Visits at Erector Square during CWOS 2013 first weekend
City-Wide Open Studios
50 Orange St, New Haven, (203) 772-2709
City-Wide Open Studios 2013
Erector Square Weekend: Sat. and Sun., Oct. 12–13, Noon—5 p.m.
For the first time in a long time I was able to visit Erector Square both days of the weekend. And one of the truisms of City-Wide Open Studios, at least for me, is that these annual visits confirm a picture of artists as individuals who are always exploring, experimenting, searching for new ways to express themselves.
My first stop on Saturday is Building 4, more of an alternative gallery space than an actual open studio. Eight artists are showing work here and I take the opportunity to chat with several of them.
Will Lustenader is showing his most recent paintings. They mark a departure from the realist style with which I have been familiar. Lustenader says that they are the fruit of a two-year burst during which "I kept to myself and reinvented my approach to spatial issues."
When I had last checked in on Lustenader's work, he was painting still life’s of folded paper, exploring reflection, light and shadow along with the dynamics of shape. With the new work, Lustenader is taking the shapes and planes and eschewing reflective surfaces in favor of an approach more akin to color field painting.
They have a jaunty modernist groove—curves, angles, vessel-like figures. Lustenader says that someone on Facebook referred to the paintings as "visual Brubeck," a nod to the late jazz pianist Dave Brubeck. "God, I love that," Lustenader exclaims. "I'll keep that in mind when I'm painting—'visual Brubeck.'"
|Will Lustenader: "Interactivity and Gifting," left and "Customary Regard," right|
Lustenader sees this body of work as actually two different sets of pictures, which he approaches in very different ways. In some, the colors, even when layered, feel more solid and defined. Others more clearly evince process, the layering of light and dark pigments. There is also a combination of clearly hand-defined irregular edges versus other juxtapositions that are tight and masked-off from each other.
"I like the language, the flip-flop. It keeps me fresh, it keeps it fresh," says Lustenader.
I ask Lustenader how his work evolved to this current incarnation.
"I started to see shapes as shapes and not as atmosphere. As my tabletop became less reflective, things flattened out more," he explains.
But it also involves a revisiting of an earlier approach to painting, albeit in a new way. Lustenader says he felt he had "unfinished business from 1992 when I left off with very large color field paintings. But where his previous work in this mode was very conscious, "This I'm trying to do unconsciously."
"Sometimes I discover something in a painting by accident and then I use it purposefully" in subsequent works, Lustenader says.
A glance at Karen Dow's new paintings might give the impression that nothing has changed. But for Dow, a fundamental shift has occurred over the past year or so in how she works. Where Dow used to paint in a kind of representational abstraction—interpreting photographs into their starkest pictorial elements as rectangular shapes—she has now abandoned referencing representational imagery.
All the paintings are made flat on the table. Dow turns the table as she works; the orientation of the image is not decided until the very end.
"It feels like now my work is focused more on composition and color and me holding off on that understanding of what I'm making," says Dow. "When I'm working from a photograph, I know how to solve that puzzle earlier." Her new approach makes the process more interesting, more mysterious. "It's less about interpretation and more about inspiration."
"I don't choose the palette ahead of time. I'm experimenting with color relationships. I'm more inspired by Josef Albers' color studies. There are lots of layers in these paintings and I'm adding and editing all the time," says Dow.
Dow teaches printmaking at the Educational Center for the Arts (ECA) and says the process of printmaking freed her up to experiment with the new approach. "In the process of teaching students monotype, I realized there was something there for myself. It literally happened in a class demonstration," Dow recalls. "I've always been interested in crazy quits—that process—but I've never seen a way in, how that influence would play in my own work. Pulling paintings off the wall and making them on the table made it possible to mimic that process in painting."
|Karen Dow: Untitled monotype print|
Along with the paintings she is exhibiting, Dow is showing a selection of monotypes. Like her paintings, they are based on rectangular shapes. The same thought process is evident but the transparency of the monotype inks allows the layering process to be foregrounded. (In her paintings, that layering is visible along the edges of her rectangles where traces of underlying colors remain as edge and boundary and history.) They remind me of aerial views of cities but with a twist—as though the viewer can see not only the current urban layout but also archaeological remains beneath.
Dow's husband Chris Mir is showing a series of paintings of poppies on the adjacent wall. Mir tells me that a Carl Jung quote from Dreams, Memories and Reflections—"Birds, crystals and flowrs are God's thoughts"—lingered in his mind when working on the series.
"I liked that it was a flower that produced opiates. I have an interest in hallucinatory states," Mir tells me. The small, square paintings are "meditations on the beauty of forms." The luminous flowers open out of rich black backgrounds. "I think they're cosmic, as a child of hippies."
"I love the geometries of the internal structures," Mir says. He worked from photographs, painting with acrylics on panels. "They're kind of ugly and beautiful at the same time."
|Christopher Mir: "Poppy 13"|
When I ask if he has a favorite of the poppies, he pretty quickly chooses "Poppy 13" because its pistil and stamens are "weird browns and ochre’s, not traditionally beautiful. The immediate thing is they're flowers and beautiful but also sinister and alien."
Rebecca Lowry has been painting on wood since she was a child. Her father was a builder and there was always plywood lying around. "It was unintimidating and cheap," she tells me, "and I got attached to the feeling of painting on a hard surface."
But it has just been in the past year and a half that Lowry has started not only painting on wood but carving the surface as well. She carves into the surface and adds layers on top and layers behind, saying it's a "back and forth process."
|Rebecca Lowry: "Hide Here With Me"|
"I think I wanted to make a mark. I pounded something into the surface of the wood and it occurred to me I could alter the surface," Lowry says. She started out with finer tools and found her way to power tools like angle grinders and disc sanders. "I like making art with something aggressive," she says, laughing.
"I don't start out with the intention of a shape or feeling. I let the process dictate the starting point. I get attached to something in the composition and then starting working around that," Lowry says. "Something starts to reveal itself and then I push that."
|Rebecca Lowry: "Hide Here With Me" detail|
Of course, the drawback to carving in wood is that it locks her down. As a way to get some relief from that, Lowry also works on paper, taking rubbings off the surface of some of her carved pieces and then embellishing those images. Paper frees her up. "Paper is calmer, more serene," Lowry says.
Also showing fine work in that space were Joseph Fucigna, Danny Huff, Cham Hendon, Peter Ramon and Linda Lindroth. I've written before about Lindroth's large photographs of packaging material. The images in that series that she had previously shown were often devoid of references as to what exactly they were, reading as geometric modernist abstractions. Lindroth is now allowing recognizable representational imagery into the frame—packaging art, text.
"They are going in a variety of directions," she tells me. "I'm trying not to limit myself."
In Building 6, I visit with Nancy Eisenfeld, Barbara Harder, Liz Pagano and Fethi Meghelli. Meghelli was showing a number of works in progress, including ornate handmade dolls inspired by a visit to his native Algeria for a relative's wedding. The dolls are crafted out of aluminum foil, clay, recycled materials like bottles and cans, and cloth remnants he finds.
"I'd never seen a wedding like this. It was so elaborate," Meghelli says. "I found out UNESCO has decided [this community] is a World Heritage site to be preserved. The dresses are a craft being passed from one generation to another. They really inspired me. I took tons of pictures."
|Dolls by Fethi Meghelli|
The dolls are not based on the pictures, per se. Rather, they served as a prod to Meghelli, the images being transformed by his artistic imagination into the colorful garb of his dolls.
Also in Building 6, I stop in and visit with Jeff Mueller and Kerri Sancomb of Dexterity Press, a letterpress printing shop. Mueller, in between giving demonstrations to visitors of how his presses work, tells me that he originally got involved with letterpress printing as a way to come up with creative packaging for records made by post-punk bands he played in. Mueller has recorded with the groups Rodan, Shipping News and June of 44. He started working in a shop in Chicago in 1995 and formally opened Dexterity Press with his wife Kerri Sancomb in 2001. In 2010, Mueller and Sancomb moved to Connecticut.
|Jeff Mueller of Dexterity Press|
Besides doing commission work, Mueller and Sancomb also design and print their own fine art posters and artist books. Their designs are based on found imagery, Mueller's own drawings and the use of hand-set type. There is a wonderful poetic feeling to their prints.
On a tip, at the end of the day I stop by Building 3 to check out the drawings of Daniel Eugene. His incredibly detailed works evoke Op Art, antique engravings, natural forms, Art Deco and Art Nouveau. Eugene's relentless line work piles up detail upon detail, creating shimmering forms.
Eugene says he wants to "create a biological response so you feel it somewhere in your body rather than just witness it through your eyes."
|Artwork by Daniel Eugene|
Eugene says he is intrigued by "indigenous goddess images and pre-patriarchal society"—one drawing is called "Artemis's Bow"—but is most influenced by literature and, in particular, stream-of-consciousness writers such as Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, D.H. Lawrence and Lawrence Durrell. It isn't surprising. His drawings have a meditative, stream-of-consciousness feel to them.
"Their concerns are not only about what they're creating but art as a power, a possibility—something that shapes progress," says Eugene. "To call yourself an artist is to take a huge responsibility. You really need to think about what in your present experience is absent from the social equation, identify it and allow your artwork to be a catalyst for that type of conversation."
On Sunday, I wander through the Building 5 second floor space just browsing the work of the various artists there. Before I do, I spend some time on the first floor, acquainting myself with Gordon Skinner's mixed media paintings. The beauty of Skinner's artwork is the way it harnesses putatively ugly emotions and harsh truths—about racism, poverty, violence—to fashion a rough beauty.
Skinner, a self-taught 36-year-old African-American artist, has only been painting for four years. But in that time he has developed a strong command of his brushwork. Three current paintings on display—"Nomad: Circulatory Study 1," "A Study of Ciäte's Mother: Circulatory Study 3" and "Falling Nude: Circulatory Study 2"—are electric, filled with energy and excitement. Skinner layers paint with a sure eye. His most recent figurative work reminds me of the painterly approach of Francis Bacon.
|Gordon Skinner: "Nomad: Circulatory Study 1"|
"I'm trying to focus on my own artistic language," Skinner tells me. There are recurring motifs in his paintings: brick imagery relates to the urban environment, the "Greek key" represents the infinite. A lot of his figures are portrayed with their mouths wide open, Skinner saying it symbolizes his "need to be heard." He incorporates collage, bold colors. Skinner says he enjoys building up the canvas, that texture is an important part of his work.
|Gordon Skinner: "Self Portrait as Garbage Pail Kid III" detail|
"I love expressionist work, anyone who expresses themselves and has that freedom to be creative. I'm drawn to that," says Skinner. Among the artists whose work has influenced him are Joan Mitchell, Picasso, Francis Bacon and Joan Miró. The influences "act as a gauge. This is what this person did and did well. What if I turn over here? It gives me a range. I use that as schooling.
"The paintings are never finished, they're only abandoned," says Skinner. "It's pretty instinctual."
My final stop is the studio of Geoffrey Detrani in Building 2. Detrani creates layered mixed media works that superimposes naturalistic and architectural forms. "It's the duality I'm always trying to get at in my work," Detrani says, "between the indication of a naturalistic space and something very artificial and manufactured." He relies heavily on acrylic medium, both as a glue with which to adhere his translucent layers of drawings and as a neutral tint.
Along with his larger paintings, Detrani is showing drawings built up over faint graphite layers. These drawings are "a record of making work," Detrani says. They begin as sheets of paper on top of which he is starting other pieces. Those drawings leave traces that have a ghostly quality. Detrani then superimposes additional imagery over those traces.
|Geoffrey Detrani: "Homespun Fiction"|
A recently finished work, "Homespun Fiction," incorporates pencil, acrylic, a photograph and enamel on paper mounted to a panel. It is somewhat unusual in Detrani's oeuvre for including a large bold area of color (yellow) as part of the work. His paintings tend to be characterized by a very muted color palette with some limited inclusion of strong red. Detrani says the work is an experiment in "trying to look for the thing itself, when separated out from all the special effects. When taken out of that atmospheric space, see how it works on its own with a color field behind it."