One artist captures the power of new construction in town. A second has his eye on the crumbling old stuff all around us. A third gives us a do-it-yourself guide to the apocalypse in New York Harbor heading our way.
All three visual takes on the future of cities are on view in Cityscapes, the compelling new show at the John Slade Ely House on Trumbull Street.
Get there before the floods do.
John Slade Ely House Curator Paul Clabby brought Angelis’s work together with Richey’s, for whom Cityscapes is a first-time solo—or semi-solo—show.
He paired the New Haven artists with Konigsberg, a college colleague who diverted from abstraction to make the series Drawings for Manhattan/City States in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
Neither Angelis and Richey denied that their work might be interpreted as making some kind of pronouncement about the state of the built environment. But their main goal is merely capturing in pigment what’s outside their windows. The work is, to use Richey’s phrase, “all shapes and colors.”
So a different world view may merely result from geography?
I’m not so sure. Angelis paints from a studio downtown on Church Street, where he is privy to a lot of the construction/destruction in connection with the new I-95 lanes and Gateway Community College. Richey’s digs are closer to the Wooster Square neighborhood from where, for example, his haunting “William Street” painting emerged is a geographical truth.
Still, if these artists were only documentarians they’d use photography. Both are primarily plein air painters, which also makes them eyewitnesses.
You don’t expect artists to be essayists or philosophers; otherwise they’d put their vision into words not pictures. Nevertheless, there’s no denying the piers, quarries, and new overpasses that land in Angelis canvases are solid, well lit, optimistic—or, as he put it, “a celebration of what’s there.”
By contrast, Richey’s compositions, such as his “William Street,” are brooding, especially the night pieces, with a fragility that is almost vibrating.
I suggested to Richey that to my eye him his “Williams Street” is all about shakiness and instability. He listened carefully and took that remark in.
I palavered on. Not only is his point of view unstable, I suggested. His light also is unstable, as is his way of hanging the pictures.
He continued to listen; he didn’t contest the point.
Richey, who trained as a painter in college in Tulsa and in graduate school at Western Connecticut State University, forswears traditional framing for a hanging system of pieces of canvas forming the picture, which are then pinned to gallery walls.
He called the way he brings the smaller pieces of his canvas together, and how that often leads to non-uniform borders, “a puzzle quality” that intrigues him.
The method suggests that he might have quite an advantage in the event of earthquake. If, for example, the John Slade Ely House were to begin to rumble and fall, Richey’s works could easily be snatched from the crumbling walls, folded up under arm, and be saved from destruction.
Angelis combines plein air painting with works from photographs. The latter approach leads to more detailed work. Richey, by contracts, works only on site. That’s a principle of his artistic religion: You’ve got to be there, he said, because photographs, well, miss a lot.
In the case of “91 Shelton,” he hung out the window of his friend’s studio for months in order to capture the strange and vertiginous composition (pictured), which is a collaged amalgam of what he saw over many days of work.
Still, the dizzying, vortex, slightly-out-of-control feeling that one might occasionally associate with the whirl of city life is not the point of this work, he said. “Part of the challenge is to make all the points of view hang together” as a picture, Richey said.
The End Is Definitely Near
There’s no ambiguity or tension between methods and meanings in Jeff Konigsberg’s images of Manhattan. His Manhattan is walled against the sea. Its various neighborhoods are walled against other kinds of flooding elements.
His works, which appropriately enough are also the only ones of the three artists that are displayed under glass, have the feel of sci-fi movies shot in low light, just before the hit.
The more you look at his small-sized works, digital prints with overlays of paint, the more you feel they are last drawings left by the engineers on their drafting tables, along with half drunk cups of coffee, before the designers too had to flee the island, leaving behind the evidence of Konigsberg’s art.
Richey and Angelis wanted to go on the record as not intending to convey concepts or world views in their work. A man of few words, Richey said plainly his work “is not a statement. Just what it looks like.”
“I don’t want to speak for the artists, but artists many times are not completely conscious of what they’re doing. If they did, they might lose some of the excitement,” said Clabby.
Clabby himself finds humor in the works, especially some of Angelis’s compositions. They feature a horizontal slice of New Haven urban archeology: the faux gothic Trinity Baptist Church on State Street, for example, between the 1960s housing authority headquarters behind and the pit of the railway bed in front (pictured).
Richey is drawn to doing the same kind of palimpsest in his “Winter Window #4” (pictured).
To me his shimmering, blast-wave brush work in a palette of neon yellow and blazing orange, while cheery, also suggests the easily combustible, the irradiated, the lost.
The show is on view during gallery hours: Wednesday to Friday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., weekends 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.