Tell us a little bit about yourself—your background, major program of study, reasons for taking this trip, and anything else interesting you want to share (maybe something people might not know about you).
I am writing this on our last day in Brooklyn. Today we pack up and leave for Venice, I would like to share with you some of my experiences from the last two weeks here in New York. But first, a little about myself. My name is Cody Lecoy, and I am enrolled in the Bachelor of Fine Arts program at KPU. I have found to have a real passion for painting and over the last few years I have developed a studio practice outside of school. Currently I have been living in an artist residency space, Skwachays, located in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver. There is access to a shared studio space as well as an art gallery to showcase work. These two factors and also the centralized location in the downtown core have made for a real enriching experience. What continues to be surprise me while being engaged in the creative fields is the importance of networking and also the somewhat coincidental circumstances I find when navigating the art world. Since I have been living Downtown I feel the frequency of these networking opportunities has increased and I feel that is because of greater accessibility to various markets, opening, festivals, performances, film screenings, panel discussions and many other events that happen in the city. Also the process of actively seeking out these places, I feel, also works in ways to connect one with place and community. To be in this state of immersion is why I choose to participate in this New York/ Venice field school.
What has met or exceeded your expectations or surprised you about New York so far?
Since arriving here in New York, I would have to say the neighbourhood of Brooklyn, in which we've been staying has been the biggest surprise for me. It has been surprising because my first impression was that it was mostly just an industrial space with more of a character of passing activity, with people coming and going, and not having a centralized atmosphere. Also I believe my notions of art had a large part to do with this reading. The walls of Brooklyn are covered in street art and I love it. I feel that because I see street art I never thought that would equate to fine artists also sharing the space. In our last days here there was the Bushwick Open studios event, which I felt was a perfect illustration of the streets coming alive and the walls of the neighbourhood becoming animated and enhancing the experience. The density of artists living in studio space here really surprised me. As I mentioned before, that connection to community and place is really important as an artist for support, and in the days of the Open Studios those values were evident and visually expressed. I was also impressed to witness how the art community really came together and embraced creating a strong street culture. There was a strong grassroots and “do it yourself” feel on the streets during the event. Restaurants were extending their spaces out into the streets. There were a lot of performances from bands, theatre troupes, and many street vendors. One could see that it was a sought after destination. Another aspect I enjoyed were these U-haul storage trucks transformed into portable gallery spaces.
Give us some insight into your assigned artwork from the Museum of Modern Art. Who is the artist? When was this work made? What is the content of this work? In what context and as part of what art movement was it made?
The Bed (1955) by Robert Rauschenberg is a radical departure from traditional art representation. The work is described as a “combine” piece, for it combines the mediums of sculpture and painting. Rauschenberg’s art can be described as neo-Dada. Dada has been described as an anti-art movement that seeks to question the role of art and expand and redefine the notions of what art is. In this piece I see Rauschenberg questioning the purist ideal of Abstract Expressionist painting. Abstract Expressionist painting is said to be “of the body”. This means the body can be seen or felt as present within the art. Also the process of making the art is emphasized as giving meaning to the work, and the work itself provides the viewer with an experience of pure ideas and a new experience. Rauschenberg looked to question Abstract Expressionism both literally and figuratively. Bed is literally of the body, for there is evidence of bodily secretions such as blood and semen within the work. Although I looked very closely and I believe the archival quality of these materials isn't as permanent as the oil paint that is found on the bed. By naming the work Bed, Rauschenberg frames the work within the mysterious domain of the dream world; a world of pure subjective experience that everyone experiences regularly.
How did you approach the creative task of responding to this assigned work in studio? What were your challenges as an artist to be in dialogue with the artwork and artist? Would you do anything differently now that you have seen the work in person?
In response to Bed, I chose to also employ the bed frame to frame the work in the domain of dreams and the subconscious mind. I am interested in illustrating the process of thoughts becoming conscious. Drawing influence upon reading the work of Carl Jung, I was fascinated from an account of him describing belief systems in the mind being expressed as actual physical structures. In this train of thought it is my hope to visually express the rise and fall of thoughts and how over time these thoughts work to form beliefs that inform social structures. I would say in speaking of the conceptual underpinnings of the work, my hardest challenge for this art was allowing the materials to have a greater role in communicating the actual content of the work. I mainly have a painting background, although I do enjoy the expressive qualities of paint, more often the content of my work has to do with how the imagery I make relates to broader concepts. I was most struck as to how the actual quilting pattern of the art piece was really a strong compositional element. I believe Rauschenberg chose this piece of quilt because of how the geometric colouring had reference to minimalist and geometric art that is relatable to the modern art movement. I would have liked to employ this play of materials. The challenge I set for myself was to have two-dimensional images and extend outwards and allow them to become more sculptural. I see the quilting pattern as a solid foundation from which to work on. I see also that it also sort of imposes its own limits on how to make stronger statements with less compositional elements. Less is more.
After seeing your assigned art work in person (and any other related art from the same artist or art movement associated with the assigned work), what struck you most, and/or how did the artwork’s form, content, and context shift for you when seeing it?
When seeing Rauschenberg’s work in person, I really enjoyed not only the museum context but also the work it was surrounded by. In particular his other combine work, The Canyon, as well as Jasper John’s work. In person I could notice on a visceral level how the tension between how the suspended work from a wall and the protrusion into space really gave weight to the work. In seeing The Bed I found that I was surprised to find it felt a bit smaller than I imagined. Seeing it in person I felt like Rauschenberg presented it in a light that is unexpected for a bed. Beds are a place of rest and comfort. This bed is quite small, the sheets are pulled taut to the corners and contained, the paint hardens into globs sharp and jagged edges. The bed also mimics the bed frame giving it a very stiff like appearance.
Today’s activity was a free day spent in the neighbourhood of Brooklyn. What were your impressions of this part of New York after learning about it first in the pre-departure classes? What will you take away of the experiences of this day? What are the most memorable moments for you?
In conclusion to my stay at New York, a group of us were very fortunate to stumble across an opportunity to paint a mural here in the Bushwick neighbourhood. After being immersed in street art and amazed at the sheer amount of covered wall spaces, we all jumped in at the opportunity to try it out for ourselves. This experience also went to confirm my beliefs that the Bushwick neighbourhood is a thriving artistic hub of creative energy. This experience also seemed serendipitous to me in a way. It had been a goal of mine to expand the borders of the canvas onto outdoor wall space and to create work with the immediacy of being in the public sphere. Also, for many of us we have been looking at art at The Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum, The Guggenheim, The Metropolitan Museum and many galleries, so I feel like we all were ready to express our collective inspiration. The wall that we were able to spray paint was attached to a paint supply store. Their mandate was simple: buy some paint and the wall is yours. After we found this place in the evening, we went back to the hostel and started up a sketch brainstorm session. With a direction in mind we went out the next morning and got to work. I had a picture that in order to do a mural it would take much networking, permits, planning, and experience. Thank you Brooklyn for changing my outlook on that. Also a big thanks to Kenneth, Olivia, Jess, Larry, Merry for taking the documenting pictures and everyone stopping in for the input and support.