State of the Union (Curatorial Presentation)

State of the Union -Misrepresentation of Race in Historical Contexts andMisappropriation in Media

In the western hemisphere, major media outlets and contemporary pop culture have painted with a wide brush, narratives of the many ethnicities that share our planet. Many of these narratives stem from the long-ingrained ethnocentric mentality that sprung through the process of colonialism and remains in subtle, yet no less prevalent  ways that still have an effect on society today.  Many people continue to be judged based on ancient propaganda and ill-conceived stereotypes that stubbornly live on in our culture, in groups and individuals who’d rather clench tight to the status quo, favoring ignorance and apathy than open dialog.

Attached is a downloadable PowerPoint Presentation featuring the work of Kerry James Marshall, Frank Buffalo Hyde, Armando Mariño, Fred Wilson, Saba Taj, Yudori, Dubleyoo, and Adrian Alphona and their response to the State of the Union.

State of the Union

Myself, the Artist (Artist Statement)

 

I am a storyteller, designer, and illustrator, striving to bring shape to the imagined and bringing ideas to light. My tools are the pencil, the stick of charcoal, mouse, the stylus, and my canvas is paper and the computer screen.  I as many, began by doodling on construction paper with a crayon and immersed myself in my imagination.  Over time, when grade-school art classes vanished and peers shifted to other interests, I pressed on.  I continued creating worlds and the creatures that inhabit them, crafting their fates.  In my teen years, my influences expanded with my discovery of the Internet and a wellspring of other creative minds.  The pond of inspiration that I would occasionally visit for a dip had suddenly become a tidal current that I’ll thankfully never out swim.  Photography, graphic design, web design, and video now line my bag of interests alongside my first loves, illustration and animation.

In my work, I wish to create a narrative through sequential art and other visual media that’ll speak to the desire to escape the mundane and realize worlds of phenomena, that which exist outside the realm of reality yet yearns to be realized.  To give life to the extraordinary dreams of ordinary people and provide commentary on common human experiences. To shed light on the love, hate, joy, fear, lust, greed, and doubt that connects us all.  Humor and rhetoric. To recapture a little bit of childhood wonder and playfulness that so many have all but lost.

I’ve been a fan of the arts for as long as I can remember and I have a desire to create something significant to share with the world.  Through visual art, so much information and meaning can be transferred without the utterance of a single word.  I aim to create meaning, to get people to slow down, to contemplate, to see  a little of themselves in the characters I make and immerse themselves in the worlds I create.  To connect my audience to ideas and help them see something about our world that might have been overlooked or lost, due to the daily grind. To find the spark of commonality that connects us all, and have a little chuckle along the way.

“For an artist, there’s nothing better than having the opportunity to create a world that doesn’t- but could- exist.”
― Christophe Lautrette

Art and Memory

Memory is an interesting and also fickle phenomena that has a strong influence on our behavior, personality and our perception of the world around us.  There is much through science that we have learned about memory and how it can have strong connections to our physical senses like touch, taste, and smell, yet there’s much to learn, such as why at times our memories aren’t as complete or as accurate as we wish.  In regards to art, certain impactful pieces can leave a lasting impression especially if they are able to conjur memories of past events or even personal moments in the viewer’s life. Even in the act of observation and absorbing the content of the artwork, we each develop an impression of the art, informed by our own unique life experiences that determine our aesthetic response and whether the work hold meaning.

During a recent visit to the Institute of Contemporary Art located on the Philadephia campus at the University of Pennsylvania, I encountered a few exhibitions that have a subtle theme of recounting memory.  The three exhibitions, Christopher Knowles: In a Word, Josephine Pryde – lapses in Thinking By the person i Am, and Becky Suss all recount memories of the three artists, each captured in their own unique way, through projected introspection, touch, color, texture, and recalling fond memories, and each beckoning their audience to respond.

“Every painting is always two paintings… the one you see and the one you remember.” – Siri Hustvedt

Cindy Sherman – Postmodernist, Living Caricature

Cindy Sherman is a self-proclaimed performance artist best known for her photographic work.  The bulk of her art features photographs of herself as a multitude of various  characters, each with their own nuanced and at times, humorous set of stereotypes.  Some of her earliest and often commented of her work is a series of photographs collectively called, Untitled Film Stills.  Within the series of sixty-nine photographs, Sherman takes on a plethora of roles, often clichéd fodder seen in Hollywood films of yesteryear (Barrett, 2008).  The career girl, siren housewife, vixen, the girl next door, etc., were the parts she played, often portrayed in a moment of transition, her vision always directed off-frame to avoid breaking the “fourth wall” and returning the viewer’s gaze. The positioning of her characters and the direction of their glances evoke a movie-like look and feel, giving credence to the serie’s name and also causing some viewers to ponder who she (the character) is, and what event is occurring in her life when the moment is captured, transmuting her focus as object to subject and granting her a sense of agency that might not have existed if the moment was actually from a motion picture.

Untitled Film Still 21, 1978

In the video segment, Cindy Sherman in “Transformation”, hosted at art21.org, Cindy mentions that the Untitled Film Stills series evolved from a project where she would dress as multiple characters and arrange them in a scene to create a narrative.  Having grown tired of the tedium of cutting out the individual shots to place together, she decided that she wanted to create characterization from a single photograph.  That realization, along with the desire to work alone, Sherman decided that the best method to display her characterizations was to create them to resemble film stills.  She asserts that she wanted to avoid any sense of art theory and wanted to create a mass-produced feeling from them, allowing the stills to be understandable by anyone whom might observe the photos.  For myself, and other commentators, Cindy’s position of innocence can be perplexing, considering that much can be interpreted from her stills, perhaps in response to the treatment of women in the medium the stills imitate or her desire to avoid producing what may be considered “high art”, and I believe that Sherman made some calculated decisions in the creation of the stills to that end.  If there is some sincerity to her claim, her creative choices would have to be made, to some degree, at the subconscious level.

Cindy Sherman’s assertions of her earlier work notwithstanding, seem to have faded away as her artwork evolved.  Over time, her characterizations became more like living caricatures, eventually breaching the realm of shooting her self-portraiture as clowns and even completely separating herself completely from her scenes and portraying abject subject matter, such as found in The Sex Pictures series.  By that time, any self-conscious reservation against applying established theory in her later work seem to have all but vanished as she continued to reject conventions of beauty and employ abjection in her work, adopting a more postmodern aesthetic.

Untitled #177. 1987

Over the course of her career, Cindy Sherman, as any artist should, has evolved her work while maintaining her personal signature.  In her early work, her motivation and methods may have been more intuitive while her later work may have been influenced by the commentary of other artists and critics as she began to adopt postmodernist trends.  In the art world, I think it is important for artists to be aware of contemporary art theory, if for no other reason but to gauge the relevance of their work to the prevalent art culture and act as a guide.  Art should be allowed to flow freely without inhibition and adopting a strict postmodern belief may stifle creativity and prevent artists from innovating beyond the current trends and into new territory.  For Cindy Sherman, I think she found a good middle ground to operate that allowed her to make art that is uniquely hers.

 

Citations:

Barrett, T. (2008). Why is that art?: Aesthetics and criticism of contemporary art. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cindy Sherman in “Transformation” Perf. Cindy Sherman. Www.art21.org. N.p., 21 Oct. 2009. Web. <http://www.art21.org/videos/segment-cindy-sherman-in-transformation&gt;.

Andy Goldsworthy – The Reluctant Formalist

Andy Goldsworthy is an English-born, Scotland-based sculptor who creates as he refers as “earth works” (Barrett, 2008).  The majority of his work are ephemeral, existing only as long as nature allows, his medium the very materials that are found on the site of their creation.  Leaves, twigs, stones, and even icicles are used to create his art, which are documented and then left for nature to decide their fate.  Some of his work that fascinates me are of his icicle sculptures, such as Icicle Star, Joined with Saliva, and Ice Spiral: Treesoul, that are made of icicles found on site and whose integrity are dependent on the weather conditions, usually affording him a small window that determines the success, or lack thereof. Rivers and Tides, a film that documents the thoughts and process that Goldsworthy adopts when creating his art, and demonstrates his passion, the kind that withstands long hours in harsh conditions and even failure upon failure, to finally catch that moment when his work has reached satisfactory completion.

Icicle Star, joined with saliva

Depending on which art critic you talk to, Goldsworthy would be considered a Formalist in regards to the particular aesthetic that his art solicits.  In simple terms, Formalism is a movement of art that emphasizes the form of a work of art as the primary source of appreciation.  This reasoning in art appreciation is informed by the ideas and insights of past philosophers, such as David Hume, William Shaftsbury and Immanuel Kant and adopted by twentieth-century artists and art critics, most notably Clement Greenberg, who in no small part was responsible for making Jackson Pollock a household name and who also had very particular ideas on what determines Formalist art.  To Greenberg, only the form of the work is important and any other attributes such as symbolism, subject matter, and other such devices are to be ignored to truly appreciate it (Barrett, 2008).

Although the work of Andy Goldsworthy is considered Formalist and as such is judged by Greenbergian Formalism, I think that Goldsworthy might resist that categorization because his work tends to have Expressionist leanings, such as Rowan Leaves and Hole, conceptualized as a part of a series in response to the grief of his sister-in-law’s death, and many of his other works explore the concepts of fragility and the cycle of creation, destruction, and renewal.  To Goldsworthy, these aspects of his art are just as important as its form and should be considered in its appreciation.  Such a notion would in turn, be rejected by Clement Greenberg and would likely cause him to reject Goldsworthy’s art as any form of Formalism.

Rowan Leaves with Hole

If Goldsworthy’s art is to be judged by any notion of Formalism, I believe that his work would align with a Kantian-Hegelian viewpoint.  According to ideas of eighteenth-century German philosophers, Immanuel Kant, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, people have the same faculty to understand the world around them and  art doesn’t primarily provide pleasure, but rather adds to our understanding of the world, respectively (Barrett, 2008).  I believe that Andy Goldsworthy’s art is meant to be enjoyable to as wide an audience as possible, rather than a smaller number of particularly learned art critics and in Rivers and Tides, Goldsworthy specifically mentions that in his use of materials, he seeks to have an understanding of them and that his level of understanding with the materials often determines his success in creating his sculptural art. Each successful work grants the audience a glimpse of understanding in the material he uses and of the natural order of the world.  From these particular facets of Goldsworthy’s ethos, I believe his ideas align with the two philosophers in his otherwise unique methodology of making his art. 

References:

Barrett, T. (2008). Why is that art?: Aesthetics and criticism of contemporary art. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Art Tree… er, Thought Bubble of Life

The one thing that connects all artists, no matter when they lived, what culture they represent or medium they use, is the desire to create. For some, this desire is inborn, a natural part of their being while, for others the desire may be discovered through chance experimentation. I believe that no matter how the desire manifested, its seed is planted first by exposure to art and then nourished by influences from past masters and peers, who impact the product of the artist’s expression. Through careful observation of the cycle of exposure, influence and impact, you can begin to see connections between artists, concepts and styles take shape and expand, much like a great idea that takes off.

To me, the perfect metaphor of the connections that artists share is the thought bubble. All great things begin with just a thought, a thought that becomes an idea that expands as it gains acceptance. I view the various art movements in much of the same way, as an interchange of ideas with artists gathering inspiration their peers and those who came before them, adopting some facets of the different styles or movements while rejecting others, in an attempt to resist antiquated notions or to forge new ground. What I found the most interesting is seeing how much I have in common with some of the artists who influence me as to where we find inspiration.

In the vast world of art disciplines, I consider myself akin to the likes of comic artists and illustrators. From a young age, I like many young children loved to doodle away for hours on end. Growing up, as my peers set their Crayolas away for good, I continued to sketch the products of my imagination to pass the time, sometimes to the displeasure of my grade school teachers. Most of the time I’d draw whatever cartoon or video game characters I that I happen to be into, usually Mickey Mouse, Ninja Turtles, Sonic the Hedgehog or Super Mario. Basically, if my friends weren’t around to hang out and I wasn’t engrossed in some video game, I was at my desk, drawing away.

It was around the 4th grade that I began to develop an interest in making drawing more than a hobby. Though I did well in school, I wasn’t much of a reader, which probably affected some of my performance in class. To encourage me to read more, my eldest sister introduced me to a manga (Japanese comic) called Dragon Ball. It appealed to me because it reminded me of the cartoons that I loved to watch, but it was much different. There was a sense of sophistication about it that drew me; the characters and backgrounds had a level of detail that was appealing while maintaining a sense that it made for younger readers. I became instantly hooked, and my parents were happier that I was at least reading something. Now I can’t speak on the academic merits of reading comic books, but for myself, it opened me up to reading other books, novels, and even the occasional textbook. This introduction to Dragon Ball was also my introduction of my biggest influence, Akira Toriyama. I became obsessed and resolved to emulate his style into my own, drawing many of his characters and designing some of my own in his style. As my interests expanded and I exposed myself to more artists, I began to pick up little bits here and there to incorporate into my style. Eventually, I got to the point where I wanted to study the works of old masters and learn to render the human figure more realistically.

As mentioned earlier, Akira Toriyama is a chief influence in my artistic development while two of his greatest influences is Osama Tezuka, creator of Astro Boy and considered the “God of Manga”, and Walt Disney. I myself consider Disney and Tezuka as direct influences, not only for their styles but also because the two were also pioneers in the animation industry, with Disney creating the first feature-length animated films and having an impact on Tezuka, who later created the first Japanese animations. My initial interest in Japanese comics extended to western comics and I began to appreciate the work of Jack Kirby with his designs of various Marvel characters.

As my interests continue to expand, I found myself drawn to artists beyond my foundational influences. I gather inspiration from illustrators, such as Gil Elvgren, J.C. Leyendecker, and Norman Rockwell, with their sense of composition and ability to render the human figure realistically. Alphonse Mucha, synonymous with the Art Nouveau movement, an excellent draftsman, graphic designer, and painter, continues to command my attention when I view his work. I appreciate the work produced by Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci, not only for their contribution to the art world as a whole but also for their devotion to the study of anatomy. More contemporary comic artists and animators such as Jeff Smith, Frank Cho, Bruce Timm and Chris Sanders continue to shape my approach to character design and style development and I still have a strongly rooted affinity for a number of manga artists, such as Rumiko Takahashi and Takehito Inoue.

At the point that I am in my current artistic development and due to my number of interests, I find it hard to peg down exactly where I might land in the grand organism we call Art. I feel that the art worlds that I have strong interests in are still considered somewhat of a niche set disciplines or genres, byproducts of post-industrialism that may not find the same favor of more long-standing forms of fine art, despite their high consumption by the public. Thankfully, as time passes and these disciplines gain wider recognition, I believe that these areas will be afforded that same validity as the many art movements that have come before and I am excited how my contribution, whether large or small, will be a part of art history.

Intent vs. Content

Art at its essence serves as a form of communication.  Whether to tell a story, convey an emotion or to simply exist, an exchange occurs between the artist and the viewer during the course of observation.  Due to the subjective nature of art and the myriad of experiences that each viewer possess, it is possible for the content of a work of art to generate a unique interpretation for each observer, despite the intent that the artist attributes to its creation.  These interpretations often cause much debate over the aesthetic merit of certain art and also, as I believe, enhance the experience of the audience by exploring other possible perspectives.

When a spectator approaches a piece of art and draws an unexpected expressive or cognitive content for the work, I think it should matter greatly to the artist because it becomes an opportunity for artist to note what qualities of their work would conjure such a reaction and learn how they may enhance or eliminate such a reaction in their future works.  It also creates a dialog, as good communication should, and may possibly inform the artist of something about the subject or of themselves that they may not yet realize and I feel that it’s a good reason for artists to simply display their work and allow the audience to draw their own conclusions.

When artwork is displayed in a space, such as a gallery or museum, patrons may typically find in plain view, an artist statement or other information detailing the nature of the work or collection of works in the exhibit, mentally preparing them for what they are viewing. As it may be desirable for many to gather insight about the work they view, I do think that it somewhat stifles the observer’s participation in discovering nuances of the work that may otherwise enhance their experience, by eliminating possible inferences from interpretation.  I recall at times avoiding that sort of information so that I may observe freely the works without direction or supposition and return to see how my conclusions fared.

In the observation of artwork, I do think it is helpful to know about the artist’s intent to gain context and enhance the experience of the viewer, but I don’t think that it is necessary to interpret or judge the work.  It’s possible for a work of art to be admired for its workmanship and visual aesthetics without context and be successful in execution.  Take the work of Louise Bourgeois, whose large-scale spiders and sculptures of contorted humanoid forms and disembodied body parts may conjure allusions to surreal dreamlike entities and gargantuan horrors. Without knowledge of her life history, a wide array of interpretations could be made and considered valid in determining the artist’s intent and when it is revealed that much of Bourgeois’ works are autobiographical in nature, recalling joys, struggles and frustrations of her youth, an extra facet adds to the interest of the work, making the experience for the viewer, all the richer.  To achieve this, I believe that it is best to withhold information that may influence the viewers natural response to the art, until after the work is consumed.

Photo Essay – Pope Up Art

Through the ages, from the cave paintings of Lascaux, to the contemporary abstract work, art has served as a means to communicate, convey meaning, and tell a story in response to the world that we experience.  The urge to create art, an endeavor exclusive to humans, can be found through almost all cultures, modern and ancient, and seems to speak to the human spirit with the desire to create something useful, something of beauty.

Art, for some, can be a spiritual experience that aims to find answers as to who we are, how the world works and our place in it, much in the same sense as others who seek it in another near-universal concept, religion.  Much like art, religion seeks to answer the same questions and often the two are used in tandem to teach followers the tenets of their given religion.  In the western tradition, examples are found in the iconography of the Judeo-Christian/Catholic faiths within illuminated manuscripts, medieval paintings, Byzantine mosaics and even Renaissance art.  The subjects of  such iconography include depictions of various figures of scripture, important events, heavenly landscapes and hellish horrors.  As these may have served as aid to teach the mostly illiterate masses in the past, some were used as propaganda by less than genuine adherents for personal gain.

As time passed and culture changed, people now have more of a choice to decide whether or not to follow any faith in particular and artists are more so free to create work that critiques religion and create opportunities for discourse.  In light of these freedoms and the upcoming Papal visit to the U.S., it would be interesting to see how contemporary artists navigate the intersection of art and religion, and one of the best opportunities to explore the Pope Arts exhibition at Globe Dye Works during the 2015 Fringe Arts Festival in Philadelphia.

Seeing the art firsthand offers a bit of insight upon the creator’s position towards religion and how they respond to their experience through various disciplines.

Old Greeks on New Art

Plato and Aristotle, intellectual descendants of Socrates, were two ancient philosophers who contemplated the reality of the world and how to achieve an ideal society.  Despite the former being the teacher of the latter, these two men differed in position on what is real and in what ways society may improve itself. Plato’s perspective insists that the world is a corrupt reflection of a true ideal while Aristotle asserts that the world is very real and good can come from it.  In terms of art, Plato views an object crafted by man as imperfect compared to its ideal form and an artistic rendering is farther removed from perfection and therefore useless, engaging the viewer’s emotions rather than intellect.  In his eyes, such things can lead people to immorality and thus should be censored or banned.  Aristotle would agree that the world is imperfect but insist that the same objects which stir emotion and bring delight or happiness to the viewer should be allowed and accepted.

If the two philosophers were allowed to peer into the work of a contemporary artist of today, such as Jeff Koons, they would likely disagree on the merits of his work.  From Plato’s point of view, Koons work, both praised and despised for his use garish and banal objects to create art, would be considered worthless and determined that it shouldn’t exist in his ideal society.  The work does nothing to stir the intellect and seek only to satisfy base emotional responses in the audience.  In contrast, Aristotle would insist that Koon’s use of ordinary and garish objects are manipulated in a way that intends to delight and conjure nostalgia, and happy emotions to the audience.  In response to apparent objections in Koon’s controversial Made in Heaven collection, Aristotle might argue that the work, whether in good taste or poor, feature a couple who were married, engaged in procreative acts that strengthen marital bonds and can lead to the birth of new life. From that, beauty can be seen in the artwork.

An artist that may actually find favor with the two philosophers would be Realist painter, Alexis Rockman.  The subject of Rockman’s work is typically of nature and mankind’s interaction with it.  The interesting thing about his paintings are that they simultaneously show nature as it is and also how it could be in a cautionary fashion, outlining some of the pitfalls of capitalism and industrialization.  Plato may like Rockman’s work because it is utilitarian, educating the audience to an ailment of society. Aristotle might find Rockman’s work appealing because it acknowledges that the state of society may not be ideal but is better than it can be, and there may be hope for change.  Both philosophers would be satisfied at the aim of the painting, to produce an appropriate response by the audience, encouraging them to seek solutions that would foster a better society.  Though these ancient philosophers are no longer around, much of their ideas live on in the discourse of art critique.