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Portfolio Justin Neenan

I began my artistic practice focused on drawing. This abstract work involves a system wherein each line and shape creates direction for the next. The process requires no ultimate goal, except that it must follow specific rules created as the drawing progresses.

Above This drawing is a typical example of this system. The drawing continued to form itself until the page was fiilled. Compositional choices inform each step. Right This drawing combines a piece of a photograph with the same abstract drawing system. In this example, a subject was chosen and then the drawing method was applied to suit its feeling. The subject was the alleged rape and murder of Virginia Rappe by Fatty Arbuckle in 1921. Arbuckle was said to have violated her with a champagne bottle. The organic, visceral lines contrasted by violent, sharp angles and heavy shading project the mood of the event.

Left This drawing deals with the subject of a life drawing class. The model wore a simple tattoo of a raven on her upper back, which she described as being her “spirit animal�. It presents the model iin several overlapping positions simultaneously.

I followed a similar drawing technique using ink. These drawings began as a series of lines that quickly formed shapes, slowly developing to a finished work. I allowed the subject of the drawing to illustrate whatever I felt suited the form of the lines best, never with a predetermined idea. Usually starting in the centre of the page, I concentrated first on creating a consistent strength of line, and then on filling the page compositionally. The drawings often feel like an exercise in graphic design as they come together.

Right A large bird perched on a log in water Opposite A mosquito on a heart .

Animals became a theme of these drawings as the forms I was drawn toward were generally organic and flowing.

Right An ostrich in a lightning storm.

Left A group of kiwis struggling to climb a hill to reach some berries. Below A bird.

Many of these drawings are completely abstract. No form was unveiled in the process of drawing, and so the lines simply end at an appropriate time compositionally. Each drawing still follows its own set of guidelines, creating a sense of mood.

Right This abstract drawing conveys a sense of organic flow, or perhaps music, as in Kandinsky’s paintings. Below The red added a new element to this drawing, which takes inspiration from an urban landscape.

Design has a huge influence on my drawing. I see these drawings as exercises in graphic design, as they are completely aestheticly focused. The concepts relate to the real world through drawing, rather than directly. It is the same within the scope of painting, photography, or any other fixed medium. Through time I felt that to progress as an artist, I needed to pursue sculpture, which exists as the all-encompassing name given to work wherein material serves subject.

Above An abstract city scene, loosely reproduced in the negative on scratchboard. Left Simple design with black and red.

This sculpture was produced on a small beach in suburban Victoria, British Columbia, nestled within the rocks surrounding waterfront property. It was made using only natural material found on the beach that morning, and survived for only a day. The scene created was that of an attack from the water, as three large openings were carved through the sand, stretching back to the beach. Kelp, seaweed and driftwood were arranged to appear as mangled bodies from a distance. The project was completely washed away by the tide the same night. The natural elements and ephemeral aspect of the work liken it to Andy Goldsworthy’s creations in isolated places, though it follows a kind of mythic narrative more closely.

Opposite A view from the end of the centre line, seaweed and wood placed like carnage after an attack. Above A view from distant rocks. The work is plainly visible from nearby houses, and is on a common route of local dog-walkers. Left One of the assembled victims lying face-down in the sand.

Entitled “Push and Pull,� this work is one of a series of ad hoc towers, made using items close at hand, and held together by tension. The two towers are completely symetrical, and so every item chosen had to be one of a pair. The project was a process-based exercise. I made them one after another, so it involved making a structure that was as tall as I could manage, and then reproducing it.

Right The project is placed in the main hallway in the University of Victoria Visual Arts Building, and is visible from the first and second floors.

Left A detail of the bottom of the tower.

This project took several months to come to fruition, and was the result of several projects involving a kind of striving, or eagerness to make something significant. This came in the form of increasingly larger scale sculptures that were completed when there was no possibility for expansion. This ladder was a self-supported structure that stood 40 feet in the air. Both the vertical and horizontal bars grew closer together as they near the top, to create a false sense of height when standing closer to the bottom. This falseness is undermined before it is experience properly, as the viewer walks toward it.

Right Viewed from below, the ladder appears to extend endlessly. Below The tower was very difficult to erect, and involved steadying ropes from up high, and long wooden forks to steady it from below.

Due to its falseness, the sculpture stood as a distopic beacon, high above most buildings in and around the university. Among the mid-century, utopic architecture that UVic was established with, the ladder was a melancholic symbol of ambition.

Above Left Diagram of measurements involved Above Right Early concept drawing of the ladder Left The ladder was originally meant to be placed near a beautifully designed sewage building from the 1950’s. The building was erected on the campus endownment lands in a field, far from any buildings, as the University’s designers had assumed the school would quickly expand to fill the space between. The project was seen as a danger to those who might try to climb it by the university, so it was erected in the Visual Arts Sculpture Yard instead, where I formed a foundation underground that held the ladder vertically with strength.

Opposite The typical white-walled art galleries exist out of tradition and a desire. The reasons were clear when the walls were first painted white; they were thought of as an unbiased place to view art, so that it may be transported to any place without altering its meaning. The problems with this method are now clear, but the persistence of this tradition is ongoing. The walls, like the people inside, and the city outside, are loaded with a pervasive partiality that affects the perception of the work. This well-known hypocrasy within contemporary art was the source of inspiration for this image.

In this project, a cube of space in the forest was marked off and everything within was painted white. The space is transparent as is a gallery, and the medium functions

cyclically to further this idea. The process began with paint, and therefore it is a painting, and not current. However, it is a three-dimensional space, so it is also a sculpture, which is contemporary. The work was then photographed however, and placed in a gallery, which is again based in tradition.

This piece consists of two mirrors facing each other at an angle, placed on the grass, and then covered again by turf. It suggests an open door in the grass.

Above Mirrors viewed from behind Right View from the front

A photo of a pot light was placed over this actual light in a row of three, and the reflection placed beneath it.

Above The reflection placed below the light Left Details of the light and reflection

This project was realised on Granville Island in Vancouver, chosen for a peculiar piece of landscape architecture. A circle of trees and benches have been arranged with a small lump of a hill in the middle. Flagging tape is chosen as a marker to draw attention to this place. The tape was wrapped around four separate branches in one tree. The branches appear to be chosen at random until they are viewed from the bench accross from the tree, where they come together to form a shape. The shape is a rectangle with one side curved like a wave. This mimicks the shape of the apartment building accross False Creek. I am interested in the relationship between the urban environment and nature, and the desire to introduce an ordered nature to the concrete, metal, and glass city.

Opposite Tree being viewed from the bench accross from it. Each tree has a bench accross from it. Above Details of the flagged tree. Left The tree as viewed from the bench. Note the building to the left of the branches.

The architecture of the Emily Carr University of Art and Design is blunt and deliberate. Here a circle is made in the ceiling with negative space, but is just a facade built up underneath the glass roof above it. Underneath the hole I placed a block of soil, 4’6” by 4’6” by 3’ tall. This project was a revisitation to a work by Maurizio Cattelan, who had in turn appropriated his idea from Alighiero Boetti. Boetti had planned an immense tower to be constructed with an apple tree growing from its peak, though it was never constructed due to financial issues. In Cattelan’s project, he mailed a gallery instructions to create his sculpture for him - allowed only by his immense status as an artist. They were to place a large olive tree in a huge block of soil on the third floor. The staff were then left to find a way to build it, which involved airlifting the massive tree through a window, as well as hauling in tons of soil. In my project, as in Cattelan’s, the soil juxtaposes the grit of the natural world with the stark white walls of a modern gallery. The dirt is a contradiction to the aesthetic that is engrained in current art-making practices. This work is also a result of my interest in the reproduction of past work and ideas. As Cattelan had sent the gallery instructions to create his olive tree project, I would follow these instructions in a different way. This act facilitates a conversation about the importance of the artist as the builder of the object, and as the mind behind the concept. It also placed myself, as the artist, in a role of curator, as well as an organizer of budgeting, shipping, and placement of the piece, as opposed to Cattelan’s piece, in which he did not involve himself in any of presentation of the show. This project at Emily Carr University also tackles the idea of permanence in art, and the temporary function of art placed inside galleries. While Cattelan’s tree created a problem from its inception, the possibility of a tree growing into the hole above the soil suggests some future dilemna. The project would grow to fit the architecture if it were given time, but is not given permanent residence, and is therefore useless without its intended setting.

Right The block of soil underneath the circle

Left View from down the hall, where stairs connect to this walkway.

This project involved bringing outdoor landscaping into an interior space. There is rarely a seamless integration of plant life and architecture indoors, where the natural elements are kept separate and more controlled.

Right Ivy planted in a space behind a fire alarm. Below Ivy planted in a hole in a beam high up.

Above Urban landscaping is intriguing as an investigation of the connection between humans and nature. For this project, I chose a deciduous tree in a line with others on Granville Island. Being deciduous, it is left naked and considered mostly unappealing for parts of the year. 200 pine-scented car air fresheners were then hung from its branches, which fluttered like leaves from a distance. The air fresheners gave off an intense odour that surrounded the area for some time. Left I am investigating the processes that bring the natural world into urban landscape, and the forms that are manifested. In particular, I am interested in the ways natural elements are altered in order to suit human aesthetic values. One of these values is geometry. Straight lines, symmetry, and right angles are all cut into and manipulated into nature within the city, in the form of landscaping and topiary. I am interested in the desire for these aesthetic qualities of urban nature, as well as the role of biophilia within human culture. In this project, I filmed myself trimming a length of bush in the forest so that it was completely flat on top. The shape was very difficult to interprate throughout the video. Upon completion, I walked behind it, revealing the straight line on my clothing.

Opposite The properties that define a room are its location, size, dimensions, colour, etc. The architecture of the space that art is placed in can quietly define the work in the viewer’s subconscious, or be a conscious consideration as well. These massive inflated sculptures are part of a project dealing with volume and perception of the constructed space. The shape on the right side is an exact replica of the proportions of a gallery space inside Emilly Carr University. The gallery chosen for this project is among the most important at Emily Carr University for sculpture students, and therefore its architecture significantly affects the work produced by students, especially regarding scale. The room was reproduced using plastic sheeting, and inflated in the parking lot outside the school. When the plastic room was fully inflated, it became very light and moved with the wind, it also expanded so that the sides were rounded to a degree, and became almost like a ball. As the the sun went down, the outside lights were on and shone through the plastic to further reveal its translucence.

This project also deals with the presentation of art, and its elevation in the public realm. To situate artwork in a clean white gallery places importance on the object being viewed,

as the object is associated with its surroundings. By placing this child of the gallery in the parking lot outside of the school, the prominence of the gallery is lost. Cheap materials have also been used in its construction: Sheet plastic and packing tape. This in conjunction with its association with the dark, wet parking lot, which functions as a storage area rather than a plinth, takes further value from the sculpture as high art. The object is also be compared to a large inflatable toy, critical in taking currency from this work. It shares similarities with Rachael Whitereed’s work, but contrarily removes solidity from the architecture, rather than granting it. The room is also removed from its origins, and may not be recognized if not for the notch in the wall that is the definitive characteristic of that gallery. The notch is the most distinctive architectural element in that space, as it defines the room as being the gallery inside Emily Carr University.

The object on the left is a large, inflated tube of the same semi-translucent plastic sheeting taped together lengthwise and tied at each end with metal wiring. It was placed

vertically in the parking lot, leaning against the school, and flopping over the second floor balcony. The tube was just over six feet in diameter and just under 50 feet in length. The air amount of air filling it was made equal to that of the inflated room. The plastic tube speaks to the volume of the room, and the ways volume is perceived. As it controls the same volume of space as the room, it exists as an equal in a similar system of judgment. Shape is just another distinguishable trait in the act of visual consumption. The tube is simply one degree apart from its origin in the building, a step that already began as the inflated room lost its right angles and straight lines and became a kind of ball. Instead it stands erect and inflated, as symbol of large, industrial, masculine art-making.

This project involved a cast of a lump of clay made in eurethane rubber, and fixed with the inflation nipple from a soccer ball. The lump was placed on a plinth where it would need constant help to stay inflated due to a leak in the seam. As the artist, I stood next to my work, keeping it alive through physical labour. The act of continuously pumping life into the work spoke to the processes of producing and presenting one’s ideas.

Above The deflated lump, sitting upon the plinth. The work slowly deflated if it was not pumped roughly every 30 seconds. Right Detail of the nipple being fed by the pump, which acted as an umbilical cord. Opposite The lump, mostly inflated.

This project deals with inflated volume and space, but regarding people as opposed to architecture. The two objects have been chosen as real life emotional replacements for human companionship and rivalry. They are a body pillow and a punching bag, which have been made into latex molds, and inserted with a nipple for inflation. The nipple functions as a simple personifying feature, acting as a belly button. The two objects have been inflated with the same volume, which is the equivalent volume of my own body. This measurement was achieved through displacement, and a series of tests. The latex appears to be a kind of skin, though sickly and desperately thin.

Left The molds are placed in several positions, where they take on human traits quite easily. The centre photo is a detail of the nipple. Opposite A view of another position. The objects were placed on the floor and stood just three to four feet high.

The form of an ottoman was chosen for this project because it sums up the basic function of all furniture: To hold things off the ground. Comfort, styling, ergonomics, all follow after this basic function is fulfilled. Therefore, simply extending the ottoman to the height of a person negates its function completely. However, the height pushes the furniture toward the figurative. The figure in furniture is something I am interested in, as it seems to fill spaces both physically for people, as well as on an emotional level. The ottoman draws attention to this in its design. It is exactly six feet in height, and the tufting on the top row act as its eyes. The form may not appear to be figurative, but the human tendency to personify surrounding world gives this impractical piece of furniture a more pressing function.

Right The ottoman is freestanding and alone in the room, awaiting interaction. Below Detail of feet.

Left The ottoman sits a comfortable height to engage, and the soft material makes it less threatening.

This project directly presents furniture as figurative beings, placing them in a role where they can converse with one another. To produce these objects, I dismantled existing furniture, and reassembled it in a new way. The process of reassembling was with the intent of transforming the furniture into a functionless object. It kept the design aesthetics of furniture, as all the materials stayed the same, but the new forms emphasize the curves and figurative lines within the design. I am viewing furniture here as a kind of emotional replacement for people, functioning not just to hold things up in different ways, but also to fill in space purposefully. The filling of space is aided by the curved lines and plush, comfortable materials used in furniture, to establish a feeling of being surrounded by humanity. Even the descriptive language of furniture is that of the human form: Legs, feet, arms, back, etc.

Opposite The two pieces are placed on a plinth with hardwood floor, much like a museum display of furniture. Left An example of how this pieces might be arranged.

This project was the next step in dealing with furniture as emotional replacements for people. For this work, every piece was made from scratch. The goal was to apply existing design principles in furniture design to generate objects that were functionless, but could resemble figures, and coexist as two parts of a discourse. These elements were placed on a hardwood plinth to resemble the method of furniture display present in museums. The curves of each piece come together to form a visible circle.

Right One object appears to be a table, lifting off the floor. Its legs become arms as it leans over the other object. Opposite The second object resembles a chair or lounger that is lounging itself. They interact to form a circle in space.

Portfolio | Sculpture + Drawing  

By Justin Neenan

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