One of the great challenges for a painter today is to make small works powerful enough to be noticed in an art world that typically celebrates grand gestures. There is even a saying amongst artists, “if you can’t make it good, then make it big.” But there is a great history of small works, notably historical icon paintings which were primarily small religious works meant for private contemplation or instruction. Typically depicting a single religious person or object, they were meant to be a stand in for that object’s power or importance. Eschewing the singularity and overt religious imagery of those historical works in favor of contemporary subject matter, the artists selected for this exhibition convey an impressive dynamism in their small works. Their vitality beckons the viewer towards a more intimate, contemplative moment with the art. This intimacy effectively becomes a politic that stands out as an increasingly rare experience amidst the often loud, boisterous nature of contemporary culture.
Duplex: How do you personally relate to the theme of the show?
Roni Feldman: My paintings, much like traditional icon paintings, are meant to induce contemplative visual exploration. They each depict a different explorer and a different exploration of paint, beckoning viewers to become explorers themselves as they look at them. I love to explore, be it the local city, or a trek through the Andes. Travel is a method of mind-expansion, both about the make-up of the world, and one’s own self. Art is my way of engaging others in exploration, but on a quieter, more intimate and interior level.
Max Presneill: Small paintings, for me, allow a focus upon a singular aspect of themes which occur in my large works but without the multiplicity of relationships that the large ones contain. This means that the images are often more iconic due to this contemplation of an important facet without distraction.
Jay Erker: These small works I do have an intimacy about them, especially when creating them. The proportions of the marks and the found image is something I have control over. I feel more connected to the work. It feels like a secret…a relationship that develops between myself, the media, and the image with which I work.
Emily Counts: For this show I wanted to make a piece that leads the viewer’s eye to one small focal point, that could potentially create intimacy with the viewer or a moment of introspection. I am interested in the symbolic importance of the traditional icon paintings and the potential for powerful meaning within a small space.
Rachel Warkentin: Working small has always been a crucial part of my process, even when, like Emily mentioned, “small” is more about an intimate, powerful moment in the piece, rather than a piece that is small overall. I love playing with the different ways a piece can take up space as well. Traditional icon paintings are a great example of this, since they tend to be dramatically lit and framed and they have this whole narrative built into them that’s more about the way they’re regarded rather than their physical manifestation.
Erin McCarty: I actually have always tended to work quite large, but have recently made a conscious decision to give smaller, more intimate and contained works a try. I do love the idea of saying more with less. I tend to overwork paintings and get lost in unimportant details that no one notices other than myself really. Then, once I’ve stepped back after being completely absorbed in one small area of the painting, I’ll typically have that “oh no what have I done this was a much stronger piece hours ago” moment. With smaller works, my compositions tend to be less complex, and it forces me to focus on the idea at hand. It targets my energies. I think this is a great experiment for me right now.
D: Did you work together as artists often before this show?
RF: Max, Emily, and I have exhibited and curated together for several years. We co-founded a collective called Durden and Ray, which has put on numerous shows throughout the U.S. and abroad, including at Disjecta in Portland. Rachel and I went to graduate school together, and Jay and I have all shown together at least once (probably at Torrance Art Museum).
JE: I’ve worked with Max previously as he is an active member of the Los Angeles art community as both an artist, curator and organizer. And through Max I met Roni and been in a show or two with him.
EC: Yes, I have exhibited with Max and Roni through Durden and Ray for the past several years and have been in exhibitions curated by Max going back a decade. Rachel and I showed together in Mas Attack 6 (Max’s ongoing curatorial project through ARTRA) at the Torrance Art Museum this past August.
RW: One of the fun things about this show is that it features artists I’ve worked with many times before (Roni), artists I’ve just started getting to know (Emily) and artists I haven’t worked with before and have only internet stalked.
EM: I have actually never met the other artists in this show, I’m very much looking forward to meeting them and seeing their work in person!
D: You each have distinct visual styles, however the work reflects the theme tightly and seamlessly. There must be a lot of communication throughout the art making process. Is this true? Did you work closely start to finish?
RF: Actually, we did not collaborate on our works at all. I simply admire these artists and know they make engaging small works. When I asked them what works they had available, they each found something that perfectly fit the show, as if it had been painted for it.
JE: Yeah, no collaboration. Just mutual respect. :). Great minds…?
D: What attracts you to the works of your fellow show mates?
RF: Our work is all very different. I admire Max’s fearless experimentation and mining of imagery for whatever suits his themes and compositions. Rachel’s paintings are so delicate, yet hide something sharp underneath. Jay’s work is thoughtful, diverse, and inventive. She imaginatively takes on a whatever form she requires. Emily is an iconoclast. No one makes work quite like her’s. Her combination of ceramics, plastics, and machine parts, are surreal and entirely her own. They’re beautiful and unnerving.
JE: I agree with Roni about Emily’s work. I love her creativity. I have never met Emily but have seen her work in Los Angeles a few times. It certainly is its own thing and I love that. I have a special place in my heart for iconoclasts. It truly is hard to be one in this contemporary milieu. Sadly, I don’t know Rachel or her work. Both Max and Roni’s work is quite powerful but in different ways. Max has a strong personality and it shows in his bold choices of subject, composition, color and mark making. His works are always bold and challenging and I appreciate that about him and his work! I also appreciate his investment of the conceptual into his paintings. You don’t see that very often in painting. Roni’s work, to me, is strong in its simplicity but complex in your experience of it. A lot of work of his I’ve seen is monochrome which allows the depth of his subject matter, often portraits, to come through more powerfully. In that way his work does take on an iconic quality. I find them mesmerizing. You have to see his black light paintings! So cool!
EC: This a great group of artists, and I am excited to be showing with Jay and Erin for the first time. Max’s paintings contain colors and marks that are electric, powerful, energizing. They are wild and active but there is a sort of gridded structure or system within the paintings that gives me a sense of order. Viewing Roni’s paintings is very physical, it is such an act of discovery as they change in front of your eyes. Often very complex scenes are revealed piece by piece, like moments in a dream pushing in and out of clarity. Rachel makes these very compelling paintings in egg tempera that explore gender and ritualized activities. I love her rich matte surfaces, the vibrant colors, and her combination of crisp details with areas of transparent washes.
D: What is a modern icon to you?
RF: My first inclination is to say something about celebrities, but I believe art remains iconic in a completely different and vitally important way. An icon is an image that holds power, and people go to art to find meaning, be it emotional, intellectual, cultural, or spiritual. Viewers may not articulate it that way, but I think there is a sort of expectation that looking at art is good for you, kind of like eating your vegetables. Artists are supposed to think outside of the box, so their work is expected to inspire, uplift, or incite. That’s a great deal of power to give to art that I don’t think people generally expect from popular culture.
MP: It can be anything that we each decide is important to us – we create our own icons or follow those set by others. Meaning can be found in many places now, outside of the traditional religious understanding. Icons are the way we visually imagine those meanings.
JE: For me, icons are popular images that evoke a kind of metaphysical presence. Something that speaks to something larger than ourselves, whatever that may be, earthly or otherwise. But the best icons are those that encompass the earthly, the human touch, and simultaneously refer to the inexplicable. I like iconic imagery that is imperfect, shows the maker in its marks or style. I can’t help but think of that lady in Spain who painted over the 19th century Jesus frescoe! I like it so much better the way she did it. So strange and compelling. Reminds me of my piece in this show!
EC: There are those powerful images that recall a collective meaning or memory, and I feel like in modern times it usually involves popular culture or art. I am most interested in the private icons that refer to our personal histories. I think as artists we are very aware of them, of these symbolic images that we keep returning to.
RW: I don’t think my definition of a modern icon is any different, for me it’s still about the space a thing takes up. When something or someone is considered iconic, they’re taking up an emotional/cultural/contextual space that’s much bigger than the physical space they take up. It’s especially strange when this happens to a person, they become a sort of totem to themselves.
EM: When I think of the word “icon”, I always tend to think of it as a physical representation of an metaphysical idea, be it through an actual iconic human figure, or religious imagery such as angels and demons, or meaningful objects that have an inherent spiritual significance to people. It can appear in many forms, but I think at it’s core an icon is never really about the image itself, it is about the deeper meaning the image only hints at. It only scratches the surface. The reason this sort of work is so appealing to me is because of just how deep the viewer can go into their own mind to find their own meaning, and what significance the work holds for them specifically. It is a personal, intimate, and transformative experience.
D: Where are you from originally and tell us briefly about your work
RF: I grew up in L.A., and have spent most of my life there, although I have lived for a number of years in Santa Barbara and San Francisco. I teach various, painting, drawing, and design courses at Otis College. Regarding my creative practice, I have long worked with airbrush, especially with luminescent and iridescent materials. My paintings are thus often light-reactive and require viewers to move around through the gallery to see them, or take in their range of colors and forms. Much like Light and Space artists, I am trying to incite a sort of engaged looking, but my work always includes something representational- a portrait, a crowd of people, sometimes landscapes. There is often a complex system of symbols and metaphors in my work that is quite divergent from Light and Space. I aim to engage people on both emotive and intellectual levels, and just as my paint changes from different points of view, I hope the painting prompts new discoveries the longer people look at them.
MP: I grew up in London, UK. Moved to LA about 17 years ago now. I curate exhibitions for a living (Torrance Art Museum) and as a ‘hobby’ with ARTRA. My paintings explore issues related to mortality and the mark, existentialism and choice, and the potential for the political through painting.
JE: I grew up in a suburb near Orlando, Florida. It’s a crazy place, most everyone I grew up around was a bit repressed and tried to be very normal and I did too for awhile…that was palpable growing up. I think that’s what makes the human/social aspect of Florida fascinating to me. The land there though is so rich and so itself, it screams at you, sometimes literally. That combination in the environment was very powerful. I think this experience underlies my motivations in my own work. I am a multimedia artist and do 2D work that is mostly portraits of a sort to performance and participatory projects. All my work revolves around the social, how we exist and identify (or not) with others. I attempt to create experiences that are surprising and somewhat strange to our general experience of art and life…a way to look at and experience our world in a different way.
EC: I grew up in Seattle then moved to California for college. After living in Oakland, Chicago, and New Mexico I moved back to the Northwest to Portland in 2005. I am a sculptor and my work is a mix of media although most pieces start with ceramics. I gravitate toward materials such as porcelain, wood or bronze that I feel have a history in terms of craftsmanship, as well as longevity into the future. I am always trying to bring the past and the future together, to create an object that embodies both. Thematically my work deals with technology, time, history, and memory. Recently I have been focusing on abstraction, the representational forms becoming less prominent in each piece.
RW: I was born in rural Oregon, and spent a lot of time by myself collecting newts. I spent a few years in LA getting a degree and hanging out with Roni, and then I moved back to Portland. I miss LA, it has better colors than Portland. Also, I’m a fairly manic artist, and LA is a good place for mania. Incidentally, I tried to find some newts in the woods here in Oregon recently and I couldn’t, I don’t know what happened to them.
EM: I was born and raised in Valdez, Alaska and moved to Portland in 2007. I went to the Pacific Northwest College of Art and graduated in 2010. I adore Portland, but I do miss Alaska and want to make more of an effort to reconnect with my state as well as market myself as an Alaskan artist. That place truly has shaped and informed the way I paint, and I’m very influenced by the native folk art I grew up around and had hanging in my family home. I’ve also always been moved by the extreme, isolated, and brutal landscape. My influences range from the formations in the natural world and our body system to violent climates and characters, emotional states, human relations, and artists Gustave Dore and William Blake. Above all else I am drawn to the excitement, grandeur, and terror of human life and the unknown. The marriage of seemingly opposing forces has always provided ample thematic material, and much of my work explores our capacity to be many things at once.
D: What is next for you?
RF: I am planning a number of exhibitions for 2015, including at the Freies Museum in Berlin. I also just released The Creator’s Eye, the first part of an epic sci-fi fantasy book series that I have been writing for many years. The next three books in the series are already written and I plan to release Part II sometime in 2015.
MP: I am curating international shows for Berlin (Freies Museum), Vienna (Hilger Contemporary Gallery), Paris (Espace de Arts Sans Frontieres) as well as more MAS ATTACKS around the Western US states. I will be exhibiting my next solo show at Garboushian Gallery in January, as well as showing at Weber University, Utah, with a couple of others in development.
JE: I just read Roni’s book and it’s a great, fun read! I want to write a book. He’s an inspiration.
Now though I’m getting a MS in marriage and family counseling at Cal State Northridge. I want to try and create a hybrid of art and therapy somehow…I don’t know what that will look like, but hopefully something really weird. Ha! I became a minister online to marry a couple friends of mine and now I’d like to marry more people. And hopefully I’ll do some art shows too, or, marry people at art shows. That sounds nice.
EC: I will be creating work for upcoming group shows and a solo exhibition that will open this May in Portland. Additionally I am working on my new jewelry and design company St. Eloy that just launched this fall!
RW: I made my piece for this show using an unfamiliar medium: mineral paints that are fired onto porcelain. It’s impossible for me to think about this medium without associating it with women, specifically old women, more specifically old women who don’t have any real societal power. I’m going to spend some time playing around with this paint and it’s problematic gendered context for awhile, and try to give it power without disguising it, or paving over its history. I’ve also been working with Lindsay Kretchun on a design/jewelry collaboration, Barrow PDX, for about a year now, and we have some serious irons in the fire for 2015.
EM: I will be moving back to Alaska sometime in the spring for the remainder of the summer. I have some commissions I’ve promised people there over the years and I want to make good on that…one of them being a mural on one of the buildings in my hometown. Other than that I have no shows or plans, I’m trying to figure out what direction I want to take with my art at the moment so I can put my full heart & soul into it and become less scattered with my attempts!