Thursday, March 1, 2012

Exquisite Poop: Blind Reproduction (My first NY opening!)

Exquisite Poop: Blind Reproduction

March 10 – April 15, 2012
Opening Reception Saturday, March 10, 6-9pm
Live performance by Abacus Jones 8pm
$10 voluntary donation / Refreshments served

A Gathering of the Tribes
285 East 3rd St. 2nd Floor (Between Ave C & D, near F at 2nd Ave or Delancey/Essex)
New York, NY 10009 (212) 674-3778 /

Original: Mine (Carly Bodnar)
Description: Casey Plett
Reproduction: Lorra Jackson

You are cordially invited to what may be the very last art show at Tribes. Inspired by the different descriptions Steve Cannon’s visitors would give of the art on the walls, and by taking the blind professor to art openings, curator Janet Bruesselbach organized an elaborate art and writing project between 13 artists and writers. It aims to consider the subjectivity of attentive visuality in art writing and the absurdity of symbolic imagery.

The artists were invited to contribute a small two-dimensional work, and commit to another. Images, titles, size and media information were then assigned to the writers, who were charged with describing the art as thoroughly and sincerely as possible. These descriptions were nearly randomly assigned to the contributing artists, who were tasked with recreating the artwork they thought the writer had described, without knowing the artist or seeing the original image.

The first stage of translation from visual to verbal varies hugely in style and focus, even given stylistic restrictions. The artist’s job is even harder and even more subject to the variations of personality and style. Not only was it hard to communicate the most basic aspects of artwork or even the rules of the game, the variations in series are indescribable. The resulting illustration of mis/communication varies from wondrous to farcical and demonstrates the impossibility of translation.

Participating artists: Alexis Duque, Lorra Jackson, Brian Elig, Blair Kamage, Carly Bodnar, Robert Scott, Joseph Materkowski, Samuel Bjorgum, Lauren Kolesinskas, Jessica Daly, David Hollenbach, BMIP (Babyhead), and Nick Musaelian

Participating Writers: Allison Moore, Maddie Drake, Josh Crowley, Jenny Bhatt, Casey Plett, Kaitlin Heller, Adam Kavulic, Zane Hart, Matt Keeley, Amanda Spitzer, Jon Boulier, Ammon Ford, and Chris Heffernan


In other news, I scored passes to both the Scope and Armory art fairs. A picture-filled post will hopefully be forthcoming.

Friday, February 10, 2012


All my paintings, or at least the ones I consider the most successful, go through a stage where I completely hate them. The ones that make it from idea to actuality without passing through the hate zone just seem to be missing something. Maybe it's just in my own interpretation, because I haven't "fought" for it, but maybe it's from the lack of physical buildup of markmaking that results from reworking a piece or obscuring the surface, turning it on its head, and nearly starting over. (There was a period where I literally was spitting on my paintings during this part of the process. Talk about hate.) The easy paintings, the ones that don't feel so hard-won, make me a little wary, like the early stages of a new relationship. We haven't been through shit together, we haven't worked through the flaws, so I'm not sure it's worth it yet.

That's not to say that the hate phase is pleasant. It sucks. It's full of self-doubt and standing face-to-face with a painting so ugly that I can't not do something about it. But that's the genius in it. Without that freedom to try something, anything -- why not, there's nowhere to go but up -- and see where it goes, I get stuck in preciousness. I get so caught up on the good bits, fall so in love with them that I can't bear to lose them. Even when it's clear that the painting as a whole just isn't working and needs something drastic, I'm afraid to let the sweet spots go. Perhaps this comes from a doubt in my ability to make anything quite so perfect again. I desperately want to save a copy, so that if I completely, irreparably screw it up, I can revert back to my last saved version.

But that's not an option, and won't be, by virtue of the medium. And despite the unpleasantness of the fear and the self-doubt and the clinging and the feeling stuck, that's one of the things that attracts me to it. It's part of why I have a hard time with the idea of digital painting; the potential for failure is essential.

The current painting in progress is stuck in that clingy, fearful, pre-hate phase. There are a few real sweet spots, glimmers of what it could become, but it's absolutely not there yet. I have no choice but to push it through the hate phase. If I've learned anything about my process, it's that momentum is a big help. So, the plan for tonight is to rush headlong into ugly, to obscure and destroy, drip and splatter -- and to have faith that the painting and I will come out the other side stronger for our trials -- until I have no other choice but to fix the mess I've made.

Sweet spot. In memoriam.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Unwilling Feminist. Or, dealing with the role of gender in one's own art.

I hopped the Metro-North up to New Haven yesterday to attend Yale's MFA Open House. On the way back, my tired mind inevitably wandered to the topic of my own artwork. It looped idly around the whats and whys, contextualized by having just visited a dozen studios of first-year MFA students as they approach the end of their first semester in the country's top painting grad program. My conversations with them tended toward a discussion of their work itself and how its direction is changing since coming into the program, the where and when of their undergrad, and the portfolio and interview portions of the application process. And so I was left pondering how the disparate tangents of work that I'm making and brainstorming (the bodyfolds, the babies, the dress paintings) make sense together as a body of work.

This isn't a new rumination, by any means. Since mostly abandoning my previous 'style'/approach, I've been trying to let myself paint whatever it is that attracts me, without [too much] judgement. There have been ample fits and starts and dead ends, though, leaving a wake of scattered ideas and unfinished pieces. How to bring it all together into something cohesive and application-worthy (whether for grad school or another opportunity) is something I'm often trying to figure out.

Bodyfolds 1
Oil on canvas, 23"x23"

Baby #3: Dexter
Oil on canvas, 17"x17"

This train of thought keeps bringing me to the same conclusion: I seem to be painting about "women's issues." And every time I reach that idea, I'm quite taken aback. Surprised, and dare I say, appalled. And then I'm a little horrified or embarrassed at my own reaction. Is it really so horrible to think that I might be painting about "women's issues," whatever that means? Is the thought of being a feminist artist so terrible?

No, of course not. But it's not something I identify with, either. I've never considered “women's issues” or feminism at all central to my existence or philosophy, perhaps to the chagrin of the women around me. I have been content to essentially see the world as somewhat ungendered, or to accept and live by "men's" rules (and often, to win by them, at least according to my own scorekeeping). The way I see it, I am a body but I don't feel like a terribly gendered body.

Except when I do feel like a terribly gendered body, which of course makes me incredibly anxious. And my paintings tend to come from a place of anxiety. If the challenge is now to figure out the underlying impetus of my imagemaking (rather than what the images themselves have in common, which worked for me in the past) then maybe there's your answer.

So, now to deal with this idea that I might be painting about "women's issues" or making "feminist art" or something along those lines. I think one problem I have with owning those sorts of statements is that they feel incredibly universal, whereas I'm intending to make work about the personal. I'm primarily just sorting out my own shit here; if it's relevant or resonates with someone else, that's great, but ultimately it's secondary. I identify more closely with the multitudes of artists who use personal mythology, psychology, and narrative as content. Furthermore, there's some frustration over the tendency for the question of gender to always be brought up in the context of women's work, but not in a man's.

Help Is Not Appealing
Karla Black, 2010
Sugar paper, chalk, spray paint, ribbon.
“It bothers me that only women's work is gendered. I wouldn't mind these questions if male artists were also asked them.” - Karla Black, interviewed in Modern Painters, October 2011
But I also wonder if that tide might be turning a bit. Both Andrew Salgado (whose show, “Anxious,” was up at Tache Gallery until just today, I believe) and Aaron Smith are working with ideas about masculinity and its portrayal in a way that seems akin to how some women artists who really own their feminine or feminist content have been dealing with those issues.

Untitled (After Bataille)
Andrew Salgado, 2010
Oil on canvas, 40"x36"

Aaron Smith: 2011
Oil on panel, 60"x48"

In examining my work, where it comes from, and where it fits, I think what is closer to the truth is that it comes out of my failure or refusal to embrace women's role(s). The bodyfolds paintings definitely arose out of a tense relationship with my own flesh. The baby paintings arose out of my anxiety (and if I'm totally honest, my attraction/repulsion tension) over children and childbearing. The dress paintings started with inklings of feminine costume or artifice -- quite literally the "trappings" of womanhood? -- perhaps involving mother-daughter relationships and coming-of age rites, and are now shaping up to have something to do with a feeling of foreignness in my own skin.

Lastly, part of my rejection or discomfort over where or whether my art might intersect feminist art comes out of the fact that I'm almost wholly uninformed about the whole thing. Feminism and art? I have no clue, really. I was at the Brooklyn Art Museum a few weeks ago with a friend, where we saw the Dinner Party and got into a discussion about its merits or lack thereof. All I could really say is something like “well it's art-historically important.” I have embarrassingly little knowledge of that whole realm, both historically and whatever may be going on contemporarily. Luckily, to fix that, I just need to read up.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Histories, Arcs, and Works in Progress

Composition/idea/approach exploration sketch for a project I've been referring to as The Dress Paintings.
Pastel pencil on kraft, 9"x12"
November 2011

Sometimes I'll do a sketch or work through an idea only to realize later that I'm pulling from ideas I've already seen or worked with and forgotten about.  This has been happening a lot lately.

Here, a sort of simultaneity/non-linearity of time, explored through a montage of arms and hands, using photographic references but creating composites by hand rather than digitally.  The result sparked a memory of a hand montage from over 6 years ago.  Recurring imagery for me, apparently.

Montage of Jason's hands
Ink and oil on bristol paper, 11"x14" (?)
June 2005

Also, no doubt influenced by the Jenny Saville show at the Gagosian, where she composited drawing atop drawing, redrawing/correcting portions in addition rather than in substitution.

Installation view

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Wild sparks like fireflies

I'm not the only one looking at balloons...

Robert Jackson, Balloon Race
oil on linen, 48 x 48 inches

Robin Willliams, Place Holder
oil on canvas, 48 x 54 inches

Sunday, September 4, 2011


I've recently developed a slight obsession with balloons. Basic party balloons from the dollar store. Quite possibly because of the image from two posts ago with the arms wrapped around that big balloon-like thing. But also, maybe, because at our cramped corner dollar store the party section is right at the door, so all of a sudden balloons are literally on my radar.

(They've actually been on my radar intermittently for years, in experimental sculptural/installation work that I failed to document. At the time, I wasn't really taking it seriously because "I don't do sculpture." I've been kicking myself pretty hard for the past month or two. Lesson learned.)

They've become this vehicle for working through ideas, at least in my head, showing up in two recent proposals/applications. The idea is that I'll use them as still lifes to draw from directly, and also as photography subjects to build a collection of images to paint from. Sort of like taking the Of Flesh and Fruit project all the way to fruition in paintings. But I'm still figuring out how to work with them adeptly in real life.

Balloon still lifeBalloon still life, close up

Right now they're getting pinned to the wall of the studio in joyously cancerous little clusters. They make me think a little of Ross Bleckner's early stuff (who, by the way, has been letting Art Blog Art Blog use his Manhattan studio space for gallery shows while he's at his studio out in the Hamptons or wherever).

Balloon study 1Balloon study 2

I've been doing some basic skill-building type drawing, just getting used to working from life again instead of just out of my head or from a flat image. What's coming out isn't exactly prodigious, but at least I feel like I'm getting somewhere.

I feel like there's something right around the corner as far as the work is concerned. I feel like I'm on the verge of finding something really fruitful, this thing that maybe I've been looking for all along. And then I get swallowed up momentarily by this worry over whether what I'm doing is worth doing at all. And then I realize that maybe this feeling, this being on the verge and wondering if it's actually there, maybe that's what this whole thing is about. Maybe I just need to get used to that feeling, because it's certainly the most purposeful and excited I've felt in the studio in quite a while.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Experiments and Developments in Studio Furnishings

Note: If you're looking to read things about the mysical/revered/ineffable creative process, there won't be much in this post for you. If, on the other hand, you geek out over minuscule technical developments and love seeing how other people function on a practical level in their studios, then read on!

The first big deal in the studio is that I replaced my many-years-old Liquin squeeze bottle solution. Backstory: I love Liquin, but I like to get it in the big 1-liter glass bottle, the top of which gets all gunked up over the course of opening and pouring and closing repeatedly. Plus, you have to shake it like an uncooperative ketchup bottle. I actually emailed Winsor & Newton a few years back, asking if they knew anything about Liquin's interaction with plastics, as it's a petroleate. They had no idea; I was on my own. So I got a squeeze bottle made of that sort of gummy soft plastic. And it worked fine, for a long time.
Old Liquin Bottle (Deceased)
Old Liquin Bottle (Deceased)
There was clearly some air communication through the walls of the container, causing a skin to form, but in the basement studio, where the temperature was really controlled and the air a bit humid, it wasn't much of an issue. Scene change to NYC, cue heat wave. The skin formed so fast that it was just a waste, and then the squeeze bottle split up the side in a final throe of death.

In search of a new bottle -- and quickly -- I came upon an almost-empty ketchup in the fridge, contained in the new Top-Down bottle from Heinz. Thank god for food packaging innovations (I'm only half sarcastic here). It's kind of perfect. The plastic is rigid, not gummy, but squeezable. (I don't know my plastics, but the recycle code on it is 1 and it says "PETE" below. Does that mean it's PET plastic? I don't know. I could probably google it, though. The previous squeeze bottle didn't have a code.) And of course it's meant to stand upside down so it's always ready to dispense. And it has a valve! Actually, the valve has been a bit problematic, because the Liquin has been wanting to separate lately, perhaps because of the heat, but I'm finding a good violent shake does the trick. And the best part is: no skin has formed yet. Even through our patch of 100-plus-degree days. I think I've found a winner.
Heinz Top-Down Ketchup BottleHeinz Top-Down Bottle Repurposed as Liquin Dispenser
Heinz Top-Down Bottle Repurposed as Liquin Dispenser

Second on the list of neat experiments is a custom oiling-out formula I put together. On the wallpaper painting, I was having a terrible time with glare on the darker edges. Even using my photographer's even lighting we couldn't get it to photograph sufficiently well. Furthermore, this is one of those things that I just have to troubleshoot because it becomes a problem on all my work. Not having had a very good technical painting education, I hadn't heard of oiling out. But, thanks to YouTube, I had subscribed to Gamblin's feed, and they had recently put out a video on the topic. (I was on a YouTube kick for a while, so I watched that, and about a million other things, including Art21's new series, which is totally worth a look.) A good artist-friend of mine had also passed along the tip that Lavender Spike Oil was supposed to reduce shine on dark areas when used as a medium. So I hodge-podged together a recipe for my own oiling-out solution, hoping for a finish would be even and maybe a little satin.

Collection of Painting Mediums
Collection of Painting Mediums

    My recipe is as follows:

  • 1 part Odorless Mineral Spirits (1 small pour, maybe a tablespoon? two?)

  • 1 small lump Cold Wax Medium (lima bean size)

    Smash and stir til dissolved.

  • 1 part Galkyd

  • 1 1/2 or 2 parts Lavender Spike Oil

    Then you brush it on evenly and rub it in with a cloth (cheesecloth, ideally) using circular motion.

It definitely seemed to help considerably. Now the painting is at the photographer's again, and I'm awaiting results. She may still have to use polarizing filters to get it just right on film, we'll see. But I have high hopes. And already the in-person experience of it is improved, the colors glow and the corners don't glare. (Storing the leftovers in a tin can with plastic wrap, however, was a failure. I got a glass jar with a rubber seal for storing future batches.)

Development number 3 involved a trip to Ikea. The Brooklyn store is kind of a hell-hole, and that's not just because I'm partial to the Portland one. But we drove out over the Brooklyn Bridge, and coming back into the city the view was just beautiful, so the trip was arguably worth it just for that. It's funny to realize that there's a lot of the city I haven't actually seen, despite having traveled past/through it, because I'm so often underground. It feels like a strange treat to be in a car.

Anyway, we made the Ikea trip because I've had my eye on the Bygel cart since before I moved.
New Painting Cart
New Painting Cart
It's very compact, not too rickety, and only $30. Hard to argue. I also got some glass shelves to use as palettes. It's so nice to be mixing on glass again. Plus, I have my desk area back, now that my palette and brushes are all loaded onto the cart. I can't help but miss my old painting cart, with it's 4 swiveling wheels and hugeness, but for my current space this is a vast improvement.

The last and most recent development is that we finally got sufficient air conditioning installed to deal with this heat wave. And it's been glorious. I can finally paint without dripping sweat, and without my paint literally drying on the brush. Oh, a/c, how I love thee.