Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Limitations schlimitations

John Slade Ely House Center for Contemporary Art
51 Trumbull Street, New Haven, (203) 624-8055
Black + White and Red Upstairs
Through Dec. 9, 2007

According to John Slade Ely House curator Paul Clabby, he was "thinking about how black and white represents clarity. Red is a very subjective symbolic color—the opposite of clarity, relatively."

Clabby noted that in a book by Oliver Sacks, one of Sacks' patients loses the ability to see color after bumping his head in a car accident. All he could see after the accident was black, white and shades of gray. But, Clabby told me, Sacks wrote that his patient soon began to see more detail, see further and see patterns he hadn't seen before.

"I was thinking how in some way those patients have what we would look at as limitations but their world is complete for them," said Clabby. "It's the same with artwork that is black and white, or red. It can be complete, not lacking in anything. The irony is that I had a hard time finding red works that were good. Black and white took care of itself." For anyone has been visiting a number of shows around town this past year, or Open Studios, there are a number of pieces in this show that will be familiar.

The exhibition title, Black + White and Red Upstairs, is a play on an old riddle as well as a straightforward description of the curatorial arrangement. On the first floor are all works executed in the range of black/white/gray monochromaticism. Works in which red is a prominent-although not only-color occupy the hallway and rooms of the second floor.

These limitations seem like no limitations at all, at least as far as the presentation of a range of media is concerned. Jemma Williams and Meg Hunt used soft sculpture to create "Big Mama," a fanciful octopus. Williams did the sewing and Hunt illustrated the work. It is quilted and decorated with acrylic painted illustrations of fanciful sea creatures on the dark bands of its tentacles. Among the black and white works is Alexis Brown's "Murder of Crow Series, I-IV," a set of woodblock prints. Brown, who I profiled during City-Wide Open Studios in 2006, has a gift for imbuing her imagery of animals with active grace.

Deirdre Schiffer
also offers prints, in her case a series of primarily monochromatic monotypes of the CAW [Create Arts Workshop] Typesetting Room and of an interior with a window. Schiffer captures the sense of the natural light coloring the room in each case. The two figures in "By the Window" prints 1 and 2 are all shadow. In "CAW Typesetting Room 1 & 2", the light coming through the window is a white so intense that it overwhelms the posts.

Fethi Meghlelli
's "A Veil of Tears" is as powerful, if not more so, than it was in his Erector Square studio. The mélange of faces, rendered in charcoal and acrylic, meld together on three large sheets of white paper. They suggest not so much individuals as huddled humanity. Long lengths of black string hang in front of the drawings, the tears through which we view a constant image flow of suffering.

A rather unromanticized, if amusingly macabre, take on childhood is on display in Daniel Long's black and white photos. In "The Very Naughty Chair," a little boy in shorts sits facing the wall on hard wooden chair. He's situated in a bare concrete room and is bent forward, his head touching the wall. A boy dressed in jeans is seen entering a bathroom carrying a gun that shoots ping-pong balls in "Shock and Awe." A naked woman sits on the edge of the bathtub, her back to the opening door. Although her face is outside the frame, it appears she is just turning around while the barrel of the gun starts to poke out past the edge of the door. In Long's images, the traumas and threats of adulthood find their analogue in childhood play.

Trauma is psychological, personal and internalized in Julie Fraenkel's imagery of girls and women, drawn with charcoal and colored pencil on Masonite. While some of her subjects are smiling or laughing, others stare with the blank expression of the emotionally numb. There is throughout a sense of scarring. Scars are etched as scratches into the surface of the boards and apparent in scrawls across the faces and bodies.

Andrea Miller's fabric collages were inspired by the painted cement walls of an I-91 highway overpass near her studio, specifically the rectangles of beige, gray and white that appear as highway workers paint over graffiti. Geometric pieces of cotton rags and other fibers are stitched on a linen background. The lighter tones are set off by smaller, strategically placed dark areas (deep blue, maroon). The visual interest is heightened by the subtle tonal play within each of the elements.

Along the upstairs hallway are a series of prints, monotypes with collage, by Maura Galante. In "ByPass," the background field of swimming hot red, orange and magenta bypass the area where lithographic line images of hearts—the organ, not the Valentines Day symbol—are printed in blue. In "Untitled I-IV" and "Untitled Red," Galante collaged the monotypes with textured papers, some with Asian writing. As with Miller's fabric collages, there is an effective balance between the roughly geometric shapes of the collaged elements and the unconstrained play of color shades within the elements.

The installation "Red Square" is, according to her artist statement, Suzan Shutan's "first attempt at integrating drawing, painting and sculpture with a moving image on video." It incorporates video projection with a three-dimensional frame composed of red string, red tape and red paint. The video projection with accompanying declamatory soundtrack ("Seeing red! Red hot! Red alert! Red hot society! Fire engine red!") is a succession of images, most of which feature red prominently. Puckered lips. A red change purse. Salt and pepper shakers with red tops. A stop sign. A catsup bottle. The string and tape mark the boundaries of an imaginary skewed geometric enclosure, related to but not a square. The paint on the wall flares off to the right, a red shadow (sounds like a superhero's name) but one not quite in perspective.

Joseph Saccio
's "Quiver for St. Sebastian" was one of the works he showed at Kehler Liddell Gallery in October. Dozens of wood rods tipped with pointing seashells at either end burst through a torso of wood. The arrows, alluding to the story of the saint, are stained red. The big, hollowed-out log is smeared with beeswax in several spots, giving it the feel of sundered flesh.

Although red doesn't predominate in terms of surface area covered in Nancy Eisenfeld's two works, "Smolder" (written about before on CT Art Scene) and "Torch," its presence is essential to the sculptural compositions. Both works were created from found pieces of wood, both processed and wild. Much of the woods has been singed and then painted in colors—red, gold, yellow, orange, cool flame blue—to suggest still simmering fire.

In the works of Saccio, Eisenfeld, Galante, red is felt as an emotional charge, freighted with a certain measure of symbolic resonance. It's blood, heat. Shutan's installation, of course, plays the spectrum of red's associations. Kevin Van Aelst's two large Lightjet print photographs also feature red prominently but without any noticeable symbolic resonance as "red." Van Aelst's stock in trade is "conceptual photography." He reconfigures everyday objects in new ways, often with a strong dollop of humor. His conceptual fingerprints are all over these two photographs. In "Right Middle Finger," Van Aelst created a massive fingerprint on a mottled maroon diner countertop using saccharin as his medium. The fingerprint is surrounded by a mug of coffee with the dregs left, salt, pepper and sugar dispensers and a crumb-flecked saucer with a credit card receipt. This fingerprint is a reverse image, the lines reading maroon in a spill of white saccharin. The reverse is the case for "Left Index Finger." The print is formed out of red yarn and seems to hover over the beige carpet on which it rests. With knitting needles lying nearby, this could perhaps be a bloody fingerprint, the telling clue in a murder mystery as filtered through Ladies Home Companion.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home