Christy Rupp’s Leaf Litter

by Jen Dragon

Installation view of Christy Rupp: Leaf Litter at the Ildiko Butler Gallery, Fordham University Lincoln Center Campus
Installation view of Christy Rupp: Leaf Litter at the Ildiko Butler Gallery, Fordham University Lincoln Center Campus

Christy Rupp’s latest solo exhibition Leaf Litter at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center Campus is an installation that comments on the environment while creating its own environment. Large printed digital versions of Rupp’s collages cover both end walls serving to expand the width of the gallery while sculptures of indicator species distort space as the perspective shifts dizzyingly from micro to macro organisms. 

Aquatic Larvae, 2020 welded steel and single use plastic debris, each approximately 33 X 13 X 8 inches
Aquatic Larvae, 2020 welded steel and single use plastic debris, each approximately 33 X 13 X 8 inches

One wall-sized collage depicts housing construction in a forest with a three-dimensional sculpture of an extinct Quetzel bird perched above. This bird, once common in Central America, is made of credit cards; a commentary on borrowing from the future at the expense of the present. The other wall features a depiction of an oily mess of broken pipes under water with small planktonic crabs flowing through. A large Forest Newt made of burnt matches is installed above symbolizing the connection between air and water pollution made possible by the destabilized levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Bridging the two walls is an installation of eight enlarged aquatic larvae made from single use plastics representing the omnipresence of micro plastic particles now evident in all stages of organic life. 

Detail views of Christy Rupp’s installation Leaf Litter
Detail views of Christy Rupp’s installation Leaf Litter

Christy Rupp’s artwork has long shown a light on fragile ecologic systems and threatened species. As climate change accelerates, her work has taken on more urgency as she turns her attention to the unseen casualties of disrupted environments from minute larvae and plankton to immense forest and aquatic ecosystems. Rupp also engages the ghosts of extinction such as the Quetzel bird with the implication of possible mass death for other life forms. 

Leaf Litter is an exhibition that is clear and direct yet the installation is infused with ironic humor. The large-scale wall piece on the East wall depicts a nostalgic, cheerful cooperation of blue-collar construction workers together with suited-up architects and engineers while underground pipes leak sewage and towering trees are poised for felling. On the west wall, the whimsy of helplessly floating zooplankton in whirling oil and water underscores the horror inherent in the beauty of these non-miscible fluids. And in the center, a school of eight larger-than-life aquatic larvae stuffed with colorful plastics that permeate their beings swim obediently in formation. 

Detail views of Christy Rupp’s installation Leaf Litter
Detail views of Christy Rupp’s installation Leaf Litter

Leaf Litter coincides with the publication of Christy Rupp’s monograph, Noisy Autumn. This art book is a survey of over 45 years of Rupp’s ecological sculpture and works on paper. Her perceptive message has been consistent throughout her career and becomes increasingly relevant as time goes by. As climate change accelerates, Christy Rupp’s artwork urgently demands that we consider both the seen and the unseen as well as what has happened and is poised to happen – unless we take action. 

Christy Rupp: Leaf Litter on view through February 27, 2022 at the Ildiko Butler Gallery, Fordham University, 160 W 60th Street, New York, NY 10023 United States. The galleries are open everyday from 9–9, except during University holidays. More info: contact@fordhamuniversitygalleries.com


Jacqueline de Jong and Violence at the Border-Line

by Carol Bruns

Jacqueline, de Long, Locked in and Out, 2021, oil stick on paper, 55 1/8 x 79 7/8 inches (140 x 203 cm)
Photo: Tim Doyon. Courtesy of the artist and Ortuzar Projects, New York
Jacqueline, de Long, Locked in and Out, 2021, oil stick on paper, 55 1/8 x 79 7/8 inches (140 x 203 cm) Photo: Tim Doyon. Courtesy of the artist and Ortuzar Projects, New York

Our culture is permeated with violence. By media or in person we regularly experience violent economics, massacres of children in schools with automatic weapons, relentless assaults on the natural environment, widespread domestic violence, and even violent car driving, movies, games and songs. In an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon the character Tarantino remarks, “It’s even in breakfast cereals” and we guiltily laugh along with children at their absurd and extreme ferocious capers. It seems we’re wired onto its electric horror and excitement, while its production of suffering in real life is staggering and immeasurable, leaving no one unharmed, usually the direct result of policy choices.

Not new but never old hat, painting violence has a continuous historical thread. In Modernism Manet, Beckmann, Dix, Picasso, and Golub, among throngs of others, have roped social brutality and suffering to a wide scope of aesthetic means. Dutch artist Jacqueline de Jong, an important artist of the post-war avant-garde, is now showing paintings at Ortuzar Projects in Tribeca highlighting the violence of the world-wide refugee crisis.

At age 82, the artist has a long and notable past. She was born in 1939 to a Jewish family of art collectors. Soon after when the Nazis occupied Holland, the French Resistance aided de Jong and her mother to escape from Amsterdam to Switzerland while her father remained behind in hiding. In 1947 after the war the family reunited when she was about eight years old.

In 1959 when de Jong was 20 she became romantically involved for ten years with the older Danish painter Asger Jorn (1914-1973), a friend of her parents. He was 45 then and had founded the avant-garde group CoBrA and the Situationist International, both European organizations of social revolutionaries who were anti-authoritarian, radical leftists. She met Debord of the Situationist International, author of The Society of the Spectacle, and in 1960 joined them as one of two women, becoming a central member. She was expelled in 1962 and commented,

“I was in solidarity with (the German branch) Gruppe SPUR. It was very simple. The magazine was on trial in Germany for blasphemy and pornography but, instead of defending it, Debord, Attila Kotányi and Raoul Vaneigem made a pamphlet denouncing the group. They said the magazine was financed by a capitalist, which was absolutely ridiculous because this capitalist was the same big collector that bought all of Jorn’s paintings. And Jorn financed the situationists. I mean, it was hilarious: so totalitarian – and totally hypocritical. I sided with Gruppe SPUR and so did the Scandinavians, and that was that.

Jacqueline, de Long, Sous-Terrain, 2021, oil pastel and acrylic paint on unprepared canvas, 73-31/50 x 96-3/50 x 1-97/100 inches (187 x 244 x 5 cm). Photo: Tim Doyon. Courtesy of the artist and Ortuzar Projects, New York
Jacqueline, de Long, Sous-Terrain, 2021, oil pastel and acrylic paint on unprepared canvas, 73-31/50 x 96-3/50 x 1-97/100 inches (187 x 244 x 5 cm). Photo: Tim Doyon. Courtesy of the artist and Ortuzar Projects, New York

”De Jong’s next move was to originate, edit and publish The Situationist Times for the five years of its existence from her Paris apartment until it went bankrupt. She said, “The point, for me, was to offer a platform for publishing things that couldn’t be disseminated anywhere else” while Jorn continued to collaborate with SI under a different name. The six issues between 1962 and 1967 had a very lively appearance with colored papers, expressive drawings, and a variety of content such as an exquisite corpse game, an algebraic text, and a composer’s score. It was inexpensively hand printed in a process between duplicating and offset and then bound. She said of this involvement, “What I was interested in, quite simply, was changing the world.”

During the May, 1968 uprising de Jong was active, pasting posters throughout the streets of Paris. It was a crucial moment personally and politically. When the radical humanism of student power was smacked down she reflected, “The Communist Party came out against the students and told the workers not to support them. That was pretty much the end of it. We felt immensely betrayed. It was three weeks of total euphoria – such a feeling of possibility – and after came a huge hangover. Complete disillusionment. In a way, it was also the beginning of the end of my relationship with Jorn; it was the moment at which I realized that he was of a different generation. He didn’t want to be involved (although he did also make posters in support of the students); he said he had already been through the Spanish Civil War.”

Fifty years and a life replete with exhibitions, monumental commissions, and lectures followed.

Recently, during the corona virus lockdown, the artist was struck by news of refugee crises in Idlib, Syria and the Mediterranean. In response, she wove its humanitarian and political catastrophes into a group of new paintings, Border-Line, commenting, “They are about refugees mainly, Syrian not from Afghanistan, because I made work about that not so long ago. Also, there are South American refuges. What I used are mainly newspaper and television images and I just made a story out of them – not my story, but their story via me.”

Jacqueline, de Long, Refugees (Bogota/Venezuela) (Border Line), 2020, oil stick and nepheline gel on canvas, 39-37/100 x 51-9/50 x 1-97/100 inches (100 x 130 x 5 cm) Photo: Tim Doyon
Courtesy of the artist and Ortuzar Projects, New York
Jacqueline, de Long, Refugees (Bogota/Venezuela) (Border Line), 2020, oil stick and nepheline gel on canvas, 39-37/100 x 51-9/50 x 1-97/100 inches (100 x 130 x 5 cm) Photo: Tim Doyon
Courtesy of the artist and Ortuzar Projects, New York

Upon entering the elegant Ortuzar Projects gallery, the paintings’ formal mastery lept off the wall. Using oil sticks, pencil, brush, finger, and cloth, de Jong constructed bold spaces on the canvas such as in Refugees (Bogota/Venezuela) (39 3/8 x 51 1/4 inches) where a table and folding screen corral the international crisis into a domestic format with three refugees huddled under the table painted in brown, red, yellow, pale blue and green while an anguished refugee four times larger anchors the right side in pink and magenta. A decapitated head lies on the table and behind the screen a long queue of refugees are roughly indicated in back and white. Her style of drawing repudiates naturalism and convention as did CoBrA artists, the art of the insane, and indigenous art pointing to a truth beyond appearances, one from a deeper place. I imagined de Jong painting with an athletic stance, from the shoulder, using her entire arm to register the deformations of violence in a process of constant invention.

The painting Devils Morgate (55 x 90 inches) seduces the gaze to enter a demonic scene by beautiful color including both pastel shades and primary hues. Set in a crowded imaginary space the figures recline, sit, span foreground to background, while grimacing, grinning, laughing, and emerging from ambiguous places. A toothy grin, scrambled hair, and claws keep the eye focused on savage details that present the viewer with the simultaneous existence of high culture and the barbaric.

Locked in and Out (55 x 80 1/2 inches) employs emphatic drawing to fracture the canvas into areas where some figures are contained within and others escape to the outside of shard-like borders. In the mayhem a skeleton figure reclines. One pink figure is upside down, one painted entirely in shades of green. All the figure depictions are animal-like, agonized, deformed, possibly demented. The palette of purple, black and white zones, yellow ochre, red, the palest yellow, and a primary yellow enchant while the monstrous figures repel. On a personal level this tense situation seems to demand that opposite energies within can be acknowledged and their tension tolerated in a search for the truth, that our hideous and cruel shadows can be transformed. The political arena is ourselves multiplied.

UK public intellectual Terry Eagleton has said that tragic art is a perverse blend of terror and delight, and that because cast in symbolic form, the audience can reap pleasure from it. Tragic art is both an acceptable form of obscene enjoyment and an art form of great moral depth and splendor. De Jong told a New York Times interviewer recently that she listens to Bach while painting in her sky-lit Amsterdam townhouse attic, and that she does not do yoga or exercise. “In the old days I said there are two important exercises: painting and making love.”

Jacqueline de Jong’s Border-Line Exhibition opened November 11, 2021 and continues until January 8, 2022 at Ortuzar Projects, 9 White Street, New York NY 10013

Encountering Exaltation: The Recent Paintings of Margaret Evangeline

by Dominique Nahas

Margaret Evangeline, A Certain Dianthus, 2021, oil on canvas, 48" x 48"
Margaret Evangeline, A Certain Dianthus, 2021, oil on canvas, 48″ x 48″

It’s the sense of exaltation, the sense of revealment (or un-concealment, as Heidegger would put it) in Margaret Evangeline’s work that always triggers a lot of emotions in me. This calling-forth tone indicates. It doesn’t state or designate. Evangeline’s art rests halfway, poised between a point of revealment leavened with a sense of the untold, the unresolvedness of it all. This tone has an undeniable presence to it that is in itself a manifestation that allows a polyphony of feeling tones to emerge from the work.

In his text “The Alchemy of Imagination” Gaston Bachelard refers to “…the law of ambivalence which sets into play the movement of the imagination…[A] matter which does not elicit a psychological ambivalence cannot find its poetic double which allows for endless transpositions. It is necessary…to have a double participation …of desire and fear, …of good and evil, of… black and white- for the material element to involve the entire soul. …In the realm of imagination there is no value without polyvalence…”

This calling-forth aspect of ambivalence is the rapturous aspect of Evangeline’s aesthetic vision. That equivocal vision is sustained in the whorls of painterly activity that suggests the opening and flowering of the camellia-flower that she has used for some time now – as the MacGuffin, so to speak, that lies at the off-center of her work. That off-centering, with its productive fragrance of mystery is not fixed within a point of conclusion. That involuted point turns in on itself.  So much so that paradoxically, as all great work, Evangeline’s art has a sense of inevitability about it; as if, somehow, it could not be any other way. That “way”, as “path” (methodos is the Greek word), sustains chaos and cosmos equally. 

Margaret Evangeline, Dream Series #1 (B), oil on canvas, 16" x 20"
Margaret Evangeline, Dream Series #1 (B), oil on canvas, 16″ x 20″

To that point Bachelard, in his 1943 text “L’air et les songes “(“Air and Dreams”) writes on poetic expression and its grounding in what he calls “…the immanence of the imagination in the real, the continuous passage from the real to the imaginary.” Bachelard makes remarks that go to the heart of Evangeline’s aesthetic. This inclination is that of trying to fuse differences, of exalting destruction as part of creation, of trying to emerge in a new creative place that is altogether indefinable.  We see and feel these tendencies in her paintings such as “For LMG, Yellow Rooms Maker Her Cry, Version Two” (2019), and “Blue Reef” (2021). Bachelard writes: “…Imagination is always considered to be the faculty of forming images. But it is rather the faculty of deforming the images (my italics) offered by perception, of freeing ourselves from the immediate images; it is especially the faculty of changing images. The value of an image is measured by the extent of its imaginary radiance. Thanks to the imaginary… the imagination is essentially open, evasive. In the human psyche it is the very experience of openness and newness…” Evangeline’s paintings such as “Disintegrating Camelia with Pink Aura #1” ((2018), “Disintegrating Camelia with Pink Aura #2”, (2018),  and “Language 1” (2019),  present us with vestiges of an evasive essence.  

Margaret Evangeline, Disintegrating Camellia with Pink Aura #1, oil on canvas, 59" x 75"
Margaret Evangeline, Disintegrating Camellia with Pink Aura #1, oil on canvas, 59″ x 75″

This calling-forth manifestation of newness within Margaret Evangeline’s work is what makes it so seductive. The non-finito energies that course through her recent work reinforces these energies. Paintings completed in 2021 such as “A Certain Dianthus”, “Rose”, “Irises”, “Iris” are good examples of this position of non-conclusiveness. The seemingly unfinished aspect is poignant, reminding us of our mortality. John Berger’s comment in “Once in A Painting” one of his essays in the 1984 collection entitled “And our faces, my heart, brief as photos” is apt.  He writes: “When is a painting finished? Not when it finally corresponds to something already existing… but when the foreseen ideal moment of its being looked at is filled, as the painter feels or calculates it to be. The long or short process of painting a picture is the process of constructing such a moment.”  Later in his essay he calls this moment the “painting’s moment-of-being-looked-at.” Evangeline’s calling-forth energy entices the “painting’s moment-of -being-looked at.” It is advanced through the pursuit of presence of her work and as her work. 

Margaret Evangeline, Greening World #7, 2021, oil on canvas, 48" x 48"
Margaret Evangeline, Greening World #7, 2021, oil on canvas, 48″ x 48″

In Jean-Luc Nancy’s “The Birth to Presence” he sets it right. He writes: “…Consider this canonical definition of the imagination: “the representation of a thing in its absence.” Usually we take it to mean “while the thing is absent, is elsewhere.” But what if we were to understand: the presentation of a thing within its absence, going to the heart of this absence, penetrating into, and abandoning itself unto the infinite hollow of presence whence presence comes?  “Image,” here, means rather the emotion of a coming into presence, coming from no presence, going to no presence.” … Painting presents presence and always, saying nothing, says: here is this thing, and here is its presence, and here is presence, absolute, never general, always singular. Presence which comes, the coming into presence, the coming-and-going, ceaselessly coming and going from its own discreteness to the discreteness of every time that is “proper” to it. …There is no such thing as presence proper, there is only the coming and going of presence…”

Keeping this in mind, Margaret Evangeline’s artistic practice, then, can be understood and experienced as her activity of attempting to go to the very heart of this “hollow” of presencing. As a result, the sensuousness of her mark-making and form-making is as undeniable as its presencing. Margaret Evangeline’s art is a manifestation of the liminal moment of an encounter with absence.  Through that absence we sense a longing for a thing that is the never-to-be-accounted-for thing. Evangeline’s paintings such as “35,001 Roses” (2010-15) and “Heloise and Abelard’s Last Love Letter” (2018) are tinged with wistful irreconcilability. 

Margaret Evangeline, Greening World #6, 2021, oil on canvas, 48" x 48"
Margaret Evangeline, Greening World #6, 2021, oil on canvas, 48″ x 48″

Another vital aspect of Evangeline’s vision is how impactful it is; the art she makes is apparitional. We see and feel this incantatory measure in her works such as “Dream Series #1(a)” and “Dream Series #1(b)” (both 2021), and “Shift #1”, (2012-2016). Gilles Deleuze, in Difference and Repetition, remarks: “Something in the world forces us to think. This something is an object not of recognition but of a fundamental encounter.” (Deleuze’s italics.) Deleuze points out that an object of recognition is a re-presentation of something already in place. By contrast encountering in itself operates as a rupture in our usual habits, those that serve to confirm our subjectivities. The encountering presence itself offers affirmation of being in the world, of the world, differently, without an a priori, as a not-known.  Deleuze’s insights here seem to be echoing his philosophical progenitor Maurice Blanchot. In The Infinite Conversation  Blanchot writes : “This means that to think the unknown is in no way to propose it as “the not yet known,” the object of a knowledge still to come, any more than it would be to go beyond it as “the absolutely unknowable,” a subject of pure transcendence, refusing itself to all manner of knowledge and expression…research relates to the unknown as unknown…this relation will not consist in an unveiling. The unknown will not be revealed but indicated.”

Margaret Evangeline, 2021, The Bare Sea, oil on canvas, 60" x 48"
Margaret Evangeline, 2021, The Bare Sea, oil on canvas, 60″ x 48″

Margaret Evangeline’s excursions into her floral motifs are a fine placeholder for those who cannot help themselves in wanting to identify the recognizable. These shape-shifting floral traces of identification allow Evangeline cover, so to speak, as she enters into her worlds of poetry. The artist’s “Red Resurrection” (2010), “The Clementine Vulgate” (2019), and “Lady Macbeth” (2021), for example, lead us to experience mark-making, forms and colors where cosmos with chaos intertwine.  We sense pursuit of an encounter with presence that is the never-to-be-accounted-for, some-thing un-knowable. Such a brush with presence eludes detection, prevents its very identification as some-thing certifiable. An elision between the seen and the unforeseen, the saying of it and its muteness. All of this is part of the dance that sustains Margaret Evangeline’s aesthetic vision. Convergence and dissolution, chance and change, are key players in her work. A state of grace maintains her work’s force and direction.

Exhibitions Past and Future: Fleshy Oily Deep and Dense – Paintings of Margaret at Elizabeth Moore Gallery, Hudson NY, May 24, 2021 – June 26, 2021 and A Light Between Leaves – Recent Work by Margaret Evangeline at Erin Cluely Gallery, Dallas TX, August 28 – October 2, 2022

A Photographer In Her Garden: Featuring Sandi Daniel

by D. Dominick Lombardi

Installation View
Installation View

The pandemic has had an incalculable effect on so many lives that it’s hard to think life will ever be normal again. Culturally, creatives have had the trajectory of their careers, their way of thinking and processing drastically altered in ways that we may never be able to fully process or understand until years from now, when we can look back and analyze the related output. One such artist, Sandi Daniel, whose usual approach to her craft has been completely altered by a lack of movement or travel, leading her to investigate the only option left to explore – her own immediate natural environment – to look for that elusive magic that so often accompanies the act of far-flung exploration.

With the unfortunate addition of a broken printer, Daniel had to find a new path forward to creating prints. The cyanotype, that blue and white, blueprint-type image generated by contact printing with any variety of liquids including cyanide on photosensitive paper was her choice, bringing back to Daniel’s art, a distinctive dreamy quality that has often defined her work.

Weeds (2020), double exposure wet cyanotype, 20 x 16 inches
Weeds (2020), double exposure wet cyanotype, 20 x 16 inches

Daniel’s exhibition at the Coastal Contemporary Gallery is a beautiful, fluid, and fanciful interpretation of indigenous flora that typifies the ages old expression “stop and smell the roses,” as she looks more deeply and thoughtfully into her very own garden of delights close at hand. Leaves and light form lyrical passages that can cascade down a wall as an unfolded, handmade artist’s book or in multiple layers that produce on one sheet, where faux flashes of filtered sunlight come to mind, as best experienced in the wet cyanotype titled Weeds – a look that was more than likely created using multiple layers of shifting exposures.

The Lake, I am thinking, is a bridge work between the previous transfer work and the cyanotypes, and one of the more haunting works that remind me of pinhole photography set into an artist’s book bound with toned cyanotypes. The intimacy, and perhaps the voyeuristic feel of the elusive presentation, gives this object its distinctive visceral affect. 

The Lake (2021), 5 x 5 inches closed and approximately 5 x 20 inches open
The Lake (2021), 5 x 5 inches closed and approximately 5 x 20 inches open

Also striking, are the aforementioned color photo transfers on Sekishu Paper where an even more delicate representation of wittingly withering flowers nearing the end of their beauty cycle actually become more attractive and engaging. It’s not hard to understand when walking through this exhibition that Daniel is pairing the timelessness of nature with a deeper understanding of its predictability as a metaphor for our own time on earth. What we see in nature, if we take the time to experience the subtleties, is so much about being present and never taking for granted the strength there is in its wisdom. 

Purple Beauty #2 (2021), 24 x 16 inches
Purple Beauty #2 (2021), 24 x 16 inches

A Photographer In Her Garden: Featuring Sandi Daniel will be on view at Coastal Contemporary Gallery in Newport, Rhode Island until the end of January, 2022. For more information visit https://www.coastalcontemporarygallery.com

Bobbie Moline-Kramer: The Power of One

by Jen Dragon

Bobbie Moline-Kramer’s solo exhibition The Power of One at Lichtundfire Gallery is an installation that spans both time and space using the study of constellations as a touchstone. The artist begins with the unique position of stars relating to various leaders during specific historic moments over a geographical point on earth. These “heroes” are individual subjects selected because of their courage to make a difference in the world. A chart of the heavens upon the birth of Greta Thumberg is the subject of one painting, as well as the moment of death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg is depicted by another.

Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Washington D.C. 2020, 2021, oil, acrylic, gold on wood, 24 x 24 inches
Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Washington D.C. 2020, 2021, oil, acrylic, gold on wood, 24 x 24 inches

Dolly Parton’s contribution to the development of a Covid vaccine earned her inclusion and the moment of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination is the subject of a more somber, clouded painting. 

Moline-Kramer immortalizes these individual portraits as constellations in their own right, shaped and guided by the astrological forces that brought them into being. Using 16th century glazing and gilding techniques, Moline-Kramer incises these sky charts with the same precision that antique celestial maps were prepared and painted by Italian and Dutch Renaissance masters.  The luminosity of Moline-Kramer’s cobalt blue layers recreate the light and depth of the starry night with the shadow of a portrait of the subject hovering among their specific constellations.  

However, the artist does not just linger in the past but creates an adjacent installation that employs cutting edge technology to deconstruct each constellation painting into 3-D computer printed layers. Each layer of this installation is suspended from the ceiling and appears as ephemeral, variously hued flakes of sky floating down.  

Al di Là © Bobbie Moline-Kramer 2021 computer 3-D printed sculpture detail and installation view for Bobbie Moline-Kramer: The Power of One at Lichtundfire Gallery
Al di Là © Bobbie Moline-Kramer 2021 computer 3-D printed sculpture detail and installation view for Bobbie Moline-Kramer: The Power of One at Lichtundfire Gallery

These magical, translucent forms invite the viewer to not only become part of the fabric of the artworks but to feel their own involvement in the unseen forces that guide us all in relationship to one another. This paradoxical synergy combines facts with mysticism, mythology with mathematics, and traditional Renaissance technique with 21st century computer printing technology that renders this exhibition not only about time and space but most importantly, about being.

Bobbie Moline-Kramer
Bobbie Moline-Kramer

“Bobbie Moline-Kramer: The Power of One” at Lichtundfire Gallery 175 Rivington Street, New York, New York  on View Through October 30, 2021. General Gallery Hours: Tuesday — Saturday, 12 — 6 pm. More info: Priska Juschka at 917.675.7835, info@lichtundfire.com

Robert Kananaj Gallery is 10

Interview by Emese Krunák-Hajagos

Robert Kananaj and Roberta Laking Kananaj, Directors of Robert Kananaj Gallery
Robert Kananaj and Roberta Laking Kananaj, Directors of Robert Kananaj Gallery

On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Toronto’s Robert Kananaj Gallery Emese Krunák-Hajagos (EKH) interviews Robert Kananaj (RK) and Roberta Laking Kananaj (RLK).

EKH: You first opened your doors in the summer of 2011. Ten years is a long time in a gallery’s life. Looking back at it what do you think was your greatest accomplishment? 

RK: Giving and receiving as we morph in sharing brings up the gallery’s vision.

EKH: In an earlier interview you said that the gallery was intended to be the extension of the artists’ studios. Does that still apply?

RK: That has always been very much so, to the point now that the artists have the upper hand of the gallery’s extension.

Bruce Eves in front of his Work #901/Seven Days in February, 2018
Bruce Eves in front of his Work #901/Seven Days in February, 2018

EKH: Your choice of artists seems to be very unique. Most of the installations you show are one-of-a-kind, like Oscar Figueroa’s collection of Slides (2018) or his multimedia exhibition BLUE (2020), the installation by Raffael Antonio Iglesias (2018), Bruce Eves’s works, Istvan Kantor’s mural on the exterior wall of the building as part of his exhibition Etude To Asylum (2015) and his performances, among others. How did you get to know these artists and curate their shows? 

RK: It’s the easiest part to find artists in the endless pool of artists in the city and beyond. The only sensitive work is to place certain emphasis as the gallery carves a path moving along.

Installation view of Oscar Figueroa, Slides, 2018
Installation view of Oscar Figueroa, Slides, 2018

EKH: You are a sculptor and your installations like Garbage Heaven (2014) or State of Being (2016) fit well into your programming, as they are challenging. Please tell us more about yourself as an artist.

RK: I think of the artist in me as being always present in the gallerist as we morph into being. Life schools us via art to ease our existence, with its unpredictable pulse.

Being in service of the gallery has been an art form to me. I treat the gallery’s life as an art project in itself; the only thing is, you can’t claim it as an object, but as an experience in the making. It has been the activism that incorporates many elements in my artistic vision that had been suppressed in my upbringing as an artist: liberating me traditionally, conceptually, allegorically, metaphorically — elements always present in my object-making.

Installation view of Robert Kananaj, State of Being, 2016
Installation view of Robert Kananaj, State of Being, 2016

The running of the gallery has taught me quite a bit about both simplicity and complexity within the environment that we all share. With the gallery, I have revisited the same places and states of mind, taking a chance to break from certain traditional ways not only of thinking, but of doing and perceiving as an artist.

EKH: You had an artist-in-residence program during which Francesco Albano’s workshop was placed on the top floor, above your show, followed by his amazing exhibition After Grünewald (2016). Will you continue this practice?

Installation view of Francesco Albano After Grünewald, 2016
Installation view of Francesco Albano After Grünewald, 2016

RK & RLK: Since then, we have had residencies involving artists from within Ontario: Raffael Antonio Iglesias, Tess Martins, Natalia Laluq. They camped out at the gallery for periods of time and worked in the space during and after hours to mount their shows.

The future is loaded with uncertainties brought by the pandemic, so we move with the new normal as that “maybe.”

Installation of Tess Martens, Living Diary, 2019
Installation of Tess Martens, Living Diary, 2019

EKH: You moved into this spacious gallery space on St. Helens Ave before this area became an artistic hub. In September 2018, MOCA reopened nearby and many galleries have now relocated to the Lansdowne/Dufferin area. How has this affected you?

RLK: We saw a noticeable increase in weekend traffic as people came to see MOCA and then explored the surrounding area. Pre-pandemic, there were also a lot of visitors from outside Toronto, and from outside Canada.

Since 2020, many people moved into the area and now work from home. They were surprised to discover that there are many art galleries within walking distance. Because of the lockdowns, they had seen only the closed doors of industrial spaces. 

Many people now pass by during the day, and with our roll-up door open and an ongoing garage sale project — “Social Commentary”, they feel comfortable coming in to see, experience, and buy the works on display.

Installation view of Robert Kananaj, local light 2020-21
Installation view of Robert Kananaj, local light 2020-21

EKH: What was the most difficult situation you faced during these 10 years? How did you overcome it?

RLK: When it became clear that our first location wouldn’t work long-term, we needed to find a new space — preferably larger and still in the same area. Many of the old industrial spaces were being snapped up by developers and big tech firms. It was a blessing when Robert biked past this building and spotted the ‘For Lease’ sign, and the door standing open. We have been here ever since.

Installation view of Anton Shebetko, common people, 2018
Installation view of Anton Shebetko, common people, 2018

EKH: What is your most ambitious dream for your gallery? Have you fulfilled it?

RK: I didn’t have any dreams for the gallery, but I have created and fulfilled quite a few dreams during the gallery’s existence, revealing to myself a project that lives independently, as an artwork does, from the artist who creates it.

EKH: It is said that if a gallery survives the first 10 years it will last for a long time. What are your future plans?

RK: We never considered the gallery as a means to anything. The gallery has a life of its own and we just provide that. Curiosity and openness are as they were when we initially opened the gallery. From the beginning it has been a gesture of goodwill.

RLK: For now, we keep the door rolled up when the weather permits, and welcome people in.

Robert Kananaj Gallery, 172 St Helens Avenue, Toronto. Gallery hours: Tue-Sat 1 – 6 pm. Images are courtesy of Robert Kananaj Gallery

Elizabeth Murray: Back in Town

by Gwenaël Kerlidou

Elizabeth Murray, Back In Town, 1999, oil on canvas, 97 x 92 inches
Elizabeth Murray, Back In Town, 1999, oil on canvas, 97 x 92 inches

Thirteen years after her passing, a survey of her work  in Buffalo, New York, is shedding new light on the formative years Elizabeth Murray (1940-2007) spent teaching at the University of Buffalo, from 1965 to’67. It also offers a timely opportunity to reassess her legacy in the light of the ongoing discussion on the state of painting.

Borrowing from Murray’s 1999 painting “Back in Town,” the exhibition’s title seems to be taking its cues from Everybody Knows, Kristi Zea’s 2016 documentary film on Murray’s work, the title of which was also lifted from a painting, her last in this case. In a happy juxtaposition, both paintings are included in the exhibition, providing useful markers, beyond those of pure historicity, for a non-linear overview  of her work.

I have been a big fan of Elizabeth Murray’s work from day one (which, in my case, was her 1981 show at Paula Cooper Gallery), but stepping into this exhibition, I wondered how well her work had held up over the years, especially regarding her use of large formats, which often seemed bigger than necessary.

Elizabeth Murray, Sandpaper Fate, 1992-93, oil on canvas, 104 x 102 inches
Elizabeth Murray, Sandpaper Fate, 1992-93, oil on canvas, 104 x 102 inches

In the fifties and sixties, some women artist  were said to overcompensate for their lack of recognition from their male counterparts by overdoing macho bravado. Joan Mitchell’s heavy drinking and horsing around, or Louise Bourgeois’ famous emphatic rudeness, have been explained as personas they developed in order to survive as artists in a male world. The question of whether the “size matters” aspect of Elizabeth Murray’s work was a similar symptom, loomed on that horizon. 

In order to  impose more phenomenological presence on the viewer, Minimalism made systematic use of the Abstract Expressionism’s existential fondness for large formats. In painting, from Robert Motherwell to Frank Stella, to Julian Schnabel, the result of that trend has been an overproduction of oversized works coming up short as convincing paintings. Not too big to fail, but too big for their own good. Could something else be at play here? 

Elizabeth Murray, Everybody Knows, 2007, oil on canvas, 87.3 x 97 inches
Elizabeth Murray, Everybody Knows, 2007, oil on canvas, 87.3 x 97 inches

Starting in the early 70s Thom Nozkowski’s commitment to small formats is perhaps the best example of the rejection of the pervading use of large formats in American painting. For Nozkowski, large formats were ideologically tainted with Cultural Imperialism. If in the discussion of size versus scale, scale can prevail in small paintings, in big paintings scale is irrelevant. Big paintings cannot suggest a scale bigger than their size. So, the question became whether the use of big formats by a female painter brought something else to the table, besides an imperialist scale. A question recently underlined in Julie Mehretu’s survey at the Whitney.

A promising young abstract painter through the 1970s, Murray came into her own at the beginning of the 1980s, with a unique combination of image and fragmented support. At that time, the resurgence of the image was easily attributed to the aesthetics of the times (the Whitney Museum organized a major exhibition titled “New Image Painting” in 1978, the Metro Pictures Gallery opened in 1980), but her treatment of the multiple shaped stretchers did not fit into neat categories.

The origins of the transfer of the figure from the painted space to the literal shapes of the support, her major breakthrough of the early ’80s, can be traced back to her 1972 painting “Madame Cézanne in a Rocking Chair.” This was the first iteration of a “primal scene” (so to speak) —repeated in so many subsequent paintings — of a closed interior space diagonally divided by a beam of light coming through a small window or door opening. In that painting, structured like a comic strip with multiple panels, the rocking chair kicks Madame Cézanne out of the painting, in the final panels. The Figure, here symbolically ejected from the space of representation, will reappear a few years later in the guise of the shaped stretcher.

Elizabeth Murray, Midnight Special, 2000, oil on canvas, 93 x 129.5 inches
Elizabeth Murray, Midnight Special, 2000, oil on canvas, 93 x 129.5 inches

In the meantime, that primal scene of the closed interior, where the human figure has been evacuated, has turned into a zone of accidents. On a table surrounded by chairs, a coffee cup is inadvertently spilled. Painting after painting, this minor incident is magnified to the epic scale of a cataclysmic event, with such cathartic insistence that it’s reasonable to interpret the metaphor as the overturning of the vessel of male Modernism.  

Even though it had been lurking in the background forever, when the painted figure returns circa 1983, it is as a goofy cartoon form straight out of the Chicago Imagist, an ectoplasm lost in a maelstrom of shapes and colors, the ghost of a splintered self, a spirit — or a conscience — haunting the shaped body of the painting.

In his introduction to the survey of her work he organized for MoMA in 2005, Robert Storr made a strong case for Murray’s inclusion in the canon. But for all its good intentions, that text — the reflection of a paternalistic institution obsessed with establishing filiation — only produced a linear narrative, ultimately meant to reinforce its own relevance: Cézanne, Van Gogh, Juan Gris, Philip Guston, The Hairy Who, Claes Oldenburg, Frank Stella, Brice Marden, Ron Gorchov, and so on.

Like any ideological discourses, Storr’s essay operated on two levels, attempting, first, to tame the wild beast of a work that did not fit into any of its standards (and as such threatened the status quo) by “explaining” it, and second, to recuperate its subversive potential by giving it a place and status within the pantheon of white male Modernism. The taming is successful when the institutional narrative is so convincing that it appears as the last possible word on someone’s work, shutting off any future alternative readings. 

Elizabeth Murray, Riverbank,  1997, oil on canvas (four parts), 112 x 120 in. (284.5 x 304.8 cm). Collection of the @albrightknox, Sarah Norton Goodyear Fund, 1997 (1997:10)
Elizabeth Murray, Riverbank, 1997, oil on canvas (four parts), 112 x 120 in. (284.5 x 304.8 cm). Collection of the @albrightknox, Sarah Norton Goodyear Fund, 1997 (1997:10)

But, in the spirit of Murray’s own approach to painting, let’s think outside the Formalist box of filiation for a minute. Let’s posit the artist as product of a community of kindred spirits, all working in the same cultural context with different responses. For Murray, this community could be, upstream, on the ascendant side: Zilia Sanchez , Jay DeFeo , Lee Lozano , Deborah Remington , Lee Bontecou , Gladys Nilsson ; All working their way out of Abstract Expressionism without veering into Minimalism. And downstream, on the descendant side, so many artists who have referenced, emulated, or borrowed from her approach one way or another, such as: Amy Sillman, Carrie Moyer, Joanne Greenbaum, for their deliberate mixtures of abstraction and figuration, but also to some extent, Joanna Pousette-Dart, Susan Frecon, Charline von Heyl, Laura Owens, etc…

And to return to the “size matters” issue, let’s usher in Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) and her “Ten Largest” paintings from 1907, exhibited at the Guggenheim Museum in 2018, and look at the issue of size through a different lens. Af Klint, a psychic medium, certainly could not be suspected of rivalry with Ab-Ex male prerogatives when she settled for the size of that series of paintings. Could something else be at play here other than competition? Perhaps Murray’s large formats are instead a measure of her confidence in her enterprise, just as af Klint sized her paintings proportionately to the importance of their message.

Perhaps should we also revisit her connection to Frank Stella and Brice Marden, as laid out by Storr, from a different angle. The unfinished edges of her shaped paintings seem to echo Brice Marden’s early paintings. The deductive structure of Stella’s “Black Paintings,” moving centripetally from the painting’s edge toward its center, establishes the dominance of the outer edge over the internal space of the painting. In the opposite impulse, Murray’s images radiate centrifugally from the center towards the edges. Asserting, with their unfinished character, an independence from the dictates of what Michael Fried called the  deductive structure, they call for the image to be considered a separate entity from its support. Turning tables on Modernism, and without falling back on illusionism, Murray developed a pictorial space where painted shapes and shaped support relate to each other as equal partners rather than co-dependents. 

What Murray ends up bringing to the table is a transmutation of shapes and identities, from painted figure to shaped support and back. An ever-changing game of give and take between the rhetorical (including size) and the poetical, taking the viewer on a wild ride, from the whirlwind of our visual culture to the whirlpools of the unconscious. A sort of Butterfly Effect approach to painting, where small decisions ripple through paintings to be slowly amplified into major aesthetic choices. 

Elizabeth Murray, Photographer Nicholas Ostness, 1990
Elizabeth Murray, Photographer Nicholas Ostness, 1990

Painting after painting, it seems that Murray’s gamble paid off. She combined it all: Expressionism, Cubism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop-art, and Formalism, wrapped up in one painting. In a clear departure from reductive Formalist tactics on one side, and from the easy Postmodern ironies of citation and appropriation on the other, she substituted an all-inclusive approach for the formal and conceptual restrictions of both.

In hindsight, what comes through more clearly today is her constant position of independence, and even of dissidence, from post-Minimalism in the early 1970s, from the New Image movement in the late 70s, from Neo-Expressionism in the 80s and post-Modernism in the 90s.

This inspired exhibition makes clear that, with her large-format paintings, what Murray seemed to be aiming for, more than “presence,” was a power of persuasion, a kind of unexpected charismatic dimension. Something that Schnabel, for example – or Mehretu, for that matter, can only envy.

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