Fragments: Tragedy and Hope, a new exhibit at Kehler Liddell Gallery (KLG) in Westville, features art by Fethi Meghelli and Joseph Saccio, both of whom have studios at Erector Square. The show opened with a well-attended artists’ reception and a lingering crowd of viewers absorbed by the range and depth of this two-person exhibit.
Meghelli’s mixed-media, two dimensional images, monotypes, etchings, collages and drawings created over an expanse of time dominate the gallery’s wall space. Most are arranged in groupings that reflect various periods and themes of Meghelli’s artistic journey. Some contain fragments of previous images layered into new works, as he continues the thread of his humanitarian musings.
Many of these dreamlike images, infused as they are with political, social, and cultural meaning and symbolism, also explore the universal plight of people yearning for freedom in all its manifestations. Whether by foot, boat, on the wings of birds, or flying wingless with Chagall-esque abandonment, hope and possibility are embodied in the processions of restless travelers and sometimes revealed in the nurturing vignette of a mother’s caress.
Also displayed are a number of Meghelli’s wall-mounted assemblages or found object pieces. As in “African Mask,” some of the pieces draw their potency from the parred down economy of form that requires little physical, but highly strategic, tinkering.
Other sculptures are born of the artist’s humor and willingness to reimagine and press almost any object into the service of greater meaning.
Meghelli said he loves to show work from different periods of his career so that people get a better understanding of his art. “Happiness and tragedy,” he said, “are part of the same coin. Whether here or in other parts of the world, happiness and tragedy are all around us, and even in our daily lives, we have our ups and downs. That’s what I like to express in all of my artwork.”
The found objects cleverly transformed in Meghelli’s assemblages seem as ubiquitous as proverbial low-hanging fruit—a spade shovel head found on the street, an old dress (“The Blue Dress”), a piece of discarded styrofoam (“Cool”). Joseph Saccio’s found artifacts are often weighty, outsized objects requiring complex logistical maneuvering in acquisition, design, construction and transport.
In “From Destruction Can Solace Arise” (pictured), for example, the artist began with a three-foot cube, a section of a black oak’s root system, removing up to two hundred pounds of earth and stone with hammer, chisels and water pressure. From the naturally sinuous root system on one side of the form, to Saccio’s lacerated root reconstruction on the other side, a theme emerges: “I did not have a narrative in mind when I started the piece but was more concerned in displaying alternate views of an apparent, underground chaos which had, in fact, supported very well the real life of the tree. Later during the working of the wood I was reminded of the body parts that the press seems to like to report about in the aftermath of a suicidal bombings in the Middle East cities.”
Susan Clinard, a Kehler Liddell artist who is known for her found object assemblages, attended the opening event. She commented on Saccio’s artistic work ethic and creativity: “With so many artists using mixed media, Saccio pushes boundaries with mixed media that no one else is doing; he pushes, pushes, pushes.”
The act of combining fragments, of assembling disparate objects, be they found, natural, industrial or commercial, gives meaning through emergent transformations that often “develop in strange ways” according to the artist. “The themes of life and death are constant and have to do with tragedy in life as well as hope for reasonable or surprising outcomes. I like to create a sense of mystery.”
Saccio spent 45 years teaching at the Yale Child Study Center and with a private psychiatric practice for children, adolescents and adults. He said he went into medicine to help sick people. It wasn’t until after retirement that the sculptor embarked on an entirely new way to continue his mission—connecting with, and helping people through his art. “This is a service for the people that are interested in art and for those that are not interested in art. Using familiar found objects is often an entry point for some people to greater understanding.”
From the fragment of one 30-year old sculpture, a piece with which Saccio said he was never satisfied, to its recent marriage with another form, a metamorphosis is complete, hope realized. The sprawling sculpture of otherworldly, elongated pods seem to be birthed of an equally foreign object. The highly textured form rests precariously, vulnerably on a single prong. Saccio said that other sculptures in the show represent new works.
Both artists in this exhibit have not only re-purposed found objects; in some cases their own original art has been deconstructed and reconfigured into new pieces much like the second chances we are sometimes afforded in life.
The strangely whimsical forms and images that delighted visitors at Sunday’s opening can be seen through June 29. For hours and information about the artists, visit the KLG website here.