Artistfacts: Adrian Ghenie

Adrian Ghenie is an amazingly talented and engaging, haunting artist, whose use of color, texture and gesture make you fall in love with paint and the act of painting though he does not use a paint brush but relies on a palette knife, stencils, dripping and pouring for the bold, gestural application of paint, the thick layers scraped and blurred, accidents embraced.

Born in communist Romania in 1977 he now lives and works in Berlin.  His works are like Francis Bacon’s a mix of figurative and abstract with bold, lush uses of color. The sensuality of his process draws you in while the subject matter is often bleak with a focus on the abusers of power or their victims, elements of 20th and 21st century history or historical figures- Ceausescu, Stalin, Hitler, the refugee crisis…

Ghenie has stated in an Artnews article that: ” every painting is abstract, I don’t believe in figurative. as soon as it starts to imitate, to depict something, then a painting is dead.” Although there are definitely figures in his paintings, some highly recognizable, a lot are deconstructed or alluded to, often with the titles providing information. The fact that the artist is forced to make decisions on how to paint, how to combine fragments from various media or the level of detail included in a setting or landscape imbues and abstracts the work.





Artistfacts: David Altmejd

IMG_6264Artistfacts: David Altmejd


Terrifying and grotesque or seductive and captivating sculptures or should I say sculptural beings and their habitats. David Altmejd is a Canadian artist working in New York who creates large, masterfully made, highly distinctive works in which the use of varied, unconventional materials, the process  of constructing the work generates the meaning.  David Altmejd blends ideas of the infinitely large and the infinitely small. Materials used include plexiglass, beads, hair, epoxy, clay, mirrors, resin, imprints of his ear and hands, paint, glitter, wood, mirror….

For David Altmejd what is encouraged in art is the development/invention of language. The object is a made object, the artist’s hand is clearly visible, if not actually reproduced and applied to the sculpture, each step in the making dictates the next one. The various materials used  that each behave in different ways force the work into a certain direction. Color is used to change the mood of the sculpture.  He starts with figurative elements massed together that then become abstract, forcing you to look into the work to see the components, to delve into the habitats created.


David Altmejd wishes to make an object that will feel alive but is not representing life. A hole through the chest of a sculpture for example represents energy, life, the act of creation. Openings, orifices, emphasize the senses such as hearing or touch and importance of the body.


He accompanies most/all of his work with heads, which he sees as a form of drawing.  The frame of the head combines the materials that are used in the main pieces.

David Altmejd’s work is fabulously creative, unnerving, breathtakingly complex and unique. One is seduced by the materials, the exuberance, the scale and mastery yet cringe at the symbols of decay, forced to always take at least one more look.


Artistfacts: Julie Mehretu

Artistfacts: Julie Mehretu

Another female artist, of African heritage that I absolutely adore although her work is so very different than that of Njideka Akunyili Crosby. Julie Mehretu’s works are definitely not  figurative. Her works are elaborate, rich and generally large scale gestural compositions that drawn on the language of European abstraction but insert elements of reality, places or characters, creating very much her own pictorial language. Her works do not show us a recognizable time or place. Her marks include drawn lines, renderings of architectural or urban structures, topographical schema such as city maps or stadiums, layered and seen from various perspectives, dashes, glyphs and what she describes as swarms or massing of small marks. She  builds up layers of acrylic paint overlaid with marks in pencil, ink, airbrushing and what looks like erasure as she progresses with the works.   I am always amazed at the energy and strength I feel when I look at her work from afar and the incredible detail and precision underlaying it when I get in close. Often there is the impression that the works want to explode out of the picture frame.

The narratives underlying the works can only be understood by studying the various layers though hints are provided by the titles.  The artist has described her canvases as ” story maps of no location”  or as ” psycho- geographies”  made as she searched for her identity – culturally, physically, historically as well as as a painter. This search included trying to make sense of, engage with and expand the language of drawing and painting. At the same time she is very  engaged in current events including the political and social reality of the world.  She sees the world as a world in crisis moving faster and faster and that comes through in the explosive movement of the marks on the canvas.  Color is used as a sign or cultural language, linked to flags or corporate logos in the older pieces, blurred photographs embedded into the new ones.



Her more recent work from 2016 tend to be more abstract with stronger elements of landscape. These works seem more frenetic, filled in and less exploded,  with a strong gray tonality and acidic colors as opposed to the more open and light filled earlier works. There appear to be body parts within these newer pieces that hide amidst the chaos of the marks.  A different language is in use, no less personal but  more intimate.




Julie Mehrten was born in Ethiopia in 1970 but raised in the United States from the age of 7.

Gallery representation is White Cube and Marion Goodman.

There is a wonderful interview on The Modern Art Notes Podcast with Tyler Green as well as a video from Art 21.

Artistfacts: Njideka Akunyili Crosby

Njideka Akunyili Crosby

Let me preface this blog by stating that I absolutely love this artist’s work.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby is a young artist, born in Nigeria in 1983, who came to the United States at age 16/17 and now lives in Los Angeles.

Her work reflects on the two cultures  and is highly autobiographical. Many of the people portrayed are family members. Her practice uses a combination of painting, collage, drawing and printmaking. The language of image making is used in all of its variety with incredible power. Her canvases are made with acrylic paint, colored pencil, pastel, charcoal, fabric and print making in particular the use of transfers, a process used by Robert Rauschenberg among others.

The works are very idiosyncratic and highly recognizable, complex multilayered, materially dense works that some have compared to quilts. The images she transfers onto the canvas  come from popular Nigerian culture often from the 80’s and 90’s.  They are doorways to shared memories and inherited traditions. Traditions that have been hybridized or coopted through colonialism and globalization. The fabrics are often portrait or commemorative fabrics that speak to the history of her family and of Africa. Spaces are not closed but doors open onto rooms with other open doors, spaces are liminal,  on both sides of a boundary or threshold and characters cannot be boxed into one culture be it socio-economic or country.  Objects and spaces are layered one right on top of the other. Characters are built up.  Nothing is static.

In an interview she gave to The White Review in 2016  Njideka Akunyili Crosby  recounts how she first encountered Mary Louise Pratt’s ‘Arts of the Contact Zone’ (1991), which identifies ‘social spaces where cultures meet, clash and grapple with each other’, during her studies at Yale University School of Art.  The ‘contact zone’ has since become an underlying focus in the practice of the artist.  “It involves a lot of appropriation and exchanging of ideas, and usually something new comes out of that. This really resonated with me, since I come from a country that is a contact zone – first, from being a British colony up until 1960, and then with American movies and pop culture coming into the country. You begin to see traditions that have become a weird mix of different cultures.”


Njideka Akunyili Crosby has an MFA from Yale and is represented by Victoria Miro. There is a wonderful artist talk on the Whitney website from March 2016.