July 2006 Archives

Reply to Review


I make it a point to drop an e-mail message to anyone I review, even if the review is not extremely positive. I think that criticism is important both as a review for people not involved in the work and also for the creative people, who can benefit from having someone see their work from outside. (I honestly wish more people would review my work because I'm really curious about what different people have to say.) Of course, if my review is really negative or insulting, then I keep quiet about it; there's no need to get someone's attention just to pick on them. That's kind of rude.

Usually I get fairly positive e-mail back. Most gallerists and artists seem genuinely happy that I took the time to mention them, even if I'm not as glowingly positive all the time as I might be. But recently I received a very negative message, and for what I thought was a positive review, no less.

I wrote a quick note off to Matthew Smith's gallery to let him know I'd reviewed his work; I've had no word that he's even seen my review, but the woman who answers his e-mail, one Kim Gallant, replied to me, and she was very unpleasant. I'm not sure what bothered her so much, but in the interests of showing my readers that I'm not ridiculously full of myself, I thought I'd post her message as a rebuttal to my review. So here goes.

Wow Chris, what a review! Or should I say a ghastly rant about nothing, You
know first and foremost let me just say that I think blogs are completely
ridiculous and good for all of you who are out there writing a million of
them a day for your friends to read. You might actually think you are
sharing something important with the rest of the world.

First, Glad you enjoyed the work and it moved you so much to write about.
Please get informed first before you make the general realization that they
are on the border of "posters". They are limited edition, hand-made prints
in an edition of 300, which is as big as a hand made printer usually
makes...we work very hard to educate the collector purchasing the work that
it is a hand-made piece, which so thankfully you were able to notice from
the hand signed pieces.

Secondly, I will be the first to admit the web-site is ghastly...a project
started about 10 years ago and never updated. I guess I could take personal
offense about it, but I can't because I admit it is bad and we are currently
working on a new one to launch in August. So please check back so I can have
your 'opinion' on how good & how unprofessional it is, and if you want to
chalk up some money to make it 'professional' then we will accept donations.

Thirdly, Most people who are really curious and interested in Matthew's
work, visit the gallery, call or email questions to find out more. I really
wish you had before you wrote such misleading crap about it and before you
understood some of his story. I know you can't get that all in a gallery but
it seems you did some research on the articles and you might have gotten a
little more of a clue.

Finally, we have never had anyone take images off the site without asking
first.... you even took an image that had clear copyright on it? Right now
you are using images with out the consent of the artist.

I am not sure what you do, if you are an artist making a living or just
someone who likes to comment on artwork, but please try to have a little
more info before you write such strange crap about someone who you know
nothing about. A simple email out to us would have given you a lot better
insight on Matthews work.

Okay...so your blog worked
you got a 'reaction'

Kim Gallant
Sales @ QPPW

Matthew Smith


I do occasionally leave the New York City metropolitan area. By and large I rarely see the point, but sometimes I do. For example, I'm almost certainly going to make a trip to Washington, D.C. to see the big travelling Henri Rousseau show at the National Gallery.

Yesterday I was in Rhode Island, on the shore, visiting my Uncle Louis in his friend's summer rental. (He's not really my uncle or even my mother's cousin -- he's actually my mother's mother's cousin's son, or some other ridiculously distant relation. But he's always been close to my mother, and we've stayed close, too.) Uncle Louis, for some reason, was eager to get me to go with him to a local gallery. The gallery used to be owned by friends of his, but then they retired and rented the gallery out to another couple, and Uncle Louis always stops in to see what's going on.

Of course we're talking about a gallery on the shore of Rhode Island, so immediately you're thinking, "Lame ocean-themed stuff from local artists along with shelves of supposedly nautical knick-knacks." And you'd be right! This trip actually confirmed something for me, which is that I now officially dislike the beach. Any beach. I used to be fond of beaches, but as I've grown older they've come to annoy me more and more, and now, as I say, I've totally descended into strong dislike for the coastline. Mainly because as you get closer to any beach, humans begin to lose their minds. They start by failing to put up decent street signs, then they begin to name everything with dopey oceanic monikers like "Ocean View Inn" and "Sea Foam Diner" and "Salty Ass Video." Then they plaster everything with PRIVATE PROPERTY and NO PARKING and NO TRESPASSING posters and give everyone with out-of-state license plates the hairy eyeball. And finally they charge exorbitant prices for real estate while pouring vast amounts of insecticides, herbicides, car and boat exhaust, and cigarette stubs all over the place they supposedly love.

Kind of a rant there. Sorry.

As I said, you'd be right about the gallery. But I did see one small batch of work which intrigued me. There was no way I was going to remember the artist's name, because it was so plain it was unGooglable, but he had neatly written the method on each print, and I liked the effect so much I resolved to Google that when I got home. Well, it turns out that the artist apparently invented this method, so if you were to Google "copper block etching" most of the links you get back are in fact about Matthew Smith (told you the name was unGooglable).

Matthew Smith, Blue Crab I, 2002, copper block etching print (edition of 300) on paper I almost don't want you to go to Matthew Smith's Website, though, because if you do you'll think, "Lame ocean-themed stuff from local artist." Matthew's site is so hopelessly unprofessional you're likely to be turned off by the front page, and the reproductions of his prints are absolutely dreadful. So let me say that they are, in fact, subtle and beautiful, colorful and lively, and really, really neat. And, yes, okay, they're lame and ocean-themed, to some degree. But the method -- this copper block etching printing technique -- is capable of some really astonishing effects. Look at this blue crab right here.

Yes, it's an edition of 300, which probably qualifies it as a "commercial print/poster". And Matthew is seriously overfond of writing all over the bottom of the thing. But it's really great, and shows a lot of potential for this method of printmaking. Unfortunately, online articles are somewhat vague about what "copper block etching" is: "It involves using a deeply etched topography to layer inks of different viscosities and colors upon each other. Under the pressure of the etching press these inks react together and make their own colors, their own glow of life. The mechanics of this work are beautiful." Um, okay. That's from one article in the Exeter News-Letter. Or this, from another article:

After leaving his career as a commercial fishing boat captain, Smith took a print-making course at the University of New Hampshire from artist Scott Schneph. He experimented with different print-making techniques and in 1996, he "took a little of this and a little of that" and invented the copper-block-etching process, which allows Smith to produce the nuances of color he needs to create the effects that closely mimic natural elements.

"I told Scott Schneph what I wanted to do, and he told me that it couldn’t be done. It’s not like print-making in any other form. But I did it, and I’ve had dozens of breakthroughs after that," says Smith.

Sounds great, Rain Man. But how does it work?

Matthew Smith, Octopus, 2001, copper block etching print (edition of 300) on paper, 22x22 inches I still have no clue. It sounds like a royal pain in the ass, but the results are really excellent. The final prints have a great Japanese flavor, with the expressiveness of line and the flair of color, and the texture is just fantastic. I'm not sure I have the patience for any kind of etching; judging by the Wikipedia entry on Printmaking, there's a lot of effort and chemical destruction involved at the very least, and I hate that stuff.

But, wow. It'd be really interesting to learn how to do this. Maybe I should plan a trip to New Hampshire next.

More on Danonymous

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After my recap of the salon, I heard from both Stephanie and Danonymous hisownself regarding images of his work. I say work, but it's really play, and you can see that. Not to make light of the effort involved -- play can be hard work, but it's not really work, is it? I've been watching my kids play and it reminded me of when I used to play with Star Wars figures and my friend Brian Kavanaugh from down the street, and I remembered that we almost always spent more time setting up to play than actually playing. But setting up was still playing!

So Stephanie posted a number of photos and messages from Dan on her blog, which I will duly list here in chronological order, because I'm obsessive like that:
Raindrops on the Freeway Wall
Letter from Anonymous D
The Foot Bridge
Immaculate Conception

Dan also sent me some photos of what he's doing right now -- he calls whatever building he's working on his "studio," both in conversation and over e-mail, as in "My studio is 150 feet wide! What a great space!" -- which I'll keep to myself for now, both because they're small (if you squint you can just make out what Dan's putting up) and because I don't want anyone catching him while he's up on a ladder in broad daylight in the middle of the fourth most populous city in the country sticking up shiny pieces of metal. Okay, so it sounds absurd. But still.

I'm starting to think that Danonymous' nom de plume is going to become increasingly inaccurate, as more people post notes on his work and the clues come together. Pretty soon he'll be profiled in the New York Times and he'll have to change his name to Dafamous. Or Dinfamous, if you work for the NYDOT.

Well, Dan, buddy, if you need bail, feel free to call me. I don't have any money but I'll bake a file into a cake.

A Salon! It's a Salon!


Stephanie Lee Jackson may just be a mind reader. I say this because I was thinking -- musing, really -- that it would really good to hold a salon of some kind. Salon here being a snooty term meaning "bunch of people sitting around bullshitting." The fact is, since my roommates moved out -- a woefully short time ago, considering the overlap with marriage and children -- I haven't had nearly enough sitting around bullshitting in my life. So I was thinking it'd be a good idea to get some people together, some of the people I've met in the New York art field, to eat some food and talk about whatever came up.

No sooner than I had mused this -- lamenting, too, that my good friend the executive chef has a restaurant in Philadelphia, which is too far to scam free food for a party -- than Stephanie decided to invite people over to her place for dinner. And she even called it a salon. You can hear the proper French pronunciation, can't you? SALawwwh. Great!

Thus it was I rescinded my visitation policy on New York's lesser boroughs (which was strictly "only under pain of death") and drove the treacherous few miles from my place to Stephanie's in its thoroughly ungentrified section of Brooklyn. The party I found there was small but perfectly suited to the apartment; one more guest and someone might have had to balance on the windowsill. Or anyway I might have had to give up the comfy chair I fell into after climbing the stairs.

Danonymous, 2006, paper, really small Oriane Stender, Dinars to Dollars, 2005, woven dollars and dinar note, 4x6 inches I ended up spending much more time than I expected getting to know Dan, who goes by Danonymous when he comments on blogs; Oriane Stender, who coincidentally has a piece at Schroeder Romero at the moment; Hiroko, Stephanie's downstairs neighbor; and Stephanie herself. Dan was the real surprise: His online persona is somewhat fractured and off-kilter, a bit peculiar; but in real life he's so articulate, well-spoken, and thoughtful that you can set aside the fact that he spends a lot of his time climbing ladders to put up his anonymous sculptural works on ignored or abandoned buildings. I wish I could find his work online -- I want to show it to you. As it was, we could only see a little of what he's given Stephanie, and it's absolutely charming, with overtones of Alexander Calder. At one point he had Stephanie fetch him some paper and scissors so he could demonstrate how he discovered the detritus from cutting out faces could be made into more faces, and as a result I now own a Dan original, pictured here.

Dan really was entertaining. For one thing -- well, I've met a fair number of artists in my time. And most artists are just regular people, even successful artists, like Inka Essenhigh or Mark Kostabi. They're just people who talk to you very normally. But there are some artists who talk to you as if you're deficient in some way, as if they are ARTISTS and you're just some average person. Which annoys me, because, while I've been reluctant to claim I'm an artist, one thing I certainly am not is average. Who is? But most artists, as I said, are just people, capable of carrying on regular conversations. Dan, however, is that rare artist: Dan is an artist who talked to me as if I was an artist. He really made me feel like what I'm doing is worthwhile.

Stephanie Lee Jackson, Blue City, 2005, oil and wax on canvas, 36x48 inches I also had some time, sitting in the comfy chair, to admire Stephanie's work. If you visit her page of paintings, you have an idea of what it's like walking up the stairs into her apartment, since she's storing her paintings by hanging them on all the walls in the vicinity. It's standard for me to note that you can't judge a painting by a reproduction, but it's especially true of Stephanie's paintings. Online they look okay, kind of not bad, a little sticky and thick. But in person, they do cast a spell. The colors are much more vibrant and alive and what looks heavy and gluey is actually lighter and more like icing on a cake. "Blue City" was hanging right across from me until I switched seats and it really drew me in; it felt Christian, somehow, even though I know it wasn't intended as such and I'm not usually fond of Christianity. It feels like the promise of Christianity, just warm and good and electric.

Between Dan's talking and cutting of paper, and Stephanie's paintings, and the general enthusiasm of Hiroko, I woke up early today feeling like I needed to get some art done. I found some paint I'd mixed up yesterday was still wet enough to work and I found a use for it.

Omnibus Early Summer Shows


Things have been pretty quiet around here, not because there are no openings to attend or because the art world's shut down. No, things have been quiet because I've been lying around the house doing absolutely nothing. Because I'm a bad person.

But this week I got up and got out. Saturday 24 June I had an appointment in Manhattan for which I was early, so I squeezed in a couple of quick gallery visits to kill time. Then the following Tuesday and Wednesday some friends from Florida were in the area so my family and I spent some time pretending to be tourists along with them. I don't know which I found more depressingly ironic: the fact that you now have to go through two metal detectors and a gas detector (and god help you if you bring along a pocketknife) to visit the Statue of Liberty; or that the current Bergdorf Goodman window displays are homages to/rip-offs/pastiches of the Dada show at MoMA.

Then on Thursday my sister brought my mother and nephew into town from Virginia Beach just as I was heading out to the SVA Open Studios for the summer residency occupied by, among others, Jim Wolanin. So I dragged her along for the ride.

Beatriz Monteavaro, Have You Found... The Lost Hawaiians?, 2006, acrylic, ink and gel pen on paper, 98x130 inches Back to Saturday: It was pouring rain and I had at least thirty minutes before my meeting, so I ducked into some galleries along 27th Street to keep dry and see if there was anything interesting going on. I started in Derek Eller where I found a strange fantasy world in which 1980s recording artist Adam Ant and actor Bela Lugosi are menaced by zombies, giant spear-wielding women, and the gorillas from the Planet of the Apes.

Beatriz Monteavaro, Have You Found... The Lost Hawaiians? (detail), 2006, acrylic, ink and gel pen on paper, 98x130 inches I had found myself in the bizarre world of Beatriz Monteavaro's drawings. Sometimes I enter a show and immediately feel I'm in the presence of an artist. Sometimes I enter a show and immediately feel I'm in the presence of a person who is in dire need of psychiatric help. This was one of those latter times. Beatriz's drawings are not technically proficient enough to make me think they're intentionally insane -- like the drawings of Henry Darger, they simply appear to be the graphic ravings of a lunatic. That doesn't make them bad, per se, just unsettling to the degree that I think Beatriz doesn't need gallery representation, she needs prescription medicine.

Well, maybe not. She's not quite that far gone, perhaps. But Adam Ant? He figures prominently in many of the drawings. Also zombies. I must admit -- despite my general ambivalence regarding drawing and my strong position on both zombies and Adam Ant -- the large works are quite striking. They made me a little dizzy, although possibly just because of their enormousness.

Carl D'Alvia, The Piano, 2004, resin, paint, 27x18x11 inches In the room behind the drawings are some smallish sculptures by Carl D'Alvia. These were kind of neat: Little things which look like they've been covered with fur. The objects underneath are hinted at, although not entirely explained, by the titles of each. This one pictured here is called "The Piano" and it looks like someone playing a small piano under a hairy throw rug. Obtuse doesn't even begin to describe these sculptures, but they are wonderfully tactile -- I was the closest I've ever been to touching a work of art when I saw these.

After chatting up the gallerina I went next door to Clementine Gallery which is showing James Franklin and Zoë Charlton.

James Franklin, The Attempt, 2006, Flashe and resin on canvas, 17x21 inches James Benjamin Franklin's small paintings are inviting and distancing at the same time. They remind me of gouache paintings with how flat the colors are, and no wonder: When I got home and looked it up, I found James' medium isn't flashe but Flashe©, which is an acrylic paint apparently designed to be a drop-in replacement for gouache. Over very blunt, detailed, affectless, staid paintings, James layers a shiny coat of plastic resin, which makes each one look like a piece of candy you just want to lick.

The level of detail of each figure is fantastic: Arm hair and pubic hair is made up of nearly microscopic brushstrokes. But there isn't a shadow to be seen on any of these lifeless cut-outs. Perspective is minimal. People are naked but not sexual -- even the man grasping his erect penis is casually holding a cup of coffee in his other hand. A lack of passion rules in these little worlds. A man appears ready to fuck a woman from behind, but his cock is flaccid and they both have blank looks. A couple floats aimlessly in a sterile pool while their undergarments lie listlessly near them. A man in his underwear is nearly submerged in the water, completely inert.

Altogether the show exudes calm, but it's not a comfortable calm. This is the calm of deadness, of being overly medicated, of somnolence. It's numb: Cool and deadly, like a bathtub full of ice on a winter's eve.

Zoe Charlton, Suburban Squatters, 2006, mixed media on paper, 12x12 inches Meanwhile Zoë Charlton can't hold her own in this show. Where James' paintings are artful and subtle, Zoë's drawings are obvious and scratchy. Her work reminds me of what I've seen from Kara Walker, and it has the same propensity for setting my teeth on edge. Black women in Klansman hoods! Gold leaf afros! Negro twat! I assume I'm supposed to be offended by the imagery, or the juxtapositions, or something like that, but instead I feel talked down to, like I'm supposed to be a naughty white child who should apologize for being racist. Only I'm not, and I won't. If the draftsmanship were impressive I could at least feel I'm being treated as an equal; instead, it's like being lectured on grammar by someone using run-on sentences.

Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev, Untitled (from the Finally I visited Plus Ultra Gallery to see the latest work from Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev. Ed Winkleman and his small army of assistants (it wouldn't surprise me to hear he did all the work with his partner Murat) have rebuilt Plus Ultra's space into a small gallery of photos and large video room painted black where Kasmalieva & Djumaliev have a short film, Into the Future, looping over and over. Ed has a knack for finding things that leave me wondering "But is it art?" Usually, where video is concerned, my answer is "No fucking way." I often do wish we could all just get together and admit that video isn't art.

That said, I'm not going to say that what's on display at Plus Ultra really isn't art, because I'm not sure. It is certainly interesting. I found it especially intriguing because Kasmalieva & Djumaliev are documenting the vast industrial wastelands of Siberia and they look shockingly like the vast industrial wastelands of northern New Jersey. So I appreciate their video and its accompanying photos as a meditation on destruction, desolation, heedlessness, greed, and hubris. The video splits its screen between slowly panning across, up, and down a deserted landscape of wreckage and footage of people embarking on a rusty old ferry boat. At times the two motions of the separate cameras create a queasy feeling neither shot evokes individually, and that's as disquieting as it is neat.

As usual I'm unsure of whether the feelings evoked by this show qualify it as art or just, you know, documentary. I'm not fully comfortable with leaving the question open, but I also can't answer it, so I guess I have to accept that it simply is what it is, it evokes what it evokes, and it's worth going to see. I often find myself asking "But is it art?" Really, I rarely need to know.

Sarah Sze, Corner Plot installation view, 2006 Sometimes it's obviously art and just plain fun. So it is with Sarah Sze's public sculpture, which I bumped into while touristing at 60th Street and Fifth Avenue. I happen to love that neighborhood; I know people who get hives just thinking of travelling that far uptown, but when I worked in an office nearby my affection grew hugely for the area. You've got to feel something for a place where the lunch counters, instead of having signed photos of celebrities on the wall, have signed photos of Ford models reading "Thanks for ruining my diet!"

I also love public art. New Yorkers are supposedly jaded, but I think they're as curious as anyone else, and anything which makes them pause in the middle of their day and think about something different for a change is a great thing, if you ask me. From Arturo Di Modica's bronze bull with the gigantic testicles to de Creeft's Alice, and back down to J. Seward Johnson's Double Check guy, who never once even glanced over his shoulder on September 11, 2001, I love public art.

Sarah Sze's Corner Plot continues in this tradition, engaging the public in a way most artists can only dream of. It's unfortunate that this piece is temporary; I can only hope it finds a good home somewhere out where people can see it. Passersby stop and stare at it as they walk by, trying to figure out if it's a building sinking into the street or erupting out of those hexagonal NYC park pavers. They peer in the windows trying to make sense of the jumble of objects inside. They touch it to make sure it's real. Most of all, they smile at it, or just shake their heads: Those crazy artists. And how great is that?

Statue of Liberty, 2006 Being a tourist doesn't usually mean seeing a lot of good art, but I'm going to include a photo of the Statue of Liberty here, because the old girl is great art. I never get tired of looking at her, even after going past her twice every school day for three years. So few artists of any age think as grand as Bartholdi and Eiffel did, and of those that do, even fewer ever complete anything. Who's doing anything like this today?

Alas, you can no longer go up inside the statue. It might be worth getting a job with the Parks Department just so you can visit the now-closed areas when no one's looking.

This brings us to Thursday, 29 June, when my sister found me about to drive out to Manhattan for the School of Visual Arts Summer Residency Informal Open Studio Tour and So Forth Starring James Wolanin and Some Other People. Before we got there, though, we made a quick stop at Ricco Maresca to see their new opening, Dreamland: Coney Island 1905-1925. I was hoping to bump into Gerald Slota, who is, I think, represented by the gallery, but I didn't see him there.

I was expecting this show to be one of those ironic twists on Coney Island, you know, the now-clichéd view of carnivals as places of dark, unconscious desires filled with demonic avatars of unspoken perversion and so forth and so on. You're familiar: Dimly lit fantasies informed by too much Ray Bradbury and Twilight Zone, involving far more tattoos and fishnet than anyone really should get involved with. Blah blah blah, I'm fed up with that crap.

Drawing for Ferris Wheel, ca.1907-1920, W.F. Mangels Co. Carousel Works, ink on paper, 31x21 inches So I was surprised to find that Dreamland is, in fact, a straight ahead no nonsense display of engineering drawings and photos of Coney Island in its heyday, before we got all cynical Rob Zombie about it. In fact I spent a little too much time looking for the subtext, the entirety of which was embodied by a couple of tattooed people with wild hair smoking home-rolled cigarettes in front of the building. Instead of them, the items in the show evoke images of serious, small, older men, rolling up their shirtsleeves and getting down to work at drafting tables, carefully designing and specifying things like ferris wheels and carousels.

It's really a pleasant show, even if I still find myself asking "But is it art?" I enjoyed it as much as possible, I suppose, going from drawing to drawing and remembering the drafting classes I took in high school. Unexpected and mildly interesting.

Next door is another show which left me wondering about the art question. Hasted Hunt is showing Martin Schoeller's Close Up, a series of portrait photographs, mostly of famous people, enlarged to the unbelievably gargantuan size of nearly five feet tall.

Martin Schoeller, Christopher Walken, 2000, Chromogenic print, 40x50 inches It's clear that Martin has got his style down to a science: People's faces, neck up, focused on the eyes, depth of field so narrow some noses go out of focus, using film stock of such fine grain that you can count, for example, Brad Pitt's nostril hairs. I find the photos really entertaining from a documentary perspective -- there I go again with the documentary! -- because I'm always interested in people's faces. And famous people are, of course, famous. So there's an element of mild, safe voyeurism here: Jack Nicholson's eyebrows are getting out of hand! Is that Andre Agassi or Colin Farrell? How does Valentino get his hair like that?

"Angelina Jolie is almost exactly my age," my sister noted.

"I can honestly say," I replied, "you do not look any older than Angelina Jolie. Beyond that, I've got nothing."

I can't say for sure if this is art or not either; I can say it's certainly not as worthwile as Kasmalieva & Djumaliev's work.

The galleries were closing, but the SVA Open Studios had another hour, so my sister and I drove crosstown to make our stop at the School of Visual Arts.

I can't claim to be overly fond of SVA -- my experience with the institution has mostly involved staring at the weirdo students when I had my suit jobs near 23rd Street. I had my brush with being a New York City art student back when I applied for the High School of Art & Design; I was accepted but decided instead to go to my local school and try for Stuyvesant the next year. Taking the ferry to Stuy when I made it in, I'd see the Art & Design kids -- I even knew a couple of them -- and that just confirmed that my instincts were right: I couldn't stand art students.

I've since changed my mind, mostly. Art students are still by and large people I don't get involved with, but I've found that they're more diverse than I thought, and there are some normal, serious, hard-working artists interspersed with the wackos.

The first thing I noticed on leaving the elevator on the fourth floor was that I was wrong about what the SVA studios would look like. I expected separate rooms, but what I found was one really big room broken up into aisles. Each studio is actually three walls, maybe 15 feet square, opening out onto the aisles in pairs, facing each other. At the ends of the building the last studio walls form a corridor down which you can go from aisle to aisle.

The next thing I noticed was that music was playing. Classical music. It took me a bit to place the piece and then I got it: Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. How arty.

The music was coming from a studio down the way. In between the studios were almost deserted, abandoned. I found myself thinking, "I title this one, 'Procrastination.'" And, in a ridiculous accent, "Fuck you and your bourgeois open studio tour! I say pfah to you!"

Karina Contreras, studio view, 2006 After a bit we came upon the studio from which the music was emanating. A sheet had been hung up and a video was projected on it. In black and white, a bald man carefully shaves a young woman's head. To the tune of the Moonlight Sonata. This is so over-the-top arty, so hopelessly stereotypical, I found it amusing. Across from the sheet, on the studio walls, hung four or five drawings. These drawings are really excellent. Charcoal has been laid down so carefully it almost looks like velvet. A figure is exposed to the light. Actual lightbulbs were hung so if you stood in just the right place, they'd match the light source in each drawing. This little bit of artifice was unnecessary, I think: The drawings stood well on their own, and in fact are fantastic.

It was on the way out, later, that we met the artist and the subject of the drawings, Karina Contreras and her... I'm going to call him paramour because I'm not sure if he's boyfriend or husband or what. Karina was the woman getting her head shaved in the video; by the time we met, it had grown back in to an adorable pixie cut. Karina seemed a little vague about whether the whole installation constituted an entire piece or should be considered separately. I'd recommend (and my recommendations are worth what you pay for them) letting the drawings be themselves and dropping the rest. But that's just me.

We found Jim Wolanin around the way a bit. His latest paintings are excellent, of course, just like his older ones. In a month of residency he polished off two paintings and nearly finished a third, which strikes me as making pretty good time. Jim has jettisoned the war imagery you can find on his site for a more personal visual vocabulary; I didn't take any photos, but you can see his progress on his blog.

I'll let you in on something I didn't figure out until I'd seen some more of the studios: Jim is the best artist there. He's really something.

Around the next corner I could see, way at the end of the aisle, something I knew would be trouble. Even at that great distance I could tell the style and subject of the painting and I feared I was going to have to see more. Sure enough, when we got down there, it was what I'd expected: Gay porn. Not that gay porn is anything bad. It's okay for what it is. And naked men, even naked sexualized men, are not necessarily pornographic, even if we as a culture seem to have a problem with penis imagery.

Two European looking men were lounging around near the opening of the studio. I tried to slip past but one of them spoke to me. "Come on in," he said in an accented voice. "I know it is... pornographic, a bit, but..."

I looked around for my sister but she'd vanished somehow. I ended up edging into the studio while the guy pointed out who was a porn star and who worked in porn and which ones were portraits of him. I felt bad not liking the art as I stepped past the pile of gay porno magazines, but I really didn't like it. It wasn't the subject matter, or the style, exactly; it was some combination of the subject and style which altogether made the paintings seem amateurish and prurient.

I believe it's possible to depict the male form, nude, in a sexual and exciting way. I believe that this was not it. I escaped as quickly as I could without seeming rude, without taking a single photo, and without noting the painter's name.

Rachel Dalnekoff, studio view, 2006 Down another aisle we passed the studio of one Rachel Dalnekoff. She wasn't around, and in fact her studio was guarded over by nothing but her paintings. I took this shot of one leaning against the wall: I really like it. The color scheme appeals to me and the hints it gives of a collapsed apartment building are engaging. If this site is the same Rachel, then her style is really evolving. And she's got great taste in quotes, since she leads off her site with a Picasso quote I use here.

Not far from that studio we rambled into a small party going on at the intersection of three studio spaces. I toured the artwork, first, then joined the conversation briefly. That's how I met Gregory Coates, who has been mentioned on Jim's blog, along with SVA residents Samantha Hahn, Leigh Ann Davis, and Apryl D. McAnerney.

Samantha Hahn, studio view, 2006 Samantha's work caught my eye first, because her studio was closest. She's apparently exploring the relationship of women to food; she's got a painting of a nude woman eating some dessert and spilling it on her thigh, for example. This image here is unfinished, she made sure to tell me, but it was, to me, the most striking of the group. For one thing, it's got a fat chick in it, and I'm a big fan of fat chicks. More importantly, though, it's got a better composition and far better technique than anything else Samantha had there. Her technique, overall, could use some improvement, I think; she's at that odd point where it's not so bad you can call it a style, but not so good it's really good. She needs to get better or worse. That's a quibble, though; as it is, she's nearly good enough to show at Gallery Henoch.

Leigh Ann Davis, studio view, 2006 In the studio next door, Leigh Ann is doing some nice work, too, in an entirely different style. It struck me as a curious mix of Joan Miró and Georgia O'Keeffe: Take the watercolor-like use of oil paints from O'Keeffe and apply it to Miró's amorphous shapes, and you've got an idea of what Leigh Ann is going for.

Apryl D. McAnerney, studio view, 2006 I felt more strongly about Apryl's work than I felt about either Samantha's or Leigh Ann's. Whether or not that's a good thing I'm unsure. Apryl was displaying a number of pencil drawings, either one big piece spread out over a number of pages or maybe multiple separate pieces, I couldn't tell. On the positive side, I like drawings; and I like detailed drawings even more; and I like topless women, which figure strongly in many of the works; and I like an artist who just follows her muse through the entire drawing, no matter how strange or surreal the muse gets. On the negative side, Apryl's drawing style has an untutored edge to it that reminds me of 1970s prog rock album covers or the illustrations you find in books on the New Age shelves. Her random disregard for anatomy, gravity, or sense could be a stylistic decision but strikes me more as a bad habit.

Apryl D. McAnerney, studio view, 2006 I therefore liked Apryl's work immediately but my emotional response was mixed, and I may have mistaken that for depth the work itself doesn't possess. Apryl is good but I think she needs something; maybe the tighter strictures of oil painting would do her good. Maybe she needs to be channeled more. On her Website she writes, "I like the immediacy of the pencil on paper -- I have an idea, sketch it out on the paper and -- bingo -- automatically I have something I can get lost in and be proud of, usually a face or hand -- and I am HAPPY." This might be the root of her problem, that she's looking for relatively quick results. Again, my advice is worth what you pay for it.

Marc Freeman, studio view, 2006 While my sister and I were talking with the group -- I wanted to make sure it was okay I took photos and posted them on my site -- another SVA resident wandered up. Marc Freeman admitted to being the perpetrator of a work my sister had liked, although she claimed it may have been because she, as a teacher, is used to seeing the art of first graders. Marc's work, he said, was the big inky stuff around the way. Big is a good description: This photo shows a drawing which is probably four or five feet wide. I like it fair bit, especially what looks to me like a wolf over on the upper right. That may be a Rorshach thing happening, or maybe it's intentional; either way, it's pretty cool. Atmospheric and evocative, minimal and spare.

Overall I came away from the SVA feeling pretty good about what they're doing there. From what Jim has told me, the program has some interesting lectures, and certainly some of the artists have true talent. I'm not sure about the worth of the actual studio space -- it seems a bit cluttered and crowded to me -- but it's a good way to meet people, I guess. I hear they're going to be having a more formal show in August, although the exact date is unclear. If you've seen anything here you like, I heartily suggest keeping an eye out for that.


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