Dumbo Comic Book, 2011

13″x19″ Leather bound 18 page hand assembled book, presented in the group exhibit “The Un(Framed) Photograph” focusing on how the art of photography, the photographic process, and related media are used to convey content, form, text, and image, within a broader context of book arts practices. Curated by Alexander Campos and Doug Beube, at The Center for Book Arts, New York City, July 2011.

The work is intended to explore the Brooklyn neighborhood of Dumbo, and is part of a series of works using this same material in different formats including video projection and large format prints on paper and canvas. The following are some installation images.

Project Description:
This work takes 30 Washington Street as its starting point, to explore Dumbo’s unique history, and its architectural and sociological development. The artwork, in a form similar to the comic book, take inspiration from the factories built along the East River waterfront.

Dumbo is a place of outsized architecture. Everything is at the scale of elephants or super heroes. In addition to its rich history, it is currently the site of some of the most intense gentrification in New York City. In Dumbo Comic Book the neighborhood and the buildings themselves are characterized through the visual language of the comic book, in order to provoke thought on issues of urban planning, quality of life, and the visual impact of the street level built environment. The project acknowledges the scale of the area and the special place which architecture and development holds here.

Methods:
This work started from 12 megapixel digital stills shot on the streets of Dumbo. These images are then individually run through a variety of different types of desktop printing software and extensively reworked and elaborated, with a focus on the use of algorithms for edge detection, and chromatic separation and simplification, resulting in a set of “Technicolor” schemed cartoon prints, capturing architectural detail, and the street level build environment.

Text has been added by doing a Google search for the word “Dumbo” and culling bits of text and actual quotes from the search results. Part of the byproduct of this method is that elements of text treating the 1941 Walt Disney Animated feature by the same name also make their way into the work, serendipitously adding to critique of issues within the neighborhood.

Working with the form of the comic, this project attempts to provoke thought on issues of urban planing, quality of life, and visual impact of the street level built environment.

For details on other work from this series see:

http://www.paulclay.net/2009/dumbo-comic-print-work-2009/

and:

http://www.paulclay.net/2006/dumbo-comic-2006/


Seven Artists, 2010

Twenty one 13″ x19″ Digital drawings, (three each) of the seven other artists in The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts inaugural “Studio Residency for New York City Arts Workers”. The drawings are made directly from digital photographs, using algorithms associated with edge detection. Presented during the residency, EFA Project Space, New York City.

Project Description:

The title makes reference to the classic 1954 Japanese film by Akira Kurosawa. Seven Artists acknowledges the difficult place artists occupy in contemporary Western society, where there are veritable armies of professionally trained artists exiting art schools every year, yet there is little hope that most can make a living from their chosen profession. The situation is further complicated by the fact that artists are frequently used by real estate developers to rejuvenate blighted neighborhoods, only to be evicted after the goal has been accomplished.

New York City Arts workers take on an even more difficult task, devoting a portion of their precious time, energy, and networking abilities, to assist artists other than themselves. I wanted to make an artwork about the residency and the fact that there were seven artists (not including myself) created the opportunity for this frame.

Superheros have been in the zeitgeist for some years now, and for this project I asked the artists if I could photograph them in movements suggesting a benevolent fictional character with superhuman powers. All the artists were game, though each interpreted the request in a different way. Some struck classic poses while others simply moved like gymnasts or athletes.

In Seven Samurai the character Kambei notes at the end of the film: “Again we are defeated. The farmers have won. Not us.” Yet with help from the The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, the artists may succeed, and save the world after all.


Representation…, 2009

Representation, a Chronicle of the Essex Street Market

Paul Clay, 2009

A series of 44″x66″ digital prints on archival 100% cotton paper, using historical research, oral history, and the representational form of a comic book, to chart the sociocultural development of the Lower East Side through the story of the Essex Street Market.

A selection of the pieces will be on display, starting with the opening reception Saturday, December 12th, from 5pm-7pm in the North End of the Essex Market, 120 Essex St., New York City, and the exhibit will run through January 2010.

This project is made possible, in part, with public funds from the Manhattan Community Arts Fund, supported by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and administered by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and with generous support from The New York City Economic Development Corporation and the Department of Small Business Services.

Project Description:

The comics are made from photos of actual people who work in and frequent the market,and include text in multiple languages, with both historical data, and information from oral histories, capturing a snapshot of a vibrant and volatile historical moment.

The Essex Street Market is a long standing center of everyday culture in the Lower East Side. It is unique on many fronts: for the products available, the atmosphere of the place, its inherent support for rapidly disappearing craft practices, and its tradition of multi generational handing-down of family business lore. Also, by its very layout, it supports high job density and the preservation of the aesthetic of the bodega, with its tradition of daily food purchase and simultaneous exchange of neighborhood, community and cultural information. The Essex Street Market is a vital business and cultural institution in the Lower East Side and this artwork highlights its special place within the community and the culture of New York City.

The neighborhood contains a diverse mix of cultures, from long standing Jewish residents to Puerto Ricans having arrived in the 60’s and 70’s, followed by Dominicans, and the expansion of Chinatown, not to mention local artists who settled in the area back when the rents were affordable, and the recent influx of Japanese and Koreans. Rapid gentrification over the recent past has created huge cultural flux and a wide range of levels of income among residents.


Dumbo Comic (Print Work), 2009

Two works from this series appeared in the group exhibit, “Anthropology: Revisited, Reinvented, Reinterpreted”, at Central Booking, Brooklyn, NY, November 2009. The work is intended to explore the Brooklyn neighborhood of Dumbo, and is available in two forms:

As individual 44″ x 66″, or 22″ x 33″ prints, archival ink, on acid free 100 percent cotton paper.
As individual images without text in the form of 38″ x 54″ archival ink prints on canvas.

Project Description:
Dumbo Comic (Print Work) takes 30 Washington Street as its starting point, to explore Dumbo’s unique history, and its architectural and sociological development. The artworks, in the form of comics, take inspiration from the factories built along the East River waterfront, and from Robert Gair’s position in the end of the 19th century as an inventor involved in industrial printing, cardboard box manufacturing, and real estate.

The work includes reference to the idea of the “Walled City”, a nickname for Brooklyn in the time before the bridges, when there were so many warehouses along the river that it created the look of a walled fortress from the water side. The name can also be interpreted as a reference to the subsequent isolation that Dumbo suffered from, following the construction of the bridges and the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. The bridges and expressway not only made it hard to pass directly into Dumbo from the rest of Brooklyn, but also, because of the length of the exit-ways off of the bridge actually made all the Brooklyn/Manhattan traffic bypass Dumbo, traveling several stories above it. This (at first) tragic walling off, ultimately helped to preserve many of the historic qualities of the neighborhood which are valued today.

Dumbo, New York City’s 90th historic district, is bounded by John Street to the north, York Street to the south, Main Street to the west and Bridge Street to the east, and includes 91 buildings that reflect its industrial heritage. The Brooklyn waterfront region was one of the premier industrial areas in the United States, and at the turn of the 20th century, Brooklyn was the fourth-largest manufacturing center in the country.

Dumbo Comic (Print Work) looks at the historical development of this area through the use of line drawing, and the comic. The line is a simple yet powerful visual tool. Greek legend has it that the first drawing originated from someone using a stick to copy shadows in the sand, and line drawing has long functioned to allow a kind of caricature, or portrait of a person or thing. Comics use a simplified, or iconic visual language to explain complex ideas and narrative structures – a kind of “amplification through simplification”. The form tends to be democratic in nature, and readily accessible to a broad spectrum of society.

The origins of the modern single frame political cartoon can be traced to Britain in the 1800’s and is distinguished by the use of caricature. Throughout much of the United States’ history, political cartoons have held a prominent place. In the Civil War era, Thomas Nast invented the “Donkey” and “Elephant” that remain today the standard signs for the Democratic and Republican parties. They help us focus on the metaphors used in societal discourses.

Comics (or multi-frame cartoons) developed in the late 19th and early 20th century, alongside the similar forms of film and animation. The history and development of comics is directly linked to the development of 19th century manufacturing, to newspapers, and to the re-invention of printing as a large-scale industrial process. Robert Gair was a part of this movement, and the development of serial frame comics was happening at exactly the same time he was building “Gairville” in what is now Dumbo. Further, Gair’s newly developed process of industrial printing on cardboard, and his industrial production system for cardboard boxes was likely inspired by newspaper industrialization. Gair’s former factory was located in Manhattan near the Puck building, an historic area in the development of industrial printing.

Dumbo is a place of outsized architecture. Everything is at the scale of elephants or super heroes. In addition to its rich history, it is currently the site of some of the most intense gentrification in New York City. In Dumbo Comic (Print Work) the neighborhood and the buildings themselves are characterized through the visual language of the comic book, in order to provoke thought on issues of urban planning, quality of life, and the visual impact of the street level built environment. The project acknowledges the scale of the area and the special place which architecture and development holds here.

Methods:
Dumbo Comic (Print Work) consists of two series of works with images starting from 12 megapixel digital stills shot on the streets of Dumbo. These images are then individually run through a variety of different types of desktop printing software and extensively reworked and elaborated, resulting in a set of “Technicolor” schemed cartoon prints, capturing architectural detail, and the street level build environment.

Text has been added by doing a Google search for the word “Dumbo” and culling bits of text and actual quotes from the search results. Part of the byproduct of this method is that elements of text treating the 1941 Walt Disney Animated feature by the same name also make their way into the work, serendipitously adding to critique of issues within the neighborhood.

Working with the form of the comic, this project attempts to provoke thought on issues of urban planing, quality of life, and visual impact of the street level built environment.


Six Strategies, 2008

Presented at the Bronx River Art Center as part of the goup exhibit Metro Poles, Art in Action, a curatorial collaboration between tne Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning (JCAL), the Bronx River Art Centre (BRAC), the Asian American Arts Center (AAAC), and the Maiden Lane Exhibition Space. The work is intended to explore the Bronx, the neighborhood of West Farms, the area’s relationship to the gallery, and the premise of the exhibit.

Here is the comic, in its entirety:


 

Project Description:

Because this group exhibit is intended to focus on process, blur lines between artworks, and reduce the primacy of the individual artist in favor of a loose integrated net of creativity that blankets the entire gallery – even the act of writing a statement about the individual work could be seen to detract from the exhibit’s mission.

What follows is therefore, not a concise statement but rather a description of participation.

In the spring of this year I was invited by Jose Ruiz, curator of Bronx River Art Centre (BRAC) and Heng-Gil Han, curator for the Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning (JCAL), to submit responses to a set of questions.

They were asking a variety of artists to respond to the idea of an exhibit where artists would make work in a gallery setting and then have it subsequently altered by others. Among the questions asked were: “What contribution can you make to this unconventional exhibition?”, “Can you allow other artists to revise your installation?”, and “Who would be other artists that you would like to invite to the exhibition for the revision and collective art-making?”

The resulting exhibit: “Metro Poles, Art in Action”, is a curatorial collaboration with Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning (JCAL), the Bronx River Art Centre (BRAC), the Asian American Arts Center (AAAC), and the Maiden Lane Exhibition Space.

 

Among the things I wrote back in my initial response were the following:

“I will photograph in or near the display space – i.e. nearby buildings, back yards, whatever. The available views will function as a filter or organizing principle. This will become the target of research.”

“I will then go out on the street and find anecdotal information from passersby (as well as from people employed by the art institution) regarding who lives there, what business is conducted, what events have been witnessed etc.”

“In a third step I will do further historical research about the visually identified locations on-line. I will then make a collage from the various information materials, printed with ink jet, in a variety of sizes and textures of paper and post the information on the galley walls, like fliers or even gorilla-style like paper street art.”

“All this material, both the physical printing on paper and the conceptual structure surrounding it would then be available as raw materials to use by subsequent artists in any way they see fit. I would simply hope they might function as a launching off point of interest in the creative process going forward.”

I also invited artists Chang-Jin Lee, Marcy Brafman, and Åsa Elzén to be “team members” for our group, one of seven groups to work in the space.

For my part I ultimately adopted six strategies, relating to my initial proposal that were designed to explore the Bronx, West Farms, (the neighborhood where BRAC is located), and the area’s relationship to the gallery and the mission of the exhibit.

 

Strategy One: Gathering images based on a net search for the word “Bronx”

This was a way to begin to understand the visual history in relation to what people have recorded on the internet, about the Bronx.

This doesn’t constitute a comprehensive compendium of visual material for two reasons. First, many things visual known and recorded were done by people prior to the world wide web and those people tend to be less connected, and thus fail to get their visual info recorded to a web readable format, and posted. As a result, much of this human visual archive is missing from a current search.

Secondly, visual searches are still in the dark ages of technology, or in their infancy. Most digital visual images must be “tagged” with text either in their name, metadata (invisible information attached to the digital visual file) or through some similar structure, in order to show up in a search. Smart search engines may also give some weight to images on web pages titled with the search term or in which text containing the term is laid out in close proximity to an image, but this is obviously a tricky mix to accomplish successfully and thus leaves out much of the valuable information that actually has been posted, but hasn’t yet been tagged.

There are algorithms (the most effective of which are currently mostly available only to large corporations), which can search for the actual visual elements of an image, or its genuine “mediatic criteria”, such as color, luminance etc. These can find an image no matter what it has been tagged, but even these currently cutting edge technologies can only look for an image once they already have a base image to compare, so they can find close matches, but only to images they already know about.

All this means that right now, doing a visual search on the Bronx yields a strikingly limited set of results. Nonetheless, it begins to tell some stories about what people, corporations, and organizations valued enough to tag and post.

To display I printed a selection of the results, 16 images to a page, on 8 1/2″ x 11″ ink jet paper, along with the name of each file displayed below it, on 18 pages, and taped them to the gallery wall, much as I might do in my studio.

 

Strategy Two: Download text related to the history of the Bronx and the neighborhood of West Farms.

I chose 9 of the most compelling texts among many dozen I had saved, formatted them in a formal structure designed to be reminiscent of poems, and pinned these to the wall.

In most cases, the written work was stripped to ASCII text, every comma was removed and converted to a carriage return, and every period was removed and converted to two carriage returns, to create text block separations, and finally the entire text was hard wrapped to 35 characters, to produce short phrases. I did a bit of clean up for readability, printed the texts and push pinned them to the wall.

The texts cover a range of subjects from how the Bronx got its name to the demographics and transportation structure of West Farms.

 

Strategy Three: Non-linear story telling, through the use of Comics

I have little connection to the world of comics, and never read them as a kid. I came at the format from video art, looking for a way to accomplish similar results, but in a form that allows the viewer more leeway in the amount of time they devote to the process. Still images allow more immediate intake.

The text for the comics comes not from the net research, (as is the case with many of my past projects) but from things that people actually said to me. This is combined with photos that are digitally reworked to become a sort of cartoon or comic book, printed in non archival inks on 13″x19″ mat ink jet paper and pinned to the gallery wall. Various walks as well as interviews with gallery staff and local patrons provided the materials. Some responses also came from emailed questions to specific participants.

 

Strategy Four: Mapping and modeling the neighborhood

Using a data projector I traced a street map of the entire neighborhood of west Farms onto a big 8′ x 10′ piece of paper and then cut the map roughly out of the center of it and pinned it to the gallery wall. I then recorded impressions about the neighborhood and where I met the people who became part of the comic.

Using a ground plan of the BRAC gallery I made a quick 3D computer model of the space and recorded where the first elements of the project were placed in the space.

I photographed part of an MTA subway map with my phone, showing West Farms, then emailed it to BRAC while on route to the gallery. Once there, I had them print the email with the map and posted it with the other mapping elements. This related to the personal nature of the work and to the idea of the documentarist or participant-observer including information about themselves within the surroundings being documented.

In the same vein, I downloaded an app to my mobile phone allowing me to track my GPS location and record in real time to a version of Google Maps. I posted a printout of one particular tracking event documenting my crossing of the entire length of West Farms, when the MTA train I was taking to the gallery went express and passed my intended stop. I thought, “This must happen all the time, when you live in West Farms.”

 

Strategy Five: Incorporation with other works.

I placed an old laptop within an arrangement of refuse, which another artist had put together. The computer displays the text from the “poems” I had created from the earlier documentary material, and so creates another avenue of historical communication, and also relates to the work it is situated in by referring to the problem of e-waist.

I Added text comments to artist Marcy Brafman’s work, in the areas where the public is invited to participate.

I filled in several blanks in mad libs left on the walls by another artist.

I created a stick figure comic from one of the many works on paper strewn throughout the gallery, referring to both that work and other art in the gallery, using text from a visitor as inspiration, and which questions what constitutes art.

 

Strategy 6: Blog and website. I created a blog to document my own progress so that other artists could see what was happening, and am also posting materials to this site.

http://west-farms-studio.blogspot.com/


The Artist Drawing from the, 2004

The Artist Drawing from the Model (HTML image tag for an unfinished work)

Presented in the group exhibit “Shared” – organized by Mark Power

A Graphite drawing on paper, of the invisible HTML image placement tag for a jpeg of the following drawing: “Rembrandt van Rijn, Dutch, 1606 – 1669, The Artist Drawing from the Model, c. 1639,  etching, drypoint and burin, sheet: 23.4 x 18.2 cm (9 3/16 x 7 3/16 in.),  Print Purchase Fund (Rosenwald Collection), 1968.4.1, from “the collection” directory of the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.’s web site.

Original URL: http://www.nga.gov/cgi-bin/pinfo?Object=50563+0+none

HTML Code Snippet:
<img align=”bottom”
src=”/thumb-l/a00054/a0005462.jpg”
width=”152″ height=”190″ border=”0″
alt=”image of The Artist Drawing from the Model”>

Project Description:
It is a kind of take on the Rembrandt van Rijn work and the process of art making, but it is also intended to explore some of the issues of what it means to be an artist today.

The work references the unfinished etching by Rembrandt and the invisible information tags or code which instruct web browser software how to draw web pages. The Webpage itself is unfinished until the image associated with the tag is added, completing the composition.

With his etching, Rembrandt was in the process of creating a kind of quintessential popular image of the “artist”, and the artist in the image could be Rembrandt himself, as the working figure bears some resemblance to his other self portraits. The artist is drawing the model while surrounded by the paraphernalia of the studio, and immediately behind him, a large unpainted canvas rests on its easel.

There are other references as well. In the right background is a sculpted bust covered over with a cloth. The model stands on a low platform while holding some fabric and a palm frond. Common enough props, but also visual suggestions that, even though the artist is drawing rather than sculpting, Rembrandt, the history painter, is working with the idea of Pygmalion.

It is Pygmalion’s story, in a round about way, that leads to the inspiration for the 2004 artwork. Pygmalion, legendary figure of Cyprus, is referenced in Ovid’s Metamorphoses,book 10, in which he is a sculptor who falls in love with a female statue he carved out of ivory. According to Ovid, after seeing the Propoetides prostituting themselves, Pygmalion is ‘not interested in women’, but his statue is so realistic that he falls in love with it. He offers the statue presents and eventually prays to Venus who takes pity on him and brings the statue to life.

The story of living statues has parallels with Daedalus, who was said to use quicksilver to make his statues speak, and Hephaestus, who created automata for his workshop, and even Pandora, and the Golem who were both said to be created from clay. Though this is myth, it is inspired by actual fact.

The eastern Mediterranean islands were known in ancient times for their astounding mechanical engineering creations, including what today might be referred to as animatrons or mechanical people. Pindar the Greek poet notes in describing Rhodes: “The animated figures stand adorning every public street and seem to breathe in stone, or move their marble feet.” The Antikythera mechanism, the first known mechanical computer, designed to calculate astronomical positions, was discovered in a wreck off the Greek island of Antikythera in 1901, and is dated to about 150–100 BC.

So in the story of Pygmalion the idea of conceptual or aesthetic creation, engineering and computing, and religious/magical substantiation is all tied together, and comes from the commonplace trope of sculptures so lifelike they are real.

In contemporary society individuation of tasks has continued in a branching process for a long time, with the engineer and the artist seemingly having parted ways. Yet recent technological innovations such as desktop publishing and laptop video production are allowing specializations to recombine, and allowing non specialists to take on tasks previously accessible only to experts.

Further, new technologies are regularly picked up by contemporary artists to create work with. Recent developments in computer code have even provoked engineers and programers to question whether what they are doing can be said to constitute an art form in itself.  All kinds of media are being used and explored and exploited as art. Thus this snippet of computer code works for a variety of reasons to make an analogy with Rembrandt’s work about artists.

Rembrandt is known for his amazing ability to convey feeling through physical gesture. His work is about an artist drawing, and so I also try my hand at physical gesture in graphite. The text in the 2004 artwork has not been written, but has been delineated by sketching the outlines of the forms of letters and then filling them in. Van Rijn’s work has a meta level to it, with the story of drawing contained within the actual drawing. Likewise the drawing of computer code functions as a meta level for the jpeg image of drawing it refers to.

The copied code for the jpeg from National Gallery of Art site becomes a kind of conceit. The code is about location, position and relationship to surroundings, as well as the fact that there is no border or frame to be drawn around the image. All this loosely relates to the artists surroundings and the unframed canvas featured in Rembrandt’s background. The word “thumb” becomes a synecdoche referring to the artist’s drawing hand. Lastly, the female figure Galatea (“she who is milk-white”), appears in countless paintings of the Pygmalion myth shown from behind, just as she does in Rembrandt’s work. The code referring to image alignment (img align=”bottom”) thus functions as a joking reference to the glowing white ass that becomes the central image in these male dominated fantasies, and equates with the structuring of the viewer’s gaze to align on Galatea’s Bottom.

It has been said that for Rembrandt etching a plate was a process of exploration, not a straightforward transcription. In his work he is considering details for a kind of portrait of an artist. Yet it is not a portrait of what the artist looks like, but rather what his circumstances are, and what drives him.

The drawing of a bit of text with pencil on paper seems hardly a finished work, and the code itself without the final jpeg image inserted would constitute an unfinished web page. In The Artist Drawing from the Model (HTML image tag for an unfinished work,) the project of what it means to be an artist is being worked, and yet it remains unresolved.