Jim O’Loughlin teaches in the Department of Languages & Literatures at the University of Northern Iowa. He is the coordinator of the Final Thursday Reading Series and publisher of Final Thursday Press. Read more here.
THE GROUND BENEATH MY FEET
by Morgan Gilbreath
My artwork is a product of the ground beneath my feet. I do not own a car, so my experience of a place is created entirely through biking, walking, and the occasional use of public transportation. Because of this, I have a very intimate relationship with sidewalks, as well as the buildings and streets with which they are connected. I am endlessly curious about the things that people discard onto the streets, a no-man’s-land of both public and private space in which no one is held accountable, allowing for a strange sort of freedom. This concrete space between roads and homes has proven to be one of the greatest influences in my work.
In the morning I go to buy milk from the bodega across the street, where the shopkeeper’s knowledge of English is limited to “hello” and “thank you.” I like them there. People loiter in the doorway of the tiny corner store, socializing with the shopkeepers who talk to them from behind scratched bulletproof glass complete with transparent compartments with every sickly sweet candy wrapper meticulously organized into its own secure drawer. In this wonderful community gathering space, however, people are constantly separated by these peculiar safety glass barriers, by a need for security that implies distrust. This observation led me to create a series of barriers in which I replicated three different models of bulletproof transaction windows using sheet mirror. By making these forms reflective, I wanted to make the viewer aware of the physical and metaphorical barriers that exist between humans and even within the individual. The mirrored surface also displays the great extent to which people are shaped by their environment.
During my extensive walks through the city, I began to notice all of the empty drug bags strewn about the streets of Philadelphia, blown into concrete corners and against fences by the wind. I find these tiny objects, suddenly useless and cast away into the world, to be evocative vessels that are deeply and tragically symbolic of the issues plaguing my community. As objects completely foreign to me, the drug bags fascinated me for their specialized purpose. Their range of specific sizes, colors, and prints indicated a sort of forbidden language. I began to obsessively collect these tiny bags and cast them in various materials such as glass, wax, plaster, and paper pulp, transforming the scorned and rejected vessels into a ghostly wall tapestry.
There are over 40,000 vacant lots within the city of Philadelphia, each overflowing with weeds, shattered glass, mismatched shoes, telephone poles, scrap metal, broken televisions, food packaging, concrete rubble, and almost any thing you could ever imagine. Given the fact that these treasure troves of rejected objects are particularly common in my neighborhood, I find many abandoned and decaying objects as sources to include in my artwork. For this untitled work, I selected a car tire from an empty lot, as it is an ever-present yet unnoticed object that also holds iconic significance within the history of modern and contemporary art. In this untitled sculpture, thousands of flame-worked, thread-like glass creatures drip with wax and creep out of the inside of the tire, mimicking the way that nature inevitably reclaims abandoned man-made objects.
While walking to my studio each day with my head toward the ground, eyes scanning for objects to inherit, I tend to trip over large cracks in the ill-maintained sidewalks. These cracks, although commonly seen as a testament to a neglected and crumbling community, are a beautiful symbol of nature’s way of creeping into our very controlled and harsh human architecture. I wanted to find a way to express to others the beauty I saw in those fractured sidewalks, and to change people’s negative perceptions of a public space. In Maintenance, I repaired and hand-filled every crack in my studio with various colors of plaster in order to fix, yet accentuate and highlight, the imperfect networks of crevices beneath our feet. This highly labor-intensive performance resulted in colorful bolts of lightning, veins rushing across the ground in a map of harmonious, poetic lines that only nature could create—illuminating the very cracks that humans try so hard to contain.
I view disregarded urban communities as places where artists are needed most in the world. In this body of work, I have been ritualistically collecting the mundane residue of urban life and reconfiguring it into a conceptual, artistic vocabulary, thereby infusing it with a sense of permanence and spiritual significance that transcends its previous connotations. This will allow people to reimagine their cities how to interact within them. I create these installations with the goal of sharing my ideas, improving communities, and, ultimately, revealing the spiritual beauty I see in the urban world.
Barriers 1, 2, & 3, Sheet Mirror, 22x24x3 in, each, 2012
Angel, Kiln-Cast Glass, Plaster, Paper, Wax, Approx. 4×4 ft., 2012
Untitled, Found Tire, Flameworked Glass, Wax, Approx. 1x2x2 ft., 2012
Maintenance, Site-Specific Performance & Installation using Plaster & Acrylic Pigment, Dimensions Variable, 2013
Morgan Gilbreath is a mixed-media artist, art historian, and community activist whose work deals with concepts of place, labor, and urban life. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in Glass, a Bachelor of Arts in Art History, and a Certificate in Community Arts from Tyler School of Art, Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. Morgan is a Saint Andrews Society of Philadelphia Mutch Scholar, through which she studied the History of Art at the University of Edinburgh in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2012-13. She was most recently awarded the Tyler School of Art Partner Scholarship to study kiln-formed glass and public art at Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Washington in the summer of 2013. Morgan currently lives and works in Philadelphia, PA.
by Filip Noterdaeme
Spicing up realist landscapes with fantastic nudes and infiltrating austere family tableaux with whimsical eroticism, American Arcadia is a mixed distillation of artful irreverence and subtle mischief. Here is the story of its making.
In 2005, my partner Daniel Isengart and I took a trip to Madrid, where we spent many hours at the Prado and the Reina Sofia. On the day of our return to the States, we found ourselves aimlessly browsing through the souvenir shop at the Madrid-Barajas airport, where a pocket-format deck of cards depicting famous nudes by (mostly) European masters—some of which we had seen at the Prado—caught my attention. On a whim, I bought it. Back in Brooklyn, I happened to walk past a stoop sale one late morning and, among the usual junk and knick-knacks, made out an extra-large deck of playing cards with prints depicting “American Life, Manners and History” by the popular 19th-century lithographer duo Currier & Ives. I bought it for $1. To my amusement, the stack included a legend that informed me that the original prints had been “hand-colored by a dozen or more women in a assembly-line manner” and that the deck of cards I held in my hands was “Printed in Hong Kong.”
At home, armed with scissors and glue, I married the European and American decks, superimposing classical nudes by the likes of Cranach, Boucher, and Goya over Currier & Ives’ illustrations of town views, weather scenes, steamboats, trains, and sports events. I was most enthralled to see how each rarified nude blended in—or clashed—with Currier & Ives’ all-American populist imagery. The extreme pleasure of conflating frivolous High Art with puritan American 19th-century culture felt like slowly turning a kaleidoscope and watching a whole new New World magically, neatly fall into place.
The offset four color printing process by which both sets had been cheaply produced facilitated my playful mixing and matching of the wildly varried pictures, each new pairing conjuring up new scenarios: at the very least, the homogenized, matted color palette of both sets prevented any chromatic clashes. Whatever stood at odds in terms of iconography I “rectified” through proper (or gleefully improper) alignment. Still, as I went on cutting and pasting, I remained keen on highlighting the tension within each chosen pair of cards, striving less for seamless harmony than for the kind of dazed ecstasy reminiscent of the culture shock I experienced 25 years ago (and often still do) in New York City as a newly arrived, expatriate European artist.
The fact that each card of th American deck had its own title only added to the fun: by keeping the titles intact, I practically inserted the European Masters into an American context. As a result, what puritanism and patriotism dictated to Currier & Ives in terms of subject matter, moods and colors, has been radically transformed. It now appears as if the titles had not been penned by the earnest (though business-savvy) American duo but rather by some divinely deviant madman whose comedic cosmic whimsy adds a touch of deadpan irreverance to the dream-like permutation of serious and light imagery, demoting much of Currier & Ives saccharine vision of America to a kind of slapstick that juxtaposes New and Old World values to hilarious effect.
In retrospect, I recognize that the excitement I derived from making these surrealist collages (an art form I am proud to call part of my Belgian heritage—just take a peak at the risqué collages of my compatriot Marcel Mariën) is connected to my admiration for the American expat Gertrude Stein and her deep fascination with words and pictures. Fittingly, she stressed in her Lectures in America: “I like a picture, that is an oil painting to do anything it likes to do.”
The Four Seasons of Life: Middle Age. A sorrowful Lucrecia by Lucas Cranach (1533) is magically transplanted inside the elegant foyer of a mid-nineteenth century American household. Alas, Lucrecia is not about to luxuriate. Oblivious to the domestic bliss that surrounds her, she remains cloaked in her own darkness. Lucrecia has no eyes for the glorious summery Hudson River-like landscape visible from the front porch, no eyes for the freshly groomed little boy standing at her feet next to the family dog, and no eyes for the pretty blond girl descending the staircase with her look-alike doll. Instead of joining the fun and tumble or, rather, carrying on with her domestic duties, Lucrecia is about to stab herself to death. This absurd scene of domesticity gone awry recalls Tennessee Williams’ ability to mix outright poetry with a macabre, almost crude sense of humor. In a strange way, we all understand why Lucrecia wants out.
Home From the Brook conflates Renoir’s Bather with Griffon Terrier (1870) with yet another cliché image of the joys of wedlock by Currier & Ives. Husband, clad in full fishing gear with hat and boots, and bookish stay-at-home wife relax on an elevated terrace in serene seclusion surrounded by natural wonder. She holds a book in her lap, possibly a romance novel, but her attention is now exclusively on him. Separating the two and possibly interrupting the light colloquy about fishing, or acquaintances, or politics, or servants, stands a voluptuous bather. At her feet is her black terrier. As if aware of the prudish couple, the mermaid-like nude, undoubtedly the catch of the day, covers her pubis while clutching her bridal-white undergarment for cover. A naughty accent of red ribbon calling to mind virginal bloodstains brilliantly punctuates the immaculate transparency of the scene. Renoir seems to be saying under his breath, Silly prudes Currier & Ives! They try in vain to dress nature in undergarments closed at the throat, but look at what I found on my way the brook!
The Life of a Fireman No. 1. For some reason or other, Currier & Ives considered that there is nothing more picturesque and universally fascinating than a good fire. Like savvy television producers more than a century later, they staged a number of dramatic fire scenes. In this one, firemen are seen answering the call of duty in the middle of the night. Possibly foreshadowing what they’re about to witness, Beauty and Death confront each other in the foreground. The ominous presence of the “Two Young Girls” (Deux jeune filles—La Belle Rosine by Antoine Wiertz, 1847) both underscores and resists the blatantly heroic narrative staged by the two American lithographers.
American Winter Sports. Here is another fishing moment courtesy of Currier & Ives, but this time with a catchy Cupid as bait. Caravaggio’s Amor Victorious (1602) illustrates a line from Virgil’s Eclogues: Omnia vincit amor et nos cedamus amori (“Love conquers all; let us all yield to love!”). If all sports are linked to sensual pleasures, Amor is my all-year-round favorite sport. And if ever there were to be another Winter Olympics in Salt Lakes, I pray this Ace-winning Cupid be outfitted with a pair of figure skates and become everybody’s favorite quadruple-jump challenger.
Winter Pastime. Baby It’s Cold Outside! Gabrielle d’Estrées and her Sister in a Bath (1595) are nonchalantly checking out each other’s tiny pouting flower buds, which await voluptuous blossoming in the coming spring. For them, winter pastime means sensual hibernation inside as opposed to frolicking in the snow outside. The Two of Hearts befits the moment just right.
Filip Noterdaeme is an artist-provocateur best known for his Homeless Museum of Art (HOMU), a pastiche of the contemporary art museum he created in 2003. He holds a Bachelor in Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts in New York and a Masters of Arts from the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University. He writes a blog about art for The Huffington Post, lectures at the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum, and teaches art history at the New School, New York University, and CUNY. Noterdaeme was born in Brussels, Belgium, and lives with his partner Daniel Isengart in Brooklyn. His conceptual memoir, The Autobiography of Daniel J. Isengart, written as an homage to Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, was published in March 2013 by Outpost19. Visit the Homeless Museum atwww.homelessmuseum.org. Learn more about his book at www.outpost19.com/Autobiography
Drag, Societal Identity, and Gender Equality
by Leah Koontz
BiProduct is a project I embarked on which considers drag queens, art, female expectations, and the media. This series features four of my works which address gender roles, equality, and social construction. BiProduct features sculpture and performance, created from nylon, spandex, foam, digital media, and plastic. Drag Queens possess many progressive qualities. However, I feel that certain aspects of Drag should require more careful consideration. Over the past two decades, drag has transformed tremendously. What exactly is drag in 2013?
A drag queen is a man, usually homosexual, creating a female illusion through clothing and performance. This illusion ends when the costume comes off. There are many genres and subgenres of drag. Not every drag queen agrees or identifies with all of the categories and genres that have been named. Some queens do not approve of various terms that are currently used in certain gay communities. Sometimes these categories can divide the drag community, which some feel is unproductive. Certain genres of drag queens aim to be “fishy,” meaning as close to a biological woman’s aesthetics as possible. Other genres are more “androgynous.” This genre relies on gender bending, the act of confusing preconceived notions. There are many types of drag. Check out Misty’s definitions of drag genres:
In the eighties, the gay rights movement took off, and drag queens began to hold drag balls in Harlem, NY. These balls were a place for drag queens to come and express themselves. This was a positive alternative to drugs, prostitution, and becoming an HIV statistic. Due to the prejudice that the gay community experienced for existing outside of what mainstream society thinks of as normal, many gay individuals lived in poverty and were forced into living undesirable lifestyles. This set up a standard where it was nearly impossible for those who identified as gay to be treated as equals.
The work that drag queens do can be a productive rebellion and commentary against patriarchal society. When a man dresses as a woman, he is making a brave choice to exist outside of what is considered normal. He is, therefore, broadening the definition of normality. Drag queens perform as females and an androgynous queen potentially be identifying with both sexes during their performances. This is accomplishing new realms of possibilities for the roles of gender in society. Female illusion empowers women and allows femininity to be positive and celebrated instead of oppressed.
Some forms of drag exhibit qualities which I think should be seen as fine art. Contemporary art is valued for its aesthetics as well as its ability to educate and push the audience to think critically. Androgynous drag helps us progress and serves as an art medium manifesting itself to make important statements. This is not just art for art’s sake; drag accomplishes the unique goal of being true to itself and making social commentary at the same time. The alluring visuals of a queen’s costume and makeup reinforce whatever concept that they are addressing. These queens are able to achieve their goal through simply being their character, which serves as the art medium. Drag that is androgynous blurs the idea of what is feminine and what is masculine. In doing this, we reach the conclusion that we cannot separate the two and privilege specific ideas within these categories.
Performance drag should be viewed as fine art as well. Many queens in this genre implement criticality and magnificent aesthetics in their performances. Drag queen Sharon Needles, who is from Pittsburg and was popularized on Season Four of RuPaul’s Drag Race, is known for his controversial and critical performances, as well as his spooky androgynous drag looks. Needles’s performances greatly consider context; he carefully thinks about the space and audience before the performance. Pre-Ru Paul, Needles had been known to dress up like a blond female Nazi and lip-sync to Walt Disney songs during his performances. This caused great deal of controversy but as a Jew I do not find myself offended. In this performance, Needles is outing Disney for being anti-Semitic, while making a mockery of Adolf Hitler. Needles shows his careful consideration (he is not just being controversial for the sake of it) by using his identity as a drag queen performing in controversial costumes to point out the absurdity of Hitler’s frightening ideas. Needles is relying on his open minded audience (they are there to see a drag queen after all) to understand this message. Some of these scary ideas are the Aryan race, the final solution, and the idea that any human being could be less than another. I think Needles is also making a comment on the lack of civil rights and equality in America today, especially for to women and the gay community. He stated that he is not “just wearing these things for no reason.” Oftentimes during performances, Needles speaks about uplifting those who are not accepted in society:
Drag should be considered fine art for its alluring visuals. Needles has previously based his illusions or looks off of women who have had excessive amounts of plastic surgery. Some of these have included bandaging and even a syringe, which is held up to his lips and used to mimic collagen being injected. I feel that this is intense commentary that shows the pressure that the media places on body image. This pushes an unrealistic idea of beauty onto ] society. People should be able to choose what they want to do with their own body, and not feel forced into anything. This artwork reminds us of the controversial performances of Orlan, a woman who has committed herself to a life of repetitive plastic surgeries in the name of art. Orlan’s project and its place in the art world are often debated within the art community, while the work of Sharon Needles is not even on the radar of most people in the fine art community. Needles makes advanced and sophisticated artistic critiques, which are being overlooked by the art world.
In my art, I explore questions surrounding female expectation and equality. I think critically about drag queens and their role in this conversation. This can be understood through the works’ formal qualities. BiProduct Photos from Performance documents a one-hour performance, which is done in solitude. BiProduct: Containment was created first; it showcases a clear glass jar containing excess foam, which was made from the process of sculpting foam pieces from other works in the series.
BiProduct Performative Objects was created during the one-hour performance. This piece consists of the nylon and foam wearable products that were used during the performance. These are now installed as an empty skin on the wall. Separately from these works, BiProduct: Pile was made, and these sculptures are responsive to the other works in the series. BiProduct: Pile is wrapped with a range of neutrally colored spandex, which wrinkles and restricts around the foam.
BiProduct aims to examine some of the sub genres of drag and break down the commentary that particular categories may make about women in relation to society. In “BiProduct: 40 Images from Performance,” I apply a sculpted idealized padding, created from foam, to my body. Padding is a practice done by some drag queens in which foam inserts are applied to the body in order to obtain an idealized female form.
My padding is applied directly after binding my torso in a duct tape corset and casing the rest of my body in restrictive nylon and spandex. This is also a practice observed by some queens to achieve a feminine body. Next, I spread bright drag-inspired makeup onto my face. I then dress in loud revealing clothing to finally create my version of the overly idealized female through the lens of a drag queen.
This is not an acceptable way of viewing women. Placing importance on the physical body over intellect is offensive. It is important not to flatten women into one dimensional beings. BiProduct explains to the audience the dangers that come along with stereotyping of women, members of the gay community, and, in particular, drag queens.
The negative view of these groups is socially constricted and perpetuated by the media’s reinforcement of negative stereotypes, and old-fashioned ideas. It is not only unnecessary, but also harmful for anyone to participate in the advancement of negative ideas, particularly from one marginalized group to another.
BiProduct uses materiality that is raw, neutral, and tactile to reinforce its ideas of body image, social construction, and expectation. These materials are both visually exuberant, as well as stale and muted in color.
This allows the project to discuss both the positive and negative sides of this conversation. In doing this, the conversation between drag queens and women is promoted as important. This is essential in order for both parties to grow and make progress toward equality. The constructive process directly references the notion of a constructed norm. Its raw immediacy and materiality recalls something which is void of preconceived notions or attachments. This forces the viewer to consider societal expectations and social acceptance.
The idea of hypocrisy is closely considered in BiProduct, especially relating to drag queens and women. The project highlights genres of drag that depict women in a stereotypical light which might present a limited understanding of femininity. BiProduct also considers genres of drag which are portraying a more progressive illusion. The objects in BiProduct are representative of female body parts which, in turn, objectifies women. This points out how objectification is manifesting itself in many places within western society, including the drag community. For the majority of our community, men control the way women are viewed. The notion of an ideal body constructed through the male criteria reinforces the idea that a woman should be valued through male criteria. This removes women’s power and forces unrealistic, negative expectations of women in society.
Drag that reinforces negative views of women shows one-dimensional characters and values the physical over the intellectual. In this case, the individuals depicting this view are promoting one minority and demoting another. This is not as successful as a drag queen that can promote minorities and deconstruct socially constructed norms. Often times, we can participate in contributing to these stereotypes if we are not self-aware.
While critiquing the narrow definition of femininity, BiProduct also challenges drag which perpetuates outdated ideas. It also begins a conversation about the topic at large situated in the context of related issues. It is important that all groups of people be viewed as equal and that society participates in taking action to make this a reality.
Leah Koontz grew up in Louisville, Colorado near the foot of the Rocky Mountains. In the early 2000s she moved to Philadelphia, where she lives now. With the support of her amazing family, she was able to connect with her love for art. Currently she attends Moore College of Art and Design where she is majoring in Fine Art and minoring in Curatorial Studies. She expects to receive her BFA in 2014. Leah spends her time creating art, reading books, protesting patriarchy, and of course attending local drag shows.
THE MODERNIST CABIN
by Emily Steinberg
I found that the combination of words and images created a visceral way of storytelling.
Most of my material is autobiographical.
Stories that have happened to me along
the way that have shaped my being.
The Modernist Cabin
is a story about my family
set against the pristine lines
of a modernist cabin
on Cape Cod.
and the story
–Emily Steinberg, June 2013
Photography by Paul Rider
Emily Steinberg is a painter and graphic novelist who earned her MFA and BFA from the University of Pennsylvania. She has shown at 55 Mercer Gallery and The Westbeth Gallery in New York, and has exhibited at several Philadelphia area venues, including Mangel Gallery, The Borowsky Gallery, The Woodmere Museum of Art and the Michener Museum of Art in Doylestown, PA. Most recently, she exhibited in the solo series at the Abington Art Center and at The Crane Arts Center in Philadelphia. Her graphic novel memoir, Graphic Therapy, can be read online at Smith Magazine. Her short comic, Blogging Towards Oblivion, was included in The Moment (Harper Collins, 2012). She currently teaches painting and the graphic novel at Penn State Abington. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband, photographer Paul Rider, and her puppy Gus.
Works on Paper: Comparative Mythology
I began working on a series of paintings dealing with Comparative Mythology about two years ago. My work explores the common thread that runs through different cultures and religions. Similar versions of many myths, stories and ideas are shared by cultures all around the world. I use creatures and symbolism that are part of my personal visual vocabulary to explore these narratives.
I am currently continuing in the same vein but focusing now on a branch of Comparative Mythology that deals with Joseph Campbell’s theory of the Hero/Monomyth. The Monomyth refers to the journey of the Hero. There is a pattern that involves seventeen steps that the hero passes through during his journey.
The seventeen step journey is spilt up into three phases– the departure, the initiation and the return.
This pattern is found in many narratives from different cultures and religions and time periods. I am making a series of paintings based on this, but I am re imagining this story from the perspective of the Heroine instead. It is my personal and contemporary interpretation of this theory.
Supernatural Guides is the third step of the departure phase. My Heroine has encountered her supernatural helpers, who will guide her and help her when she is in need.
Meeting With The Goddess and Apotheosis are both part of the initiation phase. In Meeting With The Goddess she encounters the all powerful unconditional love of her mother. It is her return to her creator to which is inextricably linked and whose power fuels her.
Apotheosis is the period of rest in the journey, right before she begins her return. The heroine takes the time to enjoy the peace and fulfillment of her journey so far. She is seen leaving behind the material realm and ascending to the spiritual realm.
The Magic Flight and The Return are both part of the return phase. In The Magic Flight she must escape with the boon she has fought for. She is able to make her escape, closely guarding the boon while the baser creatures who only value power, fight over it.
As she reenters the world, she is now faced with figuring out how to share and integrate the wisdom her boon brings with the others. In The Return she offers the boon to the masses, which symbolized by smaller simpler versions of herself who are similar to her state in the material realm of Apotheosis.
Through the course of her journey, my Heroine transforms her state. Her colours and patterns reflect her inner being as well as the outside influences. Sometimes two versions of her are shown the same time and demonstrate her evolution from one state to the next.
Supernatural Guides, 2012, 70 x 70 cms, Gouache and Ink on Paper
Meeting With The Goddess, 2012, 80 x 70 cms, Gouache and Ink on Paper
Apotheosis, 2013, 100 x 70 cms, Gouache and Ink on Paper
The Magic Flight, 2013, 50 x 70 cms, Gouache and Ink on Paper
The Return, 2013, 70 x 50 cms, Gouache and Ink on Paper
June , 2013
Rithika Merchant is an Indian visual artist. She was born in 1986 in Mumbai, India. She graduated with a BFA in Fine Arts with Honors from Parsons the New School for Design in New York City in 2008. In 2006 she traveled to Greece to study painting and conceptual art at the Hellenic International Studies In the Arts in Paros, Greece. Following her graduation, Rithika has exhibited widely in Europe as well as select venues in Mumbai, New York and Montreal. She had her first major solo exhibition in Mumbai in 2011. The following year she was represented as a solo art project at Swab Art Fair in Barcelona, Spain. Rithika is currently preparing for her second solo exhibition, which will open in October 2013 in Mumbai. She divides her time between Mumbai, India and Barcelona, Spain. See more of her work at www.rithikamerchant.com
I have always made art including drawings and works on paper. This selection is from 1972 to 2013 and is a good sample of the themes, images and mediums that have always interested me for over forty-three years as an artist. My training was in commercial art. I began working in the advertising field in 1966 upon completing a two year course at New York City Community College, as it was then known. This training was outdated. In any event, I had little trouble in finding jobs. However, these jobs depended on skills that I really didn’t have, and my heart was not really in the ad game.
I want my art to go through slow constant changes, but at the same time I want vast abrupt changes. Nature does the same. Since 1969, I have been making small scale sculptures and miniature environments that have been boxed, floored and walled.
Within these small spaces a wide range of images have been constant and consistent. Houses, mountains, trees, bodies of water and land masses. My work over the years has changed, as I’m always experimenting with my language.
Nature frightens. No slow early autumn walks in the country for me. Nature is a mother with a knife, ready to pounce on us without warning.
Mountains collapse, rivers reclaim, skies open up and caves swallow. But there is also a beauty in this destruction. Keeping myself far away from all things that are natural is what I have a sweet tooth for. The landscapes of my mind reach out for other minds in beautiful acts of aggression.
Ira Joel Haber was born and lives in Brooklyn New York. He is a sculptor, painter, book dealer, photographer, and teacher. His work has been seen in numerous group shows both in USA and Europe and he has had nine-one man shows including several retrospectives of his sculpture. His work is in the collections of The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York University, The Guggenheim Museum, The Hirshhorn Museum, and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, and his paintings, drawings, and collages have been published in many online and print magazines. He has received three National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, two Pollock-Krasner grants, the Adolph Gottlieb Foundation grant and, in 2010, he received a grant from Artists’ Fellowship Inc. Currently he teaches art at the United Federation of Teachers Retiree Program in Brooklyn.
A conversation between a writer wife and her artist husband, in a quest to understand
Important Subject: A chicken
WS: It began with a sphere about the size of a golf ball. I’m sure electrons are involved but what is really being manipulated are vertices. This chicken was really a way to test 3D printing technology (color and all). No lofty idea—just that as someone who works with 3D “art,” I wasn’t going to leave that stone unturned.
BK: And I thought I had married into lofty. Didn’t you promise me lofty? Okay, then. You began to pull and poke at this thing, began to manipulate these vertices. The computer can’t resist you. There isn’t any tactile feel to this material, no smell, nothing that gets your hands dirty. Do you still consider this art? Because, at the very least, I married into art. Didn’t I?
WS: That part feels more like a craft than an art to me. I am usually making images that will exist in two-dimensional space (printed or on a computer screen). What I like about the process is the flexibility of constructing something in virtual space and then “walking” in or around the object to determine which view will work best for my purposes. I don’t have to capture the decisive moment right away. I can capture the whole moment and then decide later.
BK: I married a craftsman? Now you tell me? You married a writer, by the way. And she’s never changed her professional tune. In any case: You painted your chicken, you hollowed it out—all virtually, of course. What, precisely, were you hoping for as you worked? How did you know you were done? I know it wasn’t when I called you for dinner, because you showed up late. Repeatedly.
WS: It was done when I felt it made a big enough contribution to the cultivation of the human spirit.
BK: As you do. Every day. What does this new art replace, in terms of traditional, tactile craft?
WS: You can now turn very intricate and complex geometry into a precise physical object, something that would be very difficult to do by hand. You can, for example, make an object based on a mathematical equation (like a gyroid). With this process there are fewer limits on producing what you can imagine.
BK: You make me afraid, very afraid. I have had encounters with your imagination.
BK: Then answer this: What can never be replaced in terms of traditional, tactile craft?
WS: Nothing can replace the story that hands leave on an object.
BK: Such a nice sentiment. You make me fall in love all over again. (With you, in case you were wondering.) How does this 3D stuff compare to the actual pottery work you have begun to do—in a real studio, with real people, real dust, real kilns?
WS: They are completely separate things for me. When I work with 3D software I need to have a clear path to where I’m going with it. I need to know what I’m trying to make in order to figure out how to do it. With pottery I’m still part of my own audience; I don’t really know what it will be or how it will turn out, even though there is a certain amount of preconception in pottery. Things like gravity, the properties of the material, tools, dexterity etc. all play equal parts along with the brain.
BK: How does this change what is possible for artists? Because you are, also, still an artist. Right?
WS: I think it opens up another door for those who are in the business of making things. 3D printing has been around for a while but it has recently become more available and affordable to everyone. I’ve seen 3D printed jewelry in galleries and there are also people studying how to use similar technology in large-scale products (such as architectural components). The use of 3D software in general is just another tool in the shed. Creative types will always find ways of putting it to good use—either as a way of making images and/or physical objects.
William Sulit, a photographer and an award-winning illustrator, received his master’s degree in architecture from Yale University. Today he is the design partner in the boutique marketing communications firm, Fusion Communications. His photography and illustrations have appeared in Ghosts in the Garden (authored by Beth Kephart) and Zenobia: The Curious Book of Business (authored by Beth Kephart and Matthew Emmens) and will be featured in the forthcoming Dr. Radway’s Sarsaparilla Resolvent, a novel of 1871 Philadelphia written by Beth Kephart (Temple University Press/New City Community Press).
Beth Kephart, an award-winning writer of fifteen books, is the strategic writing partner in Fusion Communications. She teaches creative nonfiction at the University of Pennsylvania, writes essays and reviews for a number of national publications, and blogs daily atwww.beth-kephart.blogspot.com. Her most recent novel, Small Damages, was named the year’s most lyrical young adult novel by The Atlantic Wire.
All images ©2013 by William Sulit.
This series of images were all taken at the Michael Allcroft Antiques shop in Disley, Cheshire. I was born on the Cheshire-Derbyshire border and have lived there all my life. I love to take photographs in museums and in cities, but as I am not often able to travel alone long distances, I have to look for subjects a lot closer to home.
The red lion sign is a favourite of mine and makes me think of all the old pubs and of the social life they used to generate in local towns and villages near to me. Only across from the road from Michael Allcroft’s, lies an abandoned pub which will now probably face its future as living accommodation as apposed to a busy hive in the community. Here is a photo of the sign in the Michael Allcroft catalogue.
And here is a photo of the rocking horse in the catalogue. Contrast with my version of the rocking horse.
The luminous chairs are a wonderful vibrant contrast. The blue tinge and the vicious red match together well. The white running over the red and the almost flour like covering to the blue makes me want something this vibrant in my home if I were to furnish my surroundings.
The floral patterns on the furniture close up in black and white are to my memory part of a big screen. I enjoy textures heavily as can be seen in my work and they are very important to create depth.
I love the kitsch of the old tennis racket with the photograph on it , the warm hues I feel compliment the smile of the vintage black and white portrait.
Antique, boutique, and thrift shops have proven invaluable for my catalogue of work. I have created many, many images from objects in my own neighbourhood, whether they be at the bottom of the road five minutes away or already in my garden. My three most-exhibited images were all taken within half a minute’s walk of each other at my home:
All images ©2013 by Eleanor Leonne Bennett.
Eleanor Leonne Bennett is a 16-year-old, international award-winning artist. Her photography has been exhibited globally in London, Paris, Indonesia, Los Angeles, Florida, Washington, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Canada, Spain, Germany, Japan, Australia, and many other locations. She has been selected for theCIWEM Environmental Photographer of the year Exhibition. She was also the only person from the UK to have her work displayed in the National Geographic and Airbus run See The Bigger Picture global exhibition tour with the United Nations International Year Of Biodiversity 2010.
Click on any photo to see it at full size.
As someone who has always felt the urge to take pictures of myself, I don’t have a ready answer.
For the longest time I felt shame for this urge to see myself through my lens. Blame it on the Christian ethos of original sin that shaped my early life, but this habit of posing for my own camera felt like an exercise in vanity. Up until the Instagram era, I rarely, if ever, shared my self-portraits with others.
There is one self-portrait from 2001 that I printed and gave to a friend, but the image is out of focus, blurred and impressionistic like a Monet, and you’d never know I was sitting in the windowsill of the Rodin Museum in Paris basking in the June afternoon light. It’s the perfect non-self-portrait.
Since then, I have come to understand that my human experience is shaped by mental illness: depression. Understanding and accepting this diagnosis was the first hurdle, and required me to eschew more palatable labels like “over sensitive,” “the creative temperament,” and that Dr. Phil standby “just feeling sorry for yourself.”
The most acute moments of depression sail on the wings of despair like an albatross pumping her ancient wings. The wind makes you squint and you wonder if the ride will ever end. In my experience, the most painful symptom is the inability to enjoy basic social interactions. In my late 20’s and early 30’s, how often did I stand around at parties faking my mood while the back of my brain recalled happier times when I used to enjoy talking to friends, meeting new folks around town, taking joy in the shifting night landscape of a city or a friend’s company?
My hiatus in taking self-portraits, from 2007-2011, coincides with a dark chapter in my emotional life that’s at odds with what I was accomplishing on the surface. By November of 2011, I had a burgeoning small business, professional faculty over my creative skills, a body in excellent physical shape, and a mental landscape that threatened to fracture at any moment. All that I had was built on the intense manic spells I suffered through, and all that I had achieved seemed to teeter in the strong winds of my illness.
Around this time, in December of 2011, I downloaded Instagram. I thought it was just another app that offered filters for your iPhone photos. My second Instagram was a self-portrait as I walked to a party. Within an hour an old boyfriend that I was fond of left a comment. I felt connected: connected to another and connected to myself in a way I had not felt in a very long time, and in a way that was less public (at the time) than Facebook. In those early days of Instagram, it felt like a club for the sensitive, over-observant nerds.
I threw myself into Instagramming, relishing how a filter would transform an image, how textures and colors and light were celebrated or muted with the tap of a finger. And in the midst of this exploration I included plenty of self-portraits and it seems in some way that this app helped me to see myself in a way that kept my depression at arm’s length.
Through Instagram, I came to understand that my urge to take self-portraits was akin to cutting. That is to say, through the years I turned to self-portraits much in the way sufferers of depression use cutting. I took self-portraits to feel alive, to disassociate from the pain and confusion in my brain, to see myself in this moment now, alive, pulsing with life, beautiful and vibrant, exquisitely calibrated for my own perfection.
By late August of 2012, Instagram was my lifeline to a thriving creative life. The pictures speak for themselves. There I am traipsing through the empty dunes of Provincetown’s famous salt marshes. I could barely believe what I was capable of expressing to the world, and then, plop! my phone tipped over on its tripod into the Atlantic and I had just enough time to send my last few pictures to a friend’s gmail before the phone shut down forever.
For about 2 days I was lost to myself. And then I realized what was next: to shoot in this spirit with my professional camera. Instagram had prepared me to take this pursuit seriously, to listen to my most primal instinct to create, and what followed was an extraordinary period of personal exploration painstakingly documented for myself, and perhaps for the larger conversation I desired to be a part of.