A Conversation with Chuck Close, Dinorah Delfin and Björn Ressle
Chuck Close Studio, New York >>
By M. Brendon MacInnis
In Case You Art Lost
Frey Norris Gallery, San Francisco >>
By Natane Takeda
William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs & Video 1961– 2008 The Art Institute of Chicago >>
By Lynda Wellhausen
A Conversation with
Chuck Close, Dinorah Delfin
and Björn Ressle
Chuck Close Studio, New York
By M. Brendon MacInnis
Björn Ressle Art Projects is presenting Dinorah Delfin’s show “Here and Now Only”, photography and painting, with Chuck Close, at James Francis Trezza Gallery (please see Uptown Listings) , April 17 through May 29. Dinorah, Björn and the publisher of M stopped by Chuck’s studio in New York to talk about the work in the following conversation.
Dinorah was telling me you’re like her mentor in some ways.
Chuck Close — I’ve always spent a lot of time visiting studios; its harder now since so many places are not wheelchair accessible, so it’s hard for me to get into studios to see stuff. I’m on eleven boards and I work very hard for young artists. I jury them, I give prizes to them, I’ve created foundations just to give studio space to them, just to give money to them. I’ve always been interested in future generations from mine, how they see the issues with which they live, as opposed to when I came up. Now I’m functioning in the art world as an old fart, blue chip, whatever, and you know, I have my feelings about what’s going on. A lot of it I like and a lot of it I don’t. So to say I’m a mentor or something seems self congratulatory, I’m not doing it as sort of good works. I do it because I’m interested.
For the most part, for me, most things I see these days are not very interesting.
Chuck Close — But most of that was always never very interesting.
It’s like panning for gold; that’s the fun part of it [looking at art]. So what’s the show you’re working on?
Dinorah Delfin — Actually I asked him if he would be interested in being a special guest in the exhibition.
Chuck Close — It’s her show. I did a daguerreotype of her. If I have time, I’ll do a self-portrait to put in the show. But I just want to help her and facilitate her show. I had my printer print something up for her so she could see what one of her things looks like really big. So that’s mentor-ing on some level.
Dinorah Delfin — By the time we reconnected, I started doing photography, it came out of that moment. So I started asking him what he thought of what I was doing and he gave me feedback, and I felt more confident in what I was doing.
But you work more into painting?
Dinorah Delfin — This show is mainly photography; I will have one painting, and I do these three dimensional works. I will have one of those also.
Aside from the interest in keeping in touch with what’s happening today, what is it that brought your attention to Dinorah’s work?
Chuck Close — Well, she started emailing me images and I thought her issues were interesting ones and I said, relatively early on, the things that I didn’t think were so good in the works. She seemed to want an honest reaction and I didn’t want to just blow smoke up her ass, so I told her what I thought and she seemed to care about my opinion and whatever. As the work evolved and changed, I thought we were involved in a dialogue. So then we went to a few things together and looked at other people’s work, which was fun, and it developed into a friendship.
How would you describe her work?
Chuck Close — Well, what interested me about her work was the unabashed narcissism about making works about herself and controlling the way this intimate... How many people do you show your naked body to? I know her to be a relatively private person, not an exhibitionist kind of person, yet she’s making all these images of herself.
Dinorah Delfin — It’s different when you are the photographer.
Chuck Close — She’s very carefully controlling how she lets the work out. When I take a picture of her she doesn’t like it, since she can’t control me. I’m going to do my thing and she says, if I did this, it’d be more flattering. I say tough luck. I’m making this image of you, you can control your own body in your work, and I can control it in mine.
You did a series of work where you visited themes of violence; is that in the show we’re talking about?
Dinorah Delfin — Yeah, definitely. All these works have to do with it. Not so much violence but trying to put together opposites to violence.
There’s an artist, I don’t have his name exactly, he did this life-size marble sculpture that was shown at Art Chicago years ago [DCA Danish Contemporary Art], incredibly beautiful, like a Rodin. But when you walk over and look at it, you realize the subject is actually a woman gutted, like Jack the ripper. Focussing on the aesthetics, he managed to depict the whole scene as something really beautiful.
Chuck Close — There was a good friend of mine who did all these sculptures about camels. She was married to Richard Serra and they were living in Italy. They went to see those incredible renaissance anatomical wax figures, a Botticelli like woman with real hair rooted in the scalp, with glass eyeballs. They find her, and meanwhile, her gut was ripped open. This was the beginning of autopsies, where artists were beginning to look at what was inside the body as well. So here are the guts split open, the vagina split in two, maybe there’s a baby in the uterus. And yet, blond hair, blue eyes lying in a beatific position, this is some of the craziest ass shit you’ll ever see in your life!
The thing I that like is that it’s so far off base, really a horror scene, yet it’s so beautiful.
Chuck Close — You see the minute you start talking about this artist’s work [Dinorah Delfin], you see it so differently from the way I see it...
I haven’t seem much if it, mostly email images.
Chuck Close — I’m so... one hundred percent a formalist, I don’t think about any of that stuff. I don’t think about violence, guts. I know it’s in there, I know her leg [in the work] is caught in a bear trap and she’s standing on top of a beating heart or whatever, but I don’t give a shit about any of that, it just helps her work. I don’t read the narrative line, myself; I think, whatever she needs to think about to make an interesting work is fine. It’s just not something… I know she needs that, to make what she does, but I don’t look at it that way. What do you think, what do you see when you look at her work?
Björn Ressle — With the photographic works, it’s a mixture of the ideas of violence which she is using, but also the art history.
Chuck Close — The Caravaggio-esque poses, that stuff.
Björn Ressle — When she puts it together, it’s surrealistic.
Chuck Close — When you look at Caravaggio, do you think it’s about religion or do you think it’s about painting?
Björn Ressle — I think it’s about painting.
Chuck Close — Yeah. Religion was the excuse to make paintings.
Björn Ressle — Exactly.
Chuck Close — The excuse to have a naked figure with something going on. That’s how I feel about your stuff. You may feel the opposite. You might feel all of that stuff is the point of the picture. To me it’s not the point of the picture, it’s the excuse to make the picture.
Dinorah Delfin — I know you don’t like the narration, but when I see an image, when a story forms in my mind, I create a narrative, that’s how I compose the images. Everything is in my mind before I actually begin working on a composition.
What’s your process? I was actually going to ask Chuck this too. At what point do you decide, okay I’m doing a photograph or I’m using the photograph as a means to do the painting?
Chuck Close — Photographs always used to be... they existed only to serve the making of a painting. In the earliest years, they had no life of their own outside of this. I took one photograph to make a painting from; I’d bracket the shots and try different exposures, but I was making one photograph to make the painting from. When I got involved in using Polaroid, I began to take photographs that were only going to be photographs. They’re not going to be used in the making of a painting. Going forward, I guess I was a reluctant photographer. Then I thought, okay, as long as I’m going to be a photographer, I might as well do some things that interest me as photography. The only thing I collect personally are photographs. So I might as well make something that’s interesting as a photograph itself, and I’ve gone on from there. But I know who real photographers are and I don’t think I’m one of them.
Dinorah Delfin — I don’t consider myself a photographer either. Photography is just a part of it, the study part.
Björn Ressle — It’s like Jeff Koons, he’s using photography sometimes, but you wouldn’t call him a photographer.
Well Richard Avedon…
Chuck Close — Let me tell you a Richard Avedon story, it will tell you something interesting. Avedon came to my very first show at Biker Gallery on 91st street in 1968. Okay. He told me years later that he went, and that after he saw my nine foot high, black and white portraits, he went home and blew up all of his negatives. He said, I’m going to take all of these photographs and I’m going to make them look like art. He was very generous about saying that. He said, I never would have done it had I not seen your work. What a photographic image looks like when it’s that big; how you confront it, it’s different from a regular sized photograph. I thought was very nice of him to acknowledge that. I was very happy to have had that effect.
When you collect photography, do you pay much attention to the materials, the paper type, whether it’s a digital print?
Chuck Close — Yeah. Well, of all the world of photography out there, I’ve limited myself to portraiture just because it keeps the scope of my collection down. Do I see photographs that I like better than some of the portraiture I have? Sure. But just to have some focus, I decided to collect portraits. I have a wonderful Man Ray; I have prints as well as photographs. I have a wonderful Cindy Sherman, stuff like that as well. I hope I get some back; they’re all in museums.
It happened to me that I showed a photographer and he gave me a print after the show, for myself, and the truth was that the image looked better in the catalog than the actual print.
Björn Ressle — That happens, that a work in person is not as powerful.
Chuck Close — What Dinorah is trying to do, be a painter who makes photographs, that issue is very interesting. There’s an interesting difference between making a painting and making a photograph. I think photography is the easiest medium in which to be competent, but the hardest medium in which to have a personal vision. Because there’s no physicality. There’s no touch, no hand; there’s no anything else. If a photographer can make an image that you can recognize from across a room as being their work: Mapplethorpe, Cindy Sherman...
Björn Ressle — Irving Penn, definitely.
Chuck Close — Right. And they do that with no touch, no hand, nothing. That is really an amazing thing. So I think it’s the easiest to be competent but the hardest to make a personal idiosyncratic statement. On the other hand,in painting, your going to make a lot of bad paintings before you make a good painting. There are a lot of accidental masterpieces in photography.
I used to go to a lab between 13th and 14th street where you could watch everybody’s pictures come out of the machine, just like a regular photo lab, boom boom boom; you’d see a hundred pictures come out of the machine in three minutes, they’d just fall out. About one in every 300 or 400 photographs was a great image, fantastic image. Does that the person who sent their negatives to be developed have any fucking idea that they’d made a great image? No. The idea that you can have an accidental masterpiece, that’s photography.
No one is going to have an accidental masterpiece with a painting. It’s only going to happen with work. It’s a very different mind set. You put yourself in a very different position to make paintings and photographs. Especially if you don’t think of yourself primarily as a photographer. I think what Dinorah’s doing is very interesting as photographs. It’s not something she needs to apologize for; to say, oh this will be more interesting if I made it into a painting, I don’t think that’s necessarily true. They’re excellent photographs. But she didn’t get to it by trying to take a photograph. Right?
Dinorah Delfin — I was actually thinking of making a painting. So that’s how I started doing it.
Chuck Close — They’re very much a painter’s attitude, a painter’s vision. It’s almost looks to me like you were constructing actors on a stage.
Dinorah Delfin — Yeah! That’s what we did! I think somebody who’s a straight photographer, like a real photographer, wouldn’t be able to do what I do easily because I use the painting skills that I have. And I don’t know if it’s because I do a lot of digital manipulation, the shading...
So you do a lot of manipulation?
Dinorah Delfin — Oh yeah, definitely!
Well, people don’t always realize that. I mean, before digital stuff, people thought that if you got the negative, you’ve got everything. No, the negative is the beginning.
Chuck Close — Right. The digital picture is just the beginning.
Björn Ressle — You spend at least the same amount of time in Photoshop as you do in the darkroom.
Chuck Close — Absolutely! You used to go in the darkroom, you would dodge and burn and use filters and carefully craft an image. Not the first thing that snaps into the back of the camera when you take it. And that’s what I love about Dinorah’s work; she’s collecting imagery, collecting a whole batch of stuff to sort through and then uses the digital process in Photoshop to build an image. She’s not taking an image.
Dinorah Delfin — There is first one image that requires a process, because I’m looking for certain expressions, certain positions, and then after I get that, I have a second image that I play together with.
Björn Ressle — Are you collecting from history as well?
Dinorah Delfin — Yes.
Chuck Close — Well, you’ve talked to me more about painters than you have about photographers.
Dinorah Delfin — What I started doing was, because of researching Francis Bacon, I saw the image that reminded me of how I felt when I saw a Francis Bacon painting. That’s how I started to express this feeling that I had.
Is there anything that we can look at here?
Dinorah Delfin — [Takes prints out to show]
Chuck Close — Hold it up in the light. It looks so different in the light. M
The second part of our conversation moves on to discuss other topics in the art world, such as the Whitney Museum of American Art 2010 Whitney Biennial, in the context of past shows, and the recent art fairs that took place in New York during the March “Art Week”. This will be published in next month’s issue of M.
In Case You Art Lost
Frey Norris Gallery, San Francisco
By Natane Takeda
The Brooklyn-based Japanese artist, Tomokazu Matsuyama, makes a journey back to one of his homelands, California, in this debut show that includes two large-scale sculptures and eleven paintings, at Frey Norris Gallery in San Francisco. Dubbed In Case You Are Lost, the show seeks integration in a complex web of personal and public interactions. At a glance, the exhibition suggests a strong neo-pop culture influence, yet convoluted stories emerge layer by layer. As the title of the show suggests, the viewer might get lost in this colorful dream-like world of his creation.
Born in Gifu, Japan, and raised in Los Angeles, London (and Japan), Matsuyama’s first profession was as an international snow-boarder, yet he held a BA in Management from Sophia University, Tokyo. Eventually ending up in New York, studying art at Pratt Institute, he soon began showing his work to galleries.
The first piece we see in this show, a large sculpture called Wherever I Am, confronts visitors. The idea for the large horse, painted in silver, comes from Frederic Remington’s iconic work, Broncho Buster, 1985. However, Matsuyama replaces the cowboy with a child’s doll that has Asian features. The silver color of the horse originates in the white elephant incense burner, a Buddhism ornament. Adding to that, in the back of the sculpture, Matsuyama puts a yellow excrement-like object on a board painted in a green and white pattern.
In the rear gallery space we see another large-scale sculpture, A Portrait of a Sacred Monk, which is a replica of Unkei’s wooden sculpture, Monk Chogen (1216), a Japanese national treasure. Instead of wood, Matusyma uses various material, including FRP, plastic, glass, and aluminum. He masterfully succeeds in creating an illusion of the original piece. However, walking closer to it, we see that the monk Chogen is just a common man, who appears to be drunk. Beer bottles and cans, spilled beer and cigarette buds are scattered around him. Instead of holding Buddhism beads, the monk looks as if he just dropped a beer bottle and his eyes are out of focus. His kimono as well as the beer bottles and cans are painted in 1970’s automobile lamination paint, evoking an old American Cadillac feeling.
In both pieces there is an absurd twist, and history is swept aside with radical ideas. Expectation of familiarity is betrayed and the work straddles western and eastern culture, breaking down and reconstructing the significant works in American and Japanese art history.
Compared to the sculptures, the paintings look more straightforward. The piece, Runnin’ Further Deeper (2009), a large-scale triptych painting measuring 7 x 15 feet offers a narrative, which has an aspect of a Japanese byobu-e (decorative freestanding room dividers or wall decorations with two, three, four, six, or eight painted panels.) Two figures with flowing hair ride horses in a forest-like snowy field, in a background of mountainous ranges in a moonlit night. The riders look back as if being chased by enemies. The faces of the figures are blank, much as in an Alex Katz’s portrait painting. A tiger and some birds appear and a horse breeching is depicted on the left. The moonlight is reflected in the mountain peak in the far distance.
At first, the work looks like a patchwork quilt. The composition of the trees and the lines of the mountains and earth create a rough grid pattern. There are two divisions in the pictorial plane — single color planes and patterns. The color contrast in the foreground and background give the work a great sense of dynamism and drama. It is somewhat overwhelming — where to focus the eye. Yet, looking closely, the powerful illusion of the work takes over, inviting us into an imaginary world.
Matsuyama made the painting as part of a series, all of which have a reference to Dog Chasing, (1623) by Kano Sanraku. There is a small-scale version of the series titled, Runnin’ Further Deeper Study 1and 2, measuring 39 x 48 inches. The Asian features of the riders, in modern fashion, gallop off the canvas like western cowboys. Matsuyama manipulates the space, the color and the pattern in an impressive display of virtuosity.
There are seven round paintings, most depicting a mythical animal. In the series of Kirin, for instance, on the black colored background, an imaginary beast is portrayed. As is the case with the other paintings, it involves colors, forms and patterns. They look decorative, like the silk painting of the Japanese old master’s painter, Jyakuchu Ito. At the same time, a refined design in the portrait of the animal evokes Ryan Mcginness’s paintings.
Matsuyama’s work represents duality — depth and flatness, tension and whimsyness, the old and new, the west and the east, the conceptual and the abstract. His intention is apparently not to blend all the components, but to symbolize them. It pretends to be spontaneous, yet without his well-calculated scheme and technique, this type of aesthetic could not be achieved. And the work itself reveals the process of reconstructing and experimentation. Like a mixed salad bowl, unique and endearing harmony comes from unmatched and unpredictable ingredients. In Case You Are Lost somehow encourages the viewer to identify himself in this visual journey, in this imaginary world. M
The Frey Norris Gallery is located at 450 Geary St.,
San Francisco, CA 94102. tel: 415.346.7812
Photographs & Video 1961– 2008
The Art Institute of Chicago
By Lynda Wellhausen
Dirt roads and cloudless skies encompass stuffed freezers, ketchup bottles, a flood of light shining through a glass of cola. In Eggleston’s photographs the people who make use of such items candidly glance past the viewer, seemingly peering towards to someone or something just out of sight. Each image in this show compliments and elucidates the next, spanning four decades of the artist’s work.
Every detail in these photographs serves to underscore the artist’s perspective, which is both irreverent and sensitive. Consider the fake diamond studs nestled in a woman’s grey French twist while she pauses before pulling a drag off her cigarette; the pink and white plaid of her top is complimented by the green hue of the diner booth where she sits — her head obscures her companion. Then there are the pieces of machinery, objects of function and buildings of industry.
The fluid, artistic engagement is apparent in the metal bars of a shopping cart, a clerk surrounded by diagonal streams of light. Ethnographic objectivity is apparent in photographs that read as compositionally interesting evidence of human culture — down to the minutiae of a prickly hair missed when shaving, or the blood on a hatchet.
This retrospective also consists of film footage Eggleston shot in Memphis and New Orleans in the early 1970s. The subculture that he documents shows family, friends and strangers who both fight and joke with each other. Included here is a house party performance of Memphis based blues guitarist/musician Furry Lewis. Some people in the movie carry on, apparently unaware of the camera, while others play to it. The large number of photographs in this show lets the viewer to see the patterns in Eggleston’s compositions, details in everyday life immortalized. M
William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs and Video, 1961-2008 is on view thru May 23 at The Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 South Michigan Avenue