Sunday, June 19, 2011

Transitions by Diane Belfiglio at Studio M

Only 5 days are left to go see Diane Belfiglio’s show “Transitions” at the Massillon Museum Studio M. If you missed the Butler Institute début of this show, don’t miss your chance now! I first became aware of her work in 1981 when she became a faculty member at the University of Akron. She was never an instructor of mine because I was a year or two ahead of the classes she was teaching. Back in those days, we never called any instructor by their first name. The “best buddies” aspect that students now share with faculty I find rather disturbing. Those above us, regardless of the age difference, were our mentors, professors and professionals. A level of respect existed and which I miss in today’s college kids.

Diane’s work back then were large, closely cropped, hard edged images of architectural details and the interplay of shadows upon the forms with a masterful knowledge of color. At the same time, another artist, Sue Wall, was making a name for herself doing intricate paintings of Victorian architecture. Other former instructors of mine are still exhibiting regionally as well, regardless of the time that has passed, which still makes me feel like the student. In that regard, I can still learn from them and any aspiring artist should take the time to go study the exhibit at Studio M.  Do not just walk past the pictures like others did while I was there and comment about the “pretty flowers” because the show is not about flowers, or fences, or shadows.

First of all, the title should give you a clue along with her statement that this exhibit chronicles a journey of discovery. 33 pieces are on view and arranged in somewhat of a timeline to show how she changed and adapted to the interaction of materials and subject matter. Diane’s work (using the first name thing because we are close in age and our kids both graduate HS this year…if I called her Ms. B she would feel really old and probably knock over all my pastels) is done in series form meaning she uses the same subject matter over and over discovering all she can about its forms and elements and interaction with light. The media is oil pastel this time around, her latest passion and probably her most challenging subject matter, organic forms.

She explains the difficulty of using the oil pastel to depict the flat architectural elements of her earlier signature style. The statement also explains why she transitions to organic forms. With those two things in mind, very slowly walk the room, and observe what changes from image to image.  As you get to the flowers, keep in mind that petals and leaves are far more difficult to render than one thinks. To create believable overlaps and curvatures, one has to truly understand the interaction of light and shadow.

The first pictures one encounters are from the Potomac Patterns and Jamestown Geometry series’.  The warm greens, teals, creams and browns are created from a layering of tones not possible with acrylic paint. The edges are sharp but not flat and this repetitive pallet bounces between the positive and negative areas and the light and dark patterns of the composition. The directional markings reinforce the forms. I discovered the “transitional” piece in the corner, Mount Vernon Memorial III from 2009 when one physically turns the corner in the room and her work moves to a new set of challenges. Don’t expect a dramatic change of style or subject matter, look for the increased joy and energy that bursts from the flowers and their interactive play with their own shadows.

Summer Shadows I and II depict a delicate pink flower confronting an evil barbed wire type invasive weed shadow.  These shadows are as much a living thing as the flower itself so keep that interaction in mind as you progress past these stunning images. Look at how the surface texture of the paper holds onto the oil pastel media becoming part of the depth of color, enriching each area.  Architectural elements are still present in most of her pieces, but no longer as the star, just supporting players, essential of course, but not drawing the attention.

A few favorites to point out are Opus in Orange which is very different from the others in the room with the large and complex orange flower utilizing reds and purples to create the shadows, and also Passion in Pink II which as one leaf with a different vein pattern than all the others. It took me a few moments to realize why I kept going back to that one drawing.  White mats with a black core set off each work in a professional presentation from which others should take note. 

If one has not been taking notes, allow me to sum up the transition for you. First one will notice the learning process and comfort level with the media of oil pastel followed by: a tightening up of shadows as they move from sand to concrete; a tightening of the edges of the positive forms; the markings become smaller; surface areas become more solid; intensity and contrast increase between the elements; architectural forms decrease in significance; colors change from soft to bold; and finally, the shadows become web-like more than cast. I wrote the word “fabulous!’ in her guest book because I truly mean it. This show is stunning. One of my favorite pieces in Daffodil Diagonals I because the flower seems to lean over its own shadow and say “hey look at this cool shadow thing I made!”

Everybody take note now…not once did I use the word “geometric” to describe her work because that is what has followed her all these years. Are her pieces built on that compositional description? Perhaps, but enjoy the free spirit aspect instead as she continues to explore this inspirational new media.

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