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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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…”
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today: Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida
by D. Dominick Lombardi
Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today, which celebrates “the contributions of black women in the field of abstract art”, is a wonderful and stunning exhibition that features many powerful examples of Abstract Art. Walking through the exhibition, I am immediately struck by both the diversity and depth of the selections and the overall scale of the exhibition. Having seen the work of Chakaia Booker many times before, I am very happy to see and experience her work again, especially in this context. El Gato (2001), a rubber tire and wood sculpture that is totally textural and profoundly present, simultaneously challenges and captivates the viewer with waves of wild shapes and fluid gestures.
On the opposite end of the exhibition stands another fascinating sculpture by Shinique Smith. Bale Variant No. 0012 (2015) combines a number of fabrics and materials forming a column-like bale of moments and memories. Clustered and tied in the shape of a tall square column, it immediately becomes a monument to diversity, while the recent images of displaced peoples, especially in Syria may make one think of homelessness and flight. When looking at this work I also think of the old cars and station wagons I have seen over the past few decades packed solid with endless belongings that house marginalized families and individuals who have lost their homes. So we have a message in “Bale Variant No. 0012” that can be both a celebration and a warning, depending on where the viewer’s mind and thoughts happen to be.
Mildred Thompson offers Untitled (Wood Picture) (1966), a simple, but elegant work of art that subtly guides the viewer’s attention in and upward as the quietly shifting shapes glide through our awareness. A large painting by Thompson, Magnetic Fields (1991), shows her innate ability to mix very complex thoughts and theories with elusive and intuitive gestures. Nanette Carter’s Cantilevered #14 (2014), which is comprised of collaged bits of oil on Mylar, has a distinctive structure that suggests a battle between a ‘living’ geology and an uninspired architect’s desire to command nature results this work’s feeling of turmoil. On the other hand, the shifting patterns created by the brushed lines, which easily achieved on the slippery Mylar surface, have a sort of Jazzy-Cubist feel.
Abigail Deville’s Harlem Flag (2014) is a miraculous medley of many media including sheetrock, a door and an American flag that speaks volumes about the history of Harlem and New York City in general – a place that has gone through many intolerable times and tragic moments. I can imagine that some will have a tough time getting passed the flag being used in this way, but it does symbolize, in this instance, the degradation and abuses of a people that will forever mark our history and unfortunately reflect our present and future.
Deborah Dancy’s two mixed works on paper from 2015, Winter Into Spring 2 and Winter Into Spring 4 are meant to express the changing seasons from a cold colorless winter to the hopeful hues of spring. My initial reaction and perhaps what I am leaving here with is more of a coming out, a release from the dark shadowy boundaries one might crawl out from under whether they are physical, emotional or mental constraints.
Howardena Pindell’s mixed media on canvas Autobiography: Japan (Shisen-Do, Kyoto) (1982) features multicolored hole-punched paper to create its curious tactile quality, while post cards and exhibition invitations imbedded here and there are actually a way for the artist to replenish her memory loss. Not knowing this at first, I saw the work as very organic, playful even, while the composition and shape suggests the centrifugal forces that result from a spinning motion. I also see a contrast in the surface, which is something like freshly mixed concrete with a course aggregate, with the collage elements sinking in. Perhaps my reaction is not all that far from the artist’s intent, as her memory is literally disappearing.
The title of Brenna Youngblood’s mixed media painting Yardguard (2015) is an obvious reference to the painted chain-link fence that corrals the composition. What ends up happening here is the dabs of paint, probably a water-soluble paint that are sprayed or splashed with water, spread, run and stain the surface. The resulting dreaminess, albeit highly abstracted, reminds me of Odilon Redon, giving this piece its surreal undertones – an unusual composition to be sure, but a very effective one.
The oil on canvas titled Solitude (1963) by Mavis Pusey also has a jazzy aspect. The canvas, which looks more like jute or burlap, probably looks that way because the artist did an umber paint rub, probably thinned with stand oil, into the texture of the coarse canvas. This is important as the red and brownish black that is applied in distinct, razor sharp shapes seem to float above the surface by contrast. Candida Alvarez offers an acrylic on canvas titled black cherry pit (2009) that is quite Popish in its abstraction, with its very fluid and active composition. Overall, there is a distinctive push/pull here, a clashing of worlds – or should I say a coalescing of worlds – dominated by an overall positive atmosphere disrupted with a few curious twists and turns.
Sylvia Snowden’s June 12 (1992) has a soupy, frothy mix of paint swirls and pours that culminate in a fiery mix that almost totally obscures the background. The acrylic, which is heavy and many layers thick, shines under the museum lights adding to its rich surface texture. Jennie C. Jones has three Minimalist type works. The sound absorbing panels used in the assembling of this work to the artist, speaks of: “long unacknowledged contributions of African American musicians and jazz music to the broader American popular culture.” Not knowing this before I read the wall text – I see more of a sense of meditation – the freeing voids experienced and a subtle but sure tactile awareness one might sense when one’s thoughts are clear and a truer reality or presence of mind emerges.
Betty Blayton’s Consume 12 (1969) is an oil painting on paper mounted on canvas that projects veils of thought or consciousness. The circular shape of the canvas, a tondo, gives this work a more dream-like orientation, while the way in which the artist works, applying shards of paper loosely across the surface, then painting over them with additional thin washes, has a most alluring and mysterious narrative.
Barbara Chase-Riboud’s Malcom X #13 (2008) is meant as a monument to a “transformative individual” in Malcom X. In this tall bronze abstraction we see a soul embellished with silk, wool, linen and synthetic rope – a commanding, albeit twisting form that stands firm against all foes. There are many symbols here, some obvious, others obscure, but the overall feel is a figure that is monk-like in its beliefs and steadfast in its convictions. Kianja Strobert’s Charmer (2016) is something like an otherworldly Lee Bontecou from the 1950s or 60s’, while “Racism is Like Rain, Either it’s Raining or it’s Gathering Somewhere”, a mixed media painting by Mary Lovelace O’Neal, has a distinct and ominous storm brewing against a shroud of darkness. Here, the looming giant forms on the right are menacing mangled masses all twisted and in turmoil in mind and body.
Maren Hassinger’s Wrenching News (2008), which is comprised of a number of gathered, rolled or coiled newspaper pages that featured information about the days following post Katrina, sits on a low, round platform. Here, we see the frustration of many across our land who could only watch in horror as the poor and disenfranchised of the New Orleans area were all too slowly rescued in a painful play of reality – a reality most of us will never forget.
Lilian Thomas Burwell’s mysterious Winged Autumn (2007), a wall mounted sculpture or relief that has obvious references to flight or buoyancy offers a sense of hope, while Evangeline “EJ” Montgomery’s two offset lithographs have very fluid all-over compositions that are quite mesmerizing. Alma Woodsey Thomas, who is “a pioneer in abstraction and the elder in this exhibition” has in Orion (1973) a freedom of form and space that reminds me of the earth’s rotation seen when photographing night sky stars in long exposures. By painting the ‘night sky’ red with what looks like stately tree trunks reflected in calm water, Woodsey Thomas brings multiple worlds and dimensions together in one profound work.
Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today, an exhibition that originated at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City Missouri,ends August 5th.
M. C. Escher (1898-1972) has been a favorite of mine since the 1960s when that decade’s psychedelic, counter-culture mindset saw common ground in his transformative work. Escher’s art made it possible for all of us to see the impossible, to experience dimensions of space and time that were previously unimaginable. He combined math, architecture and science with a unique aesthetic in viewing the world around him, as it all coalesced in his brilliant mind resulting in the creation of a good number of incredibly iconic images.
I was lucky enough to have visited galleries in SoHo as a young man in the early to mid 1970s when the Vorpal Gallery on West Broadway held a handful of Escher exhibitions. Just beginning my journey as a fine artist, I was fortunate to have seen his brilliance at a time when I had such a great need for seeing anything and everything profoundly intriguing, wildly enlightening and fully thought provoking and Escher’s art fit those categories perfectly.
So here I am, almost 45 years later in an adjacent borough in Industry City Brooklyn, where I find myself at the press preview of Escher: The Exhibition & Experience thanks to my correspondence with fellow art industry professional, Loredana Amenta. The exhibition, which winds through a number of adjoining rooms is beautifully installed and perfectly lit to maximize the experience of seeing such a vast array of the master’s work. Curators Mark Veldhuysen and Federico Giudiceandrea, working with Italy’s premiere elite exhibition producer Arthemisia and Architect Corrado Anselmi the exhibition comes alive with interactive and participatory highlights that get visitors right into the middle of the mindset.
Most successful is the clear and intuitive timeline used that includes Escher’s most famous mind-bending works such as Drawing Hands (1948); Metamorphosis II (1939-40), a woodcut that took 20 blocks to produce this miraculous mix of patterns and transitions across a span of over 12 ½ feet; the hauntingly precise Eye (1946); Relativity (1953), along with similar works represented here that have influenced many artists since, including the makers of the feature film Inception (2010); the mesmerizingly beautiful Three Worlds (1955); and perhaps his best known work Hand with Reflecting Sphere (1935), which is accompanied by an interactive installation where visitors can see themselves in the same composition.
But don’t get me wrong, this noble effort and installation is not just Escher’s greatest hits. This exhibition is a fully realized; an all-inclusive retrospective featuring everything from his early stunners such as The Second Day of Creation (The Division of the Waters) (1925), where you can feel the cold conundrum of a violent sea being ravaged by rain; to Print Gallery (1956), where Escher himself could not solve the center of this twisting composition. There are preliminary sketches where he is working out his composition and the woodblocks themselves, where you can see just how, why and where he made his incredibly precise cuts. I could go on and on, but my best advice is not to miss this most important exhibition. We all need some time to get away from the day-to-day politics and general upheaval on all sides and get our sense of wonder back and this is the place. Escher: The Exhibition & Experience is located at Industry City, 34 34th Street, Building 6, Brooklyn, NY.
Sean Sullivan at Jack Hanley Gallery in New York City
by Gae Savannah
A medley of riffs, measured out and then not. In “á ùne éa, #1-15,” musical bar lines form initial structures. Wayward marks though, soon follow. Through Sean Sullivan’s guileless delight in clumsy shapes and patterns, a language of flaw emerges. Included are two printmaking matrices, post oil-transfer process. They have a muffled softness, invoking a state of being, deep in non-verbal, right brain. Elsewhere, crisply printed, orange and green fragments embody the buoyant feelings of up-tempo music. Overall, Sullivan’s understatement brings to mind a Jarmusch film (say, Stranger than Paradise). Jarmusch forgoes high action, alternately crafting the screenplay out of the uneventful scenes that would end up on the cutting floor of a Hollywood blockbuster. Slowly engrossing like a French film such as Tous Les Matins du Monde, this group muses on the quiet satisfaction of making something by hand. Smudges from the rubbing process acknowledged, the work conveys a humanity.
Another solo print, Sunset (for Albers), presents an elusive chromafield. With no lines, just furry, subtlly wandering edges, the wide-horizontal composition feels spacious, expansive. One’s eyes roam, scanning the color chord on the left side, (warm orange/light Indian Red/cool orange). We note the smooth, oil-pastel chromahaze floating the top layer. Grounding the piece is a dense blue-black area. Its marred surface appears organic like the skin of a whale, bringing sentience to geometric art. Then coming into our awareness is a central coral overlay, which counters any insinuation of broader space or interior architecture. Without knowing it, we are beamed out of the corporeal and into an arcane mental space, a Sugimoto-unreadable theater of the mind.
Autumn de Forest at the Monthaven Arts and Cultural Centre in Hendersonville, Tennessee
by Steve Rockwell
On a sunny August day it’s a beautiful drive for some 18 Tennessee miles into the country from Nashville to get to Monthaven, a historic home in Hendersonville. Chances are that you’ll step on Johnny Cash Parkway at some point, the city’s main road. To the best of my knowledge, more recent residents of note, the likes of Kelly Clarkson and Taylor Swift don’t have parkways named after them as yet.
The property saw some Civil War action, skirmishes at least, having just been built as the conflict erupted, and subsequently pressed into service as a field hospital. The building now houses galleries and the offices of the Hendersonville Arts Council, who’s stated mission it is to collect, preserve and interpret local and regional art, the facility presenting exhibits of regional, national and international importance. To spend solitary quiet time in the historic rooms of Monthaven and not sense the fleeting passage of a Civil War ghost or two is next to impossible. The blame for this may lay in the building’s bucolic setting. In the stillness, reminders of Monthaven’s history come in the whispers and creaks of its walls and floors. The arts center wrapped these qualities appropriately into their slogan: Where Art and History Will Bring You Back.
The focus of my journey was to view Her White Room: The Art of Autumn de Forest, an exhibition of more than 60 of her paintings. This would be the first show in the state of Tennessee by the young artist. A much anticipated component of the event were master classes conducted by Autumn with area art students ages five-to-twelve and high school. The MACC mandate has a provison for art instruction spanning pre-school to adult, and the facility operates at capacity. Director Cheryl Strichik said, “We run about a hundred kids upstairs monthly and we can only fit so many kids up there.”
“Autumn de Forest inspired me,” said Strichik. “I’m a 64 year old woman and she made me want to soar! She had that effect on all of us. Her art was crisp yet funky, sharp and soft, colorful yet gray. She put hearts on her paintings and painted rows of big poppy’s or so I called them! She painted cool American flags and paintings of sneakers. Who does this? Only someone like Autumn. When she left here all the kids could not quit talking about her. One girl from her class she gave here, portrayed Autumn at her school for their Wax Museum Day. She dressed like her and did pigtails and held a painting she had done of Barbie. She certainly was loved by our adult patrons also, as I have promised her return in 2019/20 so they can do a master class with her! I must say after Autumn left we were even more committed to obtaining the land around us to build our educational arts facility.” As an update, the land has been by now signed for and Monthaven is closer to their dream of a free standing arts building.
De Forest’s approach to teaching is hands on. There is a sense of teacher and student working from the ground up. She draws from her working experience, sharing openly her own success and, more importantly, her signature way of imparting the enthusiasm born out of the pleasure of her own eureka moments. While the technique, or how-to aspect of the young artist’s teaching method may be the door-opener for a young student, there is also a budding philosophy behind it. De Forest states it this way, “I feel as though creating is honestly what makes the world interesting – what makes it not black and white, but rather beautiful and fantastic, and curious. I believe that art is what makes you see the world differently.” It is, perhaps, this open-eyed innocence that resonnates with her peers, standing in opposition to the worldly irony and cynicism that informs much of contemporary art.
Essentially, de Forest coaxes the innner child out of the child, as exemplified by her direction, “Now here’s the fun part of it, you can do whatever you want. So, the first thing I am going to do here is wet the canvas with a yellow, and then take some red and some orange, and I’m just kind a goin’ for it, not being super careful. You’re painting may not turn out to be exactly what you thought it might be – but it might be even better.” The threshold for the adult, is of course, the stifling fear of making a mistake, countered here instead by de Forest with the possibility of somethng great. Maybe so, maybe not. There’s the fun – art becomes a joyride. In one her videos posted almost ten years ago, de Forest chirps in her eight-year-old voice, “You can make it as crazy as you want. Just tell a story.”
It’s worth keeping in mind that de Forest, having begun her art in earnest at the age of five, is in some respescts, already a ten-year artworld veteran, with gallery representation and numerous museum exhibitons padding her CV. At an auction in February 2010 de Forest sold over $100 000 in paintings within 16 minutes. She was only eight at the time. One of her paintings went for $25,000.
De Forest is represented by Park West Gallery, reportedly the largest privately-owned art gallery in the world, laying the claim to more than two million customers since 1969. Sponsorship for de Forest’s Monthaven exhibit was provided by the Park West Foundation. Established in 2006 by Albert and Mitsie Scaglione, it began by supporting youth that aged out of the foster care system in Southeastern Michigan.
In her mission statement, Diane Pandolfi, Director of Park West Foundation describes the foundation’s mandate in terms very much in sync with de Forest’s contribution to the work. “As a former educator, I always believed in focusing on growing children in every area of their development, including the provision of rich experiences in the fine and performing arts. Art education goes to our core as human beings. It allows us to view and perceive the world in a way that is unique and differentiated. The arts allow us to get in touch with our inner souls as human beings and enjoy a deep level of beauty expressed as only the arts can do.”
This past April Monthaven opened an exhibition featuring another Park West artist, Alexander Renoir, great-grandson of master impressionist artist Pierre Auguste Renoir. Beauty Remains, has on display 40 or so of Renoir’s works, primarily oils on canvas. Among those will be a painting Renoir has created specifically for the Tennessee exhibition entitled, Moonlight and Magnolias, depicting a view of historic Monthaven, the 1860s mansion built in the late Victorian Greek Revival style.
In June Monthaven Arts and Cultural Center opens a show with about 15 American veteran artists that have used art as a healing process from PTSD. Assistance for the vets was provided by a group called CREATIVETS who funded the vets’classes at the Chicago Art Institute. Herein lies the power of art to engage and integrate a person on multiple levels. As such, it gets to the root of creativity – to bring into existence something entirely new, something that didn’t exist before. That in itself has to be life-affirming.
The encouragement to create, when sparked by the enthusiasm of youth is infectious. De Forest’s success with her peers is understandable: “It’s my passion to help people with their art. My entire goal is to change the world for the better with my artwork, and this is one of my ventures in doing so, that by telling, or teaching, or just showing that whatever you love, you can do it too, whether it is painting, whether it is drawing, or sketching, or designing. Whatever it is, if it’s creative, if it is work in your mind, or in your body, whatever your passion is, you can do it too. Just don’t focus on how good you are, focus on how much you love it. “