Veronica Bruce - 1st Place, ArtSlant Prize 2012
I met Ms. Bruce in a studio that looks more like a construction site than an artist’s studio, in one of Chicago’s many industrial lofts. Her sculptures rose vertically from the wooden floor, dotting the space as piles of material rounded the interior. Bruce’s process is founded in her training as a painter but has since expanded off the wall and into the exhibition space. She retains an acute understanding of composition and color while exploring the sculptural and “architectural” possibilities available in this expanded mode of production. Her sculptural works, comprised of found, collected and sometimes personally meaningful objects are assembled to strike a delicate balance, both physically and aesthetically. Some of her works look as if they are about to collapse altogether yet they remain, secured in various ways. “I like gravity,” she states whimsically. An interesting contrast is struck in her work, between the rough state of her materials and the delicate installation and assembly of her works.
Veronica Bruce in her studio; © Veronica Bruce
When asked about the critical aspect of her process, she replies that she is “critical of the hand. Bringing awareness and possibility back to the hand and the physical manipulation and engagement with things to bring change.” As she “grapples” with the objects that make up her work, she brings attention to the materiality of the shards that remain from the activity of our contemporary civilization. Her process is physical, using mostly hand tools whenever possible. This physicality of process is apparent in her work. Wooden edges are left unfinished; Plexiglas scratched from moving and storage remains untouched and even paint-fingerprints dot some of the works, evidence of the artist’s hand in crafting the work.
Veronica Bruce, Spin and Hover, 2012 , old portfolio case from Gary Drake, white interior latex paint, nail , 53 in by 32 in by 1 in.; © Veronica Bruce.
Part of the work's attractiveness comes from its transformative aspect. By beginning with shards and remnants, her pieces are always in a state of flux. “It is the broken, wounded, reemerging, the process of breaking down, becoming another element. A possibility of renewal” is what draws her to using bits and pieces. Scraps from previous works can become elements of the next. Wooden tables and mirrors from her childhood home are cut up and appropriated into works that transform the life of the object, repurposing it for purely aesthetic purposes. “I like the emotional challenge of using personal objects and then detaching yourself from it… It’s freeing, a letting go as opposed to a holding on. You’re not keeping the object as precious or untouchable.”
Bruce’s work is a practice in transubstantiation. By emptying an object of its emotional and practical content, it allows itself to be filled, again, by the needs of the viewer. “My work is full of this transformational quality, how I alter them, I bring them up. They are reflective of a need to change and reflective of a need to be positive with circumstance."
Veronica Bruce is a painter, sculptor and arts educator based in Chicago. Her sculptures, paintings, and installations make use of everyday materials. They take on a construction zone feeling of labor, building, structure, intermixed with a spontaneous sense of arrangement and fragility. Bruce received her BFA from the University of Illinois in Urbana – Champaign in 2004 and completed a Master of Fine Arts in Painting from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia in 2011. Solo exhibitions include Julius Caesar, Chicago in 2011 and the Hinsdale Public Library in 2012. Her work has been included in group shows at Robert Bills Contemporary, The Nevica Project, Park Schreck Gallery, and with curators Casa Duno in Chicago. Artist residencies include threewalls Chicago in January 2012 and Bundanon Trust in New South Wales, Australia in March 2012. Veronica looks forward to traveling to Lithuania this upcoming May 2013 to participate in an artist residency at NIDA Art Colony in Nida, Lithuania. Her work was recently acquired by DePaul University for the Arts and Letters Hall.
(Image on top: Veronica Bruce studio interior; © Veronica Bruce.)
Steven Vasquez Lopez - 2nd Place, ArtSlant Prize 2012
Executed with laborious precision, it takes Steven Vasquez Lopez months to complete a painting. Replete with mesmerizing, detailed juxtapositions of line and color, layers of pattern and texture in his work reveal figureless landscapes, perhaps a view from poolside in Palm Beach where he spends a good portion of the year or the interior of his living room in the Bay Area. The tension between banal and chimerical in Lopez’s work reflects his history and influence migrating between cities on the Gold Coast. Originally from Southern California and now residing in San Francisco, Lopez has spent his whole life in California. As a first generation Mexican-American artist, his work uniquely creates his own language of cultural identity, in response to, and perhaps in conversation with, the motifs of mural arts and tattoo culture (rich with their own histories) of many of his contemporaries. Lopez’s work creates a new kind of iconography, symbolically operating on the micro level of the personal, able to be inserted into a larger historical and cultural dialogue.
Steven Vasquez Lopez, Flat on Top, Installation, 2012, Acrylic on Panel, 40" x 45"; © Steven Vasquez Lopez.
Portraying a domestic still life, in Our Place, Our Space (2012) recognizable objects emerge from the vibrant tableau, such as a couch and pillows. Camouflaged by Lopez’s meticulous yet haptic arrangement of colors, experiencing this space becomes a contrast between the comfort of domesticity on a surface level and what is under the veneer: a revealing and telling object-by-object exposé of Lopez and his life. Viewing this space reveals something about the way one’s relationship to every object in one's living room, on a theoretical level, is intrinsically tied to one’s identity. Lopez himself resides in the liminal space between what exists and how he paints it. Each painting a carefully intentional presentation of self through reinterpreted landscape.
Steven Vasquez Lopez, Sweet Escape, 2012, Acrylic and resin on panel, 42" x 48" ; © Steven Vasquez Lopez.
Recently venturing into drawing, Lopez’s Some Strings Attached series (2012) imparts just as much of the labor-intensive process of his paintings with less of the veneer. The colored patterns found in these works contain no recognizable imagery. Sheets of patterns were completed during times Lopez found himself traveling outside of California. Sometimes completed while in transit on a plane or in an unfamiliar place, there are places of imperfection disrupting the straight and perfect lines typically found in his paintings. Weaving together lines on paper, an homage to his seamstress mother, the unraveled imperfections become intrinsic to the overall design and thus executed with some amount of intention. The process is the concept of these drawings, strings attaching to the metaphorical fabric of Lopez’s California life while he is away from home. It is the moment when Lopez is not on his home turf and a bit of turbulence turns a straight line into a squiggle that viewers get the chance to see a different perspective and a small not-too-revealing moment of vulnerability in the pattern of Lopez’s artistic life.
Steven Vasquez Lopez was born in Upland, California and currently lives in San Francisco. His current work infuses meticulous and intricate patterns into landscapes of the great state of California, and most recently within the interior space of his San Francisco apartment. The son of a seamstress and mechanic, Lopez's early obsession with architecture, manual labor and bold fashion continues through his hard-edge graphic acrylic painting. Lopez received his BA in Studio Art from UC Santa Barbara in 2000. He was a recipient of the William Dole Memorial Scholarship (1999, 2000), Abrams Prize (2000) & Murphy and Cadogan Fellowship (2006). Since completing his MFA in Painting from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2007, Lopez has exhibited at the San Francisco Art Commission Gallery, Riverside Art Museum, Diego Rivera Gallery, Parklife Gallery, Roll Up Gallery & Root Division Gallery.
—Kara Q. Smith
(Image on top: Steven Vasquez Lopez, What a Life! Installation, 2012, Acrylic and resin on panel, 50 x 64" ; © Steven Vasquez Lopez.)
Susan Meyer - 3rd Place, ArtSlant Prize 2012
It’s somehow appropriate that we’re showing Susan Meyer’s work at an art fair inside a hotel. Hotel art fairs have a unique social sensibility to them: doors flung wide, friends and strangers alike moving fluidly in and out of what would normally be closed-off, separate private spaces. This lends the whole affair a feeling of intimacy, coupled with the slight sensation of breaching boundaries, which leads to conversations and interactions that you wouldn’t normally experience at traditional art fairs.
Susan Meyer’s installations have a similar quality. As you walk into ArtSlant’s room at Aqua Art Fair in Miami, you’ll be confronted by a large-scale architectural model of a ruined complex, with stacks of hexagonal structures built of disintegrating concrete, replete with foliage, and populated by miniature human figures. The figures in Meyer’s sculptures, however, unlike the “people textures” or “scalies” that inhabit renderings in architectural parlance, are nude. Their nakedness disrupts our view of the model, rather than seamlessly suggesting scale and habitability. Their interactions are charged with a surreal sense of otherness, and the spaces surrounding them take on a somewhat disturbing quality. It’s almost as though their behavior is caused by the architectural spaces they inhabit: the abundance of public space and the absence of typical architectural divisions of function and form.
Susan Meyer in her studio; Courtesy of the artist.
Meyer’s Plato’s Retreat and her other installations are partially inspired by her research into experimental communities, from New York’s Oneida community in the mid-1800’s to Drop City in Colorado in the 1960’s. Her figures’ nakedness, besides offering a disruptive visual effect, comments on the unconventional views towards human sexuality that were often espoused in these utopian communities. “Freedom in relation to sexuality was part of the draw of the communes,” Meyer says, “but also part of their demise.” The cycle of utopian desire to dystopian disintegration is what primarily interests Meyer: “There is something about life and civilization being a series of ups and downs rather than a steady march toward betterment—the grotesque as opposed to modernism, [according to] Robert Storr.” The figures and their environments represent, in Meyer’s words, the prospect and inevitability of “striving for your potential, but still failing a bit.”
There’s a bit of science fiction to her installations and sculptures—the unnatural, sometimes futuristic settings, the unconventional attitudes and behaviors displayed by the figures—but, just like science fiction, this is a reflection of our own civilization, brought to extremes, a way of exploring alternate realities. But unlike other artists’ and architects’ representations of utopian ideals of social organization through architecture, these are metaphorical, not practical models. Meyer insists that these pieces don’t exactly comprise a critique of architecture or society, but rather a reflection. “This is us,” she says.
Susan Meyer is a Colorado-based artist who makes fantastical environments and sculptures that explore tensions between the communal and individual. Her most recent installations explore Brutalist architecture and Corbusier’s machines for living, which are known as much for their mixed public reception as their harsh beauty. Meyer has exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver, Artspace in New Haven, CT, the Islip Art Museum Carriage House in East Islip, NY and Redux Contemporary Art Center in Charleston, South Carolina. Meyer received a B.S. in Studio Art from Skidmore College and a M.F.A. in Painting from the Boston Museum School and Tufts University. She is a Lecturer at the University of Denver’s School of Art and Art History where she teaches Drawing and Foundations.
(Image on top: Susan Meyer, Plato's Retreat, 5' x 6.25' x 5.4', Concrete, cardboard, acrylic, HO-scale figures, led lights, paint, plants; © 2012.)
Timothy Gaewsky - Honorable Mention, ArtSlant Prize 2012
Trong Nguyen: How was your first taste of Art Basel Miami and what did you end up doing last night?
Timothy Gaewsky: Just being in Miami for the first time was an eye-opener for me. Arriving at The Aqua Hotel and seeing all the people was an amazing experience. The galleries' rooms were packed and the art was high quality. Afterwards I walked down Ocean Drive, got a bite to eat and few drinks and just soaked it all in.
TN: Are you from Toledo originally? Where did you grow up, go to school, and how is the current body of work related to that geography culturally?
TG: I grew up in Cleveland, earned a BFA from Cleveland Institute of Art and and MFA from Vermont College of Fine Art. I think geographically speaking the work touches on a certain mentality I've seen in the Midwest, that of the lure of instant gratification. The lottery is very popular here and there are new casinos opening in Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, and Detroit already has three. I think because this region of the Midwest has struggled ecomonically for years that there's a strong impulse for instant financial relief.
TN: A lot of your recent assemblages and installations deal thematically with circus sideshows, Coney Island fun 'n' games, and the allure of freak shows — albeit all cleaned up for a gallery — what is your attraction to those things?
TG: I'm attracted to the bright lights, colors and graphical design aesthetics of carnivals and the circus but I also feel something disturbing under the surface. I use those aesthetics to draw viewers into the work to possibly consider deeper meaning hidden below the surface.
TN: Have you gone to any of these casinos, and if so, what have you observed?
TG: I have been to the new casino that recently opened in Toledo and the ones in Detroit. I have to say that aside from the bright lights and loud bells and whistles from the slots, I found the experience to be very depressing. It was a bit unsettling to see the numbers of people playing penny and nickel slots, many of whom had clearly been playing for hours.
Timothy Gaewsky, Smile, and Smile, and Be a Villain, 2011 Sintra, Latex Paint, Wood, Unscratched Lottery Ticket, Scap Booking Paper; © Timothy Gaewsky.
TN: How is your work related to the declining economy?
TG: Unfortunately a large percentage of the population has been affected by the declining economy. I think the work speaks to the desire for financial relief and stability. It can be tempting to look for that type of relief through instantaneous means such as gambling. A good example could be the thousands and thousands of Powerball lottery tickets that were sold per minute a couple of weeks ago.
TN: How does the art world relate? Do you see contemporary art as paralleled, from an elusive and unobtainable aspect?
TG: I would say there is a parallel for a large majority of artists who have that level of ambition. But I would also say that for some artists I know, particularly in the Midwest, don't necessarily have that level of ambition. They are prolific in their art production and are content with achieving local and regional success.
TN: I meant more in terms of the art object and the extravagant prices contemporary art commands, and in relation to the everyday viewer of art who goes to museum shows. Is your lottery connection hooked to that?
TG: I suppose on some level one could make that parallel but that has not been a primary critique for me at this point.
TN: What are you working towards next and are you continuing with the lottery work in other directions?
TG: I'm currently working on a solo exhibition at Launch Pad Cooperative slated to open January 11, 2013. The show will feature new unscratched lottery ticket pieces and will also include interactive installations utilizing a slot machine and other casino inspired themes.
TN: Great! Looking forward to it!
Timothy Gaewsky is an interdisciplinary artist who works in assemblage, installation, and appropriation. His hard-edge, graphical, witty sculptures and installations explore the relationship between desire and materialism, or more directly the ways in which desire for commodities, fortune, and instant gratification are facilitated through visual stimulation and its disruption. He has exhibited both nationally and abroad in group exhibitions at galleries and museums including AC Institute (NYC, NY), The Space (LIC, NY), Punch Gallery (Seattle, WA), Saginaw Art Museum (Saginaw, MI), Toledo Museum of Art (Toledo, OH) and Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art (Rotterdam, NL). Gaewsky earned an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a BFA from The Cleveland Institute of Art. Gaewsky currently lives and works in Toledo, Ohio.
—Trong Gia Nguyen
(Image on top: Timothy Gaewsky, Terms and Conditions, 2011 Sintra, Latex Paint, Unscratched Lottery Ticket, Appropriated Audio; © Timothy Gaewsky.)