Other Chelsea October highlights:
Roxy Paine Denuded Lens at Marianne Boesky Gallery. Exhibition up through October 18, 2014. More information here. Photos courtesy Marianne Boesky Gallery. This installation is AMAZING. YOU should really see it before it comes down this coming weekend.
From the press release: “At the center of this exhibition is Checkpoint, the most recent iteration of his latest series, the large-scale Dioramas. A room-sized vision of a generic airport security stop, Checkpoint presents a locale whose practical banality rests uneasily alongside the looming suggestion of larger social anxieties. At once familiar and foreign, Checkpoint offers the opportunity to visually and cerebrally examine a liminal place that is usually only experienced through a rushed physical encounter. Rendered via various processes – from computer modeling to meticulous hand carving – the work is not a replica. Rather, Checkpoint alchemically translates a quotidian space into an uncanny one. Metal and rubber are transformed into soft-hued maple wood, a depth of eighty feet is perspectivally forced into eighteen, and the moving, living moment of human experience becomes architecturally frozen in time.”
Checkpoint, 2014, Maple, aluminum, fluorescent light bulbs, and acrylic prismatic light diffusers, 14 ‘ h x 26′ – 11″ w x 18′ – 7 1/2″ d
Checkpoint (detail), 2014
Checkpoint (detail), 2014
Scrutiny, 2014, Maple, Approx. 70 x 130 inches
Scrutiny (detail), 2014, Maple
Marcel Dzama at David Zwirner Gallery, through Oct. 25. More info here. Photos courtesy David Zwirner Gallery. The exhibition features 2 versions of the film Une danse des bouffons accompanied with two- and three-dimensional artworks.
Une danse des bouffons (or A jester’s dance) video trailer.
Went to Chelsea two times last week to take in as many fall shows as my brain could handle. After a pretty bleak Chelsea summer (with many galleries just closing their doors completely for most of it) I was rather pleased with the work on offer this fall.
I think my favorite exhibition was Laurent Grasso‘s Soleil Double installation at Sean Kelly Gallery. The video pieces were particularly mesmerizing (especially the video on the lower level of the fantastically lit Roman plaza). Sean Kelly Gallery consistently shows great work, it has become one of my favorite galleries over the past couple of years. The LG show runs through October 18, 2014 (next weekend!) More information here.
Photography: Jason Wyche © Laurent Grasso Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York
Home of Musya Vainshteyn, Nemirov, Ukraine, October 16, 2013
Home of Lyubov Brenman, Borispol, Ukraine, July 19, 2012
Room 509, Dnipro Hotel, Kiev, Ukraine, July 18, 2012
Elka Seltzer’s Front Door, Ovruch, Ukraine, July 31, 2012
Jerusalem, Israel, January 1, 2010
Mar Saba Monastery, Judean Desert, Israel, September 20, 2009
Sefad, Israel, June 14, 2010
There were some really great photo shows this October, Justine Kurland‘s Sincere Auto Care at Mitchell Innes & Nash was another highlight. Show unfortunately ended on October 11th. More information here.
280 Coup, 2012
For Abigail, 2014
An interview with Brussels-based artist Hidde van Schie for Cheap & Plastique #11. See more of his work on his website here.
The Misunderstood Rainbowbird, 250 x 200 cm, oil, acrylics, spraypaint on canvas, 2013. Collection of HR&O Rotterdam
C & P: Where did you grow up? Did the environment you experienced as a youth influence your decision to become an artist? Or influence your work at all? If so, how?
Hidde: I grow up in Rotterdam in a very colorful neighbourhood. A lot of different people from a lot of different places. That mix you can still see in the colors of my paintings, I think… And I went to a school that was very creative. As a teenager I did theater, played in a noise band, and painted at home.
C & P: You now live in Brussels. Various art papers and art blogs have been claiming Brussels to be the next big thriving arts capital. Do you agree?
Hidde: I never really think about these kind of things… I came to Bruxelles because my girlfriend lived here and we wanted to live together. And for me it was a good change.
C & P: How do you find living as an artist there? Does being in Brussels inspire your work?
Hidde: I lived in Rotterdam for a long time and I was very connected to the art scene there. Here I don’t know so many people yet, so I’m discovering the city. Bruxelles has interesting places and I especially enjoy going to concerts here. I find the city very generous.
C & P: Tell me a little about the process of creating a new work. What inspires you to begin a painting, collage, or piece of music? Do you begin sketching your ideas with a drawing first? Do you ever work out a composition on a computer before you begin a painting?
Hidde: I always work on more than one thing at the same time, to attempt to avoid the moment of a new beginning. I don’t really sketch. When I paint I have an intuition or an idea for some colors and then I figure it out in the painting. Lately I have been doing the paintings in one session and any mistakes or new ideas I take with me to the next painting. With music it’s different, I practice all the time and glue together bits of music, then I work on the lyrics for a long time—on the bus, walking, in the supermarket. For the songs I have to have a clear idea what they are about in order to finish them.
The Bird With The Crystal Eyes, 250 x 200 cm, Oil, acrylics and painting on canvas, 2010. Collection Robert van Oosterom, Rotterdam
C & P: Where does the source material for your eagle and bird works come from? Do you look to magazines, photography, the internet, etc… as a means of inspiration/reference? What led you to making the bird paintings?
Hidde: I had the idea to do an exhibition with only paintings of crying birds in it. A huge exhibtion with just room after room crying birds, as a gesture of great sadness. The imagery comes from bird guides—these naturalistic drawings of birds are the main inspirational imagery.
Sad Yellow Eagle Eye, 230 x 200 cm, Oil, acrylics and spraypaint
on canvas, 2010. Private collection New York
C & P: You tend to paint portraits where the subject seems alienated and/or sad—the bird takes on human characteristics (in a work such as Sad Yellow Eagle Eye). Why are the birds weeping? What are these lovely creatures lamenting?
Hidde: We fill the image of the bird with all kinds of symbolic meaning: power, freedom, peace, wisdom, thievery, birth, ressurection.
I am interested in this kind of imagery, whether it comes from comic, religious, or esoteric imagery. By painting these crying birds I maybe create some personal symbols—a bit of tragi-comedy.
Portrait Of A Painter (thinking about the rainbowman II), 70 x 60 cm,
Oil on canvas, 2013. Collection Robert van Oosterom, Rotterdam
Selfportrait (TV night), 70 x 60 cm, oil on canvas, 2013.
C & P: You often paint works in series, such as Looking For Some Logic and Portrait Of A Painter (Thinking About the Rainbowman). The various paintings in each series have a slight shift in color palette and/or have patterns slightly altered from work to work. Do you work on paintings in these series concurrently or succeeding one another?
Hidde: When I find something that interests me, like the portraits, I try it more than once—to find the best one maybe. I make one after the other, in short periods of time. The bird theme has come back over the past years.
C & P: Can you speak a bit about the cross-pollination of imagery from the realm of music to that of visual art and how aspects from both these creative spheres influence one another in your work?
I notice that some of your songs share titles with some of your exhibitions.
Did one iteration of the title inspire, influence, or give rise to the other?
Hidde: They influence each other very much. Painting has taught me to learn to appreciate mistakes and that the process of creating will take you to different places. Music, and especially performing, has taught me to rely more on the spontaneous energy of the moment. The songwriting, and especially lyric writing, has been a good exercise in simplicity and leaving things out.
Looking For Some Logic (green), 70 x 60 cm, Oil on canvas, 2013.
Collection Robert van Oosterom, Rotterdam
C & P: Similarly, motifs associated with music and recording tend to reappear in your visual work, such as the instruments which make up some of the sculptures or the squiggly lines in your paintings that resemble curled up audio cords ‘connecting’ various elements of the composition.
Hidde: My handwriting in painting is quite distinct. Collage and sculpture are ways to take some distance from that—to work more with found material. For me it’s interesting that the aesthetic of images from magazines all reveal different moral values, for example, images from Playboy vs. a magazine about fishing are quite different. In a collage I can play these kind of images against each other. Also the function of objects, like a microphone stand, can be undertood in a poetic way: to be heard. With the sculptures I play with these connotations.
C & P: Again, I am curious about how these two practices influence one another in your work and if you find it possible to address similar ideas in both song and visual art or whether some ideas are expressed better in one medium as opposed to the other.
Hidde: I’m interested in leaking traditions and ideas from one medium to the other—Can a painting have a chorus, for instance, I try to work with topics that interest me in painting and in music at the same time. That is why similar themes come up in the paintings and in the lyrics to the songs.
Looking For Some Logic, 70 x 60 cm, oil on canvas, 2013.
Private collection Amsterdam
C & P: Similar shapes, such as the squiggly line (that might suggest intestines, some sort of connector), cell formations, nets, lightning patterns, and dripping paint, reappear throughout your work. Do you want the viewer to build a library of symbols which should be read from painting to painting, series to series? Is your aim to create a narrative between the works by using repeating patterns over multiple canvasses?
Hidde: It’s not really that strategic, but if that is what happens I guess all the works together starts to make sense. In painting ideas are expressed very differently than in a song. A good idea for a painting is usually a bad idea for a painting. For me a painting needs to grow during the process of making it, like in the new series of head paintings. I don’t really know what it means but I feel there is something important there—that’s why I keep making them.
C & P: It seems that in the abstract works, such as Looking For Some Logic, the cell patterns and squiggly lines, which overlap colorful blobs and upside down dripping paint, are trying to come together to form something, perhaps figures—similar to those that exist in other paintings. A work like You Wild Eyed Butterfly, You Sleepy Flowerhead, if looked at quickly, might look completely abstract, but when looked at long enough, in another way, one can see a bird emerging from the chaos of the background. When you begin a painting do you know if it will be a completely abstract work or are you unsure how a work will turn out until it is finished? Does a painting end up ‘non-representational’ because nothing emerges/takes shape during the painting process?
Hidde: I guess that is how it works. I start to paint and sometimes a first idea fails and it becomes a big mess but then it takes a sudden turn and finds some logic of it’s own.
Argus (or how I thought I was paying attention), 190 x 170 cm,
Oil, acrylics and spraypaint on canvas, 2012.
C & P: Eyes are very prominent in your work. The eyes of the birds are all very emotive, most often filled with tears. You also paint Argus, Argus (Or How I Thought I Was Paying Attention), the giant from Greek mythology with 100 eyes, and your painting Argus II (The Eye of the Peacock Feather), also references the Greek myth about the preservation of Argus’ 100 eyes in a peacock’s tail (by Hera the Greek goddess). What draws you to this particular mythology—the idea of the all-seeing-eye, the ultimate failure of Argus to be all-seeing, or Greek mythology itself?
Hidde: Well Argus is defeated by Hermes, who plays for him on the flute and the music puts him to sleep. Eyes come back in my work because I’m interested that you can read a painting with your eyes. You can understand it by looking. It is an experience that doesn’t nessecarily seeks explanation in words. As a spectator you often look for an explanation but for me it’s more about just looking. But I like to mess with these expectations.
C & P: Because it is difficult for me to see the texture and thickness of the painted surface of your works (just by looking at the photographs of the paintings on screen) please describe the physical surface of your paintings. Do you paint mainly with oil paint? It seems that some of your older paintings combine oil, acrylic, and spraypaint.
Hidde: I start with an underlayer in acrylic. Quite arbitrary dripping and splashing. This way I have an atmosphere and some direction.
Than I finish with oil and sometimes some spraypaint. To get the effect of mixing the colors in a particular way I paint a light color into a dark color, this has to be done quickly when the paint is wet. So I paint the paintings quite fast. Usually within a day. The paint is not that thick.
The Revenge Of The Electric Child, 190 x 170 cm.
Oil, acrylics and spraypaint on canvas, 2011.
C & P: Much of your painting work is very colorful, painted in candy colored hues, almost psychedelic/trippy at times. Have your paintings always been so colorful? Are you influenced by lowbrow artwork from the 70s like blacklight band posters, psychedlic comics, candlewax drip artwork?
Hidde: I look at a lot of different things for inspiration. I think my generation is quite easy with mixing all these different influences.
Not in an ironic way, like the postmodern, but more from a perspective of things that are useful. What inspires me from the band posters is the madness, the freedom. When you can draw, you can draw a story and make anything happen. You don’t have to ask permission from anybody to make your story as dirty, sexy or crazy as you want.
C & P: Many artists that have been featured in Cheap & Plastique also make music or are affiliated with musicians… Could you describe the music that you make? Does your music influence your visual artwork? And are you influenced by other’s music when creating your visual art?
Hidde: Musically I like to taste a lot of different things: from the Mars Volta to Prince, to Bonnie Prince Billy to Thelonius Monk.
I like Deerhoof and their co-operation with Martha Colburn or that video of Allison Schulnick with music by Grizzly Bear.
I love Daniel Rossen’s solo-album.
C & P: Which artists inspire you today? Which artists would you cite as influences? Are there any painters that you are especially drawn to?
Hidde: I love the paintings of Albert Oehlen, so full of complex madness, they are
fuzzy but always work out. I love Eduardo Arroyo, I am looking a lot at his work again.
Rain, 70 x 60 cm, oil on canvas, 2013. Collection family Biesta,
C & P: What projects are you working on currently?
Hidde: I’m working on a new album together with a another composer, drummer Arend Niks. The album is called Offshore and tries to express something about the current economic situation. The Offshore account is a sort of new El Dorado…
I’m also working on a big light sculpture for a festival in Bruxelles and I have two solo painting exhibitions coming up.
C & P: What could you imagine doing if you did not create art?
Hidde: When I started working I had different jobs, I worked as a cook in a Belgian restaurant, and I worked as a baker. Now I don’t think about it so much what I would do—I hope to continue to do what I do now.
Softfocus Watercolor Bird, 230 x 200 cm, Oil, acrylics and
spraypaint on canvas, 2012. Private collection Rotterdam.
GrimmFest Poster, 2012, Acrylic on Paper
An interview with Toronto-based artist/illustrator Lisa Vanin for Cheap & Plastique #11. See more of her work on her website here.
C & P: Where did you grow up?
Lisa: I grew up in Bradford, Ontario. It’s a small town just north of Toronto. When I was growing up there it was still quite small, although it has expanded a lot since I moved to Toronto to attend OCAD University. It’s part of the Holland Marsh, so there were a lot of farms, forests and a canal to explore when I was young. Our town mascot is a carrot named Gwilly, and every year people in Bradford celebrate Carrotfest.
C & P: You live in Toronto now, how long have you lived there?
Lisa: I moved to Toronto about 10 years ago. Before I moved here I had only ever been to the city to see bands or visit museums and art galleries every once in awhile, so I it was a bit of an adjustment. I carried a compass with me for the first six months to keep from getting lost.
Generous Friend, 2014, Acrylic on Paper
C & P: What do you like most about living there?
Lisa: I love the people I have met while living here. I also like that there is always something to do and friends to see. It’s easy to find yourself in a group full of interesting and creative people.
C & P: Least?
Lisa: It can sometimes feel too loud and busy. I miss being able to escape to the woods or a field whenever I would like to. There are some lovely parks in Toronto, but it’s hard to ever feel completely secluded in the city.
C & P: Is there any place you go to in Toronto when you are looking for inspiration for an illustration? Maybe a bookshop? A body of water? A forest? A certain street? A coffee shop? What generally inspires you?
Lisa: Honestly, when I really need inspiration I go home to visit my family and good friends in Bradford. That helps to clear my mind a bit and then I plan a solo day trip to Scanlon Creek (a nature conservatory outside of Bradford). I like to pack up my camera, a sketch book, and a lunch and then wander the trails for a few hours. The experience always differs depending on the season and time of day. I love being there best when the sun rises on a warm fall day, the colours are quite beautiful. When I can’t get out of the city I head to the nearest park, or the rooftop of my apartment building. The building is only three stories high and surrounded by trees, which gives the little rooftop a great amount of atmosphere. It’s a lovely place to sketch, read, write or just do nothing at all.
Trophy, 2012, Acrylic on Paper
C & P: Do you feel that there is a lot of interesting artwork and illustration coming out of Toronto right now?
Lisa: I am always seeing a variety of great work coming out of Toronto. Not only fine art and illustration, but photography, tattooing and poetry also come to mind.
You studied at the Ontario College of Art & Design. Did you study illustration or fine art at school, or both?
While I was at OCAD I studied Illustration. I had the opportunity to learn from some of the greatest illustrators in Canada and it was a wonderful experience. While in my third year at OCAD I also started my tattooing apprenticeship, which lead to four years of working as a tattoo artist.
C & P: Did you always know that you would be involved in a creative field as an adult when you were young?
Lisa: There were really only two career choices that appealed to me when I was young. The first was to illustrate children’s books (which is something I’d still love to do when I have the opportunity). The second was to work as a veterinarian, but that dream was crushed as soon as I realized there would be animals that were beyond the help I could provide. So I went with the slightly less dramatic choice, illustration.
Symbolic Animals, 2013, Acrylic on Paper
C & P: What are your favourite animals to illustrate? Do you have animals that you find yourself drawing over and over again?
Lisa: I can’t say that I have any favourites. I tend to illustrate North American animals mostly, but I try to switch it up. My favourite thing about illustrating animals is how different they are from each other. Branching out keeps my work interesting to me and is a great way for me to continue to improve my observational skills. I am always looking to expand my illustrative world and I find the best way to do that is to stylize as many animals, plants and people as I can. It’s really important for me to see consistency in my characters and scenery.
Cheshire Smile, 2013, Acrylic on Paper
C & P: The feminine characters in your illustrations tend to look whimsical and fairy-like yet simultaneously look like they may be plotting another’s demise. Are these girly creatures up to no good?
Lisa: I like my characters to possess mystery. While they may be up to something mischievous, they could also be performing a kind deed. I like to add a bit of juxtaposition when I can to give the observer more freedom to create their own story.
Vanity, 2013, Acrylic on Paper
C & P: I really love the detail and lush color in your illustrations. What is your process like when creating your work?
Lisa: I first decide on a concept (sketch or written) and then begin a series of rough sketches of the layout and main elements/characters. I cut and paste these roughs together and then do a clean line drawing of the important subjects. I then transfer my drawings to paper and start painting. My process and techniques vary from painting to painting, but I usually build up my background and main subjects, and then go back and add the smaller details (small animals, plants, etc.). Most of my creativity goes into the sketching process and then all that is left is to execute the painting.
C & P: Do you draw by hand?
C & P: Do you use a computer when creating your pictures?
Lisa: I use my computer for scanning, correcting colour, designing products (cards, calendars, textiles, etc) and creating patterns. I prefer to create all of my work by hand and then use my computer for adjustments.
C & P: What medium do you most frequently use in your paintings? Oil? Acrylic? Is there ever an element of collage in your work?
Lisa: I paint with acrylics almost always now. I like brands with matte finishes, as I work on paper and they build up colour quickly. Sometimes I work with inks and watercolour as well, but not as much recently.
The Clear Night, 2014, Acrylic on Paper
C & P: Do you keep a sketchbook?
Lisa: I usually have about 10 sketchbooks on the go, but mostly I prefer to work on loose paper. I have a small folder that I keep current work and fresh sheets of paper in. Sketchbooks can sometimes hinder my creativity, as there is a certain amount of anxiety I experience when I find myself “wasting” a page on a concept or drawing I don’t end up liking. With a folder I just hold on to the ideas I like and recycle the concepts that I don’t.
C & P: Who are your biggest artistic influences? Do you have an all time favourite artist or illustrator?
Lisa: I could never pick a favourite person, but as far as things that influence me artistically, here’s the list: nature, the arts and crafts movement, traditional tattoo imagery, astrology, tarot, medicinal herbs and traditions, information illustration, outdoor living, mythology, fairy tales, homesteading.. to name a few.
C & P: What are your future plans?
Lisa: Over the next year I plan to expand my product line and set up an online shop. Currently I have greeting cards, zines, and pins available, but I am hoping to expand my line to include calendars, stationary and a few items for the home (such as tea towels and ceramics). Beyond that, I just plan to keep producing as much artwork as I can.
C & P: What can you imagine doing if you were not an illustrator?
Lisa: If I hadn’t decided to focus mainly on illustration I would have continued tattooing, I miss it quite a lot at times. If I was to pursue a different type of career, I assume it would have something to do with animals.
C & P: Where can we find you on the world wide web?
Portrait and studio shots by Violet Shuraka.
I had a studio visit and photo shoot with Brooklyn-based artist Ted McGrath last month for Cheap & Plastique #11. Then we had a nice chat about living in Greenpoint, music, inspiration, and art via email. See more of Ted’s work here.
C & P: Where are you from?
Ted: Just outside of Philadelphia.
C & P: You currently live and keep a studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. How long have you lived here?
Ted: I moved to Brooklyn in 1998 and I’ve lived in Greenpoint since 2002.
C & P: What do you like most about living here?
Ted: I have the last affordable apartment! Seriously though, when I moved in it was a much more low key neighborhood, and you really had a sense of it being this crazy secret, it was relatively clean, there are some beautiful blocks and way back when it was super affordable. It felt almost suburban, it was so quiet, but you could walk or ride to Williamsburg in no time and taking the trains through Queens got you into the city pretty fast. Now there’s all this nightlife and shopping, like a new bar opening on every corner every week and that aspect of the area is starting to get a liiiittttle homogenous. Blah blah. That’s all well documented and argued over and doesn’t answer your question. At this point, I’ve been here for 12 years and it really feels like home. The greater community of artists and musicians out here is a fantastic and supportive one, and all things considered the dining options out here are incredible.
C & P: What is your favorite spot in Greenpoint?
Ted: In general, my studio. Corny as that sounds. Or the roof of my apartment building.
C & P: For music?
Ted: We’re currently blessed with a glut of incredible record shops all within blocks of each other. Academy, Co-Op 87, Permanent and Captured Tracks are where I’m spending the most time / $$$ presently.
C & P: For food?
Ted: River Styx or Achilles Heel. It feels insane actually saying that based on the names. Apparently if you open a bar or restaurant in Greenpoint with a Greco-Roman mythological name, it’ll turn out pretty great.
C & P: For artistic inspiration?
Ted: I’m really lucky to have a lot of friends and colleagues living and working in the neighborhood, so usually it comes from hanging out in our studios and apartments, passing around books and records and the like.
C & P: Currently your studio is in the Pencil Factory, where many other creatives (both artists, musicians, and illustrators) work. Do you feel that being in this particular building and studio space inspires you and your work?
Ted: I’ve worked out of that building off and on for the last 7 years or so. I think I primarily enjoy it because its a block and a half away from my apartment which makes working late into the night or early in the morning less daunting. Also the super and his staff are just great folks, and I really love the unit that I’m in. It’s kind of unfinished, there are these huge pipes running down the middle of the room and all over the ceiling which I find really attractive, and it has these fantastic old doors that look like something out of a barn or an old church. Lotta character. Good working vibes.
C & P: Are you friends with others in the building? Is there any collaboration between tenants?
Ted: I’m friends with a lot of folks in the building and I know a lot of the more illustration and design-centric folks collaborate together on things now and again. I’m excited because one such friend of mine is putting together some short animations and asked me to score them, which I’ve only really dabbled with in the past, but I’m really excited to dig into that.
C & P: You studied at Pratt Institute. Did you study illustration or fine art at school, or both?
Ted: I studied illustration and design, but I was fortunate to have these great teachers that were constantly encouraging the students in general to soak up as much of the overall general art world as possible, and a lot of them were (and still are) active and dialed into the contemporary art scene. There was also a lot of mandatory cross disciplinary structure in that curriculum which I’m increasingly grateful for with each passing year. At the time though, I was a little freaked out because I ended up graduating with an unwieldy “illustration” portfolio of fairly large semi abstract canvases with no clear editorial slant. It was great and confusing.
C & P: Did you always know that you would be involved in a creative field as an adult when you were young?
Ted: I think so, yeah. As a kid I really wanted to get into comics but quickly realized I wasn’t cut out for it when I got to school.
C & P: Recently you made the decision to pursue fine art and put your illustration business on the back burner for a bit. What made you decide to do this?
Ted: It just felt like the right thing to do. I had this realization where I discovered what really excited me about making visual art had very little to do with making good illustrations, at least the way that economy and community function now. So after 2 years of walking around in a near perpetual state of stress and grumpiness, I started edging towards moth-balling that practice in early 2013. The more steps I took towards getting out of it the better I felt. And that’s said without nastiness or bitterness either.
C & P: Do you still take on illustration commissions if asked?
Ted: Time permitting and depending on the client or story (or $$$), certainly.
C & P: I know that you created artwork for the band These Are Powers in the past (and was also a member), has your work found it’s way onto other music packaging or music-related projects?
Ted: Absolutely. I’ve designed record sleeves and posters for a lot of bands and venues in the greater New York area, and I have murals at Death By Audio and The Silent Barn. I really love being part of that wider community.
C & P: Have you always played music? Does music influence your artwork?
Ted: I’ve always played music. I grew up in a verrrrry music-centric household. My dad’s a brilliant pianist and guitar player and my mom, though the visual artist of the two of them, played piano and cello for a while. I’ve lately tried to think about how I make music more with respect to the visual art. Because I never received any truly “formal” musical training, it’s a lot easier for me to be intuitive and spontaneous with songs and recording than painting, where you can sort of psych yourself out with issues of “correctness” and quality. Like “this had better be the best brush stroke I’ve ever laid down, says your college tuition and every decision you’ve made in the past about anything ever!!! AAAAAHHH!!!!” I’ve been a lot better lately about NOT getting into that headspace with painting and it’s been great. I’m much more forgiving of my work when I’m making music too, so I’m trying to manage my time better so I can work on all of this stuff and not feel like a crazy person. Listening-wise, I usually have music on in the studio, but not anything too demanding or that I haven’t almost completely internalized. Good time tunes unless I’m just not in the mood, you know? Been real into American, pre-63 oldies lately, doo-wop, early RNR.
C & P: What is your process like when creating artwork in your studio? Do you work on multiple pieces at once?
Ted: I like to work quickly. I’ll work on 2 or 3 things at once, it helps me not overwork them, takes a little of that above mentioned stress out of the equation. I like to attack a piece, get it right to the point where it feels just undercooked and then get it out of the way. Start another. Rinse and repeat ’til I make something I know is either truly awful, or hopefully, coming together into something exciting faster than usual. Then I take a break and let my eyes refresh.
C & P: What medium do you most frequently use in your paintings? Oil? Acrylic? Is there ever an element of collage in your work?
Ted: I like oil paint and ink and spray paint and pencils and oil sticks. Collage wise, sometimes I’ll use the good pieces of bad paintings in other pieces rather than try to recreate those moments of serendipity, which rarely even pans out in mirco.
C & P: You also keep a sketchbook (I have seen an interview with you online where you drew all of the answers!) Have you always kept a sketchbook? Do you look to the sketchbook when creating work in your studio, or does your studio work come from different place in your brain/body?
Ted: I started actively keeping sketchbooks somewhere between my 2nd and 3rd years at Pratt, primarily because I felt like I was really behind everyone else and needed just more fundamental practice. So I started keeping tiny ones with me at all times and bigger ones to mess with at home, primarily just as exercise. As a result, when I completed some pages that felt more “finished” or polished it was really exciting, and they became these cool artist books after a while. Then I kinda felt like I became “the sketchbook guy” which is fine but also had it’s moments of stifling limitation. I still keep the small ones around, but they’ve become more lists and random bits of info or actual preparatory sketches for bigger pieces, as opposed to life drawing. The big painty ones primarily only get used or worked on when I’m on vacation at this point. I just started to get bored or feel like it was becoming a repetitive process with diminishing returns, I couldn’t tell if I was making anything good in them anymore.
C & P: Who would you say are your biggest artistic influences?
Ted: I like Max Beckmann and John Singer Sargeant and Amy Sillman. Leon Golub. Cy Twombly, Jamie Wyeth.
C & P: Is there a time/place that you would rather live in than the current?
Ted: Nah, the best place to be is here, the best time to be is now.
C & P: Or one where you could be transported back via time machine to spend a few weeks hanging out and spying…
Ted: Oh I dunno, New York in the 70s or 80s? Sure. But I think if you get too romantic about that stuff it crushes your ability to enjoy the present.
C & P: Do you feel that NYC is still the best place on the planet to pursue a career in the arts?
Ted: Oh, I have no idea. For the time being, I’m happy here and I feel like I’m making the work I want to make both visually and musically. You can make yourself a little bonkers pondering the endless choose your own adventureness of geography or social scenes or whatnot especially these days. I try not to worry about it, keep me nose to the grindstone, take care of the work and hope it takes care of me.
C & P: Would you consider moving elsewhere?
Ted: Like I said for now, no. The moon if we ever get that sort of thing up and running. I mean, who wouldn’t wanna live on the moon for a minute?
All images © Shane Lavalette, from the Picturing the South series.
Cheap & Plastique interviews Syracuse, New York based photographer Shane Lavalette for issue #11. See more of Shane’s work here.
C & P: You grew up in Vermont and attended college in Boston, Massachusetts at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and Tufts University. Do you feel that living in New England has influenced your photographic work? What sort of projects/series did you work on when you were still in school?
Shane: Yes, in many ways. When I began in photography, I gravitated to the idea of making work about place. I photographed a lot in my home state of Vermont, and around New England. The following projects I worked on, in Ireland, India, and most recently around the American South, also began as projects that deal with place.
C & P: Were you a part of Boston’s art community? Do you feel that it is still important to be part of a (physical) creative community or do you think it is more relevant nowadays to be active on the web—on blogs and online photography forums?
Shane: The art community in Boston is often centered around the various institutions, and is also very transitory with many students coming and going. I felt a part of it, but not as much of a sense of “community” as I had hoped for. I think that’s one thing that led me to work more on the web at the time, and to get involved in collaboration through publishing.
C & P: I saw your work in Brooklyn the other day at the Blog Re-blog show at the Signal Gallery in Bushwick. This show played off the format (and influence) of blogs in the photography world. What are your thoughts on the way the majority of people see photography nowadays—mainly online, on the computer screen, at a relatively small size, with only a few images representing the photographer’s work—versus someone viewing prints of one photographer in a gallery setting? Do you feel that there is something lost by seeing an image only on the computer screen? Do you think blogging is changing the way we view images? Are pristine photographic prints becoming a presentation method of the past?
Shane: Blogs played a role in speeding up the way in which we consume information and images, which has been increased even more with social media. While all of these platforms are great places for discovery, they don’t allow much room for contemplation—articles are easily replaced by the latest content, and don’t hold our attention because of the myriad of distractions that the Internet encourages. In this way the gallery can be a much better way to experience photographic work, however, even more ideal I believe is the book. A photobook allows for the time, space, and consideration that most photographic work deserves and photography reproduces very well in book form.
C & P: It seems that a lot more serious photographers are using Instagram as a tool to get their images out into public view now, whereas a few months ago they were a bit more hesitant to post their work in that forum. How do you feel about Instagram? How do you utilize the platform?
Shane: On the 4th of July I signed up for an Instagram account and posted a picture of fireworks, probably at the same instant as hundreds of thousands of others—an appropriate way to step into this stream of images, I thought. I’ve since used Instagram to sketch ideas and, in a playful way, keep my eye active on an almost daily basis. Generally I don’t photograph that way with my projects, so it has been an interesting experiment and has got me thinking about new ways of making pictures. For now, anyone reading this can follow along at @shanelavalette.
Kathy Ryan of the New York Times Magazine curated a selection of Instagram images by artists for Aperture’s upcoming benefit auction, of which she included an image of mine. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it at first, as I think some of the appeal of Instagram images rests in the instant, ethereal, non-fetishized digital image—with more emphasis on the idea than the print—however, it will be interesting to see.
C & P: You currently live and work in Upstate New York. What do you like most about living in the Syracuse area? Least?
Shane: After spending seven years in Boston, I sometimes miss the perks of living in a larger city. Then I remember some of the things that are obnoxious about it. There’s a humble, friendly community in Central New York, and a lot of great resources, and things to do outdoors. Collectively, there’s a lot happening between Syracuse, Rochester, and Ithaca. And from CNY it’s easy enough to get to any of the surrounding cities, so I actually find myself in NYC more often.
C & P: I assume Syracuse is a relatively inexpensive city (at least in comparison to New York City). In your travels do you find that a lot of other creative people have “escaped” the big city and are thriving in smaller cities similar to Syracuse, smaller cities with a lower cost of living? Does a lower cost of living lead to greater creativity in your opinion? Is this why you have chosen Upstate New York as a base versus somewhere like NYC, San Francisco, or Los Angeles?
Shane: I didn’t mention it, but yes affordability is another nice thing about this area of course. It can mean there is more room for creativity for sure. You can own a house with plenty of space for the cost of renting a tiny apartment in the city, or for less. This makes for a nice place to live as an artist, and if you have the passion or entrepreneurial energy it can be a place to really make things happen. Time and space are hard to come by in bigger cities, and I really value both.
I have a few photographer friends in the area that are doing good things in the CNY community and making contributions the to the art world at large; Doug DuBois, Susannah Sayler and Ed Morris (The Canary Project), Ron Jude, Danielle Mericle, Greg Halpen, Ahndraya Parlato, just to name a few.
C & P: You are the director of Light Work, a non-profit photography organization. Are you the main curator of exhibitions held at the space? How did you get involved with Light Work?
Shane: In the summer 2011 I did a one-month a residency at Light Work, which was fantastic and very productive for my work. I really enjoyed my experience and given the opportunity to play a role the organization, I applied for a position as Associate Director. I was happy to be hired, and in many ways the experience of doing a residency prior to my hire has been really helpful in understanding the needs of artists and moving forward with our mission of support. This past spring, I moved into the role of Director and we recently hired a few excellent new staff members to fill out the team with an emphasis on more support in our digital printing area at Community Darkrooms. I am currently curating about two of our four main gallery exhibitions every year, in which an issue of Contact Sheet accompanies each exhibition. Doing curatorial and publishing work is something I enjoy a lot, after having done it independently for the years prior to my role at Light Work.
C & P: You also are the founding editor of Lavalette, an independent publisher of limited edition photography books and multiples. How do you divide your time between Light Work and Lavalette, as well as working as a photographer on your own series and commissioned work?
Shane: It’s a difficult balance to strike, and so my personal work and the publishing projects through Lavalette move at a different pace than they used to. That said, this change has been positive in many ways, forcing a greater consideration of projects and a more selective approach.
C & P: How often do you take on commissioned projects?
Shane: The Picturing the South commission for the High Museum of Art in Atlanta was the largest I’ve done in my career. I spent about two years working on the project, which led to an exhibition at the museum in 2012—and a book that I am planning to publish this year. Beyond that, I do occasional editorial/commercial projects, but only when the assignment seems well suited to my work and interests as an artist. I really enjoy when photo editors can see how an assignment is fitting and reach out with that in mind.
C & P: Can you tell us a little about the background behind the images for the Picturing the South exhibition, which was commissioned by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta? Had you ever had the desire to photograph the South before the High Museum got in touch with you about participating in their project?
Shane: My relationship to the South is one that started through music. As a native of the Northeast, that was my entry point to the region, so I was interested in exploring this musical history—that of old times, blues, gospel, etc. I wasn’t interested in making a documentary photo project about music, but instead in looking at how songs influence our understanding of place and landscape—and vice versa, how the qualities of the South inform the themes and stories that have been past down over the years through traditional music. I allowed my practice to open up a lot when working on the project, and the series of pictures is perhaps the most playful body of work I’ve done, oscillating between literal depictions of music, portraits, landscapes, still lifes, abstractions, etc. The photographs themselves are collectively rather musical. I always had an interest in making work in the South, but couldn’t have done such a project without the support of the museum.
C & P: In the essay Tongue After Tongue Tim Davis says you “scoured the landscape looking for the feeling coming from the music” in your photographs. Can you talk about this statement? What was your process of creating this body of work like?
Shane: Tim is right in that I wasn’t looking to photograph music so much as the idea of it—the feeling, as he put it. When I began the project a lot of my research was about musically significant places and people, so that was the thread that I followed for traveling but I opened up my eye and allowed myself to follow whatever might be photographically interesting. I had a list of specific subjects I was interesting in photographing, many of which are musical or photographic clichés, so I was wrestling with the idea of making interesting pictures out of these common Southern images—and in the footsteps of other Southern photographers that have explored some of the same places or subjects as their home. The awareness of this history was really important to developing the work in a way that wasn’t derivative.
C & P: What was the experience like of having a show with Martin Parr and Kael Alford, two distinctly different photographers, whose work differs greatly from each other’s, as well as yours?
Shane: The museum has done a nice job over the years by commissioning such a variety of artists to explore the region—from Sally Mann and Emmet Gowin to Richard Misrach and Alec Soth. I was in good company in the 2012 exhibition, with Martin and Kael. In the context of the show, we were all exploring very different ideas and in very different ways, yet the idea of place was enough to connect them to one another. I think this commission series will become more and more interesting over time.
C & P: You now have funding from a Kickstarter campaign to print and release the book of this work. Can you talk a bit about your experience utilizing Kickstarter to initiate this book project? How long did it take for you to raise the funds that you needed to finance the project? How many books will you be printing?
Shane: I was very fortunate to receive a positive response to the project and be able to attain funding to produce the book in just a month or so. Since then, I have been working through various ideas for the format of the book, the edit, sequence, layout, typography, materials, etc. I have gone through many versions and ideas for releasing it, but it is nearly complete now and I feel happy with the result. I’ll be printing between one and two thousand copies, a chunk of which will go to the original backers and the rest will be available for sale through Lavalette and in select bookstores and museum shops.
C & P: You say that you imagined “the ideal venue for Picturing the South would be a book.” Do you have any thoughts why there has been a rise in the popularity of the photo book? What attracts you to the photo book format as a vehicle for presenting your work?
Shane: As I mentioned earlier, I think it’s the most accessible and intimate venue for experiencing photography. In addition, it’s a relatively affordable way to own art and live with it. The artist also has a lot of control over the viewer’s experience, given the edit, sequence, design, physical qualities, etc. This project I felt was particularly well suited as the format of the book itself can be very musical—through tempo, rhythm, repetition, etc. In the layout, I have thought a lot about these ideas.
C & P: Do you shoot mostly in and around Syracuse or do you usually journey elsewhere on shoots? How do you scout out locations for photo series? Do you research places on the Internet? Or do you randomly travel somewhere with the hope of finding something interesting to shoot? Or is the location of where you shoot unimportant to you, are you always looking for an image no matter where you are?
Shane: I used to research a bit and come up with an idea before photographing, however this idea and the emphasis on location is becoming less and less important to me.
C & P: Is there any one subject/thing that always attracts you (and your camera)? Something that you find yourself frequently returning to as subject matter?
Shane: There are certainly a lot of recurring themes throughout my work, but I think the idea of history plays a central role in all of my projects so far.
C & P: Your images look timeless to me. Do you purposefully shoot imagery so that it is not linked to a particular time and place?
Shane: This interest in history likely draws me to the idea of photographing the present in a way that references the past. I’m not sure this makes the images timeless, but certainly a bit more malleable, which I like.
C & P: Your various photographic series make me feel as if I have connected with the place you are presenting, even though most of the time I cannot identify where that place is. I think this feeling occurs within me because your work is a mix of landscape imagery and casual portraiture. Has your work always included a mixture of both kinds of imagery?
Shane: Yes, I’ve always been interested in working through landscape and portraiture, as well as other modes of image making. With each project I think my practice has opened up and become less traditional, and incorporated more varied approaches, including video and other media.
C & P: What is your photo editing process like? How do you choose which images should be in a series in a gallery or in a photo book?
Shane: There are a number of ways, but one method I use is to group images into piles of similar subjects or ideas and to edit within those piles. Then I take what is left and build a sequence. Some images end up being less necessary to tell the same story or represent an idea, so they are dropped from the edit. The hard part as an artist is divorcing yourself from the experience of making the image—sometimes making the photograph is what you are attached to more than the image itself. Time away from a body of work can really help with this, so you can return to the images with a fresh set of eyes, and see them a bit more like how others will.
C & P: What artists/photographers do you find inspirational?
Shane: That’s a hard question to answer because there are so many… I find that artists who are open and fluid in their practice inspire me most, many of which are younger artists that are embracing new ways of making images, on the edges of what even be considered photography. Looking back, I think that the artists I admire most were doing the same thing in the earlier days of photography.
C & P: What could you imagine doing, if you didn’t do what you do?
Shane: If not involved in the visual arts, I always thought I might enjoy the culinary arts. A chef or a food writer? I’m not sure. Food is one of my favorite things to consume besides art.
Admiral Grey photos by Violet Shuraka
Admiral Grey is an artist, musician, playwright, and performer who creates music and extraordinary live spectacle. Heather Morgan, painter extraordinaire, interviewed her for issue #11 of Cheap & Plastique.
Heather: Full disclosure, I am a huge fan of your work. When I feel frail and overwhelmed by the grind of artmaking in the metropolis, going to see one of your boundless creations is as revitalizing as a trip to Xanadu. What are some of the sources of *your* inspiration, what goes into the stunning array of characters you create?
Admiral Grey: I have been stockpiling each and every experience or person or moment or artwork I’ve ever witnessed into an enormous Atlantis deep within my consciousness. I build the inner city with these materials. A beautiful castoff seen on the street, a stolen moment or expression on a stranger’s face, the fantasies inspired by pieces of music or an image or story can become another 5 square miles. When it’s time to create I just head there and go shopping. I can walk down one of my streets and enter a strange building and take a picture hanging off of the wall of a woman I met 7 years ago and run my fingers through the groove in the frame, or open up a drawer and pull out a tapestry from a scene I witnessed as a teenager and smell it. Like most artists, I am voracious. Not just for books or works of art but a walk to a bodega, being in transit with millions of other humans, or an extraordinary experience in a foreign place—these are all equal as far as the richness they have to offer to inquisitive brains. New York alone is such a diverse and smart place, my peers and neighbors offer no end of inspiration in the ways they express themselves.
Heather: I lose count of how many bands you are in, and your persona in each is as wildly different as the sound. Your plays also frequently have a musical element. When you come up with different themes and characters, which comes first, the sound or the story?
Admiral Grey: When writing music, I nearly always start rhythmically first. Although the instrumentations will certainly feel necessary when they arise out of the ether, at first my attitude is almost always nearly that the notes don’t matter; the rhythms of each line, how they work together percussively or how they are syncopated is really what makes each piece different. There aren’t that many notes, right? Music is really about how the notes are being made, what they sound like, and the layers of rhythm in which they are placed. If there are words, they nearly always come last, and often feel almost unnecessary. But as a writer, I care to make this part just as rich.
With theater there is often a germ of inspiration —for example, with Flowerama I was asked by Sparrowtree to write a short ‘fairy tale’—so then I researched and researched what exactly made a story a fairytale, what are the parameters…and what makes a great fairy tale? And then I sat down to writing, reaching into my archives of ideas. With plays I always write a very long backstory, a history, and outlines of the histories of characters and the whats and whys and wherefores. Then I set to writing a script. With Flowerama, and since you know that one I use it as an example—the backstory is much longer than the actual show, which, anyway, had no words! For theater I write the music last, or alongside. Put one down and pick up the other. That adds the fourth dimension.
Heather: Tell us about some of your different secret identities.
Well, then, they wouldn’t be secret anymore now, would they?
Admiral Grey: I have had a lot of names over the years. It’s something people bring up often but that I never had any forethought with, just something that I naturally desire to do and enjoy. I assume it comes from a need to compartmentalize, since I’ve used aliases and nicknames for different times in my life and different creative projects and jobs since a very young age. I’m pretty sure I operate under only two now publicly—Admiral Grey being my formal title, I suppose, as an artist, and Lillie Jayne for a long time now being my pen name and a name I tended to use when acting. Each has their place. I have made solo music under three different titles [Duck and Swallow, I Feel Awesome, Enjoyment] and could not count the amount of names I have used in my life. It makes me hard to track—people every so often realize, for example, that I was the bassist in Drayton Sawyer Gang who organized the Bushwick Blast music festival in the mid-2000’s, because at that time I was using the name Dr. Victoria Kominsky—things like that happen. I recently discovered a quote from one of my favorite writers, E.M. Cioran: “We should change our name after each important experience.”
Heather: Of all of the different roles you play in making a production come together—writing the play, composing a score, designing costumes, making props and animations, singing and acting—do you have a first love?
Admiral Grey: As a child, all manner of creation/performance that I was involved in felt natural, as it does for a lot of kids. My first ‘claimed’ identity was as a writer, around the age of 8. I found a voice in a new town once I was in a well-funded public school where the support is greater for creative skills. As a female kid, people commonly support one in being a dancer, singer, actress—but to be recognized and encouraged as a skilled instrumentalist or writer, among many other things, is more rare, or was. At the time it seemed like so many kids were recognized in scholastics, in music and performance and sports, but to be singled out as a good writer felt very important and exciting to me, and I latched onto it. When I was acting I was embarrassed to be called an actor and told people I was ‘really’ a writer; later on I would be bashful to use the descriptor ‘artist’—but I don’t give a damn about that stuff anymore. ‘Writer’ felt like a good catchall for someone like me who works in a variety of mediums—alongside prose and poetry and plays, one writes songs and writes music…designing or expressing visual art, creating costumes, choreography—it’s all a form of ‘writing’, no? Dare I even say drawing or painting is writing on the canvas? Perhaps not in your company.
Heather: Your play, Flowerama, was painting on air.
How do you feel about having complete control over all elements of piece, as you do in some of your plays and solo musical endeavors, to collaborating with other artists on their work or playing in a band? Do you have a preference?
Admiral Grey: I love and loathe doing everything myself. It’s stressful and time consuming, I am so particular, so picky and obsessive when it comes to my own work, I can take forever (I’ve had a three act musical play and a solo album on the backburner for years). Oh, but the absolute control! On the other hand I have several collaborators that are very dear to my heart and mind, and all of them are brilliant and talented, and what we create together can only come from that specific relationship. It’s sort of like having several marriages, several intellectual lovers. So I love collaborating as well. I think if I had more time and more money, I might work alone a little more, and pay smart people with certain skills to enhance the work. But the balance between ones own mind/ego and the input or collaboration of others seems essential to good work with enough oxygen in it.
Heather: When some were talking about Gaga like she was some kind of gift to avant garde performance, all I could think was “what is new about a blonde popstar with her pants off?” Your inventions, whether pants on or off, do not seem to conform to specific rules about what is acceptably feminine or titillating, and so your choices are often surprising. If I may lift the veil, how does erotic expression fit into your presentation?
Admiral Grey: On the outside of it—performance is by nature a type of eroticism or sexuality, because of the gaze of the audience, the intensity of energy, the connection between the subject of pointed attention and their hyperbolic expression towards and with a group of people, whether it be five people or millions. That part can be so acutely erotic, even if it’s abstracted, that that side of energy is released whether or not it’s in the subject matter.
I feel like I have never really been terribly interested in expressing any overt sexuality or eroticism in my work. Perhaps it’s the Catholic girl in me, but I nearly always shied away from that concept in the top of my mind, though what actually comes out in performance sometimes is another thing entirely. I always avoided being gender-identified, and in a way felt a bit Victorian about artistic expression, so perhaps it felt like slumming to bring sex into art in any overt way because it runs the world anyway, mammals that we are. “SEX” is ever-present in art, entertainment, advertising, people’s every waking thought. If anything seems under-expressed sometimes, at least in popular works, it’s non-sexual ideas and thoughts—things outside of our base animal desires, ones that aren’t necessarily hard political ideals, either. Just humanist. In your [Heather Morgan] work, although the first visual it is erotic, there are many layers woven in, so the eroticism is more of an active and intellectual player in the universe of your paintings—but as we all know, for a lot of what’s out there, it’s pretty much just the same tedious unevolved expressions of lust portrayed through the age old agressions/submissions, war-like conquerings, manipulations, smoke and mirrors, sport, S&M…hot dogs & hamburgers. Not much interesting or actually stimulating in a larger sense mixed in. I prefer to let eroticism and sex exist in the universe of my work as much as anything else, which is how I see things, anyway. Of course sex is great, alongside all the great things in life—sex can also be horrible and a weapon, just like anything else. My sense of humour and my sense of myself is far from chaste or puritanical—but that’s also part of the private me. And then, I am not uptight about clothes or physical performance, so this has been eroticized or seen as me actively being erotic, though I’ve always been more of a kid about that—just not that uptight about what clothes I wear or whether I wear much of them at all, or sometimes wanting to just wear lots and lots and look like a clown.
Heather: Is there a medium you have yet to try? Some discipline you wish to incorporate into your work in the future? I can easily picture you ice skating while playing a lyre.
Admiral Grey: Well, yes, of course, I want it all, and more! I want the money for a large studio and one of every instrument and time to play them, and an art studio and all manner of paints and pens, and a dance studio and time to dance and choreograph, I want to be an electrical engineer with a junkyard, a carpentry, a welding room, a good camera and editing equipment for films and a room full of fabrics and materials and all the tools to build with. Rehearsal spaces and recording studios…are you writing this down?
I guess I mean to say that if I had the time and money, I would probably try to express myself more fully in any medium I could get my hands on, and develop more definitively in the mediums I already work in. I work so bare-bones now out of necessity. As far as the mediums I haven’t truly tried—I’d be interested to learn real technical painting skills. I am intimidated by the minutae of the world of paints. I’d like to write in another language—as of now I have piddling skills in French and Spanish. This summer I’ve gotten my hands on a violin and every once in the while I try to get back in shape on the trumpet…we’ll see if that leads anywhere.
Heather: You are very active in recording music and producing albums with your myriad projects. As far as the visuals, do you place a singular stress on experiencing these performances live, or are you interested in documenting and being able to revisit these spectacles?
Admiral Grey: It would be great to have better documentation. But it is so rare—live performance really is just that and there is no way to replicate it. In the past, I was laid back about posterity—I did visual art, sculpture, land art, installations, etc, for a time that I didn’t really document and therefore, in this day and age, may as well not have existed, especially since I tended to create these things and not tell or show too many people, or they would be small exhibits, or not exhibited at all. So now I try to be more conscious of trying to document stuff. But here I am, I have footage from some of my theater pieces and I haven’t done much with them. I need an assistant one day—they can handle that. I hate having to futz around with something once it’s already been performed. In that way I have a hard time revisiting—it’s over, it’s the past. Live performance is ephemeral and I embrace that. But, of course, I get sad about all the people who haven’t seen them, and how the videos don’t do them justice.
Heather: Considering your involvement in so many projects, it seems you are constantly striving. Describe a moment in your recent work when you felt, “that was it, I did it, and it was perfect.”
Admiral Grey: Often. I accept and love the finished product when it has been deeply worked on and embraced and developed and released with skill and honesty. I feel blessed to be very good at working within extreme time and money constraints, working with the present and available environment, and working with the frightfully brilliant and talented people I get to work with. My auteur theatrical projects felt very, very good, and I am exceptionally proud of my last two music releases, Cellular Chaos’ and Ecstatics’ debut albums. Each live set is different, some of them do truly feel perfect or close to that. And this type of ‘perfect’ rarely, if ever, has to do with technical perfection, it is more about the overall performance and the energy, the hundreds of micro moments. I can look back to theatrical pieces and imagine how I would rework them, but that’s different. I’m always looking forward to what I can do next and better, and what work I have that I haven’t truly allowed to shine, and how I can do that.
Heather: Does satisfaction with the performances give you the energy to create so much output, or is it the work itself that fuels you?
Admiral Grey: Post-performance is always a come-down. There is always post-partum depression. It must be true that a lot of my creation comes out of frustration and despair; but I would never actually be able to create without my feelings of absolute joy. I don’t think that the work I make is terribly dark, and quite often it is full of ecstasy and wonder. But it is certainly a way to take all of the injustices and sadnesses of human existence and reprocess them into new forms that now create a real and interesting, possibly enlightening, pleasurable or cathartic experience for the people engaged with it. All of us, in our attempts to stay sane—we all have cleansing processes where we take the junk inside of ourselves that is weighing us down and recycle it into different expressions of creative energy, whether we get it through our jobs or sport or relationships or building or handiwork or art. By transforming the despair or frustration into something else, a shared experience that is outside of of ourselves, it loses its power. But, of course, within the work itself, it is the underlying frustration and despair that enables people to connect with it, and to also feel that cleansing or catharsis, whether through laughter or crying or screaming or dancing or whatever the hell they choose to do while engaging with the work. I hope to never be performing or creating ‘at’ anyone, but sharing it as something we are experiencing and even creating together, because everyone is a part of art, that is the nature of it. It is a reflection of the world back upon itself through a funhouse mirror.
I believe all art, even, say, black metal, actually comes from a place of love.
Heather: What are you involved with presently, and what can we look for in the near future?
Admiral Grey: Well… I’ll blast you with a rundown. I’m excited about a lot. This spring I debuted a new theater project with The Nerve Tank (Chance Muehleck and Melanie Armer) at LaMaMa—I was flattered to be the first outside artist that they collaborated with on a production. They are unabashedly hyper-modern. Our show The Maiden was inspired by the myth of Persephone. I composed the music and performed in the show, and I also was enabled to make bold experimental sound design and musical direction choices—I wired up Melanie’s set so that the performers could participate in the playing of music and sound samples in the scenes by touching certain parts of the set, dialogue was turned into songs or raps or rhythmic tonal and gestural chants, like children’s hand-claps almost…working with them was really wonderful because they say ‘yes’ to anything untried and they really push the envelope. We developed the show as an intimate trio (and of course once in rehearsal, through much work on the part of the actors and the other designers) as they are a writer/director team, so these moments where we each inform each other’s choices and are directing each other and finding inspiration in each other was very big and exciting and resulted in something marvelous.
Shortly after that I was gifted another great gig which was acting and singing in Feather Gatherers, a re-interpretation of Stravinsky’s Histoire du Soldat by The Drunkard’s Wife (Craig Flanigan and Normandy Sherwood) which was reimagined through many filters, one of them being Yugoslavian Black Wave film. This was part of the Ice Factory festival at the New Ohio Theater. We had this divine orchestra playing Stravinsky and Balkan music and an exceptional cast performing just the most clever and poetic script in a luxe lo-fi set. Like The Nerve Tank, but through the looking-glass, The Drunkard’s Wife is essentially a power couple duo just really pushing the envelope verbally, musically, visually, performatively in exceptional ways, and I feel very honored to have worked with them.
Presently I am puppeteering on the show The Pigeoning, which is a tragicomic Bunraku-style puppet show that I have been on the team of for a year and a half now. Robin Frohardt is a brilliant puppet and set designer who has assembled a crack team of artist/puppeteers, and the show is set to a fantastic score written and played by Freddi Price. After several runs in New York and elsewhere we are back at HERE in SoHo for a six-week run. We are so happy to have gotten a great review in the New York Times last week—we’ve been honing the show for a while and are very proud of it. With puppetry it’s all in the littlest details—we are constantly working and reworking little moments, because the tiny nuance is really what makes a good puppet show. I’ve learned so much about this medium working in this group, and now it feels so wide open to me as an option for expression. So five days a week that’s what I’m up to!
As far as music—I played a couple of rare shows this summer with my band Ecstatics when my partner Matthew Dunehoo was in town, which was wonderful; I’ve been collaborating with Chad Raines (The Simple Pleasure) on a new hybrid project called B Roll, playing shows and working on videos for that; and writing a new album and playing some shows with my band Cellular Chaos, which will be going on tour again for a couple of weeks in September. On my own…I’m really focused on getting a few very fun music videos finished this summer, I must! Because at least two of them are summer jams. And I just started writing a piece for four horns that will each play a different paragraph of text that I will have translated into a unified score using a secret code. That’s going to be a beautiful disaster. I can’t wait.
Tonya’s portrait by Violet Shuraka.
I had a studio visit and photo shoot with Brooklyn-based art director Tonya Douraghy last month for Cheap & Plastique #11. Then we had a nice chat about living in Greenpoint, travel, inspiration, and design via email. See more of Tonya’s work here.
C & P: Where are you from?
Tonya: I grew up in beautiful Almaden Valley in San Jose, California.
C & P: What made you leave the West Coast for NYC?
Tonya: I left San Francisco for New York in 2008 to get my MFA at the School of Visual Arts. After that things sort of fell into place professionally, and I decided to stick around.
C & P: Now you are living in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. How long have you lived here?
Tonya: Three years.
C & P: What do you like most about living in Greenpoint?
Tonya: I think my little corner in north Greenpoint is just about perfect at the moment. I love living a block from the water, and the views of the Manhattan skyline are spectacular. There’s a unique energy to the place, partly the legacy of disused industrial spaces. And so many hidden gems.
Tonya’s desk in her studio.
C & P: What are your Greenpoint favorites? For dinner:
Tonya: Five Leaves, Paulie Gee’s, Alameda.
C & P: For a whiskey:
Tonya: The Pencil Factory is a old standby.
C & P: For design/artistic inspiration:
Tonya: Going for a run through the neighborhood.
C & P: For relaxation:
Tonya: Taking in the view where Java Street meets the East River, with the feral cats.
C & P: Did you always know that you would be involved in a creative field when you were young?
Tonya: I suppose so, but I always thought it would be in journalism.
C & P: When did you decide to study graphic design?
Tonya: Freshman year of college, after being disappointed in the journalism classes I was taking. I was lucky enough to be at UC Davis, one of the few public universities in California that had a design program. The fact that my program allowed me to study both textile and graphic design in tandem was hugely appealing.
Art direction and design for Vanity Fair. Typography by Alex Trochut.
C & P: You have worked at a variety of magazines in NYC over the past few years and you are currently working as a freelance art director at Vanity Fair Magazine. What led you to want to go into editorial design?
Tonya: It was a very unconscious decision on my part. I sort of fell into it after I got my MFA and grew to love it. I think my interests and attitude are well suited to magazines, though I don’t really think of myself as an editorial designer.
Art direction and design for the Design*Sponge Summer Newspaper, in collaboration with Alanna MacGowan.
C & P: You also take on freelance design assignments through The Dye Lab, a 2 person design studio you run with your friend, Alanna MacGowan, who lives in Seattle. Tell me a bit about the Dye Lab. How did you decide to form this studio with such a far away friend? How long has the Dye Lab existed? What is your design process like when working on a project together?
Tonya: The start of TDL was very organic. It grew out of our close friendship during college. At school we were both more interested in textile design than visual communications, and we were the punks breaking into the dye lab at night, silkscreening on any kind of surface we could think of. Now Alanna and I live 2,856 miles away from each other, so collaborating on projects has been a great excuse for us to hang out together virtually between Seattle and Brooklyn. And I think our talents complement each other pretty well.
C & P: What is inspiring to you design-wise at the moment?
Tonya: I’ve been a little bored with what’s going on in graphic design, but there are definitely some standouts. Spin, the British studio, is a perennial favorite. Every issue of IL Magazine is pretty spectacular. I think most of my inspiration comes from seeing what friends in the design scene are doing outside of their jobs, just for the love of making things.
Editorial design for New York magazine.
C & P: Is there a certain time of day when you feel most creative?
Tonya: In the morning, after a good night’s sleep.
C & P: Who are your biggest artistic/design influences?
Tonya: That’s tough to define. But some important ones, in no deliberate order: Orson Welles. Sophie Taeuber-Arp. Herb Lubalin. Twen Magazine. Terence Conran’s vintage interiors. My dad. Sheila Hicks. Gyöngy Laky. Zadie Smith. Plants. Ceramics. And just the weird unexpected moments that happen every day.
Editorial design for New York magazine. Photograph by Platon.
C & P: You have traveled to many far away places over the past couple of years. What is your favorite thing about each place? Turkey?
Tonya: The mix of so many cultural influences all in one place. It’s the best of everything.
C & P: Morocco?
Tonya: Tiled courtyards in old houses. Walking through the medina.
C & P: Thailand?
Tonya: The people. And getting Thai iced coffees made on the street.
C & P: Cambodia?
Tonya: Temples in the jungle. Stories of tigers.
C & P: Iran?
Tonya: Family. The feeling of being connected to a place that is so different from my everyday life in New York. The traditional architecture in general and my grandparents’ house in particular.
C & P: Do you feel that travel inspires you as a designer?
Tonya: Of course.
C & P: What is your next travel destination?
Editorial design for The New York Times Magazine.
C & P: What are you working on right now? Do you have any creative non-design-related side projects?
Tonya: For better or worse, for me everything is design-related in some way. I recently took up watercolor painting, a good excuse to get away from the computer.
C & P: What would you do if you were not a designer?
The G-Unit, 2011, oil on canvas, 200 x 300 cm. Photo: Andreas Wünschirs, Leipzig. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Emmanuel Post, Berlin.
An interview with Leipzig Germany-based artist Tobias Hild for Cheap & Plastique #11. See more of his work on the Emmanuel Post Gallery website here. Issue 11 also features interviews with the artists Admiral Grey, Tobias Faisst, Tonya Douraghy, Shane Lavalette, Ted McGrath, Emilia Olsen, Lisa Vanin, Hidde van Schie, & Mickey Z, all articles will be coming soon to this blog.
C & P: What first got you interested in illustration/painting?
Tobias: I think it actually was an art teacher in high school. I had serious problems with other lessons and was happy that someone told me, “It´s ok what you are doing here. Go ahead.”
C & P: Have there been key experiences in your life that have impacted you and your work?
Tobias: Four years ago I went to Solothurn in Switzerland for two months. My intention was to leave the studio, be outside, and make some drawings. Since then it has been really important for me to get part of my inspiration from everything I see. Just simple things like trees, lakes… It sounds old-fashioned but drawing outside is a great chance to surprise myself and find new ways of expression.
C & P: Many of your paintings depict unsettling narratives. Tell me a bit about the bizarre worlds you create in your drawings and paintings. How important is this narrative element in your work?
Tobias: It is an important aspect but I don´t have a special story in mind before I start working. The setting of the figures and landscapes constantly change and so does the story. It´s more like that at some moment the work is finished and I am surprised at what happened to the picture. If I see a figure developing on the surface I try to bring it in contact with the rest of the setting, but at that point it is not a decision for the final narration of the work.
Pilatus, 2010, oil on canvas, 290 x 400 cm. Photo: Andreas Wünschirs, Leipzig. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Emmanuel Post, Berlin.
C & P: Your images bring to mind fairytales (albeit slightly sad and/or upsetting ones) that one might remember reading in their youth. Do any of your works reference specific fables or fairy tales?
Tobias: No, there is no specific story or fairytale that has influenced any of my works, yet. I sometimes look at illustrations from the Middle Ages because I like the simple way figures and landscapes were painted during that time. But there is not a specific German writer that has influenced me. It’s more the music I’m listening to in my studio that comes into my work with a gloomy influence, but there is also light and humor in my paintings—it’s a little bit of both in almost all of my works.
C & P: Your subject matter consists of a mix of elements from both real and fantastical worlds and your painting style is also a mélange of the cartoonish, abstract, and representational. Many of your paintings depict natural settings, such as the woods or bodies of water, but these tend to be painted as dark, foreboding places, where aggressive animals such as wolves and bears lurk. These animals sometimes take on human qualities and exist alongside strange animal/human/robot hybrids as well as cartoonish human figures. Are these the scenes you imagine could be taking place deep in the woods after dark? Are they meant to be nightmarish versions of reality or surreal interpretations of impossible narratives? Or a bit of all these things?
Tobias: I feel comfortable with the idea that all this could be taking place in the dark woods or similar places. My first professor for painting in Leipzig, Sighard Gille, often told me that he thought that I was constantly working on a comic-nightmare-trip of my own life. I am not sure if that’s true, but I do like to use parts of my memory, for example, drawings I made as a child, or the interior of my parents house, as inspiration or a starting point for my work. Not all of those memories are totally happy but I am not trying to overcome something that happened to me in the past through my work. I’m not interested in confronting people with photos of my 9th birthday or something like that. Nobody wants to see these things. The most boring thing to use in a painting is a family album or found photos.
Tunker, 2011, oil on canvas, 220 x 280 cm. Photo: Andreas Wünschirs, Leipzig. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Emmanuel Post, Berlin.
C & P: Even though there are sinister undertones to some of your paintings they can also be very humorous. In the painting Tunker, for example, a giant green octopus has plucked a boat out of the sea and waves it angrily in the air. But because the octopus looks slightly cartoonish—being ridiculously oversized (larger than the mountains poking out of the landscape behind it), bright green, and possessing a robot brain—the scene does
not seem as dire for the tiny humans on board as it is ridiculous. How important is humor for you? Has humor always found its way into your work?
Tobias: That’s an interesting question because most of the people who look at my work for the first time think that a lot of what I’m doing is dark or even sad. My sense of humor is probably a little bit sarcastic. But, as I said, I never start with a special intention, like… today I will make a funny picture. I think it is important to use humor as a form because it helps not to take yourself too seriously as an artist. German artists like Werner Büttner or Albert Oehlen always have this humorous place in their work and are amazing painters as well. But if you are not a very famous artist it can be difficult to make a painting like Tunker. For some people it is hard to see it as a painting, because they think there is this guy just making a joke.
C & P: What is the inspiration behind your work? Are you influenced by German folklore? Any particular writers?
Tobias: When I gave up studying illustration I was a little bit fed up with the fact that I always had to read something before I was allowed to touch a brush or a pencil because we had to bring in some ideas for a story that was already there. But I am really interested in early German and European history. I mentioned the paintings of the Middle Ages. There are many ideas from stories and sagas that I’m trying to incorporate into my work. It is fascinating to see that this history is still present in chapels or shrines, for example in the Swiss Jura Mountains. I’m definitely influenced by such things. I like the dark aura in those works.
Der Letzte Versuch, 2012, oil on canvas, 190 x 240 cm. Photo: Andreas Wünschirs, Leipzig. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Emmanuel Post, Berlin.
C & P: What artists have been the biggest influences on you? Do you like Asger Jorn? Philip Guston? Do you feel a kinship with any artists commonly referred to as the New Leipzig School?
Tobias: I like Guston because he had many periods of experimentation before his work ended up in his famous, illustrative style. I saw a big retrospective show in London nine years ago. Just amazing. But I also like earlier painters like Corot or Courbet a lot…too many to mention. Of the so called “Leipzig School” I like the work of Christoph Ruckhäberle. He is working with painting but also in genres like drawing and printmaking. It’s always easy to recognize his work. I think that is a great thing to achieve for an artist and takes a lot of work to do so.
C & P: Does living in Leipzig influence your work? Are you influenced by the geography of Leipzig? What do you like most about living there? Least? Is it a city which is friendly to artists?
Tobias: When I came to Leipzig in early 2005 the huge hype over the Leipzig School painters was just occurring and everybody was talking about what a great opportunity to get a studio/place at the academy was. But it was difficult for the generation of painters who came after them. It was a fight amongst the students. Who gets the best studio and who is first to sell a work to famous collectors, who came to see the graduate shows. The situation was unreal. Fortunately that has changed a little bit but it took me some years to get used to all this because I had a different idea of working at an academy of visual arts. But the city itself is still a friendly place for artists. You’re able to afford a bright studio and you don’t have to go three hours by train to get your colors. I like that. That definitely has an impact on my work, because I simply get more time to be in the studio. Leipzig is the place to get focused on what you really want to do.
Bärenbahn, 2011, oil on canvas, 160 x 110 cm. Photo: Andreas Wünschirs, Leipzig. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Emmanuel Post, Berlin.
C & P: Describe your process of creating a picture. What are the different stages you go through before you feel a painting complete?
Tobias: It’s hard to define the moment when a picture is complete. There are many stages during the process of creating my work. I often start a painting by using only fingers or big brushes to create an uneven surface, which gives me the opportunity to react. I don’t like working with a plan. I try to let things happen by chance. Sometimes I also take a look in past sketchbooks to see if anything fits into the scene of the new picture.
C & P: Does most of your work grow out of observable reality or do you sometimes begin from an idea in the studio? Is the starting point for a composition or narrative usually taken from a sketch you’ve made of something or do you sometimes begin from other sources? For instance, do you ever begin a picture from a purely literary source or from researching or looking for inspiration online?
Tobias: No, I haven’t been using any material from the internet so far. It is still hard for me to work on one single topic but I am contemplating trying to do so in the future. Whatever this will be… I could definitely imagine getting some inspiration online, but on the other hand there is so much crap going on in the internet it sometimes is just a distraction. If you’d ask me now, I didn’t know what type of material I would pick. I think it’s an easy thing to do and a lot of artists like to deal with pictures they find online but at the moment I still find it more exciting to see a painting emerging from what I feel or what surrounds me.
Stiefel, 2013, pencil, crayon, and acrylic on paper, 23.0 x 33.1 cm. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Emmanuel Post, Berlin.
C & P: How do you choose which medium you will work in for a particular piece? How do you know one piece should be rendered with pencil and another oil? Is it a process of experimentation?
Tobias: I don’t feel a limit between those disciplines. At the moment I’m even trying to use pencils within the oil paintings.
C & P: I noticed that you often utilize crayon in your drawings. Have you always worked with crayon? Is there any particular reason that you use crayon? Do you like that this medium evokes memories of childhood?
Tobias: There is no particular reason for me to using crayon. It’s just a very pure form of working which I like very much. I understand that memories of childhood come to mind when you look at my work. But it’s not my ultimate intention to make my works look like drawings made by children.
Geweih, 2007, oil on canvas, 155 x 195 cm. Photo: Andreas Wünschirs, Leipzig. Collection of the Museum der Bildenden Künste Leipzig. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Emmanuel Post, Berlin.
C & P: Some of your works seem to be comprised of a build-up of scribbles, such as Geweih from 2007, also referencing a child-like technique. Is this scribbling somewhat controlled or do you hope for a happy accident and for certain forms to emerge with the accrual of marks on the paper?
Tobias: I think it is really a kind of searching for the happy accident. It is a special moment that is hard to describe. The paint on this particular painting is very heavy. I worked on it for six months, when I was preparing for my degree show in 2007. It was such a strange period in my life because I felt quite alone in Leipzig and had no idea how my work was going to look in the future. You can see this feeling of being insecure with almost everything. But in the end it happened to be a very good painting that I still like and that was sold to the Leipzig Museum of Fine Arts this year. At the moment I’m very much trying to get back to this way of painting because it gets a little bit away from this narrative style I have been working within over the last one or two years.
Untitled, 2008, oil on canvas, 50 x 60 cm. Private Collection, Weimar. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Emmanuel Post, Berlin
C & P: Your color palette is very diverse, some work is rendered in a brightly colored palette with pinks, greens, and yellows, while others are comprised solely of blacks, whites, and greys. How do you assign a palette to the scene or narrative you want to depict? Is it more dependent upon your own mood while working or on a built-in mood you want the picture to convey?
Tobias: I wouldn’t say that the pictures that come to surface have something to do with the mood I’m in when I paint them. I often carry an enthusiastic feeling into my work and it just ends up in a total mess with me being really doubtful whether I should go on with the picture I started in the morning. That might be the reason for most of my works looking a little bit dirty. When I don’t have any idea how to go on I just love to take a very big brush and destroy everything I worked on for days. This can be a relief or the birth of an idea for a completely new work, which I never could have imagined before. I think the mood changes more frequently during the working process than it does before entering the studio.
Burgund, 2011, oil on canvas, 190.5 x 242 cm. Photo: Andreas Wünschirs, Leipzig. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Emmanuel Post, Berlin
C & P: You went to undergraduate college for illustration and then switched to fine art later, what brought about this desire to change focus?
Tobias: I spent almost one year in London in 2004 with an exchange program between my school in Essen and a college in South London. The first day at this college was totally disappointing because they were just offering lessons like “broadcasting” or “fashion design”. I didn’t have a studio so I came up with the idea of creating a visual diary with one drawing a day. On most days I would hop on a random bus and get off the bus when I came across what looked like an interesting area to work. I happened to see some dark areas of London, but it was a fantastic time, because I ended up with 300 drawings in my bag, which I used to apply at the academy in Leipzig. I was quite nervous, when I first met the professor and hoped that I might get a chance to spent half a year in Leipzig, but after some minutes he wanted me to be in his class, which was just a beautiful ending of this diary I started in London. I’m still grateful, that he took this quick decision that gave me the chance to be here and learn so much about what it means to be a painter. From that point on he appeared once a week in my studio and told me things like: “Why do you always use black. Try to change it with a color, maybe green”! It’s simple, but that’s the support I needed.
Trommler, 2008, oil on canvas, 50 x 50 cm. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Emmanuel Post, Berlin
C & P: Have you shown your work in Germany or abroad?
Tobias: I haven’t been showing with any galleries in the United States. That’s something I’d like to do in the future. I had several exhibitions in Germany and the Netherlands and it would be good to go one step ahead. I think my work has changed a lot over the years and it is still evolving. I hope that more and more people become interested in what I’m doing now and what I will be working on in the near future.
C & P: What are you working on currently? Any future plans?
Tobias: I’m currently working on black and white drawings that nobody has seen yet. As I said, I want to go back to a form of abstract painting. But I’m not totally sure what this is going to be. I think I will keep on working on all this stuff for the next half year or so and start with new paintings based on the new drawings.