December 10, 2008

William Kentridge

image: "felix crying"

by John Kurczewski

The artist, William Kentridge is from South Africa. He works in video and drawing mediums primarily, usually mixing the two, as in his relatively well-known “Felix in Exile,? which can be found on Youtube along with other videos of his. He has also produced tapestries with drawings on them, though the bulk of his projects are video animations of sorts. The ‘classic’ Kentridge work is a video with animation that, unlike traditional cell-based animations, show the drawing process, as Kentridge makes visible erasures on the same drawing, then redraws the figures, moving the action along in his films.
Most of Kentridge’s work deals with political and social themes, coming often from a highly personal point of view. Coming from a tumultuous political area, he he is inspired by the personal struggles of people in this setting, and being a white man from South Africa shapes his viewpoint. Perhaps his most famous series of films are centered around two semi-autobiographical characters, Soho Eckstein, an “avaricious businessman,? and Felix Teitlebaum, the “romantic and somewhat lost soul.? In these pieces especially, it doesn’t seem that he is trying to entertain so much as take the viewer deep inside some mental state. He uses strong visual symbols in his pieces, and reality doesn’t contain the sometimes fantastic things that happen to characters in his films. It does seem he’s motivating us to see the world differently, as a sad but mystical place where emotions kind of reign supreme. There is also quite an existentialist aspect to his work, most of which is focuses around the travails of the individual in the context of an oppressive socirty/environment.
Compared to Lorna Simpson, an artist discussed in class who also works in film, Kentridge is quite the other side of the spectrum. Firstly, Simpson background is is photography rather than drawing, which may be part of the reason why her films feel more theatrical. Also, Simpson’s movies do not deal with history, at least in such a strong way as Kentridge. His work is deeply rooted n the history of his region, political history especially, and the same can not be said for Simpson. Simpson’s work is more geared toward a gallery space than a single screen, as she has several installation-type pieces that create a sense of environment.
I would definitely tell a friend about William Kentridge, I find his work compelling, and perhaps more importantly, I really enjoy his aesthetics. His drawings look good to me, and his films can be disturbing, but are excellent. He is artist that clearly thinks about his work a lot, and about life a lot, but also that works a lot, which I admire and which shows in his work.

November 26, 2008

Nathan Sawaya

Nathan Sawaya was born in Colville, Washington and raised in Veneta, Oregon, and former attorney. He makes his home and his art in New York and works exclusively with LEGO bricks. This may come across as an odd medium of choice, but as anyone who has visited LEGOLAND in the Mall of America can tell you, quite effective. While Sawaya's pieces aren't necessarily inspired by those found at the LEGOLAND in Minnesota, he is responsible for some of the lego sculptures at LEGOLAND California, and has since gone on to do works for himself and commission. Some of his commissioned works consist of partially working air conditioners made for exhibition at conferences for the respective companies that commissioned them and pieces for exhibit as permanent installations at museums.

As a freelance artist for hire, many things he makes are by request, but of the non commissioned pieces there are a large number of items that he comes across in his life, such as a sculptor of his hand, a skateboard and an apple. Throughout his works there are also pieces that are given no explanation by Nathan, but that definitely aren't things he comes across literally. An example of this are pieces from this category are the color pieces, items made from bricks of a single color and are partially human in appearance. Partially being because there are fantastical elements, such as the lifting of ones own head off in Green, or the construction of ones self in Blue. The meaning given to these LEGO sculptures is by the viewer. In the case of Blue, it could be viewed as either the construction or dissection of someone by themselves.

The slightly ambiguous nature of the works allows for a wider appeal as meaning is not forced on the individual. In this way the work is similar to that of Liz Miller, where a meaning is not readily apparent or implied. In addition the work is comprised of many smaller pieces that together form a large form. Unlike Liz's works though his are much less visually abstract, for the most part the sculptures are primarily recognizable as something from ordinary life. His work deals in history only so much in that some of his sculptures are of things from history. His works primarily consist of much more modern cultural depictions. This can be seen by pop culture icons, such as a life size Stephen Colbert, and the bust of Halo's master chief.

Given the option I would both visit an exhibition of his work, and recommend him to friends. The pictures of the pieces are good, but actually viewing them so that you can see all dimensions of the piece would be nice. Its the difference from seeing a picture of something, and standing next to it, the grandeur and detail doesn't quite translate through a photograph.

Pieces mentioned
Yellow -
Blue -
Hand -
Skateboard -
Apple -
Master Chief -
Stephen Colbert -

The information contained in this entry comes from the website of Nathan Sawaya, and an online CNN article available at

Chris Ofili by Kyle Stration

Chris Ofili was born in 1968 in Manchester, Great Brittan. Ofili is a painter who is often recognized as, “That guy who paints with elephant poop?. Though he may be “that guy?, Ofili uses elephant dung more as a sculptural element and for the commentary it generates than simply as paint. Ofili’s most infamous paintings are those whose themes reflect holy figures from the bible. Ofili’s works often are a commentary on sexism, social injustice, and religion at the same time that their approaches to the issues seem humorous.
Though it’s hard to say what has motivated Ofili to compose such controversial work, he does try to tread a line between genius and insane. His pieces often use very elementary figures and incorporate materials like oil paint, elephant dung, glitter, and collage pictures from pornographic magazines. However, these elementary figures are composed in such a way that they begin debate and discussion that reflect how smart Ofili is. He often uses vibrant reds, oranges, blues, purples, and yellows which make his pieces stand apart from most others in galleries. Also, the fact that he doesn’t hang his work, but instead leans it against gallery walls on mounds of dung make his work demand attention.
Ofili’s pieces are very unique, however if I were to compare his work to any other artists we’ve studies, I say he reminds me somewhat of Hubert Duprat. Not in the media they use (Duprat uses precious metals and stones to allow bugs to build structures) but in the conversations that are sparked by their work. Their pieces bring about talk as to whether either is an artist. Both push the discussion with their work; Ofili with if his craft is good enough to be called professional and Duprat with the discussion of if he is even the artist in his work. Controversy has surrounded both artists’ careers, as it does with countless great artists. Now, whether either artist will one day be called a great artist is yet to be seen, but both have the creativity, passion, and controversy in their work to possibly be called great one day.
Chris Ofili isn’t for everybody. His work undoubtedly stands out in a gallery, but I think a lot of causal museum goers would be turned off by his work. If they don’t have a problem with the glitter or the super saturated colors of his work, the elephant dung and often offensive subject matter of his pieces are usually enough for people to dismiss his work. For the few that remain, his work does make interesting commentary on social issues and religion, especially when paired with each piece’s title. If one doesn’t have a sense of humor about his compositions, or of the subject matter, at least they may still appreciate the creativity Ofili possesses.

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Joe kaercher matthew barney. mels group

Matthew Barney was born in San Francisco, California in 1967, where in high school he was an excellent athlete, playing both football and baseball. Majoring in medicine, Barney attended Yale University. Not long into his college career he became immersed in the world of art and fashion. In 1989 he received a BA from Yale University. Shortly after graduating, he began working on his sculptural film project, The Cremaster Cycle. Barney was involved in every aspect of the filming. He designed and created the sculptures, acted in it, and directed. He works with a variety of materials, including found landscapes, plaster, prosthetics; both human and animal, silks and fabrics, greasepaint, and his favorite, petroleum jelly. He works with these materials to punctuate his themes of the biology and athletic abilities of the human body, gender roles, sexuality, and procreation.

The intent of Barney’s art is to examine the human experience and absorb the viewer into his interpretations of that experience. Barney does not set out to educate or inform; it is about entertainment and visual excitement. His work involves a hermeneutic approach that, if understood, might motivate us to change our perception of things. For example, his examination of the embryo before it develops a gender and its potential power of containing both sexes, lets us see that we all come from the same place and we evolve into the individuals that we are. Despite all this, these complex concepts are easily lost in the abstract visual beauty and overt weirdness of his work.

If I were to choose an artist discussed in class to compare to Barney I would choose Chris Larson. Both artists work in film exhibiting stories through symbolism. A large part of both artists’ work is constructing their own sculptures and sets. Barney as well as Larson are interested in the human experience. Like Barney, Larson has used well-known performing artists in his films. However, Barney has traditionally had a Hollywood-like budget while Larson has had significantly less money to work with. Larson’s work largely relates to social issues. On the other hand, Barney’s has mostly biological and existential themes.

I would, and have, recommended Barney’s work to friends. I find his work expansively imaginative. The intense visual nature of his work is entertaining even if the symbolic meaning is lost. The intricate detail and use of form in his sculptures is inspirational to me. Being a photographer, I understand and appreciate the amount of effort it takes to make a single image beautiful. Barney creates a motion picture in which any single frame can be taken out and hung on the wall.


Barney, Matthew. Cremaster 2. New York: Distributed Art Publishers, 1999.

Charles Ray

Charles Ray is an American artist that was born in Chicago in 1953, and now resides and works out of Los Angeles, California. His work varies from life-size installations to ink drawings on paper. Ray’s primary theme, according to, centers around “containment, integration, isolation, and self-sufficiency.? He is a leader in Conceptual Realism, in which his work is offered as a type of metaphor for “the gap between the literal and symbolic, or the known and unknown.? A certain sense of humor or questionability comes from his work, as it is presented in an often unique and interesting manner.
Perhaps Ray’s most striking works are the fiberglass installations of life-size humans completely naked. For example, Family Romance. (1993.), shows a family of four standing in a line and holding hands while completely naked, including the visibility of pubic hair on the parents. His later work often includes such human installations in which the faces are actually genericzed versions of Ray’s own. When these dummies do have clothes, they are also said to be a spin-off of Ray’s own personal style and wardrobe. These aspects allow a sense of fiction, but also reality due to the fact of the correlation between the artist and his work.
Charles Ray also offers a different type of installations, including "Charles Ray's Log" that was presented in 2007 at Regen Projects in Los Angeles, California. After walking through the woods on day, Ray noticed a large, decaying tree fallen to the ground. He was immediately intrigued by how the tree displayed the life cycle of death and generation. For the following 10 years, Ray began a recreation of this fallen tree, which was, incidentally, made of yet another tree in which the Modern Painters journal called “wildly imaginative.?
I believe Charles Ray is very different from any of the artist’s we have discussed in class. Liz Miller was, too, known for installations, but her work consisted of flat planes of paper and other materials to create a type of graphic, and often 2-D design. Charles Ray is known for large-scale, 3-D creations that often mimic real people or items in life. The fact that his work is unique and often provocative makes me want to (or tell a friend to) view one of his installations in real life.

-Dana Thayer


Charles Ray: Regen Projects
Dambrot, Shana Nys
Modern Painters (September 2007) p. 95

Chuck Close

Lauren Carpenter

The artist Chuck Close describes himself as a nervous wreck, an inconsiderate slob and not to mention he claims to be “poor white trash from the state of Washington.? However, by looking at his paintings one would never guess his slob-like nature. Close works with painting, photography, and printmaking in a style that has been classified as Photorealism. He takes photos of himself, other fellow artists, and family members. Afterward, he enlarges the prints only to break it down into a grid pattern, and then reconstructs the image very meticulously, painting grid by grid. Big Self-Portrait was his first portrait painted in 1968 that took four months to complete due to his attention in detail. He is intrigued by a photographs ability to show things in and out of focus and to paint the photo with the same exactness. In 1998, Close suffered from a spinal blood clot that left him paralyzed from the neck down. Determined to continue doing what he loved with the help of a specialized brace and assistants, Close began painting again. His portraits had a different aura to them. This ambiance could be explained as celebratory,
Close simply suggests it was because he was so happy to be able to get back to work; his work became freer and livelier by exploring and expanding his color palette. His paintings are a canvas of mini paintings that make up a whole image from a distance.


His portraits encourage the viewer to analyze the face and create their own interpretation or story of what that person is feeling. Close only uses his family, friends, and other artists as subjects in his work; he says, “Inspiration is for amateurs. I just get to work.?

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Laura Owens


During the era of 1990s, many Las Angeles artists had found this period as one of the most challenging periods in history. Many artists were struggling to make their best achievement out of their works. However to Laura Owens who is a painter in Las Angeles found this era as the era of her success. While many artists were struggling to make an achievement, Owens’ works has become to be one of the most recognized works of the entire contemporary. Many of her works have been accepted for museum collection including the Center Georges Pompidou in Paris and the Guggenheim Museum in Chicago. Her works are often time involved with landscapes, interiors, figures, animals, and abstractions. Owens’ works present in variety of canvas sizes, it depends on how much details she wants to express to the viewers. She commonly works with oil paint and sometimes her works come with a mixture of watercolor, collage, acrylic, ink, enamel, and marker as each of these medias allows her to high light every little details more explicitly.

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Christopher William: Conceptual Photographer

Christopher Williams was born in Los Angeles in 1956. He studies at the California Institute of Arts under John Baldessari and Douglas Huebler. Williams is classifies as a conceptual artist. His work involves taking photos of inanimate objects that seem simple or also photos of people staged to do everyday things. One of my favorites is a photo of corn on its cob in a totally white setting with the light indicator still in the frame as if the corn is in a photo shoot just like a model.
Some of his work is considered abstract. The majority of Williams’s work is political or connected to pop culture. One of his photos is a set of brightly colored dishes set up in a dishwasher. The colors of the dishes, I found after some research, are the colors the brand of film he used to make the pictures. Interestingly, he uses a studio for most of his work. While working with models, he sets the model in an everyday action, such as taking a shower, and takes “faux candids? of the models. The majority of the work I researched was photos of objects.
Many of his works seem to beg certain questions about what we think of art today and what we consider to be art. They also show us how different mediums can be used in different ways. His work entails a lot of meticulous details and you might often find a set of photos that are seemingly identical, but which have been changed ever so slightly, so little as a small camera angle. His work is inspiring to me because I find his ideas to be the type of ideas that I try to convey in the majority of my art. I find some of William’s art to be humorous and I enjoy browsing his galleries. Williams art helps me understand how to convey abstract ideas in a more obvious manner. He is able to create different reactions through his art, starting with a laugh, a smile, and finally an “oh I get,? and that is something every artist strives for.

Sources: Leffingwell, Edward, Art in America, 2003
Art in Review; Christopher Willliams; Ken Johnson, New York Times; April 7, 2000;

November 22, 2008

Contemporary Artist – Chris Finley

Chris Finley was born in 1971 in Carmel, California. He received a BFA from Art Center College of Design in 1993 and currently lives and works in Rohnert Park, California. Finely mostly works in drawing, painting, and sculpture. He uses a great variety of materials to create his pieces, from the more traditional acrylic and oil paints on canvas, graphite on paper, and wood sculpture, to works made from everyday objects such as, pencil stubs, plastic rain gutters, cloths, toys, Rubbermaid containers, and trampolines.

ARTS 1001 Finley - Drool Sweat Scream - 1998.jpg
Drool Sweat Scream (1998) - Chris Finley

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Artist Kara Walker


One of Kara Walker’s earliest memories consists of her sitting on her father’s lap watching him draw. She was around the age of three and at that moment she decided that she wanted to be like her father; an artist. Kara was born in Stockton, California but at the age of 13 she moved to the south with her family. Her father, artist Larry Walker, was offered a teaching position at Georgia State University. Kara attended the Atlanta College of Art where she received her BFA, and then got her MFA at the Rhode Island School of Art. She has many accomplishments including being the youngest recipient of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s “genius? grant, representing the United States in the Sao Paulo Biennial in Brazil, and having her first full scale US museum survey at the Walker Art Institute. Currently she resides in New York and is a professor of visual arts at Columbia University. Her signature artwork consists of cut-paper silhouettes. She uses this technique because she sees it as being cartoonish, which in turn allows her to elaborate on racial stereotypes that are reductions of humans. She went to school for drawing and printmaking, but in through her years she has used almost every media possible. She has dabbled in painting, written text, light projection, and video as well as performance. The theme that comes across most in her work is the representation of race. Her silhouettes are all made from black paper which eliminates the need to create skin tones and this allows for all of her characters to be seen as “black?. She also wants to portray history in a different form. Her characters have exaggerated features which make them cartoonish, and in doing so she adds some humor to the dense subject matter of racism, or power.

Kara Walker’s main inspiration is the pre-civil war south. Her art work depicts this time in a skewed fashion. She has been quoted saying,

“The work is two parts research, and one part paranoid hysteria."
This thought is what makes her art so interesting. She is able to portray history in her own unique way that makes it interesting again to the viewers. She is both trying to entertain and inform us. The past is something that did happen, and it cannot be forgotten. She shows us the past in an interesting way through the use of cut-paper silhouettes. She uses these silhouettes because she believes it is a very middle-class form of art. It has been traced back to the 18th century when it was used to make shadow portraits, which eventually lost their prestige. It was labeled as more of a craft then an art form. Kara has made this medium her own which is what propelled her to be the artist that she is today.


One artist that is easy to compare and contrast to Kara Walker is Liz Miller. They both use simple shapes in interesting and unique ways. Their work plays tricks on our eyes to allow us to see something that we might not have seen at first glance. A major difference is the use of color in Liz’s work. She uses bright and alluring colors, while Kara sticks to strictly black. They are both interesting in their own way, and I do not believe one’s work is better then the others. Their subject matter is quite different as well. Liz said that she deals with systems, such as weather radar, while Kara touches on more intimate subjects such as race and power. Both of these artists set out to create something unique out of something simple.

If I were to talk to a friend about Kara Walker, I would say that her work is definitely something to be interested in. I became interested in her last year when I viewed her work at the Walker Art Center. She occupied a whole room with an installation specific for that site. It was unbelievable how well it flowed together. The images were provocative, while still being comfortable to look at. Interest is never lost while looking at her work because no matter how many times the work is seen, there always seems to be something new in the shadows. She is a creative woman, and it is wonderful that she is able to share her work with us at such a large scale.


Walker Art Center website

Kara Walker: My Complement, My Oppressor, My Enemy, My Love
An exhibition catalog by Yasmil Raymond
Art:21 website

November 15, 2008

Artist Research Project: Banksy

Though his actual identity is still unknown, Banksy combines a stenciling technique with graffiti writing to fill the streets of London with satirical and sometimes uncouth street art. There is a rumor swirling about that this pseudo-anonymous artist is actually Robin Gunningham, a Bristol native, but with every year that he has been working, a new identity is suspected. His main tool is an aerosol can, but Banksy has not limited himself; a multitude of well- known paintings have been given a “special touch.? For example, he took Monet’s Water Lily Pond and adapted it to show an accumulation of urban litter. He has also done installations throughout London, including a dismantled phone booth and the more recent port-o-potty Stonehenge replica. Clearly, his work addresses issues such as the hierarchies of power and social injustices that are not being dealt with. By challenging the political and social structure of Britain while still maintaining anonymity, attention is diverted from his identity, which allows people to fully look at his art.

There isn’t really a cut and dry answer to why Banksy does what he does, but it is clear that he is inspired by controversy and hopes to bring satire to modern art. A reoccurring “character? is the rat. Similar to the lifestyle of a rat, graffiti artists live a life in the shadows, hiding in alleys and abandoned lots. He has even been quoted to say, "If you feel dirty, insignificant or unloved, then rats are a good role model. They exist without permission, they have no respect for the hierarchy of society, and they have sex 50 times a day." I strongly believe that he creates art for more than just the joy of it. The subversive social and political messages on the façades of buildings motivate the viewer to think conceptually about the current state of the world.

I feel that Banksy and an artist that we studied in class, Gregory Green, have quite a lot in common. Green has been known to say that passivism and organized non-participation are the ultimate forms of empowerment, which is similar to the acts of Banksy. Both are trying to blur the lines between art and activism. For example, Green’s series of homemade bombs illustrated the potential chaos that could happen which raised conflicts with authorities and stirred up much controversy. Banksy has also received opposition from the law when he painted nine pieces on the barrier that separates Israel from the Palestinian territories, though it was more of a statement showing how the wall has turned Palestine into the world’s largest open prison. Both he and Green use the press, good and bad, as a way of reaching the general public with their perspective on modern times.

I have indeed told many of my friends of the works of Banksy. I had the opportunity to study in London last May, and one day while walking to a performance near Reagents Park I came across the French Maid piece. Seeing one of his murals was incredibly inspiring. With a simple aerosol can and stencil, one man has brought subjects that most Londoners choose to ignore into the mainstream, forcing authorities and the general public to face the issues head on. His subdued attitude towards his work is rather ironic considering all the controversy it delivers.