Painters on Paintings A conversation between contemporary artists and their influences across time. Sun, 29 Dec 2019 18:33:03 +0000 en hourly 1 Painters on Paintings 32 32 Lisa Hoke on Addie Herder Fri, 27 Dec 2019 19:59:02 +0000 Hers are the machines that we can’t hold onto, fleeting signs of our human desire to mark which way to go.

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Addie Herder, White Machine, Collage, 1961-65, 13 ½ x 19 inches, Photo courtesy of Pavel Zoubok Fine Art, NY

I first saw Addie Herder’s work at Pavel Zoubok Gallery, then located on 23rd Street, in 2012. From that moment on, I was hooked. When considering a work of art to write about for this blog, I remembered the feeling I got from seeing an Addie Herder collage construction. The bigness of her smallness. Herder bridges that gap between collage and Pop. As I kept trying to hold onto the images in my mind, I slowly understood the specificity of their illusiveness, how excitingly baffling they are.

The two works I have chosen are from the “Machines” series, White Machine, 1961-65 and Pari-Mach, 1967. In their restrained combinations of ephemera, they each engage in a fluid dialogue with the essence of circuit boards, traffic patterns, engines, electrical wiring — the tools of organization for a world that is too chaotic to hold still. I think of the films by Jacques Tati, his quiet rage at the machine. In Mon Oncle, 1958, a false sense of calm is offered by mechanized design that then devolves into chaos with the addition of human interaction.

Addie Herder, Pari-Mach, 1967, Collage 13 ½ x 11 3/8 inches, Photo courtesy of Pavel Zoubok Fine Art, NY

Addie Herder holds still for a moment so the viewer can pause, breathe and embrace the tiny familiar fragments ordered and controlled just long enough to be observed. As Tati depicts in the 1971 film, Traffic, the universal codes, signals, icons, arrows and directives eventually create misunderstanding and mayhem. Herder has harnessed the mayhem of machines into a quiet serenade of suggestion, a whisper rather than a command. Hers are the machines that we can’t hold onto, fleeting signs of our human desire to mark which way to go, pathways of thoughts, all described by bits of paper, film, matchsticks, flotsam and jetsam.

On a personal note, I have used cardboard packaging as a substantial source of color and structure in my studio work. It was to my delight to learn that Addie and her husband, Milton Herder, designed boxes for products, such as Jell-O, which found their way into more than one of my large collages without any knowledge on my part, of their origin. In the essay Intimate Scale, The Art of Addie Herder, by Alfred Allan Lewis, he writes, “ The advertising art at which the Herders excelled would become an intrinsic part of the Pop Art movement a decade later.” And of my own work decades after that. Like Jell-O, Addie lives on.

Lisa Hoke, Zip It, 2018, Cardboard packaging, felt, wire, foil, fabric, glue and hardware, 156 x 84 x 10 inches, Photo courtesy of Pavel Zoubok Fine Art, NY

Lisa Hoke is a New York based artist. She recently completed a commission at the Nuvola Lavazza Headquarters in Torino, Italy.

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Ali Miller on Dante Gabriel Rossetti Thu, 12 Dec 2019 16:13:47 +0000 Alexa Wilding fluctuates between a confident and seductive nymph, a stiff and unamused model, and a vulnerable damsel awaiting a rescue.

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Dante Gabriel Rossetti, La Ghirlandata, “The Garlanded figure.” 1873, Oil on canvas, 124 x 85 cm

Color is one of the principle driving forces of my own practice; it is what ultimately makes me excited to sit down and paint and it tends to be the primary element that draws me into a painting. In Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s La Ghirlandata, the lush velvety greens sprinkled with luminous bursts of burnt-orange hair are exquisitely satisfying for me. From the popularity of this painting and others by Rossetti, both in his own time and in ours, it is clear to me why the Pre-Raphaelites searched so tirelessly for the most idyllic, ginger-haired models they could find. (Side-note: this was the painting that inspired me to become a red-head so that when I painted myself situated within juicy green environments I’d be more likely to achieve similar complementary optical experiences. Plus, I was born with red hair before it turned brown, and I figured it was time to return to my roots. Pun intended).

The effect of spatial depth in this painting unfolds slowly for me. It’s a compressed space that is both believable yet makes no logical sense. The dark, mysterious bottom corners act as a vignette that grounds and anchors the piece. The scale of the figures is larger than life, even goddess-like. The woman in the foreground, Alexa Wilding, fluctuates between a confident and seductive nymph, a stiff and unamused model, and a vulnerable damsel awaiting a rescue. Perhaps she was experiencing all of that, and Rossetti simply captured that complexity. 

The women in the background peering awkwardly over the hedge first appeared to me as passive decorative putti, serving the sole purpose of framing Alexa. However, upon further analysis, the longing and envious gazes of these women reveal that they might wish that they were the focus of attention, although historians say that they are in fact angels listening to her play the harp. The peculiar scale between Alexa and the middle ground figures is somewhat surreal, suggesting that perhaps these women are merely imagined. While it’s unclear whether the women behind her have her back, are literally talking behind it, or exist only within Alexa’s imagination, I find myself wanting to join them all in this plush utopian world.


Ali Miller, Food Baby, 2019, Oil on panel, 10 x 10 inches

Ali Miller is a New York City-based painter who constructs fantastical nonlinear-narratives, addressing themes of expectation, using extreme and surreal scenarios. She received her MFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Hoffberger School of Painting in 2012 and her BFA from Alfred University in 2008. Ali has been the recipient of several painting awards and frequently attends artist residencies- most recently  at Chateau Orquevaux  (which inspired the above piece, Food Baby). Ali is currently represented by High Noon Gallery on the Lower East Side.

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Editor’s Note: “You will love this conversation with Jaron Lanier but I can’t describe it“ Thu, 05 Dec 2019 14:36:01 +0000 I wanted to share with you this episode from the podcast The Ezra Klein Show where he interviews Jaron Lanier.

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Hey Folks,

Shifting the focus of Painters on Paintings temporarily, I wanted to share with you this episode from the podcast The Ezra Klein Show where he interviews Jaron Lanier. For those of you who might not be aware of him Lanier was a pioneer in virtual reality and coined the term.  He was part of the contingent of thought leaders emerging from the ashes of the 60s who rejected psychedelics as a mechanism for broadening and deepening human consciousness, championing instead the then incipient fields of cybernetics and electronic technology.  Since then he has remained on the frontier of electronic technology, defining, and lately redefining, the radical and revolutionary role it plays in human evolution.

Lanier is very critical of how social media has been engineered to optimize traffic for profit through appealing to our lesser natures, i.e., our brain’s penchant for favoring negative emotions over positive ones.  He contributes some important ideas about social engineering, using examples from the Arab Spring, women within video game culture, and Black Lives Matter, describing how what starts out as very positive social movements by individuals rallying to improve the lives of a subset of the larger culture quickly gets subverted by groups who are against such change, through their negative social media posts.  Due to our greater attraction to negative emotions those posts ultimately eclipse the initial positive ones as they gain traction in the social media swamp. Because the design of social media maximizes those posts that get more hits and retweets, any positive social gains from the original movement get quickly transformed through the algorithms of social media into a negative backlash. And Twitter and Facebook thereby profit. “You engage people by ruining society and that is the current business model,” says Lanier.

Episode Link

— Julie Heffernan

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Mariel Herring on Chuta Kimura Thu, 05 Dec 2019 14:16:44 +0000 Imagine if de Kooning and Matisse painted a landscape together, and maybe Bonnard was their professor/mentor? That’s ya boi Kimura.

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Chuta Kimura, Landscape at Pagoma in Provence,1984, 31.5 x 31.5 inches, Collection of Mr. Akira Yoshida, London.

At times when I feel lost, stuck, or unmotivated, I go to my art books and pull out my heroes. I’m like a kid feeling encouraged by their faded pulp comics as the hero overcomes obstacles to achieve greatness; except my heroes are painters. Page after page, each monograph is another reason, against all odds, to keep painting. One of my favorites is Chuta Kimura. You know that slightly nightmarish, anxiety inducing class drawing where you start at one easel and then, like musical chairs, each student shifts to the next easel every few minutes so that each drawing becomes a sort of collaboration? Well imagine if de Kooning and Matisse painted a landscape together, and maybe Bonnard was their professor/mentor? That’s ya boi Kimura. Of course that’s a gross reduction of his painterly style, but you get the idea. His paintings are at once a very serious study of light, line, color, and shape in an abstracted landscape, as well as a celebration of paint. I have an exhibition catalog from his show at the Philips Collection in the winter of 1985 and it has a broken spine that often falls open to Landscape at Pegoma in Provence, 1984. His paintings are a painterly painter’s wet dream on canvas.

Now, I’ve never actually seen it, or any of his paintings in person. (Spare me the eye rolling lecture: “But the color/texture/scale/je ne sais quoi is so much better in person.” I know, I know, but sometimes life comes before being an artist.) It’ll happen someday and, when it does, I will be in complete bliss, choked up and with goose bumps crawling up my forearms. Because the thing that really stops me in my tracks is his paint, and feeling like if I could stand in front of that painting I’d get sucked up into an alien light beam of goddamn beauty. It’s like a weight lifted off your chest. You can breathe.

I love the atmosphere of his paint. As a painter, I take certain liberties with my paintings. I make a lot of things up because even if it’s not the truth it just feels right. You paint the sky pink not necessarily because it looks like that, but because it feels like that. In Landscape I’m looking down at a field, the sun is hitting at a strong angle and a cloud passes over. It’s just before sunset and it starts to rain. You can practically smell that hot, sweet smell of grass, the petrichor–the scent that is emitted from the earth when it initially reacts with the moisture from rain. That smell has the same primordial effect on everyone. It’s imprinted on our DNA through ancestral lived experience, epigenetics, like a tugging at your soul. That smell is an awareness that the ground is wet and plants/crops are being watered. It’s a calming reassuring smell, reminding you that you’re alive and, god willing, if it rains again you’ll keep surviving. 

I snap out of my day dream and my eye catches a pale yellow drip, flung off at an angle where it lays across a dark, dusty lavender with moments of amber shining through. I can hear a palette knife scrape paint against canvas, building up against the knife’s edge, mixing with looser, brushed on paint until the wrist changes direction and leaves a small berm of paint and the beginnings of a drip. I wonder how he moved when he painted this. I follow the line of his brush around the canvas and suddenly I’m dancing with Kimura in the French countryside. I want to reach out and touch the paint. Like reading some sort of brail, there’s an unspoken code in the paint surface. So I reach for the closest thing I have. I pull an old painting out to look at it, dust it off and give it a little rub hello like a neighbor’s dog passing by. Hey old friend. And then I listen to what it has to tell me and, against all odds, I keep painting.


Mariel Herring, mermaid hair, 2015, oil on linen, 48 by 60in.


Mariel Herring is a carpenter who lives in South Philly with her dog Puzzle. She has a Post-Baccalaureate and an MFA in painting from The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. She hopes to one day merge her love of building and renovating houses with her love of making paintings and objects.

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Lydia Pettit on Henry Taylor’s “I became . . .” Sat, 23 Nov 2019 15:12:04 +0000 Overall there was chaos in his figure, strokes sometimes lining up with the form, and sometimes going against the logic of the body. 

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Henry Taylor, I became . . . , 2016, Acrylic on canvas, 71 7/8 x 71 3/4 inches

I had never been to the Venice Biennale before. I expected it to be like any art fair, a mild cacophony of work stuck up on walls creating visual white noise that prevents me from properly taking anything in. But it wasn’t like that. Some rooms were absolutely overwhelming, intentionally or not, and some were quiet and contemplative, giving you more of an opportunity to absorb the work. I sat in room 33 of the Giardini main pavilion to watch BLKNWS by Khalil Joseph, a collection of produced segments featuring actors, curators, artists, and collectors as news anchors. The form was some combination of vines (social media videos), pop YouTube content, and cinema with stream-of-consciousness logic presented on split screens. I ended up spending over an hour in the space because it was so damn good, completely losing track of time. Upon realizing this, I went into somewhat of a panic; the friends watching with me had all gone, and I had an irrational fear that they were probably so far ahead in seeing the pavilions that I would be left behind. Despite logically knowing that I’m an adult and can make it through Venice on my own if I have to, anxiety lacks logic, so I got up and hustled through room after room. I missed a lot of work, glancing quickly at full rooms before climbing the stairs to the one elevated room in the main building. I swept that room too and turned to run back down, but stopped.

Beyond Nairy Baghramain’s sculptures in the center of the room on the back wall was a painting of two figures, a young black boy and an amorphous black man standing behind him. It takes a lot to bring me out of an episode of anxiety, even for a moment; but I was so struck by this painting that it brought me back to myself. The man behind the boy was scrawled on the canvas, ears lopsided bolts on the sides of his head, eyes offset and odd sizes described in yellow paint smeared into the umber beneath it. Only a handful of active, descriptive brushstrokes indicated the familiar features of a face and body, brushed on thick and fast until they reached the shirtless man’s left arm, ending in more of a wash and revealing the canvas ground. Overall, there was chaos in his figure, strokes sometimes lining up with the form, and sometimes going against the logic of the body. 

The man’s nubbed hands rested upon the boy’s shoulders; the boy a much more solid and realized figure that confronted the viewer with a somber gaze. It is this contact between the two that created a tenderness despite the melancholic face of the child. Unlike in the other figure, here the expressive mark making follows the planes of his face, creating form and dimension. His ears are far too big for his little head; he hasn’t grown into them yet. The sharp collared shirt he’s wearing makes me think of “picture day” in school when I was young. Behind the two is a simplified landscape, a large portion of medium grey, with a quarter of the canvas at the top a dusty blue. A thin blue brushstroke cautiously divides the two colors, forming the horizon line. There is a disregard for boundaries in the painting, with patches of white canvas creeping through the image and errant brushstrokes dashed here and there. It makes me think of the process and motion of the artist as if I were standing in his shoes, and maybe that is the point. After all, it is a self-portrait.

The title is I Became…, a statement suggesting that the artist is reflecting on himself and his past. Is he putting his child self in the foreground, with the future lingering in the background as a temporal being with tenuous form? Or is he the man, gently holding onto the vestige of his childhood with two barely formed hands, certain of his past but uncertain of his present. Paintings like this make you look back at yourself through the eyes and the experience of another. What have I become? What will I become? I turned from the painting and left, the image of the boy and the man echoing as I returned to wandering through the rest of the gargantuan Biennale. I found myself still thinking about it days later after many other more grandiose pieces had already slipped through the sieve of my mind.

Lydia Pettit, I never could cross my legs, 2019, Oil on canvas, 53 x 53 inches

Lydia Pettit is a Painter and curator from Baltimore, Maryland, where she ran Platform Gallery for three years. Pettit’s paintings explore the experience of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the politics of the body, using her own image to convey the duality of strength and vulnerability. She is currently living in London pursuing her MA in painting at the Royal College of Art.

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Suzanne Unrein on Henri Rousseau Thu, 14 Nov 2019 16:55:13 +0000 His mane strangely blows forward on a windless night, while his eye appears as a mesmerizing orb that plays off the moon and mandolin.

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Henri Rousseau, The Sleeping Gypsy, 1897, Oil on canvas,  51 x 79 inches

Rousseau’s The Sleeping Gypsy is a dream that will never wake up.  A fairy tale of time, as in Eternity. Done in the style of post-impressionist, gothic regionalism, but like a cockeyed Egyptian painting, Rousseau’s Gypsy is a bust-out, an anachronism, a mystical misfit.

Seemingly grander than its 51 x 79 inches, the lion appears like a hallucination hovering over the somnolent gypsy and her accoutrements. His mane strangely blows forward on a windless night, while his eye appears as a mesmerizing orb that plays off the moon and mandolin. The vast sky makes a silent impact with its indigo hues that hint at the coming day. Wondrous patterns mimic and undulate in surreal poetry: his mane radiates towards her garments; her foot reaches out to his hind legs; the eternal waters glide behind them and in front of a flat, wind-swept backdrop of a desert. All of these sumptuous oddities keep me coming back to this painting, along with the glistening of the gypsy’s zipper-like teeth.

Rousseau once said to Picasso, “You and I are the two most important artists of the age – you in the Egyptian style, and I in the modern one.” He was ridiculed for that and other conceits, but I can’t help thinking that illusions help us all to continue. Rousseau was a self-taught outsider and inspired to paint like William-Adolphe Bouguereau and Jean-Léon Gérôme. Wonderful that he never forced himself into the framework of academia. His fantastical visions may have been a fool’s paradise but what a grand one it was: a tiger running through the rain in a tropical forest, a lion devouring a leopard among impossibly outsized lotuses and banana trees, serpents slithering out of lushness toward the ancient calls of a snake charmer.

Rousseau never left France, which may have secured his singular vision. He was outspoken about working with disparate source material to create unified worlds of his own making. Illustrations from children’s books and department stores helped create his impossible and enchanted beasts. Sketches of plants at Paris’ botanical gardens galvanized his terrain.

Twenty-four of his twenty-five jungle mashups were painted at the end of his life as if his quote “Beauty is the promise of happiness,” became the impetus for his grand finale, his trip down the rabbit hole, his adventure towards the unconditionally exotic. To me, Rousseau’s savagery in these last Edens was powerful yet delicate, simple and pure as a tune.

Suzanne Unrein, Salvage, 2019, Oil on canvas, 79 x 69 inches

Suzanne Unrein is a New York City-based painter.  She recently had a solo show at the Sara Nightingale Gallery in Sag Harbor and co-curated a show with Amy Hill at the 5-50 Gallery in LIC.  She writes for Delicious Line and is arts editor for Figure/Ground Magazine.

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Gabrielle Vitollo on Nemesis: The Great Fortune by Albrecht Dürer Tue, 05 Nov 2019 14:50:44 +0000 When I eventually approached the mirror to throw water on my face, I caught a glimpse of Nemesis striding forward in the same direction.

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Photograph by Max Eicke

“This is peculiarly painless.” 

“That’s because you have to really want it,” Yvonne, with unblinking dark-lined eyes framed by elongated, arched eyebrows, concentrates as she combs cross-hatched lines of ink under my skin with the vibrating tattoo gun. 

We talk about Yvonne’s artistic evolution from an abstract tattoo artist in the 90’s to her current figurative approach informed by the Old Masters, and my development from making naturalistic figure paintings to a more abstract style of work. Paint is paint. I love how graphic works – etchings, manga, graffiti, and even instructional manuals – act on my eye. Particularly the crisp delineations from the surrounding space to the subject, which activate a primal reaction in my brain, perhaps indicating that a form is suddenly in very close proximity.

Reclining on a pleather table surrounded by Renaissance and Gothic artbooks, my back is to Yvonne. I am blind to her activities. My arm radiates heat as it oozes blood mixed with black ink, and I start to get a lightheaded high. I watch a burly man receiving a full-frontal piece wince as his nipples are inked black. 

“You’re taking it very well,” Yvonne says to me as the Massive Attack and Soundgarden playlist loops again.

Photograph by Max Eicke

Since I was 16 years-old, I wanted a sleeve piece. I tend to jump head-first into icy lakes and new experiences. Almost straight out of my graduate program in New York City, I moved to Berlin on a Fulbright Research Grant. My project was to create a techno-futurist intaglio portfolio in response to the tumultuous compositions of Albrecht Dürer’s engravings, particularly his Book of Revelation series. This engraving portfolio was his direct response to zealots’ warnings of the apocalypse, the Black Plague, and landholders’ tyranny over the peasantry. Dürer’s ideas echo today in the ways we think about climate change, cancer, and gentrification. 

For years, I searched for a tattoo artist who could capture the tension and delicacy of a Dürer piece. I knew I wanted to be physically intertwined with Dürer, but could not find the right person with both the skill and emotional intensity to translate a genius’s work onto my body permanently. I knew the piece would require both technical finesse and gestural understanding.

In the spring of 2019, I walked past a tattoo studio in Berlin and saw photographs of Yvonne’s Dürer master copies through the front window. I was in Germany to study the tactility of Dürer’s mark-making, so it seemed like the right time to have it inscribed upon my body. 

“I can’t fit The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse on a woman’s arm. Maybe as a full backpiece,” Yvonne said eagerly on the phone as I weaved through Berlin traffic on my bike. Yvonne was usually completely booked and would call me at random points during the day whenever she had a sudden cancelation. Perhaps she also found my strong desire intriguing. “If it’s your arm, it has to be one figure.” 

This sounded like an impossible decision, considering Dürer’s graphic works are defined by the dramatic push-pull movements of his multi-figural compositions. I thought of Roald Dahl, who shared my deep passion for both Francis Bacon and Chaim Soutine, and his short story Skin. In this narration, a young, drunk Soutine gives a man a free back tattoo so powerful and beautiful that all the Parisian art collectors want to flay the man for his body art. And they do so. Ergo, my irrational fear of ever receiving a full-back tattoo.

Albrecht Dürer, Nemesis (The Great Fortune), 1501-2, engraving, sheet 13 1/8 x 9 1/8 inches

Then I recalled the winged silhouette from Dürer’s engraving Nemesis: The Great Fortune (1499-1501), which was etched in my memory during a period of researching Gothic art in graduate school. Dürer completed the engraving at the age of 30, the same age as I am now. He referred to the engraving in his diary as Nemesis, but the public more often titled it Fortune. Nemesis was the Ancient Greek goddess of justice, divine retribution, and the balance of life. Dürer depicted her holding a gold goblet for those deserving of good fortune and a horse bridle to restrain the headstrong. She has idealized Renaissance proportions – the muscular, curved anatomy of both a man and a woman – and is precariously balanced on a sphere and adorned with flowing drapery while towering over the panoramic Italian landscape of Klausen in Eisack Valley.

This is a description of the piece that I might write for a German High Renaissance art history test. But, as a contemporary viewer, I see less historical specificity in this work than in other Dürer engravings. Dürer and I both share a worldview shaped by biblical tales, while Greek and Roman deities are the relics of a long past history. In Dürer’s Book of Revelation series, the imminent expectation of an apocalypse, whether through disease or hellfire, demands an urgent read and specific narrative. But, in Nemesis, this lack of reference to a specific story allows greater consideration of its form and craftsmanship. The emphasis on the stark figure herself and the wild linework of her dramatic stance, allows the work to carry different contexts and the viewer to adopt their own narrative.

Albrecht Dürer’s engraving, Rhinoceros (1515), had greater influence than he probably anticipated. Before photography, engravings were one of the main methods for circulating information. Dürer never actually saw a rhinoceros, and therefore based his depiction on a written description and another artist’s quick sketch. Utilizing a somewhat literal interpretation of the writing, he gave the animal scales, a rigid back, armor, and even a breastplate. The image was so powerful that it outgrew more accurate representations of rhinos in Western Europe and was included in textbooks as scientific content until 1930. If one were to verbally describe Dürer’s construction of a rhino, it could rival a firsthand account from a live spectator on safari. Despite the lack of factual anatomy conveyed by Dürer’s rhino, the engraving provides a convincing and evocative experience.

Albrecht Dürer, Rhinoceros, 1515, Woodcut, 9.3 x 11.7 inches

I am intrigued by Baldwin’s confidence in determinist meaning, but his iconic biohazard design has already mutated in subtle ways. The biohazard symbol has been adopted as an ironic tattoo by the gay community to communicate when one is infected with HIV or AIDS. The symbol has also been integrated into sci-fi and cyberpunk aesthetics as a trendy piece of graphic imagery that often lacks a distinct warning, perhaps undoing its initial purpose. Scientists and anthropologists worry about the biohazard symbol’s future. Specifically: how will we tell future generations or alien species about our nuclear toxic waste sites? Once the skull and crossbones was a serious warning sign for poison and pirates. Now this death symbol  – that is still used for electric currents, poisons, and radioactivity – has been diluted by Hollywood adventure movies. Because this basic and vital visual symbol is difficult to pin down, it highlights the impossibility of building images that communicate consistently across time. Humans cannot help but mold and manipulate the meaning of symbols, even ironically. Eventually Durer’s Rhinoceros shifted meaning over time from the ideal form of the animal to a whimsical chimera. The meanings of figures and symbols mutate over time within different groups, regardless of the maker’s intention for clear communication. An extreme example of this is the biohazard symbol. In 1966, DOW Chemical’s Charles Baldwin designed the hieroglyph-like signifier to be graphically memorable, yet abstract enough in meaning that hazardous material regulators could apply specific information to the ideogram depending on particular environmental conditions. It was an ambitious task: to manifest meaning in a symbol that would convey invisible dangers, such as toxic air or polluted water, but in a universally comprehensible way.

With the Internet’s globalizing effect, the United States has also recently witnessed accelerated reappropriation of signifiers in a time of post-facts, post-truths, fake news, and 4chan memes, which have arguably influenced our elections. Matt Furie, creator of the online comic Boy’s Club, has his anthropomorphic frog character, Pepe, appropriated within blog posts and internet forums as an in-joke meme for different scenarios, reactions, and emotions. Various Alt-right websites also employed Pepe the Frog’s face as a logo and Furie successfully sued Infowars for using the image as a hate-symbol. Even Trump was caricatured as a Pepe the Frog meme, which he retweeted during his 2016 campaign to win over a younger audience. The interconnecting complexity of visual media, especially in our digital age, affirms that images develop their own connotations. Similarly, the Nazi party appropriated Dürer’s engraving Knight, Death and the Devil for depictions of Hitler, who deemed modernism and abstraction as degenerate, in nationalist propaganda, equating their leader with this fearless knight. Dürer, long gone, could not comment on the appropriation of his art for an ultimately negative representation, but his compelling, exquisite artworks fortunately withstood this dark chapter and are still revered.

When I am asked about what my Nemesis tattoo or my abstract paintings “mean”, I prefer not to give a straight answer. This year, I have found that I have much less control over “meaning” and my life path than I previously thought. I acknowledge the historical significance of Dürer’s engraving, yet, the winged Nemesis tattoo on my arm took on new roles that I did not forsee. I received the tattoo at the end of my Fulbright year; a few weeks later I successfully received a German artist visa to stay and continue my work. 

Committing to a life in Berlin post-research project, I went through a dark phase. I mourned the loss of the career, friends, relationships, and paintings (now in storage) that I built in the United States over the first 30 years of my life. I became my own nemesis when I sacrificed the life I worked hard to create in order to test myself and evolve as an artist in Berlin; it was psychologically taxing. Some mornings I awoke, unable to get out of bed, and felt the impossibility of starting my life over in a place where I could not adequately express complex ideas in the local language. When I eventually approached the mirror to throw water on my face, I caught a glimpse of Nemesis striding forward in the same direction. She reminded me that I was the badass bitch who got that tattoo and I could then dive into the studio.

In spite of, or perhaps because of, the chaos in my life, I am driven to make strong, energized paintings that evoke a bodily experience. Tattoos and paintings allow us to converse when words fall short. People tell me that I look like Dürer’s Nemesis. It’s true that I have a muscular, curvy body, but I believe people are responding more to the posture’s energy. Nemesis’ form has dynamic weight and complexity, and through the Renaissance principle of contrapposto, appears to balance. People respond viscerally to the formal acrobatics of Nemesis’s complex shape: despite the weight of life, she’s floating.

Gabrielle Vitollo, In Limbo, 2017, oil on canvas, 72 x 56 inches

Gabrielle Vitollo investigates paint as language for corporeality, the abject, and the sublime. She holds an MFA from New York University and is the recipient of a German Fulbright Research Grant for Painting & Printmaking. Vitollo presently resides in a borough of Berlin that is surrounded by lakes formed by the last Ice Age glacier retreat. In her free time, she teaches screenprinting to Extinction Rebellion activists.

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Patrick McDonough on Benjamin Edwards Wed, 23 Oct 2019 21:27:57 +0000 Entering the studio with “Justin” was an unforgettable kind of magic, like passing through a Super Nintendo game portal where the colors and the physics forever change. 

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Benjamin Edwards, Ramble, 2003, Lithography, ed. 30, 26 1/4 by 35 1/4 inches, Printed at Tandem Press

In the spring of 2003, my printmaking class at the University of Wisconsin took a field trip to Tandem Press, on the Madison’ east side. At the behest of our instructor, John Hitchcock, we jumped on our bicycles, mopeds and the occasional still-running import coupe to make the trek. In hindsight, we might have just walked – but this was pre Google Maps (which would have told us the journey was but a 1.5 mile jaunt). Also, this was March in Wisconsin and walking was to be avoided at all costs. 

Once we arrived, we were led into the inner sanctum of Tandem by a graduate student printer that I am reasonably certain was Justin Strom – now an assistant professor at the University of Maryland. It very well could have been someone else entirely; you see, my twenty-one-year-old sculptor self, in a simmering state of inadequacy, often reduced the printmaking graduate students (number one program in the country) into an undifferentiated mass of those aloof, idiosyncratically-tattooed and self-assured standard bearers for the democratic potential of the printmaking medium.

To be clear, entering the studio with “Justin” was an unforgettable kind of magic, like passing through a Super Nintendo game portal where the colors and the physics forever change. I think there was even a noteworthy door! As a native of Madison, I felt a special kind of guilt for having never stumbled upon this enclave of serious art making, tucked behind a house paint factory.

I probably had no business being there, anyhow.  Needing a medium specific printmaking course to satisfy the tour-de-art studio aspect of my K-12 art education program, I only signed up for Relief Printing because the sections of Screenprinting were full. Not to mention, class started at 820 am. Subconsciously plotting my revenge, I spent a number of weeks hacking 60s board game inspired superflat forms into the surface of eighteen-inch squares of MDF.  

Cut back to Tandem. While Professor Hitchcock navigated the facility’s staff and infrastructure, we Relief Printmaking 1 students were led on an obligatory tour of the Press’ numerous technique specific stations. If memory serves, we began at a ten-foot tall hand cranked torture device-cum-paper press that hometown hero David Lynch (yes that one) had recently used to crush rat carcasses into melodramatic monotypes. Myself, I mostly marveled at the spectacular worktables.

Then, as we marched along the perimeter of the space, I caught a glimpse of a kaleidoscopic bacchanalia –a composition unlike anything I’d ever seen. Masterfully mixing the referential and the abstract, the real and the fictional, the earnest and the artificial into a cocktail of web 1.0, commuter culture and pre-recession hysterics, the work in question was RAMBLE by Benjamin Edwards.

In his 48-plate (!!) lithograph, ricocheting rainbow shrapnel and assorted bits of quasi-recognizable flotsam envelope a low opacity map of AnyNoPlace, USA. Time and space feel paused, as if the composition might burst, barely held together by a simmering magnetic field. Harnessing this energy, one’s eyes dart in and around his version of a town. Hints of one-point perspective here; side scrolling map logic there; isometric elements leashed in place by an emphatic horizon line.

Plus there was flocking! Adding insult to my injury, Edwards had sprinkled his epic edition with this grassy fairy dust, conjuring the Platonic form of a freshly mowed yard.

In an instant, I felt put in my place as an artist. I wished I’d made it. You see, at that point in time, I was minding my own suburban sensibility through a set of absurdist sculptures: an 8 foot-tall, vinyl sided catch-playing apparatus, a full-sized replica of a drive-thru menu board that intermittently lit up and spewed static, a lawn mower shrine.

But, whereas I clumsily fought to tease aesthetic potential from the material reality of suburban life, Edwards had coolly crafted an ode to the emerging digital flattening of material space into façade.  

And yet, I felt affirmed! Here was a real artist engaged with the same core content that I had stumbled into. I would need to step up my game, sure, but there are worse realizations to have.  

In the sixteen years since, RAMBLE has become a kind of bracket for my arts life. Over a decade ago I moved to DC –where Edwards has long been based – working for a short time as an assistant in his studio even. More recently, some collaborators and I included an artist proof of RAMBLE in our Beltway Public Works Lending Library, a fitting coda to this work’s braiding together of my past and present. 

Patrick McDonough, Open Space-Awning Studies: SOCRATES, Socrates Sculpture Park, New York, 2012, Custom Awning Frames, Outdoor Furniture Fabric, Steel, Hardware

Hailing from the idiosyncratic landscape of Wisconsin, Patrick McDonough is best known for his populist, vernacularly-styled interventions into a variety of municipal, cultural and public contexts. Having taught at institutions such as the Corcoran College of Art & Design and American University, McDonough is currently a public high school teacher near Washington DC.

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Barry Nemett on Robert Rauschenberg Sun, 13 Oct 2019 18:41:02 +0000 All looked pleasant enough near the foot but, like a dramatic plot twist, everything closer to the bed’s head looked war-torn, tortured.

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Robert Rauschenberg, Bed, 1955, 75 1/4” x 31 1/2 x 8”, MoMA, NYC

A fantastical take on a fantastical work: in the following riff on Robert Rauschenberg’s bold, brilliant Bed there’s far less analysis and direct eyeballing than in my previous articles for Painters on Paintings. It’s mostly story here, the tale focusing on a pillowcase and a woman named Gwen.   

She‘s an invention. In her there’s a very little bit of Gwen John, a bit more of some unnamed, unspectacular but substantial young women, and a lot of literary license. She is no one in particular. Rather, she’s a combination of someones that Rauschenberg’s Bed conjured in me.

Facts (for context): Gwen John (1876-1939) was a representational painter born in Wales, who had a ten-year affair with Auguste Rodin in Paris. Rodin sculpted Monument to Balzac. Rauschenberg (1925-2008) was born in Port Arthur, Texas. In the 1950s, he coined the term “combine,” a form of expression that makes the world strange — one of the functions of art — by merging painting, sculpture, collage, and photography with commonplace objects. 

When John died, Rauschenberg was fourteen years old, so she didn’t know his work, and I doubt he ever knew hers. Their sensibilities could hardly be further apart. Nonetheless, they are linked in my storied imagination.


Gwen John, A Corner of the Artist’s Room, 1907-09, oil on canvas, 12.3 x 9.8 inches, National Museum, Wales

The clean, well-lighted dwelling within a medieval Welsh village beckoned. Gwen entered to find it was thin on bedclothes and linens, and there were no towels at all. The new renter of the cottage used a shining white pillowcase to dry off after bathing. It also served to cover Gwen’s torso in bed and sometimes, crumpled, it cushioned her head. Who says chivalry is dead?  

Lacking dreams of its own, the pillowcase eavesdropped on the dreams of others and kept them safe. The dream capturer rose up from Gwen’s bed to curtain dawn and let its present sleeper drift longer within her airborne castles. She dreamt of whales, seas, and skies that floated from the bliss of a Cézanne blue and the fierceness of a Moby Dick white to the elegant grey of a seagull’s egg. She dreamt she was a parasol imagining itself a wicker chair, and she dreamt of a sculpted literary hero looking decidedly unheroic in his bathrobe.

One night, rousing from a dream, Gwen turned and licked the ear of the sculptor who created that bathrobed Balzac, but it was only her pillow. Drifting back to sleep, she pictured the quixotic works of a yet-unborn Texan, an artist from Port Arthur, who made his name in New York. The imagined fabrications were combines: a bald eagle soaring above a pillow filled with dreams, and an actual bed spilled with war paint. Absurd nightmares, she thought, trying to rid her mind of what she had just sort of seen. 

Besides dreaming, Gwen kept house. She bought shutters, a real, cushy pillow, towels, and other linens. Her prized purchase was a square-patterned quilt, the borders of each salmon-colored  square alike . . . and not. The quilt was too wide for Gwen’s bed, so she cut its width. 

She washed the comforter, along with the discarded section, but when she hung them outside to dry an eagle swooped down and, unobserved, stole the extra quilted material. Gwen wondered what happened to the cloth fragment, but she soon forgot all about it.

She also forgot about her former body-warming, drying, dream-peeping, dream-thieving, curtainer-against-the-wake up rainbow-rays of a dawning-sun companion. After months of performing with honor, it was replaced. If you asked the pillowcase, it would have said betrayed.

Melancholy and then depression wound up seizing the fabric, sadness turning it into a thing of yellowed stains and wrinkles. The cloth felt as useless as a mattress hanging on a wall.

Just as actors need roles, chivalry needs deeds. Deedless — think worthless, think hopeless— the pillowcase languished. Its world languished with it. No, much more than that. The out-of-sight bed imploded and it did, too; decked-out horses took part in nightmarish parades, each horse now marked in the pretty colors of bruises. Dripping with crud and blood, pageants of boogeymen galloped on their loyal Rocinantes attacking windmills, slaying dragons, chasing a daring, trailblazing Texan making his way east. There were pits of filth, fits of pique, and the stench of estrangement. To Gwen, the bed looked as fine and folksy as it always had. But not to the pillowcase. To it, all looked pleasant enough near the foot, but, like a dramatic plot twist, everything closer to the bed’s head looked war-torn, tortured.

Gone was its role of gallant service in Gwen’s life. After it had been stored in the dresser drawer, its memory of the lady’s scent survived in its very fibers, each day distinct, like the quilt’s stitched-together squares. But memories grow dim, and, in time, the pillowcase couldn’t tell the difference between her coldest March smells and her hottest June’s.

Robert Rauschenberg, Erased de Kooning Drawing, 1953, Traces of ink and crayon on paper, with mat and hand-lettered label in ink, in gold-leafed frame, 25 1/4 x 21 3/4 x 1/2 inches, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Gwen’s absence stole the cloth’s valiance, which not so long before had been awakened as if by a kiss. The pillowcase missed not doing what it most liked to do: come to the rescue. It needed to be needed.

One day there was no Gwen. Craving freedom and adventure, she had set off to see the world. No damsel in distress, she didn’t need to be saved. Some knights did. Some dragons, too. As did the cloth dream thief, which longed once again to steal into the imaginings of others. Of course, it longed even more to be freed from the hell of its imprisoning drawer.   

That happened years later when a bald eagle flew over the Welsh cottage. The bird clutched in its talons a pillow packed with odd, sleep-filled stories. Strangely, the eagle and its pillow looked remarkably similar to what Gwen had once envisioned. However, this time the pillow filled with stories was clothed in a quilted pattern decorated with salmon-colored squares.         

The eagle circling overhead caused a stir in a drawer within the cottage. The dwelling’s tenant responded. Having completed her travels outside Wales, Gwen had recently returned. Crumpled into a corner of the dresser, she found what she had stored there years ago, its stained and yellowed spirit plagued now more than ever by the emptiness of a profound, unrequited yearning to protect.    

  Robert Rauschenberg, Canyon, 1959, 81 3/4 x 70 x 24″, MoMA, NYC, New York

Robert Rauschenberg, Monogram, 1955–59, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden

As if in shining armor, the chivalric lady stole into the nightmares of the cloth dream thief. Our heroine stroked the fabric smooth and she tenderly draped it around a pillow, tired and gray, that needed a cover. Covered, the pillow suddenly saw the world strangely, innocently, as if for the first time. Images came and went in oddball pairings: socks and cockeyed clocks, a goat with a tire, a drawing erased. Above, a bald eagle fanned its wings, setting a rainbow on delicious, delirious fire. The rainbow’s blaze poured onto the bed and pillowcase below, which were immersed in the refreshing insanity of fantastical dreams.     


Barry Nemett, Portraits, 2018, pen and pencil on paper, 11 x 166 inches; Center right: Balzac Busts, 2018, pen on paper, 84 x 5 inches; Bottom: Songs Barking to the Sun, 2018, pen and pencil on paper, 11 x 166 inches, Photo by David Lieberman

Barry Nemett, who has taught full-time at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) since 1971, has exhibited his artwork throughout the United States, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Since receiving his MFA degree from Yale University and receiving a Fulbright/ITT International Travel Fellowship to Spain, he has lectured worldwide, curated numerous traveling exhibitions, and has been a recipient of resident artist grants in the United States, Italy, France, Scotland, Ireland, Africa, and Japan.

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Heide Fasnacht on Martin Kippenberger Fri, 04 Oct 2019 14:32:44 +0000 The gizmo he depicts with slapdash but accurate strokes of orange and red is reasonable, yes, but dissolves into the vagaries of emotional weather; it does not add up to the logical structure it pretends to be.

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Martin Kippenberger, Ohne Titel (Untitled), 1988, oil on canvas, 94 1/2 x 78 3/4 in., Private collection, © Estate Martin Kippenberger, Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne

In February of 2017 when I returned to painting, a particular work by Martin Kippenberger arrived to greet me: Untitled from 1988. I loved it instantly. It shows a rather sad example of an aging man holding and gazing at a linear geometric structure with vague traces of the sexual. I had looked at other artists who had painted 3-D diagrammatic objects, but this was the one for me!

This painting epitomizes for me the engagement of the artist to the thing made: this gazing at some structure with a teasing logic, trying to figure out how the parts that make up the world work, what they are, and how this contraption might help somehow. The gizmo he depicts with slapdash but accurate strokes of orange and red is reasonable, yes, but dissolves into the vagaries of emotional weather; it does not add up to the logical structure it pretends to be leaving poor blue Martin at 6’s and 7’s.

“Not that the world is mappable, but that it wants to be,” Elizabeth Hardwick in “Sleepless Nights” opines.

Martin Kippenberger, Untitled, 1989, watercolor, ballpoint pen and crayon on paper, 29 by 21 1/2 inches

The guy in the painting holds onto a loose string attached to a balloon which is paradoxically buoyant. It is here, inside a thought bubble perhaps, that the contraption floats. Here, he can have it but not have it. He can wonder at its meaning. He can replicate it as if it were, perhaps, some vital chart of the absolute. He can locate himself. He can locate space. He can follow its trajectories and hope for resolution.

Or, the balloon is his head. The contraption, before it was made, is his vestigial mental invention. Or, it is a map of his neuronal and syntactical trailblazing. Here and there I went! Or, it offers the possible routes ahead: I must go there, or I could go here. A sort of google map of evanescent darting notions.

Oh, and how it is painted! Did several different Kippenbergers revisit this work in several different times in several different states of mind? The balloon came first. It is scumbled on like some fading pareidolial trace on a stucco wall. An image or a stain? Don’t ask me! Next that unwieldy contraption is brushed on casually, neatly, in some territory between isometric perspective and an exploded view. A collapsed view perhaps? Then that man: Earnestly modeled with classically great brushwork, yet orthopedically challenged and disc-like in depth. The three cross paths in a great overlapping hyperspace.

Martin Kippenberger, Worktimer (at MOCA Los Angeles), 1987, steel, briefcases, and rubber, 95 11/16 x 101 3/16 x 55 1/8 inches, Grässlin Collection, St. Georgen, Germany, © Estate Martin Kippenberger, Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne

Kippenberger also made this contraption with real materials in real space. But, for me, the painting is where it’s at! Worktimer from 1987 seems to be a still life for the later painting. Worktimer the object, changes in the painting because we see him. While we can gaze at this sculpture, in the painting, we can gaze at the artist gazing at the sculpture. We can think about gazing.

All in all this is the enterprise: using our great brains and blue hearts to figure out the world somehow, the urgency building as the bell rings for the last critical lap.

Heide Fasnacht, Turbulence (red), 2019, Acrylic paint on manipulated photo mounted on Wood Panel; 48” x 60”  © Heide Fasnacht Studio

Heide Fasnacht is a New York based artist who works in painting and sculpture. Her show at the Martin Art Gallery opens November 19th 2019 and is up until Feb 8th, 2020.

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