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BSDA Artist Interview: Isabella Di Sclafani

April 1st, 2015 · No Comments

There is a delightful new show on Art Hound’s sister site, Buy Some Damn Art, by Montreal-based artist Isabella Di Sclafani. The artist treads a gray area in terms of style in this series which is based on historical portraits found in museum collections. These paintings largely read as folk art with their flatness, simplicity and disproportioned features but modern elements are also present like the huge cartoony eyes and hyper-saturated colors. Whatever style they might be defined as, these portraits, and historical portraits in general, are wonderful to view and analyze.

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Ann (Nancy) Johnson c.1770 (original by unknown artist)

Where did the source material for these portraits come from?

I look through art books at the library and online images from different museums. Pinterest is an excellent source as well because historical portraits are grouped by style and century. I’ve amassed a personal archive of various historical portraits…many I still haven’t used yet. Most source materials are in colour. I’ve also used many black and white images of historical portraits which forces me to invent my own colour palette. 3 out of the 6 paintings for BSDA were from black and white images of historical portraits.

In the end, all my historical portraits are interpretations. They’re certainly not exact copies of the original portraits. That’s never my goal when I paint a face whether it’s historical or not.
What I have realized is how much historical portraits have taught me in terms of technique such as how to paint an eye or how to shadow a nose or to paint a mouth. There’s something to be said about learning from the masters of the past.

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Man in Striped Shirt (Original by unknown artist)

Do you select portraits from a certain period of time and place?

So far, I’d have to say that the early 1800s seems to attract me. When I choose to paint an historical portrait, I’m always looking at the composition and facial expression of the person in question. Who that person was and what they did really isn’t what I’m interested in. If something doesn’t catch my eye when I look at an historical portrait, I keep searching until I find the right combination that speaks to me.

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Sir George Prevost c.1810 (Original by Robert Field)

Tell us about your style of painting.
I’ve been trying to figure that out for some time now. Can’t quite say that my work falls into any particular style. It seems to be a hybrid between expressionism, naive art, illustration, and folk art.

Do you have a formal art background?

Yes, I received my BFA (Drawing and Painting) from Concordia University in Montreal in 1989.

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Elizabeth Campbell Marchesa Di Spineto c.1812 (Original by Sir Henry Raeburn)

 

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Colonel Christian Daniel Claus c.1770 (Original by unknown artist)

What will you be working on in the coming months?

I’ll continue to work on both paintings and sculptures for the upcoming spring and summer season. I’ve begun a new series of work centred around portraits of my 2 children. I’m trying to figure out how to incorporate 2 people in one painting while still keeping the intensity of each person’s portrait intact and separate from each other without getting lost in the composition of the entire painting. At the same time, I can’t ignore the fact that these 2 people are my children. I’ve made portraits of both of my kids sporadically over the years since they were young. I think this new series will be more an exploration to see how far I can push the boundaries of the familiar and go beyond what I know and see.

BSDA Artist Interview: Polly Shindler

December 23rd, 2014 · 1 Comment

Today we launched a new show on Buy Some Damn Art by Brooklyn artist Polly Shindler.

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Fabric on Navy ( detail )

How did you end up making these mixed-media pieces with all the fabric scraps?

I used to TRY to make quilts but my favorite part was shopping for fabric. That was years ago. I have been trying to create dimension in my work, to see how far I can push the surface of my paintings. Fabric just came to me one day as a means to change the depth of the painting’s surface while employing pattern which is also interesting to me.

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Fabric on Gray ( detail )

Do you start with an idea of what a piece will look like or do you just let what happens happens?

I typically go in with a concept but once I’m into the painting,  many other things come up that change the outcome. Someone once told me that our ideas are far ahead of our practice-sometimes years, and I have come to believe that. I have ideas and materials that I may want to try but I first need to get some things out of my system. That usually means finishing a series I’m working on, then i can go forward with an idea I had months ago. It’s like you have to be mentally prepared to move forward.

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Sleep Rugs

You mentioned that you enjoy making art and want others to have fun with your work too. Can you go into that a bit?

I love humor in art. It’s what can draw me into a painting. I think I begin with a lighthearted approach, an sensibility that appeals to me  when I see it in other artists’ work. When you can relate to another artist’s methods or subject matter, it can have a greater impact on how you perceive the work. It works on several levels. And it can give you the feeling of being understood.

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Black with Fabric and Horn

What’s it like being an artist but also a curator? Do you think about your own work any differently based on your curatorial experience?

I thank the internet for my interest in curation. I see work online and want to see it live in my own personal space or the space I’ve been given (as a curator in residence) at Trestle Projects in Brooklyn. I put no limitations on what I put in a show-geographically. That’s really just the first step. Once I see work that I have to see in person, I’ll set up a studio visit or ask to see different pieces. And getting into peoples’ work spaces is inspiring too. When I get all the work hung together, it’s like having a dinner party with great friends. It’s also as if I make a work of art out of all these different pieces living together. And sometimes I’ll stand back and try to think of how the work is like mine and how it’s different. That can only inform my work.

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What the Cat Sees

You work out of a studio in Bushwick and go to a lot of shows. What’s the most exciting thing going on right now that people might be missing?

I try to get to as many shows as I can, but it’s never enough.  The most exciting thing to me is Instagram and Tumblr. There’s no way to see all the shows happening in Brooklyn,  let alone NYC.  And nothing beats seeing a favorite artist’s work in person. But the sheer quantity of work you can see  online in one afternoon can’t compare. Especially if you are working in your studio.  You have to multi-task–making and seeing work are pretty much equally important.

BSDA Artist Interview: Mary Laube

December 9th, 2014 · No Comments

Mary Laube makes beautiful paintings of living spaces that are methodically-conceptualized yet askew, disjointed, abstracted. Laube’s new body of work, Props, is now on Buy Some Damn Art. My interview with the artist is below.

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The Burying Place

KATE: Your paintings play off of architecture and the interior. Why these themes?

MARY: My personal living space has always been a site for creativity. Since I was a child, I have been a collector – of rocks, shells, keys, coins, and other trinkets. Over time I developed a ritual of rearranging various objects around my home into piles, stacks, and lines, based on formal relationships rather than symbolic narratives. In doing so, I inadvertently spend a lot of time studying the architectural forms of my surroundings. In many ways, the continual augmentation of my own personal space– whether that is my home or studio– has become my primary drawing practice. I have never been one of those artists who can fill page after page in my sketchbook when I am not in the studio.

After my mother passed away in 2008, I became obsessed with my memory of her and the changing perceptions of my childhood home. The work I started making at the time referenced specific interiors from my childhood. The images were conceived of through a mix of memory, observation, and invention. I wanted both the process and outcome of painting to represent the imprecisions that result from trying to pin down the past. Embedded within the larger expanses of flat color are smaller regions of specificity, intended to slowly draw oneʼs attention, similar to the way our brain seems to fixate on specific details and completely abandon others. I was using the domestic interior to represent the ideologies we create when confronted with loss.

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Autumn and the Snow

KATE: Some believe that spaces (i.e. house, room, church) have certain impregnable moods or energy. Others would say this is purely a result of memory and association. What do you think?

MARY: I think domestic and sacred spaces have the ability to conjure emotion through memory and association, not due to an inherent soul that they possess. However, I don’t think this makes these places any less meaningful. This relationship between environments and inhabitants is what I am most interested in addressing in my work. The associations, relationships, and memories of places affect how we construct our surroundings and in return, our surroundings can generate very powerful emotional currents in our daily lives.

Earlier this year I completed a project, Roses and Rue, which was an opportunity for me to install a show in an historic landmark, the Old Brick Church in Iowa City. It is one of the few surviving pre-Civil War structures in the city, built in 1856. I made a series of 6 altar-shaped paintings that lined the walls of the interior of the church. I first became interested in sacred spaces after learning about architectural designs of ancient Egyptian tombs that use the dramatic contrast between sunlight and complete darkness to trigger spiritual experiences. Western examples of churches or cathedrals have vaulted ceilings that produce an atmosphere with specific sound qualities, akin to Japanese meditation rooms. These spaces are manipulated and constructed by humans to elicit very specific sensations. However, this does not make any moods or energies that flow through these spaces any less real.

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In Heaven They Forget

KATE: Does the name of this series, “Props” allude to the stage?

MARY: Yes, the title refers to my interest in the act of staging, which has roots in the history of painting. I think a lot about paint as both a physical substance and a material employed to represent something other than itself. The facade of painting, similar to the facade of stage sets, museum backdrops, and dollhouses have varying degrees of believability. Museums and theater productions are platforms for sharing knowledge. Museums never just present raw data; they are curated and composed to tell a story just as a play is a self-contained narrative. I am specifically interested in the visible awkwardness and even crudeness that is evident in the attempt to represent history, to share scientific knowledge about the physical world, or to recreate events that have either already taken place or were completely invented in the first place. In the series, “Props,” I wanted to reference miniature stage sets that echo the appearance of folding and flatness associated with small-scale constructions.

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Woodbines Peeping Through

KATE: Some of your paintings are quite large. Does size enhance the illusion that the paintings are real interiors?

MARY: A couple of years ago I went on a road trip and came across the House on the Rock, a quasi-museum/ tourist attraction located in southwest Wisconsin. I decided to work on a much larger scale after visiting an exhibition within the museum, called, The Streets of Yesterday, a close-to-human-scale construction of an outdoor street block. It is lined with window displays that are slightly smaller than an ordinary storefront, yet the objects displayed within the windows are of a normal size. This subtle miniaturization produces a very uncanny sensation for the visitor. Working large gives me more room to experiment with this kind of abstraction.

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Shady Garden

Over the past several years I have experimented with dramatically shifting the size of my painting supports. While my current work is rather large, I am looking at dollhouses for source material (specifically the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago). While visiting these constructions in person has been a key part of my research, I am more interested in the photography of miniatures. They are framed as if the viewer is actually standing within one of the doorways. At first glance, the rooms appear to be human-sized spaces. As time passes they slowly unhinge, and the believability of the room dissolves. It isnʼt necessarily a sense of “realness” that I am trying to achieve in the work, but a tension between flatness and illusory effect. The large scale of the work has the ability to envelop the viewer, producing that uncanny sensation that I experience when moving through a manipulated space.

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Rose

KATE: You move back and forth between work that is more architectural at times and at other more abstract. Do you think you can achieve the same goals in your art working in abstraction?

MARY: Abstraction occurs on a million different levels. In my work I find it more useful to consider abstraction a process or formation of relationships, rather than the state of being. With that said, I think all of my work is deeply invested in abstraction, even though various projects employ different levels of objectivity. I have recently returned to making work that is more representational because many of the ideas. I am gravitating towards are founded in specific research goals that call for this kind of imagery. However, in smaller studies, such as “Props” I can isolate moments that exist in the larger works to satisfy my itch to focus entirely on formal relationships.

BSDA Artist Interview: Michelle Fleck

November 4th, 2014 · 2 Comments

San Francisco-based artist Michelle Fleck is back with new work on Buy Some Damn Art. 

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Boxed In

KATE: Your artwork deals with urban environments. How was the city of San Francisco, and your neighborhood in particular, evolved since you started painting these landscapes? Are you still inspired by the same things?

MICHELLE: Living in SF for almost 10 years now, I’ve always been drawn to scenes from urban landscapes and the intersection of the man-made and nature. As of late, my work has been impacted by witnessing this city undergo rapid change. My neighborhood keeps developing and every time I leave the house it seems like something new pops up. This series in particular was inspired by watching large condo units being built where there were once longtime vacant lots. A lot of the pieces depict the potted plants being brought in to add greenery these newly completed buildings. This group of paintings explores urban expansion and finds beauty in these moments of newness and change.

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Waiting Room

KATE: Can you talk a bit about your palette, which includes bright pink, orange and neon green?

MICHELLE: I love bright, artificial colors (what can I say, I grew up in the 90s loving Lisa Frank!) and often juxtapose them with more muted or subdued earth tones. These contrasting color families always jump out at me when I’m walking around the city, and I find them really stunning when placed side by side in my work. They act as a visual metaphor for the concepts I explore in my work.

KATE: A recurrent theme in your work is the sectioning off of certain areas by the use of plastic fencing and stakes and rope. What lies behind this theme?

MICHELLE: I think I’m drawn to these barriers because they speak to our pattern as humans to exert control over a space or situation. The fences, ropes, string and caution tape are all metaphors for control and containment, or separation of man and nature.


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High Rise


KATE: Have you ever dabbled in mixed-media or incorporated found objects in your works?

MICHELLE: Honestly, not so much lately!  I love and have always loved paint. While I like the idea of branching out to new media, I’m kind of a perfectionist, so I always find myself going back to what medium I’m most comfortable with.

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Artificial Nature


KATE: What is inspiring you to create new work at this point in time?

MICHELLE: Being in the Bay Area, where art has a huge presence, really keeps me going. And as opportunities to show work keep coming up, that inspires me to continue creating as well.

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See/read  a studio visit with Michelle here.

BSDA Artist Interview: Noémie Jennifer

October 28th, 2014 · 4 Comments

There is a new show on Buy Some Damn Art by Brooklyn artist Noémie Jennifer.

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Pillar

KATE: You spent time at both Brown and RISD. Do you feel that either prepared you for your post-college life as an artist and creative person? If what what has?

NOÉMIE: Brown and RISD are great places to learn how to value, follow and theoretically carry out your ideas. But they didn’t do too much to prepare me for all the practical aspects of post-college life (I think maybe RISD does a little bit more of that, but I can’t speak to it as I was technically full-time at Brown and just took some classes at RISD on the side). All of that practical knowledge I gained afterward, often from people in totally different industries. I worked office jobs, then transitioned into self-employment, and from there finally feel like I have the right tools to transition into creative self-employment. But I’m not there yet and I still have a lot to learn.

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Untitled, 2010.

KATE: A few years ago your drawings were restrained, organic and calming. Today your work seems quite different-  bold, charged. The thin lines have been replaced by much heavier marks. Is there a link between these periods of work that viewers might not recognize?

NOÉMIE: I have so many paintings in my head right now that layer organic marks with bolder, more graphic marks, and I feel like both those strains of work are languages I want to learn in their own right before bringing them together.

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Fold

KATE: What role do the grids play in these works? How much is the process part of the final product?

NOÉMIE: Process is hugely important to me and it’s very transparent in these works. I can trace these back to their beginning pretty easily—they start and end with the grid (first in pencil, then in ink). So it’s a guide through the process, and then gets layered on top of everything else. I like how grids and patterns can go in and out of focus, how they both show things and hide them.

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Spine

KATE: What does it mean to you to be an artist?

NOÉMIE: Well…I think I could probably find a different way to answer that question at any given moment of the day! So I’ll go with what feels right as I’m writing this: it means that I get to spend several hours today thinking other than in words.

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Art Transformer Project in Providence, Rhode Island.

KATE: Can you tell us a bit about the Art Transformer Project?

NOÉMIE: Sure! I was living back in Providence for a few months when the city’s call for proposals went out. It was a while before I heard back (we are talking about city government here!) and I was eventually selected, as one of twelve artists, to paint electrical transformer boxes across the city. I painted my three boxes in over 90-degree heat in the summer of 2013, adapting paintings from my “Indexed” series to the 3D object. It was a step out of my comfort zone to work outside, as I’m usually very private when I’m working, but eventually I found interactions with passersby fun and rewarding. I would definitely do it again.

BSDA Artist Interview: Ellen Siebers

September 16th, 2014 · No Comments

Brooklyn-based artist Ellen Siebers is now exhibiting six of her paintings on Buy Some Damn Art.

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The Awk The Orchard

KATE: There’s a great deal of talk about the art scene in Bushwick. Living in Brooklyn and having exhibited in multiple shows in Bushwick what would you say about all the hype? Is Bushwick really the pulse point of new art?

ELLEN: I think the best part of what’s going on in Bushwick is that it is a supportive community for artists. If I’ve learned anything about living as a professional artist, it is that good things usually happen (shows, getting work) by your artist friends talking about you and your work to others. That is all to say that your community is extremely important and Bushwick is a place that these crucial friendships are given the chance to flourish. There’s so much energy in Bushwick right now. However, I hope there isn’t a singular pulse point for new art. This idea of living and working in the NYC area as an artist has lived for so long, and while it is still important and a great place to be, I have just as many artist friends living elsewhere who are contributing in an equal capacity. We constantly need to rethink models/ways of how to exist as professional artists.

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Armlessness II

KATE: Is Brooklyn still (one of) the best place to live and work as an artist?

ELLEN: I think the best place to live and work as an artist can only be defined by each individual artist, and their needs for making the best work that they can. It is one of the best places, but there have to be so many places of equal importance for different reasons.

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Cross Leg Cross Tack

KATE: You paint on marble ground. What exactly is that and why do you chose this material?

ELLEN: Marble ground or a marble gesso is a traditional way of making a painting ground, but it behaves very differently than the gesso that can be purchased at the store. It is made out of a binder (rabbit skin glue, PVA) and marble dust. It has to be poured upon a rigid surface, like plywood, because it would crack if put upon canvas.

I struggled with grounds for a long time before finding this surface. I always loved the absorbency and quality of paper, and the acrylic gessos were too resistant for my taste. This ground soaks up paint very quickly in the first few layers and has a beautiful matte surface, much like paper. It can also take a lot of abuse, which is good because I often sand off layers of paint with a hand sander and start over. It is both delicate and sturdy, which would seem impossible but I feel I need both qualities in a surface.

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Blanketed

KATE: Tell us about the works in this show. Where do these visual themes come from?

ELLEN: These works in the show are recent, from the last year or so. During that time I had moved from Wisconsin to Brooklyn which really exposed a lot of my ties to Midwestern terrestrial forms and experiences. I spent a lot of time taking in imagery in my surroundings and comparing that to memories of where I grew up. That being said, I don’t feel that the paintings are overwhelmingly nostalgic. I more have a sincere interest in trying to document this type of experience that I’m sure others experience as well. The paintings are an attempt to recall these experiences and document them the best that I can without the assistance of things like photography.

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A Lesson In Water

KATE: What is most inspiring to you right now – either in your art practice or life in general?

ELLEN: Two specific things I am finding really inspiring are the Shakers, and Blinky Palermo. Their specific spiritual tendencies are really interesting to me. I am trying to navigate through things very slowly and be as sponge-like as possible, and I find a lot of material through that daily exercise.