Luce Artist Talk: Erik Thor Sandberg + Megan Van Wagoner and Saturated with the Subconscious
July 15, 2015

This month's Luce Artist Talk features artists Erik Thor Sandberg and Megan Van Wagoner, whose installation Saturated with the Subconscious uses ceramic pillows and rich imagery to explore the nature of vulnerability. Erik and Megan will talk about their process and inspiration and connect their work to pieces on view at the Luce Foundation Center. Luce Artist Talks are presented in collaboration with CulturalDC.

Sandberg and Wagoner

Saturated with the Subconscious by Erik Thor Sandberg and Megan Van Wagoner. Click image for larger view.

Signs reading "Please do not touch" are common at nearly every museum and gallery. They are an especially helpful reminder for viewing Erik Thor Sandberg and Megan Van Wagoner's collaborative installation, Saturated with the Subconscious, currently on view at Flashpoint Gallery. At first glance, it looks simply like a simple grid of pillows affixed to the wall. Closer inspection reveals that the white pillowcases are made of porcelain instead of the expected satin or cotton. Such ultra realistic work is the trademark of Van Wagoner, who recreates everyday objects with clay, metal, and glass, and elevates them to precious objects. In contrast to the super realism of the pillowcase, Sandberg has painted a totally fantastic scene on the pillow underneath. Grotesque skeletons and human/animal hybrids are two examples of the arresting, disturbing, yet beautiful imagery. The scenes on the pillows are the stuff of dreams and nightmares.

Sandberg and Van Wagoner will speak at the Luce Foundation Center at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 18. We are especially interested to hear how they relate their pieces to what is on view in the Luce Center. We definitely see a connection to Sylvia Hyman's Bookmobile.

Posted by Bridget on July 15, 2015 in In This Case: Luce Foundation Center
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Upcoming: Luce Unplugged Community Showcase
July 10, 2015

Be Steadwell

Be Steadwell. Photo by Be Steadwell.

On Friday, July 17th the Luce Foundation Center is hosting another Luce Unplugged Community Showcase from 6-8 p.m. Presented with Washington City Paper, the free show will feature local bands Be Steadwell and Olivia Neutron-John. There will be free tastings from Port City Brewing Company as well as a cash bar where you can grab beer, wine and pre-dinner snacks. Not to mention, the AC will be on full blast all night.

First up, we'll have Be Steadwell, a D.C. native and Howard University grad who soulfully blends jazz, acapella and folk to create what she calls "queerpop." The one-woman act beatboxes and layers her vocals with a loop pedal in live performances, so we're excited to see what she brings to Luce. Check out her mixtape Notes. Acoustic Love Songs on Bandcamp and catch her set on July 17th at 6 p.m.

Following Be Steadwell, we'll kick things up a notch with Olivia Neutron-John, the project of vocalist, keyboardist and electronic noisemaker Anna Nasty. Their sound is experimental and not for the faint of heart (The Washington Post has referred to their music as "fraught, frightening and fantastic"). From Tai chi moves to wool jumpsuits, they are known to put on a show that's as difficult to define as their music. As the celebrated D.C. front man and author Ian Svenonius put it, "OLIVIA NEUTRON-JOHN is a vital bolt from the blue, a radical arrival which signals something outside of noise, punk, disco, pop ..." In addition to Olivia Neutron-John, Anna also plays with Svenonius' latest band Chain and the Gang.

Check out their album Injury Train and I'm Never Getting Off It on Bandcamp and see them perform in the Luce at 7 p.m.

Posted by Amelia on July 10, 2015 in In This Case: Luce Foundation Center
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America Now! Live Painting in Our Kogod Courtyard
July 8, 2015

Jeremy Sutton is a California-based portrait painter and expert in digital art practices. American Art was lucky enough to have this talented and engaging artist perform live iPad painting at the America Now! Innovation in Art program on June 27. Kara Fikse, public programs assistant, got a chance to talk with Jeremy about painting in the Kogod Courtyard, digital art, and being a mentor for aspiring artists.

Jeremy Sutton's final painting

Jeremy Sutton's finished painting done during American Art's "America Now! Innovation in Art," June 27, 2015 Here's what the scene really looked like (Photo by Bruce Guthrie).

Eye Level: How do you think digital painting fits inside the narrative of art history?

Jeremy Sutton: The advent of digital in painting is every bit as significant and revolutionary, if not more so, than the use of oil paint in Renaissance times, the introduction of portable devices for taking oil paint outdoors in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the availability of chemical colors in the 19th century, and the capturing of optical device images via photography, also in the 19th century. Digital paint is a revolutionary new art medium that transforms the painting process. It's an amazingly powerful, rich and versatile medium, or collection of media, that allows you to go from one medium to another and mix media in a way that was never possible before. It offers the ability to document and share process; to easily and immediately display in real-time at any scale; and to easily manifest your art at any scale on any substrate.

EL: You were chatting with a lot of people during the event. What kinds of questions were they asking you? How do people engage with the type of work you are doing?

JS: People were fascinated and engaged. Seeing art unfold and develop before your eyes is a magical experience! Especially fascinating were the moments of surprise such as when they could see the musicians emerge in the painting and when I was working on a part of the painting with the canvas zoomed in and then I zoomed out and suddenly the whole painting could be seen. The audience also became subjects of my painting, including some of those watching me work, so they literally saw themselves depicted! The most common question was "which app are you using?" (answer: Sketch Club). Some asked about what kind of tablet computer I was using (answer: iPad Air). One asked if I started with a photo of the scene (answer: no, I started the drawing freehand from scratch and it is purely based on good old fashioned observation, though I did begin with a background I created that included photographic and sketched elements based on artwork in American Art's collection).

When asked about my tools, I would show how I was picking color, choosing and controlling brushes, and explain my toolbox (iPad Air, Sketch Club, Pencil by 53 and Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus 2). Some asked how they could learn to do this (answer: first, dive in and have a go, second, I offer classes and online videos. I love the creative inspiration that my live painting gives others. The iPad is non-intimidating as a painting tool and something that people can easily relate to. It was great to experience people's enthusiasm at this Smithsonian event!

EL: What does working with an iPad and stylus allow you to do, that a canvas and paintbrush can’t?

JS: Though I could have painted the scene using traditional paint and canvas (I prefer using a palette knife rather than a brush when painting with oil or acrylic), I would not have been able to so easily display the painting in progress on a large display screen, show zoom in and zoom outs, generate a replay video immediately accessible after three hours that played back every brush stroke in one minute, apply such a range of color and variety of brush marks and media in such a short time, and finally, pack up with no mess in a couple of minutes!

The ease and speed with which you can hop back and forth between media within digital paint (including the use of the iPad and stylus) is astounding and significantly different to that possible with traditional media, as is the power, speed and efficiency of picking color. I find having the color wheel as an integral part of my color picker very useful. The process of mixing colors in many digital color pickers allows you to separately adjust and control hue, value and saturation intuitively and visually in a way that is much faster than traditional color mixing.

There is also a different tactile sensation to digital drawing and painting compared to traditional techniques since in digital you are generally using a pen-like device on a smooth, hard glass or plastic surface to control your brush strokes. Not only is there less resistance and roughness to the experience, but glass and plastic don't wear down and deteriorate as physical substrates do as you work over and over and press hard and mix a multitude of different media. This allows a bravado, boldness, and persistence in digital painting that is unique to the medium. You can just keep painting and transforming your canvas for as long as you like.

EL: In addition to being an artist, you are also an active teacher. What kind of advice, or words of wisdom, do you like to give students and aspiring artists?

JS: My advice:

  • Be committed to your brush strokes and keep moving forward - avoid "undos"
  • Treat your canvas like a laboratory for experimentation - use it as your "scratchpad"
  • Look at your subject more than you look at your canvas
  • Change something almost every brush stroke (hue, saturation, value, brush width, opacity, and so on)
  • Trust your eyes. Don't worry about rules, recipes, pleasing others or obeying "shoulds"
  • Make up ways to challenge yourself in every drawing or painting
  • Embrace serendipity and look at "mistakes" as gifts
  • Relish the abstraction, boldness and patterns of the early stages
  • Don't be in a rush to finish or make something look perfect. Accept the ugly stages, tolerate the chaos and vulnerability of the process
  • Document obsessively - save stages and versions as you paint, record your process if your app allows, back up everything soon after making it
  • Draw a lot and then some more. Draw often and everyday
  • Draw from life. Ideally attend regular life drawing sessions
  • Vary your media. Use traditional and digital media. Go between apps
  • Be persistent, determined, and patient
  • Be bold and have fun

EL: Where do you think technology will take you next in your career as an artist?

JS: I am always eager to explore new art tools and technologies. Every new tool and technology offers a new and unique way to express yourself, and new qualities of marks. Over the last two years I've been working with the motion detection technology from Leap Motion and Kinect in the context of "air painting" in which my hand and finger motion in the air controls brush strokes and literally allows me to paint in the air. I am currently working with a very exciting application, Ethereal, that takes the motion detection data of the Leap Motion controller device to pick brushes, choose color, apply brush strokes and save images. I can't wait to return to the Smithsonian American Art Museum and perform air painting!

Take a look at a timelapse video of Jeremy Sutton creating the iPad painting during "America Now! Innovation in Art," as well as more images of his time at the American Art Museum.

Posted by Jeff on July 8, 2015 in Five Question Interviews, Museums & Technology
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Conservation: Keeping Mingering Mike's Hits Supersonic
July 5, 2015

Mingering Mike

Paper conservator, Kate Maynor works on Mingering Mike's FINGER: FRUSTRATIONS.

Mingering Mike's Supersonic Hits feature a vibrant array of images and colors. Catherine (Kate) Maynor, paper conservator, is responsible for preserving the vitality of Mike's artwork for future audiences. Kate will be presenting a gallery talk on Tuesday, July 7 at 5:30 p.m. about the array of treatments that she performed to keep the artist's works fresh. I'm not going to steal her thunder and reveal all the magic she worked for the exhibition (you should come and see for yourself). Instead, I'll tell you a little bit about one piece not featured in the installation.

This LP, FINGER: FRUSTRATIONS came to the museum in a plastic liner. Traditionally, such liners are used to protect albums from damage. Since Mike's works are far from traditional, the liner was beginning to harm its contents rather than preserve them. Grime and residue had been captured inside the liner and were beginning to damage Mike's imagery. The liner was also trapping humidity, which could warp and deteriorate the artwork.

Over the course of several hours, Kate carefully removed the liner. She took extraordinary care not to damage the plastic or the paper album it held. Heat was applied to the areas of tape that held the liner closed. This loosened the adhesive so the tape could be detached. A tiny spatula gently tugged the seal open. Then Kate's practiced and steady hands slowly coaxed the artwork out of its packaging. After it was removed, Kate surface cleaned the album cover to remove the harmful grime.

If you think this treatment teaser was interesting, you haven't seen anything yet. Be sure to join Kate on Tuesday for the real scoop on the work she did to keep Mingering Mike's Hits supersonic.

Posted by Chris on July 5, 2015 in American Art Here, Conservation at American Art
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In this Case: Ceramicist Howard Kottler
July 2, 2015

In Case 53B of the Luce Foundation Center sit four plates that first attracted my attention when I was a graduate student a few years ago. I was drawn to these by the figure of a boy, who looked very much like a famous painting, yet strangely manipulated. I also thought it odd that these plates were in the craft section, yet these white porcelain discs looked nothing like the plates I had been taught were craft while earning a degree in pottery.

As I looked more closely, I realized that the figure of the boy was indeed from a famous painting—it was Thomas Gainsborough's The Blue Boy. On these four plates, the ceramicist Howard Kottler rearranged the figure in various ways, and gave each plate a clever name to match the position of the boy. In my favorite plate, Ambitious Resident from the Blue Boy Set, the boy is cut up and appears in sections across the windows of two carriages. Often, when I tell people he is cut up, it sounds gruesome and gory, but it's not. It's rather humorous. In one carriage window, his feet dangle, separate from the rest of his body, but seemingly fine. In the center of the first carriage, he peers out, his expression unchanged and he seems unconcerned with the fact that he's been spliced so neatly.

This sly, slightly dark, interpretation of a well-known painting opened up an entire world of ceramics and craft to me as a graduate student. Kottler especially loved turning the ceramics world on its ear with his work in decalcomania and porcelain blanks. He took mass-produced plates and combined them with specific decals that appropriated well-known images, like American Gothic and the U.S. Capitol, and made plates full of social commentary rather than a dinner feast.

Posted by Gloria on July 2, 2015 in American Art Here, In This Case: Luce Foundation Center
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