Friday, March 28, 2014

Hanging in Space

One of my paintings is hanging in Artsy! Artsy is an online platform of high res images of artworks from museums and galleries around the world that is accessible to anyone. I asked the founder at a tech talk in 2012, when it was first launching, if it had space for emerging artists (who didn't have representation or showed in unusual places) or if it would be reinforcing the authority of the gatekeepers that be. He said, without remorse, that it would be the later. But kudos to Victori Contemporary for meeting their bar. And to Artsy for its democratic, wide reach.

Monday, January 13, 2014


Still from 'The End of Eating Everything,' A film by Wangechi Mutu

The night before the shoot, I swung by the cavernous Clinton Hill studio to spritz and stretch the winkles out of the green screen, set up the makeup station – complete with black latex body paint, and thread the room with extension cords.

The next morning, Wangechi and Santigold discussed the creature they were forming. Wangechi, pregnant in a skull t-shirt, and Santigold, decked in shimmering bronze makeup, growled at each other until Santigold took the form of the beast Wangechi had birthed. She snarled and hissed, reared and snapped and became the face that Wangechi would build an animation around.

I was the Production Manager for this video, ‘The End of Eating Everything,’ which was just accepted to Sundance in the Shorts category. Some of the crew are on their way to the launch. If you’re skiing in Utah, slide in to see a screening in Salt Lake City January 17th through the 25th.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


This year’s Halloween tableau was like no other. The gilded hallways of Buddakan fed into a cavernous room with a massive table set for feasting. Each noble host perched beside or danced atop their table setting. We were their court.

The banquette table could be seen from above, but once you took the stairs you were heads lower than ghosts with bulbous, inflated skin, monsters with horned appendages that branched until they brushed the ceiling and reptilian creatures whose bodysuits were so seamless and consuming, it took me hours to recognize a friend.

Two particularly dashing royals were my friends Dylan Monroe, a zombie queen for the night, and Jessica Love, a lizard lady. They've both lent their looks to my paintings in the past and are part of the otherworldly, queer performance troupe, the Zand Collective.

My roommate Bonnie Burke, a talented photographer and a dead ringer as a dead rose, documented the evening. These are her photographs. More treats (and tricks) on her website and blog.

Getting ready. 

White Witch and Dead Rose

Susanne Bartsch's Halloween at Auntie Mame's

Table topping

In line for the bathroom

 Jessica Love

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Picking Up The Pieces

It's been almost exactly a year since my last blog entry. But don't think it's just been sitting pretty. This wily word mass has been positioning itself to move into prime real-estate. It's currently unpacking boxes and hanging curtains in this new website, built by the talented illustrator Brian Foo, and can't wait to give tours and host friends at its new space.

I will be using this blog to share what I'm working on, give a heads up about exhibitions, gush about art that's sparked my interest and, of course, post the occasional dauntingly long narrative about a trip down a rabbit hole.

I started this blog when I first arrived in Berlin and had the traveler's fresh eye and insatiable appetite for exploring. However, since moving back to New York, I've been able to use some of what I learned. On my good days, I am able to see past a little of the fog of routine and assumption that works against openness, and approach this city with a healthy dose of wonder.

The problem is, after a stellar evening of dancing at the McKitterick Hotel, post-performance, when they've converted it into a hospital with mad scientists carrying out sex change operations and nurses administering liters of liquid latex, I've mostly spent the next morning curled up with an episode of True Blood, eating an oversized breakfast sandwich and, well, not writing about it. But that's no good. Because this is worth sharing:

Taken at Shhh!!! (a metamorphosis) hosted by Susanne Bartsch & The McKittrick Hotel

Let's get to it, then! Today is the opening reception of Sky is Falling at PPOW Gallery. I'm thrilled, because it includes a collaborative sculpture by Julie Heffernan and myself.

Julie Heffernan and Virginia Wagner, Picking Up The Pieces (Detail), Mixed Media, 2013

I started interning for Julie in 2007 after I wrote her a fan letter from Florence, where I was studying abroad. I would summarize what it said, but I don't have to because digital letters are forever:

"This semester I’ve been exploring the Medici Villas, Tivoli, Hadrian’s Villa, and the Palazzo Vecchio, and I can’t help associating these ancient estates with your work. I either picture your paintings on the walls or the walls as the settings of your elaborate portraits."

Since then, I've worked as her assistant and we've become good friends. She is a fiercely talented painter with an expansive imagination. Ten of her new paintings are up and not to be missed in Sky is Falling.

Julie Heffernan, Self Portrait on the Brink, oil on canvas, 54 x 66 inches, 2013

Sky Is Falling
PPOW Gallery
535 W22nd St, New York NY
October 17 - November 16
Opening Reception: Thursday October 17, 6-8pm

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Pond Water

My little brother texted me yesterday from deep within a spell of studying. The second round of first year med school exams are scheduled for early next week. He and I both balance fanatic work sessions with big time playtime. But this med thing has his mischievous side on lockdown, with one night on the town allotted every two weeks or so.

He’d spent seven hours that morning studying in the Anatomy Lab, which houses fifty cadavers and countless prosections (hearts, joints, limbs). Seven being the max he’s figured out you can be down there with the dead before your own brain starts throbbing with formaldehyde fumes, probably sensing its own premature preservation and sounding the alarm.

He texted me to see if my painting sketch, “Pond Water,” had sold yet because, if it hadn’t, he really wanted it because it looks like a cell and just like an intervertebral disk.

“Like a what?”

“Like if you cut a vertebra in half and look at the cross section from above.”

“You sure you haven’t been overdoing it? Do you have some friends that you can study with?”

“No, I’m serious. It looks exactly like the Annulus Fibrosus and the Nucleus Pulposus.”

“You’re going to have to spell those for me.”

“You didn’t know you were drawing that, did you?”

“I was painting an oil spill like the one in the Gulf. Did you see the people playing in the water? I was thinking about Regina Spektor’s song “The Genius Next Door.” 

"Some said the local lake had been enchanted

Others said it must have been the weather

The neighbors were trying to keep it quiet
But I swear that I could hear the laughter
So they jokingly nicknamed it the porridge
Cause overnight that lake had turned as thick as butter
But the local kids would still go swimming, drinking
Saying that to them it doesn't matter

If you just hold in your breath til you come back up in full
Hold in your breath til you thought it through, you fool

The genius next door was busing tables
Wiping clean the ketchup bottle labels
Getting high and mumbling German fables
Didn't care as long as he was able
To strip his clothes off by the dumpsters
At night while everyone was sleeping
And to wade midway into that porridge
Just him and the secret he was keeping

If you just hold in your breath til you come back up in full
Hold in your breath til you thought it through, you foolish child

In the morning the film crews start arriving
With donuts, coffee and reporters
The kids were waking up hungover
The neighbors were starting up their cars
The garbageman were emptying the dumpsters
Atheists were praying full of sarcasm
And the genius next door was sleeping
Dreaming that the antidote is orgasm

If you just hold in your breath til you come back up in full
Hold in your breath til you thought it through, you foolish child!"

“Well I’ll send you some pictures of Pulposus and you’ll see what I’m taking about.”

It's no accident that this conversation revolved around a painting of a circle. I know more than one painter who only draws circles and circles within circles and finds infinite subject matter there.

Plato’s ideal form of the circle comes to mind. One way of fathoming the original circle, of which all others are shadows.

For everything that exists there are three instruments by which the knowledge of it is necessarily imparted; fourth, there is the knowledge itself, and, as fifth, we must count the thing itself which is known and truly exists. The first is the name, the, second the definition, the third. the image, and the fourth the knowledge. If you wish to learn what I mean, take these in the case of one instance, and so understand them in the case of all. A circle is a thing spoken of, and its name is that very word which we have just uttered. The second thing belonging to it is its definition, made up names and verbal forms. For that which has the name "round," "annular," or, "circle," might be defined as that which has the distance from its circumference to its centre everywhere equal. Third, comes that which is drawn and rubbed out again, or turned on a lathe and broken up-none of which things can happen to the circle itself-to which the other things, mentioned have reference; for it is something of a different order from them. Fourth, comes knowledge, intelligence and right opinion about these things. Under this one head we must group everything which has its existence, not in words nor in bodily shapes, but in souls-from which it is dear that it is something different from the nature of the circle itself and from the three things mentioned before. Of these things intelligence comes closest in kinship and likeness to the fifth, and the others are farther distant.”
      -- Plato, ‘The Seventh Letter,’ 360 B.C.E. Translated by J. Harward

Monday, August 13, 2012

Meeting the Magazine

This all started because I have a thing for fashion. I blame my grandmother and all those bedazzled jean jackets and tiny fur coats she used to outfit me in. My penchant for playing dress up is only fueled by my fashionable boss’ philosophy of exaggerating one aspect of her personality each time she goes out (i.e. the African Witch with bone jewelry and studded gloves or Raggedy Ann with her mini-Disney tee and overalls). So when my upstairs neighbor confessed that she had nothing to wear for an upcoming photoshoot, I gave her an armful of garments, including my grandmother’s pleather pants, and she gave the photographer my card. 

I spent Thursday building shelves and organizing our studio’s cavernous new sculpture space in the Clinton Hill Navy Yards. By the end of the day, sawdust evenly coated my body, stuck fast to a thick layer of sweat. But one of the joys of this city is the opportunity it presents to dip quickly in and out of social spheres. Dimensions, tied together by community, culture or profession, lie right on top of each other. I’ve found that, as an artist, it’s important to develop your ability to move between them fluidly. Chameleons can learn from each, are forced to stay openminded and are constantly creatively adapting. 

All this to say that I pulled a telephone-booth-style makeover in the bathroom and booked it to Manhattan.

I was told to meet the photographer, Hassan, for the art and culture magazine Karin and Raoul above a gallery in the Lower East Side. He had hosted a casting that afternoon and wanted to talk with me about my artwork. When I got to the appointed cross streets, I gave him a call. A head of cascading blonde hair and a naked torso appeared from a graffitied doorway. “You’re supposed to be up here,” he called.

Not one to argue with Viking oracles, I followed him up.

At the top of the stairs, a bright white space opened up around me. The walls were crawling with artwork that included mounted horse heads with bionic parts, or perhaps their harnesses had become part of their flesh. Dark surrealism was the prominent vibe; paintings hosted haunted figures and enigmatic lights. In one particularly striking piece, a mammal (we argued over its species) was caught in the headlights; its motion arrested mid-collision. 

Brett, my blonde guide, resumed his position against a spotlit central wall. Hassan directed him to hold a skateboard above his head and began snapping photos. There were two stations for painting and two antique iron beds with white linens lining the walls. At the near end of the room, a man handed out Whole Foods containers and a small group gathered around a dining room table to relish their quinoa, kale and brisket. In the bathroom, a model was dipping her hair into the sink. Another was pulling on 5-inch heeled sneakers with studs that would rival the most robust of porcupines.

“I’ve changed this room around about 50 times,” said the Whole Foods emissary. His name was Justin and he was the director of the NY Studio Gallery one floor below. 

Brett finished the shoot and dug into the brown-boxed feast. I learned that not only had he never modeled before, he had barely seen a skyscraper that wasn’t snow-topped and scalable. He and Justin had met while building houses in Peru. But he harkened from Northern Alaska where he worked construction for a family company. He’d arrived in New York for the first time two months ago with just a backpack and $100 to his name.

“You must be in culture shock,” I said.

He nodded vigorously. “I’ve been living like a rockstar.” 

The evening unfolded as a series of beautiful vignettes, as Hassan photographed each of the models in waiting. The light was draining quickly from the sky as he finished up his last shoot on the roof with a woman so stunning it was hard to fathom her using her guitar as anything but a photo prop. But she was a singer/songwriter and former professional gymnast. Hassan had her hold a position where she raised her seated body up with her hands. She worried aloud that it was stretching her shiny new tattoo of a cameo-esque young girl. 

Hassan had been photographing since two in the afternoon and powered on undaunted until the sky had nothing left to offer and his flash refused to light another step.

When the last subject cleared out, Justin, Brett, Hassan and I gathered around the rooftop picnic table and hashed out methods of cleansing body and mind. Hassan reviewed the talented people he’d met that day, generously heralding us as a new generation of creative talent and professing his happiness at having a hand in making us visible. He revealed his strategy of pushing the boundaries of the people he photographs in order to bypass the facade of what they think he wants to see. When they start making excuses, although he tries not to show it, he’s happy because he knows they are gaining ground. For instance, when the musician was holding that strenuous gymnastic pose from her past, there was no excess energy to maintain a mask.

Back inside, Hassan turned on disco lights and some jams to start the photo editing process. 

The boys revealed their battle strategies for Burning Man. They took me to their Lady Bugz mobile (designed by Yarrow Mazzetti). It was a psychedelically pimped out transport, lit up like a mushroom from Alice’s wonderland and punctuated with plasma headlights. Their uniforms included bug-eyed goggles and an elaborate assortment of bandanas. These were contained within their many-pocketed, sparkly camo vests that they fastened over bare chests and ornamented with beads. 

“Did you use glitter spray?” I asked.

“Pure stone pigments,” Justin responded, his voice muffled by the fabric. Then he ran upstairs to get Hassan to photograph their desert gear.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Your House is My House

“What House would you be in?” Lev Grossman asked Erin Morgenstern. We were sitting in the bottom floor of the McNally Jackson Bookstore on Prince Street. They on stools. (Thrones, if you will.) I on a folding chair with thirty-some-odd others. 
“Well, if you boil each of the Houses down to their defining characteristic. You know -- Hufflepuff is kind, Gryffindor is brave, Ravenclaw is smart and Slytherine is cunning -- then I would have to say I’m Slytherine.”
“No!” Lev was flabbergasted.
“Yes,” said Erin. I wasn’t surprised, maybe just that she admitted to it. “And yourself?”
“Well I took a Jo-sanctioned (Lev’s on a first-name bases with J.K. Rowling because he’s interviewed her for Time) Sorting Hat test and it turns out that I’m Hufflepuff.” A collective groan erupted from the spectators. “I know. I’m still coming to terms with it myself.”

Images from Sleep No More which, Erin is the first to tell you, greatly influenced The Night Circus.
Erin has been to see Punchdrunk's version of Macbeth at least 10 times in various locations and leaked that she may be working on a collaborative project with the director.

These two authors of some of my favorite genre fiction did actually go on to talk shop in a way that dug into their craft and addressed the tedium of writing, the demons of self-doubt and their respective strengths and weaknesses (which were opposite). But I did find it remarkable that their launching off point was Harry Potter and both possessed unabashed enthusiasm for the moppy-headed wizard, especially as their own work tends to be for an older readership, has more roots in the “real,” contemporary world and explores the darker underbelly of what magic they conjure.

A piece of fan art by Christopher Shy (<-- enter at your own risk) of a scene from The Magicians. Lev revels in and stokes the fires of online fan culture. 

Anyway. These are some interesting things they said:
  • They both felt lucky to have grown up in New England, believing that it is a rich land to draw from for fiction. The Salem witch trials factored in. (I was surprised by this since, for me, growing up in Connecticut always seemed so bland and regular when I compared it in my head to all the other places where I might have been a kid. But, then again, everything is “normal” when it’s all you know and it takes a special kind of sight, and often the perspective that comes with distance, to be able to see what’s been in front of you all along with fresh, inquisitive eyes.)
  • Fantasy borrows more from its archives/ancestors than other genres. Steal as much as you want.
  • It’s really hard to have faith that an educated, alternative, adult audience (their ideal audience) will follow you down into magic fountains and up through jungle gyms made out of clouds. Especially before you’ve established yourself as a writer. But you have to take a blind leap. Lev’s first two novels were realistic fiction and the first time he wrote about casting a spell, he nearly gave himself a hernia. 
  • Erin began her book during National Novel Writing Month (really!?!) where you are challenged to produce 50000 words.
  • That the amount of publicity tours, readings, lectures and appearances required if/when one’s novel gets popular is toxic to the development of story that begins to grow after it.
So then the talk was over and the authors were ushered behind a large oak table. A line had snaked itself around the stacks of books before they could even assume the position. 
I wanted to say, ‘Hey, so should we ditch this lineup and grab a beer?’ As if we went way back. Because in a way, we do. Their characters walk around with me and make snide comments about passersby or chill in the tent villages in my paintings on a regular basis. And I actually have written with Lev and he’s into my paintings. Especially this one.

When I Was A Boy

So it figures that these authors, who write in the genre that I work in and whose characters can read minds, should be able to sense that I am part of the same House. That we should shoot the shit in the common room. But, of course, there's no spark of recognition and I’m just the girl who awkwardly holds eye contact for a beat too long and cuts through the line to get to the door.