The tableaux I create are inspired by relationships. They evolve from personal mythologies. I work with vintage, printed fabrics and found embroideries made by women of previous and more modest eras. I act as a collaborator, modernizing their traditional work and altering its original purpose. The fabric becomes the foundation for a fantastical exploration. - Orly Cogan
AT: As an artist working within fiber for over twenty years, what first interested you in utilizing vintage and found fabrics as the base for your work?
OC: Some of the first materials I worked with in early childhood were fiber based. I went to a Waldorf School where toys found in the classroom were made from natural fiber materials to nourish the senses. I learned to knit and crochet in the early years of grade school. There is a nostalgic kind of intimacy connected with fiber materials. It has a history everyone can connect with and inherently appreciate the human labor that went into the creation. Growing up my mother collected old samplers and quilts. The samplers often had moral sayings, warning to girls about being polite, tidy, “pure" and the like. My mother appreciated the labor that went into these pieces by nameless woman and girls and enjoyed the messages ironically. I majored in painting in art school and years after graduating I happened to take a one day workshop at The Museum of Folk Art which my mother had signed herself up for but last minute wasn’t able to attend so I took her place. That day I created a quilt square fairly quickly and with the extra time I had I embroidered between the seams a little nude figure. As it came naturally to mix yesteryears quaintness and conservatism with my own brand of sex-positive feminism with a dash of post modern perversity. The elderly women in that class were enchanted with my piece and the rest is history. Thereafter I started thinking about connecting my love of narrative with the homey feminine materials I grew up with using the wit of feminist social commentary. As time went on my stories became more political and personal. Some figures are portraits, others are playing rolls within the story line. The layering of thread drawings resemble children’s coloring book illustrations along with areas of dense needle work and complexity.
AT: As a pioneer in not only fiber art, but contemporary feminist art, what motifs and themes have become priority in the narrative of your work?
OC: Embroidery to me had a history that was based in a kind of patriarchy where giving women needle and thread to pass the time beautifying the home was something good for idol hands and would keep them out of trouble so to speak. These women may have spent hours working on a doily to go behind the back of a chair so the chair wouldn’t get stained from sitters sweaty heads. There was a repressive sexless grannie identity associated with hand work or a kind of cute craftiness about embroidery, it wasn’t considered high Art with a capital “A” when I was coming of age even with the woman’s movement of the 60’s and 70’s. I began to research more about woman’s long tradition of art making rooted in craft practices and I knew I was on the right path to continue with my work in the evolution of craft from a domestic practice into a higher form of feminist art.
AT: Your new solo show, Don't Call Me Princess, was inspired by your daughter and continue your narrative of the complex dichotomies of femininity, how has this new selection of work developed and evolved? Are there new themes you are exploring?
OC: The work is expanding in scale and I’ve incorporated a bit more overtly political elements in some pieces for this show. In particular in one piece which will be on view at The Brattleboro Museum (October 2018 - March 2019) titled POW (Power of Woman). It’s message is positive with several portraits of strong women, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stacey Abrams, Judy Chicago, Alice Neel and Freda Kahlo to name a few.
American women have grown up with fairy tales in our heads, and somehow that “happily ever after” idea is instilled early on. With my own daughter I saw how strongly princesses infiltrated her play, although she had no direct exposure to Disney movies or theme parks. I edited the few fairy tales we had, changing the sexist stories to empowering ones for my child’s ears. Whenever I went out with my daughter, people would call her “princess.” It was meant as a nice thing to say, and for a while she and I took it as such. But as she grew older, she rejected the title. She would frown and respond, “I’m not a princess, I’m just a regular girl!” I hope my work inspires people, to question, to see the humor in things, to recognize the beauty in the mundane and to continue the dialogue .
AT: What is something you would like to accomplish with your work in the future? Anything you would like to explore or experiment with?
OC: I am starting to explore the process of making my narratives a bit more ambiguous and introducing abstract elements with more texture that comes off the picture plane. Also I’ve been experimenting with mixing ceramics and other found materials in my site specific installations. I’m pleased with how much exposure my work has received recently and I hope for more such opportunities through varying venues.
Within the new Trump Adminstration's tax overhaul, a slight change could potentially provide a major impact to wealthy art collectors' mindsets. While the new tax cuts fees for both corporations and wealthy individuals, providing more money to spend at art auctions, a recent removal of art as a benefit asset from the 1031 Exchange suggests that these transactions may become less frequent. Normally used by wealthy investors as a tool, the 1031 Exchange allows deferment of capital gains tax that then rolls over the profit of a sale in order to purchase more art. In juxtaposition to this financial shift, international art auctions, fairs, and biennials have only grown in popularity; numerous new showcases popping up in cities throughout the world. While the opportunities for sales has risen, these new tax laws call into question the future of art as an investment tool.
Because art investment is such a niche market, the largest percentage of collectors residing in the United States and predominantly older generations, many suggest that these taxes will hinder sales by these investors, who will instead pass them down to future generations. Museums also offer an avenue through borrowing; namely investors receiving benefits by lending to art institutions. This however, affects only a certain percentage of investors and leaves room to ask what about the new generations of collectors? As the young and wealthy head to fairs and auction houses for investment opportunities, will these taxes deter purchases, and push them to explore other markets of investment.
This type of purchase proves to be even more dangerous for the investment market than previously seen. Media around these purchases make the market seem hot, paired with the frequency of opportunity for art purchases worldwide, which makes the market seem tangible for many young investors. However, because these sales are almost pre-planned and done so with only the wealthiest of interested collectors, they actually make the market more volatile. Without external bidding, with actual results, auction houses are able to increase growth and inflation without validation of a real price. This reveals to be challenging territory for young art-buying enthusiasts, but as Doug Woodham, of Art Fiduciary Advisors has stated, "Collectors are smart, tax-aware people".
Minneapolis, Minnesota. It’s not the first city that pops into one’s head when one thinks “diversity”. The Midwest, especially for a Californian like me, has always been representative of a more “traditional” idea of the United States; that is, suburbs with perfect lawns and processed food. And at least in terms of its economy, the Midwest was the heartland of America, home to the industries of flour-milling and corn-growing. But what exactly is that “essence” of the United States, and what has it come to mean as our traditional industries “leave” for cheaper shores and new people come into spaces traditionally defined as American? It is this interesting nexus that the exhibit, Foodways, housed within Minneapolis’ College of Art and Design, attempts to address. Through a series of thoughtful art pieces, in various mediums ranging from video art to sculpture and oil paintings, the power and ability of food to represent both our past, present and future selves (i.e. our heritage, our every day lives, and our legacy) is tangibly felt in all the pieces.
Kazua Melissa Vang’s piece is a striking metaphor between our insides and the insides of refrigerators. Using a triptych of photographs showing the inside of a family’s refrigerators, the artist metaphorically demonstrates the ability of refrigerators to fit all; stuffed full of both “traditional Asian” cuisine ingredients (Chinese broccoli, bok choy, red chili paste) and “traditional American” ingredients (mayonnaise, ranch dressing, strawberry jam). Indeed, the ability of the family to cram ingredients into a very available space cannot help but bring to mind our own ability as humans to do exactly the same with our often “contradictory” experiences.
Another video shows the preparation of “typical” Midwestern food: syrupy cheese mixed with potato mix from a box, while a gravy with meat chunks simmers. The videos are hypnotic; there is no voice, only the sounds of various-sized ingredients mixed into piping-hot pots. The displays remind one of Kitty’s kitchen from “That 70s Show”, the somehow soothing idealization of Midwestern America.
Yet another video installation tells the story of another continent: a woman’s Somalian sounds accompany the rhythmic sounds of a large grinder, held by a woman dressed in traditional Somalian wear, pounds a food stuff in a wooden bowl. “The work song,” the artist’s statement says, “that with its connected narrative, is meant to encourage the performers of the task while reinforcing a life lesson.” In that darkened room, one feels tradition of another country being carried on and communicated to the next generation. A part of the past coming into loving contact with the present, and future.
This exhibit represented more than a simple exhibit of food cultures from around the world. It was the representation of America’s culture in its truest form. For what is culture if not “the people who live in it and the lives they lead in it, not the possessions they have inherited from those who came before,”? In each piece, the lives of each artist, each with their own cultural heritage, each with their own struggles with adaptation, assimilation, or remembrance, was carved out, cherished, exhibited. If art is to continue to be representative of a culture, it is our stories and experiences art must strive to tell. It is exhibits like this that remind us of what we are, especially in times when we as a country and as individuals ask ourselves, “Who Are We?”
Paul McCloskey was born in Carrickmacross, Co. Monaghan, Ireland and is now living and working in Gorey Co. Wexford. Paul attended the National College of Art and Design (N.C.A.D) Dublin). He also attended De Montfort University UK and was awarded a Master’s Degree in Fine art (MFA) in 2010. Paul is a professional member of ‘visual artists Ireland’. He has exhibited extensively both nationally and internationally throughout the UK, London, Venice, Paris, Macedonia and New York.
AT: Growing up and currently residing in Ireland, how has being surrounded by this beautiful landscape transformed your work?
PM: Without a doubt the varied landscape in Ireland from north to south and east to west is beautiful, however it’s the light that’s really special, fleeting, varied and fluctuating light often transforming a familiar landscape into something new and changing one’s focus on varying aspects of a scene. Highlighting the seemingly ordinary and transforming it into something extraordinary. A simple break in clouds can transmute a scene with endless variations.
AT: When discussing your oil paintings, your palette has such a vibrant contrast between dark and light that seem to just spark on the canvas. What inspires this energy on the canvas? What inspires your color palette?
PM: Certainly my trilogy series ‘The Alpha’ ‘Reloaded’ and the ‘Omega’ have strong light and dark contrasting elements, in this series I wanted to place emphases on the emerging light to yes highlight the ordinary, the luminosity of light and color is central to all the work, light being used to reflect birth or life; for without light there is no life. but more importantly to suggest a personal growth towards enlightenment towards an awakening. The dark into light is very much a spiritual representation for me. The Awakening trilogy is consciously addressing the three parts of the whole, mind, body and spirit.
AT: You have worked in both abstraction and figurative, do you prefer one to the other? Does one provide something the other does not?
PM: I prefer to abstract the subject rather than meticulously represent what is in front of me, my work is mainly based on landscape, this is the starting point based on a accumulation of memories, interpretation and surrounding views. Landscape gives the viewer an initial
starting point a familiar focus which invites them in, once in then the work is open to the viewers interpretation based on their own memories, emotions and mood. Abstraction allows for this emotional interaction both for me the artist and the viewer. However process is
primary for me, the act of doing of allowing is where the magic happens irrespective of the subject.
AT: Your newest work, the Omega Series, combines your abstract painting style with that of 3D rotating cubes, allowing the viewer to experience the paintings from an entirely different perception. What inspired this shift towards 3D?
PM: The Omega 3D is the third and final installment of the Awakening series, here I decided to work in three dimensions as a way of representing the Divine or spiritual aspect of my work, suggesting that the spiritual is all things, in all directions at once. I worked on the cubes to challenge myself to resolve pictorial complications not just on a 2D surface but to think in 3D as I worked and also to hold the spectator’s interest hopefully enticing them into my visual world. The suggestion of heaven and earth in constant struggle, merging yet separable, solid yet amorphous all suggest the multidimensional nature of the spiritual, the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega, the struggle within, between the conditioned self and the divine/spiritual self.
AT: What other artists have inspired your work or artistic education?
PM: I admire many artists, but the Irish painter Jack Yeats was certainly one of my earliest inspirations. I like expressive works that convey an atmosphere or mood. However, Mark Rothko’s chapel series of paintings convey a quiet spirituality and are very powerful in their simplicity.
AT: Going forward, what are some of your goals for your art? Anything you would be interested in experimenting with?
PM: I’m currently working on a new series again based on landscape, where my pallet is considerably brighter and fresher, I’m constantly looking to convey that seemingly ever elusive magic and wonder of nature, to show that we are all one and of the same, connected to the world around us. The process of creating is a spiritual act for me, to paint with truth, one must ﬁrst be truly present. Everything happens in the present moment, painting reinforces this truth for me.
View more of Paul McCloskey and his recent projects.