Friday, October 19, 2007

species of spaces

Ed Marion, Gimme Tburg, 2006, acrylic on masonite, 20"X20"

Ed Marion, Downtown Ithaca, 2006, acrylic on masonite, 12"x36"

The landscapes of Ed Marion and Carlton Manzano make a decent match. Marion, working from photographs, paints mostly urban scenes. Manzano works in plein air from his minivan, exploring the countryside. Both make modestly sized, loosely brushed workMarion using mostly acrylic and Manzano using oils. Their two person show Ithaca: The City in the Country is up this month at the Upstairs Gallery. The work within attempts to reconcile painterly invention and invented color with the evocation of real spaces (the latter will likely be familiar to Ithacans). Marion's paintings, though uneven, are the more compelling.

Downtown Ithaca is a particularly strong example of Marion's style and observation. The painting, which is on masonite, is wide and panoramic. Its colors are whitish, "pastel," giving it a slightly dreamy quality. The view is from the middle of a wide road (slightly toward the right lane). The blue-gray street is in perspective and disappears about halfway up the panel where it is intersected by another, barely visible street running left-right. On either side of the road are parked cars in dull colors, and a pair of boxy, multistory buildings
pink and beige on the left and red on the right. Also visible on the right is a wide sidewalk, a mass of greenery, and a tall pole with two gray banners. In the back of the other intersecting street are more buildings. Most notable are a pink and white one with crennelations toward the left and a pair of pointed church towers closer to the middle. What makes the piece is a tilted white square toward the center of the panelthe back of a Fed-Ex truck at middle distance. It pulls the viewer into the scene.

Also notable are three of Marion's showing area coffee shops (the two Gimme! Coffees in downtown Ithaca plus the one in Trumansburg). In each, the view is from right outside the storefront, the street and sidewalk visible in the immediate foreground. Gimme! Tburg is the best of these. The warm colors
particularly a layer of orange underpainting that seeps through in placessuggest early twilight. The road is tilted upwards to the right. The architecture is richly detailed. A pair of wavelike benches flank the sides of the door. To the left (in the foreground) is a covered staircase leading who knows where. Near the middle of the panel hangs a red sign. The white lettering is carefully blurred, lest the piece become mere advertisement.

Gimme! Cayuga features similar colors, although the suggestion is of broad daylight. A pair of figures pose under the striped awning, perhaps facing each other. The flat, frontal view is broken towards the right, the building corner. Gimme! State is the least interesting of the three. Its dull color and dull character are perhaps reflections of the boring brick-box architecture.

Several of Marion's paintings feature figures
strolling around the city or playing music. An interesting example of the latter is Guitar Progression. Made up of four small square canvases, it shows a guitarist, wearing a cowboy hat, a loose white shirt, and a pair of shades. He is engaged in a kind of comic strip action sequence. Like Marion's best figures, it substitutes gestural energy for realistic rendering.

Befitting their on-site execution, Manzano's oils are rougher and seemingly more casual than Marion's work. While this is a legitimate way of working, the results here seem uneven. Too often, the hairlike, impressionistic brushstrokes seem undirected, more concerned with filling space (one way or another) than with describing form and topography. At least two exceptions stand out.

Departure After the Harvest is one of these. It is a classic autumn scene: animated clouds against a pale blue sky, a flock of birds flying south, brown and orange trees, an abandoned field (beige), cornstalks, mud and dirt (with blue water, echoing the sky). In a manner somewhat reminiscent of Van Gogh, the strokes of paint form a rhythmic zig-zag pattern, top to bottom. This compelling texture is enlivened by short, curly marks carved into the paint (perhaps with the handle of a brush). This technique is used elsewhere, where it seems more like an affectation.

Like Harvest, Wide Awake Farm and Summer Clouds feels unusually considered, with things going on in different layers of space. In the foreground, towards the left, is an off-kilter jumble of farm buildings, tinted purple. To their right is a pink tractor and a pair of tall, crooked telephone poles, their wires hanging loosely. In the background is a hilly green landscape bordered top and bottom by rows of trees. A distant road climbs up near the center. At the top is a strip of sky. This sort of picturesque rustic mess is typical of Manzano's work, the careful composition somewhat less so.

And from the same issue, check out Wylie Schwartz's feature on the Ink Shop's current show.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007


I'm having my computer fixedmore lengthy posting when it comes back. In the meantime, check out these awesome monotypes by a local artist.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

a worm chewing its own tail

Theodoros Pelecanos, 1478
L'art pour l'art. The fight against purpose in art is always a fight against the moralizing tendency in art, against its subordination to morality. L'art pour l'art means: "The devil take morality!" But even this hostility still betrays the overpowering force of the prejudice. When the purpose of moral preaching and of improving man has been excluded from art, it still does not follow by any means that art is altogether purposeless, aimless, senseless—in short, l'art pour l'art, a worm chewing its own tail. "Rather no purpose at all than a moral purpose!"—that is the talk of mere passion. A psychologist, on the other hand, asks: what does all art do? does it not praise? glorify? choose? prefer? With all this it strengthens or weakens certain valuations. Is this merely a "moreover"? an accident? something in which the artist's instinct had no share? Or is it not the very presupposition of the artist's ability? Does his basic instinct aim at art, or rather at the sense of art, at life? at a desirability of life? Art is the great stimulant to life: how could one understand it as purposeless, as aimless, as l'art pour l'art?
Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

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Friday, October 05, 2007

korf links

*"Art of Reflection" by Nancy Geyer (particularly recommended)

*"Multiple Talents on Display in Gallery" by Anthony Hall (.pdf, scroll down one third of the way)

The Main Street Gallery show is up through the 21st of October.

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space opera

Alan Singer has had a long and distinguished career as an artist. His work has encompassed everything from botanical illustration and graphic design to fine art in a range of abstract and realistic styles. In addition, he has been active as a curator and art writer. He teaches at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Singer has shown his work extensively in New York State, as well as around the country. Last year, he took place in Mostly Abstract, an impressive group print exhibit at Ithaca's Ink Shop.

Cosmology, his current solo show, is on view at Syracuse's Joan Lukas Rothenberg Gallery. The small space is part of the Redhouse, a lively multi-arts center also featuring music, theatre and cinema programs.

The aptly titled exhibit is dominated by modestly sized works on paper showing a Surrealist influence. Odd conglomerations of three-dimensional geometric forms, an anti-naturalistic use of illusionism and persepctive, the human body in fragments: all of these are familiar and well-worn tropes. The extent to which these pieces dodge cliché is a valuable measure of their success.

Surrealism was also notable for its use of novel and hybrid techniques. Such strategies as collage, frottage (rubbing paper over a textured surface), the mixing of mediums and styles, and the use of random procedures were used to provide suprise. Likewise, Singer's paper pieces combine digital printing (often applied through a transfer process rather than directly) with hand-painted watercolor. This approach makes for a lively variety of textures—everything from painterly clouds and smears to pixellated fuzz to flat, uniflected tone and smooth color gradiants. At their best, these painted prints offer an engaging fusion of the analog and the digital.

In addition to being a particularly striking and well-balanced composition, Parade Grounds contains many of Singer's signature motifs. The print is panoramic (28 inches tall and 35.5 wide), giving the sense of a landscape or stage set. The background is made up of hazy horizontal bands of violet, cyan, green, yellow, warm off-white, and pink. A vague horizon can be detected about two-thirds of the way down. Floating in the foreground are a pair of geometrically patterned heads (each with two faces, facing left and right), a tilted pink fence, various other grids and lattices, a pair of pink horn-like shapes, and a blue-gray polyhedron. These 3D forms seem largely untethered to the landscape behind. Tying the whole giddy assemblage together is thickly painted striped ribbon, colored in bold pinks and reds, as well as in colors matching the background. The flat, meandering strip leads the viewer around. (In the loosely similar Isle of Light, a matching ribbon is echoed by more literal roadway—a looping black band with dotted yellow lines running through the middle.)

The smaller, nearly square Hydroacoustic is particularly busy, yet lucid. Indeed, it does suggest sound in water. The thick yellow-greenish tint of the background does not much obscure a cluster of foreground forms gravitating toward the middle. Three curving, empty musical staves (in blue, red, and red-brown) attempt to nail the whole mess down, loosely forming an upside down T. Incongrously, a pair of orange flames burn in the middle. The background is multilayered. Dark, dull greenish stripes obscure a suble grid of rounded rectangles. The latter are either empty or filled in; the resulting pattern resembles an answer sheet for a multiple choice standardized test. (This design reappears elsewhere in the show, with variations, as do the staves.)

For better or for worse, both Beach Comber and 66th Horizon have the feeling of video games. They have deep, perspectival spaces that ask the viewer to enter and explore. The terrain in each is lumpy and similarly textured with a pattern of bent, broken dark stripes. Bizarre abstract objects invite interaction.

At least a couple pieces go overboard with their surrealist (or science fiction) imagery and/or style. Sculpture Court features a pair of realistically rendered tripod mounted satellite dishes (complete with shadows). They appear to be kissing each other. The piece also has an overly lo-fi, digital feel; the painted areas are not well integrated. Into the Crucible has—among too many other things—a globe studded with bulbous eyeballs. Even with the best pieces in the show, this aspect of his work is present and may not be to everyone's taste.

Also in the show are four oil on linen paintings, two of them large diptychs the size and scale of a human couple. The Ghost of Charles Burchfield has a unique vocabulary of flat, broken pale pink stripes over a warm blue background. Hazy white lights shine out from the middle. The other three cover more familiar territory. While transferring his cosmic motifs to a larger scale seems to make sense, Singer's paintings suffer from relatively uninteresting surfaces.

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