Karen Schifano

Karen Schifano: “American Colonial”

July 27 – September 21, 2014

Press Release | Images | Essay | Résumé

PRESS RELEASE

Some Walls is pleased to present Karen Schifano: “American Colonial”, July 27 – September 21, 2014. This is a unique opportunity to view this New York artist’s work in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Karen Schifano’s nine works, each untitled but collectively called “American Colonial,” all pencil, ink, and collage on 12 x 9 inch vellum, are based on the shapely forms of Colonial furniture. In each of Schifano’s works the silhouette of a piece of furniture spanning the page is outlined in pencil and filled with large strokes of dark ink recalling aged varnish. A colored, geometric shape cut from a color chip sample is positioned on or adjacent to the silhouette. These images seem reducible to a few easy steps: outline, fill, color, cut, position, glue, and these same verbs might be used to describe the steps for making an actual piece of furniture.

Working in the area of deep memory and recall with an economy of means, Schifano’s analysis of the ornate remade as minimalism walks the fine line between representation and abstraction. Her images present sturdy surfaces and exteriors while hinting at interior space, privacy, hiding, and discovery. The narrative of “American Colonial” as a series is the personal experience of seeing the present moment through the past, and the use of previous style and historical images activated by interpretation and intervention as symbols that function as visual machines to engage our seeing and thinking in generating new meaning.

See images, a full length essay, and more information at Some Walls.

Karen Schifano works and lives in New York (web site)

  • Recent solo exhibitions: Melville House, Brooklyn; Side Studio Project Space, Sydney, Australia; Blank Space Art, New York, NY with Paige Williams; Tobey Fine Arts, New York, NY
  • Recent group exhibitions: Cheryl Hazan, NY, NY; Institute Library, New Haven; Parallel Art Space, Brooklyn; Imogen Holloway, Saugerties, NY; Fosdick-Nelson Gallery of Alfred University; SPDbuilding, Hamburg, Germany; Soho 20 Gallery, NY, NY; ParisCONCRET, Paris; McKenzie Fine Art, NY, NY

To schedule a visit, or for more information, please contact Chris Ashley at info@somewalls.com.

Some Walls is a curatorial and writing art project founded in 2009 in a private home in Oakland, California. Some Walls is open by appointment only. View the exhibition online at somewalls.com.

Previous exhibitions at Some Walls:

 

ESSAY

Karen Schifano: "American Colonial"

Besides function and decoration, furniture is symbolic. Within the spaces of rooms and buildings the tables, cupboards, and chairs create spaces within larger space, which are the places to store, protect, and hide things for everyday and the longterm: clothes, letters, books, photos, and papers. Furniture contains our selves, and the places and surfaces upon which we enact our lives: pictures propped on bureau tops; garments hung in wardrobes, and tables around which we gather to eat, talk, play games, and work. Inside of buildings, furniture is a sub-level of architecture, scaled to the body: doors and drawers open and close by hand; chairs sat in more than others become favorites; keys left in the same place are less likely forgotten. Because of furniture’s relationship to the body it connotes figuration and contains familiar form.

Karen Schifano’s nine works, each untitled but collectively called “American Colonial,” all pencil, ink, and collage on 12 x 9 inch vellum, are based on the shapely forms of Colonial furniture. In each of Schifano’s works the silhouette of a piece of furniture spanning the page is outlined in pencil and filled with large strokes of dark ink recalling aged varnish. A colored, geometric shape cut from a color chip sample is positioned on or adjacent to the silhouette. These images seem reducible to a few easy steps: outline, fill, color, cut, position, glue, and these same verbs might be used to describe the steps for making an actual piece of furniture.

A silhouette is a cut-out, solid-shaped, single color image of a person, object, or scene. As an inexpensive means of image making, memorializing relatives and friends, and declaring love, it was a very popular medium beginning in the mid-18th century through the early pre-photograph decades of the 19th century. It’s interesting to note the overlap of the height of silhouette making with the American Colonial period from which Schifano chooses her furniture images; by depicting an object in a medium that is contemporary to that object, Schifano reuses two kinds of past art, aligns them in a new way, and makes them useful in the present, yet far outside the realm of assemblage and bricolage, and without nostalgia or irony.

The vernacular materials of drawing and painting Schifano uses are as basic as the materials used in crafting furniture; they are assumed and present in much of life. Her choice of period of furniture to depict is about more than taste or style; it calls to mind time and geography. The images seem quickly sketched, with repeated lines overlapping, as if fast studies made from a photo or recalled from memory, attempting to get the shape right. The ink is filled in with active, gestural strokes, not even close to how carefully varnish is applied in single direction layers on actual furniture, these dark swirls instead like the blistery, cracked, goopy untouched original finish of some long ago manufactured piece.

Schifano’s tables, wardrobes, and cabinets are specific types, perhaps a sideboard, bureau, armoire, hall tree bench, tallboy, lowboy, and so on. Looking at the furniture images, note the scalloped edges, backboards, aprons, and the shaped legs with carved knees, cabriole legs (upper curve convex, the lower concave), and slipper or claw-and-ball feet. Although not depicted, it’s easy to imagine the presence of brass pulls and hinges, clasps, locks, and escutcheons. The form itself helps us recall unseen details. Images of old furniture call to mind the sight of furniture in particular rooms, the impulse to browse and shop and hunt for the perfect piece, or the affordable piece, or the piece that works, and raises questions about decoration, design, acquisition, purchase, and usage.

Older furniture is an example of past style and taste, evokes generations and previous use, and suggests longevity. Technologically, it contrasts to newer furniture in how it’s made or its materials; it sounds and may even smell different. Stories sometimes accompany passed-down pieces of furniture. In domestic spaces, they are personal, and can be taken for granted, even becoming invisible. The shapes of furniture can loom large in memory or imagination, from specific to general to ideal, idealized in re-remembering that recalls the past, the feel of dark cool halls and high-ceilinged rooms, the sound of wood and stairs and footsteps, the memory of visiting an older relative some time ago, the feeling that something from the past carries a value that a new thing doesn’t.

Schifano’s use of collage is initially puzzling. A single roughly geometric shape cut from a color sample chip is placed on each piece of furniture (actually, one semi-circle is painted on, rather than collaged, but the effect is the same): circle, rectangle, and triangle, and one shape is leaf-like. The colors are mostly the soft and grayed designer type, appropriate for an interior wall as an accent or contrast to walls of more expected colors. Typically, the color of the collage piece contrasts with the furniture color in value (light and dark), period style, or is complementary to the furniture color.

The collage element, as an intervention, accomplishes several things. It flattens or defies the logic of the perspectival aspect of the furniture, reminding us that the image is a two-dimensional image. The collaged geometric shapes resemble the building blocks of form—circle, rectangle, triangle—which are the same basic components of the furniture. The color and shape of each collaged shape functions as a “date stamp” which pulls these particular furniture shapes forward from their decades-old origin to an aesthetic and functional presence in our time. The collage element is a “personal stamp” by the artist, an addition that shifts perception of the furniture from representational to symbolic. And as a group, when viewed together, the collage element creates a visually rhythmic movement across the nine pieces like musical notes and eccentric punctuation.

Working in the area of deep memory and recall with an economy of means, Schifano’s analysis of the ornate remade as minimalism walks the fine line between representation and abstraction. Her images present sturdy surfaces and exteriors while hinting at interior space, privacy, hiding, and discovery. The narrative of “American Colonial” as a series is the personal experience of seeing the present moment through the past, and the use of previous style and historical images activated by interpretation and intervention as symbols that function as visual machines to engage our seeing and thinking in generating new meaning.

Chris Ashley
Oakland, California
July 2014

RÉSUMÉ

Karen Schifano works and lives in New York (web site)

  • Recent solo exhibitions: Melville House, Brooklyn; Side Studio Project Space, Sydney, Australia; Blank Space Art, New York, NY with Paige Williams; Tobey Fine Arts, New York, NY
  • Recent group exhibitions: Cheryl Hazan, NY, NY; Institute Library, New Haven; Parallel Art Space, Brooklyn; Imogen Holloway, Saugerties, NY; Fosdick-Nelson Gallery of Alfred University; SPDbuilding, Hamburg, Germany; Soho 20 Gallery, NY, NY; ParisCONCRET, Paris; McKenzie Fine Art, NY, NY

     

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