Saturday, June 26, 2010

...And This Little Piggie Went to Greenpoint

Yesterday, I took in a movie and some ice cream to beat the heat, then strolled leisurely toward home. After getting to my apartment, and reflected on all the things I had seen during the day, I noticed that a theme was emerging: animals had played a predominant role in the things that caught my eye.

The menagerie started on the Lower East Side....
Two picture-perfect pigeons posing on the Lower East Side.

A grid of skulls in SoHo.

Aqua kitty on Crosby Street

A sparrow in flight in Williamsburg (by Yote)

A small bunny sitting on an electrical box in Williamsburg (by Yote)

And this little piggie went to Greenpoint (by Elle)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Clown Soldier - Artist Interview

One of the things I love about graffiti and street art is that it is unexpected. It's surprising to walk down the street, or peer into an abandoned lot, and suddenly there's a piece of unsolicited "public art" that was not there the week before, or even the day before. In its many forms, street art changes the scenery in an otherwise uneventful urban landscape for an undetermined and temporary amount of time. It can also just appear out of nowhere dominating an overly-advertised locale that otherwise doubles as a visual assault for passers-by. In either case, street art and graffiti is ephemeral. It doesn't last. Someone else will invariably come along and add to the piece or completely cover it resulting in a layered collage or colorful pastiche that makes up our fair city. Or the supporting structure is knocked down to make way for so-called development. For these reasons, I have been documenting painted trains, elevated tracks, and the art of the streets since I was a teenager in Philadelphia.

Another thing I like about street art is that it has an in-your-face aspect to it. It's there whether you like it or not. It's there without begging a gallery dealer to review your slides. It's there because the artist chose a place, and wanted it to be there. The power no longer lies in someone else's hands, but is just taken. The power now lies with the artist turning the customary protocol of the art world on its head. And, those seemingly impenetrable art galleries are starting to take notice and embrace street culture.

Over the past year, I've seen (and of course, documented) a certain clown figure appearing on the walls of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Long Island City. Back in March, when the art fairs came into New York, I happily and almost quite literally bumped into an artist who was carrying an armload of prints of the same clown that I had seen about town; one of my favorite characters that repeatedly pops up around the city. This artist is Clown Soldier, and I have had the chance to ask this artist/master printer a few questions about the paste-up process, its origins, and the art itself. The art of Clown Soldier is colorful. It also possesses a regal quality and simultaneously makes me laugh. There's something about this larger-than-life-sized figure that makes me stop and really take notice of the space around me.

\klaün\ \sōl-jər\
As defined in the artist's own words, Clown Soldier is a comic performer, as in a circus, theatrical production, or the like, one who wears an outlandish costume and makeup and entertains by pantomiming common situations or actions in exaggerated or ridiculous fashion, by juggling or tumbling, etc. Clown Soldier is a person who acts like a clown, a comedian; a joker, a buffoon, a jester. Clown Soldier is a prankster, a practical joker.

Who is the clown figure? Does he represent anything specific? What is your message?
I don’t have a message. I think contrived messages that aren’t sincere should be abolished. I don’t know who the clown figure is. It’s up to the viewer to decide. He doesn’t represent anything specific.

When I saw you, I recognized the clown figure immediately, and didn’t realize that you also do prints. Were you a printer or street artist first? Which lifestyle/artform do you feel more drawn or dedicated to?
I was a printer first. Actually, I was a painter first. I don’t draw a line between one lifestyle or another. I morph in and out of being one thing from day to day minute by minute. I usually wind up becoming an artist of some type. Right now, I find street art very exciting. I hope to stay with it for some time. I also find collage, painting, print making, web design, thinking, and many other things enjoyable.

A colorful panorama on a rusted-out wall in Long Island City, Queens

A closeup of the Long Island City wall

Regarding the piece with the billboard tiger, the tiger was originally printed for an exhibition celebrating the "Year of the Tiger" which is this current year within the Chinese lunar calendar. It is a 3-color CMYK halftone dot print where only the CMY is printed in transparent based process colors to allow for the blending of more than one color. The piece in real life really vibrates and from close up, it is hard to read the image. It looks more like a cluster colored patterns of dots that looks a little psychedelic. The viewer has to stand 5-10 feet away to see the full image of the tiger. When the image is photographed, it does not read well in reproduction and just comes across as a flat image of a tiger. The intended effect is lost.    

Meatpacking District of lower Manhattan (with MBW, Gaia, Elbow Toe, and others)

Closeup with Gaia (photo used with permission by Gaia)

Your work seems to have a colonial vibe to it. Is the clown figure rooted in early American history? Is this figure politically-based?
No, the clown figure is French 18th century. This was the style for the time. I do not choose my images based on its political message. My decisions are based on more formal aesthetic decisions. They are based on their line form and color.

Long Island City with a bird in flight by Yote (photo used with permission by Gaia)

You have developed other figures that are composed of blended parts. Please describe some of your other work and process.
I am interested in hearing the conclusions that other people arrive at when they see it. I can say that people in general feel that the work is whimsical and there is a sense of humor that comes across...something that is lacking in a lot of art work but seems to be more prevalent in street art in general.

A figure appearing in two places in Williamsburg

(left) Mouse with Legs and Two Storks (photos used with permission by Clown Soldier) and
(right) a utopian paste-up in Williamsburg

How long do your paste-ups generally last? Why did you choose this method vs. traditional aerosol? Have you ever worked with aerosol?
I just started pasting a year ago so I don’t know how long they last. The first piece I put up a year ago is still up. I have been sharing a studio with a lot of street artists. They have influenced what I do immensely. In the past year I have shared a studio with Imminent Disaster, Swoon’s project manager and printing team, and Gaia. They are all really great people and have inspired me a great deal. Gaia is the one who showed me the ropes as far as getting up. He is amazing, very cool, talented, and funny too.

Clown Soldier with Gaia under the Hi-Line in Chelsea (photo used with permission by Gaia)

When did you know you wanted to be an artist? What was your work like when you first started? What compelled you to take it to the streets?
I started drawing from when I was a toddler. My mother caught me and my brother drawing all over her walls after we had gotten into her mascara cabinet. The first pieces we did were very scribbly. My work was very scribbly doodlish when I started. I think my work still looks like doodles. I’m a doodler. I enjoy doodling.

Clown Soldier with Gaia in Williamsburg

Do you think street art has become too mainstream, decorative, and interior design-y?
Do you think it has lost its message and edge since the 70’s and 80’s? Has it lost its edge? I suppose so....this seems like some kind of this how you feel? I hope you don’t mind me asking. I suppose I can see your point. It's not bubbly anymore.
A new Clown Soldier over an older piece in Williamsburg

Do you think anonymity is necessary for doing “public works”? Have you ever gotten into any trouble with the cops?
It is only necessary because it is illegal and pisses a lot of people off. I try not to get up on anyone’s property. I understand that people own property and they get fined if the building is graffitied. I try to hit abandoned places that have already been hit. I have had several run-ins with the police. The first time I went out was in Bushwick. I had no idea what I was doing.

A new piece with Army of One in the Meatpacking District (June, 2010)

Have you ever pasted anything up in another region or country besides NYC?
Yes in Austin, Texas during SXSW.
Austin, Texas (photo used with permission by Clown Soldier)

Who are you influenced by/ favorite artists from both the art world and the street realm?
Jean Dubeffet, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Max Ernst, Pablo Picasso, Banksy, Gaia, Swoon, Barry Mcgee, Chris Johanson, Tim Hawkinson, and many others.

Urban textures - remnants of a small paste-up in Bushwick, Brooklyn

Where do you like to go for inspiration?
Museums, parks, the streets, gardens, mountains, nature, bookstores, children’s books, encyclopedias, junk shops.

Poster for Leo Kesting Show (next to an altered MBW) - Meatpacking District, Manhattan

Do you have any big projects or exhibitions coming up for 2010 and 2011?
Yes, I am showing in Atlanta, Georgia with Swampy, Gaia, Know Hope, and many others at the Living Walls Conference.

My work is also in the exhibition called Dead Letter Playground at the Leo Kesting Gallery opening this week in Chelsea with other street artists. I only have one piece in this exhibition: it is of a soldier with a butterfly wing that acts as a cape for the soldier. It is titled, "Monarchy". The soldier has an assured stance moving forward but is looking to the right with an unsure questioning expression. For lack of better words, the juxtaposition of the butterfly wing and the soldier works both as oxymoron while I find there are some similarities that can be drawn. The obvious connotations can be drawn- a butterfly is such a peaceful image, and of course, a soldier represents the opposite. The butterfly wing works so perfectly in this case as the soldier's cape. A butterfly has been through a metamorphosis just as a soldier has to go through a kind of existential metamorphosis; to become a soldier one has to go from being a civilian to becoming a trained killer. I also think it's interesting that the butterfly wing is of the Monarch type which leads to more interpretive possibilities. All these conclusions come after the image was already created. This is what I like about my work; it comes together naturally and does not look contrived. The overall meaning arrives later when the intention and my thoughts and sense of humor are all arrived at simultaneously.

Dead Letter Playground - A Collection of Contemporary Street Art at the Leo Kesting Gallery (June 24 - July 18, 2010)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Signs of Summer - The Carnival

Everybody loves a carnival. As summer was off to an official start, I found myself back in my hometown for a few days. On the last afternoon of its run, I made time to check out the carnival that I always went to when I was younger. To my delight, many of the old, familiar rides and activities from my teenage years were still in working order- only the ticket prices have changed.

It was eerily quiet before the bustling rush of excited visitors would arrived in another couple of hours.

The kitsch and intense colors from the carnival continue to have an influence in my work.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day

To all dads, young and old- hope you are enjoying your special day.

Vintage tackle box and lures from my dad's collection.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Mr. Brainwash - Icons Exhibition

Since February, a sprawling space in the Meatpacking section of lower Manhattan (which has also spilled out onto the adjoining street) has been dominated by master businessman and prolific artist, Mr. Brainwash (MBW). In this space, he cleverly debuted his rather large "Icons" exhibit during the Fashion Week feeding frenzy. It re-opened again in May for Mother's Day, with new rotating artwork appearing all the time.

Visitors can feel good with freebie takeaway gifts (admittedly, I too, took home an autographed poster). I also had a chat with the paint-covered artist who, in classic Nike-ad style, gave me an enthusiastic pep-talk for several minutes about continuing to do my own work to not being hindered by obstacles; to "just do it". Keep working, keep making, keep creating, and keep painting, whether it's working in a friend's apartment, or destroying my own. Whatever it takes. But just keep working.

Madonna's latest album cover features his work, and since the release of the Exit Through the Gift Shop, a film about Thierry Guetta (a.k.a. Mr. Brainwash) by London's most famous street artist, Banksy, much has been written about Mr. Brainwash. Is he really Banksy? Banksy's best friend? A fraud, a hoax, or an artist who must be taken seriously? Who knows for sure. He's like a modern day Andy Warhol, a prankster churning out works of art featuring famous faces like Madonna and the band, Kiss. The work goes even further back in time with images of Charlie Chaplin and Abraham Lincoln. Here, the word, "icon", also translates into famous company logos like Campbell's Soup. Again, recalling Andy.

The faces here are all recognizable, and the oversized art, is just kind of fun to experience in the cavernous space. It may not be serious, but is just simply entertaining. Much like many of the "iconic" personalities we see here. Whatever your take is on this subversive man of mystery, I can personally attest to his passion for painting and for life.

A MBW-branded corner of the Meatpacking District as a colorful Space Invader mosaic peeps over the barricade.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Blog Feature - Etsy Stalker


Beatrice and Violet over at Etsy Stalker have chosen a number of Etsy pieces (including one of my gouache drawings) celebrating the raindrops of June and describing each very poetically. From photographs to jewelry to artwork, rain obviously has a great affect on us and our surroundings and makes an impact on the things we create.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Jeff Lewis - Artist Interview

I first saw Jeff Lewis's work for an online print project called 20 x 200, intended to make art affordable and the concept of collecting approachable. With Jeff's explosive use of color and dynamic circles (a personal favorite) I instantly knew I had to contact him and find out more about his work. I first met Jeff in his Bushwick studio about a year ago. We talked with ease about our love for painting and yoga....and also commiserated about the nature of the art world. Now, a year later, he generously allowed me to return to his studio to see his latest work and answer some of my questions. In his own words....

How long have you been painting? When did you know that you wanted to be an artist and pursue art?
I started painting when I was 15 and basically haven't stopped. I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee which has a good underground music scene but not a lot of art. I always liked looking at art books of various abstract artists (Pollock, De Kooning, Kline) and got a hold of some monographs (Miro, Tapies, Dali) of European artists.
I dropped some acid on Thanksgiving and did some paintings with a friend in 1984. I was 15 and I think this is when my epiphany to pursue art and painting really crystallized. I still have the painting framed at home. In high school, art was what I knew I wanted to do. I graduated in 1988. Then I got a scholarship to the Savannah College of Art and Design, got to travel a bit and see some real paintings in museums and then knew that NYC was the place I had to be. I came up here sight unseen with $500, and a place to stay for 3 weeks on avenue B and 10th. This was in 1992. I was out of school a year which was quite a transitional and lonely time for me- but I was painting. I went to Parsons and finished my MFA in 1995. I then found my first studio in Tribeca and stayed there for 11 years and then did the exodus to Bushwick in search of space- which I really needed - I work really large.

I was initially drawn to your work because of the pattern and circular geometry. What is the significance of the concentric circle to you?
I can't say what the significance is except that it it is a wonderfully therapeutic shape for me to paint. It feels good.

What is your work about? Is it integrated with science at all?
The work is about practice. "Practice and all is coming" is what my yoga teacher Sri K. Pattabhi Jois always said. It is not an analysis of anything. I enter a special space or trance when I paint. It's a sensation or feeling that has no explanation. It is purely intuitive and based in abstract expressionism.
Your paintings have a mandala quality- is your work meant to be meditative for the viewer, or is it more meditative for you in practice?
Both. If the painting is successful. Some paintings have it, some don't. Sometimes a painting has it and I ruin it by fucking with it too much and overworking it. And sometimes, I am able to pull a painting back from being a mess by just making one special move on it. I love Mandala, Yantra, Textiles, and Pattern.

You are very involved with yoga- is this something that has become part of your work at all?
Painting is a practice just as yoga is a practice. And in addition it must become integrated into your daily life in order to advance.

I know you’ve spent a fair amount of time in India- do you find that India specifically or travel to other places has made a lasting impact on your paintings?
India is a state of mind and I can sometimes bring it into my work. I love India. I like Islamic pattern and my travels in Islamic countries has definitely influenced me.

How do you describe your work overall?
I do not like to label it, but one could say that it is neo-psychedelic abstraction. I have several artistic practices in my art practice. Usually if someone asks, I say it is abstract, large, obsessive, and rooted in the New York School.

Can you generally describe your artistic progression over the years? How did you get to where you are now?
I count my blessings. I have been very lucky in finding benefactors, patrons, and collectors and not having to hold a real job. I have never stopped. You can't slow down and get discouraged, because I would have quit a long time ago if I listened to peoples' criticism. It seems some people get very far with little talent and others have great talent and suffer. It's the nature of the world.

Who or what is your work influenced by? Do you have particular favorite artists?
I like so many. But lets say I love Jackson Pollock, the Abstract Expressionists, and the New York School- Andy Warhol, Stella, minimal artists, monochrome painters, and De Kooning. Generally, I like painters and artists who make things with their hands, but I can also appreciate Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst. Donald Baechler is a sensational artist and has been a friend of mine through the years. The list goes on and on.

What is your favorite piece of all time that you’ve created and why?
They are all my favorite. Some speak to me more than others and different times, and generally because I have several bodies of work. Some people prefer, let's say, my oval paintings to my grid drawings, or they really don't like my older oval paintings, but love the new ones. Different strokes for different folks, but I love them all.

Do you listen to music (if so, what?) or do you have any particular rituals as part of working in your studio?
I listen to all sorts of music. I love Indian devotional Music. When you paint you spend a lot of time alone so you have lots of music to listen to. I recently have been painting in silence which is intense and very nice also.
Some of your pieces utilize bold color, others are intensely detailed black and white pencil drawings- are they separate series, or do they complement each other?
They are all a part of my artistic practice. The drawings sometimes help me focus and get me psyched to paint.

The bulk of your paintings are quite large. Last year, I saw that you were doing a lot of smaller paintings on paper. Is a larger scale format more preferable to you?
I love large scale- I read that Barnett Newman said about his large work that it was like a movie at a large scale. They take on monumental form and envelope the viewer and can also suck them into another plane.

Where do you like to go for inspiration or find sanctuary? (A favorite museum, your own work space, or out in the woods enjoying nature, surfing, etc.)
I love to visit MOMA when it isn't too crowded. Getting into nature, especially the mountains or sea is great. I also have a floatation tank (sensory deprivation) in my home that I use on a daily basis.

I saw some of your paintings included in the Fountain Art Fair in New York this past year. What is your artistic future? Do you have any specific projects or exhibitions coming up in 2010-2011?
Right now, I have a group of large drawings in pop-up gallery in a store front curated by Jennifer Garcia of We-Are-Familia. It is located at 539 Atlantic Avenue (in Brooklyn) and is up for the month of June. It is quite spontaneous, and I must say that I am really just going with the flow. The response so far has been great.

Also, I will be included in a a group show called Swell, curated by Jacqueline Miro that is spread out over three galleries in Chelsea- Nyehaus, Frederic Petzel, and Metro Pictures. The final decision on the works being shown hasn't been made, but I think I will be showing some very large paintings and some drawings!

Wish Me Luck! Peace.