Get Visual is the grateful recipient of a grant from The Christos N. Apostle Charitable Trust

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Metroland - RIP?

Today marks the third Thursday without a Metroland since the alt weekly's office was seized by the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance for unpaid tax bills, and the feeling that it will never publish again is sinking in. (You can read the details in this Times Union article by Paul Grondahl.) Along with thousands of other individuals and hundreds of businesses, I miss it already.

My own connections to Metroland  are many and deep - it was founded 38 years ago by my niece Amy's other uncle, Peter Iselin, a very talented musician whose disco-inspired venture into publishing lasted a surprisingly long time. But Peter was never great at the business end of the deal, and thefre was visible evidence of that early on.

My own favorite recollection from the middle 1980s featured weekly sprints by staffers from the Metroland offices at 4 Central Avenue to cash their paychecks at the bank up the street before the account ran dry. I had a front-row seat to this competition from my shop window on Washington Avenue, and always enjoyed the show.

Things got a little better when Steve Leon took the helm. I freelanced for the paper under Steve in three stints totaling seven or eight years spread over three decades, initially as a photographer and then mainly as a writer, covering a variety of subjects including art (no surprise) and professional basketball (in the heyday of the Albany Patroons).

The rates for freelancers were pretty generous, and I always got paid, though it sometimes took a while. But then the pay lag began to stretch too far, so I asked for a meeting with Steve to clarify my need to get paid timely enough to cover my rent. That's when he showed me a ledger that revealed 120-day accounts payable for advertising that totaled a quarter of a million dollars. This was about 10 years ago - before the Great Recession stepped up and began wiping out newspapers all over the country.

After I quit the paper for the last time, I learned from other freelancers who had hung on that Metroland's debt to them had extended well beyond a year and had mounted into the thousands of dollars for many individuals. To me, this was unforgivable - the paper was essentially floating an interest-free loan on the backs of struggling journalists - yet I still eagerly grabbed and read it every week. Except, of course, in those weeks when it didn't get distributed because the delivery people were also fed up with waiting for their money.

So, when this month's news revealed the paper's tax problems with the state, I couldn't have been less surprised. Also, it rang another personal bell - I worked as a state tax collector from 2012-14. And, from that experience, I could guess that Metroland was buried in debt to the IRS as well, not to mention imaginable lines of other creditors. In another small twist for me, I also learned that another former employer of mine (The Daily Gazette, where I worked for 13 years as an editor) might have wanted to buy Metroland if the debts could have been cleared up.

Now it seems that one possibility is lost, and it's a loss for all of us. Metroland - thanks for a really great run.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Fiber Currents/Current Fiber at FMCC

Patricia Kennedy-Zafred - Childhood Lost: The Doffer Boys, mixed-media cotton quilt
A long wished-for exhibition is now a reality at Fulton-Montgomery Community College's Perrella Gallery in Johnstown. Gallery Director Joel Chapin wanted a national fiber show, but needed expert help in creating it. He found that help in the form of Bleecker fiber artist Judith Plotner, who agreed to take on the project - the result is Fiber Currents/Current Fiber, on view through Dec. 18.

A first-time (and, according to her, also last-time) curator, Plotner has ably organized a diverse selection of 21 artists from all over the United States to fill this clean and pleasant (if somewhat tight) space with high-quality and engaging fiber-based work. These are not your great-grandmother's log cabin quilts (though quilting is strongly present); rather, this is contemporary art by top-shelf makers who utilize cloth, thread, vines, wire, plastic - and much more - to realize their personal visions.

Judith Content - Icarus, dyed satin silk
I'm a color guy, and my expectation to be dazzled by bright, rich fabrics was immediately fulfilled: The largest piece in the show is visible straight across from the entrance, and it positively glows with the energy of a brilliant palette. Pat Pauly (Rochester, N.Y.) hand-cut, hand-pieced, and hand-quilted numerous vividly printed and dyed fabrics to create the 6-foot-by-7-foot Pink Leaf 4 (yellow), a nature-inspired abstract that would rival any modern painting. It also graces the cover of a handsome catalog that was produced for the show and features full-page color reproductions of each work in Fiber Currents.

Emily Dvorin - Kid Stuff, mixed media
Judith Content (Palo Alto, Calif.) also drew my attention with her shibori dyed silk satin hanging Icarus, which updates the Greek myth, takes it east via a kimono shape, and drenches it in a rainbow of colors. Other explosions of color come from two of the four sculptural pieces in the show: Emily Dvorin's (Kentfield, Calif.) irresistible Kid Stuff incorporates dollar-store materials into a playful basket form; and Jill Rumoshosky Werner (Bella Vista, Ariz.) presents a snaking belt of multi-hued cotton that loops out of a propped-open clamshell box. Both pieces, being quite animated, are a welcome break from the preponderance of wall-hung work.

Judith Plotner - Brooklyn Ensemble
printed, stitched and painted canvas
On the other end of the spectrum, many works here use a limited palette, and many of those incorporate images derived from photographs, often applying them to the fabric with printmaking techniques. This is a successful strategy that can add texture as well as content to the works, and set them apart from their siblings in the craft world. Among these pieces are a few that take on social issues, such as Patricia Kennedy-Zafred's (Murrysville, Pa.) haunting and beautiful Childhood Lost: The Doffer Boys (pictured at the top of this post), Linda Kolsh's (Middletown, Md.) masterfully delicate Twilight, and Plotner's own Brooklyn Ensemble.

In addition to Plotner, Niskayuna's Lori Lupe Pelish and Russell Serrianne of Glens Falls (the show's lone male participant), represent the greater Capital Region. Serrianne's use of shellacked grape vines perhaps pushes the definition of fiber the furthest - along with New York City artist Nancy Koenigsberg's Melon, a "drawing in metal" that uses nothing but copper wire to depict a pumpkin-ish fruit.

Lori Lupe Pelish - The Circus Life
appliqued, embroidered and quilted fabric
Pelish uses elaborate piecing technique to create detailed portraits out of printed fabric, as in The Circus Life, while other artists in the show achieve a similar richness by combining imagery with heavy stitching, especially Dominie Nash (Bethesda, Md.) and Wen Redmond (Strafford, N.H). Still others achieve these depths with stitching and surface treatment alone, including Kevan Lunney (East Brunswick, N.J.) and Sue Cavanaugh (Columbus, Ohio), whose triptych Ori-Kume #31 is among the most impressive works in the show, both technically and in its effect on the viewer.

Many of the artists in Fiber Currents incorporate words into their work, often for political purposes (such as Highland Park, Ill.'s Kathy Weaver, work pictured below), which places this show squarely in the postmodern time frame - a time when artists have pushed all kinds of boundaries. Though here the primary boundary is one of materials (and it is well stretched by the artists included) it makes sense that these same artists are stretching other boundaries as well.

Kathy Weaver - Habeus Corpus-The Great Writ
nylon line and airbrushed, hand-stitched cotton

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Many Rivers at Saratoga Arts

Frank Wimberley - Blue Wave, 1982 acrylic on canvas 
If you don't want to miss the Saratoga Arts exhibition Many Rivers, which celebrates the 40-year history of Black Dimensions in Art, Inc., go now, because it ends on Nov. 7.

I'm glad I caught it, even if toward the last minute, because it is a rich compendium of outstanding artists in many media, and because it is a thoughtfully curated show with a compelling theme. Organized by Stephen J. Tyson and Stanwyck E. Cromwell (who also both have work in the show), Many Rivers includes more than 40 works by 21 artists from a broad geography - mostly local, but with roots from many distant lands and islands.

Daesha Devon Harris - My Soul has Grown
Deep Like the Rivers,
2012 mixed media 
The title theme was presented to each artist (or artist's estate) with a request to provide work in response to it  - so, not unexpectedly, water does predominate, However, the show is grouped into sub-themes that suggest other topics, such as abstraction, light, cultural history, storytelling, travel, and more. The purpose of the BDA is to give support to artists of the African diaspora, so one finds works here that express this reality - for example, a brightly colored, thickly painted oil by Cromwell titled Allusions of Home, which conjures up his memories and (possibly) dreams of a Guyana he hasn't seen in decades, or Robert Charles Hudson's 2015 Shoofly, a painting the colors and patterns of which evoke centuries of folk art, underscored by his incorporation of a quilted square in its center.

Hudson's combination of disparate media is right in the mainstream of this show - I was struck by the preponderance of collage elements through about half of the work, including Hollis King's wry and lovely graphic Beehive Lady, Elizabeth Zunon's charming children's book illustration I can hear that whistle blow ... and Femi Johnson's Black Betty the Mermaid, which is simultaneously seductive and threatening. Perhaps the best of these mixed-media creations is Daesha Devon Harris' trio of manipulated and embellished photographs, which are placed behind glass that's etched with compelling snippets of folk writing.

Betty Blayton - Ancestor Bearing Light, 2007
acrylic and mixed media on canvas
I was also struck by the deep streak of abstract expressionism in the show, best exemplified by three exquisite paintings from the great Frank Wimberley, but also strongly represented in works by Betty Blayton, who includes three sweet tondo paintings partially inspired by jazz, and Tyson's snappy black-white-and-red acrylic inspired by the decorated dwellings of his forebears in Burkina Faso and Ghana. Also particularly worthy of note are three paintings on paper by Herbert Gentry, who died in 2003, and had a long career in France (like many African-American jazz musicians) - one immediately picks up on the mid-century Frenchness of these remarkably fresh works.

Though the show is a retrospective of sorts, a healthy chunk of the work is dated 2015, so it lives more in the present of these artists - and the broad movement they represent - than it does in the past, which suggests a potent future for the BDA organization as it enters its fifth decade. Kudos to the organizers and to Saratoga Arts for presenting this fine collection.

Elizabeth Zunon - I can hear that whistle blow ... , 2009 oil paint and collage