Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

CWOS Alternative Space weekend

City-Wide Open Studios
50 Orange St, New Haven, (203) 772-2709
City-Wide Open Studios 2012
Through Oct. 21, 2012.
Weekend 3 Report: Sunday

Finally getting to wrap up my coverage of this year's "Crystal Anniversary" City-Wide Open Studios. (I missed the middle weekend, focusing on artists in Erector Square, because I was laid up with a cold.)

It was a trip to wander through the former New Haven Register building, getting a little lost in the maze of hallways and in the presence of the mammoth—and now silent—presses. There were too many artists for me to comment on more than a few who grabbed my attention. My silence on so many of them should not be construed as critical judgment.


It was New Canaan artist Camille Eskell's first time participating in City-Wide Open Studios. Her sculptures of the female torso were attention-grabbers and I stopped to chat with her about her work. She said her work "is all about emotional states of being. It's been the core of my work for 20-something years."

"Tattooed Lady: Coming Up Roses" was especially striking, seeing as how the softly curved nude female form—emblazoned with a floral tattoo drape—was rent from collarbone to lower abdomen with a gaping wound studded with yellowing teeth.

Camille Eskell: "Tattooed Lady: Coming Up Roses"

It is powerful sculptural imagery, the beauty of the female form and the decorative roses—Eskell says she uses "a lot of florals and botanicals to represent irrepressible life"—juxtaposed with the torn opening lined with teeth. The sculpture was cast in aqua resin and fiberglas from her original wax sculpture. The "sub-subtext" of the work, according to Eskell, was her sister's struggle at the time with terminal cancer. Eskell said that her sister's battle with cancer wasn't consciously in her mind as she made the work. It was only afterward that she saw intimations of her sister's pain in the mutilated body.

Regarding the teeth, which Eskell told me symbolized a "gnawing anxiety," Eskell said they were leftover dentures given to her some ten years prior by a dentist she knew. Eskell says she hoards lots of outré materials: "You know when you're going to have to use something and just wait until the moment is right." She mixes media but usually tries to incorporate drawing, which she describes as her greatest strength.


Graham D. Honaker II described his mixed media paintings as "Pop Art with a sentimental flourish." By the word "sentimental," Honaker means to convey affection rather than irony toward the imagery he incorporates into his works.

Honaker suspends collage, latex paint, artist-grade paint and found objects between layers of polymer emulsion epoxy. Each layer of epoxy, he told me, is equivalent to approximately 50 layers of varnish. Honaker uses old magazine imagery, consumer product ephemera and labels and his own hand-cut stencils of iconic faces past and present: 1960's model Twiggy, Black radical George Jackson, Che Guevara, Charles Manson, Al Sharpton and James Brown's mug shot, to name a few.

"My pieces were very textural. People wanted to touch them and I wanted to find a way to make the surface level so the textural surface would be denied to the viewer," Honaker told me. Was he trying to protect the surface?

"It was a little bit of both. I wanted it to be that forbidden fruit kind of thing. Your mind tells you that you can feel this object but when you go to touch it, it's smooth," Honaker explained.

Honaker says a process of evolution led him to thicker and thicker pieces as he got interested in exploring the perception of depth and the way he could play with the light and shadows he was creating in the layers. Honaker has been meshing the collage, abstract mark-making and stencil work for about four years but says it has just been during the past two years that he has added the use of epoxy as a key element in his compositions.

Graham D. Honaker II

"There's so many possibilities, so many objects I can collect and little pieces of ephemera that can be put into a painting," Honaker said. "It's blurring the edge of 3-D to 2-D and I'm really fascinated by that." Honaker's works evoke box assemblages while remaining paintings.

Honaker continues his experimentation. He told me has dabbled in installing lighting sources in his paintings. In one of the works he had on display at the Register building, Honaker implanted LED lights in the painting, which can be turned on by being plugged into a wall outlet. And there are "interactive elements" in some of the works, too. To demonstrate, Honaker took "Redwood Reliever" off the wall and tilted it so that the soy sauce in a little packet buried in the yellowed epoxy swirled around.


Artist Rita Valley didn't take it personally when she was told that her location in the Register alternative space was in a cage of sorts. It was a perfect fit with her anarchic sense of humor. Valley's installation, "(Show Us the Way) Out of Our Darkness," played off the wire fencing.

The sculptural work employed about ¼-mile of electric fencing (not plugged in for this show although Valley said she might do that in the future), rope lighting, 200 feet of clothesline covered in clear tape, fluorescent light tubes, a plastic security mirror and the lights she uses in her studio to photograph art. And piled around the base of the work was snow drifts of salt (chosen over sugar because salt "has so many historic references").

Rita Valley: "(Show Us the Way) Out of Our Darkness"

Valley said "It became like a drawing." In particular, she noted, that she had artist Cy Twombly's line work in mind when stringing the electric fence wire around the steel armature built by her husband, sculptor Bob Keating.

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