Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Long Island Contemporary Arts ExaminerCarleton Palmer

Long Island Contemporary Arts Examiner    -    Carleton Palmer

This project aims to present the artist’s statements of visual artists who have received instruction in writing them through Master of Fine Arts terminal degree programs with a representative portfolio of their related work, thereby demonstrating a particular relationship between words and images in visual art. Artists with the MFA who are living, teaching, working or exhibiting on Long Island are invited to participate in this project with their exemplary current artist’s statement (less than 1000 words) and images for possible publication. Please comment on this article to make contact  -  http://www.examiner.com/x-31820-Long-Island--Contemporary-Arts-Examiner

Benjamin Edwards, artist's statement and porfolio May
In the development of Republic I’ve always envisioned four distinct aspects of the city: the dynamic materialism and lunacy of unfettered economic growth (Automatic City); the hopes, dreams and ideologies which provide precedent and background to the utopian impulse (Dream City); the characters, players and actors caught up in the confusion of this real/virtual tableau (Bots); and the micro-mechanisms and behaviors which serve to unfold a wider effect (System). These aspects are like pillars for a future synthesis, and they provide the foundation necessary to introduce a longer narrative arc.

With the exhibition in New York last fall, the first three of these categories have been implemented, at various stages of sophistication. The fourth aspect, System, has always been the most elusive and will remain a puzzle for some time. The title We, of course, comes from Yevgeny Zamyatin’s 1921 dystopian novel, which is the first of its genre. But I also had in mind the pronoun “we”, referring to the introduction of characters into the paintings, as well as to a first attempt at a portrait of who we are in contemporary society. In retrospect, I underestimated the power of the literary reference, and the paintings were probably read too closely through the lens of that narrative. Pointing so clearly to such a well known story (or genre, since several other works, from 1984 to Brave New World to Brazil are practically interchangeable here) had the effect of drowning out any other possible narratives sprouting like vulnerable seedlings out of the paintings. Blankness would have been better.

The questions remain, who are these characters and what are they doing? Are they people or video game characters? I don’t know. I’ve often thought they could be the character equivalents of spam names, or the avatars for pieces of automated software, hence the name “bots”. My original intention was to make models of people from various advertisements (see the Civitas archive) and then mix them up. A short time into the project I began to collect body parts extracted from games like the Sims, World of Warcraft, America’s Army and Grand Theft Auto. The strangeness of this mixture was an intriguing shock. I was so fascinated by my first Frankenstein creation that I had no choice but to paint him (see Cinnamon Gardens). This method of collecting, modeling and re-building is a sociological science experiment, and I don’t know what sorts of characters will emerge. A “bot” is really a bundle of hyper-real images, made up of ads that we project ourselves and others into, customized avatars, self-portrait Sims and the various guises of role-playing games, from the young black youth of San Andreas to the soldiers of America’s Army. This doesn’t tell us about who we are as much as how we see ourselves, and, ultimately, who we want to be. Which is more real?

In any case, I always felt that this introduction of figures into the paintings would be a difficult leap, and perhaps an awkward one. Now that this chapter is done, I expect the science experiment to continue, but not necessarily to occupy center stage. Bots now inhabit the city along with the flux of manic architecture and the stains of our collective junkspace. They’re thinking about Utopia, but what they’re doing remains to be seen.
Tom Sanford, artist's statement and portfolio May 
My portrait paintings of celebrities use an ironic juxtaposition of contemporary celebrities within the familiar formal constraints of various historical painting idioms. That is to say that I depict contemporary hip hop stars within the framework of a early Christian Icon painting, or teen pop idols in the manner of a renaissance portrait, or crib a composition from a Weimar era German expressionist painting when painting the celebrity art dealer du jour. My intentions in making these paintings are convoluted, however I think that it is clear that the paintings are kitsch, and by being so they address issues of class and taste. The images are intended to be accessible and easily understandable using the visual acumen that is common to all participants in our highly evolved and sophisticated, information rich, media culture. They are populist images and are meant to undermine hegemonic notions of high-low taste distinctions.
The subjects that I choose are intended to further facilitate this communication. Celebrities represent a cultural common denominator in that most people who participate in the globalized American mono-culture understand who these people are and what they symbolize. Most of us understand the difference in significance between Lil'Wayne and Kim Kardashian. The difference between Lil' Wayne and Michael Jackson is more nuanced, but every American high-school student understands it. Through the lexicon of celebrity we can address important issues such race, class, death and sex in a sophisticated way, while not excluding people from the conversation.
Along with the overt sociopolitical agenda, my work also attempts to describe the context that is made in. I believe that in order to make a work of art that is important for posterity, the work must describe some aspect its’ own time and place with truth and accuracy. It is with this in mind that I tend to pick subject matter that will seem dated very quickly. I think that my paintings and their subject matter reflect the values of our culture, and communicate my own ambivalence about this condition.
One of the anxieties that I have about my work is a frustration with the competitive disadvantage that the individual has when going up against a culture of corporation and commodification. My choice to address a very disposable subject matter (celebrities & current events) in a very slow fashion (oil painting) highlights this frustration and speaks to the condition of the painter in contemporary society. Much like Sisyphus I make paintings only to have them be obsoleted by the 24 hour news cycle and a culture hungry for novelty before I even finish. But this problem is by design and I am comforted every time I visit the museum and marvel at paintings of great and important people who we have forgotten, but the importance of the paintings remain, only increasing over time.

Tom Sanford received his MFA from Hunter College in 2006. He has exhibited internationally, and his work will soon be seen on Long Island at the Nassau County Museum of Art “Contemporary Currents” group show organized by Elaine Berger for NCMA’s Contemporary Collectors Circle in the Contemporary Gallery June 5, 2010 to September 12, 2010. Sanford is currently represented in New York by Leo Koenig Inc., in Copenhagen / Beijing by Galleri Faurschou, and in Brussels by Galerie Erna Hecey.

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