Abandoned Art

Driving around the Hudson River Valley every day, I see lovely views around each corner. The mountains, trees, Hudson River, and apple orchards are beautiful in every season.

art-abandonedI also see this house every day on my commute to work, not particularly beautiful, but the upright piano outside the front porch of this abandoned house haunts me.

I don’t know how long this house and property has been abandoned, it looks like years. The farmhouse might have been built in the early 1900’s, a time when many families had upright pianos in their parlor and gatherings frequently ended in an impromptu concert around the piano. Making music was important at that time but sheet music was expensive for a popular song, selling for as much as $2.00, which is equivalent to $54 today.

After 1900, cheaper ways to print music were found and the twenty-five cent song sheet was introduced. Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” became the first Ragtime composition to become a sheet music best-seller, and American music and ragtime were on everyone’s soundwaves. wentworthpiano1

Consider that a piano like the abandoned one sitting on this porch might have cost $400 during that time, as shown in this receipt on the left. In 1900 an average annual salary was $450 – can you imagine spending your annual salary on a musical instrument? Music in the home was a valuable part of making a good life for your family.

Today that upright piano continues to molder away on the porch, exposed to the four seasons of the Hudson Valley. The musical gatherings around the piano are a memory for our local elders and maybe that’s what haunts me the most.

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Art and the Byrd

For over a century, the Byrdcliffe Arts Colony has a history of providing a place for artists to create work. Today, the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild sustains that creative work through an integrated program of exhibitions, performances, classes, workshops, symposia, summer residences, and artist housing. The annual Members’ exhibition demonstrates the sustainability of founders Jane and Ralph Whitehead’s multi-disciplined model that welcomed artists and craftspeople to work collaboratively and without restrictions.

This year’s member’s exhibit, Byrd & Image, provides a glimpse of the immense amount of talent showing in a broad array of media. Artist and curator, Linda Weintraub designed the installation of the exhibit with over 100 pieces of artworks on display. She commented, “Debra Priestly was honored with this year’s ‘curator’s choice’ award for her meticulously constructed print, but those eligible as runners-up are plentiful. Other impressive works include emotionally expressive abstractions, masterfully constructed sculptures, beautifully crafted collages, and hauntingly intimate photographs.”

 

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Laura Gurton – Unknown Species #215

Visitors to the exhibit will notice Weintraub arranged the exhibit works in groupings, allowing each work to be appreciated on its own merits. The larger pieces of work that are standouts include Calvin Grimm’s “Clearing Out the Stories,” an exuberant oil on canvas, and Laura Gurton’s “Unknown Species #215,” a beautiful composition of patterning, reminiscent of Aboriginal designs. The exacting designs of dots and drawn lines are enhanced by the luminescent depth of the painting’s surface. Mary Anne Erickson’s “Binger’s Rocket Gas” painting reminds us of the nostalgic roadside attractions seen during the mid-century era. Similar in mood to Edward Hopper’s work, the image depicts a place where the architecture, signage, and vehicles dominate the world. In direct opposition to this feeling is Marjorie Grinnell’s portrait of a man lying on a fainting couch, fully dressed in evening wear, which is both a beautiful portrait and a narrative painting.

 

 

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Carole P. Kunstadt, Interlude No. 4 

The smaller artworks really shine in this setting, surrounded by other works on their own scale. For instance, Debra Priestly’s modest-sized pieces have a delicate beauty and convey a personal story about memory, ancestral knowledge, and historic events. Carole P. Kunstadt’s “Interlude” series are small artworks that have a large presence. Utilizing an old music manuscript found in a thrift store, Kunstadt cut and wove the papers followed by repetitively knotting linen threads into the fragmented surface of musical notations and lyrics, resulting in a meditative artwork. Viewers of these artworks could consider that these small framed pieces also serve as sacred objects.

 

Byrdcliffe Arts Colony was founded with the idea of venerating the handmade, fostering an artistic community and creating beautiful objects for everyday use. In this exhibit, there are ceramic pieces on exhibit that reflect this ideal including work by Megan Dayl, and Deirdre Puleo’s “Creepy Forest,” a wood-fired pot with branch embellishments. The exhibit also includes bronze sculptures by Philip Monteleoni, Alex Kveton, and Jean Newburg.

Weintraub commented on the artworks and artists in the region; “They each provide evidence of the artistic vitality that endures, to this day, in the historic Hudson Valley.”

This article was originally published in the Poughkeepsie Journal Enjoy!, January 13, 2017.

Making mistakes and changing the world

Neil Gaiman, one of our contemporary artists and thought leaders said:

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.”

art-desk-1-1-2017My desk shows that recently I have been busy making something. My hope for you is that 2017 brings the accomplishments of making and trying new things and that you’ll join me in pushing ourselves to be the best we can be.

Wheels of Fire

Interested in history? This week I was remembering 1968 when Cream‘s album, Wheels of Fire was released. Eric Clapton was at the beginning of his career and his fascination with American Blues fused with rock is the standard on this album. Image result for cream wheels of fire

Cream’s Wheels of Fire became the soundtrack of my life that year. Eric Clapton’s virtuoso guitar, Jack Bruce’s bass, and Ginger Baker on the drums created a sound that was transformational.

For me, life was in California, but the news went beyond those borders. That summer of 1968 began with the shooting murder of Martin Luther King. In August, Richard Nixon was elected as the presidential candidate during the Republican Convention, and eventually elected president in November. Every night you could watch Walter Cronkite announce the latest death toll of Americans on the news from the Vietnam War. Finally, the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was signed.

Most importantly, that August in 1968 was the month that my mother died – she was 37 – and today I realize how young that really was. As my life unraveled, Wheels of Fire became the touchstone of a new reality that I had moving into the future. The album had songs of memory (Those were the Days), political wit (The Politician), fantasy (Pressed Rat and Warthog), and the blues, (Born Under a Bad Sign and Crossroads). Wheels of Fire carried me through that first year on my own and helped me imagine how on earth I was going to put my life back together again. Thank you, Cream for the music that provided magic and comfort in our lives.

Hear the entire album here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPIXJ7B2I7E

Life and the Art of Cooking

2016-04-24-11-28-56Winter is here, bringing cold slush, freezing temperatures and making me think about heading back to Mexico. The temperatures are not only warmer, but the people are friendly and the food is wonderful.

Finding good food in Mexico City is easy enough – just walk into the nearest little place and order the menu of the day.  Most of the time lunch will include soup, salad, main dish and a dessert. Eating this way is easy and inexpensive, but the more we wandered through markets with the stunning piles of chiles, fresh squash blossoms, fruits and tortillas, the more we talked about how fun it would be to be able to make our own meals. During our last trip to Mexico City, we stayed in an Airbnb with a kitchen, which opened up the possibility of shopping and cooking our own meals.

First, I should mention we are a family of people who love to cook, including two chefs who make their living this way. There are few travel activities more exciting than wandering through a food market and finding new options for dinner.

Some of the food is simply beautiful in its color and pattern, such as the stacks and stacks of dried cereal, pasta, and spices. Other types of foods we had no idea what we were looking at and had to ask how the vendor cooked it at home.

2016-04-25-16-54-15-1  Shopping in the neighborhood also gave us a glimpse of life in that community, since we had to visit the green market, the Mercado for supplies, the bakery, and a liquor store for our favorite tequila, Gran Centenario.

 

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Dessert from the bakery – an important part of dinner.

We enjoyed every minute of these neighborhood wanderings and arrived back to begin preparing that evening’s feast. Dinner one night included a simple stew with garbanzo beans, corn, tomato, and small red potatoes – it was delicious, but the experience of shopping and cooking was a large portion of the pleasure.

 

 

 

Life and the Color Red

enjoy-ruth-edwy_a-landscape-in-red_oil-on-canvas_24x24The color red has long been affiliated with passion and warmth, perhaps because it is also the color of fire and blood. Emotionally intense, red increases respiration, raises blood pressure and enhances human metabolism. Red also has significant cultural meaning around the world: in China, red is associated with good luck and fortune; in Japan, red is associated closely with a few deities and statues are often painted that color; and in Sweden, red was reserved for the privileged class.

Recently, Emerge Gallery & Art Space in Saugerties curated, “Primar(il)y Red: A Group Exhibition of Artwork Celebrating the Color Red.” Robert P. Langdon, Emerge Gallery director stated, “Everyone experiences art differently, but I believe that the selected works in this exhibition will offer the viewers a chance to connect with their feelings to see which emotions are elicited from spending time with the work.” Forty-five pieces of art representing forty-four emerging artists from the Hudson Valley and New York Metropolitan area were included in this exhibition. Langdon stated, “Although some of the work included is not entirely red, the viewer’s eye is drawn to the red element in the piece.”

enjoy-marilyn-rowley_descent_mixed-media_11x14This is noted in “Red Wings,” a painting by Elin Menzies depicting two Red Winged Blackbirds perched in the brush. The artist uses layering and sgraffito on the surface, creating a magical setting for the birds to roost. The brush is painted in subtle colors making the vibrant red-colored wings pop against the background. Marilyn Rowley uses another approach with red in “Descent,” where the first thing viewers will notice is the vibrant red background. The artist has captured the moment as a black bird lands against a red background with white gestural lines completing the dynamic composition.

enjoy-alison-winfield-burns_red-palio_oil-on-canvas_36x28Alison Winfield-Burns exhibits “Red Palio,” a painting inspired by the annual tradition of the Palio horse race in Siena, Italy. Capturing the excitement of riders and horses that are working together to win with an impressionistic approach, the action on the race track is framed by the stadium’s red swath above the spectators.

enjoy-ross-corsair_assignation_photography_39x28-1Ross Corsair’s moody photograph, “Assignation,” is a study in compositional elements. Viewed from above a plaza, there are intersecting lines, patterns, and textures, primarily in shades of gray. The eye will immediately focus on the red triangles, part of an umbrella held by a lone person crossing the plaza. Corsair’s artist statement explains: “Most of my photographs attempt to capture the ephemeral, a fleeting moment, sometimes cloaked in mystery.”

Ruth Edwy shows “A Landscape in Red,” a lovely, painterly abstraction of the landscape. At first glance, the viewer may think this is simply an examination of the color red, but looking closer you can see form and gesture, design and line. The artist explains her inspiration in her artist statement: “My paintings involve the landscape, more and more, whether in a very abstract form or very literal, but in the end what defines all of my artwork, over many years, is my love affair with light and color.”

This essay originally appeared in the Poughkeepsie Journal’s Enjoy! section, December 16, 2016. 

Appetite for Destruction

The title for Wassaic Project’s 9th Annual Summer Exhibition, Appetite for Destruction, is taken from an artwork of the same name by Robert Williams, a California-based artist that was at the forefront of psychedelic, apocalyptic artmaking. Williams’ painting was selected originally for the cover of a Guns N’ Roses album, but after its initial release was banned in record stores, forcing the album reissue with his art inside the album and a new image on the cover. Although that was 1987, apparently art still had the capacity to shock and provoke strong reactions.

Appetite for Destruction at the Wassaic Project’s Maxon Mills exhibit space takes a more measured approach. The works on display by contemporary emerging artists focuses on the artists’ interpretations of the untamed world – whether that world is the outdoor landscape, the built environment, or the imagined. The annual exhibit is important to present emerging artists’ work, building reputations and allowing artists to experiment and take risks with their art. Of the 56 exhibited artists, 45 are alumni of the Wassaic Artist Residency, where artists can live and make art in Wassaic during their residency period.

This year there are exhibits installed on the grounds that can be spotted before visitors enter the space. The exhibition space is a seven-story grain elevator with artwork installed at every level. On the first floor, visitors are greeted by David Grainger’s larger than life sculpture, “Dear in Headlights.” A manufactured forest and the sound of water encourage visitors to explore an installation by Jen Catron and Paul Outlaw, featuring a boat in a built stream surrounded by vegetation. The artist statement described the installation as “influenced by belief systems and how they related to visions of the future.”

Deborah-Simon-Flayed Rabbit-photo LMRMoving up the stairs to the next level, see Deborah Simon’s “Flayed Albino Rabbit” wearing a beautifully embroidered jacket depicting trees and interconnected root systems.

As visitors continue to move up the stairs, don’t miss the small wood boxes containing 3D digital animations created by Meredith Drum and works by J. D. Fontanella installed in the grain elevator shaft.

Natalie-Baxter-Warm Gun photo by LMRIMG_20160904_135650The third level is an installation of Natalie Baxter’s “Warm Gun” series. Natalie stated that she “learned from her Appalachian grandmother to create soft objects that challenge feminine ideals, gun laws, and violence.” The next level has an interactive exhibit by Gregg Evans featuring 12 photo panels on three shelves. The artist encourages visitors to rearrange the panels to create a new story, demonstrating how art can be re-interpreted by its surroundings.

Roxanne-Johnson-Run to the Hills photo  by LMR20160904_141651Next up are Roxanne Jackson’s fantastical creations – the exploding ceramic wall mask is a tour de force of design, color, and imagination. Don’t hesitate to enter and explore Sabrina Barrios’ installation created using UV light and string.

Sabrina-Barrios-Coup D'etat how they did it. Photo by LMRIMG_20160904_141144

Continuing up the stairs, Holden Brown’s “Stairway to Heaven” installation will invite you to ponder the pure white stairs cordoned off by a rope. The artist stated, “My work is about fantasy and unfulfilled desire. It addresses the human pursuit for utopic perfection and the images we associate with the idea of “Utopia.”

David-Grainger-Stairway-to-Heaven-LMR photoIMG_20160904_142427He used Google to search for images related to “Stairway to Heaven” and “Utopia.” Facing the installation, visitors could see an open door at the top of the pure white stairway, a blue sky with fluffy white clouds slowly moving, visible through the open door – a heavenly choir completing the utopian scene. Visitors may wonder if they will be allowed to pass beyond the blue velvet rope.

Appetite for Destruction at the Wassaic Project’s Maxon Mills is located at 37 Furnace Bank Road, Wassaic. Exhibit up through September 18, 2016. 

 

This essay (in an edited form) originally appeared in the Poughkeepsie Journal’s Enjoy section, September 9, 2016.