Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Winter Wonder Wander

John Ahearn's "Ernestine" at the 
  Herbert F Johnson Museum of Art
  Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

Let's go see what is on view in Ithaca, New York on a winter's day.  Up the hill, The Johnson Museum beckons at Cornell University.  At the entrance to this I. M. Pei designed edifice, I found this wall mounted "portrait" in painted plaster by John Ahearn who was studying at Cornell when I was an MFA candidate there in the early 1970's.  John made the painted plaster cast his medium, though when I first met him he was a traditional painting student.  It is the artist's job to take common materials like plaster and transform them into something that captures your attention.  I think John's artwork is not too different than figurative sculpture from the past few hundred years, though his subjects are often folks who volunteer to have themselves cast wherever John makes his studio whether is is in the Bronx - or Brazil.

Another figurative artist catches my attention and this time it is Storm Tharp, a more recent Cornell grad from 1992.  His medium is mostly ink on paper, but also color and pattern play a role, as does a fierce characterization for each person portrayed.  In his portion of the exhibit space a vitrine holds sketchbooks and artist's keepsakes and memoranda - all of which help to personalize the show.

Storm Tharp at The Johnson Museum

Walk upstairs to the next floor and there is an exquisite drawing show of masterworks by European artists like Bronzino, Bernini ( the architect and painter ), Watteau, and Ingres.  This is one show you won't want to miss: "Drawn to Excellence": Renaissance and Romantic Drawings from a Private Collection.  Since I teach drawing, I had more than enough reasons to stop in to see these remarkable works on paper by some of Europe's finest artists.  I have great respect for this art that captivates the mind and eye and satisifes on so many levels.  Just take a look at the trois-crayon method in the Watteau drawing of a man playing a guitar - the particular marks made to indicate the thumb and fingers are so concise and add to the entire framework of this little drawing.

In some ways this art resembles the bare trees outside the museum - a world of lines and marks made in the wind.  Back inside, a study of a leafy tree by Annibale Carracci has the vitality and sound of spring.  You can find favorite artists, and many obscure ones in this show.  One of my favorites was a pencil portrait by Ingres, that couldn't have been more than eight inches square.  A portrait of precision, Ingres' drawing reveals the personality of his wife Madeline, while the artist has added his own image off to the side at a later date.

The great benefit of The Johnson Museum is that you can see so much of the world's culture by only taking a few steps down the hall.  If you venture into another gallery you can take in an exhibition of Southeast Asian weavings, and see wonderful batiks and long loom lengths of intricately detailed fabrics made to be worn.

When I ran out of quarters to feed the meter outside the museum, I went downtown in Ithaca to the Ink Shop on State Street to see the new exhibit "No Land Escapes".  There, I found the curator of the show, Barbara McPhail and more than thirty works at the gallery that make up a show illustrating the effects of fracking.  This exhibition provides visual testimony to the ravages of the land by the push to drill for natural gas, using the controversial method of extraction known to pit neighbor against neighbor.  In prints by these six accomplished artists:  Craig Mains, Pamela Drix, Elizabeth Durand, Teri Power, Kathleen Sherin, and Barbara McPhail we see a variety of styles in art that range from miniature prints to panoramas often filled with the notorious drilling rigs and the attendant devastation that surrounds these launch pads.  Sometimes the image is as simple as the rainbow sheen left on the surface of water that reflects on the quality of what might happen to our natural resources - in ways that alter what we can't reverse.

Barbara McPhail,
  artist and curator of "No Land Escapes"
  at  The Ink Shop, Ithaca, New York

Monday, February 11, 2013

Art Reflected / A View Back to the Future

"Art Reflected"  
      February 10-March 16, 2013
The Memorial Art Gallery on
University Avenue hosts a centennial celebration

In Rochester, The Memorial Art Gallery is in its' centennial year and one of the ways they celebrate their role in this community is to inspire people to be more creative.  As an exhibition, "Art Reflected"
provides a catalyst for artists and the general public to open their eyes to the Memorial Art Gallery's collection of art and artifacts, and choose a work of art as a starting point for a dialog.  Regional artists were invited by the museum to pick out an artwork from a list of 100 masterpieces in the MAG collections, and to develop a new work of art using their choice as an inspiration. The goal was not to have the artists copy but to use the earlier art as a touchstone for an entirely new creation.  Then, these 41 artists got to work ( over a period of several months ) and brought to life new art to be installed for this month in the museum ( alongside the earlier original work ).  Also, this is a fundraiser for the Memorial Art Gallery, and ultimately the new works will be sold.

As one of the artists invited to participate, it is a little daunting to suddenly have my art hanging next to an artist whose paintings I have admired for most of my life!  In a way, it is also a dream come true.  Having chosen a painting by Stuart Davis ( I lectured on this painting "Landscape with Garage Lights" at the MAG almost ten years ago ) I set about planning new prints that would make use of some of the same elements in a setting like the Gloucester, MA harbor that Davis had visited.  At opening night I was happily surprised to see that Nick Ruth, a professor from Hobart William and Smith College, was also fond of the same Stuart Davis painting, and Nick made a colorful work which sat alongside the master ( see photo below ).
 Stuart Davis " Landscape with 
     Garage Lights, oil on canvas 1931-32

This would be a great time for you to visit MAG to go on a treasure hunt to find the works in the galleries that inspired all of these local artists.  Here is a list of the participating artists:

I took a tour after listening to the ceramist Stephen Merritt speak in the auditorium the day after the preview party.  Stephen introduced the audience to a small oil "sketch" by the Hudson River landscape painter Thomas Cole, titled "Genesee Scenery" which portrays a rustic bridge crossing a gorge above the falls in what is now Letchworth Park.  The Thomas Cole is a tiny oil on board, and Stephen Merritt's clay and wood sculpture is a bit bigger but still in proportion.  It is interesting to see the transformation from painting to sculpture, and how Stephen Merritt makes his choices of color, texture and space. Stephen took time to explain that his father and mother had donated the original Thomas Cole to the Memorial Art Gallery, and it was his father's love for this painting that remained in Stephen's memory.

This is a gallery visit that the whole family would enjoy - finding the works in "Art Reflected" and making some comparisons - it is really like an engaging lesson in art history, and at the same time it offers more personal choices and attitudes towards materials and issues in the visual arts.  Witness Shawn Dunwoody upstairs with his assemblage below a 14th century altarpiece - where his use of found objects, signs and curiosities highlight his African-American heritage, and this throws into relief the ideas involved in "Art Reflected".

I went along looking at everything with new eyes.  I found many artists whose work I was familiar with showing some new aspects of what they normally present.

Right next to the Stuart Davis painting was a boldly imagined work by Nick Ruth, and I was interested to see that he found the elipse as an organizing principle ( his work is titled "Can You Hear Me Now" ).  I have an elipse in my print too, but we didn't know that each of us had selected the Stuart Davis artwork out of all the art in the museum!

Some of the original artworks are transformed by a change of medium, so that a famous painting by Winslow Homer of his studio in Maine surrounded by fog became a bracelet by Loraine Cooley, and a sculpture by Gould called "The West Wind" translated into a video of curtains by Anne Havens.  This was the kind of magic I saw; artists pulling the rabbit out of the hat and delighting the gallery goer. You will want to see every spot on the map and enjoy the trip!

Thursday, February 7, 2013


A day before the show opens to the public, I gathered along with artists and invited guests for a reception at the JGK Gallery, 10 Vick Park A in Rochester.  I looked over the 2013 Art Roc Showcase and I was especially pleased to see one of my students ( Gareth Fitzgerald Barry ) as a featured sculptor among eleven other artists chosen for this exhibition.  The JGK Gallery is in what appears to be a renovated carriage house close to the museums in the Neighborhood of the Arts.  Relatively new to the area, the JGK Gallery brings together regional talent in this new show, and I was attracted to the nearly abstract landscape images in Alejandro Gutierrez's paintings made with enamels and resin.  Other artists deal with abstraction such as Carey Corea and Jeanne Beck who is also known for her art quilts.  A nice article accompanied the show (published in Rochester Magazine written by Michelle Cardulla) and hopefully that will bring in curious gallery goers.

"Makers and Mentors" at
Rochester Contemporary Art Center, 137 East Ave., Rochester
From the left:  Bleu Cease,Director, and artists: Peter Monacelli, Kurt Feuerherm, and Kristine Bouyoucos.

This week is witness also to a new edition of the "Makers and Mentors" series at Rochester Contemporary Art Center.  This year's artists include Kurt Feuerherm, Peter Monacelli, Kristine Bouyoucos, and Patricia Dreher and all of these artists contribute two dimensional works that have color and verve.  It is good to see Kurt again in this area, he's moved back to Rochester from the seaside community of Wellfleet, MA.  I can see a bit of the scrubby landscape elements from the Cape in Kurt's paintings - which are very vigorous - brushy yet still descriptive - and all of a modest size.
Kurt is a well known teacher having been at Empire State College, and the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC.  Kurt was mentor to many budding artists.  I think he was pleased to be so honored with an exhibition at RoCo especially in light of the fact that there is now a campaign to buy the building where the show is being held.

One could say that Kurt's paintings are very environmental - all about kinds of space with a great sensitivity towards nature without being realist in his approach.  Peter Monacelli's series titled "Midtown Transfiguration" is also a guide to space but in this case it appears to be about architecture and the abstract patterns and geometry of many a building site.  Peter told me that it is important to known that he had a construction company and that the Little Theatre had been one of his jobs.  Peter's wall of artwork at RoCo is thrilling - and once again it is all about color and space.

Kristine Bouyoucos makes prints which feature music notation and aspects of nature; fine old trees - almost somber in their tonality - yet these works of art are also about space, rhythm, and color.  Of all the work on exhibition in "Makers and Mentors" Kristine's art demands a closer look, in effect to really see it is to get up close enough to read the notes.  These prints also have a friendly quality, the botanical elements along with the musical theme is uplifting.

The small paintings of Patricia Dreher portray gritty scenes from the Port of Oakland, California. If you fly into the airport during day you can see acres and acres of containers waiting to be put on board boats bound for voyages elsewhere.  Maybe it is a coincidence, but Patricia's paintings have some of the same colors and abstracted space as Kurt's.  One hopes that the "Makers and Mentors" project will continue to shine a light on the relationships among the many working artists in our midst.