October 11, 2013

The Painter as Pitcher

A baseball pitcher is a good metaphor for a painter.  A pitcher stands alone on the mound, a painter stands alone in the studio.  A pitcher chooses from an arsenal of different pitches, altering the speed and location of each pitch to keep the batter off balance.  A painter chooses from an arsenal of different styles and techniques, smearing colors onto canvas to create images or evoke a mood in the viewer.  Both pitcher and painter rely heavily on their arm to do their job.

Leon Benn explores this metaphor, among other things, in Pitching Rotations, his first solo show at Carter & Citizen.  It is a small show, of small paintings, in a small gallery, but like a good pitcher, Benn is able to do a lot in a limited amount of space.

Leon Benn, Smokin' Samsung, 2013, oil and acrylic on linen, 34 x 39 inches

Leon Benn, Smokin' Samsung, detail

Leon Benn, Smokin' Samsung, detail

There are several references to the game of baseball in this show.  Some are more subtle than others and it was fun trying to spot them.  The most obvious of the bunch is found in Smokin' Samsung (2013), the first painting viewers see upon entering the gallery.  In it, Benn depicts a flat screen TV surrounded by empty soda cans and slices of pizza.  The TV is tuned into a baseball game and the image on the screen portrays a pitcher standing on a mound like a castaway on a small island.  The show's title, Pitching Rotations, is another baseball reference - a term used to describe the order of starting pitchers on a baseball team.  It is also descriptive of a pitcher's arm as it rotates at the shoulder to throw a ball.

Leon Benn, Supraspinatus, 2013, dye, plaster, and mixed media on linen, 22 x 19 inches

But the most subtle (and most intriguing) baseball reference in this show is hinted at in Supraspinatus (2013).  The painting is mainly abstract, but the title refers to one of the muscles that makes up a person's rotator cuff. (I googled it).  Injuries to the rotator cuff are frequently sustained in the act of throwing a baseball and very common among pitchers.  I'm no anatomy expert, but it seems probable that this muscle would play a significant roll in the act of painting as well.  The link between rotator cuff and pitching rotations seems intentional and, if so, is evidence that this is a show that will reward a careful viewer.

Leon Benn, Blue Bikini study, 2013, oil, collaged linen, and dye on linen, 17 x 15 inches

Leon Benn, The Stretch, 2013, acrylic, collage and mixed media on canvas, 24 x 28 inches

Not into baseball?  That's OK.  This show manages to cover a lot of other ground as well.  Benn paints in an expressionistic style that implies speed and spontaneity, but a closer look exposes him as a thoughtful and deliberate artist.  He utilizes repeating imagery, a controlled color palette reminiscent of Picasso's blue and rose periods, and cleverly-worded titles to link this show together into a cohesive whole.  Equal parts humor and melancholy, Pitching Rotations is a rich and rewarding first show.  Nice game Benn, and go Dodgers.

Pitching Rotations is on view at Carter and Citizen through October 12, 2013.

Leon Benn, Is Land, His Land, 2013, oil, acrylic, and collage on canvas, 28 x 24 inches

Leon Benn, Island, They Float, oil and mixed media on canvas, 28 x 24 inches

Leon Benn, Civil Interdependency, 2013, acrylic, collage and mixed media on canvas, 64 x 20 inches

(Image at top: Installation view of Pitching Rotation via Carter and Citizen)

October 8, 2013

12 Cool Paintings From This Fall In L.A.

The fall art season is in full swing here in Los Angeles and there are plenty of interesting painting shows worth checking out.  For the sake of brevity, below is a list of 12 of my favorite paintings seen around town this past month (in no particular order).  Many of these shows close soon so hurry out for a chance to see them in person.

Arnold Helbling, Entropy and a Sundowner, 2004, acrylic on canvas
from Drop City at Diane Rosenstein Fine Art (through Oct. 12, 2013)

Leon Benn, Smokin' Samsung, 2013, oil and acrylic on linen, 34 x 39 inches,
from Pitching Rotation at Carter & Citizen (through Oct. 12, 2013)

Maureen Gallace, Summer Shade, 2012, oil on panel, 9 x 12 inches,
at Overduin and Kite (through Oct. 26, 2013)

Lester Monzon, Untitled, acrylic and graphite on Belgian linen, 14 x 11 inches,
at Mark Moore Gallery (through Oct. 12, 2013)

Sarah Williams, Jackson County, 2013, oil on panel, 18 x 26 inches,
at George Billis Gallery (through Oct. 12, 2013)

Cecily Brown, installation shot at Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills (through Oct. 12, 2013)

Jay Stuckey, Guardians of the Secret, 2013, oil on canvas, 70 x 105 inches,
from Prima Materia at Anat Ebgi (through Nov. 9, 2013)

Painting by Stephanie Pryor from New Work at Marine Contemporary (through Oct. 19, 2013)

Iva Gueorguieva, Self Portrait with Pieces, 2013, acrylic, collage, and oil stick on canvas, 65 x 120 inches,
installation view from Spill / Frame at ACME. (through Oct. 12, 2013)

Heather Gwen Martin, installation view from Pattern Math at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles (through Oct. 12, 2013)

Brenna Youngblood, Trifecta, 2013, mixed media on panels, 49 x 25 inches each,
from Activision at Honor Fraser Gallery (through Oct. 26, 2013)

Jeffrey Gibson, Portal, 2013, elk hide over birch panel, graphite, acrylic and oil paint, 60 x 48 x 2 1/2 inches, installation view from The Spirits Refuse Without a Body at Shoshana Wayne Gallery (through Oct. 26, 2013)


July 2, 2013

Does Painting Still Have Boundaries To Push?

I can't think of a task more difficult for a contemporary painter than to attempt to push the boundaries of painting as a medium.  It's not that contemporary painters aren't up to a challenge, it's just what the hell boundaries are left to push in the medium of painting?

It was my understanding that this happened...
Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917

...and then this...
Robert Rauschenberg, Monogram, 1955-59

...and then there were no more boundaries.

But recently, two group shows popped up in Los Angeles - Painting In Place organized by L.A.N.D. and Wassup Painters curated by Pavan Segal at Anat Ebgi Gallery - making the case that contemporary painters continue to be boundary-pushers.  Similar intentions can be seen via the press releases from each show.

From the Painting In Place press release:
The exhibition will present a wide array of work from contemporary artists that tackle painting from various perspectives, using both traditional and unconventional techniques and media in their approach to the discipline.  Exploring various ways that the definition of painting is continuously evolving, the project seeks to expand the traditional parameters of painting, sculpture, and installation: blurred, deconstructed, and refigured.

From the Wassup Painters press release:
Wassup Painters brings together contemporary artists who approach painting through the use of nontraditional materials and innovative processes as a way of exploring new conceptual ground.  Painting as a medium has a long and rich history and recent trends have focused on exploring and reinterpreting what has come before.  In some contrast to this, Wassup Painters highlights artistic practices that push the possibilities of the medium into unexpected realms, blurring the boundaries between painting and other forms of object making.
So what's the deal?  Are there still boundaries left to push in the medium of painting?  As I understand it, the main 'boundary' in question in these two shows is the line separating the medium of painting from other mediums - like sculpture.  In a way, it is a continuation of the rebellion against Clement Greenberg's rule of medium specificity.  After thinking about these two shows, I started wondering what it would look like if artists successfully erased all the lines separating one medium from another.  Would we just be left with one singular 'super medium' that encompassed all current mediums?  What would that look like?  What would we call it?

Then I realized that's exactly what we currently have.  We call it contemporary art.

Wassup Painters is on view at Anat Ebgi Gallery through July 20, 2013.  Pics below.

Installation shot.  Wassup Painters at Anat Ebgi.

Cynthia Daignault, Any window, any morning, any evening, any day, 2012, oil on linen, 12 x 9 inches, (detail).

Cynthia Daignault, Any window, any morning, any evening, any day, 2012, oil on linen, (detail).

Henrik Olai Kaarstein, Mingling (Just Love the Boy), 2012, paint, acetone, glue, cardboard, wood, silicone, fiberboard, 38.5 x 27.5 inches.

Cynthia Daignault, Any window, any morning, any evening any day, 2012, oil on linen, 58 x 36 inches, (detail).

Installation view.  Wassup Painters at Anat Ebgi.

Molly Zuckerman-Hartung, Going into Space, 2009, oil, spray paint, collage, and masking tape on linen, 26 x 18 inches.

Molly Zuckerman-Hartung, Going into Space, 2009, (detail).

Henrik Olai Kaastein, With the Highest Degree of Coarsness, 2012, Paint, wallpaper glue, glitter, charcoal, gloss gel, iridescent medium, dirt, white spirit, acetone, nails on wooden plate, 44.5 x 47 inches.

Henrik Olai Kaastein, With the Highest Degree of Coarseness, 2012, (detail).

Henrik Olai Kaastein, The Virgin and he Friends are Just Part of the Bigger Picture, 2012, paint, cardboard, watercolor, silicone, gloss film, acetone on fiberboard, 22.5 x 19 inches.

Installation shot.  Wassup Painters at Anat Ebgi.

Left: Liam Everett, Untitled, 2012, ink, acrylic, alcohol and sea salt on masonite panels, 24 x 18 inches.
Right: Liam Everett, Untitled, 2012, ink, acrylic, and sea salt on two wood panels, 24 x 18 inches.

Kerstin Bratsch, Untitled from the series: All Ready Maid Betwixt and Between, 2013, luster on antique glass with steel bar and rubber strip, 39 x 28 inches.

Installation view.  Wassup Painters at Anat Ebgi.

Kerstin Bratsch, Untitled from the series: All Ready Maid Betwixt and Between, 2013, luster on antique glass with steel bar and rubber strip, 39 x 28 inches.

Kerstin Bratsch, Untitled, lustre and enamel on sandblasted artista glass with metal braces, 8 x 12 inches.

Kerstin Bratsch, Untitled, 2013, lustre and enamel on sandblasted artista glass with metal braces, 8 x 12 inches.


June 25, 2013

A Conversation With Christine Frerichs

I recently had the pleasure of visiting with artist Christine Frerichs before the opening of her solo show at Gallery KM on Saturday, June 15th.  A few beers were imbibed and a good conversation was had.  Born and raised in the Los Angeles area, Frerichs approaches painting with an eye for design and an acute understanding of how materials can be used to elicit a guided response from the viewer.  Much of the work I saw walks a delicate line between abstraction and representation in a way that establishes an entry point without being excessively inviting.  There is an inherent willingness to embrace spontaneity in the work, but the literal and figurative realization of form through a self-imposed structure creates a beautifully conflicted narrative that is emblematic of life in general.

Studio view.  Work by Christine Frerichs.

Frerichs' work contains these amazing moments where materials break down and reveal themselves in their former state.  A visual representation of the way in which memories and experiences compile themselves to form the person we somehow become.  One section of the gallery features a collection of ten paintings aptly titled The Conversation (#1-10).  There is a consistently buried structural foundation that is present throughout the series, but the repetition is not off-putting.  Rather, it seems to function as a reminder that people are forever imprinted by the decisions made or not made within the time we are given.  As each subsequently numbered painting should indicate, there is a linear progression as the series continues.  Beginning with The Conversation (#1), the inception of Frerichs' life gently gives way to adolescence, early adulthood, and so on - each painting extracting the most potent aspect of the memories associated with these points in her life.  The series ends on a cliffhanger with the painting The Conversation (#10) and the artist in present day.  There is an aphorism that comes to mind, and bears mentioning -  "If we distance ourselves too far from the past...we are bound to repeat it." Frerichs seems to be keenly aware of this.

The secondary gallery features a number of smaller works and one large painting that is comprised of two canvases.  The later statement may initially sound like an inherent contradiction, but I asked Frerichs to provide contextual insight into how this and other choices were made.

Studio view.  Work by Christine Frerichs.

Easton Miller: Whether it is a specific palette of colors, or the recurrent symbol beneath each painting in The Conversation series, there are repeated elements throughout your work.  When did this method first become a tool you were interested in using within your practice?

Christine Frerichs: For the past 5 years, I've been using motifs in my paintings such as storm clouds, patterns of lines and dots, symbolic colors, and abstracted forms that reference the human body, all to represent recurring themes and feeling I've experienced in my life with pleasure, loss, vulnerability, and control.  the newest body of work, The Conversation, is a series of ten mid-sized mixed-media paintings that use these colors and forms to tell the story of reconciling and expressing the various sides of oneself on an emotional level.  The repetitive controlled line work that functioned as veils or obstacles in my work from 2009-2012 is present in this new series, through often serving as a 'backdrop' or 'open curtains' to more playful and improvisational imagery, such as the full color dancing line seen in (#1) and the thickly painted beam of light in (#2) which both reappear in different forms throughout the series.

EM: Are there specific connotations behind the colors you choose, or is your process of selection more general?

CF: The palette for these paintings is determined by personal associations I make with each color, and I'll use each color as a stand-in for a particular person, place, object, or feeling.  So for example, the mixed blue represents a cool, controlled figure, the vibrant warm red represents intensity and strength, and the flesh tint is custom-mixed to match to my own skin color and represents the surface, corporeal version of myself.

EM: Based on the level of consideration you've placed on your color selections I would assume that scale holds an equal level of significance in the work?

CF: Definitely.  Ultimately, these paintings are portraits, so I reference the human body by beginning each work with a thick layer of acrylic modeling paste, which I carve grooves into, creating a figure 8 patten.  The measurements of this figure 8 is based on my own body, with the top loop at eye level and the base loop at my navel.

Studio view.  Works by Christine Frerichs.

EM: There is an inherent build up of emotional and aesthetic layers in your paintings - how do you view this compilation on an ideological level?

CF: With this body of work, I wanted to find a way to create abstracted portraits that do exactly what you say - describe at once the physical and emotional aspects of oneself through the use of symbolic color, form, and composition.  Instead of the body acting as the exterior shell for one's interior thoughts and feelings, I wanted to try flipping it inside out.  So the abstracted body form in these paintings is the base layer and superimposed on that textured foundation is imagery and mark-making which oscillate between spontaneous eruptions of color, light, and form as seen into controlled lines and patterns, reflecting the range of form that emotion can take, both in a painting and in our lives.  Anger, as with joy, can erupt explosively as exaggerated performance, and too as a restrained seizing of the body.  My use of materials also reflects this idea of a range of self and our capacity for transformation on an emotional level.  Oil paint and spray paint are stretched to their physical limits, transmuted into thick clotted dabs, thinned and thrown from a bucket, or carefully layered in translucent veils of glassy color.

Studio view.  Underpainting by Christine Frerichs.

EM: It's obvious that you have a deep routed fascination with the associative properties of materials.  As a 'materials nerd' myself, I have to ask what you've used to create the sense of depth in the black areas in many of your paintings?

CF: I use a paint material I developed in 2008 called Activated Carbon Paint (ACP).  This deep matte black paint is made with activated carbon, a porous material used primarily in water and air filtration systems, oral ingestion for poison treatment or overdoses, and gas purification.  Visually, the use of ACP alongside vibrant colors creates an incredible sense of depth and contrast in the paintings.  Metaphorically, it furthers the content of transformation and renewal.

Studio view.  Works by Christine Frerichs.

EM: I love the tension created between the borderline scientific approach to your material development coupled with the romantic reasoning behind your decisions.  Speaking of coupling, could you talk a bit about how you came to the decision of presenting two canvases as one painting, and what the significance of this gesture means to you?

CF: As you mentioned, the 'paired' paintings are made by placing two stretched canvases of the same size side-by-side with their edges touching.  I began working on them a year ago, concurrently with The Conversation series, as a way of exploring the relationship between two people - two 'bodies' - as opposed to the singular portrait in The Conversation paintings.  These paired paintings also use imagery of storm clouds, the sea, abstract symbols of color, light, and darkness, to express the experience of connecting on an emotional level with another person, and feelings of vulnerability and intimacy.  The human body, represented as a textured figure 8 pattern underneath the painted imagery in The Conversation is also present in these paired paintings yet there are two 'bodies' now, one on each canvas.  Visually, I wanted to use this sub-texture to bring the focus to the 'center' of the paired paintings, where the two canvases/bodies meet.

Left: Christine Frerichs, The Conversation (#1), oil, acrylic, and ACP on canvas, 44 x 34 inches, 2012-13
Right: Christine Frerichs, The Conversation (#2), oil, acrylic, and ACP on canvas, 44 x 34 inches, 2012-13

EM: What was the impetus of this decision?

CF: The formal structure of the paintings were inspired by two things.  One was spending much of this past summer on the East Coast in Fire Island and watching the way the tides moving in different directions met in the ocean and how those crosscurrents would sometimes meet gently and other times with friction.  Two Friends at the Sea and Pair (The Talk 1 and 2) are portraits of that dynamic that occurs between two people in a relationship.  The other inspiration for the form of these paired paintings is Brancusi's sculptural series The Kiss (1907-1925).  The way he composed and sculpted the embrace of these two figures is so tender, with their arms crossing over one another's bodies, binding the two two together.  It's  a simplistic form, clunky even, yet the way he used so few marks and forms to lock these figures together feels elegant and extremely emotive.  I reference Brancusi's composition with my paintings Pair (The Kiss 1 and 2) and use two thickly painted beams of colored light (a motif seen in The Conversation) as the two crossing 'arms', which creates that intense connection between the two canvases.

Christine Frerichs, Pair (The Kiss 2), oil, acrylic, and ACP on two canvases, 11 x 17 inches, 2013

EM: I see an intense connection between all of the works regardless of their spatial proximity to one another.  That said, there is definitely less of a direct narrative in the smaller works than what I've seen in many of your larger paintings.  Do you notice a difference in your approach with the more diminutive works - both aesthetically and ideologically?

CF: I approach both my larger and smaller works in a similar way, in terms of my use of color, how I compose an image, what meaning it carries, and the emotion I'd like to get across to the viewer.  I would say that one difference between my 8.5 x 11 inch paintings and these larger ones is the relationship between the canvas size and the size of one's body.  Once a canvas becomes the size of one's body or the size of a doorway, for me it becomes less of an 'example' of a person, and more of an abstract embodiment of that person (or people).  I see the 8.5 x 11 inch paintings more as diagrams or letters, because of their relationship to the familiar size of a sheet of paper.

EM: Well...we've covered process, palette, ideological/aesthetic associations, and scale.  I'm pretty satisfied with the way things have gone.  Do you feel good about it?

CF: I do feel good (laughs).

EM: Thanks for taking the time to peel back some of the layers in your work!

CF: It's my pleasure, thank you for the chance to do so!

Studio view.  Works by Christine Frerichs.

As previously noted, Frerichs' work is currently on display at Gallery KM in Santa Monica until July 27th.  In addition, Gallery KM will be hosting an artist talk and exhibition walk through on Saturday, June 29th at 5:30 pm.  Frerichs is also exhibiting in a group show at Kevin Kavanagh Gallery in Dublin until June 27th.

As is the case with almost all art documentation, pictures do not do the work justice.  If you happen to be in either city during the aforementioned dates I strongly encourage you to set aside some time to see the work in person.

**If you can't attend the exhibition, but you'd like to see more of Frerichs' work - you can do so at

Easton Miller is an artist and writer based in Los Angeles, CA.

(Image at top: Christine Frerichs in her studio.)