The Good Old Boys: Four New Faces in Art
We are all engaged in the art of sharing. Some of us, with our millions of duck-faced selfies, are experts in excess. Others, with carefully composed tweets and Amaro-filtered Instagrams, produce poised presentations. But whether haphazard or micro-managed, we are conscious of our images, and the way we serve ourselves up. Every digital native is a natural aggregator, an instinctual opinion-giver, and an influencer of their audience of “friends” and followers. Still, only a handful are recognizable, and even fewer manage to make sharing and gathering their full time occupation.
Four such rising forces have come together to make Image-Painting-Text, a group exhibition at Garis & Hahn Gallery. They’re not community managers or Vine videographers. Judged by individual medium, they might be called traditional.
Samuel Stabler (28) draws tangled lines and then carefully cuts along them to make web-like pieces, as if a spider had taken a course in Matisse. Familiar structures emerge: bridges, cathedrals, cameras, quills. The cut-outs are ghostly, white with transparent framing. In contrast, Sam’s other work is neon yellow, again with delicate lines but using appropriated images: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, samurai warriors on their way to battle, Napoleon. Walking into Garis & Hahn, Sam’s side of the room starts with five small portraits in the style of 18th century miniatures.
The other side of the gallery displays five small drawings by William Buchina (34), done with pen on paper. Immediately, Buchina motifs are evident: dilapidated houses, disembodied hands, hooks, dark-lined geometric shapes. Separate, they’re sketches. Together, they’re almost overwhelming; a new relationship reveals itself at every second glance.
William recognizes this aspect of his work; he appreciates assembly. “I’m interested in the choices,” he says. “Most of the elements are drawn from images that I find. I alter them sometimes, and sometimes I don’t. But that’s not the point. For me, the interesting part is choosing the images. I put them in different piles and I move them around; that’s where I get most of my pleasure in creating the work…the point is the whole.”
Kyle Kouri (23) has written the third dimension of the show, a twisted narrative integrating images all three artists shared in advance. Opposite Sam’s work, at the very beginning of the gallery, is the first section of five in Kyle’s text. He hopes that passersby will see the vinyl text and wander in, intrigued.
Kyle brings unbound excitement, while William and Sam are surprisingly steady. Curator Max Teicher (24), the most clean cut of the bunch, is practical. We joke he’s from a different generation. He has helped shepherd Sam to success and hopes to do the same for William (this is their first show together).
Max says he knew what he wanted to do at age 15. He started selling art on the street on the Upper West Side, called his mom to tell her his life path was set. His apartment doesn’t have a TV, just a couch across from a neon Stabler still-life, a Dutch-style bouquet. At the foot of his bed hangs a Buchina canvas, knotted and unabashed. Along one wall in the same room is a Stabler diptych of Napoleon in defeat and then victory. Max emphasizes that he plays the role of supporter. He resists the title of “dealer.”
“I believe in these guys. They’re representing their generation in a way which I think is unique,” he says, going on to talk about hopes and dreams and fruition. Lucky enough to decide his path as a teenager, he has the experience to guide these artists at 24. Though he speaks in mostly sports analogies, it’s clear he knows the art game from the way he will talk to viewers at the opening. He’s charismatic with clients and protective with artists. He’s visibly nervous when I assure him during the interview that yes, I am recording. He asks me to cut out the swear words; there will be no tarnished reputations on Max’s watch.
When I arrive for our interview on a Saturday night, Sam is carefully sticking the letters to the wall. He’s missing a lot of the dots on the i’s. He grins at me through his red beard and we realize we’ve met before, two summers ago at a different gallery. I’m immediately at ease.
The boys have been here for the past two days, drinking Red Stripe and putting their show together. They’re all dealing with the missing dots in the various sections of Kyle’s text. William appears to be the vinyl letter expert, helping the others get it aligned and right.
We had plans to talk at a nearby restaurant but end up sitting on the floor of the gallery. I ask Kyle and Max how they want people to experience their show. Kyle emphasizes the relationship between his writing and the images. “I think there are a lot of unfortunate market boundaries between painting and text that pervert how we appreciate or recognize value in both. In this case it’s all just expression. Artistic expression.”
“Does the presence of text simplify the viewer’s experience?”
“No, absolutely not,” Kyle says. “It’s not a curatorial text. It’s an artist’s text, so it will challenge viewers more than pacify them.”
“More than anything,” he adds. “This text is the fleshing out of a narrative, one in which Sam, William, and I have all contributed to with our respective practices.”
As anyone in advertising will tell you, a good story is a magic formula. William expands, “Kyle wrote a very absurd, narrative story, which hopefully people won’t understand, and they can try to figure it out.”
The joy in discomfort plays into this show’s opposition to the tradition of a press release, and lack of labels underneath the works. Why tell people what they’re seeing? Let them wonder and struggle. “The artistic process is an ongoing effort to understand!” Kyle writes in ‘Immersion.’ Effort is important in all aspects of this show.
I ask Sam how he recognizes passion in himself, expecting something poetic. “It’s a work ethic,” he says instead. “You kind of have to train yourself to recognize it.” Passion can be as straightforward as productivity; it seems obvious when he says it.
When I ask Sam about his ‘ultimate goal,’ admittedly a stock question from years of interviewing marketing men, he replies, “I do it because I have something to create, and I want an audience. There’s no way to simplify it more than that. I make work because I’m compelled to, and fortunately there are people who are interested in what I’m making. But if there wasn’t, I’d still be making it.”
William murmurs agreement as Sam speaks, then adds, “You don’t want to say something as crude as ‘for money,’ it’s not for money, but of course I don’t want to have to do other shit that I don’t want to do, which is what I’ve always had to do.”
Where William speaks with soft conviction, as if he might be blown away at any second, Kyle drops his words like rocks. He’s been choosing them this whole time: “At risk of sounding really cheesy, I just want to add this: I really believe in the artist, and the idea that the artist is important. As far as my goal as an artist and someone who loves art, it’s to create in any way that I can, and support other creators in any way that I can so that we can do stuff like this. New York is such a fucking epicenter of culture and so historically attached to the arts, the art world is New York and it always has been. Well, I mean…”
He stops, presumably remembering Paris and Rome.
“Sorry, I get excited. Anyway, for a long time, New York has been synonymous with art. I love this city and I think many people come to this city because art is here. I love that, and I’m really passionate about it. I know that careers are important, but disassociating myself from that, I think there is ‘the artist.’ I just had to say that.”
Where our everyday sharing is transcontinental and largely non-targeted, the crew behind Image-Painting-Text are local and aware of their particular audience: ‘art people,’ hopefully buyers. They were consequently precise with their initial process and are intentional with its result.
On Image-Painting-Text’s opening night, the gallery is overflowing. Older women in bright lunettes mingle with bearded college boys and twenty-somethings. Suited men lean into their conversations. William and Sam are belles of the ball, able to stand and receive attention. Kyle and Max flit around the room talking to curious viewers.
At the after party, I meet a man who’s double-fisting beer bottles. He has long hair and I can’t tell how many teeth he has. I presume he’s a big deal. He knocks his beer bottle against my plastic cup countless times, “cheers”-ing as punctuation. He tells me about reporting on the French Open 10 years ago, where his girlfriend incidentally handcuffed him. He repeats the word “too.” “My hands were cuffed normally too, but my legs were with the fluffy pink ones too, y’know? Do you like to be handcuffed too, too?”
In each scene leading up to this story, the ‘art world’—easily questionable as we move towards the Internet’s intangible—was revealed to me as a Buchina drawing: a collage of strange characters, multifaceted objects, and the unavoidable influence of a familiar medium, text. Its comparative stillness by no means makes it stagnant, just as a gif isn’t necessarily moving. When faced with the narrative of Image-Painting-Text, we realize the power of a concrete, carefully curated page, originally written and illustrated. Amidst a deluge of filtered images and hyperlinks, we can break to attend an experience determined by these driven new artists. We may be saturated with sharing, but it’s impossible to get bored of show-and-tell.
Photographs by Sam Monaco