Artistfacts: Chiharu Shiota

Artistfacts: Chiharu Shiota


This week we are leaving far behind the American art world, for a wonderful young Japanese artist, Chiharu Shiota, who lives and works in Berlin, Germany. She first came to my attention as the artist representing Japan at the 56th  Venice Biennale in 2015 with the magical and mystical piece “The Key in the Hand”.



I guess you would describe Chiharu Shiota as a sculptor/installation artist. She fills rooms with webs of thread  into which are hidden or interlaced concrete objects such as keys, stones, children’s’ clothing, musical instruments. Such objects at times seem caught like a fly in a spider web, at others like hidden gifts to be sought and carried off by the viewer. Although there is something eerie about these installations, they are also hauntingly beautiful and encompassing. Not only are the objects caught up in the web, the viewers feel that they could easily also be caught or cocooned within the pieces depending on the perspective or memories that the viewers carry within their psyche.

Chiharu Shiota’s works are made through a painstaking manual process. The threads are intricately woven as well as disruptively knotted, tangled or broken. Glue is applied at times after the woven panels are created to harden them. The shape of the latticework is often a triangle as a line is too direct and does not accurately portray the tangle relationships between people, memories, the world. Triangles upon triangles create a dense, impenetrable wall through which it is hard to see, let alone pass, yet often a pathway through or around is suggested or available. This path often also presents itself as a tunnel, an excavation to the past, to a memory.  The scale of many of the works is monumental. 50,000 keys were used in the Venice Biennale piece, 150 boats in the piece “Where are we going”  at the Bon Marche and pictured below,  and of course yards and yards of thread in all the pieces.

Memory, cultural associations, fear of death, presence in the midst of absence, identity, belonging, for Chirahu Shiota objects carry memories and meaning, the threads mark out or draw your attention to the points of connection, the complex relations within the world and all humans. By using yarn instead of paint she says she has freed herself from the limitation of painting, moved  from 2 dimension to 3 dimension yet kept the presence of the artist, the gesture of painting.

For Art Basel 2013 she wrapped an burnt piano in thick black thread and surrounded it with blackened broken chairs also tightly wrought with thread. The piece is called ” In Silence” and is based on a memory the artist has. When she was nine years old, a neighbor’s house burnt down and she saw a charred piano among the ruins. It has been remade under various titles and is a repeated theme in her work.

In “After the Dream’  and “Seven Dresses” or “Labyrinth of Memory” she ensnares long white dresses in the yarn-  are they wedding dresses, religious habits- clothes for Shiota are a second skin that are show the world who you are or who they want you to be, identity or desire to assume an identity, to be accepted, to be invisible. The absence of the body, the fact that we are looking at empty dresses is quite disquieting. These dresses, as well as the shoes used in other pieces,  are a ghostly imprint of the people who used to wear them.

“During Sleep” 2002 and “Sleeping is Like Death-2016”  or “Conscious Sleep” came about after her illness and like her earlier performances under the guidance of Marina Abromoviz dense, are visceral and difficult.  You are immersed in  a dream where life and death are forced upon you. The use of hospital beds give the work an added somberness when wrapped in the black thread, yet they become a source of hope in Flow of Life- 2017 where they take off like birds, soaring to new heights, new life.


In ” Accumulation- “Searching for the destination”  and ‘Dialogues” she uses suitcases. The suitcases move, bump into each other, like a crowd of travelers, or fly off in a crazy magical voyage. Once again she is playing with our feelings, are the people they personify off on a trip, moving to a new country, going home, are they filled with hope or despair, at the end of the road or the beginning?


A piece in Setouchi Japan ” Father Memory- 2010″ uses doors, removed from their original frames and sites and placed in a dense labyrinth where they evoke the loss of home, jobs and population, the dismemberment of the community that has occurred in rural Japan and other rural communities around the world, the displacement of people in our world.

A similar piece initially made in  Germany “The Room of Memory” uses windows. Doors and windows are borders, frontiers but also points of entry. Windows are eyes out from home but as these windows were originally gathered from abandoned homes in East Berlin they also represent estrangement from the homeland. An empty chair, often included with the windows and in other installations  personifies the absence of a being, the memory of a person or perhaps the presence of the artist.

“In the beginning was…”, wraps stones, This work departs from others as the object used is not man made but rather an essential building block, a more direct link to the cosmos. The web she has made with the stones seems to show them as an exploding energy field. Interestingly, she has said that what first drew her to the stones was the sound they made tumbling out at the factory .




The strength of Shiota’s work is that it cannot be pinned down to a singular, absolute meaning, It is enigmatic and its enjoyment and impact are very physical, you have to interact with the work.  You bring your ‘state of being’ or “baggage” to the work.  Because her large works are generally installations, the works are different each time they are installed. Are the objects in a cocoon, safe, isolated from the reality of the world or caught up in a web leading to death? What about you the viewer?


“I like to work with objects that have a trace of memory,” she says. “Old objects always have a story behind them. I start thinking of who could have used it before, and my imagination runs free.”


Chiharu Shiota generally uses black or red thread. Black to her is interestingly more neutral, representing the cosmos. Red represents blood and blood ties, the inner world. She has said that in Japan there is a legend that a red string links people through time to their destiny, that a thin wire connects the heart to the pinky finger, and a red thread then connects from your pinky finger to your future lover. The red string may become tangled, postponing the meeting point, but it can never break. The thread symbolizes human relations, a 3 dimensional web connecting everything. Depending from where you view the installation, at the start or more outside or closer to the skeins, your perception changes dramatically. The closer you get to the web the more a feeling of anxiety, claustrophobia may set in. By suspending the objects, having them float around you she plays with your notion of  time and space, emphasizing the displacement of such objects from their original owners and their original use.

All the objects used have a meaning. A key represents opportunity. Clothes or shoes are a second skin- your culture, how you present yourself to the world. Suitcases are disconnection.  Threads are connection. Shiota says as to boats: ‘’our lives are like a journey without a destination, even though we don’t know where we are heading, we cannot stop. I wanted to emphasise this feeling of travelling with nowhere to go whilst alluding to a search for a sense of belonging.” However her installations are anything but didactic, the viewer can  make up their own story around the object, you use your own history or memory or just plain imagination.

“A long day” has papers flying  around, like a mad wizard’s laboratory orin  caught up in a hurricane, the end of a dream. Papers are also used in”  Letters of Thanks” as does part of “where are we going”. Since I am drawn to the written word, I find these pieces to have a very intense feeling of hope, of messages being sent, of a whirlwind of ideas flowing.




I have never had the pleasure to see some of her performance art pieces. Chiharu Shiota studied under Marina Abramovic and early on in her career created some endurance based performances whereas today her performances are often done without an audience and recorded, and usually involve the making of the installations. At the beginning of her artistic career  the performances were far more difficult as in ” Becoming Painting” 1994, she says she dreamt of being part of a painting, and used poisonous paint and covered herself with it exploding the idea of what painting can be and ” Try and Go Home” where after fasting for 4 days she attempts to enter a tiny cave.

Fortunately for those of us who do not have private museums, she does make some smaller pieces that echo the power and beauty of the larger ones.



Chiharu Shiota has a wonderful website and I was able to get most of the photographs of her work from that site. I thank her for that generosity.


Artistfacts: Peter Doig

Artistfacts: Peter Doig

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Peter Doig is a wonderful cosmopolitan painter- cosmopolitan because he was born in Edinburgh, the son of a Sri Lanka born Scotsman employed by an international shipping company. Peter Doig was raised in Trinidad and Canada, received his artistic education in England and is now living once again in Trinidad while teaching in Germany and he integrates all of these cultures into his work. Most importantly though he is a brilliantly expressive and lush painter, one who is often in the art world described as a painter’s painter and whose work I would described as bewitching, captivating and unique, as with a painting by Munch, his works are immediately recognizable as his and his alone.


Peter Doig is a figurative and representative painter but his imagery though recognizable tends to be veiled, blurred and elusive as do the people populating the canvases. The perspective is disjointed. The world created dreamlike, ambiguous  and at times discomforting.  The blurring adds a sense of movement, of the fourth dimension, of time.


Peter Doig uses photos, movie scenes and works by other artists as a reference or inspiration in his work but he is not trying to recreate the image in the photograph or in fact to create a realistic image at all, on the contrary, these works are layered, frosted or out of focus images with lush, sometimes off kilter or acidic color.

Though the works could be timeless and universally located, almost romantic often a small detail will place it in time or place such as the policeman in Echo Lake where the viewer is placed in the middle of the lake, possibly the person being yelled at by the policeman


or the fire hydrant in Lapeyrouse Wall


At the same time, certain details are so out of kilter with the narrative of the painting they cause the viewer to do a double take or a deeper dive into the dream like quality of the images such as the hockey player in Two Trees a painting clearly set in the Caribbean.


There are several persistent images in his works, primarily cabins, canoes, snow, lakes, bodies of water. These draw on the memories of the painter and tend to evoke memories often of childhood of the viewer. Memory thus plays an important part but the memory as filtered through these layered  images allows for a more universal interpretation.


He is not a prolific painter, with each work taking a very long time, sometimes 4 to 5 years. Technically the application of paint is magnificent and the  color choices bright and engaging.  He works on many paintings at the same time and seems to work on topics in series.  Although there is a backstory to each painting, knowledge of that story or of the title is in now way important to the appreciation and enjoyment of the work.

The trees or the snow falling provide a strong vertical strength and create the veil or barrier through which the viewer must gaze to see the subject of the work.The “fuzziness” of that image distorts its reality. You are adrift, in-between worlds, between the real and the imaginary.

Peter Doig has used paint diluted with lots of turpentine among other techniques to achieve that look.  He starts a work with a collage or an etching, reenacting or recreating a memory. The paint applications range from fluid, ephemeral, to thick globules of pigment or splatters.



In the earlier paintings,  the people have no identifiable expression but the overall mood of the works is very romantic.  It is difficult to figure out what is going on in the head of the person being painted or what they are doing in that location. This seems to be evolving in newer works in particular those that represent friends which offer a closer, I would say loving look.

Peter Doig’s goal is to create a lasting mood that does not dissipate with subsequent viewings. The narrative is not important, the atmosphere is and he is wildly successful at doing this. I love absolutely every single one of his works and I look forward to many years of having the pleasure of losing myself in them.

Gallery representation Michael Werner




Artistfacts: Paola Pivi

Artistfacts: Paola Pivi the creator of absurd but beautiful and poetic worlds.

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Paola Pivi is an Italian, multimedia artist based in Alaska.  She works in photography, sculpture, performance art,conceptual art and video. Her works are poetic and enigmatic associations. They will make you smile, potentially laugh, and want to engage further with the works. She has said that the ideas for the works come in visions to her and she then makes those visions real.

Paola Pivi creates an experiential playground in which animals- sometimes live- are a critical element as she finds that people have an instinctive reaction to animals be it fear or attraction.  She often puts these animals into odd situations as with the donkey in a small boat that she presented at the Venice Biennale where she won the Golden Lion Award in 1999.



The alligators in pits of whipped cream

The zebras in the snowy mountains


The horses on the eiffel tower


Or my all-time favorite, the leopard with the expresso cups entitled:” One cup of cappuccino then I go”


These are not photoshopped images. Paolo Pivi sets up these surreal, absurd situations placing animals in unfamiliar, insane situations and then, often working with photographer Hugo Glendinning captures them for posterity. How the animals react within these situations is an important part of the performance.

She has also orchestrated performances pieces with people as opposed to animals as with  “1,000 “where 1000 people screamed one scream in one breath, unrehearsed in the Tate Modern London 2009 and with “100 chinese” 1998 and 2005 (50 only) from her time living in China

However the pieces she is most known for I think and that are the most compelling are the neon bears. These pieces have titles that draw you in  such as:

  • Ok you are better than me , so what?
  • It’s not fair?
  • Don’t change my name please.
  • Life is great.
  • Have you seen me before.

All of these will bring a smile to your face. The titles put the viewer in a mood of being receptive and interacting without the artist giving any direction. Interestingly enough she generally does not come up with the titles, they are given by her husband, the tibetan composer and poet Karma Lama. IMG_0801


The bears became an important part of her life and her work when she moved to Alaska. The bear is the largest animal that can eat a human. Her bears are multicolored and covered with feathers, moving, flying, dancing and at play. They are made of urethane foam and plastic and covered with feathers.


Continuing on her ability to get the viewer to interact with the works and her strength in using absurd titles to entrance that same viewer into laughter and acceptance, she has made such pieces as:

“If you like it thank you, if you don’t like it I’m sorry but appreciate it any way.” Gates covered in rhinestones that the viewer must go around.

A performance piece using only white animals that viewers were led through entitled:”My religion is kindness, Thank you, see you in the future.”


Guitar, guitar that evoked Noah’s ark with all the objects paired two by two.

Finally, she has made smaller sculptures using rotating wheels with feathers of various birds that look a bit like dreamcatchers of the American Indian and are a commentary on time, the animal, movement,

And a series of drooping pearl wall sculptures that are probably influenced by her time in India while she was fighting for custody of her adopted son. I find these less poetic than some of her other works though still beautiful.


However, I must leave you with one more image of the bears, would you not love to join his leap of joy?







Artistfacts: Anselm Kiefer

Artistfacts: Anselm Kiefer


He is not a young, to be discovered, recently discovered or up and coming artist, so a slight digression from my prior posts.  On the contrary, Anselm Kiefer is a world renowned German painter and sculptor, born in 1945.

His sculptures and paintings are generally massive, incorporating lead, straw, books, ashes, dried flowers and plants, clothing, miniature model ships, planes. The themes are wide ranging- German history, fables, myths, history, music, poetry, the horror of the holocaust, alchemy…


Recent exhibits have included romantic watercolors and a number of artist books and these pieces were a discovery for me. I am writing about him today as he is an artist I absolutely adore and I want to share with you my passion for him.

I think some viewers are distressed by the content of his works, in particular how much of the imagery he is looking at was part of the fascist and nationalistic propaganda of Nazi Germany. He also incorporates many of the elements or weapons of war, battle ships and airplanes. His palate is largely gray. The scale is massive. He is not using art to redeem or hide the past.


He is identified as a German artist and he originally focused on German identity and its dealing with its Nazi past. This was an important aspect of his earliest works, in particular those displayed at the Venice Biennale in 1980, two of which from the Tate is shown below where he is paints or photographs himself doing the Nazi salute. Anselm Kiefer was born in the last year of the Second World War and grew up in a destroyed, bombed out Germany that wanted to forget what had just occurred.


I would describe him rather as a historical, and philosophical painter. In Anselm Kiefer’s work he deals with time,  human existence, continuity,  hope and despair, memory and heritage.

He not only deals with historical memory and the need to take responsibilities for past action, he also forces the viewer to face  the universal theme of the enticement and possible inevitability of evil, of who they might have been in different circumstances, the deeper meaning, the need to make sense of the world, why one is here and how one got here.

Kiefer has said, ” creation and destruction are one and the same”. But these are not dark visions, there is an energy and upwelling of hope also.  The paintings of flowers, part of the Morgenthau series are beautiful and color filled, the title however provides the negative, bleak connotation since knowledge of the Morgenthau plan, to turn Germany into an agricultural society, provided the Nazis with the impetus for continued fighting.  There is always this push and pull evident in the works.


Anselm Kiefer is an intellectual, poetic and historical painter. His works incorporate elements of Wagner’s Ring Circle, the poetry of Paul Celan and Rilke, the Old and New Testaments, Norse mythology, the Kabbalah, the occult, ancient civilizations. Image Valhalla from White Cube.

Walhalla - Anselm Kiefer - 2015-2016 - 122034

Words appear throughout, difficult to decipher but clearly present to draw you into further study. Kiefer has said that he had to choose between being a writer and a painter. When you listen to him speak he is constantly quoting poetry, stating that at one time he knew more than 200 poems.


Watercolor is an old medium for Anselm Kiefer, I just was not familiar with it. These watercolors were actually begun in 1970 and are a counter to the dark, larger paintings. They show beautiful, naiad figures of women, beckoning, enticing, sexual, erotic.

Several of his works, in particular the larger ones incorporate lead, ” I feel closest to lead because it is like us,” Kiefer has said. “It’s changeable and has potential to achieve a higher state of gold.” It also is a poisonous material and when used as he does in the form of books, may reference the weight and contamination of history. Kiefer has stated that history is like clay, it can be abused and molded. He acquired an obsolete lead roof of the Cologne Cathedral and has used it in his works.


The works often also incorporate sunflower. As a young man he was fascinated by Van Gogh. But Anselm’s sunflowers are dead, dried up, full of seeds. They represent death and rebirth.


His pictures are thick with paint- impasto- and embedded with objects.  Layers are added one atop the other to create a thick layer of paint that he then hacks out. The process of making the paintings itself integrate the concept of composition and destruction. He at times uses electrolyses or a flame thrower to alter the works. He likes how the works change with time and the effect of nature, gravity.


His oeuvre also includes sculptures and vitrines. They too are fascinating and deserve their own blog post.  Interestingly, his first collectors were American, better able to deal with the narrative. He has created immersive, massive studio spaces that are worlds of their own at  Barjac France and  Croissy Beaubourg.  I am ending this with images of those two studios from a wonderful documentary ” Remembering the Future” , a book Anselm Kiefer Ateliers by Daniele Cohn and another by Phaidon.

Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow


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Image result for kiefer studio beaubourg



Artistfacts: Petra Cortright

IMG_1202Artistfacts: Petra Cortright

For the first time this is sort of a timely post as this interesting young artist is currently having a small and delightful show at Foxy Productions 2 East Broadway in New York City until October 8, 2017. Unfortunately for those of you who will want to buy one after learning more about the artist and her work. all but one of the pieces are sold.

Petra Cortright is a young Los Angeles based artist, (born in 1986),  who has been called the Monet of the 21st century. She makes digital paintings, often on aluminum but also linen or plexiglass, combining and layering images and textures sourced online using  a multitude of digital brushes. Though no paint is applied, her work is masterfully painterly. You can definitely see the hand/ mark of the artist.

Her process is intensive and rooted in various art history movements. She is said to work quickly, intuitively which would correspond to Action Painting ( Jackson Pollock). She allows or even encourages the element of chance which would correspond to Fluxus painting (Joseph Beuys). According to a quote in the press release for this show, she has said:” I always try to introduce a somewhat random process into my work.” She has said that she wears gamer glasses when she works as she paints in sessions of abut 12 hours at a time.

The gallery hints at a broader social climate being reflected in her work. In my opinion, her work, in particular those that incorporate kitsch and symbolism,  leave open to the viewer many avenues of interpretation. The layers, substrates integral to her work effectively mask the underlying imagery at the same time as the colorful flowers and “paint” smudges, disorienting perspectives, unrealistic dimensions add an additional sensual layer that distract from what might be hiding below. Different paintings may be versions of one file and include hundreds and hundreds of layers of brushstrokes. Because digital works can be very flat, Petra plays with the substrates, the printing processes to add light and texture. The video works might be viewed as more political, in particulars to the objectification of women and the ubiquity of the internet.


I had not known until writing this that these painterly works are relatively new and that prior to that she was known for her self portrait videos or web cam videos uploaded onto Youtube and her collaboration with Stella McCartney. She also tried her hand at sculpture- but once again playing off the digital world- making the fake real i.e. instead of starting with a real raspberry and making the sculpture from that she starts with a digital photo of a raspberry.



I think as with many a young artist, there is a wide range of quality in her work. Some pieces are phenomenal, others more just pretty pictures. Some of the earlier video works have now been overtaken by the continued expansiveness of the selfie culture.  Time will tell as she matures but I look forward to following her work.

Artistfacts: Thomas Houseago

Thomas Houseago is a fabulous, inventive sculptor and painter born in Leeds, England in 1972 and now living in California.  The references in his work are from both continents  but the scale is definitely American. Large scale, enormous and imposing figurative sculptures that seem ready to pounce or stride onto the viewer,  sometimes terrifying but always with an aspect of vulnerability. However, these figures are not human. Elements of science fiction, death masks, ancient gods and warriors are melded together. And somehow, human feelings of hope, fear, anger, sadness emerge.


Thomas Houseago uses materials associated with classical  sculpture such as wood, clay, plaster or bronze, as well as less traditional materials such as steel rods and concrete. He does not hide the artist’s hand. There is a strong sense of the handmade, the unfinished.  Typical of his work is the combination of flat elements that almost appear to be cardboard with mask-like faces; large empty, hollow eyes and hand-drawn elements.

He has stated influences as wide as Picasso, Rodin, Henry Moore and Darth Vader or Nirvana. These influences fuse together into monstrous, mis-formed, mask like faces, asymmetric bodies with the various, disparate elements seemingly stuck or glued together that create a fascinating semi- abstract invader.

Houseago has said that he views movement as quintessential to sculpture. Part of the dilemma he has in thinking of a work is a desire that the sculpture as it takes up the viewer’s space must challenge his/her reality while being static. For him, sculpture is a monument to death that you deny by giving the sculpture movement, by having the sculpture either appear to be taking a step, ready to pounce or otherwise move into the viewer’s space. I think he is incredibly successful at filling his sculptures with kinetic energy. There is a tactile energy derived from the materials used, in particular the roughness of the plaster.

With the artist hand  and the structure of the work so visible- those metal rods and wood posts, the viewer is reminded of the impermanence of time, the vulnerability of the body, the importance of the skeleton as your backbone- maintaining you upright, the inevitability of death. He is telling a story about how the sculpture is made or makes itself. A sculpture is a fragmented body, accidents in the making reveal a new meaning.


In more recent years, Houseago has moved away from sculpture as monument to focusing more on masks,  with the mask abstracts becoming plinths, gates, spoons, coins. These sculptures then have further evolved into walls or rooms that force the viewer into a physical and social interaction with the work.



“Masks (Pentagon),” a public art piece that was installed in New York consisted of five sculptures of faces — some more than 16 feet tall — crafted from a ghostly white industrial-strength synthetic plaster. Visitors could enter the piece and see the world from the eyes of these gargantuan figures.


Photo from Public Art Fund

Moun Room is an immersive environment. From the Hauser and Wirth write up of the show: “Measuring approximately 37 feet by 45 feet wide, and 12 feet tall, ‘Moun Room’ is comprised of three chambers contained within one another. The spaces Houseago has conceived with ‘Moun Room’ – extending both within and outside the structure’s physical walls – invite meditation upon movement and codes of behavior in response to architecture. The artist has described this work as ‘a visual maze with a spiritual dimension’. I can state it was a fascinating world to enter.




Although he is definitely best know for his sculptures, Houseago has also made paintings, in particular a series called the Black paintings  which have the same structure and contrast as his mask sculptures and remind me somewhat of the masks in Basquiat paintings.



Gallery : Gagosian, Xavier Hufkens, Hauser and Wirth


Artistfacts: Kaari Upson

Artistfacts: Kaari Upson

Kaari Upson is an extremely intriguing, disturbing and inventive artist whose work was included in the Whitney Biennial of 2017 and who has a solo exhibit at the New Museum through September 10, 2017. Surprisingly, perhaps because the work is based so much on  everyday objects, they are upsetting and comforting at the same time.


Kaari  Upson was born in 1972 and lives in Los Angeles and New York. Although she works in many mediums- drawing, video, installation and sculpture,  I am mainly fascinated by her sculptures which she describes as the byproduct of the drawings and videos. These objects, made of silicone, hair, fiberglass, urethane, aluminum, latex, aluminum cans, stuffed dolls, her mother’s clothes, have extremely evocative titles such as “My mother Drinks Pepsi”, “Foot on Throat” and “Death Bed”.  She bases her sculptural work on possessions, everyday articles such as mattresses , couches, trashcans or pepsi cans, a track house in Las Vegas.  However this is not pop art. The articles are reproduced, cast, painted on. They are transformed and at times require close examination before the viewer recognizes the original source material.  She is examining them and forcing the viewer to take a fresh look at them, to give them a new life, a new value. She draws on psychoanalysis -mainly Freudian and Laconian that influenced her at CalArts.  Her works are a mix of fantasy, personal issues, pyschoanalytics, capitalistic consumerism and sex.





She uses these objects to represent people- or moments of her life or mirrored personas.  Some of the people are real- there is a particular preoccupation with her mother. Some are make believe,  as with the project based on Larry- a fictitious name she assigned to her parents neighbor whose possessions she salvaged after his house burnt down. Cancer influenced the project Sleep with the Key which features silicon replicas of discarded mattresses. A found couch was the impetus for the project at the Whitney, yet it becomes so much more than a couch it takes on a life of its own, evoking in the viewer ghosts from their psyche.  Almost like in Disney’s Fantasia, you expect some of the sculptures to get up and move on their own.


She transforms these objects through groupings or by letting their shapes erode so they are only a ghost of what they once were, she forces the viewer to consider how one so closely associates certain people to certain objects and in parallel, certain objects to certain times of one’s own life. She allows chance into the making of a work. For example,  the pepsi cans are made using an experimental casting process: a Pepsi can is filled with liquid aluminum that melts into the can’s form, merging the stream of metal and the can into one solid object. The colors of the can burn off, but there is a shadow of the label left. (1) the mattresses require takes four or five people at all times. The mold itself weighs 100 pounds or so. It’s made of Aqua-Resin, and it has to be a hard mold, because one has to be able to lay it down, prop it up, turn it. She doesn’t  know what she will get until the end.  This is multiple hands. There’s no one gesture; it’s a multiplicity of gestures. All the painting is done in the mold. The first marks, the airbrushing quality, is silicone sprayed in the mold.  (2)

The drawings are harder to focus on initially. Extremely involved, convoluted, filled with words, almost like streams of consciousness understandable only to the artist. You are drawn to trying to decipher them and wishing for a decoding book.

In Art Newspaper the artist is quoted as saying: There’s no beginning, middle or end in the work… some of them started five years ago, so they’re drawings I work on. Some people have described them as the unconscious of certain sculptures.When I work on one drawing, and I add the first text, or even an image, it’s recycled back in on itself. Then an accident of two texts that I’m researching might overlap an image that I put on… As these things layer, it generally points to a direction of an answer to how a three-dimensional object might get made. ”




(1) Spruth Magers

(2) Even Magazine


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.