Blog featuring artwork of Wes Freese

Archive for February 2009

Images Of A Depression

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Jim Johnson over at (Notes on) Politics, Theory & Photography posted a photograph (above) featured in an on-line photo set at The Guardian, with the thought that such an image ironically represents America’s, and perhaps the world’s current economic climate.  It’s a striking photographic image, and when it’s regarded in context of the current worldwide recession and credit crisis it certainly could illustrate a paradoxical nature of our financial state amid a globalized world that could not turn off the high powered mechanized production spigot.  It also induces the familair pangs of seasickness if you stare at it for any length of time.

But it lead me to think back on Dorothea Lang’s famous Depression Era photographs, particularly her most widely known photo of a mother and seven children.  That photograph captured a prevailing national despair at that time.  The photo of rows and rows of automobiles above is absent of people, absent human emotion, absent any earthly organic element.  That’s not a criticism of the photo or Jim’s suggestion that it could represent today’s financial crisis.  The photo above is cool, sleek, repetitive, even visually garish in representing a failure of institutional systems of trade, finance and politics.  But where’s the human suffering?

The picture begs the question, how can a depression exist with so much stuff filling our existence?  What is an economic depression in our post-modern, globalized world?  What does it look like in art?  Does a depression today mean that a multitude of people have to go without Blackberry service and cable TV?  Perhaps a downgrade to dial-up internet service?  There are no bread lines now, despite over two million people losing their jobs last year, and I don’t know how many million people losing or abandoning their homes.  There currently is no glut in food supply that existed in the 1930’s during the dust bowl.  The good folks at Cargill and Monsanto have seen to that by genetically modifying and genetically engineering foods, and by doing their best to destroy local farmer businesses.

Where was the art world when our current credit crisis was taking place?  Down in Miami partying and buying overpriced artworks that will never appreciate, of course.  Art has often been found at the opposite polar spectrum from social realities in times of war or other hardships, especially in the twentieth century.  During World War Two and the Korean War painters were flying off into their ivory towers and making “pure” abstract expressionist paintings.  During the Viet Nam War, painters were burrowing themselves into minimalist dugouts, far away from the social realities of the time.  Where are the artists, particularly painters and photographers, who are representing our collective reality (if there is such a thing)?  Shepard Fairey has depicted the fairy tale of Obama.  Now who will illustrate the day after?  Or has art forever given up being an element of social influence?



Written by Wes Freese

February 7, 2009 at 2:19 am

Patti Oleon Paintings

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My favorite, favorite, favorite painter right now is Patti Oleon.  Her rich, visually succulent paintings are a sight to behold, not only for their stunning imagery and high contrast of lights and darks, but also the veneer of their painted surface.  This is what painting is at it’s best.  The physicality of their painted surface should be a delight for anyone, but most of all for painters who love the process of creating paintings.


Oleon’s nostalgic paintings touch on memory, time and the illusion of captured imagery.  Their seductiveness is unparalleled in contemporary painting. In a statement Oleon writes that her imagery is of “liminal environment(s), suggesting that even the most lucid presentation of facts is distorted, incomplete, provisional.”  Her work utilizes photographs of “hotel lobbies, period rooms in museums, spaces contrived to look habitable but resolutely lacking human presence” which suggest places within memory, that evaporate with time.   These stylized places transcend geographic location, that can’t be found on Google Earth or some GPS device, and seem more like a stage perhaps for some Stanley Kubrick purgatory or publicly ceremonial function.


Oleon’s work denies much of the history of Modern Art painting in the twentieth century, as if it never existed.  These paintings make Clement Greenburg and the whole New York School over the past sixty or so years seem childish, despite their claims to high art and mysticism.  These are the works that should be documenting the history of American civilization in the early twenty-first century, not the works being exhibited in the Whitney Biennials of the last couple of years.  Ours is a dark, highly stylized age, it’s citizens perceiving some American identity that no longer exists, while they look back trying to reclaim that which only resides in memory and can never return.  This is painting at it’s very best, if you ask me.  Indeed, Patti Oleon is one of the best painters in America right now.


Written by Wes Freese

February 3, 2009 at 1:34 pm

Andrew Piedilato Paintings

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English Kills Art Gallery in Brooklyn has some fantastic paintings by Andrew Piedilato on exhibit until February 15.  Two Coats of Paint gave a brief glimpse of the works earlier in  January.  In the midst of the art world’s economic downturn, it’s exciting to see a fresh painter exhibited.  Unique, new paintings make the world seem exuberant.  Memo to Seattle art galleries, please get this guy an exhibit in town.

The most obvious aspect to his paintings is their exceptionally large size, often seven or eight feet square. Piedilato’s paintings contain quirky, amusing imagery along with a painterly abstraction.  In the midst of our time when painting is frequently considered dead, or if not dead then at least a failure at communicating anything of importance to society, works like Andy’s remind everyone about the vitality painting can have in the service of an individualistic vision.  The works seem like an accumulation of various marks made in prior art movements, although they’re certainly his own.  They’re not quite post-modern; they’re whatever has come after post-modernism.  Allusions to Philip Guston, Julian Schnabel, Tony Scherman, and perhaps others as well seems to form a subtext to the paintings.   The various marks and painted motifs make for some fun and at times nonsensical paintings with a bit of a kick to them.  I asked Andy a few things about his work, and here’s what he said:

I saw on your bio that you are originally from Georgia. How did you decide to move to New York?

I am originally from Athens, its about and hour drive east of Atlanta.  I came to NY to paint with a friend of mine, Carter Davis.  He was at Pratt, and I moved there to continue hanging out with him, paint, and try to help each other get a show, gallery, whatever.  Additionally I was ready to get the hell out of Athens.
It’s probably a rudimentary question, but why are your paintings so big?
The paintings are big because to me, they look better big. I really love working on a painting bigger than me, it literally gives me room to move and I am more creative in motion.  I talk better when I’m walking, I like to draw standing up, I like running around the canvas trying to keep it all together like controlling a mob, or entertaining a crowd.  The big canvas is big, I like its presence, the scale gives me ideas for paintings.  Conversly….I have a ton of 7 x 7 inch watercolors, actually thousands.  I spent the entire summer before coming to Pratt working on these tiny watercolors, running through hundreds of ideas, some were okay.  A gallery in Atlanta sold some of them and stole the rest….but who cares, I kept busy and had a lot of ideas for painting when I got to Brooklyn.  So, I like painting around 8 feet sq or bigger.  Really small is good, medium size paintings are impossible (for me).  Scale is important, but thinking about “why” has never helped my work.
Your paintings appear to incorporate painted marks from other artists, like say Phillip Guston, or Julian Schnabel or Tony Scherman drips.  I’m sure there are others as well. I don’t mean to suggest there’s copying being done on your part, you’re paintings don’t read that way.  I say that because it seems that your paintings seem to suggest a commentary on the act of painting today in relation to a history of painting in the 20th century. Is this your intent, or am I dreaming all this up?
I’m naturally a painter, I like painting, and I like the paintings of many other artists.  My first favorite artist as a child was my dad, we drew together and I drew like him…and all through my life since then there has always been the influence of other artists on me, but the similarities are not a statement.  I think Philip Guston is a genius, I also think my studio mate James Herbert is a genius, and sometimes my friend Carter is a genius, I have stolen from all of them and more.  But, I hope I have put enough of my own stuff in the paintings to not worry to much about that.
Why do you often employ iconography of bricks and walls, along with animals?  I should say that you evoke the idea of animals in the titles of your paintings (i.e. Snake and Wolf Eating Grass), but for the most part animals are not readily apparent in your painted imagery.  There seems to be this dual confrontation between some semblance of nature up against industrialized settings. Did you grow up in a city, or in a rural setting?
I grew up in a very rural town outside of Athens….Madison County, GA.   You know its rural when you give the county name instead of the town.  The animals and the walls came about pretty naturally.  I used to ignore the white ground of the canvas and paint my painting right in the middle of the canvas, the corners left blank.  I just saw the blank canvas as oblivion and my subject sitting on top of it.  So, now I have been doing this tape thing (I know its lame) masking and painting in bricks so that I can then do my painting in front of the wall, its really just a way to have the monster, animal, brushmark, whatever in front of some kind of naturalistic-like space.  Obviously there a million different ways I could this, but the tape is fast, and it’s nice to have this sort of movie set you painted, and now where do you want to put the horrific thing? or the weird thing?  Or what the hell, more walls….
Snake and Wolf eating grass came from a chimney I saw in Baltimore….I remembered it, painted it, and then added some hills, and then I purposely came up with something ridiculous: a snake and a wolf eating grass at the foot of a random chimney in a field.  
Your paintings suggest a sense of fun in the creation of the paintings. But at the same time there appears to be a violence to them as well. Your “Horse Going Under A Fence” appears to be a depiction of a horse getting absolutely slaughtered. Can you offer any comment on this perceived duality in the painting?
Horse going under a fence was from a little drawing I did trying to come up with an idea for a painting.  I have some other fence paintings, and thought doing one with a horse crawling underneath instead of jumping over would be a good start.  I didn’t intend for it to be painted with that violent look but I liked it.  The little trees in the background were from an old early Americana painting I saw on a plate in a museum.  It was a painting where space was not defined by overlapping shapes, everything had some space around it….I just liked that I had the idea to paint the little trees for the landscape.
How do you know when a painting is done?
I don’t know what to say when you ask: how do you know when a painting is done?  I can only tell you when I stopped painting on a painting and maybe why, sometimes you don’t know when to stop. I have finished a painting only to paint on it again, that doesn’t mean all the paintings can be painted on, it just means welcome to the contradictory world of art. Sometimes you run of steam and stop, come back the next day with every intention to finish your idea but somehow can’t touch it.   When you are in the making mode, it’s not a good time to be passing judgement.  Even though (while painting) I am in a  hyper state of decision making, the judgement as to whether I should keep going or not is beyond me.  Lately I have been making little thumbnail drawings and sticking to them for the most part, that makes deciding it’s done a little easier.  There will undoubtedly come a time when the little thumbnails don’t work for me, but for now I love being their slave.
I’m fascinated by the fact that you have exhibited at OK Harris Gallery, one of my favorite galleries that I visit whenever I’m in New York, which also exhibits a fair amount of works by photo realist painters as well. How did you come to get into a relationship with OK Harris Gallery?
Ivan Karp owner of O.K. Harris was the only one who would give me a show right away, so i took it.  He shows a number of photo realistic painters, i don’t know why he gave me shows.  Other than that he genuinely loved the work, imagine that, he owns two paintings of mine.
Andy, thank you for providing some thoughts on your work.

Written by Wes Freese

February 1, 2009 at 7:40 am

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