I recently wrote a review of Elizabeth Schwartz’s WSG exhibit RED for Pulp Magazine/ Arts Around Ann Arbor. To read it go here,
Artist Leslie Sobel both loves nature and fears for it. An avid hiker and outdoorswoman, Sobel’s encaustic paintings, monoprints and three dimensional assemblage celebrate the mystery and majesty of nature while describing the effects of human-caused climate change. They are often based on personal observation of the landscape but can also be inspired by online aerial images of glaciers or maps of open territory at the poles. One of Sobel’s great ambitions is to see the lands of the far north and Antarctica before they are forever changed by global warming. “I am affected by solastalgia,” she says. Sobel describes solastalgia as “nostalgia for a place one has never been and that is no longer there.”
Three of Leslie Sobel’s encaustic paintings are on view now in Ann Arbor at WSG Gallery, as part of their 16+16 members invitational show, on view until February 4. All 3 works in the exhibit relate to a single transcendent moment Sobel experienced while hiking at the crest of the Sleeping Bear Dunes. She and her companion were alone, a rare occurrence. As she looked out over the brooding seascape of Lake Michigan and the clouds rolling above, Sobel had a profound sense of the small and temporary nature of human existence in the face of nature. These somber thoughts inspired the creation of several encaustic paintings which feature only the stormy sky and Lake Michigan, separated by a distant horizon.
In addition to these private meditations, Sobel does public commissioned artworks, most recently her downtown PowerArt Box. Based on her painting “Row of Pines”, it is one of several selected by online popular vote through Ann Arbor Arts Alliance’s PowerArt Project. The aim of the program is to install reproductions of works by Washtenaw County artists on power boxes throughout the city in order to add visual interest to the streetscape and to discourage tagging on utility boxes. Phases 1 and 2 have been completed and now Phase 3 is in the planning stages. The Arts Alliance is actively soliciting sponsors for individual power boxes. For more information go here.
Sobel’s interest in the natural environment has also led to her participation in numerous artist-in-residence programs in national parks, where she is often paired with scientists and naturalists working there. She recounts with special pleasure a recent residency in Colorado’s Canyon of the Nations National Monument, where she worked alongside archeologists, biologists, anthropologists and geologists. “I was surprise how much these ruins tied in with my interest in climate change–the people who lived here didn’t die. They had to move because they had depleted and degraded the local natural resources. When archeologists searched the middens (trash heaps) of the abandoned settlements, they found that earlier ones held the remains of deer and antelope, while the later ones had the bones of chipmunks and mice.” In the later middens. they also encountered human remains showing signs of cannibalism, a grim reminder of true scarcity that led to their departure for points further to the southwest where it is believed they became the Hopi nation.
In at least a partial fulfillment of her dream to see the far north and south latitudes before they are changed forever, Sobel is planning an extended visit to the Yukon in 2017. She will camp and create in Kluane National Park at the invitation of scientist and researcher Seth Campbell of the University of Maine. Like so many worthy projects, this is an unfunded labor of love; Sobel will be soliciting funds for the trip soon in a GoFundMe campaign. For more information about Leslie Sobel, go here.
From Above, a small collection of paintings on view until November 26 at WSG Gallery in Ann Arbor, shows Karin Wagner Coron continuing her ongoing exploration of the Midwestern landscape. Working with photos taken from an airplane, this accomplished contemporary artist has created a select group of views of Midwestern fields and vistas punctuated and bounded by the fresh water lakes and rivers of the region.
These birds-eye views emphasize the agricultural geometry of Michigan and Ontario fields, delivering the illusion of flying over the limitless sweep of land that is the Midwest.
Many of the landscapes feature a kind of vertiginous diagonal composition, as if she is looking from the window of a steeply banking airplane (which in fact she is). She describes her process:
“I use photography as a basis for my compositions, to capture a particular time of day, interesting light or composition. I perceive and interpret nature while constantly finding a new palette or color scheme to match mood and feeling.”
Landscape paintings from an aerial point-of-view are nothing new, of course. Chinese painters from the Tang Dynasty onward painted nature as if from a neighboring mountaintop, each landscape a transcendent retreat from the banal and everyday. And painters of the Hudson River School such as Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church painted landscapes from overlooks that emphasized the limitless grandeur of the newly discovered American West.
In contrast to the escapist romanticism of Chinese landscape painters and the romantic imperialism of American painters of the West, Coron’s aerial landscapes revel in the orderly section and bisection of the land, with farmers’ fields cut by dirt roads and softened at the edges by hedgerows. This overhead perspective is especially appropriate for topography that is essentially flat. Pattern and color measure the paintings’ depth with the slightly diagonal compositions of many of the artworks leading us into the painted distance.
Coron’s vision of nature only lightly ordered by humans contrasts with that of other noted contemporary landscape artists such as Yvonne Jacquette and Rackstraw Downes, who emphasize the built environment over natural features and imply human habitation and activity. Coron, being a Great Lakes artist, also gives equal weight to the meandering of rivers and the inchoate shadows of clouds passing overhead even as she accepts the tamed land below her.
In the end, although these paintings clearly reference the Midwestern landscape they can also be appreciated for their more formal qualities. The color palette she has chosen for this series, with its acid yellows, juicy greens, muted pinks and aquatic blues, is more expressive than descriptive. Coron invites us not only to enjoy these paintings as descriptions of regional topography and atmosphere, but also to appreciate their sophisticated abstract sensibility.
Karin Wagner Coron has been exhibiting her paintings and prints professionally since 1992. A graduate of Eastern Michigan University with a BFA in painting, she is owner and manager of Format Framing and Gallery in Ann Arbor, and is a member of WSG Gallery, also in Ann Arbor.
For more information about WSG Gallery and this exhibit, go here.
Takeshi Takahara believes in the handmade, the one-of-a-kind, the idiosyncratic. This might seem a counterintuitive attitude in an accomplished master of intaglio printmaking, a medium which embodies the aesthetic of the multiple and reproducible. But in his first solo show at WSG Gallery he demonstrates that his unique, eco-friendly hybrid intaglio/woodcut process for creating small print editions (often only 5 to 9 per title) can deliver artworks that pack all the punch of a one-of-a-kind painting.
Imperfection, a meticulously curated and well arranged grouping of prints on the theme of the lotus, is on view in the gallery from now until October 22. Images that might seem banal in the hands of a lesser artist–who hasn’t seen a thousand pictures of a lily pond?– gain a kind of archetypal resonance through his drawn line which manages to be both awkward and graceful, with an effortful visual stutter that is reminiscent of the knowing clumsiness of Henri Matisse or Paul Klee. Through constant experimentation in the studio he has adapted the process of intaglio printmaking, replacing the metal plate and acid with a less toxic combination of materials while still retaining the sharpness of the cut line. His beautiful-but-not-pretty colors are carefully mixed from watercolor and dry pigments purchased in Japan.
Takahara relishes the way in which each print is a document which can be seen through multiple stages on its way to the final version. “In printmaking, you can actually print images step by step and have it. By looking at that proof, you make additions or deletions and move onto another print again and compare those two and see the differences…You get to rethink, revise and remake your original ideas.” He describes himself as uninterested in producing large editions of his prints, preferring instead to experiment with the infinite possibilities of changing and adapting each plate and combining them in endlessly varied ways. “Repetition is not my forte,” he says, laughing.
Born in midcentury China to Japanese parents, Takeshi Takahara came to the U.S. to escape his future as the eldest son of a traditional Asian family. He was expected to get a good education and to enter a respectable profession, which fine art certainly wasn’t. “If I’d stayed in Japan, I’d be working in a bank,” he says.
His first stop in the U. S. was Smith College, where he studied with renowned sculptor and printmaker Leonard Baskin. Studies at the newly formed school of printmaking at the University of Iowa followed, where he was mentored by Mauricio Lasansky, considered by many to be one of the fathers of modern printmaking. Although he is now a veteran artist and teacher, this is Takahara’s first experience with an artist-run gallery.
Takeshi Takahara is currently hard at work creating new prints on the theme of the lotus, which has deep symbolic meaning for him. The lotus rises from the muck and produces a beautiful pure flower, a metaphor for the human condition. “We all come from the same muck, and what we become as human beings is the flower,” he says.
For more information about WSG Gallery’s hours and programs go here
Ann Arbor artist Valerie Mann has invited you to a cocktail party.
Attractive young women in tasteful jewel-toned taffeta gowns carry demure evening clutches and make polite chitchat. “This is fun!” you think. But then you take a closer look.
There is gun violence-a lot of it- at this party too. Each chic vintage cocktail dress in this installation at WSG Gallery has been carefully embroidered with images of the specific guns employed in recent U.S. mass shootings. The accompanying Lucite handbags–upon which drawings of guns are etched–give new meaning to the term “open carry”.
In Gun Show, Mann has served up a disturbing series of meticulously created objects that invite us to re-think why it is that guns and gun violence have become part of the background noise of American civic life. The artist herself seems puzzled by her juxtaposition of the conventionally pretty and the unspeakable:
“It seemed much easier before I started the making process. I don’t mean the actual, physical making of the work was so taxing to figure out, I mean it has been psychologically difficult.”
Using her sewing machine as a drawing tool, Mann has embroidered Sig Sauer MCX 223 rifles, Bushmaster semi-automatics and Glock 21.45 semi-automatic rifles on party dresses to commemorate the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting (Dance all Night), The Newtown Connecticut massacre (Big Guns Little People), the Charleston S.C. church shootings (Sunday Best). The specificity of each image adds bite to the social commentary.
The embroidered and etched firearms are carefully, one might almost say lovingly, crafted. Luxury materials — Lucite, silk, gold leaf — invite touch even as the image repels. Mann admits to the intrinsic and self-contradictory attraction of the gun:
“I shocked myself when, after many drawings of guns, I admitted how sexy they were.”
She acknowledges that gun violence became more and more difficult to address clearly as she researched the interlocking motives and conditions that result in specific atrocities: mental illness, racism, terrorism and lax gun ownership laws, to name a few.
The idea for Gun Show came to Mann some time ago, when she first heard about the Columbine shootings. This was the first time, she said, “where children were the shooters AND the victims, and when I first felt that the adults of society had really let down the next generation. We’ve let them down because of our unwillingness to talk about difficult things in a rational way, or to compromise.”
Art works, even very provocative ones, don’t have the power to change public policy directly. But they are not nothing either. Changing minds takes time and sustained attention and ultimately, political action. Valerie Mann has taken a courageous first step by bringing up the subject of gun violence in the polite environs of an art gallery. It is the responsibility of her audience to care enough to do something about it in the political arena.
Have you seen Gun Show? Would you wear a dress with guns on it? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.
Gun Show is on view at WSG Gallery from now until September 10. For more information about WSG Gallery go here
Despite its prosaic title, Book+Paper Arts packs plenty of charm and interest into a tiny gem of an art exhibit on view from now to July 30 at WSG Gallery in Ann Arbor. The art books and some additional paper-based art works represented are approachable, interactive, playful. Travel and globalization, the book as historical artifact and its position in relation to new media, and the components and ordering of meaning within an artwork are just a few of the themes addressed. The participating artists are clearly in an ongoing creative dialog through “book shaped objects” in various configurations, each type with its conceptual strengths and limitations.
This is the seventh in a biennial gallery exhibit series, Beyond Words, curated by Barbara Brown, noted book artist and lecturer in book arts at the University of Michigan Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design. She describes her curatorial aims for this particularly varied selection of paper based artworks:
In previous show statements, I have put forth the assertion that the term ‘artist’s book’ often triggers much discussion, even bickering and irresolution amongst book artists, and the point has sometimes been made that at the very instant one uses that term, one must then be ready to define it and to defend the definition! There will probably never be a determination that everyone agrees on, but I like ‘book inspired art’ (or even BSO – book shaped object), and for me, that is a good beginning”.
Travel, through time, through space, is a recurring theme throughout this exhibit. The molded paper mini-installation entitled Memorial to Thylacines and Our Slaughtered Michigan Wolves by Ted Ramsey describes his trip to Tasmania during which he encounters memories of the extinct Tasmanian Tiger, a species of carnivorous marsupial.
Norma Penchansky-Glasser, inspired by a trip to Idaho, has created a varied and beautifully hand-crafted suite of books. A particular favorite of mine was Boise Aquarium, a tunnel book that features tiny silver fish swimming within a paper proscenium. (The tunnel book was new to me, and several artists created these for the exhibit. This form had its origin in the 18th century as an easily portable souvenir for tourists.)
Jack O. Summer’s Mapaloopsa, in which he meticulously re-configures various maps into an invented world atlas, humorously illustrates globalization and mass migration. In one map, Dearborn meets Quebec, which has sidled up against Burma. We are sharing a smaller and smaller planet with new neighbors who make strange bedfellows.
The block book form receives special attention from several artists in this exhibition. These collections of wooden blocks lend themselves to the exploration of multi-sided meaning and the ordering and reordering activity it allows. In Blocks of Time by Ruth Bardenstein, each constituent block side contains ancient alphabets or astronomical images or clock components. Alvey Jones’s Encrypted Alphabet addresses the written word and constructed meaning. One side of each block has a picture inscribed with a written word that bears no obvious relation to the accompanying picture, leaving the viewer to puzzle out the implied relationship.
Books with digital components make an appearance here too, with Barbara Brown and Howard White’s Midsummer, a tunnel book with video. The most conceptually complex artwork in the exhibit, to my mind, is Algorhithms by Ian McLellen Davis and Meghan Leigh Forbes. This is a collection of pamphlet musical exercise books which can be played in any order with an accompanying “music box” of recorded fragments which can be activated by the listener (who then becomes the “player”). Added to all this are some beautifully produced pamphlet books containing bits of Roland Barthes’ intriguing thoughts on music available for the taking (I took one).
I spent quite a bit of time in Book+Paper Arts without ever feeling I had completely grasped all the formal and thematic intricacies of the exhibited works. I only wish that more space within the gallery had been devoted to the exhibit. I realize that in a commercial gallery space is money, but these pieces deserved more room than they got. A few more inches around each piece (or even an additional wall) would have contributed a lot to my enjoyment of this museum-quality small show.
Artists in this show include: Ruth Bardenstein, Barbara Brown, Meghan Forbes, Alvey Jones, Ian McLellan Davis, Norma Penchansky-Glasser, Susan Skarsgard, Jack O. Summers, Ted Ramsay, Howard White.
For more information about WSG Gallery go here
Pictured clockwise from top: Encrypted Alphabet by Alvey Jones, Alphabet Pop-Up by Susan Skarsgard, Blocks of Time by Ruth Bardenstein, Idaho by Norma Penchansky Glasser, Mapaloopsa by Jack O. Summers