Royal College of Art scholarship

Congratulations to our two second year MFA students Erin Ryan and Orlando Soria who'll produce work in London as part of the Royal College of Art scholarship.


The Gigantic Insider's Edition

A Collection of Essays from Sculpture Seminar
Edited by Damon Reaves & Caroline Santa

No Resolution by Deb Hoy 2006

Daniel Gerwin’s paintings offer unstable spaces where conflicting emotional states are forced to collide. His gridded lines cross endlessly with freeform shapes. Varying opacities and running streaks oscillate across the canvas vying for a resolution that never occurs.

He says, “I paint to understand this beautiful broken world,” and so the shards and fractured spaces within his work double and redouble in perspective. A recent work in red and blue points toward a predictable Fibonacci equation with an inwardly spiraling form, yet eludes mathematical conclusion because the spiral is imperfect and the colors fade in and out in altering intensity which defies the logic of the spiraling trajectory. Gerwin uses random elements, undefined shapes, splurges and circles to pierce the perspectival path with a rupture of color, a disruptive force breaking the predictability of a slanted geometric grid.

His current experiments follow from an earlier obsession with drains, sinks and cleansing utilities. These older representational paintings centered on flat domestic surfaces with a single opening, suggesting some kind of journey beyond the image. In contrast, a recent orange fortress abstraction offers a glimpse into that journey and the unexplainable riches one might find there. Gerwin leads the viewer past the gestural tiles and grimy porcelain surfaces emerging mid-way into a psychologically charged realm where bright greens and yellows encapsulate another possibility for existence. These intense pockets of color strike like faceted jewels in the midst of the canvas – resilient emerald against the entropic endings of a plughole; pure gold shining from a path deeper within.

Gerwin sees no resolution to the bittersweet duality of cruelty and compassion that human life affords. Despite his wish for answers that “I do not believe exist” the expressionistic clashes he explores in these new paintings belie a secret hope, a fighting change of redemption.

Through his rich palette of juxtaposing colors Gerwin’s work describes an intense experience where many conjunctions, disjunctions and configurations make up a central composition. Every inch of the canvas leaves the viewer pondering the multi-faceted mindscapes and the potential of a single encounter with our own interiority. Investing pure potential into his morphing shapes and believing in the brilliance of the colors he applies, Gerwin’s work goes some distance toward resolving the polarities of existence through a lively collision of forms that celebrate the oppositions which fill our world and the beautiful temporality of all encounters.

The Work of Caroline Santa
By Jamal Cyrus 2006

“When the Great one spoke
The rain came down for forty days.
Forming whirlpools of pure speech
Infinite loops of clarity and ambiguity.
With each creature drinking from the pool,
According to its kind.”

In the work OF GRAMMATOLOGY Jacques Derrida questions the prioritization of speech in the realm of communication. Claiming it cut the message transmitter off from an entire “semantic domain that precisely does not limit itself to semantics, semiotics and even less to linguistics.” That semantic domain to which Derrida referred includes but is not limited to communicative strategies such as graphic signs, audio signals (e.g. Drumming, Morse code), and body language. Artist Caroline Santa in an interdisciplinary body of work that includes drawing, painting, and sculpture, like Derrida, wrestles with the ambiguities of communication, and seeks to expand its devices via the usage of a highly specific system of signs and codes that point to the personal as well as the situational. With her ideographical system of anthropomorphic creatures and seemingly endless looped forms glued and hyperlinked together, Santa digs into a diverse array of subjects ranging from the nature of time and infinity to the uncertain world of interpersonal relationships. Though theoretical issues of language are present in Santa’s work, there is also the presence of the metaphysical, revealing itself through a passion and obsession for mark making and construction that recalls the work of spirit driven and divinely inspired self taught artisans. An exciting thing about Caroline Santa’s work is that there is something about the world which she has shaped that lets you know it has just started, it is only a few millennia after the Big Bang, the universe is young in its unfolding, and that real drama has yet to begin, Act I. Scene I.

The Work of Jamal Cyrus
By Caroline Santa 2006

Jamal Cyrus generates his own brand of archaeology as he digs through history and discovers artifacts. Much of his work is assimilated from items of Black culture: Old 8 tracks, LP’s, concert posters, anecdotes, graphs, food packaging, hair care products, musical instruments. Although their purpose may seem mundane at first glance, these mysterious artifacts are actually priceless emblems of a rich history exposed. This history is a part of Jamal Cyrus’ own being; it is clear that he is digging with the purpose of uncovering the underground vitality of his culture.

These articles are not only valuable in their primary state—they serve an immaterial end of “translating Black desire to the world.” In this way, Cyrus’ work creates its own mystery of intrigue. How the pieces connected; who invented them; and what were they used for? They are byproducts of a strong group which moves forward into the future. There is a secretive, ritualistic element interwoven in the work which powerfully asks: Who is allowed in?

Music has always been a major component in Cyrus’ life and work. His mother and uncle are both Gospel musicians. Gospel music has historically been a large part of breaking free of bondage for the oppressed. Music can enrich, comfort, and strengthen and inspire a culture to rise above social or political obstacles. Machete, made from the bell of a trumpet, tightly illustrates this concept. Every form of change is violent to some degree. Is organized, physical violence a necessary ingredient of true freedom and equality? Perhaps this is one of the questions Cyrus wants his culture to examine.

Jamal Cyrus was born in Houston, Texas. He attended Texas Southern University where the art program was founded by the late John Biggers. While a student there, Cyrus became involved with Project Rowhouse in Houston where he met and assisted many well known artists such as Fred Wilson. In 2004, Cyrus received his B.F.A. from the University of Houston, specializing in Photography and Digital Media. Since then, Cyrus has been an active member of the artist collective, who was featured in the 2006 Whitney Biennial.

On the Art of Monica Bodnar
By Daniel Gerwin

A large chunk of ice hangs from the ceiling, tied up in a cord. As the ice slowly melts, drops of water land five feet below a wooden box, where they nurture seedlings of grass that sit atop a miniature hill of sand. Hanging there, the ice appears tortured, almost crucified, and as the death of the ice gives life to the grass, I cannot help but think of Jesus, and how through transubstantiation his blood provides redemption. I am also reminded of the plain pine box in which Jews traditionally bury their dead. As it turns out, the stream of water ultimately displaces the grass seeds, scattering them to the corners of the sandbox where they grow in isolated strands. This development comes as a surprise to the artist, Monica Bodnar, but surprise is the point of her work. She has set up certain conditions and abandoned the work to entropy, relegating herself to the role of witness.

To bear witness is no small thing. Bodnar is witness to our changing environment, to the fact that the natural world we have taken for granted may in fact be ephemeral. Sometimes this aspect of her art is overt, as in what I call her “frozen island” pieces, in which the root system of a plant is frozen in its soil and placed as sculpture for the viewers to observe. I am struck by the beauty of the roots, their intricately drawn lines, and the changes in color of the ice, even as the entire structure is dissolving. At other times, what is witnessed is not so clear, as when Bodnar dumps half her body weight in ice cubes onto the beach and lets the sun and breaking waves slowly melt the massed cubes. The documentation of these events is scant. In this respect, Bodnar calls to mind the work of Anna Mendieta, whose performances with her body in nature could only have been fully experienced by those who were there to see them.

Bodnar’s work is a gamble. Normally, when we freeze something, it is to preserve it for later use, as with food. When Bodnar freezes something, it is to transform it in ways she cannot predict, and to set up the condition of thawing. The substances she freezes are set up to thaw in a situation she predetermines but does not control. She is gambling on the environmental conditions and their interaction with the thawing object. This game of calculated chance is not surprising as a subject for Bodnar: she is a professional gambler. Bodnar supported herself for several years playing online poker, and her artistic practice reflects her comfort with risk.

But what is at stake? Clearly, one answer is the planet itself as a place that supports human life. But Bodnar goes further than this, or perhaps it is more accurate to say she goes nearer. When she chooses an amount of ice equal to half her body weight, she is inquiring into her own specific existence in the here and now. In another work, she sculpted her own form out of sand and waited for the waves to wash it away as the tide changed. This is a simple adaptation of a game that every child plays, but it highlights a core motivation in Bodnar’s work: To stake oneself against oblivion, to know ultimately the bet will be lost, and to stake oneself nevertheless.

The Work of Jamie Diamond
By Cuyler Remick 2006

Surrendering the camera to an unfamiliar person and giving them total artistic control is a starting point in Jamie Diamond’s newest body of work titled, “Show Me You.” Jamie seeks participants who would like to create a portrait in a way they would like to be portrayed by using Jamie as a model and facilitator in the process. During this role reversal of artist and model, a relationship develops and individual consideration is taken on the part of the person and how they would like to present their internal world through Jamie. The new photographer decides all the location, clothing, props, pose and mood of the portrait. In many of the works, a great deal of authority is felt on the part of the artist, which is contrasted by the vulnerability felt by Jamie as she appears before the camera. While revealing something about the way someone else perceives him or herself, the photographs also reflect a sense of self in Jamie. The disparity that usually exists between artist and model is being broken down and built back up in an interesting way in Jamie’s work. Being in her studio, a strong presence can be felt between the photos of her and the headshots taken of the people behind the camera. I look forward to seeing this work develop.

A Look Inside: The Portraits of Gianna Delluomo
Essay by Damon Reaves

Gianna Delluomo’s aggressive exploration of her emotional states resonates throughout her subtle yet dynamic self-portraits—creating a theatrical-like experience that is both intimate and voyeuristic in nature.

By removing the trappings of environment, Delluomo’s paintings exist less as representations of individuals and more as expressions of raw emotional manifestations. The figures often feel pained or otherwise under great distress. The context for such expression remains at the heart of the exciting mystery of what Delluomo’s work evokes. The paintings are composed around tight close-ups of the face and shoulders (usually those of Delluomo herself). The environment in which these figures inhabit remains ambiguous. The subtle fields of color reinforce, yet provide no explanation for the facial expression Delluomo portrays. There are no clues to location, time of day, or season. Instead we are forced to confront the undiffused emotional energy as it is left untainted by specificity of situation.

The figures don’t seem to be clearly defined in age. Likewise, the feeling that these figures are of a particular time is intentionally limited. Instead, Delluomo uses drama in light and color to enrich her faces with a sense of a thoroughly developed history. Aggressive moments are color ventures across the faces, heightening the feeling of pain without ever being literally translated into cuts and scars. There is a mixture of painting and drawing as pieces are often scratched into. The heavy feel of the fleshy forms is an intriguing contrast to the thin application of paint. In addition, the heads are never comfortably at rest. There is a feeling that we have interrupted an action. They are about to speak, in the middle of a word, sneezing, yawning, stretching, etc. Despite the variations in the situations, there is a unifying thread in the fact that our arrival always feels necessarily inappropriate. Delluomo’s heads were waiting for us even if we appeared slightly early or late. There’s a performance occurring in the work where Delluomo’s head is the only actor. The use of dramatic lighting allows the portrait to slowly emerge from the surrounding void and alludes to a sense of revelation that is in process. The figures are in the act of enlightening us to her experience.

The theatrical quality of Delluomo’s work is further emphasized by her subject’s continual acknowledgement of the fourth wall—which is to say, the figures are aware of their state as paintings. Similar to an actor on stage, they are aware of the audiences’ presence, directing their eyes and body language towards the spectator. Yet, this consciousness is coupled with an equal recognition of the physical distance (and therefore distance) that exists between you and her. You cannot save, comfort, protect or heal her, despite a desire to do so.

The Work of Damon Reaves
Essay by Gianna Delluomo

Damon Reaves’ analysis and observations of the world around him, particularly human social interaction, come to him as revelations—thoughts which he attempts to bring into the physical dimension through his work. In doing so, his interior dialogues (attempts at organizing through and observation) become plastic visual experiences. Images of what scrutiny actually looks like. Interior landscapes externalized in and of the world, which we live.

Reaves creates a systematic response to self-proposed questions, resulting in a variety of elegant and mysterious recordings. This record reads in fragmented pages like a journal of hieroglyphs. There are not necessarily any answers, but rather journeys intuitively navigated rather than steered by the dictations of a road map of traditional responses. It is a record of the action of answering, not of an answer itself.

Reaves applies his concepts in a variety of visual output. In his studio there exists an array of diverse projects that branch out from his unifying theme of observation and unfolding revelation. In one of his few figurative pieces, along the floor stand 50 or so painted figures from diverse ethnicities, ages and walks-of-life, depicted waiting in line. The work is being developed from last to first. Therefore, there is no established beginning to this line. Reaves’ reversal of the act of creating his line removes the reason as to why these people are waiting. The motivation is missing. Without the element of a bank teller’s window or popular ice cream stand, we are left to wonder why these people are queued up. For what do they wait? Certainly one who has experienced a line which moves at a snail’s pace and never seems to end, generally has simultaneously experienced the feelings of impatience and anticipation. Why does it seem we are always waiting? What are the reasons which compel us to be engaged in the limitations of our society’s structure? Through the removal of a traditional reason, or answer to this narrative, we have become engaged in Reaves’ interior dialog.

On the wall opposite, Reaves has installed a heavy black cascade of paper rectangles forming a loose inverted cyclonic shape. It has a multifaceted as well as multilayered composition. Many leaves of densely painted black paper are interspersed with a few pages of brilliant white or smooth gradients which serve as visual stepping stones. Slowly along this path, we become aware that we are being lead up against the current of the initial downward pull of this paper cascade. Closer examination of the layers reveal silhouetted stairway shapes as would be observed from different points of view. Thus there is no certainty whether one is ascending or descending. The ambiguity of the overall narrative involving first the upward movement against a downward flow, then the discovery of these directionless stairs triggers a meditation on transition—on movement; climbing and falling; ascent and descent.

Through his work, Reaves invites us to bear witness to the process of organizing his thoughts—and the offshoots of that process—the organic meanderings. Like the workings of the mind, these visuals are not at all revealing—evoking only the sense of an idea being pieced together. In Reaves’ 
case, it seems it is after all, the journey not the destination – and perhaps 
the question is the answer.