New York based artist Jordan Casteel “elicits our underlying temperaments, shared and anew. Composed with gestural brushwork and bold swathes of color, portraits and landscapes alike offer honest evocations.”
I am most familiar with Casteel’s portraits of people. I admire and appreciate the relationship she has clearly forged with her subjects – the empathy and energy are palpable. Like the portraits of humans, “Nasturtium” also exudes the energy of life, as well as an urgency of new growth. I especially love this painting right now because it seems so timely – it is spring now in California and like this flowering vine, I can see beyond the confines of where I’ve been protected the past two years. I feel hopeful.
Casteel earned her BA from Agnes Scott College and her MFA in Painting and Printmaking from Yale School of Art. Her work has been exhibited at major institutions nationally and abroad. Recent solo exhibitions include “Jordan Casteel: Within Reach” at New Museum, New York, presented in conjunction with a fully illustrated catalogue published by the New Museum; and “Jordan Casteel: Returning the Gaze,” presented at both the Denver Art Museum and the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University. Casteel is the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.
Linda Simmel (born in Los Angeles) is a Bay Area artist; her art practice includes painting, drawing and printmaking. Simmel’s dark landscaped-based paintings and historically-based etchings explore the influence of history on a psyche and subsequent feelings of longing. Simmel received her BFA from the University of California at Berkeley and was represented by Takada Gallery. She spent a decade traveling to and showing in and around Berlin, becoming an international participant in the newly formed artist collective “Atelierhaus Panzerhalle e.V., which was set in a tank repair workshop and ruinous surrounding barracks of a military base in the forests of Potsdam, Germany. In 2012, Simmel was an artist resident at the Baer Art Center in Iceland, in 2013 an artist at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Woodside, California, and she has been an artist in residence at the Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, California since 2007. Linda Simmel is included in the permanent collections of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento; Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art, Moraga; and the Triton Museum of Art, Santa Clara. She currently lives and works in Sonoma, California.
An Interview with Linda Simmel
MKM: Tell us about your childhood, where did you grow up?
LS: I grew up on the west side of Los Angeles, just a 10-minute drive from the ocean. The ocean played a large part in my growing up and reaching for something infinite/ineffable, outside of family and societal expectations.
MKM: Were you always creative?
LS: Yes, I remember always wanting to make things. My first strong memory was when I was five years old. In Kindergarten we had an assignment to paint a valentine’s heart. The two sides of my heart did not match, so I kept going from one side to the other, attempting for it to mirror its other half. Eventually the whole sheet of paper was red. When I was 10 years old, in grade school I’d go to Betty’s art classes. I took 2 buses (one transfer) to get there. At 13, Betty told me I had aged out of her children’s art classes. I begged her to allow me to stay! (She did).
MKM: When did you realize that creating art was something you had to do?
LS: I attended University of California at Berkeley for two years as an undergraduate. I then went to Israel with the intention of immigrating. After 11 months I knew I would be returning to the USA to settle and finish my college degree. I had to declare a major at that point, but I wasn’t sure what to do. My father suggested I declare an art major as I had previously wanted to attend the San Francisco Art Institute. Then upon graduating with a BFA in fine arts, I realized my focus was art making and I’d need to try to find a way to financially support that.
MKM: Did you have any memorable teachers?
LS: I was not able to relate much to the art department’s focus on Funk and the Light and Space movement of that time. However, I do remember a Professor Tibbs that offered a life drawing class; also Karl Kasten. I had a hard time painting in a room with 30 other people, so I spent most of my time in the ASUC darkroom that was manned by Roger Minick and Dave Bohn.
MKM: Did you focus on painting and printmaking at UC Berkeley?
LS: My first form of expression was photography. I guess I simply loved looking, seeing. As I began combining negatives (yes! negatives at that time!) and wanting to create sets or props for the images, my photographic process became more and more complicated and so I switched to the direct method of mark making via painting. The sensate quality of painting is what has kept me there. The way my body feels when making something is like wearing a favorite very worn and soft cotton dress. It’s taken me decades to come around to what I’m trying to say conceptually.
MKM: What jobs have you held other than being an artist?
LS: After graduating from UC Berkeley I started off as assistant to the director of the Physically Disabled Students Program at UCB, which later became the Center for independent living in Berkeley.
I went on to being a cowgirl in Colorado, taxicab driver, working in the darkroom at my local newspaper and finally becoming a free-lance bookkeeper for more steady financial support. Although with almost biennial trips to Berlin in the 1990’s for research and exhibitions, keeping the bookkeeping stream going was also challenging.
MKM: When you’re creating what’s your daily routine, rituals, patterns?
LS: Lots of pacing! Typically, I have to circle around doing house or garden chores before settling into the studio. Then if I’m particularly engaged with what is going on I have to pause to absorb it, as contrary as that sounds! Thereby more pacing around the property… suffice to say the works progress slowly. And works always have to lay about for a period of time until I’m sure I’m really finished with them. And then often, I’ll take up a canvas started years earlier. There are probably 5 paintings – 5 different iterations underneath every canvas I stop working on. Now with the cell phone I can document as I go along and sometimes I wonder why didn’t I stop at that earlier state?
MKM: When do you know a work is finished?
LS:As I am building up the canvas, certain sections may be coveted, but in the end the whole surface has to come together as a whole. It’s an intuitive decision. In my particular practice most times the surface doesn’t make sense to me unless it is densely saturated.
MKM: Do you focus on a specific medium or multiple mediums?
LS: Painting, drawing and printmaking
MKM:Which creative medium would you love to pursue but haven’t yet?
LS: I’d love to pursue clay and glazes but feel taking that up would disperse my energies too much. It would take years to master and develop a vocabulary and I wouldn’t want to give up my painting practice to allow time/energy for that to happen.
MKM: What is your most important tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
LS: Nothing is terribly precious; brushes are mostly from the hardware store, they are never cleaned, and they just stand in terpenoid for about 3 months. When it’s no longer easy to clean them as I’m using them, the brushes get tossed and off to the hardware store I go. My most precious material is the roll of gampi paper that I use in printmaking. Every print has chin collé. I love the stuff.
MKM: How has your practice changed over time?
LS: In both the painting and printmaking practices there is recently a return to starting with a photo as a jumping off point. I’ve begun to project images onto a canvas. Occasionally the painted image stays true to the projected image, more often it provides a jumping off point for composition. My paintings have always been expressive; however, they are a bit more content driven now. It’s taken me decades to move from expressing pure sensation or inner emotion towards more of a narrative.
MKM: What themes do you pursue?
LS: The weight of history on our everyday psyches. How that history can color interpretation of landscape.
MKM: What art do you most identify with?
LS: Work that is quite expressive, painterly, bold, colorful.
MKM: What memorable responses have you had to your work?
LS: After presenting a power point presentation of my most recent project at the time, a fellow resident at the Djerassi Residents Artists Program had tears when trying to express how moved he was by my large drawings of the sea. He is someone I have greatly admired, and someone opposite my nature.
MKM: What do you like about your work?
LS: The painterly aspect. Knowing how to move color around; feeling comfortable with color.
MKM: What quality do you most admire in another artist?
LS: A commitment and drive to keep working.
MKM: What was your first work of art that really mattered to you?
LS: Of mine or someone else’s? (MKM: Yours) “Infinite Longing 1” has stuck with me and steered me down a path I still follow today (although that is fairly recent).
MKM: What inspires you? Other artists? Your process? A theme?
LS: Other artists’ work. I get “art crushes” on work that I respond to strongly. Something resonates when I look at their work and I want to go running back to my studio and start working myself! I also get inspired when I hear of colleagues speak of a new project and are explaining their theme(s) to me.
MKM: If there is an artist that inspires you, is there a specific work that you find particularly interesting?
LS: I am currently looking a lot at Joshua Hagler’s work. I have been drawn to his work since I first encountered it a few years back when I went to a lecture at UC Berkeley given by Maja Rusnik (his wife, whose work I am also entranced by) and himself. I was very taken by that first group of work I saw from both of them, however like even more the current more abstract work Joshua is doing now, from the look of his website.
MKM: What are your interests outside of art?
LS: Gardening. Lots of gardening. Walking in nature.
MKM: What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
LS: “This too shall pass”
MKM: How has COVID impacted your practice?
LS: I was about to put painting aside and concentrate on printmaking….but the opposite happened as I hunkered down in my home painting studio and concentrated on painting and drawing.
MKM: What is your dream project?
LS: My dream project is to design a stage set for a dance company, OR to create a room installation, an installation that makes use of the whole space inside the walls & floor and that offers an immersive experience.
MKM: What can we expect from you in the next year?
LS: I am starting to lay out plans for an artist book that has been running around my mind for a very long time now, with parts already started. It is something quite personal, using artifacts and letters from my father and great uncles during the time of fascism’s rise to power in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. It is really meant to be a piece for my daughter, so that she may ponder her history from my side of the family. I will make a concerted effort this time to pull it together and have something cohesive within the upcoming year. Oh yes, and of course more painting; deeper dives into current themes.
The Hiking Club: A Vocabulary of Yearning
Linda’s upcoming solo exhibition, The Hiking Club: A Vocabulary of Yearning, will open spring 2023 at New Museum Los Gatos.
The Hiking Club: A Vocabulary of Yearning intertwines the story of being the daughter of an immigrant with landscape, trees and the sublime in nature. It pairs reverie of a father’s youth with a daughter’s yearning to walk in nature. The works in the show, Linda Simmel’s Infinite Longing series, are in part homage to landscape, trees, and the histories they’ve lived in, as well as to Simmel’s immigrant father and the time in which he lived.
Simmel’s father wandered the woods outside of Berlin and greater Germany with his hiking club in the late 1920s. The trees, among which he and his friends wandered, were witness to their discussions about the possibilities of a new social order under the Weimar Republic. As we know, that progressive state did not last. As a result, her father had an intense idealism and large loss, a romantic pull as well as dark experience. Inherent in an immigrant story is the “if only” question and its subsequent residue of longing. What if there was no abrupt change, what would the story have looked like then?
Before emigration it was among trees that the psychic tone of Simmel’s father’s life was formulated. Hiking in nature is a national pastime in Germany; May 14th is national “Hiking Day”. The forests provided the physical cauldron in which Simmel’s father developed his “Weltanschauung”, his philosophy of life. Simmel returns, or rather moves forward into that “cauldron” of landscape and trees; walking there to meditate on the gaps and absences in her own life and to simply walk toward her life.
The Infinite Longing series has affinities with Romanticism of the late 1800s, an aesthetic that portrayed a metaphysical experience of nature. Likewise, Simmel values wild places because they inherently allow our minds and psyche to connect with the infinite; to be anchored in the universe and to surrender and rest in the power of nature.
Amalia Mesa-Bains is an internationally renowned artist, scholar, and curator. Throughout her career, Mesa-Bains has expanded understandings of Latina/o artists’ references to spiritual practices and vernacular traditions through her altar installations, articles and exhibitions. In 1992 she was awarded a Distinguished Fellowship from the MacArthur Foundation. Her work has been shown at institutions that include: the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art at Phillip Morris, and the New Museum, as well as international venues in Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Ireland, Sweden, England, France and Spain. In 2011, her work was featured as part of NeoHooDoo: Art for A Forgotten Faith, and in 2013, she recontextualized objects from the collections of the Fowler Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles in New World Wunderkammer. As a cultural critic she has co-authored along with bell hooks, Homegrown: Engaged Cultural Criticism. Mesa-Bains founded and directed the Visual and Public Art department at California State University at Monterey Bay where she is now Professor Emerita. Mesa-Bains community work includes board of trustee positions with the Mexican Museum in San Francisco and advisory boards for the Galeria de la Raza, and the Social Public Resource Center in Los Angeles.
An Interview with Amalia Mesa-Bains
MKM: Tell us about your childhood, where did you grow up? Were you always creative?
AMB: I grew up in Sunnyvale California in 1943 when it was rural and an agricultural center with orchards and canneries. Yes, I was creative and the third generation of artists in my family.
MKM: You began your education with a degree in art and ultimately earned a PhD in psychology. Can you tell us about this multi-disciplinary journey and how it informs your work?
AMB: I began with an art degree in painting, but eventually turned to new media and materials that include spray painted constructions. When I began my master’s degree, I was part of Teacher Corps, a program that recruited minorities to serve in minority communities. Because of Teacher Corps at San Francisco State University, I was lucky to be on a team assigned to schools in the Mission district with fellow Latino team members and a veteran educator Yolanda Garfias Woo, who became my mentor. She was good friends with many of the Chicano and Latin leaders in the Mission. Through her I was drawn into the Chicano Movement and dedicated my art to the cultural work of the movement. While teaching I began to realize the emotional and psychological needs of my students, so I began taking night classes in psychology. At the same time, I was in an artist’s dream group guided by my mentor and friend Renaldo Maduro, which led to my interest in clinical psychology. Eventually I went to the Wright Institute which moved me toward a multidisciplinary approach to art, culture and women’s development. This disposition has informed much of my work as an educator, artist and activist.
MKM: You are an artist, curator, educator, author and activist – how do each of these practices inform, inspire and support the other in your varied projects and your work in general?
AMB: I think my curiosity has driven much of the interconnected fields that I work in. Many of the themes and directions in my work are also present in my curating, writing and activism. In particular my commitment to making visible the work of Chicana and Latina artists.
MKM: When you’re creating what’s your daily routine? Rituals, patterns?
AMB: I generally gestate on projects for quite a while which involves a great deal of reading, research, and even interviews to put together the guiding concepts. This will lead me to image collecting – all of which eventually helps me frame the final project. I always keep a drawing project book as I go along where I paste in images, notes and drawings as the project unfolds. I don’t work in the morning, mainly the afternoon, and particularly afternoon and often middle of the night note taking. I have no rituals other than being sure the studio is ready with tools and art supplies in order and tables cleared.
MKM: Has your practice changed over time?
AMB: Only in so far as age and illness have required more planning for other fabricators and scheduling of supplies etc.
MKM: What is your most important tool when you are making art? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
AMB: Only my imagination, since I depend more on fabricators such as glass blowers, box builders etc.
MKM: Is there an artwork/installation you are most proud of? Why?
AMB: My favorite piece as an experience and process has been the “New World Wunderkammer” which allowed me to work with all the departments at the Fowler UCLA Museum, including their extraordinary collections. It was a two-year project with multiple visits and direct work with specialists, designers, education folks and others.
MKM: What has been a seminal experience?
AMB: In my early years as an artist, I was mentored by Yolanda Garfias Woo who introduced me to the Meso American world, as well as the traditions of Mexican folk forms including the Days of the Dead. My long mentorship and friendship with her has been life changing.
MKM: What memorable responses have you had to your work?
AMB: I have had many reviews and recognitions. The recent review in the New York Times for the opening of the new Kinder building at Museum of Fine Arts Houston was especially positive, but my very first review in “Art in America” in 1987 when my show “Grotto of the Virgins” at INTAR in New York was acclaimed as one of the 10 best shows in alternative galleries that year, it was inspiring.
MKM: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
AMB: Hang on and stay with your purpose.
MKM: You often work with objects and collections – Do you maintain any of your own collections or live with other artists’ work?
AMB: Yes, we have an extensive collection of Chicano, Latino and Black art.
MKM: What is your dream project?
AMB: I have always imagined a residency in a museum where I could rearrange my objects into different installations each week.
MKM: What are you working on right now?
AMB: I am currently working on a project for the Mac Arthur Fellows 40th Anniversary which is called “Dos Mundos: Mexican Chicago.” It will be at two sites and tell the story of the invisible history of Mexicans in the building of Chicago as well as an homage to my own family who were very active in the Mexican communities of Chicago.
MKM: Is there any subject or theme you’ve been particularly interested in lately?
AMB: I am always interested in the issues of the immigrant experience and also in the change in the natural world.
MKM: What do you have planned for the year ahead?
AMB: Completing the Chicago project, writing and readying myself for a potential retrospective in 2023.
New World Wunderkammer
One of Amalia Mesa-Bains’ favorite projects, for both the experience and process, was New World Wunderkammer. She was invited to create this installation at UCLA’s Fowler Museum in honor of the Fowler’s 50th anniversary, fall 2013 to spring 2014. New World Wunderkammer featured more than 75 rare and historic objects from the museum’s permanent collection. The objects were combined and recontextualized with many of Amalia Mesa-Bains personal items from previous installations.
Mesa-Bains is well known for her groundbreaking work creating altar installations reminiscent of the ofrenda, a traditional home altar intended to honor and memorialize the departed. Along with the spirit of the domestic ofrenda, Mesa-Bains incorporated an age-old institutional method of display for New World Wunderkammer: the “cabinet of curiosities” or “cabinet of wonder”. The cabinet of curiosity has its origins in Renaissance Europe as a mode for storing and displaying collected items intended to illustrate an owner’s knowledge of the world.
The Fowler Museum provided Mesa-Bains access to all of its collections and the freedom to compose New World Wunderkammer as she envisioned. Over the course of two years, she became familiar with thousands of precious objects and ultimately assembled three connected cabinets of curiosity, representing “Africa, the indigenous Americas and the complex cultural and racial mixture (Colonial mestizaje) that typifies the New World.” 1 In this setting Mesa-Bains invited viewers to explore the “collision” of these colonized cultures while offering new paths of understanding and healing for the objects, the people encountering them and the museum in which they reside. 2
In addition to composing the cabinets, Mesa-Bains created eight giclée prints featuring images of specific objects in the exhibit. The object image is situated within compositions that include photographs, maps and plants that illustrate the context and history of the object’s origin. The prints were installed in proximity to the actual objects in the gallery cabinets. Study tables provided an interactive component within the gallery space, inviting visitors to participate in examining objects and history together.
It is easy to understand why New World Wunderkammer is Amalia Mesa-Bains’ favorite exhibit for the experience and process. Through her vision and inspirational creative process, Mesa-Bains produced a profound, multi-layered, inclusive and interconnected exhibition. New World Wunderkammer, brought together communities and cultures to create connection, honor memory and history, cultivate understanding and promote healing.
Instead of me interviewing an artist, this time I was the person being interviewed! Many thanks again to Daniel Garcia from Content Magazine for episode #48 Marianne McGrath – Independent Art Curator and Consultant- MKM Art Consulting. Daniel, I appreciate your interest in my curatorial and consulting work, and your support of our local creative community.
Description of Interview with Daniel Garcia, the Cultivator at Content Magazine: “Marianne K. McGrath is a Los Gatos, California, local who used her background in art and art history to build her own business, MKM Art Consulting, LLC., to practice curating, art consulting, and art education. Marianne holds a BA in art and 3-D design, as well as an MA in art history from San Jose State University. Her passion for art led her to a career focused on sharing art with the community, especially seen through her work with the New Museum Los Gatos (formerly The Museums of Los Gatos). Art exhibits and projects hosted by MKM Art Consulting include “To Hear and Be Heard” and “31 Women.”In our conversation, Marianne explains how her life path led her to be an art exhibit curator… “I think art is a reflection of the community. Art gives us an opportunity to know each other better, and to understand ourselves, to make us think and ask questions…” Find out more about Marianne’s work at: mkmARTconsulting.com @theartistcollector Music for this episode is “Time Alone” by Mild Monk Follow him at: IG: @MildMonkMusic Spotify: Mild Monk http://bit.ly/MildMonkMusicSpotify Read interview with Mild Monk in issue 12.0
Roberto Lugo is an American artist, ceramicist, social activist, spoken word poet and educator. Lugo uses porcelain as his medium of choice, illuminating its aristocratic surface with imagery of poverty, inequality and social and racial injustice. Lugo’s works are multicultural mashups; traditional European and Asian porcelain forms and techniques reimagined with a 21st-century street sensibility. Their hand-painted surfaces feature classic decorative patterns and motifs combined with elements of modern urban graffiti and portraits of individuals whose faces are historically absent on this type of luxury item – people like Sojourner Truth, Dr. Cornel West, and The Notorious BIG, as well as Lugo’s family members and, very often, himself.
Lugo holds a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and an MFA from Penn State. His work has been featured in exhibitions at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, the Clay Studio in Philadelphia, and the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, among others. His solo exhibition at the Walters Museum of Art received international acclaim, earning a spot in Hyperallergic’s “Top 20 exhibitions of 2018.”
Lugo is the recipient of numerous awards, most recently including a 2019 Pew Fellowship, a Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon Polsky Rome Prize and a US Artist Award. His work is found in the permanent collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, High Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Brooklyn Museum, Walters Museum, and more. He is currently an Assistant Professor at Tyler School of Art and Architecture.
Tupac/MLK Teapot and Tea Set
The portraits on Roberto Lugo’s porcelain vessels feature athletes, actors and exemplary citizen activists like Harriet Tubman and Angela Davis, musicians such as Nina Simone, or paired portraits, as in this work with Martin Luther King and Tupac on opposite sides of a tea pot “in conversation.” Lugo reminds us, “Usually when people sit down and drink tea, it’s more than one person and it happens around a conversation. There’s more implied than just the consumption of tea.”1 What if we could sit down and have a conversation with these people? What would you talk about? More broadly consider what could we learn, what could we solve, if We the People sat together and listened to each other?
1 Bessie Rubenstein, “Meet Roberto Lugo, the Potter Making Ceramics of Biggie and Basquiat”, interview with Roberto Lugo, Interview Magazine, March 17, 2020. https://www.interviewmagazine.com/art/roberto-lugo-vessels-biggie-basquiat
I am a potter, social activist, spoken word poet, and educator. All of these roles are rooted in my childhood. Having had no formal music or art training, I often practiced table drumming and writing hip-hop lyrics as it was customary to “battle rap” during lunch. Instead of art class, I drew in my composition book, and marked every wall that I could. “Graffiti” was a way to get my name into the community, to attain a local fame.
Today my graffiti is defacing social inequality. I teach communities to make mosaic murals to honor victims of gun violence. I see my pottery as a process of transforming the ground we walk on into something we eat from; we search all day for the perfect spot to put it on display. In many ways this transformation of tragedy into triumph is a metaphor for my life’s story.
My experiences as an indigent minority inform my version of Puerto Rican American history. With my education in critical theory, art education, art history and studio art I have developed a studio practice that fluidly communicates with diverse audiences. I bring art to those that do not believe they need to see it, and engage in deeper ways of knowing, learning and thinking. – Roberto Lugo
Fabric is Alice Beasley’s chosen medium of expression through which she creates realistic portraits of people and objects. Beasley finds color, light, shadow, line and value in the pattern of ordinary household fabrics. From these fabrics she snips small pieces which are arranged and fused into figurative compositions. As such, the work grows from within rather than being applied to the surface of a canvas by paint, pencil or similar drawing tools. When the image is complete, Beasley sews the composition together; the stitch line constituting the final “drawn” line.
Alice Beasley’s work has been exhibited in many venues throughout the United States including the American Folk Art Museum in New York and the Smithsonian Anacostia Museum. Abroad, her work has exhibited in countries around the globe, from Spain and France to Japan and Namibia. Beasley’s work has been purchased or commissioned by a number of private collectors and public entities including the County of Alameda, Kaiser Hospital, Highland Hospital and the Sunnyvale Medical Facility.
Unidentified Black Male
Alice Beasley was prompted to make Unidentified Black Male after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown. Beasley states “As bad as Newtown was, the reality is that black children and teens are the primary victims of gun deaths. Of the 5700 children and teens who died from gunfire in 2008 and 2009, 60% were black, eight times the death rate for white children and teens. But, unlike Newton, these deaths are cloaked in anonymity and draw no concern from public or media.”
While the original impetus for Unidentified Black Male was young unknown victims of gun violence, this work urges us to consider the many unknown victims of police brutality and the overwhelming magnitude of how many people of color have been abused or murdered over the centuries; the loss of life appallingly excluded from justice and history.
No Vote, No Voice
One of our most important actions as citizens is exercising our right to vote. Over the years, the United States has taken steps forward in enfranchisement for citizens, as well as steps backward. Alice Beasley says she was inspired to make No Vote, No Voice when “In 2013 a conservative majority in the Supreme Court eviscerated the Voting Rights Act, thereby becoming complicit in the active suppression of the votes of minority citizens by state legislatures. Over the past six years—and for the first time since the Jim Crow era—nearly two dozen states have passed new laws making it harder to vote.” Voting challenges continue today and extend beyond legislative injustice with concerns about COVID19 and the US Postal Service. Nevertheless, we must persist! Your vote is your voice, so let it be heard. To register to vote, check your registration and get important voting dates, visit: https://www.vote.org
Squeak Carnwath draws upon the philosophical and mundane experiences of daily life in her paintings and prints, which can be identified by lush fields of color combined with text, patterns, and identifiable images. She has received numerous awards including the Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art (SECA) Award from San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, two Individual Artist Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Award for Individual Artists from the Flintridge Foundation, and the Lee Krasner Lifetime Achievement Award from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation. In 2019, she was inducted into the National Academy of Design and Art. Carnwath is Professor Emerita at the University of California, Berkeley. She lives and works in Oakland, CA.
In this time of COVID19, our days have become monotonous and sometimes isolated. We share a collective yearning to be out with people and be together without the fear and problems of the pandemic. In AGAIN, Squeak Carnwath asks “Will We ever Be All Together AGAIN, Close”. Above this question, we see handprints, our most unique human signature, which has marked our presence since the earliest times. AGAIN makes us consider this ancient, basic need to be together, to be known and leave evidence, I am here.
AGAIN also makes us consider being together again in ways that transcend the physical. Current events have awakened us to the extent of our isolation and division. The different shades of paint for the hands, speak to the diversity of our physical characteristics, and conceptually to our differences in political and religious views, education and socioeconomic groups.
While we might have thought we were “together” in the past, perhaps we now realize we really weren’t as close as we hoped. There is much work to be done to unite us – to truly be all together again, close. AGAIN, in this sense, seems more like an earnest wish; our dream for the future. The hands on the canvas, banging and pounding to be let free, to go out and make this dream a reality.
Brian Dettmer (b. 1974, Chicago, IL) lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. He has been the subject of solo exhibitions at numerous institutions including the Hermann Geiger Foundation, Cecina, Italy, The International Museum of Surgical Science, The Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, and the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art. His works have been exhibited at the Museum of Arts and Design, The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institute, The Chicago Cultural Center, The High Museum, and the Perez Art Museum among others. Dettmer’s sculptures can be found in the permanent collection of several institutions including the Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Art Institute of Chicago, The High Museum, and the Yale University Art Gallery. He has been featured in several publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph, Chicago Tribune, Art News, Modern Painters, Wired, The Village Voice, Harper’s, CBS News and NPR.
Dettmer’s Problem Attic series was featured in the exhibition To Hear and Be Heard, which examines civility through the visual language of fine art. His work encourages us to consider the impact of information we willingly/unwillingly consume daily. In describing the inspiration and process for his work, Dettmer tells us, “Information is the raw material of today. We have an overabundance of text and imagery constantly at our fingertips. In digital media, it is often as fleeting as it is abundant, but when information is put in print we have a stronger sense of its relation to history and its stability for the future. In my work, I question this stability and ask what erasure and loss could look like through the lens of printed matter. Reference books have become almost extinct in less than one generation and we are at a pivotal time in the way we record and distribute facts. Without a stable home to rest in, our agreed truths have been uprooted and are now subject to distortions, erasures, and intentional manipulations. Through a meticulous process of sculptural excavation, I explore the inner contents of vintage books that have often been relegated to collecting dust or headed for a landfill. The work is both archival and anti-archival. It is a creation through consumption, an exposure through erasure. These sculptures break down historic narratives to offer a compression of ideas through a single surface, embracing us with a desire to reconstruct. This abundance of fragmented history reminds us that we are just one part of the bigger picture, as fleeting as the media we create and as permanent as the ideas we surround ourselves with.”
The Problem Attic Series
The Problem Attic Series – Artist Statement
The Problem Attic series revisits a handful of publications of Coronet, a small general interest digest magazine from the 1950’s and 60’s. With Rockwellesque style pin-up covers, semi-salacious short stories, general non-fiction, and advertisements for everything from cigarettes to appliances, the magazine paints a picture of an ideal mid-century suburban lifestyle that is extremely problematic from today’s perspective. Sexism and white male conformity saturate the pages, and unfortunately much of the text and imagery found and revealed echo many of the attitudes and issues still facing us today. Fragmented texts take on new meaning in 2020, as we face the Coronavirus pandemic and issues of sexism and racism in our society. Coronet, meaning small crown, comes from the Latin word “corona”. The title becomes broken and shortened in various forms within these works, creating an undeniable reference to the most pressing subject on our minds today.
Lisa Kokin lives and works in El Sobrante with her spouse Lia, three canine studio assistants and Bindi the cat. The daughter of upholsterers, she stitches everything she can get her hands on, including discarded books which she rescues from the local recycling center. Kokin brings a fiber sensibility and a conceptual approach to a diverse array of materials. Her work is often a commentary on the world around her, often incorporating the age-old Jewish response to adversity, humor.
Kokin has been the recipient of multiple awards and commissions, including a Eureka Fellowship, a WESTAF/NEA Regional Fellowship, the Dorothy Saxe Invitational Award for Creativity in Contemporary Arts, the Alameda County Arts Commission (multiple venues), and the Richmond Civic Center Public Art Interior Acquisitions Project. Her work is in numerous public and private collections, including the Boise Art Museum, the Buchenwald Memorial, the di Rosa Preserve, Mills College, Kaiser Permanente San Francisco, Yale University Art Museum, and Tiffany & Co.
At first glance these delicate works might make one recall a time when royalty ate cakes off of doilies and civility was equated with good manners. Legend has it that Marie Antoinette callously replied “let them eat cake” when she learned her subjects had no bread to eat. That problematic sense of entitlement and insensitivity is what inspired Lisa Kokin to make the works in Let Them Eat Cake, which are part of her Lucreseries. Kokin tells us, “I like money in its shredded state because it is stripped of value and power. Worthless, it becomes just so much green and white confetti. It is literally not worth the paper it’s printed on. As I separate each strip, the patterns, letters, numbers, and gradations of color are more striking than when the bills are intact. Washington’s heavy-lidded eyes, references to higher powers, cryptic serial numbers, seals and signatures, scrolls and flourishes. When sliced-up and decontextualized, money is really quite mysterious and beautiful. No one values money in this impotent state. It no longer has the ability to poison relationships, threaten democracy, topple governments, create privilege and misery. Stitched together with metallic thread into textile fragments… the material is re-contextualized with a new value and purpose.”
Countenance is part of Lisa Kokin’s Denominate, her current series of collages made with shredded U.S. currency. She decided to use the mask form because it has become so ubiquitous and is symbolic of much. During the pandemic we wear masks to protect our health and our fellow citizens, showing respect for each other’s lives. Kokin uses only black, white and grey pieces of currency, also potentially symbolic as racism has been compared to a pandemic. Kokin says, “As political events become more convoluted and disturbing, my work has evolved into a more minimalist response. Gluing tiny pieces of money together using a tweezers and miniscule gluing brush, I find comfort and serenity in lining up edges and staying within the self-imposed lines. Despite the limited parameters, I am able to improvise and let each piece evolve without a preconceived notion of the outcome. Cellphones, mazes, and masks are the forms with which I began the series. Thirty or so collages later, I switched to zeros…I am intrigued by the paradox of making zeros from something ostensibly valuable, although money in its shredded state is devoid of value, of course. Holes and emptiness preoccupy me these days as we live through the challenges of the pandemic and an administration seemingly immune to its devastating effects.”
Julie Heffernan is an American painter whose artwork has been described by the writer Rebecca Solnit as “a new kind of history painting” and by The New Yorker as “ironic rococo surrealism with a social-satirical twist.” Portraiture is a dominant subject in Heffernan’s painting, even while she also reflects on environmental, (art) historical, feminist, literary, social, and political subjects.
Heffernan was raised in Northern California, received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in printmaking and painting from University of California at Santa Cruz, and earned a Master of Fine Arts at Yale School of Art. She is a Professor of Fine Arts at Montclair State University and Co-founder of the journal Painters on Paintings. She lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
In 2011, Heffernan was elected a National Academician to the National Academy of Design in New York and in 2014, to the Board of Governors. She is a 2017 Fellow of the BAU Institute at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France; was awarded the Meridian Scholar Artist-In-Residence Fellowship from the University of Tampa in Florida and was the featured artist for the 2017 MacDowell Colony. In 2013, Heffernan was awarded a Milton And Sally Avery Fellowship at MacDowell and in 2012, she was invited to be the Lee Ellen Fleming Artist-In-Residence at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. In 2010, she was the Commencement Speaker for the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and in 2009, she was the featured artist at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. A recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a New York Foundation for the Arts grant, a Fulbright-Hayes grant to Berlin, Heffernan was also a nominee for the “Anonymous Was A Woman” award. Since 1999, Heffernan has had more than 50 solo exhibitions at museums and other venues across the United States and abroad. Her work is represented in 25 museum and institutional collections. She has been represented by Catharine Clark Gallery since 2005.
Self-Portrait with Eruption
What is the artist’s role in society? Creator? Cultural Influencer? Visual Historian? Activist?
In Julie Heffernan’s Self-Portrait with Eruption the artist is all of the above, paintbrushes and cans of paint at the ready. Draped across her hands she presents a painted scroll illustrating “double-sided” narratives of the past, which include, Currier and Ives’ The Last War Whoop; The Bath by Jean-Leon Gerome; and In the Harem by Vincent G. Stiepevich. Behind the artist is a gallery wall filled with painted portraits of exemplary citizen activists that courageously worked for social and environmental justice.
Who are these citizen activists? Women from history and present day that have spoken out and taken action to expose and correct societal problems, creating a new narrative and a more civil, inclusive and sustainable future. (From top left to bottom right) Civil rights activist Rosa Parks, well known for her pivotal role in the Montgomery bus boycott, which set in motion nationwide efforts to end racial segregation. Yuri Kochiyama, a Japanese American human rights activist, worked with Malcolm X for civil rights, and dedicated her life to social justice as an advocate for prisoners, nuclear disarmament and Japanese American reparations. Ella Baker, an African American civil and human rights activist, worked alongside W.E.B. Dubois, Thurgood Marshall, A. Philip Randolph, and Martin Luther King Jr., playing a key role in organizations such as the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, among others. Ida B. Wells, an African American investigative journalist, educator and activist who brought attention to the horrors of lynching, was an early leader in civil rights and women’s suffrage, and participated in the founding of the NAACP. Sylvia Earle, an American oceanographer, explorer, author and lecturer, the founder of Mission Blue, a National Geographic explorer-in-residence, and the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Frances Beinecke, NRDC’s president from 2006 to 2015, worked on finding solutions to some of the biggest environmental challenges of our time, including establishing a clean energy future that curbs climate change, reviving the world’s oceans, defending endangered wildlife and wild places, protecting our health by preventing pollution, fostering sustainable communities, and ensuring safe and sufficient water.