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Your Worst Nightmares
By Pam Barrett-Fender

The Master Series: Marshall Arisman, Images for Everyday Use
The College of Saint Rose Art Gallery, through Feb. 11

W hile Marshall Arisman may not be a household name, it is safe to say that his work holds a place of some significance in America’s consciousness. For more than 30 years, Arisman’s illustrations have appeared regularly in (and on the covers of) such publications as Time, Rolling Stone, Penthouse, Esquire and The New York Times. His work has also been published in numerous books and shown in galleries and museums internationally. Through his distinct and prolific career, Arisman has proven himself uniquely adept at showing us the dark side of our civilization. His vivid, unnerving images pervade our visual culture, accompanying story after story of grief and tragedy, giving gruesome definition to humanity’s most egregious capacities.

In his retrospective exhibit at the College of Saint Rose Art Gallery (part of the School of Visual Arts’ Master Series), Arisman’s distinctly grim perception hardly misses a note. The work on view there spans almost 40 years, and illustrates a broad range of topics including war, terrorism, suicide, hunger, poverty, drugs, violence, child abuse, abuse of power, pollution, mutilation, homelessness, cruelty, corruption and unrest. In the context of published illustrations, we are able to visit these realities, assimilate them with a shudder, and turn the page. But a gallery full of these images has a much greater power: In the collective, they read like a visual diary of mankind’s ruin.

Arisman’s personal lexicon of imagery includes a nightmarish quality that suggests a scientific experiment gone terribly awry, or an ill-conceived marriage of nature and technology. He combines human characteristics with those of both animals and machines, creating monstrous hybrids with a distinctive piercing gaze and tightly rendered eyes. Indeed, these characters often represent the disastrous effect of misused knowledge, as in The Last Tribe series, which references the potential death of our world as the tragic result of nuclear war.

Just inside the gallery door—greeting the viewer like a sinister host—hangs a painting of New York on Sept. 11, 2001. In this piece, a ghostly giant, with a characteristically intense and grievous stare, oversees the eerie (and all-too-familiar) image of the broken skyline with billowing smoke. Around the neck of the omniscient figure is a necklace of hanging files, each bearing a portrait, presumably of the individuals killed in the destruction. It hovers over the city, pausing perhaps on its way up, representing our collective loss. The original painting is presented along with a mounted copy of its publication in Rolling Stone (tear sheet), a formula employed throughout the exhibit in service of contexture.

In addition to the paintings and tear sheets, the exhibit includes ink drawings, collages, digital and monoprints, interspersed throughout the main gallery space. On the far wall hang three large-scale (54 by 40 inches) black-and-white monoprints, from Heaven Departed, one of the artist’s published books. The apocalyptic compositions of the prints feature repeated imagery of dark, loosely rendered figures, perched atop receding lines of telephone poles, a huge amorphous sun and a masked rider on a horse. Their rough organic forms are a departure from the smooth blended surfaces characteristic of the paintings, or the tightly rendered, linear quality of the ink drawings. Their dark message of impending doom, though, sits in perfect accord with the tone of much of the other work.

Just around the corner, however, hidden in the back corner of the room, is the exhibition’s first sign of potential for redemption. There, behind the freestanding wall dividing the gallery are six of the artist’s most recent paintings. The four relatively large paintings of buffalo, and two smaller paintings of “sacred monkeys,” though not frivolous, offer a very welcome lightening of spirit. These animals are not gruesome or dark. In fact, they have a radiant luminosity that implies divinity, and though there is a consistency with the other work in their fierce red eyes, in this work it feels like the intensity of strength, not fear. They have an air of power and magic that suggests that the artist, in the midst of all the aforementioned realities, has found hope.

Tomorrow, (Friday, Jan. 30), the artist will present an illustrated lecture at 7 PM. in the auditorium at St. Joseph Hall. There will be a reception in the gallery from 5 to 6:30 PM.


Peripheral Vision

Studies 2003: Photography of Christopher Morris
Guilderland Public Library, through Feb.1

A nice debut by a young photographer with a good grasp of the fundamentals, especially in black-and-white. Morris has put together a coherent body of work emphasizing texture and composition, arranged in groupings by subject. A series of close-ups of junked cars yields the best results and plays up Morris’ very individual eye. He also has a penchant for architecture, using strong geometry to draw in the viewer.

The library’s Helderberg Room makes for a quality public venue, with a professional hanging system, good lighting and plenty of wall space. It may be a space to watch, if this show is any indicator.

—David Brickman

McMonkgus
Albany Massage Therapy Associates, through Feb. 2

McMonkgus is the pseudonym for Michael Sperduto, who has been exhibiting his art for about eight years, and who also has performed in a spoken-word context. These paintings, exhibited under the auspices of Albany Center Galleries’ Art in Public Spaces program, reveal an artist with perhaps more energy than discipline, but with flashes of real brilliance. His color sense is almost completely over-the-top, but works well when reined in a bit and tempered with larger areas of black and/or white, as in a small piece titled Schoolyard. Many of the works recall the Fauves and pre-drip Jackson Pollack; while there is subject matter, it is usually rendered unrecognizable by McMonkgus’ chaotic brushwork and compositional sense.

True to his background in writing, there are words visible on many of the canvases, and the titles are near works of art in themselves (The Schizophrenic Cat Still Chases the Dying Flower and Paranoid Couch Potato Blues struck my fancy). If you like to revel completely in color, the carnivalesque atmosphere of these paintings is for you.

—David Brickman

Attitudes in Bronze and Watercolor by Sister Loretta Hoag, D.C.
The Chapel + Cultural Center at RPI, Through Feb. 15

THough her vows make it impossible for Sister Loretta Hoag to engage in art full time, she has shown nationally and produces professional-quality work. This solo exhibition collects mostly figurative pieces of a modest scale, including framed drawings and watercolors as well as a number of bronzes. Some of the drawings have a powerful emotional sense—one in particular appears to be inspired by the style of Holocaust artist Kathe Kollwitz—but others are light and sweet, including several plant studies.

Though her two-dimensional work is competent, Hoag really shines when working in cast bronze. There is a freshness and directness to the bronzes, despite the indirectness of the casting process; some of the pieces derive from a collagelike additive process while others are more stylized and worked to a high polish. In all cases, Hoag’s sense for powerful gesture and subtle, sleek form is very well expressed in these three-dimensional pieces. Whether harking back to the days of art nouveau or mirroring more current styles, the work has a satisfying theatricality while retaining a wide vein of humanity.

—David Brickman


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