Mill Fine Art is divided into 3 distinct spaces. On one side of the serene courtyard is the gallery, which we’ve closed and cleared as we search for a new location. On the other end is the artist studio, which is still full to the brim with creative energy. Our gallery director Verne Stanford is using it as a workspace, and where Verne goes, entire worlds unfold.
“It’s a very interesting relationship where airport designers are like Apple in many ways to me,” Verne says, looking across a long tabletop with fragments of maps spread across it. He’s talking about his latest patron, Corgan Associates, Inc., an architecture firm that builds airports across the world and is celebrating its 75th year in business. For the commission, Verne has dreamed up several large collages made from maps and airport blueprints.
“Can you imagine? They’re conceptualizing the infrastructure that drives the way we’re destined to relate. There are so many people traveling, there are so many people communicating,” Verne says. The idea makes the world seem big and small at once, a conundrum that’s endlessly fascinating to the artist.
Some of Verne’s completed works hang on the walls above the creative chaos. Many of them are clusters of photographs that are intricately arranged to show a single place from multiple perspectives. In “Blue Suspense” the famous white peaks of the Denver International Airport frame a blue sky as though we’re lounging in one of their dimples. In “Views”, three aerial photographs of the same housing development transform a single road into a dizzying loop. The pieces are meditations on how we perceive space now that technology allows us to move anywhere within it.
‘I’m part of a group that isn’t really recognizing there’s a group. There’s a number of photographers, and a few painters and mixed media artists,” Verne says. “It’s about aerial photography and maps, but it also has to do with cell phone coverage and social media, airports and airplanes.”
The partially completed works on the table show how Verne wraps his mind around this contemporary world. He has stitched together slices of real coastline to form imaginary continents as though large swaths of Earth as we know it have cleanly collapsed. Faraway cities are suddenly a hop away, rivers have shrunk like Slinkies and the geopolitical boundaries that divided the Old World are irrevocably shattered.
“It’s imagery that has to do with the way we’re getting closer together,” Verne says. “It’s unbelievably thrilling. It’s just wonky.”
Over the next few months, we’ll be tracing the skewed paths of Verne’s artistic journey, from his studies of humanity’s first experiments with aerial photography to his reflections on a world that knows Google Earth, iPhone photography and commercial space travel.
“Facing East” marks artist John Chang’s debut as a curator, but you’d never be able to guess it with a look at the exhibition. The show, which features four contemporary Chinese artists, has an almost shocking aesthetic unity at first glance: everything is starkly monochrome but for a few spots of color.
“It’s dramatic, it’s black-and-white, the colors are subtle.” says gallery director Verne Stanford, taking in the freshly hung work. The effect is powerful, and for a moment it’s tempting to rush to conclusions. Is this fascination with positive and negative space rooted in the artists’ cultural ties to the yin and yang? Does the unified world they’ve created react to—or reflect—the personal and political pressures of growing up during China’s Cultural Revolution?
“But the ideation is very diverse,” Stanford says, breaking the spell. We take a few steps, and then a few more, toward a series of mixed media nudes by Zhuqing Jiang. A glint of metal catches my eye, and I notice golden veins winding across the back of an inked female torso. “Look at this. What are these gold lines? They can be snakes, they can be entrails, they can be part of a map,” says Stanford.
The same thing happens as you approach—or, in the case of the sculptures, circumnavigate—the rest of the works in the show. That initial facade of rigid unity ruptures and ideas disperse in all sorts of directions. These artists may have similar points of origin, but their subsequent journeys have sent them on wildly different trajectories.
Chang’s process for selecting the “Facing East” artists wasn’t as scientific as it might appear. He started by sorting through his contacts and calling on artist friends and acquaintances whose work commented on Eastern and Western culture. Those conversations solidified his impressions of China’s recent developments.
“China’s economy is booming, so everybody just focuses on the Chinese market.” he explains. “So many collectors just go to China to see art. So why Santa Fe?”
Chang’s friend Long-Bin Chen, whose sculptures of Buddha heads that are carved from stacks of old New York and Hong Kong phone books sit in the center of the space, had been struggling to find support because he’s from Taiwan. Suddenly in 2008, the same year that superstar Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei was breaking into the international public consciousness, interest in Chen’s work exploded.
Chen’s sculptures are both visually arresting, with their dense grey striations and highly defined features, and ripe for almost endless interpretation. The artist, who moved to New York as a young man to get his MFA at the School of Visual Arts, has managed to fit the profane centers of his inherited and adopted cultures into sacred tabletop vessels. They are mundane, discarded objects made spiritual, overwhelming collections of numbers and faceless names that have been directly uploaded into a higher consciousness.
Biying Zhang made a similar move from Beijing to Boston, and the cultural leap was jarring to say the least.
“It impacted her a lot. She saw so many homeless here,” Chang says. “We don’t see many homeless people in China.” The experience inspired a series of paintings of white mattresses forlornly floating through stormy cityscapes. Zhang’s pure protagonists become symbols of inner lives exposed to the elements of the outside world, as well as markers of the stark differences between two cultures. The artist questions the promises of America.
Chang says Zhang returned home to find that China had changed. Economic inequality had left more people in the streets, giving her works new relevance there. “She told me, ‘It’s more crazy than here,’” Chang says with a smile. “So the mattress is going back to China. She’s in Beijing showing a larger mattress piece.”
Wen-hao Tien and Zhuqing Jiang have also discovered unexpected ties between the two cultures. Tien moved from Taiwan to the United States at age 23 to study art, apprenticing with renowned calligrapher Bai Qianshen and master painter Ma Qingxiong. Jiang is an art professor at Tsinghua University, but is influenced by Western art in her work.
The interplay between entering a new culture and studying her Chinese roots allowed Tien to fit calligraphy into Western artistic traditions. Chang notes that her explorations of calligraphy can easily slide between the contexts of her strictly traditional homeland of Taiwan and that of Western abstract and expressionist styles. “I think the Chinese paintings already have that abstract form and shape. She uses that form to interpret her works,” he says.
In Jiang’s case, Chang sees parallels between her delicate line drawings and those of Matisse. It’s a fitting comparison that affirms Chang’s newfound curatorial powers. Not only does the analysis hold cyclical resonance, as Matisse himself was influenced by Chinese art, but the revolutionary shift in art that the Frenchman’s generation inspired has a post-postmodern counterpart in the phenomenal work of Tien and her contemporaries.
Keep your eye out, Santa Fe; these artists may be going in many different directions, but they’re all headed up.
If the front of last Friday’s Pasatiempo seems familiar, that’s because you already met the cover models. Debbie Stevens’ gentle cranes from “Red Crown 3” are on the wall at Mill Fine Art through November 17 for Winged Artistry, Debbie’s joint show with Steven DaLuz. In the cover story, Debbie talks about her outdoor adventures in bird tracking:
“I… research the location and time that a particular bird would usually be at that spot and then travel there during that season. Along the way I will get off the beaten path and discover new locations and subjects. Wind direction and speed will tell me what direction the bird will be standing and taking flight from.”
To learn more about Debbie’s artistic process and efforts to save endangered species, her connection with Steven, and Steven’s “Watchers,” pick up a copy of Pasatiempo today!
John Chang’s paintings are an exploration of cultural identity in the sense that they break apart mass media and known symbols until a newer—and more personalized—meaning is created. Chang describes his art as “reconsidering the boundaries between the personal and the political, between ideas of what is “American” and what is “Chinese.”
Please join us at Mill Fine Art for an Oct. 5 exhibit featuring the work of John Chang, Steven DaLuz, and Debbie Stevens. John Chang will also be curating an exhibit called “Facing East: Contemporary Work from Four Chinese Artists in America” beginning Oct. 19.
As John Chang steps into his solo exhibition at Mill Fine Art, he insists that his work is not political.
“I don’t want to be so focused on that,” he says with a little smile. “People see, I’m doing this because I have experienced it.”
Chang’s paintings tell his life stories—of growing up during China’s Cultural Revolution, of moving to Los Angeles and struggling with an identity constantly yanked between two cultures. These are personal statements, he says, not political ones.
The works in question are white canvases covered in dense thickets of black paint. They pop with the practiced gestalt of a skilled abstract composition, but then their meshed detail opens to the eyes. Do those swoops and splatters form a string of symbols? Perhaps it’s Chinese calligraphy? The more you try to sort it out, the more tangled it gets.
Just like that, John Chang has placed you, quite effectively, into his childhood sneakers. Growing up in Shanghai, he was exposed to torrents of propaganda that he didn’t fully understand.
“When I was young in Shanghai… you’d see all the big Chinese characters (on the buildings), but you didn’t know what they meant,” he says. “Once you grew up, you understood, those words attacked people.”
But these jumbled symbols are not just simple windows to Chang’s past; they hold their own very immediate allure. Chang planned it that way.
“Once you grow up, you think, ‘Oh, that’s a bad thing. How can I find a positive way to use that language? To see that those languages are so beautiful and abstract?” he says. “I rearrange, I break down, I recompose it.”
The artist stands in a corner between two different groups of paintings, one hand pressed against the wall, as though crowded in by the memories. To his left hangs the latest addition to his oeuvre: mixed media works that show scraps of English-language newspapers caught in black nets of paint. They’re titled “Chaos” and are inspired by more recent developments in the artist’s life.
Chang moved to Pasadena, California in 2001 to get his Bachelor of Fine Arts after Chinese schooling proved unsatisfying.
“I learned from the traditional Soviet Union style,” he says. “It’s like, 50 people in the classroom, all doing the same thing.”
Despite his high hopes for success, the Art Center College of Design did not encourage his interest in contemporary art.
“They said, ‘You don’t even know about the history of American Pop Art,’” he explains. Chang dropped out and started showing at a small gallery in Laguna Beach. When the gallery owner abruptly vanished, he worked a job at a movie studio for a while and then headed to the Art Institute of Boston for his Master of Fine Arts. That’s where Chinese contemporary art legend Xu Bing took him on as a pupil. The rest is tattered, splotched, elliptical art history.
The years before Chang met Xu Bing were perhaps the most difficult—and therefore formative—of his life. Chang had left one culture, but didn’t feel like he’d fully entered the other.
“When I’m here, people say, ‘You’re a Chinese artist,’” he says. “When you’re back to China, they say, ‘Oh, you’re American-Chinese.’ I’m always between.” It’s an experience Chang describes as “cultural orphanhood.”
This is where Chang’s earlier fortifications against political interpretations of his work start to chip away. The stories he tells are personal, but the arc of his life spectacularly traces the grand political theatre of our times, from one global superpower to the other and back again.
And so, in the “Chaos” series, the languages of two dominant cultures interact and clash in a futile battle between brush and printing press, a great volley of black ink.
For Chang at least, this internal—and global—tempest is tied to a peculiar sort of serenity. He draws inspiration from Taoist philosopher Chuang-tze, who taught the principle of wu hua. It says that in this world, which we’re desperate to infuse with a confining social order (or luan), chaos can be something positive and beautiful.
“I have both, Western and Eastern.” says Chang. “I’m glad about it now… I’ve learned a lot.” You get the feeling that this might be how the world can come to terms with its own fractures as well.
Please join us for our artist reception at Mill Fine Art on Friday, October 5 from 5-7 pm. Meet our artists John Chang, Steven DaLuz and Debbie Stevens at the reception and see their works or visit their remarkable work October 24, 2012.
In an effort to foster discussion and understanding of contemporary Chinese art, Mill Fine Art is pleased to be introducing the Oct. 19 exhibit, “Facing East: Contemporary Work From Four Chinese Artists in America.” This group show will bring together a unique array of perspectives, visions, and personal narratives as it seeks to explore the multi-cultured experience of Chinese-American artists. As the title suggests, viewers will “face East” as they move through the exhibit—which is at once historical, cultural, political, economic, and personal. Lastly, this collection of work by well-known Chinese artists hopes to engage a dialogue about what it is like to be “in-between” cultures.
Traditional or Expressionist?
The third artist whose work will be on display in “Facing East” uses traditional materials to create modern images. Having moved from Taiwan to New England to pursue her graduate studies, Wen-Hao Tien apprenticed with renowned calligrapher, Bai Qianshen, deepening her understanding of Chinese culture. With this background, the aesthetic qualities of her art have both an “essence” of Chinese culture and a Western expressionist style. In the works that will be shown at Mill Fine Art, Tien “used [her] right hand to interpret the essence of words and the beauty of lines…and [her] left hand to channel the precipitated accidents that oftentimes reveal an even deeper dynamic.” This combination of focused intention and spontaneous discovery is a marvelous cross-cultural experiment. In “Right Hand,” one can see traces of calligraphy overtaken by abstraction.
Zhu-qing Jiang also uses calligraphic symbols in her work, but she is perhaps more fascinated with abstracting mixed media to interpret the human form. In many ways, Zhu-qing epitomizes the current generation of Chinese contemporary artists who have found success, studying at Beijing Central Academy of Arts and Design and continuing on to a professorship at Tsinghua University. With her art, Zhu-qing “hopes to make people think about the important relationship between human beings and the world.” For a 2008 exhibit at the Huan Tie Art Museum, she displayed an abstract painting that used cassette tape ribbon and black hair clips to embroider an elegant human shape. “Here,” she says, “artist use new technology to present art.” This “new technology” gives Zhu-qing’s traditional designs a Western abstract quality.
Please join Mill Fine Art as we welcome four voices of contemporary Chinese art to our gallery this fall. “Facing East” will open Oct. 19 with an artist reception from 5-7 p.m. and will be on display until Nov. 24.
Four Chinese artists will be showing work in Mill Fine Art’s upcoming exhibit, “Facing East,” which will seek to raise awareness of contemporary culture in China, as well as to explore the popularity of Chinese art in America. Examining issues that range from cultural and geographic changes to politics and economic control, “Facing East” will showcase artists who have experienced both Chinese and American culture, and are able to navigate the boundaries between them through the lens of art.
One of the four artists whose work will be on display lives and works in Boston, though she is originally from Guangzhou, China. Drawing from both cultural experiences, Bi-Ying Zhang confronts the subconscious anxiety of her urban experience by painting white mattresses afloat in dark cityscapes. The images are haunting, perhaps because the mattresses—a symbol of comfort and safety familiar to us all—are set adrift in a gloomy night of steam, rain, and general loneliness. As Zhang explains, “The [mattresses] are fragile and must make their way through a landscape of threatening events and brutal weather as if they were suddenly pulled from a private bedroom and exposed to the freezing night highway.” In these paintings, she has taken something uniquely personal and inundated it with societal influences and dangers—beautifully describing the psychological tension many people feel is the “urban experience.”
Like Bi-Ying Zhang, sculptor Long-Bin Chen made the journey from East to West—growing up in Taiwan and attending school in New York. As one of the four artists who will be showing work in “Facing East,” Chen creates intricate carvings of Buddhist figures out of recycled books that make up the “cultural debris of our information society.” To see one of his sculptures is to witness the transformation of discarded mass media into aesthetic objects and spiritual presences. In one series, he collected and carved dozens of old New York phone books into Buddhist statues, perhaps commenting on the risk of human consumption, as well as exploring the cultural dialogue between what is Chinese and what is American.
Please join us at Mill Fine Art in welcoming these two contemporary artists, who both use their dual experience of culture as motivation for artistic expression. “Facing East: Contemporary Work from Four Chinese Artists in America” will be on display from Oct. 19-Nov. 24 with an opening reception Oct. 19 from 5-7 p.m.
How is visual language used to both express and control consciousness? John Chang’s paintings are an exploration of cultural identity in the sense that they break apart mass media and known symbols until a newer—and more personalized—meaning is created.
In the paintings, one might see large swaths of black paint derived from Chinese characters, but they are largely unrecognizable, abstracted or falling apart in a liberated disconnect of pasted newspaper articles, block lettering, and torn-apart visuals. Seen as characters, the calligraphy appears to represent words on a scroll, but the jumble of gestures give no point of reference, as the paintings seem to suggest a meaning beyond the characters, beyond typography.
Chang describes his art as “reconsidering the boundaries between the personal and the political, between ideas of what is “American” and what is “Chinese.” Growing up in Shanghai, he was witness to a proliferation of propaganda by a totalitarian government. Under this system, language was used to stringently define collective thought and ostracize counterrevolutionary behavior. When Chang later moved to the States, he was surprised to find a different kind of dialectic of persuasion—the prevailing consumer capitalism of American society. He began to see the effects of propaganda and advertising on consciousness and identity. When Chang fragments and breaks up the symbols of communication in his paintings, he is able to use modern “Western” art practices as a means of artistic liberation.
Voyage Towards the Self in Society
Often sharing the pictorial space with calligraphic symbols are newsprints and postproduction graphic design materials, heightening this sense of freedom of expression. Chang uses the columns of text as a counterpoint to the sweeping curves and dives of the calligraphy, breaking up both systems of communication in a journey of personal discovery. At the core of his art is always that voyage towards the “self,” the self that he describes as a “cultural orphan.”
Drawing upon the Taoist notion of wu hua, Chuang-tze’s term for “the transmutation of things and chaotification,” Chang is able to create a world in which nothing can become anything, and anything can become no-thing. “I am forging an art,” he says, “that both creates and expresses myself.” For the ancient Chinese sage, natural chaos was seen as rich and positive as compared to luan, the confining social order. In a process that he calls “deconstruction and re-composing,” Chang finds that sense of chaos to be the motivator of his artistic process.
Creation of Meaning
At the heart of Chang’s artistry is just this: he intends to explore the confusion that comes from the “sharp contrast between…a segment of torn-up history in which I once participated, and the background of the present pop culture and consumerism in which I’m currently involved.” Along with this practice arrives a new sense of being, as well as new, unused, and uncorrupted meaning.
Please join us at Mill Fine Art for an Oct. 5 exhibit featuring the work of John Chang, Steven DaLuz, and Debbie Stevens. John Chang will also be curating an exhibit called “Facing East: Contemporary Work from Four Chinese Artists in America” beginning Oct. 19.
When the mid-March chill settled around the chamisa bushes, wildlife painter Debbie Stevens made a journey to the Bosque for her “evening with the cranes.” She had heard one could rent a blind at the Rowe Sanctuary on the Platte River, and so eagerly awaited her chance to see a possible 100,000 cranes nesting and sleeping on the river.
The Bosque, a ribbon-like oasis of flood plains only found in the Southwest, is visited each autumn by tens of thousands of birds, including Arctic geese and sandhill cranes, who stay through the winter. The Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is perhaps most well-known for its Festival of Cranes, happening each year in November.
Debbie Stevens is a frequent visitor to the Bosque, where she has cleared ditches and created viewing windows enabling bird-watchers to enjoy the abundant wildlife. As a donator to or member of various wildlife conservation organizations, Stevens is dedicated to the preservation and enjoyment of these beautiful species in their natural environment. Her March journey to the Platte River was a perfect way to step into the world of the cranes and feel the immensity of their presence.
When Stevens arrived at the sanctuary, after diligent days of planning and anticipation, she was surprised to find 23 inches of snow with the temperature dipping to almost zero. The blind was basically a plywood box with no floor located right on the canopied river bank. That March evening, she waited patiently for the predicted sunset arrival of the cranes but went to sleep without seeing one. However, to her utter amazement, as her “frozen fingers cautiously cracked open the window” early in the morning, the river was crowded with thousands of snowy cranes.
A Few Reflective Minutes
This story may best illustrate Stevens’ artistic identity and her near-photographic paintings of avian life. As the product of countless hours of research and resource photography, the paintings speak to an awareness of the birds in their natural habitat and a deep respect for their iconic beauty. Stevens is not necessarily attracted to the “special meaning” or the statement behind her subjects, but rather is enchanted by the color, reflection, pattern and shape of a crane peering into the water’s edge. She loves the scene “simply because the pink Roseate Spoonbill looks gorgeous against the green spring foliage.”
When you look into a Stevens painting, can you feel the shattering of the water, the soft down of feathers, the regal kindness within the eye of a crane? For Stevens, “it is hard to explain the haunting call of the cranes. But once you have heard it, you will long to hear it again.” Watching the birds go about their normal activities in the early morning chill, one can run the entire gamut of emotions, excitement being one of them. Stevens’ paintings capture a moment—the moment before a bird takes flight, that inimitable second where the majesty of this wild creature encounters your soul. When you spend time with the cranes through the work of Debbie Stevens, she hopes you can “spend a few reflective minutes in this paradise,” and find paradise in the all-too-real reflections within the Bosque rivers.
Find yourself climbing a ladder between worlds when you gaze into the multi-layered seascapes and spatial planes of a Veronica Leiton painting. Her technique creates multiple depths of field as she explores the micro-worlds of her imagination. Bluish-gray landscapes give way to disintegrated cities; a silent moon rises above the smoke. The life beneath the surface of each painting pulses, requiring our attention.
Leiton draws us in with a cloud of swaying hues. The colors reveal a love of the sea and a depiction of a world unknown to us. From Chile and the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez, places surrounded by the sea, Leiton grew up in “blue and all its shades.” She mixes materials, textures, rhythms and layers of paint to achieve both the calmness and the chaos of the sea.
“I believe that my art needs to be seen carefully,” Leiton says, “since each painting depicts a world composed of micro worlds, of spaces that are transformed into different spaces.” Her paintings, like old cities, have layers of time and color infused into their walls. Beneath the mysterious haziness of her compositions lie hidden worlds of microscopic complexity.
Literature in Paint
The origin of many Leiton paintings is a poem or literary phrase. These written ideas are transformed into a “visual text” when she paints, her brushstrokes infused with verse. “I have always thought that literature, especially poetry, is full of images [and] metaphors that help extraordinarily with the pictorial imagination,” Leiton explains. Her “De dantescas proporciones” was composed with the inspiration of these lines from Arjona: “My city is a black / wail / a howl / without end.” What kind of painting do you envision from those lines?
Spatiality and Time
Perhaps the most interesting facet of Veronica Leiton’s work is her complex interweaving of spatial elements and linear time. Her paintings seem to traverse the history of a city, segregating and yet connecting disparate parts of the canvas. Challenging the notion of classical symmetry, she layers images and plays with texture.
As Rosario Sanmiguel mused, “A painting’s upper layers are reflected in its lower ones, while the cliffs and crags that define the canvas’ left become a submerged urban landscape on the right.” This changing landscape is common in a Leiton painting. Moving from soothing blues to apocalyptic reds, she creates sedimentary layers of emotion.
Join Mill Fine Art from Aug. 24 to Sept. 30 for an exhibit of work by Veronica Leiton and Gail Factor—artists who both abstract landscapes to create a multi-dimensional visual experience.
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