As we become more digitally interconnected, it can feel as if our private moments are being eroded; it can feel as if we are always being watched, always putting on a performance, have no respite from our friends and families and casual acquaintances buzzing their way into our lives. But in our homes, in our offices, in our hearts, doors closed, shades drawn, phones off, we might find some solitude, retreats where no one knows just what we are up to, just what we are thinking and feeling. And as we are there in our quiet fortresses of unity, we glance out, we see a glow from the window across the way, and we wonder what the people in there are doing; we get up, we strain our eyes to make out bodies in the yellow light, try to parse dim forms into solid arms and legs and heads. And it dawns on us, that they, those dark forms against a wall of light, might be doing the very same, peering across space to try to see just what it is we are doing in our own square of window. We are so connected because we want to connect; solitude is sweet, but at day’s end, we want to see and know and communicate with other humans. And Aaron Zulpo’s works, their cool, smooth, colorful walls and wide, modern, brightly populated windows capture this feeling, this urge to look and to transmit thought and feeling, to share and to be social and communal, to discover the lives of others and to see our lives reflected back at us.
Thursday Spotlight: Aaron Zulpo, Painter of Narratives
Aaron Zulpo amongst paints in his Greenpoint studio. Photo:Ian Hartsoe
Aaron Zulpo‘s Greenpoint studio is a multitude of raw canvas hung on paint-stained walls. In the middle stands a table topped with piles of paint, smelling rich of linseed oil. His work looks immediately relatable, a style he later describes to me as “Cartoon Realism”. The divisions of brightly colored vignettes create elaborate narratives, enticing the viewer to engage further.
GP: When were you first exposed to art as a child? Are there visual influences from your childhood that currently influence your work?
Aaron Zulpo: I grew up in the Midwest and wasn’t exposed to a lot of art until high school. I was always a doodler, however, replicating imagery from comic books and a duplicated bronze Remington cowboy statue we had in the house. As far as visual references from my childhood go— action movies, bright colors, cowboys robbing a train—these are all things I liked as a child and I still like now. I took art classes in high school and really loved a specific sculpture class. After that I decided to apply to art school. This was the first time where all my classes related to one another. I could be in 2D Design in the morning, and learning about the same concepts and principles in afternoon art history. It was very exciting.
GP: What is the importance of storytelling in your art?
AZ: I like to think of narration as a fundamental way for people to make connections, especially when it comes to art and the ability to understand it. By engineering an elaborate story with altered dimensions of space, visual problems arise for the viewer to solve. Storytelling also drives the compositions of my paintings. There is a specific theme throughout each piece, for example romance or unknown danger, and this is told through the division of space. Making the paintings beautiful and playful, while telling a complex narrative, is a challenge I like to create for myself.
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After graduating from Rhode Island School of Design in 2008, Zulpo landed in Greenpoint. He began painting building scenes, inspired by the closeness of living in New York. His new body of work, however, is of an entirely different landscape and era, depicting cacti, horses, mountains, and cowboys.
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GP: Your newer work looks quite different compared to your building narrative scenes. How has the work shifted recently?
AZ: I am always looking at art references. While I was making the window scene series, I came across a Frederic Remington book. Shortly after I visited a ranch in Western Montana and saw a private art collection of Western Art. Western art has a quality that is so intrinsically American. The desire to capture the same subject matter of Western America has stayed roughly the same for 180 years. I had never seen anything like it in New York, so I asked myself, “can I make Western Art?”. So here I am telling stories of the American Wild West.
GP: Tell me a little more about the Western body of work itself.
AZ: The new work consists of two different series. Rather than breaking the scenes into multiple vignettes, this body of work uses a single vantage point. The first series is inspired by Kit Carson who was a famous American scout and fur trapper. During Carson’s life, he was fictionalized and imagined to be greater than life. These pieces take on a historical role to tell about a specific moment in time while playing along with the idea that Kit Carson was an ultimate outdoor adventurer. Examples include Kit Carson’s camp at Mule Hill surrounded by Prickly Pears, and him seasick on an American sloop of war. The second body of work is all about Western iconic imagery. The idea is to make Western themed art in a way that is reminiscent of how the Old West is described in popular media- robberies, shootouts, and trains. These paintings use multiple panels to narrate the story as if you were watching single movie stills. The challenge is to continually find interesting scenes that can be told from a single vantage point and complete a cohesive story.
GP: How would you compare your style to your peers?
AZ: Right now, I see there is a strong figurative element in the New York art scene along with bright colors, alteration of the picture field, and stylized work that is a little cartoony. Sort of like a Cartoon Realism. The work is based on real life, but with exaggerated emotion, vibrant colors, and simplification of figures based on personal stories of reality. I supposed I’d say we all have those shared interests.
GP: What are your future projects?
AZ: I’m a part of two group shows in Massachusetts in August and September. I’m also going to be showing some new window paintings at Affordable Art Fair in New York in September, and a solo exhibition of my Western series in Denver, Colorado in October.
Aaron Zulpo Exhibition Information:
Paula Estey Gallery, Summer in the City: The Brooklyn Show, August 4th, Newburyport, MA
Geoffrey Young Gallery, Best Kept Secret, September 2nd, Great Barrington, MA
Van Rensburg Galleries, Affordable Art Fair NY, September 13th, New York, NY
Visions West Contemporary, Aaron Zulpo: Wild West, October 6th, Denver, Colorado
[Irena discovers that the difference in subject matter indicated by this show’s title is not so pronounced, after all. — the artblog editors]
The latest midsummer exhibit at Hooloon Art is a showcase of two flavors presented on the same dish. Suburbanites and Urbanites offers the works of self-taught painter Andrea Joyce Heimer, and those of RISD graduate Aaron Zulpo, as the two artists delve into a world of subtle voyeurism and deconstructed realities.
Familiarity in both presentation and subject
The show’s pieces hang in no particular arrangement or timeline, so that the works can be viewed as a mixed narrative rather than remaining isolated in their own corners. The gallery’s owner and director, Michael Lieberman, hoped to achieve a sense of duality and conversation between Zulpo and Heimer in this accessible and non-intimidating show.
One of the most important visual elements in the gallery space is the immediately noticeable labels of Andrea Joyce’s Heimer’s paintings. To be clear, the “labels” are Heimer’s titles, written directly on the walls in ink and attached to each corresponding piece via a dashed line. The titles are long-winded, flowing, and crucial to the works themselves. Each one is an unconventional piece of mini-poetry. Titles like “Otto Johnson Had A Business Where He Would Steal Our Bikes, Paint Them, Then Sell Them Back To Us & We Thought He Was Dreamy In A Way” remind the viewer that the painting itself is only a small part of a narrative.
Heimer, a self-taught artist, creates suburban fairytales with her small-scale, carefully detailed pieces. Each painting is a unique gem and must be examined for longer than just the initial pass-by glance, as these works contain whimsical details and a tenderness that few other painters in the Western tradition employ. Heimer’s art is almost reminiscent of Indian miniature painting, with its fine brushwork and playful detailing.
Heimer grew up in the suburbs of Montana; she touches on simple memories and forgotten feelings of adolescence (such as in “Second Date, First Touch, Downstairs Family Room. This Scene Played Out In Houses Up And Down My Street”) and family life. The “surrealness” of her works lies solely in their blunt colors and uncertain perspectives–however, the captured emotions are as real as the seemingly mundane situations.
Defining the viewer’s role
Aaron Zulpo’s works may seem at first to be ideal candidates for contrasting Heimer’s suburban milieu; Zulpo shows scenes of urban life, mostly deconstructed city buildings and their inhabitants.
The artist is a Brooklyn resident, and graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2008. His paintings mix public and private and range from documentary-style narratives to depictions of city life behind the scenes that make his subjects inaccessible, yet wildly intimate. Zulpo’s pieces are slightly more “definite” than Heimer’s, with far less of a folk-art mentality; however, his whimsicality, though more subtle, is just as crucial.
The contrast in the show’s title may trick gallery audiences into believing Zulpo and Heimer differ in their approach and the subjects they depict. However, on closer inspection, the works are far more intertwined. The role of the viewer is critical to these artists, both of whom play around with the idea of observation.
Zulpo’s paintings make viewers feel as though they are on the outside looking in, whether it is on the field during a football game, or in front of a lit-up apartment building. The physical position of the audience is unclear, and Zulpo purposely makes it impossible for us to view each scene on a realistic plane. Similar to Mark Rothko’s early paintings in the Subway Series, where audiences were forced to view commuters from strange angles and were in no way “participating” in the events of the pieces, Zulpo paints his subjects behind a viewing glass.
Heimer’s works and unconventionally poetic titles, on the other hand, present the viewer with a single still frame from a larger story. The rest of the story, or memory, lies solely with Heimer. We, the viewers, find ourselves to be quietly intruding on a moment–and though we are more “included” within the moment than in Zulpo’s urban landscapes, we are neither acknowledged nor given a seat around the dining room table.
As the Philadelphia summer draws to a close and the days become shorter, we may find ourselves inadvertently peeking into brightly lit living rooms as we walk down a darkening evening street toward home; the sights we may see as a result of this unintentional surveillance could very well be something out of either Zulpo’s or Heimer’s imaginative pieces. Suburbanites and Urbanites is a show devoted to capturing and maintaining these forgotten and simple moments.
Suburbanites and Urbanites is on view at Hooloon Art in Old City Philadelphia until August 10, 2014.
Plunge into dreams at Volta NY 2016.
Plunge into dreams at Volta NY 2016. The fair’s many dreamscapes coalesce into a unique opportunity to compare and contrast other worlds and inner visions. Nearly everyone on this planet — whatever their identity — has dreamed at night.
Volta’s artists are like the many-handed painter in Karine Rougier’s “Desordre en coulisses” (2016) at Galerie Dukan’s booth. They look to the surrealist landscapes of Salvador Dali and Yves Tanguy but then go in their own directions. The lion’s skin symbolizes their courage against the naysayers who might gripe that this subject has been played out and exhausted as a source. But the curious will quickly discover that the surrealists aren’t casting that long of a shadow anymore. There are new and fresh ways to picture dreamworlds for the 21st century in the spotlight at Volta this year.
We’ve all had more than one dream. So naturally, several artistic means succeed at transporting us to wonderland. Artists are landing on other planets, entranced with geometric psychedelia, imagining Arcadia on acid, summoning magical creatures, and divulging nightmares.
Volta artists create otherworldly landscapes that more closely resemble science fiction than a walk in the park.
A horse puppet wanders into a silver world and pauses before an ethereal flower in Tomoyasu Murata’s video art “Okinamai / Forest This Flower Bloom 翁舞 / 木ノ花ノ咲クヤ森” (2015). We are lucky that Gallery MoMo brought us this video art from Tokyo. Murata reimagines Bunraku puppets in a moonscape created with the latest computer animation techniques. Created in response to the Fukushima meltdowns, this work strives to express mujō (無常), which is often translated as impermanence in English. Dreams likewise don’t last. Don’t we all have that experience of waking up from the most wild experience we can’t remember 10 minutes later?
Marge Simpson explores an unearthly landscape in Chason Mattham‘s “When I Survey the glorious cross…” (2015). If the crescent moon wasn’t showing, it would read as Mars instead of Earth with all that red sand. Marge looks confused by the few flowers and phantom trees in this work at Thierry Goldberg Gallery‘s booth. Mattham once suggested that viewers look at his work as the “mind going into anxious overdrive trying to construct a narrative out of all the disparate information and random juxtapositions one is confronted with daily.” Aren’t dreams likewise the result of the mind stitching a quilt in overdrive out of the disparate images and experiences we encounter?
Volta artists created psychedelia with intricate geometric patterns, alluding to alternate universes.
Kristen Schiele explained to Hyperallergic that “I’m always in space or in a nightmare in my paintings.” If only all of us could dream in the glow of the blacklight in “TV People” (2016) at Kayrock Screenprinting‘s booth. This work beams us up into a supernal world dominated by purples, blues, and black.
Has technology changed the way we dream? Brenna Murphy draws from the latest imaging techniques to invent worlds of twisting forms with echoes of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican motifs at American Medium‘s booth. Murphy once remarked in an interview that, “I think developing technology relates to the structure of human consciousness no matter what.” Haven’t all of us at some point had a dream set in the future or about interacting with technology? New technologies seep into our subconscious. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are some special advantages to having a more networked mind. Murphy’s glyphic realm reveals today’s minds as unshackled from limited vertical logic, and shaped more by today’s interconnectedness and multidimensionality.
Tim Kent also invites viewers into a geometric world, influenced more by the grid, in “Inevitable Stranger” (2015). The competing shapes dwarf the small person at the edge of a pool of blue in the center of this painting at the Slag Gallery. At first, the work appears more subdued. But zooming in on separate parts of the painting in real life reveals all these wild little worlds within the painting, like a stellar field.
Arcadia on Acid
Volta artists twist idyllic Arcadian landscapes into hallucinogenic trips. If only we could pick the Instagram filter for our dreams, and make them look this cool. But that’s why we have … art.
Tomoko Takagi’s “Dwarf in Kamoeka” (2014) depicts a garden with gnomes and dwarves at ARTCOURT gallery’s booth. Granted, it’s highly abstracted but with some effort, the garden gnomes can be found. The artist explained in the press release, “that there are shapes, objects and colors that are missing is an important factor in my work.” The way the forms bleed into one another certainly leaves some shapes out but this horror vacui effect succeeds at transporting us into an alternate reality.
A man dreams as the landscape dissolves around him in Tom Anholt‘s “Jacob’s Journey – The Dream” (2015) at Galerie Mikael Andersen. It’s not Jacob from the Bible but a 16th-century ancestor of the artist who led his mistreated Jewish family through deserts and mountains on routes similar to today’s European refugees. The artist is envisioning the lives of his ancestors and his style reflects the messy beauty of the subconscious.
Volta artists anthropomorphize mythical creatures. It’s not Alice and Wonderland for adults. It’s thankfully less Victorian and more edgy and in-your-face for New York.
Kate Clarke transforms an antelope hide and horns into a magical creature with a human face. Sculptures like “Charmed” (2015) show that magical realism isn’t just for painters. These sculptures are part of the Something I Can Feel exhibition of emerging art curated by Derrick Adams.
Dryads are a rare and precious sight in contemporary art. Ronald Cyrille does justice to the tree nymph with a dose of humor in “Freedom” (2016) at the booth of Espace d’art contemporain 14°N 61°W. This was one of the funniest works at Volta. The dreamworld doesn’t always have to be such a serious place.
One of Cyrille’s favorite quotes is by poet Aimé Césaire, who played a major role in the négritude movement in Francophone literature. Césaire proclaimed, “We are sacred men. I am uninitiated, I am initiated by poetry, if you will, and I believe I am a sacred man.” The point here is that poetic and dream imagery can initiate us into a new understandings of ourselves. When we touch paper every day, spend most of our time in structures made from wood, and eat food nearly every day that came from a tree, we are far more connected to trees and like Dryads than our conscious minds might think.
Volta artists are unabashedly dark, conjuring the nightmare’s gravitas.
In Raquel Paiewonsky‘s “Shore” (2016), a palm tree catches on fire while half-naked female figures prostrate before cascading triangles. An ominous lair lurks in the distance with a large solar panel. It’s one of the most arresting works at the Yellow Peril Gallery booth. The artist once explained, “I am particularly interested in object / subject interventions, often utilizing fabric or collage as a means of taking over a particular space, body or artifact.” The subjugation of women’s bodies — which is a nightmare — is a recurring theme in Paiewonsky’s work. “Shore” is just the tip of the iceberg of this exciting Caribbean feminist.
Alfred Esquillo offers an enigmatic scene in “Slow Train Coming” (2016). There is a blood-red sky, a woman looking away with an umbrella, toppled columns, and smoke getting into a man’s face. This large triptych at the the booth of Osaka’s YOD gallery explores the Filipino concept of Loob. We may all have dreams, but we tend to have different culturally constructed ideas about their psychology. This tagalog word connotes an inner psychological world, which differs from our external experiences in the physical environment that surrounds us. Esquillo’s work is an invitation to ponder your own inner landscape, your own dreamworld, your own Loob.
The train ride from hell isn’t just for MTA riders. Aaron Zulpo allows us to spy on disconnected vignettes inside the compartments of a train in “A Mix Up of Briefcases” (2016) at Project: ARTspace’s booth. There is fire, corporeal mayhem, and some gravity-defying acrobatics. Zulpo has the chutzpah to reveal some strange trains of thought that can arise from just a mix-up of briefcases. These delightfully discombobulated vignettes are reminiscent of a dream sequence.
“We are not all Dali — we are not all melting,” Zulpo explained to Hyperallergic. For too long, European surrealism has dominated and limited how artists depict dreams. Volta NY 2016 offers an amazing opportunity to encounter new takes of the unconscious and dreamworlds for the 21st century.
Volta NY continues at Pier 90 (West 50th Street at Twelfth Avenue, Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan) through March 6.