Ellen Harvey and Jason Middlebrook question and explore the relationship between our everyday lives and the place and meaning of art in the contemporary world. With a keen awareness of their roles as artists, each approaches the subject of where art lives and how it functions. In works central to the exhibition, both Harvey and Middlebrook intervene on found or borrowed surfaces, inserting their own mark-making while working with the contrasting history of the material or environment that is being appropriated. They are interested in provoking challenge, interrupting the natural order of things, imprinting their art onto the world, while inviting meaning in the very contrast between their mark-making and where it lives.
Included will be Harvey’s New York Beautification Project (1999-2001), a “guerrilla” intervention into public spaces throughout New York City. In response to Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s crackdown on graffiti, Harvey began to think “about how disorderly sites in the city are really some of the only places available for non-professional artists to express themselves in public. I was curious to see what would happen if you changed the aesthetic of graffiti by painting small idyllic landscapes in oil and also the demographic of the artist.” For two years, she painstakingly executed forty highly-detailed landscape paintings onto stairwells, lampposts, garbage dumpsters and other spaces already covered with graffiti. Exploring such notions as who is allowed to make art in our society and what constitutes acceptable artistic interventions in public spaces, Harvey’s interactions, and in some cases altercations, with the individuals she met on the streets of New York while making her graffiti is as equally as important to the project as the finished paintings.
Jason Middlebrook works with a variety of materials that include the recycling and transformation of discarded materials into installations, objects and functional furniture. His Plank series of sculptures (included in this exhibition) continues the artists’ longstanding practice of using “materials that have a history and that still have a future.” In this body of work, found wooden planks are recycled by the artist into objects imbued with a new sense of meaning and intention. Letting the wood’s grain determine the direction of his markings, or allowing the grain to show through overlain geometric imagery, the planks both refer to the natural environment of the wood’s origin while being overtaken by surface covering, or “graffiti”. Lined up and leaning against the wall, the planks are between the height of a tree and the human figure. Investigating the complex relationships between nature and culture, order and chaos, and decay and regeneration, Middlebrook turns his attention to the often tense relationship between man and nature. “I was raised in a mountain community in Northern California and went to the University of California at Santa Cruz. Nothing could be more beautiful than these environments; however, the city has its beauty as well. New York City inspired me and continues to do so because nature is always pressing, always growing up through the cracks.”
Ellen Harvey was born in the United Kingdom and lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. She is a graduate of the Whitney Independent Study Program and the PS1 Studio Program. She has exhibited extensively in the U.S. and internationally and was included in the 2008 Whitney Biennial. Recent solo exhibitions include Picturesque Pictures at Galerie Gebruder Lehmann and The Doppleganger Collections at Magnus Müller both in Berlin, Germany, Empty Collections at Galerie Meessen de Clercq, Brussels, Belgium Private Collections at Locks Gallery, Philadelphia, Ruins are More Beautiful at the Center for Contemporary Art, Warsaw, Poland, The Museum of Failure at Luxe Gallery, New York, Mirror at the Pennsylvania Academy and A Whitney for the Whitney at Philip Morris at the Whitney Museum at Altria. She has completed projects for both the New York and Chicago Transit Authorities, most recently including a mosaic for the new Metro-North Yankee Stadium Station. Her book, The New York Beautification Project, was published by Gregory Miller in 2005 and Ellen Harvey: Mirror was published by the Pennsylvania Academy in 2006.
Jason Middlebrook is a painter and sculptor who lives and works in Craryville, NY. His work has been exhibited in public institutions such as the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, New Museum in New York, NY, Frances Loeb Art Center at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY, the Robert Hull Fleming Museum at the University of Vermont, and the Aldrich Contemporary Museum of Art in Ridgefield, CT. Born in Jackson, Michigan in 1966, Jason Middlebrook acquired a BA in Fine Arts from the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1990 and an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in California in 1994. Jason also participated in the year long Whitney Independent Program in New York from 1994 to 1995.