Friday, October 21, 2016

Dept. of Suggestive Amplification

What Are You Looking At?

Artists have a fearful power of expression that can direct your attention - as if you were listening to someone through a megaphone.  It is the bully pulpit of the arts, it is the power of suggestion, and the strength of the artist whose skills can lead you in a direction, and may affirm your beliefs or confound them.

Sometimes it is the forum to which the artist brings their wares - just to get you to look at them.  Maybe the artist feels that if you look at the things they produce, that you may want to have one for your very own.

Curtis Mann
Bevier Gallery, Rochester Institute of Technology

Two recent shows have opened that have this effect on me.  The first show that I want to discuss is now open in the Bevier Gallery, in Building 7a on the campus of Rochester Institute of Technology, and it is called: "Transformational Imagemaking" - Handmade Photography Since 1960. 

Bea Nettles 
Transformational Imagemaking

Here, in the new exhibition, it is not only the power of photography - but also the manner in which the prints are made that can have such a positive effect.  This is a large group show that features some alumni of RIT, as well as faculty members from the past and present and includes well known names such as Les Krims and well-regarded artists such as Bea Nettles.

Tatana Kellner
photography on molded paper
"Eye Witness, 2001"

This new show comes to us from the CEPA Gallery in Buffalo and it has some engaging aspects for photography not often seen, including some prints on molded paper by Tatana Kellner of eyes that can stare you down ( Eye Witness, 2001 ).  I say that the artist has the power to attract your attention and give you something back in that transaction.  Maybe it could be something humorous and risqué at the same time like the photo by Les Krims of a nude with the Mickey Mouse balloons.

Les Krims

There are also the cumulative effects of seeing the use of photographic images compounded in a book form - or as in the case of a work by Scott McCarney - an accordion fold publication called: " Memory Loss" of 1988.

"Memory Loss" by Scott McCarney

Photos can have a very surreal point of view because of what you can do in the darkroom ( or today with Photoshop ) and we see that as a regular part of the program in the work of Jerry Uelsmann. There are several of his distinctive prints in the present show.

Jerry Uelsmann in the show titled 
"Transformational Imagemaking at RIT

Now, I would like to move into the realm of painting seen through the eyes of my colleague, Luvon Sheppard who is presenting a solo show in the Davison Gallery on the campus of Roberts Wesleyan College in the western suburbs of Rochester.  This show called: "Forms of Content" brings together many new paintings in watercolor and acrylic and even some surprise sculptural works which Luvon has in store.  His show in many ways could be an extension of "Transformational Image-making" because he shares some of the same notions about process and suggestion in the art on view.

Luvon Sheppard talks to his audience
Roberts Wesleyan College

Luvon Sheppard spoke about his artwork at the reception for his show and he expressed his intense interest in watercolor and what the process can reveal.  As a teacher and Professor, in the School of Art at RIT he has said that he has learned as much from his students in his classes - and he has been teaching for many years ( 45 years plus ).

Luvon Sheppard's "Horses"

Luvon has a very interesting background, and his artwork has evolved to now include elements of abstraction and collage, along with his ability to tell a story in paint.  His inquisitive personality, and his kindness has won him a very strong following and I am happy to call him a friend and fellow teacher, and office mate for the past couple of decades.

Luvon Sheppard
Davison Gallery
Roberts Wesleyan College
"Forms of Content"

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Burchfield in Buffalo and Drawings by Joan Linder

Charles Burchfield 
Burchfield Penney Art Center
Buffalo, New York

Highly detailed in range and scope is this season's show of  Charles Burchfield's artwork called "Blistering Vision" at The Burchfield Penney Art Center, and it was the main draw for this viewer.  Also, Charles Burchfield, should he be alive today, would look on the drawings of Joan Linder in her show at the Albright-Knox titled: " Operation Sunshine" with a very appreciative eye.

Joan Linder at the Albright - Knox Art Gallery
"Operation Sunshine"

As I have written before, I grew up in a family of artists, and my father was a big fan of both Edward Hopper and Charles Burchfield - and I inherited that same orientation.  Both these men were great with watercolors but more than that they caught a view of America - not necessarily the hot spots - but more along the lanes and alleys in towns and countryside.  There is a very solitary aspect to Burchfield's artwork, and I can't remember a single image with a memorable person in one of his compositions.

Charles Burchfield at work in his 
Gardenville studio

Charles Burchfield's  "Roadside Stream", 1939

What the viewer can see in Charles Burchfield's art is someone who can animate nature, and someone who is in awe of it's power.  There is also a reverence for the products of an able work force, and a sense of capitalist progress in the machine age.  Burchfield was not the first to paint a picture of a steam engine or a bridge, but he may have been the first to not make them look so artsy - seeing his subjects for what they are.

Charles Burchfield's "Snow Patterns"

Not that his work is without drama, but Charles Burchfield's art stands on its own very well now, more than half a century since the paintings and drawings were made.  The gallery visitor is also given a sense of the artist's milieu through another show that accompanies "Blistering Vision"
and it features a group of artists gathered for a birthday party in August 1956.

A Community of Artists: Birthday Party, 1956 

The Burchfield Penney Center is a beautiful space, and the curators give us a thorough dose of what drove Burchfield to paint images of factories, the aftermath of storms, and a poetic documentary of life in early 20th century America.  Also, on view at this time is a curious installation by Babe Reingold called: "The Last Tree", and upstairs are large colorful cut felt sculptures by Josef Bajus made out of what looks like industrial textile discards. 

Felt sculptures by Josef Bajus

The Albright-Knox Art Gallery

Across the boulevard is the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, and they have great paintings on view including classics from artists like Arshile Gorky ( "The Liver Is The Cock's Comb" ).  

Arshile Gorky at The Albright-Knox

Downstairs,in her first museum show are the drawings of a friend, Joan Linder.  In a way, Joan's drawings expand on the vision of Charles Burchfield, and I must say it is uncanny - because Charles Burchfield was known to design wallpaper, and I at first, upon seeing Joan's drawing in green ink of plants - thought it was wallpaper at first, but then I realized that it was really a meticulous drawing of little green plantain weeds done inch by inch - and I thought what patience she must have!

Joan Linder's sketchbooks on view 
at Albright - Knox Art Gallery

I  also felt a kinship with Joan because of her artwork, and because I am attracted to the same kinds of industrial spots, though I don't often get the chance to draw and paint them.  Joan's installation consists of 91 elements including drawings in her Moleskine sketchbooks that she makes on site with remarks including one by a state trooper telling her that it will be alright if she sits and draws at that spot, as long as no one calls in to report her.  Was she sitting at "Love Canal"?

Monday, October 10, 2016


Brandon Ballengee 
part of a five person show at
Rochester Contemporary Art Center
137 East Avenue
Rochester, NY

Having just come home from a performance of "Tristan and Isolde",  live from the Metropolitan Opera, I have been very moved thinking about love and loss and the strong ties that bind us to each other and the earth, so it was perhaps very timely that I should walk into the new exhibition simply titled: " Vanish " at Rochester Contemporary Art Center.

Just within my circle of the arts, Rochester lost Nathan Lyons recently and then just this week the writer Zena Hampson.  So, we like to project ourselves as hail and hardy but there is also the specter of our mortality behind everything we do.  Sometimes we just can't help ourselves, other times we are effected by the tides of the business world with changes of fortune or maybe the climate has an effect on us and we feel like a speck of dust lost in the universe.

Aaron Miller at RoCo

In this new show the comfortable armchair life is deeply bitten into and disturbed in the installation art of Aaron Miller.  Flakes of coal dust that were used to print the tall scrims that greet a visitor to this recently opened show create a little pile on the floor.  This installation is like a stage set, with chunks of coal and the blackened appearance of two - no longer - comfortable chairs set up in the front of the gallery.  An elegy to the passing of a way of life?  Brought to you by an artist who grew up in a coal mining region out west, and whose family worked the mines for years.

Dorene Quinn makes "HISTORY"

Dorene Quinn is a sculptor from Syracuse and she puts it quite succinctly: YROTSIH, that is - "History" - but seen from behind and below, like if you were just buried!  You can't miss the point.  Her other work is a towering lacy wall work of dirt encrusted wire that lets us know that this is the LAST.  How foreboding.  Is it a last will and testament?  

Dorene Quinn with "LAST"

Brandon Ballengee cuts into Joseph Gould's Hummingbirds


At a recent Armory Show in NYC, I got into a long discussion with the artist Brandon Ballangee
because of his use of older artist's prints which he deftly cuts into to excise the subject of his concern.  We can experience a sense of loss in a visceral way when we are at RoCo, and this becomes very obvious when looking over the selection of artwork brought to us by Mr. Ballengee.  This sense of loss translates into the reality of species gone extinct - they are gone from this earth, known only in a distant memory or in the portraits made by artists and photographers now found only in museums and in books and not outdoors in nature where they belong.  Ballengee could go on and document the insects, fish, and marine life like sponges, coral and more.  This is an art that can make you feel responsible for making the necessary changes.  Engage your representatives, and right the ship.

Yvonne Buchanan, videos at "Vanish"

Yvonne Buchanan presents videos, one of which has no moving image but a curious soundtrack of singer Mahalia Jackson and her mellifluous voice.  Other videos from Buchanan include a black man speaking to the camera, we can't hear what he is saying, rather we get thought bubbles that project images of a variety of African textiles that change as the video images progress.  Thinking in pictures - of what may be lost or is in the process of disappearing.

Peter Edlund's paintings in series at " Vanish"

In one series of paintings, Peter Edlund, builds on the use of the silhouette to highlight places, and species of birds and animals that may be on the verge of major change.  There is also a relationship being built around specific locations where native American languages are fast disappearing, and with it a history and an understanding of a culture.  Peters' paintings are mild mannered, but they also get their point across, especially if you take the time to read the wall labels at " Vanish".

Peter Edlund's paintings on view at RoCo through November 13th, 2016

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Visual Studies

Nathan Lyons photographed by Joan Lyons
Nathan Lyons ( 1930-2016 )
Curator and founder of the Visual 
Studies Workshop

The study of photography wouldn't be what it is today without the scholarship and example of Nathan Lyons.  Photography lost a major figure when this man passed away last week, and we can pause to reflect on what he meant for his adopted "image city".

My own study of photography drew great benefits from Nathan Lyon's leadership - way before I had the chance to meet him.  His influence was felt through his own work as a photographer,  through the school he helped build: the Visual Studies Workshop, and through the many photographers and artists who passed through those doors - only to come out richer and better informed.  Nathan Lyons was a gifted writer, curator, and speaker, and his influence is felt by anyone who seriously enjoys collecting photography from some of the major names now in the field.  He argued for photography as a fine art, supported and shown in galleries and museums across the nation, and he worked tirelessly in that effort as a curator at The George Eastman House.

Nathan Lyons signing copies of his books

It was Nathan Lyons who saw value in the American snapshot, and he lent credibility to a diverse scene which included images by people like Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, Duane Michals, Joel Meyerowitz among others.  Nathan Lyons brought photography to the attention of museums and their public around the world, and there were many portfolios and shows that finally garnered the respect and admiration that was demanded.  Photographers began to have their work collected and many books were published that featured their artistry.

Nathan Lyons

One can learn a lot more by reading the recent book edited by Jessica McDonald published by the University of Texas Press - in which Nathan Lyons' essays and lectures are published as a collection. I was lucky to get Nathan Lyons signature on my copy of his book when it went on sale at Lumiere Photo several years ago on College Avenue in Rochester.  Nathan Lyons had a deep impact, his influence is felt, and his presence will be missed, he was 86.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Star of the Southern Tier

Windsor Whip Works
98 Main Street
Windsor, New York 13865

New Show:  "Not Just Alike, But One and the Same"
On Exhibit until October 29, 2016

At the opening came the announcement of the closing.  Just as the party was getting underway, Bill Pesce, co-founder with his wife Johanne, got up to speak, welcoming artists and guests to the opening of a big new show at The Windsor Whip Works Art Center.  "After eleven years", Bill was speaking into his microphone, "..once the new show that runs here through October 29th comes to an end, the gallery would close".

The Windsor Whip Works has been a star of the Southern Tier, and a stop I made numerous times as I drove along Route 17 ( now interstate 86 ) usually as I was coming up from New York City.  They renovated this old building and it was a labor of love.  The two floor space has been the host of many terrific shows over these past eleven years that the gallery has been in operation.  The Whip Works is an art center with drawing classes and special guest speakers doing workshops like my friend Dan Welden, among many others.  The Windsor Whip Works built a community too, so it is to be applauded for all this effort, along with the energy poured out by its board of directors and people like Bryna Silbert who was diligent in putting her curatorial skills to work at the gallery.

Fernando Llosa speaks with Bryna Silbert
at the opening of "Not Just Alike, But One and the Same"

One by one, the artists in this final show were introduced by Bill Pesce to the gallery audience assembled at the opening and the artists all had a few words to say about our shared experience there.  I had juried a show of small works for Bill and Johanne, and my artwork has been featured in the gallery six years ago ( along with my father Arthur Singer, and my brother Paul ), and now again with this present exhibition.  The people I met there along the way included some artists young and old, some with an international record of exhibitions to their credit, and some just getting their feet wet.
The atmosphere at the Whip Works is friendly, not off-putting like the art galleries of the big city.  But will people support what they are doing here?

Bill Pesce making my introduction
at the artist's reception on September 10th, 2016

I think we are still experiencing the downturn of the economy that swept across the U.S. and much of the world almost eight years ago.  People may be nervous about spending money on art which is often seen as a luxury.  As a culture we are also so inundated with images via the internet and our smart phones, that the values and principles of fine art are often questioned and sometimes ignored. The artists are just doing what they love to do, what they are driven to do and are passionate about, and they will have to find ways of supporting their habit.

Artist Kim Schrag
Windsor Whip Works

Back at our show in Windsor, New York, a good crowd has assembled to look over the new artwork, and I was very happy to see how the exhibition was presented.  Surprised to see my big blue painting in the gallery window out front, and nice to see a line up of my prints on the main floor.  I spoke with most of the artists and learned more about Kim Schrag and Treacy Ziegler, both in attendance.

Treacy Ziegler speaks at the opening
"Not Just Alike, But One and the Same"

Treacy Ziegler asked me questions about my printmaking, since she has practiced that too, and I found out about her recent activity teaching and showing her art in prison.  She spoke about writing letters to prison wardens encouraging them to offer inmates this avenue of expression, and she has now been adding this to her busy schedule of shows and creative work.  Many of her pieces on display at Windsor Whip Works are sculpted birds; they embody what we know about birds and their attendant freedom to fly.  There is some irony to this with her dedication to working with the prison population.  If you look at the card that advertised this final show, it is her barn owl that stands out as the only three dimensional work that announces this exhibition.

Three works by artist, Kim Schrag

Kim Schrag actually carves into the surface of her paintings, thereby making them into bas-reliefs onto which she spins a visual narrative.  I thought to ask Kim whether she was related to the artist Karl Schrag whom I met in Manhattan, but her answer was no.

Kim came east from her home in Kansas to attend graduate school at Cornell University, and I found that her paintings not only had facets and carefully orchestrated color, but they also reminded me sometimes of the art of Paul Gauguin.

Fernando Llosa at Whip Works

Fernando Llosa is a powerful artist who was born in Peru, and has a truly international perspective on contemporary art and culture.  The deep dark color of his work on view here has an emotional impact and though the work is nearly abstract it conveys the human presence in a very expressive manner.

Painting by William Benson

William Benson's paintings are more conventional in this show.  Maybe they are more accessible, while incorporating elements of geometry and textures that seem to come right out of impressionism.

The author, Alan Singer, and his painting:
"Playing to the Crowd"

My paintings and prints in  this exhibition stem from my recent activity in my studio where the interaction of color is applied to the visualization of mathematical functions.  What I do is the equivalent of having a color etch-a-sketch.  I am having a great time learning what curves can do, and opening my mind to whole new range of ideas that enlarge my geometric vocabulary.

So, please applaud the artists in this show, and most of all the folks who created this "Star of the Southern Tier".  It has been an honor and a pleasure to be a part of this enterprise.  Thank you, Windsor Whip Works.  Our show continues thru October, so take advantage of this opportunity, it won't last forever.

For information about their hours of operation, call them at area code 607 655-2370

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Art Shows Roll

Announcement card for the 
Windsor Whip Works Art Center
including yours truly!

A wave of exhibitions is about to roll in, and all that energy that has been spent ( on making the art and preparing the shows ) is about to be put to the test.  How will the public respond?

I brought my paintings down the interstate to Windsor, New York to the Windsor Whip Works Art Center for a new show with a few other select artists.  The group show that came before us was still up on the walls and included an old friend from New York City - Anthony Santuoso.  Mr. Santuoso is a figurative artist who I knew years ago, so it was a surprise to see his new sometimes difficult images in this place at this time.  Also on view were the paintings of Melissa Sarat, that I had seen
in other galleries, and her work is very intricate with an underlying interest in voodoo masks and sorcery.  

Artistic Journeys into Mysticism, Mystery, & Spirituality
painting by Melissa Sarat
Windsor Whip Works Art Center

Bill and Johanne Pesce, the couple who own and run the gallery are great, and the art shown in the gallery is interesting and engaging on many levels.  Windsor Whip Works really supports art in this upstate community near Binghamton, and you have to respect their attention to the artists who show there, and the people who come to see the exhibitions and take part in support of their art center.

So, if you are driving along Route 17, stop in and see what they are doing, they have a beautiful building and it is so well taken care of.

Albert Paley and the faculty of the 
College of Imaging Arts and Sciences
Bevier Gallery
Rochester Institute of Technology

Closer to home, for the faculty at R.I.T. our annual show has just opened in the Bevier Gallery and there is also the artwork I reviewed in my last blog post from Wendell Castle.  Both shows are excellent and at the Bevier Gallery, located in Building 7a, the new members of the faculty who now on board have a lot to offer, and to that point, Denton Crawford from the School of Art is having a solo exhibition that just opened at Gallery r, 100 College Avenue in the city..

"Revival"  by Denton Crawford
at Gallery r

Denton creates an environment with one room in this presentation and it is a little bit of a trippy eye test in some sense along with unusual sculpted objects, and graphic wall treatment as part of the show which may challenge your belief systems.  In the first room at the entry there is an unusual shaped painting that includes high key color and a luxuriance of imagery that greets the visitor.  Denton calls his show "Savage Sanctuary" and he remarks in his artist statement that in his " most recent paintings and sculpture he explores the relationships between religious belief, political affiliation, and individual rights and freedoms".  This sounds like it is ripped right out of today's headlines!  For me Denton Crawford shares some compositional energy with the likes of James Rosenquist, so it will be interesting to see how this work develops.

Denton Crawford's inner sanctum
at Gallery r

Down East Avenue at Rochester Contemporary Art Center we have prints on view in a curated show that is a collaboration between RoCo and The Print Club of Rochester.  The show is called "Under Pressure" and it brings together four well known artists:  Ellen Heck, Jenny Robinson, Heather Swenson, and April Vollmer for a wonderful show of works on paper and much more.

April Vollmer presents her new book
on Japanese Woodblock Printmaking
Rochester Contemporary Art Center

I talked briefly with April Vollmer and Heather Swenson at the opening and there were many questions I wanted to ask of them about their techniques.  April presented her new book on Japanese Woodblock printing and Heather Swenson reflected on her education as a printmaker at SUNY Purchase.

A visitor surveys the prints of Jenny Robinson
at the opening of "Under Pressure"

There is much to see at RoCo including some big brave works by Jenny Robinson who uses cityscapes, and roadside architecture as the basis for some of her content.  Ellen Heck was there with her works in series, and she was actively entering into a dialog with the gallery-goers at the opening on Friday night.  I look forward to more great shows developed in this new relationship between the Print Club and Rochester Contemporary, and I plan to go back a few times to look over all the works in the present show "Under Pressure".

Printmaker, Ellen Heck 
"Under Pressure" Rochester Contemporary Art Center

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Revealing The Creative Process

Wendell Castle Imagined
University Gallery
in the Vignelli Design Center
Rochester Institute of Technology
August 22 - November 11, 2016

Widely recognized as the father of the Art Furniture Movement, Wendell Castle is being celebrated with a late summer exhibition that has just been mounted in the University Gallery within the Vignelli Design Center on the campus of Rochester Institute of Technology.  This show is called "Wendell Castle Imagined", and its focus is on working drawings and models made in support of some of his signature pieces from recent years as well as a nod back to the 1960's and 1970's.

Wendell's 'Wolf'
at the University Gallery

I became aware of Wendell Castle's work early on because it bridged a gap between the Fine Arts, and Craft traditions, and boldly his works were making their way into museum collections and galleries.  Wendell's forms became part of my research when I was making my first sculptural "chair" as a student in a class at The Cooper Union.  I saw Wendell Castle's works in galleries in New York City, and later when I came to teach at R.I.T. he was one of the first people I was introduced to, and I am sure that he has made a lasting impression on his students in classes at R.I.T. where he was enlisted to teach from the early 1960's onward.  Back in the 1960's and 1970's the art furniture movement found its footing and patrons and we still feel the impact of that today, especially with this presentation.

"Suspended Belief"
working models by Wendell Castle

There is no doubt in my mind that these working drawings in the University gallery represent the work of a master.  The imagination and intense devotion to form is on view here in a very meaningful way.  You get to see how this artist thinks with pencil to paper.  What I know of Wendell's early works - are primarily forms of laminated wood with fluid shapes that contrast sharply with the rectilinear expectations that we have for wood work of the recent past ( think Bauhaus modernism ).  The art of Wendell Castle has had a cumulative effect, maybe as important as Frank Lloyd Wright was to architecture, or Brancusi in sculpture.  Wendell's work must have influenced other artists along the way like Tony Cragg and Martin Puryear, and these two artists in turn have contributed greatly to our cultural thinking.

Wendell Castle drawings in his new show
at R.I.T.

Seeing these drawings gives you insight to the working process, and how the forms are developed.  Many of the forms have an organic look, and needless to say they have a sensual aspect and reveal interesting silhouettes, certainly not what you would expect.  I really enjoyed seeing all the models and next to many of them are wire frame drawings that look like they are plotted by a computer.

Wendell Castle's 10 Adopted Rules

On a back wall in the gallery there is a big poster: Wendell Castle's "My 10 adopted rules of thumb".  This is great for R.I.T. students to read and understand ( If you hit the bullseye every time, the target is too near ).  These insights may have been passed on from generations of craft workers and they will still be relevant today in the arts.  In this show you will find that Wendell's pencil drawings are mostly modest in size but not in ambition, and I hope that this collection of working models and drawings finds a home where they can be seen by a wide audience.  

The reception will be held for the artist on Friday, September 9th from 5 pm to 7:30 pm.  Call the gallery for more information at 585 475-2866.