Category: Cheers At Five

A.M. Homes on James Esber and Jane Fine

“It is about exploration and experimentation, pushing the boundaries.” The writer A.M. Homes first met the “wickedly fun” (in work and in person) Yaddo artists James Esber and Jane Fine at Yaddo in the late 1990s, a story she recounts in today’s excerpt from “Friendships in Arcadia.” 

James Esber and Jane Fine met when James answered a “roommate wanted” advertisement in The Village Voice. James decided he wasn’t interested in being one of the roommates, but accepted when Jane asked him out on a date shortly thereafter. Flash forward fourteen years—

“Jane was the first person I met who was a serious artist. When we first met, our work was much more similar than it is now,” Jim recently told me, “living together helped us define ourselves—in opposition to each other in a more extreme way.”

“Jim is the planner, process oriented, very deliberate,” Jane tells me. Jane is the more free-form and casual of the two. They are each other’s keenest and most devoted critics—showing each other work sometimes daily, sometimes hourly, sometimes not at all.

I met Jim and Jane several years ago, during separate visits to Yaddo—first Jane, then Jim. In person and in their work, they are both wonderfully spirited, deeply thoughtful and wickedly fun.

For both James and Jane the work is at once playful and serious, formal and then throwing away the formal. It is about exploration and experimentation, pushing the boundaries.

For James Esber, it is the finger pressing of the plasticine, the intimate gesture of the hand pushing at the material, working close up and then stepping back and watching an image stretch, distort. The parameters of pop culture are pushed out in a sometimes psychedelic mind-bend, a transgression that explores what happens when you break the rules. Esber takes familiar images, politically loaded icons that echo back to the artist’s childhood, and treats these hallowed images as objects, distorting and then recreating them in new material.

For Jane Fine the process of making art is about invention, getting away from conventional ideas of painting. In her works on paper, formal decisions about painting combine with the informal nature of pop culture. A spill of paint splashes, oozes, slips over a structure that has been pressing up from below, building on something, and then there is more paint—layers where every gesture, every mark, shows.

She is taken with the idea of optimism, at once childlike and intellectual, a belief in the notion of newness, making something fresh rather than constantly appropriating—although everywhere there is the echo of Pollock, Richter, DeKooning. And then there is also something more modern, abstraction stemming from a center form with limbs—a new kind of being. The images have the anthropomorphic quality of transformer toys, cars, people, airplanes that are first one thing and then another, morphing, mutating, constantly re-inventing.

For both James Esber and Jane Fine there is always cultural cognizance, there is awareness of both self and what has come before and there is always something deeply wry and ironic, poking serious fun.

By A.M. Homes, from an exhibition curated by Barbara Toll as part of Yaddo’s centenary celebrations.

Copyright © 2000 by The Corporation of Yaddo

Alex Halberstadt

Listen to Alex Halberstadt read from his latest, Young Heroes of the Soviet Union, the book his fellow Yaddo artist Andrew Solomon called an “urgent and enthralling reckoning with family and history.” 

Alex Halberstadt. Photo: © Edward Burt

Lisa Cortѐs and “The Apollo”

It’s movie night! Get the 🍿ready to join the virtual watch party for HBO’s documentary THE APOLLO, produced by Yaddo board member Lisa Cortѐs. This wildly entertaining ride through the history of the legendary Harlem theater features clips of performers from Billie Holiday to Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Pharrell Williams, Lauryn Hill, and Yaddo artist Ta-Nehisi Coates, among many others. Tune in to HBO Docs to stream the film for free. 🎥

David Sedaris

Today’s pick-me-up: The incomparable #YaddoArtist David Sedaris reads from “Company Man,” an essay in his 2018 collection, Calypso. #TuesdayTreat.

Alison Kobayashi

Photograph by Lanna Apisukh

Interdisciplinary artist Alison Kobayashi first came to Yaddo in 2015, where she worked on the immersive performance piece that became the one-woman Off-Off-Broadway hit Say Something Bunny! In this short episode of the American Theater Wing’s “Working in the Theater,” Alison and her partner Christopher Allen take us on a whirlwind tour of their magical, moving, supremely original creation.

Amy Hempel

“Courage is not the fancy, the big act. It’s the everyday. I’m interested in how people get through very, very difficult situations. How you solve being alive.”

Today, a brief throwback interview with #YaddoArtist Amy Hempel. As always, she serves up beautiful sentences.

Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Today, a “lyric short” from poet and multimedia artist Rachel Eliza Griffiths, a guest at Yaddo in 2015. “This Dust Road: Self Portrait,” (for Zora Neale Hurston) is an excerpt from her third book, Mule and Pear. Look for her latest collection, Seeing the Body, on June 9th (says fellow #YaddoArtist Nick Flynn: “These poems are a gift—they remind me that grief can be the ground for transformation.”)

Rick Moody on Julia Jacquette

Julia Jacquette, Blueberry Shortcake, 1996. Enamel on wood.

“Love is good, love is difficult, love is impossible, commercial culture is unavoidable, life is short, seize the day.” Today’s prose treat: #YaddoArtist Rick Moody’s incisive appreciation of the visual artist Julia Jacquette, with whom he shared a Yaddo winter in residence.

My favorite Julia Jacquette paintings affix stylized renderings of high-calorie, artery-hardening menu items from our national cuisine (pancakes, ham with pineapple, peaches n’ cream, chocolate-covered cherries, etc.) to rich pastel backdrops. Often there is a line or two of poetry beneath, which usually then serves as the title to the piece, as in Against Mine (1996), or To Suck Your Fingers (1997). Probably, on first glance, the stance feels ironic, decadent foods with too much style. All the longing might appear, to the superficial viewer, suppressed in the work, not the least because of the vertiginous burden of the commercial photography which often serves as Julia’s source for her sinful desserts. On the contrary, though, the longer one looks at these pictures the more clear it is that they seek to preserve and to articulate affect. Human emotions. A tough act these days, in the rush of millennial merchandising. All of Jacquette’s later images, of hands from jewelry advertisements, of celebrities, are good and funny and serene, too, but it’s this early work, with its tragicomic intensity, that strikes me most forcefully.

I happened one year to spend a winter at Yaddo with Julia, and she was every bit as complex as her images, full of strong opinions, great vulnerabilities, and with an especially excellent record collection. One night we all huddled in her studio (it was February, and there was plenty of snow on the ground) and shimmied to the Beastie Boys and Beck. Julia danced with a tremendous abandon and late into the night. Accordingly, I think her secret life as a go-go cage inhabitant is not far below the surface here either. Love is good, love is difficult, love is impossible, commercial culture is unavoidable, life is short, seize the day. What consolation is left? In Julia’s single-minded devotion to her series paintings, there is reifying possibility of effort. So this is the last exit on the highway of postmodernity, Jacquette indicates, where, convulsed in our nostalgia, we nonetheless get down to work.

By Rick Moody, from an exhibition curated by Barbara Toll as part of Yaddo’s centenary celebrations.

Copyright © 2000 by The Corporation of Yaddo

Andrew Benincasa

Yaddo artist Andrew Benincasa is an animator and illustrator best known for his exquisite stop-motion paper cut videos. Here, one of his animations illustrates the beautiful “God of Loss” by the band Darlingside, taking “a simple idea—a story that unfolds via paper cut with an X-Acto knife and backlit to create intricate and stunning silhouettes—and shaping it into something that honestly feels divine.” (NPR)

Joe Fyfe

Galleries are shuttered, but you can still have a Saturday art moment with this walkthrough of the vivid exhibition “Kimber Smith: Paintings 1965-1980,” at Cheim & Read, NYC, narrated by Yaddo artist and curator Joe Fyfe.

Kimber Smith, “TILT” (1980). Courtesy Cheim & Read.

Gabriel Kahane

We’re sliding into Friday night on the mellifluous tones of the great singer/songwriter/composer/theater artist Gabriel Kahane (once memorably dubbed “a one-man cultural Cuisinart” by The New York Times Magazine), seen here performing “Veda (1 Pierce Drive)” from his wonderful album and performance piece, The Ambassador. Happy weekend, all.

Deborah Berke

Photo by Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

Trapped inside? No room with a view? Take a history-filled virtual walking tour of New York’s expansive East River waterfront with architecture critic Michael Kimmelman and Yaddo board member, the architect Deborah Berke.

Allan Gurganus on Melissa Meyer

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Melissa Meyer, In May the light of Yaddo, 1995, oil on canvas

The writer Allan Gurganus first met the painter Melissa Meyer at Yaddo in 1975, when both were young talents just beginning to find their footing. In his account of how that summer brought the “rusticated woodwind” hues of Yaddo’s lakes and forest paths into Meyer’s work for the first time, Gurganus makes a powerful case for the transformative powers of a Yaddo residency—and the lifelong friendships it fosters. 

Yaddo entered the color and shook the content of Melissa Meyer’s painting in 1975, and I was a lucky new friend who got to watch. We were both so young we thought Twenty Nine made you ancient. Over the weeks of a first stay in Saratoga, I watched the way the woods, the lakes, the Rose Garden, even the sound of a nearby racetrack, first trickled then surged into the work of this immensely gifted young painter.

Meyer usually lived in Manhattan. A city girl with city ways. Somewhat new to the country, she was one of those urbanites who regularly braves muggers and yet feels wary of crickets too hideously loud. “What was THAT?”

But a strange naturalizing began occurring this steamy lovely season spent upstate. I saw the flinty tones, the hard black lines of work she’d brought with her—uncoil. Something opened in this small paradise of evergreens. Something reassuring in its long days innocent of telephones and car alarms and our lives’ usual constant interruption. The greens offered themselves first. Then the browns came her way, and an odd new teal blue. Color in Meyer’s oils subtly shifted from the jazzy Manhattan brass of black and golds—to a more rusticated woodwind range of hue. I saw, as I visited her studio, how this seriously playful young painter opened into whatever space was offered her. She usually lived wide-open to the City’s adrenaline frenzy of novels read, recordings heard, clubs frequented. But Yaddo’s four hundred acres yielded unlikelier influences: bullrushes’ tan down? rocks lichened a bile-green? the needless miracle of dragonfly wings! The artist’s walks around the lakes became—not simply Time-outs—but a surprising new source in-coming. Meyer was also using her student ID to get into the New York City Ballet almost nightly.

So, by day, to enjoy good talk at breakfast, a quorum of silence during working hours, a solid meal that ends with bread pudding, and then to pile into someone’s jalopy and drive to the Performing Arts Center and get to watch Martins and Farrell dance at their platinum peak. Hell, there must be a couple of good paintings waiting latent in all that. And Meyer found them.

By season’s end, when she threw open her studio and invited everyone, you could tell—I mean, which pictures had been started and finished in New York; which ones were begun there and completed here; which bridging works involved her only slowly coming to trust that she was going to get to stay here a while longer; and then the Saratoga paintings. These were my favorites. I bought one at the time, and for most of the money in my savings account. Now, twenty-five years later (can it be? moi? nous?), I still marvel at its lake-blue, its lake-browns, its goldfish-like striations just beneath the surface. It still shows the ravishing confidence of a young hand already in such control of a brush, and yet letting it go ahead and do whatever it seemed to invent, for the first time ever.

I have grown more devoted to the large talent and true authority of Melissa Meyer, an artist met young, long known, and ever more admired. Her works are now in the Met and at the Modern. And if either of those places ever asked me to date some large BC/AD stylistic divide in Melissa Meyer’s painting, it would have to be the split that summer made. I mean, when Meyer—a huge Audrey Hepburn fan—ceased to be only an urban sophisticate; when she started to know she was also an Earthling—in her life and with her paint.

Am I sentimental to credit that season she took note of how the black V’s inscribed across white birch bark resemble Manhattan graffiti marring an otherwise clean wall, and how this relates to Franz Kline, Mark Tobey, Chinese calligraphy and most especially her own work? I think not. I love predicting Meyer’s evolution as an artist by simply looking at the one work I own. In it I see again this new marriage—”opposites attract”—of dislocations. I see two realms’ richness doing battle for where, to quote Bill Clinton, “Is is.” I see that struggle resolving in a lyricism so well-earned.

So, Yaddo muddied the impractical spike heels of a 1975 City Girl. That summer turned up one spadeful of generative earth. Into the work it went. It still leavens a zone of spinning heartfelt urban incandescence.

By Allan Gurganus, from an exhibition curated by Barbara Toll as part of Yaddo’s centenary celebrations.

Copyright © 2000 by The Corporation of Yaddo

Michael Harrison

Composer, pianist and Yaddo artist Michael Harrison shares a new recording of his moving, lyrical “In Flight,” the title track from his very first album of original piano solos, released in 1987.  #MusicMonday

Peter Cameron on John Kelly

The chameleon-like performance and visual artist John Kelly—who has embodied figures from Egon Schiele to Caravaggio to Joni Mitchell in four decades on the New York cultural scene—first came to Yaddo in 1994. In today’s excerpt from “Friendships in Arcadia,” his fellow Yaddo artist, the writer Peter Cameron, recalls his introduction to Kelly’s protean talent, at Yaddo in the snowbound winter of 1996. Happy weekend, all.

The first image I ever saw of John Kelly was plural: a photograph of John standing beside a painted self-portrait. Both Johns were identically dressed and posed, and the two suggested a continuum—that another John perhaps existed outside of the photograph’s frame, and other Johns beyond that. Later, when I met John at Yaddo in the winter of 1996, I realized how apt this image was. I think that at some level all artists desire to do that “other” thing—writers want to paint, painters to sing, dancers to write. In his performance “Paved Paradise” John, as Joni Mitchell, states that if an artist is in touch with her sensibility, she can do just about anything. Well, maybe. It helps if you are also phenomenally and variously talented. That winter at Yaddo, as it snowed and snowed, I watched several of John’s videos (my work wasn’t going particularly well); since then I’ve encountered his self-portraits in the flesh, and seen John perform in concert and theater. When I think of John I think of a big house with all the doors and windows opened, but instead of light flooding into the rooms, light is pouring out.

By Peter Cameron, from an exhibition curated by Barbara Toll as part of Yaddo’s centenary celebrations.

Copyright © 2000 by The Corporation of Yaddo

David Cale

The marvelous, magical David Cale sings “The Feral Child,” from his “indisputably courageous, frequently shocking and deeply moving” (The Chicago Tribune) musical memoir, We’re Only Alive for a Short Amount of Time. Today’s moment of beauty.

Patrick & Daniel Lazour

Authoring three musicals before leaving high school, winning the 2016 Richard Rodgers Award for Musical Theater (like Anais Mitchell and Pasek & Paul before them), a highly acclaimed 2019 run at the American Repertory Theater of their musical We Live in Cairo, about the events of the Arab Spring . . . just a few career highlights for extraordinary #YaddoArtists Patrick and Daniel Lazour  – and they’re just getting started. The brothers also found time to release a new album entitled Freres. Here’s one of our favorite tracks, “Habitable Planet.”

Donald Antrim on Zeke Berman

Zeke Berman, Red, Yellow Balloons in Ice, 2018

“The studio is like an artist’s installation of a biohazard site.” The author Donald Antrim first came to Yaddo in 1990, the photographer Zeke Berman in 1989. In 1999, they overlapped—as Antrim details in this account of the memorable contents of Berman’s studio, today’s cocktail-hour installment of “Friendships in Arcadia.”

Zeke Berman pulls up to Yaddo in a truck. The truck is the size you might use to move from one apartment to another while still in your thirties—you don’t have as much stuff as you will later in life, but you’ve got a lot of stuff.  So does Zeke. Zeke backs his truck up to the studio. The studio is freshly painted—clean. Time to unload! Here come the cameras—Zeke uses a 4 x 5 mounted on a stand, and smaller, hand-held Polaroids for studies—and the clutter of lights and plugs, cables and tape, the tripods, all the evil-smelling chemicals in their jars.  How much truck can these things take up? Not much. So what’s in Zeke’s truck? Balls of string. Old shoes. Rusty cans and pieces of glass and metal hooks, a bucket filled with screws and washers. Domino sugar and paper in rolls and paper that’s come unrolled, and tacks in plastic pails, and something wooden that might be, or might once have been, a table leg from the table in someone’s kitchen.  It looks like a cudgel. Food coloring. Some very thin wire. Barbed wire? Spoons and forks and knives! An aluminum cooking pot! Is Zeke going to eat? There’s a can of glue and a huge sack of unflavored gelatin crystals and a plastic bag overfilled with shirts that could not possibly fit Zeke; the shirts don’t look at all right for him, and therefore give the impression of looking exactly, horribly right.  Are they from the same closet in the same emptied-out bedroom? Whose bedroom? Now they’re on the floor in Zeke’s studio, much in the way of clothes in a teenager’s room. In Zeke’s studio, you have to watch your step or you might disturb the gelatin simmering in the big pot on the electric burner next to the old socks heaped in piles that tumble over geologically to form younger piles. Where is Zeke? He’s balanced on the piles, pouring a gelatin mold of Monica Lewinsky’s dress.  The gelatin is blue and there is some other in the corner that has gone green and is beginning to rot. Everything has its own exquisite, lurid color, and may or may not be formerly edible. The studio is like an artist’s installation of a biohazard site. It seems that sunlight is coming in, though it is hard to tell from where. Later Zeke will find some string and a bit of cloth, and he’ll tie the cloth around something else, and later still he’ll photograph these things in a certain light, in certain arrangements; and what you’ll see, when you look at a photograph of Zeke Berman’s, is a strange and funny and touching and unforgettable piece of whatever it was that came out of Zeke.

By Donald Antrim, from an exhibition curated by Barbara Toll as part of Yaddo’s centenary celebrations.

Copyright © 2000 by The Corporation of Yaddo