Bird-Loving Artist David Tomb on his Recent Palo Alto Residency and Exhibition

During a recent visit to Palo Alto, I was able to visit artist David Tomb, who was nearing the end of a residency at the Palo Alto Art Center. His installation-in-progress, which uses art and multi-media elements to involve visitors with local marsh birds and their habit, was engaging and full of delightful elements and details. David has a lifelong interest in birds, and also a significant commitment to the conservation of species and habitats that is reflected in his work.

I interviewed David after he completed the installation to ask him more about how the project had evolved, and what it has accomplished.

John Seed Interviews David Tomb

David Tomb

David, how are you feeling now that your residency is winding down? 

Well, I have never done a residency before but I have to say, this one seems to be different than most. In the past I have always worked in the studio and I like my studio in San Francisco very much. Early on in this residency I decided I had the option to make a full commitment to the residency, as I wanted to show visitors an "actual studio," not just a gallery. So I moved much of my studio to Palo Alto to feel comfortable. I brought a lot of art books, my infamous rocking chair, one big work table, way too much in terms of art supplies, rolls of paper, and some stacks of cardboard. I also brought some previous work to add a bit of background. It took about 3 1/2 days of trips in my fully-loaded Honda Element...

A Studio Corner

Once you got fully set up, how did you feel? 

Well, it helped that the staff here helped to make me comfortable. Honestly, I was fine right away with people stopping by. When asked "Is it weird for you, working in a glass fishbowl?" I have replied: "I'm a birdwatcher, but I like to look at people too."

Installation View

What kinds of visitors did you have? 

During a two-week period I had something like 200 kindergartners on class tours. I've had grade school kids too, including an 11 year old who asked me "Do you live here?" Lots of adults and return customers too who wanted to see how things were developing. People enjoyed viewing and also commenting on my progress. They loved seeing the artwork start from a few pinned up drawings to seeing the studio fill up and be transformed.

David Tomb leads a local marsh tour

Do you feel like your work and installation has been making an impact? 

Through the work and through various events and talks, I have tried to advocate for birds and bird conservation. I have led ten public events including five boardwalks at the nearby Marsh in January. I should mention that the theme of this residency Creative Ecology and I am the second of 4 artists in a series sponsored by the Junior Museum and Zoo. My personal topic has been the birds and marshes of Northern California.

The completed installation on opening night

What do people experience when they walk in? 

Well, when anyone walks in, they experience what is essentially a walk-in natural diorama of a marsh habitat. I think of it as "2 1/2D" as it isn't quite 3D. To make the habitat, I went full out and made corrugated cardboard mudflats. One reason I think kids can relate to this show is that I keep my art strategies on a third grade level: there is a lot of cutting out of shapes and use of hot glue guns. This is a total and complete environment: there is even sound in the form of a sound-loop of shorebirds. I have one tiny kinetic bird that is attached to a battery-operated locomotive that moves through the marsh reeds. It is barely visible, but it is there...

The kinetic shorebird on its railroad

Has the residency changed your work? 

I would say that my work itself has expanded. The interactions are so important and I have had so many great conversations with so many people. A lot have people have loved being in a full blown studio and several have said "It is magical being in this room." One interesting thing is that the installation has gotten people connected with the real marsh and birds. Through this project, many people have had both their first experience of being in an artist's studio and their first visit to a nature preserve.

Installation Detail

Is there anything else that people really responded to?

Yes: people love my rocking chair...

David with his rocking chair

Continuing Exhibition:

King Tides and Elusive Rails, featuring the artwork created by Tomb during his in-the-gallery residency, will be on display at the Palo Alto Art Center, 1313 Newell Rd, Palo Alto, CA 94303, from April 26 through July 3, 2016.

Tomb will also be presenting a free public lecture June 9, 7 p.m., at the Art Center.

Alfonso Ossorio (1916-1990): Gorgeously Out of Touch with Reality

Before the 1989 release of the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography Jackson Pollock: An American Saga, few people outside of the upper reaches of the art world had ever heard of Alfonso Ossorio, the Philippine-born artist and collector who was Pollock's close friend and most important patron. Ossorio died about a year after the book was published--he was buried in Green River Cemetery in Springs, N.Y., where Pollock is also buried--and interest in his life and art has been climbing steadily ever since.

Alfonso Ossorio (1916-1990)
Ossorio was, for nearly four decades, a prominent figure in the Hamptons, where he and his partner Ted Dragon lived in The Creeks, an Italianate mansion on the largest waterfront estate on Long Island. Harvard-educated and deeply cultured, Ossorio had considerable wealth and an aristocratic mien that tended to overshadow his achievements as an artist. During his lifetime, Ossorio's reputation was shaded by the easy assumption that he was primarily a collector who dabbled in art, a well-heeled and eccentric "Sunday painter." As a Philippine-born Catholic whose art drew from many wells--including medical illustration, Catholicism, gay sexuality, Surrealism and the art of the mentally ill--Ossorio was very hard to categorize. It didn't help that his art was often characterized as "hysterical" and "bizarre."

Alfonso Ossorio, Beach Comber, 1953, oil on canvas, 84 3/8 x 144 3/8 in.
Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY.

Calling Ossorio an Abstract Expressionist--which at times he certainly was--creates a problem for art historians who see AbEx as a heroic American enterprise. Jackson Pollock: An American Saga made it clear that Ossorio was a key figure in Pollock's life--as a friend, a patron, and a follower--but since then it has become increasingly evident that there is more to the story. Yes, Pollock influenced Ossorio and helped him break through into fresh artistic territory, but Ossorio also apparently later returned the favor and influenced Pollock. Some of Pollock's late Black Pourings are now said to have "striking affinities" with earlier, semifigurative works by Ossorio.

Ossorio looked up to Pollock as an artist who "had broken all the traditions of the past and unified them, who had gone beyond Cubism." Indeed, Pollock's drip-based automatism gave Ossorio tools to access and grapple with his personal wounds and fantasies. The Victorias Drawings that Ossorio made in the Philippines during an extended stay in 1950 have been called his "breakthrough works" and have also been said to "share DNA" with the works of both Pollock and the French founder of Art Brut, Jean Dubuffet. In fact, Dubuffet was so enthralled by Ossorio's works of the early 1950s that he developed a new form of art writing to be able to describe them.

Alfonso Ossorio, Tatooed Couple (sic), 1950
Ink, wax, watercolor and gouache on paper, 25 1/2 x 20 3/4 in.
Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY.

In 2013, the landmark exhibition Angels, Demons, and Savages: Pollock, Ossorio, Dubuffet--originated at the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. and curated by Dorothy Kosinski and Klauss Ottman--treated the three artists as peers, mapping their aesthetic conversation and locating stylistic interchanges. One tendency all three men had in common, according to The Wall Street Journal, was a "penchant for experimenting with unconventional materials and techniques, and a predilection for rawness over refinement." During the same year, a solo show at Michael Rosenfeld Gallery in New York--Alfonso Ossorio: Blood Lines, 1949-53--featured thirty-three works created during a seminal phase of the artist's development, adding to the growing interest in Ossorio's oeuvre.

In 2016, in celebration of the late artist's one hundredth birthday, Manila's León Gallery assembled the largest collection of Ossorios to be exhibited in the country-- a total of sixteen works-- all never before exhibited in the Philippines. Among them were some of the artist's remarkable Victorias Drawings, executed with layers of wax, gouache, watercolor, and Chinese ink. It has taken time for Ossorio's art to be fully appreciated in his home nation, even longer than it has taken in the United States. His varied works--always intense, often jarringly strange, and occasionally gruesome--were shaped by his youthful sexual turmoil and lifelong morbid fascinations.

Born in 1916 to a wealthy mestizo sugar baron and a Chinese-Filipino mother, Ossorio was one of six brothers born into an atmosphere of privilege: "It was a world of being taken care of," he later recalled. His parents separated while he was growing up--his father moved to the United States--and Alfonso spent much of his childhood in England with his mother and two of his brothers, attending Catholic preparatory schools. The family would gather for summer holidays in posh European resort towns.

Ossorio then came to the United States as a teenager to attend the Portsmouth Priory from 1930 to 1934. Portsmouth Priory was a Benedictine high school run by monks in Providence, Rhode Island. Ossorio became an American citizen in 1933 and then in 1934 began his undergraduate education at Harvard, where his mentors and friends included Eric Gill, Philip Hofer, Lincoln Kirstein, and Paul Cadmus. Despite his father's objections, Ossorio majored in fine art, completing a thesis titled "Spiritual Influences on the Visual Image of Christ." During summer studies with Eric Gill in Sussex, England, Ossorio did research on medieval art and created wood engravings. After graduation he briefly studied at the Rhode Island School of Design, painting in tempera. Discovered by the famed art dealer Betty Parsons, he had his first show--of fastidiously rendered, Surrealist-tinged images--at the Wakefield Gallery in 1940.

Alfonso Ossorio, Young Moses, 1941, ink on paper, 17 3/4" x 18 3/8"
Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY.

A brief marriage, to a divorcee that his parents disapproved of, dissolved a month after Pearl Harbor, and fate soon appeared in the form of a taxi that hit him on Madison Avenue, breaking his leg. "As a result," Ossorio later explained, "I didn't get into the army until the spring of 1943. I don't know how much use I was in a military sense, but they took me and kept me in. I ended up in a general hospital doing medical illustration."

While stationed at Camp Ellis in Illinois, Ossorio was assigned to draw surgical procedures, many of which were very graphic and gruesome. He stood on a ladder, looking down on surgeries that often involved grievous war injuries suffered by soldiers, and sketched the procedures. After his discharge from the army in 1946, these macabre visions would invade and influence his art. In the summer of 1948, while vacationing in The Berkshires, Ossorio was sketching flowers in a meadow when he met a 25-year-old ballet dancer, Edward (Ted) Dragon, who was there picking nosegays. They moved in together the following year and remained devoted to each other until Ossorio's death in 1990.

Around the same time, Ossorio also had his first encounter with the paintings of Jackson Pollock--which he at first thought were too messy--and soon afterward, he made his first purchase:
You see I hadn't met Pollock, and it was simply by going to Betty's gallery and seeing a show of his. I think it was as late as 1947 or '48 that I suddenly realized the so-called drip panels had an intensity of organization, had a message that was expressed by its physical components, was a new iconography. I didn't get all of this as coherently as I'm now saying it--it was a visual thought more than an analysis. And then I bought a painting, a big panel 8 x 4, of Jackson's.
Ossorio and Ted Dragon soon met Pollock and his wife, Lee Krasner; Ossorio's Pollock needed some repairs and Pollock essentially gave it back to him as a new painting. A close friendship blossomed between the couples--Ossorio spent the summer of 1949 at the Pollocks' home in the Hamptons--and the timing was fortuitous, as Pollock was making some of the best work of his career and staying away from drinking. At Pollock's urging, Ossorio then met and visited the artist Jean Dubuffet in Paris, where the two had an immediate and significant connection. With his exposure to Pollock, Krasner, Dubuffet, and to a lesser degree, Clyfford Still, Ossorio now was surrounded by a constellation of ambitious, advanced artists, and in this situation his own art was set to blossom. Critic John Yau says that between 1949 and 1953, Ossorio "seemed to find his place in the world."

Detail of Alfonso Ossorio's The Last Judgment (Angry Christ)
Photo via Art After War: 1948-1969 by Patrick D. Flores

In 1950, Ossorio returned to the Philippines at the request of his father; he hadn't been there since the age of ten. Working with untrained assistants, he spent ten months in Victorias City painting a 36' x 20' mural that Life magazine later dubbed "The Angry Christ." A searing and radical image that offers a stylized vision of The Last Judgment with the Holy Spirit and an army of angels dawning on the world in critical transition, it was tolerated by the community largely because Ossorio's influential brothers were in charge of the project.

Being in the Philippines opened up feelings of personal turmoil for Ossorio, whose sexuality conflicted with the values of his devout Catholic upbringing. Artistically liberated by the examples of Pollock and Dubuffet, Ossorio poured his feelings into a series of works, now known as the Victorias Drawings, that dealt with childhood, birth, sexuality, mythology, and religion. Executed with a wax resist technique, the series was drawn on Tiffany stationery, which was then often cut into irregular shapes that rhymed with Ossorio's fantastic imagery. Hybrids of recognizable figuration and all-over abstraction, the Victorias works have phenomenal psychic energy: an aura of spiritual and supernatural intensity. Although Ossorio has occasionally been characterized as a "lapsed Catholic" that is not at all the case. The intensity of the Victorias Drawings is grounded in faith and religious conviction. Ossorio believed that "if you want to be serious, there is very little that is not religious."

Alfonso Ossorio, Foursome (A Four-Headed Game), 1950
Ink, wax & watercolor on cut & shaped Tiffany stationary paper, 11 1/4 x 8 5/8 in.
Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY.

By the early 1950s, Ossorio's life had become more settled, partly because Jackson Pollock had successfully urged him to buy The Creeks:

So in the summer of 1951 this opportunity came to buy the place I'm now living in, the old Hearst place in East Hampton. I had accumulated a number of pictures all of which were sitting either in my father's home or bank. I bought it but didn't move to East Hampton until the summer of 1952. I've been there ever since even in the winter. And apart from a few trips to Paris and Turkey and Greece I've done very little traveling since.

Fernando Zóbel de Ayala, another wealthy Harvard-educated artist who was also a distant cousin, visited Ossorio at The Creeks in 1955 and recorded his impressions in a vivid diary entry:
Spend most of the night talking with Alfonso Ossorio; in fact, between the two of us, we finish a whole bottle of scotch, and I get into bed at 4:30 in the morning. We talked mainly of painting and of being a painter. The gist of his remarks, repeated over and over again with variations and a kind of anguish: "Don't let them stop you." 
He (Ossorio) lives and paints at high pitch, burning the candle at both ends. He is spending and living on his capital.... Loathes compromise, any attempt to popularize. "Art must be difficult to see, difficult to understand." 
Ideally, he would like to see people forced to choose between buying an automobile and buying a painting. About 10 years older than I, unquestionably good, with a desperate, Dostoyevskian sort of goodness. Completely generous, completely humourless. Inflexible and full of pratfalls. Completely committed to his art, which, for him, is an extension of religion.
His visit with Ossorio left a lasting impression and is a clear source of inspiration for Zóbel's Saetas series of the mid-1950s, which employed paint ejected from hypodermic syringes to create dynamic webs of abstract imagery. Through Zóbel, Ossorio's embrace of Pollock's modernism would eventually influence notable artists in both the Philippines and Spain.

Alfonso Ossorio, Forearmed, 1967, mixed media assemblage

Through the '50s and into the '60s, Ossorio continued to exhibit his own work, his Pollocks, an Art Brut collection and other works he had been collecting. The Creeks was jammed with continually rotating pieces of art. Splendid candlelit parties, attended by artists, opera singers, and dancers, filled the rambling forty-room mansion. Guests ogled each other and the modern art--displayed on black walls alongside arrays of African masks, exotic caged birds, ivory dragons, and Ossorio's growing display of assemblages (which he called Congregations) made from found objects: detritus, bones, sheet metal, driftwood, and more. In the years that followed, bright geometric Ossorio sculptures appeared on the grounds, indicators that the artist had, in some sense, mellowed.

Ultimately, Ossorio is best seen as an individual and as an artist who held on to his differences while both finding inspiration in the works of his friends and disseminating their influence. In a late interview, when discussing his relationship to Abstract Expressionism, Ossorio offers his career as "an obvious case of admiring and doing differently." He continues to explain that he "chose other freedoms" and remarks that "similar freedoms can lead to different results." Writer Lee Rosenbaum has something similar to say: "What I think of Ossorio--the artist speaking in his own distinctive voice--is the 'outsider' work of this art world insider."

Alfonso Ossorio truly was, as Fernando Zóbel observes at the end of his 1955 diary entry, "gorgeously out of touch with reality."

Image Credits:

The works of Alfonso Ossorio are presented with the permission of the Ossorio Foundation

#Bowie and #Prince in Titian's Pastoral Concert


Great day at the @nortonsimon #LCAD #lcadmfa #pasadena #rondavis


Odd Nerdrum Faces Prison: His New York 'Crime and Refuge' Exhibition Will Open Without Him

Odd Nerdrum

Artist Odd Nerdrum, who has been seeking a pardon from the Norwegian Justice Ministry in his tax evasion case, will not be attending the April 30th opening for his exhibition Crime and Refuge as he had planned to. According to Casey Gleghorn of the Booth Gallery, Nerdrum now faces imminent imprisonment. Nerdrum's appeal reportedly included a request to serve his sentence at home due to a chronic illness: Nerdrum suffers from Tourette's Syndrome. "His plea to serve at home," says the artist's son Bork, "has been rejected."

At the closing of his most recent public hearing, Nerdrum told the judge:

"I am now seventy years old... to end my days in prison without the chance to get anything done anymore. Not to work with what I should have been doing, but put me in prison because I was so damn honest with the customers..."

Crime and Refuge is Nerdrum's first U.S. exhibition since 2012 and will include sixteen paintings that have never been exhibited before in America.

Odd Nerdrum, The Last Procedure, Oil on Canvas, 279.5 x 207 cm.
In Greek mirror script, "We of the university have the right to sentence you to death."

Odd Nerdrum, No Witness, Oil on Canvas, 334 x 204 cm

Odd Nerdrum: Crime and Refuge
April 30th - June 18th
Opening Reception: Saturday, April 30th, 6pm
Booth Gallery 325 West 38th St. Store #1
New York, NY, 10018

Recent Art Books: 'Thérèse Schwartze', 'Emerging from the Shadows' (California Women Artists 1860-1960), 'Bodies of Art' and 'Encaustic Art in the 21st Century'

Thérèse Schwartze - Painting for a Living
by Cora Hollema and Pieternel Kouwenhoven
184 pages, 118 illustrations, 82 in colour
Published in a Limited Edition of 500 copies
A Quick Overview:

The first monograph in English about the celebrated Dutch society portraitist Thérèse Schwartze (1851-1918) comes from art historian Cora Hollema, who curated a major show of Schwartze's work in 1990. Trained by an ambitious American father who imposed a grueling educational regime, Schwartze became a celebrated portraitist who portrayed the Dutch elite of her time in a "notably un-Dutch" style. Her brilliance, high society connections and high prices made her a millionaire, but also brought her harsh criticism. A role model for other women artists of her generation and a commanding personality, Schwartze executed masterful portraits in both oil and pastel.

Thérèse Schwartze , "Woman Wearing A Hat (Portrait of Theresia Ansingh)"
n.d. (after 1906), Pastel on paper, 71 x 57 cm (27 15/16 x 22 7/16 in)
A Quick Review:
4 1/2 Rembrandts: A labor of love and the result of decades of research, this is an impressive and well-documented book. Schwartze's work is uneven, but her best portraits are remarkable and her life story is compelling and of historical interest.
Emerging from the Shadows (Volumes 1, 2, 3 and 4)
A Survey of Women Artists Working in California, 1860-1960
by Maurine St. Gaudens
Schiffer Publishing, Ltd
Preview at
A Quick Overview:

This four-volume set presents the careers of 320 women artists working in California as well as throughout the United States, Mexico and Europe. Their art encompasses a broad range of styles--from the realism of the nineteenth century to the modernism of the twentieth. The works represented are in a variety of media, including painting, sculpture, drawing, illustration and print-making. The author is conservator and art historian Maurine St. Gaudens, the granddaughter of noted San Francisco jeweler, Maurice Saint-Gaudens, and the third-cousin of the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

A Quick Review:
5 Rembrandts: This invaluable four volume set fills huge gaps in the history of California art. It's resurrection of the careers of notable and accomplished women artists -- both modernists and realists -- is overdue and to be applauded. Its over 2,000 images offer one revelation after another. This set is a must for museum libraries, reference libraries and dealers in California art.
Bodies of Work: Contemporary Figurative Painting
by Lauren P. Della Monica
272 pages, hardcover, Schiffer Publishing, Ltd
A Quick Overview:
A varied and stimulating selection of contemporary figurative painting by Lauren Pheeney Della Monica, a New York-based art consultant. Unified by over-arching themes of individual feeling and the meaning of community in the contemporary world, the book is international in scope. Well-known artists--including Kehinde Wiley, Peter Doig and Kerry James Marshall--are included as well as emerging artists from across the globe. The content is organized into four categories: Portraits, Social Statement, The Body as Form and Narrative Paintings. An introduction and one page essays for each artist provide context and biographical notes.

A Quick Review:
4 Rembrandts: A very beautiful, stimulating and up to the moment book that is sure to bring discussion. It represents a leading curator's personal selections, but falls short of its dust jacket assertion of examining "the best figurative painters in today's art world," as that is a bigger task that will require input from more observers.
Encaustic Art in the Twenty-First Century
by Ashley Rooney and Anne Lee
304 pages, Hardbound, Schiffer Publishing, Ltd
A Quick Overview:
This book explores 79 North American artists' feelings about their work in encaustic and describes how they use it to express both their inner worlds and the world around them. Eight chapters organize the artists by geographical region and focus on how the heated beeswax and resin material is used to create a variety of surfaces and effects. Includes and afterword on encaustic and the creative process and a listing of artist's websites and exhibition spaces.

A Quick Review:
4 Rembrandts: A colorful and easy to read smorgasbord of current works in encaustic. This is not a technical guide, but a pleasing coffee table book that will bring readers up to date.

Author's Note: Later this Fall, look for "Cold Wax Medium: Techniques, Concepts and Conversations" by Rebecca Crowell and Jerry McLaughlin, which will explore more possibilities of using wax as a medium.

An Ode to the Broad


An Ode to the Broad

Oh, blue dog of Koons,
Glistering party favor,
Imposing poodle of steel balloons,
In your cheese-grater Doge's Palace, you reign Alpha

Children glimpse themselves on your stainless skin,
Multiplied, fun-housed, transmogrified,
Eli and Edye's momentary grandchildren,
They wish to touch you, but instead snap selfies

Your Diller Scofidio and Renfro bow-wow haus
The best that money can buy
Folds treasure into veils and vaults
And offers forty-five second glimpses, of LED infinity

Piles of Murakami skulls,
A silly Currin tailor in hot pants,
A looming table with a dark, beckoning underside,
The traffic has exhausted, but these things soothe

Oh, Broad on Grand Avenue,
Palazzo of industrial strength art,
Your older sister MOCA is jealous of you,
You are truly beautiful, even better than expected

#thebroad #broadmuseum #losangeles #moca


Erin Anderson: 'The Human System' at Dacia Gallery, New York

Heather, Oil on copper, 30 x 36"

When artist Erin Anderson hit on the idea of painting on copper plates she achieved a kind of aesthetic alchemy that took her art to a new level: something very special began happening in her work. "The dynamic quality of the metal," Anderson comments, "was just what I had been looking for." Anderson's most recent images, which depict deeply-shaded nudes that work in concert with the suggestive patterns of etched and burnished environments, radiate both timelessness and freshness. Considering that Anderson hasn't even reached her thirtieth birthday, her breakthrough is remarkable.

I recently interviewed Erin Anderson in connection with her upcoming New York exhibition: The Human System.

John Seed Interviews Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson

Tell me a bit about your education and training...

My mother enrolled me in classes with a local artist named Page Cottier when I was seven. I know it was around seven because I found a watercolor of a bluejay at my parent's house and at the bottom was my signature and my age. Page had studied at the Schuler School in the 60's and was an enormous advocate for realism. Even though we were young, she took our work seriously and encouraged us to take it seriously as well. We did a lot of master copies from books during my time there, a little bit of life drawing when it could be arranged. She would also take a small group of us to the Toledo Museum of art once a week during the summer where we would pick a painting or sculpture from their Old Master's Collection and copy it. I will be forever indebted to her for giving me a solid foundation.

I wound up getting a scholarship for art to go to Miami University. For the first two years I majored in Studio Art and Psychology. I had every intention to pay for my Psychology education with art and apply to graduate schools to get my PhD. My art classes there reinforced this plan as I was constantly encouraged to abstract and deconstruct what I was working on. Not that those techniques don't have merit, I'm happy I can see that now. But at the time I wasn't ready to see it and I was frustrated that no one could teach me skills. I wanted someone who could push me to become more proficient. I wasn't going to find that there, as there wasn't a single adjunct in the art department who could actually draw.

Felix, Oil on copper, 9 x 6"

In that kind of situation, how did you become interested in realism? 

I remember sitting in the basement of my dorm taking a break from some sort of homework and started googling realism. I came across Jacob Collins' website, which blew me away! I'd never seen contemporary realism, only old master work. For the next couple of years all I did was research and gradually found this underground network of realist artists that fascinated me. It changed my entire life direction and my new goal became to once again pursue art. I wound up finding Anthony Waichulis at what was then The Waichulis Studio. His program is very effective and extremely rigorous. After I graduated from Miami, I packed everything up and moved to Pennsylvania to study there. That program gave me the basics I needed to really feel confident in my abilities.

Jen Anonymous, Oil on copper, 9 x 6"

What would say are the most important themes of your recent works? 

In my current work I envision closing the gap between the isolationist individual through biomorphic imagery that mimics systems in nature. One of the biggest things I'm exploring with this work is the idea of connectivity vs. isolation. With the emphasis placed on staying in touch via Facebook, texting, and Instagram etc., there are many ways to be exposed, but not as many for genuine connection. Likewise, we humans have grown farther and farther away from nature, the very thing that is meant to sustain us. I almost feel like humans have become causal observers of their surroundings instead of being active participants. It's a mentality that holds the human being as sovereign over the landscape instead of understanding that he is part of it.

One other theme of my work, both past and present is depicting REAL people. I know it's not always the most marketable work, but I'm not so interested in painting the idealized nude. I've just seen way too many lounging females in soft light to really feel it has any significance or meaning. There are some who claim beauty in art is one of the cornerstones of significance. To illustrate that beauty within the incredibly narrow scope of idealized female form (largely painted by men!) is a frustrating thing to me.

I find each subject I paint to be beautiful even though they're neither conventional nor idealized. I like their realness more than I like painting a perfected version of them. Artists like Jenny Morgan, Daniel Maidman, and Daniel Sprick paint plenty of female nudes, but you can feel they're real and you know they're not being put on a pedestal. They're beautiful because of their imperfections and that's what makes the work compelling.

Lastly, a more personal goal of mine and maybe not a theme of the work per se, has been to gain a thorough understanding and connection with my model during my time working with them. During our photo shoot I don't ask them to pose, I don't direct them. Instead we have an hour-long conversation about whatever they want. The end result is thin slices of time that showcase the model in genuine moments. I find myself painting the details with a real desire to capture the model in a way that's true to who they are. I know their backstories: how one has persevered through multiple cancer relapses, the struggling single mothers, the lost young adult, the young woman with an unknown past and the young man whose past he'd like to forget but feels it important that he never does. Their imperfections and flaws give way to relatability and in some ways act as a mirror through which we see pieces of ourselves.

Karen Looking, Oil on copper, 21.5 x 18"

How and when did you decide to paint on metal? 

I wanted to incorporate a material that played with abstraction and light. I experimented with many different avenues before I finally started to develop my techniques on copper. I started trying to manipulate light during photo shoots to depict the surrealist element I was looking for. I would pass light through a prism so it would break into abstract shapes of color and cast it on the model. I did one painting this way and I feel it had its merits but it wasn't quite what I was searching for.

 I found a lot of inspiration through work that integrated metal leaf. I had seen the effect in person and found it very engaging but again, was still not quite what I wanted. It lead me to try powdered metal (silver specifically) which was a complete flop. I don't think I really knew how to use it best. Out of the recesses of my brain I remember seeing a painting online that was done on copper. I had never thought to paint on it before, but thought I didn't have too much to lose.

 My first piece on copper was a big learning curve. I spent like $120 on a thick sheet of roofing copper and had no idea what I was doing. I also was not particularly adventurous in my approach. Everything was meticulously planned out. I mocked up the entire composition in Photoshop, created a precise geometrical design in Illustrator and made a stencil with it. My earliest pieces were done this way by masking off areas of copper and painting over top. Realizing this process had severe limitations, I decided to make a 180 and began diving right in with an etching needle and no plan. I'm happy to say there was only one painting I felt was so terrible that I sanded the whole thing away. Otherwise, there were triumphs and there were "meh" moments but nothing I'm ashamed of.

Kim with Turbulence, Oil on copper, 36 x 30"

How has your work on metal evolved? 

Today my process is much different than when I started. I allow myself to paint the portrait in its entirety and try not to overthink what will be etched into the copper. After the painting has dried about a month, I have a loose concept for what the etching will be but I also allow room for it to develop in an organic way. I can say sometimes the etching comes easy, making decisions on where to go next is easy, and sometimes it's the most stressful damn thing you'll do all week. Always in the back of my head is the knowledge that most of the marks I make I have to live with, it's very difficult to cover up area you've etched through. So if you can imagine standing back and not being thrilled with it yet and still not knowing quite what to do--it ruins your whole day.

 That said, I'm very happy with the results of this work. The dynamic quality of the metal is exactly what I had been looking for. The viewing experience changes dramatically depending on the environment. For example: one of my favorite times of day for looking at the work was morning. I have a long studio with a north-light window at the end and for a time some of these paintings were hanging on the adjacent wall. The combination of cool morning light from the window along with the warmth of the spotlight above each one almost made the background look 3D.

 I was also struck with the way one of these paintings looked when I was loading them up in my car to drive them to get scanned. The light from the street lamp made the portrait of Karen look almost like she was on fire: Every mark in this metal looks different as you move around the piece. Different techniques yield different visual effects. For example, if I want a more subtle look, I use a burnisher or an etching needle so the light is reflected in a uniform way. If I want something very dynamic and dimensional, I use a rotary dremel, which scatters the light in many different directions.

Karen's Story, Oil on copper, 36 x 30"

What kind of relationships and effects do you want to generate by using the textures and energies of the metal against the human figures?

I have an interest in the idea of complexity and structure where we can't see it. I think that's part of the reason Point.B Studio's wind maps fascinate me. On a given day, you can walk outside and feel the breeze, but the full scope of the system that created it is unknown to us. Yet it's there, the entire system is there and it creates its own larger body even though we can't see it. I like this idea of a larger system only I've applied it to humans. I also like the effect copper has because you can create an infinite number of ways to view the work. It lends to the idea of a dynamic system whose basic structure always remains, but can appear different.

Erin Anderson: The Human System
April 6 - 30, 2016
Opening Reception: Thursday, April 7 at 6 PM - 9 PM
Dacia Gallery
53 Stanton St, New York New York 10002

Rebecca Crowell at Thomas Deans Fine Art, Atlanta

The paintings of artist Rebecca Crowell, whose work is on view at Thomas Deans Fine Art in Atlanta in Interplay, a dual show with Jeri Ledbetter, are the end result of many processes--including looking, seeing and feeling--all spread out over time. "Many ideas and images pass through my mind as I paint," Crowell observes: "The passage of time and aging, the accumulation of experience, the symbolic and visual aspects of natural processes including stratification, collapse, compression: the ephemeral marks that people leave behind."

John Seed Interviews Rebecca Crowell
Rebecca Crowell

Tell me a bit about your upbringing. Were you always artistic? 

My family moved constantly because of my dad's job as a civil engineer, working on projects that only lasted a year or two. I remember drawing, painting and making stuff all the time--along with reading, art was something I could do in my own little world, even when being constantly uprooted. My parents, although not artists themselves at all--were really supportive of my obsession. They made sure I had supplies, and took me to art museums. I had oil paints when I was 12. At about the same time, my mother introduced me to the sculptor Genevieve Hamlin, a friend of my grandmother's. We visited her studio, and seeing the life she led as an artist had a huge impact on me. From then on, I could picture that kind of life for myself.

Canyon #1, Oil and cold wax on panel, 12 x 18 in.

How did your work develop during your time as a student in Arizona? 

I went in wanting to understand abstraction, but without much clue how to go about that. As an undergrad in Wisconsin I had worked in a realistic way with bits of nature. My painting table was covered with my collections of rocks, shells and dead beetles. In an attempt to use them abstractly, I tried fragmenting and overlapping realistically painted images. In grad school, these bits and pieces evolved into completely imaginary biomorphic forms, and the spaces in which I placed them were rather surreal. I was influenced by the strangeness of the desert landscape. By the time of my MFA show in Arizona, my work consisted of large, very colorful oil paintings full of overlapping and dense shapes, which I rendered somewhat three dimensionally. I can see echoes of that in my work today.

Ciede Fields (Ireland) #1, Oil and cold wax on panel, 36 x 48 in.

Is it fair to say that your work leans towards abstraction, but also is very much connected to a sense of place? Has that always been the case? 

Yes I agree with that: the importance of the sense of place in my work. In some form, this has always been true, a constant thread through various phases of realism, surrealism and abstraction. I have the feeling it connects somehow to all that moving around I did when I was young.

Drezzo Wall, Oil and cold wax on panel, 14 x 11 in.

Tell me about some of the materials you add to your paintings. 

Most of my work is done with oil paint, cold wax medium, solvents, and various kinds of powdered pigments. Sometimes I also use sand, powdered marble, and chalk. I've developed a lot of ways of using these materials and I'm currently writing a book with my co-author, Jerry McLaughlin, called Cold Wax Medium: Techniques, Concepts & Conversations to be published this winter. I also work in water-based mixed media, drawing and monotype. I like working with a variety of materials; each brings out different aspects of expression.

Muro, Oil and cold wax on panel, 8 x 16 in.

What are some of the recent places you have travelled and painted? Can you say a bit about what each location brought to your work?

 Last year was amazing for travel--I was in northern Sweden, Italy, and Ireland, and earlier this year my husband and I spent a month in New Mexico. These are all rugged, remote, and wild in character. Italy was the tamest in that sense, but there I was moved by the sense of history and ancient places. I have stayed most often in Ireland, at Ballinglen Arts Foundation in County Mayo, a place of dramatic contrast; the land covered by soft, textural blanket bogs, and the seacoast very dramatic with high cliffs and jagged rock formations. The weather changes constantly and everywhere are Neolithic ruins. All of this influence my textures, shapes, and colors. I use a lot of lines in my most recent work (such as Travels in Lappland #1 and #2.) I call these "travel lines" and they represent my wanderings on location, trails and maps.

Travels in Lappland #1, Oil and cold wax on panel, 40 x 40 in.

I love John O'Donohue's poem, For the Traveler. He describes an awakened kind of travel that interweaves inner and outward experience. When I'm away, I walk a lot, explore, sit by myself, allow the landscape to move me as it will. When I'm back home, working in my studio, what comes through are memories and longings, and sensory impressions.

Jeri Ledbetter, Rifugio, Mixed media on panel, 48 x 48 in.

Your current show is a dialog with artist Jeri Ledbetter. What have you gotten out of this interchange?

I admire Jeri's use of line--it's bolder than my own, very sure handed but also subtle. It made me think about how I might continue to push my own ideas for line. I also love the way her paintings seem to breathe. A friend at the opening remarked about the dialog between them, saying mine were like the earth and Jeri's like the air. We both respond to our surroundings in very intuitive ways.

Swedish Red #1, Oil and cold wax on board, 11 x 14 in.

What are your interests outside of painting? 

Travel, obviously! And photography. I like to write--mostly my blog, journals and long emails to friends. I'm interested in archaeology--not in a very scientific way, but for its stories, mysteries and for the objects unearthed. I'm interested in certain spiritual topics. I also like cooking and gardening, although not so much when either becomes a chore. I have a life at home that is very normal. I'm happily married, have two adult sons, and I was the primary support person for my mother until she died last year. Of course, I guard my painting time, but I've always had a lot of other things going on. I like to think of making art as just one activity in the flow of life.

Who are some living artists that you admire? 

I know it's cheating but I have to mention Antoni Tapies who died in 2012. Seeing his work in Barcelona in 2008 had a huge impact on me in understanding the impact of place. Walking around that city in all of its gritty, ancient beauty and then looking at his paintings, seeing that powerful, intuitive connection to the city where he lived was so moving to me. A number of Irish artists that I admire come to mind. Living in rural Wisconsin as I do, I don't get to many galleries and museums unless I am traveling. So Dublin is where I have seen the most art in person in the past few years....Charles Tyrrell, Maria Simonds-Gooding, Frances Ryan, Sean Scully, Donald Teskey. I also love Andy Goldsworthy and the light works of James Turrell.


New Paintings by Jeri Ledbetter and Rebecca Crowell
26 Feb - 2 April Thomas Deans Fine Art
690 Miami Circle NE #905
 Atlanta, GA 30324

Empathy, Humanism and Liberalism: Today's Realism is Anything But Conservative

Brad Kunkle, The Proposition, 2008-09, Oil, gold, and silver on linen, 52 x 31 in.

There is a bias that seems to be rapidly fading these days, but I still run into it from time to time: realist painting that traces its roots back to the grand European traditions, is inherently "conservative." I still come across reviews of exhibitions where terms like "academic" and "kitsch" are used by critics as poison darts to negate the works and intentions of traditionally skilled painters. In these contexts there is often a faulty association being made: if an artist's training is rigorous and traditional, their political inclinations must also be retrograde. It's a weak and dangerous correlation that creates mis-understandings and underestimates the intellectual independence of the current generation of realists.

"This is a subject I'm actually thinking about a great deal these days, particularly in light of the extreme political polarization we've seen take root in the US in recent years," comments artist Steve Linberg, "Once you have 'conservative' stuck to you as an artist, then no further evaluation is needed, or desired. And that's a way to give people less attention than they deserve, and to oversimplify, and that's always regrettable (at best), or even dangerous (at worst)."

In terms of values-- political and personal--skilled representation strikes me as being a way of working that can say whatever it wants to say. Artist Betty Shelton puts it this way: "To be a realist, in this day and age, makes many of us independent thinkers, and not compelled to follow what is 'popular.' I personally don't think that being a realist equates with being conservative, or liberal."

Aleah Chapin, Qwill, 2015
Image: Courtesy of the Artist and Flowers Gallery

Of course, not everyone agrees. The German art historian Benjamin Buchloh, in his 1981 essay Figures of Authority: Ciphers of Regression: Notes on the Return of Representation in European Painting warns of the "idealization of the perennial monuments of art history and its masters," a tendency which he connects to the "syndrome of authoritarianism." It doesn't help that realism of one sort or another has been, and continues to be, the default style for propaganda art connected to odious political figures and movements.

That said, Buchloh's essay is more than 30 years old, and a rising generation of what Donald Kuspit called "New Old Masters" are making works that are, in their intentions, distinctly anti-authoritarian. In political terms, there is a great deal of realism that is anything but "conservative."

The social issues that are at the heart of today's liberal politics -- including women's rights, LGBT issues, racial equality and secular identity -- are animating a wide swath of representational paintings. Many are not overtly political, but instead they focus on human dynamics and situations with an emphasis on the power of empathy. Rather than focusing on life's hardships, like the Social Realism of the early 20th century, today's Progressive Realists are interest in human identity in the context of social and political constructs. To put it another way, realists have taken on many of the view and projects that have pre-occupied Postmodernists, but do so using time-honored methods and media. 

I'm including a selection of paintings below that illustrate some of the trends and values that I see emerging in this vein. Each image includes a quote from the artist meant to clarify and illuminate his or her personal concerns.

Erin Anderson, Karen and Felix, 2015, Oil on copper

"A personal goal of mine (and maybe not a theme of the work per se) has been to gain a thorough understanding and connection with my model during my time working with them. During our photo shoot I don't ask them to pose, I don't direct them. Instead we have an hour-long conversation about whatever they want. The end result is thin slices of time that showcase the model in genuine moments. I find myself painting the details with a real desire to capture the model in a way that's true to who they are." - Erin Anderson

Milan Hrnjazovic, Madonna and Child, 2011 Oil on canvas, 39 in. (diameter)

"It is a question whether contemporary liberal views are bringing a new perception of race equality since Christianity doesn't discriminate people by skin color or ethnicity. Of course, there is the history of colonialism that have consequences we are still aware of today. This painting could remind us on some of them..." - Milan Hrnjazovic

Steve Linberg, Nudity and Sexuality, charcoal and chalk on paper, 24 x15 in.

"In 2011, I was asked to show some figurative work in a show in Boston. I submitted four samples: three female nudes and one male nude. I was told by the organizers that the female nudes would be fine for the show, but not the male; the show was public and children might see it. I politely thanked them for their consideration and withdrew from the show. The work was a body, and I was not willing to separate out the male nude from the others. If female nudes were acceptable, males should be as well. This generated discussion and controversy among the show organizers.

After several weeks of back and forth, it was eventually decided that they would show it, but it had to be in a private gallery not visible from the street. This was the final compromise that the chair of the show would accept, after all of the other members had turned in favor of it. It seemed to me that the chair's objection centered around an inability to separate nudity from sexuality, at least for the male figure: male nudes are inherently sexual (if not outright obscene), while female nudes may be purely decorative, particularly for male viewers.

I created this piece as a response to this controversy. I wanted to indicate that while there can be overlap between nudity and sexuality, there can be non-sexual nudity, and non-nude sexuality. As part of this statement, I wanted to invert the traditional paradigm of discretely covering the male nude while exposing the female, to further emphasize the point." - Steve Linberg

Diana Corvelle, Cornerstone, Gouache on paper with cut paper overlay, 30 x 40 in.

"Cornerstone is a portrait of my remarkable friend Stacey. Stacey lives with her mother, two siblings and young niece in their childhood home, because she knows that her income is needed to upkeep it. That Stacey chooses to remain at home in order to support her family reveals much about the type of person she is. The fact that she is an out, gay woman choosing to live in a traditional, working-class suburb reveals even more. I see my friend as a kind, noble and quietly heroic individual and I wanted my portrait of her to reflect that." - Diana Corvelle

Kyle Hackett, Forward Restraint, 2015. Oil on panel, 32 x 24 in.

"While we are motivated by very different goals and aspirations, the question, 'What is the meaning of life?' seems humbly universal. My experiences prove this answer is rooted in the need for empathy -- an individual volition driven by the need for connection and feeling." - Kyle Hackett

Reuben Negron, Aida, 2013, Watercolor on Arches Cold Press Paper, 20x16 in.

"I am greatly interested in examining identity and how it manifests in one's public and private personas. Much of my work deals with body politics, physical and metal health, gender identity, and sexual identity. My source material comes from interviews I conduct with the models about their personal lives and experiences. I work with them to showcase their narrative as a means to promote open dialog about the topics at hand and give a voice to those typically underrepresented in representational art." - Reuben Negron

JeanPaul Mallozzi, We Come Here Often, Oil on panel on cradled wood, 36 x 24 in.

Jean-Paul Mallozzi's Familiars broadens his fascination with the human condition and the inherent, nuanced complexities of personal relationships, specifically intimate male relationships, which are often hyper-sexualized and informed by society's rigid and conflicting constructs of masculinity, sexuality and identity. "We Come Here Often is a personal piece that highlights the emotional bond the couple shares between themselves over a quiet bluff overlooking a cityscape in the distance. The light is coming from both men's emotional states made visible and crossing over into each other merging together at that moment." - Jean Paul Mallozzi

Matt Ballou, The Omen (Group Upon a Height), oil on paper on panel, 22 by 30 in.

"I'm agitated about war, about how humans continue to interact with each other. I'm agitated by the philosophical implications of our warring, and I'm agitated that it seems inherent to our very existence to be war-like. How did we let things get this way? Why do we always seem to end up bludgeoning one another? What can we do to change? Why do people suffer? It all comes back to existential questions for me: questions of faith, questions of personal responsibility in the world.

The Omen (Group Upon a Height) is an image that could be pulled from any day of the last 3 or 4 years in our world. This scene could easily be of Beirut, Haifa, Kabul, or Baghdad. The figures - once again melded into their land, once again bearing witness - rise above their city to take in the view. The plume they see is smaller, more localized than some seen in other paintings of this series, but it is no less potent. It signals destruction in their world, in their lives, in their emotions, their beliefs, and their ideas." - Matt Ballou