Thursday, August 30, 2012

Jess Levey's Practice, by Liz Ainslie

When I walked into Jess Levey's studio, I was excited to see several videos set up and playing. An iPad showed black and white documentation of a simple performance involving a woman in an office chair in a cubicle pushing herself back and forth relentlessly between the walls of the cubicle (After the Crash Project, Untitled #4). On the wall was a quieter image made from a photo collage with a video projected on top. The still image looks like a factory courtyard. In the middle of the courtyard, the projection layers an image of a field of grass fluttering in the wind. I think these two works illustrate the range of Jess's work. From works with a direct and concrete message, to works that seem more poetic and mysterious.

Jess works primarily with photo/video collage these days, but her roots are in photography. She showed me some of the early photographs, which involved projections upon objects and people. The photographs were very dramatically staged and well executed.

As we talked, I learned about the project that seemed to move Jess into collage and to focus on the manipulation of images in a somewhat analog manner. After the many lay-offs of 2008, she and many of her friends would never return to the buildings they spent years entering every day. She took footage of the neighborhoods where people had worked and asked them to use paint to black out the building in which they had once spent so much of their time. I like the idea of using a moving image to create a two dimensional mark on paper. The message Jess began with is very literal, but watching the video of each person blacking out their building, this mark-making seems like a quiet action, almost a ritual. (Look under Videos at

Most of Jess's installations and videos address our interactions with everyday spaces. Her motivations are political in some instances, but I also think the works move into the universal when you encounter them. There is an emptiness in the bleak images of urban spaces, but the projections and drawings transform the spaces. Perhaps she is questioning our perceptions of our surroundings too.

We also discussed the idea of video collage. I like that Jess is combining the physical and virtual in her collages. It's refreshing to see someone using technology as a tool and incorporating it into a unique process. The process is perhaps closer to printmaking than to video. Impressions are formed in paper to create spaces for projections to exist and impressions are made using the projections as a guide.

As I moved through the studio, Jess showed me a more recent piece that took the quiet and mysterious aspect of her work further. A small black and white photo of a desert scene sits on the wall. Behind a tree, a trail of smoke is moving up into the sky. I chose this work for the exhibition, because the scale is surprising for a video collage and it reveals itself slowly and beautifully.

You can see Jess's work here:

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


I enjoyed my visit to Liz Ainslie's studio in Williamsburg. Her paintings are a pleasure to look at, and they made me think about how paintings are made and the history of painting. The longer I looked, the more I saw, and over time things I didn’t notice at first became subtly compelling. 

What I was struck by right away was the works’ relatively modest scale, and what seemed to be references to cubism, still-life, and modernist abstraction.  Liz and I had an interesting discussion about painters and art history.  She cites Cezanne, Vuillard and Ellsworth Kelly as influences, and is interested in Post-Impressionism and Minimalism.  The base of the paintings consists of neutral colors that might make one think of modernists like Morandi or Cezanne. But Liz is equally influenced by her everyday contemporary world and culture -- hence the interruptions of saturated, almost day-glo colors.  The bright color often takes the form of a line which delineates forms and suggests space, while always breaking down any coherent spatial system. The forms are mostly cuttingly angular.  The neutrals and brights coexist in a kind of harmonic feud, and there are beautiful subtleties of similar values and colors – part of what makes prolonged looking so rewarding.

I was curious about her process.  Liz described it as something both felt and achieved over time: a mixture of research, experimentation and practice. She has a strong background in color theory, but employs an intuitive and personal approach to color made up of particular systems and habits acquired through the experience of working. 

I find Liz's paintings to be rare and refreshing in the context of our times.  They are obviously hand-painted, bypassing the gloss of the digital age. By her own words, she is “not a hard edge painter.”  She avoids a slick facture,  going instead for a handmade look and an almost rough, matte surface.  Brushstrokes are often visible over a warm reddish underpainting.  I feel that the work displays a beguiling combination of humility, vulnerability and restraint.  

The painting I chose for the Collectively Assembled show is one of Liz’s most recent.  The palette is a combination of darks and bright blues, and to me it exemplifies the unfolding contradictions and mysteries of her work.  

To see more of Liz Ainslie's work:

Read more about her process here: