Monday, February 27, 2017

Beyond Category

From left: Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn and Willie-the Lion Smith
mid 1960's

Celebration of Black History Month concludes with a whirl of events here in town.  My own way to observe this is to say: what a privilege it has been to come in contact with great artists like these fellows in this blog post.  As an example, I took this photo many years ago after a recording session I attended in Bayside, Queens, N.Y. with the likes of Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn and Willie-the-Lion Smith. I sat down to listen to the musicians and singer Joya Sherill with my father - who introduced me to Jazz and some of the major players and today I am in awe of the talents they possessed.

With a visual arts perspective, you might not know this but Duke Ellington came to New York City, from Washington, D.C. not only to play jazz but to attend Pratt Institute as a visual artist.

Luvon Sheppard being interviewed at The Memorial Art Gallery
February 26, 2017

Fast forward to 2017, and I am sitting listening to my colleague, Luvon Sheppard in a public conversation with Ephraim E. J. Daniels, one of our students from R.I.T.  In this interview, seen against a backdrop of recent artworks on easels - in one of the reception rooms at The Memorial Art Gallery - Luvon speaks of his early teachers, and the environment that he entered when he was a student at R.I.T. and abstraction was all the rage.

Luvon Sheppard's painting in "Memory of Trayvon Martin"

In the many years since that time, Luvon has become a treasured teacher and friend to many in our field, and he has a sensitive approach to his art that now blends a figurative sensibility with something more atmospheric.  In fact, figures do appear in the clouds, especially in paintings that sometimes attempt to deal with national tragedies like the killing of Trayvon Martin.  I would say that Luvon is reverent for life, for hope, and for feeling, especially between the values he places in his art and the people who come to view it, like the audience that gathered for his talk this past Sunday.

I also found a stimulating experience viewing the "chapters" of a visual book in the main galleries at the MAG called "Pax Kaffraria" by Meleko Mokgosi who is a painter originally from Botswana, Africa now living in the New York City area.

Part of the "Pax Kaffraria" by Meleko Mokgosi

A large crowd came to hear the painter Meleko Mokgosi in a "meet the artist" talk also at The Memorial Art Gallery last Thursday evening.  Introduced by Director, Binstock of the MAG, Meleko Mokgosi - who in his mid-thirties comes across as very erudite - is thoroughly grounded in a philosophical dialect known in academic circles as artspeak.  Let me  just say that the approach to talking about his paintings was handled by Meleko on a symbolic level - and not a kind of practical - how-to guide that some in the audience had expected.

Painting by Meleko Mokgosi
" Pax Kaffraria"
at The Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, New York

The paintings on exhibition have a photo-realist look, but Mr. Mokgosi says he is not so concerned with realism.  He does tell stories in his paintings, and they appear to be a series of vignettes - painted chapters of an ongoing story, maybe more symbolic than actual.  He visits, or quotes from social and political history of South Africa, and we are shown images of leaders like Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela that are painted like framed pictures hanging on a wall, all part of his larger opus " Pax Kaffraria".

He asks - How Shall I Portray Black People?  In art school he is taught how to mix a flesh tone for a figure that is not black...  What is it that these people should be doing?  How does he bring his visual dialog up-to-date?  His paintings include livestock and dogs, and pieces of the environment with little attention paid to landscape or place.  Meleko's figures more often float or are barely grounded in their own space.  This is an art of imagination and breadth, and I anticipate great things from this visual story-teller.  He has a style that articulates juxtaposition of dramatic elements, and in his paintings he reminds me of the style of the writer Don DeLillo ( often very dark ).

Meleko Mokgosi paintings also at Rochester Contemporary

Unless you have traveled widely, you might not have the necessary context to fully appreciate these paintings which bring to the forefront cultures and the notion of post-colonialist regions that we know from news reports in our newspapers here in the United States.  We need to know much more, and truly begin a dialog to have a sense of what is being said by an artist "beyond category" - as Duke Ellington, once said.

Meleko Mokgosi at "Meet the Artist"
The Memorial Art Gallery, February, 2017

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

With An Artist's Eye

"Jasper's Other Map"
Bernard Myers
University Gallery, R.I.T.
thru March 11, 2017

In the University Gallery at Rochester Institute of Technology, we have a physical environment that welcomes the viewer of images in an unhurried atmosphere that is both spacious and filled with natural light.  Towards the back there are archives of design work by Massimo Vignelli including books and posters, and on the other side there are antique cameras.  In the main gallery space there is a stunning show of large scale photographic prints made on matte paper held in place by magnets.  The textures and the look of these prints by Bernard Myers are so tactile, they look like they usher in a new era of clarity and desire.

Print by Bernard Myers

Bernard Myers was a graduate of R.I.T. years ago, with a background not only in photography but also in printmaking.  The colors are so clear, you might as well be looking at the actual thing- rather than a selection from reality.  A viewer gets to experience this art form without the traditional barrier of a frame and glass, and the reflections that would certainly come along with it - that often distort our experience of the art.

"Severance" by Bernard Myers

When you visit this show which is titled: "Bernard Myers: Dividing Line - Peru, Urban Renewal and Worlds in Between" - on view until March 11, 2017, you will see groups of images, some in black and white ( like "Severance" above ) and some in color - and they resemble the paintings of Gerhard Richter of Germany.  The prints are so alive that the color pulls you in first, and then you can register the details of these wall posters that have been gouged and scratched like some vital abstract expressionist canvas.

Bernard Myers

Tall in format, there is on view a series of prints featuring tall buildings and urban architecture, and the reflections and divisions of space in the built world of the modern city.  Here once again the colors are clear, though there are some distortions and deliberate duplication of textures and mirror effects.  These images are a bit less provocative, they don't have the mystery of some of his other images.

Bernard Myers at  University Gallery, R.I.T.

In particular, I liked the image of the fruit sellers' stall - seen from behind a screen. The idea of a permeable layer through which we view a scene is repeated also in the print on a back wall of a green landscape seen through a mossy screen porch.  The visceral effect of the screen through which we view the imagery is a casual metaphor here that is very effective, not over-wrought.

The selection and hanging of these beautiful prints, only makes me want to see more, and I can also recommend the beautiful books that contain his photos for sale at the desk.  This is an artist who is having a terrific time with his medium, and I can highly recommend it.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Cooper Union Connections

Clare Romano ( 1922-2017 ) 
" Half Shuttered Venice",wood block print, 1996
commissioned by The Print Club of Rochester

Against a backdrop of political turmoil in Washington, D.C., I have found myself in a reflective mood, and I want to celebrate the good things I have and the relationships that have meant the most.  Can I also include the readers of these posts? - Thank You! If you spend a little time reading what I have written you have given me a better sense of purpose.  As an artist one can sometimes feel on the margins - so at least there are some connections made here as I tell my story.

I have written recently about my father, and my family - all of us involved in the arts.  My mother, Judy, and my father, Arthur were both graduates of The Cooper Union in New York City.  They had a wide variety of friends who were all in the visual arts, as designers, printmakers, illustrators, and fine artists.  One couple had even written a book on printmaking and that was John Ross and Clare Romano.  We would get hand made Christmas cards from them each year, and they inspired me to try my hand at making a wood cut, maybe when I was ten years old, and I took off from there.

Clare Romano Ross

Painting and printmaking were my main interests when I was in high school, and I took classes on Saturdays at The Museum of Modern Art School ( in the basement of the present day MOMA ), and also at The Art Students League, in preparation to go off to college.  When I was accepted at The Cooper Union, I was greatly elevated because so many of the people I had met ( friends of the family ) were involved in the arts, and had gone through The Cooper Union experience.  The Cooper Union was tuition free and it was and is one of the most selective colleges in the USA.

While I was at The Cooper Union, I studied art history with Brian O'Doherty, and Dore Ashton.  Above are some of her many books.  I liked her way of speaking, and also the fact that she was concerned with contemporary art, and was very familiar with the artists, and she was married to a painter, and they were my neighbors on East 11th Street in Manhattan.  It might be her influence that I feel today as I write about the arts, and I take inspiration from her as an example.

Dore Ashton ( 1928-2017 )

If you haven't read Dore Ashton's writing, I suggest that you take a look for her books, especially her interviews with Phillip Guston, and her books about The New York School.  Dore Ashton was there when it was all happening, and she changed the course of my college experience through her efforts at shaping the art history department at The Cooper Union.  She brought in some very interesting faculty to teach during the early 1970's when I was still getting my BFA.  Dore Ashton also brought in artists like Joseph Cornell, Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Motherwell, and poet Octavio Paz.

As you can see by this post, both of these women - Dore Ashton, and Clare Romano have recently passed away, and so that contributes to my reflective mood.  Later - way after I finished college and  got my MFA at Cornell University, I began to write and take printmaking seriously,  so I would say my role models had a very positive affect.  The wood block print at the top of this post was commissioned while I was the President of the Print Club of Rochester, so I had a chance to give a nod to an old friend, and a real figure of substance in the field of printmaking.

Now,  I can say thank you to my readers, and to the people who mean so much to me.  We passed  50,000 page views - so that is quite remarkable, and it leaves me very humble, so that people would spend a little time in their day to read my stories.  Thank you!

Sunday, February 12, 2017


Charles Clough
Burchfield Penney Art Center
Buffalo, New York

I am sure that I am not alone when I think that the pace of living today has increased considerably, and the nearly instantaneous mix we have with the media seems to be pushing us along.  Through social media we feed it everyday; news cycles speed up and maybe spell out requirements for what we can and can't do and that is partly why people are glued to their smart phones.  As a working artist and teacher, I can go into my studio and turn off all devices - focus on my work; but at the same time feel like I am missing something..

Steve Miller photographs 
at Nina Freudenheim Gallery

I am driven to work in my studio when I have time, and increasingly that creative moment has been sliced and diced.  Sometimes I have to drop everything and off I go down the turnpike, and on this day I run away to Buffalo.  I wanted to stop in to see the show at Nina Freudenheim Gallery on North Street but she was closed.  Her group show " Black and White" has a bunch of artists and photographers who I know including Steve Miller ( above ) and Amanda Means, but it was not happening, so I went up Elmwood to look at the shows in the Burchfield Penney Art Center, which happens to be one of my favorite stops in Buffalo, and I was not disappointed.

Jerome Witkin's portrait
Charles Rand Penney

Having always been a fan of Charles Burchfield's watercolors, I was pleased to be able to visit the galleries presenting the celebration of 50 Years at the Art Center.  There was a photograph of Burchfield at a ribbon cutting ceremony, and there is also a welcoming essay on the wall outlining why the Center is important to us and the implications of a vital cultural scene.  Each of us creates a piece of our culture, and Buffalo has a history of having a congenial atmosphere and support for the creatives that live in this city.  This is a tribute to the founders of institutions like the Burchfield Penney Art Center, and the Albright Knox Art Gallery right across the street.

Robert Longo
a sphere made up of copper bullets

At the Burchfield Center one can come across unusual things along with prints and paintings, and a room devoted to installations such as the one above.  Inside the show that celebrates 50 years at the Art Center, you can run across the dynamic Burchfield watercolor of  December Storm.

December Storm, by Charles Burchfield

The 50 Year Celebration is a massive show that includes photographic portraits of many of the working artists in the area by David Moog.  I also found upstairs a large canvas by Charles Clough that you can see at the top of this post.  This powerful painting is a big splash of color from an expressive artist who has been at it for many years, and deserves a wider audience.  Downstairs, I also found abstractions full of energy by Robert L. Flock, a painter who I was not familiar with.  The most valuable lesson that you might learn from this show is that it takes this concentration of artistic individuals to power a city like Buffalo in recent years, and the energy that radiates from the artwork is something we can admire, respect, and it makes our lives richer.

Artist portraits by David Moog
Celebration of 50 years at the Art Center

Walter Garver 
Burchfield Penney Art Center

Walk across Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo, and you enter the Albright Knox Art Gallery, and what a collection that they have on view!  I was able to visit a few of my favorites from their collection , and then I had to go to work as a faculty member from R.I.T.  It was whirlwind tour, but I am so glad that I took the time to find this visual feast.

Jackson Pollock 
at The Albright Knox Art Gallery

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Long Lineage

Kurt Moyer at Axom Gallery
Rochester, New York

Maybe it is the stress of the current political climate that calls out for some stability, but I look to gather strengths from the foundations of painting, and from a long and storied history in the visual arts to bolster my constitution.  My integrity is found by looking towards positive actions in the world and in my art, and that path has been followed and stood the test, and I know that I am not alone in sensing this.  We learn from our mentors, and as an artist my education started at home, where I watched as my mother and father both engaged in their art forms, as well as my brother who is four years older than me and is a pretty good painter when he can spend the time with his materials. We all liked Corot and the French masters.

J. B. Corot and his painting "Bridge at Narni ' in the Louvre

Outside of my family, I searched for teachers from whom I could benefit and took classes from a very early age in painting and drawing.  By the time I was a teenager I was registered to take classes at The Art Students League in Manhattan and I started a class with the noted painter, Edwin Dickinson ( 1891-1978 ).  Dickinson had a real following and his artwork has since been recognized by many museums and he has found a place in art history.

Edwin Dickinson's painting "Gonzalez Studio", 1950

As an artist, Dickinson worked often in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and he influenced a group of younger painters who came to learn so much from his example.  I think there is a thread that ran from Courbet and Corot through the landscapes and portraits of Edwin Dickinson.  What I have not mentioned though was the fact that Dickinson's brand of representation was coming at the apogee of Abstract Expressionism, so this factor meant that his contribution was over-shadowed by this art world trend.

Paul Resika's painting of Provincetown Pier, 1988

Later, when I entered college at The Cooper Union, I found encouragement from Paul Resika, an artist who knew Dickinson, and Paul Resika practiced his own brand of painting "en plain air".
Paul Resika is not as well known as Dickinson, but he has been an influence on me, and he has had a very long career starting before he was a student of Hans Hofmann in the late 1940's.  In Resika's class at Cooper Union I encountered ideas that blended representation with relationships to structure in a way that seemed very contemporary, but here once again, what Resika was doing went against current trends which happened to be at that time called "Pop Art".  Paul Resika had great respect for old masters, and his paintings reflected that  grounding.

Paul Resika

When I moved to Brooklyn after doing my graduate work in painting at Cornell, one of my neighbors was the artist Lennart Anderson.  I had known Lennart Anderson for many years through his paintings, and now I got to know him and interview him for an article I was writing for "The Prospect Press".  Lennart had also studied Edwin Dickinson's methods, and even owned a very nice Dickinson painting that hung in his living room.  Both Paul Resika and Lennart Anderson represented a tradition in fine art that deserves more recognition today.

Lennart Anderson's Idyll ( 1977-2002 )

Lennart Anderson passed away at age 87 in his home in Park Slope in 2015.  He was known to work on paintings for many years in a row, until they achieved what he had envisioned.  He could also work quickly when he wanted and he produced some of his most interesting paintings at a time when the art world was held in thrall by minimalism and conceptual art.  Needless to say, Lennart Anderson wasn't a trend setter, but he did have his influence.

 Kurt Moyer, his new show is called:
" In The Forest"
at the Axom Gallery, 176 Anderson Avenue, Rochester, New York

Which brings me to the paintings that I saw this week at Axom Gallery, here in Rochester.
"In The Forest" is a selection of paintings by Kurt Moyer, who was a neighbor of mine in The Hungerford Building. 

 Kurt carries on  his artwork in a similar track that spans many generations and his classical approach to art has a real value and a tactile presence.  Looking at the surface of these paintings you can get into a physical relationship with the many layers of paint, and you can consider the decisions made for such an approach to an almost three-dimensional aspect to his canvases.

His show represents new efforts in a response to nature, and he adds his name to a very long lineage.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Image Masters

First Friday Evening at The Hungerford
Rochester, New York

I stepped out of my studio on a First Friday to go and catch up with some artists who have mastered their medium.  In the present climate there are many reasons to go and find the art on view and lucky for us the painting and drawing is of a high quality and a rewarding experience awaits a viewer.  There was a good turnout at the Rochester Contemporary Art Center.  In February we celebrate Black History Month and what could be more in step than the new show of mural size paintings by artist Meleko Mokgosi.

Meleko Mokgosi is an artist originally from Botswana in Africa, but now living and working in New York City.  He brings to Rochester, these large scale paintings which are part of a visual novel which we get to view in several chapters which were recently trucked here from Los Angeles where they were on view.  This show is shared by the Memorial Art Gallery where the rest of the show will reside during the late winter.

Part of "Pax Kaffraria"by Meleko Mokgosi
Rochester Contemporary Art Center

This upscale art is a blend of styles played out with a variety of scenes that mix history, sociology, and a complex culture that looks like it was ripped right out of the news headlines coming out of Africa.  The mastery of the image mixes realism with large blocks of abstract color.  there is a long story being told on a slightly acute angle giving the viewer some flex points to look at: a choir, the crowning of a leader, and the society that surrounds them ( some even upside down ).

Meleko Mokgosi
at Rochester Contemporary

Dogs and goats and other familiar animals stand still for a moment while the artist paints their portrait and then they melt back into the scenery.  As noted in the literature for the exhibition, these paintings are allegorical; they have a visual poetry that is grounded in realism with themes that achieve a resonance today.

Michael Harris with his recent works on paper

Before I left RoCo, I had a chat with Michael Harris who is also presenting recent works on paper at RoCo in the Lab Space.  His works resemble those of Jasper Johns in the framing and use of the mixed media, and also the profiles of faces and figures.  This series has image transfers and restrained color and they are strong pieces that have a very open attitude towards symbol and representation. 

Luvon Sheppard presents his "Forms of Contemplation"
at The Geisel Gallery

I looked in on the show that my office mate Luvon Sheppard has prepared for the Geisel Gallery which will be open through March, so if you have not had a chance to look at his new, more abstract works, these will certainly be a surprise.  Luvon's artwork has taken on a more ethereal presence, seemingly filled with some of the clouds I saw when I left my studio building in search of fine art.

It seems as though the artist has opened a new chapter in his work, and it seems to distill the images from Psalms and places that in the firmament of his compositions.  Luvon indeed does bring his devotion to social and religious calling into his art, creating a moving atmosphere in which we can pick out a human presence here and there.  The painting at the end of the hall can sum it up in way that is very direct.

Luvon Sheppard
mixed media for " Ramoth Gilead "