T-minus one week until my show! More images and updates to follow, including a wonderful New Years with family in Reykjavik. But for now I’ve got some art to make!

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Teenage girls, face-houses, and a seal to boot…

A frozen waterfall at the edge of town.

Beautiful Seydisfjordur, that funky metal sculpture is an outline of the fjord set upright.

Sorry it’s taken me a while to post again. My internet access here is delicate and I went through a bit of a crisis where I thought I lost it altogether. I hate to be so dependent on the internet, but since it’s my only connection to the outside world (and thus my sanity), maybe you can understand my panic. Anyway, I’m back up and running now.

For a sleepy little town during the holidays, this was actually an eventful week. I taught a workshop to local school kids. We looked at some of my work and artists I’m interested in who were using everyday objects in clever and meaningful ways. B. Wurtz, Michael Johansson, Tony Feher, and of course Erwin Wurm’s ‘One Minute Sculptures.’ Then, using a bunch of stuff from the supply closet, I set them loose to make some sculptures. They were a little reluctant at first, but they got the hang of it. At the end of class I told them we had to find a way to put all of our bodies into the piece somehow. What followed was not unlike decorating a christmas tree…

Rachel Harrison eat your heart out!

Perfect artist pose.

Sculptures don't smile guys. No smiling

Aside from that class I’ve been working in studio quite a bit too. It’s funny how I came here intending to make a bunch of drawings but all I want to do is make the paper stand up. I’m still making drawings, but it’s these small sculptures that I’m most excited about now. It’s hard to tell how dependent they are on this green floor. Keep in mind that most of these are works in progress.

Some paper sculptures in the works

This one is just about finished. Working title is "Belly Flop"

Other highlights from the week: I FINALLY saw the northern lights! I didn’t manage to snap a picture, but I’m sure you’ve all seen enough pictures of them anyway. I was amazed at how quickly they moved. It looked like someone was on the other side of the mountain with a colored spotlight waving it around. Oh, there was also a concert this past weekend. The front man for Mugison, an Icelandic band (duh?), played a solo set. He was a great guitar player with an impressive voice. I’m sure he was funny too, but it’s hard to say for sure…he was speaking Icelandic the whole time, but the crowd was cracking up. Have you ever missed a punch line because you literally don’t speak the same language?

Some of the houses have faces

More face houses. This one is winking.

When it’s sunny here you really have to take advantage of it. So, even if the wind is strong it’s worth bundling up to go for a walk. On one such walk I spotted this Harbor Seal in-yep you guessed it- the harbor. At least I’m pretty sure it was a Harbor Seal, all you sub-artic marine biologists can correct me if I’m wrong.

Ooooooh, so that's why they call them 'Harbor Seals'



Iridescent clouds. I'm not sure why or how?

Well I guess that’s about it for now, you guys asked for more pictures so here you go. I’m off to Reykjavik just after Christmas so I’ll post some photos when I’m back. Thanks for tuning in, and Happy Christmas everyone!

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A little house in the middle of nowhere.

View from the bay with the ferry that comes once a week from Denmark.

So it’s been over a week since I fell out of many planes and landed on the edge of an island in the middle of the Atlantic. That makes it sound a bit more dramatic, but sometimes that’s how it feels here. The basics:

Sun. Yes, it’s here, though I’ve only seen it directly once. It rises around 9 AM and it’s dark by 4PM. That definately takes some getting used to, but I’m working on it.

Weather. Cold, windy, constantly precipitating. These two photos below were taken about 10 min apart. You can see how quickly it changes.

From my backyard

About 10 min later.

When I first arrived it was in the teens and snowy. About 13 inches of snow fell in two days. Then more snow, and now it’s finally warmed up to 35! So of course all the snow has melted and the roads are nothing but slush paths. It’s amazing how well they drive it in.

Food. The way this residency is set up, I’m living alone in this house, so most the time I cook for myself. This means no sheeps heads, putrified shark meet, or pickled cod…yet.

Northern lights. Except for a brief glimpse on my way in, I haven’t fully experience these guys yet either. But I’m constantly looking.

Vampires, polar bears, elves, trolls. No, haven’t seen any of these guys yet either. Although Christmas is a big deal here (check out the pic of the tree in the bay), and I’ve spotted a couple Santa’s running around- in Iceland there’s not just one but 13 of them.

Town Christmas tree in the lagoon. Not sure how they got it there?

Overall, I’m feeling more settled than when I first arrived. Some furniture rearranging and putting art up on the walls, and it’s starting to feel like my space, not just someone else’s house that I’m renting. As for the house, it was formerly owned by this Icelandic conceptual artist, BIRGIR ANDRÉSSON. So I’m hoping for some good juju to rub off.

As for the people, honestly I haven’t met too many of them yet. This is a small town (pop. 800) and a smaller one in the winter (500). But from my limited experience so far I’ve found Icelanders to be friendly and helpful, but not outwardly so. It takes a minute for them to open up. But I’ve been amazed at how well most of them speak english fluently. As for my Icelandic? Well lets just say I’m working on that too.

About half of my cozy studio/living room.

Art making is chugging along too. It’s totally daunting having this much time to just focus on art. A little overwhelming actually. I started by making a lot of drawings at first and now I’m moving towards a couple sculptures. The problem so far is that there just isn’t much material here. So, I’ve been using mostly what I found in the house or what I brought with me (paper).

The other half, with some drawings.

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading!

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Arrival in the Land of Ice

After 3 flights, 3 buses, 1 train and nearly 13 hours of layovers I’ve finally arrived at the Skaftfell Center for Visual Arts in Seydisfjordur, Iceland. It’s taken some time to recover from all that traveling, but I’m beginning to get settled. Here’s a couple quick photos I snapped along the way. Check back in for more news or you can sign up for email updates by clicking the ‘Follow’ button in the lower right corner.

Takk Fyrir!

Beautiful Seydisfjordur. Yes, I know it looks like Santa's Village.

Blurry shot of my little house/studio for the next two months. Formerly owned by artist Birgir Andresson.

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On Brett Reif’s “Ask Not”

 I was asked to write this review for the exhibition Narrow Margins: 2011 KCAI Faculty Biennial. It was included as part of in interactive kiosk in the gallery. “Ask Not” is a teaser for Reif’s March 2012 exhibtion at the Kansas City Artists Coalition, Bedlam Bath & Beyond.

Brett Reif “Ask Not” 2011. Image courtesy of the artist.

Sometimes painting happens by accident. Sometimes the unpredictable process of making leads artists into new territory purely by coincidence. When this happens, it’s important to acknowledge this evolution as significant and not just an artistic fluke. For the sake of this essay as well as for art historical reasons let’s call Brett Reif’s latest work, Ask Not a painting. Rather than stray into the semantics of institutionally imposed binaries like painting versus sculpture, let’s instead subvert the system. Lets use this work as a way to expand what a painting can be. Let’s bring the traditionally “sculptural” issues this work addresses like form, material, and structure to the world of painting.

     Ask Not consists of layers upon layers of stacked, cut, bundled, and fastened domestic detritus which was then coated in some twenty eight layers of poured flock. It is a labyrinth of information. A departure from Brett’s previous work, Ask Not is the result of adventurous risk taking, experimentation, and play in the artist’s studio.  When I was a student, I knew Brett as my professor; now that I’ve graduated I know him as a friend and colleague. I have long admired his work and the unorthodox techniques he uses. The difference I see in this latest body of work is an interweaving of his personal and emotional narratives with the socio-economic commentary present in his previous works.

Brett Reif "Ask Not" (detail) 2011. Image courtesy of the artist.

     Ask Not is a trying piece. Existing in the space traditionally claimed by painting, this large work demands from its viewer a higher level of inspection. Not exactly a ‘pretty’ picture, Ask Not struggles to be likable. However the work is not about aesthetic appeal. This meaning is more elusive than it’s formal properties. Perhaps Brett’s sampling of neighborhood waste (the materials were literally collected during large trash pick up day in Shawnee, Kansas) acts as a material mirror and therefore as an entry point for viewers.

     If the work is a mirror, it’s a fogged one, upon which layers and layers of lavishly dripped flock cloud it’s surface. These drips and splashes of color are the moments that most heavily reference the language of painting. However, Brett’s mark making departs from the glossy theatrics of Abstract Expressionism or the luminescent gestures of contemporaries like Pat Steir or Petah Coyne. In Ask Not the compulsive act of repeatedly slathering the surface is calmed by the soft fuzziness and uniform texture of the flock itself, thus blending surface and structure. The work then asks viewers to become archeologists and dig through the layers to discover meaning beneath. Luckily, Brett has included a starting point: several handles breech the picture plane as a stable invitation.

     For the artist as a maker, this work is also physically and emotionally trying. Stepping out of one’s comfort zone to explore new territory in a studio practice is commendable. Exhibiting the resulting work from these experiments is even more admirable.

Brett Reif "Ask Not" (detail) 2011. Image courtesy of the artist.

     Process and materials have always been crucial to Brett’s practice, usually more so than whatever image the work assumes. In a recent discussion about this work Brett said, “ I do not design image first, I design process first, and the images or objects get formed from the consequences of interacting events.” So if process is priority, then where does the image come from, and what does it mean? It’s difficult to say where the mind goes when the hands are working. The place is psychological, emotional, and deeply different for everyone.  What happened in this work are two totemic shapes dominating the composition and a plant like form rustling between them and blooming above. The shapes could be seen as figures intertwined in a dark romance, or as pieces of architecture locked in a competition over dominance, or a slew of other narratives. In the end these interpretations aren’t actually important. What matters most parallels the creation of the work itself: the story is first told through process and material choices,and the image is consequential.


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Youth trend on display in ‘Twenty Something’ at City Arts Project


From left to right: Erika Lynne Hason "System for Observing the Temporal: 2" Cory Imig "Squeezing Information for Materials Under Extreme Pressure" Mattheus Leonhard "Bull's Eye" Image by EG Schempf

Five wooden boards lean toward a white wall of the City Arts Project gallery, balanced at an angle, one on top of each other like a tilted house of cards.

This stack of wood pins a red balloon against the wall. The pressure of the boards’ weight serves as the only force holding the balloon in place. The boards would crash to the ground if one shifted slightly or if the balloon burst beneath them.

The potential energy stored in Cory Imig’s precariously balanced sculpture inadvertently reflects its surroundings. City Arts Project, a new exhibition and studio space spearheaded by longtime Kansas City curator Sean Kelley, seems poised and ready to burst into the local art scene.

From left to right: Andrew Lyles "Sight Landscape #3", S. Clifford Proksi "Blobs (primary)" and "Blobs (secondary)", Amanda Martinez "Act Drop" Image by EG Schempf

With City Arts Project, Kelley seeks to build community and encourage critical dialogue among artists. According to Kelley, hosting “Twenty Something,” an exhibition organized by recent Kansas City Art Institute graduates Matt Jacobs and David Rhoads, gave him a chance to introduce himself to emerging artists in Kansas City.

“Twenty Something” is the first in a series of exhibitions titled “30 Below” held in the handsomely refurbished freezer room of a building that housed the long-defunct City Ice. Jacobs’ and Rhoads’ selections remain on view until the end of the month. After that, Kelley will add and remove works through Dec. 3.

At the moment, the exhibition features works by nine artists younger than 30 who have all lived and worked in Kansas City at some point in their careers.

Jacobs and Rhoads made smart curatorial decisions.

Instead of filling the high-ceilinged space with lots of small works by many artists, the young curators selected a small number of large works by a few artists. Jacobs, a sculptor, and Rhoads, who creates freestanding, sculptural paintings, chose works that resemble their own — assemblage sculpture made of found objects and colorful, gestural paintings that focus on surface texture.

For his “Sight Landscape #3,” Andrew Lyles attached fluorescent lights to the exterior of a row of recycling bins with wheels on the bottom. Brook Hsu’s brushy oil paintings of abstracted body parts are a throwback to Philip Guston’s cartoonish work of the early 1970s and the New Image movement that followed. But, unlike her predecessors, Hsu builds wooden shelves and tables to display her work, expanding her paintings into three dimensions.

Various oil paintings by Brook Hsu. Image by EG Schempf.

Although Jacobs and Rhoads chose works that share commonalities with their own, they managed to sidestep a common pitfall of artist-curated exhibitions organized around a loose theme. “Twenty Something” is not a haphazard arrangement of submissions by the artists’ buddies. The works are given space to breathe and are installed in a way that encourages visual dialogue.

As exemplified by Imig’s board sculpture, titled “Squeezing Information for Materials Under Extreme Pressure,” the exhibition’s installation activates the space, playing off the walls and ceilings.

“Horizon,” a video by artistic duo Jay & Jae, is projected onto a screen wedged between two walls of a triangular shaped hallway leading to the bathroom.

With its oddly angled walls, the hallway strengthens the video’s aesthetic focus. Two figures stand on opposite ends of the screen against a barren landscape. They each have a cord or rope attached to their midsections, and the figures alternately pull away, sometimes falling, sometimes managing to raise the cord flush to the horizon behind them.

Imig’s sculpture is not the only work where gravity plays a critical role. Erika Lynne Hanson’s “System for Observing the Temporal: 2” is an installation comprising a seemingly random bunch of objects: one of the artists’ weavings, stacks of cut-up two-by-fours, string and a potted jade plant. The weaving is propped against the wall by two long boards. Joined by a length of string, the stacks of boards and the potted plant sit on a ledge atop opposite walls.

If there’s a flaw in this well-thought-out exhibition of ambitious artwork by promising young artists, Hanson’s work illustrates it beautifully. The cerebral nature of the work manages to overshadow its strong physical and somewhat playful and corporeal sense.

Although the installation of Hanson’s sculpture embodies a sense of chance and playfulness — the work consists of the same objects each time but is arranged in a different manner as a response to the gallery space — the work comes across as dry and off-putting.

Can the physicality of its installation and the richness and complexity of the work be communicated to viewers in a more successful manner?

If anyone can solve that problem, no doubt it’s Jacobs and Rhoads.

Read more:

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Big Fat Glossy THANK YOU!

As I mentioned in the last post I started a Kickstarter project to fund my residency in Iceland this year. The project closed last week 146% funded, yes that means OVER funded. This was a wonderful experience for me, and it was such a boost of confidence to see support from friends, family, and even people I’ve never met before. They get my deepest gratitude:

Sue and Jeff Jacobs
Ellie and Loren Cohen
Sydney Feeney
Sharon and Don Dressel
Albert and Joan Jacobs
Sam Rowell
Bettina Landgrebe
Ramzy Masri
Kate Ogden
Susan Reilly
Karen Haines
David Rhoads
Mallory Ruymann
Mary Alice Hassett
Rob and Mare (and DJ) Wilson
Matt Cygnet
Jim ‘The Blind Guy’
Mark Wingard and Randy Parks
Alaina Wall
Warren Rosser
Jason Kolker
Frank Dostaler
Chewie Darsow
Bryan Dressel
Logan Caldbeck
Julia Cole
Abbe Findley
Megan Kubera
Tarak Joshi
James Rodewald
Elizabeth Fisher
Madeline Wilhite
Grace (Grace) Davis
Melissa Cahill
Thomas King
Edward Griffith
Christina Dostaler
Mallory Fletchall
Jonathan Monroe-Cook
Brenna Hart
Nick Terry
Andrew Lyles (and Spray Booth Gallery)
Amanda Elise Bowles
Elisa Smilovitz
Ruben Castillo
Juan Chavarria Jr.
Beverly Ahren
Lou Prendergast
Tracy Abeln
Waseem Touma
Dennis Dickinson (and Exhibtions 2D)
Allyson (Finati) Feeney
Michele Fricke
Penny Weinberg
Francine Lasky
Micah Lidberg
Joan Prendergast
John Robert Craft
Charles Lipson

Thank you all so much. I really couldn’t have done this without you. Please feel free to check back here to see updates about my residency.

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Next Stop… Iceland

Well I’ve returned to my home base of Kansas City, but -as seems to be the case in my life right now- not for much longer…

My next endeavor is a two month artist residency at the Skaftfell Center for Visual Arts in Seydisfjorður, Iceland. I’ll be in residence at Skaftfell this coming December and January. If you’re unfamiliar with what an artist residency is or if your asking yourself why would anyone want to go to Iceland…let alone in the winter? Feel free to visit the Kickstarter page I’ve started for more information.

Click HERE to visit The Skaftfell Center for Visual Art’s website.

Click HERE to go to my Kickstarter Page.

Here are some shots of the rewards backers will get if they donate:

Here are some in-progress Tic Tac sculptures

Some dipped Japanese postcards. Each piece will be unique and have 1-2 colors.

Some recycled container lamps.

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What on Earth

After a long and fruitful stint at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas I’m happy to be back in Kansas City. Marfa is unlike any place I’ve been to before and I’m entirely grateful to all the wonderful people down there. Here’s some work I made in Marfa over the past 4 months. Most of the works are from an exhibition I had called “What on Earth.” Hope you like it!

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Just a taste

Marfa, TX has treated me well, but unfortunately it’s time for me to leave. As a fair well to this wonderful place, I’ll be having an exhibition of the work I’ve been making here at the Masonic Lodge. Originally a Freemason’s lodge and temple this historic building is now owned by the superb folks over at Ballroom Marfa. Come check it out if you can! If not, check back here in a couple weeks for images from the show.

Be there or be an untitled work in mill aluminum.

Here's an overall view of my apartment/studio.

This series is titled "Teeterteeter" the piece on the far right has the subtitle "Hotternhot." They're made of painted matches, super-glue, and C-clamps.

Another series here. These are titled "Filler" salsa cans and florescent paper.

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