail image)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

2 by Travis Shaffer

These photos are by a young artist just graduating from the University of Kentucky. We have two of his pieces included in an upcoming exhibition at Manifest Gallery, where I am assistant director ( Since 2008, Shaffer has been taking aerial photographs of various land uses typically associated with suburbia. These two images are a part of a project he calls "Eleven Megachurches," the rest of which can be seen at the link below.

Travis Shaffer online

Central Christian Church, Henderson, NV
eleven megachurches
40" x 40" (Edition of 7) Chromgentic Prints

Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, IL
eleven megachurches
40" x 40" (Edition of 7) Chromgentic Prints

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

3 by John Dubrow

John Dubrow is a New York artist who primarily paints city "roofscapes" and portraits. His paintings are restrained in their description of form. Areas flatten into abstraction, but never to the point that representation is lost. I find his paintings to be direct, simple, and honest.

Self-Portrait, 2007
Oil on linen
48 x 40"

From the Studio, Brooklyn, 2001-2006
Oil on linen
68 x 95"

Union Square II, 2005-2007
Oil on linen
58 x 63"

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Two by Emil Robinson

Emil Robinson is a Cincinnati painter and a good friend of mine. We've had the chance to co-exhibit a couple of times now, which is a real honor. One of the things I really appreciate about Emil is that he deeply believes in painting. In contemporary art, painting (especially realist painting) has been under attack for some time now as an art form that has had it's day and must now be buried away in old museums. It's refreshing to know someone who side-steps this critique and holds fast to the importance of painting.

Emil Robinson online

"Waterbowl" by Emil Robinson (2007)
20" x 16" - Oil on panel

"Showered" by Emil Robinson (2007)
30" x 28" - Oil on panel

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Denis Ichitovkin is a contemporary Russian realist painter. I have not been able to find many of his paintings online, but what I have found are a powerful testament to his keen observational skills and his confidence in the poetry of mundane places. I am particularly impressed with his compositional structures - he manages to create ordinary spaces that we understand easily, yet they are abstracted by his emphasis upon the geometric division of the canvas.

Denis Ichitovkin online

"Smoking Place"
Oil on canvas
80x69 cm

"Visiting Grandmother"
Oil on canvas
83x72 cm

"Smoking Place. Stairs"
Oil on canvas
84x57 cm

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Encounter (2008), by Paul Fenniak

Paul Fenniak is a Canadian painter who creates compelling narrative portraiture. By narrative, I mean that even his more straightforward portraits seem to operate as voyeuristic opportunities to observe a person paused within their personal story. In other instances, as in the image below, the narrative is in full-swing, although ambiguous. His characters strike me as lonely, down-a-notch in life, and sometimes "caught" doing some of the strange things humans do when they believe they are alone (like standing on a bed to listen through the wall to the next room).

From the artist bio written by the gallery that represents his work:

"Paul Fenniak paints detailed psychological portraits and figures in settings with implied action. Deep in thought, Fenniak’s subjects are contemporary in setting but reminiscent of studied portraits that follow the tradition of [earlier figurative artists]. Paul Fenniak’s paintings have luminous surfaces and compelling images that offer a combination of disquiet, uncertainty, urgency, calm, and spirituality. His painting style contains a contrast of inner light with his attention to detail, texture and atmosphere." (From the Forum Gallery website)

Paul Fenniak online

Paul Fenniak
Encounter (2008-09)
Oil on canvas
60" x 48"

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Raphael, by Sean Scully

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

In honor of the Emerald Isle and it's hospitable people, I'm sending out a painting by arguably the best known Irish abstract Painter: Sean Scully. Still painting today, he represents one of the last surviving artists of mid-twentieth century Abstract Expressionism. In fact, he began his career as many in the art world were declaring abstract work "spent" - that it had exhausted it's avant-garde possibilities. Not for Scully. Since 1960, he has created paintings similar to this one - constructed of vertical and horizontal stripes, or "blocks," many of which are mammoth in scale. A well-known series of his is the "Wall of Light" series, where he intended to make paintings where it seemed as if a wall of stone was emanating light.

I was able to see a large show of his work at the Cincinnati Art Museum a couple of years ago. To stand in front of one of these "walls/paintings" is a great experience. They take over your visual field in complete experience of color vibration.

Sean Scully on ArtNet

"May the Lord keep you in his hand but never close his fist too tight on you." (Irish blessing)

Sean Scully
Raphael (2004)
Oil on linen
108" x 144"

Friday, March 13, 2009

3 by Bo Bartlett

I'm sometimes hot and cold on Bartlett's work. As a realist painter, he has a clear vision and often compelling compositions. Sometimes his work falls into illustration for me - and a bit too iconic. But by and large, I am usually glad I visited his site. He represents something of a "dying breed" in contemporary art: The American Realist Painter. As an artist, I find myself somewhat within this stream as well, attempting to give vision to the everyday experience of life and the deeper significance of the quotidian.

Here is a statement from Bartlett's website:

"Bo Bartlett is an American realist with a modernist vision. His paintings are well within the tradition of American realism as defined by artists such as Thomas Eakins and Andrew Wyeth. Like these artists, Bartlett looks at America’s heart—its land and its people—and describes the beauty he finds in everyday life. His paintings celebrate the underlying epic nature of the commonplace and the personal significance of the extraordinary.

Life, death, passage, memory, and confrontation coexist easily in his world. Family and friends are the cast of characters that appear in his dreamlike narrative works. Although the scenes are set around his childhood home in Georgia, his island summer home in Maine, his home in Pennsylvania or the surroundings of his studio and residence in Washington state, they represent a deeper, mythical concept of the archetypal, universal home."

Bo Bartlett Online

Bo Bartlett
Assumption (2001)
Oil on linen
93.25" x 119.25"

Bo Bartlett
Lifeboat (1998)
Oil on linen
80" x 100"

(I have no idea why the image below has all the figures in blue - some problem with the upload. The original images should be easy enough to find on his website above...)
Bo Bartlett
Young Life (1994)
Oil on linen
78" x 108"

Monday, February 23, 2009

After the Deluge (2007), by Paul Chojnowski

Chojnowski uses torches to burn his images into existence - sometimes on wood, sometimes paper. Previously an abstract artist, he returned to figurative/representational work out of a desire to honor the historical tradition of art while at the same time pushing the boundaries of how such art was made. I particularly liked how this piece works with the wood grain to simulate the ripples of water... not to mention the depiction OF water through the use of fire.

Paul Chojnowski online

After the Deluge , 2007
Paul Chojnowski
Burned and scorched veneer
60 x 47 1/2 in

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Life Strands, by Hong Chun Zhang

Hong Chun Zhang is a Chinese artist living in America. Much of her work explores the relationship between these national identities. I appreciate how her drawings take on a sculptural presence as they intrude into the room, breaking from the flat surface of the wall.

Hong Chun Zhang

“Life Strands” (2004)
by Hong Chun Zhang
5ft x 30ft
Charcoal on paper

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Deadly Friends, by Patrick Lee

I don't know much about this Los Angeles-based artist - but came across some of his drawings a few months ago. I've hard a hard time locating more of his work online, but the link below to the gallery that represents him has a few others. I am particular interested in the tension he creates between these "tough guys" and the tradition of fine art portraiture. These are men who live a coarse existence, yet Lee captures them with delicacy.

From his gallery website:
Lee’s drawings are painstakingly crafted over months of refinement. Inspired by photographs he takes of men from the streets of America, they convey a unique insight into class and gender ideals. Many subjects are ‘outsiders’ or ‘outlaw’ types; mimicked by pop culture icons and contemporary heroic figures.

Patrick Lee online

Deadly Friends (Rock Star), 2007, graphite on paper, 24" x 36"

Deadly Friends Study #14, 2007, graphite on paper, 14" x 11"

Friday, January 16, 2009

Andrew Wyeth Dies, 91

This week's post is devoted to one of the most important American painters of the last century: Andrew Wyeth, who died this morning at age 91. I saw an exhibition of his watercolors and drawings a couple of years ago - one of the best I've seen. His steadfast commitment to recording the world around him with poetic detail is unparalleled. His painting, "Christina's World" (pictured below) is one of the great icons of American painting. Also below is a link to an article about his death and his life. Even if you don't know of him, raise a glass of wine and get to know what he left behind...

Famed Artist Andrew Wyeth Dies

Andrew Wyeth Art

Christina's World (1948)
Tempura on Gessoed Panel
32.25" x 47.75"

Trodden Weed (1951)
Tempura on Panel
20" x 18.25"

Wind from the Sea (1947)
Tempura on Masonite
18.5" x 27.5"

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Human Project, by Steven Cosentino

I'm not very familiar with this artist - and I don't find his paintings to be particularly engaging. However, I stumbled across this piece of "social art" he created and found it to be pretty impressive. Below is his description of the project - a massive portrait "painted" with the discarded clothing of homeless people. Note especially the "ghost image" left after the work was destroyed...

The Human Being Project
In 1999, Grand Central Neighborhood Social Services was informed that its landlord, St. Agnes Church, was selling the hundred year old building that housed the entire social service program for the homeless. A real estate developer planned to build a high rise apartment on the site. To protest the move, I decided to paint an image of a "Human Being" on the roof, using discarded clothes from the center as the "paint". The image measures 65x35 feet and was featured in the New York Times. The building was destroyed along with the "Human Being" and fifteen of my murals inside. Hundreds of homeless people were displaced.

Attempt by St. Agnes to cover up the image before the sale of the building. The church ripped up all the clothes and painted those areas black. The mismatch of blacks (paint and tar) produced this black version.

Cosentino Studios