Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Just Beneath the Surface, 7/11/19 - 8/11/19

Touching the Void 
by Peter Delman

First, this show is the color of photography —black and white photography.

Jeri Coppola, Me Without My Shadow

Second, unusual in a visual art show, the featured sense is touch over sight. The hand of the artist, literally, is everywhere. A very long arm and hand are animated by florescent light in Jeri Coppola’s Me Without My Shadow, wrapped in a translucent skin of hand-made paper. 

Lee Arnold, The Swim

In Lee Arnold’s The Swim, a pair of hands sweep through the bubbling sea, capturing the tactile quality of the water. As befitting a show titled Just Beneath the Surface, the submerged swimmer periodically comes up for air and glides through the choppy wavelets. 

Katrina Bellow, Hawak/Hold (Kai)

Katrina Bello draws handfuls of water, but the flesh itself has disappeared, with only the shape of the water defining the cupped hand. 

Caroline Burton, Incarnation 31

The textural surface of found afghans, fabric sacks, and rabbit fur are printed or transferred onto canvas, hydrocal, or bronze in Caroline Burton’s work.

Much of the work is a high-wire act juggling the ephemeral and the physical. 

Jeri Coppola, Listen, I Have Told You Everything

The delicate gray photographic images in Coppola’s work are often battered with industrial sealant and paired with wood and wire flotsam scavenged from under a sawhorse. 

Caroline Burton, Figure 1p

Burton’s rabbit fur is far from fluffy. It looks like the remnants of an ancient bogman’s pet — or dinner—preserved in bronze.

Memory is a touchstone for these artists. The memories here are often wrapped in an enigma. 

Katrina Bello, Hawak/Hold (8.832, -124.5085)

Bello’s charcoal meditations on the Pacific Ocean focus on the eddies that swirl water from below to the surface. The eddies and the vast ocean itself may be seen as a metaphor for the memories of her experience of migration from the Philippines, and her subsequent family narrative. 

Caroline Burton, Incarnation 2

Burton’s Incarnation 2 suggests a looming barrier from a child’s eye view—The Tower of Babel perhaps, or fittingly, a stairway to heaven. 

Lee Arnold, Stereo

Stereo, originally shot in super 8mm film by Arnold, pairs unassuming, graceful images of travels in Europe with the blurred “memory” of the same shots reduced to mild gray shapes nearing the vanishing point.

The deft orchestration of this exhibition by curator Anne Trauben leaves room for interpretation by the viewer but consistently brings us back to common ground. In Stereo, a panoramic shot of high divers breaking the surface of water is followed by a seal gliding just under the surface and then playfully emerging from below. In other work, the reference may be nuanced, but we are invited to consider the surface represented and the significance of what is to be discovered beneath.

This work contemplates empty places, often with a sense of understated spirituality, as distinct from religion or faith. Touring the exhibition might be seen as visiting points on a roadmap to the sublime, reminiscent of the intention of Hudson River School artists in the nineteenth century. The artists often rely on their sense of touch in order to consider the void.

This show aspires to a state of grace and sometimes rises to the level of Baudelaire’s definition of beauty, “a spark between something fleeting and something timeless”. 

Lee Arnold, Walpurgis Nacht

Exhibit A is Arnold’s video Walpurgis Nacht in which alpen peaks, the place where Thomas Mann wrote Magic Mountain, seem to breathe clouds of mist. I half expected Caspar David Friedrich to emerge from the fog. The show’s monochromatic austerity can be intoxicating. When you leave the exhibit, the red brick warehouses and chirpy blue July sky may seem a touch trashy by comparison.

Peter Delman is an artist living in Jersey City. Read Peter's bio here and view his artwork here.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Let Me Tell You a Story, 5/23/19 - 6/23/19

by Peter Delman


Racial identity and gender identity are underlying themes in the exhibition "Let Me Tell You A Story". But to leave it at that would be to miss a great deal. For these artists, identity is a platform from which are launched many journeys of discovery. A pivotal moment or break from tradition is often the key element in their origin stories.

For Abebunmi Gbadebo, the break was a total rejection of traditional art materials because of their association with Whiteness. She says, “My material is human hair from people of the African Diaspora. Our hair is so connected to our culture, politics, and history. It is history, DNA." Ibou Ndoye’s work builds on the tradition of Senegalese glass painting to create his personal folklore. It was when he literally broke the glass he was working on and reassembled the shards that he achieved a new level of energy in his work.

Theda Sandiford’s art is, in a sense, a soap box from which her voice can be clearly heard in a culture where too often she feels that “I am disappeared. My opinion, my ‘hand,’ is dismissed outright.” Shoshanna Weinberger’s work is rooted in her outsider status as a woman “considered ‘exotic’ in America and ‘not Jamaican-enough’ in Kingston.” She channels the Carrie Mae Weems trope of “otherness doing otherness things” to generate jarring images of fragmented female identity. The male gaze that dismantles the bodies of women, and specifically black women, in a macho body shop of the mind, is the subject of Kimberly Becoat’s Urban Hottentot Series.

The Drawing Rooms gallery itself has embarked on a journey to develop a new identity. In the first major curated exhibition in its handsome new space, curator Anne Trauben offers a thoughtful, provocative experience for viewers. A major goal for the gallery is to encourage connections between regional art communities. This exhibition, for example, includes artists Gbadebo and Weinberger, based in Newark, and Becoat, in Brooklyn. Ndoye and Sandiford from Jersey City round out the roster.

The stories these artists tell are often unflinchingly critical of the racial stereotypes and fragmentation of gender identity ubiquitous in our cultural narrative. The exploitation and denigration of the female body represented in Becoat’s work refers to the story of Sara Baartman, who in the early 19th century was paraded around Europe because her supposedly distorted body profile was considered an example of racial barbarity. She was known as the “Hottentot Venus.” “Hottentot” itself was a derogatory slang term invented by the Dutch settlers of South Africa.

This demeaning objectification of black women is not limited to the history books. In recent years, cultural icons such as Grace Jones and Venus and Serena Williams have been subjected to demeaning characterizations of their bodies.

Kimberly Becoat,
Hottent Harvest, collage

In Becoat’s collages, Tootsie Roll Pops and Bit-O-Honey replace female heads. In Hottent Harvest, some figures grasp small fetish-like figures – one of these shelters under a cantilevered butt bearing the legend “SEE MOON OFFER ON.” All this presumably for the delectations of the only head with eyes to see – a white man with an ironic flower in his mouth – suggestive of a serial killer’s calling card.

Shoshanna Weinberger: Triptych left to right: My Midnight Pink Emerging, Between Atmospheres and Bloodlines, Side Part, ink and collage on paper

Much of Weinberger’s work addresses similarly haunted terrain. In her 2012 solo show What Makes My Hottentot so Hot, and in many of her paintings, she confronts the grotesque and sexualized result of taking the “male gaze” to its darkest logical conclusion. The two works in this show are kinder, gentler meditations on identity – still the pink lips in her triptych are a real “punch in the mouth”.
Theda Sandiford:
Neon Auto Tune – Limited Edition, 

digital collage on metallic photo paper

Lush lips feature, too, in Sandiford’s “Big Mouth” series. The lips are emblematic of her conscious act to embrace the power of her own voice.  In Stay Woke, she deploys an arsenal of collage materials to build a whimsical self-portrait. Her two digital collages shimmer with rivulets of color and graphic energy. Neon Auto Tune – Limited Edition puts in mind the view from the bridge of a starship accelerating into hyper-space.

There are also links between Sandiford’s muscular rope sculptures and Gbadebo’s hair sculptures. Both artists work with community members to create these pieces. Gbadebo writes, “My art stores have become local barbershops and people’s homes. Every piece is made by my community. Strangers trust me to give a new purpose to their hair.” Sandiford is displaying her community-made fiber sculptures here for the first time. The hair braiding ritual is also the subject of one of Ndoye’s paintings.

Adebunmi Gbadebo:
Am I Still Dreadful, human hair

Gbadebo’s pieces combine the soft and the powerful like a cloud in a thunderstorm. The rippling form of Am I Still Dreadful, evoking a hair shirt and the golden fleece, commands its space on the wall with nobility. Untitled 15 is like a rope or a chain that can be seen as a reminder of oppression, but oppression overcome by the strength of individual discovery and the positive bonds forged by communities.

Weinberger writes, “The work explores my experience with ‘invisible blackness,’ ‘passing,’ and ‘Double-Consciousness’…anonymous portraits or headshots, alluding to my personal relationship with intersectional-identity, alienation and otherness.” In One Pink Sunset Among  My Midnight Selfies the barely discernible images in the black frames may represent the virtually invisible aspects of the artist that are overshadowed by the selfie mask. Or perhaps they conjure the undertold story of the many women struggling in the shadows, unrecognized.

In Ndoye’s monumental paintings, the theme of community is strong and vibrant. Women often play leading roles, and the gestures of the figures are affirming and evoke trust and hope. But there are hints of sorrow too in the many unsmiling faces, and all the figures look away as if distracted by some unseen concern.

Ibou Ndoye:
The Arrival of the Fisherman,
painting on canvas

The Arrival of the Fisherman is the most joyful of the paintings. The background grid is alive with fish. The figures lift their arms in exaltation. A fishing boat is held aloft. The collaged fabric patterns, the vigorous background designs, and the demonstrative gestures of the people describe a moment of peace and plenty.

Currently running in Chelsea is a Robert Longo show that lights the way for making forceful, biting political art. The five artists in this exhibition are on this path, with their strong statements on gender, racial identity, and the restorative power of community.

Peter Delman is an artist living in Jersey City. Read Peter's bio here and view his artwork here.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Somewhere Over the Interconnected Rainbow & Prospero's Grand St. Masque, 6/8/18 - 6/10/18

by Kate Dodd, 6/12/18

Drawing Rooms’ final show at their Grand St. location, entitled Somewhere Over the Interconnected Rainbow & Prospero’s Grand St Masque, 6/8/18 - 6/10/18, is taken from diametrically opposed literary sources, Edgar Allen Poe and Frank Baum. The theme of this show was born of a brainstorming session between Exhibitions Director & Curator Anne Trauben and Executive Director James Pustorino. While the ending of Poe’s "The Mask of the Red Death: A Fantasy", of 1842, occupies the realm of the catastrophic, quite the opposite results when the story’s title is appropriated for thematic purposes. Anne became the Curator in 2014, and as with every show at Drawing Rooms, she has found a way to unify differences intelligently, often making more than a sum of the parts/art they display.

Again and again, as all who have shown and/or visited this gallery over its five highly transformative years know, the impossible gets pulled off with panache. The core of the challenge of this space, to make big ideas work in little rooms that function individually and as a whole, is parallel to the definition of community. And that is exactly what the final show in this particular venue presents: a skilled and diverse group of people that share the belief that art not only can build community, but is essential to the health and growth of communities.

Part of the pleasure of group shows is finding unexpected connections, and this show provides that in spades. While color acts as the overarching organizational concept, themes such as found abstraction, examination of natural phenomena, tension between 2 and 3 dimensional surfaces, visceral use of materials, intention and accident are just a few of the relationships that become apparent by traveling from room to room. 

Highlights include the obsessive mark making of Harriet Finck, James Pustorino, Injoo Whang, Ellie Murphy and Elizabeth Onorato.

Harriet Finck
James Pustorino
Injoo Whang
Ellie Murphy
Elizabeth Onorato
Megan Klim, Maggie Ens, Jaynie Crimmins, and Gianluca Bianchino take that impulse into the third dimension.

Megan Klim
Maggie Ens
Jaynie Crimmins
Gianluca Bianchino
The serial aesthetic in these works contrasts dramatically with the allegiance to gesture in the works of Robin Feld, Stephanie DeManuelle, Rich White, and Jaz Graf

Robin Feld
Stephanie DeManuelle
Rich White
Jaz Graf
Surreal scenes employ humor in the works of Cheryl Gross, Bill Rybak, Raisa Nosova, Carol Radsprecher, and Jodie Fink.  

Cheryl Gross
Bill Rybak
Raisa Nosova
Carol Radsprecher
Jodie Fink
Intimate observations of nature range from Ed Fausty’s rock portraits to Nan Ring’s pinecone print to Sharon Sinton’s penguin studies and Jade Lowder’s graphite leaves. 

Ed Fausty
Nan Ring
Sharon Sinton
Jade Lowder
And of course, the human figure sneaks into each room in works by Winifred McNeil, Mauro Altamura, Gilbert Giles, and Samm Cohen. These are but a few of the discoveries offered among over 300 artworks.

Winifred McNeill
Mauro Altamura
Gilbert Giles
Samm Cohen
Should you decide to browse the archives on the gallery website, the inventive titles of past exhibits, not to mention the range of high quality art from past shows, will affirm the rich legacy of art that has graced 180 Grand St. since 2012. Drawing Rooms has hit the sweet spot during its time here: the gallery has provided the satisfying experience of looking at a single artist’s output while simultaneously contemplating thematic overlaps between artists, something solo shows can’t do and group shows rarely achieve. While this feat seems aligned with the physical parameters implicit in the Jersey City convent site, I suspect that the real genius lies in the more than capable hands of Anne, which means we have a tremendous amount to look forward to as Drawing Rooms begins its reincarnation in their new space.

Kate Dodd is an artist and an art teacher in public and private schools for 25 years. Read Kate's bio here and view her artwork here.

Friday, February 2, 2018


12/15/17 – 2/17/18

by Lindy Judge, 2/1/18

Some things do improve with age, and THE BIG SMALL SHOW 2017 at Jersey City’s Drawing Rooms is one of them. Currently in its fifth year, The Big Small Show 2017 brings together a large array of exceptional recent works by over 100 artists in the intimate setting of a former convent.  This show is always worth seeing, but this year the works and the curation are unparalleled.

With 100+ artists contributing 2 to 4 works each, there is a lot to see, and one might expect it to be overwhelming. However, due to the expert curation of Anne Trauben, the experience is anything but. In fact, it is fun, thought-provoking, and thoroughly enjoyable.

The full range of media is represented—painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, mixed media—all thoughtfully arranged in 8 rooms, the gallery shop and the hallway. As a framework, each room has a curatorial theme: Images and Objects; Landscape; Ethereal and Elemental; Memory; Surface—Subtle and Complex; People and Places; Drawing; and Bold and Big. I see these as suggestive rather than summative. I didn’t read the room titles on my first viewing. Instead I looked at the works individually and then considered the overall impression of the grouping. On a subsequent viewing, I made a point of reading the titles and descriptions, which added another level of appreciation of the works and the themes being explored.

In broad strokes, the themes reflected in a show of this size naturally include many of the issues confronting us all: the environment; the politics of culture, sexuality, and gender; relationships; communication; etc., as well as the issues that specifically concern artists in their work: aesthetics, form, purpose. Individual artists address these issues in work that is literal or abstract, theoretical or personal, and through explorations of presentation, process, and materials. The one condition imposed was that the works could be no larger than 30 inches, and the smaller scale benefits the overall experience; it requires viewers to step in a little closer to get a good look.

It is impossible to talk about each and every piece—although they are all worthy of discussion—so I will highlight some that come to mind.

When viewing a piece of art, we tend to contextualize the work by our reaction to the form or content, or by what it seems to convey. We don’t generally think about the process, although process is an essential part of the communication between artist and viewer. Several pieces in this show succeed in prompting the viewer to pause and consider the process, for example: Roger Sayre’s photographs, Maureen McQuillan’s hypnotic ink and acrylic pieces, Bruce Halpin’s inexplicably flat colors, and Michael Kukla’s “Star 1”.

Michael Kukla, “Star 1”
(2015, marble)

Kukla’s small marble sculpture initially draws you in because of its beauty and mystery. Although literally “set in stone”, it reveals a realm that isn’t limited by time or space, and also leaves you in awe of the process, asking out loud, “How did he do that?”

Among the “Memory” works are the photographs of Roger Sayre, such as “Deirdre 2”,

Roger Sayre, “Deirdre 2” 
(2017, C Print)

whose subtle erosions of form have a ghost-like quality. These mysterious, indefinite images challenge our perception of identity, perhaps urging us to wonder if something ceases to exist because our “image” of it has been seriously altered. Sayre might posit that a crystal clear image doesn’t represent a person at all. His subjects sit for an hour-long exposure. Since it is impossible to hold any single expression for that long, all expressions merge into one image, and thus the subject’s “essence” is revealed. 

Although not officially part of this grouping, Josef Zutelgte’s work also investigates memory and identity. His sculpture “Mutter" (German for "mother")

Josef Zutelgte, “Mutter” 
(2016, paper, aqua resin)

deals with dementia, and through the use of negative space explores the notion of being “there and not there.”  

Ilene Sunshine’s strange and seductive sculptures are indeed “Ethereal and Elemental.” Pictured here is “A.M. #7”.

Ilene Sunshine, “A.M. #7”
(2016, handmade abaca paper over salvaged plastic,
acrylic paint)

The curious and dreamlike quality of her objects also brought back memories of semi-opaque pieces of sea glass found along a shore and all the imagined histories adhered to them.

The repurposing of salvaged objects and materials is a recurring aspect of many of the works, as are the subjects of nature and human interaction with (and impact on) the environment. Maggie Ens’s multi-media works incorporate discarded, manmade objects along with more organic items to create “nature” scenes that challenge reality. Ens adapts the tradition of Still Life. She builds 3D canvasses and employs unconventional constructions, resulting in a tension that is both surprising and satisfying.

Maggie Ens, “The Old Soft Shoe”
(2015, mixed media)

Jeanne Heifetz
’s “Mottanai” series contemplates preservation and the push to recycle, reuse and repurpose. Mottainai is a Japanese term warning against waste.

Jeanne Heifetz, Mottainai 13,
(2016 ink on gampi torinoko paper hand-dyed with indigo)

Other traditional genres that are reimagined in this exhibition are Landscape and Portraiture. Jennifer Krause Chapeau’s rich, moody oil paintings depict landscapes as they are most typically viewed today—in motion, from a commuter’s car or a train.

Jennifer Krause Chapeau, “Eolienne II”
(2017, oil on canvas)

A sweet surprise is the charming and sincere portraits by Rajendra Mehta, which the artist notes were painted with a knife. Patricia Fabricant’s deconstructed and decomposed self-portraits, such as “Faceless” investigate the very nature of portraits and the psychology of visual identity.

Patricia Fabricant, “Faceless” 
(2017 gouache)

According to the artist, these woven paintings abstract her gaze to reveal a variegated expression of her inner life.

Among my personal favorites are Nupur Nishith’s colorful, portrait-like depictions of real and mythic characters (“Cleopatra” and “Icarus”).

Nupur Nishith, “Cleopatra” 
(2016, acrylic on canvas)

Nishith’s work utilizes the traditional motifs and folk-art form of her native Mithila, India, adapting them to contemporary techniques that make the flat, two-dimensional works at once familiar and unique. The bright colors, symbolic designs, and intense detail result in absolutely vibrant work.

When it comes to color, form, and abstraction, there are so many pieces worth noting, but I’ll mention just a few. Amanda Church’s work intertwines form and color, incorporating biomorphic shapes and a funky, artificial palette. Those shapes and unusual colors are evident in “Purple Sleeve”.

Amanda Church, “Purple Sleeve” 
(2015 oil on canvas)

Gary Petersen’s edgy geometric painting style creates a sense of fun with colors that are bright, upbeat, and influenced by 1960’s cartoons like The Jetsons.

Gary Petersen, “Don’t Mind Me” 
(2015 acrylic on canvas)

Not to be overlooked are the beautiful effects achieved by both Bill Rybak’s and Sarah Lutz’s color field paintings that utilize a process of layering on color and scraping it away.

Bill Rybak, “2-Part Invention” 
(2017, polychrome wood)

Vivid color and complex layering are also at work in Lisa Pressman’s encaustic abstractions, and Eileen Ferara’s mixed-media musings on Nature are lush with texture and color.

Finally, there are a host of others artists and works that stood out for a variety of reasons: Barbara Lubliner’s “Kick” series of monoprints combine curvy, Arp-like shapes with straight edges in an exploration of figure-ground relationships; Anne Trauben’s elegant collages, which somehow manage to be minimalist and romantic;

Anne Trauben, “Number One (of 30) 
(2017, paper collage, black gesso) 

Robert Egert’s bold, abstract oil and acrylic paintings; Jackie Schatz’s delightful, floating ceramic forms that are simultaneously figurative and abstract and offer, perhaps, a nod to medieval reliefs (now set free) or to the iconic “Venus of Willendorf;”

Jackie Schatz, “A Lost Lady” 
(2017, ceramic)

Mary Valverde’s intricate and ephemeral ink drawings; and the dark but funny collages of Melissa Stern, who describes her own work as “childlike and goofy.” Stern’s wry, ironic bricolage creations, like “New Boyfriend”

Melissa Stern, New Boyfriend” 
(2017, paint, collage, graphite)

bring together anthropological depth and an unexpected intimacy to comment on life’s absurdities.

There’s such great work and so much going on in this show.  Unfortunately the constraints of time and space do not allow me to write about every artist and work. It was extremely difficult to limit my choices because there are so very many works worthy of contemplation. The Big Small Show 2017 delights, inspires, and illustrates the vast, far-reaching range of artistic expression.

The Big Small Show 2017, a recent survey of drawing, painting, sculpture, photography and print at Drawing Rooms by 102 NJ/NY metro area artists in 8 gallery rooms, the hallway and gallery shop, is curated by Anne Trauben and will run through 2/17/18. 

Artists in The Big Small Show 2017 include: 
Alejandro Rubin Panvini, Alice Momm, Alpana Mittal, Amanda Church, Andra Samelson, Ani Rosskam, Ann Giordano, Anne Q. McKeown, Anne Trauben, Annie Varnot, Ashley Lyon, Barbara Lubliner, Beatrice Mady, Bill Leech, Bill Rybak, Bruce Halpin, Caridad Kennedy, Carla Aurich, Cathy Diamond, Christopher Lowry Johnson, Curt Ikens, Dana Kane, David French, Deanna Lee, Deirdre Kennedy, Diane Tenerelli-June, Donna Conklin King, Eileen Ferara, Fran Beallor, Gary Petersen, Greg Letson, Ilene Sunshine, Injoo Whang, Jackie Shatz, Janet Pihblad, Janet Tsakis, Jeanne Heifetz, Jeanne Tremel, Jennifer Krause Chapeau, Jodie Fink, Joe Lugara, Jong Hyun Kwon, Josef Zutelgte, Julian Jackson, Justin Pollmann, Katarina Wong, Katherine Jackson, Katherine Parker, Kathy Cantwell, Katrina Bello, Kit Sailer, Laura Alexander, Laura Lou Levy, Linda Gottesfeld, Linda Schmidt, Lisa Pressman, Lisa Sanders, Liz Atlas, Loura van der Meule, Lucy Meskill, Maggie Ens, Marianne DeAngelis, Marietta Hoferer, Mary Valverde, Maureen McQuillan, Melissa Stern, Michael Endy, Michael Kukla, Michael Moore, Michael Teters, Mona Brody, Nan Ring, Nancy Karpf, Nikolina Kovalenko, Noemie Jennifer, Nupur Nishith, Pam Cooper, Pamela Shipley, Patricia Fabricant, Pauline Galiana, Rajendra Mehta, Rene Lynch, RitaMarie Cimini, Robert Egert, Robin Feld, Roger Sayre, Ruth Hiller, Sarah Lutz, Stephen Cimini, Steve Krasner, Sue Ellen Leys, Sunjin Lee, Tamar Zinn, Terri Amig, Tessa Grundon, Theda Sandiford, Todd Lambrix, Trix Rosen, Wendy Letven, Yael Dresdner, Yuko Nishikawa