scream, I scream: Allen’s Kalers Pond (snoopy).
Teaching Gallery, Hudson Valley Community College, through
If you’re the sort of person who enjoys a good cartoon or
comic book character, and then wants to see its head melting
on a stick, don’t miss Meredith Allen: Photographs
at Hudson Valley Community College’s Teaching Gallery.
Allen is a New York-based photo artist who earned her master’s
degree at SUNY Buffalo—from where we got the likes of Robert
Longo and Cindy Sherman back in the go-go ’80s—and whose work
has garnered prestigious grants, solo shows and plenty of
publication exposure in recent years. Part of the key to her
success is the likeability of the candy-colored pictures;
another is the uninflected attitude that easily allows for
viewer projection and interpretation, an uncontrollable aftermath
which the artist said during a talk she gave at the college
last week that she accepts as inevitable.
Aside from their content—melting ice pops held up at arm’s
length in front of vaguely idyllic landscapes—the pictures
are seductively lush prints with subtle, painterly surfaces
and sophisticated color interplays. Based on reproductions,
I expected digitally captured and output fare—turns out these
are film-based 35mm snaps (she uses a point-and-shoot) that
Allen prints large herself in the painstaking darkroom method.
The resulting 20-by-24-inch prints are presented mounted and
laminated with a matte surface, framed to the edges in white
and hung in a straight row. This has by now become the standard
method for showing photographs (as opposed to matting them)
and, in this case, the sense it creates of the picture as
an object is consistent with the style of the pictures themselves,
which present their subject as an object for our observation
The straight-on approach says to the viewer, “Hey, check this
out,” and when we do, a number of ideas may come up. The first
thing likely would be to notice the vivid color—the pops themselves
go pink, yellow, red white and blue, brown with blue, orange
with green, then red, then green and so on. These are juxtaposed
against mostly clear, deep-blue skies above a low horizon
with a watery or grassy background, slightly out of focus.
I’m not much on recognizing the characters (no kids), but
some of them are pretty obvious, some are melted beyond recognition
and I’d guess more than a few were pretty badly reproduced
in ice cream to begin with—but you do see Pink Panther, Pikachu
and Jimmy Neutron pretty clearly (anyway, they’re all labeled).
On the other hand, Spider-Man is a mere blob and some of the
others have lost most of their facial features and expressions
to sun and gravity, creating a vision not necessarily directly
associated with the personal connection to, say, Powerpuff
This is where it begins to get interesting—especially in the
case of a demonic-looking Mickey Mouse with an angry slash
of a maw, or Pikachu’s terrified expression and little stubby
arms raised in apparent self-defense or supplication. I’m
not the type to go all empathetic over a frozen dessert in
the form of a two-dimensional cartoon, but there is a good
bit of evocative transformation going on here.
Another aspect of this body of work (there are 10 ice pops
on view, selected from a much larger series, along with three
other photos from Allen’s earlier series on coin-operated
kiddie rides) is the different take on the landscape, which
places it firmly in a time-honored chain that trails back
to the very beginning of the photographic medium. Allen’s
use of color, juxtaposition, focus and scene makes connections
and references to various points along this timeline, most
notably to the “altered landscapes” made by John Pfahl in
the 1970s. Given that he’s based in Buffalo, a direct influence
Allen’s apparent obsession with the American vernacular is
equally expressed in her kiddie-ride pictures. The three 12-inch-square
inkjet prints included here feature nicely individualistic
portrayals of these figures in the soft-focus dreaminess created
by a plastic Diana camera. They consist of a mellow alligator,
a crazed kangaroo and a threatening horse—perhaps not exactly
fitting or clear metaphors for our time, but nevertheless
an odd thing to willingly stick your toddler on for a 25-cent
Allen said at her talk that “photography is about play and
it is about discovery . . . and finding your way in the world
as you make it your own.” This exhibition shows that by staying
true to that philosophy she has been able to create a unique
mode of expression.
Stevan Jennis: Narrative Landscapes
Sena Gallery, through Oct. 6
This pairing of Patricia Nolan and Stevan Jennis
is the first show I’ve seen at Hudson’s Richard
Sena Gallery, a lovely, clean space on a lower
block of Warren Street. The exhibition takes natural
advantage of the gallery’s twin storefront layout,
being in effect tandem solo shows.
Nolan presents 15 photographic triptychs; elaborately
framed, they physically evoke the traditional
altarpiece, but their content is far more personal
and whimsical. All but five of them consist of
richly hand-colored silver prints, the others
being unadorned silver prints with one trio combining
the two media.
Nolan’s subject matter creates bridges among portraiture,
fashion, and industrial and historical architecture.
Most of the images seem to create random or mystical
connections—more like poetry than storytelling—and
several are clearly intended as straightforward
portraits of certain people, while others treat
the sitter more as a model or creative collaborator
than as a subject.
Aside from the distinctive presentation, what
makes Nolan’s work stand out is the color—she
is really as much a painter as a photographer,
and she revels in very strong, almost psychedelic
shades. I found the gold-toned framing out of
place on all but the most chromatically compatible
pieces and especially distracting on the black-and-white
pictures. Overall, this is a challenging, interesting
body of work.
Jennis is one of those artists with his own visual
vocabulary, and he uses it exuberantly in these
12 acrylic drawings on paper and paintings on
canvas. His cartoony style and self-referential
tendencies make for very approachable work—but
it also has a dark side, as though Saul Steinberg
came back, altered, from the dead.
There is appeal in both the rawness of the sketchier
pieces and the resolution of the more polished
ones—sometimes, Jennis makes the same image in
both forms—but I liked best a piece that falls
between the two. Titled Artist’s Landscape
II, it is a witty flashback to the days of
color wheels, cubes and cones, paint tubes and
sketchpads. The bespectacled, paint-splotched,
skivvies-wearing artist in the midst of it all
seems truly bewildered, perhaps by a postmodernist
world he can no longer recognize.
It’s truly fun stuff.