Gestures and Mazes
A conversation between Orr Herz and Brian Robertson on their recent exhibition Hollowforms at CES Gallery, facilitated by Meghan Gordon, Associate Director.
Meghan Gordon: When we were hanging the show, when all the work was unpacked, I think we had, you know, a moment.
Brian Robertson: Oh yeah, I definitely did. I felt very positive, especially when I saw that back room. Orr’s piece was on the wall, our two flat works [Race Track Man, 2014 and Schism, 2016] were facing each other, and there was such a nice conversation. There was something there.
MG: Yeah, that’s a pretty nice spot in the show.
Orr Herz: Yeah!
BR: The objects in my work sort of anthropomorphize and here they face an image of a person and this narrative of cars just running, running around all the time. It’s an infinity loop. There is an air of anxiousness to it and over here [Schism, 2016] is this divided quiet thing. Two energies, but they’re both, you know, conversing like people. And then there is this sculpture [Sleep Handler, 2014] in the middle, this portal through the works.
OH: In your work I sense a lot of energy put into understanding the environments for your objects, which I can relate to. The objects seem symbolic – vases are empty and succulents contain water. They seem to be exact opposites.
BR: Absolutely. They are stand-ins.
OH: And the paintings also have a collage-like quality to them, which adds to a feeling of dislocation.
BR: Speaking of collage, I see a lot of simple forms and shapes and lines in your work, which are juxtaposed with actual objects. The hang-loose phone is pretty rad. It’s got a specific meaning and feeling, it’s so California, and it relates nicely to this jumble. The sculptures are circles, a form that has an innate passivity, but they contain images of hustle bustle. It’s an interesting combination of elements.
OH: But if you take it one element at a time each is a loose end that I am trying to figure out. I’m playing. I started with the hands; I thought about making shadow silhouettes. A flattened silhouette image can represent a hollow way of creating a recognizable sign. These primal hand gestures became an entryway for daily objects from the world. There is a relationship between symbol and fetish that lets you reengage with that object through that idea. I do something with my hands, I associate it with the phone, with the yo-yo, with the guillotine, and so forth.
MG: I’ve been trying to figure out if the images are appropriated or if they are purposefully drawn in different ways. Is digital copy-paste that different from the camera obscura? I think artists’ gravitations to various materials and methods can be quite revealing. It makes sense that you are both working with a digital interface and that you are referencing hand gestures in the era of touch phone devices –
The group laughs.
MG: Yeah! We think about symbol and gesture in such a different way now. When hand gestures became popular again I admit I was kind of surprised.
OH: You were thinking about that?
MG: Oh yeah. Nuanced gesture associated with talking or storytelling seemed like it could have died out if we continued to stay in separate rooms having remote electronic conversations. Gesture is human and personal and happens in person.
OH: And you’re saying a complicated response has become a simple text.
MG: Right, but then to text you, to communicate with simple language, I have to make all these motions, taps and glides with my fingers instead of talking to you.
BR: And the way we talk, the way we use language has changed, too. If you read pre-modern literature, for example, it’s all very formal, even flowery – they were gesturing with words. Now we’ve replaced it with lots of symbols. With texting, it’s so easy to miscommunicate and so we have to embellish it with some symbols to let people know how you are saying what you think.
BR: Yeah definitely. So this work is pretty apt for the times we’re in.
MG: Brian would you mind speaking about your hollow forms and maze forms? I appreciate that you have isolated these things outside of your more complicated paintings. The small paintings of them are moments of stillness, are quite poignant. It’s a powerful gesture in painting.
OH: You mean the object isolated within the gray background?
BR: Yeah, the maze object painting. It’s meaning changes with its context. It’s a very simple maze, the simplest one I could find on the internet. I manipulated it until it seemed familiar or comforting or whatever. It’s hollow and you can get lost in or outside of it. There are areas where it’s flat, areas where it becomes more robust. It’s just taking that idea of confusion and doubling it, tripling down on it, till it’s not a simple maze anymore. It’s a puzzle. It’s meant to make you think.
OH: It took me a while to see that the parts don’t connect.
BR: Oh yeah, but they’re engaged with each other, these two little things. I mean everything is a life metaphor.
MG: This question of maze is interesting because you actually design the walls of a maze, not the space that the person would walk in. What is the maze part and what is the negative space? I imagine this as a coffee table sized object – if I was a small creature, I would experience it by walking through, on, or around the hollow form.
OH: The black holes give it that sense of moving from one end to the other, finding the end, like a tunnel.
MG: It could also function as an alien alphabet character, pictogram, kanji, or something. It’s so calligraphic.
BR: I drew like 40 before I came up with that one. They looked like characters and I abandoned them because they were too recognizable. “I can’t make a T, this can’t look like a mountain.” I work through the process until it generates something neat.
MG: Orr, I thought you might be attracted to these weird maze form things.
OH: Yeah, I’m drawn to the tension between abstractness and recognizable elements. The form reminds me of this wooden labyrinth game where you roll the ball around holes. Suddenly it becomes a toy, it becomes a thing that you want to use, and it happens with a combination of abstract elements like the painted black dot pattern.
BR: I have a really strong association with that object. My grandpa had one. You know, Race Track Man also feels like a toy, too. These two pieces are very related. This room, like I said earlier – when it came together all kinds of weird narrative lines were crossing, running into each other.
OH: Yeah, I guess there is a childhood element.
BR: The cars are so square; they look like toys on a little racetrack.
OH: I like to keep it as simple as possible.
MG: But it’s not that simple, I mean it is at first glance. But look at the way the line width fades out. It’s strange. The cars are too big for the track, one is stuck into the armpit and it can’t move around that angle. It doesn’t make sense, but it makes me feel something and it makes me think.
OH: Spreading the cars around took more time than I thought it would.
BR: Always. Yeah.
MG: Is this a self-portrait? I’ve been wondering that for a while.
BR: They’re all self-portraits!
OH: Maybe it’s a target, which doesn’t disassociate it from self-portrait.
MG: I really love the way that the hand shapes are rendered.
BR: They’re like cauliflower hands.
OH: It’s good to not be too descriptive. I kept it a silhouette, an outer image of a thing; how could its character come about? It’s somebody’s body, which is informative.
BR: I keep thinking it’s a chalk outline. A very general shape you put around someone before you move them.
OH: Yeah. These outlines. An outline really contains a lot of information. It’s expressive.
MG: Brian, you definitely have an appreciation for line.
BR: Absolutely. Many people interested in realism are taught to not work with line. You are taught to use a blunt pencil. You are working with light, more with form. So you don’t sit there and do line. My drawings start out as quick line drawings because it’s all about how it’s being contained, how these shapes are interacting. I’ve been looking at Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock prints; there is so much line. Well-placed line is pretty amazing.
MG: Brian I have one more question for you: while making this work were you thinking about public space and private space?
BR: Not really. I’m from New Mexico. I spent some years in a small town on the border of Texas and it was one of the least populated areas I’ve ever been to. That makes it one of the darkest – you can always see the Milky Way. There was so much space, which for me evokes a freedom of thinking. There is yearning for that in my work, a desire to be in openness. There are ways through it all, there’s a narrative, there’s a way out, or a searching. I think one day I’ll end up in a cabin somewhere.
MG: I can see that. Do we have a final question for Orr?
BR: I’ll just say that these works will always remain curious to me and that’s a good thing.
MG: The Sleep Handlers sculptures feel like technology that’s too old or retro future, like a tube of data with information coded into the drawings, like whatever was inscribed on the Voyager Golden Records shot into space – a bunch of circles and lines and a weird abstract design. There must have been a reason for it to look that way.
BR: Oh yeah!
MG: Or a part of a printer, a piece from a giant machine.
BR: There’s something centrifuge-y or scrolling about it. They remind me of diagrams and how these could be like little information pieces, I thought of those pianos that play themselves, that have circular cards that spin around.
MG: Totally. Cartridges.
OH: They definitely look like they could function; something that can be inserted. When A.L. Steiner, a former teacher of mine, came into my studio for the first time, she asked, “are these glory holes? They are, right?” The shapes are very inviting.
Orr Herz (b. 1980, Tel Aviv, IL) has exhibited in Los Angeles at Night Gallery, 356 Mission, Roberts & Tilton, and Chin’s Push, among other venues. He has exhibited in Israel at Museum of Bat Yam, Braveman Gallery, and Barbur Gallery, among others. Herz received a BA in History from Tel Aviv University, Israel, BFA from Bezalel Academy, Jerusalem, Israel, and MFA from University of Southern California, Los Angeles. His work has recently been reviewed in Artforum. Herz currently lives and works in Los Angeles.
Brian Robertson (b. 1978, Albuquerque, NM) received his BFA from Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. He has participated in group and solo exhibitions at venues including CES Gallery in Los Angeles; BBQLA in Los Angeles; Boulder Contemporary Museum of Art in Boulder, CO; Pirate Gallery in Denver, CO; and Gildar Gallery in Denver, CO. Recent press includes Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, Blouin ArtInfo, Artsy, Six-Inch Art & Literary Magazine, D.O.Z.E. Collective, and L.A. Canvas. Brian Robertson lives and works in Los Angeles.
Meghan Gordon (b. 1985, New York) is a Los Angeles-based artist who creates unusual exhibition contexts in order to foster short, but intensive working relationships with other artists, resulting in hybrid projects with complicated authorship. Gordon's primary platform for this work is her project some times, an itinerant, performative project space that takes the form of a bar. Gordon is also the Associate Director of CES Gallery.