Wednesday, March 18, 2009

photo forum clipping

[The] State of the Art Gallery will host a forum on photography in conjunction with its 20th Annual Juried Photography Show on Wednesday, March 18 at 7pm. Three photographers from the Ithaca area who have shown their work both regionally and nationally will speak at this special event. This event will be held at the gallery located at 120 W. State Street and is free and open to the public.

The guest speakers are:

Wilka Roig, the Prize Judge for this year’s show and Visiting Assistant Professor of Photography at Cornell. Wilka holds an MFA from Cornell University.

Andy Gillis, owner of Cascadilla Photography, specializing in high quality commercial and industrial photography. Andy is a graduate of Cornell and teaches as an adjunct at Tompkins Cortland Community College.

Keith Millman, an Associate Professor of photography and digital imaging at TC3. Keith received his MFA in Photography from California College of Arts and Crafts.


In today's Times:
The State of the Art Gallery's "20th Annual Juried Photography Show" (which runs through March 29) is part of a familiar local tradition. This year's photographers are mostly from in and around Ithaca. Also included are artists from Rochester, Syracuse, Elmira, Binghamton, Utica and New York City.

This year, guest juror Wilka Roig, an assistant photography professor at Cornell, took an unusual tack in assigning the prizes. Drawing on twelve "cluster criteria" used by philosopher Denis Dutton to define art in his recent book The Art Instinct, Roig used a variety of categories, reflecting the diverse satisfactions art can offer. (None of the criteria is necessary; more than one can suggest the presence of art.)

Phil Koons' combination of formalism, pop vernacular subjects, sly humor and (often) strong color has been a highlight of past years' Annuals. Here he is showing two compelling giclée prints: 4 Blocks to the Mississippi and 27 Miles to the Rio Grande. Mississippi is typically exuberant. We see, through a row of telephone poles, the corner of vividly painted building. Rio is more austere, presenting us with an impenetrable warm white facade; the windows are filled in.

Donald Specker's aptly titled color print Ithaca Iconic takes its subject from near the SOAG
from the corner of the Chanticleer, with its painted neon roosters pressed up against each other, themselves against the dark. Smaller, a glowing electric hand "Don't Walk" balances them to the left.

George Cannon's giclée Dream Stairs (from the Spiral Series) is the recipient of Roig's "Direct Pleasure Award." The piece's central form is elegant, if stiffly
a curvaceous dark silhouette abstracted from a spiral staircase. The background is a warm greenish grayish tone with light emanating from the center.

Jennifer Gioffre's Untitled (from the series Diaphaneity) beats Stairs in its sensuous depth. The palladium/gold print (black on warm white) shows is sharp focus what appears to be a curl of water frozen in time. It blurs, melts around the edges. The borders are dark, thick and painterly.

In a materially conservative show, Lena Masur's black and white Gunblocks stands out for its effectively unusual technique: gelatin silver emulsion printed on a wide strip of unframed glass. The texture is smoky and diffuse. Printed forms merge with their shadows. Four variously sized blocks are lined up horizontally in middle distance. Direct light comes through the left edge. Around them is seashore: frothy waves with patches of darker water and a distant horizon.

Alissa Newton's color 6919 is the winner of the "Special Focus Award," exemplifying how artworks "tend to be bracketed off from ordinary life." Appropriately, its subject
a translucent plastic pillbox with its multiple compartments filled itself fills the entire space of the sheet. We are in another world. An allover moderate blur further emphasizes this strangeness.

Sharon Barotz's color print Reclaimed by Nature and Ben Altman's platinum/palladium (black and white) False Dichotomy contrast natural and cultivated outdoor spaces. (They might have fit into the Johnson Museum's "Picturing Eden," up through March 22.) Reclaimed is flat, as if the forms
the rough base of a tree and several elaborate, weathered gravestones had been pressed up against the plane of the image.

Elaborate divisions of space mark Dichotomy. As befits the winner of the "Intellectual Challenge Award," these divisions are metaphorically ripe. Dividing left from right is a leftward leaning tree planted in the foreground. Below it, against the center of the bottom edge, is a blurry lump
apparently a balding man, hunched over, wearing a backpack. Behind the tree, in middle distance, is a dense wall of shrubbery. Behind that, seen from an off-angle, is a row of three elaborately carved spirals of greenery. In their midst is a stone statue, a female. Statue, tree and man form a cryptic dance.

A pair of black and white inkjet prints by John Retallack come from a series portraying the RIT professor's colleagues. Portrait of Skip Battaglia and Portrait of Lisa Hermsen effectively combine formality and warmth. Together with Randi Millman-Brown's Milkweed, these are the deserving recipients of two awards for "Skill and Virtuosity."

Other prize winners: Susan Larkin's Wild Grape Vine ("Expressive Individuality"), Viola Kosseda's newsstand still-life No Title ("Art Traditions and Institutions") Gretel Pelto's street portrait Old and Active in Wageningan ("Style") and Brandy Boden's Echo ("Imaginative Experience"). Challenging artists, Roig refused to offer prizes in several Dutton-ian categories: "Criticism," "Novelty and Creativity" and "Emotional Saturation." No prize was given for "Representation," as this "is only a small element in a successful representational work."

As in past years, the "20th Annual" is dominated by skillful work. Rich art is here as well.

A special forum featuring Roig and two other local photographers will be held at the gallery on March 18 at 7pm.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Four Brothers, 2009, charcoal, etching, graphite, gum transfer and monoprint on paper

Wolf Pelt, 2009, pastel on vellum

Four Directions, 2009, gum transfer and monoprint on paper

Dissection, 2009, gum transfer and monoprint on paper

/Con-Daw-Haw and the Great Law of Peace, 2009, graphite on vellum

Ithaca Times
"The Haudenosaunee Project: Prints, Drawings and Pastels by Pamela Rozelle Drix" represents an ongoing foray by the artist into the culture, religion, geography and history of the Native American peoples of Upstate New York probably better known as the Iroquois. The show reveals Drix to be an image-maker of uncommon nuance and ambition.

"Haudenosaunee" continues a series of engaging shows put on by the Ink Shop in the Community School of Music and Arts' first floor lobby
a cooperative program inspired by the Shop moving into the second floor of the CSMA-owned building about a year ago. According to Drix, this is the first solo show at the CSMA in recent memory.

The bulk of "Haudenosaunee" is made up of a series of variations on a single motif: the pelt of a female Adirondack grey wolf. Drix has the real pelt on a wall in her studio and the pelt has a story. The creature was the gift of Joe Soto, "a Native American of Tia'no heritage and Cree training" who provided spiritual guidance during the recent death of her father, an amateur archaeologist and an enthusiast of Native culture. The gift has clearly captured her imagination during recent months; all but one of the pieces here (a landscape) dates to 2009.

Drix draws upon Iroquois traditions of animism and spirituality
she speaks of her identification with the she-wolf, her strength and power as well as her nurturing capability. Nevertheless, she also stresses the exploratory nature of her quest, her need (particularly as a non-Native-American) to find the meaning of this gift on her own terms.

Also reoccurring in many of these pieces is the image of a crow feather that accompanied her father during the final week of his life. The feather is meant to suggest "the beautiful frailty of life."

With two exceptions, each of the pieces here is print-based. Gum transfer (a means of printing Xeroxed images) and monoprint are both in wide use, as are hand-drawn additions in graphite, charcoal and/or pastel. Many of the pieces incorporate multiple sheets of paper under a single frame.

Typically the printed silhouette of the animal
sometimes whole; sometimes divided, fragmented or multiplied is placed against an empty expanse of white paper. Black and brown are the most characteristic colors. The former is laid on in thick, brushy oft-fur-like marks while the latter, reddish or yellowish, is applied in dusty clouds.

Four Directions makes an interesting dissociation between the solid materiality of the black and the ghostliness of the brown. Over an upward oriented smudgy black pelt, four disconnected red-brown paws have been overlaid. They radiate out from the center like the four cardinal directions on a compass. Drix cites the piece as "a reminder to...extend our protective vigilance in all four directions." Indeed. And the way she suggests an inner psychic life for what elsewhere threatens to become a lifeless trophy is distinctive.

Four Brothers incorporates a grid of four tall sheets under one frame. The sheets are not neatly lined up and attached; the piece has a not-unwelcome roughness. Warhol-like (though not Pop), we see four iterations of an upward-turned wolf's head. The variety of media
etching, monoprint, gum transfer, charcoal and graphite is noteworthy, as is the unusual range of color and textures.

In Dissection with Arrowheads I and Dissection with Arrowheads II Drix departs from her centralized, almost heraldic treatment of the wolf pelt. Limbs dangle mysteriously from the top edge, or from the left and right edges. Both images incorporate a row of small, delicately rendered arrowheads across the bottom. These call to mind the animal's associations with killing
both as hunter and hunted.

Drix combines fragmentation with the central creature-image in Dissection. This is a large piece comprised of four printed pages that are hung side-by-side directly on the wall, unframed. Surrounded by white, the printed areas are of different sizes and proportions, mismatched. We see the entire span of the animal
more or less life size but broken up. It is unfortunate that this impressive would-be-centerpiece is hung above the staircase leading to the CSMA's basement. Although it holds the space well, one does want to get up close.

The sole pure drawing of the animal, a pastel on vellum Wolf Pelt, stands out for its physical intensity. At first glance, it appears to pop out of from its thin, translucent sheet. It follows the central silhouette format; the critter's head points straight up and her tail straight down. One gets a strong sense of the physical markmaking
strokes of black have been vigorously smudged and, in places, partially erased. There are occasional highlights of white pastel too.

The CSMA show also includes a pair of pieces combining landscape, imagery and text. In contrast to the focus on object and character offered by the wolf pictures, these works convey a disjunction between seemingly pastoral rural landscape and the varieties of man-made violence. These works are dense and multilayered, both visually and conceptually
also in contrast to the slow-moving theme and variation of that typifies the show. They are also closer to most of the work that Drix has shown in recent group exhibits.

Both Valois/Con-Daw-Haw and the Great Law of Peace and Sacred Conversations: What's Happening? include extracts from the Great Law, the founding document of the Iroquois' Five Nations (The Mohawk, the Oneida, the Onondaga, the Cayuga, and the Seneca). Affinity with and thanksgiving for nature and the Creator are prominent themes.

The former image, drawn in graphite, resembles a book page turned on its side (actually it looks better this way). Across the top, we see numerous paragraphs. Below is a wide strip of aerial view landscape, sketchily rendered, showing Valois, NY
Drix's hometown alongside the nearby site of Con-Daw-Haw, a native settlement razed to the ground by General Sullivan during the Revolutionary War. (Or so we're told by the introductory text, the distinction is visually absent.) The land is divided by several vertical bands, some of which also mark off breaks in what might seem at first to be a continuous landscape. Below is an expanse of white with a crow feather to the right.

The latter is even more eclectic in style and content
to the point of feeling more like scrapbook contents than an image. Sacred Conversations is divided into two square sections. On the left, in an overall smudgy purple tone, is a transfer photo showing a construction site, full of trucks, with a tall crane near the center. We see a label, "HALLIBURTON"; looking again at the intro, we see that this refers to companies "drill[ing]...for natural gas in the Marcellus shale." Attached to the square is a piece of vellum bearing more lines from the Law of Peace and a feather, both providing contradictory voices.

Further amplifying the piece's conversational contradictoriness
perhaps nearly to the point of absurdity the square on the right shows a serene valley landscape, rather lyrically rendered in expressive black monoprinted strokes. Melding with the cursive-like lines are rows of handwriting, this time indecipherable. There is another attached vellum scrap. This one shows, in sketchy graphite, a rustic house fronted by a blackened sign. The same image appears elsewhere in the show, in a 2007 gum printed photo. There we learn the sign's function: an official historical marker commemorating Con-Daw-Haw.

Drix mentions the notion of the wolf as a protector of the environment as a link between her pelt series and these explorations of place. One would to like to see this narrative connection made a bit stronger. (Although the large-scale Dissection does begin to suggest a sort of landscape in itself.)

According to the artist, "The Haudenosaunee Project" is her first solo show since co-founding the Ink Shop about a decade ago. Thankfully, we won't have to wait another decade to see her work en masse. Announced during Drix's opening last Friday, Roger and Adrienne Bea Smith of Groton's Main Street Gallery have granted her another solo showcase in the near future.

More immediately, she has work included in the Main Street's "Spring Group Exhibition" and in the show "Artists Made Books" at the Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center in Auburn, NY. (The latter show is recommended and also includes local print and bookmaking luminaries Kumi Korf, Maddy Rosenberg, Buzz Spector, and Christa Wolf.) Both open later this month.

"The Haudenosaunee Project" remains on display in the CSMA's lobby gallery though March 27.

dr. christy mag uidhir

Event: Talk Print Philosophy of Art


Description: The goal of philosophy of art is to provide systematic and informative methods of thinking about art. This includes the definition of art (what makes something an artwork), the nature of art objects (physical objects like chairs or abstract objects like numbers), and the relationship between the artwork, the artist, and the audience. I will briefly discuss how philosophers have addressed the above, but mostly focus on specific philosophical issues surrounding printmaking, specifically the relationship between: (1) prints, plates, and the printing process (2) prints in an edition (3) artist and printmaker (4) authenticity and forgery in printmaking

Organization: The Ink Shop Printmaking Center/Olive Branch Press

Time: 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm

Location: Ink Shop and Olive Branch Press, 102-106 W. State Street , Ithaca, NY 14850

Location Details: The gallery is on the 2nd floor

Cost: free

Information: (607) 277-3884

Web Site:

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


Wylie Schwartz has an informative interview with Pam Drix of the Ink Shop in this week's Ithaca Times. Briefly and succinctly, it covers some of the history of the IS, the technicalities of their current operation, and their plans for the future.

Drix has a solo show, "The Haudenosaunee Project," opening this Friday
in the CSMA's space (on the first floor below the Shop's own). From the Gallery Night listing:
The "Haudenosaunee Project: Pastels and Prints by Pamela Drix" opens at the Tompkins County Foundation Gallery at the Community School of Music and Arts. The Haudenosaunee Project encompasses a series of prints, drawings, and pastels that were created after the death of my father, who passionately loved Native American culture and who was an amateur archeologist throughout his life. After his death, a Cree elder, who sat with my father the last three days of his life, gave me an Adirondack grey wolf pelt. This amazing gift became the catalyst for me to begin the project in earnest. Through the metaphor of the wolf, I am exploring the importance of being stewards of the land, protecting our natural resources, and understanding the particular history of the Finger Lakes in relation to the plight of the Iroquois Nation. In no small way, though, these images are really a tribute to my father as well. With great concern, I am also dismayed by the development of natural gas drilling of the Marcellus shale in our backyards. We have important work to do to become informed citizens and protectors of our community's resources. The Haudenosaunee people, and all future generations, demand no less.
I saw her working on one of her wolf pelt pictures recently (while writing up the Shop's last show one Monday). It was more or less life-size and looked pretty awesome. More to come next week.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

added color

Of related interest: Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute's website has a podcast available in which M. Johnson talks about her painting process and influences.

melissa johnson

Melissa Johnson, New Lines, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 12" x 12"

Tompkins Weekly (PDF):
Small square canvases, of identical surface area, are covered in pools and clouds of richly colored, though thinly applied and often translucent paint. Floating or standing amongst these color fields are more crisply defined, relatively opaque shapes. Although abstract, these blobs, lumps, and tubes suggest the figure — or perhaps its limbs and organs.

The assemblages evoke oddball human dramas. Some shapes are also reminiscent of vegetables: peppers and eggplants in particular. Rock gardens and microbial landscapes also come to mind.

Such are the myriad forms that populate “New Lines: Paintings by Melissa Johnson,” which is currently up at Cornell’s Willard Straight Hall Gallery. Johnson’s show comprises some 20 acrylic works: 19 of them small (12" x 12") and one large (48" x 48"). The paintings are unframed and often quite thick; they pop out of the wall like boxes.

Though distinctive, Johnson’s paintings call to mind diverse precedents from the history of modern art. Her sensuously colored, densely translucent, and overlapping tone-tongues resemble the abstractions of Morris Louis, although on a much more intimate scale (and using brushes rather than pouring). In contrast to Louis, and the other protagonists of Post-Painterly Abstraction, with their high seriousness, her quirky, quasi-figurative drama and humor is reminiscent of artists such as Joan Miro and Louise Bourgeois. (The humor is slapstick, and therefore hard to convey in words.)

There is an ambiguity in the way Johnson plays shapes off of the edges of her squares: they either appear to rest on the edges like objects on a platform, or they seem to continue beyond our view.

Several canvases feature rows of tongue or finger-like forms protruding from the edges, often from the bottom. Among these is New Lines, one of the most strongly figurative works in the show. The background is unusually rough, with abrupt brushstrokes forming a rather landscape-like background of blue, purple, and green. Mid-ground, near the center of the square, floats a low hanging white cloud. Lined up along the bottom edge is row of six foreground finger people, resembling dancers, or individuals in a parade. Some, looking like inverted exclamation marks, even sport head-like spots. The foreground colors are warm: bold reds, murky dark purples, burnt orange.

Ten 26 is distinctive for its clarity and relative sparseness. The background is a busily brushy green yellow over a blue under-layer. Emerging from the left of the bottom edge and seemingly leaning rightward is a pair of adjacent fat blob-tongues: lavender and orange-red. (Their brushwork fills neatly echo their contours, helping keep them separate.) Down from the top edge: a skinny, Indian yellow tongue and a pair of dark red-brown projections that suggest a pair of dangling, stocking-covered legs.

Slide On, in contrast, is a densely layered vortex of color-forms, spanning a wide range of sizes and opacities (generally, the smaller, the more opaque). These are more rock-like than organic and the colors suggest desert and rust. Slightly off-center is a tear in this space. Its colors are unexpected: warm blue and magenta.

The variety that Johnson has achieved within a fairly consistent format is impressive. Wild (like several) features rough, scrawl-like marks, My Deep a background of curved diagonal stripes. Pour Me Down is unusually opaque. The gracefully curving CM is filled with eggplants (purple and brown, hazy and sharp) while Those Spaces Between seems to feature some kind of elongated orange gourd.

Scaling up can be a difficulty for any artist. The task is a particular challenge with gestural, painterly work, wherein every mark may be called upon to make a self-conscious statement. Moving bigger requires renegotiating the manner in which bodily movements and perceptions are choreographed into the agglomeration of form.

It is therefore unsurprising that Best Days, the sole large piece here, is dominated by two stiff, flatly colored-in forms: one resembling a red pepper and the other (vaguely) an upside-down axe or hammer head. One misses the lively interplay of gesture and drawn shape found in most of the smaller works.

All too often in local art, work that has pretensions toward playfulness or whimsy gives the impression of desperate effort being made to mask a more fundamental creative lifelessness. Ithaca loves the idea of the artist as free spirit; sadly, the real thing seems to be fairly rare. Melissa Johnson’s paintings are the real thing and as such deserve a broad audience.