Though fluctuating trends in contemporary art have toggled between abstraction and figuration, conceptualism and formalism, representation and metaphor, artists have always been drawn to traditional methods involving paint on canvas. At the New York Academy of Art, the graduate school in Tribeca, students are taught traditional methods and techniques, combined with rigorous critical discourse. Artspace worked with photorealistic painter Damian Loeb to curate an online exhibition of alumni from the Academy. Here are what some of the artists in the show have to say about their work. Read their thoughts, and browse the online exhibition here on Artspace to collect some of brightest post-grad talent from The Academy!
"I am inspired by the relationship between the material and the immaterial things in life; the animate and the inanimate. My work allows me to engage the veil that hangs between these realities in a meaningful way.
My process for creating is more of a conversation with the piece rather than a dictation. I keep things loose and aggressive, continually reworking ideas directly onto the substrate. This allows me to build up a rich history of mark making while exploring and reimagining the project until I am content with its resolution."
"With my initial idea stemming from channeling poetry into the act of drawing and painting, I realized the longstanding tradition in incorporating natural phenomena into the experience of human lives. It was then I made the juxtaposition between the life cycle of a flower and how it mirrors the life cycle of a human being. We bud, we bloom, we wilt.
Volume beside flatness has always been a fascination of mine. Something drawn to such realistic detail and having its illusion of volume broken down by a gestured brushstroke going over it, this is the effect I was after. To tantalize the eye with several layers of depth, some feeling far away, others brought right to the surface. It began with the a carefully rendered drawing of the hands, that lead into the exploration of how using gestural brushstrokes could reinforce texture while abstractly flattening the picture plane. Lastly I drew the branch of flowers and layered it with a cloudy application of acrylic, selectively bringing areas forward to trick the eye, all these facets of application amassing to instill the piece with ambience and varied depth."
"I'm inspired by movies, stage shows, and old master influences. I love watch movies, like the color, composition and atmosphere. Because of my traditional art training background, I always love classical art. My favorite master is Michelangelo; copying his drawings was my first step into art. Fashion photography is another inspiration.
I usually do little sketches first and then paint and do collages on my iPad to create a general idea of my painting. After that I start paint very abstract first and get details later. Sometimes I paint over and over, layer by layer, to get a rich impact."
"My fundamental inspiration is always the sense of vitality apparent in living subjects studied from life, something informed by many years of drawing the figure. Study of Reign is such a drawing. Regardless of whether I’m working from photographic reference or from observation, I’m trying to capture that living presence. I often use reds and pinks as a sign of life, which to me signifies within, a color derived from the hue seen through fingernails as if they were tiny windows.
I work from life when it is practical to do so. Study of Reign was done as a life drawing in Michael Grimaldi’s class at the Academy, and the charcoal produces a wide range of dark to light and makes the flesh glow. Angelica also began as a life drawing, from a workshop just before I attended the school; it traveled with me to New York, but I wasn’t able to finish it until after I graduated. In Figure 1 (2017) I used myself as the model, and so I worked from photographic reference. Both these drawings are primarily graphite, which has a much more transparent quality than charcoal, and the cool reds I add feel under that graphite 'skin.'"
"I am interested in making the simple profound, always searching for that universal moment in the world around us. I draw inspiration for my paintings from many places, it comes from the fields and meadows near my home in rural Princeton along the Delaware and Canal River and Lake Carnegie as well as my summer visits over the years to Taiwan and China.
By shifting the emphasis between the positive and negative back and forth it creates a better balance in the painting. By making the highlights thicker it adds extra value as it sticks up off the surface to catch the light."
"For as long as I can remember, I have always been obsessive about depicting the body, particularly my own. I am just so fascinated by this vessel we were given, this physical fleshy thing that lends itself so well to oil paint. I just had this innate desire to paint it.
Part social commentary, part autobiography, an embodiment of the personal experienced as social. I painted and depicted my own body after thinking extensively about both my relationship to my body, and society’s relationship to it.
Whilst both sensual and suffocating, the representation of the [female] flesh wrapped in plastic is reminiscent of meat packaged and sold ready for consumption, just how the female body is often presented in art history and contemporary visual culture for male consumption."
"In my most recent work I'm investigating the transformative power of light in ordinary situations. Medusa specifically tackles the subject of light in domestic interiors and flips from a simple scene of a shadow of plants on a wall to a more mythical and otherworldly subject, evoking the hair of the Gorgon Medusa. At the Academy my work was not figurative, but since graduation I've become interested in emphasizing certain figurative aspects of non-figurative scenes.
For me, the most important part of my making process usually has to do with photography and choosing a palette. All of my paintings are derived from real-life situations that I find and then photograph. When I paint from the photographs, I either attempt to get closer to the image that I actually saw or push it further into the realm of abstraction. In the case of Medusa, I had had the source photo for at least a few years but only realized what I wanted to do with it recently."
"I never met my grandfather, although he and my mother were extremely close, so I feel in a way that I have known and loved him through her. He was a sailor and a photographer in his spare time. Since recently the ocean has emerged as a strong continuous thread in my artwork, I found myself drawn to my grandfather’s photographs when I stumbled on a pile of them the other day at home. As the only “official” artist in my family, I was moved by the idea that my grandfather was a creative too, and that he had been motivated by the same subject matter as me: the ocean. In this painting, I juxtaposed part of one of his photographs with the more contemporary visual language I have been developing to create a hybrid image blending past and the present and evoking the mysterious sensuality that drives my work.
As a process painter, I juggle moments of control and chaos, letting the action flow on my canvas direct my work rather than following any meticulous plan. In this painting, like many others, I started by randomly throwing paint on the flat canvas. Working with water and other media, I then manipulated the pigments until they began to resonate with me, and I was left with a powerful flow of paint which directed the gaze of the viewer to a specific, mysterious, void-like point on the canvas. I then chose a photograph of my grandfather’s that I felt had most to do with this mood I’d created. By removing the background from the three boys playing on the dock on the boundary of the limitless ocean, I brought into focus what had intrigued me about the photograph in the first place: their thrill of so actively engaging with the unknown."
"I strive to depict women who are empowered, dignified, and self-contained. Portraying strong, active women is my way of challenging the tumultuousness of our times and combating the loss of control that many women feel. Painting women in motion is my metaphor for their agency.
Though the final image presented appears light and delicate, the process of my paint application is rather brutal. I scrub away half the paint I apply to create the sense that the figure is glowing from within, almost bioluminescent. I find that this way of removing rather than simply adding paint to create a sense of light adds a vitality to the people I depict, which delights me because I always strive to convey thinking subjects and not to reduce the human figure to a decorative motif."
Damian Loeb on Curating the Artspace x NYAA Alumni Exhibition
Conceptually, my work seeks to shed light on the relationships between the man-made and the organic world. Moving from a more rural environment to New York City has further opened my eyes to humanity's overwhelming desires to conquer our landscapes. I have also discovered an overwhelming nostalgia for an imaginary world. I am creating landscapes out of a longing for something that I have not experienced; I am missing environments that I have not been to and cannot exist. My worlds are largely fictional and have evolved into quiet monuments with personal narratives based on my celebration for, and concern for the future of natural environments.
Painting for me, has become less about rendering and more about material. I learned to loosen up and respect the materiality of paint. I feel that I am able to convey the emotion of my work through this language more efficiently and am able to harness those feeling for the duration of the painting process. I hope that my work allows viewers to open up and explore their own imaginary worlds that exist within them and enjoy the fantasy and nostalgia for places that only exist in our minds. I also hope that the places in our minds can inspire and enlighten others about our real connections to all living things, raise awareness of environmental crisis, and heighten appreciation for our world and the fragility of its balance."
"When working in plein air, I am initially taken with the subtlety of changes in color in the landscape. My paintings of these spaces seek to elevate a deceptively innocuous subject matter into something worthy of more thoughtful consideration. I am fascinated by our reactions to moments of transitory beauty. What do they prompt us to do, and to feel? Where does one's mind go? Personally, something beautiful acquires sadness the moment I realize it is transient. Faced with a beautiful landscape, I am aware of where I am, but perhaps more so, of where I was, and therefore, where I am not.
Working outdoors is invigorating, but also comes with added variables you do not encounter in the studio. Dye Fore was painted on location in the Dominican Republic. I painted it intermittently as there were continuous sudden thunderstorms with huge downpours, as it was during the summer months. I paint on a plastic surface, which I prefer to use because of the way the paint glides across and works on it."
"I've been working with portraiture for a while and this series allowed me to explore the face with more freedom. I let the medium dictate many of my choices, adapting and reworking things. I am interested in how marks can create a face, an expression, a feeling while at the same time being puddles, lines, strokes and blobs.
I have discovered watercolor monotypes at the beginning of 2018 and I fell in love with the medium. It allows such freedom in mark making. It's also a very forgiving material and you can add and remove marks, change your whole piece in minutes. It marries the best of watercolor and printmaking. It has also allowed me to use other materials like strings, fabric, beads, etc. to create marks I would not be able to with a more traditional approach of painting on canvas."
"I have always been drawn to the metaphorical power of harsh and raw landscapes, and the effects of light within them. The works included in the exhibition were directly inspired by meaningful experiences painting in nature, in which I arrived at a greater connection to a sense of “pulse” to existence. Rhythm in the Desert was painted in a harsh bright light, off road, with my lizard companion nearby. I choose this particular spot because of the rhythms I saw between the small hills, shrubbery, groupings of trees, and mountains behind them.
I had traveled across hundreds of miles of varied terrain prior to arriving. The painting is a fusion of these experiences of shifting light, as well as many memories of such phenomenon, sweeping through the seemingly infinite miles of the West."
"The work I am currently creating is based on self portraiture. As humans we are constantly evolving. Our survival as individuals and as a species depends on it. We age. We change when we're in relationships. We are fluid, interesting and adaptable creatures. Recently I've felt the need to document the place I am in at the moment.
The piece I have submitted for Artspace is a monotype print. In my practice, I go back and forth between printing monotypes and simply painting. Processes and materials play an important role in my work. I often spend an entire day painting a plate and end up with an unsuccessful print due to quick drying, over wetting, not enough pressure when pressing the plate, bad quality paper or sometimes simply technical errors in the execution of the painting or drawing. The process is something I have developed over a long period of time and continuously modify. It is one I can work with in my home studio. I soak my paper in the bathtub, hand press my prints with a towel and barren on the floor and masking tape my prints to the wall to dry. Then I store them on a flat surface until they are ready to prepare for exhibition. The process is strongly rooted in direct painting and I currently use silkscreen pigment as opposed to traditional intaglio inks."
"The inspiration was the reflection of the living room into the window at night, while my friend was sleeping. It looked both loud and quiet at the same time, and as if many more things were happening then could be observed.
I used a clapboard for its absorbency and the translucency that can be achieved. I took pictures of the scene as a reference I but changed everything: lighting, composition, content. I used one knife and one brush, and painted the entire painting in one sitting that lasted 8 hours, caught in a very inspired, and rare, flow."
"All three pieces in the exhibition are painted from life, from the mirror, and have to do with perceptual distortion within an intimate space. To recreate the feeling of the space, I used a new technique I’d been developing of painting the image on the inside of a hemisphere. It creates a visceral, intimate space that seems to have the potential to embrace the viewer, yet at the same time is inaccessible and withdraws from the viewer, evoking a feeling of isolation.
The illusory space of an inhabited interior is mapped onto the concave, curvilinear surface that defines the literal space inside the bowl-shaped support. This causes the perspective of the image to shift and distort as the viewer moves, and also for me as the artist as I paint on the bowl. I worked slowly on this painting for the two months of the residency, peering into the oval mirror to see my backlit figure against the glare of the window. I built up multiple layers of oil paint, trying over time to resolve my flickering perceptions of the constantly changing light, perspective, and mood into a kind of dynamic stability within the piece. I then installed the painted hemisphere along with LED lighting inside a translucent white Lucite box with an oval window, creating a self-contained, illuminated world."
"In this series, I chose cactus as the object for my art works. My inspiration comes from the lines of a Hong-Kong movie, Ashes of Time. ‘The best way to avoid rejection is to reject others first.’ Cacti resonate with my own expression of life’s attitude. I try to use cactus with independent personality to describe helpless state and nervous emotions. We are all a bit of cactus, toughened on the outside and fragile within. The sadly washed-out heart grows up against the wind in the boundless loneliness.
This painting consists of two parts, including the cactus as a portrait and the gloomy sky as the background. Before painting, I will draw some drafts to determine the composition and tone. Finally, I used black and white tones as the background. In contrast, the cactus in front is more prominent."
"The three works I submitted were all drawn from real models. I always like to draw real people instead of photographs. The space between me and the model, the different light and temperature, and even the atmosphere at that moment all impact how I depict the figure and how the results come out.
Normally I would prefer to have some distance from the model. I follow my drawing instinct, which technically is a 'trained instinct.' I draw very fast, to keep me from thinking too much. I let my muscle, my feeling, and the ink take over the process. Sometime when I finish a stack of drawings, I would put them away for a few days. Later when I look at them again, I often discover something new."