Subhankar Banerjee‘s photographs of the Artic Refuge are the result of a fourteen-month 4000-mile trip taken with Inupiat guide Robert Thompson. Travelling on foot and by raft, kayak, and snowmobile Banerjee explored a land he describes as ‘grand yet simple’, a place where ‘the existence of life, including wild flora and fauna and native cultures, is modest and fragile’.
Employing simple compositions, a lucid focus, and the subdued light of cloudy days and inclement weather Banerjee’s stunning and tender images capture that duality and create the first comprehensive photographic portrait of the region in all four seasons. Collected into a book titled ‘Arctic National Wildlife: Seasons of Life and Land‘ the photographs have already made their political mark. On March 19, 2003, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) held aloft an advance copy of the book on the Senate floor as she rallied opposition to a proposal to open the Refuge to oil exploration. The vote to drill was defeated that day, but the debate continues, and with it the ongoing threat of irrevocable development of this remarkable ecosystem.
Beautiful and controversial, Banerjee’s work has been both subject to marginalization as a result of political pressure following the vote’s defeat and acclaimed for its cultural and environmental significance – most recently when the Lannan Foundation awarded him its first Cultural Freedom Fellowship. As a result of that award Banerjee’s Refuge photographs will now be seen in at least a dozen museums throughout the United States in 2004 and he will be enabled to continue his work to protect the Arctic while also studying other topics related to the environmental and social effects of globalization.
For over 25 years photographer and activist Phil Borges has been visiting and documenting indigenous and tribal cultures around the world. From Tibet to Siberia, Pakistan to Peru, his camera has sought out the beauty, dignity and strength of the human sprit. His delicately tinted portrait subjects sometimes look directly at the viewer, sometimes gaze intently up at an unseen space, lost perhaps in contemplation. Most are situated in spectacular landscapes, posed against the point where sky meets land.
Striving to promote and preserve cultural diversity by heightening awareness and understanding between cultural and ethnic groups, Borges also uses a consistent approach and style that positions diversity and individuality within a context of universality. Suggesting that while we are all singular beings we are also united by the condition of being human, Borges is avowedly a humanist perspective.
In complement to his photography – for which he has been awarded both Photo Media Magazine’s ‘Photoperson of the Year’ 1998 and the Humanitarian Award at the 1st Annual International Photography Awards 2003 – Borges is co-founder of Blue Earth Alliance is currently developing an on-line classroom program, Bridges To Understanding connecting children from indigenous cultures with their contemporaries in North America.
Robbie Conal takes his art and his politics to the streets. Every couple of months or so his loyal ‘poster posse’ collect their brushes, paste and sheaves of Conal’s latest offering and hit the avenues and boulevards under cover of night. The next morning the city – most usually LA, but also NYC and others – wakes up to find a new Conal creation plastered on bus stops, telephone boxes, billboards and walls.
It’s one of the joys of life in LA, for Conal’s skillful and scathing hand drawn or painted portraits of politicians relish every pore, pimple, and pock-mark they possess while text commentary – frequently biting one liners – challenges us to examine the pocks and pimples of their deceptions and power abuses. In one, Arnold Schwarzenegger, overlaid with the words ‘Achtung Baby’, glares out of his portrait with piercing red Terminator eyes and stretches a gum-revealing grin. In another George W. Bush (looking as though he’s about to blurt out a Homer Simpson-esque’Doh!’) is accompanied by the title ‘Hail to the Thief’. And in a third – a trio of dignified images titled ‘Watching, Waiting, Dreaming’ Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and Martin Luther King jr. gaze out on the world as if asking us ‘What’s happening – and what are you going to do about it?’
In addition to his drawing, painting and postering activities Conal has a monthly column in the LA Weekly titled Art Burn and is the author of ‘Artburn: The Twenty-First Century Shots from a Guerrilla Artist‘ and ‘Art Attack: The Midnight Politics Of A Guerrilla Artist‘.
Culture Jammer par excellence Ron English has pirated over a thousand advertising billboards in the last twenty years and replaced the existing corporate imagery with his own hand-painted ‘subvertisements’. His raillery has found targets in, among others, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Disney and numerous cigarette companies. His depiction of Joe the Camel was, in fact, so true to the ‘Camel spirit’ that he was hired by the cigarette manufacturer – only to be fired shortly thereafter for hiding skulls in the advertising. While one of his most notorious works – a 1999 skit on Apple’s ‘Think Different’ campaign featuring a bug-eyed Charles Manson loomed over East 14th Street for over two months.
In addition to his good fight on the billboard front, English is well known as a ‘Pop’ painter. His meticulously crafted jewel-colored images that juxtapose Homer Simpson with Jackson Pollack and situate Mickey Mouse in a ‘Guernica’ inspired Picasso-esqe landscape, for example, are in permanent collections around the world, including those of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Paris and the Whitney Museum, New York. He has also been the subject of a tribute compilation CD called ‘Popoganda‘ and has himself co-created both the CD ‘Revelations Book II‘ and ‘The Hyperjinx Tricycle‘.
Chris Jordan‘s most recent photographs show huge cubes of crushed aluminum stacked like hay bales in a recycling yard; primary-colored metal goods containers piled neatly against a lowering gray sky; serried ranks of new cars stretching off to the horizon in a Tacoma lot; and – echoing the trees cut down to make them – forests of enormous wooden cable spools.
When viewed through Jordan’s lens, the excesses of consumerism make for paradoxically elegant and delicately hued images that are designed not to preach or point a finger but to ‘show the aggregate, combined effect of all of our individual consumer choices’. His restrained and beguiling aesthetic turns excess into an ‘object of desire’ in a way that both complicates our perhaps already ambivalent relationship to consumerism and invites the viewer to take a ‘tour into the infrastructure of our consumer society’. It is a softly-spoken invitation and a highly potent one, for it seduces us into navigating the ‘dangerous territory’ that lurks behind the pleasures of our own consumption.
The many layers of Leigh McCloskey‘s influences – which include Hermeticism, Alchemy, Kabbalah, William Blake and Theosophical thought – are evident in the multiple layering he employs to create his richly intricate and meticulously realized images.
Contained within one painting, for example, we see the mist-shrouded silhouette of a crenellated castle backed by golden blasts of sunlight. A meteor flies through a darkened patch of sky and the focus shifts to become a moonlit night over the pyramids. A brilliant white disc near the center of the image transforms clusters of fairylight-like white dots into a milky way and suddenly we see entire universes of space, time and consciousness roiling and billowing on the canvas before us.
An actor, author and artist whose credits include numerous television, film and stage roles McClosky’s sacred geometries, vaulted cathedral architectures, delicate root systems and towering city profiles overlay and peep through one another. Creating temporal and spatial folds, they are both a metaphor for and an experience of the mystic’s perception of a complex, diverse, but essentially unified universe.
There is a strong calm, a silent stillness, in the monochrome images that comprise Raj Naik‘s most recent series ‘India: Divine Visions‘. In ‘Room With a View’, for example, the viewer is situated in a coolly shadowed room looking through petal-edged archways that frame a seascape. Spray mists against black rocks and we are at once inside this structure built for dry hot climes and surrounded by a ceaseless ocean. In a companion image, titled ‘Garden of Illusions’ the ambivalent space is heightened, for the ocean washes at the feet of the courtly arches and sea mist rises through their graceful columns.
An art director, photographer, and design consultant Naik lives in Los Angeles but regularly returns to his homeland to photograph the sacred grounds and creations of the Buddhist, Hindu, Jain and Muslim cultures which dominate India’s spiritual personality. His images are not intended to be visually accurate representations of those sites but to occupy a ‘space between abstraction and reality’ that presents a more realistic ‘vision’. Sometimes layering images to pleat nature with culture, sometimes depicting a single ‘layer’ of ancient architecture and statuary, it is always Naik’s intention to both sustain a sense of timelessness and to indicate that, while the image has been ‘created’, the artist himself remains an observer of Creation.
John Carr recently relocated from NYC to LA, John Carr’s passions are in design, photomontage, silkscreen printing, video and the web, and his subjects usually revolve around the absurdities of modern living and a search for truth in a world gone mad. As an art director and graphic artist his work has included the creation of album packaging, new media projects, and rock posters for a diverse range of artists that includes Bruce Springsteen, Wu Tang Clan, the Afghan Whigs, Buckethead and Helmet. As a political photomontage artist his illustrations can be found on the covers of magazines such as the Nation, the Internazionale, and alternative newspapers, as well as in the streets at political demonstrations. In addition to his work as an individual artist, Carr is a co-founder of the counter-cultural web site konscious.com, a video based site dedicated to exposing social issues through a mix of arts & activist programming. He provides creative and technical direction for numerous commercial and non-profit clients, including TrueMajority.org and their viral marketing hit SpankBush.com, and he is currently curating a travelling exhibition of hand-crafted peace posters entitled “Yo! What Happened to Peace?” image has been ‘created’, the artist himself remains an observer of Creation.
Nzuji De Magalhaes – The work of Angolan born and raised painter, sculptor and installation artist Nzuji De Magalhaes seems to spill into a gallery like fruit over-flowing from a horn of plenty. It exudes generosity. It’s not just that De Magalhaes’ paintings, installations and fabric pieces are frequently multiple, comprising perhaps sixty or seventy small images at a time. Neither is it solely a matter of their texture and color, although both are certainly rich, and nor is it simply the diversity of materials – paint, yarn, board, fabric, paper – that De Magalhaes employs. For, while all of these characteristics are certainly contributing factors, there are (at least) two additional ‘umbrella factors’ that generate a sense of abundance.
For all of De Magalhaes’ work – from a near-life-sized cardboard car to an individual piece of yarn cut and glued (along with a few hundred others) to create an 8-inch square portrait – has been visibly touched by the artist’s hand. And there are so many touches that they seem to both embrace the viewer in a web of small pats of concern and interest and draw us in like so many beckoning fingers. Once inside the embrace there is further abundance to be found, for the artist combines the rich narrative heritage and traditional and contemporary art forms of Angola with her experiences of the life and aesthetics of the United States to address the political and social issues of both her native home and this country.
There are stories here which bring forward issues that have personally affected De Magalhaes – concerns regarding minority women and child labor and minority street vendors both in the US and overseas for example. And, the deeper one enters the embrace of the work the more the stories multiply, threading the personal into the political, emotional attachment into intellectual engagement, and the traditional into the contemporary. The resulting complex weave vibrates not only with color and texture but also with incisive links, witty echoes, and sharp contrasts that invite us to share the artist’s concerns from a critical perspective – and it is perhaps the best kind of critical perspective, for it is a generous one.
Nicole C. Russell– Photographer and installation artist Nicole Russell is currently a student in the University of Southern California School of Fine Arts MFA program. Her recent series of photographic ‘portraits’ comprise close-up shots of medications – brightly colored capsules and chalky tablets – laid out on a sky-blue ground. These are the medications ingested on a daily basis by the portrait’s subjects – Kate and Ana for example – and they speak to an intimate engagement with the subject’s biology and psychology while also situating that intimacy within the broader context of the complex politics of the drug industry and the contemporary ‘medicalization’ of the body. image has been ‘created’, the artist himself remains an observer of Creation.
Erlea Maneros was born in Bilbao, Basque Country and having completed her graduate studies at the California Institute of the Arts she now lives and works in Los Angeles. Using painting as means to reflect on representation, recent history, and the memory of events, Maneros appropriates images and text from mass media sources which she then paints directly onto architectural surfaces – walls, floors and windows.
Her watercolors endow the kind of front-page representations that are designed to grab consumer attention with a delicacy that speaks to the relationship between beauty and violence and asks us to address the ways in which we vicariously consume violence as a palatable experience.
Maneros has exhibited most recently in Art2102, Boyle Heights; Garash Galeria, Mexico City; and the Armory Museum of Art in Pasadena. For the Artivism exhibition she will create a new installation in the gallery window on Hollywood Boulevard.
London-based artists Olly Williams and Suzi Winstanley – known professionally as Olly & Suzi write of their work: ‘We paint together. Ours is a total collaboration. We paint hand over hand on the same painting at the same time.”
Hovering between the tradition of realistic depiction and a more avant-garde emphasis on process and performance, Olly and Suzi utilize the skills and practices of both to ‘raise awareness and an understanding of our subject matter’. Their studio is the wild – both on land and under water – and their explorations have taken them from the Alaskan interior to the African bush, from the Kalahari desert and the seas of the Galapagos islands to the Venezuelan Amazon. Where possible they extend their collaboration to incorporate the track, print or bite of their subject and use natural pigments and materials -ochre, mud, berries and dung, for example-to create images that are at once both urgent and delicate, lyrical and immediate.
As they work on location their site-specific performative process is documented by award winning photographer Greg Williams (Olly’s brother), and on occasion by photographer George Duffield, and the resulting photographs and video footage are shown alongside the paintings and drawings in layered and evocative installations – most recently in a year-long retrospective titled ‘Olly & Suzi – Untamed‘ at The Natural History Museum in London. A major book of their work, Arctic, desert, Ocean, Jungle, was published in 2003.
Fifteen years ago Patrick M. Webb‘s large-scale paintings focused on the epic and the archetypal aspects of his grand narratives – battle scenes and communal celebrations that evoked New York City’s Village Halloween parades and the historic Stonewall uprising. He was concerned, however, that the face of the individual should not be lost, either in the crowd or in the face of the devastating proportions of the AIDS pandemic. Searching for a visual vocabulary that would be capable of addressing the singularity and intimacy of individual loss and premature death in the context of that enormity, he found Punchinello.
This tragi-comic clown, a Commedia dell’ Arte figure who appears in the frescoes and drawings of G.D. Tiepolo is, for Webb, a character rich with metaphor. As a masked man, he is both anonymous and anomalous and, with a phallic red nose and dunce-like cap he is a vulnerable figure, an object of ridicule, curiosity and compassion. ‘In Punchinello’, Webb states, ‘I found an Every Man who, in my paintings, is Every gay man’.
Having found his vocabulary for intimacy Webb embarked on the creation of another epic – a series of paintings that tell the life story of Punchinello. Combining moments from the rights of passage of the American male with those milestones specific to gay experience the series progresses through scenes of longing, domesticity, public activism and protest, to the final diptych of Punchinello bed-ridden, his emaciated form laid out in an open coffin.
Webb has said, ‘The memory of past joy and sadness are … found in these paintings’ for ultimately, and in the most intimate folding of the personal into the aesthetic and political, Punchinello became Chris Kales, Webb’s partner and muse of 14 years who died in January, 1992 of AIDS-related causes.