Gallery showcases printmaking, animals, compassion


David and Jason Valdes Greenwood peruse the exhibition “Animal Craft,” on display in Fowler-Kellogg Art Center through July 21. Photo by Ellie Haugsby.

Elora Tocci | Staff Writer

Three shows filled with color, creativity and artistic interpretation will have opening receptions from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. today in the Fowler-Kellogg Art Center.

The Power of Print

Printmaking isn’t dead.

In fact, it’s alive and thriving in the Fowler-Kellogg Art Center, where the downstairs gallery is holding “The Contemporary Printmaker.”

Tom Raneses, a master printer who teaches drawing and printmaking at the School of Art at Chautauqua, and Judy Barie, VACI director of galleries, selected the pieces, several of which are drawn from the Jim Kempner Fine Art Gallery in New York City. Altogether, the show features 25 prints from 10 nationally and internationally known artists.

“All the work we’re showing are labors of love,” Raneses said. “Each artist is truly passionate about his or her work.”

That passion manifests itself in a slew of colors, techniques and ideas. An abstract woodcut piece by Charlie Hewitt splashes vibrant yellows, blues and reds onto the gallery wall. A nearby black-and-white mezzotint piece by Art Werger meticulously depicts a suburban neighborhood, while Polly Apfelbaum’s woodblock print fills a frame with carefully constructed flowers.

“Printmaking is an exciting mixture of artists and processes,” Raneses said.

The exhibition brings each artist’s own interpretations and methods of contemporary printmaking into the gallery.

Katja Oxman, a German-born artist, etched red, blue and yellow plates to produce shades of those colors as well as browns, purples and yellows in her still-life aquatint etchings.

Werger draws inspiration for his mezzotint prints of suburban and city scenes from his New Jersey upbringing.

Karla Hackenmiller uses today’s Internet-based culture to explore cognitive functions in her abstract etchings.

Raneses also explores the power of technology with digital prints, while Hewitt sticks with a more traditional, careful woodcut process.

Alex Katz’s work contributed to the East Coast figurative painting, Pop Art and New Realism movements. French-born Bernar Venet created two self-explanatory drypoint etchings titled “Random Combination of Indeterminate Lines.”

Apfelbaum has shown her work all around the world, with her floral “Color Field Notes” resting in Fowler-Kellogg.

Thomas Nozkowski looks to the natural environment for patterns, shapes and ideas.  His “Untitled #2” is a textured red and green aquatint etching.

Paula Scher has won awards for her graphic art and has a demonstrated knack for illustrating ideas with type. Her piece depicts an interpretation of the map of India.

The diversity of artwork in the show proves that the term ‘contemporary printmaker’ cannot be defined.  When choosing pieces for the show, Raneses said he was not looking for a common theme that united the work, other than a commitment to the art of printmaking.

The exhibition demonstrates the range of techniques that make up the media and how artists use different tools and materials to bring their vision to paper.

“All these artists are masters of their work, and their commitment to their prints comes through in each piece,” he said.

Birds and gorillas and rabbits, oh my!

The snake with the handprints up and down its body sits coiled in its cage in the corner, ready to strike.

The bird sits in its cage in another corner, holding its head up despite the thick black oil coating its body.

Two tiny dogs face each other, teeth bared, a bone lying in between them. But the way their mouths turn up makes them look like they’re just playing with each other, engaging in a friendly fake face-off that ends up in their splitting the bone rather than fighting for it.

The “Animal Craft” show offers a colorful, whimsical display of real and mythical creatures. The pieces were created from a variety of materials, including paper and vinyl, clay and leather, metal and pieces of musical instruments. Some pieces make political statements, others serve as playful projections of imaginary critters and most inject vibrant colors into the white-walled gallery. Together, the collection of work from 13 artists across the country offers a varied art zoo that people of all ages can appreciate.

“I’m a lover of craft,” Barie said, on why she chose the show’s theme. She said she selected pieces that she would personally hang in her home and ones she knew would work well in the gallery space. She chose the pieces in the show with a “less is more” attitude to let people enjoy the art without bumping into people at each turn.

The space awareness also sets up a dynamic among the pieces themselves. A giant deer crafted from John Deere tractor parts rests in one corner, while a collection of tiny, delicate ceramic rabbit heads fill the middle of the wall next to the deer. Photographs of taxidermy work hang on the wall of one room, while two leather-and-paper gorilla heads add dimension to taxidermy on another.

Whether visitors are appreciating spatial relationships or just enjoying the colorful whimsy, the “Animal Craft” show is perfect for families.

“It’s something that kids will really love, and since a lot of families come back to Chautauqua every year, we wanted to give them something new,” Barie said. “This is something they’ve never seen here before.”

Art with heart

Jerry Alonzo wanted words.

He wanted the words of neighbors, churchgoers, schoolchildren and friends, and he wanted the words of Chautauquans.

Alonzo attended a series of lectures at Chautauqua Institution about different faith traditions and realized that each one, in its own words, emphasized the importance of following the Golden Rule. Then he met with Karen Armstrong, a TED Prize-winning writer who drafted the Charter for Compassion, an online movement that encourages compassion from people across the globe.

The compassion message resonated with him, and he wanted to contribute to the movement. So Alonzo, who built furniture after he retired from a law career, asked for and received a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts to create a work of art. He wasn’t sure exactly what form the art would take, but he posted flyers around his hometown of Livingston, N.Y., asking people to describe what compassion meant to them in 25 words or less.

At first, Alonzo got no response.

“It was painful,” he said.

But then he got a submission, and it encouraged him to work for more. He put out a call for words to church groups, to school counselors, to students at nearby SUNY Geneseo, to Chautauquans. He eventually collected more than 300 submissions from people from all walks of life, as young as second graders and as elderly as nursing home residents.

“I wanted to ask a question of my community and just listen to what the community had to say,” Alonzo said.

He ended up engraving square wooden plaques with the words of each submission, editing nothing but spelling errors and compiling them on posts into a sculptural exhibition. Some of the submissions are funny — one reads, “Compassion is taking care of someone’s hangover.” Others are powerful — one submission is from a girl whose parents were substance abusers and who expressed eternal gratitude to the couple that took her in. Some submissions are religious, mentioning finding compassion through Jesus or God’s love. One simply reads “SOLACE.”

But each plaque answers the question Alonzo posed and opens up a dialogue for viewers of the exhibit. Two benches in the midst of the posts allow viewers to sit and reflect and hear the ideas of their community members.

“I wanted this to be about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, not just listening to another person but thinking, ‘OK, how would I feel if we switched roles, and I was saying the things that you’re saying?’” Alonzo said.

The submissions come from people who don’t know each other, who shouldn’t know each other through geography or profession or any other reason humans usually interact with one another. But Alonzo said he’s never had a repeat favorite — each person he’s spoken with has derived personal meaning from the exhibit and chosen a different plaque as his or her favorite.

“They’re hearing each other,” he said. “The contributors and the readers are speaking directly to one another.”