Kelly Reemtsen, detail of Unplugged, screenprint in colors.
Details of Wholes
When an artist mixes this with that, apples with oranges, copper and cork my interest perks up. In my ideal world I would have a studio assistant who was an ace with 3D programs. They would create the 3D images I ask for in the places within the 2D picture space and I’d fill in with artwork, photographs, patterns in what remained empty. I’d love that.
However here in the real world no one has volunteered to work for free and therefor I can’t hire them. But I can pay attention to ways in which other artists are mixing whatever they choose to mix. I’m also testing whether grabbing details from copyrighted works is acceptable fair use if I fully credit the artist whose detail I extract.
Kelly Reemtsen makes a mix that maybe no one else in the universe has chosen. Girls and women in 1960s summer dresses who are each holding or choosing among on a wall large weapons. Long axe, big gun, and here above a chainsaw. The vertcal female, the horizontal weapon, arrayed in a cross. (Important to note that the cross inference is purely mine, not reliably the artist’s.)
The detail which I find wonderful is that the colored beads in her bracelet are echoed in the biting edge of the chainsaw. Not realism but delicious, giddy. To allow herself to freelance that eloquent touch.
All Reemtsen’s females are faceless, usually without shoulders even, rarely feet. What we mostly see is from inches above the waist to partway down the leg — showcasing just where the telltale hem falls. And added to the mix are patterns on dresses and backgrounds, polka dots, florals, stripes, which interact in busy confusion. That’s a wild stew of characteristics. How likely this artist is not a woman?
Hung Liu, detail of Homeless Cat and Boy, Oil and UV acrylic on aluminum, wood and canvas.
I’ve recently discovered Hung Liu’s paintings of people and shacks. Some I love, some I don’t. What stopped me in Homeless Cat and Boy is the contrast in styles from one part of the rendition to another. The boy’s nose and mouth are fairly conventional, readable. But the shady space where his eyes and the top half of the cat’s face are in a mishmash of colored lines resembling no known animal tissue. I find it beautiful, mesmerizing. I love the disjunct between realism and crazy abandon. I wonder why he chose just these parts. Because the choice is worth explaining. Discovering.
Here are a this and that worth taking further. To me they’re stronger than some of his more elaborate gambits. He has a convincing way with children and animals.
I’m open to any flavor of this and that, materials, subjects, styles, scales. In terms of there being a posited language and grammar of combining visual images the use of contrasts is a message hard to ignore.
Caught Fire and Fury, Jesse Mockrin. Courtesy the artist.
Split-screen: Jesse Mockrin’s Narrative Paintings
Jesse Mockrin is a painter who developed a new compositional style and bounded forward in ten-league boots. It’s a weird balance between Mockrin’s single canvases and her dual ones. It’s like a muse stepped into her studio, or another part of her. The single canvases are sweet, stylized, with a hint of expression on the staring faces of people always from the same parents. They feel like childrens’ illustrations. She often doesn’t fill the whole canvas but places what matters in the lower half.
And then POW! come the big divided canvases with assertive gestures, galloping horses, abductors prowling through the reeds. And the conscious use of competing narratives, mixed messages, spin, paradox. When she shifts to the dual canvas we move from simple tales to raging myths. Agitation enters the action, id. And that edge that forces you to admit you don’t really get it. What is, isn’t. The devilish joinery has first sold you on a shape no firmer than a teapot made of clouds.
I’m cloudy on Mockrin’s exact chronology so the comparison I’m making is between paintings like the opening image above and paintings like this below. Compare the differing challenges to the artist, her use of canvas space, the stasis and energy, the can-opener used or withheld on her emotions.
The Stroll, Jesse Mockrin. Courtesy the artist.
“Repetition cannot make it less” is three versions on one canvas of women about to plunge daggers into their chests. They each are shown from below the shoulders to perhaps the lap. Faceless. By their dress they lived some hundreds of years ago. Suicides were expected of women compromised inside a morality framed by men’s ownership of them. Imagine being the victim of violent rape and your response is to kill the victim, you.
And it’s one thing to pick up a stiletto, quite another to convince the hand to plunge it into that hand’s own flesh.
Repetition Cannot Make It Less, by Jesse Mockrin. Courtesy the artist.
In all three canvases action turns inward, each woman about to end her life. The hands are focused each on her own weapon and the action belongs to the heart of each canvas.
You approach a canvas of course as one entity. Our brains make little of Mockrin’s mid-canvas stripe — a trope we may think — until you’re enough engaged with the forms to realize something is very wrong. Perhaps you attempt reading it as two panels. Maybe Chapter One and Chapter Two. Good luck.
Here we encounter something biologically based and inexplicable. Human DNA codes to recognize stories from other forms of language. Treaties, philosophies, poems. Why this should be I have no idea but I’ve watched it happening for years. Before, after, maybe furthermore are tied to our endorphins.
In cats’ retinas sensitivity to quick movement is also built in. Think mice. I imagine us humans catching wind of a story as standing alerted like Disney’s Remy in Ratatouille, a rat with its pink pointy nose and whiskers quivering. “Oh, a STOR-RY.”
And this is what Jesse Mockrin has harnessed in her dual paintings. Each painting, left and right, must ultimately be read separately. It’s like trying to read a Rubin’s Vase. The famed visual illusion is a paradox, you can either see two facing profiles or the vase shape they make between them. You can’t see both at once.
The white stripe down the center of a Mockrin canvas is where meaning pivots. They are one::they are two. They are Rubin’s Vase.
Step back and then Mockrin’s composition explicitly owns the whole canvas. Left and right merge into impossible bioforms, cohesive shapes that balance the overall space. In visual art, alignments getting two lines to meet, or similarly colored forms to merge has suggestive power. It can lull you into false assumptions that only better looking can untangle. Mockrin’s deliberate and exacting alignments may have you believing a head is growing where a second arm should be.
In Midstream by Jesse Mockrin. Courtesy the artist.
Here hands are in manacles on the right and in sexual seeking on the left. We toggle for a truth here but can’t find one. Not finding one is Mockrin’s point.
In Mid-Word, oil on cotton/linen by Jesse Mockrin. Courtesy the artist.
Syrinx by Jesse Mockrin. Courtesy the artist.
That arm at far left. Is this a single chase or one that repeats and repeats forever? The word Syrinx means a Panpipe. In Greek mythology Syrinx is a chaste nymph who is chased by the god Pan to the edge of a river where she pleads with the river nymphs to save her. They turn her into hollow reeds that play sound when a breeze blows over them.
Chased. I’m a woman and I’ve read mythology since childhood. I never read “Tried to violently rape an unwilling and terrified woman.” I read chased and read greedily on. How cleverly we are shackled.
I cannot say why the motifs of barbarous female suicide, raw abduction, hurt and cruelty are so strong in Mockrin’s work. Nor do I feel I need to ask. The lurid worst of tabloid journalism. How Mockrin handles paint is what I try to understand. What she shares or withholds from the many moments of her life cannot affect the quality of her art. Emotion runs deep in her, yes, but to probe where you don’t need to says more about you.
And if Mockrin wants instead to issue a boiling manifesto with every painting, that’s also up to her.
I note that none of her many pointed daggers has drawn blood.
Mockrin is onto something different. I’m not claiming that out of the whole panoply of image making history she’s unique, but I am saying that I think a lot about how you can join images and I’ve learned something new from her.
Kato seems disinterested in the chatter of the world. It seems that making objects is more a meditative practice for her than is plain image-making. She devotes time to build from bitty bits to forms with that gather meaning. (I’m not sure if she thinks of them as sculptures.) She was born in Japan and her working style reminds me of master netsuke carvers, with their disciplined ability to carve a swath of pattern unyielding in scale or style. Kato’s power is quiet like theirs.
For artists like myself there is the lure of variance, the urge to follow change, to find out what’s hidden behind the next hill. It’s important to see how different Kato’s practice is. Deliberate and disciplined. She can color inside the lines once she draws the lines. I would guess that slapdash feels substandard. She’ll concentrate for whatever time it takes to get her effect. The accretion of handwork into a formal statement.
I’ll focus on Big Knot here because it’s the first of Kato’s artworks that stopped me in my tracks.
I want to ask her things. Did she see the Big Knot form all along? Or did it teach her where it wanted to go as she built? Did she understand the scale as she began Big Knot, foresee the fat slow curves, the gentle asymmetry? She uses the same technique in other works at different scales and rates of curvature.. I want to ask why the knot is not exactly a knot and why it’s low, and only low, in the form’s expression.
There is a portrait of Kato and her husband with Umbilical Field in the foreground. It’s much bigger, much more primal than you think.
Mami Kato, Umbilical Field. Courtesy the artist.
I recently watched an interview with the author Margot Livesey about her new book The Boy in the Field. She said that at one point she realized that she was going to be able to pull off the novel she wanted, and stopped worrying.
Did something like this happen with Kato? You start building, having faith in an outcome but never assured — until the artwork tells you it intends to succeed.
Kato starts with coarse rice-stalk rope she buys from Japan. She unplaits the rope, cuts short lengths — which look precisely measured — and adds them bit by bit to a developing shape. There’s a wonderful story here with multiple decision-points, were she to tell it. From when she first holds the rope in her hands through the final furry-and-smooth resolved form.
Mami Kato. sample of cut rice stalks. Courtesy the artist.
The effect of these bristly tubular shapes is soft. Velvet pile. You sense you might rub your cheek against them. Don’t. The contradiction is part of the artwork.
Oddly I’d been struck by a Martin Puryear work that feels kindred to Big Knot. Oddly because I hadn’t read his introduction for the exhibition yet. I enjoy how the forms have a family resemblance without either one mistaken for the other.
Purity is another word that Kato’s work deserves. Purity of intention. Her website offers a look back at work that dates well before today. Kato has journeyed. Early her forms were full of question marks and pauses where a verb might go. She has grown herself up to clarity. Her more recent work shows the assurance of a mountaineer who can plot her own path in a forest.
Mami Kato, Egg Formula. Courtesy the artist.
Another view of Kato’s practice here. Eggshells, fragility spoken aloud. Look at the tight snarl of the knot. You could not achieve that without experimenting to test the limits. With real eggshells, already emptied, wiped of yolk, bought with patient labor. See all those sacrificial shells when you contemplate this.
Compare the complexified curves of Egg Formula with the quasi knot in Big Knot. The ambling curvature of bulk. The complex flight path of the airy eggshells.
Tensile is a physics term you can understand when viewing many of Eric N. Mack’s artworks. If only to appreciate one of fabric’s finest features: it’s drape.
A tensile structure is a construction of elements carrying only tension and no compression or bending. …. Tensile structures are the most common type of thin-shell structures. Wikipedia: tensile structure.
(This lay person’s definition is more comprehensible than Wikipedia’s plain Tensile entry.)
Mack says he’s a painter but few painters play with the slinkiness of woven fibers. Or 3D for that matter — yet Mack is clearly visualizng the effect of viewpoint on your appreciation of his artwork. Some works seem more baldly conceived as squarish rooms with sides, exteriors, interiors. Others play with the relative transparancy of joined panels as they color-mix with fabric more and less visible behind.
Color-mixing example of work by Eric N. Mack
One thing I viscerally love in Mack’s work is his sensitivity to fabric’s innate variables. What’s called the hand, or the way fabric crumples crisply or folds softly in your tender grip. That grip is assessing tensility. This is a quality that few artists choose to deal with — vary, use to their advantage. Mack does. You see it plainly here. What’s the deforming function of that black strip at the bottom?
Eric N. Mack, Blue Duet II, Polyester and silk organza, from Simon Lee Gallery.
Eric Mack’s father owned a clothing store, hence his intimacy with fabric. He went to a prestigious art high school, on to Yale, and has had residencies with The Studio Museum in Harlem Artist-in-Residency Program and later a Rauschenberg Residency. If you see simplicity in his art, think again.
Were this a traditional paint-on-stretched-canvas it’s a composition I’d be drawn to in a fingersnap. But for the artist that’s not enough. You can’t ignore the slants and torques, the use of unfigured fabric for white space. You see it’s anchored twice to the rod and twice higher up on the wall. Every installation will be adjusted to its space, will alter how it hangs. You have to wonder if situations would force a mix of spaces that Mack wouldn’t like adapting to.
Eric N. Mack, untitled (set drape), Simon Lee Gallery.
As he’s gained reputation his palette has widened. A fabulous scarf, a pristine seemingly unused moving blanket. And his methods of display have widened out from clotheslines and curtainrods to more delicate or fascinating mounts. One looks like a professional stand for a microphone — draped with sheer fabrics in tones that women’s nylons might be woven from. Titled A Gift.
A Gift dates from 2015, the same year of a drawn/painted sketch, on pegboard, Black Cornucopia. It’s claustrophobically cramped, vague triangles of color in a certain array. You would bet good money that it wasn’t the same artist.
That’s worth pondering when you consider what an artist may deem to be an adequate sketch for themself.
Gezicht-in-Amsterdam-mogelijk-bij-het-Rokin-George-Hendrik-Breitner-1912, free from Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
When Mack collages, he backs paper on a fabric hanging, not on a hard surface. They must be devilish to move and hang without damage to the fragile paper parts. Some are overtly political. Instead of abstraction you get frontal content. Anger, race, nameable pictures. In other collages he seems to be going for raw emotion, painted paper with gouges back down to the paper pulp, savage abstractions combined with typescript pages. This man’s work reaches here, reaches behind your back, reaches to the ground beneath his feet. He’s still finding ways to say.
(detail) Eric N. Mack, (Easter) The Spring / The Holy Ground, 2018. Acrylic, dye and paper on moving blanket, from Simon Lee Gallery.
The most recent work I’ve seen eschews fabric. Dyes are directly applied to paper. The colors speckle like a birds egg, applied lightly– maybe in a spray, even a mist. The pigment has a sense of filmyness, nothing suggestive of a brushstroke. You see that resists have masked off areas while in other parts the color layers blend. Reminiscent of his color effects in hanging layered cloth.
I recommend Nick N. Mack’s art for its energy, experiments and gusto. Dive in.
Kehinde Wiley, humans and motifs assembled from various online sources
Kehinde Wiley Paints Black
Kehinde Wiley is realer than his canvases. He’s a profoundly adept painter, but I see more here.
His work is hanging in nearly every contemporary art museum that fields a budget. He’s intentionally and successfully heroic in scale, lighting, pose. Which happens to showcase his exquisite studio skills as a painter. I suspect him of having a big brain.
His habit is to create a decorative background against which to pose a Black person who feels regal, entitled, opinionated. No Egon Schiele neurosis here. Power, self-possession, aware of their condition in racist reality. They wear their street clothes. They do not back down.
It’s significant that this is the opus of a painter. We know photography too well to be smacked in the face by a flounder by a deadeye portraitist in paint. We have our Alice Neels, our Philip Pearlsteins, portraitists who stamp their sitters with their modern distillations of style. They catch an essence, you can name the face that came and sat.
Wiley rejects that. I think he’s understood since way back that as a Black artist he wasn’t tilting against modernism — notably a segregated ambition — but against the anonymizing lie of Whites who feel they can talk about Blacks and understand “a black person” as a mute cartoon Negro. No hairstyle choice, no fire in the belly, no bent finger from fielding a pitch. No vibrations.
Art history holds big sway over Wiley. He’s studied and felt the White domination dripping like sugar-coating on a hot day. Are there even a hundred canvases known in the canon featuring Blacks? Here comes a painter riding a warhorse of talent and painting Blacks into history’s poses. It’s not your normal modern irony, angst, self-reflective. It’s irony is blatant and historic. Ever so hard to evade.
I watch myself lionizing this artist. I have favorites, true. But this is political — Kehinde Wiley has made stylistic choices that emphasize how much Black Lives Matter. He paints real faces with personal details, he has models wear what they’re wearing, their costuming from life. He often poses subjects echoing the poses of Whites memorialized famously in paint. The only difference, as Wiley points out wordlessly, is the color of their skin. Which in the classic surrounds keeps asking Why are we not here?
In another piece I might detail his merits as an artist. The way his unexpected backgrounds of flowers and furbelows slyly curl out around his humans. But that’s another story. Today we’re all alerted to the uneasy state of our democracy. Here’s an example of someone using art as an effective political tool.
When I first saw Wiley’s art in New York I sniffed a trick. The formula of the backgrounds fooled my eye into ignoring the gallery of faces so expertly seen. I’ve grown. Kehinde Wiley has taught me that you can wield artistic decisions for political clout.
I notice a strange kinship between the works of Janet Eschelman and Nancy Baker Cahill — trivial I expect each would rightly say but worth pondering say I. Both artists plan works against a background of sky. Not teapots on a tabletop, not twisted nudes on stools. Above is an impulse in both. How much art shares that?
Janet Eschelman’s netting installations attach to hold-fasts such as downtown office towers. They billow with wind and color and light. To showcase the effects of these things applied by fey nature rather than an artistic decision that says, It’s done is profound. The mysterious facts of local weather are a loud conceptual contrast to a closed contrivance. An invitation to come to life rather than a finished effect. Paint, bronze, extreme wedding cakes can’t attempt it.
Eschelman positions external lights with intention. Her nets are made of rope. Nothing inherently illuminating. Rope. The design of her nets includes a slackness that moves as feelingly as wind itself. This is an art of tension and abandon. There’s the ecological awareness alongside the grab-you aesthetic beauty. And the scale makes art you’ve never seen before. You are a small observer under it. There’s awe.
Baker-Cahill makes art that intervenes in the view you frame through your smart phone. The Augmented Reality piece she made for this recent July 4 takes a tangled batch of red-white-blue lines that form the suggestion of a Liberty Bell. If you look through your phone’s viewfinder at one end of Washington, DC’s reflecting pond you’ll see Baker Cahill’s bell huge above the water. The audio tolls solemnly as the bell seems to sway.
Baker Cahill’s graphic style — energetic bursts of lines, her focus on lines as opposed to blobs (mostly), her awareness of their aptness for expressing direction and speed. For expressing stream movement, a burbling over rocks. Or an explosion of colored remnants in the sky.
These lines are pixels not rope and by nature pixels are a form and source of light. There’s no outside photographer’s light, shining from the side. You can’t illuminate pixels. You can only add their shine to the shine of an external light, usually a diluting and muddling idea.
I assume but don’t know that this Augmented Reality work would appear on your smart phone as lit pixels, becoming brighter as the sun went down. The tether to the reality it augments is that the bell tolls over sites of historical interest.
I don’t understand technically why the bell only appears at certain sites. “Augmented Reality” may dictate it. I ponder what privacy and sanity issues would ensue if rogue artists beamed unexpected content into the viewfinder (reality-finder) of your phone.
I recently read a quantum physicist scoffing at the youthfulness of Quantum Theory — more or less a century — and comparing it to topics that have intrigued scientists as far back as Archimedes. The quantum man said there are things that don’t make sense in quantum mechanics and he wants for it make better sense. He’s in his forties. Maybe he will.
Keeping this physicist’s youngish-theory-attitude in mind I’ll make a last comparison between Eschelman and Baker Cahill. Eschelman has earned the accomplishments of a mature artist. She’s faced many daunting technical problems and come up a winner. As I said recently, the only other masterful rope artist I know of is Mrinalini Mukherjee. [I’m saddened to read that she died in 2015.]
Under duress, Eschelman took up native fishnets as a form and her art soared. She has changed “what is art?,” and gifted it with radical urban scope.
Augmented Reality is still under development, for Baker Cahill to step onto this unfirmed turf speaks to her brass and sass. [I use these loaded words for a reason: to normalize words like brass (nuts) and sass (a girly word). I consciously keep in the woman-centric metaphors that come to mind because my instinct is to hide them. Don’t sound weak. Goddam, let those housework metaphors roll out like jellyrolls.]
Baker Cahill is now standing in a spot similar to the beach where Eschelman began. Looking up. Early times for her hugely unexplored medium. But she has willing sponsors. And a medium most humans are infants at using. I hope for big things from her once she’s gifted with the scope to match her wingspan.
• FYI: Ismar2020, online conference Nov 9 – 13, 2020. IEEE International Symposium on Mixed and Augmented Reality (ISMAR) is the premier conference for Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR). Lots of folks claim to be “premier” so check this out another way before buying in.
Michael Hansmeyer and the Fourth Industrial Revolution
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is the fourth major industrial era since the initial Industrial Revolution of the 18th century. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. weforum.org
Sounds like fusion in cuisine and music, yes? Aspects of globalism, compass points converging. The tendency in modern practice to both hyper-focus and intermingle like a red sweatshirt in a laundry of white. In hyperfocus a medical doctor becomes an internist becomes a cardiologist becomes an expert on heart arrhythmia. The push-back tendency is for artists to work fruitfully with doctors, doctors to probe brains with physicists, physicists and musicians to learn things together.
You may think that the parer-downers have difficult work and complexifiers have it easy. Throw in a bunch of newts, some old silver dollars and onion soup mix. Complexity! We need to understand that mindless complexifying can be done by a dog undigging bones in a nice lawn. Don’t even need a human. But brilliant complexifying takes imagination and rigor.
An installation by Martin Hansmeyer, courtesy the artist.
Michael Hansmeyer, Computational Architect, is among the elite who think about reasons to wantonly complexify rather than to simplify. This unique corps of thinkers buck the trend of paring off the dross to find something pristine and spit-shined inside.
He has taken a platonic solid (think sphere > cube > pyramid >…dodecahedron) and designed a way to create thousands of unique versions. (The Hansmeyer site says if you have 3d glasses the forms will come out to meet you.)
Hansmeyer’s goal in complexifying is toward the discovery of brand new and hitherto unknown forms. Often their geometry is more complex than humans have been able to conceive before computers. Hence the computational in his job description. In a TED talk the artist shows a diagonal fold in a sheet of paper. His Platonic Solids and the elaborating columns that followed grow and morph based on that one fold. Innies and outies pushed to a paroxysm of expression.
Platonic Solids by Michael Hansmeyer, courtesy the artist.
All of the forms shown are generated using the same single process, Only the variables that control the process’ division operation are allowed to change. This single process affects both the form’s topography and topology. It influences attributes such as the degree of branching, porosity, and fractalization – just to name a few. Hansmeyer, Platonic Solids.
Origami, the ancient Japanese art of paper folding, has become a hot topic in mathematics and engineering. The father and son duo at MIT, Eric Demaine and his father Martin have famously pushed the study forward. “It’s very cool to make something that doesn’t exist,” says Martin.
The installation Murquanas by Michael Hansmeyer, courtesy the artist.
His fabrication information is well-sifted. You can learn plenty in a few short paragraphs.
Of Muquarnas (above): To articulate the the tiles of the original design, 15,000 individual hollow aluminum tubes were inserted into the tiers and glued into place. Specific tubes were custom fabricated in order to minimize their weight. Muqarnas, Fabrication
This is a mind that starts at computers and gets from algorithms to totally unique computer-controlled manufacturing. Abstract digits, touchable renditions. Imagination assisted by computers works out the practicalities of design. Plus people recognize the strangeness and bend their curiosity to understand.
Once the math has had its say the architect in Hansmeyer takes over to devise a visual form and make the airy math palpable. One thing I love about his work (I was a museum guard once) is that he invites viewers to touch. In one installation of columns each pillar was up-lighted in a small circle so that those who asked questions with their hands reached into a spotlighted space. The human encounters with his strange work seem another layer in his strategy.
A delighted viewer. Photo by Kyungsub Shin of Michael Hansmeyer columns installation, courtesy Michsel Hansmey
He obviously experiments with materials and architectural problems like gravity and force flows.
And architects need a crew of experts — with forms that no one has created before, they need wised-up experience.
You say to brick, “What do you want, brick?” … Brick says to you, “I like an arch.” If you say to the brick, “Arches are expensive, I can use a concrete lintel over an opening. What do you think of that brick?” … Brick says, “I like an arch.”
The question today is: What would a grain of sand like to be?
(Hansmeyer on beginning a new project that will be of cast sandstone.)
There’s a wealth of information in multiple formats, but sly little arrows reveal other whole troves. Like a clever mirror of complexity as a phenomenon, the volume keeps on expanding.
The variety of Hansmeyer’s endeavors can be found on his Projects page. You see his scope, from columns of evolving complexity to an encircling room of lace to a stageset for the Zauberflöte.
• Meaty quote about Eric and Martin Demaine, the MIT origamists:
[The Demaines]…built the piece by starting with a three-dimensional hexagon they folded from paper. They then inputted the shape into a computer and virtually erased all of the paper, so that only the creases remained. Next, they turned back to the tangible and created a dynamic piece of art, using aluminum rods, locked together at the joints with plastic spheres, to represent each crease.
“We took something real and virtualized it, and then made it real again,” says Martin.