Each installment features a writer, artist, or curator discussing an underrated artist, artwork, movement, or museum.
Today we’re with Jen Hitchings—a Bushwick-based artist, and a gallery manager and director—in discussion of artists with a background in something other than visual art. Specifically, Jen offered Joshua Liebowitz (background in music), Christian Berman (international relations and architecture), and Jane Fine (mathematics). Let’s start easy: how did you first come upon Joshua, Christian, and Jane’s work?
Joshua’s work was introduced to me through a curator, Ashley Martin, who had put together a show of his work in Bushwick, and after several months we met in person at an opening at the gallery I curate with (Transmitter); later we swapped studio visits. Christian Berman and I had studios in the same building in Bushwick and I believe we met at one of the gallery openings in the building. Jane Fine filled in as a professor for one semester where I studied painting and drawing (SUNY Purchase), which is how we first met, and a few years later I went on to work at the gallery which represents her in New York, Pierogi.
How are Joshua, Christian, and Jane’s unique backgrounds inherent in each of their work?
This is what I find interesting—once I know that somebody studied another subject quite intensely, I always look for any indicators in sensibility, process, or content in their visual work that point to their previous focus. I didn’t know upfront that Joshua had studied and played music, but during our studio visit, I noticed that his approach to perception in regard to the senses seemed so unique and beyond visual, and some of his works on paper read somewhat of sheet music or hieroglyphics, and the conversation then revealed his musical background. Christian’s work utilizes material and process in such a way that suggests considerable experience with building and finishing, and the geometry and physical space that his sculptural works portray do seem somewhat influenced by his knowledge of architecture and design. His use of color and form, and objects such as features and quills, also suggest cultural history, particularly his own of Mexico, and his connection to nature. Jane Fine’s work almost seems to defy mathematics and logic, to me; her paintings and drawings are playful, fantastical, intuitive and very painterly, and their driving force is her process which employs paint pours and graphic mark-making. I do know that a collaborative drawing between her and her partner James Esber (they go by J.Fiber) is titled “Fuzzy Math,” though.
What inherent disadvantages and advantages does an ‘outsider’ artist have against those who came to art through more traditional routes?
In my opinion, any person working in a creative field without formal training in that field has a bit more freedom, without being weighed down by tradition or the historical context in which they are working. Both of these things could also be a disadvantage of course, but it might be easier to break the rules if you don’t even know them in the first place. That being said, Jane Fine did go on to study visual art at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts in Boston, and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and Christian will be attending RISD for his MFA this coming fall.
Art can be a great means of escape. Do you think any of these three have used their art to go against the themes, gestalt, aura, etc. of their backgrounds?
I would think there is some degree of rebellion as well as utilization of their backgrounds in their work. I also think most creatives use their practice to escape and also comprehend reality. I’m not so sure how these three would interpret that, though.
How mandatory do you think an MFA (or a professional background in arts) should be for a burgeoning artist?
I don’t think any professional background is necessary. Sure, it’s much more likely that you’ll meet some of the key players in the art market and art criticism if you attend the best MFA programs out there, but the cost is so incredibly prohibitive, and that alone severely limits who can even obtain those degrees. There are so many factors that effect an artist’s career which are completely out of your control, so spending $70,000 (the cost of tuition for an MFA at Yale) is a huge gamble in my opinion. Many incredibly successful and innovative artists never studied art—Basquiat, Keith Haring, the list goes on. According to this article, around 40% of artists represented by the largest commercial galleries have MFAs, which I find interesting.