John Chiara

Challenging a photograph’s seemingly 2-dimensional quality, John Chiara’s work calls attention to its existence in 3-dimensional space. Each image is a large, unique direct positive color print made in a giant custom camera. Because of all of this, his photographs demand attention to the process. The paper is wrinkled around the edges, showing marks from handling and positioning in the camera. Some have evidence of tape and places left unexposed. Others show color shifts due to the process. See a video of this process here.

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The attention payed to the process of the medium puts it in the same presence as the old masters who were focused on craft. Chiara’s photographs act like paintings. The the thing portrayed is almost less important than the way it is photographed. The brush strokes as important as the thing depicted. One can lose themselves gazing at the large prints. It is just as easy to overlook that the thing being looked at is a photograph, that this is of something familiar.

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The details produced from the process are aesthetically beautiful, but they are also important in what they do for the art. John Chiara’s photographs question the medium that produced them. They call to question our vision and ability to experience something with sight alone.

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Because this contemporary is becoming comfortable with his craft and medium, John Chiara’s more recent photographs look more like photographs. Rather, closer to what we’re used to seeing in terms of a photograph. There are fewer color shifts, unexposed areas, and other marks. Images have maintained their unique shape that is needed to fit them comfortably into the camera. The presence of the process is subtle and takes less from the image, but is still there.

With technology advancing every day, it is hard to keep up. It is difficult to maintain a perfect image. Chiara’s work seems to poke fun at this notion of a perfect image. There isn’t one. And if one exists, you’re looking in the wrong spot.

The images in this post do not belong to me and are from the artist’s website. 

There is also a excellent video on this artist’s work here.

I just got a nice little care package in the mail. Searching for a red cap for Fall and early Winter, I found a good one at Topo Designs. I usually don’t post these kinds of things on here but I just really dig their designs and branding. Nice and simple stuff at a decent price. Plus, the hat I got is made in the good ole US of A.

John Baldessari

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The person for this Artist Thursday (I’m aware it is being published on a Friday, just roll with it) is John Baldessari. Though the previous two artists featured in this portion of my blog have been extremely influential to me, John Baldessari holds a little something extra. It is the way he approaches this thing in our lives called Art that is most interesting. There is no doubt that he is satirical. But, often taking things beyond satire, some of his work is just funny. He is poking fun at art and all of its silly idiosyncrasies. Just go back and take a look at the previous video of his that I posted (I am making art). As his audience, we are right there alongside him. We are laughing at what he’s doing. And because he is doing this within a work of art, we can’t help but to compare the things in his work against other works we’ve seen.

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I once wrote a paper on John Baldessari for a history of photography class and the professor asked me what the research on this particular artist had done to improve my own work. I answered, “Well, he seems very confused about what Art is. He is confused about what is art, what is not art, how to properly make art, and what makes bad art bad. As a student this is very useful, because a lot of things about art don’t make sense. That is one art’s greatest attributes: its haze.” Coming to this brought a little bit of ease to making art. There is a little less stress because, for a lot of these questions, there is no right answer. So, I might as well swing away and see what I can come up with. 

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The following is from John Baldessari’s bio page on MOMA’s website:

And I thought, “Well, I wonder what would happen if you just gave the public what they know,” which would be, let’s say, words and photographic images. You know, they’d probably had a camera, and they probably read books, magazines, and newspapers, so I said, “I’ll just do text pieces, or I’ll do text and photo pieces” that doesn’t look like Abstract Expressionism, it looks like something in their lives. But I would put it on canvas, and that would be a signal that it would be art.

What comes afterwards is not your traditional kind of painting. And the piece is not actually physically done by me. Somebody built the stretcher bars, stretched the canvas, primed it. The text is painted by a professional sign painter. And the text was not written by me, but it’s an appropriated text that I found. I’ve always been attracted to anyone that can blatantly say what art is. I just like that kind of audacity, or ignorance, one or the other. I think the wonderful irony about this piece is that it’s text. But in fact it is a painting, because it’s done with paint on canvas. So I’m really being very slyly ironic here in saying, “Well this is what painting is.”

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Though I haven’t found the same connection to his recent work as I have the old, I still have a soft spot for Baldessari. Whenever I’m troubled with a project at hand and trying to make sure everything makes sense and that all of my ideas are there. I go and watch the video I Am Making Art and it usually helps to put what I’m doing into perspective. There is so much more to this artist and I wish that I could touch on everything. If you’d like to look a little deeper, listed at the bottom of this page are links to more videos, interviews, and works of art by this artist. There may be an Artist Thursday John Baldessari Part II in our future.

This Not That

Art: 21 by PBS

MOMA Artist Page

None of the images featured on this page are mine.

Hiroshi Sugimoto

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As a very versatile photographer whose work deals with the medium itself, ability to see, and other philosophical points, Hiroshi Sugimoto is an artist with much to offer. The softness of the water and horizons in his series Seascapes creates a soothing environment for the viewer to place themselves. The deep grays and light, fluffy highlights make it a calm space. The subject being depicted is just a horizon line split by water and the weather above it. Horizon lines have a psychological affect on a person, making them feel comfortable. Everything is as it should be: up is up and down is down, the line created by the meeting of the two is level. The deep grays of the water is heavy with value as the air above it seems weightless. Sugimoto’s description of this work is hefty with commentary on mythology of creation, and some wit: “The beginnings of life are shrouded in myth: Let there water and air. Living phenomena
 spontaneously generated from water and air in the presence of light, though that could 
just as easily suggest random coincidence as a Deity. Let’s just say that there happened
 to be a planet with water and air in our solar system, and moreover at precisely the right
 distance from the sun for the temperatures required to coax forth life. While hardly inconceivable that at least one such planet should exist in the vast reaches of universe, 
we search in vain for another similar example.”

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Henry VIII

The Portraits Series contains fantastic photographs of people of history, many of them long passed. But, all of these depict wax sculptures in place of the person. Can this be anything but direct commentary on the medium used to create his work? A reproduction of a reproduction of a reproduction. Whether these wax figures were created before or after these people had died is unknown to me, but it would be considerably more interesting had they been created based on documents of the people sculpted. A document of document. By that I mean if they had used paintings or even photographs as reference to create the wax sculptures, Hiroshi Sugimoto would be bringing this work full circle. So what does the photographer bring to the table by taking pictures of these? Well, besides making commentary on the act of reproduction and its role in art he is also bringing these subjects to us as we’ve never seen them. If we did not have the ridiculously accurate and beautiful wax sculptures of these people, than we may have not have seen them in the context of a studio portrait photograph. The technology would not have existed for many of the sitters to even be captured. This is pretty damn cool. It’s not a portrait of Ben Franklin. But, it’s a portrait of a portrait of Ben Franklin that looks pretty convincing. Plus, this all makes for interesting play between old master’s paintings and photography as fine art.

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Movie Theatre, Canton Palace, Ohio, 1980

The last body of work that I will touch on is his Theaters series. This is a series of black and white silver gelatin prints that depict movie screens in old theaters. The screens are completely white and the rooms being lit from the screen with a light glow. For these images, Sugimoto left the shutter of the camera open for the entire length of a film. When a movie is being projected in a theater, there are no other lights on. So, the only source of light is coming from the projector bulb and traveling through the film being played. This information is then reflected off of the screen and illuminating the theater. As a viewer, we are only allowed to get a glimpse of what the theater looks like. The architecture of the old theaters is beautiful and it is easy to get lost in all of the details. Once you get to a nice spot, enjoying the magnificent details of these old spaces, you realize that a whole film is recorded on the interiors. On the blank white screen, there is a full movie depicted and lost.

The images in this post are not mine and belong to Hiroshi Sugimoto.