May 29, 2013

The Graduates: UCLA's MFA Painters


As the school year draws to a close, it's time for graduating art students to pack up their studios, take down their thesis shows, and set out on the life of financial uncertainty and critical scrutiny they have pursued so enthusiastically for the past several years.  Hopefully they are equipped with as much knowledge, ability, and determination as UCLA's graduating MFA painters Jonathan Apgar, Leon Benn, Michael John Kelly, and Christine Wang.  I asked the four talented young artists about their work, their time in school, and their plans for the future.

Jonathan Apgar
Jonathan Apgar, Deep Gate, Violet Black, 2013, oil on canvas, 96 x 84 inches

1. Are you comfortable being called a painter?

Yes

2. How would you describe your work to someone seeing it for the first time?

Oil paintings; some large, some small, on canvas or paper, often nearly abstract, but containing the feeling of a known space, and sometimes infused with a figurative presence.

Jonathan Apgar, Garden Leg Morning Light, 2012, oil on canvas, 98.5 x 98.5 inches

Jonathan Apgar, Shallow Gate, Blue and Pale, 2013, oil on canvas, 96 x 72 inches

3. Which artists have most influenced you?

Bonnard, Kirchner, Matisse, Burchfield.

4. What's the best advice you received during grad school?

A professor challenged me to decide whether I was the kind of painter who settled (leaving good enough alone), or the kind of painter who gambled (risking and often losing the "good enough" to find something new and interesting).

5. What are your post-graduation plans?

Stay in Los Angeles, make paintings, show them when opportunities arise, and hopefully teach a bit here and there.


Leon Benn
Leon Benn, Blue Bikini, oil and acrylic on three strips of linen, 78 x 90 inches

1. Are you comfortable being called a painter?

Yes, of course.

2. How would you describe your work to someone seeing it for the first time?

Narrative-based paintings: American liberal fallacies, real-estate hallucinations, shallow sexual puns, introspective masculinity, desire, haute cuisine (particularly seafood), and colorful hand-dyed fabrics from Morocco.

Leon Benn, Coup de Barre, oil, acrylic, permanent marker, one gold leaf, and collage on Moroccan linen sewn to Belgian linen, 78 x 90 inches.

Leon Benn, Front Lawn, oil, acrylic, and collage on Moroccan linen, 78 x 90 inches

3. Which artists have most influenced you?

Adam Cvijanovic who I worked for as a studio assistant in New York City.  Lari Pittman who I recently studied with in Los Angeles.  And my wife, Julie Mattei-Benn, who has opened many doors for me to other cultures and histories such as France and Morocco.

4. What's the best advice you received during grad school?

Lari Pittman once told me that pre-visualizing the specificity of how the painting will look would prevent the painting from becoming what it wants to be.  In other words, let the painting paint itself and you, the author abide by its inherent nature.  Also, Rodney McMullan said to avoid making expedient gestures, and attempt at making more meaningful ones.

5. What are your post-graduation plans?

I am going to live a happy and adventurous life with my wife and friends. <3


Michael John Kelly
Michael John Kelly, Mask 5, 2012, oil, acrylic, pigment print collage on panel, 80 x 64 inches

1. Are you comfortable being called a painter?

Yeah, sure.  I don't always make paintings, but my creative impulses are rooted in my training as a painter.

2. How would you describe your work to someone seeing it for the first time?

I'm always making pictures with a smartphone.  Imagery comes in through its camera or internet connections, they're manipulated with its intuitive interface.  Sharing and feedback are immediate.  It was important to find a way to integrate this tool into my painting practice.

The work is printed digital imagery and paint.  I find conversations of 'digital vs. analog' redundant so I'm collapsing these different strategies into a single unified image.  Right now my work contains a lot of abstracted portraiture.  I see these shapes as masks.  Not masks that conceal identity, but personalities.  Masks that express a facet of identity like the comedy and tragedy of symbols of drama.

Michael John Kelly,  Mask 8,9, 2013, oil, acrylic, pigment print collage on panel, 89 x 137 inches

Michael John Kelly, Spring Masks, 2013, oil, acrylic, pigment print, collage on panel, 80 x 82 inches

3. Which artists have most influenced you?

When I first started to make are, I was into Basquiat, Twombly, and Rothko.  Lately I have been looking at Charles Garabedian, Albert Oehlen, Charline von Heyl, and John Altoon.

4. What's the best advice you received during grad school?

During MFA orientation, Lary Pittman was adamant about seeing a lot of production.  Later, when asking Roger Herman what things I could be doing for my art career, he told me that the best things that ever happened to him were just lucky breaks.  I took that all to mean make a lot of work, be present, and keep cool.

5. What are your post-graduation plans?

Make a lot of work.


Christine Wang
Christine Wang,  Untitled (Would You), 2012, oil and acrylic on canvas, 96 x 84 inches

1. Are you comfortable being called a painter?

Yes! Absolutely yes!

2. How would you describe your work to someone seeing it for the first time?

My work includes paintings with images and texts that are crude and humorous.

Christine Wang, Dandelion, 2013, acrylic, charcoal, yarn, ribbon, and gold leaf on canvas and linen

3. Which artists have most influenced you?

The artists who have most influenced me are painters including Monet, Guston, Michelangelo, Alice Neel, Jacob Lawrence, Sue Williams.  Artists include Jenny Holzer and Santiago Sierra.  I wish I could call David Hammons an influence but I think he is in a league of his own.  I can only stare up at his greatness and admire it.

Since coming to Los Angeles I've become more familiar with the work of super awesome artists like Barbara T. Smith, Judith Bernstein and Carolee Schneemann.  Artists who have taught me and influenced me include Robert Bordo, Byron Kim, Susanna Coffey, Pam Lins, Doug Ashford, Sharon Hayes, Andrea Fraser, Lari Pittman, Roger Herman, Mary Kelly, Rodney McMillian, and Tam Van Tran.

Christine Wang, ACAB, oil and acrylic on paper, linen, and cloth, 197 x 145 inches.

4. What's the best advice you received during grad school?

When I first moved to Los Angeles I had a hard time adjusting so Laura Owens told me to just relax in my studio and hang out in it and give myself time to get comfortable.

5. What are your post-graduation plans?

Post-graduation I plan on sleeping.  I am also going to teach drawing and painting to high school students at the UCLA Summer Institute.  That will be fun.  Of course I have to keep working!


(Image at top: Installation view, paintings by Leon Benn.)

(This article was originally published on the New American Paintings blog.  View it here.)

No comments: