© John Arsenault, "Silhouette of a Leatherman," 2012, Archival pigment print, Courtesy of ClampArt, New York City
If you've ever taken a trip through
New England, Cape Cod or Provincetown, it goes with out saying you know
something about the quality of light out there. Those tender revealing hues of
light, and the color blue like nothing else you've ever seen; everything's
rich. That light and those blues, touch every inch of you - every inch of
everything. You can't be out there and not think about Edward Hopper's
paintings. John Arsenault's work is a lot like them, if Edward Hopper had a
hidden closest full of good shoes, leather, and a cache of kinky friends.
Similarly to Hopper, Arsenault has that sense of light and surrealism. His
subjects don't simply pose, they penetrate their frames. What on earth could
they possibly be thinking about?
What's on anyone's mind at the Eagle in LA?
© John Arsenault, "Exit (Self Portrait)," 2012
Arsenault spent the better part of two years as "barmaid," as he
lovingly refers to it, at the Eagle in LA. "A very unexpected chance." He tells
me. Lucky for us he had his smartphone camera during his time there from 2012 to 2013. The man has made
smartphone cameras an art. On a personal note, I couldn't thank him enough for
that. It's hard to believe, but no denying, the man can take the piss out of a
photograph. Touching light bleeds in the darkness of the bar. Casting hues and
dimension over bodies and surfaces. Piercing the point of vision. These
photographs are as rich as they are intimate. The bar is transformed, more
Matisse in color and treatment than one would expect for a watering-hole
suck-shack like the Eagle. For anyone who is familiar with the Eagle, LA's or
otherwise, they may find the beginning of that metaphor an alarmingly unlikely
possibility. It comes highly suggested that the photos be seen - by way of
Arsenault's show Barmaid at ClampArt gallery, in New York - or by grabbing a
copy of his new monograph, of the same title, published by Daylight. The
proof's in the seeing of Arsenault's work.
© John Arsenault, "Parachutes (Self Portrait)," 2012
"It's so important to me to be open
to the gray areas of my life. At first I didn't see photographing the Eagle as
a project unto itself. I fell into bar backing totally by chance. As I got to
know the people there I felt a commitment to them, myself, and this story."
Arsenault's work has always been very rooted in the self and the work is diaristic. It's interesting to note both the love and care in the
photo's, and the way Arsenault talks about them, and his experience. He's
always sought out this intimacy, with people, with place, with light. Oh, that
light. You don't need him to tell you his influence, the painterliness, and
gesture are clear. He has taken an otherwise cacophonous escapade and quieted
it down. Arsenault is a keeper of moments and tensions before, or maybe just
after something wonderful, something sexual, something depraved or totally
unforgettable. The environment becomes isolated and calmness sets in. But in
the dark of the bar there is never a complete assurance of that controlled
Eagle provided Arsenault with an opportunity to be a little out of place, maybe
very out of place. "At first I would come to work with this ideal of what I
should be or look like. And I realized I didn't need to pretend, it's more
important to hold onto myself." It's pretty easy to get sucked into the
atmosphere of a place, you walk different, you move different, and sometimes
you are able to forget everything just to fit in. People showing up and being
who they are and not some list of ideals is Arsenault's strongest message. It's
good to keep that in mind. The Eagle is full of vice, and it's the individual
people, the dark corners, and intimate moments that make it what it is.
© John Arsenault, "Sister Candy Cide," 2013
© John Arsenault, "Turned Off," 2012
© John Arsenault, "Exterior Landscape Number Two," 2012
© John Arsenault, "Exterior Landscape Number One," 2013
© John Arsenault, "Praying for Tomorrow," 2012
© John Arsenault, "Rose in a Bottle," 2013,
All images Archival pigment prints, Courtesy of ClampArt, New York City
Coming next to ClampArt
(opening February 25th) is a group show. The clue is in the title - "the exhibition addresses artists' fascination with natural history museums as seen by their depictions of museum displays, including dioramas and taxidermy, in addition to artists' interest in viewing animals through a pseudo-scientific lens" says Brian Clamp. The show includes Clamp staples Jill Greenberg, Blake Fitch and Amy Stein alongside Richard Barnes, Marisol Villaneuva and more.
This image by Ms Villaneuva is from "Uncaged: The Unnatural History of Caged Birds" a project wherein the artist "hope(s) to create a connection between the original wildness of birds, and the sense of freedom they evoke within those who view them."
© Marisol Villanueva, "Zebra Finch (Taeniopygia guttata), Summit Rock, West Side between 81st and 85th Streets, New York," 2007, C-print (Edition of 7), 28 x 42 inches, Courtesy of ClampArt, New York City
Now showing at ClampArt
are Jill Greenberg's "New Bears". Jill constructed outdoor studios in Vancouver and Calgary to photograph these creatures and it's interesting to see the prints in a smaller size than the big bears and the monkeys. This particular baby however was photographed in Jill's home - I wonder how many assistants queued up outside for that job! Jane Fonda Bear © Jill Greenberg
In order to view the "New Bears" at ClampArt, one has to walk through the main gallery space which is currently showing Luke Smalley's "Sunday Drive", a haunting story of three girls readying to visit their men in prison. Viewing Smalley's work on ClampArt
's website I was more drawn to the "Exercise at Home" series. If only Smalley had used new bears instead of twinks...
Luke Smalley, "Exercise at Home," 2007, Digital C-print, Courtesy of ClampArt, New York City
artist Rachel Papo is the winner of the 2009 'Deeper Perspective Photographer of the Year' Lucie Award for her project on young Israeli women serving their mandatory military duty, 'Serial No. 3817131
'. Sadly, there's not much by way of images from this year's International Photography Awards competition winners on the Lucies website - just an un-navigatable video of stills. Which is odd.
Rachel thanked Mr. Clamp upon receiving her award, saying he is the nicest guy in the business. Which is nice.Talking to Family, from Serial No. 3817131 © Rachel Papo