Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

On the Roadside Attractions

Kehler Liddell Gallery
873 Whalley Ave., New Haven, (203) 389-9555
Roadside Attractions
Feb. 3—Feb. 25, 2007.
Closing reception Sun., Feb. 25, 12—2 p.m.

With apologies to Jack Kerouac

It's twilight in redbrick America, where all the boys and girls have gone to bed by the blue LCD glow of the all-seeing cyber eye. But out on the road the rust of time eats at steel and the sun rises and sets on workaday lives, sweetly dreaming of cotton candy and love letters.

Darkness was closing in on the fairgrounds as the photographer pulled into Stratford ("127-042-042, Stratford, CT," Paul Duda). Standing at the edge of the playground, desolate of the yap of muss-haired children, watching the ferris wheel circle. Do they believe in sea monsters in the land of helicopters? Because we swear we see one in the time-preserved image, thrusting its long neck out of the asphalt sea, its head flat like a basketball backboard.

If sea monsters exist only in play dreams of boys and girls, sitting on the stoops of summer and reading the clouds like comic books, then what do we make of Eeka the Jungle Creep ("Ginger is Eeka," Gale Zucker)? The ID bracelet encircling her wrist, rings on her fingers, a giant snake wrapped around her like the embrace of time. Oh, America, your world of individuals fast disappearing in strip mall conformity, the cookie-cutter corporate stamp stomping out the sideshow.

Does time embrace us like a snake or does it rush past us, a harried commuter with mid-afternoon whiskey breath and unanswered emails from his mistress on his brain and BlackBerry, blackberry brandy, buying high and selling low while the dust to dust earth beckons, the time full-stop accelerating like the last Metro North train out of Grand Central? ("Dromos II, I-95 Corridor from New Haven, CT to Miami FL," mixed media photo collage by Johanna Bresnick) The blackness curves, cuts corners. We grab our coffee, morning bitter, in New Star Diners, toppled sign with daily specials, and rush past billboards, fraying like modern art with a dozen unremembered sales pitches, fastballs to the commercial brain. Can you smell the chemicals in the blue sky air, streaked with nylon, while you swing the day away in old tires far from the Jersey barriers of life? Spare a dime for a pay phone, orphaned by cell technology, looking lonely like the last union assembly line worker in the shuttered auto plant. Put the pedal to the metal and let the rust be blasted away by forgetting, watching the sun burn our pupils as it screams—sizzling haze—through the palm trees. We leave the shiny dying steel deco of the Northeast for the curved faux deco of Florida and wonder, will the future decay like the past?

We're flooded with memories. Waters in our dreams. Can we catch our breath, reach the surface? Water rushing in all around. Biblical. And then waters recede and we need a jazz funeral for a city. Death and debris is left in the backwash. Orange chairs and plaid sofas in a pile of wood and rot on the industrial roadside ("Debris," Marion Belanger). A streetlight yanked over in submission to the hand of an angry wind, embarrassed next to the now placid, once devouring water ("Lake Front, Louisiana-Post-Katrina," Stan Strembicki).

But if a tree can grow, gnarled and twisted and mute through a wood frame painted red with a maw of pointy teeth ("Framed Tree," Phyllis Crowley), then we can force our heads through hurricane despair. And laugh. Laugh in the hustle bustle city where the backwards baseball cap skateboarder ("Street Surfer," Hank Paper) faces off against trio of blue bedecked Finest. And Dr. Ruth rubs her hands in glee while Ms. Yuppie in her black dress and designer sunglasses and pocketbook eyes the hardhat worker in his sleeveless t-shirt, sex trumping class in the sunny day ("Dr. Ruth," Hank Paper).

What's holy in our black-and-white eye's remembrance? We climbed the hills overlooking redbrick Brass City to worship at the altar of kitsch in our age of innocence ("Holy Land, Church," Joy Bush). And when our innocence was gone, the brush reclaimed the earth, reclaimed the Land, leaving only the Holy and we wonder why and scrawl across the Y ("Holy Land," Joy Bush) in furtive shorthand, "Manchester." Religion guards its mysteries. Ruins are our new religion, the dirty stucco concrete house of worship where the lambs of the faith await the slaughter. Amen.

There will be a closing reception for Roadside Attractions at the Kehler Liddell Gallery on Sun., Feb. 25, 12—2 p.m. The accompanying show at the Small Space Gallery closes Mar. 16.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

ALL Book Arts opening this evening

ALL Arts & Literature Laboratory
Erector Square, 319 Peck St. Building 2, New Haven, (203) 671-5175
Book in Hand
Feb. 17—Mar. 18, 2007.
Artists' Reception: Saturday, Feb. 17, 5—7 p.m.
Performative Multimedia Lecture by Pattie Belle Hastings:
Sunday, Feb. 25, 4—5 p.m.

Arts + Literature Laboratory (ALL) is proud to present Book in Hand, an exhibition of artists' books juried by Pattie Belle Hastings. The scope of this exhibition presents a wide-range of books in scale and complexity by twenty-six artists and/or collaborators. Unlike many book arts shows with glass-encased viewings, gallery visitors are encouraged to handle and read these books. This show celebrates and affirms, in this digital age, the materiality of the book.

There will be an Artists' Reception this evening from 5—7 p.m. Next Sunday, Feb. 25, curator and book artist Pattie Belle Hastings will present a performative media lecture at the gallery from 4—5 p.m.

This exhibition includes work by Nava Atlas (Poughkeepsie, NY); Karen Bucher (Las Cruces, NM); Peter Buotte (Augusta, MA); Neal Cox (San Antonio, TX); (Charlottesville, VA); Dean DassErin Elman (Philadelphia, PA); Holly Hanessian (Tallahassee, Florida); Karen Hanmer (Glenview, IL); Pattie Belle Hastings (New Haven, CT); Melissa Kaup-Augustine (San Francisco, CA); Craig Kelchen (Iowa City, IA); Nancy Kuhl (New Haven, CT); Sarah McCoy (Des Moines, IA); McDougal Center at Yale University (New Haven, CT); Rachel Melis (Manhattan, KS); Colin Miller (San Francisco, CA); Stephanie Nace (Columbia, SC); Sue O'Donnell (Hammond, LA); Preacher's Biscuit Books (Rochester, NY); Jamie Runnells (Starkville, MS); Stephanie Stump (Philadelphia, PA); Jean Swanson (Bethany, CT); Mary Tasillo (Philadelphia, PA); Cynthia Thompson (Memphis, TN); Rutherford Witthus (Philadelphia, PA); and David Wolske (Bloomington, IN).

Pattie Belle Hastings is an award winning book artist who teaches and lectures across the country and internationally. Her titles, such as If You Sleep on the Other Side, It Will Go Away (Nexus Press) and Elegy: An Intuitive Chronicle of War (Icehouse Press), have been exhibited internationally and collected by many prestigious institutions, including Yale University Art of the Book Collection. Ms. Hastings is currently Associate Professor of Interactive Digital Design at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. Also she is the web mistress for Journal of Artists' Books Online.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Decorum at the Hygienic show

Hygienic Art Gallery
83 Bank St., P.O. Box 417, New London, (860) 443-8001
Hygienic Art Exhibition: Salon des Independants XXVIII
Closes Feb. 10, 2007

What's happened to "epater le bourgeois?" In previous years, the New London free-for-all known as the Salon des Independants—now in its 28th year—has been notable for having a bracing dose of sexual imagery. After all, the rules are no rules: no judge, no jury, no fees, no censorship. As one of the organizers told me for an article I wrote for the New Haven Advocate in 2001, "There's usually a large penis factor at the Hygienic."

But at this year's show, the "large penis factor" was pretty much confined to Jacqueline Phillips' "Feel," a pastel of an ecstatic woman atop an enormous male member.

The Hygienic has also been known for acidic political commentary. Given the present climate, it would have been reasonable to expect a lot of Bush-bashing. And there was some of that. But it seemed pro forma, half-hearted, lacking in real passion or artistic energy. Robert Hauschild's "Who Is the World's Worst Dictator? Imperial Bush" is, loosely speaking, a collage. But the slapped-on imagery and text is artless. It doesn't match the ferocity of its political rage.

There were a few pointed works inspired by the recent eminent domain controversy in New London. (The city evicted a number of local homeowners to clear the way for economic development in a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court.) Jimmy Hill's "Kelo's Curse" is an oil painting that depicts the pink home of Susette Kelo, the named plaintiff in the Supreme Court case. Kelo was one of the Fort Trumbull neighborhood residents who lost their homes. Her curse on New London officials—sent to them on notorious 2006 Christmas cards—is printed on a piece of poster board beneath the painting. The painting itself is competent in an amateur sort of way. Perhaps it's all the more evocative for the earnest grassroots naïveté of its execution.

Another locally topical work is Robert Bareiss' "Screw U." Made out of recycled metal, it sports a big screw and a u-shaped piece of metal bolted to a base. A plaque reads, "Q: What did the NLDC say to the residents of Fort Trumbull?" The answer is the title. (The NLDC is the New London Development Corporation.)

Among the standout works at this show were sculptural pieces. These included Karen Greenwald's "Flying Spaghetti Monster," a mixed media hanging accompanied by an "Open Letter to Kansas School Board". The letter was a satiric response by Kansan Bobby Henderson to the then-school board's imposition of a fatuous "intelligent design" curriculum to be taught along with evolution. It postulated that the "was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster." Greenwald represents this deity well using wires, vines, straw and twine (but no spaghetti that I could see).

Other notable sculptures included Marie Kobar's punning "Poultry in Motion," a likeness of a hen a-laying made out of chicken wire, toilet paper rolls, recycled poetry pages, a record player and Styrofoam eggs. The "poultry" spins on the record player. M[arcus]' "DOG" is a room-filling found object (oak and steel) sculpture of a larger than life canine. Dave Mourad's "De Pino Grigio: a tribute to 'God' himself" is an imposing Lego sculpture of physicist Enrico Fermi. Fermi wears a bowtie with clocks on it; a plaque at his feet has the symbol for radioactivity on it. Fermi points toward Colin Burke's kinetic sculpture "Tempus Fugit," mounted on the wall over the front windows. A noisy representation of atomic scientists' "doomsday clock," its motor feverishly spins its one hand. The panel it is mounted on features a timeline charting—according to atomic scientists—the number of minutes from doomsday we have been each year from 1947 to the present. (Things aren't looking good, folks.)

Perhaps the most courageous work in the show is Laura Natusch's "Project Hamad." This is three pieces of paper crudely matted triptych-style on one piece of board. In the left panel is an orange piece of fabric with "#940" printed on it. This page reads:

For seventeen years, Adel Hamad worked for nongovernmental relief organizations. He was a hospital administrator. He taught orphaned children. He told jokes and played ping pong. He was a husband and father.

Now he is Detainee #940 at Guantanamo Bay.

There is no evidence that he supported terrorism or sympathized with those who did.

He never had a chance to prove his innocence in court.

(As an aside, under what used to be our system of jurisprudence, the state had to prove guilt.)

In the center is a letter from Natusch to Hamad saying she has "not forgotten your suffering in Guantanamo Bay" and hoping he will soon get a fair trial. In the panel on the right, she admits,

I am afraid to mail this letter. I am afraid the government will put me on a list of people who support terrorism because I believe in habeas corpus. But I will mail it anyway. I hope some of you will join me in signing it or write letters of your own.

A pen attached by a chain—how apropos—is provided and a few dozen people have signed it. But it is only Laura Natusch whose address is on it.


So, why a more genteel Salon des Independants this year? Vinnie Scarrano, president of Hygienic Art and one of the founders, thinks one factor might be that they started allowing artists to sell their work through the gallery (at a 30 percent commission) at the show a couple of years ago. Perhaps artists are putting in more "serious" work—work people might buy. (Scarrano also said there were about 50 less participants this year than last year—a holiday for art provocateurs?)

"Last year we sold about $26,000 in artwork," Scarrano said, referring to the entire year and not just the Salon des Independants show. "What's good on our part is I'm always seeing checks going out to artists from the Hygienic. When someone gets a check from Hygienic Art, it's always good P.R. For artists, it makes them want to come back here."

James Stidfole, Hygienic Art treasurer, added, "That's our role—to support the development of emerging artists. So we take less [normal commercial gallery commissions are significantly higher] and spend more time begging for grants ."

"So we truly are non-profit," said Scarrano, laughing.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Art events this Saturday

RCR Design center
91 Main St., Norwich, (860) 887-2789
Robert Rauschenberg, Artist-Citizen: Posters for a Better World
Feb. 10—Apr. 22, 2007
Opening celebration: Sat., Feb. 10, noon.

Press release

Beginning Sat., Feb. 10, the Rose City Renaissance-The Norwich Main Street Program in cooperation with the Norwich Arts Council will be the final host of Robert Rauschenberg, Artist-Citizen: Posters for a Better World, a traveling Smithsonian Institution exhibition. The show features 17 lithographs created between 1969 and 1996 addressing a wide range of social, political concerns affecting domestic and international communities. Rauschenberg's posters promote the organizations involved with issues like nuclear disarmament, apartheid, social justice and environmental protection.

Rauschenberg is one of the most influential and innovative artits of the 20th century, working with all media to challenge ideas about painting and picture-making. This show highlights his later work using printmaking and collage, and reflects his commitment to the role of artist-activist.

The exhibition was developed by the University Art Gallery of California State University, Hayward, and organized for travel by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. All of the works are on loan from the collection of the artist.


John Slade Ely House Center for Contemporary Art
51 Trumbull Street, New Haven, (203) 624-8055
Breaking The Silence: Works by Imna Arroyo
Jan. 28—Mar. 4, 2007
Artist talk, Sat. Feb. 10, 2 p.m.

The John Slade Ely House is pleased to present in collaboration with the New Haven Public School's Comprehensive Arts Program, Breaking The Silence: Works by Imna Arroyo. Ms. Arroyo holds an MFA from Yale University and is currently Professor of Art at Eastern Connecticut State University. Ms. Arroyo focuses on visualizing her identity, drawing on her indigenous and African Caribbean heritage. Utilizing multi-media, sculpture, and large scale hanging prints, Ms. Arroyo creates powerful and engaging works that address the Middle Passage slave trade and the spirit of her ancestors.

Imna Arroyo will give an artist's talk about her show this Sat., Feb. 10, at 2 p.m.


Azoth Gallery
224 College St., New Haven, (203) 777-5400
Woman is The Bearer of Peace: Visionary Abstract Paintings by Jeanmarie Conlon
Feb. 3—Mar. 9, 2007
Artist's Reception: Sat., Feb. 10, 2:30—4:30 p.m.

Press release

"I am an Abstract Artist working in oils, watercolors and sculpture," says Jeanmarie Conlon. "Most important is my own vision. My art is an expression of feelings using shapes, forms and colors as a visual language. I have been painting since I was a child while absorbing myself in the freedom of the outdoors: the wind, light, color and sound. My art is a free expression of creative spirituality, capturing all the senses. I believe that true art is an expression of the soul, free and untouched.

Conlon is a self-taught artist whose work has been exhibited in New York, California, Vermont, and Connecticut as part of group shows as well as one-woman shows.

Jeanmarie Conlon's work has also been recently displayed in Kids Benefit at the Branford Public Library; Women in Transformation at the Brandon Gallery, Madison, CT; and in many solo shows, including: Circle of Hope at the Rio Restaurant, Guilford, CT; Morning Gallery, Woodbury, CT; Peace Will Come at the Waiting Station, Branford; Illumination CafÈ Grounded , Guilford; Peacemaker at France L'Amerique, Madison; and at the Playhouse-on-the-Green Gallery, Bridgeport.

"As an artist, my vision is a tapestry of one peace and one dream. They are one and the same. Through painting, my vision is a call to peace. I believe through a woman's heart peace will come."


50 Orange St, New Haven, (203) 772-2709
Why Look At Animals?
Feb. 3—Mar. 31, 2007
Opening reception: Feb. 10, 6—8 p.m. (preceded by a discussion with the artists at 5 p.m.)

Press release

Why Look At Animals? is a fascinating collection of works examining the relationship between humans and animals. Featuring the work of wide-ranging painters, sculptors, photographers and video artists, the show strikes an intriguing balance between the real and imagined. Equal parts zoo, natural history museum, and art show, the exhibition takes John Berger's seminal text of the same name, Why Look At Animals?, and hopes to answer this question, as much as it seeks to invite it.

A tank of live specimens from the Long Island Sound in New Haven welcomes visitors upon entrance, collected by Brandon Ballangée, an internationally exhibiting artist whose interests lie in research technology, biology, and art. Sam Easterson's "Bird Cams" provide the opportunity to see the world from a literal birds-eye view: footage obtained by strapping tiny video cameras to the heads of a duck, chick, turkey, and other birds. Catherine Chalmers' photographs of disabled mice bred specifically for scientific study show human-animal relationships in yet another realm. Then there are examples of the influence of animals on the human imagination: fantastical hybrids as in "Bear Studies," a series of photographs by Los Angeles-based artist Carlee Fernandez, and "She-wolf" watercolor paintings by Amy Ross. The exhibition's other artists include: Guy Ben-Ner, Alexis Brown, Catherine Chalmers, Kate Clark, Sam Easterson, J. Henry Fair, Carlee Fernandez, Jill Greenberg, Mary Kenny, Joshua Levine, Amy Jean Porter, Amy Ross, and Pawel Wojtasik.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a brochure, with text written by Ginger Strand. A writer based in New York, Strand has published works in Harper's, The Believer, The Iowa Review, The Gettysburg Review, Swink, Raritan, The New England Review, and Carolina Quarterly. Strand recently published the article "Why Look At Fish?," a meditation on the Aquarium in The Believer and is currently working on a book about Niagara Falls.

Also opening on Feb. will be: Insook Huang: Wonder City an installation of large drawings and ceiling hung sculptures in the Artspace Lounge; Meredith Miller's Skin, a series of photos examining the traces of clothing left behind on skin in the Flatfile; and Traci Talasco: How You Seduce Me, a project exploring how marketing becomes a form of seduction.

The opening reception will be Feb. 10, 6—8 p.m. following an artist talk at 5 p.m. On Feb. 17, Artspace teen docents will give a one hour guided tour starting at 3 p.m. On Mar. 22, join curator Denise Markonish as she discusses her reasons behind the subject and artists of the exhibition.

Roadside Attractions photo show opening Friday

Small Space Gallery
70 Audubon St., 2nd floor, New Haven, (203) 772-2788
Kehler Liddell Gallery
873 Whalley Ave., New Haven, (203) 389-9555
Roadside Attractions
At the Small Space Gallery Feb. 5-Mar. 16, 2007.
Opening reception Fri., Feb. 9, 5-7 p.m.
At the Kehler Liddell Gallery Feb. 3-Feb. 25, 2007.
Closing reception Sun., Feb. 25, 12-2 p.m.

Press release

The American Road is edged with a trove of treasures just waiting to be discovered. Built to frame vast expanses of nature that are now diminishing, today it encapsulates urban sprawl, architectural calamities, the marketing of small towns through odd commercial landmarks, natural disaster and artistic endeavors. Depending on where you stand, your photograph can become a social or political comment and can evoke an array of emotions, from the comedic or quirky and bizarre to the horrific and sensational. At what point along the way are we driven to stop so as to observe, remember, document, participate or investigate?

The Arts Council of Greater New Haven presents Roadside Attractions, a traveling exhibition of contemporary photographs by seventeen regional artists, curated by Suzan Shutan, on view at the Small Space Gallery from Feb. 5—Mar. 16, 2007 and at Kehler Liddell Gallery from Feb. 3—25, 2007.

The public is invited to attend the opening reception on Fri., Feb. 9, 2007, 5—7 p.m. at the Arts Council Small Space Gallery and a closing reception at Kehler Liddell Gallery on Sun., February 25, 12—2PM.

Exhibiting artists are: From Connecticut: Marion Belanger, Johanna Bresnick, Joy Bush, Phyllis Crowley, Terry Dagradi, Paul Duda, Terence Falk, Matt Garrett, Keith Johnson, Robert Lisack, Sven Martson, Aidan Moran, Hank Paper, Gale Zucker. From Boston: Bruce Myren. From New York City: Howard Better. And Stan Strembicki from the Midwest.

Agitprop mural opening reception and slideshow tomorrow

Central Connecticut State University: Samuel S. T. Chen Fine Arts Center
1615 Stanley St., New Britain, (860) 832-2633
Painting with Fire: Agitprop Murals from Around the World
Feb. 8—Mar. 10, 2007
Opening reception: Thurs., Feb. 8, 4—7 p.m.
Pre-reception slideshow and talk: Thurs., Feb. 8, 2—4 p.m.

Press release

Group exhibition with work from: Sheila Pinkel, Beehive Collective, Doug Minkler, Keith Christensen, John Pitman Weber, Carlos Cortez, Desmond Rochfort, Bread and Puppet, Northland Poster Collective, Farbfieber, Karen Fiorito , Cora Marshall, Abe Graber, Street Art Workers, David Solnit, Artmakers, Fred Lonidier, Pete Driessen, Susan Greene, Break the Silence Mural Project, Francesco Levato, Phil Jones, Labor Art & Mural Project, others.

Special event:

Agitprop: Street Art of the Revolution

Feb. 8, 2—4 p.m.
Slideshow by Mike Alewitz, Agitprop Muralist

The Russian Revolution of 1917 gave birth to one of the most creative periods in the history of modern art. For a few brief years, until the rise of Stalinism, artists took their work into the streets—creating mass spectacles and pageants, painting trains and ships, revolutionizing filmmaking, printing innovative poster art and engaging in diverse art making—everything from reinventing teapots to designing buildings that would float in space. These efforts were an ambitious attempt to create a new way of seeing, an art for the revolutionary future they envisioned.

Agitprop: Street Art of the Revolution reveals a largely-hidden chapter of art history. The presentation provides meaningful insights for the artists of today, as they attempt to create meaningful work in the midst of a deepening economic and social crisis and the global rebellion against the US war machine.

(For a Connecticut Art Scene interview with Mike Alewitz, click here.)

Monday, February 05, 2007

Art that's under control

ALVA Gallery
54 State St., New London, (860) 437-8664
Two of a Kind: Carlos Estevez and Maureen McCabe
Ends Mar. 9, 2007.

The bats and balls are packed up and put away at the ALVA Gallery in New London. After December's American Legacies group show, this attractive space has cleared the bases for Two of a Kind, a challenging and attractive exhibit pairing Cuban artist Carlos Estevez with local artist Maureen McCabe.

In his artist statement, Carlos Estevez states that in his latest work he is "taking the metaphor of life as an ocean and our transit on it as a navigation." As an artist born and educated in Havana, Estevez has had a professional life buffeted by the pointless restrictions and indignities of residual Cold War politics. He has, since his first artist residency in London in 1997, led a nomadic life of residencies in cities ranging from New York to Dale, Norway and Boston to Paris.

Estevez is represented with works that are either oil paint and pencil on canvas or watercolor and pencil on paper. They have mottled backgrounds akin to cloudy skies or murky waters. Stylized figures, often depicted with diagrammatic internal mechanisms, dominate the imagery: the self as a machine. The interpenetration of the human and the technological is a recurring theme.

In the watercolor and pencil work "Self-Navigation," a headless figure sits atop an elongated head that is flat like a mesa. This flat-topped head is a boat which its occupant propels with oars. Inside the head we see a contraption of gears and pulleys connected to the rudder and propeller. On one hand, the image represents agency or subjectivity—the individual choosing their own direction and applying the mechanisam of intellect to move. But at the same time, there is detachment. There are two separate systems, the physical and the intellectual.

This image, like many of Estevez's, shows the figure with rivets at the various joints, a marionette without the strings. This is a change from previous works in which strings did control the figures, although the force controlling the strings was not revealed.

Here autonomy is a more problematic question. While there are no physical strings present, the individual is still subject to a network of external and internalized forces. For example, in "Inner Voices," the large, squatting figure contains two smaller figures. One stands in a hollow in the small of the back. He looks up at another desperate figure trapped in a womb-like chamber in the head. What is hinted at here is not internal conflict so much as a stifled desire for unity between mind and body.

This disconnect between mind and body is also an element in "Memory Pool" and "Avizorando el Porvenir" ("Watching the future"). In "El Síndrome de Adán y Eva" ("Adan & Eva's syndrome"), this theme gets a sly erotic twist. The nude male and female figures have their heads where their genitalia should be and vice versa.

In pieces like "Presente ausente" ("Absent-Present"), "Walking Universe," "The Ghost Tracker" and "Relaciones difíciles" ("Difficult relations"), the interpenetration of the figurative with the mechanical and architectural imagery suggests a self subject to something other than the straightforward control paradigm of puppet and puppetmaster.

In these paintings, free will—or, "self-navigation," if you will—exists within parameters of a system of impersonal forces. Individual action is inseparable from the physics of existence. This physics can be constraints of the natural universe, technological necessity or social strictures.

Maureen McCabe is a Professor of Studio Art at Connecticut College. She is represented in this show by two separate series of work. Her Greek Series was inspired by Monumenti Antichi inediti, a mid-18th century book on the history of art by the German archaeologist and art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann. McCabe was specifically attracted to plates in the book depicting scenes from the writings of Homer.

She chose which images to work with based on three criteria—"story/theme, composition and the possibilities of added three dimensional objects." The latter element was of particular importance because McCabe's medium here is the box assemblage, a form of three-dimensional collage.

McCabe scanned the images at high resolution—her source was an actual antique book, not a reprint—and printed them on sturdy paper. She painstakingly cut them out and mounted them in front of of black or other colored backdrops. Selectively added elements—touches of gold or silver leaf, faux fur, small models of animals—heighten the visual impact of the original prints. There is a tiny toy dog in "Diogenes and Alexander the Great," an echo of the dog in the print, itself a symbol for Diogenes' philosophical cynicism. In "Sea Monster (Hercules, Hesione, Telamon)," faux yelo and orange fur is used to depict flames on a burning temple. Faux red fur is a bloom of scarlet blood, which flows from the arrow wound in a sea monster in the foreground.

Somehow, by cutting them out—extracting these images from their musty context—McCabe has breathed new life into them. Re-situated, the physical three-dimensionality of the images animates them with a life force.

According to McCabe's artist statement, there is commentary on the reverse of each piece, "densely layered with clippings, images and observations," that remarks on the contemporary relevance of these themes. She describes this as "a kind of hidden collage." Personally, I found it frustrating that this commentary was hidden, facing the wall.

Along with the Greek Series, McCabe is showing a half-dozen stately assemblages. These read like mysterious stage plays, hinting at narratives. In "The Black Cardmaster," the female figure on the slate background is decked out in a suit of cards. She holds a big paintbrush in one hand and wields a pair of scissors in the other. She looks toward an offstage character in the right foreground, whose presence is indicated only by a black-sleeved arm holding its own scissors in a white hand. Three blocks are stacked on the stage, with the symbol of one of the different card suits on each side.

There is an overlap in these works with Estevez's enactments of external control. In McCabe's assemblages, individuals are subject, in some sense, to their place within a narrative. A character within a narrative may behave as though they possess free will. But the reins of the plot are in the hands of the writer.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Photographic memory

Real Art Ways
56 Arbor St., Hartford, (860) 232-1006
Melanie Willhide: Sleeping Beauties (The Box Under the Bed)
Ends Feb. 12, 2007.

Sleeping Beauties (The Box Under The Bed), Melanie Willhide's show in Real Art Ways' Real Room, consists of a series of digital color prints. These images reference the snapshots that lovers take of each other (and pack away when the sex turns to ex-). Not literally from "the box under the bed," they were staged by Willhide using "friends and admirers," according to her artist statement.

Memory is a particularly fertile topic these days in contemporary art. Perhaps this is related to postmodern reflections on the contingent nature of truth. When it comes to the intersection of the passage of time and our most emotionally charged relationships, the realm of memory is the locale where we struggle to keep our footing amid obscuring mists and the gravitational pull of the present.

In her artist statement, Willhide writes that:

Photographs lend permanency to experiences otherwise quickly lost. In this way they are capable of capturing the essential moments of our romantic life.

On the formal level, they are quite clever. Willhide foregrounds the medium used to preserve memories—the physical photograph—and deemphasizes the content, the image. What do I mean by this? For example, in "Tom," the image of a man, seen nude from pubic hair up, is a ghostly hint. While "Tom" is barely visible, we do see the yellowing of the back of the photographic paper (a signifier of aging, if ever there was one). The image is also marked by horizontal bands of sepia chemical lines and the embedded Kodak watermark identifying the paper's manufacturer.

In "January," the phrase "the most wonderful girl" is scrawled in purple ballpoint ink across a phantom image of a nude girl. The legend "This paper is manufactured by Kodak" is overprinted both in a magenta sideways vertical line and in repeated faded diagonals.

These images make a lot of conceptual sense. (I should note, as well, that they are quite attractive in an understated way.) That conceptual sense, though, is actually somewhat at odds with Willhide's confidence that "photographs lend permanency to experiences otherwise quickly lost."

The physical artifacts of memory do remain when the experience is past. And we use the images in the "box under the bed" to try and retrace our steps to that past. But even when the image is sharp and clear we can never truly reach our destination.

As a related digression, looking at Willhide's evocative images, I worry that we may be entering an age in which memory will be in crisis. Is it an intended or unintended irony that these are digital c-prints? Because with the current usurpation of traditional photography by digital imaging—and there is nor reason to believe that trend will be reversed—how many hard copy photos will be stashed in that box from now on?

Hit the "delete" button to initialize the hard drive of our hearts.

Wax-y buildup

Paesaggio at 100 Pearl
100 Pearl St., Hartford, (860) 233-1932
Carol Padberg: Valent Ledge
Closes Feb. 6, 2007.

The JPEG images artist Carol Padberg had emailed me didn't do justice to the encaustic on panel works she is showing at Paesaggio at 100 Pearl. They didn't reveal the way different colored encaustic layers formed tactile edges. Nor did they capture the subtle and enticing variations in hue within individual color sections.

With titles like "Bauhaus Font #5" and "Futura Font #2," Padberg, who recently received an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Greater Hartford Arts Council, alerts us that these compositions derive from abstractions of letter forms. But of course, letter forms are themselves abstract shapes to which we have assigned—arbitrarily—duty as building blocks in a system of signification. In essence, Padberg extracts segments of these forms from one signification system and re-employs them in a different system, one based more on perceived aesthetics.

I certainly find that some of these works are more appealing than others. I'm drawn to the shiny plasticity of the surface in some, such as "Prensa Font #2." But more often it is the lively interplay of color choices that is pleasing. "Valent Perch," the three-foot square work after which this show is named, stands out for the beauty of blues and purples—with hints of magenta—that form a dark mesmerizing night storm of color covering much of the panel. This area is effectively set off by a slightly raised curtain of yellow-green along the top and right side. Compared to the purple-blue area, the green is flatter. It creates visual tension but isn't roiled with distracting colorations.

Her use of encaustic—hot wax with pigment—is a nice approach to this kind of minimal abstraction. "Verlag Font #2" has areas of blue and green. While the green sections are flat and opaque, the blue has a translucent luminescence. It is like a dark channel of water—icy, but absorbing light and reflecting it back from beneath the surface.

The works are all exhibited in a lobby space behind the security station in a Hartford office building. The wind hiss of the ventilation system and the hum of conversation contribute to a surprisingly meditative environment within which to contemplate this art.