“Modern Art 101” presented at the 1891 Fredonia Opera House this Summer

Patricia Briggs presents “Modern Art 101” in two informal slide lectures at the Fredonia Opera House as part of the Art & Architecture On Screen series.

Modern Art 101-Part One: Thursday, July 13, 2017, 7-8:30pm

p0427hgcArt Historian Patricia Briggs presents two informal slide lectures that guide audience members through the basics of modernist abstraction during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Why did major modernist artists like Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gaugin, Paul Cezanne, Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso turn away from naturalism and move toward abstraction? “Part One” focuses on Post Impressionism as it leads into Expressionism and features artists such as van Gogh, Gaugin, Cezanne and Matisse.  No prior background in art is necessary for this interactive presentation.

Modern Art 101 – Part Two: Thursday, August 10, 2017 – 7:00pm-8:30 pm

Kandinsky, Composition IV, 1911In “Part Two” in this series Briggs focuses on Cubism and Pure Abstraction and discusses artists such as Pablo Picasso, Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian.  No prior background in art is necessary for this interactive presentation.

briggs_center-gallery2016.jpgDr. Patricia Briggs is Director and Curator of the art galleries at Jamestown Community College in Western New York. Before taking her position at JCC, Briggs taught art history and contemporary criticism at Minneapolis College of Art and Design. She has curated exhibitions and community projects at numerous museums throughout the Midwest, and her writing appears in many print and online journals including Artforum InternationalHistory of PhotographyWomen’s Art JournalArt on Paper and others.

She received her PhD in art history from the University of Minnesota where she studied modern and contemporary art.  She writes the blog Scene Unseen: Viewing Notes http://artsceneunseen.com

Admission is FREE; goodwill donations supporting the Opera House will be accepted.

Location: 1891 Fredonia Opera House, 9 Church St., Fredonia, NY 1406

“Educated Rustic: Painting, Poetry, and Sculpture by Phillip Schultz” at the Kenosha Public Museum through November 27, 2016

Please attend the opening reception for “Educated Rustic: Painting, Poetry, and Sculpture by Phillip Schultz” at the Kenosha Art Museum, Friday October 21 from 6-8pm. As guest curator of the exhibition, I will present an informal gallery talk during this event and Phil Schultz will there to answer questions.


Phil Schultz is a remarkable man. He grew up in Racine, WI during the 1950s and, like many of us, attended high school and college. His life changed in 1979 when a back injury, and his already diagnosed  paranoid schizophrenia, disabled him.  After having worked in factories in Racine and in the jewelry business in Milwaukee, Schultz now found himself “physically and mentally handicapped and on welfare and eventually Social Security Disability.” These programs kept him alive, but also kept him in poverty.

During his convalescence Schultz, who had studied art in college, took up painting because, as he says, “there wasn’t much else I could do.”  For over twenty years he has lived in a small one-bedroom apartment in a run down house on College Avenue in Racine. Over time, he converted the unheated attic into a painting studio. Here he has produced hundreds of paintings, working with oil on cheap particleboard, and then fitting each into a handmade frame decorated with cut up mini blinds, bits of carpeting, and smashed pop cans collected from the garbage in his back alley. In the musty basement, Schultz set up a welding bench where he forms abstract figures from scraps of steel and builds molds for his cast bronzes.

Schultz is a thinking man, prone to philosophical and poetic contemplation. Since the mid 1980s, he has written one sonnet a day which he files in spiral binders and sometimes shares with friends or presents at local poetry readings. He says that his poems “aren’t any good,” but I disagree. Schultz’s daily efforts to communicate his feelings are a rare record of a life largely shaped by poverty, pain, and despair. In fact, we might not be able to bear to read Schultz’s poetry, if it were not for the joyfulness and compassion articulated in his painting and sculpture.

Patricia Briggs, October 2016

  • Also opening on the same night at KPM is “Monsters, Mutants and Madmen: Science Fiction Movie Posters of the Drive-In Era.”
  • This event is free and open to the public.  Light refreshments will be served.



Alison Stinely Painting in the Garden of Eden

Alison Stinely, Ribe Meat, 2015

Alison Stinely, Rib Meat, Oil on panel, polyurethane foam. expoxy resin, lates enamel, 61 x 78 x 24, 2015

Having recently emerged from graduate school, Alison Stinely is a young artist who’s dishing out one beautiful, outrageous oil painting after another. I’ve enjoyed Rib Meat, a gorgeous painting of the birth of Eve that has hung for the last month in the JCC faculty show at the Weeks Gallery. Steeped as deeply in the work of the old masters as she is engaged with contemporary painting, Stinely renders the face of her larger than life Eve in bold strokes of luminous blue under-painting and blood red, pink, and purple tones. And though Stinely situates her nude in the Garden of Eden at the beginning of time, she relishes the opportunity to render in sensuous, painterly strokes the unmistakably contemporary cut of her model’s hair. Stinely’s Eve is beautiful, confident, and muscular. Like one of Michelangelo’s sibyls or his David, Stinely’s Eve bears her nudity without shame as she gazes off to the side expectantly; ready for the challenges her fateful life will bring.

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The classical beauty embodied in Eve’s face is countered by the disturbing context in which the artist has placed her. Shown at the moment that she is born, Eve is coming out of Adam’s ribs. Fully grown, her head, shoulders and breasts emerge from, that is, slide upward and out of, the bloody ribcage of an enormous carcass. Is this Adam’s ribcage? This is not entirely clear, as Stinely caps the radically foreshortened spine of the skeletal remains with the grotesque plastic head of a donkey ensconced in a wreath of cheap plastic foliage. Because we tend to have limited engagement with animals today, most viewers aren’t sure if this head belongs to a horse, cow, deer or donkey, but this doesn’t stop them from musing about the symbolic meaning of the decapitated animal’s head. Does is signify animal sacrifice, men as donkeys, humans coming from animals, or the carnage that came to mankind when Eve entered the world? When I asked Stinely about the donkey’s head, her response reminded me that she is more than comfortable with controversy and that she was raised reading the Bible. “In the Bible, donkeys are untouchable, inedible. Today, it’s slang for a woman’s ass.”

Nocturnal Emissions, is another painting Stinely sets in the Garden of Eden. This one pictures Lilith, Adam’s first wife according to Jewish folklore and other texts.

Alison Stinely, Nocturnal Emissions, Oil on panel, expoxy resin, latex Enamel, 55 by 78 x 18 inches, 2015

Alison Stinely, Nocturnal Emissions, Oil on panel, expoxy resin, latex Enamel, 55 by 78 x 18 inches, 2015

The legendary character Lilith differs from Eve in that she was born at the same time as Adam, from the same stuff as Adam, and was not subservient to Adam. She left the Garden of Eden of her own accord and went on to appear as a powerful, dangerous, and sometimes demonic temptress written into loads of legends and literature. Known as the lusty demon haunting men’s dreams and responsible for nocturnal emissions, Lilith’s face is magnificently rendered here as the liquid smear of a wet dream.

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Alison Stinely lives in Erie, Pennsylania. She studied at the Cleveland Institute of Art and received a BFA from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. In 2013 she received an MFA from Indiana University in Bloomington IN. She lives in Erie PA and teaches at a number of area colleges and universities including Jamestown Community College and Edinboro University.

Leeds Artist David Cotton Working in Western New York

I met David Cotton, an artist from Leeds, last summer when he was a resident artist on campus at Jamestown Community College (JCC) where he was working in the new biotechnology labs. At that time he was painting bacteria on the sterile media surface of petrie dishes and playing with microscopes equipped with cameras. The college lab techs showed Cotton how to genetically modify E. coli bacteria with jellyfish DNA so that they ‘glowed’ under UV light. He then grew cultures of the bacteria and photographed them under various conditions. Cotton shot over a thousand digital photographs, or “bacteriographs,” over about nine days. For this first series of creative lab experiments, Cotton brought a painter’s sensibility to the lab materials. With a fine horsehair brush he drew abstract designs on the surface of growth medium and exploited the florescent palette of the lab.

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Why was Cotton in rural Western New York? He and other members of the SCIBase collective had traveled to Jamestown to participate in Colinized, an exhibition presented in two local galleries: The 3rd on 3rd Gallery  and the Dykeman-Young Gallery (April 4-May 15, 2014).  SCIBase is a collaborative project between BasementArtsProject, Leeds and the SCI collective based in the Northwest of England, which includes members from Leeds, Merseyside, Sheffield, the Midlands, Sweden and the USA.  Deb Eck, a British artist who lives and works in Jamestown, organized Colonized and arranged short community-based residencies, like Cotton’s, for most of the British and Swedish artists who traveled to Jamestown to participate in the exhibition. It was wonderful to meet so many international artists during my first summer in Western New York and it was entirely unexpected!

Cotton recently returned to Jamestown during the spring of 2015 for Colliding Worlds, another exhibition organized by Eck, which mixed science, medicine and art. For this exhibition Cotton showed a set of C-prints that related to his JCC lab work but which differed from it in interesting ways. Cotton purchased his own microscope and shot images of slides that he either prepared himself with readily available materials like seaweed, cabbage or the skin of a blueberry, or purchased through eBay. Cotton’s second series of microscope photographs differ significantly from the first, in that they read more like ready mades. Although Cotton has gone to the trouble of crafting each circular image from a series of square format digital files, each image in this series reads as a ready made of sorts. Each is a kind of matter-of-fact found object, be that an antique slide purchased from eBay with a funny title like “rad irridis” or “pimento,” or a bit of fruit or veg grabbed from the fridge. Shown together this series of eighteen 12 inch square C-prints hung horizontally across the gallery wall was lush and beautiful. Each photograph a gem on its own. As a series, the luminous orbs read as planetary spheres documenting newly discovered worlds. Embodying as they do both a micro and macro perspective, as well as both abstract and ready-made aesthetic sensibility, Cotton’s new series are hard to forget. In fact, I absolutely loved them.

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Studio Visit: Anne Muntges

Anne Muntges, Skewed Perspective, 2014. Installation in The Center Gallery, Jamestown Community Campus, Olean.

Anne Muntges, 2014

When I visited Anne Muntges in her Buffalo studio last year she had just finished up a Bemis Art Center residency where she had been working on a weird “kitchenette” drawing installation. This was not a drawing of a kitchenette, but rather an actual kitchenette transformed by drawing. To begin, Muntges covered all of the surfaces of things that make up a kitchenette with white paint: a section of wall with cupboards and a counter, a microwave oven sitting on the counter, a rotary telephone with coiled cord hanging on the wall, a circular table, salt and pepper shakers, a wooden chair, a broom and dustpan, etc.. All of these are painted white, their surface decor and detail erased so that they can serve Muntges as a continuous drawing surface or vast blank page.

Inspired by the black and white drawings of Edward Gorey and Shel Silverstein, Muntges uses black line to cover every square inch of the installation, bringing into being an odd whimsical drawn world comprised of crosshatched patterns in varied shades of grey.

Intrigued by her work, I invited Mungtes to install an expansive installation in a small gallery—The Center Gallery—located on JCC’s Olean campus. She spent months preparing and with the help of gallery staff (that is, with the help of Colin Shaffer) Muntges filled the gallery with the contents of a small furnished apartment, all of its surfaces encrusted with her obsessively drawn patterned crosshatchings. What the viewer encountered when they walked into Muntges Olean installation entitled Skewed Perspective was a surreal in-between place, made of readymade objects that no longer seem solid or “real.”  By changing the surface of things,  like surrealists Man Ray or Meret Oppenheim, Muntges managed to deconstruct the normal existence of things and reconstruct them as part of an uncanny imaginary world.

Talking about Skewed Perspective, Muntges said that she is currently trying to figure out ways to place herself inside the drawn space of the installation and has gone so far as painting her hands and drawn on them. Hearing this I began to understand that the practice of drawing (she works for hundreds of hours on the installation) and the drawn space are an immersive place of fantasy for Muntges. Very interesting.

Reading the “Veterans Book Project” in Western New York

I am pleased to share photos of readers taken during the Veterans Book Project (VBP) exhibitions in Chautauqua County this November.  Two sets of the VBP library–fifty volumes, each written by a different person with first-hand experience of war–were exhibited simultaneously at two locations. At the Weeks Gallery we put on a full-blown exhibition with lots of support allowing teachers and professors to bring their classes to the gallery for quiet reading and discussion sessions. On average, we worked with one college or high school class  per day in the gallery.  SUNY-Fredonia’s Reed Library Lobby Gallery, hosted a smaller installation of the VBP library, which faculty across campus sent students to visit. One professor used the VBP as a focus for her Literatures of War class and Brian Castner, author of The Long Walk, plugged the VBP at his talk at Fredonia. Castner said that teachers all over the country are looking for recourses like the VBP, which puts the words of everyday veterans and Afghan and Iraqi civilian refugees right in students’  hands, in a quick-to-read format that communicated directly about the sobering realities of war.

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Facilitating reading and discussion sessions with student on my campus, I came to realize that today’s college freshmen were in kindergarten when the Twin Towers fell. When the Iraq War began they were in second grade. For most of them, the media coverage of US military deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan and the ongoing terrorism at home and abroad closely connected with these conflicts has been a buzz humming in the background of their lives.  It felt important to work with these young people to try to pull the realities of the human cost of war into the foreground of their consciousness through discussion and debate spurred by reading the VBP library. My hope is that they left the exhibitions understanding some of the reasons why 21 veterans kill themselves every day and I hope that they recognize that this war statistic takes comes into being in neighborhoods where they live, not in some distant land.

Many of you may know that I have followed the Veterans Book Project by artist Monica Haller for some time. Haller built the library  between 2009 and 2013 by facilitating thirteen bookmaking workshops across the country, each with four to six participants. Before it was completed, the Veterans Book Project was included in the San Jose Biennial and an exhibition presented by the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project. In 2012 a nearly complete Veterans Book Project was presented as a solo show at the Nomas Foundation Gallery in Rome, Italy, and again in 2013 at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Haller has been invited to speak about the VBP at countless colleges and universities as well as at  Pompidou Center in Paris. The VBP library is now complete with fifty volumes; Chautauqua County hosted the first two exhibitions of the completed work.

Thanks to Randy Gadikian, Reed Library Director and to Anna Stadick for editing this post.Thanks to Mark Kirsch for taking many of these photos and sharing them with me.

Studio Visit: Marvin Bjurlin

I’m announcing my intention to write more regularly.

My plan is to post shorter pieces more frequently, to worry less about my prose and more about sharing the art that I am privileged of encountering in the course of my work as a curator and gallery director.

Let me know what you think.  Are you still interested in reading Scene Unseen?

"Marvin Bjurlin: Swimming in Fire" at Signature Contemporary Craft in Atlanta, Summer 2014.

“Marvin Bjurlin: Swimming in Fire” at Signature Contemporary Craft in Atlanta, Summer 2014.

One of the first artists I met upon my arrival in Western New York, Marvin Bjurlin is a central figure in the arts community here in Chautauqua County. Although he retired nearly a decade ago–he taught ceramics for forty years at SUNY-Fredonia–Bjurlin continues to work every day. He has designed his life so that he is always engaged with the most essential materials– soil and water–and grounded in the most primary actions–gardening and making tools for life.


I first encountered Bjurlin’s gorgeous wood-fired sculptures of fish forms when I saw a cluster of them hung high on a post, like totems, in his huge backyard vegetable garden (see slide show below).  Presented this way,  jutting out perpendicularly from the top of a wooden pole, they reminded me of Japanse carp kites (Koinobori) and Haniwas, archaic Japanese figures made from tubes of clay.


Bjurlin has been making these fish for some time, and is still very much in the groove of repetition and variation;  each piece looks quite different from the next. “All the large fish sculptures start with a known and named species.”  Bjurlin starts by making drawings from actual fish or illustrations but his designs diverge from the original sources as he builds each sculpture. I don’t know anything about fish anatomy, so I mainly see character and personality in the fish.  Some have menacing teeth and look angry, others look friendly, good-natured or happy. Some are sleek and graceful, while others would likely lumber through the water.

Bjurlin, along with a group of area ceramicists, fires work in a big  kiln located on a friend’s wooded property. Having been invited to one of the festive 48-hour wood firings, I caught a glimpses of the red hot fish profiles “swimming in fire” when the kiln doors opened to feed wood or soda to the flames. The sight of the  glowing hot fish standing on end, as if swimming upward toward the sky, was so beautiful I doubt I will ever forget it. 

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Aside from these sculptures, Bjurlin is a potter at his core. Making ceramic vessels for everyday use is as important to him as is growing the organic food he and his wife Tina eat year round. It seems soil is the center of it all for Bjurlin. He cultivates the soil to grow heirloom vegetables and works clay–which is, of course, a fine-grained soil–into tableware for everyday use.

As he showed me his his recent tableware, Bjurlin said “there is a conceptual marriage of my passion for food and for clay” in this work because of “the exclusive use of leaves from plants I have grown for food” and because “tableware is associated with food.”  Here, Bjurlin brings together the two main parts of his life in an intimate way.


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Bjurlin presses carefully placed sage, kale, chard leaves–he uses leaves from all the plants–into a slab of clay making an impressions, then lays the slab over a mold to shape plates, platters and bowls. To make these impressions stand out, after the bisque firing, he brushes them with a laterite wash. In the final firing the iron in the wash darkens the delicate lines of the mid vein and areole enclosures formed by the ribbing of each leaf’s lateral veins. Falling wood ash and soda too can effect their visibility. When I hold one of Bjurlin’s plates or shallow bowls in my hands these veiny leaves seem hyperreal, somehow more real than life.

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See Bjurlin’s website here.