Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Far Out Man

Kenny Irwin Jr.

1077 Granvia Valmonte,
Palm Springs, CA.
5$ donation at the gate

Kenny Irwin has created his own amusement park and my stay in Palm Springs would not be complete if I didn't go for a visit.  Some people have to go and see the Bob Hope house, but don't miss this - this is too much!

Robolights, a 4 acre site, not far from Frank Sinatra Way in a palmy suburb, was where I found an amazing array of folk art from the hands of one very driven person who has a vision and will not stop until every nook and cranny is filled...  did anyone say "obsession? "

Alan Singer gathers materials for the
blog you are reading

If you grew up playing with Legos, Transformers and other mechanical mayhem, this perpetual show will be right up your alley.  Especially captivating were the stags emerging from a line of toilets in a central square where a huge golden stage coach was parked and instead of a team of horses pulling the carriage, we have a fleet of yellow manikins.

Kenny Irwin Jr. has been developing this park on the family estate for many years.
Around every corner there is something to marvel at.

This personal theme park has been built by hand ( maybe with the exception of the Macy's balloon parade which floats above parts of the constructions).  Private tours can be arranged by appointment and if you just want to stay a little while you can make a donation at the front.  Your money literally goes down the drain, and you can proceed on the paths towards the end.  Look up and you will see millions of lights!

I think the artist must have grown up watching old Pee Wee's Playhouse reruns.  My friend Gary Panter would no doubt approve, since he designed many of the crazy props for Pee Wee's sets.  But you haven't seen anything quite like this - are you ready for it?

Many of the constructions have been put together with cast-off collections, old pails, skulls, and odd assortments of lumber painted in the brightest colors.  There is a carousel of sorts, a mad green whirling head, and an anatomical ticket taker and so much more.  Plan to stay after dusk, the place is truly a Coney Island of the Mind!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Way Out West

2015, Welcome the New Year
Palm Springs Art Museum
Palm Springs, California

There is a chill in the air on a sunny day in December.  We're in Palm Springs and we walk up the steps to the museum.

Palm Springs has doubled in size since we were last in these precincts, and this is the busy time of the year here.  I am looking up at the banners outside the museum advertising the shows of contemporary glass, and the special exhibition from the studio of the Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei.

Yesterday, we walked around Joshua Tree National Park and it features views with a fascinating geology that goes for miles and miles, and today we are taking in a different form of visual culture.  Walking up to the museum we are greeted in the  sculpture gardens with  works by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth among others.

There is a traveling show of Australian modern glass called "LINKS" which looks enticing. We go upstairs in the elevator and begin our tour seeing manipulated photos and gazing out over the atrium.

Atrium of the Palm Springs Art Museum

We take in the paintings by Anselm Keifer, Helen Frankenthaler, Ellsworth Kelly, and a convex circle by Anish Kapoor. There is a dress made in 1964 at the Andy Warhol studio of a Brillo Box and some printed yellow cloth.  One of my favorite works on the upper floor was a  "quadtych" by Brian Wills of a spectrum consisting of four parallel wooden shelves surrounded by color threads.

Horizontal Spectrum by Brian Wills, 2013

There was a big operatic painting by Jennifer Bartlett " Fire, Table, Cone" from 1988-89 that has some staying power with the actual objects of a orange red table and black cone placed in front of the painted images being consumed by flames.  Is this an allegory of how forms are used up in the art world? Forms are used and then re-invented or re-packaged as seen downstairs in the horoscope of heads by the Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei.

Tableaux of Cone, Table and Painting by
Jennifer Bartlett

We sat and watched a short video about the sculpture of Ai Wei Wei, and had a look into his studio practice as the horoscope heads were being built by his studio assistants.  Clay models were being cast and two editions were made: one in bronze and one in gold.  On view at the Palm Springs Art Museum were a set of twelve heads in gold - each on a pedestal. They were effective as a group and as individual pieces, to a greater or lesser extent - each person may have a favorite…

Ai Wei Wei

As far as studio production goes, these twelve heads were interesting, and the set helps to place where Chinese contemporary art happens to be at the moment.  Ai Wei Wei may be the most well-known Chinese artist, and that may be due to his activism, and all the controversy surrounding his house arrest.

The horoscope heads are not consistent, in terms of style and impact.. some of the "necks" are more interesting, some of the descriptive heads are better, some are a bit slick, and remind me of certain characters in children's literature.   Never-the-less I am happy to have seen this set.

Acoma ceramic pot

There is a section of the museum dedicated to paintings of the Southwest, and there was a favorite small study by Thomas Moran of the Grand Canyon.  Also on view: a selection of Navajo pottery, and weavings, like this pictorial Germantown blanket circa 1880.

Germantown Textile, circa 1880

Contemporary glass is all fired up!  The show at Palm Springs Art Museum features Australian glass art and it is simply beautiful.  Also it is inventive, and subtle, and striking, especially in the way the show titled: LINKS is mounted.  Every piece of glass in the exhibition is given space to breathe ( which is one thing missing from many of the shows I have seen at Corning for example ).  There are glass panels that look like paintings, and there are several striking images that are minimal and essential.

Giles Bettison creates patterns in the glassworks he makes and I found this one striking for its subtle color range.  There is a interesting story to tell with these new Australian glass artists.

Giles Bettison
glass art with textile patterns, 2010

Monday, December 22, 2014

Reasons To Be Cheerful

Arthur and Alan Singer
from their book "State Birds"
published by Lodestar Books

Season's Greetings to you all.  We do have reasons to be cheerful - in our neck of the woods we will now have a ban on fracking.  That's right, here in New York State - Anna Sears and Nedra Harvey among others, have been diligent in their fight for clean air, clean water, and they have battled the forces lined up against them in the oil industry - and these activists have prevailed! CONGRATULATIONS!

We want to see the sun so we are on our way out west and my next report will be from way out yonder. Now that I have gotten my grades in, I can think about next semester in sunnier climes.

Rochester Contemporary Art Center
24th Annual Members Exhibition

Before I leave, I want to thank Blue Cease and the volunteers at Rochester Contemporary Art Center for putting together an encyclopedic Annual show.  There is so much artwork, in so many styles that it is hard to sum up.  I did see that a few pieces have already been sold, and people were busy putting their yellow dot of appreciation next to the artwork that they liked the best.

Tom Lightfoot's
mixed media portrait
on the right

A few people I know were in the show, and it is always good to see some of my students past and present in the mix.  Melissa Mance had a fine portrait of a Snowy Owl on the wall, and my friend and colleague - Tom Lightfoot had an interesting mixed media portrait next to a mosaic in a window frame.  In the back was a large piece by John Kastner that had his usual blend of mayhem.  Patti Ambrogi had a very calm and peaceful ( and green) forest photo, and there were many other interesting creative pieces on display.  Take some time to go and see this show and the great variety of talent we have right here around us.

Patti Ambrogi  below

See, I told you there were reasons to be cheerful!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

What Did You See Today

Eric T. Kunsman at the Dyer Art Center
Rochester Institute of Technology
til January 21, 2015

Sometimes art takes you places that you never forget.  That is the case with the bold new photographs that have come to stay for a while at the Dyer Art Center. Eric T. Kunsman is the photographer ( he is the owner of the Booksmart Studio ) and he has filled the gallery spaces with documentary photos of the Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania - but this is more than just fine photos - it is really a society, a sociology and life's lessons on view.  In a pile, on a pedestal, there are old certificates of fact, the papers that were used to log in the inmates, noting what they did and didn't do, how they behaved with one another, who got pardoned, who died in jail, etc.

The old jail hasn't been used for quite a while, so it became a destination for a field trip that Eric took, and he just kept going back to document what he saw there between 2003 and 2005.  The building looks like a Civil War relic, a stockade whose walls are peeling and corroding, the photos made inside this prison give one the chills.  This could be the scene of a horror movie, and it probably was for some who sat out their days behind bars.

Eric T. Kunsman photography at The Dyer Art Center, R.I.T.

Eric's vision of this place is all texture, and he brings a remarkable sense of light and detail into these gloomy precincts.  Sometimes his photos bring a softness that is less foreboding, and then you can go back and read the scripture of the warden in charge who writes that a certain prisoner has learned to write, or read while incarcerated, or that a certain person has been discharged, or transferred with little hope for his last days.  It is very moving stuff!

Len Urso unveils his portrait of Mondavi

Across campus at R.I.T. there was an unveiling of a huge sculptural portrait of the vintner Robert Mondavi.  Richard Sands, the art patron and owner of the recently acquired Mondavi Winery commissioned my colleague Len Urso to create this giant head that somehow reminds me of the Easter Island moai, seen here sitting outside in the cool breeze.  

Richard Sands introduces Len Urso at The Vignelli Design Center

At the celebration for the artist and patron, a short video was projected that gives one an idea of where the new sculpture will be situated, and then the crowd could go outside on a wintry afternoon to inspect the work.  Made of thick copper sheet metal welded together and hammered out, this is no small order for an artwork of formal rigor that serves as a reminder of the "bigger-than-life" approach that Mondavi brought to his business, and that is carried forward in this likeness to be installed in California during the spring of 2015.

Len Urso on left with Carlos Caballero Perez
and new Mondavi portrait in copper

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Back in Town

John Retallack's photo of book artist Scott McCarney
at the
Link Gallery, 30 Church Street, in downtown Rochester, New York

At City Hall on Church Street, there is the Link Gallery, a hallway exhibition space recently inhabited by photos from John Retallack.  John worked for many years at Rochester Institute of Technology as a professor in the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences and only a few years ago published a book of portraits ( I was one of them ) titled: "Colleagues", written with my friend Anne C. Coon.  John is a highly skilled studio photographer and the interesting thing about this show is that his photos are often diptychs - pairs of images that are related, and this broadens the story that they tell.

For example, there is a host of photos of war veterans, and the pairing of photos often shows the way they look today with a photo of them as a younger person.  Instantly, we look for similarities in the face, and then we look for the differences - and how they have changed!  I also like some of his informal shots of a simple fence half buried in sand.

John Retallack at Link Gallery

Wm. A. Root 
at Warren Phillips, 1115 East Main Street, Rochester, NY

Warren Phillips, who has a frame shop and gallery attached just moved into my studio building - The Hungerford - at 1115 East Main Street, and opened a curious show titled "Assemblage".  I stopped in to see these works by artist William A. Root and I found the art engaging and playful, and this show brought out similarities between these predominantly wood forms and the combinations that Louise Nevelson used to show when she was alive in New York City.  When I asked about Mr. Root, I was told that for years he made window displays, and he has been a part of the art community here for years, but this is the first time that I have seen a show of these sculptures, and they have a strong modernist impulse - I could imagine an artist like Picabia making paintings of similar constructions.

Emily Glass in the "Faculty Show",  The Bevier Gallery
at Rochester Institute of Technology

The School of Art, is represented in the Faculty Exhibition, at the Bevier Gallery in Booth Building of R.I.T. and a visitor is drawn to the far wall of the show where there hangs a large painting of two massive frogs by the artist Emily Glass.  They are a bit gothic, without being a menace, and they are convincingly painted.  A few other birds and animals caught my eye including a wonderful little painting of a screech owl by Robert Dorsey ( see below ), and a drawing of an egret by Bill Finewood.

Painting by Robert Dorsey

Denton Crawford had a lively painting of hanging feathers, and next to that was a series of caricatures of the Beatles by Jay Lincoln.  There was also a parade of figure drawings from Keith Howard, who is better known for his leadership in the Non-Toxic Printmaking world, but Keith has taught figure drawing for many years and all that practice shows.

The Beatles by Jay Lincoln
at the Bevier Gallery to January 9, 2015

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Have Blog, Will Travel

Sculpture Gardens at Oakland Museum of California

This blog travels!  We go west for Thanksgiving, and before we sit down to dinner together, let us look around the art scene in Oakland      ( California, that is ).  The New York Times said recently that "Oakland is the new Brooklyn" - and having lived for a while in Brooklyn, I just had to go and see for myself..

William Harsh,  oil on canvas 
at Vessel Gallery, 471 25th Street, Oakland, CA

We stopped to take in the gallery scene not far off from Telegraph Avenue with a tour of a 5000 sq. ft. gallery space called Vessel which featured a large selection of paintings and prints from the late William Harsh who passed away in 2012 at age 59.  Harsh had been a student of the painters James Weeks, and Philip Guston.  

When I was a student I heard Guston speak at the New York Studio School, and I was also familiar with James Weeks having studied with him at Tanglewood, so I was eager to find out more about William Harsh, and I could see right off that his art owes a strong debt to Guston and to a lesser extent to James Weeks.  Harsh is at the cusp of expressionism and representation, and the stacked nature of this deck of cards sometimes tumbles into a caricature of Philip Guston without presenting something  more original.    

Viola Frey ( 1933-2004 ) at Oakland Museum of California

It was a beautiful day in downtown Oakland, so we moved on to the Oakland Museum of California perched near Lake Merritt at 1000 Oak Street.  This modern building is really a series of museums that incorporate a terraced sculpture garden with many levels and many views and some engaging modernist sculpture.  Greeting us at the door was this larger-than-life glazed ceramic woman from the artist Viola Frey whose work I used to see frequently at Nancy Hoffman Gallery in New York City.

Fertile Ground: Art and Community in California

Once inside the museum, the show that attracted my attention was all about the visual arts and a strong relationship to communities that grew up around the artists living and working in the Bay Area.  This is a bit of a history show, and you are greeted at the beginning with well-known works by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.

Diego Rivera ( small scale rendition of "The Allegory of California" )

Most impressive,  on our tour of the show is Diego Rivera's mural "The Allegory of California" which was created for a stairwell in the Pacific Stock Exchange building.  Here is the story of an activist painter with ties to leftist politics being commissioned to paint at the seat of capitalism - and boy - did that rub some people in the wrong way!

Rivera on the ceiling ( The Allegory of California )

The photographic scene in San Francisco is also honored with a few images ( too few from my perspective ) and that section of the show deserved a better treatment - because the photographers that are included continue to be a major force in the art form ( Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham among others ).

"Today, painters do not have to go to a subject matter outside of themselves.  Most modern painters work from a different source.  They work from within."
Jackson Pollock

There was a period of time after WWll that artists who are now of international stature were in the higher educational field in the Bay Area , such as Clyfford Still and Mark Rothko.  They were in the process of making a name for themselves and had a strong effect on the path that painting was to take.  Two others Philip Guston and Jackson Pollock met at school in California before migrating to New York City to find fame and fortune.

Richard Diebenkorn

I was influenced by the painters who came to my attention from the 1960's onward, and that included Richard Diebenkorn who regularly exhibited at the Poindexter Gallery near 57th street in Manhattan, and Wayne Thiebaud, who is still alive and working today ( talk about longevity! ).

Wayne Thiebaud in "Fertile Ground"

The show concludes with a group of current artists who grew up in part with graffiti, skateboards, and found object/installation art.  Some of these folks were in the movie "Beautiful Losers" that came out a few years ago.  Prominent in this show is the art of Barry McGee who has a kind of funhouse installation of hundreds of small framed patterns and figuration that is in total truly memorable and mind bending.

Barry McGee

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Nesting Impulse

Sarah C. Rutherford
1975 Gallery

Is this part of gentrification, the nesting impulse?  Arriving at a certain junction in life one wants to look for a comfortable spot to call home and maybe start a family.  One of the home based hobbies people had when I was a kid was to take up wood burning ( not on a stove, but with little hand tools that you plug in to make your own brand of art).  I thought it was only a fifties sort of thing, but when I was putting together my book on wildlife art ( Quarry Books division of Rockport Press published "Wildlife Art" by Alan Singer in 1999 ) I came across the art of Haruki Koizumi ( see below ).  I knew I had to have his art in my book, it was such a delicate rendition in basswood of an Eagle-Owl.

Haruki Koizumi
Eagle - Owl
wood burning on bass-wood

Now, along comes the art of Sarah C. Rutherford with her show "Nesting " recently opened at the 1975 Gallery.  She has a short story form of composition complete with enigmatic titles which she has given these low-relief painted constructions.  The stories she has to tell about birds and people ( are we supposed to know who sat for these portraits? ) denote a space she has carved out for herself that is all very much her own in our contemporary art scene.  CITY newspaper surveys say that she is at the top of her field, as the most popular artist in Rochester at the moment.

Sarah C. Rutherford's art at
1975 Gallery
November 22 - December 14, 2014

Sarah does this all in a non-threatening way, and you come away with a feeling of assurance for the careful aspects of her art - observance of nature - both human and animal, and the care she gives to the painting and shaping, the wood burning for detail, and the layering of her tableaux.  There is an illustrative core to this work that goes beyond nature worship with forays into a mysterious land of action and reaction ( "The Shadow of the Grasp" ).  Sarah is really onto something with the birds she conjures with.  She places most of her birds in flight, or just about to land and this sense of life and movement is welcome.  Yet there is a story behind this, maybe they are just day dreams.  In  "Auspice" why is the hawk placed in such a way as to come in for a landing near a decorative nest box that would never do for a home?  What's more-  is that the hawk is right over a woman who looks up with something like anticipation or even anxiety.

Other subjects are handled as deft illustrations of situations like the youngster among the orange Japanese lantern flowers.  And in the center of this show there is a kiosk of sorts that displays for sale, hand carved wooden feathers ( for your nest ).  Some really interesting details about the wood used for this show stand out.  They are attractively painted, and some of the wood pieces fit together like a streamlined jig-saw puzzle.  Should I mention that her wood-burning is quite nice, she has a feel for the structure of feathers, and she seems to favor birds of prey and interesting combinations of flowering plants.  It is curious to see these flowers on the wings of the birds.  It is something a bit different than what you are used to seeing in the galleries around town, maybe with the exception of what the Olneys                     (  Don and Cheryl ) have created over the years.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Rochester Rocks

Brett Eberhardt stands by his art
at the University Gallery

This week I had a lot to think about and much to be thankful for.  We are culturally well endowed in Rochester and at the moment the art scene is bubbling.  I am thankful for the opportunity to bring my art to the public, in my new show "My Visual Life" now on view at The Spectrum Gallery ( through November 29th ), and I am also thankful for having met a guest artist, Brett Eberhardt, who came to share his work with students and faculty at the request of Emily Glass.

Brett is a perceptual realist, who looks to elevate the mundane and the matter-of-fact in his paintings - a few of which he had on hand for his artist talk that he gave in the University Gallery this past Wednesday.  Brett is in good company because there are other gifted artists who share his sensibility, Catherine Murphy and Antonio Lopez Garcia come to mind in that regard.  A painting of Brett's shows a patch of floor boards and a wall vent, another features a gift box on an old painted crate, not the stuff of high drama, but rather calm, quiet determination to get all the details down while not overworking the subject.  Luckily, Brett could take some time away from his sabbatical to talk with us, and send us away with some valuable inspiration.

Art by Sue Blumendale
Axom Gallery

Sue Blumendale is also part of our vital art world with her new show now in it's last week at Axom Gallery.  Sue was also on the faculty at R.I.T. for many years and has her MFA degree in printmaking  from R.I.T.  The works she has created are like elegies for her departed relatives.  Her artwork in this show often is found in the form of a coat, dress, or other garment, and the fabric  is imprinted with archival photos of family members.  She goes back into history to rescue old photos that then are used as a way to reflect on who she is, where she came from, and maybe help her recall how she felt about the members of her extended family.  The colors are restrained while some of the emotional connections may not be.  This art reminds me of the archival artwork from someone like Christian Boltanski, and it is a moving tribute.

Student drawing Melinda
Barn Owl in the care of WILD WINGS

Another visitor came to my class this past week at R.I.T., and I am also thankful to the volunteers at WILD WINGS who brought live birds to my studio for students to draw.  Above, Melinda the barn owl was asleep, but sleeping or awake it is always a challenge to have the opportunity to draw from life, in this case bird life!

"Lovely Day to Lose It"
Transfer monoprint by Alan Singer
on view at
The Spectrum Gallery at Lumiere Photo

I had a lot to think about this week because I was also asked to give an artist talk, and from my perspective - I am swimming in the flow of this work and I don't often take a break to discuss why I do it and what it amounts to.  Many people who have followed my art want to know how I can go from very illustrative paintings to almost spare minimalist abstraction that is part of the show today.  I would say that I like discovery - and I don't mind it if now and again I take a hike.  One has to allow for growth, make some mistakes, learn from them, but take the chance to break through to something original, something you feel deeply about, something you can call your own ( even if this feeling is fleeting ).  So as I have said before in this blog, my new work that espouses mathematics is a bit of a conundrum ( right brain - left brain activity ).  I am a visual omnivore - I see potential in pattern, in nature, in science and mathematics, and I was schooled in the theory and practice of color and structure.  I am just working on something that I love doing, and hope others will come to see that too.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Keep In MInd

" See For Yourself "
"My Visual Life" in paintings and prints by Alan Singer
The Spectrum Gallery in Lumiere Photo
100 College Avenue, Rochester, New York

I frequently write about artwork I have seen ( a result of the many invitations I get to go see gallery shows ) and then sometimes I write about my own progress in the field.  Think of it - we as a people have come a long way - from the cave painters thousands of years ago to the digital realm today - and all of this art making activity is a form of communication involving image making.

Maybe we lose sight of the reasons for the art to exist in the first place - and it is not because it fits nicely over the couch, or will sell for a million bucks someday.  The art we make comes from an exploration of our personal visual space, and there is always some element of our art that tends towards the self-portrait, even if the art is abstract - the challenge is to "read" the image, whether it is the artist's intent or not.

The paintings and prints in my new show, which opens the first Friday of November ( 7th ), 2014 at the Spectrum Gallery in Rochester, are influenced by mathematics - and this art would not exist if it were not for that ubiquitous tool, the computer.

"The Odd Man Out" monoprint by Alan Singer

My art might have been different, if I had not come to teach at a school for technology ( R.I.T. ).  But I don't look back, I go forward, and part of this movement is working with the tools at my disposal.
Years back, when I made all of my work by hand, I wanted certain shapes  that a computer could help me draw quickly and accurately.  Once you use a tool as complex as a computer, you need to stay with it ( as with any other technique ) to understand and realize the potential it may have to offer.

Our lives are shaped in part by our culture and at this point things move fast, and making art gets us to slow down a bit.  Painting is a slow sport, and like the slow food movement it is much more nourishing in many ways.  But, I don't always have time for the lengthy process of painting, and yet I still need my creative playtime, and now I often opt to spend my energy at the computer.  I know I am not alone in that.

I will sign books with Anne C. Coon
at The Spectrum Gallery
November 13th, 2014

My artwork began to change because the computer as a tool allowed me to do things I couldn't have dreamed of before.  The digital realm is really an application of mathematics, and so I began to investigate properties of geometry, especially after I found a site called "The Geometry Junkyard".

So a door has opened, and I walk right through and the art that you will see in this new show is the result of a few years of intense focus and exploration.  I really look forward to the new things I can discover and bring into my art, and now you can see for yourself.