Wandering through five jam-packed floors of art student studios at the New York Academy of Art MFA Open Studios last Friday, I realized that despite the Academy’s emphasis on traditional figural art, many artists transcended this stricture through the use of multiple medias to depict nature-inflected whimsy or psychological disturbance.
I’ve always enjoyed open studios, particularly student open studios, which allow a glimpse into the next generation of artists before they are tainted by the market. In over 100 studios from the basement to the fourth floor of the Academy’s Tribeca building, the art ranged from detailed and strikingly realistic figural paintings and sculptures to more radical experimentation.
Brittany Alexandria Fields organized her studio, one of my favorites, as a cohesive installation entitled “Drawn Matter.” Connecting her wide variety of mediums, the studio installation featured drawings and prints of birds and their nests, as well as a sculpture of a nest in a tree. Through the representation of nature in various mediums, Fields’s installation allowed the open studio visitors to be surrounded by and almost inhabit her creative vision.
Interested in the behavior of birds and their nesting habits, Fields’s natural environment appeared striking within the confines of the industrial Tribeca studio building. Having only lived in New York for her two years of study at the Academy, Fields explained to me that her interest in the natural world is connected to her attempt to build a space that she can feel comfortable in within industrial New York City.
Similar to Brittany Alexandria Fields’s representation of nature, painter Daniela Krachtt also recently began experimenting with different techniques to create her almost abstract, whimsical paintings. Despite appearing as if she uses a combination of color and white paint in works such as “Departure Diptych,” Krachtt uses an old technique of painting a singular color and then wiping away the paint to construct a cloudy, textural appearance. With solvent, she creates various layers and patterns, giving the painting the appearance of oxidation and resembling waterfalls.
Working with this idea of the natural world despite the paintings’ near-abstraction, Krachtt occasionally adds playful and almost silly details to the works, such as the small boats in the right panel of “Departure Diptych.” Atmospheric and mesmerizing, Krachtt’s works merge traditional techniques with a fresh and innovative feel.
While some of the artists found their voices through depicting whimsical natural scenes, other artists at the open studios displayed work that was fascinatingly disturbing and undeniably psychologically motivated.
Multi-media artist Sherry Di Filippo‘s studio featured a wide variety of mediums from charcoal drawings to video animation to a mechanical doll with moving facial features. With a cast of figures who, like the woman in Di Filippo’s animation, seem riddled with anxiety, Di Filippo, who is an identical twin, works with the idea of an identical counterpart, as seen in her slightly unsettling smoking twin charcoal drawing “Baby A, Baby B.”
Possibly the most brilliantly disquieting art piece in the entire open studios was Di Filippo’s doll, which, in combination with her detailed and evocative drawings, reminded me of Hans Bellmer’s dolls.
Many of the more psychologically thrilling works at the New York Academy of Art presented women in strange or terrifying positions such as Elizabeth Shupe’s oddly romantic “Self-Portrait as Ophelia Sprawled on her Mother’s Bathroom Floor” (2013). Dressed in a beautiful white dress and pearls, Shupe depicts herself as the water-logged Ophelia on a stitched together canvas, a scene both troubling and beautiful, with its rosy glow.
Another artist who worked with psychological horror was Robert Fundis. With a studio filled with eerie images of children and almost Francis Bacon-esque fleshy bodies, I asked Fundis if he was at all inspired by David Lynch, whose surreal representations seemed similar to Fundis’s dark scenes. Fundis answered that while he never thought of the similarity, he is inspired by artists such as Romanian artist Adrian Ghenie and the sad, beautiful music he listens to while working in his studio.
Leaving 111 Franklin Street, I was glad to have seen that figural art could still be radical, whimsical, and even a little shocking. Whether using psychologically rich and disturbing subjects or playful natural environments, the MFA artists of the New York Academy of Art exceeded the boundaries of the more traditional techniques emphasized by the school.