“PHOTOGRAPHY IS NOT ART” Interview with VÉRITÉ
In a natural transition between our opening issue (basics and renewal), to our secondary installment being color, we find ourselves caught on L.A. based artist Esteban Schimpf. Living vicariously through themes of classical art, Schimpf creates portraits of life around us that surface big questions about the world at hand. We invade his studio life to pick his brain on the female nude, and life as an artist.
VÉRITÉ: You work in such an essentialist area of art. Explain your relationship to classical art and subjects.
ESTEBAN SCHIMPF: I was educated in the tradition of the avant-garde, that is, in the expansion of culture through experimental artistic innovation in the attempt to make radical redefinitions of what art can be. All of my peers, thinkers, and artists around also seemed to be concerned with this outward expansion of culture so it was only natural for me to do the opposite. Instead of marching to the frontier where it seemed a majority of the tribe was working, I decided to move to the middle, a relatively abandoned place where I could—unrestricted from what felt like oppressive philosophical ideas—enjoy my own mind. Working in this traditional — and in many ways, conservative — vernacular, I found myself to be in a contradictory state of sorts. On one hand it seemed almost absurd to be working with nudes and still lifes after having just gotten my degree from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, a school that is known for its theoretically rigorous art program yet on the other hand it felt as if I were finally speaking my native language. In many ways, tradition set me free.
I digress. What I mean to say is that escaping the battlefield of the avant-garde for the tranquil countryside of history I was able to return to the contemporary field from an oblique entrance point; one that felt genuine to myself instead of just something that I felt obliged to take on.
V: Now it seems that everyone is entitled to be a photographer, how would you describe your relationship with this medium of artistic expression?
ES: Photography is the most democratic medium. Everyone uses it and it’s the way almost all images have been constructed since the late 19th century. I don’t think Instagram created the accessibility to photography that we sometimes feel it does but it certainly has
heightened it to a great degree. Since the 1920’s almost every household has had at least one camera and a “photographer” in the family. Today the difference is that everyone with a mobile phone is armed with a camera at all times and a host of social motivations to share what’s captured. Really what’s changed is that there is a massive arena of viewership and more interestingly, that it is almost all completely public. My parents’ photographs of my childhood for instance remained private (that is until I realized how much cachet all of those baby pictures had on Instagram every #ThrowBackThursday) but now parents document every moment in their children’s life and make them publicly available to strangers. I do think that Instagram’s re-popularization of homemade images has revitalized the common interest in the medium. Right now photography is very alive and well and this is a good thing but photography is not art, you just push a button.
V: What is it about the female nude that draws you to making it such a large subject in your work?
ES: I think that if you asked a person on the street to describe what art was somewhere in their description would be the female nude. In this respect the nude is part of the very definition of art. After a long period of silence in my life where I didn’t have any ideas I had to ask myself this very same question, “What is art?” My response was simple, still lifes, nudes, and landscapes. That’s when I told myself that if I wanted to make art I needed to do at least one of these. This is perhaps the most fundamental question one can ask about art and my answer, despite its lack of intellectual sophistication, has inspired a large body of
work, which after five years I feel as if I am just starting. As for the prevalence of women in my work it is both intentional and circumstantial. Most of my friends happen to be women and they seem much more comfortable with their bodies than the men I know. I’m actually trying to photograph more men but it’s hard to find guys
that are willing to be nude in front of a camera so if you know any please put them in contact with me!
V: Do you feel like you are empowering women through your art?
ES: As much as I would like to claim I do I don’t think that I can. Yes, I celebrate femininity in many of my works but I don’t think that necessarily gives women more agency or power. If someone looks at my work and feels empowered, more power to them. If they feel nothing, okay. If they feel the opposite, I am sorry!
But you are right, women figure prominently in my work and I think that my love for them is evident in many of my pieces. From an early age women have been a big part of my life. Strong matriarchs have ruled my family for genereations and from my perspective it’s women that hold the power, not men. Unfortunately the world does not function the same way as my small Colombian family although it does seem that people are finally starting to get with the program. To me it is very obvious that we are at the start of a woman’s political and cultural renaissance. The ideas of men have been tried too
many times and really are just too tired for any of us to take seriously. That being said, not all of my artworks are celebratory. Sometimes I portray the body under a total subjugation because I am also making pictures of a fallen world. I’m specifically thinking of the images I have made of melting figures and a new series where people’s bodies are emblazoned with failed political demands for freedom. Dark stuff— ‘End Game’ sort of things. This end of the world subject has become a concern in my work. Flaunt magazine just commissioned me to make a set photographs about common food that is on the verge of extinction. We’re talking bananas, Myer lemons, Arabica coffee, maple syrup, food that is so common one would never imagine that it’s about disappear.
V: Can you speak to the relationship between content and color in your works?
ES: As simple as that question appears to be it is almost beyond my ability to articulate. Color is not something that I can easily give words to. I am not a poet. All I can tell you is that I have an inadvertent relationship to it. I mostly only use very basic primary colors. Even when I look at paintings that I made when I was only 8 years old I see that I am still using all of those same basic colors and if I’m going to be honest I don’t do it on purpose, I am just naturally drawn to them. Somehow I also always end up using yellow, blue, and red, the colors of my native country. You’ll laugh at this but after I showed very colorful
work at UNTITLED during Miami Basel I told myself that 2015 would be my black and white year and that I would only make silver gelatin prints like a “real photographer”. We aren’t even three months into the year and I have already grossly reneged on that promise. I guess that I’m a liar. Never trust a man that isn’t!
V: What is it about being able to live within your art, and waking up each day as a working artist that is so freeing?
ES: I have a good friend that comes to my studio after work and I make dinner for us and we drink wine. Even though she has a prestigious occupation we often end up discussing how much she hates her job and how instead she wishes that she had become an artist so that she could be free. There is some truth to the romantic notion of an artist as person that is free from the constraints of modern life but to achieve this freedom an artist has to make a lot of sacrifices. Most people exchange their time for money whereas an artist often has to exchange their lack of money for time. The artist purchases time. The worker purchases money. Because we live in a society that demands that everyone be productive In order to be compensated, for many, one form of exchange is more bearable than the other. In many ways the artist is an unproductive member of society. I don’t always make tangible things, products, productive things. At work I have to spend a lot of my time just thinking and I often make things in secret that no one will ever see. I spend a lot of my workday just looking and that probably sounds ridiculous to a lot of people but being in the world is central to my practice. For this to actually work you have to become a wave in the sea and literally melt into the world in such a way where that you can no longer deny being a real part of it. I think that’s when this freeing that we are talking about is achieved. In Tropic of Cancer Henry Miller writes, “I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive. A year ago, six months ago, I thought that I was an artist. I no longer think about it. I am. Everything that was literature has fallen from me. There are no more books to be written, thank God.” What he says is profound and not just for the artist but for all of us. There is great richness in this letting go of everything but in order to do so you have to be fearless because if you desire to laugh all of your laughs you must also be prepared to cry all of your cries.
V: You seem to live between two times — the work your create on your typewriter vs. Photoshop — does that benefit the way you create?
ES: I like using a typewriter because writing is the only thing that it can do. It can’t go on eBay, YouTube, or even play music. It isn’t as fast as a computer. It’s slow enough where I am always trying to catch up to the voice in my head so it feels like the material never runs out and the ideas never stop, and really, that is where the magic is. There something about the cadence and the repetitive sound of the keys striking the paper that encourages ideas to just flow. You can’t correct your mistakes and not being able to go back forces you to keep moving forward. You end up having to commit to what you write and as a writer this can put you at odds with your natural insecurity and self-judgment because sometimes when you read what you’ve written you have to accept the fact that you may have accidentally told the truth and that can be a scary thing. The book I’m writing is a meandering historical epic very much in the magical realist tradition, a lot of it is about my own past, and the imagined lifes of others and writing in this slowed and more curious way I feel allows me to more easily tap into dialogue with other people’s ghosts.
I use Photoshop for all of the opposite reasons; I’m drawn to its clean and transparent digital logic. I know where I am going for the most part whereas with the book I don’t.
Reviews of Instant LA Summer
Fine Arts LA review of my exhibition Instant LA Summer
I met artist, curator, and all-around art enthusiast Esteban Schimpf when he came out to the FineArtsLA: Panel of the Muses event we hosted back in June. He was there to support his friend, panelist, and co-board member of the Chinatown gallery, Actual Size LA, Lee Rachel Foley. Schimpf made himself known as the first—and most voluable—volunteer of the after-panel Q&A session. His passion for supporting art and artists was intense, genuine, and immediately recognizable (he railed against the idea that the physical limitations of Los Angeles—traffic, isolation, etc.—should in any way prevent an artist from doing their job). Following the discussion, he was quick to introduce himself, revealing a chummier, more casual side of his personality, yet still brimming with that same passion.
On Thursday, August 19th, at 7:00 PM, Esteban opens his (to my knowledge) first personal exhibition in Los Angeles at the Carmichael Gallery in Culver City, and not surprisingly, his own work is nowhere to be seen. Instead, Schimpf, with the help of Stefan Simchowitz, has chosen to spotlight the work of fifteen other young, up-and-coming artists in an ambitious group show he has titled “Instant LA Summer.” Upon names only, I was admittedly unfamiliar with the artists on view, but after some instant LA research, the show looks to be extremely diverse in mediums and theme, but cohesive in pure enthusiasm. Essentially, it’s Esteban without Esteban. Here’s a quick, flip-through preview of what’s in store, but don’t hold me to it:
Los Super Elegantes: this musical duo, one male and one female, present three of their own videos, which are as much a part of their overall presentation as are their costumes, their on-stage theatrics, their public demeanor, sexual chemistry, and of course, their music—a Latino-influenced type of pop that owes a lot to show-tunes. Their videos, too, remind me of low-rent movie musical numbers (in one, a romantic, garbage-man Romeo belts out his love to a passing, balcony-perched Juliet).
Eric Yhanker: his piece, “Bizarro Picasso,” is a charcoal and graphite depiction of an old, wide-eyed bald man who looks kind of like the titular painter, but, in its tactility, more like something Jan Svankmajer would mold from clay. Photographic in its Chuck Close detail and sense of perception, the close-up portrait briskly departs from realism with its over-sized, features, namely the eyes, nose, mouth, and ears—the portals to our senses.
Josh Mannis: works in a variety of mediums, but his series of HD videos are the most striking. Like Yhanker, they concentrate on the frozen exaggeration of facial features, but in the style of a Japanese advertisement. Bright pastel colors, fleshy and freaky masks, limited body movement, and intense repetition characterize such works as “If You Don’t Know Anything, You Don’t Know This.”
Charles Irvin: a multi-instrumentalist as they say in the music world. He draws, paints, performs, makes videos, and simply exists. His works tends to be cartoonish, extremely colorful, and detailed, but in a soft way. It’s dream-like, psychedelic, and in-your-face. No subtleties here, save the man behind the man.
Kenneth Tam: another video-maker, but of the Dadaist ilk. His mundane, often single shot slices of life tend to take place in one setting, have a documentary feel to them, and are so direct and normal that they border the line on the absurd.
Maya Lujan: to look at pictures of her large-form, graphic patterns—architectural in nature—one would be quite surprised to hear that her installation in a 2008 UCLA exhibition was taken down due to the fact it included a simplified mandala that bore striking similarity to a swastika. In actuality, the piece was more akin to a kind of apocalyptic spacecraft, and it’s this exact questioning of shapes and patterns that shows up in most of her work.
Sarah Sieradzki: speaking of the architectural, her work presents mashups of varying shapes, materials, and textures—wooden frames, cement blocks, photographs—that look like models for massive monuments of future post-modernism (whatever that is). She seems to take joy in chaotic geometry, as well as the re-contextualizion of basic structures.
Pascual Sisto: also a multi-platform artist, he appears to specialize in playing with and subverting the viewer’s expectation. Much of his work starts off as a seemingly one-note image/idea—cursive neon lettering, a single-shotvideo of a motionless fruit tree—but will then either climax unexpectedly in a sudden spasm of movement (as with the fruit tree video) or double-back on its initial meaning (as with the phrase in neon: “Let us be Cruel”).
Daniel Desure: in his prints and photographs, there’s a cold, stillness that tends to break down time into single moments, whether its a car crash refracted into centrifugal prisms, or a can of paint in the midst of spilling. Desure seems to distill catastrophic moments into the way we often remember catastrophic moments: as single images.
Emily Mast: time is of the essence to this choreographic artist as well. She sets up complex, theatrical installations utilizing actors, props, lights, and costumes, which collide into a kind of Beckett-ian sense of nihilism. But within these dramatic interpretations is a clear sense of narrative, which is inherently married to time, and thereby, meaning.
Emily Steinfeld: a sort of found object artist who seems to enjoy the accidental/purposeful layering of solid things—how one thing can mold into another as if a chemical compound. Her series of structures entitled “Covert Cells” utilizes sheeting to cover objects like wine bottles and telephones so that they may be confused for a single entity.
Simon Haas: mainly primitive, muted browns and melancholy. As the title of his piece “A Brief Moment After a Bath” suggests, he finds subtle beauty in the skipped-over moments of life. The lead surface and the wide, gestural brush strokes of this oil painting have a wavy, watery feel to them. Like waking up from a dream and dealing with its immediate aftermath.
Mark Hagen: intricate, graphic designs made for specific technological uses. He designed a 360 wrap, for instance, to be hypothetically used on the antiquated bowling shoe so as to maximize arch support for the bowler. As a child, he helped his father part out and restore Post-War Studebakers, and he seems to have been elaborating on this work ever since.
Sean Kennedy: also works in design, but in a much more tactile sense. He builds layers of both abstract designs and found objects to create geometric patterns that are simple at first glance, yet wildly complex upon inspection.
Orlando Tirado: exotic, striking photographs and/or collages of imagery. The title of his piece, “ShamanColash or Land, Sea, and Air (Self Portrait)” speaks to the bizarre juxtapositions framed in the would-be tired genre of self-portraitry. To borrow a reaction once used to describe the first artist on this list (Los Super Elegantes), Tirado “[makes] the audience nervous. Nobody does that anymore.”
-By Joshua Morrison
Stefan Simchowitz presents “Instant LA Summer,” an exhibition by Esteban Schimpf, runs until September 10, 2010 at the Carmichael Gallery. The opening is on Thursday, August 19th, at 7:00 PM. For more information, please visit www.carmichaelgallery.com, or call 323.939.0600.
LA TIMES Review of Katie Herzog exhibition at my gallery Actual Size Los Angeles
Memory rather than vision seems to be the animating engine for Katie Herzog's paintings. The past shapes their present.
Five recent, very disparate works are at Actual Size Gallery. One playful picture shows a childhood playroom. Another is composed of rudimentary brushstrokes of yellow paint on a yellow background, loosely recalling a spectral face. A Latin inscription embroidered backward on a length of burlap is suspended like an ecclesiastical banner from another painting of a cloistered study.
Stylistically, no two works are alike. Conceptually, however, they offer a multidirectional consideration of the ways in which recollection operates. Herzog aptly titles the exhibition "Informel," after the postwar European painting movement that explored intuition, independent of the reasoning processes that had proven to be so impotent against the rise of fascism.
The most compelling work is the largest. "Braille Institute: Sight Center" is a strange rendering of the well-known facility on Vermont Avenue in Hollywood.
Broad, horizontal smears of blended rainbow colors are topped by a thick blue-black band of paint that drips in arcs across the surface. A line of little rectangles of metallic color, somewhat like light reflected on an oily puddle, marches across the top. Absent any evidence of brushstrokes, the handprints encountered here and there on the surface suggest that this imposing depiction of the Braille Institute was entirely finger-painted.
A gallery handout says that Herzog studied the building’s fortress-like facade from across the street for an hour every day for five weeks, before returning to her studio, closing her eyes and painting (with her hands) from what she could remember. In this savvy work, Herzog attempts to reconcile a division in place since Marcel Duchamp famously dismissed painting as merely retinal art, favoring the eye over the mind.
The back story seems necessary to fleshing out her painting, as is often the case with Conceptual art, but that's a memory a viewer cannot bring to the experience. Still, on the evidence of this small show Herzog is headed into provocative territory.
-- Christopher Knight
Follow me @twitter.com/KnightLAT
Actual Size, 741 New High St., Chinatown, (213) 290-5458 , through Aug. 28. Open Saturdays and Sundays. www.actualsizela.com
Review of "BAD MOON" in ARTFORUM
Shunning novelty and artistic ego, Steven Husby’s two small, hard-edged abstract paintings are unrivaled in this group show. These immaculate grayscales, both Untitled, 2008, are so perfectly proportioned and precise in their value shifts that they could be prototypes for gradient scales in the printing industry; they leave no trace of Husby’s hand or subjective imagination, and they conjure Giacomo Balla and Bridget Riley equally. Esteban Schimpf’s God, Imagine the Storm on Jupiter, 2006, is juvenile by comparison. Here, orange paint is sprayed onto a blue bedsheet spelling out the piece’s title. Its large blazon text belies the dopey rumination it evokes. Jason Lazarus’s single contribution to this all-male lineup is a photograph of a tiger-printed blanket covering a figure reclining in a landscape. Photographed from a high vantage point, the colorful, kitschy shroud is in stark contrast to the field of dormant grass in which the body rests. With the exception of Husby’s paintings, internal juxtapositions within the works presented in this exhibition unify the disparate contributions. In Greg Stimac’s Red Diamond, 2008, a print featuring a red graphic rhombus imposed over vernacular photographs of houses, and Curtis Mann’s painterly bleached photographs eliciting apocalyptic narratives, incongruity abounds and thematizes unlikely bedfellows.
— Michelle Grabner
Review of "BAD MOON" in Timeout Chicago
Chicago artist Jason Lazarus lies in brown grass at the edge of a river in his photograph At Rest (2006). Cocooned from head to toe in a black blanket emblazoned with a tiger’s head, he waits for spring—or, as the gallery notes explain, an American leader he can support.
The eight works of “Bad Moon” were produced in 2008—except for Lazarus’s standout piece—by four artists from Chicago and one from L.A. who don’t typically identify with a political agenda. Here, however, the quintet successfully represents how frustrated and powerless worldwide conflict makes many young Americans feel. The artists confront uncontrollable issues including war, economic downturn and the Bush administration, albeit as passive observers.
In Red Diamond, Greg Stimac takes on the horrendous housing market. Scanning and rotating four photos of homes from real-estate ads into a disorienting grid, Stimac covers up the ads’ BANK-OWNED and IN FORECLOSURE banners, replacing them with an arresting red diamond that could be a symbol of the American Dream’s dark side. Curtis Mann, in contrast, offers a sense of hope: In bleaching found photographs of war-torn Israel/Palestine and Lebanon, the artist creates what looks like a soothing white light in the center of each image of combat.
Esteban Schimpf simply spray-paints a bedsheet with the words “God, imagine the storm on Jupiter”—something he said to his girlfriend after Hurricane Katrina. His attempt at humor in response to a natural disaster reflects a contemporary way of thinking. Whereas in the 1960s, many artists were loud and forthright in their activism, “Bad Moon” is quietly contemplative.
— Amy Schroeder
BAD MOON at Andrew Rafacz Gallery
Opens Friday Decemeber 12th from 5-8 p.m.
"Chicago, IL, December 12, 2008 – Andrew Rafacz ends the year with Bad Moon, a look at our current economic, political, and psychological state. The gallery will have a reception for the artists on Friday, December 12, from 5 to 8pm. The exhibition continues through January 24, 2009.
Bad Moon seeks to investigate without an agenda our current social and political climate through several artists’ reactions to recent events. Our interest is to raise questions, bring certain ideas to light, and in some cases find a cathartic and often-humorous place at which to deal with troubled times. None of the artists in the exhibition would be described as ‘political’ in their practice, as they resist agitprop in favor of something more sublime, uncovering their own private moments within a strained public environment."
INDEX: Directions in Contemporary Photography
Esteban is an exhibition entitled, "INDEX: Directions in Contemporary Photography" at the University of Saint Francis
JEFF OTTO-O’BRIEN, Vancouver, Canada
JOHANNA REED, Santa Barbara, California
ESTEBAN SCHIMPF, based in Chicago, Illinois
AMY WAINWRIGHT, based in Chicago, Illinois
"Esteban’s multi-disciplined and seemingly carefree studio practice reveals a humorous and observant fascination with architecture, modern design, and celebrity culture."
Summer group show at The Contemporary Arts Workshop
This summer Esteban will participate in one of two summer group shows at The Contemporary Arts Workshop in Chicago. The Contemporary Arts Workshop was founded in 1949 by John Kearney, Leon Golub, Cosmo Campoli and Ray Fink, making the Contemporary Art Workshop one of the oldest artist-run alternative spaces in the country.
Lucky 13 at the Ellen Sandor Family Gallery
Esteban has been invited to exhibit his work in the 13th Annual Asian American Showcase. Each year the exhibition is held at the Ellen Sandor Family Gallery in Chicago, Illinois. The theme of the show invites thirteen artists to deal with, interpret or explore the idea of THIRTEEN whether number, process, or whatever.
Ox-Bow Artist's Residency & Frederick Fursman Painting Scholarship
Esteban has been awarded the Frederick Fursman Painting Scholarship and will attend an artist's residency at Ox-Bow.
Ox-Bow, school of art and artists’ residency, has served as a haven for visual artists since 1910. Founded on the shores of Lake Michigan as an escape from the city, Ox-Bow’s campus encompasses 115-acres of pristine natural forests, dunes, a lagoon, and historic buildings. It is both defined and protected by the landscape that inspires the artists who live and work there.
Esteban is back from South America
Esteban just got back from a trip to Quito, Ecuador. While there he took the time to create many new works which can be viewed within the photography section of this website.
Adobe Design Achievement Award
Recently Esteban has been shortlisted for the prestigious international Adobe Design Achievement Award in Photography for his piece Untitled (United). Over 52 Countries participated in this year's search.
Show at Ellen Curlee Gallery
Press release for a show that Esteban is in entitled, "FREE REIN/FULL PLAY: New Chicago Photography" which is currently up in St. Louis, MO.
Ellen Curlee Gallery is pleased to announce
FREE REIN/FULL PLAY: New Chicago Photography
curated by Dana Turkovic and Anne Wischmeyer.
Featuring Adam Ekberg, Jenny Kendler, Mayumi Lake, Lilly McElroy, Lindsay Page, David Parker, Sabrina Raaf and Esteban Schimpf.
February 16 – March 31, 2007
Opening Reception: Friday, February 16, 6pm – 9pm
In his essay, “On Inventing Our Own Art”, Ibram Lassaw describes the attitude being formed by artist’s of his generation: “They feel that the important thing for art is to be alive, to be full of suggestion and possibilities, to enlarge our sensibility and to intensify experience….” It is precisely this synergy that becomes apparent in the work of these new Chicago photographers. Free Rein / Full Play is an exhibition that attempts to explore this phenomena, to capture this energy, with a combination of fantasy and performance, whether it utilize the body, object, or material. Although each work maintains its conceptual individuality, this association of freedom and playfulness produces a common uninhibited conceptual approach, which is enhanced by the photographic medium. Lassaw also suggests: “The artist no longer feels that he is ‘representing reality’, he is actually making reality… Reality is something stranger and greater than merely photographic rendering can show.” This is apparent in the collection of works by these artist’s, each of them produces images that in some ways, reveals a subconscious effort at Lassaw’s idea of a “new reality”. Free Rein / Full Play is a small, but concentrated attempt of capturing a spirit of art-making, in this case Chicago, and one that continues in its claim of “endless opportunity”.
The Ellen Curlee Gallery is located at 1308A Washington Avenue in the Washington Avenue loft district. Hours are 11am to 4pm Tuesday-Saturday and 11:00am to 9pm on First Fridays, the first Friday of each month. Tel: (314) 241-1299