July 23, 2016

Laura Glenn, Whale Ride, mixed media on paper


Also in this week’s Ithaca Times:


“Personal Abstractions”—the title of local poet-painter Laura Glenn’s current solo

show—embodies a seeming contradiction. Generally, “abstraction” refers to

precisely what is most impersonal. In visual art, the meaning is different but the

suggestion remains of a style reduced to the basics, shorn of anything

idiosyncratic or unnecessary. And while there’s a lot to be said for the reductive

approach, it is largely out of keeping with the local artistic temperament. (As I’ve

said before, what happens on-campus is rather different, unsurprisingly leaning

towards more intellectual—or, too often, faux-intellectual—approaches.) From

questionable café art to more professional work: the tendency is for the “colorful,”

the eclectic, the playful, and the mythopoetic. For better and for worse, this is us.


Up this month (through June 30) at the Community Arts Partnership’s ArtSpace

gallery, “Personal Abstractions: Paintings and Collages” consists of a generous

selection of Glenn’s signature mixed-media works on paper, framed behind glass

and given an irregular hanging that enhances engagement rather than detracting

from it. I’ve never seen so much of her art in one place and my estimation of it

has improved considerably as a result.


Glenn’s painting-drawings combine such materials as ink, watercolor, and pastel

with the frequent collaging of tiny scraps of paper. These are sometimes thin and

wrinkled and often dyed, drawn or painted-over, or feature hard-to- decipher

reproduced patterns or images. Her backgrounds, softly inflected with a single

color or a patchwork of colors, suggest underwater environs. (Enclosed in their

black frames, I think of aquariums.) Black ink scribbles mimic Chinese

calligraphy—perhaps reflecting a longing for a culture in which art and poetry are

not separate endeavors. The effect is self-consciously lyrical, with all the

promises and risks that that implies.


About a third of these pieces are excellent. But honesty compels me to say what

I think is wrong with most of the work here. (And this relates to work of hers that

I’ve seen in the past.) There are too many pieces, which—if I may stretch my

aquatic analogy—appear washed out, tepid in their overall tonality. More

attention holding, if cloyingly so, Ziggurat employs a melted rainbow of

background colors just barely saved from incoherence by fields and bridges of

black ink scratchings.


Glenn fares much better when she deals in stronger colors and stronger

contrasts. I love pieces like Arrangement —with its painterly collage of thin,

textured papers—as well as the would-be- Chinese Afterthought and the

endearingly gritty Taking Off and In the Café.


Whale Ride is particularly musical in its interplay of colors and textures. It also

benefits tremendously from its presentation. Unlike her other pictures here, she‘s

chosen to “float” it on the white matboard, emphasizing the rough edges and

irregular boundaries of the papers—particularly a mountainous scrap of bright

ochre that juts out from the top edge of the central square. Glenn plays saturated

colors off of thinner ones and offsets the ochre and a central area of thin, foggy

brown with enframing black shadow and patches of cool colors.


There’s something very Ithacan about this sort of abstraction: tinged with fantasy

and surrealism; eclectic and impure; seemingly unconcerned with appearing



That Glenn, as far as I know, always works on paper is also indicative.

Abstraction on paper is almost a genre of its own in local art. In this regard, the

artist has marked affinities with the likes of Scout Dunbar (now of Brooklyn),

Peter Fortunato (also a poet-painter), Syau-Cheng Lai (a pianist and polymath),

and Melissa Zarem—all artists who use the support exclusively or nearly so.

Paper is a lovely material to work on and it facilitates the combination of drawing

and painting techniques, as well as the use of collage. But it also implies

casualness in a broader artistic culture where working on a more durable support

remains the norm. Echoing the purposeful informality of indie rock, the

suggestion—and often the reality—is of artists without dedicated studios, of work

done on kitchen tables in one’s spare time.


Well-known local abstractionist Barbara Mink usually paints on canvas but she’s

currently showing works on paper at Decorum Too in the DeWitt Mall, also

through the end of the month. The two exhibits are well worth comparing.


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