Friday, August 31, 2012

Rachel Hecker at CAMH (Houston)

Marcel Duchamp, Bicycle Wheel, metal wheel mounted on painted wood stool, 1951 (third version, after lost original of 1913).

While visiting Houston this July, I went to an exhibition titled It is what it is. Or is it?, curated by Dean Daderko, at the Contemporary Art Museum Houston. The text provided in the exhibition guide centers around the idea of updating the term readymade and its use in the contemporary art scene:

"As forms go, the readymade is a slippery one. Its originator, Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), spoke of it as 'a form of denying the possibility of defining art.' Now, as the form nears its 100th anniversary-- Duchamp made his Bicycle Wheel in 1913-- CAMH presents It is what it is. Or is it?, a group exhibition that explores how the form has changed... Duchamp's point was for us to get caught up in a conceptual effort to consider what we can and what we can't see, and what happens when we encounter something familiar in an unexpected way... These artists' works chart changes in perception, demonstrating that artistic practice has become notably more engaged in addressing a diversity of social, political, aesthetic, and temporal realities... The readymade, and its multiple legacies, demand that we be active viewers."

While it is important to note that Daderko was not necessarily making a direct statement about a connection between the readymade and painting (out of the 31 pieces in the exhibition, only 7 are what one could call traditional paintings), I find the association intriguing. To be honest, I had never really considered how the readymade has affected painting before. Obviously, the conversation around pop art painters such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and James Rosenquist has been mostly about appropriation. However, the readymade is about to be a hundred years old, and artistic appropriation strategies are at least fifty. Looking around at what is happening now, I question how useful these terms, especially the readymade, can be when thinking about painting.
Rachel Hecker, Jesus #1 (Viggo Mortensen/Lord of the Rings), 2011, acrylic on canvas.

Citing Hecker's Jesus #1 (pictured above), as an example, I believe that many painters and artists today are doing something very different that can't quite be covered by these blanket terms. Duchamp, with his Bicycle Wheel and Fountain, took things from 'everyday life' and presented them as art with little or no alteration. Thus, the act of placing objects in a new context becomes paramount to the work. Hecker, I would argue, is not really doing the same thing. Yes, she is taking the iconic image of Jesus out of the context it would normally exist in, religious worship. And yes, she is taking the iconic image of Aragorn out of the context it would normally exist in, a Lord of the Rings movie or fan website. But, what would be considered the "readymade" here? Is it the image of Aragorn that the artist took from the movie or the internet? Is it the image of Jesus?

I believe that what Hecker is tapping into shows an overall shift in popular culture that we have been experiencing in the past decade or so, where lines between large cultural institutions such as entertainment and religion are becoming more and more blurred. What is the cause? Some may say the internet, others may say the role that celebrity culture and reality TV now play in many of our lives. Who really knows? But it is evident that this kind of mixing, combining, and regurgitating is happening all over the place. And this process cannot be easily contained or explained away by the readymade. You can follow the logic of Duchamp's readymades fairly easily: he takes an object or two and places them in a gallery as art. Hecker, on the other hand, deliberately complicates the relationships between her two conflated subject matters by the methods and materials she chooses to paint them with. The painting is not 100% photorealistic and therefore not "readymade": Aragorn's clothing is simplified and any background indicating the Lord of the Rings universe is stripped away. He is just a man in robes. But he is also Jesus, a savior among men. The airbrushing technique creates a soft-focus image which readies it for intense and sincere devotion (something which is shared by zealous Christians and obsessed fanboys alike). 

While Hecker has two more of her Jesus paintings in the show (the other two are of Pink Floyd's David Gilmour and model David Axell), Aragorn and Jesus are the perfect pair for this type of painting because they share more than just a physical likeness. In their stories, they are both heroes that save mankind. So is this stock character, the trope of a savior with mythological greatness, the real readymade here? Is there an emerging term that would do better justice to this complicated relationship? I recognize that this exhibition was more about broadening the term of readymade and don't take issue with the inclusion of Hecker's painting (on the contrary, this has made me think more about the nature of art than any other show all summer), but I can't help thinking that there is a better way to look at and talk about this kind of painting.

I am very interested in continuing this conversation, so if you have any thoughts, please feel free to leave a comment!

You can view more of Rachel Hecker's work here:, and photos of her Jesus series, (along with in-process shots), here:
And you can view more images from the show It is what it is. Or is it?, here: CAMH

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Édouard Manet, Le déjeuner sur l'herbe, 1863

Photograph of Beyoncé on her Tumblr, photographer unknown

(The Lost Photographs of Édouard Manet)    
(Decoding the Beyoncé Tumblr)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Clara Tresgallo: Three Artist Statements

Clara Tresgallo, Untitled, 2011. Acrylics on canvas.

Clara Tresgallo, Untitled, 2011. Acrylics on board.

Clara Tresgallo, Untitled, 2011. Acrylics on board.


Clara Tresgallo paints objects that are unusual and abstract in nature. Some of her choices are wrapped papers and popcorn. The paintings are not realistic. The paintings are a translation of what she sees. Each painting varies in color greatly. In many paintings, Tresgallo uses only whites and grays while in others Tresgallo uses bright and straight-out-of-the-tube colors. Although Tresgallo’s colors vary, what tie the work together is Tresgallo's process of translation (from object to painted object). 


Clara Tresgallo is an architect who paints. Tresgallo was required to do several exercises, in which she painted paper and popcorn. By doing these exercises, Tresgallo learned how to mix black out of red, yellow and blue, mix her grays from complementary colors and white, create a balanced composition, etc. Tresgallo likes the process of painting and noticed she developed a style of her own. Tresgallo decided to continue her painting practice.


Clara Tresgallo, M.F.A. Architecture, is an abstract painter born and raised in Puerto Rico. Tresgallo paints objects that are of easy access like paper and popcorn. The chosen objects are a starting point where Tresgallo paints the structure that she sees. The objects seem to change perspective and become fragmented like many Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque paintings.  

Saturday, August 25, 2012

A Drawing and a Quote

Adair Stephens, Hera, 2012, pastel on paper.
"Shortly before ten o'clock the stillness of the air grew quite oppressive, and the silence was so marked that the bleating of a sheep inland or the barking of a dog in the town was distinctly heard, and the band on the pier, with its lively French air, was like a discord in the great harmony of nature's silence. A little after midnight came a strange sound from over the sea, and high overhead the air began to carry a strange, faint, hollow booming.

Then without warning the tempest broke. With a rapidity which, at the time, seemed incredible, and even afterwards is impossible to realize, the whole aspect of nature at once became convulsed. The waves rose in growing fury, each overtopping its fellow, till in a very few minutes the lately glassy sea was like a roaring and devouring monster. White-cressed waves beat madly on the level sands and rushed up the shelving cliffs; others broke over the piers, and with their spume swept the lanthorns of the lighthouses which rise from the end of either pier of Whitby Harbour. The wind roared like thunder, and blew with such force that it was with difficulty that even strong men kept their feet, or clung with grim clasp to the iron stanchions. It was found necessary to clear the entire piers from the mass of onlookers, or else the fatalities of the night would have been increased manifold. To add to the difficulties and dangers of the time, masses of sea-fog came drifting inland - white, wet clouds, which swept by in ghostly fashion, so dank and damp and cold that it needed but little effort of imagination to think that the spirits of those lost at sea were touching their living brethren with the clammy hands of death, and many a one shuddered as the wreaths of sea-mist swept by."

- Bram Stoker, Dracula, 1897

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Richard Gere with sticky tack stain, from my bedroom wall in my parents' house

Russell Cowles, Autumn Wind, oil, date unknown (approx. 1945)

Nan Goldin, Gotscho kissing Giles, Cibachrome, 1993

Paul Gauguin, Christ in the Garden of Olives, oil on canvas, 1889

Leonaro DiCaprio

Adair Stephens, Edward with Greenscreen, acrylic and spraypaint on canvas, 2012

John Hersey, Hiroshima, 1946

A tank top I use as a paint rag

Fiona Apple, "Criminal," 1997

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Lucas Arruda: Landscapes and/or Abstractions

Lucas Arruda, Untitled, 2011. Oil on linen, 50 x 50 cm, Everton Ballardin and Mendes Wood, Sao Paulo, Brazil.
I came across Lucas Arruda’s paintings while walking around Chelsea last summer. Arruda had a great show at Galeria I-20 called Deserto – Modelo, which consisted of 25 small-scale paintings. I decided to write about Arruda’s work because his paintings got stuck on me—and I find it hard for paintings to do that these days.

What has kept me thinking about Arruda’s paintings for over a year is not only the fact that I thought they are beautiful, but that I cannot pin-point what kind of paintings they are. When looking at them, I ask myself if I am looking at landscapes or if I am, in fact, looking at abstractions. I noticed that at times I am more inclined to think one way than the other depending on the painting and on the moment in which I am looking at them. Although there is what seems to be a horizon line in every painting, the paintings are not descriptive, and therefore, I am left with Arruda’s formal elements as my only source of information. Sometimes I think I see dry brushstrokes that wipe away a prior wet surface, a thick horizontal line and the exposed linen. At other times, I see clouds, horizon and dirty ground.

Arruda leaves me in a beautiful space between Mark Rothko’s abstractions and Van Gogh’s landscapes without directions for an exact answer. 

More images:

Friday, August 17, 2012

New Classics

Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mrs. Musters as Hebe, 1792, oil on canvas, collection of Kenwood House, currently on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Cindy Sherman, Untitled #224, 1990, chromogenic color print, collection of Linda and Jerry Janger, currently on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Cy Twombly with Untitled (Say Goodbye Catullus, to the Shores of Asia Minor), 1994, oil, acrylic, oil/wax crayon, and graphite on three canvases, permanently on view in the Cy Twombly Gallery at the Menil Collection in Houston.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Dichotomies in the artist statements of artists featured in New American Paintings No. 101, August/September 2012

My dad and I on Halloween.

In order of appearance:

hide / expose

public / private

studio / outside world

disparate / whole

ordinary / new

openness / resistance

subvert / sustain

strength / vulnerability

memory / object

expectation / experience

nothingness / decadence

modern lifestyle / sustainability

attraction / repulsion

disposable / valuable

banal / poetic

observer / observed

scary / vulnerable

metaphorical / formal

empty / full

near / far

intimate / separate

depth / superficiality

reality / simulacrum

original / representation

preservation / loss

reality / representation

play / betrayal

absurd / plausible

solution / question

system / intuition

space / light

abjection / desire

abstraction / figuration

paint / image

transcendent / corporeal

seduction / abjection

decay / beauty

luxury / animal

human / animal

statuesque / formless

painting / sculpture

optical / sculptural

vision / touch

fact / fiction

confession / deception

personal / universal

premeditated / accidental

medium / thought

literal / theoretical

front / back

inner / outer

visible / invisible

simplicity / complexity

individual / collective

destination / journey

whimsy / aggression

original / image

unconscious / labored

directness / reproduction

childhood / sex

childhood / adulthood

mundane / holy

Monday, August 13, 2012

Thoughts on Katelyn Eichwald's Cowboy Project

Katelyn Eichwald, Images from the installation Cowboy Project, 2012 (ongoing). Mixed media on black wall, size varies. 

Katelyn Eichwald’s Cowboy Project is an installation composed of over 600 (and counting) paintings, drawings, writings, objects, and collages. At first, these small pieces together on a black wall construct the myth of a man. Each piece functions as proof of his existence. Eichwald paints his sister, his blanket, his ruptured spleen, show us his lunch receipt, presents a photo of a mountain he climbed yesterday, but we are never sure of his precise identity.

The inclusion of pieces such as an exhibition postcard of Picasso with the text,  “the cowboy calls him papa,” a used paper palette with text “he painted a bird,” and another text piece made with a faded highlighter “painting is like playing the guitar,” are examples of pieces that point to this man's relationship to painting. To me, however, the project refers not only to this man’s relationship to painting but, more particularly, to the history and myth of the male painter. By having these references, Eichwald reminds viewers of how distant she is from this history.  

The cowboy’s identity remains a mystery. But my guess is Mark Grotjahn. 

To see more images of the Cowboy Project:

Friday, August 10, 2012

Crazy Eyes

Ramona Singer of Bravo's "Real Housewives of NYC", a textbook example of CE.
I love painting and drawing people's faces. Yes, of course there are other things that I paint and draw as well, including bodies, geometric forms and abstracted shapes, backgrounds and settings, but if I ever find myself confused or lacking interest, I will always go back to a face.

Within the face, I tend to get sidetracked by and excited most about the eyes. 

Rocking back and forth
One drooping

The list goes on and on, and I love them all. The crazier they tend to be, the more I am seduced by their spell. But society and popular media have coined a term for unusual eyes to warn people about what's really going on with that person: they have themselves some "crazy eyes".  Now, people tend to either embrace this (Nicki Minaj frequently uses this as an attention-getting schtick, which fits with her look-at-me-I'm-so-crazy persona) or are completely embarrassed by it (Michelle Bachmann was furious with her August 2011 Newsweek cover shot).  After all, we look into someone's eyes to see if they are being honest. The ways our face contorts around our eyes determine what emotions we display. And if we want to know if someone is a vampire, we check to see if their eyes are red.

Michelle Bachmann doesn't like her crazy eyes.
Seriously, though, eyes are eyes. They are all fascinating. They are all crazy. I say that we start using "crazy eyes" with a positive connotation. For example, "She's quite the beauty from her long, gorgeous legs right up to her crazy eyes." What would be the opposite of crazy eyes, anyway? Sane eyes?

Life is too short to have sane eyes.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Three Watery Pairs

Olivia Krause, Ganges, 2012

Katelyn Eichwald, Untitled, 2012

Aerial photo of the village of Kivalina, Alaska, which is slowly flooding due to global warming.

The Death of Ophelia, John Everett Millais, 1851

Satellite image of Hurricane Ophelia, 2011

David Hockney, Lithograph of Water Made of Lines, 1978

Monday, August 6, 2012

Sincerity in Art

Bruna Massadas, Studio Model (A Charcoal Drawing a Day Project), 2012.  Charcoal on paper, 14 X 17 inches.

What is my process of making work? Why do I choose this process? And, most importantly, why do I make work? In graduate school, I had the opportunity to experience different approaches to art and see how other artists relate to their work. This exposure stimulated questions about my process.

At first, while in graduate school, I was doing what I thought I was supposed to do: make art with my head. I made artworks as assignments, which others would check on to determine how well I was communicating a specific idea. This mode of art making relied heavily on explanations and research. The truth is I was neither good at those things nor liked making art this way. At the end of my first year of graduate school, I reacted against that. It was now all about the gut. The gut, however, implies a violence that I am not interested in. YES! POWER! CONTROL! AWARENESS! And what now? Do I want art making to be a reaction to something? It was still about the head since it was a reaction to it.

The problem to me was neither the head nor the gut. The problem was I was making art with the same unfulfilling purpose—to build a reputation (as an academic who makes art or a badass who makes art against something). I was more concerned about how others saw me than how I was experiencing the work. 

Lately I have been making a charcoal drawing a day and painting occasionally. No one comes into my studio but flies. My drawings are of things that happen everyday. There is absolutely nothing else to them than what you see. There is so much beauty in that. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Painter as Warrior

As a follow-up to my previous post, "Painter as Jedi", I wanted to present a scene from one of my favorite movies, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) by director Ang Lee.

In the scene, Shu Lien, a veteran warrior and master of the martial arts, suspects a young aristocrat, Jen, of being the thief who recently stole the Green Destiny, a sword of great power.  In order to work out the tricky situation, Shu Lien visits Jen to befriend her and eventually uncover her devious actions.  When she arrives at Jen's private quarters, Jen is practicing her calligraphy; she offers to write Shu Lien's name, "just for fun" (the translated subtitles differ slightly from the dubbed dialogue; I prefer the subtitled translation).

Jen's proficiency with the sweeping motion of brush on paper all but reveals her secret identity as the martial arts thief and swordsman that Shu Lien had fought with earlier.  When Shu Lien remarks that calligraphy and swordfighting require similar movements and control, Jen of course plays dumb.

To me, the movie is all about discipline and self-control (represented by Li Mu Bai and Shu Lien) coming into conflict with unbridled power (Jen).  SPOILER: In the end, Shu Lien regrets dedicating her life to duty and honor as she was never able to fulfill her love for Li Mu Bai.  And Jen finally realizes that wielding power willy-nilly can have dire consequences when her careless actions inadvertently lead to Li Mu Bai's death.

Painting, fighting, calligraphy, fencing, storytelling: all require balance.  Power and innate talent is not enough; you must also have the knowledge of when and how to use it. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Heat Waves

Lee U-fan, from With Winds, 1987. Julian Bell writes, "With Winds presents us with marks indicating that there is something other than marks, other than words about them too."

Real Summer

it's real summer

deck chair
is a hospital bed

mom says
when it's this
hot it is
like winter

the same
white face
at all the windows