GAVLAK gallery is pleased to announce our partnership with the Artists’ Legacy Foundation to promote Viola Frey‘s estate and preserve the legacy of her practice. Accordingly, we are proud to participate in this year’s edition of Frieze Masters and present Viola Frey: Works on Paper & Ceramics (1980-1989,) a posthumous solo exhibition of the American sculptor and painter. This marks the artist’s first exhibition in London.
Viola Frey is best known for her larger-than-life, colorfully glazed ceramic sculptures of men and women that expanded the traditional limitations of ceramics in the 1960s and 1970s. She was a leading figure of the Funk art movement that debuted in the same period in Northern California and combined both painting and sculpture. During her formative years, she studied under talented artists such as the painter Mark Rothko, sculptor George Rickey and clay artist Katherine Choy who was actively engaged with the advancement of ceramic arts and established the Clay Art Center in Port Chester, NY in 1957.
Whereas the 1960s were years of survival in which Frey had to sacrifice much to find the time for her art, in the 1970s art became her full focus. Moving back and forth between painting and ceramics, Frey was energized by the possibilities of both media. She was drawn to the human figure as a subject and to the rich effects of color, expressed in bold ceramics as her primary medium, the one for which she is best known today.
Over the course of her five-decade career, Viola Frey produced a body of artwork ranging from ceramic and bronze sculptures, to paintings, drawings, and includes explorations in the mediums of glass and photography. With this presentation, GAVLAK will bring light to the artist’s largely overlooked, yet equally impressive works and will share the artist’s pastel on paper, paintings, and drawings with a wider audience.
Viola Frey: Works on Paper & Ceramics (1980-1989) comprises twelve works on paper. These lesser known works carry the powerful psychological undertones, heightened palette, and personal iconography present in Frey’s sculptures. The massive men characteristically appear in generic suits and ties, while the large female figures are often depicted in heavily patterned, 1950s-style dresses. Some of these works also include nudes, a form which Frey explored at different times in her life. Frey’s nudes are not idealized, nor are they total abstractions. The body language of the reclining nudes is anything but idealized. These nudes project distress, pain, and vulnerability. Although Frey’s artworks often borrows from the impressionists’ bright color palette, they convey a more serious and moody undertone. Most of her work remains enigmatic.
Frey was a passionate collector. Along with fine art, china, and books, she collected figurines and knick-knacks found at flea markets. This hoarding mentality would later become the conceptual foundation for some of Frey’s most innovative and inspired work. A selection of ceramic and glazes creations resulting from this process will be part of the exhibition. Slip-cast in whiteware from existing figurines, these assemblages are referred to as “bricolage”. In French, a bricoleur or bricoleuse is someone who performs odd handiwork around the house. Although the subtle nuances of these words are not fully translatable into English, the literal meaning of bricolage is the thing a bricoleur patches together out of trash or junk. Frey’s bricolage pieces reinvest value in what is commonly devalued in our throwaway culture. This is particularly representative of the ethics embedded within the Funk art movement, which was very critical of the booming consumer culture of the time. With these made from junk pieces, Frey created a complex personal iconography that explores power and gender dynamics.
Frey dedicated her whole life to her art, she worked from her Oakland studio in Northern California until the day of her death on July 26, 2004. In her will, she gifted her whole estate to the Artists’ Legacy Foundation that she had co-founded in 2000 along with painter Squeak Carnwath and community advocate Gary Knecht. Viola Frey left behind an impressive body of work that deserves ongoing re-evaluation. By not yielding to the mindset that art and craft are enemies, at worst, or separate and unequal art forms, at best, Frey loosened the artistic constraints that fettered both painting and ceramics. This is her lasting legacy.
Viola Frey (1933–2004), a painter and sculptor, was born and raised in a farm in Lodi, CA. The artist went on to study at the California College of Arts and Crafts, where she graduated with a BFA in 1956. She then studied in New Orleans under Mark Rothko and George Rickey at Tulane University and left for New York in 1957 before finishing her graduate degree. There she joined Katherine Choy who had recently founded the Clay Art Center in Port Chester. Viola Frey was a pioneer in bridging the barrier between craft and fine art to push forward the medium of ceramic sculpture in the 1960s and 1970s. A lifelong teacher and maker, she retired as professor emerita from California College of the Arts in 1999, co-founded Artists’ Legacy Foundation in 2000, and continued to work until she passed away at the age of 70 in Oakland, CA. Her works are included in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Interview done for Autre.love
Vocalist, guitarist and interdisciplinary artist Jónsi has entertained a fascination for sound for most of his life, his more well-known output being the Icelandic, experimental band Sigur Rós. The indelible contribution that this band has had on the world of contemporary music is undeniable. The release of their 1999’s album Ágætis byrjun changed the landscape and the very definition of ambient music. Jónsi’s intentions have remained the same since his first experiments with sounds; “changing the way people think about music.” For his first exhibition at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, Jónsi plays on multiple senses with a series of immersive installations where visitors can individually experience smell, hearing and sight in a public setting. I had the chance to ask Jónsi a few questions about his show and his personal relationship to sound.
Agathe Pinard: Walking into the main room of the gallery, you are immersed into a white room with sterile light reminiscent of Kubrick’s last scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey while hidden speakers emanate sounds. I know you also hosted a couple of ‘Luminal’ sound baths. Where does your interest in making sound baths originate from ?
Jónsi: For the entirety of my career I have been interested in sound, sonic experiences and what it means. In every iteration of my artistic practice I have explored sound, what it feels like and what sensations it brings to the surface.
Pinard: With what idea in mind did you create the sound projected in the white room and the one in the dark room ?
Jónsi: Each of these works has a different impetus, but they share so many common threads, which I believe run through the entire show and throughout my work in general. These are sound- based installations, but they activate the senses in more than one way– using sound of course, but also sight, scent, and even the air moving through the room. Each of these works references the natural world on multiple levels, and functions as an abstract representation of our relation to nature. At the end, the sensorial is what inevitably connects us to the natural world.
Pinard: Could you describe the smell you decided to associate with each room and why?
Jónsi: In Hvítblinda (Whiteout) I was thinking about the idea of a whiteout as it occurs in nature– a situation where the earth and the sky blend into each other to the point that the horizon disappears. The odor component in the room is ozone, which occurs in nature right before the rain begins. Svartalda (Dark wave) references the ocean: the ceiling panels move like a wave and part of the sound installation includes a recitation of an Icelandic poem about the sea. Here there is a seaweed scent which is an odorous reference to the sea.
Pinard: How does being submerged in a brightly lit white room as opposed to a dark pitched one affect a person?
Jónsi: Obviously each lighting situation affects the viewer differently. The sound component of each space enhances the experience of the space, together with the smell. But I think that in all the works in the show it there is an overall effect that goes beyond the visual.
Pinard: Your first solo show at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery is meant to be challenging to the senses – sight, sound, touch. It’s sort of a meditative, solo experience where the visitor is encouraged to focus on its senses while also sharing this experience with other people in the room. How do you want people to experience your work?
Jónsi: Sight, sound, smell are all intangible things that are part of the communal realm. While each of us experiences them individually, and maybe differently, these are things we cannot touch, or quantify, or have be entirely ours. The works in the show allow the viewer to have a very intimate and personal experience which is set in a public surrounding. It opens up ways to experience the distinctly personal together with other people.
Pinard: Your whole work of art is filled with vocal and instrumental approaches, from playing in your band Sigur Rós to creating movie scores to this show. How would you describe your own relationship to sound?
Jónsi: I think it is fascinating to work with something so intangible and invisible as sound but at the same time it moves you in some inexplicable and unexplainable way. Thats why sound is magical.
Pinard: Can you talk about the concept behind Í blóma ?
Jónsi: This work, like the others, is rooted in sound and in my ongoing exploration of it. The shape of the piece resembles the foxglove flower which is toxic but can also be used for healing and that’s a dichotomy I find interesting. Here there are field recordings of the actual flowers, and these recordings are layered with different recordings of my own voice. In the show there is a certain negotiation with the world we live in through sound, through nature, through the senses. It goes back and forth between the works and the viewer.
Pinard: Butt plugs are present in different sculptures in the show either made of glass or chrome-plated, why did you choose to incorporate this particular object into your work?
Jónsi: The human body is part of nature and throughout the show there are references to the body and to its physicality, in various degrees. The sexual body is a sensual organism, and bringing this idea forth is a large part of the exhibition.
Jónsi’s exhibition is on view through through January 9, 2020 at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery 1010 N Highland Ave, Los Angeles
Born in New Zealand, Connan Mockasin now lives in Tokyo. I met with the nomadic chanteur as he stopped through Los Angeles on the occasion of his international tour. There was only one show scheduled, but the tickets sold so quickly they decided to add two more. The last one felt like a bouquet final, a two-hour victory lap among friends, including John Carrol Kirby, with whom he performed a cover of Whitney’s “I Will Always Love You.” We were introduced at The Lodge Room in Highland Park where he invited us to join for dessert. Mockasin is quite noticeable with his long, platinum hair, big bucket hat and his quintessential John Waters-esque mustache. We talk about the venue where he had been playing the past two nights. He spots my French accent. I tell him that I’m from Bordeaux and we discuss the Southwest of France, mainly the best surf spots. We mention Biarritz and how he would love to live a little south of it, in a very small fishing village called Guethary located in Basque country. It’s a secluded haven also chosen by many French artists, including writer, Frédéric Beigbeder and actor, Vincent Cassel.
It had been five years since Connan Mockasin last released an album. His two previous ones, Forever Dolphin Love (2010) and Caramel (2013) were best described by writer, Daiana Feuer as “sensuous love letters from an alien.” This year’s Jassbusters is Mockasin’s first full-band album. It was recorded live over the course of a week at the legendary Studios Ferber in Paris, best known for hosting France’s most notorious singers like Serge Gainsbourg and Alain Bashung, as well as international enigmas like Nick Cave and Black Sabbath. The album is accompanied by a five-part melodrama film called Bostyn ’n Dobsyn, based on comics and short films imagined by the artist as a teenager. Although very different in nature from the past two albums, Jassbusters remains faithful to Mockasin’s essential recipe: a blend of eccentricity and sensuality. The record starts with a sultry track called “Charlotte’s Thong,” a perfect gateway to an updated sound that is peppered with humorously creepy, yet oddly arousing narratives—a combination that could only be extracted from a vintage porno or a Connan Mockasin song.
AGATHE PINARD: I was supposed to interview you a couple months ago at Desert Daze, but it didn’t happen due to the awful weather conditions and the huge line to get in.
CONNAN MOCKASIN: We almost didn’t get in.
AP: What were you doing when the storm hit and festival security asked everyone to go back to their vehicles?
CM: I’m scared of lightning, so I went to the trailer. It was really nice actually. We opened the curtains and watched the storm.
AP: Yeah, they had to shut down Tame Impala while they were playing.
CM: Some of them kept coming into our room and I kept saying, “Close the door!” because I was scared of the lightning. They were feeling so bad about the fans, so we had a game where you had to have a sip of whiskey every lightning flash. It was really fun.
AP: Your new album is called Jassbusters. Can you explain what a jassbuster is?
CM: It’s a band of schoolteachers who make a record together. I did these home videos when I was a teenager—twenty years ago now. We used to have this thing, Bostyn ‘n Dobsyn. Mr. Bostyn, the teacher, had a band called Jassbusters. It’s basically a band record, because I’ve not done any band records. This is the first. Basically, every band recording is a Jassbuster recording.
AP: What was it like recording with a band for the first time ?
CM: There were four of us recording and it was easy. The thing with a band is that if you’re recording live, you can feel if it’s not working, or if it’s working straight away. It’s a lot quicker. You feel like you can take your time when you’re on your own, but it’s not the same when you’re working with a group of people. Overall, it’s a lot easier. You have other people playing and putting their touch, which is very different from being on your own.
AP: I was curious if “Charlotte’s Thong” was about Charlotte Gainsbourg, since you produced a song for her and toured together?
CM: I did invite her. I told her that she could play on “Charlotte’s Thong,” but that’s about it. That’s just a name, like Jassbuster. We just came up with a name.
AP: You released a five-part series based on comics and short films you made in high school. Can you talk a bit about the concept behind the movie and why you’re doing this now?
CM: I don’t know why now. I just wanted to do it. It’s always been something I enjoy, Bostyn ‘n Dobsyn. I wanted to make a series, but I didn’t even know how to do it. I wanted to make something new again. When I made my first album, Forever Dolphin Love, I didn’t know how to record. So, it was all new. Making an album by yourself you just make a lot of mistakes. I tried to make a series in the same way: without really knowing what I was doing. Sometimes mistakes turn out to be good. When you do it while not being particularly good at it, you do it in your own way.
AP: The story is about a music teacher and his student. Where did that idea come from?
CM: I don’t even remember. We just thought it was great—Mr. Bostyn, thinking his student, Dobsyn is a girl, and calling him Josie. It starts a whole world of deceit.
AP: Is it in any way autobiographical?
CM: I hope not. I play Mr. Bostyn, so I hope not. Although he is not necessarily bad. Dobsyn is pretty bad later on.
AP: Matt Correia from Allah-Las asked me to ask you about your favorite color.
CM: That’s a great question. I don’t know. I don’t have a favorite color really.
AP: Can you talk about dolphin love? What is it and what makes it forever?
CM: I was making music at my parent’s in New Zealand. I was just driving around and I went to my friend Brim Dog’s house. He lives further south on the beach. We were around an outdoor fire, quite drunk from red wine, and I remember singing “Forever Dolphin Love.” That’s just how it happened. Maybe it was because the ocean was right there by Brim Dog’s. I don’t know.
AP: You’ve been working on the score of a surf movie called, Self Discovery for Social Survival. What was the experience of working on that project like?
CM: I basically just wanted to go surfing with my friend Andrew.
AP: It was filmed in several locations. Mexico, the Maldives…
CM: He and I went to Nicaragua. It was a filmed trip with all the directors and stuff. I thought that was gonna be the end of it. So, I talked to my record label, and they got really into it, and ended up taking Andrew and I to Iceland. We went surfing there with some of our favorite surfers. The whole idea was to mix surfers and musicians.
AP: Yeah, I’ve heard that Stephanie Gilmore, who’s the seven-time world champion, was on the trip.
CM: She’s so great, and she’s winning at the moment, so she could win an eighth! We became friends and she takes me surfing sometimes. It’s so great to watch her surf in real life. We came back from the trip and made the music in New York, just for the Iceland segment.
AP: How was the trip to Iceland? The water must have been freezing.
CM: Yeah, it was late October as well, so it was getting cold. They put you in these wetsuits that cover most of your face, but I’m really claustrophobic and I couldn’t get out of it by myself. They had to help. You feel it on your face if you go under water. It stings like acid water.
AP: You tend to blur the lines between humor and beauty in your music videos. Can you talk about how you conceptualize a video, like “I’m the Man, That Will Find You,” for example?
CM: I haven’t done a music video in quite a long time. I didn’t direct those videos. I had friends direct them. I do have a little bit of say, of course. With “I’m the Man, That Will Find You,” my only input was rolling down those stairs. The rest of it was directed.
AP: So, you normally just ask a friend with a sense of taste you can trust?
CM: Yes, but I would love to do it myself now. Back then, I would get friends to do it. I did one with my friends Fleur & Manu in the forest just outside of Paris for that song called “Faking Jazz Together.”
AP: Tonight, just like the past two nights, you will play ‘in the round,’ on a stage in the middle of the audience. Can you talk about how this format has been working out so far?
CM: It’s been great. I’ve done this before when I was playing with a band and there weren’t so many people. We’d move instruments on the floor and play in the middle of the audience. I’ve always loved it. It’s nice for people to see, and there is a good atmosphere. I’d love to do it more, but most venues don’t really allow it. But these past nights in LA have been so good. I’ve really enjoyed it.