Thursday, March 15, 2018


Anna Sears and Alan Singer
present the artwork of Arthur Singer
University of Massachusetts
Sunday, March 11, 2018

We spent the day in Boston at The University of Massachusetts which occupies a portion of a peninsula just south of the city center.  We were participants at a conference for bird enthusiasts arranged by MASS Audubon, and we presented artwork by Arthur Singer as well as our new illustrated biography of the artist published by RIT Press.  Nice to speak to so many people who know my father's artwork, and have used his Golden Guide to Birds of North America.

University of Massachusetts, Boston, Mass.

Later in the day, we went off on a drive west towards North Adams and MASS MOCA which is one of the finest contemporary art museums anywhere in this country.  The old industrial buildings that house their art date back a century, but the big spaces are just perfect for viewing an exhibition of wall works by Sol Lewitt.  

Entrance to MASS MOCA, North Adams, Mass.

They have had some serious snow in the area but we were lucky that the roads were dry as we headed into the parking lot.

Three levels of Sol Lewitt ( 1928-2007 )

Inside MASS MOCA you have a lot of territory to cover.  We head first upstairs to view the wall works that are on extended exhibition ( 25 years from the opening in 2008 ) and we were knocked out by what we saw.  Sol Lewitt's art is divided up into three sections: early, middle, and late.  These wall works were created on site by a team of artists working to Lewitt's specifications and sets of rules that he developed that go back to the 1960's amidst the periods of conceptualism and minimalism that he helped formulate.

Isometric Cubes by Sol Lewitt

Upon entering the show there is a short video worth seeing with a host of sorts in Robert Storr who is a curator, critic, and ex-dean of the School of Art at Yale University.  You get to hear from artists on the crew in the video who created the actual wall works on view, and you get a better sense of what it is like to "make" one of these paintings.

Middle Period of Sol Lewitt

Sol Lewitt is all about measurement and geometry - so there are a strict set of rules on how to create his art, and the early wall works give you a sense of detail that is truly breathtaking... I have a little Sol Lewitt print at home that I bought from Deborah Ronnen years ago, and I look at it every day and am captivated by the basic color and strict sensibility.  The early works on view now at MASS MOCA present grids and the proof of what look like charts of possible moves that art can take, almost like calculating moves on a chess board in the mind of a master.

Later wall work by Sol Lewitt can be wavy and wild

Upstairs, the colors attract like a festive birthday cake, with texture and taste.  Geometric forms become inside-out puzzles where geometry can do strange tricks with your eyesight.  The mid-career and late works can be characterized by color and  form, and sometimes the flow is wavy and wild.  Dewitt's final pieces are austere webs of scribbles that are remarkable in their directness and simplicity.

Late career images from Sol Lewitt

Once you have gone through three floors of artwork by Sol Lewitt you can stop an see the facets of a giant mirror from the likes of Anish Kapoor.  The form is a circle and the surface breaks up reflected light the way a cut diamond works on you.

Anish Kapoor

My wife, Anna, studied music at Bennington College in the 1970's with Gunnar Schonbeck, so she was surprised to see the weird and wonderful instruments he had created that were also on view at MASS  MOCA.  We plucked and drummed the instruments made of metal and wood, and had fun thinking of the music they could make.

Gunnar Schönbeck " No Experience Required "
musical instrument inventions

Before we left the museum, we duck into a darkened gallery to see a suite of expressive drawings from Laurie Anderson.  The large scale drawings ( 10 x 14 feet ) are a tribute to her pet Lolabelle,
and they take into account Anderson's faith as a practicing Buddhist in the afterlife.  The drawings  imagine her favorite dog in Bardo,  a state of being that one enters after death in preparation for reincarnation.

Laurie Anderson's drawings of Lolabelle in Bardo

I remember meeting Laurie Anderson after her performance at "Light in Winter" in 2006.  We were in Ithaca, New York, and there was a reception for performers at State of the Art Gallery.  I had given a talk on birds in art, and we just had a chance to chat with Laurie Anderson with her dog Lolabelle who followed her everywhere she went.

Laurie Anderson chats with Alan Singer
Light in Winter, 2006, Ithaca, New York

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Snow Scene With Birds

Museum of American Bird Art
MASS Audubon, Canton,  Massachusetts

We dodged the worst of the snow storms driving east through western Massachusetts on the way to Canton, and MASS Audubon.  Going to give a talk, and introduce the artwork of Arthur Singer for the gallery goers and visitors to the best public museum collection of birds in art, here in the east.  Want to know more?  This is a link to their website:

Signage at the entry to Museum of American Bird Art

My brother Paul Singer, and I have been planning on this exhibition for a while and so we were delighted to be asked to show some of our father's artwork.

The town of Canton is a suburb of Boston, and the museum is located on a woodsy spot that includes a 121 acre wildlife sanctuary with trails along with the buildings that house their collection of art.

Great Grey Owl, painting by Arthur Singer
collection of Ed Woodin

Birds in art has attracted attention through a kind of citizen science - where almost anyone can get involved - as long as you are interested in being outdoors, and maybe own a pair of binoculars.  From the time my brother and I were little kids, we were taken out to parks and bird sanctuaries by our father, and we became aware of the natural world through our parent's encouragement.  Also from a young age, I watched my father painting in his studio at home, so I saw what it took to create a realistic painting of a bird in a natural setting.  If you are born into a family of artists, what better way to learn about this branch of our culture!   It didn't hurt that Arthur Singer was able to provide for his family and even set the direction that we would all take later on in life.  In the early 1950's when my father's career began to take off, it was probably very doubtful that one could make a living painting bird portraits.  He proved that it could be done and also it made a big difference, because we all became aware of environmentalism and the need to conserve our natural heritage.

Visitors to the show
Paintings by Arthur Singer

My father's many illustrated books spanning a forty year career sold well enough, and some are still in print, though in later editions. Now, we have a recently published book: Arthur Singer, The Wildlife Art of an American Master that we are presenting at MASS Audubon. Paul wrote most of the book and designed it as well.  We did a lot of research on this blend of science and art, and we  fit right in when we landed in Canton, Massachusetts.

Golden Eagle Over Sagebrush, by Arthur Singer

Museum of American Bird Art

The present museum is in a building that had been an art studio for the family that owned these acres earlier on and lately this organization has mounted shows that really attract your attention.  On view today is an exhibition titled: "WATERBIRDS" - all from the museum's collection, as well as our showing of Arthur Singer's paintings.  We borrow a few works from Ed Woodin in Maine for this particular moment including a Great Grey Owl that Arthur Singer painted towards the end of his career.

Museum Director Amy Montague with painting by Keith Shackelton

If you walk around the building you can find great examples by some artists who are working today and you can also catch up on the history of birds in art by looking at examples from artists who are no longer active, or alive.  Over the mantel piece for example is a large Andy Warhol featuring a Bald Eagle.  Nearby is a terrific seascape by the painter Keith Shackelton who I became aware of when I was compiling a book in the late 1990's called "Wildlife Art" published by Rockport Press.  You will be surprised by the interesting artists at work today in the field.  Below we have an example by the painter Barry Van Dusen who has painted all over Massachusetts, often from life.

A Least Tern by painter Barry Van Dusen

Paul Singer talks
about the life and career of Arthur Singer
Museum of American Bird Art

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Beall Drawings

"Master Drawings"
Lester Beall at University Gallery
Booth Building
Rochester Institute of Technology

When I was a youngster, my drawings at age twelve featured bulldozers and other Caterpillar tractors.  I sent away to the company to get pictures, and I was rewarded with glossy photos and a letter from Lester Beall encouraging my artwork.  Any kind of encouragement when you are that age means a lot, and I kept his letter, and also kept drawing.  Caterpillar actually published my art in their newsletter.  Only later did I find out that Lester Beall had the concept for a new logo that Caterpillar adopted and used on all of their products.

Lester Beall in the late 1940s

Flash forward to today, and I am now teaching drawing to my students at Rochester Institute of Technology and we are going to see the show at The University Gallery in the Booth Building of drawings by that same Lester Beall who expressed an interest in my artwork so many years ago.
On view is a slew of works on paper from an early period when Beall was in the throes of making fine art as well as fine design.  He is heavily influenced by the abstract expressionism of that time period ( think Jackson Pollock ) and he is also fascinated by the figure drawings of Matisse, among others.

Lester Beall with works on paper

Reading about how these drawings came to R.I.T., I see that the present show was curated by R. Roger Remington and Darrell Chapnick.  I know that Roger Remington wrote a biography of Lester Beall a few years back that traced the history of Beall and his influence on graphic design when it was part of the modernist movement.

Lester Beall 
at University Gallery

There are many fluid figure drawings, some done with ink and brush ( and maybe a finger or two ) and there are a few  pure abstracts, and even a landscape or two in the present show.  In the back of the room is a crate in which all of these drawings were found, and a descriptive sign that lets a visitor know how these drawings came to be exhibited...and it is an interesting story.

Lester Beall 
a graphic designer with a distinct style

Lester Beall, like many other artists is partially self-taught.  He certainly had his eyes opened by great artists and practiced when he could.  He will be remembered mostly for his work as a designer and we are lucky to have many of his works in the design archive in the Wallace Library right here on campus.  Thanks to Roger Remington and Darrell Chapnick for bringing this great art to our attention.

Beall poster design
and CAT logo

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Art Collecting

                                  James Havens print: "Scarlet Runner Beans"
Collection: Alan Singer

This week I learned that a new group is forming in our community to engage the topic of art collecting -  and,  you may have an interest in this subject.  There is now a website I have seen and here is the link:

You can join this new group for free, and look forward to some social get-togethers to share information and maybe even get started collecting on your own.  You don't have to spend a fortune to own something that is expressive and maybe something like this even becomes essential to you.

Arthur Singer, gouache on board
Collection: Alan Singer

I have been thinking about art collectors, and I am thankful for their support since I have been involved in selling my art since I was 15 years old.  I have also been buying artworks from time to time, and I think of the pieces I now have in my collection which I am so thankful for - and I look at them everyday.  Some of my favorite things I bought at The Rochester Contemporary Art Center's 6 x 6 shows, so I didn't have to spend much to get something truly unique.  If you haven't had a chance to see the 6 x 6 shows, there are literally hundreds of works to choose from, all at the same $20 price tag( and you get to support a terrific organization ! ).

Northwest Coast Indian art

I took the day off to be in Ithaca, New York, and I went up to the Herbert F. Johnson Museum on the Cornell University campus.  A great museum like that often has artworks given to them by donors and collectors and this visit I took note of that.    My late mother-in-law had a gallery in Ithaca, New York called "New Visions", and so I would go there all the time to see the shows she would put on for the public.  She travelled regularly to bring new works to her gallery and she would feature shows that would have art by native Americans, or new works from Seatle, or New Orleans.  She let me curate two shows from New York City artists I knew well.

Picasso cubist work , 1915

At the Johnson Museum  they had a large works on paper show, .  So many artists, so little time! There I saw a wonderful Picasso cubist work, and a suave Matisse drawing of his daughter-in-law "Teeny"done in charcoal circa 1940.  Downstairs there was also a large abstract expressionist painting from Norman Bluhm  and many fine works in their study collections.

Painting by Norman Bluhm

At the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, they have a selection of 20th century art that you can really spend some quality time with.  I read about Arthur Dove,  who grew up in Geneva, New York, and later became a student at Cornell University.  Dove had an influence on painters for many years because his paintings had a mixture of realism with abstraction.  It is interesting that many of his paintings ( some on view in the present show ) are no larger than a postcard.

Arthur Dove
The Herbert F.Johnson Museum
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

So, I drove down the hill and parked to go over and view the show I SEE YOU  ( IC / CU ) at The Ink Shop on the second floor of the CSMA Building on State Street.  Here was a wonderful opportunity to see prints by up-an-coming students from the local colleges and university world.

Hannah Lang, lithograph
The Ink Shop

I liked the direction that Hannah Lang took with her textured prints.  They are  nuanced, colorful and abstract - maybe they are details from a larger world we have yet to experience fully...
At the entrance to the show there were a handful of smaller prints, and then there was this one seen below,  of a drawer full of bird skins - orioles.  what a surprising subject for a print!

I SEE YOU  ( IC / CU )
The Ink Shop

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Hot Spots

At Gallery r
100 College Avenue
Rochester, New York
solo show for Dongyi Wu

During this winter I like to go out and see art shows and look for something new, and this warms me up.  I look for artwork to take me to a new place, or show me something I have never seen before.  Here are a few of the hot spots:

R.I.T. operates Gallery r on College Avenue and is now presenting a solo exhibition for Dongyi Wu.  Full disclosure: I serve on her Thesis committee, and I am so supportive of what she has accomplished while she has been here in Rochester.  

The artist, Dongyi Wu
at her opening

The show is called "Wandering in Deep Deep Dreams" and as she says -"it is more important to raise questions than seek answers".  Here the mainstream of this work is sculptural and some of her pieces are wearable art.  At the top of this post is a black and white sculptural work that reminds me of  the spirit of Eva Hesse and the dimensional art of Louise Bourgeois.  The size is modest but the effect is  rather large for the diverse range of Dongyi Wu's talents.

Gallery r presents artist Dongyi Wu "Wandering in Deep, Deep Dreams"

I was told that this interesting work which is a cascade of gloves made out of light color fabric tells a tale out of Chinese culture about the red fingerprints that stand out even in this photo.  The way the fingerprints are constructed speaks about the fortunes of people going about their lives.  Stories are told through their fingerprints about whether they will survive with good fortune or not. 

Dongyi Wu, necklace

Dongyi Wu is also a jeweler, someone who takes her fashions seriously.  She creates wearable art and I think that she has a fine future ahead as she has already won some recognition for her constructions.

Painting by Danny Allen, 1974

In another new show - this one actually has four parts - we see the art of a fellow who is no longer alive, but we see the results of this largely self taught artist, Danny Allen.  Here is a different imagination at work, one which speaks more directly about gender, and about the gay community here in town.  The Art and Life of Danny Allen is being presented in part at Rochester Contemporary Art Center, the surreal image above is but one example of  this artist's work.

"Drifters" by Howard Koft
at Mercer Gallery, Monroe Community College

Howard Koft has been instrumental in curating shows in and around Rochester for a while, and there is a presentation on now at The Mercer Gallery on the campus of Monroe Community College.  From now to February 22, 2018, you can see: "Regrouping for a Respite from the Doldrums" which includes seven working artists from our area.  I enjoyed the local color of Dustan Luke whose painting "The Blue Bridge" is featured on the postcard for the show.  Howard Koft's artwork in this show called "Drifters" ( above ) is an engaging digital production beautifully printed representing wave patterns in a subtle range of color.

Dustan Luke's "The Blue Bridge"
at The Mercer Gallery, Monroe Community College

While these area shows are going on you may want to see what is happening at The Memorial Art Gallery.  The videos from Bill Viola being presented are called "Martyrs".  They are not easy to look at.  The videos show representations of torture, so if you are at all bothered by such images..take care they are cautionary, and call attention to extreme measures taken against fellow human beings.  Judging from the daily news,  even Bill Viola's art form hasn't changed the minds of those who would carry out acts of violence.

Rosalyn Engelman, paintings in the Lockhart Gallery
Memorial Art Gallery
Rochester, New York

To end this post on a more positive note, just down the hall from Bill Viola we have paintings and an interview with Rosalyn Engelman who has taken to heart the poetry and calligraphy of the Japanese poet Koetsu (1558-1637), and she gives new life to the poems by using them as her subject matter.  The paintings are light and ethereal, maybe just the right thing for you after viewing the Bill Viola show.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Contemporary Consciousness

Rochester Contemporary Art Center

A celebration of Frederick Douglass is now on view at Rochester Contemporary Art Center and it is part of a larger enterprise reminding us of the accomplishments of this great man.  The title of the present exhibition "No Soil Better" comes from a speech that Douglass wrote many years ago, and it holds forth the promise that here, in these United States we have the best time and place to make a difference for our fellow human beings, no matter what race or religion or ethnic background they come from.

Portrait of Frederick Douglass
Thievin Stephen

At the entrance to the show there is a fine painted portrait by Thievin Stephen opposite a little library of books featuring the writings and speeches of Frederick Douglass, and I am looking forward to reading these books in the future.  I want to know more about his time and his effect on this country.  The subtitle of this present exhibition is: "Art & The Living Legacy of Frederick Douglass" and that presents the opportunity for you to view artwork from 12 working artists and see how they come to terms with this famous man.

Opening night hand shake

I noticed an actor having his picture taken during the opening and I thought that this fellow was doing a very credible job - a performance artist impersonating Douglass - in front of a painting of Douglass.....

Reading room
as you enter
and the 
Frederick Douglass Monument

Also as you enter the show there are photos of the statue that memorializes Frederick Douglass, soon to be moved to a new location here in Rochester.  Artists, like my office mate Luvon Sheppard respond to what Douglass wrote, and what he stood for.  Luvon is well regarded for his watercolors made over the years in tribute to Douglass, and there are a group of them presented here.  Luvon's paintings include quotes from Douglass that echo the theme of this exhibition.  Carefully conceived, the portraits are made in layers and have a friendly but earnest glow.

Watercolor by Luvon Sheppard

Words also come up in many other parts of this exhibition.  Meleko Mokgosi has pencil drawings that set Douglass's statements on paper along with commentary and you can learn a lot by stopping to read all parts of these drawings.  In another section of this exhibition a large painting by Shawn Dunwoody appears to be at a demonstration with protesters holding signs that say: " I Am A  Man".  A fight has ensued with one man down, while the other hovers over him with a bright halo around the man left standing.  In big letters at the bottom of the canvas - the word is spelled out: RESIST - which seems to come up a lot now around the Trump Presidency.

Painting by Shawn Dunwoody

One might say that recognition of racial and social problems comes with the territory, and our hope is that there will be constructive efforts made to deal with these problems.  Art can point to these trends, but we still as a constituency have to organize to do what we can to deal with our problems. The visual arts can respond to social pressures - this is ripe material for artists of all stripes to wrestle with.  

Painting by Rodney Taylor

An arsonist's fire consumed property that Frederick Douglass owned and Rodney Taylor sums up the terrifying picture in the image above.  Connections to the time and environment in which Frederick Douglass lived is important, and with Caitlin Cass, the projections on the wall tell it like it was at the time.

Drawing and projections by Caitlin Cass

Around the corner there is a large and  recent drawing from Olivia Kim of a dancer, and here I am thinking more of  the exercise of the freedom of expression, but I am less sure of the connection to Douglass.  I think of Olivia and her engagement with the dancers in the Garth Fagan troupe and her drawing is full of life and vitality, and a sense of relief and hopes for the future.

Olivia Kim at the Opening of "No Soil Better"
Rochester Contemporary Art Center,
Rochester, New York
now thru March 18, 2018

What an inspiration to have an exhibition dedicated to Frederick Douglass.  I first heard of this celebration listening to Evan Dawson and Blue Cease in a dialog on radio station WXXI.  When I went to see the show I found many interesting artworks built around Douglass's life and writings which still have great relevance today.

Poster take away