Mikie Poland does what he wants, and that is awesome. Some might read this and think that it’s juvenile, but in a world where most people play a passive role in their own lives – I’m truly inspired by someone who is willing to pursue their passions with everything they have at their disposal. Poland is on the road about half the year touring with one of the two bands he plays in (Giving Up or State Champion), and spends much of his remaining time working odd jobs and helping to promote Sophomore Lounge Records in whatever way he can. As the web manager, primary art director, and right-hand-man of the label’s creator (Ryan Davis) you might wonder where he finds time to do much else. As it turns out, there is a good amount of “downtime” in the van in between gigs, and Poland often spends this time productively. Whether he is drawing posters for upcoming shows or clever illustrations referencing everything from Jazz to Dracula – Poland stays busy.
The nature of his practice could force a comparison to Raymond Pettibon, but Poland’s aesthetic is very much his own. There is certainly a gritty quality to the work, but his quick wit and keen understanding of texture and mark making have an intentionality to them that belies the crude manor in which many of his illustrations are fashioned. Having a fine arts degree from a conceptually oriented school like the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (where Poland received his undergraduate degree) often leads one down a path of pretention that can be hard to escape, but Poland manages to keep things in perspective. His observations are honest, the tone is real, and I enjoy looking at the work. If you scroll through these drawings and at least one of them doesn’t put a smile on your face I think it might be time to re-evaluate how seriously you take yourself. Giving Up will be on an east coast tour this June, and if you like what you see below I encourage you to check out their shows and pick up one of Poland’s expansive zines at the merch booth.
Until recently I was unfamiliar with the artist Alex Ebstein, but I am glad to have rectified my lack of awareness. There is an honesty to Ebstein’s work that I find readily engaging. The use of yarn or string in an artist’s practice can often shift the aesthetic towards a decidedly crafty end result, but Ebstein manages to use the material with such purpose that it might as well be a drawn line in an architectural blue print. The effectiveness of the work hinges on her ability to merge direct compositional tactics with a more playful approach to the selected materials. Ebstein’s use of string also elevates the intentionality of her mark marking, and then quickly reasserts itself as a method of creating illusory depth in what would otherwise be relatively flat pieces. Taught angular moments combined with purposefully relaxed textures start a visual conversation that I am more than happy to participate in.
I could have just included the ‘eye chart’ pieces because I found them extremely aesthetically pleasing, but the back-story provides a bit of insight that I think most would enjoy. Think of it as a ‘Director’s Commentary’ for the work. Courtesy of Miss Ebstein, “…then for the eye chart pieces. They are more of a weird reflection on (and obsession with) eyesight and my existing eye problems that force me to visit the doctor every month. I’ve had four eye surgeries in three years… I am always nervously checking my vision against things, one eye at a time, so these drawings were kind of my own dark humored joke about being an artist and constantly worrying about my vision.” I am of the belief that ‘going blind’ is one of (if not) the most terrifying things any artist could imagine, and I appreciate the candor with which she addresses what could be an immobilizing reality to those with a more pessimistic outlook on life. Ebstein will be starting grad school this fall, and I am eager to see how this focused environment will affect her work. I also encourage anyone interested in contemporary art to check out the consistently interesting programming at Nudashank – a gallery she co-runs with Seth Adelsberger in the Baltimore area.
Max Maslansky is a tricky fellow who seems to believe in longshots. His images caress a romantic past, the voyeuristic present, and a violent future. Each image seems to shake with exerted candor, while holding your hand and telling you things will be okay.