Visit Nick van Woert’s massive studio in Greenpoint, and in all likelihood you’ll find a cluster of white people standing in a corner, naked and clutching each others’ butts — these artificial neo-classical statues have been a recurring theme in the Nevada-born artist’s work since shortly after he began his career in earnest in 2006. Many of them get tipped over and enveloped in a cascade of colored resin that hardens in mid-drip; in one series, he hollowed out their midsections and let the wind give them garbage guts. “It was like a little trap, and the wind would blow weird shit in there that accumulated outside my studio,” van Woert says. “Anything from Doritos bags to Monster Energy drink cans. The DNA of the world outside.” It was his most literal manifestation of the mantra that drives most of his practice: You are what you eat.
Figuratively speaking, the idea is that the world we’ve built for ourselves is only as good as the materials we’ve used to build it — these days, that means all manner of plastics, strange chemicals, and the hollow plaster that replaces stone in the replica statues van Woert repurposes. He’s preoccupied with materials, and the way modern society has by and large found a way to substitute bad ones for pretty much all the good ones, a condition he mirrors in his own work. One of his more recent projects is a series of strange topologies made from coal slag, kitty litter, or urethane mixed with orange cola. Other pieces employ Plexiglas boxes full of Pine-Sol and Mr. Clean. “The colors are reminiscent of the early Hudson River School painters and Albert Bierstadt, who painted landscapes hours away from where I grew up in Reno, Nevada,” van Woert says. “Things aren’t the same anymore. It’s like trying to understand what this material shift is, and why it’s happening.”
Van Woert sees that shift most acutely in the world of architecture, which he actually studied in grad school in Reno before moving to New York (picking up an obsession with the work of Thom Mayne along the way). “We’re no longer interested in building with monolithic materials like stone or wood,” he says. “Architecture’s moved from stone to Styrofoam.” The classical sculptures he stockpiles are, again, the embodiment of that downgrade: “It’s like this desire to keep the past alive visually but not materially, and that’s the opposite of the way I look at artwork or the way I look at the world in general — how things are made and what they’re made from, not what they look like.” And yet van Woert can’t deny that he has an architect’s eye for scale and composition, even when he’s working with garbage or aquarium rocks, which is what drew us to his work in the first place. We dragged SU contributor Brian W. Ferry to his studio with us to take a closer look.
It’s not every day that one of our subjects answers the phone by giddily announcing she’s just opened the mail to find the Legend soundtrack she ordered and proclaiming that 1985 Tom Cruise fantasy flick to be her favorite movie. But then San Francisco artist Sarah Applebaum has always tended to march to the beat of her own drum: Paying no mind when her work meanders back and forth between craft and art, she mostly uses dime-store materials like yarn, papier mâché, and felt. Unlike most crafters, she often turns those materials into three-dimensional symbols plucked from her subconscious.
Being that he's still a student at Konstfack in Stockholm, you've probably never heard of Norwegian artist and graphic designer Kent Fonn Skåre. But his work, even at first glance, is ridiculously easy to love: It's got a heavy focus on materials, lots of marble, and a whiff of Memphis — yes, the three "M"s, the golden trifecta of the current avant-garde, or at least the little corner of it that we're obsessed with, which also includes folks like Clemence Seilles and Jens Praet. We discovered Fonn Skåre via a fleeting image on Pinterest, but found surprisingly little information on him and the ideas behind his work, so we did what we do best, harassing the poor man until we were able to tease out a bit of insight into his practice. Check out the interview and accompanying photos here, then bookmark Fonn Skåre's Flickr feed to browse more of his graphic design work and follow his future projects.
To the extent that we cover art on Sight Unseen, it makes sense that we'd naturally gravitate towards action painting — artists may always have plenty to say about the relationship of their work to the viewer, or to philosophy, or to the context of art history, but most of the time we're interested in something a little more prosaic than that, like how they get their hands dirty, and why they've chosen one medium over another. With gestural works, it's all about the process, and the liminal moments just before and after materials cease to be ordinary and paintings transform into something more than the sum of their parts. The work of the Greenpoint-based artist Landon Metz is a perfect example: His paintings are about painting, and how colorful enamel shapes laid down on a tilted canvas will move and evolve as their surface interactions and drying times are influenced by factors like humidity, daylight, and temperature. Sight Unseen contributor Paul Barbera visited Metz's studio recently for Where They Create, and — oh lucky day! — he did our work for us, creating his own podcast interview with the artist which you can listen to after the jump.