Contributed by Laurie Fendrich / To walk into an open art gallery during this COVID-caused gloaming of the art world is perhaps to catch a glimpse of dawn. That’s what it felt like to me, anyway, when a couple of weeks ago I visited the not-for-profit Five Points Gallery at the Five Points Center for the Visual Arts, in Torrington, Connecticut, near to where I’ve been hunkering down during the pandemic. Five Points offers two solo exhibitions—Leonard Clark’s “Water and Light” (digital-on-metal photographic prints, and Ellen Hackl Fagan’s “Helpless” (paintings)—along with “True Blue,” a group show of paintings by Patricia Carrigan, Emilia Dubicki, Barbara Hocker, and Andra Samelson.
My husband and I, both septuagenarian painters, opted to leave New York City on March 15. Although I’ve still have a studio and have been steadily making art, walking into Five Points made me realize I’d been quietly missing what one might call “The White Cube” experience: being inside a space specially constructed for seeing art. Notwithstanding political critiques that such spaces represent the market’s corruption of art (here mitigated by Five Points’ non-profit status) or the bourgeois aesthetic, or the complaint that art in a gallery is always denuded of context, clean white walls and good lighting are the best circumstances for looking at art.
Ellen Hackl Fagan is an abstract painter who moved from Bushwick to Greenwich, CT, about a year ago; she’s also the director of Odetta Gallery in Harlem, which concentrates on showing mid-career artists. On a Five Points website video, she talks about the artistic intentions behind her (mostly) all-blue exhibition. Ms. Fagan chose the title “Helpless,” she says, because of repeatedly listening to Neil Young’s song of the same name while she was painting for this show. For her, Young’s lyrics, “blue windows beyond the stars” leaving us “helpless, helpless, helpless, helpless” echo the feelings she—and we—have with COVID. She also finds the word reflects the seductiveness she experiences in painting with the color blue.
Although many of the works are small, with 22 paintings this is a large show. Most of the paintings are monochromatic blue, but unlike Yves Klein’s opaque, dense, impenetrable (and ridiculously expensive) International Klein blue, Fagan’s azure is watery and luminous. Her large paintings on museum board, and smaller ones on clayboard, though not groundbreaking, keep you looking. The exhibition would have been more powerful, however, with just the one wall of large paintings, omitting the small ones on a neighboring wall entirely. This would have better expressed Fagan’s belief that, “blue is the color, overwhelmed is the feeling.”
The four artists in the group show likewise all use blue in their work, but as different means to different ends. Patricia Carrigan is an abstract painter whose modest-sized oil paintings come about by, as she puts it, “covering and uncovering paint,” and whose overarching goal is to reveal how we “actively choose to rewrite history each time we tell a story.” The blues in her pictures range from light to dark and warm to cool, and she balances them with soft yellows and muted reds. Incidental marks and scumblings abound, but are mostly grouped together in clusters. All things chaotic are held together by her implied underlying grid.
Ultramarine and Prussian blues dominate Emilia Dubicki’s four large oil paintings (along with one smaller mixed media work on paper). Though also abstract, they’re almost violent in suggesting explosions or crashing waves. She says she’s inspired by the vistas she encounters while driving on back country roads in Connecticut, and that she looks at the work of such painters as Helen Frankenthaler and Amy Sillman, which certainly shows.
Barbara Hocker’s artist statement makes clear that she tries to bring her practice of Tai/Chi into her work, which is very quiet and meditative. She’s also the most figurative of the painters in the group show. The four “Woven Water” digital photographs on rice paper with watercolor and encaustic medium look an awful lot like water in the foreground with reeds of grass in the background. On the other hand, a piece like “Wave Book 1,” which reminds one of ribbon candy, is an exploration of form for its own sake.
As blue as “True Blue” is, the exhibitor most focused on the color is Andra Samelson, a multi-media artist whose imagery ranges from the molecular to the galactic. She says she draws intuitively into the paint. The biomorphic forms that emerge seem simultaneously to sit flat on the surface and to dive deep into space. The elements in each picture encircle a center, but the individual results are richly different and never formulaic.
The show that fits strangely with the others in the gallery is Clark Leonard’s solo exhibition of modest-sized, hyper-colored, digital photographs, printed on metal, of ocean waves. They’re gorgeous in a commercial-art sort of way, but there’s a stiffness to them. Moreover, lacking a sense of scale, they fail to convey any of the awesomeness and terror of, say, Hokusai’s “Great Wave of Kanagawa.” The artist’s statement indicates he has a career in commercial photography and a special passion for the ocean and has had photographs published in surfing magazines, but that he would also like to be included in the “fine arts” gallery world. To manage that, Mr. Leonard has a way to go.
Back to blue: the way we perceive individual colors is partly psychological, partly cultural, partly personal, and always impossible to understand completely. For the pioneer abstract painter Wasily Kandinsky, the color blue was supernatural and peaceful, as well as “heavenly.” Oddly, he also saw it as slightly mournful. Perhaps these contradictions render blue more profound than other hues. Since visible light is only a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum, our eyes are probably missing quite a few possible chromatic treats. Still, Five Points Gallery’s visual exegesis on blue is a welcome pleasure in these art-deprived times.
All exhibitions are at Five Points Gallery at Five Points Visual Arts Center, 33 Main Street/7 Water Street, Torrington, CT. Through August 22, 2020.
Discussion and Artists’ Talk: Friday, August 7, at 6:00pm, via Zoom
Moderated by Jessica Fallis, Featuring Artists: Clark Leonard, Ellen Hackl Fagan, Andra Samelson, Patricia Carrigan, Emilia Dubicki, Barbara Hocker
About the author: Laurie Fendrich is a painter, writer, and professor emerita of fine arts at Hofstra University. She is working on a new series of abstract paintings.