NYC-ARTS visits Shahpour Pouyan, Jeffrey Gibson and Dorothea Rockburne in their studios. Pouyan’s works range from drawing and painting to sculpture and performance art. Gibson’s beadwork, ceramics, sculptures, and paintings are influenced by Cherokee and Choctaw tradition. Rockburne is an abstract painter who draws inspiration from her interest in mathematics and astronomy.

View Transcript

FUNDING FOR NYC-ARTS IS MADE POSSIBLE BY ROSALIND P.

WALTER THEA PETSCHEK IERVOLINO FOUNDATION THE LEWIS 'SONNY' TURNER FUND FOR DANCE JODY AND JOHN ARNHOLD KATE W.

CASSIDY FOUNDATION ELISE JAFFE AND JEFFREY BROWN CHARLES AND VALERIE DIKER JEAN DUBINSKY APPLETON ESTATE ELROY AND TERRY KRUMHOLZ FOUNDATION THE MILTON AND SALLY AVERY ARTS FOUNDATION AND ELLEN AND JAMES S.

MARCUS ADDITIONAL FUNDING PROVIDED BY MEMBERS OF THIRTEEN.

NYC-ARTS IS MADE POSSIBLE IN PART BY FIRST REPUBLIC BANK... PdM: Good evening and welcome to NYC-ARTS.

I'm Philippe de Montebello at the Tisch WNET Studios at Lincoln Center.

It's been my pleasure, along with my colleague Paula Zahn, to bring you the very best of arts and culture in the tri-state area.

Whether it's music, dance, film, theater, the visual arts... classic or contemporary...well-known or newly discovered... NYC-ARTS has provided unique access to the people and places that represent the richness of our arts community.

In this program we'd like to share with you some of our favorite segments.

We hope they are some of YOUR favorites, as well.

PZ: On tonight's program we'll visit with Shahpour Pouyan, an Iranian artist who currently splits his time between New York and Tehran.

Born in Isfahan in 1979, the year of Iran's Islamic revolution, Pouyan's childhood was marked by the eight-year war with Iraq.

His works range from drawing and painting to sculpture and performance art.

They show a concern with power, military aggression, and religious orthodoxies, although not always in a direct way.

Last year Pouyan was one of three younger artists included in an exhibition at NYU's Grey Art Gallery: Global/Local 1960-2015: Six Artists From Iran.

On display were his digital copies of Persian miniatures, with historical figures erased and gaps in the landscape filled in.

Also included were his 'projectiles, ' a series of imposing sculptures fashioned in chain mail -- a craft the artist learned directly from a master Persian armor builder -- and etched with calligraphy.

His latest work are ceramics, created at BrickHouse Ceramic Arts Center in Long Island City, and are part of his first solo exhibition in France.

SHAHPOUR POUYAN: I make ceramics and at the same time, I do painting, drawing, photography everything.

The fun part is doing everything with my own hands.

I grew up in Tehran, and live in Brooklyn now.

Iran is a modern name.

I mean in political terms.

Persia, of course, it has thousand years of history.

I don't think it's about Iran.

It's not about the specific geography, it's more about the culture and interactions that happen.

'Projectiles' are based on this old practice of producing armor in Iran which you know it's been around for 2000 years, 3000 years.

The physical process is about bringing this very old medieval technique, and just bring it back to life as a very contemporary form of practicing art.

Armor is layers of history, layers of aggression, and at some point it turned to be a very poetic product, which is covered by decoration, poetry, and layers and layers of rich culture.

People always ask me what you trying to say.

But telling anything about this works is uh just make it more complicated.

Because these works have very strong roots in the misunderstanding between different cultures.

So I would say, it's layers and layers of misunderstanding, which is the truth.

I collected, selected this very specific miniature from medieval and 15, 16th centuries --we talking about the very vast geography of today is many countries --with very important historical moments.

And then I removed all the figures, heroes, anti-heroes.

I freed the miniature from that weight of figures.

So what you see is this empty landscape, or architectural scene.

There is a story there, however you can read it or not.

So it's just, I would say, updated.

I do many sketches.

I keep doing sketches and just doing again, and again, and changing and changing and changing.

But they're all coming from an idea.

So I have something in my mind, and I have like a concept and something that has to get a three-dimensional form.

And then I go to studio and sitting and start building the ceramic piece.

And it's keep changing, changing and the final result is something else.

Working with clay is, is amazing because it deceive me.

So every day you go and you waiting that somehow it's gonna surprise you with something, with a new crack, with a change, with the formation, with many other things.

But it's a fight between medium and me.

It's like a discussion like, I want to take you to the perfect step, and he's just resisting, and then it's deceive you because listening to you and just getting the shape getting the form and then you fire it two times and then when it's coming out it's a monster.

It's totally different, and it's like the moment like mmph.

So the negotiation worked.

My ideas and the sketches are not from specific places, not really.

So what I do is get that essential alphabet in form of architecture and bring it to my sculptures.

When I was working on this cityscape, I was thinking the best way to celebrate a nation is architecture.

I didn't glaze this new works; because it's like unfinished project is sketch of a future.

It's like a dream or nightmare.

Ceramic is very fragile.

It's about fragile condition of all of us, as people, as a nation, as a city, as a state.

So everything happens is the truth that you try to find, but how much is correct, you never know.

PZ: Tonight on our program we'll meet artist Jeffrey Gibson.

Born in Colorado Springs, Gibson grew up around the world, thanks to his father's career with the Department of Defense.

He spent his childhood in Korea and Germany before eventually moving back to the States.

After graduating from the Art Institute of Chicago, he went to London to study at the Royal College of Art.

His beadwork, ceramics, sculptures, and paintings are influenced by Cherokee and Choctaw tradition.

Inspired by sampled and remixed pop music, he combines his cultural heritage with minimalism and abstraction.

His studio is currently located in Hudson, New York, in an old elementary school, which Gibson and his husband, sculptor Rune Olsen, bought last year and converted into studio space...now home to a growing artistic community.

JEFFERY GIBSON: Growing up as a foreigner, is something that I think about a lot now.

You know, when you're a foreigner you don't entirely understand what you're looking at or what you're hearing all the time.

So you have this kind of subjective comprehension of the world around you that is an estimated guess.

I think about that a lot in terms of how I use materials, because I use a lot of materials that I think many people may not know the context that I'm drawing them from or what the culture is or the history is.

So my mother's family lives in Oklahoma, my father's family lives in Mississippi, and those Choctaw and Cherokee cultures are extremely different.

So when I would go there it would be to visit my family.

I never wanted to observe my family.

You want to be a participant in your family.

So we don't look at each other and think, 'Oh, that's Native American.'

Then I began thinking you know, what was it about the quilts that grandma made, or what was it about the jewelry that she wore or the dresses that she made, what did the song mean that she would sing?

And then it becomes something culturally specific, I suppose.

But otherwise it's just kind of inherently familial.

It really started from a place of like I want to take part in all of these things.

I want to know how to bead.

And then that starts the pattern, it starts off design, it starts off color choices, it starts off the challenge of what you can actually do with beads.

I wanted to make found object work and over the course of time, sometimes they are mashed together.

I'm interested in exploring the transformative nature of materials and how the language can shift from a beaded triangle to a painted triangle to a woven triangle and what those three different versions of a triangle mean.

There was this period of club music that was the transition of analog music into digital, and it was the sampling and the turn tables where people could sample music that was really, had an impression on me.

So this kind of repetitive nature of repeating and picking something from one context and sticking it into another one and making something new.

I can spend my time in the studio mashing up, remixing, remaking, taking apart, reconstructing.

And I can invite other people to take part in that with me.

I think it's important, just to be transparent about the process.

We acknowledge the assistants all the time, as much as we can.

If it was just me making, for instance, a punching bag, we would be seeing one a year.

The lines between craft and what's, you know, historically been thought of as fine art: the decorative, the embellishment, all of those things, in this environment, are equalized.

If you if you look at Pow Wow garments they're so loud and colorful.

So with that as my inspiration in many ways, there was no limit to the combinations of colors.

It's more thinking about what the color does in combination with each other.

So it's either really kind of pop or electric or reflective or optic.

I do have an attraction between the idea of minimalism and how minimalism leads towards like maximal density.

I used to think that minimalism was about maintaining this quiet silent place like this void unfilled with things and now I realize that the removal of information, when you're thinking about minimalism, is in an effort to actually be able to see how much is present in a very small space or in a very limited palette.

The idea is to like say slow down the color red and understand how many shades of red there are.

Slow down the color blue, understand how many shades of blue, tones of blue.

And then of course it opens right back up into including every single color.

My training is entirely process based abstract artist.

But the text was always meant to name this entirely subjective language of abstraction.

And at some point when the audience wasn't able to get the content that I felt I was putting into the abstraction, I decided to just start putting the text directly on it.

Most of the titles come from appropriated lyrics.

And then it just kind of hit.

There was something about the understanding that these words describe this that what you're looking at, became a really big part of the work for me.

People who were looking at my work at the time would always question, 'Well how does this relate to who you are?'

You know, 'How does this relate to you as a Native American person, as a gay person?'

'Is this subjectivity somehow representative of that experience?'

And it seemed no matter how hard I would say, 'No it's not', it almost compounded more for people to look for connections in the work.

And at some point I decided to own the words Native American, to own the words gay, and not give them any kind of power over determining who I am.

But I was fine with the work being described in that way because it is true.

This is my experience and in the 20th century at that time and even today, that's very much how we describe each other.

I acknowledge that we are all very, very layered, complicated people.

In our contemporary world we don't always have the opportunity to explore that or to share that with each other, but it's what you can do in art.

PZ: Dorothea Rockburne is an abstract painter who draws inspiration from her interest in mathematics and astronomy.

In 1950 she moved to the United States from Canada to attend Black Mountain College, an experimental liberal arts school in North Carolina.

There she studied with such innovative figures as Franz Kline, John Cage and Merce Cunningham.

A few years later she moved to New York City where she met many of the leading artists and poets of the time.

NYC-ARTS recently had the chance to visit with Rockburne in her Soho studio.

DORTHEA ROCKBURNE: I don't make art that men would make.

I make strong woman art.

When I was in 4th grade I drew a nasty picture of my teacher.

And I - I passed the picture around - you know.

And she took the picture away and she said 'Who did this picture?'

This was - I went to a strict school.

And I thought - O well, here it goes (laughs) And she said - I want you to stay after school and - you know - and I stayed after school and she said - you can really draw.

Would your parents let me take you to art school on Saturday?

I asked my parents and they said sure - and she took me to Ecole des Beaux Arts in Montreal.

When I went to Ecole des Beaux Arts I had great teachers.

They told me to get out of Montreal as soon as I was old enough to leave.

And that's how I left - I left Canada to come to America.

I applied to Black Mountain College and got into Black Mountain My fellow students were John Chamberlain and Bob Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly and people like that.

Unlike most schools that I had experienced - they welcomed youthful energy and curiosity - they did not suppress it.

And they encouraged you to experiment and do everything and I loved it (laughs). By the time I went to Black Mountain, I had no idea what to paint.

I knew that I didn't wanna do landscapes of figures because I had a lot of that.

And I was interested in science from a very early age.

I think part of that comes from the way I grew up.

My father was part Algonquin, Indian and he was - uh - very much in touch with nature.

And to a degree he taught that to me.

And I realized there was more to nature than painting a landscape.

I wanted to know what made things tick.

I was always straddling art and science and philosophy.

Plato, Archimedes, Pythagoras.

And also Egypt - I was always studying Egypt.

And I started to find my way between philosophy mathematics and actually art.

What caught my interest in math was that there was a sense of ongoing creativity and change whereas when I looked at painting, even good painting, more or less people found a painting to do and with variations they did that.

But I knew that I don't have that kind of mind.

I know that I have to, the metaphor I use for myself is step on a new continent every day.

Astronomers see the space between the planets and the stars as being a continuous surface and there's a mathematics for that.

And that mathematics is absolutely intriguing to me.

I've been working on a group of work called the Stardust series.

Based on the way the particles from stars are emitted and form stardust and other stars and are- are tossed around by electro-magnetic currents.

I've always loved water color and never liked the way it was used.

I personally do not like water color sinking into the surface of the paper because I think then the water color loses its own voice.

So I wanted to work on a material where it wouldn't sink in, it had to sit on top.

And I also wanted, because this is astronomy, I wanted to create vibrations.

I wanted a certain amount of cracking to occur.

I mean because again the energies in the universe you know are always in a state of vibrations, nothing is exact (laughs) '3 point manifold' that is a story of what happens in the universe as best as I can understand it.

And then, um, there's another painting there uh, which is called Angular Momentum.

The earth turns at an angular momentum, and you know uh, that's very uh, understood concept but I could only understand it for myself if I made a painting.

When I'm working I'm always looking at the work -and trying to listen to the work.

To make sure that it is a crackling energy.

That the colors are moving back and forth through more than a 2-dimensional space.

I'm putting all the knowledge that I have into it.

And then there's a certain point when I'm no longer looking at it - it's looking at me - and that's when it's complete.

Why are things geometric?

Why are things mathematical?

Why is there no such thing as chance?

I mean that is - I - you know [laughs] That's what I mean about walking on a different continent every day.

PdM: We hope you've enjoyed our program this evening.

From the Tisch WNET Studios in Lincoln Center, I'm Philippe de Montebello.

See you next time.

FUNDING FOR NYC-ARTS IS MADE POSSIBLE BY ROSALIND P.

WALTER THEA PETSCHEK IERVOLINO FOUNDATION THE LEWIS 'SONNY' TURNER FUND FOR DANCE JODY AND JOHN ARNHOLD KATE W.

CASSIDY FOUNDATION ELISE JAFFE AND JEFFREY BROWN CHARLES AND VALERIE DIKER JEAN DUBINSKY APPLETON ESTATE ELROY AND TERRY KRUMHOLZ FOUNDATION THE MILTON AND SALLY AVERY ARTS FOUNDATION AND ELLEN AND JAMES S.

MARCUS ADDITIONAL FUNDING PROVIDED BY MEMBERS OF THIRTEEN.

NYC-ARTS IS MADE POSSIBLE IN PART BY FIRST REPUBLIC BANK... NYC-ARTS 450 - Greatest Hits Transcript Page 4 of 8