I recently had the opportunity to visit Rob Pruitt. He's most recently known for his all-over paintings of cuddly pandas, but he's so much more than that.
Pruitt told me that he was schooled in a nurturing environment which engendered empathy for others, where the kids at school wore T-shirts emblazoned with the acronym, IALAC, standing for "I am Lovable and Capable." He decided to use the panda as his subject--lovable indeed. Adorable and "equally black and white", the panda perhaps became a stand-in for the soft-spoken, yet perceptive and witty Pruitt himself. Pruitt started creating colorful glittery paintings using found images of the cute bear. Pointing to the in-process works on the studio walls, Pruitt explained that each smaller picture in the composition of panda images has a meaning to him, as it triggers various memories of when the image originally entered his panda-lexicon.
In his productive career, Pruitt has already experienced some ups and downs (currently again on the up and up!) But, he doesn't necessarily care to know how his artworks fare in the secondary art market. Pointing at a smaller picture of pandas knawing on bamboo stalks before a background of stylized bamboos within a larger composition, he noted that a larger work featuring the very same image was being auctioned off at Phillips that very night we were chatting. (For the auction result, click here…but only if you're interested!)
Interestingly enough, Pruitt does enjoy flea markets. The mounting of flea markets in rarefied art locations, including galleries and art fairs, has been a relatively constant method of experimentation for Pruitt. Pruitt mentioned that he enjoys providing a space that allows makers and buyers to connect and communicate. Just in time for the holidays, Pruitt has been bringing this concept to the on-line space through his rpsfleamarket eBay page, where he has been selling items from his collection of amassed objects (together with a very kitschy, but super fabulous photograph of the object signed by Pruitt himself).
Pruitt thinks that some of the people who follow his eBay presence are 'definitely art people', as panda-themed items typically get sold for higher prices. Objects that look like or feature images of pandas from Pruitt's collection enter this secondary market with a penumbra of having passed through Pruitt's hands, giving the object an afterglow of significance relative to other panda objects. For example, compare the stuffed pandas at left, and the stuffed panda at right, both similar in shape and size. (The one on the right--from Pruitt's page--sold for $405.) Even through the Internet, you can experience feeling connected to Pruitt, perhaps even inheriting a piece of Pruitt-history--and such an experience clearly has a market value.
What I find to be one of the most incredible aspects of Pruitt's artwork is that while it spans extremes and manages to capture zeitgeist, it is not ironic in anyway. Irony requires a cool, distanced step away from the subject of its gaze. However, Pruitt is committed to his practice and to his subject matter, and in that way, both he and the work are extremely genuine. Pruitt's ideas (and there are many) are so good that the work can be deceptively simple, glittery and fun, and yet still meaningful. Perhaps that is what continues to make his work sincere.
Thanks to Rob Pruitt for his time and generosity, and to Sayaka Toyama for some of the photos.
Seen to the left is an image of a work by Fukahori Riusuke. It's a three-dimensional work depicting a goldfish in a wooden sake cup.
First brought to Japan in the 16th century from China (where goldfish were symbols of prosperity), goldfish were first kept as pets by Japanese aristocrats. According to Kingyo: The Artistry of Japanese Goldfish, goldfish became popular among the general public in the 19th century, giving rise to a culture of breeders, collectors and connoisseurs.
Since then, goldfish have become a Japanese cultural stand-in for summer--a microcosmic respite of peaceful coolness in an otherwise hot and humid season. Goldfish swim around in collective cultural memory, as the Japanese look forward to annual summer carnivals featuring midway stalls of a game called kingyo sukui (where one attempts to scoop up goldfish using a paper scoop and take home their caught fish in plastic baggies).
Sukui is the Japanese word for "scoop" but its synonym also refers to "salvation." Fukahori claims that goldfish--as a subject for his oeuvre--provides just that.
Fukahori's goldfish are actually finely applied layers of paint sandwiched between layers of acrylic. He carefully paints the goldfish from a bird's eye-view (starting at the lowest layer and progressing upwards), differentiating the delicate fins and scales depending upon which layer of acrylic he is painting upon. After this painstaking process, Fukahori's goldfish appear so life-like that they appear to be real fish frozen in acrylic.
Fukahori treated viewers to a live painting recently. He explained to me that the painting of goldfish involves multiple stages, and the "layering over" of initial strata, erasing that which exists at the outset. These photographs evidence Fukahori's method, as he first began with abstract dots that changed into a landscape, then a bathing scene with nudes, additional abstract strokes, and then, finally, layers of white and red over the course of about 30 minutes.
Tomoko Sugimoto's recent body of work seems to float on the surface of the picture plane. Using cotton thread on canvas to outline images that include, among others, playing children and seasonal motifs of flora, Sugimoto's work has a levity both in theme and in style. Acrylic paint is also utilized in certain instances to provide translucent washes of color, providing a subtle ripple-like texture to the work.
While her subject matter appears to be light and playful, Sugimoto's work belies an intense and intricate practice. Knowing that Sugimoto first worked out the formal structure of the work, and then spent hours poring over the surface of the canvas, painstakingly sewing each outline, makes the red colored thread she uses appear deliberate. Almost vein-like, these skeins course throughout her oeuvre, a vivid reminder of the power underlying its grace and seeming simplicity. Sugimoto mentioned that she initially chose to use red thread in reference to the Asian concept of the "red string of fate." In Sugimoto's work, this red thread both physicalizes the life blood coursing through the images, as well as the traces of Sugimoto's hand lovingly creating her subject matter.
Sugimoto's artistic practice first involves the preparation of underdrawings which are then traced onto the canvas using pencil. Then, depending upon the work, she places washes of acrylic onto the canvas. The red outlines are then sewn on at the very end. Here are a number of images showing Sugimoto's practice for the Moon Snow Flower series. In this new series, we see Sugimoto investigating abstracted images of photographed nature, superimposed upon a grid of small x's. Especially in a work such as Snow, the red outlines appear to exist simultaneously outside the flat picture plane delineated by the grid marks, as well as within, distorting the viewer's sense of perspective.
Many of Sugimoto's works are in tondo format, providing alternately telescopic and microscopic cut-out views into her world. Some of the smaller circular works are framed by hoops and then exhibited on the wall. The display method references the art of embroidery or needlepointing; this format, together with the subject matter and the gaze with which she potrays them, may appear to categorize Sugimoto's work in a traditionally gendered feminine sphere. Within Sugimoto's work, however, lies a strength--almost monomaniacal--that comes from her intensive commitment to her practice. The intensity and vibrant warmth that emanates from her work is best experienced in person. Sugimoto's show is up at No Romance // Galleries until November 13, 2013.
All images courtesy of the artist.
Since my earlier post, Mysterabbit followed me to the +265 and the +260 -- Malawi and Zambia, to be exact. Here are some choice photographs of Mysterabbit taking in the new vistas and meeting new friends from the animal kingdom.
South Luangwa National Park is a game-reserve-turned national park in eastern Zambia. It was the dry season when Mysterabbit visited the area, so there were many wild animals out in search of water. Apparently, the park is relatively well protected from poaching, also, which meant that Mysterabbit was able to see many animals in the wild.
Mysterabbit also visited Senga Bay, Malawi, near the southern tip of Lake Malawi, the ninth largest lake in the world. Sitting on its beach, the body of water appears as wide and expansive as an ocean. Villages near the lake sell wooden handicrafts often resembling figurative animals.
The works of Mike Kelley (1954-2012) currently fill MoMA PS1. Taking over the entire museum space, the exhibition brings together over 250 works, dating from 1974-2012, underscoring Kelley's use of various mediums. His oeuvre mines the archeological troves of American culture, questioning the role of art in relation to society. Kelley's work reminded me that the distinction between the quotidian and the sublime is a forever shifting, porous dotted line. Seeing so much of Kelley's work in one place allows the visitor to better understand the complexities and intellect lurking beneath the surface of what otherwise may appear to be silly, inane, or purely shocking artwork.
Above is one of Kelley's most visually recognized pieces, Deodorized Central Mass with Satellites (1991/1999), clusters of found plush toys sewn together. The room is occasionally spritzed with deodorizing mist, so that the immersive work affects both vision and smell.
While Deodorized Central Mass is often mentioned as one of Kelley's most iconic pieces, Kelley's work is more than just plushies. Some of his drawings highlight imagery that questions identify and a sense of self. Below are two drawings from a three-part triptych Kelley made in 1982 where he tries his hand at "tagging" his name in different fonts.
Below are images from Kelley's Kandor series. Kelley re-imagines and interprets Kandor, a scaled-down version of the former capital city of Krypton, Superman's home planet. In the comic book, the villain, Braniac, shrinks Kandor and hides the city under a glass bell jar. At various times between 1999 and 2011, Kelley returned to Kandor, and created iterations of the miniature captive city, using a variety of materials that included lenticular light boxes (which alternately show empty and Kandor-filled bell jars), mixed media installations recreating the apparatus that keeps the city within the bell jar, and videos showing the swirling innards of vessels. While the concept riffs upon a direct reference from American popular culture, the resulting work raises questions of the artifice of modern urban living.
A Vine-worthy (?) video of a laughing bell jar…did Kelley start the renaissance hipness of terrariums?
Pay for Your Pleasure (1988) has a more direct and politically charged message. The installation corridor is lined with painterly portraits of 42 historical artists and philosophers. Each portrait also features a quote from the figure exploring the ties among the creation of art, individuality, and the possibility for criminal intent and activity within this subversive act. Kelley specified that each iteration of this installation also includes artwork made by a known criminal from the area, as well as a donation box for visitors to contribute money for local victims' rights groups. The viewer of the installation questions her own opinion of the revolutionary attitudes apparent in the historical figures' quotes. While many of the quotes focus upon the potential criminality of art-making itself--which elides the distinction of a criminal who has carried out violent acts separate from her art-making--I found my senses and logical thought processes overtaken by the work's powerful messages.
Throughout the exhibition, ridden with messages and moments of sensory overload, one seemingly simple and innocuous picture ironically remained the most memorable for me. Below is the last part of the triptych drawing referenced above. The first two drawings are traces of Kelley signing his name in different fonts. This is the third and last. The title of the triptych is Personality Crisis (1982). The exhibition is an homage to a man of many, complex ideas, and the breadth of his work should be viewed in full.