Monthly Archives: March 2011

“I find individual elements most interesting when taken out of their original context and re-interpreted through a fresh perspective.” — Stephen Chopek

SodaCan| Courtesy of Stephen Chopek

Apart from actor/conceptual artist/fiction writer/grad student James Franco, Stephen Chopek may be the busiest man in the art world today. Chopek (aka SodaCan), who lives and works as a musician and artist in Jersey City, is currently on tour with singer-songwriter Todd Carey; closer to home, the Broadway Gallery in Manhattan and LITM in Jersey City are currently showcasing his art in two group exhibitions. We recently caught up with Chopek to discuss SodaCan, his studio practice, and the business of being an artist and musician.

What is SodaCan?

SodaCan is a solo project, an artist collective, a multimedia extravaganza, an evolutionary experiment, a peace movement, a radical revolutionary uprising, a democracy, a dictatorship, a fascist theocracy, a socialist republic, an equal opportunity employer, an international corporation, a nonprofit organization, and a few other things not fit to print.

OK. Let’s narrow this down. What types of projects does SodaCan produce?

SodaCan produces music and art by Stephen Chopek. I occasionally collaborate with other musicians and artists, but mostly it’s all me … whatever I want it to be … when I want it to be … and where I want it to be.

The project was initiated after many years of playing other people’s music for a living, with only rarely embarking on my own projects. I started to get burnt out, and decided to take a step back and reassess my priorities. I took a year off from what I had been doing to focus on my personal interests. After that year I was refreshed and ready to get back to the business of music. Since then, I’ve been able to maintain a healthy balance of solo work and sideman work. As a result, I enjoy playing on other people’s gigs more than I ever. I’ve rekindled my fascination and dedication to the creative process.

Christening a project can be difficult. How did you come up with the name SodaCan, and what does it say about the type of work you make?

In 2007, after playing music professionally as a sideman for seven years, I began composing my own music. Around that time, I also started making visual art. I though it would be a good idea to present both under one name, but not my own. I was going for something more of a brand than a personal connection. It’s liberating to create things that my name is not directly attached to. However, it’s no secret that SodaCan is Stephen Chopek and vice versa.

I got the idea for the SodaCan name and logo from a friend’s T-shirt. It was a thrift store find, and had an image of what appeared to be the top of a soda can. So, like any aspiring artist would do, I stole it — the image, not the T-shirt.

The name doesn’t necessarily say anything about the type work I make, which is kind of the point; it’s ambiguous. The viewer or the listener can decide what it means.

Do you prefer to drink a beverage from an aluminum can with a pull-tab or stay-on-tab, and why?

I don’t drink soda or beer, so I’m not in a position to make an informed decision about the best way to drink out of an aluminum can.

Lately, I’ve been getting into coconut water. Most brands come in drink boxes with a pull-tab. That seems to be the way to go.

SodaCan "Night"

SodaCan "Day"

You have a show coming up in New York City. How did you become involved in the exhibition, The International Artists at Home and Abroad Exhibition Series, and what work will be on view?

Earlier this year, I viewed Bonnie Gloris’ art at the Brunswick Windows in Downtown Jersey City. I liked what I saw, and I sent her an email to let her know. Shortly after that, we were both showing work at LITM. In addition to being an artist, Bonnie is also a curator at the Broadway Gallery in New York City. She invited me to participate in their Nature Vs. Nature show in November. As a result, I was asked back for The International Artists at Home and Abroad Exhibition Series.

The work on view will be a diptych entitled Night & Day. This is part of a body of work made by applying paint to the glass of old windowpanes.

Networking sounds sleazy, but it’s not. It’s amazing how emailing an artist to share your admiration for a particular project can lead to other unforeseen opportunities. What else do you do to cultivate new relationships?

It’s important to get out there and meet the members of your community. In terms of the music and the art world, this means going to gallery openings, concerts, jam sessions, fundraisers, etc. Needless to say, the internet is a great way to network. Reaching out to fellow artists and musicians via email and social networking sites is a great way to stay connected. Find out what’s going on in and around town and check it out. Artists need to support each other.

What is the relationship between your paintings and your music?

My music and art are both created with the help of previously existing sources. I collect samples to make music and objects to make art. Some of the objects that I use are magazine photos, newspaper headlines, windowpanes, old paint, broken crayons, pen ink, plastic flowers, and bug carcasses.

I often collect things that I’m not sure what to do with. It may take a while, but they eventually find their way into an art piece.

Materials take up a lot of space. I work in my apartment. My space dictates the type of work I make – small, intimate, personal. Do you have a studio or specific space designated for your art and music?

I have a room in my apartment that serves many functions – recording studio, art studio, instrument storage. The room is not small, but sometimes it feels like the walls are closing in. It can get overwhelming, but I’m glad to have a space designated for creating. Depending on what I’m making, I may need to spread out into the living room and/or kitchen. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that my works are small to medium size. I often wonder what kind of art I would be making if I space was not an issue.

Slayer + Public Enemy | Courtesy of Glen E. Friedman

I want to discuss some of your music. One of the pleasures I had while listening to your songs was the experience of trying to identify the sources of the various samples and soundbites. I still remember the initial glee I felt — and still feel — when I heard the Slayer “Angel of Death” sample in Public Enemy “She Watch Channel Zero.” Do you think about who your audience is? How do you expect viewers to respond to your work?

I don’t think of my audience when I’m composing music or making art. I do my best to not think of anything at all. I prefer to concentrate on the work at hand. I wouldn’t say my work is unfocused, but it’s not aimed in a specific direction for a specific audience.

I don’t place any expectation on my work or the people who view my work. There are no meanings, messages, emotions, or feelings that I’m trying to convey. I prefer to leave it up to the viewer or the listener to derive meaning from the work.

The final part of the creative process is sharing the completed work with the world. However it’s received once it’s out there is beyond my control.

I wish I had your mentality. One of the biggest challenges I find as an artist is getting caught up in my own head instead of making the work. Do you practice meditation or anything to help you get in the zone or are you just hardwired at this point to do the work?

In recent years, I’ve come to realize that passions come and go. The creative process requires devotion more than passion. The creative impulse is a gift that has been given to everyone — it’s our responsibility to foster and develop that gift. It requires a strong work ethic. We have a finite amount of time on earth and there are a finite number of hours in the day. Using our time wisely while we have it is the least we can do in exchange for this gift, and for the gift of life in general. Everyone has something to offer.

I practice Vipassana meditation on a daily basis. “Vipassana” is a Pali word derived from the Sanskrit language. It can be translated into English as “clear-seeing”, “clear-knowing”, or “insight.” The practice itself is one of the world’s most ancient meditation techniques, originally taught by Gautama Buddha. Vipassana mediation requires one to be equanimously aware of the present moment as it manifests itself in the breath and through bodily sensations.

Courtesy of the Rubin Museum

I am interested in learning about how you construct an audio piece. For example, on your song “Lord Protect My Child” on Sweet and Savory, what came first, the soundbite of the woman singing, the sitar clip, or the drumbeat you created?

Whenever I’m listening to music and I hear something that catches my attention, I make a sample of it. Through years, I’ve collected many sound clips of myself and other people playing their instruments. When I sit down to create a song, I begin by perusing my sample library.

With “Lord Protect My Child,” I began with creating the drum groove and matching it to the vocals. Then I found a bass sample and laid out the form. Once that was in place, I filled in the blanks with some percussion. There was plenty of space, which worked well for the song, but something was missing. It was at that point that I went through my CDs of Indian classical music and pieced together a few sitar solos.

Generally speaking, I make many versions of a song before I decide that it’s complete. It usually helps to make edits throughout the course of a few days. This way, I can get some distance and return with fresh perspective.

The piece that I’m currently working on is a bit of a departure from my first two albums. It’s about 30 minutes long and I play most of the instruments. My sister Claudia, who plays the violin and viola, is also featured. The only element of the song that I didn’t create is the vocal. It’s a sample taken from an astronaut reading the Bible. I’m also collaborating with a video artist to make a short film for the song. It will be released early in 2011.

How long have you lived in Jersey City, and what is it like to be an artist here? Has living in Jersey City influenced your decisions inside and outside the studio?

I’ve been living in Jersey City for about ten years. I was in the Heights for the first five, and I’ve been in the Journal Square for the past five. I have a music/art studio in my place that helps to maintain a reasonable cost of living.

There’s a healthy community of artists and galleries in Jersey City. There are also many musicians in town, but the live music scene is not very happening.

I’m not sure how much living in Jersey City has influenced my decisions. I would be making music and art in some capacity no matter where I lived.

What are the biggest challenges to a thriving music scene in Jersey City, and what can the community do to create one?

The biggest challenge to a thriving music scene in Jersey City is the lack of venues. I’m not sure what the reason is for this void; perhaps music clubs are not financially viable investments.

The community can take it upon itself to present shows in “alternative spaces” like galleries, vacant storefronts [and] private residences. However, the powers-that-be do not seem to be tolerant when people take the initiative to produce independent shows. I’m aware that the city has rules, laws, variances, zones, and requires permits for certain activities and events; but one should not have to consult with a lawyer if they want to throw a party. There needs to be a middle ground where the officials and the artists can meet amicably and productively. I’m not sure what it will take to get there, but it can’t happen without solidarity – within both sides and between both sides.

What artists should we be paying attention to in Jersey City?

I like what John Fathom is doing with his light boxes. Bonnie Gloris is always up to something new and interesting. I also appreciate how the Agitators Collective utilize and beautify public spaces. (I’m not just saying that because you’re a member of the group). I became aware of their work when I saw the decorated electrical boxes on Central Avenue in the Heights. It wasn’t until I saw their show at the 58 Gallery that I realized who was responsible for the project.

You have a diverse practice. You perform, tour, and record music on a regular basis, and make art. How do you find time to do it all?

Sleep deprivation. Don’t get me wrong … I love to sleep, but it often gets in the way. I don’t do drugs, but if I did it would be some sort of amphetamine. I could get a lot more done if I didn’t need to sleep. I often wonder how much more productive humans would be if we didn’t need to rest. Then I realize … we would probably accomplish twice as much, but live half as long.

I tend to take on more than I think I can handle, and then figure out a way to make everything happen. It keeps things interesting. I like to push myself and test my limits. I’m always up for a new challenge.

My workload is never a burden because I enjoy all the things that I do. The creative process never ceases to amaze me, and is a form of energy in and of itself.

Original post may be found here.

SodaCan logo

jose rodeiro | courtesy of parida suwannewisch

Over the centuries, flesh has enticed artists of every kind — painters, sculptors, and photographers — to capture its essence. From the Venus of Willendorf to Lucian Freud, artists have responded to call, depicting every part of the human body, from the infirm wattle of an old man’s turkey neck to the taut muscles of young boys in Caravaggio paintings.

And now flesh is the subject of a big new exhibition, Flesh Art, at New Jersey City University (NJCU). The show is curated by NJCU art history professor José Rodeiro (at right), and it features the work of 12 artists, including Joan Semmel, Ben Jones, Babs Reingold and Jen Mazza.

“The premise of the show is that human flesh can be an aesthetic motif on its own,” Rodeiro says. “I hope that those who attend the exhibit will leave with a renewed perspective on what flesh is and what it can mean.”

Rodeiro told us more recently as he made some final preparations for the exhibition, which has its opening reception this Thursday.

William Coronado

Matthew Lahm

Tell us more about the show, and how it came about.

I first became involved in Flesh Art by viewing and considering the artworks and the ideas of Matthew Lahm, when he was still one of my graduate students. His extraordinary work and ideas intrigued me.

For example, at the current show, you will see a ten-foot painting called Body View 1, which depicts part of a human body. By only showing a small part of the body within ten foot surface, the image is utterly mysterious, because the model’s identity, gender, and the actual part of the body displayed are unknown. Through this unusual “hyper-figurative” approach, the flesh itself becomes the subject of the work.

Suddenly, I realized that Lahm was part of a coterie of urban artists who used flesh/skin as their primary subject matter via this ambiguous visual-artistic handling of the body that I called “flesh art;” I began to notice a trend in contemporary metropolitan-area figurative art traceable to pioneers like Joan Semmel.

In the early 1970s, Semmel created innovative flesh-based paintings, which made her a pivotal figure in the development of flesh art. She seems to have influenced numerous artist like Lahm, Coronado, Cruz, Sandra Silva, Mazza, and Rogeberg, and others, whose images echo many tendencies found in her work. We are fortunate to have three never-before-seen paintings by her featured in the show. Flesh Art points to what I think is an evolution in 21st Century figurative art and where it can go in the future: amplifying parts and fragments of figures as subjects in and of themselves.

Hanneline Rogeberg

John Hardy "Church on 31st St"

Jen Mazza

Joan Semmel | Body and Sole

What is attracting this new generation of figurative artists to investigate flesh, and why now?

Perhaps it is that cosmopolitan artists feel that their core humanity is under attack from hyper-technology, fanatical dogmas, war, economic uncertainty — and perhaps that art itself is under threat.

Who is in the show, and what can viewers expect to see?

I have already discussed Joan Semmel and Matthew Lahm. Also featured are NJCU’s eminent retired professor Ben Jones, who is a prominent figure in African-American art, and NJCU professor and acclaimed sculptor Herb Rosenberg. The exhibition includes works by Rutgers professor and internationally active painter, Hanneline Rogeberg. There are strikingly visceral installation and multimedia works by Babs Reingold of Bayonne; intimate oil paintings by Jen Mazza of Brooklyn; cityscapes incorporating flesh in media by acclaimed painter John Hardy of New York; and video art by Giuseppe Satta of Italy. Furthermore, there are exceptional and distinctive images of human flesh (and innovative flesh-based compositions) by three other exceptional and gifted emerging artists (and like Lahm, NJCU alumni) Williams Coronado, Sandra Silva and Olga Cruz.

Willem de Kooning, Woman, I, 1950-52, oil on canvas

As soon as I heard the title of the exhibition, Flesh Art, I pictured the painting Woman, 1, by artist Willem de Kooning. When I mentioned the name of the show to my girlfriend, she assumed it was of tattooing.

This is merely my own aesthetic-opinion, but I do not immediately think of human flesh or skin when I see de Kooning’s Woman, 1. De Kooning’ s paint-application is very sensuous, which is the only thing about his work that I consider to be fleshy.

Honestly, tattoos are not an issue in the current Flesh Art show, because tattoos modify, hide, or visually change flesh and skin. Thus, tattoos tend to transmogrify, decorate, camouflage, or they add ancillary symbolic iconological meaning to skin, which distracts from the actual tone, texture, and fleshiness of “natural” skin or flesh.

I had another thought nipping at the heels of Woman, 1, and it was pornography. “Flesh Art” sounds dirty, and I ashamed of myself for thinking in this manner. As an artist, I like to think of myself as progressive, tolerant, and open-minded — but occasionally I am not. Did you intend the title of the show to be provocative or am I way off base?

The original intention of the Flesh Art show was never to be pornographic or provocative, [but] it could come across that way because flesh can be so taboo. The title is merely descriptive and represents 12 exceptional artists who exalt in seeing and depicting human flesh — artists who are fascinated by human flesh – as human flesh. In my opinion, none of the selected Flesh Art artists pander to prurient interest nor do they endeavor to arouse lascivious curiosity.

Lisa Yuskavage, Day, 1994, Oil on linen, 77 x 62 inches

Terry Rodgers, Continental Drift, 2006, oil on linen, 152cm x 229cm

JOHN CURRIN, Rotterdam, 2006, Oil on canvas, 28 x 36 inches

So, according to your definition, flesh art would not include painters such as Lisa Yuskavage, Terry Rodgers, and John Currin? Am I correct?

Yes, because flesh art is far more concerned with mysterious parts of bodies, instead of full-figure grand-manner depictions. Flesh art is not concerned with scintillating and pseudo-pornographic calculated depictions of hyper-seductive, manipulated, erotic and embellished dehumanized figures.

The nude is the foundation of Western art. However, as an Irish-Catholic male born and raised in a modest ranch house in New Jersey, I am not wholly comfortable with the human body in a state of undress—unless I am watching two men inflict and take punishment inside a boxing ring. What do you hope the viewer takes away from the work in this exhibition?

Within the context of art history, representations of human figures in the nude or naked are recurrent subjects. In fact, the history of art is saturated with astounding depictions of flesh from Classical Greek and Roman antiquity; Hindu and Buddhist artistic traditions; or as exemplified throughout Western art from the Renaissance onward. As a theme in art, unclothed human subjects are widespread and rooted deep in art history.

The artworks in the Flesh Art show describe the body as a medium through which the mind thinks and feels. As a result, flesh art imagery presents human skin/flesh as a layer through which the human body meets the world in which it lives. Hence, according to this view, people (in every way) truly inhabit their skin. Moreover, on a visceral level, both affectionate people as well as sadists are drawn to flesh, erotically desiring the skin of others. Therefore, both the human body and its flesh are noetic or intuitive vehicles for processing and possessing existence. Thus, skin functions as a “self-reflecting” subject that reaffirms and embodies the self, as a mirror image of our “being.” As the old-adage warns, “Beauty is only skin-deep.” Likewise, skin — as the largest organ of the human body — encases the body.

Art history is stacked with men. As a viewer, I have usually seen flesh — usually the flesh of nude women — depicted by male artists. Do female painters approach the body in a different manner than their male counterparts? If so, what does their work communicate about the body?

The old distinctions and obsolete hegemony between male artists and female artists are not central to contemporary flesh art, since most 21st Century urban pioneers of flesh art have been women artists. Yet, the key issue is that flesh art does not depict the full grand manner figure. Despite historical figural traditions that reveal nude or naked human bodies from head to toe, 21st Century flesh art images often portray only portions or sections of human bodies wherein strong emphasis is placed on ample corporeal surface-effects that meticulously define each body’s accentuation of flesh (or skin). Generally, the sheer veneer of flesh is not the main aesthetic focal point; instead what is often stressed is the exterior fascia, revealing a modular or sectionalized surface façade that may well be smooth, sinewy, vivacious, undulating, rough, coarse, or expressing countless other surface possibilities (even within one piece). Consequently, each work offers a crucial section of a human being’s body.

Babs Reingold "Hung Out No4"

De Kooning once said, “Flesh is the reason oil paint was invented.” For me, oil paint is particularly suited to capturing the vivacity of flesh. However, not all artists use oil, and not all artists paint. Artist Babs Reingold is featured in the exhibition. She has used encaustic, silk organza, animal skin and human hair in her installations. What can other mediums communicate about flesh that oil paint cannot?

The diverse artists exhibiting in the Flesh Art show do not exclusively rely on oil paint to attain their facsimiles of flesh or skin, although several do use oil paint. On the other hand, the show also features artists working with charcoal on skin, scratching and machining onto aluminum, using photography or doing wet-acrylic colorfield-painting like Ben Jones — or like Babs Reingold, using encaustic, silk organza, animal skin and human hair. The multimedia nature of the show broadens the artistic examination of human flesh on many levels.

Art has the power to reveal our uneasiness about the body. Does art that reveals our uneasiness about the body have the power to heal it?

I think there is an element of redemption of flesh in this NJCU exhibit, in that flesh art liberates the nude from social presuppositions, prejudices, and peripheral narratives that can taint our points of view about it. Flesh Art shows how artists can communicate a variety of meanings through flesh, which are simultaneously experiential and conceptual. Human skin/flesh is our connection to the world and — as a person living in the world and as a person devoted to art — pondering the significance of this “natural” bond to me is valuable and worthwhile.

Original post may be found here.

This gallery contains 11 photos.

In the heart of the Pacific Ocean lies a nebulous mass of plastic debris the size of Texas. This synthetic island of plastic bottles, lids, utensils, and bags has entered the food chain, and is coagulating in your bloodstream. Artist Olivia Kaufman-Rovira has come toe to toe with this global threat. In 2008, she began …

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