I was a very lucky student to have met Alessandro Piangiamore about a year ago during my curating course. Along with everyone in the class, I couldn’t help immediately falling in love with the magical air that his works diffuse. My admiration was soon reinforced by the profoundly solid and intangibly poetic ideas behind Piangiamore’s oeuvre. Born in Sicily, the artist is marked by a tremendous sensibility to nature and its cycles that find realization in his work.
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- When and how did you realize you wanted to make art?
I grew up in Enna, a small town in the middle of Sicily. I didn’t have an opportunity to see art back then, except for a few art magazine illustrations available in the public library. Due to this shortage, I have discovered in myself a great attraction for images and for their visionary power, a sort of image bulimia. I also remember when I was a child my grandmother had an oil painting in the dining room. It was a mountain landscape with a river and a mill and there was a small human figure painted in red and white. I was very attracted to this painting and I used to climb on the sofa to look at it closely.
At the age of twenty, I moved to Rome and there I discovered a lot of classical and contemporary art and I realized that maybe being an artist was the most natural and pleasant thing to do. I was so naive at that time….
- Has the romantic allure of being an artist vanished?
Saying naive I was not referring to a romantic allure but to a sense of ruthlessness towards myself.
- Also, you say that you were much influenced by the power of imagery. However, most of your works are not pictorial. How did that transformation come about?
I don’t think that my work has transformed in a pictorial way. I’m still considering it as a disposal in which different possibilities are coexisting. Above all it’s sculpture, that’s due to a personal attitude to the matter.
Your question is obviously referring to works from the series La Cera di Roma. It’s a sculptural body of works with a formal aspect that at first sight is possible to mistake for a painting.
For me, it is a work based on a substance with its own origin and its original semantic and symbolic meaning. Of course this aspect, together with the formal component are contributing to the creation of an image. An artwork is always an image, whether it is two-dimensional, three-dimensional or mental.
- What is conceptual art for you?
It is just one of a multiplicity of re-definitions of what art could be, as well as an important step towards the implementation of contemporary approaches.
- I see. Are there any particular artists or ideas that have fundamentally influenced your approach to art?
I certainly looked back at the protagonists of the generations that are closest to me, especially Italians. I can also recognize a strong empathy for many of the images produced by the Arte Povera movement.
I remember this beautiful Bruce Nauman’s exhibition at Castello di Rivoli A Rose Has No Teeth, in 2007. It has changed my idea of making as well as the Tutto works by Boetti.
- I can absolutely relate to your admiration for both artists. But could you please elaborate on the idea of “everything”?
It’s an idea that finds its highest expression in Boetti’s tapestries entitled Everything. There is a marvelous affinity between the multitude of represented forms: they look as if they give birth to each other in a contiguous manner. I think the most beautiful element of these works is their realization, entirely assigned to the embroiderers. Boetti only asked them not to repeat the same form or pattern. Similarly, Nauman appropriates the time that he spent in his studio thinking, turning it into art; the attempt of making a work inside a work, such as in Manipulating the T – Bar, or Mapping the studio.
- And how has Nauman’s work affected you, and in what way has it changed your idea of making?
In 2007, after visiting A Rose Has No Teeth – a Nauman’s exhibition at Castello di Rivoli – I felt a strong sense of familiarity with his work. I remember a small, but a very powerful work A Cast of the Space Under My Chair, a concrete sculpture literally reproducing what the title describes. It was like hearing an unknown language and understanding it. A year before, in 2006, I made a work titled The Rainbow’s Gravity, a sculpture that is an upside down plaster mold of a puddle of rainwater. I do not want to compare the two works; there is a distance of 30 years between them. But I never saw Nauman’s work before this occasion and the similarity made me exalted. Something similar happened with a work titled All That The Wind Blows that I started in 2008 and that is still in progress. It consists of attempts to collect all the winds blowing in the world through small soil-made sculptures, abandoned for a period of time. Each of these periods are specific to a certain wind. When I started to give shape to this work, I had never heard of Alighiero Boetti’s book Classifying a Thousand Longest Rivers in the World (1977), but finding out about it made me so happy.
- I love your series All That the Wind Blows, which is indeed defined by a very beautiful and delicate thought behind it. And how would you define the red thread in your oeuvre? What ideas or aesthetics do all your works have in common?
In my work, I often try to crystallize everything ephemeral by flitting through a practical approach to the matter, which allows me to cleave to the reality. My research aims not to create single objects but to make their inner shapes and images emerge. Rather than being static or frontal, their features are accomplished through evocations and semantic and visual shifts.
In many of my works, there is a part in which I lose control, or rather do not decide the final result. This happens with the work of the series Tutto il Vento Che C’è (All That the Wind Blows- AK), as well as in a similar manner with the sculptures from the series La Cera di Roma, realized by melting residual candles collected from churches and people. The final result is a hybrid between sculpture and painting with a random color output. The same happens with the works from the series Primavera Piangiamore. These are sculptures in solid crystal within which fragrances are enclosed, or the inclusion of fragrances that add a color element but can no longer smell. The shapes have been decided by the crystal workers, I asked the crystal workers to decide on the shape of the artworks, using the new fragrances contained in the forms as inspiration. I did not intend to make designs, which can be a risk if you are using perfumes, and that is the reason why I decided to delegate the shape to the workers. I only want to make something which is generally related to an invisible realm, visible.
- In your works you widely use natural materials; soil, seashells, coral. Even visually they echo natural phenomena, for instance La Cera di Roma series have always reminded me of satellite photography. Also, your work process when “you lose control of the final result” much resembles the way objects emerge in nature. Where does this instinctively natural aesthetic derive from and does it have anything to do with your upbringing?
Of course, there are influences related to my personal education, or to a sort of familiarity with certain things. For example my mother has a great passion for coral; I grew up spending a lot of time in the countryside and I love to get lost in the sea.
Many natural elements appear in my work spontaneously, although recreating the nature has never been the goal of my practice. For instance, it’s very intriguing how volcanoes, which are part of my native landscape, came into my work. A few years ago, while I was rummaging through my archive of mountain landscapes, I found a postcard of a smoking volcano. There was also a piece of white coral from another work on my table. So I put the postcard on it: the coral was looking like the natural extension of the smoking eruption.
There’s also a folkloric aspect in my work. I have a great fascination for nature as something surprising and uncontainable. Beyond all doubt we can affirm that the worst natural phenomena are permeated with a sort of inexplicable harmony that bring about contemplation.
- And what about contemporary Italian culture? Does your work reflect or echo it in any way – are there any common areas or intersections?
Obliviously I think that ideas are in the air and in general there are point of intersections between arts. We can call this “sensibility of the time” or something like that. But to be more specific, it’s quite hard to reply to your question. I’m just having the sensation that there will soon be a great return to the essence of things.
- In 2014 you had a solo show at Palais de Tokyo, Pierre Bergè- Yves Saint Laurent foundation. Besides his genius, Yves Saint Laurent is also famous for establishing a continuous dialogue between fashion and art, thus lower and high culture. What is your take on mergence of higher and lower culture, utilitarian and sublime?
Where there is curiosity, different levels of expression meet each, which in itself is always a fruitful thing. And this is the place where higher and lower cultures meet also giving birth to new cultures.
January 13, 2016
I attended the preview of Saatchi Gallery’s newest exhibition, ‘Champagne Life‘, and it certainly did not disappoint. Saatchi is committed to its advancement of the art scene here in the UK and internationally, which is why for the first time in its history, the gallery decided to formulate a display of all female artists for the exhibition. Within this exhibit, visitors can see the work of female artists from around the world, ranging from Iran to the USA to Australia and Saudi Arabia, and all the artists produce distinctive pieces including paintings, sculptures, mixed media works, and more.
‘Champagne Life’ is a celebration of women in art but the subject matters that each artist deals with go far deeper than just femininity. The artists look at the media, at heritage and much more and they explore these issues in a range of interesting ways for visitors to take in. Whether it’s a taxidermy horse, a canvas, a wall of over 200 pans or a papier mâché animal, these women display the vast [and varied] forms that art can take, and placed within the gorgeous setting of the Saatchi it makes for a great exhibit.
Although the canvas pieces were excellent, for me the true highlights of this exhibition lay in the mixed media work and sculptures. These artists seem to have mastered the art of taking the everyday object and molding it into thought-provoking pieces. They are new, fresh and in the words of Maha Malluh, one of the artists featured, it ‘forces you to pause, to contemplate and think harder about your surroundings‘. So to see this groundbreaking exhibition, head down to the Saatchi from 13th January and be part of what will become a historical moment for the gallery.
January 12, 2016
A lot of times we Manhattanites forget that right across the river, there is a land called Brooklyn, and it is filled with a hipper population than in our beloved borough. People associate “New York City” with the Empire State Building and Central Park when those main attractions are just in one borough out of the five that make up NYC. Sure, Central Park is a quintessential New York destination to check off the bucket list, but most of the time it’s the overlooked spots that are doing some pretty awesome projects. Brooklyn Bridge Park and the DUMBO area do get an influx of tourists, but everyone holed up in their favorite borough should come out to see these (free!!!) visiting structures scattered parkwide.
The Public Art Fund of the Brooklyn Bridge Park has been decorating the paths and lawns with contemporary, experimental sculptures and projects. This past summer, Danish artist Jeppe Hein installed Please Touch the Art, involving playful sculptures specifically intended for public interaction. The two main components, which will be on view through April 17, 2016, were his Mirror Labyrinth and Modified Social Benches that captured people’s attention. These structures are simplistic, yet changed the landscape of the park as well as the view of Manhattan. BBP continues this visual experience with the Brooklyn developer Two Trees Management Co.’s commission of OY/YO by Deborah Kass.
Located on the newly renovated Main Street Lawn, Deborah Kass’ monumental letters scream OY to Manhattan, and from the Manhattan side, YO shouts right back to Brooklyn. Blunt exclamations are a part of New York daily life, so now the landscape of the city will mimic its residents and tourists. Overlooking the iconic bridges of Brooklyn’s waterfront and visible from either side of the river, this is an apt location for Kass’ audacious appropriation of this urban slang.
OY/YO is the first of its size from Kass, but these phrases were originally two entities of their own. An important thing to know about Deborah Kass is that she explores the confluences of pop culture, art history, and the self. She also mimics and reworks signature styles of iconic male artists of the 20th century; Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock ring any bells?
OY was first created as a painting in 2011, giving tribute to Edward Ruscha’s 1962 painting, OOF. The 2011 painting transformed into prints and sculptures (Kass works with mixed media), and YO was added as a separate painting at a friend’s suggestion. This was all leading up to this concept’s larger-than-life presence in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Why these expressions? In interviews, Kass has provided some insights, but says that the sculpture acts as “an open-ended question that people need to answer for themselves”. Kass has stated that the sculpture is relevant to any diverse setting in America but remarked on how fine a home Brooklyn makes for this piece.
In the 1950s, Jews constituted about a quarter of the city’s population, with a majority of families residing in Brooklyn. Needless to say, the Yiddish phrase “oy (oy vey, oy gevalt, etc.)”, expressing exasperation or incredulity, would be well-known within this community. This sculpture can be viewed as the older residents expressing their irritation or aggravation toward the neighboring borough. ~oy~
“Yo” has become a popular slang interjection thanks to Philadelphia’s Italian-American population in the 1940s, but dates back to the 15th century when it was used in Middle English! Apparently, though, “yo” had a different meaning, deriving from the Old English word for “yes”. If our ancestors could just see us now…
Deborah Kass’ sculpture is made of simple aluminum and paint but makes a grand mark on the Brooklyn scenery with its bold yellow letters. This work is completely reminiscent of Robert Indiana’s iconic “LOVE” sculpture. For the use of such small words, there are multiple impactful interpretations, whatever your take on Kass’ riveting sculpture may be.
My suggestion to get the most out of your viewing pleasure is to take the 6 to the Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall stop so you can walk along the water to see the sites from the Manhattan side, then walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and make your way to the Main Street Lawn, so you can see the full effect of Kass’ work. Especially with the weather being as wonderfully warm as it has been, a trip to see this in December is completely plausible! But there’s no need to rush: OY/YO will be on display through August 2016.
Want more of Deborah Kass? Her current exhibition, No Kidding, at the Paul Kasmin Gallery is on view until January 23, 2016, where she incorporates neon lights into her paintings to spell out puns and phrases bearing pop cultural references.
*If you’re saying to yourself, this sounds awfully familiar, and you’ve seen Season 2, Episode 22 of Gilmore Girls, then you’re correct in assuming I’ve taken inspiration for the title of this article from the nonsensical, magical words of Lorelai Gilmore.
Sitting in a building of fine and historical architecture on an art school campus, I talked to Victor Cord’homme, a young and green installation artist who is in his fourth year of art studies at this prestigious National School of Fine Arts in Paris (l’Ecole National Supérieur des Beaux Arts de Paris). As a traveller, Victor has been inspired to create installations that transform exhibition spaces into works of art and lead people to discover new spaces and possibilities. While our conversation started with his life at art school, both his artistic practice and his perceptions of the art world speak loudly to a global perspective, which has been constructed through his numerous travelling experiences.
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- When did you decide to become an artist?
When I studied marketing at high school, I was very bored of it. Then, I took a gap year after high school to go travelling for 6 months around Asia. I went to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, India and Nepal. At that time, I missed painting and drawing which I did quite much during my free time throughout my high school years. So I started to think about getting into art school and start art studies. That was my first point of revelation that I started to have the idea of doing art. Then, I started going a lot to museums as my own art cultivation, such as the modern art museum of Paris and Palais de Tokyo. Paris is really a good place to get exposure to a lot of art, which gives me lots of inspirations.
- How did you get into the National School of Fine Arts in Paris (l’Ecole National Supérieur des Beaux Arts de Paris)?
After travelling around, I went to a preparatory school in Paris where I did art every day. That’s a school for people who want to get into all the big art schools. There are various art streams, like fine art, decorative art and so on. It’s pretty competitive to get into the National School of Fine Arts, like 1500 people competing for 70 places each year. At the beginning, you submit your art portfolio of paintings or photos of sculptures. After being screened, then you can enter into later stages like a writing test, a drawing test, and finally an interview panel with three professors.
- Can you share about your life in the art school? What’s the most important thing that you learn in the art school?
I feel the school is like my second home. The school is not just about getting knowledge, but about meeting people here and discussing art and our works with friends. Everybody tries to be an artist here and we’re helping and sharing with one another our views and experiences.
I think art study is not easy at all because there [are] no definite right or wrong answers and it depends on the comments of people around you. The school actually is not demanding, like around 10 hours of classes per week, but we spend most of our time in studios making art. Studying art is about investing a large amount of time while you need to have knowledge of art history. But it’s also out of passion –all the people are being here because they liking doing art. And I enjoy the process as I try to do things that are interesting.
One of the most important things that I learn here is self-motivation because nobody would push you to work. You wouldn’t be forced to do anything here. We learn art history here from many great art historians but you need to get some contemporary knowledge by exploring in museums or galleries yourself.
- Why do you focus on art installations?
Because I like experimenting with different media including painting and sculpture, and I would like to mix several smaller pieces together into one big piece of art. Somehow it’s like matchmaking –a sculpture and a painting can be compatible and even make each other stronger. Sometimes when art pieces come together, they speak a lot more. Installation is interesting because it’s about how to see and interact with space. Painting is my major art practice, but for me, it’s not enough to involve the space around. With installation, I’m trying to create an environment which gets people to discover new spaces, encounter and observe different forms of life and ways of understanding life.
- How exactly do you achieve this with your art – to get people to discover new spaces and ways of understanding life?
For example, with my diploma project in my third year, I created an interactive space that worked with sensors and computers, and there are sounds going on and when more and more people come into the exhibition space, the sounds would keep changing, and so the space would become different. Every person that came into the exhibition added two minutes of available electricity to the space.
And I like taking natural elements from the outside environment, like wind, into the exhibition space inside. Also, I would try to make all elements connected in an installation, like in our environment.
And I would not give out everything at one moment and people would have to come back at different times to discover new things from my installations. So I added lights to the installation so that the space and ambience would be different if people come in daytime or nighttime. I would like to show a temporal dimension of my works because I think time is an interesting material for doing art.
- The idea of exploring and discovering new spaces sounds like travelling. Do you travel a lot? How does travelling inspire your art making?
I had a lot of fun travelling to many countries; I’m just back from Canada where I stayed for few months. Before that, I went to Japan for an art competition and I went to Turkey last year. It’s really interesting to meet and talk to different people and to share experiences. I don’t know how to speak about all the feelings from my travelling but I would like to translate these feelings by art. Art makes it easier to share my travelling experiences and people can feel the connection through my art, maybe unconsciously. Travelling is one of the most important things for me. Being an explorer of this world has given all my inspirations for my art –every time I come back from travelling, I always have new ideas.
- Can you share your most memorable travelling experience?
When I was 19, I left my parents and I went to travel in India and met a lot of people there. Travelling there showed me the real side of life. It’s about meeting and talking to people and learning about their life. You’re in a different culture and environment. People would look at me curiously because I look different from them and some even came to me and asked if I could take photos with them.
- Any artists who have a particularly great influence on your perceptions and practices of art?
First is the Canadian artist, David Altmejd. We’re not in the same way of thinking about art, but he’s my main reference. His sculptures are dense, tell stories and give lots of information. He’s a really interesting artist. There was his exhibition in Paris last year, and I saw his exhibition again in Montreal and could discover new things from his works.
Also, I saw an exhibition of a Thai artist, Korakrit Arunanondchai, at Palais de Tokyo this year. He was making a huge installation with paintings and mannequins put in an interesting way. Actually, I didn’t like his formal way of doing art but his ideas are more interesting.
- How does your art interact with the French contemporary culture?
I think my art does not specifically interact with French culture, but rather the global culture. I don’t think art has to necessarily relate to a certain culture. I prefer to work in global culture rather than just French culture. And we’re in a world of globalisation; everything is mixing and exchanging. I’m more into exploring and mixing several cultures.
- Interesting perspective! So do you see yourself as a world citizen?
Yeah, I think I’m more a world citizen… I’m happy to say that I’m French and I’m having the colours of my flag on me. But actually, I’m French-Danish as my father is French and my mother is Danish. So I have double nationalities and I grew up in both countries, so I’m not solely French. And I also like travelling so much — I like to feel home and meet friends everywhere I go. So I think being a world citizen is more interesting; it’s about your way of acting and it makes your mind more open to different things.
- What do you think about contemporary art?
I think the contemporary art world is very different from the 19th or 20th century when there were prevailing art movements. There are now a lot of different directions happening because there are way more artists and more communication. Everything can kind of be contemporary art, it is way more diverse. Every direction can be interesting, and you need to discover and show to people new ways of thinking. Another thing in the contemporary art world is the need to deal with speculation in the art market, but I think that’s not totally a bad thing.
- How do you perceive yourself as an artist?
I don’t like to say I’m making art pieces… I think I’m kind of trying to be an artist… Being an artist is a huge thing for me and I don’t like this definition. I think I’m just someone who’s thinking and proposing something while using art to show it. I don’t mind if I’m being seen as an artist or not, and I think someone becomes an artist when everyone around sees him/her as an artist.
December 11, 2015
This week the Saatchi Gallery in London launched their show ‘UK/RAINE: An Open Competition For Emerging Artists From The UK and Ukraine‘, a project which is designed to display the best emerging talent from two very different European countries.
The work that is featured has a fresh and provocative vibe to it, feeling so new and innovative. There were a range of pieces on offer from James Fitzpatrick‘s bizarre and eye-catching sculptures to Matthew Spencer‘s street art pieces, meaning that this was no conventional art show.
One of the highlights of the exhibition, and the deserving winner of the whole competition, was Sergiy Petlyuk‘s ‘Untitled‘ video piece which gave a new meaning to this type of installation. The video almost seems to come alive as Petlyuk projects his pieces in a range of original ways on a range of different materials and it is definitely something that needs to be seen to fully appreciate its detail and its intricacies.
Overall the show is a massive success, allowing people to see not only up and coming artists from the UK, but expanding this and allowing them to see the international talent on offer as well. The exhibition contains an array of different genres and each room of the gallery provides a new experience which is as bold and as stimulating as the last. The show is running from the 24th November 2015 to 3rd January 2016 so make sure you don’t miss out on seeing the array of talent from the artists of tomorrow.
December 4, 2015
The Royal Academy of Art is known for its impressive exhibitions and their Ai Weiwei show is no exception. Providing a deeply political experience through the medium of art, the exhibition takes you on a journey through the life, work and struggle of the artist. This is more than just art, it is conflict, division, hope and resistance all rolled into one visual display.
With a mixture of sculptures, photographs, films, ceramics and much more, the exhibition acts as a provocative display of Ai Weiwei’s life and his relationship with his country, which is an extremely powerful thing to see. Weiwei’s work is so expansive that he cannot just be limited to the gallery setting, with one of his vast sculptures welcoming guests and I believe that this bold statement piece being brought onto the streets and directly to the people truly sets the tone for the rest of the exhibition.
However, if you want to catch one of the most significant exhibitions that has been displayed in London this year you’ll have to be quick as it finishes on the 13th December. Don’t panic though, to make the exhibition even more accessible, so as many people as possible can see this important collection of work, The Royal Academy of Art are extending their opening hours on its final weekend, offering art to the people 24 hours a day so there is no excuse for you not be able to catch this monumental display.
November 1, 2015
Last week I had the privilege to interview Gerry Judah in his studio in London.
Gerry Judah’s background has roots from Baghdad. Born in Calcutta and raised – until the age of ten – in West Bengal. At the age of ten his family and siblings moved to London. What affected his artistic development was the dramatic landscapes of India, the theatrical rituals of the synagogues and the deeply historic architecture of its temples. Having experienced post-war Britain and austere London led him to the need in finding inner peace by conjuring imaginary landscapes and architectural pieces along with futuristic unconventional cars and thus explored himself into art schools. He is a graduate of Goldsmiths College, University of London and Slade School of Fine art, UCL. Judah was not satisfied with conventional galleries when it came to exhibit his own work. Working in innovative design – film, television, theatre and museums as a set designer, installation artist, sculptor and painter his knowledge is very broad. Interestingly he created sculptures for Ferrari, Porsche, Audi, and Jaguar, etc at the annual Goodwood Festival of Speed. He even designed bridges in London, Cambridge and Sheffield. Judah was asked by the Imperial War Museum to create something about the Holocaust Exhibition and it was then when he began t make art born of his reflections on historical events. He created large three-dimensional paintings exploring the devastation of war and the ravages man has made upon the environment.
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1) We all know that you are an installation artist, painter and sculptor. What do you think conceptual art is? What is the purpose of it in the world?
My original understanding of conceptual art was way back when I was at Goldsmiths College. Artists like Marcel Duchamp and the Dada movement were highly influential, when they focused on the concept of art rather that what it looked like and so we were all attracted to it, during that period. In a sense, conceptual art for me is something which puts across the significance of what we are looking at, in relation to art and the history of art. That for me is how I see the purpose of art. When someone like Damien Hirst breaks into the scene there is a strong connection between what he does and Duchamp in a sense that he is playing with the history of art and those of it which I find particularly interesting.
2) What is the purpose of it then? Is it far from the being part in ‘history of art’?
I don’t think it needs to have a purpose really. I tend to differ my point of view. As an artist I want to address on a wider public realm and when I went to study Fine Art at Goldsmiths and Slade of course there was a strong connection between art history and what we were doing in relation to art history. But when I went to the big wide world on the commercial arena, I found that art was way beyond art history. It was about how you connected with the public, how you entertained the public. I worked in theatre, film, exhibitions and museums and so forth and we were dealing with a much wider audience than art history. So on that level, I don’t feel I owe to the history of art to do what I do. If it makes history, if it doesn’t make history – it doesn’t mean a thing to me. What means to me is what is says in the “now” and to whom I am talking. So I take on issues such as conflict, religion, climate changes, which are present to what, is going on in the world today. I feel as an artist that is where my boundaries lie and I don’t feel I owe it to conceptual art, to the art world and I certainly don’t feel I owe to the history of art. Same thing with film, I love films that entertain me. That speak to me that connect to me about the story they are saying. So I like to tell stories. My paintings are about telling stories. They are related to geopolitics, my history, and my spiritual upbringing that are far more important to me than the history of art. Of course though, I owe to art history on one level because it gives the intellectual facility to be able to be far more critical about what it is that I do and what I see. But that is as far as I take it. To be honest, a lot of artists try very hard to link themselves in that world, but I think they could take themselves a lot further. I often find that connecting art history all the time is a bit boring because it doesn’t go beyond its own limitation. Sorry if I sound dismissive.
3) Not at all. We have seen through your work that you tackle motifs of destruction, the portrayal of war, climate change, religion and so forth. I want to know whether these choices are conditioned by political and historical considerations rather than by artistic ones.
To be honest, they are primarily connected to artistic considerations. I use politics, religion and war as concepts purely to create a structure upon which I can approach how I am developing my language as a painter. My canvases are 3D-canvases and they are connected to people like Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, which were a massive influence on me. Artists like that that took themselves further from the canvas and played with installations and how far you can take a painting. So when I have buildings emerging out of my canvases they are really three-dimensional paintings. When I saw warzones in Beirut, Gaza and Baghdad – which of course I am connected to them because of my historic background- my reflections of them were big white texture canvases. I saw shadows; light and these are things that strike me as a visual artist. So my responses to these issues are more visually artistic responses. Yes, I am trying to work within the regions of history, social history and geopolitics but primarily I connect on the language of the painting. So, going back to what I said previously, I think there is a strong connection to history of art and what I do but not on a conceptual level but more on a level of artistic practise. It is all connected. As human beings we are trying so hard to connect all our histories together, from wherever they are come from because they make us who we are. So my artistic, social and religious backgrounds are intertwined. In this way, I tell my own stories and places. When I did the Holocaust in the Imperial War Museum; that to me was an epic painting. It was flat, a model but it was telling a story of the days of people back then, stories of death and I managed to create a shimmer that draws the audience in it. That shimmers with light, emotion. But when you go more to it is simply a painting.
4) So why do you use white in most of your pieces?
Colours tell you what to see, I use white because I don’t want to tell people what to see. I want to show something people will see for themselves.
5) Is there a life event, something that triggered you to focus on the issues you address through your work?
Yes – I was particularly taken by the wars between Palestinians and Israelis. I am Jewish so seeing the big landscapes covered in dust, remains of towns and streets and they were all leveled by light and shadow. That feeling strikes me in something very powerful. That historical connection as a Jew; I felt that sense of who is the victim who is the perpetrator. History has set me off on a path. So I felt it was time for me as an artist to go back to my current geopolitical considerations – and on what is going on in he world today.
6) While producing a piece do you ever improvise both in the concept and in practice as you go along?
I constantly discover all the time. I know what I want to do – sort of. I am interested in wind, the fragility of wind, destruction and all these are barons of buildings in Baghdad, Lebanon and Gaza. I sort of knew my recurring themes in my work. I know the format I want to work with but so much of my work is peeling away. The pieces I do with buildings are complete structures and I destroy them on the canvas. I take an entire settlement and destroy it. I do that until I get what I want to see in my work. A painting is only finished when you stop looking at it and it looks back at you.
7) Should art be something aesthetically pleasing? Or should it deliver some deeper meanings?
It can do whatever it wants. I don’t care.
8) Okay then, how about your own art?
Art is what you make of it. Its like music, you can’t say music should be like this or like that. It’s a place you go and say what you want to say. Some art is beautiful, some art is challenging, some art is moving. What I don’t like in art especially in galleries, is when you look at a painting and there is a panel next to it telling you what the artist is saying. I’d rather enjoy art for itself. Sometimes is good to get the issues on which the artist was preoccupied with. That I can relate to. But I don’t like telling what I should be looking for.
9) How do you approach your work? Does it require extensive research or do you simply focus on your personal reflections?
All of my projects have something in common – they all commemorate something. The car sculptures I do commemorate the history of those car companies. I suppose the piece on St. Paul’s Cathedral was a particular example of taking commemorating on a different level. When I was asked to put my canvases on the walls of St. Paul’s I thought I should do something particular. They wanted to commemorate the First World War so I thought I’d rather take the main images of the First World War, which was the white cross. So I contemporized the war that still goes on today. Note the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the current conflict of ISIS, Syria, Iraq that are all fought now because of the boundaries of the First World War or its aftermath. So in that sense, the buildings on the white crosses are reflections of Gaza. In a sense they made me make a statement in St. Paul’s Cathedral. So yes, I do research to make all these historic connections. I also saw how the cross has been a symbol of violence. A structure upon people sacrificed their own lives. So expressing this vigorous violence required research. The Bengal pieces from my latest exhibition came out due to my visit in India. I was in India to study some things about climate change and I went to Bengal where I grew up and during the period I was there, it was the Durga Puja Festival. They built these temples all over the country, in villages and towns, which were filled with amazing internal structures and panels and intrigued me to start working. Also, while I was there I was looking at the power stations that were burning coal and they were polluting the environment; more specifically the chimneys that destroyed the environment. So, I took the power stations and translated them into my work. My pieces were preoccupied with these power stations with the internal structure of Puja and the typical rituals of India. Such things are the embodiments of what I like doing, from the visual and iconic perspective to the entire emotion of India. I also did temples out of ashes and dust to indicate pollution, with electric candles, the Jewish ones. I am trying to mix all the cultures I was exposed to. So, there is a personal touch in what I do.
10) I would like to ask you about your presence in Goodwood Festival of Speed. It is something entirely different than what I am looking at here in your studio. How come that you produce sculptures of futuristic unconventional cars?
Well it pays for this (laughter). The problem is that people usually tend to get typecast. The feeling of “how you can do this and yet do that?” One of the things I enjoy when I left art school is that I went out to the big world, worked in theatre, photography film and big museums. An artist should constantly be challenged to do something different. The problem with a lot of artists is that they very much hold into their practice. I like to be completely open. All of my pieces (whether they differ visually) – they are all connected. They are part of me as an artist. My practice is to constantly change what I do. I don’t want to be known as the artist who designed all these futuristic cars but these are the people paying me to do what I do. I am constantly exploring. So these sculptures of cars have more to do with the language of sculpture rather than cars. Cars are embellishes to me, to know what the sculpture is really about.
11) Describe yourself both as an artist and as a person.
I don’t think there is an answer to this question. I love being in my studio, enjoy this one-to-one relationship with my canvas. When I was a child, my father took my everyday to the synagogue because he was a very spiritual man. Everyday I would sit amongst these men and watch them pray. Somehow I felt that that prayer, and the constant facing they did with God was part of the building and that was a very profound and moving to me. But for some reason, I never connected to it on religions terms, but I feel very spiritual about it. These men that were able to pray every day had some sort of connection with God and that in that way I was connected too but not in the same way they were connected. So, I had to find some other way to reach that sense of prayer and expression, and it was then that I wanted to become an artist. I wanted something to transcend me. So, when I come to the studio, I feel as if I am coming into my own temple, in the place I pray in my own way. I relate with my pieces, emotionally and historically – the languages of art, history, politics. I am a very spiritual person therefore and this is where my work lies. This has an intrinsic power to it, which does not rely on art history to guide it. It relies on what I feel, my own sense of prayer. Don’t get my wrong. Not the traditional way of prayer. I didn’t connect with that traditional sense of prayer. I was connected as a kid and as an adult today, with that sense of spirituality, the sense of real devotion. I don’t like that that devotion which tells people what to be devoted to. The word that guides me through everything is devotion. I am devoted to what I do, as I am to my family, to my people, to my friends, to my culture and society. This is another level of devotion.
12) I completely agree with you, history has a dirty background. It requires devotion to be able to translate all your histories as a human being in your pieces. It’s a big thing to do so masterly. So, on this level, I want to ask you, how do you see yourself professionally?
How do you see yourself in the future? Still breathing I hope. I don’t know. I don’t see the future. I cannot answer that. Ambition? I don’t have any ambition. I never had any ambition. I strive for excellence in what I do. That is good enough for me. I leave ambition for others.
13) Finally, what are the messages you want to deliver to the youngest generation, especially those that aspire part of the art world?
Don’t ask me about the art world, I don’t have any relationship with the art world. I like the world. What I would advice young people are: you just need to keep doing it. Get up and be devoted in whatever you do. Don’t be afraid reinventing yourself; don’t be afraid in doing something different. Be fearless in what you do.
October 13, 2015
Claimed by critics, professors, professionals and art snobs everywhere as a “once in a lifetime experience,” the Picasso Sculpture exhibition at the Modern Museum of Art stands up to this promise. It is Picasso as we’ve rarely ever seen him before…or dare I say, never seen him before. He is at his weirdest and most innovative (if he could get any weirder), revealing another dimension of his creative side that is lesser known to the general public and less studied at the academic level.
Needless to say, being the art nerd that I am, I was immediately hooked.
This comprehensive exhibition tracks Picasso’s sculptural and three-dimensional progression from the beginning of the 20th century up until about ten years before his death in 1973. It gives us a taste of his diverse and endless talents, not only as a painter but as a sculptor, ceramicist, and metal worker. Is there anything he can’t do? While working in a plethora of mediums, he used a number of different materials: wood, metal, bronze, plaster, stone, cardboard, nails, steel, various types of clay, terracotta and found objects. Essentially, anything he used anything he could get his hands on and transformed it into a vision of the near-abstract or a vague familiarity. The Venus of Gas, a small figure made of iron, was brought to life when a simple burner and pipe from a gas stove caught Picasso’s eye and reminded him of the charming prehistoric Venus figurines. When looking at it, you can’t help but smile to yourself and think, “Only Picasso.”
The show is organized as a chronological overview of Picasso’s different sculptural phases and as corresponding to where he was living, the political conditions at the time, and other artistic trends. The galleries are grouped according to themes: The Cubist Years, The Monument to Apollinaire, The Boisgeloup Sculpture Studio (with the various renditions of the well-known Head of Woman, where he worked almost entirely in plaster with Marie-Therese Walter as his muse), The War Years, Vallauris Ceramics and Assemblages, and the final phase of Sheet Metal Sculptures.
One of the things that stumped me was the first gallery. When you arrive at the fourth floor, the Sheet Metal sculptures (the final phase) initially greet you in their recognizable Picasso styled eccentricity. We have the basics: female figures with disfigured faces and angular bodies, Chair which looks more like a first grade paper cutting project than anything else, and vibrant colors that break any vision of naturalism. This is the Picasso we all know, in all of its strangeness it is familiar and helps ease us into the exhibit.
One has the feeling of confusion, amazement, intrigue upon entering each new gallery. And once you are finished, you just want to go back around again. For every rotation can reveal something new–another detail, another link, another surprise, another piece of evidence suggesting at Picasso’s relentless genius. (Dude grinds real hard). Once you’ve come full circle again, the first room becomes more clear and you can see how Picasso has gotten there. It’s like solving the ultimate modernist puzzle….but is it ever really solved?
Ultimately, the show is incredibly fun. Be it a serious art historian or a casual fan, everyone was circling around the sculptures, brows furrowed and smiles cracked at the bizarre visions Picasso brought to life. For anyone who is familiar with some of his other works, we can see that he was literally making art all of the time (grind so hard, am I right?) and constantly experimenting. These sculptures help us understand how he achieved and envisioned his paintings.
One of my personal favorites, Baboon and Young, is found in the second to last gallery. Picasso used his son’s toy cars to create bronze molds that he stacked on top of each other, wheel to wheel, to produce the animal’s playful head. (I’m sure his son was thrilled with this one.) The catch–it actually looks like a baboon. Honestly, who else would look at their son in the middle of playing cars and think, “Ah, a baboon head!” Again, only Picasso. It’s absolutely fabulous.
If this exhibit does anything, it shows us how much fun Picasso had tinkering away with form and perspective. He could take any ordinary or dumpy object and turn it into something completely new. I can’t wait to go again for round two.
Picasso Sculpture is on display at MoMA until February 7th, 2016.