art exhibitions

Art Shapes Our Reality

Atle Østrem is an artist based in Oslo, Norway who has been painting graffiti since the mid 90's and has been doing artwork on canvas since 2000. He draws inspiration from life, traveling, music, film, graffiti, typography, and cartoons. He currently has a solo exhibition up at Exhibit No. 9 in Asbury Park, NJ until September 20th. 

Some of Atle's paintings on paper 

Some of Atle's paintings on paper 

A: What led you to become a graffiti artist? How did it all start?

Ø: I have been drawing all of my life and I remember seeing graffiti as a kid. I didn't really understand what it was at the time but I was fascinated by these colorful paintings on the wall. Around 1995, when I was a bit older, a neighbor introduced me to a video that he had called Style Wars. Style Wars is a documentary from the early eighties about the subway graffiti in New York City and watching this made me realize what graffiti was all about. I immediately knew that I wanted to do it myself and from that day on I painted graffiti every week for the next 15 years. 

A: Does it feel much different painting on canvas than it does when you are painting graffiti? 

Ø: I wouldn't say that the feeling is completely different because I do get some sort of the same satisfaction when I am happy with the results of my painting on a canvas that I used to get from graffiti. Graffiti was sort of like an adventure. I would walk the streets looking for spots to paint, and then go home and draw out sketches to plan out what I would do and when I would paint that spot. With graffiti art, you usually have to paint late at night and you have to do it fast so you don't get caught red handed. This is what gave graffiti a special kind of energy that is hard to capture when doing studioworks on canvas. 

I've always tried to keep separation between the two but I have brought lots of elements and references from graffiti into my paintings. With studiowork you spend a lot more time and thought on what you put into a piece versus doing graffiti on the streets. Graffiti is much more quick and spontaneous. 

"Closing the Gap Between Us" acrylic on canvas

"Closing the Gap Between Us" acrylic on canvas

A: At what point in your career did you decide to stop painting graffiti and start painting on canvas and exhibiting your work in galleries?

Ø: I don't think that I ever made the decision to go from one to the other. The transition was sort of natural. For a long time I was doing both and somewhere along the line they started to blend together. In the mid 90's at the beginning of my career when I started doing graffiti, I began to make a small name for myself within the Norwegian graffiti community. I started doing canvases around 2000 so at that point I already had a small following that liked my graffiti and also enjoyed my canvases. Later on I opened up an art supply shop with a friend selling spray paint mostly and this shop gave me the opportunity to hang some of my own paintings on the walls.

Fast forward a couple of years, and a gallerist from my hometown walked into my shop and invited me to do a show with him and from then on one show led to another. I have built a customer base brick by brick and for the last couple of years I have been lucky enough to be able to work as a full time artist. 

About 5 years ago I started to get really bad headaches from the spray paint fumes. The headaches started to get worse and worse and lasted longer and longer every time I painted. After a year or so of suffering through these headaches, I started to realize how serious it was and that my health was the most important so I completely stopped using spray paint and solvents. So for the past 4 years I have focused more on studio work and less on graffiti for this reason. 

A few of Atle's paintings on canvas and on paper

A few of Atle's paintings on canvas and on paper

A: Do you write the text that you use in your work yourself? 

Ø: I often make the title a part of the visual expression of a piece. Sometimes it is text that I write myself, and sometimes it is a quote that I feel describes the subject of my work. This comes partly from my love for letters and partly from the idea of wanting the artwork to communicate something to the viewer. The text often says something about the meaning behind the piece. 

"Peace, Love, & Homelessness" acrylic on canvas

"Peace, Love, & Homelessness" acrylic on canvas

A: What was your inspiration behind the painting, "Unsung Heroes"? 

Ø: Today with the whole street art thing being very popular and street artists are celebrated like rockstars, it's easy to forget that before street art there was graffiti, and before artists were getting paid and put up on pedestals for doing art on the street, people were getting fined and put in prison for doing it. I had gotten in a lot of trouble for doing graffiti. The first few times that I was arrested, I was released from jail after a night or so but in late 1999, I was taken to court and had to spend a couple of weeks in jail.

I ended up having to do 11 months of community service and pay about $30,000 in fines. The "Unsung Heroes" painting is shining a spotlight on the forefathers (and mothers) who had built the foundation for what is going on today, but who didn't get the same recognition from the public as the street artists do today. 

"Unsung Heroes" acrylic on canvas

"Unsung Heroes" acrylic on canvas

A: What did it feel like to be punished for your passion?

Ø: It made me angry that kids/youth are punished more for painting on walls than someone who has committed a violent crime. 

A: What is the inspiration behind the body of work that you are currently exhibiting at Exhibit No. 9? 

Ø: I would say that my art is somewhat of a journal of my own life. I use art to tell stories from my life, whether it be a specific situation I have been in, a certain way that I am feeling, or as a commentary to what I see around me. In many ways you can say that my art is like a visual diary. I create art from my point of view but also try and make my pieces ambiguous, universal, and open to interpretation. 

Atle's interactive art installation at Exhibit No.9 

Atle's interactive art installation at Exhibit No.9 

"Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" acrylic on canvas

"Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" acrylic on canvas

A: How can people learn more about you and your work?

Ø: I actively use social media to promote my art. You can follow me @atleostrem. I also write about my art, exhibitions, and commission work on my website www.atleostrem.com

How much feeling is in a line?

Jenny Casey is an artist who creates mixed media, sculpture-like paintings that document her emotions and experiences she has interacting with the city, with the people and in nature. Casey works in a meditative way stemming from her own thoughts evolving from one thought to the next, and incorporates collage elements into all of her paintings. She recently debuted her newest series, "Emergence" on Saturday, May 9th at St. Luke's Gardens in Manhattan's West Village.

"That was a moment"

"That was a moment"

A: Jenny, could you tell us a little bit about how you came to this series of work, “Emergence”?

J: The “Emergence” series is a process of refinement. It started to form when I started seeing small pieces of white space (or blank canvas) within a painting and something within me and on the canvas started to change.

“Emergence” challenged me to be more refined which was hard. It was different than my other paintings. In my old paintings when something wasn't working out I would paint through my emotions, cover it up. This process of refinement was a new challenge for me and now I love it. At first I found it so difficult to be refined but it became a purposeful balance of refinement and restraint.

About 3 years ago is when I started experimenting with mixed media. It was really a time when I felt I wanted to paint for myself again as more of a meditative journey and start to show my work to the world. Around that time,  I decided to take a drawing class with one of The Art Studio NY instructors, Linda Connelly. I felt comfortable enough with her to share what I was going through both on and off the canvas.  I told her I had worked my way up into more senior, management roles in the graphic design industry, but started to feel like I was loosing my creativity. She said:

“You should start sketching everyday and don't feel bad about anything you draw. You will get better as you practice.It helps to keep your creativity alive and flowing.”

I started sketching everyday. I started doing series of 30 days of sketching, 60 days of sketching, 90 days of sketching to get my thoughts out. Drawing was never a daily thing for me, but it soon became my daily meditation. As I kept sketching and sharing my drawings with the world on social media, things just started to evolve.

Sketches from Jenny's 30 days of sketching journey

Sketches from Jenny's 30 days of sketching journey

My mixed-media painting class instructor at the Art Studio NY, Edward Holland, and the Art Studio NY owner Rebecca Schweiger, saw the direction I was going in and encouraged me to add some drawing into my paintings. I started to experiment with markers and pencil, with leaving pieces of canvas exposed.

A: What made you decide that you wanted to start showing your work and posting your drawings online?

J: At first, I was scared to show my artwork. I cared what people would think, I had doubts, I am a perfectionist. I felt so nervous to post my art online. Then I just said screw it I am going to go for it! People started reaching out to me saying, “you really inspire me,” it helped shape me into who I am. It really started this process of evolving into my authentic self.

A: What inspires you?

J: I like bright colors and have always been inspired by hidden discoveries and beauty in my environment. In my most recent painting series, “Emergence,” I would close my eyes and try out just shaking my hand, and do a brush or pen stroke. It was very therapeutic like punching a punching bag while at the same time creating something interesting. Being okay with doing a small area of a painting and saying ”i am content with that” was how the series ended up evolving. It became more of this minimalistic, experimental approach to painting. To say, “okay, I am okay with this stroke, I really like this” was difficult because being content with just a couple "imperfect" strokes was always a challenge for me.

I've always been inspired by Andy Warhol. That's where my love of sculpture, graphic design and pop art came from. But as I was making this minimalistic transition, I became incredibly inspired by the work of the artists, Joan Mitchell and Cy Twombly. Then it all just came to a point where it exploded. I started to think...

“how much feeling is in a line?”

A: How did this show differ from your others?

J: I've been in a variety of gallery shows which were amazing experiences but there is something so interesting about showing my art outside in nature, specifically at St. Luke's Gardens. I discovered the garden about a year ago and knew it would be a wonderful place to exhibit art. 

"Emergence" exhibit at St. Luke's Gardens in Manhattan's West Village

"Emergence" exhibit at St. Luke's Gardens in Manhattan's West Village

At this show it was interesting to observe what pieces people connected with the most. People were most drawn to “On The Heels of Change” which was neat as it also happened to be the painting featured on the invitation and event poster. 

"on the heels of change"  photo taken at jenny's solo exhibit, "emergence", in the gardens at St. Luke in NYC

"on the heels of change" photo taken at jenny's solo exhibit, "emergence", in the gardens at St. Luke in NYC

I also loved watching people interact with my art. Some people were just walking by and it became this impromptu experience, like a pop-up gallery for them. Watching this interaction in the garden, a hidden oasis in the middle of the busy city, made it even more special. It was so fun to meet new people and share an environment together; the art was an added bonus. 

For more information on Jenny Casey's artwork contact jenny@jcaseycreative.com or visit her website at www.jcaseycreative.com