Three-Handed and the Date Farmers


I'm a bad person. I've seen some shows and failed to write them up. In particular I saw a show from an artist I like, whose shows I've reviewed before, and who personally invited me, and didn't write a single word about it. How ungrateful! And it's not even as if I didn't like the show.

I've just been sincerely and entirely unmotivated. The few times I've tentatively extended my snout from my burrow it got smacked by one thing or another, so I've stayed snug in here, catching up on my reading and, um, watching the housework pile up. Every so often I observe with interest as my wife vacuums the living room or mows the lawn.

Just a moment ago, however, I got e-mail from that artist again. Not personal e-mail, just something for his mailing list. He notes that his show is coming down this Saturday -- two days from now, in fact. And suddenly guilt washes over me. So I began typing this up.

Last month I went to the Jonathan LeVine Gallery for the opening of "Three Handed" (until May 7, 2010), a show of painting featuring, rather pedantically, three artists: Eric White, Nicola Verlato, and Fulvio Di Piazza. Eric invited me, I've seen Nicola's work before (but didn't write it up) and had never heard of Fulvio. Also, in the other half of the gallery, painting duo the Date Farmers -- Armando Lerma and Carlos Ramirez -- had a show called "Smother Your Mother" (also until May 7, 2010).

The gallery loses points for not letting me in early for the opening. I understand they were still setting up for the party, but, come on, the paintings are on the wall and I was over a half hour too soon. What was I supposed to do for thirty minutes in Chelsea when all the galleries are closed and opening parties haven't begun?

Enough whining from me. I needed the exercise of walking around the block anyway. I came back on time and took in the show, not to mention two bottles of ice cold water for the road. Take that, free gallery show!

Even with three painters this is a tiny show. Eric only had two paintings in it; Nicola two paintings and two small sculptures; and Fulvio had five paintings or so. Anyway there are five on the Website now.

Eric White, Massacre of the Innocents, 2010, oil on canvas, 4x16 feet

Eric White, Massacre of the Innocents, 2010, oil on canvas, 4x16 feet

Eric makes up for his small numbers by having one of them be a very large painting, and obviously the one of which he's most proud, since he didn't mention the other one in his invite. It's titled Massacre of the Innocents and measures sixteen feet by four. I can't match the description from the gallery verbiage so I'll quote it here:

For his largest work to date, Eric White takes inspiration from Bruegel’s Massacre of the Innocents -- which documents Spanish infanticide in 16th century Flanders, and stands as a condemnation of war and its resulting atrocities. White’s version translates these ideas into contemporary terms, as American involvement in war has become so established and enduring that it ceases to be shocking. In the painting, idealized monochromatic female figures referencing '40s-era Hollywood starlets wander nonchalantly across a war-torn cinematic landscape. The war motif is paralleled by themes familiar to the artist’s work, including psychological dysfunction, nostalgia, the dream state, and the limits of perception.

(Not only does Bruegel's painting reference Spanish (and Walloon) atrocities in Flanders, of course it also references the story from the Gospel according to Matthew where King Herod orders the execution of all male children in and around Bethlehem in an effort to kill the baby Jesus. It was the practice in Bruegel's time to portray Biblical events in contemporary costumes and locales.)

I've come to think over the past few years that a larger painting sort of automatically gains a certain extra power. At least in my case, I think having a painting fill my field of view puts it partway to giving me that indescribable feeling I get from looking at great art. Size isn't all of it -- I've seen plenty of big paintings I didn't like and some small ones I did -- but I'm starting to feel it's part of it. So I can say Eric's Massacre of the Innocents gave me a little jolt just from its size.

Eric White, Massacre of the Innocents (detail), 2010, oil on canvas, 4x16 feet

Eric White, Massacre of the Innocents (detail), 2010, oil on canvas, 4x16 feet

Then I looked at it some more, let it unfold, and was less moved. As the gallery verbiage says, this painting contains Eric's standard figures, these sort of Lana Turner women considering the world with solemn faces on a surreal kind of stage set. Over the years I've grown suspicious, in a way, of artists who repeat rather theatrical motifs. Having an obsession is okay, I suppose, but I've ended up wondering if so many artists are truly obsessed -- or have merely found an appropriate vehicle for their concerns -- and how many are just attempting to build a brand name. When you say this to artists they get really huffy -- understandably -- but the thought nags me just the same. So when I saw that the largest figure in the group is holding a scrap of a newspaper comic page -- with a bit of Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy (straight, as I found out while researching this review, from the Nancy Wikipedia page) -- I was actually mildly annoyed. Leave it to some hipster slinger of irony to take a weighty theme like the Massacre of the Innocents and slip in some pop culture idiocy!

But I returned to the painting after circling the gallery and suddenly was struck by a wave of sadness. Massacre of the Innocents: The woman isn't holding a burned fragment of a comic strip so the artist can keep an ironic distance from the subject. It's a fragile memento of a child.

This changed my feeling towards the painting. I now feel it's more sincere. Its sincerity is couched in the tropes the artist has been working with, and I feel those tropes are unnecessary and diminish his efforts slightly, but still it is sincere.

Certainly Eric is, technically speaking, an excellent painter. He lacks the high gloss of a true academic realist, but that's his strength: His paintings are much more alive than most stuffy realism. There's a lot of empty space in this painting but none of it is dead -- the whole surface is active. And of course his control of tone and composition is very good. In terms of the mechanics of painting, you could hardly find anyone better.

This shows in his other work here, a smaller painting, monochrome like the other, titled Portal. Once again he's got his atavistic woman right up against the picture plane and drastically cropped, but the rest of the painting consists of an evocative winter scene of concrete steps ascending a wooded hill and a pair of bare legs descending. It's quite lovely, and a bit wistful seeming, and I really wish he hadn't put that 1940s starlet in it at all, but she is rendered well.

Nicola Verlato, Cleveland Mississippi, 1932,  2010, oil on linen, 78x96 inches

Nicola Verlato, Cleveland Mississippi, 1932, 2010, oil on linen, 78x96 inches

The other two painters don't acquit themselves as admirably. I loved Nicola's previous show, at Stux back in 2007, and in fact was writing something new about him when Eric wrote to me. So I had been looking forward to seeing more from Nicola; but the work here disappointed me. He's still a fantastic technician, pulling off the kind of elaborate tableaux of twisting musculature you might find on a Late Renaissance ceiling, with a good sense of color and form. But to what end? The one full-size, finished painting here -- the other one looks more like a grisaille with pencil lines showing -- shows an incredibly well-muscled Robert Johnson selling his soul for guitar greatness, here symbolized, I suppose, by the flying tangle of ripped dudes in masks wrestling with a flaming Stratocaster. The Devil meanwhile strums out a smokin' chord of his own. Er, okay. I'd like to say this scene vibrates with the energy of a Clapton solo, but it actually sort of sits there, overstuffed, like a Joe Satriani song. It's loud, it's fast, it's bravura, and ultimately it goes nowhere, does nothing. Aside from shout "modern-day myth"!

Nicola's other painting, the title of which is probably longer than the painting is wide, is even more noisy and less interesting. A gaggle of naked people wearing masks are invading a room, mostly from the left, and shooting at some guys in clothes. I imagine I could read the title and make up some sort of drama for the whole thing but I really don't want to.

Nicola has two sculptures here, also, proving that he can sculpt almost exactly the same as he can paint. Which is fairly impressive when you look at it one way, and entirely uninteresting if you look at it the other. Which is mostly how I saw it.

Fulvio Di Piazza, Untitled 1,  2010, oil on board, 15.75x11.75 inches

Fulvio Di Piazza, Untitled 1, 2010, oil on board, 15.75x11.75 inches

Fulvio Di Piazza, meanwhile, has the most work in the show and yet the absolute least quality. Technically his paintings of fantastic and impossible landscapes which also resemble faces are good -- the colors are realistic, compositions balanced, and there's lots of fiddly little detail like leaves and roots and tiny, tiny pebbles -- but they add up to even less than Nicola's figures. They're fantasy worlds just waiting for twee fairies and grumpy dwarves to be laid over them on acetate. Or maybe for Greg Hildebrandt to paint some guys with glowing swords over them. In fact either fate would greatly improve them. As it is they're just background without foreground and not terribly interesting.

The Date Farmers, Don't Give a Damn,  2010, mixed media on metal, 21x23.75x1.5 inches

The Date Farmers, Don't Give a Damn, 2010, mixed media on metal, 21x23.75x1.5 inches

After going through the main show I went over to see what the Date Farmers had on offer. As near as I can figure their main purpose was to make the other room look really, really good. At this they succeeded wildly. Their messy, graffiti-inspired, clunky, incompetent, wheatpaste and collage work simply made the more traditional painting next door look like the second coming of Michelangelo. If there are dumpsters out behind the Apostolic Palace, this is what the graffiti on them looks like. Armando, Carlos, seriously: The palm dates are calling.


Well, since no one else commented, I will. I found this a good read, and if I didn't have a newborn in the house, I would've checked out the White paintings in person & see for myself...the Date Farmers are a real head scratcher, however....

Oh, yeah, I know. he's not the first. We've got a near 3-year old as well...there's the rub. But we take him places, just not Chelsea on a weekday. I hate driving into Manhattan, and hate taking the children on public transportation, for the (mostly) irrational fear of some nut on the subway going homicidal while we're stuck on the L train under the East River. I don't have a lot of irrational fears, I think, but I'm very nervous with the little one(s) on NYC public transportation....

Ah, hell, I ain't going anywhere, I don't think. I'm still hanging onto a job by my fingertips, and don't see so many out there for me to be raising stakes and heading elsewhere, dumb-ass terrorists or not. So far, my daughter likes the subway O.K., but we've only taken it above-ground in Brooklyn and Queens for like two stops at a time...otherwise, I'm a "bridge and tunnel" menace, driving to Central Park, the Met, or wherever, generally on Sundays exclusively.

It also doesn't help that my wife paints and thinks most everything being done by everyone these days is atrocious, not to mention she enjoys the stuff on the Lifetime Movie Network more than anything Hollywood is releasing these days, so it's all too easy to give in to our lethargy and remain home-bound...

hi all, i've been off line for a while. jim, "my wife paints and thinks most everything being done by everyone these days is atrocious", she's probably right. it's known as 'sturgeons revelation'(or 2nd law), which diminishes over time as the crud tends to be weeded out. glad to see the portability of children being aired still, been championing this one for over 20 yrs now, keep up the good work both of you.

i'd like to say, for the record, that i'd rather have a date farmers piece on my wall than any painting by the three painters in the show you reviewed. why? it's hard to say. i think it's that i see the date farmers as artist that are creating something a bit newer and fresher. where as the painters, although very talented and showing great skill, are rehashing a style that's been dragged through the mud for years, and years, and years. there's nothing new there. pretty? yes, very pretty. but is it something that will stand out, or even last longer than the memory of this review, probably not. i do understand your words of confusion as to what the date farmers art is about. and from your perspective, it totally makes the paintings in the other room look freaking amazing. but that's not what it's about. it's about art. if picasso was in a gallery room next to rembrandt we'd be having the same conversation. taking all we know and love about both of those painters out of the equation that is. art isn't about comparisons. i'm happy with you having your walls covered in forgettable 6th generation pop surrealism knock-off artists. i'll be on my own with enjoying my date farmers works.

i did enjoy your review. it was well written, right up to the toss on last paragraph. it's cool, though.

As an art critic, your style and opinion are something to be desired, in other words you don't know what the hell you are talking about. You shoot from the hip and are not very thorough. The Date Farmers work is fresh and new and captures the embodiment of the Chicano experience here in America. Can you name other artists with a similar style? Did you even bother to study each individual painting and look at the detail of each work. There is a lot going on. Each work documents American Hispanic culture. It appears to me you just flew in and flew out missing the entire concept of the show. You chose to pick out iconic symbols and say it's just graffiti on the side of a dumpster without really understanding their concept. Whats more egregious is you than open your big mouth without really studying each individual work. For example their work entitled "Descent to Heaven" is a commentary about our prison system covering both the life and death struggle one has to go through to survive that experience.The butterflies resemble life and the the shanks death while the faces are the victims of terrible homicide. Now I could review each individual painting but that's not my job. I suggest you learn about critiquing art before putting pen to paper. Your lack of thoroughness is blatantly evident and oozes amateurism from the get go !!!

The desert does things to you. It's a force of frustration, beauty, anger, and solitude. Carlos and Armando are delusional. And I wouldn't want my art any other way.

wow, you really wrote this---> "....beautiful, sublime, or even decorative."

i was waiting for the following to come next, "and it just doesn't go with any of my couches."

that speaks so loudly, and deeply, as to what's rattling around in your mind as you're viewing art. it's sad that you feel the need to review it. maybe if you were more upfront with this shameful idea of art i wouldn't mind so much.

you could rename your blog, 'beautiful, sublime, or even decorative; art that's pretty to look at' because that's all that's important.

i'm glad there are others out there that see the obvious void in your way of thinking.

carry on.

Now I know I was right about your critique. At least you have the balls to admit you spent less than 5 seconds viewing the Date Farmers. Its apparent you spend similar time making your own art. I took some time to study your work and all I could see is boring derivative garbage worthy of EBAY. You even admit to the reader in a blog that that is where you have sold your art work in the past.

I think you review of the Date Farmers is out of jealousy . They have obviously caught the art world's attention and are climbing the latter of success. In September they will be given a show by ACE Gallery that handles the likes of Robert Rauschenberg and Sam Francis.I suggest in the future if you don't like someone's art work keep your mouth shut. Your ignorance only makes you look like a fool. I would recommend spending more time on your own artwork and develop a style that isn't contrived from past eras.One last suggestion, an art reviewer studies the works he reviews. You cant be an art critique without studying a body of work. That would be like practicing law without a law degree.

When you write a review for the world to see, you must open yourself to criticism . I am not sure why you have a blog covering art shows anyways, you're not thorough enough nor are you good at it . If you didn't want the public to respond to your review you should have kept your opinion to yourself. Stop writing art reviews and people will stop responding. Leave writing reviews to the New York Times , Juxtapoz or Art News, they know how to critique. You should try to put your energy into something that makes sense, like painting. When someone wears too many hats, they are mediocre at best and a master of nothing. Peace out my friend!!

"It's not well-composed, well-executed, interesting, beautiful, sublime, or even decorative"

I beg to differ. their works are very well executed, thought out, interesting and especially SUBLIME. The definition of SUBLIME is as follows: Characterized by nobility; majestic. Of high spiritual, moral, or intellectual worth. That describes the date Farmers to a tee. Their compositions are balanced and thought provoking on the same scale as Joseph Cornell or Man Ray. As for decorative, that shows me how inept you are as a critic. Art should never be bought as decorative unless of course you some house wife from Middle America looking for a painting to match your sofa. Are you a her ? LoL

"What I don't understand is why you particularly feel a need to make your opinion known here"

I am writing here because it is an open forum. You chose to voice your opinion and I chose to voice mine. I want the world to see how inept you are as an art critic.


wow. i came back to see if there were any new comments. i was happy to see there were. then for some reason i re-read your review of the date farmers. wow. you're such an idiot. that one paragraph says more about you and your limited taste than you may ever know. but then again, we're all entitled to our opinions. good luck out there. hope you continue to enjoy those "second coming of michelangelo" painters.

dont take anything I say seriousley ,I dont!! WE ARE ALL ENTITLED TO OPINION ,and I thank you for yours ,HERE IS MINE , I think that the date farmers art is some of the realest inspiring and most original work that ** I ** personaly have seen in a long time , I see where there would be a contrast in the works at levines as the art spectrum is obviously a rather large one made of different subject matter ,concepts,ideas ,styles etc. ... and pointless to try and compare the two, if you do not like it , hey you dont like it, but to call it "lame ass" lol! when is the last time you showed at jonathan levines?? people are not stupid!! checked out your work by the way ,not attacking it or anything just think you need to stick to blogging but thats just an opinion of 1 human being. peace out

the "fucking fuck" is that you wrote yourself into this corner when you talked out your ass without doing some homework. i guess it sucks to be you. people are showing you where they stand on you vs. date farmers. you come across like an idiot. it's a shame that you put yourself out there as you did, and really, as you continued to. but these are the risks one takes as a self-publishing art critic. it's pretty fucking funny that you would question why people are coming the the defense of the date farmers. it really should be clear to you by now that they're popular artists. they create art that people connect with. and yeah, i'm one of them. honestly, i don't like how you wrote your review. but this is no longer about you, or your review. nobody wants you to change anything. we just want to say that we like the date farmers. you can have your opinion. please do. and please, continue to write it down for the world to laugh at.

What the fuck is with all these people coming to the defense of the Date Fucking Farmers? What do you want me to say? My art sucks and the Date Farmers are great! THAT'S THE MOST HONEST COMMENT I HAVE EVER READ FROM YOU. Obviously the Date Farmers are onto something or they wouldn't have had so many defenders, you jerk !You art does suck , time to get a day job!!


Geez, I missed all the follow up. I'm glad the Date Farmers fan club showed up at your site.

I love how artists (or fans of artists) hate critics until they get a rave review. Then they don't mind the someone-not-them actually having an opinion on their work.

It's like when Kevin Smith got all pissy about critics after COP OUT got attacked last year. The usual defensive, cliched stuff. I would've been more impressed if trash-talked critics after they discovered CLERKS. Or more importantly, when they saved him from the scrap heap after the lousy MALLRATS by noting the quality of "CHASING AMY" -- if he THEN had posted "Move along, don't listen to those guys, if they knew, they'd make movies..." -- then I'd be impressed. But no, when they don't like COP OUT, he says they're worthless.

But I digress. Interesting the Date Farmers have such passionate, angry fans. But the work looks pretty bad/juvenile to me, and we'll see if anyone cares in 10 years, won't we? I wonder if all those Date Farmer fans like MALLRATS, too?

I like Kevin Smith, but MALLRATS is an embarrassment. I went opening day, and me and maybe six other people sat there, stone faced through the entire thing. Haven't seen COP OUT, but everything else he's made (even moments of JERSEY GIRL, which heart, even if it is tv-movie level) has something going on I admire. But MALLRATS is dire. Fucking dire. Dire, I say.

this shit makes me laugh every time. can't help but wonder how your painters are doing? i'm sure their careers are skyrocketing. pretty sure the date farmers have a solo show in l.a. pretty soon. it's fun to see it all play out. happy holidays.

Wow, the Date Farmers have a solo show coming up soon in LA. They must be truely awesome, then. On the other hand, Britney Spears has sold tens of millions of records, the Twilight films have made hundreds of millions of dollars, and Sarah Palin has her own television show, yet they all suck brutally. Funny how shitty things can be successful.

A Latin storm trooper? Now THAT is something I haven't seen before! Very cool image - love it!

Tribal Art Hunter

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