Studio Visit Profile of Artist James Ewart

by: Miska Draskoczy

Today’s studio visit: James Ewart’s piece, ‘In and Out of Circulation’ is part of this week’s CURRENT: Gowanus show which opens on Wednesday. I stopped by James’ studio to discover more of his work and the motivations behind it.

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What I love about James’ work is that the pieces all start with very personal, honest experiences which he then extrudes into conceptual works elegant in their simplicity and wider cultural commentary. With ‘In and Out of Circulation’ James’ Swiss childhood and a presumed desire for precision drives the impulse to trim the edges of US currency to a perfectly uniform border. After recirculating the improved bills, the discarded trimmed edges are woven into secondary bills, blank and featureless, yet technically made up from the same volume of paper ‘bill’ as an original. Worthless as money, yet of value as an art object, it calls into question our definitions of currency and the power of printed symbols (or their absence) to assign value.

Of other pieces James says ‘I love spooning’ (who doesn’t?), ‘This is all the porn I watched when I was 27’ or ‘I love mayonnaise, so that was pretty much it’. They are direct motivations that mirror the simple object-ness of the works, and yet there is more to the story. A Concorde jet hugs a French high speed train in a consoling embrace of outdated technology, a grid of porno stills plays with our attraction to abstract form versus potential repulsion to literal content, and a jar of Hellmann’s Mayonaise rendered in stained glass converts the mass produced to a singular totem of endearing veneration. James pulls off an admirable feat in many of his works – delivering thought provoking conceptual art that forgoes a dry intellectualism in favor of warmth, humor, and soul.

Come see James’ piece in CURRENT: Gowanus this week and check out more of his work at http://www.jamesewart.com/ . Thanks James for taking the time to meet!

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Studio Visit Profile of Artist Meena Hasan

by: Miska Draskoczy

Today’s studio visit: Meena Hasan is one of the participating artists in next week’s CURRENT: Gowanus show with her painting ‘Taking Off Shoes 2’ (first picture). I had a chance to meet with Meena at her studio recently and learn more about her work.

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Drawn to photos of Meena’s paintings with their bright colors and dynamic compositions, I found that in person the effect is even more visceral and engaging. Inquiring about the source material for her images, Meena told me they are based on ‘everyday rituals of transition’ such as tying your shoes, putting on a scarf, or untangling iPhone earbuds. It’s an interesting starting point that captures the personal but in a moment of unconscious movement that perhaps reveals more than a traditionally composed portrait. Meena related that her work is both inspired by and a counterpoint to Impressionism, building on the colors and brush work but going in the opposite direction of a voyeuristic third person view of the figure. Meena instead works from a first person perspective that is wonderfully disorienting. In a way, it’s a truer form of ‘selfie’ that looks down introspectively from the eyes of the author, rather that setting up the contrived third person view of the typical extended arm portrait.

Meena works almost exclusively in acrylics and other plastic based mediums such as mylar, a nod to ‘the material condition of our culture’ she says. This contemporary sensibility is tempered though by the influence of a Bangladeshi family where ‘textiles were the first artworks I saw growing up, so they’re part of my visual vocabulary’. And indeed, in Meena’s latest works the paintings discard the constraints of the wooden frame, spilling into dresses and wrapping around into aprons, becoming as much sculptural as painterly.

Come see Meena’s painting in CURRENT: Gowanus next week and check out more of her work at http://meenahasan.com/ . Thanks Meena for sharing your work!

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Studio Visit Profile of Artist Erik Hougen

by: Miska Draskoczy

So as part of our promo for next week’s CURRENT: Gowanus show , I’ve decided to do a few studio visits with some of the artists involved and take a more hands-on approach to sharing their work and ideas. First up is Erik Hougen who not only has a piece in CURRENT: Gowanus (‘Missing Money’, first picture), but also a two-person show opening tomorrow at Planthouse in Chelsea. I stopped by the gallery yesterday during the install to┬ámeet with Erik and hear more about his work.

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Erik pursues an interesting exploration of experience and memory in his latest work, rendering photographic images of everyday America across several different mediums including screen printing, straight photo, video, and watercolor. One of Erik’s intents is to ‘challenge the expectations of mediums’ and so we find seemingly banal scenes transformed into beautiful paintings of layered CMYK watercolors, video that contains no moving images but only a still, and antique style hand tinted screen prints of otherwise contemporary scenes. The effect is a dream-like overlap of past and present, a merging of the intimate hand-made with the detached objectivity of the camera. The attention is on not just the content of each photographic image, but the channel through which we are seeing it. There is a push-pull effect as we range from painterly faint subconscious to stark noon-day digital reality that elevates the non-specific images to something more.

The images themselves are drawn from Erik’s home state of North Dakota, his home in New York and various travels across America. I wondered if there was a serial link between the images and Erik confirmed that indeed he does envision a pseudo-narrative among them. As for any overt meaning though he said ‘that’s in my head, and I like keeping it there, not giving the viewer too much’. I would tend to agree as, like the struggle to remember a receding dream, the viewer is left with discomfort edging towards satisfaction as they tease out an interpretation they find personally meaningful.

We’re thrilled to have Erik as one of the artists in CURRENT: Gowanus and we hope you stop by next week to see his work in person. Thanks Erik for taking the time to chat!

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