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Welcome to the Working Week
By David Brickman

Love of labor: Nicholas Warner’s Mirza Waterfeed.

Day Job: Work Influencing Work
The 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 studio.

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.

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