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Putting It Together Review
Putting it Together

At the Lockwood Gallery through March 26

Devotees of the art of collage and its counterpart decollage as well as related genres: photomontage and sculptural collage, will want to see “Putting it Together” now on view at The Lockwood Gallery; as will those simply wishing to experience the latest visually engaging offering from curator Alan Goolman. Goolman reports that as word of plans for this show spread, he was overwhelmed by the number of talented collagists who came forward and the variety of approaches they brought to this important art form. Included are examples of works rooted in painting, appropriated photographic imagery, the repurposing and reimagining of books, words, and musical notation as well as 3-D forays that take collage off the wall. More importantly, this is a show of artists who employ scraps of repurposed material and shards of images to uncover coherence wrestled from entropy, clarifying outpourings of inner life, and moments of discovery.


Much of the work on view skillfully combines abstract painting and collage techniques. Braque and Picasso famously used this approach in the early 20th century in their development of Cubism– Braque gluing cuttings of wood grain wallpaper onto his charcoal drawings and Picasso working this papier collé technique into his paintings and 3-D assemblage works. Subsequent art movements: Dada and Surrealism moved into photo montage which involved using photographic material to make works that critiqued bourgeois society or, in Surrealism’s case, opened up the world of dream logic. In the second half of the 20th century, Pop artists and PostModernists adapted collage techniques to their critiques of consumer culture and corporate capitalism. Collage, which can facilitate the confrontation and/or reconciliation of disparate visual realities in the same artwork, has continued to be an important creative tool for artists through the present day no matter what their stylistic or narrative orientations might be.


Painterly collagists in Putting it Together, include artists such as Barbara Gordon whose works might be taken to be pure paintings at first glance. Closer examination will reveal the passages of abstract imagery that employ collage techniques. Collage can serve as a starting point or as an imagistic jolt to keep the creative flow going or an integral component of the artist’s painting process. In Gordon’s piece entitled Edge for example, it’s hard to tell which technique came first. The finished work, like most of the best in the show, is greater than the sum of its parts. The makings of works like Weaving by Suzanne Rees are easier to itemize. Parts of smaller pieces employing her signature gestures are combined into a larger free form holding pattern poised in an extended moment somewhere between what was and what’s next. Of her work Rees says, “I see everything, feel everything in flux. I have a lifelong fascination with materials and pattern and with how we see what is around us.” Mark Rosenthal, who has worked as a medical illustrator and teaches art to children says that he balances his “two conflicting tendencies of fluidity and precision,” in his works in oil on newspaper, collaged on Sintra board. He also cites the influence of watching kids “organize a picture and apply materials to the surface of their paper or canvas.” Marianne Van Lent sees her collage work as a reworking of the detritus of the past and an exercise in cosmography: “ the science that deals with the constitution of the whole order of nature,” according to Webster's Dictionary. Her work Roman Bird certainly seems to have a lot going on with its skillful layering of freighted motifs– reptilian appendages, floral abstractions, a green heart shape– and graceful gestures maintaining balance and depth edge to edge inviting the viewer to dive in and stay a while with eyes and mind wide open..


Known as accomplished painters, Stephen Niccolls and Galen Cheney reveal less familiar aspects of their artistic output in their collages. Cheney’s witty pieces, both titled as paintings (Nailed Painting 1 and 2) are constructed using actual nails to fasten painted collage elements to the panel beneath. Is this a

 reference to the cubist nail or similar mimetic motifs used by Braque and Picasso in the otherwise fragmented imagery of their early abstract works? Is Cheney opening-up the perennial discussion of what’s real in art? Niccolls whose paintings often have an element of sly humor displays Festival which directly references his painting style and several works like Teahouse with its elegant conversation of pictorial elements- tearings of envelopes, a photographic nod to the title, etc.– that manifests an almost Zen dimension of his work. Pamela Blum’s collages share a sense of enigma with her black and white pieces previously shown at Lockwood which reference the human body. In contrast, her collages in this show seem to reference forms from vegetative life yet ultimately remain indeterminate, as their titles state: “Fragments of a Larger Whole.”


Ransome draws upon his African American lineage in works such as “Brown Beige and Pink” in which he makes use of acrylics and collage with a finely tuned sense of color and composition. He states that “the materials (he uses) are conceptual statements on (the) legacy of an often-overlooked portion of society that made something out of nothing...” He applies to his work “ the spontaneity of hip hop deejays and the resourcefulness of rural quilters, who use what is at hand, assembling, collaging, and creating.” Dorothea Marcus describes herself as a lifelong art collector who has been making her own art in recent years. Indeed her collages reveal a practiced eye at work. Enjoyment of the purely visual and a love for travel are everywhere evident in her collages which deliver considerable wallop in relatively small packages. Joanne Martignoni demonstrates a humility in the presence of Nature that suffuses her understated works in muted colors in which sometimes charming and sometimes talkative birds are often the protagonists. Susanna Ronner comes to collage from a graphic design background and from fine art printmaking experience specializing in the monotype. Evidence of this is found in the economy of means she brings to her work, making every mark and gesture count. Her visual vocabulary is rich. She uses it poetically.


Among the larger works in the exhibition, Ellen Jouret-Epstein’s two collages embody a dynamic energy and subtlety at the same time; enabling fluidity, lightness, darkness, conflict, and a deep sense of silence to coexist. Her mark making which is integral to this accomplishment conveys energy both contained by and liberated from form. She states that the two works on view: Combustion and Distant Thunder are “a particular response to the 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing,” although this is not referenced specifically in the pieces themselves. Andrea Burgay clearly violates the language of the books she transforms and also the rectilinear format of their geometries. Collaged material flies past the edges of the covers she addresses, declaring its own objective reality. Black and Brown Blues (for David Berman) obliterates the cover and edges of the book altogether. The collage is piled on obscuring the original text completely and declaring the primacy of its own message of gesture, color, and texture. 19th century Dantier - Paris Music Manuscripts written with Oak Gall Ink are the substrate of Carol Kunstadt’s work. She too violates the integrity of the original object literally cutting it’s pages apart, but then painstakingly weaves and stitches them back together. The sewing doubles as abstract drawing, and the weaving acts as a non-objective form of meditation in search of a moment or two of transcendence.


Not all the work in Putting it Together is painterly or abstract. Some picks-up where the Dadaists and Surrealists of yore left off– with photomontage. In Josh Dorman’s Amalgam Mountain, a rising red peak that exhibits both topological and biological characteristics dominates the composition. Is it under water? There is a whale, as well as the kind of microscopic creatures you might find in a pond, floating above in what could be the ocean, or the sky, or the human unconscious. On the mountain (among many other things) are antique industrial devices, an elephant, a heron, and a boy reminiscent of Christopher Robin who seems to be making a colorful abstract drawing. Above and to the right, some visitors seem to be flying in for a look on a vehicle that could have sprung from the mind of Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam.


A native of Flatland, aka Kansas, home of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, Loel Barr, accomplished in many forms of art both fine and commercial, takes a playful approach to her collage making even if the imagery may seem to be headed for the dark side. She doesn’t go there or so she says. Delight is more her thing: a delight in romping through images, the process, and the delight she gifts to the viewer. There may be more going on in her work than she owns up to however. A careful reading of her Possessed by Strange Feelings would be richly rewarding for those who see things from a Freudian viewpoint.


There are also several works in the exhibition that move collage into the third dimension and in some cases suggest the fourth: time. JoAnne Lobotsky’s Many Sides, One Story tells the tale of its factual physical presence. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s appearance in our shared space concretizes the actuality of its components including acrylic paint, micaceous iron oxide, quartz sand, and heavy weight watercolor paper. Also present are the ”imperfection, abjectness and roughness coinciding with beauty and a kind of damaged elegance” that Lobotsky sees as the main goals of her artmaking. Judy Glasser states that not knowing where her process is going is a stimulating part of the journey. Her work Quartet projecting its presence outward in both dynamic form and vibrant color makes it clear however that she knows what she’s doing. Her process, like that of many of the artists in the show, is a kind of thinking with her hands or more precisely a creative reconciliation of the mind/body split. Action and thought are one. One piece of wood is joined to another and then another. Then color is introduced, followed often by adjustment of the wood to account for color’s impact. Until “click” the work is done.


The works on view by Conny Goelz Schmitt are made from vintage books which is her medium of choice. She shares that her work is shaped by her immersion in three very different cultures having spent her youth in Germany, and her twenties in Taiwan, before moving to the United States in 1996. Hard edges mixed with vintage colors and a taste for creative pioneering yield inventive pieces that can be turned every which way for installation; each possible positioning revealing differing takes on the beautifully coherent whole. With Backing Out of a Corner, Susan Spencer Crowe coaxes a significant dose of implied motion from her skillful handling of solid geometry. Adding greatly to the liveliness of the work are the festive patterns and colors she has applied to the interlocking multifaceted shapes that compose the piece. Debbie Hesse contributes her own jolt of simulated movement to the exhibition with Microburst, a large piece that makes the layering of collage manifest. Hesse accomplishes this by utilizing the inherent transparencies, translucencies, and opacities of the materials she’s employed and tangibly separating each succeeding free form layer with open space as it progresses off the wall and towards the viewer. Unconfined by rectilinearity, Hesse’s piece is suggestive of the curvature of space/time.


Why are so many artists drawn to collage? Collage is a process of discovery. Somehow working with seemingly disparate images whether abstract or representational, finding ones that speak to you if only in code, linking them to other images rationally or irrationally or by chance, leads to the uncovering of meaning hidden in your own mind, a new way to express the truth as you see it, or maybe just something you like to look at. Like a jigsaw puzzle that has no picture on the box it came in, eventually the pieces fit together in a revealing way for those who make the effort. With so many methods for putting collages together on view this month at Lockwood by so many adept artists, you're bound to find more than one that clicks for you.

- Carl Van Brunt

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