Review by Seth Rogovoy
(HUDSON, N.Y.) – Gallery owner Carrie Haddad has wild, whimsical and eclectic taste in artworks, and this is always reflected in the shows she hangs at her eponymous Carrie Haddad Gallery. The current exhibition, Modern Artists, featuring contemporary painting and photography and running through March 2, is no exception.
I love Carrie’s shows, because she mixes and matches artists of seemingly wildly different temperaments and approaches. The only thing that unifies them is that she likes them, and that’s just fine with me. Not everything in her shows grabs me equally, but some things always do. The only problem I see with this is I always want to own at least one piece, and my accountant says it’s not time for me to become an art collector – at least not yet.
It’s going to be hard for anyone to take more than two steps into the gallery for the next month and not be bowled over by the art photographs of Newbold Bohemia. This current series of “fake” photos – they really are digital paintings in many respects – have as their manifest content the life of a suburban housewife in the 1950s. We “see” her – quote marks around “see” because we never actually see her face – engaged in various homemaking tasks, including ironing, baking, setting out a tea service, relaxing with a drink.
But there’s a not-so-hidden underbelly to what’s going on. For one, Bohemia has recast and recolored everything, so a common and totally unnatural color palette of pink and green runs through the series. As aforementioned, the blonde-haired woman herself is faceless, rendered from every possible angle that hides her face and alienates the viewer from any intimacy with the subject. Details in each image hint at the horror below the surface of the suburban life – the steam of the iron mixes with cigarette smoke and probably smoke from a burning shirt while the woman is preoccupied talking to a friend on her pink princess phone and dreaming of a getaway promised in an ad in a magazine she has open on the ironing board. In “Secret Recipe,” the woman is kneading dough on a butcher block, her arms and even her nose covered in flour, while a tin of rat poiso ominously is positioned next to a can of baking powder. Seated in a chair while holding a drink with a cute umbrella in her glass, the woman’s heel grinds into the neck of a Teddy bear. And a beautifully laid out picnic – replete with sandwiches, drinks, jello mold, and a variety of goodies – becomes a battlefield taken over by an army of ants as the woman destroys the picnic with the swing of a baseball bat. The retouched photos function almost more as movie stills than as photographs or paintings – think “Mad Men” meets Julianne Moore in “Far from Heaven,” or David Lynch’s Laura Dern. The implications are devastating; the images are rich, beautiful, playful, yet horrifying.
Some others caught my attention, too. I’m a sucker for almost any work that presents a view of New York City. It’s my ancestral homeland, so to speak, and the ways of approaching and representing it are seemingly infinite. I wish I knew more about just how painting works to be able to explain or define just what Patty Neal does with her oil paintings – how they work – but I don’t. Suffice it to say that her subject matter is uniquely her own – her attention, in the current series of paintings, is mostly on the top reaches of apartment buildings and skyscrapers, mostly from a parallel vantage point, and including plenty of sky. Some of them contain just a few buildings; others look across an expanse, and some look at elevated subway lines, bridges and the High Line. Significantly, there are no people in her works (given where her gaze is fixated, you wouldn’t ordinarily see people in these scenes). What is striking to me from a technical aspect is how these works that are seemingly made of gauzy layers of oil without any distinctive lines in them take on an almost photo-realistic aspect when you look at them from several feet back. That raises all kinds of philosophical notions of being, essence, existence, and “reality.” I love it. I also love one of her only street-level views, called “Heading Downtown,” because its content is so unlikely – utility boxes, lighting poles, trees crowding a view, nevertheless one that has its own beauty of color and lines and which is so quintessentially New York City.
I fell in love with Giselle Potter’s array of small illustrations from the recently published book by Gertrude Stein, To Do: A Book of Alphabets and Birthdays. Her surreal, folk-art inspired style compliments Stein’s whimsical collection of prose and fantasies that transport the viewer through the alphabet. They are folksy, “outsidery” paintings with minimal collage elements, blending plain scenes with fanciful touches like dogs floating in the air, birds flying inside a house, a rabbit with carrots exploding out of its eyes, typewriters strolling down a garden path, a bunch of men fixing or smashing timepieces. I love the letter “P” painting so much I’m not going to tell you about it in detail because I want to own it, and I just may acquire it come hell or high water….
Here is the official press release for this exhibition, which I urge you to check out:
Modern Artists, new exhibition featuring contemporary painting and photography, both figurative and abstract, from a small group of gallery artists – including Donise English, Jenny Kemp, Newbold Bohemia, Katheryn Holt, Tracy Helgeson, Giselle Potter, and Patty Neal — opens at Carrie Haddad Gallery on Thursday, January 23, 2014, and runs through March 2. A reception for the artists takes place on Saturday, January 25, from 6 to 8 pm.
Donise English and Jenny Kemp both create abstract, non-objective art using mixed media that is characterized by a bold combination of color, shape, and line. English, who is a Professor of Studio Art and Art History at Marist College, uses encaustic and collaged works on paper and panel to reflect on conception and materialization. Her layered constructs are inspired by maps, architectural drawings, blueprints, or patterns and structures found in roller coasters, power lines, and fences. Her flare of primary colors used with pastels bring to mind a 1950s retro aesthetic. Kemp also contemplates the deconstruction of our everyday act of perceiving but with a more intimate subject; the human body. Her unique, geometric forms, made using gouache on paper, are the result of her meditation on the body and our relationship to organic matter. Kemp lives and works in Troy, N.Y. and recently received her MFA in Painting at SUNY Albany in 2012.
Everything seen in Newbold Bohemia’s photography is fake, but it’s all so true. Bohemia is an Albany-based photographer who openly stages characters and props to evoke narratives that go far beyond what is visually represented. He meticulously builds sets in which to shoot his models who are impeccably dressed in 1950s attire. In post production Bohemia replaces every bit of color with a chosen palette of pale pinks, greens and blues. The “false” fantasies of falling in love with body builders, being a heartless mother or plotting the demise of one’s husband feeds the stereotype that surrounds this era. Bohemia gives his subjects a voice to fight the complacency of gender roles assigned to American society in the 1950s. Over the past three years, Bohemia has exhibited in more than a dozen shows, primarily in upstate New York. This is his first exhibit with Carrie Haddad Gallery.
The figurative works of artist Katheryn Holt depict women of a similar nature and era. Holt was raised in Hollywood by her father, a screenwriter, and her mother, a 1950s housewife. Holt’s work emanates the influences of cinematic narratives and media based reality. The women illustrated in her paintings reflect the likeness of iconic leading ladies of the 1940s throughout the 1970s. Holt says “The costumes worn by these production beauty queens inform my work in series and uniform patterns. Because my maternal grandmother was a seamstress to the stars, the world of vintage, cinematic costuming holds a special significance in clothing my painted starlets and positioning them center stage in their pop memoryscapes. Through the use of transparent glaze and gestural sweeps of graphic linoleum colors, the women are framed and a light is cast upon them, illuminating their form and revealing their function, which is to share their inner life and history with you, their audience. Holt attended the Slade School’s Master Painting Class in London and also shows her work extensively in California.
Artist Tracy Helgeson also paints portraits of women from another era in the ongoing series People You Know, which are based on photographs found at yard sales, antiques shops, estate auctions, and eBay. Helgeson finds a personal connection to these photographs in elemental features such as the backdrop, a particular pattern, or pose rather than the individual themselves. She uses a bright, colorful palette; her signature pinks and purples pay homage to these anonymous photographs that were once treasured for their sentimental value. The exhibit also includes several of her landscape paintings, which she is perhaps better known for during the 15 years she has been showing at Carrie Haddad Gallery. Helgeson majored in Graphic Design from Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 1983 and also received a degree in illustration from the Philadelphia College of Art. She lives with her husband in Fly Creek, N.Y.
Giselle Potter, a new addition to the gallery, presents an array of small illustrations from the recently published book by Gertrude Stein, To Do: A Book of Alphabets and Birthdays. Her surreal, folk-art inspired style compliments Stein’s whimsical collection of prose and fantasies that transport the viewer through the alphabet like never before. Each letter is accompanied by a short story, which is brought to life by Potter’s magical portrayals. Her drawings are frequently shown at the Society of Illustrators in New York and Los Angeles, the Katonah Museum, and have been selected for several of the American Illustration annuals. Potter, who was born into a family of painters, currently lives in the Hudson Valley with her husband and two daughters.
Patty Neal has been showing with Haddad for several years and continues to fascinate with small views of Brooklyn and Manhattan. This collection of cityscapes brings a new element into Neal’s work, with empty spaces of blank sky or concrete walls dominating the canvas. By combining elements of city and landscape, Neal plays with reality and explores the concept of visual, mental, and emotional boundaries we create in life. She often times will work on two separate panels depicting two separate locations and then bolt them together to create a single diptych. Through her multi-paneled work she invites the viewer to break boundaries and consider the possibility of a connected whole. Neal attended Parson’s School of Design and currently lives between Columbia County and Brooklyn, N.Y.