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“Southern Stories: Print Big!” at Atlanta Printmakers Studio

In a village with many new people moving in, some old and new friends gathered to make something memorable. (Why printmaking is fun: parties form to make it happen.)

Woodblock carved by Atlanta Printmakers Studio, displayed at Print Big! April 13, 2013

Woodblock carved by Atlanta Printmakers Studio, displayed at Print Big! April 13, 2013

A visitor from far away helped with carving a block of wood. His name is Sean Starwars. He taught young artists how he works. (Why printmaking is fun: Two words: Sean Starwars.)

Sean Starwars carving a woodblock at Print Big! on April 13, 2013

Sean Starwars carving a woodblock at Print Big! on April 13, 2013

Other people formed groups to carve large and detailed woodblocks. Then ink was rolled on to the blocks while last-minute details were tended. (Why printmaking is fun: The aroma of the ink.)

Preparing a woodblock with ink, at Print Big! April 13, 2013

Preparing a woodblock with ink, at Print Big! April 13, 2013

After a white cloth was lain atop the inked woodblock, a big green visitor from a construction site rolled over it. (Why printmaking is fun: It involves mashing.)

Large print almost ready for pressing at Print Big! sponsored by Atlanta Printmakers Studio, April 13, 2013

Large print almost ready for pressing at Print Big! sponsored by Atlanta Printmakers Studio, April 13, 2013

The new print was then hung to dry and to be admired. (Why printmaking is fun: It causes the sun to shine and cast shadows.)

Freshly pressed print by a crew from Savannah College of Art and Design, at Print Big! sponsored by Atlanta Printmakers Studio, April 13, 2013

Freshly pressed print by a crew from Savannah College of Art and Design, at Print Big! sponsored by Atlanta Printmakers Studio, April 13, 2013

Thank you, Gina Reynoso of the Atlanta Printmakers Studio for anwering my questions!

“Enlightenments”: Gigino Falconi Paintings at Besharat Gallery

Gigino Falconi is eighty years old this year, with a long life of art behind him. His work demonstrates a vision unique to him, and his powers of drawing from life and nature help him to paint that figurative vision with clarity. In his work from the last decade now on view at the Besharat Gallery, Mr. Falconi’s view of women is the main subject. At the age of eighty, he continues to pursue an obsession around the power of sexual attraction to women.

If there is a unifying scenario in these images, perhaps it is this: I’m in a beautiful place near a natural harbor. It’s a broad harbor protected by low mountains. All sorts of boats come here to dock. As I stroll toward the shore, I notice a woman relaxing near some fishing boat docks. Then I come near enough to see her fully. She is very close to a boat dock, hidden from the dock by some large boulders that line the shore. She lies naked on a bed with sumptuous sheets. Yes, there is a bed there, out in the open. It’s not something a fisherman would have put there. The woman seems to have brought it there. As I come close to her, she looks at me, but she is not startled or concerned to cover herself. No, she welcomes me.

Il Porto, detail, Gigino Falconi, acrylic on canvas, 55.12 x 70.87 in., scan from exhibit catalog

Il Porto, detail, Gigino Falconi, acrylic on canvas, 55.12 x 70.87 in., scan from exhibit catalog

It’s a simple and cliché fantasy. It says far more about the viewer in the scenario than it does about the woman being portrayed. The viewer loves the creases of naked female flesh and the folds of comfortable cloth; loves the availability of silent, vulnerable women; loves to think it’s great to have sex in the open air.

There are no dangers to the viewer’s erotic arousal in that fantasy, especially not coming from the woman being portrayed. However, Falconi the eighty-year-old does see danger in the particular fantasies that these paintings display. Frequently the clouds in the open-air rendezvous are black with imminent violence. Sometimes a bright and mysterious, arced light falls on the woman, as if a giant flashlight were being pointed by God. The Flashlight of Judgment, or the searchlight of predatory fishermen?

Sometimes it’s just the folds of those plush sheets that suggest danger. For the most part the folds of garments and sheets are finely and delicately painted, as if to suggest the presence of contemplation. In some cases, though, Falconi draws the folds as if they had a life of their own and could mold into being certain unwanted, unshapely objects beneath the concealing cover of the cloth.

Sogno Bianco, detail, Gigino Falconi, acrylic on canvas, 78.78 x 37.40 in., scan from exhibit catalog

Sogno Bianco, detail, Gigino Falconi, acrylic on canvas, 78.78 x 37.40 in., scan from exhibit catalog

A similar danger is found in paintings simply portraying the harbor. Those boulders on the shore suggest a threat to the calm, anchored fishing boats. Beneath the silky, smooth skin of the water, one senses that hard, jagged objects lurk and wait to slash the hulls of the boats. In one painting even the sky is violated by a flying sea monster bent on finding prey (perhaps a reference to a legendary monster at Lake Como).

Falconi’s color palette ranging from black to blue to tan and flesh emphasizes the gravity of the erotic question he confronts. His division of some of the paintings with grid lines or wooden dividers suggests an attempt to find more distance on his subject.

The exhibit is called “Enlightenments,” which suggests that there are different types of epiphany. May I suggest the alternate title, Flash-lights?

“Enlightenments” is on view through May 31, 2013, at Besharat Gallery.

Seen on TV: Former Atlantan’s Work on Set; Sells at Target

I look through the art for sale at Target when I’m there. Some of the pieces have signatures but when I try to research the artists I generally find nothing. One notable exception is the work of Rodney White. Last time I was at Target on Edgewood Avenue he had a piece for sale (there were two of them available) called “Today.” It’s packed in cardboard printed with the artist’s website address.

From his website and several other places around the internet I learned that he hails from Augusta, Georgia, and he lived in Atlanta for several years before moving to Brooklyn.

On his “Rodney White Art” Facebook page he posts clips of his work as it appears on television in set decorations. Some of the programs listed are “Californication” and “The Office.”

Target’s website gives the following plug for the “Today” piece: “Spruce up your room with modern art when you hang the painting ‘Today’ from American painter Rodney White. White’s work is inspired by vintage advertising and Americana. This optimistic piece would look great in just about any room, such as a rustic den, game room or kitchen. The versatile painting is already mounted, so all you have to do is find room on your walls.”

By the way, “Today” was priced at about $54.00 at Target but was marked down for clearance.

The Sketchbook Project at the Goat Farm

The art of the book may be fading in the digital age, but the Sketchbook Project now in brief residence at the Goat Farm proves that the book will always be around.

The feel of a book in one’s hands is different from the feel of a Kindle or Nook or iPad. Yet the book’s unique feel is not easy to define. I have heard several literary people with great nostalgia for the book reach a kind of verbal brick wall when they begin to describe why they want to hold a book in their hands. Maybe it’s because the book has been around for a long time, and we have taken it for granted.

While the book seems to be under threat from electronic readers, it would seem useful to understand and describe in words what the value of the book is. The simple, handmade books of the Sketchbook Project are of use in this effort.

The organizers of the Project provide the blank sketchbook, a small thing of simple paper, though the artist is really only restricted to the format size, not the material. All are invited to participate, so anyone with $25 becomes an author. Samples are available from around the world. When you look inside the finished sketchbooks, you see a bursting of energy that seems to be propelled by the very limitations of the small, paper format with its repeated pages, its center-fold, its front cover and back cover.

Excerpt from Creatures! Observations, by Shari Moore, The Sketchbook Project

Excerpt from Creatures! Observations, by Shari Moore, The Sketchbook Project

In Decatur artist Shari Moore’s “Creatures! Observations,” each page is filled with a carefully composed pen-and-ink drawing of one or more whimsical characters and humorous text. The bareness, the suggestiveness and the simplicity of the well controlled lines allow for beautiful interactions between the artist’s imagination and that of the reader. Imagination and ink on paper—it’s a kind of purity at play.

Cover of Farewell Cliffdene, Gareth Watkins, The Sketchbook Project

Cover of Farewell Cliffdene, Gareth Watkins, The Sketchbook Project

British artist Gareth Watkins’ “Farewell Cliffdene” provides a similar pleasure, with affectionate drawings of a beloved chalet on a cliff in Dover, along with photographs. Watkins’ work also contains examples of the purely tactile potential of the book, as it contains remnants of wallpaper and other bits of the chalet, whose demolition is mourned. In touching this one, you’re really touching part of Dover and part of Gareth Watkins himself.

Excerpt from Dream of Creatures, Mary Blaney, The Sketchbook Project

Excerpt from Dream of Creatures, Mary Blaney, The Sketchbook Project

Mary Blaney of Michigan takes the tactile potential of the book even further, filling “Dream of Creatures” with thick animal shapes, beads, and all manner of glued in, glittery cut-outs.

What about words? In the eight samples I viewed from the Project’s traveling library, I didn’t happen upon the wordy artist. Did the Goat Farm’s goats eat them? We’ll have to return in search of more words.

From what we did see today, it’s apparent that the book is so rich with potential and challenge, and also with cup-and-saucer simplicity, that it can’t help but survive and thrive.

The Sketchbook Project, presented by MASS Collective and Goat Farm Arts Center, is on display at the Goat Farm through March 17. See also http://www.sketchbookproject.com.

Vernon Robinson Sr. Paintings at U*Space

Let There Be (detail), Vernon Robinson Sr., 2010, 18x48, Acrylic on Canvas on Board

Let There Be (detail), Vernon Robinson Sr., 2010, 18×48, Acrylic on Canvas on Board

The closest I have gotten to a drug trip lately was visiting Walgreen’s after dark to get some antibiotics and a Russell Stover carmel.

I read somewhere that Vernon Robinson Sr.’s art takes viewers “on a life affirming Afro-surrealistic mind trip!” I might be too distant from those references to agree, but I found Robinson’s art more down to earth than that.

Some of Robinson’s paintings from 2006 to 2012 are collected in “How I See What I Saw,” displayed in one of U*Space’s colorful galleries.

The paintings in acrylic feature a love of swooping patterns, colors that remind the viewer of tropical fish, and portraits of eyes that seem to have visited other worlds. Yes, the fact that those eyes may have traveled could lead a person to think “mind trip.” Still, I don’t believe these are images that Robinson dreamed or hallucinated, or intended as a supplement to intoxication.

Robinson’s boldest works collect brilliant patterns like a quilter collects patches of fabric and shapes them into harmonious collages. In “Let There Be,” “Ain’t Nothing But the Blues,” and “The King is Coming II,” the compositions contain exuberant and daring combinations of swatches. They also ultimately observe symmetry across the plain of the canvas. Unlike a product of intoxication, these works represent controlled exploration. They are like an improvised solo, set against the repeating harmonic pattern of a blues.

Unlike the blues, most of Robinson’s paintings contain little that is dark or quiet or slow in tempo. His tone is generally bold, bright and steady. When the image includes those eyes mentioned before, they provide even more assurance of a guiding vision along the way. There will be no groping in the dark.

A series of small paintings, two-and-a-half by three-and-a-half inches, seems to be a departure from forms described by the music paintings, if I may call them that. These small paintings are from 2012. They look like a collection of brilliantly hued clouds, shifting, coalescing, but rarely hardening into anything like liquids or solids. Though the colors are bright, and though the canvases are diminutive, these works point toward a dimmer place that Robinson may be searching.

They may represent a less controlled exploration than symmetry allows. We look forward to Robinson’s future discoveries.

“How I See What I Saw,” Solo Exhibition of Vernon Robinson Sr. at U*Space Gallery on Edgewood Avenue through Feb 24, 2013.

Update: The U*Space gallery closed, according to an e-mail from owner Terence Jackson on December 2, 2013.

Photography: “Reflected Imagery of the African-American Struggle for Respect”

"Bloody Sunday," Selma, Alabama, March 7, 1965, United Press International for Daily News

“Bloody Sunday,” Selma, Alabama, March 7, 1965, United Press International for Daily News

In the midst of U*Space’s colorful walls, paintings and books, a line of black and white photographs hangs like a shade against sunlight. U*Space’s founder and curator, Terence E. Jackson, selected the photographs from his collection of press images reaching back to the 1940’s. They mainly show African-Americans in the midst of intense conflict with whites.

One might sum up the exhibit by saying these are civil rights movement photographs. However, Jackson selected these images in part because of the inspiration he found in seeing the ordinary people who carried out the struggle. It can feel very limiting to refer to the “civil rights movement” when you’re looking at some of these pictures of people and places you’ve probably never heard of before.

For example, there’s an image on display of a black teenage boy standing up to a white teenage boy who thinks he can dictate who uses the sidewalk. The first boy is pointing a defiant finger in the second boy’s face, while the first boy’s sister stands slightly behind and between the boys. She seems to be looking straight into the camera.

That’s all there is inside the frame–three children. One reaction is, “There’s no ‘movement’ there.” It’s just a fight. Even if the white boy is motivated by racism, and even if the black boy is motivated by anti-racism, what you see is a fight. That means the heat of aggression, the danger of injury and humiliation—all of the things that anyone experiences when doing battle. The directness of the confrontation in this image seems to make the history that’s at issue more present, more palpable, more stomach-turning.

Of course that fight had a context. It’s an image from 1958 in Little Rock, Arkansas. That was the year after the Little Rock 9 enrolled in a high school that was segregated. No wonder the mainstream newspaper photographers had this unique subject matter that sometimes won photojournalism awards: they were pointing their cameras at children going down the sidewalk. Otherwise we might wonder why a street fight was newsworthy.

That picture is one of the few in this collection that identified by name a person captured in the picture. The black boy was identified as Johnny Gray, age 15. The white boy was not identified by name. Do you wonder why not?

Jackson points out another aspect of the courage that is frequently on display in these pictures of police fights and sit-ins and national guard arrests: The African-Americans being photographed lived in the places where they were fighting. These are not pictures of national leaders who were making news by visiting civil rights hot spots. Johnny Gray most likely lived in Little Rock. His sister was probably looking into that camera thinking that her picture might be in the paper and identified by readers as a resister to white supremacy. What individual courage would she have to summon? Who would be available to assist her in fighting off attackers?

U*Space displays the pictures with their original text—the captions and sometimes the original stories. It’s occasionally clear from the newspapers or wire services who wrote about the photographs that they had a point of view, and it wasn’t friendly to the struggle. In reporting on a conflict that occurred in Chicago in the summer of 1964, a news report stated that the strife began “when the white owner of a liquor store accused a Negro woman of trying to steal a fifth of gin. She claimed she had been slapped around. The rumor-mongers embroidered the story and the troublemakers turned it into a full-scale riot.”

It’s distressing to see a couple of rooms full of pictures of white police and national guardsmen fighting with African-Americans. White people’s hatred is made plain here. A club rammed up an African-American man’s crotch. A bulldozer preparing to run over a protester lying prone before it. A policeman swinging a club with great determination to inflict injury, while his own face registers a flinching from the violence. These are ugly facts of our history.

In fact it seems like a history exhibit, with these black and white photographs accompanied by newspaper reporting. So why does U*Space display the exhibit in an art gallery? The simple version of Jackson’s impassioned answer is that, as a curator he is inspired by the struggles and courage and victories of ordinary people. He says he enjoys the fantastic that is found in art, but that reality is a thousand times more brilliant.

“Seems Like I Done Had To Fight My Whole Life” – Reflected Imagery of the African-American Struggle for Respect, at U*Space Gallery on Edgewood Avenue through February 24, 2013.

Update: The U*Space gallery closed, according to an e-mail from owner Terence Jackson on December 2, 2013.

Painter from Tucker loves Walmart, is Profiled in The New Yorker

Painter Brendan O’Connell is featured in the current (February 11) issue of The New Yorker in a piece by Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief. O’Connell says he grew up in Tucker, Georgia, although in this New Yorker piece it is referred to as “Atlanta.” He lists a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Emory.

The hook for Orlean’s story, titled “Walart: A Career Epiphany in a Supermarket,” is that O’Connell paints scenes inside Walmarts. He loves the colors of products lined up in the aisles, and the sense that Walmarts are an important social meeting place comparable to the ancient markets of Europe.

You can see samples of O’Connell’s “Walmart Series” at http://www.brendanoconnell.com .

I have questions.

Walmart, surely, is not the only place, even in rural America, where colorful products and chance social encounters are on display. Why does O’Connell return again and again to Walmart? Orlean believes it safe to say that O’Connell has visited more Walmarts than anyone who doesn’t work for the company.

He claims to be neither an apologist nor a defender of Walmart, which has come under attack for everything from its labor practices to its environmental policies. Yet he argues on his website that “Walmart is the most visited interior architecture on the planet, and it is quite possibly the most democratic.”

Let us not pre-judge, but for all his claimed neutrality on Walmart politics, you have to wonder about the possibility that an artist could borrow upon a super-retail brand for the advancement of his work.

Another question: Was his suburban Atlanta background a factor in his adoration of big-box retail? Unfortunately, Orlean did not press the artist on this urgent issue. Did she even visit Tucker? Did she call? Did she e-mail?

O’Connell no longer lives in Tucker, and we don’t know how often he returns to visit. According to O’Connell’s website, he has shown his work at galleries in Atlanta, but it has been awhile (Reinike Gallery, 2001). Next time he comes to Atlanta, let’s take him to American Chainsaw & 2-Cycle. It’s right there in Tucker’s zip code.

Susan Cofer’s “Draw Near,” an exhibit of drawings at the High Museum

In Susan Cofer’s drawings one finds a range of composition from mild and gentle to bold and troubled. They range from figurative to abstract and their approach to their subject matter leaves a curious viewer with plenty of room to wonder–about creation, sin, beauty and the fragility of life.

Most of Cofer’s drawings in this survey since about the mid-1980’s are composed of vertical pencil strokes carefully applied to reveal both imaginary and realistic detail. In an interview on the High.org website, Cofer said that her preference for vertical strokes comes from her feeling that they are easier than horizontal strokes, allowing a meditative process. Perhaps similar to the chanting of a mantra, the repetition of a standard stroke may induce a mood of calm. I’m not sure I agree that a vertical stroke is, in general, easier than a horizontal stroke. Still, as with a meditative mood, it may be that the vertical stroke encourages a movement of diving downward; meeting the surface of a thing and then going beneath that surface; going deep.

Some of the drawings display natural landscapes that are mostly devoid of evidence of a human presence. The view tends to be from a great distance. A view from the middle distance is rare. The vertical strokes suggest motion, perhaps the vibration of the earth, a motion-pattern apparently knowable through observation, though the knowledge gained is not explicitly set out here. Most of the other drawings take their small subjects in close-up view. From the mid-1980’s forward we see so many drawings that take as their subject: a seed, a fruit’s flesh, an embryo of uncertain species, womb-like abstractions, some phallic shapes. Perhaps the artist’s meditation on a landscape leads to meditation on one small element of that landscape. This may lead to a problem: Diving below the surface for answers, we frequently find . . . more surfaces.

In my view the pivotal series of drawings here is the set of 16 drawings that focuses on the story of Eve’s time in Eden. Again we see the fruit, the womb-like images, and a snake. The drawings’ titles remind us of the natural setting of a wooded paradise, mostly devoid of people; of the innocence of exploration, of questions borne of curiosity. In one drawing there appears a small, dark, beastly face-shape. We know that sin is present, the danger of fatal punishment, and sinister purpose.

After viewing the Eve drawings I sensed that Cofer’s art wants to make a path toward the secrets of creation. The images of embryos and vessels and reproductive organs and early stages of biological development seem to be crucial as subjects because of their apparent proximity to creation. The artist is passionately curious, wants to “Draw Near,” as the exhibit is called. And yet there is hesitation in the work. Cofer’s colors are very mild, and perhaps even vague until the mid-1990’s, when we begin to see purer greens, violets, and reds. Is that a hesitating shyness, or is there an ethical concern about curiosity here? Perhaps the artist imagines that Eve was punished for being curious, and if so, couldn’t the artist be punished for the same offense?

This is only my speculation about Cofer’s drawings. Still, it seems to me that the limitations and dangers of curiosity are very relevant to our time. Intellectual inquiries are frequently dismissed as pretentious or even dangerous to creativity and productivity. On the other end of the scale, science is testing the limits of ethics with its study and use of reproductive technology.

For me, Cofer’s work stimulates questions about whether curiosity is always innocent, among many other compelling themes.

Susan Cofer’s “Draw Near” was on view at the High Museum through February 10, 2013.

Resource: To view the interview with Cofer currently (early February 2013) on the High Museum’s website, http://www.high.org, visit http://youtu.be/sAM7wgw951s .