Irish American Art

July 29, 2004

Art In America
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By Maureen Mullarkey

Popular appreciation of landscape hinges on the romance of a good view. Even middling painters can produce attractive pictures of beautiful places. It takes more robust sensibilities to seek order and grace in city sights readily ignored. Viewers are on their own to discover the emotional keynote to scenes that have nothing picturesque about them.

"Industrial Beauty" at George Billis exhibits cityscape paintings and drawings by 24 artists. So much intelligent work is here that there is not enough column space to give it its due. Factories in Jersey City are lent a hint of whimsy by Lois Doddís characteristic insouciance, but apart from Ms. Dodd, the show contains few names known outside New York painting circles.

Stephen Hicks impresses with the beauty of his paint handling and the vigor of his perceptions. He brings emotional depth to ordinary street corners and mobile homes. Pitch-perfect color and careful drawing, disguised by the fluidity of his paint, elevate these small paintings above the random realities they depict.

Elizabeth O'Reilly draws magic out of the Third Street Bridge and derelict buildings on the Gowanus Canal. True as her paintings are to their locations in and around Red Hook, they serve as microcosms of the effects of modernity on the outer boroughs of every city. She shares with Mr. Hicks a lively brush and an optimism toward her subjects. Nicholas Evans-Cato's wide-angled "Panorama" (2003) captures the atmospheric damp of rain-washed streets. Shadowless gray light, cool tonalities, gleaming puddles, and sweep of space evoke Gustave Caillebotteís Paris on a rainy day.

Ron Milewiczís "Court House Square" (2003) is a coloristic tour de force, subordinating naturalism to the geometric structures of his motif and a high-keyed palette. (The Citicorp Building in Long Island City looks glorious in yellow.) Geometry is likewise the hallmark of Rick Dulaís painting of an imposing cement factory, in which mathematical clarity of form takes precedence over subjective sensations.

Andrew Lenaghan negotiates the complexity and visual clutter of urban scenes with an ease of concentration that reminds me of Antonio Lopez-GarcÌa's great views of Madrid. So much is depicted, you barely notice how much is merely indicated or left out. Sudden touches of subtle color move the eye around the canvas; smooth surfaces belie the actual density of his paint.

Richard Orientís Long Island fish hatchery is touched with the same melancholy that informs rural barns. Thomas Connelly depicts the controlled order of a loading dock; his nightscape of a commercial lot is a harmony of brooding tones. Diana Horowitzís courtesy toward the manmade landscape is a constant pleasure. So is the work of Roland Kulla, Stephen Magsig, Constance La Palombara, Andrew Haines, Stanley Goldstein, and others here.

If celebrity is your guide to quality, you might as well catch the next Hampton Jitney. But anyone with eyes will be glad to have seen this show.

Collaboration in the arts has a long tradition; and pooling skills to extend the range of individual talent is a worthy activity. So I had hopes for Axel Raben Gallery's show of nine artist pairs. I should have known better.

Unlike the anonymous cooperation of the old workshop system, contemporary couplings exist to produce a two-headed prima donna. In this show, art work takes a rear seat to the synthetic dyads that are the true artifacts. Viewers are thrown into the faithless arms of the press release for guidance.

David Humphrey and Jennifer Coates have a game going: One suggests a subject; the other draws it. Thus, a "composite authorial self" is created. Drawings include a bare-bottomed Santa squatting to pass snowflakes and a cartoon cat biting a bunny beside a plateful of maggots. In this way "habits are disabled, inhibitions are dissolved ... and skillshortcomings encouraged." Precisely.

Laura Lisbon and Suzanne Silver investigate "the mutual interference of layered mark-making." They take turns scribbling on legal paper and Post-It notes with colored pencil, likening their process to the Talmud, compiled over centuries by multiple learned commentators. To support their self-assessment, they exhibit their e-mail correspondence, one inclining to the grand.

Creighton Michaels, an attractive abstract painter, foregoes painting here for a conceptual gig. He inserts twiglike dowels individually into the wall, creating patterns similar to those in a childís book of mazes. Mr. Michaelsís installation is lit (sort of) by James Clarkís fluorescent bulbs in plastic bags. Bulbs are spotted with thumb prints, like a perp sheet. Team effort is deemed ìan environment ... a land of a thousand dances."

Finally, Craig and Sean Miller provide handmade miniature shipping crates topped by a dollhouse gallery that exhibits a nano-sample of another artist's work. These may be interpreted as "sculptures, performance pieces or a group portrait of contemporary art practice." Unless a crate is just a crate.

The unspoken aim of all this conspicuous mutuality is to demonstrate that the artists make the grade as intellectuals. Art-making is largely a platform for self-centered egos; the work of hands is a minor interest.


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