In the Present Tense

a Critical Look at our Immediate Culture

Holding Pattern

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So, if you are looking at dates on these posts, you’ll notice I haven’t been keeping up of late. There are a number of reasons for this. Here’s the long and short of it all…

This space has lain dormant for a little while now, in part because I was gearing up for the 2012 gallery season to kick in while working on a longer writing project last summer. Once the fall season hit, so did Hurricane Sandy, which threw everyone’s schedules up in the air, as well as our ability to move around through the city. Then coming in to the new year, I had a curatorial project for TSA Gallery (which opened in November 2012 and which I actively help to run and program) and my own exhibitions lined up, so this took something of a backseat.

Rest assured, I’ve really wanted to get back to these ideas and this space, but it hasn’t quite worked out the way I had planned. I am, however, working out another project that won’t come to fruition until next year, and this new project will include a good deal more writing and engagement with certain works, so the ideas happening here will definitely be continuing, but as a different creature. More on that later.

For now, you can get a sense of some things I’ve been doing and viewing through the drawing subscription blog, which in addition to being the major archive for the yearly drawing subscriptions, also acts as a platform for other shows, editions, and things I’m coming across that directly influence the studio.

I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from these ideas and once the new project is ready, I will definitely let you all know. Thanks for your support.

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June 24, 2013 at 12:54 pm

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Ken Weathersby

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Strange Fit at Pierogi

Ken Weathersby: Strange Fit at Pierogi

I don’t know how or why Ken Weathersby got to the point in his life and career where he’s making the work that he makes, and for the record, I don’t particularly care; I’m just really happy to be able to stare at it and be equal parts confused and transfixed. Strange Fit at Pierogi is the second full exhibition of Weathersby’s that I’ve seen, the other having been his 2010 Pierogi exhibition Perfect Mismatch. Seeing these, plus coming across the few other pieces here and there, is how I’ve gotten to experience this work. The particular tropes in place that I find fascinating are the overabundance of structure and support creating a tension between finished surface and a rigid yet organic outgrowth of materiality, all used in a format which reinforces what the other is doing. Then there are interventions, both overt and subtle, through which Weathersby has managed to create an interesting and diverse body of work that tackles notions of the seen and unseen, construction, presentation, recto and verso, along with a slight nod -intentional or otherwise-  to crafts such as model making.

Granted, to suggest something as “organic” for works that are so clearly based in geometry, materiality, and systemization may on the surface appear dubious. The way in which Weathersby’s paintings appear to develop, while paying respect to the structures of Sol LeWitt, the reversed canvasses of Johns, and architectural models among other things, share just as much with crystallization or even balloon-frame construction methods gone awry; which, in their own right, are forms of naturally organized growth. In addition to generating an interesting discussion about the relationship of the structure and surface, Weathersby subverts and mirrors events within his pieces to thoroughly dissect the object of painting. Overmining the recursive lattice used to buttress the “image area” through a selective vocabulary of wood, linen, and acrylic paint, Weathersby takes order and precision to a whole other level. At their most basic, Weathersby’s artwork is predominantly either a black and white gridded pattern, or a series of red/yellow/blue gridded patterns rendered tightly on the surface, which are then meant to be cannibalized, cut into, reversed, amputated or re-attached as he sees fit. Often the re-attachments can employ this wooden grid-structure which then becomes a very prominent fixture in support of its blasphemy. These structures therefore become an autonomous element within the works, revealing themselves as more than just support but as appendage, growth, goiter, bandage, armor, housing, prosthesis, scaffold, or prison.

Through these tools Weathersby goes well beyond simply inverting the role of surface and support, to create more than mere visual tension. I’d go so far as to say some of these pieces are even engaged in a no-holds-barred BDSM relationship where the lattice-work of wooden framing structure employed on the reverse, grows out and around to thoroughly encapsulate the traditional painting surface within its dominant embrace as in 191 (csk). These elements are then frozen in a moment of ecstatic coupling for the creepy voyeur in all of us. But rather than shaming us into turning our gaze elsewhere, we are compelled to keep looking, waiting to see if one or the other element will utter the “safe word”. We are dumbstruck and in awe that these works have managed to allow us in to witness their depravity, while rapt with attention to see which part might finally succumb. All the while questioning the nature of its relationship with itself, and our relationship to it.

We stare, trying to dissect the actions of these materials, trying to discern a function that these forms may be following. Wanting to unravel the idiosyncrasies of Weathersby’s exploration, I’ve tried to take in the whole of the exhibition, which, in addition to the strange outgrowths of structure, we come across extractions, and vignettes. These works reveal much about the history and traditions of painting in a way few artists are able to pull off. These pieces are so intrinsically Weathersby’s, and at the same time explore the legacy of materiality and presentation within the painting idiom. Through peculiar miniature dioramas, to interventions of near surgical precision, and structural inversions, we are confronted with not only the object of painting, but the object of viewing paintings. The action of observation becomes a puzzle we need to piece together, just as the independent components of the works are fitted together. Tightly dovetailed elements and ideas are crafted together with such attention to detail in order to create something akin to the Frankenstein Monster of paintings. A glorious aberration of what we have come to expect from painting. Now electrified and thoroughly educated, the creature wears a sport-coat in an attempt to fit into our socially acceptable notions of what paintings should be. I just pray the simple-minded villagers don’t repeat the same mistake with these paintings as they did with Frankenstein’s Monster, but then again, they’re the ones who are stuck being merely human.

Vincent Como

Ken Weathersby, 191 (csk), Pierogi Gallery

Ken Weathersby: 191 (csk), 2011, acrylic & graphite on linen, wood, nails. 33 x 26 inches.

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June 18, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Kirk Stoller

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still standing…sort of at Storefront Bushwick

Kirk Stoller: still standing...sort of at Storefront Bushwick

I was at an opening fairly recently, and had an interesting discussion with an older artist to whom I was just introduced about our respective practices, which then got into the territory of where we happened to grow up and how that may/not have affected our overall aesthetic in a Nature vs. Nurture way. His contention being that my having been raised in a very rural area of Western Pennsylvania, given its emptiness, at least with regard to the relative scarcity of other people and man-made interventions, was perhaps a contributing factor to my very stark minimalism, or my decision to completely reduce the work to the language of Black.  I am not entirely convinced of his hypothesis, but it most certainly was interesting enough that I’m still giving some consideration to it, especially after seeing Kirk Stoller’s exhibition still standing…sort of at Storefront Bushwick.

I’ve seen Stoller’s work around for a little while now, having had several friends in the Marie Walsh Sharpe Foundation Space Program with him last year.  Through both the regularity of their open studios and the fact that the art community is small and tight-knit, I’ve gotten to know him a bit.  The work was always interesting to me, but the formal choices being made in this exhibition come close to that perfect storm where everything is just dead-on.  Initially, I was struck by the decisions both of the physical objects being displayed and the consideration of their placement.  For an exhibition of sculptural work, it was really surprising that such a small amount of floor space was being occupied.  The openness of the exhibition allows you to move freely through the space, exploring the works as they relate to the architecture of the gallery.  This coincidentally made for a much safer opening night event, such that none of the works were stepped on or bumped into (at least while I was there), and that’s definitely a concern since the gallery can get pretty busy during events.  But it was this incredibly spare presentation that made me think about the aforementioned conversation regarding places of origin. I know Stoller is currently in-between San Francisco and New York, but I will have to make a point of asking about the landscape of his formative years when next I see him.

As for the works themselves, Stoller is really making a solid and engaging impact with an economy of means.  His material choices include quite a bit of wooden elements and other industrial or processed materials which ride the line between appearing either salvaged/repurposed or newer, generating an interesting and engaging mix of visual texture.  Sometimes contrasting the natural weathering of plywood or wood trim with a brightly painted or manufactured monochromatic element to create a sense that parts of the object may have had a past life of sorts and are now being reinvented within the sculpture.  Going back to the notion of one’s immediate surroundings informing their aesthetic choices, many elements in Stoller’s repertoire remind me of driving past old barns in the countryside where, unlike the bright reds that cartoons and children’s books would have you believe they are comprised of, I always experienced the severely distressed  black/grey wood with a yellow ghost-text for “Mail Pouch Tobacco” on the side. So this mix of raw finish along with the more pristine chromatic choices in these works really affected me on a visceral level, deep in the primitive recesses of my lizard brain.

I’m not yet certain if one should refer to Stoller’s works as Sculptures, Arrangements, or Assemblages because they do tend to defy the natural order of our system of classification for such objects.  This is possibly due in part to his formal art education being more focused on Painting than on that of sculpture, I can’t say for certain.  Nonetheless, there is more than a slight weirdness to them, a wonderful mystery which creates a certain gravity, and gives the appearance of instability.  The potential that a tenuous stack of small plywood blocks could fall to the floor and disappear completely from the realm of sculpture, entering into the language of debris, gives the work a sense of impermanence, or temporality.  Coupling this method of construction/arranging with the material choices has resulted in an incredibly considered presentation of works which while quiet, are firm statements in and of themselves.

These pieces discuss the movement of time objectively, allowing the old and new to come together in fragments.  This causes us to consider the what was, what is, and what will be all around us along with how these objects in their current incarnations may be different in another 10, 20, or 50 years.  Additionally, our reading of them will transform as we develop our own individual patinas and grow more weathered ourselves with each passing moment.  In that way, these objects function to both memorialize the old and new, acting as a document of this immediate moment when we stand before the work.  Experiencing the myriad pasts, presents, and potential futures, in that brief period before they tumble to the floor and onto their next moment.

Vincent Como

Kirk Stoller, Storefront Bushwick

Kirk Stoller: Untitled (Rectangle), 2012, Wood, Plexiglass, Paper, Paint (Resin, Latex), 18 x 1 x 4 inches

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April 5, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Carrie Pollack

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Witness at MINUS SPACE:

Carrie Pollack: Witness at MINUS SPACE

Carrie Pollack’s recent exhibition at MINUS SPACE reveals an interesting mix of ideas about subjectivity, materiality and memory when viewing artwork. The given being that everyone is coming to the work with some element of art historical baggage regarding what these “things” are in any exhibition: Paintings, Sculptures, Photos, etc. and Pollack’s work actively subverts a lot of those pre-conceptions. What I particularly like about Pollack’s work is that tightrope upon which the pieces walk.  A thin line between several possibilities is what really makes the works reveal themselves differently from more traditional modes of artistry. I find her work to be intriguing and engaging in the same way that, even as a Nihilist, I’m still fascinated by what’s currently happening in Object Oriented Philosophy, specifically because it deals with the reality of what is all around us and how things engage and interact with or without our conscious interpretation, rather than a series of metaphysical unknowns and unknowables.

So this work which Pollack makes is generated through a series of processes in order to arrive at its end result.  She begins by walking around her neighborhood with her dog and snaps photos of things which catch her eye along the way: the sky, torn billboards/flyers etc, as well as interesting woven and textile patterns she happens across either intentionally, because of the connection between herself and the person of ownership for said patterned object, or more subconsciously with one of those images/moments where you look at something but don’t immediately know why it’s interesting, but trust that it is and file it away for later.  After eliminating color and reducing the work to black/white she files and sorts these images, and over a long period of time revisits and digests them until that thing kicks in for artists where it suddenly makes sense. She then starts test printing, utilizing a large format inkjet printer onto newsprint to gauge the overall saturation of the image, and after tweaking the necessaries begins to print the “imagery” onto either raw linen or canvas. These images, or blocks of pigment breaking up the surface, then get stretched as would a traditional painting, but sometimes quite loosely, allowing the natural puckers and materiality of the fabric to be itself.  These can at times wrap around the edges of the “painting” rolling off the surface of the “face”, further blurring the lines of Painting vs. Object of Wood and Canvas.  The folded corners of the works are also very prominent features, and rather than tucking them underneath and hiding them, they are directly visible subverting the pristine nature of what we have come to expect from perfectly stretched painting presentations.

Now normally, I’d be averse to so much description of process, but in this instance I do feel it an important part of moving the discussion forward regarding the work. The relationship between how the imagery becomes part of the object is necessary to generate a deeper understanding of the work. Certainly, many of the choices and decisions come down to the particular aesthetic proclivities of the artist herself, but the way in which an object in the real world is captured through a digital camera, then sapped of its secondary characteristics, and eventually returned to the world of the physical, generates a new and different object for our contemplation. Unlike a photograph which depicts a vignette of the world around us, Pollack’s works become a manifest part of the world outside ourselves. Leaving behind the depicted in favor of an idea of the depicted, or an idea of the relationship between the artist and the depicted, of course, then extending in to the relationship of the viewer to the depicted. These works become spectres of the images they started as, and just the same, become ghost-objects of what a painting, or photograph actually is (was?). In this way, they become something new, different.

By allowing the interactions of the mechanics of process to re-consider the imagery being used/sacrificed the artist removes a layer of our subjective interpretation.  It’s a painting, but it’s not a painting. It’s a photograph, but it’s not a photograph.  We’re still going to struggle with the idea of paintings and photography when we look at these, but that’s our hang up. Pollack has delivered for us something else to contend with, and as we move forward in this world we need to accept that our own subjectivity is starting to become a handicap toward these objects. This generates a withdrawal, in ontological terms, where these works maintain a reality of painting or photography above and beyond our existent and previously understood relationship to those things.

As far as relations go, the relationship to memory in these works is wonderfully uncanny. Far from being an overt trope of the content, Pollack again finds that in-between space where the viewer is given just enough information to set the wheels in motion, but not enough to provide a definitive route toward an end goal. By utilizing our inherent psychological limitations against us, at least with regard to how we engage and attempt to decipher the works at hand, we are provided with a wealth of potential. We become locked into a push/pull with what the works reveal, and in doing so discover a path to understanding the work through its possibilities rather than through a stoic completeness. This is work that evolves with you, that grows and is shaped by your experiences of it over time. This is the sweet spot, a rarity with art objects, and now it is we, the viewers, who shall bear Witness.

Vincent Como

*In full disclosure: I have my own work in the MINUS SPACE flatfiles, and have a professional relationship with the gallery. That doesn’t change the fact that Carrie Pollack is doing kickass work and you should know about it. I mean, just revel in the glory of this thing:

Carrie Pollack: Blanket 1, 2011, Pigment Ink on Linen 36x26 inches

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March 1, 2012 at 1:48 pm

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