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Vanessa Prager's Dreamers

The self-taught artist uses thick oil paint to creating dripping, melting portraits of imagined yet familiar figures

by Nara Shin in Culture on 24 July 2014

Painting, Artists, Oil Painting, Richard Heller Gallery, Vanessa Prager


Vanessa Prager is no stranger to CH—whether she's wielding a paintbrush or a ballpoint pen over vintage music sheets, the LA-based artist always surprises with her next move. Described by Prager as "dripping, melting, fading out portraits," her newest series titled "Dreamers" ventures into unexplored territory, refining a new painting style that situates the viewer in a limbo between reality and something inexplicable. The faces of imagined figures blur into an indistinguishable collage of bright, vivid colors.


Prager's new technique is all in the brushstroke; by manipulating very, very thick oil paint, the figures seem to jump off the wood, craning their neck into our world. As a result, the artworks end up unusually heavy. With this new manner of painting, "tons of mistakes can be made," Prager tells CH. "But the mistakes are what I kind of want. I don't want it to be perfect. There's something about the process—making it, finding its own form within itself: mistakes are welcome, and turn into not-mistakes."


"By melting [the faces] in different ways, it's morphing into something else—but instead of going past that stage, it's just right there," she says. "I want it to be right up to the point where it's real, and on the line of where it's like a total other world." Teetering between reality and abstraction, Prager's figures are based on images in her head, rather than real people. She depicts a classic, "everybody" kind of person in the hope that viewers can see someone with whom they are somewhat familiar.

"I'm not trying to be hallucinogenic," Prager says. Instead, she wants to push the viewer to tap into their dream-like consciousness that flirts and lingers in our day-to-day lives. "This world can't be in such a real state all the time."

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While she'll be focusing on this new painting style to create pieces for an upcoming show at Santa Monica's Richard Heller Gallery in February 2014, Prager says she's interested in developing the style for sculptures and moving into the 3D realm. Her curious and adventurous mindset seemingly never ends, "Keep dreaming! Keep thinking up new things."

For more on Prager's new series, visit her website.

Images courtesy of the artist

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Mother of Pearl + Richard Saja for Fall 2014

British brand taps the Brooklyn-based embroidery artist for a hybrid between couture and sportswear

by Kat Herriman in Style on 24 July 2014

Collaborations, Couture, Damien Hirst, Embroidery, Fashion, Mother of Pearl, Sportswear, Toile


In a world over-saturated with half-baked fashion collaborations, there are very few stories as compelling as that of Mother of Pearl, the British luxe sportswear line founded by Maia Norman in 2010. Rather than using collaborations as a thinly veiled marketing technique, the brand has made them part of their DNA, creating an intriguing alternative to the limited edition model by working with a new artist on every collection. “It’s really [Norman's] world,” explains Amy Powney, the brand’s creative director. "She has such a brilliant network of these incredibly talented people, so it felt organic to both of us that we try to incorporate them as much as possible."

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Working with up-and-coming and established talents like Jim Lambie, Gary Hume and Fred Tomaselli, Mother of Pearl has cultivated an eclectic aesthetic all its own. “We don’t just take artists' work and just slap it on the clothes,” says Powney. "Mother of Pearl has its own identity. And then we choose artists that can work with us and fit in. And sometimes it’s not the entire collection, and sometimes they have a bigger impact on it and sometimes they don’t. We never lose our identity when we work with artists, but I think it definitely adds a different level of intrigue to the collections."


Treating each partnership differently, Powney has mastered the art of blending new voices into the line whether it’s through patterns, silhouettes or themes. For this year’s FW collection (which hits stores in August) the designer played an even more critical part in selecting her partner. "I already had sort of a vision of what I wanted, which was something inspired by William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement, and while I was doing my initial research for the collection I came across this embroidery artist from Brooklyn named Richard Saja," explains Powney, who reached out to the artist via email. "This was the first time that we didn’t meet the artist through our normal channels, which made it even more exciting for me."

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Saja, who is known best for his whimsical and often salacious interpretations of traditional French toiles, was receptive to Powney’s idea. "I won’t enter into any project where someone wants to dictate what I do," says Saja. “But, when Amy approached me with this William Morris-inspired idea, it felt like a logical progression of my toile.” With an ocean between their studios, the two makers had to trust one another. Using Morris as a jumping off point for her collection, Powney worked with her British team to develop a monotone base pattern that would serve as Saja’s canvas. "One day I got an envelope in the mail that was stuffed with fabric. The only directive was to create whatever I saw fit," explains Saja. “I had never worked with a symmetrical pattern before because toile is always so narrative. But I liked the idea that my embroidery could inject a little bit of context into her patterns in order to make them feel more like stories."


Saja’s additions include cheeky details like unicorns with flaming manes and small vibrant red stitches, which drip from the necks of deers inflicted by the arrows of psychedelically colored cupids. And while Powney found inspiration in the arts and crafts movement and Saja’s work, the artist looked at racecars when creating his embroidery. "I grew up in the '70s and I get a lot of my inspiration from my childhood," admits the artist. "I knew I wanted to add something that was decorative and dynamic at the same time in order to compliment the spirit of Amy's print, so naturally my first thought was 1970s racecars. In the same way that William Morris works bring the nature inside, flames on a car are an abstraction of reality—a kind of trompe l’oeil."

The finished line featured just a few pieces hand-stitched by the artist, but they are the highlights of the edited collection that is comprised of sporty separates like bomber jackets, sweatshirts, and tailored pants. "It’s this weird hybrid between couture and sportswear," says Saja of the final collaborative product. "The result I think is something that feels fresh and surprisingly effortless."

Detail images courtesy of Richard Saja, all others courtesy of Mother of Pearl

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In the Garden of Sonic Delights, Katonah

Caramoor goes out of its comfort zone to host a series of new outdoor sound art installations

by Nara Shin in Culture on 24 July 2014

Experimental Music, Sound Art, Site Specific Installations, Caramoor, Contemporary Art, Laurie Anderson, Westchester


Caramoor Center for Music & the Arts, a sprawling country estate, is known for its outdoor classical and opera offerings—befitting the quiet Westchester town in which it's located. Though Katonah, NY is just over an hour's drive from the city, the 90-acre estate transports visitors to another world and time. The grounds are filled with towering trees and open lawns prime for picnicking, and the performance venues are one-of-a-kind: from the Venetian Theater that seats 1,700 to the Music Room filled with Renaissance furniture, Gothic tapestries and probably a ghost or two.

This summer, Caramoor will expand its traditional program and appeal to a broader demographic by hosting "In the Garden of Sonic Delights" (a nod to Hieronymus Bosch's triptych, "The Garden of Earthly Delights"). There, newly commissioned sound artworks from the likes of Laurie Anderson to Francisco López will live among the nooks and crannies of the gardens.


"We've been sort of talking about this project since 2008—a long time ago," curator and contributor Stephan Moore tells CH. "They wanted to find a way to bring a new audience here and bring people out to the gardens to see these beautiful spots." Moore (who's worked with Merce Cunningham Dance Company and Animal Collective) brought together a diverse roster of fellow sound artists who add validity to the field of sound art—a medium still marginalized by the contemporary art world. "We got everybody out here in the summer of 2013; artists picked their sites and they had all year to build their piece." The result is a collection of new works that you'll most likely never be able to experience outside of Caramoor in the future, due to their site-specific nature.


For example, Moore chose the Sense Circle fountain at Caramoor for his piece "Diacousticon." Robotic slide whistles installed around the fountain are programmed to self-tune and match the pitches picked up through microphones, whether it's an airplane flying overhead or a murmured conversation. The mysterious allure of sustained musical breaths is interrupted by the mechanic whirring of the whistles in constant adjustment, which, if you closed your eyes, could be mistaken for a security camera turning its head. Upon closer inspection, the whistles have been carefully positioned at an all-too-familiar angle.

Moore describes that feeling as "security cameras, guns, gas masks, all kinds of ominous, military references that come up visually. [Especially] after NSA spy revelations and after Edward Snowden, I think we all think of cameras, microphones, etc. from a different level—not so innocent anymore."


He has set up a situation that leaves people feeling not defensive and outraged, but surprisingly ambivalent. "On the one hand, it's flutes, it's pretty! On the other hand, it looks like a weapon that's shooting someone," chuckles Moore. And the view of the bucolic garden from the fountain, lush with plants and greenery, promises there's absolutely nothing to be concerned about—even if "Diacousticon" is a listening device that is learning about its surroundings.


The crowd favorite at Caramoor is no doubt Trimpin's The Pianohouse, which is exactly what it sounds like: a house made from six upright pianos. Ring the doorbell and it plays itself—though instead of traditional piano notes, music is created from hammers beating, strings being plucked and banged, even a saw slicing through the roof. This technological feat also has two partners: nature and time. "The whole idea is every time it gets rained on, it changes and disintegrates and will slowly stop working," says Moore. "Gradually everything is falling out of tune; he sees it as a continuum of the piece's life." What The Pianohouse sang last weekend will sound completely different in November, after the weather takes its toll.


Patience is rewarded here at Caramoor; the longer listeners sit and linger, the more a piece reveals itself and warms up to the curious. This is especially true of Suzanne Thorpe's two-speaker set-up in the Spanish Courtyard, called "Listening Is As Listening Does." The artwork simulates the principles of echolocation—used by bats and dolphins to navigate—and interacts with sounds it "hears" in real-time. Scott Smallwood's "Coronium 3500 (Lucie’s Halo)" is another piece that changes throughout the day, as the sound-making devices (each with different sensitivities) are dependent upon the sun to come alive.


At Caramoor, cicadas and birds and squeals from children share the same stage as beeps and growls and ambient loops; whether sound art or nature stands as the leading player is entirely for the listener to decide. Hours whizz by as there's plenty to see and hear, and because each piece invites you to sit down and stay a while.

Caramoor itself is especially sweet for first-time visitors though; part of the magic is getting lost and not knowing where the next sound artwork hides. For once, Google Maps can't provide the answer.


"In the Garden of Sonic Delights" is on view until 2 November 2014 from Thursday to Sunday (10AM-3PM) —we recommend packing along a picnic. One-day tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for students and free for children; Caramoor is located at 149 Girdle Ridge Road, Katonah, NY 10536. Be sure to check out the rest of the exhibition which extends to five partner organizations throughout Westchester county.

Images by Nara Shin

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