Friday, April 30, 2010

The Collector - Movie Review

I'm always on the hunt for inspiring and/or quirky art documentaries. This one definitely falls under the latter. I read about it while checking out a favorite interior design blog. As I recall, the topic of the post was hoarding, and this movie was suggested by another reader.

As artists, we tend to collect things- either because they are beautiful, or because we start to see patterns in multiple items, or they give us inspiration, or simply because we just want to possess. This short film was about lawyer cum collector/gallerist, Allan Stone. Frustrated by his day job as a Harvard-educated attorney, he started to conduct studio visits with artists as a break from the legal sphere. He became obsessed with art, but at the eventual expense of his own family life. The movie was created by his daughter, who observes that he collects all sorts of things- clothes, tools, vitamins, tennis balls, and mostly art, African Art. The film opens by showing paths carved out in his densely packed home allowing its inhabitants to go from room to room. The objects have indeed become an obstacle course. As she points out a favorite painting, he jokes that he's going to take that little jewel with him when he dies, like a pharaoh.

Allan Stone eventually started his own gallery on Manhattan's Upper East Side in 1960. It was not the pristine and open, white-washed box as the art galleries are today, but more reflective of his own personal taste and character. With an accidental sale, he started representing artists. He started with the Abstract Expressionists whose work consisted of feelings, sensations, and alienation: Willem de Kooning (his favorite- and mine too), Arshile Gorky, Yves Kline, Elaine de Kooning, Barnett Newman and discovered Wayne Thiebaud in 1962 at the advent of Pop Art which was suddenly more commercial. But representation by Alan Stone was not always good for the artist, because he didn't want to part with many of pieces in his own gallery. However, he was a treasured advisor to many artists with a keen eye for finding successful pieces over others. Where one particular piece has "it" (some indescribable x-factor) and another didn't. Having a visceral response to art during his studios visits, he was connected with the artist and the artist's work, knowing where the life of the work would go. He believed the studio was a hallowed and special place; where all the magic happens. One artist remarked that "most dealers have ears (meaning what will be marketable for profit's sake) but Allan has eyes". In a time when people started to collect for profit, he was not swayed by market values, he just wanted the pieces in his life and in his home.

He was particularly drawn to texture, tortured, and raw surfaces, repetition which could explain the overwhelming number of African fetish figures and tribal pieces. He believed that they have a real power even within the context of his modern suburban home- a home much larger than the Manhattan apartment to accommodate the size of his collection. He believes he inherited his collecting "gene" from his father who liked to attend furniture auctions. With his urge to accumulate, he made several parallels to narcotics, getting a rush with every new piece and the idea of extreme sadness if collecting no longer appealed to him.

The movie had commentary by some familiar faces: Ivan Karp, Agnes Gund, some known artists, and New York Times art critic, Michael Kimmelman, who made a brilliant observation- this collection was his own artform. By collecting and arranging these objects he becomes a three-dimensional collage artist.

While the movie addresses the possibility of mental illness and touches on areas of psychoanalysis for this compulsion to collect, it doesn't really come to any conclusions whatsoever. The film just dismisses the mass accumulation as folly, and you're left with the notion that maybe your own collection isn't that big after all.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Her Name Is My Name Too - Artist Interview with Kim Piotrowski

I'll be starting a new project here on the blog, consisting of artist interviews. As a painter and lover of the fine arts myself, I happen to know a lot of artists, so this is a good way for me to re-connect with them, get inside their studios, and find out what they've been up to lately.

To commence this project with a bang, I thought I'd start fairly close to "home" with painter, Kim Piotrowski. No, not me, but another artist from Chicago. I've encountered "the other Kim" in a phantom-like manner numerous times and in different ways through our interconnected art world. Not only do we share a name, but we share a connection through abstract painting. I later learned that she had known about me as well.

To mirror my first question posed to her, I first realized there was another Kim Piotrowski the year I was still in graduate school and interning at the New York satellite office of Maine's Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. One day, I walked into the office and everyone congratulated me on winning a prestigious grant for which I applied that year. Everyone saw the results posted in the back of one of the popular art magazines, but I didn't know anything about my supposed win. I thought I surely would have gotten a letter confirming the prize.  I grabbed the magazine and, sure enough, there was my name. Was it a typo? When I got home, I immediately called the foundation asking for some sort of validation. That was when I first found out about Kim Piotrowski- only she was based in Chicago. Ever since, we (or our work) are often confused for one another. What are the odds of having a doppelganger by name and profession and painting style?

A couple of years ago, my mom and I took a short trip to Chicago to visit some relatives. I decided that it would be fun (and interesting) to look up "the other Kim", and finally meet each other face to face. Going into the unknown, we made a plan to meet for lunch. I was pleasantly surprised that Kim was just as eager to meet me, and got a kick out of the whole scenario. We had a lively discussion during our initial meeting, and now keep in touch fairly regularly finding it quite amusing when others get their wires crossed about us.

Kim "the Elder" (a self-imposed title) is coming fresh from a painting residency away from distractions and life's daily demands. She was also more than willing to help me tell our funny story and thoughtfully answer my burning questions!

LUV U!!!, 2009 mixed media on synthetic paper, 40 x 26” (left) and
Twirl Fool, 2009 mixed media on synthetic paper, 40 x 26” (right)

-When did you first realize there was another artist out there with your same name and similar work?

It might have been about five years ago. I had bought the domain name but didn’t have a website. Things were tight, so I let the domain lapse for about six months. When I finally got a computer and was ready to make my website, the address was taken. I couldn’t believe there would be someone else who would want this domain. So, I investigated and found Kim Piotrowski – Brooklyn abstract painter. Really, what are the chances?! Hence my website is now and I’ve been very glad to make your acquaintance.

-How long have you been painting? When did you know that you wanted to pursue art?

Growing up I was a bit of a loner and misfit. I gravitated to drawing and painting all through my childhood. It was in high school where I had a wonderful art teacher who became my mentor. He never experienced the art world himself but pushed his students to get there. I skipped every class I could to be in his art room. This gave me a sense of solitude and a place to practice my skills. At some point, I got turned onto a program at the Albright Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY. They had afterschool portfolio and drawing programs. I was all over it. It was a window to the outside world for me and my first glimpse of what art could be. I took three buses three times a week after school sometimes to get there and loved everything about it. That’s when it happened. It is there that I was exposed to the Modernists and Abstract Expressionists. In the drawing classes many drew from Realism, while I methodically worked on crazy drawings made from abstraction. Another important revelation for me was seeing women artists in a museum collection; Joan Mitchell, Georgia O’Keefe, Marisol, wow! An art scholarship to college put me on course from there.

-Are you a full-time artist? What is your favorite time of day to work?

I wish I could work full-time on my painting right now, but I have a husband and two wonderful daughters that command time and support. Additionally, I have worked the last ten years at an administrative job to help support the family and my studio practice all while maintaining my career. Ideally, I would be able to work full time on my painting career and family. I am very ready for this to change if I can make it happen. My favorite time of day to work is anytime.

Kim's latest work from her recent painting residency (April, 2010)

-Your husband is also a painter- how did you meet? What’s it like having two working artists in the house? Do you feel a competitive painterly spirit with him in this regard?

My husband is a terrific artist and we met twenty years ago when I was working as a part time bookkeeper at the gallery where he was showing. We have been so fortunate that we have been able to mature as artists and mates together. He is ten years older and already had a firm footing on his career when we met. I have to credit him with allowing me to go through the growing pains of my own work and career without interfering. He knows I am very independent and backs off in a very intuitive way that I appreciate. We are at the stages in our lives and careers that we can be each other’s confidants and sounding boards. Our relationship has a foundation of mutual respect and tolerance and we have an unspoken way of asking each other for help. It works amazingly well. As for the competitive spirit you mentioned, I think we always have wanted what is best for each other. I truly believe there is room for every artist’s work. Discipline, determination along with a splash of luck can make great things happen.

-Is anyone else in your family creative? Do your daughters like to paint?

My mother liked to copy fashion illustrations from the newspaper ads when she was young. My brother is a very good architect in Germany, and I have a younger sister that is talented as well. Both of our daughters enjoy painting but approach it differently. They are immersed in our creative lives. It is their “normal”. The oldest is nine and has a thoughtful and methodical way of making art. Our youngest is seven and is more carefree yet is engaged when she paints. She is very expressive and I remember myself as a little girl when I see her working. Both of them are now familiar with our life of painting, traveling, and exhibiting and have become quite helpful in the studio.

-Who or what is your work influenced by? Do you have particular favorite artists?

My work is influenced by unpredictable combinations of current events, memory, autobiography and art history. My selection of favorite artists grows and changes constantly. A few favorites would be Paul Cezanne, Chaim Soutine, George Braque, Arthur Dove, Willem DeKooning, Louise Bourgeois, Robert Smithson, Eva Hesse, and Agnes Martin. Ask me again tomorrow, and I’ll have a new set of names.

In Them Hills, 2009 mixed media on synthetic paper, 60” x 48” (left) and
Pucci Blowout, 2008 mixed media on synthetic paper, 26” x 20” (right)

-What is your work about?

I think I finally figured out that my work is essentially about experience. I make many sketches and comb the internet for images that might be from current events or I’ll simply stumble upon subject matter that lies on my conscience. At some point either a sketch or image, or both, speak to me and provide me the necessity to go forward and make a painting. My work starts with an image and the process of abstract painting allows me to create the bridge to new meaning. The viewer then has the visual platform to read on and glean from it what they may.

-Your work seems to be biologically based. How did you become interested in integrating science into your paintings?

My work does have a history in biomorphic abstraction that has stood in as a reference to body and nature. I have always been fascinated by the strength and fragility of our bodies and the many transitions that happen in the course of a lifetime. I have also marveled at the significance of artificial constructs such as plastics in the practice of medicine that allow us to prolong our lives.

-Can you generally describe your artistic progression over the years?

My work has always had an affinity to the visceral and physical qualities of paint. The flow, and defining lines of pools can describe so easily and so openly, the mood or form of an image. When I began to show work I used a heightened and acidic oil palette that described abstract landscapes. Over time, I have explored through abstraction surgical anatomy, plant life and most recently figures. In the last five years, I’ve been bridging drawing to painting in an exciting way by working on paper. I guess my progression remains slow, steady and investigative.

- What three words would you use to describe your work overall?

Abstract, physical, bold

-What is your favorite piece of all time that you’ve created and why?

It’s the last one. It’s everything up to the minute.

-What is your workspace like?

I used to have a large studio before we had our daughters but then we did the typical move to the suburbs and my space was reduced radically. I still manage to do my large work in a tight space but it gets difficult to see anything after awhile.

Do you listen to music while working in your studio?

Yes, I listen to music mostly rock n’ roll; REM, Stones, Neil Young, Patti Smith, Dylan. Putting on the headphones is the only way for me to shut the outside world while working in our home.

-Where do you like to go for inspiration or find sanctuary? (A favorite museum, your own work space, or enjoying nature, etc.)

Sanctuary is an interesting concept. I guess going to the internet to open my mind in fresh ways is rewarding. I’m pretty restless and find relaxing a challenge, so I look to what I don’t know and find inspiration there. Seeing an old painting in a new way is always inspiring.

-What is your artistic future? Do you have any specific projects or exhibitions coming up in 2010-2011?

What my artistic future will be and what I want it to be could very well be different things. I think I’d like to see my work mature at a healthy pace that would allow me to enter a larger arena with each body of work. Ultimately, I’d like to be included in museum shows and part of the contemporary dialogue of painting. In September, I’ll be part of a three-person show at JK Gallery in Los Angeles, and I’ll have a rather large solo show at the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago in October. Currently, I am talking to a few people about shows in New York and Germany. We’ll see if anything happens.

-And finally, (as an artist, this should be a hard one) - do you have a favorite color?

My daughters always tease me that I don’t have one favorite color. So when the question arises I do narrow it down to two or three colors that are relevant to my work that day. Today, the colors are blue for open, and black for empty.

Thank you for being my first official interview, Kim! Sometimes the world is a small and funny place, isn't it?

Kim Piotrowski and Kim Piotrowski - our initial meeting for lunch in Chicago, 2008

Monday, April 26, 2010

Blog Feature - Lake Jane

Last year, I stumbled across this wonderful blog affiliated with design and fashion. I happened to find it because I was on my way to Montreal and saw that the blog's author, Marie-Eve, had taken the time to compose an extensive travel-logue of her city. After my trip, I found myself coming back to Lake Jane again and again because I loved her taste in clothing and interior design, and it quickly became one of my favorite blogs. This year, I also became quite wrapped up following in her worldly travels through England, Spain, and Morocco. So, I was pleased (and surprised) to find that Lake Jane, the blog "for the curious at heart, girly-girls, procrastinators, nail biters and eternal dreamers" has posted something about me this week!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Blog Feature - Dear Art Love Renee

This post was about altered books and collage- oh and shopping! That's where some of my work was featured among other Etsy artists using old books as a source for new art. My pieces were arranged in a grid where the colors and forms from each play off one another. See the post here.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Antony Gormley's "Event Horizon"

The local news reports were fervent, repeatedly advising us that there were humans standing on the top of a cluster of buildings in downtown Manhattan. If we happened to be in the area, our gaze might hit the skyline where a person would be perched. But we shouldn't be alarmed - they're not jumpers and they're not snipers, they're merely sculptures perched on the tops of buildings at various levels and looking downward throughout the Flatiron district. Like last year's Waterfalls project by Olafur Eliasson and The Gates by Jeane Claude and Christo from 2005, Event Horizon is New York's latest public art installation by British artist, Antony Gormley.

I've heard so much about this provocative display so earlier this week, I took a detour on my way back to Brooklyn to see these subtle (and yet alarming) art pieces are scattered all around Madison Square Park in the Flatiron.

As I approached the area, I saw one figure immediately. Then, as I spun around in place, I started noticing them all around me- faster and faster. I suddenly felt like I was on the lam and being watched. My time on the run was coming to an end as I was surrounded.

The installation consists of thirty-one life-sized body casts of the artist. About four of them are on the ground at walking level so you can see them up close and personal. Knowing this number in advance, I only counted about fourteen total - how could I have missed so many?

These vertiginous sentinels will be guarding the Madison Square Park area (watching you and instilling slight paranoia) through August 15th. Just when life in the big city starts to feel like the daily grind, an artist comes along to stir things up. In New York, we're constantly on stimulation overload so it's easy to miss many things. I never took notice of the beautiful architectural details of this area. You can also see many interesting things if you seek them out - in this case, all you have to do is look up.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Nine Brushstrokes - Artist Interview on Plaztik Mag's Blog

One day, back in the dead of winter, Plaztik Mag and I bumped into one another at a busy and well-attended Chelsea art opening for musician, activist, photographer, artist, and Mapplethorpe bff, Patti Smith. She is probably best known for the popular song, Because the Night; I wanted to tell her that my favorites happen to be E-bow the Letter (with R.E.M.) and Dancing Barefoot. Patti's artwork, although broad in style and scope, was impressive and professionally-executed.

In attendance was a tightly-pulled Calvin Klein, upcoming reality star, Kelly Cutrone, and musician, Michael Stipe - creative royalty were certainly out and representing that night! As Patti busily weaved in and out of various rooms of the gallery to personally show off her work to various pals, Plaztik and I discussed the idea of shooting their next project in my art studio. It would consist of an artist girl "type" and they needed an art space to photograph the model in situ.

In my studio, February 2010. Photo by Jmzs Smith for PlaztikMag.

About a week later, Plaztik paid a visit to my studio where they would be scouting for their next fashion shoot which would entail different types of New York Girls - and the idea for their "Downtown Girl" project was born. While having a look around, these multi-taskers also photographed me and my space for an artist interview. You can read more about me, my art and process, and my opinion about cats, tombstones, and other crazy things here.

Speaking of those ubiquitous downtown girls, I took a long walk around my neighborhood yesterday-
guess who I bumped into?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Walk Around the Neighborhood - Greenpoint/Williamsburg

I love to go on long, exploratory walks on weekends always making sure that I remember to bring my camera. The weather was perfect on Sunday, and the air was fragrant with spring. I decided that I would enjoy it as long as my allergies can hold out!

(Top photo: Marilyn by Head Hoods)

I live in a predominantly Polish neighborhood, and many of my neighbors still have a direct connection to Poland.  Lots of them have expressed a response to yesterday's tragedy, loss of leadership, and tragic anniversary in Katyn by putting out a flag with a black ribbon attached.

Amidst all of the urban decay, there are spots where Mother Nature reveals
herself to us city dwellers every now and then.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Going Back In Time

How long have you been doing what you do now? Are you an artist, like me?

For the past month or so, I've been preparing for a series of artist interviews that will be posted here in the coming weeks. For each artist, I have crafted a specific and custom set of questions that will pertain to each one. But there is one question that will be the same for every artist featured: When did you know that you wanted to be an artist? For me, the answer is very simple. I've always known.

This photo is from around 1978 (captured by dad for "posterity"). I was painting some dough cookies that I made with my mom for our Christmas tree. But my desires to be an artist and memories of being creative come way before this. For as long as I can remember, I would occupy the bulk of my time at my small craft table in my room. I would spend hours emulating cards and decorations by making my own holiday decorations from construction paper and pipe cleaners for our front door. In our house, the fridge wasn't the center for display, it was our front door and bay window; the perfect gallery for the world to see. My parents nurtured my creative tendencies by enrolling me in Saturday Art School at a (still-functioning) art school in Phildelphia called Fleisher's. I still love the smell of paint combined with mineral spirits from those days. A couple of years later, when I actually sold a watercolor and drawing of the circus at a childrens' art gallery (also in Philadelphia) for Ten Dollars, there was no going back!

I just never wanted to do anything else. In New York City, this is a hard lifestyle to pull off, but the quest endlessly continues....

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter Egg Art - Pysanky

As you can probably see by my sirname, I come from Eastern European roots. In my particular case, those genes run fairly deep on both sides. One side of my family is Polish, and the other is Russian (with a smattering of Irish thrown in for good measure). In our family, there are many traditions and foods that overlap especially when it comes to the holidays. One of these is the decorating of Easter eggs in a folk art manner with a permanent dye and wax-resistant method called psyanky. Natural dyes for solid-colored eggs can be made from beets or onion skins.

This process, steeped in tradition, is very labor-intensive and involves many steps but the result is immensely colorful and rewarding. You have to think backwards starting with the lightest color first (typically the natural color of the eggshell or yellow), and work methodically to the darkest. It’s a ritualistic and meditative artform; meant to be carried out slowly during the entire period of Lent. A few years ago, I taught myself the process, and have been able to whip out several of them in one sitting right before we leave for Easter services.
A large basket holding several different styles and designs of psyanky.
(Photographed in Bucharest, Romania 2007)

My mother's collection consists of eggs that range in size from a robin's egg that I found once as a young girl to enormous ostrich eggs. Every year, her aunt used to decorate eggs professionally using this method. We would all look forward to visiting her and getting to choose one out of her latest creations. Discerning artists will search for eggs without many flaws, typically preferring slightly larger and thicker duck eggs for their smooth surface. I typically just work with regular chicken eggs from the grocery store. Serious egg artists also tell a story with each of their designs. Each color and design holds specific symbolism. The color red symbolizes blood, wheat symbolizes new life, and simple geometric forms that once represented fire, air, and water in more pagan times, now represents the Trinity. Many of the pre-Christian secular symbols have now made a transition in meaning. Back in the "old country", there are even regional styles that can be differentiated from one another through the use of color, symbols, and overall design. They can appear tribal or even Native American in style. At the end of the process, we fill large baskets with the finished eggs and "ethnic" foods like kielbasa.

Part of our tradition also involves saying what is known as a Paschal Greeting to our friends in as many languages as are represented in the room. Over the years, we have become somewhat "fluent" in Greek, Russian, Arabic, and Romanian.

Χριστός Ανέστη!    -     Христос Воскресе!     -     !المسيح قام! حقا قام    -    Hristos a înviat!

A sampling of my own designs over the years. Happy Easter, everyone!