The Art Assassin

a nonfiction novel by Albert Wang

Chapter 21: EXCLUSIVE ASSASSINATION: Lemya el Sophia, Artist and Owner and Director of Art Raw Gallery

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Photograph of Lemya el Sophia. Courtesy of Lemya el Sophia.
Lemya el Sophia: jerusalem street decollages (20081207-64), 2008, mixed media on wood panel with resin, acrylics, oil sticks, pencil, posters, literature & found materials from the streets of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, & Elat during a Spring 2008 trip to Israel, 12 by 12 inches. Courtesy of Lemya el Sophia.

During the spring of 2009, I had a chance to participate in a group show entitled “Inaugural Exhibit: Debut Show Featuring 300+ Artists” in a new Chelsea gallery called Art Raw Gallery and it was interesting to get a chance to become familiar with the owner, whose name is Sophia Abrahim, otherwise known as Lemya el Sophia as a mixed media artist. After looking at her rather fascinating artwork which combines a rather interesting blend between pop art and Dadaism, I was glad to know that I would have a chance to speak with an artist who rebels deliberately against the workings of the commercial gallery system like the beat of a different drummer.

What is impressive about her art is her ability to experiment with all types of expressions ranging from her large scale mixed media works that incorporate scraps from her personal life to abstract paintings to digital filmmaking that demonstrates the influence of Man Ray and even David Lynch. With her European sensibility, her success within the art world has been extraordinary, considering that mainstream art publications have not reviewed her work. With the spirit of the avant-garde and a fresh look at emerging artists, Abrahim has decided to open up Art Raw Gallery as an art laboratory in the heart of Chelsea in a similar fashion as her own studio for Lemya el Sophia. For her, art is the strength of pure self-expression with emotions, not just a business (ad)venture. And she is not scared to be provocative or bluntly honest about what she thinks about the contemporary art world.

If you have any questions about el Sophia’s artwork, feel free to contact her studio at (212) 300-5496. If you have any questions about the artwork at Art Raw Gallery, feel free to contact the space at info@artrawgallery.com or at (212) 810-6503.

And now for the feature presentation you all been waiting for by THE ART ASSASSIN’s account of the “assassination”:

qi peng: As your legal name is Sophia Abrahim, how did you get your moniker as “Lemya el Sophia” as your artistic self? How do you get involved in doing art professionally since winning a first place award for a watercolor painting that you executed at the age of seven? What are the major themes, tenor, and subjects of your artwork that reflects the intersection between the collective unconscious and urban lifestyles?

Lemya el Sophia: Lemya is my first name, Sophia second and a friend recommended the ‘el’ portion and it just worked. I think you can see the urban-ness in how I execute my work. It’s a little chaotic. I don’t have perfect lines. All my work is layered. Sometimes the most important layers are hidden beneath thick paint

qi peng: In what ways are you inspired by living in the Upper East Side?

Lemya el Sophia: Inspired? Are you kidding? I don’t like the UES and never have. I moved here after getting married. I was born, raised and spent most of my adult life below union square. But it is a nice, quiet street.

qi peng: You have a variety of styles that you work with ranging from complex mixed media abstractions to conceptual photography to even filmmaking. Why channel your artistic ideas into various forms of expressions and techniques? What are the challenges and joys of having to execute pieces with such broad and experimental styles?

Lemya el Sophia: I’m inspired mostly by the people around me. Someone comes up with an idea and we execute. Sometimes the product is brilliant but most are trashed. They’re learning experiences.

qi peng: How do you feel that the current economic recession impacted the contemporary art market and way that it functions in the larger national economy? Do you feel that artists will be pursuing more personal and intimate projects than the overly commercial work, typically geared for the art fairs, during the upcoming years? How do you think that galleries and non-profits will be coping with the dramatic shifts within the political and corporate culture, particularly in America? Do you have any thoughts about the current state of the stock market and its concomitant corruption such as the recent Madoff scandal?

Lemya el Sophia: Recession or not, art will always sell. Perhaps during this economy it’s for different reasons, more esthetics and appreciation than investment value.

qi peng: What is your opinion on juried competitions such as New American Paintings and curated artists registries such as The Drawing Center‘s Viewing Program or White Columns in the development of a young artist’s career? Do you feel that being judged by “officials” or “art referees” help to create a strong reputation for the artist’s work? What elements do you think are necessary to make a particular artwork strong and communicative? With the rise of online curated galleries such as Collegeartonline (CAO) or Ugallery, do you think that those type of galleries are a good stepping stone into the larger art network?

Lemya el Sophia: In regards to artists starting out: I would say do everything.

qi peng: Do you have any stories about your past or present exhibitions that you have participated in worldwide? Also how did you involved in digital video as a medium of self-expression? How do you feel that this approach fits in with your painting and drawing approaches?

Lemya el Sophia: [no answer]

qi peng: Do you consider yourself as a rebel to the current gallery system within the contemporary art market? What do you like and dislike about the way that this mostly closed circle of collectors, artists, and gallery owners work together? Do you feel that these type of interactions limit the types of talented artists who are able to exhibit publicly, especially in the New York City or Los Angeles areas?

Lemya el Sophia: Galleries are very different then they were 2 decades ago. It’s become too serious and insular. Judging from what visitors have said recently, they’re looking for a different way to see and buy art.

qi peng: What are some of your favorite artists, books, television shows, sports, art magazines, toys, movies, and other cultural artifacts that you wish to share with your fans of your work here? Do you have any recent galleries or exhibitions that you have seen and would to recommend to us? What things in those shows inspired your visual eye and imagination?

Lemya el Sophia: No time for books. I don’t have cable or satellite. The movies I watch are given to me by other artists and filmmakers. I enjoy socializing. Being around different people and talking about taboo subjects, religion, politics, etc. Human relationships are important. I need the interaction. A tv screen can’t give me that.

qi peng: What is your opinion of art world journalism and art critics such as Jerry Saltz? Do you read periodicals such as ArtForum or ARTnews to get an up to date understanding of what goes on within the art world? Do you have any favorite artistic blogs or websites that you enjoy looking at on a regular basis? Do you feel that smaller, regional art markets like Chicago or Salt Lake City or Dallas will have a chance to expand their horizons into becoming essential and vibrant art hot spots just like Los Angeles or New York City during the recession? What do you think is the current state of contemporary art within New York City where you live?

Lemya el Sophia: We receive complimentary subscriptions to periodicals/magazines. So yes I do skim through them. Since opening the gallery I have more insider access to the local art world.

qi peng: On a lighter note, are there any restaurants or hangouts such as bookstores around New York or Chicago or anywhere else that you wish to recommend us? What are the qualities that you enjoy best about the places that you have chosen?

Lemya el Sophia: [no answer]

qi peng: Your formal education was at Rutgers University as well as Parsons School of Design for a short while. What were your years of education like? Were there any influential professors and fellow students whose ideas or drive influenced your current neo-expressionist style? Are there any memorable stories from your studio visits or school days during that time period?

Lemya el Sophia: My degree at Rutgers wasn’t in art. I decided to leave parsons when one instructor was describing to everyone how to get into a gallery. At that time Sotheby’s and eBay were working out a deal (it never worked out) and brought in all the good collectors. I was a top-tier seller of original art on eBay and couldn’t understand why an artist would go through all the trouble of courting galleries. Finally I stopped attending Parsons when an instructor asked me to move so he could finish my figural painting, which wasn’t good enough I suppose.

qi peng: What are some of your hobbies outside of painting? How does these things relate to your studio practice? Do you find yourself having to enter into the studio out of discipline or inspiration or a mixture of both? What are some of the practical challenges that artists have to face inside or outside their studio time?

Lemya el Sophia: During a time of inspiration, it’s difficult to get out of the studio or get the studio out of your head when you leave. It becomes almost obsessive.

qi peng: What trends do you see are forthcoming within the contemporary art world? How would place your paintings within the overall context of art history? What is the overall tenor and conceptual drive shown within your artwork? Before you embark on a painting, what factors do you use to determine whether the final work is to be large or small based on scale?

Lemya el Sophia: That’s interesting because I never work with studies. All the pieces you see as final products got that way almost by accident.

qi peng: What are some of your future artistic projects that you will be pursuing soon? Will these new pieces be an extension of the themes and ideas that you are examining now or a different direction instead?

Lemya el Sophia: Fashion design and performance art. I’m working on some final mixed media artworks then taking an extended break.

qi peng: As the owner and director of the newly formed Art Raw Gallery, what is the story and inspiration behind the 930 square foot space in Chelsea? How do you balance your duties and time at Art Raw Gallery with your two other gallery spaces in New York City and Los Angeles? How did you meet up with I-Ling Eleen Lin, who is the current director at the Art Raw Gallery?

Lemya el Sophia: I struggled with calling it gallery instead of projects. Because it was never intended to be a gallery. Eleen, Chiara and Josh have been invaluable in giving the places direction. Not sure if any of it will work out. I don’t have a plan which might be its demise.

qi peng: How would you describe your curating style and underlying philosophy and approach to how your audience and collectors respond to the artwork being featured at Art Raw Gallery? Do you believe that art must serve as a counterpoint to the stereotypes and hackneyed ideas that the everyday media presents? What is the most controversial or provocative exhibition that you have outlined and how did the audience respond to the show?

Lemya el Sophia: The weekend following opening night for our debut show, people came to see what the fuss was about. We had people sitting on the floors some staying 2 or more hours. Mostly ny’ers discussing how the art market has evolved and what’s next. No one can say what will happen next but no on can deny we’re at the cusp of a change. It has to change.

qi peng: What sort of music or ambient sounds do you enjoy playing during gallery hours and artists’ opening receptions? How does it create a mood for visitors and collectors to enjoy the work on the walls?

Lemya el Sophia: The noise level in this space is normally so high. Once I was listening to Rush Limbaugh, a guy walked in and walked right back out again. Perhaps I should give it more thought.

qi peng: You mention that Art Raw Gallery is a “project space for experimentation founded on the collaboration between artists and curators, providing a forum for dialogue on contemporary culture.” What is the nature of the dialogue that you hope to address within the relationship between artist and curator? Do you see the gallery space as a playground where risks and new ideas burgeon within the typical white-box gallery location?

Lemya el Sophia: I wanted a space that would get the attention typical commercial Chelsea galleries so that people can pay attention to what the artists setting up their projects here have to say.

qi peng: What is your opinion about Buck Naked‘s conceptual art project entitled “How’s My Dealing?” (http://howsmydealing.blogspot.com) Having read through the various comments regarding the other Chelsea spaces, how will Art Raw Gallery differ in the way that the gallery relates to its roster of artists and its collectors? How do you wish to make the contemporary art world more democratic for all of its participants?

Lemya el Sophia: Let the truth be told. It’s funny until it happens to us. I don’t know that this gallery will be different in how artists perceive it. Artists are trained to view galleries in a certain way. and this gallery is a business. There will always be the elite and until things change dramatically, artists will need these blue-chip galleries to make a hundred grand a piece

qi peng: What is your favorite online resources and art magazines or journals for checking out the latest art news gossip or scoop? Do you have any favorite stories from the Art Raw Gallery you wish to share with your fans and column readers here? What are some hobbies that you enjoy outside of your work in the gallery? How does your space interact with its audience in the internet world? In the future, do you feel that selling artwork will be more aligned with Internet-based sales or the white-box gallery physical setting?

Lemya el Sophia: I skim through online and paper magazines, taking none very seriously. The gallery is using both, online and the physical location. One thing I’ve learned after years of selling art online is that there’s an audience and potential on the internet that shouldn’t be ignored.

qi peng: Do you have any advice for up and coming BFA and MFA graduates who are graduating from art school and are starting to hunt for galleries to show their artwork? Do you think that there are too many undiscovered yet promising artists within the system than what the top galleries especially in New York City or other art markets can handle? With the recent closures of so many galleries within the New York art world such as Rivington Arms and Roebling Hall as well as other areas, what trends are you seeing within the galleries and how they are presenting their work to the public? Do you see any trends within the established museums such as the Guggenheim or the MOMA in how they are dealing with the recession?

Lemya el Sophia: [no answer]

(Note that I accidentally repeated this question–qi peng: What is your opinion about up-and-coming online curated galleries such as Collegeartonline (CAO) or Ugallery? In what ways is their curator’s style different than that of Art Raw Gallery? Any opinion on online artists registries such as White Columns or the Drawing Center? Any opinion on juried competitions such as New American Paintings or the Chelsea competition hosted annually by Agora Gallery? Which method is most important for a starting artist to get validation for the work that they execute?

Lemya el Sophia: [no answer])

qi peng: What is your opinion on art fairs and its seemingly more commercial and less conceptual presentation of artwork as compared to that of more traditional exhibitions? Is it possible to present artwork in a challenging way within the Miami or other warehouse spaces? What elements of playfulness can enter into the Miami and/or other art fairs? Do you think that dynamics of art fairs will change as the recession is underway?

Lemya el Sophia: I’ve done 2 art fairs and have yet to understand the purpose. Certainly the dynamics of art fairs will change but not due to the recession.

qi peng: What are some of your future dreams and upcoming exhibitions that Art Raw Gallery will be under going? What are some potential challenges or past hardships that your gallery have overcome and that you are proud of?

Lemya el Sophia: I really have very little input in the future of the gallery. I set it up and would like to see what happens next. It’ll be up to the artists that occupy the space to take it to the next level.

qi peng: Before we finish up here on the last question, thanks very much for your time answering these questions. Is there anything else that you wish to share with fans and patrons of your artwork and/or your gallery?

Lemya el Sophia: [no answer]

For more gossip or dishing me the art scoop: E-mail me at qipengart@gmail.com
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Written by qi peng

May 12, 2009 at 1:39 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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