So much more goes into a work of art than meets the eye.
This was brought home during interviews with six of the eight artists who’ve created the 43 works on view in the Summit Artspace exhibit Upstairs-Downstairs.
The artists — Joan Colbert (printmaking); Cari Miller (mixed-media); Terry Klausman (sculpture/drawing); Carolyn Lewis (painting); Katina Pastis Radwanski (painting/sculpture); Bradley Hart (photography); Ron White (sculpture/drawing) and Connie Bloom (art quilts) — represent a wide spectrum of local talent whose work ranges from traditional to abstract.
They all have studios on the third floor of Summit Artspace, the so-called Penthouse, hence the Upstairs-Downstairs title and one of the glues that holds this exhibit together.
It’s also the first time that the resident artists have shown together. They should do it more often, for they have created a strong and delightful show.
In Bloom’s case, the unseen is endemic to works in fiber, especially quilts. Her current work involves what she calls thread painting, also known as free motion quilting or continuous line mark making.
A former reporter and columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal, Bloom has made a second career out of creating fine art quilts, where she continues her gift for storytelling.
Her current pride and joy is Magic Realism, a commissioned quilt done for a professional garden designer whose love of the outdoors inspired its composition: a brilliant sun trapped within a stand of birch trees. Only they aren’t birch trees, but black and white fabric covered in typography and typewritten excerpts from stories.
“The client came to me and asked me to make a sun,” said Bloom. “The first thing I had to think about was where it would be hung, which was over the bed.” That led to the rectangular shape and the large size of the piece.
“It’s strictly a mechanical consideration,” she explained. “I have a certain table size, which is often smaller than the work of art, and I have to be careful about the engineering of the art quilt so that when I start thread drawing across the surface of the quilt, it doesn’t pull, warp or become misshapen.”
She must also consider the types of thread to use, in this case invisible thread to show texture.
“Another aspect of it,” she added, “is what kind of edges it would have, a consideration which is almost as serious as what kind of frame you choose for your painting. The facing that I used made it possible for me to have nice, crisp, clean edges all around.”
Bloom then added crystals to make it interactive: they sparkle when the viewer moves.
Her client especially loves the woods, hence the stand of trees, “but she isn’t married to tradition, so I decided to go with abstraction.”
To be completely accurate, the work isn’t an abstraction, but a fantasy, a reduction of compositional elements to their most basic forms and a nontraditional use of materials: the background is a sumptuous red-green-gold hand-dyed fabric, the trees are black-and-white fabrics that consist of various typescripts and abstract markings, and the sun is a large disc of several shades of swirling yellow seemingly trapped between the trunks.
It’s a sumptuous, elegant and refined piece, one that anyone would like to wake up to in the morning.
Carolyn Lewis’ work continues to evolve and grow. She has begun teaching her students to loosen up on the control they’ve struggled so long to attain, and in the process her own work has begun to change and become more painterly.
“I make them use their nondominant hand, to use a palette knife instead of a brush, to paint upside down — things like that,” Lewis explained.
Red Rocks, Roxborough Park, CO, is a case in point. “This was a demo that I did for a class. It’s done very quickly, painting fast and loose,” for the most part with a palette knife.
“I put an antelope in there for scale, and you can see that those aren’t bushes, but trees,” she said, pointing to ghostly looking forms in the middle ground, laid in quickly with the edge of a blade then refined a bit with a few brushed-in details.
The large, arrow-shaped eponymous rocks are found at the edge of the Arrowhead Golf Club in Littleton, Colo.
Still Standing was painted during the Hudson Garden Tour, Lewis said, and took third place in the Portrait Society of America Exhibit.
Lewis surpasses herself in this traditional landscape, with its beautifully muted shadows and softly textured whites. It’s so richly composed and the paint is so wonderfully handled that we don’t even mind the shorthand strokes that she uses to depict leaves and herbaceous borders.
The range of tones she achieves in this work is to die for, from creamy lights to chocolaty darks and wonderfully realized, mouth-watering shades and shadows in between. It’s a small, but lovely and desirable work.
Also highly desirable, being wonderfully conceived and executed, are Colbert’s linoleum block prints from As Potent as a Charm, part of her poisonous plants series.
The series title is a phrase taken from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story, Rappaccini’s Daughter, about a girl who tends her father’s collection of lovely, yet lethal plants and who, as the story progresses, becomes just as lovely and lethal as the flowers she nurtures.
Her mischievous take on indiscreet monks, wayward wolves and dallying maidens makes for a dark-humored tripartite tryst, the underlying theme of which is monkshood, a well-known poisonous plant, every part of which is lethal. Monkshood, or aconitum, is also known as “the queen of poisons,” aconite, wolf’s bane, leopard’s bane, women’s bane, devil’s helmet or blue rocket. Toxins extracted from the plant were once used to kill wolves.
Klausman has grounded the gallery with his welded steel sculptures that seem to grow out of the no-nonsense flooring like windswept trees.
“I have three examples of what I call my industrial period that I started in 2011. They represent my life in the industrial manufacturing business, and some of the cool things I’ve seen. Lately I’ve been really getting into minimalism and reading everything I can get my hands on,” Klausman said, looking at his treelike forms that rise on rough, cubist trunks then waft off into the ether on delicate, twisting branches.
“Minimalism is a pretty difficult place in which to create,” he acknowledged. “I want to create something that’s muscular as well as elegant shapes. There’s this whole dichotomy between the masculine and the feminine that I want to explore.”
His titles do that for us: Pirouette, Large Gazelle and Umbilicus, as well as Industrial Series 1, 2 and 3.
Hart seems to have achieved the impossible: digitally printed black-and-white photographs that seem to have been printed on old-fashioned silver-toned papers. His mid-tones are the strikingly silvery, especially in the strongly composed beachscapes.
“I was in Virginia Beach for a commercial assignment, and they wanted beach shots,” Hart explained. “It was late in the day, and after I did my commercial shots, I just walked along with my head down and took these images. The tide was coming in — low tide, I think.”
The lapping white surf creates strong, dark shadows along a lined and wrinkled shore in the composition Hart calls Argument.
Later, at another commercial shoot, this time in Santa Monica, he climbed up to the top of the famous Santa Monica pier, looked over the side and saw a handicap ramp with a tier of switchbacks caught in stark relief by the setting sun.
“I saw this section made up of stark lines. It was in 2009, at the depth of the recession and the economy was bleak, abandoned, forsaken,” he explained. “It just felt like that — desolate,” so that’s what he titled the photograph.
His two jewel-toned color photographs, Hole in the River and Where Memory Lies were both made in Virginia Kendall Park and are achieved by in-camera multiple exposures.
“I often use multiple exposure to express all the feelings I had,” he said. “The color is from the time of year. These are actually printed on metallic paper, and in the right light the colors really pop off the page.”
Miller is a graphic designer who has been lucky enough to have had some of her faux-naïf work shown on national television.
“Yep, the suns are kind of famous,” she smiled. “I have had five of them on CBS Sunday Morning. I’ve made 15 to 20 of the suns.”
Her gold-outlined depiction of the Akron Art Museum was used by the AAM as an ornament during the last holiday season. Miller’s work is a prime example of how you just never really know a work of art until you see it up close and personal.
I highly recommend you see this show — all of it — live and in person. You’ll thank me.
Dorothy Shinn writes about art and architecture for the Akron Beacon Journal. Send information to her at the Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640 or firstname.lastname@example.org.