Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Conflict Resolution: An Exhibition of Work by Teddy Cruz and Pedro Reyes at SFAI

San Francisco, CA-- On Thursday, 16 October 2008, the opening reception for Conflict Resolution—an exhibition of work generated through an ongoing collaboration between architect Teddy Cruz and artist Pedro Reyes—will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Walter and McBean Galleries on SFAI’s 800 Chestnut Street campus. Free and open to the public (Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 11:00 a..m. to 6:00 p.m.), the exhibition will be on view from 17 October to 13 December 2008. The artists will also lead two Ideas for Iraq panel discussions—the first, Conflict Resolution for Iraq, occurring on Friday, 17 October 2008 at 7:30 p.m.; and the second, Design Strategies and Conflict Resolution (cosponsored by SFAI’s Design and Technology department as part of the Fall 2008 Design and Technology Salon), occurring on Wednesday, 19 November at 7:30 p.m.

For the last two years, San Diego–based architect Teddy Cruz and Mexico City–based artist Pedro Reyes have together been deliberating on, among a host of other interconnected matters, the relation between design strategy and social transformation in the age of globalization. Notably appearing in conversation in the pages of the November 2007 issue of Modern Painters, where they consider and actively invoke the power of nonrepresentational diagrammatic reasoning, Cruz and Reyes come together again, under the initiative of SFAI’s Exhibitions and Public Programs, to repurpose their “micropolicies” for transfiguring the socio-urban topography as resolution procedures for variously imbricated, ground-level conflicts, in particular, those obtaining in postinvasion Iraq.

Working neither from within nor from outside “the system” (the latter being to them every bit as bourgeois as the former is to the self-styled subversive), Cruz and Reyes seek to engage the hands-on problematic of a war-torn or otherwise-blighted urban landscape in what they refer to, after Herbert Marcuse, as “the mouth of the cobra”—that is, to engage it with critical proximity rather than distance. For instance, in no way endorsing the prevailing just-war doctrines promulgated by certain members of the US and EU intelligentsia, Cruz and Reyes nevertheless embrace the unsought but de facto opportunities for understanding conflict, mediation, and facilitation that have been brought about by the situation in Iraq. As with their collaborative ruminations on the alternative design trajectories made available in and by the Tijuana–San Diego border area (conventionally taken, from the planning and architectural perspective, as a promiscuous sprawling muddle), their reflections on how the war in Iraq was actually played out (“bottom up”), as opposed to how it was originally planned (“top down”), discover in the wake of calamity a palpable object lesson: conflict, and the dire wreckage of conflict, is, by its very nature, a base of operations for imaginative intervention and social and geopolitical negotiation—the kind of intervention and negotiation they mean both to explore and to instantiate through their collaborative project at SFAI.

Indeed, the swords-into-plowshares ethos that pervades Cruz and Reyes’s thinking is expressly thematized in a number of the works and ventures they will be exhibiting or actualizing within the physical space of the Walter and McBean Galleries or beyond it. Reyes’s call-to-action project Palas por pistolas (which literally translates as “shovels [in exchange] for handguns”)—a campaign to collect, from the embattled citizens of Culiacán, Mexico, some 1,500 weapons to be refashioned into shovels for the planting of trees—will be reactivated within a Bay Area context. Analogously, Cruz’s project in distributive justice as nonconformist cartography, McMansion Retrofitted, is a proposal—presented through videos, photographs, drawings, models, and maps—to “beat” an existing 8,000 square foot single-family suburban house into a mixed-use multifamily dwelling.

Consistent with its varied themes and methodologies—as well as with the curatorial strategies of SFAI’s director of Exhibitions and Public Programs, Hou Hanru—Conflict Resolution is coordinated and presented at the intersection of two of the principal components of SFAI’s Exhibitions and Public Programs.. The first, New Models of Production, contextualizes artistic creations against a backdrop of economic, industrial, and technical production under globalization while also investigating the concept of competing versions of modernity and the tension between developed and “underdeveloped” worlds. The second, Acting Out in the City, utilizes the galleries and spaces of the SFAI campus as points of departure for large-scale projects of urban intervention, conspicuously injecting artistic productions and awareness into public spaces.

Artist Bios:

Born in Guatemala, Teddy Cruz is a San Diego–based architect who researches and analyzes the urban transformation occurring on both sides of the US-Mexico border. Inspired by the dynamics of geopolitical, economic, and demographic division and negotiation, he studies the relation between architectural sites and the impacts they have on the production of urban spaces. He has also developed a series of critical strategies for innovative urban visions, especially as prompted by studies of the Mexican population. Cruz and his team at Estudio Teddy Cruz have proposed and realized architectural projects that emphasize social mobilization, the recycling of existing materials and conditions, and sustainability. His promotion of “informal” and alternative visions and strategies for city growth have been presented in such art events as the 10th Istanbul Biennial and the 2008 Venice Biennial’s 11th International Architecture Exhibition. His work was also included in World Factory, a group exhibition that opened in January 2007 at SFAI’s Walter and McBean Galleries. In April 2007, Cruz also lectured at SFAI as a Visiting Artist and Scholar.

Born in Mexico City, where he lives, Pedro Reyes works in a number of mediums, including installation, design, performance, and video—all with a view to social activism. Inspired by various “alternative” non-Western strategies for the production of lifestyles, urban spaces, everyday objects, and social relationships—strategies he finds to be more original and diverse than the dominant hegemonic models of the West—he considers his work a personal system for reinventing everyday environments and social relationships, extending the reach of limited natural (and artificial) resources as well as enhancing social solidarity. He has exhibited at such venues as the South London Gallery, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, El Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, Yvon Lambert Gallery in both NYC and Paris, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center (MoMA) in NYC, Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin, the Seattle Art Museum in Washington (USA), and the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University in Cambridge (Massachusetts, USA). In November 2007, Reyes lectured at SFAI as a Visiting Artist and Scholar.

SFAI’s exhibitions and public programs are supported in part by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund. Additional support and assistance for Teddy Cruz and Pedro Reyes: Conflict Resolution have been provided by the Consulate General of Mexico in San Francisco, the Bureau of Urban Forestry in San Francisco’s Department of Public Works, the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Protocol, and AIA San Francisco.

San Francisco Art Institute:

Founded in 1871, SFAI is one of the oldest and most prestigious schools of higher education in contemporary art in the US. Focusing on the interdependence of thinking, making, and learning, SFAI’s academic and public programs are dedicated to excellence and diversity.

SFAI’s School of Studio Practice concentrates on developing the artist’s vision through studio experiments and is based on the belief that artists are an essential part of society. It offers a BFA, an MFA, and a Post-Baccalaureate certificate in Design and Technology, Film, New Genres, Painting, Photography, Printmaking, and Sculpture/Ceramics.

SFAI’s School of Interdisciplinary Studies is motivated by the premise that critical thinking and writing, informed by an in-depth understanding of theory and practice, are essential for engaging contemporary global society. It offers degree programs in History and Theory of Contemporary Art (BA and MA), Urban Studies (BA and MA), and Exhibition and Museum Studies (MA only).

Links of Interest:



Art Scholarships & Bridge Art Fair

www.myartspace.com has created a scholarship program for students of artistic merit wishing to continue their education in an approved MFA, BFA or other higher level degree program (BA or BS in Art) for the arts. The scholarship is intended for students who exhibit exceptional artistic excellence. All mediums are accepted. Including, photography and video, both contemporary and traditional in nature. The scholarship arises from the commitment to supporting artists who are committed to their skill and development as an artist.For two years myartspace has been a key figure in availing opportunity in the arts on the web and in global events.

Myartspace is providing three scholarship prizes for undergraduate students and separately three scholarship prizes for graduate students. Creating an account on myartspace is free. Entering the scholarship competition is free.The deadline for registration and online submission of work is November 21, 2008. You must upload your JPEGS/videos into a myartspace online gallery. Up to 20 images can be submitted for consideration. Scholarship winners will be announced on December 19, 2008.

First Prize:

$5000 for undergraduate student
$5000 for graduate student

Second Prize:
$2000 for undegraduate student
$2000 for graduate student

Third Prize:

$1000 for undergraduate student
$1000 for graduate student

For more information: www.myartspace.com/scholarships

www.myartspace.com has also launched a joint competition with the Bridge Art Fair. Finalists in the Art Basel Miami competition will display their art at the Bridge Art Fair art Art Basel in Miami this December. The Jury panel for the competition includes Elisabeth Sussman from the Whitney Museum, Janet Bishop from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), JoAnne Northrup from the San Jose Museum of Art, and Michael Workman the founder of the Bridge Art Fair.

For more information visit-- www.myartspace.com/miamibasel/

Monday, September 29, 2008

Serrano’s (not so) Humble Investigative Triumph

Self Portrait by Andres Serrano

In some circles Andres Serrano is more known for offending religious groups and politicians or fueling the visual direction of a heavy metal/trash band than he is for being a ’serious’ artist. One could say that the controversy over his Piss Christ (1987) placed him on the art world map as well as the cultural map of the United States. The artist has photographed several works involving his utilization of blood, semen, and human milk. Serrano’s work made an impact throughout the 1990s-- though the positive and negative implications of that impact-- concerning public opinion of the art world and culture-- can be debated. For example, his past work-- involving semen and blood-- was featured on two album covers by heavy metal / thrash band Metallica-- a choice that received both praise and condemnation by fans and critics at the time. Since those years Serrano has found a new direction with his work… his own feces.

According to a recent interview with New York Magazine it took Andres Serrano twenty years to discover that his own feces was a viable medium for expressive purposes. He went on to say that he was “done with piss” twenty years ago. In the interview Serrano hinted that he has pushed feces further than it has ever been pushed before by an artist-- including Piero Manzoni . In fact, Serrano mentions that the character Borat is more of an influence to his fecal work than Manzoni. Andres Serrano considers his new body of work to be a “serious investigation” of the matter .
Serrano has went on to proclaim that he is “wise” for exploring feces as a medium and that other artists will envy his decision to explore that aspect of bodily waste in the way that he has. Oddly enough, my years as a mental health worker inform me that certain individuals have explored the creative capacity of feces as a form of expression much longer than Serrano has with his recent work and possibly before Manzoni’s Merda d'Artista (1961). That is not to suggest that Andres Serrano suffers from mental illness nor is it meant to suggest that Piero Manzoni suffered from mental illness… though psychologically I would say that Serrano-- just like Manzoni before him-- is very anal about his art.

It should be mentioned that Andres Serrano avoids digital manipulation within the context of his work-- so technically what you see is what you get, so to speak. His large prints are produced by conventional photographic techniques. While Serrano is most known for exploring bodily fluids he has also photographed images from morgues, burn victims, hate group members, the homeless, and “kinky’ portraits of couples. However, with his work involving urine-- including Piss Christ-- Serrano achieved widespread fame and infamy.
Serrano has long been a prime target for those who support the idea of a culture war in the United States and has been celebrated by strong supporters of artistic freedom. These responses are due to Piss Christ and the controversy that is still relevant today concerning the piece and its social implications. Thus, I think it is safe to say that Andres Serrano will be known more for his use of urine than for his use of feces-- regardless of how 'wise' or revolutionary he considers himself. Sorry Serrano.

On a side note, after hearing Metallica’s latest release, Death Magnetic, I think one of Serrano’s current images would have been an appropriate album cover. What can I say… I like Metallica’s pre-Load tracks. Sorry Metallica.

What are your thoughts about Andres Serrano and his art? Do you think that Piss Christ played a major role in the negative opinions that some people have concerning the art world? Do you consider Serrano to be an artist? Should supporters of artistic freedom give their support to artists like Serrano? Or is Serrano exploiting their good intentions? Feel free to comment with your thoughts.
Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Art and the Internet: The Artists Are Here. When will Galleries Participate?

Art and the Internet: The Artists Are Here. When will Galleries Participate?

The internet has quickly changed the way that we think about commerce in general. Anything you can think of can be purchased online. Today, businesses can be made or broken depending on the influence they have online. The art market and the selling of art is no exception as far as good business is concerned. Years ago predictions about the influence the internet would have on the art market were often scoffed at due to the early failure of e-commerce involving art. However, much has changed since those early years and several artists and art sites-- with an entrepreneur spirit-- have went on to sell millions of dollars worth of art since that early bust. One can find story after story of artists who struggled in the brick & mortar gallery scene only to carve out their future online by utilizing the potential that the internet provides. Blogs, auction sites, and art sites with e-commerce capabilities have given artists the tools they need in order to market themselves on their own terms without the need of traditional gallery involvement. The internet is here to stay and artists will continue to benefit from it. The question is… when will the traditional galleries and art dealers catch up?

It seems that with each passing month the press notes the fact that even the traditional structure of art marketing is changing as galleries and other aspects of the art world rush to catch up with what they observed as a doomed aspect of the market early on. The changes brought on my the internet-- concerning the buying and selling of art-- has been written about in major newspapers and art magazines. However, there are still certain aspects of the art world that has been slow to embrace these changes and the benefits they offer. Is e-commerce the market for the future as far as the buying and selling of art is concerned? That question may make an art critic, art dealer, or gallery owner laugh. However, one thing is for certain, it certainly seems that it has made an impact-- at least in the careers of artists who have embraced it.

People have called this change the democratization of the art world in that the buying and selling of art is within the reach of all artists-- instead of the relatively small number who are lucky enough to have traditional gallery representation. Self-representing artists can technically avoid the gallery scene all together by focusing on their online efforts. However, there are also a number of represented artists who have also embraced the internet in order to open up new avenues of commerce as far as the sell of their art is concerned. This is a power that artists-- for the most part-- lacked before the advent of the internet. Artists can now alter their marketing path by flirting with e-commerce or pave a new path that goes beyond the traditional art market by fully embracing e-commerce.

My guess is that traditional galleries, and others who deal in art from a brick & mortar setting, will need to adapt to these changes in order to compete. They will always have their place within the market as far as integrity goes, but tradition does not always equal continued success. As it stands, it is possible for an artist to make a better living selling his or her art online than the living he or she would make through traditional gallery representation. Artists combining both marketing structures will no doubt have the greatest benefit-- even if they are viewed as rogues by their peers who disregard the influence of the internet.

What I enjoy about this recent boom in e-commerce involving art and the many ways that artists have adapted to it is the fact that artists-- in general-- appear to be more open about discussing their work. For example, it is common for artists to discuss their thoughts, process, and methods on blogs. Art collectors and others who appreciate art benefit from this exchange. Artist/bloggers tend to give information that appeals to collectors by making the experience of purchasing art online personal even if no direct contact is made. Artists are able to keep in contact with past buyers in a personal way by blogging about their work and keeping a contact list of those collectors in order to send out new information. That exchange is remarkable. The end result-- due to e-commerce-- is an art market that benefits artists and informs collectors about the artists they are considering buying from.

Instead of focusing on the traditional art marketing structure, which often involves up to 50% commission and the burden of living in a city with great expense, artists online can avoid commission all together or discover a much lower commission by utilizing art sites that attract art collectors with their site traffic and the security of the e-commerce capabilities they provide. Artists can embrace this new avenue of art marketing from the comfort of their home no matter where home may be. In that sense, aspects of the traditional art market structure no longer has dominance as far as the success or failure of an artist is concerned. To put it bluntly, art dealers and gallery owners no longer have direct control over the ability of an artist to advance his or her career nor do they have the power they once held as to how successful an artist can be based on representation and exhibits. The ambition of the individual now dictates success or failure.

Traditional galleries and art dealers will always have their place in that they will continue to have access to a tight network of press and influential collectors who may or may not have a presence online. In a sense, they will always play a role in who enters the history books due to press and the acknowledgment that is rooted in it. For example, the art magazines will always cover brick & mortar exhibits in the hubs of the art world no matter what. One could say that the traditional art market will always influence the perception the public has about specific artists and their role within the context of art history. With that said, as the internet expands so will the consideration for what is historic and meaningful. Art bloggers, like myself, are already picking up on that by featuring artists who have yet to be featured or reviewed in a major newspaper or art publication. Eventually those barriers may very well be broken even if the gatekeepers of old are able to hold back some of the flood of change. There is always room for some aspects of tradition, true?

Art dealers and galleries should take notice of the changes around them. It has been suggested that many dealers and gallery owners are not paying attention to the success of online art auctions, e-commerce art sites, and the ability artists have had to build their own careers by utilizing the internet. Very few traditional galleries with websites have e-commerce capabilities-- in fact, many gallery websites are horribly outdated compared to the standards of today and the expectations of tomorrow. The decision to not expand in an ever-changing market is either bold or foolish. In other words, if traditional galleries lose their standing it is due to being stubborn and not embracing the technology of today while everyone else is. Frankly, the same can be said for newspapers and art publications who discredit the changes that have occurred due to the internet.

History tells us that in the past certain aspects of the art world felt that the buying and selling of art online would never be in reach-- that it would not work because buyers are not able to see the art in person. Many art dealers and gallery owners feel that only mediocre art is sold online. I’ve overheard that prejudice during discussions about the validity of selling art online. However, I know artists who embrace both the traditional art market and the digital frontier of the art market-- artists who have sold art online for thousands of dollars while their work in a brick & mortar gallery remains mostly unsold. Thus, remarks about artists utilizing the internet being mediocre is a sign of ignorance or denial.

Today e-commerce involving art is obviously working and will continue to work. Especially in a time when gallery owners are reporting a decrease in traffic as far as exhibit openings are concerned. Some have suggested that the decrease is due to gas prices and other economic factors. In that sense, exploring what the internet can provide is a question of economics and keeping a roof over the art they represent. Thus, I would think that now is the time for traditional art dealers and gallery owners to take notice and to embrace the change. Unfortunately, most tend to be stubborn on the issue-- a choice that may very well hurt the artists they represent and their business as whole when everything is said and done. Artists continue to reap the benefits of e-commerce and the rewards of maintaining a social network online while the majority of art dealers and gallery owners remain gridlocked on the issue.

The art market is changing in many ways due to the internet. It is foolish to consider it as just another trend-- it is a reality. The influence of the internet and the capabilities that the internet offers, such as establishing a large network of contacts, is a reality that every successful business must accept in order to maintain that success. At some point traditional galleries may have to embrace social networking online or risk failure. For example, it has been suggested that there is a new wave of younger art collectors that have entered the market. These young collectors are internet savvy-- they have experience utilizing sites like www.facebook.com and www.myspace.com in order to keep in contact with their peers. That is an aspect of the market that artists have tapped into by utilizing social networking websites and enhanced personal websites. One must ask, why are the brick & mortar galleries behind?

The implications of social networking online concerning art and the buying and selling of art is straight forward-- it does not take a business degree to understand it or to explore it as part of a marketing plan. Thanks to the internet it is possible for artists-- or gallery owners-- to discover art collectors on social networking websites or to be discovered by that youthful-- and influential-- market. For example, social networking art sites like www.myartspace.com allow artists to build a network of fellow artists, collectors, and curators. Myartspace allows artists and gallery owners to keep track of one another and inform people in their myartspace network about their career growth and exhibitions. These connections have helped artists to be accepted into brick & mortar gallery exhibits that they would not have otherwise known about. Traditional galleries should take note of that and benefit from the connections that are within their reach.

Traditional galleries and art dealers can benefit from having a presence online as well. For example, art dealers and gallery owners can benefit from having free profiles on websites like Facebook, Myspace, and myartspace. By utilizing these websites an art dealer or gallery owner-- or staff person-- can establish a network of ‘friends’ which will result in free advertising for upcoming exhibits when said network is informed of the event. Having a social networking presence also allows art dealers and gallery owners to observe potential talent with ease. The ability to contact emerging artists or mid-career artists who are not currently represented by a brick & mortar gallery is reason enough for an art dealer or gallery owner to consider utilizing the internet as part of his or her business model. It is a way for them to keep their gallery fresh with new artists when there is space available. In a sense, the art dealer or gallery owner who utilizes the internet and social networking sites can tap into talent before other art dealers and gallery owners have the chance. Thus, it is my prediction that art dealers and gallery owners who embrace the internet may very well corner that aspect of the traditional art market by leaving their peers and rivals in the dust and confusion of ‘what was’.

In closing, artists from all walks of life-- both unknown and known to the traditional art market-- are taking responsibility for their own careers by utilizing the potential of the internet. They are reshaping the business structure of the art world by embracing e-commerce and social networking. Many are making a living, or better living, from that activity. Some artists who have never exhibited in New York, Chicago, or Miami have a better presence online than artists who have stuck to the traditional route of art marketing. In fact, some of the artists who are well-known in those centers of the art world are practically unknown online. You can scoff at that statement all you want, but the simple fact is that content is King and the internet is the King’s castle. Art dealers and gallery owners can do the same. One could say that they must embrace it for the sake of their artists. The time for wishful thinking about the ‘way things were’ has passed. Welcome to art commerce 2.0. Don’t you think it is time to participate?

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor

Friday, September 26, 2008

Art Blog Buzz

Buzz from the art side of the blogosphere:
Still Life (Natura morta), 1951, Oil on canvas; 14 1/8 x 15 3/4 in. (36 x 40 cm) by Giorgio Morandi (Italian, 1890–1964). Museo Morandi, Bologna© 2008 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE Rome

Art News Blog
This week Art News Blog focused on the Giorgio Morandi at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Damien Hirst’s Other Criteria . Dion also asked, why do we create art?

Edward Winkleman Blog
This week Edward Winkleman discussed several topics. Including, some advice on
communication between artists and their galleries.

Modern Art Notes
Tyler Green’s Modern Art Notes explores the preservation of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty in a five part piece along with postscript.

Art Space Talk: Kris Knight

Kris Knight has concentrated on the creation of thematic series of figurative works. These series involve narratives that explore various expressions of duality and test the boundaries of identity. Kris’s visual compositions examine notions of performance inherit in all constructions of identity, whether sexual or asexual. Kris explores themes that often dealt with ambiguity and androgyny, with an emphasis on the notion of hiding and fronting. Thus, the portraits are often a balancing act of concealing identities and desperately wanting to let it go.
Mill Zombie/Prom King, oil on canvas, 22 x 28, 2008

Brian Sherwin: Kris, you have stated that you concentrate on the creation of a thematic series of figurative works with narratives that explore various expressions of duality and that test the boundaries of identity. Can you go into further detail about the thoughts behind your work and the themes that you explore?

Kris Knight: I start each exhibition with an overall theme and go from there. In a way, my work reads like chapters as each series has an intentional beginning and an end. The themes are bound by story telling, some autobiographical and others are made up. The majority of my work is narrative based, but I don't think each narrative is concrete. The duality of my work is that for the most part I am painting pretty pictures, but all of them have cracks, twists, and complexities that hopefully register with the viewer with further viewing. I think this notion applies to everyone and it definitely drives my work.

BS: What are the specific social implications of your work… as in, what context of society are you drawn to with the imagery you create?

KK: I like all things that are back water which totally isn't politically correct I know, but I like the simpleness mixed with the danger of being off the beaten path. The majority of my work is based in the rural, even though I'm in the largest Canadian city, I'm still very connected to life outside of Toronto. I find the country exciting, especially at night. There's a sense of uneasiness in the country because there's more freedom and less government. The characters that I paint are often outsiders, isolated by their own desire to be alone.

BS: Tell us more about the duality and juxtaposition of emotions in the characters you create… the line between content and bitterness, love and hate, good and evil…and so on?

KK: The portraits that I paint are often balancing act of concealing identities and desperately wanting to let it all go. I try to paint strong characters who are caught at the point before break down. Others are more mischievous. Their first glance beauty dissolves to subtle menace. I think all people have a little darkness in them, my characters surely do

Fur Strip, oil on canvas, 20 x 24, 2008

BS: And the exploration of sexuality within the context of your work?

KK: When I first started painting, my characters were really androgynous and asexual. I did a lot exploration in gender neutrality and the portrait, because I find that in today's society more and more people are comfortable with being who they want to be, rather than who they were raised to be. As I get older my paintings are getting more sexualized simply because I am more comfortable with my own sexuality. However, I hardly find my paintings racy, I think the sexuality is still underlying, even though my titles may not be.

BS: What about the role of place-- geographic locations-- involved with the characters you use as a narrative tool, so to speak. What role do the boundaries of their existence-- be it a city or rural town-- play in what you are conveying to viewers?

KK: As a kid, I went back and forth from being raised in a small town and being raised in the country. My giant imagination often got the best of me and I would wind up in forests and fields, especially at night. I see the country as a place that is more magical than it really is and in a way, this notion got me through growing up in the sticks. My paintings reflect this way of thinking, as my characters are often set in a nocturnal countryside that is sugared with magic.

BS: So would you say that your work is often a reflection of your own past and experiences as portrayed through the characters you create? In other words, are they a reflection of who you are or who you once were, philosophically speaking?

KK: I see my paintings as stories and many of them are my own. Some are based on memory and others are based on dream. Sometimes I gossip about others in my paintings, but gossip is still a method of storytelling. History wouldn't be the same without it.
Watchman (Don’t Come Around Here No More), oil on canvas, 16 x 20, 2008

BS: Having grown up in a rural setting… have you ever experienced any prejudice professionally as far as reactions from people, specifically other artists and art professionals, in larger cities when they discover that aspect of your past? I only ask because I’ve interviewed a few other rural born artists who have had experiences of that nature. If so, how do you face it?

KK: I don't think I have experienced prejudice professionally, but I've experienced prejudice personally, especially growing up gay in the country and not suppressing it. I'm not an academic, I'm not of wealth, I paint pictures that are personal to me and make a living off of it. I expose my creativity in a way that feels honest and I don't cover up who I am and where I've come from.

BS: My understanding is that you are preparing for a solo exhibit at Spinello Gallery in October titled So Long Scarecrow. Can you give our readers some insight into the work that will be displayed at that exhibit?

KK: So Long Scarecrow is a dedication to the lost friends of my old hometown. The guardians of tradition who never migrated for cities, schools, and travel, but rather, stayed behind to sow their own fortunes and shortcomings nonetheless. The young adults, who swiftly swooped up the town’s scarce employment opportunities, simply to be consumed by the hopeless redundancy of routine. The men and women who became adults so early, who filled their father’s footsteps, while half their classmates took flight for good come fall.
These are my scarecrows, my burned out youths (in more ways than one) who characterize so many of my portraits. Who thanklessly sustain withering communities from becoming ghost towns by staying exactly where they are. But life isn’t always tedious for my scarecrows. The smart ones find magic in the fields and forests that border their homes. Within these paintings mix stories of strength, exhaustion and isolation but not with out the magic and mischief that is harvest time.
Fuck Me and Marry Me Young, oil on canvas, 14 x 18, 2008

BS: Are you thinking beyond the solo at Spinello Gallery? Do you have any other exhibits lined up, so to speak?

KK: Yes I'll be having new work at the Miami art fairs in December and I'll be exhibiting in some group shows in Canada in early 2009. My next solo show is in June 2009 at Katharine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects in Toronto. It's called "Farewell Log Cabin" and is the second part of this series. It's going to be the sexy, dark and winterized conclusion of this series. I want to make winter sexy if that's possible.
You can learn more about Kris Knight by visiting his website-- www.krisknight.com. You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page-- www.myartspace.com/interviews.
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Stella Lai: Fat Children Ruined My Life

California artist, Stella Lai, will open her solo exhibition at the F2 Gallery in Beijing on Sunday, September 28, 2008. Please check out the details of the exhibition on www.f2gallery.com. I interviewed Stella Lai after being introduced to her work at the PULSE art fair in 2007.

Stella was born in Hong Kong. Her paintings have been described as so precise that they could pass for digital prints. Her work is influenced by the cultural environment of Hong Kong , which was returned to China in 1997 after 155 years as a British colony. By drawing upon her memories and knowledge of the architecture and language of Hong Kong , Lai has developed an installation of paintings that examine the city’s bipolar history and new status as a hyper-accelerated metropolis dominated by 21st century consumption.

Art Space Talk: Phillip John Charette

Phillip John Charette’s masks reflect old traditional Yup’ik cosmology with his own contemporary interpretations and some added twists. Phillip is a member of the Yupiit Nation in Southwestern Alaska along the Kuskokwim River, and is enrolled through the Bureau of Indian Affairs with the Alaskan Native 13th Regional Corporation. His Alaskan Native Yup'ik name is Aarnaquq which means "the one who is dangerous...".

The style of Phillip’s work is inspired by elements found in traditional ceremonial objects that he has researched in museums. Contemporary materials are incorporated for impact which help to convey ideas that he wishes to express. In spite of the fact that he uses contemporary materials, carving - a Yup'ik tradition - is incorporated in his artistic process.

Phillip’s work reflects who his namesake Aarnaquq is, acknowledges Aarnaquq, and allows the artist to follow in the footsteps of his namesake. Phillip carries on a new tradition of Yup'ik spiritual works. Utilizing contemporary ideas, materials, and stories, new traditions evolve and reach out to those listening and in need.

Gathering Place --This piece represents a gathering place or a place where people of different backgrounds and interests gather.

Brian Sherwin: Phillip, you hold degrees from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Harvard University in Education, Native Studies, and Administration. However, in 2001 you left your position in administration in order to pursue work as a full-time artist. What made you decide to take that change in direction, so to speak?

Phillip John Charette: I was working in an administrative position at the University of Wisconsin Madison when I changed directions. It was a stressful position with long hours, compromising my health. My doctor ordered me to leave the position and get out of administration altogether, change my lifestyle, and look for a new healthier career. I was told that if I did not change my lifestyle, I would be dead in less then five years from a massive heart attack. It is interesting how differently you look at life once you are given a definitive time line for the time you have left to live. Given the option, I followed doctors orders and relocated to a small town in rural Oregon.
Because of my academic background and experience, it turned out I was over-qualified for many positions I applied for. In the Winter of 1999, I took a beginning pottery class, which helped put me on the path to re-inventing myself. My work was considered high-level by instructors and other artists, which led to instructing three pottery classes the following Spring. With the encouragement of friends and families, I began entering art competitions, winning awards, and receiving more and more recognition as an artist. Thus, my career as an artist was born, and in 2001 I became a full-time professional artist.

Qucillgaq -- Qucillgaq is Yup'ik for Crane. This mask has special meaning between me and my Yup'ik grandparents. Briefly, it is a reminder not to be consumed by one's self.

BS: Phillip, you are a member of the Yupiit Nation in Southwestern Alaska. My understanding is that your tribal name is Aarnaquq. Can you discuss the traditions of the Yupiit Nation and how they are reflected in your work?

PJC: Yup'ik in our language means "Real Person" implying a deep connection to all things in the universe. As such, traditional Yup'ik cosmology is deeply spiritual, emphasizing our connection to all things tangible and intangible. There is a rich breadth of tradition in the Yup'ik culture, which is too much to answer here. However, I will speak to those that are most reflected in my work.
All traditional Yup'ik ways of being are intertwined with the spirit world and are reflected in our spiritual beliefs. For example, traditional Yupik cosmology believes in the reincarnation of spirit from lifetime to lifetime so that the spirit always continues. In my work, I paint many small white dots representing stars where ancestors and spirits freely move. I include hoops or rings, which represent the physical world and the spirit world interconnected. The red in my work, is a reflection of when our shamans used real blood in masks, creating doorways to the spirit world. Integration of spirit faces representing family members who shaped the spirit of the mask or sculpture are used. Many animal spirits show the interconnectedness we share with fellow creatures of the universe.
While there is much more detail to my work that, for the sake of space, I won't go into here, it is important to note that everything that I put into a piece has some connection to our traditional beliefs presented in a contemporary manner. Every color, embellishment, and detail bears special meaning. With each mask, those meanings are provided when they are on display or sold. Bear Tuunraq -- This bear mask was inspired by my father and the life he lived as a law enforcement officer. It teaches us how a strong and beautiful spirit can disfigured by the life it lead. The story goes with this piece and is for anyone who's strong and beautiful spirit was disfigured by the life it had to live. It reminds us to carefully think about the life path we choose. The life path we choose ultimately shapes the spirit we become and the spirit we must ultimately face.

BS: Can you go into detail about the contemporary interpretations of your work? Your work often involves a meshing of tradition with an added contemporary twist, correct?

PJC: Yes, my work is a reflection of many Yup'ik traditions, sometimes utilizing contemporary thoughts or ideas. More importantly, I use traditional themes while incorporating contemporary materials, pushing the subject of my work to the next level of fine art and illustrating the complexity of our traditional cosmology. Some of our elders have pointed out that the next generation of emerging Yup'ik artists need new technical and creative benchmarks. These benchmarks are necessary to move Yup'ik art and cosmology to the next level as they compete with many things in the contemporary world. So, I continually strive to push the art, technical level, and cosmology to the next level in hopes of capturing the spirit and imagination of our youth; encouraging them to move the spirit of the art beyond the level of my work as it evolves.

BS: Your name, Aarnaquq, means "the one who is dangerous...". I understand that your namesake is important within the context of your work. Can you explain this connection?

PJC: As a result of the traditional belief in reincarnation, it is the responsibility of the elders to look at the spirit that has returned and give back the name of that person from their previous life. This person is then treated as the person's previous spirit that went before them, carrying all the knowledge, responsibility, and wisdom of that person's spirit through their current life. My grandparents Cunar and Nausgauq, with other elders, remembered me, naming me Aarnaquq, treating me as their parent/grandparents, and giving me the same responsibilities. I am named after my great grandmother Aarnaquq and my great, great grandfather Aarnaquq who were both powerful healers on the Kuskokwim River/Bristol Bay areas. It was the responsibility of our healers (Shaman) to direct or make Yup'ik masks and all things spiritual. Dance or performance masks were used for many purposes, including spiritual ceremony.
When I began as an artist, I struggled with sharing, selling, and showing my work. At one point, I was at a crossroads with my work and the pressure to make a living from art bore heavily on my contemporary notion of what success is. I shared my distress with one of my elders and they became firm in both their advice and resolve. I was told, "You are Aarnaquq!...this is who YOU are...this is what you are supposed to do!...If you don't do this, Aarnaquq, who will do this and carry this tradition on in the way you are doing it and meant to do it!" With these words, I swallowed hard and realized what the body of my work represented; it IS my responsibility to my spirit and the spirit of the Yup'ik people to do this work. So, now every time I make a piece, I think of my responsibility as Aarnaquq to continue doing what I am supposed to do. In a strange twist of fate, I am doing what my spirit was meant to do from a "traditional" Yup'ik tradition.
Ullagait Anateng -- This mask teaches us of our responsibilities to our children to create a solid foundation for the future of humanity. This mask would be for anyone who sees the cycle of life as a continuous journey.

BS: If you don’t mind, can you discuss the spiritual aspects of your work? Is there a spiritual message that you strive to convey to those who view your work?

PJC: Most of the spiritual elements of my work tie into traditional Yup'ik ways of being and cosmology. It is difficult to speak of specific spiritual aspects, as that is the responsibility of our traditional healers. The Yup'ik elders identify who is qualified to speak of such things. At this point in my life, I feel that I am not qualified to openly discuss core spiritual aspects of Yup'ik cosmology,other then with Yup'ik elders. However, my work is very spiritual in nature, reflecting some commonly known spiritual themes.
Most of my work does convey strong spiritual messages, which people with diverse backgrounds can relate to. What intrigues me is the connection that people - from all walks of life - make with the meaning in my work. It is both powerful and humbling to see people make such significant connections to my work in their own personal and spiritual ways. I guess if I were to identify one unifying spiritual theme in my work, it would have to be that we are connected to all things in the universe.

BS: As for spirituality in art, some art critics suggest that there is no room for the spiritual in contemporary art-- that we have reached a point that it is no longer valid. I must ask, when you visit a museum, gallery, or even a fellow artists studio in order to observe contemporary works… do you observe aspects of spirituality within the art you observe-- even in works of non-native peoples? Would you say that all art contains some form of spiritual essence regardless of the artists intention? What are your thoughts on that?

PJC: I have to disagree with some of those critics. But then again, I think it is important to know what one's definition of spiritual is in order to disagree with this statement. My definition of spiritual deals with all elements of the human condition: feelings, emotions, conditions, and the energy we get and put into our lives and in what we share with others. With this in mind, a work of art that is only done in a technical manner may be free of anything spiritual from the artist, but does it make it spiritless? If an observer of fine contemporary art connects with some deep element within a piece [not meant to be spiritual], moving them completely and without intent, is the work spiritual or not spiritual?
I've done a number of shows with many contemporary artists from all walks of life and am fascinated at how much personal and spiritual meaning artists put into contemporary works of art. I was part of a traveling museum exhibit titled "Changing Hands II, Art Without Reservation," which traveled to many museums around the United States. Upon first glance, a number of the pieces were wonderful contemporary works of art with exciting and exceptional technical elements, not striking me as being very spiritual. However, during the opening of the exhibition at the Museum of Art and Design in New York, a number of artists were on hand to discuss their work; which is always an eye opening experience. I was amazed at the high percentage of artists who wove in personal and spiritual threads to their work.
For example, an fellow artist and I were discussing their contemporary piece that had deep spiritual meaning and was quite profound. It just so happened that a writer for an art magazine was eavesdropping on our Native to Native conversation and was quite taken by what the artist had to say about their piece. The writer simply stood stunned and said, "Wow, I would have never gotten the meaning of the piece just by looking at it....With your description, I now understand just how powerful and deep this piece really is!" So, the intent of the artist was to tie in a personal spiritual element, making the piece very powerful; whereas the initial interpretation of this piece by a critic was far from spiritual, with the critic looking only at the technical aspects and the composition. Just because a critic does not see the spiritual in contemporary art doesn't mean it doesn't exist or that it is no longer valid as defined by their definition of spiritual.

Throughout human history, contemporary artists [in each of their days], expressed the spirit of the human condition in many of the masterpieces now on exhibition in museums around the world. In my travels, I've had the opportunity to see a breadth of human expressions in art (some of which completely took my breath away) that are very spiritual in nature. As a Yup'ik artist, I see aspects of spirituality within all works of art from both Native and non-native peoples, perhaps due to my cultural and spiritual upbringing. More importantly, people from all walks of life (from diverse religious backgrounds) make their own spiritual connections to my work in ways I never intended.
To completely understand a contemporary work of art, I believe it is vital that the observer interact with the artist whenever possible to make a complete connection. I believe that all art is interactive and dynamic, expressing the spirit of our human condition and connecting us to something deep within ourselves: our spiritual essence. I believe that those who live a connected life (in whatever spiritual way they choose) will experience the spiritual connection in the processes of life, and their interconnectedness with life and art. Those who live as vapid travelers disconnected from life and emotion, well lets just hope that they find some happiness in their life...but not as critics.

Wold Mask -- Symbolizes the connection I made with a wolf in the Brooks Range Alaska. A memorable connection with a beautiful and large wolf when I was hunting with my family along the Yukon River. Note: Additional feathers have been added since this photo was taken.

BS: In your opinion, why do we need to seek the spiritual in art?

PJC: The spiritual has been in art since the first cave paintings were made. Traditional Yup'ik art was functional in the sense that it described what could not be seen: the physical world, and the life we share this world with in the natural environment. Traditional art provided a foundation for all of our spiritual beliefs, expressing the spiritual elements we live with. The function of traditional Yup'ik art provided our peoples with guidance, power, protection, and wisdom. It also answered questions about spirits, human beings, other creatures, the natural world, where we are, and where our spirit will go.
Again, throughout history, we've needed to express the spiritual in art as it connected us to the core of who we are, where we are going, and where we will go as terrestrial beings. To say that there is no room for the spiritual in contemporary art is like saying that there is no room for the human condition in art! If this were the case, then machines should take over the production and appreciation of art.
This mask teaches us about selfishness, greed, love, and fairness. This mask would be appropriate for anyone who pursues something without regarding the consequences to others and - in the end - to them selves.

BS: Tell us more about your work… specifically your mixed media sculptures and Yup’ik masks. Perhaps you can describe some of the methods of your process?

PJC: My mixed media sculptures and Yup'ik masks continually evolve in unexpected ways. They are complex composite works sometimes requiring hundreds of smaller pieces connected to one unifying theme. Some of my medium work may take months while other larger pieces sometimes take years to complete. On average, one of my larger pieces of work takes a year depending on the processes and number of techniques I use. My work includes, but is not limited to, wood carving, wood carving with a torch, wood bending, clay sculpture, fine work with porcelain, raku, horse-hair firing, fused glass, bronze work, working with found objects, painting, printing, bead work, metal smithing, photography, and a variety of finishing techniques. I incorporate so many techniques and employ newer techniques on a regular basis that it would be difficult to list them all here.

BS: One of your masks can be found in the permanent collection at the Portland Art Museum. I understand that it is located in the Arctic room. Where else can our readers view your work in person?

PJC: In Oregon, the Coos Art Museum, the Hallie Ford Museum, and Crow's Shadow Institute of the Arts all have my work. I do shows all over the US which include the Santa Fe Indian Art Market, the Eiteljorg Museum Art Market, the Heard Museum Art Market, the Washington State History Museum Art Market, the National Museum of the American Indian Art Market( NY & DC), American Concern for Artistry, and a host of other art markets, with locations found on my web site. My work is also at the Stonington Gallery in Seattle, the Freed Gallery in Lincoln City, the Northwest by Northeset Gallery in Cannon Beach, and the Carnegie Crossroads Art Center in Baker City. Commercial locations include The Brimstone Woodfire Grill in Pembroke Pines, Florida, and the Bandon Dunes Resort in Bandon, Oregon.

The Dance -- This single page triptych represents the dance of life. It was done using a traditional story knife. The story is told by a left handed person starting from right to left, inverting and continuing from left to right, inverting again and finishing from left to right. The symbol in the background represents life. Follow the traditional footstep symbols to read the story. Each piece is unique

BS: Can you tell us about your recent work? What are you working on at this time?
PJC: I heard both Ellen Taubman and David McFadden (curators of Changing Hands II) say that I've definitely developed my own style since Changing Hands... and that my style has become recognizable, having its own signature. As my work evolves, it becomes more and more difficult to identify the box it fits into, especially for judging and in competition at National venues. As an artist you are told that you need to push the envelope, stretching out to new frontiers of expression. Yet, the art Establishment constantly narrowly defines boxes that work fits into. What I CAN say about my recent work is that it fits less and less into specific categories and is sometimes very difficult to define. I find it humorous when entering art competition that I usually end up talking with the head judge who shrugs and says, put your art in the category that you think it best fits.

I am very excited about my recent work. Especially my recent prints. I just finished a print titled "Medicine" printed with a Tamarind Master printer at Crow's Shadow Institute of the Arts and it was a total winner; it is a mixed mono print, with 14 in the series. This print expresses what traditional medicine meant to Yup'ik people: having a shaman wearing different masks, drummers under the shaman during ceremony, the Kuskokwim mountains in the background, and an eclipsed moon showing a time of ceremony. These mono prints took several steps to finish and the process can be found on my web site under the prints page.

I entered the "Medicine" print at the Santa Fe Indian Art Market (the most prestigious Native American Art Market) which had a great deal of strong competition. "Medicine" was awarded a First Place Blue Ribbon for mono prints and the Best of Division for two dimensional works. When I returned to Baker, I entered it into the Eastern Oregon Open Regional Art competition and it took Best of Show.

My recent three dimensional work is also exciting. I have been fusing animals with human forms, making the human face the body of the animal. I've also pushed my finishing work to the next level and have been incorporating more precious stones. I want to incorporate more of my fused glass and would like to get a commission to do a large work in glass, bronze or a combination of the two. My recent work has a great deal of red and refined elements, which are traditional in pre-contact pieces. I am currently finishing work for a market at the Nassau Museum in New York this October.

Singing Spirit Masks -- These small mask represent spirits singing with full emotion. These masks are one of my signature pieces of work

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art?

PJC: “Aarnaquq Cegg'artuq!", The one who is dangerous is alive and awake!

You can learn more about Phillip John Charette by visiting his website-- www.yupikmask.com. You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page-- www.myartspace.com/interviews.
Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Art Space Talk: Chuck Avery

Chuck Avery has explored photography for several decades. Most recently he has been concentrating on documenting suburban growth and sprawl -- producing a series titled Landscape of Progress. He has also focused on a project that explores the artificial realities found in tourist attractions. He strives to interject political thought into his work without making it strident or dogmatic. The series was originally titled Architecture of Amusement and has since been titled Popular Culture. Chuck was one of the 50 finalists in the Myartspace New York, New York Competition in 2007. His work can be found in the collection of the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis, MN.

Landscape of Progress: Separation by Chuck Avery

Brian Sherwin : Chuck, I understand that the experiences of growing up in the 50’s and 60’s made a huge impact on your development as an artist. Can you discuss your youth and how influences of your early years can still be found within the context of your art today?

Chuck Avery: The obvious influence that I carry from that time period is an awareness of how politics and social issues are used to shape and mold public opinion. My biggest struggle as an artist is in finding an effective means to voice those concerns.

In high school, I was attracted to architecture and won statewide honors for some designs I came up with. I studied architecture in college for a couple years before landing a job in a small architectural firm learning the nuts and bolts of the business. You can find both influences up front in my work; in the political/social themes of my projects, and in the structure of my images.
Beneath the Surface: Ascent by Chuck Avery

BS: I understand that you studied at the Kansas City Art Institute. Can you discuss that experience? For example, did you have any influential instructors at that time?

CA: I went straight to art school after deciding I didn’t care for the Business of architecture. I had no background whatsoever in art at that time, so I was like a sponge for those three years, absorbing and loving every minute of it. I gravitated towards documentary photography, and was helped in developing my ideas and thinking by Gary Bodenhausen (instructor) and maybe to a greater extent by my colleagues in the photo department. It was a very fertile time.
I spent a semester on the road in 1976 doing an independent study photographing sightseeing attractions. From this I produced a two-volume book set titled (surprise!) Sightseeing. I have picked this project up again after 25 years and am currently working on it with new ideas and perspectives.

BS: At what point -- before art school-- did you find interest in photography? What attracted you to photography compared to say, painting? Did you always have interest in art and in expressing yourself visually?

CA: I’ve had an interest in photography since I was an eight year old with my first Diana camera, taking time exposures of taillights streaking by in front of the house. It was a natural attraction sparked by curiosity of what the possibilities with film and a lens were. My creative impulses never translated to anything else other than model cars at that early age. It wasn’t until I packed off to art school at the ripe age of 22 that I discovered and locked into my very own personal muse.
Americana: Its You by Chuck Avery

BS: What can you tell us about your other influences? Where do you find inspiration, so to speak?

CA: My main influences have been photographers: Walker Evans, Louis Baltz, Stephen Shore, Robert Adams and Lee Friedlander. Walker Evans made it clear to me that social and cultural issues can be effectively and poetically addressed with astute observation. Shore opened my eyes to the use of everyday color. Friedlander redefined the boundaries of the frame, giving a new freedom to the camera. Baltz and Adams opened my eyes to the use of landscape as a metaphor for our cultural state of being.

BS: What are the social implications of your art? Do you have specific message that you strive to convey to viewers about society as you see it?

CA: My work is about documenting aspects of the American cultural landscape and its effect on both our physical environment and our understanding of ourselves. My images are not overtly political, but are intended to give pause and thought to cultural and social issues. My aim is to raise perception and awareness of issues that tie into how we act as a culture. How does or lifestyle impact the environment? How do we perceive ourselves, and how do we form this self-image? Is this self-perception an accurate representation, or is it a polished idealization?

It’d be nice to slap people upside the head to make them aware of these concerns, but then we delve into the realm of dogma and the message is lost. I am presenting a point of view that invites consideration of these ideas by creating art that works as strongly on an aesthetic level as it does on a social/political level.
Beneath the Surface: Rebar by Chuck Avery

BS: Chuck, after graduation you spent the next twenty years raising a family. My understanding is that during that time your photography work was sporadic at best. Having helped raise your family you were able, In 2001, to devote your full attention to photography once more. Do you have any regrets concerning the years you were unable to focus on photography fully? Or would you say that the life experiences during those years have helped to make you a better photographer?

CA: First off, I have no regrets. It was an easy decision to focus my attention on raising my family, rather than developing my art. Besides, the time and energy needed to do that (I was working in photo labs full time) just wasn’t available, and I didn’t want to do it half-assed.

When I started back up in 2001, the first thing I did was to review and print the images that I had shot over those years in order to get my bearings. It gave me a good sense of where I was at and allowed me to pick up certain threads in my work and move ahead with them. Plus it gave me a huge shot of energy to see that I hadn’t lost my way.

BS: As mentioned, you were able to work on sporadic projects during those years. Have you noticed a shift in direction since 2001 compared to the photographs you took up until that point? Or is the work a continuation of the work you had done before?

CA: Most of what I shot over those years had more of an internal focus. There is a lot of attention to decay and growth, of transitional states in this earlier work. As I began shooting with purpose again, I was searching for a way to express my larger social and political beliefs. Finding a suburban area undergoing massive development gave me a vehicle to finally express some of these concerns.
This led to my series called Landscape of Progress, which was selected as a finalist in the New York, New York competition here on Myartspace. The tight focus of this project was a change in direction from the more exploratory work that had preceded it. However, my current project is touching on themes that I developed while at art school, notably the continuation and refinement of my sightseeing series. So I guess it’s a little bit of both, to answer your question.
Popular Culture: Greek by Chuck Avery

BS: Tell us about some of your recent projects, such as Architecture of Amusement. Perhaps you can go into further detail about the thoughts behind your work as a whole… the themes you explore and so on?

CA: I’ve changed the title of this project from Architecture of Amusement to Popular Culture. It is an outgrowth of the books I made at the Kansas City Art Institute in the 70’s called Sightseeing. The focus of this project is the role that the tourism/leisure industry plays in the institutionalization of our cultural memory and identity. How is American cultural history presented and perpetuated by museums, tourist, and recreational attractions? To help answer that question I am looking at the stories and information that you find when traveling and visiting these types of places.

As I said earlier, the biggest challenge I have set up for myself is to interject political thought into my work without making it strident or dogmatic, while at the same time making the images interesting and inviting for the viewer. I don’t know where I am at on that spectrum, but I at the root of it, my work is about the image and making your eyes happy.

BS: As you mentioned, you were one of the 50 finalists in the Myartspace New York, New York competition in 2007. You are currently showing some pieces at the Coalition for Photographic Arts in Milwaukee in a regional show juried by George Slade. What do you enjoy about competitions and juried exhibits? Would you say that it is important for artists to compete?

CA: Juried shows and competitions are one avenue to get my work in front of the eyes of curators and gallerists who can make a difference. It is an easy way to get the work out there, while pounding away at the grant applications and doing the marketing dance. I would definitely recommend doing it, but it is only one leg of the work that you need to do to have a chance at being successful.

Landscape of Progress: Pole by Chuck Avery

BS: I understand that you will have a solo show in February involving your Landscape of Progress project. Where will that take place? Perhaps you can give us some further detail about that exhibit? Do you have anything else lined up?

CA: This will be a small show of 12 – 15 images in conjunction with the Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson, Wisconsin. It is part of a Healing Arts program that is staged at the newly built hospital in town. It will be up for about three months starting in February 2009. The rest of my focus for next year is to travel and shoot as much as possible.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art and the goals that you have?

CA: I am thankful for the help that I have had in the few years since I’ve become a practicing artist again. George Slade of the late, great Minnesota Center for Photography here in Minneapolis has given me much encouragement and guidance to help me get to where I am now. Publishing a book of the Landscape of Progress series is a major goal of mine (you can find my current version of it on Blurb). I am hoping to have Popular Culture finished to the point of being ready for solo showing by this time next year.

You can learn more about Chuck Avery by visiting his website-- www.chuckaveryphoto.com. You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page-- www.myartspace.com/interviews. Chuck Avery is a member of the myartspace community-- www.myartspace.com/chuckavery

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor

Spinello Gallery: So Long Scarecrow


TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 23RD, 2008: Spinello Gallery (2294 NW 2nd Avenue, Miami Florida - 33127) is proud to present, "So Long Scarecrow," an exhibition of paintings by Kris Knight. This will be Knight's first exhibition with the gallery.

Kris Knight's latest series of paintings pays homage to the lost friends of the artists hometown; the guardians of tradition who never migrated, but rather stayed behind to sow their fortunes and reap their shortcomings amidst the hopeless redundancy of routine.

Boys and girls who became adults so early by following in their parent's footsteps as half of their classmates took flight are Knight's scarecrows-- his secretive and burned-out youths who thanklessly sustain withering communities; preventing them from becoming ghost towns by staying exactly where they are.

But life isn't always tedious for Knight's scarecrows. The smart ones find magic in the fields and forests that border their homes and in the fleeting moments that precede dawns early light, their ageless effigies, like porcelain nymphs, are caught in glimpses between the trees. Within these paintings are mixed stories of strength, exhaustion and isolation but not with out the magic that is harvest time.

Kris Knight is a Toronto-based painter whose work examines performance in relation to the construction, portrayal and boundaries of sexual and asexual identities. Concentrating on thematic, figurative works that are often as attractive as they are disturbing, his paintings allude to various expressions of duality, often dealing with opposing notions of hiding and confronting, ambiguity and androgyny, innocence and the erotic.

Through the creation of imaginary and biographical character-based narratives, Knight attempts to strike a balance between the dichotomies of pretty and menace and myth and reality. Depicting intimate, but nonetheless foreboding nocturnal, rural landscapes as a background for his narratives, Knight's often tense portraits are sugared with elements of Canadiana representative of his upbringing.

Exhibition through November 1st.


Will Tracey Emin’s Sparrow Fly Again?

Will Tracey Emin’s Sparrow Fly Again?

The Roman Standard by Tracey Emin

Did you know that a bronze sparrow can fly? Not really-- but in the hands of a thief a little bronze bird can easily leave her perch. Tracey Emin’s ‘The Roman Standard’-- the first piece of public art created by the artist-- has recently been the target of thieves. The piece, which is located outside the Oratory near the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool, was unveiled three years ago. Emin was commissioned by the BBC to create the piece for the art05 festival. Emin has stated that the sculpture is a symbol of "hope, faith and spirituality" and that her choice of the sparrow represents the “angels of this earth” and “freedom“. At the time she went on to say, "My Roman Standard represents strength but also femininity. Most public sculptures are a symbol of power which I find oppressive and dark." Since that time the bronze sparrow has been relatively safe perched upon a bronze pole. However, in June of 2008 the bird vanished-- for the first time.

In June of this year the £60,000 bronze sparrow went missing for two weeks-- though there has been some discrepancies as to the time-line of events based on what I‘ve read-- leaving a lonely bronze pole and frantic cathedral staff behind. The local authorities had difficulties with their investigation during the first ‘flight’ of Emin’s sparrow because the ownership of the piece had been disputed. The cathedral did not acknowledge ownership and a BBC spokeswoman stated, “The BBC commissioned the sculpture but does not own it and therefore does not have duty of care for its maintenance or welfare. This is covered by White Cube gallery and the artist.” to which a White Cube spokeswoman replied, "The BBC commissioned the piece they are the best people to discuss this with." Apparently the authorities were unable to gather details from the artist, Tracey Emin. There were doubts that the £60,000 bird would return to her perch and questions as to why the three possible owners were not taking a more active role in solving the puzzle.

However, the bird was recovered in early July after an anonymous caller informed BBC Radio where the small bronze bird had been placed. The piece was found on the grounds of the Oratory in an envelope marked "FAO Tracey Emin: URGENT!". A note attached to the sculpture read, "We are sorry - No harm meant. We would have returned it sooner but we were scared xxx."-- which means the thieves had returned to the scene of the crime unnoticed. Upon being retrieved the bronze bird was returned to her bronze perch. However, the bird did not rest for long.

The sparrow took ‘flight’ again this month. The September theft of Emin’s sparrow from her piece, ‘The Roman Standard’, marks the second time in a span of 3 months that the sculpture had been disrupted and the bronze bird stolen. However, this time Emin’s sparrow was returned within a few days by an individual who has yet to be named by authorities. The sculpture was handed over to police who in turn passed it on to BBC Radio Merseyside last Saturday. Will the bronze sparrow take ‘flight’ again? That is the £60,000 question.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Obama’s Obedient Artist: Is Shepard Fairey a Farce?

Obama’s Obedient Artist: Is Shepard Fairey a Farce? HOPE by Shepard Fairey

I recently read an article about Shepard Fairey which suggested that he is the sole reason for street art shifting toward the mainstream art world today. I don’t agree with that. In my opinion Fairey is a minor dot concerning mainstream acceptance of street art. True, his image of Obama titled ‘HOPE’ has sparked a following, but that hardly makes him a major player in the underground scene or mainstream scene. In fact, one could say that he is simply riding the coat tails of Obama in order to achieve art stardom or that Obama is using Fairey in order to appeal to the youth of the United States. What better way to appear hip than to utilize the skills of a street artist, right? One thing is for certain, no matter who is using who or if it is truly a mutual effort-- there is a message just under the surface of ‘HOPE’ that should be examined before hype sways opinions.

For those who don’t know, Shepard Fairey is a street artist who is known for his guerrilla art tactics-- as in placing posters, stickers, and creating stencil work and other aspects of street art in places that are often in violation of the law. Due to the nature of Fairey’s art he has been arrested several times. For years he focused on images involving the slogan “Obey” as a way of provoking people to question their obedience within the context of society. While anti-corporation and anti-government themes are not overly original-- especially as far as street art is concerned-- Fairey’s work at that time had a message and a following that was beyond the control of any specific political party.

Enter Obama. Fairey’s Obama inspired art is due to his fandom for the candidate. In fact, the ‘radical artist’ was cautious about approaching Obama as a subject for his work due to the concerns he had about how his use of the Obama image would be viewed by the Democrat Party and the public. He was worried that his work might hurt Obama’s campaign. Thus, the street artist known for being radical and against political and corporate obedience sought acceptance openly from a political party-- he traded his edgy street virtue for a new vision of hope.

Fairey has stated that that at the time Obama’s camp gave him an “unofficial wink and nod” concerning his desire to use Obama’s image within the context of his work. The unofficial acceptance was enough to spur Fairey into production. In a sense, his work no longer explored the concepts of his ‘Obey’ imagery-- at least not in the way it had. Instead, his new message became ‘Obama’ which ironically challenged his previous visual statements about obedience and the avoidance of political and corporate hype as far as I’m concerned. I'd go as far as to say that Fairey's recent work fractures the very foundation of his past. Thus, the validity of his work is in question in a manner that goes beyond the common charges of plagiarism that has haunted his progression as an artist-- more on that later.
Guns and Roses by Shepard Fairey
Left: Political power comes from the barrel of a gun - Artist unknown. 1968. Chinese poster from the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution period. The title of this poster quotes the famous pronouncement made by Mao Tse-Tung. Right: Fairey's plagiarized version titled, Guns and Roses. Original concept? You decide.

Now to the surface of the matter. The original concept for the Obama ’HOPE’ image involved heavy borrowing from Alberto Korda's famed shot of revolutionary Che Guevara. It involved the slogan ‘PROGRESS’ instead of “HOPE” and was very successful having sold out within minutes of being released. Fairey was contacted again by the Obama campaign shortly after the success of the red, white, and blue ‘PROGRESS’ Obama print. The Obama campaign sought an officially sanctioned poster in the same style. However, Obama’s campaign was worried that the ’PROGRESS’ slogan would be considered Marxist by the public. Thus, with Obama’s official endorsement came change of a different nature.

Under the ‘pay grade’-- I mean watchful eye-- of the Obama campaign Fairey had to use a photo and slogan approved by the Obama campaign. In a sense, he was told what to do as well as the message to convey. The end result is an image that is nothing more than political-- as well as corporate-- propaganda just under the surface. The redesigned image was destined to feature the now famous- and not so Marxist- ‘HOPE’ slogan that has captured the attention of millions. Fairey, obedient to the Obama campaign, altered the meaning of his original message as well as the image itself. In my opinion, that action demands questions concerning the validity of Shepard Fairey and his art. Does Fairey stay true to the streets when making a statement? True to himself? True to the philosophies he has built a career on? Or can his message be bought and sold? Assimilated into the very entities he once railed against?

Fairey has stated, “I didn't want anything I did to be a liability or an unwanted endorsement," concerning the art he has created with Obama as his inspiration. Fairey’s Obama inspired merchandise has earned over $400,000 for the Obama Campaign. Fairey claims that he has donated 100% of the profit from his Obama inspired works to the Obama Campaign, stating, "I have not kept one dime from the Obama posters," in a recent article. In a sense, he has tipped his hat to Obama. That is exactly what troubles me about Shepard Fairey. He will go lengths to obtain unofficial and official approval from the candidate he supports while at the same time failing to ask permission when ‘borrowing’ images from the work of other artists for his own art. If he was worried about the liability his images might be for Obama I would think that he would show some respect concerning the liability he may or may not project upon the careers of those artists and their estates.
Untitled Silk-screen poster - Rene Mederos, Cuba, 1972. This double portrait by one of Cuba’s most famous poster artists depicts the revolutionaries Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos as seen on the Art for a Change article. A must read!

From Art for a Change-- Screenshot taken from the "Bombing Science" website 7/18/2007, where the Fairey rip-off of Mederos’ poster was being sold as a T-shirt. Fairey printed the graphic without permission from the Mederos estate. Fairey never publicly acknowledged or apologized for his use of Rene Mederos image. However, that did not stop his bookkeeper from pulling the shirt off the site, acknowledging the copyright violation, and offering a royalty check to the estate-- according to Art for a Change and Lincoln Cushing, an art historian and author who brokered a royalty agreement between Fairey and the Mederos estate. If Fairey is paying homage to artists like Mederos and the causes they fought for it would be nice if he would do it the right way by acknowledging their legacy as well as the copyright of their work.

I realize that many people will not enjoy reading about my opinions of Shepard Fairey. During discussions I have had about Fairey and his recent work it is often stated that the most important aspect is that street art is gaining the acceptance and credit that it deserves. Many people feel that Shepard Fairey is spearheading the validation of street art as a legitimate form of art. In fact, some people have suggested that Fairey’s Obama inspired work is changing how the mainstream art world views street art due to the success of the Obama ‘HOPE’ image. I’m sorry, but I don’t agree with that. The fight for said acceptance has involved several key players-- not just Shepard Fairey. The blunt of that work was paved in the 1980s… long before the success of Shepard Fairey. I'm certain the history of the acceptance of street art goes back further than that.
Fairey knows the history... because he has obviously 'borrowed' more than a few images from the 1920's and 1960's. Credit should be given where credit is due-- that goes for the rich history of street art and for the art that Fairey has profited from in his own work by 'borrowing' at will. Selective history is great for hype-- especially if the art in questions involved a popular candidate-- but in the end it will make Fairey look like a fool-- if his Obama inspired work is remembered in the first place. Selective history can also build a career as long a people don't take notice of it. Unfortunately for Fairey... some people have-- for example, the article on Art for a Change.
To sum this up. Artists can flip-flop just as much as politicians. They can also avoid questions as politicians do. I have to question the ethics behind Fairey’s art and I had hoped to go straight to the source. Unfortunately, it does not seem that Shepard Fairey is open to answering questions. I first made contact on October 22nd 2007. My emails to his website had went unanswered. However, on September 4th I received an email from David Scharff. Mr. Scharff stated that he represented Shepard Fairey and Studio Number One. He asked me if anyone had replied to my interview requests. I informed him that I had been trying to make contact and asked again if an interview was possible. It is now September 21st and I’ve not received an unofficial or official response from Fairey or his team. Shepard, if you are reading this I would like to challenge you to a town hall debate about your art, ethics, and the hype surrounding both. Note my sarcasm-- though I will be in Miami this December for Art Basel if you are interested...
Before the hate mail and comments arrive I want to make it clear that the rejection by lack of response from Fairey and his team is not the reason for my harsh response concerning him. If I did have an opportunity to interview him the questions would have been tough and they would have dealt with some of the very issues I’ve mentioned in this post. It would have been nice for him to face it directly so that he could tackle some of the negative views involving his art and practice. Thus, I can only assume that serious questions-- hard line questions-- are being avoided all together with little follow-up as to the statements from answers he has given in past interviews. My interview requests are refused all the time-- that is not the issue. However, I'm normally told "yes" or "no" within a reasonable amount of time. I can only assume that tough questions are being avoided concerning the validity of his art and the contradictions of his practice. That said, I have a responsibility to report artists and work as I see it-- especially when they are covered in the news three times in under a week as being an influential force.
What do you think about Shepard Fairey and his art? In fighting the system visually has he-- in the end- joined the very system he once stood against? What do you think about his 'borrowing' without permission or failing to acknowledge credit until his actions are discovered? By 'borrowing' from images without permission or acknowledgment does Shepard Fairey mock the social issues those artists represented and stood for? Should he pay homage where homage is due by informing people about the artists he has 'borrowed' from as well as what their work stood for? Is he the reason for the boom in interest concerning street art? Is Fairey to the US what BANKSY is to the UK? What would you do if he 'borrowed' from you? Is parody sometimes used as an excuse to steal images? Does Obama's choice in calling on Fairey for campaign material reflect support for the Orphan Works bill? Is Fairey an example of how the Orphan Works bill may end up abused if passed? Should that concern artists in this election? Is Fairey a farce? Does it matter? What say you?
Don't use the Picasso philosophy in order to justify Shepard Fairey’s art. First, Picasso’s words are often taken out of context. Second, even if he did mean it that way there were no legal protections for visual artists at that time. There are today and they must be acknowledged or else we are all victims. Though if the Orphan Works bill is passed I’m sure we will see more artists like Fairey trying to exploit the work of others as long as they can before being caught. Perhaps Fairey could form an art movement called Fairism if it is passed?
For the purpose of educating-- observe quotes from a recent interview with Shepard Fairey:
“When I'm using someone else's work as a reference point, I'm just trying to give them props.” = Shepard Fairey from his interview with Liam O'Donoghue for Mother Jones.

If Fairey wants to give those artists ‘props’ don’t you think he should acknowledge them by name or at least respect what their image stood for if the artist is not known? Should he show examples of the work he 'referenced' alongside his work or at least acknowledge them on his website?

“I give money to the Zapatistas for all the prints of Subcomandante Marcos that I made. I just raised almost $100,000 for Darfur. I challenge anybody to fuck with that, know what I mean? It's not like I'm just jumping on some cool rebel cause for the sake of exploiting it for profit. People like to talk shit, but it's usually to justify their own apathy.” = Shepard Fairey from his interview with Liam O'Donoghue for Mother Jones.

I get it. Since Fairey donates money to good causes we are not supposed to question his methods or possible violations of artist rights concerning his work? One could say he is exploiting the causes as a buffer-- as a protective barrier-- to fend off anyone who challenges his intentions or art. I'm sorry, but I don't think that people should use those who have suffered as a shield to protect themselves.

“I don't want to demean anyone's struggles through casual appropriation of something powerful; that's not my intention.” = Shepard Fairey from his interview with Liam O'Donoghue for Mother Jones.

Casual appropriation? If that is the case why did his bookkeeper offer a royalty check to the Mederos estate? Why was there very little press about that? Seems it was hushed up.

“A lot of the stuff that I do is designed to try to circulate things that I think are awesome back into a new crowd.” = Shepard Fairey from his interview with Liam O'Donoghue for Mother Jones.

By projecting it as your own work?

“There's a piece by [Cuban artist] René Mederos that I used, thinking, "Well, how would I ever pay this guy anyway because he's in Cuba?" All I really changed about that graphic was I put flowers into the gun and put a peace logo in it. With Castro and Che on horses I was definitely manipulating the original intention, but at the same time, it was a really beautifully done poster and tweaking it for my anti-war agenda was a way to pass that graphic along. So when [Mederos' estate] contacted me, I immediately paid him the exact same royalty rate that any artist would be paid.” = Shepard Fairey from his interview with Liam O'Donoghue for Mother Jones.

Nice save. So it is OK as long as the artist or estate does not find out? It is OK to knowingly rip off another artist and violate copyright laws because they might be hard to reach? Is it best to 'borrow' from work outside of the US so that maybe people won't notice?

“No artist has ever come to me and said, "Hey, I'm unhappy that you took this and used it." Most say, "I really like what you're doing; I'm glad you did that. Now that we know each other, let's do a more official collaboration." They see the way I'm using the images is not disrespectful, and they dig it.” = Shepard Fairey from his interview with Liam O'Donoghue for Mother Jones.

Names please.

“I don't have a specific political affiliation.” = Shepard Fairey from his interview with Liam O'Donoghue for Mother Jones.

Say what? HOPE? Obama?

“One of the reasons I started my clothing line was because I went into an Urban Outfitters and they were bootlegging my star logo on T-shirts. To see it in there, just ripped off, was definitely upsetting to me, because I was still totally broke at the time. And the reason I get pissed off about stuff like that is because I didn't build up the resonance for that image just to hand it off to someone to exploit." = Shepard Fairey from his interview with Liam O'Donoghue for Mother Jones.

Shepard Fairey can 'borrow' or 'reference' others, but we can't reference him? How wealthy was Mederos when he started creating his art? What about Felix Beltran, Gary Grimshaw, Rupert Garcia, Pirkle Jones, Ralph "Bingo" Chaplin, Vladimir Kozlinsky, Dmitry Moor, or Koloman Moser? Granted some of the works created by the artists listed are indeed within public domain. However, if Fairey is going to suggest that he is giving 'props' to those who came before he should at least acknowlege the art that he has used and the history behind those works.
A simple page dedicated to those artists and the history and meaning of their work on his website would go a long way in making things right. I might even appreciate his work if that were to happen. I actually liked his work until I discovered the truth behind his deception. However, considering that he has mentioned the risk of being 'busted' for 'borrowing' or 'referencing' other artists in some of his statements I don't think he cares about the history or meaning behind those works or the artists themselves. Shepard Fairey cares about Shepard Fairey. Maybe that is why he avoids some interviews? The contradictions are very amusing.
Links of Interest:
Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor