Bruce Checefsky: Gardens
September 20, 2008 - November 1, 2008

Artist Biography

Press Releases
Bruce Checefsky: Gardens

Bruce Checefsky

 

Gardens

 

September 20th – November 1st, 2008

 

 

SHAHEEN modern and contemporary art is pleased to announce an exhibition of new photographic works by Cleveland-based artist Bruce Checefsky. 

 

Checefsky’s most recent body of work is both informed by and inclusive of his career-long exploration into camera-less photography, and his more recent experiences as a filmmaker.  To create the series of photographic images that he has titled Gardens, Checefsky employed a flatbed scanner in lieu of a traditional camera, and the fundamental materials and tools by which he realizes his black-and-white photograms.  Powered by a series of extension cords, the re-purposed scanner (stripped of its cover and glass) relocates the artist’s darkroom and studio to his garden.  Taking a cue from Checefsky’s film work, the horizontal exposure of the scanner suggests the pan of a film or video camera as it captures its surroundings from a continuously shifting vantage point.  While – technically speaking – the photographic or “photo-scanning” process involves no true depth of field, the images that it yields possess both extreme flatness and great depth.  As the scanner surveys its surroundings, it occasionally grabs the nearby foliage, creating chance visual occurrences that register themselves as obscure blurs, neon flares of color or vertical breaks in the resulting image. Ultimately, the confluence of Checefsky’s sophisticated yet elemental photographic sensibility and his control / loss-of-control encounter with technology allows him to transform an urban garden into lush, vibrantly colored and nether-worldly landscapes.  Rich, gorgeous and often eerie, the photographs that comprise Gardens beg as many photographic questions as they answer.

 

A native of Penssylvania and long-time Cleveland resident, Checefsky received his MFA in Photography from Cranbrook Academy of Art.  As a filmmaker, photographer, curator and gallery director, he has a lengthy and impressive career track record.  His photograms, photographs and films have been exhibited and screened at such venues as Museum of Modern Art, NY; Museum of Modern Art, Saitama, Japan; Cranbrook Museum of Art; Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive; Tel Aviv Biennial, Israel; Location One, New York; Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio; Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland, Ohio; Museum der Moderne, Salzburg, Austria; ZKM Museum Fur Neue Kunst, Germany; International Film Festival Rotterdam; Toronto International Film Festival; CSW| Centrum Sztuki Wspóczesnej Zamek Ujazdowski, Warsaw, Poland; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; Leopold Museum, Vienna, Austria; Cleveland International Film Festival, and more.  Checefsky’s films and photographs are held in many permanent collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Minneapolis Institute of Art, MN; Brooklyn Museum of Art, NY; Cleveland Museum of Art, OH; The Getty Research Institute, CA; Museum of Modern Art, Japan; The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, NJ; Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego, CA; British Film and Video Collection, London, and others.

 

» PDF version

 


Articles/Reviews
Bruce Checefsky creates beautiful images / The Plain Dealer

Bruce Checefsky creates beautiful images of garden plants with a flatbed scanner

 

by Steven Litt

Tuesday October 28, 2008, 3:54 PM

 

Cleveland artist Bruce Checefsky did a bit of unusual harvesting in his garden this summer. He employed some inspired mechanical tinkering to create a beautiful new suite of works that resemble photographs superficially but that depict the world in ways a camera never could.

 

Reasoning that a flatbed scanner he owns could do more than copy two-dimensional artworks, Checefsky removed the glass copying surface from the machine, connected it to extension chords and took it out to the garden behind his house.

 

Moving the machine close to the plants, and sometimes catching their stems, leaves and blossoms inside it, Checefsky "scanned" close-up portraits of vegetation that occupy an artistic territory somewhere between landscape and still life.

 

The resulting images --on view through Friday, Nov. 7, at Shaheen Modern and Contemporary Art in Cleveland – encompass a wide range of moods, compositions, colors and emotional effects.

 

The scanner captured razor-sharp images of everything close to it, rendering fleshy greenery, thistles and sunburnt foliage in vivid detail that evokes the sounds, scent and feel of being in a summer garden.

 

Details further away from the scanner, however, blur in a dazzling bath of light, creating an illusion of deep space receding into the vast distance beyond the close-up, bug's eye view of reality afforded by the scanner.

 

Because the scanner captures everything in front of it without the single viewpoint of a camera lens, it also seems to flatten the plants and press them close to the picture plane.

The effect is oddly monumental and heroic, as if the blossoms were part of a frieze, a form of sculpture used as architectural ornament. At the same time, the pictures possess the contradictory quality of extreme intimacy.

 

The word painterly, indicating the extent to which an artist exploits the physical qualities of paint through loose and active brushwork, could also apply to Checefsky's new scan-o-graphs.

 

Because the scanner slides across the visual plane like a printmaker's squeegee, it gives the images a semblance of having been created with a single, smearing stroke, something like certain recent abstract paintings by the German artist Gerhard Richter.

 

In Checefsky's case, when plants or blossoms get caught in the scanner, they smear as if they were actually made of pigment or ink and somehow got spread across the image like butter dragged by a knife. The effect, as in an image of a rose blossom caught by the scanner, is striking.

 

The question for Checefsky, now that he's found a new way to make images, is where he goes from here. For more than a decade, the artist, who directs the Cleveland Institute of Art's Reinberger Galleries, has experimented successfully with photograms, produced by setting objects atop photographic paper and exposing them to light. The scanner now affords the artist a new direction.

 

The show at Shaheen, while impressive, doesn't have a look of definitive finality. Instead, it suggests that Checefsky is onto something new that will keep him -- and his audience -- occupied happily for some time to come.

 

» PDF version

By Any Other Name / Cleveland Scene

By Any Other Name
Bruce Checefsky Shows Camera-less Photography At Shaheen Gallery

By Douglas Max Utter

 

CLEVELAND SCENE
Volume 15, Issue 78
Published November 3rd, 2008

"Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose," famously chanted Gertrude Stein in her 1913 poem "Sacred Emily." Elsewhere, Stein explained that she liked simplicity, "but simplicity produced by complication." She could have been talking about socalled camera-less photography, especially as it begins to be practiced now in the digital age. Practitioners of that oxymoronic-sounding art sometimes combine high-tech computer equipment with cardboard and duct tape, producing images that seem to bend back toward a real, rose-like (or at least Gertrude Stein-like) reality.

 

"Camera obscura" literally means "dark room," referring to the interior of the camera itself. But since photography's inception nearly two centuries ago, various dissenters have preferred to work as directly with light-sensitive materials as possible. Investigators as different as the British botanist Anna Atkins in the 1840s, and early modernist fine-arts innovators like Moholy-Nagy, Man Ray and even Picasso in the early decades of the 20th century explored the effects of placing objects on photosensitive paper.

 

Exposed to light and then fixed with chemicals like any other photograph, these produced enduring, precise shadows that were part picture, part imprint. Although it was known in the beginning as "photogenic drawing," the enduring fascination of the photogram is that it depends on proximity to produce what is really a souvenir of reality, rather than an image. In a way it is photography's opposite, or least its shadow - an un-reproducible object in its own right, like a piece of developed film rather than a print.

 

Throughout his career, Cleveland-based photographer Bruce Checefsky has experimented with ideas that date back to photography's invention, touching base with its source points, but also making an end-run around history. Over the past two decades he has layered all kinds of often-obscure objects to make large-scale photograms that seem like products of an alternate, retro-future - like photos that might decorate an apartment in Terry Gilliam's movie Brazil. Checefsky has a sculptor-like attraction to real, solidly three-dimensional things, as well as a cinematographer's taste for events (he also makes films), collecting and stacking the shadows of objects and processes. In one series of photograms from the late 1990s, he recorded the sudden flare and destruction caused by matches dropped on photosensitive paper: starry nights mixed with the dark joy of willful damage. His work has been shown extensively in New York and Europe, and can be found in the collections of many major museums, including MoMA, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Cleveland Museum of Art.

 

Checefsky's Gardens, currently on view at Shaheen Gallery, is an exhibit of 15 16-by-20-inch chromogenic digital scanner prints, pictures of Checefsky's Tremont garden made with a souped-up flatbed scanner. I don't know whether the artist literally used cardboard and duct tape to enhance his machine - as several other experimenters with this medium have done - but a long extension cord and an essentially low-tech mindset are definitely part of the equipment. The resulting photos might best be described as alternative, rather than camera-less, since, unlike photograms, they depend upon optical and digital technology, and, of course, can be produced in an edition of any size. All the same, a picture like Checefsky's "Trapaeolum, Nasturtium, Ipomoea" (2008) has a truly weird feeling about it. Something is just wrong. Artificial-seeming, anemic colors, coupled with the very limited depth of field capabilities of a scanner, produce an image that looks like a snapshot taken in the heavy, ammonia-based atmosphere of an alien moon. Pale green stems press forward like creatures rubbing against the glass of an aquarium, while, beyond, an empurpled horizon dimly billows past. "Tritoma" (2008) is less eerie because it's more brightly lit, though it's equally puzzling. We might recognize the familiar, conifer-shaped species without the title, but the context is indecipherable. Where is this flower, and how large is it? It stands tall at the margin of what might be a golden-striped ocean. More than an alien place, it seems like the view of an alien eye.

 

"Rose" (2008) is easily the most dramatic work on view. Richer than in any of the other photos, the reds of the flower flow from a single vertical meridian, like a banner streaming from a pole. The rose repeats itself in a continuous surge, moving across a field of green, its upper half backlit by an orange-tinted sky. Largely abstract, the image is powerfully beautiful.

 

Though not quite literally camera-less, Checefsky's garden studies at least feel something like photograms - and not just because he revisits the subject matter of Anna Atkins' early cyanotypes. The scanner seems to reach out and grab the things in front of it; not depicting them and slinking away, but pulling them toward its wide, clear, rectangular face as if to eat them. If any of the flat screens that dominate our new world were to develop visual sentience, no doubt it would be like this. Or, even more frighteningly, maybe this is already the secret reality of our own once-human view, as we increasingly consume rather than see a world stretched and distorted, averaged and improved by digital and mechanical parameters.

 

» PDF version

 

Bruce Checefsky
Tropaeolum, (Nasturtium), Ipomea, 2008
chromogenic digital scanner print
16 x 20 inches
edition: 2 + 1 AP
Bruce Checefsky
Nasturtiums, 2008
chromogenic digital scanner print
16 x 20 inches
edition: 2 + 1 AP

Bruce Checefsky
Tulipa Acumninata, 2008
chromogenic digital scanner print
16 x 20 inches
edition: 2 + 1 AP
Bruce Checefsky
Papaver, 2008
chromogenic digital scanner print
16 x 20 inches
edition: 2 + 1 AP

Bruce Checefsky
Pardancanda Norrisli, 2008
chromogenic digital scanner print
16 x 20 inches
edition: 2 + 1 AP
Bruce Checefsky
Rose, 2008
chromogenic digital scanner print
16 x 20 inches
edition: 2 + 1 AP

Bruce Checefsky
Eurphobia Griffithii (Fireglow), 2008
chromogenic digital scanner print
16 x 20 inches
edition: 2 + 1 AP
Bruce Checefsky
Coreopsis Rosea, 2008
chromogenic digital scanner print
16 x 20 inches
of 2 + 1 AP

Bruce Checefsky
Eschscholzia californica, 2008
chromogenic digital scanner print
16 x 20 inches
of 2 + 1 AP
Bruce Checefsky
Baptisia (Purple Smoke), 2008
chromogenic digital scanner print
16 x 20 inches
of 2 + 1 AP

Bruce Checefsky
Hemerocallis, 2008
chromogenic digital scanner print
16 x 20 inches
of 2 + 1 AP
Bruce Checefsky
Kniphofia, 2008
chromogenic digital scanner print
30 x 40 inches
edition: 1 + 1 AP

Bruce Checefsky
Geranium Maculatum, 2008
chromogenic digital scanner print
16 x 20 inches
edition: 2 + 1 AP
Bruce Checefsky
Papaver Oriental (Carnival) , 2008
chromogenic digital scanner print
30 x 40 inches
edition: 1 + 1 AP

Bruce Checefsky
Geranium Maculatum, 2008
chromogenic digital scanner print
16 x 20 inches
edition: 2 + 1 AP