Galleries get the holiday spirit

Elsie Popkin show paired with her daughter's; Artworks features members, and there's humor Sunday, December 17, 2006 By Tom Patterson JOURNAL CoLUMNIST

The late Elsie Dinsmore Popkin was such an influential force on the local arts scene that it's still tough getting used to her absence, even though it's been nearly two years since her death in January 2005.

Because she was such a prolific artist and her vividly colored pastel drawings were so popular, it's not uncommon to run across her work in all sorts of local settings. A show of her art titled "A Vibrant Life" recently went on view in the Sawtooth Center's Milton Rhodes Gallery. Setting it apart from previous exhibits of her work is the fact that all sales proceeds are designated for the Arts Council's new Elsie Dinsmore Popkin Fellowship program, according to Eden Betz, the Arts Council's gallery coordinator. As of last Tuesday, Betz said, the show had raised $66,000 toward a goal of $100,000. The program will finance $5,000 fellowships to be awarded annually to selected artists living in Forsyth County.

This show is also unusual in that it appears alongside a solo exhibition by Popkin's daughter, Spoon Popkin, in the Sawtooth's Eleanor Layfield Davis Gallery. Both shows are on view through Feb. 24.

The cliche "Like mother, like daughter" obviously applies to an extent. Spoon, who lives in Baltimore, takes after her mother in that she excels at drawing her immediate surroundings.

But while Elsie concentrated mainly on drawing realistic views of beautiful landscapes and still-life arrangements, Spoon draws human figures in a spontaneous, expressionistic style. The beauty that interests her is wrapped in the chaos of day-to-day life.

The most compelling part of Spoon's show consists of two installations from a larger series, "The Ballad of Sharon and Zebedee." Both consist largely of unframed works on paper. Wall text explains that they're based on a stash of snapshot photographs that she found, all evidently from a single family.

Most of the individual components are tightly composed close-ups of a woman's face, although one focuses on a pair of hands with long, red-painted nails, gold rings on her fingers and bracelets on her wrists.

A few other images from the two predominantly monochromatic installations incorporate areas of orange, pink and blue-green. Some of the installation's most striking images are voluptuously rendered variations on a close-up photo of two people kissing.

One of the installations incorporates a white-painted portable tape player that people can hear. Spoon found the tape with the photos on which she based these works on paper. But this is the show's least effective element.

The adjacent show of Elsie Popkin's work emphasizes her landscape pastels, many of which depict familiar settings. Because it's a fundraiser and has opened during the holiday season, the Arts Council is allowing buyers to take the works as soon as they're purchased. Works bought and removed from the show are replaced by others being sold to benefit the fellowship program.

These two companion shows are among several exhibitions that have recently opened in downtown Winston-Salem to coincide with the holidays.

Spoon Popkin

Spoon Popkin

At Goucher College's Rosenberg Gallery through April 28

By Robbie Whelan   Baltimore City Paper, April 2006


An artist who works with �found art� is obliged to blur the lines between curator and artiste, which can either diminish the authenticity of his or her exhibitions or broaden his or her capacity for expression, depending on how you look at it. Spoon Popkin's solo show, which spans the past six years of the artist's career and is on display at Goucher College's Rosenberg Gallery, has the latter result on the viewer-her found art gives intelligent yet visceral context to the original, expressive paintings she pairs with it.

The show has four parts, really. The first, placed right in front of the double-doors that lead into the gallery, is a set of 38 black and white charcoal portrait drawings, each about 12 by 15 inches, meant to look like a massive college yearbook (a few of the square spaces say no photo available). All of the faces, dated by a few bouffants on the women and Brylcreemed side parts on the men, are gaunt, with collapsed, high-boned cheeks. Many have sunken Steve Buscemi eyes. A few are just simple outlines of features. It's the graduating class of desolation.

Another wall is lined with old eight-track players painted over in white, perched on pedestals beneath creepy oil paintings of massively up-close children's faces, smiling demonically (these kids are not at all cute). Another wall shows a set of Warholesque stencils of an angry-looking poodle, reprinted and reversed in square boxes with spray paint in different colors.

The meat of the show, however, is the right-hand side of the gallery, where Popkin has placed an entire wall of found art in the midst of her own jarring paintings to create a nightmarish landscape of psychological associations. On the left are a series of watercolors that look like half-completed studies. Fragmented images of statuesque, dismembered torsos, bloated, floating baby faces, and mouths locked in deep kisses are arranged irregularly. All of these images are highly sensual and sexually charged. Popkin's painting has a sense of raw urgency to it, as if these studies, if completed and painted cleanly, would be devoid of emotion.

Adjacent is a wall of found objects. �Rapid Memo� sheets with starkly personal messages (�At 2:30 am Zeb asked to use monique's car after saying that he and I should try harder to help our situation�) hang next to hastily scrawled pleas on a series of pages from a pad advertising Lorabid (a prescription drug used to treat urinary tract infections) that get more frantic as you read each new message: �Your my friend,� �Happy Anniversery,� �Happy Anniversery!!!!!,� �I want you!!!,� �I love you!!!!� There are also several dream diaries describing detailed nightmares, written in impeccable cursive.

These tidbits are joined on the right by a series of 12 large panels that revisit the kissing theme: curvy outlines of chubby faces in black, white, and red, of faces mashed together midkiss. Far away they look like a cloudy sky. Then, to the right of that, the same images of kissing mouths, only blown up by about four times and painted in fleshy reds, peaches, and yellows. These final four kissing panels are the most forthright paintings in the whole show. The mouths, when pressed together, are distorted quite purposefully to look yonic, the lips twisting unnaturally into the shape of labia and clitoris. One panel is even spattered with a dark red over the kissing mouths that cannot be thought of as representational of anything but blood.

Popkin's kind of art is, in many ways, some of the most satisfying. It strikes a perfect balance between what she is trying to say to her viewers and what she wants us to take from it. It's a technique that makes a highly effective use of psychological symbols and sexual overtones. As a sort of retrospective, the show is not comprehensively impressive, but you get the impression of Popkin's dynamic creativity.






The work of Spoon Popkin.


An archeologist studying human existence always begins with found remains or artifacts of a given culture. Artist Spoon Popkin begins her creative process similarly, excavating forgotten objects and collecting them as possible clues into a person's life. Popkin is mostly interested in personal artifacts such as love letters, voice recordings, and snapshots-- items that were once valued, collected, and then mysteriously discarded. Popkin uses art processes such as drawing, painting, and installation to serve as methods of documentation and categorization.

Most of Popkin's drawings are based on snapshots taken by lovers, relatives, or friends, which explains the subject's powerful gaze. Through her process, she investigates the complexity of these relationships and offers the viewer an opportunity to create their own narrative or relationship. Popkin explains her work with her project titled "The Kiss":

"I've been working on this kiss from a found photo for a while now.The pressure between these lovers is so subtle. The slightest adjustment is all the difference you need to transform a tender moment into a situation of domination".

Spoon Popkin is a prolific artist working in Baltimore; this exhibition features a large collection of her works spanning roughly six years.

Jackie Milad, curator, Rosenberg Gallery, Goucher College


Artist Spoon Popkin Showcased in Rosenberg Gallery

Release date: March 06, 2006 .- Jess Bowers

As well known for her prolific repertoire of paintings, drawings, and costumes as she is for her unusual name, Spoon Popkin creates artwork that references found objects, photographs, and other forgotten artifacts of modern culture.

From Monday, March 27 through Friday, April 28, a solo show of Popkin's work will be on display in Goucher College's Rosenberg Gallery. The gallery is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays; call 410-337-6333 for evening and weekend hours.

This solo show spans the last six years of Popkin's career and provides a solid survey of the artist's unusual image-making methods. Instead of relying on traditional brushes, Popkin often employs palette knives, afro combs, airbrush, and cake decorating tips in her painting. Popkin's work suggests a preoccupation with personal artifacts, using art processes such as drawing, painting, and installation to document and categorize forgotten snapshots, love letters, and voice recordings.

A 1990 graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art, Popkin has held residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and at the K�nstlerhaus in Salzburg, Austria. In addition to her Rosenberg Gallery show, she has had solo exhibitions at the K�nstlerhaus, RGB Gallery (New York City), the Garfield Artworks (Pittsburgh), the Creative Alliance (Baltimore), the American Institute of Architects Gallery (Baltimore), and the International Festival of Women in the Arts (Glasgow, Scotland), among others








find art: Painting based on found photographs by Spoon Popkin.

Located on the Avenue in hon-friendly Hampden, the Minas Gallery seems just the place for an exhibit of paintings of poodles. Artist Spoon Popkin based these images on dog photos she found at flea markets, then used retro-looking faded shades of gray, pink, and blue for her airbrush-on-linoleum paintings. Lest you think her artwork has gone to the dogs, she also has a series of tightly cropped and assertively colored human portraits done in a more conventional oil on canvas format. It'll be interesting to see how well these different species get along on the same gallery walls.

                                                                                                                   - Mike Giuliano, Baltimore City Paper


Guests With Gusto

The quality is high among those invited to exhibit at Artworks

By Tom Patterson


"Among the show's several standout paintings is Spoon Popkin's Urban Girl, an expressionistic oil portrait of a young woman with her blond hair tied in a ponytail at the crown of her head. Enlarged four or five times life-size, she's set off against a fiery red and yellow cloudscape that suggests a polluted sky at sunset, and she meets your gaze with a tough-looking, streetwise glare. By virtue of its scale and its straightforwardness, it invites comparison to Alex Katz's work, but where his painting style tends to be decidedly cool, Popkin's is more aggressive, distinguished by hot colors and confident brushstrokes."




SWM: When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

S P: I don't think I can remember that far back. My mom's an artist and my father is a musician so art was always around me. My grandfather was a painter, my great-grandfather and my grandmother as well. It's always been there. I don't think there has ever been any question about it.

SWM: Where did you go to school?

S P: I went to the North Carolina School of the Arts for high school and I went to the

Maryland Institute [MICA] for college.

SWM: Did you always want to be a painter?

S P: Actually, I avoided it for a long time. By the time I left MICA, I was doing costume based performance and installation. I was regarded for my performances as being three dimensional drawings or paintings which is how I described them. Then, I spent about eight years touring in a band. One day I just woke up and knew I had to get back to painting. I could not avoid it any more.

SWM: What have you done to survive?

M S: I have painted some murals for the I have painted some murals for the city of Baltimore and have done a few commissions. I sell some work and I try to keep my work affordable so my friends can buy it. I do barter such as for acupuncture.

SWM: What inspires you?

S P: For my painting, I am inspired by the photographs I find. I find collections, family albums and things. I like the mystery of what goes on in family life - that inspires me.

SWM: Do you have mentors?

S P: For a long time I was feeling devoid of having a mentor. It is really nice to have someone your respect and someone you can ask for guidance. The last couple of years I have been going to the Vermont Studio Center, and there you can meet with the visiting artists. There has actually been a few visiting artists who are people that I knew 15 years ago. Now, that I have gotten to see them again, I realize how much influence they had on me. Seeing them again, I get to pick up little bits of wisdom from them and that has been very helpful.

SWM: How old are you?

S P: 36

SWM: Do you feel you act your age?

S P:No. Last year I was buying a train ticket at the train station. I gave the man my credit card and he was looking at my ID. He asked, `How old are you?' Instantly without batting an eye I said, `25.' He looked at me, and I then said. `35.' He asked if I was sure and apparently I was not. I think 25 is pretty much where I am staying.

SWM: Do you aspire to have your art as " public" art?

M S: Not so much. I think my work is more on a personal scale. I have done a bunch of Tom Miller murals and it's great to see. When I drive past one and I see that people are looking at it, it makes me feel really proud.

SWM: What does success mean to you?

S P: I have two meanings for success. There is success as a business person, doing well financial, but I think more important is a level of personal success. The gratification that I receive from my work will outweigh the labor.

SWM: How has removing yourself from your environment helped you?

S P:I just started doing that a couple of years ago. At first, I didn't think that I needed it. I work at home, have my own studio, and I don't really need more space. Then, I thought I should try it and see what happens. When I went, I could not believe it! It was so fantastic to have a whole group of people around you and all they are doing is working. You are not planning meals or doing anything else. You are just working and talking about art and music. I could not believe the profound affect it had on my work.

SWM: Where have you gone?

M S:I went to an artist colony a couple oftimes. I was teaching assistant at Penland School of Crafts and at night I could do my own work in the studios. I went to Austria for an artist exchange where they gave me a studio in a museum. I have done all kinds of things, but I think the colonies are the best.

SWM: How have you survived being a working artist in Baltimore?

S P: It's fine for me. I do show in other places,but it is a good place because it is really inexpensive. I don't have to be pushing to sell work all the time. At the same time, it is a hard place if you want to live just off the sale of your work.

SWM: Do you have a lot of creative outlets?

S P: Oh, yes. It is ridiculous. When people talk about their hobbies, I don't understand. Why would you do something that does not mean a lot to you? Anything I start doing, I get totally crazy involved in doing. I just made a pop-up book. I became completely obsessed with it. It was my first one, and it was really fun.

SWM:What are some of the things you do to research?

S P: For the pop-up book, I was looking at the ones I had. There is this Robert Sabuda book Alice in Wonder that is insane. At first, I was just looking at books and dissecting them with my mind and then I got a couple books such as The Element of Pop-Up and things that were instruction manuals. They are really incredible. I have never been a big chess player and now I can see why people do it. It is just like chess, you have to be planning all the way to the end step from the very first step or the whole thing is going to fail.

SWM: How often do you do shows?

S P:Last year I had a lot of shows. There was something going on every month, if not twice a month. When you have shows it is almost impossible to do any work. When it is all out there somewhere, you feel uncomfortable and on edge. It is just like you are waiting for your babies to come back. I don't have a problem with people buying my work and getting really sad when it goes away, but you feel strange and vulnerable. Also, it is having to do everything - making the cards, doing the mailings and media things as well as keeping up with everything all the time is a huge amount of work. If you are doing that once or twice a month, that is two weeks gone.

SWM: How does it feel when people invite you to do things?

S P: It's really nice. It is good to get some recognition from time to time. Being an artist you are always sending out slides and applying to stuff constantly. The rejection is incessant. If I am working hard and sending out a lot of stuff, that means every day there is some rejection notice in the mail. You don't want to read the mail, which normally is really great.

SWM: How do you feel about rejection?

S P: When something really good happens you feel fabulous, such as when you get a good review - that lasts for a couple of hours.

SWM: What is something you hope to accomplish with your art?

S P: This sounds clich�, but I really want to make paintings that mean something to somebody else; they would mean as much to someone as they do to me.

SWM: What do you think about Baltimore's " creative class"?

S P: I am really dubious because I know they always think of artists as shock troops for the ghetto. As soon as you move into a place and make it your own, it is only so they can gentrify it and move you back out and move you to another poor place. I think if the city is serious about this, they would do things such as low cost studios or completely public supported galleries that take no commissions. Having a show of Baltimore artists in the Baltimore Museum of Art [BMA] maybe once every five years. They use to have a biannual at the BMA. Outside of Baltimore, people do not take the artwork of this town seriously, which I find really sad because I think there is far more serious artwork going on in Baltimore.

SWM: Do you have advice?

S P:If you don't love art stop doing it, now. If you don't really love it, you are in for a world of difficulty without the reward. You don't have to be painfully upset or drunk. You can actually love what you are doing.



Facing up to Spoon Popkin

A dealer in borrowed lives, Baltimore artist Spoon Popkin is in the business of "mything" persons. She uses old images -- sometimes her own, sometimes appropriated from films, sometimes found in empty houses and buried in

dumps at the edge of town -- to create snapshots of tough, sweet faces with mysterious pasts.

"Like police sketches, Popkin's pieces provide suggestive leads that allow viewers to imagine the people and stories that go with the picture."

Her subjects carry an illusion of familiarity, as if somehow we've seen them all before. She imbues each portrait with a degree of intimacy, regardless of the relationship between the original artist and model, so that we can impose our own narrative (and our own longings) upon the image. Using traceable brush strokes of oil paint and fluid streaks of vine charcoal, Popkin's technique is intuitive and immediate: her subjects seem to fill the room with their two-dimensional presence.

In one series, derived from a photos of strangers, no one -- and sometimes everyone -- is at turns anonymous and known; the scenes seem universal and also close to home. On the other hand, hauntingly lovely paintings created from Popkin's own photos of friends and passersby are so personal, they become universally accessible.

"In painting series made from snippets of strangers' lives, nobody or everybody is anonymous at certain moments and known at others. Scenes so generalized and yet one feels one knows the situations described."

Another series stems from the dingy realism of a couple on vacation in the Bahamas. One can imagine it: a last chance for romance in the '50s, near the giant sea. He was alone in his own jungle. She'd struggled to find what she thought was happiness, only to discover it was all a lie. Troubled in paradise, their faces, disenchanted as sunburned lilies, make it clear that nothing improved. This is the stuff of noir, rising from the consciousness of a post-war nation in uncertain transition, transfixed by something sinister on the edge of beautiful landscape. Popkin drenches this world in shadows and occasional burst of sunlight to reflect desperation and hopelessness.

In yet another collection, icons emerge. An auto mechanic becomes a subdued father figure, the kind most wish they could have. And a mourning woman looks like she's seen it all, smoking a final cigarette in the morning as she watches the light rise through the curtains.

Popkin uses stills from Fellini's Roma, set in subterranean tunnels as well as bordellos and beyond, for yet another series. Here she frames bit players with more familiar celebrities, hallmarks of the Italian legend's work -- arrogant prostitutes putting a price on the curve of a leg, an old barfly who sees the world clearly through from the bottom of a bottle, a man fighting a secret war with the intensity of silence before the storm.

Charcoal portraits distilled from both high school and college yearbook photos imply parallel stories. Yet despite the telltale dress and hairstyle markers, the students retain their own individual mystery. The high school kids -- vulnerable, sensitive, in a stage of transition -- bask in the sweet things of this time. Popkin adds further emphasis to the private nature of these pictures by simply using the subject's first name as a title. The personal histories of the teenagers penetrate the grown-up faces of the college graduates, becoming fateful projections of past and future.

In the long gallery of Garfield Artworks we're surrounded by intelligence and compressed energy. We begin to see aspects of ourselves in Popkin's hall of mirrors: a face behind a window, a face staring into the ambiguity of night, a face drifting through stale dreams as a coed draws a scarlet kiss on lonely lips. We gaze into their places and they into ours.

writer: ALICE WINN, Pittsburgh City Paper


Found Faces: Recent Paintings and Drawings by Spoon Popkin runs though Thu., Dec. 20, 2001 at Garfield Artworks, Garfield. 412-361-2262.





Artworks this Week March 9, 2006, MPT 7:30pm

Spoon Popkin's up-close-and-personal portraits are inspired by found photographs. She paints her bold canvases wet-on-wet, using house painting brushes, palette knives, combs, and cake frosting decorating tips - anything she can find to make a new mark. The speed that this requires works to eliminate hesitation. Spoon and her paintings embody the uniqueness of the Baltimore art scene: both are quirky, accessible, fun, unrestrained, and unpretentious.


Saturday, Dec. 08, 2001 Cubistime

Spoon Popkin - all text copyright A E Morgan, 2000 - 2002

Once in a while I have something to write about.

Last night, that being December 7th, the Penn Avenue Arts Initiative threw their bi-annual Unblurred arts event, which I attended. I saw some things, but I wasn't anticipating being bowled over; having been to the previous two such events and finding myself feeling a bit let-down by the artwork. However, Garfield Artworks is currently exhibiting a body of work that is of higher caliber than anything I've seen among new artists exhibiting in local galleries.

Spoon Popkin's Found Faces consisted of oil on canvas portraits - seemingly a standard format, but if you pay any attention to contemporary art you know how rare a find this truly is. Generous strokes, velvety surfaces, sumptuous palatte - you'd think i was talking about some abstract expressionist touchy-feely tripe; these are actual portraits of actual people. The paintings look like real people. There's a realism about them that convinces you that you might actually know these people.

And you might, in fact. The source of the subjects are found photographs. Spoon worked from yearbooks from the '40s and the '90s, old photoalbums, discarded images.

The artist, whom I can't address as he or she because it's unclear whether Spoon as a name would be male or female (another bonus - this work doesn't feel masculine or feminine - it feels very human and universal) is what I would call truly a painter's painter - go ahead, ask me what the fuck that means - in application and execution. Your eyes really feel the paint. To be sure I'm not being misleading here, the surfaces aren't built up impasto peaks of pigment, but rich, flowing sweeps of paint that don't try to deny the fact that they are actually painted. Does that make sense? Good, let's carry on then.

I loved the work, I'm not kidding. That's a generic way of describing it. But I'm not really here to review the show. It's a good show, go see it, two thumbs up and all that jazz. But the exhibit (which also included an installation of charcoal drawings arranged like a yearbook - an amazing body of work) got me thinking about contemporary art and how much I can't stand it.

First of all, shock art - what's up with that? I don't even want to get myself started here, but all this gross for the sake of being gross artwork is pathetic and sad. Grow the fuck up, essentially is what I'm saying. And what ever happened to learning about technique? And mastering the basics? There are a lot of dumb artists out there. I can say that because I am an artist, and I believe everyone has the right to critcise their own kind.

So this Spoon person really knows how to paint. There's no slop, no laziness, no shortcuts. Just good fucking painting. Even if I thought the actual images sucked I would still be enraptured by the craftsmenship. And well presented. Not expensive framing, but no canvases edged in black electrical tape, either (that's an entirely seperate story altogether, but to sum - I once worked somewhere where it was my responsibility to recieve artwork for an exhibition, and this guy from france sent in this painting that instead of being framed or properly treated, the sides of the canvas were taped with black tape. Come on. Be serious).

Sun, January 26, 2003


all images sole property of Spoon Popkin

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