Issue #9 The ART issue
issue #9 creator/curator/designer: Violet Shuraka
THANKS TO: artists: Sam Arthur / NoBrow Publishers Amanda Joy Calobrisi Andy Denzler Christian Gfeller & Anna Hellsgard / Bongoût John Jurayj Elias Necol Melad Ed Panar Zoran Pungercar Charles Roberts Nicolas Wollnik writers: Heather Morgan Andrew Shea Violet Shuraka COPYeditor: Holly Monahan
To peruse old issues please go to: www.cheapandplastique.com or visit the cheap & plastique blog: cheapandplastique.wordpress.com for more info or to send goodies please contact violet shuraka at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Front cover image by Andy Denzler Edge of Desire, Oil on canvas, 150 x 150 cm, 2009 Vellum overlay image by John Jurayj Untitled (Orange Diptych, #8), Digital print on watercolor paper with burn holes and orange mirrored plexiglass, 56” x 73.5”, 2011.
A Few Words From The Editor
Dear Friends and Fellow Art Enthusiasts, Cheap & Plastique is ordering a Mai Tai and stocking up on bronzer, bound for Art Basel Miami. We have had a busy year on our art beat, bringing the most beguiling of Chelsea and Brooklyn to our blog. There we also expose the things that catch our eye, from abandoned buildings to our favorite bands and purveyors of printed matter. We are all about exposure. Please join us in Miami, where we will be exposing ourselves in fine style, exhibiting a selection of painting, drawing and photography from some artists familiar to these pages. Thank you for your continued support. Umbrella drinks, ahoy! Cheers, Cheap & Plastique
3 Painting/Silkscreen/Installation John Jurayj
9 Photography Ed Panar
15 Painting Andy Denzler
21 Illustration ˇ Zoran Pungercar
27 Painting Elias Necol Melad
33 Publishing/Silkscreen/Illustration Christian Gfeller & Anna Hellsgard/ Bongoût
39 Photography Nicolas Wollnik
45 Publishing—Studio Visit Sam Arthur /NoBrow Publishers
49 Video Charles Roberts
53 Painting Amanda Joy Calobrisi
ART Q and A with Violet Shuraka
Your work deals with events that have taken place in Lebanon and how war and internal conflict have affected the country and its people. Your parents emigrated from Lebanon to the US before you were born. Have you been to Lebanon? Do you still have family in Lebanon? My father’s family still lives in Lebanon, both in Beirut and in Kousba to the north. I have visited regularly since the end of the civil war in the early 1990’s I see that you have shown your work in Beirut. Is the reaction to your work different in Beirut than in NYC? I think that the work is read differently depending on where it is shown. The viewer and his or her background, knowledge, and experience alters the work’s meaning. Certainly when the work is shown in the Arab world, and in particular in Lebanon, its resonance is different. The ostensible subject matter is fore fronted by the viewer’s subjectivity. You just showed your work at Participant, Inc. Gallery in NYC. Could you speak a bit about this show. I have been working for a number of years on two different projects that are inter-related yet formally different. Undead furthered my explorations of “disrupted representation”. A non-profit and, in particular, Participant, Inc., allowed me a lot more leeway to show what I needed as opposed to what might work in the market. The show included a video work, (Untitled) We Could Be Heroes, who are the figures in this video? Is this your first time working in this medium? Do you think you will create more video work in the future? This is my first video but since its creation I have continued to explore this medium and have a large piece in my current show at Alberto Peola Gallery in Torino Italy. Untitled (We Could Be Heroes) is a piece sampled from my early paper and screen print work of the same
Left: Untitled (Mirror Image, #18), Oil on Orange Mirrored Plexiglass, 48” x 36”, 2008; Following spread: Untitled (Purple Diptych, #10), Digital print on watercolor paper with burn holes and purple mirrored plexiglass, 58.25” x 74”, 2011.
title. It is an anthology of significant political players of the Lebanese Civil War, including American politicians. All the “men” are equalized when their eyes and vision are disgorged. Your sculptures of luggage, (Family Baggage), made of plaster and gunpowder, have been referred to as “ghost objects.” Do you intend these objects to function as memorials in any sense? If so, are they meant to evoke memories of people or of broader concepts? As opposed to a memorial which has the intent of commemorating, these objects are shadows or ghosts that float alongside the present. They are the darkness, the other side of what we see. Given that the sculptures are of luggage and contain gunpowder, have you had any trouble shipping the works for exhibitions? Not yet...... I imagine they might not easily clear customs. You would think, but they always make it through. Maybe things are not as tight as they say. Can you speak about your use of mirrored surfaces/stainless steel in place of traditional canvases? Is this more of an aesthetic choice or is it intended to give rise to an interactive element in the work, as the viewer sees their image reflected back at them from within? With this particular series, Untitled (Undead), the reflective quality of the work seems to drive home a sense of not only being a witness after the fact but also of participation or complicity in past events, as the viewer sees themself with a “ghost image” of a dead figure. Mirrored stainless steel is commonly used in psychiatric and penal institutions for safety purposes. I find this popular use important to the meaning of the work. Of course mirroring is a critical phase in child development and its absence can produce a rupture of self. In the case of painting, the mirror dissolves the privileged and separate space in which viewer stands, participation and implication is not a choice.
The figures in Untitled (Undead) are painted from images of those killed in the Lebanese Civil War. Where do these images come from? Newspapers? Are they published images? Are these people strangers or do you have a personal connection to them (are they relatives or friends of your family)? The people are anonymous and are sourced from journalistic archives. It is important that their anonymity be the bases of the attempts to give them dignity through verticality. Do you always work from photographic sources in your painting? No, my abstractions are pure material as representation. The subjects in Untitled (Undead) bring to mind Robert Longo’s Men in the Cities drawings from the late 70s. Interestingly, the figures and poses in both end up looking very similar although the intentions behind the work are completely opposed. Longo’s figures are jumping into the air, celebrating being alive, whereas your figures are fallen men and women, lifeless. However, your subjects seem to take on an almost triumphant air of reanimation when removed from their original context and placed upright and vertical. Could you talk about your decision to present the work like this? Have you looked at Longo’s work as a reference point? Longo is not a reference point though I am conscious of the reflection. That said, I am interested in my work echoing the history of other work, whether recent or the deep past. I think that it is best to let go of the anxiety of influence and play with the productive possibilities of aesthetic recycling. Whereas Longo seems to celebrate motion and the city, I am more interested in an attempt at changing time and altering space. Whether that is possible or not is also part of the work. It could be a heroic failure.
This page: Untitled, Installation View, Participant, Inc., NY, 2011; Right: Untitled (Boy With Shorts), Gunpowder and Ink Screened on Polished Stainless Steel, 67” x 44”, 2011
Are you a fan of Michelangelo Pistoletto’s work, particularly the Mirror Paintings? Have these works influenced your decision to paint on a reflective surface? I am a fan of his materials and some of the possibilities that his work opens up, though I am not interested in the seeming passivity and politeness of his work. You studied architecture as an undergraduate, when did you decide to pursue artmaking rather than a career in architecture? Architecture was a compromise with my parents. It allowed for me to have some aesthetic expression while maintaining the illusion of stability and social acceptance. It really wasn’t me. I have never functioned well in compromise and group settings. What drew me to architecture as a kid was my inability to distinguish between destruction and construction. In your earlier work you paint pictures of buildings being bombed using a very colorful, day-glo palette, even though the paintings depict somber subject matter. Your newer
works are rendered in much more subdued tones. Can you discuss this change in palette? The nature of the materials actually changed —from traditional oil to silkscreen. And then there is depression which is always at my edges. Do you mix gunpowder in with the paint/ silkscreen ink in all of these works? How did you first begin working with gunpowder as a medium? Yes, gunpowder is in all the screen printing and casting. I was looking for a medium other than standard ink or plaster to actualize instability, corruption, and volatility. Your paintings seem to have progressed from using buildings and architecture as their primary subject matter to using images of people. Can you talk about this progression? Is it indicative of a shift in your interest in subject matter or something necessitated or dictated by the particular cycle of work? The work moves between source material which is public and spaces which are very personal. I think this is a continuous circle.
Do you paint specific buildings in Beirut? Do each of the buildings that you depict have their own story? Yes and no. In general, anonymity prevails, yet certain moments such as the bombing of the U.S. Embassy or the U.S. Marine Barracks are iconic and unavoidably knowable. What painters/artists having you been looking at most recently? Past? Present? When I paint my paintings, I look at myself. Otherwise, Warhol seems to always shadow me. You teach at both SVA and Cornell, how does teaching influence your practice? It allows me to be on the front lines. Thinking and rethinking what is pertinent, what is possible, and what is the point. What are you working on right now? I have been working with bricks cast in gunpowder and am thinking about a large scale sculptural installation to honor my father, and reflect his death.
ART Q and A with Violet Shuraka
48th Avenue, 2010, from the series Out West, 8â€? x 10â€? c-print
Istanbul, 2005, from the series Relics, 8” x 10” c-print
You currently live and work in Pittsburgh, PA. What do you like most about living in Pittsburgh? Least? Is this where you grew up? I just moved back to Pittsburgh earlier this year after spending the past few years in Brooklyn. The town I grew up in is about 70 miles east of Pittsburgh so I didn’t grow up here, although it shares some similar qualities with the town I’m from. It wasn’t until I lived in Pittsburgh for the first time in late 2005 that I came to have a greater understanding and appreciation of the city. It was also the first time I actually started to understand how the city is intertwined with the rugged topography of the area. I really came to appreciate this quality very much. There are a lot of things I love about Pittsburgh. I love its range of moods and atmosphere. The labyrinths of streets and neighborhoods scattered along the hills, rivers and forests. All the bridges, narrow alleys, and hidden staircases. I could easily go on. Since moving back it’s been really wonderful so I don’t have too many complaints at the moment! Is Pittsburgh bustling with creativity since it is a relatively inexpensive city to live in? There seems to be quite a few arts spaces there, are you affiliated with any of them? Do you show your work anywhere in Pennsylvania or the US? I don’t know too much about what is going on locally at the moment, so I can’t really speak
about that. But I am interested in working on a lot of different projects while I’m here and hope to help contribute something to the local scene. A new photography bookshop and project space called Spaces Corners (www.spacescorners. com) just recently opened in Pittsburgh and the founder Melissa Catanese and I are working together on a series of photography events and programs for the upcoming year. I went on a pilgrimage to Pittsburgh a few years ago, to go to the Andy Warhol Museum, and ended up being pleasantly surprised by the city. I found it to be a very photogenic (I loved the nighttime fog) and friendly city, I ended up taking a ton of photographs while I was there. Do you shoot mostly in Pittsburgh or do you journey outside of the city on shoots? I always photograph where I live, and every place has its own unique photographic possibilities. But Pittsburgh is definitely one of my favorite places to wander around and take pictures. The possibilities of taking pictures here feel endless. I already have quite a few photographs of Pittsburgh from when I lived here previously and from visiting over the past few years, but I am looking forward to adding to them and working on the next chapter. I also ventured out of the city to Braddock and some smaller surrounding towns. I had never
been to a place quite like Braddock before, where everything was just shuttered and in a state of decay, even the churches, it was eerie. Have you been to Braddock? Do these semiabandoned, depressed, ex-steel mining areas hold any interest for you as a photographer? These places absolutely hold my interest as a photographer. I haven’t really spent much time in Braddock, but I’m familiar with it and many other towns that share the traits you mention. I grew up in Johnstown, which is also a former steel town. Growing up in Western Pennsylvania, it always seemed as if every town you were in was a former industrial town of some sort on the decline. The postindustrial landscape has always had a sort of mythological presence to me as well and I’m sure part of my attraction to these types of spaces is due to my personal relationship to them. As a kid it was easy to imagine these sites as some kind of ancient ruin for a visiting alien population, or as the backdrop for any of a number of stories. So these types of places and spaces are something special to me. But I don’t really seek out the empty areas specifically, although they aren’t hard to find. I’m also interested in the old parts of town where people still live, where life goes on just like anywhere else.
Summer, 2005, from the series Student Housing, 8” x 10” c-print
Early September, 2009, from the series Walking Home, 8” x 10” c-print
November, 2006, from the series Drink from the Well, 8” x 10” c-print
How do you scout out locations for photo series? Do you research places on the internet? Or do you randomly travel somewhere with the hope of finding something interesting to shoot? Or is the location of where you shoot unimportant to you, are you always looking for an image no matter where you are? All or most of the above at different times. As I mentioned, I’m always shooting where I live, so most of my explorations start from there. I spend a lot of time on Google Maps scoping out future photo expeditions, learning about where things are, and what streets lead where. (My urban explorations are always on foot or bike.) I try to have at least one camera with me at all times. I try to keep a simple and open approach to shooting, which usually means not thinking too specifically about this or that project. When I’m in the places I live, chances are what I’m shooting might be considered for a project I’ve already started working on.
Is there any one subject/thing that always attracts you (and your camera)? Something that you have 100+ photographs of? There are many recurring types of pictures in my archive. My latest book, Animals That Saw Me, is an example of a project that came from a pile of recurring pictures I had of surprise encounters with animals. There are a lot of things that I always seem to be taking pictures of no matter where I’m at: streets, paths, houses, rivers, forests, and the seasons, to name a few. Overall I’m interested in the different types and arrangements of objects you find in different places. The scenes that you most often shoot are of subjects that most people might just walk past and not notice; an oil stain on the ground, a pipe with a soda container sticking out of it... Have you always noticed these non-places/nonsubjects and found them special/photo-worthy? Sometimes I think I’m trying to work on a type
of photograph that is about the background and edges of things. I’m curious about how this can be done, or even what those terms might mean in this context. What would a photograph of our peripheral even look like? First I would have to figure out where the peripheral begins, and then decide how a photograph might make you aware of the edges between things. Someone once described my work as “ambient photography” and I really like the idea of that. Many of your pictures are people-free, although not always animal free! Do you prefer to photograph places that are void of humans? Have you ever shot portraits or made images where people were the main subject of the photograph? Why do you think you are drawn to one type of imagery over the other (if in fact you are!) I have always been more drawn to spaces and objects than people in my photographs. I do sometimes photograph people and there are many occasions where humans appear in the
Near Granville Avenue, 2003, from the series Same Difference, 8” x 10” c-print
scene. But I do have to say that I’ve never really been drawn to photographing strangers. I don’t really know why, but because of this I guess it’s safe to say that I’m more interested in the nonhuman world. I try to challenge myself to keep making interesting photographs no matter what though, so I don’t feel like I have any hard and fast rules when it comes to what I will or won’t shoot. I try to leave room for surprises. Do you purposefully shoot imagery so that it is not linked to a particular time and place? No, not at all. Most of my pictures are sorted in chronological order and sorted by place at some point during the process. Some years I make work books collecting together new pictures by month. Some projects are completely place specific too and the location is a big part of the work. But I also like to play around with the sense of place and time and mix things up. On my tumblr blog, the pictures are only identified by the year they were made and nothing else is revealed. Some projects, like Same Difference, are collected from pictures from lots of different places. The titles for the pictures are of an actual place, but sometimes it is such a specific neighborhood or street that if you still might not know where it is, even though I’m telling you. You have published two photo books with two different publishers, Gottlund Verlag and J&L Books, how did these collaborations come about? Could you talk a little bit about the
process of creating these books? I really enjoy the collaborative effort that it takes to realize a book project. In both instances, I was approached initially by the publisher with the idea to do a project. The process varies from project to project, but in general there is a several month long period of going back and forth with the pictures and thinking through all of the different aspects that will make up the final book. You want to spend enough time with the edit and sequence so that you feel like all the pieces are there and in the best place. With every publisher I’ve worked with it has been an incredibly rewarding situation so I’m very grateful for that. You have said that creating books and having a website—with a lot of work on it—helps you to edit your images. How do you choose which images should be in a series or in a printed book? What is your editing process like? Do color palette, location, subject matter, etc... factor into the edit? I find the most important thing that needs to happen in order for me to be able to edit better is to simply know the pictures I’m working with. It’s all about spending time looking at the pictures. Sometimes it can take a while for it to become apparent which individual qualities of the photographs matter most to you. In order to help me get to that point I try to spend a lot of time simply looking at my pictures and sorting them in different ways. Sometimes a
project starts when you make a new folder and start putting things together in a new way. Editing is something that I really enjoy so I do my best to keep adding new pictures to the pile. Each project develops its own parameters that determine which pictures will be included. I am pretty sure I recognized a few images of NYC on your website, do you like shooting in New York? Does it feel different to you to shoot here rather than in Pittsburgh? Have you photographed in any other countries? Is that experience different for you? Is there any place that you would love to photograph? Like anywhere else, learning how to take pictures I was happy with was initially a challenge in New York. But I found myself really excited about the work I made there by the end, and I am hoping to continue shooting there over time. I found myself making pictures there that I’m still thinking a lot about these days. This is one reason I enjoy learning how to make pictures in new places. I find that through the process of learning how to shoot in new places I recognize certain patterns and tendencies that I acquired over time. It’s still too early to say what might come out of this work, but I’m excited to spend more time with this project in the upcoming months. Did you imagine that you would be an artist/ photographer in adulthood? How long have you been taking photographs? What drew Continued on page 57
Seventh Avenue, 2010, from the series The Sun Rises in the East, 8” x 10” c-print
38th Street, 2005, from the series Relics, 8” x 10” c-print
ART Q and A with Violet Shuraka
You just showed your work at the Claire Oliver Gallery in Chelsea, NYC. Could you speak a bit about the title of the show, Dissonance and Contemplation? The title is meant to be non-literal but perhaps it hints to the vague feeling of all is not what it seems, or maybe the timorous acceptance of one`s fate, or the idea of my paintings surviving me. Did you make it to NYC to see the show? Was the show well received? Was this your first show in NYC? A solo show in Chelsea is usually an important marker for an artist so yes I attended the opening. Dissonance and Contemplation was my second solo show in NYC and my first with Claire Oliver Gallery. There seems to be a shift in the imagery in your painting over time from predominantly black and white portraiture to more colorful, monumentally-scaled environments with multiple figures and elements. Can you talk about this progression? I go back and forth between multiple figures and single portraits. Right now I am exploring monumental interiors that contain unfamiliar element—interiors with more readable threedimensional spaces that require me to slow down my process to organize the narrative between props, animals and figures. Your recent work is large-scale. Do you find you prefer working in this large expansive format to your earlier more scaled-down work? Working on the larger pieces slows down the process. I also have a series of small sacral relic paintings that are preciously framed under glass. I have no preference for size, format should not be a parameter for content or quality. In your newest paintings, such as Watchdog, the interior space, where strange activities are taking place, resemble the interiors of abandoned warehouses, are these real/actual spaces that you are painting, are they abandoned spaces which you have explored? They are real spaces that one could visit. I compose and install the selected figures, props, elements in my studies.
Distorted Face II, Oil on canvas, 80 x 70 cm, 2009
What interests you about this type of space and the graffiti that one regularly encounters in spaces like these? Does the graffiti that you paint onto the walls of these spaces in these paintings have any meaning? The caveman with his torch, burnt stick, animal blood, pigments was saying “I was here!” Same for today`s graffiti artist. There is something aesthetically pleasing about graffiti in 20th century ruins. Something apocalyptic yet strangely beautiful.
The figures in your recent work, such as The Deer, the Sheep & the Three Companions or Hypnotized, seem to be wholly engaged in their own private activities and almost completely unaware of one another. Are the individuals in the paintings meant to be perceived as having been dropped into these environments and functioning independently of each other or are they part of a larger narrative within the work? Also, could you talk about the somewhat strange inclusion of animals in these works? They don’t quite make sense in the space but they also don’t seem completely out of place. My figures are like addicts in rehab. They are removed from their computerized worlds and seem to be at odds with the world around them. The environment they find themselves in suggests a mental version of the rust-belt era—only it is the digital world that has now broken down. The decomposition of human interaction: the post-social network disconnect that I believe is before us if not already begun. The animal is meant as a prop for use as allegory—open to the viewer to for interpretation. Can you talk a bit about the recurring mode of abstraction in the works; the horizontal bands of distortion? It calls to mind images of a television struggling to find its signal. Is this repeated technique meant to be evocative of a particular undercurrent in your work, or a particular feeling you’re hoping to convey? It could be a painted version of the cosmic microwave background radiation that we commonly know as “static” on the signal-less television. At the same time these fragments accrue like a paused VHS tape. Your work recalls Gerhard Richter’s photobased paintings (such as Matrosen (Sailors) from 1966, Herr Heyde from 1965 or the Baader-Meinhof sequence) in which he dragged a squeegee across his canvases to add an element of abstraction reminiscent of the blurred and distorted quality of visual memory. Do you base your paintings, or elements of them, on photographic sources? Are you influenced by or referencing Richter’s work or techniques? Richter`s Scheune, 1983, looks to be influenced by Edward Hopper. Duchamp`s Nude Descending a Staircase obviously directly inspired Ema Nakt, 1966. The point is that sooner or later you will find cross pollination between artists. Richter`s vast oeuvre reveals how wide his influence on the contemporary art world really is. The above mentioned work by Richter is a carefully rendered photographic effect. I am more interested in a very risky painting process of motion and distortion, less photographic, more cinematic. My intension is it to reveal a topographic surface of valleys, fissures, craters, divots and explosions in oil that up
Hypnotized, Oil on canvas, 200 x 300 cm (2 parts), 2011
Nico, Oil on canvas, 80 x 100 cm, 2006
close, return to the non-figurative. The paint handling in my work is difficult to read in a small jpeg format and does not reveal the material (or amount of material) that I use to reanimate the destroyed under-painting. If you work is not photography/film based, how do you come up with your subject matter? I conceptualize my works through the use of my own multimedia source material and my own studies. Can you talk about the varying roles of nature and architecture both throughout your work and as concurrent forces within some of the most recent works? In my own life I was thinking about the rural and urban environment, were I want to live. Both nature and the man-made serve as equal opportunity staging for my subjects. I will work on a series of figures in specific environments till I have reached a point of saturation—its like considering a group of paintings as one piece and knowing when to put the brush down. I do
also invent “psycho-landscapes” when nature does not work as a setting. You have painted quite a few images of people rowing in canoes, on lakes/bodies of water (Transition II & Transition III, Silver Lake I, White Lake # 1897, Rower I)... could you talk a bit about this subject matter and why it is recurring subject in your artworks? The “transition” paintings refer to the afterlife, the crossing of the river Styx into the next dimension. I believe the canoe/boat is used in several different cultures as a vessel to the next plane. Are you influenced by the work of any filmmakers or photographers? Roy Andersson, Federico Fellini and Pier Paolo Pasolini are influential film makers to me. And in photography Robert Capa and Miroslav Tichy. What painters are you looking at? Past? Present? Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Titian and Velasquez are a few of my favorite painters.
What projects are you currently working on? I am preparing for a solo show next year during the Biennale at the Gwangju Art Museum in South Korea. I have always been interested in how artists function/survive in different cities throughout the world. What is it like to be an artist in Zurich? Do you feel that you have a lot of opportunities there? From reading about you on the web it seems that you have lived in many places, LA, London, etc..., is there something special about Zurich that makes you want to stay & make art there? Zurich is a very pleasant place to live—if one is at least able to travel in their mind. The clockwork infrastructure and busy ant-like work ethic occasionally leaves the artist with the need to experience other realities. There lacks a roughness here, a physical rawness and joie de vivre that one is confronted with in places like New York. That said, I am fortunate to be able to travel for the collecting of characters, landscapes and ideas for source material that I bring back to work in my studio.
Top: As If Nature Talked Back To Me, Oil on canvas, 200 x 300 cm (2 parts), 2011; Bottom (left to right): Model in the Studio, Oil on canvas, 140 x 120 cm, 2011, Jam Session I, Oil on canvas, 200 x 300 cm, 2011
Ë‡ zoran pungerCar
ART Q and A with Violet Shuraka
How long have you lived in Ljubljana? What do you like most about living there? Least? Did you grow up in the city? I didn’t grow up in Ljubljana, I grew up in small town called Rakek which is a 30 minute drive from Ljubljana. I moved to Ljubljana six years ago. The best thing I like about it is that in the last couple of years the center of city is slowly banning cars from the city centre which is great if you like to walk or drive a bike through the city. I think people feel more comfortable because of it. I don’t know what to point out about the dark side of Ljubljana. It’s not a big city and sometimes you get the feeling that you know everyone. I personally miss a record store. There is no place to buy records in Ljubljana which really bums me out. Does being in Ljubljana inspire your work? Funny question. I don’t think so. Do you feel that there is a lot of interesting artwork being created in Ljubljana right now? What is your favorite artspace/gallery? For sure. One of the best things in Ljubljana is that there is lots of street art all around so I think the city definitely has it’s art vibe. Apart from street art there are lots of painters and sculptors and in last couple of years, there is definitely a big new wave of illustration. Almost every month there is at least one interesting exhibition in the city. I don’t have a favorite gallery but if I had to chose a part of town with lots of art to offer I would definitely point out Metelkova (metelkova.goucher.edu), which is a huge complex of music venues, galleries and studios. Walls of buildings are filled with murals and graffiti and there is a lot of different sculptures standing around. Every night there are music gigs in different venues. I guess you could easily compare it to Christiania in Copenhagen.
Masks, watercolor, dimensions vary
I have to ask you about the band Laibach and the Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK) art collective, as I have a few US friends who are completely obsessed by the band and the NSK. Are both Laibach and the NSK wellknown in Ljubljana? At one point, in the early 80’s, the band was banned from using the name Laibach because of it’s association with the Nazi/German occupation of Ljubljana during WWII but it seems that there is less controversy with the band and the use of the name Laibach now. Do people appreciate what Laibach have created over the years? Laibach and also NSK, are some kind of Slovenian phenomena. As you mentioned they were banned during the communist era in Yugoslavia but now they are worshiped as rock stars and everybody loves them. I think they even played at national ceremonies in front of politicians that used to ban them from
TV and radio. It’s kinda hilarious but they are definitely well respected. I have friends who never were into any kind of alternative music like punk, metal, industrial, etc. and they love Laibach. NSK is not that huge, but in art scene they are very respected. Their art is exhibited in National Gallery of Modern Art so like Laibach they emerged out of alternative scene and became part of bigger art world. I need to make the trek to Slovenia and Ljubljana one of these days. Where would you tell a visitor, interested in art, design, and illustration, with three days to explore, to go? What are the most interesting/creative neighborhoods to explore? I would definitely recommend Metelkova, I was mentioning it before. It’s the most interesting and alternative part of the city and everyone interested in any kind of weird music or art can find something for himself there. The other place to check out would be the Rog Centre, which is an old, abandoned bike factory which was later squatted by artists. It’s pretty similar to Metelkova, but they have more legal problems with people from the city which results in not that much stuff happening there lately. The third option is Kino Šiška (www.kinosiska.si/en/) which is a huge renewed building run by the city and their program consists of exhibitions, music gigs and workshops. I met you when you were traveling in New York last summer, was that your first time in the city and in the US? What is your impression of the city? Is NYC someplace that you would ever want to live? Yeah, my first time in the city and first time in the States. I had a weird first impression of NYC. It reminded me of an abusive relationship. I loved it, but at same time there were some things that would probably stop me from ever wanting to live there. The huge mass of people is definitely one of the things I was turned off about and when I heard how much people pay for their rent I didn’t know what to say. But I definitely loved its art vibe, I was really happy to see Secret Robot Project place, which I really loved. Huge choice in art and music gigs, amazing food and really friendly people are the main things that impressed me the most. I guess if you want to make a living with your art, it’s one of the best spots on planet to live in. After I returned home from the States, everyone I was talking to about NYC had the same problem. The first impression they had about the city was weird, but something kept them coming back and now everyone loves it. Six days were definitely not enough time to get the right feeling about it anyway so I want to get back in the near future.
Clockwise from left: Dum Dum Girls poster, mixed media; Handsome Furs poster, mixed media; Nadja poster, mixed media; Moon Duo, poster mixed media
Throes of Art, mixed media
Do you prefer one creative process (drawing, silkscreening, or painting) over another, do you incorporate all of these in your work? I try not to be bored when I’m working and one of the ways to keep it interesting is to try new things and techniques all the time. I usually start with paper and pencils and end up on computer putting everything together. I love to experiment with mixing all of the techniques together. Do you draw by hand? Do you use a computer when creating your pictures? Or both? Usually I start drawing by hand and then I scan it and continue the work in Photoshop. I use a Wacom tablet, I think it’s a great tool but I try to keep everything hand drawn and later transformed on a computer. Do you have any formal training as an illustrator? Actually no. I finished the University for Graphic Techniques which was more about printing processes than about drawing or painting. Your illustrations are populated by somewhat dark figures and creatures, such as crows,
owls, wolves, figures in creepy masks, a man dressed in klu klux klan garb, Norweigan churches. Why are you drawn to dark imagery? Is there any hidden meaning in this imagery? I honestly don’t know. If I had to blame one thing it would probably be music, but I like very different kind of music and not all is dark and gloomy so I guess I just like my stuff dark. But I wouldn’t think about myself as some dark character. It has some meaning to me but I’m not sure everyone sees it, I hope everyone gets some personal impression and sees his own story within my art. You collaborated on a zine called Satanic Diarrhea, how did this collaboration come about? Where were these zines distributed? Satanic Diarrhea was collaboration between four friends. We all grew up going to hardcore and punk shows and we still meet each other at those same places. Since we all do some kind of art we decided to make something together. The title is just a stupid joke, we couldn’t find any other name so we just went with the most stupid title we could come up with. We gave the zines to people for free since
we didn’t have big expenses printing it. We just wanted to do something and put it out there. The style of your images make me think of flat, 1950’s style illustrations but with a dark, evil twist. What illustrators/artists do you admire? Who is your biggest inspiration? I don’t know about inspiration, it’s everything around me I probably don’t even notice. If I had to choose one thing, that would probably be lyrics from the bands I like. I even made one zine that was based on my favourite lyrics. But usually I just walk my dog and get some idea in my head and when I come home I draw it down. When I work a on poster for some music gig I try to listen a lot to the bands that are playing and I always try to transcript the music into artwork, but still within my style. I admire a shitload of artist but if I have to point out couple of names that would be Maxwell Loren, Holyoke Hirsch, Carson Ellis, Jon Klassen, Evgenia Barinova, and Justin Bartlett. Do you have a narrative in mind for each illustration? Are the characters in your pictures purely fictional/from your imagination?
Above: Norway, mixed media; below: Diver, mixed media
Art for Poster Festival Ljubljana, mixed media
It depends. Usually there is a story behind, but sometimes the image just pops in my head and I draw it down without thinking twice. I make up all the characters in my head. You have created many posters for bands outside of Slovenia (such as Wolf Parade, Dum Dum Girls, Dan Deacon). Do you do work for a certain club in Ljubljana or have the bands contacted you to do posters for them when they are playing in town? I am working for musical promoter from Ljubljana called Buba and it is one of the best client-artist relationships I ever had and it’s still going on. What people / music / places / things inspire you? It’s mix of all things I consume in my life. From lyrics to other people’s art, music, movies, record covers, books, dogwalks to good coffee, seeing different places and people. Do you currently spend your days creating artwork or do you have a “proper” job to support your art habit? Right now I am working as graphic designer at a marketing agency. I do all illustration stuff in my spare time. I would definitely love to support myself only with illustration and that is
my goal for the near future, but let’s see what will happen. How your work been commisioned by magazines/bands/other companies? I did couple of record covers and t-shirt designs as well as some illustrations for various magazines I design at work, but mainly my work was commisioned for gig posters. I would love to do more other stuff too, editorial illustration is one of the fields I would really love to work in. Are you a magazine/zine junkie? What are some of your favorites? I really enjoy stuff published by Nobrow, Think Faest, Nieves and Svart Konst. But usually I buy zines directly from artists, when I stumble across their work online. Magazines are also one of my obsessions since the company I work at works mainly in magazine publishing field. I love to read well designed mags and sometimes I love just to flip through magazines because of the design even if content doesn’t interest me at all. I regularly follow Creative Review and Computer Arts which are a kind of bibles if you work in the design industry. Recently I discovered New American Paintings Magazine. I also love how Bloomberg Businessweek looks like and I love to go
through it every time I get the chance. You have a portfolio website, a Twitter account, a Flickr stream, and a Tumblr blog. How long have you had all of these? Does your internet presence help you to find people to collaborate with? Do a lot of people outside of Ljubljana find your work through these sites? Publishing your stuff online is the best and easiest way to get people to see your work. I published my first portfolio website a year ago. Before that I published all my stuff on flickr. Tumblr is the latest addition, I mainly got into it because it’s the most popular blogging platform at the moment and people can find your work through it way easier than through other blog providers like Blogspot or WordPress. People I collaborated with so far are my friends, but lots of people got in touch through each of the web platforms. What could you imagine doing, if you didn’t do what you do? Tough one. I can imagine doing everything, from be a professional dog walker to being a bad writer or just working at a coffee bar.
Self Portrait With Bird, Acr ylic and Oil Stick on Canvas, 72” x 60”, 2010
Elias Necol Melad
ART Q and A with Violet Shuraka
Dinner Party, Acr ylic and Latex on Panel, 40” x 60”, 2010
You grew up on the East Coast, in New Hampshire, went to undergrad in Baltimore and then moved to NYC to attend graduate school in Brooklyn. Do you feel that living on the East Coast has influenced your work at all? If so, how? In as much as a place you’ve spent the majority of your life can, I suppose. As far as direct references within the work, I doubt it. I paint pictures of places I’ve lived, but I think those references would find their way in regardless of where I resided. I love the East Coast; I really can’t imagine living elsewhere in the States. Being near an ocean feels freeing to me, living in the middle of a giant country such as this one gives me a weird feeling of confinement. Granted, that feeling is based on nothing but supposition, but that’s my immediate reaction that a coast is necessary for my general sanity. The coast of France, Italy, India, those also sound good too…perhaps it’s a bit of a fight or flight sensation, the need/possibility for a quick escape. On the other hand, as a person, these places have shaped my ideals, concerns, and general humanity greatly; so if the pictures are just an extension of me, then I’d answer a resounding yes to the question. Aside from it being an impossibility, the thought of not growing up in New Hampshire, and not being able to follow the trajectory that it set me on, is a sad thought; I wouldn’t change much if asked to do it again.
What do you like most about living in New York City? Least? I grew up 5 hours away from the city, with an aunt who lives here; so at least twice-yearly trips were a regular occurrence growing up. What I like about New York the most is that, while I’ve only lived here a short three years, I still often get that feeling I got as a child, driving in down the West Side highway, the city creeping up higher and higher. It’s an utterly fascinating human conquest, this place. It is the only place (that I’ve been so far) to continuously blow me away when I thought it no longer possible. When I go visit my family up north, I realize the things about the city that I like least (the lack of solitude/quiet/ open spaces); they are numbered, but usually forgiven upon returning. I read online that you studied illustration in undergrad and painting in graduate school. How have both educations influenced your style / your work? What made you change from illustration to painting? Do you ever do commissioned illustrations now? This was a continual struggle at the Maryland Institute. I have a big problem with peoples’ need to divide artistic disciplines, and their utter surprise when artists bridge gaps comfortably or have two separate practices. My biggest objection is that these lines do not
exist as much between “high art” mediums; no one questions the painter who also sculpts his models, or a painter who does charcoal studies for her oil paintings. But show someone a little graphic novel you’ve worked on next to a big dirty painting and somehow there arises a problem; when so-called “applied” arts are done by “fine” artists there are questions of intention, ideas that the artist lacks direction; I still don’t understand it. Can one not be “illustrative” within a painting? Or, what does that even mean? I think the words have too much preconceived connotation. I started at MICA in the Illustration program because I loved to draw, especially little characters and stories. I found a teacher, Warren Linn, whom I respected very much; he was one of the heads of the Illustration department during my years as a student at MICA. As a professional illustrator, he is still in all senses of the word, a “fine” artist. I began taking painting classes; I never saw the difference! An illustration could be just like a painting; if anything it was perhaps more content-directed; and maybe when the painting was done, it would be sized down to fit a particular spot; that seemed fine with me. The academic institution has a problem with this. The school needed to classify and direct its students, so when I argued that no, I did not need to use Photoshop to make my illustration—I wanted to draw and
Paphos, Acr ylic and Oil on Canvas, 64” x 74”, 2011
paint and play and use my hands—this created an issue. Now, it sounds like I’m the little kid in the corner bitterly complaining about not getting his way, but it was not my ignorance of the importance of a tool like the computer; I wanted to learn that too. It was the fact that it was considered the “proper” way, and I felt justified in challenging that. I stayed in the illustration program due to Warren’s mentorship and other students I had met in the program. I do the occasional illustration if there’s a request for one, but do not actively seek them out. The personal space of painting, with no specific end goal in mind is now my priority. I first saw one of your paintings outside of your studio space at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. I was really intrigued by the Brooklyn Army Terminal buildings and the area surrounding
it. How long have you worked in that space? Do you find being in that strange, empty industrial area inspirational at all? Oh man, I love that building. Did you know it was the biggest building in the world when it was built in 1919?! There are 52 acres of floor space just in building B! It’s really unbelievable. I’ve only been in the studio space since June, but yes the site is incredibly inspirational, many architectural elements of the building have already crept into some paintings. I’m one to pretty much tune out everything once I’m in the studio, including my environment, but I’m sure the 10 minute walk up to and through the building filters in more than I know. I’m also really attracted to empty industrial areas in general, thinking about what goes on in them during the day, or what went on inside 100
years ago when they were built. I often ride my bike down to the studio, and all along 2nd Avenue in Brooklyn—much of it dubbed “Industry City”— are these towering factory buildings; it’s really something to ride through, especially at night when I’m usually the only one around. Someone once described my paintings as having “lonely architecture,” I think that’s apt considering the places I’ve chosen to work. My studio in Baltimore was in an old mill, my friends all lived in old warehouses, the studios at Brooklyn College were housed in a converted theatre with 30-foot ceilings, and now the Army Terminal. What inspires you to begin a picture? It’s an extreme, fervent desire to create a better painting than the last, not a single inspiration. An angry professor once called this inability to define my inspiration as a “lack of passion;”
I like starting with paint that was already designed for some use, I especially like the idea that it was designed to decorate or embellish someone’s home. I get most of my latex from mis-tint racks at hardware stores. These are colors that weren’t mixed to the customers’ satisfaction, yet they are examples of colors people chose to live with, and that resonates, and I more often than not use the colors as they are straight out of the can. Color has always been an important aspect in my painting, while some of the pictures may have underlying (or outright) dark, ominous, depressing subject matter; they are more often than not painted with “happy” colors. This might just be to amuse myself, which is fine, but I’d hope some people would laugh at my work. Do you feel that you notice minute details in your everyday experience, the stuff most people do not see? Do these details make their way into your paintings? Minute details, probably yes. But as far as it being the “stuff most people do not see,” I don’t know what other people see, and it’s been my experience that while one thinks they are doing/seeing/being/fucking/creating/living life differently or better than the rest, someone’s probably done/seen/been/fucked/created/lived it before you. That’s comforting.
Narcissus, Acr ylic and Oil on Canvas, 76” x 62”, 2011
I of course fought to disprove her, but I don’t know how good a job I did. Yes, there are often specific content and ideas I want to paint about; but my real inspiration doesn’t come until I just start, lay a color down, anything. Saying I’m my own inspiration is probably as egotistic and selfish as one can be, and I assure you that’s not what I’m getting at. Maybe “everything” is the answer to what inspires me, I rarely find myself seeing or experiencing something and then getting one of those light bulb moments of “Oh! now I have to go paint!” It’s a more gradual process of influence upon inspiration upon experience that seems to coalesce once I get into the studio. It can take hours of dicking around doing crossword puzzles, staring at canvases, or it can be immediate; there seems to be no rhyme or reason, which I think is an attraction of the whole thing for me: the fact that the process I’ve been developing my entire life continues to surprise. Tell me a little about the process of creating a new work. Do you sketch out your ideas with a drawing first? Do you ever work out a composition on a computer before you begin to paint?
No to both. I do make drawings and little paintings, and many elements of each often reappear in the larger works, but it’s very rare that I’ll do an actual study for a painting. I use the computer to occasionally find source material; if it’s a certain building, or a logo I want to use, I’ll bring it in and tack it to the wall; but my work actively lacks a digital aspect with respect to how it is made. Do you paint mainly with acrylic? Why does this medium appeal to you? Have your paintings always been so colorful? Or is this a new development in your work? Immediacy is extremely important to me; I need to be able to change something at any time, and acrylic affords that ability due to its fast drying time. I often thin paint further to speed this process. When I know what I’m doing in a picture (which is rare) I’ll use oil, if I am confident in the permanence of that area. Oil paint is beautiful and I think is something I need to explore more, but for me a more considered temporal aspect is attached to oil paint, one that I’m not willing to give in to just yet. I also use a lot of latex house paint, for a couple of reasons. One, for the same reason as acrylic: it is water based and it dries quickly. The other, because even though I mix colors,
There are usually humans depicted in your paintings, mainly men, & most of the time these humans are cartoonish and are involved in somewhat absurd actions. What are these men getting up to? And why do they look sort of ridiculous? Don’t you look ridiculous? I bet you do, I know I certainly do. We are a weird, depraved, schizoid, yet seemingly predictable species, and I think we all do completely absurd things on a daily basis. Today I drank coffee so I could shit, then smoked a cigarette while riding a bike that made my chest hurt, called my mother to feel love, ate a sandwich that made me nauseous, then did laundry so I could feel clean and good, and now I do; what’s not ridiculous about that? So I paint what I see; and yeah, I’m pretty sure all those men are me. Is humor an important aspect of your work? Yes, without it I don’t see the point. We’re all depressed, sad, lonely, abstract—those things are the easy feelings to identify and commiserate with—but making someone laugh is true talent; having happiness in common is rare. Are any of these paintings self-portraits? Do you paint self-portraits? Yes, I think most of the men in the pictures are me to some extent, or at least a man I somehow identify with. I don’t see them as selfportraits in a traditional sense, but sure, you could call them that. Some of them are how I see myself; some are how I wish I could be. Your paintings also have a very architectural element to them; there are grids in almost all of the paintings I have seen. Are you interested in modernist architecture? Are you influenced by the work of any architects in particular? Why does a grid pattern find its way into so many of your paintings?
All God’s Children…, Acr ylic on Canvas, 56” x 53”, 2011
Doors, Acr ylic on Panel, 12” x 24”, 2011
Yes, architecture continues to be a constant element, if not an outright theme in many paintings. It’s kind of the opposite of your question earlier about seeing “things others don’t.” Architecture is the thing we ALL experience and see daily, many of us sharing in the same environments and structures. It’s an all-encompassing board game, especially in a place like New York City. I do like modern architecture, my father is a modernist interior designer/woodworker/furniture designer, so it feels like a given that growing up around every issue of Architectural Digest ever printed would have some influence on me. My draw is more towards Italian renaissance architecture; not that it stopped there, but I really admire a time when the building—the structure from foundation to buttress—mattered so much and was constructed with such care. That is a huge hole for me in modern construction: building purely for profit and not to last, not factoring in the life and destiny of an edifice. And now it’s a passing thing, even if I see a building I like (again, especially in New York) I don’t meditate on it, the first thought is usually, “shame that’ll be gone soon.” The grids. This is a two-parter, 90% of which is pure selfishness and obsessive desire. I really like making the grids. It’s cathartic, I can use precise tools like rulers and protractors and miniature Japanese xacto knives, I can sit and do one activity for hours, it takes up time. In this way, while I think each grid becomes integral to the painting, they also become a bit of a cop-out to dealing with the rest of the picture, a time-waster. The other 10% is legitimate. The grid is graph paper, it is measurement, and it is what practically every building plan, city layout, and computer motherboard is laid out upon. It’s the ultimate template among templates. I’m using the most primitive tool of planning to anchor these pictures of relative chaos. Keith Mayerson was a professor of mine at Brooklyn College; on our first studio visit he looked around, paused and said, “Ok, ok, I get it, you like to get your grid on.”
What artists would you cite as influences? If you could grab a coffee (or tea or whiskey) with any artist, living or dead, to have a chat about the state of the world, art, kittens, or whatever, whom would you choose? How about a round table of three? Philip Guston, El Greco, and (because music is just as important to me as visual art) Fats Waller. I choose these three primarily because they came out of traditional schools of art, only to become utterly indefinable in their time and able to break down walls people thought would be up forever; and they each had the courage to do this—that courage sets them apart. I would only hope to one day be that fearless. Guston and Fats would both have a bottle of whiskey each, El Greco maybe some wine; El Greco would tell us about working for a Pope, Guston would proceed to tell El Greco more than he knew about his own time (this would last a few hours), and Fats would just tap away and say, “haaaaay, who are you guys anyway?” If anyone were to bring up kittens, it would probably be me; I’m a little unnaturally obsessed with my cat. Are there any contemporary New York painters that you admire? There are, but my continual realization is that I’m awful with names, and classifiable information like that goes right through me, so it’s hard for me to make a list. Matt Blackwell, G. Bradley Rhodes, Annie Ewaskio, Nicole Eisenman, Ivin Ballen, that’s a short, incomprehensive list. Having said that, there is not much contemporary painting that I’m thoroughly impressed with; sculpture, installations, these things seem to be winning the day. I just saw some Gehard Demetz wood figure sculptures, those things are outrageous, I really admire him. I’m through and through an awful cynic, so most things I see don’t impress me (often including my own work). I am not reinventing anything, but most of what I see seems really to be a reenactment of previous art eras. The recent huge gravitation to
geometric abstraction I find odd, yet predictable; it’s insanely saleable, and I get that and am fine with that, pretty pictures should sell. But what I don’t get is the 25-year-old painter wanting to make pretty pictures. If at such a young age people seem designed and inclined to create for product’s sake, or purely to impress themselves with a neon tableau of exquisitely painted shapes, I don’t see a forward direction for painting. The other problem I see is that artists of my generation seem averse to an art knowledge— from fundamental skills to art history—they think their talent lets them test out of that class, and that’s bullshit. And their talent is huge! I’m not denying that, I think with the flood of admissions at art schools in recent years, it’s just producing a larger pool of possibly great things to happen, but if half of those people are griping in the corner about drawing a model, or studying Persian art history, then there will be something missing as they mature; and that something missing is what I see when I walk into many shows in New York today. It’s a shying away from the field you chose, and a somewhat glib look of life, an idea that you know it all already. I certainly don’t know it all, if anything. I have been thinking a lot about the Internet lately and how it has become so much a part of our daily lives. Do you feel that the Internet is a hindrance or a helpful tool for you as an artist? Does the wealth of information online and its instant availability influence your work at all? It is a helpful tool in the gigantic fount of information that it is. I really, really love it as an immediate source of information, when I’m at a computer; the newer, mobile aspect frightens me a bit and I think eliminates a lot of constructive conversation and human interaction. Do people stop in gas stations on country roads to ask directions anymore? I think it’s an impossibility for the Internet to not affect today’s artist, just as one’s environment—subconscious or not—does the same. Our “at-your-fingertips” generation is, I think, a bit lazy in its approach to the search for Continued on page 57
Christian Gfeller & Anna Hellsgard/ BongoÛt Berlin Q and A with Violet Shuraka
How did Bongoût begin? How did you start collaborating with Anna Hellsgård? When did you open the Bongoût art space/store? Who runs the Bongoût store? Are the shop, the graphic design/illustration business (Re:Surgo!) and the artist representative agency (Bellevue Illustration) all run by the same people, in the same space? You and Anna Hellsgård? I started pretty punk. My first silkscreen atelier was in a huge alternative warehouse project across the Rhine, in Kehl (Germany), that was hosting rehearsal spaces, recording studios and event spaces. I was publishing silkscreen hand-printed artist books in a very DIY matter. Some of my friends started a small garage punk & noise label, so I would design and print the record covers. Meanwhile we organised con-
certs, exhibitions, raves and parties, So I was in charge of doing the design and print to advertise the events. When I met Anna in 2001, we started collaborating and eventually our work became more structured and sharp. We relocated in Bordeaux for a year and a half. We quickly moved to Berlin. In Berlin we’ve had three different locations, and we’ve been in the space on Torstrasse since early 2008. Our shop, design & print studio are all in the same location—we occupy the entire lower floor of Torstr. 110. Our illustration agency, Bellevue, is in the 4th floor in the same building. Anna and me run the graphic design studio and silkscreen studio together. We run the publishing company and shop with our partner Alain, and
Bellevue is co-run by us and Jakob Hinrichs and Katia Fouquet. Is there a silkscreen facility on the Bongoût premises? How often is the press in use? The silkscreen print studio is in the back of of shop. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t print. The Bongoût web shop sells photography, sculpture, paintings, handmade books, zines, limited edition prints, t-shirts, music, and more. Do you sell as much of a variety of products in the store? Who curates what is sold in the store and online? Yes, in fact you can regard it as a sort of select shop—we carry things we like, mostly print publications (from polished offset artist monographs to DIY limited edition zines) but also prints, posters, apparel, vinyl records,
Spreads from Chapter One: Down The Rabbit Hole, Unique Silkscreened book, 33 x 46 cm, 2010
and even chinaware designed by artists, and of course original artworks. Do you regularly have exhibitions in the space? Are the exhibitions always of people’s work who you sell in the shop? For the last three and a half years, we had on opening every month and were having exhibitions non-stop in constant rotation. But we’ve had to focus more and more on our own work as well as the books we are publishing, and needed more space for the office and studio. We moved them into the former exhibition space and are now having smaller shows every third month in the shop part of Bongoût. It’s not only people whose work is in the shop, but it will often be of artists who we’ve worked with in the past in some form. The connections come about quite naturally, and we develop the concept for the exhibitions together. When we were using the exhibition space we would approach it as a very flexible and modular space, and it looked different for every exhibition—adding temporary walls, changing the lighting, painting the walls different colours…each exhibition had a very unique character.
Could you talk about the process of working with an artist/illustrator on a book or an art print? Do you silkscreen the book/print or does the artist silkscreen their own work? Or does the process vary from artist to artist, project to project? We have very often worked with other artists— in fact, collaborations are an essential part. Each project defines a new set of rules, and in general we have a very good chemistry with our project partners. It’s comparable to making music with different people. It creates a good balance and challenges between our different projects. Do you only print limited edition, handsilkscreened books and prints in house? Do you ever send a project out to an offset press to print a larger edition of a book? A few years ago we started to publish offset books. We now have a catalogue of over 15 offset publications, books & catalogues. We are currently working on three big offset monographs: a painting book by ATAK, a book of Marilyn Manson’s watercolours and a photo book with Natacha Merritt.
What is the most involved/complex project you have ever undertaken in Bongoût’s print shop? We just finished Given, a huge collective silkscreen book. Three booklets in a cardboard box, 30 x 40 cm, 72 pages, and a run of 145. We used 93 screens for it. We asked 35 artists (Seripop, Tara Mc Pherson, Pakito Bolino, Gregory Jacobsen, Manuel Ocampo….) to submit images and we printed the whole project this summer. It´s massive. How do you find the artists/illustrators/comics that you work with and/or represent? Are most of the Bongoût stable friends and/or acquaintances? People who have submitted work through your website? Or people that you have scouted out at schools and in other publications? Are they mostly German? The connections happen naturally. The artists we work with come from all over the world. After 15 years of being active, we have a pretty good network, but we are always excited to discover new young talents to collaborate with.
Spreads from Chapter Two: A Pool of Tears, Unique Silkscreened book, 40 x 60 cm, 2011
Image © Violet Shuraka Left: Loomings Chapter 1, Silkscreen print, 150 x 200 cm, 2010; Right: Biographical Chapter 12, Silkscreen print, 150 x 200 cm, 2011
How many projects do you work on at a time? We always multi-task and work on several projects parallelly. That’s how we can keep on being productive and avoid lulls. It is not unusual that a project goes over a time frame of three-six months (sometimes it takes a year or two to put everything on place), so if we were focussing on only one at a time it would be very slow and frustrating. This way we keep ourselves busy and have a steady output, its’ exciting. Are there other publishers in Berlin doing something similar to what Bongoût is doing? How about elsewhere in Europe? In Berlin I’m not sure. Over the years I saw a few publications that go in a similar direction, but rarely anything consistent. Since the 70´s here is a long tradition of underground art publishing in France, which is part of my background, l´APAAR, Elles sont de Sortie, Le Dernier CRi, United Dead Artists…just to name a few. Do you ever collaborate with other independent publishers? We carry other publishers’ books in our shop and web shop. We did a few straightforward collaboration too.
Do you sell Bongoût product anywhere in the USA? Cinders Gallery and Booklyn Artist Alliance, both in Brooklyn, are carrying our silkscreen artist books, and in terms of distribution, DAP and LAST GASP are distributing some of our offset books in the USA. How long have you been creating artwork? Have you always used the medium of silkscreen? I started to publish graphic zines under the name Bongoût in April 1995, and I met Anna in 2001. We essentially silkscreen, but we also paint, draw, take photographies, do installations and played in several bands. I saw the book Down the Rabbit Hole at the New York Art Book Fair last year and was absolutely blown away by it. It was definitely the most beautiful book I saw at the entire fair, unfortunately I could not afford to purchase it. You describe it as a “unique silkscreen book.” Was there only one copy of this particular book made? And this year you produced a similar book, A Pool of Tears, which The US Library of Congress purchased. Could you tell me a bit about the process of making these books? Where does the imagery in the book come from? How long does it take to produce?
Yes, it is a unique book, i.e. there is only one copy. It’s a hard cover, with embossing (46 x 33 cm). The book is a mise-en-abyme of media and techniques and the title is obviously inspired by Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. The beginning it’s very intuitive. The materials go through several iterations and transpositions until the final result is achieved. It just clicks, we know exactly when we have reached what we wanted. At the end it makes it hard to pinpoint one specific technique. This book is part of a series, with each book being considered as a “chapter”. Each chapter is named after a chapter in Alice In Wonderland. We are currently working on Chapters 3 & 4. Chapter 1 is now in the Standford library collection and Chapter 2 in the US Librairy of Congress. Do you ever take the imagery from a page in one of these books and reuse it to make a poster or present it in some other format? Like I said, our work is a constant mise-enabyme. A time-travel remix. We are reusing film, elements, found material, our own work (paintings, drawings, photos)… one work leads to the next one. The creative process reflect the dynamics of creation and inspiration.
Various band posters
What is your favorite thing to do in the neighborhood? Sorry but I will not advertise them in a public discussion. I hang out there with my friends and I want to keep these places genuine and touristfree as long as possible. That’s why they are my favorite spots. Do you feel that you will be able to stay in Mitte for a long time? Or is Mitte changing in a way that it will make it impossible for a gallery/ artist run space to be able to operate there in the future? Anna and me were discussing it recently. We’ll see what the future brings, but all together I don’t think that it’s changing that fast. I just read that Tacheles was closed down this year and the artists who had studio spaces there were evicted. Is this true? How do you feel about the arts landmark being demolished and turned into high priced condos? I never felt very close to the Tacheles community or spirit. Tacheles was a pale vestige of a Berlin that is long gone for me. Twenty years ago you had a lot of squats and artist spaces like this, and I loved that energy, but it is something that was particular to the 80’s and 90’s right be-
fore and after the fall of the Berlin wall. These creative community had as much to give as the established artists. But even if the building was amazing, over the last few years, the Tacheless turned more and more into just another tourist attraction. It’s a natural evolution, gentrification is inevitable. No big deal. When it happen move on and do something new. I went to Berlin in early 2000 and again in 2005 and in just five years I noticed that the city had changed a lot... and now I assume it has changed even more. Do you feel that Berlin is a different city now than it was in 2005? Is it becoming more difficult to live cheaply there? It might still take a while until all of Berlin looks and feels like Prenzlauer Berg though. Of course, once you’re settled or running a business, you’re pretty happy that you can walk along the sidewalk without stepping in dog shit and having to dodge the drunks. But people were saying the same thing in 1990, and again in 2000. I see tons of galleries and artists moving to Berlin because they think it’s the El Dorado of art. They heard about cheap rents and are hoping to make it big time here, but most of
them quickly sober up and realise it’s not as easy as they thought. Financially, the city is still a nightmare—there’s a reason why the beer and the rents are cheap. Most people don’t make a lot of money here. But this is part of Berlin’s flair. And you could see this as a sort of freedom from economic constraints or the pressure of “making it.” If you have accepted that, you might as well do what you like. This creates the basis for the particular kind of vitality and creativity so unique to Berlin. Perhaps the established art world is getting bitter and running in circles, but there are a lot of extremely talented artists working on what they love to do, there are exciting off-spaces, hundred of concerts every night. It’s still really exciting what’s going on here. Would you ever move to a different city/place or is Berlin the place for you? Even if I could imagine moving to NYC or San Fransisco, Berlin is definitely the place for us. There is an energy in Berlin that you won’t find anywhere else. It’s always been like this. It is a city that is truly alive. This is why we love Berlin. It’s a city of paradoxes, and these paradoxes are its strength.
Top: untitled, 08b01, 70 x 120 cm, 2008; Bottom: untitled, 11e01, 57 x 42 cm, 2011
ART Q and A with Violet Shuraka
untitled, 11d01, 57 x 42 cm, 2011
You are currently living in Berlin. What do you like most about living in Berlin? Least? Berlin is a city that has in many ways still a lot of space to offer both mentally and spatial. A lot of people use this space to act, be productive, and creative, which establishes a continuous stream that can be very inspiring and beautiful. At the same time this freedom, and sometimes overwhelming possibilities of cultural and contextual involvement, can be paralyzing. Is Berlin still a reasonably priced place to live? Are artists still moving there because of this factor? Does being in Berlin inspire your work? Especially when looking at the housing market, Berlin is definitely catching up to more wealthy and expensive cities in Germany and Europe. Artists that arrive to Berlin from Barcelona, London or NY, and are used to higher rents, will still be able to afford living and working spaces in Berlin. Although I hope that the city of Berlin will eventually commit more to artists living here and provide more affordable studio spaces. Only time will tell if there will still be these opportunities in five years.
You run a project space/gallery in Berlin called Minken & Palme, why did you decide to open a space to show other artist’s work? What sort of work do you most often exhibit? What section of Berlin is the gallery located in? Does running a gallery space affect your own artistic practice? If so, how? Georg Parthen and I have been running the space Minken & Palme, in Kreuzberg, for two years now. We wanted to explore the possibilities of showing art we relate to, playing around with a combination of artists that actually made sense to us, and we wanted to give people the chance to use MP, and us, as a counterpart for collaborations to evolve new forms of presentations and develop site-specific works. For us it is a very pleasing and fulfilling way of getting in contact with other artists, their works, and curators we cooperate with. It definitely broadens ones own experience with each new show that is set up. What are your favorite places to see art in Berlin? There isnt a certain place I enjoy art most. It really is always depending on the current show that is being displayed.
How long have you been taking and exhibiting photographs? What drew you to the medium and why did you choose to pursue it seriously? I´m not even sure if you are right about considering my works being photographs. I do enjoy working with photographic material though and exploring the mediums possibilities. I really got in contact with it, when I started studying in Essen in 1998. It probably took another couple of years until I discovered strategies and methods to work with photography in a way that really interested me. Did you study photography at the University of Essen, with Jörg Sasse as a teacher? I started visiting classes of Jörg Sasse about a year or two before my diploma, without really completing a project. The way photography was dealt with and talked about in his class appealed to me. What I really liked about him being a teacher was the fact that he didn’t push in any one specific direction but generously shared his knowledge of all kinds of art and has always been able to focus on the ambition you brought in.
Top: untitled, 11f03, 57 x 42 cm, 2011; Bottom: untitled, 06b04, 38 x 50 cm, 2006
untitled, 07c01, 46 x 67.5 cm, 2007
I was lucky enough to work with Jörg Sasse as a tutoring professor on my final project. How do you feel your art has developed over the course of your career? What interests you now that didn’t interest you when you started? Do you enjoy pushing the boundaries of photography? I think that there are quite a few similarities in recent works and works I´ve constructed 5 years ago. The greatest development might be that today I’m more aware of what I don’t want or try to achieve while working on my pictures. One topic I am constantly returning to is space and its transformation as it is constructed and reflected within the picture. Do you shoot with a digital SLR camera or with a film camera? I use a digital camera for most photographic material I gather for my works but in the end it has never been of any interest to me how the footage or raw material for my works is generated, because in many ways my work really just starts with viewing, organizing, sampling and composing the collected material. I noticed that your images are “untitled” and also include a number. What do the numbers in your titles refer to, if anything? Do you feel that it is better for a title not to reveal anything? A title can be very important for a certain piece;
personally I didn’t have had the necessity to title most of my works. The number in the caption of my work is purely an archive number, that helps identifying a work if you don’t stand in front of it. I do have a little distaste for titles, ones that are more important than the image itself, especially if you get the feeling that the title, or the description of the picture, is the most interesting part, or a story you have to listen to, to immerse into the visual. Maybe that is because I value the non-text based nature of art as a quality. Do you always use the computer as a tool when creating your photographs? Are your final pictures always a result of a technical process? For a lot of my works I use a camera or a computer or both. Sometimes I use the technical process for the mere purpose of accurate reproduction in order to limit variations of necessary elements. Sometimes I use pens, pencils, and brushes. Could you explain your process of creating an image? How do you begin work on a picture, do you begin with an idea in mind (of the final outcome) or are the images a result of layering and experimentation? Do you have a specific procedure? I never know what the final work will look like, exactly. In the work process there are a lot of
decisions to be made, which partly have to do with what I try to accomplish, and which elements and colors I try to emphasize or reduce. The rest are decisions that are based upon the picture itself, which possibly result from experimentation but a lot from constant questioning the autonomy of the image. How do you know when an image is complete? Do you place constraints upon yourself when creating an image? A work is finished if I see it printed on paper, in the decided dimensions, and by looking at it, think it’s done. It seems that most of your images have a landscape or interior space as a base. Are these images that you have shot yourself, or do you use found imagery? Or is it a mix of both kinds of images? I mostly use material I have collected myself, but I don’t want to limit the possibilities and have also used found material that was necessary and influenced the final work. Do you have a databank of images that you work with? Where do these images come from? I do not work with a structured archive, where at a certain point I can search “sun” or “tree” images. Generally the amount of drawn and painted material is overweighing the photographic material and both are structured
untitled, 11d03, 57 x 42 cm, 2011
in footage folders, which relate to single works or a group of pictures. Are the base images for the constructure series taken in the same area or are they grouped together based on other factors? Could you tell us a bit about the origins of this series? The starting point for the constructures was the relationship between architecture and its surrounding. I wanted to explore the structured and built intervention and construction within a possible context or setting. These two parts of fore- and background interact in different ways within the picture, with regards to content or on a formal level. I didn’t want to depict actual buildings or simulate utopian concepts within mountain areas but rather detect possible influences by constructions on their spatial location and in the end strategies of composing form and ground within the picture by layering, absorbing, or reflecting elements of each other. Layering both separates and unites the image. Do you want people to recognize parts of the constructed image or do you want them to look at the composition as a whole? I try to find this vague line between recognition, association and abstraction, because this is the moment a picture demands attention and openness.
Remembered or recognized elements might support or distract a one-sided perception. Additionally I construct most works for a close and a distanced viewing, e.g. in some pictures the composition completely falls apart, when looking at it from two feet, but at the same time opens up a detail level you wouldn’t be able to perceive from ten feet. Some of your final pictures have elements from handmade drawings and other computer generated imagery layered into them. Are these your drawings? Or are these found? How long have you been incorporating these non-photo-based types of elements into your work? And what was the reason for doing so originally? Since I started my studies I have always worked with more than one medium and never solely concentrated on one discipline. Towards the end of my studies I explored different working methods and strategies to filter those aspects I was interested in. What are your thoughts on the relationship between photography and drawing? What makes you want to juxtapose the two mediums in your work? Photography and drawing are two strategies for me to work with images and create pictures and
both are highly fascinating to me. They can, to a certain degree, quote each other but in the end have completely different and separated origins to result in an image. When looking at your images it seems that space, color, form, and scale are all very important to you. Could you talk a bit about what you are trying to evoke with these constructed images? I want to reflect the phenomena of spatial perception. From my point of view our recognition and orientation starts with conceiving form, color, shading and lighting. In my works I try to filter and abstract certain aspects of these correlations within the complex and sensual experience and transform them into the plane of the image. So it is more the construction of the characteristics of a place I’m interested in more than its actual appearance. It seems that you are interested in a spatial experience in a 2D format. What interests you about representing three dimensional reality as a two dimensional surface of an image? Have you ever worked as a sculptor? Does sculpture influence your work? Are there any particular sculptors that you are looking at? In the work Verplanung (planar planning) I started with the idea of mapping houses, apartments, and living spaces without using
untitled, 07b01, 60.5 x 89.5 cm, 2007
the mathematical functionality for orientation of blueprints, roadmaps, and topographic maps, but rather focus on the atmospheric impression one gets with being at a place. I wanted to create a new kind of cartography, a visual equivalent to the space-humanrelationship one gets at these spaces in order to give the viewer the possibility to get an emotional, archetypical or atmospheric impression of these places.
I know Albert Oehlens work and have looked at his pictures. You could call him an influence since I believe that everything you have seen affects one’s own work no matter if it is because of similarities or contrasts to your own work. Seeing something that is very close to your perspective might arouse the need to more precisely formulate your own ambition, which eventually helps you being more clear about your aim or goal.
You say that you are interested in the “gradual decomposition of objectness.” Could you talk a bit more about this. By looking at photographs the brain indicates and names the elements in the picture. I want to avoid the situation, where you purely describe the parts of the picture in your mind and attach your remembrance of the denoted objects to the image. In this scenario I try to erase or diminish the objectness with various methods to have an undisguised view on the visual presence of the piece.
Some of the abstract patterns in your work also brings to mind graffiti. When I first spent time in Berlin I did notice that there was graffiti everywhere... does graffiti influence your work at all? I dont think graffiti specifically influences me, it might rather be the quality of painting and paint in general that I am concerned with that sometimes shows in my works.
Your work reminds me a bit of the paintings of Albert Oehlen. Is he an influence at all? Are you influenced by other abstract painters? Other artists?
When your work is shown in a gallery how important is size, scale, and sequencing? How do you usually exhibit your work? Some of my works really don’t get along too well, they will try to kick each other off the wall, because each of them needs its own space. That is one reason I mostly choose a very clean and
distanced hanging with enough white or wall in-between. I couldnt imagine them hanging on top of each other either. For each work there are set dimensions I wouldn’t change for any reason. The size is imminent to the picture by the level of detail and the dimensions of single elements in my works. Where can one see your work online? www.nicolaswollnik.de www.minkenundpalme.de
Images © Violet Shuraka
NoBrow display rack
Nobrow publishers Q and A with Violet Shuraka
In July, when I was in London, I stopped by NoBrow headquarters for a tour of their store and production facilities (and for a small shopping spree!). The space was great and there were so many amazing things to look at (I could have stayed there for days!). And even though Sam Arthur (one half of the NoBrow team) was having a very very bad week, filled with headaches (he was on the telephone dealing with finding a stolen van in Belgium, filled with freshly printed NoBrow books, when I first arrived), he kindly let me in, gave me photographic freedom to shoot anything I wanted in the space, and made the time to chat with me, enthusiastically, about NoBrow and the product they create. This month Cheap & Plastique conducted a proper interview, via email, with Mister Arthur. How did you decide to start NoBrow? Was it because of your love for the medium of illustration? We started Nobrow because we love illustration and because we love beautiful books. Had you been involved in any other similar projects/ventures prior to NoBrow? Before we started Nobrow, Alex was an editorial illustrator and I worked as a director (mainly commercials and music videos), we had worked together on various animated projects, and although the end product wasn’t printed there was a similarity in terms of working with visual narratives.
Are you planning to expand NoBrow in the future or start any additional endeavors? We are always searching for new projects to publish, doing more books and expanding into new markets is always going to be a challenge. We are going to be working with Consortium Book Distributors in the US starting in 2012 so our books will be more widely available in the US and Canada. We are also working on some translations of our books for the French market too. NoBrow has existed since 2008. And you have had the shop and gallery for a little over a year and a half. Have things changed for NoBrow since the shop was opened? Are a lot more people aware of the NoBrow brand now?
We have had lots of opportunities pop up as a result of people coming into our shop, which is great. The idea that someone who didn’t know of us could stumble upon our shop and love our books is quite a romantic notion! However our shop/gallery was always intended to be a showcase for our products and the artists that we work with and in that way it has been really successful. Do you only sell NoBrow products in the shop? We stock all of our own products, even some that aren’t available online, but we also stock products that are from producers and brands that we love and are ourselves inspired by.
Images © Violet Shuraka Top left: NoBrow’s Sam Arthur at his desk; other images: NoBrow shop
Who is in the office on a daily basis? Alex and I are always in the office unless we are away on business, and then we also have three full time staff members and that includes whoever is working in the shop. How often is someone printing in the basement? We don’t have the resources to be printing 24/7 unfortunately, but we usually have a new print edition every six weeks on average. Do the illustrators silkscreen their own pieces, does NoBrow print the publications, or is it a collaboration? We always print the editions—otherwise it wouldn’t be a Nobrow Small Press edition. Are there other publishers in London doing something similar to what NoBrow is doing? Do you ever collaborate with other independent publishers? Not that I know of—we work with lots of collectives and small presses but not so much with other publishers. We love publishers like Bongoût and Le Dernier Cri who operate in Europe, but there isn’t anyone quite as well established as these guys in the UK. Do you sell NoBrow product anywhere in the USA? We sell in places like Secret Headquarters in LA, Desert Island in Brooklyn and quite a few other cool independent comic books stores. Next year we’ll be distributed by Consortium
Book Distribution in US and Canada so it will be much easier for stores to get hold of our books. Have you done any art fairs (like the Pick Me Up Contemporary Graphic Art Fair in London, where I first saw your work) in other cities? We’ve done lots of shows and fairs all over the world (well mainly in North America and Europe) for example in the last 12 months we’ve been involved in shows and festivals in Angouleme, France, Toronto, Canada, Helsinki, Finland and we’ll be doing something in Madrid, Spain in November and also be at the Brooklyn Comics and Graphic Arts Festival in December. The colors used in printing your publications have a unique look and feel about them and act as a common thread between all of the NoBrow library, making a group of NoBrow books look like a cohesive collection, despite the illustrator’s style. Is there a specific reason for your choice of colors? Was this color palette chosen because of any other publications/publishing houses that you admire? How are these super saturated, intense colors accomplished in both the silkscreen process and with the larger runs on the printing press? We use a spot color printing process with many of our large edition books that are printed with offset litho as opposed to silkscreen. The process is similar in that the colours we use are premixed and overprinted rather than made up of CMYK which is the more conventional way of printing things.
How do you decide whether to print a limited edition of hand-silkscreened books in house versus a run of 3000-5000 at a press? We can take more of a risk with the hand-made books as we are only printing 50 or 100 copies— also it may be something that can only be done with silkscreen. With the large edition stuff we can do more complicated bindings as we are using industrial production methods. Could you talk about the process of working with an illustrator on a book? Does it vary from artist to artist? It varies quite a bit from artist to artist and project to project. Sometimes we have seen something that is already finished and we work with the artist to adapt it to a book for us—other times we are approaching an artist with a project in mind, in which case we are all starting form scratch. Some artists like to have some direction or an editor to bounce ideas off, where as others are much more likely to bury themselves away. Everyone works in a different way and we try to find the best system for each project in order to get the greatest end product: a beautiful book! What is the most involved/complex project you have ever undertaken in NoBrow’s print shop? We did a really cool concertina book with artists Jock Mooney and Alisdair Brotherston—the complicated thing was getting the maximum length from the paper stock. This meant printing in two sections on one sheet and sticking them together—and then folding them. Sounds simple, but it was real brain teaser!
Images ÂŠ Violet Shuraka Clockwise from top left: The Bento Bestiary book; The Bento Bestiary author Ben Newman (l) with NoBrowâ€™s Sam Arthur (r), comparison between the silkscreened and offset versions of an interior spread of book
Images © Violet Shuraka NoBrow silkscreen press in basement and Japanese monster toys in shop
How do you find the illustrators/comics that you publish? Are most of the NoBrow stable friends and/or acquaintences? People who have submitted work through your website? Or people that you have scouted out at schools and in other publications? Are they mostly British illustrators? Again—this is probably our most commonly asked question—it’s different for every single artist. We have met some people via friends but these people are in the minority, for the most part we have approached people when we have seen their work and have loved it. Generally this is because we have seen their work online or in a book or magazine or even on some food packaging! Often people send us examples of their work or links to their websites and we always try to check these out even though we
don’t always have much time. It’s important for us to always be looking at new things. How many illustrators do you work with on a regular basis? It’s not an official thing, sometimes people ask if we represent artists/illustrators and we don’t. However there are at least 20 illustrators that I can think of that we have worked with more than a few times. Hopefully this number will increase as we go into the future. Whose collection of vintage Japanese toy monsters is displayed throughout the store and office? When did you begin collecting these? Do you have a favorite? Alex is an avid collector of Kaiju Japanese monster toys—it’s his collection and he’s been collecting for at least 10 years. I love anything Godzilla!
What is your favorite thing to do in the neighborhood? I love a pint in The Griffin over the road from our office and lunch at the Hoxton Grill is always a treat! If I want to go somewhere a bit more colorful—DreamBagsAndJaguarShoes on Kingsland Road is a great night out. Are there any other galleries that you frequent in Shoreditch? Elsewhere in London? What are your favorites? I’m always a sucker for The Tate Modern—it has to be the best art gallery in the world. In Shoreditch—Seventeen Gallery, 17 Kingsland Road, always has interesting stuff and there are loads of galleries on Redchurch Street and also Leonard Street that have great shows.
ART Q and A with HeatHer Morgan
Left page: production stills from In the Heart of the Wood and What I Found There (working title), 2011; this page: video stills from Act 1 for The Temple Theater of the Gruesome King, 2011
Charles E. Roberts, III is an artist currently working in video and residing in Chicago. Your films often come across as paintings come alive. Given your background in painting, do you find yourself composing “like a painter” when you construct your sets or your shots? There is something of a tableau quality to much of the video I’ve done so far. I’m actually trying to move away from that and let things fall where they may. Also, my lighting situations tend to be very unnatural. I use light to throw color more than to illuminate a
realistic sense of space. Maybe they are more like stained glass than paintings. I was never a very good painter. Some of your recent work revolves around varying incarnations of witches. What do these creatures mean to you, what is their power? I’m not interested in witchcraft or any of its spiritual aspects necessarily. I do relate to witches in the folkloric or storybook sense of the word, the reclusive character in the strange little house deep in the forest who spends her days gathering ingredients for the spells she will cast that night. That pretty
much describes my studio practice, albeit in a forest of thrift shops and dollar stores. What are some themes to which you find yourself frequently returning? Right now I can’t seem to escape flora and gore. The blood will not cease flowing and the flowers continue to grow up through the snow. What films have you found most influential over time? All of the works of Sergei Paradjanov have been a significant influence on my video work over the last few years. They are undoubtedly the most beautiful films I have ever seen. Carmelo Bene is an artist who’s films I’ve
Charles E. Roberts, III
Images this spread: video stills from Act 1 for The Temple Theater of the Gruesome King, 2011
just recently discovered, I’m especially fond of his”Salome.” I also love the black-magicthemed horror films that came out of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia in the 1970’s and early 80’s. The gore in those films is out of this world, so plastic and rainbow colored... and some of the spell casting in those movies is very much like some contemporary performance art. Given that your latest work has involved performers, is this work in any sense collaborative for you? How much of your ideas or images are already worked out before the actors arrive? I usually have the costumes and sets planned before shooting. The action is usually choreographed on the spot. Recently I have been trying not to dictate every little movement and control every little fold of fabric. I’ve worked with some great performers and I’ve played the puppeteer much too often.
You instill macabre imagery with a lush sense of beauty. Describe the experience you are attempting to create for the viewer. I’m still trying to work this out. I would like to be less macabre and more repulsive, but always lush. I would prefer physical reactions to my work as apposed to intellectual or even emotional...at least that’s how I feel today. Do you envision incorporating music into your pieces? I am about to embark on my first adventures in sound recording. I have no idea how this is going to work out but I’m very excited about it! There may be some pieces that will call for something more musical in the near future. I will enlist the help of others more experienced for those particular projects. Who are some of your favorite artists, living or dead? Michelangelo de Caravaggio, El Greco, William Blake, Albrecht Dürer, Gustav Moreau, Maurice Sendak, Peter Greenaway, Andrzej Zulawski...this is no way a complete list, just the first eight that come to mind.
Tell us about future projects you have planned. I should have a website by the new year called The Temple Theater of the Gruesome King, there are eleven acts scheduled to be performed there. I still dream of making a psychotropic porno. Check out Charlie’s website here: charleseroberts3.com
Photos ÂŠ James Prinz Photography
Nudge Nyao, Oil on Linen, 57 x 42 inches, 2010
ART Q and A with Heather Morgan
“Under this mask, another mask. I will never finish lifting up all these faces.” —Claude Cahun
You refer in your work to childhood systems of belief and fantasy. How does your own childhood inform your work? My childhood definitely directed me toward image making. I was raised in White Plains, New York by a single mom. It was the 80’s; we watched a lot of MTV. Depending on how you look at it being poor limited or expanded my childhood activities. My first two records were Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual and Prince and the Revolution’s Purple Rain. Those album covers were spectacular pictures, colorful, dynamic and highly emotive. I remember holding Purple Rain and staring at the flowers on the back cover while the record played. I’d say Cyndi’s color clash and Prince’s body language taught me the power of pictures. Fantasy was everywhere in the 80’s and I was a kid filled to the brim with fantasy. The parking lot next my apartment building was the blank canvas for all types of high jinx and adventures. Much of your work is based on the self-portrait. Some of these figures seem like artist-asmodel, others more mythical. Tell us about the different characters you create, and how they relate to yourself. I refuse to adhere to a fixed notion of identity. Or reality for that matter. How boring life would be if reality was absolute. Identity is flexible, changeable and influenced by experience. Yes, I pose for the initial photographs for the paintings. Although, if we are in constant transformation I am not sure if in the end I could confidently say that they (the people in my paintings) are any longer me… “Under this mask, another mask. I will never finish lifting up all these faces.” Claude Cahun Is there a self-portrait by an artist you particularly admire? Van Gogh’s Portrait as Bonze. Van Gogh’s obsession with Japan goes a bit overboard in this painting. That’s part of the reason why I love it. This painting was part of an exchange with Gauguin and Bonnard. It was Van Gogh’s attempt to share a dream—I don’t think that Gauguin ever understood. A Bonze is a Japanese Buddhist monk and upon close inspection, you will notice that Van Gogh altered his features to play the part. He slanted his eyes, made his head rounder and his cheeks more narrow and sunken. The electric mint background that his portrait is painted against is what first drew me to this painting. I visited it often at the Fogg Art Museum in Boston. It was in the room with Picasso’s Mother and Child. I always anticipated the blue of Picasso’s piece as I ascended the steps to the second floor. That blue would
scream down the hall but became somehow more humble as you drew closer to it. Van Gogh’s self-portrait was much smaller and hung to the right of Picasso—it was hung low, right in your face. One of his eyes confronting you and the other somewhere else (maybe in Japan). Something about that shade of green made me feel more alive. Whenever it was out on loan the whole room felt dismal. Your most recent work depicts cats, real and symbolic. What do these cats represent? Do they have a personal meaning for you? Are you a “crazy cat lady?” When I finished graduate school,three years ago, all I craved was privacy. I wanted to hole up in my studio and sift through, digest the copious information I had been fed for two years. I like people, don’t get me wrong, but I was kind of sick of hearing what everyone thought. Being in my studio is being at home, since I have a live/ work space. The cats lounge about the studio, so I guess it was natural progression that they made more appearances in the pictures. The “Catlike” series of paintings were inspired by a ceramic cat; a large Maneki Neko Charlie had got for me in Chinatown in Boston. Maneki Neko literally means beckoning cat. It is a popular Japanese sculpture believed to bring wealth and luck to its owner. Hence its appearance in many shop windows & restaurants. Its origins are explained only in folk tales and legends. My Maneki Neko was unfortunately stolen when my first apartment in Chicago was broken into. I got obsessed about its abduction and frustrated, I loved that thing! Where was her luck and where did that leave mine? Smashed in some alley for a few pennies… I couldn’t let it end that way, so I decided to rewrite the story…my beckoning cat was not carried off by desperate folks but instead it had enough of immobility and came to life. I imagined Maneki Neko as a girl/woman whose behaviors were only those learned from the real cats that moved, slept and played around her. I also see a correlation between the solitary studio life of a painter and the indoor cat. We both have these elaborate internal lives full of stories. I often find myself envious of my video and performance friends who get to interact with other people while making work. But in all truth I feel most content when I am alone in the studio. So, yes I am on the road to crazy cat lady status—but not yet. You have spent time in Austria and China. Tell us about how travel has influenced your work. What other destinations do you have in mind, and what kind of art will you explore there?
Amanda Joy Calobrisi
brushy marks, mint greens, and powder pinks. He really made paintings out of his found source material. I was impressed. I also met a new friend at the show; we were both drooling over the same painting. Your palette has shifted from cool, earthly tones to fluorescent color that mirrors the increased theatricality of the images. Did the subject matter inspire the color choice or vice versa? Actually a local back-alley treasure hunter named Eddie enabled the addition of moments of fluorescent color in the newer paintings. I had been experimenting with pushing the color for a while now, trying different brands of oil colors. I could get really bright colors with gouache and watercolor but with traditional oil colors it was challenging. Of course half of the battle for intense color is more about the relationship between colors and not so much the color itself. I stumbled upon a few water-soluble colors that up the temperature of traditional oil colors and then Eddie found some discarded fluorescent oil paint sets made in Mexico. They are tiny tubes. They won’t last forever. A friend from Mexico recently told me that they are traditionally used to paint Alebrije, Mexican folk art sculptures. I particularly love the reds and pinks, they are just hot enough to use in the flesh without looking hokey.
Untitled, Oil on Canvas, 18 x 15 inches, 2008
Travel is always the most amazing mind shifter. One’s sense of the vastness of the world becomes more tangible and overwhelming. Vienna was my first trip abroad alone. I was awarded a travel grant to study the life and work of Egon Schiele. I was living in Boston and it would be my first time on a plane after 9/11… I ended up not going alone. Charlie and I brought 15 rolls of film. We wandered and explored and documented every moment. I was a shy blossoming art student with visually hungry eyes. Going from museum to museum viewing paintings and drawings I had only seen in books. I was ecstatic. Schiele was very important to me. His self-portraits were brave and his watercolor drawings are full of sensuous line and fascinating choices of vibrant of color. I related deeply to his tortured soul. When we returned home and had the film developed and all 360 of the pictures were vertically half black and half image—apparently the shutter wasn’t functioning properly (Life was hard before digital photography). In retrospect, the dozen or so photos I kept from this trip are somehow poetic. I’ve returned to Vienna twice since.
China was sensory overload. I was happy to have a camera on this trip because there was too much going on for it to sink in completely in the moment. The photos upon returning helped me organize my memories of it. So much of that trip was non-language because of the complete language barrier. Happening upon the English alphabet (even when used in nonsensical ways) woke up a part of my brain that seemed to be dormant for most of the trip. Everything felt overwhelmingly visceral. I would love to go to Rome and see some Caravaggio…but I would go just about anywhere that would have me. Really. What painters have you been looking at most recently? I honestly haven’t been looking at much painting lately. Thanks for reminding me. The last noteworthy painting show I went to was Luc Tuymans at the MCA. I had been to an epic lecture of his while a grad student. By epic I mean it was long, three hours I think. The show was unexpectedly amazing. The paintings we alluring from a distance and kind of like fading memories up-close, they were made up of big
Your use of pattern sometimes appears to comment on the figure, other times creates a dizzying environment for your figures to inhabit. What draws you to the use of patterns, how do you choose them? How has their presence in the paintings evolved? It’s unbelievable to think that I have been working with figure and pattern for seven years. I think that firstly I am attracted to patterns, I have always been. I have strong visual memories of rugs and drapes from my childhood. I like the feeling of getting lost in a repetition. The left side of the brain kind of gives up and the right side takes over. When this happens is when I most understand being “in the zone.” My first experience of this was in my first intro to drawing class. Ever since then I can’t wait to get in the studio and go there. I guess I want to share that experience of looking with the viewer. And you’re right in that the patterns function differently from painting to painting. Sometimes they seem to be part of the implied narrative and other times lending to the mood of the picture. The biggest evolution in the patterns is probably to touch of the paint. The older works have more of an all over equal touch—kind of like the even surface of a photograph. I have been trying to loosen it up just enough to let it breathe and make it feel like a painted surface. I’ve also been using a bit of wax to suspend the paint, make it more matte, less opaque and velvety. I’ve spent a good amount of time making pictures, now I am learning to make a picture a painting. China definitely had a huge impact on my pallet. If you want to experience synthetic color in a natural setting, China is heaven. Even the trash was beautiful and colorful against a mountain landscape. I have the photos to prove it. Red, hot pink, indigo and silver against green lush mountain scapes…gorgeous.
Clockwise from left: A Mother of Cats, Oil on Canvas, 44 x 30”, 2006, Cling, Oil on Canvas, 36.5 x 36.5”, 2010, Some Kind of Complete Happiness, Oil on Canvas, 58 x 38”, 2011, Falling Away, Oil on Canvas, 12 x 16”, 2010
Having recently performed Butoh dance, do you see yourself expanding the worlds of your paintings into three dimensions, using elements of performance or installation? No. I’m happy working in 2D. But being in the studio stationary for so many hours makes it mandatory to move when I am not working. Dancing seemed to be a way to do this. I have a fascination with Japan. It comes primarily from Japanese woodblock prints and Japanese cinema. I’ve used Japanese paraphernalia; kimono, tabi socks and geisha hair-dos in paintings and I’ve been accused of exoticism because of this. Taking a butoh class was partially to widen my knowledge of Japanese dance. I was first introduced to Butoh in a Japanese cinema class in graduate school. It immediately seemed related to German and Austrian expressionism in mood. I think of the morbidly-obsessed Egon Schiele who
believed “Everything is dead when it lives”… or Mary Wigman’s Witch Dance. Of what I have experienced of Butoh, I like the restlessness and the juxtaposition of fluid movements against uncomfortable right angles. I look at it like a painting, something that needs to be deciphered. I don’t know that much about it but I am curious to learn more. Tell us about your passion for vintage clothes, and how your thrift finds become part of the process of constructing your images. I have always thrifted. I was ashamed of it when I was kid because it was out of need not desire. By the time I was in high school I knew all the good spots and branched out of suburbia to NYC and frequented vintage and army surplus shops that were affordable. In college I ended up working in a vintage shop in Harvard Sqare in Boston. I was there for about eight years. Being in that environment really changes how you
think about clothes. Everything you touch is a piece of history, recent or otherwise. Each dress has a story imagined or real. Having access to these objects imbued with past lives became part of my life and I am now addicted. For better or worse, Chicago is thrift heaven! This city is unbelievable. Don’t get me started… Everything in my life works its way into the paintings at some point. I collect vintage fabrics and I have all kinds of clothes from various eras. How I put items together varies from painting to painting. Sometimes the fabric comes first sometimes the costume. Either way I like making clashing patterns and colors become harmonious in a painting. What are you working on right now? I have just begun a new project. I am going to be doing paintings of my artist friends living in Pilsen. I am excited to look outside of myself and work with so many interesting and complex individuals. We were all attracted to Pilsen for the same reasons—in order to have time and space to make art. Chicago has a huge advantage over other major cities in that artists don’t need to make much money to survive here. That said I want these paintings to go beyond documentation. In order to do this I will be placing them in worlds I have created for them based on my interpretation of who they are through their artwork.
Ed Panar, Tokyo, 2006, from the series Drink from the Well, 8” x 10” c-print
Ed Panar, Near Coral Street, 2010, from the series City of Champions, 8” x 10” c-print
Continued from page 32, Elias Necol Melad
Continued from page 19, Ed PAnar you to the medium and why did you choose to pursue it seriously? I started taking pictures when I was a kid. My best friend and I had a “detective agency” and we needed photographs to aid our investigations. In high school I started taking pictures on a regular basis and I haven’t stopped since. Now I feel weird if I’m not taking pictures on a regular basis. I’m interested in other things as well, but luckily photography provides a wide window to the world. It can be about so many different things at once. It feels like a riddle you can never quite solve, and I love that. What type of camera do you shoot with? A digital SLR or a film camera? My primary two cameras are film: an Olympus Stylus Epic for 35mm and a old Pentax 67 for medium format. I also use my camera phone quite a lot ever since I got my first one in 2004. Do you use the computer as a tool when creating your photographs? Do you ever use Photoshop to edit images when finalizing a body of work? I scan every single frame I shoot, so I spend a lot of time on the computer with my images. It’s definitely an important tool in my process. I don’t normally use Photoshop to do anything other than make color corrections and things like that. But I have always enjoyed playing in Photoshop and probably have a few folders of strange collages lying around somewhere.
There is definitely an element of humor to your work, I laughed out loud a couple of times while looking through your website. Are there any artists who use humor in their work that you admire? There’s quite a few. A lot of the time it’s not so much an artist who is “using humor” as an artist that allows a bit of humor to enter the scene. That’s when I like it the most. In photography, Jason Fulford instantly comes to mind. I love the way he plays with collections of pictures and text in his work. I also have to say I really enjoy watching comedy, so shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm and East Bound & Down might not be a small influence either. What artists/photographers do you find inspirational? Contemporary? Past? Too many to list! What could you imagine doing, if you didn’t do what you do? I’d probably still be working the night shift at the McDonald’s in my hometown. Maybe making ambient music on the side. Who knows? But I can’t really imagine doing anything else. I’m just trying to imagine ways of doing it better.
answers (myself included). We take for granted the fact that we can know anything we want at anytime with practically no effort at all; I think this limits a part of our human desire to hunt and gather. I’d say my Internet use is 30% useful: the articles I read, the music I can get, the news I can absorb, the things I can buy cheaply; but the other 70% is pornography, gossip, and voyeuristic nonsense, all which I think I and others could and should live without. I haven’t figured out a way out of it yet, but I pretend to try every day. What are you working on right now? More paintings. We just had an open studio event at the Army Terminal so I got a lot of feedback and critical response, which usually puts me in a stress zone and I start painting over everything and second-guessing; and combined with these interview questions, you could say I’m working on my stress level right now. In addition to more paintings, I have a plan to make some cast resin sculptures; a process which is totally alien to me but that I’ve always wanted to learn. What could you imagine doing if you did not create art? I’m a big fan of Plan B’s… and C’s and onward. Plan B for me for a while has been some sort of zoological or animal study; I am continuously amazed and in utter wonderment watching nature programs and reading articles about our world’s other species. The “holy shit!” moments are endless, and that intrigues me greatly. I could also imagine being a food critic, if someone would pay me to eat, I could get on board with that. Or a baseball player.
John Jurayj, Untitled (Marine Barracks, 1983, #2), Oil on Linen, 74” x 84”, 2006
Artist contacts John Jurayj email@example.com
Elias Necol Melad firstname.lastname@example.org
Ed Panar www.edpanar.com
Christian Gfeller & Anna Hellsgard/Bongoût www.xn--bongot-0ya.com
Andy Denzler www.andydenzler.com ˇ Zoran PungerCar www.zoranpungercar.com
Nicolas Wollnik www.nicolaswollnik.de www.minkenundpalme.de
Sam Arthur / NoBrow Publishers www.nobrow.net Charles Roberts www.charleseroberts3.com Amanda Joy Calobrisi www.amandajoycalobrisi.com