My first solo show opens this friday

Ross Simonini

Quartering Myself
October 2 - November 15, 2014
Opening Reception: Thursday, October 2, 5-8pm

Shoot The Lobster Luxembourg is pleased to present Quartering Myself, an exhibition by Ross Simonini, on view from October 2 – November 15, 2014.

 “I quarter myself to unlearn lopsided handedness–the sensation of the body's purposeful energy directed down a single appendage, into a single hand, between a thumb and forefinger and onto the tip of a bristle. I'm stopping the imbalanced, repetitive stress. Instead, the marks on these works speak for the full,
bilateral, four-limbed body. 

Favored unihandedness is excellent for the muscular control of handwriting, and it's true that most humans tend toward sidedness (a preference for one vertical half of the body over the other) but the other limbs also have contributions to make. Painting with a brush held between the hallux and long toe, for instance, produces a softer, fluffier mark, without the defined, refined intention of the right hand. Pedal muscles contain the skill of locomotion–not communication, not draughtsmanship–and I try to exercise them well.

I begin from an open athletic position: readied, relaxed, knees gently bent, eyes aimed forward. With my right hand, I make an arm-reach mark in the upper right quadrant. Without shifting position, I mark with the left hand in upper left quadrant, then the right foot, then the left foot–a reverse clockwise direction. I make four marks, in this manner, with a different color, on each day until the painting is complete. Could take 2 days, could take 23, could take 96. In fact, each of these periods of time is represented in Quartering Myself.”

-Ross Simonini

“A human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and peaceful mind and never to allow passion or a transitory desire to disturb his tranquility. I do not think that the pursuit of knowledge is an exception to this rule. If the study to which you apply yourself has a tendency to weaken your affections and to destroy your taste for these simple pleasures, in which no alloy can possibly mix, then that study is certainly unlawful, that is to say, not befitting the human mind.” - Frankenstein

Devotional Spaces opens this Friday at Ventana 244 Gallery in Williamsburg

244 N 6th St, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Friday, March 28th 6-8pm

My profile of artist, Darren Bader for Interview Magazine

A mere two months before the Whitney deadline, 35-year-old artist Darren Bader doesn't know what he's making for the Biennial. In the time he's had to consider his project, much of the museum's exhibiting spaces have been snatched up by other artists. Mostly all that remains is a secondary, off-site location or an ephemeral, nonmaterial approach—two options well suited to the Connecticut-born artist's relentlessly alternative approach to his craft. "It certainly is a valid approach to be chosen for a prestigious show and participate in no conspicuous way," Bader says. "But for the Biennial, I would like to make something."

Bader's work is created using unfettered, unstructured methods, with freedom going to all variables of his productions. They are often liberally described as sculpture. In his 2012 show at MoMA PS1, he exhibited live kittens up for adoption, and one of them was adopted under the title cat made out of crabmeat. The artwork, he says, is "taking the title at face value and believing in the inner workings of an otherwise superficial entity." In 2013 at Art Basel Miami, he showed more than a dozen copies of Villette, the 1853 novel by Charlotte Brontë. "That was just a placeholder," he says. "The piece is anywhere between two and 18,000 copies of that edition of the book. The collector is encouraged to collect up to 18,000 copies and keep them on hand."

Bader's productions also involve writing, artist books, and video, which he considers the germ for his pieces. His first artistic ambition was to be a film director, and he made videos composed of long takes of objects both inert and in motion. Eventually, he stopped looking through the lens and saw objects as sculpture, allowing everything in his environment to be material for his art. "Anything you can think about as a finite, packable entity is sculpture," he explains.

Bader has the kind of panoramic, definition-bending sensibility that characterized Marcel Duchamp, Gabriel Orozco, and more recently, Tino Sehgal. Bader's 2012 book,Life as a Readymade, is a manifesto-like text on this approach ("an open letter to anyone who considers himself [sic] an artist") and includes phrases such as "Art is a state of mind and experience understood by any number of people at any number of moments." At times, the reaction to this wild open-mindedness can only be laughter—not the goofy, out-loud kind, but the private lung spasms that cough up after a curious, misunderstood, maybe all-too-telling joke.

My profile of artist, Emily Sundblad for Interview magazine

For the Whitney Biennial, co-curator Michelle Grabner asked painter, gallerist, and musician Emily Sundblad to contribute a video. Grabner considered the medium a way to allow the multidisciplined, curatorial-minded artist to be "responsible for her own narrative construction." Born in Sweden in 1977, Sundblad has had a hand in the Whitney Biennial once before. In 2006, she created a series of awnings with John Kelsey and Jutta Koether. Together the artists (and others) function as Reena Spaulings, an art collective and gallery located in Chinatown that exhibits one of the most consistently unpredictable and satisfying programs in New York. "I still consider the gallery the most important work I do in the sense of society and history," Sundblad says. As an artist in her own right, Sundblad is known for her vibrant paintings—especially of flowers, which she describes as "a good empty subject." Her approach is that of a Sunday painter—humble and modest, using oil, pastel, gouache, and watercolor in "a simple impulse to record everyday life." As a musician, Sundblad sings with a dulcet, violin-like tone and works in traditions she considers populist: country, punk, torch songs, and British folk music. Often, the songs are covers of well-known classics (she does a sweetly lugubrious version of "Love Hurts") and are performed in galleries and museums.

Sundblad's video for the Biennial isn't going to undermine the sense of the artist's presence, which informs so much of her other projects. As of now, she's planning a streaming broadcast of a musical performance to be included in the Whitney galleries. This transmitted form, she says, "frees up performing so that it's both public and private at the same time. It's why people go crazy on Instagram and Vine, because there's the sense of a private freedom of expression, even though it's a public act." Her previous foray into streaming live video was for a show in August 2013 at Artists Space. In the middle of the night, from her mother's home in rural Sweden, Sundblad Skyped herself playing hymnals on the piano as two collaborators across the ocean performed with her at the gallery in real time. "It made me realize that, through social media, there's a potential to access a spirituality in performance," she says, "which might be harder to do in front of an audience or in a gallery." As refreshingly optimistic as her view of technology is, she also speaks longingly of the time before screens, when people drew pictures and played instruments as a part of daily life. That, for her, remains one of the primary pleasures of art. "Daily drawing like that—it's still a good tool," she says. "It's good for human beings." 

My profile of Kevin Beasley for Interview magazine

The 28-year-old, Virginia-born Kevin Beasley is an artist-in-residence at The Studio Museum in Harlem. One of the requirements of the year-long program is that he work in his assigned studio space for a minimum of 20 hours a week – a number far below his usual, self-imposed quota. Over the course of his residency, Beasley’s temporary space has become a tossed salad of rubber, resin, boxes of cassette tapes, and antique audio equipment, materials that correspond to the two fundamental threads of his recent work: sculpture and sound.

As a sculptor, Beasley tends to make artifacts of the culture that surrounds him. He ties old, shredded T-shirts into compact bundles; he smears tar; he pours liquid foam into makeshift molds, fashioned from shoes to arrive at elegant, vase-like forms. Beasley carries these collected pieces – a trash-can liner, for example – around for years until they’re worn from age and handling. For a short time, he forwent having a physical studio space and making sculpture, but his practice eventually returned to his accretion of art materials – including a cumbrous cotton-gin motor that he hauled from Alabama – all of which now fill a storage unit he rents in Connecticut. “It’s really hard for me to totally abandon something,” he says, “unless it’s completely spent. And by then it’s probably a sculpture.” Beasley is also a longtime musician – most often a drummer – and his sound art emerged from a quasi-sculptural interest in the physical materiality of analog tape and reel-to-reel players. Last year he performed in the MoMA’s atrium as a kind of DJ, remixing and screwing a cappella tracks by deceased rappers (including Guru, ODB, Eazy-E, Biggie Smalls) into a menacing sonic soup he titled I Want My Spot Back.


For the Biennial, Beasley plans to conflate his two practices, creating sculptures from concrete and fabric, each with a microphone buried within, so as to capture what he calls the object’s “internal architecture.” As of now, the idea is that, over a week, the objects will be scattered through the Whitney’s ground-floor gallery, and the microphones will remain live, continually amplifying the room’s vibrations through haunting delays and humming reverbs. “It’s supposed to just echo presence in that building,” Beasley explains, “so that when people are there, they’re listening to a filtered version of their own presence in the space.” Three times during this installation, the artist will step into the space and perform – literally inserting himself into the work, which makes sense for a man who is in a near-constant state of production. “Making art is like shaking something out of your system,” he says. “It’s like the flu. You have all these symptoms, and some go away and some come back. For me, making work is survival, and afterward, I feel good.”

My drawing at Dodge gallery

Hanging between the amazing artists, John Wesley and Brian Belott as a part of the Age of Small Things curated by Chuck Webster.

My essay on Peter Sutherland for his Printed Matter book, Sender

Walk toward Peter Sutherland's studio off of Canal Street and be greeted by a constellation of logos: Adidas, North Face, I HEART NYC, Puma, Starbucks, Chanel, each with a singularly stylized font you can recognize without even reading. This street is the aorta of American symbology. 

Walk a bit further and find sunglasses, memorabilia, posters, lava lamps, lighters, all of them wrapped in an iconic image. These are fetish objects. Kids love this stuff.  Save up forty bucks and order patches and buttons. Band logos, rebellious slogans, celtic insignia that looks vaguely menacing. Stitch them on your backpack and jacket and shoes. Make a skin that can be worn proudly. With this, you can project any cultural identity you like. 

Start off with one subculture in junior high - metal, say. Become a completist. Acquire some of the apt logos: Metallica, Slayer, zombies, skulls, Napalm Death. Get a little older, start smoking weed, add a Jamaican flag, a cannabis leaf, a stock image of Bob Marley. Go a few more years, get deep into mountain biking culture, and emblazon some of your favorite bike companies between the Marley and Slayer. They can all coexist on the backpack.

Like hieroglyphs, each logo is packed with information. They reveal subcultures, ethos, tolerances, intolerances, regionalistic loyalties. Grateful Dead plus Stussy plus Nirvana forms a sentence, a paragraph, a story, and yet, no matter how many you layer up, you can always boil them all down to youth.

In youth culture, coolness is currency. If a kid is able to decode the vast vocabulary of coolness, to truly read the truth in these logos, they can eventually develop what adults call taste, and if they go far enough with taste, to the point where it stops being cool and starts becoming a uncomfortable obsession that consumes more of their time than is healthy, then they are approaching artisthood.  

Robert Irwin took this path, arriving to art after a youth spent deep in car culture: shining, waxing, glossing, tricking out, cruising hot rods around the sunny Los Angeles streets where he was raised. For him, this was cool, and once he became sensitive to every swoop and spoiler and rim, he learned that what he was looking at was, for him, art. Once he'd put enough work into these cars, he developed an ownership that surpassed normal car ownership. He'd appropriated the car. 

Peter Sutherland took this path, too. As a snowboarding youth, the board was his car. When inactive, it leaned in the corner of his room or hung on the wall, and over time, he loaded it up with stickers, markings, collage. He looked at it, fiddled with the arrangement until he saw the board become art. He noticed how other boards looked, how they made it their own. He thought about it more than he should. He developed art eyes.

Peter went the next step, making his own stickers, cutting them up, changing up the designs in photoshop. He mashed up and subverted existing icons, not to assassinate them, but to love them. He toyed with the sparks that happen when meanings rub against each other, even if he wasn't particularly thinking about them that way. 

Eventually the board disappeared, but the stickers continue. They became wall sized, and Peter pulled them from signs - big, sheets of sticky, perforated mesh, the kind that clings to drugstore windows, printed with loud advertisements. Instead of collaging them beside each other, he could lay them on top of each other and marry them into a superimposed image. 

He picked up his camera and he saw logos through the camera, which is to say, he saw icons, which is to say, he saw culture through images. A mountain was outdoors culture. The A-frame house was ski culture. An air freshener was a low rider. The fire was bohemian. The wave was a surfer. The Baha was a hippie. He printed the photos on stickers and they became logos. 

He traveled the world, shooting photos throughout the word and in his travels, he noticed these logos were no longer floating, abstract ideas - suburban playthings - but real, raw objects, struggling in the world. A brand name in the middle of the Himalayas. A statue of Buddha in Boulder, Colorado. A 7-11 in Iceland. The icons still existed but they were no longer legible. The space between them and their culture grew. They looked fuzzy and obfuscated. The meaning they once contained had leaked away. Out there in the world they weren't symbols for anything, just some things to behold.  

I wrote a thing about Sarah Lucas for the New York Times Style Magazine

Fried eggs. Cucumbers. Lawn furniture. These objects are among those that make up the basic vocabulary of the artist Sarah Lucas, a sculptor and photographer who became well-known in the early ’90s for her raunchy visual jokes: a toilet made of cigarettes, a chicken dangling between a man’s legs. Lucas, a member of the famed Y.B.A.’s, describes her sculptures as characters — gendered caricatures that place her firmly in the lineage of artists with similar sexual fixations, from the surrealists to the Viennese Actionists. Her clusters of soft breasts made from pantyhose recall Eva Hesse and Giuseppe Arcimboldo, while her phallic vegetables have a direct relationship with the work of Louise Bourgeois and Tetsumi Kudo. The provocateur’s upcoming show at the 
Gladstone Gallery in Chelsea will feature some of the sculptures she showed at the 55th Venice Biennale. Each one is cast in smooth bronze, a shockingly permanent medium for an artist whose work looks as ephemeral as a naughty dream.

Read it HERE

I interviewed the philosopher and writer, Lars Iyer

for the Organist on KCRW. We discussed living morally on the internet, the art of the dialogue, Plato, and the differences between fictional and philosophical writing. Listen HERE.

Bad Fog

at Martos Gallery 
540 W.24th St, New York
I'll be showing sixteen of my anxiety napkins.

I wrote an essay for Eddie Martinez's new monograph from Picturebox

Eddie flicks a red nugget of oil paint at his canvas and watches it cling to fresh gesso like a vulnerable fly in a web. He fiddles around with it for a moment but decides to let it stay put. He steps away, does a loop around the studio, aimlessly swats at a partly done canvas, wipes something gray off another, leans in to inspect the corner of a small painting on the wall. When he returns to the nugget, he spritzes it with a bottle of mineral spirits. The paint cries down in translucent streaks that crack when they dry. It mucks up the background, which is dirty white and patched like drywall. It’s the most white Eddie’s ever put into a painting, and he thinks of it as blank paper, which makes sense, since for him, the ultimate goal is to achieve what he calls a “painted drawing”— a fully developed wet work with the energy of a sketch.

He begins to build an image in the center of the canvas. He uses a knife to add some blue, and then scrapes it off. He doesn’t look at the canvas he’s working on, but at another one, across the room, which he’s sort of mimicking. It’s the third in a series of paintings, and he plans to make more. He paces around the room, moving into the adjacent space, which a few months before had been a separate studio he kept as a clean viewing room. But now the wall has been razed and the whole studio is one big open space, all of it speckled with a constellation of color droppings.

Eddie takes off his cap, rubs his head, puts the cap back on, walks over to his desk. Fran, his French bulldog, scuttles onto the couch. Eddie sits to draw, to take his eye off the larger task at hand. The sketch he starts is an abstract collection of chunky, stately forms he’s been toying around with for a few weeks, a new composition, still in the development stages, not quite ready to be realized on a big canvas. He’s assembling a “loosely fixed” cast of characters: the proud red tongue, the serpentine yellow column, the constrained scribble of the black spade, and the floating cube of deep blue. In his older work, these forms congealed into flowers and figures and bedecked tabletops, but his recent energy is less nameable. These new shapes point toward something familiar without ever pointing at anything in particular, especially not words.

Behind him, the wall is covered in similar drawings, pinned up in a casual grid, each one a study of this new idea, with subtle variations of hue and shape. Most of them are on paper with crayons and markers. Some are from the iPad, which he’s been sketching on recently. He’ll take a picture of an in-progress painting, drop it into the digital tablet, and try some marks over it. The drawings are finished quickly, regularly, and somewhat compulsively — his attempt at “exhausting a composition.”

He makes marks with a sharpie, filling in the lines until he’s woven a dense tangle of slashes, packed with energy. He sets the paper on the ground to look at it with a little more distance, jams the heel of his boot into the drawing, and drags it across the dirty floor, which is thick with years of oily sediment, so the paper accretes a partial footprint and a hazy atmosphere of visual noise. He reaches for a tub of white paint and slathers it on the drawing with a flat house-painting brush, outlining some forms, painting over others. He leaves the drawing, walks away, changes the music to a Grateful Dead track —“Tennessee Jed” from a live bootleg — and then goes back to the original canvas, theone with the nugget, which is still mostly white. He shakes up a can of spray paint and blasts the canvas with a few big body-length strokes — curves that have the same unleashed quality as the pen marks he made a few minutes before.

All of this process isn’t just the work behind the paint. It’s right there on the canvas, a whole garden of techniques and layers and gestures and moments. Any spot you look at on one of these canvases is jammed with incident. He drops a painting on the floor, walks on the edges of the canvas, dances when he gets to a corner. He scrapes at the canvas — gives a liberal pour of turpentine and lets it pool in the center of the image for a few hours. “I’ve probably peed on them several million times,” he says.

The group of five paintings Eddie’s been working on for about six months is called the “Matador” series. He describes himself as “somewhere between the bull, the audience, and the matador.” Around him, the canvases lean against the walls, wide like bulls, towering at the top of his arm’s reach. “When I’m painting these,” he says, “it feels like it’s either me or the canvas who’s coming out the victor.” As with his earlier work, the pieces all visually register, at least initially, as the most fundamental of painting subjects — landscape, portrait, still life, or something between the three. There’s a thingness in Eddie’s work, but these things aren’t stable. You can point to one of these objects, call it a thing, and understand its basic properties — oblong, saggy — but it’s a thing in motion, a thing that contains time, built up like topography. If Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase painted time horizontally, Eddie shows it dimensionally, building canvases up with a history of complex marks. Usually, it’s hard to say where these things come from, but sometimes they have an autobiographical origin. For instance, Eddie once took a trip to Jamaica, drew on the beach, and returned home with a new, recurrent icon, a golden sun that found its way into hundreds of his images.

Recently, Eddie’s been using literal, physical things on his surfaces — handi-wipes, oil-stick wrappers, paper towels, computer printouts, holiday wrapping paper, parts of another canvas he cut out with a razor. He affixes them to his canvases, paints over them, leaves them unfinished. He’ll pin something on the paint for a while and stare at it.

He sinks into his oil-caked wheelie chair and pushes himself around, debating out loud whether to list his materials, whether he should call attention to the presence of a rogue handi-wipe or whether it should be “mixed media”— the mysterious texture of the unknown. He decides on the latter.

While he works, Eddie is a part of this texture. The paint residue on his overalls and beige jumpsuit looks like a gory, exposed wound. His work area is an explosion of brushes and half-used tubes and a big glass palette table — all of it thick with years of paint. The floor looks like it’ll never be clean again. If he wants to eat a cough drop on the table next to him, he uses a pair of scissors to lift the drop to his mouth, so as not to touch it with his painty, toxic fingers. When he’s finished for the day he heads into the closet, sheds his painty self, and emerges in clean clothes. He puts Fran on her leash and goes outside to let her relieve herself on a tree.
For a while Eddie doesn’t go into the studio with the same tenacity and regularity.

He works on a few small sculptures, but seems more surprised by this work, less controlling of it. He explores more, realizes less. He plays tennis. He stops by the studio, puts on some Hawaiian music, orders up a Mexican salad and a seltzer from a restaurant a block away, watches The Wire on his computer while he eats. He looks at images by the painter Grace Hartigan on Google. He takes a photo with his phone of one of his in-progress paintings and posts it on Instagram. He buys a scooter and leans it in the corner and sometimes gets the urge to drive it around the studio in circles.

When the warm season arrives, he works either in Massachusettes at his in-laws’ house or in the home he rents on Long Island. He paints outside, propping canvases against a small barn studio, stacking them in structures. As the summer continues, the surfaces accumulate insects and whatever botanical elements drift in the wind when the paint is viscous. He doesn’t smash the bugs into the paint, but he doesn’t pick them out, either.

When the season ends, he drives the paintings back to the city in a U-Haul. They are mailed out for shows, in Kansas City and Berlin and Los Angeles. A batch of them end up at a group show in Chelsea. Some of the small drawings go to a show on the Lower East Side. Some go to friends.

At this point, Eddie’s exhausted with the big boys, as he calls them, the seven-by-ten-foot monsters, and he draws at home, maybe for a night, maybe for weeks at a time. His place is a few blocks from his studio, in Brooklyn. Paintings by artist friends hang around the house. The television plays the Tennis Channel and Eddie sits on the couch, leaning over the table, scribbling in a way that is both relaxed and furious. He’s toying with another new composition, reworking it over half a dozen drawings, taking photos of it with his phone. He tries a few shades of blue on a wing-tipped shape that wobbles on the middle of the page. The television’s muted, and the white noise of markers on paper is the sound track. Every few minutes, Eddie sings a single line from a hip-hop track, something from the radio, and swaps the name of his dog for an unsuspecting lyric. He sings the same line repeatedly. Songs, it seems, get in his head like images do.

He grabs a nearby book of Carroll Dunham’s work and pages through it. There are so many stacks of art books on the table that you can’t see the table — a Helen Frankenthaler monograph, an old Milton Avery book, a book of late Miró paintings. When Eddie looks at them, he can barely turn the pages fast enough, taking in as much as he can in glances. When he gets to the end, he starts going backward, and then flipping back and forth between pages, revisiting any images that remain compelling on multiple looks. He puts down the book, looks at the finished drawings, spread out on the table and floor, and rubs his beard. “I never feel like drawing’s enough,” he says —“I need paint.”

Buy the book here.

I interviewed the painter, Chris Martin

For the new issue of The Believer. Read it here

On David Ostrowski

Spoke to David Ostrowski for the December issue of Interview Magazine. Read it here.

At Performa 2013's Gala

A shot of me conducting Brian Belott, Jesse Greenberg, Michael Mahalchick, Matthew Thurber and an unseen crowd of 30 for our Performa Last Course Chorus, a non-musical dinner choir held on Nov 1, 2013. Photo courtesy of Art in America 

My interview with Jesse Eisenberg for Mcsweeneys

Read it here

My interview with Richard Bosman for Joshua Abelow's ARTBLOGARTBLOG print mag

The 69 year-old painter, Richard Bosman was born in Madras, India and currently lives in Esopus, New York. He has shown his paintings and prints since 1980, assembling a body of work that hints at illustration, plein air painting, comics, and the broad spectrum of figurative art that emerged from New York in 1980s. Bosman and I corresponded about the influences, ideas, lifestyle and process that led to his early canvases.

A lot of your paintings and prints from the '80s depict violent scenes - stabbing, drowning, fighting, hunting, falling. Did you think much about the narrative surrounding these scenes?

I'm not quite sure what narrative means in terms of art, I prefer to think of what I do as making images that often imply a past, present and future. The "narrative" often exists outside the picture frame, so it's open for the viewer to interpret.  As for the violence, it's partly due to where the images came from and a sense of drama.  There was a big shift in the emphasis around 1979 to something perhaps more meaningful than abstraction and dogma, to something more personal that reflected the culture around us. At the time I lived near Chinatown and was fascinated by Chinese comic books that I saw in bookstores there. They fit into two broad categories: one was the idea of travel and refugees, and the other were Kung Fu, which often depicted violent scenes.  They were the source for many of my early images and I responded because I spent my early childhood in the Far East. Both themes I used as a starting point for my work. One was of the sea and travel and adventure and the other of violence. 

Would you attribute the violence in these paintings to anything particular?

I suppose the source were just the Kung Fu comics. It seemed like new territory at the time and apart from movies and Francis Bacon it seemed like it hadn't been broached for a while in visual imagery. I was searching for my identity as an artist and the violence came from the sources I used and not from me personally.

So you wouldn't say you say were in a violent state at that time? 

No, in fact just the opposite. I think of these paintings as fiction. That's not to say that there's no violence in the world, because obviously there is, but I'm not depicting real violence. It's fictional violence. Since the beginning of painting I think art has dealt with violence as a subject, from the early cave paintings of deer on through all the Crucifixions to Goya and Richter.

In your experience, has the state of mind you were in during painting ever had an effect on the work?

An interesting question. I've always identified paint with the feeling of the substance I'm trying to paint. For instance the fluidity of oil paint and the sea I find particularly compelling and blood too for that matter. In a painting, before it's seen as blood it's a glop of red paint.

Would you say you've worked in discrete periods, stopping and starting styles, subjects? Or has the development of your work felt continuous and fluid? The way your website is set-up suggests the former.

I'm not sure. Obviously I had to arrange my web site in some kind of order. I haven't had too many stops and think my progress has been fairly fluid. I try not to repeat myself so my subject matter has changed, which necessitated a change in technique. Perhaps less violence calls for less violent paint handling. The intensity of expressionism is hard to sustain throughout a career.

Did you feel connected to other artists at this point?

I felt connected to Colab. A lot of people there were my friends, though I think I was more on the periphery. It was an exciting time for me as the return to figuration opened up a whole new way of thinking about painting.  One could introduce social concerns, politics, personal imagery - things that existed out of the picture frame and that hadn't been depicted for a while and that related to the culture at large. I think David Salle is a tremendous stylist. I had Phillip Guston and Alex Katz as teachers in the '60s. Personally, I was friends with Martha Diamond , Dick Miller, Louisa Chase and the Colab bunch. Munch, Marsden Hartley and Frans Hals were influences.

Do you remember what art you were thinking about at that time?

Well, there was a Marsden Hartley show at the Whitney and, of course, a huge Picasso show at the Modern. De Kooning and Malcolm Morley were showing regularly. I've always liked Frans Hals and the way the speed of the painting matched the subject.  His relationship of general-to-specific is astounding and he's also a terrific tonal painter - great user of black, greys and white.

I think I was in a zone at the time ... kind of like a tennis players can get.  I was in my own world and the paintings seemed to develop without too much thinking on my part.  I was new to oil painting since my previous work had been done in acrylic so I had to figure out how to use it. Unlike acrylic I loved the way it could stay fluid for a time and also defy gravity. It was messy, fluid, and could be painted wet into wet. I tended to use large brushes and the paint strokes were visible which gave the work energy. I wasn't interested in rendering but manipulating the whole surface of the painting at once.

Did you have a day job at that time? 

From the late 70's to the early 80's I did paste ups (now done in seconds on a computer) and drywall. Never was particularly good at spackling but enjoyed the process. I used a palette knife to apply paint in a lot of paintings at that time. It's a fast rough way to apply paint in a visceral manner with an emphasis on a smooth surface.

Some of your subject matter from that time revolves around noir films. What attracted you to painting those scenes?

Most of the imagery came from my reading habits at the time. I read a lot of Conrad which supplied the sea themes. Later I was into mysteries and thrillers like Elmore Leonard. I've never taken imagery directly from Noir films though it has been an influence. It describes a world of corruption and greed and human failings and often pushed against the idea of good taste. I liked that. To me it seems real and I didn't see why it couldn't be used visually in painting. I would go to the Chinese theatre on Canal St near where I lived and watch Chinese films.They struck me as being violent, supernatural and allegorical. Since I didn't speak Chinese it was a totally visual experience. I felt the same way about Chinese comics.

Were there any specific noir films you drew from to make the paintings?

I'm not an expert on Noir films though but would like to watch more.  

Any noir films that were important for you?

Not specifically though I think I'm more influenced by the general tone. Also the scale is important to me and the way isolated images can have different or larger associations around them. I also like the emphasis on cropping and closeups. 

Did you paint from photography?

In the 80's one or two images were from photographs ... not many. I don't copy images and usually add or take away things. Recently, I've used the internet as source and sometimes my own photographs. I try to introduce a graphic element which is important to me.

Did you do preliminary sketches for paintings?

I didn't do many drawings as such but often did rough color studies in acrylic on paper. I had an installation of drawings at Brooke Alexander gallery that were floor to ceiling in charcoal. They related one to another sequentially like a comic book or film.  Of course, printmaking, especially woodcuts, have been a way of drawing. What I particularly like is the resistance of the wood and the way the image arrives all at once. The wood grain gives so much and it forces a simplicity that I find exciting.

Was your studio practice different then than it is now?

Not too much. I mask off areas which I didn't use to do. Probably use less paint. Used to love Bocour paint that came in jars and was cheap.

Would you say your work has changed since the '80s?

I hope so. My life has changed and the '80's were a particular time and place. I get excited by new territory in terms of subject matter and hope my technique has evolved and become somewhat more refined to suit the new content.

What was the process of making Arrow in the Eye? 

I did a series of monster heads "Arrow in the Eye'' was one. It seems like an unpleasant idea but I wanted to see how far I could push it - where one would get a visceral reaction in the gut, rather than optically. I went to school in Hastings which of course is famous for the battle of 1066. Harold was killed by an arrow to his eye and William 1st assumed the throne.

Published in Joshua Abelow's ARTBLOGARTBLOG publication

On Keegan McHargue

The following essay appears in the catalog for Keegan McHargue's current show, Prick of Conscience at Fredericks and Freiser gallery in New York.

The Singularity

Keegan sends me a photo of his new painting as a text message. The image is small on my phone so I have to spread my fingers across the screen to enlarge it, to see all its details, textures, the subtle wobble of its soft-curved lines. The physical painting is 70 X 60 inches but the photo on my phone is a few square centimeters, so the two images require different kinds of viewing. You stand before the painting; what's on my phone is a compressed, glowing icon.

During the six months he's working on this group of new paintings, Keegan often sends me images on phones - in progress shots, finished paintings, drawings. Somehow, it doesn't seem wrong to see the work this way. The paintings are environmental and filled with color and nebulous forms - not necessarily the sort of images you'd expect to shine in small formats - but the paintings look good here, in my hand. 

Maybe this is because Keegan's visual ideas begin with what he calls " a small bit of information"  - an ancient Chinese illustration, an anecdote about the origin of Calligraphy, a drawing from a Czech picture book. The bits can come from anywhere, and Keegan is an impartial omnivore, attempting "to make no value judgment in his culling of images," welcoming anything that comes before him - from the culturally quiet to loud, from Josef Lada to Jeff Koons to Peter Saul to Agnes Martin to Chaim Soutine. It's a forest of visual information to navigate and he's got the sharp, curatorial mind to cut through it and find a single, dense seed that can bloom into a painting-sized idea. When describing this process of discovery, he cites Ellsworth Kelly, who once remarked that, for him, the sight of a single leaf could inspire years worth of work. 

Once he's found the seed, Keegan begins a series of preparatory studies on paper. He slides forms around the page by transposing, photocopying, tracing, erasing, processing his visual kicks through a garden of his own idiosyncratic techniques. He likens the process of building a composition to working on a Kaoss pad, a digital, musical effects box that can twist, stretch and refract any nugget of audio into hours of ever-shifting sounds. He flattens out the dimensional ideas and adds faux-dimension to the flat ones. He builds a vocabulary of symbols - the unconsciously-active type that trigger desire and compulsion and wonder. Even the most expansive, airy work, "Hudson River (Predator® B Unmanned)" emerges from speculative headlines about a drone strike on the Hudson river.   

He does one thing, takes out two things. He compresses and reduces and distills the image until it functions, like an icon, on the simplest, most unfettered visual wavelengths. He thinks about the freedom inherent in minimalism while he works. It keeps his attention focused on the singularity of the idea, so that the image's energy appears to emerge from a point somewhere deep within itself and ripple outward into a sea of visual ideas, each one nestled into its neighbor, like a liquid puzzle. The feeling of looking is not dissimilar from seeing ancient Islamic and Hindu art, where narrative and space and subject flow into a single current. 

The lines, too, are liquid. What at first appears to be a straight, rigid line, is revealed, the longer you look, to veer and float. The environment gently sways between the proto-psychedelic luminance of Charles Burchfield's watercolors and the gentle west-coast roll of Ken Price's landscapes. Like John Wesley, Sigmar Polke, and the Cobra school, he uses the language of storybook illustration to simultaneously stabilize his work and subvert our visual comfort zones. It's child-like, but fastidiously so, more like the constrained scrawl of Jonathan Lasker's than the chaotic scat of Cy Twombly. The image is stirred and shaken, then shaved and cleaned, to attain the look of a pure creativity in cool, moderate balance.  "This," he says, "is what I always wanted my paintings to look like."

When the image is a complete thought, Keegan brings it to the canvas, which has been readied with marble dust primer and stretched over aluminum bars. He executes the whole thing quickly, in a single layer of paint so thin and cleanly applied that he imagines it sliding down and off the canvas onto the floor. He doesn't work over the paint. He doesn't have to. The image already exists. -Ross Simonini

My interview with Lizzi Bougatsos

on her work, Good hair (above) is featured in the current issue of The Believer.

This Friday some of my drawings will appear in Draw Gym

A group show curated by Brian Belott at Know More Games and 247365,  featuring a slew of wonderful artists including Sarah Braman, Joe Bradley, Josh Smith, Jesse Greenberg, Katherine Bernhardt, Eddie Martinez, Sam Moyer, Matthew Thurber, Joshua Abelow, Michael Mahalchick, Chuck Webster and many others.

New Drawings

June 5

there was a little roof in his mind and he knew it didn't have meaning but he invented the shingles and the motion across it anyway, stepping on his weight with his sickest cells, popping zits and credit cards in the cracks to stop the wobble