Monday, April 30, 2012

Don't Mess With Minimalism: Part 1

I visited my brother in law and his wife in Houston, Texas this weekend.  But before I left NYC I stopped by the Whitney and took a good look at a Texas Gulf Coast artist named Forest Bess (1911- 1977).  I thought maybe I would find some more of his work down here... I missed a show of his in Houston by a month (bummer).  Anyway, Forest Bess' work is pretty darn good but his life story is great.  First and foremost he is a visionary or mystic... his art I think is secondary... which slightly impacts the way that I view his work.  For someone like Forest his art simply is what it is... an offshoot of his larger message.

In a nut shell his bio is something like this... he was born and lived in Texas on the Gulf Coast and worked as a fisherman.  He was educated but he was isolated.  He was homosexual, suffered from mental breakdowns, and was deeply spiritual in his own private way.  He did show his art in his own life time, especially at Betty Parsons Gallery.  He was intrigued by the writtings of Carl Jung and his ideas of the collective unconscious.  Aside from his art he is best known for performing self surgery in which he cut a small hole into the base of his penis making himself a hermaphrodite (he did this for spiritual reasons... as an attempt to unite the male with female aspect of himself).  His art certainly reflects his interest in sexuality.  "The Hermaphrodite" was one of his most striking paintings at the Whitney.

Forest Bess
The Hermaphrodite

But aside from his life story his work is a kind of mystical minimalism.  The small sized canvases are intimate, the rustic wooden frames give his work a home-made feel, the textures are layered and sensual, and his choice of color creates visual tension.  Moreover, his exhibit at the Whitney was tucked away in a small room adjacent to Werner Herzog's video installation "Heresay of the Soul", which played religious music composed of Christian organs and Tibetan monk chanting.  The affect in Bess's exhibit elevated the spiritual character of his work and added to his martyr-like story.  But most interesting about his work is his process.  As the curator of the Whitney Biennial exhibit, Robert Gober says that: Forest "never added to or subtracted from the visions that appeared to him".  To me this seems odd.  Most artists that I know of, aside from conceptual artists, either work hard to perfect a vision they have (and almost always end up modifying it in someway or falling short of realizing it), or they discover their composition by "feeling" their way through the process of creating it.  Off the top of my head I cannot think of an artist who copies onto canvas paintings that have appeared to them in their mind's eye.  Indeed, there is something prophetic and selfless about this way of making art.

Forest Bess at the Whitney Biennial

In 1961 hurricane Carla destroyed Forest Bess' studio and home.  He was devastated.  Many large paintings of his were lost.  Then in 1974 he was placed into a hospital and diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic.  He died three years later.  We are left with his wonderful mysterious paintings.  He was an extraordinary example of the heroic power of Modernism and a beacon of authenticity at a time when strategy and concept dominate.  Thank you Robert Gober and thank you Forest Bess.

You can see more of his work at and you can see an excellent video of two Forest Bess exhibits at Loren Monk's "The James Kalm Report" (below).

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Wright, Buck, D'Acquisto and Kennedy

Russell Wright Design Center; Garrison, NY 
Russel Wright

This past weekend I took a ride up north along the Hudson River and made a few great discoveries.  In Garrison, NY I came across the Russell Wright Design Center and Manitoga Preserve.  I have to admit that I don't know much about Russell Wright, but his house is very beautiful.  It's nestled into nature along side a quarry adjacent to the nature preserve.  The structure reminds me of Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture and Howard Roark's (the godly architect in Ayn Rand's book "The Fountain Head" which is one of my favorite books).  If I too could someday live in a nook in the Hudson River Valley or Adirondacks and have a home and studio immersed in nature it would be a dream come true.  Anxiety about my career, or how I want to finish a painting, or how I'm going to pay rent all slip away.  I always get the sensation of being at peace with death while in nature; it's there that death seems natural and beautiful.  I regain my senses, my ego loosens its hold on my heart and mind, and I feel free from all the nonsense that we spend so much time fussing over in our everyday lives.

Garrison Art Center

My next stop was the Garrison Art Center in Garrison, NY and then the Marina Gallery in Cold Spring, NY.  Both places are excellent venues for art, but more impressive than the spaces were the exhibitions they were showing.  Deborah Buck's retrospective "Inside Out" presents work that span twenty years of her painting career.  The press release reads:  "Now living and working in New York City, Buck is originally from Baltimore and credits her early artistic and intellectual development to her encounters with the legendary Abstract Expressionist painter Clyfford Still." 
In her artist statement she says:  "These paintings are fractured fairytales--dark explorations of the messy, in-between stages of moving through life. I’m interested in the fables that have been passed along to children since the beginning of time, and how archetypal, oft-idealistic narratives tend to shift and fall apart as time passes.  The language of storytelling—colloquialisms, old wives’ tales, ironic turns of phrase—interest me as a means of developing cultural mythologies. These alleged truisms, along with an interest in psychoanalytic and surrealist tropes, inform the stark, yet playful narratives that drive my work."
I was initially attracted to her work because of the bold and curious semi-familiar/representational forms in her mixed media drawings and oil paintings.  The texture and layering in these works give them character; the size of them is just large enough; and the mix of 3D rendering with 2D mark-making gives these works a primitive or naive look (which I'm a huge fan of).  The only thing that I find distracting is her use of glitter.  Sure, she uses it sparingly but it give these works a crafty/decorative feel that disrupts my contemplation of them.  You can see more of her work on her website (

My wife who I made stand next to one of Deborah's paintings

Marina Gallery; Cold Spring, NY
Tim D'Acquisto and Grace Kennedy, husband and wife, had a joint show at Marina Gallery.  I couldn't contain myself when I first saw Tim's work from the window.  And once I was in the gallery Grace's work put its spell on me.  Both artists work in oil paint and work in a relatively small size.  However, only Grace refers to the real world in her work, first working on site and then working from a photo, and sometimes revisiting the site.  Her work is so modest and authentic... just the way I like it.  Almost every painting features Indian Point Energy Center; a nuclear power plant build on a fault line just south of Peekskill on the Hudson River.  But the amazing thing about her work is that she strays from beautifying the plant (turning the ugly into something pretty) while avoiding accentuating the ugliness of the plant.  She is simply painting this subject because she loves the form and shape of it in relation to the environment that it is in. 

 Grace Kennedy

Add caption

Tim's work is curious because the plain chairs, tables, and other household items he paints in his minimal compositions don't come from his living room or kitchen but rather they come from his imagination.  Again, the work is intimate (do to small size) and charming; it has a way of pulling you in and holding you there.  I can't get enough of his banal subject matter and overly simplified forms and shapes... they totally turn me on.  His art is similar to my own, and one thing that I think we both focus on is a kind of existential tension.  He puts us face to face with one or two common objects painted flat on canvases that sometimes only contain three or four colors.  The viewer is left in confrontation with shapes and forms of things we never think twice about.  But what is it that makes this cup or that chair worthy of our time/contemplation?  That's the magic in works like Tim D'Acquisto's.

Tim D'Acquisto

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Want to Exhibit Your Art in Uptown Manhattan?

Drawing by local artist Rosemarie Kliegman

My favorite cafe/bar/restaurant in New York invited me to permanently curate their art exhibits.  Indian Road Cafe ( is park side to Inwood Hill Park on the furthest northern part of Manhattan in the Inwood neighborhood.  It gets a lot of traffic, people spend money there, and it has a very relaxing jazzy atmosphere with wooden floors and red brick walls.  

Note: the pale yellow walls are now red brick

View of cafe portion of Indian Road

I'm open to suggestions, referrals, proposals... etc. of artists who want to exhibit (both solo and group).  They normally sell a couple pieces per show and the artists keeps the entire sale.  Also, Indian Road Cafe plans to be part of the "Uptown Arts Stroll: Northern Manhattan's Annual Arts Fair" in June.  I'm currently looking for an artist(s) who live, work, or are from Washington Heights or Inwood in Manhattan to exhibit work.  Spread the word.

Poster by Mary Ann Wincorkowski

Saturday, April 14, 2012

George Sakkal on Creativity

I've been having a conversation with collage artist George Sakkal over email regarding artists like Koons and Hirst.  In the last email of our conversation he succinctly laid out his ideas about the nature of creativity... 

"Artists like Picasso, Juan Gris, Jackson Pollack (from the NY School of Abstract Expressionism)  were methodologists. They searched for composition and discovered the work in the process of their search. They did not preconceive the work in advance. They did not rely on their conscious.  In the act of creativity artists who rely on their conscious mind preconceive their work (i.e.the urinal, the fish in a tank, etc)   I don't apply Freudian terms to describe what artist do ( i.e. ego ,finite self.) These terms confuse the issue.

Who we are is based largely on our human experience...stored from the moment we are born to the here and now in billions of neurons ( brain cells of the nervous system) in our brain. In the act of creativity ...the search for composition,  we draw upon and activate memory (stored experience). The activation occurs automatically, cognitively and out of the awareness of consciousness. I define Art as being the cognitive unconscious visual creative manifestation of human experience.   Our stored memory has near infinite creative potential to draw upon.  Repetition is an essential early learning tool that a developing artist should use in the form of sketching, drawing , painting over and over again to stimulate and build up neuron capacity on the right side of the brain.   An artist should do this for his entire life even when he becomes accomplished.  The more capacity that builds the greater becomes the unconscious mind's automatic cognitive ability to discover composition.  Juan Gris said that he never preconceived his work ...he searched for the composition allowing it to evolve. It defines itself. Once defined the artist, (based on this skill and cultivated abilities honed by the learning from repetition) can produce art of high aesthetic quality.

Duchamp as a painter used this process to produce the  30 or so paintings he created.  He was a great painter...and he got better in his creativity the more he painted (i.e. repetition).   In January of 1912 he created Nude Descending a Staircase , #2, his greatest painting  and submitted it for exhibition in the CUBISM show hosted by the Salon for Independent artists in Paris. The judges rejected it claiming it was not CUBISTIC; it was more futuristic and contained a nude...and the rules said no nudes in the show. Duchamp was so angered that he would not go to the Salon to retrieve it...his brothers did it for him.  In 1913 he submitted the piece into the New York Armory show and it was rediculed by much of the public and by many in the media. By now his feelings concerning visual art were taking an ominous destructive path. In 1917 he returned to the Armory show and submitted the Fountain, I think to mock the show's producers and get back at  those who he regarded as his tormentors  I think these events embittered Duchamp and served to drive him away from painting which he essentially stopped doing in 1918. His denunciation of the visual, and the retinal in art was a consequence  of his personal humiliation by the status quo of the time. In protest he turned to the conscious mind away from composition and methodology defining the true pathway to art creativity as a conscious mental act rather than a visual one.  It wasn't until later that he capitalized on his urinal episold by introducing the conscious mind "Idea" approach to creating art as the "readymade" (examples of which are seen by his artist worshippers at ART/BASEL).

Beginning In the 1980's with discoveries in the new emerging fields of cognitive psychology and the neurosciences commenced the understanding of the workings of the unconscious far beyond the earlier research that was made available by Freud. When I began my research into this new knowledge three years ago I realized that when these scientific discoveries are applied to Duchamp's theory (which is now accepted by the cultural elite as gospel) it soon became clear to me that virtually all of what he postulated was false. Duchamp is not a god, rather he was a clever "wise guy" who came along to fool creative society into believing itself to be something it is not."

-George Sakkal

The art of George Sakkal... you can see more images on his website

Ascending a Staircase

Harvest Moon

Night Vision

What Lies Beyond

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Morley, Art, and Economics

On April 1'st the 60 Minutes program of CBS aired "Even in Tough Times, Contemporary Art Sells".  This is a sequel to Morley Safer's infamous 1993 art story when he interviews a young Jeff Koons (  By the way, is Jeff Koons putting on an act when he talks about his art or is he genuine?  He seems like one of those guys that will tell you what you want you want to hear just to aggravate you.  Anyway, this time Morley visits Miami's Art Basel and picks the brains of collectors and dealers on the art market.  You can watch the clip for yourself at (it's only 13 minutes long).

Three things immediately popped out to me ... 1) How awful contemporary art seems to be... and 2) How awful the buyers of contemporary art seem to be.  Perhaps artist and buyer cancel or neutralize each other out... I mean, what's the problem if crapy art is bought by crapy collectors?  Is it everyone's problem?  Maybe... I can understand how the relationship between artist, dealer, and collector affects what's exhibited by museums, which are supposed to educate the public... that could be a problem.

In my opinion, many artists who are extremely successful in the art market are artists that first and foremost know how to market themselves (self-explanatory huh?).  Secondly they're known to create work that is controversial, which helps for publicity (a marketing tactic or genuine self expression?  I wonder).   Along those same lines dealers think that they should represent those edgy artists because thats what sells most.  Why does it sell?  Because collectors think they should buy it in order to make a profit when reconciliation is made between controversy and the public (example: now everyone loves Van Gogh [not to mention will pay millions for one], but in his day he didn't sell a single painting).  The critics, dealers, artists, and collectors that mistook Van Gogh's work for that of a wild beast's made a major mistake.  But art history learned its lesson and doesn't want to make the same mistake twice.  In other words, I don't think collectors want to be the fool that doesn't notice genius when it's right before their eyes and miss out.  So they buy everything that seems questionable and/or disturbing.  Sadly, the consequence is that there is more crappy art out there than ever before.

I found these interesting comments on the 60 Minutes site...

Art today is no longer valued and admired in terms of the inspirational, creative and aesthetic qualities its compositions evoke. The most sort after works in this era of postmodernism possess little if any of these attributes. In its place the gate keepers place before us basketballs floating in fish tanks, cigarette butts in ashtrays and hats of enormous size to name but a few. And this attitude of estrangment does not only present itself at Basel; to be sure it is everywhere. Museums are controled by dealers, particularly in New York, who in turn influence their curators in what exhibits to offer (sell). Art critics no longer "judge" art; they usually just "describe" it mostly in vague "art speak" terms. The academies support the "concept" theory behind postmodernism and in a sense perpetuate and contribute to the degradation of art by indoctrinating wave upon wave of art students with its seriously flawed principles.

The art of the era of postmodernism derives and is measured for its importance by how much it can be sold for. As you correctly conclude Mr. Safer, art has become a commodity object fueled by an excess of new capital.

Art at the summit of human achievement is also well known to be prophetic. Sadly, the worldwide state of art's cultural demise may also constitute its dramatic clarion call to us warning of the decline in human civilization.
Collage Artist- George Sakkal


Thanks to Morley for trying to make sense and bring to light the "Emperor has no clothes" art world that many of us have to endure as artists. We are creating work that should have more voice in our culture, but instead we are forced to be bystanders to mediocre artspeak superficial presentations by curators, museums, and influential gallery owners that control the art world. How we long for collectors that go to the trouble of finding us in smaller galleries and quieter venues where they will find the real work that moves the human race in the long run. How foolish many collectors are in not finding these true bargains of art that will eventually hold great stature in our culture. It makes me wonder if collectors exist that are not in it just for the status and showmanship rather than the art itself. It makes me wonder if there are collectors who can tell what great art is without the limited and very biased opinion of the art world market insiders who love to manipulate them. 
Wild Natacha 

And from another perspective...

There isn't even one minor discussion of the worth of art apart from money. The Scholls are only asked about their 'investments'; why are they not asked about the joy and wonder their art brings to their daily life and the lives of people who visit their gallery in Miami? Where the art is on display for free? In fact, anyone can go to even a Gagosian gallery, and see great artworks (or Hirsts) for free. Morley just kept asking about money, and never even asked the question, "Why is this art important?" A sarcastic voice-over over Nick Cave's amazing 'Sound Suits' really answered that question for us-Morley sees no worth in contemporary art. Perhaps an opposing view, expounding on the spiritually uplifting and enlightening art people are inspired by every day, might have made this piece real journalism.
Miami Danny 

Saturday, April 7, 2012


In the April edition of Art News there was an article published titled “When Bad is Good”.   In it Richard B. Woodward takes on “art made in a riotous spirit of bad taste”.  He opens the article with “Artworks that mimic soft porn, showcase embalmed animals, mock the Pope, and otherwise offend propriety are filling auctions, museums, and galleries.  Is there anything’s left to be upset about?” Mr. Woodward goes on to say, “In many cases today, subjects and figures that were previously out-of-bounds are considered acceptable, safe, edgy, and fun, thanks to the Internet, which offers imagery without censors.”  He concludes the article with a John Waters quote: “Now everybody wants to be an outsider. […] Counterculture won some things a long time ago.  Counterculture’s in control.  I’m the insider.  I’m the establishment.”  In other words, to answer his question… no, there isn’t anything to be upset about anymore.  But you can still hate this stuff.

The Chapman Brothers
Contemporary masters of bad taste, according to Woodward, are Paul McCarthy, Lisa Yuskavage, Damien Hirst, Maurizio Cattelan, John Currin, Sarah Lucas, Albert Oehlen, Richard Prince, Tracy Emin, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Jeff Koons, and Takashi Murakami among others.  All of these artists are “blue chip” and thrive on being hated.  Some are better at being hated than others… for example, Jake and Dinos Chapman really get under my skin.  And I should add that they are all easy to hate not only because of their disgusting, kitschy, perverted art but also because of their extraordinary monetary success… I can’t help but to think “some moron paid millions for that!”  And when John Waters says “the work we hate today is often the work we end up liking and admiring in the future” I have to strongly disagree.  To base your artistic tastes on deduction, coming to conclusions about the future based on what has happened in the past, is to surrender your intuition in favor of an idea in your head.  It’s one thing to genuinely like this type of art from the bottom of your heart, but it’s on quite another level to like it because you think you’ll like it in the future. 

Here are few more thoughts I have about these bad tasting blue chip artists...

Damien Hirst
They interest me because I don't get them.  I guess thats one draw to their art.  From one perspective their work is absolutely ridiculous... really deplorable, silly stuff.  They can be seen as cold-blooded, calculated, conceptual minded, scam artists (and they'd probably agree with me on that point).  From another perspective, from the eye of the educated art world, their work can be intriguing because 1) no one has diliberately created such crappy non-art before and prestented it as fine art (perhaps Duchamp and Warhol were the first to do so along those lines) 2) you cannot forget about it their art because you hate it so much!  But does that make it successful?  The fact that I'm even asking this question and taking the time to blog about it is proof that its "good" art... right?

We, the audience, sometimes forget about the increadible craftsmenship that goes into making art like Hirst's Unicorn, or Piccinini and Chapman's sculptures.  That only is reason enough to see their art... even if they personally have not laid a hand on their work.

Paul McCarthy
These artists play a necessary role in contemporary art.  They exploit the art establishment’s romanticism with “bad boy” art and the inflated market value of blue chip art.  Their collectors are people of enormous wealth and have extraordinary leverage in the art world.  And I  wonder… is it their investment consultants, trusted gallery dealers, or their genuine artistic tastes that makes them pay so much for this disgusting stuff?  It’s probably all of the above combined with the despiration to "fill the void".

Can you imagine what will be going through Damien Hirst’s and Jake Chapman's head when they’re at the time of their deaths?  Whats their inner life like?  It’s hard to imagine because their art is entirely abscent of basic normal human qualities like compassion and spirituality.

Patricia Piccinini
I'm an art educator and I recently heard a story from a co-worker of an obnoxious middle school boy that was impossible to deal with.  He gave everyone around him a headache.  His behavior was appauling.  But everytime he was threatened by his teacher to try to make him stop he would quickly retort with some applicapable civil liberty law or education law pertaining to student rights.  Anyway, these artists are just like this boy... they push your every button and there's nothing you can do about it because they know what they need to know to get what they want... and that to annoy the hell out of you.

Jeff Koons
Will this art live on in the future and the artists be regarded as geniuses by posterity?  Who cares?  The real question, as far as I'm concerned, is... would I buy this art and hang it in my house so that I would see it everyday?  I don't think so.  Give me a Matisse, Tapies, Guston, Basquiat, Martin Ramirez, Puryear, Ignacio Iturria, Hockney, even an Otto Dix or Peter Saul... but don't torment me by installing a Jeff Koons! 

Anyway, I am so thankful that there are artists out there creating work like this.  Someone has to do it and I'm glad it's not me.  I'm curious to see how the next generation of bad taste artists are going to offend us. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Valerie Brennan Interview

Milk Teeth 25x25cm

I first heard of Valerie Brennan (now living in Madrid, Spain) from a friend that recommended I read her blog Studio Critical (  In her blog she posts artist interviews whom primarily work with abstraction.  After contacting her on Facebook and familiarizing each other with the others art, we decided to exchange interviews (you can read the interview she did with me on her blog).  While I was in the process of drafting questions to ask her I went to see Valerie's art at Scope Art Fair in NYC (I blogged about the experience in an older post).  Her work is fresh, playful, curious, adventurous, and unpretentious.  Needless to say, I enjoyed her art very much and think that you will too.  Enjoy the interview and visit her website at

Where do you get your inspiration for the shapes, forms, colors, and compositions you include in your work?
--The everyday, where I am and what I am looking at….I make very simple drawings, notes really of a shape or form that interests me. In the studio I work on paper, making batches of small paintings fast. I hang them on my wall as a group and use them as reference for marks and colors. The forms and shapes emerge as the painting progresses, what was there as a starting point usually dissolves into something else. I have a painting called Free Fall and that sums it up, it’s a dive into the unknown, I want to be surprised by what I do, if a painting doesn’t surprise me when it’s finished then it probably isn’t a good one.

Spaghetti Hoops 25x25cm

In your work as a whole are you aiming or searching for anything in particular... some vision you have of what you want your work to be?
--The first word that comes to mind is truth, I want to make paintings that are genuine and full of feeling. I also want something new and different in each painting. I don’t want to repeat myself.

What kind of impact do you want your art to have on your audience?
--I would like them to be engaged and interested, I can’t really hope for more than that, maybe to share a little bit in the mystery of things.

There is something interesting happening with abstract art. Artists like Julie Torres, Sharron Butler, Douglas Florian, etc. are creating work with simplified and odd shapes/forms and centered compositions. What is your take on all this? Whats your role in it? Who are the main players in your opinion?
--I know these artists through Facebook so I will answer within that context. I think there are some extremely interesting things going on in abstract art. I really admire the work of the three artists you mention. I think Sharon’s work is a kind of deconstructed geometry so I probably share more common ground with the other two, Julie in particular, I think we have a similar approach to what we do with different results.  It is very exciting to see what is happening on facebook and on other social media. I find it very motivating and inspiring.  I see what I would call a very quirky idiosyncratic abstraction around. I really think we are in the time of anything goes and it all has a role in the dialogue. As for my role, I make my own work and don’t really think about it within the big picture. The list of players is too long, just have a look at all my fb friends to see.

Flesh Carnival 25x25cm
What were the most important advances in your career as an artist? What can you suggest to emerging artists to get their careers rolling?
--I am an emerging artist. I think the most important thing is to keep working and remain true to yourself.  I think having a solo show was an eye opener for me and I learnt the hard way the importance of self editing, something I still haven’t quiet mastered. Organizing your own show is good too, you may not sell work but it’s a valuable experience. Other artists are our greatest recourse.

What are your favorite blogs, artists, and galleries?
-- Here in Madrid I like Reina Sofia the best, the annex has some fantastic shows, I saw some wonderful Richard Serra pieces recently. There are many really great blogs out there some of my favorites are A/ART, Structure and Imagery, The Kalm report, Two Coats, Gorky’s Grandaughter, Abstract Critical…they bring a bit of what is happening in the rest of the world to my neck of the woods. As for artists, Howards Hodgkins is my bed fellow of choice but we are not monogamous, lately I am looking at Helmut Dorner & Norbert Pragenberg

What art or artists do you dislike?
-- Inauthentic and slick art, names shall remain unnamed.

Camping 25x25cm
The Dragons Lair (After Sabine) 25x25cm
A Heart In My Head 50x50cm
Thicket 25x25cm
Courdoury 50x50cm
This Hour 50x50cm