Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Monday, November 05, 2007

East Neighborhoods: Short takes

City-Wide Open Studios
50 Orange St., New Haven, (203) 772-2709
East Neighborhoods: Short takes
Oct. 22, 2007.

I will take any opportunity I have to write about the work of Gerald Saladyga. I visited his studio at 39 Church Street on the second day of the neighborhoods weekend. As usual, I was dazzled by his paintings.

Every year his work just gets better and better. He is extending his signature style, adding complexity to his compositions and exploring a richness of color and texture that is stunning.

As I wrote last year, Saladyga views his seemingly abstract paintings as landscapes. He told me that most of the new works he was showing his studios are "landscapes after the battle." In the wake of devastation, life after the battle, he noted, can be "just as bad as the battle."

When I replied that his paintings were so beautiful, he responded that "devastation can be beautiful." It wasn't a nihilistic statement. Gesturing out his window, he said that the ruins of the old Macy's building—in the process of being demolished across the street—were striking when viewed at sunset.

One work that particularly impressed me was the large painting "Postcards After the Apocalypse." As with most of his paintings, there were areas in the image where he had created textures that looked like detailed Renaissance engravings revisited as abstraction.

"I put down the yellow and then put a light wash of black paint on it, very thin. I've learned how to manipulate it with crumpled paper," Saladyga told me.

"Postcards After the Apocalypse" also incorporated an old icon he used to use in his works: a silhouette of a bomb. As he continues to enrich his visual language, Saladyga isn't averse to rummaging through his past work for useful material.


Stephen Grossman has a studio on the same floor as Saladyga. Over the past couple of years, Grossman has been painting objects and their shadows. He started with an amaryllis flower, shining a halogen lamp on it and then painting the shadows. For the Artspace show 101 Dresses, he used the same approach on a doll's dress. Painting with gouache, Grossman captured not just the primary shadow but the secondary halos surrounding it.

Invited by Saladyga to be part of the show Environmental Visions: Beauty and Fragility at Haskins Laboratories, Grossman was interested in painting "another life form that's not vegetation." He had been thinking about the idea of fish as food. And while he is Jewish, it brought to mind the Christian parable of the loaves and fishes, and the symbolism of fish as representing "man's ability to feed himself."

"Fish is an interesting icon of nature and human use of nature to fulfill our needs," Grossman told me.

In painting plants, he had been intrigued by their little interior spaces where light gets trapped and reflected. With the fish he was painting, he had the flesh removed to expose some of the skeleton. The dead fish was suspended by a wire and had one light on it.

"I use a pretty intense halogen lamp so it's really lit. I freeze the fish so it doesn't smell and stays rigid. With the bright light on it, they drip. The light through the water drips will affect the picture," said Grossman.

The first fish picture was a vertical image, just the fish hanging, head up. But Grossman wanted to do a horizontal painting. The eviscerated fish in "Fish Out of Water #3," the oil painting Grossman was showing at his studio, was trailed by a gathering of circles. Given the context, I read them as bubbles.

"I would rather you read it as though the orange surface is cut away and the green [of the bubbles] is behind it," said Grossman.

There were several portrait images of a woman displayed, in various stages of completion. They are something of an elegy to Grossman's mother, who died last year.

"My father, after she died, was obsessively scanning in old photographs and sending them to us," Grossman told me. Many of these were images taken of his mother before he was born.

One of the paintings was based on a small yearbook picture of his mother. It was blown up to 8x10 by his father and then to 24x30 by Grossman, fostering pixel anomalies that become part of the visual statement. Grossman gets his blow-up printed and then traces it onto the painting surface using graphite transfer paper. He creates his own version of paint-by-numbers to depict the gradations in the painting. The monochromatic paintings are partially about the way the digitized images are broken down (a metaphor for memory as channeled through pixels).


In the new paintings in Michael Mancari's 39 Church Street studio, there are layers of stenciled imagery and free painting. It is hard to tell where some areas are foreground imagery or background. They resonate as abstractions, but like the work of Gerald Saladyga, they are—for Mancari—landscapes. Specifically, cityscapes.

"I think of them as excavations. I excavate layers and each layer is a layer back into history, something that's manmade and natural," Mancari told me.

Mancari had initially started out creating and cutting hand-drawn stencils. But he quickly "said the hell with that. I was spending three hours drawing a stencil." He now uses Adobe Illustrator software to design the stencils and a vinyl graphic cutter to cut them.

He is exploring the interpenetration of the natural and the manmade, the imposition of the geometric and manufactured on the chaotic and violent, yet beautiful, realm of nature. But nature also pushes back. As Mancari said to me, "Another thing that goes into it is decadence. Time exists and it takes [the manmade world] apart slowly."

Of these paintings, Mancari said, "They are topographical or, almost in the sense of Asian ink wash drawings, like a floating world. They are a different kind of space."

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