Space & Being : Francie Lyshak and Francine Tint

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

by Dominique Nahas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Emese Krunák-Hajagos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Images are courtesy of United Contemporary

Intercessions: James Singelis and Bobbie Moline-Kramer Portraits

by Dominique Nahas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More about this exhibition:

Small Standing Tall

by Dominique Nahas

Stop and take note of Small Standing Tall a noteworthy group exhibition of 12 artists’ works curated by Jen Dragon at Joyce Goldstein Gallery in Chatham, New York. It’s a teasingly suggestive show that’s been put together with evident sophistication.  Experientially Small Standing Tall contains a multitude of diverse, small-sized artworks that, somehow, loom large in your consciousness as a viewer while you’re in the gallery space and lingers within you long after you’ve left the gallery premises. I say “teasingly” as the works in the exhibition give off more energy than they consume, as the compactness of the works is deceptive. Each artwork, carrying a powerful punch, is selected by curator Jen Dragon with an eye towards intimacy. This sense of interiority unveils slowly enveloping conditions of unknowingness, exhilaration, mystification and, finally, joy. The art in this exhibition, while being of a small scale (most, but not all, works are about the size of a sheet of typing paper) induces sustained contemplation. To this point French philosopher Gaston Bachelard in his book of essays “Poetics of Space” suggests that such contemplation allows the mind and psyche to launch into what he termed a “reverie” mode, a sustained connection with feelings of well-being.  This in turn overwhelms the psyche as it gives way, Bachelard asserts, to a subsequent condition of revelatory “intimate immensity.” Such imaginative play lends credence to German philosopher Friedrich Schelling’s delightfully accurate insight that art was the resolution of an infinite contradiction in a finite object. 

Sarah Hinckley, "after the wind 14, 18, 12" ,  installation view
Sarah Hinckley, “after the wind 14, 18, 12” , installation view
Sarah Hinckley "after the wind 14, 18, 12"  - 2 versions- 1 installation view and 1 joined
Sarah Hinckley, “after the wind 14, 18, 12“, joined

The forms in Sarah Hinckley’s gracefully languid and reductivist watercolor collages, with their intimations of tender vitality, lightly suggests the blooming of water lilies. The totemic, concentrated simplicity of each of her three abstract artworks work holds a nearly talismanic essence, a directness and freshness of approach that indirectly reminds this viewer of the essentialness of fluttering Tibetan prayer flags. Hinckley’s contributions to this exhibition sets a grace-note to Small Standing Tall that reverberates throughout the gallery.

Michel Goldberg and Gail Hillow Watkins, installation view
Michel Goldberg and Gail Hillow Watkins, installation view

Michel Goldberg’s wall work aesthetic of using only black and white coloration is advanced through a sophisticated use of unique one-of-a kind techniques ranging from monotypes with unique textural qualities to flat assemblages on wood assemblages, to India ink-on-paper drawings. Goldberg treats each surface with a radical intensity. His pictorial surfaces are buzzing with activity: we see his applied, nearly miniaturized skeins of paint, his staccato stippling of tiny tremulous brush strokes as constitutive elements suggestive of overlaid handwritten secret alphabets. The artists painterly marks vacillate ambivalently between appearing to be self-effacing, mechanical and constructive at times; at other times they give the appearance of expressive randomness, of idiosyncratic, ostentatious deliberateness. A rigorous, visual poetry of interiority pervades.    

Kaethe Kauffman, Palms Black 4-S&X © , 2021, collage, mixed media,  12" x 14"
Kaethe Kauffman, Palms Black 4-S&X © , 2021, collage, mixed media, 12″ x 14″

Kaethe Kauffman’s yogic-inspired, mixed media photo-collages are enigmatic, systematized and provocative abstract compositions. Appearing at first to be anxious puzzles, they contain stylized repetitive motifs and visual cadences of free-floating patterns incorporating recognizable body parts such as toes, fingers and palms. All of these forms and passages brings us up as viewers to a point of intense meditative release.

Victoria Lowe, Mindscape Sanctuary-Dream,  © Limited edition: print on metal with electro luminescent light,  20" x 16"
Victoria Lowe, Mindscape Sanctuary-Dream ©, limited edition: print on metal with electro luminescent light, 20″ x 16″

Victoria Lowe’s three limited edition metaphysical metal prints from her Sanctuary Series are experiential to the core. Her three artworks in Small Standing Tall are prints on metal with electro luminescent light that allows the work to throb with an interiorized, irradiated glow. Corporeal and perceptual marvels, Lowe’s artworks in the exhibition at the Joyce Goldstein Gallery compositionally include rigorous geometric forms that suggest otherworldly doors or windows glowing and primed to be open.  Overall her works invite cognitive and intellective suspension given over to meditative intensity, an indwelling space suffused with the resonance of the transcendental as well as of the here-and-now. 

Francie Lyshak’s contributions to Small Standing Tall consists of a small minimalist oil on linen diptych entitled “Circle and Turf” on which is inscribed random and repeated patterns that seem to emerge from the depths of the surface of the pictorial plane.  Additionally, there are two sensationally intriguing small ink on rice paper drawings in the show that use tiny, nearly unreadable handwritten words – micrographia –  as a private, hermetic language of the self and as building blocks to create abstract visual field patterns and shapes. Such intensive works indicate a meticulous, concentrated mind verging on nearly complete introversion. In all instances Lyshak’s stated artistic intention is to use the activities of painting and drawing to know emotions. 

Nicki Marx, Elan Series #22/19 ©,  cut silver pheasant feathers, acrylic, sand, 18" x 18"
Nicki Marx, Elan Series #22/19 ©, cut silver pheasant feathers, acrylic, sand, 18″ x 18″

Nicki Marx’screates reduced, patterned compositions using feathers, suede and sand applied to board. She causes tinymeticulous collaged creations are fascinating examples of work created by an artist who has for years has followed the beat of her own drum. Marx is the maestro of the feather and she uses the term “feather mosaics” as an apt term to describe her aesthetic impulses. She uses entire feathers or parts of them (the barbules and barbs )( flamingo feathers are a favorite of hers), sorting them out, isolating them, adjusting them (using tweezers and magnifying glass, I assume) and affixing the small parts with the delicacy and precision of a watch maker on black undifferentiated fields to create unique jewel-like creations that catch the light  just so. Marx uses her feather sections as individual brush strokes, and one gets lost in these nearly mystical creations. 

Deborah Mastersis a master sculptorand painter equally comfortable making free standing monumental sculptures using clay and fabric as well as much smaller wall works made of painted and shaped wood.  “Small Standing Tall” includes two works from her extensive series of Crosses which critic John Mendelsohn has described as “…like diary entries that capture the inner concerns of the artist.”  Masters’ artworks Luna Moth Cross and Tsunami Cross act as auratic sacral votive offeringsthat have homespun, folkloric qualities of fervent directness and whimsy.

John A. O’Connor ’scontribution is “Columbus Discovered America, Right?” a compact and colorful archival pigment print from his black-board style textbook prints from his ongoing Chalkboard Series that he originated in 1985. As the title suggests O’Connor uses the old-fashioned child’s blackboard slate as the signifier of societal learning, accumulated knowledge, historicized claims and the inculcation of values and mores. He applies a variety of collaged and appropriated motifs, insignias, patterns, heraldic cartouches, and other ersatz memorabilia (such as flags, cards and maps) onto the slate format to create an ideational or mental setting and to make poetically incisive commentary on social conditioning.  

Eric Sanders, Silhouette Print No. 1 ©, 2021, monoptint, 10" x 8"
Eric Sanders, Silhouette Print No. 1 ©, 2021, monoptint, 10″ x 8″

Eric Sanders’sthree monoprints on paperfrom his 2021Silhouette Series have a remarkable presence for their elusive uneasy relation to the self-portrait that always both asserts itself and seems to be in retreat, simultaneously. With their vivid blue tonalities’ sections indicating oceanic memories that are overlaid with black sections that serve as jarring interference factors and their black sections that are overlaid, indicating slashed or redacted memories, the overall effect is startingly poetic and hauntingly vulnerable. 

James Singelis, as a portraitist is acutely aware that the human face is the primary field of expressive action, replete with a variety of looks whose meaning is open to interpretation. The artist’s achievement rests in his works’ evoking meditative questions for the viewer of what constitutes the authority of the likeness of the self, and how portraiture is the realm where the identity of the self is both fashioned and fabricated.  Embedded in each of the artist’s portraits is the difficult inquiry of what constitutes the projection of the quality of authenticity and why do we so value it when we perceive it (correctly or not) in others. James Singelis ’sdelicately nuancedartworks using watercolor and pencil on paper evocatively addresses issues of portraiture as a particular challenge of artistic ingenuity and empathic insight. 

Francine Tint, Tangerine ©,  2021, acrylic on canvas, 12" x 12"
Francine Tint, Tangerine ©,  2021, acrylic on canvas, 12″ x 12″

Francine Tint’sBlack Luxury”, “Black Swan” and “Tangerine” in Small Standing Tall are three abstract expressionist acrylics on canvas. After years of applied concentration Francine Tint has become a recognized master painter gifted with an acknowledged virtuosity in paint handling that suggests smolderingly immersive abstract energy systems. These systems invoke the sensations of uncontrollable expansion with its opposite: resistance and limitations. With their suggestions of disintegration and loss as well as with those of transformation and renewal the artist’s small paintings capture an unmistakable and unforgettable mood of outsized sensual and savage vitality. 

In Small Standing Still, artist Gail Hillow Watkinspresents two small-scale hand-made abstract low-relief icons with distressed surfaces of fragmentary and faded letters or words. The artworks, heavily worked and re-worked, are made with mixed media, plaster, gold-leaf, plaster and wood.  They sustain a riveting fetishistic quality and hold considerable aura. So much so that demand close-up viewing for full appreciation of the complexity of the interplay of their compacted and weathered surfaces. The artist in her notes has remarked that she considers her artworks as contemporary palimpsests where layers of information and memory slowly rise from below to the level of revealment.  Indeed, there is a timely and timeless aspect to Watkins’s aesthetic as she combines the look of an ancient artifact like a cuneiform relief extracted from a ruin or excavation. Similarly, her artworks have the look and feel of modern-century keepsakes rescued from the depredations of, perhaps, a man-made or environmental disaster. 

The exhibition quality of Small Standing Tall induces a surge of pleasurable energy in this viewer, affording me an aesthetic reverie of sorts, as I gazed at each of the artworks each fitted so carefully in the gallery’s limited precincts and each projecting an outsized presence. Every artwork presents itself in its own way and in its own terms as an undefinable yet exhilarating puzzle.  What’s in play and what’s at play in the works in Small Standing Tall are individual, private multi-universes of seemingly infinitely expansive readings and poetic potentialities.  More about the exhibition here:


by D. Dominick Lombardi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

dArtles: Weekly on the Arts

by Steve Rockwell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Cameron in his studio
Alex Cameron in his studio

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

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

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

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

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

Beverly Buchanan: Shacks and Legends, 1985-2011

Opening at Andrew Edlin Gallery in New York, curated by Aurélie Bernard Wortsman
March 20 – May 1, 2021 

An excerpt from the gallery press release: “A storyteller, Buchanan often attached to her sculptures handwritten or typed narratives, which she referred to as “legends,” that gave voice to a cast of characters, some remembered and others imagined. Sometimes she stapled them to the underside of a piece. In one of her favorite works, Orangeburg County Family House, 1993, Buchanan wrote in Sharpie on the outer sides of the structure the names of families from her hometown which she took from her high school yearbook and a calendar from her local church.”

Most likely it was the summer of 1989 that I took in the Beverly Buchanan exhibit at the Steinbaum Krauss Gallery in New York City’s Soho district. At that point in time, dArt International magazine had barely rounded out its first six months of publishing life. What had impressed me about the work was Buchanan’s “gift of transporting herself to the place where the haziness of time generalizes events.” We believe Buchanan because “…she is her own truth, an embodiment and fruit of the soil that she portrays. The shacks of wood, tar paper, tin, and oil pastel serve as proof of the passage and are convenient emblems of her journey.”

The Spring 1998 edition of dArt, highlighting page 36 with reviews on Beverly Buchanan and Vito Acconci.
The Spring 1998 edition of dArt, highlighting page 36 with reviews on Beverly Buchanan and Vito Acconci.

The Universe-Makers

The Work of Bassmi Ibrahim, Dellamarie Parrilli, Victoria Lowe, John Lyon Paul, and Anne Marchand

by Dominique Nahas

Bassmi Ibrahim, Isness 136, 2016, mixed media on panel, 48 x 36 inches
Bassmi Ibrahim, Isness 136, 2016, mixed media on panel, 48 x 36 inches

Bassmi Ibrahim, Dellamarie Parrilli, Victoria Lowe, John Lyon Paul, and Anne Marchand are our universe-makers. To place their highly differentiated abstract aesthetic visions together so that they seem to react and inspire each other reminds me that this exhibition of visual persuasions is perhaps like visual chamber music of individual voices, heard collectively. These individual voices, passionately unique, create indelible experiences for the beholder.  

Bassmi Ibrahim’s Isness series are meditatively induced visual exaltations (he would perhaps call his artworks “emanations” as they draw you into his soul-world). Using giant soft Chinese brushes Bassmi creates extraordinarily suggestive, sonorously layered liquid forms – entities possessing, seemingly, individual personalities. Each softly shaped abstract form, like a taxonomic laboratory specimen plucked out of an imaginary collection of gigantic organisms, floats in stillness, on an undifferentiated white expanse. Taken together Bassmi’s color fields are paradoxical in appearance – mesmerizingly so.  Vaporous, veil like yet robust, his open-ended forms easily elicit the suggestion of after-image contours of a flower or a sea creature, or of an air-bound and fleeting entity. 

Dellamarie Parrilli, Blue Iris, 2016, watercolor on canvas, 72 x 60 inches
Dellamarie Parrilli, Blue Iris, 2016, watercolor on canvas, 72 x 60 inches

Dellamarie Parrilli’s painterly abstractions are compositions that are all at once structured, experimental and playful. Works such as Blue Iris and Heart Connection (both 2016) bespeak of a vision that passionately attempts at grasping an essence, a central nature that is then extended outward from centrality to peripherality. In later works produced in 2017 as in Aperture, Seek, and In Search Of  Parrilli creates painterly emanations suggestive of energetic systems whose intensely colored paint strokes are thickly layered to create the illusion of relief, a dimensionalized world of gritty punk- lacework. 

Victoria Lowe, Ener-Space VI , 1985-2020, giclee print, 20 x 20 inches
Victoria Lowe, Ener-Space VI , 1985-2020, giclee print, 20 x 20 inches

Victoria Lowe’s exquisite works on canvas and on paper glow with saturated auras and colored coronas. Her Ener Space series of giclée prints have a rapturous other-worldly quality that seem to ask how do we experience, how do we dream, how do we conjure up the immateriality of time and space as well as of timelessness itself? Lowes’s abstract realms suggest purely eidetic manifestations of ambient becoming, of boundless expansion. Equally marvelous her artworks are so radically reduced and understated they seem to resonate with moments of quiet revelation. 

John Lyon Paul, Morningstar Gateway, 2019, acrylic and collaged elements on plate glass, 32 x 32 inches
John Lyon Paul, Morningstar Gateway, 2019, acrylic and collaged elements on plate glass, 32 x 32 inches

John Lyon Paul’s immersive abstractions painted on glass seem to be meditations on the tension between dispersed fragmentation and harmonious togetherness. His combination of illuminated micro-spaces and patterns recall filigreed intervals and retinal floaters that have the ethereal radiance of stained-glass windows. Paul’s artworks are hushed visual meditations as well as measured reflections of possibilities. 

Anne Marchand, Overview Effect, 2019, acrylic enamel, ink on canvas, 60 x 60 inches
Anne Marchand, Overview Effect, 2019, acrylic enamel, ink on canvas, 60 x 60 inches

Anne Marchand’s colorful aesthetic vision is an involvement in an overall sensibility that delights in an abandonment to sensuous immanence and no small sense of mystery. One senses an enormous physicality in this work. As in Overview Effect (2019) Marchand conveys a near-ecstatic concern animating universes of swirling, congregating, interacting forms.  The artist’s acrylic, enamel, and ink brushstrokes constitute veils and swathes of colors comprised of different viscosities. They converge in a play of presence and absence on what might be immense, restless fields of time and shifting space.

Adrian Ghenie: The Hooligans

by Mary Hrbacek

Adrian Ghenie, The Impressionists, 2020, oil on canvas, 86-5/8″ × 118-1/8″ © Adrian Ghenie, courtesy Pace Gallery.

Pace presents “Adrian Ghenie: The Hooligans,” an exhibition of nine large-scale semi-abstract oil paintings and three charcoal drawings rendered on paper. The term “hooligans” refers to an underground group of individuals who ignore the limitations of polite society, shaping their lives to be free of constraints. In his powerful new works, Ghenie explores the artists who formed movements that rocked established academies, challenging the status quo of their times with new visions of transformed realities, reinvigorating art in the process. Ghenie has identified J.M.W. Turner, the Impressionists, especially Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin as the artist “hooligans” whose activities he chooses to emulate.  His focus is on the primacy of oil paint in a semi-abstract approach which downplays figurative imagery. This daring exhibition is beautifully installed, presenting bold monumental paintings and intriguing charcoal drawings, but it is unfortunate that it is located on the second floor, where it is possible that the public may overlook it.   

Adrian Ghenie, Self-Portrait, 2020, oil on canvas, mounted on board, 19 11/16 × 16 15/16 × 13/16 in. © Adrian Ghenie, courtesy Pace Gallery.

Adrian Ghenie was born in 1977 in Baia Mare, Romania; he now lives in London, Berlin and in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. Ghenie studied art history and mastered the formal techniques of European painting. In his new works the artist incorporates concepts from the Dada movement, along with the semi-recognizable figures of Turner, Van Gogh, and Gauguin in mysterious absorbing formats.  

Ghenie’s eloquent paintings require viewer concentration and engagement; they are not prefabricated or manufactured. He doesn’t even use brushes to apply the paint.  He creates the works by scraping paint strokes with palette knives and stencils; this technique produces emotionally charged picture surfaces. He pushes the limits of the painting genre further by using suggestive loosely defined non-descriptive shapes in complex configurations that assert the immense power of his works. Ghenie’s networks of deep layered and redrawn shapes, photos from magazines and mysterious roaming lines provide the viewer a fresh experience, not easily described, with a mournful edge which alludes to the strange times in which we live.  

Adrian Ghenie, Mr Turner, 2020, oil on canvas, 78-3/4″ × 118-1/8″ © Adrian Ghenie, courtesy Pace Gallery.

The intriguing work “Mr. Turner” (2020) appears to display at least the edge of one of Dante’s circles of hell as described in “The Inferno.” Ghenie often mingles confounding, tangled layers of dream-like shapes, that he fragments into myriads of heaped interlocking forms, whose harmonious colors integrate the disparate surface formats. He applies the paint as if a strong wind has blown it through the four corners of the picture, covering each section in varied thickness and transparency, in an absorbing round of texture and opacity. The red hues whose underpinnings dominate the piece with tattered body parts may reference the Covid 19 pandemic. Today, the sight of ambulances adds a macabre aspect to everyday life, sending a somber message that the picture echoes. The work furnishes an encounter that reaches well beyond the visual, to a deep place inside which responds to the primordial processes enmeshed in the canvass, projecting the viewer forward into the unknown.  

Adrian Ghenie, Self-Portrait ‘en plein air’, 2020, oil on canvas 74-13/16″ × 90-9/16,” © Adrian Ghenie, courtesy Pace Gallery.

Ghenie’s “Self-Portrait ‘en plein air’” (2020) presents an ironic take on the concept of “plein air” that displays an unrecognizable artist apparently experiencing the agony which often accompanies creative outdoor pursuits. The artist in the picture employs muted modulated colors accentuating the serious tone of his efforts while he scrambles to keep his tools and materials organized. As he experiences the pain of his isolation and the hardship of his existence, Ghenie seems especially to identify with the enduring creative spirit of the solitary Van Gogh. Van Gogh occupies an unusual position in the body of works on view.  He is seen as a figure of suffering and redemption who sacrificed his health and eventually his life to his work, which by its intrinsic character revitalized painting. In “On the Road to Tarascon 4,” 2020, Ghenie pays homage to the artist in a re-created image of Van Gogh who is seen in transit, moving as if the portable easel were a part of his anatomy, on his way to paint outdoors in the open air.  

 British painter Francis Bacon’s dark iconic works have been a major influence in contemporary art; he seems to have inspired some of Ghenie’s enigmatic disturbing visions. Bacon himself owes a debt to Abstract Expressionist Wilhelm De Kooning, whose conflated brush strokes spurred Bacon’s visceral interpretations. “The Impressionists” presents a grim kneeling black-robed figure in an unexpected example of an elusive work that expresses the antithesis of the ethereal light-drenched works of Impressionism; Ghenie’s palette is comprised of subdued mixed hues that recall dim Eastern European light. “The Haystack” is another unfathomable large-scale work that defies immediate interpretation.  

Ghenie’s engaging charcoal on paper portrait drawings employ the medium in techniques that mirror his oil on canvas portraits. The drawings are somber, visceral evocations of masters who have experienced hardships in their efforts to bring their art to fruition.  In Ghenie’s portraits, Turner, the artist himself, and Gauguin are constructed with truncated body parts in which the condensed power of their creativity seems to have reached its peak. Nothing about the images is contemplative; the urgency of their intentions seems to have spurred them to epic personal transformations and subsequent achievements. The artist reverses traditional portraiture by displaying images that reveal the dark depths of his subjects’ psyches rather than pleasant looking facial features.

Ghenie is influenced by Charles Darwin’s text “On the Origin of the Species” (late 1850’s), with its emphasis on the survival of the fittest.  It seems that a similar dictate applies to the field of painting; if it is not periodically reinvigorated, its meaning and relevance will fade from our culture. Ghenie believes that painting is now in a cyclical crisis that repeats itself historically, as demonstrated by the oeuvres of the Impressionists, Turner, Van Gogh and Gauguin, artists whose works he explores in this show. Recycling adds a new spin by extending art and regenerating the media. Turner dissolved a train into a cloud of mist in a convincing painted atmosphere. Picasso and George Braque revamped Cezanne’s geometric brushstrokes to forge the Cubist movement, which contributed to the founding of abstract art. The Impressionists, through their reductive multitude strokes of luminous light foresaw the onset of the Atomic Age. 

It is rare to find an international art star who cares profoundly about the progression of art, who seems to love the act of painting enough to make pictures whose sole subjects are the painters who have contributed to its evolution. It is prescient that Pace has brought Ghenie’s works to share with worldly New York audiences, who have experienced the development of contemporary art first-hand. Whether one appreciates it or not, this heroic exhibition offers an example of works that probe the ominous side of progress to help unfold a struggle that challenges the omniscience of technology.

Church and Rothko: Sublime

by Mary Hrbacek

Frederic Edwin Churh, "After the Rainstorm," oil on canvas mounted on panel, 22 1/2 x 33 1/2, 1875
Frederic Edwin Churh, “After the Rainstorm,” oil on canvas mounted on panel, 22 1/2 x 33 1/2, 1875. Courtesy of Mnuchin Gallery, New York.

 “Church and Rothko: Sublime,” an exhibition of twenty-seven oil paintings on canvas, brings into focus, in the context of the ‘Sublime,’ the similarities and divergences of two deeply contrasting artists who extended the art of painting to suit their overriding visions, separated by a span of nearly 100 years.  Michael Altman Fine Art and Christopher Rothko collaborated with Robert Mnuchin and the Mnuchin team to present this respectful, comprehensive and deeply appreciative journey through the pictorial language of a 19th and a 20th Century master, who succeeded in transmuting their art to the level of the emotional and psychological sublime, through purely visual means.  The show adheres to an expanded, unconventional definition of the ‘Sublime,’ which includes not only the sense of the majestic but also its frightening, perilous dark side. There are ten abstract Rothko works and seventeen Frederic Church oil paintings on view.

Mark Rothko, "Browns and Blacks in Reds," oil on canvas, 91 x 60,” 1957, Courtesy of Mnuchin Gallery, New York
Mark Rothko, “Browns and Blacks in Reds,” oil on canvas, 91 x 60,” 1957, Courtesy of Mnuchin Gallery, New York

The handsome, risk-taking installation presents Church’s portrayals of concrete outer reality contrasted with the ephemeral inner reality of Rothko’s images, in juxtapositions that compel the viewer to reorient mental and visual comprehension with the aid of color as the harmonious interconnecting link. The wide differences in the underlying structures of the two artists’ works reveal the extent to which humans have transformed society, culture and art in a span of less than 100 years. The challenges of the exhibit offer an expanded experience that has the potential to broaden the viewer’s visual scope.  The traditional toned walls which reflect Church’s era, work to his advantage, while Rothko’s dark works are sometimes subsumed by their gray surroundings; white walls might serve his radical images more favorably.

American born Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900) brilliantly observes and records the particulars of the skies, clouds, mountains, trees, flowers, rivers and the sea that fall before his wide grasp of meaningful detail.  His inspired recreation of light as it morphs from sunrise into daylight, and into the atmospheric effects that illuminate clouds at sunset, instills the viewer with feelings of revelation and discovery.  His encyclopedic panoramic landscape views are emotionally charged by his dramatic use of pure warm hues.

Frederic Edwin Church, "Scene on the Magdalena," oil on canvas, 28 1/4 x 42 inches, 1854, Courtesy of Mnuchin Gallery, New York
Frederic Edwin Church, “Scene on the Magdalena,” oil on canvas, 28 1/4 x 42 inches, 1854, Courtesy of Mnuchin Gallery, New York

Church traveled extensively, painting in plain air, but he also worked in his studio at his home Olana in New York State. He was a recognized master of the Hudson River School of landscape artists. Church was intrigued by incidences of human courage in scenes of ships trapped by icebergs, or while in danger of sinking at sea.  He carried his vision to tropical landscapes that speak of fantasy and ecstasy through their sublime auras, their intricately ornate foliage and plant-forms, luminous mirror-like rivers and lakes, and divinely illuminating light.  Church’s sensitivity to the changing hues which evolve in sunsets provides a rich evocative subject he explores in many of his works. The painter’s use of saturated red, displayed in “Marine Sunset (The Black Sea),” 1881-1882, seems to hint at a prescient apocalyptic vision of the sun setting on civilization as it descends into the netherworld, a harbinger of the Atomic Age that predates the devastating human and environmental global crisis to come in the next century. There are few people on view in these abundant tableaux. Fortunately, he took the opportunity to record the beauties and subtleties, the dramas and innuendos of our deteriorating Earth.

Frederic Edwin Church, "Marine Sunset, (The Black Sea)," oil on canvas, 30 1/8 x 42,” 1881 - 1882, Courtesy of Mnuchin Gallery, New York
Frederic Edwin Church, “Marine Sunset, (The Black Sea),” oil on canvas, 30 1/8 x 42,” 1881 – 1882, Courtesy of Mnuchin Gallery, New York

Church’s painting “Twilight in the Wilderness,” punctuated by deep cadmium red hues, perhaps expresses his unconscious awareness that traditional beliefs about natural life were waning. Darwin’s “The Origin of Species,” which appeared in the end of the 1850s, weakened the belief in the existence of the spiritual in nature. Church’s cognizance of the unprecedented carnage of the American Civil War also played a role in some of his apocalyptic landscape visions that portray nature on the brink, at its most turbulent.

The ‘Sublime’ is an emotionally charged term that conjures feelings of wonder and amazement incited by an awareness of God’s providence in the majesty of our abundant natural world.  The dictionary defines ‘sublime’ as an adjective that indicates grandeur, excellence, or great beauty inspiring admiration or awe. In Edmund Burke’s book, “A Philosophic Enquiry into the Origins of the Sublime and the Beautiful,” (1757), Burke extends the definition of the ‘sublime’ to include opposing forces, defined as “compelling and destructive, provoking a fear of death, and vastness, infinity and magnificence. It evokes God’s creation of Satan, and its polar opposite, the Beautiful, as well formed and aesthetically pleasing….” In the context of this exhibition, Burke’s definition, which references negatives such as evil and the fear of death, makes sense of the contrast of Rothko’s dark memorial paintings with Church’s bright yellow, orange and cadmium red pieces.  

Mark Rothko, No. 5 (Untitled), oil on canvas, 90 x 69 inches, 1964, Courtesy of Mnuchin Gallery, New York
Mark Rothko, No. 5 (Untitled), oil on canvas, 90 x 69 inches, 1964,
 Courtesy of Mnuchin Gallery, New York

Mark Rothko was born in Dvinsk, Russia (1903-1970) and came to the US with his family in 1913. He began painting in 1926; and developed his abstract signature vision around 1947, shortly after the end of World War II.  Rothko’s paintings comprise several framed, stacked color fields with harmonious atmospheric layers that shift hues from one rectangle to the next, to establish auras of calm and moods of serenity.  Many of his works achieve a sense of the transcendent sublime in a level of intensity that syncs with Church’s landscapes, especially through the means of atmospheric color and ethereal moods, which link his enveloping non-objective oeuvre to the tableaux of Church’s brilliant evanescent skies.  Rothko’s formats can be said, in an imaginative leap, to make subliminal suggestions that parallel landscape art. He favors a vertical structure that mirrors the upward sweep of trees, he uses wide rectangular planes reminiscent of the expanse of meadows, and makes a stack of fields that form horizon lines, with a sliver of sky above.  His piece entitled “No. 1” (1949) is a transition work displaying remnants of earlier figurative efforts, combined within the format of his stacked rectangles, that speak to Church’s representational oeuvre.

Mark Rothko, "No. 1," oil on canvas, 18 1/4 x 39, 5/8,” 1949, Courtesy of Mnuchin Gallery, New York
Mark Rothko, “No. 1,” oil on canvas, 18 1/4 x 39, 5/8,” 1949, Courtesy of Mnuchin Gallery, New York

Rothko dispenses with all overt recognizable forms to achieve a direct psychological impact that bridges the core of viewer’s consciousness. In order to comprehend his art, one must release pre-conceived notions to make space to experience fresh emotions and conceptual content that is stimulated by the pure pigment on canvas. “No. 5 (Untitled)” (1964) uniquely resonates with a distinct sensation of the dark sublime. Rothko attempts to align the viewer with a modern zeitgeist, in a connection with unadulterated states of pure being. He was perhaps influenced by Buddhism or by meditation, as his subtle pictures come into more lucid focus with concentration.

After WW II with the experiences of the most heinous crimes ever committed by humanity, it became impossible to trust in a human capacity for evolved states of moral and spiritual being. Moreover, due to the direct onset of the Atomic Age, the world and humanity became equally vulnerable to instant annihilation. Rothko may well have factored these perceptions into his new postwar painterly efforts.

Frederic Edwin Church, "Icebergs and Wreck in Sunset," oil on paperboard mounted on canvas, 8 1/4 x 12 1/4 inches, 1860, Courtesy of Mnuchen Gallery, New York
Frederic Edwin Church, “Icebergs and Wreck in Sunset,” oil on paperboard mounted on canvas, 8 1/4 x 12 1/4 inches, 1860, Courtesy of Mnuchen Gallery, New York

The two artists, working almost 100 years apart, demonstrate beautifully the eras in which they established and developed their visions. While the human impact on nature was becoming more apparent, the 19th Century still retained a sense of hope in the future, and a shaky reverence in the present. Rothko’s 20th Century vision seeks to engage the core of human awareness, separated from nature, which could no longer be referenced as a constant to be experienced with the joy and trust in the future.  His is a vision of the timeless and eternal ‘Now,’ which potentially imbues the spirit with a peace that is isolated from an ephemeral world. Rothko’s works present fields which enable viewers to explore their moods and states of mind, with each painting.The absence of traditional pictorial space in Rothko’s art makes at first glimpse a challenging chasm between the two oeuvres. But the notion of linking the works through both color equivalents and the expanded concept of the Sublime, creates an almost playful, experimental arena that accentuates the divergences and similarities of the art of the 20th and 19th Centuries. Church’s “Marine Sunset (The Black Sea)” and Rothko’s “Brown’s and Black’s in Reds” (1968) epitomize the intent here of the comparison of the ‘dark’ side of the Sublime. Whether one senses that the works enhance one another, or whether they distract from their intended meanings, depends on the viewer’s depth of commitment to seeing art from an expansive, inventive viewpoint.