Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Shadow knows

Real Art Ways
56 Arbor St., Hartford, (860) 232-1006
Shadow Show
Oct. 28—Feb. 3, 2007

Shadows are the indication of a presence, not the presence itself. In Real Art Ways' Shadow Show, curated by Rhode Island artist Elizabeth Keithline (who has a large installation work in the exhibit) and RAW's Director of visual Arts Kristina Newman-Scott, the various works in various media trade on the presence of absence as well as other associations with the concept of "shadow."

Olu Oguibe's brother died of complications of measles and dehydration in the late 1970's at the age of four. It was a death that didn't have to happen. While the proximate cause was physical factors, the real reason was social, economic and political factors. Oguibe's brother, like so many millions of others and not only in Africa (Oguibe is originally from Nigeria), didn't have access to the necessary basic health care. The centerpiece of Oguibe's "Buggy Memorial to the Unknown Child" installation is a large blow-up photo of a young African child (actually Oguibe himself). The old film-based image is marked with dust motes and light scratches. It is mounted on the wall, memorial-style, and framed by heavy somber drapes. Set before it on a pedestal is a worn old baby buggy. Relating to the theme of the show, the shadow here is one of personal loss. But an even larger shadow is cast—the moral shadow over a humanity that has the wealth and knowledge to prevent avoidable deaths like that of Oguibe's brother but squanders those resources in war, waste and obscene concentrations of wealth.

What could be more symbolic of inertness and silence than a stone? Yet it is a chunk of rough granite from the shores of Jamestown, Rhode Island that collaborators Duncan Laurie and Gordon Salisbury used to create the computer animation "Rockstar" (get the pun?). Laurie is an artist and Salisbury is an electronic engineer. For another project, Laurie had developed a "rate of change detector," a device for monitoring "the state of the electrical charge on the surface of plant leaves and stems," according to the work's title card. That varying electrical charge was keyed to an audio track. In the course of that project, he found that some stones possess an internal electrical signal. Capturing the electronic impulses from this nondescript chunk of rock, they used them as the basis for creating a computer animation with electronic music soundtrack. It appears that even rocks may have a vibrant inner life.

Richard Goulis works with found objects. The appeal is not only in the physicality of the objects but also in the suggested presence of the lives connected to the objects. With "High Definition," Goulis employs antique wood and cloth trays used in the sorting of pieces of jewelry for manufacture. In these trays—stained rectangles of cloth of different colors stretched between rickety wood frames—the presence of the past is evident in the wear. More to the point, the workers who used the trays are present in the doodles on them—flowers, faces, a martini glass. There is an element of desire to two that are inscribed with hearts with arrows through them. At work but dreaming of love. While the desire for play—in the midst of what was likely monotonous, tedious work—is inscribed in the trays, Goulis also uses DVD projection to overlay the array of trays with scenes of the hands of his wife and children playing in the yard. This projection interacts with the mottled panels to create a subtle moving abstraction. The freedom of play invades the servitude of work, a daydream outlet of escape. And the presence of work, and particularly exploitative and repetitive work, casts its shadow over the carefree play of those who unreflectively consume the fruits of others' harsh labors.

Reflections and shadows of the intersection between commerce and the home are at the heart of Samuel Ekwurtzel's playful and revealing "Living Spaces of People Who Are Selling Their Television." The work consists of two video loops, showing on two separate televisions, culled from images scavenged from Ebay, the online auction site. Ekwurtzel had noticed that sellers photographing their TVs for sale often inadvertently captured reflections of their location. These are mostly interior spaces, often with the seller in the image. Ekwurtzel downloaded the images and isolated the screens, some of which are surprisingly clear. Isn't it one of the dystopic fears about television that as we watch it, it watches us back? Ekwurtzel presents evidence from Ebay that this eventuality has come to pass.

A further commentary on the dystopia of omni-present surveillance is offered by Erik Gould's "In Plain Sight." Gould presents 77 grainy black and white images of people taken on the streets of Boston and Providence in the summer of 2007. He apparently made no effort to conceal his actions. These random "surveillance photos" capture people talking on their cellphones, slugging coffee, hurrying somewhere. It's a commentary on the loss of privacy or, more accurately, the loss of the expectation of privacy. It's a fact that while we take little or no notice there are images like these being captured of most of us several times a day. It would be interesting to combine this idea somehow with imagery derived from Google Earth.

With "Instances in the Field," Rupert Nesbitt showcases 3-D Studio Max animation. These are hyperreal virtual environments created by Nesbitt wholly in the computer. They look like our world but something's off. The sense of realism is challenged in part by the clinical chilliness of the digital imagery. But there also the odd occurrences, like nightmares made real: the rolling upheaval of the land in one animation, the appearance in another of explosions out of nowhere with a subsequent billowing and dissipation of thick black smoke. This virtual world is a shadow of our analog environment, disturbing both for the virtuosity of the simulation and the sense of cataclysmic instability. We live in a time in which the conceptual ground is shifting beneath us.

Tim Doherty's "I am an impotent necromancer. I know this but I keep trying," besides having one of the longest titles I have ever encountered, uses old-fashioned mechanical rather than digital technology. Doherty has made a machine to reanimate dead birds. The bird carcasses are connected to a machine. When the machine is cranked, the operator can make the birds' wings move up and down in a simulacra of flying although there is no forward motion. In the gallery, the contraption is set on a pedestal. A light is projected from the floor up through it to cast looming shadows on the wall. When the machine is operated, which it wasn't while I was there, the shadows of the birds seem even more realistically to be taking wing.

I don't know whether Bert Crenca was ever an underground comix artist. But if not, he surely missed (one of) his calling(s). Crenca's "You Can't Call Your Own Baby Ugly" is a series of doodles sketched over three years at conferences, school board meetings and at his desk at (supposedly) work. It's an amazing collection of surrealistic, psychedelic and grotesque imagery. Wild misshapen figures twist in upon themselves or merge with their landscapes, all rendered with virtuoso cross-hatching and shading.

One whole room in the main gallery is devoted to co-curator Elizabeth Keithline's "The Lost House Project." An installation, it consists of a set of sculptures Keithline creates by wrapping combustible objects in wire and then burning the object. What is left is the wire mesh form. These forms are suspended from the ceiling. A light is shone through them, projecting shadows. The wire forms are arranged to suggest the outer contours of a house or other building with a peaked roof. The visitor is contained within this "house" that isn't really there, just as the separate wire components contain the presence of the pre-existing form. The projected shadows further feed this notion of presence/absence, substance/shadow.

Artist reception for Van Damme at Kehler Liddell Saturday

Kehler Liddell Gallery
873 Whalley Ave., New Haven, (203) 389-9555
Retrospective of Works by Roger Van Damme
Dec. 1—30, 2007
Artist's reception: Sat., Dec. 8, 4—8 p.m.

Press release

Kehler Liddell Gallery in Westville, will proudly host a retrospective of the works of painter Roger Van Damme, a Connecticut artist whose career stretches over six decades.

Van Damme's paintings reveal a deep understanding of the human condition and man's inevitable mortality. He is best known for his still-life paintings of enamel cups, a recurring subject in his compositions. Wounded in Belgium during WWII, he was nursed back to health with liquids sipped from these field cups. The placement of the cups and other objects paired with simple backgrounds evoke Cezanne-like references to questions of balance and perception.

Van Damme's artistic genius lies in his figure paintings. Whether a beautifully rendered, tender portrait of his late wife, or the subtle variation of color in his glowing nudes, Van Damme poignantly portrays the essence of his subjects through skillful brushstrokes. Equally enthralling is the spectrum of color and form used in his seascapes, which vary in scope from majestic oil paintings to compact watercolors.

As a young man Van Damme studied under such modern masters as Edwin Dickinson and George Grosz. Van Damme has garnered much praise over his lengthy career and been honored with numerous awards and fellowships, including the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts award in 2000 and multiple New Haven Paint and Clay Club prizes. Judy Birke wrote in 2006, "Van Damme is a consummate artist. Whether painting still lives, figures, interiors or seascapes, Van Damme is a painter who knows how to paint. It's hard to think of many other artists as skilled at their craft as he is."

Works from all stages of his career, and encompassing a variety of subject matter and styles, as well as pieces on loan from permanent collections, will be on view from Dec. 1—30.

The artist's reception will be held Sat., Dec. 8 from 4-—8 p.m. The public is welcome to join the artist and community in celebration at the Kehler Liddell Gallery, located in Westville Village. There is no admission fee for the gallery or reception. Hours of operation are Wednesday through Friday 11 a.m.—4 p.m., and Sat., Sun. 10 a.m.—4 p.m. Further information on the gallery and Roger Van Damme can be seen online at

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Opening reception and Creative Cocktail Hour at Real Art Ways Thursday night

Real Art Ways
56 Arbor St., Hartford, (860) 232-1006
Nov. 15—Dec. 16, 2007
Opening reception during Creative Cocktail Hour: Thurs., Nov. 15, 6—10 p.m.

Press release

Real Art Ways' debuts Kambui Olujimi's World Famous Dr. Keller's THE LOST RIVERS DREAM INDEX. The opening reception will be Thurs., Nov. 15, during Creative Cocktail Hour, from 6—10 p.m. Creative Cocktail Hour is $10 for the general public, $5 for members, and free for members who joined before 9/20/07.

Kambui Olujimi is a conceptual artist who examines the function and the creation of iconography through poetry, installation, video and photography. THE LOST RIVERS DREAM INDEX is a site-specific work that focuses on mythology in both a historical and contemporary context. Dreams contain many symbols; Olujimi's dream book will intimately engage viewers in the interpretation of these symbols. By using his book entries as building blocks, readers can carefully tailor their own personal mythologies. This work explores a mythopoeic relationship between the artist and his audience.

Kambui Olujimi was born and raised in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Olujimi received his BFA from Parsons School of Design. His work has been featured in museum exhibitions on a national and international level, at The Smithsonian Institute, Kiasma Musuem of Contemporary Art in Helsinki and Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Poland. His lectures include the Goethe Institute in Accra, Ghana; Tisch School of the Arts; and the Whitney Museum of American Art. He has recently been selected for The Fine Art Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts and the Apexart Outbound Residency Program in Kellerberin, Australia.

Paper/New England debut exhibition opens in Hartford Thursday eve

Paper/New England
56 Arbor St., Hartford, (860) 729-1146
New England Now
Nov. 15, 2007—Jan. 11, 2008.
Opening reception: Thurs., Nov. 15, 7—10 p.m.

Press release

Paper/New England presents New England Now, a celebration of the exemplary work being produced in New England today. Three accomplished artists from each state redefine the common expectation for contemporary art in New England. Featured artists include:

• From Connecticut: Susan Finnegan, Jim Lee, Bryan Nash Gill;

• From Massachusetts: Stephen Brown, Nona Hershey, Lois Tarlow;

• From Maine: Amy Stacey Curtis, Dennis Pinette, Dudley Zopp;

• From New Hampshire: Betsey Garand, Louise Hamlin, Julie Lucca;

• From Rhode Island: Yizhak Elyashiv, Stephen Fisher, Tayo Heuser; and

• From Vermont: Robert Manning, Lynn Newcomb and Claire Van Vliet.

New England Now's opening reception is Thurs., Nov. 15, from 7—10pm. The exhibition runs from Nov. 15—Jan. 11.

Paper/New England, a newly formed 501-C3 registered in the state of Connecticut, is a non-profit study center focused on works of art on paper produced by New England artists. New England artists are defined as artists who have lived and worked in New England, who have taught or were schooled in New England at any time in their career, or who while visiting a school in the region produced work in New England.

Paper/New England is focused on the era of 'modern art' beginning with the etching revival of the 1880's. The center is interested in promoting established and emerging artists as well as underappreciated artists of the late 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. The center will actively survey New England art schools, the artists they are producing and the professors/artists that have nurtured them.

Paper/New England will maintain a calendar of rotating exhibitions as well as a library of books and catalogues showcasing art by New England artists. The center is building a permanent collection of art on paper which includes prints of all kinds, drawings, watercolors, collages, mixed-media, artists' books, book illustrations, posters and sketchbooks. Certain kinds of photographs may eventually be included.

Paper/New England will create working relationships with the region's most promising young artists and art institutions. The center is an educational resource supporting emerging, student and established artists as well as the viewing public. Programming is designed to engage and inform our audience.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Antiwar multimedia installation Wed.—Thurs. at Hartford Art School

Hartford Art School
200 Bloomfield Ave., West Hartford, (860) 786-4393
Artists Against the War: Disarming Images
Nov. 14—15, 2007.
Special screening Thurs. Nov. 15, 7:30 p.m. with visiting artist Joyce Kozloff

Press release

Hartford Art School at the University of Hartford hosts a public screening and follow-up discussion of Disarming Images, a one hour long, 3-screen, multimedia installation conceived and organized by Artists Against the War. It documents the upsurge of protest in the US, post 9/11 period against the war in Afghanistan, against the impending invasion of Iraq, and finally the continuous, ongoing fierce opposition to the war itself. The photographers and videographers of this American resistance have been producing an invaluable historical archive since the fall of 2001. The intention of Disarming Images is to share part of this extraordinary narrative, which the mainstream media has shielded from the world.

Disarming Images brings together a wide range of visual media representing the most creative protests since the Vietnam era. The contributors are both professional and amateur, working in a variety of media -- performance, video, billboard, installation, web art and photography. The images range from actions created by traditional activists to those who have never before spoken out, from artists to military families. Together they form a new, diverse culture of antiwar activity. Together, they present a provocative argument against continued manipulation by fear, and pre-emptive wars as justifiable options. Together, they imagine a life affirming world community.

The project is a simultaneous video documentation of actions and political documentaries, sequenced images from mass protest signs and large scale projections of still images interspersed with video clips, including a timeline of events. All compilations will be shown simultaneously, utilizing a combination of video monitors and projections to immerse the viewer experientially. AAW hopes to inspire, inform, and encourage participation in actions of dissent.

"We see Disarming Images as an organizing tool, a means to activate communities and students." - Artists Against the War

Informal Continuous Presentations Wednesday and Thursday, November 14 and 15, @ 10 a.m., 12 noon, 2 + 4 p.m. Media Box II, second floor, Renee Samuels Center, Hartford Art School, University of Hartford, 200 Bloomfield Ave, West Hartford CT 06117. Special Screening Thursday, November 15 @ 7:30 pm with visiting artist Joyce Kozloff. Admission free, Q+A follows.

Gallery For Rent

Alva Gallery
54 State St., New London, (860) 437-8664
Legacies 2007: Ceremonies and Celebrations
Nov. 10—Dec. 15, 2007.

Alva Gallery has always been about both contemporary art and a commitment to the city of New London. Unfortunately, after trying to cultivate an art market for nine years and barely breaking even, Alva Greenberg has decided to close shop and pursue other interests. I stopped by the gallery on Saturday to check out their last show, where I met longtime Alva employee Susan Hendricks, a dedicated member of New London’s art glitterati. We chatted about what the gallery closing means for New London.

New London has always seemed like a place where artists and the arts should thrive: it contains scads of underused buildings ripe for studio space, and plenty of vacant storefronts. And in fact, civic-minded locals have tried to revive the city culturally by renovating historic buildings and rebranding New London as an arts community. But the reality is that landlords’ expectations for rent are too high, and there aren’t enough collectors to nourish the artists and galleries. Supporting the arts isn’t merely providing affordable studios and gallery space for exhibitions. People need to buy the artwork, and that is what hasn’t happened. Looking at the houses, yachts, and other indicia of a fat wallet, there are plenty of wealthy people in southeastern Connecticut. Imagine what might happen if people started buying art from galleries and living artists instead of the poster shop at Ikea. The CT Commission on Culture and Tourism generously provides educational programming for artists and arts organizations, but that may not be the best allocation of resources for revitalizing arts in the region. A campaign aimed at wealthy people to promote the purchase of original artwork might be more effective. If more galleries close, artists may have to start selling their artwork on eBay andBrooklyn-based Etsy, where a more clued-in audience awaits. In that event, gallery owners will move on to other more remunerative endeavors, and New London will be the poorer for it. Heiress Alva has deep pockets, so she has been able to stick with it for almost a decade, but other gallery owners lack that kind of staying power.

It is not that the work arising from smaller areas like southeastern Connecticut, outside the cultural radii of New York and Boston, is inherently unworthy, or the shows poorly conceptualized. The current exhibition, curated as usual by Alva, is loosely based around the notion of “Ceremonies and Celebrations”—a well-considered concept for a thematic group show that is at once broad enough to elicit diverse artistic interpretations and sufficiently defined to keep them on message. Traditionally curators establish a theme based on current trends they detect among art makers, then select specific pieces to examine and refine that theme. In this exhibition, Alva posited a general idea, and aptly asked artists whose work she admired to submit artwork they felt addressed the idea in some way. The work submitted to the show, however, doesn’t fully articulate a cohesive point of view. Much of it smacks of the proverbial student art project, doggedly and obviously exploring the assigned thematic conceit. Yet some pieces do manage to quietly embrace the theme while still standing strongly on their own.

Peter Good's “Ne Plus Ultra,” which looks like an old-fashion appliqué sewing project, depicts a partridge with a branch of leaves in its mouth. The image, sewn to what resembles a yellowed linen dishtowel, is made of different upholstery scraps. They are carefully cut, and sewn to the cloth with thick zigzag machine stitching. The meticulous, charming handiwork of past generations is evoked, while the modern machine method, the industrial materials, and the masculine bearing of the artist himself register its contemporary provenance.

“Wish” is composed of a faded, large-scale, black-and-white photograph of a young African-American girl jumping rope, juxtaposed with an array of hanging brooms, handmade from sticks and branches. For artist Diane Barcelo, who cites the African-American tradition of “Jumping the Broom” when talking about the work, the open-ended installation may be a memento of her recent marriage. For me it suggests truths about work as play, and stirs longings for the simple games of childhood. The adult artist’s more serious broom-making ritual echoes the repetitive, compulsive action of the well-loved juvenile pastime.

“Dipping into the Fountain of Youth” is a small-scale drawing made with pencil, watercolor and gouache on paper. The artist, illustrator Patience Brewster, has been drawing for as long as she can remember, and this little gem demonstrates both her imaginative skill and her mastery of the materials. Finely detailed in pencil and subtly painted in gouache and watercolor, the drawing depicts a woman wearing the fountain of youth as a ball gown. Or has the fountain of youth come to life?

The Alva Gallery’s closing, of course, isn’t anything for New London to celebrate. For nearly ten years, it has enriched the community with consistently worthwhile shows – including, despite some shortcomings, “Ceremonies and Celebrations.” If this is the Alva’s swan song, the hope is that someone with Ms. Greenberg’s resolve and passion will soon arrive to fill the void. For any new gallery to be sustainable, though, marketing innovation and aggressiveness as well as aesthetic acumen will be required. The harsh reality, which New London is now feeling, is that galleries need to sell as well as show.

Artists include Imna Arroya, Forrest R. Bailey, Diane Barcelo, Siona Benjamin, Patience Brewster, Judy Cotton, Carlos Estevez, Beverly Floyd, Francie Bishop Good, Peter Good, Peter Harron, Gigi Liverant, Tim Lovejoy, Mark McKee, Fethi Meghelli, Anita Soos and Joy Wulke.

Note: My camera batteries died after shooting four terrible pictures, so if you want to see the show, you'll have to make one last trip to Alva.

Related post: Connecticut Collects Connecticut

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Opening reception for Legacies 2007 show at Alva Gallery

ALVA Gallery
54 State St., New London, (860) 437-8664
Legacies 2007: Ceremonies and Celebrations
Nov. 10—Dec. 15, 2007.
Opening reception: Nov. 19, 5:30—7:30 p.m. preceded by poetry reading at 5 p.m.

Press release

Since its inception in 1999, the ALVA Gallery has presented a Legacies show every holiday season as a means of reflecting upon the passage of time and how it connects us. This show originated as family legacies and included multiple generations of artists within the same family. In 2005, it became American Legacies, making it an invitational focusing on a cultural phenomenon pertinent to America.

This year's exhibition expands even further on that concept, taking it global with the theme Ceremonies and Celebrations. The exhibition features works from seventeen artists from six countries. It includes paintings, photographs, sculptures and installations. In addition there will be a theme related poetry reading at the opening.

Participating artists include Imna Arroya, Forrest R. Bailey, Diane Barcelo, Siona Benjamin, Patience Brewster, Judy Cotton, Carlos Estevez, Beverly Floyd, Francie Bishop Good, Peter Good, Peter Harron, Gigi Liverant, Tim Lovejoy, Mark McKee, Fethi Meghelli, Anita Soos and Joy Wulke.

There will be an opening reception this evening from 5:30—7:30 p.m. The reception will be preceded by a poetry reading at 5 p.m. Poets Michael Bradford (Award-winning playwright, poet and professor at the University of Connecticut at Avery Point), Daniel Gula (Finalist for the Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize) and Jose Gonzales (Professor at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy) will read.

Local artist exhibiting in Cheshire

The Picture Framer Artshack Gallery
96 Elm St., Hartford, (203) 272-2500
Rossella Pellegrino Pulit
Nov. 1—30, 2007

Press release

Local artist, Rossella Pellegrino Pulit will be exhibiting her most recent works at the Picture Framer's Artshack Gallery in Cheshire from November 1—30.

This exhibit is the artist's first solo show, which will feature her most current series of oil paintings. The series is based on the Epiphyllum Hybrid/'Calisto' plant featuring its large fragrant blooms, buds and flat leaves. Ms. Pulit captures this beautiful flower, commonly known as the 'Queen of the Night', which opens and closes in a single night. Works done in pastel and water-soluble graphite will also be on exhibit

Ms. Pulit earned her Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in art education from Southern Connecticut State University. Touring Italy and studying at the University in Urbino, she experienced the art, language and culture of her heritage. Ms. Pulit has been an art educator in Waterbury for twenty years and is currently teaching at Wilby High School. She serves as a mentor and cooperating teacher for the Connecticut BEST program and was selected as "Who's Who among America's Teachers" in 2004.

Aside from her teaching, Ms. Pulit has also exhibited her work locally. In the earlier years, her interests were focused on fine craft where she participated in several craft shows and exhibited her art-wearable's in fine galleries of Guilford, Westbrook and Essex. Today, she works in a variety of drawing and painting media. Over the years, she has participated in several local exhibits such as; Artsplace, Cheshire Art League's annual exhibit, electronic exhibits for the Connecticut Art Education Association fall conferences, The Picture Framer's Artshack Gallery in Cheshire and the Hilles Gallery of C.A.W. in New Haven.

Rossella Pellegrino Pulit, a lifelong resident of Connecticut, resides in Cheshire with her husband Joseph and their two daughters.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Connecticut Art Scene welcomes new blogger Sharon Butler

Connecticut Art Scene is pleased to welcome another blogger to the fold. Sharon L. Butler, a faculty member in the Department of Visual Arts at Eastern Connecticut State University, has received several grants and awards, including a Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant, Connecticut Artist fellowship, Blue Mountain Center Artists' fellowship, Vermont Studio Center residency grant, a Red Cinder Creativity Center residency, and two Connecticut State University research grants. Her work is included in private collections in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Baltimore, Tampa, Philadelphia, Providence, London and Kyoto. She edits Two Coats of Paint, a blog digest of articles and commentary about painting and related subjects.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Alternative Space: Short takes

City-Wide Open Studios
50 Orange St., New Haven, (203) 772-2709
Alternative Space: Short takes
Oct. 28, 2007.

I was unable to go through the Alternative Space on Saturday, Oct. 27, because I was in Boston visiting my son at college and protesting the war in Iraq and the coming war with Iran. But I spent the better part of five hours at the Alternative Space in the old Hamden Middle School on Sunday, Oct. 28. Overall, I would say that it all felt much more low-key and reserved than last year. Of course, that is a subjective impression. It seemed less expansive—there were parts of the school that were utilized last year that weren't this fall. I occasionally noticed the color banners identifying the media being displayed in particular rooms but didn't use them for way-finding.


Derek Leka was showing his acrylic paintings in a room on the first floor. Three of them were indicative of a new direction he is taking in his work.

"I started from liking Mondrian and his ideas with how to deal with space. And I liked Albers as far as color and light. It's blasphemy to call them boring but I wished Mondrian would use other colors and Albers would break out of his format," Leka told me. "So I combine them. And since it is the 21st century, it is the voice of those languages in a 21st century voice."

Where Leka had in the past generally confined himself within the constraints of straight-line geometric forms, his newer works chart an evolution into more organic forms.

"I've allowed myself to let it look like circuitry or organic," he said. A work like "Invariant Discordant Catastrophe" (see image) starts at the top with rectangular forms. But as the imagery moves down the painting it opens up first into a splaying of wires and cables and finally into free-form space. The progression of imagery within the painting reflects Leka's cautious approach to changing his style.

"I'm trying to make it my language and a new language. I'm still stretching into new areas but trying to stay within my language," explained Leka. "I always want them to look like they are by the same artist. I don't want to make something so simple that it looks like it's by a different artist or that I'm trying to change my style."

This was Leka's third CWOS. He wanted to show all work from this year "both for myself and the people who already know me. So people can know I'm working. And I want to see them all in one place to see how they communicate with each other and get feedback."

Some of the feedback he got surprised him. One of the "slow, simple" paintings, as he described it, was built of different shades of blue squares and rectangles. Leka felt it might be "boring." But many of his visitors, he said, told him they liked it the best.

"It's nice to get feedback. That's why this is great, of course," he said.


Marc Pypaert is an electron microscopist by trade. In an artist statement he had available, he wrote, "I have spent most of my career looking at cells through the lenses of a microscope and marveling at the beauty of life and creation." The photos he was showing were not taken through the electron microscope. Rather, Pypaert uses a 35-mm camera and a 55 mm macro lens to shoot objects very close up. This included the ripples left behind in beach sand at the water line, bubbles in mottled ice, the bottom of a cracked enamel basin and rusted metal—a mélange of congealing browns and pastel turquoise.

"The idea is that they are abstract. I try and make the images look like a painting," Pypaert told me. In the case of the basin, he saw something of a landscape. The grains of sand, shot very close up with a high resolution camera, look almost like pixels.

Like many of the photographers I have spoken with recently, Pypaert is moving, albeit reluctantly, from film to digital imaging. He had been using the darkroom at Yale but it is being closed. Taking film to be processed and scanned can be prohibitively expensive for a serious but non-professional photographer. His conclusion: "Why not just be controlling the digital process myself?"

He entered Open Studios for the first time in 2004. He had always had an interest in being an artist, he said, but couldn't afford to.

"[City-Wide Open Studios] is great for that reason because it allows everyone to get a shot," said Pypaert.

Suzan Shutan was showing "Fragmented Narratives," an installation that is still a work in progress. In a little dark room, she had hung wire and twine sculptures from the ceiling. Through the sculptures—held more or less in place by nearly invisible fishing wire—she projected a loop of short videos. The sequence included goldfish beneath the sun-reflected surface of a pool, a couple of ducks gliding over a pond surface, a young girl twirling in a dance, a ceiling fan spinning with a slow motion hum. A fan blew softly through the sculptures, which cast gently moving shadows on the projected video. The video included occasional narration, lines that Shutan took more or less at random, Dada-style, from novels she really likes.

As the ducks were swimming on the pond, the narrator (a female voice) says, "It's a secret between us and a secret that's being kept from us." Sounds like the varying takes on contemporary art (although in that case the word "and" should be replaced by "or.")

One visitor told Shutan, "I know the secret!" When Shutan inquired, "What's the secret?" the visitor replied, "I can't tell you!"

"It was the best comment I got," Shutan told me (now the secret is out). "My own audience keeping my secret from me."


Last year, Greg Garvey created an installation in the old Hamden Middle School music room using iMac computers left behind when the school was closed. This year Garvey was using iMacs again for a different installation, one that touched on the growing and intertwined fears of identity theft and virtual surveillance.

The four iMacs were labeled with bold declarations: two stated "Trust Me" while the others were emblazoned with "Go Ahead" or the more provocative "Make My Day." The set-up was in a first floor hallway. Like a carnival barker, Garvey accosted passersby: "Let me steal your identity;" "Step up and enter all your personal information." On the screens was a familiar display, a form with fields for the computer user to enter personal information: name, address, phone number. But there were also fields for Social Security number, credit card number, bank account number and PIN. At the bottom of the form there was a button ripe with double meaning. "Submit," it said.

There was a disclaimer at the bottom of each form that none of the information would actually be retained. In fact, Garvey told me that the "submit" button was actually a "clear form" button. Notwithstanding the disclaimers, he wasn't getting a lot of takers.

"There are those who are reluctant and if I press them hard enough, I find their reluctance was related to a real experience of identity theft," Garvey told me.

"I like the piece because in a way it's a one-liner but it's much more than that. It allows me to explore issues," said Garvey. "You can imagine how banal it would be if I made a painting with a screen like this. It shows the limitations of traditional media. There are ideas, even emotions, that can't be captured by other media.

"There are emerging dimensions of our human experience that require new ways to comment and subvert," Garvey said.


Jonathan Waters said that assembling his sculptural installation, which practically filled a room at Hamden Middle School, was "like wrestling an anaconda." Waters titled his work "Corrievrekin" after a whirlpool off the west coast of Scotland. ("My father," Waters said, "used to like the sound of that word.")

Waters used 2-inch orangeburg pipe, plywood and black gaffer's tape to create the spiraling sculpture. He built it in the room. It took about four or five hours, he said. He then spent a few days using the black tape to create lines on the walls that complemented the sculptural form.

"I had a really low budget on the piece. I had the pipe and had been thinking about what to do with it for a while," Waters said. He had been working with harder-edged forms, Waters said, but he was "starting to work with curvilinear elements." "Corrievrekin" was a way "to marry the two together." But the pipe was the snake Waters had to struggle with and tame to his vision. Tape and tie wraps were holding it together.

There was music accompanying the sculpture, composed by his friend Nelson Bogart specifically for the installation. Waters noted that in the beginning of the composition, which is orchestral in style although created digitally, there is the sound of (synthesized) bagpipes. The music, Waters said, "has eight repeating elements. It starts off kind of slow and as it goes up it builds in intensity." While I was there, one visitor told Waters the sculpture was the best thing he'd seen so far that day.

"It was great to have the opportunity to put this thing together," Waters told me.


This was the first Open Studios for Joseph Fucigna, the Weston, CT-based sculptor. One of the artists-in-residence for this year's Alternative Space, he chose the room he was in because it was a big, "relatively clean" space with good lighting. He set an old teacher's desk and chair off kilter in the middle of the room.

"I was walking around trying to find elements to put on it. It was hard," Fucigna said. Ultimately, he scavenged up an old test and a student I.D.

Fucigna is attracted to the use and transformation of industrial materials in his work. Not materials with a strong identity, like car bumpers, but rather the type of anonymous yet functional products that are part of the background noise of everyday existence. Viewers can respond to these works in diverse ways—explore the material, try and figure out what it is, appreciate the formal aesthetic aspects of the sculpture. His material of choice for his installation was black plastic deer netting.

His current work comes from the idea of water stains or mold, the notion that "something ominous is underneath or behind the wall or ceiling," Fucigna told me. And what better place to imagine such a likelihood than a shuttered old school built on a toxic waste site? Fucigna spent about 25 hours arranging the black deer netting in the room. It appears to spill out of the ceiling down onto the desk. It bubbles out of the desk drawers and trails way on the floor. As the afternoon sunlight played off the netting, Fucigna contemplated the possible interpretations.

"Is it billowing smoke or lava? Is it coming up or going down?" he mused.

"Each installation gives you different things to respond to. It helps my work grow. It helps you to think on your feet," Fucigna said. "And there's something quite wonderful about throwing it all out at the end of the day."


Kelly Bigelow Becerra and Roland Becerra were in high spirits when I stopped by their room. I had met Bigelow Becerra last year when I checked out her installation "Harvest: Hidin' from the Hair Cut, Amongst the Sweet Corn." The reason for the married couple's excitement was showing in the darkened room: clips from and a trailer for their short animated art/horror film Dear Beautiful.

Dear Beautiful won Moving Pictures Magazine's Spring 2007 Short Film Award Contest in the Animation category. The award scored the couple a paid trip to the Cannes Film Festival where the short was shown.

Becerra, who received his M.F.A. from Yale in 2001 and teaches at the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, used still photography, hand drawings and animated painting to create the visually unique film. What he didn't use was video. The paintings are of areas around New Haven. The photographs are of friends playing the roles of the characters in the film.

"It's a combination of scanning in the actual paintings and drawings, using stop-motion photography and compiling all those in Photoshop and using Flash and Final Cut Pro to make it move," Roland Becerra explained. "It's painting outside the computer and painting inside the computer."

Bigelow Becerra described the short as "the calling card to get into competitions: 'We can do this and this is what it will look like.'" The ultimate aim is to parlay the short into a contract to make Dear Beautiful a feature film.

The short will be featured with the other Spring 2007 Short Film Contest winners on a DVD to be included in an upcoming issue of Moving Pictures Magazine.

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Open Call for art to mark World AIDS DAY; deadline Nov. 26

Institute for Community Research
2 Hartford Square West, Suite 100, Hartford, (860) 278-2044
Celebration of Life: Affirmation, Remembrance & Activism
Open Call for artwork
Deadline for submission: Mon., Nov. 26, 5 p.m.

Press release

(As someone who lost a loved one—my youngest brother, Peter—to a premature death from complications of AIDS, I wanted to post this call for art to mark World AIDS Day. —Hank Hoffman)

Please apply or forward to your friends and colleagues. The Institute for Community Research (ICR) and the Connecticut AIDS Resource Coalition (CARC) are partnering with the Hispanic Health Council and other local agencies in seeking creative individuals who are infected, affected or working in the field of HIV/AIDS, artists (emerging, mid-career) and youth [ages 13-21] to submit artwork for exhibition and auction to Celebration of Life: Affirmation, Remembrance, & Activism.

Celebration of Life: Affirmation, Remembrance, & Activism honors those who are living with HIV/ AIDS, and those who have died, and is a call for prevention and sustained support and care for people who are affected and infected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. This is an open call for works of art in all mediums. The work will be exhibited at the Jean J. Schensul Community Art Gallery at ICR, in Hartford, Connecticut.

The exhibit will open on Nov. 30, and run through Dec. 21, 2007. The opening reception and auction will be held on Nov. 30, 2007, 4:30—8:00 p.m. Auction proceeds from donated work will be used to offset the costs of Rise {UP} Lift, a series of free educational workshops, panels, and an community concert on Dec. 1, 2007, World AIDS Day.

All work must be ready for hanging, and delivered to the ICR by Monday, Nov. 26, 5:00 p.m. Artists who are donating work for auction may select an opening minimum bid which will be posted. The dimensions of work for this exhibition are limited to 8"x11" for 2-D work, and 12 square inches for 3-D. Bid numbers can be purchased at the opening of the exhibition and work that is purchased can be picked up from the ICR on Dec. 21, 2007.

For more information contact Colleen Coleman, ICR Artistic Director at (860) 278-2044 ext 310, or colleen.coleman (AT) All artwork is to be mailed or dropped-off to the ICR 2 Hartford Square West, Suite 100, Hartford, CT 06106.

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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Sunday, November 04, 2007


Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum
258 Main Street, Ridgefield, (203)438-4519
Voice & Void: 2006 Hall Curatorial Fellowship Exhibition
September 16, 2007- February 24, 2008

Exhibit includes works by Rachel Berwick, Joseph Beuys/Ute Klophaus, John Cage, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, VALIE EXPORT, Anna Gaskell, Asta Gröting, Christian Marclay, Melik Ohanian, Hans Schabus, Nedko Solakov, Julianne Swartz, and Cerith Wyn Evans.
“Fifty years ago,” my sixty-something mother said after we went with my father to the Aldrich last week, “Museums were dusty, frozen places. The buildings were quiet, almost church-like. They weren’t interactive and loud like the show we just saw.” She continued, “We used to go to museums to feast our eyes. Now we can feast our ears as well.”

We’d just seen the exhibit Voice and Void: 2006 Hall Curatorial Fellowship Exhibition, curated by Austria’s Thomas Trummer. The show explores the use of voice in the visual arts. There wasn’t as much in the show to feast the eyes on as we would have liked, though this seems to have been by design. According to the museum’s website, Trummer uses the art in his show to consider “the effects of what happens when one sense is replaced by another, with particular focus on hearing and seeing.” Many of the visual aspects of the exhibit are simple, sometimes stark.

One piece, “Open,” by Julianne Swartz, is a simple wooden box which viewers are invited to open. When the lid is lifted a recording of many individuals saying “I love you” begins. The voices are quiet at first: “I love you,” then become louder and louder the longer the box is open until there are many voices shouting “I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU.” A sign on the wall asks listeners to shut Swartz’s box gently.

In a video in the museum lobby by Asta Groting called “The Inner Voice/You’re Good," the ventriloquist Buddy Big Mountain is given a pep-talk by a doll which was made by Groting and is supposed to represent Mountain's psyche. The doll begins, “You are super.”
Mountain replies, “Oh, I don’t know.”

“Yes, you are. You have to think you’re super, too.”
“Why? I don’t think I’m super at all.”
“You are good, though. As a matter of fact, very good.”
“Oh come on. Why are you saying this?”
“Because you are such a great person, with so many possibilities.”
“Oh, come on. I’ve become a question, even to myself.”

(The full script can be found on-line.)Groting has made seventeen videos of different ventriloquists performing similar scripts with the same doll.

The loudest piece in the exhibit is “Opera for a Small Room” by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. This is a life-sized room-within-a-room, with shelves of LPs on the walls, a working turn-table, a chair, a chandelier, and other objects which make it cozily cluttered. An automated show takes place in the room, beginning with a man’s sonorous voice: “In the middle of the stage a man sits alone in a room filled with speakers, amplifiers, and records.” The man tells a story that goes on for about twenty minutes. The turn-table plays real records. Different lights click and flash on and off, at times frantically, accompanying the words and music. Often it seems as though there is man's shadow moving around the room. At the sound of a train the chandelier trembles. The story the man tells—a tragedy about a woman and a train—is occasionally campy. When we saw it my mother sat on a bench and laughed, while my father sat next to her and listened seriously, saying later that it reminded him of old-time radio shows. My own response was somewhere in-between. The visual effects made the show take place both in the room and in our minds.

Weird screeching noises emit from the second floor of the Aldrich, which is where two live parrots are enclosed in a lighted white aviary that acts as a shadow-puppet screen. The birds’ outlines can be seen against it. They look a bit like ghosts—which, in a way, they are. The exhibition is called “may-por-e’,” and on the walls around the enclosure is a legend about a tribe called the Maypure’, who lived in what is now Venezuela. The people are said to have been wiped out by another tribe, who kept their parrots as spoils of war. The parrots were the only living creatures left to speak the Mapure’ language. An explorer named Alexander von Humboldt supposedly recorded words from the parrots, and many years later Connecticut artist Rachel Berwick taught two of her own parrots, Papetta and Apekiva, to speak the language too. (More information on how this was done can be found at a website called Parrot Chronicles, in “Bearers of a Lost Language.” The article is by Sue Farlow, who helped Berwick with her project.) The exhibit has traveled as far as London, and two parrots in Instanbul and another pair in Brazil have also been trained in Maypure’, using tapes of Berwick’s birds. A video of the birds can be seen and heard at Berwick’s website.

Papetta and Apekiva can be heard at the Aldrich until February 24. They are representations of voice, and of void, and of the interactive, lively places that art museums have become over the past fifty years.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

East Neighborhoods: Gregory Vershbow

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

At the City-Wide Open Studios opening, I decided that one of the artists I definitely wanted to check out was Gregory Vershbow. A photographer, he has a studio down on lower Chapel Street that he shares, if I overheard correctly, with a salsa band. "Paperhill," his image in the main exhibit, was a striking piece of photo-surrealism.

While many of Vershbow's images—perhaps most of what he had on display in the small studio—are composites with narrative hooks, there were also shots in which he was "just focusing on the formal aspects" of the image. The particular trio of photos that elicited that comment was of buckets of live eels at a fish market.

There were two series of images that commanded attention in Vershbow's studio. One series featured the photos that lead off chapters in Vershbow's limited edition artist's book Philip Lusterko and the Memory Machine. The other series of images that was prominently displayed—and the one that included "Paperhill"—is his most recent, The Library.

Philip Lusterko and the Memory Machine combines photography with two parallel text narratives. The story is:

an imagined history of a nineteenth-century scientist who inadvertently invented photography while failing to prove that memory is a mechanical process. Lusterko's original machines, fragmented journals and photographic plates piece together the story of Lusterko's life through a photographic installation and artist's book, which explore the scientist's experiments, conjectures and nightmares, arguing that while Lusterko failed to prove a mechanical basis for memory, he succeeded in mapping a metaphor for the functions of the human mind.

The premise of the book is that the author has found Lusterko's journals and photos in an old trunk. It is an excavation in the archaeological dig of meaning. The text jumps back and forth between Lusterko's fragmentary first-person accounts and the author, in the present, struggling to apprehend their import through the gaps in the narrative. This postmodern discourse is further heightened by the use of Vershbow's photographs.

Using many different techniques, he created photos purportedly taken by Lusterko—they have the appearance of early daguerrotypes—as well as images of the machines Lusterko invented in his quest to create a mechanical mind. These machines, like the "tactilegraph," were themselves built by Vershbow to be photographed. ("My mother is a jeweler," he told me. "I grew up with rudimentary metalworking skills.")

There are layers of metaphor at work. Vershbow juggles several interesting ideas at once: tropes of postmodern fiction, meditations on documentary nature of photography, musings on both the processes and nature of memory. One concept, embodied in Lusterko's deployment of the language of alchemy while stepping into the future of the Enlightenment and industrial rationalism, is that new systems of thought often have their embryonic development within the shells of the old. This has its formal aspect in Philip Lusterko and the Memory Machine. Vershbow uses old school analog photographic processes but also the new digital technology: the photos that lead off the chapters were shot digitally and Vershbow also used Photoshop manipulation as it suited his purposes.

The project is an impressive achievement. I was fascinated by the details in the photos, like the one of the "tactilegraph." It is a riveting image of what looks like bronze crusty fingers (actually a plaster and clay casting of a hand) emerging out of the depth of field, with wires protruding from the tips. The book has been published an edition of 27 but Vershbow would like to have it put out in an affordable trade edition.

The Library is his current work and was the subject of a recent show at Ars Libri in Boston. The short explanation: "It's about a world literally metamorphosing into books."

"What really interests me in photography is the idea of photographic narrative. Photography is simultaneously an allegedly truth-seeking device and also at the same time subjective," Vershbow said to me. "With this work, I start more with telling a story from a completely fictional angle. What happens when you tell a completely fictional story with photography and what slips in through the cracks of the process?"

The images, overlaying photographs of people and books, were created by a combination of processes: posed photos, spliced negatives, Photoshop composites.

"I'm becoming a lot more digital because I don't have the resources to do everything in the darkroom. I was resistant at first. But it's all what you make of it," said Vershbow, adding with a laugh, "I've been trying in the last year to embrace technology."

He told me that he had considered The Library finished but is reconsidering. He is bothered that "some people think [the series] is about the joy of reading." While quick to add that he harbors no ill thoughts about the joy of reading, Vershbow doesn't see that as the point of The Library.

"I don't believe there's only one way to read an image. I don't think artistic intent is the end-all of the image," Vershbow told me. On the other hand, if his metaphors are being lost or misinterpreted (rather than just differently interpreted), it suggests that perhaps he needs to revisit it.

"The important point of the story about the world turning into books is that no one is literate," said Vershbow. He pointed out that no one is actually reading in the images. "It is about the transformation from things that are real to things more metaphysical and cerebral. It's vague but the viewer should fill in the details."

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