Try to NOT feel awesome whilst watching this video and listening to this song!
I Feel Awesome is one of the many projects the fantastique Admiral Grey is involved in.
She will be featured in Issue 11 of Cheap & Plastique Magazine.
If you happen to be in Texas in the next couple of months be sure to check out Mie Olise, Crystal Bites of Dust, at Barbara Davis Gallery. The exhibition runs from January 11, 2013 – March 9, 2013
Mie Olise is one of my favorite NY artists. Her and I did a studio visit a couple of years ago in Brooklyn and she was featured in the printed version of Cheap & Plastique Magazine when she still lived in London and was studying for her Masters in Fine Art.
From the gallery website:
For this exhibition, Danish artist Mie Olise unveils her exploration of the Gowanus Canal in the New York City borough of Brooklyn through a series of new paintings that investigate the impact of industrialism on the surrounding area. Laden with desolation and abandonment, Olise viewed the Gowanus Canal as a subject worth reviving and uplifting, as her paintings romanticize the seemingly forgotten monuments, factories, and landscapes. Inspired by Robert Smithson’s article “Monuments of the Passaic,” published in 1967 in ArtForum, Olise recreates his journey along the Hackensack River in New Jersey. As Smithson traveled west of Manhattan, toward the Passaic bridges of New Jersey, describing the decaying monuments and ruins near the Hackensack River, Olise journeyed east to Brooklyn and found a similar situation surrounding the Gowanus Canal. Smithson documented his voyage with an Instamatic 400 and referred to the deserted locations he photographed as “non-spaces.” Olise mirrors his concept by illustrating the scenery of the Gowanus Canal through a series of monumental paintings, in order to find what she calls the empty “pores” of the city, spaces left behind to fall into dust. Olise examines the monuments of Gowanus, the hidden spaces beneath the bridges, the uninhabited factories, and the polluted waters of the canal, and ultimately gives them new life by painting them, thus solidifying their existence and transforming them into “crystals of industrialization.”
Fact | Fission at Aicon Gallery, Exhibition runs through Jan. 19, 2013 (this Sat.)
Featuring: Eric Ayotte, Sarnath Banerjee, Ruby Chishti, Jace Clayton (aka DJ Rupture), James Cullinane, Gisela Insuaste, Mala Iqbal, John Jurayj, Abir Karmakar, Pooneh Maghazehe, Nitin Mukul, Seher Naveed, Yamini Nayar & Kanishka Raja
C & P picks::::
Yamini Nayar—See more of Yamini’s work here.
John Jurayj—See C & P‘s interview with John here.
Nitin Mukul—See more of Nitin’s work here.
Eric Ayotte—See more of Eric’s work here.
The show was just written up on the Al Jazeera site.
Kraftwerk box set, DAP
FW Books, Dutch Contemporary photo books
Paper Monument-Saddest ashtray ever
Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe – Marlborough Gallery
Swiss Room (one of my favorite rooms, above 5 pictures)
Desert Island Comics
Untitled (Alps), 2012
Friend of Cheap & Plastique Nathan Wasserbauer interviews Brooklyn-based artist Aaron Williams for Issue 10. See more of Aaron’s work here. Read another interview with Aaron on the Art Fag City website here.
C & P: Your work has changed in the last few years, and you’ve recently completed a new body of work. Was this change a deliberate move or more of a gradual evolution?
Aaron: Sort of both. For the past few years, I’ve been moving away from what I consider to be more traditional and prescribed ways of making things. I started off as an abstract painter and I think I just got tired of the conversations and assumptions of the medium. It all seemed very limiting to me and I made a decision to open up my studio practice as much as possible, to allow for a variety of mediums and working methods. Exploring different facets of an idea through different mediums is important, to try to bring ideas that exist in the studio into the real world as much as possible.
C & P: There is a sense of absence in your work, with visual clues or remnants of that which had been. Works officially “Untitled” also record in parenthesis the person or event that was formerly represented on the page. How significant is this to reading, or reacting to the work?
Aaron: The idea of trace, or remnant has been a constant in my work, both in materials and content. In talking about the effect of a thing, rather than the thing itself, there’s a greater capacity for poetry and an organic meaning to occur, rather than a didactic, sort of one-to-one logic.
The pieces in which I’m manipulating posters of cultural heroes, the figure is generally obscured by brushstrokes and paint splatter. The brushstroke in these pieces represents an almost meaningless, unconscious action. An aggregate of these actions make up a painting that has a specific hierarchy and purpose but taken on it’s own, it becomes more of a void or an accident, a remainder of another, purposeful action. I’m cutting the brushstroke into the paper and this removal of the photographic layer of the poster creates another level of meaning for me. The finished piece has no actual paint, just the memory of that thing, documented.
I’m interested in the relationship between this calcified mark making and the intellectual and emotional capacity of the figure; the point at which a poster ceases to be, say, Muhammad Ali and the physical reality of the material takes over. I’ve thought a lot about Rauschenberg’s Erased DeKooning: at a certain point, that piece ceases to be about erasure as eliminating previous meaning and becomes a unique piece created by positive, assertive mark-making.
C & P: How are the materials chosen for these new works? Talk a little bit about the addition of color, which I believe is a choice you made over time, correct?
Aaron: I’m using mostly quotidian materials right now, book pages and posters. These things have a transitory quality physically, they’re almost non-objects. They do however carry a huge conceptual and emotional capacity. I’m intrigued by the space between the physical reality of a thing and the intellectual or emotional capacity that thing has the potential to evoke. A poster, for example, is a carrier of identity, politics, culture, etc. but the physical fact of that thing is that it’s a frail piece of paper that’s cheaply produced and disseminated.
Color often exists for me in a pretty organic way. There’s a drive that I have in the studio that is largely conceptual but I have an equal ambition to make something that is visually compelling and color often fits into the latter category. Things gain meaning if they’ve hung around the studio long enough and I’ve learned to trust that impulse, even if I can’t really put my finger on why it’s there yet.
Untitled (Ali 2), 2011
Two Opposing Views in 133 Parts (detail), installation at the Portland ICA
C & P: You exhibited a work last summer called Alone: Two Views in 113 Parts. The installation is visually linear in much the same way software film and music editing appears on screen. Is this a direct influence of your work in film?
Aaron: I think it probably is, though that didn’t occur to me until much later. That piece was partially influenced by wall friezes done by Felix Gonzalez-Torres and the way that work was unique to the architecture in which it existed. I liked the idea that the viewer would be physically committed to the piece, that they would have to walk from one end to the other to get the full meaning (it’s about 90 feet long). The text in the piece is essentially linear; it can be read from left to right but aside from the text, there are other layers of meaning that occur. I wanted to confound that linearity by gradually making the text unreadable and creating a context where one would have to refer to the middle, beginning or get a total view to get a richer idea of the piece.
C & P: Talk about the choice in this piece of merging the Columbine killers handwriting with a poem by Edgar Allen Poe.
Aaron: This piece has changed over time and it’s meaning has shifted a bit for me. I began the piece thinking about visual shorthands, culturally held assumptions about inherited knowledge from books and photography. The piece is comprised of 113, cut book pages. The pages are idealized photographs of nature, beginning with very close, first person perspective to distant galaxies. These images are practically authorless and begin to take on a larger, cultural meaning of formless notions, like say, god or transcendence. Galaxies for example, as depicted in print, don’t have much relation to how those things really exist and they start to take on broader, mythical meanings.
I think there’s a certain violence in that piece having to do with futility and disaffection. The poem, Alone, isn’t the most subtle poem in the world and there’s an almost desperate nature to it. I wanted to imprint the text with personal meaning, using the handwriting of someone who was involved in an act that was largely based on ideas of loneliness and disaffection. Ultimately, I think there’s an implication in the piece that as the imagery expands outward, the text expands inward at the same velocity.
Untitled (Miles), 2011
C & P: Horror in film has had a large influence on your work and fear seems to be an element you explore in both your studio work and your films. Part of the rush of watching horror films is confronting that base fear, that point of confrontation. Is this how you view the art making process, or your practice in particular? Or both?
Aaron: My love of horror films goes back to my childhood. I watched films that I was probably too young to see at the time and some of these films, like The Exorcist and John Carpenter’s version of The Thing (among many others) left a serious impression on me. This interest definitely influences my studio practice, but in indirect ways, I think. I’m attracted to a certain idea of fear, in the way that experiencing something new can evoke fear. Also, creating things in the studio can carry with it a certain violence. Destruction and death have always been important parts of my process. I try to have the courage to be able to destroy something in order to build it better.
Untitled (Yellow and Red), 2011
C & P: In your film A Man Born Blind Who is Being Told About a Rainbow, you flip through pages of books to show specific artists. Why did you choose these artists? Describe the connection to the footage from your studio.
Aaron: Most of my pieces start off pretty organically and that part began as a sort of curated show of artists that I own books of. I just started taking these books off my shelves and photographing certain images, editing them down until I got to what I thought was a somewhat coherent group. As it progressed, I noticed that there was a theme of creation and destruction developing and that became interesting to me, as these are two equal creative impulses for me in the studio. The piece begins with images of Frank Auerbach, (for me, the epitome of painterly logic) and progresses through images of futuristic optimism and destruction which are depicted in floating cities and homemade bombs. There’s a homemade atom bomb near the end.
The other part of the piece is a long tracking shot of all of the detritus from my studio. It’s a row of remnants of materials that were used to build art pieces: scrap wood, plexiglass, paint, things like that. Negative spaces. I wanted to take these negative spaces and make something from them, to prioritize them. The final shot is of two of these scraps, one on top of the other, signifying the most rudimentary form of creative impulse. It’s the moment when nothing becomes something, the beginning of the studio process.
C & P: I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the filmmakers you’ve edited into your work, as well as how you selected the music.
Aaron: The clips that I use in my video pieces are chosen largely for narrative reasons, although I do have a great love for Tarkovsky and his films figure pretty highly in some of my pieces. I’ve used clips from his films and I’ve borrowed certain themes from his work. For the piece we just discussed, the long tracking shot was based on a scene from the film Stalker in which he depicts an array of culturally important objects underneath water. The turning of pages in art books turns up in a few of his films as well.
The music in my videos is chosen for a couple of reasons. Again, I’m appropriating Tarkovsky, who utilized baroque pieces in his films. My other motivation for choosing particular pieces is that I find video to be a difficult medium as far as audience is concerned. Asking six or seven minutes of someone’s time in a gallery setting is a lot to expect and I wanted to use pieces of music that have an emotional pull, something that would make the viewer stay for more than a few seconds to watch the entirety of the piece unfold.
Untitled (Alps), 2012
C & P: How much of your 3D work is constructed for film only? How much makes to the point of sculpture and installation?
Aaron: So far, all for the constructs in my videos is for specific, film use only. Of course, connections exist between pieces so something that’s used for a film might turn up in another form in the studio at some point.
C & P: Since you’ve undertaken these new concepts in your practice, what conclusions have you drawn? Or are you not at a point of conclusion, but rather in the middle, or even just beginning?
Aaron: A lot of it has to do with trust. I’ve had to learn to re-format my studio practice and trust that there would be something of value at the other end. As far as where I am, I always feel like I’m just about at the beginning.
Q & A with Schoolhouse resident Justin Orvis Steimer.
C & P: What artists (living or dead) inspire you or have helped to shape your painting/drawing style?
Justin: Roberto Matta was the first artist whose work really captivated me. The environments he was able to create, the way the shapes, lines and colors all interact with each other. The way you can go into his painting and wander around. Later some of the other surrealists really struck me, Tanguy and Ernst, again for the worlds they created and their combination forms, mixing abstract with figurative, giving me the feeling that anything is possible. Now I really believe in the collective consciousness, that we are all the same and all connected, we all inspire each other. The strongest inspiration from another person I have gotten recently was when I heard Nico Muhly’s music for Benjamin Millipeid’s Two Hearts. The combination of long sustained notes with repetitive yet slightly changing rhythms was so enchanting and seemed so familiar, it re affirmed that artistically there is always room to grow and continue to learn and that it is possible to make the old new again.
C & P: What is the first piece of art that you encountered that had an impact on you?
Justin: In 3rd grade I saw a Mondrian painting in Pittsburgh. When I got home I sat down at the kitchen table and drew a square on a piece of paper with a marker and thought my drawing could be in a museum some day, if someone ever found it.
C & P: Have you always been creative? Did you know that you would be an artist from a young age?
Justin: When I was young I wanted to be either an artist or a fighter pilot. It turns out that the navy only selects people who can see well for flight school, so pilot was out. I always knew I was an artist, I have only just recently fully realized that I am living that dream.
C & P: What is influencing the work you are making right now?
Justin: Really trying to create something that no one has ever seen before. Drawing life in a manner that will cause someone to make a connection that would never have been possible any other way. Right now is the most important time there will ever be, anything is possible, for my work there is nothing more important than documenting this energy.
C & P: Does being in New York City inspire the work you make?
Justin: I love New York. I spend a lot of time walking around and drawing in its subways and parks. I hear the train go by when I am painting in my room and the sirens while I am playing the organ. I am part of it and it is part of me.
C & P: Tell me a bit about your process when beginning a new piece. What inspires you to start a new piece?
Justin: I feel a constant compulsion to create. There is nothing more sacred to me than my drawing. This belief has made it possible to realize that there is tremendous value in the generally overlooked action of scribbling. This is what I have devoted my life to. Scribbling. Every drawing and painting begins this same way, with the idea being that just like sound can be etched in to vinyl, so too can energy be drawn onto paper. How the scribbling evolves throughout my life and where it will lead is the motivation for doing it.
C & P: I noticed that you utilize many different types of materials to create your work (wood panels, traditional canvas, sketchbooks, scrap paper, bedsheets, etc…). How do you decide what paper/surface to use for a particular art piece? Do you often experiment with materials? Or is the selection of materials mainly based on how you are feeling at the moment you begin working?
Justin: I bought a Moleskine sketchbook in 2005 and fell in love; the size, the paper, the pocket are all great. I haven’t found a book i like better so that decision is easy. I am currently on my 16th one. For my other work I like to start with something that already has some energy, a history. A couple months ago I found a large, flat, thin, smooth square of wood on the sidewalk near my house. It had a lot of scratches on it which I spent hours studying and imitating. Now you can no longer tell which marks I made and which were all ready there. It makes the viewer have questions about everything about the painting. I poured on paint and varnish (gifts from friends) and water and let them all mix. The wood soaked up what it wanted, some of the escaping air got trapped and made bubbles, the past life of the wood influenced these events. Then came the decisions of how much to change what has happened and what to leave alone. Man vs. nature. Destiny vs. free will. That painting is titled going in to get out. Most recently I have been sewing together scraps of muslin that my mom sent me. I have a couple frames that were given to me by Mark, my upstairs neighbor, which i stretch the fabric on. Thoughts of both of these people are in my head as I work, plus the fact that they had direct physical contact with the objects means that their energy is alive in the painting. That painting is titled thanks mom.
C & P: What other activities do you enjoy pursuing when not making art?
Justin: Just this past week I started going out to the Rockaways to surf. This is something I have wanted to do for a long time and I am excited to finally start going often enough to be able to really learn it. I spent literally all of my money on a wetsuit and a used surfboard. I now have 38 dollars to my name. I have always told myself never to worry about money, it always comes when I need it and the important thing is happiness not my bank account. I have also just started baking bread. I cooked in a restaurant for five years but we bought our baguettes so I never learned about yeast and starters and all of that. Two weeks ago I bought three packets of yeast and looked up a simple recipe and now I bake a loaf almost every other day. It really is quite simple, it just takes a bit of time for the dough to rise but it smells all yeasty and delicious while that is happening so it is a pleasant wait.
C & P: Does making music influence your painting practice?
Justin: Sometimes the only thing I want to do is sit down and play the piano. I don’t know what is going to come out but it is just like drawing, I just let my mind wander and start pressing down the keys, then maybe a certain rhythm or pattern emerges and sounds nice so I go with that for a while, then I want to change one of the notes or my fingers forget what they are doing so I play around until i find a new arrangement that makes me happy and I go with that for a while. It is its own thing as well as another way to think about painting. Making a big splash on the canvas is smashing your hand down on the keys. Drawing nice clean lines is playing a simple melody one note at a time.
C & P: You told me that you usually make music for yourself (and most often by yourself) and you also seem to be drawing constantly. For you is art making a solitary process? Do you ever collaborate with others? Are you a solitary person?
Justin: I definitely prefer working alone and enjoy my solitude. Occasionally people will ask to paint or draw with me and I always say yes. I also always feel a bit uncomfortable while doing it. My painting titled do something began with me and some friends getting out some frustrations by making a mess with paint. For me it wasn’t complete until I was able to go back and work on it alone for a few weeks. I was happy to have my friends finger prints and sweat on the canvas but i felt that to be able to understand it better I needed to refine parts of the mess. I do think it is good to get other people involved occasionally to keep things new and diverse but I will always do most of the work myself. Musically I do not like the pressure of someone else relying on or reacting to what I am doing. Most of the time I do make it for my self, I don’t care that no one else hears it. Every now and then I will play with people around but it makes me a bit nervous and it influences the music. I have been playing the guitar for over 10 years and I still struggle to play any song correctly the whole way through. This makes it hard to play with other people. Recently however my roommate David and I have been making these kind of tribal sounding, meditative songs. They are a combination of my electric organ, synthesizer, and acoustic guitar, mixed digitally with David’s beats and sometimes Mariette adds some vocals. That has been working because we are not concerned with the outcome. No pressure. Just like my drawing, if a mistake happens it is either embraced and left alone, or worked on until it becomes something new.
C & P: What could you imagine doing if you did not create art?
Justin: Traveling through outer space.
C & P: Where can we see more of your work on the web?
Justin will be showing his work this June at:
ps project space
548 w 28th st., suite 328
vip preview: wed june 20 from noon-8pm
opening: thurs june 21 from 6-9pm
gallery hours: june 22-27 open noon-6pm
closed sunday and monday
Photos © Christine Navin. Do not reproduce without permission.
Q & A with Schoolhouse resident, photographer, and mobile maker, Chris Chludenski.
C & P: You make found object mobiles and also shoot Polaroid photographs. How long have you been creating your mobiles and taking photos? Do you prefer working in one medium over another?
Chris: I’ve been doing both for about thirteen years now. I don’t prefer one medium over another but i certainly produce more Polaroids than I do mobiles. I prefer photography as an artform, as I can take it with me as I go, whereas with the mobiles I need materials and a studio space.
C & P: What are you most frequently drawn to as subject matter in your photography work? How about with your found object mobiles? Is there a correlation between the work?
Chris: I try to say something with the mobiles and express my views. Polaroids for me are much more documentary and don’t necessarily have a message behind them.
C & P: Tell me a bit about your camera collection… How many do you have? Have you used all of them? Which is your favorite?
Chris: I’ve got about 350 cameras. Mostly Kodaks, made between 1890 and 1980, and Polaroids, plus few Imperials, Agfas, and Spartus. Some working, some not. I’ve used about a quarter of them, I bet. Most would be in working order if film were available, but some are just beautiful models I can’t part with. I like that the older cameras were much more stylish, inventive, and decorative than what is produced today. My favorite is between the Big Shot Polaroid, that Andy Warhol made famous in his portraits, or the Kodak Colorburst camera, which Polaroid sued Kodak over and had production of both cameras and film stopped because of patent infringement.
C & P: Now that Polaroid has gone out of business and the film is no longer available what do you shoot with?
Chris: Fuji makes a film compatible with many Polaroid Land Cameras. Also the Impossible Project manufactures instant Polaroid film for sx-70 cameras. The film itself is flawed and expensive, but the idea to keep Polaroid alive is admirable.
C & P: Do you ever shoot digitally or do you prefer to still use film?
Chris: It depends on what I’m shooting. I have a Nikon digital camera that I use sometimes. I’ve also got a Canon 35mm.
C & P: Do you feel that digital lacks a certain quality that you look for in an image?
Chris: It doesn’t lack anything, its just a different aesthetic. A different view of the same thing.
C & P: You studied at Emerson College in Boston, did you study photography there?
Chris: I earned my BA in Photojournalism.
C & P: Do you prefer living in New York to Boston?
C & P: How has living at the Schoolhouse influenced your work? If at all?
Chris: I’ve been able to see things differently and get new perspectives.
C & P: What artists have been an influence on you?
Chris: Alexander Calder has always been a huge inspiration to me. Robert Capa. Ralph Eugene Meatyard.
C & P: What could you imagine doing if you did not create art?
The Schoolhouse will be open:
Friday, the 1st – 5PM — 11PM
Saturday, the 2nd – 12PM — 11PM
Sunday, the 3rd – 12 PM – 8 PM
Augustin Doublet will be screening his new short film Adam all weekend.
Photos © Christine Navin. Do not reproduce without permission.
Map larger here.
Since I will be “vacationing*” in Bushwick next week I have made a handy list of galleries to explore. All of this information is gathered from Bushwick Daily’s map, which can be found here. I altered their map (scrawling in gallery names, above) and also made a list of all of the spaces. Links are included below (so you can check if the gallery is open & what exhibition is up). I figured since I made the effort to prepare this for myself I may as well share with others interested in checking out the spaces that are so quickly popping up in Bushwick.
Yes, I am pretty damn nice!
250 Moore St., #108, Brooklyn, NY
257 Boerum Street, Brooklyn, NY
319 Scholes (by appt.)
319 Scholes St, Brooklyn, NY
Youth Group Gallery (by appt.)
407 Johnson Ave, Brooklyn, NY
Luhring Augustine Bushwick
25 Knickerbocker Ave., Brooklyn, NY
Bogart St. Area
56 Bogart St Brooklyn, NY 11237
56 Bogart St Brooklyn, NY 11237
56 Bogart Street
56 Bogart St Brooklyn, NY 11237
56 Bogart St Brooklyn, NY 11237
56 Bogart St Brooklyn, NY 11237
56 Bogart St Brooklyn, NY 11237
56 Bogart St Brooklyn, NY 11237
More Bushwick Galleries:
English Kills Gallery
114 Forrest Street, Brooklyn, NY
16 Wilson Ave., Brooklyn, NY
1053 Flushing Ave., Brooklyn, NY
The Living Gallery
1087 Flushing Ave #120 Brooklyn,
Secret Project Robot
389 Melrose St., Brooklyn, NY
505 Johnson Ave., #10, Brooklyn, NY 11237
The Active Space
566 Johnson Ave Brooklyn, NY 11237
83 Wyckoff Ave., #1B, Brooklyn, NY
449 Troutman St. #3-5, Bell#21
950 Hart Gallery (by appointment)
950 Hart St Brooklyn, NY 11237
286 Stanhope Street, Brooklyn, NY
150 Wyckoff Ave Brooklyn, NY 11237
Parallel Art Space
17-17 Troutman Street, # 220
17-17 Troutman St. #329, Queens
464 Seneca Ave., Queens, NY 11385
Small Black Door
19-20 Palmetto St., Ridgewood, NY
Pdf of full gallery list here.
*aka staying away from my Greenpoint home base for 7 fun-filled days
Self Portrait With Bird, Acrylic and Oil Stick on Canvas, 72” x 60”, 2010
C & P: You grew up on the East Coast in New Hampshire, went to undergrad in Baltimore, and then moved to NYC to attend graduate school in Brooklyn. Do you feel that living on the East Coast has influenced your work at all? If so, how?
Elias: In as much as a place you’ve spent the majority of your life can, I suppose. As far as direct references within the work, I doubt it. I paint pictures of places I’ve lived, but I think those references would find their way in regardless of where I resided. I love the East Coast; I really can’t imagine living elsewhere in the States. Being near an ocean feels freeing to me, living in the middle of a giant country such as this one gives me a weird feeling of confinement. Granted, that feeling is based on nothing but supposition, but that’s my immediate reaction that a coast is necessary for my general sanity. The coast of France, Italy, India, those also sound good too…perhaps it’s a bit of a fight or flight sensation, the need/possibility for a quick escape. On the other hand, as a person, these places have shaped my ideals, concerns, and general humanity greatly; so if the pictures are just an extension of me, then I’d answer a resounding yes to the question. Aside from it being an impossibility, the thought of not growing up in New Hampshire, and not being able to follow the trajectory that it set me on, is a sad thought; I wouldn’t change much if asked to do it again.
C & P: What do you like most about living in New York City? Least?
Elias: I grew up 5 hours away from the city, with an aunt who lives here; so at least twice-yearly trips were a regular occurrence growing up. What I like about New York the most is that, while I’ve only lived here a short three years, I still often get that feeling I got as a child, driving in down the West Side highway, the city creeping up higher and higher. It’s an utterly fascinating human conquest, this place. It is the only place (that I’ve been so far) to continuously blow me away when I thought it no longer possible. When I go visit my family up north, I realize the things about the city that I like least (the lack of solitude/quiet/open spaces); they are numbered, but usually forgiven upon returning.
Narcissus, Acrylic and Oil on Canvas, 76” x 62”, 2011
C & P: I read online that you studied illustration in undergrad and painting in graduate school. How have both educations influenced your work? What made you change from illustration to painting? Do you ever do commissioned illustrations now?
Elias: This was a continual struggle at the Maryland Institute. I have a big problem with peoples’ need to divide artistic disciplines, and their utter surprise when artists bridge gaps comfortably or have two separate practices. My biggest objection is that these lines do not exist as much between “high art” mediums; no one questions the painter who also sculpts his models, or a painter who does charcoal studies for her oil paintings. But show someone a little graphic novel you’ve worked on next to a big dirty painting and somehow there arises a problem; when so-called “applied” arts are done by “fine” artists there are questions of intention, ideas that the artist lacks direction; I still don’t understand it. Can one not be “illustrative” within a painting? Or, what does that even mean? I think the words have too much preconceived connotation. I started at MICA in the Illustration program because I loved to draw, especially little characters and stories. I found a teacher, Warren Linn, whom I respected very much; he was one of the heads of the Illustration department during my years as a student at MICA. As a professional illustrator, he is still in all senses of the word, a “fine” artist. I began taking painting classes; I never saw the difference! An illustration could be just like a painting; if anything it was perhaps more content-directed; and maybe when the painting was done, it would be sized down to fit a particular spot; that seemed fine with me. The academic institution has a problem with this. The school needed to classify and direct its students, so when I argued that no, I did not need to use Photoshop to make my illustration—I wanted to draw and paint and play and use my hands—this created an issue. Now, it sounds like I’m the little kid in the corner bitterly complaining about not getting his way, but it was not my ignorance of the importance of a tool like the computer; I wanted to learn that too. It was the fact that it was considered the “proper” way, and I felt justified in challenging that. I stayed in the illustration program due to Warren’s mentorship and other students I had met in the program. I do the occasional illustration if there’s a request for one, but do not actively seek them out. The personal space of painting, with no specific end goal in mind is now my priority.
Paphos, Acrylic and Oil on Canvas, 64” x 74”, 2011
C & P: I first saw one of your paintings outside of your studio space at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. I was really intrigued by the Brooklyn Army Terminal buildings and the area surrounding it. How long have you worked in that space? Do you find being in that strange, empty industrial area inspirational at all?
Elias: Oh man, I love that building. Did you know it was the biggest building in the world when it was built in 1919?! There are 52 acres of floor space just in building B! It’s really unbelievable. I’ve only been in the studio space since June, but yes the site is incredibly inspirational, many architectural elements of the building have already crept into some paintings. I’m one to pretty much tune out everything once I’m in the studio, including my environment, but I’m sure the 10 minute walk up to and through the building filters in more than I know. I’m also really attracted to empty industrial areas in general, thinking about what goes on in them during the day, or what went on inside 100 years ago when they were built. I often ride my bike down to the studio, and all along 2nd Avenue in Brooklyn—much of it dubbed “Industry City”—are these towering factory buildings; it’s really something to ride through, especially at night when I’m usually the only one around. Someone once described my paintings as having “lonely architecture,” I think that’s apt considering the places I’ve chosen to work. My studio in Baltimore was in an old mill, my friends all lived in old warehouses, the studios at Brooklyn College were housed in a converted theatre with 30-foot ceilings, and now the Army Terminal.
C & P: What inspires you to begin a picture?
Elias: It’s an extreme, fervent desire to create a better painting than the last, not a single inspiration. An angry professor once called this inability to define my inspiration as a “lack of passion;” I of course fought to disprove her, but I don’t know how good a job I did. Yes, there are often specific content and ideas I want to paint about; but my real inspiration doesn’t come until I just start, lay a color down, anything. Saying I’m my own inspiration is probably as egotistic and selfish as one can be, and I assure you that’s not what I’m getting at. Maybe “everything” is the answer to what inspires me, I rarely find myself seeing or experiencing something and then getting one of those light bulb moments of “Oh! now I have to go paint!” It’s a more gradual process of influence upon inspiration upon experience that seems to coalesce once I get into the studio. It can take hours of dicking around doing crossword puzzles, staring at canvases, or it can be immediate; there seems to be no rhyme or reason, which I think is an attraction of the whole thing for me: the fact that the process I’ve been developing my entire life continues to surprise.
C & P: Tell me a little about the process of creating a new work. Do you sketch out your ideas with a drawing first? Do you ever work out a composition on a computer before you begin to paint?
Elias: No to both. I do make drawings and little paintings, and many elements of each often reappear in the larger works, but it’s very rare that I’ll do an actual study for a painting. I use the computer to occasionally find source material; if it’s a certain building, or a logo I want to use, I’ll bring it in and tack it to the wall; but my work actively lacks a digital aspect with respect to how it is made.
Tavern, 2012, Ink and Oil on Canvas,18″ x 14″
C & P: Do you paint mainly with acrylic? Why does this medium appeal to you? Have your paintings always been so colorful? Or is this a new development in your work?
Elias: Immediacy is extremely important to me; I need to be able to change something at any time, and acrylic affords that ability due to its fast drying time. I often thin paint further to speed this process. When I know what I’m doing in a picture (which is rare) I’ll use oil, if I am confident in the permanence of that area. Oil paint is beautiful and I think is something I need to explore more, but for me a more considered temporal aspect is attached to oil paint, one that I’m not willing to give in to just yet. I also use a lot of latex house paint, for a couple of reasons. One, for the same reason as acrylic: it is water based and it dries quickly. The other, because even though I mix colors, I like starting with paint that was already designed for some use, I especially like the idea that it was designed to decorate or embellish someone’s home. I get most of my latex from mis-tint racks at hardware stores. These are colors that weren’t mixed to the customers’ satisfaction, yet they are examples of colors people chose to live with, and that resonates, and I more often than not use the colors as they are straight out of the can. Color has always been an important aspect in my painting, while some of the pictures may have underlying (or outright) dark, ominous, depressing subject matter; they are more often than not painted with “happy” colors. This might just be to amuse myself, which is fine, but I’d hope some people would laugh at my work.
C & P: Do you feel that you notice minute details in your everyday experience, the stuff most people do not see? Do these details make their way into your paintings?
Elias: Minute details, probably yes. But as far as it being the “stuff most people do not see,” I don’t know what other people see, and it’s been my experience that while one thinks they are doing/seeing/being/fucking/creating/living life differently or better than the rest, someone’s probably done/seen/been/fucked/created/lived it before you. That’s comforting.
All God’s Children…, Acrylic on Canvas, 56” x 53”, 2011
C & P: There are usually humans depicted in your paintings, mainly men, & most of the time these humans are cartoonish and are involved in somewhat absurd actions. What are these men getting up to? And why do they look sort of ridiculous?
Elias: Don’t you look ridiculous? I bet you do, I know I certainly do. We are a weird, depraved, schizoid, yet seemingly predictable species, and I think we all do completely absurd things on a daily basis. Today I drank coffee so I could shit, then smoked a cigarette while riding a bike that made my chest hurt, called my mother to feel love, ate a sandwich that made me nauseous, then did laundry so I could feel clean and good, and now I do; what’s not ridiculous about that? So I paint what I see; and yeah, I’m pretty sure all those men are me.
C & P: Is humor an important aspect of your work?
Elias: Yes, without it I don’t see the point. We’re all depressed, sad, lonely, abstract—those things are the easy feelings to identify and commiserate with—but making someone laugh is true talent; having happiness in common is rare.
Saint Joseph , 2012, Ink on Canvas, 18″ x 14″
C & P: Are these paintings self-portraits?
Elias: Yes, I think most of the men in the pictures are me to some extent, or at least a man I somehow identify with. I don’t see them as self-portraits in a traditional sense, but sure, you could call them that. Some of them are how I see myself; some are how I wish I could be.
C & P: Your paintings also have a very architectural element to them; there are grids in almost all of the paintings I have seen. Are you interested in modernist architecture? Are you influenced by the work of any architects in particular? Why does a grid pattern find its way into so many of your paintings?
Elias: Yes, architecture continues to be a constant element, if not an outright theme in many paintings. It’s kind of the opposite of your question earlier about seeing “things others don’t.” Architecture is the thing we ALL experience and see daily, many of us sharing in the same environments and structures. It’s an all-encompassing board game, especially in a place like New York City. I do like modern architecture, my father is a modernist interior designer/woodworker/furniture designer, so it feels like a given that growing up around every issue of Architectural Digest ever printed would have some influence on me. My draw is more towards Italian renaissance architecture; not that it stopped there, but I really admire a time when the building—the structure from foundation to buttress—mattered so much and was constructed with such care. That is a huge hole for me in modern construction: building purely for profit and not to last, not factoring in the life and destiny of an edifice. And now it’s a passing thing, even if I see a building I like (again, especially in New York) I don’t meditate on it, the first thought is usually, “shame that’ll be gone soon.” The grids. This is a two-parter, 90% of which is pure selfishness and obsessive desire. I really like making the grids. It’s cathartic, I can use precise tools like rulers and protractors and miniature Japanese xacto knives, I can sit and do one activity for hours, it takes up time. In this way, while I think each grid becomes integral to the painting, they also become a bit of a cop-out to dealing with the rest of the picture, a time-waster. The other 10% is legitimate. The grid is graph paper, it is measurement, and it is what practically every building plan, city layout, and computer motherboard is laid out upon. It’s the ultimate template among templates. I’m using the most primitive tool of planning to anchor these pictures of relative chaos. Keith Mayerson was a professor of mine at Brooklyn College; on our first studio visit he looked around, paused and said, “Ok, ok, I get it, you like to get your grid on.”
Doors, Acrylic on Panel, 12” x 24”, 2011
C & P: What artists would you cite as influences? If you could grab a coffee (or tea or whiskey) with any artist, living or dead, to have a chat about the state of the world, art, kittens, or whatever, whom would you choose?
Elias: How about a round table of three? Philip Guston, El Greco, and (because music is just as important to me as visual art) Fats Waller. I choose these three primarily because they came out of traditional schools of art, only to become utterly indefinable in their time and able to break down walls people thought would be up forever; and they each had the courage to do this—that courage sets them apart. I would only hope to one day be that fearless. Guston and Fats would both have a bottle of whiskey each, El Greco maybe some wine; El Greco would tell us about working for a Pope, Guston would proceed to tell El Greco more than he knew about his own time (this would last a few hours), and Fats would just tap away and say, “haaaaay, who are you guys anyway?” If anyone were to bring up kittens, it would probably be me; I’m a little unnaturally obsessed with my cat.
Dinner Party, Acrylic and Latex on Panel, 40” x 60”, 2010
C & P: Are there any contemporary New York painters that you admire?
Elias: There are, but my continual realization is that I’m awful with names, and classifiable information like that goes right through me, so it’s hard for me to make a list. Matt Blackwell, G. Bradley Rhodes, Annie Ewaskio, Nicole Eisenman, Ivin Ballen, that’s a short, incomprehensive list. Having said that, there is not much contemporary painting that I’m thoroughly impressed with; sculpture, installations, these things seem to be winning the day. I just saw some Gehard Demetz wood figure sculptures, those things are outrageous, I really admire him. I’m through and through an awful cynic, so most things I see don’t impress me (often including my own work). I am not reinventing anything, but most of what I see seems really to be a reenactment of previous art eras. The recent huge gravitation to geometric abstraction I find odd, yet predictable; it’s insanely saleable, and I get that and am fine with that, pretty pictures should sell. But what I don’t get is the 25-year-old painter wanting to make pretty pictures. If at such a young age people seem designed and inclined to create for product’s sake, or purely to impress themselves with a neon tableau of exquisitely painted shapes, I don’t see a forward direction for painting. The other problem I see is that artists of my generation seem averse to an art knowledge—from fundamental skills to art history—they think their talent lets them test out of that class, and that’s bullshit. And their talent is huge! I’m not denying that, I think with the flood of admissions at art schools in recent years, it’s just producing a larger pool of possibly great things to happen, but if half of those people are griping in the corner about drawing a model, or studying Persian art history, then there will be something missing as they mature; and that something missing is what I see when I walk into many shows in New York today. It’s a shying away from the field you chose, and a somewhat glib look of life, an idea that you know it all already. I certainly don’t know it all, if anything.
Tithe, 2012, Acrylic and Ink on Canvas, 18″ x 14″
C & P: I have been thinking a lot about the Internet lately and how it has become so much a part of our daily lives. Do you feel that the Internet is a hindrance or a helpful tool for you as an artist? Does the wealth of information online and its instant availability influence your work at all?
Elias: It is a helpful tool in the gigantic fount of information that it is. I really, really love it as an immediate source of information, when I’m at a computer; the newer, mobile aspect frightens me a bit and I think eliminates a lot of constructive conversation and human interaction. Do people stop in gas stations on country roads to ask directions anymore? I think it’s an impossibility for the Internet to not affect today’s artist, just as one’s environment—subconscious or not—does the same. Our “at-your-fingertips” generation is, I think, a bit lazy in its approach to the search for answers (myself included). We take for granted the fact that we can know anything we want at anytime with practically no effort at all; I think this limits a part of our human desire to hunt and gather. I’d say my Internet use is 30% useful: the articles I read, the music I can get, the news I can absorb, the things I can buy cheaply; but the other 70% is pornography, gossip, and voyeuristic nonsense, all which I think I and others could and should live without. I haven’t figured out a way out of it yet, but I pretend to try every day.
C & P: What are you working on right now?
Elias: More paintings. We just had an open studio event at the Army Terminal so I got a lot of feedback and critical response, which usually puts me in a stress zone and I start painting over everything and second-guessing; and combined with these interview questions, you could say I’m working on my stress level right now. In addition to more paintings, I have a plan to make some cast resin sculptures; a process which is totally alien to me but that I’ve always wanted to learn.
C & P: What could you imagine doing if you did not create art?
Elias: I’m a big fan of plan B’s… and C’s and onward. Plan B for me for a while has been some sort of zoological or animal study; I am continuously amazed and in utter wonderment watching nature programs and reading articles about our world’s other species. The “holy shit!” moments are endless, and that intrigues me greatly. I could also imagine being a food critic, if someone would pay me to eat, I could get on board with that. Or a baseball player.
Birdman, 2012, Acrylic and Ink on Canvas, 20″ x 15″