Wednesday, October 30, 2013

944 Magazine, Take it from the Tastemakers What to See, What to Do, Where to Be

944 Magazine Take it from the Tastemakers What to See, What to Do, Where to Be

Alison Van Pelt
Artist, Van Pelt Studios

Ideal night: Riding my bike to meet friends for dinner and drinks.
Favorite drink: Sangria at Venice Beach Wines
Best dining spots: Gjelina and Piccolo
Favorite boutique: Mona Moore
Refuel after a long night: Head to Axe for a gigantic pancake and a huge cappuccino.
Favorite event: Venice Family Clinic Art Walk.
Best thing about a Venice night out: You can ride your bike.

Anthony Mandler
Filmmaker, Let Films

An ideal night out: A cigar at Hollywood Smoke on Main Street, dinner on the patio at Gjelina and a nice, long ride home on the motorcycle.
Favorite boutique: Guild on Abbot Kinney
Refuel after a long night: Morning coffee at Intelligentsia and pancakes at Axe.
Best hidden spot: Go see Jason at Old Glory Barbershop for the best fade on the westside.
Word to the wise: Venice people are really protective of their neighborhood, so when you’re there make sure not to be an a**hole, or it could get a little rough.

Cesario Block Montaño

Ideal night out: First Fridays on Abbot Kinney have been the most fun. Stores stay open late, and there are surrounding art shows that serve wine.
Favorite place to see live music: On Tuesday nights at The Brig, there’s an awesome salsa/hip-hop band that plays, and it usually turns into a huge jam session.
Best local act: Suicidal Tendencies
Best thing about Venice: Being able to get into every place without a problem, seeing real friends and familiar faces and just really knowing everyone around town. It’s nice to just see someone out and have them invite you over for some barbecue, or a party or to just come and kick it.

Charlotte Bjorlin D’Elia
Owner, RAD branding agency; jewelry designer

Best live music: Band night at Stronghold.
Favorite drink: Dirty Dog, served at a recent Dogtown party (in a tumbler; equal parts dry and sweet Vermouth, olive juice, vodka, a splash of brandy, Blue cheese-stuffed olives and a cucumber slice on the rocks).
Best dining spots: Gjelina — Travis’s food is addictive! And my friends’ Italian hideaway, Ado, in the canary yellow bungalow next to Dogtown Lofts.
Best thing about a night in Venice: The mix of people — 17 to 75 and everyone’s hanging out together.
Favorite dive spot: La Cabana on Rose
Favorite boutique: Heist for its well-edited selection of labels like Humanoid, Isabel Marant and bags by Jerome Dreyfuss.

Mary Vernieu
Owner, Betty Mae Casting & Primitivo Wine Bistro

Best local act: The Paul Chesne band
Best cocktail: Su Novia at the Tasting Kitchen
Favorite boutique: Principessa
Best breakfast: Primitivo has recently begun serving weekends.

CR Stecyk III
Artist/Photographer and Owner, Zephyr Surf Shop
Best secret spot: Juan Marquez’s Atelier
Favorite dining: Hoagie Steak
Favorite shop: Venice Originals
Best place for a late-night bite: La Cabana
Favorite Venice event: Venice Surf-A-Thon

Join the fun as 944 takes over Venice in celebration of our Nightlife Issue
944 Neighborhood Takeover | 08.06.10
First Fridays at AK1511 starting at 8 p.m.
1511 Abbot Kinney, Venice

Silver Horse, oil on canvas, 4ft x 5ft, Alison Van Pelt

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Wedding Dress, oil paint on archival paper, Alison Van Pelt

Blue Nude, oil on canvas, Alison Van Pelt

White on White Face, oil on canvas, Alison Van Pelt

Early Work, oil on canvas, 1984, Alison Van Pelt

Working on The Queen, oil and acrylic on canvas, Alison Van Pelt, Malibu, California

Fabulous home of Jenni Kayne and Richard Ehrlich in C Magazing; paintings by Alison Van Pelt

The Beverly Hills family residence of fashion designer
Jenni Kayne and realtor Richard Ehrlich offers
exalted quietude for reflection and play

By Christine Lennon
Photographed by Lisa Romerein

A shallow pool, intended for lilies, is often filled with splashing toddlers.
A shallow pool, intended for lilies, is often filled with splashing toddlers.

Jenni Kayne, Richard Ehrlich, Ripley and Tanner.
Jenni Kayne, Richard Ehrlich, Ripley and Tanner.

Jenni Kayne and Richard Ehrlich’s house is perfect because Kayne is a Virgo. At least, that’s how she explains it. Kayne, who recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of her eponymous fashion label, attributes her acute attention to detail and overall fastidiousness to her astrological sign. It’s even written in the stars that she should be modest about her affinity for interior design, which she is, and the seemingly effortless way she created an intimate, inviting home out of a cavernous “’80s architectural” in the flats of Beverly Hills. The truth is she saw serious potential in the home she and Ehrlich purchased nearly seven years ago—back when it was riddled with mold and covered, indoors and out, with aging terra-cotta tile. That said, the transformation might have more to do with her preternaturally impressive taste.

Native grasses, decomposed granite and a small grove of olive trees line the front walk.
Native grasses, decomposed granite and a small grove of olive trees line the front walk.

“We were looking for a house for a while, but we couldn’t find anything,” says Kayne. She is curled up on a built-in kitchen bench in a pair of bone-colored, high-waisted jeans and a pale T-shirt, her long, brown waves twisted into a loose braid. “It was unusual because Richard is a real estate agent, so he knew about everything on the market—all of the secret listings. And we just didn’t see anything we liked. Then one day, he called me and said, ‘I just walked into this house, and you’re going to love it. But I don’t like it!’ And somehow I convinced him he was going to love it, too.”

Kayne was attracted to the bones of the structure, the privacy afforded by the hedges surrounding the yard and the generous proportions of the rooms. Everything else had to go. “We took it down to the studs,” she laughs.

Kayne enlisted architect Jeffrey Allsbrook—a partner at Standard LA whose clients include Los Angeles designer James Perse and the Kayne Griffin Corcoran gallery (which Kayne’s sister, Maggie, co-owns). “Jeff is amazing. I met him when he designed my first store in West Hollywood, and we work really well together.”

After two and a half years of renovation, the couple moved in—with an additional family member in tow. “When we bought the house, we weren’t even really thinking about kids. But by the time we moved in, our son Tanner was six months old. Then, when our daughter Ripley was born, we did a second remodel and added on.”


The playroom is stocked with natural wooden toys by Camden Rose and a tipi customized by Fire and Creme in Venice.
The playroom is stocked with natural wooden toys by Camden Rose and a tipi customized by Fire and Creme in Venice.

Framed butterflies and a Tamar Mogendorff goose in Ripley’s room.
The fact she’s amused by the chaos instead of crushed by it—the two kids under six, a growing business (her third store, at the Montecito Country Mart, opens this autumn), her wide reaching and influential lifestyle blog,—may have something to do with her age. Kayne is barely in her thirties. She was 19 when she dropped out of Otis School of Design in L.A., only a year into the program, and launched her brand. She had a baby on her hip and was overseeing a major remodel of a 4,000-square-foot house when most of her contemporaries were struggling to assemble Ikea bookshelves. Kayne’s authority on topics belies her years: She can select linen napkins for throwing vegetarian dinner parties for 20 as easily as knowing which travertine creates a warm, modern feeling stone floor (her preference: white, vein-cut, honed).

A serene stairwell.
A serene stairwell.
Indeed, Kayne has had a big life. As the eldest of three daughters of uber-financier Richard (of Kayne Anderson Capital Advisers) and Suzanne, she was raised around the corner, just a few blocks away in a beautiful, traditional house. From her father, who invested in her business early on, Kayne inherited a phenomenal work ethic and unusual focus.
“I knew I wanted to be a designer when I was eight,” she explains with a shrug. And, back to the Virgo dilemma, she is a chronic, habitual compiler of information, ideas and sources.
“I have always been that friend people ask for information, like what they should register for when they’re pregnant, or what flowers to buy, or where I get natural toys for kids,” she explains. “And I love to help out, but frankly, it was getting a little exhausting. Now I just put it all on the blog, and when people ask for advice I send them there.”
Though she once dreamed of expanding her brand to include lifestyle items, for now, she’s content to inform her followers of tastemakers she finds around town, be it Maurice Harris of Bloom & Plume for artful floral arrangements, the vegetable garden whiz Laurie Kranz of Edible LA, or Amanda Chantal Bacon of Moon Juice.

The couple commissioned a second renovation—including a playroom and generous eat-in kitchen—to accommodate their growing family. The breakfast table was a hand-me-down from a friend. Built-in benches, pillows from Lost and Found in Hollywood, a Hans Wegner rope chair with a Mongolian lamb throw, and a vintage Kotan rug from Lawrence of La Brea create a cozy extra seating area. Honed travertine flooring is soft under bare feet.
The couple commissioned a second renovation—including a playroom and generous eat-in kitchen—to accommodate their growing family. The breakfast table was a hand-me-down from a friend. Built-in benches, pillows from Lost and Found in Hollywood, a Hans Wegner rope chair with a Mongolian lamb throw, and a vintage Kotan rug from Lawrence of La Brea create a cozy extra seating area. Honed travertine flooring is soft under bare feet.
When it came time to decorate her own home, Kayne deferred to style authority, Christian Liaigre, and borrowed liberally from his aesthetic.
“A lot of the ideas from this house came from his first book on design, Maison,” she says. She set out to create an environment that was “clean, neutral, warm and comfortable,” and adds, “The house is modern, but we’re not modern people. We added a lot of natural, organic elements.”
The first step was to purchase the majority of reclaimed wood from a single Amish barn in Pennsylvania.
“The ceilings in the kitchen are from the siding. We used the big beams, which we hollowed out, all over the house. And some of the wood from the beams was used to create our kitchen counters,” she says. A long farm table from Obsolete lines one wall; and woven leather chairs from JF Chen, and white linen upholstered sofas custom made by Molly Isaacson surround a concrete, dual-sided fireplace. Kayne also commissioned an alabaster fixture from JF Chen, and she designed a generous two-sided master bath with a shared shower that’s certainly a lesson in marital diplomacy.

Three paintings by Santa Monica-based artist Alison Van Pelt, above a Lawson-Fenning dining table. The chairs are vintage, purchased from a friend, which she then had copied.
Three paintings by Santa Monica-based artist Alison Van Pelt, above a Lawson-Fenning dining table. The chairs are vintage, purchased from a friend, which she then had copied.

But the home’s most impressive feature might be its art collection. Paintings of Native Americans by Alison Van Pelt hang above the dining table; family photos from friend Michael Muller line the hallway leading to the master suite at the rear of the house; and an over-sized image of a woman floating serenely in a turquoise sea is the only jolt of bold color in the living room.

son Van Pelt above an Eames chair in the master.
Another (borrowed) Alison Van Pelt above an Eames chair in the master.
“I am so lucky my mom didn’t have enough wall space for this one,” she says. “I like to say it’s on loan.”
With the scent of wood smoke from the fireplace lingering in the air, and the wall of green that lines the pool, it’s easy to forget the property is a stone’s throw from the tourist throngs and retailers of Beverly Hills—a place where Kayne swore she would never reside again.
“I never thought I’d live in the flats! It was hills all the way for me,” she says. “But I love it. It’s so convenient. The sidewalks are great for the kids. And in this house, you can’t see a single neighbor. It feels so calm. You could literally be anywhere.”
Kayne has created an impressive oasis for her family, equal parts adult refuge and kid paradise.
“People are kind of shocked I have white furniture with little kids around. But I just have my eco Scotchgard person come, like, once every couple of months. Everything just wipes off. You’ve got to try it. I’ll give you the number.”
[C, October 2013]

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Nicole Wiener, Flight and the Figure: The Paintings of Alison Van Pelt

“Dialogue With Chance”
by Nicole Wiener
Published in Flight and the Figure: The Paintings of Alison Van Pelt. Los Angeles, CA

For more than a decade Alison Van Pelt has been locked in a dialogue with chance, pushing its limits, challenging its nature and in turn asking questions about the order of things. Having studied classical technique at the Florence Academy of Art, paired with her technical ability of precise, realistic, factual execution and rendering, Van Pelt searched for a way to create a more complex dialogue in her painting. Looking for new information and inspiration she went to Paris on a search for something more. It was there she saw paintings of Francis Bacon and became interested in his technique and handling of the paint. Bacon’s approach of “moving the paint around until it takes on a life of its own” served as a starting point for Van Pelt’s formal investigation into painting as a practice. Returning home to her native Los Angeles, Van Pelt had every intention of creating a picture informed by what she had responded to in Bacon’s work. This oil applied to canvas was initiated with the idea of making a concrete image and moving the paint around until something else began to happen. What happened was something entirely unexpected as Van Pelt recycled accident and chance with her intentions and facts. Van Pelt became fascinated with the natural order of things that began to unfold on and in the micro-surface of the painting. From these experimental beginnings Van Pelt has continued this project working within the parameters of intention and chance, exploring what happens when, inside the restricted space of a painting, fact is obfuscated by the physical manifestation of her personal ideology.
Van Pelt’s practice and process of production, the recycling and deconstruction of the image, happens in two parts. The first part of her process and of this discussion becomes about Van Pelt’s finding and treatment of the fact/object/subject of her paintings; the second part of the discussion and her process centers around the ideological physical deconstruction and subsequent reconstruction of the fact/image. To begin, Van Pelt works from personal drawings, historical reference, as well as photographic information collected from different sources. Van Pelt’s interest in the passage of time, the science of light and the nature of energy inform her choices to work with the human form, portraits and most recently figures in motion.
When working with the nude subject, photographic information is often recycled from many disparate origins. Occasionally, the original image has an art historical or Classical beginning, as she draws from old masters and her continuing interest in painterly tradition, looking at such artists as Holbein and Rembrandt. In thinking about composition, light, shadow and color Da Vinci and Del Sarto are often references. The figurative image, that she often morphs into a sculptural bust, once a quasi sculpture and a living body, at times comes from contemporary pop cultural sources and the printed media. In terms of the pop culture genesis Van Pelt re-uses, re-interprets and re-presents the popularly available female image in such a way that it is often uncertain if the recycled image is from pop print media or referenced from an old master.
The image, whether the human form, a portrait or a body in motion for Van Pelt becomes a vehicle for the exploration into the passage of time and the relationship of light to matter. With the nudes, she finds their opaque stillness a result of “the lack of time within the perimeters of the picture… time seems nonexistent”. The nudes, frozen forever in an infinite moment, recall and represent the nature and function of light as a tool in photography. The same can be said for the figures in motion, which are inspired by the work of Etienne-Jules Marey and the serial photography of Eadweard Muybridge, both working with photography in the late 19th century to understand the nature of motion. It is through light that an image is known and made available to the human eye and therefore to the brain for consideration and consumption. As Leonard Shlain points out, “Light always carries with it the frozen moment of an image’s creation”*, as a wave/particle of light burns the reflected image of an object into the eye of the viewer. This theme of motion and the trapping, freezing and capturing of an image lies at the heart of the factual investigations Van Pelt seeks. It is this notion that holds her close to the work of Edgar Degas, as both photographer and painter. The trapping of an image/moment and the fleeting presence of mood captured by the camera’s ability to record a brief instant was again explored by Bacon in the recent past of our own 20th century. As Van Pelt comes to this tradition and action of harnessing time, her own lifetime overlapping Bacon’s, she creates a double project of trapping the serial system of art history’s interest in motion and the artistic recording of it.
The chosen fact-images become tools of communication as they are contextualized through the deconstruction and reconstruction of the physical motion of her ideology. The physical motion of blurring a tightly rendered painting opens a dialogue with chance. In the action of moving the paint, setting the molecules of the subject into motion, the play between intention, expectation and accident begins. The permutation of chance challenges the somewhat systematic deconstruction of the fact she has set up. Van Pelt says, “it is hard not to have expectations, but the magic is in the accident,” as she blurs a concrete form, watching the paint take on a life of its own and in many ways making its own choices, bringing in question the creator’s control. Van Pelt watches as the paint erases the subject’s own recent past to uncover its present, its current state of being – breaking down the picture to discover its essence, thus divulging the subject’s psychology. When the paint begins to make its own decisions Van Pelt ahs a strange relationship with her work. In one way she was relinquished all control as producer, yet always retains the decision when to stop. Van Pelt’s interest in painting lies in uncovering the essence of a thing, be it in human form or the intellectual idea of movement.
By starting with a solid painted form and moving the paint around, Van Pelt is at once creating new layers and destroying old ones. The process sets into motion the deconstruction of the physical/skin/matter layer and exposes the less tangible layer of energy. One of Van Pelt’s ongoing concerns has to do with human perception of physical objects. Our minds read the things that surround us as a solid form however, in this century quantum physics has allowed us a deeper scientific understanding of the nature of our physical universe. The discovery that an atom is largely made up of empty space tells us that our physical world is merely illusion with electric energy transmitting sensory information. The interest in universal energy that unites matter has been at the center of eastern studies for thousands of years and a major impetus in Van Pelts investigations. By re-constructing the image Van Pelt wipes away the structure which creates the illusion of a tangible thing.
However perception is not always “truthful” and the closer one looks at the surface of her paintings, the more the image breaks down. In this way Van Pelt’s painting is part of the dialogue of the technology of communication using the oldest form of image production, the placement of pigment on surface. Baudrillard considers the progression of communication from the reflective mirror surfaces of paintings to the projective screen surfaces we interact with today. Mass communication via television in our private space happens through “…great screens on which are reflected atoms, particles, connections.”** The inner, expansive space of Van Pelt’s paintings contain this same deconstruction in order to pre-construct an image as do the screens of technological communication.
The contrast lies in the specificity of the transportation of the television image and the fluid, chance construction of Van Pelt’s images. This relationship creates an interesting dialogue between the old and the new, history and technology. Van Pelt’s images act as much like screens as they do mirrors to the viewer. The viewer plays an active role in the experience of the inner space of the painting, as each piece has no final reading or dictated message. What becomes recognizable in each piece varies with individual interpretation.
The act of deconstructing and representing a form, a moment or a movement becomes frozen in the space of the painting forever when Van Pelt feels the redefining of the image is complete. The re-cycling of time and motion that began with the moment the camera first stole comes to rest in infinite space. The final product and the photographic surface qualities of some of her pieces recall Richter’s work from the 1960’s. Although visually similar, their concerns are quite different. The comparison is interesting in that Van Pelt’s investigations are directed by chance, although the intention of making the work is quite different from Richter’s. The frozen moments trapped in Van Pelt’s canvases communicate the essence and fluid nature of the subject she chooses to construct and present. The viewer completes the painting by playing a role in the cycle of communication, with the topic of conversation being the nature of serial existence, motion and the essence of our common experience.
*Leonard Shlain, Art & Physics Parallel Visions in Space, Time & Light (New York: Morrow, c 1991), p. 122
** Jean Baudrillard, “The Ecstasy of Communication,” in The Anti-Aesthetic Essays on Postmodern Culture, ed. Hal Foster (New York: The New Press, c 1988), p. 130

“Interview in Alison Van Pelt’s Studio, New York, January 2003.” Michael K. Komanecky

“Interview in Alison Van Pelt’s Studio, New York, January 2003.” by Michael K. Komanecky
Published in Alison Van Pelt: The Women. Ed. Michael K. Komanecky. Dayton, OH: The Dayton Art Institute

MKK: How did you become interested in painting this group of portraits?
AVP: I love painting faces. These women have such great faces to paint. It was interesting to me that they themselves could be the subjects of my paintings when it was their paintings that influenced me. I’ve always been especially interested in painting Georgia O’Keeffe. I first painted her in 1978. I remember having O’Keeffe Museum posters in the house as a child.
MKK: When did you want to be an artist?
AVP: When I was a kid I never really thought about it. I always drew and painted. My mother painted, her mother painted. My parents encouraged me to paint. I took violin lessons for a brief period – they encouraged that less. Throughout grade school and high school I continued to paint. I was enrolled in art classes and did a lot of drawing on my own. I was pretty driven scholastically and was headed more in the direction of law or medicine. When I was twenty-one I was really lost. It was a difficult time for me. I realized that I could have given up everything – except painting. It became the most important thing to me. I guess I was always an artist, and it became clear to me at that point.
MKK: This group of portraits, with the exception of those artists who died at a young age, Frida Kahlo and Eva Hesse, are of mature, older women who are also highly accomplished artists.
AVP: As a society, we are presented with a narrow scope of beauty, exalting nubile women. I wanted to paint the faces of these women and explore their physical beauty, a result of their experience.
MKK: Why these artists?
AVP: I was interested in them as artists, but also as exceptional women. They were mavericks at a time when women were marginalized from the mainstream art world. I like what Grace Hartigan said, “If you are an exceptionally gifted woman, then the doors are open to you. What women are fighting for is to be as mediocre as men.” These women are extraordinary and stand out to me. Not only where they good, they were determined, original, unorthodox, and persistent. They seem to have been driven by an individual internal mechanism at a time when success, in market terms, was not a factor. The motivation seems to have been more about one’s potential, or even, as Louise Nevelson said, “…fulfilling one’s destiny.”
MKK: It is a fascinating group of women spanning almost three generations. Käthe Kollwitz is the only one whose career really began in the nineteenth century. How did you choose her as one of the women you wanted to portray?
AVP: While in Germany, I went to see Kollwitz’s self portraits at the eponymous Museum in Cologne. She was a survivor. I could see that in her face. I responded to that.
MKK: Frida Kahlo is another artist of this earlier generation, younger than Kollwitz but of an older generation than all the reset. She is something of a cult figure in our world and time. Why her?
AVP: This is more personal choice than a comment on history. Clearly, though, another survivor.
MKK: Kahlo is one of those artists who is seen largely in that context, a powerful personality and important as an artist almost as much for that personality as the work itself. Yet it is hard in some ways to think about her apart from her torturous relationship with Diego Rivera, one that seems at times undeniably destructive.
AVP: Many of these women had relationships that were destructive, perhaps not as abusive as Kahlo’s, but in many ways they subjugated themselves in their relationships with men.
MKK: And Georgia O’Keeffe?
AVP: It was an issue. She had to get out of the shadow of Stieglitz. The same goes for Krasner and Pollock. They were independent at a time when society didn’t encourage women to pursue careers and personal goals.
MKK: When I think of Georgia O’Keeffe, I think both of her powerful work and the striking photographs of her by Stieglitz that capture both her physical beauty and her strong independence.
AVP: You get a sense of her strength from those images.
MKK: Each of these portraits was done on an enormous scale and most focus solely on the face. How did these issues of scale and focus evolve?
AVP: I painted these women on a grand scale, somewhat as a form of idolatry. I admire them now and have looked up to most of them since I was young. In terms of framing the face there is subtle variation. I am trying to capture character, with some I went close in on the face like Helen Frankenthaler – while with others like Frida Kahlo, I pan out slightly, depending upon what I find to be essential. Kahlo’s hair, ribbons, and the line of her neck were all a part of her character as were her facial features.
MKK: You worked in large scale in previous series, the Flight and Fight paintings, but all of your current portraits are of uniform scale and even larger. How did that decision come about?
AVP: I wanted paint them in large scale format and 9’ x 7’ was the biggest stretched canvas I could get through the studio door.
MKK: Did you conceive this group of pictures as a series or did it just happen?
AVP: It began with a general preconception, the sequence unfolding as I worked. Lee Krasner and Georgia O’Keeffe were first and I finished with Eva Hesse and Frida Kahlo.
MKK: Were you interested in Frida Kahlo more as a figure of what an artist could be, Eva Hesse more for the body of work?
AVP: Whatever difficulties Frida Kahlo faced, she had the capacity to express herself without editing her work. My attraction to her revolves around her independence from approval. This engenders confidence, without which, life as an artist is much more difficult. For Eva Hesse self-confidence was more of a struggle. But she emerged with a powerful, original voice.
MKK: Is that something you identify with?
AVP: Somewhat; I have issues with approval, but I think I have the tenacity to work them through.
MKK: Were there some women artists whose portraits you thought about painting but rejected?
AVP: No. There are so many from Artemesia Gentileschi to Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot, Natalia Gonchorova, Rosa Bonheur, Romaine Brooks, Nikki de Saint Phalle, Malvina Hoffman, and more. While I was working within the parameters of a group of artists building careers just before the women’s movement, this is not a historical commentary. These fourteen women were prominent in my mind, the decision being based on an emotional and personal response.
MKK: Are these artists you became familiar with in your own training as an artist?
AVP: Some I was introduced to in childhood under my mother’s influence, some I learned about later.
MKK: You said from an early age you wanted to be an artist, or would be.
AVP: I knew that I was.
MKK: Which is a different thing?
AVP: It was always an avocation. I didn’t know it would be a vocation.
MKK: Was there any hesitation in going to art school and pursuing art as a profession?
AVP: No. Once the decision was made to study as an artist I was completely focused.
MKK: You studied first in the U.S. and then went to Italy.
AVP: I went to UCLA, Art Center Pasadena, and Otis College of Art and Design. Italy was much later. I went back to school in Florence at the Academy of Art.
MKK: How was that different from the training you had up to that point?
AVP: The training was very specific. We drew from life casts, made paint using raw pigment. Our practice was informed by the schools of Renaissance masters. There was strict adherence to that tradition, to building a strong foundation. I still feel like a student of painting and I think I always will.
MKK: Drawing has played an important role for you as an artist, first as a young child and right up to your time in Italy. Drawing certainly informs much of what you do.
AVP: Drawing is the bones, the armature. Drawing is the foundation of my work. When the drawing is tight, I have more freedom to be loose in my painting.
MKK: Being more a student of old master than contemporary painting, it has always puzzled me in a way knowing that Rubens or Rembrandt would make a drawing on canvas or panel and then paint it over. It seems such a destructive act.
AVP: Much of great painting is destructive. It’s a lesson in non-attachment. You have to be willing to allow a painting to change and evolve. Look at Francis Bacon, Willem de Kooning. Einstein said, “Matter is neither created nor destroyed – simply rearranged.” Much of my process is the rearrangement of the paint – for me, that’s what makes it exciting.
MKK: A photograph has been the source of each of these paintings.
AVP: Sometimes several photographs.
MKK: And then you go about making a drawing?
AVP: I do drawings until I am happy with one that will translate into a painting. This becomes the basis of the painting.
MKK: Then comes the destruction of the drawing.
AVP: There is the destruction of the painting as well. A very detailed painted image is broken down.
MKK: Do you do color studies?
AVP: I like to experiment with an image using variations in color, size and surface texture. I do image studies on wood, paper, canvas…
MKK: It seems evident that some artists seem to know exactly what they want to get before they start. Although some alterations, accidents, and discoveries take place in the process of painting, the near total conception has to be there.
AVP: I can plan, visualize, and make an exact drawing, but with these paintings I have to give up a certain amount of control. I think it’s the accident that is really so beautiful and interesting. Francis Bacon said, “I move the paint around until it takes on a life of its own.” That’s what’s happening in these paintings. At a certain point I am moving the paint and just watching what it does.
MKK: The remarkable quality of these paintings is that from a certain distance one can feel the presence of the people you have portrayed, and yet as one gets closer and closer to the pictures they have a different existence, as paint on canvas. It is striking to me how you can keep both things working at the same time, particularly when you talk about the intensity of the process, having this limited window of time.
AVP: The paint itself is the most interesting thing to me. The process of painting is foremost. The subject is a vehicle to create an image, and that’s always changing, but the technique is constant. The fact that the texture of the paint contains the disintegration of the image is the most exciting part to me.
MKK: Do you feel a sense of control over this while doing the painting?
AVP: Not entirely. I like to feel surprised by what the paint does – to an extent. Each time I feel total control, I like to push a little into the realm of chance.
MKK: Working on such a large scale is a special kind of challenge and it has been for centuries. Again, referring to artists of earlier eras, working on canvases so big required building a scaffold just to do it.
AVP: It’s a very physical endeavor to do the larger paintings.
MKK: Let’s talk about color. There is color in each of these pictures, but they are each relatively monochromatic. What was the role of color in each?
AVP: I worked in black and white for years. I was interested in form, light and shadow, creating images in light and dark. Color is relatively new for me. These portraits seemed to have demanded it.
MKK: Frida Kahlo is an example that comes to mind, there is a striking range of reds.
AVP: Yes. There is a deep crimson, orange, black, a fiery red, a hot pink.
MKK: In your recent series it is interesting to see that in Flight it is an action that you have captured and frozen. In Fight, you have again frozen action, but only in a few instances can one actually recognize the images in those paintings. In this most recent group the subjects are different. They are immediately identifiable, they have been chosen because of their identity.
AVP: Sometimes my objective is to convey motion, to get a sense of movement, a captured instant, usually movement across the canvas. But with a portrait or still object, my concern with movement is a recession from the surface. I want the blurring of the image to create depth. As the image moves deeper into the painting it can begin to breathe and vibrate. The blur obliterates pieces of information and can leave space for the viewer’s imagination. But most importantly, especially with portraits, the blurring is a way to get to the essential, to break down and unify. To blur the image, removing the distraction of surface details, allows the essence of the thing to be revealed. The essence of that person or thing becomes the subject.
MKK: It seems you have come to a new point n doing these pictures. Is there something that is starting to form as to what will be next?
AVP: I’m working on a new group of paintings in the direction of the Agnes Martin piece, white-on-white, working with a perceived minimal surface that reveals a complex, unexpected image.
MKK: Do you work on only one picture at a time?
AVP: Not always. It depends on scale and the amount of attention needed for a particular painting.
MKK: How long does it take you to complete a work from the initial drawing to the completed painting?
AVP: It varies including preparation and recovery.
MKK: What happens when you finish a painting?
AVP: I pray no bugs fly into it and hopefully I can sleep.
MKK: How long is it before you begin the next?
AVP: I get on a roll. Once I’m working on a series I stay focused on it. I need to keep the momentum going. It’s easier to keep going than to stop and start. But between projects sometimes it’s good to just live a little – to have a life to bring to the work.

Gwen, oil, acrylic, gold leaf on canvas by Alison Van Pelt, "Portraits", written by Christopher Monger Published by Pharmaka, Los Angeles, CA

by Christopher Monger
Published by Pharmaka, Los Angeles, CA

Alison Van Pelt’s latest series of paintings are pulled from the American landscape of popular culture. She addresses her subject as an iconographic symbol that hovers like a black and white dream. These newsprint style images are instantly recognizable portraits of people that are now considered public domain, like the portraits of Tom Cruise and Britney Spears.
Alison meticulously renders the portrait using a brush with oil (not airbrushed) and from a distance the face looks like it was cut out from a newspaper and blown up. When you get close you see there are no pixels and the brush strokes are so refined that we are instantly seduced into believing we are looking at a large photograph that has somehow gone through a filtering process, thus making the image seem soft and slightly blurred.
Alison’s portraits are not directly linked to the mechanics of photography like Chuck Close’s oversized photorealist portraits of the 1970s. Those paintings engaged in a direct dialogue with photography by replicating how the camera lens was mechanically able to focus on one area of a subject, while the rest became blurred. Instead, Alison’s images are preexisting and lifted from out media-driven world and placed in a contrasting environment – the same way a Ruscha word is lifted out of a conversation and thrown into a foreign context.
The area that surrounds Alison’s portraits are painted in acrylic, creating a flat and stark, almost hostile contrast to the illusionary face. This collision of two surfaces pushes the image forward into the viewer’s space. There is a visual confrontation: We either reject or project our personal identity onto the image of the celebrity. The celebrity persona has been so well crafted – mythologized into the Pantheon of Gods.
Alison paints celebrity portraits as they appear to us through the machinery of the media, having been removed countless times from the interaction that occurs between the artist and the sitter. They stare out at us in their all too familiar way, but the color field that surrounds them is what is real. A flat, bright color that refers to nothing else but itself in the tradition of the color field painters of the 1960s and 1970s. The Ellsworth Kelly fields of brushless strokes are ruptured by the fading image of the person. Without the talking heads of the entertainment or news shows to give background noise to these images, these portraits radiate a deafening silence – almost a death knell.

The Eclectic Eye: Selections from the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation. by Rosalind Bickel, Eds. Karen Jacobson and Alison Pearlman Published by C & C Printing, Frida by Alison Van Pelt

The Eclectic Eye: Selections from the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation.
by Rosalind Bickel, Eds. Karen Jacobson and Alison Pearlman
Published by C & C Printing

Alison Van Pelt describes her paintings as “my way of merging the ancient tradition of portraiture with contemporary abstraction.”  Poised halfway between recognizable images and indecipherable blurs, her enigmatic faces and figures have been linked to holograms because of the way they seem to float in a mysterious depth of space and to the work of Mark Rothko because of the way they evoke a realm of transcendence, a metaphysical state.
Van Pelt has said that she is most interested in ambiguity and in exploring “the edge between annihilation and a clear reality.”  In addition to Rothko, one of her most important inspirations in this respect is the figural paintings of Francis Bacon, whose work she encountered during a stay in Paris in 1988. Van Pelt was “taken with the way he smeared paint on the face”  and how he was able to “transform images into fluid mutating visions that dissolve, melt and erupt into ambiguity.”  Like Bacon, Van Pelt also bases much of her preliminary work on photographs; she selects a photograph, from which she paints a realistic portrait, and then, while the paint is still wet, she obscures the image by dragging a dry brush across the surface of the canvas. She has a very controlled, delicate approach to what she calls the “destruction” of the image. Her evenly applied vertical and horizontal brush strokes seem to lift the image into and onto a kind of floating veil or screen as it wavers in and out of visibility. The image can appear sharp and distinct from some angles, while up close it can melt away into nothingness.
Van Pelt has applied her distinctive smeared or blurred style to a number of different subjects, including boxers, birds in flight, and female nudes. In each case, she subtly plays upon the relation between motion and stasis, time and timelessness, reality and abstraction. Agnes Martin is from her most recent body of work, The Women, a series of portraits of women artists, including Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, Alice Neel, and Louise Bourgeois. Born in 1912, Agnes Martin is known for her monochromatic abstract paintings. Her canvases are often composed of grids or other geometric structures that are barely perceptible. Van Pelt’s especially vague and delicate rendering of Martin’s face in this work clearly evokes and pays homage to the older artist’s distinctive and influential minimal style. At times clouding over into an indistinct blur and at times standing out in sharp chiaroscuro, Martin’s face hovers, resembling a religious icon or ancestral portrait. R. B.

Quoted in George Melrod, “Femme Noir”, World Art, no. 12 (December 1997): 52.
Quoted in Robert Scheer, “Local LA,” Los Angeles Times, 6 August 1998.
Melrod, “Femme Noir,” 54.
Quoted in Dr. Jonas Wright, “Flight and the Figure: The Paintings of Alison Van Pelt,” in Flight and the Figure: The Paintings of Alison Van Pelt (Los Angeles: Rusconi, 1999), 5.

Jim Dicke II and Alex Nyerges, THE WOMEN, paintings by Alison Van Pelt, The Dayton Art Institute

THE WOMEN: Introduction
by Jim Dicke II and Alex Nyerges
Published in Alison Van Pelt: The Women. Ed. Michael K. Komanecky. Dayton, OH: The Dayton Art Institute

An image of Frida Kahlo stares back at the viewer through a murky haze of time. The extraordinarily large canvas, measuring nine by seven feet, captures the late painter in a moment of pause, a hesitant moment of thought and introspection. This canvas and those of the other women artists in this exhibition ALISON VAN PELT: THE WOMEN illustrate the grace, power and beauty of these exceptional women and reflect the powerful imagination and talent of their creator, Alison Van Pelt.
The series is comprised of a veritable “who’s who” among women painters and sculptors of the twentieth century. Not meant to be comprehensive in any sense since they reflect the emotional and personal responses of Alison Van Pelt, they are quite impressive both individually and in the collective form. Van Pelt means to impress us. She painted these works on a grand scale “somewhat as a form of idolatry.” And it works. Her large canvases were limited only by the size of her studio doorway through which they entered and departed. The finished works are much larger in the psychological sense than a mere illustration in a catalogue can portray. These are works that need to be experienced – the value of the viewer’s personal interaction is as important as the interaction between the painter and the canvas at the point of creation. They are a wonderful homage to a group of women who, in Van Pelt’s own words, were “mavericks at a time when women were marginalized from the mainstream art world.”
Life is made of moments that pass as quickly as they arrive. Van Pelt’s images are based in photography but then are translated into a thin surface of paint. They capture those fractions of time for the viewer to ponder and contemplate.
We quickly recognized that it was important to exhibit and document this series before the inevitable occurred – these women would be separated and find homes in disparate points across the country and possibly the globe. This exhibition allows us to view the series of portraits in their entirety at the point in time closest to their creation. This is a rare and precious moment. And like that frozen slice of time in which we see Frida Kahlo’s inquisitive gaze, this exhibit and publication will stand as silent sentinels upon which we can reflect and contemplate.

Fight: Alison Van Pelt by Robert A. Sobieszek, senior curator, Los Angeles County Museum of Art


Fight: Alison Van Pelt
by Robert A. Sobieszek, senior curator, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

To plunge beneath in order to arrive at a surface, to ground one’s vision on the palpable where there is none, and to assault the apparent because too much is still hidden – these thoughts may be useful in approaching the paintings of Alison Van Pelt. She was trained in modern painting at Art Center in Pasadena and Otis Parsons in Los Angeles, and then was classically retrained at the Florence Academy of Art. Much of the art taught at both Southern California schools centered around conceptualism, appropriation, word/text synergy, and postmodern theory. Florence presented her with something more ancient: beautiful form, the love of looking, and techniques of painting, of laying succulent colors in oil onto a canvas, of forming images that have still to be plumbed for some fugitive essence.
Contemporary painting, especially representational and figural painting, is fraught with a love/hate relationship with the photographic image. When patently obvious the symbiosis is taken for granted, when visually redacted as a critique of our culture of images the praxis is applauded, and even when the source is obscured its presence can be felt. The photos behind Gerhard Richter’s figures and still lives are exquisitely and magically transformed into paint. The photos that act as models for Chuck Close’s portraits are critical to the scaffolding of his painted enlargements. Richard Phillips takes the faces of young modes in advertisements and monumentalizes them. The photographic covers of popular magazines of the 60s and 70s are rather melancholically vested in the teenage reminiscences of Elizabeth Peyton’s paintings.
Alison Van Pelt’s relationship to photographic images is quite direct and unapologetic, as well. Carefully choosing images that interest her, she manually copies them, simply painting what she sees, and often manipulating and enlarging their scale. So far, there is little by way of innovation; earlier painters did this as a matter of procedure. In traditional representational painting, the image on the surface of the canvas was a mere analog to the image on the surface of the photographic emulsion, only the painting was done by hand, as if that gave it an edge of superiority. Modern artists had a choice; accept the surface of the image as it had been since Alberti – as a window onto the world – or challenge that surface for what it was: a fraud, a simulacrum, a fiction. Neither realist paintings nor photographs are “windows to the world” or “portals of perception.” They are simply surfaces which someone has played with, regardless of their chemicals or techniques.
Interrupt that surface, alter it, transform it, however, and something deeper may be gotten to Man Ray knew that in the 20s when he solarized his photographs, making us look more deeply upon their surfaces. Lucas Samaras knew it in the 70s when he physically disturbed his Polaroids’ emulsions before they dried. Van Pelt also knows this, and here, she breaks from slavish appropriation of the photographic image. While her faithful rendition of her source is still wet, its oils not yet set in their ways, she takes a dry brush to subtly blend, striate, blur, and dematerialize her forms until, as it were, they become mere Platonic shadows or suggestions or hints of themselves. Hidden within the surface of the paint and not atop the canvas, her subjects take on an essential quality of becoming, of yet to be finished, of possibilities rather than definitions, Caught in some viscous primal ooze, embryonic, dreamlike as in a dense fog, her images appear more within our vision than without, or as if they were projected from us outwardly upon the external retinal field from some deep recess of memory.
Van Pelt’s latest series, Fight, grows out of her last two series which also began with the same letter: Flight and Figures. Not the dynamics of startled birds imaged in mid-flight, nor the elegiac voluptuousness of barely emergent female torsos, Fight goes right to the matter of male aggression at one of its extremes, the heavyweight boxing match. Selected stills from videotaped classic fights are the primary source for the images: Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Randy Turpin, 1951; Cassius Clay vs. Sonny Lisson, 1964; Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman, 1975; etc. The artist has discovered an extreme range of emotions in these stills, from animal violence to physical grace, from the exuberance of the victor to the despondency of the vanquished, from violence to tenderness. She also finds the beautifully dramatic and harsh overhead lighting of these old fights utterly irresistible.
Aside from portraits of celebrities or friends, this series is Van Pelt’s first foray into representing the male body, its masculine forms, its muscular physique, its martial singularity. In her series on the female form, her Venus-like Figures were pictured as strictly iconic, reverential, totemic, and purely in offering; here, in Fight, the male figures are in diametric opposition to both the earlier series and to themselves: they are portrayed as narrative, transactional, removed, and ultimately in action. Yet, while her female figures rose to the surface towards us in remote suspension, her male boxers remain just as remote, out there in some other depth, some other conflict. Van Pelt’s subjects are basic: primal mothers in iconic verticality and feral warriors in narrative horizontality.
Across this horizon, the fighters feign, jab, block, slug, recoil, clinch, and fall – fundamental steps in a complex metaphor of life, perhaps. Joyce Carol Oates may have called boxing the “drama of life in the flesh” and “America’s tragic theater,” yet many of the boxing images Van Pelt chooses to render anew show us the visual poetry of this sport, its masculine choreography, its athletic balance, its atavistic prowess. It really does matter which of the heavyweight champions or contenders was captured on film or videotape; the simple primitive nature of this complicitous and immemorial dance performed by males is sufficient for Van Pelt. The poetic essence of this dance, however, is not to be found in any specificity or particular details, but beyond them; not in the factualness of historical films, but in the thickness of the image’s transparency; not on the surface of the painting, but beneath it; not in pigments but in dreams. And dreams are never the surface of things.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Warhol, Oldenburg, more in blockbuster exhibit at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City


SHADES OF BEY, ANDY BEY - vocals and piano, ALISON VAN PELT - artwork

Andy Bey's bass-baritone voice has aged over the last thirty-odd years, but it's aged well; he now sings in a husky drawl that sounds all the more warm and intimate for being a bit ragged around the edges. When he goes into falsetto, as on "Midnight Blue," athe sound is so dark that you don't recognize it as falsetto at first. This album peaks early on with "Like a Lover," a wistful love song with only the gentlest, sparest guitar accompaniment. But there are many other beautiful moments, the best of which always come on the slow numbers: the Billy Strayhorn classic "Pretty Girl," on which Bey sounds like Billy Eckstine with a weathered patina to his voice, and the surprising Nick Drake cover, the moody and intense "River Man." His vocal version of Thelonious Monk's "Straight, No Chaser" is fun, but it tends to expose the limitations of his range; however, he makes the uptempo "Believin' It" work beautifully -- Geri Allen's edgy, modernist piano contrasts nicely with Bey's effusive, bop-inflected delivery. by

Artist Credit
Geri Allen Guest Artist, Piano
Stephanie Badini Photography
Gary Bartz Guest Artist, Sax (Alto)
Alan Bergman Composer
Marilyn Bergman Composer
Leonard Bernstein Composer
Andy Bey Piano, Primary Artist, Vocals
Dori Caymmi Composer
Dorival Caymmi Composer
Earl Coleman Composer
Betty Comden Composer
Charles Davis Composer
Nick Drake Composer
Dominique Eade Composer
Duke Ellington Composer
Jerry Gordon Executive Producer
Adolph Green Composer
Eliseo Grenet Composer
Ernesto Grenet Composer
Annabelle Hoffman Cello
Dave Howlaski Engineer
Dennis James Bass
Herb Jordan Producer
Victor Lewis Drums
Paul Meyers Guitar
Thelonious Monk Composer
Nelson Motta Composer
Sheila Prevost Art Direction
Roger Seibel Mastering
Andy Stein Viola, Violin
Billy Strayhorn Composer
Sally Swisher Composer
Alison Van Pelt Artwork
Peter Washington Bass