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Friday, July 25, 2014

Holly Coulis and Ridley Howard

It was the first day of the World Cup and Brooklyn's eateries and bars were getting ready to be taken by storm for the following month. I made my way a few block closer to the river in Williamsburg to do a visit with Ridley Howard and Holly Coulis. To my luck, Coulis had recently moved into Howard's studio — this was gonna be a doubleheader made up of two of my favorite players. I arrived to find the door to their storefront studio invitingly open. There was a drawing table set up for me to work, the radio was playing a satisfying mix, and fans were going in multiple directions. After we put in a few dedicated hours of working, talking over art and having Ridley explain to me some of the ins and outs of the Cup, we made our way to a Mexican Joint for half price drinks, tacos, and of course, Game One. This was going to be a visit that took place over an entire weekend. I was already hoping that each day would end with beer and guacamole.

I'll start by talking about Howard's paintings and my experience drawing them. There was a lot to take in as he is getting ready for his 3rd solo show at Koenig & Clinton opening late October. A phenomenon occurs in Ridley's work that makes it difficult to understand that they are simply made with paint and mediums on canvas. It might be that I have gotten used to certain tricks within the realms of art making, but there where no extra tools or light boxes used here, just straightforward painting built on finesse and patience. Howard painstakingly layers transparent or semi-transparent paint to create changes in chroma, value or hue. Light penetrates through these multiple glaze applications to deepen the color and develop subtle complexity of skin tones. This optical mixing makes Howard's canvases, which are composed of clean cut shapes and slickly rendered figures, teeter between the virtuosity of a Van Eyke and the pop imagery of a David Hockney. Howard gives a nod to geometric abstraction and traditional oil painting at once. And the figures in his work, with their slight expressions and somewhat stoic posturing, sublimely coexist with the sleekness of the paintings' surface. In one piece, as a male and female character kiss, they seem to be aloofly melting into their positions, equally embraced by a field of color and each other.

Coulis' work takes a captivating and fresh look at traditional painting by way of still-life and figuration. She reminds me how much I relish the endless possibilities that come from utilizing the most familiar and principal painting subjects. After drawing her studio I made an enriching visit to the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia and could almost imagine her paintings nestled between a grouping of Matisse and Cezanne still-lifes. I think it is in the way Coulis is able to activate the spacial elements of her canvases by flattening the picture plane, while exaggerating the subjects' light and shadows through her intelligent use of subtly varied color and width of line, that I make these connections. Her current paintings, with their focus on drawing, where so exciting to me when I saw them this past February at her solo show at Sardine Gallery titled Pitchers. We spoke extensively about the strong linear qualities that have taken hold over the past few years. Coulis carries her initial outline of the shadows and objects as well as perspective lines throughout her process. If her first marks are drawn in red, this vibratory relic of the painting's beginning still holds a strong position at the painting's end. Sometimes a satisfying rainbow of colors can be seen around a line if multiple layers have been added to a given form and traces of those layers have been left behind. It isn't at just a glance that all of this is uncovered, but with an investigative eye, making her paintings all the more enticing to spend time with. No pitcher left unturned.

It was pretty fun to have all three of us working at the same time and we agreed that it reminded us of being in art school: making art in a big space and throwing jokes back and forth, only at no teacher's expense. I couldn't help but observe how this married couple helped one another throughout the day. As both were painting they would quietly ask each other's advice and gently speak words of encouragement.  And, yes, there was beer and guac at the end of each visit. This week is the last week to see Coulis' work in a group show at Sargent's Daughters and she is also in a group show called "Tossed" at Jeff Bailey Hudson that opens August 16. To see more of her paintings please go here Howard's show opens in October at Koenig and Clinton and he has a piece currently in a group show at Fredericks & Freiser titled "Unrealism Part I". To see more of his work please go here

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Chris Doyle

It was nice that upon visiting with Chris Doyle there was an occasion to celebrate. Perusing Facebook before I walked around the corner to my neighbor's studio for a drawing session this past spring, I saw that Doyle had just announced he had won a Guggenheim for video and film. Doyle moved to Williamsburg in the mid-90's and explained that even then his artist friends had told him he had missed the boat on his move. I know this conversation is like beating a dead horse, but it really fascinates me to learn of the different migratory patterns of artists. Doyle even has an Atlantic flyway to a Maine studio and home for the summer months. His Brooklyn workspace sits mid level between his bedroom and living area and is gently lit by a large wall of glass blocks at the back. The high ceilings let in a maximum amount of midday sunlight for working. The glow of shapes and lines from this keen architectural detail was both confusing and enticing to draw, and so we began our Spring afternoon session.

Doyle and I have one major thing in common, so we started our conversation on the topic of drawing. We discussed how drawing is perceived and what kind of audience it invokes — whether it is considered a viable medium or only thought of as a precursor to other processes. Doyle explained to me that through the years he has found multiple ways of approaching drawing in order to vary its degrees of impact. Making very large pieces being one approach, he pointed out a massive and beautifully detailed framed work that hangs in his studio and is a portrait of what was his daily life in his previous living space on Kent Ave. For several years now, his practice has focused on the moving image. Chris has been using layers of delineated marks to expand his drawing through movement by compounding subtle narratives along with rich colors, hidden shapes and slick textures. His unimaginably precise and  deft renderings, made from a laborious sort of love, translate so clearly to this format — the digital drawing tool he was using while I was there seeming remarkably close to actual pencil and paper. And so he has found where his drawings can live and live vibrantly. And soon they will be living in Times Square. One of Doyle's films, titled Bright Canyon, will premiere on Tuesday, July 1. It will play every night throughout the month from 11:57 p.m. to midnight on Times Square’s 15 electronic billboards, thus taking over that whole massive intense space with a drawn image. Working from photographs and drawings he has made of the Palisades, he has created a video that acts as an homage to what existed, both in animal and plant form, long before the city was ablaze with lights and the energies of 8 million people. The video begins at the treetops and ends in the river, mirroring the verticality of the tall buildings and swiftly moving streams of cars below in the city. The Palisades, just ten miles north of Times Square and immediately west of the Hudson, take an unconstricted breath like we are unable to as city dwellers. I anticipate the collision of the two worlds minutes before a new day begins to be something to stay up for.

A Bad at Sports broadcast was playing as we worked — interestingly discussing “interdisciplinary art”— what it means, why it matters, and how it is taught. Doyle and I talked about how both of our practices might be seen as such. As the evening approached, we waited on our respective partners to meet up with us for a very celebratory dinner at a nearby spot we all frequent. The night came fast and late amidst our many toasts and art-related conversations. A splendid way to finish an enriching day. To see more of Doyle's work go here Doyle will also have a solo show opening this September at Catharine Clark Fine Art in San Francisco.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Mira Dancy

This really gratifying thing happens during my visits sometimes: the artists divulge stories, almost in a half-conscious state as they are working on their art (and I am working to keep my pencils and listening skills sharp), that I have heard before in other studios. I have a clear yet dreamlike memory of visiting EJ Hauser's space at the beginning of my drawing adventures and hearing her inspiriting tale of meeting Mira Dancy and Michael Berryhill at Idylwild in California back in 2006. She told me how the three of them so quickly grooved together and have continued to groove since. During my visit with Berryhill several years ago and during my recent visit with Mira Dancy, they both unknowingly told me that very same story. If there are six degrees of separation in the world, then in the art world there may only be two. These structural relationships that I get the privilege of knowing the ins and outs of — from mentors to allies to artistic playmates — act like the glue for my growing collection of histories. Not to sound too Pollyanna, but these interactions are the real deal, not just internet bullshit. It feels good to be compiling them.

Dancy's studio was as energized and electric as I expected it to be. The juxtaposition of paintings, drawings on the walls, curtains, and paper, made for a really rich landscape. A new body of work was brewing that made the nude female figure its constant, a common theme for Mira. This is also a common subject historically, but most often painted from the alien male perspective. From Dancy's perspective, I could feel the forms' freedom, and with that, my freedom to build it's narrative. Maybe in this story I'll imagine the figure as being me, washed over in turquoise or hiding behind a sultry black hat or posed cross legged and vibrating in 3-D. Dancy first draws her figures — often combined with text — with deep black paints, later hitting the surface with saturations of hot colors. The effect is reminiscent of how a city shop grabs its clients attention with flashing signs and sharpie-drawn neon poster boards. I could smell perfume, nail salon acetate, and incense as Dancy explained the influences that the different storefronts she passes by on a daily basis have had on her. She told me how the mysterious signage and over all bizarre vibe of these places is beginning to play a role in the work she is making for a solo show that opens next January at Night Gallery in LA. Piles of papers strewn around on the floor seemed to be acting like the storyboards for the exhibition's intriguing plot. I can only hope that by next January I am visiting LA.

A few hours into the visit, Dancy threw up a video that she had made of an undulating ocean overlaid with the sound of her own smooth voice speaking stream of consciousness text. The video washed over the images on the wall like a final binding transparent brushstroke. The hypnotic and poetic sounds put me in a kind of trance while we winded down our studio day, full from a killer lunch break at Court Street Grocers and enriched conversations on art.  Dancy in currently in a show curated by the Suzanne Geiss Company at the Metropolitan Art Society in Beirut. And, look out for several group shows coming up this summer: at Zach Feuer in NYC ( curated by 247365) opening June 26th, at Cooper Cole in Toronto, and at David Shelton in Houston. This Fall Mira will also be collaborating with the amazing Sara Peters at Asya Geisberg Gallery. To see more of Dancy's work go here

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