Thursday, June 2, 2011

more or less the same

For this piece I was exploring the relationship between memory and identity. I was specifically interested in the way a person's identity is, at least in part, comprised of his or her experiences or memories, while at the same time the way in which a person stores and recalls those experiences is largely influenced by that person's beliefs and expectations about his or her self.

More or Less the Same, 2011; 30" x 40"; Oil, Encaustic and Collage on Panel

More or Less the Same, Detail

More or Less the Same, Detail

The finished piece is a self portrait collaged from photographs taken at different points in my life, from baby pictures up until this year. It was a really interesting process for me, looking through old pictures, deciding which ones to cover up as I layered them to build the figure. The title is taken from the "missing verse" of The Boxer, which came on while I was sketching for this painting during one of those awesome moments when Pandora is totally reading my mind.

I've been trying to remember to take process pictures while I'm working on a piece, because that's the kind of thing I really enjoy seeing on other artist's blogs, but I always forget about it while I'm working so the following is a pretty shotty record of my process:

Reference Photos
Not Pictured: building the panel, (which honestly I'm no good at yet so it's probably better I didn't document that mess) gathering photos, and stealthily making photocopies of the originals I couldn't use at my office's copy machine.

Underpainting: Acrylic

More Underpainting: Also Acrylic

Collaging: Photos, Matte Medium, Oil and Encaustic Medium

Almost Finished: Same Shit as Above that's it! Thanks for, you know, reading and/or looking at this. See you guys later, bro.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

and now for something completely different

My semester is wrapping up and I'm in the middle of a bunch of different paintings right now, so more art coming soon. In the meantime...

I recently wrote a review of The Date Farmers' show at Ace for Joanna Roche's contemporary art history class (bitchin' class btw) and I thought I would share it here. The show is up until July, so definitely go check it out. Also a great taco place downstairs, get the baby back rib tacos.

I haven't done a whole lot of art writing, but I enjoy it and I think I will try to do more of it for the sake of versatility.  Special thanks to Kelsey, for unwittingly serving as the comic relief in my review. Enjoy.

New Mediated Gestures: A Review of The Date Farmers

Crappy Cell Phone Picture. Better pictures on Ace's site, linked above.

            Ace Gallery in Los Angeles is so unassuming from the street that a person could easily drive past without spotting it, even if that person was looking for it and especially if that person was me. I drove past it twice, no thanks to my dear friend and completely useless passenger, Kelsey Haugen. We still weren’t convinced we were in the right place until we were greeted at the door by a charming elderly man, who simply said “Ace Gallery, second floor,” and took us upstairs in an old-fashioned elevator. It was late afternoon on a Tuesday and Kelsey and I were the only ones there. Our voices echoed so loudly that we felt inclined to speak in self-conscious half whispers. 

On view was the work of Armando Lerma and Carlos Ramirez, a California duo known as The Date Farmers. The Date Farmers are assemblage artists who incorporate bold, crosshatched drawings, painting, and graffiti-inspired marks with items including: toys, stickers, advertisements, newspapers, comics, poker chips, weapons, cigarettes, lighters, and weathered metal signs. This integration of personal, expressive mark-making with familiar found objects is reminiscent of the mediated gestures found in Robert Rauschenberg’s combines—if Rauschenberg had been Mexican-American. 

The initial impression when entering the exhibit was a bit underwhelming. I didn’t find the drawing style very appealing at first and the collaged elements seemed to be chosen haphazardly. Kelsey eloquently expressed what I was feeling by saying it looked like “they just threw a bunch of random shit together.” But as we moved through the massive space of the gallery, whose rooms seemed to keep unfolding as if they came into existence only as we approached them, the accumulated work began to construct an exciting narrative and a clear voice emerged.  

Through motifs of familiar pop icons, images of Catholicism and desert animals, as well as allusions to crime, gangs, poverty and graffiti, The Date Farmers express a specific facet of the Mexican-American perspective; one which saturates my everyday life as a resident of Southern California, but is surprisingly unique to me in the context of an art gallery. Other motifs including images of circles, a mix of Spanish and English expletives, empty speech bubbles, Native Americans, and figures with empty or blacked-out eyes suggest to me a disillusionment with American ideals.

The installation of the exhibit is fairly conventional, with a few exceptions. The walls are white with the bottom portion painted a dark brown and most of the pieces are hung side by side.  In the East rooms, however, many pieces of varying sizes are hung in clusters, a strategy which I find very attractive and dynamic. There are several instances of objects placed either on top of a hanging wall piece or inside the shadow box which frames many of the pieces. In my opinion this is successful in some places and very unsuccessful in others.  In Black Water, the spray cans on top work really well as a part of the piece, but the placement of Fisherprice TV on top of Guarenteed Laughs just looks as if they ran out of pedestals. The addition of a few installation pieces, including a series of shoes hung on a wire near the ceiling, a corrugated metal movie theater, and a full sized bar complete with tables and chairs keep the presentation of the exhibit from being completely traditional.

Southern Comfort (Hello Kitty), 2010 is a 49 ½” by 49 ¾” acrylic and mixed media panel covered in hundreds of different found images of Hello Kitty. There are stickers, stamps, bits of stationary and even a few nail files, all arranged in a grid-like formation around a large cross-hatched drawing of an young African-American girl. The girl has a deformed upper lip with a split running from her nostril downwards to reveal part of her gum line. Her hair is styled in little poof balls all around her head and her eyes contain no pupils or irises. All of the Hello Kitty images are arranged so as not to overlap with the figure, with the exception of one, which is placed in the center of her forehead. The pink surface of the panel is coated in a grimy brown layer which makes it appear dirty. I was drawn to this piece because it reminded me of a Mexican girl I used to babysit. Her mom was very beautiful and always looked like she spent hours getting ready, but the girl’s  face was always dirty and her clothes were old and the few toys she had were dirty or broken.  There’s something tragic and terrifying about this empty-eyed cleft-lipped girl surrounded by these Hello Kitty products that are so coveted by young girls, yet here they are covered in dirt. This piece seems to me an example of what Armando Lerma referred to in a February 8, 2011 interview with Art Info as The Date Farmers’ use of pop culture icons to “point out injustice, broken promises, and lies.”

Throughout most of the exhibit, the work seems to be grouped together arbitrarily, but one room contains work that deals only with the subject of prison. In this room is a series entitled Children of God, 2010 which consists of three crosshatched graphite portraits, each on a 37 ½” square white panel. The center panel depicts Jesus Christ in a crown of thorns above a strip of red and white reflective tape. His expression is strange and tortured; a few tears run down his face and neck and one of his eyes has no pupil. There are green quotation marks near the right side of his head and small star stickers to the left.  The portrait to the left of Jesus shows a straight-on view of a young man with a solemn yet intimidating expression. A straight row of shank-like objects—pencils, knives, sharpened toothbrushes—is collaged along the bottom of the panel. The right portrait shows a man in profile with a teardrop tattoo near his eye. Below him is a row of lighters arranged by color like a rainbow. Above each lighter is a burn mark in the panel and on the left is a burnt playing card with a colorful grid pattern. The centered placement, angle, and expression of the two men is evocative of mug shots and the shanks and lighters could have been confiscated from inmates. The impact of the three panels together is powerful and unsettling. The correlation of these mug shot images with the image of Christ, along with the title of the series suggests to me that these are people who have been forsaken, either by society or by God.

                The Date Farmers work is not something I am incredibly drawn to aesthetically, but seeing this exhibit was very moving, even transformative for me. After leaving the gallery, I found myself examining a cluster of drilled holes in the wall of the FedEx bathroom with unusual intensity, as if I could imagine those holes appropriated in a piece of artwork. I also felt forced to confront my complex views about this side of Mexican-American culture. I became aware of feelings of fear, distrust, disgust, judgment, and even racism. I think this subset of the Mexican-American perspective is one that I have semiconsciously ignored in my daily life because of those feelings and seeing it represented in The Date Farmers’ work caused me to reexamine my assumptions. The show sparked a lot of interesting conversation between me and Kelsey, who expressed that she was moved by it as well. She said, “I learned something, like, about myself…oooh we should get Mexican food!” And so we did.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

the milk

This painting is part of my memory series. I don't really want to say much about it up front, so enjoy. ENJOY! I COMMAND YOU TO ENJOY!!!

The Milk, 2011, 30" x 40" Oil on Canvas

reconstructive memory

“Subjectively, memory feels like a camera that faithfully records and replays details of our past. In fact, memory is a reconstructive process prone to systematic biases and errors—reliable at times, and unreliable at others. Memories are a combination of new and old knowledge, personal beliefs, and one's own and others' expectations. We blend these ingredients in forming a past that conforms to one's haphazardly accurate view of oneself and the world.” 
       -Elizabeth F. Loftus

I've become very interested in memory, specifically gaps and errors in memory and the way a person's mind compensates for missing information by interjecting information that is sometimes distorted or inaccurate. I am also fascinated with discrepancies in the way two people remember the same event and the way a person’s identity is ostensibly comprised of an accumulation of memories, while the perception of those memories is in turn determined largely by identity.

The following drawings are the results of a brainstorming session around the exploration of these concepts. Some of these have led to paintings and some are a finished thoughts as they are.

Untitled, Charcoal on Newsprint

Untitled, Oil Bars on Paper

Memory Cards, Ballpoint Pen on Cardstock
Eventually I want to expand this idea and produce a full set of playing cards that someone could actually use to play Memory.

Untitled,  Marker on Newsprint

Untitled, Marker on Newsprint

Untitled, Ballpoint Pen on Paper

 During my research I found out that the hippocampus, one of the main structures of the brain involved in memory, shares it's name with the Latin genus name for seahorses. Apperently the scientist who discovered it thought it looked like one.

Untitled, Micron Pen on Paper

Untitled, Prismacolor Pencils on Toned Paper

Untitled, Graphite on Paper

Untitled, Micron Pen and Charcoal on Paper

The next few are studies for a double portrait of me and my little sister, Sam. It's loosely based on the idea that two people will remember the same event differently. I'm currently finishing up a painting around the same concept.

Untitled, Marker on Newsprint

Untitled, Marker on Newsprint

Untitled, Prismacolor Pencil on Newsprint

Untitled, Prismacolor Pencil on Newsprint

It also seemed natural to include my own memories, especially from when I was very young. I was thinking a lot about whether what I remember is the actual event, or just the story as I've told it or as it's been told to me. 

Grandpa (Study), Graphite on Paper

Grandpa, India Ink on Paper

Untitled, Prismacolor on Paper

Untitled, Prismacolor Pencils on Paper

Untitled, Prismacolor Pencil on Paper

Hall Light On, Oil Bars on Paper

The Milk (Sketch), Charcoal on Newsprint

The Milk (Hand Study), Oil Bars on Paper

This last set is called Samantha. It's about what I have been saying my whole life is my earliest memory: the day my sister came home from the hospital. Mostly it's about how the more I think about it, the less certain I am that I actually remember it. I was only two and half, so it's a lot more likely that I just remember the story being told to me. That's kind of sad to me, because it seems like such a vivid memory and such an important one, I really wish I could believe that I really remember it as well as I think I do. I'm eventually planning on translating these into more finished pieces.

Samantha(1 of 3), NuPastel on Paper

Samantha (2 of 3), Charcoal on Newsprint

Samantha (3 of 3), Oil Bars and Charcoal on Paper


Sunday, April 10, 2011

figure drawing

These are some of the drawings I did in Brian Kennon's figure drawing class last Spring. Not much to say about them. They're figure drawings, ranging from one to sixty minutes each, most of them are charcoal but a few are Prismacolor Nupastel.