Monday, April 14, 2014

Return to Botany: Pictures From The Plant Kingdom

watercolor by Alan Singer
  from the exhibition "The Power of Flowers"
  At Ock Hee's Gallery, Honeoye Falls, NY

Years ago, before I came to Rochester to teach at R.I.T., I developed an interest in plants and flowers, and then spent time providing design and illustration for books on the subject.  In love with nature, I practiced my watercolor technique that I learned from my father (Arthur Singer) and I often painted from life in the backyard among the flowers that I had selected and planted.  While I was still a graduate student earning my way to an MFA at Cornell University I illustrated a book on house plants that went on to sell thousands of copies.  I found there was a very large audience for this kind of descriptive artwork.

Tulips, May 1, by Pamela Glasscock

After Grad school, I moved back to New York City and not only did I meet many fine artists, but I also met the ones who shared a specialty like mine.  This month, I was able to bring along some of the artists I have met to exhibit their work at Ock Hee's Gallery on Lehigh Street in Honeoye Falls.  I am honored to be accompanied by artists who really know their stuff - this is world class botanical art.  Over thirty years ago I met Pamela Glasscock, and for this show she sent from California some spectacular large watercolors she has made, not only of tulips, but also native flowers from the west just beginning to bloom.
Here in the east we have a few nice days and the snow drops (Galanthus) are in flower, buds have burst in the trees, and spring is coming.  For those of you who thought that winter was way too long, you can celebrate the colors of spring at the show we call "The Power of Flowers", open til May 24, 2014.

Variegated Lemon by Carol Woodin

Carol Woodin, an artist who is the director of exhibitions for the ASBA ( The American Society of Botanical Artists) is represented in this show by gorgeous plant portraits on vellum, a preferred material for botanical art.  For years Carol exhibited her work at the Rochester Museum and Science Center during the annual orchid show.  Also on view in this exhibition are Asian styles of painting including several works by Dennis Burns who employs a brush technique that he studied in Japan.
 Dennis has another specialty of creating Japanese Gardens, and he knows his plant materials and what they represent.  It is not just the Lotus flower that has symbolic significance, but also plum blossoms, bamboo, and chrysanthemums.

Joy of LIfe by Dennis Burns

Denise Heischman has painted a tall red Amaryllis for this show, and Dr. Alice Chen has added a delicate portrait of "The Veiled Lady" a mushroom she has studied.  Alice also is teaching Asian brush painting and has several intimate works at Ock Hee's Gallery.  Years back, botanical artists were few and far between, but now there seems to be a rejuvenation of the field, and some of that can be attributed to the active participation of the ASBA and these gifted artists.

"The Veiled Lady" by Dr. Alice Chen

My contribution to this show included selecting some of the artists, and I am also exhibiting watercolors of a lily with yellow specks, some bright sunflowers, and brilliant red poppies -  a nice mixture to remind you that warmer weather will be coming right around the corner.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Henri Matisse In Prints

Matisse as Printmaker:
Works from the Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation
has opened at The Memorial Art Gallery

Large Odalisque with Bayadère Culottes, 1925 
Crayon transfer lithograph with scraping 
Image: 21 5/16 x 17 3/8 in. 
Sheet: 29 1/2 x 22 1/16 in. 
Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation (1727 - 109014) 
© 2013 Succession H. Matisse/Artists 
Rights Society (ARS), New York 
Courtesy American Federation of Arts 

This is the month for printmakers here in Rochester; with a major show at The Memorial Art Gallery of the prints by Henri Matisse - spring is in the air and there is so much to see...

Back when I was a young artist studying at The Art Students League in New York City ( in the early 1960's) I was the monitor for the life drawing class and one of the models for the class would show me magazines and photo clippings of the days when she would pose for Monsieur Henri....  I was already fascinated with what Matisse could do with an economy of line and vivacious color in his paintings but I knew very little about his prints.

On my many strolls through the galleries on 57th street I could stop into the Pierre Matisse Gallery, and even say hello to the great artist's son who looked so much like his father with a beard.  At the Pierre Matisse Gallery one could always find something interesting by Balthus or maybe Morandi, or Miro.
But it took a while for me to register the accomplishment of Henri Matisse and his graphic art.  I was mostly impressed with his book arts, especially JAZZ, and now I have an opportunity to really study Matisse here in Rochester.

In fact all the prints on view come from the Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation and this exhibition is just now circulating through museums in the U.S., so we are very lucky to have them here within reach.
Matisse in his printmaking was traditional, with most of the images at a very intimate scale, and we first see him in this show dressed like an accountant looking at himself in a mirror as he engraves his self portrait.  He sports a beard and glasses and his body seems to emerge from the shadows of the etched lines.

Henri Matisse Engraving, 1900–03 
Image: 5 7/8 x 7 7/8 in. 
Sheet: 9 13/16 x 12 15/16 in. 
Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation 
(1303 - 105083) 
© 2013 Succession H. Matisse/Artists 
Rights Society (ARS), New York 
Courtesy American Federation of Arts 

It is these lines that interest me, more than the tonality they create, because this artist would go on in his career to really radicalize what line could do in the arabesque - the dance of line on paper, which he could express so eloquently - and economically in his works from the early part of the 20th century until his last years before he died in 1954.

The Large Nude, 1906 
Crayon, brush and tusche lithograph with scraping 
Image: 11 1/4 x 9 15/16 in. 
Sheet: 17 3/4 x 13 15/16 in. 
Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation (1714 - 109001) 
© 2013 Succession H. Matisse/Artists 
Rights Society (ARS), New York 
Courtesy American Federation of Arts 

The Large Nude hints at what was to come with Matisse in his art - it is radical in the simplification of the body and this artwork perhaps responds to the cubist impulse that was just ready to hit the artworld.
In the early 20th century it was Picasso who set the pace and the structure of art, and yet Matisse could charm you and stimulate you to think about what color could accomplish ( just think of his "Red Studio" of 1911 in the Museum of Modern Art ).

Upside Down Nude with Brazier, 1929 
Crayon transfer lithograph 
Image: 21 15/16 x 18 1/8 in. 
Sheet: 26 x 19 15/16 in. 
Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation (1299 - 102007) 
© 2013 Succession H. Matisse/Artists 
Rights Society (ARS), New York 
Courtesy American Federation of Arts 

  This is among the early lithographs by Matisse and a trail can be sketched from here all the way to 1948 in works like " Nadia with a Serious Expression".  With the "Upside Down Nude" - how does Matisse not make this look awkward?  How does he create the space from the model's elbow at the bottom of the sheet to her toes that touch the Brazier?  In many of these works there is a game between perceived space ( and perspective ) and a certain flattening of space that pushes everything towards the front of the picture plane.  I think this is something that has to be dealt with in all two dimensional art - the nature of space and now to portray it, and how to control it ( to the best of your abilities ).  Beyond that it is just a pleasure to see how a master artist catches your eye, and holds it.

Nadia with a Serious Expression, 1948 
Lift-ground aquatint 
Image: 13 9/16 x 10 15/16 in. 
Sheet: 22 1/4 x 14 3/4 in. 
Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation (1411 - 104005) 
© 2013 Succession H. Matisse/Artists 
Rights Society (ARS), New York 
Courtesy American Federation of Arts 

Henri Matisse as Printmaker 
now through June 8th, 2014
at The Memorial Art Gallery

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Sophisticated Folk

Bill Stewart at  Axom Gallery

The complex character of the folk art inspired ceramic creations of Bill Stewart, on view now at the Axom Gallery, can be quite funny and demanding at the same time.  I have one of his little pieces at home (it is a clown) and I am always amused by its outward expressiveness and its determined nature to go against art world trends.   I am all for going against the demands of the system, I like to challenge the norms as well, and so in part I am attracted to Bill Stewart's art because of the freedom he has to be himself and to let things develop, without always having to look over his shoulder at what should  be done.

Totemic figures by Bill Stewart

Bill Stewart, in this outing at the Axom Gallery, brings a darker side to the party - and not just because the majority of the glazes he now uses are blackish to begin with.  The closest thing I have seen to this art (from my point of view) are the figurative ( and funereal ) painted wood works from New Ireland, an island chain in Papua, New Guinea.  This thought struck me as I looked at the two figures (above) that Stewart combines in a little boat.

The ceramic figures sometimes hide their faces under a hat, or curls of black hair, or sometimes a form that just looks like a mudpie, and this once again conjures up images of body painting and head-gear that I associate with art of New Guinea.

Bill Stewarts' artwork is popular with people and a whole horde of them came out to hear him speak about his process as an artist and a teacher.  Listening to his introduction, one could understand where he was coming from - the vital period of the early 1960's when many ways of doing things were being challenged.  Bill said that he was enamored of children who "can take disparate objects and put them together" and all the elements would play as an ensemble.

His continuity of artwork is really amazing, and it has the stamp of an American original and his work has had an influence on many people, and other artists for certain.  If you only know the airport figures that greet you at the terminal, you don't know that he has made many more interesting things during his decades long career.  He makes a spiritual, cultural, and political statement in many of his standing totemic figures, some of which are just plain wacky, and others will bite just like a badger.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Driven By Printmaking - Some Very Lively Artists

Wood blocks
   waiting to be inked...
    at Rochester Contemporary Art Center

Dirty Dozen: The Outlaw Printmakers just opened at The Rochester Contemporary Art Center, 137 East Avenue, in Rochester, New York.

The old notions of high and low in the arts has been cast aside.  Here we have an artform - for the people, by the people, and for the printmakers..  These "printners" owe a debt in equal share to Durer, Daumier, and R. Crumb.  "Dirty Dozen: Outlaw Printmakers just drove into town sporting an "Affordable Print Fair" - where you can get a handmade print for a little over what you might pay for a cup of coffee at a Starbucks.  Or maybe you might opt to watch as your next tee shirt is printed right before your very eyes..  The woodblocks used to print the shirts looked well worn, and were about two inches thick, all of this goes into the press and ink on the newly printed tee shirt dries quickly.  Woodcut was a method Durer used over 500 years ago and it still is a technique of choice as demonstrated on opening night of this exhibition.

Tom Huck leads a discussion
  about his art and life at RoCo

The graphic arts are alive and well as one looks around The Rochester Contemporary Art Center.

Saturday, April 5th the artists gather for a talk about their work on exhibit, and we can experience once again their creative process and glean some insight into what powers these people.  Tom Huck has the timing of a stand-up comedian, and as he said on Saturday, he is into social commentary.  His art on view( a grand triptych that took years to create ) is self-referential, and as woodblock prints go, it is heavily textured down to the lacy edge that had to be hand cut for every print in the edition of twenty-five.

Drive By Press opening night
  and it is back to work, rolling in ink..

Tom Huck says that he wants his triptych to be very rare ( he keeps the numbers of prints in an edition rather low ) but the content and subject matter is very suggestive and somewhat aggressive.  Tom Huck says that if he "wasn't doing his art he'd be taking hostages..."

He may be on to something as he expresses himself with dark humor - making much of the traits he says he shares with his idols that include Goya, Hogarth, and most notably Albrecht Durer.  I might also add that some of his images remind me of a cross between Max Beckmann and R. Crumb.

Tom has also been a teacher and a mentor to some of the other artists in this show including Ryan O'Malley, and the artists of Drive By Press.

Joseph Velasquez and Greg Nanney
create custom tee shirts on a etching press

Drive By Press was there opening night busily making tee shirts and selling their prints, and on Saturday they told the audience how they became noteworthy printmakers practicing their craft and visiting schools that had no printing facilities.  They put an etching press in a van and went everywhere inspiring students to get involved with printmaking.  These artists are nothing if not totally committed to their art, and as Ryan O'Malley said, " the artist's life is very self-centered, it has to be if you plan on getting anything accomplished."

Ryan O'Malley speaks to the audience
at RoCo

Ryan O'Malley directed our attention to portraits on a computer screen which he says were developed using stencils.  We also looked at images which were made by printing laser cut board assembled into symmetrical images that resemble Rorschach tests.  The art on view at "Dirty Dozen" borrows from cartoons, political satire, MAD Magazine, and the aforementioned grandmaster artists of the past. Printmaking represents a move towards the democratization of the arts, taking a step off the pedestal that it has been on and mingling with the people.

Sean Starwars  at RoCo

Some of the particular images in the show will stay with you like the two pink hotdogs on a date, walking over to the nearest Nathan's restaurant.  This work and others by Sean Starwars has a sharp wit and a very individual approach to color - although the predominant color in this show is black - as in black as ink.  The real weight in this show comes from how line is manipulated, and so no matter how an artist like Tom Huck constructs his visual stories,  the line is always poised and balanced even if the imagery is like a nightmare.

Charles Hancock presents William Burroughs
at RoCo

At Rochester Contemporary there is also an exhibition of prints originally commissioned by the Print Club of Rochester, including an edition by Gregory Amenoff that I worked on with the artist in 2004.
It was great to see this selection of prints and it reminds me of the contribution that the Print Club has made to this artform over the years in Rochester and beyond.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Wild Wings

Mr. Prvrt strikes again!
  his art is featured at the 1975 Gallery
  in the show " All Things Wild and Free"

Part of the proceeds from Mr. Prvrt's latest show will be donated to Wild Wings, a wonderful volunteer organization that rehabilitates birds that have been injured and can no longer sustain themselves in the wild.  Mr. Prvrt is an artist whose artwork has been seen as part of Wall/Therapy. and at the 1975 Gallery he brings his work indoors, with 30 plus pieces that will hang out for a few more days this month ( til March 29th ).

One can marvel at the patience it takes to cut all the stencils by hand needed for the very realistic portrayal of the birds and animals on view in this show.  A few of the images border on kitsch but many of these spray paintings express a real passion for the natural and the particular look of fur or feathers.

Some of the subjects were familiar to me as I have asked Wild Wings volunteers to bring their live birds to my classroom at R.I.T. so students can draw from a primary source.  Mr. Prvrt makes a strong case in his paintings that almost work as icons from the natural world   ( see Rosalie above in the painting titled "The Pharoah's Daughter ).  I couldn't help but wonder about the fates of these animals, but I know that the volunteers at Wild Wings do a great job and are very dedicated to the birds and animals they protect and nurture.  At the crowded opening, the birds were being admired, and many of the paintings were sold, so it is great to see people investing in this cause.

Spray paintings by Mr. Prvrt
at 1975 Gallery,
Rochester, NY

check out the video:

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Armory Show and a Chelsea Soloist

Ramping up for art at
  The  Armory Show , Piers 92 and 94 in New York City, March 6-9 , 2014

What could be more of a contrast than spending several hours looking over artworks with a cast of thousands milling around on a pier overlooking the Hudson River, and then going into a beautifully lit Chelsea top floor gallery with a couple of very dear friends?  I was on a mission - to inform myself and try to draw upon the experience of seeing tons of new artwork from all over the world.  The Armory Show is the magnet that draws me each year, and so I went in to read the tea leaves! 

I have to take issue with Ken Johnson in his review in the New York Times.  He missed the nuance when he wrote that this is the cut and paste art fair, mostly because visual artists are into graphic programs like Photoshop on their Macs and iPhones, and not so dependent on Microsoft and the Windows environment ( how would a writer know? ) anymore...

Richard Pousette-Dart (top)
  and Lee Krasner (below) at
  Michael Rosenfeld Gallery

This year I started off on Pier 92 in the Modern section and I was greeted by a photo work by The Starn Twins - it was a seated Buddha gazing out at the thousands who were coming into the entrance for the show.  The Hacklebury Gallery of Great Britain featured a group of works from the Starns which I remember seeing when they came around the first time in New York City.  A few feet away,
I shook hands with my cousin Michael Rosenfeld in his new space where he was presenting wonderful work by Richard Pousette-Dart and Lee Krasner.  I think the 1952 Pousette-Dart was one of the most interesting paintings I saw all afternoon.

Lee Krasner deserves a major retrospective, and along those lines
the curators for The Armory Show did the right thing by drawing attention to women artists who have been working all these years without the attention (they should be demanding). There was a site specific wall work by Pat Steir and a host of works by notables such as Inka Essenhigh, and Lynda Benglis.

Special exhibition space highlights
artworks from a variety of notable women
at  The Armory Show

Next year, if you go to The Armory Show, try not to go on a Saturday like I did - because it can get congested with so many people and it is not so much fun if you are trying to enjoy the art!  Still, there was a lot to see, and I came across a very complex Morandi still life, and a dark and morose Lucio Fontana painting which had been stabbed several times to let in some background light - these paintings point towards the transgressive street art of today.

Morandi at The Armory Show

Down the aisle, I enjoyed seeing some Marcel Duchamp Roto Reliefs from 1935 at the art dealer Koeppel  ( from Chicago ) and next to that a really uncomfortable circuit painting by Peter Halley.

Marcel Duchamp at The Armory Show

Another feature of this edition of The Armory Show was a focus on galleries springing up in China.
The recent burst of activity has yet to bring forth really distinctive artists but it is beginning an interesting process, and I have a very open mind about what contemporary Chinese culture has to offer ( certainly many more art students in MFA programs are Asians and they will produce! )

The Marianne Boesky Gallery
  booth at The Armory Show

Pier 94 had the Contemporary arts, and I stopped into the Marianne Boesky booth to admire the diagonal wood beam construction and the rugged abstractions by Senge Alain Nitegeka.  I stopped in to see David Lasry at Two Palms Press and admired a wordy Mel Bochner which had so much color and texture that it really was more a painting than a print.

Mel Bochner at Two Palms Press

There was a interesting new Chuck Close silkscreen of Zhang Huan, and sprinkled around the Pier were some of those little colorful yarn works by the Italian artist Boetti - which could be the precursor  for the Mel Bochners.

Alighero Boetti circa 1984
at The Armory show

Photo realism took a bow in the spray painted orchids of Marc Quinn - his "Sravasti River Delta" oil on canvas from 2009 comes mighty close to pop art via James Rosenquist.  The colors are saturated and the artifice runs high in this work, but it does catch the eye.  Speaking of that - the longer the afternoon went on - the greater the crowds became, until I felt that the art was threatened with extinction!  It was a struggle to see what I had come for, and so I planned my escape.

Marc Quinn at The Armory Show

Before I left the Piers I happened on something - perhaps my favorite thing in the show which I found on a corner wall of the Lehmann Maupin Gallery - they were intricate and singular works taking everyday objects like a door handle and completely rethinking them.  These sculptural works were wire frames with a stretched green gauzy fabric that completely transformed the mundane into the marvelous.  The artist was Do Ho Suh, and I can't wait to see more.

Do Ho Suh at Lehmann Maupin Gallery

Downtown away from the sea of people, I found renewal and strength and a persistant vision in the paintings of my friend, David Row.  David has a natural feel for the color of a direct motif he has been employing for years now.  What is different is the angular nature of the canvas shapes that he is using and how they butt up against each other.

David Row in Chelsea at Loretta Howard Gallery

The abstract strength of these large shaped paintings has some relationship to Ellsworth Kelly and maybe Robert Mangold, but David pulls something extra out of this geometry, something almost literal like a phrase: "coming full circle".  These are active and serious works that are at once spare, engaging and rewarding - all in a well considered package.  Check out David's show in Chelsea at 525 26th Street, go up the elevator - on the top floor there is the beautiful Loretta Howard Gallery.  Enjoy! 

David Row at Loretta Howard Gallery

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Balloons Matter, A Pop-Up Show

A Pop-Up Show at
   The Sibley Building

Airigami sends up Jack and the Beanstalk to great heights!

We joined many others at The Sibley Building the other day to see the latest construction by Airigami, a team of experts who put up a five story sculpture that was truly eye-popping!

How many balloons did it take to do that?

Larry Moss and Kelly Cheatle make a great case for getting the whole family out to see their creations, and this "Jack and the Beanstalk" had to be seen to be believed.  It is fun, and serious at the same time.
The illustrious aspect - full of visual puns - has the ability to capture the attention of kids who may want to know the story and how it is done, which may lead into a discussion - the serious side - of how do you make something that tall, full of air, that won't collapse?

Looking down from the monster's lair

Kudos to the team that pumped it up and put something together for families to marvel at. This kind of thing makes Rochester a fun place to be- even in the midst of winter!