Our recent discussion with Cara Levine, an LA-based conceptual artist who has been involved with several West Coast progressive art studios in various capacities since 2011.Read More
Since 2014, Disparate Minds has been an itinerant endeavor which initially began through an extended road trip to visit progressive art studios across the country. Advancing this project in Chicago begins with the understanding that there’s something radical and crucially important happening in these studios which transcends art and disabilityRead More
Based in suburban LA, Hugo Rocha creates uncanny works demonstrating his particular sense of drama and ongoing interest in telenovelas, re-imagining still images from favorite episodes in dynamic and engaging ways. Rocha’s fascinations are translated into portraits of cartoonish characters within elaborate, eerily staged interiors and landscapes.Read More
This year begins with stunning solo exhibitions featuring two of this movement’s greatest contemporary artists - Helen Rae at The Good Luck Gallery in Los Angeles and Marlon Mullen at JTT in New York.Read More
Over the past 35 years, Oakland-based artist Kerry Damianakes has amassed an extensive body of unconventional and playful works directly informed by her desire to reproduce the everyday. Damianakes remains primarily committed to an ongoing series of velvety oil pastel drawings - faithful tributes to foods that alternately elicit a state of well-being or decadence.Read More
A robust visual language slowly unfurls across Albarran’s supersaturated drawings, her personal preoccupations translated here through densely applied colored pencil marks. Endearing yet grotesque tableaux are populated by impossible pregnancies, deconstructed cheeseburgers, disarticulated jaws, splayed toes and fingers, disembodied eyeballs, knobby phalluses, and prolapsed organs.Read More
#1 Under Control World Tour featured ten drawings and four paintings by the prolific Brooklyn based artist in Western Exhibitions’ intimate back gallery. The tight installation felt appropriate for Pellew’s populous works; as usual the drawings were teeming with congregations of favorite music and TV icons, the occasional friend in real life, and fantastic alternate identities…Read More
Paired at Firstdraft in Woolloomooloo, Sydney is the culmination of in-depth investigation by Harriet Body of collaborations between artists with and without disabilities. Body, who has maintained a collaborative creative relationship for several years with Thom Roberts at Studio A, has traveled throughout Australia and elsewhere to visit progressive art studios with a specific interest in collaboration…Read More
Disparate Minds co-founders Tim Ortiz and Andreana Donahue discuss current concerns at the intersection of art and disability studies while highlighting neurodivergent artists’ contributions to the contemporary art discourse...Read More
Helen Rae, one of the progressive art studio movement's rising stars, currently has recent work on view at White Columns in NYC, marking her first east coast solo exhibition. Rae is quickly emerging as an important figure in this movement; her work is striking, wildly popular, and at 78 years old, her practice is one of great dynamism and momentum.Read More
We recently traveled to MAKE, a Baltimore progressive art studio; Dontavious Woody is one of the artists we were most interested in meeting, struck by his compelling works on paper that convey an enduring fondness for humanity.Read More
Underlying Colors is a striking selection of drawings by one of Latitude Artist Community's most tenured artists, Beverly Baker, who has been supported to maintain a creative practice in their studio since its founding in 2001.Read More
Phoebe Rohrbacher is an artist and former facilitator at The Canvas in Juneau, who is currently living and working in Fairbanks, Alaska. A lifelong Alaskan (born and raised in Juneau), Rohrbacher has a unique perspective on art and disability in rural and remote communities...Read More
Marlon Mullen’s second solo exhibition at JTT Gallery is an expansive collection of recent works by this San Francisco-based hero in the progressive art studio movement.Read More
Storytellers is a selection of works by artists who reimagine and reinvent the essential practice of telling stories through visual art. Each work represents aspects of a complex personal narrative, glimpses into alternate realities created with diverse materials and processes...Read More
Since our recent post-election essay regarding art and disability advocacy, we've received several inquiries about supporting disability rights and national organizations that are working for this cause.
First and foremost, your local progressive art studio is a great place to start; the progressive art studios listed in our directory are primarily small non-profits that depend on the support of their local community to exist. Donating directly to these organizations, attending exhibitions, and buying artwork are great ways to support these studios and this important work. Going to these programs with discerning criticism, and finding works of art that you love to collect and live with is a powerful way to integrate disability (disparate thinking) into your life in a manner that’s personal and authentic. If there’s a progressive art studio in your community, you will almost certainly find that some of the most original and authentic art being made locally is being created in that studio and is remarkably affordable.
Apart from progressive art studios, there are many organizations throughout the country that provide services, research and education, or public policy advocacy. It's often difficult to differentiate between which organizations to endorse and support, because they sometimes espouse regressive ideas and practices. Philosophically, there are many areas where advocates are far from a consensus, and worse, there are non-profits that are actually exploitative; researching an organization's mission and history beforehand is vital.
Two important measures of the quality of a disability service or advocacy organization are:
- How prominently disabled individuals, their ideas, and voices are included in the organization's composition, message, and presentation
- How prominently the organization focuses on inclusion, acceptance, and support services, as opposed to prevention, intervention, or “cures”
Our recommendation on a national scale is to direct your support to an agency advocating for disabled people that is a paragon of these principles and an ideal example of what a disability advocacy effort should embody: the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.
Although ASAN’s foundation is specific to Autism, they’re the most progressive disability rights agency of their type and scale in the country that we’re aware of - by and for disabled people, an essential principle expressed in their slogan “nothing about us without us.” Co-founded by dedicated advocate Ari Ne’eman, it’s a fantastic resource for detailed information and news regarding disability advocacy. Donations to ASAN will support public policy advocacy, and disability advocacy education that you can trust to serve the needs of the disabled.
“ASAN advocates specific policy positions on issues of importance to Autistic people and others with disabilities. In so doing, we seek to ensure the meaningful involvement of Autistic individuals in making policy at all levels, to promote a culture of inclusion and respect for all, to enforce the rights of Autistic people to equal opportunity at school and at work, and to improve funding for community services and supports along with research into how they can best be provided.”
Another great project to support is the Disbability Visability Project:
Whereas ASAN focuses on affecting policy, the Disability Visibility Project focuses on activism, media, and affecting culture by publishing stories and organizing conversations - a fierce and ambitious effort to place disability voices at the forefront. Founder Alice Wong explains:
The rise of Donald Trump over the past year has been for us, like many, a growing dread - not wanting to believe that America would really elect an unfit candidate, while watching both political parties and the news media self-destruct in the face of a changing world....Read More
Dale Jackson at White Columns presents a significant selection from the Cincinnati-based artist’s extensive body of work for his first New York exhibition. Brimming with a disarming sincerity and candor, Jackson’s imaginative missives are a breath of fresh air...Read More
The Eloquent Place is a powerful exhibition featuring intimate works on paper by Harald Stoffers and Josef Hofer, currently on view at Cavin-Morris in NYC. In a compelling pairing of these artists Cavin-Morris proposes:
Both artists seek to establish a sense of internal and external Place by creating worlds that unfold within and around their own bodies. The act of drawing is a method of controlling survival; in Hofer's case figuratively, and in Stoffers’ case by emotionally charging the written words with visual intensity. For both the art becomes a conduit toward a way of balance and self-placement in the world.
The dialogue between the two bodies of work results in a rich commingling of concepts and earnest explorations of representation versus abstraction through drawing. The opposition of systematic processes with highly personal subject matter reveals a strong connection between the work of Stoffers and Hofer, while exposing a candid vulnerability.
Josef Hofer’s partially clothed and fully nude figures originated as self-portraits drawn from memory of his reflection in a small mirror (with a substantial, ornate wooden frame) placed on his bedroom floor. The priority of his images resides in the recollection and expression of sections of the body, connections of limbs and folding flesh - not reflecting a moment in time or visual representation of the figure, but rather a narrative of observation. He captures a series of moments spent noticing the body, which is then recalled as drawing. Abstract of the obfuscating influence of rendering, likeness, or proportions, Hofer’s marks are naked as they describe the truncated contours of the body he recalls.
An important element included in every portrait, is the frame around the perimeter of the drawing surface (always alternating in bands of orange and yellow colored pencil, outlined in robust graphite). Speculations surround the origin or purpose of this frame; it's generally understood as a depiction of the frame of Hofer’s mirror, although it’s included in every piece, not just the drawings featuring figures. Hofer doesn’t discuss or explain his work since he’s primarily non-verbal - ultimately the genesis and nature of this device remains unclear.
It is certain that, much like its presence in Martin Ramirez’s drawings, the frame is an integral element and not merely a decorative one; Hofer has included it consistently since 2003, though in various iterations. Created slowly and deliberately (as evidenced by the labored impressions of his blunt implement), the frame often becomes quite elaborate and is even more time intensive to develop than the current variation of figure within. Elisabeth Telsnig, who worked with Hofer (at the creative program he attends) in Ried, Austria from 1997 until recently, states, “He draws a figure again and again, looking for ‘the perfect figure’, ‘the perfect position’. Only, when he has the impression, he has found it, can he stop the series. He seems to like to to be under constraint.”
The drawing of the frames is formally opposite to that of the figures (using a straight edge) and bound by consistent rules across all of his works - always orthogonal (even when they evolve to deviate from the rectangle of the perimeter) and meeting at a diagonal, as a frame does.
It's important to notice the use of a straight edge by an artist whose figures are drawn in such a personal way, in which his hand is exposed. The use of a mechanical tool or process to contrast with (or justify) this exposed hand is almost universal throughout art history. From the explicit use of geometric and mathematical rules to restrict the influence of the artist’s voice in catholic iconography, to JMW Turner’s bits of architecture providing an armature for an ethereal expression of light and air, to Gerhard Richter’s squeegee obscuring his hand-painted marks. Chuck close’s grids, Gabriel Orozco’s checkered patterns, the frame itself, or the smooth white walls of a gallery space all strive to achieve the same end as a pencil guided along a straight edge - respite from the expressive responsibility of mark-making, submission to something sure, inert, and objective. In Hofer’s work these methodical choices build inward towards his figures, sometimes working their way around, completely enveloping them. The interactions of these opposing processes is a highly original visual and procedural poetry.
Harald Stoffers’ cascading rows of horizontal lines and text are hand-written letters, most often addressed to his mother. Deeply diligent and well-meaning, his notations describe in great detail ordinary daily events such as his choice of clothing, travel schedules, or activities, yet also embody a more romantic personal narrative and the endeavor of carefully poring over increasingly monumental letters that are rarely sent. This daily ritual of letter-writing has dominated his practice for over twenty years. They have increased in scale since Stoffers began working in the Hamburg studio at Galerie der Villa in 2001; previous to that he would freely give away very small notes to anyone around him.
Stoffers generously establishes a preliminary, wavering framework that mimics ruled paper, which is then loosely used as a guide for the placement of text. In a palette even more restricted than Hofer's, his erratic script primarily appears in black ink, with an occasional rogue excerpt in blue. Inconsistent in spacing behavior, the text expands, contracts, and sometimes much taller letters span several lines. Stoffers very often draws over every line repetitively, with some words receiving more emphasis than others; original text is often obscured by the subsequent layers of mark-making, ultimately rendering it illegible.
In Stoffers’ work, a similar contrast between the systematic and personal are engaged with in a different manner than Hofer’s corporeal vernacular. In his works, which resemble sheet music or unraveling textiles from a distance, the striations and the text itself provide his objective process, where his unsteady hand and his vision through language provide the contrasting expression. Where Hofer uses a system of structured marks to assert a rigid context for his figures, Stoffers appeals to a familiar methodology to assert himself dutifully, not inventing a system, but engaging in common, learned systems - penmanship, list making, and the organization of language.
The conversation between Stoffers and Hofer in The Eloquent Place compliments the dialogue between vision and process within each artist’s work. The association that relentless drawing, manipulating, or obscuring of text has to the content and intention of that text can be understood in terms of the relationship of Hofer’s systematic straight lines to his divulging recollections of the figure, and vice versa. The intellectual depth of these parallels isn’t in the specifics of their implications, but in the quiet emotional power of their coexistence in this installation. These bodies of work are typified by genuine intention, vulnerability, and a complete faith in the meaningful act of drawing to validate their messages through diligent labor as draftsmen.
Harald Stoffers and Josef Hofer will be on view at Cavin-Morris through October 8th.
We first encountered Miranda Delgai’s unforgettable work on our initial trip west, during our first studio visit outside of Nevada at Hozhoni in Flagstaff, Arizona. We were able to meet Delgai and see many of her weavings in person - work that’s technically astonishing and distinctly singular. These transporting works are defined by imagery that is compelling because of its minimal, idyllic, and genuine nature, while also conveying conceptual elements of materials rooted in tradition and storytelling that Delgai has a direct connection to through her heritage.
Delgai was born in Ganado, Arizona on a Navajo reservation in 1969, the daughter of a schoolteacher and medicine man. Delgai has maintained a prolific studio practice at Hozhoni since 1995, working in various media including ceramics, drawing, painting, and embroidery, but favors weaving. She uses Navajo-Churro wool woven on a traditional Navajo upright loom, reflecting the rich history of weaving in her community and family (who are well-known locally as traditional rug weavers).
Ella Earl, Miranda’s mother, elaborates on the presence of weaving in their immediate family history:
She has both maternal and paternal grandmothers who wove Navajo rugs as well as several aunts and cousins. Miranda’s maternal grandmother, Annabell Earl, specialized in several style of rugs double weave saddle blankets, and Wide Ruins and Klagetoh designs. She used wool from her own flock of sheep and prepared the wool from shearing the sheep, the many steps of making the wool to yarn, and collecting natural dyes that created the awesome natural colors of the yarn. Annabell and her sister at times would combine their talents on the exceptionally larger rugs. One comes to mind, a chief’s blanket at 8’ x 12’ which took them approximately six months. Miranda witnessed most of her grandmother’s activities as a child, and her grandmother never tired of explaining what she was doing. I’m sure as young as Miranda was at that time, she still remembers a lot. Her paternal grandmother, Helen Dalgai, is a weaver of rugs and she also makes sash belts which is done on a loom almost like a rug. Mrs. Dalgai specialized in the Ganado style of rugs, and she too prepared the wool from her own sheep from start to finish.
Navajo weavings are executed from bottom up on an upright loom that has no moving parts; the warp is one continuous length of yarn, that does not extend beyond the weaving as fringe. Unlike traditional Navajo weaving designs which are primarily based in pattern and fourfold symmetry, her work is more akin to the pictorial Navajo weavings of Mary Kee or the Begay family. Delgai constructs a highly personal narrative by depicting imagery from experience and memory, detailing her daily activities, interests, or recollections of family life on the reservation in Ganado; present are birds, domestic landscapes, occasional figures, and sheep. The recurrence of sheep in her work is significant, considering their prominence in the Diné (Navajo) culture:
Diné philosophy, spirituality, and sheep are intertwined like wool in the strongest weaving. Sheep symbolize the Good Life, living in harmony and balance on the land. Before they acquired domesticated sheep on this continent, Diné held the Idea of Sheep in their collective memory for thousands of years...In the high deserts and wooded mountains of Diné Bikéyah (Navajo Land), Diné pastoralists developed the Navajo-Churro breed, which assumed a central role in the People’s psychology, creativity, and religious life. With songs, prayers, and techniques taught to them by Spider Woman and looms first built by Spider Man [using sky, earth, sun rays, rock crystal, and sheet lightning], traditional Navajo weaving evolved to utilize the special qualities of the glossy Navajo-Churro wool. source
Delgai’s work proclaims not only a technical prowess with this medium, but also the joy of making. Focused and committed in her practice, she meticulously works on one piece with few interruptions until it reaches completion (usually spending 8 hours a day, 5 days a week in the studio). The process of weaving is an inherently repetitive and intensive endeavor; inevitably, Delgai’s pieces evoke the virtues of labor, time, and dedication to hand craftsmanship.
Anni Albers articulates fundamental concepts and methods surrounding this medium in On Weaving:
The horizontal-vertical intersecting of these two separate systems of thread is of great consequence for the formative side of weaving. The more clearly this original formation is preserved or stressed in the design, the stronger the weaving will be in those characteristics that set it apart from other techniques. Just as a sculpture of stone that contents itself to live within the limits of its stone nature is superior in formal quality to one that transgresses these limits, so also a weaving that exhibits the origin of its rectangular thread-interlacing will be better than one which conceals its structure and tries, for instance, to resemble a painting. Acceptance of limitations, as a framework rather than a hindrance, is always proof of a productive mind.
There is endless potential for experimentation and design within the limitations of the grid, so weaving requires much planning in order to achieve the desired visual outcome. Delgai creates a preliminary drawing in color, which she places behind her loom as a visual aid, but isn’t rigid in its translation; she has an improvisational approach to imagery and color choices while working, indicating an incredibly intuitive and skillful relationship with this slow and systematic process. Delgai has a natural ability to balance both the complex structure and flexibility inherent in weaving, successfully allowing the material to “just be” within this system, indelibly marking the object as hand-made.
The viewer is drawn in to closely examine the surface of the weave and rewarded by Delgai’s intricate work. Each work openly exhibits the origin of its making; the weft often wavers and is quite exaggerated, causing imagery to distort and shift perspective (at times verging on abstraction). Glitches and striations emerge in deceptively simple compositions, highlighting the identifiers of her inventive, idiosyncratic vision - a sheep with five legs, birds perched on a corn stalk in her unconventional re-interpretation of the Tree of Life design, or the placement of a horizon line that is both an elegant expression of the vertical weaving process and the southwest desert landscape in which she lives.
Problematically, most research of Native American traditional arts has been dominated by an anthropological discourse rather than an art historical one, without an emphasis on technical or artistic excellence. As a result, much of the work has been presented at encyclopedic museums in a manner that perpetuates a static history and colonialist point of view. Only recently have some installations started to reflect a more accurate, contemporary context. Much like Jeffrey Gibson or Wendy Red Star, Delgai is an artist whose work is grounded in identity, place, an authentic current experience, and liberated processes - a definitively contemporary perspective that transgresses the expectations of a Native American aesthetic and the traditional.