surreal: Lance by Aaron Holz.
By Rebecca Shepard
Painting in the Age of Technology
Albany International Airport,
through Jan. 4, 2004
Painting in the Age of Technology, Albany International
Airport’s lively new exhibit curated by Sharon Bates, sets
out to prove that the old-fashioned craft of painting remains
vibrant in spite of our high-tech, low-touch age. Eighteen
painters from the region are presented; few of them are new
to regular gallery visitors, but the range of works is diverse
and appealing. Indeed, it is entertaining to see the broad
variation of style and imagery that falls under the heading
First, paintings that are about paint. By this I mean paintings
that reveal a love of the unique properties of the medium—an
engagement with color and, more particularly, texture—the
sensual, animated properties of oil paint itself. Scott Brodie’s
paintings of extension cords on bare floor have a deadpan
humor. But while the subject is mundane, the painting is extraordinary.
The brushstroke is thick and tactile, and the sinuous nests
of cord bend against the edges of the canvas like a Brice
Marden abstraction. They ride a line between the pragmatic
and the purely aesthetic with the barely controlled momentum
of a surfer riding a wave.
Also in the “love-of-paint” category are Deborah Zlotsky’s
intriguing copies of noted painters’ self-portraits, as seen
in book plates; John Hampshire’s impressionistic portraits
that morph into psychedelic abstraction; and Carol Luce’s
works, melding luscious paint with collaged floral pattern
reminiscent of William Morris wallpaper.
A number of the Unplugged paintings are surreally narrative
in subject, but still demonstrate a passion for paint. Notable
among these are Laura Von Rosk’s curious landscapes. Symmetrical
mounds rise from narrow valleys, and delicate trees form mysteriously
regular patterns across the land. But it is the paintings’
surfaces that are most seductive: The scenes are glazed in
a smooth varnish like specimens preserved in amber. There
is a feeling of unearthly clarity, and of time rushing forward.
Other works with surreal overtones include Sara DiDonato’s
portraits of friends caught in moments of reverie or perturbation,
hummingbirds hovering in attendance; Christian Carson’s paintings
of intertwined undergarments and foliage, with titles like
A Future Together; and Aaron Holz’s stunningly painted
hybrids of op art and portraiture.
Michael Oatman’s conceptual installation Slipcovers (The
Death of a Painter) inspires thoughts about the long tradition
of painting, the struggle to attain some measure of success,
and the effective art of editing. At a garage sale Oatman
bought 10 paintings by unknown amateur Henry Deneka, many
of them copies of works by masters like Degas and DaVinci.
Oatman covered each painting with a plain canvas slipcover,
cutting openings to reveal isolated details that he considered
well-painted, along with Deneka’s enthusiastic signature.
Taken out of context, the details are tantalizing, creating
a desire to see the whole. At the same time, the difference
between Deneka’s paintings and those he earnestly copied is
painfully obvious. Oatman’s piece is perhaps a bit patronizing,
but at heart it is a tribute to one painter’s ambition and
Also in a more conceptual vein are Richard Garrison’s precise
mappings of the footprint of his house surrounded by a shaded
area representing its cast shadow, as measured at specific
times of day. Beside this is an equivalent mapping of a Toys
R Us megastore with its shadow, frighteningly colossal beside
the domestic home. These pieces merge rational inquiry with
minimalist elegance and humor.
A number of works are based more in drawing. Gina Occhiogrosso’s
Rejection Quilt #8 combines drawing, cutting and sewing
to form a taut, delicately seamed skin. Calligraphic lines
cross this surface like loosely woven strands, interrupting
scribbled corrections and shadowy stains. The painting charts
an anxious inner chatter, yet the results are austere and
Also more akin to drawing are Bruce Stiglich’s collaged assemblage
of works on the theme of the rose, expressing a cerebral nostalgia,
and John Hanson’s whimsical portraits of gems painted on wedding
invitations. In Lillian Mulero’s “Stream Series,” four anecdotal,
stream-of-consciousness pieces, cartoons and portraits are
rendered with quick but skillful draftsmanship.
In a category more or less his own is Bob Moylan, whose gouache
landscapes of upstate farmland are perhaps the most traditional
works on view. But they are by no means routine; in the best
Hudson River tradition, their luminous color makes even the
air seem palpable, yet they have a clarity that is distinctly
modern. Richard Callner also has three landscapes here, but
they delight more in bold pattern and invention than representation.
And the works of Peter Taylor and Steve Tyson exemplify a
compulsive pursuit of pure pattern, created through application
of multiple layers of tiny dots of color that bounce and refract
against each other.
Painting is old-fashioned. Not because of its history,
tradition, or craft, but because it is romantic, and it involves
a leap of faith. On the part of the maker, it requires a sustained
effort over time, a commitment. On the part of the viewer,
it requires a willingness to engage in the fabricated reality
the painter presents, and an attention span that supports
extended viewing of a motionless image.
But as Unplugged demonstrates, painting is also a flexible
medium. Its generous accommodation of many idiosyncrasies
allows it to remain alive and well. And what this show really
proves is that this region is home to an abundance of very
strong painters, artists whose fresh interpretations of a
traditional process engage the eye and challenge the mind.