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.
April Childers is a young Brooklyn-based artist whose work is currently on view at New Capital in Chicago, as part of an intriguing two person show with artist Max Warsh. Childers’ works were both strange and enticing to me because I couldn’t quite make sense of them – they evoked certain qualities that I don’t often think of in terms of one another, like sadness and silliness, melancholia and glee. I wanted to try and make sense of those conflicting emotions within the context of the artist’s practice, so I asked Childers a series of questions about her work and where her imagery is coming from. I’m grateful to her for taking the time to answer my questions.
Claudine Ise: Can you tell me a bit about how your different pieces in the New Capital show are meant to work together? There seemed to be a kind of a melancholic outer space theme going on, with the wall of pencil drawings filled with eyes (alien eyes??) staring out at you, but it also also looked like a constellation of stars, and there was that very sad little extra-terrestrial-looking figure in the blonde wig hunched over, the first object you see when you walk up the stairs to the gallery space. There seems to be a strong emotional undercurrent to the works here – one that, for me anyway, feels melancholic and goofy at the same time – a really bizarre combination but somehow it works.
April Childers: There is a melancholic tone to these works. The idea of existing in such a melancholic emotional state has always been in question for me and visually inescapable for years. I love believing that such a state can be overcome and I am interested in the process of doing so, however emotionally exhausting it may be. I’m rolling around ideas of absence, loss, existence and non existence. Navigating a space between the concepts of the visible and invisible, experimenting with relationships that revolve around human expectancy and animal intuition.
CI: Can you tell me what you were thinking about when you decided to put these particular objects in the show?
AC: My past work involved a lot of self-taught taxidermy. Up until about 8 months ago, I was living in Tampa, Florida, driving around picking up roadkill to take back to the studio, skinning and treating the skins various ways. I wasn’t interested in recreating the animals’ previous living appearance (as perhaps a traditional taxidermist would). I was stuffing the animals’ bodies with old socks, plastic bags– anything I had on hand to swell the animal’s form. It was great for me because I saw the process as something to contend with emotionally. I found it very easy to “flip the switch” regarding any emotional reaction to the bodies I was working with. It’s a very freeing experience. I would reanimate the bodies by having them drag around a platform, shake and twitch from crystal chandeliers and float with balloons. The month before I moved to New York I began replacing the taxidermied animals eyes with mirrors. I became more interested in the underlying ideas and elements of the previous work. Shapes of the eyes, mirrors, absence, re-habitation. My current work at New Capital is a progression of these ideas.
CI: Tell me about the painting, which I was very moved by in that same weird, inexplicably melancholic yet goofy way. It is a very roughly executed picture of what appears, to me, to be a school yard with a basketball hoop out front. There’s something very institutional about the blocky architecture of the building that makes me think “school” as opposed to “home,” but I could be wrong. The paint is thin and drippy, as if it got left out in the rain. Also, the sheet of paper is cut at the bottom as if part of the picture were cut away, almost like a piece of poster paper hanging in a school hallway that got partially ripped away, or someone purposefully cut it. It is amateurish-looking but weirdly, for me, it was the most powerful piece in the show. The effect is of a story that’s there, yet that can’t be understood because something important has been taken away, lost, or intentionally cut out. That blood-red line of spray-paint also has this emotional signification of danger or distress for me. Am I reading too much crazy shit into this piece?
AC: No way!
CI: What does it mean for you? Why did you excise the bottom right section of the paper? It makes it look so awkward and wonky and yet again, for me, there’s something about that part being cut out that “makes” the piece, makes it successful I mean.
AC: This is actually a painting of the house that I spent the first five years of my life in. It’s drawn from memory. When my family and I moved out of the house, furniture, closets of clothing, dishes, food and other things were left. In many ways it’s very much like we just never returned home. The house has since become a time capsule of sorts. Still owned by the family, the house’s lawn gets mowed and its pipes replaced when busted. There are lights on timers and other, more heavy, security measures have been taken. For me the house functions for the invisible people that live there, ghosts in a way. Other times I think of it sitting and waiting to be filled, this thought usually brings on a feeling of guilt and anxiety. The house has become the skin of a hollow body. The memory and ‘want’ of the house has become a weight to bear and has created a bit of an unrequited relationship that I haven’t been able to console myself about. The house exists like an island. It is its own type of living being.
CI: How did you divvy up the exhibition space at New Capital – did you know from the start you wanted the “white cube” room? To me, your work seems to require that and wouldn’t work as well in the raw space, but I can’t say exactly why I think that.
AC: Ben and Chelsea curated Max and me into those spaces and we were in agreement. It would make too much sense to have my work on the ground level raw space. Where this work lives inside my practice and thought pattern is already like a basement. The pieces would have been too comfortable in the raw space. My work needed that escape to function successfully.
CI: Where did you grow up?
AC: Strawberry Plains, Tennessee. It’s about 30 or so minutes outside of Knoxville in a valley at the bottom of the Smoky Mountains. I usually say that I grew up close to Dollywood. Funny how people seem to know where that is.
CI: Tell me about your project and website Destineez Child, which you run with artist Carmen Tiffany. I’m not even going to venture an interpretation – I’m honestly too WTF?? about it to try (I watched the promotional video though). I like the site however, and personally were I to purchase something from the shop, the designer dime baggies and the panties that have “Proud” written on them would be at the top of my list. Do you set up shop at real places in real space (like markets or art fairs or festivals?). Or is this project mainly virtual?
AC: Carmen Tiffany and I began working on Destineez Child in Tampa, Fl, while hanging out in a local strip mall bar. There was a man and lady trolling the bar advertising that they were outside selling knock-off designer purses in the parking lot. We started thinking how, why and when that type of entrepreneurship starts and how it works. We had the idea of purchasing a knock-off designer purse, then chopping it in half (one for side for yourself, the other side for a friend) then rebuilding the missing side with duct tape to make the two purse halves whole again. We began to produce further products of the same sort. Producing our own cute bread, energy drinks, drug baggies, pickles, previously owned underwear, food for old people and food for babies, pimped-out baby strollers, oscillating ashtrays, home wall decor, the list goes on!….just playing with the concepts of trickle up/trickle down marketing to another strange level all together. We’ve been involved in several performance projects in New York and Florida. We set up our ‘shop’, produce product, and serve the public convenient items.
Childers/Warsh is currently on view at New Capital and runs through July 8th.
I’m bringing this weekly links post back from the dead. There’s too much good stuff out there not to share. So, let us begin:
****Piss Wars: First-person accounts of a performance art kerfluffle involving Ann Liv Young that took place at PS1 Contemporary Art Center last week, over at Art Fag City. Dirty looks, upraised middle fingers, and spilled urine…yup, classic performance art. Follow up reports here and here.
****On the other hand, Wafaa Bilal makes the kind of performance art I can stand behind. Or support. Or whatever. His “….and Counting” will take place at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts in New York on March 8th. In it, Bilal’s back will be tattooed with a borderless map of Iraq–one dot for each Iraqi and American casualty near the cities where they fell. “The 5,000 dead American soldiers are represented by red dots (permanent visible ink), and the 100,000 Iraqi casualties are represented by dots of green UV ink, seemingly invisible unless under black light.” (via we make money not art).
****Anaba profiles artist Margo Mensing, who “studies the work and life of an individual who died at her current age… and spends the year creating artwork responding to and inspired by that person.” Fascinating. She’s done Elizabeth Bishop, Donald Judd–and just check out her fantastic, Joan Mitchell-inspired knitted socks!! I am DYING over here.
****Wanna peek inside The Art Institute’s fashion archives?
****A really interesting piece (which includes videos and links) on Manshiyat Nasser (Garbage City), a suburb of Cairo, at Provisions Library. Garbage City is home to more than 20,000 people, many of whom are Zabaleen (Arabic for “Garbage Collectors”). The Zabaleen gather one-third of Cairo’s trash every day, bringing it back to Manshiyat Nasser where it is systematically sorted and recycled into raw materials or manufactured goods before being resold or reused worldwide.
****In Defense of Anonymity. Joanne MacNeill of Tomorrow Museum says, “Anonymity is a good thing. Don’t conflate it with online trolling, it’s good to have a secret life online.” She elaborates why in her podcast, linked above.