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The light shines: Michael Eck’s tribute to Hank Williams.

A Nice Fit
By David Brickman

Fence 2002 Selected Exhibition
The Arts Center of the Capital Region, through Oct. 20

The Arts Center of the Capital Region has both ended a tradition and begun a new one with Fence 2002. Now in its 37th year, the popular exhibition originated in the old days of the Rensselaer County Council for the Arts, when an annual festival was held in Troy’s tiny, private Washington Park and local artists would hang their works on the wrought-iron fence surrounding it. Prizes were given, and a juried selection of work would later be presented in the RCCA gallery.

The tradition continued with the Riverfront Arts Festival and the renamed organization’s move to larger quarters downtown. Now, there is no more festival, but the ACCR’s leaders couldn’t abandon a favorite child. So, they moved it indoors, where all entries were hung throughout the building for a week early this summer—sans fence, but with the populist spirit that spawned the exhibition still intact.

Due to a scheduling crunch, the large gallery wasn’t available for the selected exhibit, so the submissions (about 275 pieces from 125 artists) had to be winnowed down to squeeze into available space elsewhere in the building.

To face that task, the number of jurors employed was increased from one to three. The result is a surprisingly smooth little show, aided by a clean and sharp installation with a few well-conceived juxtapositions.

Circumstances required that the show be divided between two exhibit spaces: one looks like a sleek modern gallery, the other, honestly, like a foyer. But the quality of the art shines through.

Collage, mixed-media and assemblage dominate the show, which is almost completely made up of small or medium-sized pieces. There are a handful of straight paintings and just two (fairly forgettable) photographs. Nothing particularly pushes the envelope, except maybe R.S. Asbury’s powerful and pretty installation Homeless-Man Art Gallery.

Expertly deploying a compendium of styles and techniques, from Pop-ish cartooning to Michelangelesque rendering, Asbury has created an homage to the ’80s art star Jean-Michel Basquiat that simultaneously sends up the museum system, collectors’ vanity, outsider-artist posturing and the New York City hustle in general.

Asbury’s use of a section of wooden fencing to create the illusion of an improvised outdoor exhibit space is an effective prop, and a fun nod to the Fence tradition, intended or not.

A few other pieces in the show are similarly ambitious, but on a more modest scale. Bill Skerritt’s What Do I Know of Light and of Its Consequences invokes the history of photography by incorporating an aquatint copy of the first photograph and a small ambrotype portrait into a piece consisting mainly of a schematic drawing of an interferometer (which apparently is an elaborate, miles-long system of lenses and mirrors). The elegant assemblage marries the gravity of scientific inquiry to the freedom of artistic exploration.

In two strong collages, titled Spiritual Self and Grain Line, Niki Haynes examines family relations and a sense of place through skillfully altered photographs and carefully placed elements that make references to art, agriculture, news events and mundane reality. Not surprisingly, Spiritual Self received one of the juror’s prizes, as the selection of Williams College Museum staffer Lisa Dorin.

On the other hand, I can’t understand why juror (and Tang Museum curator) Ian Berry chose W. Craghead III’s doodlish scrap Jefferson Estates #6 (Pumping to Glow) for his prize selection. Berry’s description left me no better enlightened as to what so captivated him. However, in the nicely informative exhibit notes from all three jurors, Troy-born commercial and fine-art photographer Mark McCarty also points out Craghead’s drawings, so I must be missing something.

McCarty’s pick to receive a prize is a day-glo painting of cows by Thomasa Dwyer Nielson called Nighthawks. In it, Nielson presents creatures as dear as they are demonic, both playful and threatening. Unfortunately, her other painting in the show, Whatanudda, comes off as silly and grotesque.

Sharing a nearby corner, works by Denise Sainte-Onge and Kathy Greenwood play well off each other. Both artists utilize traditional techniques to depict folksy pastimes: Sainte-Onge’s linocut prints show old-fashion string games, while Greenwood draws subtly colored rope knots on a ground of woven needlepoint patterns.

Among the notable paintings in the show, Rebecca Schoonmaker presents a pair of one-foot-square oil-on-board abstractions that use contrasting palettes to evoke very different moods. The Space Between is a cool, jazzy layering of dots and swirls with night-sky depth; Reach exploits warm tones to reflect the flat intensity of a noonday sun.

Also of interest: a Motherwellish piece by Marie-Josee Fonseca and a wry little crucifixion made up of paint tube, brushes and nails by Frank Broderick.

Finally, this show marks the emergence of local singer-songwriter and Times Union scribe Michael Eck as a visual artist. His two paintings on wood effectively portray musical idols: a ghostly Hank Williams enveloped in a ring of fire as he strums his guitar in heaven, and Leadbelly serenely elegant in tux and tie. A fine debut.

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