Monday, March 30, 2009
by Nancy Lunsford
For several years I have been exploring geometric shapes and their manifestation in traditional folk art and nature. This has become an obsession, and like all obsessions, it is both a blessing and a curse. Patterns are inherently restrictive: a set of limitations, predictable, but with a sense of comfort and order. Yet, we need chaos, change and surprise in order to thrive. I am drawn to the nexus of these two ideas: order and chaos.
My "Contained Crazy" pieces are triangular relief, constructed of individual elements that are arranged in a pattern of hexagons and... triangles. The individual elements are created randomly with no preconceived idea of how they will fit together. As the work is constructed, various pieces are ...arranged like the pieces in a puzzle, searching for the best fit. The overall pattern is immutable, but the randomly chosen colors and forms of the elements are juxtaposed in jarring or reverberating relationships.
I have also returned to simple drawing: graphite on paper. Just as the simple binary code of a computer is the vehicle for incredibly complex expression, the simplicity of black marks on white paper can produce nuance, ...or raw power....
Hex,” The art of Nancy Lunsford
April 2 - May 10, 2009
Opening Reception: Thursday, April 2, 6 - 9 pm
440 6th Avenue
Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY 11215
Thursdays and Fridays from 4 - 7 p. m.
Saturdays and Sundays from 12 - 6 p. m.
The 440 Gallery is convenient to the F Train's 4th Avenue and 7th Avenue Stops, and to the R Train's 9th Steet Stop in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
Friday, March 27, 2009
This is a show that had deep personal meaning for me, since many of the artists it includes were known to me when I first met artists. I didn’t know every one of them closely, but this was my scene. I’m talking about painters who painted, without delving into video, new age materials, or conceptual art. They were painterly realists; they made representational paintings, expressive, usually without donning the mantel of expressionism. At its best, the work was traditional and natural.
The present survey praises the women for having done much to create a scene in which they stood an even chance of showing, and promoting their own careers. Though these downtown figurative galleries also included men, the point is that the equal representation they attained through these cooperative endeavors was a way to address the inequality of the male dominated art world of the 70’s. Time, and time again, in the show’s catalogue, the women recognized, appreciatively, the nurturing supportiveness they received from their peers and their public. They are here honored during Women’s History Month.
Curatorially, each artist is represented by one early piece, from the 70’s, when the galleries started, and one more recent piece. This creates some sense of the artists’ maturation in both style and age. I would like to discuss every piece in this show, but, unfortunately, must limit myself. Every artist in this show deserves our attention.
Nancy Beal’s “Late View, 2007, a mid size oil, gives us a feast of delicious, subtly colorful brushwork. At first glance reminiscent of Jane Freilicher’s work, this piece nevertheless asserts its own personality on closer inspection. Within this view of a garden with trees in the middle distance, and a range of low-lying hills beyond, there’s hardly a spot where the succulent leavings of Ms. Beal’s loaded brush don’t thrill the senses. Only one among the many breathtaking offerings on this surface is a vertically oriented rectangle in the lower right, about a foot in height, if memory serves. It’s a deceptively blank, flat area; seemingly “thrown away.” Its color, of a green denoting an expanse of the lawn, shows little variation till the eye moves to the lower edge of the canvas. There, a very slight coarsening of the brushwork, accompanied by a restrained color change, produce the correct, believable resolution change to establish the space.
Janet Fish, easily one of the more masterful artists painting today in any genre, shows an impressively handled, large world in her tabletop still lifes. Looking from her earlier to her later pictures here is particularly interesting. They seem to be just the same sort of picture, yet, closer inspection yields a definite dissimilarity between the two. The earlier picture contains a consistently applied dark accent, which works, correctly and forcefully, to define all things depicted. But in the later picture, Ice Cream Sundae, 2004, that hard-nosed, defining accent has disappeared, yielding a consistently more harmonious rendering. Breathtaking is the complete control the painter shows as she evokes every volume, casts every shadow, dissolves every firm surface into translucency, and claims the dominion of every passage over a given pocket of space.
I once heard Marjorie Kramer, one of the artists I did know personally in the 70’s, say that she was very struck by the realization that the rapturous gestures she saw people enact when seeing a baby were also represented in the renaissance nativities she knew. About this, she said, “I used to think those pictures were about religion.” Well, Marjorie contemplated the thought at least long enough to express her feeling about her own birthing and child nurturing through the creation of her own altar piece, with a peak on the top. This is her 70’s picture, in which she breast feeds her daughter, Raloon, in the interior of her home. The very free and expressive blonde baby girl’s hair, and her engorged, nursing mother’s breasts, translucently showing a network of blue veins under the skin, are very real details. Her 2008 self portrait shows her holding a photo of Hillary Clinton, and it's titled simply, “Thanks for Running, Hillary.” It is a much simpler picture than her altarpiece, reducing the background plane behind her torso to a very simply handled wall where a picture hangs. In it, she uses a “weightless,” light palette. Her face features the intense, blue eyed gaze I remember. The cadenza in this painting is her sensuously handled silver grey hair, very liberally brushed, for which she shows a strong feeling.
Marion Lerner Levine’s 70’s still life has the technical weakness I remember from the past. Her use of the color red seemed always the same: overly saturated, and lacking the flexibility necessary to convey turning forms and refraction of light. But, thankfully, the “then and now” format of the show comes to the rescue, for “Constellations,” 1998-2001, a quite deftly handled watercolor, shows the great intelligence this artist gained later. Through her use of the reds, in particular, her progress may be gauged. She applies her vision quite evenly throughout the entire composition to render a collection of delicate, personal objects, demonstrative of her fine sensibility. The entire image is radiant with fine textures and rich color.
As I said earlier, this show encompasses the work of many worthy artists, and I would write about every one if it were possible. I only hope that many will see the incarnations of the show set to appear at the Dishman Art Museum and the Rowan University Art Gallery in April and September, respectively. Those that do will find much sincere expression and invention in these works.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
“The Secret Garden,”
The Bronx, New York.
Walking on Sheridan Avenue and Marcy Place, in The Bronx, recently, I happened onto the mural “The Secret Garden,” by Tova Snyder. It was mid February, about the same time I started this blog, and it wasn’t long before I got the idea to write about the mural, and public art, in general. Instantly I felt the excitement about a piece of art of this scale and ambition. And one that is so packed with bright color, and constructive elements, and a positive outlook. “The Secret Garden,” painted in 1991, was Ms. Snyder’s first big commission, and she has continued to paint murals, whenever possible, ever since. She gives particularly free reign to her passion in murals, which she finds “liberating.”
An interesting part of the mural’s history is the damage it suffered in the year 2000. A construction crew was asked to patch some damage on a small section of the sky. The crew misunderstood, and covered over the entire surface of the image with cement. Two days later the cement was water blasted off. Though the image was visible, fading, and damaged passages remained. In 2002, Tova Snyder, with two assistants, restored the entire six story image in one month’s time.
When I set out to write about this work I planned to spend some time going on about the charm of the piece, and the various engaging elements within it. But, as I looked at the information the artist, herself, so generously provided, I decided that a large part of the feature should consist of her own statement on its creation process. Artist’s statements have intrinsic interest.
"The Secret Garden" (Detail)
By Tova Snyder
Below is Tova Snyder’s own statement on the creation of “The Secret Garden”:
"The [Secret Garden] was designed for the community and it was the community who voted for the design in an open competition. I was glad about the process because I did not want the community to feel that an outsider was coming in and imposing her ideas. I even adjusted the design, after they voted on it, to include some of their input. I wanted the community to know that I was sensitive to their ideas and that the mural was theirs.
"Across the way [there] is an elementary school and I made my mural to be like a story book unfolding [for] those young minds.... I put in things that I thought they might notice over time, such as hidden cats, including three oversized ones that represent three continents and clouds in the shape of endangered species. I made a bird house as [the] NYC skyline. I was asked by the community to put their school in the mural [, and I did]. I also painted a mural on one of the buildings in the mural - a mural within a mural! The Developer's name is Sparrow, and so I put the sparrow in for symbolism as well as the five apples in the basket among other... things.
"When I was up on the scaffold I often noticed neighborhood boys running around below, some even throwing rocks around. The site was on an open lot that was going to be turned into a community garden. One day I came down and asked them straight out "are you boys here to help me"? They seemed stunned and all nodded their heads vigorously. So I found them all tasks to do.... I tried to encourage all the boys I encountered to be on the creative path and I did let some of them help paint the blank wall on the ground level.
"[One] boy... came by with his pet dog.... [and,] unbeknown to him, ...his dog became part of the mural, with a flower in it's month to symbolize peace. He came by [another] day with his cousin and he still did not notice, but when his cousin yelled out, "Hey look, there's your dog in the mural," I was able to witness his whole face transform and brighten. He declared "I'm going to grow up to be an artist!"
"The girl holding the dog is wearing a dress with symbols from two ancient civilizations, Egyptian and Mayan, with an "open book" symbol added. When I was a child, books were a great way to explore so many possibilities, so many worlds, and so much information."
Below is the text of an e-mail sent to Tova Snyder just recently by one of those boys she mentions in the passage above:
"I was twelve when we met so I don't expect you to remember me. It was the summer of 91 and you were painting a mural on sheridan ave. Maybe the third or fourth day I was playing crate ball with my friend while watching you paint (I actually had a crush on you.) I stopped playing, went over to talk to you during your break and you wound up allowing me to paint parts of the wall then and on the following days. I have remembered those moments almost everyday troughout my life and had wondered what ever happened to that pretty, young, and talented artist. I have always remembered your first name but it was at a gathering in the neighborhood talking about that time with some friends that someone pointed out that your entire name was on the bottom of the mural. I see you have been busy and have had great success since.... Congrats, and I wish you much more. Thanks for the memories and the positive influence you had in my life."
The young man, who now performs in the genre of hip hop, and goes by the professional name Kaotick, is currently on tour. A sampling of his music may be found on Myspace at Myspace.com/givekaotickairplay. He will return to New York in June.
Tova Snyder Painting “The Secret Garden.”
Photo Credit: Margaret Fox.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Friday, March 20, 2009
I first posted this on Feb. 27. A couple of weeks later I unposted it. I got self conscious about it. But, after reading Katarina Wong's blog posting, "The Day Job-or-Would you like fries with that painting?" I decided to repost it. I realized this was my own way of expressing money concerns Ms. Wong expressed so well in that piece.
What Do Artists Do for Money?
I first thought about a career in any form of art when I was 12 or 13. I told my parents, “I think I’d like to be a writer.” Without missing a beat my stepmom said, “You’ll never make any money.” I marveled that parents could exist with such misplaced values. But, you say, the 13 year old Manuel didn’t see the whole picture. Well, maybe after being laid off I see a greater piece of it. Now I’m in the position of coming up with that flash of inspiration, and conjuring that next career.
What do artists do for money?
Gauguin worked on the Panama canal for a week or two. Nah. That’s been built already. Or, maybe, I could get the U. S. Government to pay me not to plant potatoes. Nah. Obama's on the case. I'd never get away with it.
Well, I knew a painter named O’Donnell, who was loathe to get a job. He had the idea to found The O’Donnell Society. He would charge membership fees to its members, who only had to own an O’Donnell painting to qualify for admittance. I tried to imagine the society’s activities: sitting around rubbing elbows with the great O’Donnell himself. Or, even, just staring at him adoringly. Maybe I could start my own society.
Or, maybe, I could take a page from the great merchandizing campaigns of such franchises as Star Wars. Could I sell Manuel action figures? Manuel mugs? Manuel, Action Painter posters? How about ballooons with my face on them? Manuel, Superstar Artist board games?
How undignified. Could one’s honest art ever be valued by society? I admit it: there’s a little self-pity going on here. I guess this is my moment to feel down. But, in the long run, the only way to survive this horrendous time we’re all living through is to keep a positive outlook, work hard, and be very clever and inspired. Even the 13 year old Manuel needed to have that ingenuity. We need it even more today.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Tabla Rasa will host an artists' talk titled, "What Inspires What is Personal?" in connection with it's exhibition "The Portrait: Painted and Personal," on Saturday, March 21, at 3 P.M.. The artist participants will include: Audrey Anastasi, Robin Gaynes-Bachman, Nana Deleplanque, Robin Ross and Giustina Surbone.
Gallery hours are: 1:00 - 5:00 P. M., Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Call 718.833.9100 for special viewing appointments, and for events and schedule updates.
Transportation: from Manhattan, "D" or "N" express train to 36 Street in Brooklyn (3 stops from Manhattan), cross platform, and take "R" train one stop to 45th Street. Street parking is also available.
In connection with her one woman exhibition titled “(This) Woman's Work is Never Done-Celebrating 44 years of Art Making,”
artist Dindga McCannon extends a cordial invitation to her talk at Hamilton Landmark Galleries, 467 West 144th Street (between Amsterdam and Convent Ave's), Harlem, New York. The event will take place on Saturday, March 21, 2009, at 3 PM.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Curated by Evonne M. Davis
March 21 - May 16, 2009
Opening Reception March 21, 7-10 PM
with fully illustrated color catalog, essay by artist Ryan Schroeder
Tabula Rasa (' täbyoŏlə ˈräsə; ˈräzə) refers to an absence of preconceived ideas or predetermined goals; a clean slate. The phrase carries baggage from belief systems in which the human mind at birth is viewed as having no innate ideas. Denying what is obvious is praticed as a gesture of resistance by some of the artists, most or all of whom are affected, however indirectly, by the notions derived from existentialism and the nothingness of existence, ennui. Inspired curatorially by the concept of residual information that persists after erasure, the exhibition is one of several to date by Evonne M. Davis concerning the nature of knowing, learning and unlearning.
ORIGIN Latin, literally 'scraped tablet,' denoting a tablet with the writing erased.
Please note: the Tabula Rasa exhibition has no relation to the Brooklyn Gallery Tabla Rasa.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
The Under Minerva Gallery’s current exhibition, "Passing By," running from March 6-April 11, presents us with the work of two artists, Eric Graham and Chris Hagerty. The show is curated by Vanessa Juriga, and is accompanied, in the rear of the gallery, by the work of the 10 artists currently working in Under Minerva’s Artists’ Den, as is the gallery’s practice. The latter I will review in a separate posting.
The "Passing By" show’s theme is given as “The abandonment of rural America for an urban existence. Through an investigation of landscapes, isolation and the transformation of culture, both artists... [respond] to this drastic shift in society....” Where these ideas are not perfectly explicit, they run throughout the exhibition in implied form.
The hanging of the show, which intersperses the two artists’ work, facilitates contrasts and comparisons between the two. Both artists work with the “and”-ness of disparate juxtaposition. Chris Hagerty shows us the more obvious juxtapositions in his consistently jarring combinations of malls painted in synthetic, flat, hard edged shapes, and sooty, grungy, immolations of automobiles, always depicted in a powdery touch. Eric Graham, on the other hand, emphasizes the isolation of his objects by laying in flat grounds all about them. These flat fields suggest, to me, not emptiness, but the contrast of flat paint with the house, or the window, or, whatever the chosen item. It may be seen to negate the represented object, or, perhaps, to contrast it’s naturalness with the synthetic artificiality of art. Whether this flatness represents some concept is open to conjecture.
In one of Mr. Graham’s pictures, “Reclamation,” 2008, what appears to be an adobe house in an arid landscape stands in eternal isolation with its partially caved in rafters of the front porch, broken windows, and a facade badly needing repointing, with red bricks showing through cracks. I found the depiction of this subject rather handsome. The isolating agent, in this case, is a coat of a sort of beige-brown. Here I noticed some rather casual brush marks toward the upper center of the painting. I hadn’t seen such visible casualness in any of the artist’s other backgrounds, and I tend to think of it as a stylistic “hiccup,” or a weak moment in the execution. Opinions vary, of course, and the next viewer may be glad for reassuring evidence of the human hand.
Mr. Hagerty consistently sets up his views of urban dilapidation through openings in the mall architecture. In Atlantic Mall and Wreck, 2008, the space underneath a broad, shallow arch and corridor reveals a mutilated car. The contrasting handlings of the two sections, the pure pigment and clean edges of the one, vs. the grunge and grime of the other, bring together two locations onto the same plane. Two coexisting but mutually exclusive states of mind appear before us.
In other pieces, again, Chris Hagerty shows us a war scene brought home to us. The flat colors of the mall are apt to “burn” brighter than the nominal fire in the urban blight encroaching on the scene, with their unbridled optical vibrations. This is the case especially in “Atlantic Center Mall and Wreck,” 2009, where the Christmasy, red and green alternating bands describing the escalator steps vibrate so eye-poppingly.
I return to Mr. Graham’s work to describe the piece I found the best by this artist in this exhibition. “The Last Picture Show,” 2006, is set in a drive-in movie theater with an air of neglect. The principal character on this scene seems to be a smokestack leaning in toward the left with a great deal of personality. Here the artist seems to be at his finest in terms of object description. He shows us the stack’s rusty-looking hat-like shape on top, with a very well observed surface. The flaking of the paint reveals either silver metal patches underneath brown, rusty looking paint, or a lot of brown, rusty metal under some remnants of silver paint. I couldn’t tell which it was. But the depiction, somehow, had the sensation of the real.
Under Minerva Gallery and Event Space
656 5th Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11215 (between 19th/20th St.)
Gallery Hours: Tuesdays-Fridays 12-6 P. M.. Saturdays 2-6 P. M..