Pieces and Processes at Cerulean Collective
Every month Cerulean Arts Collective presents five solo exhibitions simultaneously. This month the artists are Leslie Fenton, E. Sherman Hayman, Lisa M. Hamilton, Alysa Bennett, and Monica Kane. Like some kind of art sleuth, I look to see if there is a common thread, a theme or rationale for this mix. It is seldom easy and I suspect that it is all in my mind, but it occurred to me that many of these artists create by bringing pieces — whether of different materials, subsets of conjecture, working methods, and/or organization-- together from chaos.
Before I start reviewing, I need to mention something that I have just started. It is called “The One-Minute Crit.” and is posted in Instagram. For each of these artists, I visited their gallery and looked at their exhibition and then hi-lighted one piece in one minute for a post on Instagram. Hope you enjoy this new feature!
THE ONE MINUTE CRIT
Carol Taylor Kearney
Now on ...
Back to the important stuff!
I begin in Leslie Fenton’s gallery. I recall her collaged pieces of cut and torn scraps of paper
treated with orangy-browns, blues, white, and black. They made me think of landscapes—shorelines and mountains and woods. But this new body of work is mostly black with peeks of white. The black is from the application of India ink to white paper. Looking closely, the
different kinds and number of ink strokes cause changes in density, thus changes in value and I would even suggest even color. Why color, you might ask? Well, we have this thing called our brain which is programmed to color-correct under different light and according to conditions around each color shape. So, depending on the light, the blacks and especially the grays will shift toward a bluish or violet (depending if the light source is cool or warm). Moreover, grays that are made from stippling will read somewhat darker because of simultaneous contrast while the washed grays will change depending if they are surrounded by a darker value (they get lighter) or a lighter value (they get darker) And it is these grays that have the tendency to make a slide toward “coloration”. All this makes looking especially fascinating when I compare a composition that is mostly black and white like Sawn and Sprung to Coming Winter or Portal. The blacks and the whites in the composition can change significantly depending on how it is attained. Sometimes the
white of the paper is seen; sometimes the white is from an uneven edge; sometimes the ink is applied in washes; sometimes the ink is stippled or hatched; sometimes the ink is layered to create the densest of blacks. Moreover, the paper can be abraded, that is, scoured, scratched, wrinkled. I surmise that Fenton marks sheets and then uses them as materials to build these collages, cutting, tearing and arranging to create her compositions. The rough or smooth edges of the smaller shapes, along with the other whites of the treated papers, create different kinds of light. In looking at them, I need to make my eyes adjust to their specific character, just as my eyes adjust in a darkened room. And I follow the paths of illumination, each leading to a different sensation. In Late Climb there is path across the middle of the page, the bottom building toward the lit path, the top a creation of steps of a sky turning into darkness. In Gelid Pond (see the image on the post card above), shapes are defined by white outlines and scratches. And in Generators, it is sparkling—like the air is full of falling ash or the sky is full of stars. Because so many of the shapes are organic, I once again find myself thinking about landscapes and particularly how they look from the distance at night. (I am so reminded of looking out the windows of my daughter’s hi-rise apartment in Jersey City toward the river and New York!) Yet others, like Flourish feel like complicated still lifes. In any case, these c
E Sherman Hayman works in “projects”, that is, a series surrounding a theme. For her last exhibition the theme involved guns and she handed out materials on gun violence. Her
installation included some of the most memorable work that I saw all year—reredos and plaques carrying guns as motif. These works were beautifully crafted, which also holds true for this body of work, or more like two bodies of work. One is called So I Was, Like… and is based on text. The other is Hot Diggity, a group of works based on a dog, Yoshi. Where many of the text-based works are rather large, the “Hot Diggity” works are smaller. They are all said to be “on museum board”, but that is a bit of a misnomer. Museum board is indeed the support and it is treated with mixed media—from
what I can tell, colored pencils, paints, perhaps ink or gouache. But the making also includes sgraffito, a careful process in which the artist carves in then peels away upper layers to reveal a lower layer, usually of a different color. For the most part I have heard this technique in conjunction with ceramics or plaster-work. It takes a very steady and careful hand to do this, particularly with this precision. Other commonalities aside from their materials and process is their humor-- a serious and thoughtful humor! To begin, Ebullient
is in the hallway just outside the entry to E. Sherman Hayman’s gallery and is a perfect preface. The word “EBULlIENT” in a fancified script is carved into the center of a champagne-colored rectangle. About this rectangle a border is also cut while the rest of the board has stripes of various soft and shimmering colors. Within each stripe are circles that go from large to small and small to large forming a pattern on the ground surface. It feels as though I am looking at a system of rising and descending bubbles and I get a kick— be it from sparkling wines, or organized balloons, or celebration-- I float! A more mindful work is Blind which incorporates Braille-like dots throughout the composition.
Two smaller works placed one on top of the other are Giddy and Stoned. Although Stoned has the wavy pattern in purples and blues (where is “mellow yellow”?), Giddy has a script where the two “D”s look like twirling eyes. But don’t just think of these pieces as decoration even though they are highly decorative. The augmenting of the word to the script used to the color and patterns chosen, to the very technique used in applying the materials take these to another level. I have hardly had a chance to talk about the Yoshi series. For the most part I would describe these as silhouettes—profile, front, back—of a dog’s head along with a its shadow is placed in a patterned area. Trying to figure out t
make me wonder, particularly in Yoshi II. The play of cut and peel and color and line makes a real game of the whole idea of a picture plain. Her illusion is that things are actually higher and deeper on the picture plain but look flat. I have to mention my favorite Hot Diggity— Warhol Yoshi. Four happy Yoshis, each a bit different but the same multiplies my feeling of “good luck”—which is one translation of "yoshi".
Lisa M. Hamilton’s gallery glows from the hallway. Light and airy, most of her artworks are
prints—etching, screen-print, relief, monoprint, intaglio—Hamilton does them all. But she has also included two paintings. Reflecting Pool is an encaustic just along the wall entering her space; Contemplation is an oil on wood painting further down that same wall. These two pieces connect to the landscape tradition more than the other pieces. In Contemplation, the world is green-green-green in a variety of ways. Lush with paint strokes and marks, the many green areas are only interrupted once by a complementary color—sprouting from the bottom is some kind of red plant, like a flower coming in from just off the page. Although near the top edge there is a diagonal of a darker green on a field of lighter, more yellowish color, this does not feel like a horizon line. Rather, it feels like a topographical feature in a vast lawn of grasses and plants, some in sunlight, some in shade. The various kinds of markings describe the different textures of plants without specifically determining type, or whether these are of the ground, coming out of the ground, or floating over the ground. I feel a flip-flop sensation because, on the one-hand, I am placed on the edge perhaps in the shade, looking into a field or I could be a bird with an aerial view, deciding where to land. Reflecting Pool, the encaustic work, does much the same kind of thing when it comes to space. The page is divided into three horizontal areas. The bottom part is a violet-blue w
color smooths into the lighter one, small twirled shapes sit along the border between the two. From a distance I thought of them as sea shells but closer I identify them as flowers with stem and leaf. The rest of the page, the top, is a creamy yellow. Through this area, starting off the top edge, are grayish drawn lines. The elliptical shapes recall leaf formations and the sometimes brokenness (especially on the left) indicate branches. That some of these
ellipses are painted in green underscore the sense of “plant” and in their coming from the top, more specifically, “tree”. The use of wax and the specific non-specifics of this scene make me feel as though this is a memory of lived experience but also a metaphor—coming out of the woods to discover a pond with a lone, stopped ripple, dividing you from distant shores and distant hills. As I move from piece to piece I realize how much Hamilton relies on drawing—her lines are beautiful, flowing, and varied. Her compositions are varied, too—radial symmetry in Dandelion (image on the postcard above), radial asymmetry in It May Have Been, all-over pattern in Transparent in the Mass, asymmetry in Intersection and Restricted, and continuation and common fate (actually gestalt principles) in Just a Thought Traveling. But these are all formal issues and there are indications that much of this work is about transition and metaphysics. For example, Weed II After Bager is a black and white work that shows a cross-section of a seed. Inside a seed is an embryonic version of the plant. During germination, the plant sprouts roots and stem and leaves start to grow. Here we can see the transitional state. Similarly, Dandelion, which next to Weed II is also shown as a cross-section but instead we are shown the dying plant, another common “weed”, as it prepares to release its seeds. Death and Birth. Although many of Hamilton’s pieces seem to ask about this veil of death or what happens afterward, her two 3-dimensional pieces allude just as much to the state of real and illusion, concrete vs. abstraction, man-made and natural, causality and time. For example, Transitional Moment shows three leaves hanging from a branch. The branch is obviously from a tree but the leaves are made from screen-printed rice paper attached to forms made by copper wire—thus man-made and natural forms. It is suspended from the ceiling about a foot off the wall. The light of the room, both from lamps and from a glass door cause shadows to be cast.
Soft and purplish, they are caused by different lights at multiple angles making some areas darker and others more ghost-like. Seaweed has many of the same characteristics. The pods are screen-printed rice paper, the individual units are created by wrapping the paper around copper wire forms, the pods are attached to a single stem. But this time the axis, the stem, is of porcelain and the arrangement is a circling vertical. Seaweed tends to move a little more than the more symmetrical lineup of Transitional Moment, but for both I am aware of the shadows as part of the composition. It not only creates a sense of depth, it is a comparative that shifts with the light and my movement, and it shows me that the material can cause the immaterial and proves a lingering existence determined by material but open to possibility.
An important subject in the art of Alysa Bennett is horses. And just as with her first exhibition at Cerulean Collective, there are horse sculptures—five in all. Each are made from unusual but associative materials— four in feathers and one of straw. Generally, these invite touch and mental associations. The feathers relate to the smooth feel of a horse’s coat and to the lushness of the mane and tail. I also think of Pegasus and other pterippi and sky horses of myth. The straw, on the other hand, is something used for bedding—although if this were listed as “hay”, it would also be something that horses eat without danger of colic. Each of the materials are full of allusions and the sculptures
themselves so full of personality—created by pose, body structure, and even color. For example, Lady Blue is made of blue feathers with a white tail. She has her front leg lifted as to paw the ground, making me think of a ballet dancer in retire. The curved fullness of her body and the downward cast of her head suggests that she is a demure matron. Plus the blue coloring of the feathers could relate to a horse so black that under light it shines blue or to those aforementioned sky horses. Work Horse provides an entirely different personality. The speckled, brown and white feathers of the body with black full tail and mane, the thicker body and stick legs, and a head that turns toward us seems
collegial. The patterning in the feathers has me think of a dappled horse or perhaps a brown horse with a white face. The Foal, the horse made of straw, really carries the sense that it has just arisen, wobbly-legged. It appears unbalanced with a wide-spaced stance and the legs all bend toward the front. Plus the legs look so long—which is consistent with actual horses as the length of a foal’s legs are almost as long as they will be when fully grown. And using straw gives the sense of its gaunt and angular appearance. At this point I need to talk about the pedestals on which the horses are standing. These are beautifully made of wood and complement the horse itself. For example, on Blue Lady and The Foal the wood describes a little piece of ground supporting the horse. While on Work Horse Bennett has not only chosen a thick block of weathered wood but also hammered in nails used for shoeing a horse. Previously, I have seen the horse sculptures with portraits of horses made up of many small strokes of charcoal or paint. These reinforced the idea of the horses being made from the chaos of smaller parts—feathers for the sculpture, marks for the drawings and paintings. For this exhibition it is the horses’ environs
that Bennett depicts in colorful paintings and a couple of charcoal drawings. The paintings and sculptures are companion pieces, especially as the 2-d works remind me of the kind of scenes I imagine for the Southwestern United States—that “Home on the Range”. But with the exception of Desert Mountain, trees or a singular tree is the focus-- the center,
foreground subject-- reaching up and out throughout the painting. The horses, on their stick legs, graze, brush, or sweep the ground; the trees, with their bare branches wave back and forth in the sky. It’s all an inverted dance. I could see Work Horse standing before the charcoal on paper Old Poplar or even in front of the more colorful After the Fire. Blue Lady could be matched to almost any of these paintings with success, but I am giving her my favorite, Dancing Tree.
Entering Monica Kane’s gallery is like entering a vault or even a crypt. There is a starkness.
The drawings are charcoal or graphite on paper. For many of them the depicted subject, be it an insect or a bird, are lightly drawn and smallish to the page. Sometimes there is only one, sometimes there are multiples, but all are presented like specimens—some even having a pin through them. I think the saddest is House Sparrow #1 which dissipates as the marks move away from the head. Is the sparrow decomposing? On the other hand, the drawing of the Common Green Darner shows a wonderful study of the body and the wings are brushed in a way that makes it look as if it is flying,
or perhaps hovering. Other objects relate to ghost imagery. That is, they are blank of color, usually white, with rudimentary description and detail, and drab—as opposed to bright or shiny—in a way that makes them somber. For example, in the corner stands Vessel, the largest piece of this group. The vessel is indeed a boat, if small, like a rowboat; if large, like a simple transport. Coming out of a base that looks like a piece of
granite are defoliated branches that make their way through the boat and reach to the sky like stripped sails. Flanking Vessel on its left are a series of boats made of black wire. Called Life Boat #1, Life Boat #2, Life Boat #3. These are long and narrow and described as framework. On Vessel’'s right is a powerful drawing, one of three in the exhibit. Apparently related, all three are charcoal on paper and share The Summer of Falling in their titles. This one is The
Summer of Falling #3 and shows a longboat, perhaps a canoe, at the bottom of a hill in a destroyed woods. A prickly evergreen is either growing from within the boat or next to it. I wonder if I should have hope after depletion. Much of the imagery here has aspects of religiosity. Retablo #1 is an altarpiece in miniature holding a drawing of a winged insect, perhaps a Carpenter Bee. Three pieces that really spoke to me are the Long Boats. Not only are they beautiful in their simplicity but
bring back memories of being a child or being with my own children, and dropping twigs, leaves, or pods into a stream and following them to see where and how they go. So, I stepped away from Monica Kane’s work and pondered “Bugs, Birds, and Boats”. What do they have in common. And I came up with a very different answer than when I entered. All these things are about migration, moving from one place to another and even back again… which is a very complex and life-affirming activity.
Now that I have delved into the artwork of these talented folks I am touched by their introspection, their ability to make art, their intriguing and thought-provoking efforts. This work can only be seen in person, and I urge you to do so, through April 7th.. To see the artworks online go to https://ceruleanarts.com/pages/exhibitions. And click on each of name of the artist.
#AlysaBennett #LeslieFenton #EShermanHatman #LisaMHamilton #MonicaKane #Collage #Drawing #painting #printmaking #sculpture #CeruleanArts #CeruleanArtsCollective #sgrafito #etching #intaglio #monoprint #ink #bugs #boats #migration #horses #words #Hotdiggitydog #itwas #like #mixedmedia