In Sharon Pierce’s work there are hundreds of tiny, tiny figures and objects suspended in acrylic gel and held in suspense forever. I am reminded in a strange way of the ruins of Pompeii; this is a miniaturized and plasticized version of a culture arrested in motion. The work is funny, alluding to our obsession with consuming products, many of which are packaged in the very same things we see here in a gallery context. This work mimics us and mocks us. It also reminds me of the work of artist Charles LeDray, but the inverse. He actually fabricates the small world he invents and everything in it. Pierce fabricates nothing – which is part of the point of the work.
We see into and through these objects – molds, cones, salt and pepper shakers, hanging drops, bags and test tubes. Here’s what we see inside – a world populated with men and women on cell phones, tiny and larger babies, animals, fish, divers, swimmers, boats, men working, various kinds of food like cupcakes, and the Pope. They are all isolated, mute, inhabitants of a terrible dystopian world. Yet from a distance you cannot see any of this – the objects are shiny and reflective, casting shadows on the wall, lovely abstractions.
Jeanne Griffin’s small paintings also evoke another world, their colors from an exotic landscape. She is inspired by her travels to Nepal and Bhutan, and uses Indonesian tjaps in making her work. Griffin uses this tool, which is typically used in batik fabric printing, to burn patterns into her encaustic paintings. Additional techniques involve inscribing into or painting over parts of the original image. The paintings are an equivalence of landscape, pattern, and cloth. One imagines seeing the landscape from above, a hyper-saturated palette not of this locale, each one an isolated moment and memory. The artist exists outside the cultures she is attracted to,creating her own language of form and content, to visualize and make manifest for the viewer what she remembers.
Our first Kingston Gallery event, Where The Heart Lives, on June 2, the last day of Ilona Anderson’s exhibit, What One Is, drew a great crowd, despite the heat, and sparked a terrific discussion. The conversation focused on the theme of visual artists who are not working in their country of origin, and whether that fact influences the life and work of the artist. We invited Ambreen Butt (Pakistan), Natasha Bregel (Russia/Israel), Karen Meninno (India/UK), Gupi Ranganathan (India), and Ahmed Abdalla (Egypt) to join Ilona Anderson to explore the topic, which is an especially pertinent issue in light of the recent events and national debate around immigration.
The artists took the opportunity to speak more from the ‘heart’ than they would otherwise do in a public forum. We plan to have more such events as it allowed artists to engage on a more personal level and to hear from them how their lives are reflected in their work:
“Though I have always resisted categorizing myself as a “multicultural” artist, my two immigrations (as a child from Russia to Israel, and as a teenager from Israel to the United States) have shaped my experience, and probably world view, and do affect my work. I do see how much I rely on a sense of dislocation to engage with my work, often choosing to depict the places with which I now have an outsider’s connection. In this discussion some of the other immigrant artists also talked about looking from the outside in, but others seemed to see themselves as “citizens of the world”. And there was so much more to discuss than time and the consideration of an audience could allow!”
“It was a pleasure to be with other artists who have similar, and dissimilar, experiences with coming from other places. The most interesting thing for me is investigate how much that life experience does permeate the art that we make.”
We thank our speakers and audience for helping make this first event a success, and look forward to planning many more!
Yesterday I had the opportunity to see again the current exhibit, Ilona Anderson’s What One Is, which along with Karen Meninno’s exhibit, Sculpture Remix II in the Member’s Gallery, will be up through June 2 at the Kingston Gallery.
I was drawn again to the many small moments and the repertoire of characters, which inhabit the walls of the installation. As I walked through the literal and figurative space, I was under the spell of the theatricality of the work, and the connection of all the figures to each other. They exist within a frame that is simultaneously interior and exterior, implying both architectural and natural spaces. Who are they? What story do they tell? Whose story is it? What are their secrets? I look forward to the artist revealing the relationship of these players to each other, to her South African roots, and perhaps how they are a way of visually integrating both the past and her homeland to the present. She will have the opportunity to do so in the upcoming panel discussion: Where The Heart Lives on the last day of the exhibit. Please see below for a description of the event. We look forward to a terrific discussion!
Panel discussion: Where The Heart Lives
Closing event for the exhibit – Ilona Anderson: What One Is
Sunday June 2, 4:00-5:00 pm
Reception to follow
Kingston Gallery is hosting Where the Heart Lives – a special event focused on the theme of visual artists who, like Ilona Anderson, are not working in their country of origin, and how that fact pervades the life and work of the artist. To quote Anderson: “Although I have lived in America for many years now, South Africa permeates my experience. Between these two poles my work dangles.” This will be a fascinating topic in light of the recent events and national debate around immigration.
Last Tuesday, the first of what will continue as Public Relations Hours (the next one will be May 28 from 2-4pm), I had the opportunity to see again the current exhibit, Ilona Anderson’s solo exhibit What One Is, up through June 2 at the Kingston Gallery.
My thoughts mimicked the work I was experiencing – here are some of them:
I keep thinking about Guston. Phillip Guston and his remarkable mark making, at once robust, awkward and perfect.
The overall gesture of the installation is both obsessive and delicate.
Thinking about theater – the drawing installation in the space of the gallery is like an unfolding proscenium.
The color black and the black of the paper – a curtain drawn back – revealing.
Reminded of William Kentridge – not only as a fellow South African artist but also for his love of and relationship to theater.
Thinking about dreaming, the work dreaming of itself.
The narrative unfolds and then folds back on itself.
Up close – many of the repeated images are exquisite.
The everyday turned inside out.
The reoccurring images:
Reclining female figures, their hair becomes chains
The zebra, sometimes two zebras
Tilted disembodied heads atop female figures
Plumbing and wooden elements, painted with florescent paints – their nuances missed from a distance
Ladders, so many references:
Link between this world and the one beyond
Between consciousness and unconsciousness
Between now and the past
Ladders leading someplace, leading nowhere
Passages where the work leaks out – onto the wall.
Breaking the fourth wall – in theater what separates the audience from the physical stage, that leap of faith.
The work contains so many ideas/images – sometimes it does not contain them.
The artist seems to say, this is just paint, just material.
She pushes against the constraints of what she has set for herself in the space, urging the work to become unconstrained by those geometric shapes.
The drawings want to exit.
Move beyond the limitations of the edges of the support.
New member Kathleen Gerdon Archer has work in the three-person exhibition 3×3, Portraits, Prints & Paintings at the Pingree School in Hamilton, MA, through May 10. Her work will also be included in the Cambridge Art Association’s National Prize Show, May 15 – July 11 in Cambridge, MA. The National Prize Show was juried by Toby Kamps, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Menil Collection, Houston, TX.
This is the last weekend for the current exhibits at the Kingston Gallery.
Karen Meninno’s Sculpture Remix, Robert Maloney’s Points of Intersection and Susan Scott’s show RighteousOrdinary are up through April 30.
I was struck on this visit by the desire of all three artists to “push” the materials, stretching expectations of what those materials do and what they signify. The artists seek to expand and challenge the limitations of their chosen forms. Collectively these artists push the boundaries of sculpture, painting, and photography. The hybridization of disciplines and materials changes our understanding of what has long separated the forms. Constructed paintings, sculptures transformed by photography, collages that become sculptures – by pushing the expectations the artists also expose the process of making.
They (and the work) seem to say: What if I did this? What if I added that? What would I see? What would the viewer see?
A few doors down, the current exhibit Shifiting Horizon, recent work by Lisa Sigal in the neighboring Samson Projects gallery also resonates with this discussion and, like the exhibits at the Kingston Gallery, is not be missed.
Susan Still Scott’s show “Righteous Ordinary” is on view in the Members’ Gallery during the month of April, 2013. Recently, I interviewed her by phone and email to try to enrich my understanding of this intriguing body of work. — Linda L. Brown
LLB: I am interested in the show title Righteous Ordinary as an entry into the work. How does the word “Righteous” inform, nuance, support or contradict the term “Ordinary”?
SSS: Righteous Ordinary is meant to be a contradiction of sorts in the way that opposing elements provide friction. Though really the two words don’t negate each other in any way. They are just an uncommon pair. Most of my titles are free associations. I try not to overthink them. They’re not literal. I go by how they sound and how they feel. I keep running lists of words that occur to me when I’m working. If you look at the walls in my studio, there are little words in pencil around the room. When it’s time to do a show, I go around and look for the right combinations of words for titles. It works for me because this way the words have already been there for some time, part of a longer, larger stream of consciousness, that’s part of the space of my studio. In this case, Righteous was a word used over and over again in a novel I was reading by Cheryl Strayed. She used it in a sympathetic way meaning that something simply had a right to be, that it was natural and good, without pomp or ceremony or ego. It just was as it should be and had every right to be. It was not to be dismissed or passed over lightly. Ordinary happens all the time, but is no less important than anything else. My work is made out of ordinary art materials, ordinary found objects and materials. I use things that seem to me full of possibility and that refer, literally or obliquely, to some kind of function or purpose that I can imagine using in a painting.
LLB: Do you consider these works to be paintings or “paint things”?
SSS: My work has been called constructed paintings and painted sculptures. I don’t really think about what to call them. My background is painting. I feel I look at things in a way that is centered around image — how we are looking at something. The time I spent in Italy seeing and studying the work of the earliest Renaissance painters in person was formational in ways I don’t think I realized then. All of those paintings were intended for specific situations, whether it was an altarpiece panel, the focal point of a chapel, or a small devotional piece. Cimabue’s Crucifixion at San Croce in Florence taught me how powerful a work of art can be — not in the religious sense — I’m not Catholic. It’s a massive shaped panel suspended from the ceiling alone, in it’s own space, far from the wall that serves as its backdrop. It’s a painting and an object with a terrific presence.
At the Boston Museum of Fine Arts there’s a Duccio — a portable tabletop size altarpiece. The panels have hinges so they close and they’re painted on both sides. The center panel contains stacked and layered space balanced beautifully with the absolute flatness of gold leaf. This panel’s frame is painted pictorially with a differently scaled reality above. There’s a distinction between how the central and peripheral images are meant to be read; they have different meanings.
The Fra Angelicos in the monks’ cells in San Marco in Florence have everything to do with placement and proximity to the viewer and they are sublimely integrated into the architecture of the monastery. This art is intended to be instructional. A lot of it is meant to be contemplated for hours, in silence. In contrast, on a public level, a masterpiece and an exquisite example of drawing and sculpture combined, is Ghiberti’s North Doors on the Florence Baptistry, dubbed the Gates of Paradise by Michelangelo. The doors tower above the people looking at them. The perspective, scale and surface take that into account. These artists formed our idea of what Western art is. They had no trouble straddling a two-dimensional/three-dimensional divide because for them it wasn’t there. I think for them it was a continuum — flat space, deep space and our space. I absorbed all of this early on in my education, and I believe it had a lot to do with how I look at all the other art I have learned about since. I still love this work, especially the Cimabue…
LLB: The rational, the emotive, the relational all seem to have a place within your work. How do you balance these modes of address to your viewers? Do you consider one to be more important than the others in this work?
SSS: I like that you see multiple aspects. My work does contain the each of qualities you mention, but when I’m working on them I’m not thinking in terms of emphasizing one more than another. It’s more like an orchestration of relationships between the materials and between myself and the whole of the piece. I’m always trying to learn new ways to work that either encourage unexpected situations or lead to results I couldn’t predict. I like to be in a state where I’m not sure what my next move will be. It may be a rational response to a practical issue, like “how is this thing going to stay on the wall?” but the solution has to consider to the rest of the painting overall. That’s the wholeness of the piece.
A singular work of art has all of its aspects working together. It may not necessarily be harmonious, but it can’t be devoid of an overall sense of what it is. Most of my pieces are problematic, compromised in some way — but the idea is to work with that. Maybe that has something to do with the careful consideration that goes into each piece, because it all matters, down from the overall form, tonality, texture and timing down to something that may seem inconsequential, like a bit of colored thread hanging off the side.
LLB: Issues of presentation seem to be highlighted in this body of work. The way each piece relates to the wall or its support seems crucial to its personality and meaning. What is it about this relationship that is so interesting to you?
SSS: I did play more with presentation with this work than I have before. It seemed like a natural extension of the piece out into the space of the gallery. In terms of art history, images have been coming out of their frames for some time now — canvas from its support, sculpture from its pedestal… I’m not pushing the idea further as much as I feel I’m re-enacting it with some of these pieces. It may be a way to imbue strictly formal abstraction an element of narrative. I want people to wonder how did the painting get this way?
LLB: it seems as if Necessity in an evolutionary sense has become issue for you- the work bears traces of your responses to circumstances, and of solving problems.
SSS: It’s a kind of acknowledgment, an acceptance of the circumstances at hand. I want to explore this idea more — the idea of one’s response to the conditions of reality. For instance, one piece has a metal handle on the back that is kind of awkward. It appears that the work has “evolved” this handle. Or maybe it was forced onto it. I like finding humor in the absurdity of our habits and assumptions-why do we do things the way we do?
LLB: Right. It seems we all have adapted to the circumstantial environments of our lives with various kinds of “handles.”
On a recent rainy Friday, I had the pleasure of visiting and considering again the current exhibits – Karen Meninno in the Main Gallery and Robert Maloney in the Center Gallery. These exhibits and Susan Scott’s show Righteous Ordinary are up through April 30 at the Kingston Gallery.
Inspired by architecture and a recent trip to Rome, Karen Meninno’s work, which gestated as small sculptural elements, has evolved to digital wall coverings, displayed as scrolls of almost hallucinatory endless patterns. At first you don’t know what you are looking at – highly decorative, jewel-like images that reflect and mirror themselves. Totems of repetition, shape and colors evocative of another culture, they become both a hybrid and a translation, from sculptural objects to repeated patterns of pure delight. Her work resonates with a strong trend in Europe and here in the States of artists working in a variety of mediums who are creating wallpaper as part of their practice. She is aware of and inspired by many of them, like Kiki Smith, who work with Studio Printworks in New York. The artist seems poised to take orders!
Robert Maloney is also interested in the city, and takes us on a wonderful ride in a postindustrial world. His pieces straddle the line between structures being torn down and those being erected, as well as the elements of modern life that go unnoticed. A recent article in the New York Times, The Poetry in the Ruins of New York speaks to Maloney’s eye and his interest in this subject, and also alerts us to what is unseen. His wall of prints of repeated images push the medium, and explore a place, which becomes, through the treatment of the materials themselves, something new and knowable. A highlight of the exhibit is one of the small evocative sculptures, situated in a high corner, attached to the ceiling, which further explores the edges and disregarded parts of our urban environment. These seem to be an especially strong new direction for the artist, and one that this viewer hopes he continues to follow, bringing his viewers with him.