Wednesday, December 19, 2007

think small

Yongjeong Kim, My Map III, Mixed Media, 14.5" x 14.5"

Ending an impressive year at the Main Street Gallery is the latest of its annual small-paintings exhibitions. Programming has ranged from strong solo shows by distinguished local artists Victoria Romanoff and Kumi Korf to less-even group efforts focused by theme or medium. Come 2008, the gallery will be on hiatus for about two and half months. "2007 Small Works Painting" is a fitting conclusion, eclectic but well-balanced. Pieces were chosen from submissions by painter Joy Adams (an emeritus professor at Ithaca College) and gallery director Roger Smith.

My Map II and My Map III find common ground between abstract art and cartography. Both are by local artist Yongjeong Kim. Her two acrylics are relatively large - fourteen and a half inches square - and incorporate bits of fabric and other collaged materials. Apparently influenced by modernist artists like Paul Klee, Kurt Schwitters, and Chuck Close, they show loop-filled aerial views of rivers, roadways, and buildings. The painted areas are often murky, lacking in color contrast. The fabric additions help both pieces in this regard, particularly III.

According to the artist, II loosely depicts the outside and inside of her local Warrenwood apartment building, including her L-shaped sofa and imagined views of neighboring apartments. III zooms out a bit to show nearby Triphammer Mall and its surrounds. The correspondence is loose.

Aerial perspective is a compelling artistic device. Abstraction in art can be an effort at transcending the visible world, whereas realism tends to focus on the concrete and the everyday. Birds-eye landscapes can have the best of both worlds. They present familiar places in a de-familiarizing way. At least a handful of local artists are working in this rich vein. Barbara Page's scale-jumping paintings and her natural-historical mixed-media relief Rock of Ages, Sands of Time (at the Museum of the Earth) come to mind. Kumi Korf has a print show up this month at Chandler Fine Art in San Francisco. Included are large intaglio pieces in which cutout-like abstract bird-shapes trail curves over brushy backgrounds. Craig Mains has done a number of witty prints showing burning crop circles. (Unlike the other artists above, his perspectives are from oblique angles and sometimes show the horizon.)

Two pieces offer more straight-up forms of abstraction. John McLaughlin's jaunty oil Fair Fun features a cascade of fluid brushstrokes, both translucent and opaque. Pale, whitish blue dominates the background; these are overlaid in white, mustard yellow, ochre, and purplish grays. Thinner, rope-like curls of paint sit on top. Metamorphosis by Laura Glenn is perhaps a bit too sweet. The piece is done in watercolor and ink on paper, with little torn-paper bits collaged. Pinks, blues, and purples dominate. Calligraphic forms in black resemble Chinese characters, and the composition has something of the all-over evenness of the written page.

Four artists are showing work in encaustic (melted wax mixed with color pigments). The medium is seductive as well as novel; a temptation seems to be to use it to build up luscious surfaces while neglecting the underlying image. Paul Kline's Stairways buries an angular photo-collage of shadowed stairs in translucent white, a seemingly incongruous atmospheric effect. Martha Ferris' NOT is more texturally interesting; unlike the other wax pieces, the surface is scratchy and weathered-looking rather than smooth. A standing silhouetted woman bends down; layered over her is an uneven translucent grid and three blocky letters: N O T. The yellow-red-blue color scheme is effective, if obvious. Neither these nor Paul Kline's Toxic Plaza nor Martha Ferris' Sherry's Closeup (a fragmented femme fatale in blue, green, pink-red and peach) quite lives up to their textures.

A pair of tiny portraits by Vanessa Irzyk provides one of the show's few compelling investigations of the human figure. Induced is done with watercolor and polyurethane on board, while Swaddled adds oil paint to the mix. Each features a mischievous, child-like face, surrounded by white. The heads are built in an almost sculptural way, composed of layers of translucent brushstrokes which are loose but short and finicky. Unexpected colors include pale pinks and oranges as well as a dark, purplish red (the latter mostly in Induced). Induced is a diptych; the right side is mostly empty.

Landscapes and cityscapes are more common themes. Margaret Olney-McBride presents a pair of bookmark-sized panoramic oils on paper. The wintery fields and trees of Landscape Slice and the sea-like cloudscape of Sky Fragment 2 (its low low horizon capping silhouetted hills) are rendered in brushstrokes which pack a suprising amount of energy into such a small space. Jerry Schutte's Kansas is comparable, although its impasto is thicker and more stolid. The urban scenes show a greater stylistic range: from the flat and (overly) dry illustrational quality of Sue Wall's Brownstones and City Roof Tops to the whitish colors of Erica Pollock's impressionistic Overpass.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007


I've posted some clarifications regarding my review of Stop. Look. Listen. below.


Saturday, December 08, 2007


I attended the downtown Gallery Night openings yesterday. Things seemed particularly festive and well-attended, no doubt due in part to the shopping season. Special events may have also played a part. NYC painter-printmaker Maddy Rosenberg was having a launch party for her new sculptural book, Dystopia at the Ink Shop. It is being published by the Shop's own Olive Branch Press and features black and white linocut images of architectural fantasia. You can see it on her website although I can't link directly to it. It looks good.

The Art Bar Gallery is open every year for about a month during the holiday season. Their gimmick is to sell fine Swiss chocolate bars, each with a collectible card featuring the work of one of the gallery artists. (Buzz Spector, featured a few years back, suggests the inclusion of stats.) As in past years, the artists are from both Ithaca and all around. The concept is fun and the art
while generally a mixed-bagis at least something different. And they had champagne and chocolate cake at the opening.

A common characteristic was for the December shows to be markets rather than carefully assembled productions. Which is essentially what many of them are anyway, so perhaps its better to drop the more elevated pretenses.

Next Tuesday evening, I'll be driving down to Elmira (NY) with my Times colleague Wylie Schwartz to check out the Rural Research Labs, an artist's collective and exhibitions space. They're holding a press reception, though who knows who else will show up.

In other news, I will be spending about two weeks with my brother and motley housemates in San Francisco. I'll be flying out from Syracuse on the 14th. I'm looking forward to exploring the city, to which I've never been. The fifty five degree weather should also be nice.

Art-wise, it appears that SFMOMA is showing Joseph Cornell: Navigating The Imagination, which I got to see last winter in D.C.. The show was lovely but also too much to see in one visit, especially given the small-scale intricacy of Cornell's boxes. And they have a little Klee drawings show! At least two people I know personally are showing in the galleries. Kumi Korf's quiet calligraphic abstract prints are up at Chandler Fine Art and Framing. Jamie Vasta (a SF local I know from art school) is showing carefully crafted glitter paintings at Patricia Sweetow.

With any luck, I'll be able to blog from the West Coast. Otherwise, expect a flurry of posts around the beginning of next year.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007


The Ink Shop is unique among Ithaca galleries. Comprised primarily of skilled printmakers working with a variety of styles and media, it is mainly a working studio. Complementing this activity is a busy schedule of classes, visiting artist speakers, and of course, print exhibitions (all public).

Also remarkable is their dedication to networking with out of town print organizations and to introducing Ithacans to art from around the county and beyond. No other non-university affiliated gallery in the Ithaca area has been doing so in such an organized manner. While other galleries call for open submissions, the Ink Shop has taken a more systematic approach, seeking out artists that fit a particular vision or goal. The result is better and more coherent exhibitions. Their latest catch is "Selections From the Collection: Lafayette College's Experimental Printmaking Institute".

EPI founder and director Curlee Raven Holton lectured at the gallery last Thursday to a mostly insider crowd. A confident and articulate speaker, he spoke for about 50 minutes before taking questions. The lecture felt like a pep-talk, with exhortations to self-confidence mixed with anecdotes and recollected practical experience. While acknowledging some of the problems faced by foundling studios, his philosophy is one of calm determination.

The Institute was born in 1996 as a semi-autonomous collective affiliated with Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, where Holton teaches. Although he describes the school as being not particularly artsy (and lacking a BFA program, for example), he says that the EPI has become a respected and integral part of the curriculum. It has also been successful in drawing well-known printmakers and other artists to the modest community. Students work for and learn from them.

According to Holton, an early inspiration was the pioneering NYC Printmaking Workshop and its founder Bob Blackburn (1920-2003), a friend and artistic collaborator. He cites Bob's commitment to printmaking and its communal ethos. But he mentioned his differences as well, in particular his dissatisfaction with the studio's poverty and with Bob's inclination to treat it as "his spouse" rather than something he was willing to let go of. "I made a commitment that I would try to create an environment similar to this, but it wouldn't be impoverished," Holton said. "I wouldn't be at risk, and it wouldn't be my spouse... I couldn't covet it." The EPI, he said, is intended to be a place where artists can experiment without financial worries. He plans to retire as director.

Holton presented work from the Institute's Master Artist Printmaker Portfolio, the core of the Ink Shop show. As he explained, the project paired a well-known artist (typically a painter) with an expert printmaker. His goal was to elevate the reputation of both partners by association. He is also interested in raising the profile of printmaking, which has been sometimes marginalized.

The show is eclectic. With one exception—a painterly abstract monotype by Al Loving showing a hollowed cube frame—all of the work is from the current decade. The work was created principally at Lafayette, with the assistance of students.

Sam is a gorgeous mixed media abstraction. The print is the work of Sam Gilliam, a well-known Washington D.C. artist. Although part of an edition, it is a one-of-a-kind production. Like much of his work dating back to the sixties, it combines three-dimensional and painterly elements. The relief construction is supported by an upright oval of orange felt covered with calligraphic swirls of blood red. Although the piece is not overtly figurative, the shape evokes mirrors and portraiture. Angular and curving bits of cloth and rice paper have been applied on top, with the visible stitched lined (arcs) forming an important compositional element. Colors and textures include white translucent and wavy striations of green, red, and yellow green. Holes have been cut to let the orange through.

According to Holton, each print in the edition was created using cloth scraps cut from one of Gilliam's large paintings. A woodblock for printing was created using a scanned drawing along with CAD software and a laser cutter owned by Lafayette's engineering department. The master printmaker was Wayne Crothers (who is represented by the loopy, maze-like woodcut, Humanitarian Camouflage). The rice paper sections were printed in Japan by an Australian artist and the stitching done by the students. Not suprisingly, Holton describes it as "one of our most popular prints."

An untitled triptych of silkscreen prints is by frequent collaborators Ian Short and Robert Beckman. Three identically sized paper pages are framed together behind glass. On first glance, the piece is a disorienting visual buzz of bold colors and hard-to-decipher textures. Further inspection reveals layers of discrete color: black over green, red, cyan, cool green-gold. Letters and other typographic symbols can be seen along with the intricate maze-like texture of circuit boards. Similar details are repeated from page to page but with jarring shifts of color and arrangement that engage the eye. Read a sequence, the effect is dynamic like an animation.

Another screenprint, Mark's Tale, by William T. Williams, achieves its dynamic effect via more economical means. A flat black is printed over greenish off-white tinted paper. Its the off-white that forms the foreground image: a trapezoidal jumble of calligraphic swirls evoking plant-life and musical symbols.

Richard Anuskiewicz's silkscreened Twin Portals, is another sequential triptych. Like his mentor, the pioneering German modernist painter Josef Albers, Anuskiewicz is interested in optical effects created by juxtaposing hard-edge blocks of color. The individual panels in Portals, with their upright rectangular blocks enclosed in frames, echo Albers' famous Homage to a Square series. The pieces are intended as a 9/11 memorial, alluding the absent towers as they might appear in morning, mid-day, and night. In this regard the sequence also echoes Monet's well-known Rouen Cathedral paintings, which also tried to capture the effect of changing natural light on a constant architectural form. The colors and their contrasts in Portals are however much sharper and less naturalistic.

A number of pieces sport themes associated with the artists' African American heritage. Curlee Raven Holton's own Blind Spots I (etching and silkscreen with embossing) incorporates photos depicting rather fetishistic details from both black and Asian woman. These appear against a dull yellow-green background in baby blue portrait-ovals. The blind spots—apparently allusions to racial ignorance or confusion—appear as large black circles dotting the picture. Painter David C. Driskell's sensitive, earth-toned etching Brown Derby features a crowd of overlapping, angular faces pressed up against the plane of the picture (the one in front wears the titular hat). Like that of Romare Bearden, much of Driskell's work updates early 20th-century cubism—and Picasso's appropriation of the African mask—with specifically modern African American resonances. Wynton's Tune, a folk-art-like silkscreen by Faith Ringgold, shows the jazz trumpeter in a red suit, backed by band members in cool, contrasting blues.

Two untitled relief prints are by German artist Bodo Korsig. The rough black lines form strange images: on the left hand piece, what looks like a handful of chicken drumsticks hanging on horizontal wire, on the right a pair of sponge-like blobs tethered to the right and left edges respectively. The rich texture enlivens these reductive, cartoon-like pictures but not quite enough to make them come together.

Antidote, a stylish abstract digital print by Berrisford Boothe, has a grainy, video-like texture. A column running down the middle recalls a film-strip with the horizontal frame-borders removed so as to suggest the seamlessness of projected film. Its contents are bluish, aqueous and drippy. Outside is warmer with tan, reddish ochre and whitish green. The middle strip is flanked by four symmetrical, semi-circular curves running up and down. The right and left edges are blackened with flame-like streaks.

Grace Hartigan is veteran Abstract Expressionist painter, currently in her eighties. Her lithographic diptych is entitled Cleopatra and Marie Antoinette and features thick brushy black lines against colored fields—blue and yellow respectively. They form organic, loosely figural clumps. The work has a remarkable material presence.

As exciting as it is to see some of these artists in an Ithaca gallery, the actual work is unexpectedly uneven. The result is that Selections stands as merely another compelling but imperfect Ink Shop show. Viewed positively, this attests to the strength of the collective's own homegrown talent.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

stop. look. listen.

I have a review of the Johnson's big video-art show Stop. Look. Listen. up in the latest Big Red & Shiny. Mentioned favorably therein is the lovely Mircea Cantor video you see above, Deeparture (2005). Also in the show, recommended, and viewable online, are Ebb and Shelter for Daydreaming, both by Amy Jenkins. (Truth be told, the latter was not running properly during my visit.) The show runs through the 23rd of December.

UPDATE (12/13/07): In response to a since-deleted comment, let me clarify my description of Slater Bradley's Doppelganger Trilogy, which I agree was unclear and incomplete. The part of the three pop musicians (Ian Curtis, Kurt Cobain, and Michael Jackson) was played not by Bradley but by his look-alike "doppelganger" Ben Brock. The music included with the Curtis and Cobain pieces was taken from recordings by the original artists (Joy Division and Nirvana respectively). Apologies for any confusion.