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2018 NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellow in Painting

Lisa Davis


The New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) has announced the recipients and finalists of the NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellowship program, which it has administered for the past 32 years with leadership support from the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA). The organization has awarded a total of $623,000 to 89 artists throughout New York State in the following disciplines: Fiction, Folk/Traditional Arts, Interdisciplinary Work, Painting, and Video/Film. This year’s recipients range in age between 26 and 77. Fifteen finalists, who do not receive a cash award, but benefit from a range of other NYFA services, were also announced. 


Lisa Davis


Mixed Bag at Real Estate Gallery Curated by Joe Bradley and Jeremy Willis

Mixed Bag is the title of the show currently on view at Real Estate in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The walls of the modest venue are covered in small-scale drawings and paintings from veteran, mid-career, and emerging artists. While “mixed bag” implies an assortment of things randomly tossed together, it also suggests both positive and negative elements. And there is a polarity to the show, tensions between opposing forces.

Mixed Bag is curated by Jeremy Willis and Joe Bradley, who are actually firmly linked in multiple instances to artists in the show as these artists are also linked to each other. This exhibition is anything but randomly thrown together. Joe Bradley has been involved in shows with several of the artists showing in Mixed Bag, including Steve DiBenedetto, Michael Williams, Brian Bellot, and Chris Martin. Like Willis, Lisa Corinne Davis is a graduate of Hunter College’s fine arts program and currently a professor there. Another Hunter graduate, Alteronce Gumby, did an in-depth interview with Stanley Whitney for BOMB Magazine where he discussed some of the fundamental ideas behind his work.

Stanley Whitney is well known for his colorful, abstract paintings. However, in a 2015 interview with Alteronce Gumby for BOMB Magazine’s Oral History Project, which documented the life stories of New York City’s black artists, Whitney discussed the profound importance of drawing and line. He said, “For me . . . I always had color. I was born with the color. But to put the color in the right space and give it a real intellect, you need to do drawing.” He sites Mondrian, Morris Louis, and Van Gogh as having great influence on his drawing, especially when he got most bogged down in his painting.

And even Stanley’s paintings are based on drawn grids, which he then paints on top of. “There’s the grid,” he goes on to explained, “which should be very orderly, and then you put the color, and it throws the whole thing off.” Untitled (1996) is a black and white drawing done in graphite on white paper. Black color blocks dance within a loose grid. The piece is just as lively as his paintings and reminiscent of sheet music in form. The animated playing of black and white piano keys may also come to mind.  In that same BOMB Magazine interview, Whitney discusses the large significance music has had in his life, owing to his existence and development within the black community.

Lisa Corinne Davis serves as Head of Drawing at Hunter. Her abstract work is more directly rooted in cultural identity than Stanley’s, and in issues of social categorization, but is defined by a similar push and pull between mathematical lines and organic expression.

In an interview at The College of Saint Rose this year, Davis explained, “I work with a vocabulary that has two parts. The first I call ‘objective,’ meaning there are things you trust more than other things: straight lines, grids, maps, information systems. The second I call “subjective,” which is more psychological: organic forms, spills and drips, toxic or artificial colors. In every painting, I mix the two, so the viewer is caught between whether this is information or facts they’re receiving, or something they have to interpret as an individual.”  

Congenital Computation (2017) is a black and white painting done in acrylic. An imperfect grid is present, made-up of prominent black and white lines that seem to work as bars behind which a webbing stretches and gathers, giving the piece an uneven depth and course through space and time. Something resembling a necklace chain with a diamond-cut ball at the end appears to swing and unravel from one of the bars. Evoked is the interplay between incarceration, segregation, race, and class throughout American history and in our current society and culture.

Peter Saul addresses cultural identity and American politics head-on with outrageous, even deranged, figurative paintings. He has depicted nazis, stereotypical Jews, lurid scenes of the Vietnam war, and political figures such as Hitler, Stalin, Reagan, Bush, and Trump. Stylistically, his art draws on both Surrealism and comic art and is an unlikely mixture of beauty and negativity.

In an interview with ArtScene Cal, perhaps revealing something at the root of this fusion, Saul rather simply stated, “If I can find something to paint, a good subject, I feel grateful, and I paint it with enthusiasm.” In an interview with Brooklyn Rail he explained further, “It’s not America’s fault that it became deranged in my art. It’s the way I saw it because I needed to be an artist, and that was the only way I could get my personality into the thing.”  

Like Whitney, Saul is well known for his bright and colorful painting, while placing a great and lesser known importance on drawing. Saul usually draws his subject matter several times before moving on to paint and sometimes leaves the lines showing through as guidelines. Untitled (Date unknown) is a pencil and paper piece that depicts a maze of paint that sloshes down the page ending in a brush that is being ripped from the design by a cartoon character making a getaway off the page–only it’s hand visible in the right-hand corner. In Saul’s signature way, it is a skillfully executed piece infused with wit and humor.     

Brian Bellot’s work was featured in a group show curated by Peter Saul entitled If You’re Accidentally Not Included, Don’t Worry About It at Zurcher Gallery, Paris in 2014. Like Saul, Bellot utilizes humor, but his is a more light-hearted sort of playfulness influenced by Dadaism and Absurdism. In an interview with Art News, Bellot stated, “I have two impulses constantly at play: one is the formalist who wants to make elegant things, and the other is the absurdist who wants to destroy them.”

Grumps (2014) is a perfect example of these opposing impulses at work. A misshapen bunch of grapes is painted on a rumpled piece of paper with corners slightly torn. The word “grapes” is painted above in large, capital letters. The piece seems to play off the classic still-life, while resembling a makeshift, cardboard sign one might see at any fruit stand. It’s subject matter is sweet. It’s title is sour, bringing the phrase sour grapes to mind; these grapes that cannot be eaten and have been painted using mustard.  

When you enter Mixed Bag the title seems perfectly apt, but scratch a bit at the surface, and it becomes quite clear that the artists featured here are not a randomly thrown together bunch at all. They are a carefully hand-selected group bound together by educational institutions, professional projects, and shared concepts.    

Mixed Bag

Through March 30th, 2018

Real Estate

1144 Manhattan Avenue

Brooklyn, New York 11222 


Lisa Davis

Massry exhibit asks viewers to chart own paths

Lisa Corinne Davis likes to lead us on and not quite give anything away in her recent paintings at the Esther Massry Gallery. This show of over a dozen large, energetic, methodical oils on canvas plays with shapes and colors as much as it does any actual places or spaces. They are abstract, but they succeed because they suggest that they aren't, completely, abstract.

The title of the show, "Turbulent Terrain," tips the artist's hand slightly, if you take it literally. What come off at first like playful, all-over abstractions quickly complicate into some semblance of diagrams or maps. Many have loose grid-like nets from edge to edge, but these are distorted a bit, and the order of the surface gets dimpled and nudged.

It's as if there is a topography underneath a visual semiotic surface — a series of familiar shapes and relationships that in fact mean nothing but are a response to something real below. Something unseen, but hinted at. Lines become rivers, or schematic suggestions of pipelines and arteries, or walking routes on a crumpled tourist map of Florence. Or just meandering lines that follow their own directions and impulses across the canvas.

"Groundless Construct," with its expansive mixture of components, is characteristic and revealing, in part because there are some small areas of black and white lines that really are taken from a street map (or made to look like it). Elsewhere are some slightly irregular bluish squares and then lots of very irregular orange polygons that make a rough funnel shape over the top of things. Some thin lines like rope snake here and there, collecting at the bottom edge as if gravity was working from the top down.

It's all a curious, beautiful enterprise. The winding, linear elements, like the brown pipeline in "Analytical Anarchism," lead your eye around, looping and finding other textures and components to take in. Some of the simplest paintings, like the mostly yellow "Cogent Concoction," with rows of little bubble-like beads and other lines, flatten and become less demanding, and less interesting (though still pretty). Others might seem awkward to some, or too similar to the others to stand out, but there is a broader feeling in the show of clear intention, and a subtle balance of elements with the formal control to succeed.

This kind of painting — abstract but anchored in something readable and vaguely familiar — comes ultimately from the 1950s works of Jasper Johns by way of 1970s postmodern theory laden with signifiers separated from what they signify. You might be able to brush it off as a lot of well-done and attractive art for art's sake, with a stubborn sensation of being inconsequential, all this beautiful layering and visual play with ambiguous non-meaning.

But against that natural reaction I would first point out all the interesting aspects of the sources suggested here: the idea of maps and spaces made into their own objects, the notion of fictional dalliances constructed with known notational devices. And what does she mean by including rainbow stripes in several paintings, as if snipped from rainbow flags? Maybe nothing. And what if the "maps" implied are actually rooted in real places, or real schematics?

Maybe we can also embrace painting for the joy of painting. The mashup of lines, splotches, dimpled grids, and giddy colors makes for really interesting new surfaces.  On canvas. With good old oil paint. You get sucked in, and the more closely you look the more collisions and layering you find, on and on.

William Jaeger is a frequent contributor to the Times Union.



Lisa Davis

Each year, the current National Academicians nominate and elect a new class of members in a tradition dating back to 1825.  This fall, it is our pleasure to welcome the following artists and architects

Visual Art

Suzanne Anker
Eve Aschheim
Kathy Butterly
Peter Campus
Lisa Corinne Davis
Teresita Fernández
Theaster Gates
Glenn Goldberg
Harmony Hammond

Alfredo Jaar
Elizabeth King
Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt
Marilyn Minter
Odili Donald Odita
Mira Schor
John Walker
William T. Williams


Craig Dykers (Snøhetta)
David Lake and Ted Flato (Lake Flato)
Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa (SANAA)


Lisa Davis


Contemporary Art Steams Up the Hudson


Kiki Smith’s “Homecoming,” a sculpture from 2012, hangs in front of the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill as part of her exhibition there. CreditThomas Cole National Historic Site

CATSKILL, N.Y. — Marveling at oak galls, the glossy little tree growths that have been used since antiquity to produce a rich red ink, the artist Kiki Smith observed recently: “There’s a tremendous generosity in nature. There are so many gifts there, for free.” She added that it was “like SoHo in the ’70s, when there was all this industrial stuff lying around on Canal Street.”

For the last eight years, Ms. Smith, who has a gift for spotting expressive wealth in overlooked resources, whether they’re urban or rural, material or psychological, has been living nearly full time in Catskill, a couple of hours’ drive north of New York City.

She is not alone. Many artists, squeezed by relentless increases in real estate prices, are heading to these hills. So are exhibition venues. Since the Dia Art Foundation opened its Beacon branch in an old factory in 2003, both nonprofit and commercial art spaces have proliferated in the Hudson Valley. This summer has summoned a bounty of artwork to Catskill, Hudson, Cold Spring and beyond. Here is what I sampled recently.

“Guide,” from 2012, is one of several tapestries woven by Magnolia Editions that Ms. Smith has installed in the Cole house.CreditPace Gallery and Magnolia Editions, Thomas Cole National Historic Site

I started at the 1815 residence of the Hudson River School founder Thomas Cole, in Catskill (it sits just across the river from Olana, a popular Moorish Victorian house built by his successor Frederic Church). Ms. Smith’s home, part of which dates to 1690, is a short walk from Cole’s, and a few of his landscapes — reproductions are now on view — feature small renderings of it. So it made perfect sense that the Cole curator, Kate Menconeri, invited Ms. Smith to place work in and around the historic site for its second annual open house exhibition. Most of the work was made since her move upstate; none has been shown to better advantage.

Ms. Smith’s sympathies have long traveled in the border zones between the applied and the fine arts — she has twice previously integrated her work with historic homes and their furnishings, once in Venice and once in Krefeld, Germany. Glimpsed on entry at the Cole house is “Congregation,” a tapestry in a stairwell picturing a nude girl sitting demurely on a downed tree. A rain of twigs and branches streams from her eyes and fractures the surface, which is dotted with woodland creatures. (Like the other tapestries here, it was woven, with stunning subtlety, by the studio Magnolia Editions.) Ms. Smith lost 150 trees in Hurricane Irene. She says her backyard looked like a giant had been playing pickup sticks. Here, the debris creates a forbidding kind of radiance.

The 19th-century liturgical tradition of shape-note singing was one inspiration for Ms. Smith’s “Singer,” from 2008.CreditPeter Aaron/OTTO

“Singer,” a cast-aluminum sculpture shown in a spare room on the ground floor, portrays a girl standing at attention and proffering a bouquet of silk flowers. The bouquet is wired to one hand; the other hand is rigidly raised. Ms. Smith said she was thinking of the little girl in Picasso’s bullfight images who holds out an appeasing bunch of flowers, and of Elie Nadelman’s folk-art-inspired sculptures. But the most evocative connection Ms. Smith named was to the early-19th-century liturgical tradition of shape-note singing, in which congregants chant, forcefully — it is more shout than song — hymns notated with simple geometric shapes. The raised arm of Ms. Smith’s singer echoes the tradition’s stern gesture for marking a beat. The girl’s expression, too, is stern: hers is a chastening innocence. One feels a connection to Cole’s vision of the American landscape, a Romantic construction to be sure, but less keyed to operatic drama than that of the Hudson River School’s next generation.

On a landing are several etchings, one of a handsome turkey and the others of crystals. Cole, like Ms. Smith, was a rock collector, and his collection is on view in an adjacent room. In Cole’s bedroom is a digital print, from an iPhone photo of Ms. Smith hanging her head upside down over a sofa; her flowing hair is overdrawn in white ink to suggest the nearby Kaaterskill Falls. Two aluminum chairs leaning into each other echo the lone outdoor sculpture: two upturned aluminum chairs, a pair of birds perched on one, suspended from a walnut tree.

In the sitting room are “Tiller,” a bronze sculpture of a maple sapling springing from a tree stump, and another bronze, “Phantom,” of a single stem issuing from a downed limb: death generating life. Nearby is Ms. Smith’s crystal sculpture of dandelions under a bell jar. If things get a little precious here, and again in the nursery, where Ms. Smith has fashioned covers for a crib and a bed and stocked them with cloth dolls, such moments are few.

Ms. Smith is still best known for her early, harrowing portrayals of human bodies, but she has long favored nature’s bounty. Skeptics have dismissed this turn as sentimental, a term that has become a dirty word for tenderness. In any case her fairy-tale characters — wolves and girls, bats and fawns — are wired in all of us, deep and dark, and Ms. Smith does their complexity full justice. Now 63, she began her career in the late 1970s as a member of Colab, a lively collaborative group that contested the premium on individual mastery, and she remains fundamentally committed to its ethic. Nothing in this installation was achieved in one go, by one hand. Working by choice with skilled artisans, Ms. Smith looks outward — to nature, to history, to a community of makers — with illuminating acuity.

The School, in Kinderhook, N.Y., is now a Jack Shainman Gallery art venue. CreditJack Shainman Gallery, New York

The School In nearby Kinderhook, Jack Shainman, who maintains two galleries in Chelsea, has turned a 1929 Federal-style brick schoolhouse into a clean white 30,000-square-foot art venue. The current show at the School is a tribute to Claude Simard titled “The Coffins of Paa Joe and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Simard, who died in 2014, was a partner in the gallery and an avid collector of African art.

The billing is a little misleading. Of the nearly 200 artworks on view, only three are by Paa Joe, a Ghanaian craftsman of vernacular coffins; none of his sculptures at the School would accommodate a corpse. But they punch way above their weight. Painted with devastating brio, they are wood models of African Gold Coast “castles” that served as holding pens for Africans sold into slavery. (A fourth, in a related show at Mr. Shainman’s 24th Street gallery, grimly bears the name “Fort Good Hope.” All four were commissioned by Mr. Simard, whose collection is the subject of an exhibition now at the Tang Museum at Skidmore College.)

The exhibition “The Coffins of Paa Joe and the Pursuit of Happiness” at the School includes three of Mr. Joe’s wood and enamel “coffins,” models of the holding pens from which Africans were sold into slavery. They are “Cape Coast Castle,” left rear; “Fort Saint Antony (Axim),” right rear; and “Fort Gross-Friedrichsburg-Princestown,” foreground. CreditJack Shainman Gallery, New York

For the rest, the show is a wildly heterogeneous assembly of East and West, old and new. As promised, happiness — even ecstasy — is hotly pursued, though despair, exalting or otherwise, is not infrequently the result. Mr. Shainman’s collection of the Spanish Baroque is represented, as are African tribal figures, Indian paintings and the gallery’s artists — El Anatsui, Nick Cave, Kerry James Marshall, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and Richard Mosse, the last with an eerie, nocturnal photomural made with a heat-sensitive camera of a Greek storage yard for shipping containers, some of them sheltering asylum seekers. A wall of niches holds anonymous non-Western objects, and also unsigned busts of Gandhi and of Joseph Hirshhorn, and small paintings by Philip Taaffe and Linda Stark. Particularly engrossing are the handful of commissioned responses to Mr. Shainman’s collection. One is Titus Kaphar’s answer to a 17th-century portrait of Marie-Thérèse, wife of Louis XIV and supposed lover of an African dwarf in the royal household. It is said that the illicit couple’s brown-skinned daughter became a nun; Mr. Kaphar’s “Menina,” a moonlit painting, presents a determined little girl in court dress, with a deeply shadowed, faceless figure looming behind her.

Among the works in the School exhibition are Ron Arad’s chair and Titus Kaphar’s “Menina,” a painting depicting the supposed love child of Marie-Thérèse, the wife of Louis XIV, and an African dwarf.  CreditJack Shainman Gallery, New York

Farther south — an hour from Manhattan by Metro-North — is the newly opened Magazzino Italian Art in Cold Spring. A horseshoe of elegant galleries surrounding a ghostly piazza, Magazzino was designed by Miguel Quismondo, who incorporated a pre-existing industrial building (the name means warehouse). It provides an almost comically sleek home for the Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu collection of postwar and recent Italian art. Their concentration is Arte Povera, a term coined by Germano Celant in 1967 that means, roughly, impoverished art. But as Magazzino confirms, by its design aesthetic as much as by its inaugural show — it honors Margherita Stein, a patron of the movement — an irrepressible sense of good taste prevailed from the start. In fact, so did fairly expensive materials, including an abundance of marble and steel.

Magazzino Italian Art, a warehouse art space, is a new stop on the Hudson Valley tour of contemporary art. CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times

Represented in depth in “Margherita Stein: Rebel With a Cause” are Michelangelo Pistoletto (he is also at the School), whose medium is mirror-finished polished steel, often with applied photo-silkscreens; Alighiero Boetti (embroidered textiles); Luciano Fabro (mainly stone, sometimes balanced in unexpected ways); and Jannis Kounellis (assemblages of hardware and miscellany).

Luciano Fabro’s “Eos (L’Aurora),” foreground, and an untitled work by Jannis Kounellis, on the wall, at Magazzino. CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times

A little clay bust and two mixed-media works on paper by Marisa Merz, the only woman here — and one of the few Povera artists who did rely on inexpensive materials and offhand techniques — are among the more unruly contributions. Others include two works by Giuseppe Penone, one an elaborately transferred image, mediated by photography, of his charcoal-sprinkled body. The result, a charcoal drawing, maps a territory of indeterminate scale and terrain, lively and unstable. Mr. Penone again registered his touch literally, and wittily, in a paper relief featuring dozens of 3-D fingerprints, each marking a tear made by that finger.

Bringing warmth to the exhibition is, paradoxically, a refrigerated sculpture by Pier Paolo Calzolari, its metal parts flocked with ice that is lent a pink cast by neon tubing. It emits a faint sizzle, promisingly. The Olnick Spanu collection is active, and examples of work by younger Italian artists can be seen in the final gallery, whose exhibitions will rotate twice a year. (The current selection of earlier work remains on view until late 2018.)

The sculptures “Saffo,” foreground, and “Mimesi,” background, both by Giulio Paolini, are among the works on view at Magazzino. CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times

More in the Hudson Valley

The lovely, spacious Fields Sculpture Park at the Omi International Art Center in Ghent holds nearly 80 works, many installed long term, by Dennis Adams, Donald Baechler, Dove Bradshaw, Folkert de Jong, Donald Lipski, Richard Nonas, Alison Saar and others. The park is open daily.

Noteworthy commercial galleries in Hudson include Jeff Bailey Gallery, showing Jason Middlebrook through Sept. 17; John Davis Gallery, with six artists, including Michael David and Bruce Gagnier, through Sept. 10; Galerie Gris, showing paintings by Lisa Corinne Davis, from Sept. 1 to Oct. 9.

In Saugerties, Cross Contemporary Art is showing work by Brian Wood Friday through Sept. 24.

At the Hessel Museum at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, an exhibition of contemporary art from the Arab-speaking world is showing through Oct. 29.


Lisa Davis

Psychotropic Turf.jpg

Lisa Corinne Davis's nine paintings here read like haphazardly rendered topographies, or atlas pages warped and smattered with beautiful burgeoning mold. Lines, both rigid and winding, navigate across the composition, interrupting, intersecting, and unexpectedly deferring to biomorphic shapes. Cartoony, bulbous masses wrestle with angular counterparts. Each piece charts the tensions between abutting spaces and disparate forms, but titles including words such as "psychotropic," "specious," an "spurious," undermine their reliability as "maps."

In Psychopathic Territory (2015) parallel lines wind like subway track beneath a bulging grid overlaid with yellow, orange and red squares -- evoking the color-coded evacuation zones of a city preparing for a flood. In Psychotropic Turf (2015), a blue-green continent is divided into interlocking countries by a network of tenuous borders.  A pixelated storm system in rainbow colors brews over a pale ocean sliced longitudinally and marked by flesh-colored islands. In Capricious CIty (2014), four orange masses twist like roots under and over a net of strict blue lines. Black patches grow across everything like malignant lichen.

On every canvas and panel, the fractured and tangled abstractions were beautiful reminders of the delicate balance between organic chaos and linear order. The tension was palpable.



Lisa Davis


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Lisa Davis






If you are a young or emergent artist working today, there’s a pretty good chance you hadn’t even been born when Lynda Benglis published her infamously naughty ad in Artforum in November 1974. The legendary work turns 40 this month, and we reached out to 26 female artists — some working in 1974, some born since — to ask what they made of it then, what it means to them now, and how, if at all, they thought the state of gender politics in the art world has changed in the years since.

Originally, Benglis wanted the image to accompany an article written about her solo exhibition at Paula Cooper, but then-editor John Coplans refused, allowing only that the photograph appear as a paid advertisement. Several of the associate editors at the time considered the ad pornographic and unsuitable for the art magazine, which eventually resulted in art critics Rosalind Krauss and Annette Michelson leaving to form their own magazine, October. As a follow-up, the December Artforum of the same year featured a letter written by the aforementioned critics and three of their then-colleagues, lambasting the magazine for publishing the ad, which amazingly still retains the power to shock and startle — a direct and performative declaration for Benglis taking the system dominated by male patriarchy into her own hands, literally. Feminism is still a live wire in the art world, as was seen in the recent "Future Feminism" at the Hole Gallery (among other exhibitions), with many women feeling they are not on equal footing with their male counterparts. The Artforum ad was addressed to that subject exactly; so, how do those women feel about it today?

Lynda Benglis's piece in Artforum rocked my world. When I saw it in 1974, I was living in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, where art magazines were the primary source of current info. WOW! I did not associate the image with the underrepresentation of women in the magazine; rather, I saw it as a woman performing sexuality as a legitimate subject of art and pointing to power as the fundamental conflict between the sexes.

In regards to my own practice, I would like to think that the women in my work feel as empowered by their posture and gaze as much as Ms. Benglis did in that image in 1974. We’ve come a long way since then but yet it never seems like enough. Thank you, Lynda!

It was more than 20 years after the date it was published that I saw the Benglis image, and I remember saying out loud, “All right, fucking rock on!” Also, a quote by Ayn Rand comes to mind every time I see it: "The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me."

I first saw the Benglis image during the fall of my freshman year of college, and I saw it as a war cry. I think Benglis should re-perform that image now, 40 years later, because there is still more work to be done.

I think the same thing now as I did when I first saw the ad 40 years ago: Lynda Benglis has balls!

I met Lynda Benglis at the Carmine Street pool, where we both swam laps — probably in the early '70s. I had first seen her work at Paula Cooper’s gallery on Prince Street — the blob of color in the corner during one early group show.

I knew from the locker-room experience that Lynda was blessed with a gorgeous body and was an exquisite swimmer. I was on Paula’s mailing list, so I got an announcement in an envelope (unusual at the time) of Lynda wearing aviator sunglasses while leaning against a vintage convertible car. She was incredibly good-looking, and I was always interested in what she did (the early video of her and Marilyn Lenkowsky kissing — radical at the time, but not for me as a seasoned and political lesbian from the late '60s on.) Paula Cooper was my hero and still is. I admired Lynda’s chutzpah, but also knew she was straight and privileged — unlike me and the movement lesbians who were my allies at the time. When the Artforum photograph came out, I was suitably impressed — with her body, her outrageousness, and her cunning. We need more women like her in the art world.

The "Benglis ad," although important to counter the domineering patriarchy of the '70s, bears no witness to me as an artist working post 1974. At first glance I find it humorous, but what it really represents to me personally is social and economic exclusivity and inequality. How many artists can afford to take out a $3,000 advertisement? How many non-white women artists are represented by galleries in New York City? 

I am a human being that wants equality for all practicing artists. As an African-American woman from a working-class background, I am aware that my artistic labor and artwork are devalued when compared to male artists as well as white women artists. It is imperative that we look beyond binaries of gender and address the economic disparities that prevent artists of color from fully participating in the arts and feminist discourse.

WENDY WHITE (b. 1971)
As far as the Benglis ad, there are still plenty of penises in Artforum, but they’re way smaller and not as smart. Men still get the lion’s share 40 years after Benglis’s ad because it is still bestowed on them year after year, whether the work deserves it or not. So what can we do? As artists, we have to be supportive of work that we admire regardless of gender. But specifically, as women artists, it is imperative that we draw attention to other women artists as often as men draw attention to other men. WHICH IS ALL THE TIME. Stop believing that we should be happy with the literal crumbs that we get in comparison. Museums, collectors, and galleries all need to quit the risk aversion and quit supporting artists who are risk-averse — because it is our freaking duty as creative people to take risks. What’s as risky now as Benglis was then?

My mother was the embodiment of Lynda Benglis’s infamous Artforum image, which was burned in everyone’s mind 40 years ago. My mother lived that way her entire life and made as strong an imprint in my life. I am not a feminist, per se, as the path had been cleared before me, but I certainly had my share of experiencing being a woman artist in the '70s in Southern California when male artists ruled. Though it was an issue socially I never forgot the image of my mother boldly and unapologetically breaking the rules. Even though I did not carry the banner of feminism, I certainly feel that through my work and example as an exhibiting artist that I disseminated this message in a visual format. Through collaboration with architects, scientists, filmmakers, musicians, and artists, I strive to create a relationship of equality that pervades my work.

I think I saw Linda’s ad in Artforum when it was first published. I thought, If I had a body like that, then I, too, could do something similar. But no such luck!

I consider myself a feminist, or it might be more correct to say I did at the time. I was making functional pots to cook in and eat out of, and a woman’s role was in the kitchen. Also, women made work that was much more inventive because of their awareness of possible functions. Nurturing, containment, things being all about the female, and the politicizing of women were all things I lived through from the earliest moments. Lucy Lippard and Marsha Tucker came to Colorado where I was living and we all had our consciousness risen.

RENEE COX (b. 1960)
I loved the Benglis ad, as I think it said, “See me now!!!” She has some big inner balls!!! She made people look.

Lynda's ad in Artforum was/is brilliant! I am always supportive of women owning production of sexual imagery, of women becoming the agents of sexually provocative images instead of always just being the subject. Of course, I consider myself a feminist. Advocating social, political, legal, and economic rights for woman equal to those of men — what idiot would say they don't advocate this, male or female?

Asking about the next step is a good question to have, especially considering young women using loaded sexual imagery constantly get "slut shamed," as certainly Lynda was back in 1974. Now that she is an elder the ad is considered groundbreaking and genius. But it seems that women owning the sexual power dynamic is still very threatening today — just look at how Madonna/Miley Cyrus are treated in media. Regarding the art world, I think it's time for women collectors to start "leaning in."

I remember seeing the Benglis ad in Artforum when I was a college freshman at Yale, where I was an art major. It made me want to move to New York and be an artist! Seriously, being at a historically all-male college, I thought I had acquired the skills necessary to move to New York and compete in the art world. But from my current perspective, I don't think it's necessary to "don the phallus" to be successful as a woman artist in New York. Being an agent of change within a community can be a pathway to success. That, to me, is feminism's legacy. You don't have to out-duel your male counterparts. Instead, working together to create a platform that lifts others and boosts your own career at the same time is a better route. For me, an obsession with hierarchy and exclusion is a shortsighted strategy, and if you live by this code it will come back to bite you.

I consider myself to be a feminist. Unlike many artists in my young circle in Bushwick, I am old enough to remember the '70s when the women's movement was just gaining strength, creating community and dismantling the status quo. I have been in the New York art world since the early '80s, but things really began to look up for me professionally when I saw myself as an agent of change in my own community in Brooklyn, making opportunities for artists in general and for women artists in particular. The feminist movement has inspired me to take an activist position in my own community to program what I want to see in my artist-run gallery space, Storefront Ten Eyck, outside the commercial art world of Manhattan. This engagement with others has helped me to grow as an artist and as a person, and it's had the added bonus of raising my profile professionally. I now see myself connected to a broader agenda. Feminism — with its foundation of egalitarianism, non-hierarchical structure, and transparent dialogue — has been, in part, my inspiration. Working together on an equal basis floats all boats, and there is no greater proof of that than the artist-run scene in Bushwick.

Regarding the Artforum ad, I think, tongue-in-cheek/chic and site-specific as it is, Benglis portrayed herself as a phallic woman. She's performing gender, not performing "male." Phallic women who don't cleave to the "norms" of a gender binary are still the elephant in the room. It's still a touchstone image for me, which existed before we had the term gender non-conforming.

The word feminist is parity along with equal representation and acquisitions, a 50/50 balance and closing the wage gap as it relates to pricing. [The proof is] all in the numbers, which makes plain the situation. There is no dearth of talent. Nothing else matters, and progress is slow. And yet, every time a woman sells a work for over $50,000 or her work is acquired by a major collection or shown by a major museum or leading gallery, all women win. It could also be helpful to look at the issues within the larger framework of human and artists' rights, an undeveloped area. Government support to institutions could create guidelines that may help this along by mandating quotas. 

The ad continues to jolt. It is iconic. A few waves of feminism later: Benglis's strap-on reverberates with more humor and less shock. In the 40 years since, culture has absorbed so many transgressed images that this ad feels more a part of the history of feminism. For me it marks a specific time when it still shocked men and woman alike to see a woman perform sexuality and gender with pointed aggression. These days, these [types of] performances often seem implicit — in the art of men, women, and feminists alike. How can performance ever be separated from all aspects of identity? I remember seeing it when I was 12 or 13 and laughing out loud; it still has got me by the balls. 

What we need are more critics writing about this disparity (thank you, Jerry); more art historians considering women artists, gender, performance of sexuality, identity in contemporary art (hark to Linda Nochlin!); more dealers bringing in fresh voices (I for one am bored by the bad boys and excited by the thoughtful, perverse, and engaging work of Nicole Eisenman, Dasha Shishkin, Dana Schutz); more women assuming leadership positions (as Dr. Elizabeth Sackler becomes the first female chair of the Brooklyn Museum); plainly, greater representation of women.

DIANA AL-HADID (b. 1981)
We can all agree that Lynda Benglis’s ad was incredibly bold for the time and that she was obviously fearless. She knew that sometimes being polite, or being a "good girl," is not enough. She was rightly outraged at the dominant belief in female inferiority, and in acting "inappropriately" she exposed a surprising number of people in the presumably progressive art world as narrow-minded and unforgivably conservative. The ad is a reminder now that there's a tremendous amount of work to be done to give women a bigger presence in the art world (and in all other worlds). There's always a backlash at the inception of real progress, and we are at that moment again today. It's a reminder that women need to act like men, to take up more space, to stop being so polite and accommodating when it's not working, and to wear cool power shades while doing it. She's still a total badass.

It’s hard to say exactly how it's affected me. It's one of those things that obviously paved the way, becoming part of the legacy of the feminist movement in art. All female artists today have to be thankful for her strapping on that dildo, but it's hard to draw a straight line from that moment to how it's directly "affected" me or my work in a specific way. It's just a significant chapter in the opening up of this critical conversation; it made space for women after [publication] to be loud and ask for more.  

I consider myself a feminist and, quite frankly, am confused as to how anyone could not relate to the term (whether male or female). I didn't need to know about the word to know that I was a feminist as a girl, always wanting equal treatment, as any girl does. Regarding my practice, everything I believe in plays a role — how can it not? As I entered college, I wanted to know what the boys seemed to already know; I wanted to know how to weld, how to use tools, and how to take up lots of space and make a mess. I was always sensitive to territorial claims of space and privileged information. I think it's crucial that women take up more space — more physical space, more social space, more political space. So much of our culture is set up to prevent women from expanding, from being or thinking or acting big. So much [of the system] is set up to prevent girls from being messy and spreading out — everyone likes a "good girl."

Lynda Benglis did a KNOCKOUT job showing that women can do it alone! Her work, as well as mine, is sexual and political. My strong feminist conviction has both helped and hurt my career, and it's analogous to Lynda's double-ended dildo! I've wrestled with censorship since 1974, my humongous phallic drawingHorizontal was censored in "Women's Work - American Art" in Philadelphia the same year as Benglis's infamous ad. I understand both the negative and positive aspects of notoriety, and I'm thrilled to continue making provocative work. Women are still fighting to get access to the system and are lacking in galleries and museums. I'm confronting this and other struggles using the angry cunt in my current Birth of the Universe paintings to represent the rage of women. My philosophy is DON'T HOLD BACK!

SAM MOYER (b. 1983)
Lynda is a hero of mine. She was one of the first female sculptors I discovered. I remember watching a video of her making one of her bow pieces when I was 19 years old and thinking, She just does it; she lets it [the material] do what it wants, still knowing what she wants it to do. I think I was struck by the ease of her confidence. I later, luckily, had the opportunity for a few studio visits and even worked for her for a minute. No matter the content or context of our conversations, that ease of confidence was present. Her ease is what struck me; it is and was so natural. That is still what I take away from the Artforum ad, the naturalness of it. It works because she is the one doing it, and she lets things do what they will but knows what she wants them to do.

I have a huge relationship to the Benglis ad in Artforum. I moved to NYC in 1978, four years after it had been published. As a female art student, that is all that we talked about. I kept a copy of Artforum open to the ad on my coffee table. I was in awe of the courage it took to make such a bold statement, to be nude in an art magazine. At the same time, I felt Benglis's vulnerability and her cry to be heard. It has always been an image that has encapsulated the stakes women take when they loudly voice their objections to wrongs that first and foremost affect them.

I was raised by a single mom who was one of the first of three African-American women to get a law degree in the state of Maryland. She is fierce, smart, and independent, and she always insisted that her voice be heard. I began to learn all of these qualities from her as the first wave of feminism advocated for women's rights.  I watched her fight for her rights in a workplace that at the time had virtually no women at upper levels. Her values aligned with the developing women's movement. Therefore my awareness of feminism was a concept, not a term. As a painter, though I hate to say it, I cannot see the effects of feminism. Men still shockingly dominate the art world, and misogyny runs amok. There seems to be no shock or shame about a massive business that barely gives a nod to women.

JUDITH BRAUN (b. 1947)
I think that the Benglis image is still provocative and holds a very important place in women’s history in the art world. Not that things have changed that much, because a scan of Artforum’s pages will still show a predominance of male artists. But it made a statement in a concise and shocking way that could not be ignored, and I am glad that she had the courage to do it; I am glad it exists. It is a touchstone and reference for a point in time, for historians and for younger generations. If I imagine it out of the picture, it would leave a gaping hole (no pun intended). I do think that it is also dated to that era, because if it was done today it would not be as shocking and could be read on many other levels, including transgender realities. It should also be noted that it had an impact because it came out of Paula Cooper Gallery … so Benglis’s voice was not the lone woman wanting to be heard … she was already with one of the top galleries. Something had gotten her there, and other things [much larger] were at work.

I consider myself a feminist because I believe in equal rights for women. I came of age during the civil-rights era, which, by extension, included women’s liberation. I have never had the slightest compunction to avoid that identity, and yet it isn’t a primary label for my work, because I want to make art, not propaganda. Even in the late '80s/early '90s, when my work was oriented toward gender politics, I was committed to, first, a visual experience and, second, a surprising, thought-provoking experience. 

I find the Lynda Benglis ad playful, in your face, and completely free. It makes me laugh. It proposes a dialogue that is constructive and perhaps controversial for some, but better than the media frenzy over "sexism" that has been happening this month over small shows and reviews.

The Benglis ad is relevant and fresh. It presents an interesting legacy and is alive today with its challenge being both questioning and playful. Historically, it is brilliant sensationalism that helps involve us into greater challenge and leadership thanks to a dialogue she helped start. It proposes a dialogue that is constructive and perhaps controversial for some, but better than the media frenzy over "sexism" that has been happening this month over small shows and reviews. I am grateful for it.

Lynda Benglis's ad was a powerful and clever move, bringing attention to the state of women in the 1970s art world. The subversive nature of sexism requires developing techniques to confront it. Tactics once powerful are often later enveloped into the morphology of the problem. Artists today can take a page from Benglis's book, using humor and fearlessness to point out the unacceptable state of the status quo. Reflecting of Benglis's ad, I think be brave, be clever, and keep going. Benglis is part of a rich art history that defies the norm to get a message out there, and I aspire to stand on her shoulders.

I am a feminist, and being so has helped my career by educating me on the gender dynamics marginalizing women — and anyone who isn't a white, heterosexual male — that we face, informing my perspective on what matters in the art world. Observing the low exhibition and collection statistics of living female artists in relation to the numerous amazing works by well-known and emerging female artists, like Sue de Beer, Marlene McCarthy, Rachel Rampleman, Jamie Diamond, Juliet Jacobson, Marthe Ramm Fortun, and Afruz Amighi, has helped me to shape my art career and inspired me to see the sociological impact of choosing to be an artist daily and to engage in the future history of women in art.

DONNA HUANCA (b. 1980)
The Benglis image reminds me of the energy of punk rock, which in many ways introduced me to [the concept of] feminism. I was a drummer for many years and would tour in a miniskirt. I was very good but could never get past the sexist remarks — “You’re good for a chick drummer."  What makes me laugh is the farce that the art world is supposed to be a safe place for women, assuming intellectuals are somehow enlightened by academia and can finally see and treat women as equals. Experiences have proven that being a woman, and working with fierce, unapologetic women, will always bring out the primal sexist realities in others.

I first learned about Benglis’s ad in a critical theory class at NYU in the '90s. It fascinated me, because in addition to its shock value, it had no direct visual relationship to the abstract paintings and poured sculptures I knew her to make. Her ad allowed me to see that an artist’s politics don’t need to always serve the content or themes within their work, and vice versa. They don’t have to look the same. One can be radical as an artist in more than one way, fight more than one fight, and the overlap does not need to be explicit. This is a freedom that Benglis’s $3,000 has bought for me, and for that I’m deeply grateful.

Sadly, I don’t think what she did would even be possible anymore in this conservative, fearful, market-driven environment. Real change has to begin with money, since unfortunately that’s what speaks the loudest right now in the art world. Major collectors and the largest institutions would need to begin to place true and sustained investment in women artists at every stage of career. It would require an epic paradigm shift.

I saw the Benglis ad about 25 years after it was published, as I was born in 1987, so I always perceived it from the historic perspective. By the time I had seen it, it was already "packed" in its historic context with other influential female artists such as Eva Hesse, Hannah Wilke, Carolee Schneemann, and many others. The whole story influenced and encouraged me a lot and in many ways. I was very honored to be Lynda Benglis's student at SVA; she was one of the most critical and inspiring professors I had.

I consider myself a peaceful, "silent" fighter for freedom and equality. I believe that right now our global society is unbalanced, and I do my best in my own life to prove first of all to myself that we can all be equal. The global society I dream of for the future will have the same education and health care for everyone, in every country. The planet will function as one single organism working on the most interesting questions, exploring our nature, and the micro and macro cosmos we live in. I understand it will probably happen after I'm gone, but this dream keeps me going and helps me to stay positive and active. I understand that right now women have much fewer possibilities for growth than men, and I consider myself a feminist in the way that I don't believe that one gender is better than the other. It should be an organic cooperative function, like how our brain works; both the left and the right hemispheres should be equally engaged in solving tasks and problems.

JENNI CRAIN (b.1991)
Because of contributions by artists such as Lynda Benglis, we have reached a moment when work does not have to overtly or explicitly address this still-paramount discourse. For this I am wholly grateful and implicitly proud. Yes, the conversation is inherent within my work as a young, female artist, and its residual footprints will undoubtedly affect my work and career as it transpires. Underrepresentation is still a reality. As always, awareness is the foremost inciter in eliciting revision, as is perseverance and an embracement of nonpartisan inclusion, in the arts and elsewhere. I am, absolutely, a feminist.

CHERYL POPE (b. 1980)
This ad was and still is a very powerful and iconic image representing the female artist. I think it represents the identity of the female artist today. Benglis embraces this super slick and sexual female/male identity that is confident, seductive, and suggestive. The duality of embracing and employing her femininity while complicating it with masculinity — short hair; sleek, slender torso; and double-sided dildo — for me it is the struggle to balance both, to present both and live as both, [that is necessary] in order to succeed in the art world.


Lisa Davis

Lisa Corinne Davis: interview


Lisa Corinne Davis talks to Lilly Wei about her multilayered, map-like paintings, the complex relationship between race, culture and history, and her hope that her work will challenge preconceived notions of identity.

Lisa Corinne Davis is a New York-based artist best known for paintings and works on paper that resemble multilayered maps with encoded narratives. Her “inventive geography” prompts a wide range of interpretations, its open-endedness a stance she actively cultivates. Her work derives from autobiographical sources but also refers to social and cultural issues, both historical and contemporary. The resultant mix of eclectic form and content is surprising as well as stimulating. Davis, who is African American, says her practice explores the complex relationship between “race, culture and history” and, with it, ideas about classification and contingency, the rational and irrational, chaos and order.

Her painting has become increasingly responsive to the processes of paint and its materiality, the colours richer and more nuanced, her depicted “environments” not quite natural, but also not digital. Viewers have difficulty in determining whether Davis’s constructions are handmade or not, real or fictive spaces, figurative or abstract, microcosm or macrocosm. Davis, who has taught at Yale University School of Art and is currently a professor at Hunter College, the City University of New York, has exhibited regularly since the 80s, mostly in the US, her works found in many public and private collections. Her latest exhibition is at Galerie Gris in Hudson, New York.

Davis talked to Lilly Wei about her recent work and the personal reflections that have shaped it.

Lilly Wei: Do you think it’s true that African-American artists have usually been expected to deal with race in their works instead of their individual identity and passions?

Lisa Corinne Davis: It is certainly something I have thought about. I feel that I’ve always been implicated in whatever people around me understood African-American culture to be. I wasn’t trying to make a statement about being black, or about race relations. It was more a personal search to figure out what the importance of race was and what constituted notions of race for me. When asked, when I said that I was African American, I saw that a whole set of assumptions about my identity and history came with my response – even if none of it applied to me. It made me think about the fluidity of culture and one’s location within it as an individual. Mapping was a metaphor for that.

In my earlier works, I often used things such as art-historical artefacts that were clearly culturally oriented. It was a desire for security because it made things simple, not because it had anything to do with my background. I realised that people who asked me about my race brought their own perspectives, biases and knowledge with them, and these attitudes were integral to the relationship between us. I think when people look at abstract painting, the approach is parallel; a set of assumptions determine what they see or don’t see, what they want to see and don’t want to see, whether what they see is rational or crazy. I play with the unfixed nature of what one brings to a painting and how that shifts over time, changing how you connect to it.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES - June 6, 2014

Lisa Davis

Eviction Battles Imperil a Queens Art Haven


Battles between artists and landlords are nearly as plentiful in New York City as galleries themselves.  But a recent spate of attempted evictions and other conflicts in a three-story brick building in Ridgewood, Queens, is buffeting a young outpost of the art world just as the area is earning a reputation for affordable studio space and vibrant openings.

“It reminded me of the early days of SoHo,” said Lisa Corinne Davis, a painter whose work is represented in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. “I thought: Here’s my community. We’ll see each other every day. We’ll chat. We’ll have shows together.”

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ART NEWS - September 2007

Albert Behar

Lisa Corinne Davis at June Kelly


IThese richly layered works, all from 2006-7, explore categorization and, in the end, defy it. Davis’s self-portraits from the 1980s and 90s confound distinctions between self and other; her crowd scenes from around 2000 blur the line between individual and group identity. The eight images here use the visual language of maps to zoom out to a fictitious stratosphere where identity politics nonetheless plays a central role.

In these works, flat forms resembling landmasses drift against backgrounds of blue, white, and green squares. Skeins of latitude and longitude lines curl along the surfaces. Hovering above this inventive geography are the most powerfully suggestive features: cartoonish, exoskeletal forms, which—depending on their size, shape, and color—evoke plant tendrils and insect larvae, or free-falling Day-Glo pellets that look like Nerds, the candy popular in the 1980s.

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ART IN AMERICA - February 2007

Albert Behar

Lisa Corinne Davis at June Kelly


In paintings resembling multilayered maps with encoded, expansive narratives, New York-based artist Lisa Corinne Davis displays systemic, documentary and fabulist impulses that recall artists such as Julie Mehretu, Mark Lombardi and Matthew Ritchie, to name but a few. The eight mesmerizing canvases that made up “Fact & Fiction,” her recent show at June Kelly, are her most satisfying body of work to date.

While Davis has always been intent on exploring those issues of race and gender that shape the identity of a contemporary black woman, her subjects are more subtly presented in this new group, more finely balanced with formal concerns. The pieces are also more purely painting, dispensing with the collage elements that have characterized her work in the past, although the collage esthetic remains evident in her layering of imagery and the several distinctive techniques that make up these paintings. Consequently, they are visually richer, with the added flash of electronic blues, irradiated oranges, corrosive greens and denatured reds—artificial, eye-catching colors at variance with the more somber earth and flesh tones that dominated her palette in the past. The colors are seductive but not pretty, and at times emit a kind of poisonous aura, as in the feverish, red-orange smears that resemble burst corpuscles or cellular malignancies in Verifiably Metaphysical (2007), one of the show’s densest works.

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Albert Behar

Lisa Corinne Davis is a New York-based artist who creates mostly gridded works consisting of small increments of painted or drawn imagery, collaged snippets of newspaper or diminutive digital photographs. …Her grids may symbolize pigeonholes but she pays homage to the individuality of people. Her theme and her use of small details to create an imposing composition are quite impressive.
— Jonathan Goodman, Art In America (July 2003)
Obsessive as they are beautiful, the paintings and works on paper are elaborately layered and constructed to mask and scramble (society’s) over-simplistic labels. Davis draws on a rich array of sources, from found texts, maps, fingerprints and altered photographic portraits of friends to present a more individualistic view of society’s complexity.
— Judd Tully, High and Inside Catalogue (2003)
…written narratives are hand-altered, faces missing from history are inserted, and distinctions of race and ethnicity are subtly confused. Davis demonstrates how pointed information and good-looking painting can co-exist.
— Holland Cotter, The New York Times (April 2001)
Existing between collage, painting and drawing, the works provide metaphorical reservoir in which form and content merge and meaning seems embedded in the materials themselves.
— Susan Hoeltzel, Lehman College Gallery (2001)
Through the process of working with a repetitive central form, Davis is confronting the dilemma of much recent abstraction by taking her own path, avoiding the burden of modernist purity and the equally limiting postmodern tropes of content specificity to make highly original painting.
— Franklin Sirmans, Lehman College Gallery (2001)
Her studies…reflect keen intelligence and depth of feeling.
— Frances Riccard, COVER (May 1998)
Large, heavily layered, antiqued collages meditating with poetic indirection on race, culture, history, and geography.
— Ken Johnson, The New York Times (May 1998)
Once you give Davis’ paintings your undivided attention, they pay you back tenfold in terms of ideas, original solutions and a remarkably innovative use of materials.
— Joy Hakanson Colby, The Detroit News (Oct. 1994)
Brilliantly conceived and thought-provoking, these mixed media wall pieces provide strong visual analogies for the quest for individual identity...
— Jerry Cullum, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Aug. 1994)
Each piece is rough and raw as an object but delicate in its painted imagery, which creates a poignant tension between past and present.
— Edward J. Sozanski, The Philadelphia Inquirer (Nov. 1993)