Friday, December 13, 2013

Contemporary Art Center

23rd Annual Members Exhibition
  at Rochester Contemporary Art Center
  137 East Avenue, thru January 12, 2014

Tis the season, so after you go out and see all the art shows you can handle - slow down and find a comfortable place to read a book.  Since I write about art I recommend that you catch up with some favorite writers who make a living doing just that and here are two paperbacks just published  that might be a nice holiday gift to get.  The books are "Pirates and Farmers" by Dave Hickey ( Essays on Taste) and "Words for Art" by Barry Schwabsky.

Dave Hickey is out there, in print with his Henry Miller style lists, and his mea culpas - do we really need to know the kinds and quantities of the drugs he has taken?  When he wants to be, he is a sharp wit, and also sometimes hits the nail on the head as far as the real art goes.  These essays on taste take on the Las Vegas scene, the New York City conundrum of the artist's life,  interesting views of the West-Coast art world, all with aplomb, and zesty zingers on each page.  Dave is entertaining - a jazz artist always with a ready riff from this one time editor of Art in America.

Barry Schwabsky's book "Words for Art" is a series of thoughtful essays on how other writers and thinkers approach contemporary art theory and practice.  Barry is the art critic for The Nation, and a
friend who in this new book has many insights which may require a second reading because they are so finely textured ( especially compared to Dave Hickey ).  One of the most interesting essays in his book "Words for Art" is all about what it means to have a truly American art ( in the piece titled: " Under the Flag" ).  Dave Hickey also tries to concern himself with American art and comes to some interesting conclusions about how you can determine whether the art you are looking at has staying quality.

Robert Marx at RoCo
  23rd Annual Members Exhibition

When we put this into practice, it is really up to the observer of the artwork to make the judgement.

Try this out when you are standing in the Rochester Contemporary Art Center on East Avenue - the 23rd Annual Members Exhibition has opened - go into the gallery and survey the new works that artist members have on view.  Ask yourself about the art you see: "How long will I remember this work?, and if you love a work, how long do you think you would love this art?  Whether or not other people would agree with you is not the point, it is more about feeling and maintaining an open mind to the art experience.

"Bee Hive" by Susan Doran
  at RoCo Members Show

At RoCo you can see a dramatic figurative sculpture from Bill Stewart standing in the corner of the lab room toward the back of the gallery.  My pick for most interesting new work on view is a grey paper tutu titled: "Bee Hive" by Susan Doran which won an Arena Art Group Award.  I also enjoyed seeing Robert Marx's portrait and I like one of our R.I.T. grad students Brad Butler's atmospheric paintings that also  won an award.

Go see this show, there is always a lot to think about and let me know if you enjoyed reading the books I recommend, and happy holidays!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Plein Air Painting

Kurt Moyer
  from: "Contemplating Nature"
  at the Axom Gallery, Rochester, NY

The French Impressionists are important but they weren't the only ones who went outside to paint.

American artists such as Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent wouldn't be who they were without the experience of painting direct from the motif, under the sun and the prevailing winds.

It is true for me that when I went outdoors to paint in the 1970's there were few artists who considered this a worthwhile path to take.  But I had in mind those great artists like Paul Cezanne and Camille Corot who seemingly made magic happen with a portable easel, brushes, paints and a canvas.

In art school, my teacher, Paul Resika brought his entire class out to paint in the countryside but I had already had some experience watching my father create art from nature ( he was a noted wildlife artist ).

There were a few people I knew who painted outdoors including Fairfield Porter, Wolf Kahn and Lennart Anderson that inspired me and I began to develop a passion for finding a place to quietly engage with the sun, space, and my art materials.  I saw some watercolors by Edward Hopper that also looked like my kind of world, so I began to practice with all of these artists in mind.

Rackstraw Downes came to Cornell University when I was there earning my MFA, and he further stimulated me to go out and find new sites to paint- so I would rent a VW bug and went hunting for places where I wouldn't be disturbed ( even though it might be trespassing ).  Two things reminded me of this period of time - the first is that a friend ( James l. McElhinney ) sent me a photo from the summer of 1973 when I was with a group at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine - and I spent three months with my paints each day working outdoors on some larger paintings.  See Photo below.

Summer 1973 at
  Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture.
  faculty included Janet Fish, Paul Resika, William Williams, Mel Bochner

The second thing that reminded me of this interest in landscape painting was an exhibition which just opened in Rochester including the work of four painters titled: "Contemplating Nature" at the Axom Gallery.

What can be accomplished by painting outdoors that straight photography won't match,  has to do with the human nervous system and a test of eye, hand, and brain coordination.  Photography takes in every detail in general and equalizes elements, while painters pronounce their own decisive bias in terms of what they have in their hands - that is to say the part of the painter's equipment that is both internal and physical ( otherwise the painting just doesn't get done ).  Just like no two people are exactly alike, no two landscape painters are alike either.  We can learn from what they show us.

Axom Gallery
  "Contemplating Nature"

Going into the Axom Gallery you will see that most of these landscape paintings are modest in scale. This is important when you stop to think that the canvas has to be movable if you plan to work outdoors and artists have to deal with available light and sometimes discomfort        ( wind, ticks and other disasters like poison ivy ).

Rick Muto
  paints in plein air

The details of the paintings on view vary from classical figures under the canopy of leafy trees, to scrubby shoreline, and nearly abstract art that combines observations of nature and geometry.
Paul Garland has the most experimental artwork, especially a little painting that is set on top of another painting which in turn is centered over another painting.  Kurt Moyer has a touch of Corot in his color and matter-of-fact observations of woodsy scenes from this part of the world.  Rick Muto has a softer more illustrative touch in paintings of an intimate scale.  Connie Ehindero shows work that is spare,
and astringent, the structures are more diagrammatic and colors are more liberated.

Paul Garland
Contemplating Nature
at the Axom Gallery

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Write What You See

"Union Junction"
  a tableau at 1975 Gallery
  89 Charlotte Street, Rochester, NY

An exhibition at 1975 Gallery had as part of their show a little table with some artwork underway and a scattering of simple art supplies, a few used watercolor pans, a brush, some pencils - which inspired ruminations and nostalgia from a visitor.  These humble materials can be transformed by drawing and painting and this activity opens a door for one to walk through, especially if you are a young artist filled with dreams and imagination, the prospect can be both liberating and daunting at the same moment.

Young artists often look for inspiration and kinship perhaps outside of their immediate family.  I grew up in a family of artists, so in order to stake out my territory, I had to go out and find it first, and I did that by looking at everything and by being actively engaged as a student ( I also had the temerity to get into arguments with teachers and older artists as a youth ).

In college, the prevailing styles of Pop Art and Conceptualism gradually overwhelmed the Abstract Expressionists, but somehow I was more involved with figuration having gone to the Art Students League in Manhattan to draw from the model each week from the time I was 14.

Was it luck or by design, that when I was in art school at The Cooper Union - I found a group of teachers who were artists that went against the grain.  If the trends in the artworld went towards minimalism, these artists went towards a more traditional path that grew out of European painting and sculpture.  So, if you walk into the National Academy of Design at 1083 5th Avenue in New York City you will find a show titled: "See It Loud" which features seven post-war American painters - all involved in a representational art which I found fascinating when I was a student.

on view at
  The National Academy of Design
  New York City

The artists from "See It Loud" formed a small society and there were at least two painters missing from this group which I feel would have made a more well rounded argument in the visual sense for the time (Robert DeNiro, Sr. and Louisa Matthiasdottir).  You could say that this group of artists ( the loyal opposition ) humanized an artworld that was increasingly commercial, and also paid respect to the great art ( and artists ) of the past.  What is surprising to find out is that these seven artists ( all of whom I had met ) had studied with masters of abstraction such as Josef Albers or Hans Hofmann, so they willingly made a decision to find value in various forms of figuration and landscape which is in evidence at the show on Fifth Avenue.  Making your art and staking a claim to a part of the visual landscape in the artworld came with a price, in terms of visibility, but this also had its attraction, as I have said, to a younger artist.

Paul Resika recent paintings 
  "See It Loud" at The National Academy 

Take a look around "See It Loud" and you will find paintings by artists who have not had their full stories told yet.  There are surprises to be had, most notably for me in the portraits by Peter Heinemann, and the landscapes of Al Kresch and Paul Resika.  There were also almost bas relief paintings by Stanley Lewis that were engaging, and other works by Neil Welliver, Paul Georges, and Leland Bell.

Paintings by Stanley Lewis
  at The National Academy

Leland Bell, who also had been my painting teacher in years gone by would speak eloquently about Piet Mondrian, Alberto Giacometti, and Andre Derain and you would be forced to take another look at these artist's work - now seen in a new light.  Paul Resika would make a case for studying the relationships found in nature by dragging us ( students ) all out to paint in the country like a modern day Cezanne.  Even Paul Georges stirred some energy into paintings of myth and grand dreams of a new figuration which was also being proposed by more analytical artists like Lucien Freud and Philip Pearlstein.

Balthus at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

So, go and see the show "See It Loud" where you can view the vital, colorful paintings by this handful of artists, and then continue over to the Metropolitan Museum to see their precursors like Balthus, now on view in the show "Cats and Girls" Paintings and Provocations.  Or spend some moments in the new installation from William Kentridge called "The Refusal of Time" - it is worth the price of admission alone.  This Thanksgiving there are many reasons to be thankful, and mindful of family and friends, as we watch the parade and get caught up in the flow of events.