Rebecca Manson sent me a text message not too long ago with an image of a unicycle she had just sculpted and an accompanying message that read, “Here’s a sneak peek, his name is Peter.” It was adorable and part of an exhibit she had created at CSULB. But then moments later my phone rang, “Daniel” she said in horror, “the main sculpture in my exhibit just broke.”
Until recently I was unfamiliar with the artist Alex Ebstein, but I am glad to have rectified my lack of awareness. There is an honesty to Ebstein’s work that I find readily engaging. The use of yarn or string in an artist’s practice can often shift the aesthetic towards a decidedly crafty end result, but Ebstein manages to use the material with such purpose that it might as well be a drawn line in an architectural blue print. The effectiveness of the work hinges on her ability to merge direct compositional tactics with a more playful approach to the selected materials. Ebstein’s use of string also elevates the intentionality of her mark marking, and then quickly reasserts itself as a method of creating illusory depth in what would otherwise be relatively flat pieces. Taught angular moments combined with purposefully relaxed textures start a visual conversation that I am more than happy to participate in.
I could have just included the ‘eye chart’ pieces because I found them extremely aesthetically pleasing, but the back-story provides a bit of insight that I think most would enjoy. Think of it as a ‘Director’s Commentary’ for the work. Courtesy of Miss Ebstein, “…then for the eye chart pieces. They are more of a weird reflection on (and obsession with) eyesight and my existing eye problems that force me to visit the doctor every month. I’ve had four eye surgeries in three years… I am always nervously checking my vision against things, one eye at a time, so these drawings were kind of my own dark humored joke about being an artist and constantly worrying about my vision.” I am of the belief that ‘going blind’ is one of (if not) the most terrifying things any artist could imagine, and I appreciate the candor with which she addresses what could be an immobilizing reality to those with a more pessimistic outlook on life. Ebstein will be starting grad school this fall, and I am eager to see how this focused environment will affect her work. I also encourage anyone interested in contemporary art to check out the consistently interesting programming at Nudashank – a gallery she co-runs with Seth Adelsberger in the Baltimore area.
Kyle James Dunn’s intricate patterned sculptures are created using a plasma cutter and lots of patience. The imagery revolves around the American idea of vacation and the island get away. A pervasive cultural myth that presents itself in literature, art, Hollywood film, and more, this fantasy is projected onto real places regardless of local cultures or economies. As such, its tropes–the desert isle, the Aloha shirt–exist in a fantasy realm outside of a specific time or place. They create a seductive language of artifice and leisure that is both costly and escapist to uphold.
In the fall of 2009 artist Michael Anthony Simon left Chicago behind, and moved to the countryside of Korea. He wanted to experience a new place and culture that would hopefully inform a fresh body of work that could exist beyond the constraints of the western art world. In the spring of 2011, contemporary artist, Ai Weiwei was arrested on falsified charges of tax evasion by a notoriously conservative Chinese government. The claims were suspect to say the least, and many silent protests were organized throughout the world by major museums and institutions calling for his release. These silent protests became a louder gesture than anything anyone could have audibly said. This act of defiant solidarity became a source of motivation for Simon in the year to come. Realizing that by attempting to silence something you make it’s presence that much more apparent he commenced on a series entitled “The Silence Paintings”. Analyzing the design and significance of the word ‘silence’ in different languages lead him to the creation of an intuitive process that would allow for compositions to develop naturally, but with purpose and intention.
Los Angeles has always held a special place in the hearts and minds of Americans, but for most it exists in an almost fictional capacity. Hollywood isn’t a real place – it’s a postcard, a huge sign on the side of a mountain bracketed with strategically placed palm tree silhouettes. Certainly not a place to call home, but for artist Justin John Greene that’s exactly what it is. Hollywood is a part of his heritage, and the work reflects that. Born and raised in the Los Angeles area, Greene’s work is strongly imbued with the history of the most romanticized industry in American culture. In his most recent solo show at Actual Size (an exhibition space he co-runs in the Chinatown gallery district of east L.A.) the influence of the film industry is in full focus. You Oughta Be In Pictures is a comprehensive installation that utilizes painting, sculpture, and video to create a truly immersive experience for the viewer. Installation may seem like a bit of a leap from Greene’s primarily two dimensional practice, but a closer look into the artist’s process bridges the gap seamlessly. His work is a distinctly enjoyable blend of sly historical references, direct compositional tactics, and cleverly applied humor. If you have the opportunity to see the work in person I strongly encourage you to do so.
“Art should be beautiful, sensual, and transcendental,” says sculptor, Violet Dennison, paraphrasing John McCracken and providing insight into the directives for her newest sculptural work. Dennison is an emerging talent fresh out of NYU’s Steinhardt School. We recently discussed her raw, multiverse sculpture. In which, the artist offers an exciting and refreshing counterpoint to the trending ‘detritus movement’ taking her work further than mere groovy dyes and grainy façades. Instead, the impetus behind Dennison’s style comes from disco, sensuality, California car culture, and a suspicious yearn for utopian escapism.
The collection of works in Dennison’s Gowanus studio range in materials, from cement, plaster, burlap, granite, to wood, and measure from four to seven feet. Stylistically, they push at the boundaries of 60’s minimalism, entering into the viewer’s spatial field by modes of leaning, hanging, or existing as lone vertical structures.
Heavy fabrication and a dematerialized aesthetic are juxtaposed in Dennison’s work through her use of raw material and visual trickery. Materials are manipulated and meticulously re-invented, reaching a visual regression to a seemingly more organic state. Coated in dulcet tones of light pinks, blues, and pale greens, her palimpsest process delivers seesawing conclusiveness on their physical and visceral nature. “Is what’s in front of me heavy and cold or in fact light and sensual?” He or she must decide whether or not to trust his or her initial perception.
Chicago based artist Montgomery Perry Smith finds beauty in the unexpected. His process often includes taking discarded elements of once functional objects (i.e. the base of a papasan chair or a broken lamp) and coupling them with meticulously handcrafted details. The end result of which is a strikingly sophisticated body of work. Smith’s sculptures are as sexual as they are formal, but he is never hitting you over the head with it. Drawn forms are delicately paired with altered materials to create elegant compositions that reveal subtle references to sexuality. Since graduating with a BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the spring of 2008, Smith’s artistic career has been steadily gaining momentum. A recent solo show at Sabina Lee Gallery marks Smith’s first foray into the Los Angeles art scene, but if the prediction of Smith’s future success by Chicago publication Newcity as one of nine “Breakout Artists” to watch in 2010 is as prophetic as I think it might be – we will be seeing much more of his work in the years to come.
Robert Fontenot’s sculptures, made out of bread dough, present the viewer with extremely humorous, yet severely violent worlds. He’s the author and designer of three books. Two of which are about the histories of ancient mythologies and the other of which is an illustrated history of performance art – that is, in my opinion, far more entertaining than Roselee Goldberg’s classic Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present. However, skillfully sculpting the human form’s most revealing gestures is not Robert Fontenot’s only mastered practice. He also has an ongoing series, where he embroiders textiles, as well as another project entitled Recycle LACMA – in which he buys deaccessioned items from the museum at auction and then turns them into items of use. For example, he transformed a Brocade evening dress into a fully functional fanny pack. If you have your wits about you, then it won’t take long to recognize the awesomeness of Robert Fontenot’s work.