April 10, 2014

It is not especially surprising that wunderkind photographer and digital artist Joshua Citarella describes his studio as a “white cube.” The New York-based artist’s work is best characterized as clean and minimal with vaguely dystopian elements. They are the sort of images that would look at home in a futuristic magazine, on a well-curated Instagram feed or sparsely hung on the walls of famed New York photography gallery Higher Pictures (that last one happened last September).

Though Citarella’s practice is constantly evolving – one day he might be photographing the silver-speckled legs of a model, the next an impossibly slick wrought iron sculpture nestled in a pile of sand – consistency lies in the flawlessness of the images. It is a flawlessness achieved through meticulous planning and skillful post-production – the patience to ensure that an image captured in a mere moment appears just as the artist intended. If anyone knows that good things take time, it’s Citarella. His aforementioned show at Higher Pictures (which, by the by, was met with rave reviews) was two years in the making – two years to produce five, perfect images.

First, an annoying question: how would you describe your “aesthetic” to someone who has never seen your work and does not have access to Google (an alien, basically)?
Some elements of magic, a minimalist sci-fi future, cosmetic advertisements maybe?

At what point did you know you wished to pursue art professionally?
I started to think of myself as a professional artist somewhere around 2009 or 2010.

When or how do you know that a piece is finished and it’s time to step away?
It’s different for every piece. Some things need to be completely polished, others should be interrupted midway.

In what ways would you consider yourself a perfectionist in terms of your practice?
Previously, I worked as a professional retoucher and that knowledge greatly informed my practice. There’s a type of perfectionism there that comes into play often.

When it comes to your practice, are you good at delegating tasks? This can encompass both the physical creation of your work as well as activities that surround it, such as installation and PR. Why or why not?
I work with the best printers, framers and fabricators. I can’t thank them enough.

Is there a time of day that you feel most creative or inspired? Is there a time of year?
I always find myself working at odd hours, either really early or late. It’s hard to have a consistent schedule. Every project is different.

Are you deadline-oriented?
I tend to finish everything far in advance.

Who is the first person you show your work to? Do you show people your work when it’s in process or do you wait until it’s finished?
I post a lot of working images on social media.

How important is failure to your artistic process?
There is always some trial and error. I used to edit down my work a great deal. Recently I’ve been more lenient and just producing more.

To what degree is your work pre-planned or considered and to what degree does it manifest itself as you’re working?
Almost every work is carefully planned before hand. When working with live models you need to improvise on occasion.

Can you recall the first piece of art you ever made?
Haha, I have no idea.

What was the last great piece of advice you received in regards to your practice, and from whom?
“Don’t make paintings for the living room. Make paintings for the bedroom.” – Nick Faust

How do you handle criticism?
It can be helpful. I value criticism from artists whose practice I trust.

Would you say that your art making is ritualistic – is there a standardized process you follow when producing work, or does it vary from piece to piece?
It varies from piece to piece. I’ve been making some more serialized work recently, but I don’t consider the process ritualistic.

If you ever feel creatively blocked, what do you do to overcome it?
I make mock ups in the studio or in Photoshop. It helps to try out a number of small ideas very quickly.

In what ways, if any, do you alter your approach in response to context? This can refer to the gallery a work is being shown in, the city or other cultural contexts.
I would say that most of my work anticipates being altered by its context. I try to address that proactively.

In what ways has your practice changed/evolved/improved in the time since you first started? Is it still changing?
It’s definitely always changing. I think everything you do informs what you will do next.

What is your personal definition of quality?
Quality work changes the way you look at other images afterwards.

Can your recall a definitive moment or turning point in your career – perhaps a specific show or the realization of a new method or process (or one of each)?
In September I had my first solo show at Higher Pictures in New York. I spent about two years working up to that, so it was definitely a milestone in my practice.

For more examples of time well spent visit Levi’s Made and Crafted

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The Bullet Shop
April 3, 2014

To Aurora Passero, quality is characterized as a recognizable continuity in an artist’s practice. Fitting, as once you’ve seen one of the Norwegian artist’s site-specific woven pieces, her work is forever recognizable. Constructed from meticulously woven nylon, Passero’s installations interact with an architectural space, sometimes extending from a gallery’s ceiling to graze its wooden floor and other times suspended in midair. Sometimes her works are dramatically draped and sometimes they’re pulled taught, threads dangling in perfect straight lines. But however her pieces are installed, however they are dyed, whatever the size the opacity or the site, they are always undeniably Passero’s.

Though Passero has had several solo exhibitions in her native Oslo, her inclusion in last year’s Untitled Art Fair during Art Basel Miami has sparked interest in the young artist on this side of the pond. We expect to encounter her recognizable works again and again, as they effortlessly transform whatever space they grace.

First, an annoying question: how would you describe your “aesthetic” to someone who has never seen your work and does not have access to Google (an alien, basically)?
My works take place in a span between sculpture and painting – I am interested in the resistance and balance between material, form, color, space and content. Lately I have been working with nylon thread that I weave and later dye before composing the pieces together as whole spatial installations.

At what point did you know you wished to pursue art professionally?
I realized it gradually through my adolescence. My mother work as a costume designer and her nonstop orientation towards and curiosity for different artistic expressions has had a huge influence on me. Since I was a kid she has been dragging my brother and I around to visit different museums and collections, especially in Italy because I am half Italian. It took me a while to realize we were so close to the ocean – the only thing we saw were churches and palaces. Otherwise I have always loved making things and I was always drawing when I was smaller. I also remember I saw Julian Schnabel’s Basquiat movie when I was fifteen – perfect for a longing teenager.

When or how do you know that a piece is finished and it’s time to step away?
It’s based on an immediately good feeling and experience.

In what ways would you consider yourself a perfectionist in terms of your practice?
I would not say that I am a perfectionist but I am very concerned with having control of the whole process, from beginning to end. At the moment I finalize something, regardless if it’s a text, a piece of work or an exhibition, I need to I’ve worked it through down to every detail so it will be exposed precisely the way I want it.

When it comes to your practice, are you good at delegating tasks? This can encompass both the physical creation of your work as well as activities that surround it, such as installation and PR. Why or why not?
No, and that can be a problem, especially when I have a lot to do. Working as an artist it is not only about making the art itself, it’s everything else: office work, applications, documentation, text, PR and so on and so on… When it comes to making the work I prefer to be alone, but when I mount the pieces I always need assistants because of the large-scale of the pieces.

Is there a time of day that you feel most creative or inspired? Is there a time of year?
I like to work in the mornings, when everything is fresh and new. Otherwise I’m happy about the long, cold winter months because it gives me a lot of time to stay inside and work without a bad conscience.

Are you deadline-oriented?
Yes, I like to work under pressure.

What does your studio or work environment look or feel like?
My studio is essential for my practice; it was the first thing I started looking for when I graduated. I have always had a lot of visual material around me: photos, books, magazines and other inspiration sources that I rearrange all the time. It reminds me of the starting points of different pieces, like a visual language or mind map.

Who is the first person you show your work to? Do you show people your work when it’s in process or do you wait until it’s finished?
I like to be alone when I work, trying to avoid interruptions. I’m not very found of other’s comments during my process because it is important to me that I make my own decisions. I have a few people I show it to when it’s completed – most importantly, my boyfriend, Robin, who also works as an artist. We discuss each other’s works all the time and he functions as my extended eye.

How important is failure to your artistic process?
I try to be as open as possible when I work. It’s often when unexpected things happens new ideas develop.  I think it’s important to not be too safe within the work, but to push it forward as soon as you get to comfortable.

To what degree is your work pre-planned or considered and to what degree does it manifest itself as you’re working?
It is a mix of both. I usually get an pretty clear idea of what I want to make based on information I get out of the space I will be working with. I often start with one piece, then the others follow in relation to one another. I like the public to experience the pieces both individually and as a whole composition. I can be thinking about something for a long time, but it is what I physically do in my studio that tells me whether it will work out or not.

Can you recall the first piece of art you ever made?
When I was a kid my friends and I made a city inhabited by mice made out of Plasticine. It was extremely detailed and was built on an old door shelf we got from the day care facility we went to after school. As we grew older, the mice developed along with us, gaining interests like NBA merchandise and skateboards. My friend still has it.

What was the last great piece of advice you received in regards to your practice, and from whom?
“Remember to breathe”- from a taxi driver.

How do you handle criticism?
It depends on how the criticism is given and if it is constructive or not. At its best, criticism can give one drive to develop the work.

Would you say that your art making is ritualistic – is there a standardized process you follow when producing work, or does it vary from piece to piece?
When I set up a loom and weave the pieces I follow basic technical rules. It’s a logical repetition and I guess you could call it a kind of ritual. The dying process is much more risky and physically exhausting. Here I’m interested in chance and the result of more impulsive actions. I like the combination and dynamic of those two aspects together.

If you ever feel creatively blocked, what do you do to overcome it?
Travel is a very good way to find inspiration – you get a break from your usual routines and a chance to think about your practice from another point of view. Also seeing other art and reading about other artistic practices always inspires me a lot.

In what ways, if any, do you alter your approach in response to context? This can refer the gallery a work is being shown in, the city or other cultural contexts.
My works are pretty much site-specific. They first take shape when they are hung up in the space and I always relate to the architecture I’m installing in. Otherwise I see my works as a response to my surroundings and everyday life. The works become a concentrate of all of my impressions; like a physical language.

In what ways has your practice has changed/evolved/improved in the time since you first started? Is it still changing?
I have built up a confidence in what I am doing that comes together with experience.

What is your personal definition of quality?
A continuity in someone’s practice.

Can your recall a definitive moment or turning point in your career – perhaps a specific show or the realization of a new method or process (or one of each)?
When I was studying I was working with site-specific installations that I had built up with all kinds of materials like plaster, rubber, pigments and plastic directly in the space. It was always destroyed after a period of time and I was missing a more intimate way of working and making something that could last. I started to examine nylon and when I started to weave with it I realized I could build up large-scale elements in an easy way. It was interesting to take up space with such a cheap and superficial material and at the same time mix classical handcraft and painting traditions.

For more examples of time well spent visit Levi’s Made and Crafted

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The Bullet Shop
April 1, 2014

Posing for pictures with friends and taking pictures of ourselves is something we’re all accustomed to now. We assume one of a few personas depending on the circumstances, and have the poses we’re most confident in in our arsenals. But when we’re pushed out of our comfort zone, gathered together in an impromptu shot with people we might not know very well, for example, it can throw our entire sense of balance off. Oh right, getting your picture is pretty weird after all, we’re reminded.

That sense of the unfamiliar is at the heart of photographer Richard Renaldi’s “Touching Strangers” series. For the project he began in 2007,  eventually published as a book, Renaldi would approach strangers out in public and ask them to pose together with one another intimately, “in ways that people are usually taught to reserve for their close friends and loved ones,” he explains.

You might not be able to recognize the fact that the subjects are strangers if you didn’t know otherwise. Once you do the minor cracks in vulnerability, the hesitations in touching, and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, the openness of those that seem to have fully divested themselves of any reservations, become much more striking.

All photos by Richard Renaldi. Check out more of his work hereh/t Slate.

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The Bullet Shop
April 1, 2014

Good stories make you wonder if things are a product of fate or luck, an otherworldly intuition, or just coincidence. In 2007, John Maloof bought a box a negatives at a Chicago auction for $400 and happened upon the work of maybe the most important undiscovered American photographer of the 20th century, Vivian Maier. Without Maloof’s dedication, Maier’s work would almost certainly have stayed forgotten, and largely undeveloped, packed away in boxes in storage units and attics. “Finding it was coincidence because everything was coming into alignment at the perfect time,” says Maloof, who explains that he had just left a job in real estate and had the time to devote to archiving this woman’s work posthumously and co-directing the film, Finding Vivian Maier, in theaters now.

You’ve probably seen Maier’s work, her classic black and white street photography from the streets of Chicago in the fifties and sixties, or her fragmented reflection in her haunting self-portraits. When Maloof first posted it online, the photos went viral. He then started to track down more boxes of negatives and undeveloped rolls, and the other miscellaneous things she left behind: receipts, hats, coats, 8mm film, and audio recordings. “There was one little canister of teeth. I found a lock of hair in a bag,” notes Maloof. “It’s hard to put into words but going through somebody’s stuff, all the little things she made the decision to save, these are all things that tell a lot about her.”

The documentary plays like a mystery, piecing together Maier’s life from these relics and interviews with her former employers and the children she babysat. Maloof and his co-director, Charlie Siskel, paint a measured portrait of a talented artist and idiosyncratic character, whose compulsive photography bled into obsessive hoarding, and whose fierce independence veered on isolation. The more we find out about Maier, the more we find out how private she was. The children once in her care recount never being able to enter her locked attic bedroom. And Maloof faces the ethical dilemma of whether or not she would appreciate this documentary prying into her personal life. Though he notes, there was a letter suggesting some intention to show her work, and adds, “she always clipped stories out of newspapers. She loved a good story, and this is a good story, so I think she would understand. If this wasn’t her story and she saw it in the paper, we think she would clip it out.”

When I asked Maloof if he saw a parallel between his own obsession with Maier and her obsessive nature, he laughed. “I didn’t at first, but people pointed it out.” The parallels don’t stop there. Maloof actually became inspired by Maier and took up street photography himself, even using the same Rolleiflex camera.

Street photography depends on a voyeuristic relationship. One sees without being seen. “You don’t want to connect with them,” Maloof says of the subjects. “You want to document without breaking that barrier.” The tragic part of Vivian’s story is she had these barriers not just as a photographer but in her personal life too. And as cliche as the idea might be, as you watch the documentary you wonder if the genius of her work depended on that sacrifice. “She had nobody close to her. She was always on the outside,” says Maloof. “She was observing in these homes she worked as a nanny in as much as she was when she went out on the street. She was in the perfect mindset to be an observer.”

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The Bullet Shop
March 28, 2014
KEHINDE WILEY: Judith and Holofernes, 2012 ©Kehinde Wiley, Courtesy Sean Kelly, New York / Photo by Jason Wyche
Kehinde Wiley poses Dacia Carter and Khalidiah Asante at the photoshoot for An Economy of Grace© Show of Force / Photo by Jessica Chermayeff
Kehinde Painting in Beijing Studio © Show of Force / Photo by William Peña
KEHINDE WILEYFemme piquee par un serpent, 2008 ©Kehinde Wiley, Courtesy Sean Kelly, New York
Kehinde Wiley and Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy design the dresses for An Economy of Grace © Show of Force
Kehinde Wiley paints in NY Studio
Kehinde Wiley poses models Dacia Carter and Chanel Stephens for An Economy of Grace© Show of Force / Photo by Jessica Chermayeff
KEHINDE WILEY: Judith and Holofernes, 2012 ©Kehinde Wiley, Courtesy Sean Kelly, New York / Photo by Jason Wyche
Kehinde Wiley poses Dacia Carter and Khalidiah Asante at the photoshoot for An Economy of Grace © Show of Force / Photo by Jessica Chermayeff
Kehinde Painting in Beijing Studio © Show of Force / Photo by William Peña
KEHINDE WILEY Femme piquee par un serpent, 2008 ©Kehinde Wiley, Courtesy Sean Kelly, New York
Kehinde Wiley and Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy design the dresses for An Economy of Grace © Show of Force
Kehinde Wiley paints in NY Studio
Kehinde Wiley poses models Dacia Carter and Chanel Stephens for An Economy of Grace © Show of Force / Photo by Jessica Chermayeff

Young black men clad in flashy basketball jerseys, Adidas sneakers, and assorted streetwear gaze intently into the viewer’s eyes before a flamboyant backdrop of baroque decorative patterns. With highly affected poses that recall Western portraiture’s most powerful figures, these unlikely protagonists shake up the often stodgy and shortsighted painting tradition. It’s no wonder 37-year-old African-American artist Kehinde Wiley ranks among the world’s most sought-after painters, with a celebrity fan base that counts Russell Simmons, Denzel Washington and Elton John. His vibrant canvases are instantly recognizable: large-scale, vividly rendered, photo-realistic portraits of contemporary black men and women in majestic poses inspired by Thomas Gainsborough, Peter Paul Rubens, and a long line of portraitists of centuries past. The Yale-educated gallery darling radically reinterprets the works of Old World masters he first discovered as a student, prompting a conversation about power and wealth by training his gaze on everyday folks—nurses, prison guards, athletes—he handpicks during his spontaneous “street castings.”

Wiley is the subject of An Economy of Grace, which deservedly took home the Grand Jury Prize for Best Short Documentary at the South By Southwest Film Festival earlier this month. Sitting on a sun-soaked patio at the Austin Convention Center during the festival, producer Jessica Chermayeff recounted how she instantly knew Wiley’s practice would make for great storytelling. “Generally, painting is pretty…boring, solitary, drawn-out, and it all looks the same from the camera’s perspective. But Kehinde’s process is not just painting; it’s genuinely exciting as it involves so many other people. In some ways, he’s a performance artist.” We also spoke with a very debonair Wiley, sporting patterned suit and oversized shades, about his South Central upbringing, the mad science of street castings, and bridging the gap between art world elitists and contemporary pop culture.

Growing up in rough-and-tumble South Central L.A. in the 1980s, your mom sent you and your twin brother to art classes on weekends to keep you off the streets. How much do you think pursuing art professionally was a result of her efforts?
She wasn’t just encouraging me, she was telling me what to do. (laughs) On Saturday mornings, my twin brother and I had to take public transportation an hour and a half in each direction. I don’t even know how she’d find these things, but oftentimes we’d be the two only black kids at an all-Jewish summer camp because they had a few openings for underprivileged kids. I remember going to Russia and having my entire world rocked in terms of what was possible, how big the world felt all of a sudden, how significant art could be. Seeing all these gold leaf-gilded surfaces with icons and portraits, it just made everything feel very pregnant. I owe her everything for that.

So much of your conceptual practice revolves around your unique casting process, which you’ve been documenting as short film companion pieces to your exhibits. What prompted you to sign on to a more substantial documentary film?
I keep cameras rolling wherever I go, whether it be Africa, Brazil or Asia. The last ten years have been about global travel. Documenting that via tiny films has always been a huge part of it. But it recently became clear that there was more there. I saw the film [production company Show of Force http://showofforce.com/home/] had done about Marina Abramović [Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present] and I loved it. I thought, if they can make a really moving film about staring into space for hours, then these are the people I need to work with.

From Tel Aviv to São Paulo to Columbus, Ohio, you carry out street castings around the world. The people you’re drawn to clearly hail from all walks of life, but what is it that immediately strikes you about a stranger?
Sometimes, it’s sexual attraction, but it’s much more complex than that. You don’t really have time to think about it. There’s this IT factor, this state of self-possession, this swagger – you’re imagining what someone’s going to look like on canvas. Some people don’t photograph well. Over time, you start to realize what works in photo, and oftentimes it’s heightened features, things that seem a little bit exaggerated. Sometimes, people that have a meek presence can be quite dominating on the picture, depending on how you manipulate the pose. It’s a lot of calculating.

The documentary presents the diverse range of responses you encounter in the streets of Harlem when accosting women. One in particular seemed very turned off, later going on to say she initially thought you were “full of it!” Why are you so keen on pursuing people who are difficult to win over – a painter’s equivalent to the thrill of the chase?
(laughs) I think so. There’s a certain excitement to the chase, being able to convince people. There’s a certain look in people’s eyes as well when they see examples of the paintings, the art historical references, and they start to imagine themselves in this story. It gets pretty addictive, the ability to allow that story to prove itself. What you’re doing is begging for legitimacy in the middle of New York City, when everyone’s got better things to do. You’re saying: stop for a minute and recognize this is something of merit.

Your eye-popping canvases are rife with references to art history. When you began depicting black Americans in the heroic and powerful poses preferred by Old Masters such as Memling and Ingres, were you already aiming for a contemporary spin on classical portraiture?
I think it’s an additive process. It’s about saying that history is beautiful and terrible, about saying that I’m in love with the material practice of painting, all of it, but also recognizing the ills that exist throughout the project of Western easel painting. It’s saying yes to people who happen to look like me, and yes to the material practice of painting.

You’ve been getting lots of media attention of late, with many journalists keen to peg you as “the most famous Black American painter since Basquiat.” What do you make of that comparison?
I don’t know how that got started… it’s weird. Once it’s said, it becomes this echo chamber. The world has changed since Basquiat – he’s one of the most important artists we know of, but his conversation was very different. It’s great that people are having this appreciation for painting, to see the broader culture embrace it and see [the visual arts] transcend their traditional boundaries. It’s a great testament to the cultural awakening happening in America, which you can see in literature, fashion, and even food. We’re becoming less myopic in our views, and it becomes easy for those who are newly introduced to this community to make simple comparisons. I think that is one of them.

Would you primarily consider yourself a painter?
I call what I do conceptual painting, to the extent that the ideas and the paintings are so co-dependent. If you simply look at a painting of mine without a broader understanding of the context, you’re only seeing about 30% of what’s there. But there’s no art school in the world that prepares you for the skillset required at this point in my life. I never imagined that I would have to figure out how to be both someone with a winning, persuasive personality in the streets while at the same time, manage to have a very focused conversation on my craft’s technical nuances – painters for painters, which has been criticized historically for being ‘ivory tower’ and elite. I think my blessing is that I’m able to make work that engages at once a very closed system of art world insiders and popular culture.

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The Bullet Shop
March 20, 2014

Photographs happen in an instant and often without much thought or care. We photograph our club sandwich on multigrain and it’s filtered and shared with our Instagram followers in seconds. Artist Letha Wilson’s work may find its roots in photography, but her practice is nothing like your average Instagrammer’s or even your average professional photographer’s. Wilson seeks out her images, which are often stunning landscapes found while hiking. She prints these photographs herself, in a darkroom, and marries them with materials like concrete, wood and drywall. “I describe my work as landscape photography getting punched in the face,” she says.

Wilson’s art, an analogue approach to photography in a digital age, exemplifies patience. It’s a quality that bleeds into Wilson’s life – she applied for the prestigious Snowhegan art residency in Somerset County, Maine nine times before being accepted in 2009. The trajectory of her career is evidence that good things come to those who wait (and spend that time continuously honing their craft). This year, she’ll have works on view at the International Center of Photography in New York and, later, a joint show with Jason Middlebrook at Retrospective Gallery in Hudson.

At what point did you know you wished to pursue art professionally?
I decided in the 7th grade that I wanted to major in art in college and convinced my dad to let me do that by planning to major in graphic design. I changed my major to painting once I was in undergrad, however, it wasn’t until a few years after grad school that I had enough confidence to really take the risk of becoming a professional artist.

When or how do you know that a piece is finished and it’s time to step away?
Usually an individual piece has a pre-determined ‘finished’ state, yet after that it takes time to look at it and decide if it’s any good. Sometimes my first reaction to a new piece isn’t the best one and sometimes my expectations of what the piece should look like get in the way of what it actually is.

In what ways would you consider yourself a perfectionist in terms of your practice?
Some works call for more perfection than others. I am definitely a control freak and do have perfectionist tendencies. In a way my practice has evolved to work against those tendencies.

Is there a time of day that you feel most creative or inspired? Is there a time of year?
My brain works best in the morning, however this is not necessarily when I am the most creative or inspired.  Inspiration seems to strike at odd times – when traveling to or from an errand, on a subway, a walk, at the store… in between places.

Are you deadline-oriented?
Often I don’t really have a choice, the deadlines are always there. Years ago I used to only make new work for deadlines, but now there is just a constant cycle or creation. The new work is always happening in some stage, deadline or not. And yet, a good deadline is a nice kick in the butt to get things finished!

What does your studio or work environment look or feel like?
It’s controlled chaos. I go from big mess to tidy-ish several times a week. My space is pretty small so I have to continuously move and clean and organize objects like a Tetris game.

Who is the first person you show your work to? Do you show people your work when it’s in process or do you wait until it’s finished?
Sometimes my artist friends – Kate Steciw, Carolyn Salas, Amy Feldman, Stacy Fisher, Rico Gatson, Jason Middlebrook. Maybe my sister or my boyfriend. I show them only when I’m excited about what I just made…

To what degree is your work pre-planned or considered and to what degree does it manifest itself as you’re working?
Individual pieces are pre-planned because I need to construct them and have an idea what they will become. Sometimes I make models for certain types of installations, and these models are tweaked until it’s right. Other pieces are studio works that are more process-based. I have an idea of what these will look like, but the end result always has an element of surprise. New ideas come out of these results.

What was the last great piece of advice you received in regards to your practice, and from whom?
It was a comment my friend Jen made to me in a studio visit years ago. She said I needed to make some bad art, and I knew what she meant. My work before then was too planned, too polished and figured out – there were no accidents or mistakes, and that’s what I needed. That advice really helped push me to change my practice and open things up.

How do you handle criticism?
It depends on where it’s coming from. Certain times I just counteract with my reasons why I do so and so, but the comment will tend to stick in the back of my mind. However, I have learned that I have to ultimately trust myself and my decisions in the studio, knowing everyone has their own opinions, which I cannot control.

Would you say that your art making is ritualistic – is there a standardized process you follow when producing work, or does it vary from piece to piece?
There is a certain process involved to some works, but I wouldn’t say it’s ritualistic, more just practical. And yet, I am always trying to change things up a bit, experiment and tweak. I try to be methodical on one hand but open to new ideas and aware of small cracks that I should follow.

If you ever feel creatively blocked, what do you do to overcome it?
Go on a trip, change scenery or take action. Moving or making things always opens things up. Go look at other people’s art.

In what ways, if any, do you alter your approach in response to context? This can refer the gallery a work is being shown in, the city or other cultural contexts.
Certain works I create are all about the context or even the specific physical site. Others are more modular and can be shown in a number of places. Context is also about the other artwork your work is shown with. I prefer showing my work alongside paintings and sculptures versus photographs. I think my work is in their language, but also benefits from the contrast to them.

In what ways has your practice has changed/evolved/improved in the time since you first started? Is it still changing?
Oh it’s changed a lot. I’ve gone from being in the studio 1 hour a day to being here 10 hours a day. Some things are the same – the way I need to make a frenzy then boil it down – but I have to balance a lot more things now that it’s my full time job. Tasks are often as much administrative or packing and shipping work as making it. Things that are part of my practice include going to the darkroom to print, traveling out West to hike and shoot, mixing and pouring concrete, and moving things around in the studio.  My time spent at artist residencies has taught me a lot about my own practice and tendencies. It’s as much about learning how to work best with yourself in a way, and push yourself constantly as it is making room for inspiration, life and open spaces.

For more examples of time well spent visit Levi’s Made and Crafted

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The Bullet Holiday Gift Guide
March 17, 2014
Brown after the SXSW performance.
Brown after the SXSW performance.

Late last week, Lady Gaga caused a swirl of controversy when, during a Doritos-backed concert at SXSW, a woman on stage puked green liquid all over the pop star during a performance of “Swine.” For Gaga, it was another headline grab meant to convey the song’s message, but for others, including Demi Lovato (who has battled an eating disorder), the stunt was a glorification of bulimia. “Bottom line, it’s not ‘cool’ or ‘artsy’ at all,” Lovato tweeted. “Putting the word ART in it isn’t a free card to do whatever you want without consequences.” But tell that to Millie Brown, an L.A.-based performance artist who until last week was best known for vomiting multi-colored milk on canvases for years, but is now the woman who barfed on Gaga while riding a giant mechanical pig. Not bad. We recently caught up with Brown via Skype to address the criticism surrounding her performance, how it came together, and why vomiting can, in fact, be art.

How was SXSW?
It was fun! I got there on Tuesday and Gaga and I met up on Wednesday and decided to do the performance.

So it was a last minute thing?
It was. Basically, the night before I flew into Austin I found out she was there and she found out I was there so we were like, shit, let’s do something!

And how did you feel up there?
I’ve never done a performance on that scale before. She’s the first person I’ve brought directly into a performance. Other artists have wanted me to vomit on them but I said no! I chose her because I knew she understood what it was all about. She appreciates performance art. So doing that stuff live with her, with that kind of energy from the crowd, was really amazing.

The performance is getting some backlash, as expected. Gaga explained in her Keynote speech that you two just wanted to represent the song and its message. Can you tell me about that?
It just made sense to both of us. It worked really amazingly with that song and the idea of purging all that bad energy and getting rid of it.

How has your work progressed since you first decided to vomit rainbows in 2005 with !WOWOW!? What are your goals?
My whole thing is about pushing my own boundaries and right now all the performances I’m doing are mentally and physically taking me to the limit. I just shot a really insane film called “Pendulum” that will be showing this summer, but can’t say more because it’s a surprise! I just want to keep challenging myself further with new experiences. I have a lot of performances outside of the vomit art that are coming up soon.

Some critics are ‘concerned’ that your performances are bad for your body. How often do you vomit rainbows?
I do it every couple months. I do live performances, films, I create canvases, and there’s always at least a month break between doing that.

Demi Lovato suggested you and Gaga glamorized bulimia with your performance. Other people have accused you of promoting eating disorders as well. What do you have to say about that?
We didn’t glamorize anything. All of my performances are meant to inspire viewers to question the concept of classic beauty and femininity, rather than perpetuate those standards girls and women are faced with every day; the ones that cause eating disorders in the first place! I think there’s an obvious difference between using my body to create something beautiful and to express myself rather than using it to harm myself and conform to society’s standards. My work rebels against those standards! I do understand how it could be triggering to some, but as an artist I can’t censor myself to keep everyone happy.

I’ve had eating disorders and never even made that connection. If I did I’d only think you were trying to bring the subject to light and make people question it, rather than trivialize or fetishize it.
Exactly, lots of people who have suffered from eating disorders have come and talk to me to say it made them think about it in ways they never had. They found it therapeutic. I’ve met more people who have suffered and been affected positively by my work than negatively. Of course online people are much more likely to say negative things.

Absolutely. How do you deal with that criticism?
At first I used to read all the comments and I’d find them upsetting, people wrote death threats and talked about my mother and stuff like that. I don’t read that shit anymore but I think if it affects people that strongly, it’s fine because that’s the point of art. It’s supposed to provoke emotions and encourage people to question things. It’s equally important if it enrages them or inspires them.

I feel comments are often harsher when directed towards women and shame is a common theme, like they want you to be ashamed of what you’re doing.
Yes, especially when it’s about eating disorders. Anyway it’s insecurity and it’s a really strange thing, people hide behind their screens and think therefore they can say whatever they want. Morals go out the window!

Do you think this means all people are secretly meaner than we think?
Well I think people are just more likely to write a comment if they hate something. If they like it they’re just like, “this is great,” and move on, but if they hate it they really want to express that! I feel people feel it’s their duty to express that. I’ve never wanted to be a part of that but sometimes I do read comments and think, “who would say something like that?”

Speaking of comments, someone once wrote in response to a performance of yours, “why doesn’t she just spit the milk?” Why is it so important to you to surrender completely to your body rather than allowing a bit of control, for the sake of comfort or “common sense,” as some viewers would suggest.
I’ve explored many mediums of art and performance art speaks to me the most. I’m using all of my body and this is how I can express myself best. Yeah, I could just throw the paint but the whole process is what’s really interesting to me. To create something really raw and primal. You can’t edit or control this.

You have “everything is possible” tattooed on your arm. That’s Matthew Stone’s quote, right? I know you two go way back.
That was a !WOWOW! mantra. Everything is possible and the universe will provide.

Have you seen that come true?
Yeah! I think now more than ever. Just believing that everything will happen and will be amazing.

You’re always so well-dressed during your performances. People have asked, “why wear suede shoes when she might vomit all over them?” How important is image and fashion to you?
It started with living in the co-op, with Gareth’s Pugh‘s studio in our house, I realized fashion really is art. For me, the clothes I wear represent my personality. If my personality were a pair of jeans and baggy t-shirt, I’d wear that to my performances. It’s not like I’m dressed like that the rest of the time and dress differently on stage! Other times I do take the fashion statement out of my performances and just go naked. Not for shock factor but just to keep it purely about my art.

Are you making coffee? What milk is that? I was actually going to ask you which brand you prefer for your performances versus daily life.
It’s Silk! This was the first one I tried and it’s delicious.

Can I take a screenshot?
Screen shot 2014-03-17 at 9.55.28 AM

They should sponsor you. Or at least throw you a party. Instead of vodka there would be soymilk shots.
Weirder shit has happened.

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March 13, 2014

For six months, photographer Thomas Card sat in his Chelsea studio attempting to reach young Japanese men and women, specifically those always seen in Tokyo’s stereotypical street style photos. His idea seemed simple: to bring these people off the streets and into a studio, to learn who they were and what fashion meant to them. After six months, however, the struggle only escalated. In response, he and his assistant—who conveniently speaks Japanese fluently —hopped on a plane and began a 10-day scouting trip.

The trip sparked relationships with men and women deeply invested in Japanese fashion as an exploration of identity, resulting in an oversized book and what will become a traveling exhibition. The book, Tokyo Adorned, was released on March 11, in commemoration of the three-year anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeast Japan. Multiple essays and a short poem by Card himself introduce the 132 neon-infused images included in the book. “The poem is the artist statement that tells people why I’m doing the work and where it’s originating,” he says. Within the first line of his poem, Card references Walt Whitman, a clear nod to cultural differences between the exploration of identity in America and Japan. The following photographs feature over 30 men and women, three of their houses and even some of their parents. We spoke to him in his studio before the release of the book to hear about his experience and interests, in addition to how this project differs from his previous personal work.

How did you come across this topic? Why was it interesting to you?
At the heart of most of my work is this idea of how we define ourselves and how we see ourselves. This book deals with that in a cultural way. It’s a cultural relationship to the image. Culturally, here, we come from a Walt Whitman, stripping down and running through the woods approach. [The Japanese] look at our culture, draw inspiration, and completely redefine it. They’re exploring identity in this new way that is the complete antithesis of Walt Whitman. We see it as: you see us for who we are when we strip down. They see it as: you can’t see them for who they are until they’re built up.

It’s interesting they see building up as expressing themselves since traditional Japanese culture is so rooted in meditation and natural qualities.
It’s actually that root of understanding yourself from the tradition of meditation that fosters this because there’s a tremendous support mechanism for exploring your identity. There’s no criticism of this extreme stance on how they see themselves. Here, even in New York where we’re incredibly open, when people are eccentric they’re stared at, people say things. In Japan, there’s support for people to explore. It contrasts with insane formalism and structure, fitting in a box and doing the right thing.

A lot of the extreme fashion looks started in the early ’90s when the economy crashed. People felt Japanese culture let them down and they no longer wanted to use traditional Japanese formalism to define themselves. It was counterculture. Twenty years later, however, these girls see it as a realization of Japanese culture. Post-tsunami, they don’t trust the government or corporate structure. They feel they were let down, that they’re perpetually lied to, but they have an incredible sense of nationalism and they see this [fashion] as Japanese. It’s a Japanese tradition and heritage, and they’re proud of it. It’s no longer against Japanese culture; it’s a fulfillment.

What were you expecting when you went [to Japan]?
I was completely unprepared for what I saw. Every main intersection in Tokyo is like Times Square. A thousand people are crossing every time the light changes. The diversity of ideas and approaches to design and fashion—even the fish markets—is breathtaking. One thing that I expected though, were more cohesive [fashion] movements. It’s always been individualistic, but I expected to find groups that were coherent. What we found is that each person sees this as his or her own identity. They may associate with other people, but it’s not a coherent group. They see themselves differently. There’s one genre that has more structure, which is the Lolita. The Lolita will get together more regularly, but they still see themselves as very individualistic.

What does Lolita mean to them?
Lolita to them is just a cool word. Very few know anything about Nabokov. It was originally thrown out in an obscure fashion magazine in the ’80s and people came across it, thought it sounded cool and started using it widely. The girls on the street have no idea what it references. It’s empowering because the girls who push it further and have a stronger sense of identity are idolized and develop a following. We’ve witnessed this happening. One of the girls from the book had a few hundred followers and was working at this store when we met her. Now she’s on her own web TV show and has thousands of followers worldwide. Being able to be in control of how you’re seen and being perceived as you see yourself is an empowering exercise.

You had three [of the girls’] homes in the book, right?
The people working with us in Tokyo said, “There’s no way these girls are going to let you in,” but we actually made it to five homes. I wanted at least one in the book and in the end we settled on three. I feel [seeing the homes] provides richness to the experience.

What was one of the most surprising moments?
One of the amazing moments was when one of the girls came in wearing a classic Lolita dress. I expected she would go directly on set, but she told my interpreter, “I’m so sorry. I had to come from work. This isn’t me. I need to change.” She went into the changing room and we started hearing this [makes noise]. It sounded like fabric was ripping. My interpreter went in to check on her and came back out shaking her head. She was like, “I can’t explain this. You’re going to have to see it.” A few minutes later the girl returns and she’s made shorts and a bra out of duct tape.

Would she actually walk around in the street in her duct tape shorts and bra?
Yeah, that’s what she went home in. She had come to the shoot from work and then went out to dinner and home in the duct tape shorts. She spent the rest of the evening in these shorts.

Did you get to know the girls at all?
There were a handful of girls that we had more of a relationship with and got to know. There was only one girl, Ai, out of the entire shoot that could speak English fluently. She was one of the homes we were able to go to. One thing that I thought was incredible though was the way you would gain trust on set. I didn’t want there to be any outside influence because anyone that’s viewing you causes you to change. Even if someone’s friend walked around the corner it would disrupt the shoot. We kept everyone waiting away from the set. There were no assistants, not even the interpreter. We would go on set and based off of how they saw themselves, different things would help them relax or stiffen up. The key was to figure out what would help them find their comfort zone without being able to speak.

So how would you do that?
Some of the girls reacted well to me giving them positive feedback even if they couldn’t understand it, but if someone was relaxing from the get go I wouldn’t disturb the peace. Some girls came in and found their comfort zone and enjoyed the silence. One or two times, if I said something they would freeze up because they couldn’t understand what I was saying. I had to explore how to keep positive energy and it differed for each person.

I noticed that your personal work is more abstract and a lot is black and white or in muted colored schemes. Was working with such bright colors and portraiture different for you?
It was different and it was a conscious decision. I’m working with a lot of the same ideas I always work with, but I wanted to turn it outward and explore the intersection with an audience. Early in my career I was focusing intensely inside of my own mind. These pieces [points to piece hanging behind him] are coded using numerology and tonal value, these complex systems. I was working with forms that speak to people on universal levels. They understand what the pieces are about and have their own relationship with the pieces, but not from an outward discussion. What I really wanted to play with here was the celebration of starting inward and working outward.

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March 11, 2014
 Larry Ossei-Mensah, Curator at Spring/Break Art Fair.
Hawaiian socks and leopard print shoes (Melissa Tomyanovich), Volta NY.
Astu Tilahun at Hassan Hajjaj's 'Kesh Angels reception, Taymour Grahne Gallery.
Installation art, Spring/Break Art Fair.
Duchess White Castle.
Joseph Beuys rules the roost at Sean Kelly Gallery, Armory Show, NY.
Girl outside Independent art fair.
Artist Daniele Frazier at Independent art fair.
Bad at Sports, Contemporary Art Talk/Podcasts, Volta NY.
DISown, Consumer Products by artists installation, Red Bull Studios, NY.
Scott Hug, Age of Anxiety (Lydia Hearst), 2011. Spring/Break Art Fair.
Detail from Hassan Hajjaj's 'Kesh Angels series, Taymour Grahne Gallery.
The ebullient Hassan Hajjaj the day of his birthday at the Taymour Grahne Gallery.
DISown installation, Red Bull Studios, NY.
Guests at the DISown Opening Party, Red Bull Studios.
Megan handing out invitations for the (Un)Fair across the street from the Armory Show.
Detail from Julia Wachtel's painting, Me, 2014. Elizabeth Dee Gallery, Independent 2014.
Detail from David Altmejd's Juices exhibition, Paula Cooper Gallery.
Chris Bors, Jerry Saltz, Spring/Break art fair.
Larry Ossei-Mensah, Curator at Spring/Break Art Fair.
Hawaiian socks and leopard print shoes (Melissa Tomyanovich), Volta NY.
Astu Tilahun at Hassan Hajjaj's 'Kesh Angels reception, Taymour Grahne Gallery.
Installation art, Spring/Break Art Fair.
Duchess White Castle.
Joseph Beuys rules the roost at Sean Kelly Gallery, Armory Show, NY.
Girl outside Independent art fair.
Artist Daniele Frazier at Independent art fair.
Bad at Sports, Contemporary Art Talk/Podcasts, Volta NY.
DISown, Consumer Products by artists installation, Red Bull Studios, NY.
Scott Hug, Age of Anxiety (Lydia Hearst), 2011. Spring/Break Art Fair.
Detail from Hassan Hajjaj's 'Kesh Angels series, Taymour Grahne Gallery.
The ebullient Hassan Hajjaj the day of his birthday at the Taymour Grahne Gallery.
DISown installation, Red Bull Studios, NY.
Guests at the DISown Opening Party, Red Bull Studios.
Megan handing out invitations for the (Un)Fair across the street from the Armory Show.
Detail from Julia Wachtel's painting, Me, 2014. Elizabeth Dee Gallery, Independent 2014.
Detail from David Altmejd's Juices exhibition, Paula Cooper Gallery.
Chris Bors, Jerry Saltz, Spring/Break art fair.

Fresh off her New York Fashion Week odyssey, which produced this fancy gallery of photos, photographer Robin Siegel is at it again, only this time she’s training her lens on New York’s art world during its busiest week, when both the Armory and Whitney Biennial came to town. This is what she saw.

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March 6, 2014

Chanel is now apparently a grocery manufacturer, but good luck finding the Kaiser’s line of eight-minute spaghetti at your local Whole Foods.

What you can do, though, is toss your mesclun in this Hood By Air salad bowl — one of the products from over 30 world-renowned artists on display March 6th through April 6th at Red Bull Studio New York.

Curated by art collective DIS and Agatha Wara, “DISown – Not For Everyone,” is an art exhibition posing as a retail store. Or maybe it’s a retail store posing as an art exhibition, as the press release contemplates. While artists’ names normally take on the characteristics of luxury brands and artworks act as high-end retail goods, the DISown artists aim to disrupt this by making the “belts and underwear” version of art, or the art version of Karl Lagerfeld for H&M/your local supermarket. Prices will range from $50 – $500 (with exceptions) and profits will be split between the artist and DIS.

Alongside the HBA bowl will feature lower-brow, consumer works from artists including Ryan TrecartinJon RafmanBjarne MelgaardAmalia UlmanK-HOLETelfar, and Korakrit Arunanondchai. 26-year-old jean genius Arunanondchai will debut a sweatsuit printed with the digitally distressed denim and photographic flame print from his ‘denim fire’ paintings.

We talked with Agatha about how the idea was born and what else we can expect to see on shelves.

What gave you idea the idea for the exhibition?
I’ve been interested in testing the bounds of the art object for a while now, and curated a project called Shell-Reflexive in 2012 that oscillated between a retail store and art exhibition. DIS who is conceiving of DISown as an ongoing retail platform, brought me in as co-curator to lend the project greater context, and to guest-edit an issue of dismagazine.com which goes into the deeper implications of artists working within capitalist systems.

How many of each product has been created for the exhibit?
It really varies from artist to artist, for some there are just a few of the same item whereas others have a hundred or more.

How do the lectures, performances, and issue of the magazine compliment the show?
Every weekend we will have discussions and an array of other events alongside the exhibition–from product presentations, to discussions about fashion, capitalism, and philosophy, to a radio show, live DJ sets, artist performances, and cocktails. All of the products in DISown are attached to vibrant networks of multi-talented people who are extremely active outside of the products themselves. It just felt really natural to invite them into the store as a way a way to add this dimension to the products but also to in order to further the conversations that DISown is setting up. The issue of dismagazine.com I have guest-edited will also dig into some of these issues and will go live on March 6.

sweater

What do you think when people say diffusion lines cheapen the original, high-end mainline?
I can’t speak to the fashion side of this, but when it comes to art, the idea of a “diffusion line” hasn’t really existed in a viable way– especially in a way that is impelled by and works to the advantage of artists. One could say that the postcard of the Monet painting you buy at the museum gift shop is art’s diffusion line, in the sense that the cheaper postcard “copy” strengthens the brand-recognition of “Monet.” And does this cheapen the Monet in the end? Probably not.

But the inner workings of Contemporary Art in terms of how value is accrued are much, much more complex than this. I can imagine that art is moving in a direction that wants to flirt with cheapening the original in order to inflect change in the “high-end mainline.”

In retail “new consumerism” can be positive, like with collaborative consumption and websites like Rent the Runway. Have you seen any similar trends in art?
It’s always really fun making parallels between art and fashion because some analogies work, while others fall completely apart. I think it’s really important to remember that “consumer”-anything is generally frowned upon in art. To a certain extent, art still functions on ideological divisions between art and business, or between public institutions and commercial art galleries. So art labors for an audience, whereas products labor for a consumer. If “new consumerism” is about a shift in consumer practice and attitude, for art this shift might have to involve a re-evaluation of the principles of art, its role in society, and the agency it lends to artists as well as the public’s.

What do you want people to take away from the exhibit, other than a salad bowl?
With such an amazing roster of artists and people involved I am certain that we will have many supporters stopping by the store. But I am really interested in the foot traffic. What will be the take-away for those with very little or no connection to the project? Apart from the shot of mood-lifting endorphins your body releases when supporting an artistic project, I guess I would welcome a healthy level of confusion mixed with the excitement in knowing that when you take home a salad bowl you are taking part in a cycle that is testing the limits of Contemporary Art.

“DISown – Not For Everyone” is open Saturdays and Sundays -12PM-8PM (March 6th – April 6th) at Red Bull Studios New York, w/live discussions and performances every weekend.

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Watch Andre 3000 and Imogen Poots play Jimi Hendrix and Linda Keith
American Apparel Unveils Another Controversial Campaign
Cara Delevingne Will Make Her TV Debut in June 

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