Stephen Maine – Halftone Paintings at 490 Atlantic

The misshapen dots are mesmerizing.  They create vibrating space, and optical illusions.

The colors are carefully chosen – off-kilter complements or dark pairings.  There is one large painting in which, if you stand close enough, you can see the purple that hides between the orange and green.  It is a sublime combination.

And Stephen, long a painter, has begun making wonderful books full of mono prints and drawings and colors and tape, carefully hand-sewn together.  At his opening on Saturday (crowded and successful) the changing group of viewers around the very large book that he showed was hypnotized as the pages turned, back and forth, revealing paintings and lines, and collages from which we could not turn away.

These are highly considered artworks which give you more the more you stand and look at them.  So go stand and look at them!

The show is up until May 10th at 490 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.  It’s just a couple of blocks west of the Barclay Center and every subway in the city will take you there. 

Congratulations Stephen.

Classmates Rock

The sun is out, my black coat is put away, and New York is perfect again.

At the SVA Flatiron Gallery is a two-woman show that you should see if you can.  Lulu Zhang and Sarah Dineen are both first-year students in my MFA program, but are producing work of the maturity and complexity of established artists.  Damn them!

Sarah Dineen Certain Dark Things #28

Sarah Dineen
Certain Dark Things #28

Sarah’s abstract works are big and bold painted collages that are satisfying in size and create intriguing visual spaces.

Sarah Dineen Certain Dark Things #22

Sarah Dineen
Certain Dark Things #22

Lulu’s works on paper are dense explorations of obsessive mark-making in ink and paint. Each piece contains hundreds of magical moments which contribute to the dense jungle feeling of the whole painting.

Lulu Zhang Sunset

Lulu Zhang

Lulu Zhang Fallen Red

Lulu Zhang
Fallen Red

If I were an art adviser, I would recommend you buy these young artists before they’re discovered.  But I’m not.  I’d like to keep them all to myself, but that would be selfish.

The show runs through April 11th, and the reception is April 3rd from 5 – 7.

Meanwhile, I’ve been painting ogres in an effort to exorcize them.  And in a funny way it worked.  Now the ogres are my children, not my enemies.

Elizabeth Cook Emperor Ogre

Elizabeth Cook
Emperor Ogre

If you’re not already here, come to New York.  Look at the art.  Look at the people.  Look at the little dogs in their funny coats.


Art Beats Winter

I long ago conceded that in order to survive this winter I was going to have to wear a coat (black, of course) that made me look like I was walking around in a sleeping bag.  Kind of like a Goth Michelin Man.  AND a scarf pulled up over my nose and ears.  AND earmuffs inside my hood.  It isn’t pretty, but I’m certainly not alone.

I recently conceded that winter is never going to end in New York, and I have started going back outside, by which I mean heading further afield than my studio building, which is only half a block from my apartment.

Even though I know that going to the Chelsea galleries is a walk that gets colder and colder as one makes it (Hudson River approaching!  Blowing wind is torture!) I was out on Thursday night for an important gallery opening: David Row’s There and Back at Loretta Howard at 525 West 26th Street (

David ( is an amazing painter and a faculty member at SVA, and I took his workshop my first semester in the MFA program.  We discussed art criticism, took a field trip to look at galleries, and David visited our studios and gave us lots of important feedback.  He was certainly one of the first to tell me to change everything I was doing, and although that sounds harsh, it was critical for me to hear at the time.

His new show of shaped canvases is stunning.  In the best possible way, they are paintings about painting.  The surfaces are mesmerizing – scraped, overlaid, pieced together – the colors are intoxicating, and while clearly abstract, they have a richness and depth that draws in the viewer.

I also saw some exemplary student work this week, namely self-portraits from freshmen in Brooke Larsen’s drawing class.  Using the technique pioneered by Chuck Close (large portraits gridded and filled in with multiple colors), I found two especially compelling.

Kathryn Thiele









Kathryn Thiele detail

Kathryn Thiele detail


Naomi Hia










Kathryn Thiele’s is made entirely of tiny strips of colored paper, and Naomi Hia’s consists only of the repeated use of her first name.  And these are freshmen!

Stay warm during our endless ice age.  Go see the David Row show if you can.  And make art!

Making Paintings

Stuart Davis The Mellow Pad

Stuart Davis
The Mellow Pad

I’ve always had trouble making abstract art.  I admire the ability, but it’s difficult for me to overcome the delight I feel when I capture a likeness or represent what I see.  For me, abstraction isn’t easier than representation (the “my kid coulda done that” school of thought), it’s harder.

I love creating the illusion of space and depth on a two-dimensional plane.  Some abstract artists embrace the same challenge, and some work hard to avoid making any allusions to the natural world.

Jackson Pollock Number 8

Jackson Pollock
Number 8

In my second-year seminar class last week we read articles about Alfred Stieglitz, the ground-breaking New York Armory Show of 1913, and several of the artists working then. Not all artists are good writers (of course, not all writers are good painters), but Stuart Davis, a painter from that period explained abstraction in a way that makes the most sense to me.

Stuart Davis Swing Landscape

Stuart Davis
Swing Landscape

In his article, “Autobiography” (included in Diane Kelder’s collection Stuart Davis – Praeger Press, 1971), Davis discussed why he hated when viewers asked what his paintings were “about”.

“There is no simple answer to these pesky questions because in reality they are not questions about art at all.  They are in fact demands that what the artist feels and explicitly expresses in his work be translated into ideas that omit the very quality of emotion that is the sole reason for its being.”

He goes on, “In the first place let me say that the purpose of so-called “abstract” art is basically the same as all other art, and that it always has a subject matter.  In fact the difference between ‘abstract’ and ‘realistic’ art is precisely one of subject matter.  It would be more accurate to say that it is a difference of aspects of the same subject matter. The ‘abstract’ artist lives in the same world as everybody else and the subject matter available to him is the same.”

“…But the development of ‘abstract’ art has not been merely a matter of temperaments.  It is the reflection in art of that attitude of mind manifested in scientific materialism by which the world lives today.  Through science the whole concept of what reality is has been changed….  why should the artist be questioned for finding new realities in his subject matter?”

Stephen Maine HP12 - 0301

Stephen Maine
HP12 – 0301

Or perhaps in Hamlet’s words,

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your Philosophy.”


My seminar class is taught by the wonderful abstract painter (and writer) Stephen Maine ( Here he is in an interview with Gorky’s Granddaughter discussing his paintings and his process.  If I could paint like he does, I might give up reality, too.


The Invention of Abstraction at MoMA

František Kupka
Localization of Graphic Motifs II

For those of you who think that Abstract painters are taking the easy way out compared to figurative artists (the “my kid could have made this painting” school of thought), I have one piece of advice: try it.  Try to create the illusion of space without reference to nature.  Or harder, try not to create space at all.  Try to make compositions that engross and delight and perplex without including nudes or flowers.  Paint polka-dots without accidentally turning them into tablecloths.  It’s really difficult.  I know – I keep trying.

The current MoMA show Inventing Abstraction is an encompassing look at the origins of abstract art.  For a complete rave review, read Roberta Smith in the New York Times:

I’m only disappointed that the show doesn’t discuss why individual artists across Europe and Asia suddenly began abstracting their paintings in 1910.  This is as revolutionary as Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz inventing the calculus separately at the same time.  Where did abstraction come from?  What caused men and women to abandon figuration in favor of something so incredibly new? (And I don’t include Cubism in the new.  Cave paintings are cubist.  They came from the natural instinct to depict objects as we know them instead of as we see them.  Ask any six-year-old artist who puts 4 legs on every dog, no matter his point of view.)

I’ve always assumed abstraction came from the wave of revolutions that swept through Europe, but those were mid-19th century.  Surely the artistic response would not have taken 60 years.  And I’d like to blame the Russian Revolution and World War I for giving artists a new and bleak view of the fracturing of the world.  But those occurred several years after the beginnings of abstraction.  I’ve been told that it was our ability to see the world from the sky: hot air balloons and the Eiffel Tower.  But they also predate the paintings by a wide margin.  Some people say that abstraction was a reaction against photography, but again the timeline doesn’t work.

Perhaps it was the intellectual building-up of what turned into the first World War.  Perhaps it was artists seeing the world around them as out-of-sync with their experiences of inequality, and the growing feeling of monarchy as archaic.  Perhaps abstract art was not the result of World War I, but a reflection of what caused it. Maybe abstract art made revolution possible.