Sunday, September 01, 2019

September 2019 Unicorn Of The Month: K Young

While I do enjoy collage, painting is my thing, so I would not necessarily call myself a "collagist" or a " collage artist." I learned about this artist well over a year ago via their Instagram account. This artist is "collagist" with a Capital C. I knew immediately that I wanted to feature them here, but it has taken some time to get here, we artists are busy people. The work featured here is outstanding, but I highly encourage you check out their IG Page to view more of their gorgeous collages.

I make my collages using found pictures from magazines and books. I hunt for these in second-hand shops and book sales - solid, physical objects with weight and texture - even a smell. Although I embrace technology, I find this whole experience refreshing in the digital age. I flick through the pages until something visual catches my eye. It might be a pattern, colour or shape. I then cut into it with a long-handled scalpel, without having any preconceived ideas at that time of how I will use it later.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and the limitations of scale, as well as the restrictions of the paper itself, brings about a unique creative reward. There is no undo button either, so every cut counts. But it feels liberating too; drawing with a blade, with no real objective in mind, until the original image is edited or abstracted into something new. These cut-outs are then kept, sometimes for months, until I find a use for them; when they can be partnered with other unrelated selections to make a new story.

I often use collage to explore ideas around gender roles, identity and social constructs. The concept that everything exists within a finite time-frame; that nothing holds a permanent stake in this world has always fascinated me and is another a recurrent theme in my work.

Faceless figures are juxtaposed with their surroundings; anchored to domestic or workplace scenes, sometimes literally becoming part of the furniture. Ghost-like outlines leave behind a vague trail. Information is kept minimal; it's the essence of the subject within the space itself, which is key.

These fragmented glimpses, moments and suggestions tell incomplete stories, and yet this editing also expands the narrative at the same time. The viewer has to make sense of what is happening; they have to create meaning. I see it like recalling a memory or working out the meaning of a dream, and collage by its very nature is the perfect medium for achieving this end.

Monday, July 01, 2019

July 2019 Unicorn Of The Month: Zahra Ammar

When I was a student at SAIC, some blowhard art critic declare painting to be "dead." I found this seriously distressing, and I can recall quite vividly the answer one of my painting instructors gave me when I asked him if painting was indeed dead. " That guy is a twat! He wouldn't know his own ass from a hole in the wall..if it's not dead to you, then paint away!" Oh Marion Kryczka, I miss you. I hope you're well.

Anyhow, I have always been attracted to artists who push, either with the medium they use or the questions they ask through their work. When I learned about Zahra Ammar and the kind of questions she poses, " How can something as mundane as paper be pushed to its limits?" I was intrigued. 

The versatility of paper as a medium fascinates me as I poke and pinch it, twirl and curl, and fold and mold it to create art. It is so forgiving, yet it can do things that even paint can’t. I primarily use a technique called ‘quilling’ to shape strips of paper that are integrated perpendicularly rather than pasted flat on a background. For an instance, it looks like an illustration, but in the next blink of an eye it looks like a sculpture. I also fold and cut paper into 3D structures."

"For me, art converses and delves into things when words are not enough. My themes run parallel between botanical pieces and geometric ones. I try to strike a balance between the two. Both are one and the same. When we go down to the structure of things, it all becomes symmetrical, even the abstract. Why this symmetry disintegrates over time? Whether we are attracted to it because of its transient nature or because we are part of it is something that really interests me. However, my intent is not to construct a soliloquy. I want to draw in the onlooker into their own dialogue."

To see more of her gorgeous paper sculptures, check out her Instagram and Public Facebook Page. And if you're so inclined, purchase her work Here. 

Monday, June 17, 2019

Notes On The New Work

This post has been building for quite some time. I have shared my current project with a few people, made mention of it on my IG account, and applied for a few grants and fellowships using some of the ideas below. 

But this will be my first public declaration. So take a deep breath and strap in. 

This post is about many new directions I am going, but the main question I am confronting within myself, and what I will attempt to ask/challenge with my work is this: Why don’t white artists ever address whiteness in their work? When it comes to race or racism as a subject matter, why do white artists shy away from it?

I have hesitated to put these kinds of questions/problems out into the world because it’s a touchy subject for people. And by people I mean white people. And when I say white people, I obviously include myself. Want to see a room full of white people squirm with discomfort, bring up any of these subjects:
  • Racism
  • Slavery
  • The history of racism/slavery
  • How the system of racism currently functions
  • Whiteness
  • Being white
  • The label of “white people”
Some honorable mentions might include:
  • Black Lives Matter
  • Reparations
  • How Reverse Racism is not a real thing
  • Or Idris Alba being cast as the new James Bond.
He didn't accept the role, but a large portion of the world lost their shit at the thought of him being the new Bond..

Some of you reading this might already be squirming a bit. Maybe you’re thinking, “Jesus Jeff, WHAT ARE YOU DOING? You’re a great painter, why would you go down this road? 

You might be committing career suicide! What if it goes horribly wrong and you make Klan Paintings?”
I would say relax, I haven’t fully disclosed where I am going, and rest assured, I too felt the squirming inside when I decided to make this shift. I can feel it right now, as I type. There is this sense of dread; this thick, almost magnetically charged fog that starts to envelop me. My pulse is elevated. There is a cold, nervous sweat on the small of my back. It feels like some sort of weird defense mechanism is being activated.

My mind races with:
What if I do kill my career?
What if I do fuck up and make unintentionally racist work?
What if I alienate my friends and family?
Who am I to ask these sorts of questions?
Am I smart enough to pull this off?

First off, what career would I be killing? 
I’m broke.
I haven’t sold anything major in quite some time. I have no gallery representation nor do I have any gallery prospects. No museums are courting me. A few collectors came over to the studio recently, and when I poured my fucking heart out to them about my work, they passed. Apparently it was due to “money issues.” But thanks to Facebook, I saw pictures of them in what looked like first class on the way to Europe. Having never flown first class, I wouldn’t exactly know what first class accommodations look like, but when there is a fucking bar in the middle of the plane, you’re not in coach.

My artists friends are passing me by with big public art commissions and gallery shows. Some days I wake up wondering if I have completely wasted my life. Sometimes when I walk to the coffee spot in the morning, I have this crippling fear that my parents are secretly ashamed of me. They say that they love me and they are “proud of me” but what could they be proud of when I haven’t really accomplished anything? Parents are proud of lawyers and doctors and occupations that pay well. What parents would be proud of a failed artist as a son?

Ok the last few sentences are a bit much. None of the “failed artist as a son” part is true, it’s just my brain going over board. I tend to make things far worse in my head than the situation really is. The past year was actually good as far exhibitions go, but there wasn’t enough momentum to make real change, so the part about not having much of a career is mostly true. When I think about still being in the category of “ emerging artist”, it makes me depressed given my age, but it’s also a bit liberating. No dealers are telling me to play it safe. No gallery is saying, “ I don’t know about this direction…collectors might not like this new work.” I can do whatever I want. 

Second, my apprehension about making a mistake or alienating people or any fear about saying/doing the wrong thing, to be real, isn’t a good enough excuse to play it safe. Too often the discussion of race among white people is halted because someone “feels uncomfortable.” The prospect of saying the wrong thing and possibly being labeled a racist is a very real fear among white people because racism is frequently comprehended in a binary way: “ Either I’m a good, non-racist person or I’m a bad, racist person.” In past discussions, I have often felt the anxiety of that ugly label, and instead of pushing through the fear, I shut down, and I stayed silent when I should have made noise. Think of that weird defense mechanism I mentioned above. But this defense mechanism is in place to keep me comfortable, to keep the me and other white people from questioning authority or questioning our own racial bias. Aka, the status quo doesn't change. 

I tend to think, and most sociologists and historians who study the subject in depth would agree, that racists beliefs are more of a spectrum. The key, that part that I feel is hardest for white people to accept, is to know that if you grew up in America, you fit somewhere on the spectrum, and there is a highly probability you have internalized negative associations and beliefs with nonwhite people. In other worlds, no matter how liberal or koombyaya your upbringing was, you have some racism living inside you. 

I cant speak to what other countries put in their proverbial water supply of ideas, but white supremacy is world wide and I got a taste of it when I lived in China. More on that in a future blog post. In order to escape the negative beliefs about non-white people, I think you would literally have to grow up on another planet. Even the label of “ white people” is problematic because the definition of who was allowed to be white in America has changed over time. More on that subject later.

If you’re a white person reading this and thinking, “ Hey man, you don’t know me or my situation! You don’t know whom I’ve loved or what my friends look like! I voted for Obama! Twice! I’m not racist!” I would say, “You’re right Buster, I don’t know you or your situation!” I am biologically an only child, but I have honorary family from the entire spectrum of humanity. When we hangout, we look like one of those United Colors Of Bennington Ads from the 90’s.

Yes, sometimes we hangout shirtless.

I love them all dearly, so I feel you on the diversity part. I also voted for Obama. Twice. But try this out. In your head, think of five negative stereotypes associated with say, black people.

Reaaadddyyyyy? Go!

Got them?
Did you think of five?
If you didn’t get to five, $100 says you were able to think of at least two.
I know I did.

Now the question is, assuming you actually did this, if you are indeed “ a good, non racist person who voted for Obama twice,” where did those thoughts come from? Even if you don’t subscribe to any of these negative beliefs, as in “ This is NOT who I am,” the very fact that those negative thoughts  are in your consciousness means that a very clever system inserted them into your brain without you even knowing it.

Part of the reason I want to go down this path, is to find those pockets of racism inside me, confront them, extract them, and make work about the process. There are plans to make work about whiteness at a macro level, where the idea of “white people” came from, the ideas purpose, its history, how it evolved, and work at a micro level, how being white has effected my ideas of the world and how I function in it. And of course, I want to introduce some uncomfortable, yet constructive criticism into the mix.

There is so much more that I have to write, but my thoughts and ideas are a bit scrambled at this moment. I will say that there will be a lot of upcoming blog posts about my new painting journey. I might even expand into sculpture so stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

May 2019 Unicorn Of The Month: Tavarus Blackmon aka Blackmonster

Tavarus Blackmon aka Blackmonster, is a Sacramento based artist and a current Graduate Fellow at Headlands Center for the Arts. Blackmonster’s practice comprises painting bold canvases that are full of cultural, societal, and personal notions, and how they relate to larger questions in art movements. He works digitally, creating videos, time-based art, web-based projects, and digital collages and paintings. His work often references art history, particularly the Funk Art movement, which was a prominent artistic style in Northern California in the ‘60s and ‘70s. His conceptual practice also includes a vast collection of sound art and audio based projects.

He recently had a dual show with Kumasi Barnett entitled 
"THE AMAZING BLACK-MAN AND EXQUISITE DIVERSION" at Verge Center for the Arts in Sacramento California. For those of you outside the Sacramento, Northern California region reading this post that were not able to see the show in person, or were unaware of it, you really missed out. It was a visually intense show, and the work of Roy De Forest immediately came to mind. But that is where the similarities for me ended. Imagine if artist from "The Funk Movement " dealt with real shit: police violence, mass shootings, poverty, racism, you know the flip side of the American dream. But it's not all doom and gloom with Blackmon's work. From the large canvases, to the unnerving sounds to the gingerbread-man chalk outlines on the floor, the work teetered right on the edge of playful and " Jesus Christ this guy is DARK!"

His 2018 thesis from The University of California Davis, "The Politics of the Cartoon and Contemporary Art", he investigated the development of Outsider Art through the lens of Funk Art, Chicago-based Imagists, the Hairy Who and German Expressionism. He has exhibited at Shy Rabbit Gallery, Pagosa Springs, CO; The Midway, San Francisco, CA; American Steel Studios, Oakland, CA; The Center for Digital Art, Los Angeles, CA; Arc Gallery, Chicago, IL; FE Gallery, Sacramento, CA; BrickHouse Gallery, Sacramento, CA; the Blue Banana Video Art Festival in Berlin, Germany; and recently at Verge Center for the Arts, Sacramento, CA. He has an upcoming installation at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento for May’s Art Mix and a screening at SoundPedro, Earmaginations Sound Art Festival at the Angels Gate Cultural Center in San Pedro, CA. He is a current Graduate Fellow at Headlands Center for the Arts.

To view more of his work, visit his Website, and his Instagram Page. And check out his manifesto: Black-Monster Review.

Monday, April 01, 2019

April 2019 Unicorn Of The Month: Rafael Vega

Rafael has an enviable studio space in NYC and I frequently tell him so on Instagram.

Like last months Unicorn Edra Soto, Rafael Vega is School of the Art Institute of Chicago alumni. Since Rafael is the third SAIC alumni to be featured on this blog, it may seem like I am a bit biased toward artists from my alma mater. The truth is I am, and I am ok with that! 

Vega lives and works in New York and Puerto Rico. After completing his BS-Industrial Chemistry (2003) and BA-Painting (2007) at the University of Puerto Rico, he received his MFA with a major in Painting and Drawing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2012.

Untitled. Acrylic, charcoal, canvas on panel. 24 x 18 in. 2018
Untitled. Acrylic, charcoal, canvas on canvas. 64 x 48 in. 2016

One of the many aspects that I enjoy about this portion of the blog is learning about the influence of other artists. When I look at Rafael's work I can instantly see the influence of icons like Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko. The way that Rafael cuts and slashes the canvas and really trashes the surface, in a good way, strongly references Lucio Fontana. On this blog I try to feature artists who, like Rafael, contribute to conversation of art history, in a way that looks back and forward at the same time. 

Untitled. Acrylic, charcoal, canvas on canvas. 64 x 48 in. 2018
Untitled. Acrylic, charcoal, canvas on panel. 24 x 18 in. 2018
Back in 2011, I sat down with my friend Jose for a full top to bottom, nuts & blots interview about his life and his practice. It was one of the most fulfilling, and viewed posts from the Unicorn Shop! But it took me a whole month to transcribe and edit and tweak before I posted it. I really wish I had time to conduct full interviews again, and an intern who could transcribe and post them, but sadly at this point I don't. Maybe in the future I will come up with some sort of standard questionnaire. Until then, below is a portion from Phaidon's Vitamin P3, " Why I Paint" series that. 

Who are you? ...I always wanted to be a scientist; first a paleontologist, then an archaeologist, a nuclear physicist, astrophysicist, etc: Every option highly influenced by the Science section in the Sunday newspapers I read as a kid. But at the same time, for which I have no explanation, I also wanted to be a painter. So I went to college, completed my chemistry major and almost immediately started my fine arts education.

What's on your mind right now? Everything and huge moments of nothing. I'm easily distracted, kind of like a cat. That's why I say "everything and huge moments of nothing." Recently, I was really concerned with how to read faster, how to be more efficient when it comes to reading a book. My main problem is not just that I spend too long on one page, it's that subsequently I spend like two hours pulling, pushing, and forcing weird connections from sports to arts to science. At that point, my mind looks like a nautical chart, and I have to re-read the same page. It's not an eternal cycle, but it definitely slows things down. Every day I have to confront several unfinished books and their judgmental silence.

Untitled. Acrylic, charcoal, canvas on panel. 24 x 18 in. 2018
Untitled. Acrylic, charcoal, canvas on panel. 24 x 18 in. 2018

How do you get this stuff out? Putting it out is the easy part. Putting it out in a way that makes sense to you (the artist, that first and contaminated viewer) and at the same time can fit into an external narrative, that's different, that's the balancing act.

How does it fit together? In general, I maintain tons of distance and skepticism, a kind of apprehensive state in which you are not too close or far from your ruminations. It helps build some awareness and a sense of editing, and not just editing during the making, but beforehand. What's relevant? What's just fog? Remember the nautical chart? Well, this strategy is really helpful for me. In terms of my paintings, I have a kind of fragile genealogy or lineage of shapes that, with a specific and immediate context, become forms pertinent to me: a personal mythology. Every new painting should - or at least I expect it to - question the previous one. It must force its immediate past into a state of "vibration" (try to imagine a delocalized electron), by small tweaks, never too dramatic. It must question its assumptions/urgencies/resistances/negations not for the instant gratification an answer can provide, but because that's the only way for a painting to breathe and be pertinent. A painting becomes a moving target, similar to what the theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman calls 'an adjacent possible'.

What brought you to this point? Patience, plenty of time in the studio, and discipline. Doing, doing, doing. Lots of sketches and notes.

Can you control it? Well, there's no absolute answer for that. Where in the equation should we put training (self-taught or art school), muscle memory, taste, etc? That educated intuition seems to have a prefixed set of solutions depending on the problem, solutions that keep emerging/repeating from painting to painting. I could say ‘yes,’ if a certain impulse or urgency is added, but we can also spend an infinite amount of time identifying the burden of proof for each argument.

Have you ever destroyed one of your paintings? The kind of destruction that looks for the total oblivion of the image or picture? Nope. Honestly, I don't recall ever destroying any painting. For sure pentimento (alteration), but no destruction per se.

What's next for you, and what's next for painting? No idea.

To view more of Rafael's work, visit his Website, and his Instagram Page. He was also featured in
Vitamin P3 - New Perspectives in Painting, so be sure and get your copy.

Friday, March 01, 2019

March 2019 Unicorn Of The Month: Edra Soto

An exhibition view at the Chicago Cultural Center with work by Edra Soto and Yhelena Hall.

This months unicorn is Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist, educator, curator, co-director of the outdoor project space THE FRANKLIN, and School of The Art Institute of Chicago alumni art powerhouse Edra Soto! She recently collaborated with artist Yhelena Hall on a major show at The Chicago Cultural center entitled "Forgotten Forms" and was recently featured in Newcity's annual Art 50 issue Chicago's Artists' Artists. 

For her exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center, she revisits Puerto Rico’s vernacular architecture through her GRAFT installations and architectural interventions.

"GRAFT is an ongoing project representative of vernacular architectural interventions that take the form of immersive installations and accompanying publications. Citing structures known as quebrasoles and rejas found prominently in Puerto Rico, GRAFT physically interconnects this existing architecture to a site specific place while conceptually representing an imaginary transplant or migratory gesture. The ductile nature of this architecture, which marks domestic space, allows for the representation of multiple states of visibility and invisibility. These architectural elements permeated my home and urban surroundings in Puerto Rico and as a result the fractal geometry of these structures inevitably became a part of my visual lexicon."

Visitors peering through Edra Soto's work. Sculpture by Yhelena Hall.
Edra Soto and Yhelena Hall.

Quebrasoles are ornamental concrete blocks arranged in decorative patterns used to create shade from the sun and are more often than not complimented by rejas, wrought iron fences or screens that act as a protective barrier between the street and the home. In his book, La Ciudad de Los Balcones, author Edwin R. Quiles Rodriguez notes how the use of reja complement the layout of working-class residences made of concrete. In a recent essay about GRAFT, Albert Stabler highlights, “these residences were adapted from the Yoruba dwellings of African slaves, which were developed in Haiti and then migrated abroad with hacienda owners after the slaves revolted.”

The manifestation of these patterns in artistic form is not uncommon among Caribbean artists. While quebrasoles and rejas are popularly recognized in Puerto Rican’s visual culture, there is little exploration or research on the origin of these patterns. Contrary to the inundated familiarity of colonial architecture, vernacular architecture has yet to be included as an exploratory subject in primary and secondary education in the Caribbean. A significant aspect of GRAFT uncovers and honors the history that has been accepted rather than explained.

A close up shot of Edra's work.
Each iteration of GRAFT includes a literary component.The content is published in both
English and Spanish and is available to the public as hard copies, publications and a pdf.

Professor Jorge Ortiz Colom’s monograph, The African Influence in the Design Build Edification of Puerto Rico, states that criollo architecture, which incorporates quebrasoles and rejas, originated from sub-Saharan Africa through the population brought to Puerto Rico as slaves to work plantations during the rise of colonization. He argues that this influence is largely overlooked by historians due to the impression that, “Africans could not transplant their ancestral ways of life under the inhumane conditions of their transfer, and the lack of freedom in their new home.” It was previously thought that this decorative architecture was an amalgamation of European features that had undergone a topicalization through the Western lens. Due to the growing commercial sugar trade between the U.S. and Puerto Rico in the late 19th century the “style” of criolla architecture was rampantly appropriated in the Southern U.S. and according to Ortiz-Colom sometimes even purchased outright as entire homes and relocated to the U.S.

"GRAFT allows me to expand the multidisciplinary aspects of the project and explore visibility by providing a format that can be disseminated beyond the gallery experience. Each iteration of GRAFT includes a literary component. Writers from disciplines of art history, art, architecture, politics and others are invited to reflect on rejas in the contexts of their individual fields of expertise. The content is published in both English and Spanish and is available to the public as hard copies, publications and a pdf. The elements of GRAFT are specific to each space and sometimes include a shelter reminiscent of a bus stop acting as a functional representation that serve as benches for visitors to sit and read the accompanying publication."

 GRAFT includes small viewfinders.

"As an evolving installation, the newest iteration of GRAFT includes small viewfinders embedded in the circular spaces of the structure. In peering through the viewfinders, the audience is met with an image documenting my everyday life during visits to Puerto Rico. Photos of my childhood home, scenes from various neighborhoods, and destruction from hurricane Maria are just some of the images viewers will see. The act itself is akin to peering through the quebrasoles and rejas surrounding a Puerto Rican home to glimpse a small portion of the home behind the walls challenging ideas of privacy."

The object of GRAFT is multi-dimensional. The intention is to highlight the true origins of these architectural elements prevalent throughout Puerto Rico, the severe lack of information represented in the cultural knowledge of both Puerto Rico and the U.S., while celebrating the form itself through interaction as a work of art.

To see more of her work, visit her website, her Instagram Page, and she what she is up to with THE FRANKLIN.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

February 2019 Unicorn Of The Month: Danielle Cole

"Roxy" Analogue collage on wood panel. 24x48inches. 2017

It took over four years to gather the materials for the Pile On series. And for four years I filled box after box of cars and legs without a clue what to do with them. Previously, all my work was narrative in nature. I always had something to say about domesticity, gender roles, the pursuit of material goods, and here I was with piles of cars and legs with no clear idea of what they wanted from me. My initial pieces were terrible mixed media compilations - I painted in landscape and made the cars into dynamic warriors with station wagons pitted against convertibles. Work so terrible, that I have since taken them apart so I could re-use the collage elements.

"Betsy" Collage on original 1859 print. 11x14 inches. 2016
"Charlie" Collage on original 1859 print. 11x14 inches. 2016

It wasn’t until I let go of the narrative as a goal that I started to create compositions focusing on the shapes and interactions that I was able to move forward. Eventually, through curating specific cars and arrangements, the story telling nature of my work returned. The body of work solidified, five years after I started, while I was traveling in San Francisco. At first in small pieces, I found 1859 Scottish landscapes at John Windle’s antiquarian booksellers space. I bought some and later I volunteered to organize some materials and received a total of 12 original prints that I later made into unique pieces with singular images of a car with legs roving through the Scottish landscape. 

While traveling, I had brought with me folders full of cars and legs for my ‘Pile on,’ series with the intention to build large scale pieces when I got home. I used to call these elements my, ‘kombucha scobies,’ these things I carried around that were necessary to grow other collages. While in San Francisco I met Megan and Rick Prelinger, co-founders of The Prelinger Library , a library that consists of a ‘collection of 19th and 20th century historical ephemera, periodicals, maps, and books, most published in the United States. The Prelinger’s being perpetual patrons of the arts and community-based activities extended their generosity to me by giving me access to their space, their collection, their computer and large flatbed scanner.

Using the large scanner provided by the Prelinger’s allowed me to experiment with analogue piles of cars and legs in a digital environment. These early compositions led to more evolved work months later when I returned home and provided the backbone of my current work. I began creating large-scale arrangements on wood panel and I returned to experimenting with compositions using a large scanner at my local library. I created compositions by placing arrangements of cars and legs upside down on a large flatbed scanner. These pieces exist for only a moment in time as they are scanned and were later made into 18x24 archival prints.
"Inspiration point" Archival print. 18x24. 2017
"Gwendolyn" Analogue collage on wood panel. 24x36inches. 2017
"Speed Trap" Archival print. 18x24 inches. 2017
"Jack Knifed" Archival print. 18x24 inches. 2017

To see more of Danielle's work, visit her Website, and check out updates and progress shots on Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr. And if you're in Toronto Canada between February 21-24, go visit her at the Artist Project Contemporary Art Fair and buy her work!