Monday, February 23, 2009

in the dark

Treacy Ziegler, Leaving Stanley Point, 2008, monoprint, 35" x 60"

“Seeing In The Dark” on display through March 26th at the Tompkins County Public Library aims to be a show about the night. Local artist Laurel Guy curated the exhibit; her plein air pastels are included. Also here are moody, cryptic monoprints by Treacy Ziegler; classicizing oils by Tim Merrick; desolate photographs by David Mount; and the painted cartoons of Alice Muhlback.

A good thematic show can deepen our understanding of the artists, highlighting differences as well as affinities. This is not such a show. The work is diverse to the point of being unrelated, a series of disconnected tracks.

Laurel Guy draws local scenes outdoors (here at night, of course). Her approach suggests a kind of folk impressionism.

Guy’s most affecting piece offers a view from Sunset Park. There is a palpable though elusive sense of height and distance; we are looking down at a mass of sky, land, and water. These are subtly rendered in horizontal streaks of blue, purple, and light grey. Bright lights in the form of thickly pigmented spots of white, red, and yellow-orange dot the bottom half of the page.

Treacy Ziegler’s four monoprints are by far the most advanced pieces here. One really gets the sense of being in the dark, of struggling to make out distinctions between forms. There is a rich diversity of texture: chalky lines and tone, thin brushing, and spongy oily droplets. The white of the paper is a rare sight. In addition to ample pure blacks, translucent blacks have been printed over blocks of color often a pale yellow-tan.

Three of her prints feature pathways receding off into mysterious distance: Leaving Stanley Point shows a purple river a small rowboat dangling off its edge while Evening Cow and Boundary picture roads. Cow has the sole protagonist (which looks more like a black and white spotted dog), while Boundary suggests human presence with bulbous yellow-green trees and a pink-magenta house.

Before a Green Sky, a still life, stands out among Ziegler’s pieces here for its extreme spatial ambiguity. Light and dark, near and far, indoors and outdoors all of these are twisted into disorienting puzzle. A flower rests in a cyan vase atop a red cloth covered table. We are facing the table straight on. And looking out a window at a blackened landscape but the window frame is nowhere to be seen and we lose track of where we are.

Tim Merrick is showing a pair of large oil on canvas scenes, both of them emphatically flat and frontal. There is considerable roughness in the texture of the brushwork, much scumbling and messy translucent layering. The roughness, rather than being graceful, seems somewhat tentative and awkward.

Tiempieto at Night shows the front of a classical temple with a triangular pediment on top, circular windows, and a row of three arched doorways at the bottom. (The image is taken from a fresco by Renaissance master Piero della Francesca, whom Merrick sites as an influence.) The building is whitish earthy red and framed in strips of dirty ochre. A pair of large white birds in profile: one seemingly perched on the central archway, wings up and looking down-right; the other standing stiffly below the same door, facing left. Black and tan outlines give the shapes both structure and stiffness. The background is scumbled dark with blues and greens.

His Cachi Tree is red-brown with bare branches (and no outlines). Brushy balls of yellow-orange passion fruit hover around these limbs; others have fallen in a circle around the tree’s base. More white birds, this time squat and plump, perch above and below.

Also by Merrick are three watercolors, including a sketch for each of he canvases.

David Mount’s digital color photographs (inkjet prints) of unpopulated parks and roadsides emphasize bright, artificial lighting often from uncertain sources. These “Night Trees” glow with sterile, alien light. The traditional romance of the night has been dispelled. The effect is most compelling in images such as Night Trees 25 in which the alien-ness has pushed to an extreme. (One expects the immanent arrival of a flying saucer.)

As for Alice Muhlback’s would be playful acrylic on wood paintings, my ability to appreciate them in the spirit in which they were intended is sadly lacking. Muhlback is more of a cartoonist than a painter. Her strokes of color here a lot of blue, purple, and white, with spots of red (especially lips) serve as functional backdrops to her black or white outlined figures. These figures are people or birds. Or fragments: heads, teardrop-shaped eyes, schematic wings.

One would like to see more carefully put together thematic shows in Ithaca. Here the fact that all of these images show nighttime scenes seems mostly accidental.


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