Thursday, March 27, 2008

ink spot

From the Times, with further edits:
Late in the evening of this past January 8th, an accidental fire started in the three-storey Handwork Building at 102 W. State Street. The second floor was home to Ithaca’s community printshop. And while the Ink Shop did not face the catastrophic flame damage of their upstairs neighbor, the Ithaca Academy of Dance, it was blanketed in soot and water. On show, but thankfully only minimally damaged, was their most expensive endeavour to date, a show of work from Lafayette College’s Experimental Printmaking Institute. However, the structural damage done to the building means that they will have to wait, probably until at least next year, before they can consider moving back in.

In the meantime, the Shop's newly rented — and possibly permanent — location is in the second floor of the Community School of Music and Arts building at 330 E. State St. The association of the two non-profits has potential, especially as both organizations show visual art and teach it to the public. This is their third home since the Ink Shop's founding in 1999.

The new gallery can be entered either from a side entrance or through a back door exiting the CSMA's first floor space. After twisting up a rough, concrete staircase, you find yourself in a long hallway, facing towards the front of the building. A door on the left leads to an architect's office. The door on the right leads to the new shop: two cramped rooms lined up straight, front and back, with a marble-lined washroom in the very back, off to the right. Each main room has three tall windows dominating their right-hand walls. The view looks out the CSMA parking lot, with The Commons in the background. Despite the pristine white walls and elegant cornices, the space has a grittier feel than the old one.

The front room contains, on the right, an impromptu office with tables and desks arranged in a square, chairs lining the inside. Flat-file cases are scattered about. An open closet space has been added up against the back left corner of the room; its low homasote walls don't reach the ceiling. The awkward combination of uses — work, office, and exhibition — is a marked change. The presses are in the back, along with scattered tables and chairs and a drying rack for prints. The back and left walls make a relatively spacious exhibition area.

A dedicated crew of member-volunteers has done most of the hard work of moving equipment and planning the logistics of the new space. Although the space now looks fairly settled-in, things are still being worked out. As of press time, they still lack telephone service. Programs are being worked out. Starting next month, the Shop will be resuming their schedule of printing classes that are open to the public.

Their latest show, "Fired Up," features mostly recent prints by Shop members. Many survived the fire. It was put together in the months following the disaster and its ad hoc-feel is unsurprising. (It opened on the last Gallery Night on March 7.) And the installation is understandably awkward as well. Things are cramped and the work is sometimes hard to see. It will be interesting to see how they meet this challenge in the future. The show does feature some impressive art, as usual. Some of it is familiar from past exhibitions.

There are two strong etchings by Tim Merrick. Both of them are rounded squares, and feature dark, purplish-brown lines against a light, mottled backdrop. The lines are fine and energetic, jazzy, forming sometimes dense accumulations of hatchings. And both scenes place the viewer beside — and in front of — a rapidly flowing creek, perched on some rocks. In The River, the water flows towards the foreground on the left. Behind it is dark and densely wooded hillside. In The Red Mill, the water flows away in a roughly straight path. The lines of the rocks in front exaggerate the sense of perspective. On the right shore sits a dilapidated split-level house; in the background, the water is blocked by an elongated building.

Also compelling is an untitled monotype by Neil Berger, a painterly, black-on-white rural scene. The central road (which in the foreground spans the bottom edge) arcs it way up a gentle slope, towards the upper left corner of the page. Piercing it is another road, going from the lower left corner towards the right edge (mid-ground), narrowing. Both roads are covered in fluid streaks, indicating mud rather than pavement. On an arcing hill-horizon in the background, from left to right: a grove of trees, a tiny house beneath a phone pole canopy, a pair of frame-structures, more trees.

"Fired Up" makes a useful accompaniment to the Main Street Gallery's current spring show. Both Kumi Korf and Christa Wolf are showing closely related work there. Pamela Rozelle Drix is showing in both galleries as well.

A recent series of intaglio prints by Korf draws a connection between aerial view landscape (or maps) and a classicist approach to modern art. They're reminiscent, in particular, of Joan Miró's paintings. The two tall pieces here are compelling but not quite as successful as the Main Street's Birds in Conversation.

Like that piece, Migratory Flight and Flight of the Red Window feature three hard-edged, flatly toned shapes — here: red, green, and yellow — hovering over a looser, but also flat background. In these two, the backgrounds are spanned top to bottom by finger lake-like columns of watery color: blue and purple respectively. The flying forms do not cross over into the lightly colored areas making up the left and right margins. As a result, the compositions feel unduly cramped. Unlike the bird-kite shapes of Birds and Migratory, Red Window features a more varied, and more straightforwardly abstract menagerie: a square (in yellow), a bent rod (green), and the empty frame-shape suggested by the title. Silver threads tie the foreground figures together in both prints.

Drix's monotype Where The Grass Meets the Water is another impressively abstract distillation of nature. The piece is made up of two square window-like panels, adjacent and side-by-side. On the left is a wave-like pattern of light and dark blue stripes. On the right, over the warm white of the paper, is an angular pattern of thick, dark-green lines. In the middle of these panels are two smaller squares, nested and touching so as to echo the larger ones. The same image of reeds is repeated in each of these: on the right in blue on blue again (but even darker) and on the left in white and black.

Moving to the back room: Christa Wolf's Allegro comes from a series of monotypes picturing her farmhouse garden, dominated by tangled vines. The pieces are each named after one of the five movements in Beethoven's sixth symphony (the "pastoral symphony"). The one downtown is black and white, with the white paper forming the vines and other foreground shapes. The lines are tangled, greasy, and often thick.

Craig Mains is represented with a pair of hard-edged digital images showing, appropriately enough, a flooded print shop. They're basically interior design schematics. Although they share in his characteristic (and endearing) subject matter of disaster and ruin, they lack the visual wit conveyed by his usual flat, stencil-derived forms.

Jenny Pope's color woodcut Underworld Owls is another standout. It shows, in cross-section, an underground network of burrow-holes, each housing an owl, some asleep. The earth is dotted with rocks and if you look closely, you can see snails and segmented worms. Above ground, toward the top edge, is a lumpy landscape, with snow falling and accumulated. Toward the left corner, in the distance, is a rail bridge with a small steam locomotive, both in profile. The colors are subdued: raw umber, ochre, medium gray, light celery green, baby blue, black - and the white of the paper. The rendering is flat overall, but the owls manage to contort themselves in a comically animated fashion.

Irina Kassabova's Scanning is an etching with smudgy layers of color: red, black, purple, blue. A loosely defined purple figure is seen in profile. Below, in white scratchy outlines, are what look to be bones. The print's painterliness and lack of coherence contrasts greatly with the work she showed in a two-person show at the Shop last fall (with her father Motko Bumov). There her black and white etchings of prehistoric animal skeletons were impressive in their detail and linear clarity.

In the basement of the CSMA is a reprise of "The Birth Portfolio," which was shown in the Clinton House's Mural Lounge earlier this year. It was originally planned for the old Ink Shop and features work from the International Birth Exchange Project. It's uneven but well worth a look. The space was generously lent for free by the School.

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Blogger arthur said...

(From the artist)

Yesterday, I've opened a browser and I've made a search about... my name in connection with the new release of my first website. On the first place came up the The Thinking Eye with your apparently very popular article about the Ink Shop and the group of amazing artists with one exception only, an artist, apparently something like a black sheep among them. My work was the only work that you criticized. If this was a professional critique I would accept it, but this was showing, for me, only your lack of understanding and apparent target. I don't know what made you write
something like this:

“Irina Kassabova's *Scanning* is an etching with smudgy layers of color:
red, black, purple, blue. A loosely defined purple figure is seen in
profile. Below, in white scratchy outlines, are what look to be bones.”

You even didn't know me or what was the work about. It seems to me that to this day I am still your target. For how many years are you going to
destroy my reputation? At this time, as it was obvious, I was very sick. I often say “artificially sick”, as many people knew about that story. Were you going to make fun with me? Did you expect to measure your intellectual strength with me at this time?

I am very disappointed from your article and your apparent aiming at me, especially at this not at all appropriate time.

In your answer to me at the end of January, this year you even say that
you stand by it, that this is what you saw. I cannot express my outrage! How can you write something negative about a work that you yourself admit you don't understand. I think you still don't want to notice your mistake.

Thank you for the next:

“I have edited the title of your piece.”

Is this all? What does it mean? Can I say that I can “interpret” myself your behavior this time, the way you did it with my work?

Best regards,

Irina Kassabova

2:28 PM  
Blogger arthur said...


First of all, let me make it clear that I have nothing against you personally on the basis of your work and never have. My goal in writing about local art is to assess the work from my perspective, my own ideas and values. This, I believe, is my job. Furthermore, your notion that I have an ongoing vendetta against you has no realistic basis. Before hearing from you, I had not written about you or your art in years (or most likely even seen it or thought about it). I responded to you in January to defend the integrity of my writing against what seemed to me like exaggerated concerns. It was self-defense, not a personal vendetta.

As for your specific objections to my paragraph on your piece, let me start by asking you: why do you object to me describing what your piece looks like? How else would my readers know what it is that I am talking about?

You claim that I admitted to not understanding your piece. This is incorrect. There are many levels at which a work of art can be understood. The level of personal goals and intentions is one -- and I confess to being ignorant of these. However, and more basically, I believe that the goal of visual art is (or should be) to deploy styles, techniques and media in the service of creating a visually engaging object. It is at this level that I tried to engage with your work and found it relatively lacking. I stand by this approach.

Let me emphasize that in criticizing "Scanning" I praised your other work.


Arthur Whitman

7:48 PM  

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