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Force of nature: Alexander Halakan’s Ocean Wave.

Delicate Balance
By David Brickman

Natural Elements
Fulton Street Gallery, through Nov. 9

Two artists who straddle the line between representation and abstraction are paired in a pleasing, if insufficiently challenging show at Troy’s Fulton Street Gallery.

Natural Elements features paintings by Alexander Halakan and sculptures by Jacqueline Wayne. Halakan is not a young man, but he is quite new to making and showing art; and Wayne, having received a BFA at New Paltz around 20 years ago, has just returned to exhibiting after taking a long time-out to raise a child.

Both artists show signs of freshness (or naiveté) in this major-exhibition debut, but both are also confident in their craft and, unlike most neophytes, fairly clear in terms of direction. Both share a number of characteristics: limited palette, organic forms, modest scale, and a new-age flavor to the work.

Halakan paints primarily in pastels, though a few of his works feature gouache or oils. The dominant color is blue, and the subject matter is either water or the sky in semiabstraction. A number of pieces appear to have been made in series, and they are successful in playing off each other and building on a theme.

One grouping near the beginning of the show places four 5-by-5-inch pastels together. These studies of waves bear somewhat mystical-sounding titles: Revelation, Appraisal of Calm, Suspended Absence. But they are really just explorations in color, movement and atmosphere, with water as a jumping-off point.

Halakan works small—only a handful of his paintings are as big as 11 inches by 14 inches—and his pieces at their best draw the viewer in to examine the velvety texture of the pastels and the subtle changes in color. A few seem content to celebrate that color and atmosphere, as with Purple Haze and an untitled (actually, unlabeled) small pastel hanging in the window of the gallery.

The above-mentioned pastel and a few others in the show are drawn from landscape imagery and use the sky as a playground. The pieces titled Behold My Soul and Relief of Solitude make more of the possibilities presented by the subject than do many of Halakan’s water paintings.

One of the best of the water paintings, Ocean Wave, is also perhaps the most realistic. By cropping the image tightly, and keeping its rendering of the force of the water accurate rather than expressive, Halakan achieves the sort of transformation only hinted at in many of the other works.

Wayne, who shows works in porcelain and glass, is the more technically accomplished of the pair. Her series of large vessel-like forms called Earth Born required a mastery of ceramic technique to make and provide a good, if somewhat limited, example of theme and variation. They combine delicate folds with truncated, rounded shapes to evoke feminine attitude and issues.

A similar piece, titled Mother, adds melted glass to the folds, putting an ornamental or decorative patina onto areas of the matte-finish porcelain. All the pieces are a very pale shade of beige that reads white.

Two other related series in Wayne’s selection use the female form explicitly and repetitively, in both ceramic and glass.

In the porcelain set, a couple of wall-hung reliefs incorporate an inch-high abstraction of a torso, cropped at the chest and thighs. Another piece, titled Drink Me, places the same figurines around the base and bowl of a chalice filled with water, and one called Contemplate sets a spiral of them into a little Zen garden of sand.

There is playfulness and exploration here, but I’m afraid I don’t really get the message. It strikes me as vaguely feminist, drawn perhaps from the famous Venus of Willendorf figurine with her exaggerated breasts and hips and minimized head and limbs, but it’s unclear whether this is celebration, rebellion or what.

In glass relief, Wayne’s figures grow in scale to about a foot high, but are transparent and lack the full-rounded solidity of the little ceramic shapes. Here, the female form, now cropped at the neck (hence, with breasts), is presented in a more confrontational way.

The most ambitious piece in the show, Circle, features six of these glass torsos grouped facing outward around the rim of a curious stool-shaped ceramic pedestal. Stonehenge-like, they face down the viewer and the world beyond, yet their vulnerability is also on display: fragile and see-through, with very delicate edges.

Another larger-scale piece by Wayne plays with contrast in form. Landscape of Life is a wall-hung grid of 20 small, square ceramic boxes. Each contains a flattened fold of clay, some with glass melted into the folds. The piece’s meaning becomes clear as the free-flowing folds are hemmed in by the hard edges of the boxes, making a wry comment on life and its compromises, while at the same time celebrating the variety of each unique little composition in the grid.

Another wall-hung piece by Wayne features a fragment of a smiling self-portrait in ceramic relief surrounded by numerous scale-like chips of clay sewn to a cloth support, similar in construction to early Medieval armor. The clay pieces all bear an image of a pot or a female torso, seemingly illustrating the artist’s happiness at being once again immersed in her work.

Many these days are encouraged by the motto “Follow your bliss,” and it appears that Wayne and Halakan are among them. But their newness and optimism worries me. The waters of the art world are so often filled with sharks that the survival of playful, delicate souls is always in doubt. Time will tell if these two have what it takes.


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