only you could see the color: Robert Cartmell’s Still
Life with Hammer.
Cartmell: Still-Lifes and the Garden of Eden
Gallery, through Oct. 9
It’s not often you get to see a show where the overwhelming
sensation is of just how much the artist enjoys his work,
but that’s exactly the case with the Firlefanz exhibition
Still-Lifes and the Garden of Eden, featuring
about 30 paintings and drawings by Robert Cartmell.
Cartmell is professor emeritus of art at the University at
Albany, where he has taught since 1971, but his work hasn’t
gotten a whole lot of regular exposure around here, so this
is a welcome chance to catch up with him. And catch up you
must, for two reasons: As evidenced by the freshness of this
very recent work, Cartmell is by no means slowing down; and
the show ends in just a few days.
Though Firlefanz is a small space and many of the paintings
are pretty large, it is nevertheless a comfortable fit. Adding
to the rightness of this choice of venue for Cartmell is the
almost ridiculous (or maybe sublime) compatibility of the
gallery’s decidedly yellow walls with the painter’s favored
palette. In a couple of instances the wall and the painting
nearly become one—a happy result for the relaxed Cartmell,
though some more ego-driven creators might not be so amenable.
But don’t think that means you won’t be challenged by this
presentation. Yes, it is full of joy and comfort and simple
celebration; but it is also pushing boundaries, whether with
color combinations or perspectival trickery or with sudden
shifts in style and subject matter. Perhaps the most consistent
element in all the work is a sense of play—as represented
by the artist’s famous passion for rollercoasters (notably
almost absent in these works) and carousels, as well as his
freedom with the media of pencil and paint.
In the drawings, that freedom is manifested in looping lines,
energetic scribbles, childlike figures and ripped-from-the-sketchbook
pages. Many of the drawings are very small, and most of them
have figures mounted on horses; colored-pencil pigmentation
adds to the carnival atmosphere and the feeling of youthful
abandon in their making.
But the real fun begins when Cartmell picks up a brush. Whereas
some painters are daunted by the canvas, and need to think
a lot and struggle a lot to get a painting made, Cartmell
seems to just dive in and paint what he feels. Not that this
is some form of art therapy—there’s also great intelligence
behind the works—but that he doesn’t worry the subject like
a bone, or invest it with portent like a manifesto.
So, it doesn’t really matter that the subject is fruit and
flowers and furniture and musical instruments and maybe a
hand tool or two; what matters is the color and composition
and texture and scale and geometry—and did I say color? The
color, the color—Cartmell adores color. The language of color,
and its emotions, these are perhaps the artist’s true subject,
and he engages with it fully. It’s as though the shapes of
apples and petals are just a place to put those juicy colors.
Look at a Cartmell painting and notice how he selects a palette
to work with. There’s Musician’s Table, with its fleshy
pink, lemon yellow, olive green and blood red; then Orange
& Yellow Flowers, in which orchid blue, deep green
and brick red oppose and embrace the brighter colors of the
title. Some of the more complicated pieces include many more
colors, but also tend to contain them more into areas of flat
geometry, as in the Matisse-like Artist’s Studio IV
or the somewhat Cezanne-inspired Still Life with Hammer.
Throughout, Cartmell applies his consummate drawing skills
as well, often outlining and accenting in pure black. This
helps the paintings to jump out and grab you, as apparently
has happened in particular to a few gallery visitors who have
paid the artist the ultimate compliment by buying them for
serious prices—not an insignificant fact considering Albany’s
sketchy history as an art market, and very good news indeed
for the fledgling Firlefanz.
18 Infinite Idiosyncrasies
+ Cultural Center , through Nov. 22
Surrealism is the theme of the second Loop
Sanctuary exhibition curated by musician Sara
Ayers. Three artists make up this selection, which
is dominated by the potent work of painter Sergio
Sericolo, who has apparently been bitten by the
digital bug. His brightly colored, computer-generated
collages make visual puns of patterns derived
from scientific imagery, and honor the source
material with their sense of grand experiment.
A large cycle of hand-tinted photographs by Robert
Gullie fills the gallery’s hallway space. Here,
he has focused his attentions on a man-woman-babydoll,
with predictably bizarre results. Two figurative
sculptures by Dana Rudolph are also included,
one of which doubles as a fountain. Though they
aim for a spiritual effect, they struck me as
too kitschy to be taken seriously.
One of two summer exhibitions at the Chapel has
been held over—a good decision, as Rebecca Schoonmaker’s
collection of paintings on panels in the gallery’s
lounge is a show deserving of continued attention.
Schoonmaker creates deftly patterned swirls of
colorful marks in the manner of the great Yayoi
Kusama, successfully evoking the idiosyncratic
infinitude of the show’s title. A worthy effort
by a young artist to watch.
The Loop Sanctuary exhibition will conclude
with Ambient Night at the Chapel, a musical event
in which Ayers and others will perform at 8:30
PM on Saturday, Nov. 20.