Don in his Crown Heights, Brooklyn studio.
C & P: Your watercolors are peculiarly evocative, I get a whiff of history, pulp, and the mythological bound together. What stories and sources of imagery attract you most?
Don: I am partial to heroic gender bending busty chicks, wearing low cut shirts and cargo pants held up by belts with huge buckles, swinging swords, and bottles of rum, especially on fantasy galleons. However, I also like stories where I can reverse gender roles most often associated with men. They can involve a messed up but essential journey where some desperate or obsessed soul in the course of it makes a discovery. Eroticism is inevitable and if I were to pin it down I say it owes something to the depiction of ecstatic disarray in savage Pirates movies from 1950s, and unsettling films like Antonioni’s “Blow Up” or Milton Moses Ginsberg’s “Coming Apart”. And I cannot forget Greek Myths and what an updated personal context for them might look like.
I watch old film noir for the images of detectives with self-esteem issues seeking out answers yet trudging through the sordid back streets of fringe society. My series of Redressed She Pirates is very successful, whose imagined freedom in domestic settings is razor sharp and worn at the hip. Stories with situations to yearn for, yet prudently not be allowed to engage in. My subjects are meant to suggest strangers or casual acquaintances.
Imagery for these stories are in my head but are cobbled to life in my photo sampling collages from collected sources in fashion magazines, 70s Sears and Sotheby’s catalogs, nautical books, how-to photography manuals. It is not always obvious here; odd family vacation snapshots found adrift of their context at flea markets or eBay. I collect all these, as needed, for what has an appeal to my thoughts for rendering; often the best of these photos are someone’s snapshots of just an instant. Same can be said of vintage British 1970s pinup magazines with pretense to a costumed story line or an aspect of an interview with a model that always undresses her; my goal is about fusing historical and contemporary styles to create challenges that tend to find and tie a metaphor for art towards gender bending and back again towards art history.
C & P: Your studio is a paradise of yellowed and curling paper, bits of old wood, stacks of vintage mags, and your copious drawings and watercolors. Tell us about your process for constructing images and how found material informs your work.
Don: My artistic process begins when photo snapshots pile up in my studio. There is a photo pile scattered all over the floor around my table, gathered over months. I think the foundation of my paintings and sculptures rest on the anxiety of this uncertainty in photos adrift of their contexts. I am working on several works at once: there might be as many as half a dozen works in various materials and stages of completion around the studio. However, everything has a meticulous cut photo collage that it proceeds from.
I find old and new photographic references on eBay or on recycling day in the neighborhood. I gravitate towards photos that have a juicy specific source and time that is evident as soon as you see them. It could be just the style of the paper, the lighting, the haircut, the interior, or clothing. When I have stacked up a couple dozen finished collages, I stop and sort out those that offer exciting feverish, or off-kilter compositions. The collages are only stepping stones, yet some become exciting artifacts when I finish.
Don at work.
These, I draw from, for the next week or two, using charcoal on paper. The style is loose and traditional; I like the dusty powder barely clinging to the paper. This rendered rapport with the collage distills the separate photo sources into a distorted complexity with palpable intensity. I love this drawing part; it feels good, actually, and psychologically like a life drawing session does. It homogenizes and frees the figure of the collages’ identity.
As I transfer the selected compositions to canvas or sculpture the tension between the egos within the sources emerge, the period of the photos falls away, something is lost and something else enters imparting on the whole a visceral proposal. Somewhere in that the idea of the sculpture will be. All nonessentials fall away with this process. I often find funny combinations that poke fun at cubist formality made up entirely of female body parts reassembled and about to engage in some unknown physical act; simultaneously sexual, revelatory, or most funny if generally alluding to an unknown skilled labor or trade.
Then there are the sculpting materials I work with to speak about; the found objects for the bases that the clay sculptures are mounted on; here I am trying to make a plinth with just a few words—a table, chairs, book, stool, turntable, dream catcher, etc. I am letting the base become a setting for the modeling with out modeling it. It is in this effort limited to just a stacking process until the sculpture feels like it is complete.
C & P: The sensuality of oil paint is used to enticing effect in your lascivious imagery of female nudes and semi-nudes. How do you feel about the different effects as you work images across various media—collage, drawing, painting, and sculpture? Do the materials present differing interpretations to the viewer? Which is your preferred medium?
Don: I prefer watercolor and oil paint up until recently as it just came so easily for me. The collages are the most anxious and conceptual maybe because I am a little repulsed that they are least removed from their sources; oscillating between cut parts and fetishist visions of women’s reshaped form. However, for the moment, the clay modeled sculptures, which I am having the most success with, allow me to display an ambiguity in the figure and Her being observed as shattered cannot be resolved completely, the reason I like it might be it is yet strangely organic and cannot be so neatly understood. I am trying to perfect this as a volatile talisman like image. It has interesting kinship with public statues; the phantomic aspects of public statuary that seem to want to step off the pedestal and take part in the sidewalk procession.
C & P: Your recent work is populated by women who embody a broad array of characteristics (pardon the pun!), from the powerful to the fragile, the self-questioning to the self-assured. Men appear less frequently and often as a foil for the women. Tell us about these characters and what makes women the perfect symbol for the struggles that your figures are experiencing?
Don: I don’t often know why I am doing something or why I like it. I want it to tell me something.
There’s no one-to-one correspondence between any kind of inner experience I’m having and the women are having; whatever I sculpt or draw, the woman as a fashion symbol allows me to ask the viewer to question whether or not the ideal body is worth aspiring to. The use I make of the symbol subverts the assumption that the ideal body is inherently good and perhaps as a castrative Medusa the ideal is both severed and severing.
In our world, the woman form is at once sexist and feminist, real and surreal, unsettling and seductive. She can be used to represent me. It is crucial that it is a woman, for its symbolic quality much like the pirate is; as a murderer, a thief, a colorful hero of adventure stories, she is a deeply fractured symbol.
The longer I make art, however, the more mysterious I find the relation between the objects I choose and lived experience. There is always a male foil within the works as either an object, a parrot, the sea, a pistol, a case of beer, framed picture on the wall, or a distant ship, The male body is just not as visually interesting a form when it is not muscular. When it is muscular it projects too much simple machismo that as yet I have nothing to say anything about.
However, if she is not me then I am the guy detective in the noir film seeking the truth and the girl is at once the answer, the trigger for the menace, and the unattainable beauty emerging from the shadows. So that’s a perfect symbol of a problem to be solved.
C & P: Your drawing is very fluid and playful, a sly cover for the almost monstrous transformations taking place in the figures in your recent work. How do you describe what these figures are going through?
Don: They are wrestling within simultaneous egos from divergent moments in their timeline. They are being cobbled together like a Frankenstein bride; bits salvaged from yet corpses of art history and contemporary culture. They feel for and are expectant for the spark of life waiting to ignite upon them. And in this shape shifting entropy they mirror the current ever-stranger versions of virtual reality as related to the human body.
C & P: You have a keen sense of the absurd. What kind of interplay between whimsy and heavier themes is at work in your work? Where would you ideally like to fall, if this were a spectrum?
Don: I like the tragic but I cannot get there, so I opt for humor to find it. The current work is partly an absurdist Hogarthian analysis of beauty. In our world there is an oppressive demand for idealization that is projected upon the female form; a body impossible to achieve in reality yet brutally tangible in the symbolic spirit.
My first aim is to find a tension between drifting elements of source materials that suggest a story. And to then follow that story’s formation, until I can jump to working out a complimentary formal or color narrative that carries the whole to a satisfying conclusion. Where I would like to end up is to release myself of fears and what my emotions need at that time, which is usually on the side of humor, as it is a bit like a role playing game.
C & P: We have talked about our shared interest in providing an experience which can be provocative and unsettling. What relationship do you envision between the viewer and the figures in your recent work?
Don: Where the unconscious rolls with the tide, face down. I want to help people come to terms with their instincts. Go back and forth between yearnings and discomfort signaling newness in the romantic pursuit; a rejection of accepted social mores in figures concerned in a different world without belonging or defining an actual place or time.
I want to get an engagement as identification, with or without sympathy for the image, a recognition of the memory, and then see the offering is sensually empowering but necessitates accepting the formally naughty grotesque mess as a liberating journey again and again. The work as a metaphor for making art.
The historical figure (classical) is present, yet the mythical, spiritual and exuberantly naked (that initially seems escapist) overwhelms. I am not interested in apolitical nostalgia or kitsch, instead I connect to the more transgressive gender identities.
I like to think of art as mischievously toying with old romantic equations, Classical mathematics, and realist skepticism, a pastoral alternative, memories of my deepest child hood.
C & P: What are some painters you admire whose influence might not be readily apparent in your work?
Don: Maria Lassnig, Giorgio de Chirico, Daumier, Gustave Moreau, Hans Balding Gruen, and Reg Butler’s sculptures from 1968!
C & P: Occasionally, The Artist appears in your drawings, jovially toiling before an easel. To what degree do you see yourself in these ironic and romantic depictions?
Don: I see them as a witty self critique of the art world, myself and as a vehicle for charting the “artists” path from private to public life that often ends in obscurity. I think I am converting my own self-consciousness into the viewers as an accessory to the crime. They double as my pit crew and cheer me on as the instigator manifesting the trouble with subject insularity that preceeds me in the search for a subject to paint about. Tongue in cheek homesickness for art school and its insularity that these works pine for.
C & P: We talked about your facility with various materials, are there other media you are interested in exploring, such as film or installation, in conjunction with painting?
Don: Installation and short films were apart of my past and I dream of another opportunity of pursuing it within a show yet have not had the means or momentum yet. Perhaps this year I will find the venue.
C & P: Your work contains distillation of a variety of imagery from Rococo painting to porn and comics, it seems almost timeless. Do you think you would be making similar work if you lived in another time or place, or do you think there is something that connects you very directly to New York City in the present day?
Don: I don’t think gender-bending work can survive in many places like here in NYC. Nor do I think irreverent work would either. The more emotive methods we employ in our works still need the context of this big city to support us because the attitude here is one of strength.
I could not do this art anywhere else. The stimulation of the art of my friends here and the cities’ close-knit cultural fabric is causal in ways I don’t understand but this work emerged, soon after I arrived, from work that was previously imitative and less connected to the world. But I don’t know, my biggest collectors are in Germany; a place I have never been.
C & P: What is on your easel right now?
Don: Two things: a canvas with a jazz musician pausing in his music while a woman serves him a John the Baptist on a platter. And on the sculpture stand a clay work of a two headed woman, with one smaller and short haired blonde head looking off in contemplation while the other head, long haired and black, yells into her own crotch.
From In Secret, All images © Friederike Von Rauch
Cheap & Plastique‘s Violet Shuraka interviews Berlin-based photographer
Friederike Von Rauch for issue #12. See more of Friederike’s work here.
C & P: You live and work in Berlin. How long have you been working there?
Friederike: My whole life, I grew up in former West Berlin, but I work wherever my projects take me.
C & P: Where do you photograph your various series? Is each series shot in a different location?
Friederike: Most series include a variety of different locations. Within the series I often switch the place. So for example for my series Sleeping Beauties I selected museums in Europe. The Transept series deals with churches of postwar modernism in Germany, Ash on the other hand is shot only in Iceland.
C & P: What inspires you to make a body of work about a particular space/place? Are these spaces that are accessible to all or do you seek out permission to photograph certain areas that are maybe hidden/off limits from public view?
Friederike: Most of the time I have seen a location and keep it in the back of my head until suddenly it seems exactly the right time to base a project around it.
A public and well-known place can generate this sort of fascination, if the particularity of the architecture or history of the place creates a special atmosphere.
I think this one moment of enchantment is what it takes to pique my curiosity. Many places you can simply visit, but many require painstaking preparation and permissions to gain access to for a photography project.
From In Secret, All images © Friederike Von Rauch
C & P: Is there any architectural space or place that you have always wanted to photograph?
Friederike: There are still quite a few, most of the time my creative work only starts after tedious process to gain permission.
For it to even happen at all, you need a certain amount of patience. So, really, everything is still possible!
C & P: Many of your photographs capture light cascading down a wall or in a corner of a room, various abstract details within an interior, details that many may not notice when passing through a space. What interests you about architecture and the small details that emerge when a space is looked at in a certain angle and with certain light? Are you more interested in the details rather than a place as a whole?
Friederike: …I am not sure since it is only through the whole architecture of a building I’m there at all. Then, however, and especially lately, it pulls me into corners, walls, and little details that I seem to notice. But initially I have to free myself of all stimulatory sensations, which can take awhile. When I do see my motive, I recognize it straight away, and then its meaning becomes clear to me—even more if it has been sitting there right in front of me the whole time.
For example: I find something that seems interesting at first, but that is not worth photographing. Then, something changes unexpectedly—the light, perhaps—and it might just happen that suddenly I am mesmerized by the whole setting.
From Neues Museum, All images © Friederike Von Rauch
C & P: There is a certain mood evoked through light and shadow in the spaces you choose to photograph. What draws your eye to these minimal, abstracted, geometric, compositions?
Friederike: It is as if I am not looking for it, but just find it. I then feel a moment of relief. Reduction and pureness is what attracts me.
C & P: The light in your images is very beautiful. Do you ever use artificial lighting or are all your images shot utilizing only natural light?
Friederike: I use the given light which can be natural light, but also artificial. What I never do, however, is to light the setting myself.
I am infatuated and surprised by light and its effect on me. I love to observe the light on nearly invisible and subtle areas.
C & P: Do you shoot on film or with a digital SLR? Do you use the computer as a tool when creating your images? Do you ever edit an image in Photoshop or are we seeing a print of what is created in a negative?
Friederike: I work analogue, so classic on negative, but then I switch to digital, I scan my negative and print digitally.
Certainly I change little things, but the real work is, however, while taking pictures.
From Transept, All images © Friederike Von Rauch
From Transept, All images © Friederike Von Rauch
C & P: You often shoot concrete walls and concrete structures. Many find concrete to be ugly and brutal, however, your images of concrete are quite the opposite. What attracts you to concrete as a surface?
Friederike: Frankly, I never had difficulties with concrete, I find the material very beautiful—from very coarse to very fine.
I love the gray color and the aging process. Maybe concrete is underestimated?
C & P: You have some photo series that are shot in Iceland. One series consisting of Icelandic landscapes, Ash Iceland, is especially beautiful. Did you travel to Iceland specifically to make a body of work there? Have you developed a special relationship with Iceland, as many photographers do, because of it’s extraordinary natural beauty and magical light?
Friederike: Yes, I actually applied for a residency in Iceland, because it has attracted me so much. Since then I have made 2 big trips there. The country has an unseen sky and an infinite emptiness and otherness. The light is really out of this world.
From Ash Iceland, All images © Friederike Von Rauch
C & P: Which part of Iceland are the Ash Iceland photographs shot in?
Friederike: Directly on the volcano in Iceland, the one responsible for the large ash cloud over Europe in 2010 (Eyjafjallajökull Volcano).
C & P: Many of your image series seem like fading dream sequences. Would you like the viewer to develop a narrative when viewing your photographs or would you prefer the images to be looked at individually as abstract compositions?
Friederike: I see them as a independent, not a narrative composition, the images also work in isolation from their series. How one looks at them, is up to the viewer.
C & P: Generally there are no humans in your photographs. Is there a reason for this absence? Have you ever photographed people? Would you ever consider including people within the frame of one of your images?
Friederike: The fact there are hardly any people in the photographs has to do with my devotion to places and my wish to dedicate my full attention to the space.
Practically, I prefer to work alone and in complete silence so, when possible, outside of public opening hours. So far it does not interest me to integrate people in my work, but their marks you can see very well.
From In Secret, All images © Friederike Von Rauch
C & P: Could you describe the process of working on the series In Secret?
Friederike: The Neues Museum Project from 2009 has kicked off this series.
Two years later, I followed an invitation to Dresden where I was working for one week, totally undisturbed in the old picture gallery.
By then I was infected. The majority of these images were taken in museums: places that preserve, reflect and exhibit Europe’s cultural history, such as art galleries, sculpture depots, restoration studios, archives, and other similar spaces—The Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp, BOZAR in Brussels, the Old Masters Picture Gallery in Dresden, and the New Palace in Potsdam, as well as the Academia di Belle Arti and Palazzo Grimani in Venice—are all featured.
C & P: Sieveking Verlag published a book of these photographs titled In Secret in 2013. Was this your first book? Do you enjoy the process of creating a book?
Friederike: This is my 3rd book.
My first book Sites was published by Hatje Cantz Verlag, showing works from Berlin, Brussels, and Rotterdam, my 2nd book features images taken of the New Museum in Berlin.
The 3rd book, In Secret, brings together the work of the Sleeping Beauties and the Transept series with a few other images.
Making a book is always a big challenge for the artist—the selection of images, design, papers, text, and printing is pure stress—and it is very important to find a partner who you can trust. I was very pleased with and felt supported by Sieveking Verlag.
From Sites, All images © Friederike Von Rauch
C & P: There seems to have been a reemergence in the popularity of the photo book in the past few years. Do you have a preference to which way you view photographs, do you prefer seeing a photographer’s prints in a gallery setting versus reproductions in art book form?
Friederike: That’s not a equal comparison. I work very long and hard until I produce the perfect print on just the right paper.
I do find the photo book a wonderful independent medium to show my work. However, the offset does not correspond to the original and that’s a good thing.
C & P: What are your thoughts about photographers utilizing Instagram? Do you have an Instagram account?
Friederike: I do not have an Instagram account, nor an opinion about it
C & P: You exhibited photographs in a 2 person show at i-8 in Reykjavik, Iceland in December, what work did you show? And how did the collaboration with this painter come about?
Friederike: It was a show of my work along with the artwork of my friend, Eggert Pétursson. Eggert paints, I photograph and the collaboration was really new and exciting for me, several works from the past 5 years were on display.
C & P: What projects are you working on currently?
Friederike: I’m working on a series with monasteries. I am, of course, searching out the monasteries according to their architecture, but the ability to live and work there at the same time while completing the work is wonderful, this allows me to respond directly to light and atmosphere.
I really love this Forgotten Iowa photography project by photographer Cody Weber.
First of all half of my family live in Iowa, many whom I have never met. I am interested in seeing this place that continues to be a mystery to me. I have also documented many of the small towns of my home state, Massachusetts, as well as those in New York, over the past 20 years.
The scenes look similar in NY state, Massachusetts, and Iowa; crumbling structures, abandoned properties, blue skies, empty streets, bored kids. A real feeling of loneliness exists in these places.
People have gone. The younger generations continue to leave these small towns for the city to make a more exciting and prosperous (?) life for themselves.
Having lived in New York City for over ten years now the feeling that maybe it is time to go back to a smaller town has been popping up in my mind much more frequently lately.
The cities have become too expensive for us to live in, why not take over one of these abandoned spaces and start anew?
All images © Cody Weber.
I like these kids!
Cheap & Plastique‘s favorite artworks at The Armory Show:
Enoc Perez, Galerie Nathalie Obadia.
Daniel Buren, Galerie Kamel Mennour.
Raymond Pettibon, Regen Projects.
Sverre Bjertnaes, Galleri Brandstrup.
Shafic Abboud, Galerie Claude Lemand.
Ayman Yossri Daydban, ATHR Gallery.
Peter Liversidge, Sean Kelly Gallery.
Antony Gormley and Frank Thiel, Sean Kelly Gallery.
Sam Falls, Galerie Eva Presenhuber.
Ulla van Brandenburg, Produzentengalerie Hamburg.
Watched Béla Tarr’s “The Turin Horse” last night. If you are a fan of beautifully shot, incredibly slow moving, bw foreign films, dealing with end times scenarios, then add it to your Netflix queue (available here)!
The Turin Horse, Béla Tarr
Images courtesy ©Luhring Augustine Chelsea.
Images courtesy ©Gladstone Gallery.
Matters of Pattern with Louise Bourgeois, Tom Burr, Daniel Buren, Ryan Gander, Mike Kelley, Martin Kippenberger, Dianna Molzan, Albert Oehlen, Sterling Ruby, David Salle, Cindy Sherman, Lucien Smith, Rosemarie Trockel, and Christopher Wool.
At Skarstedt Chelsea, January 17 – February 21, 2015. More information here.
Cindy Sherman & Albert Oehlen
Images courtesy ©Skarstedt Chelsea.
I just learned about a death in the family as I started my Chelsea art tour on Wednesday. And then I saw this video, “Cowfish”, 2011, by João Maria Gusmão + Pedro Paiva, which was part of the Beautiful Monsters show at Gladstone Gallery. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this sad, big eyed, dying fish all week. I hope he escaped his fate but, as happens to all of us, I am pretty sure he did not.
João Maria Gusmão + Pedro Paiva, “Cowfish”, 2011
Just saw that Darren Almond is having a show in Berlin at Galerie Max Hetzler.
I wish I could hop on a plane right now to go see it.
I saw Almond’s Hemispheres and Continents show at Matthew Marks Gallery in 2013 and completely fell in love with his work.
DARREN ALMOND / CARL BLECHEN
Landscapes, Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin
January 17 – February 28, 2015
All above images by Darren Almond, courtesy Galerie Max Hetzler and the artist.
Luckily Galerie Max Hetzler’s website has many images from the show on their website for fans of Almond’s fans to peruse.
These videos are entertaining me on this icy/snowy/smoky/grey day in Greenpoint.
Jean-Luc Verna & his Dum Dum Boys, Cover of Christine (Siouxsie and the Banshees)
Jean-Luc Verna & his Dum Dum Boys, FunkyTown, Directed by Brice Dellsperger