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A rich inner life: part of Bruce Stiglich’s installation.

Lost and Found

By David Brickman

Robert Longley and Bruce Stiglich
Charles Kremp: Landscapes and Other Visions
The Arts Center of the Capital Region, through May 25

Layers of memory, personalized references, obsessions, linguistic tics and the twin beauties of pure paint and markmaking: These are some of the things that tie together the work of Robert Longley and Bruce Stiglich, now showing in side-by-side exhibitions at the Arts Center of the Capital Region.

But, despite such important similarities, these two mid-career painters have produced bodies of work that reveal stark contrasts as well—a testament to the wisdom of this particular pairing. The show is presented in the Arts Center’s Troy Savings Bank Gallery, originally designed as a gift shop with sidewalk-friendly walls of glass, and hence my favorite space in the building.

Stiglich’s full-room installation takes full advantage of the exposure, placing a glorious jumble of paintings on wood or canvas against one wall and a curious constellation of unframed works on circular paper on a second wall, which has been tinted a deep indigo for the occasion.

Two small digital photos of Stiglich’s home studio reveal a degree of eclectic clutter that makes clear to what extent this arrangement represents the triumph of order over chaos; equally, his titles read as a sort of personalized inventory system, extending the impression of an artist interested in closely examining just about everything he experiences.

As a case in point, take a pair titled Lk.Cls.Up and LK.UP.CLs, both from 2002. The first reproduces on a plank of found wood a small Polaroid photograph in same-size detail. The second, a slightly larger canvas, re-creates the other image, including the natural details of the wooden board and the random paint marks on it. The image in the Polaroid includes part of an eye seen through a magnifying glass, doing what the title suggests.

All the other paintings in this section of the show, subtitled Boxes, are of such Polaroids, either reproduced same-size on various planks and blocks of wood or enlarged onto canvas. In the case of all the enlarged images, they have counterparts in the smaller set—but there are many more of the smaller ones.

In those, there is a great deal of variety, both in subject matter and approach. While all include the characteristic white rectangle that surrounds this type of camera image, some crop to the edge of the white border while some leave great areas of space around it; others are presented in pairs like a diptych; several wrap the image right around the block of wood.

The content ranges from close-ups of found or collected objects to glittering landscapes captured from porch or window views. The quirky titles, usually rendered in a shorthand like those mentioned above, typically appear as letters handwritten on the edge of the original photograph and then reproduced in paint.

The effect is unique in my art-viewing experience. Though Stiglich’s obsessive markmaking habits occasionally overshadow the rendering of the image, most of the paintings are coherent enough to be read literally, just as the titles are. However, Stiglich is not the most skillful of painters, and this deficiency becomes apparent in some of the larger-scaled pieces.

Still, one comes away from the Boxes with a strong impression of his actively lived and imagined life and the beauty that he finds therein.

The circular pieces on the other wall, subtitled Clks. (Clocks), are less effective. All of them present two objects drawn or painted on variously white, yellow, gray or black paper, hanging from paper clips. For me, the self-referential system they seem to represent is too obscure to lead to any great revelations, though the overall look of the installation is appealing.

Longley’s work is also rather obscure, but the force of his painterly ability overcomes the need to interpret its meaning. In a separate room next to Stiglich’s, he has presented 11 pieces, all but two of them dated 2003.

By layering images and handwritten text (not always legible), Longley explores the reliability of memory, whether visual or linguistic. He employs a technique of cold wax in combination with oil paint and pencil, sometimes also scratching through the surface with a pointed tool.

The resulting pieces are more complex than they seem at first. For example, while they all appear largely monochromatic, several of the pieces upon close inspection reveal a rich palette of colors buried in the wax. The images are shadowy, atmospheric and difficult to discern, but can be read as landscape or cityscape in several instances.

Ranging in size from about 4 square inches to 3 feet by 6 feet, Longley’s paintings nevertheless hold together as a group due to the consistency of style and technique. All those produced in 2003 feature titles drawn from the scribbled text that end in ellipses, such as What Strikes Me as Odd . . . and I Lie in My . . ., while the other two are titled simply Hawk and Explode.

Longley explains in his statement that “the pictorial elements of the paintings are sometimes the stimuli for the text, and are at other times suggested by the text, but there is not necessarily a direct connection between the two.” It seems that he is seeking, through layering and chance, to recapture the complexity of memories, to simulate the resonance or recognition we experience when we happen upon the familiar.

So the paintings attain a dreamlike quality that is, in my opinion, entirely satisfying while remaining comfortably (or perhaps uncomfortably) nonspecific. They also happen to be lushly beautiful.

In another installation at the Arts Center, a nearly lost artist is found. The story behind the life and work of Charles Kremp is curious and incomplete, but the physical evidence includes a collection of “outsider” art gathered by folk-arts curator Mary Zwolinski and presented as Landscapes and Other Visions in the Knisely-Ayers Gallery.

Kremp’s exhibition reveals a dedicated pictorialist who carefully rendered landscapes, whether real or imagined, in a style that grew clear and confident over time. Though unschooled (he was a farmer in Greenfield Center), Kremp’s work is not entirely childish, but it retains the freshness of a child’s vision. I particularly like his color drawings on foam meat trays, where the depth attained by pressing pen or pencil slightly into the foam enhances the graphic style of his carefully composed images.

Most of the pieces in the show (which probably represents only a small fraction of his output, the rest presumed lost), depict parklike scenes of trees and mountains near rivers and lakes, while a few venture, less successfully, into scenes involving human or animal activity. The work is charming, and well worth a look.

It seems the exhibition season is at one of those points where a number of shows are ending and others are soon to open. Here are a few shows still on my radar that you may want to catch while you can:

The Fulton Street Gallery in Troy will end Fire and Ice on Saturday (March 22), a theme show that includes local and national artists in a variety of media, including a burned pile of wire-and-paper houses by Jane Ingram Allen that lives up to her strong reputation.

The faculty show at the College of Saint Rose Art Gallery ends on Sunday (March 23), as does Concepts and Contexts at the North Pointe Gallery in Kinderhook. It features regional photographers Peter Donahoe, Robert Gullie and Julie McCarthy.

Another local photographer, George W. Simmons, has an outstanding mini-show of 10 color photographs on view at the Ten Broeck Mansion. Four other Simmons photographs were accepted into the just-opened Photography Regional at Sage College’s Opalka Gallery; all 14 pieces depict Arbor Hill residents in a fresh and visually sophisticated way.

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