The Counter/Self : Art Museum at the University of Toronto

by Emese Krunák-Hajagos

The Counter/Self, the title of this exhibition, immediately captured my attention. I have always been interested in the hidden characters of people, including myself. We all have many faces and various personalities in addition to the one we consider our true self. It brings to mind Janus with his two faces in mythology and all the people through historical and contemporary times who often changed their personalities. As I have experienced myself, it can happen when we’re under social pressure, relocating, or trying to succeed in a society that has a different culture than the one we’re used to. Every self is performative and we also summon different characters to avoid conflict with others or to please them, as needed. Each of us express or hide our various sides of ourselves. Both social and personal identities are created by inner drives and external expectations that mirror our dreams and fears. There are also the masks we choose to put on intentionally to transfer us into another world or character. So, I thought this exhibition would offer endless possibilities in addressing this complex and exiting theme.

Installation view of THE COUNTER/SELF, Art Museum at the University of Toronto. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid. Courtesy of the Art Museum at the University of Toronto.
Installation view of THE COUNTER/SELF, Art Museum at the University of Toronto. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid. Courtesy of the Art Museum at the University of Toronto

In this exhibition at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto in its Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, Indigenous and diasporic Canadian artists analyze both national and personal identities by creating imaginative alter-egos with challenging narratives.

The first image we encounter is Meryl McMaster’s My Destiny is Entwined With Yours from the series As Immense as the Sky (2019), depicting a woman wearing shaman-like clothes in a grandiose landscape. Coming from a nêhiyaw (Plains Cree) and British/Dutch background, ancestral history is very important to McMaster and is the central theme of her photography. Each image is a contemplation on how one’s identity is formed. She traveled across Canada to site specific locations and research in order to re-experience ancestral stories learned from Elders, Knowledge Keepers within her Plains Cree community, family members, and friends. All of the images have a story to them, documenting the artist’s relationship with the natural world and the history written in the landscape. She admires the beauty of the land, listens to its wisdom but also fears for its future. In her explorations of the self, McMaster’s photographs reimagine many of the stories and traces left behind by different cultures.

Meryl McMaster, My Destiny is Entwined With Yours, from the series As Immense as the Sky, 2019, chromogenic print. Courtesy of the artist, Stephen Bulger Gallery and Pierre-François Ouellette art contemporain.
Meryl McMaster, My Destiny is Entwined With Yours, from the series As Immense as the Sky, 2019, chromogenic print. Courtesy of the artist, Stephen Bulger Gallery and Pierre-François Ouellette art contemporain

She often talks about the collapse of time into the present, while we often feel being outside of time when looking at her artwork. Her concept of time comes from two overlapping ideas. One is that time is a linear path that extends from the present in all directions, while the other one is recurrent and cyclical.

In the series As Immerse as the Sky, McMaster focuses on how the experience of time shapes the self’s connection to the immediate world. She creates dream-like images aiming to break down the barriers of time and space, picturing realities of collective history and the present, in new ways. Her image-making procedure starts with assuming a persona with a character and then playing out the story. All images are private performances, the artist’s responses to memory and to emotion. Landscape plays an important role as a dominant element in the composition as well as in creating the mood. The artist believes that the land holds more knowledge and power than we are able to see. Her pieces feel real as well as magical. Otherworldly figures populate the landscapes wearing mysterious sculptural attires. The created image is mythical and mystical at the same time. What Will I Say to the Sky and the Earth II (2019) is staged in a winter landscape where everything is covered by blindingly white snow, that is heavy, almost like stone. The sky is blue — one of McMasters favorite colors — and beautiful. The artist stands in a meditative pose, wearing a white garment and veils. Over her dress there are numerous red creatures that look like dragonflies and ants. Red is a powerful color and for McMaster it represents her ancestry and her responsibility to pass down the knowledge of the elders to the next generation. From where and how did these creatures get here? What do they represent? Are they bringing life into this frozen world or invading it? Putting it in some kind of danger? There are no answers for these questions from the artist as she seems to play a passive role. It seems like, as she said earlier, we have entered another dimension of time, where any kind of balance is possible.

Meryl McMaster, What Will I Say to the Sky and the Earth II, 2019, digital C-prints. Courtesy of the artist, Stephen Bulger Gallery, and Pierre-François Ouellette Contemporary Art.
Meryl McMaster, What Will I Say to the Sky and the Earth II, 2019, digital C-prints. Courtesy of the artist, Stephen Bulger Gallery, and Pierre-François Ouellette Contemporary Art

Like McMaster, Adrian Stimson is also searching for his identity in his work. He is a member of the Siksika (Blackfoot) Nation in southern Alberta, Canada, and an interdisciplinary artist who exhibits internationally. His performance art examines identity, pinpointing how a strange mixture of the characteristics of the Indian, the cowboy and the shaman has been created and idealized. Buffalo Boy and The Shaman Exterminator are recurring personas in his mythology. In the Buffalo Boy performances, the artist fashioned his alter-ego Buffalo Boy (a play on the name Buffalo Bill) into someone totally different, in opposition to the colonial image of a ‘real’ Indian with feathers and buckskin, hunting buffaloes with spears. Stimson wants to change this stereotype and reprogram the Indian image. New Born Buffalo Boy (2022) is a product of his reprogramming of the idea of the Indian, making it more open, and more contemporary with homoeroticism depicted with a great sense of humor. Stimson stands in poses of pride, wearing a strange mixture of traditional and modern outfits. In his images his face is painted with black paint around the chin mimicking Indian tattoos, his lips are red and he wears heavy blue make up around his eyes – giving him a woman’s provocative appearance. He wears a braided wig under a cowboy hat, a leather shirt and buffalo hide leg coverings as well as sexy stockings. In Buffalo Boy, Stimson creates a new person with mixed sexuality that contradicts both the traditional Indigenous and the colonial ideals, opening doors to a new reality where he is free to construct his own identity.

Adrian Stimson, New Born Buffalo Boy, 2022, performance still. Courtesy of the artist
Adrian Stimson, New Born Buffalo Boy, 2022, performance still. Courtesy of the artist

Julius Poncelet Manapul also addresses sexual identity issues in his triptych, Whitewashed Bakla in the Presence of the Rice Queen (2017). The artwork, especially the two male figures on the sides, brings to mind Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, with its crowded composition, the use of masks and decorative ornamentation. The male figures’ outfits combine Indigenous Ifugao, Igorot and Ilocano attire designed from paper templates of butterflies, often used in the Philippines. Their faces are half covered by Asian masks. The Rice Queen in the middle reminds me of renaissance portraits of queens as well as sculptures of the Virgin Mary dressed for a religious procession, carried by singing believers. All the figures are paper cut-outs, framed by butterfly motifs combined with skin whitening products and gay porn elements. The references to Spanish culture are strong as the artist comes from a Filipino background, where the Spanish influence and domination is still present. Manapul’s works show the artist’s opposition to colonialism, European hegemony and sexual normativity.

Julius Poncelet Manapul, Whitewashed Bakla in the Presence of the Rice Queen, triptych, 2017, digital collage print. Courtesy of the artist.
Julius Poncelet Manapul, Whitewashed Bakla in the Presence of the Rice Queen, triptych, 2017, digital collage print. Courtesy of the artist

Stacey Tyrell examines power, heritage and racial issues in post-colonial societies and the Caribbean diaspora. Mistress and Slave is a complex composition with personal and historical references. In this provocative image, Tyrell impersonates two historical women, Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay and her second cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, who lived in 18th century England. Dido Belle was a mixed-race daughter of a British aristocrat, Sir John Lindsay, and an enslaved African woman in the West Indies, Maria Belle. Dido Belle grew up with her Murray cousins in England. Sounds like a happy ending. The pictured Lady Elizabeth and Dido Belle tells a somewhat different story, not that nice. The two young women stand side by side without looking at each other. There is no connection between them as they represent two different worlds. Lady Elizabeth is white and her appearance is an accurate depiction of British society norms at that time. She wears an intricate, rice-powdered wig with a boat, pearls and, more importantly, holds the keys of the household, symbolizing her power over everything and everyone in it. In strong contrast Dido Belle is a black person and appears in a simple white dress with a colored turban on her head. She seems more pure and much more natural than Lady Elizabeth. She holds half a papaya in her hands, a reference to her origins, that also reminds us of female genitalia. It is hard to guess her position in the household. Tyrell beautifully addresses racial issues and her dual (Canadian and Caribbean) ancestry in this artwork.

Stacey Tyrell, Mistress and Slave, 2018, from Untitled series. Courtesy of the artist © Stacey Tyrell
Stacey Tyrell, Mistress and Slave, 2018, from Untitled series. Courtesy of the artist © Stacey Tyrell

Like in Tyrell’s work, power is a central element in White Liar and the Known Shore: Frobisher and the Queen (2021). This monumental and theatrical composition, is a collaborative artwork created by Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory (Inuk) and Jamie Griffith (Canada, UK), two multidisciplinary artists based in Iqaluit, Nunavut. In an almost unrealistic landscape, depicted in the winter in Nunavut, when the water is frozen and the mountains are covered by snow, two figures appear. Griffith adopts the persona of the English explorer Sir Martin Frobisher. He is the White Liar, wearing the white clothes of the Elizabethan era, holding a gun in his hand to symbolize his power and cruelty. He is standing with his back to us. Williamson Bathory impersonates Queen Elizabeth I with her famous white make-up that also refers to whitened bones, an Inuit symbol for respects to ancestors. Her dress somewhat mimics Elizabeth’s style, especially the collar but the red color could be associated with blood. She holds a red and black flag that originated in the Greenlandic mask dance. She is turned in the opposite direction from Frobisher. Her facial expression shows anger and fear, screaming into the distance. The entire composition gives me an uneasy feeling. The two figures are not related in any way. The color code is also worrisome, with the whiteness of the land and Frobisher’s clothes juxtaposed against the dominant red of the Queen. We can’t see Frobisher’s face as he looks at the empty, rigid land. There is no welcome from the land or the people. It is an isolated place with people who wanted to left alone. What does he want from this land? In reality, what he got was fool’s gold, a useless rock that the British mistook for real. Fortune seeking went wrong here but colonialization remained, causing the Indigenous people suffering in their own land historically and into the present.

Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory & Jamie Griffiths, White Liar and the Known Shore: Frobisher and the Queen, 2021, photography on stretched canvas. Courtesy of the artists.
Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory & Jamie Griffiths, White Liar and the Known Shore: Frobisher and the Queen, 2021, photography on stretched canvas. Courtesy of the artists

The Counter/Self delivers a strong political message through very rich visuals. Communal histories depicted through the artists’ personal experiences create a dialogue about cultural legacies and social expectations, bringing up questions about our national narratives and power structures. The artists’ stories, being tragic or enigmatic — even flamboyant or whimsical — turn our attention to important, harmful and mostly unsolved issues about racism, colonialism and sexual orientation. It is an exhibition you need to visit more than once to fully understand its message.

The Counter/Self: Group Exhibition, curated by Mona Filip, January 11 – March 25, 2023, Art Museum at the University of Toronto, Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, 7 Hart House Circle, Toronto. Museum hours: Tue, Thurs, Fri, Sat 12 – 5 pm, Wed 12 – 8 pm.

(So) Happy Together

by D. Dominick Lombardi

“Ever since the Big Bang, it’s ALL collage!”
Todd Bartell

Finding common ground in Contemporary Art today is not necessarily about aesthetic or messaging commonality. The age of Isms, or schools of art are rare, largely due to the fact that labels are limiting and many artists are experimental or in new media. One of the things I have noticed over the years is how much new art looks multidimensional. How it is common to see dueling perspectives and timelines, think Neo Rauch; or accumulations as art or installation with works by Mike Kelly, Faith Ringgold or Nick Cave.

The title of this exhibition, which refers to the 1967 song by The Turtles, was one of the first things I thought of when thinking about the art in this exhibition. That feeling that an artist reaches, at some point in the making of an art work, when the process and purpose of a work comes together and drives the artist to dig deep. For this exhibition, I have selected six artists who reveal both new and traditional ways of expressing great depth of vision while creating compelling, topical, beautiful and at times humorous works.

Joel Carreiro, Untitled b27fz (detail) (2022), 18 x 24 inches
Joel Carreiro, Untitled b27fz (detail) (2022), 18 x 24 inches

Joel Carreiro, who uses either classic collage methods or multiple image transfer, commingles various art ages and types with stunning results. With his transfers, Carreiro weaves wondrous visual transitions that ebb and flow, forming waves of optical transitions. Patterns develop, rhythm is created, and an overall composition becomes focused on referential glimpses and color connections. In his collage series, Carreiro combines a portrait painted by Picasso with an iconic offering from another notable Modern artist suggesting a humorous take on greatness, while the overall effect creates a compelling aesthetic conversation.

Yeon Jin Kim, Plastic Jogakbo #4 (detail) (2019), hand-sewn plastic bags, 56 x 40 inches
Yeon Jin Kim, Plastic Jogakbo #4 (detail) (2019), hand-sewn plastic bags, 56 x 40 inches

Another collector of elements is Yeon Jin Kim, as she updates the traditional Korean art process jogakbos, which is the creation of wrapping cloths from pieces of various fabrics, by using a variety of modern day plastics in place of fabric. In doing so, Kim switches indications of a once male dominated society that insisted on women being frugal, to focus on our big business dominated world of profit and ubiquitous waste. This contrast is both stunning and beautiful, as it sheds light on the fact that no matter how much things change, they in some way stay the same.

Don Doe, Dorothy Twister in Rimini (2021), oil on linen, 38 x 24 inches
Don Doe, Dorothy Twister in Rimini (2021), oil on linen, 38 x 24 inches

Don Doe falls into the multidimensional zone, where collages largely from fashion magazines and ‘mens’ periodicals result in oddly sexual, powerful, simultaneous juxtapositions of euphoria and despair. Having little concern for lining things up anatomically, Doe suggests a nod to the divergent imagery found in film montage, while the clarity in the contrasting bodily forms makes them appear more psychedelic or dreamy. Given all this, Doe manages to create a narrative that represents much of what both excites and represses.

Cecilia Whittaker-Doe, When Summer Went, ink, oil on canvas, 24 x 24 inches
Cecilia Whittaker-Doe, When Summer Went, ink, oil on canvas, 24 x 24 inches

Cecilia Whittaker-Doe brings us something of a kaleidoscopic view of a landscape. By combining multiple perspectives and stylistic approaches on one common surface, Whittaker-Doe leads us down a trail of wisdom and wonder. What really draws the attention of the viewer is her unique interpretation of ‘natural’ color, and how various elements seem to trade hues with adjacent forms. It’s all a puzzle waiting to be solved, or not, as the journey is the message.

Matthew Garrison, Invincible (2009), plastic, newspaper, wood, light bulb, 8 ½ x 11 x 3 inches
Matthew Garrison, Invincible (2009), plastic, newspaper, wood, light bulb, 8 ½ x 11 x 3 inches

Matthew Garrison is known for his experimental approach to media. Using video, photography, paint, found materials, Garrison brings to mind the art movement Arte Povera, with influences more coming from the home computer age than the ‘poor object’ or his predecessors. By employing references to the banal or the everyday, Garrison reintroduces popular culture as near venerable, while his sense of humor tends to guide us into the deeper meaning of his work and the odd possibilities that lie ahead.

Margaret Roleke, Pink (detail) (2022), wire, spent shotgun shells, brass, 15 x 13 x 14 inches
Margaret Roleke, Pink (detail) (2022), wire, spent shotgun shells, brass, 15 x 13 x 14 inches

Margaret Roleke gathers contentious objects to make potent political statements in her desire to prompt positive change. Women’s rights, gun reform, cultural and racial oppression all seem to have some overlap in her prolific, spent cartridge series of sculptures and wall hangings. Which, when displayed in a gallery or museum setting become optical plays on gesture and form. In the end, we are confronted with sheer numbers, of scary symbols all too abundant that have become a sad defining reality.

(So) Happy Together opens January 21st at Artego, 32-88 48th St, Queens, NY 11103. The exhibition closes February 25th. For more information, go to: https://www.studioartego.com/exhibitions/forthcoming/

Top 10 at the 2022 Venice Biennale

by Graciela Cassel

Giardini della Biennale and the Arsenale: Cecilia Alemani curated The Milk of Dreams: The connection Between Bodies and Earth

Sonya Boyce, (Feeling Her Way), British Pavilion
Sonya Boyce, (Feeling Her Way), British Pavilion

Sonia Boyce: Drenches viewers in a rhapsodic kaleidoscope of voice, color and geometry.

Francis Alÿs, ‘Nature of the Game’, Belgium Pavilion
Francis Alÿs,  ‘Nature of the Game’, Belgium Pavilion.
Francis Alÿs, ‘Nature of the Game’, Belgium Pavilion

Francis Alÿs: Gigantic screen projections capture children frolicking in public spaces. Snail races and jump rope games unequivocally switch our minds to a pure state in which laughter and time are without limits.

Uffe Isolotto,’We Walked the Earth’, at the Denmark Pavilion
Uffe Isolotto,’We Walked the Earth’, at the Denmark Pavilion

Uffe Isolotto: A Centaurus near death, an unbearable family story.

Simone Leigh, ‘Sovereignty’, USA Pavilion
Simone Leigh, ‘Sovereignty’, USA Pavilion

Simone Leigh: Leigh allures us to Mother Earth.

Jade Fadojutimi, At that Day She Remembered to Purr, at the Arsenale
Jade Fadojutimi, At that Day She Remembered to Purr, at the Arsenale

Jade Fadojutimi: Harmony and conflict in a fantastical landscape.

Barbara Kruger, ‘Please care, Please Mourn’ at the Arsenal
Barbara Kruger, ‘Please care, Please Mourn’ at the Arsenal

Barbara Kruger: Sound and images: A real blaze for human kindness.

Nan Goldin, Sirens, 2019-2020 at the Padiglioni Centrale
Nan Goldin, Sirens, 2019-2020 at the Padiglioni Centrale

Nan Goldin: Goldin composed this film with found scenes of exhilaration, sexuality, bliss and ravishment.

Monira Al Qadiri, Orbital 2022, at the Arsenale
Monira Al Qadiri, Orbital 2022, at the Arsenale

Monira Al Qadiri: Spinning jewel cities in a Persian Gulf-landscape, beaming mythical stories.

Outside the Biennale: Anish Kapoor and Anselm Kiefer

Anish Kapoor, Pregnant White Within Me, 2022, at the Gallerie dell’Academia

Anish Kapoor: A synergy of science, architecture and humanity.

Anselm Kiefer at the Pallazo Ducale, ‘These writings when burned, will finally cast a light’, 2020-2021

Anselm Kiefer: Daunting memories, Kiefer in dialogue with master painters.

D. Dominick Lombardi: Cross Contamination with Stickers

by Matthew Garrison

D. Dominick Lombardi, CCWS 32 (The Studio) (detail) (2019), acrylic and ink on paper on canvas previously painted in 1986, 40  x 40 inches, all images courtesy of the artist
D. Dominick Lombardi, CCWS 32 (The Studio) (detail) (2019), acrylic and ink on paper on canvas previously painted in 1986, 40  x 40 inches, all images courtesy of the artist

D. Dominick Lombardi’s exhibition, Cross Contamination with Stickers, at Albright College’s Freedman Gallery brings together recent work that implodes linear expectations in art by attaching a subversive cast of characters and abstract forms on stickers to paintings, drawings and objects grounded in traditional techniques and figuration. The sticker imagery emerges from an automatic drawing process where Lombardi allows his hand and mind to move freely on the page, uninhibited, in the creation of bodies, faces and amorphous forms with anatomical implications. A clue to the origins of his stickers is evident in the drawing, D-6-21, where the subconscious is accessed through a constellation of linear characters and intestinal contours. Embedded in the lines are faces, bodies and colonic forms in dialogue with one another, yet isolated in placement and spacing.  The drawings might even be the dissection of a poor soul pinned across the page; each organ animated by its own disposition. While this process has its roots in Surrealism and automatic writing, it also brings to mind the drawings and distracted doodles of teens and the young at heart inspired by underground comics, animation and tattoos. The association of Surrealist history with adolescent attitudes and daydreams is further underscored by Lombardi’s use of satire and dissent in a collision of unruly worlds.    

D. Dominick Lombardi,  D-6-21 (2021), permanent marker on acid free paper, 17 x 14 inches
D. Dominick Lombardi, D-6-21 (2021), permanent marker on acid free paper, 17 x 14 inches

Lombardi’s application of stickers to charcoal drawings, album covers and sculpture brings into sharp contrast the disparate traditions and values embodied by their respective methodologies and subject matter. The figure drawings are repurposed from Lombardi’s demonstrations for students during his twenty-seven years of teaching life drawing. Well executed in composition and representation, they succeed in depicting the likeness and proportions of their subjects. Although, in the context of Lombardi’s work it feels absurd to look at these drawings through a formalist, academic lens. Together the drawings and stickers destabilize the histories and sensibilities behind their realization. Yes, there’s harmony in their composition and hue, but the combined attitudes and methodologies are unsettling. Lombardi negotiates an uncomfortable alliance in his work.  While the figure drawings endeavor to attain classical representation, the stickers undermine these traditions with humorous impropriety; an affront to the well-intentioned studies. Both hold their own by asserting divergent values all the more apparent by their proximity.  

D. Dominick Lombardi, CCWS 99 (detail) (2020), acrylic, ink and charcoal on paper on canvas, 24 x 38 inches
D. Dominick Lombardi, CCWS 99 (detail) (2020), acrylic, ink and charcoal on paper on canvas, 24 x 38 inches

Analogous to graffiti, Lombardi’s stickers bring to mind the “hello my name is” stickers filled in with the swirling, jagged monikers of their makers that dot New York City’s transit system. A misdemeanor tag rarely worth pursuing by the authorities, the graffiti artists interject themselves into the monotonous, engineered aesthetics of commuting. A declaration of self and markers of time, the subway stickers exist until peeled off or worn away.  Lombardi’s stickers, on the other hand, tag an introductory foundations course, life drawing, pitting the traditions of proportion and representation against the raucous attitudes of underground comics.  

D. Dominick Lombardi, CCWS 92 (2020), acrylic, ink and charcoal on paper on canvas, 40 x 36 inches
D. Dominick Lombardi, CCWS 92 (2020), acrylic, ink and charcoal on paper on canvas, 40 x 36 inches

The painting, CCWS 92, exemplifies this tension between dissimilar practices. The canvas consists of six sketches interspersed with black and white stickers. Two of the six are charcoal drawings repurposed from the figure drawing classes and four are studies in marker reminiscent of early 20th century abstraction. Suspended like stalactites across the top are stickers of gelatinous mechanical forms. Throughout the canvas are Lombardi’s ill-behaved characters. Disembodied heads hover over models while exaggerated figures are in dialogue with each other and the models on fields of pink and yellow. Internal organs seem to have developed outside the bodies of some. The best artists instill their unique perspective and spirit irrespective of the subject matter. Lombardi accomplishes this by disrupting the technical origins of the charcoal drawings with stickers rooted in underground pop influences. Lombardi’s fusion of academic concerns with an alternative mindset questions assumptions around “high and low” art by presenting contradicting motivations side by side with equal authority.  

D. Dominick Lombardi, (left) before over-painting and stickers, (right) CCAC-1 (2018), ink on paper and acrylic on album cover, 12 1/2 x 12 ½ inches
D. Dominick Lombardi, (left) before over-painting and stickers, (right) CCAC-1 (2018), ink on paper and acrylic on album cover, 12 1/2 x 12 ½ inches

Humor is central to Contamination with Stickers. For instance, Lombardi has placed stickers in conversation with the remains of imagery and text on album covers. The wit in this work not only stems from connecting disparate aesthetics, but also from his seamless over-painting of elements on the albums.  The humor is subtle, labor-intensive and easy to miss. There’s no Photoshop to assist Lombardi with the detail and time required to remove by hand all the text on a Barry White album, or text and a section of the dock on a Freddy Heimweh cover.  Lombardi’s modifications separate the artists from their personas. Instead, Freddy Heimway is reenvisioned as “Reddy St.” and the faces of both are covered with stickers. Now unrecognizable by most, the album format remains while promotional expectations are subverted with irony and finesse.  

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

The most audacious piece in the show is the freestanding painted assemblage, CCWS 25.  Visitors to the exhibition openly laughed when confronted with its punchline, a rare reaction in the polite confines of an art gallery. The armature of the sculpture consists of plastic bottles from various products and discarded wood objects embedded in a biomorphic paper mâché arrangement. Although the bottles are no longer visible, their origins reference ubiquitous plastic waste and determine the shape of the sculpture with implications of mutation and survival. A table leg serves as one of its legs and the rounded end of a wooden spoon is recast as an ear. The proportions of the sculpture are reminiscent of a teddy bear except here the creature is headless with ears protruding from its torso. A green and yellow appendage in the form of a grapefruit is attached to its side. Stickers of abstract designs punctuate the sculpture. CCWS 25 seems to have taken shape from one of the stickers on a nearby painting. 

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

The sculpture greets its guests with a cheerful, positive demeanor. Its pudgy proportions and stickers function as a comedic buildup to the sculpture’s posterior. Moving around CCWS 25 reveals a cherubic figurine with its face buried in the creature’s buttocks. The discovery is jarring and unnerving. Most will respond to this encounter by recoiling, laughing or both. The conditions are difficult to discern and impossible to ignore. This might even be interpreted as an investigation into sensory deprivation and teamwork. The figurine with arms wide open does not appear to be distressed and, perhaps within the conditions proposed by Lombardi’s exhibition, is in an amenable and unremarkable situation. It’s as though the figures in CCWS 25 and throughout the exhibition need each other to navigate the intractable worlds they inhabit.  

This is where the collision of ideologies in Contamination with Stickers is most subversive. Assurances found in taking sides are called into question. Lombardi destabilizes bias in the exhibition by composing dissimilar characters, values and forms into harmonious pandemonium. Discomfort with the show most likely arises from the assumptions and predilections projected onto the work, while the work itself remains confident in its lively exchange between high and low aesthetics and ethos. Meanwhile, the characters and figures sourced from personal history and internal realms remain in buoyant conversation – happily indifferent to outside decree and assessment. 

D. Dominick Lombardi: Cross Contamination with Stickers runs through December 8th, 2022 at the Freedman Gallery, Albright College, Reading, Pennsylvania.

Debra Priestly: black

by Jen Dragon

© Debra Priestly, hymn, 2022 at Jane St. Art Center, Saugerties, NY
© Debra Priestly, hymn, 2022 at Jane St. Art Center, Saugerties, NY

Saugerties, NY – Debra Priestly’s latest solo exhibition of new paintings, drawings, and sculpture along with an immersive site-specific installation explores the color black in many different ways including as pigment, symbol and potential object.  As a pigment, black richly glows as a matte finish on black vessels 1-3. Free standing in the gallery, these urn-shaped sculptures serve as elegiac cenotaphs with small, modeled faces emerging from around the mouthpiece under a matte black shroud.  In other works, totem 1-3, and hymn, black is a bold, symbolic object that participates in its own geometry and asserts a solid, non-negotiable presence.  

Apart from the metaphysics of the color black, Priestly considers the reductive symbols that are possible in a black and white world. One recurring leit-motif is the humble canning jar.  This ubiquitous kitchen container, used to preserve food over winter and thwart decay, the jar resonates with the analogy of the living body containing the soul, or of the mind preserving memory. In mattoon 17.1-17.9, Debra Priestly places black cut paper silhouettes of mundane objects in a square of paper lace meticulously cut with traditional floral patterns and encompassing the form of this canning jar. The black objects set inside the jar can be identified as a vinyl record, a cup, a roll of string, or an egg, but are so redacted that they emerge as the essential symbols of larger meaning. The flat 78 rpm record can represent the geometry of a planet’s circumnavigation; the cup becomes a symbol of offering and the string, the gyration of objects in response to gravity. These mysterious objects placed on an intricate representation of handmade lace references the clarity of overall design carefully balanced on the realities of painstaking execution – and the delicate dance between what is and what is not.

black (installation view) © Debra Priestly, 2022 at Jane St. Art Center, Saugerties, NY
black (installation view) © Debra Priestly, 2022 at Jane St. Art Center, Saugerties, NY

The most open-ended of Priestly’s works are the studies for black totem 1 -3 and her large, site-specific  installation, black. The 12” x 9” inch multiple studies for black totem 1-3 are the scaffolding for a proposed group of three 7-foot high free-standing pillars made from ceramic components. Reduced to simple black and gray geometric shapes, this “blueprint” has gaps which invite the viewer to complete with their mind. The depth of the spaces created by the totems oscillates from near to far creating a physical sensation within the viewer as they experience proposed objects of towering height. Standing alone, these inked sheets of paper record the process of symbol to eventual substance. 

black (installation view) © Debra Priestly, 2022 at Jane St. Art Center, Saugerties, NY
black (installation view) © Debra Priestly, 2022 at Jane St. Art Center, Saugerties, NY

black is a site-specific installation unique to Jane St. Art Center. This elegant, light-filled performance space has been completely darkened with the smallest illumination perceptible at the farthest end of the stage. The strange smell of tar paper guides the viewer’s bared feet towards a miniature display supporting a circle of tiny sculpture stands, each displaying a miniature form. These minute turntables encircle the smallest one in the center of the diorama and seem to give it their full attention. The drama of the low light and the naturally enveloping black environment make for mysterious interpretations with a simultaneous sense of both utter vastness and particular miniaturization. In this installation, black serves as a comforting presence as an invisible audience is slowly imagined while the tiny theater itself slowly evolves.

patoka hill 26 © Debra Priestly, 2022
patoka hill 26 © Debra Priestly, 2022

Debra Priestly’s artwork is ultimately about dimensional shifts and associative illusions to create the magic of space. What may sum up the entire exhibition is the mixed media on panel, patoka hill 26. The only painting in this exhibition, pakota hill 26 depicts the ancient game of snakes and ladders. The game was originally a game of morality where snakes represent “envy” and “jealousy”, (vices) while ladders represent virtues such as “charity” and “kindness”. In this ubiquitous child’s game, the roll of the dice can send the player up the ladder to win and another roll can just as easily send that player all the way back to the beginning via the snakes – and throughout these ups and downs in Priestly’s painting are the attendant canning jars that simultaneously hold all memory, space and being. 

Debra Priestly: black (September 17 – October 23, 2022) at Jane St. Art Center, 11 Jane Street Suite A, Saugerties NY  12477 (845) 217-5715. www.janestreetartcenter.com