Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fabulous Things

Fabulous Things oil on canvas 24"x 24" 2010

This is my brand newest painting in a series I'm doing that's inspired by the pop star phenomenon, and celebrity culture of the past and present. The rockers in the back are the band Queen because I've been slightly obsessed with Freddie Mercury lately. I love his drag style, stage presence and incredible voice. And I love that Queen was so darn queenie, but that so many straight dudes were into them.
I've been studying a million videos of Queen performances, and here is one of my faves:

Alexa Meade: Reverse Trompe-l'œil

This is not a painting of a man, it is a painted man.

Alexa Meade is based out of the Washington DC area

I have not seen Alexa Meade's artwork in real life but when I saw what she was doing via a Juxtapoz article, my jaw hit the floor: (Acrylic on Live Subjects: Alexa Meade Distorts Reality)
Using a reverse trompe-l'œil method, Meade paints directly onto human and inanimate forms to produce her paintings, which are actually installations.

Prepare to be amazed when you visit her website:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

On Heroes and Martyrs

Paintings by Dustin Spagnola on display at Ananda Hair Studio, 22 Broadway, in downtown Asheville.

In his book, The Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord writes about the fetishization of commodities in relation to mass media. “All that was once directly lived has become mere representation,” he says. "Images have supplanted genuine human interaction." Debord was mostly referring to the grandiose schemes of corporate and religious institutions to pull in consumers and followers, and he encourages
détournement as a reaction to this phenomenon.

Dustin Spagnola's paintings always bring these issues to mind when I see them, because his paintings are spectacles, but they are generally spectacles of artistic, social, and political iconoclasts. Spagnola paints his subjects larger than life, in a graphic manner that is reminiscent of street art and propaganda art. I get the feeling that Spagnola's paintings are created purely out of respect to his subject matter and to pay homage to them because they are so masterfully executed. The work feels less incendiary than it's subject matter because many of the images are, at this point,
recuperated and the paintings themselves are (arguably) safe, aesthetically -- with exception, perhaps, to the bombastic size of them.

His most recent paintings of Chief Crazy Horse -- a Lakotan chief who fought against the federal government and died resisting imprisonment -- are huge in scale and loom large in the salon where they are currently on display. It's almost the perfect postmodern venue given all the hair care and beauty products, large mirrors, and buzz of people. The juxtaposing of these elements lends an interesting tension to the exhibit.

See more of Spagnola's work at

In Palestine, when someone is killed by Israeli gunfire, it is referred to as "being martyred," and upon their death leaflets and posters like those shown above are distributed widely and paraded through the streets. I look at these computer-generated memorials to the martyrs and wonder how this heroism of victims perpetuates the glamorization of a war culture. Perhaps it is all they can do to make sense of the poverty and devastation wreaked upon their communities.

I started thinking about these things after watching the movie Death in Gaza, a powerful documentation of children growing up in the Gaza Strip. The director of the film, James Miller, intended to make a similar video about children in Israel but he was killed during the filming of Death in Gaza. You can view the film in it's entirety on the web:
The bittersweet ending, in my opinion, is a subtle testament to the use of art as a means to overcome the perpetuation of war.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The True Cost of Coal

Zeph Fishlyn of The Beehive Collective

Beatriz Mendoza of The Beehive Collective

The incident that killed 25 miners (and most likely 4 others who have yet to be accounted for) is a tragedy that has weighed heavily on me this week. I'd like to highlight local people who have been creatively involved in bringing to light the pitfalls of coal mining -- a practise which is responsible for environmental devastations like mountain top removal, sludge waste and C02 emissions. It also damages Appalachian communities by employing non union workers, and causing work-related injuries and illnesses. Miners’ Families Grapple With the News, and the Pain; NY Times 04/06/10

Last year I had the opportunity of seeing Jeff Biggers, author of The United States of Appalachia, speak about the importance of preserving the crafting traditions of Appalachia as a way of preserving Appalachian culture. “The use of craft is part of the art of our lives,” he said and pointed out how the craft and story-making traditions of Appalachia are currently being threatened by coal mining practices that displace people and local resources.
Crafting a tradition: by Ursula Gullow in Vol. 15 / Iss. 45 on 06/03/2009 of Mountain Xpress

Biggers was recently interviewed by CNN's Kiran Chetry and asserted the need to hold Massey Energy accountable for it's abuses. He called for "immediate action from the Obama administration" and from regulators. "I think we have to get beyond this mentality that a crisis is never a crisis until we validate it with some sort of disaster."
Read the full article and watch the video:

On a local level, filmmakers Francine Cavanaugh and Adams Wood have been producing On Coal River, a film that explores a grassroots movement to relocate an elementary school that sits directly beneath a 2.8 billion gallon sludge pond. A campaign to get clean water pumped into the community, since the local water supplies are contaminated with run-off, is also featured. The film is powerful in that it shows how much red tape the activists must endure to get their voices heard. Empty promises made by officials including Governor Joe Manchin III, Senator Robert Byrd, governmental health and safety departments, illustrates the relationship between corporate entities and government without being overly didactic. The film also effectively demonstrates how "clean coal" technology is anything but clean since it employs hazardous chemicals and leaves toxic byproducts. On Coal River is in it's final stages of production but you can watch the trailer at

The Beehive Collective is also on a campaign to raise awareness of hazardous coal mining practices through it's artful renderings of the industry's effects on the environment and communities. The collective is currently established in Asheville as it researches and develops The True Cost of Coal, a collection of graphic images meant to be distributed freely for public educational efforts.
Please visit their website for a great deal more information about this talented bunch.

At least 60% of energy expended in North Carolina is from coal. Please turn off your lights and appliances when you're not using them, and encourage the development of alternative energy sources like solar and wind power.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Real and imagined lives

The real and imagined life of dell barnhart is the title of Becca Johnson's current exhibition of paintings, drawings and photographs at BoBo Gallery, and was created through Johnson's second self. There is no single representation of Johnson or her alter ego that actually exists in the exhibit, but they are present in the faces of women and animal forms like whales, foxes and minx. "They are a portrait of my emotional state more than my figurative state," says Johnson.

What's most notable about the work is Johnson's expressive use of materials. "I feel boxed in if I think there's only one medium I can work in," she says. Drips of paint and dramatic pencil marks appear from beneath layers of paint, laying bare the history of the painting. Some areas of her works are loose in their marks, while other areas are rendered with more clarity. Varying textures of paper are collaged together, and thick applications of paint appear above thin washes, producing a gratifying visual surface.
From Artillery:Exhibit by Becca Johnson expressively manifests the real and the imagined
by Ursula Gullow in Vol. 16 / Iss. 36 on 03/31/2010

I think Johnson's work would be better off displayed in an actual gallery; it seems like she had to hold back on some of her vision for the sake of the venue. This is a good example of why Asheville could stand to gain a decent exhibition space for contemporary artwork and installations.

The real and imagined lives of dell barnhart will be on display at Bobo Gallery on Lexington Ave until May, and should be seen.