Saturday, October 28, 2017

Art of the Heart

Arte Del Corazon
The Dyer Art Center, NTID
Rochester Institute of Technology

The Dyer Art Center on the campus of Rochester Institute of Technology is one of the premier spaces in town to see art of all kinds.  This light filled room has been host to shows of a diverse sort: on one level there is a collection of objects created by Lee Hoag ( "25 Years ) and on the main level there is 
"Arte Del Corazon" ( Art of the Heart ) a show consisting of many works from the Latin Deaf Art Movement.

"Drowning"2005/2017 by Sara Roybal
in the show "Arte Del Corazon"

Teaching at R.I.T. over the years, I have had many students from NTID ( National Technical Institute for the Deaf ) and there were many fine artists among them.  The present show brings examples from Latin countries to help promote a dialogue and bring a broader audience to understand who they are and what they have to offer.  There is a large explanatory panel at the door to the show that gives the visitor clear information about this group of artists.

Latin Deaf Art Movement, explained....

Fine examples from this exhibition represent situations that help define these artists in society and how they deal with their circumstance.  Artists can give you a picture of what it is like to deal with their condition and maintain their integrity.  The viewer coming to this show can feel the intensity of the artworks, and it is said that vision can compensate in part for the lack of hearing and that is especially true when dealing with sign language.

Poetry and Paintings at The Dyer Art Center
from Latinx Deaf Art 

The present show brings up many questions,  one which persists in my mind - is why we here in the United States know so little about what is going on in the countries of Latin America as far as visual art are concerned.  "Arte Del Corazon" attempts to answer back that there is a history and a diverse culture waiting to be explored, so I hope our museums and other institutions follow this lead and help investigate, and open a discussion, and introduce this art to a larger audience.

Lee Hoag "25 Years"
A cornucopia of sculptural objects

Upstairs, the exhibition of artwork by Lee Hoag is a wide selection of objects created that have a machine aesthetic.  The surfaces are refined, the ideas seem to stem from a page on surrealism - because these objects look like they might have a purpose other than one of contemplation. Looking at Lee Hoag's art brings me back to the 1930's when design for the industrial age began to streamline and become more user friendly.  The artworks we see in this show celebrate the look of tools that we use today, and in fact highlight style and design, while still holding some sense of mystery.

Lee Hoag, artworks at
Dyer Art Center
on the campus of R.I.T.

My sense of history reminds me of the art of Picabia, and Marcel Duchamp when I see Lee Hoag's creations.  The forms in the present show seen collectively represent our admiration for fine craftsmanship, while also being very poetic in acknowledgment of their artistic state of being.  There is also a bit of nostalgia in my mind because as a society we are moving away from the hand made, and into an era of  the robot and artificial intelligence.  What will the artists of the future work with and what will their art be like?

A constellation of artworks by Lee Hoag "25 Years"
Dyer Art Center

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Far Out, West

Need a place to stay?  Stinson Beach, California
October, 2017

It is a gorgeous day, and yes, I have left western New York for a week to visit with my son, who is celebrating his 35th birthday, and I also get to party with his wife, and my new little grandson, Oslo.  My son, Nathaniel graduated from UC Berkeley and over the years I have walked the campus and I looked forward to seeing the new museum building designed by Diller, Scofidio and Renfro that houses the art and film archive.

Sather Gate, UC Berkeley

But it is late in the afternoon on a Sunday as I walk through the gate at UC Berkeley and the new museum will close soon, so I head over to see the Phoebe Hearst collection of ethnographic arts. Up the hill there is the iconic tower at the university and the echoes of all the student demonstrations still reverberate in my mind.

Tower at UC Berkeley

The first thing I see when I enter the Hearst Collection is a carved casket from the 26th Dynasty of ancient Egypt.  The sarcophagus is covered with hieroglyphs and a wonderful falcon sits on the shoulder.  This is the beginning of an immersion into world cultures, it is anthropology via art and artifacts.

Ancient Egypt

Inside, a large room is filled with art objects ( only a small portion of the entire collection ) and the show is divided into works whose maker is known, and objects that are "unsigned".  Many of these pieces are from the distant past and would be hard to identify a particular artist as the maker.  The famous Fayum portraits look like they could have been painted by one person, so there is a lot of detective work to find out who that artist was.  Many of these paintings have survived the millennia but was that because of the encaustic medium that was used to create them?

Fayum Portraits, 1st Century, B.C., Egypt

The next thing I come across is a giant red rooster, also a funeral object - a colorful casket for a proper sendoff! This big bird was created by a carpenter in Ghana, and it is a contemporary work of art.  This gets me thinking about the relationship that society has with art objects.

Red Rooster from Ghana, contemporary art

In Ghana, the big show goes on after you are dead!  Maybe this is to celebrate your perceived place in society, and the dead one is remembered by this character ( a big red rooster! ).  What kind of other art objects would they have in Ghana to represent them and do they have a function?  I wonder about the function of the Tlingit storage boxes that I see in this show.  What were they used for?  I just don't know enough about the indigenous people to hazard a guess.

Tlingit Indian storage box, contemporary

Carved objects did have a function, like the arrowheads on exhibit, along with the baskets and ceramic pots.  They have a function but they are also collected now as fine art objects for people's homes.  The clay pots from the artist known as Nampeyo ( 1859-1942 ) stand out for their beauty in form and color.

Polychrome by Nampeyo

The ancient traditions of pottery in the Southwest are outstanding, and I was lucky that my family collected some of these beauties, and I have a few of them through inheritance.  I think they have influenced my own art along the way, so I have a deep respect for these pieces on view at the Hearst collection.  Nearby there were some playful Nazca ceramics including this wonderful flute player.

Nazca, Peru

Painted decorations for ceramic ware reach a high point with the Mediterranean pieces included in this show including the panther painter and the wine cup that is called a skyphos that you see here in the background.

Wine jars, and "skyphos"

Most likely, the classical Greek sculpture from this area of the world has had a more lasting effect because of the figure and what it has represented to our art.  I think the Greeks had an ideal in mind that they brought to their art making practice, and that is represented here in this collection also.

Classical Greek marble carvings

From around the world, Phoebe Hearst bought Chinese robes to wear and in this collection was one that was so well preserved, it looked like it was embroidered only yesterday.  Here again, I have been interested in these kinds of weavings myself, and have a few in my personal collection, although I wouldn't wear mine like I see in the photo of Phoebe Hearst.  So many fine things in this show to see and contemplate.  Thanks to UC Berkeley, and a beautiful day in California!

The Golden Dragons in Chinese textile art
The Phoebe A. Hearst Collection
UC Berkeley

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Building Castles

Wendell Castle Remastered
October 8-December 31, 2017
The Memorial Art Gallery
Rochester, N.Y.

The Memorial Art Gallery hosts "Wendell Castle Remastered" in the voluminous main gallery starting in October and running through the rest of 2017.  There are many of Wendell Castle's recent works, but the theme of remastering calls upon techniques used to bring these sculptural works into existence - and they include robots and digital modeling tools that weren't part of the original process going way back to the beginning of his career.

Wendell Castle in the Memorial Art Gallery

The graphic impact of this current show is intensified through the choice of using dark stained ash for some forms, and I imagine that designing the lighting for this show was very difficult - you want to put the work in a spotlight, but the results of that inclination include the creation of very strong highlights which can cancel out forms.  I imagine an ideal exhibition that would place these artworks in a balanced natural light so the viewer could more easily appreciate the forms and values.

3 stages in the stack construction of "Wide Awake" ( 2011 )

The procedure to make many of the works on exhibit is explained when you enter the show.  A trio of models  ( "Wide Awake" ) suggests the stages, first selecting slabs of wood; and laminating them in stacks, a rough cut to refine the forms, and then the hand finish with a stain or other surface treatment.  This current show is a fine addition to Wendell's exhibitions which I have been following since the 1970's in New York City.  Also, a show that was held recently in our area at the University Gallery at R.I.T. for Wendell's models and drawings helped fill in other parts of his process - if you had the chance to catch that exhibit.

"Remastered" features old and new works
The Memorial Art Gallery

Integrating digital technology to create these large sculptural pieces has augmented Wendell Castle's reach, and added more complexity to the lengthy building process.  This same sort of industrial approach has been used by other sculptors including Frank Stella and Tony Cragg  and many others, and the expertise to get this done, to train the robot "Mr. Chips" involves a deep understanding of engineering principles, hopefully not getting in the way of creativity along the line.

"Fallen and Risen" a bronze by Wendell Castle

Sometimes, I wonder whether the works of art in this show get constrained in the process by the pieces having to be used as a lamp, a table, or a chair.  I know this is an old argument, and the question is heightened here, the "What if?......  I know I was faced with this decision when I was an art student in my first year of Cooper Union when my instructor, Arthur Corwin, set up a proposition to make a form that was sculptural but that you could sit on or in it.  So, is a work of art something that you just look at and contemplate, or is it something that can be functional?  The argument may be moot here.

Wendell Castle signature artworks
at Memorial  Art Gallery
thru December 31, 2017

With all kinds of 3D printing now going on, it won't be long before we start seeing more inventive artwork like the kinds of forms we see in this "Remastered".  Knowing about the possibilities available through new technologies is very exciting, but there is still a learning curve, and also there is the question of the cost of all these new tools.  No doubt that we are at a flexion point, and this exhibition helps conjure up questions while introducing us to the state of the art.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Fall Semester 2017

Just looking.... The Print Club of Rochester
86th Annual Members Exhibition
Nazareth College Art Center Gallery
Oct 6 - November 17, 2017

You can get an education when you stop in to see a show at a gallery.  You don't have to know who the artists are; you can be introduced to their artwork without taking a class or feel you won't understand what the artists are trying to say, just don't be inhibited!  Step right up and just take a look, it won't cost you anything - and you might come away with an impression from something unique..

Ellen Heck, girl with a mobius strip for a hat

This fall the gallery shows are just beginning to bubble and boil, so I stopped to see two shows that offer an opportunity to touch base with a variety of prints and paintings.  First stop was Nazareth College in their Art Center Gallery to view the annual members exhibition for the Print Club of Rochester now in their 86th year.  So many printmaking techniques are represented here from the very abstract to the highly representational, like the image above from Ellen Heck.

Size matters, and in the field of printmaking some artists are using steamrollers to produce their prints though I don't know if this is the case at Nazareth.  I found many printmakers are using more than one technique in each piece, for example the work of Barbara Fox.  Woodcuts and intaglio prints are here as in the images below by Marie Buckley, and Barbara McPhail.

Marie Buckley ( above ) and Barbara McPhail ( below )

Variety is the key here, though some prints engage the viewer with specific stories to tell, but one thing they all have in common is the graphic nature of the work itself.

Print Club annual Member's show at Nazareth College

Going to town on East Avenue, we enjoyed the opening of the New Rochester Biennial at Rochester Contemporary Art Center though we only had time for one of the venues.  The Biennial this year includes the Visual Studies Workshop and Gallery r  on College Avenue.  The Memorial Art Gallery had previously directed this show, and this new segment includes the paintings of a father and son - that is Leo Dodd    ( 1927 - 2015 ) and son, Paul Dodd and it is called Witness.

Views around town by Leo Dodd

The show now on at Rochester Contemporary presents a contrast especially in the subject matter that each artist approaches.  For years after he retired from Kodak, Leo Dodd, who was a mechanical design engineer took up painting and documented many sites around Rochester.  He worked with watercolor and saw many of the events and installations that give Rochester, New York its identity.
As Rochester remade itself, Leo Dodd was there to document those facts as a painter on the scene.

Leo Dodd documents our locality

Now,  Paul Dodd makes a different kind of document, his medium is painting and drawing but it is the human face, -  actually a mugshot that attracts him.  The paintings on view at RoCo have a  curious quality - because these works are made from photos of a variety of people, you don't have the personal rapport that you might find if the artist was painting someone who was sitting in front of him.  These are paintings where the artist is one step removed from the person being portrayed.
The art holds up better in a group I think and there we can see just how economical Paul Dodd is when he paints the human face.

Paul Dodd

In this current show there are also scrapbooks and other mementos of the work that the father and son have produced, and this kind of intimate back story is very engaging.

Sketchbooks and clippings from the collection of Paul Dodd

When you visit the Rochester Contemporary, stop into the LAB space and see the artworks by Kyle Butler who I had a chance to chat with.  His art is very experiential - the ideas he is working with stem from his being a resident of Buffalo, New York, and his art is part of a larger series of exhibitions here in Rochester, that portray various aspects of maps and mapping.  For Kyle Butler his map making is tied in to his art making and the subjects of his work in the LAB space deal with the actual dead end streets in the city.  The sculptural work and the painting on view are abstract by nature, but denote something very actual.

Kyle Butler's art is presented as part of Points of Departure: Meditations on Mapping.  This seven part exhibition has been curated by Karen Sardisco and Colleen Buzzard, who you will see below talking with Kyle Butler at the opening of this segment of their show.

Take the time to come out and see these artists, and what they have accomplished.  You will learn something!

Kyle Butler ( left ) and Colleen Buzzard
Rochester Contemporary Art Center
Rochester, NY

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Reach Your Audience

Left to Right - Frank Blair introduces  Arthur Singer, 1961. 
Photo by Lisl Steiner on the set of The Today Show.

My father, Arthur Singer, was invited to be a guest on The Today Show, and that was back in 1961, after his epic book Birds of the World was published in New York City.  In our photo above, he is sitting with the host of the show - Frank Blair, and they are having a conversation about the bird paintings my father made that are on the back wall of the set.  My dad, not only brought along his artwork, but also some stuffed birds - study "skins" from The American Museum of Natural History.  He would use these skins as a tool to give him vital research information when he was ready to draw out each page of his many books.

There are many challenges being an artist in our society.  First you have to have an aptitude for it.

O.K., as our society changes in the visual arts there are always some constants.  Artists want to reach an audience, and how do they do that?  If you want some level of financial security, you are going to try to sell the things you create, whether it is a book or a painting.  The tangible items you may make in the quiet of your studio space hopefully will reach out and touch someone.  Maybe a collector will like something you have made, and will make an offer to buy it from you.

How do people find out about what you have been up to?  That is the place where marketing takes full effect.  If you are an artist - you will want to show your artwork to the public and get feedback, and then keep on your creative path and not get bent out of shape if you are getting criticism  ( it comes with the territory).  All artists face this, so you develop a plan.  From my own experience I have watched this happen in my family.  My father, Arthur Singer ( above ) had the good fortune to have his art published starting at an early age  ( he was a junior in high school ).  With some of his major projects he chose to speak to the media to tell his story, and it is an engaging one.

Arthur Singer, 1982, Photo by Lenny Eiger

This month, we are presenting our show: Arthur Singer, The Wildlife Art of an American Master, in the University Gallery at Rochester Institute of Technology.  This is the first opportunity we have had to show examples of every aspect of my father's artwork in one place - almost 100 individual artworks on view including many illustrations for books, and many paintings and drawings.  Not all of my father's artwork had to do with birds and animals.  Some of his best things are the watercolor portraits he made during World War ll while he was in the "Ghost Army".

Author Rick Beyer in the foreground
and the writer of this blog in the background
at WHAM, Rochester, NewYork

The story of the "Ghost Army" is co-authored by Rick Beyer, and I invited him to come to Rochester to speak, to introduce his documentary film, and to answer questions from the audience at our exhibition site in the University Gallery.  His documentary tells the story, not only of what my father did during the war, but what kinds of deception the "Ghost Army" engineered during World War ll.
Rick Beyer goes into detail about the fact that the artists in the Ghost Army perfected a certain kind of camouflage, and they successfully deterred the enemy along the front lines of battle.  My father's art skills saved his life, and in our show we have some wonderful works by him including drawings made during the landing at Normandy.  It is a wonder he had the inner fortitude and be calm enough to draw what he saw right in front of him.

U.S. Postage stamps from 1982
honoring the Birds and Flowers of the fifty states
by Arthur Singer and son, Alan Singer

I had the good fortune also to work closely with my father on a number of  projects including our series of postage stamps honoring the Birds and Flowers of the fifty states.  We worked on book projects together, and our styles of artwork meshed well, so they worked for the reader.  I learned a lot through this period and I can use this knowledge when I teach my students at R.I.T.

Our exhibition is on in Rochester thru October 28, 2017, so make it a point to come over to see it before it closes.  Hope to see you there!

Our new book on the career of Arthur Singer
is available thru RIT Press

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Two Dimensional Depth

"Sky Flow ll"  by  Chiaki Shuji
The Memorial Art Gallery

Artists have faced this dilemma for to describe depth on a two dimensional surface.  In the Renaissance, the breakthrough came with the "invention" of perspective - the technique which allows an artist to describe depth without resorting to distortion or dealing with real sculptural space. A depiction of depth was a step forward and outward from strict two dimensional flatness.  Of course artists are still dealing with a notion of depicting space, and this ability will probably boost the careers of many artists in the future but now we can add a new element to this mixture, and that is the relative realism that a computer program can offer the budding artist.

Setting Sun

In this image the computer can render space in a very suggestive way, a kind of mirror image of a setting sun, without any distraction, the color works to suggest space.  This is a computer rendering I made of a mathematical equation - the kind of language that the computer is programmed to "read".

The computer can add the illusion of depth, but the artist has to have that intent, it has to be structured into the image.  Once the artist has the tools, the imagination can take off and go where it wants to go - very liberating.

"The Return" Rene Magritte, 1940

In the early 20th Century, the variety of visual art known as surrealism came to be identified with artists such as Salvador Dali, Giorgio DeChirico, and Rene Magritte ( see above ).  They put their wildest dreams onto paper and canvas and the world took notice.  Something unusual had happened, and it was this mixture of dreams and reality that created such a frisson.

"The Choice",  24" x 24", 
Marcus Conge

I thought about this while I was inspecting the artwork of Marcus Conge at Axom Gallery last week when the show opened.  I had spent the previous day at The Memorial Art Gallery with David Wagner, and I found an interesting print in the Asian Collection of a red explosion that the Japanese artist Chiaki Shuji calls "Sky Flow ll", from 2007.  See it at the top of this post and note that it is a print; that it is an etching and aquatint  with extraordinary energy and power.  The next day I saw the prints of Marcus Conge and there was a resemblance and a difference.  The energy was there, but now the images had much more depth in the "realism" of the image which is both stimulating and disconcerting at the same time.  That is the feeling of surrealism - it is in the world but not entirely of it.  These surreal prints by Marcus Conge do the strangest things like the image above ( The Choice ).
That is where the use of the computer technology comes in...the programs allow the artist to use imagination in ways that the surrealists could have predicted.

Marcus Conge grew up with art, and has been a teacher of art, especially the digital kind, and he uses the latest technology to develop a universe where anything can happen and it usually does.  On one wall a mossy covered skull floating in the sky has a blow-out.  This limited edition print is called "The Mis Take".

Marcus Conge at Axom Gallery

The show is called Curious Curio and each print is presented without a frame, so that you can really get close to the piece, and see all of it's very fine detail and color.  Images like these must take some time to conceptualize, and to render all the parts.  There is a fine sense of invention, along with a sense of anxiety --as in the image above.  Maybe these are nightmares.  If anything can happen and usually does, that means the viewer can be exposed to some pretty but terrifying images.  The universe that you invent in the surrealist image may not be the most sociable place, but luckily not all the prints in this show are so charged.  I thought that the image called "Warm Inside" had a bit more inviting ideas, but I guess it is all in the eye of the beholder.

Marcus Conge
This print is called "Warm Inside"
exhibition is called "Curious Curio"
at Axom Gallery, 
Rochester, New York