Monday, August 4, 2014

Open Studios @ the AIR Barn, Sam & Adele Golden Foundation for the Arts, July 30 2014

237 Bell Rd.
New Berlin, NY 13411

Time once again for the Open Studios experience at the Golden Foundation's residency program out in rural New Berlin, NY. The way it works is pretty simple: Via their website application, word of mouth and recommendation from affiliated entities artists from around the world are invited to apply for a monthlong residency in the foundation's glorious studio barn facility just down the road from the Golden's Artist Colors paints factory. Applicants are juried and those chosen for a place in the program are literally provided with the might of the factory's output of artmaking materials, thirty days to come up with ideas on what to do with it and take a spot amongst two or three other artists to show us what they can do.

While primarily known for the acrylic-based compounds Golden's has excelled at producing, this visit completely destroyed any myth in my mind regarding the selection of artists focusing squarely on those who might demonstrate how to paint with acrylics. I'd say now that it focuses on selecting artists who excel at artmaking in general and have demonstrated a zeal for experimentation with both materials and methods. Two of the three artists this time out weren't even using brushes to "paint" in the traditional manner, though they all used brushes to apply the paints, gels, grounds and related substances to the surfaces which inspired them. One had a background in encaustics, one was an oil painter and the other a polymath of creative energy who uses whatever ends up in hand. Acrylics was new turf for all three but I saw just as much use of watercolor, oil and use of image transfer which had more to do with collage then painting. Let's take a look.

Windmills & Wires in Hamilton NY on the way out.

First up is Colorado native Ruth Hiller, if memory serves currently living in Brooklyn NY and primarily an encaustics artist before encountering the goodie bin at the Golden's plant up the block. And had absolutely run with it, producing what appeared to be a gallery full of artwork during her time at the barn. General rule of thumb that she conceded is that the pieces on the wall were finished works, experiments and sketches on the tables. I also saw them as divided into solid surfaces like plywood or board and then flexible surfaces such as paper or -- my big discovery for the day -- duralar, a mylar like plasticoid surface used for CAD rendering by architects. And artists who want a particular kind of milky, cloudy surface which takes lines like they were cut with a scalpel. I want some!

Ruth's table of experiments on solid surfaces.

Ruth Hiller

Ruth Hiller, and I asked her about these recurring rectangular forms with the rounded edges. I was reminded of windows on a jetliner but was stoked to hear her describe it as "soft geometry", a term that echoes game level design days referring to squashing or stretching the dimensions of a polygon to build real world forms. Here it's more literal and I found it intriguing that she chose tough pressed plywood as the material to soften up.

I became even more intrigued when Ruth told me that the use of plywood is like a "return to nature" for her, a notion that has occurred to myself more than once. Many of the forms in the landscapes I've painted were suggested by wood grain patterns in the surfaces used, most of which were pressed plywood cut unto long narrow "letterboxed" sections. But where mine have almost all been opportunistically dragged off piles of building material refuse with no real care over just what the material is, Ruth specifically seeks out plywood for that built in wood grain character. 

Though it did sort of blow my mind that someone would seek out manufactured plywood for that return to nature until thinking later about her place of origin. Did three years in Brooklyn too and yeah, any retreat from brick, concrete, steel and asphalt did indeed feel like a walk on the golf course. Looking at the pictures back at home after I can see better how she's using the grain patterns for their pure form value. And decided that her work with its emphasis on geometric forms, solid surfaces and textures had more to do with sculpture than flat 2d imagemaking while still being very much paintings. Figure that one out.

Ruth Hiller, sketches and what I believe were early drawings from her stay at the foundation.

Ruth Hiller, and amongst my favorites from the things we saw and mostly because it isn't what the brain might think. The "plywood" sections on these are made using Golden's digital grounds which transfer a printed image to the wet surface prepared with it. If I understand how the process works correctly the image then "bleeds" from the print into the ground surface (in this case duralar drafting material) and the clarity of the results good enough to fool my eye even standing three feet away. But still very much a painting and it is all about that orange poking through the white. The beet red purple up top ain't bad either.

Ruth Hiller

Ruth Hiller

Ruth Hiller

Ruth Hiller, and I believe this one is composed of solid panels with the "plywood" bits again painted using the digital ground transfer method.

Ruth Hiller

Some of Ruth's experiments using trial cards prepared with various acrylic grounds, I believe most are done with Golden's Williamsburg line of oil paints.

Ruth Hiller

Ruth Hiller

On of Ruth's sketchbooks ... Mine tend to be cluttered with random directions to people's houses, shopping lists or notes about movies to review. 

Ruth Hiller, and I kicked myself for not having any zombies in the Jeep to offer up as a trade for this. Lord knows what it's comprised of but that's cool.

Looking for UFOs!

Kristin Texeira at what I thought of as the control panel of her studio starship, piloting it to courses unknown as ideas flowed through her. I believe we saw a little something of everything from Kristin: Painting, drawing, what might be thought of as cartooning or illustration, painting, found object assemblage, writing, math problems, date and time keeping. Her creative task struck me as being focused on organizing data more than trying to think up sumptuous beauty and my eyebrows went right up when overhearing her say that she doesn't consider her paintings to be finished until they tell a story.

Also as with Ruth above & Jessalyn below, almost everything produced here was created by Kristin during her 30 day stay at the AIR Barn, a phenomenal amount of work that got a very sincere knuckle-knock as propz. She'd brought some work to finish up which was of such a completely different approach that I actually singled it out as my favorite. Which is why you always have to go back for a 2nd look! and the second time around the freshness of approach seen her newer work was more evident.

Kristin Texeira

Another look at Kristin's control console.

Kristin Texeira, and another of my favorite things we got to see all day. Each about 6x8 inch postcard sized and oil on paper. All windows, and this collection in particular got me thinking about windows & the purposes they serve. Sure they allow us to look through walls -- both seeing out and looking in -- but they also keep things out. We put screens on them to allow fresh air in or other window substances over them to keep cold out. And who ever thinks about how we're usually looking through windows rather than at them? Unless maybe you sell windows or are looking to buy some, or are doing what she's doing here, which to me looked like regarding them as portals to specific times & places rather than painting what was on the other side.

Kristin Texeira

Kristin Texeira

Kristin Texeira, and there's a hint of her direction in materials: Nice pile of acrylics including the High Flow which I believe all three artists had jolly fun with. Need to get some for mom!

Kristin Texeira, and as it looks she raided an old barn for most of this, with very subtle use of paint transforming it into something other than just a collage of wood scrap.

Kristin Texeira

Kristin Texeira

Kristin Texeira -- This is the one I'd singled out as a favorite, a commission started before coming to New Berlin and I can't recall if she said it had been finished. I still like it! but to be fair the growth in confidence between its imagemaking and the combining of new elements seen in the more recent work is striking. Here is a painter transformed.

Kristin's sketchbook.

Kristin Texeira, and another favorite from the day.

Kristin Texeira

Kristin Texeira, and my updated favorite of her work when all was said & done. And again I can't recall if she'd indicated this was finished or not. Made me think of "Physical Grafitti" with its brownstown filled with windows.

"OMG overdraft notice" look.

Lastly Jessalyn Haggenjos, whom it turns out is a former classmate and long-time homegirl of my colleague Jenna North from the Utica Project-U posse. I can see these two taking San Francisco by storm and indeed am pretty sure they already have, looking forward to being a fly on the wall sometime while they rehash old exploits. And Jessalyn's own work is exactly what one would expect from a dynamo: Energetic, almost frenzied use of color with every piece being a new experiment and none of it easily classifiable as "abstract" or figurative. I saw shellfish, amphibians and pastry cakes in her work, would like a nice slice of that one on turquoise up top, though as with the other two artists it was her smaller more experimental pieces which held my attention.

Come to think of it I can't recall if I even asked which work was newer or older, as it didn't matter. Here's an artist who has cultivated a clever visual language which is difficult to classify, always a good sign that they're working towards a new form of expression. The paintings I saw were almost all "materials oriented", which to me means that the depiction of imagery was secondary to an engagement between the artist and their chosen medium. Sure, they looked like crustaceans and carrot cakes but that's just the result of my own brain attempting to impose order on the masses of color, textures, boundary lines between zones and light reflective properties. She's drawing alright, but it's not like one draws a pair of shoes or sketches a basket of apples, with the resultant "images" more about how the work sort of ended up when she felt it was finished, rather than an image pursued from the get-go via rendering techniques. 

Jessalyn Haggenjos

Jessalyn Haggenjos ... not sure if this was something old or new but gravitated right to it. Has that Jenna North orange, and remarked at one point that if you combined Ruth Hiller's "soft geometry" with Jessalyn's aggressive use of liberated pure form obsessing on surface textures you'd pretty much end up with a Jenna North painting.

Jessalyn Haggenjos

Frog Pond Art! by Jessalyn Haggenjos. Frog ponds played a recurring theme over the past few weeks and I'd like a try at one too after seeing this. Which I believe is mostly Golden's High-Flow acrylics being dripped onto a gelatinous mass of acrylic gel which wasn't quite dry just yet. Absolutely glorious work! and my favorite single thing from the day. Even more so as it was displayed right on the table top facing up, which once you think about it is how frog ponds should be depicted. Either that or all the water would leak out, the littles would flop over and the frogs left to fend with gravity all on their own. Glad I got to see this!

Jessalyn Haggenjos

Jessalyn Haggenjos, and yeah I get barnacles from these.

Jessalyn Haggenjos ... Looks like one got stuck in the mouth of JAWS, which is ironic as giant monster shark movies were a topic at dinner ... huh.

Jessalyn Haggenjos, getting busy with Golden's new QOR Watercolors line and having instant results. She confided that not everything had come together for her until the days leading up to the open studios during which a outpouring of painting presented itself to be made. 

Jessalyn Haggenjos

Jessalyn talking materials with Chris from Golden's design team and acrylics expert Mike, always ready to boggle the mind with details about the properties of the paints & related substances.

"... Sounds like my handbrake failed ..."

"The View", as I'm coming to call it, on the stairway between the two floors. As in it's definitive, pure, and to be savored.

Upstairs at the fourth studio space where I had the good fortune to engage in a bit of work for the Golden Artist Colors design team in December 2012. They provided me with two doors and instructed me to scribble & paint all over them as a demonstration of their Acrylic Grounds for Pastels.

Watch the results here. Fun project!!

THE TUBE MACHINE! it awaits its next victim, will be keeping an eye on this thing and what it devours. Spent a couple weeks staying in my dad's basement and he too has an ingenious series of air purification & ventilation contraptions which made sleeping down there like being on the lower deck of the Nostromo from ALIEN. Including giant mutant spiders who may miss me but I not them.

With Barb G.! a staunch Steve supporter ever since and staying on top of my game for such fans is what makes this a challenge. Toughest post yet! and the most fun to prepare, keep em coming.

With Emma G.! who made my month by inviting me to stay for PIZZA DINNER following the open studios and it was my solemn duty to avoid the refreshment table all afternoon to scarf down as much of that marinated chicken pizza goodness without needing to pull over for a nap on the way home. 

The gorgeous kitchen in the lower residence area for the program artists. You are there for a month and eventually you're going to get hungry. I've eaten there now three times, off to the right in the above pix is a modern kitchenette that has everything & then some and look at that extra long table set up for a healthy gathering of guests. Not just myself and the artists either, didn't catch everybody's name but was pretty flattered to have been included in this gathering at all, with one thought on my oh-so predictable mind: How can I get a picture of this???

And SHOWTIME! Mr. G. himself set me down at the end of the table and about here is where the rest of the diners were figuring out I'm still twelve. I'll identify my Project-U compatriot Chris Farrell at the far right, the three resident artists in the middle to the right and Emma Golden's classic photobomb look at middle left. We'll leave the rest up to imagination though I will acknowledge that there were no astronauts or former "Star Trek" cast members in attendance or I'd have swapped seats with them. Propz where it's due always!

The evening was handily stolen however by the gentleman in blue who joined us late: Dr. Thomas Golden, now a clinical psychologist with a sterling career helping others who actually began as a lowly hand-made paints worker at the original Bocours Artist Colors factory in Manhattan. Thomas walked us through the surprisingly entertaining history of the company, originated by a partnership between Sam Golden and his uncle Leonard Bocour (click here for the company history page from the Golden website). Tom had the table repeatedly in near riot spinning a yarn which -- and correct me if I'm wrong, wasn't taping any of this and wish I'd thought to -- included brushing his teeth in a vat of pure benzine after work shifts at the plant, the only way known then to get the oil based pigments out of one's outer dermis. Opening a paint store in Vladivostok, Russia near the old Soviet space program's Vyknor Cosmodrome (Yuri Gragarin painted Malivech into a corner), and selling Barnett Newman's paintings "by the yard" at a 14th St. gallery which is now a bottle return center. 

No, really. Though if some of these events are not related on the company website I'll know who to speak with about it next time. And be sure to click here for Thomas' website. Yeah, he's the same guy. What a dinner!

Iggy Pop all the way home through that.

China Girl, 1977

SHOW UPDATE! So the following week I'd been to my brother's wedding up there in Canada and had attempted to not only shrug out of "Artists Telling Stories" at the Tech Garden in Syracuse, but a marvelous little exhibit called "Pocket Exchange" at the Upstate Flux arts incubator in Utica, NY. Called to the Flux studios on Project-U Artists Group work, event organizer Julie Angerosa proceeded to hide my keys until agreeing to contribute four pieces created on the spot with a handy sketchbook carried everywhere for such emergencies.

And while I hate "theme shows" this was actually pretty clever, and apparently the vision of Flux co-founder Marc-Anthony Polizzi. Artists were invited to contribute four artworks no bigger than 4x6 inches with the understanding that they would claim the works of another artist as an even-trade exchange. No works were for sale, the exhibit was literally displayed on a clothesline or three (illuminated by LED lights contributed by the Golden's design team!) and the turnout for the reception exceeded all possible expectations. Rumor has it a Pocket Exchange 2 might be in the works, will keep you posted.