Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Art Space Talk: Aidan Hughes

Aidan Hughes, also known by the pseudonym “Brute”, is a commercial artist from the United Kingdom. Aidan usually works in a very high contrast style, often black and white, but more often black and white accented with one other color. The artist has noted that his influences include the woodcuts of Frans Masereel and Lynd Ward, the comic art of Jack Kirby, the propaganda posters of the Russian Constructivists and Italy's Dynamo Futurista and the paintings of John Martin.

His work has been exhibited in group shows alongside Damien Hirst, Shepard Fairey, Yoko Ono, and Gavin Turk-- among others. He is an artist known for crossing mediums as well as boundaries. One could say that his work is a visual fixture of the counterculture scene considering the influence his imagery has had on a new generation of artists.

Aidan has maintained his freelance design business, BRUTE! Propaganda, for nearly two decades. BRUTE! Propaganda is probably best known in the United States for its work with the German industrial rock/metal band KMFDM. Aidan has created record sleeves for the band since 1985. In 1993, he produced and directed the KMFDM music video "A Drug Against War," based on several of his covers for the band-- followed by “Son of a Gun" in 1996.

Brute! Propaganda is a full service freelance design business with nearly two decades' experience in illustration, design, animated and live video, computer games and multimedia. Past clients have included Warner Bros. Records, TVT Records, Pepsi, The Royal Bank of Scotland, Coors, Bulmers, Blitz, MTV and the BBC.

Brian Sherwin: Aidan, your work is noted for having a very high contrast style. You often utilize black and white accented with one other color-- which reminds one of Russian propaganda posters. Can you briefly discuss that influence and perhaps go into detail about other artists and events that have influenced your work directly?

Aidan Hughes: The Russian influence grew from discovering a magazine called the Leader in 1983 which was a British propaganda weekly that was distributed in the UK during the Second World War. It had a very distinctive populist style, all bold colours and shouting caricatures of Mussolini and Hitler, and it was this that spurred me to investigate the Vorticists and via them the Russian Constructivists and Italian Dynamo Futurista.

I think it was more the cartoons of Vladimir Mayakovsky that drew me more than the prouns and abstracts of Rodchenko and El Lissitsky because, as opposed to portraying some impenetrable artistic philosophy, Mayakovsky was trying to reach the people in a very direct way, using archetypes and bold text. Ditto Fortunato Depero with his design work.

In the early 80's, a few of us were working towards a common goal of more direct graphic design (Neville Brody was well influenced by the Soviets, as was Ian Denning who created the Miner's Strike posters of the early 80's) and the work of the Russian avant-garde was very much to the forefront at that time.

My work combines many different influences and it would be unfair to single out the Russians as the biggest of them. I was also majorly influenced by the wood-cut artists Lynd Ward and Frans Masereel years before I discovered Constructivism and American Golden Age comics and pulps decades before that. I think its an amalgamation of those sources that have led to what I do today. Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko are uppermost in my mind when drawing active figures, for example.

BS: You are very open with the fact that the Russian Constructivists and Italian Futurists serve as an inspiration for your work. You have named names of specific artists from those movements and so on. In that sense, you don't disrespect the message that they fought for-- you don't, from what I've read, forget what they were about, so to speak. Unfortunately, there are several artists today drawing from those same creative pools who bastardize the historic value of those artists and add further insult by not acknowledging their influence openly. Does that concern you as an artist? The fact that in many ways artists are tapping into history-- specifically the visual aspects of social movements of the past-- only to create new art with little to no acknowledgment for the origin of their inspiration? Or would you say that everything is fair game?

AH: Because the Soviet artists were perma-linked to Bolshevik propaganda, much of what they did seems quite repetitive today so a newer interpretation was called for. As we no longer have totalitarian regimes to design posters for, it seems natural that contemporary artists would take the style and convert it to other uses. I personally feel though that the style has been done to death in recent years, rather like the Superman-style figures they use to sell everything from printers to car spares and its become boring.

Of course, there are a number of artists who work in the media who have co-opted the Russian style now and again but so what? Its commerce, not an art lesson. If people are turned on by the imagery, they should hunt down the originals for themselves, like I did.

BS: Back to your work-- what are the specific social implications that you assign to your work? For example, themes of dominance and repression are common in your work-- yet one can sometimes sense the hope of a better situation, or perhaps world, just under the surface. Are those themes fueled by any specific concerns that you have for society as a whole?

AH: I'm a commercial artist so the demands of the marketplace are paramount when I come to make an image. Believe me, when I storyboard a TV ad or design a logo, themes of repression or whatever don't come into it unless the client demands it. KMFDM have cornered the market in industrial post-modern angst and so my work reflects that. My own personal philosophies are less political and are more concerned with interaction between characters, not beliefs or agendas. I am a futurist and therefore see whatever comes as a way to the inevitable next step in evolution.

I'm also a bit hesitant to endorse people who advocate non-violence and yet use powerful images of fascist rallies and troops to make their audience sit up. That's pure advertising. I remember seeing Test Department years ago and laughing at the hypocrisy of an art form that uses what it hates to protest against it. If they put images of their own slack, hippy philosophies up on the screen, no-one would watch so they put up a sexy, scary Nazi show instead.

My own message is non-political: Don't Spit on the Floor, Feed a Child's Mind, Kick out the Jams etc. Luckily, I am in the position where people want me to concentrate on my own style so I am able to keep an artistic continuity and broaden my skills while making money. I don't get many clients asking for air-brushed puppies or manga fairies.

BS: Aidan, you have illustrated record sleeves for the industrial band KMFDM since 1985. You also produced and directed the animated KMFDM music video "A Drug Against War,"-- which was based on several of your covers. Can you discuss the connection that your art shares with the music of KMFDM? Does music, in general, inspire your work?

AH: I just don't have the time to listen to music (I won't wear headphones in case a ninja sneaks up on me) and no, music doesn't inspire me unless I'm on the dance floor. I find modern music to be the least cultivated and exciting of all art forms with its lazy attitude to construction, melody and pace. Young people are incredibly interested in this most bland of theatres and little realise how lacking in imagination the videos and tunes they consume are or how boring it makes them as individuals.

You only have to go on Youtube, Facebook or MySpaz to see how these kids DEFINE themselves by these depressing groups and their weak lyrics. From the Jonas Bros. to rap to the latest in so-called 'experimental' music, its one pale, recycled dirge from beginning to end. Apart from blasting out 70's funk to rattle my emo neighbours, I rarely listen to any of it and certainly never when I'm working. One way to get me really red in the face is to say 'I couldn't live without music' within my earshot.

BS: Can you briefly discuss your process? Do ideas for images pop into your mind, so to speak? Or do you view reference material until the spark of creativity is unleashed? Tell us about that process…

AH: Every night before I fall asleep, I try to construct the script for the most perfect spy thriller ever made. Its really hard to do when you're tired: to come up with original ideas and not revert into cliche night after night. In fact, without outside input, true inspiration comes to an artist very rarely in his or her career. Most of the great works were inspired by events, other artworks, conversations between colleagues etc. and I can only think of a couple of occasions where an original thought has just appeared in my head like that.

I teach art occasionally and one thing that holds the kids back is this burgeoning state of integrity they feel they must maintain in order to create and that holds them back from doing so much. Being true to your art to that extent entails rejecting all outside information and creating an inner world which can only serve to alienate the audience. Although I can see how it might not work for some artists, my involvement in the media has given me a valuable insight in how to create bold, dynamic and direct visuals very quickly.

When you work in advertising, you have to put all that art school, starving-in-a-garret ideology behind you quick. You have to come up with 200 ideas by lunchtime and to do that you have to scrape every barrel to the bottom before the guy next to you gets the lead. Unhealthy? No way. Working like this is excellent exercise for the creative mind.
Of course the client might be an idiot, the product boring and the result commonplace but the actual regime of stretching your brain like this is something all 'artists' should do. Getting your work in front of the public and getting paid for it is the big kick, not having a oil painting stuck away in some rich bloke's drawing room, although you shouldn't turn your nose up at that either.

People who don't draw or paint seem to think it's good to have a client who says: 'Do what you like'. I've had a couple and it was a nightmare. Its much better to use whatever ideas from whatever sources and involving the client makes them feel as though they are contributing to the finished thing while you use their seed ideas as your creative springboard. Of course, once they have agreed to an image, the field is yours but I always send the clients roughs and then regular updates so they can never say, 'I didn't authorise this busty, gun-toting 12-foot lesbian'.

BS: How does your thought process change when creating personal work compared to work for a client? Or is the process similar?

AH: When I'm not doing work for clients, I rarely draw for myself. I'm either working on film projects with my partner or writing articles for my satirical newspaper, the Wirral Groan.

BS: What are your thoughts concerning the internet and how artists can utilize the world wide web in order to promote themselves and sell their work? It is obvious that change has come to the art world in the sense that many emerging artists will have a better chance of representing themselves instead of trying to carve their way into the traditional system of gallery representation. How do you see this change progressing in the future due to the internet?

AH: Well, as someone who has been selling their art online since 1996, I'd be one of the first to extol the benefits of working and selling on the web. Anything that removes the gallery owner from the equation is fine by me. Also, as a multi-media artist, it's great to be able to have all your skills up there instead of just exhibiting in the narrow-focused forums and formats of the real world. There, I'm just an artist but on the web, I'm an animator, a director, a writer, an illustrator and a humorist without having to claim any one as my main 'career'.

I can also sell the sorts of populist merchandising looked down upon by traditional galleries, such as skateboards and cheap posters. Finally, the input I receive from fans on Facebook, plus the way I can coordinate events and post items through my blog, makes art so much more exciting than it was twenty years ago.

Then, there's the work process. Back in the day, I'd have to cart these huge boxes of reference books around with me whenever I moved to a new city. But now, I can access most of the images online which minimalises my work area considerably.

BS: Aside from your website, where can our readers view your work in person? Will you be involved with any upcoming exhibits?

AH: I don't do exhibitions anymore as it becomes a non cost-effective way to sell art, in the long run. First off, you have to over-price your work to give those greedy fucks their 50-65%. But instead of asking anyone influential, they invite their broke, freeloading art chums who inhale the free wine and schnibblies before pissing off to the next gallery. I've said 'no' to shows before but the last one I did was such a fiasco, I have been put off exhibiting for life. I can make more sitting on my boney ass at my desk than I can in those places.

BS: What is your stance on artists rights? For example, do you support current copyright protections? Have you ever had problems with people profiting off of 'bootleg' images of your work or referencing your work without permission--- copyright infringement and so on? Such issues are discussed at length online within the context of the art community and there is a lot of confusion-- even with established artists-- about what is legal and what is not. The defense of parody or social commentary has been used by some to exploit the works of others when in truth the artist using said defense has little understanding of copyright in regards to those issues. What is your stance on copyright and the rights of artists?

AH: One day, one of my sons pointed out that he'd seen an image of mine used in an advertising campaign for a well-known sportswear manufacturer. When I tracked down the company responsible, I found that they had not only used one of my designs for their own campaign but had franchised it to hundreds and thousands of shops all over the world who carried their brand. I had no idea how I could find out just how many T-shirts and caps had been printed as the image was sold as part of an advertising package thus I had no idea exactly how much I could sue them for.

This is the problem and it cannot be overcome. Big companies only get that way by ripping off artists and getting them to work for nothing. T-shirt companies have been making money from ripped-off designs for years. Although there's literally nothing to be gained except a temporary publicity surge, its always worth seeing how far litigation can get you. I mean, did Kirby and Simon ever sue Roy Lichtenstein for his blatant re-renderings of their work? Will the graphic designer who created the Campbell's soup can ever get his kick-back from Andy Warhol's estate? I don't think so, especially now with images floating around for free on the internet, from where mine was taken. Even if laws were changed, would any of these artists really have the cash to take them to court? I did, but it cost me all of it and a lot of mental stress to win the case.

Then, there's the other side of the argument. Like it or not, that company who ripped off my designs were inadvertently spreading my image over the planet without me having to pay a penny in promotion. Today, kids from all walks of life are running round in my T-shirts and that has got to be better than the paltry amount the company would have given me had they bought the design outright.

BS: Finally, when everything is said an done what do you hope viewers gain from your work?

AH: A hard on.
You can learn more about Aidan Hughes by visiting his website-- -- or blog-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Myartspace Artist Quotes: Some quotes from the 2008 series of artist interviews

Where did 2008 go? It amazes me that in just a few days 2009 will be here. The years go by so quick when you think back on them. Since 2006 I have interviewed hundreds of artists as the Senior Editor for myartspace. The myartspace collection contains interviews with art world legends, such as Sylvia Sleigh, Julian Stanczak, and Norman Carlberg-- along with interviews with emerging artists such as Peter Gerakaris, Sarah Maple, and Andrea Chung.

It honors me that so many artists-- both emerging and established-- have offered their time to give our readers insight into the thoughts behind their art. Before 2009 is here I would like to take some time to reflect back on the 2008 series of Myartspace Blog interviews. Below you will find quotes from 2008 interviews along with a link to each respected interview so that you can read them in full and view images.

Again, we at myartspace take great pride in the fact that artists from all walks of life have found common ground on the Myartspace Blog. Thank you all.

“I dislike labels, but they are a necessary evil to comprehend artwork for some people. If I had to classify myself, I would call it urban-contemporary.” -- Blaine Fontana

myartspace interview with Blaine Fontana

“I felt it important to make the Abu Ghraib works for many reasons. Above all, this event of the United States engaging in torture, represented a terrible turning point in World opinion towards the United States. As a consequence, we had lost our position as a moral force and as a model of democracy that we prominently held for so long.” -- Susan Crile

myartspace interview with Susan Crile

“The camera often feels too comfortable in my hands – which is why I prefer the dark cloth and tripod of large format photography, forcing me to slow down, and hopefully the viewer too.” -- Richard Mosse

myartspace interview with Richard Mosse

“Rodin makes me cry, Picasso makes me smile, the Chapman brothers make me laugh out loud, Egon Schiele makes me shake my head with admiration, Bacon makes me jump and so on and so forth. But really- my most enlightened artistic experiences are with my children when I see their works on paper.” -- Anthony Lister

myartspace interview with Anthony Lister

“I am against purism in all forms. I find it morally and politically questionable. It is a trope of fascism and racism. Philosopher David Carrier sees comics as an inherently impure entity; I would amplify this, claiming that comics offer a positively anti-purist emancipation from narrow formalist reductivism. This is a trait to applaud and emulate in the fine arts.” -- Mark Staff Brandl

myartspace interview with Mark Staff Brandl

“I never make sketches. Everything is developed in an intuitive manner. The approach I developed growing up is derived from a mush of ideas from expressionism and the Beats. In painting, one act creates the idea of the next - it is a conversation of sorts which slowly turns into a frustrating puzzle with my own limited nature.” -- Christian Schumann

myartspace interview with Christian Schumann

“Everybody uses labels: they give you a handle on things – an over-simplified handle, sure, but without labels, without ads, without words, the world would be an indistinguishable mass, a blur. You can hope, maybe, that people ascribe so many labels to you that none wins out…” -- Vito Acconci

myartspace interview with Vito Acconci

“I no longer go by Patrick Brill. I changed my name to Bob Smith ten years ago. Journalists still refer to me as by my old name. Wikipedia does not help. The discussion about my name is not interesting to me. What does it matter?” -- Bob Smith
myartspace interview with Bob Smith

“When art devalues the self and the authenticity of the inner worlds we get art of the absent self, the hollow and shattered self, a hopeless self, in short, the art of today.” -- Alex Grey

myartspace interview with Alex Grey

“I really enjoy de Kooning. When I was a student everyone was copying him. I liked his involvement with paint and color. I also liked him because he did not give a damn-- he was not self-conscious. Students today don't realize that de Kooning was really a rough and tough type of guy. Today people talk about underground artists-- well, at that time de Kooning was THE underground artist.” -- James Rosenquist

myartspace interview with James Rosenquist

“It's not what we go through in life, it's what we make of it. Understanding that hate can only generate more hate and anger, I try to stay away from messages of hate and aggression because that alienates the viewer instead of engaging” -- Wafaa Bilal

myartspace interview with Wafaa Bilal

“…to me, the need for meaning is a human convention that doesn't really sync with the universe at large so I never feel a pressure or strong desire to explain or justify myself.” -- Mark Jenkins

myartspace interview with Mark Jenkins

“I don't avoid or "block out" responses to my work. The work isn't complete until it is out in the world. That kind of communication with an audience (including critics) allows for their active participation in the reception of the work and often presents challenges. Some interpretations I dismiss as not constructive to my studio practice, but others encourage an inventory of choices.” -- Janet Biggs

myartspace interview with Janet Biggs

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor

The NYAXE work flow process for selling original work

Selling original fine art work on the New York Art Exchange ( a number of steps designed to make sure that the work is shipped properly by the seller, received satisfactorily by buyer, and the money flow works correctly throughout. We have what is known as an "escrow" system which is designed to protect both the buyer and the seller in the process.

The message box, controllable from your NYAXE dashboard, contains "action items" which are like messages but REQUIRE some sort of action (acknowledge acceptance of a bid, acknowledge the shipment of the work, etc).

The 8 steps in the process are shown in a visual representation that can be found by clicking HERE.

As you can see, there are a number of steps involved. Selling on-demand printed products (such as giclees) or digital products (such as JPEG images) are much more trivial and do not involve an escrow system; they are delivered by a third party, and the seller (typically the artists) has no further obligation. The sale of original work is, by its nature more complex.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Press Reception for the New York Art Exchange (NYAXE)

Catherine McCormack-Skiba, CEO and founder of NYAXE, mingles with press

The press reception for the launch of the New York Art Exchange (NYAXE) took place earlier this month in Miami during Bridge Wynwood. The New York Art Exchange is a marketplace for buying and selling contemporary fine art online. NYAXE enables the art community to capitalize on new digital mediums through technology by connecting artists, gallerists and art collectors via the World Wide Web. The site is designed to be an ecommerce solution for members of the ‘art world’ social networking site

The New York Art Exchange press reception brought design, technology, and art together.

Catherine McCormack-Skiba, the CEO and founder of myartspace and NYAXE, was on hand to answer questions from members of the press during a cocktail party. Visitors included journalists from the Associated Press, The Miami Herald, and prominent art blogs. Curious gallerists, art collectors, and members of the press observed what myartspace and NYAXE offers to the global art community by participating in site demonstrations. Opinions, ideas, and drinks were shared in a casual setting that was energized by a meshing between art, technology, and design.
Brian Skiba demonstrates the capabilities of the New York Art Exchange

Brian Skiba, the interim Chief Technology Officer and Chief Financial Officer for myartspace and NYAXE, demonstrated the capabilities of NYAXE during several presentations that allowed onlookers to participate. Members of the NYAXE staff directed visitors to experience the site first hand by accessing computers in a media center that was conveniently located within the design of the reception structure.

Reception guests viewed New York Art Exchange stores while listening to a presentation by NYAXE staff.

Catherine McCormack-Skiba, CEO and founder of NYAXE, stated, "It's been my vision for years to make great art accessible to a broader audience through technology and the internet. I'm excited that we can empower gallerists and artists to expand the awareness of their fine art and help them connect with a new audience of buyers on a global level."

Art Space Talk: Susan Crile

Susan Crile was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1942. Earning her Bachelor of Arts Degree at Bennington College, Vermont, Crile also studied at New York University and Hunter College, NYC. Since then she has taught widely, at such institutions as, Princeton University, The School of Visual Arts, Barnard College, The University of Pennsylvania, Sarah Lawrence and Hunter College, where she has been on the faculty since 1982 and a full professor since 1996.
Her work is in the collections of The Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Brooklyn Museum, The Hirshhorn Museum, The Phillips Collection, The Albright Knox, The Cleveland Museum of Art, The Denver Art Museum, The Carnegie Institute Museum of Art and The Library of Congress among others, as well as many corporate collections.

9-11 Fragmant by Susan Crile
Brian Sherwin: Susan, you studied at Bennington College. Can you recall your academic years? Did you have any influential instructors?

Susan Crile: Bennington was both wonderful and terrible; terrible in that one learned practically nothing technically, but wonderful in that it was exposure to real painters, real writers and their ideas. I studied with a number of artists, who were important to my formation.
Among the most important were Ralph Humphrey (his passion for drawing, Morandi, Matisse, Cezanne), Tony Smith who opened my eyes to the third dimension, Jules Olitski who showed how the fabric or art and literature interconnected and Vincent Longo, from whom I learned about color. But the most important artist/ teacher was not at Bennington, but at NYU where I studied with Esteban Vicente, the Abstract Expressionist, a passionate Spaniard, who taught me how to see and how to understand the importance of pictorial space.

BS: Susan, you have taught at Princeton, The School of Visual Arts, Barnard College, The University of Pennsylvania, and Sarah Lawrence College. You are currently a professor at Hunter College in New York City. I always ask instructors this questions... how did you find balance between your teaching profession and creating your personal art? Was there ever a conflict or did you simply adapt?

SC: For a very long time, teaching felt like a conflict- in part because, as with many young artists- I was teaching at two or even occasionally three different schools at the same time. After I began to teach at Hunter, it became easier. By then, I was a more experienced teacher and the simplification of being in one place was a great help. I've never been a particularly good multi-tasker, so it was necessary to work at finding the balance. Spending three months in the country every year, working in relative solitude, has created an important base line for my painting life that carries over into the academic year. That base line allows me to hold my artistic train of thought throughout the academic year.
Crouching in Terror by Susan Crile

BS: Do you have a specific philosophy as far as your instruction is concerned? What do you expect from students?

SC: First I expect students to learn a work ethic and to understand that growth in art comes through daily application, not through "cramming". I teach both undergraduates and MFA students, so the teaching is very different one to the other. With undergraduates I try to teach them about pictorial space, how to think about the issues of painting and to help them become at ease with the process of painting. It is terribly important, as well, to help them to believe that you need to fail in order to succeed. This may be the hardest lesson to learn.
With graduate students I see my job as one of a catalyst, someone who can help the student develop what he or she has to say and to try to help that student find the means to say it. Generally speaking, I am not concerned with technique as an end in itself, but as a means of expression.

BS: Allow me to ask some questions about your art. I understand that your travels have influenced you greatly. You have been to China, Ethiopia, India, Turkey, Morocco, Kuwait, Hungary, much of Europe and some of Eastern Europe. Are there any experiences that you would like to share with our readers? Any experiences that have had a direct impact on your art?

SC: Travel has always had a profound influence on my art, particularly the travel that took place when I was a teenager, before I even knew that I wanted to be an artist. When I was 17, my family went to the Middle East and Israel. I was stunned by the beauty of the Mosques in Damascus; vast spaces carpeted with patterned carpets and ceramic tiles of the most intricate patterns and colors. The light streamed in leaving secondary pattern across the walls and floors.
In Israel we went out into the desert to a Bedouin camp. We sat on calico cushions and Killim rugs and drank coffee poured from an ancient Samovar that sat proudly on a large hammered bronze tray. As I remember, they were the only hard objects in the tent. This was the beginning of my love affair with pattern, both its quotidian, lived in quality as in the Bedouin tent and its more lofty and spiritual side as in the Mosques.

Subsequently, architectural structures, walls and doorways, Light- both external and interior- landscapes and ritualistic spaces of different parts of the world, have all affected my work.

Daylight Darkness by Susan Crile

BS: In the early 90s you created a series titled 'Fires of War'. It seems that war and the outcome of war has had a major impact on you. Many people tend to romanticize war-- we tend to think of the heroes instead of the fallen... the victories instead of the fact that in the end there is, as my grandfather who served in WWII would say, no true victory. Is this a message your strive to convey in your work?

SC: Since I worked on 'the Fires" for almost 4 years, my ideas both deepened and broadened over that period of time. New meanings accrued to the central core as time wore on. My initial impetus came out of outrage. The US had been massively bombing Baghdad, and talking about 'smart bombs' that supposedly had no effect on the civilian population; but that just wasn't true. Furthermore, the mean age in Baghdad was 15 years old, due to the huge loss of military aged men during the ten year war between Iraq and Iran. So, basically, we were bombing children.
Yes, I would agree with your grandfather, "there is no true victory", but beyond that, often there is no good reason to cause the horrendous destruction of loss of life and infrastructure that is the inevitable outcome of war. The embargos were not given enough time- and if Iraq had been truly quarantined internationally, perhaps it would have worked out a compromise with Kuwait.
There were layers of meanings and issues. To begin with, I was showing the extremity of war, and its ecologically disastrous outcome. Scientists had believed that detonating the 700 plus oil wells could well start a nuclear winter; through good luck, due to providential wind patterns, it remained only a regional disaster. Then, the burning of vast amounts of precious oil was a major chess move in the power struggle for control of resources.

Spending time inside the conflagration gave me another viewpoint. I spent almost 2 weeks in the burning oil fields, traveling through them with the chemical engineer, who was the director of safety for the clean up project. It was like seeing the beginning and the end of the earth at the same time. There was an epic quality to it, that I would never have understood without having witnessed it first hand.

And finally, there was the surreal physicality of the scene; nothing looked like anything one had ever seen before. It was post apocalyptic; Mad Max meets Alice in Wonderland in Dante's Inferno.

A Flame by Susan Crile

BS: Some of your work has been politically charged in the sense that it tackles specific issues. For example, you created a series of images that explored the torture at Abu Ghraib. Some of the figures in these works are faceless-- in a sense they could be anyone. Would you mind discussing these works and the thoughts behind them?

SC: In response I would first like to quote from Jean Amery's AT THE MINDS LIMITS; Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and its Realities.

Whoever has succumbed to torture can no longer feel a home in the world. The shame of destruction cannot be erased. Trust in the world, which already collapsed in part at the first blow, but in the end, under torture, fully, will not be regained. That one's fellow man was experienced as the antiman remains in the tortured person as accumulated horror. It blocks the view into a world in which the principle of hope rules.

When the body is subjected to torture, the protection of the skin dissolves and the self no longer has a safe container; it is afloat and defenseless. I used white chalk to designate the fragility of the victims, who are like the ash-covered figures fleeing the World Trade Center, the body shells from Pompeii or the chalk outlines that mark the place of dead bodies at crime scenes. While the prisoners appear ethereal and are often deprived of sight, the interrogators are massive and accompanied by the accoutrements of power (the gloved hand, the leash, the painful shackles, the attack dogs) which includes the interrogators' right to see and be seen- both their right to surveillance and the right to be photographed with their human trophies. Their physical massiveness (boots, vests, layers of clothes, gloves and excess flesh), in contrast to the prisoners' fragile nakedness, is a sign that they are the center of power, the source of intimidation and abuse.
Private England Dragging a Prisoner on a Leash by Susan Crile

This obscene scene of torture and humiliation that we saw in the Abu Ghraib photos, was treated by the White House and the military as if it were the shenanigans of a "few bad apples". It was chilling and appalling that on the one hand Bush abnegated responsibility for it and on the other suspended the Geneva Convention on torture. The Karl Rove tactic of lying until it is accepted as truth, has accompanied every move made to eviscerate the Constitution of the United States.

I felt it important to make the Abu Ghraib works for many reasons. Above all, this event of the United States engaging in torture, represented a terrible turning point in World opinion towards the United States. As a consequence, we had lost our position as a moral force and as a model of democracy that we prominently held for so long. (Let us hope that some or all of this can be reversed retrieve now that Obama will become President.)
As importantly, photos have become a big part of the fast expendable information age we live in. The sheer mass and volume of photographic images have made the eye the most overused sense. I wanted to leave a more enduring record of what happened at Abu Ghraib. The use of chalk, charcoal, and the texture of paper speak to our sense of touch. Touch slows down the hungry and impatient appetite of the eye and allows, the body-our body- to respond empathically.
Arranged: Naked Mound of Flesh by Susan Crile

BS: Would you say that this series of work, so to speak, serves as a warning of what the United States military and leaders are capable of-- not only to the people of Iraq, but to the citizens of the United States?

SC: Absolutely! It is impossible to act badly in one part of ones life and not have it eventually seep into the rest of ones life; and so with the Government. The Bush foreign policy of "preemptive" war has now seeped into internal domestic policy. We saw this, for example, in both the Democratic convention of 2004 and the Republican convention of 2008, where our own police departments turned against our own citizenry as a preemptive manner.

9-11 Exodus by Susan Crile

BS: You also created a series about 9-11. Would you like to discuss this series? Also, what other events have made an impact on you?

SC: Many events have had an impact on me: the Tsunami, New Orleans, the passing of the Patriots Act, The destruction of New Orleans both by nature and the government- and on and on. I decided after Gulf War 1, that I was not interested in being an ambulance chaser. If something hits me between the eyes, in a way in which I have no choice but to paint it, then I will take it on. Otherwise, I drift back to my love of pattern and beauty.

9-11, as with the rest of the nation, hit me between the eyes. It was a symbol of the vulnerability of the new global world we now live in- new rules, new structures, new insecurities. Most of the works I made show that vulnerability: the impact and explosion, the breaking apart, the falling, the crashing, the dust rising, the fleeing; all indeterminate states of between one thing and another.
Father Michael by Susan Crile

BS: What about politically charged work in general-- in your opinion, why is it important for artists to tackle issues such as the torture at Abu Ghraib? Do you feel that visual art can cause, or at least spur, change?

SC: I'm really not sure that art can spur change, at least in America. Art isn't mainstream enough in the whole country. It is largely the playground for the rich; it is still fundamentally elitist, despite the increase of museum attendance. Art programs in schools barely exist any longer; the NEA has a tiny budget and art institutions struggle for funding. I do believe that art is capable of touching and moving individuals and maybe that is the most we can hope for right now.

An artist is a part of his or her time and reflects it and is a witness to it. The problem is how to make art and not didactic tracts, not that tracts do not have their own power and place; but to have the power of Goya or Picasso, one has to transform the experience of war, or torture or political abuse into art, which is very difficult to do!

BS: Susan, you have had over 50 solo exhibitions and your work is in the collections of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Denver Art Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Phillips Collection, and the Hirshhorn Museum, among others. What comes to your mind when you think back on your career?

SC: Not much comes to mind. I guess I'm more interested in figuring out where to go next. My work has always changed a good deal, which has not always been so good for my peace of mind. It seems that every 5 years, there is a real shift in my work and this is always an initially unpleasant time. I invariably feel that the well is dry and there is nowhere to go. But at least, by now, I know that this is my pattern and if I just sit tight with the muse (which usually means making a lot of bad art) that eventually the path will become clear again. A strange thing happens to me when I get to the end of a period of my work. Suddenly, I technically do not know how to make it any more. It's rather disconcerting to say the least.

Shackled in Red Panties by Susan Crile

BS: Aside from the locations mentioned, where can our readers view your work in person? Will you be involved with any upcoming exhibits?

SC: First, images of my work can be seen on my web site:
Although I am in a number of Museum collections, I'm not sure what is currently on view at this time. Last year I had two Museum exhibitions of the Abu Ghraib works in Italy, at Museo di Roma in Trastevere and Museo di Palazzo Moncenigo in Venice. I plan to show my current work, small abstract paintings on wood panels, at Michael Steinberg Fine Art in New York in 2009.

I am/will be in some group shows this fall and winter, 2008/09:
War as a Way of Life, 18th St. Arts Center in Santa Monica, CA
September 27- December 19th)

To:Night: Times Square Gallery, 450 W. 41st St. NYC
September 25- November 23

Independent Vision:/ Feminist Perspectives: Sidney Mishkin Gallery,
Baruch College, NYC, November 20-Dec 17

Cryptoreal: Art And Myth: Francis Lewis Gallery at St. George's Church, Queens, NY, November 22- January 11, 2009

Trouble in Paradise: Examining Discord between Nature and Society.
Tuscon Museum of Art; February- July 2009

BS: Concerning politics, art, and protest... what is the importance of protesting political issues with art? In your opinion, why is a visual message more powerful than a verbal message as far as making a political or social statement is concerned? Is it more powerful?

SC: Both the visual and the written have the potential to be very powerful. Too often, they just aren't quite. I believe that protest is essential; it's what, so to speak, keeps the politicians in line. I'm not sure it matters how it's done, as long as it is done. Under Bush, the White house systematically closed down the avenues of protest. This was and is a very dangerous situation for democracy and makes it even more important for people in the arts to have the courage to do what they can. Unfortunately, it becomes harder for "political" artists and writers to gain access to the mainstream because so many institutions, whether publishers, galleries, museums, newspapers, begin to comply with the new restrictions.
Erotic Humilation by Susan Crile

BS: When you make a political stance with your work are you ever concerned about any form of backlash? For example, have you ever been threatened due to some of the visual statements you have made?

SC: I got one awful hate letter when I had the exhibition of Abu Ghraib drawings at Hunter College. It certainly had crossed my mind that one could find oneself on a 'no fly' list or such, but I thought it unlikely.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or any concerns that you have?

SC: It has taken me a long time to answer these questions and during the course of it, our story as a country has changed dramatically. I feel much more hopeful about the future of art and the country than I did six months ago. Despite the devastating economic crisis we are in, I believe there will be a psychic and moral correction in the country. If money can no longer be the 'be all' and 'end all' of everything, perhaps this will open up a vast space in our culture for other things to develop and flourish.
You can learn more about Susan Crile by visiting her website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Real Visual Message of “Hope” Behind Barack Obama

The Real Visual Message of “Hope” Behind Barack Obama

Hope” by Victorian-era artist G.F. Watts helped inspire Barack Obama to the presidency:

"To take the one string you have left and to have the audacity to hope ... that's the real word God will have us hear ... from Watts' painting," -- Reverend Jeremiah Wright from his famous sermon which deeply impacted Obama.

Now that the hype of the 2008 election is over the press has started to piece together topics that were missed during the gold rush-- or should I say media blitz?-- for information and headlines. One of those stories involves an artwork titled “Hope”. However, this image is most likely not the “Hope” you are thinking of-- as in the portrait of Obama titled “Hope” by controversial street artist Shepard Fairey. That “Hope” was caught on waves of media lightning. No, this influential image of “Hope” is from a different era-- Victorian to be exact. It seems that “Hope”, painted by G.F. Watts, is deeply embedded within the psyche of Barack Obama.

So what exactly is the connection between Watts’ “Hope” and Obama? Apparently the Victorian painting inspired Obama’s controversial former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, to give a sermon to his congregation. That sermon was titled “The Audacity to Hope”. The sermon had a great impact on Obama who later mentioned it in his first book “Dreams of My Father”. As we all know, Obama changed his pastor’s phrase to “the audacity of hope” when he used it as the title for his speech during the Democratic National Convention in 2004. The phrase was later used as the title of Obama’s second book.

"Hope", that is the “Hope“ by Watts not Fairey-- is currently on display at Guildhall Art Gallery in London. The painting will be on display until the spring of 2009.

Link of Interest:

Victorian painting by G.F. Watts inspired Obama to harp on 'Hope'

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor

Art Space Talk: Blaine Fontana

Blaine Fontana was born in Seattle, Washington and raised on Bainbridge Island. He began his interest in art at a young age. During his teens he commuted to two High Schools in order to study graphic design, photography, sculpture and life drawing. After graduating in 1994, he pursued his education of life in the streets of Seattle and Portland as a graffiti artist. After about 4 years of being in and out of towns and community colleges, Fontana chose to attend Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles in 1998.

Four years later Fontana left with a BFA in Communication Art/Design at the top of his class with the “Best in Show” award that is presented upon Graduation in 2002. During School he worked as an Art Director at a design firm, Abound LLC, and also as a Graphic Designer at a Fashion/Lifestyle Magazine, Metro Pop. Fontana has also worked as an Art Director at a young men’s apparel company, Drifter.

In January of 2003 Blaine became self-employed as a fine artist and designer. He spent the next 5 years developing his unique style and becoming well known around the So Cal gallery scene and companies as a rising artist and designer. After pursuing his career and vision in LA for 9 years he has recently returned to his roots on Bainbridge Island, Washington.

Honey Barracks, 24" x 24", acrylic on board

Brian Sherwin: Blaine, my understanding is that you lived in both rural and urban settings as a child and teen. Can you discuss the impact those two experiences had on your development as an artist? Philosophically speaking, do you think you would be the same artist you are today had it not been for living in those two very different settings?

Blaine Fontana: My work has always been about juxtaposing 2 worlds, several unlikely mediums, or techniques. This is directly an influence of my upbringing and current interests and inspiration. I couldn't imagine doing my work any different. So to say its been an influence would be an understatement. Lately I've noticed that having an ever changing upbringing and living in different cities across the west coast also steers my obsession to combat challenges and creating new styles that are outside of my comfort zone.

BS: Concerning the urban route of your exploration… in 1994 you hit the streets of Seattle and Portland as a graffiti artist. Can you discuss those early years and how they made an impact on your future work? Perhaps you can describe the mind-set that you had while creating art on the streets?

BF: Like any writer at a young age, you envelope yourself in a state of invincibility and arrogance. The process of graffiti is urgent and on the fly. I approach nearly all my backgrounds in the same way, passionate and a calculated haste to encourage happy accidents.
Obstacle Movers, 12" x 12", mixed media on board

BS: With that in mind, what is your opinion of graffiti art, and street art in general, today? For example, do you think artists should avoid taking that path if they can? I only ask because I was recently reminded of the murder of SOLVE in Chicago. Or would you say that the danger, or possible danger, is just part of the experience?

BF: I would NEVER discourage the medium. Tragedies like SOLVE rarely happen but its part of the territory. No matter how you argue it, graffiti creates a volatile reaction out of anyone. Its not a grey area for opinion. The dangers of injury, jail, dumb ass joeys catching you and beating you to a pulp, and just the simple feeling of getting away with it are all very alluring. I eventually had to quit after being caught 6 times and my college education became in jeopardy. It will always remain in my blood and I still have the itch.

Prayer Telegrams, 24" x 24" acrylic on board. Image 4 of 33

BS: In 1998 you went from the streets to the classroom. You entered the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. At that time did you have doubts? Did you experience any form of conflict? Sometimes graffiti artists, or former graffiti artists if you will, mention that they feel as if they are boxed in when placed in a classroom or gallery setting, did you experience that?

BF: I seemed to flourish there. My education became very serious to me and I deeply applied myself to learn another world. Due to my graffiti nature, I had an attitude problem and lacked any sense of professionalism and discipline. Art school bitch slapped that off my face pretty quickly.

BS: My understanding is that you were very successful at Otis College… having graduated with a BFA at the top of your class in 2002. Can you go into further detail about those years and the influence they had on you? Did you have any influential instructors?

BF: Correction, one of the top in my department. The school nurtured my style(s) unconditionally and overwhelmingly. I did have a lot of friction with the chair of the department at that time. We disagreed on numerous type aesthetics, and contemporary design styles that were emerging out in popular culture that the department seemed to have no interest in. My two most influential instructors were Nathan Ota, and Nick Taggart. Both literally were instrumental fostering my techniques and style.
Guerillas in the Fist -The Fierce Republic -Dining on the Wind, each 36" x 84 ", mixed media on paper and bamboo pole mounts

BS: As a designer you served as an Art Director for several magazines. I understand that you held a few Art Director positions while in college, correct? I assume that you learned a lot about the business aspect of art from those experiences? How did those experiences prepare you for that aspect of your career?

BF: Yes, I suppose thats what created an edgier side to me working already as a professional during school. Having that experienced prepared me to work with a staff and work under people, and realize I still have a lot to learn working with people.

BS: In 2003 you decided to be self-employed as a find artist and designer. Did you stop working as an Art Director at that time? At what point did you realize that you were ready to make that leap, so to speak?

BF: After getting fired the first time in my life, I found myself back into numerous portfolio meetings and having time to explore my own art. One gig lead to another where I was able to sustain myself eventually and began to paint furiously. I've worked as an art director on several projects since then. I've also turned down some very good full time job offers, these days I'm starting to reconsider it now that I've reestablished a balance between the industries and mediums I work in.

The Science of Retirement, 18" x 18", mixed media on board

BS: Concerning you art career I understand that you have expanded your studio in order to offer more design services, correct? Can you discuss what you offer? Do you have a website for that aspect of your career?

BF: We are still in development with most of them, but I am thrilled to see that we'll be launching our design website/company that will have a lot of meat on it from the number of projects I've been doing on the side. Later, we'll be launching a product site/store down the road.
BS: Your art involves visual narratives in that you include aspects of storytelling through the imagery that you include. For example, the faces in some of your work reminds one of tribal masks. There is also the fact that you sometimes call your characters “Templings” due to your interest in myths, shamanism, and the spiritual aspect of creating art. Can you discuss these aspects of your work?

BF: I‘ll answer with this, "Each of Blaine Fontana’s paintings is branded with his unique trademark of twisted and highly stylized figures. Often passive, and somber with a grin, Fontana has labeled these characters “Templings”, a fusion of two words, temple and being. Whether these beings are interpreted as people, gods, demigods, myths, shamans or your own reflection is up for interpretation. Neither male nor female they function as the face of a spiritual currency and ambiguity that heavily relates to the therapeutic intent of Blaine’s paintings. The Templing's also serve as the conduit of people’s emotions and memories around him and the studies he reads. Often these beings are similar, though it’s the richly textured and unique backgrounds that make literal information and colors intriguing juxtapositions free from linear storytelling different in each piece.
Many of the smaller tertiary images and renderings fill in the gaps for the theme and or concept of the work. They are usually graphic landscapes, generic people, numerical coding for actual dates, and dictation of streaming thought during the process of the art. It’s difficult to encapsulate the meaning of Blaine’s work since it is different each time. Each work possesses a microcosm of stories, myths, and beliefs intended only for that piece.
Fontana’s vision is influenced by religious myths, worldly folklore, and current social dynamics. Many cultures used and use art as a form of “medicine”, as a way of illustrating the visions of the shaman to the rest of the community. On the cusp of Blaine’s pursuit of developing his technique, he suffered a very personal & torturous experience. Out of this passage came some profound visions and clarity, which propelled him into a rapidly evolved way of viewing the world. This vision is the source of his eastern influences and spiritual language that can be recognized in his work.
Blaine’s techniques have roots form an array of places. Some of the most pertinent ones are graffiti, photography and graphic design. Having grown up amongst acres of forests surrounding him and also growing up in the urban jungles of Seattle, WA, he got the best of both worlds. He developed an enormous imagination over the paths of two different environments. These are the polar opposites that create a harmonious balance of partnership, the inorganic and organic, the physical and metaphysical, order and chaos."
F8L, 12" x 12", mixed media on board

BS: So should your collective work be considered an ongoing visual narrative, so to speak? As in, do the stories from one piece carry on to the next or is that strictly open to interpretation by the viewer?

BF: Thats up for interpretation from the viewer. I don't try to hold onto to tight to linear storytelling. Usually my work is done in batches of series that relate with each other.

BS: Where do your ideas come from? For example, do you spend time doing research before starting a piece or do you work from intuition? Do you create preliminary drawings to work from based off of dreams? Can you describe how ideas ‘pop’ into your mind, so to speak?

BF: I wish I knew, if I did I would be able to tap into that more frequently. But in general, books, movies, and just sitting deep in thought will trigger something. I rarely use my dreams anymore as influence. I often will do extensive research for a series that needs to portray consistency.

BS: Tell us about your process? For example, the materials that you use.. What attracts you to the certain mediums and surfaces that you utilize? Also, do you work on several pieces at once or do you tend to focus on them one at a time?

BF: I'm usually working on about 3 painting at once. My materials vary. Acrylics, paper, stencils, designer texture brushes for faux finishes in homes, silk screens, spray paint, color pencil, oil sticks, masking tape, and house paint are some of the media I play with frequently, Depending on the theme or individual concept the project will tell me what materials are best suited for the creation.

BS: Can you give our readers some insight into your current work? What are you working on at this time?

BF: I'll let that be a surprise for my first solo show after a 2 year break that will be in LA in October 09'.

BS: Do you have any advice for emerging artists who dream of making a living from creating art as you have been able to do? Any words of wisdom?

BF: At this point I've exhausted myself answering this question so many times, I'll let aspiring artists figure it out the same way I did, on my own.

BS: What do you think about artists being labeled or classified. For example, many people describe you as a lowbrow artist. That said, what do you consider yourself? Do you try to avoid labels and classification or do you acknowledge it?

BF: I dislike labels, but they are a necessary evil to comprehend artwork for some people. If I had to classify myself, I would call it urban-contemporary.
Camper Ghosts, 18" x 18 ", mixed media on board

BS: Concerning the art world as a whole… do you have any concerns about the art world at this time? Any specific issues that you would like to draw attention to?

BF: I'm to young and feel I have not yet earned the right to call out such things in the artworld, get back to me in another 4 years after I've had 10 years under my belt.

BS: Where can our readers see your work in person? Will you be involved with any upcoming exhibits?

BF: See earlier for upcoming show, as for galleries, see: (los angeles, USA) (montreal, CANADA)

BS: Finally, when all is said and done what do you hope people gain from your art? Is there a specific message that you strive to leave behind as far as your art is concerned?

BF: Its not up to me to steer peoples gains, nor can I control it, I would only hope they would feel closer to humanity, and contribute more to it.
You can learn more about Blaine Fontana by visiting his website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Damien Hirst is Looking Ahead

Damien Hirst is Looking Ahead. Image via Portfolio

Damien Hirst is considered to be one of the most tactful artists living today as far as establishing a market is concerned. While the ethics of his practice can be debated one must admit that Hirst is a capable businessman-- his actions have enforced the idea that an artist can take his or her career into his or her own hands by utilizing alternative marketing paths, such as selling art online or at auction without the help of gallery representation. However, it may very well be that recent economic struggles have finally caught up to the world renowned British artist and his business model-- at least that is what the skeptics are saying. Could they be wrong?
The media has reported on several stories that reveal the current status of the ‘dismal’ financial situation facing Damien Hirst. For example, there are reports that Hirst has dismissed 20 to 24 assistants from his production company. Further reports include information stating that only two of eight works by Hirst sold at Art Basel Miami Beach less than a month ago. However, one must remember that Hirst has been making his own rules as of late-- so it could be that he does not care about these recent losses. After all, Hirst is by no means a starving artist.
As mentioned, Damien Hirst is a very business-minded artist. Before counting Hirst out realize that he recently lowered his own prices. In fact, Hirst has stated that he is looking forward to selling his work for affordable rates within the context of recent global economic woes. He has already reduced the price of some works by half. Hirst has also said that he is looking at more realistic prices in general. Thus, it seems to me that Hirst is learning as he goes. When faced with a tough market one must learn to adapt, true?
Hirst is aware of this. As a businessman and entrepreneur he is very aware of what is needed in order to sustain his market during stages of economic strife. Hirst recently stated, "If I want to sell new work, I'll price it lower. If people have got less money, you can either just shut your door and say, 'Screw everybody', or I can wait until everyone can afford my work or price it cheaper." Thus, you can't measure the success of Damien Hirst with traditional concepts of art world success. After all, Hirst is exploring different markets in order to sustain his art dynasty, so to speak.
Do you need an example of how committed Damien Hirst is to exploring the market for his art? Look to his association with Levi’s Jeans for the answer. The artist is working with Levi’s Jeans in order to produce a limited edition collection of clothing featuring themes that are common in his art. The prices will start at $100 for tees and $250 for jeans. Hirst will utilize aspects of ecommerce when selling his line of clothing. Needless to say, Hirst is an artist who is prepared to brave the new frontier of the art market.
So what can we learn from Damien Hirst? Simple. When demand is down an artist must adapt to the art market as well as the global economy. As with any business... traditional models of commerce are meant to be broken.
Links of Interest:
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor

Left 4 Dead is Right 4 Censors

Apparently the cover art for a video game titled Left 4 Dead has been censored outside of the United States. Left 4 Dead is a survival horror first-person shooter that follows the story of four survivors of an apocalyptic pandemic. In other words, the Left 4 Dead game borrows heavily from George Romero’s classic film, Night of the Living Dead.

The United States cover depicts the hand of a zombie (victim?) reaching up-- the thumb having been bitten off. Apparently censors in Europe and Japan observed the cover art-- the missing thumb-- as “too grotesque for the general public.” Needless to say, the thumb has been returned on cover art for the European and Japanese version of Left 4 Dead.

So why am I mentioning this on a blog dedicated to art? First, cover art for a video game is art-- depending on who you ask. Second, I find it interesting when cover art is censored-- especially outside of the United States. The US often has a bad reputation for censorship. So it is interesting that this cover art has been censored elsewhere.

Consider this an open debate about art and censorship.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Banksy Splashed Out in Melbourne

Banksy Splashed Out in Melbourne

A work attributed to the world renowned graffiti artist known as Banksy has been destroyed in Melbourne, Australia. The image, known as the ‘Little Diver’, had been protected by a sheet of acrylic glass since 2007. Unfortunately, the sheet provided little defense against the individual(s) who destroyed the image in earlier this month.

The original image, which was stenciled in 2003, is no longer visible due to “vandals” pouring silver paint behind the protective sheet of acrylic glass. The destructive individuals then tagged ‘Banksy woz ere’ on the protective sheet. It was estimated that Little Diver-- before being destroyed-- was valued at over $400,000.

The defacement of ’Little Diver’ reminds one of the notorious Splasher who has been targeting works by Banksy, Anthony Lister, and other graffiti / street artists in New York City since late 2006. Could it be that Melbourne has their own ’Splasher’ now? Perhaps.

Some individuals have suggest that the destruction of famous graffiti / street works has become an art movement in its own right. There are also a number of conspiracy theories floating around-- such as individuals protecting their investment by having specific public works destroyed. In truth, we may never know why people to decide to destroy these works.

News of destroyed works by celebrated graffiti artists and popular street artists are becoming common place. Banksy is not the only target-- street works by Shepard Fairey are becoming a popular target as well. These stories are often filled with irony. For example, why is it that the destroyers of the work are considered ‘vandals’ by the media? After all, in most cases these artists create their art in areas that are considered illegal to do so. Thus, one could say that their art walks hand-in-hand with vandalism. Perhaps fame and a price tag dictates what is vandalism and what is not? Thoughts?

Link of Interest:

The Splasher

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor

Advice for promoting and selling your art online

Below are some suggestions on how to improve your online presence-- these suggestions can be helpful in planning your strategy for promoting and selling art online:

1. Post links to your art!

Include a link to the art site(s) that you are using on every profile that you have-- every site that you are involved with. For example, if you have a profile on or make sure to include links to the sites where your artwork can be found. Thus, if you have an account on be sure to include that link on your Facebook or Myspace profile. If you are managing a New York Art Exchange ( store from your myartspace account be sure to include your store link on those sites as well.

You will also want to include a link to your art on every post that you make-- be it a blog entry or comment on social networking sites. Be sure to include links on any email message you send or reply to. You can even use html code in order to place something like 'View My Art Here' or 'Buy My Art Here' on your profiles so that people will click on 'View My Art Here' or 'Buy My Art' in order to be taken to the site you desire people to view.

2. Build multiple online networks to promote your art!

Build networks on sites like Myspace and Facebook. By building networks on several social networking sites you will be able to use each of those sites as a vehicle for your art. Most of these sites will allow you to send links to several people at once in the form of bulletins, shared links, or group messages. Take advantage of that! However, don’t abuse it. You don’t want the site to mistake you for a spammer nor do you want to annoy people. Sending a weekly update about your development as an artist will suffice. If you are selling art online you may want to inform your networks of new listings. Maintaining social networks is a great way to reach hundreds or thousands of people at once.

3. Write about your art!

Use a service like or in order to create a blog/journal about your art. Post entries about your art, exhibits that you will be involved with, and your thoughts about the direction of your work-- include links to your artwork on every entry that you make be it a comment to another user or a journal entry about what you ate last night. Do the same on any art site that you are involved with if they offer blogs or journals. As mentioned before, it is always good to end an entry with your name followed by the links you desire to promote.

Remember that you don't always have to write about yourself. Anything you mention in an entry can help improve your placement in search engines. If you associate yourself with a specific artist, style, or movement be sure to write about that and the connection you feel that you have. By doing that your name may show up on searches for those respected influences on search engines like Google. Again, by including your name and links to your art on these entries you will greatly improve your search placement. In other words, each entry will help improve your online presence. Remember that establishing your online presence will improve your chance of selling art online.

4. Alternative press is a good thing-- Seek it!

Seek out art zines that may feature your work online. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of these to discover-- and don't dismiss art blogs! As you can tell by my interviews( artists from all walks of life and stages of career have found value in what bloggers, such as myself, can provide as far as exposure is concerned. I've interviewed artists who are virtually unknown and artists who have had their work sell for over a million dollars at auction. These artists may not share artistic direction or financial status, but they all share an acknowledgment of what online exposure can accomplish and a desire for the recognition that the Internet can provide.

Many art bloggers will be more than happy to make a post about your art if you contact them. Sure, you may desire to be covered by a major art magazine... but until that day comes-- if it comes --the art blogosphere is the next best thing-- if not the best! An art blog article, review, or interview can bring a continuous flow of traffic to your website for years to come if you include links to your art. In other words, an article about your art on an art blog will most likely be viewed by more people than an article about your art in a magazine. Recognition is just a few clicks away! The times have changed.

5. Combine efforts, work together with fellow artists!

Forming an alliance of sorts with like-minded artists can benefit you greatly as far as online exposure is concerned. If you admire the art of your friends be sure to include a link to their work on your profiles and make sure that they do the same. Working together you may decide to create a profile, blog, or website that represents all of the artists involved in the group. A page that includes links to each respected members art is of great value-- especially if each member includes that link along with their personal art links when posting on the sites they are involved with.

Art groups have popped up all over the net alongside self-declared art movements. Artists unified under a common goal-- in many cases exposure for each member --have worked with great success on auction sites and other online resources. There are other benefits to a union like this... for example, if you are unable to find time to go online you will know that your name is still being spread by your friends. Gaining exposure online can sometimes be a battle... it may very well be a fight that is best not fought alone.

6. Find the time to promote your art online!

Some individuals feel that the Internet is an addiction best left avoided. However, if you want to gain exposure for you art-- both online and offline --you really need to find enough time to promote yourself. Spend some time each day posting links to your art, uploading images of your art, commenting on the work of others and building networks on the sites you are involved with. A half hour of concentrated promotion of your art each day will really pay off as the years go by. After-all, you can't build your online presence if you are not online.

One of the best ways to promote your art online is to maintain a blog that is focused on your artistic practice and interest. If you are actively writing about your art on a blog you will be able to take advantage of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). In other words, you will increase your chances of being indexed by search engines. Again, this is time well spent.

7. Avoid throwing money away on 'how-to' art marketing books!

Don't waste your time and money on 'how-to' books that are focused on gaining exposure for your art online. I'm sure there might be some that are worth your time and cash, but I've yet to find any. That money is better spent elsewhere for your online marketing/exposure efforts. For example, you could spend the money on website construction or a premium account on There are many online art communities... find the one that works best for you.

I've mentioned my dislike for 'how-to' art marketing publications in the past and have received some delightfully angry responses from authors of these types of books. Why do I say to avoid them? Because they are often over-priced for the information they contain-- information that is often not current with the times and that contains 'helpful' links that are no longer active... which is not very helpful at all-- especially when a $19.95 price-tag is involved!

I take this position because if you do a Yahoo or Google search for 'art marketing advice' or 'gaining exposure for your art online' you will most likely discover everything mentioned in these books and more-- for free. True, those books may contain personal experiences that the author has had researching (note, researching) online marketing and exposure tactics, but more often than not you will discover that the author is not an artist and therefore has not had any direct experience marketing or gaining exposure for art online.

Many of these books are also written by authors who have a business motive hidden within the pages of their book-- that being their $100+ per month art consultant service which is often mentioned in one of the final chapters. This is why I take a hard stance against these books and in many cases their authors-- and before you say that I have a motive note that I make it very clear that I write for Also note that you did not have to pay $19.95 to discover that fact. Also remember that membership on myartspace is free. Premium service on myartspace is just an option.

Instead of buying a collection of art marketing books you would be better off researching online art marketing and exposure on your own. Discussing marketing and exposure tactics with other artists that you meet online is also a great way to discover free information about promoting your art online. The only thing it will cost you is the price of internet connection and time.

In closing, there are many things you can do to promote your art online. Each step can improve your chances of selling art online. This includes, creating free accounts on every art site that offers free membership, creating a blog or two about your art, using social networking sites to build a network, posting links to your art on art forums, and if you must invest money, invest it in a personal website or paid-membership on an art site that you deem worthy of your hard earned bucks.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor

Monday, December 22, 2008

Act / React

Happy Holidays everyone!

If you're anywhere in the Midwest and near the Milwaukee area this season, I highly recommend scooting over to the Milwaukee Art Museum before the Act/React exhibition comes down. It's an inspiring display of the possibilities with interactive media in art, and is only up for the next few weeks. Below is a review I penned for Rhizome a couple of months ago.

Action, Reaction, and Phenomenon


Image: Daniel Rozin, Snow Mirror, 2006. Computer, custom software, video camera, projector, silk. Dimensions variable. Edition of 6. (Courtesy of bitforms gallery, New York, and ITP, Tisch School of the Arts, New York.)

In his book, Parables for the Virtual, Brian Massumi calls for "movement, sensation, and qualities of experience" to be put back into our understandings of embodiment. He says that contemporary society comprehends bodies, and by extension the world, almost exclusively through linguistic and visual apprehension. They are defined by their images, their symbols, what they look like and how we write and talk about them. Massumi wants to instead "engage with continuity," to encourage a processual and active approach to embodied experience. In essence, Massumi proposes that our theories "feel" again. "Act/React," curator George Fifield's "dream exhibition" that opened at the Milwaukee Art Museum on October 4th, picks up on these phenomenologist principles. He and his selected artists invite viewer-participants to physically explore their embodied and continuous relationships to each other, the screen, space, biology, art history and perhaps more.

Fifield is quick to point out that all the works on show are unhindered by traditional interface objects such as the mouse and keyboard. Most of them instead employ computer vision technologies, more commonly known as interactive video. Here, the combined use of digital video cameras and custom computer software allows each artwork to "see," and respond to, bodies, colors and/or motion in the space of the museum. The few works not using cameras in this fashion employ similar technologies towards the same end. While this homogeneity means that the works might at first seem too similar in their interactions, their one-to-one responsiveness, and their lack of other new media-specific explorations -- such as networked art or dynamic appropriation and re-mixing systems -- it also accomplishes something most museum-based "state of the digital art" shows don't. It uses just one avenue of interest by contemporary media artists in order to dig much deeper into what their practice means, and why it's important. "Act/React" encourages an extremely varied and nuanced investigation of our embodied experiences in our own surroundings. As the curator himself notes in the Museum's press release, "If in the last century the crisis of representation was resolved by new ways of seeing, then in the twenty-first century the challenge is for artists to suggest new ways of experiencing...This is contemporary art about contemporary existence." This exhibition, in other words, implores us to look at action and reaction, at our embodied relationships, as critical experience. It is a contemporary investigation of phenomenology.

Near the entrance of the show, Scott Snibbe's Boundary Functions (1998) begins by literalizing the fine line between publicly constructed and personally constituted space, between "you (plural)" and "me." As his audience members cross the threshold onto the interactive platform, the work draws and projects a real-time Voronoi diagram around them. No matter how many people are present (and moving) in the installation, each gets a continual partitioning of exactly the same size: lines that separate them. Snibbe says his initial inspiration for the work came out of a desire to reveal how we relate to one another, how we define ourselves and the physical space of our bodies through, and with, those around us. When he turned it on, however, his revelation wound up changing that relationship itself: we immediately want to use our bodies to trap or destroy or trick the piece and what it re-presents. It was after seeing his own creation in action that Snibbe began referring to himself as a "social artist" -- given that he doesn't just reveal, but actually affects, social behavior.


Image: Scott Snibbe, Deep Walls, 2003. Retroreflective fabric screen, projector, video camera, infrared illuminator, computer, custom software. (Photo: Installation view at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California, 2003. Courtesy of the artist.)

Further into the exhibition space, this is followed by Snibbe's Deep Walls (2003), where viewers' shadows are recorded and played back in a grid of sixteen cinematic squares. Participants dance and shake and explore with their shadows between the projection and screen, and every active performance snippet is stored as a silhouetted animation in one of its comic book-like boxes. Each video sequence replaces one that was there before. Here, we are creating embodied and dynamic signs within a greater, collaborative structure; we continuously find and make our own language and meaning with and through our bodies. We tell and re-tell and co-tell embodied stories, through movement.

Echo Evolution (1999) is the next work on show, produced by Liz Phillips, an artist effectively working with interactivity for 40 some-odd years. It asks for viewers to navigate through a large dark room, and responds with real-time noise and neon lights. Where you move, how quickly you do so, and where others are in relation to you and the space, all direct the piece's output. Although potentially the richest piece in its complexity, the non-transparency of the interaction and its rules unfortunately made this work the weakest on the exhibition. Most viewers were trying to understand how it worked, rather than exploring their bodies in relation to that interaction. I've seen far better installations by Phillips, and think this one was an ineffectual choice in the context of the greater show.


Image: Brian Knep, Healing Pool, 2008. Computer, custom software, video projectors, video cameras, vinyl flooring. Dimensions variable. (Photo by Nathaniel Stern)

Brian Knep's premiering Healing Pool (2008) continues his explorations of biologically inspired generative algorithms. This room-sized petri dish features a floor that is covered in projected "cells" that active participants walk through/over, leaving tears and empty space in their wake. The installation then "heals" itself by growing new cells as seams and scars, never again to repeat any of its previous patterns. Knep's work pushes at the conceptual boundaries of how we understand growth, healing, organic structures and temporal inter-activity. It's a work that is mostly playful on its surface, and extremely subtle in its visual difference over time. So subtle, in fact, that it's very easy to miss its doubled gesture towards emergence theory: both how simple systems can create complexity, and how our embodied interactions, which seemingly change little, have lasting and forever-changing effects.


Daniel Rozin, Peg Mirror, 2007. Wood, motors, circuits, custom software, microcontroller. 42 inches in diameter; 6 inches deep. Edition of 10. (Photo by Nathaniel Stern)

Daniel Rozin's two pieces were admittedly the most surprising for those already familiar with his work. His investigation of material mirror metaphors began in 1999 with Wooden Mirror, where over 700 individual wood chips in a grid point up and down on servo motors, towards and away from lights above, in order to create a real-time video image, a live woodcut. In the preview images of "Act/React," his Peg Mirror (2007) and Snow Mirror (2006) looked like minor variations on this original theme: the former in lower resolution and with rotating and slanted wooden pegs, the latter a video software projection which slowly reveals our images in what looks like falling snow. But the subtle temporal difference in Rozin's new work opens up the possibility for more contemplative embodied investigation. In Peg Mirror, for example, the slow rotation of each individual pixel means that there is a lovely and material lag that trails off behind everything we do. It is less of a direct response, and more of a call and response with our reduced, or distilled, image. Our engagement is continuous. Snow Mirror, then, also breaks direct mirroring by building an image over time, with "external" forces -- the snow. Its movements define our movements, and vice versa. These beautiful pieces are the strongest I've seen from Rozin yet.


Image: Janet Cardiff, To Touch, 1993. Wooden carpenter's table, electronic photo cells, audio speakers. Dimensions variable. (Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.)

Next, Janet Cardiff's To Touch (1994) adds a wonderful counterpoint to Snibbe's Deep Walls. Instead of her visitors constituting new narratives with their bodies, they elicit and construct two lovers’ stories with their physical touch. Each participant is invited to draw out and feel monologues and aural moments, her main characters revealing history when we glide over the surface of a well-lived carpenter’s table. As our hands caress the grain, marks and dents of the wood, her multi-channel sound installation proffers tidbits of story to contemplate. Cardiff is a master at creating physiological responses to minimal sonic and/or visual information, and this piece is no exception.

And finally, Camille Utterback's External Measures (2003), Untitled 5 (2004) and Untitled 6 (2005) summarize the entire show by inviting an embodied investigation of art, art history and art-making itself. Here, visitors' movements under a birds-eye view camera can create, smudge or magnetically and magically attract scores of painterly marks across her screen-as-canvas. These stunning software paintings each encourage explorations of material and presence, with varying styles and application methods to their surface. The complexity of Utterback's software, which is crafted to respond to stillness as well as movement, to continuously shift with every new interaction, is matched only by the simplicity of her interface: the body. This is art about art and artists, images and image production, signs and bodies; it asks us to engage with how we express and represent, and how we relate to each of these embodied processes. It is a beautiful series of works about the art of embodiment, and the embodiment of art.

For as Massumi points out, "When a body is in motion, it does not coincide with itself. It coincides with its own transition: its own variation... In motion, a body is in an immediate, unfolding relation to its own... potential to vary." The body, like art and the bodies and dialogues that surround it, is "an accumulation of relative perspectives and the passages between them... retaining and combining past movements," continuously "infolded" with "coding and codification." Fifield and his selected artists invite us to engage, enact and explore all of the above.

"Act/React" runs through January 11, 2009 at the Milwaukee Art Museum, and includes a full-color printed and DVD catalogue, in collaboration with Aspect Magazine. Remaining events include a lecture by Steve Dietz on 16 October, an artist talk by Amy Granat on 13 November, and gallery talks throughout the rest of the year.

Nathaniel Stern (USA / South Africa, born 1977) is an experimental installation and video artist, net.artist, printmaker and writer. He currently pursues an arts research PhD at Trinity College, Dublin and is an Assistant Professor of Digital Studio Practice at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee.