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New Year: New Name: New Artists
Gwenda Jay Addington Gallery
The Gwenda Jay Addington Gallery's new exhibition, "New Year: New Name: New Artists," is yet another pleasurable success in a gallery that has consistently introduced and showcased excellent art; and this show was well worth the trek through the aftermath of Chicago's Blizzard of '99. Featured through February 15th are select oils and mixed media work by Catherine Woskow, Sherry Karver, and Scott Hill.
Catherine Woskow is represented by three female nudes. The gallery statement summarizes Woskow's subject matter as ranging "from delicate portrayals of the female form to satirical representations of thought-inspiring group settings, offering an unobtusive view of various social settings." In this show, Woskow's three back-view nudes are "Back Study" (41" x 43"), "Reclined" (39" x 58"), and "Sepia Profile" (41" x 43").
Woskow's "Back Study," shown here, exemplifies the work displayed in this showing. Her muted palette, while harkening back to a centuries-old master tradition, affords her a subtle but profound play of deeply personal, even sensuous lighting. She brings forth, out of the washes, a wordless rapport with her subject. The works offer a psychology of light and a phenomenology of modeled form. She conveys a sensuousness of living form at repose in ethereal space, and does so without falling into sensuality. The images are such as to stir a viewer to want to quietly speak out and inquire as to the mood of the model: one is presented with an elemental fact of mood and personality. It is a quality of the best artists, from Sandro Botticelli and Rembrandt to Andrew Wyeth. And it confirms the human body as one of the most expressive vehicles for exploring an existence limited to senses hard-wired to the human mind's topology.
The artist's choice of muted palette is an innate wisdom: the effects of full color would only seduce the eye and mitigate against the psychology and spirit achieved in these works. This principle is one which led an Andrew Wyeth to favor the refined subtleties of egg tempera and drybrush watercolor. Woskow, however, arrives at her achievement through oil wash and graphite line, also one of the more difficult media.
Her style, which she terms "pure painting," integrates technique and inspiration with a spontaneous manner full of risks. The artist statement explains: "The oil washes interact with a quick, decisive graphite line, and a counterpoint of accident and control is established. Keen observation of the nuances of the body's form and structure is in evidence in these paintings, yet the materials are allowed to act on the surface in a way that highlights the process." The artist thus not only risks much in following a refined and difficult inspiration, but further dares to trust that her hand and eye will create serendipity where the freedom of the materials could easily destroy her investment of time and labor. Her willingness to accept these risks deserves full praise in light of the results she achieves. They create a style that is entirely her own.
Like "Back Study," the paintings, "Reclined" and "Sepia Profile," do have roots in traditional subject matter. The poses in themselves resonate to familiar legacies, but comparison with Ingres, John Trumball, Wyeth or any other artist merely underscores Woskow's distinct signature style.
Perhaps, for the conservative traditionalist, Waskow's free play of wash might at first seem a disturbing feature, just as the current art school establishment, always eager for "isms" and brute novelties, might be inclined to dismiss her representational approach and -- no matter how original -- her building upon previous tradition. But Waskow's nudes are a refined and moving experience. They merit an unhurried and deliberative viewing.
The artist works on acid-free museum board, which she first coats with two layers of gesso. She then uses her muted palette of oils, turpentine and varnish, together with gestural pencil sketches to complete these paintings. It is a traditional medium, but a durable one which has stood the test of time. And the gallery explains: "Due to the difficult nature of these materials, which are at times uncontrollable, during the final stage of her process, she must work quickly. Some works can be spoiled at this point, unless the proper delicacy is employed, and in the end 'it either works or it doesn't.'" The paintings are of as fine a quality physically as they are in content. Collectors should be grateful that such fine work is destined to be materially permanent.
Scott Hill, a native and resident of Trenton, Georgia, is in his mid-twenties, but the numerous oils and painted antique shop postcards on display at the Gwenda Jay Addington Gallery reveal an abiding concern with the persistence of the past. A second reoccurring motif in his work emerges in the timelessness of mature reveries. The gallery statement declares: "His paintings are reminiscent of a long-gone style found in the brooding landscapes of 16th Century Spanish artists and the shadowy, gilt-framed works of 19th Century Romanticism." That the Gwenda Jay Addington has also included with the oils, a selection of the artist's postcard paintings is gratifying. (There is a set of three in the center room, and more on the stairwell to the upper level of ongoing exhibits.)
It is not surprising that at his first public meeting with gallery-goers in Atlanta, Georgia, the Dade Sentinel News editor quoted the then 24-year old artist as "meeting these people who are, apparently, expecting some 60-year old man to be behind my paintings."
Several of Hill's paintings focus on now-dated forms of flight. And dirigibles are prominent. "Zeppelin 1937," a card image in oil, shown here, is an example. Scott Hill's paintings bring to mind the advances that Turner and Whistler brought to landscape painting: they evoke the impressions of what one might see, rather than delineate the naturalistic depiction of objects or events. They are landscapes of temporal moods and atmospheres, and the paintings often conceal innuendoes of events in some personal history occurring somewhere off canvas. A particularly fine example of this phenomenon is the central painting, entitled "Freedom." in the gallery's middle room. The painting presents a Diogenes-like figure wandering the hillocks. Particularly as the work is displayed in the company of dirigible and biplane paintings, "Freedom" gives the distinct impression that the figure is seeking or awaiting a frail lighter-than-air craft. The viewer is drawn to wondering if the underlying context suggests an anticipated arrival, now overdue, or perhaps anxiety over some craft now feared to be lost. There is much in Hill's rendering that brings to mind the work of Jean Francois Millet and yet, unlike much of Millet, the artist supplies the viewer with no discernible anecdote. The viewer may well decide that the title freedom lies with the unconfined figure on the ground -- certainly many of the accompanying paintings suggest that man in flight is fettered and at the mercy of his mechanical contrivances. In another work of the show, the viewer is shown a dirigible in flames. An earlier generation's memories of the "Hindenberg" are still in earshot and attest to the courage demanded of us by our dreams.
In an interview with Ann Nichols for the Free Press Arts Writer, Scott Hill observed: "I like the idea of bringing out something that is forgotten and reintroducing it in a new way." If his paintings move so much in a aura of historicity, then Scott Hill's postcards all the more build upon that vision. The artist's "antiquing" expeditions gather old postcards, and he has tried to harmonize his paintings on the message side with the postcard's attendant imagery. Rebecca Carlisle of the Dade County Sentinel however noted: "He does not recreate the picture on the front of the postcard. If he tries to recreate anything, it is the sense of the message on the back. For instance, he may paint a seascape on a postcard on which someone has written a message about a beach trip."
Scott Hill primarily employs a technique of glazing in his oil works. He brushes layers of paint thinned with linseed oil, turpentine or varnish, building up translucent paint layers that allow underlying colors to bleed through. This does give his work a visual depth and vibrancy and adds to the illusion of an aged appearance. Hill also experiments -- with watercolors, oil pastels and even coffee staining, this latter a technique often used to harmonize new paper with old.
The artist received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Georgia in 1994 and has studied with Charles Hinman, Charles Morgan and Bill Paul. In 1996 he was invited by the noted British watercolorist, Trevor Waugh, to study with him in England.
Hill's Oil glazing technique and openness to the historic lineage in art expression complements the exhibition's fellow artists, Catherine Woskow and Sherry Karver.
Sherry Karver, the third artist in this showing, is represented by paintings in her "Grand Central Station Series." These paintings began in photographs she has taken in Grand Central Station, New York City. She then cut and pasted the images into a composition and manipulated the results on the computer using the application, Photoshop. The black and white images were then printed out and professionally enlarged on archival paper. The paper is then mounted on a wooden board and painted over with transparent oil glazes.
It is difficult to decide about Karver's work. The photographs are her own work and her computer manipulation has produced a well balanced composition. The soft focus and traces of halftone screen do lend a Georges Seurat touch, albeit with a mechanical regularity. On the whole, her paintings evoke something akin to 19th Century French posterwork; or the very competent photographic visuals found in the advertisements of glossy magazines. One almost expects a voice from the wall: "Don't leave home without it." In short, the formal technique is well executed, but one does not feel that the visual offers much more than immediately meets the eye.
Karver has an impressive list of showings, activities and sales, as four pages of resume attest.
The artist declares: "Grand Central Station seems elementally symbolic of a place where lives meet, cross, and move on through time. It is the point of arrival and departure for generations." About her paintings she concludes: "The figurative imagery brings back a feeling of humanity into my art and into our technological world, and is in direct contrast to the computerized means that helped to create the image itself. In my work I want to give the viewer something to think about. To be able to put their own interpretations into the piece, and create their own narratives. Most importantly, I want the viewer to come away feeling that my working is haunting, evocative, or mysterious in some way."
One must agree that Grand Central Station seems symbolic of a place where people meet, cross, and move on. Because it is such a place. I simply do not feel that the artist has invested enough in what is displayed before the viewer to bear out her intent, and I have doubts that most experienced viewers will respond strongly enough to fulfill her postulates. The paintings must speak for themselves. For art, theory and text copy will not endow what is not visually realized in the paintings.
I see very similar and much more engaging work in commercial art each month. Indeed, commercial art today offers much of the cutting edge in art, as Skip and Malcolm Liepke or Brad Holland demonstrate. And commercial artists like Jack Davis and Ellie Dickson have been doing similar computer-assisted art solely with the computer for years. And I am certainly an advocate of computer technology as a medium, as I am an advocate of any medium which furthers an artist's creations. But most often a medium is chosen because it best expresses an artist's own creativity. Karver has said: "My work is not painting in the traditional sense, but a synthesis of different elements to create a new format." Perhaps what fails me is a suspicion that an artist also most often creates a new format to develop an artistic insight, rather than creates work in order to develop a new format. It's not a hard and fast rule. But it often happens.
The choice of oil glaze hardly seems inevitable here, if not primarily as an exertion to tie in some traditional medium. One may gild water pipes, but the utility of the gilding and the aesthetic value of the plumbing are still subject to question. It will be instructive to see how Sherry Karver's career and art develop in the coming decade.
"New Year: New Name: New Artists" is well worth a trip to the Gwenda Jay Addington Gallery. The exhibition continues until February 15, 1999. And one should be certain to view with attention the art on the gallery's upper level as well.
--G. Jurek Polanski
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