The Spotless Worlds of Norah Stone’s ‘Artificial Utopias’

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Using narratives and visual genres found in art, combined with the clean aesthetics of design and contemporary product advertising, the work of Norah Stone is representative of a generation which has seen both art and design coexisting, flattened by the computer screen, and has no use for their separation. The classic art vs. design question is something that comes up a lot in my daily life but I often find it to be a futile discussion, says the Minneapolis-based Stone, “I guess I just don’t think it’s important to set up boundaries just for the sake of boundaries.”

Norah Stone’s most-recent series, Artificial Utopias, creates thoroughly modern still life scenes, which despite their alluring hyppereal-quality (reminiscent of advertising and pictorial), the distinct sense of disconnect between these spotless digital worlds and our own is unsettling.

Says Stone,

“In a culture where most of our daily routines and habits have been replaced by a digital screen, the scroll, the pixel, and the ability to retouch has ultimately changed our ideals of perfection….As I was working on this project I was thinking a lot about how growing up in the digital generation has subconsciously molded me to be attracted to a certain cleanliness that can only be achieved on screen. Artificial Utopias was a culmination of my own personal experience with the digital world and also the research I was doing on still lives. The super clean, almost surreal aesthetic came from trying to recreate the visceral experience that comes from staring at a screen for a long period of time.”

This play between perfection and illusion, the real and the empty, eventually manifested itself into twin video works as well. “In the video works (below) I was trying to recreate the process of eliminating imperfections through the clone stamp tool. In post production, I spent a lot of time retouching these photos to achieve the cleanliness of a stock photo. I wanted to capture the mundane process of retouching and erasing over and over again until you’re left with something completely different,” says Stone, who perhaps quite telling concludes, “or nothing at all.”

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Collaboration Between Artist And Photographer Yields A New Brand Of “Digitally Handcrafted” Images

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Michael Cina has created a world-renowned career by fusing elements of both design and art into a signature style of technically-sound, visually striking, and uniquely glossy works. This approach has brought massive clients ranging from Facebook to Coca-Cola to MTV, as well as fine-art success. His latest efforts involved opening up control of his personal practice, however, as Cina worked side-by-side, though miles away, with a collaborator. For over a year, Cina and New York-based photographer John Klukas worked together to create a new body of work, which they began to call “digitally handmade” – a true synthesis of each creator’s respective styles. This collaboration yielded some twenty works, which are collected in the exhibition, She Who Saw Deep, at Minneapolis’ Public Functionary.

Beginning their complicated collaborative process with photos of the exhibition’s singular muse in Klukas’ New York studio, Cina then took the images and digitally overlaid his handmade paintings in his Minneapolis studio. Working the files back and forth between the two several times, the finished files were often so large and dense that they were as large as 16GB. These pieces were then printed and mounted, where Cina made final edits by hand – embellishing, spraying, drawing, and painting each piece to give them their own unique finish.

The digitally handcrafted images in She Who Saw Deep are then titled around the loose parallel of the Epic of Gilgamesh, “where the hero passes through the absolute darkness of grief, fear and death to be reborn into the light…the resulting works in this exhibit are both a visual and conceptual interpretation of this classic and universal human story.” Public Functionary, which offered support for the printing and creation of the works, is offering unique, limited-edition prints of these collaborative works, which can be purchased here.

She Who Saw Deep is currently on view now through July 13th at Public Functionary in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. 

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Exhibition Explores Parallels Between Design And Cloud Data

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A recent exhibition in Minneapolis investigates the inherent desire to organize and structure our world, and the ensuing clutter and confusion when we become increasingly influenced by the sprawling technologies we’ve invented to helps us. Eddie PerroteLeanna Perry and Bill Rebholz conceived Scategories as a display to highlight ordered chaos.  “We’ve enabled our minds to perceive more information, decrease our mental clutter and externalize our memories,” reads the press release, which explains why the exhibition feels a bit overrun, offering too much to process, even when the looking is enjoyable.

Each of the artists has one foot firmly planted in the design world, which is perhaps the ideal middle ground to view the changing landscapes of art and design, and how technology is rapidly altering them. The group explains, “Through organizing the brain we present windows into the cerebral wold of structure, chaos, habitual patterns, and seemingly infinite layers of content. It’s these informalities that create vivacious energy, and eccentricities that feed the visual cacophony of information ever gathering within our minds.”

The exhibition itself is presented with this visual cacophony in mind. Colorful, typography-inspired murals covering several walls, while the remaining white-walls are densely covered with 2 and 3-dimensional works. Recurring motifs, such as simplistic cloud shapes, puzzle pieces, mirrors and stairs connect their works; an unplanned phenomenon, which was not surprising considering their shared influences and interests, claims the group. Perrote, Perry and Rebholz even shared a specific color palette for the show, using the same magenta, teal, and yellow paints, both for visual cohesion and “to highlight the gap between colors that exist in reality and the RGB colorspace of computer screens” says Perrote.

At the heart of the exhibition is a paradox, highlighted by the significant gesture that each painting, drawing and screenprint was made by hand. Even in a time when we can create, share and store an unlimited amount of data, the information must still be processed slowly, through our hands, eyes and minds in order to be appreciated, an appreciation which is key to good design.

Scategories is currently on view at The Abstracted Gallery in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The closing reception will be Friday, April 11th, 2014, from 7 to 10 pm.

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Lauren Roche’s Visceral, Evocative, And Singular Paintings

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lauren-2 figures and an animal_4_770In Lauren Roche‘s paintings, like the best portraiture, there exists a story found in discrepant details. Amidst heavily applied broad stroke of paint and drips, black dots appear to be lactating from human and animals, insinuating teets as opposed to breasts. Teeth are bared in grinless maws not typically associated with people or their pets. And yet there exists an honest and humble beauty in Roche’s rendering of her subjects. Explaining that many subjects are taken from faces of friends and pets, as well as old photographs used for reference, the Minneapolis-based artist adds,

“The figures in my images are facets of my subconscious and take action in a pictorial language and don’t transfer into names for me. I like to leave the interpretation of personality up to the viewer, because that’s what I do.”

Roche’s paintings possess a rawness that cannot be denied, balanced in equal measure by a deft rendering of facial expressions. Perhaps the beauty of these paintings comes from their singular nature, and their anachronistic charm, evocative of a different era of capturing images. When asked the purpose of a focus on portraiture, particularly in an uploadable Digital Age, Roche responds,

“The purpose of portraiture is to give the maker and viewer the space for an interpretation of the subject that is private and flexible, fluid and idiosyncratic. Its difficult to compare portraiture to a cell phone picture because the process is so different. Drawing portraits is like a form of meditation and reflection for me and taking a cell phone picture feels more like a superficial gesture to prove that I’m enjoying myself.”

Roche’s work will be featured in the upcoming Two Dark Horses at Bockley Gallery in Minneapolis, MN, alongside Andrew Mazorol and Tynan Kerr (who when painting collectively go by AMTKpreviously featured here) and Lindsay Rhyner. The exhibition, named after one of Roche’s paintings (top of page) opens this Friday, March 21st and runs through April 26th, 2014.

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Mathew Zefeldt PaintIngs Inspired By Glitch Aesthetics

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The work of Mathew Zefeldt (previously featured heresuccessfully balances improbable combinations – modern with historical, digital with classical, painterly foregrounds with computer-like backgrounds – all by densely rendering them in traditional painting techniques with oils and acrylics.  Having created an advanced personal lexicon of art historical references to classical sculpture, as well as to abstract and figurative painting, these figures cohesively exist alongside more modern glitch aesthetics, shifting colors, garish patterns, and computer-like repetition. Through the combination of these disparate elements, Zefeldt recalls the history of the painting medium, while referencing the potential to represent our new, hybrid reality. Explaining his work, the artist says, “My paintings are still-life arrangements that take place in my head; they are windows onto a fictional world, governed by rules based in the real world, but bent and broken…”. 

These still-lifes exist in another improbably capacity, that of using both illusionistic depth and perspective, but on two-dimensional plane. This use of the flat-plane is more often found in collage, as is Zefeldt’s tendency to repeat (almost) identical imagery. When asked by Beautiful/Decay why he chooses painting to construct his explorations of a variegated contemporary visual culture, Zefeldt replies, “It would be a million times easier to collage or photoshop rather than paint. But paint forces you to slow down. Painting the same thing over and over again is almost meditative. Painting can be subversive too. Everything is getting more digital, movies etc. I think its important to keep making things manually, by hand.” This attention to craft highlights a uniquely human quality, where each sculptural bust appears exactly the same, but holds its own standard of flawed beauty upon closer inspection.

The Minneapolis-based painter will be featured in the group exhibition Figure Ground (curated by Gideon Chase - previously featured here) at Eleanor Harwood Gallery in San Francisco, CA. The exhibition (which opens January 10th and runs through February 8th, 2014) features work which explores the relationship between the figure and the foreground, testing different styles of background, illusionistic dimensions and a flat plane’s ability to contain both subject and context in a search for meaning.

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Michael Gaughan’s Visual Punchlines Bring Comedy To Art

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Michael Gaughan represents a new breed of hyper-creative talents whose work spans an absurd amount of media. Known for a variety of projects (including city-wide scavenger hunts, his chat-roulette in a mock-dorm room rapping identity Ice Rod, and for renting out his apartment for couples needing a romantic getaway on Valentine’s Day), Gaughan creates with an almost child-like glee. Despite the playfulness in the work, however, there is a sophistication and consistency that separates it from most. This is particularly evident in his highly-technical watercolor paintings, where art-world in-jokes exist seamlessly with pop-culture rimshots. In an exclusive talk with Beautiful/Decay, Gaughan summarizes his motivations, “Humor is not my main medium, but definitely a consistent theme in my life and my artwork. I think that putting yourself out there in a vulnerable way is really uncomfortable and nerve-racking. It is a lot easier to do things as a joke rather than take yourself seriously, and simultaneously I am equally motivated by the possibility of brightening up someone else’s day. I ultimately want to bring joy to other people.

Gaughan’s work references “(art) history…obscenity, pop culture, absurdity, personal experiences, fears, feelings, misunderstandings, language, human experience, and creativity as well. Skate culture is great too!” When asked about the obvious amount of time spent on each work compared to the relatively short amount of time to elicit a humorous response (and if that adds to the joke), Gaughan responds, “Ha ha I hope so. It is also important to remember that punchlines can stay with you… Just because the audience can “get it” in seconds, doesn’t mean that they won’t revisit again it in their mind. I think art-work that takes longer to understand doesn’t necessarily mean that people will remember any longer than something that took only a second to get...”

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