Peter Zokosky in Conversation with John Seed: July 26 at Koplin Del Rio Gallery, Los Angeles

Dear Friends, 

I hope you will consider joining me on Saturday, July 26th for:

Peter Zokosky in Conversation with John Seed
4-6 PM at Koplin Del Rio Gallery

I have known Peter now for thirty years. Knowing Peter, and watching his art develop over time has been very important to me. During the event at Koplin Del Rio I will be talking to Peter not only about his current exhibition "Unsettled" but I will also be asking Peter to reminisce about the old days, and talk about the roots of his art and ideas. 

Peter and John at the bowling alley, circa 1984-85

Towards the end of our conversation, I also hope to say something about how Peter introduced me to a group of representational artists -- including F. Scott Hess, James Doolin and Jon Swihart -- whose brilliance and dedication to their art have shaped my ideas and  made a huge impact on my writing. 

Peter Zokosky, Noel, 2014, oil on canvas, 21 x 16"

At the end of the event, I will be signing copies of my short book of essays which will be on sale for $12. 

There is no cost for this event, but please let the gallery know that  you are attending as space may be limited. Contact: See you there!

6031 Washington Blvd Culver City, CA 90232

Unsettled: Portraits by Peter Zokosky at Koplin Del Rio Gallery, Los Angeles

Peter Zokosky: Photo by Karole Foreman

Unsettled: Portraits by Peter Zokosky, which opened last week at Koplin Del Rio Gallery, consists of 19 paintings that feature three distinct groups of subject matter: babies, ventriloquist dummies and stingrays. All of the portraits feel just a little bit "off," which is exactly what Zokosky is aiming for. Come to think of it, was painting rays ever mainstream?

Zokosky isn't off-center just in terms of what he chooses to paint, but also in what he manages to make his subjects say. His stingrays -- which were inspired by a trip to the Long Beach aquarium -- are rather friendly. "They seemed to be asking to be painted," is how he explained it to a crowd of well-wishers during the opening. Can you think of another painter working today who is working to make cartilaginous fishes so inviting?

In contrast, Zokosky's babies and dummies are somewhat creepy: which you would expect from paintings of dummies... but babies? Zokosky steps back a bit from everything he paints: His curiosity has always had a scientific aspect. Long known for his paintings of apes -- who sometimes appear as artists at their easels -- Zokosky seems to see things the way that anthropologists used to: All Hominidae are really part of one big family.

Of course, what makes Zokosky's art really tick is the fact that he is a great intuitive thinker. Nothing in his art ever really adds up, and that is what makes his best work so unsettling. There isn't another artist out there who can take his intellectual caprices and play them out so completely or so elegantly. His canvases are tenderly painted, perfectly resolved -- in formal terms -- and glowingly lit. They not only ask questions, they multiply questions. Unsettled works by slowing you down and making you see things the way he does: with seemingly infinite curiosity and patience.

John Seed in Conversation with Peter Zokosky:

Noel, 2014, oil on canvas, 21 x 16"

How did you decide to paint babies? 

Good question: Babies are about as odd and strange as a human can be but still be considered beautiful. I painted one six feet tall, retaining its proportions and at adult size it was truly frightening. Their heads are enormous, and their arms and legs are tiny. Babies are beautiful because we love them, we don't love them because they are beautiful. It's a good illustration of how we are wired. We adore certain helpless creatures. Naturally, we all start as babies, so there is a universal, undifferentiated quality. Perhaps another appealing aspect is the pure potential they embody. I like the fact that we can care for and nurture these funny looking humans. They are hard to paint, they're so smooth and their faces lack to topography an adult has, they're like Arizona, lots of space between a few points of interest.

Embarcadero, 2014, oil on panel, 22" x 28"

Is it fair to say that much of your subject matter goes right to the edge of creepy?

I suppose that's true much of the time. I don't try to make them creepy, or near-creepy, I try to make them engaging and interesting to look at. I like the uncertainty that comes with experiences that don't conform to expectations. Not quite cute, not quite horrible, that in-between space seems the most interesting, it's where growth can take place. For me life feels that way, and I think art has to function the same as life, or it seems false. You could argue that if life provides that experience then why ask art to do it, I'd respond that art is a distillation of life, it points to something vague and mysterious and makes it a bit more concise, if freezes it so that you can ponder it, maybe it helps you to deal with the unknown a bit. Disturbing things can be beautiful and gratifying when we see them in context.

Skeleton Boy, 2014, oil on panel, 24" x 18"

There is a saying: "Every painting is a self-portrait." Does that idea apply at all to your work?

The self is all we've got: It's the portal to everything. My sensation of everything is limited to what touches this organism I call "me". Our eyes don't extend into new frontiers; they're not walking catfish, they're sea anemones, they're passive and they only ingest what comes to them. We share the room but each of us occupies our own space. What I mean is that all we can comment on is how we see things. I'm comfortable with the notion that every painting is a self-portrait of some sort in that it refers to our own interpretation of what we experience.

Sugar, 2014, oil on panel, 13.25" x 11.25"

The subjects in the Koplin show -- babies, dummies and "smiling" rays -- all seem to have hints of personality. Are you trying to point out the shared aspects between animals and humans? 

I'd say they all have shared aspects, to call them "human aspects" makes it sound like we invented it and they picked up on it. It's not so much that they seem like us, as much as we all seem alike. Vertebrates are pretty much variations on a theme. When we relate to them it's because we're similar. It feels like I'm splitting hairs, but I think there's a significant difference being discussed.

Psyche, 2014, oil on canvas, 18 x 12"

What kinds of reactions do you hope this show will evoke? 

I suppose I'd like to hear someone say: "I hadn't thought of that subject as beautiful and important and interesting, but I can see how it is." I'd be disappointed to hear "creepy things are cool, and these are totally cool." I'm trying to point out things that are really meaningful, if you make the effort. They aren't a joke, I'm serious about what I do; which is not to say absurdity is out of bounds. I want the work to hold up, to remain engaging. I'm willing to forego the "wow factor" -- is that term still being used? -- in favor of the "hmmm... factor." I like a slow read, something that continues to unfold over time: I work hard to make these paintings beautiful. Another reaction I like is "That seems meaningful, I want to live with it." That's a great compliment.

Listen: Podcast interview of Peter Zokosky by Mike Stice. 

Upcoming Event:
Peter Zokosky in Conversation with John Seed
Followed by a book signing of "Ten Rather Eccentric Essays on Art"
Saturday, July 26th at 4-6 PM
Contact Koplin Del Rio Gallery by July 23rd for reservations.

Exhibition Info:
Unsettled: Portraits by Peter Zokosky
June 28- July 26, 2014
Koplin Del Rio Gallery
6031 Washington Blvd Culver City, CA 90232

'Daniel Sprick's Fictions: Recent Works' at the Denver Art Museum

Daniel Sprick, Beijing Man, Oil on board, 20 x 16 inches
There is a well-known story about the painter Richard Diebenkorn that goes like this: one day in the early 1950s, when Diebenkorn was living and teaching in New Mexico, someone commented to him that he probably wasn't very good at realism. Stung into action, Diebenkorn tossed off a convincing portrait sketch of a nearby man and more than made his point: that he wasn't an abstract painter simply because he was incapable of traditional rendering. Diebenkorn was a complete painter, and he wasn't about to be let someone's assumptions about his limitations go unchallenged.

Daniel Sprick, whose work is now on view at the Denver Art Museum, has been creating paintings for more than a decade that make a similar point, but in reverse: any assumptions you make about his limits are very likely going to be wrong too. Sprick is an almost absurdly talented realist who it would be easy to label as a "tight" painter: he can lasso paint into perfectly limned contours and burnish human features into glowing, baby-bottom smoothness. Sprick can also let the paint run free and tell him what to do: underneath his realism he leaves patches of vivid, freely brushed abstraction. He also paints the wildness of hair with anarchic verve.

Daniel Sprick, Tom T., Oil on board, 16 x 20 inches
Who is this guy who can handle the brush like Joan Mitchell -- or a Chinese literati painter --in the morning, and then morph into Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres by dinner? This may not sound like a compliment, but Sprick's technique is so varied that it is almost schizophrenic.

Sprick is many painters in one, and there is something conceptual about his approach. The conceptual element is there in the fact that each painting displays what the artist Vincent Desiderio calls a "narrative of creation." In other words, Sprick's paintings are utterly clear about how they are made: when seen as a whole they represent -- among other things -- a rebuke to photo-realism, which looks tame compared to what he does. Looking over a Sprick painting is an experience in being both "wowed" by his sheer bravura skill while also appreciating the artist's ability to balance his intellect with his intuition. Sprick paints hard and feels deeply.

As if Sprick didn't have enough to offer just in terms of virtuosity, there is another element to his portraits that has to be praised. You might expect that someone with his self-confidence could be detached from his subjects: far from it. Sprick has the knack for seeing people's inner vitality -- maybe it is related to his knack for understanding abstract energies -- and even when his portraits achieve refinement his subjects never lose their mojo. Take a look at the people that Dan Sprick paints and you will notice that however varied they are on the surface they all have one thing in common in emotional terms: they are all wide open to being painted by Daniel Sprick. They love being part of his oeuvre even though much of his work isn't flattering in conventional terms and there is at least a hint of affectionate caricature in his strongest works.

Honestly, who wouldn't want Sprick to paint their portrait? The man is a living master. Like Diebenkorn he is more than up to the challenge of surprising you with his versatility.

Daniel Sprick, Self-Portrait, Oil on board, 24 x 18 inches
John Seed in Conversation with Daniel Sprick Dan, tell me about why you chose "Fictions" as the title for your show in Denver.

If you see yourself showing up in a short story, you may recognize parts of yourself that are drawn accurately, parts that are grafted from another model, and other parts from vapor and dusk. these narratives may be vague, but they are fictions, which was observed by Timothy Standring, who chose the title. When we paint, we internalize and filter all the raw data of existence through our sensibilities, experiences, abilities and shortcomings. We also mix in our habits, biases, preconceptions and aesthetic preferences. Then we stir it up with our natural emotional responses, and out comes -- lord knows what -- a variation on the initial experience. The end result is a kind of a daydreaming other world: a fictional world.

Daniel Sprick, Ketsia in Profile, Oil on canvas on board, 22 x 28 inches
Is it fair to say that your work combines a variety of ideas and approaches? I see realism, abstraction and also conceptualism.

There was an article in which you discussed that there are various art worlds with little overlap or awareness of each other: parallel universes without contact. But I keep hearing the term ''bridge'' between traditional academic work and contemporary art as applied to this show. Christoph Heinrich, the director of the Denver Art Museum, has a background as curator of modern and contemporary in Germany, yet he shows genuine enthusiasm about this work and indicates that it dovetails with his goals. I am humbled by this, and very, very grateful.

Daniel Sprick, Kenton, oil on board, 20 x 16 inches
How do you hope people will react to your work when they see it?

Curator Timothy Standring, who worked directly with me in Denver, said to a group after the reception that it is rare to have an opening in which people are actually looking at the paintings more than at each other. I heard reports of viewers moist in the eyes, and I noticed a bit of that myself. To connect on an emotional level is the most that an artist can hope for. Conversely, it will always be a big ol' world with many valid points of view, and none of us can expect 100 percent acceptance. I am presently reeling from the most carefully thought out, intelligently written, long, bitter and vitriolic attack I've seen against any one since elementary schoolyard days. Though it stings, I am flattered by the amount of effort he put into it. So thank you, mister.

Daniel Sprick, Nova, oil on board, 20 x 16 inches
How can a skilled artist practicing realism today endow his/her work with a sense of contemporaneity?

An artist can internalize contemporary sensibilities, not so much by staying up to date on trends at Art Basel Miami, but by being true to him/herself and by indulging in the realm of the senses: observing and feeling, being influenced more by life itself than by the art world.

Daniel Sprick, Nicky, Oil on board, 30 x 24 inches
How do the different elements in your work compliment each other?

For years I've heard that the term ''de-skilling'' is being used in university art schools, apparently meaning that craft is believed to be an impediment to expression, and for sure: technical perfection as an end in itself can be lifeless. At the opposite end of the scale, if I am wildly expressive and full of emotion, in a language that no one recognizes, I am a man babbling in tongues out on the street. Then there is the art of no feeling and no craft either: supported by verbose and incomprehensible theories to keep investors buying into it.

Emotional expression can flourish when combined with highly practiced traditional academic skill. My taste leans toward understatement and subtlety. The works are not exactly accurate: they are embedded with errors due to my basic human shortcomings and also due to intentional exaggerations or caricature.

In the careful realism of my pieces there is also something in there that is a little bit wrong, but it may convey some interesting other world.

Daniel Sprick, Carmel, Oil on board, 20 x 20 inches
How do you see your work as fitting into the long lineage of postwar figuration?

Nathan Oliveira conveyed an otherworldliness and expressed powerful emotion with recognizable figures during the heyday of Abstract Expressionism: his work constituted a bridge. Lucien Freud is another bridge artist between worlds; so is F. Scott Hess. There is a sequence, a progression from 1950's to today. I think that what I am doing follows in that sequence. It is possible to carefully craft artwork in the long tradition of realism while being expressive and relevant to our times. Realism was certainly not exhausted at the end of the nineteenth century.

All images ©Daniel Sprick

Daniel Sprick Portrait from APAIRUS COMPANY on Vimeo.
Daniel Sprick's Fictions: Recent Works
The Denver Art Museum
June 22, 2014 - November 2, 2014
Hamilton Building