INTERVIEW: Erica Allen



Recently closed solo exhibit, “Untitled Gentlemen”, at Melanie Flood Projects featured photographs by artist Erica Allen.  Allen, originally from Oakland, California, is now based in Brooklyn.  She received a BA in Studio Art from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2003 and an MFA in Photography from the School of Visual Arts in 2008.  The work in “Untitled Gentlemen” consists of photographs parsed from various found sources, including barbershop photos, studio portraits, and historical images.  These fictional photographic portraits explore construction of identity and open new meaning in otherwise one-dimensional single-purpose photographs.


Brandon Johnson: Tell me a little bit about the show in particular.  Is this its own body of work of is it from a larger series?  How is it organized in relation to the rest of your work?

Erica Allen: This is its own body of work.  There are basically two series.  The first series is a black and white series that uses historical images for the bodies and barbershop posters for the heads.  The second series is using all found color vernacular photographs and studio portraits.  I’ve been working on it for about three years and am still adding to it, but it really differs from the rest of my work.  I’ve never used people before or found photos.

B: So these are primarily found photos?

E: They’re all found photos.  Yes.

B: Did you do research to find them?  Were they in archives or something looser than that?

E: They are all found randomly on an individual basis, from estate sales, thrift stores, vintage shops.  Each piece is unique.  I re-photographed the heads in some of the black and whites from weathered posters that were actually hanging in barbershops, which is why I kept some of the weathering and paired them with historical images that had similar aged effects.  But the colors I actually found the posters and scanned them in, just like I scanned the found photographs.

B: Where did you find them?  Were they all in New York or various locations?

E: Yes, all in New York.  Over the last three years.

B: In Brooklyn specifically or did you find them everywhere?

E: I found them everywhere.  I started in the city, because I was living there.  But when I discovered the posters, I went to barbershops all over Brooklyn and anywhere I could find them.

Melanie Flood: Did you see the barbershop posters pre-New York?  Because you’re from California.  I’ve only seen them in New York.

E: I’ve only seen them in New York.  I was doing street photography and I caught a corner of one of a guy with this big pompadour who looked like he was about to cry.  I thought it was so weird.  Then I started seeing them everywhere.

B: Where was that at exactly?

E: It was at 1st Ave and 20th St, I guess?  And I lived a couple blocks away.

B: Where’d you get the idea to start documenting them?  Did you just start collecting them or seeking them out?

E: It was just out of curiosity.  I thought they were really remarkable.  They all shared a very weird expression on their faces.

B: Yeah, there’s definitely a distinct look to them.  No one is really smiling.

M: Were you only interested in barbershop pictures?  There are also salons with more guido types of hair styles like the pompadour.  Are you more interested in these types of haircuts?  Or is it just about the face?

E: The haircut wasn’t important.  When I started getting the actually posters from this cutlery supply store in Jamaica, there’s all kinds of crazy hairstyles, but I wanted people to see the face, the individual.  I felt like it was such a balance to put them together--matching the backgrounds to the bodies, because I don’t want people to be distracted by what they’re wearing or the hairstyle, I really wanted to give the attention to these guys who have had their identity stripped.  Giving that back to them.  Even though you still don’t know who they are.

B: Right.  Whereas the original purpose is to showcase the haircut.

E: Yeah, and you’re not supposed to care about who they are at all.

B: So the focal point is changing from the style to the individual.

E: And to put it in a frame we really recognize as privileging the individual subject.  So people would automatically recognize it was a portrait of someone and that they were supposed to care who it is.  You have no idea, because there are so few clues.  You have to think about what you are projecting, who you think this person could be.

B: There’s an anonymity and at the same time alluring mystery as to who these people are.  That’s what first struck me when I saw these photographs, I was thinking “Who ARE these people? Where are they coming from?  Where do they live?”  Because when you first see them, they strike you as bizarre.

M: They all have such a blank look on their faces.

B: Expressionless.

M: Empty, soulless individuals.

B: The guy in the red seems to be subtly displaying the side of his head to show the particular cut of the crew cut that he has going on.

M: Yeah, it’s cool.

B: How did you two meet?

M: I first saw Erica’s work during this Daniel Cooney auction online.  Do you know Daniel?  He has this gallery in Chelsea.  He shows photography and he does these emerging artist auctions.  Erica’s rainbow guy, titled #14, was in the auction, and I was going to bid but couldn’t figure it out.  Then I forgot about it and when I went back I couldn’t find it.  So I got irritated, and emailed Daniel directly to ask about the picture.  I ended up just emailing Erica directly about it, asking if I could see it.  I didn’t buy it, but only because I don’t have any extra money.  Then I ended up showing you my photographs, which was weird.

E: Because I asked.

M: Totally bonkers, but I was like okay, if you want.  So, that’s how we met.

B: Then you were like “Hey, guess what?  I kinda run this gallery out of my apartment…”

M: I thought it would be a fun show to do, especially because it’s in Brooklyn, and I live in a great multi-cultural neighborhood [Clinton Hill/Fort Green] where there are so many barbershops.  It fits very well.  There’s also the selfish aspect where I get to look at the pictures for a long time and have them be mine for a month.  I also liked Erica’s personality.  I thought we could be friends or whatever, so I thought it would be cool to do a show and voila.

B: I haven’t seen any of your other work, Erica.  What else do you do?  Is it mainly photography?

E: For the last ten years I’ve done photography.  Before that I did a lot of painting and drawing.  I would photograph found textures and urban landscapes and things like that.  But as soon as I came to New York, it was so saturated with imagery.

B: When was that?

E: I came here three years ago now.  I went to graduate school at SVA.

B: You came from California?

E: Yes, from the San Francisco Bay area.  I started working with found photos as soon as I got here.  And I had been collecting them for years, but never thought about using them in my own work but when I came here, photographing around the city, it was impossible to take a photo without other photographs in it.  So, I started looking more at the images that surround us—what we pay attention to and what we ignore.  That intrigued me, even more than going out and taking straight photographs.

B:  As you said before, there’s a vernacular.  A New York vernacular in how the images are presented.  There’s a certain subculture in which these images exist, in the barbershops.  A New York phenomenon, especially.  There are similar trends.  There are the bodegas with the great names.  Once you start noticing something, it’s everywhere.

M: To return to the photos, the bodies are from found photos and you put the heads on.  What about the backgrounds?  Are they from the body photos and you just put the heads on?

B: Will you explain the construction process?  These images are compiled from multiple sources, correct?

E:  I’ll go and find school portraits, you get a hundred or so from a thrift store, and I’ll like a sweater or something.  I’ll find another one with a rainbow in the background.  Then I’ll find a face.  It ends up being seamless but also weird enough to not look quite right.  So, sometimes it’s two images and sometimes it’s three.

B: And it’s all done digitally?

E: Yeah.

M: Were you working on these while in SVA?  What was that like?  What was the reception among your peers? I’m curious.

E: I did the first black and white series and I was just re-photographing the faces and I kept showing the faces and everyone didn’t get it, they thought they were mug shots, a bunch of sad men.  It wasn’t until I put the faces in the context of the studio portraits with a body that people realized there was something else going on.  They recognized that it was a person, even if we don’t know who it is.  But I abandoned the project for a little while.  I think some people enjoyed it.  Others just didn’t get it.

M: It’s especially difficult with found photos, with appropriation and ownership.  It opens up a whole conversation that can get really annoying, especially in an academic atmosphere.

B: “So, what does it mean to use a found photos…”

M: Exactly.  What other artists influence you or do you look at?  It can be films or other mediums.

E: I’m totally not going to say the names right.

M: That’s fine.

B: Don’t worry, it won’t come through in print.

E: There’s an artist named Johan Schmid . He works with found photos.  John Steegetzer .  They’re both guys that work with creating archives of found photos or layering photos on top of each other.  I’ve looked at them, but didn’t know their work before I started working on this series.  Also Eric Kessels .

B: There was this interesting outlet at the NY Art Book Fair the other year called Specific Things I believe who have a website and a print publication archiving found photographs in certain categories like “guys with glasses eating sushi” and whatever other categories.  I thought that was an interesting project.

M: What do you think it is about found or old photos, like polaroids, that make people want to look at them.  Do you think because there is no ownership?  Because they’re anonymous people.  It has an old feeling, warm and fuzzy.

B: Nostalgia?

M: I like looking at my own old photos, but not necessarily other found photography unless it’s categorized in a certain way because there just seems to be so much.  It’s easy to get overwhelmed.  Spade and Partners on Bond Street make these books.  Like one will be called “Bikini,” and you open it up and it will be polaroids of girls in bikinis.  Another would be “Shorts,” and it’s guys on the beach with shorts on.  They’re nicely curated and organized.  It makes it easier to look at.  There are more people working with found photos these days.

E: Yeah, definitely.  It’s becoming more popular.  I don’t know what it is.  Maybe it’s projection.  People project their own experience or own visual identification with images.  I know when I’m collecting found photos I’m looking for something that seems out of the ordinary.  It reveals something that it’s not supposed to.  Like the picture is failing in some way.  It’s an amazing picture but it wasn’t meant to be taken.  Like the person taking it was such an amateur, not that it’s a happy accident in the decisive moment, but it shows something that they never could have anticipated.  Like an expression or someone in the background.   More than the photographer or subject was anticipating.

M: I’m wondering where these poses [in the barbershop portraits] come from?

B: Right, like who’s art directing this? 

M: What are the rules?  Because they all have such a similar feeling, in terms of the faces. 

B: They all seem to have there chin nodding downwards to display the tops of their heads.  The hair is in the center of the photograph.  There must be some kind of science behind it.  There must be some unknown great barbershop photographer out there somewhere.  A master. 

E: There are different posters with different faces.  This is definitely a conscious edit.  Generally, they were probably told not to project.  What you really see is this lack of projection.  What you see is this kind of interior moment.  Maybe we’re actually seeing them, rather than what they want us to see.

M: It’s funny how we think this is so important.  The dissection of photography.  Why do we think it’s so important to dissect it like this?  When I saw these photos, I just looked at them and thought “I just like these.”  Not to take away from you as an artist, but it was enough for me to like them in that way.  Whereas some photos you have to stand in front of and try to figure them out, like the MOMA show that’s up right now with the young photographers.  Those require so much deconstruction.  Whereas these, it’s so obvious, the meaning.  it’s sort of intrinsic to the photograph.  It came so naturally, which is in part what I think makes these photos good.

B: They have a mystery, but they’re not being aggressively difficult.

M: Exactly, there’s a lot of heavily conceptual photography that requires you to work hard at them.  Why can’t they be immediately aesthetically appealing?

E: I think accessibility is important.  You really limit your audience when you start getting uber-conceptual.  I think using found photos nods to the democracy of photography.

B: Right, it’s not necessarily a part of popular culture, but more like everyday culture.

E: Things we’re familiar with.

B: So, was it a conscious effort on your part to choose guys that were posing in that way?

E:  I can’t say that it wasn’t conscious on some level, but I don’t think in making them that I was only looking for faces that were only looking down or in a certain direction.  But I definitely think that there is an inherent and unavoidable emotional quality to the expressions.  It’s not something you can avoid.

B: They seem forlorn.

E: I’ll leave the interpretation up to the viewer.  I did my own editing in constructing them, though.

B: Anything coming up that should be everybody’s radar?

E: I have a piece in the upcoming Center for Fine Art Photography “New Visions” show.

W: Where’s that?

E: Colorado.  Also, Still Life, curated by Jon Feinstein, which is currently up at Camera Club of New York until December 19th, 336 West 37th St, Suite 206.. I'm working on new website for found photos to go along with my current website,

B: And Melanie, you’re going to Miami?

M: Yes, and we’re doing a show of Jason Polan’s work.  It’s two books of drawings he’s done over the past couple of months during road trips in New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine.  I’m also doing Conversations with Melanie Flood, a monthly interview series printed on broadsheet.  Still working out the details on that.  I think I’ll be interviewing Anna and Tess Knoebel from Abe’s Penny, Jason, Polan, Philip Toledano, Erica, and others.  So, that and 48,000 other things.

INTERVIEW: Mike Ballou



On Monday, October 26 a giant cow head appeared atop Diner, a restaurant at the intersection of Broadway and Berry in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  Moo-Moo the Giant Cow Head is a large sculptural portrait by artist Mike Ballou of one of the grass-fed upstate New York cows that are used in Diner’s dishes.  I met up with Mike and German artist Hans Winkler (see ZING #15) at Diner to discuss this absurdity.

Brandon Johnson: We’ll just talk about that big cow head on top of Diner and see where it take us.  So, why’s it there?

Mike Ballou: I became interested in Diner as a social venue.  A lot of it was function and I wanted to do something that played with their sensibility.  So, I went to the farm where they get some of their livestock and took pictures.

B: Did you know the guy who owns Diner?

M: Yeah, actually, I met Andrew [Tarlow] 8 years ago?  It was this hysterical trip to Stockholm and we had this insane layover.  I mean we were laid over for 14 hours and I had been traveling so much that year that I said “I’m not staying inside this fuckin’ airport.  Anybody wanna come with me?  I’m going outside.”  It was May or early June in Stockholm, so it was light forever.  Andrew and I ended up in the middle of this traffic median and there was this grassy patch with dandelions and we ended up making flower leis for one another.  I kept talking in this pirate voice, saying, “Argg, you’ve been ruining the neighborhood, turning all yuppyfied, haven’t ya?  Serving all your fancy food with pretty girls.  Think you’re fancy do ya?”

B: So, you’re sitting in the middle of this traffic median in Stockholm, calling him out on gentrifying Williamsburg?

M:  No, you know, he’s been around for a while.  It’s sort of like, when I work in the studio I work until 11 or 12, and when I’m done I want to have a drink, a couple beers before I got out on the streets.  I just want to be around people.  So, I got to know the people.  Diner used to be this big project, you know, they do magazines, they do courses and stuff, so it’s not just about serving food and making a nice place to eat.  And when they made the switch to grass-fed, having this relationship with this farmer, I got really intrigued by it.  One night I said “I’d really like to make a giant portrait of one of your cows.”  So I made this cow, and it has this audio component, which is just, doesn’t really have anything to do with the cow, it just simply occupies the same space.

B: Uh-huh.

M: So, underneath there are these two little soundgardens and there’s this rendering of what you’re eating there on top.  It’s going to be like an apparition—it’ll only be there for another couple of days, and then it’s going to disappear.  Then I think we’ll probably make it re-appear in a different position, as a different function.  It may become a source for an image projection.  It’s been really well received so far.  It worked out really well.  I didn’t want to do an opening.  I just wanted this thing to appear…

B: Just be there.

M:  If we had a proper opening, it would have totally screwed up the way that Diner socially functions, and I didn’t want to interfere that much.

B: So, to clarify, that is specifically one cow that you saw at the farm upstate.  I noticed there was a tag on the ear with a number…

M: Yeah, exactly.  Actually the tag number is my own self-reference.  I mean, they do have tags like that, but the number itself is a reference to the old place I used to live in here.

B: What’s it made of?

M: It’s made out of blue foam, then plaster, aqua resin, and then paint.  All the material was donated and it was a complete freebie, the project.

B: Nice.

M: But, you know, a significant amount of money.

B: So, if you could restate the story about how you got it up on Diner’s roof.  It’s a pretty gigantic sculpture.

M: Well, it’s like most of my projects.  I’d be like “Oh, that would be a great idea, no problem!” Like when we put the weathervane on top of Mussolini’s bunker.  It was like “That shouldn’t be a problem!”  I got this great story.  Hans [Winkler] got me involved in the Brenner Pass.

Hans Winkler: In Italy.

M: I put a Pinocchio weathervane on top of one of Mussolini’s bunkers. There’s a great Super 8 I took of it.  At one point Hans had to carry the Pinocchio weathervane up, but he looks like Jesus.

H: It’s great because it’s such a symbol.   This is right on the border of Italy and Austria.  You come out this big tunnel from under the pass and you see this weathervane. Pinocchio is a symbol for lying.  Everybody in the area thinks you did it because of Mussolini.

M: Well, that’s not exactly why I did it.  But that’s the interesting thing, that even though you’re the author, once you go out, you’re the audience.

H: Exactly.  Because a lot of what you’re doing has to do with social sculpture.  You’re not just putting out one image and having to say what it is.  It integrates in society.  It’s more of an intervention.

M: Yeah, they do become that way.  And even though I work with galleries and do lots of stuff with them, it’s just been so much about itself the past 8 years.  The art world, the gallery art world, is becoming so irrelevant to anything outside of itself.  I really prefer doing projects.

B: The gallery world is insular?

M: Well, it’s really market driven.  And you could feel that change 10 years ago.  The YBAs came up, the ascent of Chelsea.  The whole gearing of everything toward a museum, which is much different than just living and having art work for you.  I mean it’s great to have those kinds of super-rarified pristine spaces, but I just don’t think that’s the only thing.  But the other thing is I don’t think you and I could do the kind of work that we do without that component.  What do you think?  Would you agree?


M: For the official record, Hans Winkler was nodding.  Nodding in the affirmative.

B: In brackets, “Hans Winkler nods pensively.”

M: In a German way.

B: A Germanic nod.

H: In some ways, it’s true.  Like you say, in one way you don’t want to be in the social context, in the political context, but…

M: You can’t help it.

H: But the pieces are finding their way.  People have to finish the stories.  For example, Berlusconi.  Everybody knows he’s a liar, and idiot.  Now there’s a symbol when you’re crossing the border.  There’s Pinocchio.  Everybody says, “Oh, it’s our president, our gangster”.

M: I got the idea in ’97, when I was in Tuscany, from the Tuscan landscape.  I had never seen a landscape like that where it was once primeval, then somebody settled it, somebody took that over, then these people came in…it just has an effect of sedimentation.  In Italy, there was this weird kind of juncture between nature and human nature that I was feeling.  I was thinking, nature is this kind of take it or leave it proposition.  It doesn’t really give a fuck.  And human nature DOES give a fuck.  It tells stories, etc.  When I was looking at the Pinocchio thing, I thought that this was the ultimate human thing: the ability to lie.  So, I thought if you put that on a weather vane, you get this juncture between nature and human nature.

H: It’s interesting, because art has a lot to do with fiction…

B: Artifice.

H: Yes, but also reality.  But reality and fiction are always very similar.  But I think, like in writing, it’s not always the point to be literal, it’s also about…

B: To craft a reality…

H: Yes, and a free interpretation.

M:  Don’t let the facts get in the way of the truth.

[Everybody laughs]

H: But it is what it is.  If you look at this piece at Diner and say, “Oh, it’s saying don’t eat meat” and blah, blah, blah.  It’s a different story.

B: I don’t think everyone would necessarily read it like that, because what Diner is trying to do with the grass-fed beef is the antithesis of factory farming and detachment from food.  So it’s, in a way, bringing the person closer to the animal they’re eating.  It gives a face to the food…

M: Or a head.

B: Right, or a head.

H: A couple years ago, comparing America to Europe, the U.S. was far behind in the green movement.  And now, it’s crazy here.  I heard in an interview about pets, that people now treat dogs like a partner rather than something to kick aside like they would in the past.  Now here, you see a cow smiling on a restaurant.  I like meat, don’t get me wrong.  But to respect it.  When I was younger, I went to a farm in Bavaria, and they slaughtered animals.  We had a big celebration and used everything.

B: That was the first time you ate meat?

H: No, but I had the feeling it was the first time, because before it would just be meat.   Meanwhile, you see meat in plastic and it’s so far away from reality.  The cow on diner has personality.  It’s not an advertisement, but rather something for people to consider.

M: I think that’s how projects can get interesting.  When the audience starts making their story and making it their own.

B: Like people are walking into Diner, they see this giant sculpture, and include it in the conversation over a drink or meal.  Put in their two cents and make it a part of their day.

M: Yeah, I think that’s a good function of poetry and art.

B: Conversation, dialogue?

M: Dialogue, for me, implies a certain amount of pragmatism.  Whereas this is quite absurd.

H: It was great while installing, to be on the roof and see the reactions of the people passing by.  For example, one conservative Jewish man was rushing around, but when he saw cow, he stopped and stared for a while.  It’s nice that it creates a situation like that.

B: For the record, let’s go over the installation process, which we had spoken about earlier.

M: Right, like I said earlier, it was like “Oh, this will be fun.”  And then you get in the middle of and you say to yourself “What was I thinking?”  Anyway, there was about 4-5 people on the ground and Hans and I have got it lashed and scooted up on the ladder.  It actually isn’t that heavy.  I would say it’s about 200 lbs.  So, we’re pulling it, just at the edge but can’t quite get it, so we lower it back down.  Then there was this crew doing roadwork with a backhoe, and the foreman, a Polish guy, comes up and says “I’ll get that up for you.”  So he brings the backhoe.  I’m looking at the backhoe, thinking, there’s no way this is going to reach.  Then the guy takes the truck and pushes the bucket into the ground and pushes the whole thing up about five feet.

B: Wow.

M:  We’re sitting there like “Coooool.  That’s manly.”  So, that starts the ascent of the cow head.  And that’s when everybody starts gathering around, taking out their phones.  This thing starts ascending like a saint.  Then it lands and everybody cheers.

B: Great.

M:  The project has a really good vibe to it.  Everybody’s picking up what they can and running with it a little bit.  We’re trying to collect as much of the imagery that people are taking as we can and letting that be the documentation for it.  Actually, I’m following that bear project that you and Stefan did, Hans.  Because that was all documented in a similar way.

H: That was a long time ago, but it has a story.  I was in the States, in Barrow, Alaska for a project.  I was in Alaska and we came across Polar Bears and Grizzlies. In Germany, the last bear was killed 100 years ago.  I came back to Germany and said, “I have rent a costume.”  So we put on the bear costumes, and were living and moving like bears in the mountains.  People took pictures and eventually the European media got hold of it and said “Bears are back.”

B: When did you do this?

H: 1993.

B:  Wasn’t there a bear in Germany recently?

H: Yes, and then ten years later there was a real bear.

B: Was his name Bruno?

H: Bruno.  He came to Germany, and the first thing the media did was call me.

[Everybody laughs]

M: Really?  That was interesting because you let the tourists and people who saw you act as the documentation.

H: It was a limited sculpture.  Like the cow, I think it would be a mistake to keep it up forever.

M: Exactly.  If you keep things around too long, they become less important.  You have to animate them by making them disappear and re-appear.  Then it becomes an active thing.  Or it seems to.  It’s funny, because sometimes pieces that remain for long periods of time are continually rediscovered.  One generation will come across it and then forget about.  Then the next generation goes the same way.

H: But do you call it an object, an installation?

M:  I just call them projects.

B: Is it titled?

M: It’s REALLY stupid.  “Moo-Moo the Giant Cow Head”.  I couldn’t be more sternical, like “138 Bovine”.  You know, it really doesn’t have a title.

H: I’m also confronted with names.  Is it an object, installation, intervention?  Then the media calls it something else.

B: No need to pigeonhole it.

M: Then there are art schools with things like “installation studies.”  Objects don’t exist the way the moving image exists.  The moving image, whether it’s 3 seconds, 3 minutes, or 3 hours, you never get that back.  Whereas objects, like photos, paintings, sculptures, you enter and leave at will.  They don’t exist in that same sort of way as the moving image does.  You remember the catalogue thing did for ZING?

B: Yeah, the “Pane” project, which was part of issue #21.

M: I liked that, because it hovered between those two ways of apprehending film and an object.  As you were moving through the catalogue, the stills were sequential.  You would kind of pick it up a little bit, but then put it away for later.  You could also leave the stills and look at the contents of the catalogue.  By the way, I was thrilled that you guys put that out.  I love that project.

B: It’s nice, because it’s a unique project.

H: What was it?

M: I had that show in England and people were like [with British accent] “You do a lot of important stuff, you should have a catalogue about yourself.”  And I was like, “Who’s going to buy it?  Who’s going to pay for it?  I can’t.”

H: The government.

M: Okay, let’s start a revolution so I can get a catalogue.

B: There’s your running platform.

M: Right, “a chicken in every pot and a catalogue with every show.”  So, I started to do a bunch of projects and they would kind of weave in this way, but it was just turning into mud real quick.  So, I got the idea to start with something simple. I thought, “Maybe I’ll design some catalogues.  They’re simple.”  They sure are.  You end up with sequential stills, a title, nice graphics, blah, blah, blah.  So, I was getting really disgusted and put it back.  Meanwhile, I was getting catalogues in the mail.  Christmas, tools, clothing, whatever.  And I thought, “Gosh, my films are kind of like these catalogues.  Somehow received.”  So, I decided to take a catalogue, devote that to one film, put them in sequential order.  Just intervene by taking part of the picture space in each spread.  Don’t change the content, don’t make any comments.  And it worked.

B: Yeah, it did.  That film you used for the ZING project was a bird trapped in an air vent?

M: No, actually it was a mockingbird that flew into my studio, so it’s flying against my window.  It’s a really nice film because when it’s being screened, there’s this really nice pressure you get from the light going against the wall and the absence of light from the bird flopping against the window.  For the catalogue, I liked the indifference of both images [the film stills and the Harry and David catalogue].  They’re just neighbors.  I’ve laid out about five of them, and plans for many, many, many more.  Projects should be poetic in a way.  It really is about content.  When you take these project positions, you’re using material to get something across.  To activate some kind of content.

H: What do you mean?

M: Some people would take this conceptual position and just set up these parameters on how to work.  But the work needs to resonate beyond its parameters.

H: It depends on the project.

M: It’s like the bear piece.  You weren’t interested in being a bear.  What you were doing was try to activate something about the myth of the bear in Germany.

H: There were different levels.

M: And that’s when it has a certain kind of resonance.  But often enough you see people just kind of make these formal gestures and they just don’t work.  You know…

M: It’s like every generation thinks it invented sex.  And in a way, they’re right.  Every generation, all the kids were taught how babies are made.  Then you learn from your friends, you do this and you do this.  But when it actually comes to doing it, when you first have a sweetheart, you ARE inventing it, each one of us.  But it’s been around before we were humans.

B: It, in fact, MADE us humans.

M: Right.  But every generation does invent sex.

B: That’s going to be the tagline of this interview.

M: I’ve seen tons and tons of moving image, lots of porn, and the interesting thing is when they first invented the camera, one of the first things they shot were sex acts.   And they were all like, you know, people doing it with dogs, fisting, none of this stuff is new.  It’s all been done before.  You know, whatever you can twist around in your little noodle up there, it’s been done.

B: What can you do that hasn’t been done better before?

M: Exactly.  One of these projects I did was in this Imbiss in Berlin.  Do you know what Imbiss is?

B: No.

M: I-m-b-i-s-s.  They’re like these ubiquitous snack stands.  They would serve currywurst and pomme-frites and stuff.  They’re all over the place in Berlin.  So, anyway, this guy let’s us use this thing to do a project in.  I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I definitely didn’t want to do like an art invasion.  You know, vacant space, fill it with objects.  So I was trying to let the content of the space come out, so I started cleaning the place.  So there was the Imbiss kitchen here, where they would serve food.  And there were two restrooms, the men’s and the women’s.  The women room was particularly filthy.  I mean it was literally knee-deep in like condoms and needles, just crap.  Literally.  It was horrible.  We spent about four days literally shoveling and hosing it down.

B: Ughh.

M: So, I went to the men’s room to start cleaning the stalls with water and a sponge.  And I thought “That’s weird.  Why is it getting all foamy?”  Then I see all these gloryholes around.  I’m like “JESUS!”  That’s when I learned how to say the German phrase for “May I have some great big rubber working gloves?”  That was a little place where men had some fun.  Remember the graffiti all over it?  One said “Black American, please come back.”

B: So, what ended up going in there?  I mean the cleaning is a project in itself, but…

M: I started looking at the graffiti, and seeing how graffiti is always the atmosphere going over architecture.  So I decided to wake that up by doing a video of the graffiti.  Remember that one story of the woman from Berlin who wanted to sell herself and her children for sex to a man and/or woman?  Remember that, Hans?  And she left her phone number…

H: No…

M: I would just run the camera over it and then pull it back and it became these word pictures on the screens.

H: But here, the restrooms are clean.

B: You mean in New York or this bar?

H: In general.

B: I would have to disagree.  But it’s mostly tags.

M: And in Berlin it was messages and stories.  We displayed the videos on the Imbiss, and people would come off the Ubaun, and sit for an hour just reading these word pictures.  I loved it.  There were certain points that just jelled on that project.

B: When was this?

M: 1999 or 2000.  But last time I was in Berlin, the Imbiss is back to what it used to be.  We polished the gutters and everything, woke it up, but now it’s returned to its former state.

B: Squalor?

M: Yeah.  I think sometimes you don’t want to intrude too much.  You just want to wake things up.  I mean for gosh sake, there are enough objects in the world.  Sometimes I think just waking them up and lighting them is all you need.  What is really depressing is going to some of the super blue chip collector and their houses are like mausoleums.  It’s a shame, because all that Modern stuff that I grew up with, like those black ultimate paintings by Ad Reinhart.  When those things are lit, they’re just knee buckling.  The disaster paintings by Warhol or Pollock’s stuff.  It’s great to have this stuff around.  I’ve been doing a lot of work in Belgium the past 10 years, and that’s what’s great about Belgium.  It has all this work around you, and some of it has been around for a thousand years.  Along with all this great contemporary work.  I enjoy working within that context.  That’s why it’s fun in New York to do these kinds of projects, that they are more, I don’t want to say casual, but what would the word be?  Integrated.

H: So what happens in a couple of weeks.  Just destroy it?

M: You mean the cow head?  Actually, we’re going to be sneaky and pull it to the back of the roof where you can’t see it.  But I’m thinking of making it re-appear in another position and have a video projector in it projecting on a wall.  But I think it would be interesting to have the moving image involved.  But the trick I found, because I was doing all these projections down Maspeth Ave for a couple of years, just these guerrilla video projects.  They always worked best when the frame of the object wasn’t there.  Where the building was the frame.  The frame becomes the architecture.

B: Sounds good.  Looking forward to seeing what’s next.  I’ll put this up tomorrow so people have a chance to read it and then go see the cow before it’s moved.  Should we go in?  Looks like we can still catch the end of the of the baseball game.


Moo-Moo remains on display at Diner, 85 Broadway, Brooklyn, until this Saturday, Nov. 7th 11:55pm.


Juan Gomez is a New York-based painter and long-time friend of zingmagazine.  He stopped by the office yesterday to discuss his upcoming solo show at Charlie Horse Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which opens this Thursday, Oct. 28th and runs through Nov 13th. Here’s what he had to say…


Brandon Johnson:  I came to your work through zingmagazine, when I first started here.  Issue #21 featured a project by you tilted “Rhythm,” which was a series of watercolors.

Juan Gomez: Yes.

B: Of sort of erotic scenes, figures, involving very flexible and sexual situations.

J: [Laughs]

B: And then later I saw your work at the Dikeou Collection in Denver, an earlier series of drawings, which was also featured in zingmagazine, issue #10.  These were line drawings, similar subject as the project in issue #21.  But I would say a little less expressive, they’re subtler.  Now you have work coming up at a show in Williamsburg at Charlie Horse Gallery, and I just had a chance to look at these.  They’re definitely different than you previous work, or at least your work in zingmagazine, but at the same time not so far off.  How would you say you came to working in this way?

J: For the show?

B: Yes.

J: I’ve always done two things: abstractions and figurative work.  When my first project with zing, with Devon, came out I was just starting to show.  And that’s what I was showing—abstractions. That’s all I was really pushing out, was the abstract paintings.  At the time, I knew Devon was running zingmagazine, and I had an appointment and I thought maybe I would bring her something more graphic friendly because my paintings at the time were black on black abstractions…

B: Right, and that doesn’t come out well in print so much…

Juan: It was something that was kind of difficult to translate.  And they’re large.  Not just black on black and abstract, but they rely on size to give you a physical effect, the textures and everything else.  The opposite of something you would want to attempt to reproduce in print.  So, I thought maybe I’ll bring photographs of other work.  I’ve always had this way of working. I always draw a lot.  But back then I didn’t consider them to be a part of any body of work or related to anything particular of interest.  I thought maybe they would be good to bring along, as a back up plan.

B: Uh-huh.

J: So I brought those to things over and she went for the erotic drawings, which were very personal and I had never shown them. 

B: So it was a bit of a leap to publish them in a magazine with international circulation…

J: At first I was afraid she was going to react strongly to the sexual content.

B: Because they’re a bit graphic…

J: Graphic, violent, sexual, in a way.  So I told her, she was there with Geraldine [Postel], I told her before I showed the slides that they might be a little…

B: Parental discretion required.

J: I don’t know how you feel about, but let’s see how it goes.  It’s sexual and this and that.  And she said “Yeah, sure.  Go for it.  Let’s see it.”  I was surprised by how she reacted to it.  She was very receptive.

B: Obviously she liked them well enough to acquire them for the Dikeou Collection, which was probably pretty amazing for you.

J: Yeah, that was a double-whammy.

B: You’re in a collection, in a magazine, with something you never really thought you would show.  So, for issue #21 you were doing watercolors, similar, I would say, to the first series, “Share” in issue #10.

J: Those had more aesthetic elements than “Share”.  “Share” was more straight pen or pencil, charcoal on paper like taking notes.  The second series, “Rhythm” was composed of watercolors, in color, and in that way was a little different in that I put more attention into what they said to me.

B: Now looking at your newest work, I see a progression of how “Share” was just line drawing, black and white, then with “Rhythm” there’s the watercolor, but with a limited palette, still between line and color.  Now you’re using strong background colors, bringing it to the forefront.  Could you comment on how you came to this?

J: For this show the pieces are more integrated in terms of the abstract and figurative parts.  Each piece has a balance between the two.  One is just as important as the other.  If you go back to the first project I did with zingmagazine, it was all about the figure.  Very literal.  The second one is less literal.  There’s still no background, just atmospheric color tones.  In these, the background fights for the foreground and the figure recedes or comes forward depending on which on it is.  I’m very excited about them.

B: Yeah, definitely.  I would only really recognize the figure just from my experience with your previous work, as opposed to others who would walk up to the painting with no context.

J: For some people it would just be abstraction.  The figure would not be present.

B: Exactly.  Some show more figure than others, but you could definitely read any of them as abstract painting.  That’s one quality I liked when I saw these images in a preliminary sort of way.  So this is bringing abstraction back into the fold, especially in this series of figuration.  This is an interesting progression.  And “progression” was a word that I was thinking of in considering these three series.  But going back to the beginning, what was this impetus to use this erotic subject matter for these drawings and paintings.  You said your main way of working was abstraction, but also had this going on.  Is there a story behind this?

J: Well, there’s always a story.  At the time I was working on my drawings. I had a lot of cheap paper and a lot of charcoal and markers, just trying to loosen up the line.  Doing drawings that were more literal and figurative, but not erotic.  Then one day, I just tapped into something.  I’m drawing and drawing, basically doodles and scribbles, meaningless.  Just letting lines flow.  And sometimes I would see a figure and follow up on the next drawing and the following and I end up putting things together.  Then at some point, I came up with this very strong imagery, very erotic, very sexual.  The first, second, etc.  I did hundreds of drawings.  It gave me a lot of material and drive to figure out different, obviously personal things.  A Pandora’s Box kind of a thing.

B: So, you were in your studio, drawing, and it expanded out into something bigger.

J: I usually have a very systematic way of loosening up to get into a painting.  Because the paintings, I never plan them.  I just go onto the canvas and come up with a painting.  But before I had to channel my energy with some kind of structure to get started.  They became sexual.  They were charged.  I tapped into something that I had never explored, just opened a door and it became fluent.

B: The figure has always been a classic form for a painter.  This work inherits the figure as form, because you are really stretching the figure, modifying it and bending it and it is all very obvious when you’re doing it.  You can look at the painting or drawing and it clear that you’re distorting the figure to explore ways of using the medium, the brushstrokes and textures of the paintings.  The title of your project in #21, “Rhythm” gives a good sense of that.  There is definitely flow, a rhythm to your work.

J: Like the jamming section before a music show.  Like when you warm up in an informal setting, using different sounds.  Things like that.

B: Yeah, they seem like variations on a theme.  There are lines, the limbs are very thin, curving and bending around the picture.  You also take that into the new set of paintings.  The figures boil down to these sets of lines in a similar way, but are more detached now.

J: They’re a language.  They are intuitive and subconscious in a way.  I try to let them be themselves.  But they also became…when you write, you can write but a certain way.  The way you write is just the way you write.  So, the work does have that look of using certain formal structures.

B: Having just gotten back from Buenos Aires, my first time in South America, I wanted to discuss your Colombian background.

J: Sure.

B: So you came to New York in 1990, when you were 20 years old?

J: ’89.  I was nineteen years old.

B: And you came for school?

J: Yeah, as a student.  I had a student visa.  Sort of a runaway from home kind of thing.  Actually I had been out of my house for a while already and I had a chance to take the leap here.

B: Would you say coming from Colombia has influenced your work in any noticeable way?

J: I don’t make many conscious decisions about influence in my work.  I’m not very thematic or intellectual or conceptual.

B: Would you say maybe as a cultural product…

J: I hope it comes though, filters out into the artwork and somebody would say, “Oh yeah this guy might be Columbian.”  Latin America has a lot of richness. It’s something I’ve been into lately.  Latin America absorbs elements.  For example, Colombia is not one unified group of people.  It’s very regional, so it depends if the people are more Spanish, Indian native, Black.  Even America is like this.  Everything is allowed in, in a way.  It is not a very selective cultural environment.  Let’s say you go to France.  They have a very strong cultural heritage and they hold it very dear, which shapes their cultural identity.  Latin America is open to different things.  They make it their own and then it comes out as something unique.

B: Yeah, I went to MALBA while I was there and really enjoyed the work by Argentine artists on view, which I haven’t had much exposure to previously.

J: It would be good to see more representation by Latin American artists in New York.

B: I agree, especially in the museums.  Let’s discuss the show coming up a little more.  I wanted to flesh this out before we finish.  It’s coming up, happening now at Charlie Horse Gallery in Williamsburg.  How did you get involved with Charlie Horse?

J: A friend, Catherine Ahearn.  She’s a young painter friend of mine.  We’ve known each other for a while.  Just recently, in June, she opened a project space and a gallery [Charlie Horse] and she asked me if I wanted to put up a show and give her some pieces for a group show, which was up in July.  After that she said she was thinking about giving the gallery a one-year run and said if I was interested in having a solo show, she would put it up.  So, that’s how it came about.

B: Was the work selected for the show things you were working on anyway, or did you make this work for the show?

J: I was already working in this direction.  But all the work was made in the last two months or so.  They didn’t exist before July.  They’re mostly small paintings, 25” x 30”, but there are also two large ones, 48” x 60” and 60” x 96”.

B: The gallery is in Williamsburg.  What do you think about the Williamsburg art scene?

J: I’ve shown there before.  At Momenta and Pierogi.  I like the scene there because it doesn’t have that institutional feel.  There are entrepreneurial artists starting spaces.  But it’s on more of an eye-to-eye level.  Less commercial, institutional.  I’ve always liked that idea and I’ve always seen good shows there.  I knew people there before the galleries started popping up, too.

B: Anything in particular you wanted to discuss about your show?  I mean, from what I’ve seen it looks like it’s going to be a good one.

J: I feel great about it!  I have a good feeling about where I’m at right now in terms of painting.

B: Thanks for the time, Juan.  Can’t wait to see it installed!


Juan Gomez opens this Thursday (Oct. 27) 6:30-8pm at Charlie Horse Gallery, 28 Marcy Ave, btw Metropolitan and Hope, Brooklyn.  Runs through Nov. 13.




Team Macho is a Toronto-based “collaborative illustration and fine art effort composed of Lauchie Reid, Chris Buchan, Nicholas Aoki, Jacob Whibley, and Stephen Appleby-Barr.”  Their first New York solo show “Long Time Listener, First Time Caller” opened this past Saturday, September 19th at Giant Robot in the East Village.  Their paintings and prints of fancy lies and painful jokes are hung above stacks of their book Fancy Action Now: The Art of Team Macho and postcard book Precious Gems.  I met up with Lauchie and Chris at the opening for a discussion on the sidewalk in front of GR.  Jacob and Nick found their way out a little later.


Brandon Johnson: So, uh, Team Macho is…

Lauchie Reid: Five weird dudes who draw together, live together, and are, sort of, inextricably linked.  Like…a dirty family.

B:  A dirty family.  I see.  How did you guys meet?

L:  We met at illustration school.  At this really suburban art college where we all sort of bonded for a mutual disdain of the coursework, well not the coursework so much as the people and the attitude forced on us.  We kind of got together doing that and…yeah, that kind of didn’t work so hot for the other people at the school.  So, we became something of segregated pariahs.  The bond forged in blood is hard to break.

B: So you met each other, hung out, and decided to make work collaboratively?

L: Well, we sort of identified each other as the hard-workers, the people who cared a lot and sort of gravitated towards one another, and we just sort of did our homework together and then we got the idea of trying to work together and it became a thing that felt really comfortable, well it was sort of uncomfortable at first, but it became a thing that was intimidating and fun at the same time.

B: Would consider yourself to be a collaborative…collective…do you have a way of thinking like that?

L: I’d say…I don’t know.  Collaborative definitely, collective not necessarily.  There’s not a huge mission statement.  But yeah, it’s sort of like a…

B: A team.

L:  Yeah, it’s a team.  A team effort.

Chris Buchan: We’re a team without a coach.

L: Exactly.

C: But a team that’s all driven to one purpose.

L: A utopian anarchist collective...just kidding.

B: The extent of my knowledge of Canadian collective / collaborative groups is the Royal Art Lodge, who have had projects in zingmagazine.  So, Team Macho reminded me of that in certain ways, but maybe it’s inevitable as a group of Canadian illustrators…

L: There are elements that are probably similar, and it would be an absolute lie to say that some of us aren’t big fans and really enjoy them a lot.  I wouldn’t say that our work is necessarily informed by it [The Royal Art Lodge]…

B:  But you’re cognizant…

L: Oh yeah, there’s got to be similarity.  I mean, they’re from Winnipeg.  Their whole thing is this weird Canadiana.  It’s amazing stuff, but the intent is very different, the practice is very different, and the content is quite different as well.

B: So would you have any sources of influence that you could identify?  Even if it’s not in the realm of fine art, maybe something outside of it?

L: Everything from Greek philosophy to, I don’t know, Impressionist painting.  Most of us, if you ask us what kind of art we like, it’s pre-20th century paintings, things like that.  We’re pretty classical in our appreciation and understanding of art.  Contemporary art, there’s tons of good stuff, but it doesn’t really work its way into our art-making process.

B: Yes, it [Contemporary art] is very pluralistic.  Would you say you integrate things as you come across them?

L: Yeah, absolutely.  Really we gain a lot of inspiration from each other.  That’s where most of our work comes from.  It’s aimed at one another with a lot of common reference points that we share, that we can use to make each other laugh, or…

B: Yeah, I noticed this humor, it’s a black but colorful humor, that runs through the work.

L: Like a joke that makes you cry a little bit.  But I would like to emphasize the point that we’re not just making work for each other and we’re not trying to make people pay attention to our “cool little gang”.  It’s not that at all.  We make art for each because that’s why we do it.  That might be the jumping off point for why we do it…

B: It’s a good enough reason for me.

L: Yeah, it’s to give people insight into our minds, like any artist would do.  To share our ideas.

B: Right, but at the same time you’re finding your audience.  Trying to identify your audience.  It’s kind of nice that you know who’s receiving it.  You know that the others are going to look at the work.  They’ll have something to say about it probably…

L: There’s a like-mindedness that goes through the work that the people who see the work can identify with.  Pluralistic is a good word for it because it comes through the minds of several people all the time, so it’s not pedantic, in a way, or didactic I guess, it’s just sort of like…here it is.

B: So, now I just wanted to talk about this show, because this is what’s going on.  This is your first solo show in New York.

L: Yes, indeed.

C: In the United States, as well.

B: That’s pretty exciting.  So you’ve mostly shown in Canada…

L: Canada, Toronto.  We’ve shown in Amsterdam.  We’ve participated in shows in the United States, in other Giant Robot locations.  We’ve been in group shows here and other places like France, Berlin. It was an opportunity for us to swoop down and investigate your neat-o city.

B: Pretty neat-o in my opinion.

L: I like it.

B: So for some of you, this is the first time you’ve ever been to New York.

L: Most of us.

B: Wow, that’s kind of amazing in a way, but I suppose not necessarily.

L: I can imagine why people in New York are like “You’ve never been to New York?”

B: Yeah, I suppose being here you sort of forget about other cities.  New York is very self-centered.

L: What, you’ve never been to Toronto?

B: I have been to Toronto, actually.

L: Oh, well never mind then [laughs].

B: [Laughs] Take it back.

L: I will.  I retract my statement.

B: Let this be stricken from the record.  So this show, did it have a concept behind organization?

C: Like a theme?

L: You know what, two months ago, we didn’t even have a show in New York.  It was very short notice.  They [Giant Robot] had a spot to fill.  They called us up and we said, “Well, absolutely we’ll take it.  We can’t say no to this.”  That’s why the show is called “Long Time Listener, First Time Caller” because we’ve been paying attention to Giant Robot.  It’s been a big thing in our lives for years and years, so this was our first chance to participate directly and we wanted to create a nice overview of what we do and the different incarnations that our work has taken over the past five years.

B: So the curatorial thought behind it is like it’s a mini retrospective?

L: Yeah, retrospective slash primer maybe.  We’re sort of like “Here’s the bread, a cross-section of what we’ve done, check it out and see how the work has changed.”

B: An introduction of Team Macho for New York.

C: Yeah.  Here’s some new work, there’s some old favorites.

L: Some of the work.  It’s caught on pretty well.  We’ve gotten good responses via the internet and things and people are like [in a weird voice] “I LOVE THAT”.

B: I like your website.

L: Yeah, our intern designed it.

B: Oh, so you have interns.  Like you have it on your website and people write you…

L: No, no.  I guess it’s because they’re forced to intern for their illustration programs.  So, we’re getting the the status as the guys who are fun to intern for because we’re like “Hey, you wanna make a puzzle?”  Because we’re not exactly the most professional of operations.  We just kind of hang out and help them.  Teach them whatever they want to know.  They’re welcome to come and work at our studio.  They’re more just like a buddy to come hang out, and if we need help lifting something. An extra set of hands.

Jacob Whibley: Actually, our last intern decided to move into the building with some of his friends.  So, it’s like a weird little…

B: Ex-intern situation?

L: Yeah, we primed him and pushed him out.  Like some sort of little mutant.

B: Team Macho, the next generation.  So, one thing that came up earlier was that I first came across your work through my roommate who has a painting of yours of a basketball player breaking his ankle, or something and he was telling me a little bit about what was behind that painting.  If you could re-iterate…

L: That painting is an emulation of my favorite illustrator.  He went by the name Frank Netter.  He was a doctor.  He did thousands of oil paintings of medical illustrations that are like the WORST things you’ve ever seen.

B: So, it’s like Doctor-Horror paintings?

L: It’s just so 70s and really pumped out.  It’s like, “Alright, this guys got a fever, he’s sweating, I’ve got to make a sweat face.”  So these people will have these big lumps of sweat on their faces.  So, he’s like “Oh, now I need another one of that guy.”

B: He was doing it for medical purposes?

L: Yeah, straight-faced medical journals.  He’s considered like the God of Medical Illustration…

C: Anthologies of his work, just documenting it…

L: From an art-practitioner’s point of view, he’s like horribly under skilled, but from a medical perspective he’s God. 

B: But from your perspective, he’s…

L: From my perspective he’s kind of a weird genius.

C: He’s the Henry Darger of the medical world.

B: That’s the new Outsider art.  Medical art.

L: We’re dreaming of curating a collection of his works, because I imagine it’s in an old vault somewhere at a pharmaceutical company.

B: So that painting came from…you copied one of his paintings?

L: Yeah, it came from a study of trying to understand that guy’s process and like, understand what could drive someone to do something like that.

C: There was also the mutant hand.

B: Where did you find his work?

L: There were a pile of his journals on top of a parking meter and we were like  “YES SIR!” because the top one was like mutations and retardations in children and we were like “OHHH!”

B: So, it was just there?

C: Yeah, on this busy street in Toronto.  Like [musical voice] do-da-do.  Oh, yoink!

B: So that was the source for that painting.  Do any of the paintings in this show have a similar story?

L: No, that was like four or five years ago.  That was just a project I was doing on my own and when were given our very first show, I was like “Yeah, I’ll throw in a couple”.  It was probably copyright violation, but…

B: I think in painting you’re in the clear as long as it’s not a person with an iconic image, like Elvis or someone like that who copyright their image.

L: And he’s dead and stuff.

C: You really cleaned those things up.  Made them look a lot nicer than they did.

L: It was an excuse to learn how to paint like a terrible painter.  Like, what were you thinking when you were doing this?  “Neat.  Brown plus white equals skin.”  The pallor on his patients…the guy had no understanding of what looks good.  It was all what works for him.

B: But he’s this huge icon for the medical industry.

L: Yeah, I didn’t know it at the time.  I thought he was some weird guy.  But apparently he’s revered. 

B: When was he working?

L: He died in 2000 or something, but we worked for 50 years, so he was in the last half of the 20th century.  Pretty amazing stuff.  Look it up.

B: An unknown master.

L: Nothing since that has really been appropriated.  We got away from doing that because it’s not really worth it. I’d rather do things on my own.

B: The content of these paintings, drawings, and illustrations are from your own vocabulary?

L: Yeah, they’ll come from a book we’re listening to.  We listen to books-on-tape at our studio all the time.

B: So you come up with images…

L: Yeah, there’s a painting here called “Legacy of the Force” because as we were working on a show we were listening to all the Star Wars novels, so we started incorporating elements of Star Wars.

B: You’re making visual motifs from these books-on-tape.

L: Exactly, that’s the diaristic element of what we do.  So much of it is day-by-day transcripts of what went on with us.  It’s what we did that day or what’s going on that week.  Our latest obsessions.

B: So, you’re all sitting in the studio…

Jacob Whibley: And we enter into a dialogue that eventually reaches some sort of logical conclusion.  Like, “You know what?  That would look good as something. Let’s make it”

B: So, how often are you in the studio then?  Do you keep hours?

L: Everyday.

C: Seven days a week.

L: It’s rare not to see all of us in the studio in a day.

C: It’s also rare to have all five of us in the studio at the same time.

L: We come and go.

B: So, that’s in Toronto.  What part of Toronto?

All: [enthusiastically] The Nox!

B: The Nox?

L: We’re the only ones who call it the Nox.  It doesn’t really have a name.

C: It’s a pretty rotten neighborhood.

L: Toronto is a pretty neighborhoody town, but for some reason the ten square blocks around our studio is just nameless.

B: That’s very Beckettsian.

L: Yeah, that’s why we call it the Nox.  It’s pretty decrepit and bland.

C: In ten years it will be up-and-coming.

B: Is there any Beckett on book on tape?

L: We’ll probably pick some up now.

B: That would be really great to listen to.  The prose is so dense and repetitive.

L: Books on tape are great because you can sort of tune them out and come back to them. 

B: And if not, that’s a good project for someone to do.  Make a book on tape of Beckett.

L: Oh, I’m sure there’s a lot.  There’s a free project online where you can just sign up and read a book.

B: Do you know the name?

L: Can’t remember.  I’ll email you.  They’re terrible.  They’re really bad, almost unlistenable.

B: Do you guys plan on sticking around Toronto?

L: I think so.  Toronto is a good place.

B: What’s so good about Toronto?

C: It’s a lot like New York.  But cheaper.

L: Cheaper. Scaled down.  Not as friendly, oddly enough.

B: Really?

L: I find New Yorkers to be extremely friendly.

C: On the street, maybe, but not in the stores.

B: There are definitely some unfriendly ones.

J: Yeah, Toronto.  We’re going to stay there for now, because it has everything we need.

B: I’m not saying you have to leave.

C: It is a common practice for artists to re-locate.

L: Where we work strongly influences what we do.

Nicholas Aoki: We’d have to establish another hub.

L: Plus it’s hard to move five dudes and spouses, fiancés, and stuff so we kind of…live there.

B: What do you do outside of Team Macho?

L: Two of us teach at the Ontario College of Art and Design, one TAs, Jacob works in Graphic Design, and…

C: I wash dishes.

L: He washes dishes.  We all have solo things that we do that are not part of Team Macho.  We’ve all had solo shows at some point.  You know, we’re not too precious about Team Macho.  We just like doing it because it’s weird and fun.  Gives you a good excuse to try out all kinds of stuff.

B: Brings friends together.

J: It helps you become less self-involved.

L: We’re thinking of expanding our practice out into…

C: Performance art?

L: …just anything.  And naming it the Star-surfer Magic Corporation. So that’s a possibility.


The exhibition runs through October 14th at Giant Robot, 437 E 9th St, btw 1st Ave and Ave A.  Visit their website, for more.



On Friday, Sept. 3rd I had a chance to meet Will Ryman and preview his upcoming show “A New Beginning” at Marlborough Gallery in Chelsea. The installation consists mostly of oversized roses, but also includes insects and pieces of trash.  The pieces are quite large, with the tallest pieces at about 6 or 7 feet, making for a “rodent-sized” view of this detritus-filled rose garden.  The show opens on Thursday, Sept. 10th and runs through Oct. 10th.

Will Ryman: It’s a monster installation.  It took a long time.  There are thirty-nine objects, thirty-nine pieces, all of steel, plaster, aluminum, paint, and epoxy resin.  The floor is all handmade steel.  We wanted to put it on a grid to bring the pieces together. When they’re all individual, it’s very formal.  So, what kind of questions did you have?

Brandon Johnson: I just wanted to look at the show with you and talk about it.  I had a couple of questions in mind, but we can discuss whatever.

W: Okay.  I guess I started off wanting to make an urban garden. Like you would see in New York, or any city, where you would see trash.

B: Hence the cigarette butts, crushed Starbucks cups, etc.

W: And I was kind of going towards big corporations.  I wanted to use the rose because it was a symbol of commercialism, Hallmark, you know.  Also, I just love the way they look.

B: Aesthetically appealing, of course.  So, as symbolic objects they sort of represent a thing that’s used in marketing or…?

W: The roses, you mean?  Yeah, that plus the many other meanings attached to them…

B: Culturally…

W: Yeah, and globally.  I wanted to make them look like they’re not so beautiful, you know?  They’re wilted.  There’s something edgy about them.

B: They’re cartoonish, sort of, what’s the word I’m looking for?  Caricatures?  Exaggerations…

W: Yeah, cartoonish.

B: Exaggerations of the actual thing.  The stems are very straight and boxy, and the material is definitely present, which is a good quality, at least in my opinion.

W: Well, most of my work is about process so I always reveal the materials I use, the inner-materials, because I want to show how I made them.  Process is important to me.  Basically, I’m known for doing figures.  So this is a new direction for me.  Things are starting to change a lot.  This is the beginning of the change.  I’m working on stuff in my studio now that is even more different.  It’s evolving.  So, you know, we’ll see where it goes.

B: In terms of influence, for me someone that comes to mind is Claes Oldenburg, with the large scale and cartoon quality.  But obviously that’s a generalization and he’s kind of a hard figure to miss.

W: [laughs]

B: But who would you name, if you had any general influences or for this show in particular?

W: Nothing for this show particularly, but I guess my inspiration comes more from writers than the visual arts.  You know, growing up I was in an artist family, so I was around art. None of it really impacted me consciously.  But old playwrights and philosophers inspired me a lot.

B: You were a playwright and sort of transitioned into visual art more recently?

W: Right, about 5 or 7 years ago.

B: So, you’re taking a very literary angle. I mean flowers are certainly one of the most literary of symbols you can find.  You know, then there’s Baudelaire…these are almost a Les Fleurs du mal with the flies and hint of grotesquery.

W: Yeah, absolutely.  I think I responded, when I was writing, to the absurdists.  You know, Ionesco, Beckett, and I think that is where my aesthetic is, where I was respond to in my visual art.  This is sort of an absurdist viewpoint.

B: Definitely. It has the kind of absurd comedy that Beckett and others had.  Another Irish writer that I like, a fiction writer, Flann O’Brien…

W: Right.

B: He’s very much a black humorist, extreme absurdist.

W: Exactly.

B: But this reminds me of his work because he’s on the more cartoony side of Beckett, and I don’t mean to keep using that word, but…

W: Well, you know the whole concept, the question, is the meaning of life I guess. The meaning of life is sort of absurd. Our role in the world, our role in the universe, is somewhat absurd and therefore meaningless, unless you’re committed to a greater good, whatever that means. You know what I mean? There are no specifics to it. But I always sort of gravitated to that ideology I guess. Not that this is questioning the whole meaning of life, but it’s…

B: Kind of taking it down to a smaller level.

W: Yeah, I exaggerate all the proportions, and nothing is to scale.

B: Right, that Titlest golf ball is enormous.

[Ryman's assistants leave gallery] 

W: Ok, see you guys next week.  Sorry.

B: No problem.

W: My assistants.

B: Oh okay, nice.  Where’s your studio?

W: Brooklyn. Williamsburg, actually.

B: Where at?

W: South 1st.

B: Oh, really?

W: Yeah, do you know Williamsburg?

B: Yeah, I used to live on S 4th and Driggs.

W: My shop is further east, just east of the BQE.  So, if I threw a rock, I could literally hit the highway.

B: Gotcha.  I just noticed the bag of chips over there.  What brand is that?  I didn’t see the label.

W: Wise.

B: This is like walking around in Brooklyn, especially Williamsburg.  It’s something you’d see on the side of the street.  There are a lot of growths, too, like on Metropolitan and Driggs there’s this huge bush.  I can’t believe something would grow that big from a crack in the sidewalk.  But it was just covered in wrappers and trash…

W: Well, just think about the scale of a person, if they were looking down at this.  It would be huge.  If I had a figure standing outside looking at this, with a bag of chips.  It would be great.  But most of my work is about an experience.  It’s interactive.  I like to create environments, worlds that a viewer could walk in and experience.

B: Yeah, this is sort of an Alice in Wonderland, an Alice in Brooklyn.  It’s really nice to have it at eye level.  It’s not overbearing or towering, but it still feels like…

W: You’re “in it.”

B: Yeah, “in it.”

W: You’re the same scale as the trash.  I wanted to go much bigger, to make people feel like bugs, but…

B: That would be a serious amount of work.

W: Exactly.

B: I like the insects, though.  The ladybugs, what’s that black one?

W: A beetle or something.

B: Of course the flies, the bumble bee.  I think it looks really great.

W: Each flower has a bug.

B: Each group?

W: Yeah, each cluster.

B: That’s a good piece of trivia.  Well, thanks.  I don’t want to put you on the stage too much, unless you had something else…

W: I can’t think of anything, unless there’s something else you had.

B: Actually, yes.  I had seen an image of a previous work you had done, Bed.

W: Did you see it installed?

B: No, just an image.  But one of the themes I saw carried over were some of the trash or wrapper items.  That’s one of the things I immediately noticed of this installation, were things like the Doritos wrapper or the Ballantine’s, the art historical wink at Jasper Johns.

W: Yeah [laughs].

B: Which I thought was kind of cool because I was doing this project where I transcribed beer cans, transcribing all the language from the can, making it into a kind of concrete / conceptual  piece of writing.

W: Right

B: And I did Ballantine’s also.  So, it’s like if you’re going to do a can, you kind of have to hit on that…

W: Right, might as well [laughs].

B: But here you continue with the Budweiser, the Coke can.  Anything in particular about junk food wrappers that is of significance to you?

W: Basically, I just wanted to use commercial junk food from corporations…

B: Of course these are the top of the top, Starbucks, Coke…

W: Wrigley’s, Y’s, Coca-cola, Budweiser.  Just that whole thing was tied in with the symbol of the rose in its commercialism as well.  I mean no one would ever get that, and I didn’t necessarily want that to be…

B: So overt?

W: Yeah.

B: It has this regional, even local, realism, with the Wise chips and other specific brands you would find in New York.

W: Right. Realist and also symbolic as pieces of trash with these corporate labels in the gardens.  I was kind of hinting at that, but didn’t want to make it obvious.  I was more interested in making it approachable.  I don’t like it when I see things that are so heavy-handed and obvious, delivering a message that we all know.

B: I don’t feel that it comes off as that.  I think if you recognize the labels that are used, you’re like “Oh, I’ve seen that on the street.”  Literally.  That’s just a fact of a street in New York.

W: Right [laughs].  Exactly.  You know, I try to make stuff that is inspiring  You know, approachable.

B: So, this seems like it was a lot of work.  How long would you say you were working on this at your studio?

W: Probably for 8 months.  A lot of it full time.

B: Wow.  And so you have a couple of assistants?

W: Yeah, two assistants.  They help me build these things.  I started off doing it by myself…

B: But realized you were going to need back up.

W: Right.  I try to make things that are from my heart, that are approachable.  Because a lot of what I see is stuffy and a turn off in some way.

B: Like overly cerebral?

W: Yeah, or you have to be at a certain status to even understand this.

B: Well, I think with the size, the general visual appeal, and recognizable objects, it comes together.  Almost anyone could walk in here and be like, “Oh, I get it.”

W: Exactly.

B: Well, thanks for the time.  Best of luck.


-Brandon Johnson

INTERVIEW: Clark Richert



Prominent Denver painter and Head of Painting at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, Clark Richert has been at work for over four decades. His studio, housed in Redline Gallery (one of Denver’s premiere contemporary art spaces), is full of scientifically-oriented, yet aesthetically pleasing art projects. In 1965 Richert founded Drop City, an artists' community formed in southern Colorado. The artists (Gene Bernofsky, JoAnn Bernofsky, Richard Kallweit, and Clark Richert) constructed geometric domes based on the triacontahedron and other zonohedra. Inspired by the architectural ideas of Buckminster Fuller and Steve Baer, Drop City  won Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion award for innovative and economic housing construction in 1967. Much was born out of Drop City, including the decoration and pattern-based artists' group Criss-Cross in 1974, and one of the first solar energy companies – Zomeworks, in Albuquerque, NM.  Originally planning to become a scientist, the sight of a Rothko painting caused Richert to change his plans.  I had the good fortune to sit down with Mr. Richert at the studio in Redline to discuss his work, past and present…

Interview by Eryn Tomlinson


What an interesting life and career you have had. Are you still in touch with any of the artists that you lived with in Drop City?

Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff coming out about Drop City. There’s a Drop City documentary being made. Gene Bernofsky, Richard Cohen…I’m in fairly good touch with them.

How would you describe your lifestyle/experience in Drop City?

To me that was one of the most exciting times of my life. It seems like the media wants to show Drop City as a hippy commune, but we always called it an artist’s community. It was a very synergetic and creative place. A lot happened there. The ideas generated at Drop City are still very important to me. The media likes to mis-interpret the Drop City. They think Drop City means “drop out” or “drop acid” but Drop City was before those words were around. It came out of Drop Art [a movement informed by the “happenings” of Allan Kaprow and performances by John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, and Buckminster Fuller at Black Mountain College].

Do you think being around other creative people helps the artistic process?

Yeah, that goes all the way back to Drop City. Before starting Drop City I had attended several Buckminster Fuller lectures, and he talked about this idea of synergy, which means that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts when you have all of these hard-working individuals. But when you have interaction between the people you get a result better than an individual could produce.

You are currently the head of the painting department at Rocky Mountain School of Art and Design. What do you enjoy about teaching?

I like to teach. I never think that "teaching" is the correct word. But I am there and the students are there and they work on their art and I’m looking at them working on their art, trying to nudge them. And I like that a lot. It definitely affects my own thinking and my own work, and there is a little bit of dread of retirement because there would no longer be that synergetic relationship between the students and myself. Although here at Redline [Gallery] there is a lot of the same synergy as in an art department.

Would you consider art to be another form of scientific exploration?

I think “art” is a very big word. There have been paintings done by artists that have been studied where the artist is operating in a scientific mode. But I also think that artists use a lot of mathematics in art. Fractals [fragmented geometric shapes that can be split into parts, each of which is a reduced-size copy of the whole] were pioneered by artists. The geometry of the quasi-crystal was invented by a couple of artists, and one of them was me. As an artist I am free to work with scientific ideas without being bound by the scientific rigor.

There is a certain spiritual/philosophical presence in your paintings that is achieved by exploring the invisible structures and infinite possibilities of space. Are the emotive qualities in your work tied to these explorations, or is there also a more personal level of emotion involved?

Well, I do think that the emotional side of paintings is very important.  A lot of people don’t think of my work as very emotional or spiritual.  I feel like my work in tessellations and patterning often compares to the work done in Islamic Mosques. These artists in 1200 AD Persia were really just as much mathematicians; there was no line between making their artwork and mathematics. When I walk into an Islamic Mosque—and I’m not Muslim—I feel that it is so beautiful that it’s a spiritual experience.

Would you say that the process of making art is both spiritual and mathematical for you, then?

Yeah, I would, especially this working of tiling patterns and tessellations. My decision to switch over from science to art came when I was in high school. I was enrolled in all science classes and then I saw this book that had Rothko in it. Rothko just astounded me and I had no idea that there was something like that that could be called art. This was back in 1958 and I got so interested in Abstract Expressionism that I started subscribing to this Abstract Expressionist magazine called IT IS. Right around when I graduated from high school I went to New York. I went to the Guggenheim Museum and saw four large Rothko paintings. I was stunned by these paintings, and this was the only time that I had been moved to tears by art…So, that was an emotional experience for me…

How would you say Rothko influences your process?

I always considered Rothko to be such an incredible genius when it comes to proportioning and color. I don’t see myself as a colorist. I sometimes call my process ‘color-coding’. I want it to look as good as possible, but I am not a color genius like Rothko. My major interest is in Buckminster Fuller. Fuller said that space is stretched in tension, and I compare that to a canvas which is stretched in tension. I think that Rothko used this tension of the canvas. I say I am influenced by Rothko, but a lot of people look at my paintings and they don’t see it. I see it because I am thinking of this surface stretched in tension, and I try to feel the same way that I think Rothko painted, and I don’t know many other artists that are into that.

How would you describe the personal aspect of your artwork?

A lot of people look at my paintings and they say that I should paint with a computer. But I don’t want to paint with a computer. My feeling is that there is something about the hand-made brushstrokes that is really important, and a computer does not make these kinds of brush strokes.

So the process of using your own hands is personal to you?

Yes, it is all very important to me, I really get into the symmetry between my hand, the brush, and the canvas...although I don’t think many people see that in my paintings... I’m into facture.  Facture in France means the ‘artist’s touch’ and the way a paint surface is constructed. My meaning of facture fuses those two definitions.

Is your exploration of space also an exploration of time?

Well, lately it has been because what I have been working on in the last month has been video work. I use some camera work but mostly I work on the computer using computer animation. It is mostly structures moving in time. I have been working on the relationship between “nothingness” and “something-ness.” More empty space is “nothingness,” so I have been working on animating this transition between “nothingness” and “something-ness.”

Do you believe that all reality is interconnected through seen and unseen structures?

Yeah, that sounds about right. I think that most reality is unseen, that we see a very small part of the spectrum.

It seems like sciences and spirituality sometimes go hand in hand.

Well I like the title of the book the Tao of Physics. That book talks about fusing physics/spirituality.

The use of chance coin tosses to determine the direction of the serpentine lines in your mural at MCD [Metropolitan State College of Denver] creates a very dynamic quality of motion and life. Do you still use any elements of chance in your work?

Yes, but kind of secretively. I still do droppings and I am interested in randomness. I recently put pennies out in the environment to see how long they would stay put, about 20 dollars worth of pennies, I would just lay them out on the pavement, sometimes in arrangements, and it was amazing how long they would stay there and people wouldn’t pick them up.  Also, this was a funny one. I went to a bus stop and I put a little envelope and pasted it in the bus stop, and wrote on it ”Please do not take Charlene’s bus money.” I put some dollars in and then  watched all day long and all these people that you’d think would take it didn’t, until the end of the day some kid took the money. But it lasted a lot longer than I though it would.



Over the weekend of August 1st and 2nd, the Starz FilmCenter hosted the Denver premiere of Cannes Film Festival Prize Winner “Tokyo Sonata”, a film depicting the typical Japanese businessman. Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, known previously for his horror films, takes on a new kind of horror—unemployment. The film shows the unique effects of the recession in Japan. While unemployment in the U.S. habitually fluctuates in good times as well as bad, Japan is historically accustom to an almost 0% unemployment. Japan’s unemployment is projected to reach 6% by the end of this year.

Our protagonist and businessman Ryuhei Sasaki, abruptly loses his job to downsizing, and (it is implied) outsourcing. Unable to admit his unemployment to his family, he continues to go to work everyday. While looking for ways to fill the hours, he discovers that he is not the only victim of the changing business world. A high school classmate, unemployed of 3 months, shows him the ins and outs of public welfare, how best to spend his time and most importantly, how to hide his situation from his wife. The film isn’t all gloom and despair. Kurosawa shows the comic side of things, as the two go through food lines, and gather around barrel fires along side homeless people in the park. His classmate sets his phone to ring five times a day, which he poses as business calls. “It calms my nerves,” he claims. One scene shows the two passing the time in a library, because it is a place where you can stay and read as long as you want. Surprisingly, the library is filled with businessmen like themselves, in suits with briefcases and continuing the appearance of employment.

As the film continues the audience sees the problem of one man expand into a problem of his country. The film becomes darker and bazaar. At first, the change is subtle, but as the film moves to shots of more long queues at the unemployment office, businessmen in food lines meant for the homeless, and janitors changing back into suits at the end of each work day, it becomes apparent that the problem is an epidemic. At one point, a character asks where the earthquake is to turn the world upside down and essentially make things right again.

It isn’t just the recession. The Japanese lifestyle, including the job for life mentality is disappearing, and altering into a more complex and difficult work field. Much like the American Classic Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, the Japanese Businessman finds his traditional way of life crumbling and the life’s work that should have resulted in a comfortable life with respectful retirement instead leads to unemployment, rejection and a feeling of uselessness. An unemployment officer in the film makes it clear to Sasaki that jobs like his are not coming back; these changes are for good. But the recession does not only hurt Japanese income. A country with a strong sense of family pride, diligence, and fear of shame can no longer justify its belief that those who work hard receive reward, and those who don’t are the ones disgraced.

Screenwriter Max Mannix says he intentionally tried to create a family that could be found anywhere in Japan, representing the country as a whole. Still, there are a few deviations from normality; the oldest son joins the U.S. military and the youngest turns out to be a piano prodigy. The last thirty minutes become utterly chaotic but Kurosawa pulls together a neat ending with hope for the next generation.


-Rachel DeBoard


“Works on View,” curated by gallery director Katie Rashid, is a diverse show of work by Vito Acconci, Lee Lozano, Sterling Ruby, Michael Snow, and William Wegman. The exhibition highlights a group of works, created from the 1960s to the present, that are prone to interpretation. From Vito Acconci’s stab at transsexuality to Lee Lozano’s diaristic marijuana and masturbation experiments to Sterling Ruby’s crack-pipe burned bench and pink Pelican Bay, the relationship between pieces floats among a variety of themes, including “language, humor, gender, and an underlying tension” according to the handout.

Upon entering the gallery, the viewer is met with a number of early pieces by William Wegman. The group is characterized by simplicity and humor, such as the case of He Lost His Balance (1973), a straightforward description of the slapstick gesture performed in the photograph. Another piece, He Tried on a Wig, It Made Him Look Younger (1971-72), follows with a spin of gender play echoing Vito Acconci’s less subtle Photos From Conversations (I,II,III) (1971), a series of photographs documenting his literal attempt, by burning the hair off his chest with a candle and tucking his penis between his legs, to become a woman.

The Wegman pieces take a turn for the darker in an initially comical short film, Treat Bottle, in which his dog is presented with the rat-maze conundrum of a treat placed inside a glass bottle. The dog paws and noses the bottle across a cement floor for a few minutes, eventually causing it to break, spreading shards of glass across the floor.  This provokes a shudder-inducing scene of the dog licking and biting broken glass with no intervention from the silent cameraman. The relentless action found in the Wegman video is taken up in Sterling Ruby’s video, Cartographic Yard Work: Dog Behavior in which as series of holes are circuitously dug and filled, bringing up the anxiety-ridden Sisyphusian behavior of dogs once again.

A similar sort of activity-related anxiety can be found in Lee Lozano’s Grass Piece (1969).  This experimental study takes the form of journal entries and traces Lozano’s artistic production while using marijuana on a daily basis. Similar experiments from 1969 are included, such as No-Grass Piece and Masturbation Investigation. Self-reflexive text is found again in a Vito Acconci poem from the same year, “I am moving at a normal rate” in which Acconci describes his physical actions, “I TURN TO LOOK STRAIGHT AT YOU. I say, ‘I TURN TO LOOK STRAIGHT AT YOU.’ I TURN TO TALK STRAIGHT AT YOU”—another attempt at pseudo-scientific objectivity (linguistic in this case).

As the themes diverge and intersect, Rashid’s provided entry-point of “simple gestures and concrete actions” is an excellent way to view the exhibition and each individual piece, whether it is Wegman’s slapstick photos or Lozano’s objective-forward studies. This idea works as a simple platform to jump into the complex relationship of media, technology, and theme the exhibition presents while maintaining a view the bigger picture (so to speak). Michael Snow’s varied and progressive work also provides a frame of reference, a structure of visual and conceptual cues to navigate the presented pieces by Acconci, Lozano, Ruby, and Wegman.  A somewhat daunting show at first, these guidelines help flesh out an exhibition worthy of effort.

-Brandon Johnson


Deborah Howard’s opening at Edge Gallery Friday, July 17, displayed works of melded media: Holocaust imagery paired with haunting photos, encaustics juxtaposed with what perhaps unites us all: shoes. Shoes, the elements that tie the entire exhibition together, are gnarled, painted, and sculpted into art at the hands of Howard; they become relics in her care.

The encaustics and shoes make up the bulk of the exhibit and work together to create a mélange of painting and sculpture that seems to take on a different medium altogether. Encaustic is a painting method where color-pigmented beeswax is melted, applied to a surface and reheated to fuse the paint into a smooth or textured finish. In Howard’s exhibit, she tends to take the textured approach, which evokes something gruesome and striking in her work, especially when the shoes interact with the canvas itself, whether melted into the canvas or placed in front of it, creating a museum-like quality.

Howard, who displayed her Portrait Project of Holocaust Survivors in 2008, calls to mind this past once again, reminding viewers of the extensive shoe collection displayed in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. She has taken her shoes and placed them on display, re-positioning them as works of art. Beautiful and eerie, they nag at us, make us uncomfortable, and beg us to ask questions: Where did they come from? And more importantly, whom did they come from? I found myself wondering if these shoes were taken or given over as pieces of art.

The encaustics react with the shoes most prominently in Celestial Slipper, where the canvases seem to take the place of the human figure. The only human quality remaining are the shoes, and that is enough for the viewer to infer a human. The fact of the matter is, though, that the shoes’ owner (whoever it was) is gone and replaced by material. Finality, beauty, and tragedy seep out from this piece and into the viewer.

Howard heads the painting program at the University of Denver. Her work has been exhibited at Aspen Art Museum, Regis University in Denver, Arvada Arts Center, Peace Museum in Chicago, Tweed Museum in Duluth Minnesota, Contemporary Art Center in New Orleans and City College in New York.


-Jessica Hughes


Artscape Magazine’s Issue #01, which celebrated its launch at Brooklyn’s 3rd Ward on June 19th 2009, chose to focus on the consequences of the current economic climate.  Editor in Chief of Artscape, Juanli Carrión, wrote that the publication hoped to highlight the effects of the economy on artistic creation and production without losing an optimistic tone. Still, he admits that the issue is a portrayal of reality and, if alarming, it’s at least not falsely upbeat.

The article “Art After (The End Of) The Banquets” by Domingo Mestre is of interest, both insightful and disturbing in its investigation of art’s position in the economic conditions. Mestre introduces his piece with threads of optimism, writing, “from the perspective of Milton Friedman and his followers, disasters and catastrophes of all kinds now are not a problem; rather, they are considered to be true opportunities.” He then asks us to consider the concept that art is a zeitgeist of its time. I have always been fond of this concept: it suggests that our creative voices are totems of our age, time capsules constructed from contemporaneous aesthetic. However, Mestre illuminates the negative consequences of this phenomenon by investigating what today’s art is implying about this epoch. His concern? Damien Hirst, the British artist behind infamous pieces like The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (a shark in a formaldehyde-filled vitrine) and For the Love of God (a platinum, diamond-studded model of an 18th century skull, still featuring the original teeth). In addition to the unconventional nature of his work, Hirst utilizes a factory setup – much like Warhol – to produce the desired volume of pieces. This concept of mass-production, paired with the incredible selling prices of his pieces, has led some to consider him as commercial brand rather than artist. Mestre writes, “I think that there is no better way of representing death in our time, in this case the death of art itself as a product differentiated from the rest of commodities. Doubts emerge at the time of asking oneself if other ways of thinking still fit. If there is still a place for thinking about art itself and for itself, after its postindustrial fall into pure financial speculation and the world­wide crisis of that speculation. Said in another way: Does anything else exist, in the business of Art, apart from money?” I had not considered the monetary impact of work, such as Hirst’s, to this extent. While I have been admittedly disturbed by his pieces, I took for granted that he was a natural progression of the avant-garde; he is extreme to breach previous traditions and strive for the ultramodern. But what do these pieces – dissected marine life and diamond-encrusted skulls - reflect about our society? Perhaps we are fearless when stepping over creative boundaries; perhaps we have gone too far to achieve novelty and lost our regard for the sanctity of life in the wake of this endeavor. But with fiscal issues becoming increasingly prevalent, Mestre’s article considers that perhaps contemporary art reflects merely our consumerism. Not only does he entreat us to consider how art will struggle through this economy, but also compels us to wonder if it can be separated from its monetary value, or if it is now merely another commodity.

The FLAG Art Foundation’s current exhibition, Re-Accession: For Sale by Owner, curated by Philae Knight and Amanda Steck, addresses the economy by showcasing work of both established and emerging New York artists who either do not have New York gallery representation or whose representation has been affected by the economic climate. For this particular exhibit, FLAG functions as threshold for the artists, making pieces available for sale directly without receiving the traditional commission a gallery would take. Re-Accession fashions a sense of unity, bringing together artists of different mediums, styles, and degrees of renown to address their common struggle. Upon entering this exhibition, I immediately encountered Devon Dikeou’s What’s Love Got To Do With It? The piece is an arrangement of nineteen lobby directory boards. This series mimics the manual directory boards used by galleries over a decade ago and contain information (title, location, dates, artists) for group shows Dikeou had participated in over the course of her career.  The set that appear at FLAG are from exhibitions that occurred during the last economic slump in the early ‘90s.  In addition to this set, she created a new announcement board for Re-Accession, marking another group of artists in similar circumstances. Other artists in the exhibition chose to address the economic climate more explicitly: Conrad Bakker painted a panel for the exhibition that reads: “LIQUIDATION SALE / GOING OUT OF BUSINESS / EVERYTHING MUST GO.” Laura Gilbert’s The Zero Dollar was also featured.  Fake “zero” dollar bills, which Gilbert handed out in front of the New York Stock Exchange in 2008, suggest the depleting value of our currency.  Also included was a haunting photo drawn over with ink by Sebastiaan Bremer, a red white and blue banner reading “We Finance Lottery Tickets” by Matt Tackett, layered painting by Jay Davis, and photographs from Bill Durgin’s Nudes and Still Lifes series, in which an untraditional nude is paired with a photograph of a simultaneously grotesque and elegant still life. While many of these pieces function as commentary on the current economic climate, they also serve as totems that commemorate the resiliency of the artists who continue to produce art in spite of the rugged conditions.

X-Initiative’s NO SOUL FOR SALE – A Festival Of Independents, which closed on June 28, used the former Dia building to bring together innovative and esteemed “not-for-profit centers, alternative institutions, artists’ collectives and independent enterprises” from around the world. These participants were invited to use the space to showcase work of their choosing, turning the site into a vast collection of art, video, performance, and publication. The festival functioned without partitions, walls, or entry fees, only tape-marked boundaries on the floor. These factors allowed the participants to function in close proximity, without the experience of their work being a commodity. This intimacy removed all sense of hierarchy and allowed viewers to experience the exhibition as a collection of work sans price tag. I was particularly moved by the work of Tel Aviv street artist Know Hope. The nameless character featured in his cardboard world of metaphor, images, and text serves as a representation of both the universal vulnerability and strength of humanity. His combination of illustration, poetry, and iconography lend his work a multi-layered narrative quality - a delicate epic of humanity's struggle. Swiss Institute displayed a dolly bearing a hefty stack of fanzines entitled “Avant Guard,” which – through images and writing - venerates the work of artists who formerly worked as guards at the Dia Arts Center (where X-Initiative is now located). Though the zines were being sold for the price of $1, the dolly was intentionally left unguarded and the viewers, confronted by a Marlo Pascual magenta-tinted husky featured on the cover, were given carte blanche to take themselves a personal copy if so compelled. Many of the contributors displayed interactive pieces, such as Kaffe Matthews’ Sonic Bed_Marfa. The charming yellow mattress invited visitors to climb in, get comfy, and experience their own perception of sound – specifically, a Kaffe Matthew’s composition resounding through a 12-channel system hidden inside the bed. In addition to being an audio-experience, the nature of potentially reclining on a mattress next to a stranger allowed this piece to function as a social experiment and unifying activity. W.A.G.E. (Working Artists in the Greater Economy) also encouraged viewer-engagement, setting up a floor space with stencils and spray paint. zingmagazine Managing Editor Brandon Johnson, who entered the exhibition in a white t-shirt, left sporting a still-sticky customized garment reading “WAGE RAGE” in gold lettering - earning him kudos from a belabored man outside a 23rd St Irish pub who vocally identified with that statement.  Also featured was INABA’s rooftop installation, a  group of pool-noodle structures serving as seating for film viewings; Kling & Bang’s audio-visual presentation of 44 DVDs shown on three projectors, five or so small DVD players, and two flat screens; Galerie im Regierungsviertel’s installation entitled “Elevator to the Gallows,” occupied the former freight elevator and allowed 20 people at a time to experience an imaginary elevator ride surrounded by the work of the featured artists; and  performance/installation piece “Impulsive Chorus” by Martin Soto Climent, in which the public assisted the artist by downing cans of beer to be crushed and arranged into a structure. This performance-sculpture, which took place during the opening of NO SOUL FOR SALE, was an ideal embodiment of the synthesis of art and community: it transformed a common social activity into tangible art.

Regardless of your impression of his sentiments involving the pieces and process of Damien Hirst, Domingo Mestre does raise the valid question of art’s proximity (and submission) to commerce and consumption. Like an answer to his clarion call, the committed individuals of projects such as Re-Accession and NO SOUL FOR SALE have chosen to evaluate the situation and find a new angle by which resilient innovators can maintain their livelihood and make art intended to illuminate current issues and create community: a testament to the belief that art has not become merely a commodity.


-Isabelle Bonney