Thursday, May 29, 2008


Barbara Mink, Haphaestus, oil on canvas, 50" X 50"


This year, the State of Art Gallery's annual "Members' Show" features the work of four new members. Their lively contributions contrast with the somewhat predictable work being made by many of the older members.

The most impressive of these is oil-painter Erica Pollock, an Ithacan recently returned from art studies in San Francisco the subject of many of her elaborate cityscapes. She has spoken of her interest in evoking locations by creating abstractions of light and dark forms.

Her two large canvases here, Midtown, Midday and Overpass, hint at the diversity of her approach. Midday is a commonplace city scene. Extending center-ward from the lower left is a trafficked road, with a bus in the foreground, and buildings of various heights behind. A shadow falls over much of this area, forming an arrow pointing leftward. This reinforces both the perspective and the symmetry of the picture. To the right, a line of shop-fronts and banners and a sidewalk stretching from the foreground to the vanishing point. People amble along the strangest is an obliquely angled shadow-silhouette cut-off by the bottom edge.

Overpass is, in contrast, fragmented and asymmetrical. It shows a jumble of signs, shadows, buildings and elevated roadways above a wetted road carrying a line of cars towards the viewer's immediate right. The rendering of the street below is unusually fluid, a welcome contrast to Pollock's characteristic brushwork, which is more coolly descriptive.

Also new is Leslie K. Brill. Her three oil forest scenes stand out amongst the many indifferent landscapes here. Their flat, screen-like appearance is loosely reminiscent of similar paintings by Gustav Klimt. Seeing The Forest, painted on a wide panel, is the strongest of these. A near-white underlayer visible through the warm-colored, stiffly upright trunks and a hovering cloud of leaves gives the whole scene a shimmering glow. Leaf Mosaic, a diptych painted on tall linen panels, has a darker, off-white background and skinnier, more delicate trees. It feels overly clotted in comparison, as does the sketchy-looking Through the Portal, also on linen.

Carol Ast and Diane Newton are both fine pastel landscapists. Ast's picture of [Andy] Goldsworthy's Holocaust Memorial, Cornell University depicts one of the British artist's local outdoor installations. Visible is simply an arrangement of boulders. The variety of markmaking is a bit disconcerting: rough strokes for a line of background trees, elegant, face-like detail for the rocks, and fine, finicky scribbles for the foreground grass.

Newton, working in oil pastel, achieves a thicker, juicier effect. Delaware County, New York shows a rural road curving away downhill, then behind some trees. Around it are groves, grass, farmland, a fence, and, near the middle of the page, a house. In the background are flat hills; their whitish, hazy colors indicate distance.

Barbara Mink's sensuously colored, fluid abstract paintings have been a highlight of the State's group shows in recent years; the two in this exhibition are no exception.

While Io's color ties it to the Romantic landscape-like mode Mink has worked with in the past, those of the larger Haphaestus (named after the Greek fire god) calls to mind a less terrestrial environment. There is little green. Scattered holes punctuate the dense painterly mass, suggesting the depth of outer space. It's a remarkable piece.

Like Mink, Ethel Vrana is working in a vein of painterly abstraction that subsumes autographic gesture to texture and an exploration of material. While Mink appears to be moving in the direction of astronomy and geology, Vrana seems to be taking her cues from microbiology. Her recent imagery here a series of loose, drippy grids is layered, but relentlessly flat. The work, while compelling, seems to be in a developmental stage.

Mary Schuler's abstract acrylic canvases compel less. Sedona Succulents clutters the bottom three-fourths of the wide space with the whitish-green plant-forms, bulbous and darkly outlined. Without the outlines, the painting would fall apart. Above is a choppy, dryly painted, multi-colored sky. Worst of all, the succulents are enshrouded with clouds of pseudo (Jackson) Pollock drips in dark, iridescent grey. The more purely abstract paintings fare slightly better. Universal Expansion is a sugary atmospheric scene with colored strokes radiating out from a white center. The smaller Golden Reflection calls to mind Jasper Johns' sloppy hatching.

Margy Nelson's digital drawing Old Mother Spider is a witty combination of image and nursery-rhyme-like verse ("In the corner of my room, Lives an old mother spider..."). The latter is inscribed (apparently by hand in ink) in black down and off of a white-line web, itself draped down the left of the image. Towards the top right, by the ceiling corner, is an egg-hatching brown Spider. Her flatness and delicate, articulated anatomy, recall both Japanese prints and Nelson's background as a scientific illustrator.

With the State of the Art's group shows, if you know what you want, it's easy enough to ignore large swaths of the offerings. The gap between interesting and not-so-interesting seems particularly marked this time around.

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