Critical Mass., Part 1: Room 83 Spring

I spend most of my time in Massachusetts during the summer. To feed my art fix I get to the galleries in and around Boston, sometimes farther afield within the state. Critical Mass. is the summer series I started a few years ago to share with you some of what I saw. I reprise it now, and will continue to post intermittently through August.

The inviting storefront entry to Room 83 Spring

We start with Room 83 Spring, a gallery in Watertown, Mass.—a city just west Cambridge—founded by two artists, Ellen Wineberg and Cathleen Daley. Like many artist-run projects, it is a labor of love. Emphasis on labor. Emphasis on love. Wineberg and Daley’s concept for the gallery is, well, let them tell you: “A site for experimentation and process, room hosts a mix of creative disciplines, provocative installations, and engaging exchange. We are artists who wish to foster and celebrate other artists.”

Housed in a single-story commercial building on a residential street, Room 83 Spring (which shares the structure with Drive By Projects next door, another artist-run venue), typically brings together three to five artists in thematic exhibitions. Because Wineberg and Daley are working artists themselves, Room 83 Spring is open only on Thursday (2:00 to 7:00) and on Saturdays (12:00 to 4:00) and by appointment.

Splendor Redux with, from left: Kelley Harwood, Nina Bentley and Kathleen Volp

The current exhibition (up through the end of this week, May 28) is Splendor Redux, a three-artist show that reconsiders the still life with a contemporary sensibility that mashes together feminism, poignancy, irony and humor. Nina Bentley and Kelley Harwood use the metaphor and object of the silver serving set, while Kathleen Volp creates assemblages of cheap overabundance, a contemporary metaphor if ever there was one. It’s a rewarding mix.

Nina Bentley, Corporate Executive Wife's Service Award Bracelet II (Homage to Lorna Wendt), courtesy of the New Britain Museum of American Art

Detail below

In creating the outsize charm bracelet of silver serving vessels, Bentley recalls the story of Lorna Wendt, who, back in the Nineties, was offered 10 percent of the family assets when her husband of 32 years divorced her. Lorna took him to court, arguing that her job in over three decades of marriage was as a partner, the one who  maintained the home, raised the children, and sacrificed her own career aspirations. The judge agreed and she ended up with 50 percent of the assets. And she acquired a version of this sculpture. 

Kelley Harwood, #7, acrylic on board, 2015

Bentley's metaphor of greedy corporate husband finds its moral opposite in Kelley Harwood's touching story of a sterling silver tea set. "The tea set I paint is a 25th anniversary present from my grandfather to my grandmother. Visiting their house once or twice a year as a child, I remember it with a sense of love, well-being, luxury, generosity and visual richness."

Harwood's small, mostly achromatic paintings are reductive but rich with memory and observation.

Kathleen Volp,  White Madonna, 2013, mixed media 

Volp's interest is in Seventeenth-Century Dutch still life-painting, specifically a style called pronkstilleven, still-lifes of ostentation. Mining a rich vein of irony, Volp creates assemblages with the abundance of cheap contemporary culture: shiny fabric and plastic fruit.  From the front room . . .

. . . we head into the back, where more work by Volp is on view

Homage to the Market Girls, 2014-15, oil and assemblage
Detail below

Homage to Utrecht's Still Life with Cockatoo: Trickle Down, 2015, assemblage with stacked tables and faux fruit

Artist-created and -run galleries are not huge commercial enterprises. When one springs up in your area, take the time to go. Encourage others to go. Support it. It took me a while to get to Room 83 Spring. I promise I'll be back.


Toby Sisson: " . . . and other poems"

I made my first trip to Providence, Rhode Island, in almost 40 years. It's a beautiful little city, but I just hadn't had a reason to go back. When I learned that my friend Toby Sisson was having a solo at the Yellow Peril Gallery, however, I made plans for a road trip. 

You can have your green and leafy part of town, over where Brown and RISD are ensconsed, but give me the area with a gritty industrial past. Called Onleyville, it's on the west side of Providence where old factories are slowly being developed into a community of mixed-use buildings that house artists, galleries, and other creative endeavors. It's where the Yellow Peril Gallery resides, in a large building called The Plant. 

The smokestack is entwined by by a steel vine--the industrial version of green and leafy. Yeah, I know it's a development branding gimmick, but it's a nice touch, no? On the first floor of The Plant is where you'll find the gallery.

Left: The smokestack (Image from the Internet)
Below: Entrance to Yellow Peril

Entering the gallery, where
. . . and other poems is on view through May 31

OK, so moving on from the real estate, let's look at the art. Providence-based Toby Sisson has wrested more from black and white than any other artist I know of since Franz Kline. Her scale is modest, with repetetive elements, and she rewards attentive viewing with achromatic subtlety and surface richness.

In this exhibition Sisson reference black and white in a different medium, print, drawing inspiration from the lesser-known poems of James Baldwin. (A copy of the recently published Jimmy's Blues and Other Poems is out for perusal, and you realize it inspired the exhibition's title as well.)

She also draws inspiration from the black-and-white of a cultural divide. Black Tears, an installation wall of 350 small wax-dipped ink drawings, expresses the artist's response to the events in Ferguson, Missouri. Each black tear might be a metaphor for lament, while painting titles such as Chant and Cadence perhaps suggest a different way of dealing with intense emotion.

The Darkest Hour, Chant, and Cadence, all 2014, encaustic on panel, 24 x 12 x 3 inches

 Black Tears, 2015, ink on paper dipped in wax
Can you read the James Baldwin text? "The Artistic image is not intended to represent the thing itself but, rather, the reality of the force the thing contains." 

On the other side of the Black Tears wall, Totems 1-4 . . .

. . . and opposite that wall, a grid of framed monotypes. 

Sisson's oeuvre is rooted in the organic, the biologic, but in this grouping, there is to me, a suggestion of the cosmic. 


Rocky Mountain High, Part 2

Rocky Mountain High, Part 1: Space Gallery

Still Life
You can't visit Denver without paying a visit to the Clyfford Still Museum. Opened in late 2011, it houses virtually all of the artist's work. Having famously withdrawn from the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1951, Still hoarded his work, stipulating in his will that the entire oeuvre be shown together. His wife, Patricia Still, and the city of Denver made that happen. And the oeuvre--with many of the canvases yet to be unrolled--is now housed in the recently built museum, along with artifacts, documents, and a full-time conservation staff. You can read more about the museum here, so let me show you a few pictures of the work set into its new home.

You can't see from this picture, but the roof lets in a lot of light

You walk up a flight of stairs to get to the galleries, greeted by a self portrait of the artist and some of his early work
Same wall, opposite view

What's interesting in Still's early work is the hint of what was to come. Look at that fractured sky on this painting , which is set into the  installation above

Here's another . . .

. . . which is seen in the distance on the wall at the top of the stairs

These paintings depict farmland scenes from his home state of North Dakota, as well as farther north in Alberta, Canada, where he also spent time growing up

After a few rooms of early paintings, we enter a number of large galleries with the artist's recognizable work. I hadn't intended to blog about the museum, so I'm not showing you the galleries in order. I'm showing these two first because I happen to like them enormously

Everything about the museum is well designed, from the perforated ceiling that lets in filtered natural light to the benches that look like concrete but are actually compressed felt. The paintings are not crowded, and the sight lines are good

The gallery shown above, in panorama, leads into the one shown below, also in panorama. The curators seem rather enamored of the red-yellow-blue combination

This painting and several others, with vast areas of white on a linen ground, seem to harken back to Still's early fractured skies. Downstairs in one of the vitrines, I found a statement of this work (image below). I'm not giving you titles, because they appear to be archive numbers rather than names

Click pic to make it legible

That color combination again
Also, it appears the curators gave into the drama of sight lines, so while the red painting you see in the distance here, looks wonderful in relation to the works in the gallery . . . 

. . . the fact is that you can't actually step back to view it, as a glass railing is barely five feet away

A small hallway on the first floor leads to the conservation department, which was closed when I was there. However the vitrines in the hallway were full of great things, like the artist's paint box, above, and some of the palette knives he used on his paintings, below

Still seems to have been a prolific letter writer. There are many handwritten and typed documents shown in the vitrine. The one above is a letter to Rothko
(On a PC, click pics to make them legible; on a Mac press command and the plus key to enlarge the screen)

In the letter below, written in late 1973, Still explains why he wished to stop showing.  Though each painting is "complete in itself," he writes, he wanted his oeuvre to remain together. "My work represents a conception of art as a life--an entire life."  I'd say Still was luckier than most in being able to have that dream realized

One thing I learned is that the installation was to be changed the week after my visit. There are many paintings, and part of the museum's mission is to show them all over time. So by the time you read this post, the installation is likely to have changed. That's certainly a good reason to go back.
. . . . . .

High Life
If the Still Museum is a must-see in Denver, so is a pilgrimage to the green cross. In a state where both recreational and medical marijuana are legal, the green cross indicates a dispensary.

At the sign of the cross: weed

Yes, I went. Yes, I bought. And let me tell you, this is not the head shop of your youth. For one thing, there's actual weed there. I went with friends, and we all had a lot of questions: How does the vape pen work? (It's an e-cig whose vapor contains essence of cannabis without the smoke.) How strong are the candies? (It varies; surprise!) What's better: sativa or indica? (Depends on whether you want to function or go into what they call "couch lock.")

The young attendants looked at us with amusement, as if they'd invented the cannabis experience, but they were well informed. I got a nickel bag for about $20, not bad considering inflation, two vape pens, and some lemon drops. Cash only. Total for the haul: $90. Yes, it's technically illegal to transport it out of state, but no alarms sound when you go through security. I believe the sniffer dogs are on duty for the flights from Columbia, not for middle-age folks traveling domestically with a few lemon drops wrapped in Kleenex.


Rocky Mountain High, Part 1

Space Gallery
So if you're following my little adventure out West last week, after San Francisco I flew into Denver. The airport is quite a distance from town--closer to the state of Idaho, actually, than the Mile High City. You're not really aware of the architecture until you see it from a distance, and then it resembles either the snow-capped rockies or a community of teepees. In either case, quite a few Teflons gave their lives to make the enormous tented roof. It was my first time in the Rockies, and I found myself surprisingly short of breath.

The Denver Airport. Internet photo

My destination was Space Gallery, a large modernist structure, where the exhibition, Pattern: Geometric/Organic, was opening that evening (May 1). Gallery curator Michael Burnett had brought together nine artists from around the country--a mix of gallery and invited artists--whose work involves repeated elements. “The desire to create order in our lives is innate in all of us,” says Burnett. “We look for patterns naturally. We seek to control, to find the edges. It’s how we make sense of things. This show takes us to a different understanding of what’s built into each of us.”

I am one of the artists, so this is most definitely not a review. Consider it a walk-through of the show, with commentary. If the light looks different from frame to frame, it's because I took pictures at different times, and I've included the images of others as well. 

Space Gallery in Denver. Gallery photo

The gallery is aptly named. There's plenty of room for art, architecture and light
 From left on ground level: Jane Guthridge, Karen Freedman, Tyler Aiello, Lynda Ray. Second level:  Aiello, Ray, Mattera

Now we move slightly from where I was standing in the previous picture so that I can show you the entrance at left and Guthridge's three gorgeous works on paper (closer views coming); a suspended wall divides the space . . . .

. . . which gives you a good view of Karen Freedman's paintings;  Tyler Aiello's sculptural vessel; and a view in the distance of Corey Postiglione's paintings (more of which in a bit). Freedman has been working with a kaleidoscopic pattern that offers infinite variation via color. Below are two of the paintings shown on the left wall

Karen Freedman: Above, Ruche 0352.65, 2013; below, Ruche 0352, 2012; both encaustic on panel, 12 x 12 inches. Images from the artist's website

With Freedman's paintings beyond our left shoulder, we turn about 45 degrees to look at the work of Lynda Ray, a wall of succulent trompe l'oeil reliefs . . . 

 . . . like Fracture, 2012, encaustic on panel, seen in the far distance above and in closer view here. Image from the Internet

We continue with the sculptures of Tyler Aiello, who works with
 forged and patinaed steel. Here, the vessel, wall sculptures, hanging sculptures, and floor spheres

Below:  A better view of the surface and structure of Aiello's work, with with paintings by me and Ruth Hiller in the distance

Aiello, Mattera

Here's a closer view of a grouping of 12 x 12-inch paintings from my Chromatic Geometry series . . .

. . . and on the perpendicular wall, four 18 x 18-inch paintings from the same series, all 2014 or 2015; and a Ruth Hiller painting. Love those color relationships we share!

Joanne Mattera, Chromatic Geometry 28, 2015, encaustic on panel, 
18 x 18 inches

Ruth Hiller, Soft Geometry, acrylic on acrylic panel. Ruth Hiller photo

With work by me, Hiller and  Aiello in the distance, we view an installation by Jane Guthridge, which is the first thing you see when you walk into the gallery. The forms are pinned to the wall

Detail below: acrylic on Dura-Lar

We've come full circle in the large gallery, so let's look more closely at Guthridge's work and peek into the smaller side gallery. On far wall: Light Forms 3, 4, and 2; each acrylic on Dura-Lar  

Light Form 4, 
Light Form 2, both 30 x 42 inches framed 

The side gallery, visible as you walk in: Guthridge; Corey Postiglione; Hiller on far wall

Corey Postiglione, Work from the Tango series, oil on canvas

Postiglione, Hiller
I love the relationship of these two paintings--each sharing an achromatic palette and an off-kilter orientation

Completing the tour of the small gallery; Hiller on the far wall  with an acrylic-on-acrylic painting, and a wall of wax-on-panel paintings  on the right, all from her Soft Geometry series

Below: A peek into the larger gallery, with Lynda Ray's paintings, just so you know where you are

We're going to climb the stairs  to the mezzanine . . .

. . . where this panorama shows you the work of Nouman Gaafar and Amber George

Below: Nouman Gaafar, Untitled 2, oil on canvas, 40 x 40 inches

George, Aiello, Ray, Mattera

Closer view of two by Amber George 

Ray and Mattera in a quiet corner

A catalog of the exhibition, designed by Jane Guthridge, with my painting, Chromatic Geometry 29, is viewable online at no charge and is also available for purchase

Next: Rocky Mountain High, Part 2, A visit to the Clyfford Still Museum