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Saturday, November 23, 2019

Quick Take: Ken Ragsdale at LGAP and Upstate Invitational at Laffer Gallery

Ken Ragsdale - A New Crop 2018, digital photograph
Two shows worth a look are going to end soon - maybe you can find a way to squeeze them in around the holiday crush.

Ken Ragsdale: Memory as Process Revisited, at the Lake George Arts Project's Courthouse Gallery through Dec. 6, is a mini-retrospective of one of the Capital Region's best-liked artists. Ragsdale is popular for several reasons, but that doesn't mean his work isn't challenging.

This collection of about 20 pieces includes a few earlier works, among them a charming tiny drawing from 1984, but the core of the show is a strong series of more recent, large framed photographs made in Ragsdale's signature style, in which he creates elaborate sets in white paper, then bathes them in washes of colored light before recording them with a camera. Ragsdale is drawing from visual memories of his childhood in the rural Northwest to create strikingly concrete (yet dreamlike) scenes of subtle, slow destruction.

This show is a great opportunity to get a sense of Ragsdale's process while enjoying a larger group of his work than has been exhibited in the area in quite some time.

Audrie Sturman
Vine 4, clay
In Schuylerville, Eric Laffer has accomplished the nearly impossible feat of keeping a fine art gallery going for about eight years, and his effort shows no signs of flagging. The Laffer Gallery is a beautiful space that consistently hosts strong shows of work by mostly regional artists, with a mix of painting, sculpture, ceramics, prints, and photography. The artists in the gallery's 7th Upstate Invitational, currently on view through Dec. 1, were selected by juror Laura Von Rosk from last year's annual juried group show at Laffer, an interesting arrangement whereby Laffer has delegated curatorial choice within his own space (this year's juried show, selected by Jon Gernon, will open on Dec. 7).

The featured artists, Fern Apfel, Robyn Morgan Giddings, and Audrie Sturman, hang well together, as all place great emphasis on form and color. Giddings and Apfel are painters with direct or indirect elements of paper collage, while Sturman is a ceramic sculptor working at a notably large scale for her medium. Sturman's many tower-like structures in this show are muscular and brash, with great textures and brightly glazed or painted surfaces.

Robyn Morgan Giddings
Stuffed 2, mixed media on canvas
Among the three, I am most impressed by Apfel, who I've followed for a long time, and who seems in recent years to have burst through into a marvelous world of abstraction. In her layered images, old-time ephemera are given new life with the vibrant colors of today. Nearly photographic realism contrasts with built-up areas and edges of paint to create complexity in these compositions.

Giddings' flat, often patterned painting approach emphasizes simplified interior elements (usually furniture) and combines them with photographic prints depicting items of clothing or flowers. I found this work rather decorative, and indeed it seems to be quite intentionally and unashamedly so. Overall, the Invitational is a highly appealing display in a very sophisticated, yet welcoming space. If you love art and haven't been to Laffer Gallery yet, you are long overdue.

Fern Apfel - The Monkey Applauds, acrylic and pen on board

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