One artist's journey

Monday, September 20, 2010



Mason Gross’ WLCMBCK Show transported me to a welcoming space as an art student returning for her final year of undergraduate education. With a multitude of works from faculty/staff, graduate students, and others, I was reminded of the place I call my college. I became aware that I was training to become an artist, training to make work that will be shown in a gallery space, revealed in an exhibition, chosen by a curator.
At times I felt quite overwhelmed by the amount of work in the show, by the different types of mediums, and by the almost overcrowded stuffed in nature of some rooms. Everywhere I turned a new piece would be and some pieced I never noticed. On another note, however, I felt a sense of relief, seeing so many ways in which an artist can convey an idea, a message, a story. Each work possessed its own quality, its own touch, its own hand, and its own purpose. Without a certain theme, the show did not beg me to question just one subject, but instead many, about the nature of art, creating art, and the artist themselves. What does art do? What does it create in a gallery space? How does each piece communicate with the others around it? As I watched other students walk through the gallery I heard bits of conversations that seemed to spill out from the artwork, commenting and questioning what was really happening. Surprises also found their way into the exhibition space, lurking behind seemingly simple installations.
Jim Toia, Dissolving Gardens
Jim Toia
Lyda Craig, Untitled (Thinker), 1997
Due to the number of works on the walls and the number of sculptures in the center, I had a hard time concentrating in the first, largest room; I found myself gravitating towards the walls, but only the left wall in particular. Even then, I could not seem to focus on all of the works, but only the ones in which I recognized the artist. This room became the least appealing to me as I continued around the gallery space. I felt beleaguered and somewhat disconnected from the work and the room. I could not find the intimacy I so desired. However, some rooms were particularly different. The first room on the left, though not a part of the WLCMBCK Mason Gross show, containing work by Jim Toia: Dissolving Gardens, begged me to sit, listen, watch, and wonder. As I heard the noises of the piece, watched the video screen, searched the space behind the screen, covered only by a transparent sheet, and inspected the wall of fungus, pinned and planned, I was struck by the surrounding nature of the work. I felt submerged in a living landscape. Both walls were monumental to my small stature, engulfing the room and submersing my senses. Sitting in the space, I felt an atmosphere created by controlled lighting, sounds that permeated the room, and a conversation that developed between the fungi and the video. The giant wall of mushrooms and other aspects of mycelium created a tangible ground, as if the wall was the floor on which life sprouted; the placement of each pin seemed organized, but not mechanical, speaking to the nature of the natural world instead of the manmade universe. Meeting the video, as it projected onto the space behind fungi, the two worlds combined into one—the gallery space and the space of the world around us. The second room on the left, dedicated to Lyda Craig brought forth new ideas, about a space in which power grew exponentially from one piece to the next. There was a sense of creation, passion, being, and excitement. Each painting, collage, sculpture, drawing, conveyed a sense of purpose, as if each brush stroke, each line mattered. Both Jim Toia and Lyda Craig’s work paved the way for the rest of the show, the welcoming back of students, artists, teachers, and a new year to learn, grow, and progress. 
Liv Aanrud, Hanging on the

Mystic Whispers of the Supernatural Cave Shadows, 2010

Moving through the rooms, Liv Aanrud’s Hanging on Mystic Whispers of the Supernatural Cave Shadows, connected me with both classroom learning and a contemporary movement that was happening outside of Rutgers University. With a flat layer of tan and yellow ochre in big bold shapes across the top of the painting, the colors trickle down as if a river flowing to the bottom of the painting surrounded by bright red on either side. The top part of the painting reminded me in a way of ancient symbols that were discussed in the paintings of Adolph Gottlieb in the 1940s. Though the bottom of the painting took me to a place of art in the now, thick, bright, textured, and almost random in nature. Many of the pieces in the show seemed to speak this similar language: a textured illogical assemblage of art. In Aanrud’s work, the compliment between the flatness of the top half of the canvas and the juicy chunkiness of the bottom half lends itself to a shift between the past and the present, was once was, and what is. Where the two colors meet the thick red seems to push against the flat tan colors, forcing paint to build up and form “v” like marks, ridges, and crevices. The painting is interrupted by marks of other colors, blues, greens, and darker variations, creating an abrupt but subtle disconnect from a two to three color piece.
Marketa Klicova, I did not write about the fact..., 2010
Marketa Klicova, 2010
Marketa Klicova’s installation: I did not write about the fact that for example it is not an even process and that I know the future declines punctually, stood out as it commanded the presence of the center of one room. Many people walked around it and questioned what meaning it was trying to illustrate. Using wood, paper, painted Plexiglas, wire, and a drawing instrument, a space is created, protruding into the areas around which it is situated. It drew me to the Liv Aanrud painting because of the installation’s movement around the room. A dialogue occurs between both the piece morphed out of the pedestal and the pieces of wood, paper, and glass cup of water, which seemed to make some viewers uncomfortable. I found it to be an explorative adventure, watching people interact and discovering unknown sections of the piece. Every aspect looked as though it came from the mind, as if an exercise in revealing what lies beneath these objects, what their interaction creates and how the space around them is affected.
Catherine Huggarty, Untitled, 2010
The entirety of the room interested me, connecting with all of my senses on multiple levels. Another piece, directly across from Klicova’s and adjacent to Aanrud’s painting, was Catherine Haggarty’s Untitled, in a way a more simple pen and gouache drawing of what looked like stacked paper, yet it drew me closer just as the other two pieces had. This work stood out in its own write because of the line work and quality and the complex simplicity of the image. A centered stack of paper lay on a flat plane, but yet, the crinkles and creases of the paper as it folded and fluttered together allowed for a moment of clarity. The piece struck me as straightforward, but quite masterful, similar to my experience with a Vija Celmins’ work. With a limited palette of a tan, yellowish hue flatly painted as a background and a lighter color for the paper, the black pen anchors the piece, outlining and shaping the paper as it ripples and creases. All of the pieces I took note of in the show had a confidence about them, and I think the show as a whole benefited from the solidarity and purposefulness of each piece. Especially in this room, I felt the presence of the artist, lurking beneath drawings, paintings, and installations, exposing art as a mode of exploration and experimentation, while still exuding confidence and power.
Erin Dunn, Whoops, 2010
The final piece I chose impacted me in ways I have only now been able to comprehend. When I originally saw the two paintings, I recognized the artist, the artist’s hand and style, gesture and technique, but what I did not notice was that the handling of canvases and their placement in the space brought me back to thinking about my work as a student. Erin Dunn’s Whoops, 2010, occurred to me as a flowing of artistic confidence, presence, and power. The mixed media paintings create abstract alternate realities, in a sense suspended in time, yet they feel as if they morph every second. As I think back to my own work I feel as though I often do not let ideas or techniques flow from me. I want to go back to that place where I can prolifically create works that speak to something I am constantly discovering, what I wish to experiment with and what I am interested in, and in the moment how I am experiencing the life around me. Making what seem like very conscious decisions with how to treat the sides and backs of canvases, how to apply the media to the surface and how to place the paintings in the gallery space, Dunn powerfully asserts her creative touch, opening up avenues in my work that I have not delved into. Passing her studio at times I have seen the sheer amount of work she creates, which ultimately leads to a confident defining and dynamic style. This year I will be working towards this goal.
Though the show had no organized theme, I found that the artists who submitted their work chose thoughtfully and passionately. The works conveyed a sense of the artist as a creator of a world, entirely their own. The more I write about the show the more I become enthralled in the experience of seeing work from so many people all at once, some that are just beginning their careers and others that have been working for much longer. At times I was overwhelmed, but ultimately I found myself in the work. I welcomed back the true and free artist in me.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Interview with Nicole Sardone

Nicole Sardone began her undergraduate studies unsure of what she wanted to focus on. Taking many courses in fine arts she ultimately discovered painting was her mode of expression. She is a figurative painter: looking to highlight the shapes of the figure and bring the parts of the body to a new realm. As the focal point of her paintings, they speak on their own, apart from the entirety of the figure.

Ilana Cloud: You grew up not knowing you were interested in art, so how did you begin to see that painting might really be a place you wanted to go, and that being an artist would be a path for you where you could really grow and develop?

Nicole Sardone: I have tried so many different areas of the arts, like graphic design, drawing, sculpture, etc. But something with painting just stuck. With graphic design I felt like there was a middleman that I did not want and that led me more towards drawing and painting. When I really started drawing and painting I realized I was very interested in, not necessarily the figure, I was not drawn to the full figure by beauty or anything like that, but more so the interesting shapes of the body. The forms, and the possibilities of just your hand alone, such a small part of the body, are endless. So that is what I have begun to really focus on in my work.

Ilana: What have you taken in terms of classes in your undergraduate studies so far?

Nicole: I have spent about three years at Middlesex County College before coming to Rutgers, studying part time at Middlesex, taking classes such as graphic design, figure drawing, sculpture, a bunch of different painting classes.

Ilana: When you took these art classes early on in college, you found something that really interested you? Leading you towards art?

Nicole: I found that I enjoyed making art in those classes, before that I was very confused about what I was going to do. I did not have many hobbies; I did not have any particular subjects I enjoyed in school. I was really relieved to know that there was something I was truly interested in, something I wanted to do, wanted to continue to do.

Ilana: From the work of yours that I have seen and from our discussion it seems you are very interested in the body. Are you looking at all areas, are there some parts of the body that draw you in more?

Nicole: I have not found a part of the body I do not enjoy painting. However, I have found that I am really drawn to feet. Something about a person’s feet, they are just so interesting, the shapes, the angles.

Ilana: Do you often like to portray female or males in your paintings?

Nicole: I have not thought about genders too much in my work up until this point, but I think I prefer a male. Women seem a little too dainty in some regards. I like the broadness of males, the rigidity and structure. I have been doing a lot of torsos, as you can see in my work, and many backs. I really wanted to find someone with substance, someone like a three hundred pound person, but that turned out to be quite hard to find as a model. I like things to be bigger, bigger is better; this is what I want to continue to search for, for my paintings.

Nicole: I often look at Jenny Seville; I find her work to be so gorgeous, so compelling. Many times her paintings can look grotesque in nature, but I find it to really be beautiful. I don’t see my work as looking similar to hers in any way, but she is definitely someone that has greatly influenced me as a painter.

Ilana:  Do you see anything similar in her work that you identify with, something that she is saying with her paintings that relate to why you paint the body or have an interest in it?

Nicole: Well, I started painting the body before I even looked deeply into her work, but I found a connection there; she does show a lot of different sides of people, people undergoing plastic surgery, transvestites and some bloodied figures. There is, it seems, an element of drama, a sort of creepiness in her work, but at the same time there is so much beauty.

Ilana: Is that something you are looking to grasp in your own art?

Nicole: Yes, I definitely want to bring the viewer to a similar place. There is some work that I definitely feel has a creep appeal and those are the pieces I am most happy with, most engaged in. Though I am not really sure why, I can’t really pinpoint or describe what draws me to them. I think it has a lot to do with the way I want to use paint to describe the body and aspects of it. I look for a more expressive way to engage the figure in my paintings.

Ilana: Is there any theme, or idea about our world that you are bringing to the surface with your art?

Nicole: I could say something about our world but it is not really my driving force. I have some thoughts in the back of my head, but I am not quite sure what they are. A lot of what I envision has a lot to do with my personal experiences, personal interests.

Ilana: From a lot of your works, it sees that you crop the parts of the body in interesting ways, offsetting at times, not including the whole figure, but making the figures anonymous in a way because heads are not included in paintings with other parts of the body, and often you chose only one aspect of the body to represent. Is this intentional, what are you trying to create for the viewer?

Nicole:  I never start off a painting by thinking about where the figures are placed. I don’t do a lot of planning, and I enjoy bringing things really close to the picture plane. Break the barrier between the viewer and the painting; I want to get it in your face. I don’t want too much information there. I really like to separate the body, take it out of context—take a part of the body out of context of the whole thing. I think that connects with the second aspect of your question about figures or bodies being anonymous. Its not a figure in a space, it becomes an object on a picture plane. A quote that I really think describes my work or my process well is one by Lucian Freud: “the longer you look at an object, the more abstract it becomes, and ironically, the more real.” The idea that the figures becomes anonymous I find to be a large part of my work because I am looking at the shapes the body creates, in a sense, dissecting parts of the human figure, depicting them on their own and disassociating them from the human being. I want the bodies to become something else, to change inside the mind of the observer, losing their sense of humanity, and in a way becoming abstract objects.

Ilana: A lot of the paintings do not really show what the figure is doing, or they are cropped in a way that does not allow the viewer to see exactly what space they are in.

Nicole: I am really not interested in the backgrounds or what is going on around the figure. I do not like to have it be distracting, or having any other type of objects in the background. I also like the flatness of a background juxtaposed with a three-dimensional rendering of the body part. In my paintings there is different types of representations, such as line, two-dimensionality, turning into three-dimensionality, and then a difference in texture between thick or thinner paint, rough or smoother paint, transparent or opaque paint and color. I really enjoy opposing styles and contradictions in the paint.

Ilana: Does this pull towards contrast influence what materials you use, what surface you use to paint on?

Nicole: Yes, definitely; I work on wood panels. I feel that it allows me to build layers, dig in deep, and have a hard structure to begin with. At some points I’m pushing the paint around with a palette knife like a sort of sculpture with paint, sculpting the paint. I have experimented with many different types of wood and even so I do not seek out a particular type when I go to buy supplies. I sense whether I want them based on the way they feel, something with a decent amount of texture, but not enough that it is going to overpower the work or draw the viewers attention to the wood of the support. I feel that wood works perfectly with the image I am looking to create.

Ilana: Do you feel that this is the direction you will go with for thesis this semester and spring semester? Any ideas on what the work will look like? Whether it will change or not?

Nicole: Yes, I feel that this is the direction I want to take, to keep exploring the body and the aspects that strike me most. Also though, I want to try and create for thesis a way in which the paintings I make can intertwine, or communicate to one another, in a sculptural sense. I want to arrange the paintings into their own sculpture that relates them, allows them to connect with one another and impact the viewer in a certain way. I am trying to avoid it looking or resembling the figure, or referencing the figure in the obvious sense, but I want my paintings to occupy space. I really want them to take on the space around them, not just be hung on a wall. I want the to have a presence, bring them into the viewer’s world. I am looking into creating a three-dimensional painting in a sense, comprised of many paintings together.

Ilana: Are there areas you want to explore further for thesis that you feel you have not had a chance to so far?

Nicole: Yes I would really like to work on the face. The face can do so many interesting things, and though this will anchor the paintings back to a more human sensibility, I feel that I will obscure the facial expressions and the placement of the head in order to create the same desensitization and fragmentation. I plan to look at and experiment shapes inside of the face, such as lips and noses, and not look at the face as a whole necessarily.

Ilana: Is there something in your own life, an experience or a way that you live your life that you feel people have in some way missed these parts of the body or have become so distant from the shapes of the human form? Have you thought about why you want to really bring the features so close to the viewer?

Nicole: It seems like a very unconscious choice, it is mostly just how I work and have been working for some time. I work based a lot on feeling and initial reaction. I am really not sure why I am so interested in placing the parts of the body so close to the picture plane. Even when I started figure drawing I never though for one second that I had to draw the whole figure. I immediately zoomed in and worked on only one part. It just felt like the right thing to do.

Ilana: What is the size of your work normally?

Nicole: I was working primarily last semester on 2x2 feet panels, but towards the end of the semester I started working on larger paintings, upwards of four feet to even larger.

Ilana: Do you have a technique that you start with to begin? To you draw out in pencil, in paint?

Nicole: I draw out in the beginning with paint and I am very interested in also leaving a lot of those initial drawing lines in my finished paintings. I have looked often at Degas’ work where he leaves the lines from previous renditions of the figure and I feel it gives the painting and the figure a real sense of movement. The artist Jim Peters also influences me; though he has a lot more space, a lot more of an environment for the figures, but when I saw his style it definitely influenced me in the way I paint. I look at his work for the way he handles paint on the canvas.

Ilana: As a final question, do you make fast paintings? Slow paintings? Do you make a conscious decision about what you will use to create the painting?

Nicole: I do often chose a method before I start a painting, such as doing a fast painting, a dry brush painting, using a palette knife or other type of method. I feel like this creates not only a dialogue between the paintings but also adds an experimental aspect to the paintings, a gestural mark that becomes part of each painting. I really want to learn from each painting that I do and have it inform the next piece.

Closing remarks: Combining experimentation with her desire for a zoomed in view, Nicole Sardone subjects the viewer to the body as part, not as whole. Her work asks the observer to question the role of the figure in painting and whether the entire figure needs to be seen in order for the painting to be complete. These paintings illuminate aspects of the body that are otherwise not seen as one in themselves, creating their own atmosphere and presence.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Water Exhibition, Zimmerli Art Museum, Review


           The Water exhibition at the Zimmerli Art Museum exudes a presence that enlivens itself throughout the works of the show. The pieces invite the observer to ask questions about the purpose of water, the use of water, and the power of water. Encompassing prints, paintings, video, photography, sculptures and installation work, Water brings to life water; a basic need for humanity and for the planet. The show not only highlights the serine, calming nature of water, but also the way water shapes the human understanding of the world. Layers of meaning lurk beneath the surface of each piece of art, contrasting and complementing the works around it. Art of previous generations and centuries are brought to the present moment by work of the contemporary era.
Water surrounds onlookers as they walk throughout the exhibition, through small rooms, and big openings; weaving in and out of the walls, the pieces come alive as if the show itself is underwater—strong, peaceful, and thought provoking. Inquiries are made into ideas about water, such as, “who does water belong to?”, “is the use of water a human right?”, “what power does water have?”, and “how does water’s nature relate to human nature or the nature of the universe?” One video projection in particular, Always New, Always Familiar, 2000, created by Janine Antoni and Paul Ramirez Jonas, shines light on the character of water and what it brings to the human identity and journey. One large video projection of water moving as a boat moves forward through it, with a small video projection of water moving behind the boat, signifies a process, a part of life that every person on the planet experiences, the process of moving forward in life towards the future and leaving behind the past. The video creates a sensory experience that involves the mind into the waves and evokes the uncertainty, fear, excitement, and ferocity of change. Communicating the vision of the curator, Donna Gustafson, Water, takes the viewer to a new realm of possibility: changing the gallery space with color, placement, and lighting, as well as, bringing to life the exploration of the artist’s call to “earth’s most precious resource” (Water program 1).
            Through curator Donna Gustafson’s talk about the creation of the Water show, one can begin grasp the magnitude of forming such a complex and thought-provoking exhibition. It takes time to make choices about the number of artworks, about the color, mood, volume, medium, placement, and the span of centuries/cultures. Comprising works from all around the world (Haiti, America, Asia, France, and Russia, etc.), the curator embodied the nature of water’s presence all over the planet. Every place on earth relates to water in some way, as does each human. If I were to curate such a show, choosing four or five pieces, I would focus on a part of water’s nature that was not fully explored at the Zimmerli. The theme would be of the destruction of water by human means and the destructive power of water to humans and the world. Employing Atul Bhalla’s installation of water, glass cases, cast sand, and silt, called Immersions; Geoffrey Hendricks’, Waiting, with two scores, two class dishes and water; Ross Cisneros’ Ice and Ark installation of plastic water bottles, water, and fishing nets; Sally Gall’s gelatin silver print, Evidence of Wind, from the series Between Worlds; and Nikolai Nikanorovich Dubovskoi’s oil on canvas, called Calm Before the Storm. All of these works speak to the power of water and the profound effect it can have on society, culture, habitat, and livelihood. The dissolving of the silt and sand that was cast in Atul Bhalla’s installation as well as the scores slowly breaking down in Geoffrey Hendricks’ work create a contrast, but also a comparison to Ross Cisneros’ Ice and Ark, illuminating humanity’s part in dissolving a dwindling resource. The two final pieces, a photograph and a painting, ground the rest of the artwork, evoking the movement, power, and awe of water through a two-dimensional field. I found at times Water at the Zimmerli became a bit overwhelming, with the multitude of work in often enclosed spaces, but this great amount of work also allowed for artists to relate to one another, ideas to bounce between rooms, and themes to trickle like water beneath the surface, exposing humanity’s deep relationship to water in a passionate, serious, and peaceful note.

Geoffrey Hendricks Waiting, 2010
Atul Bhalla Immersions, 2008

Sally Gall Evidence of wind,1997

Ross Cisneros Ice and Ark, 2009

Nikoli Nikanorovich Dubovskoi
Calm Before the Storm, 1889-1890