Space & Being : Francie Lyshak and Francine Tint

July 17 – August 15, 2021, Joyce Goldstein Gallery, Chatham, New York

by Dominique Nahas

Space & Being highlights the current work of painters Francie Lyshak and Francine Tint at the Joyce Goldstein Gallery in Chatham NY. This exhibition, skillfully curated by independent curator Jen Dragon, is a striking example of how effectively a curator can conjoin two utterly dissimilar temperaments, creating a lively visual dynamic of differing yet far-ranging emotive resonances. This overall dynamic at the Goldstein Gallery pushes out energy of la durée, or duration, the term Henri Bergson used to indicate temporality as lived-time. For the viewer this very duration is that of pleasure of being alive, of the very experiential joy of being in-the-moment-to-moment while experiencing complexity and contradiction. The paintings in the exhibition draw you in, as ambient visual aromas and auras circulate in the gallery space with spacious eloquence. Here, two artists parse la durée through two different intonations.

Lyshak_TidalPool_22x29_2020
Francie Lyshak, Tidal Pool, 2020, 22 x 29 inches

Francie Lyshak and Francine Tint are painters who work non-representationally. They speak two different abstract vernaculars. And the abstractions in Space & Being are slow reads. The mental, associational, and psychical dynamics that pervade are long-lasting. Such dynamics take their time to work on you as they come from different angles or vectors of experience. For example, Francie Lyshak is dedicated to making nuanced monochromatic oil paintings with surface-tension exacerbated through raised and indented surfaces as well as the planting, so to speak, of unanticipated details that delight the eye. The artworks’ strong haptic energies are hidden in plain sight. The working of the paint surfaces is subtle and nearly undetectable at a distance until you move back and forth, inducing the eye to observe the paintings’ surfaces through a raked visual angle. These surfaces are replete with strength, subtlety and nuance. Francie Lyshak’s “adventures of light and color” as she writes in her artist’s notes, takes into considerations experiential and psychical experiences that converge in the mind’s eye as a pre-verbal type of consciousness. Lyshak’s studio practice in Space & Being is embodied through the inclusion of six declarative oil-on-linen paintings.

Wings © Francie Lyshak © 2021 Triptych, oil on linen, 40 x 76 inches
Wings © Francie Lyshak © 2021, Triptych, oil on linen, 40 x 76 inches

Her Wings Triptych (2021) consisting of abutted blue, black and white canvases, dominate the wall it sits on with uncompromising presentness. The artist’s largest, most reduced work in the exhibition Wings Triptych seems to preside over the other works with an intense sense of majesty. The remaining five artworks in the exhibition are from Lyshak’s Light Catchers series in which the artist scrapes and digs at the paint with tools that circumvent the exclusive use of brushes. using palette knives and scrapers, to indent and pick-at the pictorial surfaces, almost treating the topical paint layer as epidermis as her mark making impulses serve to suggest ritual scarification impulses that are worlds apart from merely decorative principles or tendencies. Included are two 40” x 24” vertical oil-on-linen works Gathering (2020) and All that Remains (2021), as well as two horizontal works , the oil-on-linen 24” x 40” work Yellow Waves ( 2020) and Reflecting Black (2018) measuring 24” x 24”, an oil-on-linen work with a mesmerizing surface of black roiling shininess. These artworks, with their haptic energies laid bare through their carvings and scratches, have an intense under-the-surface quality that appears to simmer and boil, reflecting uncomfortable states of mind. Tidal Pool (2020), a monochromatic russet red oil-on-linen work measuring 22” x 29” includes whirlpool-like thick skeins of paint that are anything but quiescent. Instead, an underlying sensation of crisis seems to pervade the work, giving this relatively small work an outsized presence.

Tower © Francine Tint 2021 acrylic on canvas 56 x 16.5 inches
Tower © Francine Tint, 2021 acrylic on canvas, 56 x 16.5 inches

Francine Tint’s nine acrylic abstractions in Space & Being, by contrast to Lyshak’s, are anything but monochromatic. Indeed, Tint’s sensual, unruly gesturalism with its color-ladened brushstrokes suggest emotional extremes of push and pull, a sturm und drang of the mind. Her paintings are like living entities. The standouts in the show are five tall narrow acrylic on canvas works that serve as sentinels, or as windows or doors to consciousness. These are Sunny Side of the Street (2017) Tower (2021) 56” x 16” 1⁄2”, Angel of Light (2018) 57 1⁄2” x 26 1⁄2” , Secret Bay (2017) 58” x 26” , and It’s Always You (2013) measuring 35” x 14”. The mastery of the artist’s brushwork with her luminous color play possesses a vigor and freshness that speaks to a strong exploratory attitude.

Black Luxury © Francine Tint 2021 acrylic on canvas 9 x 12 inches
Black Luxury © Francine Tint, 2021, acrylic on canvas, 9 x 12 inches

And this auratic power is equally evident in Tint’s much smaller artworks, as in Black Luxury (2021). Whatever the size, what is immediately arresting is the assuredness of Tint’s mark making. Her color-filled, thinly applied, layered acrylic-paint brushstrokes incrementally add sensorial presence and fullness to her pictorial surfaces. The interplay of Tint’s wafting veils, clouds and drizzles of paint form and perform like shifting meteorological patterns, reminding the viewer of the elements: winds and rains, of downpours and side-currents, of furtive and not so subtle emanating forces thrusting, parrying and counter-parrying. The diminutive Black Luxury has an outsized presence in spite of its 9” x 12” size. The two lushly sensual and decisive centralized black-and-white swaths are brushstrokes that intimate thick, slushy currents and swelling sea waves. The top left corner and lower right corner are colorful shards of space and time, inner worlds that serve as ballast to the main event. Tower (2021) is 16 1/2 inches wide and stands at a little under 5 feet. Tint’s thick red brushstroke sits on the top surface of this columnar-like work. Underneath we see a succession of a variety of differently colored receding brushstrokes, like petticoats over petticoats, overlays that accommodate deeper and deeper recesses behind the initial red mark.

Space & Being invites us to indulge in the abstractions of Francie Lyshak and Francine Tint, two dissimilar master-artists. Yet whatever the differences, similarities pervade: each aesthetic vision prioritizes a form and space of openness and availability, and essentializes presence and vitality.

Fire and Dust at the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival at United Contemporary, Toronto

by Emese Krunák-Hajagos

Browsing through Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival’s website Fire and Dust caught my eye at first glance. What strange pictures! Ryan Van Der Hout’s dark, monochromatic photographs create an inescapable mood of death and sadness, but having Amanda Arcuri’s colorful pieces displayed with them gives hope—at least for a short time, until we see what it’s all about. Fire and death – again. After looking at the whole exhibit it is hard to decide whose photographs are more disturbing.

Burke Paterson, Director of United Contemporary curated this show and pinpointed its connection to our current situation with COVID, as a period of great upheaval. He starts the gallery’s introduction to the exhibition with a question, “What happens to the artifacts of the civilized world when they no longer serve a purpose? Are they burned to the ground or left to collect dust?” This question goes back centuries and is not an easy one to answer. However, in their exhibition, Arcuri and Van Der Hout give a “unique yet complementary interpretation of destruction as a form of creation”.

Installation view of Fire and Dust at United Contemporary, 2021
Installation view of Fire and Dust at United Contemporary, 2021

The two Toronto based artists met through their education and as Van Der Hout said recently on United Contemporary’s Instagram, they were brought together by similar subject matter: the darkness, the lightness and destruction. Their processes are related and Van Der Hout was interested in how their work would show together.

Fire in the title of the show stands for Amanda Arcuri’s work as each piece depicts flowers on fire. All the images are beautiful in their vivid colors but looking at them still gives me mixed feelings. Fire is an ambiguous symbol. Humans have always been amazed by it. We give the flames the status of a god, and admire it more than fear it. But fire is a two-faced god, giving life on one hand, but also taking it. It also has a cleansing power; in some places people burn the undergrowth and unwanted vegetation each year so it will enrich the soil for next year’s crops. Fire is also a metaphor for death and rebirth. One of the best examples of it is the phoenix, a mythological bird that dies in flames and then is reborn from its own ashes.

Amanda Arcuri, A Shot in the Dark 17 (The Rainbow), 2020, dibond mounted, C-Print, 30” x 24”
Amanda Arcuri, A Shot in the Dark 17 (The Rainbow), 2020, dibond mounted, C-Print, 30” x 24”

A major part of Arcuri’s exhibited work is the series A Shot in the Dark, that won her the Best Photography and Digital Media Award at the Toronto Outdoor Show in 2019. This work began in 2018 when she was still able to collaborate with a lab. Arcuri said that this series she worked “through failed hopes and rituals of letting go or bringing new life”. When some of the flowers she received as birthday gifts withered, she wrote on Instagram that sometimes you just need to let some things die. The tulips (A Shot in the Dark 07) and irises (A Shot in the Dark 15) are still beautiful even as they decline. They seem to be dying with such grace. In another photograph (A Shot in the Dark 02), the leaves of a plant and the fire consuming it create a rather attractive, imaginary flower.

Amanda Arcuri, A Shot in the Dark 02, 2018, C-Print, White Shadow Box Frame. 12” x 15”; 17” x 20" with frame
Amanda Arcuri, A Shot in the Dark 02, 2018, C-Print, White Shadow Box Frame. 12” x 15”; 17” x 20″ with frame

In A Shot in the Dark series dead floral bouquets or plants are ignited by flame in darkness and then lit through a stained-glass window to contemplate transcendence. Arcuri only makes two shots of each on large format film. She said about her subject matter that “there is something about the texture of dried or dying plants that gets me every-time.” Her place is filled with flowers waiting to be photographed and she finds herself attached to them—she just can’t let them go. When asked if she arranges the flowers for the shots, she said, that she never touches them but leaves them in the same position they were when they died. She admires the hand of nature in their wilting and thinks it “shows more emotion and heaviness” than she could impose on them.

Each flower is unique and they react to fire in different ways. For example, dried roses burn at the tips of their petals and leaves and water droplets hidden in them explode in little stars. She also finds it very interesting how flowers move slightly from the first burn to the second, creating a real vs. not real, sometimes even surrealistic look. A Shot in the Dark 11 is a wonderful example of this. The dried-out bouquet is a beautiful arrangement of roses, wild flowers and decorative plants—very life-like with their vibrant colors. However, the flames burn brighter than any of the colors, since it has a different, living quality. This particular photograph captures movements in the flames of the fire and the fall of some flowers, caused by the burning. 

Amanda Arcuri, A Shot in the Dark 11, 2019, C-Print with Plexi Pink Frame, 50” x 40”
Amanda Arcuri, A Shot in the Dark 11, 2019, C-Print with Plexi Pink Frame, 50” x 40”

The Remix series was created during the COVID lockdown, so Arcuri had to invent a different method. It is a continuation of the work in A Shot in the Dark series, but re-worked as the title suggests. “Remixing” two negatives of her older shots created colors that mimicked oil paintings, and, as she said, almost look infected. Comparing the images of A Shot in the Dark 11 and Remix 01, we can see the differences clearly. The colors of flowers in the earlier piece look real, even when touched by the fire, while in the second they are metallic, almost ice-like colors, even though the fire is consuming them. They are further from real, almost to the point of being abstract. In Arcuri’s work, as Burke Paterson commented in the Artist Talk (June 29, 2021), fire is disturbing the peace but the light brings it back.

Amanda Arcuri, Remix 01, 2020, Archival Digital Print on Rag Paper, White Shadow Box Frame, 12” x 12”; 17” x 17” with frame
Amanda Arcuri, Remix 01, 2020, Archival Digital Print on Rag Paper, White Shadow Box Frame, 12” x 12”; 17” x 17” with frame

Van Der Hout works are philosophical questions of life and death, focusing on the afterlife. Does it exist at all? What happens after falling into the abyss? His images depict objects that are already dead and covered with black dust. Death is unmistakable and final here. As the gallery introduction states, they remind us of the relics of Pompeii. The artists explains that he was six years old when his parents went to Pompeii and brought back “photos of a society encapsulated in rock and dust”. Those dramatic depictions stayed with him and influenced his latest series Collecting dust where he tries to “imagine what art looks like after us, what is time after time” and what future generations will see in his work. This series was created during the COVID lockdown and that explains their dark vision.

Ryan Van Der Hout, Ascension, 2021, Archival Pigment Print, 24” x 20”
Ryan Van Der Hout, Ascension, 2021, Archival Pigment Print, 24” x 20”

Van Der Hout’s work indeed reminds us of Pompeii’s remains. These images are manifestations of how everything perishes and enters the afterlife (if there is one) or remains dusty and overlooked, considered as memento moris. They are nothing like a classical still-life, but more like, as the gallery states, ”natures morte”. They tell a story about the passage from past and present to the future, and we are looking at these images as though we are part of the future. Beyond their aesthetic appearance, we still keep wondering about their hidden narrative.

Ryan Van Der Hout, Extinguished, 2021, Archival Pigment Print, 50” x 40”
Ryan Van Der Hout, Extinguished, 2021, Archival Pigment Print, 50” x 40”

Van Der Hout’s compositions are reminiscent of Dutch vanitas paintings as they are very layered and heavy with symbolism. Feast (2021) is one of his most still-life-looking images, including many meaningful symbols. The skull represents death and mortality, as we all die, but without death life would be meaningless. Grapes are for fertility, so life will go on. Roses are more complex symbols as they combine death and renewal, while butterflies promise rebirth. All covered with black dust they are, without any doubt, dead, but some hide a hint of hope.

Ryan Van Der Hout, Feast, 2021, Archival Pigment Print, 24” x 20”
Ryan Van Der Hout, Feast, 2021, Archival Pigment Print, 24” x 20”

Three Graces (2021) is different from the other photographs since it is centralized around a sculpture of the three graces. Talking about his composing method in the Artist Talk, Van Der Hout said that handling an art object (even a copy) is very important for him, not just because of what it embodies but also the feelings it evokes in him. In this photograph the bust on the left side and the three graces represent beauty and show how art is timeless. There is a book for knowledge, as printed words survive the ages, grapes for fertility and a pitcher and glass bottle for drinks in good times.

Ryan Van Der Hout, Three Graces, 2021, Archival Pigment Print, 10” x 8”
Ryan Van Der Hout, Three Graces, 2021, Archival Pigment Print, 10” x 8”

As the artist mentioned, his works are all about transformation and, often, destruction. However, while the objects in his photographs are transformed from life to death, from light to dark, they are still not destroyed as they forever encapsulate their meanings and beauty.

In United Contemporary’s exhibition, Arcuri’s and Van Der Hout’s images hang side by side, mixed together instead of separated by artists. Arcuri’s brilliant colors pop out when paired with Van Der Hout’s monochromatic compositions. Together they generate a dynamic opposition, that both unites and highlights their themes.

Installation view of Fire and Dust with Ryan Van Der Hout, Extinguished (left) and Amanda Arcuri, A Shot in the Dark 11 (right)
Installation view of Fire and Dust with Ryan Van Der Hout, Extinguished (left) and Amanda Arcuri, A Shot in the Dark 11 (right)

 Our outlook on life has been rather dark throughout the last year and a few months. COVID has caused more harm to the mental health of people than in its death toll. Fear is difficult enough, but being locked down, kept away from our loved ones and not being able to live our lives to the fullest has been even more dreadful. The quality of our lives has been reduced. Our cultural entertainment became virtual like an online exhibition. Arcuri’s and Van Der Hout’s work resonate with our state of mind—depression, repression and confusion—wonderfully well. Their photographs engage our minds and shake us to the core – and will stay with us for a long time.

Images are courtesy of United Contemporary

Intercessions: James Singelis and Bobbie Moline-Kramer Portraits

by Dominique Nahas

Little Boy © James Singelis oil on paper 8.5" x 9"
Little Boy © James Singelis oil on paper 8.5″ x 9″
Glass Eye © James Singelis, oils, collage on paper 18" x 12"
Glass Eye © James Singelis, oils, collage on paper 18″ x 12″

Intercessions, a two-personexhibition at the Joyce Goldstein Gallery, curated by Jen Dragon, is a tidily concise, intensely combustible, portrait exhibition. Included in the exhibit are twenty oils by James Singelis, all wall works, ranging in size from 36” x 24” to 10” x 8”, and Bobbie Moline-Kramer’s twenty-one oil and mixed-media wall panels ranging in size from 10” x 10” to 6” x 6” (and three table-top constructions). Highlights within Singelis’s artworks would include “Later Self” a black-and-white self-portrait made of charcoal, graphite, and tape, “Glass Eye” a work incorporating collage elements and oil paint, and the oil-on-board work “Little Boy.” Standouts among Moline-Kramer’s contributions to the exhibition include “All that Remains” (2010) a metaphoric family- tree wall installation of 11 incised and painted 10” x 10” wood panels. These breathtakingly exquisite painted wood panels replete with avian-and-tree-branches imagery used throughout pertains to Moline-Kramer’s family members remembered and dis-remembered. Also visually arresting are “Words” (2019), “Untitled 1” (2021), and “Wowza” (2018).

Wowza © Bobbie Moline-Kramer 2018 oil, goldpaint on wood panel 6" x 8"
Wowza © Bobbie Moline-Kramer 2018 oil, goldpaint on wood panel 6″ x 8″

The press release of this exhibition claims that “Intercessions…is an exhibition of spiritual portraits that act as a conduit between inner and outer worlds.” The intimation that the artwork and the artists in this exhibition serve as mediators, or conduits, to and from an ineffable essence that is yet also grounded in the reality of the human visage strikes me as a fruitful way for me as a critic to begin making remarks describing the artworks in the exhibition itself and the experiential takeaway of the show. Intercessions, in using a term such as “spiritual portraits”in its press releaseoffers a gallery experience that suggests that the visitor will be struck with the power of the auratic presence of the artworks themselves as well with the impact of the artists’ incarnating of this aura through their pictorial activities. Towards that end, Bobbie Moline-Kramer and James Singelis approach the act of image-making as a mediatory device in different ways. Moline-Kramer’s artistic activity at its core serves to inculcate the activity of calling forth, an evocation, of ineffable and mysterious essences. These inmost substances conjured up through her activity of art-making points to the needs of human attachments and detachments to and from things as friendships, memories, and longstanding if painful personal family histories. James Singelis’s art, by contrast to Moline-Kramer’s, functions as a mediatory device or structure of the imagination through invocation whose purpose is to engage in a calling-in, a summoning of feelings that are triggered by each portrait as it emerges from his hand and soul. To this very point, Singelis writes in his artist’s notes “…I see each painting …not [as an] illustration or snapshot of an emotional moment, but rather a history of the interior cross-currents that occur while I paint.”

Untitled I © Bobbie Moline-Kramer ink, charcoal, gold paint on wood board 8" x 8"
Untitled I © Bobbie Moline-Kramer ink, charcoal, gold paint on wood board 8″ x 8″

Singelis’s aesthetic practice has an uplifting, almost early-Matisse freshness to it as he works expressionistically and intuitively using unusual color combinations. A hazily vaporous glow clings to his work giving it a dreamlike, even tender, evanescent quality that is captivating in ways that are unique to him. Outside of the self-portraits he produces, Singelis makes up the portraits as he goes along. He’s challenged by creating an optical zone of recognizability that coalesces into what one would call a human “face” whose features slowly emerge from myriad marks and lines and colored brush marks that end up as participating in the codes of representation, one might say, by default. His free-falling or free-floating into and through the codes of representation are evidentiary indications that Singelis’s tendencies lead him to the habit of an eternal return, a perpetual attempt to break free from historic models of image-making again and again. He reverts to a state of mind that attempts to build a human visage from point zero, a starting point of the imaginary that entirely precludes a one-on-one relationship with a sitter. James Singelis’s picture-making has a lingering unfinished look, a de facto memento-mori aspect, a pathos intimating his mission as an artist of properly recording or memorializing the facial characteristics of the human entity emerging from the center of his mind’s eye could never be adequately completed.

Later Self © James Singelis, charcoal, graphite, tape 24" x 18"
Later Self © James Singelis, charcoal, graphite, tape 24″ x 18″

Moline-Kramer’s precise naturalism, on the other hand, while engaging with the codes of mimetic fidelity and fealty towards exactitude that is pushed to the limits attends to spontaneity, somehow, in unexpected surgical-strike ways. As a result, her works resonate with haptic and sensorial impact as she flecks and spikes her otherwise meticulously planned pictorial surfaces to give rise to under-the-radar variegated visual intrusions that tickle the eye and keep it moving. Moline-Kramer’s art career began decades ago as a medical illustrator and her rigorous observational training in depicting the body (inside and out) with intense verisimilitude has stayed with her as a residual part of her aesthetic modus-operandi. Moline-Kramer makes a point of only engaging in portraying individuals she has observed intimately. Even if she does refer to photographic studies of her subjects in the completion of her artwork, she takes these photos herself. When she is in the presence of her subject for future use, in-studio purposes, she takes careful forensic notes using colored pencils to make sure that the skin tones on paper are precise matches with the living entity. The upshot of this process is that Moline-Kramer’s art involves a precise form of meticulously planned naturalism, a type of verisimilitude with affinities to trompe l’oeil. Yet there are additional abstract free-standing mark-making elements that are superimposed onto this pictorial precision that paradoxically alludes to a notion of identity that is fluid and not fixed; a shape-shifting sense of self that is at its core at variance with itself.

Untitled I © Bobbie Moline-Kramer ink, charcoal, gold paint on wood board 8" x 8".
Untitled I © Bobbie Moline-Kramer ink, charcoal, gold paint on wood board 8″ x 8″.

Intercessions showcases the inner worlds of Bobbie Moline-Kramer and James Singelis, artists whose works diverge in terms of painterly application and approach to the subject matter of the face. Yet these vitalistic differences joined in the same viewing circumstances at the Joyce Goldstein Gallery create a visual momentum, a psychical vivacity that left this viewer in a deeply satisfying state of exalted, enlightened mystification.

More about this exhibition: https://bit.ly/ccpbmkjs

LandX

by D. Dominick Lombardi

It is commonly thought that in Western Art, the interest in representing the landscape as part of a paintings composition cropped up during the time of the Renaissance. From the beginning, representations of the landscape have brought the viewer to virtually experience new places throughout time, offering a sense of discovery, a feeling of hope for a better more peaceful world. More recently, a truer understanding of the force and fragility of nature has come to the fore motivated by politics, profit and pleasure. For this exhibition, I have selected paintings, sculptures, archival pigment prints, ceramics, dioramas and collages that offer a variety of contemporary views regarding the state of the genre.

Beginning with the shear awesomeness of nature and all its endless contemplations, Todd Bartel offers Garden Study (Surrender to Vastness), 2002, where we find a lone figure standing in stereoscope, at the edge of a great canyon. One quote in the composition reads: “…to reach the limits of space would be to arrive at our own origins, at the place where life began.” – Jean Clair. Contrasting this great work are two more humorous objects that blatantly addresses a concern for the environment as Bartel channels Man Ray’s iconic sculpture, The Gift, 1921.

Cecilia Whittaker-Doe takes us through a wooded walk as horizons shift, planes tilt, rivers reappear and color intensifies. Despite the cubist calamity, there seems to be an odd sort of order to it all, as if each part both supports and contrasts the other. In the end, we are left with a far more sensory experience than we might expect, as our attention is rewarded with a beautifully composed, tactile trip.

Don Doe focuses on the strain of our rising rivers in two paintings: Johnstown Flood No. 91 (1995) and June with my GTO in the Rising Mississippi Delta Flood No. 10 (1993). Employing dark humor, Doe’s subjects seem to be unaffected by the imposing destruction of the rushing water long enough to record the scene on canvas. The overall impression is acceptance, especially when looked at through the lens of current day political ploys and punditry.

Inness Hancock, Into the Falls, 2016, oil on canvas, 60” x 48”
Inness Hancock, Into the Falls, 2016, oil on canvas, 60” x 48”

Into the Falls (2016) by Inness Hancock takes us to a place where representation and abstraction coalesce. Movement is key here, as thin veils of blue rain down upon the depths of a deep darkening pond. The contrast between the thin washes at the top and middle of the canvas, and the weight of the deep blue pool below anchors the composition and our thoughts as both time and thought wonder.

Patrick Jacobs has the unique ability to take the most complex and compelling fantasy and turn it into an intimate physical reality. His dioramas redefine the genre with otherworldly color, light, form and space resulting in stunningly spectacular worlds that only he could imagine. After seeing Jacobs work, one’s general state of mind may experience a shift, more likely the memory of the work will become fixed in your subconscious, and very possibly dreaming will become easier.

Patrick Jacobs, Fly Agarics with Eclipse, 2021, diorama viewed through 2 in. (5 cm) window, Styrene, clay, paper, foam, wood, acrylic, steel, lighting, BK7 glass, 11 1/4” (H) x 14 3/4” (W) x 9 1/4” (D)
Patrick Jacobs, Fly Agarics with Eclipse, 2021, diorama viewed through 2 in. (5 cm) window, Styrene, clay, paper, foam, wood, acrylic, steel, lighting, BK7 glass, 11 1/4” (H) x 14 3/4” (W) x 9 1/4” (D)

China Marks makes beautifully constructed, fantastical narratives that delight the eye and broaden the mind. Her way of capturing a complex moment with such dizzying directness is key, while her sense of color, composition and actual conversation makes the trip all the more worth while. I can’t imagine any point in one’s life where you could not gain insight or enjoy looking at Marks’ work. – it’s all just a matter of time and willingness to seek and find.

The archival pigment prints of Creighton Michael reside somewhere between consciousness and subconsciousness – an in-between state that is not unlike Surrealism. More importantly, Michael’s art reflects something of a waking-dream state where reality and memory prove to be deceiving. It is hard to pinpoint exactly what part of Michael’s art takes us to this place, but we know we are there and it is simultaneously, both otherworldly and familiar.    

Brant Moorefield’s paintings teeter between perception and reality. Perception, meaning the artist’s inner thoughts, what is internalized and later expressed, even if it does not directly relate to the reality. As a result, we find ourselves caught between dimensions, in a place where the psychological supersedes the actual. There are references to displacement, disorder, deconstruction, and yet there seems to be an overriding sense of resolve and perhaps a bit of redemption to it all.

Maggie Robertson, Westbury White Horse , 2021, hand built stoneware ceramic, hand glazed, 6” x 13”
Maggie Robertson, Westbury White Horse , 2021, hand built stoneware ceramic, hand glazed, 6” x 13”

Maggie Robertson’s ceramics blend the stature of fine china with a sort of organic, ‘wabi-sabi’ imperfection that is oddly comforting. The traditional blue and white glazed bucolic scenes atop the hand-formed utilitarian objects makes for the perfect blend of new and old. Seen in the context of an ‘exhibition’, the works of Robertson become something else, more contemplative and sculptural.

Pacific Crest Trail: Sierra Snow Bridge (2018) by Annie Varnot is a bold and brilliant work that essentially communicates two truths. First, that our planet is home to countless awe inspiring vistas – at times indescribable beauty that we can not live without. Second, what we hold dear, what many of us live to experience, to feel, to see and touch is quite fragile, and what we do, how we over-consume, has a lasting negative effect on our environment.

Martin Weinstein’s paintings define the beauty in the rhythms of the seasons – the endless (hopefully) return of life in the spring, the brilliance of the summer, the temporary demise the fall brings to our vegetation, and the clear, crisp chill of winter – all that defines the Northeast is exquisitely expressed in Sun Dogs, 3X (2013) and Winter under Summer, Summer under Fall (2019). In each instance, Weinstein brings heaven back to earth.

Shari Weschler, Bear Stand, 2012, watercolor/graphite on paper, 12” x 9”
Shari Weschler, Bear Stand, 2012, watercolor/graphite on paper, 12” x 9”

The compelling, albethey strange interactions with nature some of us humans might have or imagine come to life in the paintings of Shari Weschler. In Bending #1 (2017) we see what appears to be a burgeoning suburban backyard in spring-thaw mode. Bear Stand (Needs date) shows a young woman creating a sort of ‘Mother Earth’ in-body experience representing the sky, animals and land. Bridging (Needs date) is an obvious play-on-words with a twist, which has a vastly different read in these days of Covid.

Red Fox Contemporary art is located at 55 Westchester Avenue, Pound Ridge, NY 10576. LandX runs from May 22 through July 4, 2021. There is an opening May 22 from 3 – 6 pm. (475) 205-8956

dArtles: Weekly on the Arts

by Steve Rockwell

Weekly on the Arts hosts Irina De Vilhina and Kyle Shields at Pie in the Sky Studios
Weekly on the Arts hosts Irina De Vilhena and Kyle Shields at Pie in the Sky Studios

In Toronto’s cultural kitchen, a dish named Weekly on the Arts has begun to bubble. Hosts for this upcoming weekly TV show are Irina De Vilhena and Kyle Shields. Featured segments cover visual artists, collectors, curators, museum directors, art magazines, auction houses, art galleries and art dealers. Shooting began this spring at Pie in the Sky Studios, with rushes from the first batch of digital reels already in post production.  

While neither hosts are visual arts specialists, they bring their own unique areas of experience to bear on the subjects covered. From Angola-Luanda in Africa originally, Irina De Vilhena speaks Spanish and Portuguese, is at work on her second children’s book, and has worked in health care for the past seven years. Actor Kyle Shields is excited to be involved with this project, aware that his skills can be of use as host: “The most rewarding work I’ve had the chance to do has been in the creation of new Canadian plays, from workshop to stage. At the core, it’s always about compelling storytelling.”

Irina De Vilhina and Kyle Shields photographed in one of the many graffiti-laden laneways in Toronto
Irina De Vilhena and Kyle Shields photographed in one of the many graffiti-laden laneways in Toronto

Host Irina has already a tale to tell worthy of Mary Shelley: “I had the privilege to go to the studio of John Scott. It was amazing. His work was all over the place, piled on top of each other, yet organized in its own way.” She tells of John being hit by lightning twice in his life – once as a kid playing on a beach, where its charge burned little holes in his feet from the heated metal eyelets of his runners. More recently it occurred on the roof top of his studio building during the memorial for the tragic passing of an artist friend. A thunderstorm had come up as he was about to pour out a libation on the ground for those who had gone before. Perhaps he had it coming, the artist had felt, surrounded as he was by broken antennas and metal things. It was at that moment that lightning struck, knocking him out temporarily. For Irina, Weekly on the Arts has kindled a love affair with the arts, its artists and their history.

Artist John Scott with an image of his studio imposed on green screen background
Artist John Scott with an image of his studio imposed on green screen background

The visit that Kyle Shields paid to Alex Cameron in his studio was memorable. Alex’s wife Lorna Hawrysh recounted that, “for Alex, it’s always been about the art. It’s always been about painting, despite the ups and downs of the art industry.” Kyle saw that the studio itself of an artist tells its own story. “I’m sure this can make it challenging for living artists to sell their work for livable sums of money. So to see Alex’s studio, modest in size (he’s been at the same one for decades), filled with bright canvases, tables full of paint tubes, impasto practice swatches laid about, and what seems like a floor entirely covered in thick, multicolour, smatterings of paint from years of effort. It was a very vivid experience.“ From 1972 to 1976, Alex worked as a studio assistant to Jack Bush, who influenced the artist’s own painting style towards a lyrical semi-abstraction. Through the association with Bush, Alex developed a close friendship with critic Clement Greenberg and members of the Painters Eleven group such as William Ronald.

Alex Cameron in his studio
Alex Cameron in his studio

For several years now, Alex has been grappling with the lingering effects of a stroke. Though ambidextrous, he has painted with his right hand for the course of his life. Before leaving the hospital he had turned to Lorna to say that he thought that he had figured out how to paint with his left hand. She recalled often seeing him paint in his head, practicing before committing to canvas. Now he paints just as prolifically as before. Lorna said “painting for Alex is physical.” This accounts for the sculptural quality of his work. He primes his canvases with red rather than white. To Alex, it’s the red that makes him feel right. 

Lydia Abbott and Rob Cowley and the Lawren Harris, Algoma, (Algoma Sketch 48), which sold for $977,500
Lydia Abbott and Rob Cowley and the Lawren Harris, Algoma, (Algoma Sketch 48), which sold for $977,500

A December 2020 web article from auction house Cowley Abbott spoke of continued strong results for Canadian historical and contemporary art at auction. Solely online at first, Rob Cowley and Lydia Abbott only started doing live auctions because of demand. Online focus had prepared them for the age of COVID. “Finding a rare Lawren Harris painting in Australia and getting the chance to bring it home for auction was exciting – the delightful confluences of a storied artist, a pristine specimen, and a great anecdote to accompany the sale. Exciting also was to have broken records in the past year, particularly for the Jack Bush Column on Browns (1965), which sold for $870,000, a record for any work by him.”

Jack Bush, Column on Browns (1965) – selling price $870,000
Jack Bush, Column on Browns (1965) – selling price $870,000

What remains now is the stitching together of its parts and the release date of Weekly on the Arts.

Mortality: A Survey of Contemporary Death Art

by Steve Rockwell

Lynn Stern, Spectator #14-94a, 2014–2015. Archival inkjet pigment print, 32 x 43 in. Ed. 1/6. Courtesy of the artist.

Mortality: A Survey of Contemporary Death Art was to have opened spring 2020 in Washington, D.C. The intended exhibition venue was Katzen Art Center’s American University Museum. It’s cancellation is a familiar, shopworn story over a grim span of time when it comes to public events of any kind. To say that it was a disappointment doesn’t quite cover it. When considering the energies, hopes, and labors expended by so many people over a considerable time, something vital within the its participants was cut off. In its reaping, the fruition of it produced an unfortunate synchronicity with Mortality, the exhibition theme.

Curated by Donald Kuspit with assistance from Robert Curcio, the exhibition that was not-to-be maintains, nevertheless, a robust afterlife in the pages of its catalog. Like the general public, I never got to see the exhibition as it would have been mounted. My responses, while not visceral to the works of the artists represented, arise from the images provided and the statements that accompany them. In that respect, these and my supporting researches breathed life to my efforts rather as digital avatars.

Anonymous artist, Skull Bracelet and Key Chain, 1990. Sterling silver, dimensions variable. Courtesy of Robert Curcio. Photography by Sebastian Piras.

Not surprisingly, our relationship with Death in its personification, is variously seen as a dance, courtship, or even marriage. Kuspit chose Death Mon Amour as his essay title, yet, I assume that author is not suicidal. Could this just be his blunt acceptance that death is never more than a breath away – in that sense, our closest friend? Like grains of sand in an hour glass our time on earth is meted out particle by particle, its remaining specks mercifully obscured. Without exception, we are lively patterns in the cloth of existence, “where time and chance happens to us all,” as the writer of Ecclesiastes pointed out. Much as the notion of something universal presents a Gordian knot to philosophers, each must confront their mortality in the end, just the same. We know this to be true intuitively, the image of an impersonal skull being its testament. 

The selection of the works in the Mortality provide a meditation on the dynamic tension in art between figuration and abstraction. Kuspit uses the word “obscene” in reference to abstraction. The word generally implies something offensive to the senses. Yet, making something abstract may be seen as a dying, the removal of physical existence, and the blanching out of the concrete and corporeal. The author notes that abstraction is that which “is hidden behind the scenic representation it supports.” In terms of Plato’s philosophy, it could be regarded as the idea that wafts behind the veil of fleshly depiction. With Clement Greenberg’s abstract expressionism, painting was made “pure,” any reference to visual imagery purged and eradicated. Erasure in the broad sense is a death, where the visible world is annihilated as if by a culturally-detonated atomic bomb.

Vanitas works of art inherently raise the flag of impending oblivion. Citing Ecclesiastes again: “I have seen everything done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” Kuspit’s own presage is a call for accounting and evaluation of what is meaningful. His curatorial intent was fulfilled in having the works in Mortality “read convincingly as abstractions – even as they convey the nihilistic meaning of death.” A requirement for the artist was in his words, a nuanced juggling of these two faces, never using one to deny the other. My own consideration necessarily draws its nourishment from the underpinnings of a digitally-laced matrix, not a full sensory engagement with the Mortality works – not its living body.

John Grande, The Residue of Time, 2016. Oil on canvas, 30 x 60 in. Courtesy of the artist.
John Grande, The Residue of Time, 2016. Oil on canvas, 30 x 60 in. Courtesy of the artist.

The decay and deterioration of New York City billboards fascinates John Grande. This sloughing away of the papery skins of advertising is a bit like the application and scraping away of makeup, the faces of billboards perpetually promising the new and fresh. Their creases and tears constitute a restless ephemera, mirroring our own mortality and vulnerability.

In the It’s All Derivative series by Bill Claps, the sentence is tapped out in Morse code – the mechanically generated impulses, a repetition of blips from which life has been drained, reduced to a lifeless miming having lost the hope of birthing the new. A leering skull is a triumphant witness to the failure of genuine originality in the creative act.

Bill Claps, It’s All Derivative, The Skull, Negative, 2014. Mixed media with gold foil on canvas, 15 x 16 1/4 in. Courtesy of the artist.

In the It’s All Derivative series by Bill Claps, the sentence is tapped out in Morse code – the mechanically generated impulses, a repetition of blips from which life has been drained, reduced to a lifeless miming having lost the hope of birthing the new. A leering skull is a triumphant witness to the failure of genuine originality in the creative act.  

Paul Brainard, Cyborg Space, 2010. Oil on canvas, 26 x 32 in. Courtesy of the artist.
Paul Brainard, Cyborg Space, 2010. Oil on canvas, 26 x 32 in. Courtesy of the artist.

The landscapes of Paul Brainard’s “fractured schizophrenic existence” are ticker-tape slashes and pulses pumped through the senses as intravenous drips. Big-city dwellers in particular are vulnerable to the integration of body circuitry and machine in their daily routines. In his Cyborg Space, Brainard poses the problem of parsing this mingling of lifeless pixel and living neurone. 

Danielle Frankenthal, Tree of Life, 2019. Acrylic paint
on acrylic resin panels, 48 x 36 in. Courtesy of the artist.
Danielle Frankenthal, Tree of Life, 2019. Acrylic paint on acrylic resin panels, 48 x 36 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Danielle Frankenthal admits that her paintings are ambiguous. Which tree is being depicted? She understands that one represents knowledge of good and evil and leads to death, while the other connects to eternal life. While these are Biblical trees, she also cites Buddha’s Bodhi tree, which leads to enlightenment and release from the cycle of life. The artist considers the promises that each present. Jesus gained immortality, Frankenthal admits, through a sacrificial death. It is not clear if Buddha’s awakening is merely an end to the cycles of suffering and nirvana just another death.  

Noah Becker, Tune Out #2, 2017. Acrylic on board, 42 x 32 in. Courtesy of the artist.
Noah Becker, Tune Out #2, 2017. Acrylic on board, 42 x 32 in. Courtesy of the artist.

For Noah Becker, how a painting is completed is crucial. As in life, the work of art has a birth, life, and a concluding gesture. This sense of finality is poignantly conveyed by a gilded skull as in Tune Out #2. If a bite of the apple brought death, then the gleam of gold may deliver hope of immortality.

Left: Donald Baechler, Skull & Crossbones, 2009. Acrylic and fabric collage on canvas, 24 x 24 in. Right: Skull, 2009. Acrylic and fabric collage on canvas, 24 x 24 in. Courtesy of Donald Baechler Studio.
Left: Donald Baechler, Skull & Crossbones, 2009. Acrylic and fabric collage on canvas, 24 x 24 in. Right: Skull, 2009. Acrylic and fabric collage on canvas, 24 x 24 in. Courtesy of Donald Baechler Studio.

Interestingly, Donald Baechler eschews the narrative and “symbolic load” of skulls, while pleased to grandfather said associations through his own research. Yet, it’s difficult to stem the flow of pirate imagery, knowing that the source is clearly a sailor tattoo. In that respect, Baechler is rather a channel or clairvoyant through whom the lore of culture is transmitted, here assuming the pose of departed spirit. 

Jinsu Han, Dream Fiend 5C, 2009. Plastic model, steel, wood, epoxy resin, ABS plastic, copper, silver cup, speaker, radio receiver, motor, feather, steel wheel and chalk powder, 30.7 x 25.6 x 19.6 in. Courtesy of Marc Straus Gallery.
Jinsu Han, Dream Fiend 5C, 2009. Plastic model, steel, wood, epoxy resin, ABS plastic, copper, silver cup, speaker, radio receiver, motor, feather, steel wheel and chalk powder, 30.7 x 25.6 x 19.6 in. Courtesy of Marc Straus Gallery.

The mechanized sculptures of Jinsu Han are built to make art. Through clever, but otherwise crude assemblages of junk and an assortment of spare parts, Han has succeeded in manufacturing a series of artist automatons. Each are programmed to demonstrate the law of perpetual change. If they could speak, it would be the mantra of Heraclitus to perpetuity: “All is Flux, Nothing is Stationary,” In Han’s universe, the robot artist will no doubt prevail, with the flesh and blood counterpart just flotsam in the rinse cycle.

Chris Jones, The Trader, 2016. Book and magazine images, board, and polymer varnish, 34 x 23 x 22 in. Courtesy of Marc Straus Gallery.
Chris Jones, The Trader, 2016. Book and magazine images, board, and polymer varnish, 34 x 23 x 22 in. Courtesy of Marc Straus Gallery.

Sculptor Chris Jones comes close to achieving the concrete realization of memory. In our minds, slippery image fragments tend to flit from place to place, mingling and morphing into unexpected constellations. In the work of the artist, fragments culled from magazines and books are surgically grafted into fantastic, labyrinthine heaps. Rich in detail and association these works evoke a sense of the tableau vivant at a state of decay and corruption. The Trader sculpture by Jones is a vanitas in every sense of the word.

Trevor Guthrie, Myself as a Specimen, 2009. Charcoal, graphite on paper, 55 x 57 in. unframed. Private Collection.
Trevor Guthrie, Myself as a Specimen, 2009. Charcoal, graphite on paper, 55 x 57 in. unframed. Private Collection.

Striking singularity is a dominant feature in the charcoal on paper works produced by Trevor Guthrie. In a fragmented world, the artist displays a monk-like dedication to the transcription of verisimilitude of the images he produces. His “symphony of mistakes” cohere at a distance. Presented perhaps as a balm to a public riddled with a “sickness of the soul,” Guthrie hopes that his patient application of flickers of grey may untangle a mystery to someone. As the artist labored, some of life’s enigmas revealed themselves, though by his own admission they remain unsolved.

Chris Klein, Phantom of the Opera: Mask of the Red Death, 2019. Acrylic on canvas, 30 x 60 in. Courtesy of the artist.
Chris Klein, Phantom of the Opera: Mask of the Red Death, 2019. Acrylic on canvas, 30 x 60 in. Courtesy of the artist.

The subject of Chris Klein’s inclusion to the Mortality exhibition is topical. Titled Phantom of the Opera: Mask of the Red Death, it depicts the costume worn by the actor for the Masquerade scene in the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical. The scene was inspired by the 1842 Edgar Allan Poe short story, The Masque of the Red Death. Its plot line is worth a perusal in the context of our Covid 19 times: “And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.” 

Bobbie Moline-Kramer, All That Remains (4 of 11 panels), 2010. Oil, graphite, gesso and wood burning on wood, 10 x 10 in. each. Courtesy of the artist.
Bobbie Moline-Kramer, All That Remains (4 of 11 panels), 2010. Oil, graphite, gesso and wood burning on wood, 10 x 10 in. each. Courtesy of the artist.

Bobbie Moline-Kramer conveys the themes of family fragmentation and loss by combining the symbolism associated with trees, birds, and wood. Birds imbue expressive form to something difficult to depict visually otherwise – the soul. The birds in her All That Remains series of wood panels perch somewhat uneasily on stick-like branches. The vicissitudes and fluctuations between rest, nest, and flight have correspondences with most family trees.

David Ligare, Still Life with Skull and Polaroid, 1983. Oil on canvas, 20 x 24 in. Collection of the artist.
David Ligare, Still Life with Skull and Polaroid, 1983. Oil on canvas, 20 x 24 in. Collection of the artist.

David Ligare’s Still Life with Skull and Polaroid puts on a brave skull face. Whether withered laurel leaf or fresh, the crisply-painted profile of the Ligare skull tilts defiantly upwards, catching the sun’s rays full-frontal. The pose is one of Stoic victory, struck with a full-throated acceptance of the fleeting parade of life.

Frank Lind, Vanitas, 2017. Oil on panel, 20 x 14 in. Courtesy of the artist.
Frank Lind, Vanitas, 2017. Oil on panel, 20 x 14 in. Courtesy of the artist.

The Vanitas by Frank Lind is offered uncorked to the viewer, yet discretely. Employing a range of painterly Low Countries genre licks, the effect is slightly soft-focus – not quite a crisp, hyper-detailed Jan van Eyck requiring magnifiers. The skull in Lind’s oil on panel coaxes a reminder to “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.”  

Frodo Mikkelsen, Untitled (Skull #3), 2018. Silver-plated mixed media, 9.6 x 5.9 x 7.9 in. Courtesy of the artist.
Frodo Mikkelsen, Untitled (Skull #3), 2018. Silver-plated mixed media, 9.6 x 5.9 x 7.9 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Hardships may come, but Frodo Mikkelsen promises to smile even in death. Pop detritus has been the fodder for Mikkelsen’s career from the start. Color and glint at its most intense seems to have been the spark that lit his work. It’s this brand of joie de vivre that must be keeping the fireplace in his cranial cabin burning. 

Left: Lynn Stern, Spectator #14-65, 2014–2015. Archival inkjet pigment print, 32" x 29". Ed. 1/6. Right: Spectator #14-70, 2014–2015. Archival inkjet pigment print, 32 x 34.5 in. Ed. 1/6. Courtesy of the artist.
Left: Lynn Stern, Spectator #14-65, 2014–2015. Archival inkjet pigment print, 32″ x 29″. Ed. 1/6. Right: Spectator #14-70, 2014–2015. Archival inkjet pigment print, 32 x 34.5 in. Ed. 1/6. Courtesy of the artist.

The photographs of Lynn Stern send shivers, carrying with them a sense of profound apprehension. In the Doppelgänger and Spectator series in particular, shrouded skulls rise into view from below in an eerie kind of resurrection, grainy and imprecise in an indefinable hue. Are they dusted in sepia, umber, or pewter? The 19th century writer George MacDonald may have said it best in his book The Portent, “…an airy, pale-grey spectre, which few eyes but mine could see.”

Michael Netter, Regeneration, 2016. Mixed media on canvas, 48 x 60 in. Courtesy of the artist.
Michael Netter, Regeneration, 2016. Mixed media on canvas, 48 x 60 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Successive cultures are necessarily layered into the surface of the earth like coats of paint. Masterworks may also reveal multiple compositions, one superimposed over the other. Michael Netter likes the notion of covering and discovering, much as it occurs in the archeology he references. As in archeological digs, his Regeneration painting share the qualities of a burial pit. The view we have here is strictly celestial – all gold, silver, infused with blue throughout. The spirits of the departed souls in this particular mound of bones are at rest in heavenly realms.   

 Stephen Newton, The Wake, 2018. Oil on canvas, 26 x 24 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Stephen Newton, The Wake, 2018. Oil on canvas, 26 x 24 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Stephen Newton rendered his Wake painting in clumpy oil on canvas with utmost simplicity. We take in the work as we might a freshly-baked oatmeal biscuit. There are no ambiguities with a coffin on a table below a window showing grass and sky. The pleasure of its ingestion is having been spoken to directly. That’s meaningful.

Sigrid Sarda, Lothario’s Vanity, 2014-2018. Wax, human hair, cotton, bone, gold leaf, crystals, opals, 21 x 31 x 14 in. Courtesy of the artist.
Sigrid Sarda, Lothario’s Vanity, 2014-2018. Wax, human hair, cotton, bone, gold leaf, crystals, opals, 21 x 31 x 14 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Sigrid Sarda’s Lothario’s Vanity interlaces the busts of a man and a woman in a spill of crystal. The woman is somehow a gush of the man’s chest cavity, the eyes of both closed as if united in a moment of ecstasy. It seems that the woman has been released from the man’s rib cage, if but for a moment. This cycle of obsessive desire is an unbroken chain of little deaths, with a yearning for life’s fulfillment at each turn of the wheel.

Sonia Stark, Three Female Skulls, With Lipstick Smear, 2020. Oil and pastel on arches paper, 26 x 19 in. Courtesy of the artist.
Sonia Stark, Three Female Skulls, With Lipstick Smear, 2020. Oil and pastel on arches paper, 26 x 19 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Sonia Stark’s Three Female Skulls perform a dance of the red veil. It’s a gestural smear, binding and tugging of each into a danse macabre, a jig that unites us all. Their invitation is to the living, “Come join us. Feast on pleasure while there is time.”  Those now stripped of flesh rest in the certitude of cessation of blood’s pulsation.

Paul Pretzer, Dead Idiot, 2019. Oil on wood, 17.1 x 15 in. Courtesy of Marc Straus Gallery.
Paul Pretzer, Dead Idiot, 2019. Oil on wood, 17.1 x 15 in. Courtesy of Marc Straus Gallery.

If there is an empty space between comedy and tragedy, that would be where Paul Pretzer would stick a piece of fruit or mouse with a dangle or a hover. His Dead Idiot awaits in the hope of a punchline that never delivers. As it is here, it’s a buzzing bee that never lands, whose sting arrives too late to be of any consequence. 

Diane Thodos, Skull, 2007. Oil on linen, 55 x 41 in. and Weeping Skull, 2007. Oil on linen, 55 x 41 in. Courtesy of the artist.
Diane Thodos, Skull, 2007. Oil on linen, 55 x 41 in. and Weeping Skull, 2007. Oil on linen, 55 x 41 in. Courtesy of the artist.

The traumas of history that Diane Thodos refer to: war, market collapse, depression, and the rise of neofascism may be embodied collectively as a Leviathan, dipping in and out of consciousness with abandon. As the artist noted, the sense of angst and helplessness which accompanies their meander found a demonstrative force in German Expressionism, inspiring her art. The impact of the splintered Thodos skulls on the viewer is bone-crushing.

Conor Walton, Lego Mondrian, 2019. Oil on linen, 10 x 14 in. Courtesy of John Kelley.
Conor Walton, Lego Mondrian, 2019. Oil on linen, 10 x 14 in. Courtesy of John Kelley.

When Conor Walton describes his practice as “dancing along cultural fault-lines,” it brings to mind something acrobatic that one might attempt on the rim of an active volcano. The artist seeks answers to questions that Gauguin famously raised: “What are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going?” Considering the subject of Walton’s Lego Mondrian, barely 20 years separate Mondrian’s arrival at his iconic grid from the time of Gauguin’s query. Art then became transgressive very quickly, if not polemically dangerous. Today, art excites very little passion publicly. The land mines these days have been dug deep into the social and political landscape.

 Michael Zansky, Three Studies for Marathon, 2006-2017. Oil and acrylic on carved plywood, 26 x 21 in. each. Courtesy of the artist

Michael Zansky, Three Studies for Marathon, 2006-2017. Oil and acrylic on carved plywood, 26 x 21 in. each. Courtesy of the artist

The skulls rendered in Michael Zansky’s Three Studies for Marathon exhibit uncommonly protean bursts of energy. Missing hands and arms, Zansky has opted to weaponize legs and teeth in his animated figures. In the first study. Lock-jawed mandibles chafe at the constraints of the bounding frame, nearly losing its contorted head in the process. Next, an abyss awaits the subject’s jacked-up leg, the yawn of its evenly-cleaved skull a gaping sink-hole. Exits within and without the figure have turned to voids – the torso having wound into a straight-jacketed fist. The successful leap occurs in the third panel. It’s bridged with a wide-scissored gallop, the skeletal Marathon runner biting hard into the wood of the brush – the goop of its bristles rising like gelled smoke. 

Robert Zeller, The Courtship, 2019. Oil on linen, 48 x 60 in. Courtesy of the artist.
Robert Zeller, The Courtship, 2019. Oil on linen, 48 x 60 in. Courtesy of the artist.

A Gothic strain undergirds Robert Zeller’s painting practice. Ravens, skulls, and ruins would naturally tie his literal associations to Edgar Allen Poe. The artist welcomes the narrative aspects of his craft, appropriately embracing a Surrealist aesthetic. Zeller leaves the threads of his storylines open-ended, its forms woven into the many-layered, ethereal backgrounds. The tales we might educe from the artist’s oils on linen works are whispers floated from an unseen world.

Real Abstraction: Five Painters Beyond the Picture

by Peter Frank

Can we see past what we see? Can we see more than we see? Can we see in a way that not only reveals what we haven’t been seeing, but has us see a whole different reality? These are the questions that abstract art, after more than a century, still poses us. Art that does not replicate or even approximate the seen world is no longer a challenge to aesthetic conventions; it is by now universally regarded as an invitation to comprehension of a different kind, a comprehension at once more personal and more universal than is possible with representational art. Abstraction moves its makers and its viewers alike, in unique ways.

In strict terms, still favored in Europe, “abstraction” is an umbrella term for all non-realistic artwork. That artwork that does not seem to refer at all to the seen world is considered “non-objective” – and the five artists in this show are self-acknowledged non-objective painters. But if none of them recapitulates the appearance of the world around them, all of them take their cues from it. Shapes, sizes, colors, rhythms, all the visual characteristics of their art, after all, generate from lifetimes of observation. What these painters paint comes out of their heads and hearts, but it was nature that put those things in their heads and hearts to begin with. The abstract expressionists insisted their non-objective compositions had meaning – they called their public discussions “subjects of the artists” – and were rooted in natural reality (as Jackson Pollock famously insisted). The five artists here, clearly inheritors of (among others) their abstract expressionist forebears, continue this tradition – this impulse – of answering “mere” reality not by rejecting it but by reformulating it. Like a tree or a mountain, a painting here is its own entity, with its own identity, within a context of myriad entities and identities. 

Gail Hillow Watkins, GARDEN GATE, 2017, mixed media, 12 x 12 inches
Gail Hillow Watkins, Garden Gate, 2017, mixed media, 12 x 12 inches

While all five painters adhere to non-objective vocabularies, some appear abstract more readily than others. Gail Hillow Watkins, in fact, seems to be fabricating identifiable, or at least culturally sited, objects, pouches and scrolls and other artifacture conjured from ancient (and/or imagined) civilizations. But these are not replications, much less depictions: they are inferences, exploiting our fantastical associations so that Hillow Watkins’ painting takes on an extra-painterly quality. Ultimately, once we acknowledge the eerie, impossible-to-pinpoint resemblances to things we think we’ve seen, the artist’s brushwork and detailing comes to the fore as predominating elements, not so much obliterating the frisson of antiquity as subsuming it into a greater formal emphasis.

Francie Lyshak, REVOLUTION, 2020, oil on linen, 61 x 101.6 cm
Francie Lyshak, Revolution, 2020, oil on linen, 61 x 101.6 cm

Something similar operates in Francie Lyshak’s works, but in Lyshak’s case the evocations are latter-day, temporal, even fleeting, writing on water you might say – and, indeed, several works incorporating scribbled notations do seem to be swallowing those notations into seas and mists of translucent or opaque monochrome. These atmospheres wear skins of well-worked brushstroke, so many inflections of otherwise unmodulated surfaces. Lyshak’s paintings in some manner present themselves as objects no less than do Hillow Watkins’, but the objecthood is finally self-referential: Lyshak is painting paintings of painting. This is not a tautological exercise, but an exploration of perception and presence, even function and identity.

Susan Sommer, Pink Light, 2020, oil on linen, 20" x 16” inches
Susan Sommer, Pink Light, 2020, oil on linen, 20″ x 16” inches

Their richly painted segments and sections jostling one another with abandon, Susan Sommer’s canvases would seem pure visual invention. Visual invention they are, but hardly pure. Sommer attests to the inspiration she takes from observed nature, from the forms and colors of land and sky, trees and flowers. Sommer does not show us the vegetation, the weather, or animals; she shows us their energy, their vitality, the essence that drives them and the natural balance that harmonizes their spirit(s). Sommer calls herself a “plein air abstractionist,” responding spontaneously to the nature around her by celebrating its inner and outer force rather than its most evident details.

Francine Tint, Crucifixion, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 132.1 x 101.6 cm
Francine Tint, Crucifixion, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 132.1 x 101.6 cm

Even painting that does not take direct inspiration from observed nature can suggest the forms it takes and the effects it has on our sensibilities. Nature, after all, is all that acts upon us, so painting – abstract painting in particular – serves to synthesize our sense of being in nature (indeed, our sense of being overall). Francine Tint, long associated with color-field painting, allows the natural to enter into her expansive engagement of pigment and movement without it dictating what the outcome may be. Tint trusts that, as she (like Pollock) is part of nature herself, the interplay of her form and color decisions will take its place in the natural world no less than in the manmade. Still. The breadth of certain of Tint’s canvases, roiling with color eruptions and lyrical flows, present us with a kind of environmentalized drama that demands its own meteorology.

Sarah Hinckley, Language Is Leaving Me 1, 2019, oil on canvas, 58" x 62” inches
Sarah Hinckley, Language Is Leaving Me 1, 2019, oil on canvas, 58″ x 62” inches

Sarah Hinckley, too, allows her art to “be” nature by tapping into the logic and fury of the inner and outer worlds. Perhaps the most purely formal artist in this exhibition, Hinckley composes her works of shifting color (and seemingly non-color) planes, modifying these planes with stark interruptions that seem cut or torn from the edges – by opposing planes, it so often seems. If Sommer and Tint capture the weather in their work, Hinckley, it could be said, is capturing geology, proposing an art of tectonic planes/plates constantly moving, wearing, and shattering against one another. This metaphor, then, would have Hinckley realizing an abstraction born of the unseen – but, of course, not of the unfelt. Hinckley’s painting is actually fairly quiet and restrained – a result chiefly of her nuanced palette – but the fissures in the composition suggest a visual earthquake could be close at hand.

This consideration of five artists’ abstract painting has relied on association and simile, and on the response(s) of the writer more than on the expressed intentions of the painters. All art invites subjective regard, but – as its label would imply – non-objective painting does so as a matter of principle. What we see in this show are the “subjectivities of the artist,” you might say, statements in pre-, non-, or anti-realism that invite and reward interpretation. These artworks have to stand on their own, as visual propositions; their possible inferences cannot justify them or even explain them. But those inferences can give them context, and they can give them presence, and the world can look that much richer for them.

Scot Borofsky: The Language of Street Art

Van Der Plas Gallery, New York City – April 9 – 29, 2021

by Christopher Hart Chambers

Scot Borofsky, Arena (Sand), 2019, oil on canvas, 1 of 100, (1)
Scot Borofsky, Arena (Sand), 2019, oil on canvas, 1 of 100, (1)

Scot Borofsky was born in 1957, raised and still lives in Vermont. Since the mid 1970s he has traveled extensively throughout the Americas, and the influence is salient in his artwork. Borofsky attended the Rhode Island school of Design. Like several other street artists, when he moved to New York City after graduating, he found his art school learning dry and lifeless in comparison to the visual stimulation blooming on the urban streets – that was not yet even considered art from whence he hailed. Other influences are Ancient Asian works and African masks, resulting in an assortment of symbolic motifs rendered in a simplistic, stick figure-like format that lends itself well to his signature street art style; a recognizable and readable alphabet that is his own language. His street art and studio practices grew and merged together as demonstrated in this current exhibition on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The show consists of recent collages and an overview of oil paintings from the past couple of decades, comprising tangled linear elements over fields of color. This is his first solo in 22 years. In his first few solos Borofsky employed mostly found materials. For his show at La Casa Nada on Rivington Street in 1984 almost all of the materials came from the burnt out, rubble strewn vacant lot directly adjacent to the hard scrabble gallery. Those pieces were obviously more sculpturally oriented, yet the same cobbled aesthetic is still evident in his more recent works.

Scot Borofsky, SUN WORSHIPPER, 2018, acrylic on collage on canvas in welded iron frame, 25″ x 25″

Borofsky was among the first dozen or so artists to make the streets their primary venue and his savage large scale paintings on the streets of grisly animals and abstract motifs representing natural elements became iconic images for the East Village during the 1980s. It is important to note that these were unsanctioned murals in spray paint, some taking all night. Taking the cue from graffiti artists, but coming from a completely different school of thought, the pioneers of street art set a new standard for artistic activity, questioning the commodification and consumeristic notions of what is or is not legitimate art and how one might go about it. These ideas have grown from a few radicals on the Lower East Side risking arrest to a world wide phenomenon including corporate sponsorship. But that is certainly NOT how street art started, and sponsored murals are not of the same spirit or energy that drove the movement in its incipience.

Scot Borofsky, Summer Hay, 2008, oil on canvas, 50: x 60"
Scot Borofsky, Summer Hay, 2008, oil on canvas, 50: x 60″

Acts of Erasure: Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto

by Emese Krunak-Hajagos

Fatma Bucak, And so we were told, 2020, (installation from the series Remains of what has not been said, 2016), installation view: Acts of Erasure, MOCA Toronto, 2020. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid
Fatma Bucak, And so we were told, 2020, (installation from the series Remains of what has not been said, 2016), installation view: Acts of Erasure, MOCA Toronto, 2020. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid

Acts of Erasure at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Toronto is a stunning installation that brings two prominent artistic practises together into a dialog. Fatma Bucak and Krista Belle Stewart come from different geographical areas and heritages. Bucak was born in Iskenderun, on the Turkish-Syrian border and identifies as both Kurdish and Turkish. She now resides in London, UK. Stewart is a member of the Okanagan Nation in British Columbia. Their thoughtful work integrates interlocking layers of the historical, the political and the emotional.

Stepping into the warehouse-like exhibition hall at MOCA, Fatma Bucak’s installation caught my eye immediately. Titled And so we were told (2020) is mounted on fifteen curving layers with nine images in each row. It gives the impression that it might rotate so the images would come up to eye level. However, that proves to be an illusion. I have to kneel to see the pictures. They each show the artist’s arms holding a glass jar containing dirty water. The work itself doesn’t send a clear message, so it seems that we need to uncover the layered narratives within. The stained water from the washed-out ink of 84 Turkish newspapers – published in the days following the “basement massacre” without talking about it — is bottled and held for all to witness. Bucak said she wanted to turn the government propaganda into liquid, to transform it into different layers, showing how intimidating she finds the way propaganda manipulates society. 

Bucak’s works are often poetic and beautiful. As she explained, she is not afraid of beauty and talking of politics doesn’t require ugliness as the stories are already ugly. A Study of Eight Landscapes (2012 – 2016) is a photo series where Bucak reconsiders how some governments use borders to physically suppress people from certain national, ethnic or gender backgrounds. Her images capture experiences she shared with people who lived at borders or tried to cross them, often facing political and military violence.

Fatma Bucak, An incomplete history, 2014, installation view: Acts of Erasure, MOCA Toronto, 2020 Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid
Fattma Bucak, An incomplete history, 2014 Installation view: Acts of Erasure, MOCA Toronto, 2020 Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid

The series depicts discarded objects found along the borderlands of Turkey-Armenia, Syria-Turkey and US-Mexico. Bucak collected and organized them into sculptural compositions in her studio. The depicted items seem real at first but they are more abstract and layered. An incomplete history (2014), shows a bread beside the stone in which it was baked. The cracked stone form has been used many times — a history in itself. Bucak treats her subjects with such respect, their silence is so meditative that it feels like a prayer. Regardless of the absence of people, these artifacts talk about human lives and objects sometimes unveil aspects of history that humans can’t. Beyond their aesthetic appearance we still keep wondering about the hidden narrative. 

Fatma Bucak, De Silencio, 2015, installation view: Acts of Erasure, MOCA Toronto, 2020 Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid
Fatma Bucak, De Silencio, 2015. Installation view: Acts of Erasure, MOCA Toronto, 2020 Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid

There is a rich and sorrowful story behind De Silencio. The artist travelled the path of Latin-American migrants across the US-Mexico border in August, 2015. These people were pressured into leaving their country and entering a state of limbo. It is a difficult journey and people often discard their unnecessary belongings, especially clothes, along the road. Bucak collected many of them and a Mexican migrant woman cut them into small pieces and sewed them together into a patchwork quilt. The quilt is colorful and happy looking, the stories behind it are not. Together they create a juxtaposing, cruel beauty.

Fatma Bucak, Blessed are you who come – Conversation on the Turkish-Armenian border, 2012, installation view: Acts of Erasure, MOCA Toronto, 2020. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid
Fatma Bucak, Blessed are you who come – Conversation on the Turkish-Armenian border (detail), 2012 Installation view: Acts of Erasure, MOCA Toronto, 2020. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid

Blessed are you who come, another video performance (2012, 8’42”), takes place in a Turkish border village; a place of a contentious genocide. There is a lot of tension in this complex scenario. A young woman dressed in black performs the ritual of breaking bread and passing the pieces around. Her actions remind us of the Catholic ceremony of communion. In front of a bombed-out Christian church thirteen old men stand expressing confusion over the woman’s gestures. We can feel the estrangement of the participants, the mistrust between Armenians and Turks, the vulnerability of the young woman who couldn’t predict the reactions of these traditional Muslim men. This performance is very disquieting, but it also gives us the hope of human reconnection.

Installation view: Acts of Erasure, MOCA Toronto, 2020, with works by artists Fatma Bucak and Krista Belle Stewart. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid
Installation view: Acts of Erasure, MOCA Toronto, 2020, with works by artists Fatma Bucak and Krista Belle Stewart. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid

Krista Belle Stewart also addresses rituals, however very different ones. Truth to Material (2019 – ongoing) is a project that involves two artifacts, a video and a series of large photographs printed on vinyl, covering the concrete floor. As a European the respect for art is deeply rooted in me and stepping on artwork is a taboo. Stewart’s work was a challenge for me that I could not overcome without knowing how and where these images were taken and the cultural and ethical layers within them. Understanding this work, with its complex context, was the real challenge.

Stewart visited Germany in 2006 and 2007 when she started to research a subcultural group calling themselves “Indianers”. The “Indianers” belong to a cult built around Karl May, a 19th century writer who created an idealized vision of First Nations people. May’s series of novels depict the adventures of Winnetou, an Apache youth and his German advisor Old Shatterhand – two fictional characters. May’s stories were created under the influence of German romanticism. He was looking for innocent and heroic people, so he invented them and put them into a past before colonialization would ruin them. These ‘bands’ imitate North American Indigenous nations, painstakingly copying their costumes and living in teepees for a week while re-enacting their rituals. I wonder why these invented ‘heroes’ are so popular in Europe even these days. What is it that people appreciate so much in these stories? Honestly, I don’t get it; I guess it’s a boy thing.

Stewart attended a summer gathering with the “Indianers” in 2019. Returning to Germany after thirteen years she still found their ceremonies challenging. As an artist, she wanted to witness what these “Indianers” do and found it very difficult emotionally. “What’s weird about the experience,” she told Philip J. Deloria in an interview for Aperture (2019) “is that they are real . . . but I can’t quite believe it. Because we are real too.” It is a contradiction she still hasn’t overcome. But no matter how uncomfortable she felt in the situation, she has always engaged her subject in good faith and with an open mind.

Krista Belle Stewart, Truth to Material, 2019-ongoing, installation view: Acts of Erasure, MOCA Toronto, 2020. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid
Krista Belle Stewart, Truth to Material, 2019-ongoing. Installation view: Acts of Erasure, MOCA Toronto, 2020. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid

The title of the project Truth to Material comes from Susan Hiller’s theory of ‘truth to materials’ indicating a complex negotiation between an artist’s idea and the one, very particular way it could be realized. Stewart found the true way of presenting her photographs by mounting them on the floor of MOCA. The viewers have to walk on the photographs, scuffing the surface with their feet. The cracks caused by their steps become symbolic as images of faces and rituals of the Indianers become blurry – an act of erasure.

In 2019 she was presented with a dress made by a friend she met in 2007 specifically for Stewart. The Gift (2019) is displayed in a vitrine, so much like regalia in a museum but here it is clearly a faux relic. For Stewart it involves the past, present and future of Indigenous people with all their historical and political issues – not an easy thing to bear or wear. 

What makes German people dress up like Indians and try to copy their ways for a week? It is much more than a summer camp, as the Indianers have 40,000 members in 40 groups. A “hobbyist” group could be considered innocent. The truth behind Indianers is less faultless. Their enactments are built upon their fantasies and truly misrepresent the old and rich cultures and nations who faced colonial displacement and undergo racism even now. There is also a danger that their false representation will overshadow or even replace the true history and present life of these Indigenous people. For those German “Indianers” their own history is difficult to face too. Their present life may be boring and taxing. Their desire for escapism is understandable. But as Stewart concluded in her conversation with Gabrielle Moser of MOCA (October, 2020), what the Indianers do “is not funny, it is not OK. They should find a different hobby.”

*Exhibition information: Acts of Erasure, Perceptions of heritage, indigeneity, and political identity, Fatma Bucak / Krista Belle Stewart at Museum of Contemporary Art, Toronto, October 1, 2020 – ongoing. The exhibition is organized in partnership with Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival.

Liz Larner: As Stars and Seas Entwine

Regen Projects in Los AngelesMarch 27 – May 22, 2021

Detail of Liz Larner work combining plastic refuse with acrylic paint.

“Plastics…were used in furniture, clothing, containers, appliances, just about everything. Sometimes the poisons leached into food or water and caused cancer, and sometimes there was a fire and plastics burned and gassed people to death…. The only place that has enough of it to be a real danger is right here.” — Octavia E. Butler, Adulthood Rites, 1988

Excerpted from the Regen Projects press release: The works on view reveal Larner’s acceptance of Posthumanist thought that the Anthropocene induces as the world becomes beleaguered by rapidly depleting resources and the massive waste that accompanies our extractive industries. The large low floor sculpture, a sea foam/meerschaum drift, seems to billow and surge through the space. The undulating form constructed of conjoined plastic refuse was collected by Larner over the course of three years. Serving as a meditation on the pervasive and exponential presence of plastic in the world, the sculpture is at once beautiful and horrible, a complex combination that evokes the pathos of its material. This Meerschaum Drift’s materiality belies its intricate form and supposes a transformation of crude material into an art object. Plastic-derived acrylic paint applied to its surface gives the sculpture the overall sense of movement in color from deep blue to green to white, evoking the ephemeral quality of sea foam for which it is named.

Liz Larner’s As Stars and Seas Entwine exhibition at Regen Projects in Los Angeles presented itself as an opportunity to revisit her much earlier exhibition at Regen Projects, one that I wrote about almost 24 years ago. There was a need, I felt, to “correct” my earlier impressions of her work. Admittedly, my reading had been a limited take – the siphoned sliver of an aspect of the work of a seriously-minded artist. It seemed incongruous for an artist undergirded by a weighty philosophical base to produce something so light and fun.

Scanned page from the Fall 1998 print edition of dArt International featuring reviews of Kenny Scharf at the Kantor Gallery and Liz Larner at Regen Projects in Los Angeles.
Scanned page from the Fall 1998 print edition of dArt International featuring reviews of Kenny Scharf at the Kantor Gallery and Liz Larner at Regen Projects in Los Angeles.