Sunday, November 27, 2016

After A Feast

Light Show by Leo Villareal
The Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York

Push yourself away from the table after Thanksgiving and look for the right time to take the family up a hill in Ithaca, New York, to the Herbert F. Johnson Museum on the campus of Cornell University.  Out the window of the museum - I can see my old studio space when I was a grad student earning my MFA in Fine Art.  Even though that was ages ago the building looks the same on the outside and the physical environment around it is much the same as before.  There is a new building by Rem Koolhaas, but it doesn't face the quad, and it is really his interior space that matters most.  Outside the museum there is a light show going on day and night by Leo Villareal on the ceiling of the sculpture court and you can see it from the street below.

"Guanyin of the Southern Seas"
Chinese carved and painted wood , Yuan Dynasty

Inside the museum - up in the Asian Art collections we found some new selections including wood carvings from China, and Vietnam, and paintings from Tibet.  The selection on this floor does not overwhelm you, but rather has a focus on select works that can come to mean a lot to a viewer.  I saw ancient cuneiform tablets from nearly 4000 years ago which contain intricate lists inscribed in clay that is then baked in.  There are wonderful pieces like the Korean carved wood portrait of a "Mountain Spirit" who holds onto a tiger.

Paintings from Tibet

"Mountain Spirit holds a tiger"
19th century Korean carved and painted wood

I was surprised by a wall full of carvings from Vietnam.  A delightful small piece has a musician strumming a string instrument who looks like he is enjoying the moment - which is part of the point of getting out and going to the museum - learn something about another culture, and get carried away for the moment.

Wood carving from Vietnam

On the lower floor of the Johnson Museum there are study cases filled with the world's cultural artifacts.  I found challenging shields from Oceania, and face masks that look somewhat evil too.
I think of all the play acting that goes on in cultures and contrast that with our opera and our cinema - not too different in the long run.

Shields from Oceania

Study center in the Herbert F. Johnson Museum
Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

After we packed and drove away I stopped in to see how Brad Butler was doing as the Director of Main Street Arts in Clifton Springs.  This is one of the most beautiful gallery spaces in the area, and now they have a section on the second floor for artist residencies.  There are two studio spaces and you can apply for a spot on their schedule - this allows one some public exposure as well as a work space and I took a look to see what they are doing.

Painting and ceramics at Main Street Arts, Clifton Springs

Apply for an Artist-in-Residence
Main Street Arts
Clifton Springs, New York

So, support the arts in your area, even if you are "only looking".  I think it is an uplifting experience, and who knows, you might just want to engage at a higher level - think of all that is out there to see.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Escher in Rochester

M.C. Escher: " Reality and Illusions"
The Memorial Art Gallery
November - January 29, 2017

M.C. Escher, a Dutch artist of the 20th Century, is being given a large retrospective at The Memorial Art Gallery thru January called: "Reality and Illusions".  Many of the most recognizable images from Escher are on view along with descriptive panels that inform the viewing public of some of the mathematical paths that this artist took during his productive career.  Even the casual viewer will recognize the iconic images that Escher created including the endless staircase, the metamorphosis of birds and lizards, and the hands that draw themselves.

"Drawing Hands", 1948
by M. C. Escher

In an informative public lecture that I attended given by Doris Schattschneider, she described the youth of Maurits Cornelis ( M.C. ) Escher and how he decided upon studying the visual arts with a concentration on printmaking and drawing.  Escher later found an affinity with mathematical theory and application in a lifelong pursuit of visual paradox.  M. C. Escher gets you to think about what you are looking at in an active manner.  In some ways his artwork is an illustration of various forms of symmetry ( isometry ) and his art could be seen as the visual equivalent of mathematical principles.

M.C. Escher ( 1898 - 1972 )

There are 100 or so examples of the art of M.C. Escher on view at the Memorial Art Gallery and they range through his printmaking career in terms of process:  woodcuts, lithographs, and mezzotints.  Some of his earlier works are realist interpretations of landscape and town in graphic black and white. He also gets into minutiae - like the drop of water on a leaf seen below.

Dew Drop, 1948  ( mezzotint )

No doubt about it, Escher was an obsessive human being trying to touch the infinite through his insight into potential and transformation.  As an artist he developed a fascination with tiling the plane and how tiles fit together especially after visiting the Alhambra and looking at all the great tessellations one finds there.

Metamorphosis ll, 1948  ( woodcut )

I get involved with M.C. Escher's art and I am torn between wanting to see where all this artwork leads one to, and then wishing that he would break out of the grid and free himself from the lock and key he has for his obsessions.  Some of the remarks that the mathematician Doris Schattschneider made during her talk sounded very familiar to me in that M.C. Escher had no real natural aptitude for mathematics ( he was not a great student ) but something about the way things visually fit together represented for him a door that opened onto a new world and he just walked through and explored.

Escher's Flying fish

Doris Schattschneider produced a volume on Escher's artwork that details his experiments with 17 forms of symmetry, including reflections and translations of various sorts.  There are Escher's drawings that spell this out in a visual way - so that even if you don't understand the mathematical theory, you can begin to understand it through a visual metaphor.

Convex and Concave, 1955

As I have said and written before, the teaching of mathematics could be made richer for people like me, if teachers would open up the visual correlations that exist.  Escher is a good example to use.  Not that many people have the insight that M.C. Escher had, and then  to follow that path wherever it may lead, thankfully,  with conviction and  persistence.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Words for Abstraction

"Niagara Variations and the Movement of Water"
Chas. Davis
The Geisel Gallery

This month there is a wealth of exhibitions in the Rochester area that feature abstract art and I have written about two shows in this vein a few weeks ago, and now we have new contributions to the category to discuss.  At the Geisel Gallery we have a dozen large paintings by Chas. Davis that can open your eyes to color in an almost geological manner.  I use this analogy because many of the elements in these paintings have an opacity and form not unlike features you might find in Bryce Canyon - hot colors and towering forms.  But it came as a surprise to me that Chas. Davis writes that these paintings are based on  flowing waters and the geological aspect he was considering was that of the Niagara - even though there is nothing so specific or realistic in these large scale paintings.

"Improbable Landscape"
The Geisel Gallery

In some respects, I have a memory of paintings by the artist Friedel Dzubas who I knew at Cornell University when I was earning my MFA.  His abstractions were also informed by a landscape space and his art made a strong impression on me when I was a student ( see below ).  I think a large swath of color could be a hallmark of painters like Morris Louis and Friedel Dzubas and the paintings that Chas. Davis has on exhibition this month show a family resemblance to these earlier more formal abstractionists.

Friedel Dzubas

Speaking of formalists, the other new show in our area just opened in the Bevier Gallery and The Vignelli Design Center at R.I.T. - and it is one for a much more restrained sensibility.  Gone is the landscape space, and in its place are compositions in paintings and prints by Norman Ives that focus on letters - bits of typography - that are cut up and collaged together, like a new form of cubism.  One can sense the underlying grid in many of the works on display.

Norman Ives
The Vignelli Design Center and Bevier Gallery
Rochester Institute of Technology

Norman Ives was a multifaceted artist - creating paintings and prints, mostly based on the fragments of letters that he favored for their form and optical effects.  Norman Ives also published portfolios of prints by other important artists like Romare Bearden, Piet Mondrian, Willem DeKooning, and Jacob Lawrence.  During the mid 1950's Ives worked with designer Herbert Matter and together they created logos and branding for companies like the New Haven Railroad, and Knoll International.

Norman Ives ( 1923- 1978 )

Norman Ives' art creates complex positive and negative shapes - sometimes in black and white and other times in a rainbow of colors.  Every edge is sharp and decisive.  It almost goes without saying that he studied design with Josef Albers when he was a student at Yale University - and that had such a strong effect on him.  You will have new found respect for the strength of letter forms and how they can be combined to make powerful statements in visual art that can stand the test of time.

Norman Ives
Rochester Institute of Technology

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Writing On The Wall

"Wall Writers" a movie by Roger Gastman ( in the red hat ) at
The Memorial Art Gallery

At the Memorial Art Gallery last Friday night people were unwinding from the elections and there was a premier of a new film that is touring the world right now, devoted to the early history of graffiti in the 20th Century.  Actually, the film starts out in the late 1960's and tells the story about tagging, and how this grew into a trend that circled the globe,  emanating from the neighborhoods of Washington Heights in New York City and the west side of Philadelphia.

I was there in New York City when I first noticed it, and maybe that was back in 1966-67.  I was around the age of the kids that were going all over Manhattan with magic markers, putting their names surreptitiously on public property - mostly lamp posts, subway signs and the like.  This was way before the jazzy full color jobs that were done on the sides of subway cars, or the rolling freight trains that look like a colorful mural passing by.

An article from the early 1970's in The New York Times

Maybe I was sixteen, and thinking " Who was this Taki 183 - and why did he need to put his name and street number all over the place"..?

Once the film got rolling on Friday at The Memorial Art Gallery, I began to understand how and why this art form began.  Kids, - boys and girls got into the act - putting their names on almost anything you could think of and this really grows out of a long tradition of people involved in transgressive behavior doing the one thing that could get them some extra attention and some recognition that they even exist.  Marking your territory probably dates back a few hundred million years, so why not?

Narrated by John Waters
"Wall Writers" tracks down the early graffiti artists
to tell their story

"Wall Writers" is a brief history lesson from 1967 to 1973 of a certain urban lifestyle and how it became a huge art movement.  On stage, Roger Gastman reminded me of the curator and writer Carlo McCormick who wrote a big book five years ago called "Trespass" - A History of Un-comissioned Urban Art, that I have in my library.  So, Roger isn't the only one who has noticed that this is a big deal, but he is certainly avid about going out to interview key players in the growth of this phenomenon - and he brought some of them along for a Q & A after the movie.  That the artists were tagging everyday things like the subway walls, post office boxes, and railroad cars didn't hide the fact that this was an illegal act of defacing property, and many were arrested.  Graffiti became a group activity - maybe for safety sake - someone had to be on the lookout for those wielding the spray cans.

Keith Haring's Radiance

All this happened way before Keith Haring arrived on the scene from Kutztown to make the subway art his own.  I used to work for a publisher right next door to Keith Haring's studio in the Cable Building on Broadway, and his studio was always open so I could see what he had going on and we could exchange a few words.  While the graffiti writers were getting up on the walls all over the five boroughs, I was studying art at The Cooper Union, and I could see what was happening on the street.  
It was only a bit later that the art world opened their doors to some of the writers who became big name artists like Haring and Jean Michel Basquiat aka SAMO.

SAMO was all over SoHo

Saturday, November 5, 2016


"More Than" , acrylic on paper on plywood, by
Paul Garland at
Axom Gallery

In Axom Gallery's Exhibition Space we now have paintings by Paul Garland in the new show titled: "Approaching Fifty" which describes the many years he has been in the business of showing and selling his art in gallery settings.  In these modestly sized paintings we can see the attributes of a seasoned artist in full bloom, and there are familiar aspects like the compositional device of the divided plane - left and right.  Between the panels on some of these paintings there might be a bright red that appears to dramatize spatial relations in these mostly abstract works of art.  

The first painting I saw upon entering the gallery is called "More Than", an acrylic on paper, which employs a central veil like a curtain in a window and on either side of a central divide there are planes that move you from the foreground to the middle and then to a texture in the background.

"Approaching Fifty" by Paul Garland at Axom Gallery

Paul Garland's paintings sometimes resemble a board game designed in India full of lush color and geometric forms.  In a few new works he has created flower portraits to mix with the abstraction found in the majority of his work.  Paul Garland has been painting for many years and this is his third solo outing at Axom Gallery, so if you care about contemporary art, don't miss seeing this show.

510 State Street - "Made on State"
opens to the public

Near the High Falls district is a new set of studios at 510 State Street that had a public opening on Saturday, and there was a good turnout to speak with the variety of artisans who have recently set up shop.  The building has a large central public space for workshops, it has a communal kitchen, and this development will attract creative people from all over the area.  I stopped to speak to Kelly Cheatle in the new spacious studio of Arigami as she worked on a foil balloon frame for a customer.

At "Made on State"
watching a video in the studios of Airigami

Two of my students from R.I.T. who graduated in the mid 1990's have gone on to illustrate books and they were also marketing a product they call: "Fairy Doors" - which are handcrafted in their new studio space.  I spoke with Chris Pallace, and Kevin Serwacki about the process they use to make this art form that combines their inspiration for illustration with sculptural carving to a make a unique product that acts like a good luck charm.

Artist, Chris Pallace

Artist, Kevin Serwacki
demonstrates the process behind "Fairy Doors"

Later that same day, my wife Anna, and I walk downstairs for the reception at The Oxford Gallery to view the show of new artwork from Kristine Bouyoucos and William ( Bill ) Keyser.  "Points of View" is the title of this show and it is a wonderful selection of recent art by two of Rochester's most interesting practitioners in printmaking, painting and sculpture.  As you walk into the gallery, take a look at the various elements in a trio of prints by Kristine Bouyoucos after the symphonic work by Claude Debussy called "La Mer".  In her prints,  waves crash, the sun rises, and there is a vibration giving the viewer a poem in the form of a print to savor.

Kristine Bouyoucos' trio of prints based on Claude Debussy's La Mer

Bill Keyser at the opening of "Points of View"
The Oxford Gallery

That he taught fine wood working should come as no surprise as Bill Keyser brings his fine sense of craftsmanship to his sculpture and painting in this new show that features a wide variety of constructions that can be joyful, yet solid in their presence.  The articulation of wood and glass becomes part of the experience of "Down Dog" which has an illustrative moment that catches the eye. Movement is not one of the things one first associates with the stability of sculpture but Keyser's "Walk Before Running" really wants to get up and go.

"Down Dog" by Bill Keyser

"Walk Before Running" by
Bill Keyser
The Oxford Gallery
Rochester, New York

Kristine Bouyoucos in
"Points of View"
at The Oxford Gallery,
Rochester New York
thru December 3, 2016