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.

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.

Embroideries of Pain by Mary M. Mazziotti at Chautauqua Institution

I recently saw Mazziotti’s embroideries in a group show juried by Jerry Saltz and presented at Chautauqua Institution.

The Chautauqua institution is an interesting place; its also the most prestigious venue for art in Chautauqua County,New York where I now live and work. It was founded in the 1870s as a summer camp for sunday school teachers and has grown into a summer resort with 100,000 visitors per season. They come from all over to see world class art, theater, opera, and symphonies  and to hear lectures by speakers like Roger Rosenblatt and Tom Brokaw–both speaking this summer.

I was blown away by Mazziotti’s embroidered meditations on pain and the spiritual symbolic languages that have developed over time, which so perfectly embody concepts like fear of death, physical and emotional suffering, and virtual body. Take a look at her website–especially the link for this series called “Cradle to Grave.

I pulled these jpegs off her webpage but if I get better images from the artist I will update them.

Alberto Rey’s Biological Regionalism at the Burchfield-Penney

Painter Alberto Rey’s exhibition Biological Regionalism: Scajaquada Creek, Erie County, New York, USA, on view at the Burchfield-Penney Art Center in Buffalo through June 2, makes a strong case for unflinching realism in landscape painting and signals a new way of thinking about the role of landscape art in the 21st century.

Alberto Rey, Biological Regionalism installation at the Burchfield-Penney, Feb 14-June 2, 2014

Alberto Rey, Biological Regionalism: Scajaquada Creek, Erie County, New York, USA, installation overview, Burchfield-Penney Art Center, Feb 14-June 2, 2014. Main gallery.

Alberto Rey, Burchfield-Penney installation overview with sketchbook display.

Alberto Rey, Burchfield-Penney installation overview with sketchbook display.

Alberto Rey, Burchfield-Penney installation, second gallery with video projections, maps, specimens and paintings.

Alberto Rey, Burchfield-Penney installation, second gallery with video projections, maps, specimens and paintings.

Rey used the term “biological regionalism” to describe his approach to naturalism. It’s a term that plays off the art historical category “regionalism,” the naturalist style developed by artists such as Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton during the 1930s, which promoted an image of America-ness based on Midwestern rural experience.  Rey builds on the idea of “regional”  in site-specific terms by developing projects about lakes and waterways located in close proximity to his exhibition venues. In 2010 he presented an installation at the University of Buffalo Gallery focused on Ellicott Creek that  flows past UB on its way  to Lake Erie, and in 2012 he presented “Biological Regionalism: Bayous, Lakes and Rivers, Monroe, Louisiana, USA” at the  Masur Art Museum. Accordingly, the Scajaquada is located very near the Burchfield-Penney.  It is unlikely that one could avoid crossing over it on a drive to the art center, but the Scajaquada is so buried under concrete that it would be difficulty to see much of it as you drive by.

Rey approaches these projects as an expert painter and as an expert angler. His strong sensitivity to the environment as an ecosystem enables him to problematize traditional norms of landscape painting and wildlife art.  As appealing as landscape painting often is, it usually presents what we want to see in nature, rather than revealing our dysfunctional relationship with it. Rey’s installation cuts through the veil of artistic wishful thinking that so often comes between the environment and its depiction as landscape.

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Rey’s installation brings the viewer face to face with the Scajaquada which was driven underground into concrete drainage culverts in 1921 because it was polluted and to make way for new roads.  So, even though this watershed touches the lives of approximately 94,000 people in Erie County, it is nearly invisible to them.

At the center of the exhibition, a large map orients to viewer spatially by showing the close proximity of the  creek to the Burchfield-Penney.  Lines drawn on the wall link highlighted locations on the map to large paintings of these places which are  hung below.



The five large landscapes press the viewer to look at unsettling places where biosphere awkwardly meets technosphere; that is to say, where the creek and its flora and fauna are grafted to the city’s system of highway overpasses, concrete culverts, and drainage ditches.  Coupled with each painting is a dirty sample of creek water with disturbing readings of E.coli bacteria levels, water turbidity and conductivity.



Rey transcribes these dystopian spaces where road runoff, human waste, and creek water flow together in fairly regularly patterned brushstrokes. This way of applying paint results in an aesthetic version of flat affect which implies that the image is a kind of mute witness instead of an impassioned response to nature. This uncanny effect makes it difficult to turn away. We are used to being reassured by landscape art, but we  can’t find this feeling in these images.

Alberto Rey, Brown Trout, Delaware River, Catskills, New York I, 2012 .

Rey, a master fisherman with a naturalist’s eye for river wildlife, has an astonishing collection of hand-tied lures.  I once caught a glimpse of this and observed that each insect type was systematically recreated as a fly in the many phases of its development from hatch to full maturity. Rey’s observational acumen is fully evident in oil paintings of brown trout, his signature subject, included in the show.

BPAC Alberto Rey Exhibition 2 smaller r 150 pntgs

Brown Trout, Delaware River, Catskills, New York I, 2012 (R) and Brown Trout , Upper Beaverkill River, Catskills, New York 1, 2012 (L)

Considering the art world bias again “wildlife art,” I was initially thrown off by Rey’s portraits of brown trout. Why would a contemporary artist present each fish in such brilliant specificity?  When he explained to me that the subtle differences among brown trout is the result of their adaptation to the specific rivers they inhabit, I could see that in Rey’s work trout signify the biological interconnectedness of life in nature. Thus, Rey’s paintings of trout are a important component of the exhibition, especially as trout would never survive in the polluted Scajaquada Creek,  even though they thrive in rivers and creeks throughout the  region.

Alberto Rey, Dead Muskrat, oil.

Alberto Rey, Dead Muskrat, oil.

The adjoining gallery presents counterpoints to the beautiful trout. A large oil painting in this darkened gallery shows the carefully rendered carcass of a dead muskrat with matted fur floating in the creek.  Here too, are videos Rey shot while wading  in the murky creek; in one, he takes us into a cavernous culvert tunnel, in the other he introduces us to what seems like a monstrously long leech.

Video still with oversized leech.

Video still with oversized leech.

As I contemplate the significance of art in the 21st century–a period  so fraught with humanitarian and environmental crisis–I often find myself doubting the relevance of art. I’m thinking of both contemporary conceptual art, motivated by fashion, iconoclastic irony, and philosophical high-mindedness, and naturalist and abstractionist variants of fine art, motivated by the quest for beauty and/or self expression.  Sinking my teeth into Rey’s installation about the Scajaquada I began to see that  every community would benefit from art of this kind. That is, an art that avoids both irony and universal truths and which models a way of thinking about the local environment that fosters a greater sense of ownership and responsibility in viewers. What better role could landscape painting play in the 21st century?


Studio Visit: Liza LaBarge at UB

Liza LaBarge is a second year MFA student at the University of Buffalo. She’s just about to graduate and already has a few gallery exhibitions set up.

When I visited her studio, every surface, including most of the floor was covered by the large charcoal drawings she’s made over the past two years. I was surprised to encounter a young artist’s work so thoroughly engaged with historical art.Holy Family, charcoal on paper, 40" x 66", 2013

Focusing on narratives of femininity in art, LaBarge switches out the mythic characters of Renaissance and Baroque narratives and replaces them with contemporary figures or contexts.  In one work, the Virgin Birth takes place by Caesarean section and angelic nurses preform the operation. In another, plastic hospital tubing entangles the Holy Family.

Reflecting contemporary debates about the origin of Adam and Eve as prehistoric apes, LaBarge  remakes  the first humans in a marvelously strange drawing.  Acting like monkeys, LaBarge’s Eve chomps indelicately on bananas while Adam picks fleas from her hair.

Women’s close relationship with jewelry is another of LaBarge’s favorite themes.  Strands of old-fashioned family jewels weigh small children down, while young women hungerly stuff strands of diamonds and pearls into their mouths or wear them across their faces as masks.

I find LaBarge’s dissonant refashioning of femininity refreshing. It is a pleasure to see a young artist tackling this well trodden feminist territory in new ways.

LaBarge’s thesis exhibition will be held at Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University.
May 18- August 30, 2014
See her work also in VENAT at Indigo Art Gallery in Buffalo.
May 2 – May 31, 2014

Teto Elsiddique’s Mimicking Surfaces

Teto Elsiddique, Plastic and Gold and New Money (2014) Spray paint transfer, clock, party poster board, mylar balloons, acrylic and latex paint. Weeks Gallery.

Teto Elsiddique, “Plastic and Gold and New Money” (2014)
Spray paint transfer, clock, party poster board, mylar balloon, black ink, acrylic and latex paint. Installation in the Weeks Gallery at Jamestown Community College.

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I met Teto Elsiddique a few weeks ago when he was a resident artist installing two pieces on campus.  In three days he installed two large site-specific spray paint transfer prints on walls—one in the Weeks Gallery, another in the college center at Jamestown Community College.

Teto Elsiddique installing a site-specific spray paint transfer to the wall of the gallery.

Adhering spray paint transfer to the wall of the gallery.

Elsiddique learned to use spray paint as a teen making graffiti in Toronto. As an art student at the  Nova Scotia College of Art and Design he found ways to integrate this highly coded material into gallery installations with an ingenious transfer method he invented himself.

The colorfield-esque wall abstraction at the center of Plastic and Gold and New Money started long before Elsiddique arrived on campus. It began with a large plastic tarp (9o cents at a hardware store) which Elsiddique often uses as a printing matrix.  He draped the very thin plastic across the surface of a bed so that the the plastic conformed to the undulating pattern imbedded in the mattress’s surface.  Applying spray paint at an extreme raking angle, Elsiddique picked up, essentially copying, the wavy pattern on the matters with the metallic shapes of spray paint silver, purple, black and green.

spray paint transfer, detail.

When the spray paint on the tarp is dry Elsiddique has an inked printing matrix.  In the gallery,  he applies latex paint to the wall where he wants to  print (or transfer) the image. Pressing the dry spray paint side of the tarp to the wet wall paint, he rubs and squeegees the plastic so that it becomes affixed to the wall. When the latex  paint dries the spray paint is adhered to the wall. At this point Elsiddique pulls the plastic tarp away leaving the spray paint transfer behind.Screenshot 2014-03-03 21.40.14

Although the wall print is a field of atmospheric abstraction that looks like the night sky, sea waves, or sand dunes, or “the northern lights” as one viewer said, it also contains highly realistic tracings of the mattress  surface which perfectly mimic the familiar pattern.

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By indexically mimicking the mattress pattern in this work, Elsiddique creates a signifier through a process  direct physical  contact with a signified. This means that like a photograph, his mattress pattern tracings share an intimate physical bond with the object they represent. Considering that touch is central to this process in other ways as well–Elsiddique spreads the tarp across the surface of the bed and presses it with his hands to conform to the patterns–the intimacy suggested  in the final work is considerable intensified as this is the same gesture as he would make to spread a sheet on a bed if he were making it.

The process yields powerful results when Elsiddique uses flesh colored spray paint to trace the surface pattern of mattress in such a way that the printed transfer looks like a sheet of skin when printed on  a piece of gaudy poster board that glitters brightly behind and beneath the paint.

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Spray paint transfer print on sparkly holographic poster board. Plastic tarp matrix conforms to the surface of a bed mattress.. Installation detail.

the flesh tone paint traces the wave pattern of the matters foam

Flesh tone paint traces the wave pattern of the matters. Installation detail.

Elsiddique’s bed tracings take on an added level of meaning when they are considered in the tradition of frottage. Like Max Ernst’s  frottage drawings made by rubbing the wood grain of floor boards, Elsiddique transforms banal traces of the everyday world into marvelously rich fields of imaginary  worlds. For Elsiddique the world is filled with objects to print from and to print onto. Every surface is essentially equivalent to shiny silver mylar ballon or holographic sparkly poster board, in that it can be reflected, mimicked or doubled with the help of some spray paint or a vessel of black ink.

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Elsiddique uses an inexpensive clock purchased at a dollar store as a “vessel to hold black ink.”

To see more of the process and Elsiddique’s installation in the Hamilton Collegiate Center visit the gallery Facebook album. Please “like” the Weeks Gallery.

Teto Elsiddique was raised in Sudan and Canada. He received his BFA from  Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University in 2013.

ArtParty and Opening Reception 6-8:30 pm Friday Jan. 31

Printmaking: Art, Process, Community

January 31-March 26, 2014 @ The Weeks Gallery     

ArtParty Opening:  January 31, 6-8:30 p.m. Meet the artists, enjoy hors d’oeuvres, drinks, and jazz. Free and open to the public.

Printmaking: Art, Practice, Community features fine art prints by John James Anderson, Bonnie Ashmore-Davis, Teto Elsiddique, Betsey Garand, Don Kimes, Katja Oxman, Tom Raneses and represents a broad range of aesthetic approaches and techniques.  Artists proofs and tools are included to illuminate the processes so that the exhibition is an excellent introduction to the art of printmaking. See the work of master printmakers who are deeply committed to traditional techniques as well as those using digital printing or developing entirely new methods of printing.

Katja Oxman, three plate color etching.

Katja Oxman, three plate color etching.

Teto Elsiddique, experimental print with spray paint and plastic.

Teto Elsiddique, experimental print with spray paint and plastic.

Art Werger, Dualities (2013), mezzotint.

Art Werger, Dualities (2013), mezzotint.

Tom Raneses, Cardinal Directions, eleven color silk screen.

Tom Raneses, Cardinal Directions, eleven color silk screen.


John James Anderson, Maintenance Required (2007-2014), commercially printed digital print.


Bonnie Ashmore-Davis, Red Devil I2013) momotype.

Don Kimes, A Crown for Roualt, 2010, inkjet and water-based paint.

Don Kimes, A Crown for Roualt, 2010, inkjet and water-based paint.

Teto Elsiddique installing a site-specific spray paint transfer to the wall of the gallery.

Teto Elsiddique installing a site-specific spray paint transfer to the wall of the gallery.

Betsey Garand, Notation 1, (2013), stencil and wood block with brushed pigment.

Betsey Garand, Notation 1, (2013), stencil and wood block with brushed pigment.