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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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.

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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.

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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.

Cascades of Plastic by José Luis Torres—beautiful but so tragic! Please offer your reading of these works as comments.

I must work with this artist some day. I love these plastic installations. What do you make of them? Please add your thoughts as comments. 

La colección, Cambridge Galleries 2014.

La colección, Cambridge Galleries 2014.

La colección, Cambridge Galleries 2014.

La colección, Cambridge Galleries 2014.

 

From the press release:

 

A monumental installation for José Luis Torres in Ontario
 
Montmagny, June 10th, 2014 – Artist José Luis Torres recently completed a three-story high installation in Cambridge, Ontario. Torres was invited by the Cambridge Galleries/Idea Exchange to produce his ephemeral piece integrated into a public space. The piece was inaugurated May 30th and will remain on display until October. 
 
Torres’ participation in this event was integrated into CAFKA, one of the biggest biennial contemporary art events in Canada.  In addition to the Canadian and international artists selected by the CAFKA team, the organization also requested the assistance of curators working in the Waterloo region for their selection assistance. This is how Iga Janik, curator for the Cambridge Galleries/Idea Exchange, came to suggest the Argentine native, now established in Montmagny. 
 
Torres’ piece, part of his “La colección ” series, was integrated in to the face of the University of Waterloo School of Architecture, Cambridge campus building. A multitude of colourful plastic objects were assembled with the use of cables in random cascades and fits perfectly with the event objective: attract attention, stimulate contemplation, curiosity and exchange.   
 
Torres used the aspect of exchange as the jumping off point with the general public by inviting them to supply objects that could be used in the piece. Remaining items were found at recycling centers in the Cambridge area. For José Luis Torres, the result is a scene that provokes a diversion of the senses with the objects having acquired a metaphoric energy and a collective second life. 
 
For more information or to see images, please visit www.joseluistorres.ca and www.torressculpture.wordpress.com 
Source : Tintamarre communication créative 
 

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.

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Detail.

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.

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Detail.

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?