for change: George Stoney.
Union College, through Oct. 10
Every one of us has doodled—that mindless, automatic thing
you do with a pen or pencil while you’re on hold—and we’ve
all probably come up with something pretty good in the process,
something worth keeping, even. Well, I don’t mean any harm
in saying it, so please don’t take this the wrong way: Arnold
Bittleman (1933-1985) was one hell of a doodler.
In the exhibition Arnold Bittleman: Draw-ings, we are
treated to 30 or so examples of his
transcendentally elaborate and/or reductive meditations on
consciousness via the pen (pencil, pastel, conté crayon and
etching also make appearances). Along with the works on paper,
text panels scattered throughout the gallery feature commentary
from former colleagues and students; these testimonials make
clear the profound impact that Bittleman the professor had
on those around him. They also illuminate his motivations
and working methods, which were much more about the process
than the product.
This makes it easier to accept the fact that, as becomes increasingly
apparent the more you look, the majority of the works in this
show are unfinished. Great, gaping white spaces infiltrate
and surround the densely packed hatchings and ethereal tracings
that make up the meat of the images.
Obviously, other things mattered more to Bittleman than finishing
a drawing. There are abundant clues as to what: Catalog notes
by former Union professor Daniel J. Robbins for a 1982 exhibition
say “Drawing is thought; for Bittleman, it is thinking itself.”
(and thinking has neither start nor end); a recounted story
points out that Bittleman would drop everything and drive
a student to buy a certain pencil if that’s what he thought
would unleash that person’s creativity (not the most productive
attitude for a studio artist); Bittleman’s own notes in sketchbooks
displayed in glass showcases refer to philosophical commitments
far larger than anything so limited as making a work of art;
and the biggest clue of all, Bittleman’s sudden and early
death from an inoperable brain tumor at age 51. Naturally,
from an unfinished life come unfinished drawings.
And yet, they are beautiful. More than beautiful, the drawings
are riveting. With a master’s hand, Bittleman captured gestures
and details, then animated them through imagination into dreamlike
scenarios of unlikely juxtaposition and impossibly delicate
texture. Most of the pieces are landscapes; of these, many
feature vast expanses of clouds. But there are also figures,
portraits, still-life elements and other bits of nature, such
as a Da Vinci-esque study of a bird’s wing. Few of the works
are titled, and many lack dates as well.
What we get instead of clear references is the opportunity
to enter Bittleman’s stream of consciousness and be carried
away, exactly as he was, to a land of marks and lines, swooping
and dashing across the page with the energy and multiplicity
of lush, tropical vegetation. For, while drawing may be tied
to thinking, it is also a way of just being, of stopping the
thinking and getting to a place of simply acting.
Bittleman’s ruminative nature may have held him back at times,
but the drawings and, especially, the etchings, seem to transport
him from the prison of the mind to the equally confounding
but nevertheless boundless tangle of the forest. Bittleman’s
powers of concentration must have been enormous, because in
these pieces he finds order amid the chaos (how else, after
all, can he have depicted it?); he somehow manages to dive
in without getting completely lost.
The resulting images, all but entirely in black-and-white,
have subtlety, delicacy, ethereal qualities; and thay have
impact, darkness, storms, intense qualities. The dark mixing
with and confronting the light—this describes Bittleman’s
method as well as his meaning. A quote from the artist on
the gallery wall says, “Drawing—the child of illumined mind.”
I believe he was thinking about far more than drawing when
he wrote that. After all, couldn’t it be a definition of humanity
There will be a reception for Arnold Bittleman: Drawings
from 1 PM to 3 PM on Sunday, Oct. 3.
Moriarty: Compressionistic Paintings
Center Galleries, Albany Public Library, through
Kingston artist Laura Moriarty takes the lowly
material of wax and applies it to a variety of
media including printmaking, painting, installation
and sculpture in this intimate and intriguing
exhibition, her first in the Capital Region. A
far cry from your box of Crayolas, encaustic paint
(as pigmented wax is known in art circles) has
a richness of hue to rival any medium—even glass—and
the flexibility to be employed in layers, waves,
swirls or smudges, to soak into a paper substrate
or be built up into a free-standing object.
Moriarty does all this and more with wax, while
maintaining a certain egolessness that derives
from her humble printmaker’s background. In terms
of content, there is a vagueness in this collection
of prints, paintings and objects that some may
find disconcerting—but it’s there, waiting to
be unlocked by following a few carefully placed
clues and keys.
Above all, Moriarty is glorying in the process
of search and discovery, both literally and metaphorically.
Along the way, she blazes new trails with her
chosen medium and leaves truly lovely traces.
The show’s pièce de résistance, a tremendous 20-sheet
monoprint, is not to be missed in its impact as
well as its delicacy.