Archive for December, 2018

Intriguing work at Main Street Arts

Bradley Butler, acrylic on panel
Life Is (And Isn’t) Meaningful, acrylic on panel, Bradley Butler

Over the past few years, Bradley Butler has been doing a marvelous job in Clifton Springs of creating some excitement about visual art in this region. Playing hard to get to may be part of his gallery’s cachet: it requires a bit of time to get there from either Syracuse or Rochester. It’s almost always worth the drive. This new Small Works exhibition offers work from 103 artists, residing in 26 states, chosen by Rick Pirozzolo, executive director and curator at the Arnot Art Museum in Elmira, NY., with great work from many regional artists, along with a sampling of representative work from across the U.S. 

Bill Stephens and Bill Santelli both offered first rate paintings: Santelli’s Awake in the Night was a departure from much of his usual style, a small black monolithic canvas bisected by an aperture through which a new light seemed to break through. With Into the Deep Woods, Bill Stephens has laid down some of the most effective color I’ve ever seen in any of his precise, surrealistic improvisations of natural forms and human figures. The warm tones hover in the background while the vegetation in the foreground of his dreamlike copse were done in cool blues and greens—the inversion of warmth at a distance and chill tones up close made the background seem to advance as the foreground receded. The effect was to create a unified sense of potential energy, everything poised, ready to change places as soon as one looked away. 

The masterful and restrained Self Portrait, by John Van Houten, of Buffalo, winner of Best in Show, is actually Tonalist in spirit, so dimly lit as to require some moving around to see through the glossy shine of the surface in order to simply make out the face. It evokes long-lost virtues, a quiet and humble sort of patience and forbearance and modesty, and the image served almost as an emblem of core values seemingly abandoned in our shrill and combative social media culture. It’s gratifying to see a painting without a trace of modernist or post-modern pretensions getting top honors while holding its own as entirely and justifiably contemporary. Nearby, Rubicite Earring, by Zach Koch, was a simple but eerie evocation of a weirdly serene but ominous rapture: a face in which the features seemed to be masterfully drawn and then blurred, except for the nose and the gumdrop stone affixed to the beautiful subject’s earlobe. The bright

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Henry Miller

The artist is the opposite of the politically minded individual, the opposite of the reformer, the opposite of the idealist. The artist does not tinker with the universe, he recreates it out of his own experience and understanding of life.  —Henry Miller

Rare Porter

Fairfield Porter

This work by Fairfield Porter is startling in its bold freedom, the almost arbitrary way he represented the flowers, the saturated tones, the almost splattered looking petals in contrast to that marvel of a jar used as a vase. I’ve never seen this painting through any channel other than this page eight years ago from Art News. I recently found a stack of magazines and tore out half a dozen pages from this 2010 spring issue. I will post iPhone shots of them now and then in the future. Just thumbing through the ads in Art News was best way to explore unfamiliar work and learn a few things, while diligently ignoring the text. Sort of the way most of us boys engaged with Playboy back in the day.

The perfect flow of paint

Mark Tennant’s recent work

Mark Tennant posted this painting on Instagram a little while back, and I’ve since gone back to it many times with pleasure. At first, it suggests an almost clinical distance from his subject, a hauteur about a fragment of past American culture, which he’s isolated for observation. In this case, he seems to be looking back at a middle-class couple, standing proudly in front of their tract home and new car, circa 1960—he with beer in hand, she in pumps that aren’t even indicated except by the tiptoe slope of her feet. It’s all imbued with a cool, dubious squint of someone who doesn’t share the enthusiasms he depicts, a clinical detachment present in some of Tennant’s more erotically suggestive work, much of which has a muted, colorless sheen reminiscent of Gerard Richter’s early portraits based on media photographs of Baader-Meinhof terrorists. In this clinical mode, Tennant picks subjects that seem selected to provoke a raised eyebrow or a half-smile of condescension—as if he’s looking down, rather than head-on, at whatever he’s showing. It reminds me of what Martin Mull has been doing in his work—purchasing collections of family photographs from garage sales and flea markets to use as source material for his own surreal, emotionally detached and dreamlike visions occasionally on view at Hirschl & Adler.

Still, though I doubt this is the response Tennant wants, I react to this painting with nostalgia for those brief post-war decades when America was genuinely thriving, leading the world in building a middle class that was actually earning more than what it needed to get by. What drove productive lives wasn’t false hope back then. This proud couple could easily have been living on one salary at Eastman Kodak here in my hometown, with its generous wages and annual bonuses for workers, when a household could thrive on a single income, earning enough to get a mortgage on a new house and even buy a new car every few years. Over the past few decades, that level of material comfort could be sustained only on higher and higher lines of credit and more than one wage. The middle class has waned though it remains to be seen if it’s down for the count. Simple bourgeois comforts, along with an occasional luxury, are certainly as illusory as anything else on this spinning planet—so Tennant is perfectly justified in suggestions of sic transit gloria mundi, especially when the glories are so humble. He casts a cold eye on this moment of celebratory happiness yet it feels like something most people wouldn’t mind working toward now as much as they did in the 60s, and rightly so. It’s precisely what people who flee into our country are hoping to find. But what’s going on in this image has gotten harder and harder to make happen.

That said, this painting is different from what I consider Tennant’s usual mode and that keeps me coming back for another look. It’s far more colorful than most of what he posts. His technical MORE

More lilacs and geese

September Apples, Igor Shipilin

Another find from Lilacs and Wild Geese.

Glorious paint

I can’t find a name for this painting anywhere, even with a Google image search. It’s Robert Henri, from the cover of a book he wrote.