LESSONS OF NEW YORK: KITTY BROPHY, PART I

During the late 70s, artist Kitty Brophy struggled in a male-dominated art world while falling in love with one of the rising stars of the downtown scene

 

 

Kitty Brophy & Kenny Scharf at Fort Tryon Park, Summer 1980, Photo by Larry Ashton

EDITORIAL NOTE: Lessons of New York is an oral narrative series told in parts and based primarily on interviews with artists who were involved in the Lower East Side scene during the 70s and 80s.

 

Recorded and edited by Rachel Cole Dalamangas

 

NEW YORK, 1978

 

KENNY SCHARF: My first girlfriend in New York was Kitty Brophy. She went to high school with Larry Ashton, my roommate in Santa Barbara at University of California. She had just moved to New York to go to school at Parsons. Larry came to visit, and this Arizona girl, I met her and she immediately moved in with me at my apartment on 55th Street. That night we met, we went to of all places – we were pretending we were sophisticated – to The Plaza for drinks. She grabbed me under the table and she was like a crazy, fun girl. She’s a great artist.

 

KITTY BROPHY: I had a lot of premonitions and psychic moments when I was young. I always knew I was going to live in New York City. I knew I was going to be an artist. I knew I was going to be a model. I just knew it would all happen.

 

After I was accepted to all these art schools, I narrowed the decision down between Parsons and RISD. I knew RISD would be a much better school, but I wanted that glamorous New York City life. In a way, I knew I was making the wrong decision about art school, but was making the right decision about where to live and I did have an amazing life in the city.

 

My mom put me on a plane in Phoenix, Arizona. I was 18 years old. My aunt Mickey lived in Princeton, and her husband was a famous writer, and they picked me up at the airport and took me to my dorm and dropped me off. Mickey was an actress and had lived in New York when she was young. She saw the adventure that I was about to have and was excited for me. 

Kenny Scharf was the first person I met in New York. He was this darling California guy who looked like Shaun Cassidy. We met through Larry Ashton who was a really close friend of mine in Phoenix growing up. He’s a few years older than I am. He introduced me to Kenny and it was love at first sight for me. Kenny had a blond shag and he was tan and he was so cute and he had the greatest butt.

 

Basically, I was living with Kenny right away. I had been living in a dorm. Have you ever seen that movie Pitch Perfect? Remember when Anna Kendrick’s character walks into her room and the Korean girl is sitting there and won’t talk to her? That was my experience. I had a Korean roommate and a Greek roommate, and they wouldn’t acknowledge me or say hello. It was just like that. It was so funny because here we were living in New York, the greatest city in the world, and these girls would just go to school and then go back to the dorm. And I was the sort of person who wanted to learn everything, see everything, do everything.

 

Kitty Brophy at Kenny Scharf’s 55th Street apartment, Fall 1978, Photo by Larry Ashton

So, I started crashing at Kenny’s apartment on 55th Street. It was bizarre . . . that part of the city had nothing to do with our life, which started to be more and more downtown. He had a job nearby at a salad bar. I can’t believe the amount of food we stole from that place . . . I was an accomplice. I would come in and sit down with this huge purse and we’d just fill it up. I also had bags and we’d fill them up with food, yogurt, cases of Perrier or whatever. Once, Kenny stole a plant. 

One Sunday, I went to Penn Station to take the train to visit my grandfather on Long Island. He was in town from L.A. and staying at his sister’s house. I put on a corduroy skirt and a nice coat. I had been in a real serious depression. The night before I had stood on the edge of my 13 story dorm building and contemplated jumping off of it, but something just told me not to. I had a chemical imbalance that started when I was 14. It was a horrible way to live. I’d experience intense mania followed by serious suicidal depressions that would last for weeks, then maybe one week of normalcy before the cycle started over again. It was different back then because people didn’t really talk about these issues. It was very taboo still. Now, of course, it’s different. But, the next morning, I still had to get up and go meet my grandfather for lunch in Long Island and pretend like everything was normal because he was funding my schooling.

 

I was sitting in Penn Station waiting for my train and it was very crowded. This huge guy who was out of his mind, I think he was probably on heroin and PCP, he had on a big overcoat and he was just gross. He walked over to me and just started molesting me and I was floored and didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t even scream. I was thinking, “This guy is going to fucking kill me. He’s going to rape me and kill me in the middle of Penn Station.” And all these other people were just watching. Nobody did anything and I was gasping and couldn’t breathe. Finally, I turned to a young guy sitting next to me and said, “Can you get the police?” The young guy ran and came back with a police officer. But by then the guy who attacked me had moved on. What really got me was how when the police showed up, all these people rushed forward to tell the police their version of the story. I asked the young guy, “Why didn’t you help me?” And he was like, “Oh, I thought you knew that guy.” Like some huge, dirty, derelict guy in an overcoat is my friend? They did capture him and they told me he had been going around all morning doing that and pulling knives on people too. He even broke through the handcuffs when they arrested him. I missed my train and had to use a payphone to call my grandfather and make up a story about why I was late. I went home to Kenny’s on 55th Street that night and told him all this and he looked at me like, this is just too much.

 

 

pen & ink drawing by Kitty Brophy

The illustration program at Parsons just killed me creatively. The teachers basically just wanted us to do what they wanted us to do. And they wanted us to paint like them but not as good as them because they were afraid that we would get good and take their jobs someday. That was during the time of super-realism and photo-realism. My work is the exact opposite. The teachers were biased toward the male artists and there weren’t many girls in art school. Most of the girls who were there were in fashion or in graphic design.

 

I had been celebrated in the large public high school I went to in Arizona. I’d been in the gifted program where we got to do whatever we wanted. My high school teachers had been all like, “Your work is great, this is wonderful.” I just flourished. I was awarded artist of the year. I was already drawing S&M art in high school, drawings in which the women were empowered and the guys were tied up.

 

So I went from encouraged and creatively free-flowing to Parsons where everything I did, the teachers were like, “This is shit. You can’t do this.” There was one teacher at Parsons in particular who called my work “fake naïve,” and I was like, “What does that mean?” And he said, “Why don’t you study Grandma Moses and learn how to do real naïve?” He wasn’t referring to my pen and ink stuff, because my pen and ink stuff was my personal outlet. Those drawings were very indicative of my mental state during that time. I never showed them to anybody except a few other people.

 

 pen & ink drawing by Kitty Brophy

It was so bizarre for me to go to New York City where it was so much about pushing the men and encouraging the guys and there was really no support for women. I mean think of how few women succeeded in the art world back then. You can count them. And here I was doing these delicate little ink drawings, things from my heart and my damaged brain, and no one knew what to do with them. Kenny liked them. Keith Haring liked them a lot and he was very encouraging. But art at that time was getting to be bigger bolder faster funner.

 

Not all women have that story. There are women who say, “Oh no, it was a great time to be a woman artist.”

 

I mean, Kenny had it tough too at art school. But he was strong enough. He had the confidence and the strength to deal with that criticism. One of his teachers was the wonderful illustrator, Sue Coe. He was also very smart because he learned technique. That was something I didn’t learn in part because the teachers I had didn’t teach that at Parsons – maybe I just took the wrong classes. Kenny learned as much as he could about how to paint. He was doing video and silk-screening and photorealism and oil in school.

 

Kenny was perfect for me, and we were eager to go out and experience everything. We’d go to Xenon and get all dressed up in spandex. This was back in the era of Rocky Horror Picture Show and David Bowie. People were flirting with gender identity. I never labeled myself as gay or straight or anything. I’d put makeup on Kenny and we’d put our spandex on and go out. We went to Studio 54, but it was so over our heads. Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol, Halston, these people were there but they were older and much more sophisticated. I remember going there and feeling so young and so wowed. This was before our whole scene started downtown at the end of 1978. We loved disco, but as soon as clubs opened downtown, we never really cared that much about going uptown anymore. We were just new to New York and the nightlife was in transition.

 

I was one of the few non-punk or retro-dressed girls in the East Village scene. I had been a debutante in Phoenix. I was the girl who would wear the hot pants and mini-skirts and high heels and makeup. Like, I wouldn’t let anyone kiss me when I was out at night because I didn’t want my lipstick to get messed up. I never drank in public, mostly because I didn’t want to spend the money, and later I was put on Lithium for my manic depression so I couldn’t drink at all, and quaaludes were all over and cheap so that was pretty much my thing until I got into coke in the 80s.

 

 pen & ink drawing by Kitty Brophy

John Sex and Wendy Wild, and Kenny and me, we used to double date. It’s so funny to call it “double dating.” We didn’t “date” in our group, but we did hang out all the time. John wasn’t John “Sex” yet and Wendy wasn’t Wendy “Wild.” That was later. John was this guy from Long Island with blond hair. The nicest guy. He would wear like these little tiny cut-offs. He was so creative and made these amazing silk-screens. Wendy was just this girl from Long Island with long, dirty blond hair and she was cute and fun. Nobody in our group was stuck up. We were always doing something. Like, “Let’s party!” “Let’s make a video!” “Let’s put on a show!”

Then all of a sudden John and Kenny were fooling around, and Wendy and I were like, “What just happened here?” The story I heard later was that Kenny hooked up with John at GG Barnum’s, which was this amazing transsexual nightclub with trapezes. The drag queens were incredible. I loved them. We’d be in the ladies’ room and they’d be in there, and we’d be putting on our make-up together. I was in awe of them. They were like super women.

 

Back then nobody was monogamous. Kenny wasn’t. I hadn’t ever been either. I wasn’t the kind of girl in high school who had a steady boyfriend for years. That kind of thing to me was uninteresting. And at the time, Kenny was blossoming and I encouraged him. I was in love with him and he was in love with me, so I just said, “You need to be who you are.” Wendy was pretty open too. But we were also hurt. Kenny and John were these young guys and suddenly the whole world opened up to them. I didn’t expect monogamy with Kenny, but I did want to be the main girl. Kenny would tell me, “Kitty, I just want you to know I love you. I really, really love you.” And that was my tip off he was going to go get with someone else. It was very funny.

 

I had terrible social anxiety so it was very hard for me to ever get up on stage. I did Acts of Live Art and a few other things on stage. Kenny didn’t have that problem. He’s the biggest show-off and that was part of my attraction to him. He was the most engaging person. He would just walk up to anyone he thought was interesting and say, “Hi, who are you?” And that’s how we met Klaus Nomi. Klaus was a lovely, lovely person. He was actually a baker at the time. He was a bit older than us.

 

But then later it became an issue for me. It was very, very hard to live in Kenny’s shadow because I had been a promising artist in high school and then suddenly I was just Kenny’s girlfriend. Our relationship happened even before Kenny was famous. I mean, Kenny was famous before Kenny was famous. And I was like, “I’ve never just been somebody’s girlfriend.” You know? Even after we broke up later, for the longest time, people kept referring to me as “Kenny’s girlfriend.” On the one hand, I could stay in obscurity and do whatever I wanted artistically. I had incredible freedom. I was never stuck or pigeonholed or dictated to. On the other hand, no one knew anything about me or my art. People weren’t mean to me, but that was how it was especially when Kenny started making it.

 

I never felt bitter or angry about it. I just felt sad about it because that was the era of women’s lib. I grew up in the 70s and I was that first generation where women could do everything, or at least we thought that way. In hindsight, the reality was very different.

 

Follow Rachel on Twitter, @rcdalamangas

 

 

 

INTERVIEW: GIASCO BERTOLI HAS ALWAYS FELT COMFORTABLE IN THE DARKNESS OF A MOVIE THEATER

The Warriors, Coney Island, Brooklyn, NY, 2014

 

How does one tell a story through a photograph? Let us turn to Giasco Bertoli’s most recent show “Locations,” at Galerie Nuke, Paris , and count the ways. The Switzerland-born artist first began photographing at age 12, when he received his first camera, a Kodak pocket Instamatic 200. His work came of age during a pivotal time for photography – as it evolved from a commercial medium to a subtler and less idealized one. And much of his work reflects this transformation. Giasco believes in the power of a story—and in the power of a photograph to tell a story. The results are works that tend to blend the everyday with images and memories from his adolescence. In “Locations,” Giasco photographs various film locations—each locale from a vital scene to its corresponding film. And though it’s been years since some of these films were released, the photographs are nonetheless powerful, demonstrating the lasting and indelible strength of these iconic and particularly memorable films. Giasco’s projects in zingmagazine include a survey of tennis courts “15 love” in issue #15; and Cathedral interiors “in a year of 13 moons (1978)” in issue #17.

 

Interview by Rachel Hodin

 

All of t­he photos in “Locations” are shot at different film locations. Did you have to research the precise address of each location before? Or was it more like you recalled the locations from memory?


I researched different New York film locations on the Internet – locations that were first scouted by site hunters.

 

There was a really fascinating article about memory in a recent New Yorker that demonstrated just how much it’s subject to change. Two quotes that stuck out to me: “The very act of remembering something makes it vulnerable to change” and “’Memory works a little but more like a Wikipedia page...You can go in there and change it, but so can other people.’”

I don’t know much about this subject. To me memory is a diary we all carry about with us and sometimes a perfect memory can be ruined if it’s put into words. A photograph captures a moment that’s gone forever, and impossible to reproduce.

 

All of the shots are in New York. I know you moved from New York to Paris when you were much younger, and haven’t moved back since; how would you compare the two cities?

Everybody knows that there’s just something about New York – this inexplicable quality to it, whether it’s from the heat, the music, or the money. In Paris, we don’t really have all of that; here it’s much more romantic with its nice boulevards lined with pristine trees and the Eiffel Tower. To Europeans, New York City feels almost like a movie. For example, the taxis—if you think about the taxi driver, the guy who drives around all day, waking up early to start his shift with steam rising from the streets. Even the loud music New York City is known for—rap music emanating from passing cars. There’s just this unique power to NYC that emerges particularly in photographs, if you find the right shot. It’s a mysterious, yet strong quality. Perhaps it’s more compatible with my work because it’s more international than Paris. In fact, in “Locations,” I was aiming to reach a more international audience – of dreamers, movie dreamers and cinema lovers from around the world. I always want my work to reach an international audience, and in Paris—with its picturesque trees and romance and its charming street lamps—that’s less likely to happen.

 

Obviously “Locations” is a product of recalling pleasant memories. Are there any memories you wish you could erase?

Memories are killing. We must not recollect on certain memories from our pasts—memories of those who are dear to us. Or rather, we must think of these memories and continue to remember them. For if we don’t, we run the risk of these memories surfacing in our minds, all on their own, little by little.

 

Did any of these films figure prominently in your childhood?

My childhood is so far away; we would have to go back to the 70’s, when most of these movies had yet to even come out. No—these movies were selected much more naturally, almost accidental. In fact I decided on most of them while sitting on my couch, chatting with a friend. The selection was more about mixing our memories, and my personal fascination with these films. They all define a city, rather than an era, and during the making of “Locations” I actually discovered quite a bit about these films. For instance I had no idea that the outside of Victor Ziegler’s mansion in Eyes Wide Shut is really the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in New York City.

 

Who is the most magnetic person you’ve watched on screen?

The list is too long. The first film I ever saw in theaters was Little Big Man, with Dustin Hoffman and Faye Dunaway—two irrefutably magnetic actors. I think Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter is magnetic too, and Orson Wells in the Third Man. I like Harry Dean Stanton in general; Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris; Takeshi Kitano in Hana-Bi; and a young Gerard Depardieu was of course magnetic as well…


How about the most arresting subject you’ve photographed?

This is a really tough one because an arresting subject—that could be a lot of things. It could be the tennis courts book I shot; there was this one particular shot of a tennis court that I captured, just as it was getting dark out and the sky was very blue. I mean, just physically experiencing that in such an empty space was arresting in itself. But probably the most arresting subject was this ballad to NYC – “Locations” – because it’s my most recent project. For two to three days my girlfriend and I walked around these various locations as we also went shopping; we were able to mix work with pleasant, amateur tourism. We went to Brooklyn and we saw Tony Manero’s house from Saturday Night Fever, and it looked entirely different. We visited Queens too. We were really able to discover NYC through this “Locations” series. More so than arresting, it was just a nice journey—a nice touristic journey. And I like to be a tourist in my work; I think it adds some lightness to it.

 

“Locations” seems to evoke a similar appreciation for film and movie theaters displayed in the film Cinema Paradiso. Do you have a favorite film?

I’ve seen thousands of films, so many films. I even made one myself. As for my favorite film? Of course that depends on a lot, like the period of the film. I saw all of the films featured in “Locations,” and appreciate each and every one of them. For instance Dressed To Kill, The Warriors, Two Lovers, Manhattan, Carlito’s Way, Afterhours, Saturday Night Fever, Serpico, Raging Bull, Once Upon a Time in America, Goodfellas . . . I think cinema has played a huge role in shaping my imagination. I always found myself pretty comfortable in the darkness of a movie theater—I always felt like I could learn more from characters in movies, as opposed to characters in reality. I like to think I have a better understanding of reality through watching films. For me, the works of directors like Bresson, Bunuel, Kubrick, Cassavetes, Fassbinder, Fellini, Godard, Kaurismäki, Herzog, Pasolini, Rossellini, Truffaut, Antonioni, and Vigo mimic real life experiences.

 

 

Dressed to Kill (The office of shrink Dr Elliot), New York, 2014

 

The photos here are noticeably empty—they almost look abandoned. They aren’t particularly explicit either. Was this intentional? I find that, usually, the less explicit something is, the more aptly it’s able to convey inexplicable ideas like death.

There’s something about an abandoned-looking place or house that makes it look like it has a life of its own. I really like it.

 

Can you tell me some of your favorite films from the past year? And any recommendations you have for films everyone must see?

I recently saw Black Coal, Thin Ice, which won the last Berlin Film festival; it’s a great film.

In general, I would recommend Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Barry Lindon, The Shining, and Eyes Wide Shut. I like the Coen brothers’ films too—they’re fun, sulfurous and quirky. I love western movies—John Ford, Sergio Leone, and Clint Eastwood—and Howard Hawks and Nicholas Ray too. And among the many films I love, I’m particularly taken with The Last Detail, a 1973 comedy-drama directed by Hal Ashby, and The Mass is Ended by Nanni Moretti.

 

I saw you did a video for the fashion brand Lutz Huelle. Personally I think fashion films are an untapped resource in the broader category of films. What are your thoughts on contemporary fashion films/shorts?

I don’t know—some fashion short films make pretty advertising, but I find fashion to be mostly boring and a bit depressing these days.

 

I also heard you’re working on writing your first feature film. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

It is finished. When You’re Smiling, it’s a 10-minute short film freely adapted from a Bukowski novel.

 

Obviously stories are important to you; do you have a favorite writer, short story, novel, or poem?

I always liked the Italian poet Sandro Penna; Pasolini said he was the greatest Italian poet of the 20th century.  I like the writer and film critic Serge Daney, whose L’Amateur de tennis helped inspire my tennis court series. Sadly, he died from HIV 20 years ago. I like to think he would have liked my tennis court project. The two books that are on my bedside table right now are Kitano by Kitano by Michel Temman and Big Bad Love by Larry Brown.

 

Any particular artists you were influenced by – for this series or in general?

The influence here was drawn purely from films—a lot of films—and many directors too. I guess it is a cinephile project, meant for the guy who loves movies and going to the movies, stories, shots, etc etc.

 

Did you use any noteworthy camera techniques?

Just an old Nikon F3 and Kodak color film—very simple—and a Fuji 4.5x6 millimeters.

 

 

Follow Rachel on Twitter, @RachHodin

Rachel’s writing can also be found here

 

INTERVIEW: WILLARD BOEPPLE ON THE MYSTERY OF LIFE

SoHo’s best abstract sculptor divulges the two rules of art

& explains how objects come alive

 

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Willard Boepple’s sculptures flirt with the viewer. Maybe it’s the topsy-turvy flutes and cylinders that seem to grow from a so-called bookshelf or the playful twists of shadow that fall from a tower that cause these objects in Boepple’s live/work space in SoHo to radiate a sense of teasing vitality. The compositional spontaneity conjures plant life and music to the mind. Then again, the very same sculptures are borrowed – at least distantly – from functional objects such as stepladders, and thus echo architecture and industry. Visual associations arise from the suggestion of trumpets and antennas, scrolls of light and debris, but are never satisfied as metaphors. In this way, Boepple’s work taunts the mind into a heightened contemplation of what existing feels like, and delivers perhaps the most effective experience of engaging with abstract art. What is it like to have a body? What is the relationship between a being and its environment?

This July, Boepple will exhibit a monoprint series at Lori Bookstein Fine Art based on his resin sculptures. The monoprints came about when Boepple met the master printer Kip Gresham in Cambridge, England over ten years ago. Additionally, a monograph of Boepple’s work will be published this fall.

Interview by Rachel Cole Dalamangas

The critic David Cohen has written on your work as a reaction to Plato. How is your work a response to Plato’s notion of forms?

I look to the world of objects for my sculpture, objects made for people to use. Objects designed by people for people to use imply the figure, they have to do with the hand, arm or leg. The height of a chair has all to do with the body’s proportions, a step ladder has to do with how we behave in gravity and the distance between the ankle and knee. A handle has all to do with the length and reach of the arm and hand. This vocabulary of forms really interests me. It’s part of our landscape, we grow up with it, it’s our visual environment – everything around us that is made that isn’t natural comes out of the measures, needs, demands, tastes, inclinations, uses of the body. I think we know much more about that visual world than we realize. There is so much knowledge that is not rationalized or indexed. But when the handle is too low or the step is too shallow . . . what is it about what’s right and what isn’t? What is it about a window that’s a little too high? It looks wrong. We feel it right off the bat. We don’t necessarily articulate it or understand why, but we feel it. We have this accumulated vocabulary of proportions and shapes and sizes. I’m interested in that as source material for abstract sculpture making. I don’t work from the figure directly at all, but I’m very interested in what it’s like to be in the world as a human being, as bodies.

An abstract sculpture has the gift and burden of being in the world without explanation. A painting hangs on the wall and we read it as art whether we like it or not, whether we know what it is or not, we know it’s art. It’s rectangular usually, it hangs on the wall, it has a light on it – oh, it’s art. An abstract sculpture plopped on the floor or on the table – what the heck is that? I’m really interested in the resonance we create with a sculpture that makes us notice it or respond to it emotionally or somehow see something in it that it generates.

Is there a relationship in your sculpture to architecture?

Yes, but my work isn’t functional. I don’t make functional things.

I’m interested in the process by which you find these forms and shape them into an abstract sculpture. How much does the process start in the mind or how much does in start in the physical making of it, which is a Platonic question too.

Process evolves and varies. I work intuitively and in response to certain material stuff, the fact of what’s in front of me, whatever it is. I’m a constructor, I tend to work additively building things rather than chipping away. In the context of the vocabulary of form I described, I will typically begin the sculpture with some kind of construct or object as a starting off point. Step ladders, for example were kind of the beginning of this thinking really. I worked in the early days more out of constructivism and cubist collage. The step ladder really was the beginning. I was looking for a way to make vertical abstract sculpture that didn’t read as figure. You take a pole and stick it in the ground and we read a figure immediately. It’s our ego, our self-centered nature as an animal. So how to make something abstract and vertical that did not do that? Did not simply fight the figure-ness of verticality always?  That was the problem I was chewing on and I came upon the step ladder as a form that is both absolutely vertical – it’s meant to get you up – and yet does not read as a figure. It reads much more architecturally and functionally. The late 70s, early 80s, I made a series of them, which began this exploration and it was from then that I moved into other objects. More furniture-y. Book shelves, room structures, and the like. With the ladder sculptures, I would actually build the wooden ladders as the beginning proposition and start responding to that, very intuitively, very directly. Let’s take out all the steps. Let’s turn it upside-down. Let’s turn it inside-out. Let’s see where we can go with this thing. Somehow make it speak, make it come alive. Mysterious process, but very much the way I work in the studio.

Plato also proposed a series of dualities: mind/body, good/bad, abstract/material. Is your tendency to move away from function and representation a rebuttal to Platonic dualities?

The first one for me is alive/not-alive. I can’t say that I ever consciously work against some ideal or toward some idea. The idea such as it is begins with that beginning object notion. Let’s see if we can make a sculpture out of this or the idea of this door handle or footstool, a half-open window. It’s like I’m looking for an idea, something new in the world. Looking for signs of life. When the thing comes alive – that mystery of all mysteries – is when you’re dealing with something, is when something starts to happen.

There are two rules in art. The first is it needs to be alive. The second is it has to be good. But the first rule is first, because without that live-ness it can’t be good. Very often the live thing leads to horror – oh my god, what a mess and what have I done and what am I thinking?  But when you generate those sorts of reactions in yourself or anyone else, something is cooking, something is happening.

 

 

 

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What are signs of life in art?

What are signs of love? I don’t know. Therein lies the center of the mystery. What is it? We just know it when it happens. We know it when we feel it. But what is life is the question you’re asking. I hope and I think that art when it is wonderful and it is great, teaches us about that live-ness. It is about that quality of vividness of two people being together and responding to each other.

So an indication of live-ness is when some sort of exchange develops between an object and a consciousness?

Exchange sounds a little clinical. Some form of communication is at work. When we talk about music . . . music for some reason is very easy for us to talk about in our culture. I think because we don’t doubt that it’s art. We argue and have taste and have standards of good and bad, but you never question what it is. Yet, when you think about it, it is entirely abstract. Music is entirely, internally relational. It’s about sounds juxtaposed to each other in some kind of rhythm. It moves us or doesn’t. We don’t see that way. We’re not as visually comfortable. We want to know what something represents. 

Your work has been described as musical, which adds a synaesthesiac quality.

I think more key at least in my ambition for my work is the relational . . . one bit relates to another. The logic that it creates. That’s what it’s about. Thick and thin. High and low. Long and short. Oblique and acute. Therein lies the magic of music.

Has music influenced your work?

I listen to a lot of Bach, but I like a wide-range of music . . . Bob Dylan. I played the cello badly as a kid. My parents are musicians. My mother is a pianist. I grew up around music.

 

 

 

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I’m always curious – what do abstract artists get up to as kids? I mean, what were your creative inclinations growing up?

I always wanted to be an artist. I don’t know where that came from or why. When I was young – maybe 12 or 13 – I got to know Richard Diebenkorn who was a neighbor and friend of my family. He was very encouraging to me. I used to muck around in my basement where I painted and did stuff. Whenever he came by, he always wanted to have a look and see. Where, this came from, I have no idea. I went to Skowhegan young. I was too young really, but it was a wild adventure. I continued to paint badly through college.

When you were 37, you were hospitalized with a severe case of Guillain-Barre syndrome, and though you recovered, you continue to live with legs that are paralyzed below the knee and limited function of your arms below the elbow. Have these circumstances influenced how you make art?

I have no answer really. Changing the way you work changes your work and inevitably my physical situation has altered my work. That said, I cannot see or say how. I was just starting with the stepladder sculptures – I showed some at Acquavella in 1981 just before I got ill. When I was able to get back to work, I picked up where I left off with them. A lot of people have asked, “Were you making stepladders because you were learning how to walk and climb?” – the metaphor was irresistible. But I started work on the step ladders beforehand. It was not a response to the illness.

I was in the hospital so damn long I had assistants come in and worked verbally because I couldn’t move. Getting back to work was a gift. Illness is so boring. You lie there like a dead fish and well-meaning people look down on you and kind of shout at you because they think you’re deaf and they are asking about your body all the time. Boring. Healing was so slow, incremental. A news flash would go down the hospital hallway that I moved my eyes or moved my shoulder. So when I had some former students (from the Boston Museum School) come in with balsa wood and a glue gun, I could think about making a little something. It was life saving.

How does your upcoming monoprint show at Lori Bookstein fine art relate to your sculpture? How did your making monoprints come about?

My wife and I lived in England for three years beginning in 2001 and I didn’t have a proper sculpture studio, so I thought I’d try out some new media for me. I met the printmaker Kip Gresham -- I’d never made a print in my life – and told him I was interested in trying to make some prints that related to my resin sculptures. The resin is translucent in these pieces -– you can see into them, through layers of color that live in the light.  For the first few sessions, we took shapes right out of the sculpture and used them as templates then filled them, built them up with color.

Follow Rachel on Twitter, @rcdalamangas

Images courtesy of Lori Bookstein Fine Art.

 

 

 

INTERVIEW: Fabiola Torralba

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Allis Ozornia performing in Torralba's Nos(otros) ¡somos!  

 

Fabiola Torralba is a dancer, educator, artist, and activist.  After several years of community organizing and cultural work in San Antonio, two bachelor’s degrees, and some ethnographic fieldwork, she decided to return to her first love. Fabiola then trained under Erica Wilson-Perkins at Palo Alto College receiving an Associates of Arts in Dance with additional training under the Urban Bush Women, the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, and David Grenke of ThingsezIsee’um Dance/Theater among others. She collaborates frequently with local artists, schools, galleries, and non-profit organizations on multi-disciplinary, educational, and performance based projects. Previous works include, En Rumbo, entre nos, Zapatos Viejos, This Bridge We Call…, XVoto, Me Gustas Cuando Callas, and nos(otros) ¡somos!, a full length bilingual multimedia performance that presents multiple facets of the immigration experience by first voices. Fabiola utilizes movement as a vehicle for community building, civic engagement, and social-cultural awareness. She enjoys exploring interdisciplinary collaborations and the intersections between art, story, and action.

At the beginning and end of summer 2013, Torralba produced and performed in nos(otros)!somos! accompanied by a related solo installation at Lady Base Gallery.

Interview by Josh T Franco

  

How did you recruit the performers for nos(otros)!somos!? Did you have the idea then find them, or vice versa?  

My primary objective was to find immigrants to invite to participate. Given that many do not identify themselves so openly and that I knew few myself, I simply asked people that I knew to participate and then asked them to identify people that they knew to invite as well. I set the parameters of the project in terms of vision and scope, facilitated its development, and co-directed the program. The rest was all magic.   

 

What is the show’s relationship with the environment you created at Lady Base Gallery simultaneous with the first performance? 

The initial performance of nos(otros) !somos! held inside of Gallista Gallery was part of the closing reception of my solo installation exhibit titled nos(otros). I felt the need to express my identity as a Mexican immigrant woman given the limited dialogue that exists in U.S. mainstream media on immigrants and my need to be recognized beyond stereotypes, romanticized notions, and politically influenced jargon.

The installation pieces were largely based on stories that I came across in my experiences working among immigrants and as a U.S. based immigrant in Mexico and Guatemala. Each of the pieces in the installation exhibit different aspects of the immigrant experience as I relate to them personally through the stories of other immigrants. These are immigrants who had traveled to the U.S. and had returned to their home, immigrants who currently reside in the U.S., and Mexican natives who aspire to migrate to the U.S.

Part of my goal was to complicate or problematize the dominant narrative of immigrant experiences. I wanted to share these images because they provide multiple facets of the immigrant experience that complicate and speak to the multiplicity of immigrant identity.    

Another part of my goal in sharing these stories was to provide a space where immigrants could speak for themselves. Being that I was fortunate to have witnessed these first hand I wanted these stories to be told because I want these realities, these people, these voices to be recognized and heard. As a person that is now U.S. based, I also felt the responsibility to do so and in a way that would be more accessible to viewers than formal academic or literary processes.   

Lastly, my experience as an undocumented immigrant has been largely marked by silence and erasure. The way that I’ve learned to understand my own experience has always been in relation to the experiences of other people.  My sharing of these stories is a way to tell, understand, and come to terms with my own. Given that I had the opportunity to capture a crowd with the installation exhibit of nos(otros) and that I had the full support of Sarah Castillo of Lady Base Gallery to explore my creative capacities I wanted utilize the moment to share as many stories as possible by opening up the space for other immigrants to speak for themselves.  

As a dancer and choreographer, I also wanted to facilitate a space where these realities could be explored through performance directly through the body. Hence the creation of

nos(otros)!somos!, a multi-media live performance that presents multiple facets of the immigrant experience by first voices.

 

I noticed Tomas Ybarra - Frausto was in the audience at the second performance. This made me think about the piece within Chicano/a art history, and I thought about how it blurs the line (which seems bleakly solid the more I learn) between Chicano/a and Mexican art. How does the whole performance, the cast, the context, relate to this distinction?

I'm not sure that I can readily call out the differences between Chicano/a and Mexican art but I know from being a Mexican immigrant who was raised in the Westside amongst a majority Mexican American community adopted into a working class Tejano family that major differences do exist between Mexicans and Mexican Americans.  Nationality for one is a major difference along with legal status and language.  Naturally these and amongst other factors shape identity and cultural expression.  

I have felt this distinction myself within the Chicano community, a feeling of silence and difference. Its not a conversation that is always welcomed.  Personally, I think it may be because many individuals still have their own work to do with their own internalized racism. The conversation can also easily lend itself to addressing questions of privilege and status which becomes even trickier in a state that doesn't even admit its own history of colonization. Regardless, Chicanos have worked hard to reconnect with their heritage and situate themselves within their Mexican identity and continue to do this work by mobilizing, educating, and building community.

I created the space for nos(otros) !somos! specifically for immigrants because I felt that there was no space for us to tell our stories. Though the topic of immigration had become popular on a national level over the past five years or so, it is often a conversation that is shaped by U.S. nationals and not by immigrants themselves via policy, academia, and mainstream media. In the moments where there have been immigrants speaking on their own behalf it is only a sector of the population that is covered as news but these do not represent us all. Not all immigrants are DREAMERS, or Mexican nationals, or men that migrate to care for their families on their own. I had also felt that within the literature that I read as a Mexican American Studies student that immigration or migration was often romanticized or idealized. It was a topic that many did not have first hand experience with amongst my student peers and within the organizing community that I was a part of. Naturally, I felt alone. As I became more and more involved in local actions in support of immigrant solidarity efforts along with Chicanos and Mexican Americans, I realized that regardless of their families history of migration or ethnic identity, that I was living it alone and that this difference was valid and needed a place of its own.  

I wanted immigrants speak on their own behalf because I didn't want to feel alone anymore. I also wanted a space for us to speak for ourselves to break the silence and erasure that is so much a part of being undocumented. I also wanted a diversity of voices and experiences to be shown because we are not a homogeneous community and many have already been left out of the conversation.  

 

Can you discuss a bit about the difference in the two venues in which you’ve now shown the work?

Lady Base is a gallery that supports the artistic practices of Women and LGBTQ artists of San Antonio. It is located inside of the Gallista Gallery in the South Side of the city and is run by Sarah Castillo, an artist and graduate student in the Bilingual Bicultural Studies program at the University of Texas at San Antonio. For more information visit http://ladybase210.wordpress.com/.

The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center is a non-profit cultural arts organization committed to social justice and the celebration of the artistic and cultural expression of diverse voices. For more information visit www.esperanzacenter.org.

 

To see what Torralba is up to now, check out her blog.  

 

 

LESSONS OF NEW YORK: KENNY SCHARF, PART II

Street artist Kenny Scharf on the ups and downs of friendship,

the absurdity of life

Recorded & edited by Rachel Cole Dalamangas

 

 

 

People need to be made more aware of the need to work at learning how to live because life is so quick and sometimes it goes away too quickly. – Andy Warhol

NEW YORK, 1976-

I was invited into the Time Square show by John Ahearn who came to my show called “Celebration of the Space Age” at Club 57 in 1979. I didn’t ask anyone for permission, I just brought Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat with me and said, “You guys have to be in this show – join me.” Jean-Michel’s painting made a huge sensation, he got noticed and got into the “New York New Wave” show at PS1. He had a show in Italy, and boom – his career took off. I believed in him, for sure.

My friendship with Jean-Michel was very rocky. He had a double personality. He kind of turned on me more than once. He used to make me completely uncomfortable. Just tried to torture me sometimes. Once, I was at a party and there were lots of people and music and whatnot. It was a very crowded room and I felt really uncomfortable, like, something just felt really weird. And I turned around, from across the smoky room, he’s beaming an evil eye into the back of my head. I felt that and I caught his eye doing that, and I just started sweating. And it would happen a lot. It would always be the same thing and he was trying to make me feel intimidated and it worked.

About a month after I had the show at Fiorucci, Jean-Michel was making a painting with John Sex, and they made this wet oil painting and cars were driving over it – it was so cool and punk rock – and Jean-Michel was kind of spastic and he decided he wanted to have a show at Fiorucci. So he goes up to Fiorucci with these wet oil paintings and in that spasticky manner he used to have, he managed to get wet oil paint all over the clothes, and they kicked him out.

I heard later that Jean-Michel kind of had a problem with me because I didn’t sleep with him. I went to visit him at this apartment he had in Chelsea. He had his art, these collages, on the wall in the kitchen and I was just totally blown away by this crazy energy they had coming from them. The colors on these collages were amazing. That’s when he came onto me. I had just arrived to New York. I’d never done anything with another guy. I was scared.

Jean-Michel was really sweet, charming, funny. He adored Keith, he was always nice to Keith, which was really hard on me. It was one of those things where I liked Jean-Michel so much and when he would be sweet to me, I would be all forgiving and then he would turn on me again.

One time, years later, Jean-Michel and I were both in Italy at the same time and he apologized. And I was like, “I can’t believe you’re apologizing. I never knew what this was about. Why were you so mean to me?” And he said, “Because I’m jealous of you.” And I said, “Why?” Because he was famous at that point, I wasn’t really famous at all then. I wasn’t selling my work. Nobody cared about what I was doing. I was like, “Why would you be jealous of me?” And he said, “Because you’re happy.” I just had this incredible moment of empathy for him and was completely forgiving him for all the stuff and the very next day, it was like my heart was open and he took a knife and just went, “Rrrrrrr-nuh.” Immediately, he turned on me the very next day after apologizing. After that, that was it. I shut down. I swear it was like a month before he died, we kind of connected again. I felt sadness in him and he seemed really in such a sad place that I couldn’t keep that thing I was carrying anymore. Then he died.

John Sex was my first guy. John had moved from Long Island to New York with Wendy Wild together as a couple. I was living with Kitty [Brophy] as a couple. I met John at SVA and the four of us would go on double dates. We’d go to music venues like everybody did. Me and John Sex left the girls and ran off one night. There was a place called GG Barnum’s. It was this disco back then and it was crazy wild and all these dancers were above the dance floor on these nets. And the dancers would jump off and land almost on top of your head, this circusy kind of thing. Then they had these drag queens come on stage and do a show. By then, John and I were really drunk, and we got so excited that we jumped the stage during the show. We went back in the dressing rooms and the bouncers got us and threw us out and that’s how our thing started. Drunk and allover the ground.

Wendy was kind of distraught about what was happening to her boyfriend. Not long after that, Kitty went back to Arizona leaving me to continue my New Wave Punk Rock Bisexual studies.

John and I were involved awhile off and on. He was an amazing person in my life. Really amazingly smart and talented. He taught me a lot about art and Dada. One day he decided that art was bullshit and he threw all his art away in the garbage and announced that he himself was art and he only did performance art after that and became the John Sex persona that people know him as. But nobody knows that he was a really amazing visual artist.

I met Andy Warhol twice. The first time I met him was right after the “New York New Wave” show at PS1. I was in this group show that Andy Warhol was in and I went to this opening at a club called Peppermint Lounge, and Andy showed up there and I went right up to him and said, “Hi, we’re in a show together.” It didn’t impress him much. He said, “Oh, that’s so great,” and wasn’t even listening. He had these rude guys with him and he pointed to one of them and he said, “Make out with him.” And I was kind of like, stunned a little bit, shy and uncomfortable. I can’t remember if the guy did or didn’t honestly. I have the feeling that I chickened out and didn’t go with that. So that was it and he didn’t know who I was. Then later, Keith became famous and was invited to The Factory on Union Square for lunch and I just invited myself to go with him. I was creaming in my jeans. It was everything I could have dreamed, not only meeting Andy, but having lunch with him. I was used to a diet of bad perogis and pizza and donuts, and they had food delivered from some nice place. So many celebrities were going to The Factory then. Andy was taking their picture and the celebrities were getting into Interview magazine. All of a sudden, I went from only knowing East Village celebrities in my sphere, to, “Oh, there’s Farrah Fawcett, or there’s Arnold Schwartzeneger.”

The artist David McDermott and the artist Peter McGough were around the scene then. And there was this guy Diego Cortez, who was the curator of the PS1 “New York New Wave” show, and his boyfriend was named Johnny Rudo. And Johnny Rudo had this loft in Time Square that he was renting from the artist Jimmy DeSana. Jimmy was a very interesting artist who died very early of AIDS, and he did these really intense sadomasochistic photographs that were very Mapplethorpy. So Johnny Rudo called me and was like, “I’ve got this room in this crazy place. There’s space for studio work and whatever, do you wanna come here?” So I left my East Village place and then two weeks later, Johnny Rudo couldn’t handle me. He was intimidated by my intense procreation of art making. I just got there and started hot gluing this and finding trash and painting that and taking over and celebrating the fact that I had some space to work. I was overwhelming him. I got home from school one day and all my bags were packed, and Johnny had brought David and Peter over. I was like, “What’s going on here?” And they were like, “We are here to kick you out. Johnny Rudo doesn’t like you. His dad is a lawyer. And we are here to kick you out.” I just looked at them and was like, “I got news for you. Someone’s leaving and it’s not me.” And the next thing I knew, Johnny Rudo put his tail between his legs and ran away, and David and Peter left too. So I called Keith and I was like, “Keith, I got this great place.” Because Keith was living in this weird men’s shelter, sharing a room with three old men. Keith was like, “Okay.” So Keith came up. There was even a painting that David McDermott and Peter McGough did of this scene. On one side, it’s me with space ships and dinosaurs, and on the other side is them with all their doilies and clocks, and they’re making a face at each other.

Life is just little crazy stories.

EDITORIAL NOTE: Lessons of New York is an oral narrative series told in parts and based primarily on interviews with artists who were involved in the Lower East Side scene during the 70s, 80s, and 90s. 

Read Part I of Lessons of New York.  

Follow Rachel on Twitter, @rcdalamangas

Photo courtesy of Kenny Scharf.

NEW WAVE, THE STREET, & OTHER LESSONS OF NEW YORK

Before he earned international recognition for his fantastical pop-surrealist style, Kenny Scharf was another dreamer in the City

Recorded & edited by Rachel Cole Dalamangas

Traveling through the galaxies

Looking for a home

Interstellar tragedies

Living like a gnome

Stretching like a comet tail

From star to star and back

Intergalactic habitrails

Keep me on the track

-- Klaus Nomi

 

 

 

 

NEW YORK CITY, 1976

When I arrived from Santa Barbara when I was 18, I was kind of surfery. I had that 70s Farrah Fawcett, blonde hair. I grew up in California surf culture. My dad used to run a ladies’ knitwear line, basically the L.A. version of the New York schmata biz. My mom is a housewife, she got her hair done and she decorated the living room. My dad grew up in Brooklyn and he couldn’t wait to get out. It was a shit hole.

I was going to UC Santa Barbara and I had this art history course, which was a big class in an auditorium, taught by Eileen Guggenheim. She was, like, this savvy New York art lady. It was a course about 20th century art, and she was going into all the stages, and she gets to Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism, and I started to get excited. She got to Warhol and the Factory, and I was like, “This is GREAT. I’m getting out of here.” And I thought, okay, I know this is the 70s and that was in the 60s, but I have a feeling there’s something here along those lines that I can find. So I told my parents, “I want to go to New York,” and they said, “Well, then you’ve got to go to school.” I applied to like 10 different art schools allover and none of them accepted me except SVA.

I was super excited to be in New York. I sold my car and basically here I was with a bag of clothes. Right away I went to a Devo concert and on the way, I took a leopard skin coat I found in the garbage and I cut it up. I cut my hair all punky, spiky and I put black under my eyes, and went to this Devo concert at The Bottom Line. I waited in line with all the other New Wavers, and within five minutes I became friends with everyone in that line. From then on I was, like, punk rocker/New Wave.

My first week that I was there, I was a little disappointed, because all the kids at SVA were like suburban kids from Long Island. And I was like, this is just like suburban L.A. where I just came from, and I’d had this idea that I was moving to New York and people were going to be amazing. I was like, there’s nothing different about these kids, they’re just paler. Then a week later at school, I heard Devo music playing and I followed it and there’s Keith Haring in this empty room he had taken over. He had covered the walls and the ceiling and floor in paper and was painting his Dubuffet-like black lines. He was in the corner about to finish and I was like, THIS is the person I thought I was going to meet, THIS is what I came looking for in New York. It was like, BOOM. I started talking to him and we became friends instantly.

Then a couple of days later, I was hanging out in the cafeteria at SVA and there was this super-cool guy named Chris there with Basquiat. I was holding a little portfolio of these paintings I was working on and Basquiat locked eyes with me and said, “What’s in there? Show me your work.” So I showed him and he looked at me and said, “You’re going to be famous.” I was like, that’s a weird thing to say, the very first thing someone says to you.

The first place I lived in was bizarre. There was this saleswoman from my dad’s company, and she was moving to L.A., and I was going to sublet her place. So I took her place on 55th between 6th and 7th. What a weird neighborhood. Out the window, you saw that blue glass of that 60s Hilton Hotel. On the other side, it was Nowheresville. Empty on the weekends, full of strangers all the time.

I got a job at this place called Health Works, which was a salad bar. They had these salad bars and this one was right next door to the place on 55th. Basically people would come up and go, “I want a Salad Niçoise,” and you’d take chunks of tuna and mix it up right in front of them. The manager was like, “You clean up, you close up, you’re just right next door.” So every night I would take big vats of yogurt like out of those machines. There was Perrier, it was the first time water that you pay for got introduced, that was a new thing. So it was Perrier, yogurt, and I’d take a bag of pre-cut turkey chunks, I’d take a bunch of that, and then these kids would come over after work, and I’d feed everybody. There were probably 10 or 11 of us, people I met at the Devo concert.

I had everything. My first girlfriend in New York was Kitty Brophy. She went to high school with my roommate in Santa Barbara, and she had just moved to New York for Parsons. Larry Ashton, my roommate, came to visit. He later ended up moving to New York and took part in Club 57 and everything. This Arizona girl, I met her and she immediately moved in with me in my apartment on 55th Street. That night we met, we went to of all places – we were pretending we were sophisticated – to The Plaza for drinks. She grabbed me under the table and she was like a crazy, fun girl.

About a month after moving into the place on 55th, I got kicked out because someone had robbed me. I was coming home from school and I saw a kid on the street holding a bag of weed and I looked at him and the bag of weed and was like, “Oh, he’s holding a bag of weed.” Then I went up into my place, the door was down and I was like, “Shit, that was my bag of weed.” I went crazy and raced down to the street to see if I could find him. I am running allover the streets, and every kid is looking like him at that point. Anyway, because of what happened, all that caused, and because I always had all these kids eating in my apartment, the owner kicked me out. After that I just kept moving. I moved to 23rd and 8th and then I moved to 9th between 1st and A.

On 23rd, I was in a studio apartment and I remember there was hardly any heat and there were holes, the window was broken. I remember waking up one morning when there had been a blizzard and there was a snow pile on my sink. I saw it floating in. It was cold, but pretty. I had to paint with gloves on in there.

I discovered that Jean-Michel lived near 23rd, and we became closer and started spending more time just walking around tagging. I remember just going around, he would do the SAMO, and he had this big Fat Cap marker and let me have it. I remember I drew a TV set with antennas and inside it said, “The Jetsons.” We went around, and it was really cool. Then one day we were going around, and I turned to take the Fat Cap marker, and all of a sudden he was like, “I’m not giving that to you.” All of a sudden he turned on me, and I thought, “Uh-oh.” That was my first inkling that he had a double side to him, a scary side. He would change on the drop of a dime, you never knew what you were gonna get. He had an intense, demonic side sometimes.

Anything below 23rd Street was kind of fucked up. I quickly learned about the street. Especially back then, New York was the street, a very intense place. I got mugged a lot when I lived in the East Village, with knives, a gun. Even a guy in my building on 9th would wait for me in the hallway with a knife and I used to have to go to a building next door up on the roof over to my roof and down the fire escape into my apartment to avoid him. The reason why he was waiting for me with a knife, is because he was fucking his dogs and I overheard it and I reported him to the ASPCA. He was like this crazy Vietnam vet. There were a lot of Vietnam vets running around back in the 70s, these crazy guys that were just let loose in the street. And he was one of them. He was fucking these big German Shepherds and I heard them crying. For some reason, he caught on that I was the one that reported him so he started waiting for me in the hallway. It went on until I left and went back to L.A. for the summer.

We all worked at nightclubs. It wasn’t right away for me. It was around the time I stopped going to school that I started working the clubs. About year after being in New York, I quit school. Keith stopped going and we were more excited about what was going on in the street than what was going on at the school. We were like, “Why do we need to be here for this?”

 One day, I walked into Fiorruci with Kitty, and Joey Arias was working and he jumped on us and we became fast friends. I had him over at my studio. Around the same time, I was introduced to Klaus Nomi and I was thrown on the stage. All of a sudden I’m on stage at Max’s Kansas City and Hurrah and Danceteria. I was dancing this robot dance with Joe Arias behind Klaus. It was overwhelming. After Joey discovered me, and they saw the paintings I was working on, they said, “You’re a Nomi.” We did a one-day rehearsal and then we did a show.

Around that time, I got a job with Diane von Furstenberg because she saw the New Wave show I had at Fiorruci in 1979 and hired me to do her lipstick and nail polish campaign called, “Hot Pinks.” I did this whole campaign for her and I promptly learned I shouldn’t ever do commercial art. I went up to Diane’s office. It was a sleek uptown office. I went up and there was a shag rug and she was wearing a high slit skirt and big high heels, and Barry Diller was sitting behind her. And she was like, “Darling, I’m so excited to do this campaign. We’re only going to pay you like $50, but we are so excited because we’re going to introduce you to Andy and Halston and Bianca.” And I was like, “Oh my god, that sounds like so much fun, okay.” They ended up using the image for the campaign and gave me $50 and that was it. They never answered my calls. So one day, I just went up to the counter at Bloomingdale’s and took the advertisement and said, “I made this thing and they can’t answer my phone calls and I’m sorry but this is all I have,” and I just took it and left. It was a hand with fingernails all different colors pink and rockets were shooting out of the fingernails, but the rockets were lipsticks. It was really New Wave. I was like, “Fuck this.”

A few years later, after Keith became famous, he got invited to Sean Lennon’s ninth birthday party and I went with him and I’m standing there with Keith and he’d heard that story like a million times, how much I was complaining being treated like that. Then Diane walks in and I said, “I just wanted to thank you.” And she didn’t remember me and said, “For what?” And I said, “Because of you, I decided to go from commercial art to fine art and everything has been going great.” Because after that experience I went back to school and was like, I’m not doing this commercial art thing anymore because they just treat me like shit. Because that was how you thought you were supposed to make money, do commercial art.  A week later, Diane found the painting and I got it back. Someone had painted over my logo for the Hot Pinks with a new logo on it. I ended up painting over that.

EDITORIAL NOTE: When I first interviewed Kenny Scharf in October 2013, I was struck by how muralistic the stories about his experiences were, in particular those that took place in New York during the 70s and 80s. Listening to Scharf recount his many anecdotes, one gets a strong sense of landscape as well as the radiant infinity of sprawling micro-narratives that go into the blockbuster of the City. I realized that in the course of conducting interviews with various artists for zingmagazine, I had encountered a treasure trove of personal tales ranging from the quotidian to the hilarious to the tragic to the absurd to the enigmatic that accumulate into a depiction of the lives of artists struggling as often as succeeding in the art capital of the world. Thus, I was inspired to prioritize the telling of these stories in the voices among us to tell them, as a sort of living history. -- Rachel Cole Dalamangas

Follow Rachel on Twitter, @rcdalamangas.

INTERVIEW: ON THE NATURE OF ART & THE ART OF NATURE

 

Emergences, Lighthouse Park, Port Ewen, NY 2012, on-site stone, variable, Hudson River, low tide

Raquel Rabinovich on the invisible world, slowing down & mud as aesthetic

In a bright, airy studio infused with an uncanny sense of the ethereal, ensconced in a forest in upstate New York, Raquel Rabinovich is at work on sculptures and drawings that are subtle in the extreme. An Argentine expat who was once briefly imprisoned as a teenager for civil disobedience and a visual artist paradoxically concerned with “invisibility,” Rabinovich’s work occupies a radically organic territory of abstract art. Her recent sculptural pieces, the Emergences series, are most closely related to land art, featuring rock formations positioned in the path of the Hudson River’s tide. Ultimately, Rabinovich’s work is invested in a visual language that interrogates the essence of meaning itself. For example, her River Library, which is archived in a long wall of drawers in her studio, contains hundreds of river “texts” and takes the act of reading as metaphorical for the process of deciphering significance from objects. The “Gateless Gates” painting series emphasizes even more acutely the search for signs of meaning, which may be partially concealed even in direct view. The conceptual sensibilities driving Rabinovich’s work are neither impractical nor sentimental, and are rather directly intertwined with and inspired by the processes of nature. Therefore, the art objects Rabinovich creates are meditative, essentially puzzles for contemplation that reward the conscientious viewer with an avenue that leads from the plane of material to the transcendental. 

She has work on view in two upcoming exhibits, one at Creon Gallery and the other at Morgan Stanley Global Headquarters.

Interview by Rachel Cole Dalamangas

Your work is engaged in the plane of invisibility. What exactly does that mean?

I have been interested in invisibility for a long, long time. I remember a series of paintings I did in ’63 in Buenos Aires called The Dark Is Light Enough, and I think it was the beginning of this lifelong interest. When I say “invisible” I mean to look at something and see what’s behind it and behind it and behind it. Not to stay with the appearance of things but investigate and explore everything that is not visible or apparent seems to me to be a search that is very meaningful. That has been a search that led me to paintings, works on paper, sculptures and installations for the last 50 years. My sculpture medium when I lived in NYC during the 1980’s was glass. Then eventually, when I moved here to the country, I began to work with stones.

Stones, unlike glass, are not transparent and ‘invisible.’ Still, when I use them to create sculpture installations along the shores of the Hudson River, they become invisible at high tide because they’re covered by the waters of the river. These sculptures, called Emergences, exist in a perpetual state of flux, being gradually concealed and revealed with the rising and falling of the river tides. I’m interested in that process – not only how you see what you see, but how something emerges into view from being concealed. It could be a thought, it could be images, it could be whatever philosophical assumptions we have. In the case of the sculptures, the water covers them gradually so the process of emerging from being invisible to becoming visible is very slow.

It seems to me that our contemporary culture, especially our city culture is very fast: we have computers, digital images, cellphones . . . I want to slow down to be with the whole process.  Perhaps the slowness in my art is a comment on contemporary culture in the context of nature. Nature respects the slowness of process. You cannot speed up evolution. You cannot tell a baby to be born faster. You cannot tell the plants in the garden in winter to show up today.

For everything, there is a process in time. I respect that when I work. There is a time for incubation, a time for being with what slowly emerges, a time for invisibility to be present. 

You’re a bit of a land artist.

You could say that, though my art is and is not land art. It seems to me that most land artists tried to preserve [their art]. From Walter De Maria to Robert Smithson. For me, it’s not like that. It’s about letting go and not about control. I know from the beginning that when it’s completed, it’s not mine anymore.

How did you become interested in this art of the invisible?

I like the challenge of discovering something that is not obvious.  I spent many years in Europe during the 50s and part of the 60s making art and visiting museums. Say I would go to Museo del Prado in Madrid and I see Velasquez.  I look at the figure and ground in his paintings, but what I really ‘see’ and gets me is the background itself, which seems to me to be the essence of his paintings, just behind and around the figures.  I think that that presence of the ‘invisible’ got me started with the concept that what we see is not what we see.  

It seems like landscape is very important to you?

Not exactly landscape as we know it. I am interested in nature’s modus operandi and resonate with the cycles of nature. I am interested in using the context of nature to make references to impermanence and the passage of time. 

 

 

  

River Library 380 with Footnotes, 2012-2014, Mississippi River (USA) mud on Essindia paper,

15.5 x 22.5 inches

Are there political or social implications to the process of trying to see what’s not obvious?

Not in a direct or literal way. For example, with the mud drawings, the series I call River Library, I use mud from rivers around the world as my medium. Mud embodies the history of the Earth and humankind. Like the alphabet of a language yet to be deciphered, like a yet unwritten history of nature and culture, functions like a text, providing a trace, a memory of our existence. I gathered mud from the Ganges in India and from the Hudson here. Also, other people who know what I’m doing and encounter rivers in their travels, gather mud, and bring it here or ship or send it to me. When I get the mud, I seem to get an alphabet with which to ‘write’ my drawings. Mud is invisible under the water, in the riverbed. It accumulates in layers. When something gets into the river, it doesn’t mix with what is already there.  While the waters of the rivers constantly flow, the mud accumulates layer upon layer upon layer.

If you look at the Hudson River mud, if you see the latest layer that’s there, it’s the chemicals from General Electric. I’m not interested in the science part, but in the mystery, which is embedded in that mud. I say mystery because it’s not known in a rational way. I don’t mean something mystical. I mean something that is not obviously seen or known.

Rivers are repositories of history, the history of the planet, the history of people, the history of culture.

I’m interested in the theme of “text” as literal and metaphorical your work. You also did a piece using the work of Italo Calvino.

That was in the 80s, I was actually living in NYC at the time. That was when I began using letters and numbers. First, I used them to indicate proportions within the space of each drawing in the series “Temples of The Blind Windows.”  I drew on the Fibonacci series to establish spatial relationships within the drawings. During the 80s, I did a series of glass sculptures in which I drew also on the Fibonacci series to establish spatial relationships between the glass panels of each piece. Starting with just using letters, I got interested in text itself. I became fascinated with a book I read at the time by Italo Calvino called Invisible Cities, and also during the 80’s, I did a glass sculpture installation and a series of drawings based on that book.

I used the idea of an invisible city, what it meant for Calvino, to create my own city, which is not in the book, and then I used excerpts from the actual book to make seven drawings.

I remember writing to Calvino for permission to use his text and he was excited. He said, “Well, send me photographs.” By the time I wanted to send the photographs, he died.

Does literature inform you as an artist?

Indirectly, I would say yes. For instance, one of my favorite writers is Borges. I think that a certain way of seeing for me comes from him. The way he perceives reality and how he invites you into his world . . .

 

 

 

Gateless Gates 6, 1995-97, Oil, wax and pencil on canvas, 50 x 40 inches

You did some paintings that involve text, right?

This is part of a series of maybe 20 paintings called “Gateless Gates”. The title is embedded into the painting and it is not obvious. You have to sort of dig it out of the paint itself. Gateless gate is a paradox used in Zen practice.  The mind transforms itself when confronting the paradox.  If you look deeply and spend time with the painting, then you will discover the text, which functions as a metaphor for what happens in the act of looking at a painting. You have to go through the ‘gateless gate’ to get to the painting because what counts in the painting is embedded in the painting itself. It’s not as if you add or take away meaning. Meaning is inherent in the painting. When you wonder what it means, you are already entering the process of painting itself.

How I hear you speak about “the process of painting,” I’m reminded of what I’ve read about the French Impressionist studies of light. I recall reading about how Monet would simply sit and watch how light changed before even beginning to paint.

I can relate to how sitting and thinking is part of the work. It is a sort of incubation.  It also happens in nature and in every creative process: something is happening even if it is not visible or tangible yet.

What are you working on now?

I continue working on the two ongoing series that I mentioned before: Emergences and River Library. And I have just begun a new series of paintings, after 15 years during which I concentrated only on installations, sculptures and drawings.

Follow Rachel on Twitter, @rcdalamangas

Photos courtesy of Raquel Rabinovich.

 

INTERVIEW: GREAT SHOWS DON'T DEPEND ON BIG BUDGETS (BUT THE COST OF BEING AN ARTIST IS STILL A BITCH)

 

 

Artist Sebastiaan Bremer and architect Jing Liu dish on how to exhibit high quality work on a shoestring and why art still matters in hard times

It’s 1999 and you’re an emerging artist in New York and there’s a ruckus going on at the auction houses but none of that’s “trickling down” to you yet and how’s a dude supposed to make art when he’s got no bread, and paint and stuff’s expensive? Well, one option is to apply your artistic ingenuity to constraints imposed by limited resources in order to create an exhibit that both showcases new talent and with tongue firmly planted in cheek criticizes the system that imposes economic limits on creativity unevenly (genius, no?) Which is precisely what illimitably optimistic Dutch artist Sebastiaan Bremer did when he got a gaggle of friends (Donald Baechler, Guy Richards Smit, and Pamela Fraser among them) to make blueprints for original artworks-to-be and exhibited the blueprints in a DIY gallery above a Burger King in Chelsea.

In response to the current global economic climate, which has generally been less than kind to artists (and yes, art still matters when the economy goes south), Bremer collaborated with architects Florian Idenburg and Jing Liu (founding designers of SO-IL and of New Museum fame) to recreate the blueprint show in Feb/March of this year at Kunsthal KAdE in Amersfoort, Netherlands including some of the artists in the original 1999 show in addition to new artists and architects. This round, participating artists and architects were asked to submit the blueprint of a work that was an early definitive piece. Additionally, in 2014, blueprints are obsolete adding to the current show a stroke of commentary about the radical changes technology has introduced to art-making.

Interview by Rachel Cole Dalamangas

How did both iterations of the blueprint show come about?

SB: I didn’t go to art school and after I went to an art residency in Skowhegan, Maine, I realized that all these other people who did go to art school had a very tight community. So after Skowhegan, I wanted to keep that going. Also, if you’re an artist, you always try to get people to come to your studio, which is a weird feeling especially in the beginning. So if you curate the show, you’re the one going to other people’s studios, and you see how that dynamic changes and how other people are nervous and uncomfortable and you realize there’s no need for that. For me it was just nice to change that relationship and build a sense of community. It was fun to start curating, and the show in 1999 was a bit of a response to very heavily curated shows. These heavily curated shows were based on a complicated conceptual structure where the curator put themselves almost in front of the artists and the blueprint show was a bit of a play on that where there was no relationship with the artworks except that they were all made by friends of mine and the only way to give the show any cohesion was to make all the works look alike by making them blueprints.

A few years ago, I met the director of the museum in Amersfoort and he was lamenting the fact that he wanted to do more artist curated shows but he didn’t have the money to make it an international affair. Then I said, “Well, I have this cheap show for you if you want. I did one years ago.” But years ago, I also wanted to include architects because of the blueprints. Since I’ve become friendly with Jing and Florian, I asked them to become a part of it and Jing came up with a formal twist so that it wasn’t so arbitrary. So we asked all the participants to come up with their original, signature work and turn those into blueprints.

And the curators also have their own work in the 2014 show. What were your submissions?

JL: Florian and I specifically chose something that was unrealized. It was a project from 2008 when something like 2/3rd’s of architects left the profession, but when we actually joined the profession. It was a time when everybody didn’t have business, all architects tried to do something else, like went into the film industry or they went into development. It was kind of an identity crisis for the profession. We actually stayed firmly within the profession and believed firmly in what we were doing. We believed in realizing works, not just paper architectural renderings. We believed in making a physical outcome. In trying to do that in 2008, we had a lot of failed projects. We had hundreds of pages of drawing sets that didn’t end up physically built. We wanted to not forget that time even though now the economy is better. It takes a real commitment to try to realize something so that’s why I think we chose the work we did. It’s the floor plan of a house that was never built. It was a holiday house that we designed for Ivan Chermayeff. He was in his early 80s so it was like the last project in his life. It was really kind of an intense collaboration. We had a full drawing set and we had a contractor on board. And then he lost his money to Bernie Madoff. Basically, the budget was gone in one day.

And what piece did you submit, Sebastiaan?

JL: There’s no tears in your story?

SB: No, there are. For a long time I painted and used photography as source material. Then when I was in this art residency in Skowhegan, I really started to branch out in three different ways. One was making large collages and then I did these large murals where I would paint very different shades of white. The third one was drawing straight on photographs, but I was very tentative and it cost money to make prints. Then I had a photograph I really wanted to use as a source for a painting, but the photograph itself was so strong that I couldn’t put my finger on why I liked it so much and I knew I couldn’t make it any better than the photograph. That was the conundrum. It was a picture that my mom had taken of my cousin swimming underneath the water in a swimming pool. It was a very still, beautiful, haunting kind of image, but it wasn’t my photograph and it felt like my connection to the work was very thin. Then one day my wife (she wasn’t my wife yet) was in Brazil and was getting on a plane and she called me up at 6 o’clock or 7 at night and was like, “The plane is going to crash and I’m going to die and it’s going to be horrible and we’ll never see each other again and I’m just calling to tell you that I love you very much.” So I was like, “It’s going to be fine, don’t worry. Everything is going to be fine and dandy. We’ll see each other tomorrow. Don’t worry.” So I calmed her nerves I thought and I hung up the phone, but then I couldn’t sleep and I thought, “What if . . .” Finally, I was like, if I’m awake anyway, I’d rather start working and use my time well instead of watching TV or something. So I got that photograph out, the one with the swimming pool and started making these little lines with little dots and slowly by doing this exercise I started to calm myself down. It also started to seem as if the little figure in the water was anybody and it could be an allegory almost of keeping her aloft. So I tried to continue making the drawing as long as I possibly could so then it became this test of endurance and this magical thinking of holding her aloft that finally resulted in this work. I held my breath for 13 hours afraid she wouldn’t come home. That was also the first time I realized that my relationship to the image made sense somehow.

 

 

 

 

How has your view of the art world changed since the 1999 exhibit?

SB: When I came to New York in ’92 for the first time, I was 22 and I came from Holland and it was a very limited arena for me. In New York, there were still artists in SoHo and some left in the East Village. Everybody that I met was saying, “It’s over. What we had was so great and now it’s gone.” And I was just eager and young and I was so excited and everyone was like, “Why are you so happy and positive?” And I was like, “It’s good. Stuff is happening.” And it was a nice period for me because people get together and get this spirit of camaraderie together.

JL: The reason obviously architects and artists too get asked a lot to give renderings for free, and I think the only reason we were able to ask architects on our side to do this, is because there is this underlying camaraderie. We feel we have this connection under the business of it all.

Last year there was a controversy when the bankrupted City of Detroit considered selling works worth hundreds of millions of dollars from the Institute of the Arts. What obligations if any does a city have to its art communities?

SB: I think art is crucial because in the end, after awhile, what’s left of culture after people die are the buildings and art. There is a responsibility I think of every generation to preserve certain bits. Of course you have to also leave breathing space for people to build new things or improve upon or change or sometimes destroy what’s there. But the selling and holding of art is difficult. You can never really put art before people. If there is hunger, I would say you should sell your gold and diamonds and art. But I think maybe in Detroit, for example, there are other choices to consider before selling out the art.

JL: Detroit has been selling its architecture for a very long time already. All these amazing buildings Detroit had in modern times . . . they’re all gone. I think architects are more used to their creations being destroyed. The more important structures are the symbols of their times and in political or economic turmoil, the first thing to go are the symbols.

SB: Well there was the World Trade Center that was destroyed as a symbol.

 

 

 

How does architecture fit into the context of an art show?

JL: Architecture, before it became a profession, was one of the oldest forms of sculpture. I think definitely it’s an art form, but it has to engage with life and human scale with a different set of parameters than art has to.

SB: My favorite art in history, you go all the way back, are the cave paintings in France. They’re 30,000 years old and they were also, we can only guess, very important as cultural things, but they were also on the human scale. At that time, art served a purpose that was more religious and more magical maybe. I think there is this spiritual component or a religious component to art that artists don’t like to talk about very much. There is this thing about enhancing an object or imbuing it with more power than it has on its on surface . . . it’s all about re-contextualizing things and re-imbuing them with a certain force.

JL: I think the blueprint, in this context of oppression, is actually a very interesting medium. Arguably architecture only started as a profession like three or 400 years ago because before that people just made things and you had master builders who knew how to use the material, knew some sort of abstract common forms. It was really the invention of pen and paper that was used in many disciplines as well as architecture that alienated the process of the hands using the material and the craftsmanship of the master builder to people who don’t have the knowledge in their hands to handle the material but they have the abstract knowledge of how to put things together and they codified this knowledge in symbols and they were able to reproduce it. So when you become an architect now, you don’t have to become a carpenter to relay this information in lines and hatches and digits.

In a widely read blog post about a year ago, Paddy Johnson of Art F City criticized NYC as no longer a viable place for emerging artists to work.

SB: That might be true, but if you can make something happen here, just because of the density and how many people come through here, you do get relatively more attention. But I think if you want to live in a thriving artist community for very little money, you’re probably better off in Winnipeg or in other places where it’s more affordable. For awhile, it was Berlin that seemed like a logical place. But these predictions about where things are going to go or the demise of New York happen very often. These grand statements. I think it’s true that it’s very expensive to live here and to be lower middle class is expensive and to live the rich life here you have to be insanely wealthy.

JL: It’s very competitive for sure. Any job you go after, you find yourself with 5,000 other fish in the pond. But I think it’s fine. I think it’s also good to find yourself as a creative person on the tip always.

What advice would both of you have for emerging artists in a recession economy?

SB: Be born in a nice family and work hard. The connections are very important, but you have to forge those connections and maintain them. It’s very important I think to create some kind of a network. Some people do it through education. Some people do it through organizing their own initiatives. Some people do it because they’re born into a connected family. More often than not, that last thing is true. It’s a very sad reality.

JL: I don’t think that’s true. At least, I hope that is not true. I think it has been like that and it still stays in our society, but I think as a woman and as an Asian, I’m on the panel talks a lot about what you can do as a woman still in a male-dominated society and profession. I do think that, yes, there is a lot going on between families that know each other and fraternity, and I’m thinking it’s not going to go away anytime soon. Obviously too, if you relate to someone more because of your upbringing or background or personality, you’re going to find it easier to work with them. I think it’s natural.

SB: No, I don’t think there’s a conspiracy.

JL: Exactly. It’s there, but I think it will slowly change. It will happen eventually.

SB: Not regarding art specifically, but the most exciting change at this moment in the world right now is not technology or computers, it’s women. It’s totally true. If you look at how much has changed in the last 100 years and when you think about how 51% of the world’s population has become a part of the work force and not a domestic work force, that’s the biggest change happening to the world. And it’s exciting as the father of a daughter, to see how she looks at the world.

Follow Rachel on Twitter, @rcdalamangas

Photos Ep de Ruiter/courtesy Kunsthal KAdE, Amersfoort, The Netherlands

Correction: An earlier post of this article mistakenly cited Kunsthal KAdE as in Amsderdam rather than Amersfoort.  

INTERVIEW: ANYA KIELAR SHAPES ART TO TIME

Anya Kielar reflects on weird New York living situations, love, motherhood, and the turbulence of art-making

 

 

 

Installation view, Anya Kielar, "Pop Up 1: Montauk," presented by Fabiola Beracasa and Art Production Fund, Montauk, NY, August 1 - September 8, 2013

 

With her thrift store clothes, self-described New York brassiness, and uncanny ability to solve with simplicity the unusual formal problems that only artists have, my first impression of Anya Kielar some six years ago was that she was so damn cool. I was 23 years old, working at the Dikeou Collection in Denver, CO, and Kielar was assisting then-boyfriend now-husband Johannes VanDerBeek with the installation of his piece, “Newspaper Ruined.” Now married and a mother, Kielar has stayed on schedule with her own career as an artist making most recently “sprayograms” (one of a few innovations) and sun prints of women’s clothing that are reminiscent of the packaging used to contain Barbie clothes. Kielar refashions the artifacts and marks of femininity – long opera gloves and big pouty lips, for example – into surreally vibrant characters with personality. Large noses and eyes and lips made from painted garbage and sand turn an exhibition wall into a female face that’s something like a stylized she-Frankenstein of archetypal womanhood. In the SoHo apartment where she grew up in the 80s, Kielar reflected on the identity of “artist” and what it’s like for artists to start a family.

 

Interview by Rachel Cole Dalamangas

 

You grew up in New York in the 80s, which is looked back at as the heyday but it was also the AIDS crisis. It seems like there’s a lot of nostalgia right now for what New York was back then and you grew up right where it was happening.

 

I definitely was influenced. We had galleries right across from us out the window. Those were galleries for a while, not offices. I was a big fan of Basquiat when I was in high school of course. When I was applying for Cooper Union, I had a lot of terrible Basquiat/Edward Gorey influenced work. Terrible paintings.

 

Where does your interest in the female form as Other come from? It’s interesting that your work is described as depicting the Other because I don’t really get a sense of “otherness” from your work. 

 

I think it’s always been me trying to relate to myself as a woman in the universe and how complex that is. At the very base of it, I think it’s all simplistically self-discovery or about the strangeness of what femininity is, and how women are depicted in art history and culture. I’m especially fascinated by ancient cultures and drawn to things that were made to carry out some symbolic purpose or that had some kind of belief structure behind them. I think that’s something similar between my husband and I. The idea that a fertility figure or a figure that’s supposed to harness somebody’s soul after they’ve passed away – I just find that really fascinating. I think a lot of my imagery comes from Prehistoric work.

 

The work certainly depicts womanhood very differently compared to much of art history. You just said something about art that “carries out a symbolic purpose . . . ”

 

I think that’s the end goal and I can only hope my work captures a little bit of that power of conveyance through its symbology . . . It’s so hard given everything that can be watched, read, or heard in once day to expect a viewer to have a lingering memory of your work.  But if you put yourself fully into your work, almost like it’s a vessel then I think even in the short amount of time someone looks at an artwork there is a chance you can give them something to hold onto. Again, I can only hope my work carries some kind of meaning that sinks into the viewers in a lasting way. I struggle a lot with how to make an object have that effect. I watch movies all the time and I think, “I’ve never cried at something I’ve made or that one of my friends made,” the way you do in a movie.  So sometimes I’m like, “Am I in the right field?” But then I think there is a real power to the fact an object is made by a single person who is struggling to capture the quality of the world they feel is around them.  That their reasons behind making it as an art object is to represent something they see in their culture that is worth depicting in a new light.  I think when it comes to an art object you can get a better sense of the insatiable, underlying desires of the individual behind it. I think that’s what I’m most inspired by. Not to say that contemporary art doesn’t harness that, it’s just that there is a bareness and vulnerability to work that was made to harness the spirit world. I think it’s a really hard thing to capture that quality. It may be why I’m always changing my materials and my process constantly because I’m using my work like a barometer for my soul. I know maybe in the long run, that’s not the smartest tactic as an artist. You’re supposed to have your thing and I feel like I haven’t found that thing yet, but it always excites me to work with new stuff, but maybe that’s also a quest to find that one thing that emits all the things I want to emit to the world. That’s what makes art making exciting. If you found that formula, you’d probably be disappointed.

 

There is, I think, a contemporary jadedness about what art does in the world. 

 

It’s hard because when you’re creating this tiny drop in this sea of cultural-whatever, it seems kind of like it just gets washed away or something. But you look back and you mention an artist’s name and you can see all the ripples of how much Brancusi has affected so much contemporary sculpture to this day. Time will tell that.

 

I also believe in luck. I just happened to be lucky that I had that one show and things snowballed. Not to say that it’s only luck.

 

Yes, there is a formula I think of talent and luck.

 

I have some very talented friends who have never broken in. Then I have friends who are doing exceptionally well. It’s interesting what happens over time if you’re friends with very talented people. It’s almost like it’s just this lucky twist in the road and some people make that bend and some people don’t and it’s hard to figure out why. It’s impossible to even think that way like, “How can I make something that will be successful in the marketplace?” It doesn’t work like that. There definitely are artists that think like that and are very successful at it. Hopefully, you work really hard and it leads to other things as well like a better teaching position or better grants, not just solely relying on sales.

 

Then on the other side, there’s the manufacture of wunderkinds, people who can afford to participate in the market and people the market sensationalizes.

 

Yeah, there’s a lot of those, but I feel like it’s a really good time to be a female artist, more so than any other era. Out of my friends, I can say that the majority of them who are doing really well are my female friends. So I find that really inspiring. I mean, ask me in 50 years if I think that I was totally naïve, but I think it’s a good time to be a female artist. There’s inequality in every aspect of life. But things are changing.

 

I agree that there’s this old school worldview that’s essentially dying off. I just saw Baselitz in The Guardian today defending remarks he made a year earlier about women being unable to paint. But the reaction to his statements seemed to be a combination of both anger and comedy. People seem to regard his comments as silly.

 

And dated and weird.

 

The way I was as a young person absorbing things, I never was somebody who got very upset about things. I think I generally have a ridiculously positive attitude toward being a female artist. But I get a lot of calls for group shows last minute and I call that “lady filler.” They’re like, “Shit, we need another woman in the show.” I don’t want to say that because there are people who did curate shows or it was a conscious decision to have me in the show, but that’s a pretty common thing among female artists. It’s always kind of funny, but I’m glad it happens.

 

 

 

Anya Kielar, "Jacket and Stocking," 2013, acrylic on canvas, 76 x 54 inches, 193 x 137.2 cm

 

The stereotype of what an artist “is” used to be this idea of the singular, tortured man. What’s interesting is that the stereotype of the female artist involves an assumption of eccentricity and madness.

 

In general, the characters are more amusing so that gets played up. If you look into anyone’s personal life or how they conduct themselves throughout the day whether they’re eccentrically dressed or whatever, people are just really strange. It’s more about the way things are romantically remembered.

 

I am reclusive in a weird way and sometimes I want to be around people. My husband will remind me, “You chose this career,” but to be productive you’re pretty much by yourself in a room all day. It’s a strange way to live your life. You kind of become a little strange because when you’re just around yourself all day, how you relate to people and how you relate to the world can become a little different.

 

Something I think about a lot is being alone and also how strange it is to constantly try to tap into your inner being to call out these images or things to attach to a feeling I have to compel me to do this thing. It’s very emotional, a very strange thing. It’s like being in therapy all day by yourself. It’s exhausting and it’s kind of weird to do that all the time.

 

I’ve had two periods of my life where I’ve had mental breakdowns and it’s always had a lot to do with insomnia and you get delirious when you don’t sleep. The thing with insomnia is that it’s a snowball effect brought on by anxiety. So I attribute the breakdown part, the depressiveness and stuff like that to the insomnia, but the insomnia is an effect of something different. I do think that introspectiveness, always trying to figure out what you’re trying to say or why you’re trying to say something or what you’re trying to hide or what’s revealed in your work . . . the two times I had episodes of depression, looking at my work was painful. When I was making it, it was just happening. The last time was right before I got married, the first time we moved upstate and I think the extreme isolation wasn’t good for me and it was also a difficult time in our lives. I kind of hid from everybody that I had this thing with insomnia until I got really kooky and I was taking Ambien, which made me crazier because it wasn’t working. So all these weird things were happening while I was trying to work on a show. I think what you’re supposed to do when you’re feeling anxious or a little bit depressed is to put yourself in the world or maybe stop asking yourself things that thoroughly, you only get propelled into a crazier state. I remember at that point, looking back at the work that I’d made several months ago, I’d made these plaster pieces and they were a lot about the female body and aging, and I remember making them semi-consciously, but not really, it’s also just dipping things in plaster very simply, but then looking at them I was like, “Oh my god this is what I think of my body.” Everything was a lot more psychologically in tune, or I thought I was a lot more in tune with my work. That’s kind of the crazy thing is that you can be making something and it never really can be stream of consciousness, you’re always conscious or you’re always quoting something or you’re always trying to say something, but it is kind of crazy if you look back at your work and you can draw the references to how you saw yourself or the world. But in the moment, it doesn’t seem that charged. It’s been a real eye opener. It really keyed me in on the subconscious effort that goes into making work and that’s something you want to harness. 

 

I think when I met you at the Dikeou Collection when I was about 23, you and Johannes had been together a few years. I recall you and I having a conversation back then about how hard it can be to be a woman pursuing a career and trying to have a personal life. You mentioned something about seeing other strong, driven women you knew being trampled by men in romance, which is something I’d kind of thought about as well.

 

It is such a big part of life. You have to be so vulnerable and such an idiot to fall in love and to be with somebody. It’s a daily thing you work on, but it’s really nice to have one person that you’re not competitive with. I really just wish him the world and hope for him more success than I have, and I know that he has the same feeling toward me, and that doesn’t really exist with anyone else.

 

As I recall, there’s a funny story about how you and Johannes began your romance?

 

We were in Cooper Union and I saw him on his first day of school. We hooked up when I was graduating and he still had two more years. It was the end of his second year when we hooked up. The first time I saw him at school, he had a heart on his shirt and we locked eyes and he didn’t look away. I was with somebody at the time, but I was in love with him for like a year before I ever talked to him. Then he was working on this giant Crazy Horse sculpture. [At Cooper Union] you basically got a desk to work at with maybe six feet of space and three feet on the side of the desk and the horse didn’t fit in that because it was nine feet tall and maybe 10 or 12 feet wide. It was a larger than life horse. He was working on that and we both kind of liked working alone at school late at night. While I was working on my senior show, every night I would walk past him, it was like a fairy tale, he was literally like a prince on a horse and he’d be like all powdered and white because he was using plaster. He was even really clever back then because the plaster was free, he used like 30 bags of it. He’d be doing that all night. Everybody on the floor knew when his piece was due because everyone was always rooting for him because he was this sweetheart always doing these crazy, impossible things, and his Crazy Horse was supposed to be a comment on American culture or something. It was turned into a miniature water park and it had a motor in it and he actually hooked it up to a pump. Of course it leaked and was crazy, but everybody was helping him before crit, so I grabbed a spray paint can and was spraying one of the slides for him. He stood up and dusted his hands off, and said, “We’ve never been formally introduced. My name is Johannes VanDerBeek” and I went, “I know who you are, Johannes,” and that was pretty much it. I think a couple days later, I literally grabbed his arm. He was standing in the lobby and I was like, “You’re going to walk me home.” I was living here, in this loft in SoHo, and I made him walk me home from Cooper Union. Then I said, “You’re going to meet me here tomorrow at 7p.m. and we’re going to go on a walk.” I was very aggressive because I knew he was a special human being.

 

How has having a family changed working for you and Johannes?

 

Our second year anniversary was this October. So our first year anniversary I was just beginning to be pregnant or whatever. It was kind of old fashioned because we were together for 10 years and then within six months of being married I was pregnant. I mean we had been planning on it. That was a big life changing moment. It literally made us change our lives from being in a big live/work space in DUMBO. We knew we had to get rid of that. We would be washing, like, resin in our sink and you can’t do that with the baby.

 

Your kids just demand your full attention. It was really trying this summer because I was asked to do two solo presentations within five months of each other so we quickly had to learn about how to straddle a heavy work schedule and keeping Talula happy.

 

I’m a Cancer so I’m a big homebody. So [before having a baby], I’d be like, “Oh I’ll reorganize the pantry and work in the studio and do laundry and then work in the studio.” When I could really focus was at night so that’s what I really miss is that night time when I’d be in my studio from nine to one a.m. or something. When I envision my memories . . . like, my music on really loud and having some wine and working in my studio and I think, “Oh my god, it’s going to be a really long time before I can do that again.”

 

It’s kind of good too though. Everybody said this. You’re a lot more efficient in your studio practice [after having a baby]. You’re thinking about your work all the time and then when you get an hour to work you’re actually physically working. In the past, there’d be a lot of sitting and thinking and a lot of wasting a lot of time. So now, I feel like I’m more productive when I do get to work.

 

 

 

Installation view, Anya Kielar, "FACE," Rachel Uffner Gallery, New York, NY, February 25 - April 4, 2010

 

Have these time constraints changed the work?

 

Yes now I find myself coming up with pieces that can be made in quick bursts of time. My last two show were paintings done on wet pieces of fabric out in the summer sun so they had to be completed within the time it took for them to dry. But it’s great when your life changes and forces you to adjust because it can lead to completely new ideas. Over the summer I also came up with these canvas pieces that I called “impressions,” that were literally impressions I took from clothes that were saturated in paint and laid down on canvas. It’s like a stamp where I put one on, walk away from it, feed the baby, and come back and do another one.  I think your work just naturally evolves to what your life is and how you need to work.

 

My impression is that you and Johannes have been very intelligent about finding ways to fund basic living while still having time to make work and that’s really the rub for a lot of emerging artists.

 

We’ve been kind of lucky. Right out of college, Johannes started working with Zach [Feuer] and I took a year off and then I went to graduate school. I was just figuring out what I wanted to make and I applied to with very different stuff. It was performative/photo-based digital stuff. In graduate school, I realized I enjoyed making more of the work rather than the final photograph. In graduate school you’re given a chance to dive into your head and challenged to dissect your interests. I realized what I really loved doing was making the sets or props or objects for the photographs and then I thought, “Why am I stressing out so much trying to make these finished photographs when I enjoy more of the sculpture and handmade aspect of the work?” Also, Johannes has always really influenced my work and he’s done a lot with sculpture and I think that influenced me subconsciously.

 

I basically had my first show with Daniel Reich a month after my thesis show. All my thesis work went into that show plus I made a couple supplemental pieces. And that was kind of at the height of the market before it totally fell out. So we were kind of lucky to have shows where you’re modestly able to kind of live off of that. We also had the gallery [Guild and Greyshkul] and we all got a small – really small, small – salary from that. I think we were living in this place in Hell’s Kitchen that was a floor-through that was 12 feet wide and at the narrowest nine feet. We had a room that was 30 feet so we both had a section of that so my studio was nine feet by 15 feet. We also had the basement and the gallery and that was our house and our studio. Johannes made this giant wax bush in this crazy apartment where I would have to literally bend under it to get to the bathroom in the middle of the night. And that piece that’s at the Dikeou Collection, the newspaper piece, he worked on that at the Hell’s Kitchen apartment, but there wasn’t room to fully set it up so I remember we had the dining room table and these pieces were all over the table and any surface in the apartment including the galley way kitchen.

 

Also, I think that’s really influenced how we work with materials. It’s not like a fake folksy-ness. The newspapers were free. Or, I literally found objects and furniture on the street. I also lived by the Salvation Army and so I used a lot of thrift store finds. Not so much now, now I’ve been working in fabric, but with modest materials. Now I’ll try to go to the fabric district and try to find the cheapest and highest quality fabric per yard. My dyes that I got, they’re powder so they last a long time.

 

The thriftiness is still within us. We’re both kind of hands on. I really believe in making my own work. I’m not an artist that can have an idea and have other people execute it. Maybe I will one day. There are things that you just cannot do. But I think that also comes from kind of enjoying finding materials that you can transform into art materials. There are shows where the material budget was really limited. For example, I did a show at Rachel [Uffner’s] with these things called “Sand Paintings.”

 

I believe the Dikeou Collection owns at least one of these pieces?

 

Yeah, well basically, for all that work, the only thing I really purchased was masonite, paint and sand, and for all the objects on it, I would take walks at night through DUMBO and find fruit containers or sticks or detritus or recycled materials or wine bottles – those I would find in my own house. You just kind of come up with these things where you need to work like that. As you move through different periods of your life, your work is totally affected by what you can manage and what you can’t.

 

It makes so much sense that so many New York artists turn to garbage for materials. I hear that almost every time I interview an artist for zing.

 

New York is just crazy. Now our place looks pretty spiffy, but I grew up just going to flea markets. This area used to be good for that. On Canal there actually were three different flea markets and my dad would go every weekend. I grew up like that. All my clothes were from thrift stores and I’m still like that. I get most stuff from thrift stores. It’s more fun and it’s very inexpensive. New York is a great place for that. There’s so many people, it’s so diverse, and so much waste comes out of everybody, it’s just a great place to find stuff.

 

What are you working on now?

 

My most recent work were these sun prints I made up in the country. They involved wetting fabric and applying dye and then laying objects on top of the painting. The sun does the rest and it’s kind of amazing. The areas around the object dry faster than the areas where the object is so the heat pulls the dye away from where you have an object.  It’s similar to the process of the photograms and they look really photographic but they also involve a lot of painterly moments where the ink bleeds in unexpected ways that are ghostly and foggy. I was making them late into the fall after the success of the summer versions but it was getting colder so the sun wasn’t strong so the images were really faint. In the beginning I thought, “Oh god these are failures and I hate them.” And in the end, those were my favorite ones because they were so elusive. That’s what’s interesting about art and process, is that you can get kind of mechanical with the process and you know what it’s going to look like. But it’s always kind of the best when you don’t know what it will look like. The better things come out when there’s a little bit of fuzziness about how it will look in the end. Then it was funny because I was trying to emulate the ones that were failures, but it never works out that way.

 

One body of work always leads to another. So my last two bodies of work have all been in fabric and I’ve been working in dyes and I’m excited about where those things went, but working on the sunprints made me want to reinvestigate my spraygrams or working again with the airbrush, but maybe bringing the hand back into it. The previous show was really painting different mediums on fabric and the last one was using objects as the main handmark, but I kind of want to meld the two a little bit and I think maybe I want to get into three-dimensionality again. 


Follow Rachel Cole Dalamangas on Twitter, @rcdalamangas

 

photos courtesy of Rachel Uffner Gallery

INTERVIEW: PANTHEISM IS NATURAL TO PHILLIP E. SHAW

Illustration by Nick Sumida

Since the days of my youth, I’ve always enjoyed a nice, weird story. Whether it’s the Brother Grimm, Alice In Wonderland, Edgar Allen Poe, Flann O’Brien, or my father’s improvised bedtime stories about cat gangs, the more bizarre the better. Phillip E. Shaw is an old friend, longtime writer compatriot, and fellow weirdo (among many other things). A section of his manuscript The Takes – a tale of a family assemblage thrown into cosmic crisis - was presented as my project in issue #23 in zingmagazine. Phil’s fiction met my aforementioned standards, and I most likely would’ve been as much as a fan when I younger as I am now. As it so happens, this book is still available to be published [hint hint]. Phil and I corresponded both telepathically and via email. Here are the results:

Interview by Brandon Johnson

 

In my intro I called you a weirdo. Are you a weirdo?

You called me a weirdo? I think that's fair.

 

There's a folk gothic quality to this story, like the Grimm Brothers - maybe it's the combination of violence, strangeness, and adversity. Is this due to your German heritage?

Maybe. I read Heidegger's Being and Time a few years before I started The Takes. He's concerned with authenticity, being towards death, and what defines existence. Looking back, it's pretty obvious to me that there's a lot of that going on in the book. I know the Grimm stories, but I wouldn't say I know them that well. I saw the movie a couple years ago with Matt Damon as one of them, hunting witches etcetera. Not a good movie. 

 

The Takes are a family - two precocious kids, Brian and Olivia, and their hapless father Norman. I see Norman as the antithesis of the modern hero, a Leopold Bloom in American clothing sans interior life. Who does Norman represent in our society?

That's pretty right on. The lack of interior life has a lot to do with Norman being not a real person in the natural, common sense. He just doesn't have the complexity, at least at the outset of the book, which other characters have. Brian and Olivia are definitely precocious, and that's probably the more noticeable because of Norman's flatness. But Norman's journey toward complexity is one of the arcs in the book. And so in a way he represents anything that grows from flatness to complexity. He doesn't get there at the end of the first book, though. I'm writing toward that in the next one.

 

I'm interested in this fake-human/real-human thing - the flatness of Norman and his progression toward complexity. It seems like people could relate to this in life - trying to be present or authentically themselves, via meditation, yoga, various forms of art and culture. Is this also coming from Heidegger?

Yeah, Heidegger is batshit for authenticity. His road to that authenticity is through being-towards-death. At least as I read it, if we know that the end is coming at all times, we won't squander the present or indulge in fantasies like "I've got a lot of years left," or "tomorrow is another day that'll make up for today." That kind of mindfulness can be a product of yoga, meditation, and everything else that combines the intellectual understanding of time with physical practices that engage it. But what's hard for Norman is that he doesn't get it at all - he isn't engineered to get it. Even for Brian and Olivia, the idea of loss doesn't really start to have meaning until the end. Can people relate to that? I do, anyway. At least I think I will.     

 

After Helen's interloping Mother rampage, we meet her creator - a low-level Deity who's churning out defective quasi-humans to unleash upon the earth to please his own vanity. This is interesting to me, especially in the age of the Internet, where anybody can release anything in any stage of completion to the big blank Unknown at little to no cost to themselves. Is there any relation here? Or maybe this is a comment on the creative process in general? As he said "It's a lot like poetry, babe. Some compositions just don't turn out as well as others."

I never really thought about it in terms of the Internet, but damn that's pretty close to the bone. I've been guilty of that for sure, shoving out my imperfect, unfinished creations. Why the hell not? I guess the only reasons not to put it out there would be low quality creations cheapen my "brand," or whatever, and dilutes the medium by flooding it. Procrustes has definitely done that. He sees himself as an artist, but his art isn't ready. Just like Norman he's going to grow through the experience of realizing this, of being chastised and cheapened for his transgressions. Which I guess means that there's no room for vanity in art because art outlives you, goes further. And that it deserves to have a that life of its own.  

 

I'm also interested in this pantheistic universe where according to the character 8, "there are no rules except infinity and the inconsequence that not only accompanies but defines it." What's up with the pantheism? Why is the "God" God just a bored dude staring at his television?

Pantheism is really natural to me. Even monotheistic religions tend toward pantheism after awhile. Most, I'm not sure all, monotheistic religions tend to deify some entity other than the primary God, whether it's his son or his son's mother or his son's cousin or whomever. We like characters. I decided that 8 should be bored because he's not an interventionist in the sense that he's controlling everything. It's that watchmaker argument, in which God sets things in motion but has no control of the mechanism after its been created. How long can you watch a watch tick? So he's bored.   

 

I just read a draft of a newer story you wrote about a down and out Tony the Tiger who goes on a psychotic drug-fueled rampage. Where are you going with this?

That, not surprisingly, started when I was buying cereal. I looked at the store-brand cereals and the name-brand ones. I wondered how much store-brand mascots made, where they would live if they were real, how they'd feel about the wealthier, more established name-brand mascots. I wasn't sure but I figured Tony was the oldest of the mascots. His fall would be the most tragic, and so he had to fall. But it's also a story about obligatory friendships, identity, blah blah. What did you think about it?

 

I was thoroughly entertained, but with a little reflection I was surprised how believable it was for a giant tiger humanimal thing to be in existence. Like when he's drying off his fur with a towel - totally believable that this thing exists. Maybe it was the dialog that made it more real for me - there was a lot of character and nuance. With that said, I know you're currently working on a few projects across different mediums. Anything you'd care to mention here?

He's definitely real to me, anyway. Projects? Always. I'm trying to do a thing where I release, record, or curate a different 2 or 3 song single every month in 2014. The first one is a "band" called Boner Beach that's available for streaming up or loading down on bandcamp at this moment right now. And I'm working on the sequel to The Takes, which goes back a number of years, then forward, then back again. It's a prequel/sequel that advances the conflict between all those gods with indeterminate goals in the first book. And of course it explores what happens when two kids get absolute freedom, and how debilitating that can become.