Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Human Touch

"L. A. Portrait" by Roland Fischer at
The Memorial Art Gallery show
"The Human Touch"

Roland Fischer's "L.A. Portrait" stares you down as you walk towards "The Human Touch" - now open at The Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, New York.  Yes, the subject is beautiful, but the cold stare means we are in for some soul searching.  The RBC Wealth Management Art Collection seems to have as their mission an open mind as far as the acquisition of contemporary figurative art, and in this show we have photos, paintings, and prints of reasonably high quality.  I guess we are going to see more and more commercial sponsors for new shows, and their out front approach to building their brand with names we can trust, now with many new players in the fine art game.

When I was an art student in the 1970's, I worked figuratively, but then you couldn't find a corporate sponsor for a show like this, unless you were in Europe.  Figurative art just wasn't a hot commodity.

Only a few artists managed to sustain their commitment to the figure   ( Chuck Close who is in this show was one that comes to my mind, but where is Philip Pearlstein, or Alice Neel? ).  A little distance into the show I noticed the artwork by one of my friends from my student days,  John Ahern.  He is represented here by a work called " Two Girls". John makes plaster casts from life and then paints them in a realistic manner.  Maybe this would have been a more friendly image to have at the entrance to this show.

Hung Liu " Baby King" 
oil on canvas

So tastes change, and we are back to study and think about our relationship to portraits, and images of people from around the world.  What I like about this show is that there are far more cultures represented here ( than we are used to seeing in art galleries ), so there is bound to be an element of surprise when you find really interesting new faces.

Dawoud Bey
Large format Polaroid photo studies, 1993

One of my favorite works in the show is from Radcliffe Bailey titled "Osun".  It is a painting with a photograph in the center of the composition surrounded by the form of a house decorated in stencils, and other patterns in paint.  I like the seriousness of the photo contrasted against the urge towards graffiti in this art.

Kehinde Wiley has been in the news recently because of his show at The Brooklyn Museum, and here he is represented with a work called "Passing, Posing".  Art by African Americans is well represented in this show, but we can always use more and we can learn from the experience.  If you get up close to see this portrait of a man in an orange sweater, you can see that it is painted over a heavily embossed wall fabric.  The juxtaposition of pattern and person is a calling card for Mr. Kehinde Wiley.  There is an unspoken challenge to our expectations when we see this artwork which takes on European conventions of portraiture and re-asserts itself.

Lalla Essaydi
Les Femmes du Maroc

I was really taken by a photo on aluminum by the artist Lalla Essaydi from Morocco.  This gorgeous image shows a woman wrapped in a patterned cloth and the background is a match and suddenly you have visual poetry.

Kelli Connell also has that poetic moment.  Are the two people in a pool or are they floating away in the sky?  This momentary dislocation creates a photo fiction and we can be swept up in a work of art.

Kelli Connell, "Floating", 2005

The pair of paintings by Michael Vasquez called "The New Red Carpet" was also fun to look over.  This work in acrylic is made up of vibrant washes and spots of color and has an illustrative effect.  Kerry James Marshall is represented here by an acrylic painting titled: "Blind Ambition" replete with a ladder to success.  A challenging work from Lezley Saar called " Between a Mulatto and a Quadroon" challenges notions of class and color.

In fact this show opens the way for many kinds of dialogues about the human condition and where we find ourselves on a continuum going deeper into the 21st Century.  We know one thing for certain, we are not going to leave the 21st Century the way we came in!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Working Earth Day

Jane Kim paints her mural at
The Laboratory of Ornithology
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

I was in New York City for the first Earth Day, my friends and I wandered through the crowds at Central Park in Manhattan, and we listened to speeches.  It was 1970, and I was an art student at The Cooper Union.  Now, it is 45 years later, and time for more speeches, - but now it is getting to be more of a concern that will effect everyone on the planet, not just some hippies out in the park for a day.

James Hansen at MCC, April 2015

We had a visit from James Hansen, and was he ever working Earth Day! His concentration was remarkable, and as we listened, we started to think about what we can do now to deal with climate change, and the ongoing eradication of species as a result - that is happening all across the globe.  It is time for some old fashioned grass roots activism, - if we want to leave a legacy, - and what better way than to begin to clean up the mess we have made collectively.

Jane Kim giant paper collage mural opening soon in Baltimore

People have to recognize what we have and what we stand to lose by inactivity.  Now it seems to begin to matter to a whole new generation of students, some of which I now teach at Rochester Institute of Technology.  In celebration of Earth Day 2015, I have as my guest, the artist Jane Kim, who is creating remarkable murals  all about the inter-relationships of the natural world.

Jane Kim speaks at  R.I.T. on Earth Day, 2015

Jane Kim is a terrific artist and so well-spoken about her chosen career, which is art based on science - so climate change is of concern to her too.  She is a model for what my students aspire to become.  She is engaged not only by the mural being painted at Cornell but also by other projects around the country.  During this summer I will go down to Baltimore to see her new murals at the aquarium.  Her underwater scenes are so dramatic and tactile ( owing to the fact that they are made out of layers of cut and pasted papers ) yet these murals are also very colorful and true to life.

Art and nature go hand in hand, and before I came to teach at R.I.T. - these were the subjects that I paid attention to.  I am inspired by what Jane Kim does.  She brings her skill and passion to her portrayals of big animals and birds that represent species past and present.  We are so thankful for artists like Jane Kim who capture our attention, and make us care a great deal for the flora and fauna that surround us. Since we are part of nature, we owe a debt, and a commitment to keep the environment safe for generations to come.  We celebrate Earth Day!

Jane Kim's mural at Mono Lake 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Seeing is Believing

Corners Gallery, Hanshaw Road, Ithaca, NY

When you are in Ithaca, New York, one stops to see the gorges of course, but I also want to see what is in the galleries on a cold grey Saturday, so we all drive up Hanshaw Road to the Corners Gallery to look in on a new show of large paintings by Amy Cheatle, who once was one of our students in the School of Art at R.I.T.

Amy Cheatle at Corners Gallery

Amy was then, and still is an abstractionist, but she is more than that - there is a real fascination with dry matte surfaces that may include paints and plaster and other media like charcoal and clay.  Amy pulls you into her process; you have to look at these paintings a long time to try and understand how they got to look that way.  These paintings are first about texture and then there are incidents that happen where the surface of the paint is cut into, or brushed over with a wash of color.  The effect of these paintings is very open like some of Robert Motherwell's, and her palette of colors is arid and desert-like, with one or two exceptions.  There is a semi-figurative painting on black, and another in a rust red that stand out because of their color contrasts.

At the Herbert F. Johnson Art Museum

Down the hill on the campus of Cornell University, we have a quick look around at the Herbert F. Johnson Art Museum where they are in the midst of an academic journey through their collections highlighted by a show of plaster casts of old sculptural icons ( Venus de Milo for example ).  In the old days, art students were allowed to make copies on paper of these plaster casts - to practice their drawing skills before they were allowed in to confront the live figure models in class.  I remember that every art school and museum had these casts to study, and then around 1970 the institutions began to send these sculptures down to the dungeon.  Here, at Cornell, we are in the midst of the re-evaluation in this show called: "Cast and Present".

Margaret Bourke-White

On the lower level of the Johnson Museum there is an engaging show of photos by Margaret Bourke-White.  In the middle of the 20th Century she was always with her camera looking at the huiman condition, whether it was at the site of a flood, above the city in an airplane, or in front of world leaders and common people.  

Margaret Bourke-White at The Johnson Museum

Margaret Bourke-White had a heart, but she was also held suspect in her comings and goings by Joe McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee.  She and other left wing artists such as Stuart Davis, and Rockwell Kent belonged to the American Artists' Congress and they were busy fighting discrimination and supporting state funding for the arts.

Margaret Bourke-White

This did not stop her from becoming well known for her images that frequently graced the cover of Life Magazine, she also served as a war correspondent in the 1940's; some of the photos in this exhibition focus on war atrocities at concentration camps.  One of her themes that she photographed so eloquently was the burst of big industry during the 20th Century and these photos are among her gems.

Margaret Bourke-White for Life Magazine

Down the hall in the Kress Study Gallery I found some extraordinary Australian painters with abstract works that really had a visceral impact.  Doreen Reid Nakamara created a very engaging acrylic on linen ( 2009 ) with closely spaced diagonal lines made of little dots of paint.  This art is obsessive, and you wonder how the artist can stay in this frame of mind to create this work that has such a physically disorienting effect.

In the Kress Study Gallery
Herbert F. Johnson Museum

"This is no less curious" is another show that has a very academic point of view now at the Johnson Museum.  Here, the etchings of Enrique Chagoya creates a moving homage to the Spanish master painter and printmaker - Goya - and then moves on to take in a wide assortment of works on paper and other notable objects from the Johnson Museum collections.  This kind of inquiry into subject matter and social concerns has an intellectual anchor and comments often on the strange and unusual paths that some artists take in their life's work.  

Yasuo Kuniyoshi

I found an apt image in "Charade" ( casein on hardboard, 1948 ) seen above - a modestly scaled work from Yasuo Kuniyoshi.  The wall label says that image may allude to the various guises that Kuniyoshi had to take on to survive in the U.S. during the war years.

I think that this show ( "This is no less curious" ) would probably make a better book to read, than here as an exhibition.  I could just focus on a few of the objects - out for viewing - before I had to move on, even though I may learn something on the go.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Plain as Day

David Dorsey at
The Oxford Gallery
267 Oxford Street, Rochester, NY

"The Heart's Unrest" is the unlikely title for the show hanging now at The Oxford Gallery through April 11th, 2015.

Even though I am familiar with the subjects of Charles Houseman's paintings I am more in tune with the second artist's work ( David Dorsey ) because of its plain forthrightness.  Since I've painted in many botanic gardens in the past, I am a bit jaded when I come to the vistas painted by Mr. Houseman, but I am more alert to the facility with which David Dorsey has painted the flowers and other treats in this show.  One could say it is the difference between a romantic's view of formal gardens, and the more factual approach that Mr. Dorsey brings to his still life paintings.

Skull by David Dorsey at
The Oxford Gallery

Both artists have skills, but I like the clarity of color in Mr. Dorsey's art, which seems to be painted from life even though the final product has a photo-realists' sense of space and detail.  Frequently in this show David Dorsey brings a larger-than-life appearance to his subject matter, which begins to have a bit of the theatrical in its presentation.  For this viewer, one can study how the painter made me believe in what he was doing.  An example of this is the oil painting titled: "Onion on a Carved Table".  When you look at the painting you can see how the artist transformed paint to create the illusion of a polished wood surface, down to the dents and almost palpable reflections.

A really appropriate show for early spring, with its berries, flowers and landscapes.  Go an see this show and enjoy a solid achievement that's as plain as day.

Charles Houseman at
The Oxford Gallery

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Art Supply

Get Out To See The Sights / Sites
as winter breaks ... ( and hope springs eternal )

There are five stars in this constellation, and you can get to them easily - you don't need a rocket ship, just a little interest in seeing what's up and out there.  I am talking about a supply of fresh art in the galleries to open a new season.  I buzzed around to get a glimpse of what is being shown, and I even had a chance to speak with most of the artists.  First Fridays offers you the opportunity in downtown Rochester, New York to walk down the block and encounter unique objects, paintings and prints, and it is an experience worth your time and effort.

Denton Crawford at Joy Gallery
498 West Main Street

1.  First, I want to mention the Joy Gallery and the show was called:     " You're NOT Here" and the artist is a fellow R.I.T. art teacher, Denton Crawford.  This is the first solo show of Denton's that I have seen, and it featured new paintings, drawings, and installations.  Some of the paintings took off from a reading of "The Lord of the Rings" - visualizations that hoped to bring to life some aspect of that literary kingdom ( but nary a Hobbit to be seen ).

At the Joy Gallery there were site specific installations ( see the photo above ) which included two abstract paintings, a bright pink plexiglas box, and a pieced together skull sitting at the nexus of a tall pyramid.  I think that this aggregation of signs and symbols becomes more complex when he throws in a circular painting that has more organic rather than geometric shapes on its surface.  Denton is a capable draftsman, and in one series of works in colorful frames he takes the same figurative elements and plays with the patterns and the sense of surrounding or attendant atmosphere.  Here at the Joy Gallery, the artist is an imaginative story teller, working on embroidered fictions.

Photographs by John Ganis
at Spectrum Gallery 
Lumiere Photo

2.  Certainly not fictive, the photos on view at Spectrum Gallery in Lumiere Photo are the work of John Ganis, and their factual nature is a slap in the face, that makes you wake up.  These are photos of the devastating impact that a series of hurricanes has had on the beaches and homes of coastal dwellers, and what the outcomes now look like a few years after.  Efforts are being taken to reclaim sand dunes and re-build housing, but the clear message is that we will probably see more of this kind of thing with climate change and rising tides.  The photographer told me that there will be a book published to enlarge upon this show of over twenty prints titled: "America's Endangered Coasts" which has been years in the making.

Patrick Morabito 
Gallery r

3. Next door, at Gallery r, some of my students are putting on a show for their senior thesis.  A wide variety of sculptural objects, paintings and prints can be found there.  Patrick Morabito in the back room seems to like to make chain-mail that harkens back to the middle ages, while Laurie Monahan has called my attention to Deaf Culture, with her print she called "The Greedy Ear".

The Greedy Ear, 2015
Laurie Monahan

4.  Over at The Hungerford Building ( 1115 East Main Street ) Warren Phillips is showing works on paper by Mary Orwen ( b:1913, d: 2005 ) - an artist who was born in New York City and who lived and worked in the Rochester area for many years.  Her show is called "REDISCOVERED" but this is the first time I have seen her work so for me it was just a discovery.  These medium to large scale artworks allude to the landscape and reminded me of other artists working in this manner including Joan Mitchell.  Mary Orwen is much more polite and well-mannered.  There is a deft feeling of simple color arrangements, with a light airy touch that avoids being overly fussy.

at Warren Phillips Fine Art & Frame

5. The Axom Gallery at 176 Anderson Avenue now has a new show of sculpture by Lee Hoag, and it also has a new wall of retail items all based on a modern aesthetic that would make pleasant gifts for those you care most about.

Lee Hoag, sculptures
Axom Gallery

"Object Alchemy" is the title of this show that contains almost thirty recent objects that range from near miniature to major work like "Dead Ringer" at over 60 inches tall.  These sculptures are often made out of re-purposed goods, and this is Lee Hoag's brand of alchemy.  He has been working in this way for the past five years, and before that he was involved with video prior to this for ten years, so he is an interesting artist with a variety of tricks up his sleeve.

"Dead Ringer" by Lee Hoag
Axom Gallery

When you see this show, many of the sculptures look like something else you might be familiar with.  I thought of salt shakers, and hand tools, but there is also an aspect of this work that is treated like a fetish, or symbol of desire or a comic action.  When you visit this show you can seem to feel that it has a bit of folk art in it as well, and it represents a sophisticated take on form and color - worth the effort to climb the stairs and confront.