Julian Lennon stands with Rachel Galvin before his strange and powerful photograph of eerie train tracks in the dark leading towards the future. Photo by Steven Lebowitz.
By Rachel Galvin
In the midst of the biggest art show in the world, Art Basel Miami, Julian Lennon displayed his collection “Timeless,” filled with his photographic perspective.
Over 30 of his landscape and portraiture photos were on display in December at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami.
Part escapist, part almost voyeuristic, this artistic work is just one more way he has chosen to express himself.
As the son of rock idol John Lennon of the Beatles, he was thrown into the spotlight from the day he was born, but certainly was not just handed his success.
He has had to earn it. Like his father, he delved into the music industry (with songs like “Too Late for Goodbyes”), but found it a cutthroat existence.
It seems with his new album, “Everything Changes,” which he says he finished three years ago, but hopes to release in the spring, that he will be releasing his tunes a little differently.
He is choosing to go straight to the people (a.k.a Internet) rather than through usual distribution channels, circumventing the system. It seems that nothing will stop this Renaissance man from launching his creative spirit to the masses.
And so it is with his art. Photos of U2’s Bono, his half-brother and fellow musician Sean Lennon, and other back stage peeks give the viewer a fly on the wall perspective. He hopes to show a different side of the people he knows, a side most people may not see.
But to this writer, it is his other photography that really draws the spectator in. Whereas his backstage photos seem to give the viewer an inside look at his world, his other photos seem to ask the viewer to appreciate their own world.
Many photos are of clouds, the simple beauty of clouds. Others have the same ethereal appeal.
“What is your obsession with clouds?” I asked.
He laughed, apparently, he never had been asked that before, or perhaps not quite in that way. He answered, “I have traveled since I was knee high to a grasshopper. I like looking out the window of airplanes.. I am usually the only one awake.” He added that clouds are comfort and explained the way he is drawn to light in any way, shape or form, enjoys working with it.
His art is sometimes in the form of a raw photo, sometimes cropped, sometimes photo shopped (although he says he only Photoshop’s to clean up an image), but seems to always come from the heart and, to him, it is really a means to escape, escape from the crazy world of constant access, mobile phones, Internet, etc.
“Life is so busy,” he said. “With mobile, Internet, you just can’t get away. I have to force myself.”
The irony is that with all the communication, it seems that some just aren’t listening, because according to Lennon, the biggest problem today is “misinformation.” He said that the news in the United States often ignores large issues going on elsewhere in the world and vice versa. He added that some outlets outright present incorrect information as well.
He certainly has received a unique perspective on the world, traveling internationally, working among the ranks to achieve his own success while at the same time being among legends. When asked what he hopes people remember about him, he gave perhaps what could be termed a fitting motto: “If you really desire to do something creatively, it can be done.”
Besides his massive talent, his modesty and personality have served him well, evident in his demeanor among the media. Journalist after journalist interviewed him and he remained calm, cool and collected as well as charming. Without complaint or hardly a break, he showed a charismatic gentility not so often seen among the “celebrity” set.
Despite his success, he made himself approachable and his artwork feels the same: Watery reflections, mountain tops that seem snuggly like a wool blanket, serene stretches of skyline as comforting as a quilt, cascading mountains standing magnetically like peacetime soldiers among the clouds, fiery orange centered among soft tufts of clouds muted with mountain peaks, cotton candy clouds as soft as a feather against a bright blue sky …
One of his biggest supporters has been celebrity photographer Timothy White, who curated the exhibition. It was sponsored by many, including Lennon’s own charity, The White Feather Foundation, which, begun in 2008, deals with environmental and humanitarian issues.
On his website, www.whitefeatherfoundation.com, he describes the meaning behind the name of his foundation (its icon – a white feather – was prominently displayed among his paintings at the Next Generation Green Room):
“Dad once said to me that should he pass away, if there was some way of letting me know he was going to be ok – that we were all going to be ok – the message would come to me in the form a white feather. Then something happened to me about ten years ago when I was on tour in Australia. I was presented with a white feather by an Aboriginal tribal elder, which definitely took my breath away. One thing for sure is that the white feather has always represented peace to me,” said Lennon in 2009.
It seems peace is paramount to this superstar and to experience it, one need simply to look through his eyes and see that the world really is all blue skies … and a few comforting clouds.
“Timeless” was free and open to the public in Miami. To view the artwork (which is for sale), visit www.tableaufineartphoto.com.
By Rachel Galvin (Cultural Quarterly)
Artist Victoria Gitman puts pointillism on its head, adding a new sheen to the style although she doesn’t label her work as such. While most pointillism can best be understood from afar, Gitman’s work is best appreciated up close, very close.
Her collection On Display showcases paintings of beaded vintage purses from the 1920s to 1940s primarily, although lately, she has bought some that are more recent. She finds these muses on eBay or at flea markets. The ones that she finds most interesting have intricate shapes or patterns within them, abstract and defined qualities. Their vaguely squared-off form becomes a canvas in and of itself; the design is an art form within an art form and she interprets them both, re-creating their essence.
The paintings take three months at least, a painstaking process put together bead by bead using tiny brushes to make each individual stroke. The purses with beads are easier to map out than the new fur purses she is painting now.
“I know how long it will take depending on the type of bead. I can say, ‘today I will do 35 beads,’ since [the beaded purse] is composed of a rational, structured grid. But painting fur is like relearning how to paint. In order for the fur to be soft and supple and have an organic quality, I need to handle paint differently. Each type of fur requires a different type of paint handling,” she explained.
She pulled out of a small box a painting of a red and white purse with long fur, each strand individually painted on a pink background. “It reminded me of a Rothko painting,” she said, “[The color blocks] become abstract.”
In her home studio overlooking the ocean on Hallandale Beach, she has a closet with purses that she may or may not use in paintings. “A lot of times, I buy things that I might want to paint and I end up not painting them,” she said.
Nearby stands her simple wooden easel, disposable palettes rolled up on top of boxes on the floor. “I keep the palettes so I see what colors I used. I used to throw everything out. Now, I can remember what colors I used for each painting,” she said.
When starting a painting, even the placement of the purse on the Masonite hardboard becomes a ritual.
“I place the actual purse on the board to determine how much space it needs. I think a lot about where to place it. If I give it two extra inches of space, it is a totally different painting. Balance is part of the design itself. Sometimes, I place it centrally, sometimes lower or higher,” Gitman said. “Then, I let it sit for a day or two to make sure the composition works. Then I cut, sand and gesso the board (four to five coats) and stain it with a thin wash with a color that’s keyed to the purse.”
She also glazes most paintings afterward. “You can paint something and it has a rich quality when it’s wet and then, the next day, it looks dull. [That is why I glaze it.] I don’t have to glaze whites, except maybe the shadows,” she said. “Some old masters used to paint in grisaille and [use glaze for colors].”
She tries not to think about her next work until the one she is working on is complete.
Her process is regimented. She paints six days a week. She is painting by 8 a.m. She may paint for a few hours, grab lunch and go for a walk on the beach before continuing. Her stopping time is dictated by the light that streams through her window blinds. During winter, she may work until 5 p.m., during summer, maybe until 6 or 6:30 p.m.
Next to her easel is a small bookcase filled with art books about those who have inspired her, such as Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Édouard Manet and Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin.
“I saw a show at the Met in 2000 of Chardin and I was totally enamored. His still lifes are not just descriptive. The peaches feel like a peach. He captures peachness, the essence. You can feel the weight of his dead birds, the feathers,” she said, adding that she hopes to capture the same quality, to capture the essence of the pieces she paints.
Her work has always been about intimate connection and desire. “It is a lot about the kind of tactile response one has to painting. What produces that pictorial desire? The surface of the paint or the image portrayed? An optical take of an abstract work still produces tactile desire – a melding desire for surface and image,” she said.
Another one of her series, her Beauties collection, portrays postcard reproductions of masters’ paintings of women in miniature. By making her work small, she hopes the viewer will have to look very close at every detail. Another group of her Beauties portrays Ingres drawings, portraits in which the faces are very finely rendered and the rest of the image is sketchy.
“I try to reproduce every single line. It is a slow remaking of the mark and it makes every mark so important. The process of reproduction creates a fetish of the mark. There’s a kind of seduction enacted by paper and pencil marks. [People] want to come close. There is a confusion between optical and tactile – the material reality of paper and mark and the image they delineate. [The Ingres pieces that I draw on Mylar are] very precise but also very light … almost like they float. They seem hard to grasp. You want to hold onto the image, but they are not quite there. They are always removed, you cannot quite possess them,” she said.
An early piece was a self-portrait with a remix of an Erasmus quote. His version – “Men are not born, but fashioned” meant they have potential to be anything. Her version “Women are not born, but fashioned” indicates how women are fashioned by the outside world, rather than will; it is a shifting connotation that indicates a profound societal truth.
In 2001, Gitman decided to move from painting women wearing dresses and jewelry to just painting the jewelry itself. Again, she focused on simple shapes and patterns. “I would arrange a necklace in a circle or a bracelet in a straight line. I started thinking in terms of geometry,” she said.
She discovered she needed to paint the actual object in order to capture its individuality.
“Looking at an object closely and carefully, I understand how it feels,” she said. “They have objecthood about them, a sculptural quality. Photographs are a flat image. There is a kind of connection that happens when one works from life … There’s a subtlety and a directness. Something happens when I look at an object. There’s a tactile response and I hope that tactile feeling gets translated.”
Her quest for the mark began at an early age.
“When I was very young, I would always draw in class. My grandmother was an amateur artist. She painted every day. She had a studio in her house. Both my parents were architects. My parents let my sister and I draw on the walls freely. Making marks was totally a part of our daily life. It was not a radical idea to think of making marks of my own someday,” she observed.
Gitman, the recipient of a South Florida Cultural Consortium Visual and Media Artists Fellowship in 1999 and 2011, graduated with a bachelor of arts in humanities with a minor in art history and a bachelor of fine art in painting at Florida International University, summa cum laude. She was also a fellow at the Yale Summer School of Art in Norfolk, Conn.
Gitman learned much by going to museums in locations like New York, Paris, London and Washington D.C. Often, she travels with her sister, but she likes to look at the paintings in solitude.
“When my sister and I get into the museum, we split up and meet up later,” she explained. “I can’t focus on the paintings when someone is there. I learned a lot from going to museums and looking at paintings. I realized painters take time to connect. It is an investment of the whole being. You need to slow down and give the process attention.”
Painting has become her life. She goes to bed early, doesn’t drink, eats a macrobiotic diet and practices Yoga. Her space is open and orderly with pockets of playful chaos, plants in the corner, books on a table, chairs in pairs, pottery on a shelf. But she does break out of the box once in a while to hear classical music at the New World Symphony and to travel, including hiking the Alps, where she was able to get up close and personal with the mountains and discover the pure blueness of the sky.
When Gitman first came to the U. S. from Buenos Aires, Argentina, she had never been on a plane. She moved here in 1987 when she was 14.
“I didn’t speak English. For the first two months, I had no idea of anything. And then, from one day to the next, I suddenly understood. I got straight As, but I never lost my accent … As a child, I used to think it would be the greatest thing in the world to live near the ocean year-round. [Now, I live right on the beach],” she said.
Gitman’s artwork has been seen in galleries around the country and locally at the Bass Museum, the Museum of Art | Fort Lauderdale, the Art & Culture Center of Hollywood and elsewhere. Her next exhibition will be at the David Nolan Gallery in New York next winter.
She said she prefers to show a few pieces at a time rather than a huge collection, in hopes of leading visitors to better appreciate the pieces before them.
To find out more about Victoria Gitman, visit www.davidnolangallery.com/artists/victoria-gitman/biography.
From big-haired and poofy dress-wearing beauty pageant queens to abandoned houses once frequented by a criminal element, Colby Katz has captured a world not often seen by the mainstream. Through her tinted lens, some of the most darkly lit landscapes shine bright. In fact, the odder the subject, the more she craves it for her collection.
It is this slightly skewed view of the world that has captured the attention of the journalistic community. She is not only on the staff of the newspaper New Times, but also has had her work appear in GQ, Spin, Time, Newsweek, Discover, Marie Claire UK, London Telegraph and The New York Times Magazine, among others.
The world, it seems, comes to her. “They find me,” she said. “I am lucky. I don’t promote myself. I am shy.” Shy, indeed – this fearless photographer isn’t so fearless when not behind the camera. Sitting in her A-frame living room, she appears tiny on her long, L-shaped brown couch, a bit tense, her porcelain face hidden beneath plastic-framed glasses.
Much like Diana Prince, the alter ego of the comic book superhero Wonder Woman, this shy gal transforms into a bit of a wonder woman with a camera hanging around her neck. “I do things like lean too far over tiger cages; anything to get the shot. I forget to drink and eat. When I was pregnant, a lot of people got mad at me for that,” she said.
The more precarious the method of obtaining the photograph, the better for Katz, who would never take the easy way out and always takes the road less traveled. One of her favorite photographers is Naomi Harris. “She did a book about swingers called America Swings. She had to put herself in some precarious situations. I appreciate when photos don’t come easy,” she commented.
Katz has known her share of trouble. A handful of times when taking photos of houses where murder and corporate corruption took place, she has had her car followed. Another person did not like the story associated with her photos, posted her name and address on the web and encouraged people to seek her out and beat her up. After that, she took on a pen name.
She has met some interesting characters in her travels. Katz has been obsessed with beauty pageants, ever since she was in them as a young girl herself. “It is a world most cannot get into; I can,” she boasted. She intends on creating a book on pageants but ran into some trouble with a few photos she took; some parents called the police and threatened to press charges, saying she was taking pornographic photos. “But they posed and dressed the children. I didn’t. They loved the photos and even asked for copies,” she said. She ended up obtaining a lawyer over the incident.
Her best assignment was for Spin Magazine – sitting down in an abandoned Orlando warehouse with the owner of a company that made animatronic characters that “played” music for Pizza Time Restaurant. After the company went downhill, she said, “It was like the land that time forgot … everything was still there – the gorillas still in the crates, the office supplies, all the nuts and bolts and the equipment. He even had his own stage for this Rock-afire Explosion band. He liked the Beatles and so did I, so he had the animal band play The White Album for me, and we ordered a pizza at 4 in the morning. This was a guy who went from the highest of heights to nothing when his business just stopped one day. He still gets the occasional orders – someone needs a band for a music video, a theme park in Saudi Arabia needs a gorilla … but not like it used to be,” she explained.
Katz really cares about the people she photographs. With a timid smile, it seems she wishes to make the world a better place by showing beauty in things others may find not so beautiful. “I saw the most overweight 5-year-old I had ever seen in the store and thought ‘she’s amazing.’ I’d love to take her picture.”
She finds offbeat stories to tell, such as a woman who makes dolls to memorialize babies who have died. “It’s like a modern version of the popular post mortem photography that came about during the Victorian era, a time when the infant mortality rate was very high,” she said. “This woman puts on layers of paint [on the dolls] and puts the hair in strand by strand using hair plugs.”
Perhaps her lure to the un-ordinary comes from her upbringing. She admits she grew up with a strange cast of characters. “I have an odd family. My grandma was a midget. There are strippers, a brothel owner … our upbringing makes us who we are.”
Except for her few shelves of eclectic knick knacks – small figurines from Tate’s Comics – her home life seems pretty ordinary. When not racing between photo assignments, she shares the responsibility of taking care of her very active 17-month-old with her husband (who works in a skateboard shop) and caring for her four rambunctious pooches.
But her work comes first. “It is pretty hectic. I am on call, have a crazy schedule. I feel like I am always working.” But Katz wouldn’t have it any other way. “I don’t go to bars. I don’t go to clubs. I am a bit of a recluse … I picked up photography as a kid and it is the only thing I really enjoy.”
She repeats that she has a simple, modest life but she feels that her work is sought out because of her personality and work ethic. “Others may live larger, but at least I can sleep at night. I hate to see bad people succeed,” she commented. “I am nice. Editors want to work with someone who is easy, meets deadlines.”
She is amazed that her work is in numerous collections and her journalistic photos are in demand. “It is hanging in galleries and museums around world. It’s nuts to me. I would be doing this anyhow, even if I didn’t make money.”
Although it might seem otherwise, she swears she doesn’t have a message or propaganda behind her pictures. “I let people interpret the work. I am more about getting into worlds most people don’t get to see. I am not fearless. I just have a goal and make it happen – to get the shot.”
When 34-year-old Katz was told she had won the South Florida Cultural Consortium Fellowship for Visual and Media Artists the first time, in 2004, she thought it was a prank call. When she received the award again in 2009, she was also surprised because she thought she had not completed the paperwork correctly. Katz plans on using her grant money to help her take a new step – documentary filmmaking. She has already bought a Panasonic camera and boom mike and taken a “Final Cut” class.
She is excited about adding sound and movement to her images. “I was taking pictures of a woman who had a pet squirrel she dressed up,” Katz said, “and thought how much better it would be to hear her talk about it, hear the sounds of the squirrel…” ?)