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A color with a tainted past: Lea Bozman’s Iron Blues Series (Sarah and Jack).

Modus Operandi

By Nadine Wasserman

Get Real

R&F Handmade Paints, kingston, through May 26


As 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 at Auschwitz.)

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.

Get 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.


In the Presence of the Body

West Hall, Rensselaer Polytechnic institute, through May 31

MEART: the Semi Living Artist

Center 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 as well.

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.

In 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.

—Jacqueline Keren


-no peripheral vision this week-


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