Contributed by Sharon Butler \ I was recently invited to select work from an Open Call at the Ely Center for Contemporary Art in New Haven. Looking at more than 300 worthy submissions (and reading all the artist statements) I was drawn to work that’s rooted in materiality, ritual, and the structure of daily life. I called the show “The Daily” after Michael Barbaro’s NY Times morning podcast, which is what I often listen to as I make and post my own daily drawings on Instagram.
Here’s my curator’s statement for the show with some snapshots I took at the opening reception:
Some artists have built enduring practices one day at a time (as Bill W. would say). One is Joseph Salerno, who makes a small plein air landscape painting each day in the Vermont woods. Other artists represented here, such as Jean Scott and EK Lee, have suggested that maintaining the daily ritual of making art has a healing effect in the face of loss and tragedy. In Salerno’s artist’s statement, he quotes Dante from The Divine Comedy: “In the middle years of our life I found myself in a dark wood.”
Incremental approaches, of course, need not suppress humanity. Claire Watson collects leather clothes at thrift shops, takes them apart at the seams, and sews the pieces together to create abstract canvases. Although they have a Modernist sensibility, Watson says it’s impossible to disassociate the fragments from the living, breathing animals from whence the skins originated.
Matthew Best uses the painting process as a way to cope with the sheer uncertainty of life, his improvisational abstract works recording mental shifts and personal growth, move by move. Anne Russinof’s paintings are themselves single acts: she makes them in one go, wet on wet, like the ancient Chinese landscape painters. Her floating calligraphic gestures seem as if they could fly off the canvas and enter the space around us.
Daniel Bohman, Shelby Charlesworth, and Amy Faris are keen observers of the domestic world. Charlesworth’s installations incorporate what she calls the repulsive traces of existence – hair intertwined in the teeth of a brush, a toothbrush long overused, a toenail stuck in a set of clippers. Faris’s drawings and installations examine monotony, utilizing the same repetitive processes she associates with tedious household tasks. Daniel Bohman paints images of interior domestic spaces which convey meaning about those who inhabit them.
Three artists in the exhibition use materials in especially surprising ways. Cynthia Mason’s soft sculptures, based on household objects like shelves and ladders, droop and bend over time. Her interest lies in powerlessness and everyday failure. Rick Albee’s humble goal for his small-scale ceramic objects is simply to make something unexpected, and, by combining familiar forms in unforeseen ways, he succeeds. Elizabeth Mead makes delicate tabletop objects out of white paper and string, then photographs them in natural light, rendering them illusions of shadow and light in a post-literal space.
Douglas Degges and Robert Oehl, both overwhelmed by the speed of digital technology in our lives, are intent on slowing down the existential procession. Oehl uses pinhole cameras and traditional darkroom processes to fashion grainy, nude self-portraits that seem elegiac, suggestions that an era may be ending. Degges crafts lumpy plaster slabs on which he makes abstract paintings, like personal frescos for itinerant times.
Rita Valley and Eric Anthony Berdis have proudly political missions. Using absurd pageantry and purposeful repetition, Berdis explores the challenge and romance of being gay in a hetero-normative society. Valley, in despair over our ongoing political strife, hand-sews text-based fabric pieces with buzz phrases and hate words like “libtard” and “complicit.”
“The Daily” is broadly about paying attention, living in the present, and counting time – which of course marches on. Sixty seconds in a minute, sixty minutes in an hour, twenty-four hours in a day. Before you know it, a brave new decade unfolds.
“The Daily,” curated by Sharon Butler. Ely Center for Contemporary Art, 51 Trumbull Street, New Haven, CT. January 12 – February 16, 2020 \ Artists include Rick Albee, Eric Anthony Berdis, Matthew Best, Daniel Bohman, Shelby Charlesworth, Douglas Degges, Amy Faris, EK Lee, Cynthia Mason, Elizabeth Mead, Robert Oehl, Anne Russinof, Joseph Salerno, Jean Scott, Rita Valley, Claire Watson
Parting shot: Artist and Ely Center Gallery Director Debbie Hesse (on right) who invited me to curate the show, is responsible for the thoughtful installation. Debbie made insightful connections between pieces that I hadn’t anticipated. Thank you, Debbie, for making it all work together! (Image via Anne Russinof at Gallery Travels)
Other curatorial undertakings:
1959: Spirit of the Void
Invitation: “Blue State” and “Inflation” at DUMBO Open Studios 2017
Infrastructure @ SEMINAR in DUMBO
An invitation: Two Coats of Paint’s fifth anniversary party @ Bushwick Open Studios