Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

CWOS Erector Square conversations

Last weekend was the first weekend of this year’s City-Wide Open Studios. It kicked off with a crowded opening at the Festival Exhibition Friday night. Saturday and Sunday if this first weekend were devoted to Erector Square studios in Fair Haven. I had family obligations on Saturday but spent several hours at Erector Square on Sunday talking with artists.

Below are some vignettes from my conversations.


Anna Broell Bresnick was showing mostly drawings. Images of birds—some from sojourns to the Peabody Museum, some from photos taken by herself. Bresnick's drawings were done with graphite on museum board and the imagery was augmented burst of spray paint on mylar.

Bresnick said she has been working with bird imagery for a while.

"Birds are something that are a very powerful element of nature. The one species that can actually get off earth and our relationship to them is often one of envy," Bresnick told me. "I like using them because they can do things that other animals can't do."

"I'm originally a sculptor and there is something about the fact that they can move through space without [regard to the] horizon line," said Bresnick.

Bresnick also incorporated some photographic imagery into these drawings, rotten apples photographed on her kitchen table. She explained that apples are symbolically "the fruit of paradise and the fact that they are rotten is a comment on our culture today."

I asked Bresnick why she incorporated the element of color spray paint on mylar in several of the pieces.

"I come from a German Expressionist background. I've always been very expressive. I like abstract expressionism and neo-expressionism," Bresnick said. "I really like combining something in control and something out of control."

Adding the use of spray paint adds risk-taking, Bresnick said. It affords her the chance to make gestural marks. Additionally, working with collage elements taps into her experience as a sculptor, moving pieces around in search of the right placement.


Jane Lubin trained as a doctor—she practiced eye surgery—and medical textbooks provide much fodder for her anthropomorphic collage creations. Lubin said she "loves body parts and putting them together in different ways." It is mix and match time as human parts get juggled with parts from insects and animals. They are playful pieces, mostly small, almost miniatures, with pastel-like background colors.

Lubin, M.D. told me that she finds that her best collages are the ones that "come without thought," from the subconscious, "grabbing images that appeal to me at the moment and putting them together while trying not to think too much."

There are elements of painting and drawing in the works, too. Lubin cuts up her old acrylic paintings for her backgrounds. A painter for 20 years, Lubin has been doing the collages for about two years, but says "this seems to be where I want to be."

"They're really fun. I love doing these. I can't wait to get to my studio and do it," Lubin said.

Her eye surgery background "probably accounts for the small size of these," Lubin said, laughing, "I'm used to working in small spaces. I love the detail of these little images, which you don't get if you blow them up."


Zachary Keeting was showing a wall's worth of vigorous abstract acrylic paintings on paper. He said he generally began by watering paint down to the consistency of cream, making calligraphic marks or pouring some of the paint and then pushing and wiping the paint.

"As the layers build up the surface change," said Keeting. "I try and make them energetic, so they look like living, the tension of daily breathing."

All the paintings he was showing were done over the past several months. Keeting titled them by the month and the number "so when I get away from them I can see the trajectory, see myself mutate and become more brave." (Artwork shown on Keeting's Web site is arranged chronologically.)

I asked him what he meant by "becoming more brave."

"It means bringing in more variables, being less calculated and safe," Keeting explained. "That could change and there could be a time when I feel I need more structure."

Keeting has been working more on paper the past year.

"When I first experimented, I realized I couldn't quite control it as much. It buckles, it can tear, [the paint] puddles in unexpected ways," said Keeting. "I liked the initial results so I put the canvas aside to concentrate on this for a while."

"Acrylic wants to do something very flat on the surface. In order to integrate it into other areas, you have to tweak it," Keeting told me. "All this scraping, wiping, pouring and shaking is a way of trying to make acrylic less dead. You have to tussle with it to get it to look more sexy."


Artists Rashmi Talpade, Debbie Hesse, Insook Hwang and Steve Olsen (I didn't get a chance to speak with Olsen) chose to share a space so their work could play off each other.

Talpade was dressed in black and white, in keeping with the color theme of her "three-dimensional drawings." Talpade said she was seeking to realize her black and white ink drawings—raucous collages of household objects—in sculptural form.

She used everyday items: Styrofoam packaging, children's modeling clay, little plastic bottles, white frames for slides.

"It's basic still life. The purpose is not the object itself but how the line travels. If you were to draw this, you would expect the line to travel," said Talpade. A viewer can approach the work closely and see that "this is x" and "that is y" but should step back and take it in as a whole.

"Once you do something, the juices flow. I wanted to work bigger. Eventually, I want to make a whole room where you walk into the drawing," Talpade told me.

"Lawn.Turf," Debbie Hesse's sculptural installation complemented Talpade's work (and vice versa), utilizing lots of white but substituting a profusion of green for Talpade's basic black.

"It's a topographic, futuristic dystopic landscape," explained Hesse, "combining—as in a lot of my other works—synthetic and natural forms."

A commentary on the industrialization of agriculture, "Lawn.Turf"—the third in a series of works—juxtaposes both live, growing grass and the simulacrum of such, Astroturf. Hesse also created artificial lichen using magnets and colored iron shavings.

"I like the fact that you have to think about what's real and what's not and I like the fact that one riffs off the other," Hesse said.

Hesse explained that she is using the live grass as both painting and drawing tools. By staggering the planting of the grass, the rates of growth vary in each of the planters (the painting tool). Changes in the way the blades of grass orient themselves to the light function as a drawing tool. Hesse said she plans to make a time-lapse video of the project, noting that "a whole piece of it changes so much during the day."

Insook Hwang integrates her digital technological facility with her painting and sculptural knowledge to create a "kind of talisman."

"I'm trying to send out good and positive energy to people," said Hwang. "I'm creating an illusionistic space, combining the effect of drawing and three-dimensional sculpture."

Her wall installation meshes hand-drawn imagery on fabric with imagery created in the computer and made into lenticular prints. In a PDF artist statement on her Web site, Hwang wrote, "The imaginary creatures created by combining multiple images of monitors, curve pipes and tubes symbolize our contemporary, Internet-based society moving, affecting and evolving itself."

Her creations look like microscopic organisms evolving from single cells of digital monitors and tubing. They have a cartoon-like innocence to them. But—and this may not be an intention of Hwang's—they also suggest a virus, that this evolving technology might be something very unhealthy.

She analogizes her collage technique to cellular reproduction. Both the collage and the use of fabric and lenticular prints gives the works some depth; Hwang said "I want it flat but not flat."

"I want to create a magic that attracts people," said Hwang. "The medium I use is very scientific but I have this painterly technique."


Martha Lewis was living in southern California and making artwork based on the way the highway system altered the landscape. But then she moved to Oxford in England and freeways somehow seemed less relevant in her new environment. Lewis happened upon a trove of old machine diagrams and drawings and was inspired to develop a body of work based on that encounter.

Using simple materials—paper, watercolor paint, pencil—Lewis conjures "hybrid machine/construct/plans." She uses a lot of source material, referring to blueprints and technical drawings. Lewis sketches the composition on one piece of paper and then transfers that sketch onto the surface of another paper.

"The basic thing gets laid in there and then I keep adding things. I like to keep as much drawing in there as possible," said Lewis. She likes art where the "method of production" reveals itself. "It keeps things alive because it is possible to make very shiny, technically savvy dead paintings."

Her paintings are the antithesis of "dead." Filled with color and detail, they reference landscape and technology, the past and the future.

The use of simple materials, Lewis believes, counterbalances the intricacy of the imagery, keeping it "from becoming too fussy or precious or too slick and impersonal."

"I wanted to combine certain elements like Oriental carpets, star charts, mandalas and things about belief, faith and desire with things more seemingly pragmatic," said Lewis. "But with machines, you're always talking about the future." And talking about the future, Lewis said, inevitably involves engaging with the concepts of faith, desire and belief.

Lewis said that she generally has an idea when starting a work but they "get richer as the piece goes on. I like a fairly improvisational approach."

"Paintings are like conversations and oftentimes they're like arguments," said Lewis, chuckling.

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