March 2012: In Conversation with Brian Shevlin of Con Artist Art Collective

Cody Oyama, untiitled (detail), 2012, acrylic, oil house paint, oil pigment on vinyl, 4 feet by 4 feet, Courtesy of Con Artist.

In January 2011, I covered Con Artist Art Collective and Gallery, in the basement of 119 Ludlow Street, created and run by Brian Shevlin businessman and art enthusiast. Over time, I've watched Con Artist triumph over failure and accrue success. Now rising in an impenetrable bubble, Con Artist has recovered from nearly closing last year and has relocated in November 2011 to a brand new space at 157 Suffolk Street, a storefront gallery with basement workspace and photo studio. Con Artist has gained new members, yet it has maintained the same Con Artist spirit. As a self-sufficient entity, Con Artist does not rely on art sales, thus the gallery and collective does not adhere to artworld rules and continues to exhibit fresh art in an interactive atmosphere.

On February 1st, 2012, WE HUNGERED, an exhibition featuring the two young artists Cody Oyama and Laura Tack closed after nearly a month at Con Artist’s new space being covered from ceiling to ground in artwork. Masses interacted, photographed and actually trampled the artwork during gallery hours and Wednesday after hour art parties. The two artists intended that viewers’ interactions would be left visible on the work. Those who purchased work at the opening understood that pieces would be altered after a month on view. WE HUNGERED grabbed my attention by the high skill level and conceptual acumen of the artists, Oyama who was less than twenty years old and Tack who was less than twenty five years old.

Oyama’s body of work contains intense linework, abstraction of texture and surface, and conceptual sculptural drawings. Oyama states that he seeks a balance between “Apollonian and Dionysian ideals, the intellectual and the emotional.” His artwork renders this tension. Spending eight to one-hundred hours drafting, his linear drawings depict astute lines intersecting or running parallel; at times, his lines appear to repel each other producing an emotive surface. He draws with STAEDTLER, uni-Posca, Micron, and Prismacolor pens while using traditional drafting tools. Textural and conceptual works are created with mirrored glass, latex paint, ink, acrylic, oil pigment, found object, collage, and 140-pound screen-printing or watercolor paper. Oyama’s abstraction refers to ephemeral moment and atmospheric depth. More conceptual pieces appear to allude to Suprematism, such as a black square painted on to a crumbling piece of cement. Oyama plays with scale in an attempt to reproduce a person’s impalpable emotional reaction to art.

In contrast, Tack alters found imagery and photographs with brazen applications of paint and concentrates on media while working in pure abstraction. Her photographic works are based on torn-out pages from books or magazines, usually showing a single female form. Next, she sprays paint, applies a large brush stroke, or drips a dramatic color on the surface. Finally, she pins her work onto the wall, occasionally framing the work with a sheet of Plexiglas. Often, she hangs a work asymmetrically to emphasize a single contour. Tack’s abstraction arrives due to thick applications of somber color. In paint, her heavy surface is cut with a conflicting stroke of color, such as blood orange escaping a background of harmonious shades of gray and spackled with chunks of anonymous medium taking the shape of pebbles. Literally and figuratively, Tack confronts the viewer with striking impediments that convey a sense of solitude or isolation.

Con Artist storefront, 157 Suffolk, Ryan Wijayaratne (Photographer and Employee of Con Artist), 2012, Courtesy of Con Artist.

After WE HUNGERED, I spoke with Shevlin to learn of other major updates:

Megan M. Garwood: Why did you move?

Brian Shevlin of Con Artist NYC (CA): We had been in our awesome basement location at 119 Ludlow Street for a couple years, and we were lucky enough to have a steady consistent growth. Even after the first week of opening, it's exciting to imagine getting a larger space, more equipment, expanding etc. But, because every aspect of the collective has been bootstrapped, it was more like a dream to move. Eventually we had a waiting list of artists wanting to get involved in the shared workspace, and big projects lined up with clients like NBCUniversal, so eventually the move was becoming a necessity. I've owned a few companies in my past and I really want to avoid the traditional angels and venture capitalists route as long as possible, so I picked up 3 full time jobs and worked for seven months to save up for the costs to move. With a little help from NBCUniversal and our kickstarter, it eventually became a reality in October of 2011. We love our new space, and we've only been here three months, but we're growing so fast now that we've already begun discussing how we pull off the big idea, which is something like 30,000+ square feet, and all the equipment and services we could dream of.

Garwood: How many new members do you have? How many would you like?

Shevlin: When we were at Ludlow Street, we had 20 members, with 15 who worked out of our shared artist workspace. Now that we have moved to our new digs this past November, we're already at 41 members, with 30 artists working out of our new, shared workspace. Our current plan is to have around 50 artists in the shared workspace.

Garwood: What are your tentative plans for the old space?

Shevlin: We still have it, and we're working with an awesome creative group using the space temporarily. Later this year we plan to open our Con Artist print lab at the old location, stocked with Risographs, a larger professional screen printing setup with a vacuum light box, litho press, limestone etching, moveable type press, HP dick offset press, etc. We've got big plans for our print lab which should open in our old location by the end of this year.

Garwood: Would you like to add any more information?

Shevlin: We've just launched our new website www.conartistnyc.com with an online store for the members to sell their original art, tee shirts, hats, whatever. What we're most excited about right now are some big events with which we're getting more involved. We have a member group show planned this summer in Queens, NY, across the street from MoMA PS1 and 5Ptz or 5Pointz, in a 5,000 square foot warehouse, and a second "high profile" project that we aren't ready to talk about yet! The public's perceived value of the ideals behind a collective is getting popular lately and we're getting a lot of interest from all over the place. It's very exciting.

Currently, Con Artist holds Pray for Japan, a silent auction from March 8th until March 11th, 2012, as well as for the solo exhibition Curses! Foiled Again featuring Dean Millien’s tinfoil sculptures. Recently, Millien appeared in Karen Rosenberg’s article “Creating Artworks Without a Net: The 20th Anniversary of the Outsider Art Fair,” The New York Times, January 27th 2012. Two years prior, Millien’s storefront installation at J.Crew’s flagship store on Madison was profiled by Don Kaplan in “The Tin Man: Following idiosyncratic muse, foil sculptor finds a livelihood,” New York Post, January 4th, 2010.

Laura Tack, untitled, 2012, black oil stick on found wood, 24 inches x 48 inches, Courtesy of Con Artist.

We Hungered, Floor Installation Shot, January 2012, Courtesy of Con Artist.
 

Megan M. Garwood graduated from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, receiving a Bachelor of Arts concentrating in the History of Modern Art with a minor in Ethical Analysis and Morality. Once in New York City she paid her dues as a gallery girl, first at Bjorn Ressle Fine Art and next at Marlborough Chelsea. For the past three years she has worked as an Arts and Culture freelance writer for multiple international publications. Each morning she still asks herself if she feels more like a urinal than a work of art, only because “R.Mutt” is scrawled across her left shoulder.

Contact: mmgarwoo@gmail.com
Portfolio: http://meganmgarwood.blogspot.com/

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