Interview on Curator with Graeme Mitchell

Graeme Mitchell interview by Anne Marie Taylor

Interview by Anne Marie Taylor

I met Graeme Mitchell at the opening of his first exhibition at Wilding Cran, in 2014. After speaking about his work, LA, and life in general, it was obvious he had a critical mind and articulate manner, in some part from schooling in literature at Oregon State University and living in New York for several years.  Well known as an editorial photographer of portraits for The New Yorker, The New York Times and WSJ Magazine, Mitchell has only recently--considering the span of his career--included fine arts in his practice.  In anticipation of his next solo exhibition at Wilding Cran (opening Saturday, April 8 in Los Angeles), I met with him at his studio on Slauson and Normandie, to catch up and see where this new body of work has taken him. 

The studio, fairly large, is set up with new paintings, along with older paintings I’d seen before, small "installational" sculptures of chicken wire and photographs, tables of paint, and stacks and stacks of printed images.  We sit in tall chairs by the recorder and delve right into the bigger questions. 

Anne Marie Taylor:  Would you describe your move from editorial and commercial photography toward fine art as a switch?  Transition?  Deviation?  How do you find that they inform each other?  Or are you working with a different set of concerns for each?

Graeme Mitchell:  I think about it as more of an evolution, because to me an evolution is something that happens both naturally and out of necessity, and that's how I felt when I added painting to my photo practice.  I think it’s important to explain my history in photography.  It's all I've ever done, the only job I've ever had, and it was largely based on commercialism.  Once I began to work within an art practice, I started to use drawing and video alongside photography.  Still, I kept finding that photography was putting me in these cul de sacs.  I thought maybe it was because I’d done it since I was so young and I had all this information, all these things I had learned--I couldn't take a photograph without allusions and automatisms.  Or maybe the difficulty was that it was always based upon a commercial career.  But then I started to play with paint and I started to look at photography through painting, and something clicked.  It was a way of stripping away everything I knew about making pictures, and starting with something very, very basic.

This conversation about using painting now is difficult for me though, because generally I feel like I’m offered these narrow definitions of things; like you were this, now you're that.  And it makes it feel like there's a sense of leaving something... I don't really feel that.  You said this really interesting thing about how nobody talks about what happens when you get to a place, or when you realize you never actually do get to that place.  It makes sense, but sometimes it can be silly.  And it’s come up a lot lately, but it often is more about how to define or understand something than what is actually happening. 

I’ve come to understand one of the primary concerns of my work is pictures, and I wanted to try something, try to go deeper with this new medium, go further along this path that I've been walking.  And there’s nothing strange in that to me. 

AMT:  I feel that you're also an editor in almost every aspect; you even edit your speech.  You make so many versions of these paintings, apart from studies, that there's room for mistakes and for failure.  And that's basically how you learn, right?

GM:  It's also often the most interesting part of the work.  That's one of the reasons I really grasped onto painting--there were so many more opportunities for failure within it. When you're trying to understand pictures, almost on a philosophical level, like what they mean to you, every opportunity for failure is an opportunity for discovery.  

This is also what makes painting so frustrating, because there are no road marks at any point in this process.  With each mark you have no indicators of why something works or doesn't work, except your gut.  Seeing what is good, or what is there, is the most difficult part.  With painting, you're contending with that aspect of virtuosity--either trying to attain it, or to try to create friction against the idea of it.  Virtuosity isn’t really something you think about in photography.

But yes, that’s how I learn, through practice, trying and seeing.  The best advice I got when I first really started to get knocked around by painting was from a good friend, who said painting is pretty much about getting to work on it.

AMT:  Do you place yourself in the work, or is it more like you're a vessel of some kind, or a translator for the image which is a separate thing from you?  Your hand is in it, obviously, because you're making it, but are you personally involved in it, other than on a conceptual level?

GM:  There are two sides to that for me.  I often look more to literature, because when I hear writers talk about the process, it makes a lot of sense to me.  My bodies of work begin with a premise of cataloging what’s around me, a kind of journaling.  In that sense, it’s personal.  It's things around me that I start recording, and making piles and making pictures, and then only after I’m maybe halfway into a body of work am I able to step back and it begins to outline its edges.  It’s a very natural process.  I like for it to be wide open, something that can take on a life of its own.

In the actual making of the painting, I don't want any sense of me in it.  Even my hand, as you put it, is something I’m trying to distance myself from.  I like it to be ambiguous.  My presence isn’t useful in what I want the picture to achieve either in my making it or in my audience’s viewing it.  This goal of being apart from the work is fundamentally contradictory to a hand-painted picture, but that dualism is maybe the meaningful part to me.  With it, a sense of longing or searching can be manifested in the picture--it is art as a means to witnessing faith.  There’s just no ego in it.

Cage and Richter were extremely influential in that regard.  I didn't come from art, so I assumed for a long time that art had to have a level of expressionism in it, but they taught me that expression could be an operation of chance.  That chance is often how my hand happens to move when I stop thinking about it.

AMT:  It's also that sort of Cageian idea of putting a frame around something, like the ordinary or slightly askew situation. Because of its semi regal history, as soon as you make a painting of something, it becomes important.  Doing that with these images you find on the Internet is a strange juxtaposition.  It adds something to it, I think.

GM:  Someone could also see that as a gimmick, but I say that maybe because I don't see paintings as regal.  Or maybe I do, but not in the sense that it’s innate in their history.  Any art can be regal, and I think the tremendous thing about art is it can be so many things at once.  Some of these works have this bizarre sort of amateurism to them, but at the same time are not functioning at all as an amateur easel painting might.   I think art that I enjoy most when I'm seeing it--you just can't place it fast.  It creates this complication of being two things at once, or three things at once.  And it won’t tell you what it is, but it’s quiet and allows you to discover for yourself.

Vikky Alexander at Cooper Cole in Toronto


Vikky Alexander
The Temptation of Saint Anthony
May 13 – June 18, 2016

Opening Reception: Friday May 13, 2016 / 6 – 8pm.

COOPER COLE is pleased to present a solo exhibition from Vikky Alexander.

This exhibition reintroduces a selection of photographic works that were completed when Alexander was living in New York in the early nineteen eighties. Moving there from Canada, she became the youngest member of a group of artists that included Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine and Richard Prince, who were using photography to demystify codes and systems of representation through appropriation and quotation.

Drawing upon the editorial pages of fashion magazines, Alexander's primary subject matter consists of generic images of women that are conventionally thought of as beautiful by a patriarchal society. Through a system of cropping, rephotographing, enlarging, repositioning and reorganizing the images, Alexander aims to decontextualize these advertisements in a way to skew the viewer's perception of their original intent. These depictions of beauty and grace, along with the artists use of repetition within the formal convention of a rigid minimalist grid, challenge not only the commodification of female imagery in the mass media and the artifice involved in the world of fashion, but also questioning the true meaning of beauty, uniqueness, and individuality.

Vikky Alexander (b. 1959, Victoria, Canada) is a graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. She is known for her large scale photo-mural installations and multimedia works that combine photography with sculptural objects. These works foreground a strong interest in the history of architecture, the fields of design and fashion supported by the production of drawing and collage. Her early work informed the movement of Appropriation Art and she is aligned with the Vancouver School. Having exhibited professionally since 1981, Alexander has shown in venues such as The New Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, DIA Art Foundation, New York; Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, USA; Kunsthalle Bern, Bern, Switzerland; Vancouver Art Gallery, Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada; Barbican Art Gallery, London, UK; Yokohama Civic Art Gallery, Yokohama, Japan; Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Tiawan; amongst others. Her works can be found in the collections of the the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, International Center of Photography, New York City, USA; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada; and the Deste Foundation, Athens, Greece. Since 1992 Alexander has been professor of photography in the Visual Arts Department at the University of Victoria in Canada. Alexander currently lives and works between Vancouver and Montreal, Canada. 

Vikky Alexander
The Temptation of Saint Anthony
May 13 – June 18, 2016

1134 Dupont St.
Toronto, Ontario M6H2A2

ARTFORUM Critics Pick

Catherine Fairbanks: Two Chimneys

Los Angeles
Catherine Fairbanks
939 South Santa Fe Avenue, Unit A
April 9–May 28

Two chimneys, Chimney Sculpture 1, 2015–16, and Chimney Sculpture 2, 2016, stand stark in the middle of the room. Hung on a corner wall are two horsehair weavings, Luce’s Fireplace 10 and 12, both 2014, reminiscent of brushes for sweeping ash. Four ceramic and papier-mâché jugs, Jug 1, 2016, and Pitcher Sculpture 4, 5, and 9 (all 2015), are stored in the back. And five embossed drawings on paper—abstractions of lamps, pitchers, and busts—authenticate this show’s sense of shelter.

In “Two Chimneys,” Catherine Fairbanks’s techniques result in ordinary magic: flour and water can make bread, or in this case, paste for paper sculpture. Pressure and heat fire earthenware, and tension combined with dye raises paper. For the show’s two eponymous sculptures, Fairbanks worked without a frame, layering pile upon pile of paper strips to replicate a mainstay of a family home—the gathering place to eat or stay warm and dry.

Yet the works here are not humdrum craftwork borne from childhood nostalgia. Nor do they show signs of daily use: There’s no ash or soot, their edges don’t fray, and absent are any wine-stained rims. The jugs bear paper handles, a medium unsuited to serving liquids. If the chimneys were lit, they would burst into flame. While hearth, vessel, and light are usually humble symbols of offering and providence, the artist’s sculptures are stripped of life-giving necessity. Fairbanks attends to the common, raising the recesses of the domestic to the master’s surface.

By Meg Whiteford


A conversation with Mayer Rus from Architectural Digest

L.A. Art Gallery Wilding Cran Fuels the City's Exploding Downtown Scene

West Coast editor Mayer Rus catches up with husband-and-wife dealers Naomi deLuce Wilding and Anthony Cran to discuss the roiling art market, swarming hipsters, and the perils and possibilities of being stuck between stripper bars and SoHo House.


photo by Austin Irving

photo by Austin Irving

Anthony Cran: We opened Wilding Cran in April of 2014. It was something we really, really wanted to do. It’s in our blood.

Naomi deLuce Wilding: One of the things that led us to think more about a gallery was working with Anthony’s dad, Canadian artist Chris Cran. We were selling some of his work, and he very kindly gave us commission. It gave us the idea that this might be something to explore more seriously.

MR: Tell me about the program at the gallery.

AC: We started out with a roster of artists we’ve known for years. I grew up with artists, as did Naomi. So we reached out to people like Christian Eckart, Vikky Alexander, Herald Nix, and John Will. Happily, most of them said yes. Most of those are established midcareer artists, but as we’re moving forward, we’ve started working with emerging artists as well.

NW: Most of those initial artists are based elsewhere—in Canada and other places—which presents a lot of challenges once you have a physical space. So it’s really a pleasure to start building relationships with local artists and working with them in a more collaborative way.

AC: We’re still rounding out the lineup. We’re still figuring it all out and discovering ourselves in a way.

NW: We don’t want to jump into relationships with artists just because they’re hot right now. We’re thinking long-term.

MR: Are there types of work you’re particularly interested in?

NW: Not really. The process of finding sympathetic artists is more organic and nuanced.

MR: How has your entrée into the commercial art arena gone since you opened?

AC: We’re still open, which is good. There are different ways to measure success, and one of them is literally having your door open to the public. We’re able to produce ambitious shows and then move on to the next and, hopefully, the next and the next.

NW: We did a really successful show last year called “Here Now”—six painters from Los Angeles who are not represented by us. I think we want to make that an annual thing if we can, not necessarily limited to outside artists. It’s lovely to bring work together that we’re perhaps not so familiar with.

AC: And with that, you bring six or seven social groups together. It’s a celebration of what we see happening in L.A. right now, so it’s a really good thing to do.

MR: Tell me about Austin Irving, one of your younger artists. I’m crazy about her work.

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Last look at post-post by Sharsten Plenge


By Sharsten Plenge

What is after in the age of the image? What follows in a model predicated by post-net culture? What comes “after after” is the object and subject dismantled within post-post— Christian Eckart’s solo show and LA debut standing in its final days at Wilding Cran Gallery.

Central to this question lies The Absurd Vehicle. Described by Eckart as a “painting with an identity crisis,” the work is as colossal in spatial enormity as in philosophical evocation. A sculpture. A vessel. A time machine. An image born from looking at upside-down Rodney Graham trees. A product whose title is meant to be literal— stemming from a continual draw on the “absurdity of the utility of painting.” At first sight, this glistening elliptic void protrudes from a shell perched atop a 16-wheel axle like a modular tree— so it’s interesting to learn this piece was conceived as a site-specific installation for a collector’s Baroque garden… that is until the wife decided she’d rather not have this chthonic creature bearing a purple-orange ombre as a landscape centerpiece.

Ultimately, that’s our gain because The Absurd Vehicle is the linking oracle here— a continuum— where “the rhetoric of the fake” is rejected to extend Eckart’s ongoing search for the “rhetoric of the real.” Straying from ideologies [still] redundantly simulated in the surfaces of fellow contemporaries who also first gained prominence in the 80’s New York scene— like Julian Schnabel and Peter Halley— Eckart rejected the notion that painting was dead; instead approaching the medium as a malleable plane for communicating the “meta-sublime” and the sacred.

“Taking the hand out” permeates Eckart’s industrial process and sensibility. Applying a post-internet approach, Eckart deletes the presence of an author allowing us to submit completely to the autonomy and possibility of the object. Mediated through a machine, Eckart “deploys a kind of meta-painting” as a way to reveal the “software undergirding the concept of ‘Art’ itself.”

A variation of Cloud Room Field— his recently completed 60 ft. commission for Houston’s Hobby Airport— Dichroic Glass Field identifies the natural within the artificial. An object in constant flux, light shifts through a webbing of refraction, producing an image that is never the same. Mesmerized in an individualized encounter, Eckart deploys the ability for an object to elicit the sensation of immersion. We transcend architectures without having to mobilize walls.

Here, a glimpse of possibility is posited within the source of our viewing experience. Like the airport, the gallery model is an example of a quintessential non-place— the latter constituted through its dual negation of “space-based social function and the textuality of the artwork.” Through dislocating the source image— both by citing and recreating past work (the recent Limbus Painting diptych is based upon his White Painting series of the mid-80’s) and forging new hybrids for their presentation— Eckart alludes to a vision of art in a post-space: a proposal for how objects can continually shape their ontological status through constant rectification.

Christian Eckart in the Houston Chronicle

Christian Eckart has found a good groove in Houston

Photo: J. Patric Schneider, Freelance

Photo: J. Patric Schneider, Freelance

Artist Christian Eckart's 'Cloud Room Field' brings light to Hobby Airport terminal

By Molly Glentzer

Christian Eckart was pouring potent margaritas into highball glasses.

"It's a little strong, but you're not obliged to finish it. I don't know what it is with alcohol and art," he said, chuckling. "In New York, I was a martini connoisseur. This is a new tequila I fell in love with. Casamigos. It has George Clooney's signature on the label. For the price, the best tequila I'm willing to buy."

He was being hospitable in his Museum District home, but Eckart also felt like he needed a stiff drink that day in mid-October. His first Houston public art commission, the $600,000 "Cloud Room Field" for Hobby Airport, was behind schedule.

One of the largest local public commissions of the year (and one of seven major new works for the airport's recent expansion), the piece took about eight months to design and fabricate. Every piece of it but the screws was custom-made by craftsmen Eckart hired in Austin and Toronto.

"For me, this is the thrill. I basically create an impossible object in my mind, then I have to figure out how to engineer and build it," he said. The project fills 445 files in 23 folders on his computer.

Measuring 10 feet by 60 feet, the luminous "Cloud Room Field" contains 600 panes of custom-made dichroic glass in nine pastel colors that cast reflections in opposing colors, sparkling constantly. They're suspended at 45-degree angles, in six directions, inside a three-dimensional armature of anodized aluminum and stainless steel. This grid has about 15,000 parts.

But engineering isn't really the point: For years, Eckart, 56, has aimed to evoke the sublime - a notion popularized by 18th-century Romantics who thought art should be an awesomely soulful counterpoint to science and reason. Eckart also draws from the concepts of Renaissance architects who designed vast, ornate cathedrals to give visitors an ecstatic experience.

He utilizes an entirely different mode of transport, however: contemporary abstraction, often rendered in cold, hard materials.

"Cloud Room Field" art installation above the security checkpoint at Hobby Airport by Christian Eckart Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Houston. ( James Nielsen / Houston Chronicle )

"Cloud Room Field" art installation above the security checkpoint at Hobby Airport by Christian Eckart Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Houston. ( James Nielsen / Houston Chronicle )

From 'Horn of Plenty' to Houston

Eckart came to Houston in 2003 looking for a more stable life. A native of Calgary, Canada, who became a U.S. citizen in 1995, he'd lived through years of extremes in Brooklyn and Europe.

"In New York, I had a lot of rich and famous friends who talked about their investments all the time. We never talked about art at all. I didn't want to be like that," Eckart said.

Growing up, he was always "the kid who could draw" but also an athlete and a hard worker. His father, a home builder, expected him to pay for his own bikes, cars and schooling and gave him his first summer job at the age of 9.

He ended up majoring in art because he couldn't get into film school. He moved to New York in 1984 and earned his master's degree at Hunter College in 1986.

That was a seminal moment for his generation.

Almost overnight, Eckart was hailed as an international star in a movement some coined "M.F.A. Abstraction." They were the first group trained academically "in a very specific way," approaching art and the making of it highly conceptually, said gallery owner Robert McClain, Eckart's Houston dealer. Prices for their work skyrocketed, even as global stock markets tanked in 1987.

Eckart broke into the really big time alongside Jeff Koons, Robert Gober and other then up-and-comers in "Horn of Plenty," a landmark 1989 exhibition at Amsterdam's Stedelijk Museum. European collectors loved his work, and he began to think in even grander terms.

He shifted from concocting his own gold-leaf paintings on plywood - labor-intensive studio work - to what he calls his "capital-intensive" practice.

"It was a moment where you could make these pretty big decisions," he said.

He came up with a concept for a series of 144 layered screen prints on aluminum exploring moments of ecstasy in contemporary life. He finished nine pieces - including a pair of triptychs now in his studio - before the swollen art market collapsed in 1990.

Eckart's career spiraled, along with his first marriage.

"I was in a really dark place for a few years," he said.

Eventually, he found what seemed like a perfect life, dividing his time between Brooklyn and Europe, where galleries continued to show his work. He spent part of a year in Berlin and kept a studio in Amsterdam for about four years.

After the attacks on the World Trade Center in September 2001, he returned to Brooklyn for good, he thought. He fell in love with Gillian Davies, a fellow Canadian and the stockbroker sister of a client. She moved from Vancouver to New York to be with him, but the city still was in shock, and the winter of 2001 was miserably cold.

They made wish lists of better places to live. They wanted to be near water, and she wanted a horse and dogs.

San Diego topped Davies' list, but Eckart had a solo show at McClain Gallery that January, and they stayed in Houston for six months. She liked the people - and wearing shorts in winter. They left New York on the last day of 2002 and married in 2003.

"It all just fell into place," Davies said. "Sometimes, it feels like you're swimming upstream and things are difficult. This was like, it just flowed."

She quickly found a good job in Houston as an energy company executive, and he taught classes at the Glassell School of Art and Rice University while they converted a dilapidated property into a sleek, contemporary home.

The loftlike space reads instantly as the sophisticated habitat of well-traveled people with a soft spot for rescued animals. Their blue heeler, Cody; Catahoula leopard dog, Annie, and a cat named Squirrel greet visitors at the door.

In the living room, a massive mirrored Buddha glows like a Zen disco ball. It's one of their favorite things, although they also own serious art by Mark Flood, Michael Bevilacqua, Kelli Vance, Adam Fuss, Axel Hütte and Koons. Eckart also collects monochromatic Chinese ceramics that fill a glass case inset into one wall.

Life in Houston has been good. He and Davies often entertain friends, who include former Mayor Bill White and his wife, Andrea White. Eckart also plays tennis often at Houston City Club and dotes on the extreme machines on his side of the garage - a new Ducati bike ("the Ferrari of Italian motorcyles"); a hard-tail chopper, a bike with no rear suspension; and an electric BMW car.

"The physics of riding a motorcycle are so beautiful. It can be a transcendent experience," Eckart said.

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Wilding Cran Gallery build out

Here are some pictures showing the story of Wilding Cran Gallery so far

BAD FOR YOU – Curated by Beth Rudin DeWoody

10 OCTOBER 2012
Shizaru Gallery is proud to present BAD FOR YOU, an exhibition of contemporary art curated by Beth Rudin DeWoody. Composed of artists based primarily in America, BAD FOR YOU seeks to capture the panoramic strand of contemporary art that deals with the exhibition’s eponymous title.
Artists: Michael Ajerman, Donald Baechler, Mel Bochner, Meghan Boody, Lizzi Bougatsos, Scott Campbell, Larry Clark, Kent Christensen, Will Cotton, David Croland, Alex Da Corte, Tancredi Dollfus, Jameson Ellis, Sebastian Errazuriz, Phillip Estlund, Peter D. Gerakaris, John Gordon Gauld, Al Hansen, Dan Hernandez, Nir Hod, Greg Haberny, Ellen Harvey, Ryan Humphrey, Scott Hunt, Charlotte Kidd, David Kramer, Robert Lazzarini, Tim Liddy, Robert Longo, Liz Markus, Ryan McGinley, Jason Middlebrook, Steve Miller, Marilyn Minter, Maynard Monrow, Richard Pasquarelli, Mimi Pond, Randy Polumbo, Walter Robinson, Alexis Rockman, Holton Rower, Ed Ruscha, Matthew Satz, John Salvest, Tom Sachs, Aurel Schmidt, Shelter Serra, Cindy Sherman, Soheila Sokhanvari, Steven & William, Fred Tomaselli, Vadis Turner, Lena Viddo, John Waters, Wayne White, Rob Wynne, Firooz Zahedi, Burton Machen, Bouke de Vries, Tony Oursler, Joseph Heidecker, Marina Abramovic, George Stoll, Ray Geary, Dustin Yellin, Ultra Violet, Andy Warhol.