Saturday, August 17, 2019

Educate the Artist

I am entering my 31st year teaching art at Rochester Institute of Technology, and I think of the social impact of this and understand how important it is to the person who self-selects to first try to be an artist, and then to help understand the choices and pressures it places on that student.  I grew up in a family of visual artists, so there were role models right at home.  My parents also had many friends who were in the arts, and that seemed natural - for they all supported one another and from what I could see as a youngster - they all made a pretty good living doing what they loved to do.

It is important to say that I grew up in the New York City area at a time in the 1950s when the visual arts was just coming into its own in the U.S. - and being an artist ( who could make a living ) was not always in the cards!  You had to really work at it!  So, from the time I was a young teenager I hung out in the museums and galleries, I went to openings and talked to other aspiring artists.

Yayoi Kusama at The Memorial Art Gallery

Now, when I walk into The Memorial Art Gallery here in Rochester, and look at the giant polka dot sculpture of Yayoi Kusama, my mind travels back to a time when I was at her opening at the Howard Wise Gallery on 57th Street in Manhattan when there were just a handful of people there, and I talked with the artist ( back in the 1960s ).

John Ahearn's sculpture at The MAG

I was at The Memorial Art Gallery to go back and see the Finger Lakes Juried Exhibition.  Even before i walked in to see the show, I found a life-size plaster sculpture by John Ahearn which I had never previously seen before.  John and I were students at Cornell University in the early 1970s and it has really been interesting to see what he has accomplished so far.

Sam Gilliam at the entry to the galleries at MAG

At the entry to the galleries, where the salon style hanging of portraits used to be, there is now a group of artworks by Sam Gilliam, another artist whose work I have followed for years.  In fact, I brought Sam Gilliam up to Rochester to speak to my students almost 15 years ago.  He even made a presentation to visitors in the auditorium of The Memorial Art Gallery then, so I am glad to see that his art is finding an appreciative audience now.

What I am driving at here, is the fact that we live in a social world even though the artist often spends most of their time working alone in a studio situation.  Sometimes you can feel like you are all alone on the moon!  So I encourage people who are interested in the arts to step up their education and not only learn the skills to express themselves, but also engage with other artists who have this special thing - this vision of what they can and hope to create.

Watercolors by Karal Ann Marling

Grafitti in a painting by Karal Ann Marling

Right down the hall from the Finger Lakes show is the Lockhart Gallery which is now filled with intimate watercolors by Karal Ann Marling. Her focus is the local territory she now inhabits of downtown Rochester.  She takes us on a tour of places - not the most famous landmarks, but many of the spots that you may have just passed by.  It could be a shady street, and someone's porch, or it could be a painting of the little store on the corner.  Karel Ann Marling is actually a scholar and a writer, an art historian, so these paintings come as something of a surprise...  She delights in giving us a nostalgic look at Rochester - she finds a kind of abstract collage of images that make up the subjects for each of her framed works on display.  These are paintings made with love and care and a very personal touch.

Kathryn Rehrig at Main Street Arts, Clifton Springs

Speaking of that, I was out in Clifton Springs recently at Main Street Arts, in their upstairs gallery looking over a show called: "Undercurrents" featuring landscape paintings by Angelia Salerno and photographic prints by Kathryn Rehrig.  Kathryn's artist statement could be applied to some of Karal Ann Marling's artwork too when she writes, "Architectural salvage is ripe with potential for the discovery of "Faded Beauties".  Paint peeling, rust, algae, and vessels filled with water, present a striking palette of colors and unique abstract vignettes that tease the imagination.  The images represent an evolution of nature that challenges one's perspective to see beyond the obvious".

Paintings by Angelia Salerno
at Main Street Arts
Clifton Springs, New York