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Sirens

July 29, 2014

The sensuous forms of mermaids and figureheads inspire Amy Kandall’s recent clay sculptures: these are the desired female bodies of the shore and open seas. In the body of the mermaid, warm human flesh meets cool fishy scales; she is a monstrous hybrid, born of breeched species’ boundaries. Her place is the shoreline, where dry land meets the sea: the place of seaweed, mud, rocks and shellfish, both fertile site of life and marginal wasteland. Tales of mermaids include the lure of the seductive siren’s song, and the abducted mermaid or selkie who becomes wife to a fisherman, only to find her hidden seal’s skin and then slip below the waves, never to return.

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Mer/maid, sea/woman: floating in the salty, amniotic brine, sensual beast, fatally devouring siren. Figurehead: partial woman facing the sea on the prow of a wooden ship full of lonely men, savage men too long at sea, too full of longing.

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Mer/mère: ocean/ mother:  Mermaid colonies, families, pods or schools.  Mother and daughter sirens.

Yet made of clay. Earth. A shift in element for these maritime creatures. Some surfaces revealing this origin, others slippery with glaze: glassy silica, moist liquid stone.

Her show opens August 1 at the Patty Deluca Gallery in Provincetown.

 

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Helen Grimm

June 15, 2014

IMG_3406Helen Grimm’s recent paintings cross back and forth across the terrains of abstraction and representation, and often linger on the border between these states, in preference for neither, often remaining on the threshold. Oscillating from the enormity of wide dune landscapes to the intimacy of a clam’s shell, viewed beneath the surface of the water, Grimm’s paintings ask us to travel visually and imaginatively through their compositions, taking pleasure in lush color and sensuous surfaces along the way.

 

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Her colors are the achingly tender greens of early spring and the saturated purple of wampum and the bone whites, grey whites, so many whites found in the bright light of June on the Outer Cape.

 

The naturally derived forms become a handwriting, a calligraphic mapping of sensation, a subjective code.

Bodily sensations of vibrant form, light and color are conjured up by the natural forms and textures that flow through her paintings, whether originating in the experience of finding these open shells glistening in the tidal waters, or gazing out at the enormity and deceptive simplicity of a landscape of shifting sands.

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Her recent paintings will be on display for the first two weeks of August, 2014, at 411 Studio in Provincetown.

 

Donald Beal: New Beech Forest Paintings, August 2013

July 30, 2013

Memories happen in all kinds of places. In dreams, places are stitched together to form a new fabric altogether.  The reinvented spaces of dreams restage memory and upstage the familiar, often revealing a new truth. This is the sort of woodland space that our eyes are invited to wander through in Donald Beal’s newest landscape paintings.

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In some of these works, we follow dogs running through or pausing in wooded landscapes, illuminated by slashes of sunlight that reach the ground. Provincetown’s Beech Forest is most often the place evoked, which is to say that these works are based on observed phenomena and physical elements of this unusual landscape to which the artist has repeatedly returned.

Beal selects diagonal elements in the landscape, earth that either built up or slid down so long ago that it is seemingly motionless now, as we witness this place in our slice of time.

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Against these old structures of tilted land, trees that struggle upward for verticality invite us to thread a path through them. The unfocused chaos of thickets sometimes blocks our passage, and other lines of sight draw our attention down into mysterious ravines.

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A waterfall or a large tree becomes a vital, almost sentient presence, a personality encountered in the landscape.

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Beal’s paintings are inventions assembled –in a most unconscious way– of collected bits of dreams, scraps of memories, and years of painting this place; painting and un-painting, scraping off and repainting this specific Beech Forest landscape. In this associational process, formal relationships between the elements of landscape emerge, bringing to the surface gleanings from the language of landscape painting from Poussin, Corot, Courbet and Cézanne to the abstracted planes of DeKooning that so often suggest the spaces of landscape. Degas advised working from remembered vignettes because “imagination collaborates with memory;” in this way, Beal’s recent landscapes evoke our physical and visual sensations of moving through nature and then later meditating upon our recollected moments.

 

This show will be on view at the A-Gallery in Provincetown, Mass. Aug. 14-20 2013.

Life-Sized: Amy Kandall 2013

July 11, 2013

823T9548Amy Kandall’s most recent ceramic sculptures are roughly life-sized. Standing in their presence, we understand their scale through that of our own bodies; this uncanny relationship was explored by the Surrealists’ fascination with mannequins, and doubles. Each figure is made of three parts both hand-built and wheel-thrown.  amy3 As bodies made of modular forms, more recent associations also abound: from the domestic robots of the Jetson’s and the Stepford Wives to ever-transforming cybernetic superheroes.

Although they are a dramatic departure in scale from her earlier ceramic sculptures, in these large female forms, she continues to explore tensions of figural form and surface. Flesh and cloth are conflated and confused.  The surface is cut through, peeled back and exposed.  These openings and cuts in the surface are spaces of absence and access, providing for flow through and from the sculpture. Surfaces are worked, abraded or obsessively layered with texture, glaze, or paint.  A blue diva’s carapace is suggestive, all at once, of a water tower, a robin’s egg or a coveted Tiffany jewel box.

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The result of research into totemic world cultures, and the generative, creative forces attributed to female deities, these columnar caryatids are formed of mute matter that is activated by our associative mediation upon them. Many have closed eyes, turning inward on their potential, not yet revealing themselves to our gaze.  Like African Power figures (Nkisi) that draw their force from materials contained in their abdomens, and that are empowered by nails driven into their wooden bodies, these female warrior figures seem almost brought to life, suspended at a moment just before awakening to sentient presence.

An exhibition of this new work opens July 12, 2013 at the Esmond-Wright Gallery in Provincetown.

Amy Kandall: Warrior Princesses

July 26, 2011

Amy Kandall’s new series of ceramic warrior princesses invite their viewers to embrace a range of contradictions. Their surfaces are at once parched dry and lusciously glazed, austere and extravagant, ugly and gorgeous, stripped down and excessive. Put into play (and sometimes opposition) is text and image, surface animation and sculptural depth, color and line. Borrowing at will from her background in painting, printmaking and clothing design, Kandall mixes metaphors and allusions while binding color to form. In their very materiality, these sculptures are made of clay that has been impregnated with color, stamped with pattern or abraded and stressed. Kandall fearlessly weaves together porcelain and brown clay, well aware of the visceral associations conjured by muddying or fusing her ceramic references. Color, in these works, is not mere surface: it is of the very fabric of the clay. Erasing boundaries or associations of the refined and the earth-bound, the clay becomes a fabric that is woven, hung and folded about these forms. As it strengthens, binds, conceals and reveals the female figures within its drapery, it is insistently sculptural. Clay is metal, cloth, hair skin; clothing is made of fictive brocade, silk or chain mail armor; clay reads as alternately soft and draping or hard and encasing.

Both archetype and architecture, the female form is encased in clothing, being at once in a tower and the tower itself, both clothed and contained in these fantastic costumes, as if  decorated and armed for an unnamed ritual. Formal regalia seemingly empowers the wearer: supports her yet ensnares her, tells her how to behave and silences her critics. The female body is returned to repeatedly in this work—the body as the place of memory, the embodiment of memory, and as the surface upon which life’s stories are inscribed. These elongated female forms evoke ancient feminine archetypes—like the Minoan Snake Goddess or Aztec devouring mothers. At the same time, their battle gear, their transformative armor, their mutations and amputations evoke the post-apocalyptic landscape of Mad Max. Kandall’s armored warrior princesses, evil queens, mother warriors, and wounded heroines tell stories, stories written on their bodies.

Donald Beal

July 21, 2011

Landscape is an artistic genre that we think we know, that we expect to be given; on faith we often take landscape imagery to be innocent, passive or transparent. But place and its incarnations are never so simple.  As we live in landscape or pass through it, we respond to its material structures, alternately isolating elements –to best understand a tree, a river, a mountain or a sea—or accepting its continuous, blurred and interpenetrating relationships. The ways in which we see and then translate landscape into representation come in part from our own experiences but they are importantly mediated by an encyclopedic range of conventions that frame, evaluate, elevate and reject the worthiness of certain places as “landscape”.

Many permutations of landscape are at the heart of Donald Beal’s artistic practice. His family has its roots planted on the Maine coast.  Fresh from graduate school, he first came to Provincetown in 1984, and gradually worked his way inland from its endlessly seductive shoreline to the Beech Forest: a place less severe, pure or sublime, and much harder to generalize.

The views afforded there shift with every footstep and change constantly with the weather. Without an obvious horizon, focal point or delineation betwen fore-, middle and background, this remarkably wild bit of land demands complex visual languages and sustained practices of looking. Beal’s open-air oil sketches made from life repeat and enlarge his landscape repertoire and bring new terms of formal values, structures and tensions to his studio practice.

In addition to the vocabulary of working on site, Beal’s recent paintings rework and reinvent senses of place through many conventions culled from the history of landscape painting: thus a Dutch note of Jacob Ruisdael sounds in the dramatic framing of one view and, in another, the viewer’s eye is led into the distance down a theatrical path, narrowly skirting the Hudson River bombast of Frederic Church. At times, Beal almost impossibly (after Paul Cézanne) hints at Claude Lorraine’s classical and deliberate march toward the horizon.

In some landscapes, we yearn to arrive at the arbitrary cloudbursts of light in the distance, yet we remain forever cast in the foreground’s shade. Beal notes that one long, horizontal panel, whose visual field consists only of truncated trees, a bank of earth and an unexplained fire was painted after looking at Nicolas Poussin’s Arcadian landscapes and reading Ovid’s Metamorphosis.

In the studio, the artistic language gradually acquired from open-air landscape practice meets these many frames of reference to generate paintings on a larger, more imaginative scale. Beal’s landscapes take place in their own time: the deliberate contemplation and revision that the studio paintings demand are as a game of chess to the impulsive poker hands of the oil sketches.  The larger works are informed by, yet do not repeat the sketches’ observations, as new, unheard of places come into being in the process of painting.

At a moment long past the certainty of Modernism, Beal plays with the back and forth of formally flattened rhythmic grids and perceptions of fictive deep space. Into this space of pure painting, invention and chance come into play.  Relying upon a learned landscape vocabulary that has become a flexible and intuitive place of comfort and authority, memory and free association often upwell into uncanny presences that assert themselves. The rocky Maine coast is repeatedly incarnated: in one case a landscape painted from memory recalls an island (really little more than a pile of rocks off Jonesport) where a relative keeps a rough shack. Other places that emerge on the canvas in the studio evoke sites of memory from Beal’s childhood in Northeastern Massachusetts: desolate gravel pits and abandoned quarries, uncanny layers of worked places now desolate.

As if memory leaks out unbidden, animals emerge, disappear, freely transform their species on the canvas. They occasionally dart between the trees, like shades of Pisanello.  He explains their emergence as a way of ‘upping the ante,’ of finding a way to complicate the description of place or subjective vision inherent to the genre while maintaining a strangely non-narrative presence, neither nostalgic nor polemic.

Ellen Lebow and Anna Poor at PAAM, Spring 2010

July 21, 2011
A mid-career survey of artwork by Ellen LeBow and Anna Poor is on view at the Provincetown Art Association Museum (PAAM) March 12 -May 2, 2010. The power of narrative generated by mythology, folklore, and religious visual culture is made evident in their work. Both Poor and LeBow explore subject matter culled from a fantastic range of contemporary and historical sources: from ancient Egypt to modern-day Haiti and from Giacometti to Doctor Seuss. Obsessively reconfiguring the objects and iconography of art history and world religions, both artists take critical positions of homage, ironic commentary or outright pillaging on their appropriated sources. They share a material fascination with the sensuous potentials of their materials, often working with innovative or unconventional techniques and combinations of mediums.
Over the course of many years of exhibiting in Wellfleet and Provincetown, LeBow has worked in a wide range of media and styles. Her recent black and white clayboard panels are drawn with a knife, producing imagery both linear and carved, drawn with light, as layers of darkness are peeled away in the lowest of relief. LeBow’s recent imagery is a radical departure from the Haitian focus of her past work. Her dense and massive visual fields disgorge tumbling, cosmic “clouds” packed with an unlikely association of characters “cannibalized” from personal and artistic influences. The artist explains that “in the marriage of seemingly disparate things I try to weave a compressed assault of ‘divine messengers’ threatening at once to overpower and exalt the earth-bound life below.”

Poor’s sculptures are often diminutive in scale and engage the viewer in critical contemporary issues of appropriation, ownership, and the destruction of cultural objects. Her anthropomorphic creatures, innocent bystanders in a violent world, combine contemporary sensibilities with age old, labor intensive sculptural techniques. Her art historical references, techniques, and objects span many centuries: from the alabaster, shell and lapis lazuli Syrian sculpture in the Iraq Museum and the carved limestone Assyrian wall relief depicting Prince Ashurbanipal II’s Lion Hunt in the British Museum, to Lorenzo Ghiberti’s cast bronze Renaissance Gates of Paradise and Alberto Giacometti’s Woman with her throat cut. Lovingly casting a delicate bronze rat skin or carving internal organs from luminous stone, Poor inverts taxonomies of the precious and the abject, creating gorgeous “stolen” or “faked” antiquities and enshrining these “relics” in glass boxes.
Both Poor and LeBow have their feet firmly planted in the art worlds of Boston and Cape Cod. Poor has taught at The Art Institute of Boston since 1992 and is a visiting associate professor. She was awarded a Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Grant in 2001 and her work is included in numerous collections, publications, and exhibitions world wide. She is a long time executive board member at Center for the Arts at Castle Hill in Truro, where she is currently the co-chair of education. She has widely exhibited throughout the Northeast, and in New York City at the New Museum, the Sculpture Center, James Graham & Sons, AIR Gallery, Atlantic Gallery and the Caelum Gallery. She is a co-owner of ArtStrand contemporary gallery in Provincetown.

Ellen LeBow has long worked as a commercial and fine artist, founding member of a cooperative contemporary galelry as well as a local art critic. She is represented by the Rice Polak Gallery in Provincetown. She has also established a successful collaborative art project, working with women artists of Matenwa, Haiti. More information about this program can be found at www.artmatenwa.org

This show is co-curated by Donald Beal and Maura Coughlin.