Thursday, May 29, 2008

Art Space Talk: Yeni Mao

Yeni Mao was born in 1971 in Guelph, Canada to Chinese parents. His childhood was spent in the U.S., Sweden, and Taiwan. Currently, he lives and works in New York City. He holds a BFA from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago, and studied bronze casting at Artworks Foundry in Berkeley, CA. He works in painting, drawing, sculpture and installation.

The assembly of images and/or objects, frequently referencing the body and mechanical diagrams, characterizes his work. Natural properties such as mimicry, symmetry, and adaptation are used to investigate larger social issues of extradition, migration, and sexual and cultural hybridism.

Yeni Mao’s work has been exhibited extensively in the U.S. and Asia. Currently his work is featured in SEWN, a traveling exhibition of Chilean and Chinese artists at the Yihaodi International Artbase in Beijing and East Asia Contemporary in Shanghai. His work has also been featured at the Pulse Art Fair.

Once Upon a Time in China 01, Acrylic and pencil on mylar 36² x 24.5², 2007

Brian Sherwin: Yeni, you studied at the Artworks Foundry in Berkeley, Ca... and earned a BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in Chicago, IL. Can you tell us about those years of study? Did you have any influential instructors?

Yeni Mao: The head of the foundry department at SAIC, Carolyn Ottmers, was an incredible influence, not so much in my work, but on how to exist as an artist. Besides the excitement and pyromania of casting metal, her being a woman was important. The departments tended to stick to the stereotypes of what an artist was according to their medium, the sculpture department was full of bearded grunting art jocks. She broke that institutional convention, being a woman in metal casting, so to me she was a star.
After I graduated, I was still doing a lot of painting, but I wanted to continue making sculpture. The only way I could continue to cast bronze on an art school graduate’s income was to actually work in a foundry, that’s when I went to California to Artworks. I learned a lot there, craft takes time to absorb, something often forgotten in the white-collar world of art.
Cluster 02, paper collage, 14² x 17², 2008

BS: Yeni, you were born in Canada to Chinese parents. Your childhood was spent in Sweden, Taiwan, and the United States. How did those early years influence the direction of the work you create today? How did those travels-- and the memory of those travels-- help to guide you in your artistic journey?

YM: Coming up, I was always seen as being from a different culture than that I was immersed in, no matter where I was. These early personal feelings changed, as I got older, into awareness of the political circumstances causing the displacement. There’s been a lot of emphasis on globalism lately, but it’s really been around for a long time. Blocks of people have moved around the world as long as Man has clustered into societies. This kind of exposure developed the world’s cultures into what they are today, though the sources may be lost or confused. And any current strife separates, destroys, and creates new ethnicity's and creeds as it’s done in the past. I think we forget this when we choose to identify in a binary manner, with one camp or the other.
So, this awareness became a large part of my work. I came to realize that conflict made all our histories, that the term "authentic" was in fact a farce. I hate the term "world view", but do think it is an essential part of any artists work. As the art world becomes more and more cross-cultural, it also becomes more nationalistic.
Enlightenment Model, rope, masonry blocks, farmhousedimensions variable, 2007

BS: Yeni, you work in painting, drawing, sculpture and installation. How does one method of expression influence the other? For example, do you learn more about drawing by sculpting... more about sculpting by painting and visa versa? Do you view the use of these mediums as an educational whole, so to speak? Or do you view each individually? In other words, do you have a favored medium?

YM: I don’t have a favorite medium. They definitely inform each other, and come from the same source, an "educational whole". My sculptures I think of more as objects, they’re meant to interact with the viewer, if only in theory, not as pedestal pieces per se. I enjoy the reality of the sculptures, their actuality in real space. This makes them simpler, while still retaining all their content.
2d work, in general, is more about illusion or description, mine follows a more traditional structure of character, scene or portrait. The content is more laid out. The unlimited possibilities of illusion in painting or drawing helps to drive 3d work; but the objects and installation are refined in a manner not possible with a painting, because of the limitations of existing in real space, with gravity and materiality.

Vascular Morphology 01, acrylic on canvas, 2 panels, 40² x 30² ea., 2007

BS: Yeni, you have stated that the assembly of images and/or objects, frequently referencing the body and mechanical diagrams, characterizes your work. You have went on to say that natural properties such as mimicry, symmetry, and adaptation are used to investigate larger social issues of extradition, migration, and sexual and cultural hybridism. Can you go into further detail about the thoughts and philosophy behind your work? Do you adhere to a certain philosophy?

YM: My work is a cohesive body that is working towards one central thematic philosophy. "Working towards" the key, that’s what really drives me to do work in the first place. Basically, I think that our bodies and our nations (American, Gay, Black, whatever) act in the same way, that political and social changes are ruled by the same principles as biological changes. These are pretty rich ingredients, and each of the works or series of works are a particular sort of investigation into this parallel.
Interanal 03, Stainless Steel, Braided hose, 2² x 33², 2007

BS: Can you go into further detail about the social implications of your art?

YM: I actually don’t think my art has social implications, not because I don’t think I address social issues, but because Art is too insular and narcissistic to have social implications. It’s arrogant for the art world to think it’s not. Once art has social implications it’s called media, design, or therapy. I’m sure somebody will take me down for that, but I think having social impact is taking an active role, like feeding the homeless, recycling your pizza box, or taking down a dictator.

BS: What about your process? How do these works come into being? Is there an intuitive aspect regarding their creation?

YM: I’m pretty ruled by intuition, but it’s a balance. The cerebral part comes in to translate for my mind, pushing abstract thoughts into some sort of coherence. It’s a non-literal language. I start out knowing what I want to do, how I want to react to something, but it changes as soon as it starts forming in reality- I constantly have to pull the work back towards my intention. That dialogue is good for me.
There’s a Bad Brains album called "I Against I", and that term pretty much pins it for me. Again, it’s the "working towards’ that’s the key- current work is built on the work before it, and is guided by a chronic obsession with reconciling the disparate images I’m interested in.

System 03, pencil on mylar 24² x 36², 2006

BS: What is the specific message you strive to convey to those who view your art? Is there a message you would like viewers to find... or do you desire that viewers discover a message for themselves through your art?

YM: I’m not going to tell someone what they should take from my work, but I do think it’s a richer experience to either find out what my intentions are, or look at other work of mine for context. What I do want to stay away from is literalness. It’s preachy and corny. If there was a literal message or explanation for every work, then I would have written it. And I’m not that great at writing.

BS: Yeni, what are you working on at this time? Do you have any upcoming exhibits?

YM: I just finished some great collages, and am continuing on the series of paintings inspired by absence of identity. I keep my website pretty updated. Artware Editions is releasing the Chukar Chandelier I did with them, and there will be an accompanying exhibit this summer.

untitled, pencil on mylar, 11² x 17², 2006

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

YM: My art rules.

You can learn more about Yeni Mao by visiting his website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Art Space Talk: David Stromeyer

Throughout David Stromeyer's long career, he has created both outdoor and indoor sculptures, and has also successfully completed many public commissions. David's preferred medium is steel, which he most often fashions into large scale abstract or semi-abstract works. David's work can be found in the collections at DeCordova Museum, National Building Museum, and the National Museum of America Art. His work is also included in several private and corporate collections throughout the United States.

Three, Three, Three, 24' x 14' x 20', painted steel, 2002

Brian Sherwin: David, I read that you fell in love with sculpture as an art major at Dartmouth College. Can you recall your academic years? Who were your mentors during that time?

David Stromeyer: Actually, I started college as a math major, but soon found myself at the other end of campus in the studio art area. I had always been a maker of things—always wanted a bigger erector set. Dartmouth had an active visiting artist program. Donald Judd was there I assisted Jason Seley one semester, and made a film about Richard Anuszkiewicz.
Remembrance, 15' x 16' x 13', painted steel, 1988. Herbert Johnson Museum, Cornell University

BS: I've read that you originally were interested in film. At what point did you decide to focus on your sculptures?

DS: While at Dartmouth as an undergraduate, I worked equally in film and sculpture. Once I dealt with the draft (in was Vietnam time) I went to graduate school in film at UCLA. After working in independent film, writing and trying to sell feature ideas, I decided that I wanted more control of the outcome, and did not want to spend a large percentage of my life selling myself. At that point (I was in Boston) I got on my bike and rode across Canada to think it all over. It was after returning that I bought the farm in Vermont and devoted myself to sculpture.

BS: Early in your career you found a particular resonance with the sculptures of David Smith, Di Suvero, and Noguchi, and you have stated that you have always admired Matisse, Avery, Rothko, and Diebenkorn for their color control and compositional wit. Can you discuss these influences further? Are these influences still rooted in your process? Perhaps you could share some influences that have not been mentioned?

DS: I certainly still respect the work of the above mentioned artists, though I cannot say they or anybody for that matter influences me to a large extent. I try to keep my eyes and mind open to all art expressions be they in music, dance, or the visual arts. That said, when thinking about color for new sculpture, I often thumb through books by the above mentioned painters. Avery in particular, still amazes me with the choice of color he juxtaposes with another. Other artists whose work I particularly admire are Tony Cragg, Richard Long, Martin Puryear, Richard Serra (more recent work). I have been reading, visiting and thinking a lot recently about contemporary architecture of late.
Fractured Rock C, 4 x 29 x 24 inches, cast resin, 2006

BS: David, throughout your career you have created indoor and outdoor sculptures, and have also successfully completed many public commissions. When it comes to how your sculptures are displayed... do you prefer one space over the other? In other words, do you enjoy indoor displays more than outdoor? Also, would you say that the environment the sculpture is displayed in becomes a part of the work itself?

DS: I believe I am very sensitive and attuned to the natural world. Living in the northern Vermont for nearly 40 years has allowed me to experience my work in a rural setting in a wide variety of seasons and weather conditions. I have thought a great deal how people move through and interact with surfaces and sound and light variations within the spaces they encounter. To be able to explore these spatial considerations I need to create spaces though which people can move. This dictates that the work be of a size that more comfortably lives outside. While I have worked with existing rooms, plaza spaces and other architectural spaces, I suppose I prefer the neutrality of a "clean" outdoor space.

The small works have always been a set of works exploring an idea or a particular spatial problem (sort of a collection of personal essays if you will). I this case I usually work on several pieces nearly simultaneously moving from one to the other and back again.
Tool de Force, 13' x 17' x 18', painted steel, 1983. National Building Museum, Washington, DC

BS: David, I understand that your preferred medium is steel, which you most often fashion into large scale abstract or semi-abstract works. You have stated in the past that "Steel can be fantastically expressive." Can you go into further detail about that?

DS: I have worked with and feel relatively comfortable with wood, concrete, and resins, but always return to steel. I get and idea, explore that idea in a 3D model, and then consider what is the most appropriate material. Of course, I suppose that most of the ideas I get are driven by what I know can be express in steel. When I first started working with steel I was very reverent to the given shape, be it a plane, beam, tube, or what have you. But later I wanted to push the material, explore its plastic, and structural possibilities.
I have use cranes in very unorthodox (and unapproved) ways to bend, shape, and crush steel. Years ago I developed a technique of literally shooting multi-ton boulders out of the air to use their impact energy to form my material. I introduced color/s to either play with one another, create an overall mood, unify or break up the structure.

BS: While steel is your preferred medium you are known to employ other materials-- including concrete and feathers. What is the challenge of working with different materials on a single piece? In your opinion, what are some the more difficult materials to work with? Do you see that challenge as a part of your process?

DS: In the course of my work as a photographer for major east coast museums, I photographed many sculptural renderings of the human head. This led me to creating a series of my own. In the course of this exploration I used materials as diverse as bits of mirrors, bee’s wax, thread, leather, bones, burlap, tar, a floor mop, a cooking wok, a tree burl, etc. My approach is always one of having a "dialogue" with the material. The conversation might go:

Me: "If I were to bend you and attach you over here next to so and so, would you be happy?"

The material: "Yeah, but don’t bend me quite so much, O.K?"…

Me: "Got it, O.K."…
Banded Rock, 9' x 9' x 12', painted steel, 2005

BS: When we think of sculptures we often think of them as an object viewed at a distance. However, with many of your sculptures viewers are able to-- in a sense --be in the sculpture. They are able walk under it, every angle is open for their exploration.What do you enjoy about that type of interaction?

DS: While I mentioned earlier that I like Martin Puryear’s work. His concerns seem totally different in that he is containing and hence creating a often unseen interior space. I want my work to stand elegantly and engagingly in the distance, but I am really interested in the exact point on approach to the work that it envelopes you. Now you must perceive it kinetically—your eyes are much use. Listen to how the sound reaching your ears has changed. Are you in a cool shadowed space?
Most of us live and work in rectilinear boxes—how limiting and unexciting. How would our experience be different if the ceiling sloped down just slightly, or if it swooped and and twisted at the same time, for example. I rely very heavily on my gut for evaluation during my in-studio fabrication decisions. I constantly ask myself if this or that relationship "feels right", and trust my response totally.
Child's Dream, 12' x 13' x 35', concrete, 2002. Stromeyer Home, Austin, TX

BS: Another interesting aspect about your larger pieces is that adults often take on a child-like playful nature when viewing them and interacting with them. Is that reaction something that you strive for? Is it your goal for adults to-- if only for a moment --to forget the concerns of the day as they become one with your vision?

DS: I don’t exactly strive for it, but at the same time it’s a fine and valid response. I have found that people’s exact response is impossible to predict. Two nights ago while getting ready for bed here in Austin, I heard strange noises coming from our sculpture space next door. Upon investigation I found two women singing to each other through a long pipe (part of a sculpture) at nearly midnight. While at times I can be very serious, intense and driven, I am also very playful. This finds its way into the work and most people do seem to take a way this quality. I do want to engage the viewer in some way.

BS: David, can you discuss the creation of some of your more recent work? I understand that you design and fabricate all of your work. You do not rely on assistants. Would you say that makes your work more personal compared to someone who utilizes outside help?

DS: We are in the process of updating my website to show many of the latest pieces. I have used outside fabricators for some limited work if I feel they are able to get the results I want in a faster less laborious way than I can. But once I have the elements, I always handle their coming together. This is the most critical part; where the work can be made or broken. I insist at this point on the freedom to make adjustments and alterations.

Finding good help has been very challenging. I have tried locally, and I have imported art school graduates. They often either have divergent agendas or simply wear out. That said, I do have one friend/ fellow artist/ assistant, Brian O’Neill, who has helped me off an on over many years.
Southwest Sunset, 6" x 21" x 25", 1984. National Museum of American Art, Washington, DC

BS: You have also utilized painting methods within the context of your work, correct? Perhaps you could tell us about that. Do you continue to explore those methods with your work?

DS: Yes, I hit a bit on painting earlier. I am always after the most suitable colors and application techniques to ensure a long life for the works. I see the sculptures as having an aspect of 3 D painting. At the same time, because the works are big, often going in public spaces, and will some day have to be re-painted by a non-artist. I do not get too "painterly" when treating the surface. David Smith did at times, and we all know the troubles that caused. At the other end of the spectrum, Richard Serra, I think, limits the experience by restricting his works to unpainted corten.

BS: What are you working on at this time? Also, can you tell us a few places where our readers can view your work in person? Are you open to studio visits?

DS: My last completed public project was sited in late October in Overland Park KS (just south of Kansas City). I am currently evaluating several models which I developed over the winter in Austin for possible fabrication this summer in Vermont. Throughout my career I have continued to create large scale work regardless of whether on a commission or not.

I have works at Cornell University, Swarthmore College, Manchester CT Community College, SUNY Plattsburg. The DeCordova, Delaware, National Building Museums have works. There are pieces in Miami, L.A., Cheyenne, Charlotte, Bethesda, among other cities and sites.

Yes, my wife and I welcome interested visitors particularly to our Vermont farm. There are about forty pieces spread over five large meadows. We can be contacted at: for information or to arrange a visit.
Turn for the Better, 19' x 28' x 37', painted steel, 1987. Worcester County Jail, MA
BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or sculpting in general?

DS: It is my hope that we as a nation will stop making war, cherish culture and start to understand that when we speak of "our environment" that concept should include everything from clean water, to respect for other creatures, to beautiful design.

Before the 9-11 attack I had started a multi-media sculpture critical of the Bush administration. I suspended work for awhile to allow the country to heal. I finished the work entitled "Mission Accomplished" a few years ago and would be glad to share images with interested readers on their request. [Once before in my career I focused my frustration on a political figure, Alexander Haig. That time with a museum installation which spoke to both his military and diplomatic sides.]
You can learn more about David Stromeyer by visiting his website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

Monday, May 26, 2008

Art Space Talk: Dana Mueller

Dana Mueller is the second place finalist of the Next Perspective photography competition. The Next Perspective competition was sponsored by myartspace and HotShoe International. The winners of the competition-- Laura Pannack, Dana Mueller, and Rebecca Greenberg --were selected by the contest jury which included Henry Horenstein from the Rhode Island School of Design, Dr. Juliet Hacking from Sotheby's Institute of Art in London and Clare Freestone from the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Born in 1971, Dana Mueller grew up and lived in Thueringia, East Germany until the fall of the Berlin Wall. She immigrated to the United States in 1993. At the age of 25 she started studies in photography at Oxford Brookes University in Oxford, UK and in 1998 at the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University. Mueller has held an adjunct faculty position at the Art Institute of Boston since 2001. In 2007 she received her Master of Fine Arts in Photography at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, where she has studied with Barbara Bosworth, Frank Gohlke, David Hilliard, Laura McPhee, and Abelardo Morell. Mueller teaching assisted Nick Nixon in 2007 and assisted in publishing the documentary book "Inherit the Land" by Jack Lueders-Booth (2005 Pond Press).

She is the recipient of a 2008 Faculty Development Grant and the 2007 St. Botolph Club Foundation Grant. Her work has been shown in exhibitions at the Photographic Resource Center of Boston, The Art Institute of Boston, Boston, MA, the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston, MA, the Barrett Art Center, Poughkeepsie, NY, North East Space Time Exhibition, New Haven, CT, among others. Her work is part of the permanent collections at the Boston Public Library and the International Institute of Boston.

Mueller frequently travels and photographs in Europe, South America, and the United States and currently resides in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Fruchtländer (Fruitlands), Ayer, Massachusetts 2006 Silver gelatin print and burned print of German fields. 19th Century painter Caspar David Friedrich symbolic landscapes were part of a German idealism that had an affinity for nature, especially its wild and mysterious aspects, and melancholic, and melodramatic subjects. Skies, storms, mist, ruins, scattered tracks bore witness to the manifestation of the divine in nature. Later, German Nazis appropriated the notion of the symbolic landscape and directly tied German land and its forests to German identity.

Brian Sherwin: Dana, you were raised in Thueringia, East Germany. Your family remained there until the fall of the Berlin Wall. You immigrated to the United States in 1993. Can you discuss those early years and how they influenced you as an artist?

Dana Mueller: The work every artist creates comes from a certain belief system and such is shaped throughout the duration of one’s life. Our childhood greatly affects how we relate to the world socially, culturally, politically and psychologically. So every circumstance that we face, resist or embrace informs our choices in life as well as in art and so, yes, where I come from has always influenced me as an individual and the work I do.

Besides of growing up in East Germany, which has its own political and social context, I grew up in a village. The landscape and nature made a deep impression on me. Memories are also colored by the stories of my grandparents whose experiences especially before, during and after the war, marked me emotionally and mentally. In school we were taught about the wars, but our involvement as Germans were always politicized and simplified. It was only through my grandmother that I learned about the individual lives of people during that time.

Those human experiences stood in direct contrast to the politicized and official rendering of that time, especially in the history books of East Germany. So, early on, I knew there was a ‘hidden’ complexity to our history and the state-shaped collective memory was different. As a child I did not understand, but I sensed it. Only after the unification of Germany and also after later leaving my country did I achieve a kind of distance that led me to re-investigate and understand.

My current work Heimat-Land Narratives or On Memory takes me to landscapes where Germans have lived, worked, killed, died and survived within that context of human history. In particular I visited German POW camps in Massachusetts and New Hampshire where German prisoners of war were stationed and worked the fields for local farmers. How ironic that these German soldiers picked apples, tilled fields, and harvested crops for the American enemy. The banality of such work stands in complete contrast to the horrific actions by Nazis and German soldiers in Eastern Europe at that time. As an example, I would refer to Hitler’s Torched Earth Policy, where Germans marching towards Russia burned and destroyed the fields and villages. And when I photograph these landscapes I try to visually evoke these contrasts.
Apfelpflücker (apple picker), Middlesex County, Massachusetts 2006. Toward the end of the war Hitler ordered to form a special penal unit (Strafbataillon) composed of German dissidents and prisoners. The 999th Penal Division was sent to fight in Rommel's African Corps. While in Rommel's army many of the 999th disserted and surrendered to the Americans. It became known as one of the largest surrenders in military history, as over 150,000 men were taken prisoners and shipped to the Normandy and the US. One of the camps was at Ft. Devens, Massachusetts, where they picked apples and worked the fields for local farmers.

BS: You studied photography at Oxford Brookes University and at the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University. You earned an MFA in photography at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Tell us about your academic years. Did you have any influential instructors?

DM: At Oxford Brookes University I took my first photography class, which was called Thinking Photography, a theoretical class where we looked at Cindy Sherman, Robert Mapplethorpe (who had a retrospective at the time in London) and Jo Spence. For someone who knew little about the history of the medium--what a way to get introduced. Each one of these artists, for better or worse, were controversial and in ways wonderfully provocative and it made me realize that there was tremendous diversity and possibility within the medium to express oneself, which I wanted to embrace.
After Oxford Brookes I seriously wanted to study photography and enrolled into the Art Institute of Boston. There, I would argue, I became a photographer. I soaked it all up and to this day my most important professor and mentor, Bonnell Robinson, pushed and challenged me, always expecting the highest of standards from each one of us, besides sharing her inexhaustible knowledge of photography’s history and process, and the arts. She has been an immense influence on so many students there. Support goes a long way and the entire photography faculty at AIB has been incredibly supportive, including Christopher James, Jack Booth and Jane Tuckerman.
Another kind of memorable experience I had was when I was teaching assistant for Morten Krogvold, a Norwegian photographer, at the Maine Photographic Workshops. He is an artist who lives and breathes what he does. A force of nature to be reckoned with. Fascinating to hear him speak about his own work as well as that of others. To this day I remember his lecture on Edvard Munch and also Bergman’s Cries and Whispers.

During graduate school I was fortunate enough to study with photographers Laura McPhee, David Hilliard, Abe Morell, Frank Gohlke and Nick Nixon. Each one of them I got to know as extremely committed photographers, wonderfully intelligent and who are active and successful in what they are doing. I found in them integrity, authenticity and at the same time modesty in regards to who they are as artists—a combination I find to be rare these days. I was lucky.
Aussichtsturm (lookout tower), Horseneck Beach, Massachusetts 2006. German submarines were spotted along the American coast. Admiral Karl Donitz, the commander of Germany’s U-boat fleet began attacking merchant shipping from Maine to Florida. Termed Paukenschlag (drum roll), Donitz called the operation "Happy Time."

BS: I understand that you also have experience teaching. You have held an adjunct faculty position at the Art Institute of Boston. How do you find balance between teaching and creating your own work? I've interviewed several instructors and they often mention that it can be difficult to find balance...

DM: There is never enough time to do work when teaching, because I live from my teaching. The time really to photograph is during the summers. I don’t find that to be a problem, because the teaching somehow always informs you as a photographer and once I have a good amount of time to photograph I get completely immersed and it does eventually enter the classroom where my photography informs the teaching. So, the two can go hand in hand once one has committed oneself to both professions. But, it is hard to leave it behind during the teaching year, I start to itch and miss it terribly.

BS: It is my understanding that you travel often-- having photographed throughout Europe, South America, and the United States. How have those travels influenced your work?

DM: Well, we Germans travel a lot. To the dismay of some...

But on a serious note, those travels for me are both personal and photographically inspired. Especially significant are the various landscapes that Germans inhabited, sometimes imposing themselves through conquest and other times finding exile. I would like to return to South America and travel to Argentina and Chile at some point. As you probably know, there were substantial waves of German immigrants during and after the Second World War. Erich Honecker, the former East German president, and his wife sought refuge in Chile during the fall of 1989.

The investigation of one’s national identity is not only local--contained within its own borders—the diaspora has global implications as well.
Theresienstadt (Terezin), Bohemia, Czech Republic 2005. Swimming pool for German Nazi guards and their families beyond the walls of the Terezin concentration camp. The families of the German officers who ran the concentration camps were living just outside the camps, where they schooled, fed and entertained their children.

BS: Tell us about the thoughts behind your work. For example, is there a specific message that you strive to convey to viewers? What are your goals as a photographer?

DM: There is no answer or message other than that the work is a constant investigation and questioning, especially of German identity. Trying to understand what happens is, I think, a fundamental instinct in us humans. Also, our relationship to the land and how we construct the meaning of a landscape and its importance in forming national identity. I want to share this inquiry with my audience.

BS: What are you working on at this time?

DM: I will be traveling to Italy and Croatia by the end of May where I will continue my landscape work. I also want to return to another chapter of my earlier work by going to places where German writer W.G. Sebald traveled. Later on in the year I also will travel to Texas and New Mexico to photograph former German POW camps, or what’s left of them. It will be interesting to compare and contrast these various landscapes.
Apfelobstgarten (apple orchard), Ayer, Massachusetts 2006. As the Germans marched East the entire urban population was to be exterminated by starvation, the fields and houses were burned.

BS: Do you have an emotional connection to your work? Or are you more connected to the process? Is the finished photograph nothing more than a reflection of the process that interested you... or is it the unification of that process and the emotion, methods, and techniques that you utilized?

DM: The connection to the work is all that combined. Process-wise you need to know what your choices are and be able to apply them to the work. Conceptually you need to be connected to what it is you are trying to discuss, that means knowing your subject. Your technique and method are always informed by the content and concept. The medium of photography lends itself so fittingly to the discussion of memory, history and identity.

A photograph it is a moment in time—a document of something that truly existed.
But that moment has passed as soon as you take the photograph. John Berger and Roland Barthes so brilliantly have written about this. It’s a little death. And in time that truth shifts, and we start to romanticize that reality. We feel nostalgic about the past. The image becomes an abstraction of something that existed.

The same is true with memory or history. With time, the experiences we remember become increasingly inaccessible. History in a way is an archive of loss. So when I photograph, I know that those experiences and meanings might already be lost, but to me the quest for understanding is why I photograph.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the goals that you have?

DM: Thank you for inquiring about my work!

You can learn more about Dana Mueller by visiting her website-- Dana is a member of the community. You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Art Space Talk: Jeff Koegel

Jeff Koegel's paintings appear to mesh aspects of contemporary western architecture with the Japanese wabi-sabi aesthetic of impermanence and imperfection-- infused with a counter-culture edge. His landscapes have no boundaries in that they are mapped out by his own imagination. These worlds, a reflection of our own, are open to interpretation. Jeff has exhibited in the United States and Europe. His work has been displayed at Scope London and Scope LA.

Penthouse, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 72 in., 2007

Brian Sherwin: Jeff, can you recall your years as a student? I understand that you graduated from Cal State Fullerton's School of Visual Arts in 1985. What was the program like at that time? Did you have any influential instructors? What is your opinion about the academic study of art?

Jeff Koegel: I started as an architecture major at Cal Poly Pomona. I realized that I was most interested in two-dimensional work - drawing, symbols, information design - and I was lured by work being done in Europe by designers like Neville Brody and Peter Saville, so I moved into graphic design. My studies were an important part of growing up for me.
The work was more idea and message oriented than skills oriented, even though I did a great deal of drawing (there were no computers used in design at the time). Something of significance that I came away with was an awareness of how imagery has worked through history and continues, increasingly, to effect the way we interpret ourselves and the world.
Truce, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 70 in., 2006

BS: What about other influences? Are you influenced by any specific artists or art movements? Are you influenced by music? Tell us about your influences and why they have made an impact of your art...

JK: I've always responded strongly to music. As a teenager in the late seventies I felt alienated by the music that permeated everything - corporate rock and disco, both of which seemed to be products created for middle-aged people by middle-aged record and entertainment executives. When I discovered underground music (Clash, Pistols, Velvet Underground, Iggy) that a few college radio stations were playing, it was a powerful message to me - that there are people who use their imagination and refuse to be limited by convention, and they have something to say that is actually relevant to me.
Nobody that I knew was listening to this music, in fact it was scorned by almost everyone. Then came a wave of powerfully original bands playing in LA - Black Flag, Minutemen, Germs - and in my neighborhood a good scene cropped up with bands like Adolescents, Social Distortion, Agent Orange, to name a few - creating an island of like-minded kids which became my circle of friends. The music had nothing to do with the mainstream, except to question it, and It didn't exist for a market. It existed for the creators and their friends.
Some of the best visual art to come out the scene was done by Gee Vaucher, who created a whole visual identity around an anarchist band from England called Crass, but my favorite work came from LA's Raymond Pettibon, who created all the art for his brother's band, Black Flag, and continues today producing work appreciated on a world-class level, still clearly retaining a connection to his early roots.

While I'm inspired by music, and while music can also be very visual, I don't think it really influences the appearance of my work. The music that inspires me, be it punk, jazz, reggae, etc. is almost universally iconoclastic, and what I take from it is the importance of staying true to what is authentic in me, rather than conforming, as artists can feel pressured to do, to follow an expected path in their development, or to make work based on what they think the market wants.

It might seem like a contradiction, compared to the raw aesthetic in music that I described, that some of my favorite visual art is the highly controlled and calibrated work of Ellsworth Kelly, Kenneth Noland, and the early work of Frank Stella. But I see a connection, as what hits me about this work is its intensity and sensuality, and way it broke away from the status quo.
While my work isn't non-objective, the language of this work is embedded in the architecture of my images. The light and space installations of James Turrell interest me in many of the same ways, but with the added dimension of how he draws attention to the thing that you are perceiving is being assembled inside your head.
As a model for ongoing innovation and originality, Ed Ruscha has made a big impression on me. His presentation of the American landscape and it's intersection with language, along with experimentation with materials (gun powder, pepto-bismol, etc.) defies categorization and sets him apart.
Deadbeat Mandala, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 72 in., 2007

BS: Jeff, would you mind telling us about your art in general? For example, what are the social implications of your art? Is there a message that you strive to convey to the viewer? I've read that some viewers discover an environmental message within the context of your work... is that your intent? What are your intentions?

JK: A message may come through to the viewer, but I try to keep an open end to my images so that I'm not dictating what to see or think. We all project our own meaning into pictures, so I think it's important that I keep something about the image incomplete or contradictory for the viewer to act upon. It's this interaction between the viewer and unknown factor in the image that gives the work life and potential to change over time.

The imagery in my work centers around our relationship with the landscape. It's about us and our source. As art's oldest subject, this relationship continues to evolve, and is especially significant in this time of great change. So even though it is not my intent to make paintings expounding an ecological message, it naturally comes out. After all, I am exploring ideas about people, our curiosity, our shaping of nature, our being shaped by nature and the transformations that occur because of it all.
It's important to remember that an image of environmental decay is a metaphor for other things. As I began working with this subject in 2003, and with all the work up to this day, my motivation is always fueled by a sense of wonder, never by dread.
The Mouth of Heaven, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36 in., 2007

BS: Jeff, tell us about your process. How do these paintings come into being? Is your work intuitive or is there structure to your practice-- preliminary drawings for example?

JK: I do a lot of drawing, from my imagination and from reference. I catalog my drawings as raw material along with digital files from my camera and my collection of images from the newspaper and the internet. I also keep a notebook of things that I overhear or mishear in public or on the radio. From this collection, I study relationships between images. The groupings I make form the structure for the beginnings of paintings. Making a painting is a process of building, layer over layer, adding imagery, making connections, etc. I think this is why my images are always architectural, regardless of what's being depicted.
As far as the sequencing of work, I used to work on one painting at a time, with a drawing or two continually in process, so that a linear evolution can be visible. In the body of work I'm currently making, I've been working in groups of 4 or 6, with the idea that as the paintings proceed, a conversation forms between them, and so they influence each other. The idea being that the paintings relate to each other like a family does, as opposed to a more separated, generational relationship.

BS: Tyler Stallings said the following about your work, "Koegel is interested in how the landscape changes, but he does not suggest a cycle of death and rebirth, but rather one of constant change, never able to return to a prior state. Nature’s rules in Koegel’s work are ones of adaptation, metamorphosis, and recombination. Koegel’s imagery suggests that if any story is being told it is that the landscape is part of an organism in a state of entropy." would you like to add to that statement?

JK: The idea that the universe is a singular organism, the body of God if you will, is one that I imagine has probably been contemplated since the beginning of human times. Contained in this idea is the premise that everything and everyone are related and interconnected, an infinite colony. I like this scenario for it's suggestion that the landscape extends into space indefinitely, and then reminds us how small we are in the totality of it all. And yet, because of our development in satellites, GPS, transportation systems and media technologies, we can have a strangely intimate relationship with our planet.
I imagine that it was about the same time that humans started to achieve a little control over their environment (by creating a shelter, damming a river...) that they also created the myth that we were separate from nature. From my perspective, these actions and ideas are merely measures to adapt to an entropic landscape, and are in themselves, nature.
The Shaman's Trash Heap, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36 in., 2007

BS: Jeff, out of the images I have viewed I must say that I enjoyed 'The Shaman's Trash Heap' the most. Would you mind discussing this piece? Tell us about your thoughts behind it.

JK: A shaman is an intermediary between the natural and spiritual world. I think of this particular shaman as one with the power to alter and transform. I want to suggest that the discards from the shaman's labors - an amalgam of flora and fauna, body parts, internal organs, pattern and abstraction - have assembled themselves into a hybrid architectural organism. On one level, the organism may represent a seachange in the human condition on the horizon, or simply a chunk of neglected ecosystem downstream from the genetics lab. At this point, however, it's unclear if the result is friendly.

BS: What are your plans for 2008? Are you working on anything at this time? Will you be involved with any upcoming exhibits?

JK: I've been working on a new body of work since last November. This group of paintings, which will number about 20, will make their debut in the form of a book, which I expect to release this fall.

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

JK: Watch for the new work.

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

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Art Space Talk: Rebecca Greenberg

Rebecca Greenberg is the third place finalist of the Next Perspective photography competition. The Next Perspective competition was sponsored by myartspace and HotShoe International. The winners of the competition-- Laura Pannack, Dana Mueller, and Rebecca Greenberg --were selected by the contest jury which included Henry Horenstein from the Rhode Island School of Design, Dr. Juliet Hacking from Sotheby's Institute of Art in London and Clare Freestone from the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Rebecca Greenberg's collection of photographs was originally presented as her senior project, entitled "Self-Titled". It is a body of work that has come together over the process of four years. Rebecca has stated that the photographs are color images of female-born men and women who are challenging the gender role assigned to them in some way. There are people who identify as women, men, FTM, tranny, boi, butch, and gender queer amongst others. It is in this way that Rebecca's project is self-titled. It is made up of fifteen people who have labeled themselves or not labeled themselves however they feel most comfortable.

Dyke March. 2006

Brian Sherwin: Rebecca, you were born in Connecticut and received a BA in both painting and photography from Bard College. Can you discuss your upbringing as well as your academic years? Did you have any influential instructors?

Rebecca Greenberg: Growing up in suburban Connecticut was somewhat idyllic. It was the kind of place that a lot of people look back on fondly as a nice place to grow up, but have moved on to one extreme or the other: small town or big city. First I went to the small town and now I am sort of living in the big city, staking out space in Brooklyn. I chose Bard College specifically because it was a tiny school in a tiny town. The landscape was beautiful and it was the only school that upon visiting, I knew I would fit in without putting on any sort of performance. I grew up taking art classes and had even studied classical painting from age 12 on, but I still didn't know if I wanted to major in art or not. I now know that Bard was one of the only places I could have fished around in advanced classes to later turn to painting and even later to photography. I didn't take my first picture until I had to get a 35mm for an intro class the first semester of my sophomore year.

I think the community as a whole at Bard influenced my artistic process. Every one on my peers was extremely talented and I was very lucky to be one of the first students in a number of years to be welcomed into both the art and photo departments. To credit a few names Joe Santore taught me how to appreciate paint, color, and light, while Amy Sillman reminded me to look back to my impulses and asked what I drew when it wasn't for class. In the photography department I worked very independently, but found amazing instruction from Stephen Shore, Tim Davis, Larry Fink, and John Pilson.
Phoenix- 2006

BS: You currently reside in Brooklyn, New York. How has that experience influenced you?

RG: Living and working in Brooklyn has allowed me greater access to the community that I was able to find connection with in my photography. I see people all the time that I wish I could photograph. I need to get over my fear of approaching people I don't know.

BS: Rebecca, you have photographed what you describe as color images of female-born men and women who are challenging the gender role assigned to them in some way. The subjects of that series of work are people who identify as women, men, FTM, tranny, boi, butch, and genderqueer amongst others. Can you discuss this series of images and the thoughts behind them? Perhaps you could tell our readers about the process involved in this project?

RG: I started photographing my queer women friends while I was still in school. The pictures are quiet, shy and a little reserved…pretty indicative of my own queer identity at the time. The "Self-Titled" series came out of a real desire to further explore my relationship to the queer community and those people in it who I always felt myself drawn to. I wanted to leave the subject matter open, but found eventually that all the work really focused on the FTM transgender and genderqueer communities. Friends of friends let me work with them and I placed a few ads to look for subjects. I found the most meaningful images the ones of people who let me spend an extended period of time just hanging around their space. I always made sure that they chose the location and that it was important to them.

I was also very interested in my nervousness, their desire to give a certain look on film, and the reversing of these roles throughout the time I spent with each person. Often the best images came during the middle to end of a shoot where I had opened up and the subject had let down their guard. There are a lot of trust issues on both sides of the lens and I am very very fortunate to have been welcomed into so many lives.
Julia- 2006

BS: Do you have an emotional connection to your work? Or are you more connected to the process? Is the finished photograph nothing more than a reflection of the process that interested you... or is it the unification of that process and the emotion, methods, and techniques that you utilized?

RG: I have an extremely emotional connection to my work and to the process of creating images. I genuinely admire and respect each person I worked with. Most are still a part of my life in some way and the images do reflect for me the experience of meeting them, being a voyeur behind the camera, and my self-exploration via image-making. I think the images successfully reflect this process, my eyes watching this person, and the emotion they feel being photographed.

BS: When you are behind the camera do you view yourself as if you are on the outside looking in or in the inside looking out? I suppose this is a philosophical question... do you have a personal philosophy behind your work?

RG: Once again I am going to have to say both. I am a voyeur watching from behind the camera, peeking into someone else's life. At the same time, because I feel such an affinity for the people I photograph and have a connection with them if not in their exact gender-identity, than in my support of their choices, I think I am in a way looking out of many of the pictures. I identify so much and in so many different ways with everyone I work with that I think it is hard not to say I am in each picture and that a different aspect of myself lies in each one.
torch, Marker, acrylic, watercolor, and collage on paper. 2008

BS: Rebecca, you are a painter as well. Based on what I've read about your painting it appears that with some of your work you are interested in the post-apocalyptic visions of humankind-- both the truth and illusion of those concerns. Can you discuss this body of work and the social implications that they convey?

RG: My paintings are constantly evolving in their representations of the actual and imaginary world. The majority of the abstraction comes from things I experience everyday, images I have seen and ideas that people believe will become reality. I think the paintings are a surreal and extreme version of the number of visions people have for the future. Some are even just a more focused look at what is right in front of our eyes.
I see grass growing on the roof of an abandoned concrete building every morning on my way to work. I flip through a National Geographic magazine and notice the concentric shapes made by three mountains in an old black and white photograph. I look on in disgust yet intrigue at the phosphorescent colors of spilled oil at the construction site near my building. Consciously and subconsciously we are constantly taking in so much visual information.
I think my paintings remind you it's there and project what it might be like if everything were chemically altered and only pieces of once elaborate structures were left…disgustingly attractive and forming a new system all together.

BS: What else you can tell our readers about your photographs and paintings?

RG: The only other thing I can say is that both my painting and photographic processes are separate yet equally powerful and necessary. Each feeds a different desire within me needing to be expressed and neither could really work as well without the other. I haven't found a way to combine the work and at this point, am not interested in doing so. It is the distinctness of each that keeps me very balanced.

BS: What about other influences? For example, are you influenced by any specific artists or art movements? Music perhaps?

RG: I feel that I am so influenced by everything around me that it is hard to pin down exact ideas, structures, and systems. I know that I am interested in so many current abstract landscape painters, the rhythm of the city at rush hour, the light just before dark, unnatural colors, historical buildings, isolation, attraction, and my relationship to other people and the world around me.
Dyke March- 2006.

BS: What are you working on at this time?

RG: I am constantly working on both new photographs and new paintings. They are in the same themes as my previous work. It has been a struggle to find the time for both while trying to make a living in New York City, but I think I have been pretty successful at pushing myself to keep going and getting new work out there.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the goals that you have?

RG: It is very validating to receive such positive feedback on my work. Thanks so much.

You can learn more about Rebecca Greenberg by visiting her You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page-- Rebecca is also a member of the community.
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

Friday, May 23, 2008

Art Space Talk: Matthew Arnold

Matthew Arnold graduated from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts in 1996 with a focus of photography, design and offset lithography. He has been working for the past eight years as an Art Director and Photographer for various well-known companies in Boston, New York City, and New Jersey. He has recently begun a new series of landscapes and refined his career to focus on his art and photography.

Brian Sherwin: Matthew, for the last eight years you have been the Art Director and Photographer for various companies in Boston, New York City, and New Jersey. You recently decided to begin a series of landscapes and it is my understanding that you refined your career so that you are able to focus on your personal art and photography. Why did you decide to make this career shift?

Matthew Arnold: My years working as an Art Director (AD) have been very rewarding in many ways, most especially monetarily. It is a very rewarding career. It is creative, interactive, thoughtful and requires a lot of problem solving skills. The main issue for me is that it tends to keep you indoors behind a desk most of the day and on top of that I am not totally fulfilled in being just an AD. I believe I was meant to be a photographer.
Photography is hard but it does come more naturally to me and more fulfilling creatively. I could stop working as an AD tomorrow and be fine with it but if I were to try to not pick up a camera ever again I am sure I would have some sort of mental disturbance. That said, I have not completely stopped doing work as an AD. I doubt I will ever totally stop—economically it is not feasible right now. A career in photography is not easy these days, what with the current photography market saturation and its degrading pay structure throughout the industry. My goal is to gradually move away from being an AD and pursue a career based solely around photography but right now it has to be a combination.

Slowly, though, the transition is happening. I am currently doing more work as a photographer where only last year it was the opposite. My goal as a photographer is two-fold—doing editorial and advertising photography as well as being able to focus my career as a fine art photographer. Right now my fine art work is the focal point of my website and I am using that as my style of working for commercial entities interested in hiring me. I would like to continue to work from that angle—being able to use my vision and style as a fine art photographer in campaigns and editorial work.

BS: You studied at West Surrey College of Art and Design and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Can you discuss those experiences? Did you have any influential instructors?

MA: The School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston was really the place where I grew up as a person and of course as an artist. I went to school with the idea of being a fine art landscape photographer. Once I arrived I thrived in the curriculum of self-determination and discovery. You were able to move through the school at your own pace and discover all sorts of mediums that you may not have had an opportunity previously to involve yourself. In fact, I came from a rural high school in North Carolina without any art program whatsoever so this school was both eye-opening and freeing. My focus was certainly photography but I was able to move into mediums that were related technically such as Graphic Design and Offset Lithography.

The school at that point was heavily weighted towards post-modernism and the photo department was very much the same. My work began to follow that line of thinking and eventually I stopped shooting landscapes and began creating photographs in the studio. The work was very personal but nonetheless left me unfulfilled as an artist. It felt very good to be able to "discuss" personal politics in a visual medium but looking back I believe I lost the ability to see beauty in the world around me. This really is what brought me to photography in the first place. I feel I was a bit lost at that point.

Part way through my studies at the Museum School my girlfriend at the time and I, with the help of Jim Dow, an instructor at the Museum School, organized an exchange program with West Surrey College of Art and Design, just south of London. The idea was that a pair of students would come here and stay with us for a while and then we would travel to Surrey to study there. This program worked out well as we were able to get to know the people we were doing the exchange with and this would allow the group of us to introduce each other to the schools.
Interestingly enough though the pairs just went off traveling. The brits took off on a road trip across the United States and my girlfriend and I jumped on and off the train from London to Athens, Greece photographing people and landscapes the whole journey. The school seemed great but I don't believe we were there long enough to truly get to know it. I do remember having a few critiques with Martin Parr as he was an instructor there at the time. The best part was living amongst the young brits in a good size house warming ourselves in front a coal-burning fireplace.

The only instructor that truly influenced me greatly was Carl Sesto at the Museum School. He taught traditional photography, digital imaging as well as offset lithography. Carl taught the traditional fine print class as well as a zone system course. I believe these were the first classes that I had with him. The black and white darkroom was an oasis for me and technical aspects of the zone system allowed me to hone my skills as a photographer. It also allowed me to get back outside to shoot.
Carl and I just clicked and I was soon working as his teacher's assistant in quite a few of his different classes including running the school's Heidelberg one-color offset press, printing photography books for students at the school. His focus on the traditional as well as not being afraid of new technologies is what defines me as a photographer today. He was also instrumental in varying my interests in different mediums and key to me doing both art direction and photography. We are still in touch today and he is a huge influence on me.

BS: You have stated that your work explores personal movement in "our smaller but more complicated world". You focus on the culture of the tourist and how tourism defines each of our home cultures and the longing for a personal space. Can you go into further detail about the thoughts behind your photography?

MA: I find it fascinating how easy it is to get from point A to point B today. That being said though there is always going to be an awkward and uncomfortable relationship in a new and unknown place. There are language barriers, odd foods, different ways of doing things in those new places. Different people respond to those experiences differently obviously but most people will hold onto their culture and to whatever makes them feel safe without actually experiencing the culture at hand thus building a glass wall of security.
The young traveling in their vibrant band of individuality find comfort in a partying lifestyle of people from other nations experiencing the same cultural divide. The older groups traveling in packs tend to seek the comforts of home in the faraway land. The work is not meant to be critical. I believe that most of us do this and that it may in fact be almost impossible to fully immerse oneself in another culture unless one has a limitless amount of time and money to do so. Unfortunately this mode of travel sometimes does not have the ability to enlighten the traveler if in fact that is what they are after. It could separate the person even more by going home without the feeling of getting outside that wall of glass that was kept in between the traveler and the culture at hand. This can in turn give the traveler a colonialist feeling or a feeling of superiority.

The interest in personal space is pressured from an unending din of chatter, hum of lights and mechanics that pollute our everyday. There are very few places left in the world free from man-made sound or visual distraction of some sort. Even in the jungles of the world one will hear the sounds of man, whether it be the buzz of a chainsaw, the hum of a passing plane overhead or maybe even the lights of an encroaching encampment. Finding solitude or peace in a future of exponential population growth will become the strongest longing in more and more people's lives. The creation of the images for this series is almost like taking the space within the image and sealing it in a can for safekeeping. It is finding an area of time and place and taping a square outline around it claiming it for your own. These images are my spaces. I may not have spent a significant amount of time in some of these physical places but they are now with me and are my own.

BS: What else can you tell us about the social implications of your work?

MA: I don't know that there are social implications to my work. I am just an observer. That is all I intend to be. Capturing people queuing to buy fruits and snacks from a rowboat that pulled up to the edge of a beach in Halong Bay, Vietnam. What makes them feel they have to queue up for that; when other cultures, in fact the culture where they are standing, would possibly just gather around the boat waiting their turn or possibly not. The queue itself on the beach is what fascinates me.

I am not so much interested in the politics of the queue or telling people what is right or wrong. I am interested in showing the queue. It is up to the viewer to decide how to engage the image.

BS: What about other influences? Are you influenced by any specific artists?

MA: You know when I was younger I was afraid to look at other photographer's work. I was concerned that I would unconsciously begin to adopt their style of work. Maybe that happens anyway but it does not bother me any longer. I guess one is drawn to a certain style of work. That style probably has a certain language or base to it and so it becomes your own base and you develop a style that is your own and hopefully differentiates yourself from the others that work in a similar vein.

The people that influence me the most are listed below.

Atget, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Sylvia Plachy, Guy Tillim, Wolfgang Tillmans, David Goldblatt

BS: What are you working on at this time? Can you give our readers some insight into the direction you will go next?

MA: Right now I am really trying to get more commercial work. I am very interested in getting my work into the hands of people that would allow me to take my style of personal work and use it for them in an editorial or advertising context.

I am also putting together a cohesive set of landscapes that look out over a specific line of site. Horizons with direction. It is something I am piecing together.

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

MA: It has made me so happy to create this current work. This is truly the first time that I have felt wholly confident about the work I am creating. Of course we all want to be recognized for the work that we do as well. We all want that gallery show, the online or printed recognition, the patron that wants to hang your art on their wall. I just want to say how difficult it is to be an artist in an environment with so many wonderful artists. The competition is strong. I have given in and stopped working a few times but in the end I can't stop because it makes me feel so good to create it. I just want to thank MyArtSpace for recognizing my work.
You can learn more about Matthew Arnold by visiting his Matthew is a member of the community. You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Art Space Talk: Laura Pannack

Laura Pannack is the first place finalist of the Next Perspective photography competition. The Next Perspective competition was sponsored by myartspace and HotShoe International. The winners of the competition-- Laura Pannack, Dana Mueller, and Rebecca Greenberg --were selected by the contest jury which included Henry Horenstein from the Rhode Island School of Design, Dr. Juliet Hacking from Sotheby's Institute of Art in London and Clare Freestone from the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Laura Pannack has been investigating the world of adolescence and it's complexities with her photography. She has worked with young offenders, pupil referral units, schools (including a special needs school) and many young couples. Exploring issues of identity, conformity, love, perception and confusion she strives to represent her subjects without judging them. Her aim is to raise issues of how we perceive young people and how little we understand about their identity and their world.

Brian Sherwin: Laura, you studied at the University of Brighton and Central Saint Martins. Can you tell us about your academic background? Did you have any influential instructors?

Laura Pannack: Central Saint Martins was where I first discovered photography. During my time on the foundation studies course there, we undertook a section dedicated basic photography. It was the first time I’d ever picked up a 35mm camera and I just instantly fell in love. At Brighton on the BA course, the tutors were great. They all have such a range of different photographic methods that there is no danger of simply conforming to one genre or style of photography. In particular, Paul Reas, Esther Tiechmann, Magalie and Mark Power have been helpful to me during crits but that’s not to say that the other tutors were not supportive.

My greatest influence and mentor has been the photographer, Simon Roberts. I’ve been assisting him for about 2 years. He motivates me, inspires me and supports me. His guidance is and has been invaluable.
BS: Laura, you have stated that photography has been your passion for the past 6 years. Can you discuss those early years? Why did you decide to pursue photography?

LP: Whilst attending Central Saint Martins, I purchased a 35mm Pentax camera from a pawn brokers and took a roll out with me every day in London. I commuted from home everyday, taking over 2 hours each way, so I’d often close my eyes on the tube and get off at random stops and spend a good few hours shooting street photography. I shot at least a roll a day, mostly black and white. I then processed them at university the following day. I’ve still got rolls of unprocessed film under my bed somewhere. It was great.

I could just wander freely on my own around places I’d never been. Sometimes I was drawn back to the same places. I guess I never really questioned if photography was what I wanted to do; it was just natural. The Pentax was just constantly dangling around my neck and there would always be at least two rolls of Ilford 100 in my bag. I also developed a passion for the dark room and processed a lot of my film at home.

Coincidentally, my father is a photographer so I was exposed to the world of photography from a very early age. However it didn’t really occur to me to take it up until studying at Central Saint Martins. I do however have very early memories of tipping trays in his dark room and being amazed how the image slowly revealed itself. I spent a lot of time with him in the darkroom at the bottom of his garden.
BS: You have went on to say that your subjects-- and the experiences you have with your subjects-- are imperative to your process. Can you go into further detail about your process and the need for those connections?

LP: The relationship I have with my subject is vital to the ideas behind my imagery. I aim to spend as much time as possible with my subjects really getting to know them. I was fortunate enough to gain the opportunity to attend a camp organised by people who help to rebuild the lives of young offenders and disaffected youths aged 13 – 18. This was what initially inspired my project. I spent a whole week, camping in the woods with the young people. It was so much fun and I was lucky enough to just hang out with them, document them and see the huge change in all of them as time progressed. I began to realise how misunderstood they were.

I often stay in touch with my subjects and continue to photograph them although this is not always possible but when it is I feel there is a bond between us that allows them to feel comfortable and understand the process of my work. I want my subjects to know I want to photograph them. They are essential in the production of the work and I hope they enjoy the experience. I don’t feel I can honestly portray a subject if there is a lack of trust. I want to get to know who my subjects are. As Rineke Dikstra says: “I can’t photograph anyone or anything that I don’t find interesting.”

BS: Tell us more about the thoughts behind your work. For example, is there a specific message behind your images? Any social implications?

LP: I don’t want my work to give a negative impression in any way. I decided to call this series ‘The untitled’ as I don’t want to label or categorize any of the individuals. Today’s society, particularly the media, has a need to pigeonhole young people. Perhaps this is born out of fear or frustration, but either way I find it negative. I hope my audience can engage with my subjects and share the intimacy I aim to create by engaging in a relationship with them/ my subjects. This may hopefully inspire us to view young people as individuals.

BS: Laura, what can you tell us about your influences? Are you influenced by any specific artists?

LP: As earlier mentioned, Simon (Roberts) is a great influence, not just through his support but I also admire his working methods and enjoy his imagery. I have many influences and the more I learn the more influences I gain. A lot of them are photographers I see in journals and can’t remember off hand but in my early education people like Jeff Wall, Enrique Metindes, James Nachtey, Gregory Crewsdon and Phillip de Locia were a huge influence which you wouldn’t necessarily see from my work.

Richard Renaldi, Sarah Jones, and Hannah Starkey I would say are more recent influences but I am constantly inspired. I love looking at imagery and I am encouraged by even just small details within someone’s work. I would say that the imagery of my peers is also a great inspiration.
BS: What are you working on at this time? Will you be involved with any upcoming exhibits?

LP: I am participating in a few group exhibition in both London and Brighton. Myself and 8 other peers have collaborated and produced a journal for the past three years entitled ‘Bystander’. We hope to continue doing this and will be holding an exhibition for 10 days during the Brighton Photo Fringe in November/ October. We will also be selling the publication at the exhibition. The other exhibitions are in London with the Royal Photographic Society and the D&AD.

I am continuing with this project, especially ‘Young love’. I think we often have quite a pessimistic notion of young relationships and forget that sometimes the simplicity of love at a young age can form the strongest relationships. A relationship, free of worry, responsibility and future plans can ultimately mean one of fun and intimacy. The often perceived naievity can be viewed as a brave invincibility into a sharing of emotions and chance to truly reveal oneself to another individual. Perhaps young people rely on relationships to ease the burden of the frightening time of handling adolescence and all it’s uncertainties; finding support in someone who will not judge but share the experience.

I am also veering away from just working with young people as I don’t want to give the impression that young people are my only subjects. I have and I am enjoying this project but portraiture is my area and I will not limit myself with regards to a subject matter.

BS: Do you have an emotional connection to your work? Or are you more connected to the process? Is the finished photograph nothing more than a reflection of the process that interested you... or is it the unification of that process and the emotion, methods, and techniques that you utilized?

LP: Taking pictures removes me from reality. No matter how exhausted, hungry or distressed I am, as soon as I’m behind the lens and I have an interesting subject, I am happy. Photography is not only my passion but my form of escapism. Saying that, the reason I shoot is to produce imagery that pleases aesthetically and produces an emotional response. Whether it be humour, confusion, empathy or any other emotion I aim to intrigue and engage my audience. I need inspiration to motivate my passion and this is often gained throughout the process as the more I learn about my subjects; the more I find them interesting and desire to photograph them.

BS: When you are behind the camera do you view yourself as if you are on the outside looking in or in the inside looking out? I suppose this is a philosophical question... do you have a personal philosophy behind your work?

LP: It’s strange, as I explained I do enter a different world. Sometimes I do feel I am almost looking down on myself completing the process, removing a persona. But ironically, I feel more at one with myself and connected to the situation than I do with reality. My own physicality diminishes and I am solely consumed by the individual and their existence overrides my own.

I don’t really know if this is the closest I can feel to my subjects or if the very act of photographing and the physical barrier of the camera actually separates me from them and the subject. When I look through the view finder all that matters is what I am seeing and the subjects existence.
BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the goals that you have?
LP: I can see myself doing nothing more than continuing my passion and look forward to learning more. I am still at a very early stage of my career and I am so grateful that I have such a strong level of support and influence. I will soon be moving back to London to further pursue my career as a photographer.
You can learn more about Laura Pannack by doing a search for her name on You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

Monday, May 19, 2008

Art Space Talk: Graham Nicholls

Graham Nicholls is a London based video, installation and new media artist. He is known for his immersive psychological installations and videos. Graham was one of the first artists to explore the possibility of using the Internet for live video streaming and more recently at the forefront of artistic experiments with virtual reality. He is also known for his use of psychology and Neuro-linguistic programming in his interactive works, adding a new level to how installation art is experienced. His video art is a balance of concept and technique, drawing upon filmic photographic and an architectural awareness of space.


Brian Sherwin: Graham, can you tell us about your academic background? Where did you study? Who were your mentors? Perhaps you could tell us about some of your early influences as well?

Graham Nicholls: I left school with no formal qualifications due to the social problems I was encountering and probably due to a lack of expectation academically at the time. My parents both left school at fifteen and most of my friends in my neighborhood had no ambition to go to university, it was seen as a world for the rich or upper class. It was my growing interest in areas such as mysticism, ritual, meditation and the more philosophical sides of religion that opened me up to academic ideas and learning. My awareness of universities and mainstream thought never really grew until after I’d already left school.
When I got to around twenty-one I decided that I would try to get into art school on the strength of my paintings, drawings and photography; as well as the knowledge I had gained through personal study. I spent months working into the early hours of the morning to put together a portfolio. I applied to Central St. Martins in London and was given a place on the foundation course. After that I studied at Middlesex University, also in London, which had a good mix of tutors from the very contemporary to the more traditional. Jon Thompson who had been Damian Hirst’s tutor and had been deeply involved in that generation of British artists also started working there, which pushed everyone to be more professional and conceptually stronger I think.
Apart from the art that was happening around me at the time, film was my major influence. I probably would have focused on film but for the fact that I wanted to draw people into a kind of multi-sensory experience that so far only installation art has touched upon.
As far as artists who have influenced me I think I’ve always been constantly looking and inquiring into new areas, so my influences are always shifting. But my early influences at art school were people like Bill Viola, Christian Boltanski, Ridley Scott, Cindy Sherman, James Turrell, Anish Kapoor and Louise Bourgeois. They would probably be the key ones, some for more stylistic reasons and others in terms of ideas.

BS: Graham, in 1999 you had your first solo show in New York City. You have stated that the show helped to launch you into the international arena. Can you recall that experience?

GN: It was a very exciting time, I think British art was just starting to get attention in the US and the opportunity of showing in a major centre of art encouraged me to look beyond the UK based scene. I think that show resulted in me getting other shows in the US and internationally, as well as selling enough of the photography I’d been working on to allow me some freedom in how I worked. The gallery was also going to be showing the influential filmmaker Jonas Mekas, often referred to as ‘the godfather of avant-garde cinema’, the following month; so getting the opportunity to meet him during my time in NYC was quite inspirational.

BS: Since that time your work has become more and more experimental. Why did you decide to break into new territory with your art?

GN: Well it was the nature of what I was trying to achieve; I wanted people to have an ‘experience’ not just look at an image or be surrounded by sensory stimulus like in a more conventional installation. I wanted to make things more inward, like a meditation. Technology might not seem the obvious choice for this, but in a sense technology can be molded for whatever purpose we choose and that purpose can be a more intimate one if we want it to be. Plus by drawing upon my knowledge of meditation and trance states I felt I could create something unique in terms of an artistic experience.
People would be drawn to come into contact with their own unconscious, to genuinely interact with what I was creating. Epicene, LAM, and the Living Image all used technology and hypnotic techniques inspired by areas such as Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) or guided meditations to have a direct almost visceral impact on the person inside the installation.

BS: Graham, your installations and videos reveal a deep knowledge of psychology. I understand that you have studied psychology extensively. What aspects of the study of psychology do you enjoy most? Do you focus on any specific schools of thought?

GN: Well as a layman the areas that interest me most are the practical tools within ‘psychology’ in its broadest sense. I suppose by psychology I mean exploring the faculties of the mind or consciousness through a range of methods and tools, not strictly the academic field of study. So I have drawn ideas from a range of areas including Milton Eriksson’s work with hypnosis, Transpersonal Psychology and also Richard Bandler and John Grinder’s NLP processes already mentioned. I have also practiced and studied different forms of meditation and visualization techniques.

Another area that has influenced my work would probably be Robert A. Monroe’s Hemi-Sync technology, which uses sound frequencies to cause a change in brain state. Monroe originally devised this system to aid in inducing Out-of-Body Experiences (OBEs), which as I have experienced hundreds of similar occurrences in my life, was what initially caught my attention. Hemi-Sync is now being used for much broader applications such as improving memory and learning.

Virtual Reality similar to the type I used in collaboration with Roma Patel and Trudi Entwistle in the Living Image project has also been used to help patients overcome phobias by allowing a safe environment in which to confront a fear. The Living Image also had elements of this kind of approach as it allowed the participants to go to places that would be too fearful or threatening in normal everyday life.

I am also generally interested in Parapsychology and the work of people like Dean Radin who are interested in psychic or ‘psi’ abilities. I enjoy reading both sides of the proponent and skeptic divide in this area. But so far purely psychological explanations for psi such as conformation bias or magical thinking do not convince me that my own experiences, or those of others have no objective reality. So overall my interests in psychology are focused on the exceptional faculties that we all possess, and how to understand and develop them.

BS: Have you always had a deep interest in the human condition?

GN: Yes, all my work has an underlying focus on some aspect of the human condition, as well as how our lives impact the environment and non-human animals as well. Ethics and morality form a big part of my art and life. I am interested in how we understand and formulate right and wrong, true and false. I suppose my working class background and my personal experiences, both socially and academically, have lead me to question what makes us who we are. The relationship between the individual and the wider world I suppose. That includes our subjective experience, our morality and our politics etc. This way of looking at things lead me to become vegan and try to take much more personal responsibility for my actions.

BS: Can you tell us more about the thoughts behind your art-- what is the message that you strive to convey to viewers? Do you see viewers-- their reactions --as a part of the work?

GN: Oh I most definitely see the viewers reaction as part of the work, it’s a communication for me. I think most artists develop their view of a work as they gain feedback and live with the work for a while. We don’t live in a vacuum, we are constantly influenced, and I think that is part of the message. Many new theories of consciousness are telling us we have no free will, whether that is true or not it is interesting if you take that a step further and consider that we don’t really have individuality either. That idea can be quite scary for people if you take it as a hopeless mechanistic view of life, but it can also be seen in the mystical sense as a dissolution of the sense of self. I suppose I’m trying to convey a sense of turning inward and exploring the self and its boundaries, if they really exist.
design-di-web-- drawing of the installation The Presence

BS: Perhaps you could choose one of your installations and tell us about it?

GN: I’d like to talk about a future project if I may. It continues my work with psychological immersion. Its working title is ‘The Presence’. The main difference with this project to previous projects is that I want to explore the group dynamic. In previous projects I have focused on single participant work, but with The Presence I’m planning it will be a four person experience and will include smell and atmospheric effects, something that wasn’t present in previous work.
Based on my own research I think this will have a powerful psychological impact.
The project will use hypnotic suggestion and subliminal cues as with previous works like Epicene to guide the participants through an experience. The structure of the project will be black glass, because it is both reflective, so people will see their own image when inside it, and it also gives a sense of depth or space. The shape from above is an equal sided cross, this is so each person will be aware of someone else at the other end of the structure. This I have found creates a desire to interact or ‘perform’ in on some level, even if only unconsciously; and increases the likelihood that the person will experience something. I also want to extend the time that people can be in the installation.
In The Living Image for example each individual was limited to around 15 mins; with this project I want to extend that as much as is practical. Overall I hope the result will be an intimate and unique experience. Many people have described my previous projects as deeply emotional or even cathartic; I hope this new project will continue in that vain.
The Living Image

BS: Graham, I understand that you have been writing a book. Can you give our readers some insight into that project?

GN: The book is to do with my personal experiences and the spiritual philosophy they have inspired. It’s a kind of personal journey of discovery beginning in my early childhood and coming right through to the present. However, it’s not simply an autobiography it is also a philosophical perspective, it’s just I have chosen to illustrate why I think the way I do with examples from my own life. I think that gives it a depth that would not be present if I’d just tried to use hard logic. I also want it to reach people emotionally and that is something that is best achieved through an openness and honesty I believe.

BS: Aside from what you have mentioned already... have you been working on anything else?

GN: As well as the new immersive project just mentioned, I’m also working on a documentary that explores contemporary forms of spirituality. I want to look at lesser talked about aspects of religion and spirituality, for example, the people that work to better society through aid or humanitarian work as a result of their religion or ethical position. I think this is an important element of spiritual traditions that is often overlooked.
I have been extremely critical of religion for most of my life, but I believe that position became more balanced as a result of personally becoming more involved in humanitarian organisations. The assumptions that are often repeated about religion, like it causes all the wars etc., seems such a limited view. We’ve all heard that claim at some point, but for me that kind of reasoning is far too simplistic and bordering on prejudice.
I think we can be critical of the actions of some religious groups and seek to rationally examine their beliefs, but I don’t feel it’s helpful to try and blame one particular ideology or culture for the ills of society, we all know where that leads. Even the recent efforts of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens etc., seems to have contributed to Islamophobia in the UK at least. The film I envision will try and show a more contemporary view of spirituality that deals with the subject as the complex and diverse issue it is.

BS: Where can our readers view your work in person? Will you be involved with any upcoming exhibits?

GN: Sadly at present my time is taken up by working on my book and the new work I’m developing. But I am going to be giving a lecture in London on June 20th. It will be more related to my spiritual/psychical ideas than my art, but for anyone interested in this side of what I do that would be a good why of finding out more.


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

GN: I think we have covered the important areas; if anyone wants to ask any questions they can contact me via my website:
You can learn more about Graham Nicholls by visiting his website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin