Friday, May 14, 2010

Cut and Paste, Fabricate and Weld

Ellen Stoll Walsh signs a book at Ock Hee's Gallery, Honeoye Falls, NY

Two very distinctive solo exhibitions opened last week by artists who have had great success with their work.  I can't help but draw some comparisons between the art of Ellen Stoll Walsh and Albert Paley even though their personalities are so different and their audiences wouldn't recognize each other.

Along with her garden and her antiques Ock Hee presents an exhibition of childrens book art by a best selling author and artist.  Ellen Stoll Walsh makes her home in the Rochester area, but her books will be enjoyed around the world, and those lucky enough to see this rare showing of her select original art from her books are in for a treat.

Ellen Stoll Walsh shares some formal similarities with other author/artists like Eric Carle ( his book "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" might be an influence) and their art is designed to be engaging, enlivened by balancing silhouettes of primary color with activated open space of white pages.  What you can't see from the printed pages of "Mouse Count" or "Dot and Jabber and the Big Bug Mystery" is that her art is a very sophisticated form of collage.  Her art is totally integrated with the story she tells (though it is possible to understand "Mouse Paint" with no text at all).

This is where I begin to think of "Albert Paley in the 21st Century" on view this season at The Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester.  There are many facets to Paley's artwork and recently he has added a form of illustrative sculpture that is not too far removed from Ellen Stoll Walsh's silhouettes.

Albert Paley bucks trends often found in contemporary monumental art.  As if the whole enterprise of minimalism hadn't occured, Paley's art is feathered, fragmented, and maintains alliances with cubism and Art Nouveau.  Austerity is not in Paley's DNA - it is more like full orchestra with chorus.

Even though Paley's  art is three dimensional, there is a reliance on planes of cut metal that at a much smaller scale could easily be Ellen Walsh's cut paper dandelion leaves.  What we see in Paley's work right now is a translation of rhythms in nature displayed with pictorial concern.  In fact, Paley's art is rejuvenating a regard for composition -something we haven't seen in Cor-Ten steel in the wake of Richard Serra and Mark DiSuvero.

Albert Paley has accepted commissions from civic boosters, private collectors, zoos and corporations.  His reputation has grown steadily which keeps his studio collaborators buzzing with activity.  Surprisingly, this is the first large scale exhibition of Paley's sculpture presented in Rochester, his hometown.

"Albert Paley in the 21st Century" contains many drawings ( in distinctive red pencil ) and many models or maquettes for much larger artwork.  Visitors to the gallery are greeted with a dashing photograph of Paley handling searing hot metal, forging a new element to be added to a work in progress.  Above the photo is a quote " The main function of ornament is to articulate emotion" which seems to preempt questions that are raised by the complexity of Paley's artistic expression.

Portals, gates, and semaphores seem to be the basis or premise from which he builds.  The elements of utility and adornment are never far behind.  Particularly impressive are the skills needed to forge and fabricate this sculpture.  The physics and engineering alone, to balance weights and keep the art stable, must be a daunting task.

I was particularly struck by his most recent art for St. Louis, MO; Trenton, NJ and Monterrey, Mexico.
Albert Paley's show is long overdue, and we can only begin to assess how his art addresses the landscape or cityscape in which it finds a home.  It is well worth the effort to keep an eye on Paley's symphony of form.