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

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Silent Opera

model for a silent opera (maquette 1 inch = 1foot)

Silent Opera

April 19, 2013 - May 26, 2013
Reception: Friday April 19, 6-9pm

One River Gallery
49 N. Dean St., Englewood, New Jersey 
Ken Weathersby’s exhibition, Silent Opera, presents works that transpose and shuffle optical and physical aspects.  In the paintings, grids of primary color or high-contrast black and white are interrupted, displaced, removed, enclosed or cut into.  In the collage-based works, found images are submerged under dense, wooden grids.

The idea of a painting’s face or a photographed human image as a site of display is muted and complicated by these interventions.  When an object is exhibited, it is like a performer stepping forward onto a stage; if the sound of the song is cut or muffled, though, we hear the sound of the performer’s footsteps, the incidental stage business, the bump and clatter of conventions that normally surround the song…

“Responding to the given conditions of painting gives me something to work against.  I’ve tried to separate the parts of physical language of painting, the paint surface, the wooden support, the canvas or linen, and reset them in new relations. Recently I’ve also been cannibalizing my bookshelf, taking whole pages mostly from art books, and building on top of them; hiding them, replacing them, saving them, burying them.” (Weathersby)

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Sunday, April 7, 2013

Neo-Ex & Power Chords

Untitled Dieter Krieg, 1985, 105 x 61 inches. Collection of the artist.

Neo-Expressionism and Power Chords

by Ken Weathersby

Hearing the guitar riff toward the end of Boston’s 1976 rock song “Peace of Mind” from a passing car radio the other day, I was a little surprised to find myself gripped by the sound, just as when I was a teenager and predictably compelled by such things many years ago.
The musical gesture is certainly a cliché, but I listened; a cluster of chords form a simple, blocky, repeated figure. The fully cranked electric guitar and amp pump out a sound soaked in a humming spectrum of overtone distortion. All other instruments drop out during the break and let it hang excitingly in the air. The aural space around it for that moment is vast.
The brief rhythmic guitar break is a statement of the drive that’s layered up and elaborated throughout the entire song - but here it is stripped down for a minute, right to the heart of the matter. Its a sonic emotional mission statement by the long-haired, red-eyed stoner at the center of it all. He soars for a moment through an inner space of pure feeling, whipping out an energy in this riff that majestically trumps all that boring “corporate ladder” and “competition” crap.
As I listened, the emotional freight carried by this guitar riff called to mind something of what I encountered later in life in the loaded brush marks of Neo-Expressionist paintings. I spontaneously visualized big German pictures from the 1970s and 1980s. I first actually saw such canvases at the Toledo Museum of Art in 1988, in the traveling exhibition “Painting Refigured”. That show, organized by the Guggenheim Museum and Williams College Museum of Art, took stock of German painting between 1960 and 1988, with an emphasis on the return of figuration, but also a high concentration of the heavy-duty use of oil paint on enormous canvases. Artists in the show included Baselitz, Kiefer, Lupertz, and Polke.
I remembered standing in the museum taking in the way a particular painting featured a massive stroke from a paint-loaded brush that seemed to have been the size of a broom. The colors were mixed right on the canvas, inside the smeared mark, to make unexpected contrasts and crazy marbled streaks. Countless bleeds and clots could be found within an individual swipe of paint. This memory, as it was focused in my mind’s eye, was of a huge painting made with a single monumental mark. It read as abstraction and at the same time as an indirect representation of the presence of a giant, a towering artist who might have created this work in a flash, with a single dab. After locating and consulting the exhibition catalog for “Refigured Painting”, I couldn’t find a record of this particular painting anywhere. I realized that my memory of this piece was closely associated with a couple of untitled paintings from 1985, by Dieter Krieg. Looking at the reproductions now, I see that they are neither fully abstract nor composed of a single stroke.
One represents what looks like a chicken leg and a thermometer, and the other one depicts a huge fish hook piercing a scrap of paper with the word “idiot” scrawled on it. Looking at these in the “Refigured Painting” catalog, I realized that my recollection of a monumental single-stroke painting was a false memory, essentially an invention of my own. It didn’t exist, but was maybe accurate as an involuntary distillation of part of my impression of the show at the time. The Krieg paintings certainly were composed of the kind of heavy, fraught marks I thought of hearing that Boston song.
The macho (almost all were men) German painters whose photos appeared in the back of the catalogs (I pulled out and consulted another catalog of a similar show, “Expressions: New Art from Germany”, which included many of the same artists and toured US museums earlier in the ‘80s) were dressed and styled as tough rebels, attempting rock star glamour. Though maybe more punk rock than arena rock, from out of their black leather jackets, five o’clock-shadowed chins bore hardened scowls. A 1981 painting in “Refigured Painting” by Helmut Middendorf called “Singer” is dominated by a hunched, skinny figure holding a microphone stand, which was clearly directly copied from a photo of guitarist smashing his instrument on the stage from the cover of the Clash’s “London Calling”(1979).
As there is something signaling excess, even hinting at chaos in an overdriven distorted guitar on the edge of feedback, so there is in the touch of a gigantic brush dripping with a giant blob of mottled oil color. Each contains potential worlds within itself-- and each can present a virtuosic dishing out of monumental forms, fat floating slabs for the ears or the eyes. In both cases the expression is a presumption of intensity and power deployed. In both cases the awareness of the touch of a creating hand invites one to identify and emulate by miming a swinging gesture of a brush, or a thrash at an air guitar. It’s a seductive image of mastery, full of grandiosity.
The implication of a controlling agent behind these expressions, able to propel and direct such potent stuff, suggests to me now that the appeal of these forms and the identification they offered promised compensation for adolescent male anxiety, a fulfilling of lack, an allaying of fear. It went without saying that all my male high school friends liked that guitar sound (it was beyond assumed), just as my colleagues in art school were excited about those big German smears of paint. It was a feeling. It was more than a feeling.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Nearly The Neutral:

image: "160", 2008

"Nearly Neutral" 
curated by John O'Connor
January 29 - February 26, 2013
Heimbold Visual Arts Center at Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, NY

Michele Alpern, Ivin Ballen, Dawn Clements, Matthew Fisher, Linda Francis, Rachel Hayes, Ridley Howard, Allan Macintyre, Jerome Marshak, Ryan Mrozowkski, Matthew Northridge, Bruce Pearson, Antonia Perez, Shahpour Pouyan, Kanishka Raja, Timothy Smith, Bruce Stiglich, Ken Weathersby


A solo show of five new works at NIAD Art Center, Richmond, CA, through February 25, 2013.

image: "202 (best wishes for 1981", 2012

"For his new collages, New York artist Ken Weathersby has taken to cannibalizing his bookshelf. Using entire pages from an art book, mostly images of Greek sculpture, or other figurative images, Weathersby buries each under one of his signature wooden grids. The pieces become elegant and complex explorations of the picture plane. Cache: New Work From Ken Weathersby, a selection of the artist’s most recent collages are on view in NIAD’s annex gallery."
--NIAD Gallery Director Tim Buckwalter