I had a fine time at the Affordable Art Fair in NYC recently. Edgewater Gallery of Middelbury, Vermont featured my work along with eight other gallery artists, so I decided to attend to meet up with friends and collectors.
The quality of the work was overall higher than I had remembered from my last visit, and as I wandered around and connected to the work of several artists on view, I decided to write about some of my favorites.
These bodies of work bring up some thoughts about mixed metaphor in art. Aspects of complex combinations found in a given piece or body of work are often hard to name individually, since the references are myriad: historical, art historical, nature-based, daily visual stimuli; art forms such as music and literature; and they source many personal experiences and memories embedded in the mind and body.
With representational work, there is a narrative, at least implied, as well. I prefer one that is not sewn up tight and so leaves room for the viewer to emotionally occupy the piece.
The art that I respond to the most is a rich visual stew that is experienced viscerally but bears additional fruit with analysis. Even when minimalist on the surface, it evokes deep, complex feelings.
The work of Tessa Grundon, at the Arco Gallery booth is rich with associations. I see ancient parchment or fabric; the residue of floods both small and large; things buried and rediscovered; the passage of time; and the impermanence of our treasured objects.
Tessa Grundon says about her work:
“I use an array of materials and artifacts relating to specific geographical locations – local maps, wax from nearby beehives, pigments from the muds, earths, plants and charcoal, debris found along the strandlines of shores and riverbanks both rural and urban. With these materials I create work that embodies a sense of place, totems of landscapes I know and love.”
Her lines are based on topographical maps, and also feel like leaves, forests, seaweed, Chinese landscape painting; the hand of a talented cartoonist, and Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock depictions of ocean waves.
Much more overt are the photographs of Nine Francis at Julie Nestor Gallery. The subjects of these portraits look out at the viewer with matter-of-fact assurance, seemingly taking a brief pause in the course of a busy day.
“I use photography to express personal versions of my own selective truths. My images start off in the objective, as all photographic records do, but frequently don’t stay there. They are transformed through various techniques and processes to make them mine–to take them out of the realm of fact and reportage and and place them into the service of exploring and responding to my world.”
While the narrative element is what is first perceived, the photographs have a strong formal presence with reductive off-center compositions, soft edges, and sepia-and-white color. One aspect of their narrative presence that I like is that they balance perfectly between visual richness and beauty and a slightly goofy, cartoonish air, leaving the story open to interpretation.
Ren Adams at New Grounds Print Workshop is very consciously working with mixed metaphor in her hybrid-technique prints. I get a sense of batik fabric in some of them; physics; surrealism—the abstract kind, such as Miro; a dash of Kandinsky and maybe a little Klee. Her color choices are almost but not quite organic and also evocative of the traditional inks of Ukiyo-e woodcuts.
“Synthesizing ideas found in physics, information theory, Eastern philosophy, archaeology, digital culture, mass media and linguistics, I embrace the interdisciplinary nature of mixed media, layering printmaking techniques with drawing, painting and digital processing. These layers address convergence, the originating space where substance takes root, generating a virtual archaeological dig where viewers uncover artifacts, moments and mysterious terrain. The resulting alchemy of image integrates micro and macro components, revealing transitory connections while expressing multiple points in time simultaneously.”
It strikes me that these layered prints explore space beautifully. Within a relatively shallow space, the elements occupy varying depths and push against the edges of the paper, creating movement both outward from the sides of the picture plane as well as back behind it.
I was immediately smitten with the work of Park, Sun Hee with Artflow Gallery. Constructed of tea-bag wrappers, these minimalist pieces are highly crafted and rhythmic, art historically evoking Louise Nevelson and Agnes Martin. They invite the viewer into a contemplative zone with reduced color and a surface texture that create the illusion that these are made of a natural substance—cork, perhaps. The construction also brings to mind the rock work of an intricately designed wall or chimney.
“We see a minimalism not smothered by geometry and are returned to the metaphor of thinking. Following her analogy, we come face to face with the necessity of cataloguing and sorting one’s ideas. But, as theses grids she has set out towards refuse to flatly repeat, we are reminded of the even greater importance of disjunct thinking and and outjutting whims, runaway trains of thought, illogic, and must needed asides in the life of the cognizant mind.”
Underneath the associations created by the formal elements, I catch undertones of long-vanished warehouses containing carefully stacked silks, teas, woods, porcelain, and fragrant spices.
The intricate mixed-media drawings of Laura Jordan with Rebecca Hossack Gallery reflect city life with its packed visual stimuli. With a lively line and strong narrative, Laura “works in pencil, pen, watercolour, collage and print to create wonderfully rich large-scale images of Metropolitan existence – in all its vitality, humour, horror, pathos, wonder, and bathos.”
“With an acerbic wit and visual acuity that place her in the great satirical tradition of Hogarth and Rowlandson, Laura Jordan maps the political, social and architectural landscape of contemporary London, New York, Hong Kong and Rio de Janeiro.”
Always on the lookout for strong formal elements, I appreciate the lovely, almost organic-feeling shapes that the accumulated detail of each drawing creates. The drawings also scatter off from these clusters in sometimes truncated fragments, as if sections were erased—but oh so carefully—leaving the compositions enhanced.
Since I can’t resist being in such good company, I will include my own work. Here is my Skyline piece, quite a different take on the urban experience. Employing the flattening, simplifying effects of moments of light and atmospherics such as rain, fog, or sunset, I am take an intrinsically busy locale and find a view and treatment that creates space.
There were not a large number of tonal pieces at the Fair, so my body of work stood out in that way (as did several of my selections above). One fellow who was enquiring about my work commented that while my skyline is in greys, it is softly uplifting, and also very clean.
The simplest thing I can say about this body of work is that it is about creating light and space in a world crowded with possessions, information, obligations, and actions. I choose a minimalist approach to balance all of that with softly flattened shapes, blended edges, and tonalist color while recognizing and retaining undercurrents of more complex realities.
I got halfway through writing this blog post before I realized that all five of the artists that I selected–six including myself—are women. I am not even sure what to make of that, or if there is anything to be made of that, except that women are masterful at multi-tasking (this is explained in brain science research) and so by extension might have a particular facility with artwork that accesses multiple associations.
You are welcome to comment if you have any other ideas.