Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Birds Of A Feather

Jane Kim's Birds of the World
at the Laboratory of Ornithology
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

Following my last post ( 007 Is A Birdwatcher ) on the bird art of James Bond, I wanted to make a mention of the birds of Jane Kim.  If you are at all interested in ornithology you will probably have heard of the Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell University. The Lab is a well known resource for information and scientific study, and they cater to a large audience interested in birds-  so people come to Ithaca from all corners of the country.

The Fuertes Library  at 
The Laboratory of Ornithology, in Sapsucker Woods

When you arrive at the Lab you can take the perimeter trail and look at the birds that gather, and you can also walk inside the building and find art treasures such as the Fuertes Library that holds some of the original art that was made for Cornell by the noted artist Louis Agassiz Fuertes in the early 20th century.  Fuertes taught at Cornell and worked for the National Geographic Magazine where he was commissioned to travel and paint what he saw of the avian world in far flung places around the globe.  Like John James Audubon before him, Fuertes was well respected for his art that caught something of the personality of his bird subjects ( if you can say that a bird has "personality" ).

Jane Kim's mural at the Lab

Jane Kim has recently completed her mural for the Lab and you see it when you walk into the main atrium of the building.  Jane has a business called InkDwell and she has been painting murals at sites such as the Lab for a number of years.  Here she has created art about the birds found in our world, along with some ancestors from early in the evolution of the bird species.

Jane's wall mural is huge, and she draws and paints complete portraits of the birds in their natural size seen against the backdrop of the continent that the bird is most associated with.  It is an impressive sight, and she is to be congratulated for her achievement.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

007 Is A Birdwatcher

James Bond's "Birds of the West Indies"
(My well worn copy of the guide book)
circa 1971

In the early 1970's, my father - Arthur Singer (1917-1990), who was a well known bird painter worked with a couple of other artists on a revised edition of the book (above) called "Birds of the West Indies". This book was the original creation of an artist and ornithologist named James Bond and thus begins a remarkable story.  This publication happened to attract Ian Fleming who was in the Caribbean writing a spy thriller and he needed a name for his leading man.  Ian Fleming was a birdwatcher, and he became enamored by the name on his guide book: James Bond - which he felt was low key in comparison to the thrilling events that would surround the life of his character - 007.  So a star was born when Ian Fleming wrote the first James Bond story while the real James Bond labored on in the shadows, continuing to paint portraits of birds, and record their lives for those of us who like to identify what they see on the wing. Over the years many James Bond spy movies have since been made,  and the Bond character became world famous.  

The artist James Bond on the left, Ian Fleming on the right from
from the exhibition "Birds of the West Indies" by Taryn Simon

So, it was surprising to find myself at The George Eastman Museum the other day, looking over an extensive show titled: "Birds of the West Indies" and it is all about documentary photography and how to organize it.  There is a large vitrine in the center of the main exhibition that includes photos of bird study skins, and letters from the ornithologist James Bond, as well as a photo of the artist meeting the writer Ian Fleming.  Also in the vitrine are a couple of early editions of the guide book that this exhibition is named after, so there is a lot of cross-referencing going on here ( such a strange loop ).

Taryn Simon, documentary photos of birds
at George Eastman Museum

Oh, did I say that the exhibition of photos is actually the work of Taryn Simon?

Taryn is the photographer, and she is married to a film director - Jake Paltrow.  Why is this important?  Because the walls in the first gallery room are filled with action shots that look like stills from a spy movie     ( with backgrounds like the parks of Istanbul ). Any birds in these photos are almost incidental - just part of the scenery - and the only qualifier is a caption for each shot that notes where the photo was made and precisely what time ( thank you digital metrics! ).  In large part this first room looks like a story board and reference materials for what will be the main feature.

Karyn Simon
"Crab Key, Caribbean Sea"

The photos by Taryn Simon in this first room are all in black and white and they lend the show a bit of newspaper-ish neutrality.  It isn't until you walk into the next room where you see that a fleet of similar sized works fill the space - albeit in a single line around the perimeter - and these photos are in color and are more specific.  So we have gone from the general to the particular - and this is where the guide book mentality comes around again.

Taryn Simon's photographic portraits- the women who portray
characters in the James Bond movies

Women, weapons, and cars seem to be the central theme in this second gallery.  Evidently, Taryn Simon wanted to get all of the ladies   ( think BIRDS ) who have played important roles in the James Bond films to come forward and pose for a photo, and most complied.  I imagine that it was a bit of a chore finding the cars and other props to add to this deck of cards.  Each photo shows one person or one item isolated from anything else - like the birds in a guide book.  In this regard, Taryn Simon takes the guide book lesson a bit too far.  I know this from first hand experience.

The Golden Guide to "Birds of North America"

In the late 1970's I worked with my father, Arthur on the revised guide book to "Birds of North America",  and we painted little environments for the birds ( see the cover above ) showing them in vignettes against a white background so their characteristics were identifiable.  Ms. Simon is so strict, that only the women she photographs get to be seen against white backgrounds, while the tools of the spy trade are seen poking out of the darkness.  The photos themselves are sharp and factual, and the artist takes the time to organize them like playing cards.  Some images are repeated like the refrain in an old song ( Goldfinger?).  What I miss in all this are the interrelationships that I found in some of the other projects from Ms. Simon like her Whitney Museum show of "An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar".  What is missing in this present show of taxonomy is a little drama, but maybe the premise of a scientific line-up of stars wouldn't have seemed so stark, so undeniable.

From Taryn Simon's "Birds of the West Indies"
at the 
George Eastman Museum,
Rochester, New York

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Dr. Hart

Dr. George Hart
speaks to his audience at
Webb Auditorium
Rochester Institute of Technology

George Hart began his talk in Webb Auditorium on Thursday evening this week with a statement about his mathematical sculpture.  He says that he sees mathematics and art as really the same subject, and then he went on to show the audience some of his recent sculptural artwork.  He brought to the talk some 3D printed samples of his symmetrical constructions and a larger work in wood which evidently had been put together earlier in the afternoon with some student help.

"Roads Untaken" by Dr. George Hart

George Hart's talk was presented as part of an ongoing series supported by the John Wiley Jones Science Endowment Fund.  Dr. George Hart is a distinguished lecturer at Stony Brook University on Long Island.  He is also the organizer of the annual Bridges Conference that I wrote about last summer, as well as being the co-founder of the Museum of Mathematics recently opened in New York City.

George Hart answers in the Q & A

Interesting structures are presented during the evening but little of the underlying math that determines what the structures will look like when they are fully realized.  Years ago I became acquainted with George Harts' artwork in a book called "The Visual Mind ll" published by the MIT Press.  This book helped me find a path towards using mathematics as a tool to construct forms and it opened a door that I did not know existed.  But once you cross that threshold your art can be aligned with a very powerful engine, and I think the art that George Hart brought to the audience this evening is evidence of that power.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Welcome Center

Richard Harvey at
Skalny Welcome Center Art Gallery
St. John Fisher 
Rochester, NY

The Skalny Welcome Art Center at St. John Fisher College is a wonderful gallery space and the new group show- "Light and Spirit"  that has been mounted there -  is worth a trip to see what is in store.. My friend Richard Harvey turned one of his little figure works upside down so we could see that it was made of concrete and painted gold.  The effect is very engaging, and the art has Africa in it's DNA.  Richard for years was a graphic design professional, and also for years he has been a part of the Print Club of Rochester, and here are some of his recent sculptural pieces as well as some of his prints.

Richard Harvey at St. John Fisher
Welcome Center

"Light and Spirit" as show holds together though each of the five invited artists approaches this theme from a very different perspective.  I think that Richard Harvey has the human presence front and center, and more to the point much of the energy in his work comes from an imaginative use of portraiture with an equal mix of color and design.  Nearby was a digital print on canvas by John Kosboth that takes us right up to the minute with its collage of the photographic and expressive imagery.

John Kosboth at Skalny Welcome Center Art Gallery

One of the most engaging works in the show comes from Loraine Cooley, titled: "The Way".

It has a ladder over the mountain look to it, and I am sure that it engenders a knowing smile on the faces of gallery goers.  There is a wonderful almost giddy quality to Loraine Cooley's art in this show, especially the wobbly legged "Vessel #2" which is beautifully designed and picks up the theme of "Light  & Spirit"

Loraine Cooley "The Way"

Loraine Cooley "Vessel #2"
at Welcome Center

Sophia Amm and Jane Notides-Benzing round out the invited artists for this show and their work also addresses the theme.  I found the painting "Gender Equity" by Sophia Amm to be an interesting meditation on a prevalent theme in our culture.  The way she deals with it is sometimes abstract like in the work below, and sometimes it is more illustrative as in the paintings where the figures are more overt.  I prefer the more poetic, more abstract qualities in this painting and I am attracted to the white "thread' that runs through and around both large color blocks in this artwork.

Sophia Amm's "Gender Equity"

"Light and Spirit" is suggested in this art, and is a good general theme to build a show upon. the quivering aspect of this art can be seen in the little shadow box art from Jane Notices-Benzing.  

We are seeing the stars, the cosmos opens itself to inspection in her animated compositions that bring to mind images by Joan Miro, back in the early 20th Century.

Jane Notides-Benzing
"Looking for the Sisters in the Pleiades"

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Cubism Reviewed

Michael Amy: “Cubism: Making History”

Tuesday March 15th at 5:00 pm in Golisano Auditorium (room 1400),
The B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences
(building 70, nearby parking lot J)
Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY 14623

Free and open to all. 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Room To Move

Alan Singer
Acrylic on board, 2016

Having just put the finishing touches on a large painting I have been working on in my studio, I stood up, backed away and took a look.  Not only at my work-in-progress, but in my immediate surroundings at Rochester Institute of Technology, and also in some galleries that have promising shows.

George Wegman
Digital Divide #3

Oh, I didn't have to walk very far to get to Phillips Fine Art & Frame, just downstairs in the Hungerford Building, and there is a new show called " 3...Amigos".  The three artists in question - George Wegman, Peter Monicelli, and Edward Buscemi studied art together under the auspices of MCC years ago, meeting in the studio classroom of Jacque Clements ( Art Essentials 101 ).  As friends they grew up together and found their artistic roots, and they are still painting today.

Peter Monicelli

George Wegman has three closely related abstract works ( like Digital Divide #3 ( 2015), above ) and all three are broken into sections of little squares - almost like pixels blown up-  in compositions that echo Piet Mondrian and other strict formalists.  Peter Monicelli has shown recent work that is more architectural, but here he has paintings of landscape with the lush greens and atmosphere where he has worked up his ideas in a series of modestly sized images.  Ed Buscemi stands out with brash color in paintings that attempt to have a dialog with a viewer.  These "3...Amigos" have enjoyed their brotherhood in art for many years, and I hope it continues in this way.

Edward Buscemi
"Sorry,  I've been told not to talk about the matter"

Paintings by Matt Mroz

Where I work at Rochester Institute of Technology, my graduate students were about to embark on their careers, but first they were having their thesis shows before they graduate in a couple of months. Their exhibition was well attended, and there was much new art to see.  Looking around there are surprises to behold including new paintings by Matt Mroz, which are partially created with paints, and partially created by igniting the surfaces very briefly with molten metals.  Matt is a sculptor mostly, and his other works in this show were remarkable for their emphasis on weights and measures, and even an effort to defy gravity.

A  Matt Mroz sculpture defies gravity.....

Sarah Taavola rigged up a set piece with pantyhose stuffed with colored sugar crystals that drains out slowly from minute holes like sand in an hourglass.  On top of this are several white wedding dresses, and what all this signifies is part of her thesis which originates from her "Feminist Complaint Department".  Her sculptural work includes objects that look like a pasteurizer and a myriad of udders on a low pedestal...you have to see it, words don't do it justice!

Artist at R.I.T. - Sarah Taavola

I also enjoyed the paintings of Abiose Spriggs and Shane Durgee, prints by Michael Strobert,  and quilts and more from Emily Bellinger who really took over a corner of the tall exhibition space of the Bevier Gallery.

Emily Bellinger sets up her thesis show
at the Bevier Gallery, Booth Building, R.I.T.

Finally, back in Rochester at the Axom Gallery, I stopped in to see paintings by Lin Price who is a painter living near Ithaca, New York.  Lin is a friend of Joy Adams who has shown her art in our area ( at the Memorial Art Gallery and at the Axom Gallery space ).  This is the first time I can recall seeing Lin Price's paintings and they are droll works with an emphasis on a humorous situation in each case.  This is a literary or illustrators point of view that requires a light touch and a good sense of the dramatic scene - very theatrical -which I found engaging and amusing.

Lin Price
"Watching the Rolling Stones"
2013, Mixed media on board
Atom Gallery