I spent some time Saturday afternoon in Chelsea looking at a couple shows that I’ve been meaning to see for a while. I was pleasantly impressed with the painted maps by Paula Scher and somewhat underwhelmed by the theatrics that surrounded the collection of work from Banksy. The unauthorized gallery show of Banksy’s work at the Vanina Holasek Gallery tried way too hard in its display of the images and in essence made it seem embarrassing. There was an incredible contrast between Banksy’s display with the paintings of Scher’s at the Maya Stendhal Gallery. If you suspend the idea that Banksy’s work should only be seen outside the gallery setting and allow more people to have access, that gallery wasted a great opportunity to elevate his work. Between the brutal angles of turning the work on edge to the splashes of paint on the walls to the fake police tape for Banksy’s images – I just have to wonder what were they thinking? Keep it simple and clean. Getting past the actual gallery setting I saw quite a few images of his that I’ve only seen on websites and magazines. There was also other stuff that I hadn’t seen previously. It’s definitely worth visiting if you’ve never seen his stuff before in person, but the collection seems to get lost within the attention it’s trying to draw from the contrived environment.
There were a couple things that really struck me when I saw the maps by Scher. The immense scale was the first thing that hit me. Between that and all the layers of information and colour it was really mesmerizing. It was one of the few times when I was drawn into the work and really just got sucked in. I didn’t spend hours with the work but I’ll definitely visit those maps again before the end of the show. I also managed to get a gallery catalogue of all the maps. Reflecting the scale of the show, the book is quite large as well. I’ve taken a picture of my moleskin with the book to show the difference in size.
Paula Scher Recent Paintings
November 8th, 2007 – January 26th, 2008
Maya Stendhal Gallery
545 West 20th Street
Banksy Does New York
December 2nd – 29th, 2007
Vanina Holasek Gallery
502 West 27th Street
The above image taken by friend Johanna came from her blog post about her experience with the Cripplebush Ghost Tour. Waiting extra long for public transportation in Brooklyn she discovered the sticker. Some of the questions she asked herself after getting a historical referenced txt message were “This must have been one hell of a boring brief (maybe something like “help raise awareness among Brooklyn residents of the history behind the neighborhoods”), if there was one.” But not all was boring after she went to the web site for more info. There’s a Google Map of all the stickers that have stories. They also have walking tours. In the end Johanna discovered that maybe there wasn’t a brief which was probably cooler…
Just in time for the holiday season – Banksy visits NYC with a gallery opening at Vanina Holasek Gallery December 2nd to 29th, 2007. There’s more info on Banksy’s US site at www.banksy.us. Sure there’s the gallery opening, but what I’ll be waiting for are the sightings that people see outside on the streets of NYC. If not, is it really worth seeing on the inside?
UPDATE: Just in case you don’t read comments – Alistair Hall mentions below on this post that “Looks like it’s not a show by him, so much as a sale of a collection of his work, arranged independently of him:
“Please note that Banksy is not represented by either the gallery or the other muppets involved with this exhibition. The art for sale has been privately sourced, over a period of time, especially for this show.””
A couple months ago I received a call from New York Magazine asking me if I wanted to take part in a new feature that would have designers going around the city taking photos of things that interested them in terms of culture outside, in subways, on storefront windows etc. If I said yes, this would be the first of its kind for the magazine. That was probably the second most memorable phone call related to anything New York. For me the first was actually getting the design job I wanted about a year ago. I was extremely excited but also reserved. I told a couple people I knew about the article, but until I saw it published you just never know if it’s going to happen.
Emma Pearse who I was going to work with emailed me a short brief and I was off running around NYC. For about a week I would go after work and spend a couple hours walking around photographing anything that I found interesting. I’m still relatively new to NYC so it gave me a great opportunity to explore a lot of areas. After that week I sent Emma the photos and she interviewed me over the phone. A couple days later she came back and asked me to take some more photos. It went back and fourth like that for a couple weeks. Eventually we meet in person, walked around SoHo together and gathered what would eventually be most of the photographs that were used. Then we talked, and talked more and then even more. I’ll be honest, it was slightly exhausting for me to describe the same thing four or five different ways – though I’m sure Emma felt the same way wondering if I was going to say anything clearly. The biggest problem was that I was talking to her as a designer, not as civilian.
A lot of the images had a reaction/reaction to it. I’d see something on the street and then a slightly different version used in a commercial sense. But there was a lot of overlapping visuals too. One example would be the stick man + cafe grumpy icon = image from Beastie Boys poster. Obviously the poster wasn’t created like that, but the visuals kind of show how things were merging on the street. A lot of the vibrandt colors that are out there aren’t entirely new, but if you wanted to dissect it, nurave as a scene could be suggested that it’s been grabbing hyper colors and mixing it to their own purposes. There was this street art image that couldn’t reflect this better than not even a block down I saw these guys and their shoes that had the same color pallet as the wall. This was the way my conversations with Emma would go – and though I couldn’t see her through the phone or IM, I’m sure there were times when she was pulling out her hair.
After some of these conversations I still wondered if it would make the cut. I just tried to keep a level head and work the best way I could. Once we started talking about my blog and bio information, and talking with a photo editor I knew things were close. I could almost start to relax. A couple more days passed and once I saw the final text I started letting more people I know that the article was happening and it was coming out soon. So this morning when I got a Google Alert with my name and the url sending me to New York Magazine I could finally sigh a breath of relief and jump up and down. I haven’t seen the August 20, 2007 Issue in print, but soon as I do it will feel pretty good to see something that a lot of people worked really hard on. Here’s the url if you want to read it yourself: http://nymag.com/arts/art/features/35807/
I’m not a huge cat fan though I don’t have any issues with them. I have a weim so that places me firmly in the dog camp. But before I digress into a cat vs. dog thing I’ll stop while I’m ahead and mention the above sighting of Monsieur Chat. I’m not sure if this has been up for five days or five years. I started taking a new walk route to work and noticed it almost immediately. A couple days after the first sighting I took a pic and placed it on flickr. Not knowing anything about it I didn’t think much of the posting. Within a couple hours one of my flickr contacts posted a comment mentioning that the image is part of Monsieur Chat. It’s an interesting learning process for me in terms of street art. There’s a balance between exploration: walking around, discovering and taking pictures of things that are interesting, and learning: research, listening to other people’s stories and relying on the internet to get more info. I think it’s damn difficult keeping up with who’s who – but when you discover something new with a compelling story it’s worth the effort.
The youtube video shows a four year progression of a wall in the lower east side of New York by the street artist Swoon. Fascinating prgression of technique and politics.
The simple question would be was it worth it? You have the option to do anything you want on a Saturday in New York and you decide to stand in on something for a couple hours – only to be rewarded with the chance experience something that will only be here once. But the bigger question is what do you do with that time? Standing in line seemed like such a painful obstacle, but really where would you rather be? You can’t live through a lens yet it’s hard not to want to capture every moment. That’s how I saw it
Sunday is the official closing, so like they say go early to 11 Spring Street, and if you want to see some of my quick shots, visit my set at http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelsurtees/sets/72157594423917521/
Text below from the Wooster Collective Website…
Wooster On Spring – The Countdown Begins
As many of you now know, Wooster on Spring, the exhibition we have been working on with Elias Cummings, the new owners of 11 Spring Street, will open in Lower Manhattan in less then one week.
The exhibition, a three celebration of 30 years of ephemeral art, will take place for three days only, and then all of the artwork will be destroyed.
The artists who’s work will be showcased include Shepard Fairey, WK, Jace, Swoon, David Ellis, FAILE, Cycle, Speto, D*Face, Blek Le Rat, John Fekner, Bo and Microbo, Above, BAST, Momo, Howard Goldkrand, Borf, Gaetane Michaux, Skewville, Michael DeFeo, Will Barras, Kelly Burns, Abe Lincoln, Jr, Judith Supine, Rekal, Maya Hayuk, Anthony Lister, Stikman, You Are Beautiful, Gore-B, Elboe-Toe, MCA, Jasmine Zimmerman, Plasma Slugs, Rene Gagnon, and many other surprise guests.
So here are the days and times for the three day open house:
Friday, December 15th: From 11am to 5pm
Saturday, December 16th: From 11am to 5pm
Sunday, December 17th: From 11am to 5pm
On Sunday, December 17th at 3pm there will be a panel discussion with many of the artists attending.
The location (as if you didn’t know) is 11 Spring Street (Spring and Elizabeth). For the first time in perhaps more than 25 years, the doors of 11 Spring will be open to the public.
Our advice – Come early and come often.
In mid October I discovered Pasqualina Azzarell through flickr. Someone had posted a number of images of her art on the walls of a construction site in DUMBO. Looking through those images I noticed that one of the walls had her e-mail address. Intrigued, I e-mailed her asking if she would do an interview with me. Not only did she say yes, she also invited me to the D.U.M.B.O. Art under the Bridge Festival that was being held at the time. Not knowing anything about the festival since I has just moved to NYC, I thought it would be an interesting adventure for Tamara and myself. We weren’t disappointed, and we got to say hello to Pasqualina. Below is the interview that was conducted through e-mail.
You can view more of her work at my flickr set that I took during the festival at http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelsurtees/sets/72157594364934238/
Michael Surtees: Thanks again for doing this interview Pasqualina. I noticed your artwork through flickr where someone had taken a couple pictures of the walls you had painted at a construction site. One of the images had your e-mail address on it and that’s how I contacted you. Have you received a lot of interest through e-mail, or if you had just left a phone number do you think the response would have been the same?
Pasqualina Azzarello: I value making use of public spaces when making and sharing my art. Whether I am making a mural, creating a proactive public dialogue through performance, or selling my artistic wares on city streets, I appreciate the integration of object and place. I have noticed that I tend to make use of a similar approach when it comes to announcements, that is, ‘getting the word out’ about a project or an upcoming show. Once upon a time, I would include only my phone number as a means of contact. And people seemed to use it mostly in regard to practical matters (ie: directions to a gallery, etc). What is nice about email, however, is that the range of communication has expanded. People are less shy and are more inclined to share their feelings about the work and tell their own personal stories. Because of the nature of this community-oriented project, I felt that my email address was the most appropriate means of creating a dialogue, aside, of course, from the conversations that happened on the street while the work was being made.
MS: In the NYT article, it mentions you painting 500 rocks and placing them around where people would find them the next morning, and then you have the painted walls outside of a construction site. Could you talk about what public interaction with your art mean to you. Is it important that the work be seen outside in public or is that not much of an issue?
PA: It is clear to me that context affects how a work of art is seen and experienced, and by the same token, nothing is truly neutral. Even the white window-less walls of a gallery or museum create a culturally potent backdrop. So yes, the context I choose to share my work in is critical. In the case of the 500 painted rocks or the painted flowers around the construction site in Dumbo, I was interested in the element of people, while in the throes of the mundane of the day-to-day, being able to happen upon something that was blatantly handmade. I believe that a certain disruption occurs when that which is automated is juxtaposed with that which is created and vital. I find that creative disruption compelling and incredibly important.
MS: When you’re painting, do you have an initial theme that you want to express, or is the process more stream of consciousness?
PS: While working in my studio, my process tends to be incredibly free and as a result, the images almost seem to take their own form. When making public murals, however, there is almost always other people involved in some aspect of the project. In this case, because of the nature of the working with others, I tend to create a sketch or model upon which to base the final piece. Even with this approach, though, I make sure to leave room for the surprises which inevitably come along the way.
MS: How has your artwork evolved over time?
PA: Very much so. I suppose like all things created and all things alive, change is an integral aspect of development. There are, however, shared threads which carry my mark and my vision that can be seen throughout my work, even across different genres of painting, performance, video, and installation. It is interesting, too, to look back to when certain visual tendencies begin. I think sometimes I make certain assumptions about when my artistic career began, but recently I looked through a number of drawings from my childhood, and there were symbols and arrangements of images in them that still exist in my work today.
MS: How would you characterize your technique for painting, and has there been other artists that have influenced your style?
PA: I consider myself a folk artist. A contemporary folk artist, who, like all folk artists, makes work that reflects upon one’s immediate world in a direct and immediate way. As for other artists whose work speaks to me, there are many. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jean Dubuffet, Joseph Beuys, Louise Bourgeois, Ana Mendieta, William Pope.L, and Swoon to name a few. Also, John Steinbeck, Charlie Parker, Patti Smith…
MS: Do you have plans to move on to other construction sites to paint? Are there any new projects in the works that you can talk about?
PA: I would love to continue to paint the walls that surround construction sites. As neighborhood development becomes more and more common, and as it continues to affect people, communities, and culture in very real ways, I am interested in the potential that exists in the overlap of urban development and public art. Throughout the project in Dumbo, which surrounded the site of the tallest residential building in Brooklyn to date, it was clear that the art provided a platform for a personal public dialogue. It was incredibly successful in this way. I think that other communities could benefit from these connections and conversations taking place alongside the changes in their neighborhoods…
As for upcoming events, I am excited to announce that the painted panels from the construction site in Dumbo will be exhibited at Retreat, located at 147 Front Street in Dumbo, Brooklyn. Many panels will remain in their original 4’x8′ form, while many others will be cut into smaller sizes. All panels will be for sale. The exhibition will run from December 1, 2006 – January 31, 2007. The opening reception will take place on Friday December 1, from 5-8 pm. All are welcome!
MS: What do you hope people can take away from something that you’ve painted, and why do you paint?
PA: I paint because it serves as an effective and efficient way to communicate what I see and what I care about. In the same way that I am reminded of my strength and purpose when in the presence of another engaged in their craft, it would be humbling to know I could inspire the same for somebody else.
MS: Thank you so much for your time. It was great to get the chance to understand some of your thinking behind the art. Best of luck in the future!