Monday, March 2, 2009

2009 Art Expo NYC Part II: Giving Good Face

The 2009 Art Expo was a comprehensive journey through varied styles, and to be cliché “something for everyone.” While I appreciated a great deal of the art at the Javits Center, the pieces that seemed to captivate me the most were by artists working with portraiture.

The human face seems to be an ongoing fascination for me. It’s no wonder that one of my favorite words in Spanish is “rostro,” the formal, almost literary version of “face.” The word also indicates all that goes along with the face—its movement and emotion. My obsession, if it can be called that may be driven by my constant confusion about the nature of people and why we put on social masks. Of course, by my very nature as a human being, I put on some extent. For the most part, I’m honest to a flaw, and what you see is what you get. I can't help but be drawn to pieces that explore hidden, inner pain, emotion and subtexts that are open to interpretation.

It could be speculated that I am also drawn to portraiture because, as a former and awkward adolescent misanthrope, I am now catching up and hopelessly devoted to meeting new and inspiring people. People with interesting stories to tell intrigue me. I love it when I can meet someone and immediately discover commonalities. Characteristic of my life, whenever I am compelled by higher forces to go to a particular event, there is always one significant interaction that sums up the experience for me. That experience generally ends up revealing a series of things that I share in common with that person. This time around it was meeting Candice Johnson of Los Angeles, California. An accomplished listed artist with an impressive background in art studies in Paris, Johnson has created what I can only describe as her own version of Facebook on paper and wood block, executed with pastel and acrylics.

When you first encounter the bright visuals of Johnson's “Face Reality” series, you realize the reason that her distinct pieces have had significant showings in France, Asia and in the U.S., and that her work has found its way into personal collections around the world. At the Javits, the voices of her subjects, hung side by side by side, had very strong voices, like people from past lives reminding me of people who I have known. Thus, it would have been impossible for me to pass by her booth without striking up a conversation with her.

And it’s all about the conversation when it comes to creating her little works of wonder. In her artist statement Johnson says that she uses “the face, the visage, or Tete as the vehicle to express these known but indefinable emotions that emerge from my gut. I put the brush down and begin to observe the Tetes. The ones I choose or work on further are those Faces that begin to talk to me, or put more simply: the ones that make me feel.”

Her pieces do have singular and collective voices that continue calling from their places on the wall. This is what really propelled me into her artistic world--how she described this process of letting the pieces talk to her (assuring me that she wasn’t crazy and that the paintings didn’t literally talk to her!). I felt a comraderie in this way of working, since I handle the creation of my wire screen and papier mache masks much in the same way—letting the masks tell me what shape they want to be and when they are finished. It is at that point that I put the paintbrush aside and move on to the next creation.

To the outsider, Johnson’s pieces can only be described as whimsical. They made me happy, all the while a frenetic dialogue went on in my head begging answers to questions like “Who are these people?” “What’s his or her story?” “Why is she smiling, yet she still looks sad.” Her color choices and dynamic cast of characters with unusual names like “Edwidge,” Ainara,” and “Azzedine” cause sensory overload in a marvelous way—the kind that causes you to feel like you can’t help but want to leap into each and every portrait and ask the tough Barbara Waltersesque questions to their subjects. I look forward to becoming good pals with Candice. Her unique perspective and roster of life experiences makes her an interesting human being.

Now, while I love a happy whimsical painting, don’t think that I don’t love my fair share of bawdiness, darkness and the macabre. As a matter of fact, I love all things dark, as long as they are not too bloody or make me depressed. I love thought-provoking art that makes me say “What the hell was going on in this artist’s head when they painted that?” I’m pretty certain that my thirst for the odd and dark comes from my Beaver Cleaver Midwestern upbringing and a fortunate lack of tragedy in my life. Luckily for me, the 2009 Art Expo offered me all the bawdiness, darkness and screwed-up visuals that any good art collector needs.

Wild, Frenchie frocks meet bustieres, feathers, lusty ladies and gentleman in cravats in the stylish and sexy work of Cordell Cordaro. It’s clear to see that this young artist, born into an artistic family in Rochester, New York draws his influences from Schiele, Klimt and Lautrec, but he brings his own style and sensibility to his drawings and paintings with every ink mark and brush stroke.

It’s the faces and expressions that tell the true stories in his work. Cordaro utilizes a very subdued color palette while focusing his attention on bold design. When he does use bright color, it is limited, unexpected, and is intentionally overshadowed by the subject matter. His works are brassy and bawdy, which contrasts with his seemingly quiet and polite demeanor, which begs one to ask the question is there more to the artist than meets the eye?

It’s clear to see why Vincent Beauchemin is a rising star in the Quebec art scene. The dynamic, thirty year-old artist gives off an air of mischievousness under his seemingly calm and polite French-Canadian exterior. With a strong presence and the gift of being able to talk about his work in a way that many artists have not mastered, suggests that the artist, who goes only by the name of Vince, is very grounded and comfortable in his own skin and with his emotions. As a matter of fact, his work is all about emotions, and they are conveyed subtly through colors and shadowing. Though he insists that his work is definitely not cartoon-inspired, his paintings remind me of the artistic sensibilities of Doonesbury artist Gary Trudeau. He combines his caricature-like subjects with the angst and dourness of Edgar Allen Poe making moving theatrics on the canvas. Other collectors must find this drama intriguing as well, since he sold every one of his paintings at his latest showing!

Psychological doesn’t begin to describe the work of Wyoming-based Christopher Amend , a former art professor and printmaker. The artist seems to personify what his last name suggests--a man that has come to terms with who he is and his reality, embracing his life to the fullest and sharing it openly with the spectator. This makes his work course with electricity and vitality. Amend’s distinct hands and face make regular appearances in his work and add to the very personal nature of his art. I like his stuff because it seems to combine a lifetime of distinct and profound influences. He incorporates elements on such a subconscious level only recognizable to the spectator, which might be reason why his art resonates way beyond his own experience. His impeccable use of color complements his brilliant sense of line, and his attention to detail makes each piece a new exploration into the intricacies of humanity. Most compelling in his work is the use of themes like cause and effect or action versus consequence. If you are into drawings, you must check out his works in graphite. They are SPECTACULAR!

After attending Art Expo 2009, I continue to think on the idea of faces, and I could only bring this experience full circle by talking about the works of Zeng Jianyong. I had the opportunity to view an exhibition of his work last year at the Eli Klein Fine Art in SoHo and was profoundly affected by his depiction of children that are meant to be more of caricatures than actual portraits. The children depicted in his collections have their unique identities but share many attributes such as “ruddy marks on their skin that could be blood stains, overly large heads, tiny noses…” The one haunting element of Jianyong’s children are the “startling silver-grey eyes that look like shattered marbles.” I have had these pieces on my mind since last year, which shows the enduring impact of the stories that the artist tells. His subjects have remarkable voices that continue to speak long after the canvases which hosts them have been taken down. Limited edition prints of Zeng Jianyong child portraits can be purchased through KLS Editions, Ltd of Woodland Hills, California by emailing

So, to sum it up faces, voices, commonalities—isn’t that what sharing the art experience is all about?

For more information about Art Expo 2009 visit


Carolynn said...

Hey Paul! Sorry it's taken me so long to swing by and say hello. Life getting in the way and all that.

Excellent review. I especially like Vince's work. I'll be back to poke around a bit more.


Lost Aussie said...

Hi Paul, thanks for leaving a comment on my blog. I've enjoyed reading your comprehensive review and thoughts on the artwork you saw at the Expo. It certainly was a most interesting and inspiring show.
art cheer

candice said...

Hey Paul.... Aren't you Great! I love what you wrote about me and you were one of my favorite visitors.