Aron Wiesenfeld: "Solstice" at Arcadia Contemporary

Aron Wiesenfeld's new show at Arcadia Contemporary, "Solstice," is both dazzling and disarming. Wiesenfeld has a feeling for solitude and the figures in his recent paintings inhabit vast, enveloping spaces that poeticize their otherness by suggesting open-ended narrative possibilities.

I recently interviewed Aron Wiesenfeld to ask him about his background, his ideas and his current work.

Aron Wiesenfeld
John Seed Interviews Aron Wiesenfeld
"Bride" 2014, oil on canvas, 26 x 39.5 inches
How did your early life prepare you to be an artist?

I had huge support from my family for anything artistic and musical. My grandmother was an artist, she mostly painted with watercolors. I remember her telling me that kids' drawings were always better than grown-ups', which was very encouraging. I could draw anything and could always expect her to say "That's wonderful!" She made etchings with my brother and I, and showed us how to use watercolors and oil paint. My mom was also supportive of our artistic endeavors. She taped up all our drawings on the walls, the kitchen and dining room were literally covered with our drawings. We also had some prints in the house by artists like Rembrandt, Dürer and Sorolla, and I think I was lucky just to know what great art looked like, though when I got into comic books at about age 10, that was the only kind of art I was interested in. I also remember building things a lot, very ambitious projects like a three-story fort with a deck in the backyard. I think my work process now is like building -- the joy of it is in seeing it grow and what it will become.

"God of the Forest" 2014, oil on canvas, 39 x 28 inches
Initially, you worked on illustrating comics: what did you learn from that experience? 

 I learned so much, it's hard to boil it down. Certainly it helped with drawing skills, and learning to draw from my imagination. Telling a story with a sequence of images is unique to comics, and it is better that the artist be sort of invisible so that the story can flow. A comic book reader has to connect the pictures in his or her head to make the story happen, so the reader becomes an active participant in the creation of the story. That idea, that the artist can only lead the audience part of the way stuck with me, and suggesting stories is still what thrills me the most. Doing that with a single image is a more implicit thing. I also learned that it was possible to achieve my goals. To me, drawing comic books professionally was like wanting to be an Astronaut as a kid and then actually getting to do it

"October" 2014, oil on canvas, 23 x 35 inches
How did your studies at Art Center in Pasadena shape you and your art?

At Art Center I learned to paint from life by doing endless studies in oil and acrylic. The later part of my time there was mostly spent on larger paintings in the studio. Probably the most important thing I got from art school was learning to think about images differently. I had a lot of great teachers, but F. Scott Hess (who is now a Huffington Post blogger) was of particular help in that regard. We had many conversations about how a painting should stay with a person, or continue to reveal itself over time. It was a turning point for me. I began to think of paintings as an expression of the unconscious, or that they can be objects of meditation, speculation and much more. It's the exact opposite of the purpose of images in comics, which need to convey something very obviously.

"The Garden" 2012, oil on canvas, 36 x 30 inches
Your works often have a wistful tone. Tell me about the emotions you are trying to work with. 

I always felt somewhat estranged, particularly in social situations. It's become a theme in the paintings, but it's by no means only negative. I love the idea of being in-between places, creating a path of one's own. Solitude has always been synonymous with freedom to me, which meant being able to make my own choices, explore and take risks. That freedom is something I've had to fight for at times, and that is in the paintings too.

"The Wedding Party" 2011, oil on canvas, 70 x 95 inches
Is it fair to say that there are "Kitsch" and "illustrative" elements in your art?

I admit my work does sometimes stray into the melodramatic, but it's not Kitsch, as I understand the word. My intention is to express what I feel, or surprise myself, and paint for my own enjoyment, with the secondary hope that it will communicate something of value to others. I'm not trying to push emotional buttons, or fashion something to have the broadest possible appeal. The Illustrative aspect is definitely there, though I think the same could be said of any painting that is not abstract. Labels are convenient, but art is very hard to put art into words, especially single words. They lead to a lot of pre-judgements and entrenched positions for or against certain "types" of art. I love Ray Charles's purely subjective take on the subject of music: "There are only two kinds of music: good and bad."

"Homecoming" 2014, oil on canvas, 26.5 x 34 inches
Can you describe one of the works from your current show for me?

There is a medium sized painting called "Homecoming" of a woman facing away, looking toward a distant freeway overpass. She is undressed. In her hair are various flowers and plants arranged in a perhaps ceremonial way. There are also insects in her hair; moths and other winged bugs follow behind and around her. The setting is a neglected, tire-scarred area on the outskirts of a city, which can be seen near the horizon. The overall color is murky yellow, with light coming through the haze of the sky in a horizontal stripe.

"The Well" 2011, oil on canvas, 67 x 83 inches
Tell me a bit about the technical aspects of your work. 

 I do a lot of quick sketches when I have ideas, and those are usually the basis for the paintings. I paint on unstretched canvas, so the dimensions can be altered at any point. As far as paint application, I use the same techniques that have been around for centuries; starting with a monochromatic underpainting to establish the main forms and the light, then adding color in thin layers when it's dry. It's a matter of building and refining over weeks until it's finished. It's rarely a straight path, I usually change my mind about things, paint over them, add things or just start over. I use a limited color palette of white, black, yellow ochre, Indian red and cobalt blue.

"Winter Cabin" 2012, oil on canvas, 30 x 41 inches
Who are some artists that you admire?

Whistler, Corot, Titian, Bruegel, Caspar David Friedrich, Arnold Bocklin, August Sander, Balthus, Neo Rauch, Edward Hopper, Goya, Chester Arnold, Puvis de Chevannes, Carol Weight, El Greco and many others.  

What are your interests outside of art?

Reading, spending time with my family, hiking, playing and listening to music.

Aron Wiesenfeld: Facebook  

Exhibition Information:
Aron Wiesenfeld "Solstice"
September 18 through October 3, 2014
Arcadia Contemporary
51 Greene St., New York, NY 10013

The Anderson Collection at Stanford: An Uplifting Experience

The grand staircase of the Anderson Collection at Stanford: Photo © Tim Griffith

Visiting the newly-opened Anderson Collection at Stanford requires taking everything -- your body and your expectations -- up a level. After entering the building's main lobby -- which will cost you nothing as the Anderson is free -- you will ascend a grand staircase that plateaus at the building's collection floor. A representative for Ennead Architects was able to provide me with some specifics about the stairs:
The grand stair brings visitors up 15 feet from the lobby over a distance of 60' feet. The steps are made of precast concrete and handrails are blackened steel which are intended to translate the look and feel of black zinc panels around the windows on the second floor. Translucent glass guardrails were chosen to relate to the frosted panels at the clerestory. The wall next to the grand stair is finished with polished plaster. The stair's width varies from 10' at the bottom to five and a half at the top and creates a forced perspective while heightening the sense of transition from the ground level to the gallery.
Upon arrival at the top of the grand stair, prepare to be confronted by the imposing red, black and ivory crags of Clyfford Still's monumental 1957-J No. 1 (PH-142). Still's uncompromising masterpiece sets the tone and sends a message: "You have reached the top of the art mountain."

Stanford President John Hennessy speaks at the Anderson Collection Dedication: Photo © John Seed

Speaking at the building's dedication on September 18, Stanford's President John Hennessy praised the Anderson's gift of 121 works by 86 artists as a "gift for the generations" and also noted with great pride that the Anderson would play a key role in the remarkable and ongoing "Stanford Arts Initiative." If you think Stanford is just a tech-incubator with a football stadium, think again: the opening of the Anderson makes the Stanford campus a genuine arts destination. "Overnight," says Christopher Knight of the LA Times, "the Anderson Collection catapults Stanford into the top tier of American university museum art collections." Knight has that right, but I don't agree with his assessment of the Richard Olcott designed building which he dinged as "rather dull."

Anderson Collection at Stanford, gallery interior: Photo © Tim Griffith

I found the second floor galleries -- lit from above by a rim of semi-transparent clerestory windows -- serenely perfect. The Anderson Collection building is spacious, elegant and perfectly in tune with the collection it houses. One of the effects of the flowing "open room" gallery layout is that it creates a sense of egalitarianism that encourages each visitor to experience both individual works and groupings in their own way. In other words, the Andersons may have collected and donated the art, but each visitor is made to feel like the collection is their own: the sense of sharing is profound. As I ambled through the galleries I could almost hear Hunk and Moo asking me: "What do you think?"

Mary Patricia "Putter" Anderson Pence, Harry "Hunk" Anderson and Mary Margaret "Moo" Anderson at their home in front of works by Donald Sultan and Terry Winters (2013): Photo © Linda Cicero.

A great deal has been written about some of the collection's most precious works, and standing between Pollock's Lucifer and Mark Rothko's Pink and White Over Red is pretty cool, but what I came to see were the Bay Area paintings. A painter friend who doesn't quite share my taste once called me "one of those David Park people," and frankly I took that as a compliment.

The author with Manuel Neri's Untitled Standing Figure, (1982, pigment on plaster, 69 1/4 x 17 7/8 x 19 1/2 in.) and David Park's Four Women, (1959, oil on canvas, 57 x 75 3/8 in.): Photo © John Seed. David Park painting © The Estate of David Park, and Hackett|Mill

I think that one of the most valuable things that the Anderson Collection is going to do over time is to create a conversation between postwar art from both coasts. Along with Pollock, De Kooning and Rothko there are three Diebenkorns, three Oliveiras, two terrific Paul Wonners and a great David Park. Elmer Bischoff and Joan Brown are conspicuously absent, but you can see their work -- and two more fine Diebenkorn canvases -- at the Cantor Arts Center next door. Add to that two Lobdell abstractions, terrific paintings by Christopher Brown and Squeak Carnwath and you will have some idea of how strong the presence of California painting is at the Anderson Collection. The reputation of California art is going to be lifted up by this great public display.

Mary Margaret "Moo" Anderson assists with the installation of Christopher Brown's 1946: Photo © Stanford University
Christopher Brown painting courtesy John Berggruen Gallery

There is so much to be said about what the gift of this collection will mean for Stanford, for California art and for the public, but I am going to keep it brief here and make just one more point: This collection was put together by a family that has a genuine passion for art. You can see it in the photo of Moo above as she showed up in her sneakers to watch a work being installed, and you could hear it in the remarks that Hunk made to a crowd of donors on September 19th. Apparently he cut himself a few years ago while assisting with the assembly of a large Frank Stella relief. Hunk got a nice laugh from the crowd when he mused that he may have left a little bit of blood behind on the piece. "It is really a Stella/Anderson work now" he quipped. I'm not so sure about that, but I doubt I will ever meet a family who have put more of themselves on the line for the love of art.

Visiting the Anderson Collection:
 Admission is free and advance tickets are not required for entry.
Reserved timed tickets may be needed for some weekends: consult the Anderson Collection website for more information. 

Wednesday - Monday 11 am - 5 pm
Thursday 11 am - 8 pm
Tuesday Closed

"Myth and Image" at El Camino College Art Gallery

Now on view at the El Camino College Art Gallery Myth and Image is an exhibition that explores the relationship of traditional mythology to contemporary visual imagery. The exhibit was organized by ECC Gallery Director Susanna Meiers, who comments that the show is "aimed at getting the viewer to consider the mythological in terms of connection with the numinous within us all." The twenty-four participating Southern California artists offer their individual interpretations of myths ranging from Classical Greek and Roman to East Indian, Latin American and Iranian. Each visual image is accompanied by a retelling of the myth.

 Four of the exhibition's images, along with the retellings that accompany them are featured below:

Corey Sewelson, Crocus Messenger, Acrylic and oil on wood, 36 x 42 inches
Hermes, the trickster god of transitions and boundaries, and the human, Crocus were friends who often played discus. Hermes killed Crocus by accidentally hitting him in the head with the discus. He was so distraught that he transformed his friend's body into the Crocus flower we know today. 
This is not at all a literal illustration of this story. There is a mix of images from this Crocus story as well as some symbols of Hermes attributes and life. Hermes was the god of travelers, often shuttling back and forth between the two worlds of the gods and mortals. He was on the move so much of the time that I felt the image of the uprooted home helped convey that mobility. He was the messenger of the gods, primarily of Zeus, his father. Zeus often appeared in the form of an eagle, which in my painting shows him watching over Hermes. His typical attributes and symbols are shown- the winged sandals, pouch, cap, and caduceus staff. An abstract image of the crocus flower appears in the lower right. 
What appealed to me in the Crocus creation story was that Hermes demonstrated such devotion and humanity in wanting to memorialize his friend. He created a beautiful new species of flower so that mortals would enjoy the remembrance, and, since the crocus is a perennial, it will be renewed each year as a perpetual reminder.
- Corey Sewelson
Roxene Rockwell, Baucis and Philemon, Acrylic on canvas, 40 x 50 inches
In my work I often use trees to symbolize humans. For me trees metaphorically represent all of us, as we stand strong or physically frail, bending resiliently with life changes or succumbing to old age. 
I was drawn to the Greek myth about Baucis and Philemon for their great kindness and enduring love, and for how they turned into trees. This couple wished to die together and so doing would stay together forever. Because of their benevolence the Greek god Zeus granted their wish by turning them into trees standing side by side as their lives as humans ended. 
- Roxene Rockwell
Nancy Mozur, Phane, Gouache and oil crayon on paper, 6 5/16 x 7 3/16 inches
I like to wed various myths together with images that emerge from within my mind. The phoenix bird is a tale of regeneration. Its fate is to burn up and through its remains, rises to be born again. That renewal repeats itself symbolically as carbon ashes give way to the diamond as new life. Fire plays an important element in this tale. Heat throughout myths often results in change from destruction to creation. In the Orphic religion, the hot passion between the black-winged Night and the Wind produces the silver egg of Eros. Within the fiery depths of the Egyptian underworld, the serpent Apophis battles against the fist of Amun furthering the soul's journey towards a renewed Sun God. As my imagination, sputters, inflames and blazes, visions appear, waiting to be transformed.
- Nancy Mozur
Jim Morphesis, The Fall of Icarus, 1994, Oil on wood panel with wood frame, 42.5 x 28.5 inches
Ovid's story of Daedalus and Icarus is the tale of a loving father's loss of his son. It is also the story of youthful exuberance and the first mortal hero to fly god-like over land and sea. 
Daedalus was a great craftsman and inventor who had gone to Crete to construct the labyrinth for King Minos. When his task was completed, Daedalus petitioned the king for permission to return home, but Minos, not wanting the only man who knew the secret of the labyrinth to leave, refused the request. Minos possessed the earth and the sea, but not the sky. And so Daedalus planned to make his ill-omened escape by constructing wings of feathers, wax and linen for himself and his son, Icarus. 
With ease father and son took flight. Their dual shadows passed over Samos, the fields of Delos, the villages of Paros and out over the sea. The exhilaration of flight, and the experience of seeing the world as no other human had, compelled Icarus to disobey his father and soar higher. When Icarus reached the realm of Apollo and his chariot, the heat of the sun melted the wax, feathers slipped away and Icarus fell. 
Greek myths have a way of offering even the most tragic heroes the means for redemption. In my painting, with broken-hearted Daedalus looking down helplessly, foolish and courageous Icarus plummets toward an apocalyptic landscape and a final dive in the sea that will forever bare his name and render Icarus immortal. - Jim Morphesis
Myth and Image
A multi-cultural look at myths paired with contemporary images
El Camino College Art Gallery 16007 Crenshaw Blvd, Torrance, CA 90506
August 25 - September 18, 2014
Artist's Event with Lauren M. Kasmer, Tuesday, September 9, 1 p.m.

Participating Artists:

Melinda Smith Altshuler, Catherine Bennaton, Mark Clayton, Raoul De la Sota, Satoe Fukushima, Suvan Geer, Susan Hamidi, Zeal Harris, Brenda Hurst, Lauren M. Kasmer, Filip Kostic, Patricia Krebs, Peter Liashkov, Karena Massengill, Lynne McDaniel, John Montich, Jim Morphesis, Nancy Mozur, Stuart Rapeport, Annemarie Rawlinson, Thea Robertshaw, Roxene Rockwell, Cory Sewelson, Nancy Webber

Monday and Tuesday 10-4 Wednesday and Thursday 12-8
The ECC Art Gallery is closed Friday, Saturday and Sunday and selected Holidays.
Admission to El Camino College Art Gallery and to all related events is free and open to the public. On campus parking requires visitors to purchase a $3.00 permit.

Carolin Peters: "The Journey" at the Kwan Fong Gallery

 Carolin Peters, Under Days, Oil on Canvas, 48x36"

In her series The Journey, now on view at the Kwan Fong Gallery of Art and Culture at Cal Lutheran University, painter Carolin Peters has created an ambitious body of work that expresses the inner journey toward psychological individuation. Concerned with philosophical, spiritual and mystic phenomena, Peters creates narrative paintings that open up her ruminations on the nature of the true self.

I recently spoke with Peters and asked her about her background, and the imagery of The Journey.

John Seed in Conversation with Carolin Peters
Carolin Peters
Tell me about your childhood in Bavaria and how it shaped you.

I grew up in a pretty remote, rural town in lower Bavaria. It was a super idyllic place and I spent most of my time outdoors, either running through the forest with our dog Twiggy or later at the farm where we boarded two horses. By constantly riding, walking or biking through the surrounding fields and forests I formed a really deep bond to the landscape there. My parents also took us to the nearby Austrian mountains a lot and that whole region is my quintessential ideal place. I was a super shy and quiet kid and having close bonds with nature and animals kept me connected to the outer world. Otherwise I probably would have totally withdrawn since it was hard for me to relate and care about "normal" stuff like sports and fashion. Instead I've always been interested in magical worlds, legends and fairy tales. I'd see a fallen over tree trunk and imagine stories of gnomes living in its root system. So my imagination was constantly fueled by what I saw and I still draw heavily from that.

The Source, Oil on Canvas, 48x64"
Growing up in Europe, what kinds of art were you exposed to?

The first art I was exposed to were my great grandfather's paintings and sketchbooks. He traveled a lot and his paintings were in line with those of the Orientalists and Classicists. But he also had illustrations for children's stories, portraits of fellow soldiers and scientific illustrations of plants. When I first saw his sketchbooks I knew that I wanted to be able to draw like this. But whenever art was addressed in school I realized that I couldn't become an artist because I just had no interest in painting abstractly, making video art or creating installations. That's how contemporary art was defined to us in school anyways.

So I figured becoming an illustrator was the only way to go. As long as I got a hold of those skills. I had no idea until I came to Laguna that there were still people out there painting realistically. Luckily we went to Munich's art museums regularly with school. So I got pretty well-steeped in all the greats from the Renaissance to Expressionism. Other than that, only after spending my first year in the States did I realize how much the local architecture had imprinted me: specially all those Romanesque and Gothic churches and castles with their elaborate ornamentation that are literally everywhere. Coming to the U.S. gave me a whole new appreciation for the "old" heritage that I'd taken for granted up till then.

Episteme, Oil on canvas, 49.5 x 45.5"
What did it feel like to come to the U.S. and study in Laguna? Who were your mentors at LCAD?

Coming to Laguna was amazing. I had struggled a lot in high school and been made to feel academically inadequate. Finally I was at a place where I wanted to learn everything that was offered to me and excelled at it. Luckily I had a few friends that I knew already from earlier student exchanges, including my husband and then boyfriend Ben and so I never felt alone. But the community around LCAD became my family and home away from home. After seeing an eye-opening faculty show that included a breath-taking portrait by Stephen Douglas I quickly changed my major from illustration to fine art and my course was set right then and there. Stephen later became my mentor during the MFA program and so did F. Scott Hess. I had numerous inspiring teachers that had a huge impact on me including Sharon Allicotti, Darlene Campbell, Ron Brown and many more: I owe so much to them.

Counsel, Oil on panel, 13x24"
Tell me about your series "The Journey." How did it come about and how has it developed?

When I graduated with my MFA degree I had a really tough time starting to paint in my new studio. I would spend days "organizing" the place and "preparing" stuff when finally my therapist at the time ordered me to "just push paint around" on a scrap surface and to do that religiously for the next few weeks without any expectations and demands of creating "serious" work. So I would pick my favorite pigment of the day and smear it around without any purpose other than enjoying paint-smearing (a terribly hard thing to do for someone brought up in a no-nonsense, everything-needs-a-function kind of environment). Inevitably I would always start to see something within the abstract marks and eventually excavate the image I was seeing.

 After I had done this for a month I laid all the scrap pieces of canvas out next to each other and realized that there was a narrative connecting all these seemingly random images. That's how the series got started. It got put on hiatus off and on and the images changed over the years but I wouldn't allow myself to sell off any of the pieces until I hadn't shown the completed thing as a whole first. I think it is very fitting and telling that the series is about an archetypal figure on a journey to himself since it spanned the time in my life in which I had to figure out who I was as an adult and as an artist.

Beginning, Oil on canvas, diptych, 74x62"
Can you tell me about one image from "The Journey" in some depth? 

  I don't like to dissect the meaning of a painting for the viewer because that would imply that there is a right and a wrong way of looking at art. For me the exciting thing about art is that regardless of my motivation to create an image anyone can walk up to it and experience their own reaction to it. I think we can benefit from art by listening to how it makes us feel and to what it brings up in us, not because the oh-so-wise artist imparted some mind-blowing insight to the lowly onlooker. Of course I have my own narrative in my head as I craft a piece and I work very hard to have my composition, color scheme and paint application support it. But the goal is to make a good image, not to make everyone agree with me.

But I will gladly tell you about the creative process now that I stepped off my soap box. As I said earlier, I started with this accumulation of over 30 painted sketches, which I then whittled down to 20 final ones. Before I started every new piece I would spend some time on finding better compositions and figuring out color schemes. About a year ago I got really burnt out and I was ready to give up on the whole thing. My interests had shifted and the series felt like a piece of led on my leg. I was tired of some of the earlier characters and only really wanted to work on animals. I felt like I was just rendering out earlier images that didn't mean that much to me anymore. Luckily Ben reminded me of the fact that I am painting about somebody's journey and that I should have the right to change course on my own. So I chucked a lot of the ideas that didn't resonate anymore and either started brand new ones or recycled the initial idea.

Audience with the Coat Bearer, Oil on Canvas, triptych, 36x80"
Audience with the Coat Bearer, for example, is the same format as the sketch but the original sketch had the protagonist bowing in front of an old crone on a mountain pass with a castle in the distance and the scene was flipped the other way. I still think it would have made for an interesting image but I wasn't in that frame of mind anymore.

Open Field, Oil on panel, 17.5 x 12"
Tell me about how you see your situation as a representational artist making serious work at a time when Postmodernism seems to dominate.

I'm not sure. Being an artist is hard either way. Whether you are in line with current trends or not. As long as you are doing the hard work of confronting yourself and listening inward there are always going to be challenges. I didn't get into this because I wanted to be sanctioned by the higher echelons of the art world as valid. I paint because I love images and the silent stories they tell. I don't really care if they are categorized as art or illustration or neither. I care that I paint well and that people get to see my work. At times it seems hard to find spaces to show my work with but I can't obsess over if it has to do with my not adhering to postmodern criteria. That just ends up frustrating me and cutting into my painting time.  

What are your interests outside of art?

I love animals and being in nature. I almost decided to become a horse trainer but my parents thought that it wouldn't make for a very lucrative career. So I decided to take the safe route of being an artist. But seriously, I need the quiet and solitude of nature to recharge and the companionship of animals to find my center. I think animals really show us who we are because they don't take your masks for real. Being able to commune with them as equals is one of the most rewarding things ever. Other than that I started experimenting with dissection and taxidermy of fresh road kill. I've been teaching artistic anatomy for a few semesters and that has been so enriched by this practice. Nature is amazing at how inventive and efficient it is. Everything is built in perfect order. It's truly awe-inspiring. It's also sobering to reveal during a dissection the trauma inflicted on these animals by our cars.  

Who are some living artists that you admire?

Ruprecht von Kaufman, Paul Fenniak, Aaron Wiesenfeld, Jenny Saville, Julie Heffernan and Odd Nerdrum.

Carolin Peters
Kwan Fong Gallery of Art and Culture
Cal Lutheran University
Artist's reception: Saturday, September 6, 2014 7:00 PM
Exhibit closes: Thursday, October 2, 2014