Aesthetic Polytheism

AcetatesExcerpts from the print and animation project.

Thoughts while alone in the studio...

I enjoy aesthetic polytheism, and I am suspicious of most curatorial interpretations. Someone’s always got an axe to grind regardless of what was in the artists’ mind. I never really know what to say when asked What’s your art about?. I usually want to talk about how I made it, because I really like the making; but that never seems to satisfy, in fact it appears to demystify, and the asker walks away with an impression that I am a mere tinkering intuitive. Kind of an idiot child. I am afraid to tell them what I think it might be about, I rarely begin something with any sense of certainty of meaning, that might emerge later, sometimes years later, in the rearview mirror meaning might crystalize. I’m afraid to tell them that I think I am making magic, because that's pretty uncool these days. I might talk about some ideas about my lived experiences, about being gay, growing up poor and graduating to middle class with lots of debt and an unfulfilled sense of entitlement, or surviving the 1980s AIDS crisis through a drunken blur; but no matter how intrigued the asker may appear, I suspect that they could care less what I lived through. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when they get that eyes-glazed-over look, because my ideas about what I think I am doing when I make a painting, or a sculpture, or whatever, sometimes don’t translate.

I think my best work is often confounding to myself, and to others; meaning slips through fingers. Form and craft are important to me, and meaning, if it holds, can be really cool too, but I’m really interested in beauty. A Lot of people seem to be afraid of that. Afraid of the destabilizing nature of art that uses beauty to celebrate marginality. On the reactionary right, they default to feeling threatened; suspicious of images, and the ideas within them that may undermine their sense of their position in the world. It is probably why the Taliban immediately white washed all the delightful community murals in Kabul, or why some uptight morman took a paint roller to white out all the nipples and groins on the billboard advertising the Chippendale Dancers, just outside Salt Lake City. Perhaps it is an extension of the protestant iconoclasm that lingers within western culture, particularly in the United States. On the left, there is an equally hysterical suspicion of beauty, probably because they correctly see beauty as a threat to their authority as interpreters of meaning. I sometimes stumble around the halls of academia, and there I have noticed many professorial types who are afraid of beauty. I notice it by their silence on the subject, or their inordinate disdain for craft and form and a perverted need to force interpretations of everything they see, laying on some heavy socio-political readings, like repressed horny monks operating from the neck up within a puritanical culture of their own making. I imagine that these silences hiding disdain are an indication that they know that they can’t compete with the sublime. That art is a force that destabilizes certainties and threatens to change the world around us, perhaps by changing the ideas within us. ...

Visual Thinking

I have often sought a through line in my work, a sense that what I am making has some common denominator. For a time I relied on the use of a material or method, but that got complicated quickly by my love of ceramics, and printmaking, and drawing, and painting, etc. I prefer not to be hemmed in by the desire for fitting myself into a category, a discipline, in spite of having worked with ceramics much of my life. So I began to look for a visual or formal language that held together across all these media. Drawing and a graphic line seems to run most coherently through my work, and yet even that falters as I find my line or my approach to materials, or my embrace of theatricality can lean hard into an expressiveness that doesn't fit neatly into a formalism that seems so popular of late. In all this incessant seeking to conform to a core identity through form making, I was reminded of the desire for freedom that art making has always been about; breaking out of the conformity of a culture that I have often felt constrained by, making a mark. And in that simple seeking of a place for free expression of form and materials and ideas, I find joy and laughter, and surprise. The core of what I make are not simply images and objects, it’s like an energy, like the artifacts of an event, a memory, a moment.

This sequence of images below began with 1,000 drawings culled from 30 years of sketch books, transformed into 41 prints, with gestural drawings of Jamón Ibérico (Spanish smoked ham legs), superimposed in four colors, abstracted and broken down into half-tone dot patterns. These prints were then cut up into 1,000 small swatches, and were papered over sculptural plinths on which various ceramic abstractions of ham and pork products were placed. Then these prints were silk-screened onto thin paper and pasted over ceramic busts, and lately these have been printed directly onto porcelain forms. An idea unfolds visually and intuitively, and I try to keep up with it, chasing it where it wants to go.
E, “Sous Les Pavés, La Plage!” (Congregation of Wits)Double-sided silkscreen print on cotton rag paper 2018 17x17 inches Edition of 40, Recto and Verso, details from one of a series of print editions included in the series Congregation of Wits, a multi-media drawing, print, animation and sculptural project exploring drawing and language.
Pentimento 21 (Patroclus Sleeping) Tin glazed stoneware modeled after a glaze recipe first used in Persia 800 CE, silkscreen print on archival paper mounted to a sheet of tin and wrapped around the ceramic bust. 2021. 26 x 16 x 16 inches I was inspired by the publication Song of Achiellies by Madeline Miller, which led me to read the Illiad, and consider the intimate relationship between Patroclus and Achilles. The historical erasure of intimacy between them is an example of how history is written by those in power. In the LGBTQ community there are too few artists who survive to be elders. The real queer coming of age is recovering ones histories; first as a viewer finding ourselves, then as a participant in the production of culture. We enfold queer traces into our creations, into our memories so we can pass them on. I made this bust of Patroclus sleeping, with a print on paper mounted to a sheet of tin draped over the face. It is an allusion to the grieving of Achiellies over his dead lover.
Congregation of Wits, Box Set (Red 1,000)Detail of A Congregation of Wits, 1,000 prints.
Sorting printsGabriel helping me sort through thousands of prints in the studio.
One thousand printsDetail of A Congregation of Wits, 1,000 prints.
AcetatesExcerpts from the print and animation project.

Exhibition: Rapture, A Queer Taste for Color, Texture and Decorative Pattern

A group show of works by eight artists presenting an ensemble of unabashedly delicate and highly decorative works that employ non-traditional craft materials and techniques to arrive at an expression of exquisite beauty that pleasures the eye and quivers the soul.

Opening Reception: Thursday April 29th: 6-8pm

On View: April 29th - May 22nd, 2021, Wednesday to Saturday, 12 - 6pm

Equity Gallery 245 Broome Street, New York, NY 10002

 

Eight gay and queer-identifying artists present an ensemble of unabashedly delicate and highly decorative works that employ non-traditional craft materials and techniques to arrive at an expression of exquisite beauty that pleasures the eye and quivers the soul. For the vast majority of our planet’s inhabitants, life in the immediate aftermath of the COVID pandemic presents an anxious premonitory landscape inciting a narrow range of fear laden and negative responses. An alternative point of view, borrowed from individuals and groups that have weathered similar perilous episodes, allows that the very nature of turbulence propels instances of revelatory phenomena with near equivalent power. Susceptibility to these epiphanic forces seems linked to an individual’s or group’s aptitude to tolerate and remain attentive to the charged dynamics swirling about them while remaining essentially intact---a “wholeness” achieved through a hyper-awareness of what constitutes the core self in relationship to the self’s aptitude for creative manufacturing --the products, affectations, and transformations that allow for adaptive survival and more importantly, unexpected flights of the spirit. For an individual, or a select group, the sum total of these adaptive expressions becomes a language onto itself---an insider argot secreting an inner strength and solidarity that confirms well-being as an achievable aspiration that shores up the individual and safeguards the group. Exuberance, by extension, becomes the best defense. The LGTBQ community, coming under the broad heading of “gay” or “queer”, well exemplifies a group having assembled a richly layered cultural expression---one that often trumpets an exaggerated theatricality of joy and ecstasy to scaffold a sheltering hope against hostile forces. The exhibition “Rapture” stages a full-on display of the avenging transcendence of gaiety as a proven tactic for disarming oppression. The show features the work of seven artists that span two generations and collectively identify as gay, queer and non-binary. Chris Tanner weaponizes triviality and decorative embellishment by deploying non-traditional materials often associated with crafting, such as embroidery, sewing notions, beads, baubles and glittery sequins, to produce intricate sculptural forms that aim to pleasure the eye with an escapist holiday replete with dazzling displays of color, form and texture. Tanner’s installation will focus on his latest driftwood transformations that are fairytale spectacles of bejeweled splendor . Andrew Cornell Robinson, a multimedia artist known to infuse his composite works with design, craft and fine art elements, will display ceramic vessels from his “My Cup Runneth Over” series. Created using traditional raku methods, a firing process initially invented for pottery intended for tea ceremonies (raku translates to “pleasure”), the pieces display dense black surfaces glazed over with shimmering jewel tones further heightened by embellishments of gold, glitter, paint and collaged paper. Peter Hristoff ’s paintings and Sean O’Conner paper constructions similarly blur the line between art and design and mimic patterns one might see in wallpapers, printed fabrics, and quilts. Both employ a collage-inspired technique; for Hristoff , we see all-encompassing, edge-to-edge compositions cast with shadowy silhouettes that activate surface effects and hint at homo-romantic intentions. O’Connor’s naïve cut-outs similarly re-contextualize silhouettes, in this instance borrowing from Grecian urns and classical motifs to arrive at surrealist figure compositions that recall the ephemeral delicacy of Jean Cocteau. Cocteau’s sighing sensual line resurfaces in Harrison Tenzer’s high-chroma graphics that speak in layered hieroglyphs about biomorphic encounters that range from the pornographic to the miraculous. Like Tenser’s drawings, Adrian Milton’s paintings and Wade Schaming’s sculptures, explore the language of abstraction to arrive at a queer aesthetic. Milton, a true child of the sixties, creates psychedelic geometries that recall the glittering flamboyance of his gender-bending drag performances as a Cockette. A magpie, Schaming hordes a wild and colorful assortment of mass- produced detritus and stockpiles it into teetering towers -- a perhaps too obvious symbol of fickle male desire and the paradox of the queer gaze which conflates prey and predator. For further information kindly contact info@nyartistsequity.org

Visualizing Ideas and Opportunities through Mood Boards

Mood Board "Courage"This is less of a mood board and more of a pin up wall with things that inspire me. Although even from this maximalist and intuitive collection of images and forms, I can raw out some elements of design and themes that might apply to a sculpture and print project I am working on. At the start of a project I tend to gather more information that I may need, and then edit as I move forward.
Mood Board "Compost"Starting with a mind map, and research the context of an intimate meal with friends and family in a garden, I created this mood board to explore unexpected forms for plating and presenting a meal with the look and feel of earth, farm, garden, and growth. The mood board attempts to set a visual vocabulary through form, texture, color.
Mood Board "Pandemic Plating"This mood board, created with the designer Robyn Berg, was made to explore forms, colors, and concepts related to sharing a meal in the age of social distancing during the corona virus quarantine of 2020.
Mood Board "Illustrated Garden"This mood board was inspired by the drawings of the French poet, Jean Cocteau. The visual language is primarily focused on line, and surface design, with forms for possible tableware based on scalloped edges and tin-glazed ceramic.

At the start of a project I often begin by creating a mood board. Mood boards are an excellent tool for designers to clarify a design idea and "feeling" through a coherent visual vocabulary. It is also a great tool to help convey an idea visually to an audience (client, collaborators, etc.). For example take a look at the pin up wall created by Scholten and Baijings. I was fortunate to meet Carole Baijings and hear her talk about the creative process in their "atelier-way-of-working." Collage and color plays a significant role in their material rich creative development process. The production of allot of material and visual studies generates new ways of envisioning form and surface designs.

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Artists, designers, and makers of all stripes have a lot of different tools and techniques to help brainstorm ideas at the beginning of a project. Some tools that help clarify concepts, and the look and feel of an initial idea include design methods such as Mind Maps, Framing Questions, and Mood Boards.

Mind Mapping

The mind map is an intuitive concept development method created around a central idea. It typically takes the form of a diagram representing words and images, arranged around a subject with ever-expanding branches that lead to free association of related words and ideas.

A mind map may help in organizing a haphazard collection of related ideas into a clearer direction for a project. When I don’t know where to begin, I often use this exercise to help me choose a path to take. www.mindmapping.com I typically do this exercise on a blank page in my sketchbook, however there are some interesting digital tools that enable this task such as www.mindmup.com, and www.mindlyapp.com.

Framing Questions

Make better decisions by using questions to understand context, and identify needs for a given project. At the start of a design process, it is easy to lock onto a solution before we even ask a question. I like to spend some time doing desk and field research including interviewing and observing the people and living systems that may be impacted by a design. Armed with new insights, we can craft a well formed series of questions that open up rather than narrow down the possibilities for innovation through design. Take your initial ideas generated with a mind map, learn more about this through research, and then reframe your design ideas with a well formed thesis. Try the “How Might We?” method used by product designer to help  expand the possibilities for design. There is an excellent  Design Challenge Framing worksheet (pdf) to help frame a design challenge. Learn more 

Mood Boards

Gathering visual and conceptual elements together in a mood board serves as a fundamental transition between an initial thought and a first draft of a design language. It may be more beneficial to think of mood boarding as a means of organizing a visual language. There are many digital tools and platforms that can be used to create mood boards. A few digital mood board tools worth considering include: www.canva.com, and Adobe Spark.

I personally like to do them by hand and source my images online and in magazines, or through my own photography, painting, drawing and collage. The important thing is to begin, and find your own way of doing things. I am primarily a visual thinker, so I draw, collect materials, and compose collages to find form and give direction to the path that my work takes at the beginning of a project. Moving beyond words and experiencing the world through our sensations can spark insights that we may act upon through the design and making of a thing. The ephemeral nature of a doodle, a sketch, a collage of images, a collection of artifacts, cumulatively can reveal a trust about the agency of things, which can then be employed within the design process. Mood boards offer visual, material, and metaphorical insights on a philosophical level about the manifold meanings of form within the various contexts in which designers and artists operate. This visual metaphor also invites a common ground for conversation and understanding among those that I collaborate with. On a practical matter, the elements of design such as color, texture, form all may be composed through the collage and sketches that culminate in the mood board and this helps me to begin a project with more clarity.

Some things to consider when creating a mood board:

> Maximalism

I collect hundreds of images for a few days, and I pin them all up so I can see what formal patterns emerge. I have a habit of collecting far too many images then I actually need for a project. A greater the number of images can result in information overload and that usually leads to an incomprehensible mood board. So, I find it useful to edit my collection down to a clear color palette, a coherent body of forms, textures, photographs, and illustrations, sometimes even typographic samples find their way into the collage if it's relevant. I try to keep words to a minimum but I might include a sentence of two if I think it will help when I present mood boards to clients.

The primary goal of using mood boards in the creative process is to respond to a particular problem. This problem might be poetic as well as formal or even practical such responding to a design brief. That’s why not all images deserve to be on a mood board.

Stepping back and taking time to look and then edit images helps to clarify what the messages and feelings that I am trying to convey are. The next step is to remove half of the images in my collection, and then repeat this step until I have narrowed it down to 20-40 images that I can then compose to help tell a visual story. The goal is to have images that help you capture a clear formal language and simultaneously convey an emotional feeling.

> Use hierarchy and scale to emphasize a visual idea.

No matter what format you choose, it’s important to select images that will act as the anchor for the design. Creating a visual hierarchy through scale and juxtaposition is a good way to direct the eye. Larger images draw more attention than smaller ones. Smaller objects can complement larger ones conceptually and formally.

> Extrapolating feeling through form

Choose images that help establish a shape, form, color, rhythm, texture, illustration or photographic style, as well as the emotional sensibility of all of these elements together. 

> Expressing meaning through materials

For a variety of reasons, there has been a shift in people’s relationship with materials, from design to manufacturing, with materials and making methods starting to reclaim their central role in the creative process and beginning to dictate form rather than simply adapt to it. In this digital age, this haptic impulse might be a nostalgic desire to get closer to the means of production through craft; regardless, the exploration by contemporary makers has reaffirmed the power of materials, which when used early on in the creative process, offer a sense of touch to convey emotion and impart meaning. Therefore, I make use of material samples in my mood boards and this in turn helps me to discover making methods that I might employ as the project unfolds. 

Visual Vocabulary

Sometimes a single composition can encapsulate enough information to build a visual vocabulary with. For example, this lovely snapshot of flowers by Andy Warhol captures the bold form, repetition, and happy sentiment that translated beautifully into an exuberant visual vocabulary for a body of Flower paintings.  

Cultural and Material Adoption and Adaptation, Tin Glazes from East to West and back again.

A few years ago, I found myself on a very long flight from Saudi Arabia and the Arab Emirates returning home from a project. Tired of reading I put on my headphones and proceeded to watch Mad Men. In the scene pictured I noticed the ceramic coffee cups. Having been trained as a potter from an early age, and familiar with that type of ware, I was reminded of the first time I became curious about ceramics, and design, and how these seemingly common objects connect us to a larger world, and to human history. As a boy, I would sit with my family at the kitchen table and reach out to take a sip from a brightly colored ceramic cup that I’d drank from countless times. The bottom was an earthy red/brown and the body, the surface was glazed white and decorated in yellows, ocher and a floral pattern. There was an outline scratching through the white ground to reveal the clay body below. I found myself fascinated by this seemingly banal “every day” object that I’d never given much thought to before. Turning over the cup, I discovered it had been made in Trenton, NJ. A place not too far from where I grew up; a town whose slogan had been “Trenton Makes and the World Takes.”

Stangl famous for a type of Faience dinnerware, was America's first open stock solid-color dinnerware manufacturer. Stangl went so far as to Patent their “invention”, in spite of it being based on a tin glaze method that according to scholars like Alan Caiger-Smith, is based on innovations by 9th century Persian potters who added tin oxide to their glazes to opacify them and then paint over-glaze decorations with cobalt, iron, and copper. For over one thousand years, this technique influenced ceramic glaze methods and styles in maiolica, faience and delftware from the Islamic world and Europe across the Atlantic to the Americas.

According to the late potter and scholar Alan Caiger-Smtih, “Traditions are like rivers. The main river can be mapped and measured. Tributaries feed it… it widens and is merged with the sea. Its source is often unknown. Has the idea of a beginning any meaning except as a theoretical point on a map? So it is with the tradition of tin-glaze ware: the main tradition is clear, but the beginnings are lost to history.

Cobalt on a tin glazed bowl, Iran/IraqCobalt on a tin glazed bowl, Iran/Iraq

The earliest archeological examples can be traced back to the middle east, Mesopotamia, about the ninth century. Tin glaze potteries are thought to have existed at or near Bagdad and on the eastern bank of the Nile River south of modern Cairo, etc., but who can say there were not many others, perhaps more will be uncovered over time. That said, from the sixth century through to today we can trace a fascinating migration and evolution of ceramic techniques across the globe from China, India, Persia, the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, the Mediterranean, Europe and the Americas.

Tin glazed bowl with cobalt and copper over glaze decorationTin glazed bowl with cobalt and copper over glaze decoration

As we trace this history we might ask some questions such as:

• How do materials, motifs, and ideas travel across the globe?

• What happens when they arrive at a destination?

• How does art from one culture change or inspire the art of another?

• By considering some of these questions, we can explore the kinds of art that may be made when cultures meet.

My Cup Runneth Over 8
Plate, GermanTin glazed ceramic with cobalt over glaze decoration
Apocathary Jar, ItalianTin glazed jar
Basin, MexicanTin glazed ceramic basin
Plate, FrenchTin glazed plate with cobalt over glaze decoration
Portrait Plate, ItalianTin glazed majolica plate
Large Presentation Plate, SpanishTin and lustre glazed ceramic
Platter, EnglishTin glazed ceramic

Exhibition: Conjurings & Concoctions

An exhibition of works by Ben Pritchard, Andrew Cornell Robinson, Stephanie Hargrave
November 14 - December 13, 2020
at M. David & Company 56 Bogart Street, Suite 114, Brooklyn NY
We look forward to your visit. The gallery is open on Saturdays & Sundays 1:00pm – 6:00pm by appointment, you may email stephanie@mdavidandco.com to make an appointment.
Opening Reception Saturday 14 November, 5-8pm
Please note, six people at a time in the gallery. Please wear a mask.
My Cup Runneth Over VIIRaku, smoke fired glazed earthenware, with plastic and enamel, 3.75 x 5 x 5 inches
My Cup Runneth Over IVGlazed and raku fired ceramic with enamel, plastic, glitter, and gold leaf
My Cup Runneth Over IIIGlazed and raku fired ceramic with enamel, plastic and glitter
Flower PowerGlazed slipcast and sprig applique porcelain with ink stained body

Conjurings & Concoctions

Exhibition Essay by Paul D’Agostino

An interest in the expressive potential of processes and ideas pertaining to admixtures and amalgamations, in materials and concept alike, coheres the creative practices of Stephanie Hargrave, Andrew Cornell Robinson and Ben Pritchard. This is true in a general sense, as they have all been working in such modes for many years. It’s particularly true, however, with regard to their studio production this year, selections from which constitute the materially rich and mystically spirited works that find convergence in Conjurings & Concoctions. Thick strata of scumbles, spills, brushstrokes, scrapes, drips, smears and scrawls factor into Ben Pritchard’s generously textured oil paintings. These facets of somewhat evasive or unstable facture find ultimate confluence, however, in bold forms that seem to both draw from and manifest ex nihilo entire systems of divinatory symbols, celestial mappings, indecipherable runes. Pritchard’s surfaces might elude, in other words, but his representations assert. Consequently, a small work like Power seems to convey landscape and figure alike as the latter rises through the former, or as the former settles atop the latter — or perhaps the artist’s robustly made marks depict the form of a temple seeking alignment with the stars above. In Debate, background and foreground remain shifty and uncertain in the work’s otherwise formally declarative black and white registers. And in Darkness, a slow-moving circuit of bright yellow marks provides an elegantly brushy, curiously nestling framework for a punchy red orb. Variable saturations and surface treatments yield pared down yet similar results in Pritchard’s works on paper. Andrew Cornell Robinson works consistently in more media and in a broader range of processes than many artists might work in a lifetime. He’s as comfortable shaping clay on a potter’s wheel as he is filling walls with delicate drawings, binding prints and texts into books, making paintings and sculptures for installations, and devising video and photo shoots for narrative-driven exhibitions. Several of these aspects of his work are on display in Conjurings & Concoctions. Ultimately monotypes, the artist’s works on paper in the show, operating in primary-colored concert with one another, evidence a more layered process upon closer scrutiny, revealing themselves to be monotypes executed atop serialized prints of texts and small drawings extracted from an archive of sketches and notes. Quite materially different are Robinson’s ceramics in a series he calls My Cup Runneth Over, in which an almost alchemical admixture of colorful glazes, stains, glitters and gold overlays encourage these ostensibly empty cups to fully spill their guts. Exquisitely beguiling in form and material alike, Robinson’s Memento Mori sculptures present as exuberant apparitions, iconic conjurings of mysterious deities whispering forth from tree hollows in enchanted forests. An enchanted forest, perhaps, is just the place where Stephanie Hargrave’s sculptural amalgamations would find themselves right at home. In her works presented in Conjurings & Concoctions, Hargrave combines stoneware, encaustic, metal and other media to create objects and ephemeral images that are vaguely familiar as forms of known things, but that ultimately resist recognition as specific things or known forms. They are organic; they are inorganic. They are human-hewn, perhaps utilitarian masses; they are the settled matters of nature’s timeless exhalations, growths and primordial gases. Hybrid 25, for instance, is a petrified bubbling puckering out into the open to exhale, or it’s the vacated dwelling of an ancient mollusk. Flashik might be a rattle-like musical instrument for a mysterious rite, or it might be a battle-worn weapon of warfare. It might also be some undying organism whose length of tooth has left it biding its time with arduous, slowly gnashing bites. An especially peculiar object even in the midst of so much strangeness is Hargrave’s Bucaro. Executed in clay and encaustic, it appears as a crimson-saturated, drippily drenched, cardial tissue-like issue pumping lifebloods into and all over itself, and maybe also into its kindred others all around it. As you poke about in the imagined realm of Conjurings & Concoctions, it might be wise to watch your step and mistrust your eyes — while listening closely to the trees and peering up, here and there, at the skies. M. David & Co.