Tanya Merrill's Whimsical Worlds

Ladies Choice is an ongoing series highlighting female artists working in New York City and beyond. This series stands as a statement to the power and creative force of women in the arts. Women have traditionally received much less exposure and recognition in the art industry. In their support of one another, these women stand as a testament to furthering the careers of female artists.

Tanya Merrill paints in a trademark style where curved lines form figures and scenes that are as related to history as they are tongue-and-cheek. Her brushstrokes seem to have no beginning and end, existing on the surface while freely flowing off the page. Merrill’s works are chock-full of elements worth investigating, like puzzles asking to be solved. Merrill lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

You are part of a young generation of female artists hustling and gaining recognition in NYC. What does being a part of a strong female community mean for you?

It’s everything! It would be impossible to do this thing alone.

Which female artists, living or dead, inspire you most?

If I’m feeling stuck I can usually count on Amelie Von Wolffen, Lee Lozano, Laura Owens, Tala Madani, Camille Henrot, (and so many others) to shake things up.

Have you experienced firsthand the underrepresentation of female artists in the art industry? Have you noticed a change in opportunities available for female artists since you first entered the art world?

I’m indebted to those who have pushed for equal opportunity before me and there is still so much to do. It is a powerful moment for female artists and my hope is it leads towards equality in gallery representation, museum shows and collections, and in the canon.

If you could change one thing about the current landscape for working female artists what would it be?

To get to a place where it is just artist, not female artist.

Can you discuss the relationship between drawing and painting in your work?

Everything starts with drawing for me. It is liberating that with simple material like a pencil and paper anything can happen. Spontaneity leads to surprise, something dark, humorous, suggestive, can unexpectedly take form and become the groundwork for a painting. I’m interested in translating the same formal qualities, the energy, surprise and playfulness, between media - how a painting can read and feel like a drawing.

From where do you draw inspiration? Your work incorporates a lot of old fashioned imagery yet feels very modern. Can you talk about this blend of new and old conventions and why you are interested in it?

I look to art history, film, religion, literature, pop culture and current events and, play with recognizable symbols and motifs to both critique and employ what I find. Identity and representation, power dynamics, both societal and in the natural world, the looming reality and implications of our changing environment- I can put big questions, fears, desires in a small painting and that’s compelling to me. It’s a way to talk about what I care about most in a visual language I am excited by.

How do you know when one of your works is complete?

It is kind of an elusive moment that has taken practice to recognize. For me a painting can have an urgent start where everything rushes in at once, or I will slowly build up an idea with a particular question to address and research at hand. Whatever the motive to begin, the rest of the internal process is usually the same. An image will form in my mind but it will be foggy and get stuck like a song when you can’t remember the words. There’s a great sense of clarity when the work is physically realized and stops nagging me with “what am I, what am I?”

I usually complete the bulk of a painting in one long sitting. I stop once the physical painting in front of me has overpowered the painting in my mind. While that may seem abstract, I think it’s a result of trying to stay conscious of the trial and error that came before - learning how to recognize faulty intuition, identifying when I’ve made a choice that felt right and committing it to memory.

What’s next for you? What are you excited about?

After a handful of group shows the past few months I’m excited working on these current paintings as a cohesive body of work, and continuing the dialogue with visitors and friends.

At the end of every interview, we like to ask the artist to recommend a friend whose work you love for us to interview next. Who would you suggest?

Emily Ludwig Shaffer (interview coming soon to Art of Choice!), Kyung Me, Hugh Hayden

In 'Postpartum' Aaron Garber-Maikovska Gives Us Contained Chaos

When you initially enter the vast gallery space housing Aaron Garber-Maikovska’s newest body of work, it would appear that the works came to life in a quick, explosive moment. However, quite the opposite is true of Postpartum, which Garber-Maikovska conceived of in 2017. This body of work is a radical departure for the artist who worked very methodically in his process, creating the works in stages while his partner was with child.

While in past series, Garber-Maikovska would look to banal aspects of everyday experiences and create work to reflect on these absurdities, in Postpatrum, the artist paints to reflect on nothing other than painting itself. Using poly board and oil paint which the artist mixed and created himself, Garber-Maikovska finds new ways to more directly engage himself with the body of work.

The scale of these works is engulfing. At 90 x 80 inches, each work fills a large physical space and even larger conceptual space. The size and composition of the works lend themselves to a dynamic visual where the works seem to float off of the wall and transcend the two-dimensional plane.

Drama and tension fill the vast spaces on which Garber-Maikovska paints. Unlike past work, very little white space is left bare on the surface and the work feels much more abstract with no hints at figuration. The result is an experience of many layers of color at play, chaotic and contained at the same time. The paintings are full of energy and life, seeming to represent a very specific moment in the artist’s career. Formally, the work all shares a dual-form composition that invites relationships to arise on the same plane. As a whole, the exhibit transforms the gallery into a space where reflection is both desired and welcome.

Postpartum marks a shift for Garber-Maikovska. Rather than being connected to previous bodies of work, the paintings stand on their own and represent the completion of one chapter and the beginning of another.

Postpartum will be on view at C L E A R I N G, Brooklyn through December December 22.


Photo credit: JSP Photography
Courtesy the artist and C L E A R I N G New York / Brussels

Max Jansons's Paintings Tell Stories Within Themselves

The series that Max Jansons works in bear little formal relation to one another but find common ground through their references to art history. His use of color and shape is intricate and eye-catching. Having grown up in New York City and now living on the West Coast, Janson's work blends together elements adopted from both locations. Janson received an MFA from Columbia University and a BFA from The University of California at Los Angeles. He lives and works in Santa Monica, CA.

Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from originally and when did art first enter your life?

I was born and raised in New York City, in Soho. My father was an abstract painter. The loft I grew up in was Lee Bontecou’s studio before my parents moved in. I grew up immersed in a community of art making and also one steeped in art history and particularly of painting.

In some ways, abstraction was my first language, it is a natural part of the way I approach and experience the visual world.

It was a really interesting childhood, there were artists all around living illegally in these big loft spaces. The old man that owned the building had a leather goods factory above us, and he made me a little leather jacket because I was obsessed with the “Fonz” from the tv show “Happy Days”. We had a very untraditional, bohemian existence.

Which artists most influence your work?

There are a lot of artists that have impacted me and influenced my work in different ways. I would have to say, Morandi, Matisse, Bonnard, Van Gogh, Raoul De Keyser, Wayne Thiebaud, Brice Marden, Lari Pittman, Tip Dunham, Milton Avery, Marie Laurencin, Kees Van Dongen.

Can you tell us about your process? How do you go about creating a new work?

My work always begins with looking and taking in the world around me. My eyes are my first point of departure. Then I draw, constantly. I keep little books with me all the time, and I just work through different things in them, trying not to self-edit. From there, I wind up with a lot of material, new forms and potential directions to begin a painting. I then try and wait and let the painting come to me. I let it form in my mind, until its clear, and then everything else just follows. I find it requires, a lot of focus, patience, and the ability to allow yourself to serve the painting.

The actual painting process is fairly open. I start often with a loose underpainting or drawing, and then I let my hands take over. I give them permission to have fun.

You mentioned the use of nails as a way of stretching canvas. Can you tell us more about this technique?

The materials I choose tie everything together. The hand cut tacks that I use are an old and antiquated way to stretch canvas, but they provide me with a physical link to the history of painting, which is an important subject in my work. I also find their materiality satisfying. By pounding each one in by hand it allows me to begin to connect with the work I am about to start. I really enjoy the banal tasks of preparing the canvas, before the painting is made. It is like a series of warm ups before the main event. Like an athlete, painting requires a lot of physical preparation.

Do you have a philosophy behind how you approach your work?

Painting for me is almost a philosophy. It is a way I can engage with the world in a completely different way. I love how slow it can be, how the more you sit with it the more it gives you. I enjoy looking and relishing the small moments and details in life.
The way I work, the approach I have chosen, the materials I use are in a way my personal protest to the current digital modes of engagement.

How does lighting play a role in your work?

How the light plays off of and glides over the brushwork really activates the painting and helps to create a complete experience. It is something I am obsessed with. It is part of the reason why you need to see and experience the paintings in person. To me it is so important that a painting provide an experience that cannot be revealed at all in a picture or on a digital screen.

Why flowers? You’ve mentioned that each flower has its own language of how it’s made. Can you tell us more about these languages?

The flowers I use in my work allow me to deal with different senses of space and paint handling in the same painting. They almost act as individual paintings within the painting, or as portals. Each one has its own logic and qualities that define it, like people in some ways. I like how they all coexist and play off of one another.

I love how you incorporate historical artists such as Franz Kline and Clyfford Still in the vases of your new paintings. Can you talk about what inspired this as well as other elements in the work, such as the use of fire and water?

When I was young my father used to set up still lives for me to paint on Sundays in his studio. I think I was about 8 or 9 years old, and I was working on this still life, and instead of just painting in the background, I used his gestural abstract painting as the background for the still life. That was a moment of realization for me, and that continues in my work today.

I enjoy using the history of painting as a subject in my work. I try and reference other artists work in unexpected ways, like transforming a Franz Kline painting into a vase, or a Frank Stella painting into a flower. For me it is a way to connect with painting in different ways both physically and mentally. I like to redefine things and create new meanings out of things that are familiar or iconic.

In the new paintings I am working on, I wanted to bring in a different physicality. The Abstract Expressionists were such an important part of my visual childhood (they always had a place at the dinner table), that in a way by referencing artists like Still and Kline, I could intertwine a personal history and historical painting. It also introduces a different sense of drama.

My work is very much influenced by the California landscape. The ocean, the horizon line, the quality of light are all interwoven into my paintings. When I am working on a painting I am always thinking about warm and cool. Making a painting is always about finding a balance, creating a sense of rhythm.

Can you talk about how the different bodies of work (portraits of artists, geometric, triangles and flowers) relate to one another and the connections that happen?

All the subjects in my work ultimately provide me with a vehicle to engage with the language of painting. My subjects often act as a touchstone or way into the painting. I like them to be easily definable - a portrait, a flower, a triangle, - this allows me to get lost in the nuances of the painting.

The different subjects I work with allow me to constantly shift the lens. So how a flower can become an abstraction, a geometric shape can become soft and organic, or a still life can be transformed into a landscape. These relationships interest me. I want to reveal and show the connections you can make, how you can redefine things, shift your perceptions, and ultimately change the way you see the world. That’s what I feel a painting can do and has done for me.

The presence of the hand is important in your work. How so?

To me the hand is everything. It is how a painter connects with their subject and reaches out to the people that choose to look at their work. I firmly believe in the power of the handmade, I believe it communicates a vulnerability and a very human experience. When you remove the hand or present a homogenous surface, I feel you are creating a barrier and keeping people at a distance. I want every inch of my paintings to feel touched and cared for. I want to draw people in and allow them to participate.

The varied and nuanced brushwork in my paintings rewards a close look and creates a path for a visual symphony.

A lot of your paintings seem to be referencing history through the subject matter and materials. Can you talk more about this?

In painting everything builds on itself. By that I mean that the things you have seen, the work you have done brings you to where you are now. A painting in a way is a result of a collision of time. So, I find it important to acknowledge that “collision” within my work by acknowledging the artists that came before me, my own previous work and iconography, as well as moving things constantly towards new horizons. Even the physical layers of the paint applied shows the passage of time.

The materials I use tie everything together. I often use paint from rare sources and mediums made from aged oils. All of these things bring physical qualities that I desire, and I take a certain amount of satisfaction in finding new meaning in these old and antiquated materials.

What's next for you? Any shows you have coming up?

I am doing a project and a show in Mexico City with After & Again and I will be doing a group show in Switzerland at the Marc Jancou Chalet.

At the end of every interview, we like to ask the artist to recommend a friend whose work you love for us to interview next. Who would you suggest?

Christina Forrer. I love her work, she’s amazing.

Entering into Corydon Cowansage's Canvas

Ladies Choice is an ongoing series highlighting female artists working in New York City and beyond. This series stands as a statement to the power and creative force of women in the arts. Women have traditionally received much less exposure and recognition in the art industry. In their support of one another, these women stand as a testament to furthering the careers of female artists.

Corydon Cowansage’s work pushes the limits of abstraction and realism. Often derived from examining architecture, Cowansage manipulates her subject matter into a far greater experience of depth and perspectival shifts that create disorienting and intriguing optical effects. The space that one inhabits and the way surroundings are perceived are called into question upon viewing one of Cowansage’s dynamic artworks. Cowansage lives and works in New York, NY.

You are part of a young generation of female artists hustling and gaining recognition in NYC. What does being a part of a strong female community mean for you?

It’s great! The female artists I know are really supportive of each other, and it’s a lot of fun to see everyone’s work keep evolving and changing. I also find that we’re all pretty open and candid with one another other about our work and experiences, so their advice can be really helpful when making decisions and figuring things out.

Which female artists, living or dead, inspire you most?

There are way too many to name, but some of my all time favorites are Judy Chicago, Judith Bernstein, Miriam Schapiro, Lois Dodd, Tomma Abts, Alma Thomas, Nathalie du Pasquier, Georgia O'Keeffe, Bridget Riley, Mary Heilmann, Carmen Herrera, and Agnes Martin.

Have you experienced firsthand the underrepresentation of female artists in the art industry?

Yes, definitely. Growing up, almost every artist that I learned about or saw at a museum was a white man. When I was in grad school, most of our tenured painting faculty were men. I’ve only been in New York since 2008, but I remember even at that time there were a lot of shows that were all (or mostly) male artists. I do think things are getting better though.

Have you noticed a change in opportunities available for female artists since you first entered the art world?

I don’t see all male shows happening nearly as often these days, and it definitely seems like there are more female artists showing their work and getting recognition now. Hopefully it’s not just a trend and it continues.

I’ve also noticed a lot of women creating opportunities for other women. My first solo show was at a gallery on the Lower East Side called 17 Essex (formerly Miller). The women who run the space, Ala Dehghan (who’s also an artist) and Valentina Van de Weghe, make a point of only offering solo shows to female artists, and their programming has been really strong. I think projects like this, where women support other women, make a huge difference.

If you could change one thing about the current landscape for working female artists what would it be?

I hope we can eventually get to a point where more people who identify as female are able to support themselves as artists. There are so many incredible female artists who aren’t fully appreciated until later in their lives, or until after they’ve died. Having children is also still really stigmatized for women, and childcare is a huge challenge. So that’s something I hope improves.

Have you always created works in the style you are working in today? Where did your interest in geometric abstraction derive?

My work has evolved gradually over the years, from one painting to the next, and most of the paintings I’ve made relate to one another. The forms in my paintings usually reference architecture or nature in some way, which has always been the primary focus of my work. I come from a representational painting background, but over time I’ve become less interested in making images of specific places, and more interested in treating the landscape as an entry point for exploring geometric abstraction.

Your work incorporates visual language that doesn’t always appear in your eye sight right away, becomes more evident upon looking at a work for an extended period. Why do you include such symbolism in your work?

I always aspire to make paintings that are as pared down and direct as possible, but still worth looking at for an extended period. I like when my paintings change the more you look at them, or when they feel straight forward or pleasant at first, but that can give way to other more perverse interpretations. Flat geometric shapes might start to feel spatial the more you look at them, or certain forms might become more suggestive. I also use subtle color shifts to get viewers’ eyes moving around. A lot of my paintings are pretty big and are actually very painterly. People are always surprised by that when they see them in person, probably because they look really tight and precise in tiny images online.

From where do you draw source material that inspires your work?

I get most of my ideas when my mind has time to wander—when I’m walking around, driving, running, drawing, etc. I get ideas from recurring forms and patterns that I notice in the landscape—things like roof shingles, fence slats, tiling, blades of grass, or brick formations. Sometimes I get ideas from paintings that I’ve already made. I used to work as a receptionist for a shoe designer, and I would get ideas for paintings when I was just sitting at the front desk doodling.

Can you briefly explain your process i.e. how a work may start off and what changes as you progress?

I make lots of terrible, rough drawings on paper or in Photoshop or SketchUp. Once I settle on an idea I make different versions of the drawing and tweak things until it feels right. I also make little color studies and experiments before starting a painting. But even though I try to plan paintings before starting, I always end up changing things and making decisions as I go. It can be hard to predict how colors will interact, so a lot of my color choices happen while I’m working. I often photograph paintings as I work on them and then play with them in Photoshop to try things out, which is a great noncommittal, low-risk way to experiment. I never know exactly how a painting will end up when I first start, and for me that discovery is part of the fun. I usually work on one painting at a time, make a huge mess, and then clean up my studio and start the next one.

At the end of every interview, we like to ask the artist to recommend a friend whose work you love for us to interview next. Who would you suggest?

Vanessa Gully-Santiago, Jennifer Sullivan, GaHee Park, Nickola Pottinger, and Sophie Larrimore are all making awesome work right now!


Sharon Madanes Fuses her Passions of Painting and Medicine

Ladies Choice is an ongoing series highlighting female artists working in New York City and beyond. This series stands as a statement to the power and creative force of women in the arts. Women have traditionally received much less exposure and recognition in the art industry. In their support of one another, these women stand as a testament to furthering the careers of female artists.

Sharon Madanes artistic practice is always informed by her personal experiences, which for the last few years has involved attending medical school. Madanes has always stayed committed to her craft no matter what else is going on in her life. This phase of her life has been no exception. In addition to a current exhibition at 1969 Gallery, Madanes is in residency at The Drawing Center. She lives and works in New York, NY.

You are part of a young generation of female artists hustling and gaining recognition in NYC. What does being a part of a strong female community mean for you?

I feel incredibly fortunate to have such strong female mentors and peers. After college, I lived abroad for a short period of time where I didn’t know many artists. That experience impressed upon me the importance of an art community. Being in dialogue with other artists is something I really value.

Which female artists, living or dead, inspire you most?

There are so many female artists that inspire me, including Elizabeth Murray, Carrie Moyer, Pina Bausch, Georgia O’Keeffe, Nicole Eisenman, Mickalene Thomas, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Martha Rosler, Rochelle Feinstein. I’m inspired daily by artist friends such as Genesis Belanger, Gahee Park, Corydon Cowansage, Jamie Felton, Kate Elliot, Johanna Jaeger, Tirtzah Bassel, Jesse Chun, Julia Hickey… the list goes on.

Have you experienced firsthand the underrepresentation of female artists in the art industry?

The art history canon I was taught in school underrepresented female artists. I was always lucky, however, to have teachers along the way that would shed light on this type of disparity and put forth an alternative history.

Have you noticed a change in opportunities available for female artists since you first entered the art world?

It feels like there is a growing interest in both living and dead female artists and in reversing generations of institutional sexism.

If you could change one thing about the current landscape for working female artists what would it be?

Women are consistently paid less for their work; art is no exception. NPR recently ran a story about how audiences consistently found computer-generated artwork they were told was created by female artists “less compelling.”  Their research showed that paintings by female artists sell at a 42% discount at auction.

I think increased transparency at all levels of the art world can help counter some of this bias that is difficult to unseat.

In addition to your art career, you are finishing up medical school, which has influenced your bodies of work. How do you see the two worlds interacting?

My personal experiences have always informed my work; my studio is where I reflect on experiences. This often entails placing everyday moments within larger political or social frameworks. Inevitably, this means that working in a hospital has informed my work, both in terms of subject matter and aesthetics. I think the reverse is also true; my studio practice has enriched my ability to care for patients and think about medicine.

Has art always been a part of your life? When you decided to attend medical school did you know you would maintain your practice?

I’ve wanted to be an artist for as long as I can remember, and art has been central to my life. Growing up I spent a lot of time at the Art Institute of Chicago. In high school, I had a painting studio in the garage, and I haven’t stopped making work since. I’m deeply committed to my art practice; attending medical school hasn’t changed that commitment.

What themes do you explore in your work?

My work is currently influenced by working in a hospitals. In my studio I’m exploring actions and themes such as  hand-washing, the body as material, the meaning of a clinical gaze, the perception of time in hospital spaces, and the type of humor that is  used to cope with mortality in bureaucratic spaces.

What is your process like? How do you begin a work?

Drawing and writing is important to my process; I often start a painting by writing down a few thoughts or by making a number of sketches. But other times I just start painting and it evolves as I work on it.

Your work is currently on view at 1969 Gallery. Can you tell us about the show?

It’s a show curated by the wonderful Alex Allenchey that focuses on the action of looking, on the process of reading a painting as influenced by perspective and cropping. I’m a big fan of the other work in the show as well by artists Zoe Nelson, Rebecca Ness, and Dylan Vandenhoeck.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on a show at the Drawing Center with artists Mike Crane, Gaudalupe Maravilla, Kunlin He, Lux Lindner, and Victoria Keddie.

At the end of every interview, we like to ask the artist to recommend a friend whose work you love for us to interview next. Who would you suggest?

Julia Hickey! She also runs an art space out of her studio called Matinee Projects, and up right now is a great show by my friend Thompson Harris.

Turning The Mundane Into Fascinating with Melissa Brown

Ladies Choice is an ongoing series highlighting female artists working in New York City and beyond. This series stands as a statement to the power and creative force of women in the arts. Women have traditionally received much less exposure and recognition in the art industry. In their support of one another, these women stand as a testament to furthering the careers of female artists.

Melissa Brown merges interior and exterior realms in her eye-catching, textural compositions. Brown layers imagery and processes to create scenes that though imagined, remind the viewer of a familiar and often comforting space. In this way, Brown at once entices all of the senses while inviting you in to explore what exists beyond the surface.

You are part of a young generation of female artists hustling and gaining recognition in NYC. What does being a part of a strong female community mean for you?

There are so many women artists that I deeply admire here in New York City, who also happen to be some of the best artists working at this point in history. It’s a boon to be able to have an in-person dialog via studio visits, openings, organizing and curating shows, and from just roaming around the place. So - on a personal level, being a part of a strong female community means having access to these women as fellow working artists, where there’s a natural give and take. On a broader level, when women artists are the subjects of solo shows, represented by galleries, discussed critically and their work is highly coveted - those are further benchmarks that evidence a strong, recognized, female community.

Which female artists, living or dead, inspire you most?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Joan Brown recently. Her graphic, symbolic style has always appealed to me, but she has an innovative way of transforming her personal narrative into a larger archetype.  For instance, Post Alcatraz Swim depicts a real event in her life - swimming across the San Francisco Bay - and in the painting she includes specific details, her dress pattern, the interior of her home, her emotional state. The result is that a very specific event in her personal life feels relatable on a human and universal level. The vulnerability of a hero. Kathy Bradford’s work impressively evokes a similar effect and sentiment. Additionally, I would list Georgia O’Keefe, Agnes Martin, Hilma af Klint, and Lois Dodd as long term inspirations.

Have you experienced firsthand the underrepresentation of female artists in the art industry?

This phenomenon is plainly observable, if you look at artists associated with art historical movements, auction records, exhibition lists.

Have you noticed a change in opportunities available for female artists since you first entered the art world?

Yes. There is a sudden change in conversations that are happening around the subject and this includes both women and men.

If you could change one thing about the current landscape for working female artists what would it be?

That there would be less of a need for discussing the current landscape for working female artists.

Can you tell us about your background, specifically your relationship printmaking and how it finds space in your work?

For a long time I’ve been incorporating print into painting in various ways: using stencils, painting with rollers, making ridiculously oversized woodcuts. I like the look of graphics being scaled up and blown out to the point where the mechanical application starts to fall apart and becomes painterly. Print has a very different sensation than paint.

When you start a work do you intend to create a build-up of different layers of medium on the canvas?

My most recent paintings collage photo-silkscreen, airbrush, stencil, and oil paint. Aerosol, photograph, print, cut-out, and liquid bits of paint are knit together to make a seamless scene. Each technique holds a different sensation for me. It’s parallel to how I experience daily life as a mash of sensations: hard edged, escapist, virtual, mechanical, analog, otherworldly.

What source imagery do you use as inspiration for your work?

Mundane things I knock into on a daily basis: eBay, reflections, lottery tickets, someone’s twisted expression, manicures, the weather, hotel curtains, synchronistic events, an emotional outburst, nostalgia, slot machines, woodgrain, incense, patterns, paintings that I love, a tarot reading, a horoscope, boredom, candy crush, color.

Much of your work incorporates landscape elements in a blending of interior/exterior scenes. Can you explain how you choose the perspective that the viewer adopts in your work?

A lot of the paintings I make are from a first person perspective. The experience that I enjoy most about looking at other people’s paintings is when they provide an escape hatch, a transportation through someone else’s mind’s eye or world view. It’s a form of visual empathy. In my pictures I’m often showing you a frame from a real experience. But as it develops as a painting it pulls in much more than the reality it came from. It includes memory, distortion, randomness, fantasy, fact, fiction. Someone like David Lynch is a master at presenting what seems ordinary as uncannily strange, almost terrifying. I think about him a lot.

How do you stay inspired in your practice?


At the end of every interview, we like to ask the artist to recommend a friend whose work you love for us to interview next. Who would you suggest?

Sarah Peters! Her recent show Figureheads was a revelation.

Genesis Belanger and Emily Mae Smith Gleefully Play Into Female Stereotypes in 'A Strange Relative'

Two of Art of Choice’s favorite artists and past interviewees, Genesis Belanger and Emily Mae Smith have teamed up for one of fall’s most intriguing shows. A Strange Relative, on view at Perrotin Gallery, pairs Belanger’s hyper-realistic feminine sculpture work with Smith’s bodily, surreal paintings in perfect synchrony.

In addition to their works being in close dialogue with one another, the artists themselves both live and work in close proximity in Brooklyn, NY. Belanger’s stoneware and porcelain objects take on human-features turning commonly-used items into bodies. Upon closer examination of the works, a mouth of teeth appears at the front of a shoe, fingers pour out of a vase of flowers, and a tube of lipstick becomes a plump pink tongue. Belanger gives us symbols traditionally associated with the feminine and turns them on their side in a way both beautiful and uncanny. She is critiquing the female stereotype in a wholly original, humorous, and outrageous way.


Though full of dual and often opposite emotions, the sculptures do not give off one overwhelming emotion and exist in a sort of harmony, leaving the viewer curious to take multiple glances. Walking through the exhibit can be likened to touring a movie set, which unexpected twists and turns at every glance.


Smith’s paintings use oil on linen to echo many of the objects created by Belanger onto a two-dimensional surface. A reoccurring figure in the form of an anthropomorphic broom reappears in many of Smith’s works. Where Belanger’s work lacks a figure, Smith’s paintings provide one, looming in the backdrop of the scene. She executes her works in a photorealistic style with crisp, hard-lined edges, yet the content is far from real. Smith too examines symbols associated with female stereotypes. This investigation is sometimes blatant, such as in Citadel, which portrays two forms that could be viewed as lactating breasts or as powerplants spewing out exhaust and sometimes less obvious, like in Fruits of Labor, a depiction of a plethora of fruit whose name seems to tie in its feminine quality.

Taken together, Belanger and Smith’s works aid in elevating the meaning present in each. Fundamentally opposite, the works on view find an extraordinary relationship with one another, so much so that it is difficult to envision the two bodies of work existing separately. A Strange Relative is a treat to behold for the eyes as much as the mind.

A Strange Relative featuring the work of Genesis Belanger and Emily Mae Smith will be on view at Perrotin New York through December 22.

Matthew Wong Reflects on the Melancholy of Life

Matthew Wong paints with distinctly singular brushstrokes that call to mind Modern masters such as Vincent Van Gogh and Edvard Munch. He creates psychologically-charged scenes, that although recognizable, possess an essence of uncanny. Wong’s range of color and mark-making originate from moments of daydreaming. He often portrays a small, solitary figure to reflect on the inherent loneliness of contemporary life. Wong lives and works in Edmonton, Canada.

Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from originally and when did art first enter your life?

I was born in Toronto, Canada and grew up in Hong Kong. Art first appeared in the picture in my late 20s towards the end of the 2000s. I had graduated from the University of Michigan with a BA in Cultural Anthropology and spent about two years working a variety of office jobs, but nothing really seemed like a viable pursuit for the long haul and I was losing passion and motivation in life. During a lull in employment I found myself beginning to take photos with my cell phone, street signs and found geometric arrangements out in the urban environment, things like that. Shortly after, I decided to enroll in the City University of Hong Kong’s School of Creative Media for an MFA in an attempt to acquire better technical training for photography. My first memorable encounter with painting was in 2011, when I was an intern for the Hong Kong pavilion of the Venice Biennale that year. Coming across works by two artists in particular caused a radical shift in my thinking - the Julian Schnabel retrospective at the Museo Correr, and a series of 8 large Christopher Wool silk screened Rorschach blots in the main pavilion. It hasn’t occurred to me that painting could take these forms beyond realistic depiction, and I had a newfound curiosity to read and find out more about the evolution of painting over the past century. I finally began to paint and draw earnestly in 2013, using the local library and the internet as my tools for self-education in the medium.


Which artists most influence your work?

Too many influences to fully list here, as I am a bit of an omnivore for sights, sounds and ideas and am always on the lookout for perspectives I had not considered before. But to name a few artists whose lives and work I think about often and keep going back to: Edvard Munch, Shitao, Xu Wei, Lee Lozano, Vincent Van Gogh, Eleanor Ray, Andrei Tarkovsky, Brenda Goodman, Lois Dodd, Alex Katz, Kanye West, Louise Bourgeois, On Kawara, Yayoi Kusama, Scott Kahn, and Marsden Hartley, among others.


Can you tell us about your process? How do you go about creating a new work?

My process is not limited to the time spent in my studio painting, in fact I would say over the past year the making of my work has come to a rhythm where most of the work is done in idle moments when I am at home daydreaming, or watching movies and listening to music, drinking coffee or going out on walks that have no destination or purpose in mind. During these in-between moments I’ll often have quick flashes of imagery appear in and out of my thoughts, they could be shaped or triggered by something I saw or heard out in the world, an artwork I have seen, and more and more the works I have done in the past. Going by intuition and my emotions I will then head to the studio and set out to elaborate in paint these vague glimpses I get. The process is improvisatory as I don’t do any sketching or planning beforehand. The actual time spent painting is meditative in nature and they inevitably come to appear as they do in the final image, and I don’t spend too long deliberating on decisions, simply trusting my instinct and the flow from hand to surface.

There are hints of melancholy in your work which often features a lone figure. Do you intend for your paintings to be interpreted in this way?

Living a fairly reclusive life and finding the most stimulation and enjoyment from matters of the mind, be they following the natural path of my imagination or watching films in the dark of my living room, an activity which is a part of my routine I pursue every night without fail, it’s inevitable that the solitary nature of this pattern seeps into and informs my work. That said, I would like my paintings to have something in them people across the spectrum can find things they identify with. I do believe that there is an inherent loneliness or melancholy to much of contemporary life, and on a broader level I feel my work speaks to this quality in addition to being a reflection of my thoughts, fascinations and impulses.


You work in both oil paint and watercolor. How does the experiences of using both materials compare to one another?

I haven’t really considered the difference in the two mediums in my practice and I don’t distinguish between them in a hierarchical manner. Gouache and watercolor I can work with at home, as the works I do on paper tend to be on a smaller scale than my oil paintings. This is useful when it’s an odd hour and I have a serious urge to make something. However, I really enjoy the tactile nature of oil paint, with which I paint in an equally immediate manner as the water-based paintings on paper.

What source imagery do you use for your work? Are the scenes thought up on your own or do they come from a reference?

There isn’t any source material I keep on hand in the studio, just a mental database of art I have seen or impressions from day to day life, conversations, and so on. Instagram is great for looking at art, even as it’s no substitute for the real thing. Being so far out in Edmonton, Canada, which is where I live, social media is still the next best option for keeping myself in touch with what other artists are doing.


Where do you think your work fits in dialogue with artists who came before you?

I have not really thought much about my place in the histories and lineages of painting. This may sound a bit idealistic, but I really would like to think that anybody out there painting or drawing something at the moment is engaging in the same larger, perhaps infinitely vast conversation as I am about the craft.

You had your first solo show at Karma earlier this year. What was that moment like for you?

I was grateful to Karma for the opportunity to show my work in a gallery setting and happy that I could share the physical works with a wider audience.


What is next for you?

The next painting.

At the end of every interview, we like to ask the artist to recommend a friend whose work you love for us to interview next. Who would you suggest?

Brenda Goodman.

Debbi Kenote Plays With Form, Style, & Imagery

Ladies Choice is an ongoing series highlighting female artists working in New York City and beyond. This series stands as a statement to the power and creative force of women in the arts. Women have traditionally received much less exposure and recognition in the art industry. In their support of one another, these women stand as a testament to furthering the careers of female artists.

Debbi Kenote creates an abstract language where figurative shapes take on emotion and meaning. In her work, which span paintings, drawings, and sculpture, Kenote draws from both natural and man-made source imagery, often investigating the relationships that exist between the two. A Jack of all trades, Kenote also works on the business side of art, as a writer and curator. She lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

You are part of a young generation of artists hustling and gaining recognition in NYC. What does being a part of a strong community mean for you?

I moved to New York City almost five years ago, and I think it suits me. I am grateful for the energy in the air and my peers here. I think it’s incredibly important to have community as an artist. Seeing shows, giving and receiving feedback on new work, sharing job and show opportunities, and just having other artists around to make your hustle feel a little less crazy is really priceless.

Which artists, living or dead, inspire you most?

Hmm well there’s a lot. For painters, I do try and carve out my own female history in the landscape, although I make exceptions. Charles Burchfield for instance - I think he really captured the spooky psychedelic mood a landscape can possess, which is something I think about a lot. I studied under Mike Cloud at Brooklyn College, and I think he has influenced my work. Carol Summers, also made some really incredible prints on the West Coast that keep me up at night they are that good. American Modernist painters Emily Carr and Deborah Remington are two of my favorites, I think they were doing something really different with abstraction and often get overlooked. Contemporary painters - I have infinite respect for Rebecca Morris, Allison Shulnik, Sadie Benning, Vanessa Prager, the list goes on...

How did your upbringing in the Pacific Northwest influence your art practice?

It’s a good question, it’s definitely source material I’m still mining. The Pacific Northwest can be a very private, moody place. I spent a lot of time playing alone or with friends in the woods, building forts, climbing trees, using my hands. I think there’s a foundation there for the language I use in my abstractions now. I was instilled with a sense of awe for things bigger than me that I didn’t understand, be it natural or spiritual. I think that finds its way into the work now. There’s also an appreciation for subtlety in that region that can be remarkable when translated into color. There’s a lot of experimental music and sound work that comes from the Northwest that I also think about often. Overall the Northwest is an inspiration, but the work for me goes beyond that. I think there’s a bigger language I’m developing that it all fits into it.

Your work, though abstract, feels bodily and human-like in many instances. Can you talk about this relationship and why these forms come out in your work?

I studied figure painting heavily in undergrad, and I think it is another piece of my abstract language I am using to communicate with. There are shapes I seem to recycle in my work, and sometimes they feel bodily, although not always human. I spend a lot of time trying to capture a mood or hint at something mysterious, and a mark that is suggestive of the body can be a great clue pointing towards one thing or another. I had a good studio visit with Wendy White when I was at the Vermont Studio Center in August, and we discussed the revival of the figure that seems to be reverberating through American painting at the moment. We were musing about the pushing against the frame, or figures wrapping back around themselves and how it could be a self-reflection of the confusing identity “American” has become. I’m still deciding if this applies to my work, but I do think I’m very curious about what being a painter in America means right now. Having lived on opposite sides of an incredibly large country has highlighted just how vast the United States is.

You’ve dabbled in a number of artistic realms – painting, installation, and sculpture to name a few. What is your relationship to each? What is your practice focusing on now?

My approach to art has always been very holistic. Abstraction to me is wonderful because I can make my own rules and language with it. I think I struggled in school against the parameters of every “medium” of art I studied. What interests me most are things like positive and negative space, shapes, color, and the interaction between them all. I studied painting in undergrad but got my masters in sculpture. The last couple years I’ve settled back into making paintings that sometimes have three-dimensional elements. It’s both a choice of practicality (storing and moving sculptures around in NYC is very difficult) and a result of a renewed fascination with the medium. I’ve fallen in love with making my own paints and am enjoying experimenting with cutting shapes out of wood to paint on, in addition to working on canvas.

What source material inspires your work?

I spend a lot of time looking at shapes, both in natural and man made things, and the relationship between them and their surroundings. I saw some moss in a tree the other day that absolutely stunned me, while I was hiking with some friends on San Juan Island. Music, comics and poetry also fit in there somewhere. I spend a lot of time writing poetry and I think it exists as a hidden parallel to my work. I work out ideas there and often source my titles from there as well. I also have an affection for modular toys and old children’s books, Dr. Seuss in particular. The offset quality and color of the prints from the 40s and 50s are wonderfully psychedelic.

Have you experienced firsthand the underrepresentation of female artists in the art industry?

It’s one of those things, you know, that you can forget exists until you run smack into it again. I think for me especially--I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy--the glass ceiling can really be more like a sliding glass door I run smack into chasing the boys. I think the gaps in history caused by underrepresentation are truly tragic. There are a lot of incredible artists, alive and dead that are not being seen, because of their gender, race, politics, whatever... and you have to wonder what we all would be making if we had been exposed to it. I would say my biggest encounter with it is trying to keep the conversation--whether at openings or in my studio--on my work, and away from personal topics. I’m grateful to be surrounded by people of all kinds and to be able to have conversations with them about it.

Have you noticed a change in opportunities available for female artists since you first entered the art world? If you could change one thing about the current landscape for working female artists what would it be?

I think across the board things are improving, and I’m very proud of my peers for trying to instill change wherever they can. I’ve seen a lot of focus on expanding opportunities for women, people of color, and LGBTQ artists in the last couple years, and it is exciting to see new windows opening up here and there. I would love to see the diversity that results from this being absorbed into more solo and group shows and galleries all around. I’m part of a women’s curatorial group and it’s been really inspiring to talk with all of them about their experiences as curators, and to see the visions they have for the future of the art world.

You’ve spent time on the business side of art, hosting your own exhibitions and putting on a booth at SPRING/BREAK Art Show. Can you talk about your interest in promoting other artist’s work and how it might affect your own work?

I’m part of a curatorial team with my friend and fellow artist Til Will, and we curate under the name Open House. The project has changed a lot over the last few years, we’ve done artist interviews, exhibitions, art fairs, show reviews... a lot of things. These days we focus mainly on curating emerging art. Curating, to me, has always been another art form, and I think it’s really cool to be able to contextualize and pull a variety of work together to highlight something important happening at a moment in time. There’s some really interesting painting happening right now, in NYC and the rest of the country and it’s been exciting to work with artists from all over. Not being the artist gives me space to take risks with curating that I would normally be more hesitant to take with my own work. It has also introduced me to a lot of emerging artists and curators, and in turn I think my own work tries to contribute something unique to that scene.

What’s next for you? What has you excited right now?

Right now, I’m in Seattle for the month of November, subletting a studio and making some large paintings. I’m also part of an online group show called Flat Rate that will be going live soon and I will have some works for sale on there. I’m looking forward to working more with wooden shapes in my paintings and also working larger while I’m away from NYC. The current paintings are about 5 x 5 feet. I’m excited to return to NYC in December and get going in my studio there again!

At the end of every interview, we like to ask the artist to recommend a friend whose work you love for us to interview next. Who would you suggest?

I would love to point you in the direction of Drew Miller. I’ve known Drew for a long time, and I think his work is incredibly interesting and spans a multitude of mediums, including painting, drawing, zines, furniture and much more.

Til Will is an NYC artist who’s making some really interesting things right now. He is my co-collaborator at open house, and he’s making some really wacked out paintings on a self-appointed residency in Spain at the moment. He is also a carpenter and clever DIY furniture expert.

Paz Mallea is a NYC painter, who is also in Spain at the moment making some incredible paintings. Her abstractions are other worldly and at times encompass the figure as well. She is also a badass muralist and makes zines, patches and t-shirts.


Jack Kohler Byers' Art Lives Outside The Lines

Jack Kohler Byers' art defies conventions of the traditional art scene. Self-trained, Byer’s practice is innately personal and cultivated from a very young age. His explorations into lettering are inspired by modern masters such as Picasso and find home on a vast range of surfaces. Byer’s lives and works in Boston, MA.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from originally and what was your experience with art growing up?

My name is Jack Kohler Byers, I was born and raised in Cazenovia, a small town just outside of Syracuse, New York. I grew up playing with Legos instead of video games and action figures, and from a young age both of my parents encouraged me to create instead of consume.

Museums, not galleries, were a typical feature of any family trip. This rooted my understanding of art in creativity instead of commerce and taught me that art wasn't defined by the walls of a gallery, but instead by the mind of the viewer and context of the piece. Visiting Syracuse as a kid I found myself drawn to the features of a fading industrial landscape, especially the remnants of signs painted on buildings. These fragmented messages activated my imagination to speculate about the day they were freshly painted, who painted them, and the different events that led to their decay. These century-old letters formed a dynamic contrast with more contemporary letters being painted around the city by its younger occupants.

You live and work in Boston, MA. What is the art scene like?

It's impossible to compartmentalize or sum up with one word, and I think an artist's experience with it depends on age, social status and the type of work they produce.

To many, the art world in Boston seems governed by conservatism and tradition, with little acceptance for anything produced outside of a handful of styles pushed by a small group of hometown heroes that have gotten shine on a national or international level. This is a direct product of Boston's traditionalist view of art as being separated from day to day life. There’s not a lot of room for an emerging artist to feel legitimate because of the city’s 9-5 culture. You know–if you’re moonlighting in a restaurant to pay rent and making art outside of that, it can be hard here to feel like you’re doing little more than tread water.

Underneath all that though, there is a burgeoning art community filled with originality and intensely creative people putting in serious work that's beginning to redefine the average Bostonian's interaction with art. The members of that community find themselves in a unique position given Boston's status as an international city. More and more I find it advantageous to work in a place that refuses to accept you unless you've found success elsewhere. That provides the impetus to branch out and collaborate in places outside of Boston and gives you the clout to then choose which part of the scene you can work to help elevate.

What artists, living and dead, most inspire your work?

Most of my idols are dead. Probably my biggest inspiration is the work of the mid-century renaissance man, Gyorgy Kepes. Reading his book on the origins and development of modernism in art and design, “Language Of Vision” was a watershed moment for me. That book introduced me to the work of A.M. Cassandre, El Lissitzky, and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, all huge influences. Picasso's work also informs mine in a big way, notably his mural Guernica. I remember reading that underneath Picasso's cubist painting “Girl with a Mandolin” is a realistic sketch of a girl. When I found out that he reverse-engineered cubism from realism it was a jumping off point for a ton of exploration.

Contemporary artists that inspire me are too numerous thanks to the magic of Instagram. There are a few that have been pretty pivotal in shaping my taste. The Iranian painter Mehdi Ghadyanloo is inspiring to me on many levels. He painted his first mural on US soil in Boston in 2016. He and his family’s visas were revoked at the 11th hour before he was to start work, but finally a few weeks later he was able to get a visa for just himself. He then crushed it, making one of the most memorable murals in the city, a good reminder that there’s literally no excuse to give up.

I try to limit the amount of contemporary lettering art and illustration I look at in order to avoid falling prey to trends, but ROIDS, Horphe, Will Barras, and Karolis Strautniekas are all favorites.

How has your art practice changed throughout the year?

I don't have the benefit of a formal artistic training, everything I learned was by reading, learning lessons, and picking up wisdom from others. When I first started getting serious about making artwork, I put a ton of emphasis on making something finished and perfect each time. This led to occasional successes, but much more frequent periods of frustration and burnout. As time goes on, I've learned how to walk away and let time work on a piece for a bit. Instead of tearing up a drawing that wasn't coming out the way I want, I now roll it up and stick it in a tube. Months later I come back to it and have none of the prior frustration, and it becomes a kind of game to resolve the chaos into something I like.

Do you have a favorite medium to work in?

My go-to is ink on paper. When I was younger and trying to teach myself graffiti letters, I was told that color should always come second. Make a piece work in black and white by balancing those two forces, then learn how to do it with color. Ink was the natural mode of expression because of how binary it is; you’ve got either ink, or paper, and there’s no command+z.

I also really enjoy painting murals, and when I do, I use colors, but always in a way that accentuates the form. For a long time, I spurned doing digital work, but I've come around to that as well. Designing digitally can be a crutch if it's exploited, but when used in tandem with handwork it is a great way to speed up process and experiment with color more efficiently. I do maintain a fairly well-defined boundary between my use of digital and analog tools. For the most part, my personal artwork is all done by hand, and commercial illustration work is finished digitally.

How does the experience of working directly on walls vs. on a more contain surface, such as paper, differ for you?

The differences of the two mediums totally shifts my process for working with each one. Because I'm typically using paint, working on walls is an additive process for me. I can apply and subtract layers and therefore usually go in with less of a plan. I work in a similar way to an oceanic tide, bringing broad forms in, paring them back to reveal details, then repeating.

Smaller surfaces on the other hand are typically done with ink, a subtractive process. Sometimes it’s like walking a beach after the tide goes out. I work more slowly and locally than in my wall work, moving from section to section while gradually sharpening broad forms.

Your work contains a lot of imagery of trains. Where does this interest come from?

Trains are dope! Going back to my fascination with a hidden history when I was younger, there was a red caboose sitting on a disconnected piece of railroad track near where I grew up. The tracks had been long since ripped out, but it made me constantly think about a different place. When I got older, I spent some time in freight rail yards at night. Being surrounded by massive pieces of metal that are here today and thousands of miles away next week was a very humbling experience.

Now, living in a city, trains allow me to get around without having to own a car. The occurrence of trains in my work now has a lot to do with contemplating why Americans are so wrapped up with owning cars. What used to be a bastion of American Independence is now a big hunk of metal and plastic that depreciates wildly and keeps the average person idling in traffic for 42 hours per year.

From where does the visual language that you produce originate?

It has its roots throughout my life, but really came together in 2014. I was disillusioned with trying to perfect a hand-lettering style because doing so made me feel like a cover band. I didn't like how lettering art had to have a distinct message and seeing the repetition of the same hollow maxims only furthered this dissatisfaction. One night I made a drawing meant as a joke, spelling out a word by haphazardly arranging boring sans-serif lettering and focusing less on the layout of the letters and more on the way they interacted. When I finished, I sent it to friends, asking if they could read it. None of them read the word I wrote, but instead were seeing words or phrases that kind of fit their personality. I dove as far into this idea as I could. I looked at how modernist painters from the 20th century broke down the image into its bare fundamentals and applied the same thought to letters. Since then I've been exploring how to create images that have just enough information to keep your attention, but not so much that you're able to glean a singular meaning. Hence the term visual speedbumps.

What’s next for you? What has you excited right now?

I'm looking forward to taking a break from paper and pen and learning how to apply my visual language to a new, larger media. While I work out the inevitable kinks of that transition, I will be releasing some prints and working on an exciting client project that I can’t spill the beans about quite yet. Let’s just say it’s been a dream of mine since high school. I’m also working on doing weekly illustrations to accompany beats made by my friend Edot. He’s a sick producer, and I’m pretty particular with what Hip Hop I’m into.

The thing that gets me most excited is seeing my friends push the envelope and continue to pursue their crafts. The single biggest motivator for me is watching friends get bigger opportunities because that keeps me on my toes to go after more ambitious things myself.

At the end of every interview, we like to ask the artist to recommend a friend whose work you love for us to interview next. Who would you suggest?

Without question: my friend, mentor, and collaborator David Buckley Borden. David constantly pushes me by asking the difficult questions that need to be asked in order to grow. His work is very important at this exact moment in history due to its ability to lend a relatable side to complex scientific issues using art and design. All of this is accomplished elegantly with his sense of humor, impeccable eye for design, and a strict no excuses policy.