Billy White

My Body, mixed media on canvas, 18" x 24", 2015

Jed Clampett, glazed ceramic, 10" x 7" x 4"

Untitled, acrylic, 18" x 24", 2015

Untitled, graphite on paper, 12" x 17"

Untitled, mixed media on canvas, 24" x 18"

The process of evaluating any artwork includes some interpretation of how it functions - mechanisms such as the way gestural brushstrokes communicate movement by indexing the physical action of their application, or the way that arrangements of representational imagery can imply relationships between elements that generate narrative.

The mechanism by which Billy White’s paintings elicit emotion is sharply specific, yet escapes analysis, remaining a wonderful mystery. A loose, fearless application of paint renders forms with a striking physicality and sense of humor. There’s an uncanny affinity with the work of figurative painters Todd Bienvenu and Katherine Bradford (who both have an aesthetic undoubtedly informed by the work of self-taught artists). The impact of White’s work cuts through a vivid alternate world that operates on White’s terms - a highly original set of priorities, passing over image and rendering to achieve an expression of mood and vitality, as though excavating the underlying stories that were already present; impatient mark-making and barely legible imagery find time and space for redolent storytelling and detail. While he typically focuses on painting and drawing, White occasionally creates small ceramic sculptures that are rich in character and evocative of Allison Schulnik’s warped clay figures - slumped postures, elongated, rubbery appendages, intermingling glazes, and sunken, cartoonish expressions.

White’s work is largely influenced by his avid interest in pop culture, often depicting actual and imagined events in the lives of various celebrities or fictional characters, from Dr Dre to Hulk Hogan to Superman. NIAD provides some insight into White’s process: “He might start off painting Bill Cosby, but quickly change his mind by lunch. When that happens, he simply works right on top and doesn’t erase what came before. The new work becomes an extension of the old. By the end of the day this could happen several times and what’s often left is a latticework of figures and stories with interchangeable meanings.”


Billy White (b. 1962) has exhibited previously in Rollergate at the Seattle Art Fair, Telling It Slant organized by Courtney Eldridge at the Richmond Art Center, Undercover Geniuses organized by Jan Moore at the Petaluma Art Center, ArtPad San Francisco at the Phoenix Hotel, and extensively at NIAD Art Center, where he has maintained a studio practice since 1994. He has an upcoming solo exhibition at San Francisco’s Jack Fischer Gallery later this year.

 

The Effortless Humor of Michael Pellew

Michael Pellew, Untitled, 2016, Mixed Media on Paper, 11"x17"

Michael Pellew, Michael and Latoya Texting on the Beach, 2015, Acrylic on Canvas, 12"x9"

Michael Pellew, British Platter, 2015, Mixed Media on Paper, 14"x17"

One of the fantastic surprises at the Outsider Art Fair this year was our experience with the work of Michael Pellew. Pellew’s work is unassuming, and in the context of the fair particularly blends in - a style defined by repetition, drawing within a simple system, and the use of unconventional materials (markers). We were more familiar with his series of small original drawings marketed as greeting cards, which typically feature a grouping of four or five figures (available at Opening Ceremony in Manhattan and LA). In a larger scale, the voice only available in snippets in smaller works unfolds to become an astonishing comedic performance.

The repetition and economy of visual language in his work is necessary to the humor - each figure articulated in an identical manner, with just a few distinctive features describing its specific identity. The supreme ease with which each character enters the scene via this agile visual vernacular accounts for the works’ pace and timing. There's an exciting cleverness in the way the simple archetype of the figure takes on the identity of countless celebrities, analogous to a skilled impressionist mimicking pop culture icons in rapid succession. Pellew seems to be compiling an ongoing, shifting catalog of celebrities; those with apparent relationships or categorizations are sporadically interrupted with unexpected pairings (Princess Diana and Lemmy Kilmister) or fictional personas (Lauryn Hill M.D. from Long Island College Hospital, The Phanton Lord). Viewers with an extensive knowledge of pop culture are highly rewarded by the ability to recognize the abundance and subtlety of his references.

Michael Pellew, Untitled, 2015, Mixed Media on Paper, 22"x30"

Humor is an important element in many works that don't necessarily make us laugh, but truly funny art like Pellew’s (beyond the occasional clever moment or inside joke), is very uncommon. Crystallizing the elusive and ephemeral quality of comedy into a permanent art object is extremely difficult to achieve. Usually the most overtly funny approach is to employ an explicit punchline that rests on an impressive technical or procedural spectacle; artists that exemplify this approach are those like Wayne White or Eric Yahnker. 

Eric Yahnker,  Beegeesus , 2005, 13 x 10 x 10 in.  "Bible whited-out except that which sequentially spells Bee Gees" image via  www.ericyahnker.com

Eric Yahnker, Beegeesus, 2005, 13 x 10 x 10 in.

"Bible whited-out except that which sequentially spells Bee Gees" image via www.ericyahnker.com

Pellew’s humor, however, is more nuanced, so in the absence of a punchline, his approach relies on absolute fluency rather than overt technical prowess. The quintessential example of this brand of humor is Raymond Pettibon; works that appear effortless afford the artist a more casual voice, equipped to cultivate a more dynamic interaction between the work and viewer. When it's less obvious that there's a joke present, the viewer tunes into a more acute examination of tone and timing in search of the artist's intention. 
 

Raymond Pettibon, image via  www.raypettibon.com

Raymond Pettibon, image via www.raypettibon.com

Whereas Pettibon uses this approach to insert sardonic or satirical moments of levity into his generally grim oeuvre, Pellew instead engages this sort of humor with a lighter and even silly sensibility; he creates an abundantly bright and positive space that is captivating. The conceptual foundation of his work becomes about treading the line between earnestly identifying as an artist, or slyly engaging in play-acting the role of an artist. Walton Ford has described using play-acting (as a scientific illustrator) in a similar way as an entry point into comedy. In Pellew’s case, the performance is broader, and in its execution more engrossing - guiding you through his alternate world, you're always uncertain if he’s serious, even as he crosses well over into the realm of absurdity.

Michael Pellew, Michael Jackson and Bubbles, 2014, Acrylic on Canvas, 14"x11"

In the affable universe he realizes, there’s virtuosity in the way moments of comedic surprise cut sharply through. The lingering experience of these pieces isn’t static, but a dreamlike memory of an event unfolding; line-ups of celebrities…everyone had a pepsi…they were all hanging out around a limousine eating McDonalds…and then Marilyn Manson is offering his famous burger and fries. It’s an alternate reality composed of familiar characters and Pellew is leading us along, introducing each of them, all in his voice - but really it's the viewer’s voice. You are left walking away amused, incredibly satisfied, but not entirely sure what has just happened. 

Pellew has been working at LAND Gallery’s studio for over ten years and participated in numerous exhibitions in New York, including group shows at Christian Berst Art Brut and the MOMA. His work has been acquired by many reputable collectors, including Spike Lee, Sufjan Stevens, Citi Bank, JCrew and PAPER Magazine.

Michael Pellew, Making a Band (detail)

NEW VOICES

Throughout 2015, Disparate Minds writers Tim Ortiz and Andreana Donahue worked directly with The Canvas, a progressive art studio in Juneau, Alaska as Artists-In-Residence, guest facilitators, and curators of the group exhibition NEW VOICES.  

Mike Godkin, Transportation: boat, plane, car, chalk pastel on vellum, 12" x 12", 2015

Jeff Larabee, Untitled, sharpie and marker on clayboard, 16" x 20", 2015

Mirov Menefee, Untitled, ceramic, dimensions variable, 2015

Mirov Menefee, Untitled, colored pencil, graphite, and micron on paper, 18" x 24", 2015

The Canvas is a relatively young studio and when we initially joined them was beginning to transition from a didactic approach to art-making to one of professional development. We were given the opportunity work directly with artists in the studio alongside facilitators to share ideas and knowledge about further developing the emerging creative culture and cultivating an environment conducive to the independent discovery of art-making - guiding artists to invent and maintain studio practices of their own devising. We focused on post hoc guidance through the introduction of criticism in one-on-one discussion and group critique, challenging artists to explore the potential investment of time and care available in each of their processes.

The result of this paradigm shift has been a wealth of inspired new ideas and creative voices. NEW VOICES represents a selection of current work in various media by this studio’s most promising and successful artists, including many that we’ve discussed in essays for Disparate Minds over the past year: the nuanced minimalism of Grace Coenraad, Luis Hernandez’s intuitive yet complex abstractions, the enigmatic text-based drawings of Jeff Larabee, and Susy Martin’s bold, layered symbolism. This exhibition establishes a dialogue between artists and artwork, accentuating similar investigations of visual language and innate tendencies - repetitive processes or subject matter choices, surface manipulation, emblematic mark-making, or heightened attention to detail.

Other highlights from the exhibition include: 

Mark Davis, Untitled, colored pencil on paper, 19" x 24", 2015

Mark Davis’ first major work on paper - a complex, pattern-based drawing in colored pencil, created using an intuitive set of rules, built methodically from bottom to top; it’s a spectacle of fluorescent color and rich detail, paradoxically both a simple, flat pattern and organic rendering of form reminiscent of a woven textile. 

Terral Kahklen, Untitled, graphite, micron, and marker on paper, 9" x 12", 2015

Exhibited alongside Jeff Larabee is his good friend and fellow explorer of text aesthetics, Terral Kahklen (TK). TK began coming to the studio late in the year, but immediately began making compelling work. He’s an example of an experience with profound intellectual disability that’s persistently misunderstood and unseen, a person whose way of being demonstrates that being disparate from the neurotypical (far from being a mere impairment in any linear sense), can become a disposition in which making connections between his inner and exterior world (social engagement in a fundamental sense) is a series of creative problems. In effect, his entire engagement with the neurotypical world becomes a creative and aesthetically thoughtful endeavor. Throughout his life, he has elected to be silent and communicate almost exclusively through minimal sign language, allowing himself to be understood on his own terms. For TK, creating elegant, minimalist drawings couldn’t be more natural. His process is exceptionally thoughtful, carefully considering each mark for long periods of time despite consistently choosing to repeat the forms T and K in an exclusively grayscale palette; each of his early works was a singular exploration, but quickly accumulated as a dynamic body of work reflecting a clear perspective. 

Melanie Olsen, Twin Lakes, graphite on paper, 10" x 19", 2015

Melanie Olsen, Untitled, graphite on paper, 2015

Melanie Olsen is an eccentric artist who has spent her life surrounded by the majestic, monumental terrains of California and Alaska. In temperament, Melanie is a classic landscape painter, inspired by the beauty and romance of the sublime landscape, and strives to respond to it faithfully in her work. Her drawing process is a collection of brief, intensely focused moments in which she traces long, complicated contour lines, gritting her teeth and drawing almost blindly as her eyes intently follow the jagged mountain edges in her source imagery. In the interest of objectivity, she relies methodically on a range of different grades of graphite to control value in her shading, evaluating tones against a set of graphite swatches. Her works are a highly critical endeavor, not intended to be expressive or personal, but idealistic and true. 

In addition to being a fantastic exhibition, NEW VOICES is an achievement of one of the most revolutionary and exciting aspects of progressive art studios: their power to support contemporary, genuine work for the benefit of both local and global art communities.  In Juneau, Alaska, the local art community (with a few exceptions) produces and exhibits safe. accessible works - neo-impressionist landscapes typical of rural communities and kitschy illustrative works reflecting a narrow set of themes highly driven by the tastes of tourists, while the beautiful traditional arts of Native Alaskans often remain marginalized. In this cultural landscape, this exhibition is an unprecedented emergence of relevant and compelling contemporary concepts and studio processes.  

Karen Wiley, Untitled, graphite and erasure marks on vellum, 12" x 12", 2015

Marlon Mullen Update

Marlon Mullen, Untitled (P2403), acrylic on canvas, 36" x 36"

Marlon Mullen, Untitled, acrylic on canvas, 24" x 30"

Marlon Mullen, Untitled, acrylic on canvas, 30" x 30"

Marlon Mullen in the studio, images courtesy NIAD

Marlon Mullen (b. 1963 Rodeo, CA), who is now represented exclusively by JTT Gallery and Adams and Ollman, lives in Richmond California, where he maintains a studio practice at NIAD Art Center. Mullen’s process entails reducing found imagery, often in the form of art publications, to a point well beyond recognition. Mullen’s flat, simple abstractions are achieved with utter sincerity, devoid of stylistic embellishment, and without reverting to geometric or systematic deconstructions (calling to mind the work of Gary Hume or Monique Prieto). Each elegant, lushly painted composition feels like an original, unequivocal interpretation of its source (while maintaining mere fragments of the initial image), but ultimately asserting a new sense of resolution with power and charm.  

Mullen has been exhibiting work for several years, but there has been a recent increase of interest in his oeuvre; after his inaugural show with JTT in New York, he went on to have a solo exhibition at Atlanta Contemporary; upcoming solo exhibitions are slated with Adams and Ollman in Portland, Oregon and Jack Fischer Gallery in San Francisco. JTT and Adams and Ollman will also be co-presenting a solo show of Mullen's work at the Outsider Art Fair in January. 

In a March Artspace interview, on Finding Space in the Market for Underdogs, curator and White Columns Director Matthew Higgs asserted that Marlon Mullen is "an amazingly interesting painter...we did a solo with Mullen a few years ago...JTT saw his work with us and is doing a solo show with him now. I think that's a really amazing development, that Mullen's work, which was largely only seen in the context of the center where he worked, is now finding multiple audiences. Certainly, from our perspective at White Columns, the goal is to create an audience for these ideas - we're less concerned, or ultimately less interested, in creating a market for these ideas. But I accept entirely that sometimes a market will come."

Mullen's work was discussed more recently in a compelling article written by Brendan Greaves for Artnews, The Error of Margins: Vernacular Artists and the Mainstream Art World. Greaves investigates the current role of Mullen and comparable artists in the contemporary art market:

Though the art world may not yet have a satisfactory way of referring to artists like Mullen, who are variously described by such leaky terms as self-taught, outsider, and vernacular, it has, over the past few years, shown more interest in them and is gradually growing the existing market for their work. When this issue of ARTnews went to press, Christie’s was preparing a September sale of what it deems “outsider and folk art,” including work by such acknowledged masters as Chicago narrative artist Henry Darger, Tennessee stone carver William Edmondson, Swiss Art Brut exemplar Adolf Wölfli, and rural Idahoan James Castle, who made paper constructions and delicate drawings with soot and spit.


The anticipated sales prices of the vernacular works at the auction—ranging from $2,000 to $4,000 for small pieces by Clementine Hunter, a painter of life on the Louisiana plantation on which she lived, to $400,000 to $600,000 for a large double-sided Darger drawing—illustrate the highly variable nature of this still-developing market. As Cara Zimmerman, Christie’s newly hired specialist in the field, told me over the summer, “While some well-known artists like Darger and Edmondson have already achieved auction prices commensurate with post-war and contemporary artists, this is still a new venture for us.

Previous exhibitions include the Parking Lot Art Fair in San Francisco (2015), Welcome To My World at NIAD (2015), NADA Art Fair White Columns Booth in Miami (2014), Under Another Name, organized by Thomas J. Lax at the Studio Museum of Harlem (2014), Undercover Geniuses organized by Jan Moore at the Petaluma Arts Center (2013), Color and Form at Jack Fischer Gallery in San Francisco (2013), Marlon Mullen at White Columns in NYC (2012), After Shelley Duvall '72 at Maccarone in NYC (2011), and Create, curated by Matthew Higgs and Lawrence Rinder at the Berkeley Art Musueum (2011). Mullen is a 2015 recipient of the Wynn Newhouse Award and has work in the collections of The Studio Museum in Harlem, the Berkeley Art Museum, and MADMusée (Belgium). See more of Mullen's work here

William Scott

  

San Francisco-based artist William Scott is a believer in a better world; his works are the celebratory announcement of the wholesome future. His complex oeuvre not only imagines a parallel universe, but Scott leads by example with a joyous conviction in articulating his vision of a utopian future San Francisco, “Praise Frisco”. Scott’s paintings, drawings, and sculptures are executed in a manner consistent with this gospel of idealism and excellence, shining with a pristine vibrance. 

In a Frieze review of Scott’s solo exhibition "Good Person" at White Columns, Katie Kitamura asserts:

Scott’s work is wrapped up in the idea of what it means to be a citizen, to be interpellated within the social order. That is probably most memorably captured in an untitled series of sci-fi infused works ...These are populated with a lovely switch and change of language - ‘citi-fi’ and ‘inner limits’ and ‘whole some citizen’ - and a series of wide-eyed future citizens of the world, about to depart on airport shuttles into space.
In the most direct way, Scott communicates the way in which being part of any social order relates to pop cultural paranoia and conspiracy theories. But he also captures the deeper suspicion that we are sometimes possessed by forces beyond our comprehension.


William Scott attends Creative Growth’s studio in Oakland. Scott is widely collected and has work in the permanent collections of the MOMA and The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York. 
He has exhibited recently in Groupings at Park Life Gallery (San Francisco) and previously at the Outsider Art Fair (NYC), Hayward Gallery (London), Gavin Brown’s enterprise, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (San Francisco), the Armory Show (NYC), Palais de Tokyo (Paris), NADA (Art Basel, Miami), and White Columns. From White Columns’ "Good Person" exhibition statement:

For many years William Scott has been working on an ongoing urban planning project that would see San Francisco – in Scott’s terminology – “cancelled”, only to be re-imagined, rebuilt, and rechristened as a new city named ‘Praise Frisco.’ Scott’s urban project, which was the subject of his...White Room exhibition at White Columns, is rooted in a desire to see his own socially marginalized neighborhood of Bay View / Hunter’s Point “torn down” and then subsequently renewed according to his carefully detailed plans. Scott’s ambitious, optimistic, and deeply humane project engages explicitly with San Francisco’s recent past, present realities, and potential future. (more)

John Hartman

assorted letter openers

Three Geese on Stands, Pine and Cyprus

owl sculpture, mahogany

Material in the raw is nothing much. Only worked material has quality, and pieces of worked material are made to show their quality by men, or put together to so that together they show a quality which singly they had not. “Good material” is a myth. English walnut is not good material. Most of the tree is leaf-mold and firewood. It is only because of workmanlike felling and converting and drying and selection and machining and setting out and cutting and fitting and assembly and finishing - particularly finishing - that a very small proportion of the tree comes to be thought of as good material.
    - David Pye, The Nature and Art of Workmanship

John Hartman skillfully works within the tangible, tactile boundaries of a small-scale process and commitment to good workmanship. Within this intimate context, he engages wood without conceptual boundaries, exploring utility, mimesis, and sculptural invention freely. Through the tradition of woodworking, Hartman is able to realize a wide range of possessable objects that evoke a sense of elegance and great integrity.

Hartman is a Manhattan-based artist who has been working in Pure Vision’s studio since 2013. From Pure Vision: 

Hartman’s “main passion is woodcarving. John was introduced to the craft at the age of eleven, in wood shop at The Rudolph Steiner School. He began by crafting a cherrywood flour scoop. Instantly drawn to the medium, he slowly started teaching himself how to make more complicated objects. Collecting rare woods from around the world such as ebony, zebra wood, Philippine mahogany and bloodwood, John now spends hours in the studio and at home carving, whittling, sanding and polishing each piece. Inspired by visits to his family’s seaside home on Fire Island, his subjects often reference birds and sea creatures.” (more)

Visionaries and Voices

Established 2003, Cincinnati Ohio

visionariesandvoices.com

The Visionaries and Voices Northside Studio Building in Cincinnati, featuring a mural of local legend Raymond Thundersky

Ohio has a high concentration of quality progressive art studios compared to other states - 12 in 11 different cities across the state. During our research trip, we were able to visit both Visionaries and Voices (V+V) studio locations in Cincinnati. V+V embodies all of the essential qualities of a progressive art studio, providing two fine art open studio spaces that are utilized by more than 140 Cincinnati-based artists experiencing developmental disabilities. The studios are staffed by trained artists who provide non-intrusive guidance and facilitation, and the Northside location includes a professional exhibition space. 

We spoke with Tri-County Studio Coordinator, Megan Miller and the Northside Studio Coordinator Theo Bogen during our visits; both are dedicated to and passionate about the mission of V+V and committed to facilitating the studio process based on what each artist is compelled to make.

an artist's work space in the studio

V+V stands out because of its professional, egalitarian culture. The relationship of the staff to the artists in progressive art studios is often simplified in terms of teaching or facilitating. In practice, the latter is defined by hands-off assistance, allowing the artist to create freely, and the former is a more codependent or antiquated approach defined by teaching or instructing in a didactic sense. V+V not only demonstrates the more progressive approach, but also in a deeper way, shows that this bifurcation is just a piece of a more complex continuum. Artists at V+V work with not only a sense of ownership of their own practice and work, but also with ownership of the entire enterprise, the studio itself. They move freely throughout it, develop personalized workspaces with ongoing projects and materials, and enjoy a peer relationship with the assisting staff.  

This culture may be explained by their unique history. The studio began as a work space for the late Raymond Thundersky (now a local legend), and slowly transitioned into a non-profit program over the years. The workspace was organized by a couple of social workers for Thundersky and a few other artists. The identity of the studio as a workspace provided wholey to a group of artists, as opposed to an art program functioning as a service provider, persists in the culture today, much to their benefit. Most prospective artists hear about the V+V by word of mouth and have an informal artist interview to determine if they’re a good fit for the studio. Ultimately, their admission is dependent primarily on whether they’re interested in working productively as an artist. To be productive, though, is not considered to be synonymous with being prolific, as many artists may be productively and creatively engaged without necessarily producing commercially viable or permanent works. 

V+V's exhibition space

The V+V gallery usually hosts five exhibitions a year, and organizes exceptional group shows. They typically curate thoughtful exhibitions featuring 2 or 3 of their artists in a manner driven by those artists’ ideas. Sometimes artists function as curators as well. Furthermore, exhibition opportunities for artists’ work are sought out at galleries, museums, universities, and other venues on both a local and national level. In addition, a Teaching Artist Program (TAP) is offered as an option for artists that instead have an interest in pursuing visual art careers in teaching, speaking, and other leadership roles. TAP “supports those goals, while offering the community the opportunity to learn about art from a unique perspective. V+V artists who complete TAP courses bring lesson plans to classrooms, community centers, and partnering organizations all over greater Cincinnati. Each artist develops their own lesson plans customized to benefit students of all ages and abilities.”

a portion of the inventory stored at the Northside Studio.

Nicole Appel

Cars, Bikes, Car Parts, and Maine Coon Cats, colored pencil on paper, 19" x 24", 2014

Animal Eyes and Russian Boxes, colored pencil on paper, 19" x 24", 2014

Day of the Dead, colored pencil on paper, 19" x 24", 2014

Faberge Eggs and Communist Propaganda Posters, colored pencil on paper, 19" x 24", 2014

Nicole Appel working in the Pure Vision Arts studio in New York

By collecting richly detailed imagery into densely composed arrays, Appel’s drawings assert complex associations that range from the intuitive to the bizarre. The component imagery is intricately rendered and resolved, creating a noisy initial phenomenology that rewards examination with great generosity of nuance. As a creative endeavor, Appel's work traverses the paper as raw process, distorting proportions in order to remain true to earlier choices (with each element of the drawing determining its own edges) and creating untouched negative spaces valued for their potential to fit something else in.  

from Pure Vision Arts in NYC:

 

"Nicole Appel was born in 1990 and was raised in Queens, NY where she still lives. At the age of three, Nicole was diagnosed with autism. She has always been passionate about making art and in 2012, began attending Pure Vision Arts.
Focused, and with a strong independent will, Nicole enjoys drawing and painting people and objects from her memory. With a particular interest in food, animals and pop culture icons, she has a vivid imagination and creates expressive, painterly images. Her stroke is bold and her use of color vibrant." (More)

Edward Haswood

Edward Haswood, an artist who has been working at Hozhoni Artists in Flagstaff, Arizona since 2007, was able to meet with us to discuss his work during our studio visit last year. Storytelling, he explained, plays a crucial role in his work, citing his grandmother’s storytelling as an important influence. His dynamic body of work, which includes portraits and symbolic imagery, (as well as more complex narrative works) reference stories derived from merging mythologies of his native heritage (both Navajo and Hopi), his life experiences, and imagination. 

Like many of his colleagues at Hozhoni, Haswood is doubly prone to being relegated into the “outsider” genre, as an artist who is both Native American and experiencing disabilities. Given this disposition, it's interesting that while Haswood's work bears little in common with either Outsider Art or traditional Native American art, it has an immediate aesthetic similarity (particularly in terms of color and design) to the work of contemporary Native American artists such as Wendy Red Star and John Nieto.

Kenya Hanley

Untitled, mixed media on paper, 9.5" x 9", 2014

A Lunch, mixed media on paper, 14" x 9", 2015

Kenya Hanley's works on paper have the feeling of both aspiration and interpretation. Bold, decisive drawings describe a world of abundance, encoded in color and imagined connections between realms of fiction and reality. Hanley works at LAND Gallery, a progressive art studio in the heart of DUMBO, Brooklyn, one of the premiere art neighborhoods in New York. From Land:

"Kenya’s work has been the subject of an exhibition at the flagship J Crew store on Madison Avenue, and the work has since become part of J Crew’s corporate collection. Kenya’s work also figures prominently in the collection of The Museum of Everything in London as well many private collections throughout the United States." (See More)

Donald Mitchell

Donald Mitchell, who has been working at Creative Growth in Oakland since 1976, has become one of the most recognized artists living with developmental disability in the world; he's exhibited and collected nationally and internationally at Rena Bransten Gallery, Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, the Collection de L’Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland and ABCD in Paris. Mitchell's body of work epitomizes a totally authentic and personal engagement of drawing as a lifelong investment in the exploration of mark-making, intuition, and invention.  His work develops slowly over time, emerging into a mysterious world of figures.  From Creative Growth:

"Donald Mitchell’s early work consisted primarily of obsessively crosshatched fields of lines that covered the page and hid any trace of an underlying image. Over time, Donald started to reveal the faces and forms that he had buried on the page. Donald’s prolific work is now filled with figures in motion and repose, and his trademark has become a tightly composed, graphically sophisticated page of crowded figures." (See More)

Thomas Sedgwick

Thomas Segwick, in pen on paper, composes images that feel constructed as opposed to drawn, achieving a robust depiction of mass and form with simple outlines. Sedgwick is represented by DAC Gallery, the exhibition space for the progressive art studios operated by the Los Angeles Exceptional Children's Foundation. From DAC:

"Thomas Sedgwick's line drawings are rendered as abstract grids reminiscent of maps, essentially acting as blueprints for his eccentric imagination. At the heart of his images, he depicts the desire to build, plan and create a fantastic world..." (more)

Jenny Cox

  

The decorative elements of Jenny Cox’s work explore the idea of embellishment as something reduced, authentic, and mysterious. Outlines, underlines, collections of dots, etc. access the romantic idea that meaning and value can be imbued in a work purely through the act of mark-making. Liza Lou, known for laboriously embellishing common objects with thousands of glass beads, has said “Everything has meaning. That's the philosophy of my work. Absolutely everything has meaning if you give it meaning.”  

In Cox’s work, these decorative elements are not a spectacle, they are bare, intuitive marks giving meaning through this universal language of embellishment to each part of a complex network of text and forms, whose personal significance to Cox is beyond speculation. 

Jenny Cox has been creating art at the Philadelphia progressive art studio Center for Creative Works since 2012.

See more of Jenny Cox' work here.

New Work: Susy Martin

Untitled No. 14, charcoal, graphite, and watercolor on paper

Untitled No. 11, charcoal and graphite on paper

Untitled No. 10, charcoal and graphite on paper

In order to fully appreciate this collection of drawings by Susy Martin, it’s helpful to rethink the practice of drawing in terms of its most basic fundamentals - ideas about technique or visual interpretation. The viewer must reimagine drawing in terms of its most essential and universal function - a practice of mark-making that becomes a reflection of a way of being. In every aspect of her life, Susy demonstrates her convictions, adorations, and general understanding of the world through repetition. From her daily routine to interactions with others reiterated verbatim each day, repetition is her foundation; it’s the means by which she navigates the world and the nature of these works. 

Rendering the subject of each piece is an important, yet brief step at the beginning of Susy’s process. Usually working from a photo reference, she creates an extremely reduced image that seems to refer to the photo without striving to recreate it, indexing a selection of elements as symbols. In one instance, when working from a photo that she was particularly excited about, she described the photo itself as an object, with a simple, symbolic rectangle repeated many times.

Installation view

Once this initial framework is drawn, the majority of her process is  methodical, redrawing over and over in alternating layers of charcoal, graphite, and occasionally watercolor. Although her marks often appear energetic and immediate, the image actually develops at a fairly slow pace (by steadily layering over the original marks of a drawing for hours), growing and changing with each iteration until reaching a point of resolution.

Susy uses photos of friends, found images in books, or in some cases (including a self-portrait) images of Tlingit people posed in regalia.

Installation view of ceramic pieces

“New Work”, a solo exhibition of Susy Martin’s recent drawings, is currently on view until June 29, 2015 in the gallery space of The Canvas, an integrated progressive art studio in Juneau, Alaska. Martin has shown extensively in group exhibitions at The Canvas over the past few years.

New Work: Susy Martin
June 5 - June 29, 2015

The Canvas
223 Seward Street
Juneau, Alaska

Carl Hendrickson

 

"Carl Hendrickson’s explorations of the way wood works are extravagant, magical, and yet paradoxically pragmatic. While cerebral palsy prevented him from pursuing very many projects – he communicated not in words but through emphasis of gesture and gaze– Hendrickson produced a small, strong body of work that exhibited great architectural prowess and ingenuity. His medium was primarily wood, a material with which he took infinite pains, making certain that each piece of wood was cut and fitted exactly as he had envisioned. He was one of the earliest group of artists to attend Creative Growth, beginning in 1976.

Born in the United States, 1951-2014."  - Creative Growth

Jeff Larabee

Marker on panel, 2015

Marker on Cardboard, 2015

Marker on panel, 2015

Over the course of working in and researching progressive art studios, we’ve encountered many artists who brilliantly incorporate text into their work: the narratives of Oscar Azmitia, rules and records of William Tyler, Daniel Green’s stream of consciousness lists, among many others. Text is usually employed by these artists in creative pursuits because it’s the paramount mode of expression and there’s often no separation between studio practice and daily life. This tendency may be the result of art-making as the most significant form of communication -  a disposition which many artists lay claim to, but few truly experience in such a literal and profound way. 


We’ve recently had the privilege of getting to know Jeff Larabee, a Juneau-based artist working at The Canvas, an integrated studio in Alaska. These grayscale, marker on panel and cardboard pieces (whose surfaces are wholly devoted to hand-written text), are selections from a recent series. The incredible aspect of Larabee's work is that it’s more fully about written language than the artists mentioned above, despite it being unavailable to him as a tool to communicate. 


It’s important to understand that these works aren’t created through an intuitive or automatic process. Larabee always works from a reference - transcribing found newspapers, books, pages of printed text, and often his previous works. Larabee gathers newspapers and carries them with him; he fills in crossword and sudoku puzzles then blacks them out with ballpoint pen, examines articles and classified ads, then blacks them out as well. The process of studying and engaging with newspapers sometimes occupies the majority of his studio time. The romance of his work resides in a study of text akin to the investigation definitive of the work of Tom Sachs, who refers to his process as a form of Sympathetic Magic (the desire to imitate or recreate something whose true nature is unattainable). Sachs explains:


“...when someone like an Aborigine person in New Guinea will make a model of a refrigerator because they saw that missionaries had refrigerators and food was always coming out of them. They made these models of refrigerators, and they would pray to them and hope that food would come out. And they’d even make runways with the hope that airplanes would land on them and docks with the hope that ships would come visit them. In fact anthropologists did come to look at these makeshift docks, and runways, and fridges. So the Aboriginal people, in a way, created their own destiny using art.”  (http://www.somamagazine.com/tom-sachs/)


In the same way that Tom Sachs uses intensive study and mimesis to access NASA’s Space Program, Larabee strives to access the written word. Larabee doesn’t experience written language as a literate person does, but experiences, values, and diligently engages with it in his creative practice and daily life. This body of work aspires to the concept of encoding and transmitting information in a purely magical sense, rendering visible to us what is unseen within the text - an aesthetic and conceptual investigation of letters and words, separate from a concrete concept of meaning. 

Marker on panel, 2015


From a distance these drawings are alluring - stark, clean, and curious, with the promise of an elaborate message. Up close, they provide no message, but are surprisingly labored and nuanced, revealing ghosts of marks wiped away, shades of grey, and repeated, overlapping letters that build history and depth. In the absence of meaning, the accumulated hand-written forms are strikingly personal. Larabee, uninhibited and confident, ultimately leaves nothing between the viewer and his hand, as if the act of mark-making itself carries the power of the written word. 


Although he’s rarely willing to discuss his work, Jeff (an avid Batman fan), has referred to these pieces as “letters to Gotham City.”


Michael Oliveira

Michael Oliveira works at the oldest progressive art studio in the US, Gateway Arts in Brookline, Massachusetts.  Oliveira's heavy lines and bulky forms are built up fastidiously over time using very fine point pens, creating a fantastic surface that's difficult to capture in photographs. 

"...born in 1978 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and has been working happily at Gateway since 2000. He creates embroideries and pottery, but mostly loves making very stylized drawings which he carefully constructs using paint markers and sharpies. His subject matter includes a portrait series of Gateway artists who have passed away." (more)

Tripp Huggins

Tripp Huggins explores the drama of geopolitics in artist books of expressive graphite and crayon drawings. Huggins works at an excellent progressive art studio in Cincinnati, Ohio, Visionaries and Voices

"Tripp Huggins tells it like it is. The death of President Kennedy, WWII and The Cold War, Stories from the Book of Exodus, are the subjects of Tripp’s narratives. Drawn with pencil and wax crayon, which he prefers because it looks most real. His drawings are a commentary on the world we live in and moments in history." (see More)

Helen Rae

Untitled, colored pencil/graphite, 26" x 20”

Recent Drawings, at The Good Luck Gallery in LA, is a beautiful collection of colored pencil and graphite works on paper by Helen Rae. These drawings live in a space between the realms of representation and abstraction, most often realized as figures surrounded by ambiguous, pattern-driven environments resembling textiles or foliage.

Untitled, colored pencil/graphite, 26" x 20”

 
Rae’s incredible abstractions aren’t merely expressive, stylized reimaginings of found photos and magazines; each drawing seems to engage and elevate its source image with drive and ambition. Rae seems to search through the image, read it like a rich text, and celebrate every passage - the shadow of a frame against the wall, heel of a shoe, zipper on the side of a bag, are all described with incredible detail and conviction. Inevitably, the figures and faces remain expressive and bold, even as they’re nearly lost in a cacophonous ecstasy of patterns.

Lucien Freud said that “...truth has an element of revelation about it. If something is true, it does more than strike one as merely being so...” In exactly this sense, Rae’s works are undeniable revelations. The impact of the clean, uniform installation is vibrant and specific, further emphasizing the singularity of each drawing. 

Much like LA-based artist Eric Yahnker, Rae explores the limits of the often overlooked and rarely mastered medium of colored pencil. These achievements are the direct result of engaging in an uncommonly committed creative practice. Rae has been a studio member of First Street Gallery Art Center since it’s founding in 1990 - First Street’s Seth Pringle asserts, “Helen's focus and dedication in the studio are unmatched. She rarely misses a day and when she's in the studio she's always working diligently. The style and execution of her drawings have slowly but steadily evolved over the course of her 25 year career, growing in compositional complexity to its current state of mind-boggling beauty and intensity.”

The Good Luck Gallery is currently the only commercial exhibition space in Los Angeles devoted to self-taught artist programming. Owner Paige Wery was previously the publisher of Artillery, a contemporary art publication based in LA, for six years before opening the exhibition space in 2014. Wery became familiar with Rae’s work during an initial First Street Gallery studio visit; several people had suggested that she visit their location in Claremont, California due to the quality of art being produced under their long-standing, excellent program. Rae’s show has been wildly successful, selling out early and generating a waiting list for new work.

Untitled, colored pencil/graphite, 26" x 20”

Over the past several years, interest in the work of self-taught artists (historically referred to as Outsider or Visionary artists) has gained momentum as the contemporary art world becomes increasingly pluralistic. Wery remarks, “It’s very exciting to see the attention that Outsider Art has received over the last few years. I give huge credit to Massimiliano Gioni, who included outsider work with contemporary work at the 2013 Venice Biennale. I think that made a huge difference. The fact that contemporary fairs are including my program and other outsider galleries is a sign that things are moving in the right direction. Museums are showing and accepting Outsider Art into their collections far more often. I’m proud to have joined the champions furthering the exposure and dialogue of self-taught art. The conversations with collectors, artists, dealers, and casual visitors about self-taught art has been extremely encouraging. It seems the art being shown and the dialogues taking place at The Good Luck Gallery are already making a difference.”

Rae’s work has been featured previously in various exhibitions in New York, Boston, Washington D.C., Scotland, Belgium, Japan, and extensively in California. Rae has been based in the Claremont area since 1938.


Helen Rae: Recent Drawings
April 18 - May 16, 2015


The Good Luck Gallery
945 Chung King Road (Chinatown)
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Wednesday – Sunday
Noon – 5PM and by appointment

William Tyler

Ink on paper, 11" x 15"

Ink on paper, 11" x 15"

Ink on paper, 11" x 15"

William Tyler's images are composed of techniques and visual language that know no equivocation. The problem solving process of drawing is resolved with intention and commitment in each step, resulting in a testimony of total confidence. The stark clarity of his drawing is reflected in the text, creating a harmony between image and language that evokes a dynamic world - paradoxically mysterious and matter-of-fact. Born in Cincinnati in 1954, William Tyler has been making art at Creative Growth in Oakland, California, since 1978, as one of the studio's longest attending artists.  (see more)