Ordered Nature: Peter Neumann’s Photographs at City Hall

“Architectural Abstracts” Bring Regularity to Profusion

Photos Shown in Manhattan Borough President’s Gallery

This week is the last chance to see photographer Peter Neumann‘s month long show in the gallery on the 19th Floor of 1 Centre Street, which will close at the end of May.

Peter Neumann favors orderly patterns of trees and other scenes in his current selection at Boro Hall

Currently under the stewardship of Gale M. Brewer, the reigning Manhattan Borough President, the Gallery displays selections from Neumann’s Architectural Abstracts series, as well as works from his New York Reflections, Botanical Abstracts, and Landscape series.

Mixing architecture and window display through reflection is a favorite approach in Neumann’s current work

The opening on Friday, May 1, 5:00 – 8:00 p.m, was attended by fellow members of the artist collective Feast for the Eyes, and other deeply rooted New Yorkers, including concert guitarist and writer John Lehmann-Haupt, landscape painter Jacqueline Sferra Rada, collectible retailer turned drawer and painter Jon Rettich (who hurried home to catch the cherry blossoms in Washington Square early the next morning) and celebrity portrait photographer and adman Lance Evans with his young son Max.

Johyn Lehmann-Haupt, Jon Rettich and Peter Neumann ignore the sunset on the Hudson

Johyn Lehmann-Haupt, Jon Rettich and Peter Neumann ignore the sunset on the Hudson

The show collects work by Neumann in the last five years, when he transitioned from film cameras to digital, after leaving behind the rigid “disciplines of commercial still life photography and years of shooting landscapes using the Zone system (to) just playing with a visual sense of joy and wonder”.

Neumann shot of a window and mannequins against the reflection of buildings opposite

Peter’s father was a still-life painter of Polish heritage who took him to art museums in the 1950s. He opened a commercial still-life studio in New York in 1982, serving advertising agencies and magazine publishers, and he spent weekends and vacations shooting black-and-white landscapes with a large-format view camera in the tradition of Ansel Adams. In the 1990s, he created digitally generated 3D illustrations for magazines, work included in the 2001 Brooklyn Museum exhibition Digital: Printmaking Now.

In 2010, he returned to working with digitally enhanced photography to produce his Botanical and Architectural Abstracts series. His work is in the permanent collection of the Brooklyn Museum as well as private collections and those of numerous corporations, including John Hancock, Simon & Schuster, TD Ameritrade, and the NYU Langone Medical Center. His web site is www.peterneumann.com.

Manhattan rooftops form a painterly impression in Neumann’s shot

More (unedited) images of the art and the opening at Photocalendar TalkInNewYork.

Max gets playful with Lance Evans, portrait photographer, and adman supreme

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Opulence and Fantasy: Met’s ‘Sultans of Deccan India’ A Very Rich Trove

Tree-on-the-Island-of-Waqwaq. Golconda, early 17th century Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Museum für Islamische Kunst, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin The talking tree from the Alexander legend in Persian literature told the hero of his impending fate. While conventional imagery depicts a tree with branches terminating in animal heads, this Deccan version shows greater imagination. The tree trunk is composed of snakes, its branches bear a large variety of animal and fantastical heads, and its fruit takes the form of nude women. Animate rocks sprout fish, and magical flowers are made up of masks with moth and butterfly leaves. This painting was once in the collection of the Frenchman Colonel Antoine-Louis Henri de Polier (1741–1795) in Lucknow, where it was mounted in an album with Europeanized Rococo borders

In Sultans of Deccan India 1500-1700: Opulence and Fantasy next week (Mon April 20 through Sun July 26) the Met will unfurl one of its most magnificent displays of unique, exquisite and sometimes unexpectedly flamboyant rarities.

Like the highest art of every realm, this selection of jewelry, paintings, textiles, armor, carved stone sculpture, fabled gems, marbelized art, carved weapons and decorative items from India’s pre-colonial peak of maharajah display can provide a spiritual experience.

Refreshing the urban spirit

This exquisite assembly will refresh and feed any spirit starved of grace in the tumult of modern urban materialism with manna from above. Yet, as is typical of Indian art, it celebrates nature rather than rises above it.

A prime example is the ink, watercolor and gold painting on paper above, from Golconda. Click twice to enlarge it to mammoth proportions (3000×3795) and allow your eye and sensibilities to luxuriate in its lively perfection.

Visitors should allow plenty of time to let serendipity work, for all the generalizations about its excellence which will fill the media and the brief descriptions offered in advance by the Met and the critics won’t be complete enough to spoil the many surprising discoveries awaiting the slow moving, attentive art lover.

The $65 catalogue deserves a special mention. More than most shows at the Met, which are always the cream of the museum world, the well written and illustrated volume will be entirely worth the price as both guide and reference.

Huge variety of very fine works

From the heart of the fabled central India mineral kingdom, whose diamonds and other precious stones were the prime source of jewelry till recent times, come wonderful works, in which the artistry and craft often exceed the value of the most valuable gems on show here, which themselves are worth a maharajah’s ransom.

16. Royal Elephant and Rider resupplied as a size 2.1mb image here and displayed at  600x815 - but the Met regretted was not available at larger more detailed size of 300 dpi because not originally supplied to the Communications Department at that larger size

16. Royal Elephant and Rider redone as 2.1mb here displayed at 600×815 – but unfortunately in this particular case not available at a larger more detailed size of 300 dpi, which would show the very detailed brushwork.

Yogini with Mynah Bird

Yogini with a Mynah Bird By the Dublin Painter Bijapur, early 17th century Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper 17⅜ × 12⅝ in. (44 × 32 cm) Trustees of Chester Beatty Library, Dublin Image: © The Trustees of the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin

Sultan Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah II Playing the Tambur

Sultan Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah II Playing the Tambur Ascribed to Farrukh Beg, in an inscription written by Muhammad Husain Zarin Qalam Bijapur, ca. 1595–1600 (painting); Agra, A.H. 1019 (A.D. 1610–11) (album page and inscription) Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Folio: 16⅝ × 10⅜ in. (42.3 × 26.5 cm) Náprstkovo Muzeum Asijských, Afrických a Amerických Kultur, Prague (A.12182)” width=”1334″ height=”2102

Sultan Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah II Playing the Tambur Ascribed to Farrukh Beg, in an inscription written by Muhammad Husain Zarin Qalam Bijapur, ca. 1595–1600 (painting); Agra, A.H. 1019 (A.D. 1610–11) (album page and inscription) Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Folio: 16⅝ × 10⅜ in. (42.3 × 26.5 cm) Náprstkovo Muzeum Asijských, Afrických a Amerických Kultur, Prague (A.12182)

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Wonder Full World of Air Travel: An IMAX Celebration

A Twin Otter seaplane landing on water over a shallow reef in the Maldives (Click twice to enlarge fully)

A Twin Otter seaplane landing on water over a shallow reef in the Maldives (Click twice to enlarge fully)

National Geographic Praises Flight Technology With Stunning Pictorial

Reminder of all that airplanes have brought, including world shopping and families back for Thanksgiving

But Isn’t This A Poignant Last look at Earth at its Peak?

With its Smithsonian premiere tomorrow in Washington, New Yorkers will also now have a chance to catch probably the most resolutely positive documentary on air travel and its benefits ever made.

High technology:  A huge GE Jet engine suspended in a factory of the company which financed the film. (Click twice to enlarge fully)

High technology: A huge GE Jet engine suspended in a factory of the company which financed the film. (Click twice to enlarge fully)

Living in the Age of Airplanes’ is a 47 minute IMAX, HD 4K digital, Dolby extravaganza of superb shots of the major scenic spots of the world, together with other benefits of the invention of the airplane, such as the flowers and myriad other household goods from half way round the world in every living room, which cranky passengers squeezed into narrow, unforgiving seats in late arriving aircraft never think of anymore.

Hail to the Airplane: Tourists thrill to an approaching plane landing over their heads on St Maartens.

Actually, the gifts of the airplane in this National Geographic special have never looked so good even to those who have visited them in person, but no matter. The aim of this all-too-brief, 48 min documentary is to remind us just what a remarkable transformation of human existence has been wrought in a blink of time’s eye by aviation, and it succeeds triumphantly. If anything, it is far too short.

Tourists walking on the sight seeing bridge at Brazil’s extensive Iguazu Falls (click to expand to very large size)

Covering all seven continents, from Iguazu Falls, the gigantic Brazilian set of waterfalls 1.7 miles long stretching into Argentina, to the Maldive Islands, where some brilliant shots are taken amid fish under the clear water as the floats of a seaplane take off the surface overhead.

The filmmakers are undeterred by remoteness or time. They manage to get a rare visit to the South Pole with cinematographer Doug Allan, the Polar wildlife specialist who had spent 30 summers in Antarctica but never reached the Pole, which demands perfect weather to coincide in three airports.

The DC-3 can land on skids in Antartica, but weather has to be fine in three airports to get you to the South Pole itself.

The DC-3 can land on skids in Antartica, but weather has to be fine in three airports to get you to the South Pole itself.

What they find there, on top of the two mile thick ice sheet, is a decorative pole and other ceremonial trappings from 12 nations that signed the Antarctic Treaty, in force since 1961. The marker is a barber pole with a mirrored sphere on top, and it now lies several hundred feet from true 90° south, since the ice cap shifts 30 feet every year, and moving the pole and the ring of national flags would be too much trouble. (The US station with its record size neutrino hunting IceCube particle detector is discreetly in the background).

Now you’ve got there, you may reflect that the Pole is 300 feet farther south. (Click twice to fully enlarge)

But many of the visuals are stunning, new shots of familiar locations and lesser known ones by cinematographer Andrew Waruszewski using the very cinematic, new digital camera Alexa and often accompanied by the overwhelming music typical of IMAX presentations as if vast natural beauty doesn’t speak for itself. Even the platform stretching over the Grand Canyon lends itself to emphasizing the grandeur of the chasm below.

The platform at the Grand Canyon is called the Skywalk (click to enlarge)

But the point the movie makes best is its basic theme, just how immense an acceleration of human life aviation has brought so quickly.

The timeline is, if you think about it, astonishing. For almost 200,000 years we walked at three miles an hour and most humans traveled less than 20 miles from their birthplace. The wheel arrived 5000 years ago, but the steam engine powered the wheel only 175 years ago, when we were still as separated by time and distance as the ancient Egyptians. On screen the map of the USA is lit up by glowing rail connections which networked the entire country by the end of the 19th Century.

Are you thinking of how overweight your neighbor is, or looking out of the window at more land than your ancestors saw in a lifetime? (Click twice for full size)

Then in only a century of aviation, and sixty years of the jet age, the entire globe is lit up with planes like fireflies – 100,000 takeoffs every day, 250,000 people in the sky at any one time. The cliches praising this transformation are all very true: Aviation is now “the lifeblood of the modern world”. The airport is “portal to the planet”. Now “it’s walking distance to almost anywhere”. “What once demanded migration is now a vacation.”

Somehow the pyramids don’t seem as evocative of the secrets of the past when Mum and kids are towed past on camels (Click twice to enlarge)

The film conveys the sense of wonderful mastery conveyed by this change, without delving into its other consequences. Some may privately feel that the Sphinx loses her mystery when a camel carrying Mum and children comes into view, and others worry about global warming and global disease, not to mention the original sin introduced by aviation, the civilian mass deaths of bombing. But this is a feel good trip to things we experience now without a second thought, but are really marvels of life in the age of the airplane.

“Since we were all born into a world with airplanes, it’s hard to imagine that jet travel itself is only 60 years old, just a tick on the timeline of human history,” says director Terwilliger. “Yet practically overnight, our perception of crossing continents and oceans at 500 mph has turned from fascination to frustration. I want to reignite people’s wonder for one of the most extraordinary aspects of the modern world.”

In this huge hangar in Amsterdam, flowers from Kenya will arrive and be sent to Alaska via another hub to reach an Alaska living room in a day, with ten days of fresh bloom left.

Plane passion

One reason may be that almost everyone important involved has access to what is now the best benefit of all, the freedom and adventure of flying small planes, for which they feel a personal passion. Funded by GE as the main sponsor, Terwilliger visited 18 countries over several years for this film, a dedication to the topic that arose first from his childhood awe at the performance of the Blue Angels. He made a 2008 film about this team of Navy jet pilots, Flying Full Circle, in which he himself flew in an F-18 Hornet. Filled with enthusiasm Terwilliger soloed at 19 and got his private pilot license a year later, and his first feature film in 2005 was One Six Right, which told of a day in the life of the local Van Nuys airport on Los Angeles.

The Maldives don’t have an airport but one of these pretty seaplanes can get you there directly.

Harrison Ford, also a keen pilot, narrates the film’s expertly written voice over, which compresses great historical trends as skilfully as Eugene Weber (the UCLA professor whose peerless history of Western society, Western Tradition, is still running on CUNY TV). The star keeps a small fleet of airplanes in a Santa Monica hanger, including a Bell 407 helicopter which he has flown to rescue Wyoming hikers. At 72 recently he had to crash land his vintage plane on a golf course, but survived with a gash to the head.

Not so wonderful: Harrison Ford’s engine failure after takeoff recently landed him on a golf course with a nasty gash in his forehead.

The composer, James Horner, who also pilots his own plane, contributes an appropriately stirring score which is only occasionally intrusive (he won two Oscars for Titanic, for the score and a song, ‘My Heart Will Go On’, and the album was the largest-selling instrumental score ever, at 10 million in the US and 27 million worldwide).

The airplane can take you to see the elephants in East Africa, but did anyone ask the elephants if we are welcome?

Living in the Age of Airplanes’ will be showing from April 10 Fri at the Cradle of Aviation Museum, the National Geographic Leroy R. & Rose W. Grumman Dome Theater (Garden City, NY), and the New York Hall of Science in Queens. If busy New Yorkers can be persuaded to lift their eyes from their phones long enough to get their whole family there, it will give them a new appreciation of all that the airplane has brought to our lives, and perhaps inspire them to transcend the inconvenience of modern air travel and visit faraway places themselves before they all are submerged by the banality of mass tourism, or ultimately sink beneath the ocean rise of global warming.

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Ultimate Umm…mami! At Vermilion, Business Decor, Indo-Latin Savory Meld

World Bank Beauty Rohini Dey’s Masterful Integration of India, Brazil and Beyond

Citadel of Fusion Achieves Peak of Savory Nourishment

Destination For Spicy Meat Mavens, Though May Need Patience

Ex World Bank Economist Rohini Dey meets the challenge of organizing two restaurants in two different cities - Chicago and New York - to offer something uniquely different

Ex World Bank Economist Rohini Dey meets the challenge of organizing two restaurants in two different cities – Chicago and New York – to offer something uniquely different

You can be sure that unusually interesting taste sensations will arrive on your plate from the kitchen of At Vermilion, whose tall ceilings and open interior space can be seen lighting up the corner of Lexington at 46 Street.

The combination of Indian and Latin American influences is the imaginative idea of a restaurateur from an unlikely background. Rohini Dey is a tall and slender, soft faced Indian beauty who likes to dress in Oscar length gowns when she visits from Chicago to oversee this, her second restaurant. In another life, she was a McKinsey consultant who moved to the World Bank and married an economist. Then, in a sharp break from her comfortable office bound existence, she found her bliss.

Dey left the abstract paperwork and regular paycheck of high level economics far behind to take on one of the most demanding entrepreneurial roles in the US. Nowadays she is running At Vermilion, her high level restaurant in the Big Apple, as well as the original Vermilion she founded earlier in Chicago.

Not surprisingly given the high level jobs Rohini left for her passion, the decor at At Vermilion is well arranged business modern softened with comfortable shapes and lighting and spacious enough for relaxed dining and for parties and functions

With passion as fuel

Running a restaurant is a highly demanding feat well known for its flow chart tangles and insoluble personnel problems, magnified in New York City by incessant bureaucratic demands, zooming rents, and extreme competition, with 23,705 permits for bars, cafes and restaurants in July, a jump from 18,606 back in 2008.

But this is what Rohini without hesitation calls her “passion”, one she has pursued for ten years. She opened her first Vermilion in Chicago, and then launched its New York sister in 2008, just in time for the economic collapse.

Armed with a bunch of plaudits from major media she kept At Vermilion going through the downturn and recently decided to add impetus with a relaunch. On Wednesday the press were invited to come and taste the result.

Having a strong liking for the spicy side of food we made sure to attend, with the results as far as we are concerned quite remarkable.

How to transform the mundane into a peak of fusion: Vermilion’s menu offers a range of choices almost impossible to choose at one sitting, given the novelty of its attractions and the inspired compatibility of its combinations

The second half of the menu reveals one of the few possible flaws in an otherwise appetizing lineup, and that is not a complaint about the quality or taste of the offerings.  But given the likelihood that diners will feast on a substantial main course following a quite filling starter, the heavy style of the desserts that lean towards the Indian side of the Vermilion fusion may need relief with a few more of the lighter touches such as the mango flan and the coconut mouse (sic)

The second half of the menu reveals one of the few possible flaws in an otherwise appetizing lineup, and that is not a complaint about the quality or taste of the offerings. But given the likelihood that diners will feast on a substantial main course following a quite filling starter, the heavy style of the desserts that lean towards the Indian side of the Vermilion fusion may need relief with a few more of the lighter touches such as the mango flan and the coconut “mouse” (sic)

It is hard to think of any among the 16,000 full service eateries in New York that we would return to with more eagerness to sample more of the menu items that we missed, a list we tried for two hours to make as short as possible.

Meat eaters paradise
As a guilty carnivore our choices were heavy on the meat eating side which is especially well served with imaginative spice and sauce combinations, an approach which benefits from the fact that with meat you can go all out with such additions without fear of overdoing it. We tasted enough to be sure that on the fish side the same excitement will be found.

A cast iron soup bowl and wooden platters enhance the earthbound tastiness of many offerings on the menu, min this case the cauliflower soup panchporan bengali five spice cream blend (slightly pinker in reality)

One Rohini inspiration is to serve up morsels such as ribs or strip steaks or soups on cast iron platters bedded with wooden palettes, which add a welcome iron and wooden touch of earthiness to frame the dark results of barbecued or grilled meat.

Mysore lamb chops, with pickled onion and mango mint chutney are dark and succulent, blacked but not burnt, lightly minted, tender rare and with no greasy feel whatsoever

But it is the impact of actually taking the morsel you cut off into the mouth which will start fireworks in your neurological system.
Tastings of two restaurant week menu items - bottom right, grilled beef anticucho peruvian street, garlic cumin tones; bottom left, pani puri street Indian chaat, flour shells, potato, chili mint water; and latin indian petiscos: bottom right, alcapurria puerto rican croquette, chicken kabab, chipotle mango;  top left, tamarind pork bun bifanas, portuguese classic, tamarind pork dip (bacony, very tasty)

Tastings of two restaurant week menu items – bottom right, grilled beef anticucho peruvian street, garlic cumin tones; bottom left, pani puri street Indian chaat, flour shells, potato, chili mint water; and latin indian petiscos: bottom right, alcapurria puerto rican croquette, chicken kabab, chipotle mango; top left, tamarind pork bun bifanas, portuguese classic, tamarind pork dip (bacony, very tasty)

We’re talking of not only the taste of the saucy spices added but the way in which they enhance the power packed protein hit of the meat. The savory flavors add a dimension of suffused heart warming nourishment which ordinary Indian tandoori baked chicken, for example, just doesn’t possess.

On the left, tandoori skirt steak, seared churrasco, indian marinade, plantain chips, chorizo kale, jicarna roll, raita, on the right, blackened tamarind ribs indian-latin chili-tamarind glaze, with quinoa salad and tapioca crisps (dry when we got it, but quickly remedied)

The dishes offer a double punch of flavor enhancement and boosted nourishment which add up to meat eaters nirvana. Of course, then there is the problem of choosing wine – solved quite easily by selecting one of the two red wines offered by the glass.

A nice range of signature herb and spice cocktails are on the drinks menu, such as Fresh line pear with green chili vodka, or pani puri margarita tequila

or a good red Chilean?

or a good red Chilean?

Red wine is no problem at Vermilion with two easy choices in wine by the glass – the slightly sharper but soon blossoming Araucano, Carmenere Valle De Colchagua from Chile, or the mellower but equally rounded Tilia Malbec Mendoza Argentina.

See her on Restaurant Confidential soon

As it happened there was also a “Consumed:The Real Restaurant Business” crew from CNBC shooting an upcoming episode featuring Rohini and her performance art. They recognize that this worldly Indian beauty is juggling as many roles as a writer and producer for the stage.

A CNBC crew tries to listen in on Rohini Dey’s management and culinary secrets as she briefs her barman, possibly on which of the excellent red wines to serve as a fine complement to her unique dishes

For Dey writes her own script and gathers a cast and crew to stage a production she designs in its entirety – the physical space and decor, the cooks and other cast, the raw materials, and in consultation with the accomplished chefs, the finished menu. The result of her stagecraft deserves to be an explosive hit, according to our taste.

Bottom line we’d say that At Vermilion should be a first choice for all adventurous foodies in search of a savory spice haven – should we say heaven? – amid comfortable and spacious modern decor. If they read Yelp, however, they should bear in mind that Rohini has rebooted the service side after a long list of indignant reviews there over the past few years, and that it should be vastly improved under the hand of her current manager, the impressive Varcian Virgo, whose Jamaican heritage may have made him amiable in humor but whose disciplined bearing suggests he has everything entirely under control (not to mention that the wild swings from good to bad at Yelp suggest that some reviews are the work of rivals).

Varcian Virgo is the general manager whose good humor may have roots in his Jamaican background but whose straight backed bearing reflects the discipline with which he approaches his role

.

If the wholesale staff upgrade proves out, and service for the anonymous guests matches the quality, interest and prices of the food and wine, the reincarnation of At Vermilion deserves to be as full of enthusiasts for its taste sensations as its menu is packed with variations on the Indo-Latin theme.

UPDATE: Hands on owner Rohini Dey and her At Vermilion will be featured in the CNBC series “Consumed: The Real Restaurant Business”. The episode will be aired on Wed June 24th (see CNBC website for more info: http://www.cnbc.com/id/102615697)

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Oil Paint: Piers Secunda Captures Birth of Industry

British Artist Silkscreens 19C Photos in Crude Oil

Reality Artworks are Material Mementos of Great Strikes

Bonus: Extraordinary Feat of Carving 13 Nested Spheres from One Paint Block

Piers Secunda explains how he incorporated the actual crude oil from historic wells into his silk screened photographs of the rigs and wells which changed the world

Artists like painting in oil paint, but how about crude oil – as paint? At an opening on Jan 29 Thu, the big night in Chelsea, at David Krut Projects Gallery at 526 West 26 Street #816 (Tel 255 3094), Jessica Carlisle and Krut introduced British artist, Piers Secunda, 38, and his “Archived Oil”.

The show is an extension of Secunda’s unusual path of exploration in art, one of using the medium itself to make the message. Known for using hardened paint in 3d to form variegated and colorful sculptures, his latest inspiration since 2008 is to use crude oil itself to evoke fleeting historical moments in oil exploration and signal their vast impact on world culture.

Messy and primitive work in the days of wildcat discovery in Canada and the US, but black gold will richly reward their efforts

The unusual artworks are faded 19th Century and early 20 Century photographs silk screened with crude oil and varnish to make resonant images of the early days of the oil industry, using the specific crude oils from the fields and wells which the artwork depicts. Secunda’s work involves extensive tracking down of the primary material, often on eBay.

As mementos of drilling strikes which have changed the world, the artworks tell the story of the oil age in its own medium, bringing home a sense of how the material which replaced whale oil to light rooms has invaded every corner of our world on land and lately, in vast gyres of plastic garbage, the sea. But Secunda, whose art is apolitical, does not emphasize the dark side. “I try very hard not to take a political position. I am not equipped to do so. My aim is to make a visual record.”

The birth of the oil industry goes back to primitive 19th Century scenes, but silkscreened in the oil they found, they gain new presence in the eye of the beholder

Piers’ work will be on display through Sat February 28, 2015, with hours from Tues to Sat, 10-6pm, attended by Miranda Leighfield and Meghan Allynn Johnson. It is in line with his remarkable previous work making colorful sculptures purely out of hardened paint, casting the component parts and then using industrial fixtures also carved from paint to hold them together. That fifteen years of work extended through abstract “paintings” in various forms and shapes to carved models of a Chinese Wrench and a Clamp formed out of industrial floor paint (see photo below and Piers Secunda).

Secunda turns over the block of paint on which he silkscreened his image of Spindletop 1912 with varnish mixed into the very crude that gushed from the Texas wells in the legendary field

Secunda as an artist reasons that crude oil plays a fundamental role in every aspect of 21st century living and is the main component of the world’s most used material, plastic. If crude oil is the world’s ultimate facilitator, he says, it must therefore be a contender as the ultimate artist’s material. “To me, it’s the texture of the twentieth century. Why not deploy it?”

An earlier work was carved “with slightly Buddhist patience”, says Secunda, from hardened industrial floor paint into a series of 13 hollow balls, one contained within the next, a feat which took Secunda two years to complete the first time (now in an edition of 10, with two artists proofs. “I got a lot better!”) The work is done by lining up a hole in each sphere so that his tools can reach to the core, where the last ball is the “size of a garden pea.” Carving the ones six or more layers down is “incredibly hard because you can’t really keep them all in place. The slightest movement of your hand shuffles the layers and they move. I tried to complete it on an aeroplane. I had three hours and I couldn’t do it.”

His photoworks range from Baku in Azerbaijan, and Spindletop in Texas, to scenes of California, and Colorado. After finding an image of Saudi Arabia’s first successful oil well, Dammam Number 7, Secunda searched for two years for oil from that specific well in order to silkscreen the photograph. The resulting crude oil print tells the story of a moment which had a seismic effect on global economics – the instant the well blew, in 1937, after 13 years of struggle by desperate wildcat prospectors running out of cash and hope on the desert’s sandy griddle.

Funding the world’s greatest prize: Nobel Oil Wells, 1897, 2013: Azerbaijani crude oil and varnish on industrial floor paint with cast paint nuts and bolts 51 x 39 x 6cm

In case anyone might think this a gimmick designed to sell to the walls of executives in the oil industry, the artist confirmed that he had never been offered any money from oil companies. On the contrary he had found his inspiration in “looking for a material which could be made to work like a paint but which would bring geopolitics into the work simply by its presence. Up till then the work I had been making was about the developing of an abstract painting practice and very introverted in its focus. I felt it was too busy ignoring the activities of world outside the studio, for my liking.”

Politics Silent, Though Inherent

The result is finer than the oil industry probably deserves, in fact, given its impact on the environment, notably the vast circles of plastic trash in the ocean, of which there are now eight in the world. But Secunda does not intend any specific environmental comment. He is purely an artist in his preoccupation, which is actually a combination of performance art and painting given the strenuous efforts he has to make to locate the right crude for a particular picture. He finds dealers on eBay, in one case using oil contained in anniversary paperweights from the major oil company who made the big strike.

An artist, not a critic: “I have felt for a long time that the most significant thing an artist can do, is to make a record or statement about the time in which they are alive. These works, like the more severe works that I have made, record fleeting moments of potent human activity which have affected or altered the direction of modern history.”

Secunda himself explains: “I had just started reading Daniel Yergin’s ‘The Prize’ when I thought of painting with crude oil, so bought some specimen samples on ebay and started experimenting. Very quickly it became clear that crude oil could be fixed and it flowed very effectively from a paint brush. The current works grew out of shards and sheets of poured floor paint, which I painted and spattered with oil. I produced these to generate material for assemblages, which was my direction at the time. The individual fragments looked really good on their own, so I started to mount them on the wall and think more about imagery that was appropriate to them.

“The first oil I laid my hands on came from a place called ‘Oil Creek’ in Pennsylvania. When I researched it, I learned that it was the source of the first oil rush. As a further experiment I tried to print some images of Oil Creek and in the process taught myself how to make silkscreen prints. Since crude oil is the primary material of our age, and since we’re in the midst of the petro chemical age, which largely defines and enables most human activity, why not use it to record what we’re doing?”

Worthy of the office or home walls of the well paid oil executive, perhaps, though possibly too flattering of the industry given its ability to choke the world’s oceans

His initial inspiration to merge crude oil with early photos was fueled by his discovery that the invention of kerosene (paraffin) from puddles of crude occurred about the same time as usable photography, most effectively in southern Poland, where Ignacy Lukasiewicz began distilling lamp oil in 1852. “These oil prints started with oil from, and then imagery of the early days of the oil industry, so I’ve covered some of the visuals which relate to it but the subject matter is rolling slowly forwards in time and away from this. These works are starting to gradually build up into an visual archive of the oil age. It just grew that way.

Secund’s clamp – built out of industrial floor paint: Portrait of a Clamp 2010 Edition of 10 with 2 Artists Proofs 3x17x8 cm

The core of his approach: “I have felt for a long time that the most significant thing an artist can do, is to make a record or statement about the time in which they are alive. These works, like the more severe works that I have made, record fleeting moments of potent human activity which have affected or altered the direction of modern history.”

The hook for me with crude oil is that if it’s the ultimate facilitator of our world, it must be a contender as the ultimate artists material.

The hook for me with crude oil is that if it’s the ultimate facilitator of our world, it must be a contender as the ultimate artists material.

The result is work which resonates deeply and more loudly than a photograph, but which to our eye retains decorative value for the walls of the home and offices of those in the industry who should be especially interested in buying his works. Were some expected at the opening? we asked him before the crowd arrived. “Email invitations have been sent out far an wide, so it’s inevitable of course that some oil people will click with the works and may come to see them, but the work hasn’t been made for their benefit. If some come to the opening, that’s their call, I suppose.”

But, he emphasized again, there was no environmental angle for him. “I’ve never taken a political position in any of the work I’ve made. The presence of crude oil in itself is political, because oil is inseparable from politics and environmental issues, but the works don’t take a political or an environmental position. They just record.”

Piers Secunda, 38 (his distinguished name sounds like a painter from the Italian Renaissance, but in fact it is derived from a Polish border town now obliterated by war) lives and works in London and New York. He studied painting at the Chelsea College of Art. His recent exhibitions include ‘War Stories’ at the William Holman Gallery, New York, 2014, a group show curated by Anthony Haden-Guest which included Secunda’s bullet hole works, where slabs of imitation wall are pock marked with the exact reliefs of bullet holes he collected from scenes of violent events in the Middle East, including a Taliban attack on a Kabul guesthouse for Indian doctors. His book of crude oil works will be published by Endeavour in London and Getty Images.

More photos at Photocalendar Talk In New York

Video by Piers Secunda about Archived Oil

Video of Piers Secunda – Painting of A Puzzle Ball

Video of Piers Secunda’s Taliban bullet hole paintings

British Artist Presents Archived Oil in New York

ART0 Piers Secunda Paints the Oil Industry @ David Krut Gallery

Jessica Carlisle on Piers Secunda

Piers Secunda on Facebook

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