Sunday, July 26, 2009

Interview with artist Jeremy Flick

by Peter Gordon

In 2009, Cincinnati native, artist Jeremy Flick, received his Masters of Fine Art Degree in Painting from the University of Maryland College Park. His artwork has been featured in solo and group exhibitions across Maryland, Ohio, New Mexico, Texas, Minnesota, Indiana, Kentucky and Denmark. He is the recipient of numerous honors, including, 1st Prize in the 2008 Sadat Art Peace Competition and the David C. Driskell Award of Excellence from the University of Maryland.  His work will be included in Academy 2009, 9th Annual Survey of MFA/BFA Work, at Conner Contemporary Art in Washington D.C., opening Saturday, August 1, 2009, from 6:00-8:00 pm. Jeremy currently lives and works in Washington, DC.

Jeremy's art combines an exhaustive conceptual search with a controlled formal approach, resulting in a cohesive, consistent body of work worthy of closer examination. Recently, we talked to Jeremy regarding his work, his thoughts and approach to making art. 

Contemporary Art Review: In these paintings, you employ and manipulate specific shapes appropriated from the security patterns in hundreds of different envelopes. What initially sparked this investigation?

Jeremy Flick: As a visual person, I am always looking at things, I guess, looking for things that can find their way into my work; and my works tend to be referential of those things that I am looking towards at the time, so that there has always been a relationship between my investigations and my production. 

CAR: Have you used this rigorous data collecting process towards different subjects for previous bodies of work? How do you find the right balance between investigation and production? 

JF: In my work, I am interested in ideas, not simply the visual experience. There is a lot of thought and research that goes into the works.  I guess I become satisfied with a work when it finds that balance between the visual and the idea. 

CAR: Viewed at a distance, your paintings are largely solid white grounds populated by sparse groupings of rigid, geometric lines. When viewed at close range, these tight lines reveal loose brushwork and playful spontaneity. The white grounds reveal hidden layers, accidental drips, textural variance, and subtle tonal range. Why do you preserve the hand’s evidence, rather than simply using stencils over clean white surfaces? 

JF: I preserve the history because it’s there and should be shown. The paintings are more than they first appear to be.  The patterns I am dealing with in these paintings, are taken from the patterns inside security envelopes which are mechanically printed and are not pure. On closer inspection, the nature of their production leads to numerous deficiencies in the printed patterns, so I wanted the paintings to address those same ideas of accidents and the deficiencies. 

CAR: So the accidental printing defects in the envelopes' patterns are comparable to the natural variances in the handmade marks? 

JF: Yes. 

CAR: The visual impact of your individual paintings differs from the large installations, not only in terms of size, but also in movement. The installations’ repeated segments lead the eye in several directions, while the paintings create a more meditative mood. What ideas connect your paintings and installations?

JF: I wanted there to be a dialogue between the two types of works and the way that they can inform each other as different ways to experience the patterns.  I utilize the same symbol of the star shape in Modus Operandi as I do in Snowflakes Make the Sidewalk Softer; but the reading and the experience of the symbol is different in each specific work, and I am interested in that interplay.  Paintings on canvas have a tendency to be read in a specific way.  I look at the installations as paintings; but, because they don’t happen to be presented in the ways paintings are traditionally shown, they take on a different kind of reading and meaning.

CAR: Your large installation, Snowflakes Make the Sidewalk Softer, generates its illusion using a repeated symbol, similarly derived from envelope security patterns. How should one reconcile your use of identical forms, originally intended to preserve anonymity, to represent an object renowned for its individuality?

JF: I see the question as answering the very question it asks.  The title Snowflakes Make the Sidewalk Softer is taken from a line in the song, The Fastest Year, by Gerritt Reeves, who is a good friend of mine.  I just loved the poetic allusion the lyric made.  In the installation, I thought it would be interesting to re-represent the pattern in such a way as to engage that interplay of originality and anonymity.

To learn more about Jeremy Flick’s art and progress, visit his website at www.jeremyflick.com. Thank you for reading; and thank you, Jeremy, for your participation. 


Friday, June 26, 2009

Exhibition Review: Christian Benefiel and Leah Frankel at Hamiltonian Gallery

by Peter Gordon

As part of the residencies each was awarded last year, artists Christian Benefiel and Leah Frankel exhibited at the Hamiltonian Gallery in Washington D.C., from January 31 through March 14, 2009. In addition to their participation at Hamiltonian, these artists shared experiences at the University of Maryland College Park, the Pyramid Atlantic Arts Center, the Washington Sculptors Group and Woodman Studios of Silver Spring. Their exhibition was an interesting example of an artistic relationship developed locally over the past few years.



Christian Benefiel investigated natural and fabricated forms with rich textural detail, as in Oak, a formidable iron tree trunk, and in Staple/Commodity, a bread market complete with bins of cast iron bread varieties and a hanging scale.

Most intriguing were the surface qualities of rusted metal objects enveloped in oil-soaked paper, as in Contemporary Relic, which evoked mummified plane wreckage exhumed from an ancient grave.



Leah Frankel created a dramatic visual contrast with large distinct pieces incorporating destroyed books as their shared medium. In Dom Na Pacyfiku, dozens of separately folded, wax-covered book pages rested on two suspended glass panes, like a gaggle of encaustic origami ducklings interacting on a frozen pond. 

She again reconfigured the traditional confines of the written word to explore the expressive inadequacies of language in Book Contour, a six-foot mountainous horizon of shredded paperbacks.



Continue to follow these artists as they participate in a number of upcoming regional exhibitions. For more information, visit their websites at www.christianbenefiel.com and www.leahhfrankel.com.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Exhibition Review: Midpoint

by Peter Gordon

Midpoint, Works from University of Maryland College Park 2nd Year MFA Candidates
, presents a diverse gro
uping of artworks by Joseph Hoffman, Timothy Horjus, Sarah Laing, and Stewart Watson. As the exhibition’s name suggests, these artists are at an important crossroads where practice and exploration meet. For this reason, the exhibit is simultaneously investigatory and mature, an indicator of a well-developed MFA show next spring. The exhibition is on view at The Stamp Gallery, at the University of Maryland in College Park until June 10, 2009.

Maryland native, Joseph Hoffman, has exhibited in multiple juried and group exhibitions around the nation. He received his BFA from the University of Dayton, Ohio in 2006. His pieces in Midpoint, while vastly different, are united by their curious nature. One investigates the presence of ambient sounds in our daily lives, while the other explores contextual ironies found on single history book pages.

In the lively, sprawling installation, Write Me a Few Lines, Hoffman investigates the numerous, disregarded sounds of our daily environment. A configuration of wires, speakers and an impressive control board produce a sensory experience for the ears and eyes, as different pitches, tones and volumes visually communicate by vibrating exposed speaker heads.

In his series, History of the World, Hoffman presents three unique collages. He carefully cuts out images on one side of a page and folds them to appear on the reverse side of the paper. Two separate contexts combine into a new, perplexing message. Hoffman is able to explore context, assumption and hypocrisy with this relatively simple approach.




Stewart Watson is a Baltimore artist whose work has been featured in numerous solo exhibitions and over 60 juried and group shows. She received a BFA degree from Pennsylvania State University in 1991.

A delicate intersection of form, material and physical strength are present in Watson’s floor sculpture, Tin Types, Family Portrait. Steel spheres sit on the floor, grouped like a flock of birds. Each one gives rise to a long steel rod, culminating at eye level with a delicate feather at its tip.

In Watson’s wall piece, Twice Removed, Harry Smith, a single steel beam protrudes out from the wall. Feathers run it’s length connected with magnetic balls. These pieces successfully combine the delicacy of feathers with the strength of crude steel. Their careful union intensifies each materials’ distinct physical traits.



Sarah Laing, a native of Edinburgh, Scotland, received her BFA from the Duncan of Jordanstone School of Art and Design, Dundee in 2006. Her work has been included in several exhibitions throughout Scotland and the United States. She combines drawing, digital manipulation and repeated patterns to form compositions evocative of her interest in genetics and the landscape.

Laing’s pieces, Hollow Pursuits and Turnabout Intruder, use amorphous, twisting, tunneling lines that roam, mingle and meet to build larger organic shapes. Her mylar layers and digitally manipulated patterns actively separate this work from the well-explored avenue of rambling, linear drawings and wall pieces.


Timothy Horjus is a Kentucky native who lives and works in Baltimore, Maryland. He received his B.A. in Art Education from Trinity Christian College in 2000, and a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2005. His work has been featured in multiple exhibitions in Maryland and Illinois.

Using house paint, tape and canvas, Horjus paints in a highly stylized, formal manner that focuses on straight edges, considerate color relationships and spatial interactions. A strong visual theme pervades his pieces, as strength is garnered through his underlying understanding of design fundamentals and linear perspective. Clear visual references to modernism and post-painterly abstraction are offset by Horjus’s conceptual investigation into the way the internet alters the contemporary human condition. Taken from anonymous subject lines of spam emails, the titles of his three pieces in this show, Think Your Jang Length, Order Against Swine Flu Vaccine and When the Crisis Ends, force new associations on the viewer and clearly link this work with contemporary themes.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Interview with artist Ellington Robinson

by Peter Gordon

In his second solo exhibition since earning a Masters Degree in Fine Art in 2008, Washington D.C. artist Ellington Robinson puts passion and dedication on display. Cultural awareness and a strong sense of history emanate from numerous pieces that creatively walk the line between painting and sculpture. "The Blackprint", on display until Saturday, March 21 at the Harmony Hall Regional Center, in Fort Washington, Maryland, gives viewers much to ponder in terms of object making and our society. Robinson also has an upcoming exhibit at the District of Columbia Arts Center in Washington D.C., opening Friday, March 27 from 7-9 pm.

CONTEMPORARY ART REVIEW Your work makes strong references to music and boxing. How do these subjects, or others, inform your work?

ELLINGTON ROBINSON Jazz, Soul, and Rap (Hip-Hop) have been the soundtrack to a wealthy life filled with love, violence, a lot of death, people and travels. Music played in our household nonstop; and musicians used to come by like Nina Simone, Johnny Hartman and others. Records, tapes and reel to reels were the media and still are, in addition to current technology. I also pay homage to all those musicians who are overlooked as leaders. There were many days when their songs got me through tough times. Standing at the podium and saying a speech should not be the only image of guidance. Life is so much more complicated than the sign of that conventional image.

I’m from D.C., so we grew up on Sugar Ray Leonard and slap boxing with friends. Later as teens, it was “going to the body” which is boxing with only body shots and even street fights. In addition, Ali was and is an instrumental force in my life. He came by the house when we lived in St. Croix and as a child I was enamored. In `98, my sister died of cancer at 36; and to grieve I would pick up boxing and train, spar; and I fought in a tournament in Atlanta. Moving back to D.C., I met two friends of mine who are boxers named Rob and Tony and they took my training to another level. At this point it was for discipline and health. I also was working out in St. Thomas in the gym belonging to former middle weight champ, Julian “The Hawk” Jackson. There is a lot to learn about life in boxing, and it is really a part of my makeup as a human being. Now, all my aggression comes out in the studio. Therefore, elements of the sport find their way into the work.

CAR: You’ve been influenced by profound musicians, athletes and places. Additionally, which fine artists and/or artistic movements have affected your work?

ER: The Harlem, Italian and French Renaissance, Be Bop, Soul, Hip Hop, New York School, Fauves, Dada, the Impressionists, Civil Rights, the Dogan and the Dan, cultures and sculptures. All of those factors are an influence on my work.

CAR: Much of your work presents a play of obvious versus subtle, as dense painted layers juxtapose with protruding three-dimensional objects. What does this visual tension mean to you? What additional meaning do the sculptural elements bring to your work?

ER: Life has a physical presence; and growing up in a Hip Hop generation in the inner city, you are informed by material objects. The turntables, congas, clothing, chains, books, cars, records, trains, cement, bricks, sneakers, basketballs, signage, guns, people, clippers, barbershops, African sculpture, etc. The paint is the medium of expression; it is the ink of a writer, the horse of a cowboy, the fist of the boxer. I try to combine the physicality of location and mix it with paint. I used to paint images of the objects and now I just use the objects and turn them into my own forms of communication.

Some of the forms are literal, but they’re not. Lao Tzu inspired, I guess. For instance, The “Stone that the Builder Refused” is obviously a portrait, but the geometric eyes are influenced by the Hip Hop turntables, constructed with 45’s and appropriated from the Dan and Dogon mask. The Dogon culture is very community oriented, and rituals are practiced to propel young males into men. These very rituals are what is missing from our upbringing and why we have such a hard time being responsible for our children and lives. There is nothing literal in the meaning of any of my works; the products of music are the imaginative soundtrack, and the material of the forms. The train tracks as a motif have many symbolic references. They are the tracks of an album; they represent the Underground Railroad. They play on hip hop graffiti culture which used trains as canvases, and they reference the sound of the subways' wheels rolling along the tracks which have an effect on the New York sound of jazz. My friend from Germany, said they reminded him of the Holocaust and how trains were used to transport people.

As for the visual tension, it is a byproduct of the fusion; this is where the process becomes organic in its metamorphosis. The finitude does not exist, because I can honestly say with Obama being president, this work has another dimension than intended. My heroes in the eighties were the rappers like Kool G Rap, Slick Rick, Kane and Rakim among many others. This is not excluding the Civil Rights leaders and Pan Africanist. As a matter of fact, one of my first drawings was a narrative image of King giving “I Had a Dream” that was done when I was eight on the couch, listening to his speeches. We had to listen to his speeches every year for his birthday. As children we were well aware of the fact that King, Malcolm and others were assassinated. Our household instilled history into us, and nothing was sugar coated except for Christmas. When I started hearing the music of my generation, it went “through my body”, as Miles would say. Grand Master Flash, Run DMC, Fat Boys, Whoodini and all those groups were loved. Later, the hard groups like Boogie Down Productions came along and their DJ, Scott La Rock was killed. This is really when the violence started to permeate the music to another magnitude, even though it was always there. By the time Junior High came along, and I was living back in D.C., I started to know actual people my age who were getting killed. Along with the death of Scott La Rock, those inner city emotions started to affect my conscious. I would have to deal with this violence through high school and even Morehouse College, until now. The name of this institution is dropped because it is the only all Black male college in the world, and some of these educated men were victims of heinous crimes. The world’s poisons do not discriminate. This includes people like Ennis Cosby, whom I knew personally, and our music heroes in school like Big and Pac. My work, through its grit and tension, evokes the same emotions that bring about the humility and humbleness of dealing with these life experiences.

CAR: A strong sense of history permeates several aspects of your work. Regarding President Obama, how has his rise changed your work’s aims? Will his presidency affect your intentions? Additionally, how do you hope he engages and affects the African American community?

Obama is Twenty first century thinking. Many of my mentors have been Civil Rights activists and Pan Africanist, so they have experienced racism at its full capacity. I heard first hand stories of lynchings and the experience of men in their neighborhoods disappearing. They have been told that they cannot be served in this and that store and were not welcome in movie theaters and certain schools. We are speaking of a people being negated that are responsible for some of the best of American culture. They brought blues and jazz to the canon. The writings of James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, Alain Locke, and Sterling Brown were literary voices. Du Boise, Garvey, and Washington set forth ideologies for the people. Artists such as Romeare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, and art groups like AfriCobra and Spiral were forces in the arts. With all this contribution of talent and beauty, we saw what America did to us and our heroes. Therefore, I empathize with the past generations; and America should too.

When I see Obama, I see one who has not only this history of America on his shoulders, but the lineage of the forefathers (Lincoln, Adams, Washington) who built this country, the Native Americans, and slaves who lives were sacrificed for the foundation. He understands the plight of other people all over the world who have suffered from the West’s affinity of capitalism and imperialism.

There is a belief that being White means you are automatically educated and rich. This is absolutely foolish thinking and is as unjust as thinking all Blacks and Latinos are uneducated and poor. It is evident that Whites have suffered too from imperialists’ power. The only common denominator is that human beings are the same all over; we all have the same feelings at the end of day. So if a racial quagmire like Jena 6 or a Sean Bell incident happens again, God forbid, all Americans are victims.

The true fight is not with race; it is against the capitalist that exploit the masses. This is the aim in the work. When my friends were brutally murdered in D.C., the culprits of the crime are not the root of the issue; the issues are who brought the drugs in the community and why did we allow our friends and children to get involved in that game. Why did they not choose education as the way out, and why are so many kids making the same foolish decisions? This is a worldwide phenomenon; capitalism needs to be redeveloped into a system that focuses on the spiritual, mental and physical health of the people. My God, we have a lot of work to do.

CAR: Why is making art important to you? Do you have any suggestions to your audience in regards to viewing your work?

ER: Making art is a gift and a curse, but if I don’t do it I think I would die. There are a lot of misunderstandings and questions that need solutions and answers. Art allows me to find these remedies, but the irony is that creating initiates more misunderstandings and questions. The well runs deep and is getting deeper.

I have done my job in living through these experiences and conveying them in the creative process; whatever the audience takes away, that is on them. Although it pleases me to know that someone felt my expression, there are far more intense struggles among the inner city youths here in America, the Favelas in Brazil, and the child soldiers in Africa’s civil wars and beyond. I just hope to trigger some thoughts outside of my initial intentions.

BIO: Ellington Robinson earned his M.F.A. in painting and mixed media at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he is currently serving the David C. Driskell Award of Excellence’ teaching fellowship, as a Lecturer of Drawing. He was born in Washington, D.C. and grew up in a large family with six siblings and dozens of cousins and close relatives. The Robinson household was a respite for civil rights activists, jazz and soul enthusiasts, politicians, artists, writers, academics and professionals, including Max Robinson, Muhammad Ali, CLR James, Stokley Carmichael, Toni Morrison, and Nina Simone. In 1980, Ellington moved to St. Croix, Virgin Islands, where the family lived on a former sugar plantation with a sugar mill, historic ruins, and antique tools once used by slaves. Wild horses and goats roamed the land from time to time and the family worked several of the large gardens, which produced a variety of fruits and vegetables including ginnup, sugar apple, pomegranate, and papaya. Life on this plantation was for Ellington a daily reminder of our past. Ellington moved with his family from St. Croix to St. Thomas in 1985, where he attended both Lutheran and Anglican elementary schools. He returned to Washington during the rough times of the late 1980’s crack epidemic and attended public school. In this period of his life, the artist delved deeper into the Hip Hop culture, which has had a profound impact on his art. After graduating from Woodrow Wilson High School, he went on to Morehouse, where he received a B.A. in English. He has traveled extensively; and his explorations, mixed with the vicissitudes of his experiences growing up, are the amalgam that makes up his artwork. His work is in private and public collections, including The David C. Driskell Center and the Jean and Robert Steele Collection.

To see more images of Ellington's work, visit his website, www.ellingtonr.com, or email him at ellingtonrobinson@yahoo.com. Thank you for reading; and thank you, Ellington, for your participation.