Issue 11 of Cheap & Plastique is now available, in it’s entirety, on Issuu. If you like pretending to flip through a magazine on thee internet do please have a look, plenty of things to entertain your eyeballs in this issue! CLICK HERE to be magically transported to Issuu land.
All studio photos © Violet Shuraka.
I had a studio visit and photo shoot with NYC-based artist Kelsey Shwetz last month for Cheap & Plastique. Kelsey was nice enough to give me a quick tour of her space, pose for some photos, and answer some questions about her work via an email interview after the studio visit. See more of Kelsey’s work here.
C & P: You live and work in NYC. How long have you been in the city and what brought you to New York?
Kelsey: I’ve lived here for precisely two years now. For me, moving from Montreal to New York represented unexplored avenues and possibility for expansion, artistically and personally. New York was in my mind this big dendritic mass of newness and opportunity that I would have to navigate, and that was thrilling.
C & P: Currently your studio is in Chelsea but you said that you are most likely moving it to Bushwick, Brooklyn in the very near future. Do you believe that more and more NY galleries will move out of Chelsea and the NY art world will be centered in and around Bushwick?
Kelsey: Yes, I will either move my studio to Bushwick or Greenpoint. A few galleries are making the move from Chelsea to Bushwick, but I don’t believe a giant exodus will happen any time soon. It is this curious thing where art is being made in Bushwick (or Gowanus or Greenpoint or Ridgewood) while many prominent galleries and most of the art fairs are located in the city. There are some fantastic galleries in Bushwick, and I think certainly Bushwick can be considered the center of where art is being made in New York.
C & P: You are also very involved in the Bushwick Art Crit Group, currently serving as Director of Exhibitions. Could you tell us a bit about the organization? Are all of the BACG presenting artists Brooklyn residents? How do you select the artists for each monthly crit?
Kelsey: Sure! Bushwick Art Crit Group is a non-profit organization committed to supporting and fostering development of Bushwick-based artists. We’ve been around since March 2013 and have recently expanded our monthly Crit programme to include exhibitions, participation in art fairs (Echo, SELECT fair at Art Basel) and panel discussions, which is very exciting! Not every presenting artist is a Brooklyn resident, but the vast majority are. In terms of selecting artists, it has all been about existing connections and relationships, which I think is really beautiful. What I mean by that is, it’s artists we already know and love, or it is an artist who came to a crit and approached us later wanting to present, or it is an artist you meet at a bar and think their work is really great and want them to speak about it, that kind of thing.
C & P: Next month at BACG you will be on a panel with the Guerilla Girls talking about the current state of the art world in relation to female artists. Could you tell us a bit more about this event?
Kelsey: I am so thrilled to be co-organizing and moderating this Feminist panel! We are honored to count Frieda Kahlo of the Guerrilla Girls as one of our panelists. What we’ll be addressing is the strategies that we, as self-identifying feminists/pro-feminists and artists, employ to identify, subvert, and oppose structural patriarchy in the Arts with particular examples of how we do so in our current practices. The panelists will also identify obstacles they deem most crucial to solve/ find most relevant. In having this panel, what we’re aware of is the importance of presenting an inclusive, representative voice in all Feminist dialogues. So we recognize the duty we have to use our platform at BACG to make space for those who would not necessarily have the privilege of such an opportunity. Thus, we’re viewing audience participation and discussion as a key part of our programme’s structure. I truly believe a lively discourse with all perspectives represented is not only fair and right and important, but key to progress and solidarity.
C & P: The current body of work in your studio consists of figurative oil paintings. How long have you been painting the figure? What interests you in painting a subject that has been painted throughout history, reaching as far back to the first cave paintings, in such a traditional medium as oil paint?
Kelsey: To be fair, I’ve been painting the figure since I was a child as we all have—those terrible watercolor paint sets where the yellow always ends up this greenish brown—but I have been addressing the figure formally and seriously in my practice for seven years. The fact that the figure in art is nothing new- but rather completely integrated into representation and expression since (as you’ve pointed out) the dawn of time is precisely what interests me. I’m very much attracted to classical realist portraiture, and this is referenced in my work. I paint the figure because I like looking at the figure, I like dealing with flesh, and expression, and the lines of the body. I’m also very aware that the medium of painting figures itself has historically been used as a kind of moral compass and aesthetic tastemaking device. So the kinds of bodies and concepts these figures illustrate (be it religious devotion, bravery in combat, virginal modesty) that we see depicted throughout history are both proposing and reinforcing what is ideal and correct socially. I like to borrow from the power of Art, and particularly oil paint on canvas and figurative work, and present concepts that aren’t completely represented or integrated or celebrated in our modern climate. Things like menstruation, the female gaze, non-intrusive or performative male sexuality, and empowered female sexual expression.
C & P: The term “feminism” is thrown around a lot these days with ignorant starlets declaring its obsolescence and Beyonce posing in front of the giant letters. Do you see your work as contributing to this conversation?
Kelsey: I sincerely hope so. We—as Feminists and allies—are all contributing to this conversation in radical and different and meaningful ways. What I endeavor to do with my painting practice is to visually represent kinds of things I feel are important to have a dialogue about—or to integrate into our collective consciousness—in a lush and beautiful and classical way. More than anything I’m interested in having these conversations with people who wouldn’t normally seek a Feminist dialogue out. If a person who doesn’t identify as Feminist walks into an art gallery and sees one of my pieces on the wall and goes away with a different perception, like “menstruation is normal and beautiful and ok to see and talk about!” then that’s a step in the right direction.
C & P: Looking around your studio I saw the works Madonna with Child (from 2014), Satisfaction (2014), Morning (Devotion) (from 2013), Self Portrait II (2013), Model with Bird (Albert St. Studio) (2013), and Lara with Book (2013). In all of these works there is a solitary figure, sometimes the subject is looking up from what they are doing, directly confronting the viewer of the canvas, and at other times the figures are lost in their own moment and the viewer is able to sneak a peek into their world, they seem unaware of a human presence. Is the subject of the painting engaged in a larger narrative or would you like the painting to be seen as a snapshot of a moment?
Kelsey: It is both, for me, depending on the painting. For example, Satisfaction is steeped in a larger narrative, as is Morning (Devotion) and Self Portrait II. In these works I am trying to illustrate a larger thesis or idea and the figures are helping with that. Other works like Lara with Book, Madonna with Child, and Model with Bird are more about capturing a specific person, their tendencies, their expression, in a particular moment. A true portrait in that sense.
C & P: In your paintings the subjects are often experiencing pleasure or presenting themselves in an overtly sexual pose. All of the figures seem strong willed and not embarrassed by their sexuality. Frequently, throughout history, we see male artists painting and photographing the female nude. We see less women artists painting or photographing the male nude yet you have taken on the subject. The men you have chosen to paint frequently have erections or are involved in a sexual act (such as pleasing a woman). Why have you chosen to paint the male nude in an explicit way? Where do you see the viewer’s place in relation to these figures?
Kelsey: I often see the male nude represented in popular culture and fine art as either devoid of sexuality (as in Roman and Greek sculpture) or firmly rooted in machismo (as in, everywhere). This simply is not a representative or inclusive view of male sexuality. When I do present a male nude he is illustrating the whole other end of the glorious spectrum that comprises human sexuality and expression. My male nudes are tender, demure, worshipful, shy, private, even passive. In the same way, I endeavor to fill in the gaps of the representation of feminine sexuality; my female nudes are overt, assertive, direct, unapologetic, or completely unconcerned with the viewer. In some works (Worship, The Triumph (curiosity), First Period, Treats) the viewer’s POV is intentionally constructed to reinforce the female gaze. That is, the viewer accesses the work as if they were one taking the photo of the moment happening to them. And in these cases the thing happening to them is intrinsically connected to having a female body (like menstruating or having your pussy eaten). There can be no debate that these are works illustrate the female gaze.
C & P: What inspires you to make a self portrait? How often do you paint self portraits?
Are the people you paint your friends, your lovers, or hired models? A combination of all three? Do you prefer painting one type of subject over another?
Kelsey: Self Portrait II was painted in an artist’s residency program I attended in New Mexico, in a tiny remote town. So, during this period there was a lot of reflection and self-evaluation, and facing myself and my work. A self portrait seemed appropriate. Plus, no one in the town would model without clothing for me! Everyone I paint is someone with whom I have a relationship with; I’ve never hired a model or painted a stranger. For me this is important because when you are intimate with someone you understand expressions they make or catch mannerisms that you can translate to the work that a stranger might miss. I think the painting becomes more full and complex when you understand your model.
C & P: Do you generally prefer to paint from a live model? Do you also utilize figures from photographs as your subjects? Do you feel that a painting created by observing a live model differs greatly from one painted using photographic or collaged sources?
Kelsey: There is nothing I like more than to paint from life, but more often than not I am painting from a photographic source simply because it allows me more freedom in my work. I don’t have to coordinate schedules or take breaks or struggle to create the same expression or pose as the last sitting (as you have to do while working with a live model). I do however shoot all of my models if I am using a photographic source; it’s important to me to be married to all aspects of the process. I do feel there is a great difference between a painting done from a live model and one done from a static source. In the case of the former, the subject is always shifting, always breathing and moving slightly and sometimes in the space of an hour they’ve shifted their pose so cumulatively and drastically you have to recalibrate. Thus, you are capturing a sum total of them—of all of their little movements and microexpressions. In the end it may be a less technically representative portrait, but it might be a more sincere likeness.
C & P: Could you describe your process when beginning a new piece? Do you ever create a preliminary drawing first or do you begin working directly on the canvas?
Kelsey: I do create a preliminary drawing, but it is done directly on the canvas. So, in the majority of my paintings the process is: a grid, then a drawing of the figure and some of the background details, then a ground layer of a rusty, coppery brown where the figure will be, some preliminary background color blocking, then the white highlights of the figure, then the shadows, then the pinks, then a layer of a whitish Naples Yellowish paint for the flesh, then a final layer of white highlights. And in between these layers of the figure I’m developing the background. I had a tendency before to paint the figure entirely first, then add the background in later. I’ve stop doing this and have strived to create a more balanced composition throughout a painting’s development. I like the idea of covering the white canvas as soon as possible so that at any time throughout the process the painting could ostensibly look finished.
C & P: In your most recent work you seem to be paying more attention to the small details and patterns in the backgrounds of the paintings, like with Madonna with Child. In the older work the backgrounds tend to consist of blocks of solid colors or very loosely painted patterns. How do you think these changes affect the way your work is read?
Kelsey: Hmm, good question. I hope that these more developed backgrounds will help my paintings to look more integrated. That in some cases elements of the background are just as crucial and important as the figure itself. Where in the case of previous works with more blocky colors, or even solid colors, the point of the painting was the figure. The background was just support.
Satisfaction, 58″x58″, Oil on Canvas Board, 2014, photo © K. Shwetz
C & P: You were also experimenting on your newest canvas by applying a cut out pattern directly to the canvas. Do you think you might experiment more with including mixed media into your paintings? How does the collaging of materials interplay with your subject matter?
Kelsey: Ha! The evening after you left my studio I ripped that cut-off pattern off of my painting, sanded the reddish paint that was behind it off, painted it white, and started painting a pattern from scratch for the background. Many, many mixed media artist will disagree with me vehemently here but for me applying a fabric or paper patterned element is quick visual gratification. That is, for my work applying a pre-patterned element doesn’t add anything significant conceptually that painting that same design from scratch would add. So maybe I should not be lazy and just paint it! So goes my line of reasoning. It’s like some exacting Victorian exercise in discipline and devotion. Plus I do intrinsically love making colors, translating delicious silk and creamy whites and lace through oil paint.
C & P: What projects are you working on now?
Kelsey: The piece I’m working on now is very exciting for me because it is a bit of a visual departure from my general body of work. I have this dear copy of 1000 Nudes (published by Taschen) which is this incredible compilation of erotic and pornographic photos from the mid-nineteenth century to the early 20th century. They are all gorgeous photographs—beautiful graceful lines, sumptuous flesh—but they’re all in black and white. I find the visual aesthetic of black and white figurative photos very arresting. I think because in this case they are less explicit—the flush of a cheek or the reddish stain of a lip or the pinkish tones of a breast all must be imagined—projected—by the viewer. So anyways, the figures in the piece I’m working on now will be in black and white. The only color will be in the background. I’m thinking of subverting the balance between background and figure. And I’ve found this great photo of vintage wallpaper (also in black and white) that I’m translating to color.
I’m also in the process of curating a booth for SELECT Fair in Miami on behalf of BACG. Christopher Stout (the founder of BACG) and I have selected some really fantastic artists: Alison Brady, Beata Chrzanowska, Eric Gottshall, Lisa Levy, Phoenix Lindsey-Hall, Meryl Meisler, Andrew Cornell Robinson, Thomas Stevenson, Drew Van Diest, and Andrea Wolf. I am truly honored to be working (and showing) with them.
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?
I had a studio visit* and photo shoot with Brooklyn-based artist Emilia Olsen last month for Cheap & Plastique #11. Emilia was nice enough to give me a quick tour of her space, pose for some photos, and answer some questions about her work and the neighborhood via an email interview after the studio visit. See more of Emilia’s work here.
*One of 3 studio visits with artists working in Greenpoint, Brooklyn for the current issue of
Cheap & Plastique.
C & P: Where are you from?
Emilia: I’m a peace corps baby, so I was born in South Africa, but I grew up in Madison, WI.
C & P: You currently keep a studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and used to work as an artist’s assistant in the neighborhood as well. How long have you been doing art-y things here?
Emilia: I’d been working my day job in Greenpoint for almost three years, but I only moved into this studio myself about a month ago.
C & P: What do you like most about Greenpoint?
Emilia: It reminds me a lot of when I used to live in Italy. It has this subtle old world charm that hasn’t been completely eaten up yet.
C & P: What is your favorite spot in Greenpoint?
Emilia: I like Broken Land on Franklin.
C & P:For music?
Emilia: My friends will gasp, but I’m not really a big music person. I only really go to shows unless I know someone in the band. I’m more of a talk radio person.
C & P:For food?
Emilia: Salted chocolate chip cookies at Ovenly! And salami sandwiches and rose tea cookies at Cookie Road.
C & P:For artistic inspiration?
Emilia: Local studio visits! And I wish Beginnings was still over on Meserole… That was such a fun little space.
C & P: You studied at the Corcoran School of Art and then moved to NYC to pursue a career in the arts. How different do you find living in D.C. versus NYC?
Emilia: DC is a weird place to live, especially when you’re not interested in a government job or politics. It was really interesting being so close to the White House (the Corcoran is located just steps away). I attended Barack Obama’s Inauguration, and I was able to do a teaching artist project with Michelle Obama on a local army base. I painted a bench with her and a little girl and we talked about Katy Perry.
I think that there’s more space for artists to spread out in DC. It’s not as cutthroat as here, but it’s not really less expensive. I do miss the free museums a lot. I think anywhere you live is what you make of it, but it just wasn’t the right place for me. The metro isn’t good enough.
C & P: Was there an art scene in D.C.?
Emilia: There IS an art scene in DC! DC doesn’t get enough credit for its contemporary art scene—there’s a lot of people doing interesting things down there. I have a particular soft spot for Transformer Gallery. I’ve shown there in the past and I’m part of their flat file program.
C & P: Did you always know that you would be involved in a creative field as an adult when you were young?
Emilia: Yes, pretty much.
C & P: What is your process like when creating artwork in your studio? Do you work on multiple pieces at once?
Emilia: Yes, I do tend to have multiple canvases going. I usually have one canvas that I’m using as a paint palette, and I do that until I feel like there’s enough paint built up or I’m waiting for another painting to dry, then I’ll start working on the palette canvas so it can become a real painting.
C & P: What medium do you most frequently use in your paintings? Oil? Acrylic? Is there ever an element of collage in your work?
Emilia: I used to only work in acrylic, but I switched over to oils completely a few years ago. I just love the texture and richness of color that oil paint produces.
I don’t really do collage very often, other than occasional googly eyes.
C & P: I noticed a lot of your new paintings had small multiple eyeballs painted on them or in some cases had google-y eyes stuck to them. Why have all of these eyes worked their way into your canvases as of late?
Emilia: More then anything it was intuitive. A lot of that work is kind of a manifestation of me applying little personalities to plants, and how funny it would be if they were watching us all the time from their habitats. Rolling their eyes when we do embarrassing things because they can’t look away.
C & P: I also some some older canvases that you painted of females and in your new work you have been mostly focusing on plants as the subject matter. Is there any reason for this shift or did you just want to try something new? Do you think you will ever go back to painting figuratively?
Emilia: I was mostly just really bored. I’d been out of art school for about a year and still making similar work as I had when I graduated, like paintings and drawings of sad girls with long hair. It’s really as simple as thinking, wow I am so bored, I need to change it up. And I’d been getting really into plants and gardening and was like, well I really like plants so I’m going to paint them.
I don’t know if I’ll go back to figurative works—I’m strictly on this experimental, light hearted work trajectory and I’m just going to stick with that for awhile and see what happens.
C & P: Do you keep a sketchbook?
Emilia: I used to keep them pretty habitually, but I don’t really anymore. I still draw a lot but I just work on individual drawings. So I guess those are kind of like my sketchbook now.
C & P: Who would you say are your biggest artistic influences?
Emilia: Jonas Wood, Yayoi Kusama, Erik Parker, Allison Schulnik, Daniel Heidkamp, Guy Yunai, Ellen Altfest and Mat Brinkman are a few favorites.
C & P: Is there a time/place that you would rather live in than the current?
Or one where you could be transported back via time machine to spend a few weeks hanging out and spying…
I think I’d rather see the future than the past! Unless it’s bad. Then maybe I’d skip it.
C & P: Do you feel that NYC is still the best place on the planet to pursue a career in the arts?
Emilia: Again, I think everything is what you make of it, but it’s hard to beat the amount of galleries, artists, and museums that are at your fingertips here all the time. But it’s not for everybody. You have to hustle to pay rent and also keep making your own work a priority.
C & P: Would you consider moving elsewhere?
Emilia: I think I’ll be staying put for awhile. I can’t really think of any place I would really rather live right now. I do miss traveling though. I would really like to go back to Africa.
C & P: What would you do if you did not make art?
Emilia: If I was going to do a complete 180, I’d probably go to med school. Really.
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.
In July, when I was in London, I stopped by NoBrow headquarters for a tour of their store and production facilities (and for a small shopping spree!) The space was great and there were so many amazing things to look at (I could have stayed there for days!) And even though Sam Arthur, one half of the NoBrow team, was having a very very bad week, filled with headaches (he was on the telephone dealing with finding a stolen van in Belgium, filled with freshly printed NoBrow books, when I first arrived), he kindly let me in, gave me photographic freedom to shoot anything I wanted in the space, and made the time to chat with me, enthusiastically, about NoBrow and the product they create.
This month Cheap & Plastique conducted a proper interview, via email, with Mister Arthur.
C & P: How did you decide to start NoBrow? Was it because of your love for the medium of illustration?
Sam/NoBrow: We started Nobrow because we love illustration and because we love beautiful books.
C & P: Had you been involved in any other similar projects/ventures prior to NoBrow?
Sam/NoBrow: Before we started Nobrow – Alex was an editorial illustrator and I worked as a director (mainly commercials and music videos), we had worked together on various animated projects, and although the end product wasn’t printed there was a similarity in terms of working with visual narratives.
C & P: Are you planning to expand NoBrow in the future or start any additional endeavors?
Sam/NoBrow: We are always searching for new projects to publish, doing more books and expanding into new markets is always going to be a challenge. We are going to be working with Consortium Book Distributors in the US starting in 2012 so our books will be more widely available in the US and Canada. We are also working on some translations of our books for the French market too.
C & P: NoBrow has existed since 2008. And you have had the shop and gallery for a little over a year and 1/2. Have things changed for NoBrow since the shop was opened? Are a lot more people aware of the NoBrow brand now?
Sam/NoBrow: We have had lots of opportunities pop up as a result of people coming into our shop, which is great. The idea that someone who didn’t know of us could stumble upon our shop and love our books is quite a romantic notion! However our shop/gallery was always intended to be a showcase for our products and the artists that we work with and in that way it has been really successful.
The amazing shop
C & P: Do you only sell NoBrow products in the shop?
Sam/NoBrow: We stock all of our own products, even some that aren’t available online, but we also stock products that are from producers and brands that we love and are ourselves inspired by.
C & P: Who is in the office on a daily basis?
Sam/NoBrow: Alex and I are always in the office unless we are away on business, and then we also have 3 full time staff members and that includes whoever is working in the shop.
C & P: How often is someone printing in the basement?
Sam/NoBrow: We don’t have the resources to be printing 24/7 unfortunately, but we usually have a new print edition every 6 weeks on average.
Silkscreening studio in the basement of the building
C & P: Do the illustrators silkscreen their own pieces, does NoBrow print the publications, or is it a collaboration?
Sam/NoBrow: We always print the editions – otherwise it wouldn’t be a Nobrow Small Press edition.
C & P: Are there other publishers in London doing something similar to what NoBrow is doing? Do you ever collaborate with other independent publishers?
Sam/NoBrow: Not that I know of – we work with lots of collectives and small presses but not so much with other publishers. We love publishers like Bongoût and Le Dernier Cri who operate in Europe, but there isn’t anyone quite as well established as these guys in the UK.
C & P: How about elsewhere in Europe? I saw the work of a Berlin based group called Bongoût at last years New York Art Book Fair who were selling similar wares (collectible silkscreened art books/objects). Do you know of them?
Sam/NoBrow: See above answer!
C & P: Do you sell NoBrow product anywhere in the USA?
Sam/NoBrow: We sell in places like Secret Headquarters in LA, Desert Island in Brooklyn and quite a few other cool independent comic books stores – next year we’ll be distributed by Consortium Book Distribution in US and Canada so it will be much easier for stores to get hold of our books.
C & P: Have you done any art fairs (like the Pick Me Up Contemporary Graphic Art Fair in London, where I first saw your work) in other cities?
Sam/NoBrow: We’ve done lots of shows and fairs all over the world (well mainly in North America and Europe) for example in the last 12 months we’ve been involved in shows and festivals in Angouleme, France, Toronto, Canada, Helsinki, Finland and we’ll be doing something in Madrid, Spain in November and also be at the Brooklyn Comics and Graphic Arts Festival in December.
C & P: The colors used in printing your publications have a unique look and feel about them and act as a common thread between all of the NoBrow library, making a group of NoBrow books look like a cohesive collection, despite the illustrator’s style. Is there a specific reason for your choice of colors? Was this color palette chosen because of any other publications/publishing houses that you admire? How are these super saturated, intense colors accomplished in both the silkscreen process and with the larger runs on the printing press?
Sam/NoBrow: We use a spot colour printing process with many of our large edition books that are printed with offset litho as opposed to silkscreen. The process is similar in that the colours we use are premixed and overprinted rather than made up of CMYK which is the more conventional way of printing things.
Sam showing me the difference between the screenprint version and the offset version of The Bento Bestiary book by Ben Newman
C & P: How do you decide whether to print a limited edition of hand silkscreened books in house versus a run of 3000-5000 at a press?
Sam/NoBrow: We can take more of a risk with the hand made books as we are only printing 50 or 100 copies – also it may be something that can only be done with silkscreen. With the large edition stuff we can do more complicated bindings as we are using industrial production methods.
C & P: Could you talk about the process of working with an illustrator on a book? Does it vary from artist to artist?
Sam/NoBrow: It varies quite a bit from artist to artist and project to project. Sometimes we have seen something that is already finished and we work with the artist to adapt it to a book for us – other times we are approaching an artist with a project in mind, in which case we are all starting form scratch. Some artists like to have some direction or an editor to bounce ideas off, where as others are much more likely to bury themselves away. Everyone works in a different way and we try to find the best system for each project in order to get the greatest end product: a beautiful book!
C & P: What is the most involved/complex project you have ever undertaken in NoBrow’s print shop?
Sam/NoBrow: We did a really cool concertina book with artists Jock Mooney and Alisdair Brotherston – the complicated thing was getting the maximum length from the paper stock. This meant printing in two sections on one sheet and sticking them together – and then folding them. Sounds simple it was real brain teaser!
C & P: How do you find the illustrators/comics that you publish? Are most of the NoBrow stable friends and/or acquaintences? People who have submitted work through your website? Or people that you have scouted out at schools and in other publications? Are they mostly British illustrators?
Sam/NoBrow: Again – this is probably our most commonly asked question – it’s different for every single artist. We have met some people via friends but these people are in the minority, for the most part we have approached people when we have seen their work and have loved it. Generally this is because we have seen their work online or in a book or magazine or even on some food packaging! Often people send us examples of their work or links to their websites and we always try to check these out even though we don’t always have much time. It’s important for us to always be looking at new things.
C & P: How many illustrators do you work with on a regular basis?
Sam/NoBrow: It’s not an official thing, sometimes people ask if we represent artists/illustrators and we don’t. However there are at least 20 illustrators that I can think of that we have worked with more than a few times. Hopefully this number will increase as we go into the future.
C & P: Whose collection of vintage Japanese toy monsters is displayed throughout the store and office? When did you begin collecting these? Do you have a favorite?
Sam/NoBrow: Alex is an avid collector of Kaiju Japanese monster toys – it’s his collection and he’s been collecting for at least 10 years. I love anything Godzilla!
Japanese monster collection
C & P: What is your favorite thing to do in the neighborhood?
Sam/NoBrow: I love a pint in The Griffin over the road from our office and lunch at the Hoxton Grill is always a treat! If I want to go somewhere a bit more colourful – DreamBagsAndJaguarShoes on Kingsland Road is a great night out.
C & P: Are there any other galleries that you frequent in Shoreditch? Elsewhere in London? What are your favorites?
Sam/NoBrow: I’m always a sucker for The Tate Modern – it has to be the best art gallery in the world. In Shoreditch – Seventeen Gallery, 17 Kingsland Road, always has interesting stuff and there are loads of galleries on Redchurch Street and also Leonard Street that have great shows.
Ben Newman and Sam Arthur sitting at the conference table in the office
More cool stuff in the office
House of Gold: An exhibition of work by Butter was hanging in the NoBrow gallery when I was there in July. The NoBrow gallery is currently showing an exhibit of works by the artist, Ben Newman, who I met during my visit. Ben seemed super nice and is a fabulous illustrator/artist, go check out his work if you happen to be in London!
Work from House of Gold exhibition
A few of my photographs of Sam Arthur and the NoBrow space will be in this month’s issue of Form Magazine, available at the end of October.
Nathan Wasserbauer interviewed by Heather Morgan for Issue 8 of Cheap & Plastique.
Nathan Wasserbauer is a painter, living and working in Brooklyn, NY. His work comprises vivid geometric abstraction, evocative of architecture, digital transmissions, kinetic spaces.
Heather: You talk about the excessive consumption of our society and your childhood robot toys and comics being elements in your work. Are robot toys the bright side of that coin?
Nathan: You could say that robots are a starting point. So are dinosaurs and superheroes and all the things you’d expect a kid might draw. We’ve come to a point now where themes from popular culture can be cited as artistic influences. When I was a little kid drawing Godzilla breathing fire, I’d make the sound of the fire while I was drawing it, when it hit the tank I’d do the explosion sound. I even hummed the music from the films. Adults would sit there and be entertained. I love watching kids do stuff like that now that I’m an adult. When you get older and you come to realize what an exploding tank really might entail, you’ve left the starting point. Part of being a grown up is realizing that there are wonderful things you cherish from your past, but there are also negative things like fear and aggression we bring from childhood into our adult lives. Sometimes we act on these impulses, and it makes you wonder if there really is such a thing as an adult.
Heather: Considering the dual nature of your themes, do you aspire to uplift or present a dark hidden meaning?
Nathan: I think there is some slapstick in my work, which is a kind of cynical humor and healthy in appropriate doses. If I’ve really done my job well, a viewer might find some mystery there and then their imagination takes the baton. In my opinion, anything that moves a person toward investigation and curiosity has great uplifting potential.
Heather: You are also a musician and a martial artist. Do these pursuits influence your work?
Nathan: If I’m doing animation there might be some music. Overall these things get me thinking why does that make that tone? What’s the overall structure? Where does it have weight and where does it release? In martial arts you get a sense of how the human body works, with all its strengths and limitations. There’s certainly an aesthetic tradition with martial arts forms, movements, weapons and such.
Heather: Your acrylic paintings are very tactile. Tell me about your drawings, which achieve a very different aspect. Do you have different ideas for drawings versus paintings? How
do they inform each other?
Nathan: The color and light in the paintings give the objects weight. The light is somewhat internalized so the structure pops out in a bombastic kind of way. Painting is more a summation for me. Drawing, however well I plan it is always an input stage for me. The nature of simple tonality creates more atmospheric effects, light is externalized, and you figure out new vocabulary as you carry on. Eventually, you hope the best bits find a way into the paintings.
Heather: Tell me about the process of creating your images. Do you begin with drawings? Or do you organize your ideas around color?
Nathan: I begin with drawings on paper. I sort of create components and find ways to collage them together. Once I’ve got something I hadn’t expected, I might draw on top of that and add some new component. It’s like inventing grammar for a new language. In regards to color it’s about intensity and proximity. Either process might lead the charge depending on what I’m going after.
Heather: The digital age is a major theme in your work. What appeals to you about “old school” media such as oil paint and various printing techniques to create your imagery?
Nathan: There is a tradition of alchemy associated with drawing, painting and sculpture that I’m fascinated by. Gesso is ground bone, pigments come from earth, insects, plants and some need to be treated and enhanced through chemistry. When you consider the longevity of these materials, the work that goes into these techniques and that artwork is meant to outlast its creator, it puts things into a very real and constructive perspective.
Heather: Tell me about the influence of Italian painting on your work. How has your residency in Rome impacted you?
Nathan: I mentioned the materials already. Much of renaissance and baroque painting is meant to memorialize, and/or glorify. The fact that much of the subject matter involves violence, sexuality and such an effort is made to make tragedy beautiful, well, that’s epic! But when you take away the opera of it all, the fact that light and color finds consistency from the renaissance to futurism also gets my attention.
Heather: Who are some of your favorite painters, living or dead?
Nathan: Last year I was in Italy and really took a look at Filippo Lippi and the things that guy did with layering color are amazing. Here’s a list: Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Julian Stanczak, Paul Klee, Lucian Freud, John Romita Jr. (he drew Spider-Man and X-Men when I was a kid, and still does.), Mark Rothko, Hieronymus Bosch, Sol Lewitt, Robert Longo, Al Held, James Turrell, and Timothy Hawkinson.
Also Herman Melville (Best known for the whale thing, but he wrote Bartleby the Scrivener! Artists who’ve had jobs other than studio work to pay the rent can relate to this.)
Heather: Do you think that looking at paintings influences you as much as the massive amount of visual information (advertising, movies, internet, etc…) we are exposed to on a daily basis? Your work comments on this “problem”, as well. Are you telegraphing your mental billboard?
Nathan: I think only looking only at art to make art leads to a sort of creative inbreeding. It’s important to me to view paintings and be able to enjoy them outside of my own studio practice. Outside research is pretty crucial. I would say in earlier work there was more telegraphing. Now some material has become less penetrable upon initial investigation. Dave Hickey once told me “You work too hard. Leave some out. Let the viewer do some of the work.”
Heather: I have heard it said that every painter has one picture that they make over and over and that a good artist has several. Do you think that you have one or more images that you continually reinterpret, reinvent? What are they?
Nathan: There is a lot of stuff that Bernini did that I’m after, from individual sculptures to those grand city plans, architectural projects and colonnades. That spiral movement you find in baroque art or Chinese dragons. A lot of monumental ancient architecture and ruins come into play. Chinese landscape painting is also something I keep coming back to. The simple architecture of Italy and the American southwest, the way light and color break them down compositionally, when you reduce that to post painterly abstraction, and then multiply it again, you end up with endless possibilities. Think of the roof tiles as just one component.
Heather: Do you envision yourself remaining in NYC, or will you run off to a villa in Tuscany/cave in South America/Moon settlement someday? If the latter will you take your future phone with you?
Nathan: I enjoy New York City and I feel fortunate to live here. It’s nice to go away for a refresher, but I’m pretty glad to come back here. Life is long though. If I could spend part of the year in Italy and part here in NYC that would be great, but given a choice I’d stick with here for now. If I went to a moon colony I’d hope to take communication. I can’t envision cutting myself off.
Heather: Tell me about what you are working on now.
Nathan: In the studio now I’m working on vast space compositions, landscape and aerial perspective, and I’m considering the archeology, and in some cases anthropology of the subject. So a whole world with its own language and history could emerge! I suppose this work could be a prequel or sequel to the last body of paintings I’d done. Some of my drawings to be shown at Fountain are taking on the role of artifact, or fossil, or a look at the smaller components of larger compositions. Some drawings are working with different grounds, silverpoint and watercolor, referential to rare or unknown material composition. So stay tuned for some scenic viewing art lovers!
Nathan will be showing at Fountain Los Angeles this weekend with Cheap & Plastique.
Heather Morgan interviewed by Nathan Wasserbauer for Issue 8 of Cheap & Plastique.
Heather Morgan, painter and bon vivant, completed her B.F.A. in painting at Boston University, making up the “expressionist wing” of the school for the arts and haunting the underground music scene. She received her M.F.A. in painting/printmaking at Yale University in 1999. Morgan spent five years in East Berlin cultivating fluency in German, exhibiting and publishing work with Karoline Mueller at Ladengalerie, one of Berlin’s oldest galleries and a proponent of representational artists of the former GDR. Morgan was most recently represented by Jack the Pelican Presents in Brooklyn. She currently lives and exhibits in New York.
Nathan: I feel like your subjects are aware that they are being viewed, and that in some of your larger paintings, there is a gathering, not too crowded, that involves some aspect of theater or performance, cabaret, burlesque, and that we are just seeing part of it. Perhaps, a scene from a film? Do the paintings, as a whole or the individual characters depicted therein, have an extended narrative for you in any way (even if you don’t feel obliged to paint the rest of the story)?
Heather: The performance is identity, the act of being someone, a gender, a construct. The images are cinematic and theatrical to illustrate with splendor the idea that living is theater, a kind of madness. There are extended narratives, whole lifetimes of pain and pleasure. Sometimes I have more specific details in mind that fuel what is depicted, but the viewer is free to concoct their own stories.
Nathan: Describe your time in Germany. How does it influence your work? To what extent does German expressionism play a role, if at all? Do you see yourself in a tradition of painting?… or is that not a necessary consideration in order for you to proceed with your intentions?
Heather: I was mining Dix (ha ha) and Beckmann long before I moved to Berlin. The Expressionists fired up my interest in painting in the first place, fraught as that work is with tension, an ecstasy of agonies. Living in Berlin brought something very different to my work. I learned to speak German, I lived in a squat in the former DDR, staying out all night (this was in 1999, before the Euro, before the current tidal wave of Americans). I fully immersed in painting the life of a young Berliner. As hip, sexy and damaged as the city itself. Today I find myself much more interested in beauty than the expressionists were, more in tune with the giddy excess of the Weimar Republic. Beauty being the surest means to strike terror into the heart.
Nathan: “Unflinching yet vulnerable” is how you’ve described the women in your work. Does this speak to fulfillment or longing, some of each?
Heather: Both. There is a complicated situation suggested here in the emotional availability of these figures. Their aggressive stance barely covers their desperate yearnings. You can have them, but you can’t hurt them. Or is it the other way around?
Nathan: Do you see the people in your paintings as part of a smaller community or is this a larger happening? Could this be Berlin, Paris, London?, or is this a New York City exclusive and it could only happen here… only now?
Heather: The subjects of my work are life-at-the-margins characters, people whose failings and eccentricities are most visible. Every city has its own scene, its own special poison in the water. In capturing that I hope my work reflects the here and now, wherever I am.
Nathan: Describe a studio day. Models? Lighting, preferred time of day, depending upon the subject? What are your minimum requirements? Do you make drawings, or do you take your ideas straight to the canvas?
Heather: During the day, awash with sunlight, promise, and the usual existential unease, I like to do small works – figures and objects painted from life. Later in the day, I get ideas for new work, which I might sketch in pen on a scrap of paper or more fully flesh out with a collage. In the evening, I can start to get a bit manic and then I can really start working, no models, not much light. I draw a pretty detailed underpainting to start a painting, often wiping part or the whole thing away several times before it is finished. In that sense, a lot of drawing goes into it. I also do a lot of writing and listening to music, from which I get a lot of ideas.
Nathan: If you could do a big group portrait and could choose whomever you wanted to include, who might be there? People living, dead, famous or not, writers, artists, acrobats, politicians, engineers… They’d all set up in whatever setting you needed to create what you wanted, and say right, go to it! (or you could travel to them if you like).
Heather: I would have loved to have painted David Bowie during his Berlin years or as Ziggy, Jarvis Cocker at the height of Pulp vanity, and a slightly older and jaded Marlene Dietrich in her seamed stockings. But I was not there in that moment with those people. I am here, these kinds of characters are all around and I am painting them.
Nathan: Do the people in your paintings gradually change over time, along with you? Have you made the work partially autobiographical?
Heather: I am curious about that myself, as in some ways I have changed very little. Still the same overgrown lady child, wild leanings and love of messy hair. Of course, we all inch toward decrepitude and I look forward to including that in some of my figures.
Nathan: You do a Heather Morgan Self-Portrait every year. How long has the annual self-portrait tradition existed? Do you think ahead with each year to what kind of self-portrait that will be, or is it less formal than that?
Heather: It is an entrenched classic of two years. I am interested in what pattern may emerge. Over the course of last year, I found myself talking about it quite a bit in advance, but that was probably just a clever ruse to get people to buy me birthday presents.
Nathan: The women in your paintings search for enjoyment despite world strife. Do you see them as grateful to be alive and therefore celebrating?,.. or have they grown indifferent? Are they just telling us to relax a little?…
Heather: These ladies are terribly ungrateful for whatever gifts they may have, life itself can be such a punishment sometimes, and indifference is the worst symptom of that. But they extend a heartfelt and daring “fuck you” to death and really, thereby, embrace the whole thing. Who can relax when there is life to be lived?
Nathan: Talk a bit about what brought you to this body of work, and perhaps give us some hints about what we might see next?
Heather: I have been circling the drain of these themes for my entire life as a painter. I am always looking for new ways to express them, which has led me to some different ways of working, including some very fruitful collaborations with writers, photographers, and other sources of inspiration. I am of an exploratory mind about the present work, and so I have no preconceived idea about where it is going.
Heather will be showing at Fountain Los Angeles this weekend with Cheap & Plastique, she will also be showing work this Sunday in Williamsburg at the Truck Yeah event in front of Crown Victoria Bar, 60 S. 2nd Street, at Wythe, from 12 — 6.
Images from a C & P studio visit with Miss Morgan here.
Photographed Browns studio in London when I was there in July for Print Magazine. It was fun to hang out at the studio for the afternoon & explore/snoop around all 3 floors of the amazing space (studio & Jonathan’s home). I really enjoyed seeing Browns fabulous work in person. Jonathan Ellery was incredibly nice and has pretty damn good taste, in both design and music. Browns seems like a great place to work! See more of Jonathan and Browns work here. Pick up the current issue of Print for a Q & A with Mr. Ellery, or see the Q & A on Print‘s blog here.