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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on May 17, 2000. All rights reserved.
Illuminations and Ruminations
Abstract art can bring out a viewer’s insecurities.
How do you look at it? What do you say? Do you like it? If so, why,
and what are acceptable reasons for liking it? Agreed: It’s easier
to look at a picture of a farm, or a bowl of fruit, or a person. It’s
easier to consider the basic elements: color, shape, line, value,
texture. Art is often more comfortable when it’s recognizable.
And, by the way, abstract art comes in many guises. Some comes "abstracted,"
from real-life people, places or things; some comes from an artist’s
brain, or an artist’s gut. Some abstract art starts with an idea or
a question, an experiment or a challenge. Sometimes "abstract"
art is called that; at other times, it may be "non-objective,"
or not from outside the artist, but from within.
But is abstract art really so different, so difficult, so hard to
think or talk about? No — especially not for some of the artists
who make it. And, while planning for an exhibition of abstract art,
they also talk about it in illuminating ways.
Hope. In the midst of gardens and climbing vines, she lives in a quaint
cottage that was the last studio of William Lathrop, of the New Hope
Group of American Impressionists. The house itself exudes art history,
and art, a non-traditional kind, is still being made there. For years
Martin has been one of the few, outnumbered abstract artists in Bucks
County. In the last few years, though, she has seemed to come into
her own: New Hope’s "Arty" award in 1995 and 1999; a group
show at Artworks, Trenton; one of four Bucks County artists featured
at the Michener in spring 1999; a growing favorite of collectors in
the area. She is a long-time member of the Princeton Artists Alliance.
Last year Martin started talking about a two-person show with Ruth
Bloom, a colleague in abstraction who heads the art department at
the Solebury School. That notion quickly grew into a group show of
abstract painting and sculpture. Traditional and realistic art are
so pervasive these days that many abstract artists are simply undershown.
So anticipating the sparkling new millennium then just months away,
Martin and Bloom identified nine kindred spirits and put "Abstraction
2000" together. Works by the 11 artists is on view at Riverrun Gallery,
Lambertville, through June 10.
Earlier this spring, the co-curators met with one of the participating
artists to plan publicity for the show, review artist statements,
and, inevitably, talk about their own work. To a fourth person present
— one who has experienced "abstract insecurity" —
it was a comfortable crash course in abstract art. As usual, hearing
about how artists create and regard their work fosters understanding
"People are open to Impressionism because they’ve been exposed
to it. They know how they should respond to it." That’s Helene
E. Ryan, a Flemington-based artist new to the area but not to painting.
She thinks that’s the problem abstract artists face. There are so
many approaches to abstract art, so many "isms" on the continuum
between the idea-driven conceptualist and the more subconscious, viscerally-activated
abstract expressionist. Adding to that, no artist fits neatly into
a niche, or stays there.
So, the three artists agree, abstract art challenges people. It’s
like poetry, one says; like metaphor. It touches viewers on a more
feeling level. It’s like James Joyce’s stream of consciousness in
literature, or improvisational jazz. Such work asks more of viewers
— they need to slow down, meditate, allow the work to reveal itself.
Abstract painters, they say, have redefined space, and they deal with
the canvas as the surface itself. They acknowledge the painting as
a two-dimensional object — it’s not trying to behave like a window.
Periodically, the talk swings back to the value of a show like "Abstraction
2000." It offers a wide variety of approaches, illustrating many
of the ways artists go about it — from Stuart Fineman’s minimalist
striped paintings to the paper-covered wire forms of Wendy Wilkinson
Gordon; and from Yvonne Love’s sculptural objects involving hair,
wax, butterfly wings, and other ephemera, or Rochelle Blumenfeld’s
planes of layered color, to Alan Goldstein’s embrace of chance processes
via oil stick on paper. Three of the participating artists are showing
sculptural works, and the rest are painters of one sort or another.
Bloom, a Carversville-based artist, knows her collages are a response
to what happens in her life, and color plays a major part in both.
So she collects colored paper of all kinds, as well as making her
own paper, and dips into this chromatic pool to start a collage. She
starts by ripping pieces into the shapes she wants, layering them,
and pinning them to a wall. Once she has the right arrangement, she
glues it down so texture won’t be a distraction. Finally, she may
paint or print over the color collage.
"Abstraction is much harder than painting something in front of
you, when you’re pretty much recording what you see. You’re inventing
it; you’re dealing with elemental forces," Ryan says.
"It’s very much like life: You make mistakes, you rub them out,
you change them — but there’s still that residue which then works
in later," Martin observes.
Even so, Ryan adds, "I think it’s important to go
through all the training in looking at the world and drawing as you
see it, learning to model form and space in a traditional way. You
use all that knowledge, all those tools as an abstract painter. It’s
really about light, space, color, design. These issues are in my mind
the whole time I’m in my studio."
Kathleen Pearson, of Sellersville, Pennsylvania, starts with marks
in various media on paper, and responds intuitively to what she calls
"the developing conversation between mark, shape, texture, and
space." She says she uses her hands as well as brushes to become
more physically involved in building a work layer by layer. The physical
contact with the painting collapses the distance between artist and
artwork, making each an extension of the other.
Ryan and Martin agree that other artists whose work is also loosely
derived from "the Abstract Expressionist stream" would recognize
Pearson’s process. Citing the energy required for gestural drawing,
using "the whole arm, the whole body," Martin says, "it’s
very direct. Same thing with a brush, a rag, whatever you’re working
with — it’s touch, it’s very physical." And, Ryan adds, "that’s
why computer art doesn’t work for me. My hands, the touch — they’re
These two artists work in similar ways: searching, questioning, digging,
working additively, then scraping down and adding again, and having
some of the history remain there in the painting. "It’s a matter
of discovery," Ryan says. "At some point you discover what
the painting wants to be about, and then you try to get yourself out
of the way."
Martin concurs: "It feels like a cooperative effort with the painting."
After a point, "I stop trying so hard," Ryan says. "I
allow it to go [its way] in spite of my intentions. I’ve said `I’m
going to do a dark painting,’ but it wants to be light. Finally, I
just say `OK, I’ll let you be a light painting.’ I let go, I allow
Although they both "work the surface" of their paintings,
it’s still thin, shallow, they agree, rather than "a thick impasto
with a sculptural look." Each uses additives — Martin says
marble dust dries out the oil in the paint and "makes it more
of a dry-brush kind of thing."
Ryan mentions a dry, unfired clay powder she thinks gives her work
"a matte finish, an old, historical kind of look" and allows
her to scrape out. "My 10-year-old daughter saw me scraping the
clay surface and the color coming out from underneath. `I know what
you’re doing,’ she said. `That’s like when you have all those different
crayon colors and cover them over with black and then scratch through.’"
Alan Greenberg, of Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, makes
his sculptures from pigmented plaster over armatures of wood and steel
mesh. He wants the framework of the armature to visually push out
toward the surface of a piece to create a tension much like the relationship
between the skeleton and the skin. His sculptures seem to lean precariously
in their environments, serving as metaphors for balance and emotional
Barbara Osterman, of Lambertville, believes that abstraction is about
moving away from the object as subject to the space
as subject. She has experimented with empty, voluminous, and active
space, and now embeds objects in the sheer Japanese paper she’s using.
She says because an abstract art work is not so precise a description
as other forms can be, viewers bring their own awareness and can experience
it in a participatory way. Her work is also featured at the Michener
Art museum’s invitational show, "The Art Gene," in Doylestown
through July 2.
Working in oils, Martin "brainstorms" on a visual level. She
might use gestural drawing, pour paint, or move it around with different
tools. She might play around with collage as an understructure, she
says, and she has found that encaustic makes a good surface for paint,
and "you can scumble over it." Sometimes she uses sand to
fill in or build up a surface. Her canvas becomes a field of ideas
that she explores, alters, or partly buries. Earth tones typify her
palette, even after a recent stay in Mexico, with its bright hues
that she had expected to pick up on. Without intending to, Martin
may speak for abstract artists at large: "I’m always kind of on
a searching adventure. I don’t really have it down at all — that
would be boring."
"You look so hard at your painting that your eyeballs really ache,"
Ryan says. "That’s when it’s time to take a break!" Eventually,
when "there’s really no place that wants to be altered," when
"there’s nothing more to add or to take away," the piece is
finished, Martin and Ryan agree.
"People think of it as very spontaneous," Martin says, and
they both laugh.
Lambertville, 609-397-3349. A group show curated by Ruth Bloom and
Pat Martin. Open daily, except Tuesday, 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday,
noon to 5 p.m. Show runs to June 10.
Diane Levell’s "Historic Photographic Processes," a show that
revives 19th-century Pictorialist photo techniques such as gum bichromate
and photogravure to re-create a romantic view of European beauty spots.
To May 26.
"Worlds on Paper," an international exhibition of drawings,
prints, and photographs by gallery artists. Gallery hours are Tuesday
to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. To May 26.
Paintings of gardens created from life and from colorful memories
by Gilda K. Aronovic. To June 5.
(in Eastern Mountain Sports’ old space), 609-989-9417. The well-loved
annual show and sale of Shona stone sculpture of Zimbabwe to benefit
area homeless families. Over 500 works are on exhibit. Featured artists
include Colleen Madamombe and Dominic Benhura. Open daily, 10 a.m.
to 9 p.m.; and Sundays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. To June 11.
"Visions of Place," a show of recent works by Ahni Kruger,
Susan Dry Boynton, and Nanci Hersh. To June 11.
Window into Collecting American Folk Art: The Edward Duff Balken Collection
at Princeton," 65 paintings and drawings by major 19th-century
folk artists. Collector Balken was a member of Princeton Class of
1897 who later became curator of the department of prints and drawings
at the Carnegie Institute. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.
to 5 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. Free tours of the collection every Saturday
at 2 p.m. To June 11.
Also on view: "Yayoi Kusama: Early Drawings from the Collection
of Richard Castellane," to July 30; "Photographs by Barbara
Bosworth," a survey exhibition of panoramic photographs and the
debut of the 24-print narrative sequence, "The Bitterroot River,"
to June 18; "The Dawn of Maya Kings: An Exhibition of an Early
Mayan Stela," to July 30; and "Flora and Fauna in Chinese
Painting," to July 30.
"A Century for the Millennium: 100 Treasures from the Collections
of the Princeton University Library," on view in the main exhibition
gallery to November 5.
609-620-6026. "John Register: A Retrospective," organized
by the San Jose Museum of Art. A 1957 graduate of the Lawrenceville
School, Register (1939-1996) was a distinguished Realist working in
a style reminiscent of Edward Hopper. This is his first major retrospective,
curated by Barnaby Conrad III. Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.;
except Wednesday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon; closed noon to 1 p.m.
daily. To June 3.
Line Road, 609-252-6275. "Still Working: New Jersey Artists Over
65." The celebratory exhibition features 11 New Jersey-based artists:
Miriam Beerman, Walter Culbreth, Marguerite Doernbach, Tom George,
Riva Helfond, Margaret K. Johnson, Jacob Landau, Lyanne Malamed, Jack
Roth, Naomi Savage, and Sheba Sharrow. Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to
5 p.m.; weekends and holidays, 1 to 5 p.m. To June 4.
609-895-7307. "Optical Illusions: Nancy Laughlin and David Savage,"
works by two artists who explore the effects of heightened color and
unexpected formal relationships to surprise and engage the viewer.
Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. To June 9.
Center, 609-799-6706. "Breakout!" a group show, curated by
DeLann Gallery, with drawings by Cynthia Goodman Brantley, figurative
sculpture by Bob Mataranglo, oils by Adel Al-Hillawi, and quilts by
Barbara Pivnick. Open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. To June 23.
Cross Section," curated by Robert Beck, with works by Colette
Sexton, Susan Roseman, Stephen Kennedy, Mavis Smith, Sandra Flood,
Myles Cavanaugh, Gail Bracegirdle, Beck, and Christine Lafuente. Monday-Thursday
11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 4. To June 11.
"Guccione, the Painter," a retrospective show featuring 50
paintings and drawings by Bob Guccione, the publisher of Penthouse
magazine. Guccione started his career as an artist and in 1965 gave
up painting to launch his publishing business. He returned to painting
in 1992. To June 11.
609-586-0616. Spring Exhibition. In the Museum and outdoors, "Red
Grooms: Sculptures," with close to 40 brightly-painted humorous
sculptures by the New York City artist. In the Domestic Arts Building,
"Bill Barrett: Sculpture and Painting," large-scale bronze
sculptures and abstract paintings and drawings. Also, "Andrzej
Pitynski: Partisans-Freedom Fighters," drawings and models of
his bronze sculpture of Polish freedom fighters installed en route
to the Hamilton Train Station. Thursday through Saturday, 10 a.m.
to 4 p.m. To July 2.
609-695-0061. Figural bronzes by Joseph Menna, Glenn Cullen, Miguel
Angelo Silva, and Chris Rothermel, with florals and landscapes by
artists from the 19th century to the present. Gallery hours are Wednesday
to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. To May 30.
609-292-6310. "Forgotten Gateway: The Abandoned Buildings of Ellis
Island," Larry Racioppo’s exhibition of the little-known world
of Ellis Island’s abandoned buildings, poignant reminders of their
historical significance and current disrepair. Museum hours: Tuesday
to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.; Sunday noon to 5 p.m. To June 30.
"Think Iris," the spring group show selected by Russian-born
artist Gennady Spirin. Thursday to Saturday, 4 to 8 p.m.
Abstract figurative stone sculptures and animal forms by Petro Hul.
To June 1.
609-737-2610. Ewing Art Group Members’ Show, to June 29.
Skillman, 609-683-8092. Photographs by Jay and Marilyn Anderson. To
June 1. Owner Janet Landau retires on August 31, and she and partner
Leyla Spencer have already launched their new online gallery, at www.Artmavens.com.
Road, 609-921-3272. In the main gallery, "TAG’s 2000 Brushstrokes,"
by the Art Group (TAG). To June 15. In the professional gallery: Richard
Demler shows "Journey," a collection of color nature photographs
from Kenya, Canada, and the Everglades. Lorraine Williams presents
her series, "New Jersey Barns;" to May 30.
Branch Station, 908-725-2110. "Preserving the Garden: Saving the
New Jersey Landscape," a national juried exhibition selected by
David Kiehl, Whitney Museum of Art. New Jersey artists include Paul
Bonelli, Dusan Dry Boynton, Spelman Evans Downer, Alice Harrison,
David Komar, and Charlotte Yudis. Gallery hours are Wednesday through
Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday, 1 to 4 p.m. To June 10.
Utilities Office, Route 130, just south of Route 33, 609-259-3502.
Second annual community show selected by Dallas Piotrowski with work
by Tom Chiola, Kristina Sadley, Steven Marvsky, Karen Bacyewski, Deborah
Paglione, and Seow-Chu See. To June 3.
Leonard Restivo and Don Jordan, a shared show. Restivo paints landscapes
and still lifes in oils. Jordan’s work is characterized by mosaic
form and vivid color; he also introduces new ceramic work. Gallery
hours are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. To June
"Annual Spring Show" featuring recent paintings by Tom Chesar
and pastels by Pamela M. Miller created to accompany poems by Emily
Dickinson. Gallery is open Wednesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
To May 21.
609-397-7887. "Art for Living Spaces" by Vermont landscape
artist Jake Geer is featured at the gallery where handcrafted furniture
design is exhibited together with fine art. Geer, whose studio is
in Bridgeport, Vermont, paints pastoral vistas, farms, barns, sunrises,
and salt marshes. Gallery is open Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6
p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. To June 30.
Brunswick, 732-846-5777. "Mihaly Munkacsy In America," featuring
works of the celebrated Hungarian painter who, at the time of his
death in 1900, had become the most famous Hungarian in the world.
Museum hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Sunday,
1 to 4 p.m., for the show that runs to June 18. $5 donation.
732-257-4340. The contemporary sculpture gallery’s "New Artists,
New Ideas, New Season" show, featuring work by more than 100 artists
in natural outdoor installations. Featured artists include Sarah D’Alessandro,
Charles Welles, and Liz Whitney Quisgard. Gallery hours are Friday
to Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., and by appointment.
908-735-8415. "Narratives in Thread," Robert Forman’s exhibition
of figurative and narrative paintings composed entirely of thread.
Also, an exhibition of Huichol yarn paintings from northern Mexico,
selected by Forman. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to
5 p.m. To June 18.
215-340-9800. "The Art Gene," the annual Bucks County Invitational,
curated by Bruce Katsiff, focuses on four pairs of related artists:
George and Daniel Anthonisen; Robert and Jason Dodge; Emmet and Elijah
Gowin; and Barbara and Mark Osterman. Museum hours Tuesday to Friday,
10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. $5 adults;
$1.50 students; children free. Website: www.michenerartmuseum.org.
To July 2.
Also, "No Ordinary Land: Encounters in a Changing Environment,"
a 10-year retrospective of collaborative photographs by Virginia Beahan
and Laura McPhee that explores the way people interact with the landscapes
in which they live. Organized by the Aperture Foundation, to June
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