August 31, 2009

Albert Contreras's brush with the reductive

Albert Contreras, "Untitled."

In the LA Times David Pagel reports that 76-year-old Santa Monica painter Albert Contreras has cobbled together an unusual two-part career -- interrupted by years as a city truck driver -- that has just come full circle. "In the 1960s, Contreras made a name for himself as a painter. After graduating from Hollywood High and serving in the Coast Guard, he used the GI Bill to take a year of painting and ceramics classes at Los Angeles City College. Then he hit the road, taking language courses in Mexico and studying at the University of Madrid in Spain before settling in Stockholm.He ended up there on little more than a whim. Almost embarrassed by the simplicity of it, he says, 'I went for the women. I fell in love with the blond, blue-eyed girls of Sweden.'

"Living there from 1960 to 1969, he became a highly regarded artist. He had five solo shows. Collectors bought his austere, often single-color paintings. And curators from such prestigious institutions as the Stockholm Museum of Modern Art, the Malmö Konsthall and the Göteborgs Konstmuseum secured his works for their permanent collections. Then, in 1972, Contreras stopped painting. 'Here is what happened,' he says with the directness of someone who knows what he's talking about. 'I was painting like a lot of Minimalists at the end of the '60s: reductive. We wanted to finish off painting. I painted myself to where I wanted to disappear. And I succeeded! I had come to the end of the line, and it was all over. There was no use for me to paint anymore.'

"For the next 20 years, he was a full-time employee, driving garbage trucks, operating heavy equipment and working as a crewman on a front-end skip loader, resurfacing asphalt streets. Thoughts of painting may have been lurking in the back of his mind, but art no longer played a major role in his life....As an artist, Contreras is humble and unpretentious and not at all impressed with himself. He describes his lengthy hiatus from painting as if he were Rip Van Winkle, saying, 'I fell asleep. And then I woke up 25 years later.'

"Dealer Peter Mendenhall made only one studio visit before deciding to represent Contreras and schedule a show. 'Albert is singular,' he says, 'he is obsessive and eccentric in a good way and that comes through in his work. His paintings are an extension of him. I've never seen anything like them.'" Read more.

August 30, 2009

John Updike's visit to the Washington Square Outdoor Art Exhibit

In the June 23, 1956, issue of The New Yorker (available to subscribers), John Updike pens a droll report on the 49th Washington Square Outdoor Art Exhibit. "We put on our tennis shoes, removed our tie, rumpled our hair, and went down to look at it the other day, which was sunny. We approached by way of Macdougal Street—an impromptu gallery that accommodated the works of predominantly mature and conservative artists. We took Winslow Homer to be an influence. In fact, throughout our comprehensive stroll the white of painted surf broke on the beach of our vision ten times a minute...." Here are images of the article, blundered from The New Yorker archives. Clicking on the images will enlarge them to a readable size.

The last paragraph:

Michael Mazur dead at 73 of heart failure

Michael Mazur, "Rain I," 2008, oil on canvas, 42" x 48"

Michael Mazur, a relentlessly inventive printmaker, painter and sculptor whose work encompassed social documentation, narrative and landscape while moving back and forth between figuration and abstraction, died on Aug. 18 in Cambridge, Mass. He was 73 and lived in Cambridge and Provincetown, Mass. According to William Grimes's obit in the NY Times, the cause was congestive heart failure. "Mr. Mazur first came to public notice in the early 1960s with two series of etchings and lithographs depicting inmates in a mental asylum in Howard, R.I. The series, “Closed Ward” and “Locked Ward,” rendered with the hand of a master draftsman, showed human beings in unbearable torment.

"These lost souls, John Canaday wrote in The New York Times, 'have the terrible anonymity of individuals who cannot be reached, whose ugly physical presence is only the symptom of a tragic spiritual isolation.' Mr. Mazur’s restless artistic temperament led him to explore a variety of styles and media, shuttling between realism and abstraction. He produced narrative paintings like 'Incident at Walden Pond,' a triptych from the late 1970s depicting the aftermath of a rape, and, beginning in the 1990s, abstract landscapes based on his own vascular system and on Chinese landscapes of the 12th to 15th centuries. " Read the rest of the NY Times obit here.

August 28, 2009

Studio visit with Daniel Albrigo

Daniel Albrigo, "Untitled," 2009.

Daniel Albrigo, "Untitled," 2008.

At Fecal Face Julian Duron reports that hanging out with Daniel Albrigo, a self-taught still-life painter, is "definitely the opposite experience to surfing this crazy 'ol Internet. Whether in the painting studio or at the 'office' inside the revered NYC tattoo shop, Adorned, his workspace is laced with visual stimulation.... sort of like finding secret passage into a hidden space between the walls that was once kept by an Eastern port-town dentist and tattoo artist at the turn of the century. Daniel's portfolio exhibits masterful paintings and some awesome rustic artifacts. His upcoming exhibitions include The Renwick Gallery, where he will be sharing half the gallery with and painting portraits of Genesis Breyer P. Orridge (of Psychic TV / Throbbing Gristle)." Check out images of Albrigo's studio here.

Dorothy Iannone's career: "A long time coming"

Dorothy Iannone, "Let me squeeze your fat cunt," 1970-71, acrylic and collage on canvas, 74.8" x 59.1"

In Time Out, Howard Halle reports that the freshly resurrected career of Dorothy Iannone, born in 1933 in Boston and currently living and working in Berlin, is a good example of an older, underappreciated artist who benefited from the now-imploded art-market boom. "This summer, her work—which largely depicts the artist in various states of sexual transport, in a style that might be called 'early-American visionary' meets 'underground comix'—has been on view at Anton Kern Gallery, and is currently enjoying this miniretrospective at the New Museum. The last time Iannone showed in New York was in 1967, in a gallery she ran with her then-husband, James Upham. Considering how focused Iannone’s work is on fucking, you might say that her revival has been a long time coming in more ways than one.

"Also appropriate is the fact that while her last outing happened the same year as the Summer of Love, her return corresponds with the hoopla surrounding the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. But while Iannone’s paintings, constructions and works on paper are redolent of the free-love ethos of the ’60s, they are much more a product of her own radical individuality, apparent obsessions and descent into l’amour fou. For the most part, her oeuvre constitutes an erotic celebration of her seven-year relationship with Dieter Roth, the Swiss-German assemblagist known for artist books and objects made with manure."

"Dorothy Iannone: Lioness," curated by Jarrett Gregory. The New Museum, New York, NY. Through Oct. 18.

August 27, 2009

A short fall preview

In addition to the historically lowbrow but intriguing Washington Square Outdoor Art Exhibit on Labor Day weekend (look for my article about the show in the next issue of The Rail), here are a few exhibitions I'm looking forward to this fall.

Thomas Hart Benton "The Artists’ Show, Washington Square, New York," 1946 Oil and tempera on canvas. 40 1/8 x 48 1/8 in. (102 x 122 cm)

The Washington Square Outdoor Art Exhibit, organized by John Morehouse. University Place, from E. 12th to Bobkin Lane. New York, NY. September 5, 6, 7, 12, 13. Noon—6pm, rain or shine.

Vasily Kandinsky, "Blue Mountain," 1908–09 (detail). Oil on canvas, 106 x 96.6 cm. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, Gift, Solomon R. Guggenheim 41.505. © 2008 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

"Kandinsky," organized by Tracey Bashkoff, Annegret Hoberg, and Christian Derouet. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY. September 8—January 13, 2010. Kandinsky, who famously explored the relationship between music and painting, used pared down abstract language--color, shape, line, and brushstroke--to depict emotional terrain.

William Blake (1757–1827), "Behemoth and Leviathan" ca. 1805–10[Book of Job, no. 15] Pen and black and gray ink, gray wash, and watercolor, over faint indications in pencil, on paper 10 1/16 x 7 3/4 inches (272 x 197 mm) Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1903; 2001.77

"William Blake's World: A New Heaven Is Begun," organized by Charles Ryskamp, Anna Lou Ashby, and Cara Denison. Morgan Library and Museum, New York, NY. September 11, 2009 – January 3, 2010. “Visionary and nonconformist William Blake (1757–1827) is a singular figure in the history of Western art and literature: a poet, painter, and printmaker. Ambitiously creative, Blake had an abiding interest in theology and philosophy, which, during the age of revolution, inspired thoroughly original and personal investigations into the state of man and his soul."

Peaceful Conquerors: Jain Manuscript Painting,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. September 10, 2009–March 21, 2010. “The art of the book in medieval India is closely associated with the Jain religious community, and illustrated palm-leaf manuscripts survive from around the tenth century, while those on paper appear after the twelfth, when paper was introduced from Iran. The use of paper permitted larger compositions and a greater variety of decorative devices and borders. Significantly, however, the format of the palm-leaf manuscript was retained. By the end of the fourteenth century, deluxe manuscripts were produced on paper, brilliantly adorned with gold, silver, crimson, and a rich ultramarine derived from imported lapis lazuli. The patrons of the works were mainly Svetambara Jains, who considered the commissioning of illustrated books and their donation to Jain temple libraries to be an important merit-making activity. A selection of these exquisite manuscripts will be on view, along with bronzes sculptures of Jinas and a ceremonial painted textile.

Momentum 15: R.H. Quaytman,” Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA. Nov.18, 2009 - Mar. 28, 2010. “Quaytman's dazzling paintings incorporate silkscreened photographs and abstract patterns, diamond dust layers, and hand-painted elements.” Reviewed here last year. Images from her last show at Miguel Abreu Gallery here.

Matta-Clark: Urban Fragments (working title),” Foundation For the Arts, St. Louis, MO. October 30, 2009 — June 5, 2010. “Trained as an architect, Gordon Matta-Clark (1943-1978) used neglected structures slated for demolition as his raw material. He literally carved out sections of buildings with a chainsaw. In this way, he revealed their hidden construction, provided new ways of perceiving space, and created metaphors for the human condition. When wrecking balls knocked down his sculpted buildings, little remained, which is why the artist documented his work with photography, film, and video. He also kept a few building segments, known as ‘cuts’. They include a piece of a floor from an apartment house in the Bronx, three sections of a house near Love Canal, a window from an abandoned warehouse on a pier in New York City, and four corners from the roof of a house in New Jersey.” Read a good story about how Matta-Clark handled rejection here.

Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective,” curated by Michael Taylor. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA. October 21, 2009 - January 10, 2010. Traveling to Tate Modern (Spring 2010), London, and The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles(Summer 2010). The exhibit celebrates the extraordinary life and work of Arshile Gorky (about 1904–1948), a seminal figure in the movement toward abstraction that transformed American art. This exhibition, which includes about 178 works of art, surveys Gorky’s entire career from the early 1920s until his death by suicide in 1948. The retrospective includes paintings, sculpture, prints, and drawings—some of which are being shown for the first time—and reveals Gorky’s development as an artist and the evolution of his singular visual vocabulary and mature painting style. The highlight of the exhibition is a series of ‘creation chambers,’ based on the artist’s description of his studio in Union Square, New York, in which some of Gorky’s most powerful and best-known paintings are being shown alongside their related studies and preparatory drawings.” This is the first Gorky retrospective in thirty years.

Rob Zombie on painting: "I just do it to do it."

"Drawing and painting are always one of my first loves -- that's what I have always done," Halloween II (release date August 28) director Rob Zombie, a onetime painting student at Parsons School of Design, says. "That's always been the thing that's fallen away. Now it's something I've gotten back into. And I love it....Movies, music -- I love all that, but it plays on a different scale," he says. "It's millions of dollars, you're expected to make back millions of dollars. You have millions of people come see it. Painting is much purer. I'm not doing it to set up a show and sell things. I just do it to do it." According to an interview with Nicholas White in the LA Times, Zombie has no plans for another comic book or graphic novel like The Haunted World Of El Superbeasto (Volume 1), which was published by Image Comics in 2007, but he is painting "gigantic figure-study" paintings of people at his house. "Kind of classic stuff." At the same time, he admits that "the reality of the business now is that if you have an idea for a movie and if you have done it first as a graphic novel, it really makes trying to sell that idea to somebody much easier."

August 26, 2009

For readers and writers

e-flux reading room in Berlin

I just got an email announcing that e-flux has opened a reading room at 41 Essex Street in New York. The reading room contains a rapidly growing collection of several thousand books, donated by numerous art institutions and individuals from all parts of the world, on contemporary art exhibitions open to the public. The books reflect developments in art of the past decade. The reading room is open for research and study from Tuesday through Saturday, 12-6 pm.

August 25, 2009

"The possibility of radical transformation in the guise of carefree recreation"

In Cabinet, Jordan Bear and Albert Narath earnestly try to wring some meaning from photo caricature cut-outs. "For more than a century, any promenade down a seaside boardwalk has required a stop at an apparently nameless apparatus: a painted wooden façade featuring a colorful character in an outlandish situation with a hole where its head should be. A tourist playfully inserting his or her head into the cartoonish scene is then recorded for posterity by a professional photographer. The genre has its favored iterations, from the weightlifting hulk to the bathing beauty, the swimmer perilously clenched in the mouth of a shark to the novice aviator nervously clutching the controls of an airplane. As one of the omnipresent features of visual mass culture in American life since the end of the nineteenth century, these façades offer the possibility of radical transformation in the guise of carefree recreation, a chance for the working-class beachgoer to become, safely and fleetingly, someone very different. As with any element of quotidian experience that seems always to have existed, the photo-caricature or comic foreground (two names given to the innovation by its inventor) does in fact have a genealogy—a complex one that winds its way through the rise of modern culture." Read more.

Michael Jackson's favorite painter: David Nordahl

David Nordahl, "Geronimo Waiting For the Dawn," 2007. 36" x 46" oil on canvas. According to Artnet, this painting sold for $46,000 at the 2009 Coeur D'Alene Art Auction.

In February 1988 Michael Jackson called Santa Fe artist David Nordahl to inquire about painting lessons. Apparently, while visiting Steven Spielberg, Jackson had seen Nordahl's painting of Army troops invading an Apache camp as a young corporal shielded two Indian children. ABC News reports that their long conversation sparked a close friendship and working partnership. From 1988 to 2005, Nordahl, known for his paintings of the old west, completed thousands of drawings and roughly a dozen epic commissions, seven of which were among the 2,000 Jackson items in Julien's authorized auction, which the singer sued to stop last spring. The paintings illustrate Jackson's grandiose fantasies and fairy-tale worldview.

David Nordahl, study for "Field of Dreams."

August 21, 2009

"A long-lapsed wish for art that is both of the moment and genuinely public"

Recently, while preparing my upcoming Washington Square project, I've been wondering why MFA-trained artists direct their work so specifically to the art cognoscenti rather than a wider, less art-savvy audience, so I was pleased to see Peter Schjeldahl thinking along the same lines in his recent review of the Met's Augustus Saint-Gaudens show. After declaring that Augustus Saint-Gaudens's bronze equestrian statue of General William Tecumseh Sherman, at the southeast corner of Central Park, across from the Plaza, is his favorite public art work in New York, Peter Scheldahl considers the uncomfortable relationship artists like Saint-Gaudens had with the emerging notion of avant garde art. "Saint-Gaudens became friends with August Rodin during a sojourn in Paris in the eighteen-nineties, and also with James McNeill Whistler. Like them—and like other superb contemporaries, including the muralist Puvis de Chavannes and the architect Stanford White—he was modern in spirit but retained conservative forms, consequently landing afoul of histories of modern art that venerate avant-gardism. Might we have reached a point of being allowed to praise Saint-Gaudens without apologizing to Picasso? It would amount to rekindling a long-lapsed wish for art that is both of the moment and genuinely public."

Augustus Saint-Gaudens,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Through November 15.

August 20, 2009

Bertholf, Heilman, Hornung, Reitzfeld in Hudson

In his Hudson, NY, gallery, John Davis had a good group of painters through last week. If I'd been more on top of things, I would have posted this sooner. Here are some images.
Philip Douglas Heilman likes to invent things that he’s never seen paint what lays behind or before him in life. “Academic statements make me suspicious,” he said.Chris Bertholf fell in love with the landscape and the trees of the Hudson River valley. He works in his sketchbook from nature and then reworks the sketches into watercolors and, later, into oil paintings.

Lucy Reitzfeld introduced a series of small oil paintings devoted to observations from windows of her SoHo loft.

David Hornung's paintings retained his longstanding iconography, i.e., rude structures, garden architecture, tools, flora, fauna and other objects that refer to a rural existence.

August 19, 2009

Joanne Mattera's summer studio visits

Richard Bottwin

Joanne Mattera went on studio visits this summer, and today she posts the first segment of her report. The artists she visited include Richard Bottwin, Grace DeGennaro, and, well, me. "One of the pleasures of being an artist is looking, constantly looking, at art. One of the frustrations of being an artist who blogs is that there's never enough time and space to blog about everything I've seen. But I do want to show you as much as possible of what I've been seeing this summer, so I'm putting together a few roundup posts under the rubric of 'What I Saw This Summer.' It's an ongoing project that will encompass studios as far southwest as Dalton, Pennsylvania; as far northeast as Brunswick, Maine; and straight up the Northway all the way to Montreal." Check out Part One here.

Upodate: Part Two includes Rose Olson, Jacqueline Ott, Kate Beck. Read Part Two here.

August 18, 2009

My other blog: Bushwick & Main

In July 2009 I started a blog called Sharon Butler@ Bushwick & Main to document my Artist Residency at Pocket Utopia. Since the residency ended, the Tumblr blog, which I can update from my phone, has become a photographic sketchbook--iPhone notations from my wandering art practice. At the new blog, which I will maintain concurrently with Two Coats, you can read about my most recent obsession---the Washington Square Outdoor Art Exhibit. I wrote about the event for the upcoming issue of The Brooklyn Rail, and I'll actually be participating over Labor Day weekend. Between now and then I have a long list of things to do to get my installation, er, I mean booth, ready but Austin Thomas, an expert on creating social spaces from thin air, has agreed to serve as my consultant. If you like it, please add a link to your blogroll and/or subscribe to the feed. Thanks!
Official URL: :

Another painter turned filmmaker: Kathryn Bigelow

Kathryn Bigelow, director of The Hurt Locker, grew up in a rural suburb of San Francisco, the only child of a librarian and the manager of a paint factory. "My dad used to draw these great cartoon figures. His dream was being a cartoonist, but he never achieved it, and it kind of broke my heart," she says. "I think part of my interest in art had to do with his yearning for something he could never have." She studied painting at CalArts, then moved to New York for a fellowship from the Whitney. Bigelow initially immersed herself in the downtown art scene, working on performance pieces with the conceptual group Art & Language, but she soon began experimenting with film. A master's in film criticism from Columbia left her in love with foreign directors such as Passolini and Fassbinder. Then one night she went to a double bill of Mean Streets and The Wild Bunch, and had an epiphany. "It took all my semiotic Lacanian deconstructivist saturation and torqued it," she says. "I realized there's a more muscular approach to filmmaking that I found very inspiring." (via Newsweek)

August 17, 2009

Tworkov's first comprehensive NYC survey opens this week

Jack Tworkov in his Provincetown studio. Photo by © Arnold Newman, for an article written by Robert Hatch, "At The Tip Of Cape Cod," July 1961 issue of Horizon.Via the Provincetown Artist Registry.

The UBS Art Gallery presents New York City’s first comprehensive survey of the work of American painter Jack Tworkov (1900-1982). "Jack Tworkov: Against Extremes – Five Decades of Painting" reflects the artist’s transitions and evolutions over his five-decade career. A founding member of the New York School, Jack Tworkov is regarded as one of its defining figures, along with Willem de Kooning, Philip Guston, Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline, whose gestural paintings and dramatic strokes defined the Abstract Expressionist movement in America. "Against Extremes" will feature 26 paintings and related drawings, including many rarely seen works from the artist’s estate. Highlights range from the artist’s Social Realist paintings and drawings of the 1930s and 1940s, to major Abstract Expressionist canvases of the 1950s and 1960s, and finally to the geometrically inspired paintings of the 1970s and early 1980s.

A concurrent exhibition of the artist’s letters, notebooks, journals and photographs will be on view at the Archives of American Art’s New York Research Center and Gallery, also located in the UBS building. Additionally, The Extreme of the Middle: Writings of Jack Tworkov, edited by Mira Schor, has recently been published by Yale University Press.

"Jack Tworkov: Against Extremes – Five Decades of Painting," curated by Jason Andrew. The UBS Art Gallery, New York, NY. Through October 27, 2009. Opening reception Thursday, August 20, 6-8 pm

August 12, 2009

Saturday night in Connecticut

Drunken Boat, international online journal of the arts, celebrates its tenth anniversary at the Hygienic Art Park in New London, on Saturday, August 15th from 7:00 to 10:00 pm with a multimedia blowout. Featuring Mat Bevel, from the Surrealistic Pop Science Theatre in Tucson, AZ and the maestero of “a gizmotronic fanfare of spunk, funk and kinetic junk,” as well as rare video footage of Charles Olson, father of the Maximus Poems and the Black Mountain School, Harlem native and vocal deconstructor Latasha Natasha Diggs, a short film from Guggenheim Fellow and stereoscopic projectionist Zoe Beloff, and literary stylings from the translator of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Adam Golaski, Larissa Shmailo the 2009 New Century Music Award Winner for spoken word with jazz, electronica, and rock, web artist Steve Ersinghaus, PEN/Faulkner award winner and screenplay writer Sabina Murray and New London’s own native son, novelist and frequent contributor the New York Times, Rand Richards Cooper. I'm looking forward to an evening of literary alchemy and intermedia performance, organized by fellow CSU professor, Ravi Shankar. See you there.