[From The Gallery Insider Series]
Below we have a partial view of a large exhibition of paintings and installations by the New York-based identical twin artists How & Nosm, whose real names are Raoul and Davide Perre. The exhibition, titled Late Confessions, took place via a pop-up show* presented by Jonathan LeVine Gallery at 557 West 23rd Street, in New York City, from February 1 – 23, 2013. Scroll down for more ...
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*Essential Question #1: What is a "pop-up show?" Scroll down for our explanations and answers to the various Essential Questions in this feature.
The gallery's press release describes their work as follows: "How & Nosm's aesthetic is characterized by meticulously detailed line work rendered in their signature black, white and red color palette. The artists mix highly stylized figures in contrasting scale with intricate, graphic, geometric patterns. Their complex narratives are complemented by site-specific installations that draw the viewer into surreal environments reflecting those portrayed on their canvases."
But beyond that somewhat formalistic description, a more-direct impression that we came away with of the work is that it has the feel of very complex and intricate street art (see detailed image below). And sure enough, it is noted that the brothers started doing graffiti while in their teens, and have painted in over 60 countries around the world!
There's a distinct reason why the show is titled Late Confessions: it relates to the twin brothers' unique personal history. They were born in 1975 in San Sebastian, Spain, which was at the very end of the Franco dictatorship. The gallery's press release describes their childhood experience in Spain as “a time of political turmoil in which military tanks, tear gas and rubber bullets were common,” resulting in a sense of chaos and instability.
Essential Question #2: what are some basic facts about the "Franco dictatorship" in Spain? (more info given below)
But it wasn't just the political atmosphere in Spain that was a tough aspect of the twins' upbringing; their parents divorced when they were 6 years old and they ended up moving with their mother to Dusseldorf, Germany, where she was originally from. They lived in poverty, and creating art was an "escape" for them, and since they had no money, painting graffiti on walls was a their way of having a free "blank canvas," to make their work on.
So, with a title like "Late Confessions," does this mean the art work is autobiographical? It is, and the twins say that painting is like a cathartic form of therapy, to the point that they credit art with such a positive aspect of their teen years that it helped steer them away from drugs and getting into the type of trouble that could land them in jail.
Essential Question #3: how might making art be cathartic, and what exactly does that mean?
So, let's take a look at some of the work and see what kind of autobiographical details we can find ...
Essential Question #4: What might be autobiographical about the painting titled Dreaming is Free? What sort of symbolic images do you see? (our interpretation given below)
Of course the title The Abyss of Our Soul is also autobiographical, but it's a little hard to see the details in the picture above, other than the fact that it's a large fish or whale jumping out of the water. We'll show a few up-close details from this piece below, so that you can get a better feel for some of the specific images within this overall painting.
There are bottles floating in liquid, above left; this probably relates to the fact that How & Nosm's mother had a drinking problem. A foot extends from the floating bottles and nudges a head that is half-submersed in liquid (alcohol?) as well. In the center detail above, there is a hand holding a spoon that doesn't seem to contain any food, but it does hold a heart ... perhaps this reflects their poverty and maybe food was hard to come by, but love was always there (of course this is just our own interpretation). And in the image above right: a chain and padlock around an arm ... perhaps this reflects the military police state-like atmosphere of life in Spain? Or could it be the "chains of poverty" that have them shackled? It's open to our interpretation, but still reflects the autobiographical nature of their images.
You can see more of How & Nosm's work - and the full exhibition at Jonathan LeVine Gallery on the gallery's website here.
Explanations and Answers to the various Essential Questions:
Essnetial Question #1: What is a pop-up show?
A pop-up show is when a gallery finds an empty space and arranges with the landlord to have a temporary time period in which to stage an exhibition. In Jonathan Levine's case, his original gallery is located at 529 West 20th Street on the 9th Floor, also in New York City. One might wonder why he would bother to rent an additional space only 3 blocks away from his own gallery, but our guess is that the sheer size and quantity of works included in this exhibition warranted a larger space. Or perhaps he had another exhibition planned at his usual gallery space and wanted to mount 2 exhibitions in the same month.
Essential Question #2: What are some basic facts about the Franco dictatorship in Spain?
Francisco Franco was a Spanish military leader who ruled as the dictator of Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975. He was able to hold on to power for so long through his control over the armed forces and by keeping enemies imprisoned in concentration camps and prisons, as well as the use of the death penalty. Spain under Franco was "authoritarian," which means that he used the police and military to enforce strict obedience to the authority of the government, often at the expense of personal freedom. All political opponents were either suppressed or controlled by any means necessary. For more information on Franco and his time of rule in Spain, read this bio on the History Channel or check out his Wikipedia page.
Essential Question #3: How might making art be cathartic, and what exactly does that mean?
The word "cathartic" is related to "catharsis," which means the act or process of releasing a strong emotion, especially by expressing it in an art form. So for How & Nosm, living in a police state as they did in Spain, then going through their parents' divorce and living on welfare in Germany, it was a troubling childhood and expressing themselves through their art is how they released their negative emotions.
Essential Question, #4: What might be autobiographical about the painting titled Dreaming is Free? What sort of symbolic images do you see?
The title itself is a pretty literal explanation: having lived on welfare, the twins obviously didn't have much money, and "dreaming" was to them something that could make them feel better and was absolutely free. As far as symbolism, the birds are an anthropomorphic representation for How & Nosm. What does anthropomorphic mean? It means attributing human motivation, characteristics, or behavior to animals. In this case, the act of dreaming for two poor boys is like the freedom of birds to fly above all of the trouble looming below. With this thought, the maze below the birds is a symbolic representation of their childhood - they didn't always know which way to go, or how to get out of the maze of hardship that was their early existence.