Friday, March 28, 2008

The Armory Show 2008

The 10th annual Armory Show opened its doors this past Thursday at Pier 94, on 55th street and 12th ave., on the west side of Manhattan. I hopped my way to see this yearly event, yes hopped, my foot was injured at work two days before but no big deal. Out of all the many art fairs opening on the same day on the very same city, the Armory was the most important. This is where all the big boys of galleries show. 160 international galleries were chosen this year to display new art by living artists. Early in the history of the Armory Show, this fair was known as a "local" event, with mostly New York galleries showing. This year eighty five of selected exhibitors were from Europe.
There was a more relaxed feel to this year's show, partly because I attended on a weekday and not a Saturday like last year. This year neon seems to be the lates rage in the art world, and it was no surprise that I was greeted by a neon installation as I walked into the show. Sean Kelly Gallery, New York, proudly presented artist Joseph Kosuth and his W.F.T. #1, 2007. This installation was a sort of family tree of the word "luna", which means moon. At the center of the installation one can see the word "Latin" and from there the many different languages that use the word luna as a root for many other worlds relating to light.
Callum Innes, Monologue Twenty One, 2007, oil on canvas, 95.5 x 91.5 inches, Sean Kelly Gallery, New York
One can't always know what to expect when attending art fairs like the Armory Show. It's a given that most of the art on display will deal with technology, due to the way our society is built and driven on and by it. Things will shock and raise questions about what is art. But sometimes one still sees the more traditional modes of art making shine their little light amongst the many neon installations. Somehow it was very comforting encountering Callum Innes's painting right after Joseph Kasuth. I was drawn to the dark and quiet feel of the painting. At first I thought I was looking at Pat Steir but I knew it wasn't her. This piece was more subtle and delicate. Later on I realized that I had enjoyed a painting of his at last year's show.

Luis Gispert, Untitled (Dinner Girls), 2002, cibachrone print, 36x 80 inches, Zack Feuer Gallery, New York
To a certain level hunting, this photograph by Luis Gispert caught my attention as I navigated my way through the maze of galleries. The scene is left open to interpretation by leaving the piece untitled. A ritual perhaps, as a viewer next to me whispered to her friend? There is a sense of magic happening. All three girls have their eyes closed and their hands up as if they are experiencing a religious moment.
More neon making a statement. This piece by Tracy Emin at Leahmann Maupin Gallery, New York, may not have been the best work out there but it is a very good example of the kind of art being made and exhibited at important shows like this one.
Christoph Schmidberger, Patrick Painter Inc., Los Angeles
A modern Caravaggio is what I thought when I stood in front of Schmidberger's painting of this topless youth. It's amazing how intimidating, even through painting, flesh can be. But was it his inviting stare that made me feel that way, or was it the way in which his torso rest on top of mess sheet while his jeans come undone?
Katie Grinnan, ACME, Los Angeles

Jenny Holzer, True Ribs, 2008, 7 curved double sided LED signs, Cheim & Read, New York

Stuart Shave Modern Art, London
One of my favorite paintings in the show was this large abstraction by an unknown artist. Many galleries were very diligent by not providing show goers with information on the art on the walls. Some tried by writing the artists' names with messy pencil handwriting. Sure one can ask the gallery attendants who are the artists they're displaying but when you have so many things go see and document asking some of these people for the information becomes too tedious.
Michael Borremans, The Glaze, 2007, oil on canvas, 83.5 x 71.5 cm, Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp

Michael Vasquez, This Is Ours (BG), (Ro), and (Tony), 2008, oil on canvas, 96 x 72 inches, Fredric Snitzer Gallery, Miami
Getting close to the end of the show I came across this series of three painting by Michael Vasquez. The size and technique of the paintings were impressive. Speechless I stood in front of each piece studying every fluid brush stroke. This was it, the highlight of my experience at The Armory Show 2008. Three modern portraits of contemporary people with a connection to old portrait painting like Velazquez, Van Dyck, and Rubens.
Michael Vasquez, This is Ours (Tony), detail, 2008
*More images from the Armory Show here.
*Photos from Makezine.com senior editor Phillip Torrone here.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

SoHo In Brooklyn

Welcome to SoHo Art Materials, my new home away from home. When I moved to NYC almost four years ago SoHo Art was the first store I went to for my supplies. My boss at that time recommended this place and it was love at first site. Unlike the other big art stores in the country, this place was a true old fashioned store where the staff was pleasant and was very eager to help their customers. It was nice to see that they knew most of their customers on a first name basis and knew who was painting what. Now that's a homey place!
Eventually I asked for a part time job, and thanks to the generosity of owner Johnny I became part of the SoHo family. But this was only for a very short time, my other job wasn't so happy with my new weekend duties. I had to leave the store but always kept it in mind.
I was lucky enough that a full time position opened up and I took it! And I'm glad I did since it seems that I will learn so much more working for this company, and what's even better it seems like they are willing to learn from my experience as well. I started working in the Brooklyn location last week, the place we call "the factory."
In Brooklyn one can find the warehouse/factory where stretchers are hand made, and where all special order stretched canvas are assembled. Next to the factory is the tiny annex to the store in Manhattan. It might be a very small space but this little store has everything an artist might need. And if it's not found in the Brooklyn store, it can be brought in for the next day from the Manhattan store and vise versa.
This is my downfall, Williamsburg Oil Paint, and this place has tons of every single shade both in big and small tubes. I can't get enough of it!
This is where the magic happens. The factory is made up of two large rooms. This one, where all Tri-Mar Stretcher Bars are hand made. All day one can hear the saws running and cutting through planks of wood. This is what makes SoHo Art the respected place it is. They can make, cut, and assemble any kind of stretcher at any time.

This is the only place in NYC where one can walk in, or call, and place an order for large and small custom made canvas, and the guys at the factory can have it ready for you the next day. This is why big name artists like Ross Bleckner, John Currin, George Condo, Susanna Coffey, and Alex Melamid; to name a few, rely on the professionalism of SoHo Art.
Why artists love this place is because SoHo Art delivers all throughout Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Long Island City. Not many artist are able to carry large things on the subway, that's why this truck comes as a blessing to those who love to paint big. Everyday this truck makes its delivery run bringing with it large numbers of painting supports to artists across NYC.

To see more of SoHo Art Materials click here.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Hard At Work


I'm very happy to say that finally, after almost three years, Steve's portrait is coming along. I've been working on the face and now I have the right proportions and features. I'm still having a little trouble with the flesh tones on his face but it's no big deal. What matters most is that I'm almost done with this picture. I'm not posting an image of it just yet because I'm saving that till the end. I have been busy with my new job as well. It's taking a little time to get used to the new schedule and commute but I'm managing just fine. This week will be an exciting one since there will be four art fairs opening on Thursday. I will be attending the Red Dot Fair, Pulse New York, Armory Show, and Scope New York. I'm going to be looking at a few thousand pieces of art from Thursday to Sunday. Man I have my work cut out for me. I hope I can keep up with all the shows since they are physically and mentally draining. I will post images for each show during the week.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Skyler Chen's Republic of Norman

I was greeted with a smile, handshake, hug, and kiss as I walked into the busy West Village coffee shop/gallery. Doma, the little spot on the corner or Perry Street and 7th Ave South is the place where creative minds relax with a cup 'o Joe as they exchange ideas, and Tuesday night the place belonged to artist Skyler Chen. "How are you? Wow you're cold, get some wine!" he said as I tried to get myself together from a long walk in the city.
It's Skyler's first show, an exciting event for any upcoming artist in the city of art. A selection of 11 works of mid to small scale hang on the white brick walls. Pictures of imaginary characters that inhabit Chen's Republic of Norman.
There was a great turn out. The vibe was upbeat, and the event soon turned to a birthday party, as Chen brought out birthday hats he hand painted. The same kind of hat represented in his paintings. "The royalty wants everyone to wear hats. It's a classification system" Chen explains about life in Norman.
Skyler Chen, Compromise, 2007, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 40 inches
Republic of Norman is a project Chen started working on over a year ago. It's a place that comes out of his experiences and emotions. As the artist goes through life and faces different interactions, Norman changes and grows with him. This doesn't mean that the images are autobiographical, they're a way for Chen to expose to the world what's inside him.
Skyler Chen, It Wear Me Out, 2008, acrylic on canvas, 20 x 16 inches
Norman, a country that has never been to war, is a place where freedom reigns supreme. But it's very important to distinguish that Norman is not Utopia. There's no such thing as the ideal love and peace society since total freedom can also create chaos. The people of Norman have the advantage to experience love, lust, insecurity and other emotions without the scrutiny of others. There are no restrictions when it comes to feelings.
Skyler Chen, Queen of Norman, 2007, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 18 inches
Skyler Chen, 6a.m. Day After Christmas, 2008, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 inches
When I first encountered Chen's work last year, an introduction made through his blog, I was left intrigued. There was a level of crudeness and simplicity I was not used to. Although the figures are very flat when speaking in formal terms, they are so dynamic and powerful. They are very upfront about what they are and what they are trying to say. Since last year Chen's work has evolved to a more complex series of images. The application of paint is more confident and the the figures have become more delicate.
Skyler Chen, Broken Man, 2008, acrylic on canvas, 20 x 16 inches
Skyler Chen, Delicate, 2007, acrylic on canvas, 14 x 11 inches
What appealed most to me about the new paintings is the use of gold backgrounds. Whether the artist is aware of it or not, this element is a connection to Icon and Renaissance painting. The use of green and red, along with the mannerist two dimensionality of the figures all add to the similarities of art from the past. What is more delightful is seeing the work being created, from start to finish. Through the use of video in his blog, Chen has been recording the process of painting and of becoming an artist in New York. To watch him in his private studio space is a treat, and a good insight to the man behind the work.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Goodbye Pigments

Four years have come to a close today. Kremer Pigments was my first and only full time job, and the economic provider for my life here in New York. During my employment at the pigment store I learned so much about raw materials, their use, their history, and their value.
Kremer never trains their employees about pigments and their different use, that would be an impossible job since all materials are interchangeable and different variables come to play when getting a specific kind of paint. But it was inevitable not to play with the materials. Through lots of reading and note taking I dove into the world of raw materials and used that knowledge on my painting. This valuable information filled me with a new sense of pride as an artist. But all good things must come to an end.
I'm moving on to the next stage in my life. All the things I learned and got to see at Kremer will always be priceless. I learned more about art by working here than what art school ever got to teach me.
Thank you Kremer for the opportunity, the job, the knowledge, and everything else you brought to my life.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Taking a Walk

I took some time this afternoon, after picking up a few sketchbooks, to take a walk. I was in Chelsea, and it was windy. A cold wind that made many run to their destination. But not me. I wanted to enjoy the last few moments of sun. The best way to enjoy the sun and life in general is on the west side of the city.
It's always beautiful to walk down the little streets of Greenwich Village. Old town houses line up the streets, and cobble stones adorn the ground in areas. When there's no rush and the day is right walking around the Village, towards the water, could be very inspirational.
Unlike many parts of New York, the little Village streets are almost empty. It gives me a chance to be alone and think. I didn't mind the cold today, for the first time the cold temperature didn't bother me at all. I was happy enjoying my walk while I listened to the Across the Universe soundtrack.
Can't think of a perfect moment than when I was crossing the west side highway, heading to the piers and the song "Across the Universe" came on. "Pools of sorrow waves of joy are drifting through my open mind possessing and caressing me. Nothing's going to change my world, nothing's going to change my world." A perfect song for the perfect moment as I thought to myself nothing will change my world here in this city. It seems to keep getting better and better. Life seems more beautiful these days.

I took my walk by the piers, as the wind flew hard and made the water choppy. The sun was out here and there, a beautiful thing when its rays peek through the clouds. Across from the Manhattan is New Jersey, and sometimes it seems like the sun shines blessings upon that state. This is one of my favorite places in all New York. This is where I come to be alone and reflect on my life. Think of the past present and future. This is where I come to thank God for bringing me here and keeping me here. These are the moments when I feel lucky to be living in such a great city.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Putting the Heart on the Brush

"That's what I'm always looking for, that implausible thing, the well-painted painting with heart."
Tad Spurgeon
I couldn't have said it any better! Very early on I learned that good painting has to be honest, and the only way one can achieve it is by putting your heart into the work. We all struggle with our art sometimes, Tad Spurgeon is no stranger to that feeling at this moment. But the struggle makes sense. No artist would want, and shouldn't, put something out there that it's not up to their standards.
This has been my struggle with Steve's portrait There are days when it feels like I will be done with it, and there are days when I rework the painting setting me back a few steps. This week I'm reworking the face. It was close to his likeness but the portrait doesn't seem alive. I'm after the fleshy look of Rubens and Rembrandt...talk about high standards! But that's what I want from the painting and will keep working it until I get it right.
My friend Josh's crit on this portrait was also very helpful. A fresh pair of eyes can make a big difference, and his eyes are very fine tuned and pointed out all the problem areas. With this information I can proceed to the final stages of completion.

Friday, March 07, 2008

I'm On My Way To London!

OK not physically, but my work is. Just recently the Moleskine company contacted me wanting to use my sketchbook as some kind of marketing device for their product. They requested if they could borrow the sketchbook for the London Book Fair, and of course I agreed. Why wouldn't I? I love the brand and don't see myself using another kind of sketchbook, so this is a huge honor for me. To my understanding they have someone in the company who's going to build a special case/contraption to hold my moleskine, and they will be printing and enlarging some of my paintings for the event. So it seems there will be a tiny exhibit of my work at the fair. I'm very excited about this and can't wait to see photographs from the event.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Portfolio Review

I had to spend some time tonight getting ready for a portfolio review on Saturday at the New York Academy of Art. I will be attending an open house and portfolio review for the grad program there. I have visited the school before and liked everything about it. The location is perfect and if I do get in and attend I won't have to leave New York. That's a plus! I'm planning on getting my masters starting the fall of 2009, I'm a little too late to apply for 2008. Besides I'm not ready for it this year. I hope they like what I have to show them, which is 10 still life oil paintings and 5 figure drawings. If I get an A on this review it means that I get some kind of scholarship. Cross your fingers for me!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Drawings from the Met

Marble Study of a Youth, 2008, ball point pen in Moleskine sketchbook
Spending four hours at the Met on Saturday did some good for me. This is the most I've drawn in one visit and I can't wait to do it again. As I've mentioned before, the Met is my sanctuary and this last visit helped me feel rejuvenated. I'm a little more focused on my work, and hope to make it a good painting year. So far so good!
Marsyas after Christophe Veyrier, 2008, ball point pen in Moleskine sketchbook

Ugolino and His Sons (detail) after Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, 2008, ball point pen in Moleskine sketchbook

The Burial of Christ (detail) after Annibale Carracci, 2008, ball point pen in Moleskine sketchbook