A color with a tainted past: Lea Bozman’s
Iron Blues Series (Sarah and Jack).
Handmade Paints, kingston, through May 26
the first capitol of New York state, Kingston is always worth
a trip. Not only does it have great historic architecture,
quaint shops, and good restaurants, it also has a solid art
scene due in part to the presence of R&F Handmade Paints,
a manufacturer of encaustic paint and pigments sticks. Encaustic
is a wax-based medium of ancient Greek origin that had an
artistic revival in the 20th century. Richard Frumess founded
R&F in 1988 and moved it to Kingston in 1995. After spending
a decade in a rented space on the second floor of another
building, the business has moved into its own space, a renovated
industrial brick warehouse built in 1896. The building now
houses offices, a production area, a workshop, a small store,
and a gallery.
The R&F gallery hosts bimonthly exhibitions of artists
working in encaustic and oil paints. The current exhibition,
Get Real, shows the work of six artists who make representational
paintings—landscape, still life, and portraiture—while adding
their own twists to the traditional formulas. The exhibition
explores the continued drive to represent “reality” in paint,
despite the availability of digital mediums.
Kevin Frank’s paintings are the most traditional in the show.
Using encaustic on panel, Frank’s paintings are impressively
precise and meticulous. Since encaustic must be applied when
still hot, Frank clearly has a very steady hand. Lilies
is a traditional still life of flowers in a glass jar while
Cubist Still Life is a realist’s version of a cubist
composition, complete with pipe and newspaper. In addition,
Frank pays tribute to the origins of the medium by using a
traditional Greek palette of only four colors—mars yellow,
mars red, and black and white.
Of the two landscape painters in the exhibition, only Tom
Sarrantonio works plein air. However, in this show, his three
large-scale paintings were made indoors. In these works, Sarrantonio’s
characteristic brushstrokes render a mood as well as a sense
of the light and temperature of a particular season and time
of day. These oil-on-canvas paintings are more personal than
his smaller paintings. Conceit is evidently more than
just a painting of dandelions in a field, and Moment
has a brooding shadow line that has crept its way almost to
the trees in the background. Transition is a thawing
cornfield that most likely reflects the inner workings of
the artist’s mind as he contemplates the transience of life.
Margaret Crenson’s expressionistic landscapes are painted
in the studio where it is quiet and has predictable light.
She works from photographs, but also from memory and imagination.
Her small paintings are of the roads and fields around the
Hudson Valley. Using oil and a cold-wax medium, she uses a
pallet knife to give texture to her paintings. Of note are
Winter Rain (Taconic Parkway) and Southbound (Taconic
Parkway), which render the highway and its environs a
particularly compelling character and convey the artist’s
fondness for this scenic and winding highway.
Portraiture is represented in the exhibition by Lea Bozman,
Wayne Montecalvo, and Matt Duffin. Bozman’s The Iron Blues
Series consists of works in oil paint on panels. Each
of the paintings depicts two or more people in a loving relationship,
whether romantic or familial. Her paintings are reminiscent
of those by Alice Neel, who depicted friends and family using
expressionistic lines, and who often used heavy contour lines
in blue. Bozman uses Prussian blue against a yellow background.
Prussian blue is visually compelling and has unusual properties.
It’s also bizarrely connected to the argument made by Holocaust
deniers that there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
(Apparently Prussian blue forms as a result of the chemical
bonding between hydrogen cyanide and the iron in brick. Prussian
blue stains are apparent in the de-lousing chambers at Auschwitz
where they used Zyklon B, but not in the gas chambers where
they used the same agent to exterminate people, so some Holocaust
deniers use this as “proof” that there were no exterminations
The color itself along with its tainted history and toxic
potential are what make it compelling. Bozman works from photographs,
as does Montecalvo, who starts with a digital image that he
manipulates for a new perspective. Anonymous Mug Shots
are portraits in encaustic on paper. Montecalvo takes the
original and transforms it through multiple steps of enlarging,
gridding, abstracting, and reducing until it becomes a sort
of paint-by- numbers or map of colors. Up close, the paintings
are more abstract, but as the viewer steps further back, the
individual faces become clear. The eight pieces, which hang
in a group, each mine the richness of color available in the
topography of each individual’s face. Matt Duffin’s Billboard
Blinders is less a portrait than a surrealist study of
the medium of encaustic, as well as the contrasts and shadings
available in the single color black. In this piece, a lone
figure sits in a chair, her head hidden behind a billboard
on either side, each illuminated by a lamp above. Instead
of applying paint to create the image, Duffin etches into
the medium, creating areas of light and dark and subtle shading.
Real is a small but interesting exhibition and is part
of the R&F mission to be a resource center for information
on encaustic and oil painting techniques. Along with displaying
and collecting art, R&F provides encaustic and oil paint
workshops, hosts an online forum, maintains a slide collection,
and sponsors a biennial juried show of encaustic work. Even
if you can’t make it to see this exhibition, there are three
more exhibitions scheduled this year, one of which is the
sixth encaustic biennial, juried by painter Joan Snyder. There
probably is no better showcase specifically for encaustics
in the country, so admirers of this unique medium should be
sure to mark their calendars for the Aug. 4 opening.
the Presence of the Body
Hall, Rensselaer Polytechnic institute, through May 31
the Semi Living Artist
for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, Rensselaer
Polytechnic institute, through May 31
Two new exhibits at RPI explore the confluence of science
and art. While one exhibit is housed in the art department’s
West Hall, the other is in the public lobby of the new Center
for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies. By exhibiting
art outside the Department of Integrated Electronic Arts,
chair Kathy High hopes to encourage more collaboration between
artists and scientists on campus, with eventual one-on-one
exchanges in the labs. At RPI, where most of the art students
have backgrounds in science and engineering, the connections
are close, and High hopes new efforts aimed at integrating
the two will “bridge cultures.” MFA candidate Boryana Rossa,
curator of the shows, hopes to attract non-students from Troy
In West Hall, a bioart retrospective serves as an introduction
to this broad genre. The exhibit, In the Presence of the
Body, brings together documentation on 15 projects from
as far away as Russia, Australia, Germany, Canada, Bulgaria
and Spain, as well as the United States. As the title suggests,
each work involves the use of biological substances, either
as source material or subject matter. A video by the group
Utrafuturo, an Eastern European-based bio-art collective,
captures the artists as they draw blood, load it into a neon
lightbulb with other materials, and then set the light aglow.
Like many of the pieces, it’s both fascinating and disturbing.
Other projects include work by seminal bioartist Eduardo Kac,
and Critical Art Ensemble, another collective. In a world
where we expect order in everything, the exhibit shows the
randomness of biology and how easily it can be disturbed.
the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies,
MEART: the Semi Living Artist—a combination of cultured
rat nerve cells, and a robotic arm that travels from gallery
to gallery, drawing when exposed to models and other stimuli—raises
questions about qualities we consider uniquely human. MEART’s
drawings, housed in movable displays, can be viewed from the
ground floor on which they rest, and from the staircase that
winds above. That the brain at work is rudimentary is a given.
But the repetition of style and image from drawing to drawing
is an eerie indication of personality. A project of SymbioticA
Research Lab, a bioart lab in Western Australia, MEART
is a head- scratcher about just what it means to create.
peripheral vision this week-