Interview with Matthew Grabelsky for “Underground”

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Thinkspace Gallery is proud to present Matthew Grabelsky’s first solo exhibition with us, Underground, in the gallery’s project room. In anticipation of the show we have an exclusive interview with Matthew Grabelsky sharing with us insight into the anthropomorphic nature of his work, the special place a subway holds in society, and his artistic influences.

Please tell us a lil’ bit about your background?
I come from an artistic family (Father – film and television producer; Mother – dancer), so I’ve been making art for as long as I can remember. I was fortunate that my parents always encouraged and supported me in it. In college, I studied both art and science, and I graduated with a BS in Astrophysics and a BA in Art & Art History. Although I chose to pursue an artistic career, I have found that my scientific background has influenced my work significantly. My paintings are highly technical, and I often employ a scientific, analytical approach (knowledge of light, perspective, physics, etc.) in creating my images, both in terms of conception and execution. After graduating from college, I moved to Florence, Italy, where I spent four years studying representational painting. Afterward, I lived in Paris for several years, where I continued to paint and studied from the vast troves of art in the Paris museums. I currently reside in Los Angeles.

Matthew Grabelsky Franklin Street

Why the representational use of animal heads in your work?
I’ve always loved animals and mythology, as a result of being exposed extensively to both as a child. My parents were always taking me to the zoo and spent tons of time reading all kinds of stories to me. As I grew older, I became enthralled with the ways in which mythologies from different cultures make use of animal and animal-human hybrid characters to symbolize the mysterious nature of the subconscious.

These creatures in my paintings serve to inject an element of surrealism into one of the most commonplace experiences of life and of New York (e.g., public transportation). The characters are symbolic of the kinds of thoughts that lie under the surface of people’s minds, and they reveal that the most extraordinary can exist in the most ordinary of everyday settings. This theme is communicated through the juxtaposition of these ostensibly irrational images with otherwise completely mundane scenes. My idea is that my creatures are not original but are ultimately part of a much larger cultural continuum. My paintings are not intended to be explicit fantasy; rather, they are representations of the subconscious on which viewers are invited to form their own interpretations.

Couples seem to play an important role in your work. Care to elaborate?
In an image of a pair of people, the body language and the relationship of a couple are momentarily frozen. I am fascinated by the story-telling possibilities that spring from this moment.

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Any significance to the fact your subjects are often times found reading?
I like to have my subjects reading (magazines, newspapers, books, smart phones) because that provides a vivid and detailed point of interest in the painting, from which I create an entrance into the narrative that is taking place between the couple. Sometimes I’ll choose more serious fare like The New Yorker or The New York Times, and sometimes I’ll choose something from contemporary pop culture, like Cosmopolitan or GQ; the choice depends on the subject matter. I love to juxtapose the medium of a very polished and refined oil painting with the momentary, disposable pop culture that is represented by the reading material. The result is a fascinating mixture of high-brow and low-brow.

The magazines, in particular, are kind of amazing from a very base psychological standpoint; even if you think they are ridiculous, the covers are vividly designed with color, images, and text that grab your attention. You can’t not look at them at the check-out counter at the supermarket. In a sense, they similarly utilize the heightened visual language that I use in creating paintings that attempt to grab viewers and bring them into the world of my paintings.

Why do only the men have animal heads in your paintings?
My paintings are very personal. Therefore, I enter them through the perspective of a man, and I imagine scenes through a man’s eyes. The male figure is my avatar, while I view the female figure externally. The female figures are representative of the different women in my life. People have asked if I am saying that all men are animals. That is not my intention. If you look into world mythologies, you will discover that it is almost always the male who has an animal head. Two examples that come to mind are the bull-headed minotaur in Greek mythology and Ganesh, with an elephant head, in Indian mythology. Thus, I believe that representing the male with an animal head furthers my goal of tying my paintings into the larger continuum of world mythology.

Matthew Grabelsky Houston Street. Underground

How do you choose your models?
My models are all friends and family members. I really enjoy working with people I know well, because that helps me to capture a sense of realism in my characters. Using actual couples provides a kind of dynamism, which comes from the manners in which the couples pose. Generally, I’ll give them some instructions on what I want them to be doing, but the real spark comes from how they react to each other and their particular body language.

How do you choose the animal that you’ll feature?
I have my models pose in my studio, and I shoot a bunch of reference photos. Then, I review the photos and pick the most interesting ones. Sometimes I’ll have had a particular idea in mind for the painting, along with which animal I want to use. Other times, a certain pose, expression, look, gesture, or item of clothing will suggest a specific animal. There are times during which I’ll try several different animals, and then one will just pop.

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Why have you chosen the subway as your setting?
The subway is the circulatory system of New York. It’s a place where everyone comes together. No matter who you are, you will be on the subway at some point during the day. It is iconic and instantly recognizable. I grew up in New York, and I spent countless hours riding the subway. Although I live in Los Angeles now, my imagination puts me back on those trains whenever I think of my past. I often visit New York, but I find that painting these scenes while I am away from there gives me a form of clarity and allows me to reflect on that inspiration and organize it into my subway scenes. Memory is essential to my process; as an artist, I take different elements from my memory and combine them in an image.

Any major influences you care to share?
I draw a great deal of influence from painters and filmmakers who mix surrealism with realism. A few painters that have an outsize influence in my work are Arnold Böcklin and John William Waterhouse – both 19th-century artists – particularly because of the naturalism (rather than an allegorical approach) with which they paint mythological subjects. As for filmmakers, my absolute favorites are Terry Gilliam (12 Monkeys), Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), and David Lynch (Mulholland Drive).

Additionally, I am always looking at imagery wherever I go (ads, billboards, magazines, film, etc.), and I draw ideas from everything I see.

Matthew Grabelsky Lincoln Center Underground

Care to elaborate any more on your style and technique?
My technique is highly realistic and heavily influenced by my studies of 19th-century academic and naturalist painters. These methods appeal to me, because of their rigorous approaches to accurately capturing visual appearances. Using those paintings as a jumping-off point, I’ve developed a visual language that allows me to create personal contemporary compositions. While people often describe my work as hyperrealist, my goal is to portray light, form, and texture very realistically but not to the level of microscopic detail, such as the pores of the skin.

I chose this technique because I want to depict my surrealistic elements in a manner that is so realistic that you feel like you are actually sitting on the subway with these creatures; even though they are fantastical, the realism and candor with which they are painted makes you forget that fact. At the same time, I arrange the figures, backgrounds, and colors in specific ways, in order to provide the sense of a heightened moment. It is like a snapshot that just happens to capture the moment when everything lines up perfectly. My paintings are executed in oil and currently I paint on panels.

Matthew Grabelsky WIP 3 Underground

Please join us this Saturday, April 30th from 6-9pm for the opening reception of Matthew Grabelsky’s, “Underground.” All additional information on the exhibition can be found on the Thinkspace Gallery website.

Upcoming at Thinkspace Gallery, Matthew Grabelsky’s Project Room Solo Exhibition “Underground”

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Matthew Grabelsky: Underground
April 30, 2016 – May 21, 2016

Concurrently on view in the Thinkspace project room is Underground, featuring new oil paintings by Los Angeles-based artist Matthew Grabelsky. His works combine a hyperrealistic painting technique with a surreal penchant for unlikely juxtapositions. Raised in New York City, Grabelsky uses its subway’s underground world as the setting for his unlikely pairings.

Grabelsky’s works depict couples on subways, often nonchalantly reading magazines or newspapers, but the male figures in these dyads are strange, quasi-mythological human hybrids with animal heads. Deer, bears, elephants, tigers, and everything in between, make a suited appearance in rush hour. By contrasting the platitudes of the day-to-day with the presence of the extraordinary and unlikely, Grabelsky stages the unexpected within the most unassuming of circumstances.

The appearance of the animal head feels distantly totemic, an archetype for something primordial, ancient, and psychologically motivated. Fascinated by the persistence of animal imagery in mythology and communal cultural imaginaries, Grabelsky superimposes its presence onto his depictions of the contemporary world. For the artist, the animal becomes a manifestation of the inner workings of the hidden subconscious, literally revealing the latent identities and motivations lurking beyond the composure of the human mask.

Technically inspired by 19th Century academic and naturalist painters, Grabelsky creates these unlikely, surreal scenes with a staggering degree of realistic detail. The contrast created between the visual verisimilitude of the works, and the surreal improbability of their content catches the viewer in a prolonged moment of convincingly suspended disbelief.

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Interview with KIKYZ1313 for “Progeny of Chaos”

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Thinkspace Gallery is proud to present artist KIKYZ1313’s debut solo exhibition with us, Progeny of Chaos. In anticipation of the show we have an exclusive interview with KIKYZ1313’s sharing with us her inspiration, fears, and creative process.

What was the inspiration behind this exhibition?
I am always inspired by the need to find certain explanation about human’s condition great contradictions such as the irrepressible violent and visceral urge against the limitless and vain pursue of modern man’s fulfillment in life.

I feel often unrelated and out of place from the usual way of modern life and I got frustrated most of time about the under-appreciation and misunderstanding of nature in man I see everyday. This is what makes me to be curious all the time to try to understand myself and consequently society, and leads me to observe and analyze human behavior, wether in the streets (when I manage to go out my tiny drawing world), personal experiences or through internet, with documental about disasters, wars, diseases, social issues etc. Those exceptional times where we show the duality of our existence: the iron beast and the crystal being.

‘The Progeny of Chaos’ is inspired by this feelings, very thin and spread in my head in the beginning, but after a drawing I entitled ‘The Disaster’s Heiress’ (which is a gloomy omen about Fukushima’s disasters) the idea become clear and I decided to make a series of chaotic drawings where will be shown the frailty and abhorrence of human nature.

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What were you scared of as a child? What scares you as an adult?
Oh boy.. there where a lot of things I was scared of as a child specially during night time! I was terrifyed by the idea of dying by spontaneous combustion, I couldn’t sleep well for several months for fear to be possessed by the devil (after watching the exorcist), I was afraid to stare to the night sky because of UFO sighting, big-eyed aliens, to be awaken when everybody was sleep, to see the witches’ green fire orbs rolling down the hills at night (after a tale my grandpa told me), dolls and teddy bears, and I could go on like this.
Guess I was a very innocent child and everything I heard seemed so real and possible to me.
Today some of those fears have stayed with me, but some others have grown in me with the age. And I think that the most scary thing that would happen to me would be to loose the love of my life and my artwork be forgotten.

Walk us through what a day in the studio looks like?
The studio is next to the bedroom, so as soon as I wake up , about 9:00 in the morning I like to go and check whatever I did last day in case my eyes where too tired and see if I messed it up in someway, relieved or worried I take a breakfast and start working in the drawing till 13:00 hrs approximately to do some grocery shopping for the day’s meal and go back home to cook. I like to take a little 20 or 30 min of rest and then I continue where I left the drawing. Around 19:00 hrs I take another half hour of spare time, play with the cat, social media, e-mails, etc. and go back to the drawing table for another couple more hours and finish the day with a nice cup of tea and movies. I usually do between 8 to 9 hours drawing, but when I’m in a rush for something I can even spend 12 hours drawing a day, and still it is hard for me to keep up with most of the artist out there, but really hope the effort stands out from every drawing.

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Aspects of your work are very light and inviting to the viewer, but the more detailed aspects of work are much darker; how did this balance develop in your work?
I think this is completely sub conscience, actually never thought about that before. I usually think very well everything before doing it, but with ‘The Progeny of Chaos’ the composition stage was a lot more organic and emotional, there are some key elements that leads the way into the meaning of each piece, but the other elements inside where picked solely by instinct and what I felt it would fit in that little new world. This series of work is a lot more emotional and true to my self.

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What were you listening to while creating this new body of work?
I listened to a lot of black metal, and drone doom but most of the time I found myself emerged into Ulver’s new album ‘ATGCLVLSSCAP’ and ‘Teachings in silence’
These albums where a huge inspiration for me to create my first silly musical experiment created for the show.

What’s your processes for conceptualizing a piece as it seems like you’re an observational sponge?
Haha, you could say that. Everything I see, hear or read that impresses me somehow I like to keep it. So I have a big collection of random images, sounds, and quotes in my computer that later turns into a title or an image. Most of time, the general concept of an artworks comes after something that I feel I need to talk about, or something that needs to be known and understand.
I have always believed that art must carry a social argument, as is the duty of the artist to show the flaws of its society in order to acknowledge them and maybe find a solution to them.

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Do different elements in your work hold symbolic meaning you’d like to elaborate on, for example the use of eyeballs in the center of flowers etc?
Definitely, it’s my goal to create a recognizable language trough symbols like that one. The symbolic meaning of the eye can be described as the indifferent but morbid curiosity of man towards the tragedy, the deformed and death.

If you hosted a dinner party, who would be on the guest list and what would be on the menu?
I’m a very wary and withdrawn person, so I would probably just invite a couple of close friends I feel comfortable with and make a barbecue in my house to talk about art, life and tell silly jokes.

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What advice has shaped you as an artist? What advice would you share with a young artist who admires your work?
The only advice someone has told me it’s been from my mother. Who advised me when I was 17 years old to spend the rest of my life doing something that I would do for free, after this I decided that drawing was the answer to this.
On the other hand, I would advice all the artists to think about what do they have to say to the world with their art, and if this something it’s relevant enough to transcend in history?

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The opening reception for KIKYZ1313 debut exhibition “Progeny of Chaos” is this Saturday, April 2nd. For more information on the exhibition please visit the Thinkspace Gallery website.

Thinkspace Presents KIKYZ1313 “The Progeny of Chaos”

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Thinkspace is pleased to present The Progeny of Chaos, a solo exhibition of work by KIKYZ1313 in the gallery’s project room. Laura Lucía Ferrer Zamudio was born in Querétaro, Mexico, and creates beautifully intricate ink, graphite, and watercolor works on paper. From beneath the initially alluring, and understated, first impression of the works, emerge unexpected oppositions and abject tensions. Studies in the afflicted wretchedness of humanity, her work is neither despondent nor obviously gory, but rather presents an aestheticized nightmare of sublime abhorrence; ambiguously gorgeous despite its agonizing discomfort.

With an obsessive attention to detail and figurative rendering, KIKYZ1313’s works are realistically executed and recall traditional techniques of late 19th-centurybook illustration and engraving. Her palettes are muted and tempered, understated with delicate washes of ink and watercolor, and her compositions are balanced and paced, posturing as romantic and idyllic scenes of placid children and animals. Seemingly innocent at first glance, the works gradually unfurl, revealing unexpected mutations, abject subversions, and a diseased world of horrors.

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Filled with children’s bodies in various states of decay, decomposition and malformation, her works challenge the viewers’ initial expectations of the imagery, while tapping into the basic human fear of the body’s disobedience – especially the dread of its dissolute boundaries. The children remain dreamily calm and picturesque despite their compromised states of disfigurement, trauma and accost. KIKYZ1313 intentionally creates these tensions, encouraging the viewer to approach the content critically and analytically, questioning the validity of their initial impressions. A sort of moral chaos presents itself, when faced with images of children in unexpected states of disturbance. Exquisite and repulsive, the conflict of viewing is inexpressibly complex.

KIKYZ1313 received a BFA from the Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro, and had her first solo exhibition at the Museo de la Ciudad de Querétaro. She has completed an artist residency at the Nordic Watercolor Museum in Skärhamn, Sweden.

Join us on Saturday, April 2nd from 6 – 9pm for the opening reception of “Progeny of Chaos” showing new works by KIKYZ1313. The exhibition will be on view through April 23rd.

Interview with Rodrigo Luff for Upcoming Exhibition “Nemeta”

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Coming to Thinkspace Gallery’s project room February 27th is new work from artist Rodrigo Luff in his latest exhibition, Nemeta. Luff works with color pencil, pastel, graphite, oil, and acrylic, and has honed his illustrative skills alongside his facility with painting media. His works are both linear and painterly, realistic and expressionistic. He explores a feeling of the otherworldly by capturing his subjects in trance-like dream states, suspended mysteriously in fairytale atmospheres. His nudes are often surrounded by kindly owls or other iridescent woodland creatures, and staged in forests or haunted woods.

Sour Harvest’s interview with Rodrigo Luff covers the inspiration behind “Nemeta”, a day in the studio, and who he’d invite to a dinner party among other fun questions.

Could you tell us about the inspiration behind the upcoming exhibition? How long have you be preparing for the show?
I’m interested in the way we have always sought a connection to the natural world, and how that liminal, mysterious and wild realm reflects those uncharted dimensions within our psyche.
I’ve been working on this show on and off since mid 2014, so it’s been a long journey.

Who are your artistic influences and a few artists you think people should know about?
My biggest influences are Alphonse Mucha, John W. Waterhouse, John S. Sargent, Moebius, Luis Falero, Hayao Miyazaki and Herbert Draper.
I recommend folks check out Luis Falero and Herbert Draper for a beautiful blend of realism and mythological fantasy. I also *highly* recommend “Cannabis Works” by Tatsuyuki Tanaka.

Guardian Rodrigo Luff

You really experiment with pigment mediums and layering to create a desired effect in your work, can you elaborate on a time an experiment failed and another when it was successful?
Yeah this one time I was layering acrylic washes and pencil rendering and it just got too heavy and dark, and the more I tried to lighten it, the more the paper got ruined and completely messed up.

A few years ago, I experimented with blending water, GAC 100 medium, acrylic, iridescent media and crushed oil pastel. I slowly and carefully built up the colour layers and I was surprised at how well it all came together, despite never having tried such a combination or knowing what the hell I was doing!

How did you develop your own artistic voice and visual style, when did it click?
I developed my visual style through blending all the different styles of art I like together, along with my own experiences and ideas. It really clicked one night when I was listening intently to music and realising that all these different sounds and instruments can be harmonised through a song structure. I tried to implement the same concept in my art through the drawing “Owl Song” in ‘12 by working hard to harmonise all my influences, colours, mediums, imagery and style together into one cohesive picture.

Nemetona Rodrigo Luff

Most artists showed or have expressed creativity throughout their life, but committing to the path of a professional artist is a different story; when did you decide you wanted to be an artist and what does being an artist mean to you?
After I finished High School in ‘05, I graduated in the top 0.6% of the state with near perfect final marks. However, I had also won a full-time scholarship to go to the Julian Ashton Art School in Sydney earlier that year. I knew I couldn’t do both, so I decided to really commit myself to the artist’s path, despite the pressure to go the academic route through University. To me personally, being an artist means making this commitment every day, to seek learning and improvement and to justify that choice I made after High School.

What does a day in the studio look like?
I get up at around 6-7 am, and get the train to the studio. I’ll check emails and respond on the train so I can paint as soon as I arrive at around 8 am. Strong coffee fires up my neural synapses and I try to get my most concentrated work done in the morning, despite usually posting social media updates and seeing what’s happening in the world.
I usually take a short break for lunch, and then paint as much as possible until around 9 pm. On the way home, I read a book on the train, and think about how many mistakes I made painting, feeling determined to do better the next day. I usually get home around 10-11 pm and finish any emails.

Neon Grove Rodrigo Luff

Your work is steeped in a fantasy ethereal world and could easily be the backdrop to a video game; if you were to create your own video game based on your art what would be the backstory of the protagonist and what’s their mission?
It would be a mix of Miyazaki, Avatar, Greek Mythology and dark European Fairytales. An explorer gets lost in the forest, follows mysterious green lights into a liminal realm full of neon owls that possess some kind of alien intelligence, guided by a beautiful oracle. On the other side of the portal, in the underworld, the explorer communes with the soul of the forest, an ancient tree that has been poisoned by those mining resources of the woods for profit. The explorer must undergo several trials and tribulations to find a way to save the dying forest without succumbing to the same dubious morals as those who poisoned the sacred realm.

Best advice you’ve ever received as an artist? What advice would you give someone who looked up to you?
To work hard, long hours and always try to learn and do better with each artwork. I’d pass that on to anyone who asked, it’s simple but true.

Radiant Rodrigo Luff

Your last show with us was 3 years ago, what changes have you and your work experienced?
I’ve tried to keep the same surreal blend of realism and fantasy with owls, but enrich the vision with more detailed backgrounds, more ambitious compositional choices and fresh colour schemes.

If you were to throw a dinner party and invite anyone dead or alive; who would be on the guest list, what’s on the menu, and what would be the icebreaker question?
David Bowie, Hunter S. Thompson, Caravaggio, George R. R. Martin, Jimi Hendrix, Salvador Dali and Terence McKenna. I’d say a big southern BBQ style menu would be amazing, with lots of booze. Who needs an icebreaker with Hunter to get the party started?!!

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The opening reception for “Nemeta” is Saturday, February 27th from 6 -9 pm and the show is on view till March 19th. For additional information on the exhibit please visit Thinkspace Gallery’s website; if you’d like to receive a preview of the show make sure to sign up for the Thinkspace Gallery mailing list.