Rus Khasanov, WOW from project The Beauty of Shattered Discs. Courtesy the artist.
The WOW Word, the Glowing Art of Rus Khasanov
Succulent chromatic color, unpredictable natural movement, the contradictory ways of oil and water vying to influence what you see. How you see. The artist Rus Khasanov combines the patience of wisemen with the whimsy of jugglers. His cameras record the evanescent dance of his materials.
While working on this project, I was faced with the constant following of the ideal shot, which is so close and distinct, but constantly disappears beyond the horizon. ruskhasanov.com
Khasanov works on the tightrope of an image-making technique he cannot control. It’s like a well-conceived experiment in the lab — you control the variables but cannot imagine what the true unfolding may look like. He tracks his quarry with still and video cameras. His worry is the best shot may reveal itself right after the camera has paused.
My own artwork is also pixel-based and I both envy his ability to photograph actual pixel colors and rejoice that my method — professional printing — does not require the attention Khasanov’s methods do. Ideally my work would like to be onscreen on the wall But they are without motion or change and inapt for screen longevity or attention keeping.
If anyone anywhere knows of software that will allow an animated GIF to be embedded in a Photoshop image, please let me know. I try it in Apple Motion and get a gigabyte-sized file. But damn I love that file!
In profiling Khasanov’s work I get the guilty pleasure of playing with GIFs running simultaneously. Not so easy to do. I love how the blacks pour through each of the first three GIFs. On his site Khasanov has almost 33 projects, most exploring color and motion in admirably ingenuous ways.
My last profile was of the artist of Gargantua, Refik Anadol. Anadol wants to leave you speechless — he hies himself to mountaintops in order to throw lightning bolts. Khasanov agrees that Anadol is a great artist. He’s the perfect foil for Khasanov who sees at a much-magnified level of micro-detail. A level your raw eyesight would sniff at like a curious dog and wander off. With his cameras Khasanov works like an artist framing with matboard L-shapes a precious piece of a whole image. It is a method of abstraction.
Rus Khasanov, from the project Beyond the Horizon. Courtesy the artist.
Rus Khasanov, .GIF from project Beyond the Horizon. Courtesy the artist.
Rus Khasanov, from the project Beyond the Horizon. Courtesy the artist.
Rus Khasanov, .GIF from project Beyond the Horizon. Courtesy the artist.
Rus Khasanov, from the project La La La. Courtesy the artist.
A wonderfully engaging sample of Khasanov’s work commissioned by Wired Magazine. Under 1 minute
Compare Khasanov with my last profile of a master of the gargantuan Refik Anadol
When I started this blog in 2012 Khasanov was my first subject.
Give yourself the nearly-twelve-minute time it takes to re-set everything you knew about art materials. I feel like someone upset a bushel of ping-pong balls inside me and they’re bouncing every-which-way. Amazing, unthinkable, way outside the galaxy!
It’s not uncommon for me to think further after publishing on a topic. My idea was that I had misspoken of Anadol’s work, that the data points are more like the model on the chair. The teapot, cube, rosebud. The algorithms would serve as the brushes and clay. But in reviewing this talk I hear him equating data points with pigments. You have to be a numbskull or a philosopher to argue about the interpretation of a metaphor — already a figure of speech. As if there was something science could measure and report on. Pin down for posterity.
I’ll have to think harder than I have to make a data-pigment connection. Its distance from my thinking is discordant enough that it will keep twitching uncomfortably in my brain.
The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka” but “That’s funny…” Isaac Asimov (1920–1992) in American Scientist.
The Princeton polymath John Tukey (1915–2000) observed that “the greatest value of a picture is when it forces us to notice what we never expected to see.” (same source).
Please see also my next profile of Rus Khasanov. Between them you see how wide artistic curiosity can differ and still be Art.
Photograph by Ivanna Torres of Unsplash. On unsplash.com I cannot find Ivanna_Torres, Ivanna Torres, Ivanna, Torres (plenty of Torres’s but not the right one.) Aha! Ivanna Torres. I followed the photo ID on Google.
I can’t find this photographer though I collected her work within the last two days. Ouch! …OK, now I have her but want it on record that I often can’t find photographers directly on unsplash. Bah.
Torres clearly has a camera that can be submerged and she’s taking shots that focus partly underwater and partly out in the free air. This isn’t the only shot of Torres’ I pulled off unsplash but it’s the one I fixated on.
This is the use of a tool that I love to see. The artist is exploring the fringes of what effects the tool will allow. It’s an extraordinary shot, surreal, edgy, beautiful.. I want to follow her explorations. It occurs to me that a split view can be achieved in multiple ways.
Last night I was woodshedded by a friend, in the sense that I was privately lambasted for my muddle-headed idea for testing the concept of fair use in copyright law.
If I’m in the right lane at an intersection and attempt a left turn any accident is my fault. No ambiguity. But if I justify my publication of an image by pointing to the text I write about it — well my friend says that sucks. A lawcourt might as well.
The lesson I take is that by displaying Gyasi’s image without his permission puts him, the unsuspecting artist, in a weird position he did nothing to provoke. I didn’t pull his name from a hat. I’ve collected well over 800 artists on Artsy and Gyasi’s work stuck insistently in my head. Mainly because of his startling success with color. I sought out his work in my Artsy catalog, going down one-by-one more than halfway before I hit on his entry.
Till then I could see the work in my head but not remember his distinctive name. Now I’ve published and commented on the work. If he doesn’t know yet, Google will most likely tell him. I owe him an apology for snagging him into a controversy. He did nothing to incite this stranger (me) than to do stunning artwork that the stranger saw. Unfair, reprehensible. Stupid.
Sir, I apologize to you.
Recently Ruth Bader Ginsberg lay in state while thousands of people filed past. Some needed to pause a moment to pray or commune, others hustled past mindful of those behind them. I have seen the Mona Lisa, but in that hasty second way. I looked, grokked, got out of the way.
Fact is I don’t quite get it about the Mona Lisa. I observe her standing in public regard but I’ve never connected with an aha! The Nike of Samothrace however takes my breath away. I stayed a long time with her from more than one vantage and as I left felt I was being dragged away from a piece of my heart. The sculpture I assume is centuries wise and understands how to cherish all the nuggets of self we leave in homage.
Prince Gyasi. The artist’s way with color is twofold. First is his ability to achieve an intensity of color saturation that could look hokey but doesn’t a bit. I believe his world contains this powerful color and he has found techniques that initiate and convince us. His second achievement composes photo shoots where color rules even though the models caught show raw individuality. His website quotes him “color can serve as a therapy, it can treat depression and transform emotions.”Here is where I feel we meet, I agree with every bone in my body. Colors are like fruits that you can bite into. Songs that give you wings.
Gyasi’s color is like a limp balloon he pumps with helium. He gives color extra meaning.
Testing, testing. Above we have two images. One is by Leonardo da Vinci whom you may have heard of by now. I know lots about her making, down to the wood that she’s painted on and how it warps seasonally. Green and brown is among my favorite color combinations and lend themselves to the Mona Lisa’s harmonious charm.
The image is copyright-free on Wikipedia. The image on the right is a screen grab from the website of Prince Gyasi, a Ghanaian. I do not have permission to use the image but I want to say that the artist’s achievement of supra-natural colors is the work of an iPhone. His experiments with photo-printing papers call attention to his curiosity.
In my view Gyasi is a fine artist. Da Vinci too. Gyasi photographs the stunning beauty of black black skin. His figures are rhythmic. Da Vinci’s rhythms are more subdued, have gentleness, grace. Gyasi is younger and his energy sings out. His inventiveness — as in the piece above — has nothing to do with the culmination of years of study. The artist’s focus is when the camera clicks.
I continue my tussle with the rights and particulars of copyright laws, specifically what is fair use to a blogger? My use of the works above is a test. I hope Mr Gyasi takes no offense at my using his distinctive work. It’s worth blogging about and I believe I’ve discoursed on it enough to claim fair use when using it.
The only identifiable face exposed is Mona Lisa’s. So no rights infringement there.
When I wrote my profile of Deborah Roberts I was denied the use of images by Stephen Friedman Gallery in London. That made my piece on Roberts less powerful and convincing, more challenging for the reader to decode. And it does the artist, getting less clarity or boost, no favors.
What you want a profile to provide is the flavor of the artist. It should not be hide’n’seek, bait’n’switch. Follow the links — surprise! — you’re the researcher now.
For months I’ve been compiling material for an essay on Furniture in Art. A survey. May I address this topic? By all means. Can I illustrate the survey with widespread examples and still claim fair use? Will that hold true in Bulgaria?
If I use no more than one image from each artist? If the essay remarks on the image and why it’s relevant here? Will Chinese law disagree?
Will USA law agree? British? (Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.)
Why — if I cannot receive even as much as pocket-change from my profile — can’t I use low-resolution, significantly downsized replicas of artworks?
What is free speech to a commentator on the visual arts without showing examples of the visual arts under discussion? Can a gallery refuse me use but can fair use rights override their no?
This is a test. Soon I’ll do another with an essay on furniture in art. Live, test the limits and learn.
I am not a man, I’m dynamite, by Deborah Roberts. Mixed media and collage on canvas, 2019.
Addendum (11.01.20.) I’ve received feedback that some think Deborah Roberts is a so-so artist. I emphatically disagree. I also disagree – – jumping up and down disagree — with the ambiguity of copyright law, in that what’s fair use and what isn’t seems to be about how big a law firm you can afford.
Deborah Roberts, Pieces Made into Wholeness
This powerhouse artist minces no words. She’s cut her way through photographs and found images and assembled the pieces into believable disjointed faces whose strong emotions you feel viscerally. Collage is fundamentally piecework but Roberts’ non-negotiable expressions lead me to call her collages wholework. These people are not composed for a pricey oil portrait, they’re caught in living moments. Mind-fuck situations. Trying to make Tab A fit in Slot B when Tab A is made of living crabs and Slot B is an unapproachable black hole.
I remember once as a child, after my father had spanked me he began applauding and and jeering why didn’t I really cry? A little white girl in a home of refined tastes. I felt in that outraged moment like the Pacific Ocean was trying to collide with Mars. Does not connect. In life you love and sometimes love knocks you clear off your pivot. Rarely, which is why it’s such a shove.
Recently the journalist Kristen Welker moderated 2020’s third Presidential debate. She happens to be Black which means she knows about what Black people know as The Talk — the mandatory indoctrination for Black children by their parents on how not to provoke a White person into killing you. Ms Welker asked each candidate to comment on The Talk.
I take nothing from my furious little girl self. You can only react to the cards you’re holding. But my grown-up self tries to imagine The Talk. My parents tutoring me how to stay alive when in the company of other-skinned police. How to live in a society that prides itself on fairness — but, by the way, no one means Black people. You’re out of luck, brace yourself.
You want incomprehensible? White girl, bite down on that.
Deborah Roberts’s pieces give special attention to several parts of portraiture. The face is primary and it’s uncanny how well the artist can tell which pieces make emotions plain. Meaning complex but plainly seeable. Say a questioning face with iron determination in it. Two pieces that we can read together.
My impression is that Roberts inks in the Black hairdos. Making the photographs less personal, recognizable.
Deborah Roberts, sample hairstyles.
Deborah Roberts, sample hands (with an added white one).
Deborah Roberts, sample footwear.
Deborah Roberts sample clothes.
The hands are a focus, often way outsized for the character. There’s always invention and immaturity in the poses of the young girls. She keeps growing as an artist, adding boys, women, men. And most notably — you feel it in your solar plexus — she’s added pieces of white faces, white hands into the troubled identity of her Black people.
You should also attend to her choice of footwear. When the subject’s feet are included Roberts is picky about the socks and shoes. Her people dress with personality.
Lastly, the torso seems to have a particular meaning. You’d swear the artist isn’t paying attention until you see how unerringly a rectangle of stripes shows just how a subject’s shoulders would sit. Also the torso is where Roberts can indulge her fancy in highly patterned and often wild clothing.
The figures are so startlingly realistic you lose sight of how surreal they actually are. I look at Roberts’ figures and say Of course. The artist treats the ratio of surreal and real like a rock guitarist a wah-wah pedal. Some works feature crazy exaggerations. Others put their foot down decisively. No experimenting here.
The first art I ever made that wasn’t someone else’s was collage. I have strong feelings about it. It’s in this context that I look at Deborah Roberts’ work with great respect. What seems weightless and little thought can only be due to deep seeing. The parts she exaggerates, those she sets akimbo, the sketchy arms, the ink hairdos — don’t take these for granted. The way she weights her works is telling. Meaningful.
See more of her work at the links below. [For an explanation of why I illustrate Roberts’ fine work with lame illustrations see the next post on Copyright and Fair Use.]
PPS: This image mix was culled from a web search. I’m suggesting it is fair use to showcase Roberts’ evocative range.
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.