Yi Zhang: Alumni Spotlight Interview

Yi Zhang was born in China and works and lives in both New York and Beijing.  She graduated from the New York Studio School with an MFA in Sculpture in 2014.  Her solo show at John Davis Gallery is on view July 23-August 14.


Yi Zhang, Bat Mother, lead, acrylic, steel, wire, 14 x 12 x 4 inches, 2016

Rachel Rickert: Tell me a little bit about your background and your path to becoming an artist.  What led to your commitment to being an artist?

Yi Zhang: To draw was my only interest when I was a child. I studied Chinese ink painting, calligraphy and, using the limited available catalogs, I also enjoyed copying many of the Western old masters’ works. When I was 15 years old, I started intensive academic art training at the Central Academy in Beijing. Those five years of classical/realistic studies  provided me with good skills, however, gradually I lost the joy of drawing. By the end of the second year in college I got so tired of making pictures, that I chose to study sculpture as my major instead. Later on I followed my tutor who was one of the top conceptual artists in China. This was a transitional period for me. I left what I had been trained in and embraced the contemporary art world.

During that period I was suffering from depression. I had to take medicine, which wasn’t helping much. I felt as if I wanted to break something and yell out. Gradually I realized that the art making process, which had always been part of my life, but without much meaning, had become medicine to me.

Around that time I made the first work which I call art. I casted my fingers with wax and painted them. They were full of bloody wounds gnawed by myself. I put them in a small silk case and titled it “The Souvenir”. I felt much released after the work. It had been the first time, during which I was motivated by making something from my inside, from desire.  Art is not decorative, it is my medicine.


Yi Zhang, Ink brushes, lead, ink brushes, wire, 12.5 x 6 x 5 inches, 2016

RR: What is your starting point in the studio when you begin a new work?

YZ: When I arrived to New York I discovered that the city was a heaven of materials. I always looked for stuff in the trashes on the street. My little studio was a storage of found objects. That was my starting point: material! After some time I also began to be interested in natural materials such like a piece of bamboo or a piece of stone. I questioned myself what were the characteristics of the objects or found objects that really interested me? I realized it was those types of forms which suggested  human touch, relating to the human body or some particular structures that suggested rhythm. The sensuality, evoked by an object or material is my real starting point.


Yi Zhang, Thorns, lead, steel, bamboo, wire, 5.5 x 24 x 6 inches, 2016


RR: Your work seems to embody human fragility in spite of the rigidity of the metal materials. Is there something about that dichotomy that you seek?

YZ: Yes, there is. Although the words fragility and rigidity are opposites,  in materiality there is no such border. Probably everything in the world is relative. Is lead fragile or rigid? Is plaster fragile or rigid? Or any natural materials, wood, bamboo… I think fragility is a fascinating subject. Human fragility is part of the duality of human nature. Dealing with human fragility or emotions in art is as beautiful as it is brave.

In terms of making sculpture, I work with the relation and balance that exists between the structure and the material. When the structure is leaner or transparent, the materials and their join points keep it relatively strong and stable. The stability of material secures the fragility of the structure. In contrast, an airy sense of a structure gives surprise to the material. These relationships would make the subject of fragility more sculptural.


RR: The body of work at your show at John Davis Gallery is chromatically and materially narrow in range.  Can you speak about your material and color choices?

YZ: For me, color is physical. Every material has color, so I rarely need to paint my work. If I do, I take it as an action of painting rather than of coloring. I don’t have a painter’s sense of color, which is a pity. I do believe each color has its specific relationship with light and it is the result of light. So, I consider color as one of the features of the material.

The choice of material is of utmost importance to me. In this series I worked with a variety of materials but predominantly I was interested in lead, partly because of the sense of quietness and isolation and partially because of its ash gray color. To me, it feels as if light were hidden within the material. These characteristics really talk to me, which I think are good to represent form as stemming from an inner world, since I always make forms from inner feeling.

Secondly, the dichotomy between flexibility and stability also interested me. Lead is surprisingly malleable and flexible. I could model it like a piece of clay. A very thin sheet is almost as soft as paper; a thick sheet is as resilient as a chunk of meat, to work on which requires a good amount of physical energy. When I forged it with a hammer, the material recorded every movement of my body and constantly changed its form with every single hit.


Yi Zhang, Bite, lead, steel, iron, wire, nail, 16 x 10 x 4 inches,2016

RR: I’ve noticed an accordion folding theme in your work, as well as weaving and piercing motifs. Where do these methods come from?

YZ: When I used found objects to make assemblage work, I liked lamp shades, because of their rhythmic repetition. Same as the foldings on lead, the repetition of the form creates a rhythm, which is as simple as the rhythm of a heartbeat or as that of a breath, which is accompanied by emotional changes.

Weaving, piercing and sewing are common methods in needlecraft. I like these methods because they create district textures, mini spaces and structures. When a material, for example wire, weaves through multiple layers of a structure, in and out, up and down, my hands and eyes follow these movements and the space through which the material moved, felt as big as the universe.

4. Closure

Yi Zhang, Closure, lead, wire, nail, 6.5 x 10.5 x 14 inches, 2016

RR: It’s been only two years since your graduate thesis show.  How does it feel to be having solo exhibitions?  Do you create your sculptures as individual pieces and then curate them into a coherent show or do you think about the larger body of work as a whole and then begin to develop the individual works?

YZ: It is the second show I have at John Davis Gallery, the first one was in the back gallery in 2014. This is the first one I have at the front gallery. I really appreciate that John entrusted me with,  and provided for me this wonderful space. It is so beautiful that it pressured me to live up to its expectations.

When I work, I like to respect the material and talk to it. The making process is like to capture some moments between the various materials and my emotions in response to them. I work on different substances, leave them all on the floor of my studio. I try to keep open the wellspring of potentialities that tends to emerge from any material  or structure and its combination with others, until the “moment” creates a surprising story, the final form. I can never predict the course my work might take, nor its final form,  neither am I interested in that. I am after the bigger concept, which is the meaning of the material.

In order to curate the show and install the work I need to feel the space and the walls, to let the sculptures work with the space and tell their story in a specific way.

In this show John Davis was very helpful in this regard, as he said he is really familiar with the space and knows his walls. He helped me to decide the varying heights and distances for each piece, in order give the overall show a feeling of movement. We installed some works on the first floor where it is a more open and public space. Those works’ structures are referencing  relatively closely nature. On the ground floor, the space feels more private. There we installed those kinds of works, which more closely reference  the human body.

lotus leave

Yi Zhang, Lotus Leaf, lead, leather, horse hair, steel, wire, 23 x 8 x 6 inches, 2016

 RR: What are some of your favorite memories from your time at the Studio School that still influence your practice today?

 YZ: When I studied at the New York Studio School, I worked with Bruce Gagnier in the morning drawing class and with Garth Evans in the afternoon clay sculpture class. Both used a life model. Although these two masters had very different perspectives and styles in their arts, I did find similarities. They both asked me to change the figure constantly. In the beginning I did not understand, because my realistic technique was good enough to finish a figure quickly and to make it resemble quite closely the model. Then, after seemingly endless times of changing,  I realized that the goal had never been to  make a figure that looks like, or attempts to account for all the facts of the model. The process of creating, working with or without a model, was always a journey. What they tried to teach me was to let myself be thrown into this adventure, to keep searching the infinite mystery of form and its meaning. This is still crucial in my studio practice today.

Work from Yi’s Thesis Exhibition at the New York Studio School.

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NYSS Drawing Marathon Summer 2016

Written by Eileen Hsu, Marathon Student, Summer 2016.  Originally published here.


Cave Paintings in Lascaux, France. Image Courtesy Atala of France.

My God, where do I begin?

Perhaps 20 years ago to the first time when I attended the Drawing Marathon at the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting, and Sculpture. As a mere bud of an artist, I was unprepared for the depth and length of concentration that the workshop demanded: For the first half of June, it lasted two weeks at 12 hours per day of drawing and critique, with studies of master paintings during the weekend in between. The program is more structured today but the intensity has not changed.

My initial experience at NYSS was no more triumphant than a flail but I knew that this program was important, deep, and transformative, even if it hadn’t been for me to grasp on the first go-around. I had not given up. Fast forward decades to today, I felt an irrepressible hunger pang for it again, with a visceral certainty that this time, the light bulbs would not remain dim, but illuminate, like the Sheila Klein streetlamps of Santa Monica.

Logic may be a frenemi but intuition has always been my fairy godmother. Securing the two weeks of vacation from my employer and finding a kind offer of lodging from my high school classmate Tami, I headed to 8 West 8th Street, NYC.


View of the Drawing room

The school boasts large and small ateliers flooded with luxurious, diffused, natural light. And that’s the extent of its opulence. Scrappy in an unapologetic way, the NYSS is all-business when it comes to the matter of drawing, at least. In fact, it was the home of the original Whitney Museum and the institution itself conceived by Mercedes Matter, Herbert Matter’s better half. With the Whitney’s most recent incarnation in Chelsea as a megalithic stack of glass windows and jutting metal patios, the original stands as a starting point for measure. The Whitney’s evolving manifestations could well symbolize the burgeoning of an artist herself, from a modest but stalwart seedling to an eventually glorious bloom. And both would share the same site of origin.


Thirty-some participants from all over the world, ranging from professional artists, to full-time students from NYSS and other schools, to graphic designers, to photographers, to art educators, and to a civil engineer convened to partake of what NYSS had to offer in a compact and brief moment. Every art school has a philosophy and a vision of what constitutes art. To me, NYSS focused on drawing as an offering of epiphany as a “documentation” of personal investigation and discovery through the great and highly-wrought tradition of drawing.

We used 90-lb cold press paper and layered drawing upon drawing and paint upon drawing. Plus erasures, the buildup was thick and rich. The heavily worked surface seemed to be the site of confrontation between artist and perceptual thought.

The mornings started promptly at 9AM. We started trickling in with a caffeine-induced wakefulness at 8:32AM or so. Ava, whose easel and shelf were next-door to mine, fueled up on dark chocolate like a vitamin or energy drink. I chewed on my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, in that same shared silence, which, from appearances, seemed passive and dormant, but inside, all pistons had begun firing and the cylinders had begun to accelerate their churn. As the models took their positions, the staccato of staple guns affixing huge sheets of paper onto boards on metal easels broke the silence and then the soft whispers of vine charcoal stroking the rough paper surface ensued.


Line Drawing by Eileen Hsu

Making work and critiquing it alternated in multi-hour blocks with a 1-hour lunch break in between. The day’s work would often end when the rest of New York City was preparing for bedtime. Sometimes, we’d end by 8PM. But it was never grueling and never burdensome. Many of us had devoted our annual vacation time from our full-time jobs to do this. And it was so good to commune with others who had similar interests and drive. Feedback from my new friends was thoughtful and direct. I tried to reciprocate.

For concepts and inspiration in the realm of drawing, Graham Nickson, Dean of NYSS, shared the works of old Venetian and Dutch masters, noting their compositional strategies in story-telling and spatial creation. When in doubt of one’s work, Graham advised to go back to study the work of the masters.


Titian’s work was often a source of analysis. As was Nicolas Poussin’s.  Also Pieter Bruegel’s paintings and drawings. Below is his Bee Keepers and the Birdnester (1568).


Pieter Bruegel, Bee Keepers and the Birdnester (1568)

As a group exercise, we gridded Bruegel’s Peasant Wedding (1567), to analyze the composition of each component as an independent image.

Then we cut the entire into squares and we each drew one grid square on a separate sheet in charcoal. Finally, we recomposed it in the big lecture hall, The Whitney Room.


The total piece disintegrated a bit only because each of us draw so differently, that the eye had difficulty amalgamating all squares into one whole. The variety of styles created a speed bump for the reading at the same time that it also provided a new interest absent from the original. This joyous, boisterous occasion that Bruegel caught and freeze-framed took on a new life through our group interpretation. The micro-spaces of negative space (or “Golden Space” as Graham rephrases it) as well as the pathways for the eye were different in our rendition than in the original.


Pieter Bruegel, Peasant Wedding (1567)

And it does boil down to the meaning of the mark of the hand, like those of the earliest people. On the second day of the first week, Graham showed to us photocopies of the ancient cave paintings in Lascaux, France. These included the emphatically outlined and blown paint images of the mutilated hands, as well as the bison — two very important, very cherished things. They are rendered with deference, passion and visual awareness of their forms. These also exhibited an understanding of space, movement, and composition, leading me to believe that this knowledge of drawing is a primal one, that we somehow lose or erode and need to reteach ourselves.

And we each painted our active hand too, like our ancestors of Lascaux, as an homage to humanity and the limb that we use the most to inter-relate between our internal and external worlds. Then we drew the model’s hand.

And then we drew all the activity surrounding it. From this exercise, Graham impressed upon us the relational inter-connection that underlies all drawing.

Fran O’Neill, visiting artist faculty and abstract painter, and Katie Ruiz, painter, also guided us through the marathon, with one-on-one comments and provocations that counterbalanced Graham broader historical references and allegorical statements. Each day featured 2-3 models and some simple props on a stage in the center of the room.

While no shortage of drawing insights, some of the standouts for me were: “You might start to wonder what is beautiful or what is ugly. And you think about it more and discover the thing that is ugly might be the most beautiful.” I loved that.


Drawing by Eileen Hsu

While we also studied other a variety of other artists workings, such as Max Beckmann, Montaigne, Gideon Bach, Stanley Spencer, Henri Matisse, Signac, Giorgione, and Giorgio Morandi. In the critiques, every participating artist’s work was reviewed by all, pinned up on the giant wall with nearly 80 eyes and 40 minds considering it. Graham made a point to say:

“Change your thinking and not your mark-making. Changed thinking will automatically change your marks.”

With this one, we drew each 22″ x 30″ tiled sheet separately. After completing nine of them, we recomposed them to form whole. Not everything lined up. It created unexpected charms and possibilities.


Drawing by Eileen Hsu

This one was a 4 feet x 4 feet sheet in which we explored the idea of eye movement through a pictured space, pathways, and staircases, as the case was in mine. How do you invite the eye to tour a space, browse in corners and stroll along edges?



Drawing by Eileen Hsu

Next, this model setup was inspired by the Beekeepers by Bruegel. I tried to convey a sense of depth and a journey for the eye. I have the tendency to draw a lot of the background and not edit out elements, when a leaner image might deliver a more powerful message. Graham often talked about the “Pictorial Subject” of a piece. Sometimes it is clear and the artist knows what its is from the outset. Other times, it emerges over the course of the work. And in the most unfortunate cases, it is vague, under-developed, unaware. We would point this out for each other, talk about sub-themes too, and identify the drawing methodology that either advanced or hindered these ideas.


Drawing by Eileen Hsu


A group of artists’ works hung for a critique in the Whitney Studio.

Graham was also keen at finding “visual echoes” of a shape repeated elsewhere in the drawing in a different context. For example, a fabric fold might repeat the form of an arm. Or a cloud might look like both a cloud and the head of the model. A conscious awareness of visual rhetoric, plus the artist’s own subconscious yearning, combined to help to forge a memorable image.


Drawing by Eileen Hsu

We produced about five times more drawings than what you see here. These are only highlights. The cognizance and momentum built up from such a training has deeply altered the way that I draw. It also jump-started my desire to keep drawing, which I need to keep up. The inter-connection of all space — negative spaces, visual pathways, line quality, tonal range, attention to the corners of the picture plane, noting what is in the center, metaphorical translations, abstraction of tertiary subjects in the service of the primary — became the over-arching theme of this particular Drawing Marathon. Each iteration of this event is a new shade, so some participants come back over and over again, like me!

As we packed up our supplies and drawings at the end of the two weeks, Fran advised us not to discard our drawings. She said, look at them later and they will make sense and be valuable to you.


Drawing by Eileen Hsu


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Philip Guston: Painting Revealed

By Carlo D’Anselmi, MFA 2015



Untitled, 1962, Oil on canvas, 167.64 x 185.42 cm / 66 x 73 in, Photo Courtesy of Hauser & Wirth

Striking unease, ponderous reflection of self, and an acute consciousness of two indelible aspects of painting haunt the works at Hauser & Wirth (Philip Guston: Painter 1957-1967). These works are brilliant pieces from the journey of Philip Guston, a man simultaneously amazed with and anguished by the act of painting.

These particular paintings were made at a time after Guston’s career had already taken flight alongside his fellow New York City abstract expressionists. His unease at the loss of figurative imagery in the painting at that time with which he had so much success eventually led his own work down deeply conflicted avenues. This conflict is the crux of the group at Hauser & Wirth. 


Portrait I, 1965, Oil on canvas 173.7 x 198.1 cm / 68 3/8 x 78 in, Photo courtesy of Hauser & Wirth

The show gives a fantastic sense of the thought process in the paintings from room to room. The more colorful, perhaps flatter paintings of the late fifties spar with a starker patchwork palette, to forms more interloping and bodily in the early sixties. By 1965, as the show moves further, Guston’s paintings have changed massively. The scale is bigger, though the paintings fit easily in Hauser & Wirth’s generous space. In the paintings, masses loom out of the hazy blacks and greys, suggesting heads, ghosts, smoke, rocks, primordial clay. Figuration seems to be writhing out of his process itself, bound up in the paint: lost, found, and lost again. Suppressed hints of his earlier colors hide dramatically behind overwhelming, muscular, sensitive, dark.  


Untitled, 1967, Brush and ink on paper, 46 x 58.7 cm / 18 1/8 x 23 1/8 in, Photo courtesy of Hauser & Wirth

The drawings, which Guston made between 1966 and 1967, are hung at the back wall of the gallery. These, made during the years before he began his late figurative paintings, are his next step after the paintings in the show. These are simple yet profound marks in ink and charcoal. Repetitions, suggestions, allusions; a hint of what would be next in his career. 

 The show at Hauser & Wirth is a must see, and is up until July 29th. The sheer amount of work is fantastic, combining gracefully to reveal moments in the life of one of the greatest painters in the twentieth century. It is an endless revelation.


Vessel, 1960, Oil on panel, 76.5 x 55.6 cm / 30 1/8 x 21 7/8 in, Photo courtesy of Hauser & Wirth



Alchemist, 1960 Oil on canvas 154.9 x 171 cm / 61 x 67 3/8 inches Photo courtesy of Hauser & Wirth

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Exuberance on Paper: The Drawings of Gaston Lachaise

New York Studio School Gallery                                                                                         Exhibition Dates: March 21 – April 24, 2016


Installation View

“The Lachaise Foundation is pleased to present from its collection a selection of never-before-published drawings of Gaston Lachaise, which make their debut in the historic buildings of the New York Studio School, the site of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s studio and the first Whitney Museum (1931). The Studio School has, since its inception under Mercedes Matter and for the last 27 years under Dean Graham Nickson, placed great importance on the art of drawing. That Lachaise drawings have returned to the walls of the first Whitney, now a school for artists, is magical.

These elegant drawings, which have “the same flow of movement, the same serene power as his stones,” to quote Gilbert Seldes, should transport whoever stands within these hallowed halls, to a place of pure art. Lachaise never taught, believing he could not teach what should come naturally. Yet in these drawings lies his teaching.”
– Paula Hornbostel

GL2 (2)

Seated Nude, Horizontal, Right Hand on Hip, Left Holding Veil, c. 1932-34 pencil and black ink


Installation View



GL10 copy

Installation View



Installation View

IMG_6480 copy

Opening Reception March 24, 2016

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Opening Reception March 24, 2016

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Opening Reception March 24, 2016

IMG_6555 copy

Opening Reception March 24, 2016

IMG_6578 copy

Opening Reception March 24, 2016

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Peter Rippon/ Royal Academy Travel Award: Martin Dull

NYSS Graduate Martin Dull shares his experience as recipient of the PETER RIPPON/ROYAL ACADEMY Travel Award.


“The Grid” (diptych), 2015, acrylic and enamel spray paint on canvas,       40″x 60″


Martin in his North Jersey studio


In May 2015 I received the Peter Rippon/Royal Academy Travel Award from the New York Studio School. I knew this honor would be a milestone in my artistic practice. I was unaware, however, that this pilgrimage would prove to be absolutely transformative.


“Lapith and Centaur” inspired by the Elgin Marbles in London

During my graduate studies I was exposed to the world of plasticity. I spent countless hours studying the masters, forming guided tastes and opinions, trying to develop my own voice inside the language of painting, drawing, and sculpture.

When I went to Europe, I confronted the masterpieces I studied. It opened my eyes. I experienced, on a visceral level, everything that I spent so long drilling into my head. All of a sudden the shapes I was taught to analyze spoke to my heart and soul. I was privy to one of humanity’s greatest gifts and secrets. It was the culmination of years of thorough training.


“The Judgment” sketch made mid-travels while in Berlin.

The greatest masters had an overwhelming sense of style, but something else was evident. They were all linked by an abstract aesthetic sensibility—plasticity. It linked all the masterpieces to one source, one language. I believe we are all capable of sensing this plastic universe. But, like anything we are capable of, it requires training the eye and exercising the mind.

While travelling I began keeping an impromptu log of my journey through Instagram (@mgdull) and Facebook (martin.dull). I made it a point to post photographs of artworks that spoke directly to my sensibility. I realized that my experience was too powerful to keep to myself. In fact, I am still posting these images today.

Art truly has the power to enlighten minds. This enlightenment has the capability of crossing all borders and cultures. The plastic arts have an extreme potential that wants to be discovered. Thank you New York Studio School, The Royal Academy, Peter Rippon, and Dean Graham Nickson for affording me this opportunity.


“Stairway to Heaven,” 2016, acrylic on canvas, 12″x 9″


A self-portrait inspired by my travels.


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Prince Street Gallery Exhibition

On the occasion of the Prince Street Gallery 8th National Juried Exhibition, curated by Dean Graham Nickson, we asked participating artists who are also Alumni: How does your work in this exhibition connect with or build upon the experiences and influences you gained at the New York Studio School?

The Exhibition is on view February 2-February 27, 2016.


Aaron Swindle, D.P.J 2013, watercolor on paper, 22″x 30″

Aaron Swindle: The experience at NYSS was invaluable. It provided me with space and time to rediscover myself as an artist, to be emotionally attuned to my natural temperaments, re-define my convictions, and rebuild confidence moving forward pursuing my creative purpose. Without the established studio practice that began in NYSS, exposure to the wonderful work of faculty, and the experience of the intensive marathons, I would not have not been pushed to create watercolors nor establish my continued exploration with them. These practices led directly to the production of watercolor works between 2010-2014, which includes my recent painting showing at the Prince Street Gallery, “D.P.J. 2013” from 2013.


Leah Raab, Fortress Study, acrylic on canvas, 14″ x 11″

Leah Raab: My recent paintings depict my feelings of displacement and relocation. Paintings of significant and familiar scenes reflect internal tension: seemingly tranquil landscapes overlaid with a sense of impending danger that might explode at any moment.

NYSS taught me to truly perceive the scenes that I wanted to capture. My work has become more representational and my color combinations more unconventional.


Carlo D’Anselmi, Double Bassist, mixed media on canvas, 24″ x 18″

Carlo D’Anselmi: The New York Studio School taught me many things, but above all, how to be an artist. The painting was made while working outdoors, at a farm in upstate New York. I realized at this point I had enough influences in my head that I could afford to ignore a few of them, and that this was certainly a valuable lesson.


Linda Bail, oil on board, 10″x8″

Linda Bail: My experiences at the NYSS have taught me that “painting is not therapy.”  When I am planning a composition, whether it is in my studio or plein air; or deciding on my values or mixing colors; or applying the paint and then finally realizing that the value is wrong, then, reluctantly, scraping it out,  I am always thinking.   It is exhausting mentally and physically.

What I do know is that I have a great grounding from the NYSS to help me figure it out.


Åsa Schick, Harmony, 2015, acrylic, onestrike filler and oil on paper & wood, 36″x 30.5″

Åsa Schick: This painting was created at a time when I was highly frustrated, felt totally stuck and did not know what to do, or how to move forward. This is the second painting in this series. My experience at NYSS taught me to not quit and to explore new and inventive ways to make a painting work.

I had a general idea of where the position of the head and figure should be and an approximate idea of the size of the figure in relation to the space around it. When the sculpting material had dried, I used tools to take away excess and also applied more in order to create form in space and to create rhythm— I made a lot of corrections. I used oil paint on top of the acrylic paint and I aimed to try to create a harmony in the color. I hope the painting feels bold, unpredictable and mystic, with a sense of poetry.


Margaret Leveson, Along the East Branch, oil on panel, 14″x 18″

Margaret Leveson: The many hours spent drawing from the figure taught me how to structure space, the push and pull of lines and forms. I also worked with Leyland Bell and Harry Kramer in the painting studios and with Sidney Geist in sculpture. All classes were from life. I liked the long hours spent in direct work.


Eli Slaydon, A Choir, 2015, oil on canvas,            14″ x 11″

Eli Slaydon: The painting “A Choir,” which was included in the 2016 Prince Street Gallery Juried Exhibition, is a direct result of a process of painting that developed during my experience at NYSS. It belongs to a series of work that I have continued since I graduated from the school in 2012.

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Hohenberg Travel Prize: Sarah King

Sarah King MFA 2015 was one of our Hohenberg Travel Award recipients of 2015. We asked her to share with us her experience. 

Join us for The Hohenberg Exhibition Opening Reception with works by Sarah King and Katie Ruiz, January 14, 2016, 6-8 pm, at the New York Studio School.


Sarah King, Seeking Lions, Parque Madrid, Gouache on Aquaboard, 12″ x 6″



Sarah King, Saint Micheal Transcription, El Prado, Madrid, Pen and Ink, 7″x 5″

Words cannot express how deeply grateful I am to have been awarded the Hohenberg Travel Prize. This award has had a profound impact on my art and has been one of the most important experiences of my life.

The Hohenberg Scholarship allowed me to travel throughout Spain for seven weeks. I began my trip in the South and traveled throughout Andalusia.  I studied the Islamic art and Architecture throughout the region and I was particularly impressed by the azulejos (tiles) that covered the buildings. I was drawn to the Mesquita in Cordoba, with its rhythmic arches and roman columns. I painted at every location, focusing on the landscape and specific light of each place. My favorite place was Ubeda, which was a small Renaissance town that was up in the mountains.


Painting in Ubeda

After traveling throughout Andalusia I spent five weeks in Madrid. My apartment was located in the Plaza de Santa Ana which was an 8 minute walk to all the major museums. I learned that the godfather theme song was the siren song of all the street musicians and it echoed throughout the stone walls within the Plaza.

I went to the Prado every day, painted in Ritero Park, and saw a variety of retrospectives. The retrospective that had the greatest impact on me was the Bonnard exhibit at the Mapfre foundation. It was so breathtaking I shed a few tears. In the Prado I was truly moved by the paintings of Velasquez, Murillo, Rubens, Bosch, Goya, and Titian, just to name a few. I was so energized creatively from being at these exhibitions that I ended up painting into the early hours of the morning.


Detail of Bonnard mural painting, Mapfre foundation, Madrid

While traveling and looking at the large scale works of Titan and Ruebens I began to imagine how and what I would paint that would echo both the masterpieces that had such an impact on me and tell my story of my own mythological figure.

Since returning from Spain I have embarked on creating large scale drawings and paintings based on a female biblical archetype that is not well known. These paintings will be based on the story of Lilith, who supposedly was Adam’s first wife, based on the book of Geneses I. She has often been seen as the world’s first feminist icon and has been a misunderstood figure throughout history. I am using the landscapes I have painted from life for the backdrop of these scenes, the sculptures and paintings I saw in Spain to inspire the subject matter, while using the paintings of the great Masters such as Rubens, Titian, Goya, and Velasquez for the structure.

I am so honored to have had this opportunity to travel throughout Spain. This trip has truly shaped my creative life and it is an experience that I will forever cherish.


Sarah King, Lilith Slaying Eve’s Serpent, Charcoal on Paper, 60″ x 36″


Sarah King, Blue Trees, Seeking Lions, Madrid, Gouache on Aquaboard, 7″ x 21″


Sarah King, Retiro Afternoon, Madrid, Gouache on Aquaboard, 18″ x 6″

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Hohenberg Travel Award: Katie Ruiz

Katie Ruiz MFA 2015 was one of our Hohenberg Travel Award recipients of 2015. We asked her to share with us her experience. 

Join us for The Hohenberg Exhibition Opening Reception with works by Sarah King and Katie Ruiz, January 14, 2016, 6-8 pm, at the New York Studio School.

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Katie Ruiz, The Dreamer and the Dream, Oil on Canvas, 30″ x 40″


Katie Ruiz, Rachel and Jon, Oil on Canvas, 11″ x 14″

As the recipient of the Hohenberg travel scholarship I decided to travel to Paris. I stayed near Luxenburg Garden and walked all through the city every day. I purchased a 4 day museum pass which I highly recommend as it allows you to skip the lines and go directly into the museum.  I started my art journey at the modern art museum the Pompidou. The high-tech architecture was stunning I took the escalator to the top and saw the view of the whole city. I enjoyed the works by Matise, Basquiat, Dubuffet, Cy Twombly, Francis Bacon and others. I learned about a new painter whose work I enjoyed very much by the name of Adrian Ghenie. His painting “Pie Fight Interior” was a big inspiration for me.

Next I went to the Louvre and saw the new light work by artist Claude Lévêque. He created a red neon light travelling down the center of the large pyramid. Inside the Louvre my favorite paintings were the Leonardo Di Vinci pieces, besides the Mona Lisa of course which is wonderful to see but difficult to enjoy with all the crowds. I enjoyed the room of small very old 1300s paintings by Ambroginio Lorenzetti. I took a travel watercolor set with me to Paris and painted the Louvre at night. I did a small painting each day in different parts of the city.


Watercolor by Katie Ruiz of Louvre at night with light work by artist Claude Lévêque

The next day I went to the Musée d’Orsay. This was a highlight of the trip for me because I got to see a few paintings I have had hanging in my studio for years as a reference. I was so excited by many of the paintings in the Musée d’Orsay. On the top on my list was a Vuillard painting called “In bed” which depicts a person sleeping in their bed in calm Naples yellow colors with blue light. Another one of my favorite paintings I saw was “The bed” (1893) by Toulouse Lautrec and also Van Gogh’s painting “The bedroom” (1889). All of these were pieces I was studying when I was starting my blanket paintings last year at the NYSS. Other paintings I was excited to see were Manet’s “Olympia” and Courbet’s “Origin of the Universe,” Renoir’s “Bal du Moulin de la Galette” (1876). When I left the Musée d’Orsay I sat along the Seine and painted the bridge and the water.


Édouard Vuillard, In Bed, 1891


Toulouse Lautrec, The Bed, 1893

On the fourth day I went to the Musée Rodin. Unfortunately the main museum was closed but some of the sculptures were out and the garden was open. I spent the morning drawing from Rodin’s Thinker in the garden. I walked through the gardens and made quick paintings from the sculptures. It was invigorating and inspiring.


Drawing from Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker at Musée Rodin

Later that day I went to Musée l’Orangerie to see the Monet murals. When I walked into the room of Monet murals chills flooded through my body and tears welled up in my eyes. I have never in my life seen anything so beautiful. It was one of the best moments of my life. Every day I was in Paris I encountered a painting that brought tears to my eyes. I saw art and architecture I have only ever seen in pictures in books I have studied and memorized and transcribed.

In the Musée l’Orangerie I also really enjoyed the room of Chaïm Soutine Paintings. There was a large selection of the bird paintings that were gut wrenching and raw. I love his brush strokes of thick paint and bright reds with blue grays.

That night the galleries were open late to the public because FIAC art fair was going on. My friend Françoise and I went to several galleries. It was wonderful to see what is going on in the Paris art world and meet some gallery owners and artists. We went to Galerie Perrotin and saw new paintings by Hernan Bas and hyper realistic sculptures by Pierre Paulin.


Katie’s Watercolors from Paris

The rest of the weekend was spent going to FIAC held at the Grand Palace to look at modern art at the France International Art Convention. I saw many artists I like very much such as George Condo, Louis Bourgeois, Sigmar Polke, Leon Golub and many more. Officielle was another part of FIAC held at Les Docks- Cité de la mode et tu Design. We took a boat along the Seine to get there. Officielle was filled with many gallery booths from Paris, Berlin, Los Angeles, New York, and Mexico.

I spend the last morning drawing from Notre Dame and doing some sight seeing at the Eiffel tower. In the concord and all around the city there were sculptures and interactive art up for FIAC.


Katie plein air painting at Notre Dame

This trip has been a true gift. My world has been expanded and I feel inspired to create new paintings from all of the knowledge I have gained from this experience.


Katie Ruiz, The Waiting Room, Oil on Canvas, 24″x 18″


Katie Ruiz, Different Paths you and I but we share the same sky, Oil on Canvas, 84″ x 48″

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Student Perspectives: Sophy Lee

Sophy Lee, second year MFA student, shares with us her Studio School experience.


Sophy Lee in the Parlor Studio

In three short years, I have been through a transformation.  Since joining the New York Studio School, I have grown through formal training from observation and transcriptions of masterpieces, independent studio time, and individualized critiques.  My work has changed so much from the very beginning when I started my enrollment even though I have a Bachelor in Art.  My work has become compositionally relational in terms of color, mark making, and the overall placement, and my figurative work has become proportional and compelling.




Coming from a conceptual background with limited hours of working from life, I treasure the precious time of being able to work with models. The school promotes intensive drawing practice that guides us to a strong and mature body of work.  I believe that traditional training in drawing is fundamental to be a professional painter because painting starts from drawing.  Having a good understanding of the anatomy of the human body and the underlying structure of master works strengthens my skills in creating compositions that are applicable to both figurative and abstract work.  My previous work was primarily thematic, but my recent work is conceptual and aesthetically in harmony. The New York Studio School has changed my perspective on viewing and executing art with dignity, and incorporating drawing skills into my process.


Sophy during the Drawing Marathon

The Studio School community is small, specific, and intimate, allowing me to connect with my peers and faculty.  The faculty is experienced and the program is very adaptable. Because of the size of the school, it is not difficult to form close relationships with the faculty.  They are accessible and helpful, and are always open for critiques, advice, and professional development.

The Studio School also promotes a strong studio practice, instilling in me that quality time in the studio is essential to art execution.  I am trained to be comfortable to work in the studio as much as possible every day without losing enthusiasm.  I am now more familiar with my work and routine.  My decisions are more deliberate without rushing.  I put the best of me in every artwork.

Although I am an international student, I do not feel isolated.  The Studio School is multi-cultural, and encourages and welcomes international students to join and participate in their programs. The school also understands the financial difficulty of international students, and provides them with financial support.  As a result, I am able to study abroad regardless of my financial situation.


Training from observation, the one-on-one teaching structure, and the close studio environment, has allowed me to learn effectively and with direct individual advice and feedback from the community. This is my last year studying in the school, but I will keep the momentum going after graduation. I am confident that I am able to survive in the art world and work independently in the studio based on all the education I received from the New York Studio School.  I will continue to draw and paint, and pursue my career as an artist.


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A Look Inside “Kongo: Power & Majesty” with Curator Alisa LaGamma

by Rachel Rickert, NYSS Recruitment Coordinator

Dean Graham Nickson of the New York Studio School and his painting students were invited to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s current Exhibition “Kongo: Power & Majesty” for a tour by Curator Alisa LaGamma, Curator in Charge of the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. Thoroughly and with great care, LaGamma led the students through the exhibition of art produced in Africa’s Kongo Civilization, between the 15th and 19th century. The work shows the responses of regional artists to major historical developments, bringing them in contact with the western world.
LaGamma explained the introduction to the exhibition, where west and east met, starting with a monument from the Portuguese explorer Diago Cão’s ship. The lime stone pillar marked with the sign of the Portuguese Crown was planted at the mouth of the Congo River and marks the start of trade between the Kongo and Europe. Across from the pillar is a white elephant tusk carved in the form of a trumpet, with bands of intricate abstract patterning spiraling up the form. The spiral is not just decorative, but as LaGama explains, in western African Religion stands as a visual metaphor for the trajectory the soul takes when it leaves the body. This piece was commissioned by a Kongo King and presented as a gift to Pope Leon X, who was a Medici Pope, and Rafael’s great patron. This piece is the first work by an African Artist to end up in a European collection.


Kongo Oliphant with reflection of Standard of Saint Augustine (Portuguese Pillar) at entrance to the exhibition

As the group of students moved from room to room, LaGamma illuminated the historical backdrop that led to the creation, use, and trade of the objects and sculptures. The exhibition combines rare artifacts, gathered together for the first time, and is also the first time curators sought to identify individual artists’ hands. Through delicate loom made Raffia-palm fiber textiles and elaborate carved ivory, LaGamma highlighted the “lavish, inventive geometric covering of surfaces” that is a part of the visual language of Kongo Artistry from antiquity to the 19th century .

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Also included in the exhibition are artifacts commissioned by Kongo leaders, insignias of Power. Staffs with beautiful miniature sculptural elements at the top, often in ivory, are displayed next to textile crowns and capes. The exhibit is structured as a layered experience, where the beautiful refinements of the delicate staff toppers are juxtaposed with the aggressive larger power figures. LaGamma described the underlying beauty of the small figures as “undeniable,” while the power figures are “more complicated to understand aesthetically.”


Carved Kongo Staff Finial

Soon after Cão went to Africa, Christopher Columbus discovered the new world, which led to the rush to develop new empires and the need to for labor. Despite the promising beginning of communication between West Africa and the East, soon people were displaced and brought to the Americas. The local leaders’ participation in slavery spiraled out of control and became a huge destabilizing force in this region in the 17th century.
Masks used for healing and intervention in times of social crisis are painted with the colors of Kongo Art. LaGamma explained the Kongo Color palette to the Studio School students: White, the absence of color, the color of bones, representing ancestors; Red, the color of transformation and vitality; and Black, the color of the living. Next to the masks are elaborate figurative vessels for medicine, and sculptures for burial sites.


Curator Alisa La Gamma

The exhibition concludes with two ideas of Kongo power and their visual representations. In the 19th century, the Kongo culture began addressing the depleted population and the urgency to rebuild and fortify with an incredible output of artists creating female figures. Women needed to take on leadership roles to save communities, and these sculptures emphasize the restorative influence of women and the ideal of female power supporting an entire society.


Female Power Figures

In these small female power sculptors, LaGamma has identified two hands. The “Master of the Boma-Vonde Region,” whose work is characterized with a softness and tender intimacy, and the “Master of Kasadi,” whose style is more experimental, and plays with the interpretation of the female figure and secondary child or male figure.
Adjacent to the Kongo Female Power is the Nkisi N’Kondi: Mangaaka, instruments of Law and Order, coming out of the mid-19th century pressures. The imposing male figures represent an abstract force of Law & Order, imposing vessels. They are collaborations between the artists who sculpt the figures, the priests who add the sacred materials to the containers on their stomachs, and the people in the landscape of conflict whose leaders add the metal protruding nails, that symbolized an agreement or the end of a dispute. LaGamma has gathered 15, most of the remaining Mangaaka Sculptures, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for this powerful exhibition. By bringing all these sculptures together for the first time, LaGamma and her team were able to debunk the theory that they were created by a single artist, pointing out how they are actually the hands of different sculptors.


Power Figure (Nkisi N’Kondi: Mangaaka)

The trip to the Metropolitan Museum with curator Alisa LaGamma allowed the Students of the Studio School an intimate insight into the “Kongo: Power & Majesty” Exhibition that was truly an unforgettable experience. This exhibition of rarely seen together artistic and historical treasures is on view through January 3rd, 2016.


Power Figure (Nkisi N’Kondi: Mangaaka)


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