“Creating ‘Black and Blue,'” by Ken Fandell

Share story

In addition to my role as professor of art and the Michael G. and C. Jane Wilson Chair in the Arts and Humanities, I’m an artist who makes photographs, videos, collages, sculptures, sounds, drawings, performances and text-based works. I often start with straightforward objects as subject matter. My approach mines the mundane and the everyday in search of the extraordinary, and my practice is a distinct blend of formal concerns of line, shape, color and composition, with skepticism, irony and humor.

I’m exhibiting my latest work at Traywick Contemporary in Berkeley, California, the first exhibition of their 25th anniversary year. Titled “Black and Blue,” it features recent photo-based works on paper and is my sixth solo show with the gallery. This series deconstructs basic concepts of art making and, in the process, blurs the lines between the conceptual and the physical. Images are made of shapes that are precariously balanced and teetering, on the brink of settling or collapse. Many of the compositions appear as suspended animations that defy gravity or architectural possibilities.

The process itself owes more to non-representational approaches like action painting. Starting with basic cut out paper shapes—circles, squares and triangles—I apply many layers of oil stick and paint to the surfaces. These elements become the basis for sculptures that cannot stand for long on their own, given the paper materials. Before the temporary structures collapse, I photographed views from as many angles as possible then present numbers of these images as parts of larger and more complex collaged compositions that appear as sculptural volumes on flat surfaces.

Presenting the images contemporaneously on one sheet of paper allows play with gravitational and spatial relationships, providing an alternative version of the sculptures’ corporeal reality. Incidental marks appear throughout – scuffs and smudges of the oil stick which tracked my hand as I repositioned the painted shapes during the photographing process. Although the resulting pictures more closely resemble sculpture and painting, they remain insistently photographic in a hyper-real depiction of fine details and tactile surfaces.

My approach to both making art and teaching embraces multiple mediums, various mindsets and diverse inspirations. I work and teach from a place of intuition and contemplation – equally trusting my guts and my thoughts. The work for the Traywick exhibit, running January 22–March 12, 2022, was all created since the onset of the pandemic, and I am excited to share it.

Ken Fandell

Ken Fandell.

Ken Fandell has exhibited widely both nationally and internationally, with exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Honolulu Museum of Art, the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, the University of Delaware, the Asheville Museum of Art, and the Houston Center for Photography. His work is included in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University. He has received prestigious awards from Artadia, the Fund for Art and Dialogue; and The Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation. He lived for many years in Chicago, where he was Chair of the Department of Photography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Fandell now lives and works in Southern California, where he is the Michael G. and C. Jane Wilson Chair in Arts and Humanities at Harvey Mudd College.