Arrangements: Clayton Cotterell

Clayton Cotterell, Arrangements

New feature up on Paper Journal, this one on Portland photographer Clayton Cotterell, his series Arrangements, and abstraction in photography. Arrangements is currently on show at the Ampersand Gallery through October 24. A little snippet:

This thematic abstraction hinges on the razor-sharp timing of Cotterell’s photographs. He captures seemingly chance confluences of vivid colour, clear and simple form that at times rests in the purely geometric, and momentary, fragile light to create the sense that the images are instantaneous abstract compositions. If time were shifted even slightly forward or backward, the house of cards would fall or the thin curtain may blow out of place; the light may dapple the foods in the water in a way that lacks the zap of familiarity that runs so deeply through Arrangements.


I had a really interesting time researching the concept of abstraction in photography for this one. Because of the physical nature of photography – light radiating from/bouncing off/shining through the subject and activating some photo-sensitive material to create an image – it’s difficult to achieve truly abstract images. A painter or a sculptor is limited to basically whatever they can imagine and can make their artworks as non-representational as they want. Where Rothko can ooze some color onto a big canvas to create his specific desired effect, a photographer needs to take a picture of something. If the subject doesn’t exist in some way, there’s no way for the camera to capture it. Because of this, abstract photography tends to be very technical – think Man Ray’s rayographs and digital manipulation of contemporary photography.

Man Ray, Rayograph, (1922)

What Cotterell does well in Arrangementsis approach abstraction in his work while keeping it firmly anchored in representation – a really great metaphor for the nature of abstraction in photography as a whole. None of the pictures in the series are unique technical depictions of their subject, as a lot of abstract photography tends toward, but they are surprising in their composition and careful positioning of light, shape, and timing.

From Arrangements

At Water, Los Angeles: an interview with Nathanael Turner

Nathanael Turner, from At Water, Los Angeles

I have a new post up on Paper Journal this morning, a really exciting interview with Los Angeles-based photographer Nathanael Turner. I spoke to him about his bi-costal influences, photo book publishing, and his method of capturing intimate yet abstract portraits of people in everyday situations.

From At Water, Los Angeles

The piece coincides with the opening of the NY Art Book Fair 2013 today at MoMA’s PS1 over in Queens. This is the eighth-annual Art Book Fair, the world’s premier event for artists’ books, catalogs, monographs, periodicals, and zines. Turner’s newest work, At Water, Los Angeles, is getting exhibited at this year’s fair with the rest of Fourteen-Nineteen’s books, zines, and periodicals. Here’s an excerpt of our interview:

What drew you to the idea of publishing your work in book form?

For this project, it all stemmed from Fourteen-Nineteen’s interest in collaborating on a book with me. I proposed a few ideas and one turned into At Water, Los Angeles. In general though, books have always made a lot of sense to me. Most of us have been experiencing books since before we could speak. My own work, most often, takes place within a narrative, so it lends itself to that structure. The book form also forces the viewer to engage in the work in a fairly systematic way. The images in At Water, for example, were made with very little structure, so the book creates an organized, linear composition of the images.

Do you think there’s importance to the fact that your new book focuses on LA and the west coast, but is being exhibited at the New York Art Book Fair and is printed by a London-based publisher? What do you think of the globalisation of contemporary photography as it applies to your own work and to the field as a whole?

It’s exciting. I’ve been able to work with amazingly talented people from several different cities around the world, and I’m not sure those opportunities would have been possible a short time ago.

You can read more about the NY Art Book Fair at their website. If you’re over in New York this weekend, be sure to check it out and grab some books!

Your Own House: Maurice Van Es

From the series “The Past is a Strange Place” via Maurice Van Es

Way, waaaaaay late, but check out my feature on Dutch photographer Maurice Van Es over at Paper Journal. I looked at and discuss a few of Van Es’s projects, including To me you are a work of art, The past is a strange place, and Textures of childhood. He’s got some really great images, and straddles the lines between dreamy and crisp, and claustrophobic and familiar in a very interesting way. An excerpt:

In To me you are a work of art, he trains his camera to Duchampian ‘sculptures’ created by his mother – a pile of folded towels, two remote controls stacked upon one another – making his parents’ home a sort of museum to the art of domesticity. Van Es’s photographs are remnants of everyday existence, modern ruins and ziggurats and pyramids of domesticity unwittingly cast in cloth or wood. They are accidental monuments to a crisp moment, a memory preserved in pixels. Yet they are terribly familiar. According to Van Es, ‘You can find these traces in your own house too.’

I’m really excited to watch Van Es and see where his career grows from here – the dude’s like 24 years old and churning out some fantastic stuff.

via Maurice Van Es

I’ve got a few more projects in the works for Paper Journal that are coming soon, including a piece on one of the exhibitors at this month’s New York Art Book Fair, so keep an eye out for those.

Jay-Z feat. Marina Abramovic

In case you missed it, Jay-Z showed up at the Pace Gallery in Manhattan yesterday and lip-synched his song “Picasso Baby” from his brand new album Magna Carta Holy Grail for six hours as cameramen shot footage for the track’s upcoming music video. Apparently an invite went out Tuesday to a select few, including Wale, Girls‘ Adam Driver, Marina Abramovic, and Judd Apatow. Here’s a Vine with Jay-Z and Abramovic from the scene:

I’m not going to take this chance to review Magna Carta Holy Grail, partly because others have already done a great job doing so, and partly because I haven’t really listened to it very much so far. I do, however, have some thoughts on the overall weirdness of MCGH’s marketing strategy (via Samsung) and the message Jay-Z is promoting with it.

The whole scheme, it seems, is that the new album comes from some place of supreme artistic inspiration, brought on by Jay-Z’s juggling of success, failure, fatherhood, and keeping credit behind his rapping character. The end goal is to sell copies and Samsung products, but a critical component of that plan is the careful maintenance and presentation of the Jay-Z character, the Nets cap-wearing, gold watch-donning master hip hop executive.  Where it gets interesting is when he does things like yesterday’s video shoot, creating another layer of inspired artist-ness to the persona. As GalleristNY pointed out this week, “Jay-Z’s never been shy about his interest in contemporary art,”  but with this appearance he’s directly placing himself in the same frame of reference as contemporary visual and performance artists in addition to his musical colleagues. It’s actually kind of brilliant postmodernist thinking: he’s appropriating all of the cultural ideas and preconceived notions about artists and using that to manipulate his own image ever so slightly (and not super subtly).  He’s not anymore just Jay-Z the rapper, now he’s Jay-Z the artist, and that’s the image being used to sell albums and phones, regardless of its validity.

“Picasso Baby” in particular shows Jay-Z playing his “vibrant child” card when he boasts “I’m the new Jean-Michel” in the song’s second verse, despite the fact that Jay is a 43-year-old multimillionaire with a career that spans 17 years (more than half of Basquiat’s entire lifetime) and a seemingly stable (and ridiculously famous) family life. Jay-Z is simply not the fresh renegade artist on the scene. Quite the contrary, it seems like the former Shawn Carter is kind of out of things to say. On MCHG, he tells us (for the thousandth time) about his success in rising from selling drugs in the Brooklyn projects to becoming the mogul he is today. The only new development even from 2011’s collaboration with Kanye, Watch the Throne, is that he had a baby with Beyonce, but the media has so tirelessly covered Blue Ivy from day one that even that storyline is stale and played out by now. This may be Jay-Z’s first album as pops, but that doesn’t make his development into fatherhood compelling source material.

It also raises some interesting questions about the theory behind this sort of performance art. Was Jay-Z lip-synching one of his own songs in front of a curated audience to promote himself, his new product and the products of a massive corporation in the same vein as some of the performance pieces Abramovic is famous for? You could argue that the latter was also a sort of artistic self-promotion, so where does the line between art and advertisement fall? Is Jay-Z’s performance closer to “The Artist is Present” or a sponsored mural outside a Chipotle?

At one point during the Magna Carta Holy Grail promo ad that showed during Game 5 of the NBA Finals last month (on ESPN, nonetheless, which opens a totally different discussion on corporate culture and image), Jay-Z says that “the album is about, like, this duality of how do you navigate through this whole thing, through success, through failures, through all this and remain yourself,” which is indeed true, at least in part. There is an interesting duality being played off of with the album and its promotion, one that bounces the rapper between being presented as a cultural and artistic icon and staying true to the financial, corporate juggernaut the Jay-Z brand represents.  

Jay-Z is, to his credit, mirroring the art world with MCHG‘s buzz – the album and the big-budget promotional campaign swirling around it may be pushed with a cultural, art-as-a-higher-calling veneer, but at its core it’s still simply and basically all about business. The event likewise was presented as a piece of performance art, even to the point of getting Abramovic there, but it was after all a video shoot, making Wednesday’s “piece” really nothing more than a flashing promotion. Which on one hand, is fine – by all means, artists (musical and otherwise) should look to push the boundaries of promotion and hype-creation and Jay-Z has done exactly that this summer – but you can’t heap on the cultural cred and artistic gravity AND turn the proceedings into a corporate sideshow without the former ringing a little hollow.

Art Institutin’

Took a quick jaunt to Northern Illinois and Chicago this weekend for the holiday, and of course you can’t be cruising down Michigan Avenue and not stop at the Art Institute of Chicago. The museum is always killer, but I was blown away by one artist in particular whose work was being exhibted in the Modern Wing as part of the Art Institute Society for Contemporary Art Acquisition for 2013.

Anna Boghiguian is an Egyptian-born artist working between Cairo, Europe, and the United States. What was specifically impressive about her exhibition was the fact that it was a collection of 80 notebook-sized drawings/paintings/collages that hit on everything from 19th-century colonialism to old French textbooks to the division of Germany to the current War on Terror to the Arab Spring. Boghiguian combined drawings with crayon and pencil with splashes of watercolor and digital images to create a series of works that was really intesely personal while also having an air of the historic.

Anna Boghiguian Unfinished Symphony, 2011-12 Pencil, crayon, gouache, and collage on paper

Anna Boghiguian
Unfinished Symphony, 2011-12
Pencil, crayon, gouache, and collage on paper

I don’t have any detailed shots of the pieces because I didn’t have a camera on me in the museum (even on my phone, I know), but even so it really is an instillation that’s better experienced starting at one end of the wall and working your way down, looking and absorbing each page on its own and slowly getting a sense of how all of these historical and personal events flow from one to another. Because each page is ripped straight from a notebook, the whole installation views like a wide and dirty travelogue of the last 200 years. I also really enjoyed the fact that much of her handwritten script on the pages has a hint of influence from one of my favorite artists, Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Anna Boghiguian Unfinished Symphony, 2011-12 Pencil, crayon, gouache, and collage on paper

And of course, what better way to end a museum trip than a stop at the gift shop? I always like to pick up a print or a poster each time I visit a museum (even if I’ve been there before) as a sort of notebook on where I’ve been and what I’ve seen. This time I grabbed a poster of Stuart Davis’ painting Ready-to-Wear from 1955. It’s a great piece of hard-edge painting from American mid-century modernism.

Stuart Davis, Ready-to-Wear, (1955)