light shines: Michael Ecks tribute to Hank Williams.
By David Brickman
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
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
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
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
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
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.