Jonas Mekas

Jonas Mekas, frame sequence from Reminiscenes of a Journey to Lithuania (1972), 16mm film, color and black-and-white, sound, 82 min.

In the latter half of the 1940s, following the end of the Second World War, Jonas Mekas and his brother Adolfas found themselves settled in a displaced persons camp in Wiesbaden, Germany. Previously, Jonas had lived a simple life in a quiet farming village in Lithuania named Semeniskiai, where he was born on Christmas Eve, 1922. Enchanted with poetry from a young age, Jonas’s penchant for language received public recognition, and his first collections were published at the early age of twelve. Although rooted in humble beginnings, he admits in an interview with the Brooklyn Rail that it was evident to his parents his future would not be restricted to the land on which he was raised. 

En route to university in Vienna, his train was stopped in Germany. For the next eight months Jonas and his brother were imprisoned in Hamburg at the Elmshorn forced labour camp, before escaping. Shortly after their escape the war ended, and Jonas relocated through a series of German displacement camps before finally immigrating to Williamsburg, New York in 1949. 

Jonas made great strides upon his introduction to New York City. Almost immediately he acquired an 8mm Bolex camera, and became an imminent figure in New York’s burgeoning film culture. Accordingly, starting in 1954 alongside his brother, Jonas founded Film Culture – a journal that critically discussed the avant-garde, Hollywood, and European art film. Having established his critical presence, Mekas also began writing for the Village Voice in 1958. Though his ambitions as a critic were soon superseded by a philosophy that would set the stage for what would later be coined as New American Cinema. In his Movie Journal, a collection of writings Jonas produced while at the Village Voice, he writes “I had to pull out…to protect all the beautiful things that I saw happening in the cinema, and that were either being butchered or ignored by my colleague writers and by the public.” It was this shift that marked the turning point away from feature film-making to a non-narrative kind of cinema.

Resembling more like collage than movie, Mekas’s irreverence for narrative structure appeals to one’s memory. This method neglects narrative for a more accurate reflection of how memory operates. Having circumvented the application of an overarching context, the collection of images are composed in a way that feels like they exist in a place outside of time’s grasp – the difference between past and present becomes irrelevant as it all becomes memory. Effectively evading the rigidity of cause-and-effect, Mekas’s films unfold more like poetry than a conventionally scripted film. From this canon, time – and its passing – is already understood. Thus, no further diction is necessary. Such is the nature of poetry; to reveal the essential without the burden of thesis. From this perspective, the images Mekas presents are given space to speak for themselves. 

World Trade Center Haikus (2010). Single channel video. Betacam SP / DigiBeta Master. 13 minutes, 58 seconds. Edition of 3 + 2 AP

Take World Trade Center Haikus (2010) for instance. This short film has no discernible dramatic structure. There is no rising action or resolution to draw from, but meaning persists all the same. As the tape unwinds in tandem with a melodic piano score, a tone reminiscent of a home movie is fostered. However, it seems that the way in which the imagery is treated takes precedence over what the imagery actually shows. Appearing like disjointed fragments of film caught in quick succession, the whole of the film feels more like bearing witness to Mekas’s stream of consciousness. Although it isn’t quite intelligible what may have been said, the viewer is left feeling like something intimate has been exchanged. As for a haiku, it also tends to lack the breadth necessary to generate a narrative, yet it is not uncommon for simple things to yield lasting impressions. Though probably the most important aspect of poetry is not what a poem is saying, but rather the impulse behind saying something in the first place.

Written by Grayson Chandler

All Jonas Mekas works and  films are available through Deborah Colton Gallery

Jonas Mekas

Ushio and Noriko Shinohara: Bullie the Boxer and Cutie’s Catharsis

Happy New Year and welcome to the beginnings of our 2020 blog series!  We have had such vast growth and momentum at the gallery recently that we had to let this go for a while, but we are so happy to start again!

Today I am going to focus on our artists who currently have exhibitions at Deborah Colton Gallery: Ushio Shinohara and Noriko Shinohara, alias “Cutie and the Boxer.”  

Ushio Shinohara, Yellow Iris, 2020, Acrylic on Canvas, 60 x 192 Inches.

Born in Tokyo in 1932, Ushio Shinohara (nicknamed “Gyu-chan”) is a Japanese Neo-Dadaist artist and international Pop painter who has lived and worked in the United States since 1969. His parents, a tanka poet and Japanese painter, instilled in him a love for artists such as Cézanne, Van Gogh, and Gauguin. Most recently known for his exuberant boxing paintings, which are artifacts of his performances, Ushio Shinohara works in several mediums, including painting, printmaking, drawing and sculpture.

Ushio’s bright and frequently oversized work has exhibited at prestigious institutions internationally, including the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art; Centre Georges Pompidou; the Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Japan Society, New York; the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Pusan; the Dallas Museum of Art, and the Tate Modern, among others. His work was also featured in International Pop, a landmark exhibition at the Walker Art Center that chronicles the global emergence of Pop art from the 1950s through the early 1970. A New York Times article on the exhibition reads: “Ushio Shinohara… engaged in a practice that might have been called punk if the concept had existed then…” reinforcing his position as a leading figure of the avant-garde art world.

Ushio Shinohara, Winter Sky, 2020, Acrylic on Canvas, 72 x 48 Inches.

Now to take a more personal shift, when I was first introduced to Ushio’s boxing paintings I was still in school at the University of North Texas. As a budding art student honing my critical eye, I must admit that the pressure to have something to say in class critiques — the desire to establish a voice, and demonstrate one’s competence — often led to a hasty judgment of the given subject matter. Ushio’s patented boxing paintings were no exception, and as such, I designated them as a gimmick. Much like how one may have determined Pollack’s style to be a gimmick; the idea is surely novel, but the novelty is quickly diminished across reiterations. I’ll explain why I was wrong, but first I need to provide some more context.

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “my child could paint that,” which is a common critique regarding abstract expressionism. However, the reason this critique should be dismissed is because it considers only the treatment of the materials, while altogether ignoring the exposition of the artwork. In Ushio’s case, the apparent flippancy demonstrated in his boxing paintings often overshadows the commentary, and it seems to me that this is an issue he has grappled with for over half a century.

In 1960 Ushio helped found the Neo-Dadaism Organizers. Their mission: deviate from any conventional form of art. Akin to European Dadaists, who’s art sought to reveal the customary and often repressive conventions of logical order and rationality, the Neo-Dadaism Organizers embodied a similar ethos. This can chiefly be seen in akushon, meaning “action”, which is the practice of emphasizing the human body as an artistic medium. In particular, its aim is to shock the audience via impulsive and sometimes disturbing performances. Depending on the means and magnitude of such a performance, the disturbance may seem to take precedence over the object of the art.

Thus, the premise of the artwork, and why it remains challenging to some, is because the object of the art is not the artwork itself. Instead, the artwork itself is more like a consequence — an epiphenomenon if you will. The real substance of the artwork lies in the sensibility, or ethic, with which the artist is using to communicate with you, the viewer. For Ushio, this sensibility is encapsulated in what has become his personal trinity “be speedy, beautiful, and rhythmical.”

Artist Ushio Shinohara, Tokyo, 1961, photo by William Klein

I must confess that in the beginning the prospect of his “wild man” personality did not appeal to me, and in my haste to make a judgment, I let that prospect overshadow a more meaningful interpretation. Though now, with a better understanding of Ushio’s sensibility, I think you’ll find there is actually a great depth of complexity and sophistication in his artistic production.

For Noriko, the subject matter is a different story, literally. Whereas Ushio’s work is primarily drawing upon the sensations of the marks being made, Noriko’s work is presented as a narrative. Noriko’s work has been exhibited frequently in New York and Japan, and is part of the permanent collections of the Davis Museum and Cultural Center at Wellesley College.

Noriko Shinohara was born in 1953 in Takaoka City, Japan, moved to New York in 1972 to study art, and soon met Ushio in 1973. She has worked as an artist for many years, but the work she is best known for is her Cutie and Bullie series. Since beginning this series in 2006, it now includes drawings, paintings, and prints featuring her characters Cutie and Bullie, and gives us a glimpse into the dynamic between herself and Ushio. Truthful to the point of discomfort, the works which chronicle Cutie and Bullie follow Cutie’s early trials of being married to an alcoholic older man and the difficulty of being an artist in New York.

The scenes are graphic representations inspired by events highlighted in the award winning documentary Cutie and the Boxer. The film was nominated for the 2014 Academy Award for Best Documentary, placed second in Audience Awards during the 2013 Tribeca Film festival, and earned Special Mention in Grierson Awards for the London Film Festival. Cutie and the Boxer won Best Director Award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, where the committee cited: “It’s rare to see a film so beautifully crafted in all aspects. It captures the complex nature of love and art in a mesmerizing and deeply human way.” The film was also nominated for Grand Jury Prize at the same festival.

Artist Noriko Shinohara in front of The Metamorphosis of Cutie, 2019

On the surface, the imagery appears light and playful. The line-work and color palette of her illustrations have an outward pretense of levity, adolescence, and humor. However, these conditions are underscored by much deeper psychological motifs. Marked by growing pains characteristic of a coming of age drama, Noriko’s story chronicles the projection of herself — a character named Cutie — as she contends with the harshness of reality. Drawing distinctions between her experiences and her expectations, Cutie learns the difference between being idealistic and pragmatic. The imagery, maintaining the likeness of a picture book, invites notions of mysticism and fairy-tale. Yet, as the narrative unfolds, the strength of Noriko’s metaphors begin to dissolve through the allegory to reveal the real-life trials of an individual becoming disenchanted with her circumstances.

As one comes to understand the veiled comparison between herself and Cutie, the buoyancy of her figures cascades from something symbolic of simple light-hearted narration into an effigy actual consequence. In this process, the story of Cutie is an analogy for Noriko: as the tone of the Cutie’s story inflects from one of youth and amusement to one of rumination and humility, so does the viewer’s impression of Noriko. Furthermore, I only imagine that for Noriko Shinohara, the story of Cutie is a monument to her own artistic culmination into who she has become today.

Written by Grayson Chandler

All works of Ushio and Noriko Shinohara Available through Deborah Colton Gallery

Ushio and Noriko Shinohara: Bullie the Boxer and Cutie’s Catharsis

Focus : Suzanne Paul: Introductions

I’m sitting in an arts venue which I’ve become quite intimately familiar with over the recent years… Thinking about introductions…\n\nDeborah Colton Gallery is presenting a special pop-up exhibition in between it’s regular program of full scale exhibitions, illness which opens this weekend. The show will be up for two weeks and celebrates some standout moments in the gallery’s 12+ year history, and is the first time that the gallery-sponsored IMAGINE PEACE billboard from artist Yoko Ono will be presented on-site.\n\nI’m in the gallery as I type, in and out of writing and watching this billboard go up, as I begin work on a very special project. In this moment, surrounded by the preparation for celebration and altruistic intention, I find myself thinking of how intricately connected lives and timelines can be, and more faithful than ever that it is by no accident that we find ourselves in our present condition…\n\n\n\nI first saw this billboard while driving along I-45 in 2011. I wouldn’t say I was immediately struck in my tracks, I mean, I kept driving… but it did leave a subtle impression whose rememberance grew, and has grown, over time. The message is an important one and its expression was succinct – simplistic in its sophistication. I can still see the billboard from the freeway now in the vignette of my mind’s eye… And since then I have indeed imagined peace.\n\nLater that year, enjoying a free day with a new friend, I suggested we visit a gallery unknown to either of us, as it was the last day of an exhibitions of artworks by Yoko Ono. I’m not sure what we were expecting to encounter, but what we did take away was something neither of us could have anticipated.\n\nThat visit introduced us to Deborah Colton Gallery’s leader, Deborah Colton, and in the almost-five years since, that friend, Jessica Crute, and I have both worked for a time at the gallery and have also presented the most significant creative projects of our early careers. And for myself, that first encounter was the start of a series of many significant introductions in my life.\n\nIn 2014, as Assistant Director of the gallery,  I worked very closely with gallery artist Angelbert Metoyer in the co-curation and execution of Seasons of Heavena survey of recent works from the career of Angelbert Metoyer. In 2015 Deborah extended to me an opportunity to curate Collective Solid from concept to exhibition for the final iteration of ArtHouston, whose mission was to showcase emerging Houston talent city-wide.\n\n\n\nI must give credit where it is due: in my time working for and with the gallery, I’ve been exposed and come to know some outstanding artistic talent, from across a great many international borders. However, the artist whose work I find myself most sensitive to is a native Houstonian and a pioneering female photographer whose work chronicled the budding art scene in the city in the 70s and its evolution over the two consecutive decades. Suzanne Paul thoroughly documented the artists of her social experience – of her real life – and those influential in our artistic community, and in working with some of the artists she’s captured in my time at Deborah Colton Gallery I’ve come to realize the significance of her life’s work. Through pure creative impetus and for love of her craft and the pursuit of photography, she was able to document a broad cultural aspect of our city’s history. A large part of her life’s work now serves as a resource to draw from, critically, historically, and creatively.\n\n\n\nAt the end of last year, I stepped down from my full-time position and tackled an ambitions special project as an independent curator in partnership with Deborah Colton Gallery to present Proofan exhibition that shared a select few portraits of creatives significant to the Houston arts community and featured some work never-before seen from the archive of Suzanne Paul, which the artist left in the possession of the gallery at the time of her passing. The hope was that the exhibition might pique the interest of our community and ultimately lead to the preservation of Suzanne’s archive and the acquisition of her work by collecting institutions. It also just scratched the surface of examining her unique approach to photography, especially portraiture.\n\n\n\nIt’s funny how one thing leads to another – and to another – and on and on… and here’s where things come full circle…\n\nBecause of the positive feedback Proof received, we have been encouraged to continue with this special project and I have been commissioned by Deborah Colton to pursue this undertaking to ends we cannot yet know. There is a sense that as we work to digitize, catalogue, and archive the collected works of Paul’s, opportunities to expose her work to a broader and growing audience will reveal themselves. This is why I find myself again in the main space at Deborah Colton Gallery, in the beginning stages of a project dear to my heart and dear to my city, entitled Focus: Suzanne Paul.\n\nThis post is the first of many that aims to document this pursuit and shares the unique finds and critical moments we come to in this process, and I hope that a readership develops with me as I look more closely into the treasure left to us by Suzanne Paul.\n\n \n


\nContent originally published by Theresa Escobedo, here, on 8.26.16

Focus : Suzanne Paul: Introductions