America Still Screams: The Art of Liz Markus

April 18, 2009

I didn’t expect to laugh as hard as I did when I watched Will Farrell’s “Your Welcome, America” this Saturday night featuring himself as George Bush. It felt great.

It is almost the sixth anniversary of the start of shock and awe campaign of the Iraq war this Friday. I’ll always remember that because it happened on my birthday. And that day in my studio I just sat in front of a huge canvas and painted the word “war” with a blog sloppy dripping paint brush and left early. For pretty much all the artists I know, with their antennaes out there blowing in the wind, it was impossible to not let the war— everything—all seep into our thoughts and work. It was also almost impossible for me not to write about the election and view art in terms of of politics and what was going on in the world.

When Obama got elected, I felt as if my mother finally kicked the abusive stepfather out of the house and started dating a cool new guy that I actually liked. I still can’t quite believe that they live together, let alone got married. Yet in spite of finally feeling freed from the last administration and the politics leading up to its ouster, I welcome any kind of therapy I can lay my eyes on. So in addition to laughing at Will Farrell’s rendition of 43, I was just as relieved to discover the works of Brooklyn-based artist Liz Markus.

2009-03-16-lizmarcus1.jpg
Liz Markus, American Scream, 2008, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 48 inches, Courtesy of ZieherSmith Gallery

With rapid brush strokes and streaking paint, Markus creates images that bring humor and light to sensitive and charged subjects. Her restrained use of saturated primary colors prevents these images from being too candy-hued-psychedelic, and are instead bold and resonating. She pours paint onto her canvas and lightly controls the flow of the colors, resulting in haunting images that make us think we are sure of what we are looking at…or not. We wonder, “Have I seen this portrait before?” “My G-d, is that Nancy Reagan?” Calling images stored in our subconscious to the forefront, Markus engages viewers in an interplay between memories of the past and present, fact and fiction. You can catch her upcoming solo show at ZieherSmith”s New York gallery from March 19 to April 18, 2009.

2009-03-21-lizmarcus3.jpg

Liz Markus’ moments of desperation and inspiration: George W. Bush and Markus’ Green Hippie, 2004

Kimberly Brooks: What was the single moment that led to this body of work?

Liz Markus: During the 2004 presidential election I would get up at 6am everyday and paint on paper in a very stream of conscious way while listening to Air America. As I became increasingly frustrated by the Bush administration as well as the corporate office job I still had, a hippie appeared in my work. It was an image that immediately resonated with me. It represented freedom, rebellion, down to earth values, in short everything that I wasn’t seeing or experiencing around me. This moment was the beginning of a very rich vein that completely took over my studio for the next three years. I was interested in the arc of the hippie experience, from innocence and optimism through psychedelia to the Manson murders, Vietnam and drug burnout. I imagined a burnt out hippie wandering around in Mexico with his motorcycle and painted those subjects in somewhat abstracted ways.

2009-03-16-lizmarkus22.jpg
Liz Markus, Nancy 4, 2008, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 48 inches, Courtesy of ZieherSmith Gallery

KB: I think I met that hippie several times over. Definitely while growing up in Marin County and attending UC Berkeley. I think he lives in a lot of us. What inspired you to paint Nancy Reagan?

LM: Too young for a first hand experience of the 60’s, I was 13 when Reagan took office. My knowledge of Nancy Reagan was limited to her penchant for red Bob Mackey dresses, her just say no anti-drug campaign, and the obvious power she held in the white house. My parents ingrained in me a distaste for the Reagan administration but I didn’t think much more about Nancy until I came across a classic photo of her in Vanity Fair several years ago. I knew immediately that I needed to paint her, there was something about her face that was compelling to me. Initially I had hoped that she wouldn’t read as Nancy but as a generic WASP-y woman of that era. Nope. Everyone always knew she was Nancy. I’ve painted her many times and wondered why I have this attraction to her image. Looking back at Nancy now, I still absolutely dislike her politics and think she must be very tightly wound up inside. However, I can see that she was a strong and powerful woman in a time when there weren’t a lot of Hillary Clintons or Michelle Obamas around. She fascinates me.

2009-03-16-lizmarcus42.jpg
Liz Markus, All These Things Were Way Beyond My Mind, 2007, acrylic on canvas, 54 x 72 inches, Courtesy of ZieherSmith Gallery

KB: How do you create your canvases, what is your process?

LM: I stain unprimed canvas with acrylic paint. They are often on the floor while I paint. I use brushes at times, but I often pour the paint on directly and tilt the canvas to control the movement and flow. The thing I really love about staining is the reliance on chance. I can control the paint to a certain extent, but as the paint is very fluid and seeps quickly into the cotton fabric, it does it’s own thing, as well. So there is always a wonderful but also anxious moment during the process while I wait to see how my intentions and fate interact to make the final image.

2009-03-16-lizmarcus5.jpg
Liz Markus, Failed Target 1, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 48 inches

KB: You’ve talked about the Hippies and the Nancy Reagans, but what about the other subjects that appear in your work, like Noland targets, taxidermy, Johnny Rotten and oranges, for example?

LM: It’s hard to describe in words, but visually, it all makes sense and I think that is an important point. I paint because I am expressing things that cannot be simply explained on a verbal level, I wouldn’t have to paint them if that wasn’t true. That said, I think the Noland targets reflect an intense interest in the cannon of modern painting. On a different note, I associate taxidermy with the classic WASPy interior. The stuffed animals had an uncanny resemblance to the residents of the houses and began to act as surrogates for them in my paintings. Johnny Rotten and oranges, well, I just thought they would be cool to paint.


KB: Is there a particular work of art that inspires you?

LM: I have always been a huge fan of art history and it has played an important role in my development as an artist. I grew up in Buffalo going to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and its strong collection of Abstract Expressionist painting is what originally inspired me to be an artist. De Kooning continues to inspire me. The attraction/repulsion he has for his subject in his women series reminds me of how I feel about Nancy. To me he is the ultimate painter.
2009-03-16-lizmarcusdekoonig7.jpg
Willem de Kooning, Woman V, 1952-53, National Gallery of Australia

Liz Markus is based in Brooklyn, New York. She received an MFA from Tyler School of Art and a BFA from School of Visual Arts. Her second solo show at ZieherSmith’s New York gallery will take place from March 19 to April 18, 2009. Her work will also be included in **ckheads: Portraiture for the Silicon Enlightenment, curated by Angela Dufresne, SCA Contemporary, Albuquerque later this year. Her exhibition history includes a solo exhibition at Galleri Loyal, Stockholm and recent group shows at Gallerie Opdahl, Stavinger, Norway; James Graham & Sons, New York; and Werkstatte, New York among others. Her work is regularly shown at various international art fairs including NADA, Miami; Zoo, London; and MACO, Mexico City.

2009-03-16-lizmarcusphoto.jpg
Artist Liz Markus


The Art of the Headshot

April 15, 2009

As I navigate the web, both as an artist and a new media person, I think about the images we use to present ourselves. Other than movie stars and professional personalities such as Oprah and Martha, real estate agents were actually the first profession to use headshots as one of the means of conveying who they are and what they would be like to work with. In the marketing and advertising world they call it “branding”. But since that always makes me think of seared flesh on a cow’s ass I tend I stay away from that expression. Whatever you call it, we’re all doing it now.

Take my friend Sharona, for example. Occasionally I receive postcards or web announcements with her face smiling at me. She’s smart, confident and looks it. When I see her picture, I also instantly hear her signature sexy voice. I think to myself, “Man, if anyone is going find me a great house it’s going to be her.” As realtors go, she’s pretty low-key. (She also has the curious distinction of being the namesake of the Knack’s famous song “My Sharona” so she doesn’t have to sell as hard.) But most real estate agents take it much further, putting their faces on everything from billboards, bus stops and print ads. I often wonder when the trend started. It must have been in the seventies, and some blond babe, probably here in Los Angeles, an out-of-work actor, perhaps, thought “I bet if I put a picture of myself on every business card and bus stop, billboard and sign outside the house, people would rather buy a house from me.”

2009-04-13-bijan.jpg

Special attention must be given to “Bijan”. There’s a corner on Sepulveda and Wilshire Blvds. in Los Angeles where he’s always there spread across two billboards of this major intersection. His face and image are in every picture, always laughing and getting out of a yellow Ferrari or private airplane with his name slathered on it. It’s fabulously ostentatious and not to be missed.

So what is the significance of that single image that you project and how everyone perceives you? When I was college intern working in an international design firm (pre-web), I saw a lot of resumes coming in from around the world. Unlike the American applicants who just submitted resumes, the designers from Europe affixed a passport photo size headshot on the corner. It stunned me how much the picture overrode any impression you could have of how they had spent their entire professional career. The impact on the mostly men who did the hiring was equally poignant. A pretty girl? Who cares where she went to school? Now we all confront it all the time, whether we read the blogs here on Huffpo or whether surveying friends of friends on Facebook.

Whether an activist, writer, blogger, student or artist, everyone is now a real estate agent. Once we admit or embrace this idea, let us examine a couple rules, shall we?

Activists Probably Shouldn’t be Smiling and Baring Teeth.
If your goal in life is to be helpful, like, say, for a real estate agent, smile away. But I’ve always found something a bit aggressive about baring teeth and looking straight into the camera. It must stem from primitive days one animal signaled another not encroach on his meal. Once, an environmental activist friend of mine used a smiling headshot but all words she was writing were “Hey, the Earth is On Fire and We Gotta Do Something About it!” It was a disconnect and when I pointed it out she changed it.

2009-04-13-MaureenDowd.jpgSerious Writers Ought To Go Easy on the Smiling too.
For years when I read the New York Times, I never knew what Maureen Dowd looked like. Suddenly, on the web her picture appeared. At first she looked like how I expected her to look. For a while however, the photographer made her smile and when I read her column on the web it annoyed me. Now her picture looks like wry and witty like her writing again. I can’t imagine reading Virginia Wolfe’s To The Lighthouse and have her smiling at me either.

 

2009-04-13-picasso.jpgThe Artist’s Image
When I think of Picasso, I think of this black and white photo below. It captures the intensity of his gaze and something even deeper.

 

 

 

 

 

Picasso
The artist’s image is intrinsically linked to portraiture. Before photography, the image of the artist was usually a self-portrait and hence in a state of scrutinization ~ a portrait of the artist staring at their reflection in order to depict his own image. Like this one of Albrecht Durer. My initial self portraits are equally intense.

2009-04-13-durerbrooks.jpg
Albrecht Durer, Kimberly Brooks (Self Portraits)

So then, what kind of image should an artist put out there? Let’s take out the teeth entirely. Artists shouldn’t be smiling, they should be suffering, no? I was recently selected in a juried exhibition in print called New American Paintings which required each artist to submit a picture. When the book came out, most of them were brooding and or looking away. Choosing a picture isn’t easy. I blame modern photography on the frustration– its shutter speed can capture an infinite array of nano emotions but then somehow miss a larger essence.

The Scientist’s Image
2009-04-13-einstein.jpg
My favorite scientist’s image is this one of Einstein, hair messy, sticking his tongue out. He looks perfectly wacky enough to think of something as out of the box and crazy the Theory of Relativity. My brother-in-law Ken Goldberg is an artist and Robotics Professor at UC Berkeley. His Facebook portrait (below, right) is waiting-for-the-explosion wacky. Now he’s blogging for the San Francisco Chronicle and uses the picture on the left.

2009-04-13-kengoldberg.jpg
Ken Goldberg, Scientist, Artist, SFGate BloggerFor some reason, bloggers like to show a happy version of themselves. Even I did it on this post. But is that the real me? I dunno, sometimes maybe. It will never be the right picture. As I tunnel through this thought experiment, I’m still figuring out the other professions. I’d love to know what you think.

Michelle Obama, Master Colorist and Me

April 8, 2009

There is a riot of color issuing forth from the First Lady’s closet and I cannot wait to see what she wears next. Say what you will about whether or not it was “appropriate” to wear a cardigan to meet the Queen or whether that balloon skirt was flattering, Michelle Obama is a Master Colorist — and I as well as my artist friends could not be more ecstatic.

2009-04-05-obamacollage.jpg
A Collage of Michelle Recent Outfits

A woman’s journey through fashion is a life cycle in and of itself. As I look at the bold strokes of Michelle’s color sense today I reflect upon Michelle’s journey in fashion and color as one that might parallel my own and other women like her.

2009-04-05-yellowmatisse.jpg
Behold Matisse

As a young girl, I thought of fashion and color as a means to make myself more attractive to the opposite sex. My grandmother once told me, “Red and yellow, catch a fellow; pink and blue, keep him true.” My entire sense of fashion was about sexualization and objectification. I essentially wanted to make myself look pretty for the boys I had crushes on. At camp I would look at Seventeen, Vogue, Cosmo and Bazaar. But when I went to college, I got serious about my studies and great literature and momentarily shunned fashion or looked down upon caring too much about it. This was not just because I didn’t have any money to pay for it. It was also due to the culture inside the Ivory Tower — and I believe many other Ivy League-type schools — which mostly eschews fashion in exchange for the idea that the main purpose of our bodies is to provide a container for our brains. So while I may have I swooned over the finery described in words during a Proustian night at the Opera, fashion stayed in my head whereas Levi’s, a comfortable Gap t-shirt and a cool leather jacket was my uniform.

2009-04-05-obamamatissejcrew.jpg
Obama, Matisse and J. Crew

It is often after women leave the university and enter the workforce that a different sense of fashion emerges and we pick up the magazines again, first for ideas and then reading them with new eyes. I started to become more cognizant of fashion as a language. Navigating the workforce was confining for me at first and my leftover sexy sense of fashion led to unwanted passes. Even though my first job was in the design industry, it was a very macho, male-dominated environment, not unlike Mad Men. There was a need to balance looking creative, smart and tough if you were to be taken seriously. I opted for a reinvention/upgrade of my student self and learned that black boots or heels and a crisp white shirt is better for negotiating a room full of men. I lived in San Francisco. It was often grey and cloudy. And with the exception of an occasional red sweater, most of my wardrobe was black. It was very easy to go shopping. While I only touched color with cool scarves, I had unwittingly become a student of the silhouette. Languages, after all, must be learned one word and one phrase at a time.

2009-04-05-obamapicasso.jpg
Obama, Cezanne, Narcisso Rodriguez

And this is where a lot of us working girls sleep walk well into our late twenties. We’re finally earning money and can afford a fabulous shoe. For me, I had moved to Los Angeles and the working girl uniform from San Francisco was no longer cutting it. (The different fashion styles of San Francisco and Los Angeles is a subject in and of itself.) I suddenly no longer saw fashion as a weapon of either sexuality or power in the work place, but rather as a universe of fabric, texture, color just as vibrant as the ones on my palette in the studio. I often dived into one color at a time, learning what works, what makes sense together and what looks best on me. After gaining a certain confidence, women learn to really celebrate themselves and life itself through what they choose to wear. That is what Michelle Obama is doing with color and so much more.

2009-04-05-obamamatisse1.jpg
Obama, Matisse

In reality, a woman’s journey in color and fashion is a sign of a healthy society. All the most oppressive regimes towards women cover them in black. I don’t care what the faux religious excuses of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan are. The silence of color in an entire culture is emblematic of the suppression of women’s spirit and influence on it’s culture. Michelle Obama’s use of color and fashion is empowering and enlightening to the women in this country. It is the fashion equivalent of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” and awakens in all of us the beauty of life and every day. As an artist, I am doubly appreciative of splashes of chartreuse and yellow, purple and green as fly across my television and computer screen. As an American Woman, I am filled with pride and hope it spreads like a California Wildfire.

***First Person Artist is a weekly column by artist Kimberly Brooks in which she provides commentary on the creative process, technology and showcases artistswork from around the world. Paintings from Brooks’ recent series, “Technicolor Summer”, will be on view at the Tarryn Teresa Gallery April 10 in a show curated by Yasmine Mohseni. Come back every Monday for more Kimberly Brooks.

Rebecca Bird Paints the Explosion

March 30, 2009

I walk into Paul Kopeikin’s new gallery in West Hollywood and what do I see? I see the fantasies (realities?) of Iran and North Korea. I see Alan Greenspan’s testimony that he found a “a flaw in the model … that defines how the world works.” I see the value of my pension plan. I see the image everywhere I go, reflected in everyone’s shiny pupils. It’s as if it’s coming from inside them. I see the paintings of Rebecca Bird.

2009-03-29-image1.jpg
Rebecca Bird, Untitled, watercolor on paper: 12″ x 12″, Courtesy Kopeikin Gallery, Los Angeles

In her current show, “Everything that Ever Existed Still Exists,” Bird delicately — even preciously — petrifies images of infamous nuclear explosions in paint. The names of the locations are erased, leaving the images just as anonymous as those civilian victims of the bombs or testing sites. While some of the clouds are recognizable, Bird’s interpretation of these events captures peacefulness and tragedy, past and present, personal and global, all at once. The show, curated by Fette, one of my favorite art bloggers, runs through April 18, 2009.
2009-03-29-rebeccabird2.jpg
Rebecca Bird, Tree, watercolor on paper, Courtesy Kopeikin Gallery, Los Angeles

Kimberly Brooks: Aside from picking up any newspaper lately, what was the inspiration behind this body of work?
Rebecca Bird: The impetus for my work usually comes from seeing something surprising, which leads to an inquiry. In this case the moment of surprise happened at New York Public Library picture collection, where I found a group of government photos from the National Archive of nuclear bomb tests.

2009-03-29-rebeccabird3.jpg
From the national archive of nuclear bomb tests.

At the time, I was trying to create a visual representation of what an internalized trauma might look like, something hard to explain to anyone who hadn’t experienced it. I was looking for imagery that was violent or explosive. I had started working with the subject of explosions very generally. When I first saw these photographs of nuclear bomb tests I realized they had the same barriers to comprehension as any violent event seen from the outside. I felt like I was both the person who is unable to convey their own subjective experience, and the person who can’t understand it based on what they see.

2009-03-29-rebeccabird4.jpg
Rebecca Bird, Small Problems Obscuring Big Problems, 2006, watercolor on paper, 26 1/2″ x 39″
Courtesy Kopeikin Gallery, Los Angeles

KB: I’ve always found the images eerily beautiful too. Where does the title of the show, “Everything That Ever Existed Still Exists,” come from?
RB: There are two strains of content in the work, one which is about pain on a personal level, and one that is about tragic historic events. Using nuclear explosions as a metaphor for any smaller event is inherently out of proportion, but the lack of proportion is in turn a perfect metaphor for an event which ultimately cannot be measured or communicated. The removal of any indicators of scale or context from the images is important for this reason; the images could be enormous, or microscopic, or happening inside of you.
Everything about how these pictures are painted emphasizes the distance between seeing the images and understanding what they are of; they are hugely destructive explosions, but rendered in precise watercolor. The cool, watery pastel colors are beautiful or nostalgic, and the images are above all very still. It suggests that something can happen very quickly and yet happen forever.

2009-03-29-rebeccabird5.jpg
Rebecca Bird, Omega, 2005, watercolor on paper, 38″ x 50″, Courtesy Kopeikin Gallery, Los Angeles

KB: The work looks very layered and detailed. Describe your process of working.
RB: I work very close to the subject that I am painting, often with the object I am painting resting on the page as I work. I start from one end and go to the other, I put in one detail at a time: this means that I am never looking at the whole picture as I work, always at one tiny part of it. In these paintings I go through a process of examining every grain of the photograph without grasping the event pictured as a whole. There is something organic about the way the image grow on the page.

2009-03-29-rebeccabird7.jpg
Rebecca Bird, P H, 2007, watercolor on paper, 30″ x 43 1/2″, Courtesy Kopeikin Gallery, Los Angeles

KB: Did you ever feel guilty about painting a devastating historical event in a way that is both beautiful and also personal?
RB: I am always confused when I see news photos of wars and disasters – does seeing a picture of a distant tragedy allow me to empathize with its victims, or does the shock actually numb my response? Given that these events are the sum of many smaller personal tragedies, is it even possible to empathize with every other person? You end up defining suffering in terms of numbers, and scale. Seeing includes a whole range of emotions including guilt. In the face of these events does any single person still matter, whether a victim or an observer?

In these paintings, I want to emphasize the distance between seeing and understanding. When using historical images — of the atomic cloud over Nagasaki or the attack on Pearl Harbor — the “name” of the event is not in the title, because giving something a name is another way of not going into the detail of what it means. There is no image that can lead to understanding.

KB: Is there a work of art that inspires you?
RB: This work was influenced by the use of explosions in movies and comic books to symbolize or simulate catharsis, particularly Katsuhiro Otomo’s epic manga and anime “Akira.” In “Akira,” the end of the known world is mirrored by, and brought about by, the gradual loss of sanity of a teenage boy. The gorgeous, monumental destruction of the climactic sequences are a perfectly overblown metaphor for self-absorbed pain.

2009-03-29-rebeccabird9.jpg
Katsuhiro Otomo, from the comic book “Akira”, copyright Kodansha Ltd. Tokyo/ New York.

Rebecca Bird graduated from the Cooper Union School of Art in 2000. While a student she received the Ellen Battelle-Stoeckel Fellowship to the Yale Norfolk Summer School in painting. Immediately after graduating she was awarded a Fulbright to study traditional painting techniques in Kanazawa, Japan. She spent one year in Japan before settling in Brooklyn, NY. She has had work in solo and group shows in New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Luzern, Kanazawa, and Beijing. Her solo exhibition “Everything that ever existed still exists” at Kopeikin Gallery in Los Angeles runs from March 14 – April 18, 2009.

Dancing With Divorced Men: Allison Kaufman

March 23, 2009

My parents divorced when I was fourteen and I used to play evil tricks on my father for the years he was dating and I still lived at home. When a woman called and said “Is Lenny there?” I would say in the sexiest voice “No, I’m sorry, he’s busy right now” then whisper, ‘Stop it!'” then giggle and hang up. During high school, I often accompanied him to the symphony or an art show, and on more than one occasion he would have to explain that no, I was his daughter and not his date. My parents divorce was probably one of the most significant and difficult experiences of my life. Any one who has also been through a divorce would probably agree. It was even the topic of one of my first art shows. Until both my parents remarried, I always felt a bit uneasy until they settled down, as if I were the parents of wayward high school grads who hadn’t applied to college.

When I attended the Miami Basel fair this last winter, I walked by a booth that had a video showing an attractive young woman dancing in a living room of an apartment with a man. The clip would then jump to the same woman dancing with another man, then another. At first glance, I thought I was looking at an engagement announcement. There’s a happy couple surrounded by wedding photos. On closer inspection, it was evident that they didn’t look very comfortable together. And in reality, the couple in Kaufman’s “Divorced Men” series isn’t really a couple a couple at all. After Kaufman’s parents got divorced, Kaufman began to explore the void that is left when someone is removed from a relationship–both emotionally and physically in the sense that there is a real void in the emotional and physical space of the home.

2009-03-22-AllisonKaufman1.jpg?
Allison Kaufman, “From the Divorced Men Series III”, C-print, 16″ x 20″, A4.

In the “Divorced Men Series,” Kaufman traveled into divorced men’s homes and took portraits with them and danced with them. In the hours of their meetings, they opened up to one another. In the process of taking the portraits and filming the dancing, Kaufman taps into the emotional vulnerability found not just with the divorced men, but also with the artist and men’s mutual desire to explore a human connection. I find the work both humorous and deeply explorative and touching.

?2009-03-22-AllisonKaufman2.jpg
Allison Kaufman, “From the Divorced Men Series I”, C-print, 16″ x 20″, A2.

Kimberly Brooks: What was your inspiration behind this project? There are so many facets of experiencing divorce, was there a moment when it occured to you to make divorced men your focus?
Allison Kaufman: Visiting my newly-single father’s apartment for the first time was a very significant experience for me, one of many that led me to an artistic investigation of divorced middle-aged men, a demographic I am still working with. It’s very strange to visit the home of a newly-divorced parent and see what they choose to surround themselves with when they are living on their own for the first time in a long time, or possibly ever. Experiencing a major change, particularly in mid-life, necessitates forming a new identity to some degree. Vulnerability, disappointment, and hope, among many other things, are all part of that process and are emotions I’m fascinated with, both in my subjects and myself. In my work, I’ve been interested in the domestic–and its promises and failures–as a site of inquiry for quite some time, and seeing men navigate what is considered a predominately female domain is particularly poignant. The willingness of strangers to participate in the project and be documented in their homes reflected their desire for a sense of connection, something I was certainly looking for from this population for myself and what I believe the work ultimately is about.

B1.:



KB: When I found out the concept behind the work, I saw you as taking the place of a phantom limb; as if you were proxy-wife/girlfriend or daughter filling in the void for that instant. What did you take away from the experience of working with these men?

AK: While working with divorced men, I came to realize that the most potent part of our exchange was the temporary relationship that developed during our shoots, which usually only last a few hours. I wanted to record this in some fashion, and to literally make myself part of the work, vulnerable alongside the subject and forced to negotiate issues of persona and performance inherent in all photo/ video. I asked the men to choose a song and style of dancing and I essentially followed their lead, creating an appropriate female counterpart from their cues, and made “Dancing with Divorced Men”.

The project is about the need for human interaction, the search for it and the insecurities around it, in an increasingly cyber-connected yet emotionally disconnected world. For just a few hours, I offer these men the opportunity for human connection and the possibility of feeling a sense of hopefulness, healing and forgiving that I, too, am looking for. Reflecting on the voids existing in my own relationship with my father, interacting with men that function as a surrogate allows me a sense of healing in some way. I realize that the act of meeting these men and dancing with them will not always or entirely fill my desires or theirs, and it is perhaps the tenderness in trying to do so, and the potential for the success or failure of the connection that I am interested in, for it mimics the potential success and failure of all of our most intimate relationships.


?2009-03-22-AllisonKaufman3.jpg
LEFT: Allison Kaufman, “From the Divorced Men Series II”, C-print, 16″ x 20″, A3; RIGHT: “From the Divorced Men Series IV”, C-print, 16″ x 20″

KB: How did the focus on divorced men take it’s form for you? How did it evolve as you got more deeply into it?

AK: I think like most artists, my process is conscious and subconscious simultaneously. Ideas and insights come from in-depth conversations and critiques with fellow artists and friends, and also arise at completely unforeseen, random moments when I’m in the middle of something I would think is unrelated. My work usually evolves over a long period of time and I try to look at a project from many angles–where I start is not very often where I end. I use the camera as a way of sketching, I suppose. When I need to feel creative and active I’m out with my camera making initial investigations into topics, and as I narrow my vision to what is most potent, I return with the equipment that seems most appropriate for that particular project.


KB: Is there a work of art that inspires you or that inspired this project?

AK: I’m drawn to a number of works, undertaken mostly by women, where artists form temporary relationships with strangers and attempt to illicit a genuine, emotional reaction. The pieces often use a relatively simple and sometimes light, or even humorous, structure that still seems to speak of complex issues of connection and loneliness. Prior to making “Dancing with Divorced Men” I was looking at a lot of this work and had not yet realized that this particular investigation of mine could function in that way. Examples of these artists and works are Gillian Wearing’s “Signs That Say What You Want Them To Say And Not Signs That Say What Someone Else Wants You to Say”, Shizuka Yokomizo’s “Strangers” series, and the video piece “Karaoke Wrong Number” by Rachel Perry Welty. All of these works deal with issues of the public versus private, our need to be seen or understood in some way, and our willingness to engage with strangers as a means of connection.

?2009-03-22-AllisonKaufman4.jpg
Gillian Wearing, “Signs That Say What You Want Them To Say And Not Signs That Say What Someone Else Wants You to Say”, 1992-93.
Images found at Tate Collection, courtesy of Maureen Paley/ Interim Art, London

Allison Kaufman is a photo and video artist living in New York City. She received her BFA in Film and Television Production from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2000 and her MFA in Photography, Video, and Related Media from the School of Visual Arts in 2008. Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States at the Aqua Miami and Affordable Art Fairs, Broadway Gallery, ZONE: Chelsea Center for the Arts, Artists Space, and Brooklyn Borough Hall, as well as Galerie Scherer8 in Berlin. Kaufman is the recipient of the Paula Rhodes Memorial Award and an Alumni Scholarship Award from the School of Visual Arts and has been an artist-in-residence at the Constance Saltonstall Foundation of the Arts and Penland School of Crafts. She has taught at a variety of institutions and is currently an adjunct professor at Berkeley College. Updates on Kaufman’s work and exhibitions can be found at www.allisonkaufman.net.

America Still Screams: Paintings by Liz Marcus

March 16, 2009

I didn’t expect to laugh as hard as I did when I watched Will Farrell’s “Your Welcome, America” this Saturday night featuring himself as George Bush. It felt great.

It is almost the sixth anniversary of the start of shock and awe campaign of the Iraq war this Friday. I’ll always remember that because it happened on my birthday. And that day in my studio I just sat in front of a huge canvas and painted the word “war” with a blog sloppy dripping paint brush and left early. For pretty much all the artists I know, with their antennaes out there blowing in the wind, it was impossible to not let the war– everything–all seep into our thoughts and work. It was also almost impossible for me not to write about the election and view art in terms of of politics and what was going on in the world.

When Obama got elected, I felt as if my mother finally kicked the abusive stepfather out of the house and started dating a cool new guy that I actually liked. I still can’t quite believe that they live together, let alone got married. Yet in spite of finally feeling freed from the last administration and the politics leading up to its ouster, I welcome any kind of therapy I can lay my eyes on. So in addition to laughing at Will Farrell’s rendition of 43, I was just as relieved to discover the works of Brooklyn-based artist Liz Markus.

2009-03-16-lizmarcus1.jpg
?Liz Markus, American Scream, 2008, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 48 inches, Courtesy of ZieherSmith Gallery

With rapid brush strokes and streaking paint, Markus creates images that bring humor and light to sensitive and charged subjects. Her restrained use of saturated primary colors prevents these images from being too candy-hued-psychedelic, and are instead bold and resonating. She pours paint onto her canvas and lightly controls the flow of the colors, resulting in haunting images that make us think we are sure of what we are looking at…or not. We wonder, “Have I seen this portrait before?” “My G-d, is that Nancy Reagan?” Calling images stored in our subconscious to the forefront, Markus engages viewers in an interplay between memories of the past and present, fact and fiction. You can catch her upcoming solo show at ZieherSmith’s New York gallery from March 19 to April 18, 2009.

2009-03-21-lizmarcus3.jpg
Liz Markus’ moments of desperation and inspiration: George W. Bush and Markus’ Green Hippie, 2004

Kimberly Brooks: What was the single moment that led to this body of work?
Liz Markus: During the 2004 presidential election I would get up at 6am everyday and paint on paper in a very stream of conscious way while listening to Air America. As I became increasingly frustrated by the Bush administration as well as the corporate office job I still had, a hippie appeared in my work. It was an image that immediately resonated with me. It represented freedom, rebellion, down to earth values, in short everything that I wasn’t seeing or experiencing around me. This moment was the beginning of a very rich vein that completely took over my studio for the next three years. I was interested in the arc of the hippie experience, from innocence and optimism through psychedelia to the Manson murders, Vietnam and drug burnout. I imagined a burnt out hippie wandering around in Mexico with his motorcycle and painted those subjects in somewhat abstracted ways.

2009-03-16-lizmarkus22.jpg
Liz Markus, Nancy 4, 2008, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 48 inches, Courtesy of ZieherSmith Gallery

KB: I think I met that hippie several times over. Definitely while growing up in Marin County and attending UC Berkeley. I think he lives in a lot of us. What inspired you to paint Nancy Reagan?
LM: Too young for a first hand experience of the 60’s, I was 13 when Reagan took office. My knowledge of Nancy Reagan was limited to her penchant for red Bob Mackey dresses, her just say no anti-drug campaign, and the obvious power she held in the white house. My parents ingrained in me a distaste for the Reagan administration but I didn’t think much more about Nancy until I came across a classic photo of her in Vanity Fair several years ago. I knew immediately that I needed to paint her, there was something about her face that was compelling to me. Initially I had hoped that she wouldn’t read as Nancy but as a generic WASP-y woman of that era. Nope. Everyone always knew she was Nancy. I’ve painted her many times and wondered why I have this attraction to her image. Looking back at Nancy now, I still absolutely dislike her politics and think she must be very tightly wound up inside. However, I can see that she was a strong and powerful woman in a time when there weren’t a lot of Hillary Clintons or Michelle Obamas around. She fascinates me.

?2009-03-16-lizmarcus42.jpg
Liz Markus, All These Things Were Way Beyond My Mind, 2007, acrylic on canvas, 54 x 72 inches, Courtesy of ZieherSmith Gallery

KB: How do you create your canvases, what is your process?
LM: I stain unprimed canvas with acrylic paint. They are often on the floor while I paint. I use brushes at times, but I often pour the paint on directly and tilt the canvas to control the movement and flow. The thing I really love about staining is the reliance on chance. I can control the paint to a certain extent, but as the paint is very fluid and seeps quickly into the cotton fabric, it does it’s own thing, as well. So there is always a wonderful but also anxious moment during the process while I wait to see how my intentions and fate interact to make the final image.

?2009-03-16-lizmarcus5.jpg
Liz Markus, Failed Target 1, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 48 inches

KB: You’ve talked about the Hippies and the Nancy Reagans, but what about the other subjects that appear in your work, like Noland targets, taxidermy, Johnny Rotten and oranges, for example?

LM: It’s hard to describe in words, but visually, it all makes sense and I think that is an important point. I paint because I am expressing things that cannot be simply explained on a verbal level, I wouldn’t have to paint them if that wasn’t true. That said, I think the Noland targets reflect an intense interest in the cannon of modern painting. On a different note, I associate taxidermy with the classic WASPy interior. The stuffed animals had an uncanny resemblance to the residents of the houses and began to act as surrogates for them in my paintings. Johnny Rotten and oranges, well, I just thought they would be cool to paint.

KB: Is there a particular work of art that inspires you?

LM: I have always been a huge fan of art history and it has played an important role in my development as an artist. I grew up in Buffalo going to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and its strong collection of Abstract Expressionist painting is what originally inspired me to be an artist. De Kooning continues to inspire me. The attraction/repulsion he has for his subject in his women series reminds me of how I feel about Nancy. To me he is the ultimate painter.

?2009-03-16-lizmarcusdekoonig7.jpg
Willem de Kooning, Woman V, 1952-53, National Gallery of Australia

Liz Markus is based in Brooklyn, New York. She received an MFA from Tyler School of Art and a BFA from School of Visual Arts. Her second solo show at ZieherSmith’s New York gallery will take place from March 19 to April 18, 2009. Her work will also be included in **ckheads: Portraiture for the Silicon Enlightenment, curated by Angela Dufresne, SCA Contemporary, Albuquerque later this year. Her exhibition history includes a solo exhibition at Galleri Loyal, Stockholm and recent group shows at Gallerie Opdahl, Stavinger, Norway; James Graham & Sons, New York; and Werkstatte, New York among others. Her work is regularly shown at various international art fairs including NADA, Miami; Zoo, London; and MACO, Mexico City.
?2009-03-16-lizmarcusphoto.jpg
Artist Liz Markus

Facebook and The Death of Mystery

March 2, 2009

I received an email recently notifying me that I was “tagged” in a facebook entry called “25 Things You Don’t Know About Me” from an old friend. We actually went on a few dates many many years ago and I haven’t seen him in about three years, but we’ve remained friends. Curious, I clicked on the link and learned twenty five things about him I never knew, like the rest of his four hundred friends. He’s a very witty guy, so it wasn’t quite like “I like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain,” but in another way, it was oddly close. By tagging me he was requesting, or essentially daring me, along with the other nine friends he had tagged, to do the same thing. I impulsively started to do it and then never posted anything

My facebook life started off about a year and a half ago with friends and people I know closely, then my family started dribbling in, and the next thing I knew my friends included that person from a job I had ten years ago, students I’ve taught at art school, that really weird guy from high school, and an old roommate in college… and on and on it continued. That was the first sign of “friend leakage”, where I had expanded beyond the scope of intimate friends and was venturing into people outside of my circle, but usually by only a few degrees — at least I knew them.
Then things started getting out of hand. It started with a friend who is a supreme animal rights crusader with a very sexy, come-hither thumbnail picture. I haven’t seen her in years but she wrote a book and is semi-famous for the cause, so because of her, I have about one hundred extra friends. I know this because when someone requests that they be my friend in Facebook, I can see all the friends we have in common. I kept seeing this one friend, and then I realized I had become a part of the save the animals movement because our mutual friends kept including the friends I had met through her. Honestly, I started to get a little loose about whom I would “friend”– that’s right, Facebook made me feel promiscuous– I would wait then say, “Oh what the hell, after all, we have mutual friends.” It was then when I truly appreciated the fractal component of the friending process.

2009-03-02-mandelbrotfractal.jpg
“The Facebook Friending Process” (Illustration courtesy of Mandelbrot)

When I joined initially, I saw in Facebook something that resembled the early days of AOL when people were giddy about first sending emails and buddy lists and instant messaging were all the rage. Unlike many other people, who put videos of their kid’s first step, pictures from their recent barbecue and the details of their love life (options are “single”, “in a relationship”, “married” and “it’s complicated”), I try not to reveal too much — at least I don’t think I do — but even that’s getting blurry. At some point I must have made the decision that because I am an artist, my work is something I want and need to share, and I think of Facebook as one of many tools to do that. I’ve also come to consider one’s digital footprint to be, in a sense, another form of existence outside of the physical body. And it’s scope and appearance needs to be tended to so that it compositionally represents the portrait you want to present to the outside world.

But what struck me as so odd about the request for 25 secret things about me was I instantly envisioned that I could be creating a white paper on my entire spiritual, intellectual and life DNA. Imagine getting friended by someone who you’ve been set up with on a date, and he goes on your site to read what would ordinarily be doled out like pearls rolling down a pillow after an intimate evening over months or years of getting to know each other. If you fully fill out the profile questionnaire, you could let someone know every movie or favorite song you like, your favorite hobby and, along with your photos, video and baby pictures, it would read like a map of your very essence.

2009-03-02-delivery.jpg?
Kimberly Brooks. Detail from “Delivery” Oil on Panel. 2004

Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have believed that Amazon would close Cody’s Books on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, along with countless other independent bookstores; that I’d see a “going out of business” sign at the Tower Records down the hill; that bloggers and aggregators would somehow supplant (usurp?) journalists for news sources and that the New York Times (The New York Times!) would mortgage it’s building to stay alive.

I cannot help but to cast my mind forward. My ten year old son started a blog while we were at a dinner party. Now he wants to spend hours gathering cool content for it to show his friends. When he’s not begging me for a phone, it’s for me to blog about his blog so he can get a bigger audience. I wonder what they will call the generation who grows up with all this. I believe Time Magazine called mine “X” because it was right after the baby boomers and we hadn’t defined ourselves yet (well, we showed them). Then came “Generation Y” because it was after us. I would rename this one Generation “E” for “Exhibitionist”, (we can throw in “Exposure” and “Electronic” while we’re at it.) These social networking applications are grafted onto their gray matter and perhaps they might never know what mystery is. They’ll google or “friend” every classmate, teacher, co-worker, boss and know everything there is to know about that person. There will be no more boundary between “personal” and “professional”. Everyone will engage in wanton fractal friending and be connected with each other and Kevin Bacon. Maybe, if everybody becomes friends, this is how we will achieve Peace on Earth!

My husband is not on Facebook. I’m kind of jealous. He talks to a small group of people one-on-one via email. Because at the end of the day, and I mean that quite literally, Facebook has become another inbox for me to check. Maybe it’s because I always want to be mysterious or that as an artist, like Greta Garbo, “I just vant to be alone.”