The Essence of Making: An Interview with Designer/Architect Paul Mok

ANTE – Thanks, Paul, for speaking with us today! Your practice spans Architecture, Design and Art; yet, you’ve noted in past interviews that you work across different disciplines in order to best translate a “concept” into reality. Can you explain more about this philosophy of working to adapt concepts into the real world, and how that has manifested both in artistic projects and commercial projects with clients? 

Paul Mok – There are two tricky terms here: concept and disciplines“Concept” is tricky because it usually means a “clear idea”, and that is precisely what I have gradually walked away from in the past few years as a designer. I was trained to derive iterations of design from a clear concept very early on in my career. However, the more I worked in the design field, the more I have come to realize that concepts are too often just alibis to rhetorically justify certain irrational, personal design decisions. I find the irrationality productive and even necessary, but not the alibis. 

To unlearn anything would be a years-long process. I started rejecting my acquired design method, subconsciously at first, then consciously, gradually replacing the void that used to be the “concept” with collections of seemingly unrelated elements – short writings, aimless strokes on paper, gestural forms made of clay and a few other projects – some art installations, some small commercial projects, and some academic works – have been delivered through this process. So, in a way, the concept I am adopting now is precisely the lack of it [the lack of any defined concept]. It is not about bringing a concept into reality. It is about letting reality – a specific set of circumstances – be translated into and – more importantly – addressed through the design process. And because of that, I am skeptical of the confinements implied by the notion of “disciplines”. Architecture, design and art are different only in a practical, circumstantial sense, I think, not in the essence. 

New York-based Hong Kong architect/designer/artist Paul Mok
Installation image at Gallery GAIA: “The Story of Mundane” a solo exhibition by Paul Mok

 

ANTE –  The value of the projects you’ve worked on is not only respected by clients and your peers, it is also shown by the awards they have received. In 2014, you worked on a project that won the AIA’s Honor Award for Interior – just as you entered Harvard for your Master’s degree in Architecture. Can you tell us about this project? Can you also discuss how this experience informed the beginning of your studies at Harvard?

PM – That [project] was a dining hall renovation that I worked on during my two years as a designer at Index Architecture Ltd.: a small architectural office in Hong Kong led by an AIA architect. We were given an existing space with lots of pipes and ducts that were to remain along the walls, and we proposed to conceal them with some curved panels made of weaved synthetic rattan. We also embedded lighting fixtures and storage spaces within those panels. The project won the AIA International Regional Award, I think, because we managed to resolve almost all the given site conditions and programing requirements with a minimal, singular design gesture. That was one of the last projects I worked on in the office before moving on to grad-school. 

In those 2 years of practicing in Hong Kong, I was working full-time in the architecture office and, on the side, working on a house renovation as a personal project, along with a monastery renovation and an idea competition (with Dennis Chau and Florence Lam, which we won third place) all at the same time. My “normal” work day would begin at 9am and end at around 3-4am. I thought the more I worked, the clearer my vision as a designer would be. I recently saw an interview with [recently deceased artist] Ulay in which he described how he tattooed and cut his own skin off as an art project but after all that effort, he said, “it still didn’t deliver the answer”. That was how I felt by the end of the second year practicing in Hong Kong.

Entering grad school gave me the time and space that I didn’t know I needed to explore the more abstract, essential, and fundamental side of design. Instead of what and how to design, I needed to know why I design. 

 

ANTE -Your professionalism and dedication to your studies has earned you multiple scholarships and Dean’s List mentions, both during your architecture studies at the University of Hong Kong, which honored you with a prestigious study abroad exchange semester at Princeton University, and during your Master’s in Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Can you talk to us a bit about your dedication to your academic development: what were some of your favorite classes and how have they translated to success as a professional architectural designer?

PM – I was drawn to both the theoretical and the making aspects of design education very early on. At the Harvard GSD, I took an option studio with Ken Smith, a New York-based landscape architect. It was one of the first studios in which I explored a design process driven primarily by the making process. I rhetorically titled the project “Project Noctambulism”, hinting on the idea of taking actions subconsciously. In the same semester, I worked on the Komorebi Pavilion with Professor Mark Mulligan, Japanese engineer Jun Sato, and a team of schoolmates at the GSD. It was a plexiglass pavilion that was weaved together in a somewhat ad-hoc manner. 

Both experiences had a significant impact in reinforcing my confidence in the essence of making, which later became a method to address abstract issues, and gradually becoming a core design philosophy.

Project Noctambulism, material study (below) and final outcome (above,) Images courtesy Paul Mok

Komorebi Pavilion, material study (below) and Komorebi Pavilion (above,) Images courtesy of the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Images courtesy Paul Mok.

ANTE – Can you walk us through your Harvard Graduate thesis project and the concept of “play” both as it relates to your studies and your professional projects?

PM – I titled the thesis “To Play”. In developmental psychology, “playing” could mean negotiating the perception of reality through the act of creating. 

I began the thesis by asking “how is reality perceived?” I soon came across a demolished social housing, and I found it a perfect architectural anchor point – social housing is the most objective architectural typology, but its demolition made it a highly subjective event. 

Through a series of drawings, architecture models and conversations, I reacted to a found Youtube video of the housing recorded by a former tenant of the housing who went back to record it before its eventual demolition. The final outcome was an absurd speculative proposal for a student-housing in LA based on the idiosyncratic personality I deduced from the 12-minute video. Looking back, it wasn’t a thesis that set out to resolve a specific problem, but it demonstrates a crucial self-awareness as a designer that opened up the design process to intuition, personal realities, subconsciousness, and the notion of craftsmanship. And it was from a very similar process that I have designed the installations <A Fountain Head> and <You Killed A Kiwi – A Situation Comedy For Those With Wounded Egoes>, and the two displays – <Gross Grows> and <Out Of Thick Air> – that I made for lifestyle brand WORM NY.

Above and below, alternate images from Thesis: To Play, Images courtesy Paul Mok.
“A Fountain Head”, Image courtesy Paul Mok.
You Killed a Kiwi – A Situation Comedy For Those With Wounded Egos, Image courtesy Paul Mok.
“Out of Thick Air”, Image courtesy Paul Mok
“Gross Grows”, Image courtesy of Paul Mok

 

ANTE – Since graduating Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2018, you have worked as a designer at nARCHITECTS PLLC in New York: this experience comes after you have worked at both Michael Maltzan Architecture in LA, and PARA Project in New York. Can you walk us through some of the key projects you have contributed to during each of these roles in your career?

PM – At Michael Maltzan Architecture, I worked on the schematic design of a student dormitory for Art Center College of Design. At PARA Project, I worked on the schematic design of an artist studio extension in New York.

I have been working as a designer at nARCHITECTS for almost 2 years now. The first project I worked on was a 5-story warehouse renovation project commissioned by the EDC. We were tasked to convert the 200,000-square-feet existing building into a new Made-In-NY campus for the garment industry in New York. I worked through the Schematic Design phase, the Design Development phase, as well as producing the final construction documents. Currently, I am working on the renovation of Ciszek Hall – a dormitory for the Jesuit men-in-formation in the Bronx. 

 

ANTE – Can you walk us through a few recent projects that have demonstrated your achievement and engagement as a leading architect/designer in your field? 

PM – Aside from all the professional and conceptual projects I previously mentioned, I have been working on a school design with Joe Qiu, my former classmate at the GSD, since 2015. It is a primary school design that pioneers small-class-teaching in rural China. 

The decades-long implementation of one-child policy and rigorous rural-urban migration have led to a significant reduction of students in rural China. Small-class-teaching, as an alternative model of child education, implies a reduction in teacher-student ratio and increasing opportunity of group activities among students.

In terms of layout, we proposed to break down the typical teacher office into smaller “satellite” offices, and pair one with every two classrooms to form the primary module for space planning. We further proposed to reduce classroom sizes from 45 students per class (typical in the city, as recommended by the codes) to 36. The additional floor areas are given to the semi-outdoor “pocket” spaces, distributed along the corridors, where inter-class activities could take place.

The project is near completion and was scheduled to open in September 2020. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, however, the opening date will very likely be delayed.

Erdu Primary School, Image courtesy Paul Mok

ANTE – How has building your architectural career in the US contributed to growth in your professional practice?

PM – It’s been almost six years since I moved to the States. So far I find the US – and particularly New York City – a productive context for both my professional and conceptual practice.

I have worked with quite a few collaborators and designers here. When I first moved to the city, for example, I met Isabella Bhoan, the founder of ILF Landscape. Coming from similar professional backgrounds, we saw how each of our specific interests could lead to meaningful collaboration. We worked together on the project Outside In – a speculative design proposal for Château de la Mothe-Chandeniers – before she relocated her practice to London in the end of 2019. 

It is also a city where I could find the audience to have productive conversations about my conceptual interests. I have exhibited my works periodically in various venues. The most recent exhibition – The Study on Mundane – is currently on display at Gallery GAIA.

Above and below, Views: “Outside In”, Images courtesy Paul Mok

Artist Esperanza Cortes Explores the Legacy of Mining in “Arrested Symphony” Opening Jan 4, 2020

The earth beneath our feet serves as the subject of choice for artist Esperanza Cortes in her current exhibit, “Arrested Symphony,” on view at Jonathan Ferrera gallery in New Orleans, LA with an opening celebration from 6-9 pm on Sat, Jan 4th. The artist is specifically interested in the minerals and elements that can be mined and utilized from the soil: extracted ethically or… otherwise. Cortes’ work shines a light on the darker sides of gemstones, investigating the implications of how rare and precious substances become a source of geopolitical trauma. The Colombian-born, America-based artist works with an object-based approach to examine injustice in contemporary society. The fragmentary faces and delicate, shimmering cascade of chains defining works such as “Arrested Symphony” (2017) (below) serve as both an elegy and a hopeful perspective, a longing for renewal.

 

“Arrested Symphony” (2017) clay, chains, semi precious stones, encaustic and oil on panel Image courtesy Jonathan Ferrara Gallery

The underpinning themes of injustice and the human cost of labor simmer beneath the surface of Cortes’ delicate and evocative artworks. The artist has a penchant for cretaing artwork that appeals to the sense: inspiring a lingering sense of wanting to touch: wanting to examine more closely. Her hanging installation works in particular – “Suspended Thoughts” – utilizes beads, clay and wood to comment on hierarchy and hegemony. The artist’s lingering dialogue with the effects of colonialization permeate the exhibition: a concurrent theme running alongside the inquiry into how blood diamonds and mining for uranium have been produced at tragic human cost. Cortes has the subtle talent of hinting around the issues that underpin our society. Her work serves to provoke a reconsideration of the means by which we have arrived at where we are now. Through a measured blend of texture and material, Cortes creates new pathways of discovering – and uncovering – why we are living in the world today by examining what we built in the past.

With this exhibition, the artist returns to the borders of the Carribbean that reach the shores of her homeland Colombia, as New Orleans rests on the shoulders of the Gulf of Mexico. The weight of examining the context of the post-colonial in contemporary art is especially poignant in this colonial port city. Her engagement with postcolonial dialogue persists through various fellowships with the Joan Mitchell Foundation, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, BRIC Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship. Through these initiatives, the artist mounts a multi-disciplinary practice that continues to push the boundaries of contemporary art’s ability to grapple with this complex, convoluted legacy. The exhibit opened on December 18, and will host an opening reception on Saturday, January 4th from 6-9 pm during the New Orleans Art District’s upcoming Saturday Arts Walk. With a second opening to fête the exhibition those same evening hours on February 1, the exhibit remains open through Friday, February 14, 2020.

“Arrested Symphony” at Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, solo show of works by Esperanza Cortes on view through Feb 14, 2020

Life Living Life Photography Exhibit, In the Giving Spirit, Supports Ghana Make a Difference

With an opening reception held on Tuesday, Nov 26 from 6:30-9 pm, “Life Living Life,” will debut exhilirating international photography by father-son duo Dr. Alan Sloyer and Michael Sloyer. The pop-up exhibit, located at 498 Broome Street, will be open for visitors from 10am to 7pm daily and features photography for sale, with 100% of the proceeds benefiting international nonprofit Ghana Make a Difference. 
Please RSVP to attend the opening evening festivities on Tuesday, Nov 26 from 6:30-9 pm, featuring sriking photography, music, and refreshments provided by Wine Dog Imports and Four Fox Saké.  This is the artists’ premiere dual exhibition in New York City, with photographs on view reflecting the rich diversity of human culture and natural environments in Africa, Asia, the Americas, and beyond.
Above/Below: Snowfall (New York City) by Michael Sloyer and Lavender Fields (France) by Alan Sloyer both on view for “Life Living Life”, Nov 26-Dec 8 at 498 Broome

Emphasizing the indigenous beauty scattered the world over, the Sloyers reveal the stunning links between disparate cities, regions and continents in quiet moments of contemplation. These compelling photographs delicately weave together the narratives that form everyday life for residents of diverse areas of the globe.”Life Living Life” is the rare exhibit which celebrates our communal unity and diversity through the medium of photography.

Michael Sloyer is a Tokyo and New York-based photographer dedicated to making the world a better place through his photography. By capturing humanity and the natural environment through a fuller range of available light, Sloyer’s photographs provide insight into the emotional essence distilled in the moment. These considerations elevate the viewer’s experience from simple observation to a more sensual and introspective reflection. Michael also takes great interest in spontaneous street portraiture. From stoop-sitting elders in Old Havana, to shoemakers in the bazaars of Istanbul and children running through the streets of Old Delhi, Michael seeks to capture “life living life.”

Dr. Alan Sloyer is an award-winning, New York-based photographer who specializes in travel, landscape, and street photography. Alan took up traveling early, and his parents always preached that “travel is the best education.” Alan’s photos have appeared in many publications including the New York Times, New England Journal of Medicine, Chronos, Annals of Internal Medicine, and Shutterbug Magazine. One of his photos was also selected by Nikon for its holiday card for North and South America. Alan has been fortunate to travel around the world to unique destinations and has experienced adventures in more than 70 countries

Above/Below: Cistern Basilica (Istanbul) and Commuter Train (Sri Lanka) by Michael Sloyer both on view for “Life Living Life”, Nov 26-Dec 8 at 498 Broome

On view from Nov 26 – Dec 8, 2019, “Life Living Life” is an exhibit that captures the beauty latent in both the everyday and the exotic – all in the name of benefiting those in Ghana who are most in need. Come to the opening reception on Nov 26 at 498 Broome Street from 6:30-9 pm to witness this stunning survey of humanity in person!

Ghana Make a Difference (GMAD) is a US registered 501(c)(3) organization that is dedicated to sustainably improving the lives of the children of Ghana by providing shelter, job training, education, and medical care. GMAD’s philosophy is centered around preserving families and providing a path to self-reliance for the people it serves.

Skin Deep: The Exhilarating “Body Politic” On View at NYU’s Kimmel Windows

In the immaculate words of feminist and activist Gloria Steinem, “Each individual woman’s body demands to be accepted on its own terms.” This admonishment pervades the transcendental exhibition currently on view through Nov 10 at NYU’s Kimmel Windows exhibit space, “Lilia Ziamou: body politic /bädē päl-tik/”. Featuring works by Lilia Ziamou and curated by Pamela Jean Tinnen, the presentation of this collection of works outwardly facing the various passersby on LaGuardia Place and W. 3rd mounts a powerful, visionary response to how we consider ourselves – and others. It can reflect the ways in which our self-perception can become distorted. Perhaps it ruminates on how society constantly projects women’s bodies as idealized forms in various ads throughout public spaces. The exhibition leaves room for speculation and space to absorb the images – true or distorted – which lie before us. Works from this series by Ziamou question how new technology mediates the way we see ourselves or how others anticipate and perceive our appearance. Perceptions of the body are stacked against the realities of the biological building blocks that determines who we are and how we appear. Ziamou bravely steps forward into an artistic inquiry of what makes us human, playing with preconceived ideas of how we establish our physical identities as a whole from the sum of our parts. “By reimagining and reconstructing body fragments, I am constantly exploring and intrigued by the ways we can challenge existing constraints of form, materials, and processes,” remarks Ziamou.

“1 am” (2018) artwork on view in body politic /bädē päl-tik/ at NYU Kimmel Windows

 

This exhibition at the Kimmel Windows is curated by NYU’s own Pamela Jean Tinnen. The curator notes that she was drawn initially to Ziamou’s examination and recreation of human bones, re-contextualizing them as artworks. In the art canon of portraiture, it can be argued that Ziamou’s hip-bone 3-D scan recreations are a continuation of a centuries-long tradition of figurative art. Tinnen also reflects on other areas where these works draw parallel lines to long-existing or contemporary traditions. “What’s very interesting about Lilia’s work is how it plays on the abject, but through her ability to refine the subject through various media-processes, she creates visual distance while maintaining conceptual resonance.” Tinnen continues, “I’ve always been intrigued by Julia Kristiva’s writings on Abjection which discusses human reactions to encountering, as a primary example, a corpse. These encounters elicit horror but also a certain fascination. A corpse, or in the case of Lilia’s work, the human bone, puts us in the presence of ‘signified death.’ Kristiva suggests our horror-reaction results from a threatened breakdown in meaning caused by the loss of the distinction between subject and object, or between self and other.” This breakdown that occurs when the body perceives another body, yet recognizes this fragment of bone also depicts an invisible portion of one’s own self, causes a ripple of self-awareness. It can be argued that this exhibit also sparks empathy for others and an intimate acceptance of our own appearance – an appearance that can shift over time due to factors such as time and environment.

The environment of the exhibition itself, facing outward from the Kimmel Center, has shifted over time as the ground zero for artists in bohemian Greenwich Village in the mid-20th century to a haven for NYU students today. This public-facing exhibit – which some students can pass several times a day, along with other members of the community – offers a repeating opportunity for reflection and deeper engagement with how we can intrinsically seek deeper meaning in the very things we take for granted: the architecture of our physical selves and the urban planning and architecture defining our immediate presence in a larger cityscape. By keeping the vestibules in which Ziamou’s transcendental works are exhibited stark, almost clinical, those encountering the work can focus their attention on the prints and sculptures facing them from the Kimmel. “The exhibit’s design, simple and starkly white, contributes to a certain visual sterilization, which works well to present the artwork,” notes Tinnen. This simple structuring can be seen as a skeleton in itself: supporting works on view and allowing for immediate access of each fragment of the perpendicular exhibition along LaGuardia and Third.

“The Bone as Body” (2019) artwork on view in body politic /bädē päl-tik/ in NYU Kimmel Windows

Ziamou here has considered not only the internal structure of the body, but also how we decorate and define ourselves as members of a society. Her bone sculpture informs the installation referencing a garment she has presented in this same exhibit: an installation that servse as a recreation of our bodies as presented through our fashion choices. Her work speaks a subtle message about the inner psychology that determines our outward appearances: we can knowingly or unknowingly select garments that flatter and project aspects of our anatomy that we take pride in. The artist considers and puts forth artistic hypotheses about how various aspects of our countenance can be mistaken or recreated, creating subtle provocations for the audience. What effect do photo filters on apps have on our psychology? How can our appearances be manipulated for those who consume them? When is the last time we considered that the majority of who we are is not visible to the naked eye? Ziamou deftly plays with these questions, and more, in this impactful solo exhibition.

Detail shot, “1 am” – body politic /bädē päl-tik/ in NYU Kimmel Windows

 

Curated by Pamela Jean Tinnen, don’t miss “Lilia Ziamou: body politic /bädē päl-tik/” – on view through Nov 10 at NYU’s Kimmel Windows exhibit space on LaGuardia Place and West Third at New York University. 

Joan Walton’s Transcendent Works Shine in “Montauk Love Song”

“Montauk Love Song” celebrates its opening on Thursday, Sept 27 from 6-8 pm at Atlantic Gallery, suite 540, 547 W 27th street NYC. The opening is free and open to the public and the artist will be present.

 

A Feast for the Senses: Drink Me, Taste Me – An Exhibition of Curious Things

Curiouser and Curiouser. –Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

“Does domestic bliss equal artistic death?” This is the question that our heroine, Alice – a painter – asks in a full-length musical production, “Painted Alice,” for which the exhibit Drink Me, Taste Me – An Exhibition of Curious Things serves as a stage. The exhibition, on view at Plaxall gallery April 11-May 12, serves as a look into the contemporary artists working on the borderline of illusion, adventure, and curiosity. Curated by AHA Fine Art & Plaxall Art Gallery’s Norma Homberg, the exhibit offers new experiences and breadth of emotion accessible to visitors of all ages and backgrounds.

Featuring fifty artists on view throughout the space working in a variety of mediums, the exhibition also curiously serves as a platform for the afore-mentioned “Painted Alice” musical, in which Alice (a painter) has lost all inspiration after getting her first commission, distancing herself from her partner and falling through her blank canvas into a visual-art inspired wonderland. Conversely, the visual art on view in Drink Me, Taste Me is inspired, in return, by Carroll’s original Alice in Wonderland book. Thus the reciprocal relationship between this new painter Alice and the original Alice presented throughout this art exhibition is established.

This exhibition features artists such as Kat Ryals, Elan Bogarín & Jonathan Bogarín, Arlene Rush, Karen Dimit, Jean Foos, Chloe Moon, Robin G Cole, Hisayasu Takashio, and many more. Featuring notes of surrealism, abstraction and the everyday – just for good measure – Drink Me, Taste Me holds something for everyone who is an observer, a dreamer, or a wanderer.

Elan Bogarín & Jonathan Bogarín, “Furniture that reminds me of Grandma” (2018) C-print on Fuji Crystal archival paper mounted on plexiglass

In Elan Bogarín & Jonathan Bogarín’s series, “Furniture that reminds me of Grandma” (2018), memories are transferred into imagery that captures childlike naïveté through compiled vignettes purporting a domestic scene from the artists’ own experience. The artists give childhood a new dimension: formed through the editorial lens of memory, these scenes speak to the inner child in all of us: our memories taking on new forms through the lens of historicization. While domestic scenes in our memories can never capture the full detail of each moment – the smells, textures and sensations we experienced in our youth – the artists are able to encapsulate the overall impression that such moments from childhood leave on our consciousness. Alice in Wonderland is itself written by an adult impressing a childhood experience on a captive audience, and the Bogaríns’ create work in a similar vein, impressing the experience of childhood from an adult perspective and for an adult audience.

Kat Ryals’ works in lenticular print capture a shimmering survey of imagery formed and reformed according to the viewer’s position to the artwork. By their very nature, lenticular prints can never offer one specific truth. They always bend and distort an array of images according to the viewer’s perspective. Offering a shimmering world of perspectives onto an uncertain and frequently distorted truth, Ryals manages to capture a captivating scene that somehow simultaneously feels both otherworldly and organic.

Kat Ryals, “Reflection” (2017) Flip Lenticular Photographic Print, 45″x45″

Various works on view either reference “Alice in Wonderland” via theme, recounting tales and passages related to the original tale, or in spirit, by channeling the sense of otherworldly adventure that Alice encounters during her travels. The musical “Painted Alice,” in particular, espouses the feelings of otherworldliness and un-belonging that women artists seeking to establish firm footing for their own art career while inhabiting the shadow of a partner’s success. Drink Me, Taste Me – An Exhibition of Curious Things acts both as narrative and dream sequence: offering an entry point to the woman artist’s experience, or denying a firm narrative by traipsing down a wonderland of nonsensical occurrences. There lies in wait a curious experience for the visitor to the exhibit, something difficult to firmly grasp, perhaps, but something dazzling nonetheless.

 

Drink Me, Taste Me – An Exhibition of Curious Things is on view at Plaxall Gallery in Long Island City from April 11-May 12, 2019.

Contemporary Desire: Puppies and Flowers at the Royal Society of American Art

by contributor Daniel Morowitz

 

Beauty and companionship are two simple human yearnings that have served as remedies for loneliness for as long as desire itself has existed. While we look for these qualities in lovers and partners, by proxy, people have filled the void through various means. In the history of art, symbolism is used to represent this proxy, and code the human experience through representation with a rich language or symbols. Classically dogs have been a stand in for fidelity, loyal companionship with an unbroken bond; flowers, beauty, being both the feminine lure and stand in for sexual organs and desire. Puppies and Flowers, curated by Katie Hector and on view at The Royal Society of American Art in Williamsburg, Brooklyn until March 31st, takes this classical iconography and filters it through a contemporary lens. 

Dominique Fung, My Dog is Anemic, oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches, 2017. Image courtesy of The Royal Gallery.

With social media and a pluralized consciousness mediated by omnipotent digital awareness, symbols take on renewed, potent meaning; no longer just allegorical, painting can historicize life even as we live it. With this vision in mind, Puppies and Flowers creates a world of desire, recognizable by the trappings of modern impulses, while remaining an approximation of genuine connection. Walking into The Royal Society of American Art, dogs immediately greet you in the form of Dominique Fung’s “My Dog is Anemic” and Mark Zubrovich’s “Stick it Out and Touch Your Cleats”. The playful balance of these two works in dialogue is immediately reciprocal, with an emphasis on the blue hues (in Fung’s painting) and red tones (in Zubrovich’s work). The duality is established, mirroring fire and water, hot and cold. Fung’s dogs lick a centrally-placed vase, while Zubrovich’s anthropomorphized baseball player bends down to present his tail to the viewer. These works together can seem to point toward a sexual act, although this connection would not be made independently. The connection forms a compelling narrative which ties the viewer to the scene, making imagination complicit in the construction of the fantasy.

Mark Zubrovich, Stick It Out and Touch Your Cleats, acrylic on canvas, 26 x 31 inches, 2018. Image courtesy of The Royal Gallery.

Jenn Dierdorf’s paintings of flowers in vases inhabit the traditional art history canon of Nature Morte, flanking the canine imagery of Fung and Zubrovick. Unlike the dogs, Dierdorf’s flowers are fleeting wisps, with one painting rendered in tones of black and white, while the other painting is comprised of vivid tones. The colorful image, Night Creeps, grows out of black, ordure masses, as if they are the remains of rotten black flowers which nourish new growth.

Jenn Dierdorf, Night Creeps, acrylic and ink on canvas, 25 x 21 inches, 2018. Image courtesy of The Royal Gallery.

Night and day present very different worlds, and allude to the transitory nature of time. Night will always give over to day, day to night, flowers even give way to seasons and a bloom in May differs from one in October: referenced by the title of one of the Deirdorf’s larger work on paper.

Katarina Janeckova, Bad Ass Roxx (Roxanne Edwards), 20 x 16 inches, acrylic on canvas, 2016. Image courtesy of The Royal Gallery.

The back wall is the most direct play on the theme, arching around to the wall on the right. A bouquet of paintings presents flowers first, playing on a real life application. Figuration becomes mixed in through the painting of a body holding a blue vase, where Katarina Janeckova codes a black body holding an image of a white figure as a modern day Olympia. Here she is presenting a white body, but handing the authority to the black figure, flipping the narrative and upending the classical power dynamic. 

This representation stands in stark contrast to the historic lithograph-style drawing to its right, where Delphine Hennelly’s women sit indifferently. Even the dog presents their back, affronting traditional fidelity that ties women to the male gaze, allowing these figures to take agency and not perform classical representational motifs.

Delphine Hennelly, Untitled II, gouache and pastel on paper, 14 x 12 inches, 2017.

Image courtesy of The Royal Gallery.

Rounding out this wall are two paintings on panel by Aliza Morell roses rendered as if presented in neon, and two impressionist inspired still-lifes: one by Delphine Hennelly and one by Jenn Dierdorf, creating a clash between classical representation and the garden of our modern world.

To end the narrative juxtaposition the largest painting, directly across from this “flower wall” on the left side of the gallery, by Janeckova, features a woman reclining on a couch with a dog at her feet. Orbs float above her head, reverberating like memory orbs, while round flower paintings by Tess Michalik are featured to the right, and to the left more of Zubrovich’s baseball playing dogs.

 

Tess Michalik, Louis Francois, oil on canvas, 20 x 20 inches, 2019. Image courtesy of The Royal Gallery.

This wall exists as a place of fantasy and directly makes reference to the constant reconstruction of our engagement with the established motifs present through the gallery. A sleeping figure infinitely dreams, rearranging all the tools and symbols around the gallery. I like to believe the sleeping figure is the stand in for the viewer. Surrounded by dogs and flowers, she is the exhibition, a symbolic dreaming of how the adjacent symbolism can dictate her next move when she wakes; and like the viewer, how will she change her world when she exits the room with this information.

Puppies and Flowers is on view at The Royal Society of American Art in Williamsburg, Brooklyn until March 31st, 2019.