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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Theme and Variations: Gail Nadeau at FMCC

An installation view of Angelus at FMCC
The show Angelus by Gail Nadeau at the Perrella Gallery of Fulton-Montgomery Community College in Johnstown raises a lot of wonderful questions. The very talented Nadeau works in digital media as well as traditional forms such as silver-based photography and oil paint, and all are present in this 60-piece installation.

Is it a retrospective? Well, there are images from 1985, 2014 and in-between. But, no, it’s not a retrospective. Is Nadeau a photographer, a painter, or what? Well, she does show photographs here, and very painterly mixed-media pieces. But, no, I wouldn’t call her either a photographer or a painter. Rather, I think printmaker would be the correct term.

Diamond Studded Dress with Rock
Are digital prints really art? Well, that depends. In this case, Nadeau presents a lot of digital prints, and 48 of them are of almost exactly the same composition – yet I feel that this display would convince even the most die-hard skeptic that this digital work is indeed art. And how is that? Well, let me tell you …

Among the intriguing selection of images in this collection are a handful of traditional black-and-white photographs (output as inkjet prints but, trust me, you won’t see the difference) and one rather large color photograph, which is the template for most of the other prints in the show. There are also a few  pieces that read as collage paintings, which use an inkjet print of a mixed-media image as the underpainting of the final creation.

The black-and-whites and the colorful combines all include female figures, from babies to girls to women to possible fairies or angels, and all are wearing flowing dresses. Nadeau explains in a quite readable artist statement her fascination with the dress as a touchstone and a symbol; then she treats it as her theme.

Using the one, simple composition from her original color photograph of a white christening gown suspended on a thin hanger flat against a wall, with a spray of wildflowers on the floor nearby and part of a framed picture on the wall, Nadeau riffs endlessly in a digital environment, adding color and texture, changing contrast, and slightly altering the compositional elements.

The Disappearance
The result is (perhaps surpri- singly) completely absorbing. Many of the images are very small (in fact, the largest are just 12 by 13 inches), but they are power-packed. The intimate nooks of the Perrella provide numerous spots for small groups of framed prints as well as single ones, and the gallery’s most prominent wall holds the show’s coup-de-grace, a stunning grid of 30 unframed prints with black borders.

The tininess of Nadeau’s smallest prints (they are about 3.5 by 4.5 inches) demands close inspection, and it is always richly rewarded. One group of three, at a distance, seems largely monochromatic; but up close, their muted tones reveal sparks of bright color. Many of the prints do use black, but often with such elaborate textures that they glitter like silver. Others use big spots of primaries like yellow or blue, thereby reaching out to grab us from across the room.

This body of work is about process, as is all true printmaking, and it is also about transformation. It is not to be missed.

Note: Angelus has been extended - it was to end on Oct. 31, but will now remain on view through Nov. 14. Gallery hours are M-F, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. or by appointment 518-736-3622 Ext. 8977.