petite mort In this issueLa Premiére No.1 2003
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In one painting, renegade geometric units float in a clutter like space junk, having broken free from their original structure — a satellite perhaps? A collage evokes similar ideas of chaos and disorder as skyscrapers and other buildings absurdly pile up in a gigantic tower-of-babel heap.

For artist Adam Henry, deconstructing the systems and structures that characterize our lives is how he finds expression. "I put my faith in imaginative restructuring where decisions become expressions, and expressions new visual forms. In our systematized world, this is my new understanding of freedom." His large-scale paintings are striking, with bold colors and sharp lines. The smaller scale collages of topsy-turvy cityscapes are precisely rendered and make us envision urban planning gone awry.

29-year old Adam Henry graduated from the MFA program at Yale in 2000. There he met fellow schoolmate Arthur Ou, 30, whose multimedia works of photography and paint also address ideas of structure — but in a
very different way. One series

 

 

of Ou’s prints depict of washed-out snapshots imprinted with fading words. The effect is as if looking at something in the bright sun and then closing your eyes, a bleached impression of the image left in your mind. The works draw attention to the structure of day-to-day experiences, exposing the ephemeral, untrusting nature of memory.

Ou’s other works — including a series of black and white photos infused with bright purple and pink paint — look closely at experiences and attempt to capture the emotions or thoughts that are all-too quickly forgotten or relegated to the subconscious. "I want to put equal significance on those trivial things, to those snippets that try to escape my memory."

After finishing up at Yale, Arthur and Adam moved to opposite coasts — Arthur now lives in Los Angeles and Adam is in New York — but remain friends and sounding boards to each other about their art. Following is a discussion between the two artists:

 

  A Few Things Have Happen #5E91, © Adam Henry
     
   
   
  "I'm eating a veggie dawg"
"Nice."
"Crif dawg"
"Haven't heard of that..."
       

Adam Henry. A Few Things Have Happened #17,
Photo collage, 2001

 

   
     

Coffin, © Adam Henry
Adam Henry. Coffin, Acrylic on canvas, 2001

 

 

 

A Few Things Have Happen #5E93, © Adam Henry
Adam Henry. A Few Things Have Happened #19,
Photo C-print, 2001

 

Arthur: On a basic level, we are object makers. How do you feel about the idea that the world does not need another object?
Adam: That can never happen. Our society is based on the need for another object. What the world really needs are good objects, thoughtful objects, artful objects, poetic objects. How could there not be room for some of those???
Arthur: I know that you are very much interested in the idea of the utopic. We've had extensive conversations about Buckminster Fuller and people who design or make structures that are the total embodiment of romantic perfection. How do you see your own work in relation to the utopian ideal that seems even farther removed now than ever before?
Adam: My work approaches utopia as an ideological phenomenon. I've come to realize that it is the mind space that is most interesting. It clears the way for a kind of divine inventiveness, and in that respect I love people like Bruno Taut, Buckminster Fuller and Archigram. I have always been quite taken by the more ridiculous and unattainable architecture. It is a beautiful way to think about possibilities.
Arthur: Do you think there is still this collective urge towards this utopian mind space? And what do you think fuels these yearnings?
Adam: Western culture has always had a bizarre need to feel like we are constantly moving forward, but forward towards what? Maybe a more humane and civil existence. Most artists are now using the ideology ironically, and that is not necessarily bad. It can be healthy to look back at an ideology with a sense of humor but I find it much more interesting when it's combined with a belief that adopting that way of thinking can provide new options. In my work, there is an effort to critique the actual in light of the possible.

 

     
     
Pink to Purple-Thai Beach, © Arthur Ou
         
         
         
         
    Arthur Ou, Pink to Purple-Thai Beach,
Silver-Gelatin print with acrylic paint, 2001
   
     

 

 

"I'm having a sandwich that Mayumi's mom made."
"What kind?"
"It’s tuna and cucumber."
"Did she cut off the crust?"
"No, she didn’t go that far."

 

   
     

Adam: You’ve been using a kind of psychological language for a while. You often use text that has a kind of language difficulty in that I mean it is not necessarily proper English so it affects different people in different ways. It has a kind of poetry. Is your use of it somewhat removed? Do you take a step back from it and use it somewhat non-objectively?
Arthur: Yes, I think so. The text that I use in my work is always from very specific experiential sources. But the traces of these experiences have been erased since what is shown is the vestigial evidence of the experience, which almost always does not tell the entire story. What I want to be there in the work is the atonal remnant of that personal experience.
Adam: How does romance factor into your work?
Arthur: Mayumi, my wife, sent me a love letter in which she wrote, "I want to spend my life with you, between purple and pink, the color of our life", i felt an even closer affinity to these colors, since I think she was using it to describe something similar: let's spend our life together in this beautiful but fragile world. it's sappy but I had to use it.
Adam: You have used pink as a kind of symbol for a while now.
Arthur: I felt an affinity to the color "pink". I guess its significance evolves as my experience with it changes. I was reading Marquis de Sade, and an image popped into my head… I saw the 4 old women telling the debauchery tales to be painted in pink, and the furnishings and other things in different shades of red or purple…
Adam: What about pink as a design element?
Arthur: I In a photo I wanted to replace the very detailed armpit hair with the color for that very reason.
Adam: In an ideal situation, what can a work of art do? What is its best possible function to you?
Arthur: Lately I've been listening to Glenn Gould's Goldberg variation recording, the one from 1955, and also the remake from 1981. I'm not a very experienced classical music listener but I thought the music to be very ornamental and "baroque", but I thought that to be a temporal characterization of Bach’s music. I got over the formal qualities of the music after the first listen, and then I was able to extract the very emotionally resonant playing and composition of its entirety. It’s amazing. This type of experience is rarer visually I think. So this is the challenge I attempt to take on with making art objects.
Does that make any sense?

 

 

Love Letter-Be With You, © Arthur Ou
Arthur Ou, Love Letter-Be With You,
Fuji-Flex Print with enamel paint, 2001

 

 

 

Love Letter-Sound Good, © Arthur Ou
Arthur Ou, Love Letter-Sound Good,
Fuji-Flex Print with enamel paint, 2001

   
           
   
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