Featured Artist: Erika Mahr

The drawings that accompany each sculpture are schematics of the original plans for the sculpture and are drawn after their completion. The large-scale pen and ink drawings investigate the dichotomy of the cerebral and emotive.

Opening November 3, Art Center Sarasota will present a fascinating exhibition in the galleries titled Material Matters: A Look at Medium and Method. Given the sheer breadth and depth of each work this exhibition is a must see. Participating artists include: Lauren Garber-Lake, John Westmark, Malaika Zweig, Erika Mahr, Leslie Robison and Jason Mitcham

1. What sort of art critic are you? Or, asked differently, who is your favorite art critic?

I would describe myself as a demanding critic, as we all should be. I expect for a piece to have a conversation with me, whether that be through a psychological or emotional experience. If a piece does not want to address me as a viewer then I fail to consider the work.

Diagonal by Erika Mahr

2. What role does history play in your work?

Because of the pluralist state of the artworld today, all artists have their own distinct historical lineage that influences their work. It seems impossible to avoid historical references within one’s work. The question is, or perhaps better stated, the dilemma is how do you take from the past and then move beyond it?

My own work directly addresses the concerns of the minimalists, in terms of form and visual language, but then departs into my own direction with the use of material, process, and intent. I am interested in the organic or human aspect of geometry and logic. Imperfections become welcomed rather than turning towards mechanical reproduction.

3. Are there any features of your work that are discomforting, for yourself or your viewer?

Perhaps physically painful at moments when making the work, but no, the work itself is not discomforting. I am invested in the work being inviting to the viewer, it asks them to come take a closer look.

365 Pages by Erika Mahr

4. How did you arrive at the structure of your work?

I am interested in what happens between the lines of a drawing. I imagine the possibility of squeezing myself between the lines of a Sol LeWitt wall drawing and looking out through the drawing. There is something that happens within that space, a sense of time, a sense of static. I conceptualize each of my sculptures as a two-dimensional line drawing. Each line is cut out on a separate sheet of paper allowing for each line to then occupy actual space.

5. How do you see the societal role of the artist evolving?

I think at one time artists were viewed as pioneers, exploring new territories and paving the way. Today artists in general have become one of the masses, privately making their work in hopes for it to one day enter the conversation of the art world. We of course still have mega art super stars, born out of the image of Andy Warhol. But they no longer serve the role as pioneer, rather they have become more like a fashion icon. I am more interested in the artist alone in their studio, sincerely questioning what they are making and why they bother making it.

Detail of Uproot, Pen and Ink on Paper

6. One of the most complicated aspects of being an art maker is the “Life Work” balance: making important decisions on when to start and when to stop and where to separate things. Do you have any advice for other artists, based on your own methodology, on how to balance a life’s work?

This proves to be the most difficult obstacle for any young artist. I would hardly claim to have mastered this myself. I have gone through a number of transitions while in New York, each one slowly improving my ability to make art and sustain my practice. My best advice is to realistically recognize what your goals as an artist are, then you can begin to adjust your life around this. I myself have tried to avoid any full-time jobs to support myself. Having multiple part-time jobs have aloud me to leave work where it belongs. The moment I decided that time is more valuable than money to me, I freed my mind to be able to move forward in my practice.

Combining geometric forms with arduous drawing processes, my work challenges the notion of logic and geometry as being cold and mechanical. The work explores the organic quality that can be found within systemized logic. The mark making process, whether additive or subtractive, creates imperfections that would otherwise be absent within a mechanical process. The hard-edged minimal geometry becomes softened through these imperfections, and the logical space becomes more accessible to the viewer.

Unsettled by Erika Mahr

Artist Statement

Sculptures

The paper sculptures investigate geometry, space, repetition and time. On each page of the stack, a shape is cut using an x-acto knife. On each subsequent page the shape changes slightly in size or position. When stacked, the shapes form a 3 dimensional negative space. Within this geometric cavity, the viewer experiences not a spatial void, but rather a narrative of both movement and time. With each page being visible, a “simultaneous narrative” is formed, allowing the viewer to experience the entire narrative at once. The softness of the black paper and slight imprecision of the cutting process creates a warm and contemplative architectural space rather than a sterile environment associated with minimal form.

The drawings that accompany each sculpture are schematics of the original plans for the sculpture and are drawn after their completion. They are a visual representation of the conceptualization of each piece.

Descending Grid by Erika Mahr

Drawings

The large-scale pen and ink drawings investigate the dichotomy of the cerebral and emotive. Each begin with a small sketch based off of a momentary emotion. These drawings are then broken down with a system of logic, reconstructed, and enlarged onto a quarter inch hand-drawn grid. Each square of the grid is systematically filled with repetitive lines to recreate the small sketch on a much larger scale. The final drawing consists of hundreds of thousands of these lines. The mark-making process and large scale of the paper present the viewer with both the micro and the macro, allowing for dual experiences of the cerebral and emotive.

For more information, please view Erika’s personal website: www.erikamahr.com

Featured Artist: Aaron Board

I would break down the absurd divide between “commercial” art and “fine” art (as if fine art wasn’t a commercial endeavor). The disdain that critics of prominence have had over the years for illustration is just snooty intellectualism.

1. What sort of art critic are you? Or, asked differently, who is your favorite art critic?

The only critic that I really actually read for “pleasure” is Donald Kuspit. He does a good job giving intellectual justification to the prominence of post-modern figurative art, but I haven’t read anything from him in a long time. I was fortunate to meet him about eight years a go , but he generalized me as an Odd Nerdrum protege based on one painting of mine that he chose for an exhibition – the ONLY painting of mine that is derivative of Odd Nerdrum. Maybe that’s why I stopped reading him!

I’m a lousy critic. I try to keep my mouth shut on judgments outside of the classroom. In the immortal words of Rodney King…. okay, I won’t go there.

2. What role does history play in your work?

History plays a pretty important role. I have researched not only styles and artists’ visions throughout history, but also the history of technical processes – which fascinates me. The fact that Van Eyck’s work is still holding up after almost 600 years and Eva Hesse’s latex works probably won’t make it past 60 years intrigues me. The common thread being that they were both experimenting with new and unqualified mediums at the time.

The Ill Astrayter | Acrylic and oil on canvas | 60" x 72" | 2005

3. Are there any features of your work that are discomforting, for yourself or your viewer?

My work certainly has discomforting elements, although it all depends on the POV of the person looking at it. I don’t imagine someone like Joel Peter Witkin would look at my work and find any semblance of discomfort from it. I have heard of (but never witnessed) old ladies literally yelling about my paintings in galleries. Better than being ignored I suppose…

4. What aspects of contemporary art would you change, if you could?

I would break down the absurd divide between “commercial” art and “fine” art (as if fine art wasn’t a commercial endeavor). The disdain that critics of prominence have had over the years for illustration is just snooty intellectualism. The scorn and lack of acceptance that Rockwell endured throughout his career is a good example of this divide. I’m not a fan of Rockwell per se, but he was great artist (empirically speaking) and never really deserved the snobbery that critics dumped upon him.

5. How did you arrive at the structure of your work?

What a novel idea! Structure!

Virago vs. Virago | oil on canvas | 70" x 88" | 2009

6. How do you see the societal role of the artist evolving?

I see it becoming less and less relevant. I’m not trying to be pessimistic, but it’s clear that popular music and cinema now possess the grip on culture that art used to have and there’s no sign of back-pedaling.

7. One of the most complicated aspects of being an art maker is the “Life Work” balance: making important decisions on when to start and when to stop and where to separate things. Do you have any advice for other artists, based on your own methodology, on how to balance a life’s work?

Any decision made in life must be understood as a complement to the artist’s work. If you must have a “day job” in order to keep making your art that job should feed your work – no matter how banal or irrelevant it may seem. I learned this nugget of life advice from my friend the artist David Piurek, but the concept has its roots in 2000 year old Buddhist philosophy. Make one thing work for the other and vice versa. Same with having children. Your children should be a reason to make art and never be seen as a hindrance to your work.

I have found over the years from being an instructor that “creative people” often have trouble distinguishing between their wants and their needs, and they make themselves miserable over it. Training yourself to understand what really is causing your misery (your attachments) is a good idea no matter what your course of life.

Will Not Kill The Whippoorwill | oil on canvas | 56" x 95" | 2002

8. How important do you think authority is in contemporary art now?

What a great question! In short – not important at all. If contemporary art actually had an empirical set of standards then authority might matter, but since we’re all just running amok with meat cleavers it’s all but impossible to define who the authority is. Is it the gallery owners? Museum curators? Art collectors? The hot new young artist? Sometimes the hot new artist is the “authority” over night, so how much credence do they really deserve?

Music, dance, and literature all still adhere to some set of empirical standards esoteric to their disciplines, but not art – it’s anything goes…

My Son, Jequirity | oil, acrylic and enamel on canvas panel in artist-built frame | 84" x 56" | 2007

Featured Artist: Robert Farber

Artist Statement
In my current work, I attempt to communicate the artist’s source of inspiration and fascination with the discovery and exploration of a “new” environment. The work is a response to the unique and mysterious encounter that occurs between person and place. The journey is often a confusing and complicated reflection of the artist’s own search to find his bearings in the labyrinth of the contemporary world.

Hibiscus St. Studio, 2011

1. What sort of art critic are you? Or, asked differently, who is your favorite art critic?
I suppose that I love to hate Jerry Saltz. He is such the little “taste maker”.

2. What role does history play in your work?
History has informed my work in many ways I source inspiration from a variety of sources that include explorers like Lewis and Clark and mannerist painters like Pontormo.

Captian Tom Chums For Museum Snook, 2011

3. Are there any features of your work that are discomforting, for yourself or your viewer?
I would not consider features in my work to be discomforting, but I do intentionally juxtapose disparate elements in attempt to create an implied narrative for the viewer.

4. What aspects of contemporary art would you change, if you could?
I suppose I would change the current aspect that implies your passe after age 25.

Conneaut Lake Park, Crown Jewel, 2011

5. How did you arrive at the structure of your work?
The Tuesday after 9/11/01, I was on my way to London and on to Florence to source inspiration for a new series of work..

The work continues to reflect a “sense of place” that can only be experienced through real-time travel, research and exploration. My current body of work sources inspiration and structure from a recent trip to China during the Spring of 2011. I was selected as one of two Sarasota artists to be a Cultural Ambassador to our sister city in located in Xiamen, China by the Sarasota Sister Cities Organization.

6. What does it mean to you to be an artist living and working in Sarasota, FL?
What it really means is that you must be comfortable living and working in a regional art community while exploring national exhibition opportunities.

Professional exhibition venues to exhibit work are scarce.

7. How do you see the societal role of the artist evolving?
Social networking, Twitter, Intelligent Phones and the net have changed the way we interact with each other on a global basis. Artists will continue to exploit, manipulate and examine the relevancy of new technology in relationship to their work.

Whats the cost?

Perhaps an understanding of materials and tactile processes that inform the work through physical manipulation and interaction.

8. How important do you think the discourse of contemporary art is?
Discourse keeps the critical dialogue vital and current. It has the ability to provide insights and layers of meaning for the audience that would otherwise be unattainable.

Two works created upon return from Xiamen, China 2011

9. One of the most complicated aspects of being an art maker is the “Life Work” balance: making important decisions on when to start and when to stop and where to separate things. Do you have any advice for other artists, based on your own methodology, on how to balance a life’s work?
I try and stay focused on the things that are most important; family, professional work and teaching, in that order. Its a delicate balance.

10. How important do you think authority is in contemporary art now?
I think being authentic trumps innovation and the “new”.

Work taken to Xiamen China for exhibition at Xiamen University, Fujian, China 2011
Work taken to Xiamen China for exhibition at Xiamen University, Fujian, China 2011

Website: http://webspace.ringling.edu/~rfarber/