Nicholas Nyland is a Washington-based artist who creates paintings, sculptures and installations. Stating that his work is “driven by a fascination with the life of form, the nature of creation and the will to decorate,” Nyland makes works that are abstract, but contain references to history and traditional craft sources. Embracing abstraction because as he says, “it is generous and capacious, able to absorb and then release a multitude of references,” Nyland does in fact draw from a myriad of sources. For his most recent solo show in Seattle, Physical Speculations on a Future State, Nyland incorporated inspiration from Chinese scholar’s stones, Japanese gardens, Early American decorative traditions and 1970s design. Despite such wide-ranging influences, Nyland manages to create works that are at once formally engaging and conceptually inquisitive. Nyland leaves room for a viewer to consider material, gesture and form, but enigmatic historical references also provide inquiry into the way we define and identify objects.
There is lightheartedness to Nyland’s work that borders on humorous. A viewer can tell that Nyland enjoyed making whatever object she is observing. The lack of seriousness involved in Nyland’s works further promotes active questioning about material, influence and formal choice. Moreover, the tactile quality of Nyland’s work makes it all the more engaging. Bordering on craft with some of his works, Nyland’s pieces are all distinctly handmade. There is a purposeful clumsiness to them that is charming and endearing.
Elaine Reicheck is a New York-based artist who uses embroidery to explore conceptual and aesthetic ideas in art. Though she has a background in painting, actually receiving an MFA from Yale in the subject, she began to question her training and wonder what kind of statement she wanted to make with her art. Though she experimented with knitting wool, hand-paining found photographs and other techniques, embroidery emerged as Reicheck’s material of choice. She creates beautiful works on linen using needle and thread.
Though she does quite a bit of her work by hand, Reichek also experiments with computerized sewing. She doesn’t feel this is a shortcut in anyway, as her work is as much about the concept as it is the end result.
There is also an undoubtedly feminist aspect to Reicheck’s work. She attributes it to working with so many male painters during her training. Embroidery, a historically feminine pastime, allows Reichek to explore the same ideas as her male painter counterparts, but, as she says, “if I make them that way, of course their meaning changes, since the meaning of an artwork is always bound with its media and processes and their history.”
Usually selecting a theme to base a series around, Reichek’s latest embroiders consider the myth of Ariadne. Ariadne gave Theseus a ball of thread with which to retrace his steps allowing him to escape the Minotaur’s labyrinth. Reichek created art-historical portraits, many of which contain Araidne’s image, and paired them with quotes from literary sources such as Nietzsche or Catullus.
Yorgo Alexopoulos is a New York-based artist who creatively uses media to construct immense installations and artworks. He combines his paintings, drawings, photographs and films with digital animation and sound to generate works that often comment on transcendental themes. Generally using multiple monitors or projections, Alexopoulos’ installations have a life to them that relies on rhythm, synchronization and movement. For instance, at Norman Foster’s Bow Building in Calgary, Alberta, Alexopulos created a 27 channel video installation that is otherworldly and stunningly beautiful (even just in images).
For his last solo show at Cristin Tierney gallery in New York, Transmigrations, Alexopoulos was inspired by his early paintings. Using the Constructivist movement formed in Russia in the early 20th century as his point of departure, Alexopoulos investigated a narrative based on folklore, magic and spirituality. Alexopoulos incorporated images, videos and paintings to create an animated journey. Part Moholy-Nagy kinetic sculpture, Jennifer Bartlett’s Rhapsody, and early landscape painting, Transmigrations is, as stated in the press release for the exhibition, a “contemplation and reverence of nature and all aspects of our universe that are beyond comprehension.”
Alexopoulos recently completed a permanent video installation for Chicago’s IBM building that is equally engaging and mesmerizing.
Rivane Neuenschwander is a Brazillian artist who works in film, photography, sculpture, collaboration, participatory events and installation. Her work employs beautiful ideas, unpretentious materials and an inspiring vision. For I Wish Your Wish, an installation at the New Museum, Neuenschwander drew from a tradition at the São Salvador church Nosso Senhor do Bonfirm. She invited visitors to take a ribbon from the installation, tie it around their wrist, and leave it until it falls off. Once that happens their wish will come true. Or First Love, a work where a police sketch artist sits with visitors as they describe their “first loves.” The portraits were then hung in the gallery for the exhibition. Rain Rains, is a collection of leaking buckets controlled from flooding by a Sisyphean recirculation tended to by museum staff. One Thousand and One Nights is a collection of galaxy scenes that depict narrative layers of which the viewer becomes a participant. The hole-punched circles along with the frames, articulate the duration of the exhibition in calendar form. A viewer is encouraged to contemplate the idea of one thousand and one nights.
Allowing the participation of visitors, Neuenschwander blurs the boundaries that traditionally stand between artist and viewer. She instigates an idea, permitting it to discriminate via the public. Her work becomes a living, breathing mass collaboration combining nature, language and the ephemeral.
Walking the line between fine art and craft, Brent Owens has a characteristic style of woodworking that he incorporates with a somewhat irreverent sense of humor and applies to a myriad of subjects. Conspicuously hand-carved, embracing the flaws and all, Owens enhances his imperfect look by selecting wood with notable imperfections. The casual woodwork is not a comment on Owens’ talents. Rather it is done to emphasize the fact that the human hand has influenced the material. Conceptually, Owens works from the notion that humans have a tendency to render nature amenable to their own agenda. Describing this “healthy disrespect for nature” as a “shameless manipulation of a gorgeous natural material,” Owens considers his woodworking to be “imposing his own desires on the material” in the name of progressing culture.
Owens’ exploration of craft takes him in several directions. His “Turkish rugs,” for instance, are carved freehand and modeled after Googled images. These works are juxtaposed with carved paintings of appropriated text of medical queries and responses, which have been translated from Chinese to English. The results are a mix of park signage and conceptual art exhibited as a confused mix of words that have lost the nuance of human translation. The works becomes symbolic of how epically the human desire to understand and control everything so often fails.
Both funny and frightening Owens’ works are ultimately a representation of the fact that craft as fine art becomes a commentary on fine art itself. Thereby becoming commentary on culture, and human nature at large.
Melissa Godoy-Nieto is a multidisciplinary Mexican artist and designer based in Brooklyn, NY. Born in Tijuana, Mexico, Godoy-Nieto incorporates pre-hispanic history, art and hieroglyphics with traditional crafts and materials that she uses in untraditional ways. For her installation at SPRING/BREAK art fair earlier this year Godoy-Nieto painted the inside of a closet with a bright mix of mystical South American imagery, focusing partly on life, and partly on death. Though she references the vibrant palate, dynamic and hand crafted aesthetic of Mexican culture, her works employ unusual techniques and structures, making the final product relevant and contemporary.
Her “textiles,” which she refers to as paintings, incorporate imagery from traditional Mexican imagery and patterns, but are made with untraditional materials. Taking the concept a step further, Godoy-Nieto will sometimes link her paintings to spray paint cans using hand-dyed yarn and pushpins. Describing the works as “experimental murals,” Godoy-Nieto toys with a viewer’s sense of how the work was made; conventional imagery is presented as being created in an unconventional way. Initially, a viewer might believe the work is made with spray paint, but then he realizes the spray paint is yarn and had nothing to do with forming the actual image. By challenging expectation and altering dimension, Godoy-Nieto’s process directs the way in which a viewer might interact with or perceive the work, and thus the way he might consider traditional iconography within a contemporary context.
Natalie Arnoldi is a California-based artist whose work explores the fine line between abstract and figurative painting. Her works identify the psychological effects of ambiguous representation, allowing a viewer’s imagination to fill in the missing subject matter. Currently a coterminal Masters student at Stanford University, pursuing a M.S. in ocean science and a B.S. in marine biology, Arnoldi’s life has always centered around the ocean. Thus, it is unsurprising that she references the ocean as her inspiration for both her academic and artistic pursuits.
Though she doesn’t always use the ocean as her subject matter, there is a kind of depth to Arnoldi’s paintings (which are often tinted some shade of blue) that is reminiscent of looking into unfathomably deep waters. Highly reductive, Arnoldi’s paintings still manage to be moody, psychological and rich with meaning. A lone shark’s fin, a simple road median disappearing into the fog, or an airplane silhouette becomes a decidedly dramatic narrative delivered from the most uncomplicated version of an image.
Engagingly beautiful, Arnoldi’s paintings are haunting in their simplicity and straightforwardness. It is eerie how much can be deduced based on an image painted and composed in a certain way.
Will Hutnick is a Brooklyn-based artist who works in painting, sculpture and installation. Incorporating acrylic, oil, ink, spray paint, tape and found objects into his work Hutnick creates works on paper that oscillate between being two dimensional and three dimensional. Using conventional materials in unconventional ways Hutnick changes the rules of painting. Using tape as his paint and paint as his sculpture, Hutnick manages to muddy materials while maintaining brilliance in color. Indeed, Hutnick has an amazing eye for color. And he uses it to generate narritive. With titles like, Marble Madness, Not So Secret Garden, and What Do You Call Those Things With The Wooden Beads And The Crazy Tracks?, Hutnick’s explosions of color become stories, emotions and sensations.
There is a fun to Hutnick’s works as well. The paintings are bright and beautiful, but there is a sense of humor to his work. His “balancing works,” involve late night sessions at the studio stacking any found object to the point of instability. Eventually, the ephemeral sculptures topple to the ground. Often, Hutnick was the only one to witness their existence at all.