6 spring street
artist statements: :: Ornithology
To create his paintings, John James Audubon shot birds and contorted their bodies into dramatic poses by wiring and pinning them onto boards. The quirky and flamboyant postures he used were not immediately popular with the scientific community, but today they are renowned.
Roger Tory Peterson, who pioneered the idea of a field guide, painted thousands of systematic illustrations of birds in static poses that he based on photographs, bird skins, and field observations.
Ornithologists now use mist nets instead of shotguns to study birds. These nearly invisible nets catch unsuspecting birds so the researcher may carefully extract the bird from it to be studied. Each bird is measured, aged, sexed, and banded with an individually numbered anklet. Then the bird is released.
I photographed these birds while they are caught in mist nets, moments before the ornithologist extracts them. Here, the birds inhabit a fascinating space between our framework of the bush and the hand. It is a fragile and embarrassing moment for them before they disappear back into the woods, only remaining captured through data.
This is a piece from my most recent series of paintings, Tweet Suite: Birds of North America. Lately I've found myself focusing more on nature in my work - in this case, common regional birds of America. It just so happens that soon after I completed the series, the Audubon Society reported that twenty of our most common birds - the ones we most often take for granted – have lost more than half of their populations in the past forty years. Meanwhile, the stamps that make up the background of these images are now finding new life after being stashed away over forty years ago and never cashed in for the reward that they once promised.
Growing up with a strong relationship to the natural environment I developed a heightened awareness of the conflict between human systems and ecological systems. Through my interest in science (particularly theoretical physics, the String Theory work of Brian Greene, evolutionary biology and the work of Charles Darwin and Darwinian geneticist Steve Jones) I have been inspired by the interconnectedness of matter, especially as it is manifested in ecological systems; specifically, systems impacted by humans in non-sustainable ways. At the heart of my work is the continuous human struggle to reconcile the tensions between the natural world, art, science, and lived experience. My artwork over the past five years has explored these tensions through paintings and drawings that contrast the kineticism of the natural “living” world with the static “inanimate” depictions of natural history illustration.
Before I leave the house in the morning, I go through three sets of four rituals for getting ready to make sure nothing was forgotten. When I go to the store I plan to buy five things or in groups of five so I remember what I was supposed to get. I organize and categorize by a number of different systems. I make lists of activities and items and place already "checked off" activities or items on the list to get a head start. Never is there room for the diagonal. A rectangle functions better as a square. A crack in a wall must be repaired. The order of natural elements must be left to its integrity. Everything must match.
Minimalism serves as the perfect model for this mindset but lacks the particular. The absurdity becomes lost in the austerity. The complex becomes the simple. By employing minimal characteristics, I create formal and informal relationships that are usually subtly depicted to mimic a kind of ethereal experience desired by the Minimalists, one that is disrupted purposefully by a foreign element: humor. Humor in the form of obsessiveness, senselessness, or sarcasm defines the absurd to serve as a balance to the mundane. The attempt is to fashion a new hybrid: Minimalism as the backbone and idiosyncrasy as the fuel. This hybrid is meant to sit in the “in-between", the balance of abstraction and representation, the literal and the conceptual, sincerity and superficiality.
My work explores the dynamic and complex relationship between beauty and destruction, growth and loss, pleasure and pain. Using cartographic images, historical figures and poetic symbols, mining from the night’s work (my nightmares and dreams) and the day’s residue (the mood and color of a poem, a piece of music, an encounter), I begin to paint and draw out different lives. My fascination with certain historical figures and symbols has created a coded language, at once public and private.
My current project, “Les oiseaux sans ciel” (“Birds without sky”), focuses on the themes of metamorphosis and dislocation, drawing on a symbolism that ranges from the owl of Minerva to the Egyptian hieroglyph to the iconic birds of Max Ernst and Joan Miró.
Over the past few years, Peterson has become known for depicting the black suburban everyman and his nuclear family set in dreamlike landscapes. Twisted, however, represents the artist's decided turn away from the childlike wonder and vacant plasticity of his archetypal subjects and their idyllic settings. Inspired partly by CNN and partly by horror movies, his figures are twisted, stretched, and mangled. Weather is a malevolent force. A dystopian vision has replaced the eerie casual detachment: whereas once his characters smiled, now they explode
This work contains drawings of 132 Birds at The American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
I am interested in the idea of artist as mad scientist. My drawings offer visual hypotheses to the question: what would happen if the DNA sequence of a human, plant, or mushroom were spliced with that of an animal? Using graphite, watercolor, and walnut ink on paper, as well as directly on gallery walls in site-specific installations, I create hybrid creatures: wolves morphed with women; birds morphed with mushrooms; and sheep morphed with branches, trees, and blossoms. These phenomena are my interpretation of the perversion of the natural world wrought by genetic engineering and mutation gone awry.
My wife and I adopted our baby girl, Carmen Laura, from Bogotá, Colombia. While the courts processed her paperwork, we spent two months in Bogotá waiting to take Carmen home.
Carmen's birth-mother gave her a book filled with letters, pictures and poems. "I hope that the hardness of the world will not hurt your sensitivity," she wrote, "When I think about you I hope that your life is full of beautiful things."
With those words as a mission statement, I began making my own book for Carmen. In photographing the city of her birth, I hope I've described some of the beauty in this hard place.
My photographs serve as modern dioramas of our new natural history. Within these scenes, I explore our paradoxical relationship with the "wild" and how our conflicting impulses continue to evolve and alter the behavior of both humans and animals. We at once seek connection with the mystery and freedom of the natural world, yet we continually strive to tame and compulsively control the wild within our own nature.
Within my work I examine the primal issues of comfort and fear, dependence and determination, submission and dominance that play out in the physical and psychological encounters between man and the natural world. Increasingly, these encounters take place within the artificial ecozones we have constructed that act as both passage and barrier between domestic space and the wild.
The photographs in this series are constructed based on real stories from local newspapers and oral histories of intentional and random interactions between humans and animals. The narratives are set in and around Matamoras, a small town in Northeast Pennsylvania that borders a state forest.
The canary is a small bird indigenous to the Canary Islands Madeira and the Azores. They have been bred in captivity since the Seventeenth Century and are famous as show birds and household pets throughout the world. Over time, British bird-breeders created many different variants of the canary’s color and increased its size from that of its wild cousins. Canary owners vary from the obsessive breeders who show their prize birds with a competitive banter and bird-lovers who just enjoy the sweet tweeting and colorful presence of their feathered friend.
When I photographed these birds I approached them as if I were photographing a human being, granting them the same importance as human subjects and attempting to highlight the individual personalities of these sociable birds. I find that birds have an air about them: be it proud, shy, or bemused, there is always something that is added to by their colorful appearance, giving the feeling that they are wearing their Sunday best.
Yellow Canary #1 is part of an ongoing series. I plan to photograph many other varieties of show birds, such as canaries, budgies, and finches.
Do you think it is really for our own good that multinationals take over our food production like the insurance companies want us to believe?
Do you really think that this way our food will become healthier?
Do you think that franchising will make us all happier than we have ever been?
Do you really want your hamburger in New York to taste the same as in L.A. or in Tokyo?
Do you understand why a piece of antique furniture is so expensive?
Do you believe in IKEA or McDonald's for instance?
I do not.