Lonely Palette (part three)

A Survey of Visual Artists in Lockdown

Even if you are someone who doesn’t care for the internet or screens in general, you can probably appreciate the benefits the internet has provided to us throughout the pandemic. It has kept lots of us employed, in school, entertained, and in touch, which has certainly been very important. But the internet is also a miserable pit full of lies, bad news, and new ways to argue with old friends and strangers, and it’s horrible. Screens get exhausting and infuriating after a while, and now, as we enter the seventh month of pandemic, I am frankly sick of them, their undeniable necessity notwithstanding.

Screens have, in any case, been the main way of interfacing with artwork this year, and if you look at art or make it, you are probably familiar with the experience of squinting crankily at the illuminated, pixelated image of a piece of art that was created to be looked at in person, and still not quite getting what you want from it. If so, I have some good news for you! Galleries are starting to reopen, and you can go to them! (If you are healthy, not immunocompromised or living with someone who is, and take all the necessary precautions, of course!) This month I talked to two artists who have exhibited in real-life galleries recently, or who have such shows coming up in the near future. Josiah Gagosian and Natori Green discuss the strange new shape of exhibiting art in person, and the unique benefits of life lived at a slower pace.


NATORI GREEN

Natori Green is an artist who explores race, gender, and family through works that span a wide range of media. She has recently expanded her practice to include garments created with her daughter Wynter.

Are you able to make work right now? What does your practice look like during the pandemic?

Yes, my practice has more time to flourish because I am not on the go like I was pre-COVID-19.  I create art in my kitchen, at my dining room table, and on the floor of my living room, and then place all of my materials back in place every night. Organization for me helps minimize the craziness of our times right now.

Have you lost work or opportunities due to the pandemic?

Before the pandemic, I worked two part-time jobs, attended college, attended the Material Institute (fashion program), and exhibited artwork, all while being a single mom shuttling between my activities and my daughter’s activities. I have been very fortunate this year to have the opportunity to actively display artwork in several galleries, which resulted in me having to face gallery shutdowns, exhibit cancellations, awkward COVID-19 openings, and job layoffs from both of my part-time jobs. Second Story Gallery, which I am a member of, closed during the beginning of the pandemic. I have experienced losses during this time but also gains. Like with the Material Institute—although the class was canceled at the physical location, students and teachers were able to connect via Zoom.

You are in a group show at Antenna Gallery that opened last month. How does a show that opens during a pandemic operate compared to other openings you have had? 

Reconstruction 2020 was my fourth exhibition held during this pandemic. Navigating through the decisions of whether to have an opening during a health crisis is unprecedented. For my part, archiving the exhibits on my website has been a great alternative to the physical gallery space. The pandemic has shifted the norm of art show openings for everyone. The project behind the exhibition was a collaboration between Material Institute, Assemble, and Faustine Steinmetz. Reconstruction 2020 came together within a short time frame curated by Jessica Lynne Brown.  It’s wonderful when I send a video of the group shows I participate in to people with underlying health issues who cannot attend in person.

The work you made for this show is wearable art, which you made with your daughter out of recycled materials. Can you talk about this work, and the process of making it?

From May 1st to June 12th, I and other students worked in isolation at home creating garments out of unconventional materials due to the temporary closure of the Material Institute. My garments were made of plastic trash bags that I fused with hot glue and thread and needle. Plastic Resort Wear examines the overuse of plastic in our society by finding a way to transform plastic’s short lifespan into something wearable and long term. I enjoyed researching the effects of plastic consumption and experimenting with how malleable it is. My daughter helped make the flowers, a box-shaped hat, and created a painting for the show. Her involvement in the show was important to me because I believe all kids are creative and an art career has no minimum age requirement.

Did you attend the in-person opening for Reconstruction 2020 or your recent show at Second Story Gallery? If so, what were they like?

I attended in person the opening of both Antenna and Second Story Gallery. Antenna had a maximum of ten people total in the gallery space at once. Both galleries had available hand sanitizer, COVID-19 signage, and masks were required. It was great to see other people in attendance but weird having to keep social distance from friends who came out to support. At this time it is very difficult to navigate the natural desire to display your work publicly. Artists and galleries are in this together figuring out what is appropriate for both shows.

How have you been looking at artwork over the past few months? Is there any work you have seen lately that has resonated with you?

During the shutdown, I visited virtual museums such as the Google Arts & Culture page which has a treasure trove of art and artifacts to view, [as well as] The Met, The Louvre, The National Museum of African Art, The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, and others. I do not let the confines of my house stop me from traveling. I have been researching mostly Black visual artists such as Frank Morrison, Bryan Collier, Kerry James Marshall, and Hurvin Anderson to name a few. I stay connected to the shows happening in the St Claude Arts District. It is so important for me to study artists of color and also popular artists like Jeff Koons, Picasso, and Andy Warhol to understand their careers and how they got to legendary status. Art history is very intriguing to me.

What is making you happy right now?

Before anything else in the world, I am happy spending quality time with my daughter. Having the opportunity to exhibit and connect with other talented individuals in New Orleans during this time makes me happy as well. As I mentioned earlier, I have participated in four group shows since the pandemic changed everyone’s lives. I have juggled school, my daughter’s education, a fashion program, a new job position as Communications Lead & Volunteer Coordinator of the Broadmoor Improvement Association, and managed my art endeavors while being a single parent. Organizing the Sisters Solidarity wellness / Black Lives Matter group show at the Second Story Gallery on September 12, and other upcoming exhibits, makes me happy. On paper, my life should not work but with the grace of God and people in our community’s encouragement, it does.

Natori Green’s wearable artwork can be seen in person at Antenna Gallery in the group show Reconstruction 2020 until September 6, and online here: isolation.materialinstitute.org/natori-wynter-green/. Later in September, look for her work at Second Story Gallery. More can be found on her website, natorigreen.com. (top image: “The Black Book” [2020])


JOSIAH GAGOSIAN

Josiah Gagosian draws, paints, and sculpts complex works that address nature, culture, and spirituality. His work connects ideas relating to selfhood with larger, universal ideas.

Are you able to make work right now? What does your practice look like during the pandemic?

I have a small studio space at home so thankfully, I’ve been able to continue creating work. I have attempted to become much more disciplined about my process over the past several years, so what began as a more fickle and intermittent habit has evolved into an almost daily practice. Even if it’s only for a couple hours, I make myself sit down and work. I find that when I’m distracted or not feeling particularly creative, just showing up and going through the motions is often enough. The fact that I work in various media and that there are many disparate facets to my process helps. If I don’t feel like painting, I can draw. If I don’t feel like drawing, I can gather photographic material or sculpt. Reading and writing are also a critical part of my process, so much of the preparation for my visual work often looks like me with a book in hand taking notes, writing poetry, or maybe consulting my tarot deck. The pandemic has removed much of the artificial urgency from my life, despite the continuous atmosphere of anxiety and uncertainty. I don’t feel so hurried or rushed to finish anything. There are no deadlines for the time being, but the work does help give shape to my days. Like many artists, I have always been prone to periods of self-isolation, so some of that has felt like practice for my current situation which has involved a lot of inner reflection.

Have you lost work or opportunities due to the pandemic?

I just completed my MFA at the University of New Orleans this May, so I am still very much an “emerging artist.” I was working as a Graduate Assistant, teaching my own introductory painting class at the beginning of the pandemic, and I was hoping to find a more permanent teaching job. Of course, that has not worked out quite according to plan, and I am currently unemployed. However, I have been extraordinarily fortunate. Unlike many of my fellow graduate students, I was still able to have my thesis exhibition this January and was also part of a group show at Søren Christensen Gallery right before the stay-at-home order took effect. The sales of my work from both those events have helped sustain me financially, and I am also now represented by Spillman-Blackwell Fine Art and I am really excited to see where that takes me. I went from being a student, to gallery representation and Julia Street and Ogden debuts in less than a year, which is more than I had ever really dared to hope for. So, despite the weird contradictions of pandemic life, my career seems to be moving forward much faster than I had anticipated. Of course, I still have to figure out how that translates into financial stability during a pandemic. I was a bartender for many years before returning to school, so that would have been my emergency employment backup in the past. Now, of course, that isn’t very feasible.


“Ahuizotl, que inunda nuestras casas” (2018)


Starting this month, your work is appearing in the Louisiana Contemporary exhibition at Ogden. Can you talk about the work you have in that show?

The sculptural painting I have at the Ogden is called Cipactli, que se traga al mundo entero (Cipactli, who swallows the whole world). It is part of a series of three sculptural paintings I created based on Mesoamerican cryptids. The pieces address certain places, specifically bodies of water, that I have lived near, and my relationship to those spaces both as an individual and as a human in general. As a human, I am inextricably bound up in this enormously destructive force that is obliterating the very landscapes that, as an individual, I have derived life and identity from, landscapes that I view as sacred. When I first started making sketches, I wanted to find a way to address a socio-political issue in a manner that was more nuanced, complex, and rooted in a personal mythos and spirituality.

Cipactli is the name of a Nahua cryptid with various alligator and amphibian traits, a ravenous creature with a mouth at every one of its joints, often associated with the deity Tlaltecuhtli, the devouring “earth monster.” My mother’s side of the family is Mexican, and that particular mixture of European and Indigenous cultures has always informed my work. In the painting, the gaping maw of Cipactli surrounds an image of a nude, tentacled, three-headed male figure born aloft on an oil buoy before a burning oil refinery. With this sort of grotesque imagery I wanted to reach beyond overly obvious pronouncements concerning binaries of good and evil to call up a more primeval destructive force out of which all our greed and ambition emerge, and by which they will eventually be “swallowed whole.”

The structure and aesthetic of the piece is rooted in Mexican culture, but the piece also pays homage to the carnival traditions of the Americas, particularly as I have experienced them here in New Orleans, where I have lived for 15 years. My husband and I used to make elaborate masks every year and march into the French Quarter with the Krewe of St. Anne. It was through these experiences that I became interested in the funereal other-side of Carnival, in its role as a channel, not just for joy and whimsy, but as a dynamic and defiant response to death, violence, and oppression.

How have you been looking at artwork over the past few months? Is there any work you have seen lately that has resonated with you?

When I dropped my work off at the Ogden I was able to view the current exhibitions there, but that was the first time I had viewed any art in person since First Saturday back in March. Entwined, in particular, is a stunningly diverse and elegantly curated show featuring a broad array of styles, media, and conceptual approaches. I look at a lot of art online and I am pretty active on social media, especially now with all this extra free time. I often use Instagram as a way to see and discover other artists’ work. Fran De Anda and Milka Lolo come to mind as a couple of Mexican artists whose paintings I am enjoying right now. I am also completely entranced by Bisa Butler’s textile work and the particular ways she engages a complex and often painful past and present with a vision that just sings with life and color. More locally, I’m really digging Ida Floreak and Keith Perelli’s work right now for their approaches to acrylic painting and collage respectively, both of which I use in my own work.

What is making you happy right now?

I speak about solitude, but really, I’m never truly alone these days. I live with my husband, two dogs, and a cat. My work is only an extension of my time with them. The things that nourish me and energize the work are the things that truly matter, the relationships and the love that permeate my life, the people (human and non) who form my motley little family. Crises have a way of recentering your life and stripping away unnecessary distractions. I feel a certain clarity now. I suppose that’s what I consider “happy.”



Louisiana Contemporary opens at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art on September 5. You can find information about Josiah’s work at spillmanblackwellart.com, and more images on Instagram: @josiahgagosian.


Parts one and two of the “Lonely Palette” series can be found in the May 2020 and June 2020 issues.

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