Review: ‘Surface’ art: For the artist at heart

Review by Anthony Bannon

Amanda Mainguy | Staff Photographer
Rebecca Gouldson’s “Monoscope Series” of metal discs.  

Here is where the artist’s hand meets its surface, as where rubber meets the road.

These art marks are the trace rockets of genius, should the case be made. They are the marks that some say hold a history of magic, or a spark of the divine.

Considered, there is marvel upon these inscriptions, now elements upon surfaces newly charged by the act of art, matter made into new purpose by those we value to call “artist.”

There are seven artists represented by 51 of their works in the main space of Strohl Art Center on Wythe.

Judy Barie, director of galleries for the Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution, confesses her passion for attention to process and just what it might manifest: “I find it interesting if I can feel the artist’s hand in their work,” she said in an exhibition label, adding that her relationship to a work of art is “based on the materials, textures and colors used by the artist. … I can envision their process, standing with them in their studios as they create their unique surfaces.”

That is her invitation to the Strohl audience.

Imagine, she suggests, Akira Satake’s studio in rural North Carolina, where he hand-builds from clay slipped with porcelain the fine vases, pitcher, jar, pot and cups on show by stretching, scratching and giving them shape, revealing through the stretched white slip the unknown earthen hue beneath. This enchantment is a subtractive method, revealing the hidden, finding the color the clay demands to be.

The much different protocols for another artist, Dana Oldfather, emerge from a toolbox of painterly markers and the good works they do and from a wide catalog of visual source materials, whatever, wherever. The Cleveland artist — and dinnerware designer — takes on a linen or wood panel surface, whether big or small, and sets loose a barrage of mark-making strategies and subject matters. The reference matter of the moment can be as common as a necktie or as uncommon as a squiggle; perhaps a rock shape, or a tower; maybe a vine or a tool. Maybe she will fill up space or keep it empty.

Her mark might be a precise and delicate line or a free-flowing dribble. Oldfather’s work is an aesthetic mind spill, the nice sister of landfill. Both siblings have their own virtuosity — each their own architecture. Oldfather’s is a here-and-now aesthetic, living fully in the instant; her wicked landfill sister pines for a sympathetic archeology someday next millennium.

So that is a fly-over that outlines the topology of Barie’s efforts — from the veneration of clay to the chaos of what-have-you.

Filling in the rest, try these five:

• Weaving with oil, in a tight or loose weave, weave this way, weave that, and make it black or some other color, by Danielle Mysliwiec of American University in Washington, D.C.

• Weaving with paper and linen from a digital system to a digital loom, by Janice Lessman-Moss of Kent State University.

• Embedding into a plastic a gazpacho soup of materials, and violating them with reactive chemicals to create art/science masterworks of chance. The various outcomes are lodged into the basis of the materials themselves, which restrict the viewers’ pleasures for such as chroma and texture and, most importantly, create a lock into abstraction. This work is created by Deborah Barlow of Boston.

• Forming a circle from an arc of zinc and an arc of copper, joined axially. The surfaces of these two metals are etched with the techniques of intaglio printing, whether in the graceful complexity of line or the burnished scoring as if with a paint brush. These perfect circle wall hangings are an extraordinary work, scratched, scraped and waiting, just waiting, for the changing effects of age, elegantly created for the long away and manifesting future by Rebecca Gouldson from England.

• Coiling, coloring  and waxing copper into biomorphic shapes, as if dissections from a botany lab, small sculptures opening like unfolding coils — or closing in as fruit ripe with symbolic interpretation — by Darlys Ewoldt of Chicago.

In sum, Barie used words by the modernist artist Alberto Giacometti for her wall text wrap-up: “The object of art is not to reproduce reality, but to create a reality of the same intensity.”

That works.

Anthony Bannon is director of The Burchfield Penney Art Center at SUNY Buffalo State.  He previously was the art critic for The Buffalo News and the longtime director of George Eastman House, the International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester, New York.