Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Alternative Space: Short takes

City-Wide Open Studios
50 Orange St., New Haven, (203) 772-2709
Alternative Space: Short takes
Oct. 28-29, 2006.

Rashmi Talpade wasn't around when I stopped to peruse her photomontages. But, in lieu of having had a conversation with her about them, I can quote from her artist's statement. She was, she wrote, "building a new landscape out of fractions of everyday life that are harmonious but at the same time full of contradictions."

They were urban landscape collages assembled out of cut photographs. If not a commentary on overpopulation—although there were few if any people in them—they could have been. Almost chaotic abstractions, they offered a vertiginous assault of imagery in which the multitudinous different parts formed a coherent whole.

But the certainly aren't the sum total of her work. I flipped through her portfolio book, perusing page after page of ink line drawings. There were Escher-esque wood forms and fantasy art trees and dragons. I would have liked to as her about the process by which she goes from one artistic approach to another.


Ben Westbrock's acrylic on board works were influenced by time spent in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. Westbrock has been down there for 2—3 months a year for at least the past five or six years, he said. He has been doing some cacti drawings and wall pieces in clay from cacti. Cacti forms made appearances in both his multi-paneled work and in a separate painting.

"There's something about Mexico—its light, its energy, its people—that's very powerful," Westbrock told me.


"Are you feeling brave?" That was the question Ellen Hackl Fagan asked me. I had just finished entering data into her PowerBook G4 laptop for an arts-related experiment she was conducting.

Fagan was inviting visitors to sit down, listen to short music clips and then click on the color swatch that we thought best correlated with the music we had just heard. She was constructing, she said, a "color organ," making a correlation between color and sound, "building the palette and data." I listened to excerpts of songs by Wilco and Frank Zappa, among others, and then clicked on what felt like an appropriate color selection.

The bravery was called for in the next step. Fagan had spectrum panels mounted on the wall. Would I sing notes to match different panels? Um, maybe, okay—now that everybody else has left the room. She picked up a camcorder to videotape me. Pointing to different panels I improvised sounds, mostly single notes although I scatted a little non-verbal riff to one color. Fagan said that certain colors predictably trigger a high or low note.

I was running out of time so I couldn't advance to the next step. Fagan was asking for musical responses to a series of multimedia panels. Unlike the monochrome spectrum panels, these emphasized texture and free-form abstract shapes. It was probably just as well that I had to go. These panels might have required me to sing chords, like Tuvan throat singers. They brought to mind Frank Zappa's quote, "You can't always write a chord ugly enough to say what you want to say, so sometimes you have to rely on a giraffe filled with whipped cream." And I didn't have a giraffe. (Which is not to say that the panels were ugly, just that they deserved more than a major or minor triad.)


Mark and Karen Allen are a husband and wife artistic team. Mark does graphite aka pencil drawings derived from photographs by Karen. They were showing primarily street scenes—drawings of people walking through urban environments. The draftsmanship was very impressive. "Street Scene #1-Down Comes the Rain" was particularly notable for the way Mark Allen captured the blur of motion by the figure on the left.


Craig Gilbert, a colleague from my days at the New Haven Advocate, was hanging out at the entrance to the showers in the girls' locker room. Dating back to his college days, Gilbert had doodled bubble-like imagery. So his location made sense in a non-creepy way.

"It's just a design that I've always doodled and it occurred to me to blow it up and do it larger," he said. He was showing a number of abstract pen-and-ink drawings with the bubble forms. But he also had painted one of the corners with the bubbles writ large.

"I threw up the white and filled in the black acrylic paint [outlines] with a 1/4-inch brush," Gilbert said.

"Yesterday, I had at least a dozen different interpretations of what this is," Gilbert told me on Sunday. "People would come in and say, 'Oh, bacteria,' or a biologist would come in and say, 'Give me your email address so I can send you a picture of something that looks just like that.' 'Oh, sea foam, that's wonderful!' And people have come in and had spiritual explanations—how it's all connected.

"The maintenance guy came in and said, 'Soap bubbles in the shower. It makes sense,' and then walked out," said Gilbert.


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