intense: Williams’ Out of My Mouth.
Roads Less Traveled
By David Brickman
Confines: Works by Serdar Arat, Wendy Ide Williams and Sandra
Art Museum, UAlbany, through March 2
In her foreword to the catalog for the exhibition Beyond
Confines, outgoing University Art Museum director Marijo
Dougherty cites the three included artists’ “determination
to follow where their own perceptions lead them, without relying
on others’ ideas of acceptable or traditional limits.” This
statement brings up many questions for me simultaneously.
For example, isn’t that determination exactly what makes someone
choose to be an artist in the first place? And, if artists
don’t follow their own perceptions, can they possibly
be any good? So, why these three interesting, but not extraordinarily
groundbreaking artists in particular? And so on.
Now I don’t have any answers to these, or other questions.
But I can at least tell you two things that are true: Serdar
Arat, Wendy Ide Williams and Sandra Wimer are alumni of the
UAlbany art program who have all gone on to enjoy a certain
amount of success in their chosen field; and this is a very
fine show that allows Dougherty to display her eclectic taste
and her abiding respect for strong art that does not follow
the prevailing (i.e. postmodernist) conventions of today.
Arat, who earned his MFA in 1984 and now shows often in New
York and internationally, was unfamiliar to me before seeing
this sampling of his last 10 years’ output. A Turkish native
who came to the United States more than 20 years ago, he creates
large-scale shaped canvases with a limited palette and imagery
that is all but entirely abstract. His part of the show fills
the upstairs section of the two-story gallery.
To make a truly valid assessment of his work based on the
11 pieces shown would be difficult, though they are quite
consistent, and presumably they adequately represent the total
body. Repeated shapes and motifs in the work suggest scientific
interests, outer space, optics and mathematics.
Arcs and planes intersect, flying-saucer shapes hover and
light glints off surfaces in these highly textured acrylics
on linen (and one charcoal on paper). Some of the titles are
suggestive of landscape, though only one piece, Footprints
in the Snow, actually looks like one.
The rest of the paintings rely mainly on texture and composition
for their strength. Sometimes this is expressed in the eccentric
shape of the canvas itself. But it is more effectively accomplished
within the internal geometry of pieces such as Before the
Rain, where Arat grapples with layerings of shape and
color to achieve a satisfying complexity that fully engages
the viewer’s attention, and rewards it.
Of the more simple pieces featuring a lozenge shape that is
repeated often in this selection, Perpetual Sunset III
stands out by virtue of its masterful application of a texture
reminiscent of tree bark. It is a rare example of a very large
painting that actually looks better the closer you get.
Wimer occupies a separate room off the upstairs gallery, where
16 of her delicate prints convene under warm lighting to welcome
the visitor inside. One enters the room and falls into the
sky. Some of the pieces on view here were in a group show
at Fulton-Montgomery Community College in the fall, but there
are many more Wimers—most of them new—in this grouping, and
the effect is salutary.
Applying an almost-lost printmaking technique to contemporary
images and ideas, Wimer retains the understated tone of 19th-century
graphic art, adding a very subtle edginess through floating
handwritten or typed text and the inclusion of a bull’s eye,
recognizable as the centering device in a 35mm camera’s viewfinder.
Though the color gray appears to dominate, upon close inspection
the prints reveal a lot of color variation and, in some cases,
quite a lot of ink on the surface. They are distinctly not
photographs, despite having started as camera images. One
small pair dispenses with the bull’s eye, instead adding a
layer of thin paper in the chine collé process. This
is a nice touch, if a bit precious.
Another variation comes in the form of a trio, titled Printemps
I, II and III, that includes big chunks of the
Louvre Museum under moody cloud scenes. These prints are very
small and seem to emphasize the nostalgic potential in the
techniques Wimer favors—but seeing the Louvre’s late-20th-century
glass pyramid in one of the compositions plants them firmly
in the present age.
The gallery’s spacious first floor is devoted to the work
of Williams, and there is so much of it that one comes away
thinking this show is really all hers. Not only is that notion
supported by the unabashed intensity and exuberance in Williams’s
60-plus mixed-media paintings on paper and ceramic sculptures,
it is appropriate in that she hasn’t had a major exhibition
in almost a decade.
Despite the quantity, this selection is drawn mostly from
the past couple of years, an impressive degree of output by
any standard. In fact, it seems it was one of those impossible-to-edit
barrages of work—even sketchbooks and a few loose drawings
are included, laid out on a table and free to handle.
Equally, it is almost impossible to take in or assess this
flood all at once. While Williams has a very distinct style
and a recognizable visual vocabulary, she employs all sorts
of imagery, much of it greatly abstract, but also including
landscape, fantasy, figures, objects and narrative (both visual
and actually written). So the effect is that of a consistent
voice singing from a very broad repertoire.
If you like the voice (and I do), you’ll revel in this show
until they close the gallery and kick you out (as I did).
Not that every piece is a tour de force—in fact, one of Williams’s
irresistible charms is that her paintings are rarely fully
resolved—but that the maelstrom of her vivid colors and shapes
sweeps you up and carries you along, just as it does the artist.
And don’t get me wrong: This is not all happy, fun stuff.
Williams is an artist who puts her deepest self into the work—perhaps
a little bit as therapy, but more significantly as expression—and
there is really no end to what a viewer can take away from
One example is the 2000 painting Out of My Mouth. It
shows how Williams moves over the paper’s surface, combining
the clarity of pure black-and-white with the richness of pure
color, putting a stylized head in one corner, a wedge of cake
in another, and biomorphic shapes and patterns all over, in
pastel, pencil, watercolor or whatever.
I don’t profess to know what this painting means, but there
is an undeniable urgency to the work that I can’t imagine
anyone would not find compelling. From peaceful reveries to
biological worries to neoclassical nightmares, Williams will
take you on a wild ride. And just when you think you’ve seen
it all, she reaches into her bag of tricks and out comes something
Now that’s going beyond confines.