The 1947 Progressive Artists Group: Painters for a Newly Free India

by Siba Kumar Das

M. F. Husain, Yatra, 1955
M. F. Husain, Yatra, 1955, oil on canvas, H. 33 1/2 x W. 42 1/2 in. (85.1 x 108 cm)
Collection Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi

It’s not often that a new art movement shoots into life just as a nation needs it socio-politically. This is exactly what happened in 1947, the year India threw off the yoke of British imperial rule, when a group of young artists banded together in Mumbai (then Bombay) to launch the Progressive Artists’ Group with a view to creating, in the words of its manifesto, a “new art for a newly free India.”

By organizing from September 15, 2018 through January 20, 2019 a show comprehensively presenting the group’s vision and achievements, the Asia Society Museum in New York is making an indispensable contribution to art history. The group’s many achievements still reverberate today. Seven decades later, the Progressives’ ideas and legacy provide a lodestar for India and a wider world beset by the politics of insularity, division and exclusion—a world in which cultural freedom is under threat.

In the catalog accompanying the Asia Society show, curator Boon Hui Tan, also Museum Director and a Vice-President of the Society, complements the essay contributed by guest curator Zehra Jumabhoy by contextualizing the legacy of the Progressive Artists’ Group (PAG) within a wider Asian context. He concludes in his essay, “The battles over the art of postcolonial Asia are essentially battles over the ideological basis and values of the new nation, which are shaped by the changing structures of power over time.” In her essay’s conclusion, Jumabhoy, also Associate Lecturer at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, calls for reclaiming the core message of hope embedded in PAG’s “progressive vision”– a message applicable, she believes, to the political landscapes of both India and the United States. In essence, the group’s vision and accomplishments, as articulated by the Asia Society show, have ramifications extending well beyond India’s political and cultural geography.

Back in 2010, art historian Iftikhar Dadi saw in PAG’s artistic adventure an aspiration to go beyond the boundaries of the national to open up “the self and the nation to a wider dialogue with universalist aspirations of equality and freedom.” How right he was, the show tells us. Discussing its timeliness and importance in a recent article, writer Tausif Noor suggests that it has become vital “to re-examine the Progressives’ vision of India as a nation of commingling and complementary differences.” But, taking our cue from Dadi, we might also assert this: the same vision throws light on the sustenance of pluralist democracy and cultural diversity amidst challenges now emerging not only in India but in many regions of the world.

What did the PAG artists mean by declaring themselves progressive? The deployment of the term in the context of culture had already become current in India since the 1930s with the founding of the Progressive Writers’ Association, which, as Dadi reminds us, “had rapidly emerged as a highly influential group of writers producing literature of socialist realism and critique across India in numerous languages.” Francis Newton Souza, the main driver propelling PAG’s creation, was, in his early youth, briefly a member of the Communist Party of India. Yet, within a year of PAG’s birth, in1948, he wondered why his group still called itself progressive. “We have changed all the chauvinist and leftist fanaticism which we incorporated in our manifesto …Today we paint with absolute freedom for contents and techniques.” Over a decade later, when he was resident in London, having migrated there in 1949, Souza even said, “I don’t believe that a true artist paints for coteries or for the proletariat. I believe with all my soul that he paints solely for himself.” In saying this, Souza spoke for himself, and PAG had in any case disbanded in 1956. The Progressives clearly followed diverse, distinctive agendas that could not be distilled into a single artistic program. Yet, all of them willy-nilly responded to their socio-political milieus even as they expressed themselves, some clearly addressing issues with social implication, and, in the process, they evolved an aesthetic that spoke to the cultural needs of their time even as their personal artistic vocabularies diverged.

Present at PAG’s creation, as founding members, were Souza and five other artists: K.H. Ara, S.K. Bakre, H.A. Gade, M.F. Husain, and S.H. Raza. The six came from diverse social and religious backgrounds and were for the most part quite poor when they began their careers. Over time the group expanded to include six other artists: Akbar Padamsee, Tyeb Mehta, Krishen Khanna, V.S. Gaitonde, Ram Kumar, and Mohan Samant. Unfortunately, the only woman artist associated with the group, Bhanu Rajopadhye, did not maintain the link beyond 1953.

The Progressives succeeded in their agenda of progressing beyond the artistic paradigm set by the cultural institutions founded during the British Raj, especially the Sir J.J. School of Art, as well as the achievements of twentieth century artistic predecessors – the Bengal School and Amrita Sher-Gill most prominently – by internalizing in a transformative way the insights of Western high modernism. This assimilation, as the Asia Society show brings home to us, became a profoundly imagined Indian construction because PAG artists integrated modernist concepts, especially things pushing outwards formalist possibilities, with ideas they inherited from India’s cultural history, an ancient history spanning many millennia. Two more influences need mentioning. The Progressives borrowed ideas from India’s extremely diverse folk art and culture. What’s more, they took ideas from sister civilizations in Asia, especially the arts of China, a country with which India has interacted for at least three millennia. To the Asia Society show’s curators we owe a big debt of gratitude for an art history contribution of great significance: their spotlighting of a significant intra-Asian connection.

Many factors enabled the Progressives’ achievement of a cross-cultural synthesis. This essay will address this issue in an attempt to extend the ground so well covered in the exhibition catalog. Three integrating factors are especially worth noting.

Iftikhar Dadi has identified one of these by saying that formalism – that is, formalism such as that catalyzed and promoted by modernism – “is itself more amenable to Indo-Persian aesthetics than is academic realism,” the nineteenth century European realism promoted by colonial British policy. Here, Dadi was of course referencing the great tradition of Indian miniature painting that reached its apogee in the sixteenth century through an integration of two traditions that were themselves products of centuries of cultural hybridity – Persian painting, embodying an Islamic aesthetic building upon earlier traditions, and an Indian art that represented the meeting of three streams emanating from the needs of three religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, especially the latter two, given the strong possibility that Indian miniature painting first sprang to life in the eighth century in the eastern part of India, under the umbrella of the Pala dynasty. Emerging from this immense, ancient, swirling backdrop was a natural desire for harmony and emotional balance. Formalist aspects of modernism in art were seen to respond well to this aspiration, especially through abstraction.

In thinking about this, one might recall the principle that Henri Matisse laid down when he said in his Notes of a Painter (1908) that even as color is used expressively, the content being expressed should be stable and harmonious. Discussing Matisse’s goal in a witty, wonderful book – What is Painting? –Julian Bell suggests that Matisse’s goal, while pursuing his intuitions about color, was “to reach beyond transient emotions: to arrive at a transpersonal, by way of the personal.” Surely, similar goals animated the numinous, transcendent art of both S.H. Raza and V.S. Gaitonde. In his memoir-essay Looking Out of the Looking Glass, published in 2013 as part of a substantial book on PAG published by DAG (Delhi Art Gallery), Krishen Khanna speaks of Raza’s engagement with symbolic metaphysical forms. Of Gaitonde, he says, “His gradual exploring of a colour with all its tonalities is reminiscent of a Vilambit Khayal.” This is the slower of two main stanzas of a North Indian vocal musical form embracing cycles of improvisation that, through melody and rhythm, transport you to a world beyond words.

V. S. Gaitonde. Untitled, 1962, oil on canvas, H. 60 x W. 104 in. (152.4 x 264.2 cm)
The Darashaw Collection. Image courtesy of the lender

A second area of congruence arose from Indian miniatures employing color – frequently vibrant, intense stains – in both symbolic and expressive ways. Towards the end of the nineteenth century and early in the twentieth century, the desire to allude to a world beyond the arena of the painting as well as the desire to stimulate feeling in the beholder pushed European artists to shift boundaries. Eventually they crossed the frontier into modernism, brandishing a passport called color. Think of Vincent van Gogh now, and his friend for a while Paul Gauguin, whose colorism was a big influence on Amrita Sher-Gil. The PAG artists rejected her legacy but, in practice, succumbed to the logic that moved her artistic practice. Color’s expressiveness and its ability to create feeling played into their agenda of responding to a new nation’s concerns, which they personally felt to be their own. So, for example, M.F. Hussain drew upon the colors and images of Basohli miniature painting (and other Indian sources) even as he borrowed ideas from Picasso and other Western artists.

The third integrating factor is this: the PAG artists operated in a cultural milieu that was decisively influenced by thinkers like Rabindranath Tagore, the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Not only a writer and educator, he emerged late in life as an innovative artist. In 1921, Tagore claimed that the ‘idea of India’ militated “against the intense consciousness of the separateness of one’s own people from others.” Discussing Tagore’s statement in The Argumentative Indian, a collection of essays on Indian history, culture and identity, economist and philosopher Amartya Sen, another Nobel laureate, suggests that it has implications within India and the arena in which India relates to the world. Sen’s suggestion is that, both internally and externally, Tagore’s claim “proposes an inclusionary form for the idea of Indian identity.” Sen admits, “It would be hard to claim that there is some exact, homogeneous concept of Indian identity that emerged during the [country’s] independence movement as a kind of national consensus.” Different leaders and thinkers, such as Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, took diverse approaches on many aspects of the idea of India. But all of them shared “an inclusionary reading of Indian identity that tolerates, protects and indeed celebrates diversity within a pluralist India.” It is this inclusionary idea that brought the Progressives together, in terms of their art and the social legitimation they aspired to in different ways. And along with it, hand in hand, came their openness to a millennia-old Indian cultural syncretism that fertilized their absorption of modernist ideas.

In the early twentieth century, thanks to developments in the West, a paradigm change had taken place in the world of art, and it was only appropriate that Indian artists should engage with the new paradigm. In fact, well before PAG, as art historian Partha Mitter has shown, Indian artists such as Rabindranath Tagore and Jamini Roy found in Western avant-garde thinking ammunition for their anti-colonial resistance. Mitter also reminds us that, in the nineteenth century, Western Romanticism received from Indian philosophical thought a most important infusion, and the resulting synthesis had produced many mutations all the way to the twentieth-century Existentialists as well as Henri Bergson and Wilhelm Worringer. This stream of influence and confluence affected artistic modernism, by contributing to the cultural climate that created and sustained it. It was reflected, for example, in the thinking and practices of Wassily Kandinsky and other modernists in their development of a flat, non-figurative art and their search for an alternative to materialism.

Already by the eleventh century, as art historian John Guy has shown, a Pan-Indian artistic sensibility had developed in the subcontinent. This “shared style and expressive language” was dominated by two aesthetic concerns: “a striving for fidelity to nature” that was balanced by “a desire to generate powerful emotions through pictorial imagery and literary allusion.” Let me now suggest that this Indian aesthetic came into play most vividly and expressively when, in the sixteenth century, Indian art absorbed an earlier infusion of European artistic ideas via contact with the European Renaissance – a topic addressed in a most original way by art historian Kavita Singh. Painters of miniatures at the Mughal court took readily to European ideas regarding naturalism, chiaroscuro, and perspective but did not progress in linear fashion towards a full-fledged adoption of European practices. Rather Mughal painters preferred a hybrid aesthetic wherein these ideas were imaginatively combined with an art that continued to draw upon Persian conventions with regard to symbolism, allusive practices, and composition. Moreover, given the fact that most Mughal court painters were not Persian expatriates but indigenous Indian artists, it seems to me that the Pan-Indian style identified by Guy was still a living force, especially with regard to the importance of symbolic imagery and artful allusiveness.

Let me now go on to suggest that this Pan-Indian style was a vigorous force even in the second half of the twentieth century. Subliminally and perhaps even overtly, it directed the hands of the PAG artists as they sought the ‘new art’ they proclaimed in 1947. It guided them as they selectively took ideas from Western modernism to create a ‘decentered’ modernism in India. It guided them as they propelled the forging of a new synthesis, which also absorbed ideas from other Asian artistic traditions. If you visited the Asia Society show and took it all in one sweep, albeit a slow one permitting deep looking, you would be struck by the salience of a few themes.

F. N. Souza, Crucifixion, 1963,
F. N. Souza, Crucifixion, 1963, oil on canvas, H. 68 x W. 125 3/4 in. (172.7 x 319.4 cm)
The Alkazi Galleries Inc. The Alkazi Collection of Art. Image Richard Goodbody

To varying degrees and in different ways, the PAG artists showed that there is but a porous frontier between abstraction and figuration. Applying the previously noted syncretism of Indian culture, the Progressives created different combinations of the two styles. Think of Souza’s symbolism-laden figures embodying an intense experience of alienation and suffering – here was an artist who stretched the possibilities of painting. Think of Husain’s admixture of simplified, Cubism-inflected figuration with an expressiveness arising from his use of color to create feeling and to compose the picture; think too of his employing color in combination with imagery to allude to ideas emerging from Indian art and culture, including the quotidian culture of ordinary Indian people. And now think of the forms of abstraction towards which Gaitonde and Raza and S.K. Baker gravitated – abstract styles that were also in their own ways highly suggestive and allusive, pointing to Indian and, in Gaitonde’s case, other Asian artistic and philosophical ideas, and even transporting you beyond the picture frame. During your visit to the show, make it a point to look intently at a Rajput miniature painting from ca. 1690 titled “Krishna and Balarama in Pursuit of the Demon Shankashura,” which the exhibition’s curators have juxtaposed with S.H. Raza’s “Bindu” (ca.1980s). It’s astonishingly close to a modernist painting. Consider its flatness, its simplification of landscape elements, its employment of color at once to stimulate delight and compose the picture, its juxtaposition of multiple narratives, its suggestiveness and symbolism – modernism is not a stone’s throw away, but it is not far down the road. Yes, Raza’s painting could be seen as a response to the aesthetic embedded in the Rajput miniature. But, applying your imagination adventurously, you could even say that the Progressives’ entire oeuvre, broadly speaking, is just such a response. All in all, a glorious creativity arose when the Pan-Indian aesthetic, incarnated in the sensibilities of the PAG artists, encountered the ideas that these artists took from Western modernism.

Krishna and Balarama in Pursuit of the Demon Shankashura, (Cira 1690)
Krishna and Balarama in Pursuit of the Demon Shankashura, (Circa 1690), India, Rajasthan, Bikaner, Gouache, gold, and silver on paper, H. 9 x W. 5 1/5 in. (23 x 13.3 cm). Courtesy Asia Society, New York: Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Acquisitions Fund, 2002.2
S. H. Raza, Bindu, (Circa 1980s)
S. H. Raza, Bindu, (Circa 1980s), oil on canvas, H. 39 x W. 39 in. (99 x 99 cm)
Collection of Jamshyd and Pheroza Godrej. Courtesy of the lender

The Progressives succeeded in creating “a new art for a newly free India” by marrying their individual imaginations to their commitment as a group to a pluralistic India, an idea completely in accord with the inclusionary syncretism they inherited as Indians. Their art solidified and enlarged a new edifice – Indian modernism. Some of them pursued career trajectories abroad, carrying forward their creative evolution through the urgency and stimulation that came from their interaction with new influences. Over time international recognition and impact followed for them and the PAG artists who stayed home. The art world has come to accept the reality that modernism had many centers.

Zehra Jumabhoy rightly asks, “Is it not time to give the Progressives’ visualization of a plural India a second chance?” At a time when India is experiencing a high economic growth rate but finding challenges in making that growth inclusive and environmentally sustainable, the pluralist vision embodied in India’s constitution is not simply a desirable, aspirational idea but a critical necessity for generating the innovation and creativity at all levels without which India could not create widespread prosperity for its citizens. And those citizens now comprise a share of world population that will soon reach 18 per cent. Jumabhoy’s question has ramifications for India and the world.

Eozen Agopian at the Greek Consulate (New York)

by Jonathan Goodman

Eozen Agopian, Nicholas Space, 2018
Eozen Agopian, Nicholas Space, 2018, acrylic, thread and fabric on canvas,
100 X 90 cm (39.37 X 35.4”)

Of Armenian descent but born in Greece, where she now lives (with regular visits to New York), Eozen Agopian was educated in the United States – at Pratt Institute for her master’s degree and at Hunter College for her bachelor’s of fine arts. Her recent show, expertly curated by the art historian Thalia Vrachopoulos, The Fabric of Space, at the Greek consulate in New York City, enabled visitors to experience her highly worked art, dependent on cloth and thread, nearly as luminous as a Russian icon but also dedicated to the complex vectors and planes of modernist painting. Agopian is an artist of unusual skill, being someone whose textural surfaces are as involved and intricate as embroidery. Her artisanal vision will inevitably tie her to artistic craft, but that term will not do justice to the jewel-like, but completely art-oriented, work she makes so well.

Eozen Agopian, Presently, 2016
Eozen Agopian, Presently, 2016, acrylic, oil and thread on canvas, 100 X 80 cm
(39.37” X 31.49”)

In Presently (2016), Agopian creates a surface of extreme density, helped by a rectangular set of banded threads that frame two small abstract images. Outside this construction, we see a variety of colored planes–mostly blue, green, and gray–taking up the rest of the space. The density of the image’s architecture is remarkable and creates a space that is of strong interest in its variety of textures. Crowded with forms that fit together like jigsaw puzzle pieces, the composition comes close to exploding beyond the confines established by its frame. Fine art like this relates historically to collage — in particular, the work of Kurt Schwitters, the German founder of merz art. Its impact is derived from the contrast between one form and the next within a relatively small space. This happens on a regular basis in Agopian’s art.

In Nicholas’ Space (2018), the lines take over the entire space of the composition, with forms lending complexity underneath. It feels like an allover composition, with attention being paid to texture. The rhythmic emphasis brought about by the rows of strings also structures the image, which is complex and self-contained. A word of caution might be said about the relentless modernism of Agopian’s vision — some viewers might say the work looks backward too often, relying on a sense of the past that is no longer energetic as an outlook. But this is highly formal work whose manufacture is done so well, we can only marvel at the intricacies of its parts. This is generally true of the artist’s efforts, which are exquisitely put together in ways that remind us of our need to see something well made. As time goes on, and we move further and further away from a sense of craft, Agopian’s art will maintain an integrity that in fact comes from craft, at the same time successfully presenting its high art intentions.

Eozen Agopian, My Departure, 2013
Eozen Agopian, My Departure, 2013, acrylic, oil, painted canvas and thread on canvas, 60 X 50 cm (23.62 X 19.68”)

My Departure (2013), the last work to be discussed, consists of thin canvas folded in a vertical fashion, held together by six bands of horizontal, light-colored strings. The colors of the folded, painted canvases give the work a vibrancy that is deeply satisfying. Maybe texture is the true center of Agopian’s focus, which tends to emphasize the exterior of the image–to the point where it takes on the feeling of a sculptural surface. This work, like all of Agopian’s pieces, is self-sufficient in its autonomous abstraction. It communicates feeling as well as highly considered design. This combination of emotion and facture supports our experience of the artist’s thinking, which is original and achieved in the extreme. We live in a time when a kind of manic expressiveness, triumphalist and egotistical, has taken over in art. Such an attitude leads nowhere, although its inherent selfishness may lead to momentary euphoria. But it does not last. The remarkable thing about Agopian’s art is that it is alive to modernism, that is, the recent past, even as its experience leads us ahead, to an esthetic as yet unknown. Thus, we must hope that this show, and Agopian’s art in general, do not go unnoticed, given as the artist is to forging ahead.

The Cove Pop-Up Exhibition

by D. Dominick Lombardi

Untitled, Raymond J.
Untitled, Raymond J., color pencil on paper

Once in a while I stumble upon an exhibition that really opens my eyes and reorients my thinking and understanding of the creative process. The Cove Pop Up exhibition here in Providence, RI, which includes paintings, drawings, sculptures, ceramics and utilitarian objects, offers a great number of art works by talented individuals who are dealing with varying degrees of debilitating issues. The exhibition theme is one that should enlighten many, revealing how creative and honest one can be as an individual when unencumbered by thoughts of High Art or fashionable trends. These free-thinking and enlightening individuals are working with the very successful programs offered through The Cove, RHD-RI, Flying Shuttle Studios and edge+end where “adults with developmental disabilities reach their goals” with the creation of some pretty amazing and illuminating works of art.

Walking through this salon style exhibition I am immediately reminded of Adolf Wölfli when looking at the work of Paul A., who manages to find that same sort of “alien” vocabulary of markings and images within an organized composition in one work, then moves toward the brutality of a late Philip Guston in another painting. Then there’s the work of Kevin G. who manages to find that sweet spot where Fauvism becomes somewhat musical or lyrical when lightened by the strategic presence of unpainted surfaces.

Untitled, Paul A.
Untitled, Paul A., watercolor on paper

My weakness is that I can best describe what I am seeing using established art world labels, but I have to say at this point that these labels are simply a way of describing what I am seeing, but not nearly articulating what I am feeling. There is such a sense of the individual here, something that artists strive to achieve and sometimes do manage when they are able to shed all outside influences. That seems to be far less of a problem here with these artists who have directness and a rawness that bleeds passion.

So, I can describe the bold, near Fauve-like clarity of Nissah A. art as having a blend of George Condo’s aggressiveness in how he establishes the features of his figures combined with to heavy application of black contour line that Georges Rouault once championed. That would describe the technique and style somewhat, but not the visceral effect of this small painting, which is unforgettable. On the other hand, Jennifer B.’s Cedar Waxwing Adult and Seeds have a rawness of form and an awkwardness or wistfulness of technique that resonates deep within the memory of any viewer who has experienced the ‘depth’ of ‘reality’ of a natural environment without definitively suggesting the work of another ‘insider’ artist.

Cedar Waxwing Adult, Jennifer B.
Cedar Waxwing Adult, Jennifer B., oil on canvas board

Koury D. records ghostlike harbingers that shutter through space, maybe not so much eliciting fear as much as they remind one of the spiritual aspects of representation. Holly T., who seems to be channeling that late career imagery of Pablo Picasso, injects humor with text in the most beautiful way in her pencil drawings, while Raymond J. shows me and any artist who is willing to look how to utilize a predominately red palette with accents of yellow, green and black to achieve some of the most remarkable transitions of space, form and texture on a two dimensional surface. His approach to his media, color pencil, and his representations of space and perspective are nothing less than miraculous and surprising.

Untitled, Holly T., graphite on gray paper
Untitled, Holly T., graphite on gray paper

By the time this review is published, the exhibition will be closed, however, I urge any contemporary artist to take the time to look at the art that comes from the aforementioned programs to learn just what a contemporary outsider’s mind can produce.

For more information visit www.grodencenter.org/covepopup or follow their endeavors on Instagram @covepopup

The Rich Imagination of Jacques Roch: Sensuousness and Impertinent Play

by Dominique Nahas

Jacques Roch, The Kiss Of The Jellyfish, 1986
Jacques Roch, The Kiss Of The Jellyfish, 1986, acrylic on canvas, 54 x 66 inches

The current exhibition at Kim Foster Gallery in New York City allows us to experience the states-of-mind that pre-occupied, and occupied the late, remarkable artist Jacques Roch (1934-2015). In his notes Roch writes: “… I was born with the condition of the wide-awake dreamer…. The drawn line, clear on a colored ground, held the systems of shapes like a luminous net. The slapstick mood and lushness of color rendered less threatening my private bestiary of violent instincts, bawdy manners, diffuse fears, contagious glee, and even, sometimes, serenity…” This extraordinary exhibition, at the onset of 2019, offers the viewer an unparalleled opportunity to see the development of Roch’s range and styles and his openness to experimentation and change. The show presents nine works on view. They include a selection of previously unseen drawings from the 1970’s, four major paintings from the mid 1980’s, two early works from the 1990’s (Ma Jolie and Love Story) and concluding with two small, intense realized paintings dated 2013: Lucky Knight and La Belle Dame.

Jacques Roch, La Belle Dame, 2013
Jacques Roch, La Belle Dame, 2013, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 24 inches

If one were to point to one facet of continuity in his work it would be the remarkable musicality of Roch’s private fantasy-worlds, emerging through a highly structured and rigorously spontaneous art, where a sensuous control of radiantly vibrant tonalities in his paintings seem to glow from within. These tonalities illuminate his digressionary visual cadences comprised of small, intricately detailed pen-and-ink fantasy creatures and spaces whose features and renderings were not so much sung or recited but scatted – the visual equivalency of vocal improvisation of jazz singers using nonsense syllables, improvised melodies and rhythms while using the voice to mimic an instrument. Roch drew and painted his irreverent frenzies, mischievously, as in a reverie. This vision, with all of its unexpected freshness, shows Roch’s profound awareness of the advocacies of chance and the delimitations of the improvisational forwarded by Marcel Duchamp and John Cage.

Jacques Roch, [paper] 1970's
Jacques Roch, [paper] 1970’s
Roch, famously, was a political cartoonist in Paris with deep affinities with the Situationist Movement during the volatile period of civil unrest in May 1968 and beyond. He left for the United States in 1979 making his way to the Brooklyn’s Williamsburg area long before it became a hub of shabby-chic. The artist was innately an elegant and erudite man scrupulously tending to his intellectual and imaginative life by reading and re-reading his well-thumbed, underlined, mark-filled, and margin-scribbled copies of books of the collected works of his favorites: Arthur Rimbaud, Stéphane Mallarmé, Alfred Jarry, Gerard de Nerval and Paul Verlaine, precursors to Dada, Surrealism and the Theatre of the Absurd.

Jacques Roch, The Door, 1987
Jacques Roch, The Door, 1987, acrylic on canvas, 54 x 66 inches

Jacques Roch lived and worked for decades in a gritty, plank-floored, light-and-plant-filled fourth-floor walk-up and floor-through apartment that substituted, with its torn-down walls, for a modest semblance of the converted industrial lofts that were being colonized across the river by the nascent art scene-sters at the time in Manhattan’s once-abandoned Soho area.  In that south-of-Houston Street district, soon-to-be international art stars and their equally prestigious dealers like Sonnabend Gallery, Paula Cooper Gallery, and Leo Castelli Gallery (among many others) were capturing, rightfully, the international news limelight. By contrast Jacques Roch was an early pioneer of the Brooklyn Williamsburg scene, then in its infancy. He was in place there years before Brooklyn became recognized by the media, by the market, by Hollywood, as a vanguard art community. Roch was a Romantic and an Absurdist rolled up into one complex, lovely soul. To complicate/implicate things even more I’d say he had leanings that were temperamentally and oppositionally divided by Arcadian and Utopian impulses. He was a traveler at heart, always on the go psychically, emotionally, intellectually, sensorially. He savored the erotic and the exotic and he discovered these in unlikely places. Roch sought in his own uniquely non-dogmatic way to seek a return to an innocent past and a desire to press forward to a perfected future – a future in which a sensualized heterogeneity and an eroticized heterological co-exist in some space in the mind, where incompatibilities reign supreme.

Jacques Roch loved living in the United States as an expat from France. A true flaneur he celebrated diversity and plenitude, and welcomed incongruities, the unexpected, the non-fitting. These contrarian tendencies were aided and abetted by the opulence and sensuous radiance of his diverse, ribald sign-systems, his often-mischievous forms and his colors. In his paintings meaning risks losing the battle to the unforeseen and to contingency, scattered disseminations, dispersals, digressions and divagations of form and content. Turbulent sensuousness ensues in his drawings and paintings. Roch had a preternatural awareness of digressionary plenitude and was a master player of the impishly impertinent and the metamorphic.

Jacques Roch, Ma Jolie, 1990
Jacques Roch, Ma Jolie, 1990, acrylic on canvas, 54 x 78 inches

In these selected artworks extending over decades we feel from the very beginning that Roch engendered an intense vision of play-filled lubricity and turmoil, topped-off with a mixture of frenzy and sensuous delight. His complex vision, while it entices and charms with its surfeit of jitteriness and pliability, has equal parts smoothness and scratchiness and darkness. His imagery (like gnats buzzing at your face, a thousand little tongues haptically engaging your eyes and mind) offers us something strangely comical, yet insistently askew. His feverish imagery (a lot of encrypted doodles, naughty bits, monsters and imaginary beasts, private formulations pertaining to the insouciant pleasures of voyeurism and the carnal) straddle coherency and chaos, control and dissolution. What is astonishing to experience as a viewer is Roch’s aliveness to that liminal consideration where coherence and incoherence coalesce. His controlled dissolutions suggest sprawling, proliferating mini-universes of marks and lines, engaging the eye with conditions of mutability and alterity. Roch’s manic, zany linear iterations and re-iterations fragment and coalesce in alternating arrhythmia; his graphic and painterly surfaces recall voluble, energetic force fields of automatic gestural graphism and of writing propelled by surges of involuntary memory.

The French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, in one of the essays entitled L’invitation au voyage  (Invitation to Travel) that forms part of his 1943 collected essays “L’air et les songes” (Air and Dreams) writes movingly 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 observations that seem remarkably well suited to describe Jacques Roch’s unique aesthetic susceptibility of fusing differences, of exalting the dismantling of a universe as an intricately related activity as the creation of one, of attempting to emerge in a new place, in an unforeseen and unforeseeable place as different as possible from the place you started from.  In this sense it’s perhaps right to legitimately consider Jacques Roch’s aesthetic vision a radiant and exalted ode to visual vagabondage. In this sense the vagrant–like way his mind worked, aesthetically speaking, exemplifies the creative faculty described by Bachelard. The French philosopher writes (as if using Roch a case-study to present his findings):“…Imagination is always considered to be the faculty of forming images. But it is, rather, the faculty of deforming the images offered by perception, of freeing ourselves from the immediate images; it is especially the faculty of changing images. If there is not a changing of images, an unexpected union of images, there is no imaginative action if a present image does not recall an absent one, if an occasional image does not give rise to a swarm of aberrant images, to an explosion of images, there is no imagination…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…”

University of Tennessee, Knoxville Gallery Tour

by D. Dominick Lombardi

Joseph Delaney stands with his painting VJ Day
Artist Joseph Delaney stands with his painting VJ Day (all images Courtesy of the Ewing Gallery unless otherwise noted)

As someone who has kept a sharp eye on the New York City art scene since the early 1970s, I must admit that some of my most memorable experiences have occurred in Tennessee. In 2012, it was the Tennessee State Museum where I saw and reviewed an exhibition of the politically charged, multi-media works of John Mellencamp. Later that same year it was the powerful and moving retrospective of the photography and videos of Carrie Mae Weems at The Frist Center for the Visual Arts, both in Nashville.

https://www.artslant.com/ny/articles/show/30900-skeletons-in-our-shared-closet

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/d-dominick-lombardi/nashville-arts_b_1924180.html

This time around I find myself in Knoxville, as I visit three different institutions featuring four very diverse selections of art and ideas. Ewing Gallery of Art, which can be found on the campus of the University of Tennessee, features Blurring Boundaries: The Women of AAA from 1936 – Present. The exhibition is comprised of art by 54 female members of American Abstract Artists. An institution begun in New York in 1936, at a time when the pioneers of abstract art, and to a much greater extent, their female counterparts were having a near impossible time finding a gallery to exhibit their work.

Blurring Boundaries: The Women of AAA from 1936 – Present begins with few formidable examples of the earliest work from AAA’s archives. Initially, I am drawn to the painting The Red L Abstraction (1940) by Esphyr Slobodkina, an intimately sized spatial narrative that traverses an advancing perspective with active shapes and a sophisticated color scheme. You can just see the artist’s mind working here, wrangling with representation and abstraction in the pursuit of a purer, more universal and timeless aesthetic. Alice Trumbull Mason’s Magnitude of Memory (1962) has a similar feel with far less representation and increased rhythmic transitions that are suggestive of the kind of visual variances one sees on screen at the end of an old color film projection as it breaks free of its reel and quickly blurs into wiggling bands of color.

Esphyr Slobodkina, The Red L Abstraction (1940),
Esphyr Slobodkina, The Red L Abstraction (1940), gouache on paperboard, 8 x 9 inches

From here, the early work quickly moves to the diversity and the vitality of the current day and how well every piece here, despite the various media and messages, all fit together exceedingly well. Susan Smith’s 2 ½ lb Irregular Grid (2012) is a reactive, jazzy jaunt of red lines as she riffs off of a flattened out, crisscrossed fast food container in surprisingly systematic and seamlessly expanding tangents. The wall label lists the media as collage, but I definitely see ball point pen lines and a slightly different color red in the areas surrounding the more obviously printed pattern on the crushed container; both indicating elements of added drawing. The painting Laughter and Forgetting (2017) by Cecily Kahn reveals an odd sort of control somewhere between the chaotic and the meditative. It almost seems as if when making this painting, the artist was moving back and forth mentally between a waking dream and focused frenzy.

Blurring Boundaries: The Women Of AAA, 1936–present, curated by Rebecca DiGiovanna, runs through December 10, 2018

2 ½ lb. Irregular Grid (2012), Susan Smith
2 ½ lb. Irregular Grid (2012), Susan Smith, 2 ½ lb., collage, 9 x 9 ½ inches

The second exhibition is titled Mutual Muses. Here visitors will experience the work and vision of two late-career artists who inspired and complimented each other’s productivity virtually their entire adult lives. Individually, they both are leaders in their chosen fields. Both are living examples of the transition between Modern and Contemporary Art. Mimi Garrard today, is an award-winning creator of videos that feature her beautiful and elegantly choreographed dance performances. James Seawright, her partner, who currently has his ground-breaking, multi-media light based work Searcher (1966) at the Whitney Museum of Art’s exhibition Programmed: Rules, Codes, and Choreographies in Art, 1965-2018.

For this exhibition, the artists have created a number of collaborative prints that reflect a variety of sources including video stills that fracture and re-form into largely geometric or symmetrical shapes. Comprised mostly of curious marks that almost jump off the surface of the paper, each image represents a cross between organic and mechanical mapping. When looking at prints like Untitled (KY5) (2018) I keep picturing an army of artist/ants controlled by M. C. Escher in the rigorous pursuit of symbolizing a perfect balance between mind and body resulting in incredibly intricate patterns.

James Seawright and Mimi Garrard, Untitled (KY5) (2018)
James Seawright and Mimi Garrard, Untitled (KY5) (2018), archival digital print, 20 x 20 inches

In addition to the optically opulent prints are intriguing examples of Seawright’s more intimately scaled kinetic and light based art and Garrard’s multi-layered videos of her stunningly choreographed dance performances.

Mutual Muses, curated by T. Michael Martin, ends February 20, 2019

http://mimigarrarddance.com/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Seawright

At the UT Downtown gallery is an excellent show of portraits by Joseph Delaney (1904-1991) titled Face to Face. Most of the work here ranges in dates from the 1950s to 1970s when the Knoxville born Delaney lived in New York City. The portraits featured throughout the gallery come from the time he spent at his beloved Arts Students League or participating in many of the Washington Square Outdoor Art Exhibits. I am told the subjects that are forward facing were made during his idle time at the Washington Square exhibitions, while the three-quarter and near profile views are most likely of the models at the League.

Delany an accomplished artist who painted numerous city scenes like his wonderful renditions of parades and nightlife despised abstract art. I sense, hearing stories about him, that he felt there is more than enough one can do with representation to expand the critical course of art making, therefore abstraction was an unnecessary endeavor, even an abomination in his eyes.

Various Details, Drawings by Joseph Delaney
Various Details, Drawings by Joseph Delaney

Being an artist myself, I know how my skills and level of concentration can vary from day to day and in these mid nineteenth century portraits by Delaney in a wide spectrum of styles and materials, anyone can see how the media and the mood of the moment can yield such different approaches and results. There is something iconic about the images rendered in charcoal; the overwhelming honesty in the graphite drawings, his distinct flair in the lines he produced with ink and brush; that wispy weariness in his watercolors and that odd sort of awkwardness in his pastels that all the results, somehow, reveal the substance of his subjects and the seductiveness of their souls.

Curated by Sam Yates, Face to Face ends December 8, 2018.

Home

The University of Tennessee’s graduate student gallery, Gallery 1010, maintains a very vigorous schedule with quickly changing exhibitions. This time around it is Dana Potter’s No Good, Know How, an interactive, mixed media installation that challenges the senses while recording your responses. The basic set-up here is quite impressive as all the elements and states of her art-making process are present for everyone to see. From the computer cutouts that graphically represent artist’s equipment and every-day tools to the multi-layered prints they eventually make, Potter reveals a keen vision layered in mysterious methodology that slowly deepens with most onlooker’s involvement.

Dana Potter, Computer Work Station and Installation View, No Good, Know How, Gallery 1010,
Dana Potter, Computer Work Station and Installation View, No Good, Know How, Gallery 1010, size variable. (images courtesy of the artist)

At the core of the installation is the mapping of eye movements via computer relative to the instructions devised by the artist, a process that results in limitless possibilities as printouts. The way I end up dealing with the stresses of the challenge – the self-imposed anxiety of playing a game on an interactive computer screen is a very effective and somewhat disorienting or reorienting experience for me. Additionally, Potter’s prints create a new sort of edginess to the concept of aesthetic beauty – and one that I can easily live with. I very much look forward to seeing what comes next in the promising career of Dana Potter.

Confluence at The Sylvia Wald and Po Kim Art Gallery in New York City

Keith Kattner, The Four Seasons, Winter, 2017
Keith Kattner, The Four Seasons, Winter, 2017, oil on canvas, 24″ x 30″s

by Robert Curcio

Confluence is an unassuming yet poignant and sincere exhibition featuring Keith Kattner with seven American and Korean artists that are working in parallel only to converge at this moment of exhibition. The exhibit joins together a variety of cultures, memories and traditions with innovation to address underlying personal, artistic and world view concerns.

Kattner’s fourteen paintings are the heightened convergence of the exhibit with seemingly subdued scenes that in fact are energetic interventions of art references, modern life versus an idealized “good old days”, and pastoral mingling with urban. All coming together in Kattner’s structural theme of entropy with its uneasy transfer of imagery in equal measure of disorder and diversity/destruction and creation. Kattner creates a pictorial leveling off of all differences within the painting while falling into a more complex and highly ordered system.

In Kattner’s Thor and the Little Red Rooster, the background is typical Hudson River School trees, a threatening sky and a bolt of lightning, but with a monolithic modern building directly in the painting’s center. Off to the left there is an all-American Hooper-esque house where a woman(?) and cat are on the porch. While in the foreground a municipal work crew at a train crossing is removing a downed tree, complete with chainsaw, truck, safety cones, tree chopper and a few guys standing around.  And the little red rooster, well he’s right up front.

Throughout history artists have painted the four seasons and Kattner’s The Four Seasons are sublime kitsch.  Spring is a bucolic scene of people enjoying the day by a body of water nearby stands a group of farmhouses with some type of modern looking metal contraption. A luxurious day by a body of water is captured in Summer with thick black/reddish smoke billowing from stacks.  Fall is a depiction of a crisp day by a body of water where people gather pumpkins, bundle the harvest and skin an animal while jutting into the sky is a metal tower with a light on top; possibly a cell tower.  The trees are bare and the ground covered by snow in Winter as people by a body of water build a snowman, huddle by a fire, play on the ice and there is a warm glow coming from a home with someone’s red pick-up just protruding into the left of the painting.

Keith Kattner, Thor and the Little Red Rooster, 2017
Keith Kattner, Thor and the Little Red Rooster, 2018, oil on canvas, 36 x 36 inches

The little red rooster is equal to the god Thor’s lightening bolt, an almost identical body of water in each painting, people with no discernable faces, the colors and lighting have a similar tonality and quality throughout all fourteen paintings.  The sense of randomness and order in near uniform extent affects every inch of Kattner’s canvases, as well as our seeing and comprehension of the paintings.

The totem-like sculptures by Hoo Chang Lee are reflections of light representing the illusory nature of visual experience.  Raphaele Shirley’s large photographs from her Artic Lights series documents a light environment where one’s understanding changes depending on the viewer’s position in relation to the work.  Yong R. Kwon’s “paintings” are not seen until the lights come on when hundreds of handmade stainless-steel discs reflect and disperse the light.

The bundled metal shells arrayed in Kyung Youl Yoon’s Cubic Inceptions paintings are metaphors for today’s concerns whether it is global climate change or materialistic goods. Likewise, Chuck Davidson’s discarded pieces of urban life are reassembled constructions reflecting our own contrasting relationships.

Gwang Hee Jeong and Ham Sup begin by transforming hanji, traditional Korean handmade paper, from its original state by re-assembling the paper into a heavily textured support for their paintings. Ham collectively brings an East-West synthesis into his abstraction, while Jeong’s practice brings traditional calligraphy in concert with abstraction into one telling moment.

Confluence at  The Sylvia Wald and Po Kim Art Gallery, 417 Lafayette Street, 7 floor, NYC.  Open Tuesday to Saturday, 11am to 6pm. Confluence runs through December 21

Three New Exhibitions at the Hammond Museum & Japanese Stroll Garden

by D. Dominick Lombardi

Sam Bartman, Majestic Waters (2001)
Sam Bartman, Majestic Waters (2001), mixed media on reflective plastic sheet, 17 x 17 inches

With three exhibitions opening at the Hammond Museum, the big surprise is the work of Sam Bartman. Born in Brooklyn, NY in 1922, Bartman has spent the last 60 years of his life creating stirring paintings that combine some of the most the incompatible materials. In experimenting with what he calls his “special sauce”, Bartman has somehow tamed a mix of resins, varnishes, motor oil, glitter and automotive paints with oils and acrylics that results in everything from endlessly crackling surfaces and minute swirling storms of color. There are even the occasional brushstrokes that push the variously drying materials around leaving fossil like impressions of battered brush hairs sorrowfully spent in a furious wake of swished paint.

Bartman is an outsider. His unconventional and periled approach to previously incompatible materials could only have come from a place of pure, unrestrained, fearless experimentation common to this type. He scrapes, he pours, he projects his insights and instincts directly onto strange repurposed square surfaces comprised of millions of tiny glass beads attached to a sour yellow ground. In some instances, it all comes together looking somewhere between the more vigorous works of Vincent van Gogh and the paintings by Max Ernst that feature his decalcomania or grattage technique.

 (top) Vincent van Gogh, Wheatfield with Crows (1890), (bottom left) Sam Bartman, Untitled (2008), (bottom right) Sam Bartman, First Attempt (1998),
(top) Vincent van Gogh, Wheatfield with Crows (1890) Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Wikipedia image; (bottom left) Sam Bartman, Untitled (2008), mixed media on reflective plastic sheet, 17 x 17 inches; (bottom right) Sam Bartman, First Attempt (1998), mixed media on reflective plastic sheet, 17 x 17 inches

In reference to, or perhaps in his channeling of Van Gogh, you can see in Untitled (2008) and in First Attempt (1998) a similar heaviness and deliberateness in the paint application between the two artists. Comparatively, where Van Gogh is painting highly expressive and intensely colorful works en plein air; Bartman paints at night, indoors, using artificial light and in the solitude of his basement on a commandeered Ping-Pong table. Surrounded by the wafting waves of fumes and off gases his techniques produce, Bartman pulls from his daily observations filtered through a subconscious that allows all and any twist or turn.

With Ernst, when you look at the techniques he used to create Painting For Young People (1943) you see decalcomania, a transfer of paint onto the surface on the large panel in the upper portion of this multi-segmented work; and grattage, a scraping away of material in the large panel on the bottom. You see similar look in A New World (n.d.) by Bartman, only in Bartman’s painting the resulting appearance of the top, where you have the organic swirls of color, is more the result of a chemical reaction relative to the incompatibility of materials used, than it is the chance blending of a somewhat blind transference of medium. And with both artists, there is the addition of facial features to personify the humanoid forms that inhabit these paintings giving some the impression of a lost soul in a threatening space.

(top) Max Ernst, Painting For Young People (1943); (bottom) Sam Bartman, A New World (n.d.), mixed media on reflective plastic sheet, 17 x 17 inches
(top) Max Ernst, Painting For Young People (1943); (bottom) Sam Bartman, A New World (n.d.), mixed media on reflective plastic sheet, 17 x 17 inches

Overall, and despite the similarities to artists that have come before him, the art of Bartman is striking and powerful and worth much more attention than he has garnered to date.

In the same room of the Bartman paintings you will find the mood-laden paintings of Laura Von Rosk. Her landscapes are also rather intimately sized, as her intended visions look like they might reside in a cleverly crafted storybook, albethey dark at times, as her representations often beg narration.

In the front room as you first enter the museum is a circular space with six built-in vitrines. Each one of the display cases hold large sheets of paper filled with delicately drawn, subtly abstracted shapes that are clearly informed by nature. In each instance, Randy Orzano offers us his collaboration between himself and the bees he keeps. By placing his completed drawings flat or folded into the very beehives he tends to, Orzano gathers the residue of an orderly and purposeful social network. As the busy inhabitants eat away at and add wax and propolis to the hive and the bordering artist’s paper a new curious design takes shape that enhances the works on paper, while maintaining an indelible link between the artist and the industrious engineers.

Featured in the large main room of the museum is an exhibition titled Arirang Grace – Between Dislocation and Settlement. All of the 16 artists in this exhibition are Korean and all are quite different in their use of materials and intended message. The loan North Korean Artist is easy to spot. Kun Hak Ri’s Rope Skipping (2003) shows a group of five children jumping with joy above a flower laden rope painted in a style that is both ideal in its representations and over-the-top in its positivity.

Bong Jung Kim, one accomplished artist whose work I have come to know quite well, offers a new series of figurative works constructed of fragments common to our fast-paced, ‘everything-is-quickly-outdated’ conditioning. In his longtime quest to project his addictions and obsessions, Kim bares his soul each and every time he makes his art. Additionally, he is showing us that the vast and endless amount of materials that is largely and quickly considered to be junk, can be seen as a treasure trove of inspiration in the hands of an artist.

Myong Hi Kim’s Tea (2004) is a curious piece whereby the artist uses the recently abandoned school chalkboards she finds in rural South Korean towns that have lost students to the migration to cities. Working with oil pastels and chalk, and with the addition of a video of the foliage of the countryside, Kim art speaks volumes about the disappearing traditions of a simpler, more peaceful and rewarding life that is being erased by the promises of the modern era. Conversely, her husband Tchah Sup Kim opens and splays his paper coffee cup every morning in a shape reminiscent of a traditional folding fan and proceeds to paint or draw on them in various ways and in styles suggestive of his inspirations and interests. Both artists blend era and tradition in fascinating ways and both present the ages old discussion that pits the perils of progress against the tried and true qualities of life.

Myong Hi Kim, Tea, 2004
Myong Hi Kim, Tea, (2004), oil pastel on chalkboard with incorporated video, 47 ¼ x 90 ½ inches

All three exhibitions end November 10th.  There are also sculptures in various media displayed throughout the grounds of the museum by a number of artists including Joy Brown, Mimi Czajka Graminski and Tom Holmes. Thanks to the hard work of individuals like Curator Bibiana Huang Matheis, Director Lorraine Laken and a dedicated board led by its President Evelyn Tapani-Rosenthal, the Hammond Museum & Japanese Stroll Garden has maintained its pivotal position in the arts and culture of Westchester County for over 60 years.

Photo-A-GoGo

Don Doe, Fille Sans Dot, Fille Avec Dot (2017)
Don Doe, Fille Sans Dot, Fille Avec Dot (2017), giclee, 22 x 15 inches

by Dominick Lombardi

Photo-A-GoGo presents art that has photography as an element, whether it is predominant or used as a minor accent, to show how the creative process now parallels or responds to the ubiquitous social digital/exchange mentality. We have the MIME, Instagram, Snapchat, all the ways we express or project our ideas or self-image – so the photograph, instead of being “worth a thousand words” is now as common as a mosquito in July. However, that does not mean that art or the intention behind it or the imagery utilized is, in the end, benign.

The artists in this exhibition are quite varied in style and background – they all use machines, mechanisms or minutiae that are accessible to most – and they all bring something new and fresh to the use and application of the photograph. For instance, Don Doe combines portions of magazine photo-pages to distort representation and fracture meaning. It’s a cubist approach in a way, but more like Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) than say Girl With Mandolin (1910) as there is more of an emotional and confrontational content than what one would see as being akin to analytical theory.

Untitled (2018), Limited Edition, Digital Photography
Untitled (2018), Limited Edition, Digital Photography, 20 x 24 inches

Liz Guarracino creates unexpected abstractions by photographing ice at close range. The formations Guarracino captures are similar to those taken with an electron microscope; however, here we see something familiar in a curious context-less presentation. As a result, the trapped air bubbles depicted, as they ascend and form stalagmite-like intrusions in the ice become strange, even otherworldly.

Using abrupt movements and a Polaroid camera Jan Houllevigue creates a haunting image of a cold and calculated world submerged in a thick unyielding atmosphere where feral focus and lingering light breeds unsteadiness in the viewers sense of being grounded. As a result, we get a glimpse of a parallel plane, perhaps the afterlife, where lost souls look for a new home in order to regain full consciousness in the here and now.

Untitled Booklet (a piece from the Book of Debris body of work/series, ca.1995 by Moses Hoskins) (1996)
Untitled Booklet (a piece from the Book of Debris body of work/series, ca.1995 by Moses Hoskins) (1996), assembled including found snapshots/Polaroids combined with scrap, trash, wastepaper & tape, approximately 6 x 5 x 1 inches

Moses Hoskins creates Books of Debris that turn art making into urban archeology. By gathering all the paper and plastic trash that carelessly never made it into our growing landfills and oceans, Hoskins turns us all into voyeurs as we flip through a series of snapshots and Polaroids mixed amongst product packaging, receipts and scented car fresheners.

Janusz Kawa’s photographs can be found in a variety of places including a cover of The New York Times magazine section, as a portrait of Daniel Day-Lewis or in the depiction of the Faces of Rajastan. For this exhibition, Kawa offers one of his works from the Time and Light series where blurred movements dull and disperse the fading forms. A compression of the senses perhaps, which leaves us with a tinge of romanticism in a most mundane moment.

D. Dominick Lombardi, CCAC-21 (2018)
D. Dominick Lombardi, CCAC-21 (2018), ink on paper and acrylic on album cover, 12 1/2 x 12 ½ inches

In my new series collectively titled Cross Contamination, I begin with old LP album jackets that feature a photograph. After all or most of the original lettering is painted out I attach hand made ‘stickers’ of variously drawn sizes and styles to suggest parallels between two distinct types of popular culture. By visually upsetting the base image with the current day fad of tagging objects and signs with stickers, I am acknowledging the importance and the persistence of disruption.

Creighton Michael has had a recent partial loss of his sight due to a surgical error that almost took his life. In response to his circumstance, Michael has initiated the Blindsight series utilizing a number of media and techniques including photography as he explores the space between sight and perception. As in his previous work, there are definite elements of interference only this time they are more real than ever.

Claire Seidl, Moon, Light, Swimmers (2013)
Claire Seidl, Moon, Light, Swimmers (2013), Gelatin silver print, 24 x 23 ½ inches

Claire Seidl turns the night into near non-representation as harsh hovering light overruns the composition invading the deepest darks. Here, one may be reminded of a transitional state of awareness where visual stimuli move from one episode to the next. There are also hints of geometry here, combined with a distant landscape, bringing this moment back to earth and out of the twilight zone.

Jill Thayer’s two-dimensional work creates a medley of movements that begin with the photographed details of her installations. Adjustments are made in a variety of ways with digital media programs where colors are enhanced, forms are stretched and comparisons are made. Inhabited with related elements at different angles and measures, Thayer presents compositions that suggest sound, even music, as much as they do space and perspective.

Roman Turovsky, Stadt 48 (2015)
Roman Turovsky, Stadt 48 (2015), giclée, 11×14 inches

Roman Turovsky presents a visceral view of Hell’s Kitchen in New York City. To his photograph, Turovsky applies digital filters giving this print its ‘vintage’ appearance. The combination of the current day image of a part of Manhattan that has, against all odds, maintained most of its low profile and old New York feel is both disorienting and profound, while the frayed focus gives us that added feeling of vertigo.

Patrick Winfield mixes several instant print pictures in a grid format in the creation of a ‘portrait’ that suggests multiple views. Not unlike the Cubist, we see many angles and the inclusion of text, however here, there is something between the excess and ritual practices. What will most intrigue the viewer is the beautifully successful arrangement of crimson reds, phthalocyanine greens and off whites in this most alluring work.

Tansy Xiao, Keys (2016) (in Prague)
Tansy Xiao, Keys (2016) (in Prague), found keys, digital print, wood, velvet (mixed media), 14 ½ x 12 ½ x 1 ½ inches

Tansy Xiao gives us a sense of the theatric, as a pair of characters strut across the picture plane in Keys (2016). The mix of photographs at bottom right is both a minor and pivotal element, as it is comprised of a collage of images of keys garnered from the Internet. The two main figures are made of actual keys, and the absence of a third figure (there are three boxes across the lower half of the composition) raises questions about absence, memory and reality.

Photo-A-GoGo opens Friday, October 19 from 6-9pm at SRO Gallery. The gallery is located at 1144 Dean Street in Brooklyn, NY and runs through November 11th.

Where to Draw the Line at OneWay Gallery

by D. Dominick Lombardi

Stephen Cook, My Disease My Infection (2017)
Stephen Cook, My Disease My Infection (2017), charcoal, oil stick and aluminum paint on paper, 77 ¾ x 61 ½ inches

It was one year ago that I first became acquainted with the work of Stephen Cook and OneWay Gallery. Being in Narragansett, I was not expecting to see much beyond the stereotypical sails and sunsets in any ‘art gallery’, so I was completely taken aback by Cook’s versatility and vigor as a contemporary painter. His one-person exhibition featured a number of varied principles and directions, and I instantly read his art as having been created by an energetic and reactive young mind inundated with expressions of socio-cultural information and imagery. So I began to take notes for a review seeing that moment as a great opportunity to get to know the artist and his work.

After the review was published in The Huffington Post, I took a close look at the gallery’s roster of artists and found a contemporary culture that was pertinent and energizing to me in these crazy times. Also at that time, I was beginning to work on a series of curated shows that focus on the powerful presence of line in contemporary art. Line has defined many an art movement: Automatism in Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism; the planes and passages in Fauvism; and what would Picasso’s Guernica (1937) be without the texture and enhanced dynamics that his lines created?

In a few brief emails I proposed my exhibition idea to Cook, incorporating a few of his artists with artists I was considering for the second installment of the exhibition and we quickly found common ground. The series of exhibitions are collectively titled Where to Draw the Line, with the first opening last March at the Walter Wickiser Gallery in New York City.

Cecilia Whittaker-Doe, Two Existing Lights (2015)
Cecilia Whittaker-Doe, Two Existing Lights (2015), silkscreen, oil, mixed media on panel, 18 x 18 inches

For this second iteration of Where to Draw the Line at OneWay Gallery I have selected the art of thirteen artists beginning with the work of Stephen Cook. For this exhibition, my focus was on his mixed media paintings that had the greatest emphasis on line to either suggest form, or in certain instances move the viewer’s eye slowly and deliberately through the picture plane, thus adding the element of time. Another artist in the exhibition is Rebecca Mason Adams. She utilizes a black and white palette to present her near photographic paintings of what looks to be unsuspecting subjects. While capturing those quiet moments of sleep or daydreaming, Adams uses line as a bold pattern adding a graphic element to punctuate the immediacy of the moment. Don Doe offers two works on paper that are heavy with gestural line projecting a very surreal brand of Cubism. By employing obvious references to the painter’s physical process with somewhat kitschy symbolism, Doe shows us the lone creator in the confines of the studio that can corral the body but not the mind. Similarly, Cecilia Whittaker-Doe breaks down landscape painting with a sort of Cubist approach, only here we see more sweeping changes in the emotional or spiritual content. Whittaker-Doe also is sending us a message about the fragility of the landscape, the history of  the changes and the power of that perception with her distinctive use of line.

S. W. Dinge, Justify (201?)
S. W. Dinge, Justify (201?), media, 24 x 18 inches

S. W. Dinge uses line to punctuate any given composition. In so doing, his work speaks to us directly and intensely as it projects its terms and conditions. This personification by way of language gives his work its distinctive quality of animation and movement while the buoyancy of the forms is the first thing that attracts us. Grant Hargates compositions are filled with line. They form shapes, create patterns and define intimate settings with a boldness and honesty that is universally cross-cultural in its references. In a way, his symbolic gestures vacillate between  a complex codex and rapid representation giving his work its timeless immediacy. Tom Huck’s raucous representations are reminiscent of the early days of underground comics like ZAP. As he inks in line with great skill and boldness, Huck brings us to the persistent underbelly of human nature and frailty where the rougher side of reality wreaks with loose libidos and relentless ruination.

Sarah Jacobs, Ethosphere 3 (2013)
Sarah Jacobs, Ethosphere 3 (2013), oil on canvas, 67 ½ x 51 inches

Sarah Jacobs creates art that celebrates the cultural spectrum that covers our planet. Despite trends toward homogenization, gentrification and modernization we can still revel in the fact that we have a wealth of history and heritages that can both blend and contrast as seen in the lines and layers of Jacob’s art. Don Keene’s paintings are bold Expressionistic renditions of a ‘Red Light’ district that lurks in the subconscious. Evading time, place and definition, these vignettes represent a freedom of will from judgment while the colors and lines that portray unabashed passions saturate the composition with frenzied force. In my work I use line by way of one-of-a-kind- stickers to represent ubiquitous trends in popular culture. Each of the stickers are done as automatically as possibly, while their inevitable placement on a subtly over painted vintage album jacket or freshly constructed sculpture is meant to be a sort of crossover contamination.

T. Michael Martin, Myth and Mystery (2017)
T. Michael Martin, Myth and Mystery (2017), oil, acrylic, enamel, glitter, and iridescent pigment on panel, 12 x 12 inches

T. Michael Martin incorporates line in his multi-media compositions in various ways. They might create recognizable shapes, define boundaries or edges or create texture and movement depending on their placement, position or prominence. His work has references to astrology, mathematics, physics and even transcendence bringing a certain level of otherworldliness to the fore. Creighton Michael takes line to a far more physical level in the third dimension, literally making the line sculptural.  Michael is able to expand the language of line in space where shadows create form and volume. As a result, we see line as subject: distinct, dimensional and dynamic. Michael Zansky literally burns his lines directly into paper with a propane torch. Using ancient history and cultures as his guide, Zansky brings forth commonalities that will both enlighten and alarm, while his narrative combinations create mystery, mayhem and an all out assault on the senses and sensibilities of the viewer’s mind and memory.

Michael Zansky, Flatland Series (individual panel) (2015-2018)
Michael Zansky, Flatland Series (individual panel) (2015-2018), burnt paper, 26 ¾ x 40 inches

The Where to Draw the Line exhibition that runs through October 14th at OneWay Gallery will hold an artist reception on Friday, September 14th from 5-8pm. The gallery is located at 140 Boon Street, Narragansett, RI.

The Tale of Auguste’s Brain

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, After the Bath (1888)
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, After the Bath (1888), oil on canvas, 25 ½ x 21 ¼ inches, Wikipedia images

by D. Dominick Lombardi

It was probably somewhere around 1987 when I read a quote attributed to Auguste Renoir in an art magazine. I don’t recall the exact passage, but he likened his paintbrush to his penis when discussing why he so obsessed over capturing the erotic aspects of a woman’s flesh. A month or so later I made a drawing, I was in my pseudo Post Modern stage making sculptures that looked like they could have been executed in the nineteen teens, twenties or thirties, and the subject was my interpretation of Renoir’s sensual sentiment about his female nudes. It wasn’t long before I started to carve small pieces of wood, carefully calculating their shape and size so they would fit together without imbalance. After I was satisfied with the shape and length of each section they were painted and lightly sanded before the final assembling.

In a few weeks Auguste’s Brain (1988) was completed. Of course, the penis had to be the centerpiece – oversized and in control and in the end, I had pretty much captured the design in the third dimension. After a day or two of deliberating I decided to show my partner, Diane. Things were going well at the time as I was showing and selling works in New York, Chicago and Cologne during art fairs and in gallery exhibitions and I had hoped to get her opinion on where I should first unveil this new piece. To my surprise, she hesitated a bit then said she wasn’t sure the sculpture or idea made sense – she wondered aloud if I wasn’t “barking up the wrong tree” attacking one of the great Impressionists whose work can be found in every substantive private and public collection throughout the world. Remember, this was prior the Internet being accessible to all and I had no real way of substantiating the quote without doing extensive research in a library and it was very unlikely that I would find the proof I needed.

You also have to remember that this was before the 1990s when the epicenter of the art world in New York City was moving back from the East Village to SoHo, and there was at least one penis proudly presented in nearly every exhibition. This following Mapplethorpe and the Contemporary Art Center of Cincinnati’s obscenity case that ended in an acquittal in 1990 – a case initiated by Senator Jesse Helms against NEA funding practices. Not long after that, in the mid 1990s, the dam of pent up penises had burst and it had become a running joke as gallery goers would say “Penises are in!” as we all had gotten over our collective fear that something would go horribly wrong if an institution exhibited a photograph, painting or sculpture of a clearly rendered penis.

D. Dominick Lombardi, Auguste's Brain (1988)
D. Dominick Lombardi, Auguste’s Brain (1988), acrylic and paper on carved wood with wire, 10 ½ x 6 ¼ x 5 inches

But back then, in 1988, I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place (pun intended). What was I to do? After a week or so of weighing my options I decided to reduce the penis to a harmless nub, not unlike the receiving end of a peg leg. As soon as I made the radical reduction I knew it was wrong but it was too late. The sculpture was securely and irreversibly ‘glued’ together with acrylic medium at all contact points and I would have to completely break down and rebuild each part so it was best to just forget about it and simply move onto the next piece.

 

D. Dominick Lombardi, CCWS-25 (2018)
D. Dominick Lombardi, CCWS-25 (2018), mixed media, 21 x 14 x 12 inches

Over the next thirty years I would think about that decision every time I happened upon that sad form of a once proud protruding appendage and think of what could have been. I wonder even today, if there was the ability for me to do an Internet search, if I would have talked myself into keeping the man intact. About two years ago I did do an Internet search, typing in something like “Renoir’s brush is his penis” or something like that, and “I Paint With My Prick” appeared on the site Quote Investigator – it was that easy. More recently, when I was working on one of my new sculptures that featured a toy statue from the 1960/70s with its face buried in the butt of the main figure I decided if I was silly enough to make that connection or placement that I certainly could restore Auguste’s Brain to it original glory.

D. Dominick Lombardi, Auguste's Brain
D. Dominick Lombardi, Auguste’s Brain (90), cyanotype on museum board, 10 x 8 inches

By mixing papier-mâché with acrylic medium I was now able to carefully rebuild my thirty-year-old mistake using an old watermarked cyanotype print as my guide. Once the bulk of the penis was roughly a little over the desired shape and size it was a matter of some rasping, filing, sanding then finding just the right combination of colors to complete the restoration and voilá, quoting Arby’s: “we have the meat(s)”. As an added punctuation to my newly liberated stance as an uncompromising artist I attached a few one-of-a-kind stickers to reflect of my current-day obsession and the piece was done.

D. Dominick Lombardi, Auguste's Brain (1988-2018)
D. Dominick Lombardi, Auguste’s Brain (1988-2018), acrylic and paper on carved wood with wire, 10 ½ x 6 ¼ x 5 inches

So here I am, once again struggling with the idea that there is something to be learned by Renoir’s pronouncement when he said he paints with his prick. Or did he actually say: “It’s with my brush that I make love” as stated in the Yale Book Quotations. Either way, I’m sticking with my original design and Diane now likes it too. No matter what he said, my interpretation is the man was speaking metaphorically and his declaration is what my sculpture represents.

D. Dominick Lombardi, Auguste's Brain (1988-2018)
D. Dominick Lombardi, Auguste’s Brain (1988-2018), acrylic and paper on carved wood with wire, 10 ½ x 6 ¼ x 5 inches