The New York ArtExpo has once again opened at 711 12th Avenue (on Pier 94 at 54th Street). This is the 40th annual ArtExpo and shows its maturity in its practiced operations and administration. Full mechanical details about the exposition can be found at the website. As in prior years, I prowled the place looking for something unique in the art or the artists, and struck up a conversation. Also as in prior years I note that there is no better way, in my book, to enjoy art than to talk to the artists. For that experience alone I can recommend a visit – especially for anyone contemplating a move into the arts as a “profession.” Expo tickets can be purchased online or onsite; children ages 11 and under are free when accompanied by an adult; Discounted admission is available for seniors 60 years of age and over; Discounted admission is available with presentation of a valid student ID.
The Expo itself claims to be the largest international gathering of qualified trade buyers (including gallery owners and managers, art dealers, interior designers, architects, corporate art buyers), and art and framing retailers. I can believe it and, in all events, it is large and quite international in reach. Among those with whom I spoke were a Canadian, a South African, a Venezuelan, Japanese, Chinese and a scattering of Americans. The show will be open on Friday, April 20, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday, April 21, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday, April 22, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. There are cafes and bars integrated into the exhibition space so you can sustain a surprisingly long interest if you wish to do so.
Vargas at Work
I turned from the check room to spot a young lady, naked, partially covered in paint. I thought – no better place to start my afternoon’s work. This young woman was being painstakingly daubed by Vargas, a Venezuelan artist who had trained in fine arts at New Jersey’s School of Visual Arts and at New York’s Pratt Institute. His art now consists primarily in painting the human body and photographing it. Early in his career he chose more mundane subjects, and met with more limited success.
Vargas with Palette in Hand
He had to support a family and produced a calendar of photographs of attractive women – of which he sold about 300 copies. He asked his friends what he could do differently to make some money, and was sagely advised that people wanted to see skin. He took up body painting; his next calendar sold about 5000 copies. Shortly after that he produced a calendar illustrating all of the uniforms of the World Cup competitors – painted on scantily clad ladies – and sold about 500,000 of them. Naturally, Sports Illustrated reached out to him and provided a variety of commissions. He also works in the fashion industry now painting runway models – having recently worked for Jean Paul Gautier in Vienna. I sat and talked to Vargas, his wife (sometimes subject) Anabel, and his model/canvas – all of them exhibiting traditional South American graciousness and charm (although I do believe the model was local).
Vargas pinup body painting
Some of the work on display reflected old-fashioned pinup styled work. This prompted me to inquire, as would many a male baby boomer, whether this Vargas was related in any way to the Vargas whose pinup art was a mainstay in early Playboy magazines. Indeed, the current Vargas is a nephew to the identically named forerunner. Vargas now teaches body painting; he has a line of body paint brushes, and he has competed in the World Body Painting Championship (who knew?), coming in second.
I stopped next at the display of a wood worker whose pieces turned from burls were so large as to be intriguing. David Barkby came to his craft by a curious route.His family moved from Syracuse (NY) to Pennsylvania when he was seven years old. He attended public school and segued into a vocational school that divided the curriculum evenly between practical internships and academic basics. He started studying electronics but left for woodworking. His practicum had him doing kitchen cabinetry; from there he moved on to the York Casket Company. The YCC turned raw wood into caskets and David began to learn about conditioning lumber as well as more sophisticated crafting. He started his own custom furniture company which ran in parallel with his casket work for a period, and then tried his hand at art. He proved quickly able to put most of his commercial work aside and concentrate on his art and has not looked back since 2000.
Barkby customized a massive lathe from Canada’s ONEWAY Manufacturing so that he can turn pieces up to 10 feet in diameter, going so far as to put a channel in the floor to accommodate the massive swing of the lathe. While he continues to make some custom furniture, he currently turns burls, mostly from California – red wood, horse chestnut, walnut. After turning the primary forms he further works the surfaces with rotary tools adding texture, and sometimes color. The resulting textures, grains and colors lend a feel of nature to any setting, while the polished, turned surfaces speak of technology and human dominance; the contrast and tension can be intriguing.
$2,500,000,000,000,000 Dollar Zimbabwe Skull
I spoke with a youthful Chad Daly, originally out of South Africa but now residing in Orange County, CA. Chad is a paper artist – part origami-ist, part engineer. His craft relies heavily on software and philosophy. His art is always up to date because he literally works in currency. His pieces are fashioned from bills, or sheets of bills, into three dimensional figures. He has, of necessity, investigated the legality of (ab)using currencies of above 80 nations and seems to be sensitive to cultural concerns as well. He has worked in rather exotic bills as a reflection on his subject matter. I saw with some fascination skulls produce in one instance from Zimbabwean “100 trillion dollar” bills, and another from uncirculated 2 million mark notes from the 1923 Weimar Republic (printed on one side to save costs). The Weimar Republic is likely an historical vestige to Daly (at 27 years of age), but the irony of a death’s head composed of such currency is not lost on him. (FYI, it takes about 25 notes to make up a half sized skull – in case you want to save up to try it on your own.)
Chad Daly with Skull
Daly designs his pieces on computer and, using a second program, they are deconstructed into flat patterns for cutting and assembly. There is no solid form on which bills are applied; his pieces are, from conception through completion, hollow and consequently vulnerable. Chad had a collector’s interest in bank notes from an early age – which apparently led him to the material of his craft.
I was next attracted to the work of James Paterson – for its color and whimsy, and outright charm, although arising from a more serious wellspring: these began as tangible prayers when words failed. His work is built from wire, loops of which may be filled with a painted resin making tiny “stained glass” windows. Figures in the works remind me of some Calder circus bits. Paterson received an art degree from the University of Waterloo and practiced in various media over the years, focusing primarily on painting. At one time he taught art but abandoned that almost 3 decades ago to concentrate on his production work. He is represented by galleries in Pennsylvania, California, and Canada, but is apparently barely keeping up with demand.
James Paterson Work
The larger works are said to be autobiographical reflecting the Kensington Market community of Toronto where Paterson was raised, his father, his youth. He now lives rather farther north and away from the bustle of the big city. Two of his offspring (both likely in their 20’s) were first to talk to me, and both take obvious pride in dad and his work. Mom, the business manager, was also in attendance.
James Paterson Work
Paterson (and his children in highly similar terms) noted the philosophical underpinnings of the works, the Kensington Market houses, the ladders for striving and rising, etc. emphasizing to me how thoroughly the production of art has become the family business. Each work includes an integrated wire twist with the artist’s JP monogram logo. Interestingly some of the small component pieces are produced in “bulk” by a subcontractor; a subcontractor might also assemble some smaller pieces. When that contribution is deemed sufficient, the wire logo is augmented by an “S” signifying the James Paterson Studio.
I wandered toward the back of the Expo with no particular purpose – but encountered there marvelous and exotic works termed “Sentinels.” The works, their genesis and the underlying philosophy are all challenging to describe.
Stephen Farland with The Creator
On the most mundane level, the Sentinels are human figures built, notably, of chairs and chair parts, mostly of Polish birch. They are collectively known as “Victory”; each is named and has a story. They were the concept of Stephen Farland, but were assembled from his rather sketchy drawings by Brian Sartor (who could not attend the show). Farland interviewed some 19 prospective artists before choosing Sartor to realize his creations. To me, by reason of the shapes, colors and materials, the seeming helmets and epaulets they are reminiscent of Samurai warriors; neither Farland nor Sartor had any such concept in mind. Farland’s concept eschews any partisan symbolism, weaponry, politics or the like. Rather these figures reflect what we can make of our lives with the leftover or damaged parts that we too readily discard. Indeed, his original supply of chair parts was from the collected seconds and damaged parts generated by Shafer Commercial Seating of Denver (from which Farland also hales). The initial source of parts was David Shafer; his son Byron Shafer kept that tradition and provided parts to Stephen who, upon the recent demise of Shafer Commercial Seating, acquired 6 semi-trailer trucks of additional parts, some 10,000 chairs worth.
Stone and Hu with US Buck
I spoke briefly with the Chinese-born artist “Stone” (aka Chun Shi) who works in what he terms oil mosaics. His images are, viewed close, tessellated (like that of Chuck Close), but in smaller cubes of oil paint. From a distance the colors and tones of the cubes merge into the desired picture. At the Expo, one work is displayed, a massive dollar bill painted on both sides. Stone (and Sonia Hu) explained his work to me with infectious enthusiasm. He has apparently used this technique to render Marilyn Monroe, Chinese currency, Buddha, Peking opera masks.
Laden with notes, camera gear and a tenuous, overstuffed memory, I headed for the door. Nonetheless I had to stop once more to talk with three Japanese women who were beaming, and notably agreeable, until I realized that some of that good will arose from our almost complete inability to converse. Consequently my understanding is unusually abbreviated.
Nonetheless, the art that had stopped me made me laugh. The artist is IWACO. She makes dolls in Kyoto. She hopes her art will make the viewer smile. Her hopes are fulfilled. The work is charming, creative, humorous and captivating. Her materials apparently include old kimonos. That is the extent of my comprehension of our conversation.
For more on Vargas, see: http://vargasstudios.com
For more on David Barkby, see: http://barkbywoodsgallery.com
For more on Chad Daly, see: http://www.chaddaly.com
For more on James Paterson, see: http://www.jdpaterson.com
For more on Stephen Farland, see: http://www.chairbornearts.com
For more on Stone, see: http://www.oilmosaic.com
For more on IWACO, see: http://www.soranote.art
All photos are copyrighted to FredCohenPhotography; all rights reserved.