Talking with Artists at NYAA

Here, let me toot a horn suspiciously close to my own. I've been invited by the New York Academy of Art to moderate a public conversation of their graduating fellows on Tuesday. It's a free event, and if you're in New York, I'd love to see you there. Work by the graduating fellows is also on display. The three of them make strikingly different art.

I've written about Aleah Chapin before. She is a figurative painter. Her representational skills are very strong, but they're not in service to their own celebration. She's painting the figure not as object, but as person. This policy carries a heavy demand of compassion and understanding, and she continues to grow in meeting this demand:

Aleah Chapin, The Three Graces, 2013, oil on canvas, 76 x 74 inches

Nicolas Holiber assembles sculptures out of wooden odds and ends and various other substances, including teeth. These high-energy pieces retain enough of an improvised feeling to be funny, but they have an elegant underlying sense of geometry in space. Using organic materials, and reflecting the regularities and irregularities of organisms, Holiber is constructing sculptures that have a sense of half-life, of living design:


Nicolas Holiber, Sarcophaguy, 2013, mixed media, 80 x 32 x 39 inches

Jonathan Beer started out as a technically-oriented landscape painter. Although he's transitioned away from that, traces of it remain in his work. It forms an image scaffold supporting two other strong impulses: a pure formalism so extreme that he does not exclusively use paint any longer, and the discovery of his own abstract emotion-to-mark language, which represents an ever-deepening interaction with the physicality of paint. Each piece finds a different point of reconciliation between these three major forces.

Jonathan Beer, False Flag, 2013, oil on canvas, 84 x 84 inches

Here's why I think you should turn up for this panel. These artists have all undertaken a task which I increasingly think of as necessary for artists. They walked up to their own work and said, "Whatever this is - however much I love it - it's not enough. I can do better, and I need to do differently."

I do think it's alright to love your work. For instance, I love my work. But I think that too long an interval of loving your work encourages complacency, and complacency deadens the work. The work starts to indulge in assumptions. Its making is no longer wakeful. If done well, it is done predictably well. It has stopped growing.

Chapin, Holiber, and Beer all looked at what they were doing and said, "This is not enough." They are not such spring chickens that they weren't already doing some strong things, and they could have kept on in the same direction. But they embraced the process of rebirth, and were rewarded with work that testifies to their commitment.

I did not go to NYAA, but I suspect that the real value of the fellows' education there was in encouraging and nurturing this process of starting over. When I first came across work by NYAA grads, I assumed that the school was simply good at imparting technique. But I'm beginning to think that the compelling critique - the one that not only helps the artist complete the old, but opens avenues to the new - is the real strength of the program.

Anyway, these graduating fellows are engaging and interesting, and have a vivid relationship with their work. If you're in New York on Tuesday evening, I hope you can join us for the chat at NYAA.


New York Academy of Art: Artist Conversation

Tuesday, September 10, 6:30 p.m.
111 Franklin Street, NYC
for inquiries contact