Where to Draw the Line at OneWay Gallery

by D. Dominick Lombardi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tale of Auguste’s Brain

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Magnetic Field @ MFA (Museum of Fine Arts)

Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today
Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today, Installation View, Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida, Photo: Courtesy of the author

Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today: Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida

by D. Dominick Lombardi

Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today, which celebrates “the contributions of black women in the field of abstract art”, is a wonderful and stunning exhibition that features many powerful examples of Abstract Art. Walking through the exhibition, I am immediately struck by both the diversity and depth of the selections and the overall scale of the exhibition. Having seen the work of Chakaia Booker many times before, I am very happy to see and experience her work again, especially in this context. El Gato (2001), a rubber tire and wood sculpture that is totally textural and profoundly present, simultaneously challenges and captivates the viewer with waves of wild shapes and fluid gestures.

On the opposite end of the exhibition stands another fascinating sculpture by Shinique Smith. Bale Variant No. 0012 (2015) combines a number of fabrics and materials forming a column-like bale of moments and memories. Clustered and tied in the shape of a tall square column, it immediately becomes a monument to diversity, while the recent images of displaced peoples, especially in Syria may make one think of homelessness and flight. When looking at this work I also think of the old cars and station wagons I have seen over the past few decades packed solid with endless belongings that house marginalized families and individuals who have lost their homes. So we have a message in “Bale Variant No. 0012” that can be both a celebration and a warning, depending on where the viewer’s mind and thoughts happen to be.

Mildred Thompson, American (1936—2003), Magnetic Fields
Mildred Thompson, American (1936—2003), Magnetic Fields, 1991, Oil on canvas, Courtesy of the Mildred Thompson Estate, Atlanta, Georgia, © The Mildred Thompson Estate, Atlanta, Georgia

Mildred Thompson offers Untitled (Wood Picture) (1966), a simple, but elegant work of art that subtly guides the viewer’s attention in and upward as the quietly shifting shapes glide through our awareness. A large painting by Thompson, Magnetic Fields (1991), shows her innate ability to mix very complex thoughts and theories with elusive and intuitive gestures. Nanette Carter’s Cantilevered #14 (2014), which is comprised of collaged bits of oil on Mylar, has a distinctive structure that suggests a battle between a ‘living’ geology and an uninspired architect’s desire to command nature results this work’s feeling of turmoil. On the other hand, the shifting patterns created by the brushed lines, which easily achieved on the slippery Mylar surface, have a sort of Jazzy-Cubist feel.

Abigail Deville’s Harlem Flag (2014) is a miraculous medley of many media including sheetrock, a door and an American flag that speaks volumes about the history of Harlem and New York City in general – a place that has gone through many intolerable times and tragic moments. I can imagine that some will have a tough time getting passed the flag being used in this way, but it does symbolize, in this instance, the degradation and abuses of a people that will forever mark our history and unfortunately reflect our present and future.

Deborah Dancy’s two mixed works on paper from 2015, Winter Into Spring 2 and Winter Into Spring 4 are meant to express the changing seasons from a cold colorless winter to the hopeful hues of spring. My initial reaction and perhaps what I am leaving here with is more of a coming out, a release from the dark shadowy boundaries one might crawl out from under whether they are physical, emotional or mental constraints.

Howardena Pindell’s mixed media on canvas Autobiography: Japan (Shisen-Do, Kyoto) (1982) features multicolored hole-punched paper to create its curious tactile quality, while post cards and exhibition invitations imbedded here and there are actually a way for the artist to replenish her memory loss. Not knowing this at first, I saw the work as very organic, playful even, while the composition and shape suggests the centrifugal forces that result from a spinning motion. I also see a contrast in the surface, which is something like freshly mixed concrete with a course aggregate, with the collage elements sinking in. Perhaps my reaction is not all that far from the artist’s intent, as her memory is literally disappearing.

The title of Brenna Youngblood’s mixed media painting Yardguard (2015) is an obvious reference to the painted chain-link fence that corrals the composition. What ends up happening here is the dabs of paint, probably a water-soluble paint that are sprayed or splashed with water, spread, run and stain the surface. The resulting dreaminess, albeit highly abstracted, reminds me of Odilon Redon, giving this piece its surreal undertones – an unusual composition to be sure, but a very effective one.

Candida Alvarez, (American, b. 1955)
Candida Alvarez, (American, b. 1955), black cherry pit, 2009, Acrylic on canvas, Courtesy of the artist, Chicago, Illinois, © Candida Alvarez. Photo: Tom van Eynde

The oil on canvas titled Solitude (1963) by Mavis Pusey also has a jazzy aspect. The canvas, which looks more like jute or burlap, probably looks that way because the artist did an umber paint rub, probably thinned with stand oil, into the texture of the coarse canvas. This is important as the red and brownish black that is applied in distinct, razor sharp shapes seem to float above the surface by contrast. Candida Alvarez offers an acrylic on canvas titled black cherry pit (2009) that is quite Popish in its abstraction, with its very fluid and active composition. Overall, there is a distinctive push/pull here, a clashing of worlds – or should I say a coalescing of worlds – dominated by an overall positive atmosphere disrupted with a few curious twists and turns.

Sylvia Snowden’s June 12 (1992) has a soupy, frothy mix of paint swirls and pours that culminate in a fiery mix that almost totally obscures the background. The acrylic, which is heavy and many layers thick, shines under the museum lights adding to its rich surface texture. Jennie C. Jones has three Minimalist type works. The sound absorbing panels used in the assembling of this work to the artist, speaks of: “long unacknowledged contributions of African American musicians and jazz music to the broader American popular culture.” Not knowing this before I read the wall text – I see more of a sense of meditation – the freeing voids experienced and a subtle but sure tactile awareness one might sense when one’s thoughts are clear and a truer reality or presence of mind emerges.

Betty Blayton’s Consume 12 (1969) is an oil painting on paper mounted on canvas that projects veils of thought or consciousness. The circular shape of the canvas, a tondo, gives this work a more dream-like orientation, while the way in which the artist works, applying shards of paper loosely across the surface, then painting over them with additional thin washes, has a most alluring and mysterious narrative.

Barbara Chase-Riboud (American, b. 1939), Malcolm X #13
Barbara Chase-Riboud (American, b. 1939), Malcolm X #13, 2008, Black bronze, silk, wool, linen, synthetic fibers, Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC, New York, NY, © Barbara Chase-Riboud. Photo: Joshua Nefsky

Barbara Chase-Riboud’s Malcom X #13 (2008) is meant as a monument to a “transformative individual” in Malcom X. In this tall bronze abstraction we see a soul embellished with silk, wool, linen and synthetic rope – a commanding, albeit twisting form that stands firm against all foes. There are many symbols here, some obvious, others obscure, but the overall feel is a figure that is monk-like in its beliefs and steadfast in its convictions. Kianja Strobert’s Charmer (2016) is something like an otherworldly Lee Bontecou from the 1950s or 60s’, while “Racism is Like Rain, Either it’s Raining or it’s Gathering Somewhere”, a mixed media painting by Mary Lovelace O’Neal, has a distinct and ominous storm brewing against a shroud of darkness. Here, the looming giant forms on the right are menacing mangled masses all twisted and in turmoil in mind and body.

Maren Hassinger’s Wrenching News (2008), which is comprised of a number of gathered, rolled or coiled newspaper pages that featured information about the days following post Katrina, sits on a low, round platform. Here, we see the frustration of many across our land who could only watch in horror as the poor and disenfranchised of the New Orleans area were all too slowly rescued in a painful play of reality – a reality most of us will never forget.

Lilian Thomas Burwell’s mysterious Winged Autumn (2007), a wall mounted sculpture or relief that has obvious references to flight or buoyancy offers a sense of hope, while Evangeline “EJ” Montgomery’s two offset lithographs have very fluid all-over compositions that are quite mesmerizing. Alma Woodsey Thomas, who is “a pioneer in abstraction and the elder in this exhibition” has in Orion (1973) a freedom of form and space that reminds me of the earth’s rotation seen when photographing night sky stars in long exposures. By painting the ‘night sky’ red with what looks like stately tree trunks reflected in calm water, Woodsey Thomas brings multiple worlds and dimensions together in one profound work.

Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today, an exhibition that originated at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City Missouri, ends August 5th.

Magnetic Fields

Water Over the Bridge: Contemporary Seascapes

Holly Sears, Swimmers (2011), oil on paper
Holly Sears, Swimmers (2011), oil on paper, laminated on board, 20 x 26 inches, Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

 

by Julie Garisto

Considering the scope of climate change, it really begs the question why more artists aren’t tackling the subject.

Fortunately, we’re seeing a sea change. Artists from the Sunshine State (and others) are assuming the mantle for bringing attention to a subject that is as dire as it is censored – heck, the words “climate change” are even forbidden from being included in official documents, a mandate from Gov. Rick Scott.

At the Morean Arts Center, the comprehensive exhibition Water over the Bridge: Contemporary Seascapes displays both accessible and challenging works in a staggering variety of media. Curated by D. Dominick Lombardi of Valhalla, N.Y., and Amanda Cooper, the Morean’s Curator of Exhibitions, it’s a must-see for anyone who cares about supporting visual art and gaining perspective on the environment.

“Contemporary artists can very often be like the canary in the coalmine warning of the presence of deadly gases,” Lombardi wrote in the exhibition’s program. “Artists can bring to light the changes in sea levels, and the industries that contribute to the problem by simply exposing, with visual and written references, a very troubling reality that we are in the thick of a political battle for our very future, and the futures of the animals and plants we love.”

Rieko Fujinami, Invisible Site (2016), engraving on plexiglas
Rieko Fujinami, Invisible Site (2016), engraving on plexiglas, 45 x 60 iches, Photo: Courtesy of Dale Leifeste

Artists helping meet Lombardi’s objective include Kate Helms, Kenny Jensen, Selina Roman, Anne Bowen, Babs Reingold, Carolina Cleere, Margaret LeJeune and Rieko Fujinami.

While some may flinch when invited to a climate change-focused exhibition for fear of a heavy-handed downer experience, “Water over the Bridge” does much more. It elevates the discussion, offering as much that’s life affirming as is foreboding. It provides humor and whimsicality as well as punch-you-in-the-gut pathos.

“If you look at works by Don Doe, Bill Gusky, Scott Hatt, Dale Leifeste, China Marks and Selina Roman, you will see that they are raising our awareness of rising sea levels with a bit of humor,” Lombardi elaborates. “I also believe that we have to be thankful for the not-for-profit institutions like the Morean that will mount challenging shows that raise important issues like climate change. Since not-for-profits do not have to rely on selling the work they exhibit, they can show art that goes beyond saccharine seascapes and landscapes. Living in New York I am no stranger to rubberneck delays on highways. It’s a shame there is such great interest in slowing down to look at the carnage of a car accident across a roadway, while issues about the environment have become a nasty political battle.”

China Marks, Game Day in Oceana (2018)
China Marks, Game Day in Oceana (2018), fabric, lace, thread, colored stone, fusible adhesive, 27 x 34 inches, Photo: Courtesy of the artist

According to her artist statement, Kate Helms calls attention to the “parroted paradise … born of stout St. Augustine grass, primly planted medians, perfectly spaced palms, and gracefully arcing sprinkler showers.” Her works are “united by a desire to question cultural attitudes about the fabricated environments we inhabit and fetishize to the point of precarious delusion.”

Her installation Colony 1 proposes a creepy hypothetical scenario; it foresees the future state of an antique chair in an opulent Florida living room after its been submerged for decades — the chair’s once opulence is reduced to an absurd oddity as realistically crafted barnacles overtake it. It’s both a poignant and humorous look at how nature may conquer us if we don’t stop abusing it.

“I haven’t lost all hope and you shouldn’t either,” Helms said during her recent gallery talk at the Morean, adding that her work is not intended as a death knell but a call to action.  A Stormwater Program Administrator for the City of Largo, the scientist/artist has painstakingly tracked the effects of runoff and expresses no doubt that climate change is human-influenced.

According to her artist statement, Kate Helms calls attention to the “parroted paradise … born of stout St. Augustine grass, primly planted medians, perfectly spaced palms, and gracefully arcing sprinkler showers.” Her works are “united by a desire to question cultural attitudes about the fabricated environments we inhabit and fetishize to the point of precarious delusion.”

Her installation Colony 1 proposes a creepy hypothetical scenario; it foresees the future state of an antique chair in an opulent Florida living room after its been submerged for decades — the chair’s once opulence is reduced to an absurd oddity as realistically crafted barnacles overtake it. It’s both a poignant and humorous look at how nature may conquer us if we don’t stop abusing it.

“I haven’t lost all hope and you shouldn’t either,” Helms said during her recent gallery talk at the Morean, adding that her work is not intended as a death knell but a call to action.  A Stormwater Program Administrator for the City of Largo, the scientist/artist has painstakingly tracked the effects of runoff and expresses no doubt that climate change is human-influenced.

Kate Helms, Colony 1 (2016)
Kate Helms, Colony 1 (2016), resin, cloth, sandpaper and found chaise, 74 x 28 x 35 inches. Photo Courtesy of Dale Leifeste

Babs Reingold’s mixed-media installation The Last Sea mirrors a more current reality, one that harks viral videos of wildlife strangled by plastic bags — a canoe filled with flaccid, nondescript small stuffed animal corpses and strewn with plastic litter. In addition, one of Reingold’s Luna Ladders hangs overboard. From one perspective, it denotes a “jump ship” attitude like those of wealthy people who believe they can just colonize Mars. On the other hand, the ladder could intimate one last hope for survival. Adding a touch of dark humor, the boat’s name, the piece’s title, spelled out in a boat name painted whimsically in a recognizable 1950s-style semi-cursive font. It’s a light touch on a dark piece. Ultimately, The Last Sea offers a chilling scenario, a proposition of the last major body of water on Earth. Its theme, a progression of Babs Reingold’s series “The Last Tree,” takes its inspiration from Jared Diamond‘s 2004 TedEx talk, when he asks, “What was the person who cut down the last tree on Easter Island thinking?”

Babs Reingold, The Last Sea (2018)
Babs Reingold, The Last Sea (2018), mixed media, dimensions variable, Photo: Courtesy of Dale Leifeste

The ideal exhibition to bring teens and tween students to, Water over the Bridge engages and elicits critical thinking and discourse; a highly prescriptive antidote to reactive social networking and comment-board trolling.

“This exhibition does succeed as a kind of protest,” Co-curator Amanda Cooper says in the brochure for the show. “If you ever thought about land conservation and wondered why it was important or whether you should care about it — one only has to look at these paintings to see what we stand to lose. Sometimes a beautifully and lovingly crafted work of art speaks louder than a megaphone.”

In tandem, The Morean Arts Center is also presenting a solo exhibition by an established artist who places an emphasis on the joy and wonder we feel while encountering nature. “Leslie Neumann: Manna from Heaven … and Earth,” shows the trajectory of an established artist and conservationist‘s work over a long period of time, focusing on the beauty of nature vs. our troubling current events.

Arguably the world’s most urgent problem, climate change not only hits close to home on both the figurative and literal level, but offers a number of philosophical quandaries to explore — from the most elemental of human needs to more abstract, complex issues around stewardship of our planet, morality and evolution.

Editor’s Note:

That climate is changing is generally without dispute. The crux of the issue between believers in manmade warming and skeptics of the impact by human activity on the planet, is the extent to which either human or non-human factors shape our environment. “The science is settled” orthodoxy of climate alarmism took a political broadside with the change in U.S. administration. Even with the departure EPA’s Scott Pruitt, the likelihood of returning to Obama-era environmental regulations are slim to none.  At the centre of the debate are the atomic structures that make up our atmosphere. In a recent posting on www.icecapus Steve Graham cites that “Carbon dioxide is a trace gas. Only four of every 10,000 molecules in our atmosphere are CO2 and the amount that human industry could have added over all of our history is only a fraction of one of those four molecules.” Sea levels aren’t rising. The polar icecaps are not melting. Historically we’ve been as warm or warmer in past ages. So go the arguments. Let us know where you stand.  – Steve Rockwell

Industry City Meets M. C. Escher

M. C. Escher, Relativity, Lithograph
M. C. Escher, Relativity, Lithograph, Private Collection, Usa, All M. C. Escher Works @ 2018 The M. C. Escher Company. All rights reserved www.mcescher.com
by D. Dominick Lombardi

M. C. Escher (1898-1972) has been a favorite of mine since the 1960s when that decade’s psychedelic, counter-culture mindset saw common ground in his transformative work. Escher’s art made it possible for all of us to see the impossible, to experience dimensions of space and time that were previously unimaginable. He combined math, architecture and science with a unique aesthetic in viewing the world around him, as it all coalesced in his brilliant mind resulting in the creation of a good number of incredibly iconic images.

I was lucky enough to have visited galleries in SoHo as a young man in the early to mid 1970s when the Vorpal Gallery on West Broadway held a handful of Escher exhibitions. Just beginning my journey as a fine artist, I was fortunate to have seen his brilliance at a time when I had such a great need for seeing anything and everything profoundly intriguing, wildly enlightening and fully thought provoking and Escher’s art fit those categories perfectly.

So here I am, almost 45 years later in an adjacent borough in Industry City Brooklyn, where I find myself at the press preview of Escher: The Exhibition & Experience thanks to my correspondence with fellow art industry professional, Loredana Amenta. The exhibition, which winds through a number of adjoining rooms is beautifully installed and perfectly lit to maximize the experience of seeing such a vast array of the master’s work. Curators Mark Veldhuysen and Federico Giudiceandrea, working with Italy’s premiere elite exhibition producer Arthemisia and Architect Corrado Anselmi the exhibition comes alive with interactive and participatory highlights that get visitors right into the middle of the mindset.

M. C. Escher, Hand with Reflecting Sphere, Lithograph
M. C. Escher, Hand with Reflecting Sphere, Lithograph, Private Collection, Usa, All M. C. Escher Works @ 2018 The M. C. Escher Company. All rights reserved www.mcescher.com

Most successful is the clear and intuitive timeline used that includes Escher’s most famous mind-bending works such as Drawing Hands (1948); Metamorphosis II (1939-40), a woodcut that took 20 blocks to produce this miraculous mix of patterns and transitions across a span of over 12 ½ feet; the hauntingly precise Eye (1946); Relativity (1953), along with similar works represented here that have influenced many artists since, including the makers of the feature film Inception (2010); the mesmerizingly beautiful Three Worlds (1955); and perhaps his best known work Hand with Reflecting Sphere (1935), which is accompanied by an interactive installation where visitors can see themselves in the same composition.

M. C. Escher, Three Worlds, Lithograph
M. C. Escher, Three Worlds, Lithograph, Private Collection, Usa, All M. C. Escher Works @ 2018 The M. C. Escher Company. All rights reserved www.mcescher.com

But don’t get me wrong, this noble effort and installation is not just Escher’s greatest hits. This exhibition is a fully realized; an all-inclusive retrospective featuring everything from his early stunners such as The Second Day of Creation (The Division of the Waters) (1925), where you can feel the cold conundrum of a violent sea being ravaged by rain; to Print Gallery (1956), where Escher himself could not solve the center of this twisting composition. There are preliminary sketches where he is working out his composition and the woodblocks themselves, where you can see just how, why and where he made his incredibly precise cuts. I could go on and on, but my best advice is not to miss this most important exhibition. We all need some time to get away from the day-to-day politics and general upheaval on all sides and get our sense of wonder back and this is the place. Escher: The Exhibition & Experience is located at Industry City, 34 34th Street, Building 6, Brooklyn, NY.

Phonic Rhythms

Sean Sullivan at Jack Hanley Gallery in New York City

by Gae Savannah
Jack Hanley Gallery, Sean Sullivan
Sean Sullivan, á ùne éa: No. 1-15, 2018, oil on found paper, dimensions variable

A medley of riffs, measured out and then not. In “á ùne éa, #1-15,” musical bar lines form initial structures. Wayward marks though, soon follow. Through Sean Sullivan’s guileless delight in clumsy shapes and patterns, a language of flaw emerges. Included are two printmaking matrices, post oil-transfer process. They have a muffled softness, invoking a state of being, deep in non-verbal, right brain. Elsewhere, crisply printed, orange and green fragments embody the buoyant feelings of up-tempo music. Overall, Sullivan’s understatement brings to mind a Jarmusch film (say, Stranger than Paradise). Jarmusch forgoes high action, alternately crafting the screenplay out of the uneventful scenes that would end up on the cutting floor of a Hollywood blockbuster. Slowly engrossing like a French film such as Tous Les Matins du Monde, this group muses on the quiet satisfaction of making something by hand. Smudges from the rubbing process acknowledged, the work conveys a humanity.

Jack Hanley Gallery, Sean Sullivan
Sean Sullivan, Sunset (for Albers), 2018, solo print

Another solo print, Sunset (for Albers), presents an elusive chromafield. With no lines, just furry, subtlly wandering edges, the wide-horizontal composition feels spacious, expansive. One’s eyes roam, scanning the color chord on the left side, (warm orange/light Indian Red/cool orange). We note the smooth, oil-pastel chromahaze floating the top layer. Grounding the piece is a dense blue-black area. Its marred surface appears organic like the skin of a whale, bringing sentience to geometric art. Then coming into our awareness is a central coral overlay, which counters any insinuation of broader space or interior architecture. Without knowing it, we are beamed out of the corporeal and into an arcane mental space, a Sugimoto-unreadable theater of the mind.

Where Art and History Will Bring You Back

The historic Monthaven Arts and Cultural Center, or Leonard B. Fite House in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Photo courtesy Monthaven Arts and Cultural Center

Autumn de Forest at the Monthaven Arts and Cultural Centre in Hendersonville, Tennessee

by Steve Rockwell

On a sunny August day it’s a beautiful drive for some 18 Tennessee miles into the country from Nashville to get to Monthaven, a historic home in Hendersonville. Chances are that you’ll step on Johnny Cash Parkway at some point, the city’s main road. To the best of my knowledge, more recent residents of note, the likes of Kelly Clarkson and Taylor Swift don’t have parkways named after them as yet.

The property saw some Civil War action, skirmishes at least, having just been built as the conflict erupted, and subsequently pressed into service as a field hospital. The building now houses galleries and the offices of the Hendersonville Arts Council, who’s stated mission it is to collect, preserve and interpret local and regional art, the facility presenting exhibits of regional, national and international importance. To spend solitary quiet time in the historic rooms of Monthaven and not sense the fleeting passage of a Civil War ghost or two is next to impossible. The blame for this may lay in the building’s bucolic setting. In the stillness, reminders of Monthaven’s history come in the whispers and creaks of its walls and floors. The arts center wrapped these qualities appropriately into their slogan: Where Art and History Will Bring You Back.

Monthaven exhibition
Director Cheryl Strichik (left) at the opening of Autumn de Forest’s Monthaven exhibition. Image courtesy Park West Foundation

The focus of my journey was to view Her White Room: The Art of Autumn de Forest, an exhibition of more than 60 of her paintings. This would be the first show in the state of Tennessee by the young artist. A much anticipated component of the event were master classes conducted by Autumn with area art students ages five-to-twelve and high school. The MACC mandate has a provison for art instruction spanning pre-school to adult, and the facility operates at capacity. Director Cheryl Strichik said, “We run about a hundred kids upstairs monthly and we can only fit so many kids up there.”

Autumn de Forest, White Room exhibition at Monthaven Arts and Cultural Center
Installation view of Autumn de Forest’s Her White Room exhibition at Monthaven Arts and Cultural Center. Image courtesy Park West Foundation

“Autumn de Forest inspired me,” said Strichik. “I’m a 64 year old woman and she made me want to soar! She had that effect on all of us. Her art was crisp yet funky, sharp and soft, colorful yet gray. She put hearts on her paintings and painted rows of big poppy’s or so I called them! She painted cool American flags and paintings of sneakers. Who does this? Only someone like Autumn. When she left here all the kids could not quit talking about her. One girl from her class she gave here, portrayed Autumn at her school for their Wax Museum Day. She dressed like her and did pigtails and held a painting she had done of Barbie. She certainly was loved by our adult patrons also, as I have promised her return in 2019/20 so they can do a master class with her! I must say after Autumn left we were even more committed to obtaining the land around us to build our educational arts facility.” As an update, the land has been by now signed for and Monthaven is closer to their dream of a free standing arts building.

Autumn de Forest, Monthaven master class
Autumn de Forest demonstrating painting techniques at her Monthaven master class. Image courtesy Park West Foundation

De Forest’s approach to teaching is hands on. There is a sense of teacher and student working from the ground up. She draws from her working experience, sharing openly her own success and, more importantly, her signature way of imparting the enthusiasm born out of the pleasure of her own eureka moments. While the technique, or how-to aspect of the young artist’s teaching method may be the door-opener for a young student, there is also a budding philosophy behind it. De Forest states it this way, “I feel as though creating is honestly what makes the world interesting – what makes it not black and white, but rather beautiful and fantastic, and curious. I believe that art is what makes you see the world differently.” It is, perhaps, this open-eyed innocence that resonnates with her peers, standing in opposition to the worldly irony and cynicism that informs much of contemporary art.

Essentially, de Forest coaxes the innner child out of the child, as exemplified by her direction, “Now here’s the fun part of it, you can do whatever you want. So, the first thing I am going to do here is wet the canvas with a yellow, and then take some red and some orange, and I’m just kind a goin’ for it, not being super careful. You’re painting may not turn out to be exactly what you thought it might be – but it might be even better.” The threshold for the adult, is of course, the stifling fear of making a mistake, countered here instead by de Forest with the possibility of somethng great. Maybe so, maybe not. There’s the fun – art becomes a joyride. In one her videos posted almost ten years ago, de Forest chirps in her eight-year-old voice, “You can make it as crazy as you want. Just tell a story.”

Autumn de Forest
Autumn de Forest demonstrating painting techniques at her Monthaven master class. Images courtesy Park West Foundation

It’s worth keeping in mind that de Forest, having begun her art in earnest at the age of five, is in some respescts, already a ten-year artworld veteran, with gallery representation and numerous museum exhibitons padding her CV. At an auction in February 2010 de Forest sold over $100 000 in paintings within 16 minutes. She was only eight at the time. One of her paintings went for $25,000.

De Forest is represented by Park West Gallery, reportedly the largest privately-owned art gallery in the world, laying the claim to more than two million customers since 1969.  Sponsorship for de Forest’s Monthaven exhibit was provided by the Park West Foundation. Established in 2006 by Albert and Mitsie Scaglione, it began by supporting youth that aged out of the foster care system in Southeastern Michigan.

In her mission statement, Diane Pandolfi, Director of Park West Foundation describes the foundation’s mandate in terms very much in sync with de Forest’s contribution to the work. “As a former educator, I always believed in focusing on growing children in every area of their development, including the provision of rich experiences in the fine and performing arts. Art education goes to our core as human beings. It allows us to view and perceive the world in a way that is unique and differentiated. The arts allow us to get in touch with our inner souls as human beings and enjoy a deep level of beauty expressed as only the arts can do.”

This past April Monthaven opened an exhibition featuring another Park West artist, Alexander Renoir, great-grandson of master impressionist artist Pierre Auguste Renoir. Beauty Remains, has on display 40 or so of Renoir’s works, primarily oils on canvas.  Among those will be a painting Renoir has created specifically for the Tennessee exhibition entitled, Moonlight and Magnolias, depicting a view of historic Monthaven, the 1860s mansion built in the late Victorian Greek Revival style.

In June Monthaven Arts and Cultural Center opens a show with about 15 American veteran artists that have used art as a healing process from PTSD. Assistance for the vets was provided by a group called CREATIVETS who funded the vets’classes at the Chicago Art Institute. Herein lies the power of art to engage and integrate a person on multiple levels. As such, it gets to the root of creativity – to bring into existence something entirely new, something that didn’t exist before. That in itself has to be life-affirming.

A student showing off her work at a Monthaven master class
A student showing off her work at a Monthaven master class conducted by Autumn de Forest. Image courtesy Park West Foundation

The encouragement to create, when sparked by the enthusiasm of youth is infectious. De Forest’s success with her peers is understandable: “It’s my passion to help people with their art. My entire goal is to change the world for the better with my artwork, and this is one of my ventures in doing so, that by telling, or teaching, or just showing that whatever you love, you can do it too, whether it is painting, whether it is drawing, or sketching, or designing. Whatever it is, if it’s creative, if it is work in your mind, or in your body, whatever your passion is, you can do it too. Just don’t focus on how good you are, focus on how much you love it. “

dArtles

by Steve Rockwell

It has been nearly 15 years since dArt magazine has stuck its digital fingers into the design and look of its online presence. It’s hardly late-breaking news that the torrent of information flowing through our devices is ever-massing. Its invasive waves lap freely into our private and public spaces. Much to the annoyance of any attendant host, a popular course at restaurant and dinner parties is digital streamfeed. True, the yen of it does offer a nourishment of a kind, but generally it comes at a social price, where its consumer is consumed in return. Yet, therein lies its power, a peculiar kind of omniscience – a social network that alternately connects and divides.

As co-publisher of the Toronto-focused publication artoronto.ca,  along with dArt editorial contributor Emese Krunák-Hajagos, and Gallery 1313 director Phil Anderson, we have come to value the flexibility of Word Press as a platform. My aim has not been to reinvent the digital wheel, but  rather seek the most efficient way to upload content. As it has been with the print version of dArt from the outset, content ought to trump clever design licks. This is not to say that this particular online incarnation is carved in stone. As the old modernist maxim averred, “form follows function.” dArt online will have to prove itself by living up to the old hackneyed credo.

D. Dominick Lombardi suggests that: “dArt International magazine’s on-line component will allow our practicing artist/writers to better cover more exhibitions without losing our ability to express our thoughts not just on the big blockbuster shows, but to continue to embrace the out-of-the-way towns and cities that have vital and thriving art scenes. Since most of our contributors are practicing professional artists, they tend to have a far different way of looking at art critically than someone who hasn’t picked up a brush, chisel or piece of charcoal since college. We know what it takes to go from inspiration, through the process of numerous challenges and decisions to the creation of something that can expose our deepest thoughts and fears. Artists put it all out there, and we know and appreciate what it takes to make the plunge into the studio and out into the public arena.”

Anyone who is an attentive reader of the Editorial Contributors column of dArt will readily learn that dArt’s U.S. editor, D. Dominick Lombardi is a serial curator. Here is a quote lifted straight from the said column “Since 1978, Lombardi has curated over 100 exhibitions in a variety of museums and galleries.” Do the math and we get a number averaging nearly three shows a year. At first glance, that may not seem like a lot – but every year for four straight decades – please! Where do you get the energy? Since no one seems able to curb Lombardi’s curating enthusiasm, we asked him to outline his ongoing curatorial projects. Here is the plan as stated in his own words:

China Marks, art, D. Dominick Lombardi
Art by China Marks for the Lombardi co-curated exhibition Water Over the Bridge at the Morean Arts Centre in St. Petersburg, Florida

“The group exhibition I have opening this May at the Morean Arts Center in St Petersburg, Florida, Water Over the Bridge, is the third of three shows that look at how the contemporary artist is responding to the landscape, the environment and climate change. The first show, Pattern Power, Chaos and Quiet, opened this past February at the Housatonic Museum of Art in Bridgeport, CT. The second, Natural Impact, was held at the Arsenal Gallery in New York City from March 8th through April 26th.

Stephen Cook, art, D. Dominick Lombardi
Artwork by Stephen Cook featured on the poster for the Lombardi curated show Where to Draw the Line.

Coming up this spring and fall is an exhibition I am curating for Lichtundfire, which is located in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. That exhibition, Parallel Fields, will show how three artists extrapolate their thoughts and observations, building a very personal iconography that nicely balance mystery with clarity. In September I will have the second version of Where to Draw the Line, a show that had its first installment at the Walter Wickiser Gallery in Chelsea from March 31st to April 25th. This second show will be held at OneWay Gallery in Narragansett, Rhode Island, and will feature the work of thirteen artists including four from the gallery’s current roster. That one opens September 14th. Then it’s out to Brooklyn for a photo-based exhibition at SRO gallery where I will select works that utilize photography in some way, while challenging the boundaries of what one would expect to see when considering the photographic image. The title of this group exhibition is pending.”

Picking Cherries in Miami

Top Ten at the Miami Art Fairs

by Gae Savannah

Pulse art fair
Amanda Marchand

1.  Amanda Marchand
Traywick Contemporary  PULSE
Photography newly reckoned as essence.
Intangible tangible

Marisabela Telleria

2.  Marisabela Telleria
Galeria Isabela Aninat Untitled
Inquiry into absence spawns inscrutable presence.

art Miami fairs
Mariela Scafati

3.  Mariela Scafati
Galeria Isla Flotante  Art Basel
Throwing space in flux, a standout room
of canted canvases 
calls out staid art.

art Miami fairs
Noah Loesberg: resin sculptures

4. Noah Loesberg
Robert Henry Contemporary  PULSE
Industrial to aesthetic, a structurology of production.

art Miami fairs
Chip Hughes

5.  Chip Hughes  Kerry Schuss   NADA
Redolent of material sensation, paint speaks
an uncanny language of fabric.

art Miami fairs
Kim Young Hun

6. Kim Young Hun
Paik Hae Young Gallery Art Miami
Between analog and digital, striated taffy waves
peak and fade.

art fairs Miami
Yann Gerstberger

7.  Yann Gerstberger
OMR  Art Basel Miami Beach
Weaving dimensions of physical and incorporeal space,
escort-birds and spirits frolic.

art fairs Miami
Dirk Salz

8.  Dirk Salz
Jörg Heitsch Galerie   Context
Through resin, gossamer layers gleam.

art fairs Miami
Ben Goddard

9.  Ben Goddard
ArtHelix  Aqua
A window into the glazed oblivion-house of America.

art fairs Miami NADA
John McAllister

10. John McAllister
James Fuentes   NADA
Rhapsodic hue.  Inner euphoria of nature and home.

Mitchell/Riopelle: Nothing in Moderation

Musée national des beaux-art du Québec, Québec City, Québec, October 12, 2018 – January 7, 2018 Art Gallery Ontario, Toronto, Ontario, February 18 – May 6, 2018

by Emese Krunák-Hajagos

On my way to this exhibition I was thinking of Joan Mitchell and Jean-Paul Riopelle as a Golden Couple of a Golden Age. The Golden Age is true. Paris still had its charm and New York was rising into its future glory. Riopelle was a golden boy, irresistible and charming with his expensive race cars – including Bugattis – boats, properties and artistic success. Mitchell was a very confident person, athletic and not shy about her body at all. Looking at photographs with her lovers we can’t miss seeing the sexual magnetism radiating from her. It was a good match in many ways, but they were everything but a golden couple.

Both Riopelle and Mitchell came from middle-class backgrounds, with Mitchell from Chicago, Riopelle from Montreal. Riopelle exhibited with Les Automatistes in Montreal in 1946 and signed the manifesto Refus global, written by Borduas in August 1948, gathering a group of abstract painters who wanted to break free from the strict Catholicism of Quebecois life. After WWII artists came to Paris longing for a bohemian life and Andre Breton ruled like a pope, surrounded by a large group of painters and writers. Riopelle met him in 1947 but remained independent, never associating himself with any group. His circle of friends in Paris included Sam Francis, Samuel Beckett and many more of the geniuses of that era.

The artists of the first generation of Abstract Expressionism in New York, like Willem Kooning, Hans Hofman, Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock and the poet Frank O’Hara among others, created an important movement and a new centre of visual art started to build up around them. The New York art world in the early 1950s was dominated by men but Mitchell, who spoke frankly, aggressively and emphasized that her gender was not important, but being a painter was, established her significance among them.

When Mitchell and Riopelle met in Paris in 1954, he was already a well-known and successful artist, while Mitchell was just exploring Paris on a grant. They remembered differently about the place they first met but their 25-year relationship started with Riopelle showing up at Mitchell’s studio with “a huge bouquet of rolled canvases” as curator Michel Martin writes. Mitchell divided her time between New York and Paris from then on.

When she was gone, Riopelle missed her. When he lacked inspiration in oil, he turned to gouache and tried to follow the transparency and unique textural effect of Mitchell’s work. In a letter in 1956, he confesses to adopting her materials and technique: “I’m happier because ultimately (my work) resemble(s) your painting, my love.” Sans titre (La Fontaine) (1957) also reveals the complex bonds between them. Mitchell discreetly wrote in the upper left-hand margin of the painting “Le Laboureur et ses enfants, La Fontaine!!” referring to the well-known fable but also to Labours sous la neige, a work that Riopelle had recently produced. Mitchell kept the painting for a long time, as a message of affection for Riopelle. Riopelle stated, “Friendship is a special kind of solitude, a solitude split in two.” Their lifestyle was anything but lonely. They socialized a lot, people visited and stayed in their studios and they went out dining and drinking all night with friends.

The AGO’s exhibition follows a dual chronology focusing on points of mutual influence. As Martin says, “these two sensitive and extremely powerful personalities could not have evolved without being affected by the singular context of their relationship as it developed over the years.” Sometimes the artistic influence is unmistakable as in the pair of small-scale gouache on paper works (Mitchell: Untitled, 1958 and Riopelle: Gitksan, 1959) that share the same palette and gestural approach.

art fairs Miami
Joan Mitchell, Girolata, 1964. Oil on canvas, 258.4 × 481.7 cm (triptych). Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1966 (66.3581) © Estate of Joan Mitchell. Photo: HMSG, Smithsonian

They were abstract painters but critics claim that both Mitchell and Riopelle got their inspiration from nature. Mitchell disagreed. She said: “I paint from remembered landscapes that I carry with me, and remembered feelings of them, which of course become transformed. I prefer to leave nature where it is, it is beautiful enough, I wish not to improve nature, I could certainly never mirror nature. I would more likely to paint what it leaves with me.” She was not interested in reproducing nature but in “painting the feeling of the space.” Riopelle stated in an interview, “Nothing abstract, nothing figurative. My most abstract paintings, according to some, are for me the most figurative, in the true sense of the word. Abstract: “abstraction,” “to abstract” “to derive from” … My approach is the exact opposite. I don’t take anything from Nature I move into Nature.” Mitchell and Riopelle shared the same vision, and their works were both infused by the powerful evocation of nature.

In 1954-55 Riopelle painted a series inspired by the Austrian Alps. Saint-Anthon (1954) is a bird’s eye view of the snow-covered peaks. The abstract landscape is built upon a large white background, unusual in Riopelle’s palette, interrupted by dark knife painting directly from the tube to give texture, and modified by occasional red and blue calligraphy. Mitchell’s Untitled (1955) uses similar colors. She catches a memory image and depicts it in fluid translucent strokes, with the presence of color at its center: a patch of dripping light-rinsed and storm-tossed blues skimming across viscous grey whites. It seems to be coalescing into the shape of a tree – Mitchell talked about mentally losing herself in trees – as the painter subverts the traditional relationship between figure and ground, never allowing the image to come together as a tree. Throughout her career, this tension remains inherent in ambiguous figure-ground relationships.

Joan Mitchell, Piano mécanique, 1958, oil on canvas, 198.1 × 325.1 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Gift of Addie and Sidney Yates (1996.142.1)
© Estate of Joan Mitchell Photo: National Gallery of Art

Energy and power radiates from Mitchell’s brushstrokes in Piano mechanique (1958). While the white background is present, bright colored lines and marks move in every direction, instead of a centralized composition, following the energy of the artist’s hand. She also changes her vertical canvas for a horizontal one, Riopelle’s preferred format. Riopelle also physically engaged in his works, as we can see in Landing (1958). He covers the entire surface with layers upon layers of strong colored paint, as he throws himself into the painting, sculpting the surface of the canvas until the paint seems to overflow – then he uses a knife to give texture to the paint and finishes it with a gloss to direct the light. He prefers to finish a canvas in one stretch, sometimes working 12 hours straight; as he said, “when I hesitate I do not paint, when I paint I do not hesitate.” Mitchell, on the other hand, made many sketches before painting.

Jean Paul Riopelle, Landing, 1958, oil on canvas, 200 × 375 cm. Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. Purchase (A 68 56 P 1) © Estate of Jean Paul Riopelle / SODRAC (2018) Photo: Richard-Max Tremblay

The relationship between Mitchell and Riopelle was very rich, combining all the elements of life and art. They talked about art, their experiments, accomplishments and successes, their struggles and their ecstasy – their state of mind and their artistic practise. That must have been a wonderful journey for two such great artists. There was love too, both physical and intellectual. Throughout their journey together they crossed into each other’s territory, friendly, gently and lovingly but also screaming with anger. They were annoyed by unfulfilled promises, and not getting what they desired out of the relationship. Mitchell’s hope for a fully shared life seemed to be close to realization when they moved into a studio in Frénicourt, Paris in 1958 but it didn’t work out. Even after Riopelle’s divorce from his wife in 1962, the relationship between Mitchell and him remained turbulent and they both had many lovers on the side. Mitchell put her unhappiness into a few violent and angry paintings throughout these years.

The early 1960s was a relatively happy period in their life and their styles visibly intertwined. Riopelle got a boat, Serica, as payment from his New York dealer, Pierre Matisse, and they went sailing in the Mediterranean. Their large triptychs, both from 1964, show many similarities. They both build on the color of white, using a symmetrical structure, such that the painting on the left is mirroring the one on the right, so the panels seem to communicate with each other. The left and the right panel of Riopelle’s Large Triptych depict the rocks of the seaside in their whitish greyness with the buildings of the small villages in earthy browns, greens and reds, surrounded by the blue sky and sea as the colors shine in the strong sunlight. The middle panel departs from all reality and abandons strong colors, showing something like a map. Riopelle uses his signature technique so the different layers create a strong texture in which he literally carves the edges of the rocks. Mitchell’s favourite multi-panel format was the horizontal triptych composed of vertical modules. She liked the way the vertical divisions undermined the continued effects of a landscape. Girolata is a good example of this. In front of an atmospheric whitish background patches of mossy greens, dusty silver greens, cerulean blues, violets and all imaginable shades of grey cover the panels in a soft, dance-like movement. Here too, the central piece seems to unify the others into one, more balanced, composition. It feels like the metamorphosis of a landscape but Mitchell said she didn’t want to portray the landscape but to transpose to the canvas the effect of the complex sensation of her memories of the time she spent with Riopelle. When placed face to face on the walls in the AGO, these works illustrate the dialogue that developed between the two artists and compare Mitchell’s poetic and sensual gestures to Riopelle’s more virtuous spatial strokes. It seems that a sense of harmony had been archived.

Joan Mitchell, Un jardin pour Audrey, 1974, oil on canvas, 260 x 360.5 cm (diptych). Private collection, Paris. © Estate of Joan Mitchell.

 

But it was more likely an illusion. While their careers skyrocketed – Mitchell had her first retrospective in the Whitney Museum (1974), Riopelle became an international artist whose paintings sold for high amounts – the distance between them deepened. Mitchell, using her inheritance after her parents’ death (1969), bought Monet’s property La Tour in Vétheuil, where she settled for the rest of her life. Riopelle built a studio in the Laurentians (1974) and divided his time between France and Quebec where he fished and hunted. They still spent time together but less and less often and their styles no longer show the similarities of the 1950s and 1960s. Mitchell, accompanied by her dogs, enjoyed the solitude of her gardens. She dedicated the diptych, Un jardin pour Audrey, (1974) to her friend Aubrey Hess, who recently passed away. In the left panel, we are guided into a beautiful garden with light pouring in, flurries of blazing gold against a radiant white – a composition that reminds us of Monet, without becoming a still life or a landscape. The right panel juxtaposes the lightness of the left with a heavier composition and a darker palette. Together they seem to depict paradise lost and found, radiant with the love of nature.

The tension between the couple grew and Riopelle called Mitchell “Rosa Malheur” – Rosa Unhappiness. He started to spend more and more time in Canada. Mitchell painted Chasse interdite (Hunting is forbidden) (1973) to let Riopelle know that she doesn’t approve of his hunting trips because it takes him away from her and she misses him. Riopelle embraced Quebec’s vast landscapes with its wildlife, fishing and hunting, depicting First Nations cultures that resonated with him. The title of the painting Micmac (1975) or Mi’kmaq comes from the Indigenous peoples in the Gaspé Peninsula, but in French the word means confusion or disorder. It is a very intriguing work. As the story goes, the artist painted one of the panels then transferred it into a blank canvas. Then he extensively reworked both until they seemed to be different. The left panel has a shining dark area at the top contrasted with a matt white on the right. Darker, warmer colors on the left seemingly oppose the lighter, colder palette of the right. Both panels have hidden crosses (a reminder of Riopelle’s struggle with the Catholic religion) and the elements of the paintings are organized around them. Chaos rules the surfaces with a little bit hope in white light of nothingness at the bottom of the right panel.

Joan Mitchell Jean-Paul Riopelle
Jean Paul Riopelle, Micmac, 1975, Oil on canvas. 300 × 400 cm (diptych). Collection Sylvie Blatazart-Eon, Paris. © Estate of Jean Paul Riopelle / SODRAC (2018).

In late 1974, when Riopelle stayed longer than usual in Canada, Mitchell visited him and created her Canada series, dominated by disorderly shapes of browns and greys. In Returned (1975) she reduced her palette and used almost geometrical shapes, echoing Riopelle’s tendency for structure. Riopelle in his Iceberg paintings also abandoned his rich color range, until only black and white prevailed (Iceberg No.3, 1977). As he said, “If I dared to paint my series of icebergs in the 1970s, it’s because the color white doesn’t exist in nature. If snow were white, no painter would be able to render it.” As later added, “In the arctic nothing is clear cut, all is not black and white. The sky, though, seems black, really black, and on the ground is not even white snow, there it is ice that is grey and transparent.” The paintings don’t give us any direction in these strange landscapes where white ice rules, distracted by the black calligraphy of cracks and trees under an overwhelmingly black sky. Meanwhile Mitchell, enchanted by nature in her garden, painted single sunflowers, weeds, rain and her favourite linden tree Tilleul (1978) with dramatic intensity.

They saw each other less and less often and when they did, they argued more, until their final separation in 1979. It was a stormy relationship by all accounts. They were both heavy drinkers, Mitchell was an alcoholic and often depressed. When drunk they became abusive, as many of their friends wrote: they were violent, crazy and scary. They were a perfect match, both in the strength of their characters and the quality of their paintings and above all theirs was a great love. The chemistry between them was strong, creating a shining glow of happiness sometimes and deep craters of anger on other occasions. Meanwhile their lives went on, and they both became icons of the art world in their own right. Their interaction can be compared to two stars shining at each other until, at some point, they parted ways, still rising, without outshining each other.

Together and separately, they lived an extraordinary life of extremities – nothing in moderation.