Moving ahead as a means of re-visiting that which claims us: this process portends one potent lens through which visitors to Née, open through Sunday, May 2nd at REGULAR-NORMAL, can digest this sumptuous solo exhibit of works by Melissa Joseph.
The show, which opened to the public April 2nd at 41 Elizabeth Street in Manhattan (Fl 7), explores not only the artist’s own identity – a significant part of the exhibition’s scope – but also one’s identity within the context of a larger network, such as family. Joseph investigates, through her own relationship to her family and Indian-Irish-American identity, her childhood experiences in Pennsylvania and visits to the Jersey Shore. Mixed-media works portray approximations of accumulated memories, communicated through her intituitive understanding of the figures translated into felted wool, presented here in the show as a tableau-style homage to those who have influenced her upbringing. Through a range of mediums including sculpture, mixed media, textile, and found imagery, the artist reviews poignant moments of her own development, and her family’s past, through the veil of memory. The span of subjects represented here which form her life experience are as wide-ranging as the artist’s own explorations of materiality.
(above image: Clara Aunty at a sitar lesson (2021) needled felted wool on amate bark paper. Melissa Joseph.)
The show is not about nostalgia, remarks Joseph: rather, it is about utilizing different sleights of hand in the form of process – the hand sewing fabric, the hand connecting felt to a substrate, the hand wrapping found concrete fragments in silk – as means of linking aspects of our lives which determine who we are in relationship to our lived experience. The artist creates concrete steps toward this linkage – drawing together disparate elements in approximation to how we construct our identity through a range of relationships and experiences – within the solid forms of objects and artworks present within this exhibition. “I am still trying to understand where I came from. Most people are, but I have had some big paradigm shifts and reframes in the last 5-10 years, so looking back is never neutral,” reflects Joseph. “It’s really a way of “re-seeing” or trying to see things I might have missed more clearly.”
The artist mines a personal archive of family photo albums as a departure point for these mixed media portraits on view in the exhibit: visionary vignettes spanning a range of processes and artistic mediums. Joseph’s multi-disciplinary work often involves working with textiles. Joseph’s new floor-mounted sculptures offer a concrete departure from her work with softer materials, heralding a new embarkation in her practice and approach to art-making. Works such as “Captain Clara, Backwaters”, “Golden hour quarantine walk: Brooklyn Piers” and “Jim, Olive and Albert on Crawford St.” all offer the opportunity for the lived environment to intrude upon Joseph’s more textile-based ruminations. In these scuptural works, the artist creates with silk and wool, integrating these materials in an embrace with firm natural objects, such as rocks, found cement and clay. These objects, gathered from the artist’s experiences traversing Brooklyn, form cogent marks delineating the artist’s trajectory in physical space inasmuch as the artist traces her lineage and memories in the imagery presenting her life’s trajectory in other works on view.
Where more solid materials make their presence known, Joseph applies a softer material, such as felted wool and silk, in dialogue with these less malleable objects. This contradiction in terms of soft and hard material can represent the divergent aspects of memory and identity, particularly as relates to our closest relatives: our relationships to relatives are concrete and easily expressed through language, while remaining in some ways harder to communicate and/or express through the lens of memory. Joseph relates this concept to the idea of an “Aunty”: this formative role, present in families cross-culturally, can indicate a mother-like figure, a mentor, a tutor, or a moral guidepost. While the definitions we apply to our relationships with family members seem straightforward, in many cases it is how members of a family translate and express those roles for those individuals closest to them that adds more dimensions to these roles, and therefore, directing how we ourselves develop as a result of these meaningful relationships. Joseph is able to grasp these keen nuances by shifting between tangible, smooth surfaces and more painterly, hazy images created by working with felted wool, expressing layers of concrete relationships while also abstracting these relationships: much as we grasp a feeling aroundhow someone has impacted our lives, as opposed to tracing our genetic lineage.
The body of work on view was produced in dialogue with, and directly impacted, by the artist re-examining archives translating her family life and the memories that form the bedrock of her experiences in the wake of her father’s passing in 2015. Her work – which, she affirms, is object-based first and image-based second – takes her back to a re-examination of close personal relationships and the frameworks of family dynamics, poignantly expressed through a range of processes. Many of the artist’s works present the artist’s process of incorporating needle felted wool into her work, as she observes, “Felt allows for slippage.” Perhaps it is this practice of hovering liminal spaces between nebulous and concrete, present and past, which allow room for the artist to so forcefully communicate color, line and image, translating identity and memory in such a tactile and visceral manner.
” Née” is on view by appointment through Sunday, May 2nd at REGULAR-NORMAL in Manhattan’s Chinatown neighborhood. This exhibition is at 41 Elizabeth Street in Manhattan, Floor 7. For appointments, contact firstname.lastname@example.org .
Multi-disciplinary artist Sun Young Kang’s multitudinous, scholarly practice mines art historical precedent and a range of scales and materials. This 2020 UAH Contemporary Art Fellow (which is NEA-funded) has exhibited in multiple solo and group shows both in the US and abroad, and she is currently based in New York State. Her work has received multiple accolades and recognitions, and her practice manifests the conceptual across various sites and installations.
We chatted with Kang to gain insight into her practice, including aspects of art historical precedent that have informed her practice, her philosophical outlook and the trajectory in which her work is headed.
ANTE mag. Can you tell us about your practice, specifically in relationship to repetition and the Korean concept of Yeo-baek and the influence of the Dansaekhwa school on your work as referenced in your statement?
Sun Young Kang. My interest is in exploring the duality fundamental to human existence: different realities or worlds both in space and time and the tension between them, the co-existence of antithetical ideas. I reside in between two different cultures. My feeling of marginality makes me wonder about the concept of boundaries, the space or time in between, as well as the interrelation of, different ideas or entities. My focus on this also comes from my background—Korean Painting and its key aesthetic and philosophy of “Yeo-Baek.”
Yeo-Baek is the physical empty space in a painting that the brush hasn’t touched and remains as openness. This untouched part of painting is considered as important as the part filled with images. Visually, Yeo-Baek creates the balance of positive and negative space in a painting. Conceptually, this negative space stimulates the viewer’s imagination about what is not there and invites them into the artwork. This quiet blankness makes the artwork interactive by requiring the presence of the audience.
This contemplative yet interactive aspect of Yeo-Baek is also an important aesthetic of most of Dansaekhwa art. When I was in school majoring Korean Painting in mid to late 1990s, I don’t recall hearing the name “Dansaekhwa.” But many of the students were inspired by the aesthetic of several Korean artists who are now spoken of as the pioneers of the “Dansaekhwa movement.” It is obvious to me that my practice also reflects the influence of the aesthetic of Yeo-Baek and Dansaekhwa.
The most obvious connections to Yeo-Baek in my work are the physical empty space as a key element both conceptually and aesthetically and the audience’s presence in activating and completing the piece, whether it be as a reader of my book or as a physical part of the installation space. The minimal or limited amount of techniques and materials in each project and the repetition in the process of making and in the resulting texture and visuality evoke characteristics of Dansaekhwa art. Rather than specific images or colors, my practice focuses on the material itself: the lightness and delicacy of paper and other soft materials, such as thread, hair, and powder, and light and shadow effects. Each material has metaphoric meaning intrinsic to the theme or concept of my work. I routinely use simple but obsessively repetitive processes in the making, such as cutting out or burning paper or printing repetitively, casting objects, stitching or hanging hundreds or thousands of threads in a space. The meditative aspect of a repetitive working process is also present in the Dansaekhwa artists’ practice. The repetition in my work visualizes time-passing and symbolizes time made spatial, reflecting the passage in between or across boundaries, and the repetitive use of a technique and minimal materials creates a tactility, a visual obsessiveness, that brings the audience close to my work.
ANTE mag.Your practice moves between book art and installation to 2-D work and works on paper, can you walk us through the evolution of your practice as a multi-disciplinary artist working across multiple mediums?
SYK. In Korea, before I joined the Book Arts/ Printmaking program, I worked strictly on 2-dimensional paper canvas, but the transition from painting to book was not as radical is it sounds. The most common material for a book is paper, as it is for Korean painting. The intimacy and the quiet interaction that a book can offer its readers was for me very much like the interactivity of Yeo-baek. Also, in a book form, 2-dimensional paper turns to 3-dimensional space as the pages are stacked, folded or bound together, and that structure offers a sense of narrative and time passing. An intimate and portable book can contain the idea of space and time that through the viewer’s imagination is unlimited.
Some of my early artist books focused on visualizing the invisible space in the structure of the book. I used the repetitive processes of cutting, burning or printing to create tactility as well as to evoke meaning. This has been key to most of my installation projects as well. My interest in the physical, conceptual space of a “book” and its interaction with the viewer led me to create large spaces in which audiences could physically immerse themselves, contemplating time passing and dwelling in uncertainty, as they took part in creating a space that envisioned the boundary between antithetical ideas, ideas often visualized as light and shadows. Below is a description of an installation that I recreated several times, an example of how a sheet of paper became a large space and how an installation evolved from the philosophy of Korean Painting and the concept of the space of a book.
Sometimes I consider my 2-D works as books or my books as works on paper. That depends on each project, on my thoughts as to how an audience would interact with my work, how best to communicate my idea. Without thinking, I move between different mediums.
ANTE mag. Can you reflect on an exhibition, residency or fellowship you’ve had and how that has impacted your practice or provided a turning point?
SYK. Every experience of an exhibition, residency, and fellowship that I have had has been a turning point in some way. I cannot begin to list all the opportunities and support from institutions, organizations, and individuals that have impacted my practice. One particularly important experience was my first oversea residency in 2017.
I was invited to be a resident artist of the Soulangh Artist Village in Tainan, Taiwan, through COPE NYC International Artists in Residence Exchange Program. It required courage from the beginning, as I had to be away from my family and travel to a country I didn’t know. Also, at that time my mother in Korea started to develop Alzheimer’s, which had a powerful effect on me, making me reflect on my past, my home, and human connections encased in memories. The spirituality of the local culture in Tainan and its relation to contemporary life inspired me. There I created my first work without paper at all, using cotton thread and sugar powder.
This was a temporary site-specific installation for which I used locally found materials and which I shared with the local community, all strangers to me, not by any kind of direct communication, but simply through the emotional exchange made possible by the installation itself. I came back home without any physical work, but with incredible memories and friendships and inspiration. This residency led me to think about the temporality of the physical art work into which I put so much energy and time. I came to value more the process of interacting with my surrounding and creating works for a specific place and time than creating physical artifacts that lasted beyond that. I began to feel that the experience of the work, once it came to life, and the memory of that, were enough.
“The Endless Lines” consisted of 3-dimensional structures built by using strings of 1-dimensional thread, my attempt to visualize the invisibility of time passing (the continuous lines being my illusion of flow of time) and the spirituality and beliefs of a culture that could not be grasped by our concept of any dimension. This installation made me think of how we define the passage of time and how time creates memories that connect individuals and the past and future. I started to use in my work the 1-dimensional physicality of thread as a metaphor for connectivity or continuity and my shed hair (also a kind of thread) as a metaphor for the detached self, memory-loss, and disconnection.
Last year I again created a site-specific work, this time in Seoul, Korea, and again came home with empty hands. Traveling to a place far from where I reside limited my materials and techniques. I carried in my suitcase rolls of thread, needles, magnets, and some small pieces of paper and with those created 6973 miles of force in 1cm in Korea, my home country.
ANTE mag. Can you tell us more about what you’re working on recently and what direction your practice is moving toward? SYK. My present practice is a continuation of my recent work, but instead of temporary site-specific installations, I have gravitated toward work that I can do alone in my home studio, whether it be a small-scale work or an installation. My practice now involves more planning and designing than being inspired by something unexpected or a new setting.
Currently, I am preparing an upcoming exhibition. I have been invited by the University of Alabama at Huntsville to be the 2020 UAH Contemporary Art Fellow (funded by the National Endowment for the Arts) with a solo exhibition and public events. The visit has been postponed from this fall to early next spring due to the pandemic. I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity to look forward to during this isolation. For this exhibition, I am going to expand and develop my previous paper installation project In Between Presence and Absence. So, I am now back to the cast paper process which I did for many years. I want to accentuate the interactivity of the space given to me for the installation, a space that to me seems quieter than those of my previous installations.
ANTE mag. What’s one specific work you’ve made in the past three months, and what about it is inspiring you consider new concepts and formal evolutions in your work? SYK. Since I cannot travel for a residency or exhibition, I am looking more into myself. These days I think a lot about my home, which seems farther away than ever, and my mother—now in a nursing home and not allowed contact with anyone outside that home—slowly getting close to the end without understanding what is going on in the world around her. These painful thoughts have led me to revisit and rethink my previous work “Line-Drawing II: The New Existence”, which I began at the Vermont Studio Center during a residency a year ago and developed in my home studio at the end of last year.
The two primary materials with which I am working for “Line-Drawing II: The New Existence” are bricks and my shed hair. A brick, broken in half, represents a split self, two identities, the space between the past and the future. Shed hair symbolizes for me the detached self and memory loss, suggesting the weakened connection between my current self and my past self and between me and my home country.
I repeatedly hammer on the brick to create a crack and eventually split it into two pieces. After breaking the brick, I photograph it and, again, in a repetitive movement, embroider on the photograph, with my hair, lines between the two parts of the brick. Those repetitive actions visualize the concept of ourselves as the embodiments of time passing between the past and the future. One cannot connect two heavy objects such as bricks with delicate hair; that is only possible on a two-dimension rendering, a photograph, of the brick pieces. I see my line embroidering as reconnecting, symbolically and impossibly, the gap between past and future, between two identities, reconnecting the two parts of a split self. In reality, the present is continually shifting. The future becomes the past. Establishing an identity and settling into the space between past and future are profoundly difficult. Thus, I explore the concept of time and space through the 4-dimensional process of breaking the bricks and line-stitching the photographs, the 3-dimensional bricks and embroidered hair, and the 2-dimensional photographs.
For the past couple of months, besides working on my upcoming solo exhibition, I have been working on this project, which I have renamed “Impossibly Connected.” Although the theme and concept were established, I didn’t consider the piece complete. My idea was to recreate it by re-photographing the bricks to get more spatial depth in the photos to emphasize the exploration of different dimensions of time and space.
My feeling of being marginal, living between two cultural realities, trying to bridge two identities and wanting to explore themes of time and space and the conflict between past and future seem more pressing to me now than ever. And I sense that other people are feeling the same. My repetitive motion of impossibly connecting the broken bricks in the photo with my shed hair evokes and embodies my constant questioning: What is the reality that we believe is real now? How can we reconnect each other after this? Where can we find the lost time? Completing this project may not be important, but the symbolic movement of connecting the pieces allows me to question and think. I will work on this piece for as long as I feel I need to. I feel this process will take me to a new place, a new direction. What or where I don’t know.
Artist Petra Nimtz is the first to admit that a career in fine art was about as unfathomable to her twenty years ago as winding up in New York State from her native Germany. The artist has made a path for herself as an abstract painter, following her academic pursuits from country to country and state to state. Currently based both in Hudson Valley and Manhattan, Nimtz carefully pushes her practice forward with a nuanced look at texture and color. She is unafraid to explore alternative processes in her practice as well. ANTE sat down with Nimtz in her Midtown studio to peruse her recent works and pursue the depth of her considerations in art-making.
ANTE – Thanks Petra for sitting down with us today! So tell us: How did you get your start as an artist?
Petra Nimtz – I was born in Germany and left in 2002, ending up in Vancouver, BC, Canada. After two years, I began to think I should paint. I took a course at the Emily Carr institute and began sharing a studio, it all came together very naturally…
ANTE – And had you painted at all before that?
PN– Yes, as a child – as a student in school, but I had never approached it other than as a student…
ANTE – So not as a vocation?
PN– Right, not until I lived in Vancouver. I began to study the basics of painting by starting with acrylics. I began this way, sharing a studio, working in acrylic before moving onto working with oil paints. Once I began working with oil, I was hooked immediately. I then visited NYC and began to study at the Art Students League in New York under Frank O’Kane, I know he’s still teaching – he’s quite a force of nature, and I love his work. I was writing down notes in his classes like a maniac… he mentioned Abstract Expressionists, all this information that was quite new to me – I had never studied art history, had never heard of that. Their work really resonated with me – he told me to study the painters who I liked, and that’s what I started doing and it helped me evolve my practice at my studio back in Canada.
ANTE – What timeframe was this?
PN– This was about 2005-06 when I began working as a painter, and showing in local cafes in Vancouver. Living there in Vancouver at the time, the abstract art scene was not very active and I didn’t have much to look at, so in 2010 I moved to upstate New York for three months to rent a place to paint – a live/work space. A friend of mine directed me to Woodstock, so I went and spent three months there painting in a barn and going into New York City often. I then decided to move here – exactly ten years ago.
ANTE – So then have you primarily been working in abstraction?
PN– Yes, I work in abstraction. I am an abstract artist, and I’m not interested in drawing or painting figuratively, or creating work with the human figure. I don’t want to pursue it.
ANTE – At the time you began living in Woodstock, were you working on a larger scale?
PN– The largest at that studio was 6×7’ size artwork, working in that barn. Actually when I began painting I started out smaller, but over the years I have become emboldened to try out larger sizes in my painting. I now like working in a 4×5’ format, it’s comfortable for me.
ANTE – Observing a work in progress, I do see some pencil and sketching/drawing, are you working with an oil stick as well?
PN– Yes, all of that – this particular work has so many layers. I work on multiple layers as each is still fresh – the paint is still wet, and for some works I’ll be building up, say, ten layers. I like showing layers and allowing them to shine through, giving them a chance to shine through – suffice it to say that I don’t spend too much time hiding the layers.
ANTE – Can you talk about the brushstrokes you use in these artworks, particularly works in these smaller sizes? There is an expressive energy…
PN– Yes it’s easier for me to use looser brushstrokes – it’s more animated, what I like to call my “messy” paintings. I can work with a more expressive style in a smaller format, using a palette knife and brushes to create a more dynamic work.
ANTE – Do you frequently use a palette knife in your work?
PN– Yes, I use the edge of it: I use it to spread the paint onto the canvas directly. I can make strong and decisive gestures, and the paint can be applied more thickly. It allows me to direct my compositions and make certain areas of a painting stronger. This allows a certain side of the canvas to dominate the overall composition. I have been using the palette knife since I first delved into working with oil on canvas.
ANTE – What is new to your recent work?
PN– The colors I utilize in my practice always change. The color palette varies organically according to my mood.
ANTE – Do you feel influenced by working in Woodstock?
PN– Yes, it’s very inspiring – I’m surrounded by nature, blues and greens and whites. In nature, I’m inspired to paint using these colors.
ANTE – Do you feel that you are inspired by light in your work?
PN– I frequently do use white through the layers of my artworks, and I am often influenced by light in my work. While I frequently use white painting in my work, I don’t often work with purple as a color in my compositions.
ANTE – Interesting to know! And do you work on a single painting at a time?
PN– Oh no, I always work on multiple paintings at a time because I get stuck. I’ll get stuck on a work. I have multiple works in progress hanging on walls – I have quite a large studio space in Woodstock so it’s easier to move from one wall to another to change what I’m working on when I get stuck on a certain artwork. I have never worked on an easel; I always work on the wall. It helps me to work on several pieces at a time – I’ve always worked this way in my process, since I very first started painting.
ANTE – Tell me about your approach to painting: you already referenced infusing gesture with the palette knife, what other considerations inform your painting?
PN– I’ve always worked with palette knife and brush, but now I’ve even used my hands or even gloves to directly apply paint to the canvas. I like working with different methods of application – brush, palette knife, hand – in contrast to create tension and create clear gestures in my work. It’s easier to carefully construct a composition borrowing from these different styles of line and gesture in a smaller format works, however. Smaller size works are easier to control this dialogue within.
ANTE – So you only work in painting? Not in other mediums?
PN– I actually have also worked in monoprint, collage and works on paper. I’ll sometimes create a monoprint. I make monoprints in addition to paintings, but I don’t view this as my main style of work. Painting will always be my medium.
ANTE – In terms of expanded practice: Do you frequently work in collage, or have you worked in other formats than oil on canvas?
PN – In 2015-16 I was working in acrylic a bit in addition to my oil painting, and around that time I started making collage a bit. Some of these works I’ve since covered with oil paint – since 2018, I’ve worked almost exclusively with oil paints. I was working with acrylic before, but it dries so fast and you can’t build up layers, so I returned to exclusively working with oil paints so that I could build up layers in my work. Adding a new element to the work with collage is exciting for me – I was happy to paint over my collage works with oil as it added it an exciting texture for me.
ANTE – Can you talk to us more about other artists whose work has inspired you?
PN – I’m really interested in New York City as a moment in the 1950s and 60s and the artists who lived here then – they inspired one another, challenged one another, and built up a camaraderie. Reading about their lives, they were all wild. They were also great artists. Of course many wonderful women artists of this time period – Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell – continue to inspire me. Among contemporary artists, I love Amy Sillman. In addition to her wonderful practice she also has a great sense of humor that has come through when I’ve heard her speak.
ANTE – So what are you working on at the moment? Have you worked more in one certain style over, say, the past six months?
PN – What I’ve liked recently is that my work has become more gestural, more loose. The style I call “Messy” – I think of Joan Mitchell and her messiness, which I love. I was thrilled to see my style evolve into this messier look – my painting style changes over time without planning out, but the positive feedback I’ve had from others is that while my style changes, it is always recognizable. My changes in style over time do shift, but it remains recognizable and I’m happy to go with the flow.
ANTE – So a few years ago you mentioned that you had a studio in Bushwick before moving to this Midtown location, can you tell me about your experiences as an artist working in Bushwick?
PN – Well, Paul D’Agostino who is very knowledgeable came out to visit my studio. He’s lovely and helped me – really became a great resource for me, he’s wonderful. He hosted a few shows at his studios, and suggested my work to other members of the community. I did enjoy being a part of the community as best I could, but I live in Woodstock – I was mostly in Bushwick on the weekends, most studios were closed and most artists were gone when I was working there. Here being based in Manhattan, it’s an easier commute and I can walk to Chelsea galleries and other nearby galleries to go observe the art exhibitions that are on at the moment.
ANTE – So what exhibitions have you been in recently?
PN – Well, I participated at a group show in Bushwick, and I’ve also recently shown with Julie Torres in a space just outside of Hudson in Hudson Valley, New York. It’s nice to have a footprint both in Woodstock and in New York City, I can appreciate the benefits of both.
ANTE – So what exhibitions have you visited in recent days and months that you enjoyed?
PN – I finally went to the new MoMA, and enjoyed the Amy Sillman-curated section “The Shape of Shape” that they have on view now. Recently, I went to an interesting show in Chelsea (NYC) at Albertz Benda, “Substrate”. The show was really beautiful. I also did get the chance to witness the show at the Katonah Museum of Art, “Sparkling Amazons.” It was an intriguing show and I had the chance to learn about artists who were not previously known to me. There was also an intriguing show recently featuring artist Cat Balco, “My Exploding Stars,” at Rick Wester Fine Art.
A camouflage-wrapped La-Z-Boy chair languishes on a fishing pier in Virginia. Rows of milk cartons line the refrigerated shelves in a Wisconsin grocery store. Views from across America feature in the photography which forms the basis of the migratory “Treat America Project”, a group exhibit curated by Jon Feinstein of Humble Arts Foundation and Jamie Martinez of The Border project space that features a single artist from each state across America. Featured on the @treatamericaproject Instagram page over the course of 2018, artists will have a chance to see their work shine in person at two spaces in New York City in 2019.
Celebrating the diversity of the United States under a unified banner of creative artistic license, even during an era of stark political division, this wide range of artists – juried by Feinstein and Martinez – have translated their vision of their home states via compelling imagery featured on both the project’s Instagram page,Facebook page and website. The project makes good on its aim to bring art to the service of the greater good: each artist was invited to select a charitable organization, with a portion of proceeds of art print sales going to each cause. An exercise in contemporary art and goodwill, the Treat America project allows a window into this urgent hour of dialogue, exchange and creativity.
The Treat America Project will be on view in New York City in two iterations: first at Foley Gallery, 59 Orchard Street NYC (Jan 9-13th, 2019) followed by an exhibit at OSNY Project Space, 417 W. 57th Street NYC (Feb 8-17th). The project is sponsored by Treat Gallery, an online exhibition initiative benefiting a wide array of emerging artists, businesses, communities and charitable organizations since its founding in 2016.