Tuesday, January 26, 2016


For "The Visual Artworker" I take the time to go and see what is on view in galleries and museums because writing these posts sharpens my memory of what I have seen.  When I am not teaching art, I am working in my own studio on painting and printmaking and also I am always curious to see what others are producing.  When I was a student in New York City the trends in the visual arts were easy to spot - abstraction, Pop Art, minimalism, earth art, happenings, photo realism, neo-expressionism - the imperatives were diverse but trends did dominate the moment.  Here, in 2016 it is a bit harder gazing into the crystal ball to discern which way visual art is heading.  Since the advent of the internet the arts have become fragmented, with constituencies for each branch of the arts, and loads of speculation on all of this production.

The only good that a trend had for me as an artist was to measure myself against what has become fashionable.  I also wanted to get to the bottom of why people found it so important.  Often this search for meaning in these art forms was very valuable and helped direct me down the path I took.

A discussion about the various strengths and positions that some kinds of art held helped give me a vocabulary and a way to describe what I did in the studio.

 Ellsworth Kelly(1923-2015)

I felt this kind of clarity recently reading a description of the art of Ellsworth Kelly who recently passed away.  He claimed to avoid the trends, and because of that people came to his art later in his life.  I thought of Kelly's paintings as being rather minimal, and certainly formal abstraction of his kind imposed strict rules - or at least that is my point of view looking in on the art, rather than what Kelly himself has said about his paintings.

Ellsworth Kelly

Kelly had one of the most powerful one-man shows at the Guggenheim Museum in New York a few years back.  His art could stand its ground within that Frank Lloyd Wright setting, and not much else has done that for me in that building.

Today, it was great to get out to see some new things, like an opening at Gallery 96 just above Bushnell's Basin, and also a studio visit I made in Victor, New York.  At Gallery 96 you can find "The Nature of Things" a new exhibition by four photographers in our area.  I had a nice chat with Dr. Chris Cove, who has large scale color prints of snowy owls.  He remarked about how he has gotten to know a few of the individual birds that he found in his lens, and I think if you know birds - you can sometimes tell snowy owls apart by their markings.

Dr. Chris Cove, photos at Gallery 96

Snowy owls show up in New York when their favorite prey are scarce in their usual hunting grounds in Ontario and further north.  Many of these owls that Dr. Cove has photographed have been banded so ornithologists can keep track of their range.  Snowy owls also blend easily into the winter landscape and you might only notice them when they fly.  A few of Dr. Coves most dramatic images show them in the air, with their eyes flashing.

Tom Kredo's "Busy Bee"

I enjoyed Betsy Phillips forest portraits, and Tom Kredo's "Busy Bee".  The fourth photographer, Gil Maker had some pleasant work on view and all of these prints made up a nice small show in this new gallery.

Rebecca Aloisio in studio

Just down the road in Victor, I met up with Rebecca Aloisio to see her new art in progress, and I was engaged in conversation with her about recent directions she was taking in her paintings that incorporate a variety of materials and processes that establish an interesting dialog within a single work.  Keep an eye out for her art - she had two large and wonderful abstractions in the recent Finger Lakes Show at The Memorial Art Gallery, so you have to call her an "Emerging Artist"!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Message Is The Medium

"Cloud Quilt"
Kathryn Bevier,  Encaustic Art 
Geisel Gallery, January 2016 

Encaustic painting as a medium has been with us for a few thousand years.  In fact the early Fayum portraits were created with this mixture of pigment and hot wax centuries ago, and those paintings still look great.  Today, there has been a renewed interest in the use of encaustic paints, and Kathryn Bevier knows a thing or two about this as she demonstrates in her new exhibition at the Geisel Gallery in downtown Rochester, New York.  I also know that she travels to demonstrate Enkaustikos
paints made right here in Rochester.

The Hum of the Horizon
by Kathryn Bevier

You may have seen examples of encaustic used in painting if you have been to a museum show of Jasper Johns - because it is one of his preferred mediums.  Years ago, artists would have to make their own paints by mixing some pigment with a clarified wax over a hot plate to keep the medium in a fluid state.  You would use some special brushes that you didn't mind taking a chance with ( because of the heat and the clotting factor of the encaustic ), and I have had demonstrations of these paints in my class at R.I.T.  Except for the occasional opportunity in a workshop to use these materials, I have not employed them in my artwork, but after seeing Kathryn Bevier's artwork, I might have to change my mind...!

"The Horizontal Line Series"

Really interesting use of textures is one facet of what you can achieve with these paints.  There is something at once velvety but also translucent when the paint is applied in thick layers.  The textures in a work like: "The Hum of the Horizon" are so tactile that they almost have a fleshy appearance.  I could imagine a painting class for the blind, where at the end of the day you just have to touch the surfaces of these paintings because they are so inviting.

Talking about horizons, if you enter the gallery and start to look over the show on the left hand wall there is a suite of paintings that are all about a horizontal plane and how using it creates an opportunity for landscape, or at the least a division between earth and sky.  These simple paintings are also about atmosphere, color, and the suggestion of distance.  The compositions are reductive, and remind me of early Brice Marden compositions turned sideways.

Cast Shadows on a Summer Lawn
at Geisel Gallery

I guess I like Ms. Bevier's more abstract paintings.  Some of the ones in her "Unfiltered" series are a bit flat and illustrative.  There is subject matter at the heart of the work, but then there is the sheer enjoyment of color and composition with each painting, like the one above.  We can feel how she enjoys working out her ideas like the little shadow paintings or a pair of paintings called "Me", and "Me, Too".

"Me, Too", and "Me" by Kathryn Bevier
at Geisel Gallery

I enjoyed her summer series, and it was nice to be reminded of that time of year, as I stepped out into a cold, snowy city on a quiet day in January.

"Architecture of a Quilt"
Encaustic Artwork by Kathryn Bevier

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Ithaca Time

View of the Cornell University campus
from the Herbert F. Johnson Museum

My home in Rochester is being renovated so we are in Ithaca, New York.  We stop to see the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art on the campus of Cornell University where they are about to install new shows; so we go upstairs to look over the permanent collection.  There are always new aspects to their holdings and as we walked into the elevator I wondered about what we would see.

All of us have been so involved with the constant use of new technology that it is a bit of a shock to think about all of this art of the pre-modern era.  While not being pre-historic- much of the early art on view in the museum goes back a few thousand years and I can only speculate about the kind of lives these early artists must have had.  The ceramics and paintings we found in the Asian collections come from  ancient and visually sophisticated cultures, but the important thing to think about is that this art is part of a physical culture ("made by hand").  So much of what we do today ( and what we are ) is dependent on digital devices, that it brings up the question of what we have lost in the process.  Can one teach art without the requisite hand to eye coordination?  I know there is no turning back, but if the art we create is so mediated by "virtual Reality" - where will we find ourselves in all of this?

Korean stoneware with incised slip, 15th century

We get out of the elevator and look over the panorama of downtown Ithaca.  Grey, January day - but no snow - in fact a warm wet day after the most unusual warm December that I can remember.  Korean ceramics from a few hundred years ago look almost modern with incised drawing that could be made by Matisse.  I would love to see a whole show of this kind stoneware, I am sure I would learn a lot.  Around the corner were some recent ceramic works, and I found a slip-cast porcelain piece that was so architectural it could have been a working model for a building by Frank Gehry.

Nagae Shigekazu, "Forms in Succession #9", 2009

New for me in the Asian collection were paintings from Thailand which are elongated scenes with stylized figures and architecture, typical of that location.  What was not typical was that some of the marching figures in one painting were holding rifles.

 Asian art at Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art
Cornell University

Down one floor we marveled over the Etruscan heads, and orange and black vase creations  and also carvings and mosaics from a land caught up in a deep crisis today: Syria.  For me there was a deep sense of sadness when I think of the devastation brought on by the civil war there to say nothing of what it was doing to the people who have fled.  Why historic relics must be destroyed ( Palmyra ) I can't fathom, it seems like censorship of the most extreme and irreversible kind.

Philip Guston, oil on canvas

Can you imagine a crazy scenario where the legacy of many generations was just trashed?  For what purpose?  Who stands to benefit from this? - it makes my head spin.  I needed some fresh air, so we left the area, but I looked a little more at the contemporary art on display.  I think Philip Guston has it about right.

Alberto Giacometti, "Walking Man" , 1959-1960 

Giacometti takes it in stride and in its austerity I begin to feel some energy and some hope.  The shop windows are all closed today in the Paris that Stuart Davis represents in his oil on canvas called Place des Vosges.   I  think about Paris, and that spot which now reverberates with the necessary rebuilding of the spirit that must take place in this city of light in France.  Ever vigilant.

Stuart Davis, "Place des Vosges", oil on canvas, 1928

Monday, January 4, 2016

Workers Progress

Carl W. Peters murals from the W.P.A.
featured in
The Memorial Art Gallery
Rochester, New York

Walking into the exhibition space at The Memorial Art Gallery, I stopped to see the portraits in the Forman Gallery, especially because of the new acquisitions including Mickalene Thomas and her new multi-media portrait of the queen "Qusuquzah" replete with rhinestones, and a wild George Condo "Portrait of a Clown", oil on linen from 2010.

Mickalene Thomas
Portrait of Qusuquzah, 2013
acrylic,oil, silkscreen,rhinestones

I am encouraged with the new hanging of portraits and they brought back memories - for example, I had the opportunity to shake the hand of John Ashbery, the poet and art critic when he spoke at The Memorial Art Gallery a few years ago and there he was on the wall in a portrait painted by Elaine DeKooning.  Alongside that there is a fine self-portrait by another poet e.e.Cummings and a larger-than-life size "Portrait of a Child" by Arthur B. Davies.  This little gallery is a welcome change as are the new acquisitions on display.

Hung Liu, "Three Fujins", 1995

Included among the new works  are paintings by Sam Gilliam, who I brought to Rochester ten years ago to speak at the gallery about his artwork, and I was excited to see a new assemblage from Nick Cave on view here for the first time ( "End Upheld" 2014 ).  Hung Liu - a painter, tracks the Asian influence in "Three Fujins" from 1995. In the hall leading up to the main gallery there is a little tribute to Rick Hock who passed away recently, and he is represented by three photo-based collages.

My Sunday visit to The Memorial Art Gallery coincided with the closing of the Carl Peters WPA mural artwork that has been on view this past fall.  Carl W. Peters was one of the 20th century's notable artists from the Rochester area, and it is rather remarkable that all of these preparatory drawings have finally been put on view so that people can re-visit an era that was so significant for the visual arts. While Carl Peters is considered to be a fine landscape painter, I did not know much about his figurative artwork and now this facet of his career can be much better appreciated.

A Carl Peters working drawing

"Art for the People" brings to light figurative studies that Carl Peters made for 13 murals found in  Rochester buildings including local schools.  These are fine studies including portraits and a drawing of hands that is very three dimensional.  The W.P.A. ( Workers Progress Administration ) employed Peters, it was a federal government program that put skilled people to work through the later years of the depression in America in the 1930's. 

Erik Hans Krause posters

Along with Carl Peters, there is a room devoted to the art deco posters and designs of Erik Hans Krause ( 1899-1990 ) who was a painter and designer that contributed to the W.P.A. administration.  Images on view extol virtues; "KEEP YOUR TEETH CLEAN", and  dispense self-help: "EXPECTING? Get the right advice from the right sources".

"The Curious Reality of Images" collage by Rick Hock

"The Curious Reality of Images" is a hallway exhibit by the artist Rick Hock ( 1947-2015 ).  The sequence of images in each one of these modest collages feature faces and people like Spaulding Grey, in toned photos that have a curious archaic look to them.  Rick Hock worked at The George Eastman House ( now the George Eastman Museum ) where he was the Director of Exhibitions and Program Design from the late 1970's thru to 2008.

On the way out from the museum, I stopped into the gift shop and was delighted with a new publication from Art House Press.  Here is a full color magazine devoted to up and coming artists in the Rochester area, and I was thrilled that some of my students from R.I.T. are featured in the interviews published inside.  This lifts the visibility of our visual artist community and hopefully will inspire collectors to come in and support these working artists,here and now.