Adam Mignanelli is a New York-based curator and painter who deconstructs nature to its vibrant and fundamental core. His curatorial platform Ballast Projects has featured an array of contemporary artist from B. Thom Stevenson, Trudy Benson, Russell Tyler, Esther Ruiz, and more. He recently exhibited Mirror Mirror with Caroline Larsen at the Spring/Break fair. He will be curating a room at No Vacancy II exhibition opening March 31st at Squat Gallery in Brooklyn, as well as showing his work. He had us over for some spaghetti bolognese and we talked about curating in alternative spaces, essential getaways, and being a painter in an increasingly digital world.
When did you start stripping down nature?
In my younger years of middle school and high school I was painting and making art that poured through angsty Nirvana, NOFX, Wu-Tang and The Notorious B.I.G., about the emotional stuff you feel when you're at that age. A lot of "hidden meanings”... terrible art basically. That said, nature was always a component, namely water from the ocean.
When I got a career and some money I got more serious about my work and really explored the natural components. Most of my work, even the more abstract kind from like 2012-2015, was all mainly landscapes. That continues through today. I basically see all the toxic, man-made and all-natural things woman and man have created as all inspired by natural things.
Is the lone branch you? I feel like it's me.
It is me and it's not me.
Why does the foliage tilt right? And what does it mean when it doesn't?
To be honest it's not meaningful. They are bent in my mind and I wanted to have a very stripped down look to them, sort of like early graphic language used by Egyptians, Mayans, etc. My graphic design side peeks out with these forms.
In your more abstract pieces, what are you trying to deconstruct?
It's a mix of landscapes, and a nod to neuron transmitter imaging from CT and brain scan imaging. I'm fascinated by the visualized hyper micro-movements of thought and the organic natural plant life that at times mimics these.
Do you use any specific location as reference?
A lot comes from Martha's Vineyard, Los Angeles and St. John in the Caribbean. Each of these places are specific in my mind to idyllic and at the same time completely foreign and at the same time warmly familiar to me. St. John I went to once and it's a nature reserve. I'm a LOST fan and it reminds me of that a bit. I like the seclusion, I’m a New Yorker, and so getting away is precious.
Has curating affected your studio work?
It has. It makes me remind myself I have a lot more work to do. I picked up some paintings from Roman Liska to show once at his girlfriend’s house. I'm carrying this huge tattered box down the stairs of the building and into a cab, thinking “damn, this box has been around the block”.... So I get to the install, and these paintings inside are immaculately wrapped and I look at the back of the work, and it's as perfectly crafted and clean as the front. That day I decided the backs of my works would look cleaner. I'm still not 100% at Liska level.
What did you show/curate at Spring/Break?
Caroline Larsen and I showed each other's work as a mirrored version of each other. We made a little reception area into our tribute to plants and such. Her work is incredible and so detailed, and I am all loose and painterly. It was really so much fun to just collaborate like that.
In an increasingly tech driven art world, what does it mean to be an artist painting nature?
Believe it or not, for me I think it's almost more popular because of it. I even notice in advertising and catalogs fern prints, succulents all that stuff is having a big comeback. People need to feel connected to nature. It's part of who we are. I also think that a lot of my urge to follow nature as inspiration is part of me growing up near the ocean in Rhode Island and the fact that I spend about 10 hours a day dealing with digital design work and media, video and graphics all made for the internet. I love it, I’m just trying to balance it out (as I'm typing this all on an iPhone). That said, I'm biased!
Who are some contemporaries that you are looking at?
Eddie Martinez is a big inspiration for me, along with my brother Matt Mignanelli whose work is almost opposite of mine. I'm a huge fan of Cecily Brown. She's my idol.
Trudy Benson was one of the reasons I got serious painting again, along with Russell Tyler. They are huge inspirations to me.
What do you listen to in the studio?
Rick Ross, Neil Young, NOFX, and Hot 97.