Editor's note: The Mead Art Museum provided source material to Resource Library Magazine for the following article, which is accompanied by essay text by Trinkett Clark, the curator of American art at the Mead. For images of the referenced artwork, please see the Museum's website. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact the Mead Art Museum directly through either this phone number or web address:



 

Off the Beaten Track: Contemporary Mindscapes

9 September - 18 December 2003

Using the concept that one's immediate surroundings provide a springboard to realms that are unexpected, innovative and even provocative, Off the Beaten Track features the work of 12 contemporary artists and underscores the recent prominence that the genre of landscape has attained. The artists included in the exhibition are Hugo Bastidas, Bettina Blohm, Tara Donovan, Gail Gregg, Julie Hedrick, Lloyd Martin, Ezra Parzybok, Shuli Sadé, Adam Straus, Doug Trump, Margaret Tsirantonakis and Grace Bakst Wapner.

Although each artist has his or her own vision, all share certain affinities: some work is cerebral, some whimsical, but all of it explores a traditional subject in a non-traditional manner. This exhibition can in no way be a comprehensive compendium of contemporary landscape, but it brings together twelve engaging voices. The work falls into three loose groups: landscapes that reflect the world and society, magical environments and more abstract dreamscapes.

Off the Beaten Track was organized by Trinkett Clark, the curator of American art at the Mead. An illustrated catalogue is available. The exhibition and publication were supported in part by the David W. Mesker (Class of 1953) Fund and the Department of Fine Arts.

 

Hugo Xavier Bastidas: SCARECROWS, 2002

The approach behind the artwork is firstly visual and secondly conceptual. I apply paint to the surface with quick even short strokes that build and amount to the image. The result is that of a blurry monochromic photograph encouraging closer inspection. I am purposely generating a journalistic photographic appearance to direct the viewer's attention to the narrative. By considering what is being viewed as an actual event, or accepting it for what it is, the context becomes personal. The situation in each picture seems innocuous at first, but the complex formal qualities gradually may be discerned. My intention is that the allegorical elements reflect a larger cultural malaise and environmental disruption. There is a deadpan irony to the work that dissipates after the initial introduction. The conceptual arrangements are presented in a polemical fashion and left open ended. Mark making refers more to the simplest human declaration of existence after speech; thus I gravitate to this process to record the current state of our condition, both personally and historically. The scenes are rendered in their most appealing strength, allowing the recontextualized landscape or stressed mental environment to be embraced comfortably. Inevitably presenting what we want to see and if we want to see it left in plain sight.

Born in Quito, Ecuador, in 1956, Hugo Bastidas moved to the United States in 1960. He was awarded a B.F.A. from Rutgers University in 1979 before receiving his M.F.A. from Hunter College in 1987. Bastidas is known for his grisaille palette and the wry sense of narrative in his paintings. He is the recipient of several prestigious awards, including the Robert Smithson Memorial Scholarship in 1979-80, a Fulbright Fellowship in 1990, and a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant in 1992. In 1995 he received the Colombian Ecuadorian Association of America Award in the Visual Arts, as well as an "Award of Merit" from the Jersey City Museum and the Mayor's Office. Bastidas, who is represented by the Nohra Haime Gallery in New York, has exhibited his work in the U.S., as well as in Europe and Latin America. He has been teaching almost continuously since 1981 and recently took part in a Residency at Fundacion Valparaiso, Mojacar, Spain. Bastidas lives and works in New York and New Jersey.

 

Bettina Blohm: EASTERN RELATION, 1999

"Poetry is a response to the daily necessity of getting the world right." Wallace Stevens

The paintings Moody Geometry and Eastern Relation are part of a series on landscape that I started in 1995. From the beginning I chose the horizontal double square format for its precision as well as its connection to the wonderful late landscapes of Van Gogh.

I use the abstract formal language in order to address our perception of nature as well as what constitutes a landscape. Human and aerial views are often juxtaposed. The horizon is an independent line, a space divider or border that may be multiplied or negated. Shapes signify basic components of landscape: tree, bush, hill, river, lake. Color is abstract or inspired by visual memories. Pattern, color field, or gestures invent topography.

As simple as they often look, my paintings are in fact painstakingly slow in their construction. Rarely do I finish a picture in less than 6 months. Layer upon layer is built up through a mixture of planning and intuition; whole areas get washed off with turpentine and then repainted. Through this process the paintings acquire their own history, like fictional characters. I think of the result as something parallel to Nature.

My great influences have been Henri Matisse, all the Abstract Expressionists except Jackson Pollock, and Asian landscape painting. As a painter, I work in a medium that has a long history and that allows me to build on an inherited vocabulary and invent my own language.

Born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1961, Bettina Blohm studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. She has been living in New York since 1984. She has built her career, using vibrant, even jarring, colors and abstract forms together to produce her gently rolling landscapes. Blohm's work can be seen at the Pfalzgalerie Kaiserslautern, Galerie Moritzburg, Halle, the Haus der Kultur, Waldkraiburg, the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, and the Busch-Reisinger Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

 

Tara Donovan: COLONY, 2002

In creating sculptural installations, I develop systems based on the physical properties and structural capabilities of a singular, accumulated material. These homogeneous systems often mimic those that govern the growth of the biological, architectural and technological structures to which my work makes frequent aesthetic allusions. I choose materials already identified with a basic functional purpose. Beginning with an open experimental approach, I calculate the physical properties of the material such as texture, density, mass, and size that will eventually give rise to a structure or unit when accumulated. Once established, this unit is then reproduced according to given spatial conditions and collected in various ways to discover how it behaves visually in a population. I give particular attention to patterning, configuration, and light absorption/reflection in deciding how to then unify that population, but the final form evolves organically from the material itself via its innate properties and structure. Installed specifically for each exhibition space, these forms function as fields of visual activity that reveal distinctive characteristics with each shifting viewpoint.

Born in Queens, in 1969, Tara Donovan grew up in Nyack, New York, and attended the School of Visual Arts in the City before earning her B.F.A. from the Corcoran College of Art and Design, Washington D.C., in 1991. She was awarded her M.F.A. in sculpture in 1999 from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Donovan relies on accumulation and repetition when fabricating her installations. Selecting a single, familiar form that has a specific function, she endows it with new life as she amasses thousands of the objects together in rolling topographical configurations. Conceptual in nature, Donovan's work depends on and yet defies its own physical properties.

Donovan is the recipient of grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts, The Joan Mitchell Foundation, and The Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation: The Space Program. In 2001, she won The Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Biennial Competition and she is the 2003 Augustus Saint Gaudens Memorial-Sculpture Fellow. Donovan was invited to participate in the 1999 Whitney Biennial and that same year had a solo exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art's Hemicycle Gallery in Washington. Her most recent work was featured in a solo exhibition at Ace Gallery, New York, from March through July 2003.

 

Gail Gregg: CHANUTE, 2000

Sketching the vast checkerboard of the American West from the air, I search for data to take back to the studio. The 30,000 feet between my pen and the earth below has abstracted the landscape for me. Strange squiggles squirm across plowed fields as orderly as marine platoons. Mile-wide orbs of green polka-dot the brown soil. Thin strips of tan skim along the edges of many fields, occasionally looping across a corner to connect with yet another thin strip at the edge of yet another field. There is no sign of movement, of sound, of the human activity that is involved in the audacious enterprise of transforming thousands of miles of prairie into cultivated farmland. And few plane travelers understand that the patchwork of color below is created by irrigation and fertilizer; the pattern by a surveyor's chain or lumbering harvester; the endless narrow lines by tarmac and concrete.

It is an anonymous, even lifeless landscape from this perspective. But it reveals to the occupant of a window seat that larger-than-life human ambition to impose order on nature. I marvel at the quiet anarchy that pushes back against the ruleareof highway and plow. That baroque squiggle is in fact a river that dug itself a channel centuries before the nation pushed westward. Trees planted along property lines brazenly direct their roots and branches to disrupt the straightedge. The corners of fields, forgotten by watering equipment or a farmer's combine, become little stands of protest amid the uniform furrows.

Like a farmer myself, I harvest these observations during flight, bringing them home for reexamination in my Manhattan studio. The pattern, color, and silence of that vast landscape are the subject of my pictures. Yet even as they celebrate this improbably grand man-made abstraction, they are meant to remind us of the underlying energy that is nature, pushing back at human appetites and ambitions.

A native of Kansas, Gail Gregg is a writer and an artist. In 1972, she received her B.S. in Journalism from Kansas State University, as well as an M.A. in Journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She pursued a career as a reporter, working for Congressional Quarterly and the London and Washington, D.C. bureaus of United Press International. Throughout the years, Gregg has written for: The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times, Barron's, and ARTnews. She wrote the catalogue text for Think Like Amano exhibition and her interview with Adam Straus was published in the 2003 exhibition catalogue, Adam Straus: Sublimis Interruptus exhibition at the Nohra Haime Gallery, New York. In the mid-1980s, Gregg redirected her attention to her painting and studied at the School of Visual Arts, National Academy of Fine Arts, and the Graduate School of Figurative Art at the New York Academy of Art. She was awarded her M.F.A. from Vermont College in 1998. She has been exhibiting her work since 1991. In 2002, she had a residency at Escape to Create, The Seaside Institute in Seaside, Florida. She is a member of the American Abstract Artists Group and serves on the AAA Journal editorial committee.

 

Julie Hedrick: OF THE SPIRITS, 2001

The finished canvas is a landscape of space, color, shape, and texture. The painting, Of the Spirits , begins with one defining gesture and builds from the strength of one line. In the abstract landscape of emotion, all that speaks of human joy and suffering is expressed when the paint finds and makes its place upon the canvas. Stand before this as you might stand before an ocean, meadow or canyon.

Born in Toronto, Canada, in 1958, Julie Hedrick divides her time between Kingston, New York, and Toronto. She was apprenticed to the Painters 11 Group in Toronto before beginning the Graduate Painting Studio Program at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 1977.

Hedrick's work ranges from large oil and encaustic paintings on canvas to smaller watercolors, sculptural installations, set designs for film and theater, poetry, and multimedia collaborative works. In 2000, Hedrick worked in collaboration with composer Peter Wetzler to produce a CD of poetry called Depth Perception, which earned national recognition and was featured at Riffage and MP3.com. Hedrick's evocative paintings have been shown in museums and galleries extensively in the United States and Canada. She is represented by the Nohra Haime Gallery in New York. In 2002, Hedrick was the subject of the film Julie of The Spirits, produced and directed by Isabel Barton. The film is a portrait of an artist and chronicles the evolution of the painting Of The Spirits from the first brush stroke to completion.

Lloyd Martin: STACKS, 2002

This current body of work reflects my continuing interests in the effects of time and nature as they affect logic and formally considered paradigms. The archetypal ideas exhibited in architecture as seen in megalithic structures and repeated forms found in nature are just a couple of obvious examples. These are the logics, which contribute to the ideas of formal structures in the works. Accidental events that take place in the natural progress of time as well as the effects of light are the links by which the paintings attempt to engage.

A native of Providence, Rhode Island, Lloyd Martin loved to draw as a child and always knew that he wanted to be an artist. He applied to art schools and received his B.F.A. from the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, after being offered a full scholarship to study there. Since then, he has produced an extensive body of work ­ using an abstract, gestural vocabulary, Martin refers directly to his immediate urban surroundings. Through the years, Martin has received several awards from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. He has been included in a number of exhibitions in New England and is represented by the Stephen Haller Gallery in New York.

 

Ezra Parzybok: TEMPLE DISTRICT, 2003

As with a city that starts with a single intersection and expands over time, Temple District grows out of the expansion of single units of material. Form arises from one object placed on top of the next; as the work takes shape, each form influences another until a narrative begins. The work is architectural by default and ­ dictated by gravity ­ it gradually becomes landscape. But like a perpetually distant landscape, closer inspection adds to the mystery of the narrative; paths lead nowhere, scale is indiscernible, and the fragility of this piece reminds the viewer of the fleeting nature of our own lives.

I am interested in the point between two succinct interpretations of an idea or object ­ where a piece maintains a constant ambiguity of form and content. My goal is to examine this place and to generate objects that are illogical, but appear ordered or correct.

I choose materials for their ability to reflect the piece as a whole without standing out individually. They are ambiguous but familiar. I use or manipulate machine-made objects because they give a finished, 'manmade' quality. When assembled in large numbers, they become the building blocks for temporary, 'handmade' structures. All of my current work is freestanding which makes its existence contingent upon the safety of the space it inhabits.

Ezra Parzybok grew up in Spokane, Washington, and attended the University of Montana before receiving his B.F.A. from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1997. His whimsical sculpture has been included in exhibitions throughout New England and the Northwest. Currently, Parzybok lives in Florence, Massachusetts, and is the Art Instructor at the Community Adolescent Resource and Education Center in Holyoke.

 

Shuli Sadé: ELEVATION, TIMELINE SERIES II, HUDSON RIVER, 1998-2003

In a collaborated surface of a photograph and brush strokes of tar, a mindscape unfolds; a mystery made of the documented black and white memory of an architectural structure under the sepia of tar and asphaltum. New surface is created, covering and re-exposing memory and light. Taking a photo in black and white is the first stage in manipulating memory, to which I add tar; an endless transformation to the reminiscence of the ever-changing landscape documented in the image. As tar never completely dries, it will continuously expand and contract on the surface of the photograph.

Shuli Sadé was born in Israel in 1952, where she received her B.F.A. from the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in 1976. Shortly thereafter, she settled in New York where she studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Sadé's awards include a Painting Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and numerous grants from the Art Development Committee of New York. Through the years, she has received support from the New York-Israel Cultural Cooperation Commission, the National Electric Company of Israel, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs Art Fund. Since 1979, Sadé's photographs, paintings, and sculpture have been included in exhibitions around the U.S., Israel, Australia, and Italy. Known for her photographic investigations of abandoned industrial buildings, she is a member of the Society for Industrial Archeology. She lives and works in New York City.

 

Adam Straus: MIGRATION , 2002

G.G. Why do you choose to present your tough messages in a setting of idealized beauty? [1]

A.S. In the '80s beauty became a really bad word - and it's very true, beauty is very individual. Also, it had something to do with post-Marxist class theory. But with the landscape, there really are certain things that are beautiful to most people - that's why they go to the Grand Canyon, to Yosemite, to the ocean. . . Migration - that came from a lot of different things, from these people dying of thirst coming across the desert from Mexico, the migrations in the Middle East, and so on. It comes from a Caspar David Friedrich kind of sunset. And it has to do with this contrast between the beautiful and the tragic, along with a kind of punchline. You have to have it beautiful at first, before it has a real effect. . . I love the idea of a painting that draws you into it, but then you think, "Oh shit, maybe I should get out of here!"

G.G. Donald Kuspit mentioned in a recent catalogue essay that your pictures remind viewers that landscape no longer is "uplifting," but instead has become a "symbol of futility." [2] Other critics have commented that the isolation and dread portrayed in your work is also coupled with a kind of optimism. So Adam, which do you feel - futility or optimism?

A.S. I would say both but not always at the same time; I've always thought that just the idea of attempting to make art has a certain degree of optimism. In terms of the paintings, I see them as ambiguous. There's very often that sense of futility, but there also is a kind of comical optimism ­ a waiting for Godot. Like the desert in Migration : it could be too late, or it could just be Arizona. . . . I have a certain passion for living and completely love the magic of art and I hope that comes through in the paintings. However, I have to say that I'm not always overly impressed with the human species. I feel like environmentally we're not doing enough and that we're in worse shape than most people realize. . . . . We seem to think that Armageddon will only happen instantaneously instead of being a slightly slower process, say 200-300 years.

Adam Straus was born in Miami Beach, Florida, in 1956. His degrees include a B.A. from Miami-Dade Community College, a B.S. in Mathematics from the University of Florida, in Gainesville, and an M.F.A. from Florida State University in Tallahassee. Besides winning numerous prizes in juried competitions, Straus received a grant from the Southern Arts Federation and a Painting Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He moved to New York in 1990 and has been affiliated with the Nohra Haime Gallery in New York ever since. He currently lives and works in Riverhead, New York.

1. Excerpts from an interview with Gail Gregg on 23 January 2003, Adam Straus: Sublimis Interruptus, New York: Nohra Haime Gallery, exhibition catalogue, 2003.

2. Adam Straus: Somewhere Between Here and Disaster, New York: Nohra Haime Gallery, exhibition catalogue, 2000

 

Doug Trump: DROP ZONE, 2003

The act of painting and the painting itself are inseparable and operate on a number of levels: the sensual, the cognitive, the emotional, the imaginative. A painting ­ perhaps most blatantly an "abstract" painting ­ is outside of the verbal though we try to encompass it with words, as if there was something to understand or an explanation to be had. Regardless of subject matter, it has an independence affirmed totally by its visual properties.

Paintings seek to engage the mystery which rides innately on our inquisitiveness. Though made over time, they can step into the timeless. They are irrefutable and defenseless and do not ask for a thing, and thus there is a pure and innocent finality to the form. Poised for regeneration at any moment, the truth and actuality of their pronouncement is then fully up to us in our isolation and opportunity of contact.

Making paintings is my response to life. There is no working formula to this, nor is there intent of message in these works. They are the result of intuitive process.

In this life, there is no absolute disconnecting from the physical plane ­ and this landscape as such, mirrors and supports our existence. Hopefully, these paintings are imbued with this source, and add voice to what we've all been given, and where we are ­ that we are.

Born in Clifton Springs, New York, in 1950, Doug Trump received a B.A. in Religious Thought from the University of Pennsylvania in 1972. First pursuing a career as a writer, he wrote both fiction and poetry before he turned to painting as the logical medium for his voice in the late 1970s. He still infuses his paintings with text, often submerging poetic passages beneath a thin layer of paint. Trump has designed sets for the Vermont Composers Festival in Putney, and has been the recipient of several Painting Fellowships from the Vermont Council on the Arts. He has exhibited his paintings in New York and throughout New England since 1981. His most recent work was featured in a solo exhibition at Reeves Contemporary in New York (April/May 2003), that traveled to New England College in Henniker, New Hampshire (July 2003). Trump lives in Brattleboro, Vermont.

 

Margaret Tsirantonakis: BLUE TANG, 2001

Perhaps because I write with my right hand and paint with my left dualities emerge in my art.

My paintings occur organically from a desire to balance the formal aspects of painting such as line versus form, color versus drawing, flatness versus depth, transparency versus opacity; as well as a desire to reconcile the content of the painting. The images in my art come about from direct experiences with nature or they are inspired by symbols and myths. These symbols and myths come primarily from the influence of my Cretan heritage.

In my painting forms are at once contained and let loose. Color can be both loudly intense and quietly meditative with both warm and cool colors used together.

I strive for a richness of layered color with an interweaving of forms, and lines within the containment of a canvas. I want to express the dualities of life in my art.

Born on the island of Crete, in Greece, Margaret Tsirantonakis immigrated to the United States with her family when she was one. She grew up in Astoria, New York, but has always maintained a spiritual connection to her native Greece as she has journeyed back to Crete on a regular basis since childhood. Tsirantonakis attended the High School for Art and Design in New York City before receiving her B.F.A. from the Parsons School of Design (also in New York). In 1991, she was awarded the Winsor & Newton Prize at the 11th Annual Faber Birren Color Show, Stamford Historical Society, in Stamford, Connecticut. Her colorful work has been included in numerous exhibitions around the Northeast, including a solo exhibition in 2002 at the Richard & Hinda Rosenthal Gallery of the Rich Forum, at the Stamford Center for the Arts. Tsirantonakis has also shown her work in Taos, New Mexico. She lives in Stamford, Connecticut.

 

Grace Bakst Wapner: SCHOLAR'S GARDEN V, 2002

This body of work evolves from both a seven-year concentration on the human figure and an interest in Chinese Scholars' Rocks. The earlier work focused on the interaction between two figures with their attendant complexity of human emotion. While the current work often references the multiplicity of the "natural" life around us, it is animated by those same human markers of need, impulse, and desire that informed the figurative pieces; imaging a hybrid of the plant, animal and human.

Rocks have long been considered an essential ingredient in the Chinese garden; the term "scholar's rock" applies to those ornamental rocks of a distinctive shape, size, and color that often grace a home or studio. These small Scholars' Rocks, first collected during the Song dynasty (960-1279), sat on the desks, tables or shelves of the Chinese literati and were valued as aesthetic objects as well as enabling mediums for contemplative thought. My "landscape" figures, comparable in scale and intent, hopefully suggest that same "world within worlds" ­ the inner landscape.

Grace Bakst Wapner was born in New York and majored in social science at Bennington College with the intention of pursuing a career in psychology. At the same time, she studied sculpture and dance. Settling in New York after graduating from Bennington, Wapner enrolled at the The Sculpture and Ceramic Workshop, where she began her lifelong investigation into the possibilities offered by clay.

Over the years, Wapner has produced a diverse body of work that includes reliefs, gates, installations, and freestanding figurative sculptures that explore the emotional underpinnings of relationships. She has been included in many exhibitions since the mid-1960s; her first solo exhibition was at the cooperative gallery, 55 Mercer Street, in 1973. She received a Sculpture Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1978/79, and was commissioned to create the Woman of Vision Award by the National Association of Women from 1988 to 1990. Wapner lives and works in Woodstock, New York.

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