Saturday, September 26, 2015

Flip Side of Counter Culture

Robin Cass presents
"Menagerie" at Axom Gallery, Rochester, New York

When I was growing up in the mid 20th century, the prevailing conversation about art and artists was that "they" represented the counter culture.  In this country we were being brought up in a new corporate world, so "those people" who did not fit in ( artists and other minorities in the social fabric ) and they took it upon themselves to fight the urge to conform.  Now, forty years later, everyone thinks of themselves as more favorable towards a creative lifestyle, and the political stance of the "counter Culture" no longer carries much cachet.

Artists in mid 20th century stood out because they were unlike the majority, but here in 2015, there are so many artists working in our midst that they tend to blend in to society, and they even have a reputation of adding something to the community.  The arts may contribute to our prosperity, and they can establish a dialogue about matters we feel strongly, even though we may not be able to put those feelings into words.

So artists want to show you the territory they inhabit.  It is a world of imagination that has been given a physical form, and looking at new artwork the best bet is to keep an open mind.  New artwork can bring you to a place you have never been, and it is part of the artist's job to provoke new thinking, new concepts, and a new feeling.

Robin Cass creates "Ocular bulbulpods"
blown, painted, and fabricated glass, 
silver, steel, brass, rubber, and felt

Step into the new show titled: "Menagerie" at Axom Gallery in Rochester, and you might have the feeling that you are looking through a series of portholes into a unique science experiment.  You can behold the glass work and constructions of Robin Cass ( a colleague of mine at R.I.T. ).  In these works she combines metal work with blown glass and the effects of lighting on her new pieces can be very engaging.  Looking at these mixed media so artfully combined may remind you of a primordial world of organic forms seen under magnification.  Robin titles her work like examples from a science textbook: "Stigmate paddlepod", and "Ocular bulbulpods".  I have remarked before that Robin's artwork calls to mind the wonderful glass flowers on view in the Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants at Harvard University.

Looking at "Menagerie"
by Robin Cass

There is also a bit of the haunting universe of H.R. Giger, the illustrator who died recently.  I see that in the suspended metalwork cages that act as a frame for some of the larger constructions in this new exhibition.  I enjoy the patina and color of many of these works and there is enough to suggest that we are just seeing the beginning of their existence.

Eileen Feeney Bushnell
The Mill Art Center, Honeoye Falls, New York

Down in Honeoye Falls, New York, we have a new show of printmakers from our region at The Mill Art Center.  Different methods of making prints are on view in a variety of different sizes and styles and this one caught my attention with its layers of imagery, and I found myself wondering what teeth have to do with an acrobat balancing on the head of a statue of Buddha...?  There must a story behind this print so we will have to ask Eileen Bushnell - just what is going on here?

Greg Smith in a "varied edition" of Looking Back

If you are in the market for some works on paper you will find some very attractive art in this new show, and the price is modest compared to what you will find elsewhere.  Take a look at the monoprints of Richard Harvey, or Dennis Revitzky - these are artworks by seasoned professionals and they have much to offer.  Tarrant Clements has some large abstracts, and Elizabeth K. Durand is showing new prints at The Mill Art Center.  You have to see it for yourself.

Pompeii landscape by D. Revitzky
at The Mill Art Center

Monday, September 21, 2015

There and Back

Ellsworth Kelly and Frank Stella
paintings on view at The Albright Knox Art Gallery
Buffalo, New York

I spent some quality time with students at The Albright Knox Art Gallery and upon entering the museum I noticed that everything they had hanging on the walls when I last visited had been changed.  Where did Clyfford Still go?  And who is Dan Colen?

Half of the museum had been closed when I returned because they were busy mounting new shows upstairs.  I was attracted to the new selection of paintings in the galleries and it seemed that I was seeing works I was not familiar with.  The new hanging had an accent on constructivist abstraction and abstract expressionism - all the way up to the present.

As I wrote in my last post, I was interested in going to Buffalo to see a show devoted to Robert De Niro, a painter who taught at The Cooper Union in the late 1960's and early 1970's.  I attended his class and also that of Hollis Frampton - a photographer and film maker devoted to the art of cinema.  Hollis Frampton always had a pack of Pall Malls in his hand and he would chain-smoke his way through our class.  I didn't know at the time that he was also a gifted documentary photographer who had many deep friendships among some of the iconic artists of mid 20th century.

Hollis Frampton's photo of Frank Stella
at work in his studio 1958-62

At the Albright Knox they have a show of photography where artists photograph other artists  ( sometimes at work in their studios ).  My teacher,  Hollis Frampton is represented in this show with at least three photos of important artists such as Frank Stella, Carl Andre, and James Rosenquist.  It is really interesting because you can see these photos of artists at work and then in the next gallery you can see their actual paintings on view.

There is a special exhibition of the work of Dan Colen, and I was surprised to read about his art and the radical materials he uses on his canvas: chewing gum!  I wondered how he gets the gum to stick to the canvas?

Dan Colen in "Shake the Elbow"

If you get too close to these "paintings" they smell sweet, and the imagery is of a raucous food fight. I am not sure that we need another re-hash of abstract expressionism.  There is no new formal ground won in this battle on canvas, and I was surprised to see the space devoted to this artist at this time and place.

When I was back at work at R.I.T. I visited The University Gallery in the Vignelli Center and saw wonderful paintings by Benigna Chilla, and ceramics by Vera Vico.  The layered abstractions  alone are worth seeing, as they weave space together in a unique way.  Why weren't these on view at The Albright Knox?

Works by Benigna Chilla

The ceramics of Vera Vico are inspired by the Mediterranean culture and she navigates these ports of call with a deftness that is impressive.  I love the colors and the forms that she explores.  You can revisit the historic Amphora, and her application of color and feeling for form is the work of  a gifted artist.

Amphora by Vera Vico

Sunday, September 13, 2015

When Poets Rule The World - Drive to Buffalo

Robert De Niro, Sr.,
Autumn Landscape with House, 1968
oil on canvas

An invitation card arrived from the University at Buffalo Gallery on Martha Jackson Place, and it brought back a flood of memories of my college painting classes back in New York City at The Cooper Union.  We drove out to Buffalo, to see the show dedicated to Robert De Niro, Sr. and the poet Irving Feldman.  Feldman was teaching and writing at the University at Buffalo and he recommended Robert De Niro for a summer painting position - this was back in 1967.

"Bobby" De Niro looked and sounded like his son, the famous actor, Robert De Niro, Jr.  The painter - De Niro had some early success probably stemming from the support of his powerful patron - Peggy Guggenheim in the late 1940's and early 1950's.  The artwork included in his show in Buffalo was created during the time period when I studied painting with him at Cooper, and so many of the paintings presented were ones I was familiar with.

Installation of Robert De Niro, Sr. and Irving Feldman
"Painter and Poet at UB in the Late 1960's"

The title of the show relates to the fact that Robert De Niro, Sr. had close relations with writers, and that the scene in the early 1950's and 60's was alive with the spirit of poetry ( somewhat like today ) and some rather well known characters were changing our culture through their work ( I am thinking of poet Allen Ginsburg and the writer Jack Kerouac here ).

By the time I studied with De Niro, his work had been neglected by the prevailing art scene which was heavily invested in abstraction and pop art, two trends which he would have rejected at that point in his career.  It has been a slow climb back up for some post-humous recognition, and his show in Buffalo begins to do that.  Also, a recent documentary about his life has sparked a renewal, and at least there is some curiosity thanks to the efforts of his son to rehabilitate his father's legacy.

Barbara Insalaco, Lester Johnson, and John Hultberg
Upstairs at the University at Buffalo Anderson Gallery

After visiting with Robert De Niro, Sr., I went upstairs to see the industrial landscapes of Barbara Insalaco, and I stuck around to look at the great ethnographic art collection on view as well as the paintings of Lester Johnson, and John Hultberg. 

A few miles down the road is the Burchfield Penney Art Center, and we caught the tail end of the Philip Burke show "Likeness of Being".

Philip Burke is a very popular caricaturist
with many portraits at
Burchfield Penney Art Center

Philip Burke's  paintings are always surprising for his endless imagination in re-arranging human anatomy while getting at the core of the celebrity he has in his cross-hairs.  Twenty years ago I brought Philip Burke to speak to my class at R.I.T. and he painted a work on the spot for the students to see his process.  He paints so intuitively, but always with a purpose.

Philip Burke's Rogues Gallery
in Buffalo

Upstairs, at Burchfield Penney Art Center I saw a collection of ceramics  in a show called "Body Norms" Selections from the Spong Collection.  There were many fine sculptors out for viewing including one of my neighbors in the Hungerford Building - Olivia Kim.

Sculpture by Olivia Kim

Later that same day we drove down to North Street,to the Hotel Lenox for an opening of a show at the Nina Freudenheim Gallery, and I am so glad we did.  There we saw the photos of Amanda Means, a terrific photographer, artist and printer who has worked with masters like Bernice Abbott and Robert Mapplethorpe. Amanda, has her photos in the collection at The Albright Knox Art Gallery, but I know her and her work from way back when she was just starting out in New York City.

Amanda Means at the Nina Freudenheim Gallery

I was really engaged by her large leaf portraits, which have a beautiful all-over light, and they remind me of the famous black and white plant portraits of Karl Blossfeldt.  Amanda's leaves ( and light bulbs, before that ) reveal a deeply curious mind with a high aesthetic threshold.  Her new work is abstract in one sense but very physical in another, as she folds photo paper and lets the emulsion run down the surface creating imagery that is immediate like a splash of water on dry cement.

Amanda Means " Fan Abstraction"

If you are in Buffalo, take a day to see these shows ( I am sorry to have missed the Hollis Frampton retrospective at CEPA Gallery - as he was also one of my teachers at Cooper Union ), and if you are not living in Buffalo, grab your hat and do not miss these exhibitions!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Conversations with Artists

"Brooklyn Bridge"
Rochester Contemporary Art Center's new show opens
bringing "emerging New York Artists and Monumental Artworks to Rochester"
September 4 - November 15, 2015

I strolled into the opening of "Brooklyn Bridge" at Rochester Contemporary Art Center last Friday, and was engaged in conversation with its Director, Bleu Cease.  He described an artwork we were looking at inside the gallery - a very complex wooden crate that could hold a life-size human - in a specific action -  a fumble by a football star that has become a sports legend.   In a way this is a parody of Marcel Duchamp's " Woman Descending a Staircase " - but seen inside out.  When you look at the precise way this crate is built you get an idea that the artist Norm Paris, is obsessed with cubist form, or shall I say the space around a form, and how to carry that form just so - so it doesn't get stressed ( the poor dear! ).

Artwork by Norm Paris at RoCo
part of the "Brooklyn Bridge" exhibition
in Rochester, N.Y.

At RoCo the opening was very interesting - especially when I was talking with Derek Lerner, one of the artists whose work was featured on the long gallery wall, and when you get up close to his drawings, you suddenly realize that all this work was done with ball point pens!  How much patience do you need to cover that many feet with a ball point pen?  I asked the artist whether he considered using another medium to do these drawings, and he assured me that he couldn't find another way that would satisfy.  His drawings have a relationship to maps, and also to a kind of target practice looking for specific places   ( to drop a bomb maybe - like what you might have seen in old movies about radar screens and such).

Drawing by Derek Lerner

I also found out from Mr. Lerner that his ball point drawings have been well received, and he has won a coveted space to show his work - a commission for large scale mural size images under plate glass that will hang along the Avenue X Station on the F Train subway line in Brooklyn, N.Y.  He will join a fleet of well known artists like the Starn Twins, and Elizabeth Murray among others, in the use of the subway platform as a kind of alternative gallery space.

Painting by Shoshana Dentz
at RoCo

I stopped to look at the small paintings from Shoshana Dentz, and in reading the wall label, I understood that her paintings were all related, and that they stem from initial perceptions of a three dimensional form she built out of translucent materials, that was then folded and held upright as the model for her artwork.

A special mention should be made about the tribute to the artist Rick McKee Hock, and the satirical drawings on view in the RoCo Lab Space.  Poking fun at the competitive element of the big time Fine Artists, these drawings have such a sharp wit - it is a wonder that they haven't been more widely seen ( like on the cover of an art magazine for example ).  Mr. Hock passed away earlier this year, and he was evidently highly regarded for his work in photography as well as these drawings.  Along with these  "portraits" of artists are some wonderful small notebooks  covered in sketches with ideas for new drawings and notations for his ongoing series called:  Artist vs. Artist, reminding me of Spy vs. Spy in my old Mad Magazines.

Drawing by the late Rick McKee Hock

Liz Jaff's portraits of folded paper were in the minimalist representational vein ( a modern day Morris Graves ) and I admired her economy and her aesthetic, but I wished to see something a bit more complex and challenging.  On the other side of the equation, Richard Garrison gave me much complexity, data points  and found poetry, but the images he developed left me cold.  I would also like to mention that this show was created in partnership with The Memorial Art Gallery, and Robert Henry Contemporary of Brooklyn, New York.

At Axom Gallery I had fun talking with Rick Muto about his new Italian landscape paintings that he just brought back from his first painting trip to Italy.  Mr. Muto is co-founder of the New York Figure Study Guild ( introduced recently on WXXI TV ) and they will be having their 8th Annual Show this coming September 11-19th in the Steve Carpenter Gallery, 176 Anderson Avenue, in Rochester, New York.

Painting by Rick Muto, 2015, Axom Gallery

You can always learn something from artists who feel free to speak up.  For example, when I attended the opening of a new show at Ock Hee's Gallery  ( I wrote about this in my last post ), I found out from the photographer PJ Pennewell that the photo of his that I liked so much really is made from three sections of the same scene using a new app for his smartphone called "Layout".  He automatically pasted together the three images to create something new.

Photo by Alan Singer "Baltimore Earthquake"

I saw how this feature works myself when I was in Baltimore last month and created a photo using a similar function.  This time I made it appear that there had been a major earthquake in Baltimore.  Given the news coming from that city, it gives me pause...  Can we ever believe what we see in a photo anymore?  What do you think?

Friday, September 4, 2015

In Advance

Albert Paley's sculpture is titled: "Sylvan"
Installed at the Hungerford Building

The weather and the art scene are heating up as we charge into September.  Already there are signs of change as we get underway with a Labor Day Weekend series of openings at galleries far and wide
especially on First Fridays.

A surprise at the Hungerford Building - without any fanfare - a new Albert Paley sculpture called "Sylvan" was installed and this certainly gives a different character to my studio space.  I wonder when they are going to open the new deck,  - one can only applaud the improvements!

Artist David John 4th floor, Hungerford Building

Upstairs in the Hungerford Building, artists are preparing for First Fridays, the ceramic kilns are cooking, and painters painting... I met a neighbor who is just starting out and finding his way.  The great thing about First Fridays, is the response from the public, and the artist can open their studio to  people who have a genuine interest in all things visual, and maybe take home an artwork of their own.

On the ground floor, I recommend that you walk over to Warren Phillips Fine Art and Frame Gallery and check out the little landscape paintings by Alling M. Clements.  These modestly sized  (and priced ) paintings are oil on canvas or board, and most are studies made "en plein air ".  Alling Clements (1981-1957)  is probably not a name you are familiar with but he once studied at the Art Students League in New York City and taught figure painting and drawing in Rochester in the early 20th century.

Alling M. Clements

I am really attracted to this work and it is a practice I had when I was younger to go outside and look for sites to paint outdoors.  Alling M. Clements spent time in this area painting and also along the coast of Maine.  I really enjoy his light, spontaneous touch with color and it reminds me of my teacher Edwin Dickinson.

Alling Clements paints outdoors in Maine

The faculty at Rochester Institute of Technology has a broad base of experience in all aspects of the visual arts, and each year there is an exhibition of some of their work.  This First Friday we have the opening of that show and I am glad to be in the mix,  and happy that Betsy Murkett has hung my print "Fireworks" right in the entrance to the exhibition.

Alan Singer " Fireworks ", monoprint on paper,  2014

On the back wall of the Bevier Gallery there is a quartet of photos by Peter Byrne that I find engaging.  Is it the color, the geometry or both.  I like the compositional aspects, and he shares some of my interests in the digital realm.  There of course are many surprises in this faculty show and that is as expected.  There are some new people, and their artwork is new to me, and you would enjoy the experience of seeing some new things too.

A quartet by artist Peter Byrne
at the Bevier Gallery
Rochester Institute of Technology

For the past few months at Ock Hee's Gallery in Honeoye Falls, New York there have been some terrific shows as she celebrates her last year with the gallery space.    This month she has invited a photographer and a sculptor to show together.  The photographer, PJ Pennewell is famous for his dances with Garth Fagan Dance and now we get to see the open mind and sensitive eye of this well known member of our community.  The porcelain sculptures in this show come from the hands of Christina Brinkman, and they are marvelously intricate.  Christina's artwork is devoid of decorative coloration, preferring the natural color of the high fired clay to reveal details.  These delicate sculptures remind me of some of the mathematical models that I found at last months' BRIDGES exhibition in Baltimore.

Porcelains by Christina Brinkman
at Ock Hee's Gallery
Honeoye Falls, New York

When you look at PJ Pennewell's photography you are tempted to think deeply about the physical space in the image and what is happening.  Tree branches take on an athletic signification and become a pose, a wave moves onto shore and bursts forth into a million droplets, and these photos are about action suspended or explored, and they are all in black and white, no fussy color to distract the mind from the intended purpose.

PJ Pennewell, at Ock Hee's Gallery