Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Responding to Other Artists

There are lots of reasons why I love to visit art exhibitions, but two stand out in my mind today. First, other artists' ideas and the ways they approach translating their subject into visual images inspire new ideas for my own work. Second, there is an energy that develops when a group of work is assembled from diverse artists that creates an interesting and original dialogue of its own (even if only in my own mind!).

On Friday I revisited the Made in NY Exhibition at the Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center in Auburn, where I was fortunate to have one of my mixed media fiber pieces accepted this year. "Destinations" has a lovely space at the center of one of the walls in a side gallery.

Aside from the obvious pleasure in having the piece I entered juried into the show, I gathered a lot of insights from spending time with many other artists' works juxtaposed next to each other. Since I'm exploring written language in my Pages series, I paid a lot of attention to the works in the exhibit that reference language in some way. A mixed media work, "Lascaux," by Sean Ward hung to the left of mine. Sean uses a very primitive, almost graffiti-like text in this piece. His artist statement, written like a prose poem, sheds some light on his use of text: "a single stroke, may invoke a new, language to tell the, tale of our days and, ask the right, questions..." The piece draws my attention because the tiny twigs on the right hand side seem to echo the marks of the written text. The word "wall" is printed out, but the characters in "Lascaux" require a bit of time to assemble visually and decipher. There is a sense of ageing and decay in the surface, heightened by the use of textured materials and paint processes and the skeletal twigs lashed to a stained piece of wood with marks incised in it.

Equally intriguing from my perspective of language imagery is a huge drawing of tiny, repetitive marks by Katherine Sehr from Buffalo , which was displayed unframed. In her artist statement Katherine writes: "I record small, rhythmic movements on paper. The time invested results in an animated landscape. In the private act of drawing one gesture leads to another...I wish to illustrate time through process." These small marks on a huge surface really do communicate the passage of time and the presence of the human hand. In my own work, I rely on dextrin resists and silkscreens to capture some of this feeling of organic, repetitive marks, but I will definitely explore more use of repetitive hand-drawn marks on my own surfaces.This next piece uses text as it might be seen in letters, diaries or journals. This sculptural tree form installation by Kim Waale, a Central New York artist who is a faculty member at Cazenovia College, casts a natural shadow to the left of the piece. However, the shadow on its right is an artificial one, hung upside down and completely filled with handwritten text that gives some sense of continuity of meaning, but not enough to provide an entire narrative.My own new pieces cast shadows when moved away from the wall. The idea of creating intentional shadow shapes filled with lines of written text will get filed with my rapidly expanding collection of ideas to consider in the future for my "Pages" and "Interior Landscapes" pieces. Finding inspiration in works that are similar to our own style and subject matter is a pleasure, but it is always a delight to happen upon a work that is so totally different from my own that it makes me stop and consider what draws me to it. In contrast to my own organic, more subtle style of working, this small painting by Hope Zaccagni, has a very graphic, hard-edged contemporary feel to it. The strong contrasts in color and value command attention and draw my eye to it even from far across the gallery. What intrigues me as much, if not more than the actual piece, is the artist's inspiration for her subject matter. In her artist statement she writes: "My most recent work has grown out of a fascination I have for abandoned chairs, old lawn chairs, chairs left in hallways, offices and classrooms, chairs used to hold doors open for people who have long exited, chairs basking in sunlight and chairs left out in the snow or on the curb... The images evokes a sense of a distant memory, a journey taken, a lost love or an old friendship. They often elicit a feeling of loneliness, distance, dislocation." Isn't this a wonderful artist statement as well as a rich subject to explore visually? Normally, after spending time observing and recording ideas and inspirations from other artists' works I would be able to rush home, get to my studio and experiment. But I was headed off to our cottage on Panther Lake, a tiny lake north of Syracuse, for a weekend with my husband. I did have my camera with me, though, and Hope's chair painting came to mind as I saw these old Adirondack chairs haphazardly arranged at the edge of the lake. They felt solitary and somehow expectant at the same time. I saw them in a new way because of experiencing Hope's work and ideas.

Here are a few other photographs that my visit to the Made In NY exhibition inspired. I can definitely translate the various lines into my work, from the softly curving, organic plant growth to the heavy, bold lines of the boat hoist on the neighbor's dock and always the hypnotizing, shifting patterns of light and shadow on the water.

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