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The Art of Craft
By David Brickman

Sites: Material and Immaterial
The Arts Center Gallery at the Saratoga County Arts Council, through Nov. 1

Grid-lock: James Florschutz’s 822 Pieces Why Part of Me Remains Hidden.

The Saratoga County Arts Council is a success story. Begun in the ’80s in a tiny space by still-current director Dee Sarno, it now occupies an elegantly renovated former public library right near Congress Park on Broadway in Saratoga Springs. They’re filling it with light and well-chosen exhibits and the commitment to regional artists that characterizes such councils and makes them so valuable.

The current exhibition, Sites: Material and Immaterial, features two artists in a sophisticated juxtaposition that follows the theme of the title in an easygoing way. Painter Sergio Sericolo, of Loudonville, and sculptor James Florschutz, of Newfane, Vt., make a comfortable pair in that both deftly mix materials, and both are hands-on makers of physically interesting objects.

In an era when craftsmanship has too often been left by the wayside in favor of ideas, it is bracing to confront the delicately glazed canvases of Sericolo and the hewn marble reliefs of Florschutz in a clean, modern gallery. Not that this is retro-art (on the contrary, both creators wholeheartedly embrace contemporary ideas), but it is welcome evidence that some artists still consider it worthwhile to work long and hard at a difficult craft to get the result they are after.

Sericolo presents eight paintings on canvas, most of them 3 feet by 4 feet or larger, and a handful of modestly scaled framed drawings, as well as a couple dozen unframed mixed-media pieces presented under glass on walls or tables.

The latter group offers wonderful insights into Sericolo’s working and thinking processes, as they are laid out right before our eyes in this installation. Generally comprised of found images drawn or painted over and/or collaged, they are neither sketches nor, in most cases, fully realized works of art.

Rather, they are more like ruminations, and very lovely ones at that. Running the gamut from scribbled-over clips from The New York Times (usually some kind of chart) to brilliantly colored layerings on top of glossy magazine photos, they reveal a restless hand and mind at work. Like a dog worrying a bone, Sericolo must keep scribbling, keep searching out form, keep exploring combinations—or else.

In both the paintings and the smaller works, the elements remain the same: chairs, mountains (or volcanoes), boats, stones, wings, the sky, the human heart. Sericolo conjures up pairings and groupings, rotating among his archetypes and always returning to the essentials. The paintings use different techniques, including scumbling and glazing, to achieve different textures; while color is present, texture is more prevalent, such as when a vessel takes on the feel of stone or a chair seems almost to have grown in place like a plant.

At times, Sericolo builds paint thicker, especially when rendering an evening sky, while the central figure will have thinner paint, creating an odd spatial push-pull in the work and an ethereal sense to the objects. Some of the technique and imagery seems to make reference to surrealism, particularly that of Salvador Dalí.

Sericolo is a fairly young artist who has begun exhibiting a good bit in the last few years; his excellent technique and strong style are impressive, but there is a sense he has yet to fully discover himself. It will be interesting to see where he heads next.

A more experienced artist, Florschutz much more literally explores the show’s theme of sites; many of his pieces appear to be aerial perspectives or site maps, often employing the grid as an overall motif.

As with most sculptors, Florschutz’s work has a macho feel to it, incorporating varying combinations of stone, wood, metal and other materials into medium-scale works both freestanding and wall-hung. A large number of pieces are low-relief “gridscapes” and “site studies,” some of which have been used as printing plates to produce low-tech monoprints; a few of those are also on view.

I found the gridscapes, prints and a related piece titled Selection of 12 Footprints rather gloomy and monotonous, but the 16 Site Studies, with greater spontaneity played out in a much smaller space, are suffused with warmth and a sense of freedom that is reflected in their playfully modest means of display.

A large stacked-lath installation by Florschutz expands on the grid concept. Titled 822 Pieces Why Part of Me Remains Hidden, it occupies a central position in half the gallery, accompanied by a metal and plastic stepladder that enables viewers to climb up for an overview. I felt the choice of the brightly colored ladder, with its incongruous materials, was unfortunate, doing more to distract from the sculpture than enhance the experience of it. In future installations, I hope the artist would at least insist on a ladder made of wood for the purpose of viewing the sculpture from above.

The rest of Florschutz’s offerings are much more successful, embodying a presence and complexity that reveal the strength of his talents. Perhaps most outstanding among them is a floor piece titled Landscape, in which a rough slab of grooved locust has had soil pressed into it and grass planted in a circle; an equal circle has been smoothed into a slight bowl formation, balancing the supple shock of the flowing green grass.

Another fine piece is the wall-hung Excavation Relief/Mapping Site II, which confidently combines and contrasts the colors and textures of wood, stone and lead while creating a strong blend of organic and mechanical forms. With scribblings and cuttings left visible in the wood—and in the stone—this piece displays Florschutz’s process, yet still feels finished.

Perhaps the best of all is the mysteriously titled Untitled Veil, a witty, freestanding wood-and-stone construction that evokes a two-headed beast. With this sculpture, Florschutz shows us that he can loosen up; it is quite enjoyable when he does.

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