- 05.03 PBS-TV lurks around dark corners with me
- 04.22 Happy 80th Birthday Dad!
- 04.01 Solo exhibit at the Instituto Cervantes runs until July 8
- 01.30 Coming Up … Up and Coming!
- 12.04 Workshop photographs! And Chicago Tribune “Pick of the Week”
- 11.08 Lighting the Alleys & Ruins
- 10.05 ABC-TV Interview
- 09.20 Represent!
- 07.12 Bugs Away!
- 06.18 Squeeeze extravaganza
- 04.02 Back from Bolinas
- 03.07 From ruin to respite
- 02.14 First solo museum show
- 01.26 Inspiration!
- 12.24 Happy Holidays!!
A PBS-TV crew went out with me recently as I prowled around dark dirty corners in search of some ugly beauty! Before the prowling, they interviewed me at the Instituto Cervantes — where my solo show continues until July 8 — about my inspirations and motivations.
The program, In the Loop, is a weekly public affairs show hosted by veteran journalists Barbara Pinto and Chris Bury. The segment was produced by Mario Tharpe.
The show aired May 9 and 12 on Chicago’s WYCC ch 20.
The new image (Alley 142, above) was shot in the crumbling back end of a vacant industrial building. I was shooting in the usual sketchy areas, and at one point we heard 5 rapid gunshots from a couple blocks away. The police arrived to see what we were up to, asked us some questions, then thankfully let us continue with the shoot.
As in all my work in the Alleys & Ruins series, I try to hide the harsh grittiness under a layer of fantasy with the use of my lighting, and since this was a 20-minute exposure, I had lots of time to work. As always, the photograph was taken with my trusted 50 year old Hasselblad film camera.
I never get to do a “before” shot, since I always show up at night. But we showed up just before sunset and I took this photo in the daylight.
A 24×30 framed Alley #97 is going on the auction block today at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. I donated the piece to ARTSIDA in Montreal, a yearly AIDS benefit – the piece was exhibited April 20-May 3, in Galerie D, finishing off with the live auction today
I had a fantastic time at my opening reception this week at Instituto Cervantes! I gave a speech, talked to friends, drank lots of champagne, passed out in the closet!
There are 21 images from the Alleys & Ruins series in the show, including three 8×10 foot pieces. The show continues until July 8, then travels to the Embassy of Spain in Washington. Its free & open to the public. The Institute is in downtown Chicago, at 31 W. Ohio St. Gallery hours are Mon–Thurs: 10am-7pm; Fri: 10am–3pm; Sat: 9am–1pm
My father, Leo, recently had his 80th birthday. My parents are enjoying their twilight years in style – they are crazy lovebirds who can’t stop fawning over each other. They are happier than they’ve ever been! And I couldn’t be happier for them, because this is a huge change from the difficult journey they experienced, especially my dad.
In his late teens, growing up in Zaragoza, Spain, his family disintegrated following the death of his father and he found himself living on the street. He would sleep under a stairwell and found himself starving most of the time. To eat, he would wait for the street vendors to leave at the end of the day and eat whatever discarded food they left behind.
His troubled life continued until he met my mother, his saving grace. They married and had a child, my oldest brother, and moved to Canada – with $80 in their pocket – in pursuit of a better life. Unfortunately they quickly learned the streets were not paved with gold, and that life here, for immigrants with little more than a high school education, was a never-ending grind. They had moved to Montreal where you needed to speak both English and French to get by, neither of which they spoke. With a burning desire to make a better life for himself and his family, my father decided to go to university and study engineering, reasoning that science was the only sure fire way to get out of the dire poverty he found himself in.
The hurdles were huge: he was almost thirty, didn’t speak the language and had no science background! Incredibly he persevered, working as a dishwasher and busboy by day and taking classes at night. Against all odds, many years later, he became a civil engineer. I once opened one of his physics text books and was blown away by what I saw. This thick volume had every second word circled with the Spanish translation scribbled next to it or in the margins. It was the first time I truly understood the mountain he had climbed. He had overcome homelessness, and a lack of education, but even more difficult times lay ahead.
He was hired as an engineer and moved to the town of Sorel, 50 miles north of Montreal. Politics in Quebec at the time, especially outside Montreal, were incredibly small minded and created an atmosphere where two things were hated with a passion: immigrants and Anglophones – in other words, us. Sorel had few of both, but was populated instead with what the Québécois called Pure Laine, or pure wool; i.e. French Quebec racial purity. They even hated you if you were from France!
At work he endured first class prejudice, and on the streets, in front of his family, I was often witness to malicious taunts aimed at my dad for being an immigrant with 3 boys in English school. Needless to say, life was not especially easy in Sorel for those 3 boys either. Not a day went by in my 17 years there where I didn’t see anti-english or anti-immigrant graffiti, and I often experienced far worse. My outsider view of the world was imprinted upon me in those years. But Quebec has changed dramatically since the separatist fervor of the 1970’s and 80’s, and the intense bigotry and political hatred has subsided.
Upon retirement, my parents bought a small condo near Malaga, a block from the Mediterranean, where my mom grew up. Today, they split their time between Spain and Montreal, where my two brothers live, along with their four grandchildren. They are truly at peace like I have never seen, and there is a bliss in their hearts that must make them think that, in spite of everything, it was all worth it.Posted at 12pm on 4/22/13 | 2 comments | Filed Under: Art Shows
I’m thrilled about my upcoming solo exhibition at the Instituto Cervantes in Chicago. The opening reception is Thursday, April 18, 6-9 pm.
If you’ll be in the Chicago area, you’re invited to the opening. I’ll be giving a talk at 6:30, followed by a piano concert by Marta Espinós.
The show will feature several 8×10 foot pieces, recently installed (see above). Twenty-one large pieces altogether, from the Alleys & Ruins series will also be on display.
The show runs from April 18 – July 8, 2013
The Instituto Cervantes was created by the Spanish government and has a global network. The show is tentatively scheduled to travel to some of the Instituto’s european spaces.
Instituto Cervantes is located at 31 W. Ohio St, Chicago, IL
It is free & open to the public. Gallery hours: Mon–Thurs: 9am-7pm; Fri: 9am–3pm; Sat: 9am–1pm
I’m anxious to release many of the new Crystal images I’ve shot recently – I’ve been trying new (and super secret!) techniques. The Crystals are close up pictures of dinner plates that I re-glaze and re-paint.
All my work is shot on film, because I just like how film looks. However, my film scanner has been behaving badly and needs a spanking! Until its repaired I’ll have to sit on a pile of film.
But above is one of the new Crystals, The City of Emeralds
I gave the keynote address March 15th at the North Suburban Conference Art Festival.
Its an annual event where art students from 14 high schools gather. The event this year was hosted by North Chicago Community High School.
My topic was “Find Your Voice”. I spoke about the need for them, at their young age, to begin finding their style, their voice, what it is they have to say. You do this simply by creating lots and lots of art – obsessively. Without realizing it, your vision will begin to take shape.
Three of my Alley pieces will be included in a group show, Art After Dark: Artists and Artificial Lighting, at the Asheville Art Museum from June 29-October 27, 2013.
The exhibit will feature five artists who create images in the dark hours of the day utilizing artificial light or who use the night as inspiration for creating dream-like images.
The museum is located at 2 South Pack Square, Asheville, NC
My show at the Illinois State Museum in Chicago, Fragile Relations, is now traveling through the State Museum’s other galleries.
It will be at the Lockport Gallery from May 25 – October 25, 2013, then to the Southern Illinois Art Gallery in 2014 and the Springfield Museum after that.
The show was featured on ABC-TV in Oct 2012, and was the Chicago Tribune’s A&E Pick of the Week in Dec.
I donated a large piece to ARTSIDA in Montreal. Its a yearly AIDS benefit – the pieces will be exhibited from April 20-May 3, in Galerie D, finishing with an auction May 4 at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal
And finally, I’m a huge fan of the twisted comedy duo, Tim and Eric. I think most people will hate them, but here’s one of their more easily digestible bits, Spagett!
If you like this, check out Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Posted at 6pm on 4/1/13 | Comments | Filed Under: Art Shows
There are several exciting events on the horizon for my work
1. I’ve been shooting lots of new Crystal images. I’m thrilled with the results! but there’s so much stuff that it will take a while to go through all the photos, scan the negatives etc before I can start posting the new pictures.
2. Composer Thomas Lang has finished writing a Sonata based on my art. The Sonata has three movements, each inspired by one of my three main bodies of work. The piece was composed for Trombonist Brett Keating; the premier performance will be in Luzern, Switzerland later this year. Needless to say, I can’t wait to hear it!
Thomas Lang: “I really enjoyed using Xavier’s work as inspiration for this project. I absolutely love how he uses such vibrant colors to bring life to lifeless objects and creatures. I was talking with Brett about how there’s this wonderful juxtaposition between oldness and decay, and newness and regeneration, and when I formulated Xavier’s art in those terms, I was able to add an extra layer and raison d’etre to the music.”
3. My show at the Illinois State Museum, Fragile Relations, ends this Fri, Feb 1. The show has been quite successful and will now be travelling through the State Museum’s other galleries. It will be at the Lockport Gallery from late May through October 2013.
4. The Instituto Cervantes in Chicago will host a solo show of my Alleys & Ruins, opening in April, including several 8×10 foot prints.
5. The North Chicago High School is hosting the North Suburban Conference Fine Arts Festival on March 15th where I will give the keynote address and give a workshop.Posted at 11am on 1/30/13 | 1 comment | Filed Under: Art Shows
I had a terrific time at my workshop this Saturday, teaching the students how I light the Alleys & Ruins images, and teaching them how to do it themselves. The images were truly spectacular overall!
Here are just a couple:
The portrait of John Coonley was shot by Michael Kucinski, while the still life of the ladder was shot by Ann Marie LeVerso.
In the workshop, I try to show how a banal and lifeless scene, like the ladder with towels on it, can be made to come alive with the proper lighting. And how a portrait can be made surreal and mysterious with my form of lighting. I already have ideas for next year’s class!
And thanks to Zak Jones for his comments: “The workshop on lighting the alleys & ruins was amazing. Thank you for sharing some of what you do. I look forward to practicing and learning more.”
The Chicago Tribune A&E “Pick of the Week” is my group show at the Illinois State Museum.
“Fragile Relations: Art, Nature and Environment” runs through Feb. 1. The museum is in downtown Chicago, at 100 W. Randolph St.
Ok, one last thing… had to include this terrific email from John Coonley, one of the students
I wanted to write and thank you again for the excellent workshop!
I wasn’t sure what to expect as I am an amateur photographer with pretty limited experience. As it turned out there was nothing to be worried about – the experience was totally positive!!
It was amazing how the lighting techniques and concepts that you taught were applicable to every single one of us (all the way from the super novice lady to the guy who was a professional photographer) and how it became obvious as the class went on that each student could immediately start using the techniques in their own photography. I think the fact that so much of the class involved students actually taking the photos and doing the lighting made it really easy to quickly convert concept to practice. I also really appreciated how interactive and informal the class was – a totally pleasant learning environment!
My prints arrived yesterday and they look great! Its fun to explain to my buddies the lighting techniques that were used and that I learned them directly from the guy who took the photos!
With my workshop coming up December 1st (more info below), I thought I’d share some lighting techniques with you.
Most of my images are a mix of city light, plus my own light. Alley 137 and 139 (below) are both 30-minute exposures, during which I ran around shining colored light on different parts of the scene. The orange light in the image above is the natural result of sodium vapor street lighting; the rest is my lighting. The yellow sky in the image below is a mix of different city lights bouncing off low lying clouds.
You can see how I’m able to create glowing light, and pinpoint little dashes of color. When lighting the shots, I dress in dark clothes and I move around quickly. This makes me invisible in the final photo because the film does not pick me up over the long exposure.
Alleys & Ruins no. 137, Portal (2011, Queens, NY, 12:15am)
Alleys & Ruins no. 139, Tracks (2011, Chicago, IL, 10:00pm)
The Workshop, held in my Chicago studio, is Saturday, December 1st, 10am-2pm.
Total cost is $150
To reserve your spot, send me an email - firstname.lastname@example.org - The class will be limited to 12
This will be a fun 4 hour class focusing on lighting technique. Training will be followed by extensive hands-on shooting where the participants will create photographs using my lighting and guidance.
ABC-TV in Chicago interviewed me at the Illinois State Museum where my show runs from Oct 5 to Feb 1, 2013.
llinois State Museum , Chicago Gallery, 100 West Randolph, Chicago
My studio and gallery, along with many others in the area, will be open for this annual art walk in the Chicago Art District.
Friday, October 5th, 2012 from 6-10 pm
Saturday, October 6th, 2012 from 12-7 pm
My studio ia at 1932 South Halsted St, #402, Chicago
Photography Workshop - Saturday, Dec 1st and Sunday, Dec 2nd, 10am-2pm
Please reserve early to save a spot – email@example.com - I’m limiting the class size to 12 per day.
The Sat and Sun class will be identical.
Price: $150 ($136.99 + $13.01 tax). Visa, m/c, paypal, check, or cash
This will be a fun 4 hour class – for all age groups – focusing on lighting technique. I’ll be disclosing state secrets! Namely, how I create the images in my Alleys & Ruins series. The class, held in my studio, will include a power point presentation where I break down my images, followed by hands on picture taking by all the students, using my lights and lighting technique. There’s no need to bring a camera – we’ll all be taking several turns on the same digital camera on a tripod, and seeing and discussing the results projected on a big screen!
Last year’s class was a big success! Here are some of the reactions
“By far the best workshop I have ever been to! Teaching, then allowing the students to utilize the information learned immediately really allowed all the students to grasp the concept! (This also gave me a new appreciation for the art that Xavier takes the time to create! This is no joke folks! This art takes true talent to create!) Also, it was wonderful to meet other passionate photographers! Thanks again!”
“Xavier, your workshop today was great and worth every penny I spent. Excellent insight into how you create your beautiful work. And an inspiration. I’m a portrait photographer but some of your Alley & Ruin techniques are a wonderful addition to my coffer of photographic tools.”
“Thanks so much for opening up your studio and your bag of tricks to us. Your workshop was amazing. I can’t wait to try out all the stuff I learned”
Alley 134, Dub Stop, is named that because someone scrawled “Dub” on the stop sign. But Dubstep is a form of electronic dance music. A dubstep dance style has emerged that, at its best, is mind-blowing. Here’s an incredible example: DUBSTEP
For the first time, a piece from each of my 3 main bodies of work will be on display in a different museum.
Sept 21-Nov 18
Mexic-Arte Museum, 419 Congress Ave, Austin, TX
Elements of Death
I’ll be exhibiting “The Fruitful Life” from the Crystal series
In honor of “Dia de los Muertos”, the show is a reflection on death and the emotional experience of memory and nostalia.
Opening reception: September 21, 6-9pm
Oct 2 – Feb 1
Illinois State Museum, Chicago Gallery
100 West Randolph, Chicago
Fragile Relations: Art, Nature and Environment
The group show focuses on issues relating to the environment both external and internal.
I’ll be exhibiting six 32×40 pieces, three from both the Alleys and Glam Bugs series,
and I’ll be attending the opening reception (all are welcome!), Fri, Oct 5, 5pm-7pm
Susquehanna Art Museum’s VanGo, Harrisburg, PA
What’s Big is Little, What’s Little is Big
A group show with work from artisits who utilize the concept of scale in unique and unconventional ways. One of my Glam Bugs, Atlas, will represent the series. I thought I’d give Rhodius (above) a little air – he’ll be at the Illinois State Museum.
VanGo is the award-winning museum on wheels! The modern, fully-equipped bus/museum is an outreach program that takes shows largely to young students.
My Glam Bugs are hogging the spotlight again. Two images from the series, Atlas and Crystal the Forest Fairy, will be featured in a group show, On the Threshold, at the Attleboro Art Museum in Attleboro, MA. The show runs from July 14 to August 10.
And on top of that, my pal Atlas (above) has won the Curator Award as one of the best pieces in the show. Good job Atlas, you get a cookie!
Posted at 9am on 7/12/12 | Comments | Filed Under: Art Shows
Also, NPR/Michigan Radio interviewed me in 2005 and the extended interview is now online. There are 2 short, separate parts:
1. The story of a man, high from sniffing glue, who crawls up to me in a dark alley
2. The story of a homeless man who insists on auditioning, putting on a sterling performance!
The original interview is here.
In 1994, when I was already working on the main bodies of work that I continue with today, I had the incredible opportunity to photograph some of the most flamboyant misfits I’d ever met: drag queens, transvestites, and outrageous club kids!
The largest nite-club in Montreal, Club Metropolis, had started hosting what would eventually become a legendary weekly event on Saturday nights: Squeeeze. The club would open its doors to every manner of freak in the city, and with a capacity for well over 2000 people, and a constantly packed house, this event was a sensory overload.
The club owners and promoters needed photographs to promote the new event, and I was hired. Two drag queens showed up at my studio and we took some photos. The owners were thrilled with the images and they wanted more. I realized the best place to capture this crazy energy was in the club itself, during Squeeeze nights! I started setting up a studio in corners of the massive club, and for many months – with music thumping and absolute mayhem around me – I shot some truly demented and strangely inspired stuff!
In August 1994 I exhibited 20 images in one of the club’s lounges and we released a calendar. Quebec’s MTV, aka MusiquePlus, interviewed me at the opening of the exhibit, Mondo Squeeeze. I recently had the videotape digitized, so here it is! The interview is in French, but its really all about the visuals any way
More of my fashion/portrait work can be seen here
Posted at 11am on 6/18/12 | 1 comment | Filed Under: Art Shows
I got back recently from the bay area where I attended the opening of my solo show at the Bolinas museum just north of San Francisco. The museum was packed for the opening and I made some new friends – it was great!
The Marin Independent Journal interviewed me for the show. You can read the story here– and its also posted below.
While I was in the area, I went over to Sacramento to visit Chicago Fire Restaurant. Last year they purchased four large alley pieces and I wanted to see them installed. You can see the photo below – needless to say I was very pleased with their new home.
Marin Independent Journal
Photographer Nuez finds beauty in urban blight
By Vicki Larson – 03/29/2012
AS XAVIER NUEZ prepared for a trip to Marin earlier this month, he wasn’t too interested in hiking Mount Tam or exploring Muir Woods or walking the Golden Gate Bridge like most tourists do.
Instead, the Chicago resident wanted to go to the seediest parts of the county, the abandoned buildings, neglected neighborhoods and blighted alleys.
“We live surrounded by order and carefully constructed spaces. When you’re in one of these abandoned or neglected urban spaces that no one’s taking care of, there’s chaos and anarchy. The elements are taking these places down, they’re creating textures and tearing down walls,” says Nuez, a photographer who has spent the past 20 years venturing into the worst areas of cities across the country for his theatrical, somewhat eerie but vividly colorful images. “At the same time, you see things you’d never see anywhere else. They’re filled with stuff, old and obscure objects. You can see and feel things you can’t in the ordinary world. In a way, it’s like an oasis within a city.”
There aren’t many places like that in Marin, which is nice for those of us who live here but a bummer for him. “Some locations are difficult, Marin being one of them,” he says almost mournfully.
Still, he was happy to have stumbled upon decaying bunkers in the Marin Headlands when he lived in the Bay Area for a few years in the 1990s. “All those old bunkers are pretty amazing,” he says.
A solo show of Nuez’s photographs, “Alleys & Ruins,” is at the Bolinas Museum through May 6.
“His photographs transcend the gloom and uncover the sublime,” notes Land + Living blog. “While some photos display an aura of foreboding, many reveal an uncanny sense of calm seemingly at odds with reality.”
Nuez’s interest in the abandoned and neglected started early, fueled in part by the stories his father told him of being a street kid in his native Spain.
“For years I believed that that was, if not my destiny, then a good chance this was going to happen to me,” the 47-year-old Montreal native says.
Because of that, Nuez developed social anxiety in his early 20s. Oddly, he notes, that anxiety has helped inform his art.
“It’s funny. I have all these irrational fears but one of them doesn’t seem to be walking down a dark alley at night,” he says, laughing.
When he was feeling anxious, “I didn’t want to be around anyone. I knew that if I walked into an abandoned building or down a dark alley at midnight, I would be there alone. Nobody in their right mind is going to hang out there,” he observes. “I felt very calm and kind of at home. I felt very peaceful there. At the same time, 1 percent of me was on red alert, vigilant of the danger.”
And he has had more than his share of heart-pumping moments. Anyone hanging around a city’s seedy parts at night, settling up expensive strobes and spotlights and flashing 50-year-old Hasselblad film cameras for a half an hour or so — because he shoots at night, he has to leave the camera shutter open for a long time — is bound to attract attention, and not necessarily the good kind. Nuez has been confronted by drug dealers, gang leaders, alcoholics and addicts and police officers. That’s why he often brings a friend or two along, not that everyone’s eager to join him in his escapades.
“Every time something happens, it’s a big drag, there’s no question about it,” he says. “I don’t do this for the adrenaline rush. I do it for the peacefulness and quiet. And I continue to do it because the rewards are so great. It’s part of the cost of getting my images.”
Although he has occasionally climbed fences or entered places he shouldn’t have, the majority of his shots are in public places.
“I like the idea that these are places anyone can see,” he says. “I want the viewer to feel like they’re there. I want them to create stories in their head, to imagine all the people who have come and gone, the stories that have taken place. I don’t want them to be afraid. I want them to feel like I do, that it’s a magical place.”
When he’s not on the road, Nuez calls Chicago home. He moved there a few years ago in part because it has some amazing old architecture.
“There’s something about an old building that has so much more character than a new building. It develops personality and takes on wisdom. It has all these stories left over from the elements or people,” he says. “These are places most likely rich in history and stories … but there’s no one to ask, so all you can do is imagine.”
This youtube video has gone platinum many times over
but its still my favorite pet video!
Posted at 3pm on 4/2/12 | Comments | Filed Under: Art Shows
The opening of my show at Schneider Gallery last Friday was a blast!
And here’s a review of the show from Newcity.
“Xavier Nuez and Valerie Oliveiro/Schneider Gallery
Positioning himself squarely inside the popular genre of contemporary ruins photography, Xavier Nuez rockets beyond the familiar conceit of redeeming derelict spaces and trash, and embraces them in an orgy of riotous glitz. Shooting at night in color in garishly illuminated spaces, Nuez’s images are phantasmagoria of graffiti-covered abandoned surfaces cheek to jowl with sparkling and scintillating skylines bathed in ink-blue darkness. Ruins photography tends to be meditative and to reveal beauty in decay that defies design; by introducing a play between decay and hyper-sleek urbanity, and stepping up illumination to a neon level, Nuez gets the eye excited and the mind energized. Juxtaposition invigorates. If you need to relax, look at the opposite gallery wall and fall into Valerie Oliveiro’s color nighttime takes of stubble-filled patches of land—lots and fields—that can make you feel so lonely, something that Nuez would never allow. (Michael Weinstein)”
The show continues until April 28. My next show is my first solo museum show, at the Bolinas Museum in the Bay Area of California. I’ll be at the opening reception March 17th.
And finally, Lindsay Auten, who is studying to be an arts writer at the School of the Chicago Art Institute, interviewed me recently. I thought she did an excellent job, so here’s the transcript:
From ruin to respite: a conversation with photographer Xavier Nuez
“I take these things that are rejected, and I try to make them beautiful.”
In his work, photographer Xavier Nuez has made urban ruins, lifeless insects and shattered dishes into compositions of enlightened pigment and grace. Photographs from his ongoing collections, Alleys and Ruins, Glam Bugs and Crystals have been featured in museums, galleries and corporate and private collections across North America. The photographer, born in Montreal, now living in Chicago, sits down to discuss his work.
Lindsey Auten: Before you were a practicing artist you were a commercial photographer?
Xavier Nuez: My art was always the main thing for me, but making a living was tough at the beginning. Most of my commercial work involved architectural interiors. I was hired by magazines, design firms and architecture firms to photograph beautiful buildings, offices and public spaces. That was my bread and butter for many years. Ironically, at night I’d go out and photograph the opposite, the ugliest most run-down buildings I could find.
LA: Of Alleys and Ruins, Glam Bugs, and Crystals, which came first?
XN: The alleys and the bugs started around the same time. Alleys and Ruins is something that worked its way into a series gradually over many years. With the Glam Bugs, it didn’t exist, then a week later it existed. I made the decision to do the series and I started the bugs all in the same period of time. For all I know they started the same week.
Crystals has a very different history. The first shot is actually from 1985. Around 2000, I decided these few images of crystals were something I liked in my little portfolio. Unlike the other collections, which were photos of found things, Crystals is something I created.
LA: Alleys and Ruins is still a work in progress. Were the bugs and crystals pre-conceptualized bodies of work?
XN: Glam Bugs was more a conceptual series from the start. The concept changed completely quite a few years into it. When I started the series I was shooting fashion. One day, I had gotten some new gels for my lighting equipment. I’m sitting on the floor in my studio, flipping through these gels. I wanted to test them, so I started looking around on the floor. There was a dead bug. I got my macro equipment together and took some pictures of it. I didn’t want to just take pictures – I was looking at it, trying to figure out what to do with it, and when I got the shots back, I saw on the ground near it there were two tiles that crossed. They looked like a cross because of the way the dirt was arranged. I nudged the bug toward the cross and posed it. When I looked at the photo, it spoke of the life of the bug. The early part of the series became about beauty and the fleeting life of beauty.
After three or four years, I realized I actually liked these bugs. The way I was framing them was a little insulting to them. I gave them beautiful names like Cassandra, but I wanted them to be more humbled. I wanted them to reflect my life more than this life I didn’t have a clue about. The concept changed completely: what they are now…they’re anthropomorphized people on the lower runs. I give them the names of superheroes. They all have a legacy and a history. It’s about the lives of people who struggle. It’s a fantasy of them being superheroes.
LA: Are people ever turned off by the Glam Bugs?
XN: The bugs are harder for people to deal with. The ruins are actually closely related to the bugs because they are places, like the bugs, that are reviled and people want nothing to do with them. We wish they weren’t around. They’re at the bottom of the barrel, just like the bugs. I try to glamorize them like I do the bugs.
LA: Bottom of the barrel: anything to do with the Crystals collection?
XN: Crystals is apart from these two. They’re more decorative. I could find connections: they are discarded dishes that I paint and re-glaze and I give them a new life, one more enchanting than existed for them before. I find them in the Salvation Army, or garage sales. They’re sitting there, and I take these things that are rejected and I try to make them beautiful.
LA: Can you describe some of your favorite moments shooting your work?
XN: I love the exploring part. That’s largely how I started. I grew up exploring. I loved to escape the city – full of people, stressful, noise, and advertisements. I would go down an alley, junky, dirty, quiet, nobody around. It’s peaceful. An unbelievable setting, and I saw a lot of beauty in it.
LA: Any future for new collections?
XN: I’ve had ideas for other projects, but I really like the 3 series I’m working on and I’ll continue to expand them indefinitely. With the Glam Bugs, I feel like I’ve just skimmed the surface. The Crystals, too. The Alleys and Ruins have been full throttle for the past ten years. That series has been explored pretty deep, but it’s still something I enjoy. And after all these years, the series continues to grow and evolve, so the plan is to just keep doing it.
Its in German, but just let it run…Posted at 4pm on 3/7/12 | Comments | Filed Under: Art Shows
I have some milestone exhibitions coming up, including my first solo museum show! (at the Bolinas Museum in the bay area, CA), as well as the first museum show to feature the Glam bugs! (at the Elmhurst Art Museum in Elmhurst, IL). I’m also part of an upcoming group show at the excellent Schneider gallery in Chicago’s loop art district.
My Alley images usually hog the spotlight, but my Bugs have done me proud! In honor of them, here’s Count Blankfein. I’ve even cracked his secret code for you! Feel free to download and distribute, as his wretched story refuses to go away.
- Feb 21 – March 28. Glam Bugs, group show, Elmhurst Artists Guild gallery in the Elmhurst Art Museum, Elmhurst, IL
- March 2 – April 28. Alleys and Ruins, group show, Schneider Gallery, Chicago, IL. I’ll be at the opening reception on March 2nd, 5 – 7:30pm.
- March 17-May 6. Alleys and Ruins, solo show, Bolinas Museum, Bolinas, CA. I’ll be at the opening reception here too, on March 17, 3 – 5pm.
Its always a treat when my work inspires others. I learned recently that trombonist and euphoniumist Brett Keating, a Masters student in Luzern, Switzerland, has commissioned composer Thomas C. Lang to write a sonata in three movements – each movement will be inspired by and named after one of my three main bodies of work: Alleys & Ruins, The Glam Bugs and the Crystals. Keating asked me for permission, telling me I was his favorite artist. How could I possibly say no! The premiere performance will be in Luzern in the Fall, and will feature a slideshow of my work behind the musicians. The multimedia performance will be streamed live and will be available for viewing on my site after that.
And the two images above are from Detroit artist Brooke Wales. While preparing her portfolio for college, she wanted to show off the beauty of decay in her city. Being a fan of my work, she asked if she could use my images as a starting point. She reproduced Alley 63, Smash (left) as a scratchboard etching, and Alley 95, Central Station in ink. I love the way they turned out, as expressionist versions of my photographs!Posted at 5pm on 1/26/12 | 1 comment | Filed Under: Art Shows
Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, Seasons Greetings! from me and my nieces and nephew.
Top: brother and sister Elijah & Shoshana. Bottom: sisters Keanna & KayleePosted at 9pm on 12/24/11 | Comments | Filed Under: Art Shows
ShowPod presents “Alleys & Ruins: 1991-2011″
The Chicago Art District’s seven ShowPods, along the district’s main strip, are displaying large Alley pieces (three 8×10-foot prints, and four 44×55 pieces). The show runs from Dec 9-Feb 6 and is curated by the director of the arts district, Cynthia West.
More info on the show
More info on 20 years of Alleys & Ruins
A reception will be held in ShowPod 7 (1843 S Halsted St) on Friday, Jan 13 (oops, scary!) from 6-10pm
And if you’re passing through the InterContinental Hotel at Chicago’s O’Hare, you’ll see two 32×40 Alley pieces. They’ll be on display there from Dec 22, for the next 6 to 12 months.
Posted at 1pm on 12/13/11 | Comments | Filed Under: Art Shows
Alleys & Ruins no. 141, Cotton Belt (2011, St Louis, MO, 10:30pm)
The St. Louis Southwestern Railway, better known as The Cotton Belt Route, was formed in 1891 to supply a rail route from St Louis to Arkansas and Texas. The Cotton Belt was eventually bought out by Union Pacific, and this depot was shut down in the early 1970′s. Its an enormous building, as seen on the left.
I held my first ever workshop last Saturday and Wow was it fun! During the class, I explained in detail how I create my Alley images, and then I taught the students how to do it themselves. I set up a ladder draped with random sheets, and told them to make something of this eyesore. I then provided a selection of lights that they could choose from and they took it from there. I was blown away by the talent in the class!! Below are just a couple of the many, many great images from the students. I plan to hold this workshop again next year. Sign up for my newsletter (you’ll find a link here) if you want me to keep you posted.
And Saturday night I attended the opening of Urban Edge, a fantastic group show I’m part of in Waukegan, just north of Chicago. The gallery (also called Urban Edge) had been an empty space owned by the city, which the art-loving mayor decided would become a huge beautiful industrial gallery. Vickie Marasco curated the show while David Motley with David Dallison helped transform the raw space into a little bit of Soho/Chelsea in downtown Waukegan. See the show at 220 Clayton St. A good time to go is this Sat Dec 3, from 2-5pm when the arts district holds its annual Holiday artwauk. Or call 847-902-6662 anytime for a VIP tour of the show.
Below: curator Vickie Marasco, painter David E. Dallison, party crasher mePosted at 2pm on 11/21/11 | 3 comments | Filed Under: Art Shows
Now, without further ado… here’s the latest star in the Glam Bugs series, captured while bustin a move on stage, somewhere deep beneath the soil…
Nikki: (hiphop) dancing queen
And my Workshop is coming up! Most people are interested in how I shoot my alley photos, however I’ll also briefly discuss my techniques shooting bugs.
Sat, Nov 19, 10am-2pm.
- The Saturday class will focus on technique. I’ll be disclosing state secrets! Namely, how I create the images in my Alleys & Ruins series. The class will also include a general presentation of studio lighting as well as some discussion of my Bug and Crystal series. Although I create the images on a film camera, I’ll be training you using a digital camera for instant feedback.
- Price: $110
- Space is limited. To sign up, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Drop Everything! I’m Having a Party!
Saturday, Nov 5th, 8pm.
1932 S Halsted St, #402, Chicago
- Limited drinks and snacks will be present – feel free to byob
- Friends are welcome to come
Its time to pass on what I’ve learned over the years! I’m giving a 2-day workshop
Sat & Sun Nov 19, 20. 10am-2pm.
- The Saturday class will focus on technique. I’ll be disclosing state secrets! Namely, how I create the images in my Alleys & Ruins series. The class will also include a general presentation of studio lighting as well as some discussion of my Bug and Crystal series. Although I create the images on a film camera, I’ll be training you using a digital camera for instant feedback.
- The Sunday class will focus on Opportunities for photographers: art world vs commercial world. Before becoming a full-time art photographer, I had a successful career shooting commercial photography. I’ll be discussing a variety of ways to break into both markets with an emphasis on marketing.
- Price: one day only $110, both days $195.
- Space is limited. To sign up, email me: email@example.com
Alley no. 1, Electric Sky, was shot in September of 1991, so it appears I have an anniversary to celebrate!
In 1991 I was shooting a lot at night and I already knew that out-of-the-way urban areas (the more decrepit the better) were drawing me like a magnet. Electric Sky is not the first image of urban decay that I shot at night, but I think it’s the first where I managed to create a fairytale version of the rundown urban scene I was looking at.
I didn’t know why I was doing this at the time, and I certainly didn’t have a series planned. It wasn’t until the summer of 1993 that I had the required epiphany. Once I came to recognize the vision that I had been dancing around for so many years, the series took off. That summer was the true beginning of the series.
I was drawn to areas where people don’t go, inside a busy, loud city – they were small, grungy oases, where it was quiet and where I felt comfortable. And there I would be, surrounded by incredibly stimulating newness – stuff you wouldn’t see anywhere else but in places society shunned. Since they were barely, if at all maintained, the scars left by the elements (including the weather and people) only accumulated, making them more and more interesting the older they were.
I needed a lot of time to myself, and I needed to take pictures. The perfect solution was to walk down dark alleys alone with my camera at night. Okay, there were some obvious flaws with that solution! So after a year of this, I started asking friends to come along and watch my back. I’m grateful to the many, many people who have been foolish enough to assist me over the years (haha!) – no, I truly am grateful!!
The series has evolved over time. In the late 1990’s I started bringing lighting equipment and colored gels. I would use my lights sparingly, but year after year my images had more and more of my light. In 1997 I switched to a 120mm Hasselblad camera – a big upgrade from the 35mm Nikon I had been using, resulting in incredibly sharp and detailed images. In 2004 I found myself in a position where I could sustain myself through my art alone. I stopped doing the commercial photography that had been my bread and butter, and this allowed me to travel extensively, adding dozens of new cities to the body of work.
But the heart of the series has always been my drive to dignify the places, and by extension, the people who are cast away. By transforming these locations into theatrical sets (made way easier when I started bringing lights!), I have always tried to create a stage without players, leaving it up to the viewer to create their own characters and drama, and hoping that ultimately the viewer feels compelled to step into the scene themselves, as I did 20 years ago.
Weekend Workshop Nov 19 and 20
And on that note, I’ll be giving a weekend workshop in my Chicago studio Nov 19 and 20. On Saturday I’ll give a class on technique, both camera and lighting, including how to arrive at a personal vision. I’ll be using a digital Nikon SLR. The Sunday class will be devoted to the business and marketing side; lessons on how to start or improve a career, both commercial and art. Before becoming a full-time artist, I was a commercial photographer, with various specializations.
If you are interested let me know – firstname.lastname@example.org – and I’ll send you more info, including pricing, as the date approaches.
And finally, Canadian photographer Darwin Wiggett interviewed me recently for his blog: “Life and Learning Through the Lens”
Photographer of the Month – Xavier Nuez
This month I’m excited to share the work of artist and photographer Xavier Nuez. Born in Montreal and now living in Chicago, Xavier’s work has been featured in both galleries and museums and is included in numerous corporate, public and private collections.
Darwin: I notice that many of what I consider the best photographers are also musicians or musically inclined and that these photographers have some of the most evocative visual compositions. What is it about music and photography that gel so well?
Xavier: I’ve never considered the relationship between my music and my photography, so this is a new puzzle. There is something very meditative about the two, both in the production of the art and also in the appreciation afterward. When I’m shooting or playing music I can focus so intensely that nothing else exists, while I find it hard to concentrate most any other time!
They both seem to be art forms that require both left and right brain. In both cases you are channeling emotion through a mechanical instrument, an instrument that requires years and years of practice to master. And I must say here that I’m hardly a master with my guitar. I play just well enough to enjoy myself. There has always been a different level of passion and dedication to perfection with my photography.
It requires patience to master any instrument, and while I think most people understand that to be true with a musical instrument – that it takes years and years to develop the muscle memory and dexterity – I think most people underestimate the commitment required to master the technical skills required in photography, which includes not just the camera but the lighting equipment. So I guess another relationship is patience.
Lastly, creativity and expression are muscles that need to be exercised for you to be a good artist. Musical and visual art are just different muscles, and I do believe there are intangible benefits to my images, having more than one creative outlet.
Darwin: Besides being a fine photographer and musician, you do things like glaze and paint china and then make stunning detailed macro images of your work. I love the fact that you create art and then make additional art by photographing your first creation. What other art forms do you practice?
Xavier: Funny you should ask! For 15 years I was an avid sketch artist (mainly pencil) and occasional painter, but this passion has waned. Coincidently last week I bought a sketch pad because I miss drawing.
And for some years in my teens and twenty’s I loved writing short stories. I still enjoy writing but I haven’t written fiction in years.
I’ve always loved improv comedy and for a couple of years I studied with a group in Toronto. I wish this had been a bigger part of my life because it’s clear to me that through improv you smash down so many barriers to self expression.
Darwin: Your alleyway work is mind-blowing! What is the worst thing that has happened to you while making your forays in the dark and dangerous heart of the city? And what is the best thing that has happened to you while making alleyway photos?
Xavier: Well thank you very much! When I look at this series, it’s a little hard to believe how often I’ve put my life on the line. But the older I get the more cautious I become.
I just got back from Saint Louis where I just added a new image to the series. I spent hours during the day roaming through rundown areas, looking for something to shoot later at night. I had a long list of prospects, but I kept wondering if I should hire a cop for some of these – something I’ve never done. In the end I didn’t, but I did bring several friends with me, unlike just one the way I usually do.
I’ve had many heart-pumping moments, and I’ve come close to becoming a casualty too many times, but the worst and best story has to come from Compton, CA. First, its Compton – made famous by the dueling gangs, the Bloods and the Crips. While in the middle of a shoot, a gang – 12 guys in black hoodies – chase me and my 2 friends back to my van. We have time to throw the gear in and lock the doors but then the gang surrounds the van and tells us to get out. It’s surprising how organized they were – they were literally standing all around the van. I get the impression that if I try to leave, bullets will fly. Also, and this shows you how truly insane I can be, I’m holding out for the slim chance of actually going back to re-do the shot I was working on!!
It’s a Latino gang and I speak Spanish so I lower the window a crack and try to explain what I’m doing, emphasizing that I meant no disrespect. We have a tense conversation for several minutes, until the gang leader (the only one without a hoodie) asks me if I’m Luis, the friend of a friend. I say, “Yes! Of course I am!” He then starts waving to the gang saying, “I know this guy! He’s cool he’s cool!”
In an instant I go from being a target to being part of the family – it was just a mind-blowing turn of events. I step out of the van and half the gang hugs me. They tell me I can go back to taking pictures, and that I’m safe within certain streets – I’m beyond thrilled that I can return to my photograph. Several of the gang members including Jorge, the leader, decide to hang out with us and I set up again for the earlier photo.
Ten minutes later a cop car appears around the corner skidding to a halt. Two cops jump out with laser guided hand guns and because I’ve jumped in front of the camera to protect the shot, I find myself staring at a vibrating red dot on my chest.
A minute later, we’re all standing with our hands on the hood of the cop car. I’m waiting for the cops to relax before starting to explain what I’m doing, but Jorge jumps in and says “Do you officers know lieutenant Menendez? He’s a friend of mine.” The cops turn white and wide-eyed. They stare at each other and quickly return to their car, saying “We’re sorry we thought something was going on here. Have a nice day.” They get in the car and drive away and we never see them again. This gang has been paying off the lieutenant and you don’t mess with his revenue stream.
Jorge then comes up to me and says, “You’re not Luis, are you.” I say, no, I’m not, and we both laugh. I ended up getting 2 of my best shots that night.
Darwin: You make fine art images and you do assignment work, which do your prefer or do you like both for different reasons?
Xavier: Assignment work was 90% of my income for 20 years. I haven’t done a commercial gig in a long time – I’m not opposed to it but my art keeps me very busy. I’m thrilled that I can thrive by creating the images I’m truly passionate about. It’s no longer something I have to squeeze in at the end of the day.
I enjoyed being a commercial photographer – being paid to create photographs was a dream come true. Shooting architectural interiors for magazines and interior designers was the bulk of my work, with fashion, industrial and product filling in the rest.