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 d├ębut 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.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Fly over Families (for Brennis)

As we all know, the poor central part of our nation has been labeled “fly over” country because it is considered unimportant in many ways to those who shape our American Image. Well here is some advice for those people…you ought to look out the window a bit more and realize that what actually forms the foundation of our spirit is deeply rooted and going nowhere. As I come upon the one year anniversary of Snarky Art…the Studio at 2nd April Galerie, the essay I was going to write is not the one you are going to get because life has a way of not following any guidelines.  I thought I was joining a business and instead I joined a family.

My own family as legally defined is a pretty small tree and probably more along the lines of a shrub. As I sat at our gallery meeting last night, it dawned on me that I am now part of a garden full of exotic plants and funky weeds each one unique yet rooted in a common soil. These crazy, clever and creative people have become the family I never knew. Some I see all the time like siblings, others come and go like cousins and a few pass through now and then with gossip about the other branches. So where am I going with this?  Well, the farmer who tends to all of us is not in the barn.

Once the news was spread that Brennis Booth (gallery owner) was in the hospital, the flyover family mentality kicked in with astonishing speed. The wagons have been circled and the troops have been rallied. Within hours, lists have been made, groups have been formed, fund-raisers started and business plans put into place.  Prayers are being offered along with a volunteer to clean the gallery restrooms which seems to pretty much cover a lot of bases. Even yours truly learned to work the cash register. Only a true family would act so swiftly and efficiently to care for another person and the people he loves. I consider myself blessed to be among them.

Brennis and Todd are amazing people who truly have no idea just how big a footprint they have within our local community. While they work on being well, the garden will continue to flourish. The gallery will be central command to organize events and collect supplies. A plan for monetary donations is in the works as prayers and grace only go so far.  Hearts can be physically mended but what lies within in them can only be put there by God and then tended to by others. Let us all join our spiritual hands in prayer to wish good health and quick healing for Brennis and Todd.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Jackson AP Portfolio at 2nd April Galerie

Currently on view through this weekend at 2nd April Galerie is the Jackson High School AP Art portfolio exhibition. A quick pass through on opening night did not give me enough time to really look at and evaluate the pieces by this next generation of artists. Today, I took my time and channeled my inner (and still on maternity leave) art teacher persona.

I began with the work right outside my own studio then moved clockwise around the main galley. The work is grouped by artist with a personal statement accompanying each display. All but one youth offers a basket of prints. After the third basket, I had to stop and talk with the gallery director, Brennis Booth because I was a bit confused. I needed an answer as to why what I felt to be the best work of each student was found only in small print form and not on the walls where it should be. Seems that most of them have their superior pieces out at other competitions or at home. Why home? Well because that is one of life’s lessons to being an artist. 2nd April is a retail gallery, not a museum. The business plan is to sell art, take a commission, and make money for both the artist and the gallery. Any work that one wants to keep can’t be on the walls because it is not for sale.  Often, early in our careers, those pieces are our best pieces. I still have some of mine from the 1970’s so there is no shame in holding on to the “good ones”. The downside is that I don’t get to see them in person nor does anybody else, but at least we got prints!

To be fair to each artist, I picked one or two works from their presentation upon which to expand for your reading and viewing enlightenment. First Friday is tomorrow so be sure and stop by as there are quite a few red dots already. Next lesson learned….those red dots mean green pockets which can be very liberating to the creative process.  A second point of confusion for me was the context of each portfolio. Was this a senior year work only show or pieces that spanned their whole 4 years in the art program? The answer is that the work is from the time that each student was part of the AP program (Advanced Placement) or in the JSA program (Jackson School for the Arts). Darn these kids and their new fangled educational programming……I only remember Art 1, 2, 3, then 4, one class each year, one period a day.  With the time frame clarified, I would have liked to have seen the grade level or year (along with the media) listed on each ID tag. The more we know, the more we can appreciate the imagery. Okay, on with the review….no last names used as these girls could be minors though I used alphabetical last name order to keep things logical.

Alexandra B. had a piece entitled “Beware of guys who use umbrellas on sunny days” which is a smaller drawing that appears to be either colored pencil, soft pastel or pastel pencil. Because it is under glass, it was a bit hard to tell, but the imagery is quite a charming drawing that foreshadows her intention to become an illustrator. I could see this work becoming the catalyst for extended exploration into various media and compositional experiments. The use of three strong primary colors, and both a warm and a cool neutral element allows for a multitude of possibilities. In preparation for art school this fall, I would encourage her to use this one piece as a springboard to inspire a whole series of artistic statements  based on this one work that increase awareness of various movements and methods from throughout art history.

Jenny G. also shows a propensity towards illustration. “Hippie Feet” is a prime example of a childlike approach to color and perspective that is sought after in the field. I found her best piece in the print bin however and would have loved to have seen the original. No title was on the back so I can only describe this inventive image of and underwater encounter between an alligator and a jellyfish.  The underbelly of the alligator shows a richness and depth of color to depict light and texture. An unintentional happenstance of markings adds humor to the event by giving the jellyfish some eyes. Again, just what one looks for in a children’s book.

My two favorite pieces by Sarah H. are also prints only. “Land and Sea” is a charcoal drawing and “Illuminating Colors” is most likely a colored pencil.  In both these pieces, the surfaces are well worked with a variety of markings and the compositions contain strong contrasts of light and dark. The scale of her elements and the relationship between the shapes and forms show a well thought out regard to the overall image.  Both pieces are completed to the point where they are “done’ and not “overdone’ which is a difficult concept to grasp as an artist. Taking a piece “too far” in order to make it more complete is something that only experience and confidence can prevent.  Sarah has found that line and knows not to cross it.

Arielle H.’s presentation is the most experimental of all the displays.  I found it refreshing to see collage, fibers, printing processes and constructions among the paintings and drawings.  “Carey” is a sophisticated drawing the uses sepia paper for the base tone and requires her to use black charcoal and white conte to create the lights and darks, a standard method of introductory drawing classes in college and I was so glad to see a piece included here.  The construction/collage “Drain” though disgusting in a way, is also contemporary and conceptual. I don’t know how much conceptual art is taught at Jackson as this was the only piece of its kind that I found on view.

Megan M. has a delightful little gem called “Comparing Tomatoes” among the figures and portraits that dominate all of the presentations.  Though two figures inspire the title, this painting also shows a strong understanding for the use of light and an awareness of the background as being an essential element. The landscape behind the two figures could be its own painting.  This artist is thinking about her positive and negative spaces. Even if a photograph was used to create the piece (a crutch used far too often at the HS level and a rude awakening at the college level), she has managed to take the “picture’ aspect out of the final product. I found my favorite in the print bin again. A landscape depicting two trees and their cast shadows upon winter snow is superb in its use of color and space. I would encourage her to keep working in the genre of landscapes to see where it takes her.

The presentation of Rebecca M. contains one of my favorite pieces perhaps because it stands out from all the others in the gallery. “Swimming Pool Feet” is spontaneous in its markings and intriguing to view. The piece is just as strong upside down as it is currently displayed. There is no evidence of any photographic references. The mismatched scale of each foot and the lighthearted depiction lend an overall freshness to this piece that makes it shimmer with professionalism.  See my notes about Sarah H…. knowing when to say enough is enough is what separates the good works from the great ones.

Emily S. also has a drawing in the “best of” category. “Your Shoe is Untied” depicting a pair of plaid tennis shoes at the end of some bunched up jeans uses contrast and composition to make this piece stand out from across the room.  Look in the print bin for a still life done in reds and greens. Again, no title is written on it, so I can only describe the refined use of warm and cool reds as well as warm and cool greens to create a simple still life of pears, cherries, kiwi’s and pomegranates. She also takes into consideration a light source and how the elements interact with the edges of the format that elevates the image to one of superior observational skills.

Haley S. is another artist that should further explore her interest in trees, branches, paint and patterns.  The work “Dark Consumption” is a luscious surfaced canvas depicting a twisting tree trunk which not only shows an understanding of positive and negative space, but also of depth of color by using blues as the base tone for shadows.  Her joy in putting brush to canvas is obvious in the markings. Word of warning….that feeling can get addictive! A print entitled “Through the Branches” is a watercolor done right. High contrast darks and lights, simple versus complex areas and an understanding of the edges show that she thinks about a whole work, not just what is “in” the work.

The award for “best eyes” goes to Lindsay S. As I pointed out in my 2010 review and have mentioned many times before when writing about figurative works, the eyes can make or break a piece. A simple cast shadow and a well positioned high light are essential for realism. Again, the eyes in this exhibit (overall) could use some continued study and observation.  Lindsay was listening.   Of course the pieces I want to mention don’t involve eyes although her other works do. “Distress” is a challenging collage on corrugated board with a layering of photographs and painting and drawing techniques. The overlay of a floral pattern in black paint/ink is quite sophisticated in how it pulls the whole piece together. The work is not precious and therefore successful by being daring. The print bin has a wonderful monochromatic still life entitled “Mums” utilizing pattern, texture and detail in an extraordinarily limiting pallet of oranges and whites.

And finally Amy T. whose large painting “Taunted to Bootie” (if I wrote that down correctly…) is another one of my favorite pieces. The figure is wrapped in a patterned piece of cloth with an intense light source that gives him a clown like appearance. The markings are painterly and layered with one color sometimes showing through another along imperfect edges.  This artist allowed the paint to contribute to the painting, a sign of mature technique. In the print bin is a still life of patterns and colors that I would have liked to have seen in person.  If it done like the above piece, then it is probably a sparkling little still life.

I know that I am way over my word count, by young artists deserve the time and attention for all their hard work. To face the public with their inner thoughts and feelings and to subject their souls to professional judgment is not easy. I applaud each and every one of them for sharing their work with us at 2nd April Galerie.