It is not often that two distinctly different art forms are presented with the complementary virtuosity of Threads of Serendipity, a new art exhibit that opened Sunday at Westville’s Kehler Liddell Gallery (KLG) featuring the work of sculptor Susan Clinard and photographer Penrhyn Cook.
The exhibit’s title references the serendipitous experiences that have informed the work of the two artists individually, but also the threads of their collaborative experience in putting the show together.
Sculptor and gallery member Gar Waterman, who attended the opening, called the exhibit “an example of how a two-person show can come across in ways that could not have been predicted.” He cited the “rhythm of the space and cool bits of harmony” that flow throughout the elongated gallery.
“I liked pacing around looking at juxtapositions of their work from different angles - each slice a different flavor of synergy,” said professional photographer and gallery owner Dennis Bradbury of Bridgeport, who contributed photos for this report.
Those synergistic flavors could be seen in the warm, amber hues of Clinard’s vintage foundry forms, wooden molds from the period of New Haven’s Industrial Revolution that she found—just one of the many serendipitous events that helped shape part of the exhibit series.
Clinard’s assemblage sculptures integrate her figurative hand-modeled forms with the factory forms, exquisite pairings that were destined to find one another. The patina of old, scarred wood, wood that has given a lifetime of service, is reflected in the faces of figures that peer out from their wood niches. Various figural groupings throughout the exhibit take residence, perhaps refuge, among the circular and semi-circular forms in which they are encased. Clinard invites viewers to a banquet of spiritual resonance, each sculpture a study in the human condition.
Nearby, those same, warm hues frame a statute in the architectural niche of a classical building photographed by Cook. In “Plug-In,” the image juxtaposes classical elements of antiquity with an artifact of modernism; a small car of intense sapphire blue is parked, a power cord trails from its side. The color counterpoint to building masonry may have gone unnoticed by the casual passerby. But Cook is no casual passerby. She is a keen observer who is always prepared with her Fuji XE1 camera. “The way you train yourself to remember dreams, you can train yourself to see the world around you,” she explains.
Cook’s photographs combine two portfolios entitled, “Little People” and “Humanity.” The essence of these themes, is perhaps best illustrated in her “America the Beautiful,” a panoramic scene captured at Bridgeport’s Seaside Park. One could easily mistake it for a landscape of sea and sky, but a closer look reveals a small figure racing across the tidal plane, an American flag in tow. The icon flutters in a child’s wake while being photographed by a parent. It is the aftermath of a Puerto Rican Day festival, and a scene has unfolded that could not have been anticipated. Cook said she was riding her bicycle and quickly positioned herself after grabbing the camera from her basket. What she had not envisioned was the parachutist who floated into the frame at the very moment that she was engaging the shutter. Serendipity.
If one end of the gallery is weighted with the somber, grief-stricken funerary procession of Clinard’s large scale wood installation, the other end pays tribute to another kind of procession.
A flotilla of weightless, translucent boat forms carry their respective passengers to destinations unknown. Purposely lacking the fine detail of her other sculptures, Clinard binds layers of white paper around the wooden ribs of the oar-less vessels and the figural clay forms that, once removed, give rise to the pensive souls on board. The visual metaphor is at once haunting and hopeful.
Also on display is Clinard’s “Twenty,” a tribute she created shortly after the Sandy Hook tragedy, and her deeply moving, ceramic sculpture commemorating the six women who died as they sought to protect the lives of those in their charge.
On the inside cover of Cook’s self-published book of photographs entitled “Serendipity,” which has just been made available on Blurb, an internet publishing platform, Cook quotes a 1774 passage from Horace Walpole that describes the etymology and essence of Serendipity: “The three princes of Serendip were always making discoveries, by accident and sagacity, of the thing which they were not in quest of.”
“Threads of Serendipity” runs through March 16. For more information, contact the gallery here.