Friday, September 10, 2010

Mystery Tour Curator's Essay

Like a great puzzle, art can be appreciated as pleasurable, challenging and enlightening too, and some of the most compelling work around goes about its business by being, well, mysterious. Encounter a piece of art that does not close the circle, complete the cycle, yell at you or even explain itself - you as viewer are engaged, and the game is afoot.

This is not to suggest that virtuosity and expression of feeling should be suppressed. Art that is small by virtue of being facile, emotionally empty, or incompletely realized is not a passage through the vision of the artist into a richer reality; it is simply a void with a label. The artists of Mystery Tour demonstrate that a work of art can unveil a flare of inspiration and depth of talent without overworking its paradigm.

Approach "Gyratory Impression," and you enter the world of Alexandra Pacula, whose paintings explore the seduction of urban nightlife, expressing scenes as vividly lit whirlwinds and vortexes. Let this painting hold your eyes and you are inside what Pacula calls “a magical landscape with enticing opportunities and promises of fulfillment,” spinning and speeding at such a rate that bright points of light become a tunnel, a wormhole into the thrill of the night, with solid objects seen as impressions. You follow, but where are you? Blink and you stand before a richly layered canvas. Where have you been?

Writing about her impressionist photo “West Village,” Tunisian artist Aida Ben describes the moment: “I stand in the city of dreams and of hopes and I ask myself who I am...maybe I'm becoming a dream” Choosing a surreal moment like this to express with photography, Ben takes on a specific challenge, coaxing an inexorably literal medium into abstraction sufficient to allow the imagination to play within the image while retaining a sense of place. In contrast, her 2 images of “The Birdcage” are specific in line, light and shadow but do not establish the scene. With the minimal composition and one detail of the content, the artist evokes moving fragments of the inner lives of isolated women in her native land.

Catalin Moldoveanu’s painting “Descent” is described by the artist as expressing the interface “between opposites such as presence/absence, light /dark and inner/outer.” Fearless use of dark rich colors and teeming abstract imagery verging on the grotesque create a surreal exploration that leads you to a center of darkness (which is not an absence but a concentration of many layers of varying color and transparency) where the picture can only be speculatively completed, akin to the climax of a puzzling work of science fiction.

Robert G. Edelman’s works on paper from his explorations of “Interiors” show moments in space apparently taken out of time. The spontaneous POV leaves us to wonder who was there, who is coming, and what takes place here. These establishing shots invite the viewer to walk in, expressing simply but so clearly the essence of the places that you can almost smell the air in the room...are the people just out of sight, or only in our memories and imaginings? In particular, the chair that is the subject of “Perch” conveys such a strong sense of a faithful sitter it is almost a character itself. Do I hear a radio?

In the group of still life paintings titled The Food of the New Masters Series, Fedele Spadafora studies the mood of the subdued lighting in a Vietnamese restaurant in NYC’s Chinatown, and the mysterious aura it lends to the objects there. Varying points of perspective keep the viewer a bit unsettled while taking in images suggesting a concept most compelling to the artist - what is on the one hand a familiar, casual meal, is, on the other, food from very far away. For his “Hula Hoop” series of nudes, Spadafora breaks from the anatomical precision characteristic of his figure paintings to focus on line, feeling and motion. The unseen is the attraction, we wait for her to turn, show us more, see us...the paintings tease, but leave the rest to the imagination.

How artists see and conceptualize is a secret we all enjoy sharing through art - and Kristin Anderson and Danny Licul’s collaborative installation, “My First Photo,” cracks it open just a bit more for us to peek inside. Anderson, a photographer, videographer and conceptual artist, presents a small black and white photograph and its hand-written verbal description, which begins: This is the first picture I ever took. I was around 5 years old. The next step was to provide the words only to Licul, a painter, who then created a colorful canvas interpreting the picture as she had described it, completing the 3-part work. Viewing it, we begin an intimate investigation of verbal and visual language and join the artists in their “conversation.”

Ryan Bradley creates his own motifs and photographic portraits of fashion models, then generates a digital model of his completed work, but that is where technology ends. Bradley meticulously cuts a stencil by hand - “Laser cutting,” he says, “Is just not the same,” - lays it over his substrate, and realistically re-creates the photo in pastel over all. Lifting the stencil, he reveals a highly detailed, hide-and-seek composition of portrait and pattern, as precise as digital, as defined as collage, but with the added depth and intimacy of the artist’s own line and feeling. With pastels so soft and richly layered that they cannot be fixed, his sensitive pieces can almost be said to be comprised of shadow and dust.

Titled “The Forgettery Project,” Rosalie Stone Morris’ exploration of the mysterious nature of memory is a site-specific installation created for this exhibition. From her statement: “a Forgettery is a place where you can place things you wish to forget about for awhile.” In a balancing act between concept, gravity and the serendipity of many, many found objects, brought to life by Morris’ inspiration, heartfelt sentiment and attention to detail, the installation creates an energized destination within the gallery where we can all go to find - or lose - ourselves.

Mark Wiener begins painting by orchestrating a variety of fluid media to respond to natural forces - temperature, gravity - as well as their own varying compositions. Most satisfied with works of greater complexity, Wiener also appreciates the simple strength of his primary layers, and “Process Study II” is part of his new format for seeing the lower layers re-emerge, as the transparent substrate allows it to be worked and displayed recto-verso (on both sides). Searching for the emotion and the moment of inception in layer after layer of diaphanous shapes and geometric forms, exploring the seemingly endless depths beyond, viewers often say they are reminded of the cosmos, or a transcendent meditative experience.

The apple in Adam Miller’s masterful figurative/allegorical painting “Exile” represents for him the forces of Nature and the unconscious on our lives as “the unknown and dimly understood taking possession of our souls.” The woman in the painting holds an apple, not yet tasted, as she gazes behind. The sky is dark, her passionately rendered drapery billows in the wind to resemble an ominous figure in pursuit - yet her face shows anticipation rather than grief, is her glance backward an invitation? There is even the slightest hint of the kind of enigmatic smile that, as we know, can become the subject of lively discussion and debate in the world of art.

Linda DiGusta
NYC, September 2010