Monday, June 26, 2017

Interview with Max Ferguson - Yes, that's a painting, not a photo!

Click on images to enlarge them.
Originally posted on
Max Ferguson, to me, achieves a type of ‘urban mysticism’ in many of his paintings through the placing of people in seemingly pristine city environments. Although, as he mentions below, his work is becoming more oriented toward interiors, many of his past figures were often alone in public places, waiting or engaged in a temporary activity. The spotless nature of the setting seemed to better highlight the isolation of the individual in that venue. This technique more forcefully brings out the contrast between the relative permanence of the place (with its impersonal function) and the impermanent and fragile nature of the individual.
Adding a deeper layer to this is the fact that Ferguson has often depicted his father, who died before many of these works were completed, in many of these settings. Before his death Ferguson’s dad had functioned as a type of urban “Everyman” in his son’s work. Perhaps as a defiant gesture born of a deep sense of loss, the father now becomes as permanent as the city, giving each place a more human and humane meaning and impact. The unnaturally anti-septic nature of the subway station or Katz’s deli now takes on another potential meaning, implying the integration of place and remarkable person in an idealized relationship beyond time, the second law of thermodynamics and grime. Moments of transition and everyday activity thus begin to reveal a serenity either approximating or embodying the sacred.
Ferguson is one of the premier ‘realist’ or ‘representational’ painters in the world and is currently represented by Bernarducci Meisel Gallery in Manhattan. He has work in major collections and museums around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the British Museum, London.
Do you consider yourself a ‘photorealist’ – I ask this because I just learned your style was more influenced by Dutch ‘Golden-Age’ painters than the photorealist tradition. How did these Dutch guys impact you? Who in particular?

I do not consider myself a photorealist. The difference between photorealists and my paintings is the difference between having sex and making love. I suppose if I have to be put in any box, it would be “representational artist.”
I spent a very key year in my life in Amsterdam attending an art school there (Gerrit Rietveld Academie). I was initially attracted by their technique (I was a student trying to learn my craft). But another main factor was the subject matter; much more down to earth than Southern European old masters. My love affair and influence of Dutch seventeenth century art continues to this day. My main influences are Vermeer and Gerrit Dou. For me, the ideal artistic marriage would be Vermeer and Hopper.

In an article about you, the author mentions you felt some Dutch painters made everyday objects and everyday life seem sacred. Are you shooting for the sacred… in New York City?

One of my many goals in my work is to make the ordinary, extraordinary, and the mundane, holy. I feel I am most successful if my models appear as though they are at prayer.
Can you talk about the influence of Robert Kaupelis on you at NYU? Were there others who helped you get to where you wanted to be as a painter?

Robert Kaupelis was a wonderful man and patient teacher at NYU. He and I were very different in our visual goals (he was an abstract expressionist), but ultimately we both wanted to be as good artists as we could be in our chosen paths. He inspired me in that direction.
My biggest influence on me as a "teacher" was Ton Leenarts, a Dutch artist whom I got to know via my older brother. It was through him that I ended up in Amsterdam that year (78 - 79) and he somewhat inspired me to consider seriously becoming a professional artist. He also was a strong early influence on my work (emphasis on perpendicularity, painting his father, etc.) I probably would have become an artist without him, but I would have been a different artist. It is impossible to overstate his importance on my work and my life.

{{{Girl Looking at a Vermeer}}}
Many people have written that you seem to want to capture aspects of New York City that are dying. Is this true? You currently spend a lot of time in Jerusalem. To what extent are you painting scenes from there?

I have always had a hyper sense of carpe diem about me, and an extreme sense of the brevity of life (even from an early age). One aspect of my work (but just one) is the desire to capture elements of New York that I see are disappearing at an amphetamine-fueled rate. It is not so much that I am nostalgically looking backwards, as I am looking to the future to try to preserve these aspects of contemporary life for the future. I divide my time between New York and Jerusalem. I have done a few scenes here, but the vast majority of my work is still New York-themed.
{{{My Father in Katz's}}}
The Crown Heights Riots had a big impact on your life and art?

The Crown Heights riots were a catalyst for me to get more interested in traditional Judaism and come in contact with more religious Jews. My work is essentially autobiographical in nature, so naturally that was reflected in many Jewish-themed imagery. Some of these images were of some things in Crown Heights (a matzo bakery, for example).
How has your work changed since the 80s? What are your big concerns now? Do you see yourself heading in any unexpected directions?

There have always been some consistent elements / themes in my work. These elements slowly evolve. I find my work getting increasingly intimate, almost all interior scenes now. I have long held to the belief that the more personal you get, the more universal you become. As mentioned, my work is essentially autobiographical. Now that I am married with three children, some domestic vs. urban imagery has arisen. Also, employing my children as models, etc.
{{{Violin Repair}}}
I didn’t want to ask this, but when I take people to see your work, the first thing they say is, “Is that really a painting? It looks like a giant photo.” Then their next question is: “How long do you think it took this guy to do this?” Sorry for asking.

Time: The oils generally take from 2 – 4 months. My record (hopefully not to be broken) is 8 months. I do find them taking a bit longer lately, as they have gotten rather complex. Size affects the time factor less than one would think.
It has never been my intention that my paintings look like photographs. But I suppose the comparison is inevitable. Risking making a strained analogy, somewhat inevitably, all musicians with an acoustic guitar and harmonica are compared to Bob Dylan...all realistic paintings are compared to photographs.


Any contemporary New York City artists you are really into? 
I like Richard Estes and Phyllis Herfield very much.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Tania Pérez Córdova: Smoke, Nearby - Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

Tania Pérez Córdova: Smoke, Nearby
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
15 April 2017 – 20 August 2017

When Tania Pérez Córdova borrows something, it becomes art. She borrowed a sim card from a friend and set it in a porcelain block, borrowed a debit card and imprinted it into a block of clay, borrowed two black piano keys and inserted them into foam. The artist’s compulsive desire to create the meaningfully useless forces the lender to pause and take steps, if desired, to return to normal. An important token of one’s social capital disappears and one invariably races to replace it. The mere inconvenience shows how embedded one is in a particular economic class.

Of course, there are people in the world who live without sim and debit cards – the poor and marginalized. Perhaps Pérez Córdova asks her lenders whether they are willing to live like ‘them’? Is it truly possible to see to the needs of the economically deprived while our priority is pursuing our own excellence and ease? What would it take for a person to excel without neglecting responsibility to others?

Brecht wanted his plays to betray theatrical artificiality to indicate responsibilities outside the artistic venue and the MCA follows suit with overtly artificial backdrops displaying real stuff belonging to real people outside the gallery. For example, Pérez Córdova has painted the patterns of a dress and shirt of two Chicagoans who periodically drop by in the clothing from which the patterns were taken. Do I distance myself from these others or become more humane and empathic by looking at and reflecting on what they chose to wear?

A ceiling fan spins exceedingly slowly, like in cinematic slow-motion. A green marker is in a cup of water which slowly becomes greener. Incense slowly burns. Styrofoam slowly turns yellow. From this we might feel the rhythm of our lives is not of the deeper rhythm of incubation and maturation and is certainly of greater tempo than the glacial pace of humane global development.

There is a cigarette stub from a man who wants to stop smoking. Foam shows an indentation of a man’s flexed bicep. In this evidence of processes, like the evidence of ‘smoke’, we recognize both the lack of agency and the demonstration of agency, while seeking more than the ex post facto.

Prescription contact lenses have been abandoned. Is this person suffering? Has this person completed a satisfactory view of the outer-world, allowing the appropriation of objects as symbols to now investigate inner reality? Curved glass surrounds a purple bag of miracles – glass allows one to safely look at but not engage something. Bronze window frames aggrandize the looking-outward process.

One enters a film set in which plot is replaced by a confrontation with our complacency, the extent to which we may or may not freely make social decisions, and where the compelling forces in our lives come from. In his first curatorial offering for the MCA, José Esparza Chong Cuy successfully brings in a risky and provocative show requiring active imaginative engagement and concerted self-reflection from the participant-viewer.  

Interview with Paul Glabicki - previously posted on

{{{The Light #7}}}

Paul Glabicki is a multi-media artist represented by the Kim Foster Gallery in Manhattan. His work has been shown at the Whitney Biennial, the Venice Biennial, MoMA, the National Gallery of Art, the Tate Modern, Cannes, and the New York Film Festival, among other prestigious venues. His work plays with the ‘delicate thresholds between abstract and figurative form’ and he has used animation as a way ofconstructing or reconstructing perceptual experience in time’. His work often seems to deal with the inevitable creation and use of language or symbols as signifiers, while also pointing to the limits of these signifiers in the exploration of our inner reality of emotions, motives and cognitive processes. 

{{{Topography #1}}}

Tell us a little about your new Topography series you are working on. How is it similar to or different from the last two series: Relativity and The Light?

The genesis of a new series tends to emerge while one is immersed in a current project. I like to write down ideas that come to me while I’m working, sometimes a simple word or potential title.   The concept of the RELATIVITY series was generated while creating the previous ORDER series – in part because the ORDER works were a relentless collection of expressions and interpretations of organization, classification, and categorization of data. 

Einstein came up during research and a search for ORDER data. Light was a central element in Einstein’s RELATIVITY research and experimentation about space and time. I was fascinated by the imagery used to convey complex notions of physics – in Einstein’s own writings and in various studies of his work. After reading so much about the properties of light from a scientist’s perspective, I began to think about light in religious symbolism, as visual experience, and the theories of Josef Albers, as expressed in the history of art. Botticelli’s drawings of spectral spirits in his “Dante’s Inferno” drawings, memories of orbs of green light representing spirits seen during Kabuki Theater performances in Japan, and the prismatic angel wings of Fra Angelico’s frescos at the San Marco in Florence all became key references. 

Alber’s studies with yellow hue (luminous, especially with yellow on white) set a goal of working primarily with yellow – a color I tended to avoid. All of these ideas emerged while working on RELATIVITY. The first drawing of each of my series really sets the premise or thesis of the body of work to follow. At that starting point, I had a list of concepts and parameters ready and waiting to take form.

While working on THE LIGHT (and while looking at work uncovered during my university studio exit process), I really began to think about recurrent compositional and technical strategies in my work that focused on surface, layering, and strata of information. The idea of geologists or archeologists analyzing layers of earth and sediment - to navigate through signatures of time - appealed to me. The notion of topography, examining the nature of surfaces, provided a conceptual framework to consider landscape, pigment and mark making, other surfaces – skin, layering of surfaces, and other associations. TOPOGRAPHY #1 features imagery and graphic form, as well as interaction between the properties of paint, pencil, and ink on my prime surface – paper.  Topographical maps also inspired the use of contour drawings of my own hand, references and play with scale, and new compositional strategies.

{{{Relativity #4}}}

Can you explain the relationship between your experimental films and drawings?

My central body of work in 16mm experimental animation was essentially constructed by drawing.  Each successive film moved toward an aesthetic of making each drawing/each single frame a work that was unique and which could be viewed as a unique work of art. This is most apparent in OBJECT CONVERSATION (1985) and UNDER THE SEA (1989), both of which introduced color, as well as collage fragments and other data unique to each drawing. From my very first look at an actual strip of 8mm film, I loved the unique character of each individual frame. I studied how the camera documented motion – everything from a slight blur, to degree of change from frame to frame. Drawing each frame made me the camera, but working from my mind, eye and hand. I usually constructed my animated films as a series of cycles or as a specific compositional space, adding and layering detail by adding new information behind or on top of other completed layers. I never moved the camera position (zooms, pans, tracking). Each shot was a self-contained motion composition.  I loved working on a light table and viewing transparent successive frames and degrees of change simultaneously, guided by my motion templates on the bottom layer.  My non-film works on paper and canvas are often analogous to this process.


Is your work process art, does your art represent cognitive processes or something else?

The animated films, which were designed to fit into a temporal context using image and sound, were anchored by cognitive processes, specifically perception and memory.  Film theory – especially the formal realm of Eisenstein and the analytical world of semiotics provided models for giving form to personal experiences and awareness of cognitive processes. I was really fascinated by perception as a simultaneous selection and processing of information – intuitive or conscious, subjective, responsive, reactive, objective. A memory can recall a sound, touch, or smell, one’s gaze can be deliberately fixed on a specific point while recalling a completely different image/thought/association, sounds can suggest space or a visualization of an object. Language can become image, and images can become language. All of this happens while walking down the street: looking, listening, and allowing the incoming data to sift through one’s layers of consciousness.

I’ve always played with delicate thresholds between abstract and figurative form. Film permitted endless ways to process and present input to the viewer.  FILM-WIPE-FILM (1983) constantly shifts between abstract and figurative uses of image and sound. An abstract sequence may be accompanied by the sound of birds or water. A moving geometric shape might generate the sound of a chair being dragged across the floor. Working within the static space of a piece of paper or canvas, sound input and motion can be implied or suggested by other visual associations or text.  I’m very selective and I always considered the gestural physicality of Pollock to be very selective. Pollock’s work is an accumulation and history of a relentless process of layering pigment on a surface. My work has its own relentless process, but it’s centered on the layering of information, graphic form, and data. So, your question is very perceptive, my work is process, cognitive, representational, and abstract, and at (for me) it’s most effective when it’s all happening simultaneously.

{{{The Moon}}}

You’ve experimented a bit with the ‘narrative’…

My last handmade animated film UNDER THE SEA (1989) was indeed an experiment in bringing narrative into my non-linear and abstract universe. I extracted narrative fragments from five classic novels. There were several scripts for each novel – one included extended text and dialogue, another key phrases, another had lists of places and props, another translated into German, French, Japanese, and Indian Sanskrit. Actors and narrators recorded vocal interpretations of the scripts – some in character, some in foreign languages. The film featured some of my most complex animation (in color) and sound editing, cryptic/coded animated alphabets, sub-titles and text compositions.  The narrative fragments interact and overlay, but (most) audiences can identify all (if not most) of the source novels. That’s the closest I’ve gotten to an approach to narrative in film.  I did do a drawing series in the early 2000s called ALL AT ONCE that transcribed the entire text of Jung’s book SYNCHRONICITY from start to finish.  The text was systematically woven between and around images and other visual data collected at the time the drawing was made. An amazing number of Jungian “meaningful coincidences” occurred as the text was transcribed. With patience and effort, one could also read the book from start to finish.

{{{Object Conversation}}}

Can you tell me about the impact of music on your work?

Music has always had an impact on my work.  Classical music is central, although I like to sample a variety of musical forms, especially as I work. A concerted effort to listen to opera while making FILM-WIPE-FILM helped shaped the film’s rhythms. I especially like composers who play with narrative or cyclical repetition: Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Terry Riley. I’m attracted to composers who also play with language, including the diverse, ambitious and often non-linear works of Stephen Sondheim (his recent two volume publication on writing lyrics is a great look at a very specific type of language quite alien to me). Music of other cultures is also important.

Can you give us a hint as to what insights you are conveying into the use of language in some of your work?

Language has always fascinated me – the look, the sound, the connection to things (names, signs, symbols, cultural context). It’s at once descriptive, subjective, objective, rhythmic, and beautiful to look at. My undergraduate school had a not-so-popular course in calligraphy that was a revelation to me. I’ve always liked to look at ancient writing, writing from various cultures, mathematical equations, font designs, and forms of calligraphy. Not being capable of reading or understanding a written or spoken language made it all the more interesting. I envisioned my work as a singular, personal kind of language (image and sound) that represented aspects of my own admittedly eccentric mindset and voice.

{{{Object Conversation}}}

 I once wrote: 'Glabicki seems to point out that all of our symbols derive from the outer world and are insufficient for us to explore the inner world.  Ultimately, after a painstaking commitment to semiotics, we are invited to leave it for something better.' Was I on the right track here?

You are absolutely correct.  I always loved Laurie Anderson’s song (based on a quote by William S. Burroughs), “Language is a virus from outer space.” No matter how many signs, symbols, words, numbers, colors, objects are used to create a statement, there is always a danger of (or, in my case, a desire for) ambiguity, and alternate readings and interpretations.  I always remember the noble effort of Carl Sagan and others to enclose a golden phonograph record and set of diagrammatic plaques on the 1977 Voyager Spacecraft mission.  Each plaque tried to depict specific data about humanity and life on earth – most famously there was an image of a nude male and female, with the male holding up his arm with a welcoming wave.  It immediately became clear, and controversial - that this image and gesture could be wildly misinterpreted by some alien civilization.  Even this most humanly articulate desire to communicate through sight, sound, and symbol became a landmark of the futility of escaping the limits of language and our human constructs of communication and organization. DJ Spooky recently did a witty installation and performance based on this classic case of ambiguity.  Ironically, it’s this very ambiguity and sense of disorientation that makes art compelling.  In my case, it’s not so much a search for something better, but something transporting, playful, or that embraces the sense or nonsense of it all.

{{{Relativity #1}}}

In recent email to me you wrote: "...sorting out 40 years of stored work (finding out what to do with so much work in so many mediums) was an interesting time to get a new perspective on the arc of my career." What did you discover?

It was interesting to discover so many threads and connections to current work, as well as dialogues/contrasts/overlays between concurrent activity in different media (film animation, photography, painting, drawing, digital media, installation art) in various decades from the 1970s to present. There was an increasing immersion in process, concept, and technique in the handmade animated films from the 1970s to 1989 (increasingly complex spatial schematics and motion design, degree of detail, amount of information encoded into each drawing for each frame). The complex “motion templates” (pencil drawings of motion paths placed on the light table to guide the frame-by-frame drawing process) clearly pointed to the decade of work in evolving digital media – and actually gave me a conceptual framework to make the transition to digital spatial configurations.

Painting/works on paper created separately, but concurrently with hand-drawn animation projects, often became more abstract or more about color, or explored compositional ideas quite different from the films.  Photography also provided other avenues to explore time and sequence. Travel – especially several trips to Japan – also had an impact on work produced at the time. The constant production of work in a variety of media (including installation) – while also dealing with the energy and demands of full-time teaching at a university was something I didn’t think about until I began to clear out my studio space upon retirement.

The 1990s was a decade of rapid evolution of digital media and software. I began an interaction with simple pixel-by-pixel drawings, limited to 30 to 100 colors, floppy discs, and 1 or 2 MB of RAM/memory (AMIGA 2000 computer).  I began work in digital immediately after completing my final hand drawn 16mm, UNDER THE SEA (1989), with the goal of producing images and animation impossible to create by hand.  The arc of my digital work produced from 1990 to 2001 paralleled the rapid development of the medium as well as the rapid access to more and more sophisticated hardware and software to artists (as with film animation, my digital interaction was self-taught).

The process and techniques of my hand drawn films really prepared me for this new medium. By 1991-92, I was creating animation cycle pieces (each cycle stored on the memory capacity of an individual disc, with data/detail composed and edited to fit the disc capacity), transferring multiple cycles to videocassette for exhibition.  By the mid-1990s, I was creating far more elaborate spaces using modeling software – with still images used to create 3D projected dioramas for installations.  By 1999 – 2001, I was fully engaged in digital animation and the sound of complex modeled spaces presented on video – RED FENCE (1999), FULL MOON (2001).  All of the software and hardware rapidly became obsolete, with much of the actual digital work (except for work transferred to videocassettes) no longer accessible. 

In 2001, I was confronted with issues of preservation – not just the previous decade of digital investigation, but of the 16mm film materials dating back to the 1970s.  Ironically, all of the work on canvas or paper looked as fresh and pristine as ever.  Also in 2001, feeling somewhat drained by the expense of maintaining digital media and constant grant writing, I decided to focus again on handmade images – at first as a sort of sabbatical from animation.  The drawing series/projects from 2001 to the present were liberating, but clearly reflected the experiences, methods, concepts, processes and techniques of all that came before.  Still, it was daunting to figure out what to do with hundreds of floppy discs and other obsolete digital hardware and software. Much was destroyed.

Your work was recently included in a retrospective of experimental animation at the Tate in London. I got the feeling that the air got sucked out of the experimental film movement in the 90s. How 'alive' are experimental films these days - are we stuck to just retrospectives? Can somebody write about the rise and fall of experimental films or is this genre still alive and kicking? 

I think the retrospectives and looking into the past is important.  Film and the changing domain of media art have a relatively short history, and its fragility and impermanence can be alarming. Viewing habits, presentation, and access to films have rapidly changed.  The audience’s knowledge of and relationship to “cinema” varies widely. This is especially true of experimental film, which inherently appeals to or reaches a much smaller, selective audience. 

I know first hand the dilemma of addressing the preservation and access to my own work – encompassing Super-8mm and 16mm film, reel-to reel video, chemical-based and digital photography, VHS cassettes and S-VHS Video, floppy discs, and never ending changes in formats and storage.  I came to accept the ephemeral nature of media art, and the irony that paper, pencil, brush and canvas have offered much more permanence and stability. Still, it’s not all gloom and doom. Experimental film is alive and well in new manifestations.  I was privileged to serve as a juror for the 2011 Punto Y Raya Festival, a wonderful international festival focused on point, line and abstract expression in a variety of media (though primarily all levels of digital media).  The beauty and range of activity, experimentation, technique, and imagery was astounding! I never met the other jurors. I viewed the works on CDs, and communicated and conferred online. 

It was strange to experience a “festival” alone, yet feeling an undeniable connection and participation with an audience scattered all over the world.  The experience was truly inspiring and refreshing.  To be honest, it was the first time in 20 years that I thought about or considered experimental animation and film.  I thought my eccentric decades in 16mm film were pretty much forgotten, and that I moved on to a different mode of expression.  It’s been gratifying to become aware that those films have been remembered, and even important to new artists.  In 2013, FACT, Liverpool, UK, and ZKM Karlsruhe, Germany, mounted a monumental exhibition expanding over 100 years of cinema and digital media titled: TYPEMOTION: Type as Image in Motion.  I was surprised and gratified to be included. 

Most recently, as you pointed out, curator Herb Shellenberger organized “INDEPENDENT FRAMES: American Experimental Animation of the 1970s – 1980s” at the Tate Modern, UK.  It was exciting to see that era celebrated, and perhaps inspire a new generation of innovators who may or may never have seen those films. My exhibitions at Kim Foster Gallery have brought new audiences and reconnection with the experimental film community. This kind of activity looking back, looking now, looking forward is promising and confirms that experimental discourse is alive and well.  After a lull in the 1990s, virtual reality is getting interesting again.  Some of the energy and invention of the CD-Rom era (again, Laurie Anderson, and her “Puppet Motel”) is morphing into new notions of interactive experience.