as in a natural state: Axford’s works in clay.
Axford and D. Jack Solomon
Gallery, through March 26
If Firlefanz Gallery has re opened for the season, then spring
can’t be too far off. The current exhibition is a classic
pairing of Glenmont ceramist JoAnn Axford and downstate painter
D. Jack Solomon that makes the most of contrasting palettes
and styles: Axford’s a pale, subtle dream in delicate porcelain
and Solomon’s a vibrant, jubilant fantasy in rich acrylic
What the artists have in common, aside from clear personal
vision and mastery of their chosen media, is a steadfastness,
an impressive sense of purpose. In Axford’s case, this translates
into the daily habit of “clay journaling,” as she describes
her intuitive explorations of form in hand-built, unglazed
Inspired and informed by nature, Axford’s pieces emanate the
therapeutic calm that comes from working with clay and the
potency of the life force that all plants and organically-shaped
creatures (such as coral) exude. The decision to leave the
work in its original eggshell-colored state (except in two
cases where 22-karat gold leaf embellishes it) gives Axford’s
basket, pod and pitcher shapes an almost pure aura, so understated
as to perhaps lull the viewer into missing out on their deeper
energy, their hidden edges of playfulness.
This, however, is remedied by the presentation: In pairs,
trios and larger groups, her Nested Forms and Improvisation
series animate the fragile shapes and point up their textural
contrasts. Like a lexicon of hand-building techniques, the
groups titled Nested Forms #1-4 offer pinched, slab-built
and coiled shapes in various combinations, each cleverly and
skillfully showing off its advantages.
The larger groupings titled Botanical Improvisation on
a Pedestal and Landscape Improvisation, together
with Copland’s Moods, express a jazziness that’s hard
to resist. Axford has retained the sense of impulse from which
the pieces were born to the extent that the gallery’s notices
not to touch them are quite necessary.
Otherwise, we’d be inclined to get in on the act, to join
Axford in rearranging the little, possibly undersea tableaux
to our momentary liking. Doubtless, this is part of her intention—but
she’s coy. She seduces us with beauty and spontaneity, then
she teases us with inaccessible purity and risky fragility.
It’s a fun game, and she succeeds at it very well.
Solomon is even more playful. At 72, he paints with the energy
of a man half his age, gleefully injecting images from the
comics—not to mention a panoply of other influences that range
from advertising art to the ancient Greeks to higher math
to Picasso—into his extremely quirky compositions.
Based in Surprise, Solomon has taught at Parsons School of
Design for more than 20 years, and his exhibition resume runs
for several pages. But, for the last couple of years he’s
suddenly shown quite a bit in the Capital Region; this selection
of more than 30 paintings and collages made from 2001 to 2005
is the most comprehensive I’ve seen, showcasing both his range
and his consistency.
Extremely adept with acrylic paint, Solomon loves to indulge
in the push-pull relationship between pure, intense color
and monochrome within the same painting. Working as small
as 6 by 9 inches and as large as 50 inches, he jams every
composition with countless elements, and layers these elements
with a complexity of colors and textures.
Typically, a Solomon painting will be crisscrossed with numerous
straight lines running in all directions at different angles;
intermingled within this strict yet random structure will
be all manner of shapes and squiggles, some symbolic, some
clearly stolen, some just loopy. Along with these sort of
hieroglyphs, there will be many characters and objects and
figures from his various sources: Jiggs and Maggie,
for example, or disembodied arms and legs out of Leger, which
float and frolic in the space he’s created. These hard-edged
shapes can be in shades of gray or in brightly outlined primary
colors, and the fields around them are usually in a fairly
narrow but intense color zone, say a green and yellow combination,
or a purplish blue.
Everywhere, light and dark, soft and hard, flat and deep all
commingle and clash in these complex visual exercises, described
in Solomon’s artist statement as a “duality of whimsical content
and formal structure.” It’s easy to see how the paintings
were developed out of collage, and there are a lot of collages
(with paint) on view to help show how the process goes, but
it’s also quite clear that the paintings stand as such, providing
a gratifyingly finished sensation that owes much to Solomon’s
great skill with acrylic.
One can approach this work almost entirely as pure form and
come away happy—there are wonderful passages of grays (in
every color of the rainbow, visible when you compare them)
and equally luscious sparks of aqua, crimson and safety yellow.
Solomon’s edges alone can hold your attention, with the layers
of color they reveal.
But, at some point, you’re going to ask the inevitable question:
“So, what does it all mean?” To that, I can only say, “Who
the heck knows?” Not Solomon, I suspect—and that’s alright
with me. A little mystery is a good thing, and in my opinion,
it’s not an artist’s job to remove it with boring explanations.
Solomon’s work is goofy, and it’s serious—like life. In his
case, probably a bit more goofy, thank goodness.
By the way, it was just announced that Solomon has received
a $25,000 grant from the Pollock/Krasner Foundation. That’s
a distinction very few can claim—I think the Kat zenjammer
Kids would be pretty proud.
Arsenault: Time Standing Still
K. Sanford Town Library through Mar. 31
Inspired by a childhood love affair with Edward
Hopper’s paintings, David Arsenault transformed
himself as an adult from working graphic designer
to working painter, adopting Hopper’s realist
style and adding his own twists. Now, years later,
he has earned a strong following and reputation
(even winning a Metroland readers’ poll
a few years back), and his entrepreneurial skills
have kept him solvent and regularly showing.
His current display at the Loudon ville library’s
spacious, spotlit Sted man Room features 24 oils
on canvas from as early as 1995 through brand-new
work. This quasi-retrospective offers a well-organized
look at Ar senault’s genesis and evolution—fans
won’t want to miss it, as many of the best older
works have already sold, and will likely disappear
forever into private collections.
Having dubbed his style “the art of solitude,”
Arsenault strikes a softly alienated pose, favoring
isolated houses and, when present at all, self-absorbed
individuals. He’s at his best when capturing qualities
of light, whether natural, artificial, or both
at once—and his sense for color is quite strong.
Where Arsenault occasionally falters, however,
is in describing form; here, his brushwork sometimes
seems rushed and imprecise, which can rob a painting
of its true voice.
But this is a quibble. Arsenault’s a really good
painter—and there’s still plenty of time for trying
to achieve greatness.