Actually Weird

press release

Underdonk Presents:

“Actually Weird”
January 5-February 4, 2018
Opening reception: Friday, January 5, 6-9 pm

Bill Adams
Timothy Bergstrom
Andy Cahill
Maria Calandra
Jacqueline Cedar
Nicholas Cueva
Erik Den Breejen
Kyle Gallup
Alicia Gibson
Nick Irzyk
Sophie Larrimore
Jennifer J. Lee
Romeo Lee
Judith Linhares
Joshua Marsh
Nicholas Moenich
Ga Hee Park
Linnea Paskow
Anna Rosen
Peter Saul
Clayton Schiff
Jeni Spota
Joel Soliven
Zuriel Waters
Brian Wood
Michael Yaniro
Domenico Zindato

Curated by JJ Manford

“The beautiful is always strange…it always contains a touch of strangeness, of simple, unpremeditated and unconscious strangeness, and it is that touch of strangeness that gives it a particular quality of beauty”.

-Charles Baudelaire: Selecting Writings on Art and Artists

“(That’s) actually weird,” a common utterance, transmitted spontaneously in front of a work of art, often with little to no hesitation, as though from some primeval awareness, or uncanny familiarity, perhaps retracted after closer readings of a longer duration, when more information is gleaned and the artwork in question is opened up to multiple interpretations. Still, what prompts this clairvoyant, spontaneous response, which, as such, resides in the realm of intuition, as opposed to logic?

“Actually Weird” seeks to identify, without defining, those characteristics which produce such an immediate and sustained sensation of the presence of weirdness. Though it may not reach too many conclusions about something that resides inherently in the subjective sense, it nevertheless makes discreet assertions about the quality and intention behind certain works, for the sake of argument, and in the process generates a sort of taxonomy of (types of) weird.

Excluded from consideration, in this case, are the works of artists who, self-consciously, aim to be weird by affect, or in an easy violation of convention. The works in “Actually Weird” were selected after extended consideration, with an awareness that the perception of the ‘weird’ is tenuous by nature; something which can appear to have (this) characteristic upon first glance, may be revealed as a contrived, strategic sort of weird with added scrutiny. The aim here is not to fetishize weirdness, but to celebrate it, and locate it in a fiercely individual, dissident quest for the realization of the imagination.

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A weirdness that is felt rather than known: A Taxonomy

I often think about it, but often because weirdness represents an extension of something I tend to feel I don’t quite reach. I think of it sort of as a stamp of authority – weirdness means authenticity or gumption or uniqueness or something like that, so to achieve weirdness in a painting in this day and age is to achieve the highest honor – it’s the most thorough form of good.

– Clayton Schiff

As “Actually Weird” has evolved, an overarching figurative dimension has emerged, though, in this case, what is represented is not, in fact, the main attraction. As such, the recognizable acts as a decoy. The paintings of Peter Saul, Bill Adams, Jeni Spota, and Joshua Marsh, to name a few, do not sustain interest, primarily, because of what they are depicting, but rather how it has been depicted. The “subject(s)”, here, are more like armatures for (1) extremely concentrated, and highly nuanced activities. In the words of Bill Adams,

The word I often use to describe the “actors” in the drawings and the sculptures, is Stand(in). They are a stand(in)for me. Most particularly an emotional stand(in) around which I construct or enact an event or task. Then, somehow, I rally around the actor and try working up the thing to an intensity or emotional pitch befitting the deep character I’m trying to summon. It’s never easy and often the drawings are more receptive to the fraught and disjointed then anything. Which I suppose says something about me. And in equal measure about a slippage almost diabolical in nature that seems to be a constant these days.

A handful of the artists represented in “Actually Weird” display an (2) almost devotional attention to a very specific subject. Sophie Larrimore does this with her attention to poodles, which function similarly to Bill Adam’s ‘actors’, Erik den Breejen with his acute musical fandom, and Alicia Gibson with her diaristic, vulnerable, nearly confessional interjections of personal experiences. In all cases, these artists employ their subjects with a limited sense of irony, or cleverness, and mostly with a genuine investment in their vision. In the words of Andy Cahill,

I think weirdness goes hand in hand with specificity. To create something weird, you must make a series of very specific decisions. This sounds easy but is actually very difficult.

None of the artists in “Actually Weird” could be considered an outsider; however, several of them possess a methodology which could draw comparison to some, so-called outsider artists, specifically an (3) obsessive mark making, which fills the entire picture plain (horror vaccui), often accompanied by a personal vocabulary/index of signs/symbols. Such qualities are evident in such proclaimed outsiders as Adolf Wolfi, Joseph Crepin, and Henry Darger, as well as more classically trained artists, such as Charles Burchfield. Domenico Zindato, Nicholas Moenich, and Jeni Spota all possess this aspect in their work.

Certainly, (4) an avoidance of conventional arguments is an essential ingredient of most things weird, though an awareness of such does not enable an artist to enact said weirdness; an easy deployment of said avoidance may result in the previously mentioned, strategic sort of weird. Several of the artists in this exhibition recognize that, in order to avoid familiar results, they must set up problems for themselves in the studio. Tim Bergstrom, recalling a previous exhibition he was in called “The Long Cut” says it perfectly,

The basic idea of (the show) was to show artists who intentionally create antithetical situations in their works. By doing this, the artist set up problems in their works which needed to be solved or incorporated (often times it brought out unconventional approaches). By accident the show ended up being a lot about contradiction, which was on full display in the odd collection of works… I think a good example of this type of work would be Julian Schnabel’s plate paintings. In which he created an intentionally difficult surface to paint on, resulting in strange paint handling and the uncontrollable urge to ask, “why?”

Andy Cahill also weighs in on the idea of convention:

To me, art is weird when it feels inevitable but doesn’t make sense. In order to achieve this, the artwork must build a convincing case for its own existence without resorting to conventional arguments.

Often times, this quality of weirdness cannot be premeditated – it is more like something an artist stumbles upon, almost by accident. Clayton Schiff explains this succinctly, “I figure that more often than not weirdness is not a goal but an incidental byproduct of something, or a kind of failing at achieving something competent or not weird”.

Anna Rosen, with her use of the marbling technique, Nick Irzyk, with his incorporation of marble dust, and his idiosyncratic, jig-saw method of constructing and deconstructing paintings with foam core and plaster, and Nicholas Cueva, by painting against the irregular textures of a wide assortment of textiles typically used to make clothing, all use both art and non-art materials, alike, in order to set up material problems to resolve –  but also to produce (5) enzymatic phenomenon to respond to in painterly fashion. In some ways, this process links them to the before mentioned plate paintings of Julian Schnabel, or Sigmar Polke’s Pour paintings, which incorporate powdered mica in their making.

Judith Linhares’ paintings are actually weird – in her words, “(6) the uncanny kind where things that are inanimate come to life.” Michael Yaniro and Brian Wood have a myopic, concentrated, and deeply nuanced attention to their subjects. This could even be a seventh category within the taxonomy. Michael Yaniro’s work is a painstaking, slow, and nearly photographic rendering of human hands and fingers, in graphite. With a highly active and adept paint handling, Brian Wood reanimates inert, deeply personal, often times tragic and painful to recall memories from his past, interspersed with his unconscious. In his words, “I work a painting all the way through the personal to a state that is transpersonal and strange to me. Only then will it reveal itself.” This, the ability to imbue the inactive with a sense of extreme activity, is perhaps one of the strangest, most extraordinary powers of art.

While this taxonomy remains incomplete, a tangible criteria for weird has, hopefully, emerged. As Baudelaire aptly noted, the weird, or strange, can be a quality of art that makes it beautiful; however weirdness, as an attribute sought after for its own sake, will likely fail to produce its intended effect. I admire all the artists in this show because they all fearlessly pursue the iconoclastic understanding and visualization of their imaginations.

-JJ Manford (1.1.2018)

Collage by Alicia Gibson

Underdonk
1329 Willoughby Ave.
Brooklyn, NY
11237

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