As a self-professed impatient painter, Jordan Casteel is keen to put oil to canvas. Walking into her sunlit section within the artist-in-residence studios at The Studio Museum in Harlem, her large canvases and drawings were mounted upon the walls in various stages of progress, I was surprised to learn she felt behind schedule. Since receiving her MFA from Yale in 2014, Casteel has focused mainly on the black male figure. This subject matter continued on through exhibitions at Sargent’s Daughters (2014 and 2015), and now it reaches the Studio Museum. A few months since beginning her residency and moving to Harlem, Casteel continues to challenge the depiction of the black male figure through her large expressive portraits, but Harlem has already left its impression.
Eric Mack, 2014–15 AIR
In the second of a series of three blog posts, Curatorial Intern Mallory Cohen writes about her studio visits with each of the current artists in residence. Read Mallory's first post here.
Eric Mack’s works shuttle between humor and a heady abstract expressionism, and his art offers neither legibility nor instant gratification. The payoff that sustained engagement with his work yields, however, is more than enough reward.
Lauren Halsey, 2014–15 AIR
In the first of a series of three blog posts, Curatorial Intern Mallory Cohen writes about her studio visits with each of the current artists in residence.
As I stepped into Lauren Halsey’s studio on the third floor of the Studio Museum, I was immediately struck by the artist’s impressive—and large—ambitions. An eight-by-twelve-foot square of sheetrock takes up the vast majority of Halsey’s studio floor, leaving only a small walkway around its perimeter. The sheetrock is split into two-by-two-foot squares, which feature ancient Egyptian iconography mixed with carvings of Harlem and Los Angeles. Images of sarcophagi and the pyramids stand stand-by-side with phone numbers, corporate signage and portraits of LA citizens—symbols of the urban present elevated alongside mythological expressions of the past.
Ayana V. Jackson
Per the gracious introduction of Thomas Lax, I had the opportunity to meet and visit with Ayana V. Jackson some time ago. We first met in Berlin, where Ayana graciously guided me around the city. Jackson, a US American and graduate of Spelman College, splits her time between Johannesburg, New York and Paris, where we followed up a few weeks later to discuss her work and artistic practice. Her photography and filmmaking, while simultaneously alluring and shocking, serve a higher conceptual function: a bitingly intelligent elucidation of the power of the image, the scars of history and the internalized architectures of difference built thereof. Confronting what she terms the “original sin of images,” Jackson manipulates her own body as subject, creating a running critique of socialized perceptions of race, gender and class and their intersections.
Artist Alexis Peskine (b. 1979) focuses on questions of national and racial identity, the black body experience, and universal emotions. Peskine moved to the United States to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he received a Bachelor of Fine Art degree in 2003 and a Master’s degree in Digital Art in 2004. He then enrolled in Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) on a Fulbright Scholarship (the first foreign student to be awarded this honor), where he completed his MFA. His influences are wide-ranging, including Kara Walker, Takashi Murakami, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Banksy, as is his approach to art-making and his chosen materials.
Allison Janae Hamilton presents her foppish subjects in lush landscapes
When I look at the new work of Harlem-based photographer Allison Hamilton, a series entitled "Kingdom of the Marvelous," counterintuitively I think about the folkloric tale of John Henry, the legendary steel driver who tried to prove his worth by successfully outpacing an industrial machine. Perhaps not the work itself makes me think of the story, but something she said to me during a recent studio visit: “I wanted to place black men in a setting other than the usual urban landscape where they always seem to be at odds, even struggling against it.” Like the themes in the story, Hamilton is working with the tension between masculinity and its relationship to the land the black body versus its environs.
Curatorial Fellow Monique Long on Fashion in Harlem and Art
In the glossary that accompanied Zora Neale Hurston’s short story “Story in Harlem Slang,” (1942) there are five different terms listed for someone fashionable. Invariably, iconic photographs of Harlemites include those dressed in blindingly fashionable clothes. There’s a rich history and tradition in Harlem that defines the neighborhood not only as the cornerstone of African-American culture but style as well. Visitors and residents alike assimilate to the expectation that you must express yourself fashionably here, demonstrated beautifully by the attendees at our summer opening in July and the monumental drawings by Rob Pruitt of fashionable women that hang in the main gallery.
A Day with Lorna Simpson
On March 30th, artist Lorna Simpson (b. 1960) welcomed the Expanding the Walls (ETW) artists to her Fort Greene, Brooklyn studio for a day of experimentation. As we’re halfway through the 2013 program, the young artists have encountered many points of inspiration generated from countless sources. This particular interaction provided fascinating results that reflected the diverse perspectives of this ETW group.
“…it’s more about [my] experience and the process of making things.”—Lorna Simpson
Inside Shinique Smith's Studio
Artist Shinique Smith is in the process of relocating studios. The space reminded me of something along the lines of large thrift store filled with vibrantly colored textiles, clothes, and miscellaneous curiosities. Perhaps the moving process added to the delightful cacophony of the place, contributing to a sense of movement that is equally felt in her paintings filled with dizzying swirls, psychedelic colors and often accessorized with a range of found objects from Hostess cupcake boxes to Chik-fil-A bags to plastic corn stalks.