May 14, 2015

When I read newspaper art criticism, I am usually on the lookout for openly offered opinions. I want to know what the critic thinks — and enjoy sensing the irritation or passion behind what is said — and I like to get a sense of what the critic might argue about larger historical movements such as cubism, surrealism, modernism, and post-modernism. I get annoyed if I think the critic is using the pluralism of the contemporary art scene as a license not to think about larger issues, or if I suspect the critic is hiding a lack of reflection behind a facade of brilliant writing. 

— James Elkins, from What Happened to  Art Criticism?


Snyder Duets

May 13, 2015


Laurie Snyder, Weavings with Stones, 2015, Digital print from collage with lake stones

I am back in the Ithaca Times!:

A tension between imagery and physical process animates the recent work of photographer and mixed-media artist Laurie Snyder. Photos are manipulated, cut-up, layered with mark-making or objects—and often re-photographed in a playful process more akin to collage than to the cold objective eye traditionally associated with the art of the lens.

Snyder, a long-time Ithacan, earned a BFA from Cornell in 1982 and a MFA from Syracuse University in 1987. She taught at Ithaca College in the ‘80s. During that decade, she also wrote art reviews for the Ithaca Journal. Although a professor at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore from 1993 until retiring last year, she has spent her summers in town, where she returned with her late husband, the pioneering photo-artist John Wood.

Wood passed away in 2012. “Duets: Reveling in Remembering,” her current show at the Ink Shop Printmaking Center, features posthumous “collaborations”: new pieces made from and in response to his old work.

This is Snyder’s third exhibit since returning full-time to Ithaca. Earlier this year, she showed botanical cyanotypes at the Nevin Center at Cornell Plantations and gelatin silver (black-and-white) prints at Corners—the latter in a memorable two-person show with kindred local photographer Ben Altman.

Her best work in this more eclectic presentation is also her most directly physical: beautiful handmade books and intricately textured paper weavings. Both take her husband’s art as their raw material.

Numerous smaller books line a long shelf. Laid out on a table below are three larger pieces that invite delicate perusal. Fold Cut Bind 1 and 2 juxtapose monochrome photograms (a camera-less light printing technique) into cryptic abstract dramas.

Compiled from Wood’s ink drawings, Arcs is even more striking. His curves seem to move and develop as if animated—at first they are mostly black-and-white and dull purplish but they soon grow colors: softly sherbety or sharply acidic, sometimes iridescent. They recall the abstract watercolors of modern composer John Cage.

Made from nearly-discarded photograms, Weavings 12, and 3 manage a density of dots and lines, in black-and-white with hints of color. In Weavings with Lake Stones, Snyder has placed small stones over a weaving and re-photographed the whole ensemble. Like several other pieces here highlighting the artist’s collection of “lucky stones,” the piece has the complexity of an elaborate private ritual.

Snyder’s work indicates a fascination with “process” characteristic of a strand in the post-‘60s avant-garde. Partisans of this tendency could give a more sympathetic account then I can of some of this show’s slighter efforts.

A digital triptych, Schoodic Point Arcadia, Maine recalls the experimentalism of Earth Art—popularized by a 1969 exhibit of that name at Cornell. A sequence of near-identical views shows a stony beach onto which Snyder has placed a black-and-white photo, taken by her husband at the same place twenty years prior. Moving from left to right, the sheet becomes progressively covered in the rocks.

Like many of the photographs in “Duets”, her digital color stands for the present, his film-based black-and-white the past—here being buried. As with most of the works in the show, it’s easy enough to unearth the metaphorical resonances. But these metaphors could be more richly embodied: the composition is uncompelling enough without being repeated and the characteristically muted color seems indifferent.

To a greater or lesser extent, a similar thinness of realization characterizes several other pieces. John’s Thumb 1986, Laurie’s Thumb 2014, for example, which juxtaposes hers in color with his gigantic in black-and-white (measurement, proportion).

In the best photos here, Snyder’s play of image and material feels more organic. John’s Sycamore Bark 1987 and Laurie’s Bark 2014 is exemplary: the original a close-up of a tilted branch with torn flesh, the latter an irregular hole-covered scrap from the same tree.

Two portray “whirligigs,” spinning contraptions sculpted by Wood. In the color digital John’s Whirligigs at Sunset,these wooden birds crowd a snowy field. In the gelatin silver Whirligigs at Assateague Island they perch upon a beach—the counter-clockwise tilt of the camera-angle echoing their own whirling blur.

Photography, at least in its pre-digital incarnations, is a form of printmaking. The Ink Shop deserves credit for putting up Snyder’s ambitious photos and photo-based works.

Little bits and pieces

March 17, 2015

I am a very poor blogger and lazy writer, apologies.

 “Seeking Mr. Aalto’s timeless modernism , Mr. Phifer has been exploring the horizons of glass throughout his 18-year-old practice, exploiting its transparency, reflectivity and indeed the glow” — Alexandra Lange on the new wing at the Corning Museum of Art

 “I am reminded of a famous drawing by the Zen monk Sengai Gibon (1750-1837) that represents the universe as a chain of three overlapping shapes: a square, a triangle, and a circle. In Guston’s images these shapes masquerade as pines, hedges, topiary trees, hooded heads, bare bald heads, boulders, hewn stones, tablets, clocks, wheels, and so on in a ceaseless metamorphic series emanating from each of these primary iconographic emblems.” — Robert Storr on Philip Guston 

 “With pen, ink, and watercolor, the Boston-based artist creates maps of imaginary places that tap into the essence of urban form.” — Laura Bliss on Emily Garfield

 More reading material.

 New work and a redesigned website by Ithaca/Brooklyn artist Scout Dunbar. Hopefully we’ll be seeing more of her work around here. (Incidentally, her mother is local stained glass artist Linna Dolph. I wrote about their wonderful two-person show at CAP last year.)

— New show of paintings by Stan Taft: “Tree + Landscape” at Corners Gallery.

 And another Laurie Snyder show: “Reveling in Remembering” (that’s enough  alliteration) at the Ink Shop in April.

 Looking forward, with some reservations, to “Locally Sourced” this summer at the Johnson.

Urgent matters

March 10, 2015


Jessica Warner, Urge, “24 x “22”, Oil on canvas, 2014


To my mind, Jessica Warner is one of Ithaca’s most compelling visual artists. (I need some new adjectives, anybody?) Her oil painting combines carefully observed still-life with allusions to landscape and a painterly lexicon adapted from abstract expressionism. It has an innovative, exploratory reach rooted in a strong sense of history and technique. It is beautiful, strange and unpredictable — pretty much everything I like to see in a painter.

Warner had a fine solo show at the Community Arts Partnership’s ArtSpace gallery this past February. “Land Marks (on the way)” included eight paintings on canvas and wood panel — including After, a panel diptych — alongside four color drawings. Most of the work was from last year (one 2013) and was included in a three-person show last fall at the Buffalo Arts Studio. The artist painted the epically-scaled Land Mark (on the way) just this past January.

I’ve written about her work twice before: at some length and with much pleasure.

In June of 2011, I reviewed her previous show at the ArtSpace for the Tompkins Weekly. That one featured work on paper exclusively. I expressed some ambivalence about that work, which I still feel. But I also praised her for her sophistication and intelligence.

In the spring of 2013, she was included in a memorable three-person exhibit at Ithaca College’s Handwerker Gallery. Curated by Gallery Director Mara Baldwin, “First Person, Twice Removed” put her drawings and paintings up against ones by Ithacans Claire Lesemann and Melissa Zarem.  (Not to be a local art chauvinist, but “First” easily betters just about any contemporary painting or drawing show in recent memory at either IC or Cornell.)

I wrote a long “arts cover” piece for the Ithaca Times. I claimed that:

Warner’s oils are perhaps the most consistently engrossing pieces here. One is impressed by their robustness, their richness, intricacy, and the depth of the spaces they unfold.

And so — full disclosure — Warner offered me one of the smaller paintings from Land Marks if I would write something about the show, even privately or after-the-fact. I selected the gorgeous, intensely conceived Urge, which is shown above.

Last week, I picked it up from her studio, following the takedown of her show. (Sadly but all too typically, nothing sold.) It stands on my writing desk, in front of my laptop, propped up against the wall. I hope to write about it at length very soon — perhaps the exhibit as well if my faltering memory permits.

Anyway, I recommend Warner’s work highly and hope that some of you (if you’re out there) got a chance to see it last month. This kind of thoughtful creativity is rare, and I think undervalued.

At the Johnson, Thursday evening:

Alana Ryder, the Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Coordinator for Academic Programs and one of the cocurators of the exhibition “This is no less curious”: Journeys through the Collection, will be joined by Stephanie Wiles, the Richard J. Schwartz Director, and a panel of Cornell faculty and graduate students to share stories of teaching with the Johnson’s collection.

Seeing a thing clearly

March 4, 2015

What we call seeing a thing clearly, is only seeing enough of it to make out what it is; this point of intelligibility varying in distance for different magnitudes and kinds of things, while the appointed quality of mystery remains nearly the same for all. Thus: throwing an open book and an embroidered handkerchief on a lawn, at a distance of a half a mile, we cannot tell which is which: that is the point of mystery for the whole of those things. They are merely white spots of indistinct shape. We approach them, and perceive that one is a book, the other a handkerchief, but cannot read the one or trace the embroidery of the other. The mystery has ceased to be in the whole things, and has gone into their details. We go nearer, and can now read the text and trace the embroidery, but cannot see the fibers of the paper or the tread. The mystery has gone into a fourth place, where it must stay until we take a microscope, which will send it into a fifty, sixth, hundredth or thousandth place, according to the power we use.

—  John Ruskin, from Modern Painters

Adventures of lines

March 1, 2015

The complex network of lines appeared little by little:

Lines living with the little people of dust and dots, crossing crumbs, going around cells, fields of cells, or turning, turning spirals to fascinate  or to find what had fascinated  umbelliferous plants and agates.

Lines walking around.  The first the West had ever seen walking around in this way.

Travelers, lines that don’t so much make objects as trajectories, paths. (He even put arrows in them.) The problem children have and then subsequently forget, the one they put into all their drawings at that age: locating things, leave here, go there, the distance, the directions, the path leading to the house as necessary as the house itself . . . that was his problem too.

Henri Michaux on Klee, from “Adventures of Lines” in Darkness Moves: An Henri Michaux Anthology