Opening reception: Saturday, April 12, 6 – 8 pm
April 12 – May 18, 2014
For immediate release
Rawson Projects is very proud to announce its third solo exhibition with Ben Berlow. The exhibition will feature all new works, which were made while the artist was in residency at Steep Rock Arts in Washington, Connecticut this past fall.
Ben Berlow (b. 1980, Los Angeles, CA) lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. The artist holds a B.A. from Vassar College, New York. The artist’s work was recently included in the group exhibition The Lightning Speed of the Present at Boston University and has been exhibited widely in New York and abroad at venues such as Feature Inc., Parade, London, UK, James Fuentes LLC, Jack Hanley, Marlborough Chelsea and Martos Gallery, among others. Recent publications that feature the artist’s work include Intercourse Magazine,The White Review, and Catalog of the Exhibition 1984-2011 by Bob Nickas.
A conversation between the gallery and Berlow follows.
Rawson Projects: This is now your third show with us at Rawson Projects. You were one of our first exhibitions, and the work though it still seems to fit within the same practice has changed quite a bit. These works, for example, are done on a much larger scale than I have seen you do. Can you perhaps discuss how you think your work has evolved over time, and how you think those changes come about?
Ben Berlow: This scale is larger than all the works I’ve made for quite some time. However, the very first works I made ten years ago were about this scale. I was using large pieces of brown paper I’d kept from my day job and a can of black enamel that was under the kitchen sink of the apartment I lived in. Using those materials and tape or a pencil I made very basic figures: triangles, rhombi, and trapezoids. I worked with the geometry and scale of the paper to make a flat black shape that had some gravity or sense of being. After many nights of making these large works, taping them up to dry and regard for some time, then taking them down, they became a pile, and I hid that pile under my mattress that was on the floor. Over time, the bed got a hump in the middle and became uncomfortable to sleep on, so I shifted to a much smaller scale, to book leaves and envelopes. On that scale I continued to make very basic things, but also expanded my palette, vocabulary, mediums and methods of painting. I got the same satisfaction from making these as I did the larger works, and I was making hundreds of things and likely gained a lot by that change in retrospect. But, over the years, I’ve saved larger pieces of paper perhaps thinking I could return to that larger scale at any time if it seemed right, but it never did until recently. I took these larger pieces of paper out to Connecticut on a residency at Steep Rock Arts where I was given a barn to work in for two months. I’d been using mixtures of gouache, gesso, and casein, to get a flat painted surface that also had some glow and depth. Again, I was working with the geometry and scale of the paper, but I think I’ve come around to make things with a sense of being and presence as well; they have gravity but also breathe. In Connecticut, I continued to work on the book leaf to medium scale, but with an added feeling of life and lightness. I even made works based on looking at the trees and sky out the windows in the early mornings. I’m not certain but imbuing shapes and forms with living energy may have something to do with having a child.
RP: When I saw many of these works, I thought the same thing. While they use the geometry of the found paper, they also seem to be influenced by the landscape of Connecticut (though they are certainly not representational). What was different about working at Steep Rock? Did you find having time to focus exclusively on your work made the process easier or more challenging?
BB: Steep Rock was different because I’d never before lived as an artist, having entire days free to make things, and the setting out in rural Connecticut was so beautiful. For those two months, I woke up every morning and went to the studio as much as I could, close to five days a week, every week. Without any parameters or commitments to the residency, it was a great amount of latitude and autonomy. Of course it was its own kind of pressure too; being granted that opportunity, I had to make it fruitful. But with the time and space to both experiment and just carry out the things I had in my mind to make, it was immensely freeing and productive in the end. Also, I’d previously thought about and made work only on the floor or table, indoors, and generally at night. Within those kinds of controls there was certainly a trajectory of change and expansion. But Connecticut blew the barn doors wide open, literally. By sliding open two sides of the barn, I not only had the sky and surroundings to look at, but a great amount of light would come in, illuminate everything, and shift, sometimes suddenly. The works and my feelings about them took on this added dimension of light and change. Waking up at dawn and looking out the window to beautiful sunrises and landscapes was one thing, but then there was the walk to the studio every morning, smelling the fields being hayed, watching the leaves change, eating apples off the trees, and taking trips and walks in the surrounding areas – that was inspiring as well.
RP: I’ve always found your use of color one of the most interesting aspects of your work, mostly because the relationships and contrasts are unique in that they seem intuitive and harmonious, but they aren’t obvious. For example, in this body of work you contrast many colors with what look like darker hues of the same color (blue with a grey/green blue) but also rose with blue. Do you think about a specific color or hue before making a work or is the process more spontaneous? Would you say that being in Connecticut also had an effect on your palette? These choices don’t seem particularly “woodsy” to me.
BB: Thank you. Though according to the most widely used color deficiency test, I am essentially color-blind. To me this term is misleading because I believe I see in a spectrum that is rich but different from what normal people see. It’s important to understand that with any lack or impairment, the body and mind find a way to compensate through another sense or facet of our abilities. In fact, my grandfather said the military used to seek out color-blind privates to review aerial photographs and detect camouflage ground-cover, because color-blindness seemed to give way to a more nuanced detection of variances of tone. Anyhow, it’s hard to talk objectively about these things because color is already such a subjective subject, but those relationships and contrasts you’re speaking of would be attributed first to my color-sense and perception then my own sensibility and will using the materials at hand. Indeed, I would not describe the palette as rural, but the surrounds and the fall sky certainly found their way into the work. In terms of process, the color, hue, and shape were thought out but reactive at the same time. The mediums I was mixing and painting with there just seemed to take on a radiance and pulse, and I moved within a palette and combinations that ranged from pale reds and greys to vibrant blues.
For more information please contact the gallery.