VACI Open Members Exhibition showcases mix of work

Rachael Le Goubin | Staff Photographer
The VACI Open Members Exhibition opening reception will take place in Fowler-Kellogg Art Center from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. today and features a wide-ranging selection of work by VACI Partners members.

This year’s VACI Open Members Exhibition will feature a wide-ranging selection of work by VACI Partners members. From a sculpture composed of rotary phones and paper pulp to watercolor paintings of Chautauqua, the exhibition is composed of an eclectic variety of media.

The opening reception will be held from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. today in the Fowler-Kellogg Art Center. The exhibition will be open through Aug. 20.

Earlier this summer while visiting the galleries at the Institution, artist Edward E. Jonasen heard about the exhibition and decided to become a VACI Partners member so he could submit his work.

Jonasen makes assemblage pieces in which he takes a mixture of items and combines them all into a singular work, he said.

He starts every work by picking a dominant color. For the piece he submitted for the show, titled “American Icon,” he chose red.

He then finds a centerpiece for his creations, which he said is chosen from his collection of thousands of “trinkets.”

“I found an old rotary phone, took it apart, and then I found that big penny. It was a Niagara Falls souvenir piece from 1927,” he said. “Then, what I do is I try to marry, or fit, the parts together.”

After finding the individual pieces, he then starts the long process of unifying the work’s many elements and then positioning a glass dome over the piece, he said.

“The hardest part with these sculptures, when you get down to the last little details, is trying to find something that fits,” he said. “It’s like a puzzle.”

Jonasen said “American Icon” took hours of work to assemble.

“ ‘American Icon’ was a pain to get together,” he said. “It drove me crazy. That was a tough one.”

This year’s exhibition is also the first for artist Cindy Andes, who submitted two paper pulp pieces for the show.

Andes has worked with paper pulp for 30 years, and while she sometimes makes her own, the two pieces are made from commercial paper pulp she gets from Pennsylvania.

Andes often works with discarded or reclaimed materials, she said; one of the pieces she submitted is paper pulp molded onto a discarded male mannequin she found in a mall dumpster.

“I molded the paper pulp on the torso and then I painted [it] to look like rust,” she said.

She then attached rusted pieces she found onto the torso.

“I called them the embodiment of urban waste because the bottle caps came from picking up debris on the streets of Germany and Prague,” she said.

For the other piece she submitted, she molded paper pulp on a glass wine decanter that was shaped as a knight, and made a mermaid figure from it. The figure is dyed instead of painted, she said.

“Sometimes, I dye the pulp when I put it on the mold,” she said. “So the mermaid was done differently. Instead of painting the pulp after the fact, I dyed parts of the pulp with Rit dye and with Kool-Aid.”

The mermaid is embellished by materials she found on the coasts along Long Beach Island, in New Jersey, where she has a house.

“I use natural and synthetic materials from the coast to embellish,” she said. “She’s holding some sea glass that I picked up.”

Watercolor painter Rita Argen Auerbach has been painting Chautauqua and exhibiting her work at Chautauqua for over 40 years, even before Strohl Art Center and Fowler-Kellogg Art Center were established.

“I have seen the art gallery evolve from a little, original Chautauqua structure barely standing on its own legs,” she said.

Auerbach said the architecture and icons of Chautauqua have motivated her work for years.

“What inspires me there is beautifully and interestingly translated from subject matter to medium on paper, and it has been very rewarding for me over the years to do this,” she said.

Auerbach said her favorite Chautauqua icon is the Miller Bell Tower — a monument that she has repeatedly used to inspire her paintings.

“It’s one I’ve interpreted in my work for all these years,” she said. “I’ve tried to alter the time of day, the mood, the light, the angle, the direction.”

Auerbach said she has been honored to have her Chautauqua-themed work appreciated by local audiences over the years. She has also loved watching the growth of the visual arts at the Institution.

“The evolution and the changing of the visual arts is extraordinary and it’s a wonderful thing,” Auerbach said. “It’s become very prominent in the culture of Chautauqua.”