Posts tagged Black and White
Annie Norbeck

Annie Norbeck grew up across the US, from the Midwest to both coasts and back to the Midwest. Years of car travel across states left a permanent imprint of the varied landscape — and the marks of humans across the land — from the thin trace of power lines across the sky to massive roadworks, earthworks, and ruins of fading industry. These experiences, plus a love of materials, led her to her Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Maryland Institute College of Art, where she worked across media to evoke those early feelings. After graduation, her work was part of the ongoing exhibition in a local Baltimore gallery.

Her work today embraces those impressions of rural America. Depending on the event, area, or emotion being conveyed, the work veers from representation to abstraction. She continues to use varied media in recent paintings that explore the price and value of the natural environment, and what, ultimately, is left behind.

Annie lives and works in Montclair, NJ, and her work is held in multiple private collections across the US, Canada, and Australia.


My most recent work is informed by the horizon, rural and wild spaces, human infrastructure interwoven into the landscape, feelings evoked by the human impact on the environment, and a deep and constant need to connect with nature. Environmental policy changes have left me questioning the price and value of the natural environment, and what, ultimately, we leave behind. What results is often work that straddles the line between pessimism and optimism.

As a painter, I am obsessed with process, the emotions suggested by memory and material interactions, and things left to chance.

Tracy Kerdman

I was born in Huntington, West Virginia. A city now known as the heart of the opioid epidemic. At the age of five I moved to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I studied painting at the College of Charleston, where I earned a BA in Studio Art. In 2010, I moved to New York to continue my study of painting at the National Academy Museum and School and MoMA, where I would take extensive lecture classes. My paintings have been exhibited in Germany, Canada, New York and throughout the United States, from the Korean Cultural Center in Los Angeles, to the Museum of Fine Arts in Tallahassee, Florida. My painting, At My Real Job, is the book cover art for Gallagher Lawson’s 2015 novel, The Paper Man. I live and paint in New York City and Saugerties, NY with my husband.

The Figure and Power Dynamics: Interview with Kirsten Valentine

Kirsten Valentine is an autodidactic painter, living and working in Chicago. 

My work ranges from paintings as small as 2"x3" to as large as 6'x8', from intense and personal portraits to voyeuristic and vague suggestions of bodies interacting. What remains consistent is the depiction of the human figure and the exploration of power dynamics. Sometimes the character portrayed stares out confrontationally or the viewer is offered a glimpse of a scene suggesting violence or domination. Figures and faces are left incomplete - a single eye and a nose signifying a face, a head and a foot a person. The finished composition is complete in its incompleteness, calling on the viewer to fill in the blanks.


Tell us about your work. When did you first start painting the figure? 

I have been fascinated by the figure for as long as I can remember, the human form is beautiful and alluring and frightening and sad and endlessly complex. When I was in grade school I would get my classmates to sit for portraits or draw my dolls when I couldn’t get a live model. I started painting in oils in high school and I was constantly trying to get friends to pose for me. After high school, I worked as a life model. One atelier allowed models to attend classes for free. It was a wonderful opportunity and I took full advantage, going several times a week. The skills acquired working from life are irreplaceable and having that understanding, I believe, is essential if you want to work from photography, as I do currently. You have to be able to see around the figure even when you’re looking at a two-dimensional image.


What is your art about? What do you hope to communicate to the viewer? 

Figurative painting is inherently narrative, but I don’t really believe in making art with a message. If you can clearly articulate an idea in a language then I don’t believe there is any reason to paint it. I leave much of my work seemingly incomplete, large areas are left white and unpainted, an eye and a nose are all that makes up a face, limbs appear unconnected to a visible form, the environment is unseen. Humans are pattern-seeking animals and if something is left out our minds will fill it in. I like to give the viewer the sense that they have discovered something no one else sees, something unfamiliar but personal.

In my most message based work, I have approached the topic of the Holocaust. My father is Jewish and as a child, I spent summers with my grandparents in a Jewish retirement community in upstate NY. My grandparents were Americans but I saw numbers tattooed on people’s arms there, and it had a lasting impact on me. The drama and emotion of the Holocaust are visceral and it’s easy to provoke a cheap, automatic response. I needed to make something nuanced, to get away from the images that are so familiar. I chose to focus on Resistance Fighters, people who are largely forgotten by history and present them as individuals. I did not paint a crowd of wraiths behind barbed wire, I painted intimate portraits, I painted a towering Jew with a gun.


Where do the references and inspirations for your paintings come from? 

I like other people’s trash. I like finding some piece of detritus and extracting my own meaning from it. I collect old letters, postcards, photo albums, yearbooks, and these are my source material and inspiration. My reference material is central to the meaning of my work. If I show an old photograph that I’m obsessed with to someone they might see a boring picture, they won’t see what I see. I seek to isolate and highlight the things that make the image intriguing to me, whether those details are actually a part of the image or part of my imagination. 


Describe a perfect day in the studio. 

A perfect day for me is when I can wake up, take the dog for a walk, and get straight to work without any distractions. I like to listen to documentaries more often than music in the studio. I always have several projects going and I will move back and forth between them. I don’t wait for inspiration, I have force myself to get to work and sometimes it clicks, sometimes it doesn’t. 


Name several artists you admire that have influenced your work. 

There are so many. I adore Picasso, Francis Bacon, Mark Rothko, Barkley Hendricks, Peter Doig, Manet, Gaugin, David Hockney, Robert Rauschenberg, Toulouse-Laurec, Anselm Kiefer and Kerry James Marshall, but my style is probably more influenced by Adrian Ghenie, Gerhardt Richter, Alexander Tinei, Julien Spianti, Michael Borremans, Wilhelm Sasnal, and a number of artists I discovered on Instagram, like Daniel Segrove and Lou Ros, contemporary artists who play with the interaction of realism and abstraction. As well as photographers like Muybridge and Dianne Arbus.


How do you feel playing with scale affects the impact of your paintings? 

The impact of scale has a direct correlation to the environment of the painting. I did a 6’x8’ wheat paste and when it was on the wall in my studio it seemed enormous, but pasted on an outside wall in an urban environment it seemed almost undersized. I worked for years on traditional 18” x 24” canvas and switching to very large or very small paintings really opened things up for me. Small paintings are intimate. Most of the small paintings I do I can finish in a day, they are quick, instinctive and experimental. Large paintings require much more planning. I never begin a painting with a perfect vision of what I want it to be, but if I’m climbing a ladder to work on it I need a clear sense of what the completed piece will be. 

The image determines the size I will paint something, is this something that needs the impact of size or something that should be more delicate? But, I am aware that so much of art today is viewed online, on Saatchi or Artsy or Instagram. The online environment removes the impact of size, and everything fits into the screen of a cell phone.


What is something you are proud of in your career so far? 

It may sound cheesy but I'm most proud of not giving up. I wasn't able to finish my degree for financial reasons and without that education, you miss out on exhibition and employment opportunities, as well as networking and the ability to form a peer group. I ended up making my living in restaurants, not in any art-related field, and today I am a Certified Sommelier. Keeping at it without encouragement or success is difficult and even if you love art it’s all too easy to art it takes a backseat to work and social obligations. 

Alexia Brehas

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, currently based in Melbourne, Australia, and regularly travelling across the globe, the work of Alexia Brehas is heavily shaped by her experiences with place and people. 

Working with ink on paper, as well as delicate metal engraving work, Alexia specialises in fine ink drawings comprised of tens of thousands of dots. Her practice is grounded upon clarity of intent and consideration to detail within all work. The presence of negative space acts as a secondary subject on its own, married to the meticulous detail of the artwork. 

This harmony of parallels is reflected within the artist, who works within a consciously limited world of black and white. Alexia's work embodies an appreciation for the sublime, transient beauty of nature, humanity, and ritual, while also exploring its direct counterpart in mass manufacturing and consumerism. Coming from a background in art and graphic design, both the artist and subject matter attempt to reflect this uneasy relationship. 

The laborious physicality of her craft, particularly the extremely fine, intricate dots Alexia chooses to use, requires intense concentration and a steady hand. This technique encourages viewers to inspect the work more closely, adding an extra sense of depth once you understand that the artwork is the sum of many parts, rather than one whole.

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Interview: Eric Dyer

Painting has the ability to slow time. Every day I take in more but remember less. What did I do last Wednesday night? The week before that? Today, three years ago? So, while trying to make conscious decisions about how to think and what to pay attention to, I paint. I paint buildings I see on my walks around the city. I paint pictures of photos my parents took when I was a kid and portraits of who I may be today. (I’m still unsure.) I paint past art that I made but no longer have. I paint because my paintings can never be perfect. I paint to hold on just a little bit longer.

I currently live and work in San Francisco, California and studied Studio Art at California College of the Arts (MFA) and Painting and Drawing at the University of North Texas (BFA).


What is your artistic background?

The need to create is embedded in our bones.

That need has led me to study Drawing and Painting at the University of North Texas for my BFA, and a MFA from California College of the Arts.

Now I'm wandering around cities, doing what where I can.


Your work features images of architecture and buildings. What is the story behind these structures and what inspires you to paint them?

Anywhere can be fascinating, there is usually just too much in the way to see it; usually, not enough time to slow down. Each building carries its own story—you can find them if you look long enough. I paint these buildings in hopes of sharing these stories.

You mention that you use art to retain memories and slow down time. Would you say your current work is meditative? Explain how you approach your studio practice.

My approach to making work is a daily ritual.

After waking up and getting ready for the day, I make sure I have my two Leuchtturm notebooks on me, right now one is pink and the other is teal. I use the pink one for sketching and the teal one is lined for writing. Generally, most of my ideas come while I'm on the go, and I find the physical act of writing helps me remember things and is less distracting than a phone.

Walking is my main mode of transportation in San Francisco. Meandering through the streets allows me to see a lot of the city and learn about its different neighborhoods.

I want to get lost, not knowing the time or day.

After walking around (sketching, writing, and taking photographs), I build up enough material that I just try to find what works in the studio to start a drawing or painting.

For my current series, I use a dip pen with a few nibs, a Winsor & Newton Series 7 brush size 0, and some 300 lb cold press watercolor paper. I’ve recently fallen in love with Dr. Ph. Martins Black Star matte ink.

When starting a piece, I never sketch anything out on the paper before hand. I want the buildings to breathe, and for marks to have a living quality to them. Whenever I make mistakes, I just run with it. That’s life.

What do you hope to communicate through your work?

There is more to living in the moment than just being. The average person will live around 80 years and a lot of that time can seem boring or trivial. Our challenge, as Rory Ferreira says, is to “flourish in the lag time,” that is, to use our unfilled time wisely.


What are you currently looking at, reading or watching that is fueling your art?

I love reading!

Currently, I’m working on Italio Calvino’s Numbers in the Dark, which is a beautiful book of short stories. I'm also reading a book of Ray Bradbury’s short stories (if you haven't read much Bradbury I'd recommend starting with The Veldt or All Summer in a Day), A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit, and Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Major Works.

Up next is Citizen by Claudia Rankine and an anthology of   writings connected to the New Narrative movement formed in the late 1970s in San Francisco
(recommended to me by Patrick Marks, owner of Green Arcade Books) Writers Who Love Too Much: New Narrative 1977–1997.

I can't stress enough how much libraries and bookstores mean to me. I think in part it has to do with my mom raising me to believe in the magic of reading, and many of the people I admire are writers. Some of my favorite book places in San Francisco include City Lights, Green Arcade, Aardvark, Green Apple, and of course the main public library!

As far as movies go… some that have been sitting in my mind are: Diary of a Lost Girl, directed by G.W. Pabst and starring Louise Brooks; Fitzcarraldo directed by Werner Herzog and starring Klaus Kinski; and The Night of the Iguana written by Tennessee Williams and directed by John Huston.

Misuse of language can lead to miscommunication.jpg

What is your favorite part about being an artist?

Learning more about the world and sharing ideas with the lovely people in it.

Share a favorite piece of advice or quote.

“When bad things happen, I know you want to believe they are a joke, but sometimes life is scary and dark. That is why we must find the light.” — BMO, Adventure Time

“No matter what happens, even though the world can try to crush you or put you down... you can break up through the concrete and say ‘Damn it all! I’m a blade of grass and I will survive.’” — Ray Bradbury

Never stop learning or reading. Books are where secret lives hide, where places that we could never travel to exist, and where dreams stay alive. Living is difficult, there is no way around it, but we can all be here, for each other, to lend a helping hand.

Interview: Nathan Graves Tuttle

Nathan Graves Tuttle is a representational, figurative artist. Born and raised in Rockford, IL, Tuttle moved to Chicago to study Life Drawing at the American Academy of Art, where he received a BFA in 2012.

Tuttle’s charcoal drawings are studies of the figure, often incorporating still life, and their relationships to the space they inhabit. Anonymity and depictions of the muse are reoccurring themes in his work although, Tuttle’s primary concern is to understand how form, value construction, line, and composition all work together to create a cohesive picture.

Tuttle has been represented in various group shows in Chicago. The highlight of those being “Below II” – the follow up to an exhibition he co-founded titled “Below” which he and a few colleagues originally held in a basement that they used as a shared studio space. Five years after "Below", Tuttle is building a portfolio with hopes of opening "Below III" in the near future.


We admire your artistic mastery and emotion you are able to convey through your art. What are some challenges as well as victories you experienced throughout your journey as an artist so far?

Thank you! Balancing working for a living while trying to maintain an active studio practice is the biggest challenge. As far as victories, so far most have been small and they have been few. An opportunity like this, for people outside of my social circles to see my work, definitely feels like a victory.

Who are the figures in your pieces? Are they a part of your life or fictional characters?

The figures in my work are people from my life, and my experiences, but within the picture they are fictional. They aren't intended to be actual representations of those people, or their motivations whatsoever.  


Were you always interested in painting the figure?

Yes, as far back as I can remember. I always drew as a kid, I'd copy pictures of my favorite hockey players, and skateboarders from magazines all the time. I think that when I started school I was more concerned with just being able to study drawing not necessarily the figure, but once I got to study the figure from life on a daily basis it was pretty clear that it was exactly what I wanted to be doing.


Tell us about your process and inspiration. What does a day in your studio look like?

That's a difficult process to summarize. Every picture has it's own special needs and circumstances. They used to be more straight forward drawing from carefully set up reference images, but now I'm working with many references and trying to build larger more complex pictures with multiple figures occupying larger spaces. By the time a drawing is in the studio and on an easel I've gone through a lot of versions in sketchbooks and even then it's not too late for me to add or change something inside the picture. The entire process is becoming more malleable for me now and that is fun and exciting.

Most of the year my work schedule makes my studio time inconsistent, so I don't have too many typical days but when I do it is just like anybody else's I would image. Just slowly chipping away at the drawings, they are all pretty large these days so it takes a lot of time. I usually keep a couple big pieces going at once so I can go back and forth to keep it fresh. Other that I'm just listening to records, and playing guitar while I break to take a step back and look at the progress.


Name a few of your influences.

The more predictable and contemporary influences of mine are Antonio Lopez Garcia, Euan Uglow, and Lucian Freud but I always find myself going back to guys like Edouard Vouillard, Pierre Bonnard, and Henri Matisse.

What do you hope the viewer takes away from looking at your work?

I've never tried to force a direct narrative into my work for the viewer to interpret, and I've found that it isn't necessary. People naturally try to place their own experiences into pictures and create a relationship with it. They certainly have meaning and relevance to my life and if people want to hear about that,  I'm happy to talk about it but, I won't always be around to tell my side of it, so I hope the pictures can to speak for themselves. I set out to make pictures that I want to see, that I find interesting, and anything that someone else appreciates about that is a bonus.  


What are you currently reading, looking at or watching that is inspiring you?

I think that as far as outside media influencing me, music is the biggest inspiration to me. Musical instruments have been creeping into my work, and the piece I just finished is full of musical references. I've just started my largest piece to date, it is a tryptic of the Civic Opera House, where I work. I have a page on my website dedicated to this drawing, where I talk about how that building has influenced me so much to the point where I felt compelled to make that drawing. 

Interview: Mira Sestan

Mira Sestan is a New York based paper artist. Her meticulous paper compositions resemble nature’s beautiful patterns. She only uses two colors, black and white, as that’s often how she sees the world. Each of her pieces is cut and assembled by hand and layered on top of one another. Due to its detailed nature, her work takes months to produce and creating it becomes a meditative process.

What draws you to a black and white color palette?

Black is my favorite color. I like the limitation that working with two colors imposes. It forces me to consider other methods to add depth - whether that’s through texture, the size of elements or thinking about the way light hits them - in a way to make things more interesting. If I had an entire color wheel to work with, I would never be able to narrow things down. I also like the contrast that you get from having only two colors to work with. Not to say that I won’t explore more colors in the future, but at the moment I’m into a minimalist palette. Less is more.

Where did you initially get inspiration for your current series?

I had originally started with a piece that was a field of white flowers (white wedding). There’s something beautiful in the creation of a flower, every petal is unique and organic - and was pleased how it turned out. So I started wondering what could complement it. Before that piece, my work was primarily 2D collage (with a lot of colors!). It was largely dependent on how photography was used. I found that to be very limiting - and from that - I realized that the next step was the creation of something from nothing. Pieces that were a pure expression of my own ideas, rather than a re-framing of someone else’s. 

With each piece, the outcome started to feel more unique and gave me the confidence to continue. There was no one moment or point of reference that inspired me. Rather, a series of small steps - one after the other - which led me to explore further. I truly believe in the importance of developing faith in your artistic intuition and following it wherever it may lead you. It’s something I’m trying to get better at every day. 

What does your creative process look like? 

It first starts with an image. Perhaps it’s a texture I saw at a store, or when I’m out in nature. It could be a sci-fi film or an image on Instagram. I ruminate on it for weeks. Usually, during that time I’ll see two or three concepts that are in some way connected to it, and from there I development a better sense of how to approach the piece. I use Pinterest to then organize similar elements into boards. This I find to be the most fun part of the process, where I let my imagination run wild and think of all the possibilities. 

From there, I summon the courage to test out some of the ideas. Some of them work, and I continue, but most often than not, that idea I have in mind does not unfold as expected, and ultimately it is put to one side. During that process, I’ll often end up with a concept quite different than the original idea, and I then have to trust the pursuit of that idea. Even the ideas that don’t make it serve as great material for future endeavors. Never consider an abandoned idea to be a waste of time.

Why did you start working with cut paper?

I took a collage class several years ago, to satisfy my creativity outside of work as Graphic Designer. I really loved how easy it was working with paper. Looking back, I realize the biggest influence on me getting into this medium was a show at the Museum of Design called “Slash: Paper Under the Knife”. Until that point, I was playing with collage and 2D, but after seeing so many incredible pieces of work there, as well as the truly innovative ways they used paper - methods I didn’t know were possible up until that point - I knew I wanted to push things further. Since then, I’ve slowly been developing my skills and honing new techniques. The up-side to working with paper? It's cheap and lightweight. You don’t need a pricey studio space, and it’s not overly messy as a material. The worst thing than can happen while working with it - a paper cut.

You say on your website that your work takes months to create, do you typically work on more than one piece at a time? 

More often than not, I work on one or two things at the same time. At some point in the creative process, things get repetitive, and I need something on the side to turn my attention to when my focus starts to wane. As detailed as the work is, it can also be quite meditative when you’re focused on small, simple details. It is many of those small details that result in the bigger piece.

What is your favorite part of the process you use to create your work? 

I love starting on new ideas, gathering inspiration, sketching, and dreaming of all the possibilities. I also love working on the details once the idea is nailed down. Each piece is time-consuming since it is the detail and complexity that shapes the outcome, but I get a lot of pleasure of seeing the work come to life slowly. It is fulfilling to dedicate time - not minutes, hours, or days, but weeks or months - to develop that initial seed of an idea, to the end result. In some ways, much like watching a flower bloom.

Interview: Tom French

'Born in 1982, Tom French grew up in Newcastle Upon Tyne, North East England. Tom began his studies at the Newcastle School of Art and Design and went on to graduate from the Sheffield Institute of Art and Design achieving a first class BA Honors in 2005. 

Through his work, French focuses on the reflection of the conscious and unconscious mind. His oil paintings are a skillful combination of academic realism and surrealism, enveloped in carefree, loose and ostensibly unfinished abstract forms. 
This unique fusion of figurative realism and lively abstraction treads the fine line between the beautiful and the unsettling, allowing layers of narrative to filter through whilst bringing life and movement to his compositions.'

Tell us about how you got started. When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

Creative life began in childhood, my parents have always been interested in, and involved with, various forms of the arts, so anything creative was very much encouraged. My early childhood was very rural and we didn’t have a TV, so a lot of time was spent drawing or making things - trying to perfectly replicate album covers or attempting murals on the bedroom walls. My dad is an artist too, so I was often surrounded by his weird and wonderful creations. Being an artist wasn’t a decision I made at a particular moment, it’s more something I’ve always done, and I’ve just taken little detours along the journey.

We love the gesture and movement combined with elements of the figure in your work. What are some things that you think about when creating each piece? 

Most of my conceptual/theoretical work is already complete by the time I begin actually painting, so during the painting process my main concern is translating these preconceived ideas into a visual reality. 

The characters/figures in my work, the actions they carry out, and the environments which surround them, are more psychological than physical - metaphors for mental processes and fields of thought, rather than anything tangible. So when creating the abstract marks in which the figures are situated, I work in a very free and intuitive way - it’s not at all planned, going with what feels right. Rendering the characters, on the other hand, is a very considered task. I’m concerned with how they interact with their surroundings, but mainly how they interact with each other - directly or indirectly. A lot can be read into small figurative positional changes - a slight change in the angle of a head, or the way a finger is held, can make quite a difference to the flow of a painting, so often sections of the figures are repainted quite a few times until they have the desired effect. 

Does each work require a lot of planning and preparation? Give us a glimpse into your process. 

I tend not to plan my paintings as much as I have done in the past. I used to extensively plan my compositions and final outcome, but that way of working becomes rigid and feels restrictive over time. 

I spend a reasonable amount of time in preparing the physical canvas - I use a very fine grain canvas then prime and sand it back 3 to 5 times so the surface is a particular smoothness ideal for the painting techniques I use. For the latest works I used only black paint - no white other than the primer - so the black paint is applied, then wiped back so that the white of the canvas shows through it.

Once the canvas is prepared and dry I go straight in with the biggest boldest abstract marks, its fast paced and immediate, undoubtedly the most enjoyable part of the process. This abstract beginning largely dictates the position of the various elements to follow, allowing the image to naturally progress, harnessing as much of the unplanned/unexpected marks in order to retain a strong sense of immediacy. The process gets progressively less animated as the image develops, with the final stages being a very time intensive process of rendering the technical figurative elements and balancing the lights and darks in order for the structure of the image to pull together as whole.

Name a few of your favourite artists and influences. 

My influences span a lot of genres and eras so it’s difficult to summarise. The theoretical influences come from research into subjects like philosophy, psychology and physics. I relate to the progressive approach the surrealists took regarding perception and our interpretation of images. I’ve admiration for classical painting, abstract art and everything in between, and enjoy incorporating a blend of different genre’s into the work, visually and conceptually. 

Congratulations on your solo exhibition at Unit London! What do you hope the viewer takes away from the show? 

Thanks! Everyone will take away something different, their individual experience, as is the nature of these things. Every now and then I get an email or message from someone who has really connected with the work - it’s meant something to them personally and they’ve felt compelled to share that with me. Its those kind of moments that make the time & effort work worthwhile.

What is the best advice you received as an artist?

A long time ago I didn’t understand the difference between criticism and critical analysis. Or more to the point, that criticism should be taken as critique. So many artists can’t deal with hearing anything about their work that isn’t a compliment. The ability to objectively consider your own work is, for me, one of the most useful tools for progression.