Work by: Altoon Sultan, Andrea Borsuk, Ashlynn Browning, Benjamin Terrell, Karen Schifano, Tom Bunnell
(in alphabetical order by first name)
The painters that I am drawn to all seem to have a few things in common, even when they’re not exclusively painting. They make work that insists the visual is as intellectual as the verbal. Their paintings demand real looking, the kind that only comes from spending time with an artwork. Their work refuses to sacrifice beauty for the sake of content. And, to loosely paraphrase a line from Karen Schifano’s artist statement, they are abstract painters that flirt with narrative elements and representational painters that fully embrace the abstract qualities in their work.
When it became clear a few months ago that I wouldn’t be able to visit studios due to Covid-19, I decided to try and get artwork to come to me. I reached out to six artists whose work both inspires me and makes me think about paint’s ceaseless adaptability in the hands of creative people. “Here and There, Mostly There,” The Semi-Finalist’s first summer group issue, is the result of their willingness to share images of recent work and a few thoughts about their process and subject matter. I also asked them to describe -if relevant - how the pandemic has changed their approach to making art. I am both thrilled with and grateful for the thoughtful contributions of Altoon Sultan (VT), Andrea Borsuk (CA), Ashlynn Browning (NC), Ben Terrell (OR), Karen Schifano (NY) and Tom Bunnell (DC). Whether their work is engaged with representation or abstraction, social issues or the aesthetic investigations of a quiet poet, these six artists are continuing to make compelling and meaningful work at a time when we need it most.
Yellow Curves, 2020, egg tempera on calfskin parchment, 9" x 12"
Above and Below, 2020, painted porcelain, 9 7/8" x 12 5/8 x 1/2"
Transparent, 2020, dyed hooked wool, 16 1/4" x 14 3/4"
I work on paintings and drawings at a table upstairs in my house, under a skylight. This isn’t because of Covid-19: I’ve been working here for about 10 years, since I began making small paintings and no longer needed to be in my large studio building. I work on relief sculpture downstairs in my kitchen. The virus hasn’t changed my work process in any way.
In my various mediums, my work explores a range of imagery from representation to abstraction; with textiles being non-objective; paintings closer to representation with their clear form and light; and relief sculpture, paradoxically, in between.
- Altoon Sultan
Sultan's studio in The Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.
Without the Slightest Sound, 2020, oil on wood panel, 24” x 36"
A Silver Lining to All that Darkness, 2020, oil on wood panel, 24” x 36”
These paintings reveal my own efforts and tensions to quiet the mind and acknowledge that this moment is here. I am trying to stay in it and rise above it. When I began this series of paintings, I was thinking about my own discomfort in a world that is hurting.
I see the figure as a barometer of this moment and its physical contortions as a reaction to the irrational and fluctuating temperature of our situation. Existing within a toxic “garden”-- a place of unfamiliar forms and fluids— requires balance, patience, acquiescence, hope, positivity, humor, and basic survival “snacks” (such as air and water) to endure challenging periods in our history.
Drawings and watercolors on Borsuk's studio walls in Santa Cruz, CA.
Untitled, 2020, oil on wood
Untitled, 2020, oil on wood
Untitled, 2020, oil and pastel on wood
For the past few months I've been continuing to work in oil on wood panel but have also been incorporating oil pastel to get more gestural, drawing line qualities into the mix. I think it's been giving some new life and energy to the geometric forms. I'm going to continue working with this organic/geometric hybrid which for me speaks to the control and calculated decisions that go into the paintings, along with the freer, more intuitive side that ultimately leads the process.
All of this work is very new and untitled thus far...but they range in size 10" x 8" to 20" x 16."
Browning's studio walls in Raleigh, NC.
Paperbacks, 2020, oil on panel
Guston , 2020, oil on panel
Doig, 2020, oil on panel
My father was given a Cherokee name at birth but changed it legally when he turned eighteen.
Life like art is a process of naming and renaming.
Soon after, he traded his .22 caliber rifle to a Pawnee friend named Myron Echohawk for a Corona No.3 folding typewriter.
That exchange started my father on his life long path as a writer.
There is a relationship to who we are and the things we collect.
Lately I’ve been painting my old LP's, books and Indian trade blankets.
Art like life is a process of forgetting and remembering.
I paint them for their objectness, for their spirit and so that I might recall my original name.
Terrell in his studio outside of Eugene, Oregon.
Yes, Go, 2020, flashe on canvas, 36" x 28"
Inner Limits, 2020, flashe on canvas, 36" x 28"
Wholely, 2020, flashe on canvas, 36" x 28"
My work over the last few years has jumped between reductive images of simple iconic shapes, and a series that is more pointedly concerned with race relations. Even though those issues are in the news right now, I am actually feeling more drawn to shapes that reflect a place that is timeless and beyond contingencies. The pandemic has drawn me inwards again.
Schifano's studio walls in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, NY.
Dark Gem, 2019, oil on canvas, 60" x 64"
Extra Viti, 2019, oil on canvas, 60" x 64"
Fortune Teller, 2020, oil on canvas, 58" x 60"
In these most recent paintings (last two years) I have been allowing for different patterns and impulses to coexist in the painting. It's not a new idea, but it feels right as a direction currently. All these observed and fragmented systems in our lives! The paintings are about these systems. Some are repressive, some are comical and some are subliminal.
Bunnell's DC studio.