One of the Best Paintings I Have Ever Seen

By Amanda Pulham (MFA 2014)
I know that I speak for everyone on the Moscow residency when I say that our time here has been, and continues to be, spectacular. Apart from the every day luxuries of our imperial style Stalin-era skyscraper apartment and access to a beautiful and historically significant painting studio, one of my favorite things about Russia has been visiting the museums. We have visited nine museums: The Tretyakov Museum, The Tretyakov’s Modern Art Museum, the Master and Margarita Museum, The Moscow Museum of Modern art (MMOMA), The Baron Steiglitz Academy and Museum, The Academy of Art’s Museum, The Hermitage, the Russian Museum, and the Pushkin Museum.

The Tretyakov Museum has become a very familiar place to us during our Monday copying days. The museum is closed to the public on that day and we are allowed six hours to paint, draw, and wander around the museum. They have a great collection of Repins, and also some remarkable Vasily Vereschagins, one of which James is copying.

Fortunately, our translator Sonia arranged for us to have a private (English) tour of the Tretyakov’s Modern Art Museum, where we learned about artists like Goncharova, Pavel Filonov, Alexander Yakovlev, and of course, Kandinsky.

The Master and Margarita Museum was a special treat for me, because last semester (coincidentally before I knew I was going to Moscow,) I read Mikhail Bulgakov’s masterpiece, The Master and Margarita; a book that caused a lot of controversy at the time of it’s release in 1940, but is now completely embraced and championed by the people of Moscow. The museum is located in the actual apartment where the main characters in the book lived. Outside of the museum, our translator lets me know when we pass other locations referred to in the book, and I am very excited to see them. 

We visited the Moscow Museum of Modern art as part of the biennale tour. The biennale lead us to several galleries and finally the MMOMA to see works of contemporary art by young artists. Most of the work was either instillations (video and other) or photography. Unfortunately very few paintings were included in the shows (if I remember correctly there were two small, non-representational paintings).

In St. Petersburg, we met a student who attends The Baron Steiglitz Academy. He brought us into the school and showed us around. The Baron Steiglitz Academy and Museum is one of the most extraordinary places I have ever had the privilege of touring. The site of this famous academy is one of the former homes of Baron Steiglitz, a nineteenth century philanthropist. Any description I can give will fail to do the building justice (think NYAA meets Versailles.) Students are surrounded by so much visual language provided by the building itself that in some rooms, large movable walls cover up the ornate wooden carvings, or other decorative features adorning the walls. We all agreed that The New York Academy of Art should begin a relationship with The Baron Steiglitz Academy. 

The Academy of Arts Museum had a few rooms of thesis paintings by their more noteworthy alumni, as well as several rooms displaying architectural prototypes used to plan the design and construction of famous buildings in St. Petersburg. Nikita, the same student who showed us around the Baron Steiglitz Academy, convinced the Academy of Arts Museum to allow us access to their school building, which was “closed for the summer, but also the fire.” The building was massive and abandoned. We were never given the details explaining the circumstance of the fire, but it was very obvious that this school had somewhat recently suffered a devastating fire, and was now scarred from it.

Then, of course, there was the Hermitage. The Hermitage is home to one of the greatest collections of art in the world. We spent two full days in the Hermitage and saw works by Rembrandt, Degas, Cezanne, Bonnard, Brueghel, Rubens, Titian, Pontormo, El Greco, Velazquez, Gentileschi, Goya, Ribera, Gerome, Bouguereau, Michelangelo, and many others. I am eternally grateful to the New York Academy of Art for giving me the opportunity to visit this museum.

We visited the Russian Museum on our last day in St. Petersburg and saw a remarkable collection including works by Filonov, Kramskoy, and, of course, Repin. The Russian Museum has an unrivaled collection of Repin paintings, including Zaporozhye Cossack's Writing a Mocking Letter to the Turkish Sultan, one of the best paintings I have ever seen.


Amanda Pulham (MFA 2014) is joined by Gabriel Zea (MFA 2015), Sarah Issakharian (MFA 2015), and James Raczkowski (MFA 2015) in MoscowThese 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.

When Plan Change You Go With Them

By IvY HickAM (MFA 2013)

When plans change you go with them.  Instead of teaching my planned for week long monotype course I would be teaching a three day intensive workshop.  Last minute, Carmen worked her magic and I ended up teaching the most wonderful group of students.  I was lucky enough to have a few current students of the design school, going into their second year, and a handful of alumni who lived locally and wanted to be at Altos learning art again. I had painters, drawers, and installation artists.  I had the most engaged and engaging students a non-Spanish speaking nervous teacher could ask for. I had assisted teachers all through the past year in various community collages around New York but it was my first class to teach all on my own.

I had to restructure my class the night before, but with the level of artists I had in my class I was able to teach them just as much information in the intense short time we had together. Painting, scraping, drawing with sticks and q-tips--a whirl of monochromatic prints, watercolor, Japanese paper handprints and experiments in viscosity.  My students ventured outside to paint from life, using the beauty of their surroundings. They used themselves and each other, still life, found images, and their imagination.  I drilled image after image by Degas (an avid maker of monotypes and a favorite of mine) into their heads. I spoke about the importance of contrast, wiping out the lights, and about negative vs. positive. I showed them current working artists as well, showing them how varied monotypes can be.  They showed me, that even with a language barrier, I can show a class what I know and in return they will show me their voices as artists.  The students worked very hard and the amount of prints they made revealed their excitement for the process, leaving time to joke, listen to music and experiment with accidental prints of course.

The smile on everyone’s face as they lifted the paper from their plate, the moths diving into the water baths where the paper was soaking outside, the tables covered with an increasing number of prints--then suddenly the students hugging me and running to catch a bus, it was Friday and the workshop was already at an end.  I left feeling the students were as excited about the monotype process as I am…success! Everyone had helped everyone else, sharing paper and translating and critiquing each other’s work.  By the end they were helping each other print on their own and they didn’t need me anymore. They were self-sufficient printmakers. A far cry from the first morning when at the very beginning of my lesson on how the monotype evolved throughout history, I was interrupted repeatedly in the middle of trying to say the inventor’s name, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, by the local cat Cheese’s loud meowing.

Seduced by Paint

By Matthew Comeau (MFA 2015)

Arriving at a new place, with nothing but time; the first thing one does is seek out its most vital parts to assess which pieces of this new world can be absorbed and brought back to the soul. At the start of my stay here, I was in a funk. As much as I was ecstatic about my surroundings, ready and willing to work, I couldn’t get myself out of the sketchbook, as with everyone; it seemed to take a bit of time before we really sank into our practice.

As time and momentum built up, some very exciting things began to happen in the studio. 
My work has found itself in wild flux as well. I had been having some trouble escaping the confines of my sketchbook, but ended up stumbling upon the gutted remains of an industrial elevator being fixed within the Spinnerei. I took them back to my studio, and spent 3 weeks reorganizing and piecing back together the parts into freestanding and wall sculptures, incorporating bike parts, broken casts, antique cabinets, light fixtures, telephones, street signs, tubing, and even fly tape; still covered in flies. The project eventually turned into a (still ongoing) 12-foot installation, now in the main hall of our shared space, and while I don’t think I can bring much of it home; I found the temporality of the project broke down some psychological barriers in my art-making. Now into the second half of our stay, I’ve snapped back into two-dimensional work, experimenting with oil on canvas for the first time in a number of years. Oddly, I haven’t made a single drawing outside of my sketchbook in all of my time here. It must’ve rejuvenated something in me though, because I’ve become completely seduced by paint. While I don’t think I could ever bring myself to abandon my large drawings; I can’t wait see what kind of language will pull itself out, back in the Academy studios. 
Esteban's new painting is easily one of my favorites.  It depicts an outlandishly colorful and impasto driven kind of “80’s party” aesthetic with a twist.   The figures seem to be inspired by an image of some Spinnerei workers from its days under the GDR, as a Cotton Mill. It became a full-fledged dive into painterly buildup, chunks of saturation climbing off the canvas’ surface, colors swimming in and out of one another in the faces of the figures. Having shared a studio for nearly two months now, I’ve steadily observed a conscience abandonment of the finesse of his hand, for the sake of a kind of absurd theatricality.
Hannah has chosen to use our travels as a conduit to push her work in an alternative direction. It seems she’s embracing a new process as well; one that pulls away for the cultural weight and pointed deliberation of her Holocaust images. Instead she’s chosen to derive references from her personal history, with a comparatively organic addition-and-removal of content, pushing towards narrative that is more intimate in subject and visceral in content; while allowing the viewer’s projections to complete her stories. Her new paintings seem to carry a sentimentality that was evident in her previous work, but is instead geared towards the intimacies and precious moments of her own life.
Camila has been exploring figures of authority, versus those of alienation and victimhood as its bi-product and polarity; and how relationships between representation and gestural abstraction can serve to support her conversations. She has been playing with the extent to which extensive rendering is necessary to convey a narrative; as well as how that kind of restraint, for the sake of leaving the open gesture, can leave space for the viewer’s imagination. On top of that, she seems to have stumbled into a kind of re-contextualized use of abstraction, as a potential narrative tool when placed appropriately in relation to the representational parts of her images. I’m excited to see how its use begins to evolve.

On the 13th of July, We had our exhibition at a castle called the Schloss in a small town just outside of Leipzig, known as Machern. The portion of the castle designated for the show was covered in bright pink and blue pastel interiors, chandeliers and Victorian style trim and furniture. The space was sliced into varying, sometimes oddly shaped rooms, emulating a strangely elegant ‘Alice in Wonderland’ feel. After a solid day of installation, all of our work (in its seemingly disjointed variety relative to one another) ended up as a great fit for the space. At the opening itself, we were shocked by how above and beyond the castle’s employment had gone to entertain its guests. There was champagne being brought around throughout the opening, a live classical pianist, a separate reception room, in which our fantastic coordinator, Kristina, gave a speech welcoming the guests, introducing us and our work. On top of a surprisingly high turnout, given its location outside of Leipzig, the exhibition was even written about in two newspapers! 

Thus far, the experience has been a wild one, with each of our practice’s driven in some unexpected directions. While it is exhilarating to observe one another in such significant transition; one cannot help their own excitement for what is to come next year.


Matthew Comeau (MFA 2015) is joined by Hannah Stahl (MFA 2015), Camila Rocha (MFA 2015), and Esteban Ocampo (MFA 2015) in Leipzig, Germany for a two-month Residency.  The students will share their adventures in Germany throughout the summer on the Academy's blog.  Stay tuned!

Free From Self Doubt

By Sarah Schlesinger (MFA 2015)

To prepare properly for this residency, I spent hours asking google questions like "What's the weather like in Istanbul?" and "Where is Istanbul?" to "Can women wear shorts?* The wealth of information that experienced tourist bloggers gave made me nervous and overwhelmed. I hope this blog post reaches all timid Turkish travelers and eases their worry.

After landing in Istanbul, all of my concerns melted away instantly. To answer my first question, the weather is perfect. It is hot, sunny, and breezy during the day and turns cool in the evening. Even during the hot parts of the day, a breeze coming off of the Bosphorus cools the city down.  The Bosphorus is a glorious waterway that connects the Black Sea and Sea of Marmara.  It divides Europe from Asia. It is full of leisure, commercial, and commuter boats. Russian cargo ships can be seen speeding past fishing boats and day trippers, all dwarfed by the massive cruise ships that dock in Istanbul for the day.

Mimar Sinan University, where our studios are located, is under the constant slapping of waves made from the passing boats. Having such a gorgeous view of the Bosphorus just outside the building creates a calming and inspiring setting to create work. The school and our lodging are located on the European side of Istanbul. Erinn and I are staying in a girls dormitory located by the Bosphorus Bridge about a 15 minute bus ride from school. Getting around has been incredibly easy. They have functional, efficient, and inexpensive public transportation, as well as an abundance of taxis.

While most people do not speak English, and my attempts at speaking Turkish have left me with blank stares, everyone I have met has been incredibly friendly and helpful. As a foreigner I do not feel out of place at all, as I have often felt in other places I have traveled.  Through jet lag, supply shopping, cultural mysteries, and limited open studio hours, we have managed to get ourselves situated and have all delved into our various projects. The limited building hours are allowing us to explore the city and experience the Turkish culture to a greater extent than if we were working around the clock. I have found the change of scenery freeing especially from the usual set of creative self-doubt. I have enjoyed making decisions with less hesitance, knowing that I have the whole month to have failures and fix them before anyone in North America finds out about them. Sharing studio space with the others has been motivating and inspiring, and I can already tell I will miss being here.

We have all set up and begun to work in our nooks, not unlike the pigeon and her babies who have found a home in the stairwell. Also found in every nook and cranny of the city are kittens. The treatment of stray animals are further proof of the generosity and hospitality of Turkish people  

The Saturday after arriving, the four of us had the delight of seeing Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque in the old city. To our surprise, visiting these popular monuments did not feel touristy. Between the two buildings lies a gardened park, filled with picnickers and napping Turks. To my dismay, there was a real lack of knick-knacks and postcards being sold (there is a post card shortage in this entire city - finding some is my unending quest).

We then had the pleasure of traveling with Gökhan, a fellow New York Academy student who is from Istanbul, to one of the Princes Islands. Gökhan painted a beautiful water scene while the rest of us swam in said water scene. The islands are automobile free, and the only way to get around is by bike or horse drawn carriage, the horses having a special desire to run over Erinn.
All in all, the city is beautiful, the people are lovely, and I might never leave. And if I do, I'm taking a kitten.

*Yes, they can and do. This is a stupid question.


Erinn Heilman (MFA 2015), Nick Lepard (MFA 2015), Sarah Schlesinger (MFA 2015) and Jacob Hayes (MFA 2014) are currently spending their summer on an Academy sponsored residency in Istanbul.  To learn more about their experiences and progress check back in on the Academy's blog for new entries each week.