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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Trudy Benson

As I was heading out the door for a visit recently, I realized I didn't have a buzzer or contact number for the artist — this wasn't the first time. I made my way to Greenpoint anyway to serendipitously find Trudy Benson standing out in front of her studio waving a massive truck into a parking spot. Benson escorted the two men, there to pick up a painting, upstairs as I ran out to grab us a couple of coffees. It was a real Rosencrantz and Guildenstern team doing the dirty work, lubberly escorting the painting down the outdoor staircase in a battle with the early spring wind while absurd questions bounced back and forth between them. Benson appeared calm, like a true painter pro, softly handing out comments while her work nearly but safely made it onto the truck. The painting was getting ready to cross the Atlantic for London where it will join the Saatchi collection and be shown in the exhibit Abstract America, which opens May 20th and runs until September 28th. Our visit was off to a pretty exciting start.

At the beginning of our visit, Benson and I stood closely to her paintings, talking them over, before we each got to work. I was immediately taken by her smart and obsessive explanations of various color and material choices: why some paint brands won over others, what blue had recently made it to the top of her list, and how she arrives at the different kinds of "tube to canvas" mark making that gives her paintings such subtle line variation. Benson's canvases seem to be bravely showing their whole selves to the viewer at once in order to fully bare their perfectly teetering compositional qualities and brilliant color unions. I  began to realize while I was drawing what great satisfaction I get from seeing large things made small and small things made large. Like Oldenburg's floor-burger; it makes art of parody and humor. Benson's overgrown brush strokes and chroma turned 3D create a canvas that acts like a hyper real version of itself. For me, it personifies paint, like Claes did the burger; and satiates my hunger for art. 

There was a lot of catching up to do as though we had been meeting like this for years. We shared favorite comics, color combos, and cat positions. And of course talked extensively of her super silky graphite grey cat Lucy. Important to many of my visits with women, we also discussed our feelings on the position we have in the art world; the struggles, awkward situations, and need for getting one another's back. It was so nice to occasionally take a break to talk to her husband, Russell Tyler, who is also a painter and shares a space next to hers. They make a great team and recently put a show together titled SHORTHAND that is currently up at DCKT until April 19th. And if you are in LA this Summer, Benson is in a group show at ACME titled OK GREAT THANKS THIS IS SO RIDICULOUS, open from June 7 until July 12. To see more of Benson's awesome work go to Horton Gallery.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Franklin Evans

Nearly 50 visits in and I finally made it across the river to draw, spending the day with Franklin Evans in his studio in the Lower East Side a couple of Saturdays ago. After making my way down Bowery, I looked up to see short neon strips of tape and painted pieces of paper that were missing their center squares, dangling from the inside of windows of a second floor apartment building. I knew I was in the right place. I had the overwhelming feeling of having been in this studio before when I walked in to his space. I soon realized I was thinking back to the strong impression his elaborate mixed-media exhibition at Sue Scott Gallery had on me in the spring of 2012. It was a memorable glimpse into the artist's mind, studio, and process. Evans was breaking the fourth wall with that exhibition and remembering it made me even more eager to begin my drawing.

  The scatter of exuberant colors and layers of rumination in Evans' work, both on his canvases and in his installations, smartly challenge the viewers' understanding of how things are made. I liked being given the chance to look at the paintings so completely while drawing them. I was able to finally break down their building blocks while attempting to recreate them in pencil. Some of the painted imagery, which is often repeated and presented in a square snap-shot format, reads like transient thoughts or obsessions, a snippet of the synapse between art and life. He explained that these images range from new favorite artworks, to childhood photographs, to his own previously made paintings. And then there are these phantom likenesses to artist tape — used to break up space, accent pictorial images, or vibrate colors — that are hard to make out as having been removed or never attached at all. Their actual use in many of Evans' installations acts as a mirror and another iteration of his process. Underneath it all, with a squinted eyes stare, I made out completed paintings, reminding me of color field artists, gluing together the chaos of the canvas. Sporadically looking up from my drawing and seeing Evans working, made me think of a television show detective who pieces together clues while pinning them up on a cork board. More like a howdunnit than a whodunnit.

I got  more and more lost in Evans' work throughout the day, my obvious obsession with artist studios being manifested in his paintings and then again on my paper. Moments of chatter led to moments of silence as our concentration waved in an out of intensity. I was lucky to see this work in progress and to have Evans share with me the plans for his upcoming solo show opening this June at Ameringer McEnery Yohe. If you need to see something even sooner, he is also in great looking group show, titled Material Images, at Johannes Vogt Gallery up until April 5th. And, if you happen to be in Reno, Nevada, he has an installation at the Nevada Museum of Art up until April 20th. To see more of Evans' work go here
Installation view at Johannes Vogt Gallery, Material Images, 2014

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Matthew Fisher

Returning to a studio building in Greenpoint last week, I did a visit with Matthew Fisher. On our way up the stairs he politely asked if it was going to be okay that he had brought along his canine companion. Stoked by the canine and feline friends that many artists have had with them on our visits (Webster, Dill, and Martin to name a few) I let him know that it was more than okay. What a great coincidence that I randomly asked for a date just days after he and his wife had rescued Javier  a handsome little dude from Puerto Rico. I had been jazzed by the prospect of drawing Fisher's paintings for some time and he was just getting ready to ship work off to the West Coast for a show that opens on February 27th at Ampersand Gallery in Portland, Oregon when I finally did. Some real beauts were still hanging around the studio, a couple paintings in their last stages of completion. We talked for a while about Fisher's space and practice; I gave Javier a few scratches behind the ear, and it was time to get to work, with Polish beers in hand, of course. We were in Greenpoint, after all.

There is a strange familiarity to Fisher's silky, impeccably rendered paintings. It seems as though the material entity that his imagery is describing is locked away somewhere in the future: unreleased album covers, imaginary road signs to sandy coastal drives, labels for a new kind of drink that gives you multiple kinds of buzzes. I talked to Fisher about his recent works' obvious affection for large bodies of water. To quote Thomas Carlyle, "It is through symbols that man consciously or unconsciously lives, works and has his being." It seems that Fisher is living somewhere where waves stand still and minimal sculptures hover in the sky, a collision of his artistry and personal history. He explained that his native Great Lakes can be still and glass-like one minute and roar with waves the next. Matt also spent some of his youth summering on Long Island so I began to see where his visual lexicon was gathered from. And, besides all of this, his glowingly surfaced and deliciously colored canvases signify quite satisfying paintings. 

I watched Fisher build up his illusions by putting layer upon layer of acrylic over sections of his painting. The vibrant splatters on the wall around the canvas were a comfort and key to the hidden chaos within each painting. Pretty soon it was time to hit the icy streets again. So while we are all sitting in a piles of grey snow, it seems that Fisher will traveling to a wetter, but at least a little warmer, place. I am envious of that and slightly tempted to ask what Javier will be up to when they are away. Please check out more of Matthew Fisher's delectable work here

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Loren J. Munk

How many times have you been on your way to an opening and seen Loren Munk of the James Kalm Report buzz by you on his bicycle? Or even still, how many times have you seen him when you weren't on your way to an opening and wondered what you were missing? It's exciting to think that the next time I see Munk cycle by he might be on the way to his own solo exhibition You Are Here, opening this coming Thursday, Feb. 13th, at Freight and Volume Gallery in Chelsea. After seeing where so many artists' studios are located, both past and present, in Munk's densely informative paintings, it was with extreme curiosity that I saw the space where they were made. Cobble Hill was uncharted territory for me so far with Pencil in the Studio. Walking past the corner of Columbia and Degraw, I stopped for a minute to take in that radical view of Manhattan from Brooklyn and think about Munk's maps and how many artists there are that have made NYC their home.

Collected at the door, Munk led me upstairs to the vast live/work space that he, his wife and family  have inhabited since 1981. While he put together one of the better cups of coffee I have had on my visits, we talked over his coming show, his studio and his busy life as not only a painter but also a popular You Tube hero for art. Feeling a bit overwhelmed deciding which point of view to draw one of his complicated beasts from, I was happy to delay the inevitable by taking some time to imagine what an undertaking it must be for him to plan one of these paintings out. It is really something that he uses such a vast array of color and variations of text, while the fact checking alone seems like a feat in and of itself. This isn't your run of the mill art history lesson either; there is also dry wit, satire and political commentary involved. In some paintings, he is able to give new light to old scenes where he breaks down genres in a kind of invented PowerPoint format. Without a speck of historical revisionism, Munk is contextualizing art making by describing it through art making  a pretty groovy kind of Meta. The paintings appeal to a viewer's intellectual and visual sensibilities. I can't get enough of his perfectly concocted color harmonies of richly textured layers of paint. Munk's artwork and videos of openings and art shows feel like an act of generosity to those that make art their life.

 I did the best pencil description I could of a couple of Munk's paintings as he worked on a multi-layered section of canvas. Having fun listening to a popular music station while I was there, I realized after hearing Eminem's new song "The Monster" the fourth or fifth time that we were coming to the end of our studio session. With his two intensely driven projects, social media on one side and good old fashioned painting on the other, Munk has made himself a legend in these parts. It felt pretty cool to spend the afternoon making art with him. To see more go to  and check out his show at Freight and Volume up from February 13 'til March 15.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Maya Hayuk

Social Media can pose a lot of pros and cons for visual artists. Without the use of it myself, I may have taken this project in an entirely different direction. A "con" could be the fact that it is a constant distraction, whereas a definite "pro" would be the ability to follow our peers' art careers. Watching the progress of Maya Hayuk's murals grow on the walls of places like Detroit, LA, Berlin or Cologne has made for one of the more fulfilling Facebook or Instagram experiences I've had. I revel in her delicious color choices as well as her bold photo poses as I watch the layers of her paintings build along with the enthusiasm of her fans. I liken it to rooting for team Art, with Hayuk frequently hitting it out of the park. Her recent show at the Hammer Museum in LA (up until January 5th) was an especially exciting project to watch come to life on the walls. Hayuk and I made contact online over a year ago.  We recently made real contact in her studio just a few blocks away from me in Williamsburg where I had the chance to talk with her and do some drawing.

Hayuk on day 3 of one of her murals at the Hammer Museum in LA.

As I wrote this, Hayuk was once again teetering on a cherry picker with her wide brush in hand. This time she was in Wynwood, Miami painting a mural for Wynwood Walls Art Basil "Women on the Walls", which was co-curated by Jeffrey Deitch and Goldman Properties CEO Jessica Goldman Srebnick. It opened to the public December 3. While I was in her studio she was working on four separate paintings on panel which where similar to her murals except for their size. With each painting in a different stage of completion, I was able to almost fully grasp the pattern of her process. It seems that she deliberates quite methodically on where the next long diagonal brush stroke will go and what it will (and will not) cover up in order to create her painter's puzzle of psychedelic color relationships. How she gets that notched out effect in her most recent work is a mystery -- I tried to crack the code while I was drawing, but I couldn't. In other works, Hayuk's brush will twist and turn, jumping around to make reference to endless stairways, chain necklaces, or rivers' patterns. It is almost as though she is painting an altar for the long time history of murals, she herself having participated in this history for many years.
A special kind of energy emanates from Hayuk and her work. In terms of her large wall pieces, scale alone echoes exaltation. Visiting Hayuk's studio and hearing her stories of travel and life on the ladder had that same kind of energy. Set-up in her Williamsburg space, she shares a large floor of private studios with a communal kitchen in its center for the artists to gather in. I had the pleasure of meeting most of the other artists while I was there. One of them even made dinner for the crew. It was the first time a studio visit ended with tasty roasted pork belly. Chances are that if you are traveling, you could come across a Hayuk. You should definitely stop to breathe it in, take a picture, and spread the love. Also, for those of you in Miami this week, check out her latest mural. To see more of her work go to
      Some women posing in front of the Wynwood Walls in Miami after its completion

Friday, November 15, 2013

Jules de Balincourt

Practicing escapism is a crucial part of living in a large city. I have been thinking a lot on this subject lately, with the seasons changing and my tolerance dwindling. In one sense, as artists, we are able to escape simply by looking at others' work or by making our own — a healthy benefit. Since I can remember, I have felt a satisfying sense of departure while studying the paintings of Jules de Balincourt. His subject matter takes the viewer on multiple transcendental rides, while his skillfully administered strata of highly saturated colors alone tend to put me elsewhere, doing away with the vague haze of our very real world. Before his work was shipped to London for his solo exhibition, Itinerant Ones, that opened at Victoria Miro on November 16th, I had the pleasure of doing a visit and drawing De Balincourt's most recent paintings. I ended up spending a couple days colliding with his worlds filled with fire, water, forests and meditation.

A diverse group of characters fade in and out of De Balincourt's paintings, which gives their personas a mystery akin to the narratives they are partaking in. I was particularly drawn to an eclectic group perched on the limbs of a gigantic tree in one of his larger works. Much of his paintings leave the story up to the viewer to complete. In this grouping, I liked thinking of spiritual sit-ins and their lengthy contemplations on nature. In some areas of De Balincourt's paintings, he will add a seemingly infinite amount of layers, while in other areas he will remove paint, giving way to seductive hidden textures. Sometimes, he even leaves the panel naked showing the bare wood beneath. The combination of these techniques make the paintings combust like the fires and cities he depicts. In a lot of ways, the restraint he often uses while painting informed the drawings I made. My brightest of brights were made by the white of the page, left free from graphite.

There was a steady purr at my feet as I was working on my drawings. Jules has two studio cats (and long time buddies), one black and one white. With a tug of their tails he went from painting, to looking, back to painting again, as the day went on in his beautiful studio space in Bushwick. De Balincourt was an early settler in Bushwick, and now owns his studio with an apartment above where he can pull late season tomatoes from his rooftop garden.  Generously, De Balincourt has even hosted important art events in his space. Bushwick Basel, and most recently, meetings on the topic of the artist's ability to financially stay in Bushwick, to name a few. Along with his solo show in London, Jules has a retrospective opening at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts this month and there is also a book on his career and work that was just released by Rizzoli. It is a very exiting Fall for Mr De Balincourt and it was a truly enriching visit. To see more of his work go here

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Erik Parker

I first had the opportunity to visit the studio of Erik Parker several years ago. Not only was I struck by how very cool Parker and his paintings were, but most importantly, by his dynamic color schemes, his use of vociferous imagery, and his fearless dedication to the lengthy "start to finish" of an extremely complicated painting. Oh, and he had a sweet studio in Williamsburg with a skylight. Years later, it was a thrill for me to return and draw his space, still seized by his artistry. When I arrived, Parker's paintings were all lined up, ready to be shipped to LA for a solo show that opens this Fall at Honor Fraser. There was so much going on it was hard to figure out where to begin. Parker gave me a jovial smirk and wished me good luck.

As I set up, and Parker and his assistant Michael Dotson got back to work, it was a trying task to figure out how to draw these paintings while still subscribing to their mantra of "detail and precision." Attacking them across, from top to bottom, seemed to be my best bet. I soon realized that some of Parker's new work actually reads from top to bottom much like a scroll or a tablet, with painted-out messages loaded with subtle jokes and witty revelations on the iconic imagery of our collective past. The long paintings that stood like an army upright against the wall brought to mind totem poles, telling stories of loudmouthed faces, tuned in television sets, and birds in seasonal flight. And the pyramid shaped paintings that are built from the thin lines of Parker's contemporary hieroglyphics gave me a pleasingly blurred sense of perspective as the canvases' subtle color shifts convinced me of a third dimension that was not there. At some point I reached the end of drawing one of the towering canvases and discovered text that spelled out YOUR OWN PATH. I took that thought home with me and used it as my own mantra throughout the week.

It was a two day session in the end, and the hard working Parker and his assistant seemed as satisfied with their pre-show sense of wrapping things up as I did with my meager drawing. Parker explained it had been a whirlwind of production since May to get these works ready for the Fall. With music playing that was as energetic as the work itself and those last few sips of ice coffee before the weather changed, I finished up and took a nice stroll back to my place. Parker was a great visit. He is currently in a really exciting looking show at Ballroom Marfa called "Comic Future" that is up until January if you happen to be in Marfa, Texas. And to see more of his awesome works go here

Sunday, September 15, 2013

David Malek

Navigating a foreign city, almost smugly, as though I had done it all before, left me humbled in the realization that an iPhone is nowhere near as handy as the good old fashion map I used to tote around with me in Europe. With that 20 year old kind of rush you only get from bouncing from train to train without exactly knowing where you're going, I was off to find David Malek's studio in Paris. He has spent a year plus in France and has been working in a vast multi-leveled shared space that is subsidized by the government. Aside from the gaggle of dudes that stood outside listening to beats and smoking joints, it was a serene working environment complete with large frontal windows for capturing light and a lush upstairs outdoor garden for reading and taking breaks. The studio door was marked with a bold number 1, ensuring me that I had arrived after much debate on whether to take a final left or a right out of the subway. So nice that after that numbing flight across the Atlantic I could be greeted by a familiar face and easily strike up a conversation with the artist about their work and studio, realizing not much changes from place to place. We eagerly began to talk about Malek's recent body of work and the shows he has had since living abroad, the gallery milieu of Paris, and a painter's perspective on the art scene.

 There are few things I find as interesting in a painter's practice then a seemingly sudden break from what you expect them to be working on. Although sudden was far from the truth in this case. I learned that Malek actually often works on different series in his studio. Nevertheless, I find it freeing that what is to be expected can be challenged. Solving the mystery of how the paintings aren't really so different from what you had anticipated gives me a kind of thrill, a simple game of deduction that only adds to the pleasure of viewing the artwork, a need to tuck into my thoughts on the use of paint as a both a medium and an intellectual translator. The work of Malek's that I am most familiar with are his slick but tactile abstractions that occupy thoughts on vibrations and contrasting color gradations. In these paintings, each section or band of color is piled with a maniacal amount of layering, allowing the surface to strangely hover above the canvas. After spending some time looking at Malek's new paintings, while watching him painstakingly work on them, as I tried my best attempt at making my drawing come close to looking the same, I realized he is up to the same old stunning tricks. Enamel paint, his obsessive tendencies, and a time consuming amount of brushwork result in a canvas that really gives the viewer the optical go around, posing questions that lead to more than one conclusion on the process of the work. When I first arrived, and a good hour into being in Malek's studio, I thought the smaller painting was a photographed image that he was using to make the larger painting from, having not gone up close to it yet. I had been had. It was just a smaller painting. To add to my confusion and miscalculations, Malek isn't even using a photograph of the moon at all to work from, but instead painting from photographs of plaster models of the moon's surface that where made by James Nasmyth in the mid 19th century. Nasmyth made these models from observations of the moon before the moon's surface could be photographed. It seems that both gentlemen's work deals with a strange simulacrum, Malek's of painting, and Nasmyth's of outer space.

David Malek, Dark Crystals, Vedovi Gallery, Brussels, Spring 2013

Malek had a exhibition this past spring at Gallery Vedovi in Brussels. Again with a kind of dedication and stubbornness for perfection it seems that Malek is allowing his intellect and impulse wander from body of work to body of work, but not too far. He is also in a group exhibition that opened this week in Paris at his gallery Triple V and is up until November 9th. I stopped by Triple V while visiting. It was very impressive and had two spaces steps away from one another on rue Louise Weiss, a street with several galleries on it.

We had this drawing session on the first day of my time spent in Paris. It flavored the whole trip. It is one thing to visit old friends at the Musee D'orsay or the Louvre, but quite another to a see a Parisian, or at least an expat, in action. We took a break mid-day to sit in the garden, hurrying around the corner to pick up a bite at the local grocery store: a baguette, a bit of cheese, some jambon, and of course a cold bière. Later, after our studio day was complete, he showed me around the The Canal Saint-Martin neighborhood with his wife Jill Tonic and their perfectly bouncy baby girl. Then the group of us had lovely and hilarious dinner to finish the evening. I'll save that story for another time. Malek's work and personality are exceptionnel. Take a look at more of his paintings here