Why? Because in Cincinnati, it’s all art.

I really cannot remember the last time I visited a local gallery or museum here in Cincinnati. I keep saying I will, but instead I drive right by the art museum in Eden Park and head straight to the pool in Mt. Adams. I’ve tried to tell myself, “it’s summer, I’ll wait for the new season to start.” But I know my lack of interest rests on the success of the gatekeepers of the city’s local art scene to call everything art: hula hoopers, jugglers, fire eaters are now grouped with musicians, ballet dancers, and painters. And to maintain the city’s aging art theme, the venue is the street.

Art on the Street

I think this push to engage as many people a possible in the arts is meant to encourage people to visit traditional art venues and ultimately support (with $$) our art institutions.  I’m not sure how well it works.  The message instead seems to be, “art is everywhere” so you really don’t have to visit an art museum or gallery.  Perhaps that’s why I’ve not visited the museum in a long time.  I got the message.

Cincinnati’s art world has become a circus so I’m hanging out at the pool.

bluewaves

ArtWord: Bernard Klevickas

Bernard Klevickas is a sculptor who utillizes industrial processes in an expressionist manner to create objects of meticulous refinement with an interest in exploring the possibilities of surface and form. As an aspiring artist developing his own sculpture over the past 22 years Bernard has at various times fabricated sculpture for the artists Jeff Koons, Louise Bourgeois, Frank Stella, and others. He has a manufacturing certificate in CNC (computer numerical control) machining and manual lathe and mill operation and a Bachelor of Fine Art degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His sculpture has won many awards and has been shown indoor and outdoor in numerous exhibitions in New York City, the New York Hudson Valley, Chicago Illinois, West Palm Beach Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Dallas Texas, Istanbul Turkey, Venice Italy, and Bermuda.

Here I have an opportunity to talk to Klevickas about how he sees space in waves and how his process refuses to be constricted by hard flat surfaces of his chosen media and the spacial grid in which we and his work reside:

 

untitled (experiment)

1. I am most interested in your focus on waves as the dominant spacial form.  So often in art and thoughts about space, the grid in the foundational element. This is true of painting, sculpture, and architecture. I trust your time in school required your working within the confines of the grid. How did you move from it? Perhaps I should ask, have you moved from it? Does working in public spaces require a certain amount of recognition of the grid? Perhaps your “waveform shapes” and curves permit a sort of freedom, though like painting (canvas) there is an implied set of special concerns that may imprison. Is there some confinement in your work?

Waves are a way I can think of space. A surface is 2 sided, 2 dimensional and a barrier wall, floor or ceiling but if it has ripples or curves within it becomes 3 dimensional, it then moves into sculpture.
I don’t remember the grid being brought up much at school. Maybe it is so ubiquitous everywhere that I didn’t consider it then. School was so long ago. I drew and painted at first but did feel confined by the rectangular and flat surface. That was before school. I started making shaped canvases then I started using sewn together pieces of fabric (patchwork) as the shaped edged, but still flat canvas surface. Then I started making soft sculptures from the patchwork, which was happening during art school. After school I drifted back to metal which was in my background because my father had a metalworking shop in the garage (actually more of a machine shop with a lathe, but that’s getting technical). As a kid my father showed me some of the techniques for metalworking but while in art school I focused on different materials. Afterwards somehow the two merged. I became interested in making a hard surface bump and curve (look soft?).
Perhaps confinement and freedom play off of each other repeatedly to create patterns and for me one of the best ways to present this is the waveform. I did not follow a logical set of literal guidelines to end up making the kind of work I make. It was much more of feeling my way through it. Confinement is the edge of the shaping tool and freedom is in using it to shape things. Like most anything, you start from a very limited area and you learn to find the boundaries then you learn how to push those boundaries out further or to your own design.
Regarding art in public spaces- there are certain issues to abide by for safety so things don’t collapse and people don’t bump their heads on things sticking out or trip over low things or climb on certain surfaces, but it does not require a grid. The setting may often impart influence on the artist because the art often visually interacts with nearby architecture and much public sculpture may utilize grids or symmetry more out of an ingrained desire of reflecting the order surrounding the art.

 

untitled (waveforms)

2. Your choice to work in metals seems equally constricting. The results however are absolutely fantastic. The polished and colorful surfaces seem to emphasize the nature of the material even as you change its form in ways we may not always imagine. Further, your viewers’ own personal familiarity with metals adds to the awe-inspiring inquisitiveness of each of your pieces. One can easily compare the appearance of your work to that of Frank Gehry’s buildings after years and years of beautifully spectacular steel skyscrapers designed according to the grid and showcasing the strength of the metals. Architecture however requires a certain amount of utility in chosen materials. As a sculptor, you are afforded a bit more freedom. Is there sculptural medium other than metals that permit similar exploring of space and surfaces?

Any material has its limits. Clay Dries and gets brittle, fabric rips, paint fades, wood warps. Metal does have plasticity but it takes a lot of effort (usually with heavy machinery) to shape it. My polished, colorful work was inspired from automobiles, generally the fancy ones. Influences like the curve on the fender of a porsche. I like the way light bounces off the surface. Frank Gehry was an early influence, though his buildings, Bilbao for instance, appear more like curling ribbons than waves. A flat sheet of paper or metal can be wrapped into a tube rather easily, but it cannot be curved in multiple directions quite as easily, like in a bowl or saddle shape. It is possible for metal to do this though and car manufacturers have been doing it for years, but attention is rarely payed to those engineers compared to a starchitect. John Chamberlain is also an influence but the process he used was rather uncontrolled.
I use computer modeling and sometimes clay and paper mache to experiment with forms.

 

bluewaves

 

3. Understandably, you speak about your work in predominantly organic forms. Wrestling with the metals that result in undulating forms illustrate this living and movement in lived spaces. We speak of abstract painting in similar organic/geometric terms. Is this a visual language in which you speak of your work, or do you see your works as living pieces sharing lived public spaces with trees, flowers, people.

Interesting question! I enjoy the process, so on that level to me it is process art, and making the art is something of a performance (usually done in private). It is a very long drawn-out type of action. However, I do it with the end game in mind: that there will be a physical object inhabiting real space for others to see. It is and isn’t a visual language: “language” suggests to me that it is understandable with words and I do not think that it is. It is a visual experience and embedded in the object is the culmination of the knowledge and everyday stuff that makes up who I am. As Pollack said “I am nature” I feel I understand what he meant and this is what I try to do in my way. The objects, though, are just things, perhaps they buzz with some residue energy I put into them or maybe not. I abhor the thought that they are nothing more than the dialogue around them but if that is so then I hope that the dialogue is about the craft and labor involved and the influences from our more common functional industrial objects in which we rarely consider what was involved in their making.

Branching Out

 

4. Despite the materials you use, you speak of your sculpture, like every tree, star, and person as alive or in some way a living organism. Do you see metals as a living material? Staying a bit longer with the question of medium, there seems to be a very conscious decision to choose materials (metal scraps or bicycles) that a decidedly “dead” or at least no longer in use. While I’m certainly aware of upcycling, recycling, etc, I wonder if yours is less about environmentalism or more about inviting your audience to see even industrially manufactured things as living. If this is the case, why is it valuable for us to recognize this?

This goes back to my prior answer. The objects we use in our everyday are rarely considered deeply. Where did the metal come from? Who designed this bike frame (for instance) to look this way and why? Who welded it? Who painted it? Were they well paid? Did they inhale dangerous fumes? Industrial manufacturing has become a very hidden process. The raw material was part of the Earth and it will be recycled (metal is by far more recyclable than plastic for instance) or returned to the Earth. Is it living? Not in the sense that the people who work with it are. Metal has peculiar characteristics as does clay or paper. Living in the grand scale of geology, yes, and a galactic star is also living it is as if all of humanity and other animals and plants are living inside a larger living organism called a galaxy living in a living universe but it is much more easy to just zoom down to our human scale and just say for simplicities sake that its probably better not to call the metal objects I make alive, they are things and on the human scale we should focus on what we make and why. and at what cost to others and our environment. Many “things” are not made in the U.S. anymore. It often seems that an argument about outsourcing can often lead to a type of xenophobia and that is not at all what I want to suggest. I wonder that if much industrial manufacturing is no longer happening in the U.S. then what other types of employment are most of us in the U.S. doing? For who and why? It is a nice thought that if a kid needs a bicycle someone in a factory is making one and that the circle is completed. When that circle excludes willing local workers for fair pay over an under paid person working in dangerous conditions 1,000′s of miles away so that a few investors can attain a higher profit margin while requiring more resources just to get the bicycle here; the bicycle is just an example but I do worry that the connection between what we use and how it is made is lost. Sustainability is becoming ever more important and as a society we have to ask who is gaining by the careless waste of resources.

 

untitled (red assembly)

 

5. Finally, my interest in your work in manipulating metal forms lies in your processes. You say the materials you choose require lots of engineered planning that combines computers and industrialized machinations. I am originally from an old steel town and my memory of the steel mill is mixed with fascination and fear. The large smoke stacks, the smell that pour through the neighborhoods combined with the promise of a strong working class, a thriving culture, life. Concepts of class in art are always sticky discussions and I don’t want to really get into that (I’m not interested in defining higher/lower arts), but I am interested in historical references of spaces shared by class or culture. I’m not sure this is a conversation you look to engaging but do you see your work, not the sculptures, but the process in some way a recognition of a working class presented in spaces of leisure?

Yes. There has to be a balance. Smoke stacks billowing black smoke should not happen anywhere. There are much cleaner processes and methods today, but the concern is and has been the financial cost rather than the environmental cost. This has to change.
Art (specifically what is called High art) is in an odd moment in time right now. Is Art to glorify the rich or can it bring about a greater universal awareness and help lead to a more egalitarian world?

Cincinnati Offers Seven Fellowships of up to $6,000 Each

Starting June 26, 2012, the City has been accepting applications from individual artists who work professionally in art disciplines, including but not limited to dance, music, theatre & visual arts, poetry/fiction writing, interdisciplinary/performance art, and media arts.

The applicant must be a City of Cincinnati resident during the entire duration of the program, July 1, 2012 – May 31, 2013. The program is being administered through the Cincinnati Recreation Department. Mayor Mallory has appointed a new Cincinnati Arts Allocation Committee to select the winning local artists. The group has tweaked and streamlined the application and reporting process and will choose up to a dozen finalists to be interviewed in October, before final selection of the seven Art Fellowship recipients.

Councilmember Laure Quinlivan got Council support for $50,000 in funding for individual artist grants and came up with idea to have winning artists participate in two public presentation/performances at the end of the grant period, to showcase their artwork and explain their inspiration.

 

Please find the application and guidelines  The Cincinnati Arts Ambassador Fellowship Program

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tompkins gallery

ArtWord: Betty Tompkins

The large scale photorealistic paintings of heterosexual intercourse which Betty Tompkins made between 1969 and 1974 were practically unknown when they were exhibited together for the first time in New York in 2002. Knowledge of Tompkins’ paintings immediately broadened the repertoire of first generation feminist-identified imagery. More significantly, their materialization made manifest an unacknowledged precursor to contemporary involvement with explicit sexual and transgressive imagery.

With inclusion of her paintings in more recent shows like Screw You and In the Pink I became interested in how her work finds itself in various periods in art history.  I continue to be fascinated by how even through continuing censorship, her paintings re-enter arts conversations from Abstract Expressionism to Feminism, to Pornography with her signature Fuck, Cunt and Kiss paintings.

 

 

Sex painting #1, 2009

 

I understand your painting interests are grounded in Abstract Expressionism and in particular the conflict between abstraction and figuration. This was and perhaps continues to be a formalist debate artists engage in the studio. The birth of this debate is a bit difficult to pin, but it is easy to point to Abstract Expressionists like Willem de Kooning as a participant in this conversation. (I’ve not decided if I am setting you up or him), but I wonder if you can talk a bit about how de Kooning worked through this problem with his Women paintings. I ask you because I see your Fuck Paintings not only as a response to paintings of nude women throughout the history of art, but perhaps as a direct response to de Kooning’s Women.

My training as an undergrad was based in AE and de Kooning is one of my favorite artists. I never saw a piece of his that did not engage me. And it is true that I stress an awareness of the formal elements in painting being equal to its subject matter. I am fascinated by the pitched battle between the two. In my best work, neither side wins. When I was a student, I was told over and over and over again not to make forms up but to look at things -objects/places/photographs- anything at all to pick out a line here, a curve there, a combination of light/dark, rhythms or forms. As I was a slob, this was easy for me. I had stuff all over the place. I remember thinking that it was great it was for a reason. It is a terrific way to avoid visual clichés. I don’t see how you can pull out of yourself what you have never put in but if you have lots of visual stimulation, you can be free and creative because of it. I believe de Kooning did the same and I see his Women paintings as a natural step in organizing his energy and pushing him towards wilder and more creative painting experiences. They are obviously more referential than other work of his. And they allowed him to use collage elements from magazines. They are fully realized, dynamic compositions pitched against a gestural approach to the subject matter. We perceive them as violent. He also used this subject matter in earlier paintings when he was moving toward abstraction and before he was so gestural in the handling of the paint. Some of the late paintings also reference women. We all have these default settings – themes, subjects that show up over and over in our work that allow us to explore different facets of painting. Women were de Kooning’s. I am curiously finding a parallel to my own work here. It never occurred to me before. I do everything I can to keep the making of my paintings a raw experience (as if each is the very first one I ever did) and de Kooning did the same.

 

Fuck painting #42, 2011

 

Along these same lines, I am interested in the fact these paintings have been referred to as portraits. It is interesting to me for a couple of reasons. One, there are few faces. While the source of your paintings is porn, you make a conscious decision to remove the faces of those in the original photograph in order to focus on the part that is “most compelling.” Further, if we refer to these as large scale portraits, I can’t help but to compare your work with Chuck Close. With portraiture, the combination of abstraction and the figure as well as the grid are part of a visual language shared with Close

Hmmm. I don’t refer to them as portraits. And I certainly don’t think of them as portraits. Where did you read that? (When Cincinnati Art Snob first initiated this interview an online review made this reference that is no longer appears to be live) When I was working on the first group of the fuck paintings in the early-mid ‘70’s, Chuck and I lived in the same building. I was on the 3rd floor and he was on the 7th floor. Visitors to my studio would invariably say, “Oh. Just like Chuck Close but lower down.” As this was literally true, it drove me bonkers. This plus not being able to find exhibition venues for them were key in my deciding to stop doing them and move on to other ideas. Chuck and I had also had the same painting teacher. Different schools and 5-6 years apart but the same teacher. He raised us all to be abstract expressionists and, for my generation of student, to be involved with Pop Art. When I look at Chuck’s early portraits done with an electric eraser, I think every square is an homage to de Kooning. I am aware that neither of these answers approach the questions in a historical manner. I don’t talk about my work from that point of view. I consider that to be the job of critics, art historians, and curators. I am always fascinated by what they say/do too. I also feel that when they talk, the conversation about my work gets bigger and that when I talk, it limits the way my work can be seen or discussed. Because of the subject matter, I am happier with the broadest, rawest range of reactions though I don’t care at all whether the reaction is positive or negative. I don’t do the paintings with the audience in mind.

Cunt Painting #12, 2009

 

Today I read so many debates about accessibility of art to all. This is a popular topic with museums, civic programs, street art, online websites and galleries, discussions of copywriting laws and on and on. With the censoring of your work during the 60s, including you in a formalist discussion then was near impossible. Outside of talking with artists, I don’t always read or see these conversations happening today. Does today’s social acceptance of your work help renew the formalist debate taking place in the 50’s and 60’s or better, does it help initiate a new contemporary formalist debate?

I have no idea. The acceptance of my work is very narrow. Centre Pompidou in Paris is the only museum in the world to own works of mine and to show them. I have been in other museum shows in Europe. No American museum has exhibited or purchased or accepted as a donation my work. This is not a situation I expect to have change in the near future. It would be very nice, of course. I just don’t see it happening. As for the formalist debate, I think it is alive and well and taking place through the paintings themselves. I have been looking at so much gleefully abstract work across generations lately through the international fairs and biennials. It is a real conversation to me. I don’t see so much figurative work with the same kind of conviction or joy of execution.

 

I am most intrigued by how earlier censorship of your work has defined your participation in arts conversation. Even with the censorship during the 70s, you continued working through this particular problem of sexuality in the arts. Does the more recent acceptance of your paintings force you into a place (or two places!) in art history where you are expected to participate in feminist debates rather than formalist ones? Or by combining the abstract and the sexual is this role the one you have wanted, the conversation you’ve wanted? Do you think the initial reluctance by the public has defined your growth as an artist?

The earlier censorship and consequent inability to get anything exhibited anywhere led to my doing the cow/cunt paintings (at the time, my idea of less dangerous subject matter) and eventually moving as far away from this subject matter as I could! Gradually through a circular route of considering language, gender roles, the body, imagery from art history and soft-core porn, I worked myself back to it. By the way, I was also censored in Japan in 2006. I slightly hold my breath whenever a piece leaves the country and is subject to customs inspections. I am very pleased to see both the older work and the more recent work finding their way. It is important to me that people know I did them when I did them. Each generation wants to reinvent everything for itself and it is very easy to get forgotten. When you get older, you see the discussion as more of a continuum over generations. Or at least, that’s how I see it. It is always important to have work out and about making its voice heard. I am not too big on either/or situations. My work can be discussed in a feminist context and it can be discussed in a formalist context and it can be discussed in a subject matter/abstract context. I can have it all. I want all of the discussions.
I have worked mostly in obscurity for most of my professional life. While I exhibited almost everything I did somewhere with the exception of the sex works, my career really started in 2002 with my first show with Mitchell Algus. As I spent most of the preceding 30 years not in the gallery system, I was free to develop however I wished without regard to trends or to the market. It was frustrating because I like to show but also liberating. I am now enjoying the wider exposure wherever it is. It is a lot more fun.


Girl on Girl Painting #4, 2011

 

Even in its explicitness, I would think pornography as a source would offer some restrictions to your own compositional creativity. Looking at your work chronologically seems to reveal social conventions. For example, your earlier subjects include men fucking women almost exclusively. Women on women appear later in your oeuvre. I understand sometimes you make compositional changes including the angle of the bodies. Are these changes similar to your omitting the subjects’ faces? If so, then can we see your initial interest include form and abstraction rather than the body? Do you find the conventions of pornography constrict your creative interests in the abstract?

I feel free to crop, put things in, take things out, change gender and ethnicity. Rotating and flipping and cropping all substantially and essentially change the emphasis, intent, and emotional tenor of the image. I also work with a wide range of chromatic blacks and often use undercolors and slightly altered whites to help me along. Originally I only used mars black. I like the idea of making black and white paintings that have a sense of color to them. I have also expanded the range of subject matter. The original fuck paintings were all hetero intercourse. My first husband who was 12 years older than I was, he had, years before he met me, gotten a set of porn photos from Hong Kong or Singapore. It was illegal to transport them by mail to the US so he rented a postal box in Vancouver BC and drove from Everett WA to pick them up. When I did the cow/cunt paintings, he got me some beaver magazines to work from so I was able to find cunt images. But anything with insertion was impossible then. The girl on girl paintings have such roundness to them. The fuck paintings often are very angular. Sex is a big subject. I don’t think I have begun to scratch the surface of it.

 

 

*feature photo by Ari Marcopoulis of Betty Tompkins in her studio

The Creative Class-less

In a telling shift most of us have seen happening in the art world, the NY Times is currently featuring stories revealing the co-opting of “creative” by the business sector.

In Art, Freedom of Expression Doesn’t Extend to ‘Is It Real?’ reports on the current refusal of scholarly expertise in authenticating works of art. Scholars face lawsuits for simply employing their expertise, doing their jobs.

“Peter R. Stern, an art lawyer in New York, tells clients never to volunteer an opinion unless formally asked by the owners, and even then to make sure the owners sign a waiver promising not to sue. If they don’t ask, don’t tell. ‘Art scholarship is fighting a losing battle against commerce,’ he said.”

And earlier this week, the NY Times reported on a new exhibition in Times Square of a work of art. The artist has been making art for 30 years, but has never had such an audience until she won an online contest in which web site visitors gave her the most votes.

As noted in Web Sites Illuminate Unknown Artists,”the site, ArtistsWanted.org, is not a charity but a business, one that hopes to make a profit identifying artistic talent and connecting it to an audience. Investors are pouring millions into it and similar start-ups and social networks like Behance.net and EveryArt.com, which cater to the growing cadre of people who consider themselves creative and think there’s a market for their work outside the network of galleries and dealers who dominate the commerce in art and design.”

The corporate world spins this as “democratizing culture,” though in their successful attempts to negate the scholar, the new accessibility to the arts continues to keep the artists out and the money in.

What is the “ripple” of a sales tax to save Cincinnati Arts and Culture?

I’ve always been an advocate for honest local support of our arts and culture. Further, I believe the city’s investment in the our cultural institutions can only be achieved through a sales tax. So I am please to see this conversation taking place here in Cincinnati.

The nearly exhausted and always exhausting claim that art is for the elites is an argument only really supported by our city’s current lack of community commitment to the arts through a sales tax. For those who follow my blog, you know very well I have never, nor will I ever believe in the Artswave “ripple.” As much as this local funding source claims to make art available to the masses (sic), in truth Artswave is the elite arm controlling local arts.

This leads to my only concern regarding a sales tax to support Cincinnati’s cultural icons. Some of the institutions possibly targeted for this help, like the Cincinnati Art Museum, or arts and cultural programming and events throughout Greater Cincinnati are currently already supported by Artswave.

Will this sales tax function as a pipe through which to funnel more money into Artswave? Will Artswave, with its history of determining where arts funding lands, be controlling this money as well?

With the incestuous nature of our local arts organizations, I’d be interested to see if a local sales tax could impose an effective bottom/up support for our cultural institutions rather than feeding the trickle down approach of the “ripple.”

WTF! ArtsWave Awards Shepard Fairey: Cincinnati Official Laughing Stock in the Art World

There is nothing….absolutely nothing left in this city of Cincinnati to surprise me. While the rest of the world watches Shephard Fairey as he faces prison time for tampering with evidence and lying about stealing the work of another artist, Cincinnati’s art world will award him with a prize for “outstanding achievements in the arts.”

Street artist Shepard Fairey has been named the recipient of ArtsWave’s Rosa F. and Samuel B. Sachs Fund Prize.

Fairey will come to Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center March 29 to receive the award at a members-only party. A new limited-edition Fairey print will be available for purchase at the CAC event and will eventually go on sale to the public.

The award, created to celebrate outstanding achievements in the arts, recognizes Fairey for his 2010 retrospective exhibition at the CAC and 19 outdoor murals he created in conjunction with the exhibit.

“For more than 80 years, the Sachs Fund Prize has recognized an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to our community,” Mary McCullough-Hudson, president of ArtsWave, said in a statement released Friday. “The committee members felt strongly that Fairey’s exhibition and public murals increased the vibrancy of our city and engaged citizens in a dynamic conversation about art and society.”

The Rosa F. and Samuel B. Sachs Fund Prize was first awarded in 1929. It was provided for in the will of the late Samuel B. Sachs to honor outstanding accomplishments in the arts- inclusive of visual arts, music, theatre, dance, literature, sculpture and architecture.

Since its first award, the Sachs Fund Prize has recognized individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the cultural life of Cincinnati, bringing distinction to themselves and the region through their work.

A committee of local arts experts, led by ArtsWave Life Trustee Richard Rosenthal, selects a recipient each year to receive the prize. Recent recipients include collector and champion of local artists Phyllis Weston, choreographer Frederic Franklin, composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, and architect Zaha Hadid, who designed the CAC’s building, the Lois and Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art.

Shepard Fairey will be in Cincinnati to accept his award next week, well in advance of his sentencing on July 16, 2012. As always, ArtsWave and the CAC have a knack for party-planning.

Desire

Art Word: CJ Nye

CJ Nye was born and lives in New York City where she has been painting in oils for over twenty years. She studied and received her BFA at the School of Visual Arts and an MA in Arts Administration at Columbia University. Looking at her work, one may see many stylistic influences. Yet her work refuses categories as it re-forms itself almost daily. This movement and re-movement of form, whether oils or the canvas itself echoes her own conversations about art and current events.

I’ve known CJ for about 2 years. During this time, we’ve had many discussions on Twitter and Facebook about the arts. For an artist (her) and an art historian (me), we generally agree on most everything. And like many of my favorite artists, CJ is one I look to when I have problems or questions about the most current issues about contemporary art. In fact, CJ is usually the first person I ask. With an integrity that is present on the canvas as well as throughout social media, CJ Nye spoke to me about how she successfully manages an honesty in both media.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Desire, 2011

Perhaps what I love most about your work is that it seems so self-reflective. This honesty, I think, is how you successfully avoid what seems to be a contemporary call to artists to brand themselves. From your Doodles to your oil panels and even your installations, each canvas is fresh. Even your diptychs, each panel seems to be freshly independent of the other. This not to say your work is random or spontaneous. Instead, I am seeing an intentional hand that creates the abstract forms in all of your work. How are you able to bring those two things together and still avoid branding?
Thank you, Kathy, that is a wonderful thing to hear. The short answer is: I don’t try to be myself, I am myself. The long answer draws in larger issues: “nature vs. nurture,” and “high vs. ‘low’” art, and I think the best way for me to answer the question is the same way I deal with the issue: separately.
So—first: yes, my work is self-reflective. My “subject matter” is whatever is going on in my life at the moment. And the work can look very different one to the next, as life offers up extremes and inconsistencies on a fairly regular basis. Thus, as Desire is encompassing, and layered, and intricate, and I a simple declaration of presence, so the work must be. To reduce the scope of my expression would be tantamount to describing life in a bubble. Compound that by the fact that each is essentially a distillation of thoughts, associations, feelings, what have you—and at first glance, a person might think the work had nothing in common at all. Yet, look closely, look longer, and in each, you will see me. My work has the cohesion of having come from one life, one point of view, and one body; the synthesis of which is the artists’ hand.
Next: How do I “avoid what seems to be a contemporary call to artists to brand themselves”? Well, branding has little to do with art; it’s an issue of the marketplace, one I speculate began as a surrogate for the hand with the advent of purely conceptual art. So, while a current fashion of the art world, it’s easy to avoid if you are prepared to accept the consequences. And I am, though I hope it doesn’t come to that. Why I am no doubt has roots in my personal history.
I was raised to a very broad understanding of art; from infancy I was immersed in folk art that my mother brought back from all around the world working as a travel photographer. Formally trained at Cooper Union, she also instilled in me the idea, “learn your craft, then you can do whatever you want.” Growing up in NYC, “the melting pot,” with easy-access to museums offering every kind of art reinforced this broad, yet traditional, view. Dating myself, you might say my arts education presupposed the information age.
That goes to “nurture.” By “nature,” I have always had an independent streak. I remember the first time I was given oil paints to use. It was in school, I was 11 or 12 years old, and the teacher wanted the class to make a landscape. The minute I touched the oils, I knew this was “my medium”—so lush! so smooth, malleable, the colors! I started out doing the assignment, but the flower broke, feathered, blazed into an alien world where physics didn’t exist— where physics didn’t need to exist, and patterns and form ruled all. I got scolded. I didn’t care. And I still love that little painting. So, by the time I got to college, where professional practice enters the picture, I was already committed to expressive latitude.
Finally, I don’t feel the need to adopt a brand because I have faith in the viewer; the hand may not be as easy to recognize, but who ever said art should be easy? Still, desiring not to limit my vocabulary does not mean that I have not had to address the issue of the brand; I am fighting against the current somewhat—which is fine—I think there’s room for that in the art world. How I approach this current in dialoguing with the art world, I can better address later.

Nye V.5 (Doodle)
V.5 (Doodle), 2011

Recognizing this honesty in your work, I wonder if your Doodles are studies for larger works or considered finished works on their own? Do they offer your viewer a glimpse of your eye and hand, thus being more personal than your larger panels?
The Doodles are finished works; I rarely do studies for work, and most are purely for the sake of mechanics. My eye and hand are no more or less present in the Doodles than in other works, and in the making of them, I am being neither more nor less personal. I am, however, utilizing the immediacy and the limitations of the materials to express simpler things, and that simplicity may allow the individual notes to come through more clearly.
It’s about choosing the right physical stuff to exemplify the right emotional stuff. To make a painting about a slowly unfolding situation of unearthed understanding, of layers and layers of intricate, convoluted, but distinct tiers of codified meaning requires time; it requires patience. And it requires materials that can accommodate those plastic demands: oils. Work on paper demands less. And that can be the exact right thing; not everything in life is heavy or complicated. And here I have to mention that some have suggested I demean the work by calling them Doodles. I disagree entirely. I think that as long as art is about life, there is as much need for play as there is for “gravitas.” I think some aspects of life don’t want analysis as much as they want acknowledgement— ever catch yourself annoyed at a rainy day or idly humming a jolly little tune? I think those moments can be as profound as any other.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I, 2011

While you intend your viewers to develop their own narratives about your work, there is no doubt you lead this discussion. After following your work for a couple of years, I sometimes see it as your personal journal. Admittedly, I look forward to seeing every new work your post on Facebook because I am interested in what you are seeing that day or week. This may lead to a viewer’s narrative, but as the artist, you are always part of that conversation. Do you wish to disengage from that conversation and allow the painting to stand in your presence to the viewers can create a narrative? I understand you do not see your work as a tool for teaching, but what if I told you I look to your paintings and our conversations as lessons in my own learning how to see?
The answer to this also lies in my personal history. Blazing through a series of events that had an enormous effect on my practice, I was hit by a taxi in 1998, my senior year of my BFA at the School of Visual Arts, and lost all meaningful use of my dominant hand. I managed to graduate in 2000 and made a few insecure attempts at showing, but I had essentially given up hope, and shifted gears. In 2006, my senior year of my MA in Arts Administration at Teachers College, needing to take one-credit while I finished my thesis, I took “Introduction to Painting,” where I was allowed to do my own thing off in a corner. It was frustrating at times, but I knew I could never leave the studio again, and slowly, my work began to meet my standards. Anticipating your next question slightly, In 2010, I learned of X-Initiative’s BYOA through Jerry Saltz on facebook; a 24-hour art free-for-all, I would not need to explain the 10-year gap in my CV, my work could speak for itself. That evening was the first time I met Jerry, and he liked the work. His objective and eminently qualified assessment renewed my confidence. I decided engage with the art world again.
I carried with me into this re-entry all the tools I had acquired during my graduate studies, through which I had chiefly focused on the issues of arts engagement in art museums; of greatest bearing on this question was the extensive coursework in museum education, namely, arts education in free-choice learning environments. I knew I wanted a larger audience to be able to engage with my work, and I had the tools to facilitate that. I threw away the artspeak statement I had used in undergrad, and I wrote a statement that I hoped would enable audiences at all levels of arts education to access my work.
The first aim of my statement was to create a “safe learning environment,” introducing myself as guide: “To know my work, know that I know what I do. Every mark is there for a reason, exactly as it is.” In other words, whether harmonious or discordant, I want to empower the novice viewer with the certainty that the mark is there deliberately, to free them to consider what purpose it serves where it is, and the way it is. I am saying: “Trust me, I know what I’m doing.”
The next was to give permission. “[T]hink of allegorical tales. At once evocative and reflexive…. Ultimately, I intend my abstracted symbols to facilitate the viewer in generating their own narrative.” And the phrasing is a bit wily on my part, you see, everyone will bring their own history to the interpretation of artwork, even if the work has a far clearer storyline than non-representational work such as mine. It’s just human nature. In stating this intention, I am saying: “It’s ok, free associate, run away with it, follow the yellow brick road—see where it takes you.” And I do not believe I lose control in doing this; I set the mood with color, tone, the speed and weight of a brushstroke, scale—there are countless visual “tools” to cue non-literal responses—thus, the details of my life create emotions, which I translate into visual expression, which I ultimately hope to trigger, to evoke, some recognition of fundamental commonality. I seek to make a connection. As we all do.
The third and fourth paragraphs reach back a bit to art parlance, showing history and practice. In essence, they again state, but to the expert audience, and in answer to the issue of brand: “Trust me, I know what I’m doing.”
Thus, though the Statement is a teaching tool, it is not the teaching tool many, I think, have come to expect; because the purpose of my work is not to illustrate a scenario or pose a treatise but to connect in a meaningful way with a viewer. So the statement is not a decoder ring, but a key. I think, Kathy, that your take-aways from our dialogues are testimony to your embrace of life-long learning.


 

 

 

 

 

 

Benglish, 2012

You are engaged in a number of online conversations and debates on Twitter and Facebook. In fact our own relationship began and continues to develop through social media. You share those things you see in New York museums and galleries, thoughts in your studio, as well as critiques of the art world. I think what I enjoy most are the Artist Statements you periodically post on your Facebook status. These are not only entertaining and many times very humorous, but always poignant. I wonder however if posting your paintings on Facebook risks reducing them to simply a fb status. Are you concerned your viewer will not take the time to engage your work as honestly as you make it? Are all of your “friends” just waiting for the next thing to come out of your studio? Afterall, Facebook, Twitter and other social media applications are tools for successful branding. Or perhaps you use these as a way to elevate your work by making it part of the dialogue?
My use of social media also has roots in my MA and my desire to help people connect with art. I was always trying to rally my non-artist friends to go to museums with me—there weren’t a lot of takers until I made a wiki, “The Grotto,” of everything I wanted to see, then they could see the breadth of offerings much like reading a menu. I used facebook to coordinate Grotto “rampages.” I used photography in the museums to encourage friends to take ownership of art in a playful way, and shared the good times via Flickr. I began to use Twitter because art museums, for the first time, were making direct contact with their publics; I wanted to talk to them, and I wanted to share the enjoyment I got from them with other people.
I also found social media to be invaluable in demystifying art, in showing the “99% perspiration” part of art. Many of my friends do not have backgrounds in art, and I was always a little amused by people waxing romantic about talent, and a little saddened by people thinking they did not “know enough” to “understand” art. In terms of outreach, I felt I had a unique and necessary perspective, that of the artist. Social media enabled me to show, in real time, the constant working, the germs of ideas, the feelings, the influences, the choices I was making, and why I was making them, even the fact that my thumb hurts when I stretch canvas and that I’ve had to use an electric can opener open my gesso. All of it.
A few years later, I started to engage with art world people. After so many years away, with no one to laugh at a reference to Vito Acconci under the floorboards, I was starved for deep art dialogue. Better—this time around, when I went to openings, I didn’t have to stand around alone in a room full of strangers; I went to openings, and I saw friends. And this hyper-connectivity has implications for the paperwork side of being a professional artist as well, to which I collegially offer up such understanding I may have as one with a solid foundation not just in arts-education, but also in the business of running arts institutions. Further, the protracted dialogues enabled by social media have afforded me the opportunity to contextualize my work in a way that no ten, or even twenty-image proposal can: it allows me to cite the precedents of recent work going back a lifetime; ergo, It grants me the communicative flexibility to answer that pesky brand issue with the consistency of my hand.
The “Artist’s Statements” I post as status updates function as one-liner insider-jokes, “Artist’s Statement: ‘There is no avant garde anymore- we pop out of the jungle these days.’” Anyone involved in the arts today will recognize this as a signal to the fact that artists can no longer be easily grouped into “movements.” The information age, as well as the general embrace of “other” cultures (can you even imagine someone using the term “primitive art” today?), has essentially shattered linear art-history. Artists of today are not forging a new movement, we are heralding in a paradigm shift, and that paradigm has at its core fluidity and openness.

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    Can you answer a Romare Bearden painting question?

    Yesterday afternoon after our daughter’s piano recital at the Taft Museum of Art, the family visited the galleries to see the Romare Bearden show. This exhibition of prints includes Homage to Mary Lou (The Piano Lesson) from 1983 (featured in this post.) While looking at it, our daughter said, “that’s not piano music on the piano.” She went on to explain the staffs and the clefs indication this is orchestra or band music. I don’t play piano so asked her if someone could learn to play piano from this. She agreed someone could, if they knew which line of music to read. This left me wondering, “why not piano music?”

    I understand the subject of the work is jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams, who spent her childhood years in Pittsburgh. I am not familiar with this jazz pianist and don’t know as much as I wish I did about Romare Bearden, but I do know he knew music.

    Can anyone either familiar with Bearden or with music suggest why piano music was put on the piano?

    Shepard Fairey Faces Prison while Cincinnati Still Faces His Murals

    Back in April of 2009, I asked if the Contemporary Art Center was on the wrong side of art by promoting Shepard Fairey throughout Greater Cincinnati and choosing to neglect his problems of “lifting” other’s work. Now it is being reported that Shepard Fairey, the Los Angeles artist who created the “Hope” poster for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, pleaded guilty in a New York federal court Friday to destroying and fabricating documents during a legal battle with the Associated Press, according to media reports.

    Fairey sued the news service in 2009 after it claimed that the famous poster was based on one of its photos. Fairey claimed that he used a different photograph for the poster.

    But he admitted that, in fact, he was wrong and tried to hide the error by destroying documents and manufacturing others, which is the source of the one count of criminal contempt to which he pleaded guilty, The Wrap reported.

    Fairey could face six months in prison, a year of supervised release and a $5,000 fine. He will be sentenced in July.

    Lacking any courage from the CAC to stand up to the farce, I suppose we in Greater Cincinnati can always “hope” his temporary murals dotting our landscape will begin to fade by about this time.