I was intending to write about some of the art shows I saw in London just over a month ago. The show about which I have been thinking for the last few weeks is From Ear to Ear to Eye which I saw a few days earlier at the Nottingham Contemporary Gallery in the East Midlands.Read More
I’ve just discovered some old photos of work I was doing 15 years ago when I had been painting for only a few years.
These photos surprised me. I had forgotten how long I have been using street posters and signage in my paintings. I remember getting my posters from plywood hoardings around building sites in the Mission and SOMA districts of San Francisco. I would go out the day after it had rained and pull down thick layers of old dirty posters and drag them back to my studio. Then San Francisco got all cleaned up and my supply was threatened…until a good friend, who travels to Europe every year, started sending me packages of posters from the streets of Portugal, France, and Italy.
My work has changed a lot since then – my focus has pulled back from details to whole buildings – but the excitement about the urban environment, with all its decay and graffiti, is still there. Those of you who follow my work know that every painting I do includes street posters. Sometimes they are beneath the paint layer and the viewer has to discover them, and sometimes they are more noticeable. But in this old work the posters are bold – they are the subject matter. I like these paintings – they are fearless!
My recent solo show in New York, “Taking Measure (Celebrating the City)”, focused on urban architecture at a large scale – factories, cityscapes, piers and apartment buildings. The paintings were appropriately large for the subject matter.
During the year I spent working on the show I occasionally felt the need to step out of the macro and into the micro. I was missing the urban details which I enjoy but which can’t really be included in large-scale cityscapes. So every now and then I gave my legs a rest, took an artistic vacation from the big wall-hung pieces, and sat at my table to create small paintings of doors.
(Click on the images for a slideshow.)
Doors are very popular subjects for artists and photographers – architectural reminders of our travels, manageable in scale and redolent of history and tradition. There are posters and coffee-table books of doors in places from Dublin to Dubai, Paris to Katmandu. A few years ago I created a painting series of doors I had seen in Morocco, and the act of painting their bright colors and ornate tile-work brought back the heat, sounds and smells of the streets where I had sketched.
This year’s doors are ones I have found while exploring urban and industrial areas. My paintings celebrate the rusting corrugated siding, battered steel, old locks, redundant signage, and ever-present graffiti. They preserve my memories of place and time.
Most of these paintings, and more, will be available from my upcoming Open Studio.
Open Studio 2017
Saturday & Sunday, November 11th & 12th, 11 – 6pm
Preview: Friday, November 10th, 6 – 9pm
1890 Bryant St. #204, San Francisco, CA 94110
In 2015 I completed a series of paintings showing rooftops in Manhattan from a bird’s-eye point of view. This continued my exploration of patterns found in the city - any city - which had previously focused on street level imagery. On first glance the paintings appear to be abstract compositions but as the viewer perceives the dramatic shadows and glimpses of roads between buildings, they are transformed into rooftop landscapes. (Each of the pieces includes an underlay of collaged street posters, most of which were found on walls in Manhattan.)
At a public opening in my San Francisco studio the paintings generated a lot of interest, especially amongst young people employed in the tech industry, perhaps because of the role Google Earth had played in my discovery of secret spaces above the city streets.
This body of work was created for, and shown at, a gallery in Chelsea in Manhattan. But to my surprise the paintings were not successful in New York. Feedback from the gallery told me that they didn’t sell because they fell into an “uncomfortable zone” between abstraction and representation.
I can’t be sure how the age-group or the occupation of viewers differed between San Francisco and New York locations but I wonder if people who work in technology understand “flattened” images differently? And was the link between this series and my previous work (Patterns in the City. 2014. Solo show, NY) sufficiently apparent?
These things happen and can turn out to be great learning opportunities. Most of the paintings have now returned to my studio and I will live with them for a while. Our separation may bring a greater understanding.
Well, actually, I didn't build Pier 57 - that was done by the New York City Marine and Aviation Department in 1954. But I "built" a painting of the pier which will feature in my solo show "Taking Measure" opening this week in New York. By popular demand I am posting images which show the painting at different stages of development.
Arrival (Pier 57 NY). 40" x 60". Collage, mixed media and oil on wood panel
(More interesting facts about the pier itself can be found at the bottom of this post.)
Taking Measure (Celebrating the City)
October 5th - 17th.
Opening reception October 5th 6 - 8 pm
Stricoff Fine Art, 564 W 25th St. New York NY 10001
Interesting facts about Pier 57:
Pier 57 stands at the end of West 15th St, South of the Chelsea Piers Sports Complex. Abandoned and unused for many years it is now being renovated and will house new offices for Google and a food market run by Anthony Bourdain.
Designed by Emil H. Prager, the building's masterful engineering secret is mostly hidden from sight. The pier doesn't stand on conventional piles. Most of its weight is supported by three massive buoyant concrete boxes ("caissons") anchored below the waterline. These caissons were built in Grassy Point NY and were floated 38 miles down the Hudson River to their destination on the West side of Manhattan. Once in place the steel structure of the pier shed was built on top. The enormous amount of space within the subterranean concrete boxes can be accessed from within the pier shed and will hold parking, storage, retail and galleries.
In my solo show TAKING MEASURE (Celebrating the City), which opens in New York next week, my work explores the grids and patterns found in cities around the world, from Sao Paolo and Hong Kong to New York and San Francisco. The playful interaction between collage and paint speaks to the layers of narrative found in the urban environment and hints at the lives of the people within the tapestry of high-rise buildings. My collage material is old street posters from cities around the world – each fragment has its own story which is woven in with the painted layer.
Concrete Jungle (Sao Paolo) 48” x 48” explores the urban density of Brazil’s biggest city. The following images show the stages this painting went through during the six weeks of its “construction”.
TAKING MEASURE (Celebrating the City)
October 5th - 17th (Opening reception October 5th 6-8 pm)
Spring Open Studio
April 1st & 2nd 12.00 - 6.00pm
Preview: Friday March 31st 6.00 - 9.00pm
1890 Bryant St # 204, San Francisco, CA 94110
A hole or small recess for pigeons to nest;
A small open compartment for keeping letters or documents
A neat category which usually fails to reflect actual complexities
Common failings of pigeonholing schemes include:
Entities may be suited to more than one category. Example: rhubarb is both “poisonous” and “edible”.
Entities may change over time, so they no longer fit the category in which they have been placed. Example: certain species of fish may change from male to female during their life.
As you all probably know – I paint architecture and the urban environment. I started painting twenty years ago and, as I developed my skills and gained a following, I was painting demolition sites, buildings, walls, doorways, graffiti and signage. I was earning money, but not enough to support myself. Then, ten years ago, I needed to become self-sufficient very quickly. I considered getting a job. That idea that lasted for a few minutes until stubbornness/bull-headedness – call it what you will – kicked in and wouldn’t allow me to let go of this “painting thing”. So my art had to pay my bills and keep my lights on.
Previously a couple of paintings of San Francisco piers had sold quickly so I did some more. They sold. I did some more. They sold too. Piers became the predominant subject matter of my total creative output, my vendors “encouraging” me to do more because they sold easily. At some point that encouragement turned into a resistance to other types of work, mostly delivered with discreet hints but sometimes with clear requests. I found that by creating a demand for pier paintings I had reduced my vendor’s willingness to show my other work. They too have bills to pay and the desire for the easy sell is understandable. I loved painting piers but I started to feel constrained by their popularity. The creative urge to explore new things is hard to ignore and a pigeonhole, or formula, can sound the death knell for an artist’s development. The idea that I split my time between pier paintings (easy to sell) and other work (harder to sell) sounds sensible. But my creative process is labor-intensive and slow, whatever the subject matter, and a large painting can take up to a month to complete. (Those lights cost money!) When I did the math I thought that the only way I could afford to do both would be if I decided to forego sleep and any kind of personal life! That is…until I could find buyers for my “other” work.
The story has started to improve: In the past couple of years I have risked spending time away from money-earning piers to work on a series of Manhattan rooftops, architectural interiors, and old sinks. And there were sales! Some through the galleries who represent me but mostly to the San Francisco art-loving public who came to my work space during Open Studio events.
Heartened by this I allowed myself total “studio playtime” during last December and January to explore the interaction between paint and collage. While many of my friends were spending the holidays overseas I was in my studio cutting up old street posters – and having a ball!
Good news: Some of the new work from my holiday playtime was accepted into the annual Artspan Selections exhibition and also the invitational Night Light show at Studio Gallery, both in San Francisco. This has given my creative morale an enormous boost! I now have the confidence that I can afford to spend more of my time exploring new ways.
In the meantime I am working on two large pier paintings in my studio… my lights are still on!
This powerful and thought provoking installation is presented at Fort Winfield Scott at the north end of the Presidio in San Francisco. Curated by Cheryl Haines of FOR-SITE Foundation, the show brings together 18 contemporary artists from all over the world whose work explores the themes of identity, fear, exclusion, surveillance, and displacement in our unstable world. The military setting overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge adds to the impact of the art, its messages and questions. Every single piece I saw was visually and conceptually arresting. One piece frightened me and another reduced me to tears. Because I love drawing I am choosing Tirtzah Bassel’s Concourse to show here:
Bassel draws directly onto the walls, over pipes and windows, with duct tape. The gestural marks, staccato application, and limited palette conveyed the anxiety and confusion of going through the security area at an airport. It was the most wonderful drawing I’ve ever been in!
It all started with a quick tour around the Old Mint building in San Francisco. The building was about to undergo some internal demolition works and one of the architects had 10 minutes to show me around. I popped my head into the male bathroom and was visually assaulted by the 1970's/80's Red interior wrapped around the simple white porcelain fixtures. I took a quick photo. The image lingered in my files and my head for a few years.
And then I went to Alcatraz to see the Ai Wei Wei installation and saw more bathroom fixtures in the workrooms, cells, and hospital wing. The settings were very different from the Old Mint but the fixtures were similar in their simple, pragmatic, functional design.
It took me a while to understand why I felt the need to paint these small artifacts when I usually look at the larger scale of industrial architecture. The common thread linking the sinks to the buildings I paint is the "form follows function" design approach. No ornament. No unnecessary detail. No desire to court attention. The sinks I have painted are mostly enamel over formed steel with exposed pipework and basic faucets. The buildings I paint often have a repeated module of sturdy roll-up shutters or loading bays, the dimensions determined by the size of a cargo container or a delivery truck. There is a powerful beauty in the resulting simplicity of both.
Bike Art: Bicycles in Art Around the World – by Iosifidis Kiriakos. A hard-cover book full of bicycle art by international artists includes several pieces by Mackey. Available from Amazon.com for $34.95.