Previous Exhibition Reviews 2000 - 2006

Sunday, February 20, 2005: Eric Swangstu. Art Critic Helen Harrison.
Eric Swangstu's untitled paintings of globelike shapes are formal exercises in the manner of Cézanne's still lifes of fruit. Unlike those predecessors, however, they are hard to pin down as studies of specific objects. Some look soft, others hard; some are textured, others smooth; some absorb light, others reflect it. A few seem to define negative space, like portholes, while others resemble solid spheres.

In one example, a heavily impastoed surface suggests a roughly formed ceramic ball. In another, a fully modeled, heavy looking spheroid floats like a planet in an atmosphere of sketchy brushstrokes and thin washes of color, as if the artist were contradicting the illusionism of his painted form. All the examples in this series play on the combination of observation and interpretation at the heart of realistic painting. The show also includes four canvases in which Mr. Swangstu gets more specific about his subject matter, while continuing to pursue his formalist agenda. His two versions of ''Bill Swan'' portray the back of a man's shaved head, lovingly describing every bump, dent and tonal nuance. Mr. Swan is presumably a living person, but his head is examined as dispassionately the inanimate spheres are. Similarly, two versions of a fox head reduce the animal to interrelated elements, an object of aesthetic study. This is an effective strategy for testing the boundary between objectivity and invention.

Sunday, March 7, 2004: Ralston Crawford. Art Critic Helen Harrison.
In the late 1940's and early 1950's, the painter Ralston Crawford often visited New Orleans , where he made an extensive photographic record of the city's African-American music scene. Mr. Crawford often used photographs as a basis for his Precisionist compositions -- cool, analytical streetscapes and abstractions derived from manmade structures. But his New Orleans chronicle was an end in itself, a sympathetic, insightful record of a culture he loved.

This exhibition at Molloy College features 20 of Mr. Crawford's prints from the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University , which owns some 800 of his images. Steering clear of Mardi Gras and the tourist-oriented jazz ensembles for which New Orleans is famous, he concentrated instead on neighborhood musical culture, from funeral bands to dance bands, ballrooms to bar rooms. Apparently the white, Canadian-born artist was not only accepted but was also encouraged by the musicians and entertainers to record their activities.

The results are far from the central-casting image of cool cats and hipsters at jam sessions. Mr. Crawford had access to places where everyday people went to let down their hair and raise a ruckus, and the atmosphere of irreverent fun comes across strongly in his candid but carefully framed observations. He was equally interested in the performers and the audience, and as good at studying the facades of saloons and clubs in the harsh light of day as he was at capturing the gritty ambience of their dimly lighted interiors.

Sunday, February 20, 2000: Herbert Gentry: Art Critic Phyllis Braff
A painter of vigorous figurative abstractions, Herbert Gentry received his widest exposure in this country four years ago when he was featured in "Explorations in the City of Light: African-American Artists in Paris, 1945-1965," an exhibition that circulated to a number of United States museums. He had maintained a studio in Paris from 1946 until the late 1960's, when he moved to Malmo, Sweden. Now he divides his time between New York City, where he was raised, and Malmo.

Strong, expressive color and generalized faces and bodies have been characteristic of Mr. Gentry's paintings throughout his career. The last 20 years are represented here, but ideas formed early remain clear. Brushwork is active, drawing is loose and human images tend to be rendered as universal signs.

Physical features, usually huge eyes or bold, abbreviated faces are assertive. When full figures appear, there are suggestions of symbolist traditions, particularly in an example like "Not Alone," which treats the body as a container.

Over the years, the Gentry paintings have become even more dense and intense, and most canvases here are filled with swirling strokes that make the figurative elements appear to be part of an overall gestural rhythm. In some of the more successful paintings, like "On the Move," there is a powerful tension between the swift, sweeping patterns and the instinctive desire to identify faces.



Sunday, December 10, 2000: Punk And Bloat. Art Critic Phyllis Braff.
The title of a software design program is used with a measure of irony here, for this sometimes seductive exhibition intends to remind viewers that hard-edge abstractionists have been inventing potent usual experiences since the pioneer efforts of Malevich and Mondrian.

With 24 examples by eight contemporary American artists, the show is relatively modest, yet passion comes across in its argument to remember great traditions. The emphasis is on intellectually driven schemes and a respect for theory and philosophy. Examples are well chosen to include oils, acrylics, mixed media, studies and even two pieces of sculpture by Steven Parrino that make points about transience, fluidity and morphing of shapes.

The emphasis is not so much on rigor as on imagination and refined sensitivities. With every nuance of color crucial to the desired impact, things seem more vibrant than austere. Everyone builds visual tensions. The ambiguities of optical weight are important in Li-Trincere's two-toned diagonal structures and in Donald Alberti's geometric compositions.

Shifting unpredictable spatial and color relationships introduce movement to many tightly constructed paintings. Cary Smith's shimmering vertical stripes produce some of the exhibition's most dynamic canvases. Christian Haub's layers of organized geometrics interact with the irregularities of wood to create complex examples. In different and satisfying ways, Merrill Wagner and Don Voisine allow central roles as flat and as receding elements.

A strong feature in the Malevich-based heritage of cerebral compositions is the structuring of movement that retains its tension and defies resolution. Lori Ortiz's quietly sophisticated paintings interpret this tradition frequently in pieces that hold configurations of floating circles within a larger geometric shape.

Sunday, February 21, 1999: TAKE OUT/ EAT IN. Art Critic Phyllis Braff.
The wealth of choices on a restaurant's multi-columned menu is used as a metaphor for "Take Out/ Eat In," a gathering of work by nine artists pursuing diverse directions. There is a unifying thread, however, in the way the show tries to demonstrate abstraction's wide scope. In the range here, abstraction can refer to the alteration and manipulation of recognizable images as well as to the creation of visual experiences that depend only on the actions of the materials involved.

Ron Ehrlich's loose, dripping pigment activating a scratchy, evocative surface and Arthur Arnold's luminous lavender filed are two examples that use the action of the paint to generate responses. Jackie Battenfield allows the tactile quality of handmade Asian papers to encourage some of her markings, but she goes much further by combining styles in adjacent sections of a single piece to add energy and tension. Sensibilities mix powerfully, too, and also suggest abstract cultural interpretations in Rhoda Sherbell's sculpture assemblage "Out of Africa," a forceful head that uses shells, bird feathers and delicate laces in its blend of evocative materials.

Levels of meaning are particularly intriguing in Jenny Scobel's compelling grisaille torso portraits with the character of advertising illustrations from the 1940's. As if developing a pun, each illusionistically modeled figure is clothed in patterns that resemble motifs in children's books, and they seem derived from designs in the painted, two-dimensional background. Eye gazes are intense, adding to the feeling of disorientation.

Jessica Falstein also reuses older sources for new purposes in assemblages that feature a single turn-of-the-century glass slide, once intended as a photo-documentation of factory work. The format blends past and present in a challenging way, with the old scene's reality asserting a fascinating but unsettling authority.

The evocative power of small scale images is one component, too, of Susan Mastrangelo's memorable grouping of 50 miniature heads, each emphasizing a different facial type fashioned in briskly, boldly twisted and painted modeling material

Sunday, October 3, 1999: Jenny Sobel. Art Critic Phyllis Braff.
In recent years, artists have been examining how youthful minds view life's tensions. Jenny Scobel, whose studio is in Brooklyn, contributes to this direction by creating unsettling, psychologically probing scenes based on images that come in part from the commonplace memento snapshot - and are thus disarming, accessible and innocent.

By mixing in other images and inventing logic-defying backdrops, she makes her graphite-and-wax drawings into solemn mysteries to be decoded. The work frequently centers on life-size torsos of pensive young women almost always frontal and gazing outward in a piercing manner. Scenes are partly gray, which tends to call attention to the unreal mood given to the recognizable fragments assembled from different sources. Where color is applied, it stimulates the character of photo retouching and lends the authority of the photographic record.

The face is young and intense in "What a Friend Had Said," a work typical of the show's many enigmas. In this instance, three open-mouthed, cartoonlike birds seem to be the source of the friend's words. Perhaps more intriguing, "Audrey II" shows the same girl dressed for a prom, with comic birds in the background operating complicated machinery that mimics the banging, chirping and nesting activities normally characteristic of the creatures.

Ms. Scobel's interest in suggesting the complexities of a young person's vision is nicely summarized in the all-gray "Flight Lesson." Placed in front of a fantasy setting of futuristic tall buildings and small airplanes, an uncomfortable girl strikes a snapshot pose by extending the edge of her party dress as if to curtsy.

December 12, 1999: Fred Becker. Art Critic Phyllis Braff.
There are many moments when this 65-year retrospective exhibition feels like it is covering chapters in the story of 20th -century American printmaking. Fred Becker began his highly respected career in the mid 1930's with powerful, extraordinarily delicate wood engravings of blues musicians and popular national legends, then spent the next six decades testing the potential of printmaking to reflect new stylistic and thematic interests.

A number of pieces could be aggressively surreal and otherworldly; others amazingly allowed the lines and colors in a woodcut to stimulate the continuous fluid action of Abstract Expressionism. Works that reconsidered the common object in a proto-Pop spirit appeared in the 50's. In some of his most creative and successful abstractions from that decade, Mr. Becker varied etching, engraving and printing processes to achieve configurations of markings, forms and tonal gradations to complex that they suggest the resonant, ambiguous space of Micro painting or the richly layered spatial planed of a Pollock canvas.

Mr. Becker, whose studio is in Amherst, Mass., is best known as a technical innovator whose ideas and experiments have had a wide influence. Striving for expressive surface characteristics, he tried not only new materials, but also inventive mixes of standard methods and non-conventional ways of printing. The vibrant "Interruptions" is a Plexiglas engraving with woodcut, and "The Gentle Snorer," with its sense of complicated optical textures, is a zinc etching printed on a letterpress.

The show also includes the wonderful abstraction, "Books and Eyes," a 1947 commission from the Metropolitan Museum at a point when the artist was exploring a color separation process.

Organized by the art historian Yolande Trincere, a Molloy College faculty member, the retrospective is about to start a national tour.

Sunday, December 13, 1998: Marc Van Cauwenbergh. Art Critic Phyllis Braff.
Marc Van Cauwenbergh, a Belgian Artist currently lives in New York City, concentrates on thinly applied veils of monochromatic paint, producing canvases that emphasize the loose flowing and dripping qualities of the liquid material. His work suggests the evocative energy sought by Color-Stain Painting as well as the sense of improvisational accident that is one legacy of Abstract Expressionism.

Even though the intention is to use the color symbolically, the adherence to a simplified palette based on a slate-blue tone can become boring when repeated 20 times over, as it is in this presentation. Nevertheless, color consistency does help to focus attention on the variations in the paired vertical columns of cascading blue and on the way the forms butt against each other to generate another, quite different source of energy.
When they are puffy, somewhat volumetric and organic, these principal elements hint at substance and weight and act as metaphors for human beings. The feeling is reinforced by a number of pieces that reach six feet in height. Occasionally a dividing line gives the suggestion of a horizon behind the pseudo-figures and offers an illusion of depth. Mr. Van Cauwenbergh also seems to be exploring the way raw canvas - its weave, texture and absorbency - can become a factor in developing the visual engagement.