Sunday, April 26, 2015

Nancy Mooslin's Lyrical Color and Music Fushions

“Everything I do is related in some way to music,” says life-long musician Nancy Mooslin. “I’m either painting an actual piece of music or a harmonic progression of my own devising—whether it be of chords, scales, or intervals of notes.” Nancy who is enjoying her “first residency anywhere—ever,” was drawn to VCCA because of its proximity to the Blue Ridge Mountains and the rich tradition of fiddle music found in the region. 

She first became interested in this type of site-specific work—interweaving landscape into her pieces using photo transfers or drawings—on a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia where she photographed the Mekong River and Halong Bay. “The repetitive rhythmic patterns of moving water began to feel so musical to me.”  Visiting Buddhist temples on the trip, she heard chants. It became a natural progression to combine the two, overlaying the Buddhists chants onto her images of the local bodies of water. “Maybe I was just ready to embrace my surroundings a bit more and not be so cerebral.”

Nancy’s work is centered on a very interesting system of correlating music and color she developed and her earlier work relied on a pure geometric format. The 12-color wheel of primary, secondary and tertiary colors representing the visible spectrum (ultra-violet to infrared) corresponds to an octave because in the musical chromatic scale there are 12 steps. She made C red because C is the first note of the major scale and it will always be the beginning, and so too red light is at the beginning or bottom of the spectrum. C is red, C sharp is red/orange, D is orange, D sharp is yellow/orange, E is yellow, etc. all the way up to B, which is red/violet.

But, as Nancy points out, “that, of course, only takes care of one octave; there are seven and a half octaves on the piano. As you get lower by increments of 1/12, the note get darker and duller, and as you get higher, they get lighter and brighter. For me, this relates to those low notes that are produced by a really long string or a great big instrument. They’re full of overtones—some low pitches can have as many as 64 overtones. They’re rich, fat sounds, which, for me, relate to that rich pigment. The high notes, which might be a little piccolo or a short string, are very thin sounds. You’re only hearing the fundamental pitch with no overtones whatsoever, that’s the thin pigment pale, light color.” 

The reason one C sounds like C only higher is that the sound wave is exactly double the frequency and 1/2 the length; mathematically it’s been cut in half. In the visible spectrum violet light is exactly double the frequency and 1/2 the length of red light. So our visible world is actually a mathematical octave.

Nancy represents the meter of the music by measurement: a note that is held longer, takes up more space on the paper and then the timbre quality of sound instrument versus voice, for example, is usually represented by texture and shape: the violin’s sound all smears together and her lines blend into each other. With the piano where the notes can be more distinct, her lines remain discrete.

“The woods around here are just perfect for an overlay,” Nancy says of Mt. San Angelo. “Because the trees are so close together, tall and narrow; they weave in and out in a rhythmic way that seems to ape the way a fiddle slides around. When I first got here, I spent a couple days photographing the woods in sun and overcast light. Some of those images, I transferred onto paper overlaying on the trees 12-tone melodies much like a Schoenberg system (where you use all 12 tones without repeating). In these works, the music imbues the photographs as a kind of multicolored wash. "I chose a simple fiddle tune and placed the melody on a horizontal access across the center of the page and now I’m pulling those notes through into threes so they’ll end up looking like the pieces I did that didn’t have a specific melody running through. With these, there's more of a distinct melodic line bisecting the image.”

“One of the reasons I never applied for a residency before, is I always worked in oil. And I couldn’t imagine how I could transport my 88 tubes of paint to a remote location.” She had created her music-based palette using oil paint and was leery of venturing outside the medium. Eventually, she discovered that using the oil palette she created as a guide, she could mix the watercolor to achieve the same hues. She prefers using watercolor pencils, which allow her to be very precise, sometimes she’ll use a brush dipped in water to make a thicker or blurred line. She has many pencils each one labeled with its corresponding note.

Though she was wedded to her studio for many years she did a lot of public art in collaboration with choreographers and musicians. Her journey to liberation began when she started printmaking as a means of shaking things up. It worked, opening up the possibility of working outside the studio. Then followed the trip to Asia and VCCA. What Nancy says of her first residency program suggests it won’t be her last: “I am having such a good time here; I’m enjoying the intimacy of working on a smaller scale and responding to the beautiful surroundings.”

Though Nancy is dealing with very complex concepts, she insists she isn’t a math whiz. “It’s amazing what you can teach yourself to do when the idea requires you to know something,” she says. “But I only want to know what I need to know for the work. I say my knowledge is an inch deep and a mile long. I‘m not going to become an astrophysicist or try and understand it all. What I do like to think about is the concept behind the music of the spheres is that the same ratios exist in planetary motion as exist in music. Microcosm and the macrocosm—they’re all using the same proportions and ratios.”

Friday, April 24, 2015

David Farrar's Ephemeral Moments of Beauty and Comedy

“Ephemeral moments of beauty and comedy influence and guide my practice,” says VCCA Fellow David Farrar. “Lines of light cast through a venetian blind, a toilet roll dancing uninhibitedly in the gentle breeze of an extraction fan, the strong shadow cast from a streetlight illuminating a wooden pallet on the street. I repackage these moments as ethereal worlds isolated from the imperfections and noise of reality so that more people might appreciate the beauty of everyday occurrences.”

In his practice which incorporates printmaking, woodwork, sculpture and installation, David makes use of humble materials and objects, subtly altering them in unexpected and, indeed, quite dysfunctional ways. In the VA hallway of VCCA’s Studio Barn, he changed the EXIT sign to read EXALT, cleverly maintaining the font and utilitarian position, high on the wall, so it takes awhile to notice it. When you do, it’s hard not to smile. “I enjoy installing these pieces in ways that could be overlooked at first glance, and seeing the viewer’s moment of realization,” he says.

David was drawn to the Exit sign as an oddity. In the UK, where he’s from, exits are marked with the symbol of the running man. It’s in keeping with his practice of working with what’s around him. Whether he does this using things like soil or tree bark as media, or in the creation of, often loaded, facsimiles of objects, sometimes reproducing them in miniature, other times they’re perfect, though functionless, replicas.

While commonplace for Americans, heating vents are also unfamiliar objects for David (central heating is rare in the UK). His introduction to them occurred at the Artist House residency program, St. Mary’s College, Maryland, where he was before his arrival at VCCA. Puzzled that the paper models he left on his desk at night would be scattered on the floor when he woke, he soon realized the culprit was the forced air that came on while he slept.

David’s interested in the relationship between form and function,“ particularly the point at which an object loses its functionality,” he says. “For instance, the same object found on the street functions in a wholly different manner than when it is in a dining room. Broken and discarded objects are imbued with a sense of pathos that stems from their loss of functionality and dislocation from their original environment. I reinterpret these objects within an artistic framework, raising them up as art objects by giving them new forms and functions. In this transformation, I often physically break down these objects to their raw materials in order to reconstruct them using traditional methods such as printmaking and woodwork. I see this process as a form of preservation: if these objects were left to break down naturally they would be lost forever. So, instead, I give them a new lease on life and purpose.”

Taking the scavenged furniture, David photographs it, then breaks it down, burning the wood. Reducing the resulting charcoal to a fine ash, he uses this together with the original photograph to make a screen-printed image. It’s a wonderful rift on form and function that only gets better when you take into account silk screen terminology: you “burn” the image onto a screen using a thin layer of UV sensitive paint and a strong UV light. This, of course, references the burning of the original object; the residue or palimpsest often left behind after cleaning off a screen is called a “ghost image", which relates in some way as the image is a ghost of the no longer extant chair.

Lack of functionality also plays into his true-to-life 2-D templates of a glue stick and pair of scissors. The trick with these is you need actual glue and scissors to create their 3-D versions from the templates.

Shipping pallets figure largely in David’s work. “I like their form, the fact that they are these very functional objects with this one purpose and they haven’t been superseded by something high tech.” He’s worked with large ones before, but there is something so appealing about his miniature versions. Some he paints, others he covers in material: velvet to exalt the mundane pallet and fake grass, which suggests that nature is reclaiming the pallet, but then again, it’s artificial grass. “I make scale models out of cardboard and balsa wood so they retain their formal quality but lose their functionality; after all a balsa wood pallet is about as much use as a chocolate teapot. These works also act as visual puns that reference, and perhaps make slight fun of, the overly serious monochrome canvases of minimalism: a monochrome palette for a monochrome pallet.”  

David also makes miniature versions of the quite beautiful skeletal “houses” that are sometimes used in historic settlements to give visitors the idea of the structure of a building. “I noticed these striking forms on the landscape when I first arrived to St. Mary’s and was intrigued to learn that they are known as “ghost houses”, which is an apt description as they are wooden skeletons built on the footprint of the past and left to degrade naturally over time.”

Paper plate lithography is an experimental technique that exploits the chemical reaction between gum arabic and Xerox toner. Toner resists the gum arabic and paper absorbs it. When you put oil-based ink down, the toner attracts while the paper resists. For these lithographs, David used ink he made with Mt. San Angelo soil. The process doesn’t require a lot of equipment. Basically, all you need is a Xerox machine. It’s transient, you can only use each plate once, and the image breaks down fairly easily so there’s a painterly quality that corresponds nicely to the clarity of the Xerox.

David likes taking humdrum things and presenting them as art citing the Arte Povera movement as a major influence. Much of his work is either very fragile or not archival. “I like the delicate nature of things, they’re fleeting objects that only exist for a limited time. I don’t want to be perceived as too serious,” he says. “I like the fact people pick up on the humor in the work.”

One can marvel at his inventiveness and the labor involved in creating some of these pieces. It takes real passion, not to mention self-confidence to scan an entire roll of paper towels and then digitally print a version of it, but as David says, “This is the work I want to do; I maintain truth to the original idea. I persevere.”

When he returns to the UK, David who is from Oxford, will continue to live and work in Glasgow returning to his post as a printing technician at the Glasgow School of Art where he studied. He will also be exhibiting work made during these residencies (St. Mary's College, Maryland and VCCA) in Glasgow Open House Festival, (Glasgow) and Hidden Door Festival, (Edinburgh).

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Janice Caswell Photo-Based Abstractions

Janice Caswell is a collector of images. In her daily interactions with New York City she takes photographs of the manmade landscape—not necessarily things that would jump out at anyone—but objects and arrangements that strike a chord with her.
These photographs become the starting point for her work. Using flat white paint, she covers much of the image allowing just a particular area to remain visible. What’s left of the original image becomes flattened and abstracted through this process. The subject is vaguely familiar though removed from its original context it’s mostly unrecognizable.
At this point, she adds collage, ink, and other materials, which imbue the work with abstract power. “Through this process I discover objects hidden in the everyday that have their own beauty, character, and newfound purpose.”

Monday, April 13, 2015

Shigeki Yoshida Photographer of Light

Photographing in black and white without the benefit of staging or manipulation, Shigeki Yoshida is after recording that elusive, intangible substance, light.

In many of his photographs, he allows lush blackness to almost overtake the scene, adding
a velvety moodiness to the work. Many strike a nostalgic note, seeming to reference a long lost era. Shigeki does this in an oblique manner and so the work doesn’t come across as hackneyed or sentimental.

Shigeki distills his images down to the barest minimum, conveying so much with very little. Take the photograph of people crossing the concourse at Grand Central. We get the sense of hustle and bustle from the figures and a cavernous space that continues on beyond the confines of the image, a glimpse of light fixtures and window locate us, but that is all.

Another, of a wall and parked cars suggests a great city. A dress in a window evokes bygone elegance and luxury. Two images, one of a sliver of sunlight hitting the street from between two tall buildings, the other, a lighted display case, call to mind Hopper. A deserted bullfighting ring in Spain is a wonderful architectural study and the image has a distinct psychological resonance with the arena captured in its unnatural state of quietude and emptiness.

“I photograph believing in the possibility of photography to depict even something invisible,”
says Shigeki. “I do not look for something visually obvious, but rather something suggestive like a momentary light which not only casts on an actual scene, but also reflects upon. my mind. I wish for the light to reach viewers’ minds in the hope of transcending the usual sentimental resonances, and of touching the viewers’ memories beyond specific cultural backgrounds.”

Born in Japan, Shigeki studied painting at Wako University in Tokyo. He studied photography at Hunter College, CUNY with Mark Feldstein and Roy DeCarava on a scholarship from the Japanese government, receiving an MFA in 2005. He lives and works in Brooklyn.