Sunday, March 30, 2008
Jeremiah Donovan, Walnut Bowl Inside/Out, Earthenware Clay layered with Terrasigilatta and Raku Glazes (Multi-Fired), 12" x 14"
A version of my review appearing in the Times, 3/19/08 (which I can't find online):
The Main Street Gallery's annual spring show covers an eclectic range of styles and mediums with an emphasis on local artists. The show has been markedly strong in recent years (particularly relative to similar efforts by other area galleries) and this year's feels particularly so.
Cornell professor Buzz Spector's Creeley's Creeleys exemplifies his recent large format Polaroid work as well as his use of books as brick-like sculptural units. The bricks here come from the collection of the late poet Robert Creeley and collectively form an oblique, associative portrait. The volumes vary richly in color, design, and typography; some include author photos. They are arranged in a roughly circular cluster of small stacks (some clearly showing different editions of the same book). The stacks zig-zag — facing in different directions — and grow taller towards the back. They sit on rough, unpainted floorboards which emphasize the picture's deep perspective. (As does the contrasting flatness of scattered volumes placed upright, more or less parallel to the picture-plane, as if in a bookstore display) The image itself is sensuous with subtle contrasting tones and artful blurring along the top and bottom edges.
Birds in Conversation, Gold, by Ithacan Kumi Korf, is another standout. The tall intaglio print belongs to a recent series in which she attempts to provide an abstract analogue for the experience of flight. Like others, this one features a flock of flatly painted, hard-edged shapes arranged against a brushy, gestural background. In Gold there are three. Moving from top to bottom, left to right and then back left: a warm grayish-blue one most resembling a bird in profile (wings closed), a burnt orange amoeba, and a red one suggesting a kite or an arrow. These are tied together by curving green line suggesting a flight line or a thread. These stick sharply out of a ground of indian yellow, printed over silver onto a thin tan-colored Japanese paper sheet.
Korf's long-standing print collaborator is Ink Shop master-printer Christa Wolf. Wolf herself is well-represented here by the monotype landscape Alegretto. The piece loosely depicts a view of the landscape surrounding her upstate NY farmhouse. The piece is arranged in vertical tiers of wave-like, gestural marks barely hinting at perspective. The bottom half is dominated by a pair of dark purple-brown tree trunks, gnarly and with bare branches leaping out sideways. The brushing reveals the white of the paper. The colors -- mostly greens with small patches of reddish brown --are faintly iridescent.
Victoria Romanoff (another well-known Ithacan), offers an engaging collage-painting, The Oysters of Le Havre. The bits that make up this "paper mosaic" fit each other snugly without overlapping. Although the scene is fragmented and filled with abstract mark-making, it is recognizable as a landscape with a shoreline. A relatively empty horizontal bar towards the top is warm gray (apparently sprayed) and indicates sky. Marks elsewhere are predominantly whitish — pink and blue — and applied via thick and thin paint and with chalk or crayon. The whole vista is surrounded by a pink painted border, relatively dark, but tied to the rest through similar marks.
The inclusion of functional pottery is a distinguishing characteristic of the Main Street's group shows; included here are the decoratively glazed vessels of Anna Velkoff Freeman — two tall cups and a wide, shallow bowl. The white on dark blue designs are stylized depictions of dangerous microbes. The inclusion of the foodborne e coli (on the bowl and one of the cups) is a cheap joke but their sinuous tendrils do form interesting patterns.
Much more interesting sculpturally are three asymmetric goblet-like bowls by the Groton native Jeremiah Donovan. They are inspired by the forms — interior and exterior — of walnuts, and their jagged inner ridges and staggered, uneven rims limit their functionality. Colors are copper brown and greenish. The outside edges (along with parts of the inside) are rough, covered in scored lines and accreted dirt clumps.
The least satisfying mode of art on display here is a figural, narrative surrealist sculpture based on an assemblage aesthetic. By far the strongest work in this vain is Gail Hoffman's Messenger, a bird-headed figurine welded together from cast bronze fragments. Included are casts from real objects, e.g. a leaf wing and a doily covering its chest. In comparison, Claire Harootunian's Angel Mine and Lead On look rather slight. Both feature tiny, minimally altered dolls sitting atop benches: clay and painted wood, respectively.
"Spring Group Exhibition" will be of greatest interest to those already familiar with the works of the artists shown. The particular style of combining well-known area artists with select (and perennial) "outsiders" is idiosyncratic to the Main Street. Visitors from past years should feel an engaging tension between the expected and the new, as different aspects of artists' work are (often slowly!) revealed.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
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.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
This year's "Annual Juried Photography Show" is the State of the Art Gallery's 19th. Like last year's, it provides a fine opportunity to survey the range of regional work (with some from beyond, too).
Joleen Mahoney Roe's architectural montage Sorroe is impressive but perhaps too slick. The thin, panoramic piece incorporates several separate views, which are variously repeated and staggered. On both sides is the same interior wall covered in graffiti script. In the middle are outdoor scenes; beams are all-over as are color painted totem-pillars and garishly colored Mother Marys. Otherwise, the middle is largely sepia-toned. Much of Sorroe's surface is soaked in a layer of digital effects - sometimes thin but thick and colorful around borders.
Carrie Chalmers' Red Rug. Niagara Falls, Canada is, in contrast, quietly poetic. Seen in three-quarters view from a concrete driveway is the back of a nondescript white house. The sky is cloudy and there is a thin layer of snow. Behind a tree is a porch; over one of the railings is the rug, the only patch of strong color. Two diagonal phone lines above the house act like picture corners (e.g. the little plastic ones) as do more subtle snow lines below. Jessica Evett-Miller also rings poetry out of similar color-contrasts. In Strata I and II, a knit red blanket draped softens barren, rocky landscapes.
Both Phil Koons' Cayuga Lake: Red Wall 27 and Myron Walker's Entrada (both digital) evoke early 20th-century modern painting. Cayuga appears to be a homage to the Synthetic Cubism of Picasso and Georges Braque, which is characterized by shallow perspective, angular fragmentation, and the juxtaposition of textures and signs enabled by collage. Picasso's 1912 Still Life with Chair Caning introduced collage into mainstream Western art. The cane (fake, printed on oilcloth), is alluded to in the Koons by three rectangular sections of wooden lattice. Also reminiscent of Still Life - and its brothers - is Cayuga's use of fragmented text. A "no parking any time" sign is in the foreground, tilting off the left edge. Only a "G," an "E," and a suggestive arrow are readable. (Compare with the similarly positioned French fragment " J O U" of the Picasso.)
Other similarities between the two works exist, but they are not quite versions. Cayuga is a rectangle rather than an oval and is dominated by red, green and blue along with the grays and browns of the older piece. In the background is a red building, perhaps a barn, and above a strip of bright sky. Cluttering the space in between is junk, mostly: pipes, a telephone pole, the lattices, a cinder-block, another arrowed sign.
Entrada is divided into two rectangular sections resembling the pages of an open book. The left shows a flat, solid wall, painted pink and covered in blobby white writing: the title ("entrance" in Spanish) and a schedule. Piercing this script is a yellow arrow gesturing right. The right is more dimensional; it shows the bottom of a pink stairway curving up leftwards. Above is a dirty mustard yellow wall painted with another arrow, dark red. The two pointers seem to echo each other but the right one is shorter and isn't flat, curving with the stairs. Paul Klee (a contemporary of Picasso) often used arrows in a similar way: both as strong graphic elements and as narrative cues, enticing the viewer to enter the work. Like Cayuga, the piece combines abstraction with a playful evocation of vernacular - albeit a more exotic one.
The over-scaled full-body portraits of Jessica Brown and Michael McCarthy show contrasting aesthetics. Brown's Polaroid self-portrait All the Lingerie I Own comes as a column of three framed pieces. These are subtitled separately (A, B, C) but are not experienced separately. As the title suggests, there is a wealth of fetishistic detail. McCarthy's void-like cyanotype Silhouette is white on dark warm blue, with ghostly blurring around the edges. Limbs are variously blurred and attenuated. The piece is a photogram, made without a camera by impressing objects directly on light sensitive paper. The paper is roughly textured and the piece has a painterly quality.
There are numerous botanical close-ups in National. Too often, these lean towards either the predictably competent (Linda's Lilly by Joshua Harden) or the unconvincingly experimental (the repetitive, mandala-like geometry of Daniel McPheeters' Succulents). Corrine Stern's Ornamental Cabbage, which is paired with, and echoes, her close-up Elephant's Eye is an exception. Both ink-jet prints are framed in glass, without any other backing. Cabbage is a reddish-purple ball surrounded by ghostly whitish leaves while the Eye is encircled by heavy folds of skin in cool grey and pale pink. Both have rich textures; the former's scattering of leaf-holes and dewdrops is particularly compelling.