Thursday, November 28, 2013

Kris Kuksi at Joshua Liner Gallery

What is a Kuksi churchtank? The caterpillar tracks and the hull are two basic components of a military tank, and they are present, but, in place of a full turret (which is normally transported by the hull) Kuksi has placed a church edifice.  Indeed, the edifice of the church sports the main gun of the tank, which seems to emanate from a central narthex door of the church.

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What does a Kuksi churchtank mean? 

One interpretation could be that the hull and gun represent our aggressive, animal nature: what Schopenhauer called our Wille zum Leben (a will to live and compete).  The church edifice might then represent our higher nature, a “spiritual” nature, which can either temper or release the aggression beneath it.  The main gun or cannon seems to be at the crux of this vehicle – the one element shared by the hull and church-turret.  One could say we are all little church tanks treading our way through the world each day.   

However, thinking more geopolitically, a big implication of the church tank is that, in the real world, the forces of spirituality rarely temper the more aggressive churchtank features.  Kuksi, himself, explains that he created the churchtank series because he felt that the church seemed more interested in stifling other beliefs, religions and cultures than in promoting the core values of the Christian religion as preached by their putative founder.

The USA is, furthermore, 80% Christian.  We have recently engaged in two wars against Muslim countries.  George Bush called himself a Methodist and a born-again Christian whose alcoholism could only be tempered by the miraculous love of Jesus.  He also liked using the word “crusade.” Kuksi seems to ask to what extent the Christian religion guides our foreign policy on a conscious or unconscious level.  As David Halberstam pointed out, the guys who started and messed up the Vietnam War were all dyed-in-the-wool White Anglo Saxon Protestants who knew nothing about, nor cared to know nothing about, Asian culture. 

Kuksi asks: to what extent does the church become a validation for the military and to what extent does the military prop up and support the church.  For instance, I would be remiss not to point out that the current Pope had a position of some responsibility during Argentina’s “Dirty War” and not only did not speak out against the murder of students and dissidents, but befriended folks from the murderous junta.

In Kris Kuksi’s work at Joshua Liner we also see what would seem to be idealized godlike images contrasted, yet connected to, in some manner, surrounding images of military preparedness or outright battle.  

My first take on this was that the artist might be interested in the paradox of the extent to which only terrifying weapons and various types of military deterrence can create possibilities for peaceful spiritual pursuit.  After all, Chairman Mao showed the people of Tibet that you cannot pursue your religious goals unless you have an army to protect those goals. 

Is Kuksi saying there can be no pacifistic spiritual quest outside of a society that does not protect your quest with a zillion dollar weapons industry and military complex?  According to this interpretation, the god-like beings in Kuksi’s work are ideals of spiritual perfection and the surrounding soldiers make that perfection possible.  Yet, it could also be that the ideals and godlike idols are the ones generating the warfare.  One of Kuksi’s pieces is, after all, called Neo-Hellenism, and possesses a central Helen-like figure around which military conflict conflagrates.  

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Yoko Ono's Wish Tree at Jim Kempner Fine Art in Chelsea

My friend Yunhee took a couple really good photos of Yoko's "Wish Tree" at Kempner. 

I just learned, by the way, that Kempner also has created a very funny video series about what it's like to run a Chelsea art gallery.   It's worth watching.  

To ancient societies trees held symbolic and even magical power. A tree was like a bridge between the earth and the sky. The roots of a tree penetrate deep into the earth and derive sustenance while the trunk rises and branches reach into the air. So even today a tree can be thought of as a type of bridge between the earth and the sky, or a bridge between the ‘lower’ and the ‘higher’ or our animal nature and our godly/spiritual nature.

On her website Yoko Ono explains that as a child she would go to a nearby temple and, like others, tie wishes written onto little strips of paper to a tree branch. The trees in the courtyard of the temple often held numerous of these wishes from her community. Indeed, Yoko has been facilitating the replication of this process since 1981, around the world, and she has been keeping all of the wishes that people leave on her “wish trees” for an Imagine Peace Tower. She currently has such a wish tree at Jim Kempner Fine Art in Chelsea.

When I was passing by Kempner recently, I saw a small group writing out their wishes and tying them to the tree’s branches and I was, frankly, affected by the sincerity of the act. People were earnestly hunched over or squatting on the ground scribbling onto a little sheet and then looking for space on the tree where they could hang their wishes. So although many people feel intimidated by contemporary art, or say that they don’t like modern art museums because they don’t understand what the artists are doing, Yoko has found a way to really engage people, through art, in a deep and significant manner.

By inviting people to make a wish and to place it on a tree branch, she compels the viewer/participant to really focus on what’s central to his/her life and determine whether this is as meaningful as it should be. Some people have written frivolous things, some people make political statements (I saw: “Down with the patriarchy!” written on one slip) but many people express thoughts directed to others who are hungry, homeless, impoverished, suffering injustice/cruelty or in need of some type of assistance. Of course, after making the wish, the participant is also tacitly invited to question what exactly is stopping this wish from coming true. Is it political? economic? racial? Each person is invited to reflect on the extent to which he/she can and cannot take action to make this wish a reality. Each person is, in fact, invited to begin to take action again, on whatever level, to spread peace and justice throughout his/her community.

Trees may have lost their magical power in our post-industrialized, secular world, but they still retain their symbolic power. The Wish Tree therefore represents the latent good will in all of us to wish each other goodness and prosperity, as a first step to finally bringing about a truly humane and conflict free global community. Who knows, this could be a magical process after all.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Inside a Kusama infinity box at David Zwirner Gallery: an infinity of healing polka dots

Inside a Kusama "Infinity Box."  Using plastic stalactites and stalagmites and mirrors, Kusama creates an infinity of healing polka dots.

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The concept of infinite repetition is the center-piece of Kusama's work. As a child she suffered brutal treatment at the hands of her mother and visions of the infinite appeared to her as a response to this suffering. Therefore, the essential element of this artist's identity can be understood as an ordered and systematic response to cruelty emerging from the pain itself. Pain becomes the source of a vision of perfection and the infinite that can only cover the universe, not change it.

Perhaps this is why the artist has said repeatedly that her art is an attempt at self obliteration. It is also as if the infinity of polka-dots has a therapeutic value. Systems of thought and art have a softening effect on the realities of brutality and absurdity. In the very creation of the infinity of flowers and dots there is a loss of self, a covering of the component parts of experience by an ideal vision of life that destroys the essence of life for a pattern engendered by the harsher aspects of life.

Thank you to my buddy Vivian for these photos!

Friday, November 22, 2013

My Chelsea art hat: Daniel Gauss

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Here comes a self-serving post. :P

Two years ago, for the first big opening night of the Chelsea gallery season, I decided to make a goofy art hat just to get into the spirit of an opening night.  Now I tend to wear this hat whenever I go to the galleries and people invariably ask me what it means. Believe it or not, it has a meaning. :P

As you can see, right in the middle of the hat is a roulette wheel with a silver 'cross.'  Well before the Christian religion was established, the cross was a very symbolic object to many pre-Christian cultures.  The cross seemed to represent a tree.  The horizontal line represented the division between the areas above the earth and below the earth and the vertical lines represented the roots under the earth and the trunk above the earth.  The tree is a type of bridge between the earth and the sky.

So basically everything under the silver horizontal line on my hat can represent our 'animal' or 'earthly' nature.  I also joke with people and say everything above the line represents our spiritual nature.  Above the horizontal line I have a little doll with wings that I bought from a dollar store in Woodside Queens. Under the silver line I have a plastic snake, a couple large round 'seeds' I found on the ground in Queens and some dice.  People say, "Dice? Why dice?" and I say, "Because the operations of nature are so random." 

I also have another interpretation.  Looking at the snake, the dry seeds, the dice, the roulette wheel, people often guess the hat represents a type of Las Vegas theme.  So I say that another interpretation is that the bottom part of the hat represents a 'spiritual desert.'  I then say, "The hat means that if you are ever lost in a spiritual desert, the only way to escape is to.......gamble!  You have to take risks that you never thought you'd be able to take!"  People seem to like this interpretation more.

In fact, I like the interpretation more, too.  With this interpretation my hat is continually imploring people to take risks and to escape from spiritual deserts.  How laudable of me! :P :P :P  Maybe I should try to take my own advice one day. :P

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Robert Richfield's Mementi Mori Photos at Klotz Gallery

For clearer and larger images, please access the Klotz Gallery web page:

Recently there was a controversy at a Cincinnati cemetery where a 7-foot-tall Sponge Bob Square Pants statue had been placed as a grave marker.  Although the management of the cemetery initially approved the statue, they later removed it, seemingly believing that it was not dignified enough for the surroundings and that it could be a potential affront to others who wished to pay their respects to their dearly departed.  After all, the tradition in American cemeteries seems to be gravity and modesty.  Your marker is to be lost among the other non-descript markers of various sizes.  Your grave marker is the gray flannel suit for your mortal coil. You are expected to blend in, not outshine.  After all, you are dead: how flamboyant is that? You will be given a stone on which people can tell your religion, name, birth and death dates and, maybe if you are lucky, a mawkishly trite little epigram.  This is what the living owe you in America: no more and no less.  Don’t complain. Nobody ever does.

Not so in other parts of the world! Robert Richfield, in fact, travels the world and photographs lavish mementi mori.  In many of his photos (current and past) we see that graves in parts of Europe and Latin America are often elaborately decorated and intricately personalized.  As you can see from the photo in this review, every effort is made to distinguish this grave from others.  Ornate displays of flowers abound alongside religious trinkets, photos of the deceased, various doodads from the deceased’s private life and even images of the cartoon characters and pop culture icons which entertained and delighted the person. In this current show by Richfield at the Klotz Gallery, we see images of such graves from three locations: Mexico, Nicaragua and Sardinia.

Why is there such a difference between cultures in regard to the burial and remembrance of the dead?  Klotz makes some interesting points in his press release for the show.  In Mexico, for instance, there seems to be a greater sense of permeability between the worlds of the living and the dead.  In the US we sequester the dead under 6 feet of dirt and consign them to oblivion through a perfunctory ceremony and a bland, cold resting place.  They are there – they are gone – we have to ‘move on.’ In Mexico the dead often remain present in the lives of the living and, on the Day of the Dead, Klotz points out that they are literally ‘lured’ back to the dinner table through the use of the food they loved and the trinkets and photos that will help them remember their previous lives.  In the US we show gratitude and then are expected to, basically, forget.  In Mexico a connection remains and is celebrated and annually reinforced.

This division could be due to the fact that the origins of Christianity were different in the US from the origins of Christianity in Latin America.  We were sired by the culture of die-hard Dutch and English Calvinists.  In Latin America, Catholicism melded with the various types of rural indigenous religions.  This hybrid-type of Christianity still retains, perhaps, to this day, the types of ‘magical’ beliefs that you almost always find in pre-industrial agricultural societies.

I first saw Richfield’s work at Klotz a couple years ago when he presented his “Still Life” show.  At this time Richfield was photographing mementi mori in Portugal.  There are funerary structures in Portugal which contain several coffins apiece.  Each coffin goes into a little rectangular concrete cubicle, which is sealed once the coffin is pushed inside.  Looking at the structure you see a small building divided by up and down rows of these small chambers.  But outside the sealed entrance of each cubicle is also a little display case provided for the family and friends to leave memento mori.  A glass window is then shut so that when looking at the structure you see these displays of affection in the various square windows that make up the front of the building.  Richfield relished photographing these floral, religious and personal displays through the sealed glass, since the image often allowed a view into the display case as well as a reflection of the outer-world facing the case. 

Since the current photos are of graves that are outside, these photos are much more direct.  The colors are brighter, frames are filled with sunlight and much more detail is apparent.  The only real photographic ‘tricks’ employed would seem to involve altering the distances between ‘subject-to-camera’ in order to bring greater or lesser focus to various details.  He wisely allows the images to speak for themselves. 

In Cincinnati a family wanted to call attention to the uniqueness of their departed relative and they were quashed.  They chose a cartoon character as a monument because they knew that a funeral and burial should not just be gravity and modesty.  These photos by Richfield validate this attitude. They show that in many parts of the world a deep sense of loss is mingled with a sense of whimsy, pride, gratefulness and a sense that the real presence of the person who lived is still with us and still to be treasured. These photos allow a remarkable reflection on the process of grief and mourning in societies that have not succumbed to the bland secularization of death we find in the US.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Rod Penner's photo-realism paintings at Ameringer, McEnery, Yohe Gallery in Chelsea

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My dear friend from Rouen, France - Jeremy - gave me a book by Calvin Tompkins of his interviews with Marcel Duchamp, and I have enjoyed this book greatly!  Yummy yummy yummy such food for thought in that book!  Duchamp was amazing.  Thanks for the gift before you left town, old buddy!

In a conversation with Calvin Tompkins, Marcel Duchamp once said that he disliked what he called “retinal art.”  To Duchamp retinal art was art that stopped at the retina – it was pleasing to the eye and people did not have to mull over the piece or become deeply affected by it.  This criticism could certainly be directed at ‘super-realism’ or ‘photo-realism,’ a trend in painting since the 1960s.  Yet, I feel that this criticism is misplaced and we clearly see why in the art of Rod Penner. Penner’s work shows that ‘photo-realism’ penetrates the retina readily and can engage the viewer as deeply as any type of conceptual art. When Heinrich von Kleist (an amazing German writer) saw the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich, he said he felt as if his eyelids had been torn off.  Penner’s work is so meticulous, so throbbing with realism that one could also say it is like getting your eyelids torn off. 

There are a couple types of themes running through Penner’s paintings. Penner seems to seek out decrepit or neglected buildings in areas of transition.  By transition I mean economic as well as literal physical areas of transition – along roads, highways etc.  It is almost a celebration of entropy (the second law of thermodynamics).  Penner is catching a situation of disrepair at the point where the person is, basically, helpless.  Things are running down, paint is peeling, stuff is falling off, and the owner can see this, but he can’t do anything.  A period of wealth and abundance has now been followed by a period of deprivation and all the owner of the building can do is wait, and hope.  Penner also seems to enjoy painting buildings in which the owners are still taking care of the buildings, but these buildings are surrounded by, literally, nothing.   

Therefore, the most amusing of Penner’s paintings is the one (way down below) in which he has a building whose wall is painted to resemble the flag of Texas.  You can imagine the pride, patriotism and financial excess that lead to the initial painting but it is surrounded by empty lots, unpaved roads and failed businesses.  Actually, it seems rather obvious that Penner is capturing an aspect of America’s current financial woes which reflect the sorry state of the American economy much more vividly than any of the statistics or articles.

My favorite of his paintings is of a gas station in the middle of nowhere as the sun is setting.  The owner of this station even has the lights on above his pumps inviting any happenstance traveler to drop in and fill-up.  The problem is, there are no happenstance travelers anymore.  The merchant is willing but the consumer is weak.

So Penner helps dispel the myth that photo-realism is empty.  The first thing a painting has to do is seize you, somehow, to look at it.  The magnetic nature of photo-realistic paintings draws you in and engages you.  You have seen these structures before – all over the place.  But perhaps you have never really looked at them or never really seen the significance.  Penner’s work clearly invites you to finally stop and see the significance in things you have previously missed. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Marepe and his 'necessities' at Anton Kern Gallery

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When Marcel Duchamp turned over a bathroom urinal, signed it and displayed it in a gallery, he was making a wry comment on the most obvious difference between ‘art’ and ‘non-art’ objects: art is, basically, useless. He literally took something ‘useful’ made it ‘useless’ and then was able to call it art. If art has no practical function then, obviously, the next questions become: what really is art (beyond the fact that something is useless) and what gives art its value (non-monetary and monetary)? 

Duchamp, and a later artist like John Cage, would seem to have been deeply interested in what makes something 'art', how and why people approach art and what people hope to get from it. Can we, basically, call anything 'art' or what is it about an object or relationship between objects that confers the status of art on some things and not others? Even 'Pop' artists like Warhol and Oldenburg seemed to delve into these issues.



Duchamp's answer to the above question would seem to be that if a person is really thoughtful, he/she can probably even find meaning in an over-turned urinal. Basically art is not about objects but about meaningful engagement with the world. If seeking meaning is an important part of our lives, we can find meaning in a snow shovel (another of Duchamp's 'ready-made' art pieces). 

John Cage created art using deliberately random elements and many people found meaningful interpretations to his pieces. The implication is that we are surrounded by deeper meaning but often only seem to dig deeper when specifically challenged to do so when someone ‘officially’ declares himself an artist and a thing is blatantly classified as art. So Duchamp was not really interested, in his art, in just conveying a message - he was asking people to think about how they think about art and its interface with the world. When you look at a piece, what are the cognitive and emotional processes involved? Why do you look at art? What do you want to get from this process? How do you hope to change by looking at art? What do you expect art and artists to do for you?


Marepe continues in this tradition with some significant tweaks. Whereas Duchamp called his pieces 'ready-mades,' Marepe calls his pieces 'necessities.' Marepe regularly presents objects of dire necessity in his economically under-developed area of Brasil. In each case we see that he renders one or more of these objects 'useless' as did Duchamp. He is basically taking Duchamp's urbanite approach and applying it to a rural and economically deprived setting - deriving a more political meaning from the alteration of objects in his immediate surroundings. We see wheel-barrows rendered useless along with ironing boards and cheap plastic chairs. Indeed, we see from Marepe's art that in the process of rendering necessities useless, we necessarily gain an extra political meaning. The wheel-barrows SHOULD be working. Wealth should be created to the betterment of the lives of the people of this area. Marepe's art seems to point at political or economic forces that are rendering these vitally necessary items useless. It's as if Marepe is saying that the people of his community want these things to work, want these things to be useful, but social and economic factors are such that these necessary objects are now purely aesthetic. Marepe takes Duchamp and politicizes him.

 In the very first photo above we see one of Marepe's more whimsical and creative pieces. Marepe has rendered the bicycle incapable of being ridden by adding a wheel where one would not seem to be needed and by adding the wooden head and tail of a fish to the bike. Fish tend to symbolize, in the Christian tradition, abundance and nourishment (both spiritual and physical). Marepe creates a hybrid of movement and sustenance highlighting the dire need in his community for the type of abundance necessary to pursue greater meaning in life. St. Vincent de Paul (1581 - 1660) once said, "I cannot help save the souls of the poor in my village until we have the economic means to help people first develop souls." This merging of the physical, practical bicycle and the symbolism of the fish seems to incorporate that same sentiment.


By the way, do you like foreign, older films?  I have begun a new blog showcasing these types of films:

Powerful Associated Press photos from the Vietnam War at Steven Kasher Gallery

A South Vietnamese father holds his dead child in front of S. Vietnamese soldiers

The war in Afghanistan has now lasted longer than any previous American war (12 years), and although Barack Obama promised (in the 2008 campaign) that he was going to bring this conflict to an end, there is no end in sight. If you want to know why this war will not end, you can look at the photos at the Steven Kasher Gallery in Chelsea, Manhattan. You will directly sense the effect that good photo-journalism can have on ending a war and, consequently, you will sense the absence of effect that a lack of responsible photo-journalism is having in the current war.

They said Vietnam was the first ‘televised’ war; what they didn’t say was that it was also the last ‘televised’ war. This photo exhibit shows you why. These photos by AP photographers literally helped bring the Vietnam War to an end. There are ZERO photos coming out of Afghanistan and if you ask any American what is going on in Afghanistan, you will get no answer. At the Steven Kasher Gallery you will leave asking yourself where the photo-journalists are now. Given how affecting these photos from Vietnam are, why don’t we see ANYTHING about what’s happening in Afghanistan? In an era where we have advanced communications technology and stories and photos can spread instantly, why are there no photos of what’s happening in America’s longest war?

A Vietnamese woman is interrogated by S. Vietnamese soldiers

In Afghanistan we are interminably fighting against ‘terrorism;’ in Vietnam we were fighting against ‘communism.’ David Halberstam’s ironically titled book: “The Best and the Brightest,” highlights the creation and execution of the Vietnam War policy in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Although Kennedy was a Democrat, he considered himself a hard-line anti-communist who was going to demonstrate that communism was not going to spread on his watch. So although Eisenhower had steadfastly refused to commit troops to a corrupt dictator in South Vietnam (whom Kennedy would ultimately assassinate shortly before his own assassination), Kennedy took the first steps in what would become an inhumane fiasco for both the youth of the USA and the people of Vietnam.

A US soldier casually walks through a village he helped burn down

Reading Halberstam’s book is, basically, a shocking experience. We see the fruits of an advanced American education. The best and the brightest men (and ‘men’ is the operative word here) in the nation made ridiculous and cruel policy decisions based on an utter lack of knowledge of Asian culture and an anti-communist belief system bordering on superstition. These men – McNamara, Bundy, Rusk, Ball, Clifford et al., were, for the most part, “Ivy” guys. These were business and government and foundation leaders. These were men of experience and intelligence, yet they were all men of the same race, same basic religion, same educational system and same economic status, who could not move beyond the thinking patterns and racism of their social class and merely sat there reinforcing their own prejudices and insane decisions while 50,000 American men died and at least 1 million Vietnamese suffered the same fate. Indeed, the Vietnamese people still suffer from the war in that thousands of children are born each year with birth defects due to the dioxin in the ‘Agent Orange’ which Dow Chemical and Monsanto provided to the military to drop on Vietnamese forests.

A Buddhist monk burns himself to death to protest the policies of the S. Vietnamese government

The photos in the Steven Kasher Gallery show the ground-level results of the upper-level policy decisions, and anyone who visits this show will be deeply affected by the cruelty, callousness and suffering caused by an misinformed and, frankly, ignorant and indifferent government comprised of American 'elites.' The photos provide a cross-section of the war. We see conquered French soldiers waiting, stupefied and shamed, for repatriation. There is the Vietnamese father helplessly holding his dead child in front of a convoy of South Vietnamese soldiers. We see the Buddhist monk's self-immolation to protest the policies of the Diem government. We see an elderly Vietnamese woman with an M-16 rifle pointed at her head…a young Vietnamese woman continually having her head dunked under water in an effort to extract information from her…the US soldier casually walking past a burning village… the Ohio national guard shooting American college students protesting the war…brave but frightened US soldiers helping their wounded comrades...Vietnamese women and children hiding in a dirty canal to avoid being shot…

 We also see two of the most iconic images of the war. Indeed, we see the whole photographic sequence of Phan Thi Kim Phuc running from her village, her flesh burned by napalm. We also see the photos before and after the infamous shooting by the South Vietnamese general during the Tet Offensive, who summarily shot a young Vietnamese man in the head.

Among the horror though, we also see some moral heroes. Nick Ut was certainly a hero. Vietnamese, himself, he was hired by AP to take photos of the war. Not only did he capture one of the photos that certainly began to turn the American people against this war, but he also went above and beyond his duties as a photographer to help save the life of Phan Thi Kim Phuc. Daniel Ellsberg is also shown. Ellsberg – the Harvard graduate and ex-US Marine who became disgusted with the war and turned over thousands of secret documents to the NY Times – is shown standing defiantly in front of a court house, smiling, ready to go to trial for taking action to stop something he knew to be wrong. Unlike Snowden, Ellsberg stayed to face the consequences, and he won. Ellsberg stands as one of the true heroes of recent American history. Like these photo-journalists, he helped end this war and also helped to bring down Richard Nixon, one of the more shady of modern US presidents.

This show will leave the viewer quite moved, even changed. Hopefully the show will also leave the viewer committed to asking his/her government and media where the current photos from America’s silent wars are. Photo-journalism helped stop an unjust war, but the American power-structure learned its lessons. Journalists are now ‘embedded’ or just prohibited from documenting what is happening. News sources, as well as news consumers, should be outraged and work harder to learn the truth.

Here is a link where you can see about 30 of the photos from the exhibit (much larger than on this google blog):

Monday, November 4, 2013

Dusty Boynton at Denise Bibro Gallery (An artist influenced by 'art brut')

Episode by Dusty Boynton

(All photos of Dusty Boynton's work in this posting are courtesy of the Denise Bibro Gallery)

One of the fun aspects of going gallery hopping in New York City is recognizing the various influences of previous art movements on contemporary artists, and seeing how artists take these influences one or more steps farther to convey their own personal insights. The influence of the ‘art brut’ movement is inescapable in the work of Dusty Boynton, who seems to use this influence as a starting point in her personal forms of expression, while also embracing traces of abstract expressionism and even, perhaps, graffiti art.

In the 1940s Jean Dubuffet became fascinated with the art work of mental patients and children, since he felt that this work was more raw, unrefined and genuine than the work of academically trained artists (‘brut’ means: coarse, unrefined, raw). He felt that when these folks created things, they were not concerned about artistic tradition or beauty – they wanted to get to and express something of the utmost meaning to themselves. Indeed, art brut or ‘outsider art’ seems motivated by a sense of urgency and a desperate need to express. The challenge for a contemporary artist, who wants to use this style as a language, is to avoid the obvious artificial visual clich├ęs of this type of expression and to impart her own sense of urgency and meaning into the work.

If we look at a piece like ‘Episode,’ we see that Boynton clearly succeeds. One of the more valuable aspects of art brut is that there can be no doubt that the external image represents an internal state. This movement is influenced, after all, by psychiatric patients who were desperately trying to get at the sources of their psychological conflicts. Art brut and art influenced by art brut is supposed to have a type of therapeutic value. ‘Episode’ is interesting because it not only represents a powerfully evocative image but the graffiti-like style of execution lends a ‘process art’ feel. Jackson Pollock explained that he didn’t want to represent anything, he wanted to express something, and this is why he moved around the canvas instead of remaining stationary. When we look at ‘Episode’ and see the twisted, thick, dark and sometimes fractured lines, we feel the sense of urgency and the need for expression that is required in this style.

The sense of ambiguity and the license the artist gives the viewer to impute his/her own interpretation based on his/her own inner struggles is also well-accomplished. Is this figure dying? Is it rising? Is it showing defiance or is it acquiescing? Is it in pain or experiencing a sense of triumph? Significantly, in this figure we see one hand is directed at the earth while the other is directed at the sky. One knee is planted on the ground while the other is poised to help raise the body. This is a figure experiencing real struggle, in a state of transition, either succumbing to some type of force or conquering it.

There is nothing new under the sun, yet Boynton shows that it is possible to embrace styles and theories of the past and make them timely and relevant, and, indeed, timeless and meaningful. She includes influences in her work like Dubuffet, Basquiat, Twombly and de Kooning to create a sense of earnestness and insistence that draws the viewer into her art and invites deeper and more meaningful introspection. In so doing she has also created her own unique style and artistic language.

Samples of Dubuffet's work: