Sunday, December 30, 2007

Art Space Talk: Jessica Joslin

Jessica Joslin was born in 1971 in Boston, MA and grew up collecting flies off the windowsill to look at under her microscope. Ever since, she has been enchanted with collecting a magpie's array of remnants from the natural world. The collection gradually grew to include obsolete bits of antique mechanical mechanisms, hardware and other oddball artifacts. In 1992, she began building the first beasts of this menagerie, using objects sent in a care package from her father, the same pieces that she'd collected as a child. Jessica studied at
Parsons School of Design and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Brian Sherwin: Jessica, I've read that as a child you collected flies in order to study them under a microscope. Would you say that you've always had an interest in observing the details of nature? You collected other items from nature as a child-- how did your youthful curiosity set you on the path toward creating art?

Jessica Joslin: Yes, it all started with getting a microscope for my birthday…from that moment on, I was utterly incorrigible! Ha. I definitely think that my interests were defined early on. When I was little, I wanted to be a zoologist. My father is a commercial sculptor, but he started off in the sciences, in neurophysiology. He always encouraged our curiosity and answered our questions thoroughly- even beyond what one would expect a child to understand. When we went to the beach and collected seashells, we would bring them home and look them up in Audubon reference books, to learn more about our new treasures and their origin. We also collected seedpods, wild flowers, egg cases, bones- whatever we came upon in our travels. I didn’t have any sense that bones were considered macabre…I simply saw them as a beautiful clue to some mysterious animal that had once been there, the same as a seashell. From an objective standpoint, both are skeletons, yet they do have very different associations in our culture.

BS: In time you started to collect obsolete pieces of antique mechanical devices, hardware and other peculiar artifacts-- when you were a young adult your father sent these relics of your past to you in a care package. I understand that these pieces were the first pieces you utilized within the context of the work you focus on today. Is that so?

JJ: The machine parts were objects that I collected on my own, after I’d left for college. I used them, integrated with objects sent from our family "nature collection" for a series of photographs of constructions, which integrated natural and man made artifacts. Those same parts were later recycled for the earliest of the beasts.

BS: Can you go into detail about the creation of those early pieces? In regards to the mechanics involved in your work, did you have a lot of failures at first? How has your work matured since that time?

JJ: Over the years, I’ve had quite a few technical issues to surmount, especially since my work involves so many materials and techniques. I felt that art school wasn’t great at encouraging craftsmanship. At the time, it seemed that acquiring technical skills was overly associated with the trades and the decorative arts, so it was subtly discouraged. Overall, there was a pretty heavy-handed conceptual slant, often coupled with the arrogant assumption that one could just "hire someone" to build things for you (as was the habit of current blue chip artists like Koons, Hirst, et al.) That way of working never appealed to me. I always felt that, for me, the craft and concept needed to be integrated. Also, why would you want someone else to do the fun part?

Ultimately, I ended up learning many of my techniques through trial and error and through a sort of self-devised apprenticeship system in various trades. My earliest creatures incorporated parts from antique adding machines and turn of the century millinery taxidermy. The mechanical elements were made of hardened steel, which can’t be drilled with conventional hand tools, so in my first pieces, I (cringe) used hot glue. Of course, that’s about the worst possible choice that I could’ve made. It looks ridiculously shoddy and it doesn’t last. Those first pieces fell apart within a few years. I’ve come quite a way since then…

BS: Jessica, you work as a commercial model maker building prototypes of toys-- you have also worked as a carpenter, mold-maker, machinist, and sculptor --how have these experiences enhanced your personal work?

JJ: It’s through my professional work that I’ve acquired the many skills needed to build my pieces. I suppose it’s like anything, the better that you get at something, the easier it looks. From a structural standpoint, many people don't realize the complexity and precision of my work. For example, just one foot on Ludwig (the monkey on the ball) is comprised of 30 separate parts, all of them tapped and threaded. Any painters out there will recognize how tricky it can be to achieve a specific expression in the eyes. That obviously holds true for sculptural work as well. There is a lot of engineering (and finesse) that goes into making them seem natural and effortless, as if they were meant to be.

BS: Do you ever have trouble balancing the time spent doing commercial work and the time you need to create your art?

JJ: Yes, I’d imagine that it’s difficult for anyone to balance two careers. Some years I’ve been able to support myself from art sales, but not always. Professionally, I work freelance, which gives me some flexibility regarding schedule. I do enjoy the challenge of working in commercial shops. Still, contract work tends to come in bursts, so the hours can be intense. Most shops start at 6 or 7am, which can mean getting up as early as 4:30am. I can’t really say to the shop foreman that I don’t feel comfortable working on the metal lathe at 6am because I was uploading images for an Icelandic art magazine all night. I have to find a balance point, where I can do both things and not risk my digits.

BS: Where did you learn the skills that you utilize within the context of your work? Many of us can barely change a flat tire...

JJ: Trial by fire, many times over many years. Sometimes I’ll decide to learn a new skill by just jumping in. This summer, for example, I decided to learn carpentry, so I pretended to be a carpenter and applied for a job. (Seriously, don’t try this one at home kiddies!) I thought that I could probably figure out how to do the job, by the time the fellas got over the fact that there was (gasp) a girl in the shop, so I (hopefully) wouldn’t be booted out. My first day on the job, they gave me a pile of plans and said, "Build these." It was rough at first, but somehow I did the work. I also saw how I could improve my technique, and my next pieces were much tighter. Within a month or so, they were ready to make me a project manager. Anyway, that’s an extreme example, but it all comes down to creativity, initiative and lots of hard work. In some ways, I think that a lot of artists would benefit from doing some good old-fashioned manual labor. It’s a good test of your mettle. I want to learn as many skills as are relevant to my personal work. To me, honing my skills through my job is perfect, since I get paid for my experiments.

BS: Jessica, you use animal bones within the context of your work. You only use specimens from licensed distributors-- the same suppliers that a natural history museum would use when putting together an exhibit. Can you tell us about the laws regarding the use of animals bone in the manner that you do? Perhaps you have some advice for other artists who are interested in using animal bones as a medium-- can they use bones that they find in their work? What do they need to know?

JJ: Honestly, I find animal protection laws to be a bit Byzantine. I wish that they were more accessible, but legal jargon is just not my thing. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve increasingly been using osteological suppliers- because origin of the specimen is clearly documented. With found parts, it’s very important for artists to be aware of their state and Federal laws. Just because you didn’t kill it, doesn’t mean that it’s okay to have it. Often, the laws don’t differentiate between whether you have found or killed an animal. For example, I could legally hire a licensed hunter to kill me a deer and bring me it’s head, yet if I find a deer skull while walking in the woods, technically, it’s not legally obtained. I could be fined. In particular, artists should be careful to stay away from protected and endangered species. Migratory birds, for example, are often found littering the sidewalk below mirrored high-rise buildings. They are often very beautiful, but also strongly protected. Again, just because you found it, doesn’t mean that it’s okay to use it.

BS: Jessica, some of the bones that you use are actually replicas. I've read that you enjoy making it difficult for viewers to tell which is real and which is not. Can you discuss the meaning behind that choice? Or is it just a challenge that you set for yourself?

JJ: I prefer the translucency and tactile qualities of real bone, yet I don’t feel that the intent or meaning of my work is different when I use replicas. I use replicas in instances where a particular species is protected. It gives me more aesthetic options in the variety of species that I can work with. I make all of my molds and casts myself, since I’ve found that often "museum quality" replicas don’t use uv-stable resins, so they tend to yellow with time. I strive to make all of my casts as indistinguishable as possible from the real bone specimens. Why wouldn’t I? I don’t want them to look fake and cheesy...

BS: Jessica, by meshing bones with various mechanics are you making a statement about how industrialization has harmed the environment-- forced animals out of their natural habitats? That is what I interpret when I view your work-- am I correct in what I'm sensing?

JJ: Well, that’s one aspect of my work, though frankly, I'd rather not simplify it to a single note. That is indeed an important issue, but I’m not pursuing a didactic agenda with my work. As David Lynch once said, "If you want to send a message, go to Western Union."

In the visual arts, there is the potential to communicate ideas and to make layered associations, which language cannot tidily convey. My work encompasses a broad range of my interests, spanning the many years that I've been making these sculptures. Those layers are there to be excavated, but that is not strictly necessary for appreciation of my work.

I make my beasts because they are what I dreamed of discovering, but they didn't exist anywhere, so I had to make them myself.

BS: Has your work-- the pieces containing real bones --ever angered viewers? Have you ever had to explain to viewers how you obtained the bones or do you make it clear at exhibits that the bones were obtained legally and ethically?

JJ: Occasionally I’ll get a rant, but usually it’s when someone has made assumptions. They don’t take the time to read about where I get my parts, or even which parts are real and which are not. If they don’t grant me that courtesy, I don’t take the time to correct them.

Perhaps surprisingly, I have generally received interested, supportive responses from the people who I’ve spoken with…including those who are involved in animal rights organizations. I have a very strong affinity for animals, and I think that comes across in my work.

BS: Jessica, many of your creations have hidden movements-- jointed legs, spring-loaded beaks, and movable tails --some are free standing, but have mechanisms that allow movement or multiple positions. In many ways they convey the craftsmanship of an artisan watchmaker. Do you ever have to repair your pieces after an exhibition?

JJ: Rarely. I did recently get one piece back for repairs. It had been dropped by the collector’s housekeeper, which broke the bone legs. Still, that’s very unusual. I usually design my work with the knowledge that it will need to be shipped to my gallery (in Arizona). The larger pieces are all engineered to disassemble easily. My work is much stronger than it appears in the images. They are intricate, delicate to a certain extent, yet are as strong as they can possibly be, given the materials that I work with.

BS: Do you have a favorite? Is there one 'beast' that you have enjoyed creating the most?

JJ: I’m always the most besotted by the creature that is on my workbench at that moment.

BS: Jessica, do you keep any form of documentation while working? I assume that these pieces involve a great deal of planning. Do you keep a journal?

JJ: They do indeed take a lot of time to plan. I don’t like to draw, so the only sketches that I do are more like technical illustrations, used mostly for determining angles and thread & coupling sizes. I only draw on post-its, so that they can’t be confused with "real" drawings. I’m more of a list-maker, though I doubt that my notations would make sense to anyone but me. I don’t keep them for posterity.

BS: Finally, you mentioned that you have a book in the works when I first contacted you. Is this book a collection of your work? Will it contain any of your writings? When will it be published? Will people be able to purchase the book from your site? Tell us about the book.

JJ: Thank you. I’m very excited about this project! Menagerie will be out this spring and it will contain images of my creatures, spanning the last 7 years. It is being sponsored by my gallery, Lisa Sette The book will be available through the gallery, as well as selected bookstores around the world. Once the book is available, my website will have information and links to vendors. Thanks for asking me to participate Brian. Your site is wonderful!
You can learn more about Jessica Joslin by visiting her website-- Jessica is a member of the community (jessio). She is involved with the Beinart International Surreal Art Collective-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

Friday, December 28, 2007

Art Space Talk: Ben Edwards

Ben Edwards is a painter who attended school at the University of California, San Francisco Art Institute, and Rhode Island School of Design. He is known for meshing traditional aspects of painting with the technology of our times. For example, by utilizing digital images of suburban strip mall sprawl, which Ben then paints meticulously, he is able to re-arrange the all-too-familiar architecture into a completely different world.

Ben has participated in many group shows and has had several solo exhibitions at the Van Doren Gallery in New York. He is currently preparing for The Sorrows of Democracy, a solo exhibit that will take place at Tomio Koyama Gallery in Tokyo, Japan. He has lectured at several major institutions of higher learning-- Yale University, Rhode Island School of Design, Columbia University School of Architecture --and has been featured in Artforum and Art in America.

Softstream Meadows, 2006, oil on canvas, 44" x 60"

Brian Sherwin: Ben, you earned an MFA from Rhode Island School of Design. Who were your instructors at RISD? How did your studies at RISD influence the work that you create today?

Ben Edwards: I worked mostly with Michael Young, Holly Hughes, Dennis Congdon and Duane Slick. Michael in particular was an exceptional teacher, and I think any graduate students who worked with him should consider themselves very fortunate.

I’ve often wondered what I would be doing today had I gone to another graduate program. I believe that not only is my work stronger, but I am a more aware and critical thinker because of my experience at RISD. In terms of the impact on my entire outlook about art and my experiences of daily life and the world we live in, there was probably more change and development for me in those first few months at RISD than at any other time in my life. In a nutshell, the philosophy was to question everything, take nothing for granted, understand one’s own perception and methods, and to learn to effortlessly combine thinking and making. It was a revolution.

Ether Study(United We Stand), 2007, inkjet on paper, 22.5" x 30"

BS: Ben, when I view some of your work, Immersion for example, I'm reminded of grids or some form of matrix-- as if there is a trace of digital influence within the context of your art. Is that so? How has technology influenced you?

BE: When I was at RISD (1995-97) the technology we take for granted today was still in its early stages. I don’t mean the personal computer, but all of the things that we can now do with them. Yahoo was a young start-up and I’m not sure Google even existed yet. Digital photography was just becoming affordable. Computer generated animation was just getting off the ground. I think Toy Story came out around this time. I could sense the beginnings of a huge change, not only with how technology would affect our lives, but aesthetically. Looking at what was on TV at the time, or at regular print ads, I could see the impact of the computer on how things were being made. It was about this time when I started thinking about how virtual products (like Toy Story) were becoming more real, while the real world of the consumer was becoming more and more simulated, or virtual. So I knew that I had to move into this direction to able to incorporate this subject into my work. In 1998 I first started using digital photographs and Photoshop to plan my paintings, instead of projecting directly onto the canvas from slides. This was a first step in making my paintings more virtual, but I felt that I had to move into 3D modeling to really take on the virtual.

In 2001, after my first solo show in New York, I began to think about how my work could not just be about a virtual world, but could be a virtual world itself. Just as I was synthesizing a huge number of photographic sources to make my paintings, I wanted to merge all worlds into my own meta-world, so that the virtual reality of video games would mix with the physical world of buildings. I began to use 3D modeling at this time and I loved the "holodeck"-like feel of the empty, default space of the program. It’s this perfect Cartesian grid where anything can be loaded into the scene and placed wherever you want. This just added to the idea that I could have multiple realities co-existing.

Since almost all of my paintings now grow out of this virtual world, the traces of technology that generated it are apparent. I believe this is an aesthetic expression of the world we live in. Metaphorically, we are all forced to snap into this perfect, Cartesian grid. Since we are always in it, we don’t necessarily see it, but anyone who is paying attention can sense its presence.

BS: Ben, you have a solo exhibit-- The Sorrows of Democracy --lined up for 2008. Can you tell our readers about this exhibit? What are your motives behind the exhibit?

BE: I’ve had to put this body of work aside, and I’m expecting these paintings to be finished in 2009. I am loosely basing these works on Thomas Cole’s The Course of Empire. I see them as also a loose interpretation of the Bush years. My title was inspired by a Chalmers Johnson book called The Sorrows of Empire.

The New Way Forward, 2007, oil on canvas, 30" x 45"

BS: I just looked at an image of The New Way Forward-- which is a piece from The Sorrows of Democracy. This piece has a dark mood about it when compared to some of your other recent work. Can you tell us more about this painting and how the world of today has pointed your vision in this direction?

BE: The New Way Forward is a study for Together Forward, the last painting in the cycle. Its composition is based on Turner’s The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire, which was an inspiration for Cole. My titles come from the names of the military operations in Iraq. When I first came across them, they struck me as yet another Orwellian play by the current administration. I don’t mean for these paintings to be necessarily about Iraq, but more about our general mood right now. I feel anxiety and sadness about the state of the world.

BS: Ben, do you 'see' the image in your head when you start a piece? Is there any preliminary work involved before you start-- sketches, research? Tell us about the work behind the work.

BE: There is a lot of work behind the work, sometimes I feel too much. Lately my paintings start out with an art historical reference and then I build my own composition on top of that. I begin by making very simple sketches of a general image in my head, then I’ll block out the scene in 3D, with simple forms for the architecture, basic lighting and an approximate camera. This turns into a map of where to put architecture into the scene. I conceive of the final painting being a synthesis of multiple channels of information. Simply put, I use the computer to generate lots of possibilities, more than could ever be used in one painting, then the process of making the painting is one of choosing fragments and accumulating them until arrive at what I want.
Omnigen Orchards, 2005 inkjet on paper, 12" x 16 1/2"

BS: What are some of the mistakes you have made with your work? Do you mind telling us about those early creative trials? Have you always been able to express your thoughts with the medium that you have chosen? Did you ever have doubts about your work?

BE: I really don’t believe in the idea of mistakes when it comes to making art. It’s easy to look back and Monday-morning quarterback, but at the time, you think hard about what you’re doing and you do what you feel has to be done. If you know you’re giving your work 100%, then you can’t blame yourself if something doesn’t work out. So I can think of several experiences that I could classify as mistakes, but I prefer to think of it as a necessary part of learning.

One of the problems with my work is that it’s really a cyborg creature, part painting and part digital. Many times these are in conflict, and in my own head I am conflicted. I have always used some kind of technology as an aid to make paintings, from regular photographs to the slide projector, then all the way up the line from Photoshop to 3D modeling. I’d say up until the last few years I’ve always had an Enlightenment attitude about it, which coincided with my philosophy about technology and life, that is, that technology leads to progress. Now I question that more. Just as technology threatens the stability of life on earth, and our humanity, as a painter I feel threatened by the technological machinery I’ve created for myself. It seems kind of melodramatic to put in those terms, but I guess this is part of the reason why I consider myself a painter. This may be generational.
Those of my generation are really on the edge of being techno-savants or Luddites. We can go either way. I can pick up new programs pretty easily, but I always have the sense that computer technology is an intrusion rather than being completely natural. First I was a painter, then along came the computer to help me. Now it feels like it’s taking over, as in life. But I don’t want to be in front of a screen. I’d rather make a painting.

BS: Ben, your work has been featured in several publications-- Artforum, Art in America, The New York Times... how does your success drive your artistic exploration? Does exposure make you feel 'under the gun', or does it energize you?

BE: It is strange to see a reproduction of a painting that only a few days earlier I was finishing up in the studio. I sometimes look at the last shape I painted and think about how close it was to not being there. Once a work is finished and it leaves the studio, it has crossed a line of finality for me and I begin to let it go. Seeing it in reproduction has the effect of a thick lacquer that shields the work from all the uncertainties involved with every decision in its making. Sometimes I’ll become conscious of this in the studio, but I’ve learned to quickly ignore it. Occasionally a painting in progress will be like a child throwing a temper-tantrum, and I imagine the day when it’s all grown up and out of the house and I can be proud of it. That’s when the reviews (at least the positive ones) are nice.

The Triumph of Democracy, 2007-8 (in progress)

BS: What other plans do you have for 2008? Do you have any other exhibits lined up besides the one we've discussed?

BE: I am currently working on a painting called The Triumph of Democracy. It’s a commission for a new building in Washington D.C., and it will be completed in April. In May, I will have a show of paintings at the Tomio Koyama Gallery in Tokyo. Then I will return to The Sorrows of Democracy.

BS: In your own words, what do you hope people gain from viewing your art? What is the most crucial message you wish to send to the masses through your work?

BE: Making art is a narcissistic activity because the artist is saying that his or her creation, a piece of the artist really, is important enough for you the viewer to consider. I don’t think artists approach it in this way, with the idea that they are communicating to someone. The process starts out very quietly, and it’s very personal, but it ends up being very public. I don’t think too much about that public part of it. I try to make the work that I feel has to be made, regardless of who sees it. It certainly helps to know that a public will most likely see what I make. Before I started showing my paintings would end up in a closet in my little studio, and that was pretty discouraging. But it’s the faith that the work is expressing something true about how I view the world at a particular moment in my life that drives things forward. It’s the search for truth, if even one’s own truth, which can often be elusive, that gives the work necessity. For every painting, the message is always "This is how I saw things, this is how I felt at the time when I made this." My hope is that my viewers felt it too and think to themselves, "YES!"

BS: Can you tell us more about the philosophy behind your work?

BE: Making art is like being on a never-ending search for something. I think most people who are regularly engaged in some kind of creative activity would agree that it’s a positive-reinforcing activity, where the more you’re doing it, the more you can build on it, and so on. When I’m in one of these active times, images will appear in my head and I don’t know where they’ve come from. I love it when one of these comes floating to the surface. When you have this experience, you realize that there is a whole world in your subconscious. To me, this is truth. It’s like the famous Descartes dictum "I think therefore I am." You never think these things deep under the surface are false or wrong. There’s an underlying faith that there is greater truth under the surface than there is above it.

As my career moves along and I have more and more work under my belt, and I have a broad range of work that I make, the whole thing feels like a train that keeps adding cars. But the engine is that interface between the conscious and the subconscious. As ideas and philosophies develop and evolve, adapting to the reality of the world, the subconscious transforms and the conscious artist has to catch up. The subconscious, I suppose, is the track following the terrain of the land, and if that changes course then the whole train does too.

So anything I say about my work is about the cars of the train, not the engine and certainly not the track. For this reason it’s good to occasionally talk about the ideas behind the work so I can remind myself of where I’ve been, but it’s very difficult to talk about things that are current. Sometimes if I feel the need to express something that I can’t do visually, then I’ll write something, and I feel like this is part of my work.

Cinnamon Gardens, 2006, oil on canvas, 44" x 60"

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art?

BE: I think with the things that I’ve written and with past interviews I’ve covered a lot of ground. With my current work I can’t say much more. But I will take this opportunity to acknowledge the hard work my assistants contribute. As the role of technology in my work has increased I rely more and more on some very talented (and younger) people to help me build this virtual world of mine. They help me to spend more time painting, and for that I’m grateful.

You can learn more about Ben Edwards by visiting his website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Art Space Talk: Adam Frezza

Adam Frezza was born in upstate New York and currently calls New York City his home. He is currently a Keyholder Resident at The Lower East Side Printshop. Recent solo and groups shows include the Jacksonville Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville, FL and Society of Illustrators' Educators Symposium Student Sketchbook Anthology, New York, NY.

Adam is one of the 50 finalists of the Myartspace NY, NY 2007 Competition. The finalists were chosen by three very respected members of the global art community-- Jessica Morgan, curator of contemporary art at the Tate Modern, James Rondeau, curator of contemporary art at the Art Institute of Chicago and Steven Zevitas, Publisher and Editor of New American Paintings.

I Guess The Lord Must Be in The Bathroom at The Museum of Modern Art 4, Acrylic Polymer & Graphite on Board, 7 x 5", 2007.

Brian Sherwin: Adam, can you tell us about your early years-- your early interest in art?

Adam Frezza: Apparently, I used to like to draw when I was a kid. My parents tell me that I asked if there was a school for art when I was about 4 years old. I don't remember much of it, but we drove to this small building near our house in upstate New York. There was a large blue and red triangle sculpture permanently mounted in the parking lot. I waited in the yellow station wagon while my father entered the strange building. I saw him talking in the doorway with a woman. He began to look upset and eventually came back to the car dejected--it seems that the instructor thought my parents were forcing me into something that they wanted more than I did. Nevertheless, the school would not accept me until I was older. I have always felt a weird connection, albeit opposition, to triangles-- I can't help but think it has something to do with that day. In a way, it helped me prepare myself for future rejection.

BS: Adam, I read that you studied at Flagler College, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and at the University of Florida. Who were your instructors during those years? Can you tell us anything about these art programs?

AF: I think those are all fantastic schools for very different reasons. Flagler College, first of all is one of the most unique and beautiful campuses I have ever seen. The college itself is located in St. Augustine, FL, the oldest city in The United States. The art program is like a forgotten precious stone. Former Art Chair, Don Martin is a phenom leftover from the analog days of graphic/commercial design. The things he can do with an airbrush and a rapidograph pen are outrageous. Enzo Torcolleti is a fantastic Italian sculptor who still calls Italy home but has taught at Flagler since 1969 (he retired in 2007). Patrick Moser is a painter with the hands of a piano player and the mind of a scholar. Professor Maureen O'Neil helped bring a more conceptual and poetic element to the program. One of my most engaging and courageous instructors at Flagler, however, was the German artist Uli Whittaker. She has since moved on to further her art career, but the energy and inspiration that woman provided in the classroom really helped me hone-in on my drawing ability.
After receiving my B.A. from Flagler, I attended The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, PA for a one-year post-baccalaureate. PAFA was the first art academy in The United States, and its reputation precedes it. It was an amazing experience: a full size cast replica of Michelangelo's David in the cast hall, live horses in the drawing rooms, a museum with some of the most important examples of artwork from early America through to today, and a faculty that reads like a who's who of academic art. The studio spaces are fabulous. I really flourished there under the instruction and care of Bruce Samuelson, Kate Moran, Kathy Bradford, Dan Miller, Anthony Rosati, Micheal Moore, and Mark Blavat. The lecture-programs and visiting artist programs at PAFA are really wonderful and provide access to people and information from all areas of the artworld.
From PAFA I moved to Gainesville, FL and attended the University of Florida where I received my MFA in Painting & Drawing. UF was a, somewhat surprisingly, amazing place. The level of instruction and criticism was beyond what I had anticipated for a Florida school. As much as PAFA had a connection to New York and various niches of the artworld, UF seemed to have even more. I think part of the reason could be the fact that the faculty boasts international contemporary artists like Max Becher (son of Bernd and Hilla Becher), Andrea Robbins, Sergio Vega, Arnold Mesches, Sean Miller (JEMA), Ron Janowich, Celeste Roberge, Richard Heipp, Bob Mueller, and art historian Alex Alberro. The Google-ability of all of these artists is pretty impressive (go ahead, try it!). The lectures and visiting artists were amazing and the trips to New York City and Miami were priceless.
Robert Storr, Raphael Rubinstein, Hal Foster, and Charlie White (to name a few) all came and gave fantastic talks, some with enlightening studio visits, and often with the opportunity for even more intimate social encounters with some of the best people in the field. All of this from a school with much of its focus on teaching; Grad students actually teach many of the rudimentary undergraduate courses, so I have quite a bit of teaching experience under my belt. The overall experience at UF was exceptional.

A Beguiling Mechanism For Controlling Substance (installation view), Various Materials on Panel, 96 x 288", 2007.

BS: Adam, I've read that you do not like to link yourself to any movement or genre. In a sense, you feel that linking yourself to other artists in this way may contain your work in a manner that will hinder individualistic growth, correct? Can you tell us more about your philosophy behind this choice? Do you think it is important to place your work in a historical context-- do you give any form of validity to your work by enforcing it with artists who have came and gone --or is that something you avoid as well?

AF: I like to think of history as a flattened fiction, unharnessed by the separation of time or context. It is easy to hear words like 'surrealism' or 'post-modernism' or any other term organized through a specific history and believe yourself to have an understanding of what that is. I am more interested in not knowing-- I like to look at terms and genres that history has mapped out or defined and question or revise what has already been done with them. Not so much in the appropriation of images or ideas but more in the viewing and internalization of these images and ideas. Of course the rules of history are there to keep things organized and understandable, but it is sometimes more productive and enlightening to knock down the walls that separate something like a Giotto mural from a graffiti wall.
I guess it really comes down to my desire to break things down and try to pick them up again: it's never going to come out the same way. So yeah, call me whatever, but I am always going to try to squirm my way out of it. I think this is happening more and more with contemporary curators and the search for different links between artists and history. I like to imagine my work hanging beside a Brueghal painting somewhere in Belgium and also next to the latest by contemporary artists at the Whitney or MOMA. The time and context aspects of history are meant to be played with.
Rosco, Silver Leaf on Digital Print, 5 x 7", 2007.

BS: Adam, you are known for working in a variety of manners-- painting, drawing, sculpture, installation, video, performance, and photography. How do you keep your work connected when taking so many creative paths? Do you deal with the same themes from one method to the next? Or do you 'burn the bridges' as you go, so to speak?

AF: If the bridge ever gets burned, I use the ashes from whatever was burned for a future project. For instance, a series of drawings might need to look a certain way, but once that series is over, I am not going to keep making the same drawings. Elements of those drawings may creep into a painting or sculpture, but by that time the imagery has shifted so much that the content has to be dealt with and controlled differently.
Ultimately, I tend to question all of those mediums in a similar fashion as I question history-- and not in a visual way, but in the internalization of the experience of something. Can a performance be looked at like one might look at a painting? Can we think of a video as a drawing or a sculpture? Again, these are not new ideas, but by disregarding medium, to an extent, the focus comes more upon continuing with an idea and expressing it in as many forms available or possible.
The Ill-Magical Use of Tools, vol. 4, Graphite on Paper, 10 x 15", 2007.

BS: Adam, your work seems to have some roots in psychology in the way that it deals with the idea of beauty. It is as if your work is a visual play on the psyche of consumers-- questioning their actions, their fears, and repulsions. Is this so? Can you go into detail about what you are conveying with your work?

AF: 'Consumers' is an interesting analogy. . . I think you might be a sensitive perceiver, and I mean that as the highest compliment. I believe that much of the inspiration for my work comes down to the difference between someone who would scoff at a pile of shit in the street and the person who would inspect, question, and show a little curiosity about the same substance. Our collective perception of our external world is highly manufactured and anything that can lift the curtain and reveal an aspect of reality, or a clearer perception of our surroundings, is worth investigating. There are so many things that leave me feeling unsatisfied; yet if I look at the same things in a different way I become filled with satisfaction. I am interested in altered states of reality and the human's ability, or desire, to control those experiences.

13 Stages of A Broken Nose: The Owen Wilson Memorial Drawings, 11, Acrylic Polymer & Graphite on Board, 7 x 5", 2007.

BS: Is there a spiritual side to your work? You've mentioned that you are interested in how a decayed or broken down form can become a new form all together... does your work, hint at aspects of reincarnation? Do you explore the spiritual side of life with your work?

AF: Spirituality is such a slippery word. I am not a conventionally religious person, but I do believe in the sensation that this understanding of a human experience is just one possibility for existence. Of course, life seems real enough, but I am left feeling curious about the severity of it all; I am not necessarily searching for something else or looking for answers to the world's problems, but I enjoy playing with the idea that this is/or is not an end realm. There is always a bit of tongue in cheek happening with my work between aspects of spirituality, humor, and wit.

BS: It could also be said that aspects of nature influence your interest in decayed forms. For example, the situation of life and death... how a corpse can be full of life-- maggots and other living beings that feed upon a creature that once thrived. With that said, would you say that the essence of nature is captured in your work?

AF: Well, I guess the one thing I left out above is sexuality, and maybe sexuality is something I equate with the 'essence of nature'. However, capturing the essence of something is seemingly impossible, but the effort is still intriguing. All things end . . . By recognizing and respecting the beasts that do and will consume our beings, I imagine an aging process that is expected and appreciated rather than feared and repressed. Sex just happens to be an important and vital signifier of the life cycle.

BS: What are you working on at this time?

AF: I am at the tail end of the first installment of a new project (working title, The Mastery of Unbecoming). The piece is one of a projected five works that will work together to form one large idea and image. The pieces are broken into 12" x 12" squares that can be joined together to create larger images. Each of the five pieces will have 30 squares to make five 6' x 5' images or one 6' x 25' image. It is a gilded and painted pencil drawing. I want to wait until the project is completed to post it, so it may not be up until fall 2008.
Of course, I have other projects to keep me busy while I work on this. I am at the beginning stages of a video project that is really multiple photographs of a sculpture, installed in a specific place, and set to motion. Ultimately, I think of it as a drawing (to riff on the 'medium' discussion earlier). I like staying busy.

BS: Adam, let us talk about some of your accomplishments. It is my understanding that you hold a studio residency at The Lower East Side Printshop in Manhattan. Can you tell us about that experience?

AF: It has been fabulous! I live just a short walk away so it is very convenient and the people there are really great. I actually haven't made any prints there yet, but I have been working on the pieces I just mentioned. The shared space is really a great way to interact with other artists, but it has also been a wonderful place to quietly work on what I am focused on right now. The residency runs until October 2008 so you can bet to see some prints in the near future.

Mason Manila Drawing 13, Acrylic Polymer & Graphite on Manila Folder, 5 x 7", 2007.

The Church Door Drawing 1, Acrylic Polymer & Graphite on Board, 7 x 5", 2007.

BS: Adam, I understand that you plan to have a solo exhibition in January. Where will this exhibition take place? Do you plan to reveal new work? What other exhibitions do you have planned for 2008?

AF: A show of small drawings, Mason Manila & The Church Door, will be on view at The Gallery @ Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, MA (10 miles north of Boston). Both series of works are available to view online, but I am excited to see the work up on walls. All framed works for the show are priced @ $295ea. so get 'em while they're hot! The show will be up from January 10 thru January 27th. Also, in February '08 I will have work featured in the Northeastern publication of New American Paintings (Book 74).
Leigh Gives Birth to A Lucian, Acrylic Polymer & Graphite on Hand-Crafted Graph Paper, 7.5 x 6", 2007.

BS: Adam, what else will you be involved with in 2008?

AF: I hope to drop some Small Bombs of Disgusting Love on the Frieze Art Fair in London next October. I am also keeping my fingers crossed for a permanent installation project in an art village in Korea. Wish me luck.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art?

AF: Sure, . . .

My temporary experiences
Of this rickety life
Are like color and texture
Being thrown out a window.
But my tears,
Like mescalin,
Clear my eyes
So that I can see this beautiful mess.
Adam Frezza is a member of the community-- login id: frezzart. You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin
Senior Contributing Editor

Friday, December 21, 2007

Art Space Talk: JenMarie Zeleznak

JenMarie Zeleznak's paintings deal with themes of death and despair while exploring the emotional sensations that stem from hopelessness, loss, and social disconnection. JenMarie's paintings seem to contain cruel layers of paint-- each mark representing a sense of peril, but further observation reveals that a glimpse of hope remains. JenMarie's work is about survival-- overcoming the obstacles and burdens that each of us face at some point. They are like psychological landscapes... revealing the conflicting storms of the human psyche, condition, and collective humanity.

Brian Sherwin: JenMarie, do you have formal training in art? If so, who were your instructors and how did they influence you?

JenMarie Zeleznak: I would not refer to my previous schooling before college formal training because the programs lacked. It was just basically your typical art classes. Currently at the Cleveland Institute of Art, I don’t feel as though I am being formally trained in the practice of painting, as much as I am participating in a dialogue involving issues in painting and what it means to be a painter at this current place in time.
I did however have a phenomenal instructor by the name of Blake Cook, who helped shape me into the painter I am today. It wasn’t his formal instructing, but his conceptual way of thought in which I was inspired by. I learned we valued the same things in art and life, along the lines of seeing beauty in loss, death, and the unknown. He helped me realize my values and what I was truly interested in to the point that I wasn’t making paintings to just fulfill an assignment or just to get by foundation requirements; I was making paintings because I was creating a body of work, which I had not known I was capable of.

BS: Tell us about your early artistic influences and experiences. When did you decide to pursue art?

JZ: As a child I was always involved in the creative aspects of life; be in art, theater, music, performance and the like. I guess I have just never thought otherwise. I never had thought about being anything else "when I grow up". It seemed to be a given, though it didn’t always come easy. Seemingly intuitive, there were times when I had to decide if what I was doing was worth it, or should I be doing something else with my life? Of course it was worth it, and now this is what I do. I couldn’t, and still can’t imagine not being a painter. Not so much the act of painting, but the process and ideation that becomes the painter; the painter’s ideas or philosophy on life.
Hanging in the Wait of Fading Echoes, Yet I Only Yearn for You, 2007, oil on canvas, 72x72"

BS: With that said, how would you say that your work has advanced since that time?

JZ: I’ve understood my position as an artist and painter as taking on many roles such as the painter as a cultural producer and philosopher. Aside from just being immersed in the process of painting, I find myself always searching for answers like stepping back from a situation, assessing it, and delving into it. I search for answers and give meaning to things through the process of painting.

BS: JenMarie, you've mentioned your interest in philosophical studies... do you feel that artists-- in general --should embrace the role of philosopher? Also, people often say that society is built from creative minds-- that art is the backbone of civilization --do you agree with that charge? If so, do you feel that it is being lost today or do you feel that artists are still navigating us toward a new cultural horizon, so to speak?

JZ: Absolutely. I think it’s a significant aspect of our lives to always be searching, and gain understanding of the world we live in and things we experience. Through this act we are in sense cultural producers, and I think by being more philosophically engaged that "charge" could be relevant. I think throughout the years it might have been lost, sure. But I do feel that there is something of this sort on the horizon if in fact more artists engage themselves in this dialogue.

I Don't Even Remember Dying, 2007, oil on canvas, 48x48"

BS: Would you say that there is a certain degree of spirituality to be found within the context of your work? Perhaps not in the organized religious sense, but in a more private manner-- a search for the essence of faith... of keeping hope? If so, are you revealing that side of yourself to the viewer or is your goal for the viewer to discover aspects of their own 'soul searching'-- for lack of a better expression? Perhaps that is just my interpretation of your work-- what I see in your work for myself --do you strive for this sort of self-reflection from those who view your work?

JZ: Deriving from the landscape, similar aesthetics lead to a method of creating, which usually consists of a solitary being within a sparse lonely space. The forms created depict hopelessness and despair by attributing human characteristics, such as the ability to weep, mourn, withdrawal, and seek solace in moments of being mentally, physically, or emotionally defeated. Through a cool somber palette with subtle warm undertones, my work lingers between romantic pathos and apathy. My work deals with issues related to the pragmatic burden of loss and the mental, emotional, or physical process one goes through when coping with the finality of something ending.

Within this body of work, earlier works are experienced within space of the mind, expressed from a first person point of view. Recent works depict a being that experienced loss; withdrawing itself within the landscape it once had imagined. Through the process of making these paintings, personally, I was going through a process of something ending in which I was not ready to relinquish. Through these struggles, each painting was manifested. I do see these works as a sequential whole; as a narrative which might bring about the possibility of understanding and identifying with these emotions one habitually tries to dismiss, move on and not dwell upon.

I see these paintings functioning by my projection of personal, experiential emotions onto them, in hopes that others might reflect on their past times, even if we don’t share the same memory. "The melancholic figure has a compulsive desire to ‘repeat the trauma of loss’; it is the only way of perpetuating that love which we do not want to relinquish, because a substitute for the same love will never be found as it once was." By painting about this nostalgia for the past and inability to relinquish what once was, I am extending these relationships so that they seem to somehow still exist. It helped me get by, and come to understand the regressive tendencies of melancholia one might experience when it seems like there is nothing to grasp onto. I would hope the viewer would project their own experiences onto my paintings and see reflections of their own through them.

BS: Can you go into detail about your artistic process? How do you begin a piece? When do you know that a piece is finished?

JZ: Starting a piece is probably the hardest thing for me. If I don’t think I am ready or am seemingly avoiding starting a piece, I usually stretch and gesso other canvases. I think a really meditative state occurs during those times, which I enjoy. I usually don’t start painting right after I gesso. I let the gessoed canvas hang around in the studio for a while before I begin. I have been using black gesso recently-- it definitely has a presence. The black is so heavy and weighted. I just chose to work with black gesso because I had been fighting white gesso for quite some time, and the black somehow seemed more appropriate.
I have this default way of starting a painting, which usually is derived from the landscape. My paintings are very atmospheric, so I tend to meditate in that for a while as I begin to cover the canvas and establish space. I work between atmosphere and subject, though sometimes the atmosphere is the subject. A painting is done when it feels done. I know from having overworked many paintings in the past that when it communicates this energy of completeness, it is. I am not one of those people who work back into things far after they’ve been put aside. I work, bring it to a state of completeness, and then move on.
So This Is Me Telling You I'm Done, 2007, oil on canvas, 48x48"

BS: Are you influenced by current world events-- do they find a way into your paintings? How does contemporary life impact your creative practice?

JZ: Contemporary life impacts my painting in every way imaginable. A lot of my work has to do with loss, death and dying, tragedy, existentialist views on life…and I think these concepts are surfacing everyday for everyone. These issues are tough to really put into perspective until you witness it or it personally affects you. Between wars, a natural disaster, personal and societal relationships…I think there is always something influencing me each moment in the studio.

BS: Tell us more about the philosophy behind your art. What motivates you to create?

JZ: In spirit of the previous question, I think they go hand in hand. I am very influenced by contemporary life simultaneously inspired by nostalgia for the past. I have a hard time disengaging with people or situations, which I suppose through painting about them they still somehow exist. I guess by extending my relationships with these past relations and occurrences I try and bring them to a state of closure because I probably didn’t feel that closure at the time the [tangible or intangible] relationship ended. Just as I don’t quite come to understand human existence and relationships with others, by painting about it and bringing these issues into significance, I feel as though I am trying to better understand, analyze, or resolve these complex issues of human relations to the world and to others.

BS: Why did you choose to work in the medium(s) that you use?

JZ: I think that is a common question for painters these days, and an issue that painters constantly confront. Painting isn’t just paint on canvas anymore; it is a way of thought and can be stretched rather far. I, though, have a romanticized relationship with traditional easel painting, and find value in the hand of the artist. There is also something about oil painting and the engagement with the brush and mark making that I find myself always lusting for. I can’t really describe it. All I know is I can’t imagine it any other way.

BS: What is your studio like? Can you go into detail about your studio routine? Do you work in silence-- listen to music? What is it like to be in the studio of JenMarie Zeleznak?

JZ: My studio is pretty organized. I like to have space to work and move around to step back and see what I am painting. Sometimes I listen to music, sometimes I work in silence. I find them both to be inspiring. Some of my favorite music to paint to would be instrumental rock such as This Will Destroy You, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mono…and bands of the like. I feel like much of that music deals with the element of a certain aura I want my work to have. Sometimes the studio can be pretty intimidating.
I try to be in the studio as much as possible, so when I’m not painting I’m usually reading or having studio visits and vice versa. I’m not one to start many paintings at once. I usually just have one I am working on, so that I am solely focused and immersed in it.

BS: What are you working on at this time?

JZ: Right now I am very excited. I am just finishing up a body of work which I haven’t necessarily decided a name for, but it deals with relationships, the idea of loss and having to let go of lingering feelings for another. It was a very personal series that I am ready to move on from.

I am just about to start a new body of work dealing with existential issues. I have been reading much Camus, Sartre, and Nietzsche. I am very influenced by their ideas, and am very excited to start this body of work.

BS: Do you have an upcoming exhibit? Where can our readers view your work?

JZ: Yes. I will be exhibiting in a select group show locally in Cleveland, Ohio. Your readers can find out more about that here, Also, my latest news will definitely be posted on my website
Please Tell Me Everything Is Going To Be Okay, 2007, oil on canvas, 48x48"

BS: JenMarie, the Internet is changing how we discover and view art. In your opinion, how have sites like empowered artists?

JZ: At first I was skeptical about viewing art on the internet. I have stumbled upon some wonderful work, especially on myartspace, which is what impelled me to join the site myself. I think myartspace is a great resource in sharing and discovering new work. I think the idea that galleries can seek you out by browsing sites like this or that you can submit work now via the internet to renowned exhibitions is exciting and convenient. I’m not sure what that all means, but I think it’s deemed appropriate at this day and age though I do believe reproductions lack a lot in terms of viewing work. I know my pieces lose a lot when viewed online. There is a tactility that is missing or won’t be able to be comprehended as I would like it to be, but I guess you have to sacrifice some things to get your work out there. I wouldn’t have known half of the art world newly emerging artists existed if I hadn’t had seen their work via the internet, so I guess I shouldn’t been complaining. Thanks for the opportunity.

BS: What are your thought on the meshing of painting and technology-- the addition of digital images or monitors upon a canvas-- works that combine the traditional methods of painting with the technology of today? Paintings on photographs, on monitors, or enhanced with computer programs-- or done entirely on the computer --are they dangerous territory for a painter and for the study of painting in general? Or are you open to that form of exploration? Should a painting be a painting... or can a painting be something that goes beyond the traditional materials and definitions of what a painting can and should be? Can painting, as a whole, be stretched so far beyond tradition that it damages the validity of painters from the past and present... while obstructing a true study of painting in the future? What say you?

JZ: I believe that painting can be stretched beyond its traditional materials, though I very much believe in the idea of the hand of the artist. You can’t deny technology, and in some instances other materials might be a better solution to conveying your ideas. I think it’s an issue painter’s deal with everyday in this contemporary art world. I think a lot is said through paint that other mediums cannot live up to. Painting is sensual, romantic, and emotional. And I think through other methods of creating, work like mine might be read as satirical or insincere, though I think these issues are relevant to painters today.

How is one to make a sincere painting without riding the lines of satirizing sincerity? I still deal with these contemporary issues today, and believe I will for quite some time, as any artist would. Even in my school today, the school is changing to where they are abandoning classical training towards a more theoretical view of art. These theories aren’t just art related but also revolve around philosophical thought, which is why I believe the artist as philosopher is important. We are taught that the discipline of painting can be stretched, but to what end? That is why I believe to take on a role as philosopher is of such contemporary significance. To explore philosophical ideas through painting and to participate in that dialogue is a way to stay involved with contemporary society, while still maintaining your presence as a painter. It’s a tough but exhilarating position to be in, as well as a tough question to have an answer to.

BS: You've mentioned how you deal with certain themes within the context of your work-- do those themes cause a form of symbolism to emerge? For example, your use of black gesso-- would you say that is a symbol? Do certain colors or movements of the brush upon the surface represent aspects of a selected theme in a symbolic manner? Or is that something you discover after you put the brush down, so to speak?

JZ: I do believe symbolism plays an important role in my paintings. These symbols, though, might be somewhat abstracted to the viewer, which leaves room for thought. I’d have to say the overall impending theme would be the idea of death. Some might take that to its literal translation, while others might understand death as the absence of life, death as departing from this life, death as a personification, or death as a time at which something ends. Just as the grave structure found in my paintings; I am using representational form to signify an idea which can be abstracted into something other than its literal connotation.

Metaphors are implied as a consequence of considering the relationships between the formal structures and the subject matter of a work of art by analyzing the form-content relationships. The form within the space is created with the idea of a termination point, not necessarily for a human being. As a metaphor, the grave-like structure functions as a void; simultaneously suggesting death beyond its literal implication by alluding to a time at which something ends.

My paintings function allegorically by abstracting the idea of death through the use of the grave-like structure suggesting the finality of loss just as an actual grave would. I think the black gesso functions in the same way; as this heavy-hearted void on an easel before I even start painting. As I paint, I am painting inwardly, as opposed to my works from 2006 which is very textural, tactile, and paint is literally hanging off the canvas. These recent works are painted into the canvas; into the void.

I'm Sorry I Wish Things Could Have Been Different, 2007, oil on canvas, 48x48"

BS: Your work is obviously very personal for you. Philosophically speaking, when you sell a piece do you feel as if a part of you leaves with it... or the pain that you dealt with in the work leaves with it? Do you ever feel regret about a painting that you know longer can touch? Or would you say that you view it like a book, each painting is a page and when a 'page' leaves you it gives the new 'reader' a chance to gain insight into their own life-- the memory of the message is still there... is that all you need?

JZ: I think you hit it right on the nose with the latter statement. I am very emotionally attached to my works. As works sell, they leave my possession, but the memory of the reason I made the work and the making of the work itself never leaves me. As I mentioned, I have a show coming up in January, and I am interested to see how the work is received, and if some paintings sell, what that persons story is and how they perceive the painting.
I believe everyone can see a little bit of themselves in the works, seeing as loss and death are so universal. We all experience loss in our everyday lives whether we deny it or not. Most won’t dwell on loss, while others reminisce to its fullest extent. The human condition allows us to realize our existence and the inevitable emotions we will experience through the journey of life, love, death, and loss.

BS: Finally, what are your goals as an artist? What do you hope to accomplish with your work?

JZ: I find a strange lack in emotive work in contemporary painting. Maybe I’m completely mistaken but, I find most tending to dismiss involving or discussing their emotions when it comes to art. I think many of us in this technologically advanced society have grown cold to the idea that sincerity and honest emotions still exist and seem to engage with ironic or satirical works of art because that seems to be how things are perceived.
I just hope to stay engaged with what I value in painting whether the art scene or life decides to go the other way. I hope to stay true to myself as a painter and set out to move and evoke emotion on others through my sharing of personal experiences of what much of humanity experiences every day— the sense of loss, despair, and hopelessness—even if we don’t share the same memory.
You can learn more about JenMarie Zeleznak by visiting her website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Art Space Talk: Franck Benoualid

Franck Benoualid was born in Toulouse, France. Inspired by the work of the classic Masters, Benoualid has developed his own voice, which combines elements of abstract and figurative methods. Benoualid blends color and line to create a sense of tension within his paintings. His focus on the human form reveals the essence of the human condition as seen through his eyes. On a side note, Franck and I experienced a language barrier during this interview-- forgive my rough translation.

Brian Sherwin: Franck, tell us about your educational background. Do you have formal training in art? If so, who were your instructors and how did they influence you?

Frank Benoualid: I have never followed any training. I am a self-educated person. I taught myself "cooking "!

BS: Franck, tell us about your early artistic influences and experiences. When did you decide to pursue art?

FB: I began painting by challenge. I wanted to be able to hang something on my walls other than posters. I began in 88' and since that time I have not stopped!

I discovered the pictorial world with Picasso. It gave me the desire to know more about the world of painting. I therefore began to watch and to feel. Emotions felt in front of a painting are disturbing. I am very sensitive and affected by Pollock, Bacon , Rembrandt, Vinci or Caravaggio and De la Tour. The work of the light impresses me tremendously and especially the potency which has a work to jostle you or to turn you.

I began with abstraction. This allowed me to acquire my own technique. I am crossed between these methods, they play bit parts in the etude of the nude under all its forms. I still do not succeed in stopping the subject. I love to work on the human figure. For me, it is so powerful that you have all in one. And in contrary, one in all

BS: Franck, with that said, how would you say that your work has advanced since that time?

FB: My work has evolved during these years, but the thread remains constant. I always work on expression and represent the human. The beginning was more conventional and more reassuring with a strong reference to classics standards of the aesthetic. In the last few years, I work by searching for what is neither enticing nor reassuring in the figure. I explore the ways which badly put us at ease. All her distortions which frighten us and that our culture condemns.

BS: Franck, can you go into detail about your artistic process?

FB: I begin with sketches and drafts. I search on paper a lot. Then, it is a question of validating an idea and working it on a cloth, it is there that technology is taken into account. I begin with a game of mattering material and then work atop the face. At this moment everything is possible, by the succession of numerous coats and by the games of drying, I can be allowed to be surprising and leave in a direction drastically different from the idea that I had in the beginning .
We can say that I have a good time canalizing or trying to control the chance. Gesture and traits are important, they reassure me. I cannot say that I know that a picture is ever finished. For me we do not finish a picture. I have to decide to stop working on a picture and to accept it.
BS: Franck, how does current world events influence your work? Is your work shaped by politics or social issues?

FB: I do not paint with a militant step. I do not know if events of our world influence me. But I am sensitive to the state of the soul of our humanity. It is violent and soft, strong and weak, it is nice and ugly, cruel, unfair, with laughs, tears....It is without compromise. Life is not a long quiet river, but at the same time we are definitely happy on the water...

BS: Do you have a certain philosophy concerning your work? Does that way of thinking motivate you?

FB: There is no philosophy behind my work. Besides, I do not work, I am delighted to create. In fact, my step is very egoist. I cannot pretend to show a way or issue a message... it would be so haughty! I am only shaping feelings that live in me, that fill me or that upset me. I restore a small end of my course, my resentment at the given instant, and it balances me
BS: Franck, why did you choose to work in the medium(s) that you use?

FB: I began painting in oil, and I am fast crossed to acrylic for questions of time of drying and effects of material.

BS: Franck, what is your studio like? Do you follow a routine? Is it an important aspect of your process?

FB: My workshop is annexed to my home. It is my shelter, my bubble. Sometimes very organized, lined up and often taking the pace of a battlefield. I do not pass a day without treading underfoot in it, for 5 minutes or for many hours in silence or in music-- Blues, Jazz, Rock...etc...

BS: Speaking of your studio, what are you working on at this time?

FB: At present, I have no individual theme. I am always focused on human feeling and its distortion. Some people say that it is disturbing and it is not made to dissatisfy me. In fact, I well like to "jostle " and to "cause " reactions in viewers . A manner of putting people in the presence of feelings which upsets them-- to cross the barrier of the superficial and arrive at the core.
BS: Franck, are you involved with any upcoming exhibits? Where can our readers view your work?

FB: I have no plans for exhibiting for the time being. However, people can see my art in Montreal at MX Gallery, in London and in Paris at Opera Gallery.

BS: In your opinion, what are some of the problems facing artists today? Do you have any concerns about the state of the art world?

FB: The problems that face artists today are numerous. This is possibly not linked to their work, but in the modes of broadcasting of their work. It is more and more rare to meet a gallerist worthy of the name that works in collaboration with you. Today far too much gallerist fail to respect the act of creation, inside self-importance becomes unbearable. You need look no further than how they present you. We artists become a marketing product. A gallerist does not take risk, we have to be lucrative for them.
BS: Franck, it seems that many artists are starting to represent themselves Online. The Internet is changing how we discover and view art. It offers artists, no matter what their background, the chance to carve out their own destiny. In your opinion, how have sites like empowered artists in this manner?

FB: The Internet is revolutionary for the artist of today. The whole world view and the broadcasting of jobs and art is without borders. The links and contact with artists that is generated by the net becomes warm-hearted. It is a veritable force to what is necessary for artists to take into account today. The grouping of artists on sites like Myartspace is fundamental because it is grace to artists that the "community" weaves links and ideas so that perhaps one day they will all become independent in the way they are represented.

BS: Finally, what are your goals as an artist? What do you hope to accomplish with your work?

FB: My goal is to have the least possible pressure to remain the most free that I possibly can be in my artistic expression. I want to remain true. Thank you very much.
You can learn more about Franck Benoualid by visiting his website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Art Space Talk: Dejan Kaludjerovic

Dejan Kaludjerovic received his MFA from the Academy of Fine Arts of Belgrade in 2004, he also studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York and at the Academy of Applied Arts, Vienna, in Erwin Wurm's class. Dejan's work often deals with how the mass media, fueled by Western influence, can manipulate individuals and groups into altering their cultural landscape-- changes that often have negative results. He is currently based in Vienna.

Love & Rockets / from the series Can I Change My Career for a Little Fun? / from the cycle The Future Belongs to Us I, 2007, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 160 cm

Brian Sherwin: Dejan, tell us about your educational background. Do you have formal training in art? If so, who were your instructors?

Dejan Kaludjerovic: Yes I have a formal training in art. In 1993 -94 I was studying part time at the SVA NYC. From 1994-96 was studying at Applied art Academy in Belgrade and from 1996 – 2004 I was studying at Fine Art Academy where I obtained my BFA and MFA (my professors were Cedomir Vasic and Mileta Prodanovic). Also I had one-year specialization at Viennese Angewandte Akademie with Professor Erwin Wurm as my mentor.

BS: What can you tell us about your early artistic influences and experiences? At what point did you know that you wanted to study art?

DK: Already as a little boy I was very creative. I wanted to try lots of things; imitating, singing, acting… Being very emphatic as a person I started to get interested in social sphere of society and when I was eleven years old I decided I would like to be a painter. I chose my high school according to that but I also attended courses in painting after school.
Bite a Carrot, Bunny! / from the cycle The Future Belongs To Us I, 2004, acrylic on canvas, 220 x 180 cm

BS: With that said, how has your work advanced since those early years?

DK: With education my work progressed in several ways. Getting formal training in the field of arts I could address my ideas with more ease. Knowledge about contemporary art helped to develop my concepts, but I have to make a special emphasis on the social sphere that influenced my work greatly. Growing up during the tearing up of former Yugoslavia, I experienced some extreme situations that influenced my work and me as a person in consequence. Growing up in Belgrade in the 80’s was also a very important influence on me and my work, as at that time a lot of things were happening in music, contemporary theatre, art, films, etc.

At that time Belgrade was a place where most important art and cultural events from east and west side of the world were presented and that made a great impact on my formative years. Afterwards I experienced the breakdown of the socialist system and later moved to the West, where I experienced all of the prejudices aimed towards people coming from Yugoslavia. This is a very important question/problem for me.

Through my own experience of the Western world’s looking on other parts of the globe, I as a person, but also as an artist, have gotten an intimate knowledge about the construct of how the West sees Yugoslavia is based on a very superficial knowledge and an hypocritical wish to help "others" only by adapting them to itself.

Miss60/ from the series Can I Change My Career for a Little Fun?
/ from the cycle The Future Belongs To Us I, 2007, acrylic on canvas, 160 x 160 cm

BS: Dejan, can you go into detail about your artistic process? How do you begin a piece? When do you know that a piece is finished?

DK: Most of my work is based on images taken from the mass media, mostly photographs published in magazines. For my working process selection of photographic material is crucial and it is done in several stages. The selected images are than arranged and rearranged in a computer program and merged with images taken from cartoon frames (these is related to paintings I have been doing for the last 2 years).
The painting is in some way already preconceived even before I start to paint it, as the sketch is done with the help of the computer program. From these small sketches I make a big sketch on paper that is the size of the canvas format. To get the wanted effect of the industrial looking painting, I transfer the sketch to the canvas with the help of the indigo paper.
I feel that painting is a way of intimate, intellectual, emotive communication between me and the canvas. When the conversation ends – but it does not end in a raw way and everything that needed to be said has been said - than I know that the painting is finished.

BS: Dejan, how does current world events influence your work? In other words, how does contemporary life impact your creative practice?

DK: On one level my work is not directly related to current world events. It is not my intention to bring daily events into my work. What I am interested in is relationships between people, individual and mass, how mass thinks and works – therefore I would say that contemporary life does influence my creative practice, but not directly via daily political or economical events but more the essence that can be read or understood from it. In that framework I am especially interested in patterns of behavior and questions of responsibility.

BS: Can you tell us more about the philosophy behind your art?

DK: In my work I deal with questions of responsibility, moral (especially emphasizing the problem of a double-faced moral or hypocrisy), truth, love, manipulation, the dichotomies of visible vs. invisible / hidden vs. revealed / natural vs. unnatural / spontaneous vs. constructed / past vs. present.

Since my earliest works, I have been dealing with the problematic of the mass media communication by using the techniques of drawing, painting, photography, print and video. The theme that occupies me is the problem of the exploit of children and the image of a child for commercial purposes.

My intention is to make one think through the process of increased awareness of the existence of the devious development of the collective consciousness and the patterns of behavior, which in the present time, more than ever, are intensified through violence, confrontation or war. The phenomenon of violence and fear also interests me as well as the relation of the society towards these categories. (What is particularly interesting and horrific at the same time is that violence and fear became a need and a form of entertainment.)

Since 2004 I have been working on a project called Europoly – The European Union Identity Trading Game. Europoly in its unique way deals with the problematic of the present day European identity, possible tensions (e.g. social, cultural, moral, and philosophical) between the two categories of „EU" and „non EU".

BS: Why did you choose to work in the mediums that you use?

DK: My concepts are transformed through various mediums, but the basis for it, is always a drawing or a photograph. I always use mediums according to the concepts of my works. Different concepts are chosen according to the best possible way to transfer it to the viewer/user.

BS: Dejan, what is your studio like? Can you go into detail about your studio routine?

DK: My studio is vast, with lost of light. In it there is a sofa, large table, lots of books and magazines, Internet connection and music. Sometimes I listen to music; sometimes I even dance in the course of painting, because many times I am really happy when painting, but on the other hand sometimes I feel in a very contemplative state and work in silence.

BS: What are you working on at this time?

DK: At this time I am working on my new video work, finishing the pre-production stage; and as this is the first art work that I am doing together with my new gallery from Ljubljana, I am quite happy about it. The work is quite complex. Because It is dependent on several factors how the result is going to be and for me this is very exciting. In the video my idea is to have a child (ideally 8-10 years old) singing a specific song "Je suis malade" originally sang by an adult performer Dalida expressing everlasting issues of longing, woman in love, woman in pain caused by love, woman disappointed, woman rejected…

Also I was invited by the Austrian embassy in Holland to produce my work Europoly as a portable game version and distribute it through schools in Netherlands. I am very happy about it because this work of mine is socially and politically engaged; it talks about the "new European identity" trying to enlighten the invisible people among us i.e. the immigrants. Its aim is to enter into most intimate spaces of families but also – as in this case – into educational system. For those reasons I am adapting this art project of mine into a German version.

Besides that of course I am also working on my new paintings and drawings, which will continue to explore the questions that I am involved with.

BS: What can you tell us about your recent exhibits? Where can our readers view your work? Also, do you have anything planned for 2008?

DK: Two months ago I’ve had a very important solo exhibition in the Salon of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade which I am very satisfied with and in this year also two solo exhibitions in Istanbul and Vienna. Because of that now is the time for me to reflect on all the previous activities and exhibitions, but that is very hard. I have just returned from Linz, where I participated at a group exhibition dealing with questions of collective and individual memories.
In January a painting of mine which was bought for the permanent collection of the City of Belgrade will be exhibited. Besides that I am having two important solo exhibitions – one of them in May in Ljubljana (Gallery Ganes Pratt) and the other one at the end of 2008 in Berlin (Gallery Blickensdorff). A preview of my work can also be seen on my webpage

BS: In your opinion, what are some of the problems facing artists today?

DK: As I see it the art world today is so interwoven with corporate capital and because of that things are strictly controlled. We live in a time of total political correctness and there is no freedom in art, but maybe that is the way it always has been.
Keine Angst vor kleinen Tieren / from the series The Future Belongs To Us III, 2004, stills from video installation, duration 66 min, loop

BS: Dejan, the internet is changing how we discover and view art. Many artists have stated that personal websites and networking sites have allowed them to represent themselves without the help of others. In your opinion, how have sites like empowered artists?

DK: I do not think that sites like have empowered artists, but they did provide a possibility for exchanging contacts and meeting people so that they can communicate and cooperate in a global world.

BS: Finally, what are your goals as an artist? What do you hope to accomplish with your work?

DK: My goal as an artist is to keep doing just what I am doing for the rest of my life. In the first place I would like to surprise myself and because of that I hope for my art and I as an artist too keep changing. I also hope to achieve a stage where I will be able to have bigger and better production possibilities so that I will be able to realize my ideas and concepts as I see them fit.

With my work I want to intrigue the public to get them to think about some things that they maybe did not think before and on the other hand to make them a bit ashamed. With my work I try to problematize the notion of just one possible way of viewing and understanding an image, and this is one of the reasons why I am making paintings or videos.
In everyday surroundings we are not aware of the ideologies that are embedded into the images and we understand images as self-evident. When they are put into different contexts – namely the context of contemporary art – we view and understand them in a different way as our attention is oriented solely towards them.
You can learn more about Dejan Kaludjerovic by visiting his You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin