Relearning How to Exist



Participating in a residency in Shanghai is unlike anything we have experienced. China is unique because of our lack of familiarity with contemporary Chinese culture, customs, and language barriers. The process of trying to make sense of this new world is a phenomenological undertaking.  Our thoughts and needs are communicated via hand gestures, pictures, electronic devices or a third party--who may selectively translate what we are saying.

Our ability to function through known means has been removed, and the result is a sort of ontological shock.  Even the simplest elements of life become a phenomenon, and we are essentially relearning how to exist. 

In the text, Being and Time by Martin Heidegger, dealing with the nature of existence is explored; "Being cannot be grasped except by taking time into consideration, the answer to the question of being cannot lie in any proposition that is blind and isolated". As we experience life in China we can only open ourselves to the supreme novelty of the residency. Our experiences do not need to be made sense of in the moment, but rather, this is an opportunity to gather information. To truly understand something one must surrender preconceived notions about what could or should happen. One must simply Be and experience life as it is in the moment, and only in hindsight, we can reflect upon what we learned.
 
Being here is a wonderful opportunity to learn. One of the most curious aspects that I have found deals with the arrangement of space. Architecture in Shanghai is bold and imposing. Each grouping of buildings appears to be based on one Architectonic model, which is repeated a number of times. The lumping of structures divides the city into a series of rhyming blocks of buildings, which is followed by a vast expanse of flat land that extends forever.
 
The traditional city of Hangzhou is what one might imagine of China in the early 20th Century to be.  We hiked through a bamboo forest to the top of a mountain. We looked down through the clouds to see an impression of the city, and a tea farming town in the distance. While walking the countless steps to the Pagoda atop the mountain, I kept thinking about the overall composition of traditional Chinese ink drawings. In them the viewer experiences space not in terms of linear perspective, but as a holistic impression of how space feels.
One day Wang Yi took us to the opening of "Return to Simplicity", a retrospective of Wu Shanming's work,  I realized that climbing the mountain actually felt like the works we saw at the Zhejiang Art Museum. Shanming's oeuvre was comprised of variations of wash drawing techniques. He answered questions regarding the use of color as a compositional device, where to crop an image, where to simplify, and where to allow the abstract nature of the medium to flow, for the sake of creating an image that is captivating and sensitive. 
China is a land of many joys, such as the pleasure of truly getting to know fellow residents, as people and as Artists.  Our weekly critiques have been challenging at times, and yet because of the respect we have developed for each other, and because of the fact that we are all mutually invested in the success of the other's work, positive changes are happening in the studio.  This residency has benefited us not only in studio time, and cultural learning, but also in the freedom to sit and read. I find myself reflecting on  a quote by Nietzsche, in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, "You teach that there is a great year of becoming, a prodigy of a great year; it must, like a sand-glass, ever turn up anew..." The challenge understanding a place so detached from Western Culture is that we are forced to rethink ourselves, not just as the character we know ourselves to be, but as artists, whose work is eternally evolving, influenced by our surroundings and stimuli.

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On May 26, four Academy ventured to Shanghai, China to participate in a six-week residency. Tamalin BaumgartenDana KotlerArcmanoro Niles, and Ryan Schroeder (all members of the MFA class of 2015) will share their experiences here throughout the summer.

Marble's Elusive Fruit


By Steve Shaheen (MFA 2005)

After six weeks in seaside Carrara, the skin is tan, the body sore, the stomach accustomed to heaping portions of carbohydrates, and the New York grind a fleeting bad dream.  The rust has finally been scraped off my Italian, but my brain is amply scrambled from constant translation, so much so that I am now responding to Italians in English and Americans in Italian.

The days are long, and the hardcore among us work from 7am to 9:30pm. Sculpting in natural daylight is infinitely better than under studio lights, and there is a local adage that reinforces this: Che si fa di notte si vede di giorno (what you do by night you see by day).  In Carrara there is no sense of a relaxed Mediterranean culture that is perpetually tardy and punctuated by siestas; as long as the sun shines and blood stirs in your veins, you work.

What is work?

Work is donning a respirator, safety glasses, ear protection and gloves to dive into a clamorous white mist of strenuous and irrevocable decision making.  Work is subduing a writhing pneumatic hammer that delivers 6,000 blows per minute, and submitting its abusive concussions to a mass of 200-million-year-old crystallized marine skeletons with the hope that somehow all this violence will eventually make sense.  Work is cradling a 2400-watt angle grinder with 9-inch blade screaming at 10,000 rpm, three inches from your hands, as you whittle a block of marble that was moved by a crane at breakfast into something you can hoist with one arm by lunch.

This is the world of contemporary stone sculpture, at least to those of us remaining who do our own work.  It's not for everyone.

But Heena Kim (MFA 2014) and Josh Henderson (MFA 2015) have assimilated disconcertingly well into this severe and otherworldly gulag.  After the first few days I realized they were hopelessly corrupted, and no dust or noise or consternating technical hurdle would sway them.  Something about the beauty of the material, the direct engagement with it, the challenge of the process--as well as the hope for what it might someday become--holds a transfixing allure for those who taste of marble's elusive fruit.  Heena and Josh are approximately halfway through their pieces.  In general, however long it takes you to rough out and model your forms on a stone sculpture, you can calculate the same time to rasp, sand and finish the work. While accolades are premature, Heena and Josh have so far done exceptionally well.  After four years of leading this residency (Quentin McCaffrey 2011, Joseph Brickey 2012, Heather Personett and Zoe Swenson-Taylor 2013), I feel spoiled by Academy students' level of preparedness and their ability to jump into one of the most technically challenging media available to artists.  

Italy is a place of surprises, whether it's discovering your rental car's spare tire has a hole in it while on the shoulder of a highway, or your train catching on fire.  In addition to these memorable occurrences, we've had many pleasant impreviste.  Highlights include: Josh and Heena's invitation to participate in Carrara Marble Week (an art and design fair in the city's historic center); a lunch with American expatriate, painter/engraver Robert Carroll; admission to a closed room in the Bargello for a private viewing of Bernini's Costanza Bonarelli; a six-hour hike in the green mountains above Camaiore.  Josh also claims that he is surprised to discover that olive oil tastes like olive oil, and tomatoes taste like tomatoes.

I'm about to leave the land of vermentino and spaghetti allo scoglio for the concrete and steel jungle I call home.  Check out more details about the Carrara residency on Josh Henderson's blog.

Alla prossima,
Steve Shaheen

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This summer Steve Shaheen (MFA 2005) led a two-week stone carving residency in Carrara, Italy generously sponsored by ABC Stone.  The residency  promotes the use of stone in artistic practice by pairing young artists with master sculptors for experimental learning through intensive mentoring.  

A Fish Out of Water

By Claire Cushman MFA 2015


In the early hours of Monday, June 9th, eleven half-asleep Academy students trudged through the rain to Grand Central Station, dragging bags heavy with clothing and paint supplies. After what I’m told was a scenic two-hour train ride along the Hudson River, we arrived in Rhinecliff, New York, where staff members Katie Hemmer and Denise Armstrong met us with two vans. We piled in, and headed to Germantown’s “Central House” B&B, which would be our home for the next four nights and five days.

This summer marked the New York Academy of Art’s second Hudson Valley Plein Air painting residency, which affords students the opportunity to paint in the idyllic region in which the Hudson River School painters once worked.  Founded by Thomas Cole, the original Hudson River School was the first painting school native to the United States and rose to prominence in New York City in the early 19th Century.  The work was grounded in a celebration of the American landscape and the notion that nature was a powerful resource for spiritual renewal which led them to paint carefully observed, reverential, and sometimes idealized paintings of the Hudson River Valley and surrounding locations. Our retreat, led by faculty member Catherine Howe, offered a very welcome change of scene after a full year of toiling in our Franklin Street studios.

After settling into Central House (which we had entirely to ourselves), we drove to the nearby Clermont State Historic Site. The site protects the former estate of the Livingston family, and is named for its clear view of the Catskill Mountains over the Hudson River. Catherine met us in the visitor center (a small cottage that served as our painting base camp). She sprayed us thoroughly with bug spray and made us promise to conduct nightly tic checks on each other, then took us on a tour of the grounds. We made our way through an allée of enormous trees, past a bountifully flowering garden, by a pet cemetery with a gravestone from 1902, to the Livingston mansion. Rolling green hills surround the mansion, giving the property the feel of a golf course.

Many of us set up our easels and began painting that day, but were only able to get about two hours done before we were accosted by a downpour. This was a common theme during the week, so we ended up painting quite a few still lifes in the visitor center’s dining room. We also ended up playing a good deal of Pictionary and charades, telling ghost stories, and enjoying numerous “family dinners.” In true Academy fashion, there was plenty of wine. 

The next day, we ventured to Olana, once Frederic Church’s home and studio. Church, the predominant painter of the Hudson River School’s second generation, travelled extensively throughout Europe and the Middle East, and drew inspiration from the design he saw while abroad. Scenic carriage roads lead to Olana, which perches atop a hill overlooking the Hudson River valley and Catskill Mountains. The mansion’s ornately stenciled stone and brick façade is a mixture of Victorian, Persian and Moorish architecture. The interior remains lavishly decorated, as it was during Church’s lifetime. Bird feathers, Persian rugs and tapestries, sketchbooks, unique amber stain glass windows, and other eclectic objects, which Church acquired on his travels, fill the house to the brim. Hanging on the walls are over forty paintings by Church and his friends.

Thankfully, we had some sunshine while at Olana, and could clearly see Church’s stunning view of the Hudson River Valley. With the weather forecast clear for the whole afternoon, I was excited to get back into landscape painting, especially after focusing on the human figure for the school year.

Before starting at the Academy, I primarily painted landscapes. However, not having painted outside for nearly a year, I felt like a beginner when I began putting brush to canvas on this retreat. And on top of the unfamiliar subject matter, there were the challenges of painting outdoors. The plein air painter must contend with fickle weather, bugs, the annoyance of carrying one’s supplies around while finding a good spot to paint, and ever-shifting light. While at Olana, I couldn’t help but wonder how on earth the Hudson River School painters were able to create the meticulous work they did without the aid of photographs.

Although I felt like a fish out of water at first, I also found that what I had learned during my first semester perceptual painting class at the Academy deeply informed my landscape painting. This class (which I took with Dik Liu) made me think much more carefully about color temperature and spatial relationships, and has given me a far organized approach to painting from life. It was truly exciting to feel like I could put what I had learned this year to use “out in the real world” during the Hudson Valley residency. I highly recommend this retreat to all and any academy students next year. 

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Claire Cushman (MFA 2015) participated in a week-long residency in Hudson Valley, New York where she and Academy artists Jaclyn Dooner (MFA 2015), Patricia Horing (MFA 2015), Richard Alex Smith (MFA 2015)  Rachel Birkentall (MFA 2015) , Shaina Craft (MFA 2015), Todd Eisinger (MFA 2014), Daniel Dasilva (MFA 2015), Kiki Carrillo (MFA 2015), Kerry Thompson (MFA 2014), and Ian Factor (MFA 2014) experienced a pastoral splendor that has enticed American artists for centuries.

Creating Memories We'll Never Forget

By Hannah Stahl (MFA 2015)



Instead of writing about all the things we’ve seen so far, I​'ve decided to show you.

video

Here is a video compilation of the​ various happenings we’ve had the incredible opportunity to be a part of in Germany. The video takes a look at our home and studio life at the Leipzig Spinnerei; critiques with other artists-in-residence;  a trip to Berlin to see the Käthe Kollwitz Museum and the Gemäldegalerie at the Kulturforum; an art opening on Karl-Heine-Straße, a visit with Berlin artist,​ Ruprecht Von Kaufmann, and a tour of the Schloß Castle in Machern.  We've had the pleasure of celebrating birthdays (Camila’s, Piper’s and Matt’s), and creating fun memories that we will never forget like beating eggs with a whisk attached to a power drill, snoring on the bus, and of course, lots of meals filled with​ ​hefeweizen and ​bratwurst. Enjoy!

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Hannah Stahl (MFA 2015) is joined by Camila Rocha (MFA 2015), Matthew Comeau (MFA 2015), and Esteban Ocampo (MFA 2015) in Leipzig, Germany for a two-month Residency.  On the Academy's blog, the students will share their adventures abroad throughout the summer.  Return here for updates and more from Germany.  






Moscow Residency Part 1: A City of Irrepressible Spirit



By Gabriel Zea (MFA 2015)

"Russian people are altogether spacious people, just like their land, and extremely inclined to the fantastic and disorderly" – from Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment.

It’s a bit difficult to grasp how so much has been given to us for this residency.  I’m in awe of the opportunity organized by the incredibly generous and well-connected Nikolay Koshelev (MFA 2014).  To be completely honest I’m a little apprehensive about the responsibility that this opportunity implies.

The day that Nikolay first introduced us to our studio space it was our second surprise of the day.  The first surprise was the castle of an apartment building we are going to live in during our stay in Moscow.  Our apartment is in one of Moscow’s ‘Seven Sisters’, a Stalin-era skyscraper built in gothic and baroque style and more reminiscent of a castle than any apartment building I’ve encountered. Next he showed us our studio which was the old studio of Aleksandr Deyneka, a Russian social realist painter whose name is well known to every Muscovite we’ve had the pleasure of meeting, and who’s works decorate Moscow metro stations.  It's in an inconspicuous building on a street Nikolay dubbed the "5th avenue of Moscow." Once we arrived, we rode an elevator to the 9th floor and were soon greeted by the cheerful wild-haired artist lending us the studio for the month, and behind him, an astounding panoramic view of Moscow.

Inline image 3While soaking in the sights and sounds in our new cozy and lived-in studio, we received a welcome interruption to our reverie from Nikolay who introduced us to artist friends he had invited.  Not long after that, we were all sharing food and conversation at a French café, followed by a nighttime stroll through the monumental Red Square – an open rectangular stretch of cobblestone surrounded by the Kremlin, the State Historical Museum, an absurdly large department store, and the iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral. The grandiosity of the scenery, coupled with the sudden familiarity and comfort brought by our new friends, gave these moments what I felt to be a distinctly Russian sense of frivolity, bound by a mutual understanding of comradery. How naturally we fell into a comfortable group dynamic, bridging a cultural gap thousands of miles long. The moment we finally arrived back to our castle apartment around 4 in the morning, the sky was turning blue, and our conversation focused intently on how lucky we are to be here. 

Last Monday, we had our first visit to the Tretyakov Gallery, a museum stocked with the most beautiful and emotive landscape paintings I’ve ever seen, and we can copy any painting we choose on a weekday when the museum is officially closed, but seemingly entrusted to us. Soon we will make a trip to St. Petersburg to visit the Hermitage Museum, one of the largest museums in the world, with the largest collection of paintings.

After settling into our new surroundings we’ve begun to make a habit of working in the studio every day, slowly but surely building momentum that I hope will culminate in a series of paintings that accurately reflect the air of grandeur and whimsy that permeates this city, and the generosity and open soul of its people.


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Inline image 1Gabriel Zea (MFA 2015) is joined by Sarah Issakharian (MFA 2015), James Raczkowski (MFA 2015) and Amanda Pulham (MFA 2014) in Moscow.  These four students are spending their summer taking in the sights and creating work on an Academy-sponsored Artist in Residence Program.  Throughout the summer, their adventures will be documented on the Academy's blog. Stay tuned for more.