It is difficult to do justice to the scope and breadth of an artist’s experience in a single article; presenting a slate of artists in single piece, may simply be over-reaching. That said, it seemed a challenge worth pursuing as I ventured out to artists’ studios, galleries and businesses in Westville’s weekend of open studios, October 2-3; part of the annual Artspace City-Wide Open Studios event. This extended survey and accompanying photo montages provide a glimpse of some of Westville’s artists, and the ideas that inform their work. Apologies to those artists, who because of time constraints, were missed.
West Rock Avenue at the juncture of Whalley Avenue, has evolved into an a serious and amazing arts cluster, due in-part, to the vision and work of arts and real-estate developer Thea Buxbaum and husband Gar Watermann, an acclaimed sculptor. The couple planted seeds of revitalization in 1997 when they purchased a languishing brick structure at the end of West Rock Avenue that cozies up to the West River. The building had been in the path of a legendary 100 year flood that in 1982, consumed parts of Westville and resulted in the reconfiguration and fortification of the river’s twists-and-turns by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. Overgrown with weeds and in a state of gross disrepair, the couple purchased the long-neglected former business structure for all of one dollar, from the City of New Haven. It was a wise investment for the City - the building was returned to the tax rolls, and in the bargain, two highly motivated pioneers that have helped give rise to what can be described as a Renaissance of the area, were retained.
Entering the gallery at 425 West Rock Avenue, one could easily think they had stepped into a Chelsea gallery or any sophisticated New York City art space. On display is the work of Gar Waterman (pictured above) and Joseph Adolphe (pictured), a Westville painter. Waterman, is a lean man who works in weighty materials. Blocks of marble and onyx culled from quarries in Pietrasanta, Italy (and other parts of the world) where artisans and sculptors have acquired raw materials since before the Renaissance, are selected by Waterman for shipment back to his New Haven studio.
The son of oceanographic film maker Stan Waterman, Gar grew up exploring the ocean depths and came to love the unique living forms he encountered in its watery ecosystems. Among some of his sea-life inspired sculptures are undulating, showy forms based on tiny, little-seen gastropod-mollusks called nudibranchs. The name derives from the Latin term “nudus” or naked, and the Greek term “branckia,” meaning gills, or, naked-gills. “Sea slugs,” as Nudibranches are sometimes called, seems a misnomer for such resplendent, colorful creatures. Waterman’s delicate, opaque and translucent sculptures, are a marvel of transformation as he works large stone blocks in the subtractive and additive processes of the sculptor. The resulting ultra-smooth surfaces and colorful striations of his sculptures beg to be touched; the unusual forms inspire inquiry in much the same way one may experience when viewing an actual specimen. Waterman hopes that the Art-Science connection that informs his pieces, will help grow awareness of the importance of marine conservation and ecological stewardship that is critical to the survival of all species. Throughout the living and studio areas, are some of Waterman’s more familiar aquatic forms, as well as fanciful, welded metal sculptures based on sea creatures, insects, and intriguing “tin men” that represent a departure from the nature-inspired series.
Joseph Adolphe is a drawing and painting instructor at St. John’s University in Queens, NY. The busy father of six children, lives on Central Avenue in Westville, also the location of his studio. Adolphe, a figurative painter, is exhibiting a series of small architectural oils; painterly jewels saturated in warm terra cotta tones that achieve a certain monumentality when set against negative spaces of blue sky. The images depict decaying Roman ruins and the Colosseum - a subject that can be challenging, owing to its familiarity and ubiquitous depictions over the centuries, according to Adolphe. “The trick,” he said, quoting the poet and critic Ezra Pound, “...is to make it new.” Adolphe has certainly achieved this through graphic cropping and use of space that suggests a modern sensibility, even as he seeks to unveil layers of history and meaning in the textured surfaces of ancient ruins.
Frank Bruckmann‘s (pictured) return to Westville, after a six month painting junket to Maine’s Mohegan Island, has been eagerly anticipated by those familiar with the artist’s work. Bruckmann’s studio at 418 West Rock Avenue, was stocked with the harvest of the painter’s winter outings, though it was no wonder that many pieces had already sold to major Mohegan art collectors. Painting his landscapes in the elements for an entire winter season was a new experience for this otherwise “fair-weather” artist. The temporary move to Maine, a family affair, was the subject of a blog, “Mohegan Sojourn” by artist Muffy Pendergast (pictured), Bruckmann’s wife. In the blog, image and narrative combine to depict the romance of an idyllic Northern locale, a destination for plein air artists, who, like Bruckmann, are intrigued by the special quality of light, form and texture offered by the landscape and active water views. It is a place where lobstering sustains local residents, and nature’s majesty provides lots of drama for visiting artists.
Some may recall “Occupational Spirit,” Bruckmann’s ambitious 2008 exhibit at Kehler Liddell Gallery; large portraits of Westville merchants and tradespeople described by Bruckmann as an “homage to the working guy.” The current offerings at Bruckmann’s studio also capture a sense of place without people, but where the presence of human habitation is nevertheless felt. Having painted for months on the rural island, Bruckmann eventually found himself casting an eye downward. His fascination with the striations of granite and quartz, meandering fissures and textures found in the rocky topography, have informed his current line of inquiry. Deep perspective and tree-edged horizon lines have given way to cropped rock abstractions that will be the subject of his upcoming exhibition on December 9 - January 16, at Westville’s Kehler Liddell Gallery. Also exhibiting will be artist Susan Clinard.
Arlow artist Steve DiGiovanni (pictured), showing at DaSilva Gallery, teaches at the University of Hartford, Norwalk Community College and New Haven’s Creative Arts Workshop. The exhibition is comprised of eight large paintings completed over the last two years, but is not a series in the conventional sense. The collection is characterized by a variety of styles emblematic of DiGiovanni’s desire to engage “novel approaches” to image making. His acrylic and oil paintings reference historical art movements, but also reflect the artist’s forays into technology and its malleable processes. Whether referencing personalities that inhabit his personal orbit of friends, or his incorporation of images drawn from popular culture, the artist seeks to avoid conventional comfort zones of representation. His eclectic mix of figurative, graphic and spatial imagery, is built on a vocabulary that utilizes expressionistic strokes, cubist planes, bold movement and painterly precision, which, when combined, result in his dense, yet airy canvases. It is clear that DiGiovanni loves the figure and attendant psychodynamics of his subjects, but he also relishes the architecture of manmade objects. “Fear of failure,” as he put it, keeps the restless artist probing the realm of possibilities; he refuses to be comfortable, though his masterful facility with paint suggests great comfort with the medium.
Around the corner, Jennifer Jane Gallery was open for business, but Ms. Jane (pictured) was on duty across town at The Grove on Orange Street, where she was showing the MAY DAY:1970 exhibit she curated recently. The Grove is a “co-working and collaborative space for small to medium sized non-profits, social innovators/entrepreneurs, and independents servicing the social mission sector in New Haven” according to the Grove website, and is an organization with which Jennifer Jane is planning future collaborations.
In her Westville Arlow gallery, was a labyrinth-like installation; a photographic narrative of images taken between June ‘09 - and August 2010, from Ms. Jane’s last show, “Summer to Summer.” Greeting visitors, was Jacqueline LaBelle-Young (pictured), an artist who teaches art at Hopkins School and is renting studio space at the gallery. Propped on an easel, were several of her striking pastel and charcoal drawings - landscapes and bovine portraits rendered in color and black and white. Jacqueline is exploring form through the use of intense values and contrast. She is one of the first visual artists to take advantage of the unfolding transition at Jennifer Jane Gallery. Ms. Jane explained that the weak economy has forced her to make adaptations and some changes she feels will be a positive development in the long run: “I meet loads of working artists that need space to create, but cannot afford a studio space” she said. Ms. Jane is offering affordable rental space for visual artists and will soon be restarting the Jennifer Jane Photographic Society for photographers (professional and hobbyists) that are seeking a space to meet for the purpose of sharing interests, holding critiques and finding inspiration. Later this month JJG will be holding a Photographic Society meeting that will be open to the public.
One is tempted to make comparisons between two artists showing at Kehler Liddell Gallery. Water figures prominently in the work of both, yet, in intent and result, the works are quite different. John Harris (pictured), who is showing at KLG for the first time, has been painting water surfaces for 20 years. From a distance, his large canvases present amazing photorealistic representations of moving water. Up close, the paintings betray a multiplicity of painterly strokes, not unlike the work of portrait artist Chuck Close, whose paintings come into sharper focus with distance. Harris achieves his watery magic through glazing - a build-up of multiple layers of thinned paint. That the sum is greater than its parts, may be debatable in the case of these detailed pieces, as closer viewing yields rhythmic abstract patterns that are satisfying in their own right. Harris said he has always been “captivated by subtle reflections, myriad colors, compositions and luminosities inherent in water.” Some pieces show a highly reflective surface where patterns create movement and mirror overhead elements, while others, with a more transparent quality, allow views below the water’s surface where one can almost feel the water-worn rocks beneath surging currents. In both cases, the water’s undulations present peaceful, almost hypnotic qualities that strike a primal cord in the viewer.
“Typology” refers to the classification of things according to their characteristics, and according to Hamden photographer Keith Johnson (pictured), the camera describes objects and their characteristics better than any other device. Johnson theorizes that multiple images can describe and inform in a way that a single photograph may not be able to, and it is this premise that is at the core of his “grid” series and extended landscapes at Kehler Liddell. A photographic software application allows easy placement of Johnson’s images into a grid format, but Johnson determines their order and placement as he arranges compositions to extract greater meaning than might exist in a natural or real-time sequence. “Once the contact sheets are made or files viewed in light room, I am able to see how the images relate to one another. It’s then that my extended landscapes speak” writes the artist. Almost any object or series of objects can appear in a Johnson composition, but is the artist’s keen eye and powers of observation that cull meaning, transposing the ordinary into powerful visual statements through his multi-image grid treatments. Whether bits of shape-shifting foam on water’s surface(“Glyphometry”), or randomly strewn latex gloves(“Alphaballetic”) that the artist periodically encounters through sheer happenstance, Johnson is enabling new opportunities and ways to view our environs.
Design Monsters George Corsillo and Susan McCaslin (pictured) at 838 Whalley Avenue, were the subjects of a previous New Haven Independent article. Visitors to their open studio had an opportunity to see McCaslin’s recent Stamford Loft Artist Gallery, exhibit entitled “Recent works inspired by the Old Leatherman” recreated in-part, with great fidelity to the original show. A retrospective of many of Corsillo’s graphic designs dominated one wall, while a large conference-sized table displayed books and artifacts designed by Corsillo, including two new books about cartoonist Garry Trudeau. Corsillo is the colorist for Trudeau’s Doonsebury strip, and is his affiliation with the cartoonist has given rise to a broad body of work that encompasses numerous graphic designs as well as three-dimensional artifacts.
Though not a conventional gallery, “YARN”, located at 910 Whalley Avenue, is a shop burgeoning with rows of colorful yarn skeins and knitting accessories, jewelry, gift cards and art. Fiber artist and part-owner Linda Colman (pictured), said the shop recently expanded in scope to include “Agolaccio: a Gallery” whose name derives from a Sicilian puppet knight. The gallery features the work of numerous artists and artisans and expands on Westville’s growing reputation as an arts district. Colman said she will soon begin co-ed knitting classes noting that knitting is no longer a gender-specific form of expression. One of several artists exhibiting at the Agolaccio open studios event was ubiquitous artist Liz Pagano, who maintains a studio at Erector Square and is having simultaneous exhibits throughout the city, including a show at Atticus Bookstore Cafe and the upcoming River Street Gallery group show (October 23), at Fairhaven Furniture. One of Pagano’s sculptural art lamps made in collaboration with potter Hayne Bayless (of Sideways and Askew), cast a warm glow in the Agolaccio Gallery window; nearby were several of Pagano’s monotype prints - just one of the many forms of creative expression belonging to this versatile artist.
At Delaney’s dining room gallery sat artist Daniel Kaminski, a.k.a. Feruvius Forest Elf, (pictured left) who was working on a large drawing and who also works at the popular restaurant. On display were some of his highly detailed, nonfigurative micro-pen and ink line drawings, that combine both geometric and freeform elements. The graceful drawings are spontaneous compositions executed in a stream of “subconsciousness,” where the artist claims his ongoing mental activity is detached from the physical act of drawing. Kaminski likes to write and often references the words of people he admires such as Dada artist Marcel Duchamp who said: “The mental activity of the artist is of greater significance than the object created.” Nevertheless, Kaminski’s creations are significant and a manifestation of a process that seems to be working for him.
Among the home-based open studios in the Westville area was the Chapel Street studio of librarian, and self-taught painter John Jessen (center) who is employed by the New Haven Free Public Library. The artist’s custom-built, subterranean studio was full of colorful abstract expressionist canvases that the artist says are painted from memory or sometimes evolve from an idea or image. Jessen said he loves the accidental aspect of the process in which he works and the freedom of using economical house paint to render his canvasses. Deeply personal, the paintings are infused with strong emotional content and energy that is conveyed through gestural marks and dense color layering. Jessen has been painting for just 7 years, and has, for his first public showing, invited the public to glean, “a journey that I’ve only just begun.”
Jason Friedes lives on Fountain Street and works from his studio - “otherwise known as a garage.” That the artist loves math and architecture comes as no surprise; his welded steel creations suggest precise steel girder construction, but with a scale and design that closely resembles cages. “My cages,” said Friedes stand as metaphors for the barriers we all build around ourselves. Our cages restrict our freedom and distance us from others, but provide us with the illusion of safety.” At one point, the artist and his intrepid wife entrapped themselves in one of Friedes’ multi-dimensional angular cages, combining performance with the structure, to further illustrate the metaphor. The artist said he likes the the idea of the steel’s “permanence, its industrial manufactured nature and its machismo.” Friedes maintains that steel also serves as an allegory for the human experience: “If you cut a sheet of steel and weld it back together, the resulting sheet is stronger, but the weld leaves a scar. Welds stand as evidence of experience and of life lived.”