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The RiNo's Horn
A Place to Trumpet Rino Artists by Rex Brown from the Pattern Shop Studio

Monday
Apr302012

Martha Pinkard-Williams’ “watermark” at Pattern Shop Studio

If you love being in Canyonlands National Park or Red Rocks Amphitheater or hiking  among Boulder’s Flatirons, you already know the fascination and beauty of sedimentary rocks.  Thrust up by tectonic forces from deep beneath the earth’s surface and weathered smooth by wind and rain, they’re nature’s favorite sculptures, speaking to us about unimaginable eons of time, chance, and change. They seem to be the most human of rocks, colored in all the hues of human skin, smooth and warm, standing as sentinels and guides for ancient and modern man, often named by local inhabitants for the people, animals or things they come to resemble.  Native people around the world have seen such rock formations as sacred places, sources of visions, dreams and transcendent intuitions. 

In “watermark,” her exhibition of small watercolor studies on paper and large acrylics on canvas, Martha Pinkard-Williams paints portions of Red Rocks Park near her home with all these things in mind.  Once a figurative artist, she sees the human forms that sleep in landscapes; once apprenticed to a spiritual teacher, she feels the geist in what she sees; always a colorist (she loves Helen Frankenthaler and says “color speaks to the soul”), she delights in capturing the countless shades of sandstone in light and shadow.  Influenced many years ago by feminist critic Lucy Lippard, ( e.g., Overlay: Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory),  Martha sees herself fitting into the “herstory” of art.  “I can’t paint like a man,” she says, “because I don’t think and feel like a man.”  She doesn’t mean she can’t paint as well as a man—she’s a master painter, after all. She means she paints with a woman’s sensibility and eye for intimacy.  Many of the paintings in this exhibition focus on what she calls “the places in-between,” the cracks and crevices in the rocks, the spaces between boulders broken apart by time.  Look at (left to right) “inner light,” for example, or “matrix,” or “fissure:”

Martha’s “in-between-ness” extends beyond this literal level, however; it refers also to an aesthetic space between realism and abstraction and a psychological space between the conscious and the unconscious.  The studies “persephone” (left) and “whisper” (center) illustrate the abstract bones of many of the larger acrylic wash paintings; “reflecting on the infinite” (right), one of her spectacular 

snowfield washes in payne’s grey, illustrates the second.   As you sit and look at the paintings, your mind shimmers back and forth between different ways of seeing the images, making these among the most dynamic paintings you’ll ever experience.  Many viewers call them “voluptuous” or “sensual,” and a few have called them sexually suggestive, like some of Georgia O’Keefe’s flower paintings.  To be sure, if you look for breasts or genitalia in them, you can find them, just as French fur trappers found them when looking at what they called the Tetons.  You can feel a certain sexual tension as well in images of large, skin-colored, curving rock bodies that have been almost, but not quite, touching for thousands of years.  (How they must long for reunion!) But even to bring this view up is to overstate it.  Let’s just say they’re sexually implicit, but not explicit. They say far more about intimacy and relationships and natural harmonies and repetitive universal forms, and time and fate and what comes before words and goes beyond words.  

Martha calls her work “landscape-like” because although she is clearly in the (largely masculine, often grandiose and Romantic) Western landscape painting tradition, she is in a special category that I would call the “intimate landscape” tradition.  Karen Kitchel, who paints grasses in ways that open up social, historical, and philosophical issues, is an outstanding exemplar of that tradition. Insight, connection, and wisdom can arise while contemplating the humble or the intimate; experience of the sublime need not be a matter of fear and trembling before an Almighty and Unknowable Cosmos. 

Martha Pinkard-Williams’ “watermark” includes 47 pieces ranging in size from 7”x 9” to 60”x 96,” all very affordably priced.  The show will continue with openings on May 4th, 6-9pm; a Salon with the artist on May 12th , 4-6pm; a special Mother’s Day show May 13th, 11-5pm; and a closing reception on June 1st.   In addition, the Pattern Shop Studio is always open for groups and individuals by appointment.

Rex Brown, Pattern Shop Studio.

 

 

Sunday
Nov272011

Jang and Smith's "Fathom This" turns Ice Cube Gallery into magic underwater world.

A year ago, Deborah Jang and Jean Smith agreed to do another show together at the Ice Cube Gallery that would turn the gallery's large volume into an aquarium. Smith, a deft and imaginative ceramicist (jeanbsmith.com), set out to create fanciful sea plants that could climb the walls and rise from the "sea" floor. Jang, a mixed media sculptor (deborahjang.com), began combing Craig's List, yard sales, junk yards, thrift shops and dumpsters for materials that struck her as potential components of sea creatures. The result is "Fathom This," a brilliantly colorful and highly entertaining exhibit that shows off both the artists and the generous and beautiful gallery on 3320 Walnut Street from November 11th to December 3rd.

 
 

Assemblage art grows out of a natural impulse to integrate the past into the present. At any point in its history, a culture is an assemblage, a melange of old and new ideas, texts, and objects reinterpreted and re-purposed to create and inspire new meanings. In the art world, assemblage began its modern life as anti-art, as a radical break with traditional notions of what constitutes "art" or suitable materials and processes for making "art." In the early 20th century, Duchamp, Braque, Dubuffet and even Picasso created assemblages, as did most Dadaists and, later, artists such as Rauschenberg and Man Ray. Assemblage objects are fundamentally ironic and often comic, bringing together, as they do, unlike materials, and pushing the limits of visual simile, visual metaphor, and visual paradox. They show us that "junk" or "garbage" can be made beautiful; that unpleasing materials can be combined in pleasing ways; and that there are no limits to a work of art's potential referentiality.

Deborah Jang's assemblages are so inventive and witty they can make you laugh out loud. Most of her assemblages are fish, either on the walls or suspended from the ceiling at different depths to reinforce the suggestion that you are walking on the sea floor as the fish lazily swim in place. Some are wire mobiles that cast wonderful shadows, others are assembled out of a host of found materials and objects. She has made fish eyes out of a crank, a clock spring, metal nuts and washers of various sizes, a dog tag, a candle holder, and even a pencil sharpener. Her fins are made out of keys, wrenches, a soap dish, a yard sprinkler, license plates, saw blades and paint brushes. Her fish tails are made out of springs, mixer beaters, a wooden coat hanger, a bicycle reflector, or a cut up red chile sauce can. Two barracuda-like fish are ingeniously made out of crutches. If you have ever seen some of the deep sea creatures filmed by adventurers like William Beebe in his bathysphere, none of Jang's fish is implausible (I know I've seen that fish with the pencil sharpener eye(s) somewhere!). Mother Nature is an assemblage artist, after all. She just cobbles together organic junk until it is beautiful in the sense that it works.

   
  Deborah Jang, Lean On Me  
 
 
  Deborah Jang, Skinny Dipper  

 

Jang also contributes a sunken rowboat and a sunken canoe to the sea bottom, as well as a tricked up kiddie-ride boat that jangles along surface, driven by a flamingo, and a lot of flotsam and jetsam--mostly paddles and oars whose users may now be in Davy Jones' Locker. Her goal in making each piece is "to integrate form, color, texture, and substance." This is what separates her from lesser assemblage artists: she reaches that goal time after time; others do not.

Jean Smith, whose studio is at the Dry Ice Building which houses the Ice Cube Gallery, is a prodigiously productive ceramicist who can cook up any object she can see or imagine. She contributes the brilliantly colored sea flowers, corals, algae and kelp to the aquarium. Like the many ceramic flower arrangements and centerpieces for which she is known, the sea flowers have a fantastical look, as if they just stepped out of an animated movie. The low-fired smaller pieces on the wall or on pedestals are subtly tinted and cleverly layered. Some parts were fired separately and then attached. All are as beautifully textured as living coral, though, if you look closely, their markings came from Indian ink stamps Smith found in a flea market or horse radish leaves from her garden (ceramicists can be assemblage artists, too!). The large sculptures, which she calls "totems," range from 4 to 6 feet high, and are made in segments that are stacked on top of each other on a metal rod affixed to a heavy steel base. Flowers and barnacles and such ring the totems and at their tops, surreal tendrils reach up and out into the water, wavily seeking food. The totems are high-fired so that the bottom segments can take the weight above them. The high temperatures and glazes involved produce intense hues such as you might find around hydrothermal vents at the very bottom of the ocean. Near them, some cold-finish sea fans rock on metal stands as if caught in a gentle current.

  Jean Smith, Flowering Amoeba Totem; Sea Fans  

Many two-person shows are just that: two person shows. Two sensibilities, two aesthetics. Although they work in different media, Deborah Jang and Jean Smith work together like peas in a pod. They share a common sensibility, a common penchant for assemblage, a common whimsy, and a common commitment to integrating form, color, texture and substance in their work. With respect to the substance, am I pushing things too far if I suggest that this show is a reminder that most of the world's fisheries and coral reefs are in critical states of decline, and floating garbage patches, some the size of Texas, swirl in every major ocean? If that's a reach for you, retreat to the simplest reason to see this exhibit: "Fathom This" is a very collectible show. With so many exquisite and reasonably priced objects, you could redecorate a couple of rooms and buy all your holiday gifts in one place.

"Fathom This" runs through December 3rd and both artists can be contacted through the websites mentioned above.

Rex Brown
Pattern Shop Studio

Saturday
Oct222011

Honoring the Ordinary: Sharon Brown's "Virginia: A Life," at the Pattern Shop Studio

Sharon Brown's "Virginia: A Life," on display at the Pattern Shop Studio through December 2011, is the result of a 25-year-long, multi-layered project that has so far fostered 85 paintings, 37 of which are in this show. The inspiration for the project was two garbage bags of old photographs, letters and memorabilia that Sharon found in an alley when she and her neighbor were dumpster browsing. This is the first layer of the show's meaning: all the paintings spring from images that were destined for oblivion. Were it not for a curious, even nosy, artist, they wouldn't be in our visual vocabulary and we would be much the poorer for their absence.

It's important up front to make a distinction between the historical artifacts that Sharon rescued from the trash and the art she has made out of them. Yes, there really was a historical Virginia, fragments of whose life survive in old snapshots, letters and memorabilia; and yes, these materials are of historical and cultural interest in their own right. But Sharon is an artist, not a cultural historian or biographer. The historical facts of the real Virginia and her life are about as important to this body of work as the facts about Dora Maar are to Picasso's painting Dora Maar au Chat: in other words, not very. Artists are often inspired by "real" people and events, but they appropriate them to tell their own stories and express the kinds of truth that are particular to art, not to history or science.  Although this show displays a few letters and artifacts to provide a context and setting for the paintings, remember that the "Virginia" you meet in this show is a person imagined by Sharon Brown, and the narrative the paintings create was constructed by Sharon to express her feelings and ideas and to stimulate yours.

Sharon's interest in old photographs and letters has been lifelong. She grew up in a large family with dozens of photo albums, drawers full of old letters, and a habit of looking at them and reading them aloud at family gatherings. Even as a little girl, Sharon was curious about what life was like for her parents when they were "young and hot." Her earliest drawings and the paper dolls she created for herself were of fashionably clothed and well-hatted women. Her aesthetic was formed by the black and white movies of the 1930's and 40's, which she still watches, and then by the movies, advertising, fashion and art of the 50's. When a second cousin died, leaving Sharon her old photographs and letters, Sharon began to paint from them, as well as from other old family snapshots. It's no wonder that a couple of years later, the trash bags full of Virginia's old letters and snapshots were irresistible to her.

What drew Sharon to these materials was her interest in authentic voice (the letters), her interest in the period (1936-1944), and her fascination with old family snapshots. A sociology major in college, and the daughter, granddaughter and sister of psychiatrists, she has an eye for images that she can use to convey subtle psychological and social tensions. She sees the ways in which ordinary people reveal themselves, try to conceal themselves (often at the same time), and reflect culturally induced values. In the painting Pontiac, for example, we see a fur-clad Virginia standing proudly next to a splendid 1941 Pontiac Streamliner. Who among us doesn't have such an image in that old shoe box in the closet--of ourselves or family members standing next to our first or most prized automobile? It's an iconic American image, combining both personal and social pride. Virginia and Ed are proud of themselves for having acquired the trappings of an idyllic middle class life. She has her fur coat and fur hat and expensive handbag and shoes; he has his high status automobile and his Pretty Wife posing next to it like a model in Colliers Magazine or Life. The imagery says, "See? We've made it! We're living the American Dream!" The dirt road on which the car rests and the scrawny trees in the background remind us that these people have clawed their way out of the Great Depression. The car itself points to a promising future of opulence and speed for everyone.

  Pontiac  

In painting after painting, Virginia and Ed are posing and showing off a new fur, a new hat, a new status symbol of some kind. You wouldn't know that she was a secretary in an advertising agency, sending rent money back to her widowed mother in Denver or that he struggled with his confidence for years and scrimped to be able to afford even a long distance phone.

  Chink (Ed) at Jones Beach   Virginia at Jones Beach  

The original snapshots were meant to show their lives as they wanted to remember them and wanted others to see them. Sharon's paintings, however, show more. She paints people in such a way that we see both who they are and who they would like others to believe they are at the same time. You see this very clearly in the smaller portraits of Virginia and her sister Mercedes, all of which are based on photo booth snapshots. These are not relaxed, happy faces. They're tight, strained. Paint is

  Furred   Red Virginia  

both extra heavy on some parts of the face and removed on other parts, enabling the under-layers of paint to emerge like unconscious feelings.  In Red Virginia, the emotions conveyed by the uneven layers of paint and the background are anger and disappointment; in Furred, we intuit some kind of sadness.  In both, Sharon skillfully captures the mask Virginia is trying to project and, simultaneously, the face beneath the mask. Tensions-- between brush strokes of various kinds, outer and under layers of paint, background  and foreground colors, smooth and rough textures, light and dark, what the eyes say and what the mouth reveals--create the complexity and dynamism that make the images mysteriously compelling.  Sharon's striking portrait of Virginia's sister, Mercedes, shows a smoother style befitting the subject's more open face and temperament.

  Mercedes  

All of the paintings in the show repay close study. Most of the paintings on fiber board began with Milton Avery-like blocks or swaths of color, and you can see them bleeding through and influencing the figures on the surface. You can see Sharon's deftness in so many of the fabrics she designs; her colorist instincts (remember--the snapshots are in black and white); her use of subtle washes to deepen shadows, darken corners, or weather bricks; and the psychological tensions she creates between Virginia and her father, or two visitors, or husbands and wives at a cocktail party.

  The Visit   Father and Daughter  

Virginia: A Life is a labor of love now spanning almost 25 years and likely to go on until Sharon stops painting. Each painting tells a little story; the whole series conjures up a larger narrative about ordinary Americans in the 1930's and 40's trying to make it out of the Depression, through the war and into a burgeoning middle class. Sharon says that her primary impulse as a figurative artist has been to "honor the ordinary." In rescuing a slice of someone's life from the trash--a time when they were "young and hot" and in love--and turning what was discarded into something richly textured, beautiful and desirable, Sharon has given the "real" Virginia the glamorous life she apparently sought. In giving us her imagined Virginia, she has given us a character who is intriguing in her own right and reminiscent of the people who stare out at us from our dust-covered family photo albums.  And in doing both, she has indeed brought honor to the ordinary.

Rex Brown (Sharon's husband)
Pattern Shop Studio

Wednesday
Mar232011

SHARON ²: INTERIORS at The Pattern Shop Studio

When we hear the word "interiors" in association with art, most of us imagine Vermeer and the great Dutch genre painters of the 17th century.  But when you think about it, the style didn't die with them. Scores of great artists have painted unforgettable interiors-- Cassatt, Renoir, Bonnard, Picasso, Matisse, Hopper, and Hockney come immediately to mind--and a good many contemporary painters continue to find the tradition attractive and useful.  Among them are the two master oil painters in this show.

Over their long careers, Sharon Brown and Sharon Feder have absorbed the styles available for expressing what they feel and have honed the skills necessary for doing it hauntingly.  Although both of them work in a variety of  forms, each returns periodically to the theme of interiority and the settings in which they and others live out their private lives.  Both paint exteriors--Feder often of buildings, Brown often of faces--but do so in ways that reveal what the exteriors conceal.  This tension of  exterior/interior, public/private, conscious/unconscious runs throughout their work. 

In this show, you can see all of the things you see in classic interiors: empty chairs, books, oriental rugs, paintings on the walls, objects of value to their owners but mysterious to us; slants of light, dogs and cats, beds, people sleeping or musing or reading, but in any case,  unguarded; a human presence in an empty room that is all the stronger for the absence of its inhabitants.  You can feel time and peace and quiet and a certain kind of love. 

It's interesting to note that the Dutch domestic interiors arose during a time of rapid change, global expansion, war, urbanization, commercialization and boom and bust economics--an uncertain time not unlike our own.  It is as if the artists were turning away from the confusion and instability around them in order to find a meditative space, a stable, predictable sanctuary.  Feder and Brown do this as well, but they also allude to the world's turmoil and their own inner disquiet in their paintings. Brown paints an impoverished Kentucky couple standing by a door that opens into their darkened home and, in another painting, herself in an attic, staring down into an abyss.  Most of her deceptively simple interiors have several doors leading to and from darkness.  Feder, too, places us sometimes in the pitch black,  looking through more darkness toward distant lights in empty buildings.  Her portraits of her sons find them asleep behind thick black walls or working in dim light or scratched and abraded. 

The paintings in "Interiors" depict contemplative moments and  peace, but also loneliness.  Brown and Feder suggest that although we may find respite from a threatening world in our shelters and routines, we may never find complete respite from ourselves.  Behind the door or outside the empty commercial building sits darkness.

Rex Brown
Pattern Shop Studio

Thursday
Jan272011

Jonathan Kaplan at Plinth and Ice Cube

Suppose you are cleaning junk out of the garage. A broken adjustable office chair, an outdated globe, a nerf football, an old ceiling light dome without its fixture, an old clutch plate, some plastic donuts that your kid used to stack on pegs, a bell without a clapper, that old singing trout your buddies gave you, some stylized plastic birds and fish the cats used to play with--you put it all in the trash bag, right?  Not Jonathan Kaplan.  He saves junk like that.  He saves anything that catches his eye for geometry or  texture or kitsch.  He makes molds out of cast away objects and throws them on a shelf where they accumulate until that certain day when he's mulling over ideas for new ceramic pieces.  Then he lets his  whimsicality take over, stacking unlike shapes and textures into potential ceramic objects of various kinds and uses.  His whimsicality is informed by a lifetime's study of the history of his ancient art and the cultures that used it to create everything from everyday useful items like pots to expressions of their deepest fears, hopes and beliefs. 

Jonathan's latest show, "Modern Moche," at his Plinth Gallery (plus some pieces at the current Icebreaker 2.0 show at Ice Cube Gallery) displays the witty beauty that can arise when he combines  cast-off modern artifacts with ancient ceramic traditions such as the art of the Moche culture that flourished in Peru almost two thousand years ago.  Peruvian pottery often employs human and animal forms, often displays an amusing erotic playfulness, and, among the Moche, usually includes a distinctive "stirrup spout" that serves both as a spout and handle.

Jonathan's references to this tradition are clear in his latest vesselsHere, a plastic donut has become the stirrup, a corrugated tube from a broken office chair has become the spout and both sit atop conjoined birds, which sit atop a halved child's globe.  Or,  below, the stirrup spout sits on top of a kitschy fish, which sits on top of a nerfball.

Besides stirring some admiration for Jonathan's capacity to assemble unlike artifacts into entirely new and useful larger objects, these references to an ancient culture's pottery raise some interesting questions.  Do the animals used in Jonathan's pottery "mean" what animal representations in Moche culture mean?  Fish and birds have held multiple symbolic meanings for many cultures for thousands of years.  What do the thrown away, sentimentalized, mass produced animal images Jonathan used to create his vessels "mean" to us beyond, perhaps, "commodity?"  Would we place Jonathan's vessels in the tombs of our loved ones, as the Moche did with theirs?  Can bad taste (the fish, for instance) be redeemed when it is re-purposed, re-contextualized and translated into another medium?  Do the aesthetics of modern assembled art objects (whether Jonathan's or Rauschenberg's) rise to the level of the wit that animates them?  

The aesthetics of Jonathan's vessels are generated not only by their exotic and ingenious combinations of modeled forms, but also by their luscious, multi-layered glazing.  You see these from across the room and without knowing how they were made or what they are referencing or even how they're used, you want them for what they do to the light on and around them.  Alternately creamy or shiny or flat or all three, these ceramics are like cats, who always know where to be.  Take one home and I'm certain it will lead you to its perfect spot.

Rex Brown
Pattern Shop Studio