Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Partner Up

by Arthur Whitman

Artist/Instructor" - up this month at the CSMA - conjoins two worlds. Since a fire forced the Ink Shop out of their old home this past January, the printmaking collective has made the second floor of the CSMA building its new one. This show highlights currently teaching artists from both institutions.

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that the Ink Shop is the more serious group. Craig Mains' color monotype technique involves the toy-like manipulation of cutouts. Typically, the faded "ghost" images that follow the initial impression are used to create uncanny echoes within his prints. His disjointed, free-associative style resembles Cubism and Surrealism but is distinctive. He has created a novel and fascinating iconography of natural disaster. Here he aims his vengeful-god destructions at golf courses - carts sporting cartoon-like flames and flagged holes are repeated motifs. Here, Golf Carts and Passing Storm is unusually rough and scribbly. It is divided into three upright, right-tilting sections. A cloud(s) trailing lightning heightens the piece's angular, violent quality. The larger Country Club has a sparser, more stable composition that belies its own destructions.

Fellow Inker Neil Berger is one of Ithaca's best straight-ahead realists. His brushy, black and white monotype Magnolias is characteristically sensitive. It shows a glass vase with a spartan flower arrangement placed on a ledge in front of a window. The window is a dark grid; through it, you can see only smudgy glare. This, and the fact the perspective is as if you had twisted your body about 30 degrees to your left focuses your attention on the blossoms instead. The directions of the strokes work to create a sense of depth with impressive economy.

Other Shop members are well represented. Jenny Pope's playfully expressionistic color-reduction woodcuts of animals and Christa Wolf's mini-reprise of her recent "Satterly Hill" monotype exhibit are highlights. I am ambivalent about both Caleb Thomas' photo-based prints and Kumi Korf's renowned calligraphic abstractions - here represented by her accordion fold book Hunter-Gatherer: Family Business, Mario. Their craft and visual intelligence, however, is undeniable.

The work of the CSMA instructors is collectively less riveting. Carlton Manzano and Virginia Cobey both work with oil on canvas, creating loose, painterly nature-scapes. Manzano is the more talented, although his fast approach sometimes results in a borderline slapdash filling in of color. His autumnal View From Mt. Pleasant mostly avoids this: variations of brushwork and tone emphasize trees, clouds, and perspective layers. It is difficult not to read into it a vaguely Christian symbolism: a pair of tilting phone pole crosses crown the mid-ground while smudgy beams of light shine in from the upper-left corner.

While Cobey's Upstream in Coy Glen is amateurish, her Late Fall in the Rockies displays modest ambition. Generically reminiscent of early 20th Century modernism, it pictures a row of pale trees with bits of autumn foliage on the branches and piled on the ground. The leaves and dirt are daub-y (recalling Upstream), but the rest of the scene is broken into softly rendered crystalline facets.

Benn Nadelman's uses scratchboard, a technique in which black ink is scraped away selectively to reveal bits of a lighter - here white - undersurface. Using stippling, Ten Pound Sunset shows, at some distance, a dark island covered with trees; to the right is a lighthouse. Most interesting is the sky above and the sea below. The former is flat, a thick cloud of dots and dashes, while the latter is sparser, the dots forming lines that hint at direction and perspective. The Road to Santa Fe - It Always Led Back to Me makes use of softer, hair-like shading and filling, as well as lines and blocks of solid tone. In the foreground a family of silhouetted figures holds hands. In the background: a road in sharp perspective, a grassy field, a flagpole and suggestions of city. The sky is an abstract mélange of swirls, waves, and leaf-forms. Road exemplifies the sort of folk-surrealism beloved of high school art students.

Monica Franciscus' two untitled pieces feel unfinished, like under-drawings for a painting. Done on unstretched scraps of linen pinned to the wall, they combine roughly painted fields of white paint with raw fabric areas outlined and detailed in black graphite and marker. The drawn areas are things: clothespins hanging from twists of rope. Her approach has historical precedents. The sketchiness of some impressionist work, the austere forms of Giorgio Morandi and the pencil on raw canvas grids of Agnes Martin all come to mind. However, such comparisons ultimately do little to dispel the initial impression of incompleteness.

The Ink Shop is a tightly knit group: creating, teaching, organizing and showing together in a common space. The CSMA clan is more diffuse. A greater communal effort on their part might result in a better representation of their individual talents.


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