February 8, 2012 · Print This Article
This Friday, Steve Seeley’s painting show opens at Rotofugi (who not too long ago moved to Lincoln Park, so check the website for their new address if you’re unsure). Seeley’s figurative work often features the juxtaposition of human bodies and animal limbs, or heads. Sometimes alien parts make an appearance as well. He integrates old and new surfaces, incorporating the nostalgia of his childhood into a present assemblage. I grew more and more interested in something we didn’t talk about, namely the idea of the hero and how it charts through these visual, narrative landscapes. Seeley’s icons adopt the iconography of saints and superheros with all of the mystical proportions childhood bears with them. To re-erect and reexamine the Gods of childhood in effort, perhaps, to examine those ancient power structures. In Seeley’s case, they often become hybrid.
Caroline Picard: I’m really interested in the way you combine natural elements with mythical ones: for instance, the way your work often offers a kind of misty (and almost traditional-painterly) background with a vibrant superhero, or animal, alien or hybrid in the foreground. It kind of reminds me of old cartoons; in the Smurfs, for instance, you could tell the background was fixed to one surface, and moving figure(s) interacted on a clear gel over top. How did you come upon this strategy in your own work?
Steve Seeley: The backgrounds for me are definitely an homage to animation cels. I’m a child of the 80s and I grew up on cartoons; He-man, Thundercats, Thundarr, and the like, so that sort of nostalgic animation occupies a huge section of my creative mind. I started the “delicate matter” body of work in 2004 with the backgrounds being multi-layered and muted, almost ghost like, paintings, and at some point maybe three years ago, I transitioned to printed matter. I have always integrated things I collect into my work, I guess in a way bowing to my inner nerd. Thus the action figure-y, comic book-y and taxidermy look and feel. I also happen to collect antique chromolithographs. Mainly landscapes. So it was only natural for me to eventually incorporate/appropriate these into the work. The process involves buying a lithograph, scanning it in, messing around with it, and printing it out to paint on. By printing them out (opposed to painting directly on the print) I can control overall scale, color, direction and halftone size. And after all the other elements are painted, I get that stark dichotomy with the digital print and the paint, given that animated feel I grew up on.
CP: Your use of the bear, the deer, and the wolf feels very iconic, somehow, especially in those places where give your figures gold-plate halos. Can you talk about how your engage the animal world? Is the ram-figure any different from superman’s figure?
SS: Again, a great deal of my work ideas come from a nostalgia. The animals are a nod to growing up in the sticks of Wisconsin. I use animals that I used to see everyday (the deer and specific birds) as well as the animals my brothers and I feared when we played in the woods (the bear and wolves). I grew up in the super small town of Ringle which happened to be home to one of the largest wild dog packs in the state of Wisconsin. So I incorporate any number of dogs that I saw or that may have survived to be part of the wild pack (sorry chihuahua and pugs, I love ya but I you wouldn’t have made it).
As for the difference between man and animal, there isn’t a huge difference for me. In the “delicate matter” series, the story so far is that man has left earth for outer space because he becomes enamored with something he can’t comprehend, something that is entirely different from what he knows. He leaves earth on bad terms with the animals and while he is gone animals become what they were destined to be, a transformation per se, into heavy metal loving, super power using, pop culture loving creatures. When man gets to space he finds it to be less than he had hoped, and he tries to come back but the animals refuse. So man is stuck in space while animals take he’s place back on earth, essentially filling his old shoes, and becoming the new “man.”
There were a few years when I only painted animals (except in the “segue” paintings) but currently man has started to reappear. But only under the guise of a superhero since generally that means your true identity is hidden. Oh yeah and celebrities have always remained on earth, which is why the animals often chill with Miley Cyrus and let Sasha Grey ride around on their backs.
CP: At the same time, your figures are basically anatomically correct, and feature studied detail. Then of course there are places and points where you interrupt our expectations, creating a hole inside a bear’s chest for instance. Or giving a human torso a wolf head: how do these interruptions come about?
SS: The holes (along with the halos) are meant to lightly symbolize a religion, rather literally. The holes become an extreme stigmata of sorts. I am not necessarily a religious person but I am fascinated by what religion does to societies. It causes rifts and causes people to take sides, which can result in conflict… which is something for years I didn’t have in my paintings. Everything and everyone peacefully coexisted. It was thru adding the religious aspect that I was able to split the world I had created.
The head swapping was a way for me to even more-so humanize the animals. Initially all the human body, animal headed figures in my paintings were referred to as “saints”, figures that were idolized by the other animals and which usually also adorned halos. But once Saint Sasha Grey and Saint Cringer (from He-man) got introduced, I began to play with the animal headed figures as not only religious icons but also celebrity icons. For my upcoming show at Rotofugi there are 25 animal/alien/monster headed human figures all imagined as boxers or wrestlers. My intention is to make them a whole new breed of celebrity within the world they exist, at the same time causing additional rifts. Sport is such an easy way for people (or animals in this case) to turn on one another and choose sides.
see more of Seeley’s work by going here.
I lived in San Francisco once. It sometimes feels distant now because I have even lived another place between there and here. San Francisco occupies an interesting place in the American imagination. Even though high rents and a sort of institutionalized and self-aware weirdness pervade much of the city, it is still, in fact, filled with oddballs, Peter Pans and visionaries. Its role in American culture is as a provocateur, a laboratory and a refuge. I think this is true and the city certainly thinks it’s true.
It was stirring, then, to see so much of San Francisco last week at Northwestern University’s Block Cinema screening of Stories Untold, one of over 20 different programs of (mostly) shorts under the umbrella of the Radical Light project. The project, whose full name is Radical Light: Alternative Film and Video in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945-2000, encompasses a large, brimming book, those 20-some programs of experimental media and a gallery exhibition at the Berkeley Museum of Art. The monumental exhibition was facilitated by curators/editors/programmers Steve Anker (now the Dean of the School of Film/Video at California Institute of the Arts, once of the San Francisco Cinematheque), Kathy Geritz and Steve Seid (Film and Video Curators at the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive,). Over the course of a decade, the three scholars and exhibitors wove together a history of alternative and experimental media notable for the quality, diversity and energy of the work.
The book teems with interesting essays, artist pages, personal reflections and histories and, ecstatically, loads of ephemera from various screenings. Cinema is an event and even when large institutions are involved (SFMOMA, SFAI, KQED and BAM/PFA all having played interesting roles in the development of Bay Area media), the works and culture in Radical Light’s purview are scrappy, marginal and rule-defying. Flyers from shows, dispatches from seminal organizations and photographs enliven the text and remind young guns that the culture has always been suffused with polymaths—artists as curators as critics as janitors as flyer-makers as audiences as artists—and that making a show is as simple and as complex as making a show.
On Thursday February 16th, the excellent Conversations at the Edge series at the Gene Siskel Film Center brings Steve Anker and the New Preservation/New Prints program. The program features works from 1906 to 1984. A number of these films and some of their makers—for me, at least—fall under the “seen about but haven’t seen” category. Making this an even bigger treat is that these films have been well preserved and new prints have been struck. For all the great benefits of increased online visibility of canonical (and forgotten) experimental film history, the joy of seeing these works in a proper cinematic context and in their correct format is immense. You can watch Oh, Dem Watermelons by the recently deceased Robert Nelson below, but you’re better served just tasting it here and letting your interest be sated by real thing.
One week later, CATE brings us George Kuchar: HotSpell. I love Kuchar’s work, especially the video diaries he began to make in the 1980s. Ed Halter wrote this lovely piece on Kuchar for Artforum and I think it perfectly sums up what makes his work so endlessly watchable. The work is funny, smart and messy. It’s about cinematic representation and camp and biography and the weather while still mostly being about that moment. Halter nails it nicely: “cinema à la Kuchar pivoted on the dialectic between overblown fantasy and schlumpy reality, the films always working double time as documentaries of their own making.”
Then, on Friday the 24th, Chicago Filmmakers hosts Radical Light’s Found Footage Films program. The Bay Area has had a long entanglement with collage and appropriative filmmaking. This program is of particular interest to me now because of the (seeming,) (current,) wholesale mainstream embrace of borrowed images. The ease of digital editing and prevalence of moving image media has enabled entire new folk arts of super-cuts, stretched videos and detourned mass media. Bring a teenage friend who’s never heard of Craig Baldwin or who can’t imagine what a debate about sampling would even be and see if the works’ radical histories can still be felt.
(Thad Povey‘s Thine Inward-Looking Eyes)
I had the privilege of helping bring some of Radical Light to Portland last year and with it Steve Seid. Among the great joys were meeting Loren Sears (the book is almost worth its price just for the picture of him from Bolinas in 1973 sitting cross-legged in his Video Van, a mobile video editing and processing station replete with patterned rugs and a lingering hippie/techno-utopian/media shaman vibe that feels quintessentially Bay Arean), having the chance to learn even more secrets than were divulged in the book and, if it isn’t too horn-tooting to admit, to participate in Seid’s reading by doing a performative reading as Kuchar, one of the few impressions I can do. Kuchar’s presence was all over last week’s screening and remains one of the many vital personalities Radical Light teases into the large, varied, tangential and fascinating tape-stry of a half century of inventive cinema.
February 6, 2012 · Print This Article
Back in Brooklyn last week I met a couple artist friends at the Boulevard Tavern. Several beers into an informal and boozy summit to transform the mechanisms of cultural production, I made a comment about how faintly the art world registers in small town America. They agreed that this was generally true, but held that certain properties such as Jeff Koons were universally appreciated.
“Jeff Koons’ balloon dog guest-starred in “Night at the Museum” and he was married to an Italian stateswoman!”
“So what,” I barked. “If you set up an autograph table at a shopping center in Peoria and had Jeff Koons sitting there next to a B-list actor like, say, Harvey Keitel, a line would form in front of Harvey that would lead around the block and they’d think Koonsy was his assistant.”
Buddy #1 disagreed that Harvey Keitel was B-list, and I granted that he was a poor choice as an example. Buddy #2 wondered if and why anyone would line up at a shopping center for crappy celebrity autographs, and I granted that the scenario was a poor choice to reflect recognition. We were splitting hairs at that point, quibbling over semantics about what is “small town” America and what are the measures of “universality.” But even after accounting for the language slippages and fallibilities, we remained in disagreement over Jeff Koons’ esteem outside the cultural beltway.
In Wisconsin a few days later I decided to conduct a test of my hypothesis by posing the question to actual small townspeople. The test was completely unscientific; I chose my subjects from a single department of a Target store at 2PM based mostly on who seemed least likely to run away from me.
I asked a woman with a chain of Valentine’s Day lights in her hands, “Have you heard of either the artist Jeff Koons or the actor Joe Mantegna?”
“I can’t place his face but I’ve heard of Joe Mantegna. No idea who Jeff Koons is…should I have..is this a Target promotion?”
My first thought after she answered the question was that in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the average person wouldn’t be nearly so happy to interact with an inquisitive stranger or to concede ignorance.
I repeated the inquiry with seven other shoppers, one man and six women. Five yeas for Mantegna and none for Koons. Though I have some reason to believe that at least two of the subjects were confusing the star of “Airheads” and “Searching for Bobby Fisher” with a famous football player, Mantegna clearly took the round.
I left Target with some padded envelopes, a sense of triumph, and still, a tinge of dejection that the father in Joan of Arcadia was infinitely more recognizable than the most prominent living visual artist in the solar system.
Those padded envelopes were for a residency application that I was trying to get out before 5PM. When I got home, I signed my letter, wrote out the addresses on the front with a sharpie, sealed the envelope shut and walked to my father-in-law’s office to steal some stamps. He caught me rummaging through his desk drawers and, after a semi-good natured joke about my freeloading ways, handed me a book of stamps, and I headed to the post box. It was only after I fished the book of stamps from my pocket that I realized that they were Ronald Reagan commemorative stamps staring at me like it was 1983. I came so close to adhering them to the front of the envelope, but in the end, I just couldn’t bring myself to send them to what were most likely progressive liberals with personal vendettas against the Gipper.
I saved the letter for the next day, when I could buy some bells or forevers. On the way back I thought, “how self-conscious have I become that I would choose even my postage stamps with guile?” Then I immediately started resenting the art world for being shallow enough to justify my fears, knowing that a rejection due to the implications of a postage stamp was not far-fetched.
So, the question I’m proposing for the next shop-talk drinking session is whether eight Midwestern Target shoppers, ignorant to the genius of Jeff Koons, would ever think to politicize a postmark? And whether and to what degree I am paranoid.
Sometimes, I like to drink bourbon, and have Grooveshark play for me every version of Working Class Hero that it can find. There are quite a lot of them. By the end of my second bourbon, my writing goes from a reasonable essay on some topic or another to a seething manifesto about how we’re all living in Orwell’s future which consists of nothing but a boot stepping on a human face, forever. One particular point that has been getting my dander up at times like these lately has been the semi-recent ending of the UBS 12×12 program at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.
The 12×12 was singular as a gateway for artists who were trying to keep “emerging” from becoming a lifelong prefix to their title as “artist.” It carried a certain prestige that came with the MCA name, and looked like solid gold on a resume. At least, it sure seemed that way to those of us who were recently out of grad school and yet to have our first solo show in a “real gallery.” Getting in was tricky, since you couldn’t apply: recommendations were made in part by previous 12×12 artists. This had the result of it being very much a who-you-know proposition, and SAIC alumni were pretty heavily overrepresented in its roster. Nevertheless, and as naive as it sounds in hindsight, it seemed like the kind of thing that could really launch your career. And, let’s be honest…I wanted one.
That never happened, of course, and the program ended with Ann Toebbe in October 2011. The end of the 12×12 followed the arrival of Michael Darling as new Chief Curator of the MCA, and many blame (or credit) Darling with killing the program. Associate Curator Tricia Van Eck left shortly thereafter, and she had been a strong advocate for keeping the program intact. In an interview I did with her for Chicago Art Magazine, Tricia gave her reasons for defending the program:
“While I was fully aware of the problems of the short turnaround of the UBS 12 x 12 New Artists/New Work show, I voiced strong interest in the show remaining. It was a model for institutions across the country and provided a great opportunity for artists to show work and have it seen by local, national, and international audiences as well as curators, dealers, and collectors. I am sure this will remain in the new model, although obviously to less artists each year.”
The “new model” Tricia refers to was referred to for a while, informally, as the “4×4,” probably because it was intended to be a quarterly series. Now called “Chicago Works,” the program started in November 2011 with Scott Reeder. Next up are Laura Letinsky (opens February 7) and Molly Zuckerman-Hartung (opens May 1). All three names should be familiar to anyone who follows the local art scene, as they have all exhibited extensively in Chicago, and galleries represent all three. They certainly stand far more established than the artists who participated in the 12×12 program, many of whom were fresh out of their MFA programs and had limited exhibition records. Few had gallery representation. For these artists, the 12×12 could represent a first step towards launching their careers, towards getting gallery representation, or moving their careers forward in other ways. At least, again, that’s how it seemed to us as the time, as we hoped for that invitation.
But the program ended, and the Chicago Works series is proving itself to be an entirely different kind of animal: admirably dedicated to promoting Chicago artists, but out of reach for artists who have yet to establish themselves. So I wondered, what would come to take its place? Was another institution prepared to host this debutante’s ball, or something like it?
The closest parallel to the 12×12 that I could think of was the ThreeWalls Solo program. Unlike the 12×12, admission is by application, but it seems to fill a similar niche in terms of the resume level of the artists exhibited. I’ve attended many of their openings, most memorably Amy Mayfield, now represented by Zolla Lieberman Gallery. The artists shown tend to be very early in their careers, but of a particular strength and ambition. The ThreeWalls Solo program remains a great opportunity for emerging Chicago artists to have a debut solo exhibition in the heart of the West Loop.
Another stellar exhibition opportunity for relatively unknown artists in Chicago is Tony Fitzpatrick’s Firecat Projects. Firecat Projects is the building that used to be Tony’s studio, converted into an exhibition space where Tony shows work by artists who he feels deserve more attention than they’ve been getting. It’s a great opportunity for artists looking for an exhibition in Chicago, especially considering that that Firecat doesn’t take a commission on work sold, nor do they take any fees from the artists. Tony Fitpatrick is just the kind of decent goddamned human being who, upon realizing he’s made it to the top of the mountain, turns around and reaches back to offer his helping hand to the fellow behind him. It’s the art world equivalent of holding the elevator for someone, and we need more people like Tony, who are willing to do this.
Other application-based exhibition opportunities exist at the Hyde Park Art Center and the Chicago Cultural Center. Both institutions are well-known, openings tend to be quite well-attended and reviewed, and I’ve seen some very good shows at both of them. The large, primary exhibition spaces tend to be given to curated, themed group exhibitions, sometimes traveling from other locations or collections, but they sometimes show lesser-known Chicago artists, often in the smaller galleries, and these shows can move an artist’s career forward. For example, painter Darrell Roberts’ exhibition at the Hyde Park Art Center led directly to his representation by Thomas McCormick.
As far as museums are concerned, though, the MCA’s 12×12 program was unique in its dedication to showing emerging Chicago artists. Certainly the Art Institute of Chicago hasn’t shown any initiative in this direction. The spacious new Modern Wing could easily accommodate a dedicated space for emerging artists, several times the size of the 12×12 room, without making a noticeable dent in the amount of their permanent collection they would be able to exhibit. I would love to see a program like this at AIC but I’m not holding my breath.
Chicago’s smaller museums may offer some hope. The relatively new Elmhurst Art Museum, curated by Aaron Ott, former gallery director at David Weinberg Gallery, has shown from its first few shows to have a commitment to exhibiting Chicago artists, some near the beginning of their careers or at least on the front end of the mid-career stage.
The DePaul Art Museum, in its brand new building, has also opened with a strong showing of local artists. The new space’s inaugural exhibition, Re:Chicago, features exclusively Chicago artists, though not necessarily emerging. The artists in this exhibition were chosen by members of Chicago’s art community, and include artists from the past two centuries as well as living artists both established and fairly new, although even the youngest and newest could hardly be called “emerging.” Juan Angel Chavez (in Re:Chicago) and Jason Lazarus (Highlights From The Permanent Collection) are young and living; go to enough openings and you’re sure to run into them, maybe hang out and drink a beer with them. They’re people we know, but their careers are already well underway. Both are represented by galleries (Chavez by Linda Warren; Lazarus by Andrew Rafacz), and both have shown in significant museums before. Angel Otero (Re:Chicago) is younger (MFA 2009) but already he’s had a solo exhibition at Kavi Gupta and been reviewed in ArtForum. These are all nice guys (Lazarus and Chavez I know personally, and they’re nice guys, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about Otero) who do good work, but they’re hardly emerging. They’re emerged. They have already been vetted by whatever powers we have vested in Chicago’s cultural institutions, and while their inclusion in DPAM’s exhibitions can only help their careers, it’s hardly likely to open any doors for them that aren’t already open. (But hey, congrats guys!)
While I routinely mourn the loss of the 12×12 program, and yearn to see something take its place, it may be that this occurs, as After Image may do, by including newer artists in regular exhibitions, not by specific programs which compartmentalize and segregate emerging artists into dedicated programs like the 12×12. Although a significant feather in the cap of any artist given one, the 12×12 could also be seen as a sort of ghetto within the museum, for artists who had been accepted only into the foyer and given the equivalent of the “Prospect cut,” a vest given to a would-be member of the Sons of Anarchy motorcycle club from the television series of that name, while a probationary member not yet granted full membership in the club. It may be a sort of naïve optimism (something of which I am rarely accused) that leads me to hope that, perhaps, the DePaul Art Museum and others like it will do the art world one better than the 12×12 ever did, by inviting emerging artists to mingle with the more experienced, rather than segregating them out, keeping them waiting in the foyer until ultimately seating them at the kids table.
Some more potential exists in the upcoming exhibition “After Image,” scheduled for September 13 to November 18, 2012. This exhibition will feature artists who “have all either studied with, were influenced by, or share influences with” the Chicago Imagists. When I asked Louise Lincoln about whether they had any plans for exhibiting work by emerging artists, she told me that the museum had no specific plans for anything like what the 12×12 was, but that After Image would feature a good number of emerging artists, many of them from Chicago. It may be that DPAM will serve as conduit for the work of emerging Chicago artists by including them, frequently and mindfully, into regular themed group exhibitions such as After Image. We can only hope that DPAM continues in this direction, and perhaps, if its not too much to ask, that some of the bigger players in town follow their example.
This just crossed our email inboxes, and we know Bad at Sports has more than a few listeners/readers who are going to be interested in submitting work to this competition. Note the deadline is coming up soon! So read on, and get those slides and jpegs in order.
New American Paintings 2012 Midwestern Competition
Deadline: 2.29.12 (Midnight EST)
Juror: Lisa D. Freiman, Senior Curator and Chair of the Department of Contemporary Art, Indianapolis Museum of Art
New American Paintings is a museum-quality, soft-cover art periodical, published bimonthly by The Open Studios Press. Each 184 page volume is a regional exhibition-in-print, selling for $20 at 1,500 bookstores, museum shops and art supply stores nationwide. The books have become periodical resources for collectors and art world professionals.
Competition winners retain all rights to their images and pay nothing to appear in New American Paintings.
Now accepting entries from:
IL, IN, IA, MI, MN, MO, OH, and WI
The competition’s 40 winners will appear in the Aug/Sept 2012 edition of New American Paintings.
All styles and media are welcome, as long as the work is singular and two-dimensional.
To Enter, visit:
For more details, visit:
Questions? Call 617.778.5265