August 27, 2013

IMAGES: Matthew Mahler

Matthew Mahler, O M G #2 [oh my god], 2013, acrylic and dye on canvas, 40 x 44 inches.

CMU. Matthew Mahler has been dyeing canvas, stretching it, adding a bit of geometric abstraction on top and titling with acronyms like OMG, BTW, MFA, POR and more. His solo show opens in Bushwick at Sardine on Saturday night @6pm. DNBL8.

"Matthew Mahler: Masters of Fine Arts," Sardine, Bushwick, Brooklyn, NY. September 7-October 6, 2013.

Fall 2013: Advice for students

Always a good strategy, right? Maybe, but sometimes it's better not to worry about quality--just keep working. No hand-wringing allowed...!

Originally posted on They Draw & Cook, a delightfully quirky blog featuring recipes illustrated by artists from around the world, this print was prominently displayed at PRESS, a public art project founded by book artist Melanie Mowinski and funded by Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, Massachusetts. More on PRESS (where letterpress printing is public art) in an upcoming post.

August 26, 2013

Secondary usage: Four questions and answers

I recently received an email from artist and curator Brendan Carroll with the following four questions, and since I spent a fair amount of time yesterday writing the answers, I thought the exchange might make an interesting post, especially the part about working from observation.  Carroll is curating a show called "Out of Step" that opens on October 8 at NJCU's Lemmermann Gallery in Jersey City. Featuring a range of approaches to geometric abstraction, the exhibition will include work by Mark Dagley, Enrico Gomez, Tom McGlynn, Gary Petersen, Kati Vilim, Sara Wolfe, and me. More details to come.

Image at top: Work in progress at Bascom Lodge.

Brendan Carroll: Do your paintings start with preliminary drawings?
Sharon Butler: I draw to record ideas for paintings. The drawings are rough, more like sketches, made in composition notebooks, often of structures I’ve seen in the car on my way to school or walking around the city on my way to the studio. When something catches my eye, I try to be observant, but, later, working from memory, I can never remember the entire structure. The next day, I look again, and learn a little bit more. When I start a painting, I begin with a preliminary drawing in pencil on the canvas. I intentionally refrain from covering up the extra lines or mistakes—they give the painting more depth.

BC: What is paint to you, and how do you describe your use of it?
SB: Like all artists, I use paint to flesh out the drawn structures and add color. More particularly, I use paint to focus on selected aspects of the drawing. When I first started started painting, I was infatuated with thick, crusty paint, but over time, I’ve became more interested in a minimal-gestural approach, using pigment dispersions and silica binder to prepare custom mixes of thin, highly-pigmented paint that have a matte, gouache-like finish. My colors tend to look worn out – muddy pastels – and I use them sparingly.

BC: What role does observation play in your painting, or does it play a role? Does it even matter?
SB: As visual artists go, I’m not acutely observant, and I sometimes play games to trick myself into being more visually aware and less absorbed in thought. At the same time, I am intrigued by the gap between what we see and what we remember seeing. Things can go terribly wrong between looking, or observing, and then, later, drawing what we’ve seen. Although I admire artists dedicated to perceptual drawing, that practice doesn’t jibe with my approach or interests. I find more meaning in mistakes, carelessness, and the subversion of art tricks like linear perspective than in careful observation.

BC: Given the new mediums of today (e.g., Internet art, generative software, sound, performance, etc.), why paint? And why continue to explore abstraction?
SB: I have worked on various installation and digital projects in the past, but I like the more meditative, less rational, process of painting, which allows ideas to unfold organically and intuitively over time. For me, abstraction isn’t a strategy – it’s simply the visual language I find the most compelling and meaningful.

Peter Dudek: Challenging murals in North Adams

NYC artist Peter Dudek's recent undertaking, "House Dreaming (and then some)," is a mural project that includes several related images of architectural structures displayed around North Adams, MA. Funded by DownStreet Art, an organization dedicated to revitalizing downtown North Adams through novel public art projects, Dudek's series challenges the familiar notion of mural-making that many local governments have adopted as a placemaking strategy for reviving New England's post-industrial downtown landscapes.

When most legislators seek to improve the economic climate and promote their towns by funding public art, they don't imagine immersive, three-dimensional projects like Orly Genger's Red, Yellow, and Blue or Thomas Hirschhorn's Gramsci Monument. Rather, what comes to mind are colorful, graphic, murals painted on the sides of buildings and best viewed from behind the steering wheel. Dudek, however, has developed a different approach, working at an intimate scale to create work that can only be discovered on foot.

Peter Dudek

Over the past decade, in addition to making sculptural installations deftly incorporating furniture, construction materials, and handcrafted objects, Dudek has created a series of black-and-white Photoshop collages, which he calls architectural cartoons, using images from clip-art, advertising, and other print sources from the 1940s and 50s. "The images represent a world - perhaps ours - in which buildings not only have a consciousness, but also the desire and ability to self-perpetuate," Dudek says. For the DownStreet Art commission, he selected several images from the collage series, had a local commercial sign maker print them on easel-sized metal panels that he hung in discreet locations around town, and then organized walking tours to see the compact murals. From a distance (say, from a car), they look like ordinary signs, but up close, they reveal funny, enigmatic images reminiscent of old soda cap rebus puzzles and indeed enliven the experience of walking downtown. 

Future site for another mural.

Unlike traditional murals that elicit immediate but fleeting attention, "House Dreaming (and then some)" invites viewers not merely to drive through town but to participate in the community as if on a playful scavenger hunt. In Dudek's typical communitarian fashion, after the panels have been on display for a year, they will be auctioned off and the proceeds will be donated to a local non-profit organization. Dudek's mural project is as conceptually ambitious as it is self-effacing, and deserves close attention--even if it doesn't shout for it.

Related posts:
Artist-in-Residence: Bascom Lodge at the summit of Mount Greylock
Street art and mural news
Security gate paintings on the Bowery

August 21, 2013

EMAIL: Matthew Fisher responds to Adolph Gottleib

Hello Sharon,

I hope this summer finds you in good spirits and of course in the studio.
I was tickled to read your post on [Adolph] Gottlieb. For me, as well, he has long been an interesting painter. I tacked a picture of him "painting" by the studio door.

Last month I found 1969 WMAA retrospective of his and have spent these summer nights reading the easy and flipping through the images. As I worked on this small painting, I felt a strong connection to Gottlieb's Blasts. The circle form above and the brush work below, the deep space and complete flatness. Funny, but not surprising, that ideas/artists can surface at similiar times from different points.

M a t t


Image at top: Matthew Fisher, Dragon's Tail, 2013, acrylic on canvas, 10 x 11 inches.


Fisher's painting is currently on view in "Endless Summer,"  a lively group at Brian Morris, curated by Gary Peterson. The show features small work by Cortney Andrews, Gregory Botts, Amanda Church, Peter Dayton, Erik den Breejen, Lydia Enriquez, Nate Ethier, Matthew Fisher, David Humphrey, Elisabeth Kley, Osamu Kobayashi, Kerry Law, Judith Linhares, Liz Markus and Jennifer Watson.

 Adolph Gottlieb, Blast, I, 1957, oil on canvas, 7' 6 x 45 1/8 inches. MoMA collection, © Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

August 14, 2013

A Day for Detroit: Lovis Corinth

Lovis Corinth (b. 1858, Germany), The Art Student (Herbert Schonbohm), 1923, graphite pencil on wove paper,18 x 13 1/4 inches.

A German Impressionist, Corinth was a member and leader of the Berlin Secession, an artists' group that was founded in 1898 as an alternative to the more conservative Association of Berlin Artists. The drawing pictured above entered the DIA collection in 1966 from the Allen Frumkin Gallery, which had branches in New York and Chicago.

Here's an experimental 1922 movie in which Corinth paints a view of the Klopfstockstrasse in front of his house:

Related posts:
A Day For Detroit: Economist calls selling the DIA collection "complete foolishness"
A Day for Detroit: Tyree Guyton in the Detroit Institute of Art collection

A Day for Detroit: Tyree Guyton in the Detroit Institute of Art collection

Tyree Guyton, Untitled, late 20th century, 43 x 25 x 5 inches. Detroit Instutute of Art, Gift of Cristina A. and Dirk S. Denison in memory of Mary Moore Denison.

From the Detroit artist's website:

"Primarily a painter and sculptor, Tyree Guyton has also been described as an urban environmental artist. He has waged a personal war on urban blight on Detroit's East Side, transforming his neighborhood into a living indoor/outdoor art gallery. Through his art, Guyton has drawn attention to the plight of Detroit’s forgotten neighborhoods and spurred discussion and action.

'When you come to the Heidelberg Project, I want you to think—really think! My art is a medicine for the community. You can’t heal the land until you heal the minds of the people,' "

Related posts:
A Day For Detroit: Economist calls selling the DIA collection "complete foolishness"
A Day for Detroit: Lovis Corinth

A Day For Detroit: Economist calls selling the DIA collection "complete foolishness"

Thanks to Tyler Green's vision and organization, a slew of art bloggers are posting about the Detroit art community today in an effort to halt the rumored sale of the DIA art collection.

During my artist's residency at Bascom Lodge, not far from North Adams, Massachusetts, a community that has relied on cultural investment in Mass MOCA to ease their painful transition to a post-industrial economy, I learned of Stephen Sheppard, an economics professor at nearby Williams College and co-author of a paper that has been published in Creative Communities: Art Works in Economic Development. Edited by Michael Rushton and released in April 2013 by the Brookings Institution Press, the book comprises a series of papers commissioned by the National Endowment for the Arts to explore the relationship between the arts and economic development. I contacted Dr. Sheppard about the situation at the Detroit Institute of Art, and it turns out that he was, in fact, commissioned to do two case studies for Detroit art organizations:

August 13, 2013

A few snaps: Adolph Gottlieb

Longtime readers may recall my evolving ideas about the paIntings of Ab-Exer Adolph Gottlieb (b. 1903, New York City), and this summer there's another opportunity to see his work in "Image and Abstraction," the star-studded, multi-generational group show at Pace. Here are a few Gottlieb images I downloaded from their  website. Is his work, given its clunkiness, a forerunner to Provisional Painting and Casualism?

Adolph Gottlieb, Ambient Green, 1962. Oil on linen, 90" x 72" (228.6 cm x 182.9 cm)

Adolph Gottlieb, Untitled, 1967. Gouache on paper, 24" x 19" (61 cm x 48.3 cm).

Adolph Gottlieb, Untitled, 1970. Collage and ink on paper, 24" x 19" (61 cm x 48.3 cm).

Adolph Gottlieb, Chromatic Game, 1951. Oil on canvas, 48" x 36" (121.9 cm x 91.4 cm).

Adolph Gottlieb, The Red, 1972. Oil on linen, 90" x 60" (228.6 cm x 152.4 cm).
Related posts: 

August 8, 2013

Matthew Miller: One Painting’s Presence

Contributed by Jonathan Stevenson

Some paintings have to be seen in person, up close, and without distraction to be fully appreciated. That is probably why Austin Thomas felt compelled to frame the maiden showing of Matthew Miller’s stunning new painting (pictured above) as a solo “unveiling” this week at her gallery Pocket Utopia on the Lower East Side. “Stunning” is one of those adjectives often employed to freight clich├ęs with excess superlative, but I choose my words carefully: here I mean that the piece truly stuns the discerning viewer into admiring headshakes and bemused murmurs.

Miller’s meticulous portraiture has always manifested extraordinary old-school precision and, in the enigmatically multivalent expressions of his subjects and the depthless black he often uses as background, a mysterious, other-worldly sensibility. With this new piece – appropriately untitled, as any title might skew or truncate its ramifications – Miller takes his painterly perfectionism to a new level. The highly-wrought character of the painting – the thickness of the oils, the willed absence of brushstrokes – makes the viewer forget about the canvas, leaving a single dominating presence.

His subject’s solemn profile irrevocably claims its space like a homesteader driven by some unshakable faith, the black behind him protecting his endeavor – whatever it may be – in seemingly limitless density. There are additional niceties to apprehend – for instance, the subtle manipulations of the figurative line. But Miller’s fiercely and relentlessly controlled technique sublimates such details; it’s that presence that overwhelms and endures.

"Matthew Miller: Unveiling," Pocket Utopia, LES, New York, NY. By appointment only, through August 29, 2013.

Related post:
Studio Visit: Matthew Miller and the Drama of Subtlety (2010)

Artist-in-Residence: Bascom Lodge at the summit of Mount Greylock

For the next two weeks I'll be the Artist-in-Residence at the Bascom Lodge, a beautiful Arts & Crafts style lodge on the summit of Mount Greylock, which, at 3,491 feet, is the highest point in the state of Massachusetts. For several years the lodge was boarded up, but five years ago, NYC artist Peter Dudek, his brother, NYC chef John Dudek, and textile designer Brad Parsons applied for an operating contract with the state as part of the Department of Conservation and Recreation's Historic Curatorship Program. In lieu of rent, curators participating in the program receive a long-term lease and agree to rehabilitate, manage and maintain an historic property within Massachusetts State Parks.

 The entrance to my room.

At Bascom Lodge, in addition to completely restoring the building and surrounding grounds, the partners have created a restaurant that serves regional American cuisine, emphasizing fresh, organic, locally produced foods and instituted a lecture series that brings artists, performers, and other interesting speakers up the mountain on Wednesdays and Sundays.

Delta blues guitarist and vocalist Robin O'Herin performing with tap dancer Stefanie Weber on Wednesday evening in the lobby.

 The view from the porch, facing south.

As Artist-in-Residence, I've been working in the Sugar Shack, a small studio on property located beside the Appalachian Trail. Several of the weary hikers who have stopped to say hello have been on the trail since they left Georgia in early April. "How far is it to the top?" they always ask.

EVENT: "Itinerant Painter," end-of-residency presentation, Monday, August 19, 6pm, at Bascom Lodge. Free and open to the public. I'll talk about some of the non-traditional artist residencies I've been involved with and how they have influenced my work.

August 1, 2013

Forming questions: James Hyde

On a trip to a few Bushwick galleries last weekend, I was drawn to a couple of small pieces by James Hyde in "Solid Pull," a group exhibition of contemporary ceramics whose "entry point is the practice of painting."

(Image: James Hyde, mixed media piece, small scale)

Curated by Caroline Santa and Rachael Gorchov for TSA, this lively exhibition proposes that clay and paint have a lot in common:
Clay is an immediate and flexible medium – it allows artists to realize their vision in a visceral, tactile manner. Clay can function as “all paint and no support” – the dimensionality of the medium allows for a form of searching that isn’t present in two-dimensional media. The consummation of the maker and the material through the physical building of layers is spatial image-making at its most fundamental.
Checking out Hyde's website, I found the following set of questions he wrote in 1998 that still seem to inform his work today. They were originally published in Ready-Made Colour, a 2002 anthology edited by Claude Briand-Picard and Antoine Perrot:

1. Is a tube of paint used for a painting more or less a ready-made than a bottle rack used to make an art object?

2. Is concrete more or less raw than oil paint?

3. What constitutes found color? If one matches the exact shade of a poppy in a field, is that color any more or less found than Forest Green paint bought at the hardware store?

4. Is it ever possible to use color in a painting so that it is impersonal or unevocative? If a painter intended it to be unevocative, would it be?

5. If paint is color and adhesive, does that make decals and tape paint?

6. What makes a painting a painting? Is it to be defined materially; i.e., is it a somewhat flat object made with paint? If so, should we admit car doors to the category and exclude frescos, which are made without the binding agent of a paint?

 James Hyde

7. Conceptually and critically is it more interesting to be able to call a real dog a painting, or a painting a real dog?

8. Is it color that identifies the object as a painting or is it painting that allows us to develop the mechanics and poetics of color?

9. How many colors or shades of color are necessary to produce the image of a picture?

10. Is a picture ever material?

11. What would it mean to have a fake painting, not a fake of a particular painting, but an object imitating a painting? If painting is a mimetic art, wouldn’t this object pull itself up by its bootstraps to painting-hood?

12. What is the difference between wall furnishings and paintings?

13. Is it possible to understand photography and its history without considering the history and effects of painting? Is it possible to understand painting without photography? Is it possible to see a painting without already imagining its photographic reproduction?

14. When we see a view and find it picturesque, aren’t we acknowledging that the real imitates art?

15. Is color the same in a painting as it is outside painting? How is this question different from asking; is color the same in a picture as it is outside a picture?

16. Does color heighten or deny materiality within a painting?

17. “A color ‘shines’ in its surroundings (just as eyes only smile in a face.) A “blackish” color – e.g. grey – doesn’t shine.” (Ludwig Wittgenstein, Remarks on Color.) Often in paintings, greys shine and blacks glow (witness works by Reinhardt, Velasquez, and Duccio.) Is that because of their relational surroundings or because paintings are faces made of many eyes?

18. Albers expresses that there is a fictive dimension to his painting when he says “Color deceives continually.” (Joseph Albers, The Interaction of Color.) Why doesn’t this deception occur in nature? (Animals and plants camouflage themselves, but this is as much a function of scale, pattern, and location as of color.) Albers makes a compelling case that color deception is fundamental to human perception. Does fiction imitate perception or does perception imitate art?

19. Has our social condition reached a point of saturation of objects (you could also call this a “new pictorial space”) where we can say material deceives continually?


"Solid Pull," curated by Caroline Santa and Rachael Gorchov. TSA, Bushwick, Brooklyn, NY. Through August 4, 2013. Artists include Annie Attridge, James Hyde, Joanne Greenbaum, Jane Irish, Essye Klempner and Heidi Lau.

Related posts:
Medium unspecificity prevails (2013
Holland Cotter: Unadventurous painting is everywhere (at least in New York) (2011)