INTERVIEW: Margaret Lee



Michele Abeles/Margaret Lee\Darren Bader

A project organized by Margaret Lee at White Columns in New York

Devon Dikeou: Margaret, how did you come up with/organize the idea for the show, the pairings, the idea of collaborating and reacting to, well potatoes . . . and each other as artists, much less the curatorial combination of artists.

Margeret Lee:

HI Devon

The title of the show is actually those 3 icons, camera, potato, cd/music note.  When Matthew invited me to do something in a White Room, I drew a complete blank for a few days.  I knew that I wanted to use my potatoes again.  I had used them in two other installations but neither of those times did I think they were being used the way I thought I wanted them to be used.  I originally started making the potatoes as a way of pairing down my practice into something really basic; I wanted to have something almost neutral to use in creating pairs or in coming up with absurd pairings between disparate objects. 

With them as my base, I started thinking of artists/works I have seen recently. Michele Abeles and I met in the desert (Joshua Tree) while participating in a HDTS.  I first saw her photos there and immediately knew there was some kinship – mostly because she took the kind of photos I would like to take if I had any photography skills – cold, almost dead, unnatural, with little emotion between herself and her subjects.  There was a photo of a plant with a hand in front of it which I saw a few months before getting the White Room invitation and it was in recalling that image that I knew I wanted to work with Michele.   I really wanted to see my potatoes in her photos (or that photo specifically) but did not want her to take portraits of them as singular artworks.  Rather, I wanted them to disappear into the background or be featured in an arrangement of her liking.  I wasn’t sure what would come out of this fusion, which I wouldn’t call collaboration.  First off, I told Michele that she would have full control of the image and could do as she pleased with the potatoes.  With that, we decided to meet in a few weeks/months and see what came about.  I then sought out Darren Bader, who I barely knew but felt as though maybe we approached art making in a similar way, or at least looked at art making in a similar way – since I had just gotten into curating and using other artists’ works within my own pieces and Darren, well read his book James Earl Scones and you will understand.  We met and talked a bit about the project, though no specifics were exchanged.  I again made sure Darren understood that I was not handing him an assignment or asking to collaborate on something, although in the end we did end up collaborating on the chair/speaker/potato sculpture.

Neither Darren nor Michele had any communication during the process.  They had never met.  I wanted each artist to have a relationship to the potatoes rather than to each other.

DD: How did your thinking as both an artist and organizer influence the other artists and vice versa?

ML: I think Michele, who doesn’t collaborate, had a difficult time with this at first.   But she was really familiar with my last curatorial project, “Today and Everyday,” and understood where I was coming from.  Though I invited her from a curatorial standpoint, we discussed the show as two artists.  She didn’t need to ask me for permission to do anything and I told her to continue making the photos she was in the process of making but try to subtly insert the potatoes into her compositions, without having to make them the focal point.  When Michele was done with her photos, I passed them along to Darren.  At this point, I still wasn’t sure what the final installation would look like or what Darren would bring to the room, which I think we all felt OK about because of my dual role as curator/artist.  There is something about that hybrid that I think makes the wide-open and unknown doable because the show was not curated in a traditional sense; it’s not based around a formal or thematic statement.  I wasn’t trying to push artworks into a story that I created before hand.  Rather, I wanted the story to unfold while we moved ahead.  Also, in working with other artists, especially one like Darren, you know that you can’t force your agenda onto them and their work and how it is organized.           

DD: How orchestrated or incidental was the outcome?

ML: I was absolutely devastated when Michele sent me her two first photos.  Both of them featured a naked male body part.  It’s funny, because although I told Michele that she could do whatever she liked, I never considered that she would use male nudity, mostly because I would never, ever in a million years consider using male nudity since I never include the human figure in my work.  I laughed and told her I was having difficulty with them.  She understood but asked me to sit with them and also sent me some others.  In the end I chose one of the two difficult images.  Actually, I chose the more difficult and graphic one.  Darren only told me that he wanted to include the song “No One” by Alicia Keys (a song I’d never really liked before).  Darren and I met repeatedly, talking about possibilities but we both knew that we wouldn’t really know until the installation started.  Part of the project was working with unknown elements, the outcome was supposed to be incidental or at least I wanted the elements to be incidental.  My goal was to take these incidentals and pull them together into a really tight installation that looked like a solo show.

DD: Speak about the application icons that appear on the invite, website, press material, as well as alongside the actual images of the show: camera, potato, tunes . . .

ML: I wanted to come up with a title for the project but since it was a non-thematic three-person show, I found myself resistant to coming up with a catchy title.  Recently, I’ve been obsessed with emoticons on my iPhone, these cute little icons that stand in for words.  I find myself sending messages like “balloon, wrapped present, champagne glass, cake” to say “Happy Birthday”.  So, for this project, I reduced each artist and their included work down to an icon, basically to convey who was bringing what.  I liked using this “new” language.  It seemed web 2.0 to me, as did the actual project.  Not in that we were using technology in any way, but in approaching the project using: interactivity, collaborative authoring, and a move away from individuality, the last of the three points being the most important to me.  In reducing an artist and their work into these icons, that could be interchangeable and reused, I felt like it was a nice move away from the idea of the singular artist as genius concept.  Also, the title of the show is also an artwork.  I made the icons myself and the grouping is now a wall piece in an edition of 10.           

DD: We can all imagine from experience what the tune icon implies, as well as that of the camera. What does the potato application do, or what could it potentially do.

ML: It’s funny because there was no other option but to have the potato icon, since that is all I brought to the project.  It’s the most absurd of the icons and I like the way it is something very “natural” in between two “technological” implications.  The potato icon, nestled in between, also conveyed to me something really human and basic.   These potato sculptures connected the works and the artists.  It is an unlikely function for them, but a good one!

DD: There are elements of tension between realism and photorealism, as well as a dialogue between constructed space and literal space. These dichotomies are the thrust of several divergent artists whose work seems to be not just influential, but is almost echoed or specifically cited and twisted in the work of all three artists. This range of artists—from Rachel Harrison to Frank Stella, Robert Mapplethorpe, John Miller, and Richard Estes—even Magritte comes to mind in varying degrees. Please speak about your influences, as well as the mark that the mentioned artists might or might not have on your communal strategy as well as the individual strategy of each of artist in the grouping.

ML: This is a hard one for me to answer.  I don’t like thinking of the trajectory of art in linear terms anymore.  Part of the Web 2.0 mentality that I like or identify with is you are bombarded with images/ideas that you really could not process in a rational, linear sense.  You take bits and pieces and they come together in ways that are unexpected.  You find yourself looking at say, a Magritte (who, of the artists you list, I think would be the strongest influence), and then find yourself thinking about some funny video you saw on youtube, rather than what came before or after the Magritte in art terms.  I could say supermarkets, interior design, Madison Avenue and the museum gift store, influence me just as much or more than artists who have influenced me in the past.  But if I were to mention anyone, it would be Louise Lawler. 

The communal strategy comes out of a desire to contextualize work again, after years of Art standing as luxury good and galleries showcasing work as such.  It’s an attempt of my part not to make or showcase work for the mid-century modern home.  The shared authoring of the project stands in complete opposition to artistic genius and curatorial wit.

DD: Onto something a little less, less or more . . . What do you think about ketchup or catsup . . .

And about steak? What do you think your collaborators think of it?

ML: Ah, Darren would LOVE this question.  I don’t eat steak but love ketchup, though I’m trying not to eat it since it’s so salty and kills your taste buds for hours.  But French fries without ketchup is a sad thought; I’m too American to give it up. [Editor’s note: Jonathan Swift coined the spelling "catsup" in 1730.]

DD: There is a balance between trompe l’oeil and found objects that is both coolly obscuring and hotly obvious in this show. Brillo vs Ballantine Ale, or rather Brillo and Ballantine Ale vs Hans Haacke.

ML: THANKS!  I want the Brillo and Ballantine Ale.  I’m hoping that we are moving in a direction when artists realized the limitations of making “political” art and see that the politics are actually in your movements and actions.  I just don’t see the point of making political art and showing it in a commercial gallery nor do I think I am making political art at all. It’s never my intention.  I don’t want to comment on institutionalism, I want to move away from it, without strong rhetoric.  It’s not so complicated for me.  I want art to live in a space and feel alive for the duration of the exhibition.

DD: Where do potatoes and you go from here?

ML: Hmmm, dunno really.  Potatoes may be retired for a bit.  From now until the end of May, most of my energy will go into trying to keep 179 Canal going.  I think I will try to practice playing the piano and work on my cake decorating skills. 


See Michele Abeles/Margaret Lee\Darren Bader at White Columns, 320 W. 13th St (enter on Horatio) through February 27th, 2010. 

More info on Margaret’s non-profit space 179 Canal can be found at


INTERVIEW: Jeremy Dehn & John Hoff


Miracle Investigators is a satirical short film about the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the Vatican office charged with validating or disproving alleged miracles worldwide. Taking this concept to its (absurdly) logical conclusion, Miracle Investigators recasts itself in the mold of a buddy cop movie, making the investigators the quarrelsome, mismatched heroes recognizable from countless cop films and TV shows. Featuring strong performances from some of Austin’s most recognized actors, an irreverently amusing script, and a surprise climactic confrontation that carries the film into a whole new realm of satire, Miracle Investigators is a unique comedy worth the penance you’ll have to do for laughing. “



Dikeou Collection director, Jessica Hughes, interviews Jeremy Dehn, director of Miracle Investigators, and John Hoff, who plays Cardinal Thomas.

So, tell me a little bit about the background of the film and how you two met.

JD: I made this film as a graduate student at the University of Texas. This was actually my thesis film.

JH: And we met each other through a casting call. Jeremy had posted an ad for it on, which is sort of like a craigslist, but for actors only.

And how did you two decide to work with each other?

JH: I’ve been acting for 20-plus years, so, while they’re obviously evaluating me at casting calls, I’m evaluating them as well. I loved the audition, and I loved that improv was a part of the audition.

JD: John kept emailing me beforehand, asking to see the script, and had all of these questions. I almost blew him off, actually. I thought, “Who the hell is this guy?”

So how did the casting call go?

JD: I had a well-trained actor as a reader for the audition, which helped a lot because then he could sort of give his opinion of the actors, too. As soon as John left the room, he said “That’s your guy!” He could hardly wait to tell me.

How did you decide on a part that was fitting for John?

JD: I didn’t really know what to do with John at first. He was too young to play the old priest, but too old to play the young priest. So, I ended up re-conceiving his character [Cardinal Thomas]. Originally, that character was going to be a 60-year-old man. Afterwards, I wasn’t really sure why I was so attached to that idea. In this process you get attached to certain things, but then you learn to let go. I learned that in the auditioning process, too; it’s how I learned to start auditioning actors with improv. I think in the beginning our egos are too fragile to really do that.

JH: I think that’s probably why the same directors and actors work together on multiple films. In this case, Jeremy had a very clear vision, but he was also open to ideas, which is important.

Are you working on any other projects where you two might collaborate again?

JD: There are definitely other projects in development, and I’d love to work with John again. There’s so much planning and so many things that need to come together to make a film, though, so you really have to be in love with the idea before you start on it, start getting financial support and everything else. But there are definitely projects in the developmental stages.

How did you get financial support for Miracle Investigators?

JD: Well, I did have some grant money, but a lot of it was out of my own pocket. Really, I looked at it as an investment in film school. And the whole thing was shot on film (rather than video), which is over $5,000 alone. I mean, financially, I’ll never make that money back, but I’m happy with the film.

You both started in Austin, but now you both live in Denver. How did that happen?

JH: After we stopped filming, my family and I went to Norway for two months, then spent two weeks in Denver, then went back to Austin. Once we got back to Austin, we said “Ew, it’s too hot and humid here. Let’s move”, so we did. We just packed up and moved.

JD: For me, it was because I got a teaching job at the University of Denver. I’m originally from CO, too, though. I grew up in Pueblo and my wife’s family is in Aurora.

So, it was just a strange coincidence that you both ended up here?

JH: It really was. And we ended up moving in just a few houses down from each other.

JD: Yeah, and at almost the same time, too. I think we moved in like 6 days after you guys did, John.

Where else has the film been showing lately?

JD: It just played at the Friar’s Club, which seems like a Kiwanis Club for NY comedians. It was so neat to sit at the bar and look at pictures of famous people like Dean Martin sitting at the same bar. We usually do better with this film at comedy film festivals, too.

Where else has the film been shown?

JD: Last night was our 22nd showing of the film at a festival. But Vail, Austin, and the Friar’s Club have really been the highlights for me.

What sorts of films influenced Miracle Investigators?

JD: Well, definitely buddy cop movies. I mean, that’s all I watched for 3 or 4 years in middle school-high school.

Any particular films that were especially influential?

JD: This is such a hard question to answer, because if I say really good films, then I end up sounding arrogant, like my films are as good as those. But I’d say everything from Charlie’s Angels to Kung Fu movies like Iron Monkey. Iron Monkey is a really great one, one of my favorites. But, I mean, our film is no Iron Monkey.

John, what kind of influences did you use for your acting in the film, or did you develop a unique style for playing the role?

JH: I definitely worked on developing my own style for the character, and I do that by placing myself into the character and reacting to things the way my character would react. But I also like to observe other actors and say “I’d like to try that.” For instance, Michael Kane never blinks. They’ll be doing close-ups of him and he never blinks. I also trained in NY, so I learned different methods there.

What kinds of methods do you prefer?

JH: Well, for example, some actors like to use sense memory. One time, I had to cry for a role, and my daughter asked me what I was thinking about to make myself cry. Like, “Were you thinking about our dog that died last year?” I don’t use this method. For me, it takes me out of the moment. I would rather immerse myself in the character and get into it that way. That’s called the Meisner method.

Where did you go to school, and for what?

JH: I went to the University of Texas and got a business degree, actually. Then, one time, I was on a plane talking to a lawyer, and he mentioned he was going to be late for an acting class. I asked him why he was taking an acting class if he was a lawyer, and he said it helped him be more comfortable with public speaking. So, I decided to do that too. I only took acting to speak more comfortably in front of people. Then I went to NYC to the Academy of Dramatic Arts.

What was your favorite part of making the film?

JH: My favorite was the fight scene. It was just so cool and really fun to shoot.

JD: I agree, it was my favorite, too. It was a drawn out part, and the part I’m most proud of. It took us three solid, 14-hour days to complete it. 

Being a low-budget film, were most people involved working as volunteers?

JD: Most people worked for free, yes. Which is actually really cool, because the people involved were just as into it as I was. At first, I felt bad, but by the end you realize that you’re not actually asking them to sacrifice as much because they are just as into it as you are.

JH: People are not going to volunteer for something they hate. Which is why it was important for me, as an actor, to make sure that he had a good script and a good vision. I asked all those questions beforehand to make sure Jeremy had his shit together.

Did Jeremy have his shit together?

JH: Yes, definitely.

JD: It really is important, though, because when you work on a film, it gets to be an intimate relationship. There is an element of honesty. People tend to overlook how important that chemistry is, I think. There’s an upside and a downside to working for free. If it’s a bad project, then you start thinking maybe you should go out and get a real job. But, in this case, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

John, how did you keep a straight face while playing your character?

JH: I think the best comedies are the ones in which the characters have no idea they’re in a comedy. The actors treat it as a drama. So I would be completely serious when the camera was rolling, and then as soon as the camera turns off, it’s all laughs.

So, immersing yourself in the character was crucial.

JH: Right. I knew my character, and I knew exactly what he would do in these situations. You don’t judge the character you’re playing, you just become the character.

Have you gotten any negative response to the controversial nature of the film?

JD: There were a couple of people that refused to be involved because of the subject matter. But, honestly, I think Miracle Investigators is pretty tame satire. It could have been way harsher than it was. 

JH: I met some Catholics at the screening, and they thought it was just hilarious.

JD: I mean, I wasn’t trying to attack Catholicism or anything. I was trying to attack the uncritical following of any religion. I was attacking the idea of following something without asking or knowing why. There are some serious moments in the movie where we pause and show this theme. It pauses for the serious moment, and then we get back to the ass-kicking.

What did you think of the screening last night?

JD: I think it’s all about the attitude of the spectators, and I think the Festivus atmosphere was great. People were very open and ready to enjoy the films.

JH: As a spectator, I loved the atmosphere. It was so neat to be around other people who really enjoy film, too.

JD: There are usually two different atmospheres at film festivals: people there to judge the pieces as artwork and people there to enjoy the films. I think the word “festival” is really appropriate for this, because it really was a celebration of accomplishments.


Miracle Investigators screened at the Festivus Film Festival on January 14 at the Bug Theatre in Denver, CO.



Cast & Bridge, 9 minutes, 2007, video projection


Sari Carel granted me access to her studio in the nefarious no man’s land near the Navy Yard in Brooklyn.  Sari made me green tea, showed me a new film, “Olive Glove”, and we talked about her show now up at Momenta Art in Williamsburg, fantasies, clowns, and Koko: The Talking Gorilla, among other things.  She has a project called “The Beekeeper” in the current issue of zingmagazine, #21 (available at your local independent bookstore / museum).  Sari also interviewed Dave Hickey in issue #14, which can be seen here.  Now it’s Sari’s turn for the hotseat:

Brandon: I was thinking about it and I guess I sort of lied when I said I’m not very familiar with your work, because I’ve personally seen two of your shows, at the gallery in the Lower East side.  What was it called again?

Sari: “Watching the Wolfman Dance the Foxtrot”?

B: And the gallery?

S: Nicelle Beauchene.

B: And I saw some of your photographic/illustration work at Melanie Flood Projects, which I almost managed to forget about. 

Oh, right right.

B: And I’ll probably see your show up at Momenta, so I’m doing pretty well actually.  I guess we should start off talking about your show at Momenta, and see where it takes us.  So, tell me a little bit about the show.  Give me a run down.

S: It’s a show they do once a year where they feature recent videos that they add to their library.  They do a series of two-week projects for each.

B: Oh, I think I went to that last year, maybe the year before.  I saw a video by the Canadian artist Brenden Fernandes.  He did a piece involving speech.

S: Sounds good.  I’m going to show this video I did a couple years back.  It’s called “Cast & Bridge” and it’s basically this kind of tour through an abandoned, decrepit falling apart house.  It’s basically structured on the logic of a slideshow.  Part journalism, part dream sequence.  Then there’s a soundtrack that is very pervasive, this nature creeping back into the visuals, as well as the sound.  Nature creeping back into a model modern house.  There are also elements of collage in it.

B: Similar to some of your previous video work?

S: Yeah, in the feel and this logic of collage, really layering different kinds of images that don’t necessarily start as relatives, but giving them a specific relationship through the piece.  Giving them a specificity by bringing them together, whereas some of the stuff could have been arbitrary selection or randomly put together.  What I’m even more excited about, which is what I’m working on right now, is this performance we’re doing there on Sunday.  The video has footage from Berlin and I’m layering on top of that, animation and collage.  It’s going to be shown with my friend Sergei, who is a composer and musician, and he is going to play live music to the video.  It kind of goes back to the early days of film, where they were silent with a live accompaniment of music, I guess usually a piano or something like that.  It would give such a different experience of film or a room, the audience in relation to the visuals, in relation to the sound.  I think something really interesting will happen in the room because it spins this whole relationship around.  Sometimes the music will take precedence, sometimes the visuals will.

B: Moving back and forth.  Is it improvised or did he compose a score?

S: We’re doing some sessions together, but a lot of it is improvisation.  He works with a synthesizer, and old synthesizer I think it’s from the 70s or 80s, a machine with some street cred.  And we have a general idea of what we’ll do, but a fair amount of it will be improvised.

B: Cool.  You said it’s a four-person show?  Who else is part of it?

S: Jessica Ann Peavy, Miriam Ghani & Erin Ellen Kelly, and Eve Sussman.  Each work is shown separately for two weeks.   It’s almost like a four-part mini one-person shows.

B: Gotcha.  Sound seems to be an important part to your videos, especially after just viewing “Olive Glove” here at your studio.  What role would you say sound plays in your videos?

S: It’s immense.  I’m super-interested in the way sound affects visuals and visuals affect sounds.  How they influence the meaning of one another.  Like how I spoke earlier of how images rub together each other and influence the determination of each other's meaning.  I really like the idea of translating one medium into another and all the mistakes that come from the process.  The mutations that they go through in the act of translation.

B: How do you create the soundtracks of your videos?

S: I treat it almost as a painting.  I pull most of the stuff off the internet.  The basic units.  Then I just work intuitively, like shuffling a paintbrush, moving them around until it makes sense.  Building this layered soundtrack.  When I was in Australia, doing a residency, I was in the middle of the bush, this amazing place.  The birds there sing very differently than anywhere else.  A totally different repertory of sounds.

B: I went to Australia somewhat recently.  So, I know what you mean.

S: I would spend hours listening to this whole other set of sounds.  The soundtrack for “Olive Glove” had a lot of Australian birds in it.  I also did an outdoor sculpture at Socrates Sculpture Park and it had a very naturalist soundtrack, made of electronic and vernacular sounds like trucks idling.  But it was based on these magpie birds, which have this really digital sounding bird twerp.

B: It also reminded me of something you hear at a zoo.  Like you go for a walk through the woods and they have these speakers hidden with soundtracks.

S: That’s also very interesting, the synthesizing of the natural into something that is really meticulously fabricated.  The video you saw at Nicelle’s gallery is basically all shot at the Bronx Zoo, where you have all of these fabricated environments.

B: The attempt to replicate a natural habitat.

S: A natural remote and pristine environment, so that falls exactly in the territory that I am interested in looking at from different angles.

B: The natural vs the artificial?

S: Not so much a binary relationship, but more how they fantasize about each other, how they are different sides of a similar fantasy, like in “Olive Glove,” where there are projections of the natural image, projections of the designed image.  The video is a series of vignettes, little theater sets that mesh together images and projections of the "natural" and the "designed".  I think they fall into a way of desiring something far away and different. 

B: A utopian point within them?

S: These images are the images of desire for something very complete, separate from what these objects do day to day.  Separate from what it is to go to a place like that.  What else?  A lot of my interest in sound is in the natural, immediate representations of these far away places that are slowly disappearing.

B: And at the same time, they are all digital recordings, a digitizing of natural sounds, so I guess that fits in with the grand scheme of things.  In your other work you have a lot of layering as well, drawing on top of photographs and things of that nature.  For example, the work at Melanie Flood Projects.  Did you start working in photography or illustration and move into video?

S: Yeah, I used to do straight up painting, but was always interested rubbing two or more things together.  These mongrel situations.  Once I started working with video, it fit much, much better, but I still brought a sensibility that is very much of painting, out of the studio.  This way the materiality of the medium, along with the sound, treating them as a painting with a spatiality to it.

B: I was just noticing these very frightening drawings of clowns on your wall.  What’s up with clowns?

S: Yes.  I like them because they are very unalluring images.  A very low level of seduction.  So, it’s a matter of using the images on the margins, the images no one else wants.

B: But they are these sad clowns.  The men behind the clowns.  Are you afraid of clowns?

S: No, I mean the relationship to the image isn’t so much personal.

B: My roommate is terrified of clowns.  I’ve never had a problem with them, but I’ve never had to face one.

S: And then you have all these horror stories where a clown plays a role.

B: I take that back.  The Stephen King movie It.  It’s about this clown that lives in a sewer and eats little kids.

S: Like an alligator.

B: Yeah.  They would show it once a year, and somehow I would always see it and end up watching, but not wanting to watch it then have nightmares for a month.  Anyway, sidetracked.  When is your rotation in the exhibition?

S: January 21 through February 1.

B: How did you get involved with Momenta?

S: I was in a show there some years back, and I guess we reconnected.

B: Momenta is one of those Williamsburg institutions.  Do you have any take on the Williamsburg art scene in general?

S: I don’t know that many artists that work in Williamsburg anymore.  I think that they all moved to Bed-Stuy.

B: The mass exodus.

S: Definitely not new people there.  But when it got pricey, people moved out.

B: Is this considered Clinton Hill still or what?

S: It’s kind of a no man’s land.

B: A liminal area.  The Navy Yards.  Don’t know what that is.  Whenever I bike by, it seems super-secure.  But this is definitely not a place you would just stroll by for any reason, on a Sunday walk.

S: Once in a while there’s the odd tourist, who is very lost.

B: You’ve been here for a while?

S: 3 years.

B: There really isn’t much of a presence otherwise, commercial or places to show.  Melanie’s was in her apartment.

S: I don’t know if galleries would move here, but it’s hard to get here.

B: You had a project in zingmagazine, issue #21.  Can you give me your take on it?  From what I recall, it was animals missing body parts, paintings?

S: Actually a lot of the images are images from a show I did.  And I did a layout for the magazine.  The show also had sculpture and I had this idea, which is kind of a mirror idea to what I said earlier of how do you take the sensibility of film, the way its structured, how narrative is structured, no necessarily a story, but narrative movement, and apply that to something that is spatial.  Like a room full of images and some objects.  So that was the motor behind the whole idea, and it made for an odd show.  But the images were kind of vignettes, flashes of this fictional film I had in the back of my head.  Some of them were reverberations of an act of violence.  Really direct—like here’s a rhinoceros with its horn chopped off and others that were more indirect, the atmosphere of the image.  It’s not like a strict connection, but more atmospheric and poetic and creates a group of images with a distinct feeling.

B: Seeing that this is the beginning of the new year, let’s do some summaries of 2009.  Do you have a favorite show of 2009?

S: Oh wow.  Those moments when you forget everything. [Laughs]

B: Whatever comes to mind.  This section is called “What comes to mind from 2009?”

S: There was a show at the Met, after Phillippe de Montebello retired as director.  It was in his honor called “The Phillippe de Montebello Years” and it had all kinds of objects that were added to his collection, throughout his term.  Sounds boring, right?  Whatever, some random collection of things.  Paying respect.  But you go in there, and it’s the most exciting show I’ve seen in a really long time.  Because the way they put it together, you have these objects from different centuries, different styles, different mediums, religions, contexts.  The curation was magnificent.  The way they put things next to each other to create the most beautiful, startling pairings.  It was so exciting.

B: As a product of the curation?

S: And just the power of the images themselves

B: What was in it?

S: They had an Egyptian male bust, a sculpture, a body beautifully crafted next to a Swiss wooden bust, this really ornate man with meticulous details.  They was these two things worked together, it was electrical.  You have a room full of 17th century drawings, or a room of Egyptian sculpture, they all look the same.  But mixed, it is the differences that make them stand out.  The objects all shined on their own.

B: I’m such a bum that I didn’t see it.

S: You could go to that Met and go from room to room, DJ in your mind.

B: Yeah, somebody should make a map of the Met, a curation tour for other people.  Did you have a favorite movie of 2009? Throw a little pop culture in the mix.  Doesn’t even have to be from 2009.

S: I saw this movie Koko: The Talking Gorilla, an old documentary with beautiful Technicolor and it’s about this gorilla that was taught sign language.  It was really interested but a bit tragic because it lived with humans and learned how to speak and it became a creature, a species of its own because it knew how to talk.  It had an awareness that probably other gorillas wouldn’t have.  Abstract ideas like love and anger and “I’m sorry” and they created this creature that at the end was something very lonely and tragic.

B: That sort of relates back to how you were describe your work.  How it’s like taking something that is natural and then, like with sign language you’re making a hand gesture that is a symbol.  A symbol for a sound, which is a word that relates to abstract thinking.  You’re giving an animal a symbolic order.  It is in some way artificial because symbols are not naturally occurring things.  There’s this disconnect once the animal crosses the threshold in a way similar to your work.

S: Right, it creates a hybrid third place, it becomes this mutation.

B: Sign language is artificial, created as a system of communication.  Like you’re presented designed objects into a natural landscape.  Not necessarily a direct connection, but the ideas are floating around.

S: They swim in the same pool.  This movie is from the 70s, and everyone is a hippie and it’s in California and it is about progress.  Yet there is something so inadvertently sad and hopeless about this project because this woman’s life is devoted to this gorilla and the gorilla was yanked out of her pack and moved into this other life.  It became kind of senseless at some point or hopeless.

B: It was helpless because people did everything for it?  Could it not go back to its pack?

S: I feel like it was a point of no return.

B: It took a bite out of the apple of knowledge.  It learned human systems.

S: It entered the kind of relationships that severed it from its original people.  I was reading the other day about monkeys and language and some guy interviewed a chimpanzee for a newspaper, like "What is your favorite movie of 2009?

B: I hope it didn’t say Avatar.


See Sari Carel’s film “Cast & Bridge” at Momenta Art, 359 Bedford Ave, through February 1.



INTERVIEW: Geraldine Postel

Fabuleuses Turbulences entitled #1, collection of Amanda Obering

Geraldine Postel at Galerie du Singe en Hiver, Villerville, Normandy, France

Devon Dikeou: You haven’t shown in 15 years. How did you get back to making work and how did this exhibition come about?
Geraldine Postel: I didn’t expect to do anything with these pictures, it just happened that I took them as I was struck by a storm, at a special moment of my life, where the elements matched my emotions: I was equally devastated and inspired by the sky roaming above me. I really felt a special connection with my surroundings and at that specific moment, the sky and I were in tune, in synchronized revolutions. It lasted three hours, and I was literary blown away by the spectacle above, the strength of the elements, the rain pouring, soaking me wet, the thunder bursting everywhere . . . I was alternatively amazed and afraid, time had stopped.
I took these pictures as I take many others on a daily basis, when I feel a personal relationship to what I see. I keep some of the photos for myself or to share with close friends, and I throw the rest away. The next day as I was still reveling from the spectacle the night before. I realized how specific this moment was. I could not erase any of it, nor could I erase from my memory what realizations I had personally or visually in the process.
When I made these pictures, it was a true moment of decision-making and awareness. It was time for me to make a new step and take charge of my destiny again. I was convinced the voice of the elements reinforced my energy towards this new direction, although I did not think for a second that this was going to lead to my first exhibition in 15 years. In fact, I was terrified when the gallerist, Serge Perkowsky, proposed an exhibition a few months later at Galerie du Singe en Hiver, but I could do nothing but accept the challenge.
DD: Talk about the historic relationship the Normandy locale plays in your work.
GP: Normandy is my small paradise two hours driving distance from Paris, which I have a personal relationship with; I have been running there for shelter to a small fisherman’s house I have there—to escape the rhythm of Paris for the past few years. It is located between the cities of Deauville and Honfleur, but my home is removed in a small village on a very quiet beach . . . World War II bunkers leave two sporadic concrete shadows, and everything else is raw nature.
I love Normandy for the light, and the peculiar landscape of the shores, the wide movements of high and low tides which transforms the landscape constantly. This area has also inspired many creative types for centuries—writers, musicians and artists including Flaubert, Marguerite Duras, Eric Satie, Eugene Boudin, Monet . . .

DD: Talk about your relationship to the following artists. Say as much or as little as you like. Turner.
GP: Well, Turner is truly an amazing painter to me, he has painted countless seascapes and situations where the skies are amazing, he also was often inspired by the struggle of mankind to face the strength of the elements and its inherent fatality, with philosophical and historical references. It seems that a sense of tragedy is also recurrent subject. I could have a connection with Turner, in the movement of the skies and the landscapes themes, but I’d rather associate with Emmanuel Kant’s “Aesthetic Judgement”: I admire the beauty of the sublime as opposed to suffer from it.
DD: Monet.
GP: If there is a way to reproduce the light, the wind and capture a sentimental perception of nature and time passing by, Monet is a master. Monet was also very much inspired by Turner for the way he painted the fog over the Thames, and he did a large series of paintings on this subject. I have to admit that I found myself referring directly to the specific series of Monet’s paintings of the London Parliament, in which we see a tower fading in the corner. It was painted at dawn, and the tower dissolves in the night. It is very dark and Monet captures the accurate light of a landscape after sunset. I saw this piece again recently, as it is part of the permanent collection at the Andre Malraux Museum. The Museum is in the harbor of Le Havre, located in Normandy, and I went back three times to see it again. Monet was born in Le Havre by the way, that’s also where he painted Impression Au Soleil Levant . . .
DD: Veja Celmins.
GP: The natural phenomena reproduced by Veja Celmins are very interesting. Often I sense that emotions are somehow removed from the images, it feels like she is quietly witnessing the waves of life.
DD: James Sheppard.
GP: I have read the review in zingmagazine, but am not familiar with the work.
DD: Vik Muniz.
GP: I love the way images are decomposed with all kinds of accessories breaking it into sorts of large pixels and “a plats”. There is a lot of strength emanating from Vik Muniz’s art. It’s beautiful.
DD: Giasco Bertoli.
GP: I really admire him as a photographer and artist. His landscapes and all his work around cinema strike me the most. Somehow there is an incredible quietness in the witnessing, a raw capture with a distance from feelings, a sort of mind game. He also did a large series on clouds, in color, which are very light, playful and, of course, this book, Clouds Don’t Care, but this book does not have anything to do with my work. Things happen for a reason . . . I can say that among the many reasons that lead me to do this series, he had a direct cause and effect on my work and my life, and what followed from that.
I was alone when I took these pictures—I had stepped away from home for a long weekend retreat in Normandy. Without the need of stepping away, I wouldn’t have seen the storm. Without the storm, I am not sure things would have evolved the way they did soon after. But without the storm, I wouldn’t be answering these questions.
DD: Tiepolo.
GP: For some reason I have a hard time with the religiously inspired decorative painting. Most of it is so beautifully executed, and full of life and lightness, but I really have a strange relationship with it. It’s probably because of my religious upbringing, I’ve had enough religiosity from Catholic School . . .
DD: Why the iPhone medium?
GP: It was the only thing I had at the time. I have a strange relationship with photography. Every time I have made pieces involving the photographic process, I used the process and mediums current to the time—disposal cameras and Xerox machines in the ‘90s, and an iPhone today. Since I am not a photographer, I like to use these popular everyman devices as a medium.
DD: Why the necessity to make them into objects?
GP: The iPhone is too small of a format to show more than one person at a time. The enlarged format as it hangs in the gallery is beautiful as it is now. It is digitally printed on glossy paper, mounted on aluminum and covered with a Plexiglas. The enlarged pixels have a strong effect—it is almost Pointillistic. I wanted to make it into high gloss photographic wall piece, where the pieces show that they are neither a painting nor a photograph: they integrate codes from both.
DD: They recently discovered a new kind of cloud in Iowa and elsewhere and it was just someone taking pictures of the sky, somewhere near a tornado. I think the cloud form is called asperatus. Tell me your feeling seeing these kinds of clouds.
GP: I had to look it up on the web, I had no idea what asperatus were . . . But yes I think I have seen this kind of cloud, I continue to be impressed everyday by clouds and light . . . I am not a cloud expert, but find myself attracted to the cloud watch associations and all related websites, in fact the NASA website pictures are some of my favorites—that’s how much I like to look at the sky . . .
DD: Were your shots from this series just a one-time explosion of picture making or edited from a long ongoing series.
GP: All images were edited from a larger series, but they were all made during the same storm, on the very same beach. It’s also where I happened to have the exhibition. It all happened in Normandy.
DD: Do you try to see things in clouds, like children see a bunny?
GP: All the time, I see things in clouds, on buildings, in water, in shadows, in architecture, I see things everywhere as soon as I let my imagination go . . .
DD: Where do you see your work going?
GP: I have no idea . . . I have taken many more pictures since. Some of them I’d be ashamed to show . . . They were taken in a psychiatric hospital where I experienced a small journey after the storm in the Summer . . . And more clouds . . . But I also like to write . . . So I drift around and embrace the things that happen as they come . . . Let’s see where it leads to . . . I am a cloud . . .

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.