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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Troy Night Out (April edition)

It's a particularly potent Troy Night Out this month, as the reception for the 32nd Photography Regional will be held by Fulton Street Gallery in the Uncle Sam Atrium, and at least two other important shows are also being celebrated. Events run from 5 p.m to 9 p.m. on Friday, April 30, and it's all a short stroll apart.

D. Jack Solomon, painter extraordinaire, will have a solo show of his recent small work at Clement Art Gallery (example at right). Solomon combines painting and collage techniques to produce witty little gems that are sure to delight all who see them.

And speaking of little gems, there's Dorothy Englander's showcase in the Arts Center of the Capital Region's Foyer Gallery, titled Microlife and Milagros. I'm biased - Dot is my studio-mate - but you know I have good taste, and these are truly tasty (example below at left).

Coincidentally, another close friend of mine is showcased in the Arts Center's main gallery - that's Andrzej Pilarczyk, of Nippertown.com fame, whose exuberant musical performance photos from the Sanctuary for Independent Media have been hanging there for several weeks. Performance videos (which are not Pilarczyck's work) are also featured in the installation.

But the Photo Regional gets top billing, and there will be a talk by juror Carrie Haddad at 6:30, so it's sure to draw a crowd. I saw the salon version of the show, and am looking forward to seeing just how close to my own picks Carrie may have come. To learn more about the show, and see all the works in it online, you can click here.

As I said, TNO is eminently walkable, the weather is supposed to be really nice, and there's more to see than you can reasonably expect to cover in four hours. So I hope you'll join me there and support the artists and all the venues in beautiful downtown Troy.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"Natura" at Saratoga Arts

Ryan Parr Uda 2006 oil on canvas

Saratoga Arts, the recently renamed site of the Saratoga County Arts Council, has dubbed its current two-person show Natura.

Featuring the work of Naomi Lewis and Ryan Parr, Natura is a pairing more related to a shared fascination with patterns than with the natural world, and it offers the opportunity to see larger bodies of work by two UAlbany-connected artists who have regularly appeared in larger group shows around the region, but in less depth.

Lewis, who first became known as a printmaker, received an MFA in that medium from the University at Albany in 1999 and has worked there ever since, currently as exhibition and outreach coordinator for the Art Museum; Parr got his UAlbany MFA in drawing and painting in 2005 and his work has been seen in Fence Select at the Arts Center in Troy and in the Mohawk-Hudson Regional at the Albany International Airport Gallery.

Here, apart from one digital experiment with a wallpaper idea, Lewis presents not prints, but delicate, elaborate drawings of intertwining ropy vines that have textures and shapes reminiscent of Celtic knots carved in stone. All but one of them are in shades of grey, made either with graphite or India ink (the only colored one, shown above at right, is a watercolor titled Wound Up).

Works on paper are always a tough sell, and even more so when monochromatic. But Lewis combines impeccable technique with a degree of obsession that is hard to resist, making for a mesmerizing trip around the gallery to try to suss out her coils and tangles. The pieces vary in size from less than a foot square to about 30" by 40" - they also vary in complexity, whether in the organization of the vines themselves or in their degree of ornamentation.

Among the most recent is a set of four small Tangles, each of which very succesfully combines the compression of a knot with the open space around it. Her surface treatment of these forms is almost Escher-like in its dimensionality and complexity - so we know the printmaker must be still alive and well. Overall, it's a very fine body of work.

Parr's contibution to the show is somewhat less coherent, though it achieves a couple of strong passages among the nine oils on canvas included.

One of those moments occurs in the careful observations of watery surfaces in three of the paintings (the one shown above at left is titled Nothing Instead of Something). Here, Parr's highly-tuned ability to render an almost photographic image is put to good use in focusing our attention on something we likely would never notice - or even be able to see - if he didn't paint it for us.

The other fine moment comes in the form of a triptych (perhaps intended as such, perhaps not) of 4-foot-by-6-foot vertical paintings that depict incompatible subjects in a neutralizing way. Hence, he makes a green screen of trees and vines equal a maelstrom of blue jigsaw puzzle pieces equal a pink mishmash of naked male dolls. Individually, these paintings may seem somewhat senseless; together, they begin to carry something more than what they show on their surfaces.

Parr is a very able painter, but he has made some missteps, especially with a 2010 piece titled Puzzle of Pills and one from 2008 titled Soul Sold Separately (For Jeff Koons), both of which seem too intent on their broad messages to be very engaging as personal works of art.

Natura continues through May 29 - please note, the Arts Center gallery will host a discussion with the artists at 7 p.m. this Thursday, April 22.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Fred Tomaselli at Tang Museum

Note: This will be the first of two reviews from Saratoga Springs. The second, on the exhibition Natura at Saratoga Arts, will post in several days

It's not often that an exhibition by a major artist goes on view in our region before heading to New York, but that's the case with the Fred Tomaselli survey, which will travel to the Brooklyn Museum after its current showing at Skidmore College's Tang Teaching Museum.

Tomaselli is an immensely likeable artist whose work captures a nice chunk of the American zeitgeist from his (and our) times by drawing freely from sources as broadly spaced as Western landscape, catalog marketing, shamanistic drug culture, Persian rug designs, and Renaissance painting, and then riffing on them in layers of diverse media. Perhaps there are others who also make art out of plant leaves, pills, photo collage, acrylic paint, and resin - but if there are, they will always be compared to Tomaselli as the original.

For those who aren't familiar with his oeuvre, this exhibition is the ideal introduction. Co-organized by the Tang and the Aspen Art Museum, where it previously showed, the mini-retrospective covers a range of about 15 years with 30-odd pieces, most of them significant in scale, and includes several seminal smaller works that give very useful perspective on Tomaselli's evolution as an artist.

The earliest pieces date back to about 1990 and are quiet, thoughtful, photogram-based black-and-whites that introduce the theme of drugs (or rock bands) as a proxy for identity. Three from 1995, titled as individual portraits, present carefully labelled constellations of substances (caffeine, Prozac, LSD, etc) that the subjects have ingested. These are strong pieces on their own but also provide a window into Tomaselli's more ambitious pieces, in which psychedelically fractured humans toil against a backdrop of cosmic blackness and brilliant energy (such as the untitled image shown at the top of this post).

Other works are more pattern-oriented (see Echo, Wow, and Flutter at the bottom of this post), perhaps as a response to issues on abstract art's attempts to be universal (i.e. non-specific). They're impressive, but I prefer the images that depict individual Everymen and women, especially because they do it somewhat awkwardly and are therefore poignantly true to life.

Tomaselli is also deeply involved with nature as a subject, mostly represented by birds and plants. A 2003 series of Field Guide pages, elegantly transformed by cutting out and replacing the birds with colorful printed images of fleece or down jackets (example at right above), makes a clear, humorous cultural statement while simultaneously demonstrating the appeal of collage as a medium.

My one concern in viewing this show was that Tomaselli's most important pieces, despite being sealed under thick layers of clear acrylic resin, are visibly deteriorating. Plant leaves that started out relatively green and fresh (as seen in reproductions in the accompanying gorgeous tome of a catalog) are now golden brown; cheap pills, such as Tums, that once provided playful pastel color notes, are fading and crumbling. It's likely that the artist expected these changes and considers them an integral part of his process, but one misses the strength of the original colors - acceptable in a 400-year-old fresco, but worrisome in an otherwise carefully made work of art from the 1990s.

Fred Tomaselli is on view at the Tang through June 6. See it, and also check out the wonderful works on paper and sculptural installation by Cuban duo Los Carpinteros, which opened on April 8 and will be there through Aug. 8.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

"The Reality Show" at Siena College

Crape Myrtle - oil on canvas by Chris Murray

Two artists who favor realism are paired for a showcase at Siena College's Yates Gallery through April 30th. The Reality Show: Works by Chris Murray and Jon Gernon doesn't break any new ground, but it is a tidy little concentration of work by two artists who have been deservedly gaining increasing exposure on the local scene.

Not entirely coincidentally, Gernon is the curator of Clement Art Gallery in Troy, where Yates Gallery curator Sergio Sericolo is currently featured in a fine two-person show with Wendy Ide Williams. Yes, it's a smallish community of artists and curators who mostly know each other, but that can be true in very big cities, as well, and is entirely natural. Who else are they supposed to hang out with?

Gernon is a good, old-fashioned drawer and painter, and the show presents a total of eight of his pieces: five in graphite, one in primary pastels, and two in full-color egg tempera. All play visual, symbolic, and spatial games, such as Bowl of Cherries, a drawing that renders the titular bowl in sharp black and white, with a trompe l'oeil print of a bird hanging behind it, such that the bird appears to be perched on a cherry stem.

The pastel, a study for a painting, prominently features a yellow rubber duck and a snippet of a Mondrian picture (misidentified as a Morandi) in a clear bit of red-yellow-blue playfulness. One of the two tempera paintings plays a similar game with trompe l'oeil crayons in blue, yellow and green (with a title that makes reference to color mixing - and shown at right).

My favorite piece by Gernon in the show is a 2009 egg tempera titled Still Life with Botticelli, where odds and ends of the Italian artist's works are represented by pencil sketches on Post-Its and a color postcard, which, along with several colorful crayons, are masking-taped to a tall, narrow, white-painted board. Except they're not - it's all painted in trompe l'oeil again.

Murray is also a very skilled painter who likes to fool the eye, by imitating the look of a color photograph (right down to the out-of-focus areas) while maintaining a great degree of painterly effects, visible if you study them closely enough. His five pieces in the show are inconsistent in style, which would be a serious problem in a bigger or more prominent show, where you would need to clearly see and understand the vision of the artist.

In this case, a sampler is OK, as the quality of the work is so high that each painting can stand alone. Two of them depict flowering trees, but in contrasting ways. The hexagonal arrangement of a big blossom in the 4-foot-square Crape Myrtle (shown at top of post) is really a straightforward depiction of its subject - but a similarly sized vertical painting titled Blossoms, realistic in its way, does far more to transform the subject into something we wouldn't otherwise see. It is cropped, abstracted, almost liquefied, and therefore more successful as a work of art.

The other Murray painting in this selection that holds our attention is a 2-by-3-foot portrait of the artist Robert Gullie. Searing in its Chuck Close-like details of whiskers and veins, it is also masterfully smooth in its color selections and transitions. Beyond that, it is a portrait in the real sense: Gullie's clear blue eyes gaze out at us, and his penetrating expression draws us in.

There will be an artists lecture and reception for The Reality Show on Thursday, April 15; the talk is from 4:00-4:30 p.m. in the library basement, room L26, and the reception will follow in the gallery on the second floor, ending at 6 p.m.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

In Memoriam: Bill Karpowicz

William Karpowicz in his studio, 1992 - photo by Ron Force

I was greatly saddened to learn of the death on March 29 of longtime Albany artist William "Bill" Karpowicz. For many years, until we were all thrown out in 2006, Bill occupied the studio opposite mine on the third floor of 116 North Lake Avenue (now a charter school).

There, Bill made painting after painting of "his angels," crediting them with keeping watch over him. When it was clear he'd have to leave the big studio and move into a much smaller space, Bill destroyed all the larger paintings he had accumulated. He didn't see any other option. I was very worried about Bill's state of mind at the time, but he seemed to accept the situation, and I think he eventually found a new rhythm in his smaller digs across the street from the old building.

Leukemia took his life - presumably, he's with the angels now.

David Brickman

Note: The following reminiscence was provided to Get Visual by Ed Atkeson.

I was with some art pals once and someone commented, "What about Karpowicz? Isn't he the real thing?" Sort of like, "Why isn't anyone paying attention? Why isn't he famous?"

Bill painted and painted. After a while he seemed to specialize almost exclusively in angels. He had a big easel with one foot of the easel carved into a cloven hoof, and there was always a painting on it, in progress. He also made model steamboats and remote control sailboats and hand-launch gliders. He had made an enormous fish sculpture that hung in the studio, but mostly paintings, oil paintings of angels.

Cathy and I have one of the angels. We showed Bill's work at our Firlefanz Gallery on Lark Street in July 2005 and he gave us one. The show was called "Angels and Other Spirits," and also included Bob Cartmell, Regina Capobianco, Sylvie Kantorovitz, and Gail Nadeau. (Here's a picture of the artist interview by Timothy Cahill - that's Tim on the left and Bill on the right.)

I think I first met Bill in Washington Park, it was so long ago. He was tossing hand-launch gliders. Balsawood, he'd made them himself. They were pretty remarkable: for one thing, the little planes worked so well that they would just fly away. Bill rigged them with a fuse that would trigger an airbrake after a few minutes - he would light the fuse with a cigarette and give the little plane a toss.

I'd never seen anything that flew so well. Everything was made so carefully. The wings had a perfect airfoil carved in. I was at his house and asked how he made them and there were no plans, he just made them. How? I was amazed. Then I noticed that he had about a dozen of them sticking out of a can on a shelf! He gave me one and I still have it.

Bill moved into my neighborhood for a while and I would drop in to see him. Once I noticed that he'd made a painting of a street person that we all knew and it looked exactly like him. I asked about it and it turned out that there had been no sitting, Bill had painted it from memory. I asked, "Bill, how can you do that?" He just shrugged and said, "painter's eye."

I remember a big Karpowicz painting on display at Cathy's 50th birthday party at Time and Space Limited in Hudson, 1994. The painting was some sort of ancient Sumerian imagery or something like that, 8 by 10 feet. Not for sale, it was much admired. Bill would put out xeroxed cartoons commenting on issues around the city and neighborhood, I still have a bunch, and we got some very unusual Christmas cards from him.

Bill was a good guy, a hard worker with a lot of talent and a big heart. He was the "real thing." He will be missed.

Ed Atkeson

Bill Karpowicz with paintings outside Firlefanz Gallery, 2005 - photo by Ed Atkeson

Friday, April 2, 2010

"Seeing Ourselves" at New York State Museum

The New York State Museum has mounted many strong exhibitions of photography over the decades, but none with the scope or ambition of Seeing Ourselves: Masterpieces of American Photography from George Eastman House Collection, which draws from the vast archive of the Rochester-based museum of film and photography, and has been touring for several years.

Part of the Bank of America Great Art Series that regularly brings in blockbuster shows (usually from New York City museums), Seeing Ourselves comprises more than 150 pictures - ranging from an anonymous 1845 Daguerreotype to a 2003 color digital print by Terry Evans - and is conceived as a comprehensive portrait of America since the invention of photography. The show is organized into five sections: American Masterpieces, American Faces, America at War, America the Beautiful, and American Families. Each section covers the full range of the time period, except America at War, which has nothing later than the Vietnam era.

Beginning with American Masterpieces, the show immediately plunges the viewer into a post-argument phase of photography as art, whether as fine art, commercial art or transcendent documentary. So iconic are the images in this first gallery that an avid student of the medium could stand in the middle of it, look at the pictures, and rattle off nearly every name: Ansel Adams, Margaret Bourke-White, Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Nikolas Muray, Robert Frank, W. Eugene Smith, Dorothea Lange (her Migrant Mother is shown above at left), Lewis Hine, Barbara Kruger, Edward Weston and so on. While we may have seen these pictures before, it is a new and powerful experience to see them together, and it makes a clear statement that we are in the presence of a collection unlike any other. Though quality always beats quantity, the Eastman House has more than enough of both, with over 400,000 photographs in all.

After this potent set-up comes the section titled American Faces, and it also packs a punch, not just by offering a gripping series of portraits, but by including among them such unexpected examples as an FBI wanted poster for Angela Davis, a mug shot of a man accused of "selling liquor to an Indian," and a tiny half-length portrait of Abraham Lincoln by Mathew Brady (shown at right).

Everyone loves to see faces, and this part of the show won't let them down. Also bristling with humanity in all its forms is the section titled American Families, which comes last, and brings to mind the legendary 1955 Museum of Modern Art exhibition and book The Family of Man, not just for its theme but also for its comprehensiveness.

Here the contemporary photographs in the section carry much of the burden - whereas the earlier examples tend toward the posed group portrait or amateur snapshot, many of the later works are produced by savvy practitioners highly aware of the symbolic and interpretive value of their images. Here, too, are the majority of the rather few color pictures in the exhibition, among them a ravishing interior by the California photographer Larry Sultan and a coolly neutral cataloguing of seemingly innocuous items confiscated at airports in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Landscape (or cityscape) is the dominant feature of the other two sections in the show. America at War is the weakest link in the chain. Though there are important and moving images in this section (Pentagon Demonstration, Washington, D.C., November 1967 by Benedict J. Fernandez, shown at left, is a good example) it somehow falls flat - possibly because it does not reach anywhere near the present, or perhaps because, after the Civil War, it leaves our shores behind. It is followed by the sections titled America the Beautiful and American Families (you know, the stuff we were fighting to defend - we certainly didn't go to war to protect our masterpieces!), which belies a slight whiff of propaganda going on.

Nevermind that, though - the pictures in America the Beautiful are too diverse, and too darn good, to be dragged down by such thoughts. Here we find some of the more creative approaches to picture-making that the show offers: an embroidered photo on fabric by Betty Hahn; a delicate platinum print of Albany's Capitol by Chatham-based Sandy Noyes; an aerial view by Marilyn Bridges of dunes that look more like a nude; and glittering cityscapes from the Photo-Secessionist period.

Altogether, Seeing Ourselves is an effective montage of American identity and history, but it is more effective as a tantalizing slice of the Eastman House's astonishing collection. Unlike many museum-generated exhibitions of photography, the individual pictures in this gathering are framed and presented in a great variety of ways, revealing the long and careful labor of assembling them into the collection in the first place. This non-homogenized presentation allows each object to retain its integrity so that the personality of each image is preserved rather than being subsumed by the overall theme of the exhibition.

By virtue of this approach, the show feels like not so much a unified presence as a gathering of individual wonders. That's what a collection is meant to be, and the greatness of the sum of these parts comes across mightily in this marvelous selection. Seeing Ourselves ends on May 9 (and then ends its tour) - be sure you don't miss it.