Sunday, September 24, 2017

David J. Wagner, PhD., Museum Director and Curator

David J. Wagner visits The Memorial Art Gallery
September 21, 2017

I have the pleasure of introducing a series of guest speakers in conjunction with our exhibition currently on view of wildlife art by my father, Arthur Singer.  The title of our show: Arthur Singer, The Wildlife Art of An American Master is also the title of a new book published this summer by R.I.T. Press and it has a fine introduction written by David Wagner.  The genre of wildlife art doesn't have the cachet of impressionism or surrealism probably because it is illustrative - being a blend of science and art.  But wildlife art does have a following and there have been artists like John James Audubon who have set a high bar for the artists who have followed in the 20th century through today.

Francis Lee Jacques paints a diorama (1930's )

To help us get closer to understanding artists who portray birds and animals from a contemporary perspective I invited John Fitzpatrick and David Wagner to fill us in on the knowledge we need to better judge this form of art - which we can call naturalism.  My first speaker in September was John Fitzpatrick, and he is currently Director of the Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.  He started his talk, telling us about Francis Lee Jacques his next door neighbor in the upper midwest. John Fitzpatrick was very young, but Jacques impressed him with his knowledge of science and art.  Jacques had painted a series of great dioramas for The American Museum of Natural History on the west side of Manhattan, and also later at the Bell Museum in Minnesota.  My father, Arthur Singer grew up in New York City and was well acquainted with the paintings by Jacques and the two may have met while the dioramas were being installed.

John Fitzpatrick
Director, for the Laboratory of Ornithology, at Cornell University

John Fitzpatrick went on to speak about the aims of science and art saying that "science was organized curiosity" and that art could be an expression of that curiosity.  John Fitzpatrick gave credibility to the advancement of science through the application of art, building a bridge to the public with published guide books that people would use in the field.  This is citizen science.  A week later, David Wagner came to Rochester Institute of Technology to further flesh out the history of wildlife art in America.

Arthur Singer illustrated biography by Paul and Alan Singer from RIT Press

David Wagner was the Director of the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wassau, Wisconsin when their show "Birds in Art" became a regular feature of their yearly calendar.  My brother Paul, and I asked David Wagner to write the introduction for our book which has just been published by RIT Press.  Our choice highlights the fact that as a museum director, David Wagner met my father, and had firsthand knowledge of his artwork which counts for a lot when we were putting together our book.

Brian O'Neill and David Wagner studio visit

On the morning of his talk at R.I.T., we went for a studio visit in the Hungerford Building to see the paintings of Brian O'Neill and speak to the artist.  His paintings run the gamut from abstraction to realism ( often seen together in the same work ) and I found in the studio a little painting of a hawk, so this idea ( of wildlife art ) seems to be in the air.  In his studio, Brian spoke about his role as a teacher, and indeed there were work stations set up so his students could improve their artwork under his watchful eye.  Larry Keefe was making a small study from a sculpture by Olivia Kim in the old fashioned way of indicating a structure of values reminding me of the days when students drew from plaster casts made from the great sculptures by artists of the past.

Sculpture by Olivia Kim, drawing by Larry Keefe

In the afternoon, David and I took a long walk through the collection at The Memorial Art Gallery and I spotted a few interesting Japanese prints on view in the Lockhart Gallery.  Upstairs we worked our way through the European paintings, and then Asian art, commenting upon the pieces from Syria, and the terrible destruction that occurred in Palmyra.

Kobayashi Kiyochika, The Asakusa Bridge and Fire, 1881

In the evening, everyone sat and listened to David Wagner in the University Gallery as he approached the history of wildlife art in America through some choice examples.  Carl Rungius was one of the memorable examples he offered that evening, and I thought that this is worth all the effort we put into the evening to have this speaker here to share his knowledge and expertise.  Thank you, David Wagner!

David Wagner introduces Carl Rungius
The University Gallery at R.I.T.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Start Now

Annual Faculty Show at Bevier Gallery
Rochester Institute of Technology

My quick tour of the annual faculty art show at the Bevier Gallery in Booth Building at the Rochester Institute of Technology did not do the show justice, as I had to move quickly through.  Why the rush? The reason for this run around was that I was supposed to be giving a guided tour through our show down the hall at the University Gallery and a class was waiting for me!

Willie Osterman has a wall rack full of interesting photos with an ethnographic slant to them, and he calls this assembly "Summer Journal".  Its reminds me of glass plate prints you would expect in a museum, and the  media  includes Collodion, aluminum and tin - surfaces on which to make photographic prints.  I admire the way that Mr. Osterman delves back into the techniques of yesteryear, and I assume that there are not many who could make such convincing works with methods that have become obscure with age.  Matter-of-fact the theme of these images is all about time, and the ravages of time symbolized by the print of the skull in his installation.  Think of all the film based technology for which Rochester became famous and how that chemistry will have to be brushed up for future generations that may want to explore a more recent path.

Digital Animation
Meghdad Asadilari

Certainly, Rochester Institute of Technology has a perspective on the future, just look at the new building going up in front called:"Magic Spell Studios".  What new miracles will come out from there, and how will students change the course of history with their visual arts?

Painting by Cliff Wun
Bevier Gallery

The faculty in studio arts often bring out their best work, and one painting you will find there in the Bevier Gallery is so Cliff Wun.  He has a self-portrait that reveals the insides of the torso, revealed by three bluebirds practicing a surgical art with their bills and feet.  This image could be terrifying were it not for the robin's nest of eggs stuffed into the back of the digestive system.  The effect is part medical diagram and part Francis Bacon ( OMG ).  Cliff is brave to put a face on this - we usually don't want to spend much time with contemplating our insides,  so this is about as revealing as it gets!

There are some other spooky images in this faculty show however.  The painting by Denton Crawford below has an aspect of mystery and horror of a bad trip.  What is that thing where the face should be?

Painting by Denton Crawford

And then there is the elegiac encaustic work - a portrait by Joyce Hertzson, her "Memorial to Kim".
This small painting has a sadness attached to it with the color and overlapping layers of faded flowers.

Encaustic by Joyce Hertzson

Another work in the show celebrates "Women of Rochester", a mixed media piece by a faculty trio: Marla Schweppe, Shu Chang, and Christine Heusner.  A dress has inscriptions, and additions the shape of tennis racket covers, or small handbags announcing Renee Fleming or Ursula Burns, or Haudenosaunee Mothers, etc. . This art is both entertaining and entirely apt.  Why don't we have something like this in the Rochester Airport?

"Women of Rochester"
by Marla Schweppe, Shu Chang, and Christine Heusner

There is so much more in this show, but I have to go and lead a tour so a few last glances, and I found a nice juxtaposition of my print that I call: Tropicalia, and the large sculpture by Wendell Castle that he titles: Be The Wind At Your Back...  I will have to contemplate that last look!

Wendell Castle at left, Alan Singer on right
at Bevier Gallery, R.I.T.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Buy The Book

Art & Physics
Parallel Visions in Space, Time & Light
Leonard Shlain

Usually, I write about what I have been seeing in the art galleries, but I wanted to give you - the reader of this blog some rest before the next wave of art reviews come to this space.  I thought that I would say something about books worth reading.  I do try to read a few pages everyday, maybe you do too?

The artist and gallery owner Rick Muto, on a visit to my studio, told me about a book written by the author and doctor, the late Leonard Shlain.  I had mentioned to Rick, that I had read a wonderful book by the same author years ago, called "Art & Physics"  published in 1991 that explained many of the puzzles that I dealt with as I pursued my interests in art and mathematics.  Leonard Shlain had opened the door to a whole new understanding - because at one time I thought that there was little connection, but after reading this book, I saw that art and math were different sides of the same coin.

Leonard Shalain's book on Leonardo Da Vinci

Now, armed with the tip I received from Rick Muto, I bought a copy of "Leonardo's Brain" and I am so glad that I did.  Dr. Shlain took the time through writing this book ( his last unfortunately ) to give the reader a broad portrait of Leonardo Da Vinci from a number of vantage points - some having to do with art, and others having more to do with science.  Dr. Shlain lays out a very convincing case for the genius in Da Vinci with many examples of how he was way ahead of his time.  Some of Da Vinci's drawings were for inventions that would not come to fruition for several hundred years!
Why was it that so many of Da Vinci's paintings remained unfinished?  How did Da Vinci draw out maps as if they were seen from an airplane?  What made Da Vinci's time and place so unique?
Get a copy of the book and find out.

Helen Macdonald's book: H is for Hawk

As my brother Paul and I have just published a book about my father's artwork, I have been very involved in promoting our new art book about Arthur Singer and his life long involvement with birds.  In the bookstore near me I bought a copy of "H Is for Hawk" by the British naturalist and writer Helen Macdonald.  The book has a very artistic cover by Chris Wormell and inside it is a story about falconry.  Helen Macdonald writes a personal account of learning the ways and means of the falconer - training a goshawk to come and sit on her glove and take some bites of food to gain  the trust of a wild bird.

I thought that her observations were right on the mark, and I know this because I have brought falcons into my classroom for my students to draw, and over the years I have done this with the group here called  Wild Wings, I have noticed how these birds behave when observed.  Be prepared, if you buy this engrossing tale to take a roller coaster ride because this is a very emotional story told by a poet looking at nature through the eyes of a practitioner of a very old art form - falconry.

Arthur Singer, The Wildlife Art of an American Master
published by RIT Press
summer 2017

This is the view at Shop One, a place to buy arts and crafts at Rochester Institute of Technology.
Here we have copies of our new book for sale, along with three original paintings by my father Arthur Singer ( 1917 -1990 ).  If you have bought a book already, bring it over to the University Gallery for our opening on Friday, September 8th, and my brother Paul and I will sign it for you from 5 - 7 pm.  If you want to order our book, here is the link:

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Fine Art in the Finger Lakes

Mitchell Messina
at Main Street Arts
Clifton Springs, NY

You can learn so much by taking a little tour, for example I start out in Ithaca, New York at The Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art where I was introduced to the expressionist art of Robert Richenburg, and I wonder to myself - Why haven't I heard about this artist before?  The paintings are elemental, like building blocks leading the way toward a new kind of geometry - a painterly look at minimalism - that was practiced by another artist like Jennifer Bartlett who is in the next room, or by the sculptor Carl Andre.  Below is a typical work from the show now on thru September 10, at The Johnson Museum.  I was living and studying at Cornell while Robert Richenburg was teaching in Ithaca College, yet I never came across these paintings... so it is nice to see them here...finally!

Robert Eichenburg  ( 1917-2006 )
oil on canvas

At the Johnson Museum on the Cornell campus you can find  artworks by artists that were collected widely and have come to be known as the touchstones of the mid 20th century, so it is interesting to see how Robert Richenburg fits into that landscape.  Right next door you can see works by John Chamberlain and Andy Warhol and make some judgements for yourself about values and what society has come to praise for a variety of reasons.

John Chamberlain and Andy Warhol
The Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art

The art season is off to a fresh start and people come out in numbers for Gallery Night so I go off to investigate what is happening at The Ink Shop.  One can't help but notice the new construction in Ithaca, New York on this late summer evening.  I walk into the corridor of the CSMA Building and find the etchings of Anna Pausch in a show she calls simply "Muse".  Anna credits Rembrandt for her initial inspiration and her intaglio prints demonstrate a terrific patience and skill at rendering in line the intimate landscapes she favors. Rocks, trees and branches merge into compositions that can go from the simple to the very complex.  One of the large plates that she made en plain air, offers a certain time of day with the light hitting everywhere ...just so.

Intaglio print by Anna Pausch 
The Ink Shop, 330 East State Street, Ithaca, NY

Upstairs, the second part of this two person show at The Ink Shop, I find a selection of prints, often in color, by Andrew Kosten who hails from the Dakotas.  His prints often had a dose of humor and cultural critique- related to political cartoons one might find in the Atlantic magazine.  Here, as with Anna Pausch downstairs, you find an artist with a fine touch, delicate almost - creating characters in his own satire on modern living.

"Little Toot Toot" by Andrew Kosten
The Ink Shop

Driving up from Ithaca I stop into Main Street Arts located on 20 West Main Street in the cozy town of Clifton Springs.  On view in the main gallery is a selected show: "Painting Invitational" that features some of the best artists in our area.  Among my personal favorites is a large painting by Kurt Moyer that has an energetic deep surface full of texture, and structured mark making that is nuanced and filled with light.  The subject is the abstraction of the forest floor and the time of day would seem to be in an early morning when the light is very even.  Here the materials are handled in a very expressive way, quite tactile, but without loosing the reference points needed for a dose of realism.

Kurt Moyer at Main Street Arts, Clifton Springs

At Main Street Arts, some of the paintings that caught my attention weren't on the scale of Kurt Moyer's canvas, some of the intimate size works could also be quite enigmatic including the jazzy abstract works from Sarah Sutton, and the outdoor studies from Jim Mott.  I think that the portraits by Mike Tarantelli are only getting better ( I remember him when he was one of our students at R.I.T. ) and the colors he works with are almost translucent ( how does he achieve that effect? )...

Mike Tarantelli at Main Street Arts

Upstairs, Mitchell Messina has a show titled: "Fuse" and it is a grouping of figure studies in a variety of situations like the image at the top of this post that can bring a certain level of discomfort to a viewer.  These sculptures provide situations for figures that look to be compromising without being overtly uncomfortable, and the artist hints as much in his statement about the use of clay in the making of molds for these sculptural situations.

From the show "FUSE" by Mitchell Messina
at Main Street Arts

Finally, back in Rochester, I stopped into the Brown Hound for lunch at The Memorial Art Gallery and a conversation with the Director, Jonathan Binstock.  What a vital cultural region we have, and Director Binstock has done a lot to re-vitalize the presence of the visual arts along with new curatorial initiatives including the mural downstairs that has just been finished by Sarah Rutherford. Each of her portraits defines a character; these are different souls who are contributing to the fabric of our community, and Sarah Rutherford is to be given due credit for bringing these paintings to life here in the museum.

Sarah Rutherford presents her mural "Her Voice Carries"
celebrates five women of our city...
-More to come-