to Verciano in my mind: one of Callner’s Lucca paintings.
Gallery through May 28
He is the unofficial painter-laureate of the Capital Region
and, at 78, Richard Callner is still going strong. A 50-year
retrospective of his work two years ago at the Albany Institute
of History and Art showed the remarkable depth and breadth
of Callner’s career; in the current exhibition at Firlefanz
Gallery, traces of the retrospective are joined by a powerful
new group of paintings, and are extended in other recent works
in gouache, acrylic and watercolor on paper.
Inspired by a two-week stay in the Tuscan village of Verciano,
outside Lucca, the new series dates from 2003 to 2005. Most
of it was painted from memory in Callner’s Latham studio after
he had absorbed the light, color and spirit of the places
he evokes in these pictures. They are more archetypal than
specific, and they rely as much on Callner’s own personal
language of color and shape as they do on any literal depiction
Each “Lucca painting” pays homage to an architectural structure,
whether a modest, stucco village house or a massive medieval
monastery. Ranging in size from about 7 by 10 inches to about
20 by 30 inches, the works use Callner’s intuitional approach
to form and color to create worlds within themselves—among
the black-outlined shapes and pleasing or bizarre colors,
there is a particular harmony that must work within the painting
for it to be considered finished.
One unifying factor of the Lucca series is the use of a strong
yellow-orange contrasted with indigo; this literally depicts
the colors of walls and sky but also presents a contrast that
the painter then restates in shades of green and purple and
black, much like a composer varies themes in music. This is
Callner’s method in all the work he shows—lay down a note,
then respond to it, then respond again to the new relationship
and keep going until it all works, painting over colors with
other colors as you go.
Whether the paintings relate to each other, or work together
to create a collective impact is secondary, though it is virtually
guaranteed by Callner’s well-honed consistency. His job is
to stay fresh as he paints, to see the relationships anew,
to always be challenged and surprised by each color as it
goes down on the paper. While this process is made more clear
by an interview video the gallery produced with art critic
Timothy Cahill, to the careful observer it is readily apparent
in the work itself.
Also apparent is the joy Callner brings to his work, and which
he clearly felt in the Tuscan summer. More difficult to suss
out is the place where joyful naiveté gives way to intelligent
picturemaking—a less experienced painter could easily fall
short, and leave us with nothing but sweet silliness where
the master must evince something deeper. Callner has plenty
of company in this type of challenge—think of Picasso with
his lovers or Matisse in the south of France—and he rises
to it handily.
As clearly expressed in the other work in the show, most of
which is almost totally abstract, what it boils down to is
the painter and his medium, rather than the subject. A good
enough painter, regardless of the subject or image, will be
able to satisfy a viewer’s desire for pleasure as well as
the greater need for something deeper and longer-lasting,
just by virtue of the way the painting is made; Callner is
that good a painter.
In the more abstract works, a few of which date to 2000-2002
or earlier, the rest of which are contemporary with the Lucca
series (2003-5), Callner flexes his muscles using bold black
outlines, aggressive shapes and colors, and complex compositions.
Though a great part of his life’s work involved landscapes,
the evidence of that here is less than obvious; equally, shadows
of the feminine figure are present, but not overwhelming.
I suppose one could make the argument that this is not truly
abstract work, because it is possible to recognize such shapes.
Still, it operates much more on the interior relationships
than on any metaphoric ones—in Callner’s work, it is the language
of paint that speaks loudest to the viewer.
Note: Close readers of my reviews may wonder why I’ve chosen
to write so often about this gallery (and I will again soon)
when there are so many regional venues to choose from and
so little space in which to cover them. The answer is simple:
Like almost no other for-profit venture in the region’s history,
Firlefanz just keeps mounting shows that are too important
While the practical gallery dealer offers what sells, leaving
the job of meeting critical criteria to the museums, colleges
and arts council galleries, this gallery’s directors have
chosen to present what they feel is most important, and hope
that the collectors will come. It may not be the best business
plan, but it has provided the area’s art audience with an
unusually high quality space at a crucial juncture in what
has always been a very difficult market. We should be careful
not to take it for granted.
There will be a reception from 5 to 8 PM Friday (May 20) at
Firlefanz Gallery for a new exhibition of ceramic sculptures
by Audrie Sturman in the gallery’s sculpture garden; the Sturman
show will continue through July 2.
to a transmission error, last week’s Peripheral
Vision review of Lee Boroson’s show at the Tang
was incomplete. Here is the full text of the review
as it was originally written.
Boroson: outer limit
Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, through
Few artists are as ambitious as Lee Boroson, whose
large, complex, inflatable pieces require a museum-scale
space—not to mention a lot of time and help—to
be displayed. Fortunately, he has a friend in
Ian Berry, curator of Skidmore’s Tang, who commissioned
a Boroson piece for the museum last year. That
has been joined by seven others, some of which
are site-specific, all of which work very well
with the space.
Boroson is inspired by natural elements at great
scalar opposites: Integument enlarges a
strip of human skin to giant proportions (and
very likable materials) while Star Swarm compresses
a vast swath of interstellar space, with all its
solid bodies crammed together, into a wall-mounted
The largest piece in the show, Lucky Storm
(2), represents a sunny cloudburst, where
the shimmering objects projected on the ground
are all good-luck charms, like a horseshoe, the
numeral 7 and so on. Another piece made just for
the space is a wall of fabric angled out from
a large window panel that backlights it; visitors
are encouraged to walk behind it, where a tight
space grows wider as you go along, so you breathe
a sigh of relief at the end. Viewed from in front,
Trim reveals a network of embroidered,
cutout leaf shapes that fold back, letting in
It’s happy stuff—but there’s no reason to try
to resist unpretentious yet impressive works of
art like these, especially when the materials
used are listed as “nylon, blowers, hardware,
air.” Boroson works a sort of magic with these
seemingly modest means.