Art in Town

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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on May 17, 2000. All rights reserved.

Illuminations and Ruminations

E-mail: PatSummers@princetoninfo.com

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.

Scene: Pat Martin’s studio home at Phillips Mill in New

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

and appreciation.

"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

so critical."

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

it."

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

weight.

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.

Abstraction 2000, Riverrun Gallery, 287 South Main Street,

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.

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Art in Town

Arts Council of Princeton, 102 Witherspoon Street, 609-924-8777.

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.

Marsha Child Contemporary, 220 Alexander Street, 609-497-7330.

"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.

Small World Coffee, 14 Witherspoon Street, 609-924-4377.

Paintings of gardens created from life and from colorful memories

by Gilda K. Aronovic. To June 5.

Stone Sculpture from Zimbabwe, HomeFront, MarketFair

(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.

Triumph Brewing Company, 138 Nassau Street, 609-924-7855.

"Visions of Place," a show of recent works by Ahni Kruger,

Susan Dry Boynton, and Nanci Hersh. To June 11.

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Art On Campus

Art Museum, Princeton University, 609-258-3788. "A

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.

Firestone Library, Princeton University, 609-258-3184.

"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.

Lawrenceville School, Gruss Center of Visual Arts, Lawrenceville,

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.

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Art in the Workplace

Gallery at Bristol-Myers Squibb, Route 206 and Province

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.

Stark & Stark, 993 Lenox Drive, Building 2, Lawrenceville,

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.

Breakout!, Summit Bancorp Gallery, Route 1 at Carnegie

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.

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Art In Trenton

Artworks, 19 Everett Alley, Trenton, 609-394-9436. "Representational

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.

Ellarslie, Trenton City Museum, Cadwalader Park, 609-989-3632.

"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.

Grounds for Sculpture, 18 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton,

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.

Rhinehart-Fischer Gallery, 46 West Lafayette, Trenton,

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.

New Jersey State Museum, 205 West State Street, Trenton,

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.

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Other Galleries

Artful Deposit, 201 Farnsworth Avenue, Bordentown, 609-298-6970.

"Think Iris," the spring group show selected by Russian-born

artist Gennady Spirin. Thursday to Saturday, 4 to 8 p.m.

Extension Gallery, 60 Ward Avenue, Mercerville, 609-890-7777.

Abstract figurative stone sculptures and animal forms by Petro Hul.

To June 1.

Hopewell Township Library, 245 Pennington-Titusville Road,

609-737-2610. Ewing Art Group Members’ Show, to June 29.

Main Street Gallery, Montgomery Center, Route 206,

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.

Montgomery Cultural Center, 1860 House, 124 Montgomery

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.

Printmaking Council of New Jersey, 440 River Road, North

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.

Washington Township Arts Council, Washington Township

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.

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Art by the River

Artists’ Gallery, 32 Coryell Street, Lambertville, 609-397-4588.

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

4.

Coryell Gallery, 8 Coryell Street, Lambertville, 609-397-0804.

"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.

Kevin Kopil Furniture Gallery, 28-B Bridge Street, Lambertville,

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.

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To the North

American Hungarian Foundation, 300 Somerset Street, New

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.

Quietude Garden Gallery, 24 Fern Road, East Brunswick,

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.

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Other Museums

Hunterdon Museum of Art, Lower Center Street, Clinton,

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.

James A. Michener Art Museum, 138 South Pine Street, Doylestown,

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

4.


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