Tag Archives: Fine Art

Three Stones from Three Cities – part 1

I spy this fracture pattern in a cobblestone one Sunday afternoon, as I walk through Mauerpark
in Berlin, Germany, with a friend, Helena, who is visiting from The States.

Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing

Mauerpark is more than two American Football Fields long and almost the width of a Football field wide. It is oriented North-South and was once part of No-Man’s land between the inner and outer rings of the Berlin Wall. The Western edge of the park is where the Wall that greeted West Berliners stood and now a simple wire fence demarks the boundary between Mauerpark and the Flea Market, which is bustling every weekend. The Eastern edge of the park is up on a slope, where the outer ring of the Wall once stood and there is a section still standing as a reminder. At the base of this slope, there is a cobblestone road that runs straight through the full length of the park. Roughly at the midpoint of this road, in the center of the park, embedding in the hillside, is an amphitheater with a circular, stone stage and the cobblestone road is tangential to it.

This Sunday, Helena and I are standing on the Cobblestone road at the circular stage of this outdoor arena, which is packed with people waiting for outdoor karaoke to start.

Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing

We look up at the tiered seating on the hillside and decide to make our way up the slope to the top, find a place to stand and have a look down onto the stage. We are being jostled by the throngs of people, who are walking, standing about, exiting and entering the arena area, waiting for the singing to start or cruising and looking for some other excitement in the busy park, carrying bottles of Berliner Pils, bouncing basket balls, kicking soccer balls, pushing strollers, walking bikes. This is both a Berliner and Tourist hotspot – it’s the same deal every Sunday with the Flea Market packed and the promise of both awesomely embarrassingly hilarity and bust’n live beats of Top Forty swing-a-ding-ding from the Karaoke singers who do their best (or worst) in front of about 500 people: we are hoping to see people embarrass themselves with a Nicki Minaj or Miley Cyrus song or, perhaps, we’ll get some old-timer East Berliner giving his best Frank Sinatra imitation – in German! We move along this road out of the congested area, and I glance down to give the cobblestones a cursory look.

See: as a sculptor, I work with stone, I’ve done work with found cobblestones, and I had a notable experience with a New York City cobblestone that I relate in this blog, as it was a stone I had walked over for years, but for whatever reason I had never noticed it until that day and, given the different context, it triggered an avalanche of thinking about important historical moments in the field of Science and pointed towards a relevance of stone for our present day and reminded me why I work with this material, in the first place. Here is a picture of it:

Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing

As I prepared for my trip to India to find Indian granite to work with, I made both mental and physical lists of the kinds of work, the kernels of ideas really, that I’d mull over while in India, and one of my ideas had to do with comparing, contrasting and relating this New York Cobblestone with other stones I find else where. I didn’t know how I’d execute this – I suspected through drawing – but it was part of the mental database I would bring with me to India … more about this in part 2.

As I glance down at the cobblestones along this pedestrian roadway in Mauerpark amidst the sea of people, I am conscious of the fact that I may be artificially trying to find significance in another urban stone by making some obtuse or forced connection, but then something irregular jumps out: a cobblestone that has a bizarre – decidedly ‘un-urban’ – fracture pattern. I can’t help it and I am hooked. Here’s an expanded image of that first stone I saw:

Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing

This triggers three simultaneous, yet distinct mental activities, like the clap of thunder accompanied with a flash of lighting and then the smell of Ozone – I wonder; I scan; and a cascade of thought pours in. I see the initial stone:

1. I wonder: “What … is … this? This is unexpected.?!.?!.”

2. I scan and see another and then another and another with a similar odd breaking pattern: a small grouping here, a larger grouping there. These are common cobblestones, so the strangeness isn’t the material but the breaking. There are deeper fissures and lesser fissures; there are voids of missing stone; there are places of more and less stone damage, scattered in an indiscernible pattern around the area we walk. The damage is subtle, most would not even give it a second glance, but the pattern doesn’t fit. Something is off, as the lesser breaks stay shallow along the upper layers of the stone, not deep and penetrating like you would find if erosion and changes in temperature and weather were the cause.

3. The cascade of thought happens quicker than one can chug a full glass of water and include:

“But, not one cobblestone sticks out: this doesn’t fit … my symbolic expectation.”

“Ignore. That is not important … Breaking … Looking …”

“But, this is not an identification with an individual cobblestone
or a decisive event of recognition and insight. What is it you are looking at and why is it significant?”

“Wait: your expectations can blind you … hold on … Processing …”

“Ok. This is outside your mold; deal with it. Discard your present system of analysis and observe. Take in more than you usually do, more than you are comfortable with. Wake up. Pay attention!”

“This break in the stone is not normal, unexpected. Period. Looking …”

“A mystery … Cogitating … How did they get this way? Not by any means you’re familiar with.”

“Observing …”

“But no one else notices.”

“That’s right, no one else cares, but that doesn’t mean there is no mystery … and they are no concern of yours, anyway … Thinking …”

“Trauma here; Trauma there. Geez, about a dozen cobblestones in this one clump, pummeled, broken, abused. What force did this?”

“The cracks are too strange to be the consequence of the freeze and thaw cycle … You highly doubt it was the freeze and thaw cycle … You’d be surprise if it was the freeze thaw cycle – erosion, too slow … these leave distinctive breaks and you can see how it follows the weakness of the stone. There are patterns to … usually that follow a natural, weak contour of the stone and … Freeze-Thaw? Can’t be?”

“This is explosive. What?”

“Dubious. What? … Move … these are fast breaks. How fast? Simultaneous?”

“That’s important …”

“How long has this road been here? Long – the road has a wear and polished surface of vehicle use. But these could be recycled stones from another road.”

“What? What?”

“Possibilities … all and any …”

“First: historical context …

“A grenade during the battle of Berlin, a shock wave from an allied bomb, a tank tread from the time Mauerpark was part of No-man’s land?

“Road most likely not old enough … What does that even mean?

“Could this have been deliberate? A sledgehammer? A carpenter’s hammer? More than a boot strike. But in such random places? And the characteristic that is so strange is that these cracks don’t go deep into the stone, but in and then along the surface… then there is a strange mellowing of the newly exposed surface. What is that?”

“Large machinery parked here for a construction job close by, but unrelated to geopolitical conflicts?”

“For these things to be confirmed, you need to know the history of this park: was it always a park? Like before WWII? When did it become a park? Were there homes in the field to the west, and were they then destroyed by bombing or to clear the area between the outer and inner Berlin Wall? Was it always a field, a park? When, What, Why … This Road?

“A force from below: What is underneath us? Different forces? Different times? Tectonic – naw, no way, not even close. Breaks mostly on top …”

“What other force could have broken these stones?”

 “Create a mental map. Create a mental marker. Remember this: we are walking through an unexpected field of trauma. An individual cobblestone is not the issue. Something occurred to these stones, but What? I have never seen this kind of pattern before … and a municipal force could have fixed them … why not? … why?”

“How, now, Watson! The game is afoot!”

This transderivational search goes on for a bit longer. It was a quick glance and rapid-fire thought. We move and are jostled among all the people and are now walking up the slope. Helene has no idea what I am thinking as I didn’t break stride with her. We were talking about her painting and I decided not to overtake our conversation with my unformed thoughts; besides, we already have plenty to talk about. We move up the slope to the top of the arena.

Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing

I knew my initial thoughts were accurate only in the sense that there was a mystery. I didn’t really think those military reasons where possible, but, given the closeness of the history, it was easy to go there.

I remember reading somewhere: “Everything is the way it is because it got that way,” and those stones were not broken by magic.
I needed more information … or did I?

Then, I drop it. However …

Over the next 24 hours, I kept finding this mental marker for the Unexpected Field of Trauma
peering out from my much higher priority thoughts and daily tasks …
until the next afternoon, and I could not let this lie.
I go back to Mauerpark
with my camera.

To be continued … (part II here)

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Out of India – reverse culture shock

Here are nine drawings I did to help ease the reverse culture shock I felt upon leaving India (go to the start of the trip here) and arriving in Berlin 21 days ago.
I present the group in the order in which they were done,
unculled and unadulterated, raw. Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing Samuel Nigro, Berlin, DrawingSamuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing Samuel Nigro, Berlin, DrawingThis drawing exercise is basic. I start with ordinary, common material: office paper (8.5 x 11”) and a fine, rollerball office pen, which took away any pressure of treating the material as precious or with affectation. I just needed to get ideas out, and quickly. Spending somewhere between 16 and 43 minutes on each, I made a mark and then slowly made another and another, always building upon the previous one; gradually increasing speed, I marked again and again and again, building momentum as I went – the marks became lines; the lines, boundaries; the boundaries, forms and eventually I fell back to making marks again. Slowing down, I end the process as I feel my mind beginning to shift back to its everyday functionality.

For this post, I thought about listing the many differences between what I experienced in India and getting back to this shockingly familiar Western environment as a way to explain this reverse culture shock, but I decided against this, because any list that I came up with either came off as an unbalanced rant, or was void of context and open to misinterpretation. Over the last few years, writing and language has become more important to me, partially because of this blog, but more precisely because I have been asking different questions of myself and have needed a way to research them, which my trip to India has accelerated. I was warned years ago that if I wanted to excel at writing then don’t have a blog! This was told to me out of the belief that writing is rewriting and the writing process takes time to go deep and communicate the subtly of your subject (I see this now. I believe it); and that a blog, being biased toward clicks and links and views and the desire for immediate now-ness and short attention spans that the internet generates, is not conducive to this sort of reflection and review – in short, not conducive to good writing (I feel this one. Still thinking, and beginning to heed).

So, I am going to give myself more time to figure out how to process and communicate this India project, as I push to complete it, and to formulate what exactly the next project is going to be. I’m not deleting my Internet presence, but some redefining is in order. I will, however, try to convey the disjunction I feel in this transition from India with two short anecdotes.

I. First, since arriving in Berlin, I have not heard a car or motorcycle horn or bicycle bell once – not once! – which is a shock to my system, since in India honk, honk, honking and horns and bellowing, bumping and noise – dust – are everywhere, all the time, constantly. This probably has to do with the sheer concentration of people in India. From my perspective, the flow of people, conveyance and animals is thick, wild and relentless. I suspect the honking, which doesn’t seem to change behavior or influence the traffic in any discernable way, gives the honker a sense of control in this chaotic environment and an outlet for harsh emotions. The honking is totally in their control, something that they alone can do, when all around them there is uncertainty, such as policemen (who look more like soldiers to me) with sticks and clubs who will smack you if you disturb the flow (or maybe the police use those sticks to protect themselves from the river of traffic constantly coming at them – don’t know, probably both).

The more uncertainty, chance and unpredictability (perceived or otherwise) in a population’s environment, the more superstition, ritual and irrationality crop up. There are numerous studies to this effect. I think of the one about American Baseball. Batters, whose task is filled with uncertainty and who are more likely to strike out or get hit by the ball than get on base, are filled with routine upon ritual upon superstition upon irrational behavior in order to cope with the feeling of uncertainty of trying to hit a ball zipping past them at 100 mph. It is close to just, plain chance if they hit the ball. Then, there are outfielders. Their job is set, simple and wholly predictable. If a ball ever comes their way (Ha! there is a lot of standing around time for outfielders!), they are bound to catch it with ease; and, thus, you find essentially zero rituals and superstitions for an outfielder. I < 3 irrationality, because it pushes and reveals the limits of how highly refined our bodies and minds are to take in the stimuli of the universe. It is at these boundaries where our perceptions break down and mistakes are made that tell how we work, how we are put together and who we are.

Now back to the traffic comparison: Berlin, in contrast, is under-populated and has space to spare; and, like I said, not one honk, so far. No gaggle of police with long sticks acting like a traffic light or, more to the point, a dam to prevent an intersection from getting clogged. In Berlin, the streets are wide; it’s easy to get around and a joy to ride a bike. And, besides, it is highly unlikely you’ll ever need to swerve around a dead animal – or an incidental group of ungulates that reduce four lanes down to one (to which … you guessed it … people honk and honk at such a scene that does nothing to get the animals to chew their cud faster and move on) – to get to your destination safely and timely. I’ve been hyped up with the sound of the horn in India and downshifting during this transition has not been easy.

II. Second, I miss the gesture of putting the palms of one’s hands together in front of one’s chest in the prayer position and giving eye contact and a slight bow as a common form of salutation. I like this gesture so much, because it requires all of you, it focuses every part of you, and beckons the other person to respond in kind. People greet each other this way all the time in India and, when performed, it levels the interaction. I loved doing it, because it garners a feeling of respect within you and for the other person and it is very hard to carry malice when performing or seeing such a gesture.

I went to a dance club the other night in Berlin and was introduced to the doorman at the VIP entrance. At the prescribed cultural cue, after our mutual friend introduces us so that we may enter, the doorman and I extend our right hands to one another and offer a firm Alpha-friendly greeting to one another – eye contact, smiles, happy (the act of a hand shake is rare and much more reserved in India; however, I frequently received the offer of a hand shake from an Indian at odd and inappropriate times that set off internal alarm bells of caution, confusion and mistrust, and set me on edge. Obviously, no one shakes hands with such energy like this German doorman and I indulged in). Over the thump of Techno bass, breathing in the cross-cultural bonhomie as our joined forearms bate like an ostrich trying to fly, I declare with an ironic German formality that my name is Sam and that I am very pleased to meet him. He accepts my orthodox German greeting with a warm smile and responds in a jolly, Berliner dialect, which I didn’t fully understand but interpreted as “Awesome. Me, too. Have a great time and see you soon.” When our grip loosens and we each take our hand back, I unconsciously put my hands together in front of my chest, maintain eye contact and give a slight bow. It was like a Pavlovian response to express the love and good-will in my heart because I felt grateful for his gesture of kindness of letting us into the club, unmolested by the cover charge and sinuous line waiting to get in. I felt like I made a new friend, and it felt good to perform that gesture. However, I realized right away how weird this must seem in a Western Context, but that I miss this style of greeting very much.

Anyway, I have more to say – more to show, more to do – with respect to India and with respect to my art. I have more that I am curious about, more questions to ask. As I transition back to a Western Culture, I will evaluate how I will explore, express and process all this. In the meantime, I have reworked a description of what motivates me to make art. It is called Statement II ­– lightning, impulse and longing. You can find Statement I here; and, Statement III is on its way. (UPDATE: Statement III is HERE; all three statements and the trajectory for this India project is HERE)

Statement II ­– lightning, impulse and longing

I was thirteen, hiking just below a snow-covered alpine. Without warning, the nape of my neck bristled: a sonic boom; white light, a metallic taste engorged my mouth. I was lifted, back arched, boots dangling above the ground. An instant later: the noise, the light, the taste stopped. I panicked to land on my feet … and did – startled, unhurt and, yet, unable to name what happened.

I forgot about this event – never thought of it again – until five years later when I happened to read about other people’s similar experiences, and realized, then, that the simplest thing I could say about this memory that rushed back was that I had been struck by lightning, but wasn’t really sure and didn’t know what it meant if anything; so, I kept it to myself for a long time, and, again, forgot about it until I was deep into to my art process and trying to figure out the relationships between meaning, knowledge and understanding as I learned about breaking and moving stone. As it turns out, repression, sublimation and the spotlight of one’s attention are three powerful mechanisms of the brain that creates meaning and motivation for us. I retell this story, now, because it is much like how I see myself having gotten into making art – the impulse seemed to come out from nowhere, seemed to come from a hidden motivation and a sudden unfolding of meaning.

However, before I knew “artist” was a career choice, I was conscious about the intellectual agitation that started me down this path, which was an epistemological longing, a how and why I know what I know. (Art offered me a way around the epistemological structures of the other disciplines I had studied; it initially got me out of all issues related to language, entirely; but only briefly).

Sculpture can have a phenomenological power (it comports a body through its perception of form and material, and gives new countenance to a space by creating a different place for contemplation or action), and people look towards sculpture, consciously or not, to satisfy or to lean on an ontological position (to confirm, challenge or change something within, often so one can, then, make a statement about the world or claim about reality without). And, as I crafted an art to give an outlet and expression to my questions, I realized my need to grapple with all three notions – the epistemological, phenomenological and ontological – did not disappear, because sculpture’s true force – liberation if you will – lies somewhere between these three, not resting within one.


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Crossing a Major Threshold: Jason Karolak at McKenzie Fine Art Inc.

Jason Karolak, Painting, SAIC

Untitled, Oil on Canvas, 86 x 76″

Jason Karolak, Painting, SAIC

Untitled, Oil on Canvas, 90 x 79″

Jason Karolak 3 Jason Karolak 4 Jason Karolak 5

I met Jason Karolak at Pratt Institute in the mid-90’s when he was an undergraduate painter
and I was taking part-time classes
about three years
after I received
my BA.

I didn’t know him well, but hung with him just long enough so when he came up to me at a SAIC alumni function at the Sculpture Center this past February,
I had a vague recollection of his undergraduate paintings that were big and grand
and filled with many unanswered questions
and hard-won struggles.

He told me he recently graduated from SAIC with a MFA in painting and that he had a solo show at McKenzie Fine Art.
When I went to the show, I was impressed with not only how far he had come from his undergraduate days,
but also with how much I related to his quiet, methodical thinking that is evident in his mark making
and in how he handles going from a smaller to a larger scale. I also admired his skill with color,
which is something that is beyond my present ability to produce.

In addition, he has crossed a major threshold that stops many MFA recipients: He has managed to continue making work after graduation
and to have a professional show in New York City.
This, in itself, is a profound accomplishment.
I hope he continues to continue.

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Walking through The Armory Show 2013

THE ARMORY SHOW 1913: MYTHS AND MISCONCEPTIONS Participants: Marilyn Kushner, Francis Naumann, Gail Stavitsky Moderator: Robert StorrTHE ARMORY SHOW 1913: MYTHS AND MISCONCEPTIONS. Participants: Marilyn Kushner, Francis Naumann, Gail Stavitsky. Moderator: Robert Storr

Florian Schmidt at Galerie Andreas HuberFlorian Schmidt at Galerie Andreas Huber

Andisheh Avini at Marianne Boesky GalleryAndisheh Avini at Marianne Boesky Gallery

Lawrence Weiner at Lisson GalleryLawrence Weiner at Lisson Gallery

Bill Viola at Kukje Gallery, Seoul/ Tina Kim Gallery, New YorkBill Viola at Kukje Gallery, Seoul/ Tina Kim Gallery, New York

Thaddeus Holownia (Anatomy Lesson, Moose) at Corkin Gallery Thaddeus Holownia (Anatomy Lesson, Moose) at Corkin GalleryThaddeus Holownia (Anatomy Lesson, Moose) at Corkin Gallery

Anne Koskinen at Galerie AnhavaAnne Koskinen at Galerie Anhava

Susan Hefuna at Rhona Hoffman GallerySusan Hefuna at Rhona Hoffman Gallery

Cary Leibowitz at Invisible-ExportsCary Leibowitz at Invisible-Exports

Daniel Rozin at bitforms Daniel Rozin at bitforms Daniel Rozin at bitformsDaniel Rozin at bitforms

Carlos Basualdo, Daniel Birnbaum, Paul Chan, Molly Nesbit, Jan ÅmanPOSTERITY WILL HAVE A WORD TO SAY. Participants: Carlos Basualdo, Daniel Birnbaum, Paul Chan, Molly Nesbit. Moderator: Jan Åman

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Gutai is in New York!!!

Takesada Matsutani, Samuel Nigro, performance

Takesada Matsutani performing at Galerie Richard, New York, NY, on February 7th 2013

Gutai: Splendid Playground is up at The Guggenheim Museum until May 8th.
It is a show that gives homage to Gutai, a Japanese postwar art movement
that resonates deeply within me.

I came to art well after college and my first impulse was to use my body as a geometric tool to understand materials, spaces and ideas: I broke stones with hammers,
burned them with acetylene torches … carried them, threw them, painted them and drew them. I was bringing my experiences as a wrestler and martial artist
to the world of art making, and I felt a strong impulse to allow material to behave as it would naturally under the weight of a tool
or by the articulation of a process. So, when I discovered that the Gutai did something similar – they embrace actions
that bring out the natural qualities of materials, rather than impose form, ideology and trickery on to it –
I was stunned at the overlap.

I also took note how many Gutai artists engaged their whole bodies
with the materials at hand, which opened up clarity
for an earlier performance I did where
I dug a hole for
24 hours.

So, when I heard one of the preeminent Gutai artists, Takesada Matsutani, was going to perform at Galerie Richard, 514 West 24th Street, New York, NY,
I jumped at the chance to go.

Weeks later, I discovered a Facebook friend, Taney Roniger, was also at the performance
and wrote a great essay and blog post that I encourage you to read.

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