The Art Assassin 2

a nonfiction novel by Albert Wang, or a portrait of the artist as a young failure…

ASSASSINATION: Vincent Como, Artist

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Photograph of Vincent Como in deep concentration. Courtesy of Vincent Como.
Vincent Como: Untitled (Rainbow in the Dark), 2009, ink, gouache and graphite on paper, 8.5 by 11 inches. Courtesy of Vincent Como and JJ Sulin.

The artist in black. The man in black. Black in all its richness, studied by this scholar of a single color in all the variants and implications. The meaning taken in like a black hole. From prints to even a limited edition painting, Vincent Como explores like a mad scientist this strange yet familiar beauty with the encyclopedia of blackness.

Black is not a fashion statement. This is a serious color that requires pondering and deep concentration. Black is not the absence but the all-knowing presence of this existence. The enrichment through the aesthetics has set off an example for the eye drawn in by its own strength, a mystery that does not need to be solved. Black is back.

If you have any questions about Blackman’s artwork, feel free to contact him at studio@vincentcomo.com or vincentcomo@gmail.com.

Now on to the show and now here are THE ART ASSASSIN’s latest details of this “assassination”:

qi peng: To start off on a lighter note, what are some of your favorite artists, books, television shows, sports, art magazines, toys, movies, and other cultural artifacts that you wish to share with your fans of  your work here? Do you have any recent galleries or exhibitions that you have seen and would to recommend to us? What things in those shows inspired your artistic eye and tastes?

Vincent Como: -A. Artists: Ad Reinhardt, Spencer Finch, Jannis Kounellis, James Lee Byars, Joseph Beuys, Keith Tyson, Mike Nelson.

B. Books: the Documents of Contemporary Art series by MIT/Whitechapel Press, The Alchemical Mandala by Adam McLean, anything by Borges, Badiou, Thomas McEvilly has some good thoughts on postmodernity and the sublime.

C. TV: Don’t watch much current TV unless it’s through the Netflix.  The new Battlestar Galactica was pretty good, but the writing died before they resolved what they wanted to so the wrap up got a little painful and saccharine.  The Wire had exceptionally good writing.  Fringe seems like it’s going somewhere interesting.  Deadwood.

D. Sports Nope.

E. Art Mags: Art in America is the only one I actually subscribe to and the new Dave Hickey essays they started doing are probably the best things going in the industry rags right now.  The other magazine subscriptions I have are to Scientific American and Harper’s.

F. Toys: Micronauts (from the 1970’s).  I mean, these guys “came from inner space“! How does that not blow your mind?

G. Movies: Anything by Kubrick, Cronenberg, Just saw Charlie Kaufman‘s “Synedoche, New York” which was really great

H. Other Cultural Artifacts: I’m quite fond of music.  Anything from Wolves in the Throne Room to Sunn O))) to Ornette Coleman to DEVO to Willie Nelson to Bauhaus to JS Bach

J. Recent Shows: The Best thing I’ve seen really recently is a Jonathan Schipper show at Pierogi‘s new annex “The Boiler”.  It’s a sculpture which takes two muscle cars and slowly smashes them together over the course of the exhibition. You don’t really see them moving it happens so slowly, but you can hear things creaking.  Definitely one of the most sublime experiences I’ve been witness to.  I see alot of shows and I feel alot are just towing the line of “good”.  I like walking into an exhibition and feeling like the artist is really pushing themselves to achieve something exceptional.  Something that makes me think about it a week later, and a month after that…It’s rare to see, I know, and I hold everyone else to the same standards I hold myself to, which some might think is pretty unfair, but when it comes down to it I just don’t have any interest in the mediocre and don’t think you should either.

qi peng: Are there any restaurants or hangouts such as bookstores around New York, particularly Greenpoint, where you are based out of or anywhere else that you wish to recommend us? What are the qualities that you enjoy best about the places that you have chosen?

Vincent Como: -I like a few places for different reasons.  As a vegetarian, I’m really happy to have Brooklyn Standard nearby which is a new take on the bodega model providing local, organic, type fare as a corner store/deli. Boneshakers is also a really nice vegan coffeshop and sandwichery.  The Palace is a bar I like for cheap beer.  They’ve got a great jukebox with all heavy metal.  The Black Rabbit is a dark wood interior traditional style tavern with some good indoor seating for the winter and good outdoor seating for the summer.

qi peng: How do you feel that the current economic recession impacted the contemporary art market and way that it functions in the larger national economy? Do you feel that artists will be pursuing more personal and intimate projects than the overly commercial work, typically geared for the art fairs, during the upcoming years? How do you think that galleries and non-profits will be coping with the dramatic shifts within the political and corporate culture, particularly in America?

Vincent Como: -The recession’s pretty much like natural selection/thinning the herd. Galleries will continue to shut down, some because the overhead in those spaces is too much and they’ll evolve into private dealers, others made bad choices and managed to talk up a bunch of bad art that nobody will remember in 5 years.  Some will be in a tighter spot, because they’re perhaps championing work that may have been on a slow burn and finally has started to take off.  It’s going to be difficult for them to keep it up,  but the ones that do are really going to come out of this thing in a really sweet position to be the next generation of powerhouses.  I think artists are going to be in a similar position, in that some will find themselves without a gallery overnight and it’s going to be really difficult to get a gallery interested in some younger or less established artists, but I think this is where the work has to be a true extension of the person making it rather than something geared toward selling it at an art fair, and similarly I think for these artists, they will come out of this also in a really good position to have a strong career once things start to bounce back.  Both artist and gallery will have to see the value in it.  Alot of the fairs will scale back also, so the big thing is the galleries that were making 1/2 the year’s sales at the fair are now going to have to count on the backroom and really working the sale, and that’s a good thing because it means they have to really believe in the work again.  It’s going to be a long time before people are herded through art fairs with blindfolds and open wallets again…But it will happen again, and it will fall apart again.

qi peng: Do you have any favorite hobbies which you enjoy in your spare time? How do these activities inform the studio work that you pursue? With your personal interests, are your painting, works on paper, and installations reflective of those hobbies you engage in?

Vincent Como: -I’m not really sure I have any legitimate hobbies or anything like that which would be unrelated…I mean, I really like alot of stuff, but in the end there always seems to be a connection…

qi peng: As a graduate of The Cleveland Institute of Art, what were those school years like? How was life in the studio like back then? Did you have any influential professors or students during that time and what was their impact on you and your work?

Vincent Como: -It was a pretty great experience overall.  I graduated in 1998 and it was still a 5 year program then.  It could be an intense environment, and that’s a combination of the instructors and the involvement of your peers.  Like anything, if you don’t’ put much into it, you’re not going to get much out of it.  I think most of all what I came out of there with was a solid work ethic.  I learned that I could be just as productive reading in the Library as drawing in my studio space, and even if I wasn’t putting marks on something at the moment I learned how to *be* in the studio.  That’s where you’re not producing visible results, or perhaps stuck on something, but you stay in that place because that’s where these things are generated.  That’s the space where your ideas become flesh, so you have a different connection if you’re in the studio thinking about something than if you’re somewhere else watching TV or at a bar and thinking you’re also making notes about the same thing.  Granted, there’s always the possibility of burnout, so sometimes you need the break to reset your head on a project, or be able to shift gears into another project.  Once I found my direction I’d pretty much just work until the building closed at midnight, then go to the bar for a couple hours and decompress, wake up and go to class, then do it all again. Maybe because I really thrive on a routine, but the overall studio practice and problem solving I learned there has served me well for the past decade.

qi peng: Your work has been notable for its masterful use of the color black. There has been an art history tradition of black or near black monochrome painting ranging from Malevich‘s painting “Black Square on a White Field,” Richard Serra‘s weighty black etchings, Ad Reinhardt’s black monochromes, Rauschenberg‘s black paintings, and even Terence Koh‘s blackened sculptures (before he switched to white a lot lately). What are the connotations of the color “black” that the other colors don’t have? How does your work fit into the context of the tradition of “black” painting in art history while “painting degree zero?” (That is, critiquing the tradition…)

Vincent Como: -Yeah, Serra’s Weight and Measure etchings really blew me away when I first encountered them as well as the wall pieces that activated the architecture the same way the black does the page in the etchings.  I liked the way they screwed up figure and ground, and presence and absence with a black void that was actually a super thick object of substance.  Then I got into the whole canon of Black monochromes from there.  When I consider Black and it’s history and significance, I take it all the way back to the beginning of time.  Actually…before we can really consider time as quantifiable. Black is all there was before there were stars to reveal anything else, or interactions within said black to cause any of the elements to start mixing and solidifying into more complex systems, but it was all in there to begin with.  So black is the vehicle of all information.  No other color can lay claim to that because they’re all contingent upon a light source, and their particular hue is determined by the wavelengths of that light source.  My work fits into the context of these art historical traditions because it is an outgrowth of it with regard to a visual lexicon that we’re using to communicate, but just like everything it isn’t static, it evolves. Reinhardt took his work to a certain point, then the next generation picks up from there and so on. We’re all indebted to the past, it’s just how we use that past to move into the future is where the success or failure of a piece resides.

qi peng: With the color black, there has been a long history of racial connotations regarding the color itself. What political dimensions exist within your artwork? Do you see your work relating to the racial dimensions of black or divorced from the historical connotations? In relation to the political aspects, do you feel that your paintings and works on paper going against the trends of the “eye candy” that have predominated the New York contemporary art world? How do galleries in the area respond to your single-handed attempt to revitalize minimalism, which is hardly popular amongst artists in our younger generation?

Vincent Como: -Yeah, there is certainly a history of racial associations with Black and as a white American I can’t expect to be able to talk about something I have no real experience with when it comes to the social perceptions and associations of the color Black.  While I really like the fact that a painter like Kerry James Marshall will use a full on Black for the skin tone of characters in his paintings, there’s really no basis for me to enter the discussion on that level.

I haven’t really thought about the work as adversarial toward the eye candy.  There are certainly alot of things that have come into the contemporary art world in the past 20-30 years that have been building steam and adding to the idea of eye candy, but it just isn’t what or how I’m interested in pursuing my work.  I don’t really consider it a revitalization of minimalism, as I think there’s alot of pretty serious minimal work out there right now.  It’s considerably sloppier than Donald Judd, but it’s out there.  It goes back to the idea of using the past to move into the future. As far as galleries go I get alot of positive response to the work.  I also have people tell me that while the work is solid, being so focused or extreme can make it difficult to work with or work into a show.  Rejection is never an enjoyable thing, but in the long run I think that speaks more honestly about the level of commitment I have to this work, and the fears or limitations the gallery may have and because of that I feel it will eventually find the right fit with a gallery that’s really willing to get behind the work for awhile.

qi peng: In your recent works on paper series entitled “Un/Folding Time/Space,” your focus seems to be on the creases and “imperfections” of what is supposedly flat sheets of black paper. Why do you wish to focus the viewer’s attention on these folds instead of just the monochrome aspect? Does this work have a relationship to the Asian tradition of origami? What is your philosophy of paper folding? Is there a Zen-like aspect in the viewer’s reflection of the idea of darkness?

Vincent Como: -The idea comes out of a hybridization (well, bastardization…) of both M-theory and e-folding.  M theory is the collected string theories as a whole, with M referring to a membrane of one dimensional space (length only) made up of all these segments or “strings” that then construct a theorized 11 dimensional universe that we exist in, out of which only 4 dimensions can be measured scientifically.  E-folding refers to the unit of time in an exponential growth usually describing cosmic inflation.  So the way the works were envisioned didn’t really have much to do with origami, but the idea of this membrane or section of space being unfolded and expanding in the two visible directions of the plane.

qi peng: Your artwork reflects a strong interest in physics, particularly in the idea of dark matter. For the lay person, what is dark matter and how does it interact with the driving concepts within your artwork? What is the spectrum of the color black? What are the different shades of black and their emotional connotations? How do you attempt to forge a balance between the objective and subjective properties of this singular color?

Vincent Como: -Dark Matter is a force in the universe which cannot be directly detected, only inferred by gravitational forces perceived in visible matter.  Since it cannot be seen directly it is referred to as “Dark”, more as a way of expressing the limitations in human understanding.  It is believed to play a central role in structure formation and galaxy evolution.  I find it an interesting angle in the work that I’m doing because it plays into the psychology of the color Black, or the Darkness.  The idea that something may be hiding in the shadows, or as Nietzsche once stated: “If you look long enough into the void, the void begins to look back through you.”.  So there is a heavily loaded ongoing duality and mystery, a psychic energy, that resides within Black that has been built up over many centuries and many cultures to this point of extreme saturation.  To be absolutely precise about the spectrum of black, the visible spectrum is comprised of the wavelengths within a range of 380 to 750 nanometers, so the unperceived range from 0-379, and 751-infinity is where you would find all the variations of Black.  True Black as a color has more variation in properties of absorbtion/reflection, or warmth and coolness.  It relies more on subtlety than direct variation for it’s differences.

qi peng: Wittgenstein once said that “Transparency and reflections exist only in the dimension of depth of a visual image. The impression that the transparent medium makes is that something lies behind the medium. If the visual image is thoroughly monochromatic it cannot be transparent.” What do you think about this statement and how it relates to your work? Do you feel that your paintings or works on paper lack transparency in the physical sense but clarity in the spiritual sense?

Vincent Como: -Visual depth on a two dimensional plane is pretty much smoke and mirrors. On a physical level Wittgenstein has a point.  That doesn’t mean your eye isn’t tricked into seeing a depth in a dense layer of pigment, but that is far from transparent.  You’re looking beyond the surface, but not into the substrate, rather into the created field.  This created field is often where I strive to push a surface so that it absorbs the viewer’s field of vision. To some degree that leads toward a spiritual clarity.  A project I’ve been pursuing this year is to produce an editioned painting called *Blackspace*. All the paintings are 10x10in squares with a flat black surface and they each come in a small box.  This was a direct reaction to reading about a friend of Reinhardt’s, Thomas Merton, who was a well repected writer and trappist monk and expressed an interest in having one of Reinhardt’s paintings in his monastic cell as an aid to meditation.  I felt that it would be appropriate to create a portable version so that one could feasibly use this as a meditative tool on the go, rather than in a fixed location.

qi peng: Assume that you could create your own personal museum of artwork. Which artists or pieces would you include in the collection and why? Do you like looking at art museums or galleries anywhere? What types of pieces does your visual tastes gravitates towards?

Vincent Como: -I was watching the history channel in a hotel room years ago and came across a segment recounting the meeting between Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg in Copenhagen.  It suggested that during the meeting Heisenberg slipped a small drawing to Bohr of a square with lines entering the top of the square to indicate the fuel rods entering the core of a reactor to create a nuclear explosion.  This was to suggest the Germans had unlocked the atomic bomb and to alert the allies.  Since seeing that I’ve never been able to find a source that backs up that particular part of the story or the existence of such a drawing, but should it have existed, I’d build a whole room just for that.  I’d also get me a Reinhardt black painting.  I’m very fond of Christopher Wool‘s dot paintings, and once saw a Robert Smithson drawing that diagrammed a proposed environmental sculpture of a ring of sulphur, it was a beautifully elegant schematic.  My personal taste in art is heavy towards the Abstract/Minimal/Conceptual, though when I go to museums I find alot of interest in drawings from the 16th century, or Japanese block prints.  I like the over the top ornamentation in things like elaborate silver services, but it’s not something I want to live with, just something I want to think about.

qi peng: Your earlier 2006 series “History of Painting” was drawings created using gouache and ink on paper. What were the implications of focusing the viewer’s eye towards two major elements: the frame (or framing device) and the black monochrome? By allowing a separation philosophically between the viewer’s looking directly at a particular piece and the act of looking at a piece framed within another artwork, what are the postmodern implications of the viewer looking at the drawings that forces the viewer’s self-consciousness of their looking at a piece of artwork?

Vincent Como: -I suppose some of this came out of staring at the previously mentioned silver services and some of it came from the subtle Marxism in John Hughes‘ 1986 film “Pretty in Pink”, where the proletariat girl who values hard work and education adorns her bedroom wall with a Mondrian poster symbolizing a move toward the future and the Bourgeois boy trying to win her heart is surrounded by rich friends with classic allegorical figure paintings representing a grip on the past, and the old money he will eventually inherit out of status.  So I wanted the viewer to be aware of the framing device and how it affects the reading of the interior spaces which have been equalized to a Black field, but I also wanted to give the viewer an idea that the Black field may be something that transcended cultural styles and eras as something more inherently universal.  By definition, postmodernity is self-conscious, so the goal was to inform the viewer that they are looking at a drawing, a schematic or diagram depicting the inversion of historical context with regard to the medium of painting.  That self-consciousness will lead the viewer in a hundred different directions based on the set of conditions they bring to the work, and that’s something you can’t direct within a work, you have to allow that to go where it will.

qi peng: Some of your sculptures and installation projects, including my personal favorite “Layer 19,171 on the World’s Largest Ball of Paint (Black),” forays into a challenging world of conceptual art. Where do you get such brilliant ideas from the context of the empirical world? With sculptures of cast sumi ink and an edition of 100 paintings called “Blackspace” created from acrylic paint on canvas over board with box, how do you plan the materials and methods for an individual project? What are the stories behind your site-specific installations at the Standard Gallery in Chicago and Secret Project Robot? How were you able to coordinate such challenging undertakings?

Vincent Como: -That’s what comes out of being present in the studio.  I did a recent show where I was really struggling with certain elements of the overall presentation and must have envisioned three other whole shows while trying to get my head around this one nuance to finish off this show.  Now that it’s over I can’t make the work fast enough that I was thinking about.  The Ball of Paint work was really fun because I had heard about this guy in Indiana who had the world’s largest ball of paint and made a special pilgrimage out there just to paint it Black.  As far as the materials go and the methods, I think every artist has a set of skills and materials they’ve trained themselves to understand and they’re comfortable with.  The installation you mentioned at Standard in Chicago, *Object (Subject*) was about qualities of light and darkness in the sky and was based on the host of creation myths out in the world that discuss the formation of the heavens and earth and mention the sky as a physical plane being separated from the ground, or in Norse mythology for instance, the underside of a skull being held above by dwarves.  I wanted to represent the sky as a physical object, so I took a series of photographs (real not digital) of the blank sky in half hour intervals straight through from one midnight to the next using one roll of film for each 1/2 hour increment that were then printed and assembled onto panels with the hope that they would go from complete dark to light back to darkness.  This was in February of 2004, and I was living in Chicago at the time but made a trip to my childhood home in rural Pennsylvania in the hopes that I would not have interferance from light pollution.  As it turned out, they had gotten a considerable amount of snow and then a heat wave, so my darkness was black, but my light was so foggy it only got to grey, then back to black.  At first I was kind of upset, but in reality, and as the city of New York can attest during this rainy spring/summer, you’re at the mercy of the elements, and the sky is just as much the sky on a cloudy day as on a foggy one.  So in working out the piece with the gallery space I made sure to scale it such that the flat panel of the artwork was larger than any of the walls so it had to lean within the space.  Not unlike if the sky had fallen and was stuck in this Wicker Park storefront space, with the exception of the ceiling being intact.  But I felt it was necessary to create it larger than life in order to represent both the scale of myth and the scale of the physical sky or horizon.  *The Blackening* was an installation I did at Secret Project Robot in Brooklyn in the spring of 2008.  It was inspired by a scene in The Shining where there is a still shot of the hallway in the lodge and the elevator doors at the end slowly open up and flood everything you see with blood.  I wanted to create a room where you could physically enter the space where something like that had just happened and contend with the psychological aftermath of being inside a chamber with black stains on the walls above your head and drains on the floor.  Coordinating that kind of thing just takes planning and organization.  Measure the space and make sure everything that’s pre-built fits through your doors, that sort of thing.

qi peng: What is your opinion on juried competitions such as New American Paintings and curated artists registries such as The Drawing Center‘s Viewing Program or White Columns in the development of a young artist’s career? Do you feel that being judged by “officials” or “art referees” help to create a strong reputation for the artist’s work? What elements do you think are necessary to make a particular artwork strong and communicative? How did your being featured in New American Paintings in 2008 help to boost your artistic career?

Vincent Como: -I think juried competitions can be a good way for young artists to get their work out and seen by someone.  I don’t know that the art referees mentioned really lend much weight to something in and of themselves on the whole.  I think the more an artist is putting their work out there the more name recognition they’ll have along the way, and that creates not so much a reputation but a myth about the artist.  Joe Artist is mentioned at a friends opening and while nothing comes to mind, the name is vaguely familiar, creating the suggestion that this person is doing something you may have seen or should see.  I think New American Paintings is a good publication, and I had a number of people contact me after being in it, but that doesn’t mean much resulted from it.

qi peng: How does the contemporary art world differ between that of Chicago and New York? You are married to a fellow artist and librarian Holly Wilson. What is the married life like and how does it fit into your studio time? What similar activities do the both of you enjoy together, either art-related or not? What challenges does a couple involved in the art world face on a diurnal basis?

Vincent Como: -Chicago’s a great place and I have alot of friends there and there are some galleries I keep in contact with there, but the comparison is non existent. New York is so much bigger, and more involved.  Particularly because it is a recognized part of the economy of the city.  New York is also an international city, it’s working on a global scale.  Because of that I spend a great deal of time in the studio and engaged in art events, so my wife and I see each other when we have time.  She’s just as busy with other things but we make a point of making it to a friends opening and things like that. We go to galleries together.  Sometimes the biggest challenges are who’s making dinner at 10:00, or who’s been to the ATM and can pick up cat food.

qi peng: What are some of your future projects or exhibitions that you will be pursuing soon? Will these new artworks be an extension of the themes and ideas that you are examining now or a different direction instead?

Vincent Como: -At this point everything’s an extension of these ideas I’ve been honing. I’m just scratching the surface so I think it’s safe to say this work will continue to unfold and occupy me until I die.  The beginning of this year was pretty active and I’m talking to some people about things in 2010, but nothing’s able to be put into the calendar just yet.

qi peng: Do you have anything else which you would like to share with your readers and fans of your paintings, works on paper, installations, and forthcoming exhibitions here?

Vincent Como: -I think this is pretty comprehensive, but if someone’s intersted in more information they can always contact me through the website, or get onto my email list for upcoming shows/events.

For more gossip or dishing me the art scoop: E-mail me at qipengart@gmail.com
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Written by qi peng

July 17, 2009 at 2:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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