Friday, March 7, 2014

OTW review:


Beat Nite Notebook: Ken Weathersby at Parallel Art Space

by Mostafa Heddaya on March 5, 2014

If, as the philosopher of art Nelson Goodman has argued, “Denotation is the core of representation and is independent of resemblance,” then Ken Weathersby’s tight wooden grids on view in Parallel Art Space’s Off the Wall are more than the mere “paintings” the artist calls them — they fully inhabit the fate of canvas as partition between signifier and signified. A grid, as interpretive model in a symbolic system, embodies denotation by being itself a terrain for signification, e.g. the space that makes intelligible the slippage between “Queen to F7″ and “Checkmate.” And so too do these latticeworks with found objects, ranging from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Summer 1982 bulletin to bits of textile, eschew the stable universe of easel and palette to probe a more fundamental schema of mediation.

From the outside, Weathersby’s pieces straddle the clinical geometry of Op art and the organic architectural character of traditional room dividers and panels, like the Arab mashrabeya or the Japanese screen, and are unobtrusive, orderly, suggestive even of a painterly monasticism. Yet, humming with accidental multitudes, these are not a recluse’s relics: bits and pieces stripped of their original context fortify the three-dimensional matrix that Weathersby constructs like scaffolding around the troubled repose of the pictorial plane. These occlusions are ghosts in an alternately rigid and brittle system (the artist’s glue is visible at every junction), and flutter between the pictorial, verbal, and diagrammatical denotations identified by Goodman in the aforecited Languages of Art. The found artifacts play out the penury of signs, ripped from some original order and entrapped in the next, their irrelevant resemblances sublimated within the grid. Here together are the limits of symbolic systems and the lexical affects we adopt to parse them.

Ken Weathersby is certainly not the first artist to have manipulated painting and denotation, or desecrated the ever-cooling corpse of canvas — the project has a distinctly vintage, Black Mountain College feel to it — but there is a focused and exploratory energy at work in his pieces, a maturity of purpose that stands at ascetic remove from the cloying color and sloppy corporeality that too often comes to the fore in Bushwick. 

Ken Weathersby’s work is on view in Off the Wall at Parallel Art Space (17-17 Troutman Street, Ridgewood, Queens) through March 23. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


OFF THE WALL at Parallel Art Space

A group exhibition with works that in various ways
converse with and diverge from the traditional wall format. 

Gilbert Hsiao

Stacie Johnson
Alex Paik
Kim Tran
Ken Weathersby

February 22 – March 23, 2014 Reception: Saturday, February 22, 6 pm – 9 pm Hours: Sat/Sun 1-6pm and by appointment Parallel Art Space: 17-17 Troutman Street #220, Ridgewood, NY 11385

• • •

The viewing of all painting from the Old Masters to the “Super Flat” is, among other things, an experience with space. Different than the storied development of pictorial illusion in art, the space that is considered in “Off the Wall” is the actual, real-time environment of the art object; areas surrounding it, in front of it, and most especially behind it, in this case, the supporting wall itself.

The interest in and involvement with the wall behind the art perhaps has its roots in the rich tradition of the construction of the painted image, built up as it is, through the accretion of layers of pigmented medium, thin and close to the gessoed substrate in some areas, thick and impastoed in others. The Grisaille method of underpainting is an excellent example of this historic push and pull movement of paint through space as in this technique, the white highlights of a painting are built up in layers to a kind of shallow, bas-relief topography across the picture plane. The art makers long standing occupation with movement, both away from and out toward the viewer in space has modern examples in Frank Stella’s “Exotic Bird” series, wherein arabesque, curly-q drafting tool shapes leap brightly off the canvas, and in the monochrome, “Spatial” paintings of Lucio Fontana, wherein slashes through the stretched canvas pull the space just behind the artwork directly into viewer consideration.

The works in “Off the Wall” in some ways respond to these patterns of painterly innovation, contributing substantively to the discourse from their own points of intention and concern. Paired with a Post-modern era’s consideration of context, these artists, through the formal engagement of the art objects environs, pull context into co-operation. Existing both within the disciplines of painting, sculpture and design as well as in the liminal spaces in-between, the works in “Off the Wall” stay rooted to the wall, but not confined to it, vibrating out across the divisions of two-dimensions to three and back again.

In the way that painters weave layers of shape, line, and color across the canvas, so too does Ken Weathersby inter-lace his wood-based constructions with paint, collaged images and found objects. On whether the material focus in his work pushes his concerns toward the sculptural, the artist has offered, “Because of the emphasis on physical aspects of painting, and the sometimes elaborate wood structures that develop, people have asked me if they are becoming sculpture. The answer is no, even if the thing becomes free-standing, it’s still painting. Responding to the conditions of painting gives me something to work against. “ By working against the concerns of painting, the artist mines the oft times under-appreciated areas at the margins of consideration, the edges, the borders of form and the spaces in between.

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in print:

New American Paintings #110 features my recent paintings. 
This is my third appearance in NAP.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

O'Connor / The Phantom

originally published in NY Arts Magazine, 1-20-14

The Phantom: John O’Connor’s “Ghost and the Machine”

Ken Weathersby

How persistent is the wish to somehow find a human face in whatever kind of art—to see a real presence there that invites us to know its secrets and enjoy its troubles?

How powerful is that illusion of a real presence, when a ramshackle and effaced effigy, an ugly or beautiful scarecrow clothed and stuffed with snips of film, contradictory statistics, detritus of consumer goods, notations from books read and transactions made, can be mistaken for a double of the artist?

Within a week of my first viewing of John O’Connor’s October 2013 exhibition at Pierogi Gallery, “The Machine and the Ghost”, I saw a special screening of Jean-Luc Godard’s rarely shown 1994 self-portrait film “JLG/JLG”.  The coincidence of the two triggered a recognition.  In both works, I saw an aggregation of parts that seemingly taps the yearning for contact with something intimate, an actual person.  In each case I found works that, seen clearly, leave that hallucination undone.

In “JLG/JLG” Godard’s figure and words materialize and disappear throughout the film. Images are overlaid with a shifting litany of onscreen texts and voiceover. “JLG/JLG” moves both toward and aside from the actual Godard via displacement, redirection, substitution – a simultaneous presentation and disintegration of the presence of the author and subject tracing paths around autobiography. There is a sequence concerning a blind film editor.  As the editor snips and rejoins sections of film according to the cryptic verbal instruction she is given by Godard, who is off screen, we witness  a formal reordering of recorded data (captured images of the subject, of time, light, space, i.e., film).  One system of sequence and incident is rearranged by being conjoined with another system.  That other system is an arcane or maybe arbitrary numerical order injected from outside the frame, a re-encoding of the data, a shuffling of evidentiary exhibits.

In “The Ghost and the Machine”, as with his previous exhibitions, John O’Connor’s works track and re-organize information and events.  Pieces of evidence are delayed, mingled, organized, toyed with, compared, made graphically visible, made invisible as codes.  

There is an additional, emergent sense of a persona in “Ghost and the Machine” that seems new.  I have observed people asking O’Connor if he is the Psychopath described in “Portrait of a Psychopath”, if his drug and binge cycle narrative “Butterfly” is a true story, if his “Dear John” exchange of emails with “Beyonce” in “Love Letters (Diptych)” is real.  Use of the first person in such text-based works and the deployment of photos of himself for his sunspot series create the illusion of a reveal, an unmasking of the personal. 

In a series of identically-scaled photographs titled by their dates, patches that resemble huge lesions or birthmarks blossom across O’Connor’s face, extreme and shocking.  He seems vulnerable and tenuous, maybe desperately ill.  But the marks are only photographic records of the sun’s activity, superimposed on the face, following a logical calendar-like system.  The personal image is divorced from intimacy in order to be fully engaged in the violent play of objective content.   Everything is factual, but the implications we might read are not true. 

The artist has also certainly deployed phantoms in these works, in the form of chatbots, which converse in exchanges transcribed in text-based drawings.  Among these, and hovering over them, a phantom rises up in the guise of John O’Connor himself, just as for a long time now the knots of graphic information in his data-driven works have sometimes tended to suggest figurative apparitions, as in “Kooky Yoga”, 2005.  Before this exhibition, though, the personages or chimeras evoked did not particularly become him, nor did they usually tend to give rise to something existing off the paper, wanting to occupy real space.  Interestingly this new development coincides with O’Connor’s very convincing deployment of fully three dimensional works, embodied as, in one example, a helical loop, made of epoxy, writhing in roughly the shape of an infinity sign, a snake of words, choking on its own tail (“Strange Loop”, 2012).

O’Connor seems quite alert to registering what are self-evidently problems of this historical moment (as is Godard in his later films), the same conditions noticed and tracked by science, in the media, by political structures, by the culture.  The spectrum of difficulties observed really pertains to O’Connor as an individual only in the sense that it is conditioned on the chance location in time (history), space (geography), culture, and genetic inheritance that the artist as observer happens to occupy.   We all now exist in an information reality that includes access to a radically expanded quantity of data points (facts but also an expanded field of lies and tricks).  The works perhaps act out an attempt to deal with this with objectivity and a desire for a factual grasp, where confessions of personal emotional responsiveness and angst are not really the point, but are factors among many. They are disturbing and complicating factors, as they shade and distort a picture that’s already permanently unstable.  The point seems to be, at least partly, to locate accurately that constantly moving hairline juncture of banality and crisis, the present.

Friday, January 17, 2014

"Data, Dust" - Becky Brown at KPG

Monday January 13, 2013 – Friday February 7, 2014

Reception: Friday January 17, 6-8pm

Brown’s exhibition, titled “Data, Dust”, will fill the gallery with a complex, vivid installation combining painting, collage, words and objects.

“Data, Dust” will include work from her “Complexes” series, long, scroll-like drawings that arrange found images and abstract shapes to form a kind of visual poetry. Structural ideas from literature, as well as shuffling of signs, marks and pictures underlie the elaborate and surprising works produced. The compositions are both playful and serious.

The artist has said, “My work focuses on visual vs. text language (their distinct conventions and inevitable overlaps); and the relationship of this composite language to architecture, urban space and the tradition of abstract art.”

The artist is a 2012 MFA graduate of the fine arts program at Hunter College. She has recently exhibited in New York City; Delhi, India; Tegucigalpa, Honduras; Vienna, Austria; Berlin, Germany and Lodz, Poland. Residencies include Yaddo, I-Park Foundation, Vermont Studio Center, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and The WhyNot Place in Delhi, India. Since 2007, she has written art criticism for the Brooklyn Rail and

Kent Place Gallery is on the campus of Kent Place School, 42 Norwood Avenue, Summit, NJ. Gallery hours are Monday – Friday, 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. For more information call (908) 273-0900, or visit

Friday, November 8, 2013

At the Museum

with Nyugen E. Smith, photo by Michele Alpern

On Thursday, November 7, at 7pm, I gave a slide talk about my work and process at the Montclair Art Museum, along with four other artists (Ruby Onyinyechi Amanze, Dahlia Elsayed, Phoenix Lindsey-Hall, Nyugen E. Smith).  Presented by Gallery Aferro.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

"Joggie" at KPG

"Joggie (Black Rainbow)", Jason Stopa, 2013, oil, spray paint & glitter on canvas

“Joggie, 1983”: Jason Stopa at Kent Place Gallery

September 9 – October 4, 2013.  

Reception for the artist from 6-8 pm on Friday, September 27.

Stopa’s paintings in this show are playful, vivid, and refer to childhood experiences.  The “Joggie” referred to in the show’s title was Stopa’s imaginary childhood friend, and 1983 refers to the year the artist was born.  Both imagination and memory are deeply embedded themes in these paintings.  At the same time, the works are dynamic abstract statements of the possibilities of paint, with passages alternately thickly troweled or thinly brushed, using combinations of acrylic, oil, enamel, spray paint and, at times, glitter.  Iconic images of basketball nets, watermelons, rainbows and more float on scintillating painterly fields, as if in the mind’s eye.

Stopa states, “I make abstract paintings with representational references.   Currently, my palette is limited to pastels, neon and blacks. I'm interested in making work where the frame/edge is pronounced, where pattern becomes form and where there is a marked distinction between thin and thick handling.

I have two bodies of work for this show.  One is Joggie. The other is Brooklyn Zoo. I grew up on the east coast, and the Brooklyn Zoo series are a group of paintings that reference urban settings. Basketball, food and hip hop music find their way into these works.”

According to Kent Place Gallery Director Ken Weathersby, “Stopa’s paintings present something direct and evocative with complexity. There is always a tie in to personal experience in a way that moves beyond the personal.  I see a social dimension in Stopa’s art, something that resonates with both humor and a critical edge, as the images situate themselves in relation to the broader field of historic and contemporary painting.  We ask, ‘What is generally seen as an iconic thing, and what is iconic in these paintings?’ and for the sensitive viewer there emerges a kind of identification with the ‘voice’ of the artist and the mood evoked here.  I think it is wonderful to start the season at Kent Place Gallery with this rewarding show.”

Stopa’s work has been presented in numerous exhibitions in NYC including Janet Kurnatowksi Gallery, the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, and Bull & Ram Gallery.  He holds an MFA from Pratt Institute, NY.

Kent Place Gallery is on the campus of Kent Place School, 42 Norwood Avenue, Summit, NJ.  Gallery hours are Monday – Friday, 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.  For more information call (908) 273-0900, or visit

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Friday, June 7, 2013

Linda Francis, John O'Connor, Ken Weathersby

 197(dccch), ken weathersby

Linda Francis, John O'Connor, Ken Weathersby
Suite 217, 56 Bogart Street, Brooklyn, NY
June 6 - July 15, 2013

Thoughts on 
“Linda Francis, John O’Connor, Ken Weathersby” 
at Suite 217

He had shown that the image did not exist, only chains of images, and that the very way these were assembled, from the genetic code to the Renault production chain, this assembly itself constituted an image, an image that reflected how we fit into the center or the periphery of the universe.

--Jean-Luc Godard, “Changer d’image”

In a video commissioned for French television in 1982, whose narration is quoted above in translation, Godard wrestles with the question of whether and how images can resist commodification.  The exhibition that joins works by Linda Francis, John O’Connor, and Ken Weathersby similarly makes me think about how artists can have a critical relationship to the near-omnipresent forces of the commodity market, in a culture of capital that has expanded even further over the past few decades.  The artworks here provoke questions about the flow of capital exchange that seems to saturate every aspect of our lives.

Fluidity, flexibility: oft-cited keywords of the transnational corporate economy, which penetrates public space and institutions through privatization, and personal experience through digital information technology.  The mobile realm of production contracts labor wherever profit is greatest, while the deregulated financial industry increasingly speculates on the flow of symbolic capital itself.  Smooth operation is ostensibly the order of the day.

Placing high stakes, making hearts ache / He’s loved in seven languages / Diamond nights and ruby lights, high in the sky / Heaven help him, when he falls

--Sade, “Smooth Operator”

Linda Francis’s recent work is based on electron-microscope images of the surface of a failed heat shield of a 1990s space shuttle, images that she overlays repeatedly on the computer.  Her pieces present technological visualizations of physical structure—a structure designed, unsuccessfully, to harness resistance.  The artworks also incorporate into the imagery evidence of the media that produce them, such as pixelation.

In Interference, the crystalline components arrayed within the image suggest patterned organization while eluding it.  Across the multiple silkscreened prints assembled in the piece, repetition and alignment at the edges structure the image. Thus pattern recognition in Interference is both fugitive and precise.  Indeed a strong diagonal current crosses a literal gap to a separate, larger panel that leans on the floor against the wall.  Shifts in scale and near-repetitions are vertiginous.

Also patternlike but dizzyingly evasive, We Can Build You is a more physically factured, painted version of the image at greater magnification.  It resembles representations of biological code, and its title (taken from the Phillip K. Dick novel) evokes the manipulations of biotechnology, and more generally the way technological capitalism works on us.  Francis’s pieces invite contemplation of hypermediation and replication, as well as contingency, fissure, and friction, with a coolly observant gaze.

John O’Connor also indexes research material in his drawings, which underscore the imbrication of psychological experience with an information economy.  As the Surrealists channeled the illogical logic of the unconscious, O’Connor cultivates delirious overloads of information processing.  He produces drawings by using shifting, idiosyncratic codes: converting text into numbers, reversing letters, translating letters into colors by randomly devised systems, running garbled text through an electronic dictionary.

Turing (named for the computer scientist and his famous test of whether machines can think) presents an oval loop of linked bits of textual data.  The loop surrounds a set of inwardly folding, bunching shapes that evoke an organism introjecting and expelling.  O’Connor generated the incomprehensible data by a dialogue between his free associations, processed through multiple overcodings, and an electronic dictionary’s responses (one of which eerily speaks to Alan Turing’s persecution for his sexuality).  Characteristic of the artist’s work, the drawing appears both diagrammatic and indecipherable.

In SUSEJ, a drawing of intricately colored grids, O’Connor includes notations of his text-to-color coding at the paper’s edges.  The piece invites us to comprehend the design of the delicate arrangement of colors, but its structuring principles are opaque.  Similarly, the thin, almost weightless sculptures Future Rods are covered in blocky text concerning prediction, which resists deciphering.  Obtruding on the gallery floor, they evoke the forces of futures speculation that invest contemporary life. 

O’Connor’s artistic practice mines the extra-aesthetic, representing processed information from the provinces of socioeconomics, politics, science, mass culture, and personal life.  His work does not so much assimilate these realms into absorbable images, but rather creates incongruity, discordance, uncanny disconcertment.

Ken Weathersby, on the other hand, makes dissonant the constitutive elements of conventional art objects themselves, specifically paintings: that is, paint applied for perceptual activity, canvas or linen, and wooden support. 

In 198 (dc),  paint is applied to a wood support, but that substrate is also image: it’s an elaborate grid of layered wood strips, which cutouts in the painted front surface reveal from the picture plane.  Meanwhile the painted image, an optically active grid of black and white squares, is a material slab of acrylic film directly glued to the wood.  The resemblance of the grids, and the equivocation of figure and ground at the level of image and physical material, confound distinctions between structure and surface.   

In the freestanding 194 (z), another painted grid of tiny squares echoes a larger grid of wood strips that supports the painting.  In this piece, the wood strips enclose the painting, holding it within.  The structure is a delicate cage that partially obscures the painting, here in its conventional form of acrylic on a rectangle of fabric over stretcher bars.  Planar yet viewable in the round, the hybrid 194 (z) presents us with ambiguity about what is supportive structure and what is visual display.

Weathersby’s work foregrounds how the realms of visual image and material production are implicated with each other.  It is as though painting is posing questions about its constituent terms.  In 197 (dcch), what looks like a painting—a thin plane of an optically active grid of colors—is dissected to present a literal, physical interior that contains overlapping parts of other gridded paintings and wooden grids.  The piece highlights a sense of imbrication and conditionality.

Interestingly, the container is also a key figure in contemporary economics; the container ship is pivotal to global exchange, as it’s designed to make the supply chain as smooth as possible.  Indeed, as the forces of transnational capitalism are ever more pervasive, they operate largely below the threshold of perceptibility.  The artwork of Weathersby, Francis, and O’Connor each raises issues of imbrication, of congruence and incongruity.  It resonates keenly with the extra-artistic socioeconomic situation, and its discontents.

Michele Alpern