Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Erector Square: Mary Lesser & Judy Atlas

City-Wide Open Studios
50 Orange St., New Haven, (203) 772-2709
Erector Square: Mary Lesser & Judy Atlas
Oct. 15, 2006.

Perusing Mary Lesser's Postcards from the Road series of miniature paintings, I felt the spirit of Jack Kerouac looking over my shoulder. A couple of dozen of the postcard-sized landscapes-rendered in gouache on paper-were displayed on the wall of her studio. I recognized an Art Deco overpass as being on the Merritt Parkway. Lesser pointed out another "postcard," this one depicting a section of the Wilbur Cross Parkway. There were scenes of bucolic rural drives and of turnpikes barreling past industrial outcroppings on the urban fringe.

Lesser's husband David is a rare book dealer and they hit the road regularly looking for books.

"I've got nothing to do but think of how to make art out of it," Lesser told me. "I ought to make a book out of it—Travels with Mary!

"A lot of times the books he's looking for are in the big cities but we try and take back roads," Lesser continued. She pointed out a "postcard" that was the fruit of one such off-the-beaten-path trek: a Georgia shack sporting one sign reading "Hi's BBQ" and, incongruously, another offering "Beauty Supplies."

On the facing wall, Lesser was showing larger works, a series started after 9/11. Lesser said she found viewers' reactions to the works to be "interesting."

"Some find them really joyful—actually, 'playful' was the word, not 'joyful'—but I find them bleak," said Lesser. She described them as "urban scenes of destruction" (see photo). Things are falling out of the skies as planes fly overhead. City buildings teeter on the brink of collapse. "But I'm happy. It's nice to have a contrast between playful and bleak." Perhaps it's the lively colors.

Printmaker and watercolorist Judy Atlas was sharing Lesser's studio to show some of her monotype prints and paintings.

"The beauty of monotyping is that it could go through [the press] once and you say 'this is great. But what if I add color, or depth?' So that's why there is a lot of surface depth from front to back," Atlas told me about her approach. "I work in layers and push things. It's all about process. I can't be too wedded to my original idea."

This desire to explore crops up in her watercolor work. In the paintings shown, the pigment was applied with very little water. They have more of a pastel-like quality than the traditional translucence associated with watercolors.

"I like to push the edge and not do it the way everybody has been doing it all these years," said Atlas.


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