I was asked to go out to Maspeth to meet an artist. I wasn’t even sure where Maspeth was. Queens itself intimidates me, since it’s a maze of unlikely numbers in opposition with themselves all intersecting in nonsensical disunity. The only thing I knew about Shui Shi Liu is that he is a painter visiting from China who has his studio in Maspeth where he created an installation. And so I and my Uber driver ventured forth into the great unknown, mindlessly following the GPS to this strange world in the obscurest section of Queens, New York. When we arrived at the address, I was looking for buildings that would signify that artists were there, most likely it was some industrial hub or battered old school I thought. What I didn’t anticipate was an opaque city neighborhood, bland and remote, to be where the studio held a large-scale installation. I rang the bell, no answer, so I texted the curator Dr. Kalia Brooks and a moment or two later the door buzzed me in. I expected to see her but instead at the top of the steps, a smiling round-faced Asian man greeted me. Dr. Brooks had not arrived yet so it was just me and Liu. Since Liu doesn’t speak English I sat and responded to emails on my phone while he brewed me a glass of woody fragrant tea. The apartment was smoky with cigarettes and a little chilly. I was, I suppose, immersed in the triviality of things that had to get done. Until the translator, Xingze Li (which means “Star and the light”) arrived, my mind was caught up in my own existential crisis, and the artist in front of me had not been illuminated yet. But Liu would awaken me from perfunctory details holding me in a mundane place within the hour and I would become bewitched.
Thirty-five years after Andy Warhol created his ominous and intriguing black-and-white The Only Way Out is In! screen print on silk scarf, it seems as if he collaborated with Steve Hash to hang it just above the new (2019) and newly installed concrete-drenched cotton toweling sculpture Figure No. III (Void).
Warhol died 32 years ago, when Hash was five years old, but the artists are actively engaged in a dialogue at the “Poverty / Porn: Steve Hash and Andy Warhol” exhibition at Chase Contemporary.
“It all happened when I showed up in Miami, and Bernie (Chase) showed up and bought some of my works and said ‘Let’s do a big show,’” said the Los Angeles-based artist at a private preview Friday hosted by Tommy Hilfiger. “I said ‘Let’s do something different. Let’s do something bigger than that.’ As an emerging artist, I was looking at a massive artist, one of the biggest in the world, and his later works just speak to me.”
The two-person exhibition curates Hash’s innovative sculptures alongside late black-and-white paintings and works on paper by Warhol. Hash, who is color blind, works monochromatically and is especially drawn to Warhol’s final years.
"I first saw Steve's work at Art Miami 2018 and bought two sculptures there without having any idea who he was. I simply enjoyed the work. This project came together quite quickly and we had a wonderful team behind us,” gallery owner Chase says. "It's been an absolute pleasure to work with Steve and his wife Ally. I'm thrilled with how the exhibition turned out."
Both artists grew up in poverty with deeply religious influences, which are simultaneously subtle and obvious in their work.
Hash’s Pity I (Plank), a concrete-draped figure supported by a simple wooden plank, evokes both Pietà by Michelangelo, as well as the 1973 post-minimal sculpture by Charles Ray.
A devout Byzantine Catholic, secretly, throughout most his life, Warhol was born in Depression-era Pittsburgh to parents of an ethnic group known as Ruthenians, from a village in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, at the northern border of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Hash was born in 1982 Santa Barbara, California, and raised in De Soto National Forest, in a radicalized Christian community in rural southern Mississippi, the son of a construction worker.
Just as Warhol transformed everyday commodities into iconic Pop Art, Hash transmutes mundane objects from daily life, such as used towels and underwear drenched in concrete, into graceful, draping art.
Hash said his fascination with Warhol “started as a personal exploration. I grew up in poverty. I grew up in religion. A lot of my work is trying to continue a conversation of art history. And the hunt (for late, black-and-white Warhols) began, and it all came together. Bernie and Chase went on a heroes’ journey for me. Bernie and Chase jumped off the cliff for me.”
Hash moved to New York to work as a creative director for a major record label, and now lives and works as an artist in Los Angeles, with his wife, Ally Hilfiger, and their daughter, Harley. He made his 2018 debut at HILDE Gallery in Los Angeles, earning a Critic’s Pick review in Artforum. He has exhibited at the Bombay Beach Biennale, Marfa Invitational, and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. His Mother I and Child Isculptures were awarded a Director’s Choice at Art Miami 2018.
Down-to-earth and eager to explain his creative process and inspiration, Hash says: “My work isn’t about me, it’s about the interaction” with the viewer. He humbly and willingly took time to chat with 9-year-old Michael Alexander about his ongoing conversation with Warhol.
Chase Contemporary was established in 2017 with two locations in Manhattan’s Chelsea. The gallery’s core program is to exhibit both hotly sought-after fine art as well as work by emerging and mid-career artists, catering to both the established and the entry level collector.
The gallery regularly hosts artist talks and lectures, events, and benefit auctions, and participates in major art fairs. View the Hash-Warhol exhibition at the space on 521 West 23rd St. until May 26.
ALEX BIESE, ASHBURY PARK PRESS | OCTOBER 19, 2018
He’s one of the most acclaimed and successful British songwriters of all time, but in his heart Bernie Taupin is a true American.
Taupin, known for generations the world over as Elton John’s lyricist, has worked as a visual artist for decades. His latest body of work, the exhibition “True American” on display through Nov. 10 at Chase Contemporary in Manhattan, finds Taupin re-purposing elements of Americana imagery — particularly American flags and weathered instruments — continuing a thematically consistent, lifelong artistic pursuit.
“I can tell you from my perspective that I’m absolutely thrilled with this show,” Taupin said when calling from the gallery. “It’s without a doubt certainly the most cohesive and certainly for me the most satisfying show I’ve ever put together.
“I think there is, as I said, a cohesiveness that is quite special, certainly for me anyway. There’s always a magic to seeing the materials that are sort of lying around in your studio suddenly, magically, placed upon walls, symmetrically and well-lit, that is very invigorating for the artist.”
Taupin recently discussed the complex iconography of the American flag, the artistic merits of appropriation and more with the Asbury Park Press and USA Today Network.
Q: Talking about the cohesive nature of this exhibition, which I can see from just thumbing through the catalog, was there a guiding vision or North Start of sorts as you were assembling the pieces that would form "True American"?
A: Well, I don’t know if this is necessarily the answer that you want but I think that as an artist — an artist, I should say, on any level, whether it’s musical, whether you’re writing a book or whether you’re writing poetry or creating songs — I think we all start by poaching a little, but our ultimate goal is to find our own voice. And I think that’s really the crux of the situation here with my work, especially with the flag-based material that is the emphasis of the show and the what I call "web and weaving" style that I use.
I think all of these things I’ve pretty much reached a point where I’ve reached a sort of originality of my own whereas in the past, in the early years, as I said we poach off other artists, not necessarily flagrantly but they sort of soak into our bloodline and they do sort of tend to infuse us with something that we try to emulate. But at the same time, I think there is that drive to create something that you feel is your own voice.
And I think it’s taken me a long time, but I think with this exhibition and certainly the flag emphasis, which is the central point of most of my work these days along with the sort of organic instrumental addition to it and the blending of the two, I think I’ve created something that is pretty special — special to me anyway, and hopefully it’ll be special to other people and they will hopefully see the originality in it. I suppose that’s it in a nutshell, yes.
Q: That’s interesting, the concept of poaching. It brings to mind a theme that sometimes is addressed quite literally in the work but it’s also thematically present, and that’s the concept of appropriation, taking found objects and constructing new art of them, whether that’s a flag or newsprint or twine.
But it’s also thematic and cultural acts of appropriation in the way you’ve weaved in elements of Americana and American history and American culture. I find that to be a fascinating theme running through your work, this concept of appropriation.
A: There’s lots of different answers to that. The appropriation of found materials has been ongoing in my work for a long time. You can drive down the road and see something lying on the side of the road that’s probably as insignificant as a piece of coiled, rusting barbed wire but to me that’s a priceless jewel because I know that somewhere within the framework of my work I can certainly use that, and I’ve used that.
But certainly the thing about the flag that is so unique to me is that’s so malleable and misunderstood at the same time. The interesting thing about the flag to me is there is so much discussion about misusing or mishandling of the flag.
The one thing that I find fascinating (is) that if you actually look into the rules of flag disposal when it needs to be replaced with something new one of the key components of disposing of a flag is burning it in a respectful way, which is kind of odd considering that disrespect of the flag is people burning it, too. So my feeling is what I’m doing with it is from a totally respectful viewpoint.
But as I say, the flag is so wonderful because it’s so malleable and in my work I can use it in so many different ways and hopefully that’s what I’ve done, whether it’s intertwined with battered musical instruments that come from a very American standpoint also; I mean, all of my musical pieces that involve the flag are created with a sense of a genre that is wholly American, whether it’s blues or traditional gospel or traditional country music, I think the flag represents itself within that framework tremendously because it’s wholly American.
That’s how I sort of view my work in general: it all comes from a gut level, organic, American viewpoint.
Q: Flag imagery, what some consider patriotic imagery, is very potent and very provocative, especially these days when there are folks who choose to metaphorically wrap themselves in the American flag to support whatever sociopolitical or personal or ideological viewpoint they have.
It’s a very loaded image as well, especially in 2018 in America. It’s a very striking primary color image but it’s also a totem that has a lot of weight to it depending on who’s using it and how.
A: You’re absolutely right. There are so many different viewpoints where the flag is concerned. I mean, there are people obviously that don’t respect it with any particular value or don’t associate to it with any particular value.
What I find extraordinary about the American flag is I don’t think there is any other country in the world, and I don’t think you can name one, where the flag is as iconic as it is in this country. I wrote a piece for the Callanwolde (Fine Arts Center) catalog that we did for Atlanta, and in it I was saying that I live in a very, very small town on the central coast of California and you can stand in my gas station, which is a mom and pop gas station, you can look up and down the road, and I would say you can see probably 12 to 13 flags flying above, whether it’s private homes or whether it’s the gas station or the grocery store.
I don’t think there is any other place in the world that you could experience that same situation. So the flag here is certainly the most iconic flag in the world, I mean it’s the most recognizable. And again, for me I take the flag and I use it with the greatest respect and I am very, very patriotic.
This country is very important to me, I’ve lived here for over half of my life, I’ve been a citizen here for over half of my life, and so it’s a symbol that speaks volumes to me. I never tire of working with it. I will probably move on to other forms of artwork but I don’t see a point in time where I will stop using it to some degree in the things that I create.