Jackson Ellis Lecture Review 2 – Lawrence Argent

Jackson Ellis

Lawrence Argent Paper


Artists who create public sculpture are brave people. Above all this was probably the most pertinent realization that I came to during Lawrence Argent’s Logan Lecture at the Denver Art Museum. Revealing to the audience that he is the artist with a blue bear tattooed on his chest, Lawrence Argent began his lecture out on a light note, describing how he strives to bring the magical aspect of art to influence the viewer. To be a public art artist, one must understand and reflect cultural values that appeal to a broad range of viewers, while showing both a mastery of technique and a powerful use of imagination. Argent described his conceptual process as one of wonderment, where his work plays with the way we perceive the visual world around us. As an exploration of consciousness, Lawrence Argent began his work with the sense of smell in Reflections (2000). Using oil and soap, Argent utilized oil for both its amazing reflective qualities and pervasive smell, and soap, a much softer scent. Juxtaposing these contradictory materials, the viewer’s senses are automatically triggered as soon as they enter the gallery space. These materials have a ready-made aspect to them, in that they retain their qualities no matter what form or vessel they are in. The idea of a ready-made object is an important aspect of Laurence Argent’s work, and it would influence the design of his later public sculptures.

One of the most amusing works that Argent showed was a pair of street sweeper brushes, called Cojones (1999). Their comically large size and bright red color were perfect ready-mades, and Argent mentioned how sensual their aesthetic was. His aim with Cojones was to lose the history of the object, while at the same time gaining a universal aesthetic that speaks to all viewers. Lawrence Argent utilizes humor for many of his pieces and this playful approach to art has led to many comical, yet conceptual works of art.

One of his first forays into public art, Argent created a series of massive stone sculptures for the courtyard of an upscale apartment complex for grad students. Referencing the function of the space as being a location of the exchange of dialogue, Lawrence Argent chose the shape of a gourd- one of the earliest known objects that man has exerted his mind to fashion into any number of objects. Then, using computer-imaging software, he mapped out the surface to represent stages of the process of education. Wanting the gourds to be carved from stone, Argent ran into a problem; no machine existed that could cut the stone how his designs had envisioned it. So he hired a company to hand carve and polish the 3 massive boulders, a monumental undertaking. Titled Your Move (2011) the work really demonstrated how public art artists must outsource their idea to experts as well as the sheer amount of work that goes into any work of art placed in the public sphere. With this work in mind, Argent began presenting the work that has made his name a household one in Denver. I See What You Mean (2005) also known as the “Big Blue Bear”` is in Argent’s word, a symbol fit for Colorado. Looking to the history of art in the Midwest, a bear was a suitable choice. Wanting to make a physical connection with the building, the bear was designed to peer into the building, as if just wandering in from the mountains. To fabricate this behemoth, Argent used computer software to create the faceted bear, then working with an outside company to fabricate the huge steel structure and paneled exterior.

After seeing this lecture, I had a much greater appreciation for any art in the public realm as it is clear that a multitude of extremely talented professionals is an absolute must when creating monumental work.

Jackson Ellis Visiting Artist Paper 1 – Janine Antoni

Jackson Ellis


Janine Antoni Visiting Artist Lecture


Getting to see and hear Janine Antoni talk about her work was definitely one of the highlights of this semester, and for me, nothing could be more inspiring than getting a glimpse behind the method of a MacArthur fellowship recipient. What initially surprised me the most was Antoni’s serene demeanor, just listening to her talk felt having an intimate conversation with the artist. This same quality was reflected in her poetic work that dances between the personal and the spiritual.

Beginning with the work that put her on the map, Janine Antoni revealed a behind-the-scene look at a piece that I have known about since I first became a student of the visual arts. This is of course the sculpture Gnaw (1992), in which the artist cast two 600-pound cubes, one of chocolate and one of lard. One of the most successful aspects of the work is its relationship to the modernist “cube,” as it takes a post-modern approach to the subject matter. One cannot gaze upon the monumental work without contemplating Tony Smith’s Die (1962), but where Smith used industrially manufactured metal, Antoni has opted for a quieter, more feminine approach. As a critique on the modernist art institution, Gnaw serves to undermine the white male hegemony that was so prevalent throughout the life of the movement, using her own body as the instrument through which to do this. For Antoni, the body is a temple and a tool through which symbols and materials are translated into meaningful objects and situations.

The body has a very direct relationship to Janine Antoni’s work and she incorporates it in the most humorous and unique ways. “The body is a temple” is something that we’ve all heard before, but Antoni takes this concept to a comical extreme in the work Conduit (2009) in which the artist literally transforms her body into architecture. The result of a chance encounter with an invention to allow women to urinate like men, she took this concept and created a similar-functioning object out of copper that resembled a gargoyle. Taking this object to the Empire State building, the artist then preceded to urinate off the building, completing the transformation of body into architecture. Similar in concept to this body/architecture was her work One Another (2008), in which she allowed a doll house to be put around her that contained small spiders that wove webs inside the miniature rooms. As a mother, her perspective on the idea of a home and how it relates to the body are very important details, and Antoni uses this aspect of her life in many of her pieces. One Another emphasized the relationship the artist’s body has with the physical manifestation of the concept of the “home.” That is that she (her body) is both a physical dwelling for an unborn child and her role as a mother is providing a zone of safety for the child through love, caring and physical security.

Hearing Janine Antoni speak and present demonstrated to me how a true artist acts. It was inspiring to feel the passion Antoni had for art and the way she spoke about it was incredibly poetic. Someday I too hope to be able to speak about my art in a way that inspires my audience that way she inspired me.

BMoCA Review – Viviane LeCourtois

Jackson Ellis

ARTH 3539

Exhibition Review: Viviane Le Courtois’ Edible?

            Viviane Le Courtois’ exhibition, Edible? presented  a contemporary exploration of mediums that are as old as human civilization and impact every single person on the globe. This medium is of course, food. A series of prints, sculptures, collections and installation, the exhibition spanned over 20 years of work of this French-born, Denver-based artist. Using post-modern concepts of material and social involvement, she transformed the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art into a space of social contemplation and interaction through the shared experience of consumption. Working with themes of mass culture consumerism and the industrial production required to sustain it, I found myself both repulsed and strangely hungry throughout the exhibition.

Having never seen the inside of the BMoCA, I was surprised at how efficient the historic building was for presenting any number of artworks, as there was ample room for the installation Garden of Earthly Delights to fill the entire front wing of the gallery. Despite my initial curiosity towards the low-hanging grow lights and greenery, the receptionist advised me to begin my visit in the back, beginning with work from the past 20 years of Le Courtois’ studio practice. A pseudo-retrospective, Edible? contained a wide range of mediums that demonstrated a personal evolution of the artist, culminating in the installation I had walked past initially. The first work that really caught my attention was Chewed Licorice Sticks (1990) with its simple display of deformed roots that appeared as a coded message. Presented in a vertical fashion, my first thought upon seeing the work was that it spelled something out, as the slight bend and frayed ends of the natural licorice sticks mimicked the typography of English letters. Almost abstract in their form, the sticks were physical evidence of the repetitive motions involved with consumption, becoming in essence “action sculptures,” akin to Jackson Pollock’s action paintings. If Chewed Licorice Sticks had me thinking about the process of consumption, Forages (1992) blatantly showed me. A short film of the artist eating various foods, it reinforced the importance of process in Le Courtois’ work, demonstrating that even the act of eating can be an artistic endeavor.

As I continued to work my way up to Le Courtois’ more recent work, her art began to explore the universal processes behind consumption as opposed to the individual’s relationship to them. Making my way through a candy curtain, I first stumbled upon the work Cheetovore (2002), hanging from the ceiling like meat hung out at a butcher. Comprised of an ambiguous organic form covered with the iconic snack food eaten by so many Americans, the piece also emanated the sound of this very food being eaten. I couldn’t help but smile at myself for recognizing and agreeing with Le Courtois’ choice of medium in using the “Flamin’ Hot” version of the snack food due to its artificially blood-red color. This color, combined with the suggestive structure of the sculpture carried a powerful warning about how we perceive the food we eat. Like the snack food, Cheetovore is artificial, a direct contrast to the perceived “naturalness” of the meat it masquerades to be, questioning the distinction people make between industrially produced food and what is considered to be natural. Cheetovore brilliantly plays off the fact that this conflict is further muddled by the production of meat in a similar fashion to our chemically enhanced snack food. Rounding the corner, the disconcerting sculpture, Venus of Consumption (2010) greeted me, as if in response to the whole idea of junk food’s transformation into our natural world.

Crafted from yarn, stuffing and silicone, the Venus figure recalls poses rich with an art historical context, only this sculpture grossly distorts the ideal proportions and conceptions of this classic reclining nude. Still containing graceful curves reminiscent of Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1538) or Ingres’ Le Grand Odalisque (1814), the nude figure’s bloated body recalls the changing image of beauty and the body in our mass-produced world of food. Glistening as if covered in sugar crystals, Venus of Consumption plays off our society’s need for a sensuous female figure. Presented as if for male visual consumption, the sugar aspect reflects a process used in the candy industry to make products even sweeter and more appealing to consumers. Beckoning with its own sugary charm, Shane (2010) stands only a few feet away, appearing naked at first due to an optical illusion of a multitude of pastel colored marshmallows blending to a flesh tone. Like Venus of Consumption, this work addresses the modern predicament of body image and its relationship to the food we consume and produce.

My favorite works on display in Edible? were a series of cast iron food objects, some rotten and some appearing almost edible. Casting these shapes emphasized their quality of shape, as every viewing angle resulted in a completely different form. Combining mass-production methods with natural processes such as decay and consumption, the resulting works reflected our increasing reliance on industrial methods of food collection and preservation. In one work, Moldy Sculptures (2001) the artist had cast in iron the rotten remnants of apple cores, noodles and other random items found in her fridge. Barely recognizable, the shapes were incredibly complex in their form, seeming figurative at times, and completely abstract in others. Le Courtois had also taken to casting other food objects with works such as Apple Cores (2007) and Artichoke (2011) forever preserving the processes by which we consume food.

Culminating in the interactive installation Garden of Earthly Delites (2010) Viviane Le Courtois aimed to unite her audience through a natural cycle of consumption. Low hanging grow lamps surrounded by rugs made of recycled t-shirts offered small gardens of various tea plants for viewer consumption. After picking up a small handmade terra cotta cup, I made myself some simple mint tea and lost myself in the Kombucha Etchings (2010) lining the walls of the installation. Sitting on the rug without any other visitors, I could image how lively the gallery would be on any given Saturday during the course of the exhibition, when the artist would visit to have tea with her audience. As a culmination of her exploration of the social and artistic connotations of food, Garden of Earthly Delites (2012) was a social happening in every sense of the word. As a closing gesture, the terra cotta cups were returned to dust by flinging them into the wall, a much more enjoyable action than throwing something away. Allowing people to come together and experience art as an interaction between the foods we eat, the people who eat it and the people who grow it. Seen through this lens, the tea leaves and all the combinations that could be made with the different plants are works of art themselves, with different compositions being as individual as the cast iron Apple Cores.

Overall, Edible? was a thorough exploration of the social implications and aesthetic value of the food we eat. It’s clear that Viviane LeCourtois has been contemplating the artistic value that food has to offer for a long time. Her work was both exciting and informative for me as a viewer as it blurred the lines between studio practice and the finished work that is labeled “art.” Now next time I drink a cup of tea, I’ll think about the effort that went into its production and contemplate how it could be considered an art in its own right.

Clyfford Still Paper – Jackson Ellis

clyfford still_jackson ellis

Predating even Jackson Pollock’s iconic drip paintings, Clyfford Still’s breakthrough paintings would be the first and foremost examples of a genuine American art movement: abstract expressionism. His unique colorfield paintings led to a monumental shift in the way painting was perceived as a medium, an accomplishment only fully recognized after his death in 1980. Still’s remarkable discovery was possible only after many long years of experimentation and historical circumstances. However, it is impossible to deny that Still was working with the concepts that would later define his most prominent works from a very early point in his long and successful career.

Born to a farmer in Grandin, North Dakota, 1907 Clyfford Still lived in several extremely rural locations including Spokane, Washington and then later the great open expanses of Alberta, Canada. During these formative years, Still spent most of his time working the farm with his father or painting the great lonely expanse, broken by the occasional grain elevator or plume of train smoke rising to the sky. It was this harsh landscape and meager living that had a radical influence on Clyfford Still and his early work. In one such piece, PH-782, a painting depicting vertical grain elevators in stark contrast to the horizontal land, it is possible to recognize a sort of regionalist style prevalent in the depiction of rural landscape and agricultural architecture. Already using his distinct pallet knife technique to create chiseled planes with intense color, these early architectural works would later arise in abstract forms reminiscent of this same sense of space and composition. As Still grew older and attended art schools, his paintings began taking on more social concerns and would begin to reflect influences from surrealist and American Regionalism styles, not to mention the historical times he was living in.

When the U.S. stock market crashed in 1929, artists all over the country would feel the devastating effect of unemployment, however, Still was lucky enough to be attending college at the time and continue his education regardless of the social upheavals. Despite his apparent security, Still’s work from this time reflects the social and working conditions encountered in this era and depicts human subjects becoming one with the tools they work with. Having been attending college he was now more in touch with the art world than he was during his earliest years, resulting in some striking similarities to other art movements at the time. For example, looking at the work PH-414, a work created in 1934/35, there are clear ties to Grant Wood’s iconic American Regionalist 1930 painting, American Gothic. Both works incorporate figures looking directly out to the viewer in a frontal and centralized composition, however Wood’s work emphasizes similar forms in the people and the tools they are holding (the pitchfork for example is echoed in the stitching of the farmer’s overalls) to emphasize the region while Still instead chose to emphasize the psychological aspects of his figures by painting them with exaggerated features. For Still, painting was not a way to reproduce the world around him (in short, the European tradition), rather he would paint to emphasize the emotional feelings regarding his subject. As a result in his many paintings depicting farm workers he cast them as elongated, emaciated figures, worked tirelessly until their faces have grown long and their bodies have begun to show bones peeking through thin flesh. These works would reflect the psychological conditions encountered by many during the Great Depression.  Still’s initial fascination with an emotional depiction of human forms was to be his first foray into abstraction with his series of works depicting the workers becoming one with the tools they use. Two works from this era seem particularly telling in how Still began conceiving his ideas in a more abstract way. In PH-343 (1937) a diptych composition juxtaposes man, a soft conglomerate of flesh and bone shapes against machine, a dense linear composition of elements taken from farming tools. While initially separate, these two subjects would then combine in PH-753 (1938), in which the organic bone-like shapes become part of the linear conjunction of lines in a vertical composition. This last aspect of verticality had already manifested itself in Still’s work from the 20’s and again in the 30’s when his figures became looming towers in defiance to predominately horizontal features. It was around this time that Clyfford Still began to develop his style-defining exploration of the relationship between life and verticality, death and horizontality.

As Still grew older, his work followed suit. His recognizable human forms began to morph into more totemic symbols, reminiscent of bones and other ritualistic forms. It is clear that Still has begun to work with an aspect that has been present since his earliest work, the vertical. Despite a darkening of his color pallet, Still’s work from the 40’s still retains sculpted swaths of bright color, thrown on with his signature pallet knife and his subject matter has simply taken another form. In one such work, PH-751, painted in 1944, Still has completely abstracted his totemic forms, reminiscent of his earlier work with machines and the figure, into a sense of architectural space rising into the sky. Also reflected in this painting is Still’s development towards irregular swaths of color, seen towards the center of this work in the rising, jagged edged plumes of color. At this point in his life, Clyfford Still had begun to achieve great things as an artist, taking the art world by storm with his earliest colorfield paintings, exhibited at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century Gallery in 1946. These works, right on the cusp of Still’s true breakthrough would inspire the first generation of abstract expressionists such as Barnett Newman and Robert Motherwell. However, Still was growing increasingly dissatisfied with the art world and its critics, despite his apparent popularity.

Abstract Expressionism was just reaching its peak in the 1950’s with artists such as Jackson Pollock, De Kooning and Mark Rothko (a close friend of Still) taking center stage, in essence becoming celebrity artists. Still however, chose to avoid the praise as he felt that his work was not part of any school of painting or movement for that matter. It would be this decision that eventually led to his withdrawal from the art world in 1951. Unfortunately for the art world, it was also during this period that Still would begin to create his most prolific works. PH-118, painted in 1947 would mark the beginning of total abstraction and the end of identifiable figurative forms. In this piece, a black flame of paint rises up from the corner to confront almost angel-like figures that seem to be flying in battle around the swirling darkness. Almost biblical in its depiction, the painting is more than a vague scene, it contains an emotion. This aspect is what makes Still’s work so monumental, he was able to translate the emotional feeling into non-representational images that have the power to affect people from diverse backgrounds.

During his absence from the art world, Still continued to paint, albeit without the restrictions imposed by a movement and without critics to comment on his every brushstroke. These later works would occasionally be seen in small contributions Still made to various art museums across the country, but never would the full scope of Still’s will to paint be exhibited until after his death in 1980. While Clyfford still may have joined the eternal horizontal, his works remain as powerful vertical testaments to the human condition of life and deat

Intellectual Profile Jackson Ellis

1. Give some basic information about your studies and fields of interest.
My name is Jackson Ellis and I am currently a junior pursuing a BFA in sculpture. My artistic career began when my family got the chance to move to Paris, France and I attended an international school in the city for my high school years. Since then my interests have been as diverse as the countries I’ve gotten the chance to visit. As a sculptor I’ve spent the last couple of years learning how to work with metal and wood and have used these skills to create kinetic machines as well as large-scale sculptures. To see more of my work just click here.

Continue reading

Smith article (Jackson Ellis)

In an attempt to define contemporary art’s unifying style, Terry Smith discusses the the distinction between modern and contemporary art, bringing to light the ideological differences that make contemporary art such a unique phenomena in the history of world art. Terry Smith asserts in her article that art is international, and contemporary art is a result of the social and historical forces that were important at the time of making the work. Despite the wide spread of international artists, all share the common influence of modern day society in a globalized world. Modern and contemporary art is not a unified movement of aesthetics, but rather a conglomerate of shock tactics and new mediums. After the rise and fall of movements such as minimalism and conceptualism, the modern movement would be the first to bring about an era of periodlessness, where no defining “house style” would be prevalent. Smith attributes this shift to the changing face of society that has come to usher in an era of an abundance of visual stimulation, an era that emphasizes grandiose spectacles and celebrities, resulting in an art movement that is disorganized and obsessed with the idea of advancing ones own name through mainstream popularity.

Continue reading