October 3, 2015
Fine art, in the Western World’s urban centers, is dead. It became apparent that the patient was critically ill, with the work of the Cubists (e.g. Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (1912)). It was Mondrian who demonstrated beyond all doubt that the patient had no pulse, in Lozenge in Red, Yellow and Blue (1925). He imagined that he was revealing something profound in “freeing” color and form, but what he actually revealed was the emptiness of the human analytical tool (those etchings in the brain that allow us to manipulate our surroundings). His was an age that could worship the depersonalization of industrial society for the enormous power it bequeathed to culture. But while the forces that depersonalized us have prolonged human life, extended its horizons and provided creature comforts, they have smothered the communal soul; they have obviated Art, that ultimate, personal reflection on life. Suddenly homeless, Art has wandered through city streets, prostituting herself in a desperate search for usefulness. What passes for “Art” in our urban centers speaks now only to the artist (e.g., the expressionists), and one wonders whether the conversation is worth eavesdropping on. Morbid, tragic, ugly, violent. A sea of ennui—meaninglessness, shallowness, impersonalization. I get it. Let’s move on.
Fortunately, although urban “art” is trapped in a casket of concrete and glass, asphalt and steel, rural art is moving on. Fine art is springing up across the country like seedlings after a forest fire, and on Saturday, Oct 3, in Malone, NY, two trees who have sprung out of the wasteland will be showcasing their visions. Sarah Hartshorne, former professional cellist from Albuquerque, and Frederick Howe, a Physical Therapist from the Washington area, will be present with their paintings at the Richardson, 459 E. Main Street, beginning at 6 P.M.
One’s first impression, on seeing a gallery of Hartshorne’s work, is a line from When Harry met Sally: “I’ll have what she’s having.” In the movie, the line was elicited from a restaurant patron who had just witnessed Meg Ryan’s dramatization of an orgasm, as she and Billy Crystal were having lunch in the middle of that restaurant. With Hartshorne’s work, the line surfaces as the viewer is drawn into the passionate joy of Hartshorne’s vision of the most commonplace of objects. Is the artist seeing a world hidden from the rest of us, or is she infusing the same world we see, with her own elation? Her colors are electrifying, captivating.
She would be a remarkable artist based on color alone, but her accomplishments don’t end there. She has a mastery of structure and balance that characterizes all fine art. And finally, her technique with a brush is as skillful as her technique with a bow (compare the hard luminosity of the pitcher in Without an Uttered Sound, for example, with the soft silk upon which the pitcher rests). It would be tempting to pigeon-hole her work as “good graphic art,” which characterizes so many who work in the field, but her titles, if nothing else, make the viewer aware that there is more to be found than a pretty picture. Consider the work entitled: “I’ve got the blues.” At first glance, the work seems to be an oversimplified, in-your-face still life, with a clever play-on-words for a title. One quickly senses, though, a remarkable quality about the painting—Hartshorne has actually captured the hues of depression/sadness that give the experience the name of “blues.” She has figured out how to sing the blues with hues. “I’ve got the blues captured in color.” And there’s a second level of meaning here. By bringing the berries right up to the viewer’s face, the artist allows the viewer to see that these berries are blown apart, wounded. We are looking at a collection of the artist’s own broken dreams. In this way the artist connects with the viewer. “I could accomplish this capture, because like you, I am one of those who have known the blues.” But why the dainty bowl, why the powerful golden band? This is the inspiration of fine art. The artist declares: “By my own choice, I am wedded (the gold band) to these blues; they are my life. I am not overcome by them, but joyfully embrace them as part of who I am.” Indeed, “I’ve got the blues” is perhaps the best expression to date of the courageous character of the artist herself, whose joie de vie encompasses and transforms, rather than suppresses and runs from, her “blues”. This then becomes a third meaning to her title, “I’ve got the blues.” “I’ve got them together, right here. And I am able, indeed, I am determined, to make something beautiful out of them.”
If Hartshorne’s overriding gestalt is joy, Howe’s is peace. His portrait of his mother bears some similarities to Whistler’s famous Arrangement in Gray and Black (both women are elderly; both are facing to the viewer’s left; both are dressed in the fashion of the woman’s youth, not the current vogue) and yet each artist’s emphasis is strikingly different. Whistler wished to place his mother in the world in which she actually lived--provincial, dutiful if long suffering. Oddly, Howe’s mother has the same qualities, but Howe is no longer interested in demonstrating something of naked truth, but in conveying to the viewer the remarkable if ambivalent love he and his mother share. Indeed, one might argue that Whistler had tried—and failed—to demonstrate the self-same thing, by blurring the edges of her portrait. But in his desire to show the starkness of his mother’s world, Whistler kept all color out. Howe has let enough color creep in, to at once remove all doubt about his love for his mother, and at the same time infuse the painting with forgiveness, with peace, for the all too real struggles the two of them experienced. Neither painting can be fully explained. Both must be experienced. Whistler’s has perhaps the deeper “lesson.” Howe’s is remarkable for the struggle of love. Each painting might actually elicit tears, bur for different reasons. Whistler observes his mother with love; Howe loves his mother with observation.
June 8, 2014
Sarah Hartshorne and Susan Reid are exhibiting works inspired in part by ancient art forms in their “Focal Point” paintings show at Matrix Fine Art. Hartshorne’s and the rest of humanity’s fascination with flowers hark back to prehistoric Neanderthal gravesites wherein the deceased were covered with flowers before burial. Hartshorne, who was once the principal cellist for the National Symphony of Bolivia and taught music in North, South and Central America, also earned a masters’ degree in counseling leading to a successful career in psychotherapy.
Serendipity led Hartshorne and her son to take classes in drawing and painting at the University of New Mexico, where Hartshorne fell in love with artistic expression.
Her paintings of botanical subjects, which include mural-scale close-up renderings of leaves, stem structures and flowers rapidly evolved from superficial likeness into a telescopic visual examination of the collective soul within living things.
Hartshorne’s mastery of color allows her to transform a predominately white iris into a nearly full-palette celebration of awakening. The dramatic lighting and beautiful draftsmanship in Hartshorne’s “White” transport the viewer away from quotidian concerns into the beautifully transcendent realm of natural contemplative meditation.
Both “White” and “The Color of Purple” are blossoms presented against a sky-blue background with hints of landscape elements. During a brief conversation at the gallery, Hartshorne mentioned that she revisited “The Color of Purple” to sharpen the focus and emphasize the linear quality of the flower’s structure. The result of her primary and secondary efforts is an animated image that is at once a study in fluid dynamics and a billowing description of the explosive force behind all life forms.
Her “Stages of Decay” is an unconventional interior still life replete with a vase of cut flowers that remind us of the fragile and temporal nature of being. Hartshorne was touching up the black background when I visited the gallery. The painting is reminiscent of those Neanderthal burials in that it emblemizes the transience of life, death and rebirth.
Reid graduated with a degree in sociology in 1997 before visiting Australia that same year. The journey Down Under transformed her life through a close encounter with the 40,000-year-old Aborigine culture. Reid was overwhelmed by the dot-laden renderings of dream states as well as animals, fish and other living things.
She has been painting dots ever since. Years ago I ran across an article that described the lives of Aborigines in southern Australia who believed that their lives were dreamt by the whales off the coast. The reasoning was that if you led an interesting life the whales would keep on dreaming you into existence. The idea was to keep the whales from being bored and possibly waking up.
Reid is painting vibratory dreamlike imagery without resorting to European surrealist style conjured scenarios.
Though beautifully executed, her large geometrical abstractions inspired by mandalas and fractals are a bit less exciting than her smaller more asymmetrical works.
In “Sochi,” Reid does a wonderful job of animating the vertical composition while juxtaposing hot reds and oranges with cool blues and grays. The blobby four-armed amoeba-like forms dance around the canvas while trailing ribbon like linear connective tissue. “Sochi” is one of several “wow” pieces by Reid.
In “Mystical Wind,” Reid blends hints from Australian Aboriginal imagery as well as Huichol yarn painting designs from Mexico. The overall piece is a lovely balance between warm and cool colors as well as a successful and asymmetrically rhythmic study in linear composition.
This is a powerful exhibition of two artists who have truly found their aesthetic homes in the painting medium.
While visiting the gallery don’t miss the relief print show in the New Grounds Gallery next door. I was especially taken by the fine draftsmanship found in Wayne Chinander’s linocut landscapes. His work has the craftsmanship “wow” factor.
WHAT: “Focal Point,” paintings by Sarah Hartshorne and Susan Reid, and “Carved: Relief Prints” by Wayne Chinander, Katherine Noe, Kaitlin Reese and Jeff Simpson
WHEN: Through June 28. Hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. Closed Mondays
WHERE: Matrix Fine Art and New Grounds Print Workshop Gallery, 3812 E. Central
HOW MUCH: Free
“Mystical Wind” by Susan Reid combines inspirational cues from Australian Aboriginal designs and Huichol yarn paintings from Mexico. “Anejo Longing” by Susan Reid. “Stages of Decay” by Sarah Hartshorne offers viewers an emblematic example of the fragile and temporal quality of our existence. “The Color Purple” by Sarah Hartshorne is a celebration of the artist’s mastery of color as well as drafting skills that turn a flower into an explosive source of life.
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