Colby Caldwell Explains Immortality

Recently, photographer and former Corcoran professor Colby Caldwell emailed in response to our rundown of alum Jason Gubiotti’s show, War Paint. Included was a gem: the back story to the shared title “How to Survive Your Own Death (for CC)” which has been used, re-used, appropriated and copied by a group of Corcoran artists and writers from 1999 to 2014. To wit:

“The title ‘how to survive your own death’ was first suggested by a conversation between Bernard Welt and myself in 1999/2000 when I was beginning work on the corrupted file series. It comes from his poem of the same name:”


“We were discussing possible titles and he suggested several and I settled on ‘how to survive your own death.’ It worked perfectly for the concepts I wanted to suggest but not name. This would not be the last time Bernard would be responsible for suggesting titles for me. I subsequently reproduced this poem in the gun shy catalog in 2012. I had a podcast of Bernard reading this poem (listen here, ed.) that gallery visitors could listen to via a gallery-provided iPod during my 2006 show ‘small game’ at Hemphill. (I’ve made a point of including a ‘how to survive your own death’ piece in all my shows).”

“James Huckenpahler referenced it for a piece he made in 2004, entitled ‘how to fake your own death.'”

James Huckenpahler “how to fake your own death”


“Jason then referenced it for his own means and reasons for a painting in ‘War Paint.'”

“This has resonance for several reasons, two of which are as follows:”

“1. The three of us shared studio space at Woobyworld in 1998 – 2001. We also did a three person show At Troyer-Fitzpatrick in 1999.”

“I can only speak for me but both of these periods left an indelible mark on my work and indeed my very thinking about process.”

“2. Bernard Welt was an important and influential professor to all three of us when we were students at the Corcoran. James and I from 1987-1990, and Jason later. Bernard is still a very close friend to me now.”

Caldwell’s work is represented by HEMPHILL (DC), Gallery Seventeen  (Greenville, SC),
and Haen Gallery (Asheville, NC). You can find him at .


Insider’s Look at Conservation at the National Gallery of Art

Unveiled is excited to host our first guest post from the National Gallery of Art. The author, Katy May, is an object conservator with extensive experience in the care and treatment of outdoor sculpture and has been at the National Gallery of Art since 1997. 

Knife Edge Mirror Two Piece by Henry Moore was commissioned for the opening of the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in 1977, and has stood outside the entrance to the East Building since 1978. While it has never moved from this location, the sculpture has had a long and complex condition history.

The bronze sculpture was fabricated on a tight deadline by the English foundry Morris Singer, rather than the German founder who cast most of Moore’s monumental works, and is constructed from sand-cast panels welded together, with an applied chemical patina (a thin mineral surface layer produced by applying specific chemicals to the bare metal).  Flaws in the casting, fabrication, and finishing of the sculpture were noted almost immediately, and National Gallery conservators have long struggled to maintain the sculpture as Moore intended.

Flaws in the casting, fabrication, and finishing of the sculpture were noted almost immediately

National Gallery conservators have a full maintenance program for all outdoor works in the collection, but even with regular maintenance the surfaces on outdoor sculptures deteriorate over time and more intensive treatments are sometimes required to preserve the artist’s intent.  In the case of Knife Edge Mirror Two Piece, the existing patina had darkened dramatically, was streaked and uneven, and the welds had become progressively more visible.  In consultation with National Gallery experts and officials, the decision was made to re-patinate the sculpture and return the surface to the transparent golden patina intended by Moore.

Planning and testing of treatment methods took almost two years.  Conservators worked with curators to determine the intended appearance for the sculpture based on archival records, photographs of the sculpture in 1978, and based on the maquette – a highly finished preparatory work for the monumental sculpture.  A specialized outdoor bronze conservator was contracted to work with National Gallery conservators, and numerous tests were performed investigating a variety of patinating chemicals and application methods.

The sculpture is huge, measuring almost 18 feet tall and over 23 feet wide, with seemingly endless surfaces.

In early August 2014, conservators began the daunting project to re-patinate Knife Edge Mirror Two Piece, working on-site at the entrance to the East Building.  The sculpture is huge, measuring almost 18 feet tall and over 23 feet wide, with seemingly endless surfaces.  Each treatment step was performed by hand, working inch by inch, across, over, and around the two elements. Conservators removed old coatings, completely removed the deteriorated patina, and applied a series of patinating chemicals chosen to produce a new patina with the appropriate color range and level of translucence.  Throughout the treatment, conservators struggled with issues related to the low quality of casting and finishing; extensive areas of porosity, variation in alloy composition, and impurities in the metal produced unexpected and undesirable results in some areas, leading conservators to re-work problem areas numerous times.

For the duration of the treatment, the sculpture was fully enclosed in scaffolding with a water-resistant scrim overlay, to contain the treatment area and to ensure that the surface of the sculpture remained dry throughout the patination process.  Before the enclosure could be removed, a protective wax coating was applied by brush over all treated surfaces.

On October 10, 2014, after more than 8 weeks, the enclosure was removed, revealing the completely transformed sculpture.







Jason Gubbiotti: War Paint

What could cause reclusive ex-Corcoran professor Colby Caldwell to make an atypical pilgrimage up from his Asheville, NC studio? Or melt the hard blood of the quantitative and polarizing art critic Tyler Green? A show whose focus is almost nothing.

Not nothing as in nothing substantial, or as is nothingness/nirvana, or the great void–but in the space occupied by nothing. This is the best way to understand the exalted work that makes up 1998 alumnus Jason Gubbiotti’s show, War Paint, at Civilian Art Projects.

Stellar 7 (Damon Slye, 1983)

These are fields, demarcated, masked–but these aren’t Color Fields. These are desolate plains. Green would describe the painter’s geometry in the 2007 Hemphill  as 1979’s video game Asteroid-like, but the wireframes here are kin to the cockpit from tank sim Stellar 7–symmetrical polygons sitting atop one another, totem style. They are a cockpit view, a heads-up-display looking on to a fever-dream landscape.

And for all the something that his paintings projected (in actual 3D space, in the gallery) in previous work, here there is a flatness. Those paintings would jut from the wall, taking 90 degree turns and even trace around corners of a gallery wall. Until you get to the edges, these are paintings. There, that’s skewered in to some thing more three dimensional. At Civilian, it’s the Youtube unboxing video of a Jason Gubbiotti painting: the viewer gets to see where the staples are (spoiler: not on the back) and a hard border of canvas and paint. He may as well be  giving an extra-diegetic commentary, “This is where the painting sits,” “Here’s the palette.”

it’s the Youtube unboxing video of a Jason Gubbiotti painting

True, it’s generally cheap to analogize any abstract painting to real-world visage, but the work Beautiful Weapons is an adobe skateboard ramp aimed at the ceiling of the gallery. That’s undeniable. Again, the absence is the presence. The ‘nothing’ here is the void of an empty pool without kids doing mute grabs on the edges of its bowl; that mummy-brown of west coast valley stucco. And the lines through its swatches of color are the drifts and grinds of beaten decks gliding across cement.

In case it’s getting too impersonal, too conceptually focused, there’s humanity and a good ribbing here as well. Two examples:

How to survive your own death (whole)
Colby Caldwell, “How to survive your own death (whole),” 2003, 59″ x 75″, archival pigment print mounted to dibond and waxed

1) That hard to find former professor, Colby Caldwell? A good friend and former teacher of Gubbiotti’s; a destroyer of the photograph equal to the scrupulous-control Jason shows the canvas. He’ll scan a dead bird with a large format scanner to get around using a lens to make a photograph. Caldwell crashed Photoshop in 2001 (fittingly) and found a new series of work based on a highly fluorescent pattern that the editing program spat out as it seized: How to Survive Your Own Death. Had tumblr been around this would’ve been posted, if not a blog in its own right.

Here, Gubbiotti takes the title and forms a loving but sparing tribute. A list of artists (the aforementioned James Huckenpahler for one) have taken the title, and it’s bombastic instruction for immortality are only matched by a greater feat for an artist: re-appropriating Damien Hirst’s similarly worded The Imperceptibility of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living. You, the artist, might live forever. Just as likely as you besting Hirst’s auction prices.

Tom Green, "Witness: Beirut," 1982, 72” x 84”, acrylic on canvas
Tom Green, “Witness: Beirut,” 1982, 72” x 84”, acrylic on canvas

2) Tom Green’s legacy. The prolific and colorful (even by Gubbiotti standards) painter passed away from Lou Gherig’s disease two years ago. He was exalted for his career, but also by every student that he taught at the Corcoran. His beautiful family-led tribute at the school attested to this with person-to-person stories and pretzels that were unlikely to appear at other commemorations.

2012’s Shadowplay works with Tom’s distinct colors, and takes a turn at approximating the biological forms Green was known for. Though the teacher’s paintings would depict body parts, like rib cages, torsos and heads (nothing nightmarish, but simplified and cartoon-like), the student plays off his tropes by making them his own cellular forms that he is now known for. He takes the macro and makes it micro; reducing biology to the chemistry that comprises it.

reducing biology to the chemistry that comprises it.

If the cellular forms of earlier paintings were a bit too clean-room–there’s nothing antiseptic here, even in the strict, exacting lines there is a sense that they might be colored outside of or, more likely, exploded out of. It’s energy. It’s not the easy energy of op-artists and moire-pattern tricks–potential, not kinetic. Victor Vaserly, this is not, but the colors are there and they are just as vicious, seemingly beyond the chroma of what’s possible in CMYK.

That nothing is actually something quite formidable. It’s formlessness and emptiness is constant modality. Fighter Bruce Lee called that absence the most dangerous technique, “since Jeet Kune Do has no style, it can fit with all styles.” Here it’s not deadly, it’s a close perfect.

Jason Gubbiotti: War Paint is on view at Civilian Art Projects, 4718 14th Street NW Washington, DC 20011, through December 29, 2014, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, from 1 to 5pm, (closed the 27th & 28th) and by appointment at 
An artist talk will be hosted Saturday, November 15th, at 2pm.

On View: Pilot

Gallery 31 is back. Pilot opened October 15th and is the best look at what Corcoran’s BFA Fine Art Seniors are scheming, manufacturing and dreaming. The culmination is NEXT, the Corcoran’s yearly showcase of graduate and undergraduate grand denouements. As they finished installing, we spoke with Eliot Hicks and Ashley Van Gemeren on the impetuses that got their works to where they are and what changes are still to come.


Eliot Hicks is working through car culture to make material objects, and, further, to show the materialism of the automobile itself. It’s a fascinating parallel that can be drawn to the excesses of canonized art makers. Instead of the glossy car-paint boxes of Donald Judd, Hicks is completing a full-stop reduced to minimalism. Actual parking stops. Like one finds at the lot before her car hits the wall.

The non-marked object, the nakedness, the perfection of a minimalist work are there: his forms are geometric, clean, without adornment or superfluity. This makes the artist’s hand disappear, magically absent. Though the work is in cement, it is not a perfect mimesis of the thing itself: these parking girders don’t have a mold line and they are unusable, with no holes to bolt to a garage floor.

IMG_0025Hicks sees the romance of car and racing culture to mirror so much of the grandeur in the art world–equal parts illusory and genuine. Earlier on Instagram, his experiment in latex license plates fall over themselves like shorn pelts in grey (again). They, like the stops, and wholly recognizable but other worldy, and Hicks visually infers this may be the grey that covers them as cars remain in the world while oil doesn’t.

IMG_0005Ashley VanGemeren declares forthrightly, “we’re in control of our thesis, we’re in control of this year.” It’s her take on what the show’s title, Pilot, might mean to the students steadying the rudder of their practice as the commotion of a new partnership continues to reverberate through the Corcoran. And it could describe the way she’s tackling paint. She’s discarded traditional oil and acrylic and picked up something she uses every day on her own skin: make-up. Done with her work being on the wall, she props it with another polymer-based product: sheets of perspex jutting perpendicularly from the surfaces. The perspex is translucent, so the painted sides appear muddy, while the see-through sides “can be seen as microscope slides.”

IMG_0009Van Gemeren “has to show all sides,” and is telling you the same about her own perceptions of her body by using makeup as a medium on her panels–this is skin. Here she still maintains control, asking one to contort oneself in the spaces between her works so that you can be surrounded by her work and by her. It’s unsettling, and the palette matches. Flesh-toned, it is–but also harsh magentas and off-teals that add to the experience’s unsettled claustrophobia rather than a warm closeness. Maybe she agrees, “interacting with them, I want to squeeze them and touch them… I’m ready to fight them.”

Pilot is on view at Gallery 31 at the Corcoran School of Art of the Arts & Deisgn through Sunday, October 26th.

(e)merge 2014: Get Paid Edition

An art-fair cannot escape the opulence of itself. At its best moments, you can see through the haze of comma-filled price sheets and crudités to see some great work. (e)merge, in a move away from many fairs, helps separate the art from the gilt by offering spaces directly to artists who don’t have gallery representation, and for no cost other than a fractional application fee. Of course, those artists may still find themselves commenting on that still omnipresent art-fair marketplace reality.

(image credit: Holly Bass)

Former Corcoran Gallery exhibitor Holly Bass finds storyteller and dancer bringing the once-frequent practice of hosting a party to pay a landlord to a performance art context. “Black Space Rent Party,” brought live music, an actual façade, games of bones (dominoes) and spades to the front yard of Capitol Skyline in a DC map-shaped house. There, entertainment, tales and drinks were provided for just the spectator’s consideration of a pledge to a bucket marked “<- Rent Help.” The roof’s diamond geography referencing shape has a point: in 1920’s DC, you may have come across a party just like this.

 Megan Mueller -- 93117-4

Meagan Mueller, who just left DC for the sculpture program at UC Santa Barbara, presents us with the coyest vision of art as furniture–collectors would never admit to the practice, but it’s omnipresent in the art world. If a buyer needs their art to match the couch, Mueller goes a step further and integrates the wallpaper behind her art work as the piece itself (Pantone matched). The sneak implant of domesticity in to fine art is no one-off, however. Her physical, at times massive works often borrow from Home Depot tropes and materials as they does in her Wonder Valley, CA installation, derived from the innocuous wood-deck patio.


Hamiltonian fellow and GW Today profiled alum Larry Cook sets up his fair-supplied hotel room as a club photo booth. Remember 14th & U? Larry Cook does (hint: not speakeasies nor steaks). And you may as well, if you’ve been to the Georgia & Florida Ave CVS almost any weekend night past 10pm. Cook’s recreated what you’d find there, and what you’d see in the classic DC Go Go venues of churches and school gyms: the club photo booth, replete with hand-painted backdrop and a live mix from DJ Marvelous. Once taken with a Polaroid, now updated with a Nikon DSLR and thermal printer, Cook’s art-fair vision extends from reality: He used to do this professionally.

Check out more highlights of the (e)merge Art Fair from the Washington City Paper’s Christina Cauterucci and The Washington Post’s Michael O’Sullivan