Saturday, October 14, 2017

Thoughts Left on the Page

installation view, Daniela Campins: In the Middle of This Frase, Eastside International (ESXLA), Sept 15th - Oct 20th, 2017

Part one of a series, working title: "Postcapitalist Painting"


To the outside world, it seems that Los Angeles’s cup runneth over with new art museums and high-end galleries. Some of these new, moneyed cathedrals of fetishized capital exist to present high-end contemporary art collections that include million dollar acquisitions by the likes of Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Richard Serra and Basquiat (Broad, Marciano). Others are sprung from real estate development riches (Main Museum), or are new incarnations of older, established institutions (ICA-LA). Without digging too much deeper, one could be forgiven for thinking that the art world begins and ends among these spaces and the new mega gallery outposts that are springing up along side them, affirming the legitimacy of the art within, in part, by their market performance (Hauser and Wirth, Spruth Magers, Maccarone, Matthew Marks, etc). The art exhibited at these places wins the public relations battle, and this side of the scene has its front to the world at large. But beyond the spectacle of this there is a community of established, working, contemporary artists at the ground-level in Los Angeles producing important work, despite little engagement with the moneyed side of the art world-industrial complex. A great deal of what they produce is painting. Such a great deal in fact, that some definitive currents and strategies have emerged among the painters of this community. What they all have in common is a direct and human-scaled approach – most of these works range in size from modest to minimally heroic; and a strong indexical sense of the presence of the artist themselves – as this work is not industrially fabricated in quantity by the alienated labor of technicians in warehouses but hand produced in the studios and studio spaces of artists who are more than likely maintaining a living alongside their practice that has little to do with the market demands du jour. Some of the overlapping aesthetic and conceptual groupings that have emerged among the work of these artists range from edge-to-edge intuitive abstract strategies, to more materially-based pattern and grid riffs all the way to deconstructed, figurative investigations and more.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Spectre (excerpt)

A spectre is haunting the art world – the spectre of all who have been failed by the rapidly irrelevant notion of “contemporary art”. All the powers of the old art world-industrial complex have entered into an unholy alliance to exorcise this spectre—galleries and collectors, curators and critics, museums and patrons: 

  • Contemporary art enters broad public consciousness almost only as a function of late/ advanced/neoliberal capitalism. 
  • Too many students of art are indentured by crippling debt, unable to join the economy or advance in society. 
  • Many of the schools that teach art are overpriced administrative cartels that exploit faculty labor at the expense of students who are regarded as little more than customers. 
  • The continued dwindling of governmental support, respect, or faith in the arts creates even fewer opportunities for contemporary artists. 
  • The metropolitan centers for contemporary art are almost uninhabitable without the wealth and resources available to the upper class. 
  • Small, mid-size and emerging venues and marketplaces for contemporary art are getting squeezed out of the scene, acutely reflecting the larger wealth and income inequality across the globe. 
  • The political response from contemporary art has been stymied by its own systemic complicity in the larger issues; many who are privileged enough to participate in art benefit from the status quo. 
  • There is a fundamental disconnect between the moneyed world of contemporary art and the less institutionalized scene of most working contemporary artists today.

On one end there are art stars, post-internet online celebrity artists, many commercial galleries, many corporate sponsored and private museums, the larger, well-funded art nonprofits, most collectors of contemporary art, art fairs, art auctions, online art sales platforms, much of the art world print media, the brandname art schools and programs, many professional curators, art advisors/consultants/buyers, writers, academics, and critics, and art book publishers. 

And on the other end there are artist-run initiatives, un-institutionalized or less institutionalized alternative spaces, small-budget, specific, and civic-run art non-profits and museums, working artists (artists with day jobs a.k.a. regular jobs), many state university art programs, community college and university exhibition spaces and museums, artist-curators and exhibition producers, online and social media based art writing and blogging, artist-run or alternative art study programs and independent art presses and publishers. 

The latter is all too familiar with, and has aspired to be part of, the former. The former appears barely aware or cognizant of the latter. The edges of the division are not precise, but the world of art of the 21st century is increasingly seeming like two worlds, the distinctions more felt as much as they are deduced by the participants. The motivations of both worlds are probably the same at heart (the wealthy were already wealthy when they got into art), but one side has its face to the world as the entire, official world of art and the other is easily viewed as trying to “sneak in”, hoping to not be mistaken for the help, as those of us on that side frequently actually are—preparing and shipping art work for exhibition, assisting artists successful enough to hire assistants, adjunct teaching art to communities the art world’s doors are not generally made known to at community colleges and public universities. These are often gigs that new MFA’s from the brand name schools aren’t typically caught doing, perhaps because they have been taught that they won’t have to—teaching first-generation college students about drawing and painting is not a representative ambition of such students of these professionalized programs. In such an era as this, the notion of an artist whose only self-imposed obligation to the world is the production of their own personal art practice can easily smack of self-indulgent entitlement at best, and oblivious abuse of developed-world privilege at worst.

Read the rest in the latest issue of Rabble, available for $5 from Insert Blanc Press

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Front to Back

Snow in the Desert, 2017, acrylic on canvas
Half-way between the vibrant exuberance of Rebecca Campbell’s images and Luc Tuyman’s clinical stroke-by-stroke reproductions lay the gliding, neutral toned figures of LA based French painter Claire Tabouret. In Eclipse, the artist’s first solo exhibition with Night Gallery, portraits and scenes are transcribed in a loose, assured line. The monoprints and canvases reveal a casual draughtsmanship unhindered by any photographic flatness. Despite the contrasting patterns that come together to form figures and backgrounds, every moment of detail in Tabouret's pictures is merely suggested. These suggestions contribute in different ways depending on the body of work. In the Frosty Morning depicts a figure in a coat, suit, and hat. More information would be required to make out this individuals face. This lack of info creates mystery; mystery invites narrative. The withholding of key bits of information is at work in Snow in the Desert and The Wanderer, both of which feature figures (characters?) whose backs are turned to the viewer. In other smaller portrait works, the suggestive line work serves to de-personalize the figures. The smears of paint across their lips highlight the interpretation of these largely imagined figures as more like mannequins than models. This is an engaging and wise riff on the notions of the subjects artists paint vs. literal “painted subjects” of models wearing cosmetics, and the problematic generation of images of them as mannequin-like objects.

Installation view of Claire Tabouret: Eclipse at Night Gallery, Los Angeles CA. Image from

The press release of the exhibition attempts to diffuse any viewer-generated narrative momentum by spoiling the ending in several of the works. The figures in the larger works and monoprints are characters from history, of various levels of obscurity and notoriety, and knowing a little bit of their stories imbue each scene with a poetic fascination. With this info, the turned backs, snowy scenes and desert wanderings dovetail into themes of isolation, obscurity,  and operating with one’s “back to the world”, to paraphrase Agnes Martin, one of Tabouret’s up front subjects and inspirations. The portraits and group scenes have their “front” to the world, and consequently seem less individualistic and more anonymous than the obscured figures of the other works. If there is an incongruity within the exhibition it is with the two group scenes, the titular The Eclipse and The Viewers. Both are reminiscent of earlier, more assured group portraits of debutantes, one of which was scene here in LA last year at SADE in Lincoln Heights. The anonymity of the faces in these two newer group scenes confuse their effect next to the smaller portraits, which make better use of such depersonalized blankness, their faces serving as canvases within the painting. 
The Wanderer (Blue), 2017, acrylic on canvas
In The Frosty Morning, 2017, acrylic on canvas

There are more aesthetic lineages at play in Tabouret’s work that reference some of figure painting's all-star team. Elizabeth Peyton comes to mind with some of the portraiture, and the visual wonder and abstraction surrounding the figures in some of the larger works has a Peter Doig feel. In some instances, Tabouret transcends the superficial qualities of her influences for deeper, more genuine effect. Functioning in all of the canvases is a disarming, restrained and informed use of neutral hues that serves to contextualize the images as having a life before they were references, and imparting a slower, more contemplative read. The paintings are apparently begun with brighter colors that are muted over time, and some of this higher intensity color remains in the monoprint works. Many of these articulate Tabouret’s themes better and more immediately. The mediation of the monoprint process contributes a beneficial layer of abstraction and simplified color that deepens and enhances formal cues of narrative, isolation, and mystery. While there are select passages in the canvases that glide with painterly insight, some of the monoprints’ entire compositions exude this quality. Delicate renderings of fleeting light and cast shadow just coalesce in these works, suggesting even less specific information than the paintings.

The Stains (Brown) 2017, acrylic on canvas

The Stains (Garnet) 2017, acrylic on canvas

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Accidentally On Purpose

Allison Miller, Bed, 2016, Oil, oil stick, acrylic and collage on two canvases 113 x 93 inches overall, 56.5 x 93 inches each. Photo by Jason Ramos 

Splotches, squiggles, stripes, deckle edges. The namable things in Allison Miller’s paintings exist just over and under the threshold of identifiable, representational imagery. Each of the decisions documented on her canvases are paradoxically imbued with both intuitive investigation and methodical consideration. Individually and as a whole, the works in her first solo exhibition at the Pit in Glendale, Screen Jaw Door Arch Prism Corner Bedassert an internal visual logic that defies immediate verbal articulation. However, the presence of the squiggles, grids and framing devices open her language up enough to prevent a completely hermetic system. Bold and graphic declarations of color, shape, and composition give some of the canvases, like Corner, Jaw, and Bed a flag or banner-like feel.

Jaw, 2016, Oil, acrylic, and collage on canvas,
 60 x 52. 5 inches.
Photo by Jason Ramos
Door, 2015, Oil, oil stick, oil pastel, and acrylic on canvas.
Photo by Jason Ramos

The squiggles are accompanied by a bold black stroke of paint and dual, taped-off "less-than" mathematical signs in the largest work of Miller’s to date, Bed. The work is a double decker stacked diptych that commands the entire back wall of the Pit’s next door gallery, the Pit II. Just like her imagery, Bed stands within an in between space, this time between painting and installation. The perspective of the room amplifies the visual destination of the canvases themselves, the angles along the floor and ceiling aligning with the sharp, sideways double-V signs, in turn reiterated by the freehand marks adjacent to them. Passages that seem dictated by controlled accident or chance subsequently reveal specific, conscious addressing of the drips, smears, and cover-ups upon closer reading. Isolated drips in the painting entitled Jar seem surrounded by force fields deflecting a spray of black and pink misted paint. Points of contact between red and green bacon-strips of paint on the left side of Drag Arch are emphasized with dark strokes that seem copied and pasted from the right side of the painting, where they are gathered together within a bright yellow trapezoidal field. Further inspection of the yellow patch recursively uncovers what could be more of those bacon strips on a microscopic scale, or perhaps very far away.

Screen, 2016 (detail)
Jaw, 2016 (detail)

Some of the moves, such as the aforementioned force-fielded marks, sideways V’s, and dark strands and squiggles, have occurred enough in her previous recent work to indicate an idiosyncratic lexicon going back to at least 2007. Denser, fussier compositions from the aughts have now given way to more open fields and a bolder, more striking juggle of higher-key hues. Light-valued grounds in a lot of the earlier work situated them within a drawing context that the work of Screen Jaw Door Arch Prism Corner Bed transcends with a more painterly all-over consideration of the format. Foregrounded linear elements still serve to organize and activate some of the compositions, such as in Bed, Screen, and Door, but in others, they now serve to accent and contrast the fields of color and shape, as in Prism, Corner, Drag Arch, and Jaw. All of this adds up to a slow, satisfying distillation of an abstract language that flirts with hipster nonchalance, but only upon first glance. Sustained viewing is rewarded by unexpected formal revelations in each work. These revelations make Miller’s decision and process available to the viewer, and invite a deeper kind of seeing and use of simple, abstract elements. 

Drag Arch, 2016, Oil, oil stick, acrylic, and pencil on canvas 60 x 58 inches. Photo credit: The Pit, Glendale, CA

Screen, 2016, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 inches. Photo by Jason Ramos

Friday, October 14, 2016

Hand–Eye Coordination

If there's an odd familiarity to this installation it’s probably because Holy Mountain was an influence, as it mentions in the exhibition statement. Transforming the space by activating the floor is in Polly Apfelbaum’s wheelhouse, but in Face (Geometry) (Naked) Eyes, Apfelbaum deftly activates the perimeter and other parts of the space as well. Bold, primary, formal choices dominate overall, such as the stripe which frames a diverse series of wall mounted ceramic pieces. These eccentrically shaped ceramic paintings contribute multiple layers of contrast and linkage throughout the installation. The rough, intimate, individual quality of the ceramic pieces pop against the immaculately designed hard-edged environment. This also connects and contrasts the hand-woven floor pieces designed and produced by Apfelbaum with weavers from Oaxaca, Mexico. The back and forth is amplified by the handmade ceramic beads suspended over the rugs. Each bead seems indistinguishable from one another until closer inspection reveals the unique, organic form of each one.

The ceramic paintings presented here highlight an intersection of ceramics and painting that is a recurring interest in the current moment. Allison SchulnickMary HillRy Rocklen, among others have made use of clay’s materiality, presence, indexicality, and evidence of the hand to present objects that have undeniably painterly qualities. Apfelbaum’s wall mounted pieces read as shaped abstract works, faces, paint palettes, open books, plates, dishes, personal pan pizzas and more. The extensive sampling of these particular, tactile, craggy, bubbly, expressive works give viewers an opportunity for detailed, close-up looking. Face (Geometry) (Naked) Eyes as a whole is best taken in from wide angles, and the arrangement of rugs encourages this vantage point as viewers are forced to the perimeter (though there is the option of walking on the rugs with booties). 

The wooden wall pieces mounted in the back area come up a bit short. They are almost invisible from the entrance, blending in with the deep red background they're set against. Upon discovery it’s easy to see their formal and conceptual links to both the ceramic paintings and the rugs, as well as the satisfying level of craft they embody. Though their camouflaged placement within the gallery also gives them the feeling of being tacked on, like an afterthought.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Groupthink pt. 2

Maja Ruznic
The Wind Was Not Behind His Back, So the Finger Trees 
Took It Upon Themselves to Propel the Fella Forward, 2016 
Scott Anderson, Room For Voodoo, 2015

Conveniently next door to LA Louver in Venice, Phantom Limb at Shulamit Nazarian explodes with color and strangeness. Similar to Olimipia’s Eyes at Zevitas Marcus, this exhibition benefits from a focus on the figure, despite a touch of aesthetic homogeneity. There is clear affinity between Scott Anderson’s neo-Fauvist canvases and Maja Ruznic’s fluid, feverish visions. Both artists’ work gush with seductive jolts of contrast, hue and figurative suggestion. Glimpses into Trenton Doyle Hancock’s dense intricate world augment notions of the figure ascending to the status of character. These notions are followed through with the illustrative pictures of Wendell Gladstone. The slick literalness of Gladstone’s canvases perhaps closes the figure-character gap too much, considering the formal ambiguity present in the rest of the exhibition. May Wilson’s simple and affecting sculptures stand on the precipice of a kind of intriguing liminal anthropomorphizing. The lines and gestures of each piece read as limbs and stances, ciphers for uncanny, alien presence.

We Like Explosions, at The Pit
The exhibition We Like Explosions at the Pit in Glendale finds the space completing another stage of its evolution into an artist-initiated and run commercial gallery space. Since the Pit’s inception, the curatorial eye of artist-owners Adam Miller and Devon Oder cuts like a laser beam with frequently arresting, energetic exhibitions. Of note in We Like Explosions are two canvases by the frequently copied but rarely matched Allison Miller. Both paintings reveal passages of simply phrased and nuanced space. In Head/Edge, repeated clouds of hair lazily drift over line work that manages to carve sharp contrasts of depth despite the casualness of the marks and deliberate highlighting of the edges of the canvas. In the painting Calendar, the repeated elements are arrayed among a complex hierarchy of spatial layers that dazzle the eye and brain with impossible patterns and illusion. Sculptural wall pieces by Erik Frydenborg, Nick Kramer and Nora Shields extrude their formal presence toward the viewer for effects that alternate between sensuous and tactile.

Uncommon Ground at FOCA
Tucked away upstairs in a Chinatown plaza, the Fellows of Contemporary Art maintain a space that currently features Uncommon Ground, curated by Kate Whitlock. All of the works in the exhibition extend into different kinds of spaces – physical, pictorial, and the literal space of language, as the curatorial concept finds artists responding to each other’s studio practice to “familiarize themselves with each other’s body of work as it pertains to the alphabet.” This simple connecting thread results in a subtle formal link that unites the work to positive effect while maintaining the integrity of the different object-based strategies, preventing it all from seeming like the same artist. Molly Larkey’s precise painting armatures extend from the wall carving voids out of the viewer’s physical space and appear to be trying to make contact with the arch form of Julia Haft-Candell’s Arches blob in blue and burgundy. This kind of tight physical echoing occurs on scales big and small. The subtle bits of applied paint on the linen of Larkey’s The Not Yet pieces seem to be blown-up and magnified in Lindsay August-Salazar's large abstracts on burlap. August-Salazar’s pictogram entitled works provide bolder contrasts and sharpness that complement the pastel haze of the rest of the exhibition, with Feodor Voronov’s powerful abstract cluster serving as an aesthetic bridge. Voronov wisely jumbles the work’s title within the composition beyond legibility, allowing the painting to be read over the hidden word.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

David Brenner

Jason Ramos, David Brenner, 2016, oil on canvas, 24 x 36 inches (61 x 91.5 cm)
I can't recall my earliest memory of David Brenner, but I knew he'd been around for a while. Every clip he was all lapels, gold chains, and big hair, firmly placing him in the 70's. It was obvious from his age and the reverence toward him that he was the primary influence on a style of observational humor that eventually came to be identified with and popularly epitomized by Jerry Seinfeld. Brenner's heyday was right around when I was born; his 158 appearances on and guest hosting of Carson's Tonight Show made him a household name and presence back then. When I was a bit older in the 90's, I was able to glean that he had been taking a long break from showbiz to deal with a child custody issue. I distinctly remember his comeback stand-up special on HBO in 2000, with its Goodfellas style promo. As I recall he went on stage with a copy of USA Today and improvised jokes from the headlines. I also remember he got married again on stage at the end. My favorite David Brenner joke goes something like, "I hear they're making a pill to cure gambling addiction – c'mon, what are the odds?"