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.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Symbolic Forms

Juan Carlos Caballero-Perez
The Geisel Gallery

in the former Bausch & Lomb Building
downtown Rochester, New York

The School for American Craft has been a part of Rochester Institute of Technology for many years and recently  Juan Carlos Caballero-Perez has provided leadership to this segment of the institution, and as well as being a Professor, he is also a professional - in the sense that he is actively making new sculpture - and you may have seen his large work outside Edibles on University Avenue.  I have seen that Carlos can work large and small, in fact there have been delicate works he has produced and sold as jewelry in the shop at The Memorial Art Gallery.  Now a recent group of his sculptures that he calls "Symbolic Forms" is creating a strong impression in the Geisel Gallery for the month of August.

Carlos' large scale art on University Avenue
Rochester, New York

The Geisel Gallery this month has a robust show of sculpture from Carlos, and I had a chance to talk with him about these works on exhibit.  I wanted to know how he made some of these pieces, they all seem to have been completed recently, does he have assistants who weld the pieces together? How does he manage to make the steel look like lace?

Juan Carlos Caballero-Perez
Geisel Gallery
this August

The parts of the sculpture that look like lace are cut with lasers from computer files that power tools that are extremely accurate.  If these are symbolic forms - what is it that they can be symbols of? 
Is this the circle of life?  I like the centralized openings in Carlos' works, and many of them depend on graceful curves that encompass this opening, and the sculptures seem to breathe and articulate his ideas about the spirit of the object.

Juan Carlos Caballero-Perez

The forms he chooses to work with are simple and evocative.  At the end of the gallery is a large standing work that has a figurative presence but still maintains its abstraction.  Many of the welded pieces in this show have a surface that is buffed in a certain way as to reveal what look like brush strokes.  We have seen this before in the art of David Smith.  Sometimes a work from Carlos can recall Smith, at other times I see an echo of the art of Brancusi or even the Russian artist Naum Gabo.  I only wished for a bit more space in this exhibition - maybe even a chance to see one of these works outdoors, and see how it interacts with daylight.

Here is the artist himself working at the bench, below.

Juan Carlos Caballlero-Perez

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Blue Ribbon

At Image City Photography Gallery
Announcing the Winner!
Giving the Blue Ribbon 
photographer,  Stephanie Albanese

Image City is a photographic gallery and it also happens to be the way that people identify the place that this gallery calls home: Rochester, New York.  Home of Kodak and Xerox and many other corporate tag lines, this town was built on the making of memorable images.  The engineering talent that made cameras, film and printers in and around Rochester is astonishing and there is a deep interest in finding beautiful photography that highlights all the technical wonders.  So with the advantage of all the inventions, chemistry, and electronic magic that is necessary to bring us modern photography, we still need the human eye, mind, and nervous system to know when to click the shutter and make the picture.

What constitutes a portfolio of photos that can win a Blue Ribbon?  Well, if you are one of the jurors who gets to select the photos, you will know a great portfolio when you see it.  What I was looking for ( as a juror ) was consistency in a series of eight photos from each photographer who submitted a portfolio.  I also look for something that resonates with me - some subject that engages my attention, and also photos with fine technical values as well as a strong point-of-view.

Stephanie Albanese
Image City Photography Gallery
in August

Howard LeVant and I sat down and compared notes after looking over eighty portfolios submitted for this exhibition opportunity.  Now, looking over the actual prints on the walls in the gallery on University Avenue, I feel very strongly that we picked some winners.  Stephanie Albanese took first prize, the Blue Ribbon, for unusual, nearly abstract images of a golden ball in a variety of settings.  While boiling the photos down to their essence - formal shapes, there are still textures to marvel at, and color to grab and hold your attention.

Photographer, Ed Stone
Image City

Each photo print in this show demonstrates something to the viewer that can be part of a much larger story presented by the artists who make the photos in the first place.  Ed Stone tells a story about a form of agriculture rarely seen outside of South East Asia - these are rice paddies and they form a mesmerizing topography that is also close to pure abstraction were it not for the houses and other evidence of the farmers who work the land.

I was surprised, when I reviewed the portfolios that there were so few images that deal directly with other humans.  Not many portraits of people or even action photos of friends dong wild and crazy things to get our attention.  We found sober, quiet situations of gradual decay in factories and deserted buildings in the works by Amanda Chatham and David Soderlund.

Photos by Alexandra Latypova
at Image City

Maybe most surprising to me were the still life photos of Alexandra Latypova who has studied paintings from Dutch masters and has re-created table top tableaux that so closely resemble this fine art of the past.  Her photos celebrate the intimate interactions of colors and textures found in paintings from the 1600's from artists like Pieter Claesz, and de Heem ( there is a beauty in the collection at The Memorial Art Gallery just down the street ).  The still life is set against a dark background and our attention is taken by Latypova's lighting effects which are purely anecdotal, they reveal and conceal at the same time.

Nancy Ridenour
at Image City

Sometimes lighting effects in the age of Photoshop can be overdone, and we saw portfolios that had a gimmick that in the aggregate was not a turn on.  Nancy Ridenour makes close up portraits of individual flowers taking the ideas expressed in Dutch painting once again, but giving her photos a modern powerful statement with natural color found in the dahlias and lotus flowers she likes to portray in her portfolio.  The only note that I was not sure about here was that the prints of her photos were made on canvas, and they begin to resemble paintings and not photographic prints ( but I am being picky ).

Boris Keller has a portfolio he calls "folktography".  The highlight of his work is folk art and it is reflected in the imagery he captures, whether it is an old truck filled with pumpkins, or a brace of geese in the farmyard.  Keller's photos are so sharp, and their colors are subtle, yet intense.  There really is an art to the production of these images.

For my eye, the elegant photos of wind mills from Steve Malloy Desormeaux are the most sensual, in that they are taken in the middle of winter and you can feel the snow, sense the cold temperature, almost see the wind, and as photo prints go - these images are all different degrees of white.  There is a defined landscape in this portfolio that looks familiar yet alien in the same frame.  I am captivated by his work, as I am with all the photos we selected for this show.  I hope you get to see it.  I know you will enjoy the stories being told on these walls.

Photo by Steve Levinson
Juror: Alan Singer with photos by Stephanie Albanese
Image City Photography Gallery
August, 2016

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Where Were You?

"9/11 Project, Reflections and Memories
Gallery r
100 College Avenue, Rochester
until August 21, 2016

If you are as old as I am ( 66 ), you will remember the day and what you were doing when you heard that John F. Kennedy was shot dead in Dallas, Texas.  But, if you are of a younger generation you may remember what was happening when you learned that jet airplanes ran into the World Trade Center towers in a terrorist plot just fifteen years ago.  All of those recollections come rushing back when you visit Gallery r this month.  What you will see on the walls of the gallery will no doubt bring back memories, and engender a lot of discussion.

Headlines from the collected newspapers
Gallery r

The newspapers that deck the walls of Gallery r were collected by Eric Kunsman and his students after the horrific events of 9/11.  Eric was teaching a course that day in Applied Photography and was involved in a class discussion about how photography might help shape history- and this was when the crashes took place in lower Manhattan.  Eric asked his students to go and collect their hometown newspapers and bring them to class for a dialog.  Eric kept all these newspapers ( 121 of them ) and they are now on display along with some of the discussion that he recorded with his students.

"The Day America Cried"
Gallery r

What were you doing when the planes hit?  I can recall that morning because I was teaching my class, and I happened to go out to the library where someone had rolled out a TV cart and the news was flashing about the events in New York City.  Needless to say, I was shocked, and I thought about what I should tell my students about what was happening - if they didn't know already.  The pictures of the smoking building is etched in my memory.

Eric Kunsman and his class collected headlines
Gallery r

The newspaper headlines tell you a lot about the national mood, and everyone was stunned by the photos and the events that day would begin to change our international policy.  The country reacted by canceling all flights for days, all planes were grounded and the sky grew quiet.

You can read all about it on the walls of this exhibition which is a necessary one to remind us of those days, and it also gives you a perspective for what is going on today in places like Syria and Libya.  The role that photography plays in this case not only documents history, but also can shape how events play out in the public realm.

Art you can live with
paintings by Belinda Bryce
at Axom Gallery

Down the street in a much calmer milieu, I visited the Axom Gallery to see the kind of art you can feel at home with.  This art blends well with your decor, and the show on now features many artists you may already be familiar with including painters like Belinda Bryce ( above ) and Kurt Moyer.
I found works of interest by Isaac Payne and Matthew Langley ( his "Blue Veil" (see below).

Axom Gallery
Rochester, New York