An exhibit at the West Windsor Arts Council takes a close look at the human fascination of depicting ourselves — especially the figure in contemporary art. “Nine Blinks: Narrating the Human Body,” curated by Heather Christensen Smith, is on view through November 8 with an opening reception and artist talk on Sunday, September 14, 4 to 6 p.m.
“Nine Blinks” explores the range in which a core of nine artists perceive and re-create the human form in their work, whether through a quick, gestural charcoal of a torso, or a detailed, photo-realistic portrait of a face. The core includes Janet Hautau (from Lawrenceville), photography; Costanza Musumeci (Brooklyn), collage and painting; Hetty Baiz (Princeton), human-scale forms; Paul Matthews (Lambertville), painting; Michelle Post (Millville), woodcut; Jonathan Shahn (Roosevelt), drawings; Val Magarian (New York and Toronto), painting; Sally Smith (Charleston, South Carolina), painting; and Jannick Wildberg (Princeton), painting. Lawrenceville artist David McClure also participates.
Although not herself an artist, curator Smith says she has long been interested in the relationship of an artist looking at the human form, making decisions about which part of the body to reproduce and in what medium, to what results from these decisions. “How does using clay or bronze, or focusing on an elbow or a knee, affect the outcome of the piece?” she says. “I wanted to build a show that makes the viewer think about what an artist sees, and how they choose to highlight this for the viewer.”
A few of the artists, such as Jonathan Shahn and Paul Matthews, are classically trained, but Smith says she is “interested in how contemporary artists, whether or not working from a model, will render a hip or thigh with one quick stroke or do an incredibly detailed photorealistic portrait.”
Smith, who has lived in Princeton for two years, relied on word of mouth to find these artists, and then made extensive studio visits. Tricia Fagan, formerly curator of the Gallery at Mercer County Community College and now an independent curator, as well as a member of the WWAC Advisory Committee, introduced her to Shahn and Matthews. Maria Evans, artistic director of the Arts Council of Princeton, told her about Baiz. “I’m old fashioned. I go to coffee shops and talk to everyone, so it develops organically. That’s how I curated shows in New York City,” says Smith, who continues: “I’m so happy to include Hetty, who is stamping her own body on paper, using glue from a linoleum floor for texture. She recently re-read Homer’s ‘Odyssey,’ and the scene in which the dog is the only person who recognizes him when he returns home provided a moment of inspiration for her.” What is the essence of self that will make a recognizable impression?
Of Shahn Smith says, “His studio is piled with shelves of heads and torsos, and the walls are covered with drawings. It reveals the wide range of his practice. There’s even a bust he’s made of himself creating a bas relief of him sketching himself.” Although this self-referential piece is not in the show, it exemplifies the theme, Smith says.
“Paul Matthews explores so many moments of the everyday,” she says. “One of most powerful is of a baby’s head crowning out of the mother, while the father is supporting her. He also paints people on the subway, or a married couple after an unsuccessful romp in the hay — he’s willing to put anything down. He’s a realist and shows us the raw human emotion.”
Wildberg, a commissioned portrait painter and abstract artist, has two portraits of women and a young boy. “She wants to capture the true personality of the person and uses humor, intellect, power, and playfulness,” says Smith. “She works from a model and photographs, and will spend up to four months on a single work to fine tune the details to reveal person. Eyes are of utmost importance to her. The portraits feel very real, like another limb of the subject.”
Smith notes that Hautau photographed a new series for this exhibition, adding that “she is interested in the way water outlines the shape of the human body, coming to its lowest resting place. She manipulates the body, water and sun.”
Magarian trained at the Art Institute of Chicago and has worked in line drawing, animation, and painting. Her collage pastels are included in “Nine Blinks.” “The characters’ proximity reveals their relationship with one another and in muted colors reveals their connectedness, showing that in art a group can seem like an individual,” says Smith.
Musumeci, a native of Sicily, trained at Savannah College Art and Design. Her portrait collages use pop cultural references from fashion magazines, deconstructing the female body and creating new forms.
Sally Smith, mother-in-law of the curator, lives in Charleston, S.C., and has been painting 40 years. “She works mostly in impressionistic landscape paintings of the South and Europe, but over years she has enjoyed portrait painting,” says Smith. “I have selected `Lavender Girl,’ a 1977 portrait of a glamorous woman, comfortable in her beauty and her fashion, looking out at the world, forever content, and two small oils of figures in a comfortable pose rendered by quick brush strokes.”
It was through Hautau that Smith learned about Michelle Post. Post apprenticed with the late Stefan Martin of Roosevelt for wood engraving, and “picked the brains of many sculptors, photographers, printmakers, painters, dressmakers, designers, craftsmen, and writers,” according to her website.
As director of museum displays and installations for the Sculpture Foundation in Hamilton, Post is responsible for design, construction and installation of sculptor Seward Johnson’s nationally traveling shows: “Beyond The Frame” and “Icons Revisited.”
“I am including a detailed wood cut, with a strong hand and arm, complemented by a bronze cast of the same hand and arm, a doorknocker,” says Smith. “These two pieces showcase how an artist can take the same body parts and create two completely different works of art.
It was also through Hautau that Smith connected to McClure who was added late to enhance the project. “I selected him for his contrast to the other artists whose detailed work shows time and dedication to creating realistic images. David’s work reveals how an artist, with a quick gesture, can skillfully re-create the human body in simple black and white charcoal sketches. I have also included pastels of colorful women surrounded by patterns of fabric and curly hair, reclining. These show the quickness and deftness of his lines, and re-create the human form as a study.”
Smith was born in Kenya, moved to the South of France, and, ultimately, Santa Barbara, California, where she grew up. Her father, a ship captain, worked out of Singapore and Kenya. Her mother, a teacher and French tutor, is from England and Smith spent a good amount of time in England.
She has a master’s degree in the history of design and decorative arts from the Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum — Parsons New School for Design. During her studies, Smith was a curatorial fellow at the Cooper Hewitt and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she worked on the collections catalog in the American Wing, and a Smithsonian fellow at Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris. She has organized exhibitions in New York for which she has been awarded curatorial grants.
Before moving to Princeton, Smith lived in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and upstate New York. Her husband’s work as an investment banker brought the family to Princeton — Smith has three children, including twins.
Since January, Smith has been a curatorial consultant to Morven Museum & Garden, assisting curator Elizabeth Allen. She is providing research on an upcoming exhibition on Charles and Anne Lindbergh.
Last year, Smith was juror for WWAC’s Off the Wall exhibit. She is excited about the West Windsor Arts Center as the venue for “Nine Blinks.” She says, “Not being an artist, I have a fascination with the need of artists to produce work. I find it purely beautiful that a slice of the human population just has to produce art. As a curator, I love artwork, artists, people who love to see artwork, and I see myself as connecting all these, with one foot in the studio and another making connections to collectors. I love to be the liaison for artists so they can focus on painting and not be distracted by organizing exhibitions and public relations.”
Nine Blinks: Narrating the Human Body, West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, West Windsor, Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 609-716-1931 or www.westwindsorarts.org.