Sunday, October 13, 2019

Art Workers

October Light by Alan Singer

This week in The New York Times, critic Michael Kimmelman remarked about the expansion of The Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, that the new layout allows the curators to strike a new path by re-hanging the art to show the many diverse histories that visitors can see if they choose.  Modern art is and has been much more diverse than has been expressed by our cultural institutions especially because they had so much invested in telling a story about a certain straight line ( from Impressionism thru Modernism ) - which left out loads of art workers from around the globe.

New book by artist and writer John Seed

Sometimes we get an inside story of that change of opinion, for how things should work.  I read recently a new book by John Seed who comments about this in "My Art World".  He has been published in the Huffington Post, and here in his new book he tells a story that begins on the west coast, and he brings us into contact with Bay area painters like Richard Diebenkorn, Nathan Oliveira, Joan Brown and art dealer Larry Gagosian, to name a few.  John Seed writes a short chapter on Robert DeNiro, Sr. ( who I knew in New York City ) - and DeNiro's advice to John when he was a young artist was this: "Don't worry about whether your work looks like anyone else's....simply ask yourself as you work --is it any good?

"Ghost Ranch" by Beverly Rafferty
at Whitman Works Company

The implication is that we sometimes set up goals in artwork that cater to other people's opinions when we should really steer ourselves by our own compass.  By doing this - you risk a lot,  but stay true to yourself earning strength by maintaining your integrity.  I got that feeling from looking at the paintings from one of our R.I.T. students:  Beverly Rafferty who has a new show of landscape paintings she calls "The Romance of Western Vistas, or How The West Was One".

That her paintings have an attractive quality not only has to do with the view but also how that vista is conceived and executed.  In particular, I liked one of her works ( "Ghost Ranch") that called to mind the artist Marsden Hartley.  In Beverly Rafferty's painting there is a stony ledge and a foreground of fan shaped marks that blend and blur - which is kind of idiosyncratic.

Painter, Beverly Rafferty at Whitman Works on Penfield Road

I sometimes remind my students that when painting most artists don't set out to create a photo realist work - they really try to grapple with how to indicate what they see in front of them.  Often it is the idiosyncrasy - that small special thing that happens in your work that gives it character - so be aware and don't remove it!

"State of the City" at RoCo

In the Flower City, we have had many wonderful events so far this month including "Current Seen" which is now on through November 17th, and last night was the member's preview at The Memorial Art Gallery of an exhibition of a collection of art by Alphonse Mucha.  I found this show to be quite a revelation because I knew so little about this artist and his work as a graphic designer, printmaker and artist.

Memorial Art Gallery presents Alphonse Mucha

During the 1960s his work became famous ( once again ) because of a connection that was made between his art nouveau vision, and the hippies in San Francisco who were busy rolling their own joints.  That drugs and the visions they induced were part of the mix here may cloud my memory, and I must admit that the art part of what Alphonse Mucha created was lost for a time, so I am glad that we have this chance to re-examine his life and his prolific outpouring of artistic creation.

Alphonse Mucha poster design

Now, we get a chance to study at length what this artist has brought to the world back when he was in his prime at the beginning of the 20th century.  He was in demand for his art and illustration especially for poster designs.  What we find in his work is a glorified vision of nature, often with a young model portrayed again and again.  The story being told is not too different than it is now - a poster needs to get your attention and make the sale!

I will go back to study the effect of each work in the show.  Opening night was so busy that I need some time to let it all soak in!

Alphonse Mucha sculptural portrait
at The Memorial Art Gallery
Rochester, New York

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Scene One, Take Two

Sticky Memo Ball
RIT CITY Art Space
part of  "Current Seen"

By design, I think about how things look, what they mean, and how they work.  Recently, I read about all of the tons of plastic that have ended up in the world's oceans, and how that plastic gets pulverized - turning into nearly microscopic chunks that become part of the seafood we eat.  If we are what we eat, than how are we to deal with what we may become - given this plastic scenario..?  I don't know why I have to think about these things now, but here I am in RIT's new CITY Art Space looking at wonderful design work on exhibition here and hoping that some of our students at R.I.T. will start to deal with this plastics crisis!

"Blockitecture" by James Paulius

"Blockitecture"  takes a children's toy and revitalizes the concept of urban planning by treating it as a strategy, recognizing the need to reconfigure our cities - one "block" at a time.   These painted wooden blocks can be stacked and easily set up to represent new ideas, dealing with the changing needs of towns and cities.  This is just one part of a large exhibition space along with "Best Foot Forward" curated by Cecily Culver that you will find opposite the Liberty Pole in the center of Rochester, New York.

Now it is getting dark and I am walking towards East Avenue and I passed another exhibit that is part of "Current Seen" at 245 East Main.  This interactive video display is from W. Michele Harris and she calls it: " In Their Wake" - drawing attention to African-Americans, some of whom worked on the Underground Railroad in the 19th century, and then made their way up to Rochester.  Generations later we are still dealing with racial division and inequality that this exhibition highlights.

Installation "Observation Towers" by Heather Swenson
just east of RoCo

A sculptural installation from Heather Swenson is just outside of Rochester Contemporary Art Center.  I am used to seeing Heather Swenson as a printmaker, so this is a bit of a departure that allows her to bring her art out into a public space.  When I look at these "towers"  they have a surreal presence and I think of some science fiction fantasy, as well as some of Nick Ruth's recent art that we featured in the "Process & Purpose show that I curated.  How do these constructions relate to Ms. Swenson's work as a printmaker?  I can't wait to ask her that question..

Rochester Contemporary 
137 East Avenue, Rochester, NY
"Current Seen"

Inside RoCo, the joint is jumping!  I turn to look and see this set of pictograms developed by Michael Goldman.  I get into a conversation with him and about his art - because years ago ( before I came to Rochester ) I actually designed some of these same signs with my brother Paul Singer - and now you see our pictograms all across the country!  I had something in common with Michael Goldman, and I enjoyed seeing how he dealt with some of our surroundings here, how he digests things we see and know ( like the Garbage Plate ) and then come up with a memorable image.

Michael Goldman at RoCo
"State of the City"

In Rochester we have to develop strategies that can bring people together - and the visual arts can do that without being heavy handed.  We could hope that the people who are portrayed by Richmond Futch Jr. in his drawings on view at RoCo, can come and see their portraits and stay a while to see other aspects of "State of the City".  That there are many folks in our midst who are disadvantaged should not come as a surprise, but what are we doing about it?  The portraits along the wall leave you with the impression that there are many voices of the dispossessed longing to be seen and heard, and they have stories to tell...Thanks for these many portraits and the hopeful feelings that they bestow.

Portrait artist: Richmond Futch Jr. 
at RoCo

I have only scratched the surface of "Current Seen" , so in my next post I will continue on around and see what's up....

Sunday, October 6, 2019

One Planet, One People

"Current Seen"
Rochester, New York
October 4, -- November 17, 2019

Betye Saar gave a long interview to the New York Times recently with art writer Holland Cotter, and this gem about politics caught my eye: "One Planet, One People".  This could be a bumper sticker or a chant at a rally.  In any case, this artist in her way, gave me a moment of hope in this climate of division and distrust.

You may want or need to turn your attention toward a more positive development in our area - so feel free to dig deeply into "Current Seen" an ambitious new Biennial for the visual arts that opened this past Friday here in Rochester.  I was listening to a radio broadcast when Bleu Cease, the director at RoCo, said that this was not a "festival", but it certainly seemed like one - when I went around on opening night!

30 Years of
FUA  Krew
Joy Gallery, 498 West Main Street, Rochester, NY

Beginning on West Main Street, I walked into the Joy Gallery to find: FROM UP ABOVE "30 Years of FUA Krew" which was spearheaded by Erich Lehman of 1975 Gallery fame.  Established as a group in the late 1980s, FUA represents a sector of Rochester devoted to graffiti arts.
Erich Lehman connects with this group in this rich selection of artworks some of which originated in the subway systems and recently presented in the hallway of The Memorial Art Gallery here in town ( see my post from this past June called: Exhibition Hours ).

FUA means What?
"From Up Above"

Graffiti has spread far and wide - wherever young artists have the space and the inclination to make their tags, and leave their mark.  At the Joy Gallery, documentary photos supplement the group showing of more than 22 artists with many works offered for sale. Immerse yourself in this experience and you begin to see how deep into our culture this art scene has become.

Zombie by Bile
Joy Gallery

I think that the concept of Wall/Therapy arose out of this graffiti movement here in town, maybe by giving the artists a greater legitimacy.  In any case, in this show the  recognition is welcome for these artists whose work was considered underground for a long while.

FUA  Krew at Joy Gallery

For me, it was time to move on down the road to see what was new at the RIT CITY Art Space, and it was alive!  The shows called: "Best Foot Forward" and  "Blockitecture" provide some sense of how arts and industry may develop a mutually beneficial relationship.  There on the walls of this gallery there is evidence that this is not just an academic exercise, here designers and artists put their thinking  caps on and develop things that will make our world a better place.

RIT CITY Art Space
Liberty Pole Plaza
Rochester, NY

I will return to my story about "Current Seen" in my next post too.  For the moment, I want to see more of what is going on in this Biennial, and then share my views.  Meanwhile, I can take a look at the little guidebook that was published along with the shows, and  spend some time on the website that acts as a guide to the locations for all the small venues.

Liberty Pole Plaza, Rochester, NY

"Current Seen" has been in the works for a while, and the timing couldn't be better -as an alternative to the usual schedule of art shows that come and go.  That there is a common structure that links the visual arts in this "image city" to the people who would and should support it is IMPORTANT!  I remember a time, talking with Ned Corman who dreamt up the Rochester Jazz Festival - and he told me that he was really interested in having an art and music affair, similar to what they produce in places like Aspen, Colorado.  Getting together a structure where both kinds of art would be offered seemed like a daunting prospect - how would you raise money for such a thing? - but you can see that the Jazz Festival has really taken off while the visual arts until now have lagged behind.  Maybe now that their is a lot more liveliness in the city center, the visual arts will begin to find a new and larger audience.  I plan to help when and where I can;  so show your support by being engaged too!

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Summer Flavors

Portrait by Alan Singer, 2019

Wash your face, then get downstairs ready for a party!  

We gather together to celebrate a new season coming, and the summer that is quickly departing...  We had a great time this July - ( our second grand-child is born! ) and then there were wonderful exhibitions I have written about on this blog including my show called: "Process & Purpose".  The shows keep coming, and we await the collective ones known as "Current Seen" opening soon on October 4th - here in Rochester. 

Todd Jokl, the new Dean of College of Art & Design on right
talks with gallery visitors at R.I.T.

Before we go any further, I want to urge all of my readers to support the arts in any way you can, and most importantly, get out the door and see the real thing!  Go to the gallery, the museum, the artist talk and don't depend solely on those little hand-held devices better known as your smart phones!

North by NUUK
Photography by Denis Defibaugh

My job as a Professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology allows me to partake of shows mounted by the University Gallery, here on the campus in Booth Building 7a.  Come and see the wonderful photography of Denis Defibaugh in his show titled: "North by NUUK" Greenland after Rockwell Kent.  Rockwell Kent you will recall is an artist in the 20th century who went to Greenland to study  and paint portraits and memorable landscapes, and now Denis follows in his footsteps, but takes his camera to record this documentary.  This is not only a show but there will be a book forthcoming from RIT Press this November.

Hearty Greenlanders are the subject of 
Denis Defibaugh's documentary
North by NUUK

Denis travelled to Greenland to make this portfolio of color photos and was supported by an award from the National Science Foundation.  We see a timeless horizon, a continent of ice that has lately been in the news,  where a hearty breed of human beings do their best to support themselves and their families.  We get an inside look at their lives, and their environment.

Photo by Denis Defibaugh of Iceberg off the coast of Greenland

Fishing for a living in the waters around Greenland
Photo by Denis Defibaugh

While you are on the campus of the Rochester Institute of Technology, check out the faculty show which has also just opened.  The show is in two parts, and there is an exhibition open in the Bevier Gallery, and the Harris Gallery on the third floor of the Gannett Building ( 7b ).  In this new faculty show there are many wonderful works on view.  I found my office mate - Luvon Sheppard and his painting "Profiling" to  be very engaging, and also a very complex work by Don Arday, which has a spooky presence.  Check it out!

Painting by Luvon Sheppard

Digital art by Don Arday
at Rochester Institute of Technology
"Faculty Show"

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Summer Summary

Process & Purpose 
at RIT City Art Space
Rochester, New York

This has been a very rewarding summer season in many ways.  The visual arts in our area undergoes a process of renewal with the success of exhibitions like the one I have curated that has just ended a run here in Rochester at the new RIT City Art Space.  It is a beautiful site for a show, and I was pleased  to be able to present the prints of eight artists and we had many visitors who were new to the  gallery, including a troop of the docents who work at The Memorial Art Gallery.  

66th Finger Lakes Exhibition at The MAG

Speaking of The Memorial Art Gallery, I returned to see the 66th Finger Lakes Exhibition more than once and again found many interesting pieces in the show, like works by my colleague Andy Buck from RIT, and a surprising range of paintings, prints and sculpture.

Dale Inglett , "Sea of Melting Ice" 2017

Artists are dealing with contemporary issues, that may not seem so unusual - and many of these issues ( like climate change ) are not going away.  This Finger Lakes Exhibition was one of the most diverse shows I have seen in many years of visiting this museum.  The range of techniques, and the high quality of the art on view is a testament to the professional level of the artists chosen, and the fact that there is no dominating style or "ism" featured.

Sarah C. Rutherford's portraits
from her series "Her Voice Carries"

I am also glad to see that there are some new works on view in the galleries including a special entry hall filled with works by the artist Sam Gilliam, that I wrote about in my last post.  There is real value  given to introducing artists that the public should be made more aware of.  That is also part of my job here, and one of the reasons why I write this blog, there just isn't the kind of reporting going on in our major media, especially in print, that can help the public comprehend what is happening in our visual culture.

In the near future I plan to take some time to engage with a project called: "Current Seen".  the Rochester Contemporary Art Center will be promoting this with other venues hosting curated shows of local and national talent, so watch this space!

With every turn of the season, there is unfortunate loss as well, as we pay our respects to Jacque Clements ( 1925-2019 ) who passed away this month after suffering a stroke.  Jacque was a friend and a respected teacher and artist who painted and sculpted for years, yet many people would not know his work.

Sculpture by Jacque Clements

At the Hungerford Building, there was a fine - though small - memorial for Jacque that featured his art - most of which was new to me.  I hope in the future to be able to see more of what he made during his lifetime as a working artist.  We are grateful to Warren Phillips for staging this event, and giving us some insight into this man's pursuit of his dreams.

Abstract painting by Jacque Clements

The passing of a friend reminds us of our own mortality, so make the most of what you have got!

In Jacque's case he shied away from publicity, and the urge to promote his own work.  With the amount of competition for the attention of a public, artists really have their work cut out for them.  You have to make all of your efforts count, and I am thinking about this as I begin to prepare for the new season.  I am already planning ( in my mind ) exhibitions for the year 2020!  I am also looking forward to shows that are coming up including the major one I mentioned before called: "Current Seen" which already has its own website.  Another show that just opened at Main Street Arts in Clifton Springs is called: "From The Dirt To The Skies" that features five artists, including Chad Grohman     ( who was a student of mine at R.I.T. ) and Lanna Pejovic who has taught for many years  also at R.I.T.

In Clifton Springs, New York
go out to see the new show at Main Street Arts
Opened August 24th - thru October 4th, 2019

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Educate the Artist

I am entering my 31st year teaching art at Rochester Institute of Technology, and I think of the social impact of this and understand how important it is to the person who self-selects to first try to be an artist, and then to help understand the choices and pressures it places on that student.  I grew up in a family of visual artists, so there were role models right at home.  My parents also had many friends who were in the arts, and that seemed natural - for they all supported one another and from what I could see as a youngster - they all made a pretty good living doing what they loved to do.

It is important to say that I grew up in the New York City area at a time in the 1950s when the visual arts was just coming into its own in the U.S. - and being an artist ( who could make a living ) was not always in the cards!  You had to really work at it!  So, from the time I was a young teenager I hung out in the museums and galleries, I went to openings and talked to other aspiring artists.

Yayoi Kusama at The Memorial Art Gallery

Now, when I walk into The Memorial Art Gallery here in Rochester, and look at the giant polka dot sculpture of Yayoi Kusama, my mind travels back to a time when I was at her opening at the Howard Wise Gallery on 57th Street in Manhattan when there were just a handful of people there, and I talked with the artist ( back in the 1960s ).

John Ahearn's sculpture at The MAG

I was at The Memorial Art Gallery to go back and see the Finger Lakes Juried Exhibition.  Even before i walked in to see the show, I found a life-size plaster sculpture by John Ahearn which I had never previously seen before.  John and I were students at Cornell University in the early 1970s and it has really been interesting to see what he has accomplished so far.

Sam Gilliam at the entry to the galleries at MAG

At the entry to the galleries, where the salon style hanging of portraits used to be, there is now a group of artworks by Sam Gilliam, another artist whose work I have followed for years.  In fact, I brought Sam Gilliam up to Rochester to speak to my students almost 15 years ago.  He even made a presentation to visitors in the auditorium of The Memorial Art Gallery then, so I am glad to see that his art is finding an appreciative audience now.

What I am driving at here, is the fact that we live in a social world even though the artist often spends most of their time working alone in a studio situation.  Sometimes you can feel like you are all alone on the moon!  So I encourage people who are interested in the arts to step up their education and not only learn the skills to express themselves, but also engage with other artists who have this special thing - this vision of what they can and hope to create.

Watercolors by Karal Ann Marling

Grafitti in a painting by Karal Ann Marling

Right down the hall from the Finger Lakes show is the Lockhart Gallery which is now filled with intimate watercolors by Karal Ann Marling. Her focus is the local territory she now inhabits of downtown Rochester.  She takes us on a tour of places - not the most famous landmarks, but many of the spots that you may have just passed by.  It could be a shady street, and someone's porch, or it could be a painting of the little store on the corner.  Karel Ann Marling is actually a scholar and a writer, an art historian, so these paintings come as something of a surprise...  She delights in giving us a nostalgic look at Rochester - she finds a kind of abstract collage of images that make up the subjects for each of her framed works on display.  These are paintings made with love and care and a very personal touch.

Kathryn Rehrig at Main Street Arts, Clifton Springs

Speaking of that, I was out in Clifton Springs recently at Main Street Arts, in their upstairs gallery looking over a show called: "Undercurrents" featuring landscape paintings by Angelia Salerno and photographic prints by Kathryn Rehrig.  Kathryn's artist statement could be applied to some of Karal Ann Marling's artwork too when she writes, "Architectural salvage is ripe with potential for the discovery of "Faded Beauties".  Paint peeling, rust, algae, and vessels filled with water, present a striking palette of colors and unique abstract vignettes that tease the imagination.  The images represent an evolution of nature that challenges one's perspective to see beyond the obvious".

Paintings by Angelia Salerno
at Main Street Arts
Clifton Springs, New York

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Sticker Shock

"On The Great Lakes", acrylic  gouache on board
Alan Singer

I like to support our local arts institutions and in turn be supported by them.  Such is the case with organizations for which I am a member.  In this particular case, each year I join the Schweinfurth Art Center in Auburn because they have a yearly show called: "Made in NY".  To be selected for this show, you have to become a member and so that is what I do.  Their show is a bit like the  66th Finger Lakes Exhibition that is now on at The Memorial Art Gallery, it is a great show to be juried into.  If you travel to Auburn, drive around and look at the wonderful old houses, and enjoy the Finger Lakes.

My little painting ( above ) was accepted this year so I drove over to Auburn to deliver the goods.  In the gallery I found works from Kathy Farrell and a show of dimensional art that really packed a surprise!  The artist who is featured in the main gallery is Abraham Ferraro, and he creates works of art from cardboard boxes which he cuts and shapes, and then ships.  He sends  his boxes through the mail system with tons of stickers surrounding the packages.  It all started out with a very innocuous shaped box which was taped together as you can see below.

Art by Abraham Ferraro

Then things got a bit wild.  Here is a form of correspondence that I will bet they didn't teach you in art school!  The effect is like a zinger - the images zip across at you and you can wonder how it all fits together...  The room becomes one giant standing sculpture, and the labels or stickers serve as directions and coloration for the objects.  This is fun - and funnier when you stop to think that these things actually went through the mail, and they served a purpose - a greater purpose than the usual bills and flyers that pass each day through the same channels.

Art by Abraham Ferraro

Here is a dimensional Pop Art that will really give you sticker shock!  All of these pieces are very portable, the sum total of which must be considered a work-in-progress.  Who knows how large this idea could grow!

Abraham Ferraro goes POP

Abraham Ferraro at Schweinfurth Art Center

In the surrounding galleries, other artwork looked tame by comparison.  I stopped to look at silk screen prints made by Landon Perkins in this show called: Made and Remade: Re-Imagining Industrial Systems.    The prints by Mr. Perkins reminded me immediately of the prints by Nick Ruth that I included in our show "Process & Purpose, 2019" that I wrote about recently.  Landon Perkins  has a technological grasp with a fine technique to render the machines of the past - or maybe they are  made up to look old.  There is even a sense of humor in these images...

Landon Perkins at Schweinfurth Art Center

Silk Screen images by Landon Perkins

Another artist in the show is  Sherri Lynn Wood and her big piece hanging in the Main Gallery had a touch of the crafts from Gee's Bend that have been so popular.  There is also an echo of the paintings by Peter Halley in this art.

Sherri Lynn Wood

Peter Halley  ( not in the Schweinfurth Art Center show )

When you first walk in to the galleries at Schweinfurth Art Center, it might be easy to pass by the show of drawings by our own Kathleen Farrell.  It was just a few weeks ago that she presented black and white drawings with her friends Peter Monacelli and George Wegman that I wrote about on this blog.  This new set of drawings has more color but keeps the idiosyncratic sketch style and invention that she is known for.  Her show is called "Presence of Silence", and I can imagine that she whips out her drawing materials every time there is a lull in the action happening all around her.  

Kathy Farrell at Schweinfurth Art Center ( for the next seven days! )

Kathy Farrell has a great wit, and she is a sharp observer of humanity - and she gets it all down in this art that comes close to caricature and cartoon.  I just wonder if she would care to work in a medium that might last a bit longer..I worry about the permanence of marker rendering.

Kathleen Farrell and her characters

Later in the day I drive down to Ithaca, to our garden, and take a moment to go out in the back to smell the roses.  This has just been the busiest and most rewarding summer so far, and I am amazed that the weather is so  dramatic!  Enjoy!