to the Working Week
By David Brickman
Love of labor: Nicholas Warners Mirza Waterfeed.
Job: Work Influencing Work
Arts Center of the Capital Region, through Feb. 29
It’s the artist’s age-old dil- emma: How to make ends meet
without letting go of the creative lifestyle? For a lucky
few, the work sells enough to make a living; others succeed
at a related career, such as teaching or commercial art; but
the rest usually just grab a basic money gig and hope to have
enough energy left over for the studio in the off hours.
Then there are those who, having done that, find unexpected
inspiration on the job for their “real” work. That’s the theme
of Day Job at the Arts Center of the Capital Region,
a show featuring five artists in the center’s main gallery,
with a sidebar installation of five creative writers in the
hallway lounge (or President’s Gallery).
Curated by ACCR gallery director Gina Occhiogrosso, Day
Job has her signature spare design, allowing the viewer
plenty of space in which to examine and contemplate each artist’s
work. (If you need a clutter fix, go upstairs to the wonderful
Curious Cabinet installation.). Like other recent shows
at the ACCR, Day Job includes artists from the region
as well as some from further away—in this case, two from New
York City and one from Pennsylvania. To my delight, the hometown
boys each offer a great presentation, making the others look
weak by comparison.
The premise of the show is that an artist can find a rich
vein in an otherwise mundane career and craft it into creative
treasure. The examples chosen fulfill this promise to varying
degrees. In the case of Brooklyn-based painter Carol Rad-
s precher, the connection is literal: She has portrayed herself
and a coworker at their desks in a toy and paper-goods business
in a series of paintings that are based on Polaroid snapshots
grabbed at the office.
Radsprecher’s seven modestly scaled, unframed acrylics on
canvas reveal a sense of humor as active as her brushwork.
They are expressionistic, with a fairly subdued palette and
a good feel for composition, which successfully exploits the
geometry of cubicles, keyboards and monitors. It’s fun to
note that several of the paintings present the subject apparently
catching a nap on the desk. But there is nothing particularly
masterful or compelling about the work as art—if this group
were presented as an undergraduate thesis show, I would be
neither surprised nor overly impressed.
A cut above Radsprecher (pun intended), are Langhorne, Penn.,
artist Michael M. Geno’s meat paintings and prints. Drawn
from his stints in a supermarket’s butcher shop, Geno literally
took his work home in the form of steaks and chops and then
made them the subject of his paintings.
Forming a 6-by-3 layout of 18, foot-square panels, Geno’s
Meat Grid iconically portrays the T-bones and chucks
in their natural bright reds, with variations on the background
color from mauve to ochre to pale gray to orange. His skill
is sufficient to render recognizable what any carnivore would
find familiar, including ground chuck, ribs, bacon and stew
meat. In his statement, Geno cites the supermarket’s packaging
of flesh for sale as his inspiration for this deadpan display.
Far more lyrical are Geno’s four Meat Prints. Similar
to traditional fish prints, which use ink to stamp an image
of a fresh fish on paper, these subtle impressions use the
blood from the cuts of meat as the transfer medium. The result,
though crude and direct, is surprisingly delicate and lovely.
In printmaker April Vollmer’s case, the relationship between
creative work and income-producing job is more symbiotic.
She does invoicing and computer work part-time at a New York
architecture firm, while exploring architectural themes in
her computer-printed art. The resulting mandalalike designs,
based on the plans for Italian Renaissance architect Bramante’s
Roman tempietto, combine plotter technology with hand painting
to form a bridge between the design office and the artist’s
Vollmer layers images in these technically flawless digital
prints on mylar, often incorporating insects such as dragonflies,
moths, beetles and other bugs in a way that nearly tricks
the eye into not seeing them outside the pattern. Airy and
delicate as lace, these circular images delight but do little
to enlighten: It seems Vollmer is satisfied simply to explore
the interplay of built and organic forms, but it’s unclear
to what end. Furthering this confusion is a lack of agreement
between the titles given in the gallery’s printed materials
and those printed on the works themselves. One would like
to see a better resolution in this work.
Unresolved by nature, but not at all unsatisfying, is the
rack display of 222 Trustco envelopes (not 250, as stated
on the label) bearing sketches by Delmar-based Richard Garrison,
an adjunct professor of art at the College of Saint Rose,
who worked as a bank teller from 1986 to 1999. Using the downtime
between customers to develop his ideas for art installations
he was working on, Garrison amassed an amazing trove of drawings,
each now carefully sealed in a plastic sleeve so viewers can
handle them. This is a good idea, as many of the envelopes
are covered on both sides with Garrison’s inspired scribbling.
Among the brighter lights on the local art scene (having been
in a number of recent Mohawk-Hudson Regionals, one of which
garnered him the Albany Institute of History and Art’s purchase
prize), Garrison adds small photos of the finished art pieces
that are worked on in the sketches, coded to guide the viewer
to their matching envelope groups. It’s a terrific setup,
reminiscent of the ACCR’s process-oriented Preliminary
Sketches show last year. See these, and you’ll never take
doodling for granted again.
The connection between day job and personal work is most tenuous
in Nicholas Warner’s contribution to the show, but that’s
the curator’s call, not Warner’s. A carpenter who makes elaborate
staircases and cabinets for upscale homes, Warner fashions
witty sculptures out of found objects and construction detritus.
They are knocked together in an unfussy way, perhaps as an
antidote to the precision required on the job.
Obtuse, goofy and persistent, Warner’s creations have so much
personality that I don’t even care that I have no idea what
they are supposed to represent. With the exception of one
piece from 2000 (presumably included because it makes a mini-monument
of a toy hammer), his 15 sculptures all date from 2003. Obviously,
it was a great year for this artist.
Whether working on a very small scale—as with the playful
Everest, in which a dollop of joint compound stands
in for the tallest mountain on earth—or in room-size—as in
the ambitious Mirza Waterfeed—Warner seems to know
exactly what he is doing. From the minimalistic Galarneau
Measure Drawings to the more complex Emily’s Residue
Propped up by Two Pencils, he casts a poet’s spell, funny
and serious at the same time—and brilliant.
And, speaking of poets, one of the outstanding works in this
exhibition is in the writers’ section. There, poet and teacher
Nancy Klepsch has created a piece of installation art as affecting
and powerful as any you’ll find in a museum.
Her tender poem to a girl in trouble, handwritten in chalk
on a large blackboard, has an emotional resonance and a physical
presence that transcends the confines of the medium. Any visual
artist would be proud to have created such a piece.