Open Studios Meets Westville Renaissance

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, “ 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.

David Sepulveda PhotosFrank 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.”

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posted by: davec on October 15, 2010  10:15am

Love that dude with the accordion!  A true asset to the city.

posted by: Lori on October 15, 2010  10:44am

Wow…great coverage of our local artists.  I especially liked the ability to link to the artist’s own web pages.  the Independent Presents a different side of New Haven that we don’t see enough in in our local newspapers. Thanks for the great coverage.

posted by: Westville Advocate on October 15, 2010  12:25pm

Great article on a great neighborhood but wouldn’t it have been nice if all the artists you profiled actually PAID to be part of the weekend!?  A cross check of Artspaces website of participating artists (AKA those who paid to be part of this great, city-wide event) will show some featured were piggy-backing off of those who paid to make this event happen.  Tacky, to say the least.  Not to mention, next time you run an article why not include those who paid first!

posted by: dana on October 15, 2010  12:59pm

It so cool when artists cover other artists.  You get the true passion of the New haven vibe where people are just happy to be able to do what they do especially cause their unique expression of their craft gets exposure.  Thanks so much for sharing! I can’t wait to get to one of thse events.

posted by: David Sepulveda on October 15, 2010  1:15pm

To Westville Advocate.  Thank you for your comments.  The article was intended to reflect the lively arts scene in Westville inclusive of City Wide Open Studios… No one paid to be included in the article and no preferences as to placement were made.  The survey was provided free, as a courtesy of New Haven Independent as part of a broader theme of the Westville Renaissance.

posted by: Westville Advocate on October 15, 2010  3:42pm

David, thank you for the clarification, I was simply observing that you profiled a weekend that wouldn’t have happened without ArtSpace’s assistance and that you profiled artists who didn’t pay to be part of the ArtSpace event.  Nothing against the was great and does show the renaissance occurring in our wonderful neighborhood.

Simply stating that as a paying artist it kind of aggravated me that people set up shop and now they are getting press.  Kind of BS on the artists parts (they know who they are).  Artspace cannot survive without everyone’s support.

posted by: David Sepulveda on October 15, 2010  4:50pm

Westville Advocate:
Let’s hope that those that those opened their doors, but may not have done so through the auspices of any sanctioning organization, will continue to exercise their (free) rights to do so, but also be encouraged to join up and support the Art Space “Open” Studios venture- which is indeed the catalyst for so much of the Arts activity in the City. The Arts should be supported by everyone-whether they have something to “show” or not.

posted by: Bjorn on October 15, 2010  6:31pm

Dave, thanks for expanding on an already perfect CWOS day for us; lots of fun facts and interesting background stories to the work we saw. Some our very favorite artists live here in Westville!

posted by: Gabriel Da Silva on October 15, 2010  7:28pm

David, great article, thank you for you hard work and 48 hours of interviews and editing. is great to see what is happening here in the Village, with or without the auspice of GHAC. This can only help to rise the awareness of amazing art culture of this great City, this article is for all of us as well as those that will like to visit New Haven art scene and not sure where to start.

Westville Advocate, art is happening here 365 days per year, independent reporting, guerrilla art shows and all

Gabriel Da Silva
WVRA, President
Da Silva Gallery
The Frame Shop & Westville Gallery
Westville Resident
Edgewood School Soccer coach
and yes I call my self a Westville Advocate as well!!

posted by: Davyd Whaley on October 16, 2010  1:04pm

You have an amazing group of artist at your collection. I always get excited to see your post online.  I cannot wait until December to come visit you in person.

posted by: Jennifer Jane on October 16, 2010  5:08pm

Dear Westville Advocate,
I am the proud owner of Jennifer Jane Gallery in The Westville Village Arts District. I represent many artists in my gallery. Some paid to be a part of the publicity that ArtSpace provided, including the exhibition opportunities, some did not. Should I have closed my doors over this weekend since I did not pay and the artists featured in my gallery currently did not pay? We were not a part of the “kick-off” exhibition nor were our names listed in the publicity provided. That is why people paid the fifty bucks. Did you ever think of the fact that some of us did not pay because we just could not afford it? Not because we are tacky.
CWOS brings a wonderful event to New Haven, awareness of the bustling art scene to those who may not normally come here let alone a wonderful day to all who may not have a studio or be able to draw attention to themselves without CWOS. the New Haven Independent is independent media. ArtSpace does not own them.
So, “tacky” no, and yes I do know who I am. I am a gallery owner that 365 days a year works hard to bring exposure and opportunity to artists. I pay for this. I open my gallery/studio doors to the public always, not just for a weekend…

Best regards,
Jennifer Jane

Dear David,
Thank you friend and supporter! The article you wrote was a breath of fresh air. I was not aware of some of the artists you featured. What a pleasure to see how much more is going on here than I already knew. I am glad you were able to bring positive attention to Westville and New Haven in general.
I look forward to seeing you soon out and about at one of the many upcoming events in the village!

Jenifer Jane

posted by: mara on October 17, 2010  11:23am

Wow David, just…wow.

I will certainly keep this article for reference and truly thank you for the education.
Our Westville friends and neighbors continue to amaze me.
Your article demonstrates your interest, your dedication to what is uniquely Westville.

posted by: Adrienne on October 17, 2010  5:38pm

Who better to portray the art exhibits in town, through his own creative literary talent, than he who is an experienced artist himself? As usual, David did a superb job of leading us through Westville’s studios, galleries, and businesses while skillfully describing each artist’s individual style. Once again, we are drawn a picture of a vibrant and cultured community.

posted by: P.J. on October 18, 2010  1:54pm

Wow! I am amazed at the amount of talent and creative energy right here in our community. David Sepulveda’s recent article truly reflects his understanding and appreciation of the art culture in Westville and how it has evolved.Thanks for a great article!

posted by: Jacob Pongratz on October 19, 2010  6:31am


posted by: Lupe on October 19, 2010  12:38pm

Amazing!!!! I can see that the Spirit of Art is alive in this town. There are some pictures that really attract me.
Dave,you are good as a writer, you have a remarkable way to communicate. You should also have your on show!!!!

posted by: Lori Datlow on October 21, 2010  5:23pm

thanks David for another wonderful write up of New HAVEN activities. I’d love to tag along on one of your fact finding missions!
wish I’d hear about the New Haven open studios before it happened, instead of after!