At Fowler-Kellogg, ‘surprise and invention far outside the norm’

Four of Stephen Yusko’s pieces made of forged and fabricated steel — from left to right, “Ruthie Birthday Box,” “Nine Square Oil Can,” “Federal Box (Chautauqua Yellow)” and “Yusko Threaded Oil Can” — are displayed as part of the Fowler-Kellogg Art Center exhibition “An Object of Beauty: Metal/Fiber/Glass” through July 18.

Roxana Pop | Staff Photographer

Four of Stephen Yusko’s pieces made of forged and fabricated steel — from left to right, “Ruthie Birthday Box,” “Nine Square Oil Can,” “Federal Box (Chautauqua Yellow)” and “Yusko Threaded Oil Can” — are displayed as part of the Fowler-Kellogg Art Center exhibition “An Object of Beauty: Metal/Fiber/Glass” through July 18.

OK, here it is; truth be out: There’s a special brand of artists who truly are a strange breed. I’m not arguing for Vincent van Gogh-Jackson Pollock eccentricities. Most artists live quite regular lives.

But the evidence on the second floor of Fowler-Kellogg Art Center casts a vote for unusual practice, at least. See for yourself.

Judy Barie, Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution galleries director, lives within a magnetic force field that draws these unique artists’ accomplishments to her. Year after year, count on her for surprise and invention far outside the norm. Yes, this time out, she had help from the Pittsburgh Glass Center, and all due credit, but Barie here has the final word.

She does cloak her wonderments in banal titles: “An Object of Beauty: Metal/Fiber/Glass” is about an innocuous as possible. Just examine the lion made out of air rifle BBs, or the shovel with its blade and handle made of glass, and I will rest my case. These are a way beyond the pale of your standard “objects of beauty.” The BB artist is Courtney Timmerman; the glass-tool artist (with also two saws on view) is Elizabeth Fortunato, who goes a step further by painting on the tools — an image of a mill on the saw, a house on the shovel, for instance.

And it continues, marvelously:

— Travis Rorhbaugh creates glass airplanes – a Spitfire and a Messerchmitt. Oh, what treasures for the adult child.

— Deborah Horrell paints birds on glasses she calls passerines. That is not a type of glass; it is a type of bird – a perching songbird. Lexical Priorities, you know.

— Laura Tabakman designs silk flowers on rusted wire stalks has them growing out of the wall.

— And Jan Huling makes resin animals covered with multi-colored Czech glass beads, particularly the cunning “Catbird Seat,” which has a bird arrogantly perched on a cat’s head.

There is a good bit more objects of delight — 16 in all: Nathan Vincent crocheting stuff, like a slingshot, and Stephen Yusko concocting oil cans, not of tin, but of forged steel with roughed up paint jobs to make them look old.

Maybe the exit lines for the show are the lovely epigrams with slight imagery by Iviva Olenick, here an embroidered woman in a field of bubbles, with the legend: “I could feel all my years of love for you bubbling up until I was submerged in a pool of memories.”

There’s another show on the first floor. It is titled “Looking Forward Looking Back,” and it features artists impacted by their Chautauqua experience.

The Chautauqua School of Art, declared Don Kimes, its longtime director, and curator of the exhibition, “has been the launching point for literally thousands of artists over the past century.” Each seven-week summer session sees about 40 students in a program that began 104 years ago.

This exhibition is a snapshot of five of the students — two just out of graduate school; three significantly into their careers.

Jenny Glen Wuerker, here in 1987, is the founder of Crazy Woman Fine Arts Gallery in Buffalo, Wy., and she paints from there, flat-brushed shorthands of the range land just in sight of and before the mountains — oil on canvas that respects the wide-open nature of the region and honors, too, the viewer’s opportunity to join in and finish the relationship between artist, image and audience.

Alyse Rosner attended classes in 1988 and 1989. Her work is now represented by the noted Rick Wester Fine Art Gallery in Chelsea. Vivacious work created with different mark makers —graphite, acrylic and ink — outlines a tangle of pictorial pathways: lines and swatches that propose a complex wayfinding as delightful as deciding whether to follow a deer path or a train bed. Rosner’s genius is to make these courses for movement appear as traces of a biomorphic presence, and thereby give her paintings life.

Amber Scoon was with us in 1999, when, at 19 years old, she was the youngest to be accepted to the program in recent memory. She went on to earn advanced degrees in art and aesthetics and teaches both subjects now at Texas A&M, with a new book, Quantum Art, drilling into theory as well as practice. Her work does the same, spring-boarding from observation into aesthetic speculation, working from what seems to be to what might be, and doing so in a polymath’s voice. With a range of references, hues, textures, media and compositional codes — in short, speculating across the a good bit of the language of art — Scoon offers up a grid of small paintings on paper that are delight for the eye’s mind.

Tso-Kwong Pok, from 2009, just finished at University of Iowa in the MFA program, and Lisa Jakob, from 2010, just finished her MFA at American University. Both have bright futures — Jakob in small, dense and fecund pile-ups of oil, acrylic and gouache abstracted on canvas, and Tso — he goes by Bobby Tso — with constructions of simple graphic forms that look like they should be plugged in somehow — nifty, funny, smart and contrary proposals.

The exhibitions continue through July 18.

Anthony Bannon is the executive director of the Burchfield Penney Art Center and research professor at Buffalo State College. He also is director emeritus at George Eastman House, the International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester, N.Y.