Going Deep At CWOS

The entrance to the large ceramics studio at the rear of Erector Square’s building 8 — where City Wide Open Studios held its final weekend — is shared with Bregamos Community Theater. Last weekend, the sound of Latin jazz drew me to “Imagine My Space,” a pop-up exhibit featuring the work of artist Michael Alan Roman. A photographer who is new to painting, Roman said he first picked up the brush less than a year ago and has been creating his ethereal, otherworldly landscapes since.

“I don’t know where they come from,” he said, “I pick up the brush and go.”

Skies and topography are imaginatively transformed through Roman’s stylized brushstrokes, which unleash torrents of movement in every landscape element. Technique and intuition serve the artist well as he creates his restless, visionary mindscapes. 

Roman was one of the over 100 artists who participated in CWOS’s final weekend. With my Artspace CWOS guide folded and tucked into a back pocket, I joined the flow of visitors navigating the multi-building arts complex of Erector Square, guided primarily by a sense of wanting to meet unfamiliar artists and experience entirely new work .

Ceramicist Christine Kossodo shares a bright pottery studio with five others. She said she had been creating at the studio for 20 years.  Amid the shelves of stoneware pottery and sculpture filling the studio were Kossodo’s illustrated pottery pieces depicting stylized sun images, portraits, and mythological vignettes. Transparent, majolica-style glazes covered her bowls, vessels, and relief plaques and the illustrations that she carefully drew before the pieces were low-fired. Whether whimsical or imbued with a touch of black humor (beheaded medusa spaghetti bowl), Kossodo’s works were designed to appeal to a variety of sensibilities.

Industrial designer Douglas Papuga of Branford’s MECHTank Design, a company specializing in the design and fabrication of consumer goods, displayed a collection of coffee tables that also had appeal on many levels. The hand-crafted, chamfer-edged works with decidedly modernist flair were constructed from the detritus of hurricane damage. “From milling to hand sanding,” reclaimed and repurposed pieces of wood found in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and others have found new life as components of the hyper-angled, clever, and colorful tables. Brightly painted, bent metal rods serve as legs, while glass tabletops seem to float precariously on some pieces, until one notices they are inset and stabilized at strategic points. With names like “Pick” (shaped like a guitar pick) and “Kick,” a table with splayed legs extending beyond the table surface, an element of playfulness added to the form and function of these upcycled pieces.

The last time I walked away with a fragment or artifact from an art installation was at the massive 2005 Central Park installation “Gates,” by the famed site-specific arts duo Christo and Jeanne-Claude. The yellow square of bright vinyl fabric is still among my collection of arts-related souvenirs. Artist Kathryn Frund’s distribution of small pins mounted with red plexiglass fragments were not so much souvenirs as they were part of an active installation charting the “drift” of plastic movement based on the addresses of those who agreed to wear the fragments.

A larger wall installation, “One Word” also used much larger plexiglass letter fragments, shards, and some plastic netting juxtaposed on a white wall, with some fragments mounted outside the studio, but in the visible distance. “This work studies the flow and pervasive use of plastic materials in our culture,” read the artist’s statement. Exploring environmental themes, the installation also “plays with the idea of art’s physical and limited dimensions.” In addition to arranging the aesthetically powerful, positive-negative interplay of the deconstructed signage elements, the artist questioned: “How can art pierce established norms and how it can move us beyond our passive observer status?”

Located in building 3, Brooklyn artist André Eamiello, exhibiting in a temporary studio, took watercolor to another dimension. A biological illustrator, Eamiello said he is using “natural materials to create a nature aesthetic” and wanted to examine “humanity’s role and responsibility to the earth.” The artist’s large-scale paintings on Arches oil paper could individually suggest dominant color schemes — reds, blues, and greens — but use a broad range of hues and tonalities to achieve dimensional complexity. Eamiellos’s compositions were painted in layers with sprayed watercolor and used natural materials (such as crumpled leaves) to mask the layers, creating depth and a strong push-pull effect. After drying, spraying water reactivated exposed, dry areas of pigment, causing a bleeding effect and more dimensional layers. The result of Eamiello’s patient process was a wonderfully organic visual field that suggested both nano-space and cosmic vastness.

Multimedia artist Jennifer Davies looked through a screen of lacy webbing. A rhythmic pattern of organic lines and negative shapes came into focus. Though Davies said she was not a weaver, her intuitive weaving was an integral part of the fiber-based creations she dipped into a “slurry of pulp and water,” that then binded to the networks she had fashioned. Coated and much thicker, the lines of fiber took on a new, sometimes unpredictable, connective character. Davies’ open studio had many examples of her ongoing fiber experiments. Painting, drawing, printmaking, paper making, weaving, installations and collage are all part of Davies’ vocabulary of expressive languages she had been speaking for “as long I can remember,” she said.

There was still much to discover at Erector Square — many wonderful conversations and exhibits that will, for now, go unreported. Observations by several attendees confirmed much of what I had seen and sensed, but also much of what I did not get to see. Kathi Telman, Erector Square facilities manager (right), who has seen many CWOS events at the facility, noted the high caliber of the art and “very professional standards.” Bill Saunders (left), an artist and frequent commenter on New Haven Independent threads, had high praise for Artspace’s City Wide Open Studios generally.

“This was an impressive year for CWOS. One of the best things they did was the re-arrangement of the three weekends in featuring the Armory show first,” Saunders said. He also lamented a kind of anti-climax to the CWOS: “There’s a glut of opportunity in October, then there’s a vacuum afterward,” he said — a point which may be debatable.

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posted by: cathysus on November 1, 2015  12:18pm

Amazing to think I spent 3 hours there and didn’t see any of these artists. Next time I’ll need all day!