Now on my Huffpost blog: Contemporary Art ™ is a Now a ‘Brand’ #richardserra #sfmoma #branding #brandingidentity


Contemporary Art ™ is a Now a 'Brand'

What's a brand? A singular idea or concept that you own inside the mind of the prospect." - Al Ries, chairman and co-founder, Ries & Ries Focusing Consultants

A partial view of Richard Serra's Band on view at LACMA

If you are a museum-going Californian, there is a good chance you have seen one of Richard Serra's massive rusted steel sculptures lately. Since 2006, when Serra's torqued elipse T.E.U.C.L.A was installed at the Broad Art Center at U.C.L.A. California's finest heavy crane operators have been busy lowering a new generation of his works into prominent locations across the state. I recently walked around Serra's twenty ton Band on the lower floor of LACMA's Broad Contemporary Art Museum, where it is literally impossible to miss. Just an hour away, Serra's 66 foot tall, 360 ton Connector, installed in 2013, dominates the pedestrian plaza of Orange County's Performing Arts Center. In the Bay Area, visitors to the first floor of SFMOMA's spectacular newly-opened 460,000 square foot building are being greeted by Serra's 2006 Sequence, which was previously on view at LACMA and Stanford University's Cantor Art Center. Sequence, consists of two conjoined steel spirals that weigh over two hundred tons, requires a dozen flatbed trucks when being transported.

 Serra's art has become an instantly recognizable brand. When you see massive rusting steel plates in a museum or plaza, the word "Serra" flashes in your mind. A Serra is about massive weight, materiality and scale that controls your experience. Being in or around one--or watching one being installed--is meant to inspire awe and at least a tinge of sublime fear. Every Serra installation is both a work of art and a marketing device that reminds us of the artist's market dominance.

Video: The Installation of Richard Serra's Sculpture Sequence at SFMOMA

Richard Serra is routinely referred to as one of the world's "greatest living sculptors," and the artist himself isn't shy about concurring. In 2013, when Vanity Fair magazine asked 100 art world notables to select "The Six Greatest Living Artists" Serra voted for himself. Darren Jones, a Scottish-born critic now living in the U.S., begs to differ. In a recent, widely-circulated blog--The Fascism of Recent Art History: A Conspiracy of Hysterical Importance--Jones calls Serra a "McDonalds of the art world" who never fails to "miss an opportunity to dictatorially stomp his jurassic footprint across the globe on the grounds of any museum that will house one of his insufferable metal tantrums."

Honestly, Jones seems to be the one having the tantrum--an art critic tantrum--but in comparing Serra to McDonalds he does touch on an interesting point: its not entirely off base to compare a leading contemporary artist to a ubiquitous brand. One artist friend of mine uses a similar metaphor to poke fun at a broader phenomenon. He notes that contemporary art museums across the U.S. tend to showcase the same "menu" of blue chip contemporary artists, so he calls these museums "Olive Gardens." Theodor Adorno once cautioned that the "commoditization of culture results in conformity," and the seeping presence of "branding" into the field of contemporary art feels consistent with his warning.

Serra's Sequence, I would argue, is a kind of logo in steel that "sells" the related "products" on view at SFMOMA, which is now the largest institution of its kind in the world. As any good marketing student knows, effective branding can result in the sales of not just one product, but of other products associated with that brand. The broader field of Contemporary Art ™, with its values of progress, boundary pushing and cultural significance draws more and more well-educated, well-funded individuals towards its commoditized magnetism.

Just a block away from SFMOMA, mega-dealer Larry Gagosian has just opened his 16th location. Has there ever been a more powerful art brand than Gagosian Gallery? Gagosian has played a crucial role in advancing Serra's career and the presence of Sequence at SFMOMA must be one of the most validating and powerful "product placements" ever. Gagosian Gallery, it should be mentioned, is listed as one of SFMOMA's Corporate Donors, right after Ferrari of San Francisco. Contemporary Art, like Ferrari, is a luxury brand.

In San Francisco, where the 2015 median home value is $1,135,900, luxury brands are the ones that do well.

Painted Words: The Marriage of Words and Images

Christopher Kane Taylor, Hey Buddy, Ink, acrylic and pencil on paper, 30 x 45 inches
Image: Courtesy the artist and Poets and Artists

One day in the early 1980s, Jean-Michel Basquiat was keeping himself busy on an airliner, poring over a book about Roman sculpture, making one of his lists of things in blocky letters. When a friendly woman passenger gently asked, "What are you studying?" he responded firmly: "It's a drawing." That may seem like an offhand remark, but it's actually a very revealing one.

Basquiat's art is full of letters, words, phrases, epithets, names and logos and they are absolutely essential, fully integrated components of each image, always insistently hand-drawn. He was, all at once, an artist, a poet, a scholar and a scribe: maybe a linguist too. By working with such unity of purpose, Basquiat was touching on an ancient way of thinking. In Egyptian hieroglyphics, for example, words and images had once been conjoined. The literate, highly educated individuals who created hieroglyphic scrolls--whether they were copying or writing original texts--were artists in the broadest sense.

Later in history, as language increasingly became represented by alphabets that stood for phonetic elements, letters retained traces of their kinesthetic roots. The development of words and alphabets started in the mind, but then entered into the world through hands holding styluses, brushes and pens, as did drawings and paintings. In the Western tradition, words and images gradually separated and divorced in the span of time between the Renaissance and Modernism. The illuminated manuscripts of the Medieval period, with their shared reliance on calligraphy and imagery, were replaced by icons and pictures that relied on increasingly sophisticated visual representations: the invention of movable type took over the job of lettering and turned bookmakers into mere craftsmen and printers. Painters made paintings, architects drew, and authors wrote words as specialization separated their tasks.

There were certainly exceptions--for example, William Blake and his illustrated poems--but words were now mainly for books, contracts and signs while images played the singular role of convincing us that what we were looking at just might be real. A fascination with materiality seems to coincide with the rise of Capitalism, the modern West's subsuming religious force. Until photography came along, art images were windows through which we could witness things, and be moved by their validating realness. Words told us things while images showed us things: both did what they could to entice and convince us in their own ways.

It's interesting to note that things developed differently in Asia and the Islamic world, where calligraphy remained revered and essential. In China, where children still learn to write with a brush, the literati ideal of poetry and image being conjoined is still strong: interestingly, so is the idea that a landscape can be a mindscape. Islamic iconoclasm has had the long-term effect of making the tradition of calligraphy its most revered visual art. Calligraphy in Islamic culture is primary, taking priority over imagery and rendering the messages of the Qu'ran as sacred, poetic and imperative. 

When American culture was being born and shaped in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, calligraphy meant John Hancock's oversized signature on the Declaration of Independence. The only writing that could be found in and on paintings was generally a discreet signature in the lower right corner. It wasn't until the bits of signage and text included in European Cubist pictures began to nudge Stuart Davis and a few others to bring stylized words into their canvases that the old marriage of words and images could be truly reborn in American art.

After the war, in the era of Pop art, when culture replaced nature as art's dominant subject matter, words no longer had to knock at the door of culture and ask to be let in: they became were suddenly honored guests. Lichtenstein's giant comic strips and Warhol's blandly painted transcriptions of advertisements were the "illuminated manuscripts" of a new kind of mass culture. Many of America's notable contemporary artists have since used letters and words prominently in their art: a very short list includes Jasper Johns, Ed Ruscha Jenny Holzer, Squeak Carnwath and Robert Indiana.

Painted Words presents an eclectic and hasty selection of a rising generation of artists who are--in varying degrees--scholar/scribe/poets. Some artists are here because their representational paintings are activated by the presence of words. Others use collages or palimpsests of words to play the edges between poetry and narrative. Some have been inspired by or even use the street and its landscape of signage. The mechanically printed words of newspapers, album covers and posters make their appearances, lovingly painted by hand.

There are paintings made from words, and words made from paint. Words, in painted form, find themselves layered, blended and brushed towards poetry. One artist--Sandow Birk--has honored a non-Western tradition by asking himself the question: "What would an American Qu'ran look like, and what kinds of images would it include?" There are also works presented here that blur the lines between painting and sculpture.

We live in a media society--and a digital society-- and I'm quite aware that the torn green "M" on a can of Monster energy drink, the digitally printed Star Wars logo on a t-shirt and every internet meme I have seen on Facebook are the mass-produced cousins of the works of art I have assembled here. Words and images are together everywhere in advertising, which media theorist Marshall McLuhan felt was "the greatest art form of the twentieth century."

I would like to think that if McLuhan was still alive he would recognize that visual artists are taking back some of the territory of advertising and re-consecrating the marriage of words and images in the twenty-first century. I have kept my choices purposely broad, with only one over-arching requirement: that I can detect the ambition of art-making as the motivation behind each image. Scholar/scribe/poets are thriving now, although many of them call themselves artists. Each of the artists presented here is doing something strong, original and personal in the way they navigate the overlaps of language and aesthetics. Their approaches may be new, but the tradition they are part of is as old as history, or perhaps even a bit older than that.

View more images...

This essay accompanies the works of 22 artists in a free online issue of Poets and Artists.

When the old masters and new old masters get into it. #lcad #lcadlife #lcadmfa


Pat Mahony: Painting the 'Perfect Chaos' of Nature

Wild Lupin, Oil on Linen, 79 x 57 inches

Artist Pat Mahony enjoys taking long walks that give her time to reflect and take in her surroundings. Over the past two years, while taking these strolls, Mahony has become tuned in to what she calls the "perfect chaos" of closely observed nature. It is this wild and unpredictable energy--the randomness of light and color seen at a particular moment in time--that has inspired her recent oil paintings. Capturing just the right balance of chaos and structure has been a challenge. "My goal," Mahony explains, "has been to somehow define the chaos of nature without losing the necessity of creating a cohesive painting that hopefully elicits an emotional response from the viewer.

I recently interviewed Pat to ask her about her recent paintings, which will be on view at the John Natsoulas Center for the Arts in Davis, beginning on May 18th.

  John Seed Interviews Pat Mahony

Pat Mahony

Pat, tell me about your education and early career.

I attended the University of California, Santa Barbara, and graduated with a BA with honors in 1973. Because of my financial circumstances I was unable to attend graduate school despite the encouragement of my professors. I worked in the financial field as a stockbroker, first full time and then part time until I could devote myself full time to my art. At that point I took classes from several prominent artists here in Sacramento and finally with their help I was finally affiliated with the Artists' Contemporary Gallery. This was the premier gallery at the time in Sacramento and represented Wayne Thiebaud and Gregory Kondos among other luminaries. It was a huge break for me. This was in 1980. I had my first solo show at Sacramento City College in 1981.

Purple Iris, Oil on canvas, 60 x 48 inches

What kind of work were you doing in the 80s? 

Even though my background/degree in college was in printmaking and oil painting, I first started working in watercolors. I have always tended to paint what I know. I was living in an urban environment at the time so I painted architectural scenes. They were interpretations of building facades, focusing on shadows and windows in a grid-like fashion. I started getting national exposure in that medium and won awards in national watercolor competitions and appeared in many watercolor and artist magazines. I also caught the eye of Allan Stone, of the Allan Stone Gallery in New York, and he exhibited some of my work in group shows starting in 1987.

Red Sapling, Oil on canvas, 60 x 72 inches

How did your work change over time? 

It was after that time that my husband and I moved to a rural location on the Sacramento River. The move caused me to shift my focus to the landscape. It was at this time that I decided to switch back to oil painting. I wanted to work in larger formats and have greater color fastness with the paint. Almost all of the work I did from 1988 to 2002 were my impressions of the River and the surrounding farmland. The landscapes were well received and many are in the permanent collections of corporate and public institutions.

Spring Pear, Oil on linen, 48 x 36 inches

Tell me about how the imagery of your current show evolved. 

In 2002 we moved to another part of town where my studio backs up to a nature preserve and the American River. The riparian habitat is very different here from the one along the Sacramento River. I have been greatly influenced again by my surroundings. The current show involves my observations over the last two years of walking in the forested area near my home.

Japanese Maple, Oil on paper, 30 x 22 inches

Most of my previous landscapes were influenced by memories of nature and vistas were seen as a whole. In my walks over the past 2 years I began to notice the wild energy reflected in nature up close and began to observe what I would characterize as a perfect chaos. The harmony I always saw before was slowly being replaced by the sheer randomness of light and color given the particular day or time of year. My goal was to somehow define the chaos without losing the necessity of creating a cohesive painting that hopefully elicits an emotional response from the viewer.

Spring Countryside, Oil on canvas, 36 x 36 inches

What kinds of materials, media, sizes and ideas are you currently working with? 

All of the paintings in the show are oils on canvas, linen, or paper. Many of the paintings are quite large, up to 7' x 7'. The idea with some of the large pieces is to bring the viewer into the tree canopy. In others I attempted to magnify the wild flora. In all of these cases my intent is to push the representational aspects of what I see to the edge of abstraction. Especially on the large pieces, I have tried to match the wildness of nature with a wild and physical application of paint.

Yellow Leaves, Oil on canvas, 36 x 36 inches

Where does your work seem to be going? 

I find myself throwing paint at the canvas and/or using my hands to apply the medium in an effort to reflect what I am seeing and feeling in the subject matter. My work has always hovered between representation and abstraction but this is a new phase for me. I feel it is part of my evolution toward total abstraction. In this series I feel as if I were having a conversation with nature.

Pat Mahony/Bob Schlegel May 18 - July 12, 2016
Opening Reception: Saturday, May 28th, 7 pm - 9 pm
John Natsoulas Gallery
521 1st Street, Davis CA 95616

Now on my Huffpost blog: Aleah Chapin: 'Body/Being' follow my bio link #flowersgallery #trans #transgender


Aleah Chapin 'Body/Being' at Flowers Gallery, New York

Aleah Chapin, Qwill, 2015, Oil on canvas, 84 x 50 in.
© Aleah Chapin, Courtesy of Flowers, London/New York

In her solo exhibition at Flowers Gallery--Body/Being-- artist Aleah Chapin is showing a series of monumentally-scaled nudes that navigate the boundaries of gender specificity, exploring both the male and female experience of the body. The series was partly inspired by the gender transformation experiences of Chapin's cousin Qwill, who recently came out as gender neutral. Chapin's frank, lovingly crafted nudes are powerfully human and uncannily present: painter Eric Fischl calls Chapin "the best and most disturbing painter of flesh alive today."

I recently interviewed Aleah Chapin to ask her about her background and her current work.

John Seed Interviews Aleah Chapin

Aleah Chapin: Photo by Hannah Wahl

I underestand that you grew up on an island north of Seattle: tell me a bit about that....

Well it was a really wonderful place to grow up for many reasons, one being the community. My best friends now I've known since we were babies, they are probably more like siblings (many of their mothers are the "Aunties"). Another wonderful thing was the freedom to explore the natural environment and the connection with nature. Most of my time was spent in the woods making elaborate fairy houses or following deer through their narrow paths along steep hillsides. I think this feeling of safety with the natural world gave me a strong foundation of "home."

Aleah Chapin, Cece, 2015, Oil on canvas, 84 x 50 in.
© Aleah Chapin, Courtesy of Flowers, London/New York

During your studies (both art Cornish and the New York Academy) what were you painting and how did you develop? 

I came to Cornish with a very slim idea of what kind of art I wanted to make. I just wanted to paint and draw people (which is essentially what I do now) but from my first day there, my horizons exploded. I became interested in video art, installation, sculpture, performance and combing them all. It was an incredible time. But by the end of those 4 years, I came back to painting. This lead me to apply to the New York Academy of Art where I was able to dive into my love of the figure and realism, but in a much more conscious way. Moving across the country to this big city gave me the space to explore and I ended up looking right back at the world I came from. I had felt a lot of pressure (from myself) to make "big important paintings about big important things" which never worked. It wasn't until I realized - through being very overwhelmed and confused - that I needed to start at the beginning and just paint what I know. That's how the "Aunties Project" began, which was the base for so much and was the first work that really felt like I was being honest with myself.

Aleah Chapin, Kara, 2015, Oil on canvas, 84 x 50 in.
© Aleah Chapin, Courtesy of Flowers, London/New York

Being a realist, representational artist is still seen by many as outside of the "mainstream" but you have received tremendous attention and recognition in a short time. Are you surprised, and how have you handled it all? 

Yes, I'm really surprised. Getting recognition for paintings of my naked friends and family was the last thing I thought would happen! I made that work because I knew I had to make it, and because I had promised myself that during my time in graduate school, I would forget about "fitting in and making a living" and just focus on painting what I wanted to paint. It was such a surprise when people responded to those paintings. I wasn't expecting it at all, so at the beginning, I don't think I handled it very well, (although it may have seemed so on the outside.)

Inside, I was really overwhelmed at the attention I was receiving. I got solace out of the fact that I felt good about the work I was making, and I felt safe as long as I was in the studio being true to my own vision. I don't want to complain, since seriously I feel like the luckiest person in the world, but through the difficulties of being in the spotlight, I was able to develop some thick skin and realize that the only way through was to continue to create work I felt good about, no matter what anyone else said. And then of course there's the incredible feeling of knowing that by doing this work that is so very personal, I was affecting other people in a positive way as well. Knowing this gives me courage to continue every day.

Aleah Chapin, Paula, 2015, Oil on canvas, 84 x 50 in.
© Aleah Chapin, Courtesy of Flowers, London/New York

The idea of the nude is often associated with perfection and/or heroism. Do you work in that tradition or against it? 

Probably against it, but I also find perfection in imperfection and its incredibly important to me to paint people how they are. There is too much glossing over of reality and I know as a woman growing up in this world and struggling with my own body, that we need to see more images of real people. There is so much bravery in inhabiting your body fully, that standing strong in your imperfection is the definition of heroism to me.

Aleah Chapin, Roger, 2015, Oil on canvas, 84 x 50 in.
© Aleah Chapin, Courtesy of Flowers, London/New York

Tell me about one of the paintings in your current show, and what you hope it captures.

One of the men I was lucky enough to work with was named Roger. He was an 84 year old man and when I first met with him, he told me he had cancer. He wasn't torn up about it, it just seemed like it was a fact of life. During our photo shoot, something was different about him. It was an interesting contradiction between being comfortable and grounded in his body, and also not completely being there. He wasn't attached or self conscious. He just was who he was.

Not long after our initial meeting and photography session, he told me that something had changed and he didn't have much longer to live. I started the painting immediately and worked on it for about a month intensively. One night, when I was getting close to the final brush marks, the painting was giving off a feeling that usually alerts me that it's finished. But this feeling was stronger than it normally is. It was as if he was there in the studio with me, like the painting was more than what I had put into it. The next day, I found out he has passed away that previous evening.

This experience of creating a body through paint while being so aware that this man, Roger, was leaving his body was the most powerful painting experience I have ever had. I realized then that this show was about much more than gender. It was about what it really means to be in a body. What I hope this painting captures is that sense of life's delicacy and that intense relationship we have with the bodies through which we experience this world.

Aleah Chapin, Rachel and Wes, 2016, Oil on canvas, 84 x 50 in.
© Aleah Chapin, Courtesy of Flowers, London/New York

Given that you deal with deeply personal things -- including aging and gender -- do you ever find that viewers are embarrassed or confused by what you present? How about your subjects?

Yes, I think people can be uncomfortable about the work I do, but less often than I would expect. The reactions I get mostly are incredibly humbling. People seem to see themselves in the work which is something I'm so grateful for. By creating such personal work, I hope to reach people on that universal level. My models themselves are the bravest people I know. They are exposing the raw and honest truth about themselves, giving up control to my vision as an artist, and letting what happens happen.

Aleah Chapin, Emmett, 2016, Oil on canvas, 84 x 50 in.
© Aleah Chapin, Courtesy of Flowers, London/New York

Is there anything else about you or your art that needs to be mentioned?

Perhaps just a note about pronouns since much of this show is about gender. If you refer to Qwill, or Paula, both of them prefer to use gender neutral pronouns. This means "They, Them, etc" instead of "She or He". For Example "I'm so thankful to them for posing for the painting". I know it is grammatically incorrect when speaking about one person, and that's something that poses some very difficult challenges, but there seems to be no alternative right now. For Emmett, "He" is good. I know all of this can be pretty confusing, but I want to make sure that I show respect to my models. They give me so much of themselves, that this is really important to me.

Aleah Chapin: Body/Being
Flowers Gallery, Chelsea
May 12, 2016 - Jun 11, 2016
529 West 20th St. New York, New York, 10011

Jack Trolove 'Medicinal Skins' at Whitespace Contemporary, Auckland, New Zealand

Installation view showing Atlantis and Selkie from Medicinal Skins

In his current exhibition Medicinal Skins at Whitespace Contemporary, Jack Trolove explores the idea body's skin as a seal for holding stories, using thick applications of paint to serve as metaphors for human skin. His goal is to generate intimate portraits with "skins" of paint that wrap and protect the body's fragile emotional and spiritual experiences and essences.

I recently interviewed Jack Trolove to learn more about his background, ideas and methods.

John Seed Interviews Jack Trolove

Jack Trolove

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

I grew up in a big family of Irish Catholic story-tellers. We were raised with our Nana and Great Auntie, on a farm. For a couple of days there were four generations of us under the one roof - my great grandmother passed over as I was born. Our Nana was an incredible self taught jazz pianist, a highland dancer, and a powerful poet when she put pen to paper. My mum is one of seven sisters, most of them, and their kids work in story telling one way or another - but more through theatre, film, writing and teaching. I have one sister who's now living in a Spanish convent but she used to work as a traditional iconographer, another sister is a poet, and the others also write. I guess it's normal in our family to be creative. I've always thought in terms of colour and movement and stories and bodies, but I wasn't that interested (or good) at drawing or anything linear as a kid. I had to come to that by thinking sculpturally.

Installation view, with detail of Ecdysis

Where were you educated, and who were your mentors? 

I did my undergrad at a regional art school, NMIT in Nelson, then years later went to Massey University to do my MFA. Both in Aotearoa - New Zealand. My art teacher when I was growing up at our small rural school was amazing. Brent Firkin. His art room was the one place in the world where pure chaos reigned - and was enjoyed, not punished. That environment was like a pocket of heaven for me. Catharine Hodson and Sally Burton taught at NMIT - they were fiercely smart, and were so in love with painting it was infectious. My first mentors really though, were probably my aunties who proved it was possible to (just) make a living, and change culture through telling stories.

Slipping Skins, oil on canvas, 40x50cm, 2016

Jack, tell me about the title of your show--Medicinal Skins--and what that stands for. 

Medicinal Skins is a reference to transformation and healing, a reflection on how those words (transformation and healing) sound soft, but how those processes are usually kind of brutal. They require some kind of breaking down. And, that's how the magic happens. I've been thinking of the body's skin as a seal for holding stories, using thick skins of paint to create human skins that are shedded and reformed, broken and resealed. With distance, these abstract slicks of paint, become skins - for wrapping the tender emotional, spiritual and physical experiences of the body.

The work grew out of thinking about the energetic and spiritual nature of gender transition - as a kind of ecdyses (a term usually used to refer to skin shedding in reptiles). Popular discourse around transgender people often fixates on assumed aspects of our physical experience, and tends to either mock or fetishize our bodies based on how we appear to others. Here I'm trying to shift the gaze off just our physicality (but by going 'through' the skin, and the skin of the paint), hopefully inviting a wider reflection about the otherworldly nature of transitions.

Trance, oil on canvas, 40x50cm, 2016

So there is a theme of transition, of shape-shifting in your work, right? 

The titles all refer to some kind of transition or shape shifting. Humans changing form is ancient. Grief changes us. Love changes us. When people die or are born, we are changed. Gender transition is one contemporary, and ancient, expression of this magic but it sits inside a much wider practice of shape changing, loss, bliss and transformation - that we all have some embodied knowledge about. By cutting and spreading paint with knives, I've been able to explore the tactile relationship of human skins and paint skins, charging the marks with my own sensations of 'changing skins' and living between worlds. The works are titled to invoke the magic of these in-between-spaces, with names like 'selkie' who were shape shifters in Celtic tradition, moving between human and seal bodies; and 'solstice' referencing another type of transition or shifting in between time.

Selkie, oil on canvas, 120x140cm, 2016

Tell me about one or two of what you feel are some of the strongest works in your current show.

Selkie is strong. It's her presence. She's weighted, you can feel her presiding over the show. I guess she's like the guardian painting. Slipping Skins also has a strong presence. Trance and Lahar, are exciting to me in that they feel loose and fresh and old all at once. Liquefaction is the ugliest but possibly the most exciting - it's full of clues for me of where to push into next.

Surface detail

You seem to love paint as a material. Tell me a bit about how you work, mix and apply paint.

I'm really interested in how we feel history in our bodies, and painting is such an ancient thing. It's slow and frustrating, but on a good day it feels like it can open holes in the world. People have been making marks to tell stories for over 40,000 years. It's a kind of instinct. Comparatively the technology of painting hasn't changed much. Pigment and Oil. Like a potion. Some colours are made synthetically now but they're still pretty much minerals and oils. It's like a really old language. Mark making. Story telling. Feeling-finding.

I don't think of my paintings as portraits, even though that's how people often talk about them. I like the idea that they're portraits of an energy or experience rather than a particular person. Bodies like story-holders.

 When I'm making them, I usually start with an image - a photo of myself or someone I know - just to get some scaffolding and some ideas about temperature I want to chase. Then I get rid of the image and follow the painting. It becomes about movement and what the marks are saying. It's a dance trying to hold enough form to feel a presence in the painting, but to break it down enough, loose it enough to let it feel alive. I always try to suggest a form, but not describe it. That way the work meets me or the viewer half way which I think helps it activate as a kind of conversation.

 I used to build with slow thin layers of paint, back then the paintings could take months to make. The way I'm working now though is really fast. The big ones are like marathons. Sometimes a 15 hour stint. They need to be worked while they're still wet. If the paint gets tacky I can't slide it into other colours - so I have about a 2 day window. For every painting that works, there are usually five or six that don't. So it's kind of fast but kind of slow...

What are your interests outside of art? 

Wilderness, dance floors, eating, cooking, baking, eating. Feasting with friends and family. Histories, social justice work, indigenous and LGBTQI self determination - and my day job is in suicide prevention.

Jack Trolove: Medicinal Skins
May 3 - May 29, 2016
Whitespace Contemporary Art
12 Crummer Rd Grey Lynn, Auckland 1021
New Zealand

Landseer’s Poodle, Koons’ Balloon Dog and Why Museum Curators Should Hedge Their Bets for the Future

Gallery Dogs by Koons and Landseer (Digital collage)
"Edwin Landseer is one of the few, the very few, modern artists, whose works will bear to hang in the same room with the old masters and lose nothing by contrast." - Anna Eliza Bray (British Novelist), 1841
Unless you are a poodle breeder, or a print-collecting British barrister, it is unlikely that you have ever heard of Sir Edwin Landseer's once highly-esteemed doggie picture: "Laying Down the Law." Landseer's canvas, which satirizes the legal profession by portraying the Lord Chancellor as a French poodle, surrounded by glossy-eyed canine mignons, is the work of an artist who was widely viewed as a genius during his lifetime. "Sir Edwin's dogs have generally more expression in them," gushed one Victorian critic, "more intelligence, and more mind, than most portrait-painter's men and women."

Sir Edwin Landseer, Laying Down the Law, Oil on canvas, 28 in × 37 inches

After being exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1840, "Laying Down the Law" was promptly acquired by William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire and remains on public view today at Chatsworth House. A mass-market engraving of the subject made by the artist's brother Thomas was hugely popular with the British public: one art dealer of the era chillingly bragged that a single copy of the print was "worth a Jew's eye."

 Today, Edwin Landseer (1802-1873) barely rates a footnote in art history texts--if he is mentioned at all--so it might be worth briefly recounting a few facts of his life. Sir Edwin (knighted in 1850) was a brilliant hypochondriac who abused drugs and alcohol and who could reportedly paint with both hands at once to help keep up with the demand for his work. He was the "unrivaled" animal portraitist of his time. After turning down the Presidency of the Royal Academy in 1866, he died at the age of seventy-one in 1873, nine months after his family reluctantly had him declared insane. Landseer's anthropomorphized dog pictures, such as "Good Doggie" and "A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society" are now regarded as period pieces, the high-brow antecedents of "Dogs Playing Poker." His reputation did at least linger into the early 20th century: while an art student in Vienna, Adolf Hitler made a rather poor copy of one of Landseer's vaunted stag paintings.

Jeff Koons, Balloon Dog (Blue), at The Broad

The art and career of Edwin Landseer should serve as a reminder of a very important fact: tastes in art can change radically across time and place. To think otherwise -- that you or anyone else has acute enough taste to tell us what art from their era will be considered "great" in the future -- is vanity. Taste is human and variable, subject to momentary infatuation and the magnetism of power and fashion.

I was having some thoughts about all of this as I looked over a recent example of dog art -- Jeff Koon's "Balloon Dog (Blue)"-- which I saw for the first time when I visited The Broad last month. Honestly, I found it pretty dazzling and enjoyed watching the way that the Broad's visitors were drawn to it. The "Balloon Dog (Blue)" makes a phenomenal backdrop for photos, and its reflective surface is irresistible, especially to kids. When I walked past it a second time on my way to the elevator, I even witnessed an homage: a professional balloon man (sorry, but I have lost his name) was posing with a poodle balloon that he had made on the spot. "I have been waiting for months to come here and do this," he told me.

The balloon man's homage to Koons...

Critics have sparred quite a bit over the "Balloon Dogs," and about Koon's work in general, but the art market has certainly conferred a notable distinction on it in terms of pure cash value: Koons' "Balloon Dog (Orange)" -- a variant on the Broad's piece -- realized $58,405,000 at auction on November 12, 2013, making it the most expensive work by a living artist ever sold. Mr. Broad, with characteristic foresight and shrewdness, paid far less for his by serving as a financier for the fabrication of the prototype of the series.

The staggering $58 mil. price came a bit more than six months after the then-Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Jeffrey Deitch, had argued in a public debate held at Art Basel, Hong Kong that "The market is the best judge of art's quality." By that standard, at least, Koon's "Balloon Dogs" (there are a number of them) are the finest works of contemporary art in the world. And, unlike Sir Edwin Landseer, Koons doesn't have to use both hands at once to keep up with demand: his many fabricators serve as nimble extra hands. As curator Paul Schimmel commented admiringly in a recent public panel: "I think Jeff Koons turns those fabricators into his bitches and gets things that are unbelievable." Nice dog reference!

Like Landseer's "Laying Down the Law," Koon's popular balloon dog series has also inspired expensive multiples: you can buy an "Authentic Jeff Koons Yellow Dog Plate" (Brand new, in box, numbered and signed) on eBay for $9,850 or best offer. Just the thing for your condo in the Marina, right?
As seen on eBay: A Limited-Edition Koons Plate

Who knows what people in the future will think of Jeff Koons, of his sculptures, and of contemporary art in general. If you see "Balloon Dog (Blue) at the Broad, as I did, there is a chance that the sheen and the setting will knock your sense of moderation in taste sideways. Still, it remains to be see if Jeff Koons will be the "Landseer" of American early 21st century culture, a forgettable artist who made "period pieces" for a gilded age of billionaires. It certainly could happen, or maybe just the reverse: the "Balloon Dog" might be our culture's Mona Lisa...

If I were a museum curator today, I would hedge my bets and collect broadly. Yes, I believe I just suggested that museum curators should be a bit more like hedge fund managers. Especially in this cultural situation where markets are seen as taste-makers, reputations can rise and fall rapidly, just like stocks.

And regarding Landseer, here is a thought: perhaps he is about to be re-discovered, taken up by some mega-dealer who will burnish his reputation and get his friends--whoops, I mean clients--to bid the Landseer market up a few notches. Isn't that how "Blue Chip" taste is determined these days: by a cartel of auction houses, dealers, and speculators?

Besides, dog art apparently remains a public favorite.

Speaking for myself, I'm going to try and keep my own taste independent from the market, and refuse to flatter myself by fantasizing that I have the ability to predict what history will anoint as culturally significant and worth revering. It all just seems too variable to me.

After all, as Oscar Wilde--a Victorian whose reputation has lasted--once wrote:

"We all have our different tastes, have we not?"

Linda Christensen 'Keeping Time' at Sue Greenwood Fine Art

Linda Christensen

At Sue Greenwood Fine Art in Laguna Beach, painter Linda Christensen is showing a suite of recent oil paintings. Responding, over time, to the example of Bay Area Figurative painter David Park (1911-1960) Christensen paints figures in a broad, improvisational style. Working occasionally from photos but more often from memory, Christensen has an interest in in body language and in its narrative suggestions.

Linda Christensen, Ritual, Oil on canvas, 36 x 36 in.

Christensen's painting Ritual, which features a female figure leaning over an aqua oval table, has hints of cubist distortion and an energetic interplay of patterns and linear elements. The artist's responsive brushwork creates an atmosphere of freshness by letting traces of earlier layers peek through areas of dry brushwork and edges. The interplay of figures, including a cluster of women in the background, hints at social exclusion and possibly gossip.

Ritual (Detail)

Linda Christensen, Fundamental, Oil on canvas, 36 x 36 in.

Fundamental employs a female figure seated on a striped rug at the beach. Christensen lets the scraped geometries of the landscape "lock" the figure into place, and then cuts loose with a series of improvisations across the figure's limbs and clothing. Flat, unmodified patches of risky color and unexpected patterns make Christensen's willingness to push her imagery to the edge of quirk and beyond readily apparent.

Fundamental (Detail)

Linda Christensen, Game, Oil on canvas, 40 x 40 in.

Another canvas, Game, showcases a kind of face-off between two faceless figures in an abstract zone. In the image's refusal to become portraiture, while instead relying on body language, there is a kind of metaphor present. Christensen enjoys creating narratives that balance the tightrope between obscuring and revealing, both in symbolic and visual terms. She also likes the sense of discovery that emanates from letting paint surprise her when it is able to unexpectedly conjure an emotional response or charge: in that sense her painting process is akin to that of many Abstract Expressionist painters.

Game (Detail)

Christensen's paintings feel nostalgic and when I spoke to her she acknowledged that there are bits and pieces of her childhood memories coming up in some images. She also mentioned that, after thinking it through, that all of the female figures in her recent canvases are -- in some sense -- self-portraits. Seen as a whole, Christensen's current show feels like a series of dreams in paint, punctuated by moments of revelation, nostalgia and even catharsis.

Linda Christensen, Yellow Pitcher, Oil on canvas, 54 x 54 in.

Linda Christensen | Mark Beck
April 20 - May 30, 2016
Sue Greenwood Fine Art 
330 N. Coast Hwy.
Laguna Beach, California 92651

Roland Petersen 'In Perspective' at the Studio Shop, Burlingame

Roland Petersen, Coffee Break, Acrylic on canvas, 62 x 71 in.
For over six decades now, painter Roland Petersen has been spreading out visual feasts across his expansive canvases. Firmly grounded in perspective yet also brimming with painterly vitality, Petersen's cityscapes and picnics show what an ambitious artist can do over a long span of time to create variety within a consistent structure. Using a striking range of geometry, color and form, Petersen conjures up an engaging and seemingly endless world that seems to stand still within the boundaries of time and space.

I recently spoke to Roland Petersen a few days before his 90th birthday to learn more about his life, artistic career and recent work.

John Seed Interviews Roland Petersen

Roland Petersen: Photo by David Newman

Roland, I understand that early in your career you taught art history.

Yes, I taught art history beginning in 1952 at Washington State. I was there for four years before coming to UC Davis to teach studio art.

Coming to Davis as early as you did -- in 1956 -- you arrived long before some of the other notable UC Davis studio art faculty members, such as Wayne Thiebaud, William T. Wiley, and Robert Arneson. 

I was the second person hired by the department chair, Richard Nelson, and the first painter.

Roland Petersen, San Francisco Rooftops, Acrylic on canvas, 45 x 70 in.

Given your long history in Northern California, what is your connection to the Bay Area Figurative movement? 

I wouldn't say that I'm part of the Bay Area Figurative group as such. My work comes from a different point of view since I studied with Hans Hofmann in Provincetown. The idea of the "push and pull" that Hofmann taught was coming from a different basis than the approach of Clyfford Still, who influenced Richard Diebenkorn, David Park, Elmer Bischoff and others.

Yes, Still was interested in pure abstraction and flatness. Your work certainly has an abstract aspect, but also a deep engagement with space and geometry. 

I like geometry very much and because I liked the kind of "push and pull" that Hofmann was teaching, I tried to incorporate the figure into that spatial concept.

Those interests must have led directly to your best-known paintings, which are sweeping images of figures and still lifes set in landscapes. 

Yes, I call them my Picnic Series. I started making them in 1959 and I've been making variations ever since.

Roland Petersen, Conversational Picnic, Acrylic on canvas, 65 x 86 in.

My gosh, Roland, I was two years old then...

Well, yes, the whole thing started with the Picnic Day celebrations that were held each year at Davis. That sort of set off the theme -- figures in a landscape -- and it also gave me the opportunity to work with still life. I was trying to relate the landscape to the still life and the still life to the figures so that all three of those might work together in a certain type of relationship.

It strikes me that the way you place your figures in space creates a kind of tension and thematic distance. 

That's what I am trying to do in my compositions: create an almost nostalgic loneliness. The figures are being separated by space, but they can still relate to one another. I like the feeling of isolation, where the figures seem to be in their own worlds, sort of daydreaming.

Roland Petersen, A Row Boat for Two, Acrylic on canvas, 25 x 36 in.

The sense of dreaminess contributes to what you have described as the "aura of timelessness" that your work attempts to generate. 

The figures are not aware of the present, or of the others around them. One influence has been the work of Georges Seurat: not the Pointillist technique, but rather the feeling of them.

Yes, I have heard it said that Seurat's figures seem to glide on rails.

I  haven't heard that before, but I like it. I also enjoy ancient Egyptian art, and the rigid, statuesque feeling of the sculpture.

What role does color play in making your work come together? 

My color theory is very important to what happens in terms of space because I set up a kind of code as I work. I create a home base of several colors and try to repeat that in as many patterns as I can. Each painting starts with a kind of sequence of colors that establishes what happens after that.

Can you give me an example of how that might work? 

I might start with a home base of -- well -- it could be anything. Just say, hypothetically, I might start with a dark green line. Attached to that line I might have on one side a yellow line and on the other side there might be a pink line. That could then become the basis for patterns that might exist in other parts of the painting.

As I'm thinking about what goes with the yellow I might try a light green as opposed to the dark green line that I started with. Or, it might be a blue or whatever color I establish to go with the yellow. On the other side is a pink, so I say to myself, "What might be a good color that would work with that?" I might choose a violet, or whatever color it is. So I establish that kind of order, and that is repeated as often as I can. Then I make variations on the light green line/pink/violet and I keep building up other colors to associate with those starting colors, and that establishes the whole rhythm of the painting.

Roland Petersen, Six Figures with an Umbrella, Acrylic on canvas, 48 x 60 in.

Yes, I notice that there is a great deal of color in your lines and edges.

 I like colored line especially and tend to use it to connect forms. Also, haloing a large area with a complementary color seems to give an added vibration to the color. In terms of the lines that I use to structure my compositions, I try think as spatially as possible. So hypothetically, a line in the landscape can attach itself to something in the foreground so that it has traveled in space, coming forward from a distance.

You really find ways to activate the entire surface of the canvas. In your cityscapes, I noticed figures in borders and on corners. 

I like an open composition and it's not unusual for me to have half-figures or heads coming in from the border. I often have a half-figure on the edge, and then I'll put another half-figure on the other side: The part that is missing makes a full figure if you put both halves together.

Roland Petersen, City Rose Bathers, Acrylic on canvas, 50 x 63 in.

Am I right that your color has gradually become brighter in recent years? 

Yes, this is due to my use of acrylic paints instead of oil. I made the change for health reasons. There is a different give and take now as the paint dries so fast and doesn't allow me to move the paint around. The recent work is more compartmentalized as opposed to an interlay kind of thing: It's coming together more as a pattern.

Have you been influenced at all by the work of Wayne Thiebaud? 

I think there is a relationship going there -- not so much in terms of Pop Art, but in terms of ideas about color: There is some echoing going on there. The ghosts of many different artists are present in my work. It's hard to keep away from what is in the atmosphere around you.

What do you hope people will notice and enjoy when viewing your paintings?

Well, the first thing I'd like them to enjoy is the color patterns -- that's what I'm really intrigued with -- and also the imagery. Picnics tend to be a kind of happy occurrence, but in my picnics the contradiction of the loneliness creates a different kind of feeling.

May 6-30, 2016
Reception, Friday, May 6th, 6PM
The Studio Shop
244 Primrose Road
Burlingame, California

Linda Christensen


Helen Lundeberg