Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Art talk at ALL Gallery opening

ALL Arts & Literature Laboratory
Erector Square, 319 Peck St. Building 2, New Haven, (203) 671-5175
Aug. 17—Sept. 23, 2007

At this past Saturday's artist reception at the ALL Gallery, they did something a little different. About five of the artists showing work in Transformations were on hand and gallery co-director Howard el-Yasin invited them to speak about their art. As el-Yasin noted, the show was "sculpturally based" and addressed the environment as a theme. Almost all the works incorporated found objects and most mixed organic materials—particularly, twigs and branches—with manufactured material.

Joe Saccio spoke first, about his work "Splitting." It consists of a dark creosote-soaked beam with extruded irregular lengths of rattan wood splitting the solid mass.

"When I found it, it was a perfect square with concentric circles perfectly centered," Saccio said of the beam, which he believes he probably obtained at a railroad yard. At the time, he said, he was working on a series where "other alien objects extruded from within a ground object." The splitting of the beam and the insertion of the clusters of rattan wood disrupt the symmetry of the square form and centered wood rings.

"I use the present participle 'splitting,'" Saccio explained, to indicate it is a process that might continue.

Peter Dellert's "Accretion" and "Gleaning," both displayed on the floor, are also part of a series. They are based, Dellert said, "on biomorphic forms—ideal forms found in nature." In this case, the kayak-like shapes are based on seeds. Dellert said that he was attracted to the difference between the scale of the work—each were approximately five feet long—versus "what you might find if you were walking in the woods."

The exteriors of the pieces are made out of opened and straightened tin 28-ounce tomato cans (rusted cans in the case of "Accretion").

"The material spoke to me as a skin. That it would work and lend an industrial quality," said Dellert. He is interested in viewers contemplating the pieces in terms of shape and form. But also, Dellert said as he lifted up "Gleaning" and lightly shook it, he would like viewers to think about what the objects might contain. As he shook it, something rattled around inside. (el-Yasin noted that the gallery does not encourage visitors to touch the artworks.)

Paul Sakren's "Tine Anns an Bolg" is part of his "Skin" series. Sakren used a large bolt of cheesecloth as a vessel. "Tine Anns an Bolg, which translates either as "fire in the bag" or "fire in the belly" references old Irish myth, as well as the discovery and history of "bog people"—preserved bodies of ancient Celts found in peat bogs. Sakren said that one of his initial thoughts was that the work would refer to the "fire in the belly" that spurs an artist to create. But as he delved into myth and ethnology, the story of the bog people and their relationship to fire informed the work.

"In the old days, every household had a fire, and they would keep it going throughout the year," Sakren said. And once each year, they would extinguish the fire and have a communal bonfire. And each household would take an ember home in the sack—nestled for safety within a rich ball of peat—and use that ember as the basis for the next year's fire.

"I was sort of working with time and age, trying to go back as far as I could. The bog people, they're dug out of the bogs. I'd like these 'skins' to evoke that lost world that we find relics of in the earth," explained Sakren.

"Attics of My Mind" is a wall sculpture by Fay Wood. Wood said that" most of my work tends to be circular. I don't know why; it just goes that way." This work is sort of a cutaway architectural interior within a circular frame. Wood used found objects and found paper-printed letterheads that her mother had stored in a trunk in the attic-to construct the sculpture and then added small light bulbs.

"The lighting I added later and it brought out the color," Wood said, noting that with lighting the contrasts are richer.

Having grown up on a farm in rural Harwinton, Connecticut, Mari Skarp bases her work on the theme of disappearing farmlands. She scavenges abandoned farm sites—before their transformation into McMansion subdivisions or big box mega-stores—for bones, roots, branches and lengths of wire. She assembles these found objects to make animals and paintings, "relics of these farms."

"Wire" is in the shape, Skarp said, of a "universal animal. It's not a farm animal or a wild animal" but it's supposed to represent both. It has an armature of welded steel over which Skarp added branches, sticks, twigs and shards of rusty metal trussed together by wire.

Skarp said she loved "the way it meshes into the floor." The gallery has a rough hewn natural wood floor that complements the wood and rust colors of "Wire." It seems to emerge organically from the floor. Skarp's other work, "Remnants IV," is comprised of painted pieces of old barns and other farm buildings.

"It's crud that's left over," said Skarp. "These are mish-mosh pieces. A lot of these barns fall apart over time and they would make patches on the wood." So she incorporated that idea of a patched-together structure and enhanced it with bracing dashes of paint.

Amelia deNeergaard's "Twig Field" is deceptive, looking simple but actually composed with complex elegance. Bright copper wire was used to connect twigs in a grid pattern. Hung against the wall, they cast a myriad of bone-like shadows. deNeergaard said she is "aware of calligraphic associations" and that she sought to create a "field that was very energized with a lot of movement."

"This was very labor intensive, wrapping each stick with wire," deNeergaard said. "It was like building a big jigsaw puzzle to put this together. I like that it has straight edges" but none of the pieces that make it up are straight.

One viewer noted that a lot of the twigs were y-shaped and asked whether that was intentional. deNeergaard said that it was. She has a lot of experience doing paintings, she said, with calligraphic marks and had even, at one point, designed her own alphabet. The y-shape—known as the "firca" in Latin, for fork—exists in many languages, she said. The forked sticks work well from a compositional standpoint, she noted.

"I've done pieces with straight sticks and they are a lot more static," said deNeergaard. "It helps to be able to triangulate things."

"I like branches and twigs. I live in Cornwall, which is very rural, and I like driving around in the winter and seeing the trees without their leaves," she said.

It's a fine show and it would have been interesting to hear from the other artists of such impressive pieces as Stephanie Victa's "Spiral of Horns" and Jason Lanka's "Plumb."

Contemporary art should be able to stand on its own, without explication. And the work at ALL Gallery does so. But the experience of viewing this art was enriched by hearing what the artists had to say about it.


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