They Spoke Art

DAVID SEPULVEDA  PHOTOWith tires inflated and last-minute mechanical adjustments complete, Matt Feiner stood atop a brick planter to give instructions to the 30 cyclists about a ride with an unusual mission—an art-studio mission.

At his side was Artspace curator Sarah Fritchey. The tour’s destinations: four studio and gallery spaces from West Haven to Hamden, and points in between..

The occasion was a bicycle tour this past Sunday on the second weekend of City Wide Open Studios (CWOS), the annual Artspace visual-art blowout. (Weekend three, this weekend, takes place at Erector Square.)

Together with guest curator Jocelyn Edens, Feiner, who owns Devil’s Gear Bike Shop, and Fritchey led a series of stimulating conversations at four private art studios, all part of the itinerary on the Transported/Private Studio tours.

Before departing, cyclists huddled for the customary group portrait as they proudly displayed copies of the CWOS program guide.

As cyclists pedaled down city streets at a casual pace, hand and vocal signals and occasional announcements about potential road hazards were relayed from the front, and the back of the pack: “Stay in single file…move to the left lane” ... and, “Stop at the light!” Bill Kurtz, part of the Devil’s Gear Auxiliary, a group that supports Devil’s Gear Bike Shop activities, did an exemplary job in bringing up the rear.

Daggett Street Square, a converted factory building and one of the oldest artists’ enclaves dating to the 1970s, long before New Haven came to embody the creative heart of the entire state, was the first stop on the tour.

Laura Marsh, who is an art history professor and serves as director of Seton Gallery at the University of New Haven, and her husband Phil Lique, with whom she shares studio space, gave brief talks about their work. They also talked about the dynamics of working in close proximity and how that influences each other’s work. 

It was apparent that both revel in bright color, tactile surfaces and materials, and incorporate a broad range of “found objects,” some of which are found at the Dollar Store and other repositories of American consumerist culture. “We riff on each other’s materials” said Marsh.

Marsh, whose work explores “the constraints of female beauty, mass media, and political identities,” tends toward dimensional installation pieces that bleed into the studio space.  A portion of her work, she noted, is “collecting and reassembling” including objects that she fashions or sews from scratch. “Over time, the work shifts and changes in a cycling of objects that get reused and reimagined.”

Lique’s sizable, mixed-media designs are wall mounted but not exclusively two dimensional. Lique presents cornucopias of drawing, painting and assemblage that are fun to observe, but also infused with symbolism and messages that reward those willing to investigate.

For Lique, making art is about communication. He said that his role as an artist is “to communicate with myself as a human with hope that someone will be able to identify with the work.” Asked about the strong pop art influences in his work, Lique responded,“You can’t avoid pop culture-you’re in it.”

The second tour stop brought cyclists to West Cove Studio Gallery, a printmaking workshop and gallery just over the New Haven border in West Haven. While printmaking dominated the exhibits, painting and some sculpture was also on display.

Giving a talk about her work was printmaker Claudia Cron, who displayed a number of haunting images—“decrepit and forlorn amusement parks and traveling carnivals” devoid of people and the recreational joys the landscapes once inspired.

The artist, who favors muted, minimal color tonalities, said she has a “visual allergy” to groupings of strong primary colors. She offered these descriptions of her process: “Making paper lithographs from my own photographs at West Cove Studios gives me images that I can then respond to back at my own studio. Spray paint, India ink, dry pigment and oil paint are just a few of the mediums that I reach for in an attempt to visually reach back in time, to a time when summer meant escape and childhood wonder transformed the frightening into fun.”

What seemed like it might be a long, arduous ride from West Haven to Hamden for the tour’s third stop, turned out to be one of the more pleasant stretches of the bike tour. The traffic-free Farmington Canal Trail route afforded a perspective of the city that was wonderfully disorienting; views of streets and homes from a new angle en route to more art. What could be more pleasant?  According to Glen McDermott, an avid rider who had been on previous tours, “Having conversations like this” is one of the tour aspects he said he enjoys most.

Arriving at the surprisingly large studio space and residential home she shares with husband, artist Alan Neider, Joan Fitzsimmons displayed multiple photographic iterations of her “small series” of images she said are sometimes inspired by “incidental glances.” 

Everyday objects like spoons, empty yogurt containers, or glass cups, ordinarily invisible as objects that inspire focus beyond their utilitarian reasons for existing, challenge perceptions and present points of inquiry under Fitzsimmons’s arresting observations. “Sometimes,” she writes about her work, “Things are just as they seem and sometimes they resonate larger. The quotidian facts of daily life pass unnoticed until one day that simple bowl of yogurt suggests a stroke of paint and the whole history of art is revealed.”

Tour leader Matt Feiner noted that fewer studios on the tour schedule this year allowed for more time in each studio, for deeper, rather than wider inquiry overall with a “better mix of riding and art.” 

The last leg of the tour was a visit with artist Brian Wendler at his Clifton Street studio. Artspace curator Sarah Fritchey contributed this account:

By 5:10, we ascended one final hill and turned right into the hamlet of painter Brian Wendler.  Wendler welcomed us into his house, where he displayed older works, and then into his studio cottage, where we discussed his more recent works. 

An oil painting of the sleepy bridge we had just crossed on bikes welcomed us to the space. It’s overall purple resonated with the time and temperature. Guest Curator Jocelyn Edens began by asking Wendler about his process. He showed us his 4x4-inch studies and described them as value studies.:“I look for abstract elements, but capture space. I put down shapes and make volume through color.” He described his technique as inherited from Cezanne, and when Edens noted a connection to the Fauves, he added, his admiration for Hopper, Diebenkorn and Picasso as well.

“Picasso said if you have something you love in a painting, take it out, because you will paint all around it and not respect the rest of the painting,” he said. Wendler’s larger paintings displayed an overall abstraction that treated each part of the composition with equal care.  

“About three-quarters of the way through a painting, you start thinking ... and that’s when you know you’re in trouble.,” he said. “It’s only then when you start to see what you’re missing.”

For Wendler, it seems, this moment is when the painting starts. When asked about his relationship to teaching painting at Silvermine Art Guild he recalled, “When I was in school, everyone said painting was dead.” (This was a sentiment we had heard from Joan Fitzsimmons just one stop before) “And I took that to mean that painting was ready to take off for some place else.”

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posted by: redhed on October 24, 2014  8:06am

Thanks so much for this informative and well written piece.  The author is so wellinformed regarding art and artists and the city itself. I am getting to know New Haven again and I look forward to more articleswritten by David Sepulveda.