Antler Gallery in Portland Oregon is proud to present new works by Ajay Brainard and Nicomi Nix Turner this Thursday the 29th! Nicomi’s imagery draws heavily on the natural world and straddles the fine line between scientific natural history illustration and folkloric narrative drawing. Ajay applies the traditional medium of oil painting to various surfaces and in this show around half of the pieces are done on various ephemera including antique sheet music and vintage record sleeves.
What is the soul of the show? How do the work of Nicomi and Ajay work together? How does each complement the other? Where do they overlap? Why are they showing together?
The soul of the show is metamorphism. Nicomi’s works deal with life transitioning into death and the moments in between, whereas Ajay is exploring beauty through re-genesis. The two artists were chosen to show alongside one another because of these similar yet disparate themes within their work. In fact Ajay’s newer direction, which is to breathe new life into discarded ephemera, has brought the concept to a higher level of completion than we anticipated. Also, from an aesthetic standpoint, we enjoy the idea of showing works where there is overlap in themes and subject matter, but contrast in terms of style, medium or color palette. Nicomi’s soft graphite juxtaposed with the bold, brilliant oils in Ajay’s work seemed like a good fit.
How long has Antler been around? What is your mission statement? How long have you been around?
Antler first opened in a tiny 100sq ft sublet space in the Alberta Arts District two and a half years ago, which was about ten blocks from our current location. Having both worked at various jobs on Alberta Street we felt this was the perfect neighborhood to open our gallery in; it is fiercely loyal to local and creative businesses. Initially we were only open two days a week, but it was a good way for us to see if it was something we wanted to pursue and also if there was an interest in what we were showing. The neighborhood and city were incredibly interested and supportive, we were able to relocate to a larger space after 18 months. Our mission is to showcase the highest caliber contemporary art from the Pacific Northwest and beyond. The general approach is to bring in work by established artists from further afield and pair them with emerging local artists in the hope that the reflected spotlight will help the people we work closely with here in town push their career to the next level.
There seem to be an increasing number of Art Walks in major cities. As a gallery, one’s first thought is this would be helpful, is that how you view them? How have art walks helped the Arts Community? Why are they important? Do you think there is a more vibrant arts community thanks to arts walks? What else can be done by the arts community to increase the public perception of art, and the public value of art?
Art walks can be helpful, but not always in the way you might initially assume. Our experience is that while you might not always benefit directly in terms of selling work they are invaluable for building excitement and momentum around shows. There is an incredible energy which is generated when thousands of people show up in a certain place to see art, performance, and cultural expression. Last Thursday is an enigma for most who live in the neighborhood, it has wonderful aspects and less wonderful aspects. The downside can be that sometimes you draw a crowd which isn’t as respectful as you’d hope for. We host preview openings the night before Last Thursday, which are also open to the public, and allow folks who have a difficult time in a crowd a chance to enjoy a quieter opening and give the artist community a chance to catch up with one another.
I think art walks can make for more vibrant arts communities. We have two big nes here in town (First Thursday downtown and Last Thursday on Alberta Street) and they’re both wonderful opportunities to make connections with other artists, curators and creative people in Portland. We have met a lot of the people we now work with regularly because of those events.
It’s inevitable that a section of the visitors to those things will come for other reasons than the art. The hope is that if you consistently show high caliber work which is undeniably impressive then those people start to pay attention and in future they come to see the work and not to party. I think the burden is on the galleries, the artists and those who write about art to elevate public perception of it. On one end we have a really great community of people working hard to make beautiful things and the more this can be transmitted to the prospective audience, the more seriously they’re going to take it. Beyond the work, as a gallery, we endeavor to create a really comfortable, welcoming environment where the atmosphere is inclusive. Our pricing structure is deliberately varied. To walk into a space and see everything listed at prices you could never begin to imagine spending is incredibly alienating. We want to offer something for everyone who walks through the door, it’s important to us that they feel this is for them not someone else. In the mainstream media art is presented as elitist and wildly over-priced. It’s Damien Hirst or nothing, which isn’t the case and we are constantly looking for ways to introduce the ‘other’ side of art to people.
What do you like about graphite?, Have you experimented with other media?, How do they differ?
I pretty much work exclusively with graphite. There is a lot one can achieve with graphite and I enjoy the thrill of pushing the medium. There is something I find beautiful about all life being carbon based. There is an alarming simplicity in this and I try and enforce that in my graphite works.
I have dabbled in other mediums but graphite is my medium of preference.
How do you work? Do you focus on a single piece at a time or work on many? Where do you find inspiration and how do you seek to incorporate the multitude of themes and disparate things that are present in your more complex pieces?
I like to just focus on one piece at a time when I work but I have been working on a lot of collaborations lately which has made it necessary for me to have a few pieces in progress at the same time. My inspiration comes from misinterpreted stories & lore and my own desire to get back to the forest. Because I try to weave one big story together, I often use reoccurring themes or elements to connect the dots. There is usually a good amount going on in the work I create but if you look closely you can start to see these elements tying it all together.
How would you describe your subject matter? What do you hope your audience to see in your work?
My pieces, for me, are a meditation on resiliency; nature’s resiliency and human resiliency alike.
I have drawn bugs for quite a few years now as an homage to the magnitude of their existence, although they are, for the most, part usually miniscule. All in all, my work is about going back into the forest. The forest for me will always be a place of resurgence. I hope that the viewers of my works resonate with that feeling and can get lost in the details for a while.
Your work has an almost studious view to it, inspections of birds and butterflies, where does this come from? What about the subject matter fascinates you? Why do you choose to depict subjects that have died?
I spent a lot of time outdoors as a child and I was intrigued by natural objects and began collecting them at a very young age. I collected all kinds of things such as rocks, tree bark, bugs, acorns, shells and feathers fascinated me and I could not part with them. I would study them and even make unscientific feeble attempts at categorizing them.
Most recently, I have been interested in things that are in a transitional period. Things that are in a state of transformation captivate my attention and thoughts. What fascinates me is the duality within nature, it’s simplicity and complexity. I find great solace, peace and curiosity in the ways in which the natural world functions.
There are many reasons that I choose to depict my subjects in this particular phase of their existence. I attempt to use death not only as a literal condition, but metaphorically and symbolically in my art as well. I feel the need to pay homage to what was lost. On a personal note, it’s a way of accepting and letting go. It allows me to have an extraordinarily intimate encounter with my subjects. Philosophically, I view death as merely the ending of a particular stage and the beginning of a new one. This is the stage that emotionally speaks to and inspires me the most. It’s this particular moment that allows me to simultaneously reflect on and mourn what was and to celebrate what will become. The thing about life and death is that you can’t have one without the other. So, why not view death as a celebration of life. I ask your readers to consider this. Why is it acceptable and customary to go out and cut (kill) a flower and bring it into our homes so that we can admire it’s beauty. But, if we come across a dead bird, most will likely turn away in disgust.
With your series Past, Present and Future your are exploring the idea of things being discarded, where has this line of questioning taken you ideologically? What have you thrown out this week? What do you own that you know is useless or pointless that you should throw out but cannot bring yourself to?
In this new and ongoing series of works I am trying to combine my interest in transitions and thoughts on being discarded. The substrates that I choose to paint on have a history and a story to tell. They were once very important to an individual or to our society as a whole. I feel that they too should be preserved, honored, admired for their wear, and given a new purpose. I am attempting to manifest a new life into these materials that no longer have a practical use by combining them with subjects that are undergoing a passage from one beautiful phase of their existence to another. My intent is to illustrate the constant state of metamorphosis in both nature and materials that are man-made by focusing on the temporary characteristics of their physical appearance and practicality.
When I find that I no longer have an attachment or use for something I try to find someone who does or I attempt to reuse whatever I can. I recently cut up my curtains and used them to wrap and pad the paintings for this exhibition.
I have a tendency to become emotionally attached to many things, so the list is long. First thing that comes to mind is whiskers (vibrissae) from my cat. That being said, what is seen as pointless to some, may not be pointless to others.
You use lots of vibrant color, this seems like it could be considered to be in conflict with the subjects you have chosen, dead things, things thrown out, etc. What do you aim to achieve pairing such color with such subjects? What do you like about color, how do you use it, what emotions are you targeting, what emotions are you harnessing?
The use of such bright and bold color is new for me. When I was working towards my degree in Fine Art, I had a number of professors who would berate me for not having color on my palette. With this new series, “The Past, The Present, The Future” I wanted to highlight the breathtaking beauty that these subjects possess. And to draw the viewer in with their vibrant colors in an attempt to force them to see death in a different light.
The color is also intended to bring life back into these faded, aged and colorless materials.
Working with this new color palette has been an exploration both artistically and personally. At the beginning stages of this new series, I had a close friend enlighten me on the topic of the seven main Chakra colors, symbols and meanings. With several of these new pieces, I focused my color choices around areas of my personal life that I felt I needed to work on, explore, heal, or embrace.
On an artistic level, it’s been a huge learning process for me to mix and use colors outside of my comfort zone.
My paintings are an exploration of my inner self and speak to the feelings and emotions that are related to the experiences of life. They are not purely portrayals of death; they are windows into my soul.