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RI Archives: Arts

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Joy Brown’s Roly Poly Figures Go From Kent To Broadway

One Holding Small One at 96th Street. Photo by Katharine Manning.

By CB Wismar

When you look into the faces of Joy Brown’s larger-than-life, thousand-pound-plus figures, they look back. The eyes are open and alert. The faces are not nervous or self-conscious. “There is no culture, no gender, no age,” says Brown. “They each have a life of their own.”

And now nine of them have settled, for a while, on Broadway in New York City, thanks to an invitation courtesy of the Broadway Mall Association and the New York City Parks. The Kent, Conn. artist’s engaging human figures, placed from 72nd Street to 168th Street, are irresistible to passersby who stop, climb, sit on, hug and sometimes simply gaze at these innocent visitors. “The rounded forms and earth tones of these big figures evoke a feeling of stillness and peace,” Brown says, “yet they bring out the child in us to play.”

Joy Brown’s own journey has crossed continents, bridged cultures, suffered the deep frustration of having to learn without direction, and culminated in an internationally celebrated career as a potter and a sculptor. 

Born in the United States, she settled with her medical missionary parents in Japan, went to an international school, came back to graduate from Florida’s Eckerd College and returned to Japan to learn the ways and wiles of pottery.

It was during her first apprenticeship that Brown learned the almost Zen-like patience that comes from creating the same piece over and over again, only to destroy it and begin once more. Her second apprenticeship was more fulfilling, teaching her both the mysteries of clay and the finesse required to build a wood-fired kiln. Returning to the U.S. to pursue her chosen career as a potter, Brown created pieces that satisfied a growing audience while she, herself, continued to grow.

“What you make becomes more and more you,” Brown reflects as she looks at a gentle figure standing peacefully in the midst of her South Kent artist’s compound. “I moved to the figures in a kind of funny way. For five years, I had a studio in Webatuck Craft Village outside of Wingdale, New York. While I was working there, I started making clay and cloth puppets. The puppets morphed into small animal figures, then into my human figures.”

Confined in size by the dimensions of the Japanese-style anagama wood-firing tunnel kiln that she built herself, Brown dreamed of taking those figures and turning them into heroic-sized pieces that could find their place in sculpture gardens and public parks.

It was when William Morrison, owner of the eponymous gallery in Kent, invited Joy to exhibit her pieces that the connection was made for a larger showing. 

“I had followed Joy’s work and was really taken by the peaceful presence of her figures,” recalls Billy Morrison. “I’ve had a wonderful relationship with the Broadway Mall Association and NYC Parks. ‘Joy Brown on Broadway’ took two years to come together, but it was a natural.”

Joy uses her clay figures as “maquettes” or models that are eventually scaled up in plaster, made into forms and created by pouring in molten bronze. “I was able to show my first bronzes in the 2010 Shanghai World Expo,” Brown says. “I had started working with a foundry in Thailand, but through connections made as far back as high school, I became involved with Peter Zau and The Purple Roof Gallery and Atelier in Shanghai. His support and assistance made the creation of the New York show figures possible.”

Recliners at 166th Street. Photo by Katharine Manning.

Joy’s involvement in the transformation of her clay pieces to the stunning, lovable bronzes in NYC is fully hands on. She builds the plaster figures in China with her assistant Tanya Kukucka, supervises the foundry work and the welding assembly of the bronze components, then, in a quiet moment, adds the distinctive features that make each piece so unique.

Brown is reverential when talking about the process. “I get to the warehouse early in the morning before the crew is there. They position the figure so I can step far back and get a sense of where the eyes and mouth should go. I use pieces of black paper and place them on the figure, step back, determine what needs to change, then repeat the steps until I know it’s right.” 

In 1998, realizing both the universality of art and the great need for artistic communication across cultures, Brown started Still Mountain Center in Kent with fellow artist Denis Cooper. “I realized the Center could be a forum in which to communicate the values I had learned about clay, work, community and life. We demonstrate how art encourages the spirit of being human.”

And so, like emissaries with the gentle soul of Still Mountain, Joy Brown’s figures have come to New York, fully present as Joy is in her work and in her life.

The figures will be encamped on Broadway until November.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 07/10/17 at 10:13 AM • Permalink

The RuraList: The Big Six At Building 6

By Nichole Dupont

MASS MoCA, the unofficial Louvre of the Northeast, is about to unveil its newly renovated Building 6 on Sunday, May 28. The 130,000 square feet of space will be the new home of changing exhibitions, long-term installations, and so much natural light that it can alter the mood of visitors, who will travel in droves to see Louise Bourgeois’ megalithic marble sculptures, the floating, breathing light of James Turrell, and the virtual realities of Laurie Anderson.

Building 6, with its rough-hewn floorboards, exposed brick and factory windows, is a masterpiece of which every corner should be explored, including the art. But to ground you on your journey through the totally reimagined 19th century industrial complex, here are six things not to miss in the magnificent Building 6.

1. Cosmic Latte
Spencer Finch returns to MASS MoCA — his work, What Time is it on the Sun? appeared in 2007 — with the whimsical, 80-foot Cosmic Latte installation. More than 300 custom LED fixtures hang from the ceiling, emitting a brownish-gold light that cannot be muted, even with the flood of natural light coming into the gallery space. The lights are arranged in the formation of the molecular model of the pigments that are used to achieve this “latte” color. And the shape of the entire installation is meant to represent the Milky Way as it would be seen (in our hemispheric sky here in the Northeast) in early spring. You don’t have to be an astrophysicist to bask in the warm light of these stars, but they will inspire you to think great things.

2. Joe Wardwell’s wall of words
You might just get lost in the Boston-based artist’s Hello America: 40 Hits from the 50 States, a layered “landscape” that covers the entire wall, floor to ceiling, of one of the gallery spaces. The background of the work is the sloping silhouette of the tree line on Mount Greylock. But the naturalism stops there, as layer upon layer of yellows, blues and pinks, then huge lettering, lead us into the foreground: 40 screen-printed texts. Song lyrics, campaign slogans, quotes and lines of poetry from brilliant minds like Hunter S. Thompson, Maya Angelou and Bill Clinton create a haunting homage to an American dream long ago shattered. You’ll want to spend hours reading each fragment, and contemplating “what’s next.”

3. The lightwell
At the core of Building 6, which is three stories high and includes a bike tunnel, is a nexus of stairwells and bridges leading from one exhibit to the next. At first glance, it seems like the decision to make part of the building “open air” was cavalier considering the fickle New England climate… but look up. A 20-foot-wide by 140-foot-long skylight has replaced the roof of the building, allowing for maximum light to pass through. Rain or shine, the light is perfect.

4. Barbara Ernst Prey’s commissioned watercolor
The unofficial theme of Building 6 is “larger than life.” This includes a 9-foot-tall, 16-foot-wide watercolor — yes, watercolor — painting of the interior of the building before renovations began. No detail went unnoticed, as Prey captured the breadth and detail of each column (there were 400), brick and beam, using the most unforgiving medium with the precision of a watchmaker. Building 6 Portrait: Interior is by far her largest commissioned work to-date, and may be the largest watercolor ever completed by a living female artist.
 
5. The disturbing documents of Jenny Holzer
This multi-talented, multi-medium artist leaves no stone unturned on the MASS MoCA campus this year. Carved benches, large-scale outdoor projections and early wheat paste posters present the breadth, and brevity, of Holzer’s long career of tapping into the public consciousness. The posters are drawn from interviews and official accounts found in the annals of Human Rights Watch and Save the Children. The words, printed on large, stark canvases, are haunting reminders that war and politics infiltrate and slash the everyday lives of people the world over. In addition to the wheat paste “classified” accounts, she has arranged two tables of human bones — vertebrae, femurs, shoulder blades — to illustrate the stark reality of a society steeped in conflict without end.

6. The eternal sound smile of Gunnar Schonbeck
You don’t need to be a musician to make beautiful music. No Experience Required features a repertoire of fantastical instruments — a nine-foot banjo, megalithic chimes, a larger-than-life marimba — all designed and crafted by the late Gunnar Schonbeck. Throughout his musical life, Schonbeck — a professor of music at Bennington College — created more than 1,000 instruments, welding together steel drums, pan pipes, zithers and harps from found objects. Visitors to the installation are invited to play for themselves this unique collection of instruments that have been used by Bang on a Can founding member Mark Stewart as well as Wilco’s Glenn Kotche.

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Posted by Nichole on 05/22/17 at 01:45 PM • Permalink

Bright Young Things: ‘30under30’ At Six Depot

By Amy Krzanik

Much is made of the population decline that Berkshire County has suffered since the 1970s, especially the mass exodus of young people from the area beginning when they turn 18 and not reversing course until around age 37. But there are young adults who make their homes here, and even more who grew up here and wish they could return sooner rather than later. But you don’t need charts to tell you that, you only need to look around. A good place to start looking is at No. Six Depot Café & Roastery beginning on March 16. That’s when the West Stockbridge coffee shop debuts 30under30, a new multimedia exhibit and series of events featuring 30 Berkshire County-affiliated artists under the age of 30.

The brainchild of dancer and photographer Mika Mintz, who is a 20-something herself, the show is an idea that had been percolating (pun intended) in her mind for years. Many of the artists are friends, and friends of friends, of Mintz’s. “Many of my friends and people I meet in passing are so creative,” she says. “But, to my knowledge, there has never been an exhibit around here featuring only young people.”

Although Mintz has previously shown her own photographs at Six Depot, this is the first time she’s curated an art show. Despite that, 30under30 is ambitious in scale, showing the work of 23 visual artists as well as unique events throughout the exhibition’s entire run (March 16 – April 30). The opening reception, on Saturday, March 19 from 4-5:30 p.m., will feature live music from Nico Wohl. A poetry reading by Steven Amash will be held on April 2, a musical performance by Haux and Simon McTeigue on April 8, a Theory Kitchen tasting menu by Theo Friedman on April 14, a special edition of INKLESS storytelling on April 22 and a dance performance by Emily Glick, Mika Mintz and Lexie Thrash with digital design by Sam Okerstrom-Lang on April 29.

According to Mintz, Six Depot co-owner Lisa Landry’s “ears perked up” (pun not intended) when Mintz broached the idea of 30under30. Landry agrees that “this age group is underrepresented in the area, and the area truly needs to engage young people to encourage them to stay and build lives here, as well as attract other young people.” This bold and intriguing exhibit and event series seems like a great place to start.

30under30 Art Exhibit & Event Series
March 16 – April 30
Opening Reception: March 19 from 4-5:30 p.m.

No. Six Depot Café & Roastery
6 Depot St., West Stockbridge, MA

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 03/06/17 at 08:46 PM • Permalink

Andres Serrano and Home Room at The School

By Jamie Larson

Since its inception, Jack Shainman Gallery: The School, opened in an expansive and historic former schoolhouse in Kinderhook, New York, has wowed visitors (Saturdays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. only) with artwork from the world’s most notable modern artists and with Shainman’s innate ability to curate the unique space. The School’s latest exhibition, which opened January 7, is no exception. It brings together the arresting and historically controversial work of Andres Serrano and “Home Room,” a multimedia group exhibition which uses the classroom settings of The School as a powerful lens of cultural examination.

Though it spans three decades of photography, “Andres Serrano: Selected Works 1984-2015” stares vitally and urgently back at you from the walls. Widely known, Serrano is both admired and reviled for the scandal that surrounds his work “Piss Christ.” The rest of Serrano’s imagery similarly and unapologetically combines the things we love and hate about our culture and ourselves.

“Much of Andres’ historic work comes out of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, so it’s interesting to consider how far we’ve come as a society since then,” Shainman said before the opening last weekend. “But also how frustrating it can feel that we’re having similar conversations now regarding morality and freedom. The work addresses the parts of life that are uncomfortable and ever-present; they are issues that are forever with us.”

“Home Room” features work by distinguished artists Huma Bhabha, Nick Cave, Turiya Magadlela, Enrique Martínez Celaya, Claudette Schreuders, Laurie Simmons, Michael Snow, Becky Suss and Carlos Vega. Shainman writes that the joint work “contemplates relationships between familiar people, places, and things and the inner life of the self. The clothes we wear, the things with which we live, and the places we have been are personified by the spiritual traces of our individual histories with which we mark them.”

The pieces are fabulous, colorful and emotional on their own, of course, but the curation within the school creates an atmosphere you couldn’t begin to replicate without a space like this. 

“The building of The School is continually a source of inspiration for every exhibition, and each installation is considered in response to the architectural space,” Shainman said. “Education, openness, and accessibility have always been a part of the gallery’s mission, but we don’t explicitly try to organize exhibitions with those themes. It’s my belief that all kinds of art should be viewed by all kinds of people; overall that motivation is behind everything we are doing with The School. I hope visitors walk away with a sense that art should not be intimidating and exclusive. Perhaps the building’s past life as an elementary school helps give a sense of familiarity.”

“Andres Serrano: Selected Works 1984-2015” and “Home Room”
Jack Shainman Gallery: The School
25 Broad Street, Kinderhook, NY
(518) 758-1628
Gallery hours: Saturdays from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., and by appointment

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 01/09/17 at 09:02 AM • Permalink

Featured Creatures: The Old World Pet Portraits Of Carol Lew

By Amy Krzaik

My cat, Oliver, believes himself to be the king of all he surveys (namely, the house and the front and back yards). And while the other pets beg to differ, he’s always quick to remind them of their subordinate positions. Although the smallest in size, Oliver is the oldest and craftiest and I believe his assessment of his stature to be valid. He considers himself feline royalty, and there’s a local artist who agrees with him.

Washington, Massachusetts based oil painter Carol Lew sees animals for what they really are — important and dignified beings fit to be classic Old World portrait subjects.

Although she studied painting at Philadelphia College of Art, it took years for Lew’s formal training and her love of animals to coalesce.

“In my earlier working years, I didn’t see a pathway for making a living through art,” she says. “But almost 20 years ago, after leaving a particularly stressful management job, I decided to try to make a go of it.”

The internet, she says, has opened up new possibilities for artists to make a living doing what they love. And the public loves her back — Lew figures she’s painted more than a thousand portraits so far.

Inspired by the work of Thierry Poncelet, a European painting restorer who replaced human faces with animals on historical portraits, Lew’s first similar painting was a Great Dane done in Early American primitive style. “It’s a theme of artwork that made me happy from the start,” she says, “and it still does.” 

A commissioned piece takes Lew about two weeks to complete, considering that part of the process is selecting an appropriate photo of the pet, and partnering with the client to find just the right historical portrait to use as a reference. A Lew original of your cat, dog, gerbil, bird, lizard or other beloved companion will set you back $450. If you need time to ponder such a purchase, or if you don’t have a pet but love the concept, Lew offers prints ($9.95 and up), canvas prints ($40), and magnets ($6) of past works in her Etsy shop.

As you might expect, Lew is an animal lover and she and her husband live with two cats, a dog, a flock of chickens and three hives of honeybees. Working from home, as she does, has also allowed Lew to foster shelter animals and serve a six-year stint chairing a local animal non-profit. She currently works with an organization that spays and neuters free-roaming cats. “This kind of work is important to me because I believe that we, as humans, are responsible for the welfare of companion animals,” she says. “It’s wonderful to see pets who are loved and well cared for, but there are others who need help.”

Her incredible skill and obvious love of animals shows in her work, and people are noticing. Target online is selling pillows with Lew’s images in its Beekman 1802 FarmHouse line. And soon, her portraits will be featured on woven fabric items in the European market, as well as on playing cards.

The more of Lew’s witty works there are in the world, the better, I say.

“My artwork is fun,” she says, “and the best part of it for me is that it makes people smile.”

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 01/03/17 at 11:40 AM • Permalink