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.

WIP Matthew Grabelsky Underground

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.

Matthew Grabelsky Subway WIP

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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Upcoming at Thinkspace Gallery Kwon Kyung-Yup’s Solo Exhibition “Melancholia”

Juxtapoz Kwon Kyung-Yup

Kwon Kyung-Yup: Melancholia
April 30, 2016 – May 21, 2016

Thinkspace Gallery is pleased to present Melancholia, the gallery’s first solo exhibition of paintings by Korean artist Kwon Kyung-Yup. A graduate of Sejong University in Korea, where she completed an M.F.A, Kwon is currently based out of Seoul. Known for her pale ghostly paintings of delicately rendered figures, the artist uses the human body in her imagery as a vehicle for healing, mourning, and memory. Meditative in their starkness and otherworldly in their filmy delicacy, her figurative depictions are cathartic and emotional, suggesting both trauma and recovery, forgetting and remembering.

Kwon’s figures seem suspended in time, arrested in a sort of ageless androgyny. They are beautiful, and yet unspecific, functioning more like symbolic emblems than individual subjects. When creating her work she describes a process of emotive recall in which she revisits emotional events from her past, actively summoning memories to inspire the work. The figure becomes a literal instrument of psycho-spiritual expression through which she explores universally relatable, though intensely personal, themes of femininity, sexuality, death, libidinal impulse, transformation, and ego. The human body becomes a poetic device through which Kwon explores existential drives and deficiencies.

The artist describes her paintings as meditative spaces in which she depicts longing, sadness, and fantasy. A deliberate slowness and calm are typical of their tone and pace. A single figure, minimally adorned, tends to occupy the focus of the foreground. Surrounded by a still expanse of emptiness, there are few other details, if any, to distract from the complete presence of the form. The viewer is left feeling captivated, drawn in by the concise simplicity of the image, submerged in its heavy quietude. The figures’ skins convey a nuanced depth and pallor, an impressive range of gradation and muted color that resonates through several thin, carefully applied, layers of oil paint. Kwon’s attention to the translucent rendering of these milky skins, and the contrast she creates with subtly bloodshot eyes and carefully stylized features transports the figurative realism in her work beyond the realm of naturalism. The figures are excessively human in their pristine vulnerability, and yet entirely other, emotionally charged, and surreal.

At times, the bodies depicted in Kwon’s works are wrapped in bandages, caught somewhere between life, trauma, death, and convalescence. This space of ambiguity in which the self is suspended somewhere between a beginning and an end is a recurrent theme in her work. Measured and introspective, Kwon’s process is thoughtful rather than reactive, and each piece takes up to two months to complete. She begins her paintings in a contemplative state, a literal meditation aided by conscious breath work, and carefully allows the surface to live, extracting wraiths from the void.

kwon kyung-yup melancholia

Amy Sol’s “Garden Gamine” & KIKYZ1313’s “The Progeny of Chaos” Opening Reception Recap

amy sol and kikyz1314 opening reception Opening Reception Photo Courtesy of Bryan “Birdman” Mier

Last weekend Amy Sol’s “Garden Gamine” and KIKYZ1313 “The Progeny of Chaos” opened to a great reception with a modest line forming before doors. KIKYZ1313 set the mood for her exhibition in the project room with pink walls and an ambient noise track looping throughout the night. A number of pieces from Amy Sol sold throughout the night with only a few pieces still available. Both exhibitions are on view through April 23rd, the details in both artists work must be seen in person.

amy sol and kikyz1314 Opening Reception Photo Courtesy of Sam Graham

amy sol and kikyz1314 opening reception - photo by Bryan “Birdman” Mier

amy sol and kikyz1314 opening reception - photo by Bryan “Birdman” Mier

amy sol and kikyz1314 opening reception

amy sol and kikyz1314 opening reception - photo by Bryan “Birdman” Mier

amy sol and kikyz1314 opening reception - photo by Bryan “Birdman” Mier

amy sol and kikyz1314 opening reception photo by Bryan “Birdman” Mier

amy sol and kikyz1314 opening reception photo by Bryan “Birdman” Mier

amy sol and kikyz1314 Opening Reception Photo Courtesy of Sam Graham

amy sol and kikyz1314 opening reception - Opening Reception Photo Courtesy of Bryan “Birdman” Mier

amy sol and kikyz1314 opening reception - Opening Reception Photo Courtesy of Bryan “Birdman” Mier

amy sol and kikyz1314Opening Reception Photo Courtesy of Sam Graham

amy sol and kikyz1314 Opening Reception Photo Courtesy of Sam Graham

amy sol and kikyz1314 Opening Reception Photo Courtesy of Sam Graham

amy sol and kikyz1314 opening reception - Opening Reception Photo Courtesy of Bryan “Birdman” Mier

amy sol and kikyz1314 opening reception - Opening Reception Photo Courtesy of Bryan “Birdman” Mier

amy sol and kikyz1314 Opening Reception Photo Courtesy of Sam Graham

amy sol and kikyz1314 Opening Reception Photo Courtesy of Sam Graham

amy sol and kikyz1314 Opening Reception Photo Courtesy of Sam Graham

amy sol and kikyz1314 Opening Reception Photo Courtesy of Sam Graham

amy sol and kikyz1314 Opening Reception Photo Courtesy of Sam Graham

amy sol and kikyz1314 Opening Reception Photo Courtesy of Sam Graham


View all the pieces from both exhibitions on our website.

All photos are courtesy of Bryan”Birdman”Mier and Sam Graham. 

Interview with Amy Sol for upcoming exhibition “Garden Gamine”

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Thinkspace Gallery is proud to present Amy Sol’s latest body of work with her solo exhibition “Garden Gamine.” In anticipation of the show we have an exclusive interview with Amy Sol sharing with us her inspiration, love of nature, and creative process.

Do your characters possess a complete narrative or are they suspended in the moment we see?
There is rarely a narrative in place when I start a new painting. It’s more fun to build a story or setting around the first spark of idea. But I’d say it’s closer to being a suspended moment. Often, I like to capture something mid-moment, where you can imagine a before and after. I really try more to hone in on a feeling, but loosely enough to be interpreted.

Walk us through what a day in the studio looks like?
When I’m prepping a body of work I tend to, for better or worse, compartmentalize my life to an extreme. I have to do this in order to have the energy and time to create. My life bar is not very strong, so I have to use it wisely. That involves having to isolate myself a bit… so less internet, e-mails and interaction in general. If I’m lucky, it is just me in a room, with plants, my dog, coffee, lots of decent listening material, and a block of time to paint and do nothing else.

Amy Sol Garden Gamine

What was playing in the background while you were working on this exhibition?
Everything. I consume tons of music, audiobooks etc. I’ve been more into podcasts lately. Especially if it’s focused on science, nature, or personal story telling. I just found an art podcast called Artist Decoded— the episode with Phil Hale is so good, I listened to it twice. I’ve had to paint thru headaches at times and oddly found asmr tapping videos to help. They got kind of addicting, so now if I’m feeling wound up I’ll actually listen to that stuff with headphones for hours sometimes.

What do you feel is the biggest misconception about being an artist?
mmm, I guess that it’s easy and all fun and no sacrifices need to be made if you choose to do it for a living. but no one actually thinks that… right? ;-P

It takes time to for an artist to develop their voice and style, then once they have defined who they are as an artist they must continue to push and grow without losing their voice. Having been in the post-contemporary world for nearly 10 years now, how do you push yourself to grow and experiment while still maintaining your unique style?
Experimenting with mediums is the phase I am in right now, I just started using oil a year ago. It is a huge challenge for me, and I feel it’s good because there are so many possibilities to be explored. My biggest rule is to trust my instinct, if I get a new idea, I try it out. I can’t put much energy into thinking where it will all lead to and how it might change me. I just try it, and if it doesn’t work I can paint over it. If I am excited to paint and getting something out of it, I feel I’m on the right path. Being in that mindset isn’t always as easy as it sounds but it’s what I aim for.

Amy Sol Garden Gamine 2

What’s your spirit animal?
A miniature panda! It reminds me to eat veggies and not take myself too seriously.

You use a lot of organic elements and imagery in your work, do you have a favorite garden or park you like to retreat to?
If I am ever visiting a city, I always check out the gardens or nature spaces. I love looking at plants. Even if there is one tree outside my window, it’s good enough. Looking at plants is really important to my well-being. I don’t know the mechanism behind this, but it works. A simple shape of a leaf or lines of a branch can communicate so much within a painting, it’s a big part of my visual language.

Amy Sol Garden Gamine 3

You’ve stated the Ghibli studio is a major inspiration, have you seen the documentary “The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness”?
Yes, I really love that documentary! It’s beautiful. Animation was a huge early influence towards the look and feel of my work now. Classic disney films played a big role in that too. As a kid I would pause the VHS tapes of Sleeping Beauty and Bambi and try to draw the forest backgrounds.

If you could live in a Miyazaki film for a day, which one would it be?
That’s a tuff one to choose, but I’d have to say Castle in the Sky and it would have to be on Laputa of course.

Amy Sol 4

The opening reception for Amy Sol’s “Garden Garmine” is this Saturday, April 2nd. For more information on the exhibition please visit the Thinkspace Gallery website.