Babies on Top of Cabinets, Surrealist Mollusks, and a Life Sized Mermaid

AN INTERVIEW WITH SENIOR CRITIC JUDY FOX

By Claire Cushman (MFA 2015) 

“It’s hard to say life is small, delicate, and vulnerable unless you can show the real size of life,” says New York Academy of Art’s newest Senior Critic Judy Fox. On September 17th, Fox discussed the presence of abstraction in sculpture with renowned abstract sculptor and Pace artist Joel Shapiro for the Academy's first Art and Culture lecture of the school year. While Shapiro spoke about arriving at meaning through the process of sculpting, Fox explained her highly premeditated way of working. 
“The emotional effect is one of unattained glory, of someone trying to be something they’re not – a regular person trying to play a grand role,” say Fox who relies on iconic figures from art or history, as well as a model she’s forced into the iconic pose and photographed. As she works, she observes the inherent tension between the real and the ideal. 

The day after the lecture I went to Fox’s studio to interview her about her work. I removed my shoes at the door, and almost immediately had a layer of silky sculpture dust covering my bare feet. Natural light poured in from a wall of windows, and NPR – which Fox listens to constantly as she works – blasted from the radio. Strange figures stared me down from all over the room – babies on top of cabinets, surrealist mollusks, and a life sized mermaid from her 2012 PPOW show, “Out of Water.” Fox sat sculpting and continued to sculpt for the duration of our conversation. 


CC: What are you working on now?

JF: This long skinny thing that I’m scratching away at is part of a snake tree, which will be about eight feet tall. It’s a symbol of the temptations that confront Eve. When I think about evolution, and how animals express their sexuality, it’s not often visual – a chimp doesn’t dress up and doesn’t care about esthetics. Eve might represent the dawning of seduction and visual awareness.CC: How does this relate to your other work?

JF: I like to look at mythology, including religion, and think about the psychological and sociological themes that the myths are addressing. I reanalyze myths in a frank, contemporary, science-oriented way. I pillage all of time and civilization, and choose myths wherein the imagery seems to suggest a new interpretation by contemporary standards.





CC: Can you tell me how you arrived at your mollusk sculptures?

JF: I was thinking about evolution as an approach to visualizing the Garden of Eden. So I was reading the bible and I was side tracked by the third day, when the seas were created. I started thinking about primordial muck, primitive life forms, and sea monsters. I was interested in our connection to PRIMATIVE life, and our fear it, fear of monsters… you can see sea monsters at the side of old maps back when people believed the world was flat. These snakey, reptile wormy monsters were the inspiration for the worms. They were fun to make. You have to have a good time.

CC: What source images were you using to create these?

JF: I just worked from magazine and internet pictures, whatever I could get. Cephalopods are very flexible in the flesh, but they do have some anatomy, which I tried to study. I worked out the anatomy but also hybridized them with certain ideas I had, to give them different characters. I was using my ability to invoke human expression, to make them look like a person of one type or another. We are all animals, so we have certain things in common with them. We are fairly related even though not… I wanted to emphasize this ability to empathize across species. I was using form as a way of evoking aspects of human experience in a humorous way.
CC: What are you currently reading?

JF: I try to have a novel going… right now I am reading “Benang,” a novel by an Australian aboriginal writer, Kim Scott. I love anthropology of all kinds. That comes with being a figurative artist – you like to learn about the human experience from all sides. I tend to read science magazines and collect information that way. And listen to NPR.

CC: What artists are you looking at historically?

JF: My main stylistic influences/brothers are Northern Renaissance sculptors. I also love High Gothic sculpture, which is much more attentive to individual character. It’s actually kind of easy to make a Renaissance sculpture because all you really need is anatomy and curvilinear resolution. But to actually get all the individual character into it you have to observe a real example of a person.
CC: You mentioned during the lecture that you found observing nature more interesting than working from your imagination.

JF: When I was a student, I was once trying to finish up a piece and thought – “I’ll just make up the belly button,” which came out fine. Then the model came in, and damned if her bellybutton wasn’t way more interesting than the one I made! I realized that the act of understanding something is the act of trimming away all the irregularities. So I decided I was going to fight against that and stick to nature. For example, in painting, once you get some idea of what light and shadow looks like, you can probably do it credibly. But you’re never going to be Vermeer that way. There’s just nothing like actually observing real light and the myriad of color reflections. I encourage any artist to work from life. There’s no substitute for going out there and looking at reality.
CC: You spoke about trying to create tension between a model’s personality and the role you are trying to fit them into.

JF: In some cases, the model’s personality meshes with the hero or the figure they’re playing – that can work sculpturally, like in Shiva dancing. The model was a very confident, tough little kid – his personality fit very well with the Hindu god shiva, the creator and destroyer. So that worked well for the piece even though it wasn’t a very “tense” outcome. When the models are really different from the role I’m trying to place them into it creates tension, and makes a more poignant outcome. The sculpture becomes more about trying something that’s difficult. Both things are truth. It works in either direction. That said, there are still some pieces that end up more captivating than other pieces in the end.

CC: Do you ever scrap pieces, if you’re not happy with them?

JF: Of course I try to only make pieces that are going to be good because they take me so long to make, but some of them really end up being stronger than others. And since I’ve spent months and months on them, I use those pieces too. I show them all. It’s a big ceramicist thing to throw away imperfect pieces of your work. But ceramicists don’t usually work on a piece for a year.
CC: What is your pace?

JF: About one month for every ten inches of sculpture. Sculpting an adult takes me about nine months. And then by the time it’s fired, put together, seams fixed, it’s effectively a year for a life-sized adult. Kids are faster. And surrealist things are faster because they’re straight out of my head.
CC: As an undergraduate in the 1970s, you made abstract constructions. How did you move from these works to the strictly figurative work you are making now?

JF: I loved doing the constructions and probably would have continued making them had I been accepted into the Whitney Independent study program – they would’ve discouraged figure – but then I wasn’t accepted, so I went to art conservation school at NYU. This was cool because no art school at the time would have encouraged me in any way to do the figure. But taking art history courses exposed me to very serious interpretations of figuration and its various styles. I was also doing my own work and working out a way of doing the figure that reflected my own time.

CC: What skills did you learn at NYU that you use in your work now?

JF: That program was where I was really introduced to polychrome sculpture, because most sculpture in the ancient world was painted. It was really more of a post 19th century thing to have everything be colorless. Art conservation taught me to mix and layer colors, as part of replacing lost areas. Kind of by surprise, it was a great place to learn to make art, and a fun education.



CC: What kind of work did you do as a conservator? 

JF: When I finished graduate school in 1984, I started my first job at NYAA. I was taking care of their cast collection, which had a tendency to get broken by party revelers – I would glue them back together, fill the losses, the usual restoration routine. I later joined a private business that worked on Modern and Contemporary Art. Being a conservator saved me from having to do the usual kind of hustling that artists so often have to do. It was a great day job, and overlapped with my studio needs.

CC: Were you ever interested in working 2D?

JF: I’m just a natural sculptor, and am very literal minded. It’s possible for me to draw, but I wouldn’t credit myself with having developed a drawing language that works. I have respect for drawing and painting, but I don’t really like doing either. For example, I painted my Cuttlefish sculpture with a colorful pattern on its back, and it was tedious for me to paint within the lines. I don’t love it, but I have to paint to give my sculptures that sense of life.

CC: When and how did you come to a clear idea of what you were trying to say with your work?

JF: I didn't come to a clear sense of how to make figures contemporary for a long time. I was searching for a way to express certain things for years. For example, I wanted to avoid monumentality in favor of subtlety and intimacy. I went down a few dead ends, but when I started the baby series in 85, I knew that the sculptures were finally taking care of all the things I wanted to say. Eventually the language of form that I developed became my style. In the 70s, the grad students would say “Why would you make a figure, why bother?” When I started to do the baby series it was like “well, it’s a figure because my work is about human issues and personality.” Modernism had gone so far as to chop off heads and do just torsos, and abstract elements of the body. The head, and the mind in it, was important subject matter to me. I was looking to make figures that addressed contemporary life in an interesting way. 

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Judy Fox contributed two essays in The Figure: Painting, Drawing, and Sculpture – Contemporary Perspectives, the New York Academy of Art's debut monograph
celebrating the art of the human figure, published by SkiraRizzoli .

Her conversation with Joel Shapiro is featured on the Academy's Vimeo page and her extraordinary work can be seen on her website www.judyfox.net

Claire Cushman (MFA 2015) is a painter and Social Media scholar with a penchant for blogging.  From time to time check in on the Academy's blog to read more entries from Claire throughout the year.

ELIZABETH GLAESSNER'S QUIET CONFIDENCE

Have you had the chance to see the "2014 Fellows Show" at the Academy?  If not, RUN don't walk to Wilkinson Gallery, 111 Franklin Street, before it closes on Sunday, September 29th.  At the show you will be drawn to Elizabeth Glaessner's (MFA 2013, Fellow 2014) work. Her post-apocalyptic paintings slowly reveal intricate allegories suspended in time.  Her chromatically vivid, psychologically dense, personal narratives take the viewer on a journey through the artist’s interior life.  Both intensely strategic and wildly intuitive, each detail of her work has a jewel-like quality that is the result of the artist’s extreme focus.  And yet, when taken as a whole, the improvisational nature of the work links every component into a rapturous symphony of exotic symbols and voluptuous color.

For Elizabeth, the Fellows Show came at the right time - fresh on heels of her debut solo exhibition at PPOW Gallery in August, a show that started a trajectory that we're excited to follow.  For the last installment of the Fellow Interview Series, we caught up with Elizabeth Glaessner whose quiet confidence shines through in her work and presence.  

Q: What are the major themes you pursue in your work?
A: Ritual, absurdity, meaning, invented mythology, shifting landscape, horror

Q: Where did you grow up? 

A: I grew up in Houston, Texas and my mom taught classes to kids at the Glassell school of art so seeing and making art was a big part of my childhood. We spent a lot of time at the Menil and the MFAH and I joined the teen council at the Contemporary Art Museum in Houston when I was in high school. There, I had the opportunity to visit artists’ studios whom I still greatly admire (especially Trenton Doyle Hancock). I also spent a lot of time outdoors - digging in the bayous, fishing in Galveston, hiking in West Texas and the Rockies. The vast, open (often toxic) landscape definitely still appears in my work.

Q: What inspires you?
A: Things I see everyday - often the most banal objects seem to have the most potential to be transformed into something totally ecstatic.


Q: Tell us about your practice, do you start with a picture, idea or story in mind? 

A: I start with a feeling or a mood and then I try to conjure imagery for that and channel that feeling the entire time I’m making the piece. I first learned this from taking Inka Essenhigh’s monotype master class and it completely resonated with me and inspired me to adjust my own way of working. Everyone should take her painting from imagination class!

Q: If you could retake any class at the academy what would it be and why?
A: All of the master classes I took - Julie Heffernan, Natalie Frank, Inka Essenhigh - those were all incredibly influential and encouraging for me. Also, Wade’s animal class (but with a mask to eliminate the smell), Jacobsmeyer’s comp and design, Catherine Howe’s alchemical painting, Margaret Bowland, Monica Cook, any class where Kurt Kauper lectures.

Q: What materials do you like to use and how do you know when your work is finished 
A: I use inks and water dispersed pigments mixed with different binders in order to create a saturated world, sometimes allowing the medium to dictate the narrative. I really started using the materials I use now during my residency in Leipzig during the summer between my 1st and 2nd year.  I know it's finished when I don’t want to go back to the studio the next day and destroy it.

Q: During your post-graduate year, what did you learn most about yourself and practice?
A: I learned to trust my instincts more and the importance of community and conversation.

Q: What was the best advice given to you as an artist?
A: Be idealistic and read the news.

Q: What 3 quirky things can we find in your studio?
A: My stuffed chipmunk, Chester, plaster chicken feet and a studio mate.

Q: Do you paint to music or paint in silence?
A: both, today I was listening to Nancy Sinatra and La Luz but I switch it up often.


Q: If you weren't an artist what would you be?
A: A little more bitter.  



Q: Pick a piece and tell me about it
A: “Those that Prefer to Stay in Trees” This 4 by 6 foot work on panel depicts a creature half born out of a tree bearing mutations which are indicative of what we might call a toxic environment, however in this world these mutations are celebrated and the toxic landscape becomes a place where new creatures and mutants thrive. This particular creature is enamored with the Lady of Ephesus (the Ionian fertility goddess) adapting her accessory breasts and presenting herself as a source of nourishment and birth. She has a commanding presence and watches outward with an ominous eye.


Q: Finally, what's next? Any immediate plans to share?
A: I'll be working in my studio in Greenpoint, continuing to work with all the incredible people at P.P.O.W. and teaching once a week at Montclair University. I also look forward being a part of another critical and inspiring community!
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To see more work from Elizabeth Glassner please visit her website.  Currently, her work is featured in the "2014 Fellows" exhibition, a three-person show that also features 2014 Fellows Nicolas V. Sanchez and Yunsung Jang.

Annually, the Academy awards Post-graduate fellowships to three exemplary graduating students chosen through a highly competitive selection process. During their Fellowship year, the Fellows receive studio accommodations, a stipend, exhibition opportunities and teaching assistantships to expand the depth and breadth of their artistic practice. The "2014 Fellows" show represents the culmination of their Fellowship year and entree into the art world as professional artists.

Yunsung Jang's Universal Spirit


Portraits by Yunsung Jang (MFA 2013, Fellow 2014) reflect both vulnerability and strength simultaneously.  His  process is a painterly excavation that is extremely physical and personally revealing.  Jang’s application of paint is similar to the way one would plaster a wall.  Trowels, knifes and brushes slather paint onto the faces of his subjects.  Once dry, he is as likely to carve back into a cheek as gently glaze over an eye or a wisp of hair.  Ultimately the paint has a mesmerizing ability to transmit the dynamic terrain of the human landscape.

For the second installment of our Fellows Interview Series, we had the opportunity to sit down with Yun Jang, whose 'Mother #1' portrait is currently on view at the National Portrait Gallery in London and was recently given the 2014 Visitor's Choice Award.  The people have spoken and since we love to give the people what they want, here's more on this artist-on-the-rise and the inspiration behind his work. 

'Mother # 1', 2013, oil on canvas
Q: What an honor and accomplishment Yun! Can you tell me what winning the National Portrait Gallery's Visitor Choice award means to you? 
A: There are so many great paintings in the show.   Just the idea that over 2,000 people saw and voted for my work is the best gift ever. It means so much to me. I feel so supported and very blessed.  

Q: What were you trying to convey in your painting? 
A: My painting is bigger than my relationship with my mom. 'Mother #1' is about the universal relationship and love between mother and child. I wanted my feelings to transfer to the viewers to be able to connect them with their own childhood memories and love for their parents (if that's even possible).


Q: What are the major themes you pursue in your work?
A: I am interested in how a picture can replicate a living being, interpreting the subject’s internal and external qualities in communion with my own.


Q: What and who inspires you? 
A: Humanism, nature and anyone who dedicated to humanity.

Detail, 'Aki,' 2014, oil on canvas

Q: Can you tell us about where you grew up and its impact on your work?
A: I grew up in a suburb area in Seoul, Korea. It is a very densely populated area and I see lots of faces and emotions that I'm interested in.

Q: Do you start a painting with a picture, an idea, or story in mind? How do you know when it's finished?
A: I do think of an idea or picture in my mind but I don’t want to think about it too clearly so I can make a room to something else to develop.  I think the most difficult stage is conclusion. Ernest Hemingway wrote 47 endings to A Farewell to Arms. I don't always know when I'm finished.


Q: Tell me about your rituals?
A: I always try to eat an apple before I start to work so I wont get hungry and have to stop in the middle of something. I set up working and put headphones on with some classical music or Disney music and start to work. I always clean up and put everything back in its place.
Q: What three things can we find in your studio?
A: Pencils, sketchbooks and candies.


Q: How has the Academy shaped your practice? 
A: I spend more time thinking about the concept.


Q: If you could retake any class at the Academy what would it be and why?
A: I should have taken a monotype class. It looks fun to me!


Q: During your post-graduate year, what did you learn most about yourself and practice?
A: I learned how to prepare for the real world. I got to stretch my body before jumping into the ocean.

Self-Portrait, 2014, oil on wooden box
Q: Would you pick a piece from the Fellows Show and tell me about it?
A: Jun, He is my friend, teacher and my mentor. His life was very interesting. He is so dedicated to art and spirit. He has struggled with emotional and physiological issues but religion and art is his escape. I want to depict that human struggle.

'Jun,' 2014, oil on canvas
Q: Can you finish this sentence: The reason why I'm an artist is...?
A: The reason why I’m an artist is I like to create new things.

Q: If you weren't an artist what would you be?
A: I’d like to be a musician.

Q: Finally, what's next?
A: Getting a studio and starting to work!

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Currently, Yunsung Jung's work is featured in the "2014 Fellows" exhibition on view at the Academy's Wilkinson Gallery through September 28th.  This three-person show also features the work of 2014 Fellows Elizabeth Glaessner and Nicolas V. Sanchez.

Annually, the Academy awards Post-graduate fellowships to three exemplary graduating students chosen through a highly competitive selection process. During their Fellowship year, the Fellows receive studio accommodations, a stipend, exhibition opportunities and teaching assistantships to expand the depth and breadth of their artistic practice. The "2014 Fellows" show represents the culmination of their Fellowship year and entree into the art world as professional artists. 

To see more work from Yunsung Jang please visit his website.  Stay tuned the last installment of the Fellows interview series featuring Elizabeth Glaessner

An Unforgotten Past: The Work of Nicolas V. Sanchez

Nicholas V. Sanchez (MFA 2013, Fellow 2014) is driven by a prolific compulsion to bear witness to everything he holds dear. In paintings that depict blind horses, decaying walls and scabrous surfaces, Sanchez suggests a world that is not only falling apart but one that is also slipping through his fingers.  By painting memories that could easily fade into oblivion, Sanchez creates an illusion, first for himself and then for the viewer, of their continuity which satisfies his quest to preserve his family's heritage.

In Nicolas' newest body of work created specifically for the "2014 Fellows" exhibition opening at the Academy on September 3rd from 6-8pm, Nicolas reveals some of his most intimate paintings yet.  On the eve of the show's opening, we caught up with him to discuss his Fellowship year, learn about his inspirations and what's next for this artist-on-the-rise. 

Q: What are the major themes you pursue in your work and can you tell me about your work from the "2014 Fellows" show?
A: Family, heritage, tradition, preservation, identity, space, and preservation are themes I tend to explore in my work.  For the 2014 Fellows show, my work continues to center around the idea of inheritance through family, specifically through my family's history. Linking different worlds by means of family photos, rural animals, and painting methods, a new identity is simultaneously created and lost through the preservation of traditions, myths, and legacies of past generations. 


Q: Would you tell us about your childhood and its influence on your work? 
A: I was born and raised in Michigan where I had equal access to urban neighborhoods and the dirt roads and open farmland. It's that quaint Midwest kind of area. I first started seeing influences of home in my work during my time in New York. I would say my bi cultural experience growing up is what influences my work the most. I would also say my connection to nature influences my work as well. As a child I went outside and ventured into the woods beyond our backyard collecting bugs and teaching myself about nature. I always had an affinity for animals and nature. I recall those times when finding links and overlaps to my past and inherited legacies.

Q: How did you start painting? Do you start with a picture, an idea, or a story in mind?  
A: I have been drawing all my life. Since I could hold a pencil. I started painting in undergrad. I can't say I start in any one way. Sometimes the work starts with an image in mind, other times its a feeling, or a technical execution that motivates me. Sometimes I'll see something and think, 'oh...yea, that should be painted like this...' So sometimes it starts with clarity and other times it starts with moments of curiosity and I have to paint or draw something to find out why I was so attracted to it. A sense of elasticity in my studio practice is important to me. When simultaneously working on a large oil painting and a small ink drawing, each medium is revisited with fresh eyes, hands, and mind. Contrary to the non-erasable and 'restrictive' idea about drawing in ink, my colored ballpoint pen drawings offer a sense of freedom. My first mark is also my last mark. There's no taking it back, so why worry about it? I just keep drawing. It pushed me to become more disciplined and develop a sense of agility.

Q: How has the Academy shaped your practice? 
A: I came to the Academy to develop my technical skills and it has done that. Because the Academy has given me a stronger foundation, I feel less restrictive and encouraged to try new things. I've acquired skills that allow me to express my ideas and explore unknown territory.

Q: If you could retake any class at the academy what would it be?
A: Wade's drawing class 

Q: What did you learn most about yourself and practice during your post graduate year?
A: I learned more about what drawing and painting mean to me. 
 
 
Q: Can you share any rituals you may have in the studio?
A: The only thing I do consistently in the studio is clean up before I leave. I need a clean and somewhat organized space so I can focus when I return. I love being able to arrive at my studio and within minutes begin working. 
  
Q: What was the best advice given to you as an artist? 
A: A wise artist named Guno Park (MFA 2011) told me to "Just draw!"

Q: If you weren't an artist what would you be? 
A: I also like teaching dance (pop-n-lock, isolation, footwork, and body waves) so maybe that's what I would be doing. 
 
Q: Pick a piece and would you tell us about it?
A: Heir, 2014 (oil on canvas, 24 x 30 in). This is Ethan. He is the youngest first cousin in my family. He battles me every time I come home. He keeps my dancing skills on point. 



Q: Finally, what's next? 
A: Immediately after the opening reception for the "2014 Fellows" show, I am assisting international artist Liu Bolin on a project in Chelsea. Then, my work will be featured in a two- person show in November.  I will also be working on a few projects with Accesso Galleria in Italy. Besides that, I will be painting and drawing every day, living and working in the city. 

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Currently, Nicolas V. Sanchez's work is featured in the "2014 Fellows" exhibition on view at the Academy's Wilkinson Gallery through September 28th.  This three-person show also features the work of 2014 Fellows Elizabeth Glaessner and Yunsung Jang.

Annually, the Academy awards Post-graduate fellowships to three exemplary graduating students chosen through a highly competitive selection process. During their Fellowship year, the Fellows receive studio accommodations, a stipend, exhibition opportunities and teaching assistantships to expand the depth and breadth of their artistic practice. The "2014 Fellows" show represents the culmination of their Fellowship year and the beginning of their promising careers beyond the Academy. 

To see more work from Nicolas V. Sanchez please visit his website.  Stay tuned for more interviews from Elizabeth Glaessner and Yunsung Jang during the exhibition's three week run.

One of the Best Paintings I Have Ever Seen

By Amanda Pulham (MFA 2014)
I know that I speak for everyone on the Moscow residency when I say that our time here has been, and continues to be, spectacular. Apart from the every day luxuries of our imperial style Stalin-era skyscraper apartment and access to a beautiful and historically significant painting studio, one of my favorite things about Russia has been visiting the museums. We have visited nine museums: The Tretyakov Museum, The Tretyakov’s Modern Art Museum, the Master and Margarita Museum, The Moscow Museum of Modern art (MMOMA), The Baron Steiglitz Academy and Museum, The Academy of Art’s Museum, The Hermitage, the Russian Museum, and the Pushkin Museum.

The Tretyakov Museum has become a very familiar place to us during our Monday copying days. The museum is closed to the public on that day and we are allowed six hours to paint, draw, and wander around the museum. They have a great collection of Repins, and also some remarkable Vasily Vereschagins, one of which James is copying.

Fortunately, our translator Sonia arranged for us to have a private (English) tour of the Tretyakov’s Modern Art Museum, where we learned about artists like Goncharova, Pavel Filonov, Alexander Yakovlev, and of course, Kandinsky.

The Master and Margarita Museum was a special treat for me, because last semester (coincidentally before I knew I was going to Moscow,) I read Mikhail Bulgakov’s masterpiece, The Master and Margarita; a book that caused a lot of controversy at the time of it’s release in 1940, but is now completely embraced and championed by the people of Moscow. The museum is located in the actual apartment where the main characters in the book lived. Outside of the museum, our translator lets me know when we pass other locations referred to in the book, and I am very excited to see them. 

We visited the Moscow Museum of Modern art as part of the biennale tour. The biennale lead us to several galleries and finally the MMOMA to see works of contemporary art by young artists. Most of the work was either instillations (video and other) or photography. Unfortunately very few paintings were included in the shows (if I remember correctly there were two small, non-representational paintings).

In St. Petersburg, we met a student who attends The Baron Steiglitz Academy. He brought us into the school and showed us around. The Baron Steiglitz Academy and Museum is one of the most extraordinary places I have ever had the privilege of touring. The site of this famous academy is one of the former homes of Baron Steiglitz, a nineteenth century philanthropist. Any description I can give will fail to do the building justice (think NYAA meets Versailles.) Students are surrounded by so much visual language provided by the building itself that in some rooms, large movable walls cover up the ornate wooden carvings, or other decorative features adorning the walls. We all agreed that The New York Academy of Art should begin a relationship with The Baron Steiglitz Academy. 



The Academy of Arts Museum had a few rooms of thesis paintings by their more noteworthy alumni, as well as several rooms displaying architectural prototypes used to plan the design and construction of famous buildings in St. Petersburg. Nikita, the same student who showed us around the Baron Steiglitz Academy, convinced the Academy of Arts Museum to allow us access to their school building, which was “closed for the summer, but also the fire.” The building was massive and abandoned. We were never given the details explaining the circumstance of the fire, but it was very obvious that this school had somewhat recently suffered a devastating fire, and was now scarred from it.



Then, of course, there was the Hermitage. The Hermitage is home to one of the greatest collections of art in the world. We spent two full days in the Hermitage and saw works by Rembrandt, Degas, Cezanne, Bonnard, Brueghel, Rubens, Titian, Pontormo, El Greco, Velazquez, Gentileschi, Goya, Ribera, Gerome, Bouguereau, Michelangelo, and many others. I am eternally grateful to the New York Academy of Art for giving me the opportunity to visit this museum.


We visited the Russian Museum on our last day in St. Petersburg and saw a remarkable collection including works by Filonov, Kramskoy, and, of course, Repin. The Russian Museum has an unrivaled collection of Repin paintings, including Zaporozhye Cossack's Writing a Mocking Letter to the Turkish Sultan, one of the best paintings I have ever seen.

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Amanda Pulham (MFA 2014) is joined by Gabriel Zea (MFA 2015), Sarah Issakharian (MFA 2015), and James Raczkowski (MFA 2015) in MoscowThese four students are spending their summer taking in the sights and creating work on an Academy-sponsored Artist in Residence Program.  Throughout the summer, their adventures will be documented on the Academy's blog. Stay tuned for more.

Seduced by Paint

By Matthew Comeau (MFA 2015)
 

Arriving at a new place, with nothing but time; the first thing one does is seek out its most vital parts to assess which pieces of this new world can be absorbed and brought back to the soul. At the start of my stay here, I was in a funk. As much as I was ecstatic about my surroundings, ready and willing to work, I couldn’t get myself out of the sketchbook, as with everyone; it seemed to take a bit of time before we really sank into our practice.

As time and momentum built up, some very exciting things began to happen in the studio. 
My work has found itself in wild flux as well. I had been having some trouble escaping the confines of my sketchbook, but ended up stumbling upon the gutted remains of an industrial elevator being fixed within the Spinnerei. I took them back to my studio, and spent 3 weeks reorganizing and piecing back together the parts into freestanding and wall sculptures, incorporating bike parts, broken casts, antique cabinets, light fixtures, telephones, street signs, tubing, and even fly tape; still covered in flies. The project eventually turned into a (still ongoing) 12-foot installation, now in the main hall of our shared space, and while I don’t think I can bring much of it home; I found the temporality of the project broke down some psychological barriers in my art-making. Now into the second half of our stay, I’ve snapped back into two-dimensional work, experimenting with oil on canvas for the first time in a number of years. Oddly, I haven’t made a single drawing outside of my sketchbook in all of my time here. It must’ve rejuvenated something in me though, because I’ve become completely seduced by paint. While I don’t think I could ever bring myself to abandon my large drawings; I can’t wait see what kind of language will pull itself out, back in the Academy studios. 
 
Esteban's new painting is easily one of my favorites.  It depicts an outlandishly colorful and impasto driven kind of “80’s party” aesthetic with a twist.   The figures seem to be inspired by an image of some Spinnerei workers from its days under the GDR, as a Cotton Mill. It became a full-fledged dive into painterly buildup, chunks of saturation climbing off the canvas’ surface, colors swimming in and out of one another in the faces of the figures. Having shared a studio for nearly two months now, I’ve steadily observed a conscience abandonment of the finesse of his hand, for the sake of a kind of absurd theatricality.
Hannah has chosen to use our travels as a conduit to push her work in an alternative direction. It seems she’s embracing a new process as well; one that pulls away for the cultural weight and pointed deliberation of her Holocaust images. Instead she’s chosen to derive references from her personal history, with a comparatively organic addition-and-removal of content, pushing towards narrative that is more intimate in subject and visceral in content; while allowing the viewer’s projections to complete her stories. Her new paintings seem to carry a sentimentality that was evident in her previous work, but is instead geared towards the intimacies and precious moments of her own life.
Camila has been exploring figures of authority, versus those of alienation and victimhood as its bi-product and polarity; and how relationships between representation and gestural abstraction can serve to support her conversations. She has been playing with the extent to which extensive rendering is necessary to convey a narrative; as well as how that kind of restraint, for the sake of leaving the open gesture, can leave space for the viewer’s imagination. On top of that, she seems to have stumbled into a kind of re-contextualized use of abstraction, as a potential narrative tool when placed appropriately in relation to the representational parts of her images. I’m excited to see how its use begins to evolve.


On the 13th of July, We had our exhibition at a castle called the Schloss in a small town just outside of Leipzig, known as Machern. The portion of the castle designated for the show was covered in bright pink and blue pastel interiors, chandeliers and Victorian style trim and furniture. The space was sliced into varying, sometimes oddly shaped rooms, emulating a strangely elegant ‘Alice in Wonderland’ feel. After a solid day of installation, all of our work (in its seemingly disjointed variety relative to one another) ended up as a great fit for the space. At the opening itself, we were shocked by how above and beyond the castle’s employment had gone to entertain its guests. There was champagne being brought around throughout the opening, a live classical pianist, a separate reception room, in which our fantastic coordinator, Kristina, gave a speech welcoming the guests, introducing us and our work. On top of a surprisingly high turnout, given its location outside of Leipzig, the exhibition was even written about in two newspapers! 




Thus far, the experience has been a wild one, with each of our practice’s driven in some unexpected directions. While it is exhilarating to observe one another in such significant transition; one cannot help their own excitement for what is to come next year.

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Matthew Comeau (MFA 2015) is joined by Hannah Stahl (MFA 2015), Camila Rocha (MFA 2015), and Esteban Ocampo (MFA 2015) in Leipzig, Germany for a two-month Residency.  The students will share their adventures in Germany throughout the summer on the Academy's blog.  Stay tuned!