CWOS 2012, Weekend 1, Saturday
City-Wide Open Studios
50 Orange St, New Haven, (203) 772-2709
City-Wide Open Studios 2012
Through Oct. 21, 2012.
Weekend 1 Report: Saturday
My first stop on Saturday is at the home studio in Hamden of Kevin and Kim Van Aelst. Kim (née Mikenis) and Kevin met while participating in a CWOS bike tour several years ago; they are expecting their first child in November.
Kim Van Aelst paints, collages, makes puppets and creates her own short videos. One recent large collage, "Construction Will Be Completed in 9 Months," was inspired both by her pregnancy and the myriad hassles of having the studio built in their backyard.
"I made this while they were doing the foundation and the drilling," Kim tells me. She locked herself in the bedroom with the air conditioning on during one heat wave, trying to avoid the smell of epoxy. Kim found suitable images on the Internet—about 17 different images of an excavator, 10 different pictures of a hurricane—that she cut up into different pieces and rearranged to create her composition. "And a few images of 'the sky is clearing' and the end will be in sight—the baby will be here, the studio will be done" and their backyard will be on the mend.
Kim Van Aelst with "Construction Will Be Completed in 9 Months":
Kevin, a photographer, specializes in images that are elaborate visual puns. Some of his recent work is inspired by impending fatherhood. In one image, an egg is substituted for the bulb of a light bulb. The egg, which lies on its side, has a hairline crack. Kevin rigged up the egg so small lights inside it cause it appear that the egg itself is splitting open and emitting its own light. Another image deals with the disjunction he feels between his upcoming role as a father and the lingering self-image as not yet an "adult"—a suit jacket, white shirt and tie folded into the shape of a paper airplane.
Kevin Van Aelst showing a book with an image of his wife Kim with the part in her in the shape of a heartbeat:
At the Eli Whitney Barn, I stop in to see sculptor Susan Clinard. A dozen or so of Clinard's small sculptures of refugees in boats are arranged for sale on a table in her studio:
In the main section of the barn, artist Alexis Brown is showing her exceptional drawings, paintings and prints of animals. Brown is burnishing her lithographic chops. But because lithograph stones are prohibitively expensive, Brown is using a pronto plate, an inexpensive plastic plate that can approximate the feel of lithography.
On the left, an Alexis Brown pronto plate lithograph of a tiger and, on the right, a sketchbook drawing of the same image in watercolor, pencil and gesso:
This is Leslie Carmin's first time participating in Open Studios. Carmin opened the small studio built behind her home in the east Rock section of New Haven. an illustrator with a vivid and outré imagination, Carmin often spins her pencil-drawn images from visual metaphors.
Below, Carmin's drawing "Cancer." She drew the image of her mother when her mother was dying of cancer, referring both to the astrological sign and the way her mother's body was rebelling against itself, becoming something foreign and ultimately fatal:
At 39 Church Street, Jerry Saladyga is showing his series of paintings and drawings contemplating the 1994 Rwandan genocide, "100 Days in Eden." (Concurrently, a show of Saladyga's From early April to mid-July of 1994, Hutu militias organized by the government and spurred on by inflammatory propaganda from the mass media, primarily radio, killed approximately 800,000 members of the Tutsi ethnic minority. As Saladyga tells me, "Outside of a few people, nobody did anything about it or tried to stop it."
Pointing to the first painting in the series, Saladyga tells me how he found his subject. He had painted the background—red, blue and yellow—and thought it looked like faces.
"I hated it. I don't like the backgrounds to look like anything," he says. He had recently seen the documentary Ghosts of Rwanda. With that in mind, he approached the painting again.
"One thing led to another. A couple of lines, let my try this, let me try that, and it came together. I ended up doing the series," Saladyga recalls.
The imagery is both beautiful and macabre—bright, alluring colors, palm trees, skies full of stars but also soldiers in fatigues with machetes (most of the killings were carried out at close range with machetes) and children with their hands and feet cut off or their torsos hacked in half. Saladyga tells me that for some of the paintings he tried "to think like a little kid thinks." As an example, he refers me to a painting of a young boy without hands unable to pick up the soccer ball—soccer being the preeminent sport of Africa—on the ground in front of him. In another painting, a girl without hands is unable to pick up her doll.
Repeated motifs tie the series together—imagery of volcanoes (there are several volcanoes in Rwanda; additionally, the volcano imagery may symbolize the potentially explosive ethnic antagonisms), embryos that symbolize a sense of rebirth.
Saladyga says he was reaching for "a mystical sense of redemption." He tells me, "It's a complicated history that I'm trying to make sense of. I'm using the whole thing as a metaphor for trying to understand genocide."
Painting from Gerald Saladyga's series "100 Days in Eden":
Stephen Grossman is showing a number of drawings and paintings in his 39 Church Street studio from his current "Luftmensch" series. "Luftmench" is a Yiddish/German word meaning literally "air man." But its more colloquial Yiddish meaning, Grossman tells me, is "a young man who is a dreamer, not a very practical guy." As it has evolved, he says, it has come to mean a man "who makes his living selling something intangible." Grossman conceptualized the "luftmensch" in terms of a man selling ideas—for example, the derivatives that were at the center of the financial crisis—and whose identity gets bound up with that act of salesmanship.
Grossman found his central image by Googling the phrase "1950's businessman in suit." He says he tweaked his search until he found exactly the iconic image he was looking for.
"It resonated with the era I grew up. It was the father figure in society at that time," Grossman says of the image of the man in the gray flannel suit clutching his attaché case.
In some of the paintings, the figure of the "luftmensch" almost disappears into a fog of abstract geometric shapes inspired partly by the pixilation of digital images. But the break-up into abstraction, Grossman notes, also has symbolic weight.
"It's possible he's lost, consumed or buried in his own thoughts. The integrity of the self is dissipating. It may be a Zen thing of being at one with the world. Or it may be the opposite," Grossman says, that the "luftmensch" doesn't know his place in the world in the metaphysical sense.
One of Stephen Grossman's "Luftmensch" paintings: