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Psychotherapy: (Or "Let's See If She's Crazy"), 2000
Oil on linen
© Gay Griffin Riseborough 2001

at the Chicago Athenaeum

February 16-May 20, 2001
Wednesday-Friday: 11 AM-6 PM;
Sat, Sun: 12-5 PM.

Chicago Athenaeum
190 South Roselle Road
Schaumburg, Illinois 60193
Telephone: 847/ 895-3950

Part I

The best art directors know that reproductions, however faithful, inevitably lie -- "Poetry is what is lost in the translation"; Traduttore traditore (To translate is to betray). There is no substitute for the original work: Which is why, for anyone who seeks an introduction to Chicago's current art, "Art Scene Chicago 2000," at the Chicago Athenaeum until May 20, 2001, is a golden opportunity. The recent book by that title, released in October 2000 by Crow Woods Publishing, is excellent. The Chicago Athenaeum nows displays a number of originals from the anthology, 'in the flesh,' as well as many newer works.

Art Scene, Chicago 2000 was reviewed in www.artscope.net when that book first came out. The book covers significant ground, and covers it well. It's what Chicago artists need; what collectors, galleries, museums, followers of art, should demand. This Chicago Athenaeum showing affords close viewing, sufficient lighting and leisurely walking room. One can enjoy the art, and there is a broad selection in media, technique, expression, and, certainly, in content. Some works delight and some disturb. At least one, currently, has stirred 'a tempest in a tiny pot of tea.' Enjoy.

What's in this showing? Over 71 Chicago artists (some are included from Crow Woods's earlier book, The Chicago Art Scene, reviewed here February 1999). Gay Griffin Riseborough's Psychotherapy: (Or "Let's See If She's Crazy") (2000) exemplifies one current in contemporary art which has shown surprising vitality and elicits deep response: a dramatic use of realism to explore personal and human issues, often confronting sociological and popular hearsay. If in our time, theories have endeavored to reduce our faiths and feelings to therapies, and made the soul a subject of experiment, have set our sense of self against scripted images in ads and on TV, then Riseborough's art conceals a wry dissent, a half-accepting question mark. The artist states that in her art, she comes "to terms with certain dark events in my life." In Psychotherapy, the apparent patient of two 'soul doctors' rests peacefully on a coffin-like couch. An alchemic radiance radiates from above her brow... the eerily intense reflection from a flashlight held by a hovering figure at right. A second, suited personage at left holds a skull cap, presumably removed by the hacksaw which rests upon an elegant handkerchief at lower right foreground. This might well be a portrait of a vivisected soul. The role of science, and its surrogates, in a human scheme of things is today a passionate debate. Psychotherapy strikes immediately, and it stirs a wake of thought. Riseborough, now represented by Wood Street Gallery, is always a subtle and provocative artist. In "Art Scene Chicago 2000," she is not alone.

In recent years, art has seen more realism which is not confined to the image within the frame; images which imply a meta-theme beyond the seen, but which draw the viewer to arrive at formulations based on his own experience. Past realisms depicted their content; many modernisms, of Malevich, Kandinsky, Klee or Miro, sought to capture and embody Spiritual or Platonic archetypes. Increasingly in such art, there is a greater subtlety, an ambiguity, a metaphysics of the real. American poet, William Carlos Williams, once called for "no ideas but in things." Such art, in reflection and in mood, suggests what words cannot express. That suits the American experience. And it makes for excellent art.

Brave Hearts, 1999
Sculptural weaving: mixed media
© Rubin Steinberg 1999

Grace V. Cole is another artist whose painting, in direct, laconic image, and with rich, deep color and glaze, suggests that pigments on linen are the prologue to a sense of things beyond philosophy: the themes of life as lived, which spoken words can only betray. The titles of her paintings reinforce that sense. Cole's Museum of... Eternal Life (Oil on canvas:2001) at the Chicago Athenaeum, a very recent work, forms a logical complement to her series in the most recent Crow Woods volume. The paintings published in that book were quickly sold. Indeed, for a subsequent showing (reviewed as "Art Scene Chicago 2000," Feb. 2001), the artist hung paintings that were completed just before the opening. Mark Pelnar is another artist whose work implies a meta-theme beyond schematically composed images of mute objects. Pelnar's Still Life with Architectural Study #2 adds to his paintings featured in the Crow Woods book. (The volume illustrates #1 and #3, his acrylics from this series.) As noted in a www.artscope.net review of this artist (also Feb. 2001), Pelnar's work harkens to a Scuola Metafisica, a living insight into mood and materiality which is found in objects which the artist orchestrates. The gallery visitor will find "no idea but in things." This is a gratifying art. It offers pause to contemplate.

A tower against a bright blue sky.... Roland Kulla's Evening (Acrylic on canvas) reveals that a sense of moment, as well as a selected individual or objects, can evoke an appreciation of being in the world. Evening, a single Chicago view, might as well be a specific moment in Berlin or London; the image is a modern icon of what we live. By moments relived, we become attached to place. Christopher Buoscio's Court Restaurant (Oil on canvas) reflects his focus on the urban night. Here, a corner restaurant, conspicuously of a modern style, steel and glass, seems a refuge from solitude. Carol Luc's Revelation (1999:Oil:40"x60") examines places, without reference to the people who must, of necessity, have played a role with them. Charlie B. Thorne's Employees' Entrance (Oil, pastel on black board), in the mode of Edward Hopper, presents a side entrance to a place of work: a specific site, repeated many times throughout the world. An entire current in philosophy - phenomenology - has examined just such emotional attachments. The artist captures moment, and endless archetype. Words are superfluous. A reader should come and view the art.

Poet William Blake wrote: "To see a world in a grain of sand..." and drew conclusions. For the perceptive, a object singled out, a humble object, but regarded with intent, reveals its role within a complex whole. Steven Carrelli's Pendulum (Egg tempura on panel:14 3/4"x10 3/4":1998), as with much of this artist's work, trusts in that. The Pendulum, a mentor of the physicists, has served bricklayers, surveyors, clockmakers; the tool has been so much. Carrelli's art revolves on this -- the telling detail, which offers the viewer its particular significance. In a kindred spirit, Deborah Maris Lader's Flexion-Extension Unit Wrench, from this artist's "Tool Series," posits questions; it singles out the tool. The viewer is prompted to consider how it shapes a human life.

Rubin Steinberg's Brave Hearts (1999) is a quasi-bas relief weaving of acrylic paint, brass repousse, brass-gold assemblage, toy figures, skeletons, cork, leather, and material on canvas. It measures 36"x48". Despite a Bachelor of Education degree from the Chicago Teachers College, an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a Master of Education from Roosevelt University, Steinberg regards himself as a 'crossover,' out of the mainstream: an artist bridging fine art and craft. The artist's hands respond to diverse materials to produce an intuitive, Surrealistic, and yet formally integral art. Further in Art Scene, Chicago 2000, Bruno Surdo is an artist who combines pictorial space with conceptual fantasy through a highly skilled illusionism. In Surdo's Still in Motion (Oil on canvas) the viewer enters a twilight zone where gravity is cancelled: busts, apples and leaves, cups, books, papers, and a picture frame all float above a checkerboard which directs the eye toward an unseen vanishing point. Each object seems a classic teaching aid for some subconscious truth; each has drifted into sight like flotsam from a black primeval depth beyond. This canvas is pictured in the Crow Woods volume. This artist has been earlier reviewed ("Bruno Surdo," March 2001). Curt Frankenstein's The Yin and Yang Rider (Oil on linen: 42"x60":1999) is a more directly conceptual Surrealism which harkens both to Salvador Dali and Rene Magritte. In The Yin and Yang Rider, a seated jockey floats suspended between two wall fragments; on the left is painted the front half of a white charger, at left, an analogous wall sports the fore of a black horse. This oil recalls the medieval theme of the ass placed equidistant between two bales of hay, which, unable to choose, hungers. Frankenstein has observed: "He can choose either way, nevertheless both halves constitute one whole nature."

Double Stacked Odalisque, 1996
Charcoal, pastel, acrylic on canvas
© Frank Piatek 1996

For other artists in this exhibition, objects and scientific interests prompt a complex and primal interplay of form and color. Dannielle Tegeder's Cherry Narcosis (Mixed media on canvas) seems a Surrealistic melding of sensory pleasure and medical diagnosis. This artist was reviewed earlier (Nov. 2000), and will show new paintings at Jan Cicero Gallery, Chicago, May 4 - June 2, 2001. In her oil on canvas, Lizardo (36"x48":1997), Sallie Gilmore Roniss uses a vivid palette to reconcile precise figurative elements with a working of the paint that at times suggests controlled improvisation -- 'action painting.' Roniss calls her art "a process of juxtaposing ancient cultural embodiment with today's social structure." In Lizardo, a human female appears poised to kiss a stone bust. Her hair and head, in a manner worthy of Arcimboldo, are composed of sea debris -- strands of hair twisted into cords, eel grass and rooted bulbs, even what at first appears an oyster shell, but which, upon close inspection reveals within an adult form in fetal position. At lower right, an iguana interlopes. One feels that a Roberto Matta or Paul Tchelitchew has evolved under the influence of Chicago Imagism. But Roniss's art is distinctive, allusive, and coherent, never eclectic. Her Lizardo is featured in the Crow Woods book. James McNeill Mesple's Point and Counterpoint (Egg tempura and oil on canvas) draws upon and re-invents historical prototypes in well-contrasted color and with strong symbolic imagery.

Among the works in "Art Scene Chicago 2000," at the Chicago Athenaeum, abstraction, figurative or expressionist, is also well-represented. Frank Piatek's Double Stacked Odalisque (Charcoal, pastel, acrylic on canvas:52"x70":1996) is a prime example. Piatek, a leading Chicago artist, has consistently focused on intertwined tubular forms as central motif throughout his art, and asserts "...tubes are arms, trees, legs, coils, bodies balloons, boyscout knots, dirigibles, parachutes, pillows," adding of late "DNA Double Helix chains and speculative visions of vibrating Super Strings in multiple dimensions." Piatek's work is excellent, but it is particularly striking how this artist employs a fundamental form to successfully interpret a very wide range of reference. Double Stacked Odalisque, while purely abstract, captures in its strategic arrangement of coils, a sense of female nude. Piatek's keen handling of subdued, almost monochromatic palette, and his molding of soft shadow and highlight to add volumetric depth within the image collaborates well to lend specificity to each titled piece. (Frank Piatek was reviewed by www.artscope.net in "Transcultural Visions," Feb. 2001)

"Infusing images of dreams and fantasy with a feeling of tangibility has always been an objective of mine." Tangibility: an artist's deeply felt perceptions made visible. Kathleen King displays in this showing her Ominous Subterfuge (1999:Oil, acrylic & acrylic transfer:39"x31"x1 1/2"). Amid a scattered turbulence of mosaic patternings, forms microbial and like bubbled living jewels, a loose but dolphin-like form resolves from the image ground in the upper center of this canvas. Ominous Subterfuge at first seems akin to a Juan Miro or Vassily Kandinsky exploring the working methods of Gustave Klimt. The latest Crow Woods book presents a wider range of this artist's repertoire. This exhibition is but a sampling. Jill King's Above Center (1999:Oil on linen:60"x42") confirms a first impression that this artist somehow explores a New World archeology of the mind. At start, that impression seems capricious, but this artist's use of glowing-ember reds, earthen, coppered greens, turquoise and cobalt blues recalls the hues of Aztec, Mayan and kindred Pre-Columbian artifacts. Jill King seeks "living fields of energy made up of mythoglyphic forms and patterns." Above Center meticulously applies small pseudo-hieroglyphic elements to build upon a overall pattern in which concentric rings vie with an underlying radial grid. This painting seems both a synthesis of Aztec calendar stones and the postulates of quantum physicists. As humans, we respond to patterns. It is how we understand the world. Jill Kind's art brings an examined clarity to our sight.

Extinct (dodos), 1999
Etching on Aquatinted
yellow background
© Bert Menco 1999

Among the Modernist avenues of art, two major currents emerge. Art historian, Herbert Read, summarized in noting: "...the 'machinism' of [Marcel] Duchamp and [Francis] Picabia was never motivated by an acceptance of a machine aesthetic (as the later work of the Constructivists); rather it was a revolt against the machine ethic, against the subordination of human values to mechanistic values." But Modernism, and machines -- technology and scientism -- are ever with us, have shaped Modernity, and often for the good. Still humans have sought to remain human; and have aspired to even more. In this, artists have led the way. They have much to offer still.

Joyce Martin Perz's Color Construct #1 is an acrylic on canvas not figured in the Crow Woods book. The Chicago Athenaeum now exhibits it. Perz's work unites sculptural dimension with flat, painted surface. The artist employs low relief, adding wood or canvas pieces to the work, which itself is a configuration of multiple canvases. Surface modeling and ambient shadow as well as painted form contribute to the final work. Color Construct #1 analytically configures wide bands of color, at times in contrast to each other, at times in a visual harmony. In this art, a musical analogy is not out of place. One viewer at the Chicago Athenaeum spoke of a Disney Fantasia, but in a more meditative pace; and that is a clear insight. In music, as in sculpture, an authentic 'action' precedes dissection of what it is one feels.

Similarly, in Thomas H. Kapsalis's Big Transition (Acrylic on canvas:50"x38":1998), sight leaps before the words. The Philosopher Blaise Pascal once said that a person first perceives fact, and only afterward finds reasons. "The heart has reasons, reason cannot know." Big Transition is reproduced in the anthology. It is on exhibit, 'in the flesh,' and it has logic wholly itself. Not all such artists have entered into complete Platonic archetypes. Izumi Yoshitani's Voyage II, in fact, recognizes a balance of "tranquility and frustration" which comes from a visual language reduced to telegraphic simpleness. A viewer sees and understands, and when asked for words, grows mute. Such "tranquility and frustration" is more open in the art of Yumiko Irei-Gokce. This artist's Urge of Growth: Sprouting answers to the work included in Crow Woods's Art Scene, Chicago 2000. More classifiable as prints or drawings, the work of Irei-Gokce utilizes multiple colors, and even printings, to create a final piece. Always, a figurative reference lingers from the initial inspiration, and is, with effort, discernable. In this art, an actuality is opened and presented to the viewer's own response. This artist has acknowledged her art's motivating Buddhist aesthetic, and the results speak eloquently.

"I am interested in the archeology of my time." With that, Gosia Koscielak summed her concerns with the human condition within the course of unforgiving History and impersonal Prehistory. At the Chicago Athenaeum, she is exhibiting a piece from her "Gaps in Memory" series (Mixed media on wood). This is a wooden disk with a central reflector element. Such an object, in its subdued earthen tones, evokes the enigmatic objects -- Neolithic grave goods or South Pacific fetishes -- which so often are the sole traces of cultures and beliefs now lost. Laurie Wohl's Sun Garment (Unweaving(TM) and mixed media) also bridges painting and object art. Dual panels which are hung on a rod reveal her technique of unravelling the base fabric's warp or weft threads to reconstitute a final work with paint and applied materials.

Not all is entirely lost in the course of history and often art preserves the living memory. Heath Matyjewicz's Jerimiah Lamenting Over Jerusalem's Destruction (Acrylic on paper:36"x31":1998) confirms that role; as does Bert Menco's ... Extinct. Matyjewicz's paintings focus on biblical themes and human rights. His strong graphic approach often revolves about the individual isolated in moral conflict or by the awareness of enduring histories, and this, coupled with a disciplined but expressionistic technique, allies him with artists such as Ben Shahn, or earlier, Georges Rouault. Bert Menco's etching, ... Extinct, suggests the Dodo as a metaphor, as if naivete must yield to the powers of the world, captivity. Much of this artist's work, although modern in its rendering, nonetheless evokes the mannered, allegorical illuminations of medieval texts: pauper's bible for the secular. Image is never purely image; in subtle ways and wordlessly it writes it own significance.

With an exhibition that offers much of quality, a notice can only flag it for the viewer's attention. "Art Scene Chicago 2000," is at the Chicago Athenaeum until May 20, 2001. (The book was reviewed by www.artscope.net, Oct. 2000.) It is a sampling of currents in Chicago art, and it offers a wide variety of notable work.

Finis Part I

--G. Jurek Polanski

Jurek Polanski has previously written and art edited for Strong Coffee in Chicago. He's also well known and respected among the Chicago museums and galleries. Jurek is currently a Visual Arts Correspondent for ArtScope.net.

Editorial Note: Books mentioned in www.artscope.net reviews may be purchased through this site's Barnes & Noble link. Ivy Sundell's Art Scene. Chicago 2000 (Crow Woods Publishing: 2000) has a website: http://sites.netscape.net/crowwoods1/. William Carlos Williams is cited from his epic of place, Paterson [N.J.], Book 1 (1946). William Blake is quoted from Auguries of Innocence (c.1803). Herbert Read is quoted from A Concise History of Modern Art (Thames and Hudson:1991).

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