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Connubial creations: (l-r) Untitled by Sharon Bates, Gray Trough by Paul Miyamoto.

The Ties That Bind
By Rebecca Shepard

Works by Sharon Bates and Paul Miyamoto
Albany Center Galleries, Through July 12

In real life, these two artists are married. And apparently that relationship—and not a compelling affinity in the nature of their artwork—is the reason former Albany Center Galleries director Sarah Cunningham selected them as co-exhibitors. Not that it’s the first time an exhibit has been organized based on family ties. The question is, does it work? The gallery space is divided, with Bates’ work on one side and Miyamoto’s on the other, and the first impression is of two separate worlds: one half humor, poise, and compressed energy, the other half a dreamy desolation. The response of the casual viewer might be something along the lines of, “These two artists are married?!”

Sharon Bates’ work suggests vivid, old-fashioned words like verve and moxie. The 12 gouache paintings use a similar format. A central shape, often predominantly black or white, is collaged onto a bright, densely patterned ground. Their heavily outlined forms vibrate against the complex field with the intensity of an Indian miniature. These shapes are singular, simple and bold, sexily curvaceous, and suggestive of all sorts of things, from a spinning top to the Jetsons’ coffee table to a loaded water balloon. Like portraits of alien ancestors, they stare you down with a coiled energy and a challenging esprit de corps. But ultimately they are indefinable, not quite one thing or another. They throw a bone to the rational, analytical mind, but ultimately confound it, and that makes them a delight.

This fascination for form is also evident in Bates’ five sculptures. These use found objects—a wicker basket, a bowling pin—to create droll, lively assemblages, free-standing and grouped like convivial party goers. They look like hybrids of capricious furniture and exotic flower forms. As in the paintings, their varied surfaces are obsessively covered with vivid color and pattern. (Now, however, this brings faux-finishing a little too quickly to mind.) While captivating, I found the sculpture less effective than the two-dimensional work. What attracts me most in Bates’ work is the strong sense of shape and line. In the sculpture, the feeling is, “This is the shape I found, here’s what I’ll do with it.” It is engaging to see the results, but I miss the clarity and decisiveness of the paintings, the feeling of exactitude: “This is the shape I want.” That singular precision carries the day.

Paul Miyamoto’s 11 monochromatic paintings repeat the same three or four images with the obsession of a recurring dream: smooth water flowing to a sudden, precipitous, and absolutely vertical drop, strange clouds overhead. The vast Niagara Falls-scale of the imagery suggests the presence of a universal truth; but, painted from things seen in the mind rather than nature, the images also feel personal and idiosyncratic. Gray Trough depicts an impossible scene, water running from all directions into an elongated and bottomless abyss; it has a surreal humor, but also a frightening, almost seductive vertigo. Its narrow range of grays are restrained, gloomy, but poetic. The largest painting, Red Water w/ Glass and Shelf, presents a body of water parted in a chasm extending to the horizon line. In a DuChampian move, an actual glass of water is placed on a metal shelf bisecting the painting, like a deadpan stand-in for Christ parting the Red Sea. It’s not clear that the water glass is an effective gambit, but it may be due to the painting itself. Miyamoto’s larger works feel less true, somehow; the brushstrokes retain the same scale throughout, becoming generalized, almost automatic, and losing the specificity of the image.

Water, water, everywhere . . . what is it with all the water? Obviously it’s a potent force of nature, and rich with metaphor; beyond that, it’s not clear what the artist intends, and it doesn’t matter. They are moody paintings, but it’s a stylized mood, an old-fashioned, sailors-take-warning dread, with an ample dose of black humor as well. (And not a drop to drink.) There’s a suggestion of a doomed comic hero right around the bend, about to be swept over the falls, Buster Keaton paying a visit to Wuthering Heights.

It seems potentially frivolous, gratuitous, to organize a show based on the relationship of the exhibitors. But in the end, I like seeing the work of these two artists together. There is a kindred sensibility beneath the surface differences. They share a profound pleasure in the craft of making art, without excessive conceptual underpinnings. More than that, they share a willingness to surrender entirely to a land of invention, and an ardent pursuit of that land.


This fall Albany Center Galleries celebrates its 25th (silver) anniversary with an exhibit featuring silverpoint drawings, gelatin silver prints, and sculpted silver. The institution has seen many changes since founding autocrat and advocate Les Urbach passed away, and now carries on in a modestly suitable but temporary space on the second floor of the Albany Public Library. Gallery Director Pamela Barrett-Fender says a serious search for new digs is underway. Hopefully that is a reflection of the durability of an organization that has been a consistent venue for regional art over the past 25 years.



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