This weekend I went to artist Jason Brinkerhoff’s book launch and artist talk at Portland’s Ampersand Vintage. The occasion was a book release which Ampersand produced in collaboration with Jason. I attended because I had seen his work in NYC a year or so ago at ZeiherSmith Gallery.
His work appeals on first blush to both a trained eye who can recognize his quotations of art history, and someone brand new to the discussion because his work is colorful and well executed. The quality is definitely there, and while some pieces of the work are suggestive, they are not generally confrontational.
His talk was a pleasant surprise. I have been to countless artist talks where for some reason the artists convince themselves of the story line of their work so well that they forgot to mention they are quoting artist x, y and z. Sometimes the artists are doing exact replicas without any nod or discussion about this. It’s off-putting to say the least. It would be like a car engineer who just crafted a 140 mile per gallon vehicle and forgetting to mention Bucky Fullminster’s Dymaxiom car invention years ago, and purporting to be the first to innovate this way. We do stand on the shoulders of giants, and as artists we need to recognize our place in that lineage.
Jason was not shy about pointing out the residuals of his interest in Picasso, Cubism and Bacon. And while he did not mention it this evening (one can’t fit everything in 20 minutes right?), his final slide of a double list of opposing words was a quotation from Bruce Nauman’s linguistic fragments and image work from the late 80s.
He also shared an image of his studio, which is a royal mess – a designed and ready royal mess. This he described was his best work environment, where he found his rhythm. God bless – my studio is as clean as a whistle with frequent zen clean out sessions for good measure.
The whole studio and process angle is an allusion to Bruce Nauman again – who at the beginning of his career in the 60s made work in a stark space where his body was the object and the medium. Ironically in the last few years Nauman has made other work about his studio – this time there are no “bodies”, only a clutter and amazing pileup of things, books, objects, stuff which he films for hours only to see a cat move in the space (five hours total). A grueling and strangely beautiful comment on the space that is the artist studio. Perhaps if Jason is starting out with a messy studio, in 20 years from now he will be doing performance pieces in his empty studio about his body and it’s movements in time and space. Or not.
So Jason’s show entitled “Some Women” was ALL women. The book is a selection of source images he collects obsessively – not one of which was unattractive, was called Head Fake. This he said was an allusion to sports terminology. I played soccer, so I get that. It also occurs in financial market activity too – basically pretend to go one way, then go another as a strategy. Could it also simply be that all the heads in the book were fake? They are mostly photographs of photographs or scans of photographs of film stills so far removed from the real deal that it’s totally fake? Indeed.
Technically speaking I commend him for his brave collage methods and going for it with materials. It’s absolutely not easy to make a collage gracefully with aesthetic merit, so despite his messy nest of a studio space, the end results are far from messy.
As a woman, and casual feminist, I think it’s impossible for me not to look at the images of the headless women, even wrestling headless women and hear him use terms such as “obliterate” the female form without getting a little uncomfortable, or at least wanting to ask him for clarity. Then I look at the forms some more, and they really are not as irritated as say de Kooning. De Kooning’s “Women” series were truly illustrations of his irritation of women, period. Jason’s work seems to have more of a tenderness and interesting awkwardness to it, less an irritation.
As for dislocating the head from it’s body, in Jason’s case I feel is more of a reflection of the way he works and less how he feels about women. I’m sure he understands he is being provocative by doing this – it’s a hot button for feminists to see women decapitated (!). He stressed in the talk that he uses photography as a source, and while he would consider drawing from a model in real life, he would actually video tape the model then use stills from that. So therein lies this sense of removal – getting away from the body, only to work in the mind. Insert screen, film, screen then film and that is the triple lens to view the female form. This is pretty much the status quo in most peoples’ daily lives. So actually his body and mind are removed in a sense too – so of course the images, man or woman, that he creates will reflect this.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means when an artist puts themselves in the “abstract” camp – the figurative yet unrecognizable camp. I’ve decided that abstraction is actually more like realism. Life is messy, messy, messy. Life is more like using oil bars and making a big stinking mess on the floor in the studio – it just is. So as much as we want to define the abstraction by putting some grounding lines a la Francis Bacon, by cutting it up and lifting it out, by framing it – life is very unkempt. So in sum I think we all live in a mess and we only create abstractions of clarity to make us feel better. So Jason’s studio is actually something I would use in the same sentence as “Realism”.
I would love, love, love to see his work remove some of those layers and lens – maybe instead of worrying about getting too sentimental about the actual female form and filling it with art history – just go for it! There is beauty in honesty, even if the beauty is crazy irritation. By sacrificing sentiment, some of the truly sensuous aspects (material and otherwise) are lost. Instead of some of the biggies (e.g. Picasso), how about taking a peek at Jean Fautrier? Amazing painter practicing quietly at the same time as the more loud and financially successful de Kooning, etc were working in America. His work is stunning and so refined in all of it’s abstraction and material.