Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Justine Rivas at The Valley

Installation view: Justine Rivas, How to Carry a Cloud.
Photo courtesy of The Valley


Justine Rivas: How to Carry a Cloud

Up through August 7, 2021

The Valley

1800 Camino del La Placita, Unit D

Taos, NM 87571

From the Press Release:

The Valley is pleased to present its first solo exhibition with Los Angeles-based painter Justine Rivas. The exhibition, titled How to carry a cloud, includes a series of new paintings that explore hidden sources of water in the desert landscape.

Rivas uses clouds and creosote bushes as metaphors for the interconnected sources of life-giving moisture in arid regions. Both reflect water stored in the land and the air, deceptively close and yet inaccessible. Cloud forms appear across several works, oscillating between pattern and landscape. As above, so below- creosote in its various forms appear as a familiar and familial plant speaking to the artists’ connection to the desert landscape, her family has lived in the borderlands since time immemorial.

Creosote dominates the landscape of Arizona, Los Angeles, Texas and New Mexico. The creosote plant is incredibly resilient to drought, retaining water from rain above and the aquifer below. The root systems of mature creosote plants are simply so efficient at absorbing water that fallen seeds nearby cannot accumulate enough water to germinate, effectively creating dead zones around every plant. The Spanish word “creosote” translates to governes; and while a harsh and hardy plant that takes from the land, it also returns the favor in the form of medicinal uses first discovered by indigenous peoples of the Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan regions. People local to these areas associate the smell of creosote with desert rain.

The largest work in the exhibition, Chaparral, creosotes’ common name, is a dreamy desert landscape spanning over sixteen feet in length. Large fluffy clouds loom above dry mountains and creosote forms in various stages of bloom dance across the canvas.

These works are an attempt at a reparative dialogue with the land and complicated histories both personal and collective. 

About the artist:

Justine Rivas (b. 1991) grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. Her recent work is at the intersection of observational painting and studio knowledge. She is interested in understanding relationships to and through connections to the desert land. Justine is a current MFA candidate at UCLA.

*All photos © the blog author except where indicated.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Santa Fe: High Desert High! at Smoke the Moon


Jon Cowan, I Saw the End, 2021, oil and acrylic on canvas, 12 x 10 in.

For my first post in quite a while, I wanted to present a photo essay of a recent show in Santa Fe. 

High Desert High! at Smoke the Moon features work by 22 artists from LA to London and many places in between  and is billed as "A summer salon of important paintings celebrating the Dez."

In much of the work presented here, there is a strange sense of spare tranquility punctuated by an underlying sense of expectation (Aryo Toh Djojo, and Will Bruno to name two).

While Rat Face, a painter from the U.K. uses an economical palette to depict deftly rendered scenes of futile desperation and dark humor. 
There is a conceptual complexity in her piece, Head in the Sand as well as in the always sublime work of Jon Cowan.  Both present us with a glimmer of a somber uncertainty (or certainty) that sets their painting apart from much of the vibrant, humorously cool and laid-back work in the show.

In addition to the artists mentioned above, I want to take note of Lydia Maria Pfeffer's strange and playful painting Lucy's Ice Cream as well as her surreally intimate and fun series of Pink Lizzard drawings.

The energy and attention to craft of all the artists and the curation- the way all of the works interacted with one another- made this an exciting and welcome event and I'm looking forward to the next offering from this new and soon-to-be important space.


High Desert High!

101 West Marcy Street
Suite 203
Santa Fe, NM

Rat Face, Head in the Sand, 2021, acrylic on wood, 9 x 11.25 in.

Aryo Toh Djojo, Granny Panties,  2021, acrylic on canvas over panel, 11 x 14 in.
Aryo Toh Djojo, Lotaburger, 2021, acrylic on canvas over panel, 11 x 14.5 in.

Will Bruno, After the Deluge, 2021, oil on canvas and artists frame, 24 x 18 in.

Paige Turner-Uribe, Buzzard Land (detail), 2019, oil on canvas, 22 x 18 in.

Danielle Winger, The Mommy Tree, 2021, oil on panel, 16 x 12 in.

Jon Cowan, Two Voids Rising and Setting on a Dark Octagonal Track, 2021, oil and acrylic on linen over panel, 10 in. octagon.

Lydia Maria Pfeffer, Lucy's Ice Cream, 2021, oil on canvas.

Alex Cutler, Angus, 2021, graphite and colored pencil on paper, 17 x 21 in.

Matthew Rosenquist, Maynard Dixon Van, 2021, acrylic on carved wood, 15 x 5.5 x 6 in.

Devon Clapp, Terminal Beach (detail), 2019, oil on canvas, 24 x 18 in.

Javi Ramirez, I'm Back, what I miss?, 2021, acrylic on canvas over panel, 36 x 36 in.

Julia Schwartz, Aurora, 2011, oil on canvas, 12 x 12 in.

Smoke the Moon is located one block north of the Plaza on W MarcyStreet between Lincoln and Washington.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Let the Painting Build Itself: An Interview with Brooklyn Based Painter David Pollack


David Pollack with paintings from his Harbor series, in his studio in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
Photo: Denise Sfraga

Let the Painting Build Itself: An Interview with David Pollack

by Paul Behnke

Paul Behnke: Well, let's start at the beginning. Would you talk a little about your background? What set you on the path your work is on? You have gone through several overlapping stages since I've been acquainted with your work.

David Pollack: Growing up my dad was a landscape architect but I think he wanted to be a painter too. He was an amazing draftsman and could draw anything. So, that's where my tree imagery comes from. He used to draw trees all the time and they used to hang in my house.

And he actually received a Rome Prize where you go to Rome for a year and they give you a studio set up.

PB: That's the prize Philip Guston was awarded. Right?

DP: That's what I was about to say. Guston was there when my dad was there.
So I was around it as a kid and I tried to draw like him. I would draw on anything; TV Guides- I would just doodle all over.

Then after high school, I wasn't very academic but I was always really good at art so I started thinking about going to art school. And in between my junior and senior years, I went to the Vermont Studio Center.

PB: And when you got into art school: was that in New York or Boston?

DP: That was in Boston, north of Boston. They had some really great teachers there and it was actually started by a bunch of Hofmann students. So we were learning all about plastic space and they had us draw from the figure so it was kind of a classical training. A lot of color theory!

PB: And then you went to Vermont?

DP: Yeah, I went to Vermont, and that kind of solidified me wanting to be a painter. Came back to my senior year then worked at the Vermont Studio Center for about a year after that. Right out of college and then came down to New York.

PB: Had you always thought of New York as a place you wanted to go to make art? What led you tthere?

DP: Well, that's where the painters that I was interested in, and in learning from, were living. So, that's why I came here. It was also that I was at an age where I was like, "If you don't do it now you might never do it." 

PB: How old were you then?

DP: I'm going to say around 24 or 25.

PB: What was your work like when you got out of school?

DP: In school I worked my way through the classical figure thing to abstract expressionism. You know, I was painting these huge paintings. It was the late 80s and everybody was painting large- a Neo Expressionist kind of thing.

I'll tell you who got me off of that - do you know the painter Andrew Forge? Well, I met his wife, Ruth Miller who also taught at the Studio School and had been friends with Resnick and all of the later abstract expressionists - she was a little younger.

Anyway, Andrew ran the program at Yale for a little while and he was doing these dot paintings - kind of like big landscapes. Not that you would read them as landscapes visually, but they had that feel - the way you walk through them.

That way of painting really hit me. He did a crit with me and one of the first things he said was, "How do you start a painting?" It was just a simple question but it made me think, and knowing how he painted at the time - it was like. "Yeah. Slow down."

And that really started the paintings that you know. I've stayed on that from my 20s until now.

PB: So you met Forge in Vermont? 

DP: Yeah, I met him in Vermont and Ruth brought him over to my studio. Then about a year later he came back and did another critique with me. In between those visits, I had seen a lot of his paintings and fell in love with the way he worked.

Between Forge and John Walker, who I also worked with in Vermont, and Bernie Chaet who was another Yale guy. Chaet was really into process and materials. He did these great little landscape paintings. And Marjorie Portnow - do you know her work - small landscapes. kind of Rakstraw Downesish?

When I first came to New York I subleased her place for almost a year. We had become friends in Vermont and she was going off somewhere so she gave me a really good deal on rent. The place was on Vestry Street in Tribeca across the street from Marisol so I got to meet her - she was great. Robert Willson lived on the floor below me. It was this great old artist building. John Chamberlain was there before I arrived. There was a rumor his son had almost burnt down the building at one point. It was just this old school artists' building, So, I really felt part of the art world when I came here.

PB: It was great that you had a few connections and friends through Vermont that helped ease you into the New York scene.

DP: Oh, very much so. Yeah.  

David Pollack, Three Last Days of March / Spring's Whisper, 2014, oil on panel, 15 x 14 in.

PB: When I first became aware of your work you were doing the pointilist paintings (for lack of a better description).

DP: Yeah, that's the work that started with Andrew.

PB: But you were also doing some figurative work - portraits?

DP: Yeah. I did a few self portraits then started a group of portraits of my friend, Hiro. I think I did about ten of them. It was a fun series; getting back into the figure. Stuff like that is always great because it reminds you how to see.

I learned that

painting was about everything.

A lot of times when I'm working on a painting I get studk. I start to feellike they aren't real - like I'm trying to paint my own paintings and it's not something that's just coming out. That's when I'll go and draw or make some watercolors. 

That's how the Harbor Series started but I always seem to come back to abstraction. I've always found drawing through color - finding how color draws the object. That's how I learned; the old Hans Hofmann way of finding all of the planes. You know? I was always a better draftsman when stuff was coming out of my head than from an actual, physical subject.

If I'm looking at something I see too much. I see the subject, but I also see what's next to it, what's next to that - what's on top of it. I learned that painting was about everything. That's the way it is with the pointilist work. You can't just lay down a ground and place a dot on it. Every dot of color has to be as important as the next. Every part of the painting has to be thought out.

PB: It all relates.

DP: Relates, yeah but as far as process goes it's just not enough to put one dot here and another there. Every morsel has to be considered, figured out or touched. Where with a drawing I can put a tree in the middle of the paper with no thought to what's around it.

PB: When you concentrate on the single object from your head - is that a more intense way of depicting what you are thinking? A more focused expression?

DP: When I started this I was thinking a lot about minimalism in a maxium way - or post minimalism. It's a way of taking me out of it. Who am I to decide what the painting is supposed to look like as opposed to letting the painting build itself?

And I always thought the best way to build it was piece by piece by piece. Then I realized that if I were just to put dots of color over dots of color the painting would start to build itself.

So blue dots, red dots, and yellow dots - then do that again and again until the painting tells you to put down green dots. It starts to think on its own. It's like raising a kid. You have to feed it until it learns to feed itself. Then it says I want green. Then it starts to really get smart - it becomesa don't touch me here, touch me there kind of a thing.

So when I think about how I do build a painting - that's my relationship to it and that's how I've found it over the years. Like you are raising the painting to go off on its own in the world - to have its own consciousness.

PB: The most interesting painters I know have stumbled onto their own, personal way of building a painting.

DP: I love that I start every painting the same way but they all come out different and end up with their own personalities. Even the Harbor ones - I start them at the bottom with the same color and they all grow seperately.

PB: To switch gears a little bit - I wonder how important nature and poetry are to the way you conceive of the work.

I think of poetry as a zeroing in on an experience that would be relateable to the reader - presenting that experience in a quickened, more intensified way. That's the way I read your work.

DP: That's a reason that I chose to work with the dots. It's a simplification. There is nothing more simple than a dot of color on a surface. But if you keep repeating that simple act of placing dot by dot the painting takes over and you don't have to worry about narrative but the experience is there.

PB: So do you see the finished dot works as tied to, or somehow depicting, nature or is it just paint on a surface?

...the best way 

to see nature

is by being as quiet as you can.

DP: That's the thing! It depends on when you ask me. It's hard to say because it's everything at once. But it's also about nothing because the only decisions that I want to make, until I'm at least three quarters through the painting, are color choices. That simplifies things. Like if you read Ad Reinhardt or Agnes Martin it's like this kind of Buddhist thing - you know - a painting is just a painting the way a dog is just a dog. So the painting grows on its own and if you leave out narrative and find the image you get to  - Wow, I was able to make a painting and all I did was keep putting dots on top of dots! And towards the end my actions are more specific as to where they land and the painting becomes a little more precious. Then the painting says, 'You can go away now.'

And back to poetry - the great thing about it is that it's just a breath - and a few perfect words come out. And that's like good painting. It's like walking inside of nature and the best way to see nature is by being as quiet as you can.

David Pollack, Summer Rainstorm (Ascend), 2020, watercolor on paper, 11 x 15 in.

PB: That's a beautiful way to think about it. That idea brings me to the recent watercolors - the rainstorms, stacks of firewood and burning trees.

Based on what you said earlier, am I right in assuming that these images come from your imagination rather than observation?

DP: Yes. They are from my imagination. I think they're colser to illustrations of ideas.

PB: But they still have that poetic quality; that sense of metaphor and that intensity of expression that leaves things very much open ended.

DP: They're driven more by emotion and finding image through metaphor. I just know that they are more like thought. I have an idea of what I want to find in it and I'm not always successful but something else will come out that I am happy with.

The watercolors are always trying to react to and deal with what's going on in the world around us. Maybe they are like the Jungian finding of the collective unconscious image.

PB: Maybe the term metaphor is inadequate but I think the idea of transcendence can be applied. The images transcend what they are and are open ended enough to facilitate many connections.

DP: I think a lot about what Farrell Brickhouse is doing. His stuff really touches me and I've been going up to visit him a lot to see what he's doing in the studio. There's something about the way he finds figures doing something - I always saw his figures as very Jungian. The images could be taken out of anywhere from anytime - like a timeless dream.

I think it's a Jewish thing -

finding beauty in tragedy.

PB: In relation to your work I keep thinking of the Southern artist, Walter Anderson. Only in that when he depicted the flora and fauna of Horn Island (off the coast of Mississippi) it was as if he were showing us their spirits or life energy. And I find that same cosmic autopsy of the subject in your work - it's the energy or the realness of the thing that you give us. Is this an element you think about?

DP: I don't know about the watercolors because they are so new. But with the wood stacks, the trees and stone walls - well, the wood stacks had a lot to do with death - almost like pyres.

PB: I think of Picasso's The Charnel House when I look at your wood stacks.

DP: I used to see skulls in the patterns of the stone walls. And the trees, of course, always became figures. These images are layered in the watercolors too. I'm just not as sure of what they are all about yet. I'm still finding stuff when I look at them - new things all the time.

PB: Is writing about your work important to your process? Do you use it to clarify ideas?

DP: No. Zero. I think about the work but don't write it down so much.

PB: Professors always told me writing is helpful, but I rarely do it.

DP: I mean do writers paint their ideas? No! It's not like they tell writers, 'That part's okay but paint three paintings about your idea.' No. Or, 'draw me pictures of what's going on in chapter 12.' No, this is our language. This is how we write.

PB: I think so too.

When did the submerged images begin to appear in your work? One of the first timesI became aware of them was in the sobering, black and white ink drawings of trees that you made in response to the shootings, at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg in 2018, in which eleven people were murdered and seven were wounded.

In the drawings you placed the Star of David within the form of each tree. And it sounds like a contradiction but those drawings were such brutal and elegant reactions to that tragedy.

David Pollack, Seven Trees, 2018, ink on paper, 14 x 11 in.

DP: I think the embeded imagery had a lot to do with the making art during Trump thing. It's been so crazy with things like the Tree of Life shooting happening. There's a social part of me that really wants to shout about this stuff. But, there's also something in me that, as a painter, I kind of stay quiet - it's there if you want to find it in the work but I'm still making a piece of art.

Even the new watercolors with their themes of ascension and death are saying: Yes. This shit's going on but if you got COVID or some other tragedy happened - they are saying - this is how you would be taken care of. It's going to be okay. It's helping someone pass on, as well as just commenting on the horrible act. With the ink drawings in response to the attack I was conscious of the trees being victims but still being beautiful at the same time.

And in the new watercolors these people are passing on and there is a beauty in the storms. The idea is that wherever you're going, it will be okay. I think it's a Jewish thing - finding beauty in tragedy.

I think it's important to make a piece of art that can stand as a quiet thing and be meditated over. Then if you want to see something else you'll find it. It gets interesting when the viewer realizes, "Oh, and he meant it to be there." 

David Pollack's recent online exhibition, New on Paper Since COVID-19, was on view from October 11 - November 10, 2020 at Monklike Habits | online project space.

David Pollack grew up in New England and has spent the last 25 years in New York City. He currently works from studios in Red Hook, Brooklyn and Upstate, NY. Pollack has shown work in numerous group exhibitions in and around New York City in venues that include SFA Projects, Life on Mars, and David and Schweitzer Contemporary. He held his first one-person show in Brooklyn, NY at Stout Projects in 2016.

Paul Behnke was born in Memphis, TN and recieved a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting with a minor in Art History from the Memphis College of Art. Behnke's paintings have been exhibited widely in the Unided States and internationally. His work has been reviewed in Hyperallergic Weekend, The New Criterion, and the New Republic. Behnke's writings have appeared online at AbCrit: A Forum for Debate on Abstract Art, at The Painters' Table and in print in Gamut a Southern regional arts magazine, Number Magazine, and he was the co-editor of Shad Runn an art-zine self published in Memphis,Tn. Behnke has edited Structure and Imagery: A Contemporary Art Blog since 2011 and was the co-director of Stout Projects, an exhibition space in Bushwick, Brooklyn from 2015 - 2017. Currently, he is the co-curator of Monklike Habits | online project space. Behnke is currently based in Taos, NM.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

New in the Studio

Loverman (the Guardian), 2020, acrylic on canvas, 18 x 18 in.

New in the studio: Small works concentrating on formal elements, dissolution of form, and broken color.

Monument to Clairvoyance, 2020, acrylic on panel, 16 x 12 in.

Study for an Imaginary Monument, 2020, acrylic on panel, 16 x 12 in.

Dark Monument, 2020, acrylic on panel, 16 x 12 in.

Monument to People Who Did Right, 2020, acrylic on panel, 16 x 12 in.

*All works © Paul Behnke 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Amy Sillman: Twice Removed At Gladstone Gallery


Amy Sillman: Twice Removed

Through November 14, 2020

Gladstone Gallery
515 W 24th Street
New Tork, NY

From the Press Release:

Dear Reader,

      The time we’re living in is crazy, horrible, almost medieval with disease, increasing police brutality and militarization, diminishment of democratic rights, and the upcoming ledge of a terrifying election. I was supposed to have a show of drawings and paintings last May at Gladstone and titled it “Twice Removed”: "twice" to propose the idea of a multiplied subjectivity, being of two minds, forked paths, and having allegiances to both subject and object, thinking and feeling, abstraction and figuration, form and content, dialectics and contradictions; "removed" because my paintings are built through negation, a kind of violent erasure, scraping down, undoing, getting rid of. But twice removed was also a pun on the family relation, being adjacent to something older. I’m a knight’s move away from the old tradition of gestural painting, but I’m really not trying to kill the father: I love gestural painting like it was my grandma, even though I’m skeptical, pessimistic, and sometimes critical of what she stands for. (My mom always said I was too negative.) So I was also thinking about painting as an unrolling of time—both my own genealogy and the way I wanted to unfurl paintings and drawings in long horizontal sequences around the room. I wanted the work to be like scraps and fragments, a bunch of spare parts, puzzling things dug up archeologically, arranged around the rooms of the gallery in a frieze of tangled patches. I was already thinking bleak thoughts about America, and the work looked like it: melancholy, mostly only black and white, ambiguous, often either too raw or over-cooked, ambiguous. I was trying to make a new language out of a bunch of spare parts.

      That show was postponed due to Covid19 and will now open in late September. But the new show is an even more shaggy, complicated affair, containing all of the above plus all the new work from this agonizing spring and summer shuffled in. For much of this time, I didn’t have a painting studio, so I just drew flowers, the opulent irises, daylilies, and sunflowers that were springing up around me from bushes and trees and from the earth. As Lorraine Hansberry asked (in her 1962 play), “what use are flowers?” I was obsessed with their colors and shapes, the simple joy of observing them, and how they exude libido, healing, and rebirth, even though while I was drawing them I was wondering if we might all die. Were they funerary or optimistic? During this spring, painting itself was overshadowed by the question of whether painting-life could continue to exist at all. But after months of the flowers, they started to morph into abstractions. The flower stems looked like the legs of figures stalking around, their heads bent over in a kind of looped narrative with no particular story except growth and then withering. The world’s ground was shifting, so I started concentrating on the fields behind the figures— patterns, plaids, and confusing figure-to-grounds, a purposefully destabilized signal-to-noise ratio. And eventually, it was the process of improvisation itself that seemed the most timely and urgent. I was thinking about a quote by Fred Moten, “improvisation is making nothing out of something.” In this sense “nothing” is a good thing, it means you’re in a hole, on the brink of change, and you have to listen, to pay attention. Improvising is a process that comes from within and that proposes a without, a nowhere that is everywhere. The hard questions continue (how to keep making paintings at all, if the world can possibly be rebuilt, and how) but I hope there's an alchemy in there, a use, in keeping on working with the motion between the known and an abstract (but felt) unknown.


All images © Gladstone Gallery